Skip to main content

Nice porthole, though. Very nautical.

Bait
(2019)

(SPOILERS) Deserving winner of the BAFTA for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer – well, despite it not being Mark Jenkin’s debut feature, that is – Bait’s originality comes less from its storyline, the very recognisable subject matter of impoverished locals’ charged relationship with the affluent class descending on their Cornish fishing village, buying their properties and pints but failing to put anything of substance into the community, than the way in which Jenkin approaches the material, shooting on 16mm with a Bolex, with all the handmade imperfections that entails. Added to which, he has no compunction in experimenting in the edit, sometimes to mesmerising effect.

Martin: Been modernised... Looks a bit like a sex dungeon.

Jenkin uses a small story to create big impact, making a virtue of his very limited budget, be it through judicious choices on the (entirely) post-dubbed soundtrack (exaggerated sound effects, from dropping crates to approaching boot steps) or the close-ups that etch its characters’ thoughts across the screen – particularly lead Edward Rowe as brooding, surly fisherman without a boat Martin Ward. Peter Bradshaw snapshotted Bait as “EastEnders directed by FW Murnau”, which is something of an exaggeration but nevertheless an amusing way to sell its appeal. The imagery is that of the antique, textured with over-exposed frames, crackles, hairs and dirt, but the storyline is immediate and relevant, the old ways slowly but surely giving up the ghost to the new, as if picking up were Local Hero left off.

Martin: I'm talking about fishing. Not fucking hospitality.

Martin is feuding with his brother (Giles King), who has sold out by providing cruises around the bay to pissed-up tourists. His nephew (Steven Ward) wants to work with him to get back at his dad, but Martin, trying to save for a boat, is barely scraping by, having to lay nets on the shore, hire a lobster pot and count on generous prices for his few fish from the local pub landlady Liz (Stacey Guthrie). He’s at loggerheads with the well-off suburbanites the Leighs (Simon Shepherd and Mary Woodvine), who have bought his parents’ cottage, and who provide holiday lets. For all that the presentation is key, it’s Rowe’s performance, featured in the majority of the scenes, that really sells Bait. Martin is simmering with frustration, censuring himself from letting it spill over into violence, and Jenkin ensures this tension is in the air throughout, not least through Roeg-esque flashes of potential ruction or fallout; as a consequence, it isn’t at all surprising when tragedy occurs. 

Martin: You fuckers bring everything down with you and take it home again.

Some choices become visual red herrings – I could have sworn the money tin perched on the kitchen windowsill was ripe for thievery, but instead, it pays off when Woodvine’s Sandra puts money into it – while others show a spry sense of humour on Jenkin’s part. A high-noon showdown in the pub, where Martin confronts the Leighs’ son Hugo (Jowan Jacobs) with the lobster pot he broke into, looks destined for a violent altercation; instead, Martin forces the lad to mend the pot before saying “Thank you” and exiting, leaving the patrons staring in silence at the guilty party. Earlier, there’s a masterpiece of overlapping conversation, or rather intercut conversation, that would send Robert Altman into a tailspin, as Hugo’s petty argument with Wenna (Chloe Endean) over “winner stays on” pool rules contrasts with Martin’s much more pertinent one with Liz over his relationship with his brother.

Sandra: You didn’t have to sell this house.
Martin: Didn’t we?

Yes, you could make the charge that the portrait of affluent vultures feeding on the village tends to caricature, closer to the kind of cartoonishness of Mike Leigh, even if Jenkin offers the occasional olive branch (Sandra may fume at Martin, but there’s the money tin scene, and her giving short shrift to the guest complaining about Steven’s boat waking him in the morning). I don’t doubt, however, that such episodes as depicted here come from personal experience, and the picture is, anyway, an intentionally heightened affair. At times I was put slightly in mind of Hal Hartley, and the way he uses space and silence and specific framing to create atmosphere (just not usually in black and white and on a Bolex). Hopefully, Bait’s success means Jenkin will have more resources at his disposal going forward, but I don’t think he should necessarily quit using that Bolex. He’s created an inimitable style with it.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

Nanobots aren’t just for Christmas.

