Classic Catchup: The Shining (1980) and Room 237 (2012)

Nobody has seen all the classic films that they are supposed to have watched but there’s always time to catch up.

A recent podcast made me realise that I’d never actually seen The Shining, so man, like for fuck’s sake, let’s watch this thing (and write my second catchup article about a Kubrik film).

The trouble with never having seen The Shining is that that doesn’t mean you haven’t seen clips of almost every important plot point, parodies, rehashes and homages that make you feel that you actually have seen this before.

Writing about it then is comparing two films, the film that you thought it was against the film that it is. Most strikingly, the tone of the film is altogether quite surprising and not what I expected. I expected that we would see a mild mannered Jack slowly tormented and maddened into a dark twisted figure but that really isn’t how the film plays out.

The peril in this movie runs from the very beginning right until the very last scene. The opening scenes are a ghostly aerial glide to a dark, pressurised soundtrack and the pressure never lets up. Rather than cranking the suspense up throughout the film, it seemed much more to be Kubrick’s aim to hit a high level of unease very early on and to try to keep the viewer there for over two hours. Like a version of the Ludovico technique, we want to find some respite but short of looking away, there really isn’t any. In this film, even well meaning characters are creepy and the whole world seems out of whack, with a tangible evil and dread existing not just in shadows but in blazing open sunlight, something that seems very influential.

Jack Torrence is a creep from the beginning, a wild eyed drunk, violent to his traumatised son and uncaring towards his pushover wife. We never see Jack at his best and though we see that he has a sense of humour, there’s really no evidence that he was ever a good man, a good husband or a good father. In fact, it’s easy to imagine that there could be even more abuse in the family that we don’t know about. Nevertheless, rather than turning the story into a characture of pure evil, the viewer automatically takes on the role of looking for the humanity in Jack and I certainly was able to read into some of the scenes a glimmer of hope, a sliver of his potential to be a good man and to care for his family. Kubrick has a reputation from his meticulousness of leading his audiences by the nose in a sort of hypnosis but that really isn’t the case here. Jack is a man irredeemable and lost but he still functions as an ambiguous character, someone we can wonder about, try to empathise with and overlay our own ideas onto. Still too, whatever we think of him, Kubrick’s changes to King’s narrative mean that he is someone who bears the responsibility for his own crimes and we avoid the tiresome cycle by which the supernatural element absolves everyone of blame for human evil (see the Spiderman franchise). While the overlook transforms Jack into something more demonic, his own darkness is the root cause and their relationship seems more symbiotic than anything else. Kubrick implies that this symbiotic link is long standing, through Jack’s initial behavior, through the “manuscript” that Jack writes throughout his time at the hotel (presumably from the very beginning of his stay there) and through the final shot of the film.

The supernatural elements are handled in a way that other films have found hard to replicate by also offering us a sliver of ambiguity. While the hotel itself seems to be a prominent character, it’s hard to really pin down how much of what happens is real and how much is mere hallucination. It certainly seems that the ghosts of the hotel have the agency to free Jack from the storage locker and it certainly seems that they reveal their true nature to Wendy in the final acts but other than this, the reality of the rest of the film is down to interpretation and perspective. The supernatural element seems both real and figurative, and ratchets up the menace during these key scenes where the lines blur and the psychological bursts into the real, corrupting the laws of nature.

The supernatural ability of Danny, the Shining itself, features (and Halloran seems like a trustworthy source) but is downplayed and is incidental to the plot. Producing a cut of the movie where Danny’s implied telepathy does not feature would take seconds. Instead, far more time is devoted to the idea that Danny is a troubled, traumatised child and his strange behaviour is far more attributable to this than his “talents”.

Overall, it’s hard to deny what an incredible vision and unique pressurised, traumatic mode of horror storytelling that the film is. By making such iconic, characterful images, Kubrick is able to get away with King’s more hackneyed horror elements and turn them into strengths. By flirting with the questionable reality of the supernatural, common all-garden horror images are cast anew, even the skeletal remains sequence seemed to fit right at home to my eyes. Whilst watching, the viewer can’t help but twitch and itch at the constant unease and can’t help but try to scrutinise the layout of the hotel and it’s malevolent spirit. There’s probably never been a location in a film that is communicated in such detail that we know it intimately as if we paced it ourselves.

I’m not going to spend long on the fan film that is Room 237. It’s really really terrible. What comes to mind is that crusty old men who run television channels trying to come up with old media formats for stuff they found on youtube. It’s just not possible to cut and paste blogs into a film. It’s fundamentally uncinematic and has no narrative.

What we have is a bunch of whack jobs with crazy conspiracy theories about the film. I mean, maybe Kubrick faked the moon landing and maybe he didn’t but extrapolating background props in one of his movies to prove the theorem is the kind of crazy that leads to you fedexing all of your savings to a Nigerian prince. While this sounds quite interesting, it’s very much not. The interesting thing of course would be the characters of those involved, how they came to be so obsessed by the film, what their theories reflect about them and their own lives and whether or not they can confront the idea that they could be wrong. It could enter into the line where Kubrik crosses from being merely an extremely meticulous filmmaker into being a character from the Da Vinci code, dropping hints about the true history of the world into popcorn films for major studios. However, the makers of the film show no courage and allow the conspiracists to structure their own arguments as talking heads. There is no dialogue and no questioning. There’s no arc in the film and no struggle. The theorists must feel that nobody believes them but the fact is rarely acknowleged, so the film seems to tacitly grant their theories a kind of implied false credence.

And yet, it’s still a freak show. If the film was mostly serious analysis with some crazy thrown it, it would get away with it. The film is certainly deep and detailed and several elements deserve detailed analysis and discussion. However, the filmmakers don’t follow up on anything credible. Their mission statement is clear – Hey look, crazy people say crazy things about a film! Aren’t they funny? The condescension being silent doesn’t make it uncondescending. To question and interact would at least treat them credibly.

The talking heads just aren’t interesting and sadly neither are the visuals, which are collages of scenes from other Kubrick films. There are no unifying images, no unique flourishes. Everything is photocopied and stolen, nothing original or interesting. It seems like an artist testing the boundaries of how little originality can be used. I love collage films made from archives and feel that they can be just as original and interesting as freshly filmed works. This isn’t one of those, however. Back to film school with this ‘un.

Taking an analysis of something as interesting as the shining and making something this boring is an achievement. Forget your bear suit blow jobs, now that really is perverse.


Book Discussion: MMA Special – John McCarthy and Uriah Faber

This week as a fan of the UFC and mixed martial arts, I read two books from MMA insiders.

Yes, these are ghost-written moneymakers destined mostly for bargain bins but damn, I just wrote about Solzhenitsyn – do I really need to prove my cred? Yep, this is a pretty trashy genre but it is a well established genre nevertheless. MMA is a young sport and certainly full of interesting characters with stories to tell. What’s more is that the dominant force in the sport, the UFC, often likes to write history as the victor in a way that smooths over anything that they don’t like, making the books that the prominent figures write a rare glimpse into the reality of an often airbrushed world.

