What does one critic ask another? His opinion, I suppose. Stephen Aspeling – more commonly known as Spling – reviews movies, interviews South African talent regarding their opinions on the best movies and has recently started hosting Ster Kinekor’s special screenings entitled ‘Movie Buffs’.
The starting point for the interview is then his favourites, from actors to movies to directors. While most people, present company included, would ponder and pontificate about what their all-time favourite movies are, Spling answers without hesitation: “Chinatown, Excalibur and Sunset Boulevard”. When it comes to actors “Christopher Walken is the first name that leaps to mind”. Daniel Day-Lewis’ name also features and, although he is brilliant, I have my issues about his revered status, so I press him for reasons why, “He’s in a league of his own, just because he is so brilliant and so serious about filmmaking and committed to the role”. However, these are just men and I want to know whether there are any females he admires. “Frances McDormand. I enjoy her work…and I have a soft spot for Milla Jovovich”. After The Fifth Element, who wouldn’t? Finally, his favourite directors are a “toss up between David Lynch, Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick”.
His choices indicate a certain love of Hollywood cult, but he is not opposed to popcorn movies and blockbusters. He is a critic after all and the work entails sitting through a plethora of films, both awesome and atrocious, yet remaining as open-minded and objective as possible – because without critics it “would just be a sea of general opinions. You need someone who is relevant to the people, who isn’t over the top or snobby and can convey an opinion in a way that people can understand. They say ‘everybody’s a critic’, but we’ve seen so many films, therefore we have better judgement to enlighten audiences”. Having studied film, media and visual studies at UCT, Spling is more than equipped to educate and inform.
His fifth “Movie Buffs’ night entailed a screening of the movie Hitchcock, about the renowned ‘master of suspense’ who also happens to be one of Spling’s favourite filmmakers. As Spling gets to choose the films for the screenings, it is no surprise that this one cropped up. The film focuses on Hitchcock’s relationship with his wife Alma Reville, as well as the production of one of his most famous films, Psycho. Before the screening, Spling comments that Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of the acclaimed director, although good, is not “Oscar-worthy”. Afterwards I have to know what he deems an “Oscar-worthy performance”, which he sums up as being a performance where “you truly lose yourself in the film…that you don’t realise acting is taking place. The illusion is of that person being completely different and you buy it hook, line and sinker”. As for Hitchcock himself, it is difficult to think of a modern-day contemporary and Spling admits that “in terms of suspense and mystery nothing springs out. In terms of greatness, it has to be Christopher Nolan. He is becoming a household name”.
As someone encompassed in film and who spends time talking to our local talent he believes our own industry is advancing in “leaps and bounds”; but acknowledges that filmmakers “aim for a commercial success with their first film so that they can then make the films they really want to”. He highlights the necessity for a change in focus as well: “a lot of people are expecting slapstick because of our history, but there is so much more. So many stories dying to be told and we have a bright future as a country of stories. There is so much diversity and rich culture”. This latter shift is apparent in Fanie Fourie’s Lobola, which left a positive impression on Spling, as did Sleeper’s Wake – both recent South African releases.
Steering back towards Hollywood, Spling is supportive of 3-D films, because “they’re getting people back to the cinema. They work as a technique, in order to immerse the audience in the film and”…he breaks off to acknowledge how lame, yet true, the next part of his sentence is “it’s an added dimension and makes you more part of the film”. Thankfully, and understandably, he turns up his nose at films which are being re-released in 3-D, when they were not originally shot as such, asserting that they are “no good”. While 3-D seems set to stay for the time being, there will surely come a time when audiences tire of the barrage of superheroes. With the continuous onslaught of war, terrorism and paranoia in the media it may be a while before the superhero tide turns; or it may just take a different form, as Spling suggests that Biblical stories are returning and with the newly-available technology, it is an exciting idea. Darren Aronofsky is set to film a rendition of Noah’s Ark and he has a “good feeling this [trend] will pick up. These stories have a redemption aspect and with the recession people are looking for hope and inspiration and the Bible has that fodder.”
In five years time, Spling hopes he will be continuing to review films and be “more of an authority and better known”. He is certainly on the right track and with the surge in social media and bite-sized opinions in 140 characters or less, established and informed voices are needed more than ever and quite frankly, it’s time that our generation started supplanting the likes of Barry Ronge.
Read some of his reviews at www.spling.co.za/