Archive for Alan Cumming

Through a Glass Darkly

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on February 18, 2013 by dcairns

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I wrote an official obituary of my friend and colleague Scott Ward for Edinburgh University, and spoke about him at three screenings. I’m reproducing an edited version of what I said, partly for Scott’s friends, partly because you can’t talk about Scott without talking about valuable lessons, and so this material is of possible use to people who never met Scott, who never knew he was here at all.

University Obituary

Scott Ward (1966-2013), who died last week, was a cinematographer and a teacher of cinematography. He taught cinematography for both documentary and drama in Edinburgh College of Art’s Film and Television Department for close to ten years.

His two jobs, teacher and filmmaker, were quite contiguous: you couldn’t work with Scott without learning, not because he would lecture as he worked – he was far too efficient for that – more because of the questions he asked in advance and the conclusions he reached, and the sensitivity with which he put a plan into action.

Always calm, patient when he had to be, but briskly decisive when it was time, he made all his collaborators look good, by framing and lighting expressively, always taking the most interesting and courageous route but never overstating an effect or being guilty of the obvious. He raged – gently – against the problem of the “default film,” where decisions are made for reasons other than creativity. “You’re making a film so you think you need the latest camera and the best lights and the most expensive actors, but until you ask what the film is about, none of that can be assumed. You might not even need a camera at all!”

The whole film department at ECA is shocked at this sudden loss of an essential colleague and friend, somebody who could be consulted on any project, experimental, fiction or documentary, about any technical or creative question, and who had answers that were beautifully practical, that told you more about what you were trying to achieve as well as how to achieve it. And with enthusiasm, spirit and vision, generosity and humour.

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Edinburgh College of Art Screening

If one were about to make a film — a crazy idea, but go with me — one would be looking for collaborators. And you would ask what sort of qualities an ideal collaborator would have? You would want them to be knowledgeable technically, aware of what could be done, but also knowledgeable historically, aware of what had already been done. You would want them to have good taste. You would want them to have that indefinable sensitivity that an artist requires. You’d need them to be hard-working and totally reliable. You’d like them to be pleasant to work with. You’d want them to be smart, not only so they could come up with ideas to help the project, but so they could understand your ideas swiftly, and make it clear that they’d understood. You’d want them to be able to do the job to a very high standard — and also to do it quickly.

Obviously, I’m talking about the ideal collaborator. But obviously I’m also talking about Scott.

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Glasgow Short Film Festival Screening

You should all be so lucky as to work with somebody as good as Scott. And I don’t know realistically how that can happen now. The best chance is for us all to try to be more like Scott. This would mean being artistic without temperament. It would mean being brave without being foolhardy. It would mean being smart without being cautious. Scott said “You get rewarded for bravery, always.” So you have to figure out what it is you’re making, and make it the boldest, most exciting, most powerful version of that, that it can be. If we can all do that, then we’ll all have good films to watch.

Dublin International Film Festival

This premier is dedicated to Scott. He was already ill when he did our shoot, but we had no idea. When I heard he had died, I asked his partner if there was anything I could do, but she said, “You already did do something: you made his last shoot something about cinema and papier mache heads. He was so happy about that.”

***

The screening in Glasgow of CRY FOR BOBO was wonderful — the audience laughed at everything save the first gag (Nigel was right about that one — it IS too soon to get a laugh) and were generally appreciative, while the projection of our new HD copy of the film looked smashing. Glasgow audiences are known for sometimes being tough (one Music Hall comedian committed suicide after a particularly unsuccessful gig), and the last time BOBO showed there, in front of Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s THE ANNIVERSARY PARTY, the audience was more interested in seeing the film they had come to see, which is understandable. (Though I did get a free ride through in an Edinburgh Film Festival limo, along with the gracious Mr. Cumming.) But this crowd, even though they were anxiously awaiting the results of the Short Film Fest’s awards, were very vocally responsive, in a nice way.

Thanks to Matt Lloyd and Morvern Cunningham for putting it on, and thanks to Brian Robinson and Simon Vickery for company. Thanks to everyone at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival for our screening, and to Emma Davie for organizing the showing at ECA.

Trash Bumpers

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 3, 2011 by dcairns

First up — a Christmas limerick on the subject of James Whale’s FRANKENSTEIN, over at Limerwrecks.

Second up — a very late entry in the Late Films Blogathon, on the subject of Jean Renoir’s swan song, from Brandon over at Brandon’s Movie Memory.

Third up — guest Shadowplayer David Wingrove, writing as David Melville (long story), went to see BURLESQUE with Fiona, as part of a tradition which sees them seek out movies of particularly embarrassing awfulness — and he brings this report –

“I Am SO Gonna Regret This!”

Given that Cher is the last of the Great Camp Musical Divas – and has, nominally, been a movie star for three decades – it is supremely odd that no film has ever cast her in a musical role. I mean, think of Bette Midler without The Rose (1979) or Liza Minnelli without Cabaret (1972), Barbra Streisand without Funny Girl (1968) or Judy Garland without A Star Is Born (1954). Those are grim prospects, indeed. To film buffs of a certain persuasion, Burlesque might look like a chance to correct this ridiculous oversight.

All-singing, all-dancing and all-camp, Burlesque gives Cher the role of an ageing patronne in a seedy bump-and-grind club on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip. She doesn’t have to do much, exactly. Sing a couple of numbers, strut around a little and model a series of ever more outlandish wigs. It might all just about pass – if only Cher, at the cosmetically remodelled age of 65, could still manage to look like Cher. Alas, she now looks like a wizened, elderly drag queen impersonating Cher. Badly. A fatal flaw from which Burlesque never recovers.

But wait! Hope is at hand in the perky peroxide form of Christina Aguilera. An ambitious small-town cutie bent on stardom, this insufferably chipper little scamp wanders about the mean streets of LA while practising her dance moves – something that would surely get her mugged, arrested or sectioned in any sane universe. She has the ability to make drive-by shootings seem like a good idea. But this being a film made by (and for) hardened masochists, she becomes the main attraction at the club. If only because she’s the one person who belts out a song louder than Cher?

There are a few ‘real’ actors in Burlesque. Indeed, there’s fun to be had in working out why they agreed to appear – or if they even told their agent what they were up to. Cast as Cher’s drunken no-good ex-husband, Peter Gallagher has that unmistakably furtive air that says: “I’ll pop out and do my bit now, while they’re all busy buying more popcorn!” Stanley Tucci does the same Wise Old Fairy Godfather routine we got sick of watching in The Devil Wears Prada (2006). Alan Cumming (looking miffed at not being the campiest person on screen) exempts himself from criticism by having nothing to do. The sight of him knowingly peeling a banana gives Burlesque its one truly sexy moment.

An ordeal akin to being whacked over the head repeatedly with a glitter-ball, Burlesque should still be required viewing – if only as proof that Paul Verhoeven’s infamous Showgirls (1995) really wasn’t such a bad movie after all. Early on, the ghastly Aguilera bullies Cher into hiring her. “I just know I’m gonna regret this!” Cher honks out to her adoring public. Sorry, love, but we’ve already got a head start.

David Melville

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