Here are my brief thoughts.


John McCarthy is the original UFC referee, a pioneer of the ruleset that lead to the unified rules and probably still the best MMA referee around. The book is ghostwritten by respected MMA journalist Loretta Hunt – a longstanding outlaw of martial arts media since the UFC has a tendency to deny media reporting credentials and to publically insult any journalists who write even one word of fair negative criticism of their business practises. As such, my expectations for this were pretty good.

The UFC so utterly dominates coverage of the sport that its own version of MMA history is utterly dominant and contradicting voices are rarely heard. The is no impartial history of the UFC out there, so my prime interest in the book revolved around an honest insight that is not usually heard from two sources who aren’t afraid to give a partisan view and have nothing to lose by giving it. The book is written at the time when McCarthy was rarely selected for either UFC events or MMA events in Nevada period. This is a fact that gives the book a rather odd ending (McCarthy once again is a common sight in the UFC) but means that it is written during a period most likely to lead to a tell-all version of events.

For the most part, the book does not dissappoint. McCarthy’s version of events is fair and even-handed and he gives credit to the UFC parent company Zuffa for their generosity in paying him a retainer after buying the company in return for using his catchphrase (replacing a vital source of income as prior to Zuffa seeking atheltic commissions to provide referees, McCarthy was directly employed by the UFC) and for generously thanking and gifting him upon his first (false) retirement from refereeing. At the same time, he sheds light on exactly how Zuffa aquired the company which is not flattering. Lorenzo Fertitta sat in a Nevada Athletic commission that denied the previous UFC administration things that quickly became available once Fertitta was the owner of the UFC himself. It is not known if this was a deliberate strategy to drive down the price but even if it was not, it is a conflict of interest. McCarthy does not highlight this or assign blame but he does present the facts and it is easy for readers to draw their own conclusion. Such facts are rarely reported.

Other key moments are really very interesting – the initial plan and designs for the first UFC, the first fight that McCarthy feels was fixed, refereeing for Pride and Strikeforce as well as some characatures of famous villains and discussions of some refereeing fumbles.

His book offers a history of the UFC from his perspective and the key points of his own life outside martial arts. For a fan it’s well worth a read. McCarthy is responsible for far more of the rules of MMA than any casual glance would suggest (in inventing “intelligent defence” he likely turned something borderline illegal into something that could become a respectable sport). However, it does get across one other point: McCarthy himself is something of spikey individual and personally I’m not sure I would like to be around him for very long. He’s quite honest about his own temper, his former steroid usage and some incidents in the past which cast him in a rather negative light. He is also a study of a man who has struggled with a macho hyper-masculine identity his whole life with a loose cannon father he was both dissappointed by and worked his whole life to impress. McCarthy at one point claimed that he didn’t believe any prospective father who didn’t say that they wanted a boy, something that made me place face in palm. Nevertheless, if I didn’t like McCarthy himself from his own account, he still came across as honest to a fault – the very epitome of an impartial and fair official.

I’m not going to spend as long on Uriah’s book because it’s a much less serious affair. The book is a biography but it masquerades as a self help book. Like so many self help books, many of the lessons are common sense, many make no sense at all and only one or two make you sit up and take notice. Despite the somewhat annoying structure, the book is actually very well written and go into a lot of detail about Faber’s early life and early MMA career.

The section about his brother’s problems with evangelical christianity and mental health is the jewel of the book. In fact, many of the best chapters are not about Faber himself but about members of his management team or “Alpha Male” fight camp. This goes a long way to show that Faber is something special, not because he is some kind of genius businessman (as is often presented) but that he is an incredible team player and really does try to get the best from everyone around him. The result is his success in forming a fight camp that really is something very rare and special in MMA in how supportive it is and his success in business ventures and sponsorships outside of fighting itself. Faber comes across as a genuinely good person and someone who genuinely cares about his friends as family, though he can show a dark side too, allowing a poser to take a fight he never should has been in and having some sharp words for charaters he met along the way that he doesn’t approve of.

In particular, Faber carries across into his book the idea that he is a level above most athletes in MMA. Every competitor thinks his opponents are inferior in order to have the confidence to fight but Faber unlike many freely labels his opponents as inferior in his book even after he has beaten them. It isn’t gentlemanly but it is honest and Faber comes aross much more as a straight shooter who calls MMA exactly how it is than someone with any kind of malice or hubris – he comes across as someone quite humble in fact, which is rare in a former champion.

His humbleness is especially apparent in the respect he shows long time rival Dominick Cruz in the chapter concerning their fights. In press conferences, Faber and Cruz showed real fire and venom for each other at times, though Faber takes a complimentary high road here and paints them more as frenemies than true opposites.

My only real source of dissapointment in the book is that other than Faber’s debut and his fights with Cruz, the book glosses over the rest of his fighting career. While Faber knew he would be a champion from the start, it’s almost unforgiveable to miss out any detail from some of the most interesting points in his career. As such, the book is very missable for the MMA fan, though if there is a man out there in MMA that could write a book mostly on his childhood, debut and friends and still have it mean something and feel like a story worth telling, that man is Uriah Faber.

My Five Cents: Birdman

Five brief thoughts about a recent film. This week, Birdman…..or to give it it’s full title, Birdman: The Overwheming Sin of Pretentiousness. Yeah, didn’t even get into point one before I got that zinger out. As you’ll read, I have mixed feelings about this film.

But hey, why hold fire? This is a movie that is obessed with reviewers and put basically the whole New York Times review on one of it’s posters. This is a film where critics are mocked as vile vultures feeding off others’ talents (two rants about them, the critic herself has no response dialogue of note) rather than audience members, fans and creators of their own content (the preferred audience presumably being an empty black box, a balloon with a face on it, an applause track and no thoughts of its own).

Well, have I got a hatchet job* for you!

1) Is this a good film? Yes, it is. There is no argument that this is a bad film. The film looks good, the acting is universally great (perhaps ironically considering the theme of the movie) and the film is certainly interesting and to an extent pretty different to everything else that’s out there at the moment. However, having said that I feel somewhat conflicted. I have never left the cinema during a film (even a really shit one that brought me to tears of rage at it’s vileness) but sometimes when doing so I get a pang, a certain urge to just get up and leave. An urgent “fuck it” thought that has you looking at the people besides you wondering if they’ll get up for you. Sometimes I noiselessly bury myself deep down into my seat and cover my eyes for a few seconds to give at least some respite before allowing myself to look back at the screen and soldier on with an internal sigh. I felt this way during the screening of Birdman I went to, and not just once. It’s a weird feeling because there are good moments and good scenes and I can’t say it’s a bad film. The closest comparison is something like the Occulus Rift. Some honest people tried to make something for others to enjoy but by god, it’s just going to make some of them want to throw up (and hey, with that reference I guess this is now officially a nerd culture blog).

So what made me feel like this? There are four elements. First is subject matter, second is tone, third is plotting and fourth is the visual style.

