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pages from a cold island: ALONE IN THE DARK?

Few films in recent years have yielded such widely differing reactions—among critics and paying punters alike—than Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island. On the very same day that the psychological thriller was ecstatically reviewed by three contributors to Radio 4's Front Row programme, I received a caustic text-message from a London-based friend of mine who's a veteran freelance contributor to numerous respected outlets: "Embalmed tosh. Already penned in - not pencilled - as one of the year's worst."

But there's one group which has been pretty much unanimous in its praise of Scorsese's phantasmagoric potboiler—or rather, one specific aspect of it. I refer to those legions of hapless individuals who clean up movie auditoria, scooping up the remnants of our cheesy nachos and soggy popcorn. Sometimes referred to as "ushers," these folk hover patiently until the public have exited the cinema-screen—which, these days, is usually a matter of seconds after the credits have started rolling—before moving in to clear the debris in advance of the next "performance." It's a humdrum, pretty tedious task—but there are sometimes compensations. And Shutter Island seems to be providing an inordinate number of grace-notes in a surprising number of working lives right now.

This is because the lengthy end-title sequence is set to a piece of haunting, eerie piece of music which combines the orchestral track On the Nature of Daylight by the German composer Max Richter (b.1966) —from 2004's The Blue Notebooks, an album inspired by the writings of Franz Kafka—with the vocals of Dinah Washington's 1960 song This Bitter Earth. The latter—written and produced by Clyde Otis—also features prominently in Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep (1977), in the memorably sensual scene where the picture's protagonist Stan slow-dances with his wife (tying in neatly with Shutter Island's tragic and poignant marital back-story.)

The combination of Richter and Washington—in what is technically known as a "mash-up", though that term seems singularly inappropriate for such a graceful commingling—is, for my money, rather classier and more affecting that anything in Scorsese's overcooked feature: a bracingly elegant sorbet as a digestif after a starchy, over-elaborate banquet. It was conceived and executed by the film's music supervisor Robbie Robertson, and is available on the two-disc CD soundtrack along with an array of (mainly) 20th century classical music from the likes of György Ligeti, John Adams, John Case, Ingram Marshall, Krysztof Penderecki and Giacinto Scelsi (the irresistibly-titled Uaxcuctum - the Legend of the Mayan City Which They Themselves Destroyed For Religious Reasons.) More details here.

Or you can listen to the single track in question via YouTube here. Scroll down through the comments section where you will find at least 19 testimonies from such semi-anonymous contributors such as 'gutsnGORExgeous' ("oh man when I clean theaters I get happy when I see this on the list because I know the song is going to be on"), 'enigmaproductions' ("i hate listening to crap songs while picking up dirtbags mess, but this song totally relaxes me") and 'stayupthere' ("I work at the movies and once I've finished cleaning I stay right to the end. It'd be a shame to let it go unlistened to. So captivating. So beautiful.")

You'll also find numerous similar statements from "civilians" who have found themselves reluctant to leave the cinema, having also become entranced by Washington, Richter, and Robertson's contribution. "I actually sat through the entire end credits listening to it, and I haven't done that in a long time," admits 'PhilBag'; "i saw this movie with friends," writes CRAZY4INU, "and i stayed by myself in the theatre listening to this song. they had to drag me out."

As anyone who attends the cinema regularly will attest, the pals of CRAZY4INU were exhibited what is near-universally typical behaviour among moviegoers: once the film is over and the credits start to roll, you exit the cinema as fast as you can. Of course, if those end credits include an extra scene (or two), or some kind of "blooper" reel—as has become the norm in mainstream comedies, especially from Hollywood—it isn't regarded as aberrant to stick around for a minute or two. Ditto those ever-welcome "picture credits" sequences which show us who was who rather than just telling us (one of the better recent examples: Role Models) But to actually sit and watch the entirety of credit rolls, those endless lists of names and job-titles, is somehow seen as the last word in anal-retentive geekiness.

Arriving in the cinema in time for the picture's beginning is one thing—the Sorrow and the Pity gag in Annie Hall notwithstanding—but to be actually still there at lights-up is quite another. There are exceptions, of course—at film-festivals, galas and premieres where the film-making talent is present, and may appear on "stage" to take post-screening applause. Then there are rare occasions where the audience is so impressed/traumatised/stunned by what they have seen that they sit still as if paralysed, and are stirred into motion only by the lights going back up and the arrival of hovering ushers, litter-bags in hand. And in or around Hollywood itself, where it's the norm for viewers to know those who have worked on a production (or to have worked on them themselves) it's common behaviour for everyone to pore over the end-credits (as I discovered to my surprise and delight when catching The Ice Storm in Los Feliz back in 1997.)

