Archive for the FILM Category

Martedi

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 24, 2014 by dcairns

razzia2

Martedi, in my Il Cinema Ritrovato program, seems to correspond to “Tuesday” in English time. But time at a film festival moves in mysterious ways.

I met somebody who had a chronological day — starting with FANTOMAS in the morning, following that up with a Wellman pre-code, moving on to Italy in the fifties, and so on — stopping around 1964, because there’s no sense in getting too contemporary, is there? There’ll be time enough for that later. We spend most of our lives in the moment, it’ a relief to escape.

I didn’t manage a day like, that, preferring to jump around crazily like I do on Shadowplay, but I did frequently start the day in 1914 or 15.

Three Chaplins, ably accompanied by Antonio Coppola. I’d never sen Chaplin on the big screen, incredibly. This was part of a retrospective of CC’s Essanay productions, which allowed him more time, money and control than Keystone had, but do not reach the dizzy heights of the later Mutual films. HIS NEW JOB, which is set in a film studio called Lockstone, co-stars Ben Turpin, and showcased some interesting directorial touches — Chaplin moves the camera precisely three times. In each case, it’s while the camera is rolling on a scene within a scene — in the first instance, he slides in to exclude the hand-cranking and focus on the actors, as if we were entering the world of the movie. The second time, he simply glides sideways, animating the action with an Altmanesque drift. It’s as if he’s saying, “Movies have tracking shots — the movies you’re used to seeing. But my movies only use those kind of things in inverted commas.”

A NIGHT OUT was plotless knockabout in the Keystone tradition (with Turpin again) but THE CHAMPION was something fairly special — the boxing match at the end is a real tour-de-force, anticipating the one in CITY LIGHTS and actually almost as good — also, for maybe the first time Chaplin is working on our sympathies — not for sentiment, exactly, but just to get us on his side. In A NIGHT OUT and HIS NEW JOB he’s a nasty little thug, but he opens THE CHAMPION by sharing his last sausage with a bulldog.

razzia

RAZZIA IN ST PAULI (1932) was my first Werner Hochbaum, though I’d had DVDs of some of his films in my possession for ages. Great Weimar grime, with ladies of the night, fugitive crooks, and late-night jazz musicians as protags. Hochbaum downgrades dialogue in favour of ecstatic details and establishers, weaving a city symphony into his tale of Hamburg low-life. Very atmospheric, and the heroine has sexy sharp shoulders, something I’d never thought of particularly as a turn-on before.

Crossing the hall from the Sala Scorsese to the Sala Mastroianni, I caught some more musical shorts. This program opened with a Dulac short illustrating a song, and also featured FOUR INDIAN LOVE LYRICS, starring Wheeler Dryden, half-brother to Charlie and Sydney Chaplin. Wheeler is the idiot brother par excellence, having failed to capture any of the talent genes before his quasi-siblings snapped them up. But maybe he was a nice guy, who knows? Charles wasn’t always the most affable of men, and Sydney was a rapist and a cannibal.

The after lunch slot typically offered the most mouth-watering choices, driving festival-goers crazy as they tried to balance entertainment value — THE STAR WITNESS, Wellman — with novelty value — Italian compendium segments — with the latest restoration — LE OLYMPIADI DI AMSTERDAM — with an exciting program — early Japanese talkies… I plumped for the short feature on this screening, a documentary on Japanese movie studios, full of moronic narration (at one point, during the shooting of a samurai action scene, the VO guy flatly intones, “Look at them.”) — I enjoyed it, and it was certainly rich in historical interest, but I do feel bad about missing most of the Japanese season.

dragon-gate-inn

I ducked out of this one and headed for DRAGON INN, a King Hu swordfighting flick which proved highly entertaining. And, shamefully, I’d never seen a KH joint, let alone on the big screen, so it was educational too. A heroine in drag who wouldn’t fool anyone but fools everyone — endless berserk action — impossible leaping — and an asthmatic villain. As a fellow wheezer, I liked seeing one of my own kind given enough respect to serve as an action baddie.

I could have stayed in my seat and seen the restored A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, but I was feeling virtuous and wanted to avoid movies I already knew well — I marched back to the Cinema Lumiere and took in a bunch of Germaine Dulac newsreels with one of her rarer features. The shorts were nice but the main movie, ANTONETTE SABRIER, was a snooze — romance and high finance, with only traces of impressionist technique and subverting of sexual mores.

themerrywidow-blindfolds

I was feeling kind of tired and nearly missed the greatest event of the fest — THE MERRY WIDOW. A valuable lesson — when your body tells you it’s had enough movies, DON’T LISTEN!