2) Let’s start with the subject matter. When Hollywood makes films about making films (The Artist, Ed Wood, Argo, even arguably Inception) the results are usually good. Vanity leads to making films about yourself but thankfully with the skill to do it well. When Shakespeare says that all the world is a stage, it reaffirms our decision to go to the theatre and compliments us on our wise choice of trying to understand the world better through drama. The trouble is when Hollywood makes film about acting.

Actors talking about acting is a small shift sends the whole film spiralling up it’s own behind. Actors do the heavy lifting of taking something from the page to the stage or screen but that doesn’t make their lives and their personal problems more important than the stage director’s or the set designer’s. Actors play their part in a more important way than many others but doing what they do doesn’t necessarily make them wonderful, amazing precious sparks of humanity…..especially when they are very very rich people with those problems that seem more important when rich people have them.

The film wants to have it both ways. Edward Norton’s Mike is a horrible person; egotistical, self interested, glib, womanising, unprofessional and even arguably an attempted rapist. Nevertheless, he’s consistently shown as a genius at reading and living texts with a superhuman ability to perform like he has a magical connection to people’s souls. He even insults an important critic to her face because he knows that his performances are so dazzling that she won’t dare write a negative review. Mike is shown to be a misunderstood spark burning brightly, and he gets his girl.

The same is true of Michael Keaton’s Riggan who is essentially a drunk, burned out hack, depressive egotist who ignores his family, cheats on his wife and is taunted by the nightmare that he is a film celebrity, not a real actor. Nevertheless, on stage he is an incredible actor. He produces a wonderful performance in a play that he wrote and directed. Many characters including Mike and several passers by complement him thus and the harpy critic who promises to bury his play cannot help but write a positive review.

The pattern is the same. Acting is a magical redemptive spell. If you act well, we have to care about you. We have to side with you and not root against you. We have to care about you because of your precious, precious gift (and damn those horrid horrid harpy reviewers).

The trouble is that if you try to have your cake AND eat it, the story doesn’t matter. If you try to show a seedy horrible side to egotism and fame and how empty it can be being a celebrity scared of showing a lack of talent, showing how utterly wonderful and successful your characters are really does show a lack of bravery. Don’t be surprised when you want us to care about a character’s problems and instead we don’t go with it because you’re talking about a complete shit of a human being who has had a Rockstar lifestyle, a family and a house in Malibu.

The idea of showing how utterly destroying to the self performing can be and how addictive fame and adulation is has been perfectly nailed before by a frankly better filmmaker in Aronofsky’s The Wrestler and later in Black Swan. When Mickey Rourke’s Randy is shown to have been a not very nice person, we want him to find redemption to become the person that he could be for (among other things) his estranged daughter. We aren’t asked to care about him purely because he’s a good wrestler and he’s on a career downer. Remove the gloss of the glittery sheen the subject of acting gives to this film and you really don’t have the same pathos.

3) Staying with that comparison, another way the film saps away a dark look into its main character is the tone. The Wrestler is bleak and real, a stark contrast to the colourful fictions of the ring. Black Swan is awash with hallucination and madness but is anchored by an emotionally real central performance. In contrast, this film is a little all over the place. It’s been described as a black comedy, which really means that it doesn’t have internal realism, yet isn’t as funny as comedy.

When the film describes a situation concerning the main character that should really draw emotion, the air is immediately let out of the bag by frankly ridiculous scenes

The most notable example is when two actresses in the middle of a quite amazing scene discussing the failures in their lives suddenly start making out. The scene is ridiculous and with no prior reasoning, no meaning and no follow up completely destroys the pathos the film is making. It’s just stupid and titilating in the most 1970s chauvenist way because you know that no Keaton-Norton hook up was ever planned (everyone know that Lesbianism is the good gay and Homosexual men are the bad gays that can never be seen), that way more screen time is given to the pointless Norton-Emma Stone romance and all the more a slap in the face considering that it’s the only scene that even gets close to passing the Bechdel test**. It’s just one example of a lack of realism and subtlety – in another Edward Norton starts a hissy fit on stage in front of a live audience just because they didn’t let him drink. Later on, the film plays much straighter. As the camera stays with a sad Michael Keaton face for minutes at a time, we’re supposed to be emotionally invested in his fate in a very real way. We’re asked to ignore the stupidity and ridiculousness of earlier on and treat this like it is all real, not a ridiculous circus of a show. It’s too late. The pathos is dead. This has nothing to do with the Birdman hallucinations but much more to do with the slapstick of other scenes populated by supposedly real individuals.

Drama is often represented by a comedy mask and a tragedy mask. You can’t wear both at the same time and expect the audience to have the doublethink to ignore it. Comedy can have heart-breaking pathos and tragedy can be very funny and those things can be done in the same scene but you can’t undermine the very thing you want the audience to care about later. The film neither stuck with the heightened reality, nor made the characters real enough to care.

Get a piece of paper and write down everything you know about Edward Norton’s Mike apart from the fact that he is a vain actor. Considering his lengthy screen time, you really can’t write down anything. He doesn’t really seem to have an internal reality at all. He admits that he is horrible to everyone on purpose but there’s no inclination why. There’s no real investigation of why this actor’s actor enjoys acting. What’s his story arc in the film? He is a difficult actor and womaniser, he seduces someone and then the plot forgets about him. Only the most macho of meatheads would consider getting laid the end of a story arc.

There’s no real psychology at all here for this character in a film that totally hinges on you wanting to understand Riggan’s (Michael Keaton’s) psychology. The film just does not earn its pathos and dies without it.

An aged actor who is famous for playing a superhero but wants to be taken seriously playing an aged actor who is famous for playing a superhero but wants to be taken seriously would be an edgy thing to do if the world had any reality. But it doesn’t, so it’s not.

I’m really getting into my next point…..

4) …which is that the plotting is baggy. It’s really really really baggy. I’ve already mentioned that the sub plot between Norton and Emma Stone starts nowhere and goes nowhere (no character depth, no character progress, boy meets girl and has sex) but what’s more is that it’s obviously derrivative (Mike can’t get it up unless he’s onstage, which definitely isn’t stolen from that other Birdman in the most famous graphic novel there is…..) and their lines of dialogue are tedious drippy pick-up lines like a high school student’s hack version of Tarantino. Why this subplot is even there is bewildering (perhaps trying to pretend the film isn’t all about Riggan) and it should have been cut. There’s a lot else besides that should have been on the editing floor, probably because if a farce is a situational mess, it’s hard to decide which bumbling accidents stay in and which leave.

Here’s a tip. If there’s more than one scene where a younger person is explaining twitter to an older person, you haven’t cut enough from the film.

