The Sunday Intertitle: Tomorrow Belongs to Me

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on September 28, 2014 by dcairns

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Got some complimentary copies of CALIGARI in the post from the good people at Masters of Cinema. I’ve contributed a video essay to this one, and David Kalat has recorded a commentary track. His MABUSE tracks are among the finest commentaries out there, and this is well up to standard. I was intrigued to discover that we were both offering alternative readings of the film which intersect at various points. While mine is along the lines of a crackpot theory, inspired a little  by MULHOLLAND DRIVE, Mr. Kalat simply dispels the clouds of intrigue and confusion whipped up by the Krakauer-Janowitz account of the film’s making and meaning. Interestingly, while that yarn has been largely discredited for some time, it has still had an influence on how people see the film.

As mentioned before, the restoration makes the movie look like new, and suddenly, being able to see the facial expressions clearly, you get a whole new kind of emotional involvement too.

I have one spare copy — maybe I’ll offer it as a prize in the next Shadowplay Impossible Film Quiz?

If you can’t wait: Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari (Masters of Cinema) (DUAL FORMAT Edition) [Blu-ray]

The Last Day

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 27, 2014 by dcairns

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My selfies always turn out looking like someone else.

So, I finally get to the end of my Bologna report.

I knew it was likely that I wouldn’t see so much stuff on my last day, since Richard Lester was going to be in town and I wanted to hang with him as much as possible. I wasn’t sure how much that WOULD be possible, but I was certainly going to try to find out.

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I crawled out of bed and made it in at 10.30 am, to see a program of shorts relating to Chaplin’s roots. The 1904 LIVING LONDON pulled together footage of the London of Chaplin’s youth, while films such as L’HOMME QUI MARCHE SUR LA TETE showed the kind of music hall attractions Charlie would have been surrounded by during his early career. This 1909 film documented an acrobat who fulfilled the title role by bouncing along a plank on his head, wearing a protective skull-cap but still presumably jarring his brains loose with every impact. Albert Capellani’s CENDRILLON OU LA PANTOUFLE MERVEILLEUSE was a kind of pantomime, mirroring the popular theatre of Chaplin’s youth, WORK MADE EASY  was a 1907 trick film, KOBELKOFF (1900) documents a limbless wonder, referencing the armless wonder who appears in a deleted scene from LIMELIGHT… the whole show was accompanied by Neil Brand at the piano.

Kim Hendrickson, producer of the Criterion Blu-ray of A HARD DAY’S NIGHT was throwing a dinner and Lester was guest og honour and I got her to invite Neil since he’d interviewed Lester for his magnificent Sounds of Cinema series and I thought it would be nice to have a familiar face.

WANDA’S TRICK from 1918 was a diverting little comedy, part of a sidebar I’d completely missed up until then, celebrating the unknown filmmaker Rosa Porten, sister of actor Henny Porten, who directed along with Franz Eckstein using the pseudonym Dr. R. Portegg.

Having fallen asleep at a Japanese double bill earlier in the week, it was with trepidation that I attempted Yasujiro Shimazu’s SHUNKINSHO: OKOTO TO SASUKE from 1935, an early talkie which proved diverting enough thanks to its sheer, horrifying perversity. A fable of true love and self-mutilation, it did share with the comedies I’d snoozed through a focus on the voice as subject. Most of the filmmaking was staid in the way everybody always expects early talkers to be, even though they often aren’t, but there was one remarkable shot simulating a blind man’s POV. Since it wasn’t just a black screen, but a hand-held movement filmed out of focus, you had to admire the imagination behind it.

At 4.30 pm Richard Lester appeared in conversation with Peter Von Bagh, the festival’s director. Lester was on fine form. When he referred to THE MOUSE ON THE MOON being shot on old sets from a Cornell Wilde picture, David Bordwell, sitting next to me, laughed. “Ahah, someone here is old enough to know how degrading that is.”

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The event assumes a melancholic afterglow now that Peter Von Bagh has been taken from us before his time. His festival is just about the best I’ve ever been to. For location and buzz, Telluride is miraculous. Being an old movies guy, Bologna does it for me.

Photo stolen from David Bordwell’s site, where you can read more on the legendary PVB.

So then we had dinner, which meant missing Lubitsch’s THE MAN I KILLED, and Bimal Roy’s MADHUMATI, and Frank Tuttle’s THE MAGIC FACE — but it was dinner with Richard Lester! What’re you gonna do?

Unfortunately I wound up sat out of earshot, but got a recap at dessert: “I was telling them stories about Telluride,” said Richard, who filmed there for BUTCH AND SUNDANCE: THE EARLY DAYS, “where I believe you did rather well.” A reference not so much to my screening, but to my wedding, which was actually held in Glendale Bel Air, LA, but you could say brokered via Telluride.