But whether it's at a press show, a film-festival, a regular multiplex or arthouse screening, I to tend to eventually find myself alone in the dark. I don't always stay till the end of the end—I recall sprinting from a screening of Mary Harron's American Psycho (2000) with considerable alacrity at the earliest opportunity, so outraged was I at this travesty of one of my favourite novels. But nineteen times out of twenty, at least, I'll watch and listen till there's nothing left to see or hear.

Examining the "small print" isn't exactly normal behaviour, of course—on the poster for his new comedy Four Lions, British satirist Chris Morris has embedded among the list of cast and crew the acerbic  admonishment "If you're reading this, find out what's wrong with you"—but it can add an extra element to one's understanding of the film-making process, whether you're a film-critic or a popcorn-munching punter.

The penny-pinching among us can feel as though we've gotten their full money's worth before they head out into the icy, stormswept rigours of the "real" world. And it's always fun to see if the name of Barbara Harris pops up—she's been Hollywood's seemingly-ubiquitous queen of 'ADR Voice Casting' for decades and is long overdue an Auteurs Notebook of her own.

In addition, the end credits are (or rather should be) an organic part of the movie—as is understood by certain directors, such as David Lynch (the extended Nina Simone Sinnerman remix that guides INLAND EMPIRE into the darkness), Lars Von Trier (check out the droll photo-montage that concludes Dogville, to the accompaniment of David Bowie's Young Americans), or Finland's Markku Polonen, whose On the Road to Emmaus (Emmauksen Tiella, 2002) bows out with all of the cast and crew walking up to the camera for a swig of vodka—and the more roles they've filled, the more vodka they get to imbibe.

Sometimes, as with Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004), they're actually by far the best part of the movie. Set to Thomas Newman's hypnotically repetitive Drive Away (arguably the composer' finest hour), this is an animated recap of the picture's plot—directed by Jamie Caliri, who displays much more wit, verve, and understanding of the text than the feature's actual director Brad Silberling.   The sequence is, of course, available to enjoy in full via YouTube and the comments section indicate that, back in the day, it too led audience-members to buck convention and stay put. "When the end credits are this amazing, it'd be a crime to leave without seeing them" opined bluezinc. "Glad to know I'm not the only one who sits and watches the end credits," agreed Naenia2.

While not quite alone, Naenia2 and I are in a very small minority—professional critics included. Some outlets (particularly the trade-magazines) expect their reviewers to time the films under consideration, which of course involves watching the whole thing. Also, reviewers do need to know if there's anything at the end of the credits—and such "stingers" can be found in a very wide variety of movies these days, not just mainstream comedies.

In an extreme example, anyone who exits the cinema before the post-credits sequence of Bruce MacDonald's 2008 Canadian horror comedy Pontypool hasn't really got their money's worth—proceedings conclude with a delightful non-sequitur ultra-short short. Such post-credits sequences are becoming increasingly popular, and their presence is now tracked on websites such as moviestinger.com, but I'm old-fashioned and prefer to find out about such "easter-eggs" for myself.

I always encourage budding film-reviewers to watch the credits as closely as possible—they can yield all kinds of information about where a picture was made (there's no other way of telling, for example, that last year's excellent remake of The Last House on the Left, was shot in South Africa), the people who made it, their connections (thanks and acknowledgements lists can yield all kinds of intriguing and illuminating info), and much else besides. Both Leonard Maltin and Todd McCarthy, for example, recently proved their eagle eyes by spotting mention of an "assistant to Mr Von Sydow" in the credits of Stephen Sommers' The Wolfman—"even though," as McCarthy wrote in Variety, "there is no Mr. von Sydow visible in the picture." Presumably he was stuck on Shutter Island.

***

"pages from a cold island" is a monthly dispatch from the British film scene by Neil Young.

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“…last year’s excellent remake of The Last House on the Left…” what a kidder! oh wait… [love your piece, as always]
I loved the “no jews were harmed in the making of this picture” in the credits of A SERIOUS MAN. And I usually stick around until the end of the credits too – somehow, it’s a good way to come down from a movie, instead of diving right back into the real world.
I worked as an usher in a multiplex for two years, and my most joyful experience in closing credit watching was in the Godzilla-Homage-Theme Music that Michael Giacchino composed for Cloverfield-it’s the best part of the whole movie.

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