The most startling “check your watch” moments are at the end, which I’m going to spoil now. Riggan climbs a building overcome with the spirit of Birdman (his former role and egotistical alter ego) and leaps off a building. He does not fall but soars and gets a cab to act in his play. The film could have ended with the fall being an ambivalent end (he flies, which hides the more likely truth that he dies) but I didn’t mind that this wasn’t the end. Riggan goes into the play with a real gun (Checkov’s gun is alive and well in this film, and in its original form) and his character commits suicide, which is obviously for real (i.e. his Black Swan/The Wrestler dieing on stage bit). This surely should be the end of the film. No, actually he doesn’t kill himself and we have the end of the Lord of the Rings with Riggan in bed and everyone cooing around him. The play reviews were good. We should end the film on that then. No, we don’t. Riggan jumps out the window and we end on an ambivalent scene where he’s maybe flying and maybe dead.

In fact, there is no mystery. This isn’t the movie Brazil or Pan’s Labyrinth. The filmmaker is really clumsy with his magical realism. What should be the interpretation is that the magical stuff could be hallucination or could be real or that it doesn’t matter. However, Inarritu goes out of his way to show that it is not real. He constantly shows us something magical and then shows us how fake it is (Riggan’s telepathy is just throwing stuff when others see it, his flight was just a taxi cab because the guy is chasing him wanting to be paid). It’s a real downer. This means that he jumps of the roof and he is dead, no argument.

In other words, we just took way too much time to get from jumping off the roof back around to jumping off the roof.

Somewhere an unused Script Editor’s Red Pen is silently crying itself to sleep. How’s that for magical realism?

5) And no, I didn’t like the vaunted cinematography either (impressive though it is). The film is supposed to be one continuous shot but actually isn’t. And that last bit is the kicker. You KNOW that the movie is not one continuous shot and it doesn’t need to be. It’s completely obvious that the audience is being tricked that it just saps the life out of the illusion. If you trick the audience into thinking that a non-continuous shot is continuous then you pull of cinema’s magic trick. If you do the same trick in every scene, all the auidence can see is the stitch marks. Instead, every single damn scene is filmed the same. We follow someone going down a street or corridor with the camera tracking over their shoulder while they talk and when they stand still, we don’t get to see the distant background. It’s so uniform, it’s the opposite of artistic. Putting CGI dinosaurs in every scene would have been technically impressive but would have been just as fake and pointless. Filming every scene with the dutch tilt wouldn’t have done any to communicate how “lopsided” Riggan’s view of the world is.

And that’s really all I can bring myself to say.

Sometimes all the ingredients are top class but all the chef can cook up is a mud pie.


* By which I mean honest review.

** I know you only come here for liberal politics really. Just admit it.

Worst of the Worst: Trance

This is my series of rants about films that made me want to headbut the wall. I explain why I wanted to write about them here.

Brace yourselves. This is a full on shellacking. Although nowhere near as bad, this is the worst mainstream film I have seen since Law Abiding Citizen, which if you don’t know me personally, gives away far too much about my personal Room 101. I would advise anyone to avoid this film. I spoil the film too because why not? It’s fun. Danny Boyle is a great director and certainly doesn’t owe me anything but the enjoyment of films is the reception of the viewer, even if the enjoyment comes from a firm, self-expressive rejection. Doing this is by-necessity harder than praising a film, so be prepared for a longer than usual spiel.

Danny Boyle seems to be treading water with the surprisingly thinly written Trancesays Rotten Tomatoes (amid ratings in the 60% area). I think that this is generous in a sense in that thin plots are usually characterised as simplistic. This film is the opposite, the most complicated plot I can remember ever seeing in a feature film. The problem isn’t with the thinness of this film, it’s that the plot fundamentally doesn’t make any sense. It’s essentially Lost the Movie. More than this, it’s simply a boring, tedious film. After about twenty minutes I was bored and this continued until around the eighty minute mark where I was no longer bored but simply irritated and appalled that the relief cavalry of a satisfying explanation for so much nonsense never arrived. The only area that really is thin is the characters. Devoid of any personal qualities, the actors are forced to improvise some sort of personality through their own physicality and personal charm onto these blank slates. To an extent, Vincent Cassel succeeds. Rosario Dawson seems more lost than a lamb in a thunderstorm and has nothing to do except to read the lines line a newsreader, hoping that in the final edit, they have some sort of meaning to them.

Let’s lay the foundation for the explanation of why the fundamental basis of the plot is flawed. The problem is that in this world, psychotherapy is essentially a fucking super-power. Rosario Dawson could give Jean Grey or Emma Frost a run for their money with what she is able to achieve. If they are conveniently within her 5% of suggestible subjects, she can make people forget any memory (even deeply personal and emotive memories) and turn them into zombies that will do anything she wants (intentionally develop a gambling problem, complete tasks for her including grand crimes and put themselves at risk of injury or death). Despite having this level of suggestibility, she can’t make her boyfriend stop being jealous or stop hitting her (he undergoes regular hypnosis sessions at this time) but can make him completely forget their relationship and assault a dangerous gangster. What she can and can’t do is not only stretching believability to breaking point but incredibly arbitrary. At one point, she makes a violent criminal fall to his knees and cry by uttering a single word with no preparation but when the same gangster physically and sexually assaults her later, she forgets that she has this power and does nothing to defend herself. Of those she has hypnotised, she is able to know things that she could not possibly know (namely that Simon has killed someone) or indeed that a single word would bring up some kind of disabling buried alive memory in the aforementioned gangster. Her powers work quite well but a simply punch to the head can undo her work (which makes no fucking sense whatsoever) like some kind of unlocking magic like a silver bullet or stake to the heart (she explains this casually as something she knows, even before it happens). She is able even to erase memories by making someone listen to a recording of her voice. She has an incredible power that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. Moreover she sometimes uses her completely inhuman abilities to get everything she wants and at other times forgets to use her ability in already demonstrated ways, leaving her at multiple times at risk of being killed or raped. A more stupid view of hypnosis has never been shown, not even in The Prisoner.

The entire view of psychology in the film is fundamentally stupid. At first, she believes that a character has a kind of subconsciously-intentional amnesia because he does not trust the gangsters. This kind of makes sense, I guess. Later she decides that actually what she needs to do is to give him what he wants (sex with her), which works. How would she possibly know this? How could this possibly work? The subconscious is not a clever negotiator that can be bargained with over some kind of quid-pro-quo arrangement. The amnesia is due to psychological need, not a bargaining position. The idea that the amnesia (which is actually based on head trauma mixed with denial over a violent murder) was intentionally assumed to get sex out of someone is an endless spiral of inner actors which is just silly and contradictory. Would he get amnesia until someone bought him a porsche? Could his subconscious trade his disorder for a cash amount or for a nice bunch of flowers, dinner and theatre? It’s a lazy, self contradictory and audience-insulting way of advancing the plot through a full frontal scene. Exploitation at it’s finest, I guess. Don’t think too much about the plot, instead here’s some vagina.


So far, I have dismantled the film’s idea of psychological realism, mostly because this takes up most of the film, at least the better part of an hour. In truth, this isn’t even the reason why the plot doesn’t make sense (but goes a long way to explaining why the film is so boring). The real reason that the plot doesn’t make sense is because it’s completely inconsistent. Most of the inconsistency is focused firmly around Dawson’s character Dr. Lamb, who is actually the film’s protagonist despite a red herring opening monologue. We get to understand her the best of any character but the extra detail only serves well to show how nonsensical her motivation is.