No Time to Die (2021) (SPOILERS) You know a Bond movie is in trouble when it resorts to wholesale appropriation of lines and even the theme song from another in order to “boost” its emotional heft. That No Time to Die – which previewed its own title song a year and a half before its release to resoundingly underwhelmed response, Grammys aside – goes there is a damning indictment of its ability to eke out such audience investment in Daniel Craig’s final outing as James (less so as 007). As with Spectre , the first half of No Time to Die is, on the whole, more than decent Bond fare, before it once again gets bogged down in the quest for substance and depth from a character who, regardless of how dapper his gear is, resolutely resists such outfitting.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

Just a little whiplash is all.

Duel (1971) (SPOILERS) I don’t know if it’s just me, but Spielberg’s ’70s efforts seem, perversely, much more mature, or “adult” at any rate, than his subsequent phase – from the mid-’80s onwards – of straining tremulously for critical acceptance. Perhaps because there’s less thrall to sentiment on display, or indulgence in character exploration that veered into unswerving melodrama. Duel , famously made for TV but more than good enough to garner a European cinema release the following year after the raves came flooding in, is the starkest, most undiluted example of the director as a purveyor of pure technical expertise, honed as it is to essentials in terms of narrative and plotting. Consequently, that’s both Duel ’s strength and weakness.

These are not soda cans you asked me to get for you.

The Devil’s Own (1997) (SPOILERS) Naturally, a Hollywood movie taking the Troubles as a backdrop is sure to encounter difficulties. It’s the push-pull of wanting to make a big meaningful statement about something weighty, sobering and significant in the real world and bottling it when it comes to the messy intricacies of the same. So inevitably, the results invariably tend to the facile and trite. I’m entirely sure The Devil’s Own would have floundered even if Harrison Ford hadn’t come on board and demanded rewrites, but as it is, the finished movie packs a lot of talent to largely redundant end.

Ours is the richest banking house in Europe, and we’re still being kicked.

The House of Rothschild (1934) (SPOILERS) Fox’s Rothschild family propaganda pic does a pretty good job presenting the clan as poor, maligned, oppressed Jews who fought back in the only way available to them: making money, lots of lovely money! Indeed, it occurred to me watching The House of Rothschild , that for all its inclusion of a rotter of a Nazi stand-in (played by Boris Karloff), Hitler must have just loved the movie, as it’s essentially paying the family the compliment of being very very good at doing their very best to make money from everyone left, right and centre. It’s thus unsurprising to learn that a scene was used in the anti-Semitic (you might guess as much from the title) The Eternal Jew .

You are not brought upon this world to get it!

John Carpenter  Ranked For anyone’s formative film viewing experience during the 1980s, certain directors held undeniable, persuasive genre (SF/fantasy/horror genre) cachet. James Cameron. Ridley Scott ( when he was tackling genre). Joe Dante. David Cronenberg. John Carpenter. Thanks to Halloween , Carpenter’s name became synonymous with horror, but he made relatively few undiluted movies in that vein (the aforementioned, The Fog , Christine , Prince of Darkness (although it has an SF/fantasy streak), In the Mouth of Madness , The Ward ). Certainly, the pictures that cemented my appreciation for his work – Dark Star , The Thing – had only a foot or not at all in that mode.

Isn’t sugar better than vinegar?

Femme Fatale (2002) (SPOILERS) Some have attempted to rescue Femme Fatale from the dumpster of critical rejection and audience indifference with the claim that it’s De Palma’s last great movie. It isn’t that by a long shot, but it might rank as the last truly unfettered display of his obsessions and sensibilities, complete with a ludicrous twist – so ludicrous, it’s either a stroke of genius or mile-long pile up.

Sleep well, my friend, and forget us. Tomorrow you will wake up a new man.

The Prisoner 13. Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling We want information. In an effort to locate Professor Seltzman, a scientist who has perfected a means of transferring one person’s mind to another person’s body, Number Two has Number Six’s mind installed in the body of the Colonel (a loyal servant of the Powers that Be). Six was the last person to have contact with Seltzman and, if he is to stand any chance of being returned to his own body, he must find him (the Village possesses only the means to make the switch, they cannot reverse the process). Awaking in London, Six encounters old acquaintances including his fiancée and her father Sir Charles Portland (Six’s superior and shown in the teaser sequence fretting over how to find Seltzman). Six discovers Seltzman’s hideout by decoding a series of photographs, and sets off to find him in Austria. He achieves this, but both men are captured and returned to the Village. Restoring Six and the Colonel to their respective bodie

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) (SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek , but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan . That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.