A night in the woods (2011) – Hand held camera

Recommendation: Go and see it

I didn’t know there was a bit of a fan club for ‘hand held camera’ films until I wanted to remind myself of the name of the first film I can remember seeing that was completely made using this technique (that was Cloverfield, about an alien invasion of New York).

One of the criticisms of that film was the ‘jumpy’ nature of the images. We are accustomed, in contemporary cinema, to the steady-cam which keeps everything on an even keel whatever the action and the seeming directionless and random images produced by the hand-held camera can be disconcerting. I didn’t agree with that as I believed it added to the chaotic situation in which the characters found themselves.

In A night in the woods the director and camera crew have taken this concept to a higher level. Here the camera is used in virtually every possible manner. There are images taken when someone is actually holding the camera and pointing it, openly, at the subject. The tension created by always being filmed can be seen as a metaphor for the CCTV society in which we live. Then there are images taken when the subject is unaware that they are on camera. This also introduces the invidious concept of CCTV as well as the idea of being spied upon.

There are images in natural day light capturing the wildness and stark beauty of Dartmoor. At other times the images are in colour at night but the light this time being provided by the camera’s own built-in lighting system. To create atmosphere, suspense and fear, at times the images are in the infra-red. In a horror film this is a wonderful device as we can see what is happening whilst the subject is unaware that they are being filmed. And the eerie green tint and vacant eyes resulting from that spectrum add to the unworldliness the director wishes to create.

Sometimes we get a static camera, either purposely left so all the players can be in the image or from one that has been dropped accidentally or as a result of an attack, or discarded on purpose, the operator ‘forgetting’ the camera is still recording. On one occasion a static camera is left as a ‘spy’ to record the fears of one of the protagonists, but when it is discovered by one of those being spied upon it is not switched off, it is allowed to continue doing its job of recording events, again in reference to the ubiquity of the filmed image in our society.

Obviously we also have the shaky, erratic, pointing everywhere images, in both colour and infra-red. This is a horror film and it wouldn’t be a horror film if the (normally) heroine wasn’t running, and screaming, for her life. But here the whole idea is twisted and sometimes we see what she would be seeing and at others, when the camera is in the hands of the one chasing and in the infra-red, we see her fear with the added dimension of the unnatural colour.

But hand-held cameras can go wrong. They don’t like being kicked and so at those times the images break down into the oblong pixels (I’m sure there’s a name for them but I haven’t a clue what it might be) and the sound gets distorted and broken. And all this is used to add to the chaos and terror of the story.

The device of the film is that the story of the three characters and their disappearance is being told through the edited images of the handful of cameras found at the scene (that’s not giving away anything as this is stated before we even see any of them) and the way the editing was done is not far short of brilliant.

I was impressed with this film and thought it a cracker and might well now consider myself a fan of hand-held films – especially if they are made this good. Or better. I’m sure this medium still has a long way to go.

One o’clock in the morning – La Rambla, Barcelona

The Rambla in Barcelona is considered to be one of the ‘must’ places to visit if you are in the city. Publicity pictures and videos will show you hoards of smiling people, brightly dressed, relaxed as they take in the sun at the same time as they take in all the sights the Rambla has to offer. There are cafés aplenty, the human statues (although they were strangely absent when I was there recently), the smell from the flower stalls half way down, the artists waiting to paint your portrait down at the bottom end. But a different form of tweeting now comes from the part of the Rambla where the bird sellers used to be based, the sale of wild birds having been banned since 2010.

I’ve never thought that walking down this crowded thoroughfare was ever a pleasure. If you don’t look where you are going no one else is going to do so and it is as much fun as walking through a crowded underground station in London at the time of the evening rush hour. It gets busier every year and new technology has made matters worse as it seems even women aren’t able to both talk on a mobile phone and look where they are going at the same time, so what chance men? And there are always the ever-present, always watching, continually vigilant pick-pockets who are sizing up who looks the easiest touch as their next victim.

But some people like the atmosphere and will not be dissuaded from this ritual in a visit to the city, much to the joy of all those whose livelihood, both legal and illegal, depend on the limitless supply of willing victims.

As it gets dark the crowds start to thin out but there are still many people passing up and down this tree-lined avenue. It’s only in the very, very early hours of the morning, when the detritus of the previous day is being cleared away by a small army of street cleaners, that tourists are outnumbered by the locals.

With the change in the light there’s a change in the players. Alcohol becomes a more important component as the night draws on and the atmosphere changes.

Fueled by a few drinks (probably in their hotel room) the only complaint from one member of a small group of Welsh tourists (about 8 of them) that one of the women had stolen a bottle of wine from a small supermarket was that the bottle didn’t have a screw top. The alcohol had made them oblivious to the fact that although in a foreign country there were still likely to be many people who could understand their ‘banter’.

As the hands of the clock indicate that it is now the next day the crowds get thinner, the sellers start to pack up and the piles of rubbish grow at the side of the road. Now there are more groups, both male and female, who have left yet another bar in search of new one, something they’ve been doing since the sun went down. Their sharp wit and clever antics amuse all who are lucky to witness the high level of culture they have brought from their respective countries.