Lamb is a bored psychologist who knows nothing of art until she meets Simon. Simon becomes a jealous boyfriend, insults her in public and physically assaults her twice (slaps her in one scene, chokes her in another). Following this abuse, Lamb says that she knew that if they stayed together that he was going to kill her. Whilst this seems perfectly reasonable as an assertion from an abused woman, it’a actually a very literal and definitive fact. Simon is in fact destined to kill someone, does kill someone and Lamb knows he has done it before he reveals it or any proof has been revealed. Knowing (psychically/psychologically) this fact, she has the option to remove all his memories and never see him again but instead turns him into a sleeper agent to steal a painting, a sleeper agent so well trained that she feels completely safe directly texting his phone. Why she wants the painting (which she doesn’t sell) is never explained, nor still the complete contradiction of how on the one hand she fears for her life and on the other treats the situation as a business opportunity in which she all but guarantees further involvement with someone who wants to kill her. Simon’s desire to kill her is never explained – he must simply be a violent psychopath who in the period before and directly after his relationship with Lamb (until the robbery) commits no other violent crimes and is never shown to have a violent temperament. Why during the period that Lamb refuses to see Simon for fear of her life, she also continues the hypnotherapy sessions is also never rationalised, nor why Simon doesn’t simply abduct or kill her there and then.

Due to a series of uncontrolled events, Simon returns to her life with no memory of her. Despite knowing that he wants to kill her and will probably want to do as soon as he regains his memory (he already killed another woman, who in an insane vision he thought was Lamb), she does not try to get away from him but gladly retells him his memories and at one point gives him a gun and bullets. Further to this end, she taunts Simon by shaving her public hair and (presumably) having sex with him, which surely at any point could have reminded him of his former memories, leading to her murder. She decides to stay, despite the danger from both Simon and the gangsters who in a later scene try to gang rape her for a reason that the film never explains.

For another reason that the film never explains, during the period when Lamb tries to manipulate everyone to get the painting, she seems to fall for and sleep with Franck, a gangster. This contradicts her mission statement (to avoid/use/punish men likely to be violent to her – Franck broke into her apartment to proposition sex, let’s remember), is a distraction and is almost destined to make Simon jealous and rekindle his murderous rage. What the fuck is she? A Bond villain? At the end, she seems to have feeling for Franck and sends him a personal message……..yes, the same guy who was going to let his cronies rape her.

I hope the previous paragraphs have stood to the testament that none of what her character does makes any kind of sense. She repeatedly leaves herself in danger despite her supreme control of the situation and frequently takes courses of action which are completely unmotivated or contradict her other aims. That a strong and powerful woman able to outsmart the two male characters would repeatedly leave herself in situations where she must have sex with someone, is in danger of death or rape is just stupid exploitation bullshit that should be offensive. That she leaves herself so passively to these outcomes is deeply troubling.

Moreover, much of the film is silly padding and superfluous misdirection, which leads to incredible boredom. Because the film is boring and the characters featureless, when the exploitation scenes come (sex scenes, full frontal nudity, violence, a rotting corpse) they just seem like side show yuks designed to attract interest to something inherently banal through the most lurid and patronising way possible. All of Tarantino’s visuals with none of his guile, pacing, structure or dialogue and none of them really explored (Is Lamb responsible for the death of Tuppence Middleton‘s character?). Glueing porn to the front of my tax return does not make it a less tedious document, and the attempt to do so makes me think ill of the writers and director, their politics and their idea of storytelling.

Ok, then. Let’s talk about Danny Boyle. What was he trying to do? He’s always been a very shocking director in terms of graphic scenes and themes (SlumdogTrainspotting, etc) but I can’t help but think he was trying to make a Christopher Nolan film. Trance  clearly aims to have a similar effect to Memento – a desire to make the audience doubt the characters and even the entire filmic reality. It also aims to make you wonder which of the characters is the true orchestrator and mastermind behind these events in much the same way as The Prestige makes you wonder about the true intentions of Christian Bale‘s character. The reason this fails is because there is so much misdirection and so many logical impossibilities in the plot, it is impossible to have any meaningful conjecture and due to the shitty characters and boring pacing, really hard to care.

This is exemplified in the worst scene in the film in which in some kind of test, Simon continues to pick images of Lamb out of a deck even though he receives an electric shock each time, which proves he is obsessed with her. This scene serves a functional purpose in that Lamb needs to explain to Franck that Simon is obsessed with her in a way other than that which reveals her true past with him. Though the scene is confusing and poorly explained (and in reality Franck would be an idiot to accept this evidence from her and not seek out another psychotherapist post-haste), she also explains that he is not really feeling an electric shock, that he only thinks he is. This idea that an already twisty-turney scene can only be made better by an extra, pointless twist that adds nothing to the plot of the film (clearly so, even at the time) and only serves to alienate explains why the herring upon herring structure of the film is tedious and makes conjecture or proper explanation impossible.

The Prestige impresses you with how skilfully the lies are separated from truths whilst films like Lucky Number Slevin and The Usual Suspects reveals everything with a kind of gusto in a single scene which explains everything. Trance  has neither the skill or the gusto to do this. The simple reveal that Lamb is the true mastermind and actually intended to steal the painting all along is not satisying precisely because not enough time has been spent establishing why she might have this motivation. Nor does this fact explain any kind of underlying logic behind her actions that explains her odd behaviour in previous scenes. In fact, because so little time is spent on any of the characters (Franck is a stereotype, Lamb is illogical and inexplicable with no distinct personality or home life, Simon turns out to be a random psychopath whose actions are guided by hypnosis) that the reveal of “Whodunnit” means fuck all. The film doesn’t deal with themes like jealousy or abuse, it just references them like a simple mention suffices to give the film a sense of human motivation or emotion. The film talks about psychology for hours but never has a sense of any kind of psychology behind any character.

And worse than that, we have to sit in the presence of a man (Simon) whose idea of perfection is to make women shave their pubic hair off.

The film is of course directed by Danny Boyle, who dated Rosario Dawson and got her to shave her public hair off to feature in his film.

Zing! Me-ow! Didn’t think I’d get that catty, did you?

My Five Cents: Nightcrawler (Film of the Year Edition)

Five brief thoughts on a recent film (SPOILERS, especially point 4).

It’s the end of December and hot damn if only I hadn’t saved what was probably the best film of the year until last.

I write a lot about the X-Men, so I should point out that no, this isn’t a spin-off about Alan Cumming’s Kurt Wagner, though that would be awesome too.