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And then we strolled to the Piazza Maggiore and watched A HARD DAY’S NIGHT. Lester introduced it, and had hinted that he might take off after the first ten minutes, but he stayed to the end. The applause, I trust, was worth it. And the impact of that opening chord, on the big screen, coming as it should after complete darkness, no logos, no anything, was pretty remarkable. The audience applauded that, too, though it took them several seconds to process the startling effect.

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Beatles For Sale — I never noticed the signs to the right of the image, anticipating the title of a Beatles album yet to be recorded.

Fleurs du Malaprop

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on September 26, 2014 by dcairns

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I once spoke to an actor, Emily Bruni, who had worked for Alan Rudolph (in INVESTIGATING SEX, which never came out in the UK at all) and I asked her what his direction was like. “He just made us all feel incredibly loved — and that was his direction,” she said.

I am curiously up-and-down with Rudolph. There are films of his I love — CHOOSE ME, TROUBLE IN MIND, THE MODERNS, MRS PARKER AND THE VICIOUS CIRCLE, AFTERGLOW, INVESTIGATING SEX. Then there are films he didn’t write, which seem like work-for-hire and which I never care for — ROADIE, ENDANGERED SPECIES, SONGWRITER, MORTAL THOUGHTS. But then there are films which he did write which are personal but where the alchemy just doesn’t seem to come together right — WELCOME TO L.A. (turgid), REMEMBER MY NAME (dour), MADE IN HEAVEN (compromised by studio interference), LOVE AT LARGE (uneven), EQUINOX (shapeless) and especially BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS (a book I love, and a director I love, but they don’t come together at all).

This might not strike some people as strange at all, but usually when I like a filmmaker I like everything they do, or near enough. My early practice loving the compromised films of Orson Welles probably stood me in good stead here. But I can’t love the Rudolph misfires — they grate too much. Maybe he loves his actors a little too much, and doesn’t always filter their excesses (though I really like AFTERGLOW for the Nick Nolte and Julie Christie stuff, the young couple are a bit irksome, especially Lara Flynn Boyle). But then again, he has drawn some career-best work from a wide range of players.

So to TRIXIE, where Rudolph evidently loved the hell out of Emily Watson, who plays a cop/security guard who gets mixed up in a murder case. Trixie mangles the English language, which is the one joke about her, and it’s a joke that works much better with a supporting character than it would with a lead. So the flaw is in the writing to begin with. One-note characters are delightful when done well — you just keep hitting the same button whenever they show up, and the predictability and inflexibility of the character because a source of pleasure. But you can’t play that card with your protagonist — they need a second dimension, possibly a third. Trixie does have other layers, but the need to have her jam a malapropism into every line — “You can’t drink yourself into Bolivia” — obscures them.

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Then there’s the performance. Watson had just made a big splash in BREAKING THE WIND WAVES, a film I hate (every story point is repeated three times in three consecutive scenes, because the movie thinks we’re stupid), but it’s an undeniably ballsy perf. I once had a drink with another actor who had auditioned for that role, who did a bitterly twisted parody of Watson’s delivery, right there and then at the bar, which was startlingly accurate. She decimated the performance, not by caricaturing it, but by reproducing it exactly, affirming the Warhol line that “the best form of parody is the thing itself.” But I still think it was a bold piece of work.

Well, Watson is big as all outdoors in TRIXIE, but it doesn’t work so well. Firstly, she augments her Amurrican accent by chewing gum, a trick borrowed from the Kenneth Branagh school of verisimilitude. So now we have a character constantly masticating while mangling her dialogue, which is a bit much. And then, visually, the approach seems borrowed from Burt Young (above) — Watson can somehow protrude her eyeballs, as if she’s clenching her skull until they pop out. It seems like she might sock her co-stars in the jaw with these great orbs. Everything that’s going on underneath the actorly tricks is fine — there are still moments which fascinate. But the pyrotechnics and schtick seriously get in the way.

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(I think Nick Nolte’s only good Rudolph performance is in AFTERGLOW, btw. He’s a man who has been known to overplay, as we know, and Rudolph seems to encourage or at any rate allow this. His best moment here is simply staring in astonishment at Watson, which feels just right, although you wonder why nobody else was equally amazed at this freak in their midst.)

What the role demanded was a sort of Giulietta Masina or Rita Tushingham — a female clown. Those actors are rare. But, frustratingly, the movie features one in a supporting role — Brittany Murphy is delightful in this, big and broad and goofy but NOT ANNOYING with it. When she’s around you can see the movie this could have been.

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