It’s likely they’ve been to one or more of the overpriced, dirty and tacky bars that have appeared in the guide books since I first started visiting Barcelona on a regular basis almost twenty years ago. Unfortunately what was then reasonably priced (or even favourably priced before the introduction of the Euro) is a thing of the past and wherever the extra money has gone it has not been invested in the infrastructure of the bars themselves. Pictures are askew, paper is peeling from the walls and ceilings and the colour scheme was dictated by the nicotine that used to be spread over every surface, static or moving, before the enforcement of the smoking ban.

But if you feel that the wallet has been assaulted by these formal bars yet are still thirsty it’s possible to get a warm beer from informal sellers who stand in the middle of the Rambla, cans of Estrella hanging from the plastic that keeps the cans together before they are wrenched apart with a sale. These sellers might be ‘sin papeles’ (those without a formal right to be in the country) they may not, the economic situation forcing many to look for other ways to make a ‘living’.

Other people with something to sell also come out with the setting of the sun. Some of the streets of the Barrio Chino are lined with women from all parts of Europe and Africa who sell themselves. Whatever they thought when they left their home countries it’s unlikely that this was the trade they would have chosen. As the night gets later they migrate closer to, or even on to, the Rambla. Pimps and minders are never far away and as Dutch courage works on potential clients, and as the thinning crowds make such approaches less intimidating, they start to negotiate the terms and agreements.

Bouncers stand outside empty bars, hardly making them inviting places to enter. How can so many bars exist, even in the best of circumstances? Surely after one o’clock in the morning there are not enough people around to fill them all?

Cans and plastic bottles start to pile up in alcoves seemingly made for the dumping of rubbish. Someone else can pick them up and, so far, the area of the Rambla does appear rubbish free at the start of every day. These may be the workers from the municipality or it could be the scavengers who also appear to be more numerous in the fading light. This doesn’t mean to say that this doesn’t take place during the day time, supermarket trolleys with wonky wheels are ideal for transporting items of no value to some but of potential value to others.

Fresh urine gets added to that which had been matured in the sun of the previous day and there are some streets and alley ways that never seem to be free from the acrid smell, however much the streets might be hosed down.

Of course, all this is not just as a result of tourism and the dependence that many, many cities (and countries) throughout the world have on outside visitors but it doesn’t help. Even in the so-called ‘developed’ countries the negative effects of this business is not so far below the surface.

And as this cycle of events is repeated day after day after day do we really want this to be the sort of future for our young people, either behaving like idiots or pandering to the whims of such.

IVA increases – small businesses cash in

The level of Spain’s purchase tax (IVA) went up on many goods from 18% to 21% on September 1st  2012. Are small businesses cashing in on this increase and causing inflation in the cost of some of the most basic of everyday purchases?

On September 1st the level of IVA  in Spain (VAT in the UK) went up from 18% to 21%.  This is all in an effort to try to reduce the country’s national debt, please the stronger economies in the EU and make sure that there’s more than enough money to give to the bankers at some time in the future.

When I first started coming to Spain on a regular basis in the early 1990s I’m sure that IVA was much lower than that of the UK and if that is the case then the rate has really raced ahead in recent years.  As someone told me last week, at least there is one thing now where Spain is better than the UK, sales taxes here beat even our 20%.

I remember from my economics classes of many years ago that any sales tax was always considered to be a regressive tax as it invariably has a bigger impact upon the poor than the rich and this is just another example where the poor are expected to bail out a system for mistakes that were nothing to do with them in the first place.

That’s an injustice which the present conservative government in Spain (the PP, or Partido Popular) have imposed upon the country and it will be interesting to see if, now that August is over and matters get back to ‘normal’, whether the increase in IVA will be part of the protests when people take to the streets.

But what I want to address here is a hidden, a forgotten or not even noticed, consequence of this tax increase.  That is the price hike that smaller businesses, mainly small shops and bars, tag onto the price of everyday purchases.

When the Euro was introduced 12 years ago I remember talking to a taxi driver who was telling me that it wasn’t the major items that saw a price increase in the first few months, it was the morning coffee, the loaf of bread, the olive oil, or the beer at the end of the day where the difference first became apparent.

Those who remember the introduction of decimal currency in the UK in 1971 will understand this completely.  For example, the pub I drank in at the time was selling a pint for 2s 6d (equivalent to 12½p) the day before decimalisation but on D-Day itself the price suddenly shot up to 14p.  It was a strange sensation to go into your local to be faced with a petition from others who knew earlier in the day what was going on. In that particular pub the price, after all the complaints, was set at 13p, but still a price increase that had no justification whatsoever.

You should remember that this was a period when people were going on strike for an increase in pay of 6 old pence (2½p)  per hour, so taken in those terms the increase was not entirely insubstantial.

I’m not really doing a lot of shopping here so don’t have many examples to rely on but I am buying the occasional beer. One bar I quite liked charged €1.40 in August. Yesterday, my first time in there since the IVA increase, the price for exactly the same thing was €1.50.

Using a calculator I found on the net I worked out that, if everything was done strictly as it should have been the pre-IVA price for that beer was €1.19.  With the 3% increase on IVA that meant that the price should have been €1.44. If I’ve got the maths wrong please let me know.

So each time anyone buys that beer they are giving 6 centimos to the bar owner. I’m sure that’s being repeated all over Spain as I’m typing this. And almost certainly happened in the UK when VAT increased from 17½ to 20%.

And who takes the blame for this, the government. Now I’m not defending them but are we so used to prices of everyday items going up that we are incapable of analysing and understanding exactly what is happening and that the blame is shared by opportunists in any small shop or bar who looks to make some easy money?