1) There are two films that you can’t help but compare this to. Clearly, just by looking at the poster above, you can see that the marketing team wanted to compare this to Drive. Yes, Drive, that Ryan Gosling 80’s music video. I can’t recall if I mentioned here before, but I don’t really care for Drive that much. Yes, it looks good, yes the soundtrack is good but in terms of the plot, it’s hard to really feel that anything going on is real, that you really care what happens or even that the plot makes sense (the scary mob consists of two men well past middle age and if you kill them both, then the threat is gone). Most times a marketing team tries to sell you a movie by comparing it to another movie, it falls flat but here the comparison is a master stroke. For all it’s popularity, Nightcrawler is by far the superior film and it’s hard to imagine that too many punters who wanted to see Drive II: Drive With A Vengeance would walk away without realising it. If you can capture any of a massive hit’s audience for your small, unheralded film then you can perform a bit of a Robin Hood trick and steal from the undeserving rich to give to the deserving poor (a better film made for just over half the budget).

2) Ok, so why is Nightcrawler so good? The Drive comparison is a good one because we can rip through two of Drive’s best features and talk about why Nightcrawler nails it. First off, Nightcrawler looks great. Whereas Drive looks great like a music video, Nightcrawler looks great like a film. There aren’t any instagram filters, perfect sunbeams, neon or too-convenient indoor set colour blocking here. Where Nightcrawler looks good, it’s because the grit shines through. Like Taxi Driver or The Warriors, Nightcrawler takes time to set up the atmosphere of the city at night (LA in this case) as being a different place entirely than the city at day. It’s the city at it’s oddest and most dangerous, with civilisation receded temporarily on a tidal pull. Nightcrawler takes time to set up the atmosphere wonderfully and between various roadsides, suburbs, fast food joints and pylon-filled railway sidings, it sets up a gritty and real, visually sharp and stark landscape, not the romance of cruising down the LA river in a muscle car.

Both films thematically introduce strong violent imagery, but whereas in Drive it’s something Tarantino would have considered for Inglorious Basterds, in Nightcrawler it’s something far less graphic but far more impactful in what it means to the much more realistic setting and the way the violence will be used for personal gain on the news networks (sometimes even just a two-word description of a violent act on a computer screen has a visceral impact, which is quite something).  Both films centre on an otherworldly inhuman outsider but whereas Gosling’s nameless Driver McDriverson is some sort of wordless, stone-faced amoral alien superman (s0mething I found difficult to watch personally, due to the lack of acting involved), Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom is a flawed, ugly but understandable character that drips with mystery and depth. Whereas Gosling’s (implied) developmental issues make him a driving and killing genius but rob him of the ability to make table talk or not kill someone in front of his would-be girlfriend, Lou Bloom is someone with a profound disability trying to find direction and purpose and in not understanding the people and society around him, constantly trying regurgitated combinations of things he has learned to get to his childish desires with no learned impulse control.

McDriverson we fear because he has skills that would make him a member of the A-Team, Bloom we fear simply because he is able and uninhibited, whether that means performing an internet search or breaking and entering. In short, McDriverson is a crash test dummy brought to life while Bloom is someone you pity, fear and even empathise with (in what way is writing this piece any different to Bloom’s ghoulish ambulance-chasing journalism I am forced to ask). It’s a quite incredible performance and for once, I agree with a film poster hailing a modern masterpiece. And it has a better car chase sequence too so yah boo!

3) So enough of the film that the marketers wanted to compare this film to. The film itself is clearly a spiritual sucessor to Network, a film I wrote here about not so long ago. Both films are good and both are very much of their time, but to my mind Nightcrawler explores a similar point in a much starker, perhaps more interesting way. Both films carry the themes of the slow death of journalism and the rise of shock infotainment in the name of higher ratings – a wise paternalistic teacher turned into a lude carnival barker outside a peep show. Network goes for the surreal sci-fi element (networks flirting with televising armed terrorism itself) whereas Nightcrawler shows you something that could be happening right now. The character of Lou Bloom is frankly fairly believable as some amoral cameraman. Nightcrawler gives you the best kind of terror – one which focuses on a boogeyman that really might be under our bed.

4) The real strengths of the film are in the character study – which means the detail which went into writing Lou’s mindset, Jake Gyllenhaal’s career best performance to bring the character to life and finally the cinematography that shows you his perspective and his world. The latter makes perfect sense considering Lou’s own interest with film and how to frame his shots, expressed through some rather meta dialogues. Much of the piece is how the filming of each scene adds further layers to what Gyllenhaal is showing about the character.

The first scene that we see of Lou’s apartment is a dark, hardly lit wide angle looking directly into the brightness of his television. Instead of sitting over Bloom’s shoulder, we ourself stare flatly into the breakfast news just as he does. The shot places bloom to the side with a laptop next to him and his eyes fixed on the same thing that occupies the centre of our vision. We are brought into his world, how in this small apartment he owns very little and how with the lights off there is nothing there that matters to him apart from the talk of the news personalities which dominate his world (when in a studio itself he says, “It looks so much more real on television”). We have to marvel how bright and spectacular it is compared to his dismal home, how easy and carefree their knowledge and segment-filling chatter is compared to his autism-spectrum distanced and friendless world.

Such wonderful and characterising framing continues throughout the film with a particular highlight in which Bloom breaks into a house in order to film the results of a horrific murder only seconds before. Bloom runs through the house and we see general shots of the house, we see his face and his adrenaline and we see the viewscreen of his camera as he pans through the blood and debris. Never once do we as the viewer look directly at the crime scene. We see what Bloom sees through his viewscreen and nothing else of the actual bodies and blood. We do this because this is what Bloom sees. He doesn’t have a normal perspective of these scenes, nor is weighed down by an empathy for the victims, he sees this event as an opportunity for an amazing piece of film, something that he can profit from and so the viewer sees everything the same way. Only later when the film is replayed in the editing room do we see the scene as it would normally be filmed. Only then can Bloom and the news editors reflect on what actually happened and what they are actually looking at.

5) It could be said that once villains (especially Disney villains) were identifiable by their ugliness and physical disfigurement, demonising the old and disabled. Now in a pardigm of our understanding of developmental conditions, bad people aren’t born bad because they were cursed or born under the wrong star, they just pace somewhere on the autistic spectrum. The inference is clear without the condition ever being named. Whether this is right or wrong, it gets to the heart of what is happening in the film.

In the film, Lou is someone who has problems and in the first act again and again reaches out to those around him to try to find a mentor to find purpose in his life and find a job. We don’t really know anything about him but we know from what he says later that he doesn’t have much of a formal education. The sad thing is that, hey, it’s the recession and nobody wants to mentor you or give you a job or invite you in. Quite the opposite in fact.

When we meet him, Lou is already a bad person, but it’s strongly implied that if the recession hardened world would allow him to have any job, any part of the world, that there could be some kind of hope for him but there isn’t. And what does a harsh world do to a person who has no empathy? What does the internet and our self-help business-management-bullshit speak make of this person? Unfortunately it makes him terrifying.