Louche lips

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , on July 23, 2014 by dcairns

ambility

Latest second-hand shop acquisition — The Ability to Kill, by Eric Ambler. Ambler is my favourite spy writer, a bit like Graham Greene, whose mode he anticipated, but without the booby-trapping with Catholic allegories and wildly depressing bits. Ambler wasn’t brilliantly served by the movies, though Welles produced JOURNEY INTO FEAR and Walsh directed BACKGROUND TO DANGER based on his novels. Jules Dassin’s sprightly TOPKAPI is probably the best.

But Ambler also worked as screenwriter, chalking up the odd classic like A NIGHT TO REMEMBER, and a few decent programmers like THE OCTOBER MAN.

The Ability to Kill is a collection of non-fiction — several of the pieces are reportage on true murder cases, and they’re quite fascinating, but there’s also humorous essays on spy-spotting. The true professional spy, says Ambler, can be identified by the singular quality of loucheness, and he further claims that loucheness itself can be measured on a sliding scale of 1 to 10.

1. I wonder who pays for his/her clothes.

2. But I thought that he/she came with you.

3. There is something about him/her that I don’t quite like.

4. That mouth of his/hers is quite peculiar.

5. I wouldn’t trust him/her farther than I could throw him/her.

6. This one’s straight out of the woodwork.

7. Thank goodness he/she is three tables away.

8. Better feel to see if my passport’s safe.

9. I feel I ought to warn some authority about him/her at once.

10. I must get to a telephone.

Sessue Hayakawa The Bridge on the River Kwai

Ambler also recounts an amusing story about Bangkok which I hope is true. His point is that Bangkok is a strange place, and prolonged residence can give rise to a specific neurosis:

“A slight fever is followed by mild dysentery. Then, after a few days, you find yourself adopting a sort of Dali-esque attitude to life that is not far removed from whimsicality. This is the tertiary stage. Not only occidentals become infected.

In the Garden of the British Embassy in Bangkok there is a life-sized statue of Queen Victoria. When the Japanese army entered the city in 1942, they took over the embassy as a military headquarters, and the local Japanese commander gave orders for the statue to be boarded up. But after a few days in Bangkok, he found that something was troubling him. It was the statue. Queen Victoria it had been who, at the turn of the century, had recognized Japan as a great power. Japanese history books approved of her. No disrespect ought to be shown to her effigy. And yet, the political situation made it difficult. In the end he compromised. The boarding would remain, but in order to cause Her late Majesty the minimum of inconvenience, he gave orders for two small eye-holes to be cut in the boarding so that she could look out.”

Finally, in a piece called The Magic Box of Willie Green (reminding me that Ambler also scripted THE MAGIC BOX, about cinema pioneer William Friese-Green), Ambler discusses the plight of the screenwriter, and it’s some of the wisest stuff on the subject I’ve ever encountered. He goes into the various pitfalls that can render a writer either unemployable and embittered, or a worthless hack, as well as sketching the way he can navigate the perils and emerge with self-respect intact. I confess I didn’t fully understand this last part, because I guess I have to find my way there myself. From that serene pinnacle, once achieved, I hope to look back and fully grasp Ambler’s analysis of the problem.

Mister Beewees

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on July 22, 2014 by dcairns

TM1

When Timo Langer, boy editor, and I completed the first cut of PICTUREWISE 3 (here), the sequel to the two-part video essay on A HARD DAY’S NIGHT, it was about fifteen minutes long. Criterion suggested that ten minutes would be a better length for online content (maybe the standards were set by YouTube’s original upload limits; at any rate, people prefer shorter clips), so we made some trims. But I preserved the deleted scenes so I could empty my trim-bin all over Shadowplay.

The first bit we deemed snippable is an amusing story from the production of THE THREE MUSKETEERS, which besides its humorous content shows how money gets wasted on films. Lester, being a socially responsible chap, was always tormented by this. “You think — I’m wasting hospitals here!

lester beewees from David Cairns on Vimeo.

The Three Musketeers/The Four Musketeers (Two-Movie Collection)

Something I didn’t realize: my Lester video essay is also on the UK Blu-ray of A HARD DAY’S NIGHT from Second Sight — A Hard Day’s Night: 50th Anniversary Restoration [Blu-ray]

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