My Pierre Etaix piece, an epic career overview, is now up at The Criterion Collection website.
Archive for Criterion Collection
News department: Cannes has announced its line-up, and to our disappointment, the film Paul Duane and I made, NATAN, is not featured. This despite our slipping the film to the top man with a recommendation from Costa-Gavras. Yes, Costa-frickin’-Gavras. Oh well.
We do have some thrilling news to impart about where the film is showing next, but we aren’t allowed to share it with you yet. It may seem at this point that things are moving slowly, but in fact leaps and bounds have been made…
Every now and then, I like to give you a rundown of all the David Cairns products out there. So far, these consist of DVDs and Blu-rays to which I have contributed essays, but soon I hope to have my name on a line of fragrances, sailor suits, battleships and small boxes of earth from my native country. But until that day…
Available to buy now –
“The Telephone is usually dismissed as the weakest of the three episodes, which is probably true, but it sets up a persistent motif of the other stories: offscreen sound as a source of fear. And aptly, for an Italian horror film, it’s practically a film about dubbing. The placement of one actor’s voice in another’s mouth foreshadows a theme developed through each panel of this cryptic triptych: the frightening mutability of identity, the fatal instability of reality.”
Incidentally, if you click through to Amazon using these links and buy a copy, I get a tiny percentage. And I like tiny percentages, almost as much as I like big percentages. They keep the wolf from the door, or the basilisk from the catflap as the case may be.
Other movies with essays by me –
Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? [Masters of Cinema] (Dual Format Edition) [Blu-ray]  (This might be my favourite of my own liner notes)
The Lost Weekend [Masters of Cinema] (Ltd Edition Blu-ray Steelbook)  or The Lost Weekend [Masters of Cinema] (Blu-ray)  (same movie, same essay, but the Ltd Edition Steelbook is only a few pence more expensive, so what the hey?)
“In fact, what suits Milland to the role is his slightly dissolute air, embodied in those hamster cheeks, that double chin; and his officer-class Britishness, which seems to project a weary distaste for whatever he’s acting in (a quality which would serve him well come The Thing with Two Heads, 1972).”
And from America –
“The shaggy-dog story that gave Alfred Hitchcock his pet name for “the thing the spies are after” but that is of no real importance to the audience may have been told to him by Angus MacPhail, an English screenwriter with a very Scottish name. If so, it’s all too apt, since The 39 Steps(1935), the first Hitchcock film to really crank up the MacGuffin as plot motor, is full of Englishmen who sound like Scots and Scots who sound like Englishmen. It also features two traveling salesmen in a train compartment who seem about to break into the MacGuffin sketch at any instant but never quite do . . .”
And the latest, and most massive bit of film writing I’ve ever attempted –
“Who is Pierre Étaix and where has he been all your life?
This is the story of a filmmaker who was vanished, banished, skipped over. It’s as if one of those invisible cubicles mimes are always getting themselves shut in dropped from a blue sky and ensnared him. Lips moved noiselessly behind the impermeable seal, passers-by passed by, until finally nobody could see him any more than they could hear him. A hole opened up in film history—a small hole, Étaix would argue, just large enough to fit him into, but a hole nonetheless, weakening the overall structure and preventing a proper vision of the comedy lineage that gave rise to the satirical visual comedy of filmmakers as diverse as Woody Allen and Terry Gilliam, and that influenced such established contemporaries as Jerry Lewis and Blake Edwards.”
Pierre Etaix (Criterion Collection) The ordinary DVD set IS a fair bit cheaper than the Blu, but on the other hand, these are handsome movies…
My first day in the edit was a day of hanging around. Hanging around waiting for a courier to deliver rushes from Ohio (our shoot covers two continents!) — he came, decided he couldn’t get in, didn’t try the buzzer, and left again. Hanging around as our ace editor assembles our paper edit, which he doesn’t need me for. Hanging around as he digitizes various Pathe-Natan films I’ve brought with me from Edinburgh. So far that’s been my only concrete contribution, although at least I performed my courier duties better than the professional.
The paper edit is a document created from transcripts of our various interviews. We chopped them up and assembled them into a rather long-winded and repetitious narrative — the next stage is to assemble the actual video into a matching order, before beginning to prune it down. And also adding a ton of footage that’s NOT interviews — scenes of Paris, clips from movies, newsreels and other archive material, and shots of pertinent objects in our interviewee’s homes. And also some special footage I don’t want to say too much about yet.
Listening to Mark Cousins lecture on his excellent new feature WHAT IS THIS FILM CALLED LOVE? I got a great tip. Index cards. Tomorrow I will buy myself a stack. I was always slightly dubious of the index card approach, but that was before I became a documentarist. The argument against file cards is that if you can remove a scene from your narrative and replace it five scenes later, then you might as well remove it altogether. But this project seems different, partly because it’s a true story, and a story which advances on several fronts at once, as well as jumping back and forth between the subject’s life in the early twentieth century, and his reputation in the early twenty-first. Mark says that when he had his scenes written on cards he could INSTANTLY tell what belonged where. I long for that sensation.
Optimistically, I also feel that when I can hold the film as a stack of cards, I will have a better mental grasp of it as well. Currently, it exists on various hard drives, as a series of ones and zeroes, and you can only experience a frame of it at a time. When I have my stack of cards I will be able to weigh the film in my hands. I don’t know what good that will do me, but I’m expecting some kind of perceptible benefit.
Meanwhile, my co-director Paul is in London where he’s nominated for a Grierson Award for best newcomer with his feature BARBARIC GENIUS. He’s in good company — Julian Schwanitz, a student from Edinburgh College of Art, where I teach, is up for best student film with his short KIRKCALDY MAN. Wish them both luck!
Today’s Pathe-Natan film recommendation: LES CROIX DE BOIS (WOODEN CROSSES). Available on the Eclipse set of Raymond Bernard movies, it’s maybe the darkest and strongest of all the early talkie WWI movies. All the major members of the cast and crew (including Natan) were veterans, and the film achieves both a palpable sense of authenticity (complete with de-lousing and lost limbs) and an epic scope, while ambling along in a disarmingly free-form manner. The lack of an obvious theatrical structure just makes the movie feel even more lifelike.
Screenings were arranged up and down the country for veterans. One was so distressed that he killed himself. Not an effect any of the movie-makers intended, but a terrible testimony to the impact of their work. I only recommend the film to you on the assumption that Shadowplayers are pretty resilient people.