We can see again and again that where choices are offered that some people make the wrong choice for personal gain. When a car crashes and catches fire, the cops try to pull the woman free. When Lou sees this, he pulls over and looks. An ambulance chasing cameraman hops out of a van and starts filming. The cameraman is a moral entity making an immoral choice. When Lou tries to learn what the cameraman is doing instead of helping, he is without empathy or morals but taking the first step down a path towards further egotism, further towards taking what he wants rather than earning or asking for it and further down the path to becoming the titular ghoulish monster. Further in the film we can see those who are choosing to make the wrong choices and others, like Lou, who are unable to distinguish the right choice from the wrong one to begin with. It’s not just Lou who falls into the second camp.

The moral centre finally emerges in Rick, who makes the wrong choices because he has no other choice. The cast is fantastic, Gyllenhaal is a virtuoso but even so it’s worth taking time to mention just how good Riz Ahmed is and how ready he is to become one of Britain’s hollywood regulars.

The plot isn’t necessarily the best and sort of chickens out of a resolution (imagine Scarface except the film ends after Manny’s death) but this is a quite incredible, indelible, magnificently cinematic film with a harsh Seventies grit. I wouldn’t be surprised if within two years this and Interstellar are the films of note for this year. If you can see it, go.

Why Disney’s Frozen is the Second Best X-Men Film

Storm Elsa

Ok, the last X-Men film was pretty good (here if you didn’t read it) but that other X-Men film about those two royal sisters was really good too. In fact, it was a close run thing.

It’s not the first time a story about mutant powers was set in a magical seeming kingdom, concerning members of the royal family. In fact, the same could be said of one of Marvel’s oldest superhero characters who derrives their power from the mutant gene – Namor, the Prince of Atlantis.

It’s also not the first time we have focused on a character who can control the power of ice and freezing. As you will know, one of the original X-Men Bobby Drake possessed this power under the alias Ice-Man. It’s not uncommon for mutants to have similar powers (Professor X, Jean Grey and Emma Frost are all telepaths for example). What’s striking is that The Ice Queen’s powers seem to be superior to Drake’s even at a young age. Bobby Drake is often overshadowed by some of the other members of the X-Men team but is considered to be an Omega level mutant, meaning that he is among the most powerful mutants in existance. While Bobby has from time to time bent the laws of physics out of shape and generally been awesome (making himself into an ice-titan, being able to become a sentient gas), he was never able to conjure seemingly independently sentient beings into life. That’s a pretty mind-blowing power – along with most of the other stuff that Bobby seems able to do, so for now Elsa seems like the more potent mutant.

Ice Man and Namor

And we know that she is a mutant. When her father takes her injured sister to the trolls for advice (it’s not uncommon for mutants to consort with supernatural creatures for advice or for other family members to have no active sign of the mutant gene), the Troll asks a simple question:

Was she born with the powers or was she cursed?

Elsa was born with her powers.

See, the thing is that most X-Men films concern mutants that have been sought out by the X-Men (or another group) and taught to use their powers. Elsa (like presumably many other characters unseen) has no such guidance and her part of the story illustrates her struggle to master her abilities without the aid of Charles Xavier or some other helpful mentor.

The film initially illustrates the danger of not allowing a mutant to be who she really is or to explore her powers. Without a mentor to teach her how to safely use her powers, Elsa’s well meaning father advises her not to use her powers and to shut herself away, hiding her powers from others. Though Elsa’s father is a kind figure, this mirrors the treatment shown in other films about the X men where mutants are asked by their families “not to be mutants anymore” or to hide their abnormalities away in other ways. In such stories, this is never shown to be a good thing – it is equated to hiding your own identity and denying yourself (a metaphor for race, sexuality and many other things). Such attempts are usually doomed and can lead to the main character not developing full control over their powers, as it does here.

The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside
Couldn’t keep it in;
Heaven knows I’ve tried


Not only is Elsa not able to use her powers in a mature or safe way, she runs the danger of using the furthest reaches of her powers without the ability to properly control those powers and associates them with tragedy.

HAVOK: You know, when I do this, bad things tend to happen.

XAVIER: I have complete and utter faith in you.

X-Men: First Class

As X-Men: First Class showed in the cinematic universe, some mutants are unable to control their powers fully without coaching (Hank McCoy, aka Beast), some are unable to use their powers in a safe or targeted way (Alex Summers, aka Havok) and some even require tools or equipment to use their powers in the most constructive way (Havok and also Sean Cassidy, aka Banshee).

Further to this, we see that even an incredibly poweful adult omega-level mutant such as Erik Lenscherr (Magneto) is unable to control his powers fully to the extent that Xavier sees that he could. We also learn that mutant powers are deeply ingrained and thus are often closely tied to the mutant’s emotional or mental state. As a ward of the murderous Sebastian Shaw, Magneto has been trained to use his powers by utilising anger and lashing out as if violently. Shaw uses the murder of his mother to expose a manifestation of Erik’s power, tieing together use of his magentic power and use of violence, fear and anger in the young Erik’s head. When Erik teaches others to use their powers, he usually does so by using fear and anger, not calm control – for example pushing Banshee from the tower to force him to first use his power of flight rather than allowing him to do so in a safe controlled condition.

Meeting with the more level headed Xavier, Erik has it explained to him that in fact using only negative emotions to power the use of mutant abilities is very limiting and dangerous. Erik suggests that Xavier fire a bullet at him to see if he can deflect it, again using fear to take his powers to a new level. Instead, Xavier shows that Magneto is far more powerful when he concentrates on positive emotional connections and is able to use his powers calmly.

You know, I believe that true focus lies
somewhere between rage and serenity.
There is so much more to you
than you know.
Not just pain and anger.
When you can access all of that,
you’ll possess a power no one can match.

Xavier, X-Men: First Class

Meanwhile, Elsa’s story concerns much of the same themes. Upon abandoning a society that fears her, she flees to the edges of society and is now free to master her powers on her own and seems to grow in mastery. As she sings, she acknowledges that she is no longer part of regular society and can do what she wants, live how she wants and revel in her true nature. Even traditional morality, which has held her back is up for question. At this moment, Elsa is becoming like Magneto at his most sympathetic. She is someone hurt and rejected by society, looking for an alternative which won’t hurt her any more. And what’s more, she is free to develop her powers.

It’s time to see what I can do
to test the limits and break through.
No right, no wrong, no rules for me.
I’m free!


However, as Charles Xavier would point out, this is not a satisfactory solution. Being free is one thing but we turning your back on emotional connection and abandoning friends and family cannot lead to a healthy existance. Casting yourself as the terrible monster on the mountain can only lead to more trouble and heartbreak. What’s more is that by limiting yourself to using negative emotions to call on your powers, the powers themselves remain stunted. Without Xavier’s help, Magneto cannot turn the satellite dish in First Class. Though Elsa is able to construct a castle and protectors on the mountain, she is unable to undo what she has created (the storm over Arendelle for example), unable to prevent others from getting hurt by her powers and unable to undo what she has done to her sister.

Elsa’s powers at first seem to be motivated purely by worry, fear and anger and manifest during these emotions even if she doesn’t want them to. However, later on we see that this is not the case. Elsa in fact can undo her actions and can control her powers in society. By the end of the film, she finds that her powers can be tamed by positive emotions and motivations – and does so in the ultimate act of saving her sister.

At the end of the film, the kingdom seems to be somewhere where mutants and non-mutants can live alike.

Charles Xavier would be proud.

One last thing in this film that you need to learn about mutants, is that when you design a prison that they can’t use their powers to escape from…..well, that doesn’t usually work.

Elsa Erik



Wait, maybe I’m reading too much into this.

If this was really supposed to be an X-Men movie, they would have put in an obvious reference, wouldn’t they? Like two characters with almost the same name and a key feature in common? Something like that.

Anna Rogue

Well I never, sugah.

Ethical Rules for Selling Martial Arts Tuition

Let’s not pretend that making money from teaching martial arts is a bad thing. If someone can be paid as a sports coach, a yoga teacher or any other type of teacher then it stands to reason that being able to be a professional martial artist relies on being paid for teaching. If that is a problem for you, you probably will want to start here before going any further.

However, as with anything, there’s a right and a wrong way to do things. Earn money, yes, but most martial arts teachers at least conciously want to do things the right way, represent themselves and their style well and pass something good on to paying students. That said, here are some suggestions to avoid the absolute worst. If you have been aware of the martial arts for more than five minutes, you’ve seen martial artists selling their ways in a way that wouldn’t be out of place selling snake oil at the carnival.

Here are some suggestions. Don’t like them, fine, but face up to the fact that your communications might not be as well intentioned as you think.

1) Don’t advertise things you don’t teach. There are two things that this usually applies to.

1a) The firsts is MMA. You might have a BJJ teacher and you might have a points Karate teacher but if they’re separate people and separate classes and the striking and grappling never meets, then what you don’t have is an MMA school. MMA is something that exists in its own right so much so it has its own wikipedia page. Don’t try to use the term to refer to any school which offers multiple martial arts – that just simply isn’t what the term means now. To argue that Escrima and Taekwon-do make mixed martial arts is like arguing that you play for Manchester United because some of your team mates are from Manchester and you are united with them. Abusing misinformation like this is low to an audience who may not be well informed.

1b) The second is Self Defence. If you advertise self defence you have to teach it. Classical forms do not equal self defence, neither does points fighting, nor one step sparring, nor any other kind of sport or martial artists vs. martial artist activity. If your Self Defence teaching doesn’t cover awareness, posturing, handling verbals, defusing situations, being assertive and preparing for adrenal stress then you just aren’t teaching self defence. Compliant headlock escapes and the twisting of fingers does not cover it. Almost every teacher advertises something that they simply do not teach. Another way of looking at this is that if you want to advertise self defence, you have to start changing your classes to cover it. This is a good place to start.

2) Don’t  say you’ll help people to meet their goals if you never ask people what their goals are. Don’t say it if you’re not willing to change the emphasis of your class to help them. I am not asking you to do anything differently, only not to make a claim if you’re not willing to follow through on it.

3) Don’t exaggerate your rank. Don’t claim to have rank from someone you don’t have rank from. Don’t make false claims about your background. Don’t use someone else’s name to sell your classes unless you have rank from them or their permission. Don’t mention your black belt or other certification without saying what it is in. Should be a no-brainer, right? All too common. Teaching BJJ with a black belt in Judo – no problem in and of itself, but don’t try to intentionally mislead people.

4) Don’t sell your classes by demeaning other classes or styles. You don’t have to like what other people do. If you see technical flaws among others, you have the right to say so. Selling your classes as being superior to others is classless though. If you aren’t willing to make a positive argument focusing on benefits, you have no business marketing your class.

5) Don’t sign someone up without fully explaining the costs of training. This includes grading fees and roughly how often they’ll want to grade. This includes letting them know that they may have to purchase equipment down the line. You would say you want people to dedicate themselves and take it seriously – take their demands seriously too and give them a full and honest financial proposition to sign up to.

6) Don’t sign long term contracts with newcomers who have no experience and no idea if they’d like it. You’re a teacher, not a used car salesman shifting a lemon.

7) Don’t promise to make them into a black belt. Universities aren’t allowed to say, “Degree Guarenteed”. If there is no possibility of failure, then it’s not worth doing.

8) Don’t force new students to replace existing equipment with branded equipment…..ever. What are you? A graffitti tagger? You have to have your name on everything? Utility comes first and you don’t get to attach a string to someone else’s purse. Bundle the uniform with the joining fee if you wish but equipment is just equipment.

9) Don’t sign someone up before a trial class. Why would you do that? Surely even you’d like to see if they just start flipping out like a maniac or run out the door if they hear a police siren. It’s best for both of you if you let them see or be in a real class, taught by the real usual instructor. No selling on one to one tuition with grandmasters and being put in a class taught by blue belts. And don’t change the class to impress people either. They’ve come to see people learning, so show them the real product.

10) Finally and most of all, the Will Wheaton principle.



If the answer is no, don’t get all testy about it. Don’t bitch and gripe.

If the person knows what they are looking at and doesn’t sign up, accept their opinion, move on and find people who will get on board and do great things for you.

This is the one on the list I am going to share a real life example of following training at a dojang on a trial basis for two weeks. I was also training at a university club with a really good set of instructors who are highly experienced and well thought after but explained to this Instructor that I was considering joing somewhere else for some additional training sessions, especially during periods where the main club was closed but potentially throughout the year. I quit the class forthe best part of a year before this exchange. Enjoy.


[MY NAME], It is a year later and we are starting another year of TaeKwon-Do at [SCHOOL NAME].  I hope you can join us.


Thanks for your email. My situation hasn’t changed too much since last time in that I am doing some training at the university amongst other places and fairly satisfied with that…….As you know, I’m relatively reluctant to take up any kind of membership with [TAEKWON-DO ORGANISATION] because it remains my understanding that….I would have to pay a sizeable conversion fee on my current rank. This is not to say that I am looking to pursue a grading at the moment but this also plays into my decision making. Good luck with the new year at your club and best wishes for the coming months.


[WITH NO INTRODUCTION TO THE REPLY, A DESTRIPTION OF THE INSTRUCTOR’S AMAZING HUGE GRADING AND THE AMAZING HUGE SEMINARS THE ORGANISATION PUTS ON]….I respect your opinion to keep your costs lower, but I hope your training doesn’t suffer because of it.

Dude, don’t be suggesting that if I don’t sign with you, my martial arts will suffer.

Don’t suggest that some instructors with way more experience are unable to teach to a high enough standard that my training won’t suffer.

I already went to your class and I didn’t bite…..and didn’t return over the course of a year in which I continued to train. That means I wasn’t very impressed, so no, I don’t think my training will suffer. You aren’t Liam Neeson. You don’t get to track people down and imply that they are going to suffer.


Anyway, thanks for letting my personal rant end this perfectly otherwise sensible article. Let’s cheer ourselves up with the best martial arts marketing ever by clicking here.