Archive for Ozu

Befuddled

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on September 20, 2014 by dcairns

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Hey look it’s Pierre Blanchar! (See comments for correction.) With Louis Jouvet in Salonican drag. What gives?

I have a Pabst-related gig, so I’m watching Pabst films. No hardship there.

But when I come to MADEMOISELLE DOCTEUR, a 1937 French spy thriller (Pabst was working in France before the war, which adds to the mystery of why did he go back to Germany when war started? He’s like Rudolph Hess in reverse. Or something) I hit a subtitles snag. The subs have been created by a fan. This is one of the great phenomena of modern cinephilia — fan subs have opened up vast uncharted areas for study and enjoyment by the monolingual — but of course sometimes the results are imperfect. I can remember Ozu’s sublime I WAS BORN… BUT sliding out of focus, mentally, as I gradually realized the subtitles had been auto-translated and didn’t make a lick of sense. It’s surprising how long it can take to notice. You patiently wait for a film’s narrative to resolve, but it never quite does because all the words are wrong.

The problem with the Pabst is different. The subs are simply unfinished, with whole scenes untranslated. Since it’s a twisty spy flick with moral gray areas and dubious characters adopting shady masks, it could prove challenging to my Earthling brain anyway, but the abrupt subtitle dropouts make it even more abstract, like watching Tinker Tailor as a child. (The problem Truffaut diagnosed, that whenever a character in a film refers to someone not present by name, we become confused, because unlike novel-readers we can’t flip back a few pages and remind ourselves who the hell Emma Flume or Argentine Filibuster or Rudolph Sasquatch *is*, largely disappeared for me when I read his statement of the problem, and I started paying attention to the dialogue. The bad one is still Carpenter’s THE THING, where somebody self-immolates offscreen and I can never work out who is meant to be smouldering in the ashes. I scan the beards, trying to work out which one is no longer present, which is no kind of fun.)

I was trying to think, what is this sensation reminding me of, as the film slipped in and out of comprehension like those little animated plasticine worms in ERASERHEAD, weaving above and beneath the riddled surface of my capability. I think it’s a childhood feeling, when you’re listening to adults and they suddenly shift the subject to politics or taxation or something you don’t understand and they might as well be making brass instrument noises like the adults in Charlie Brown.

Cell Six

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on June 19, 2014 by dcairns

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Film Festival opening parties are always good, but then you wake up “with a sare heid and a pocket full of sticky pennies.”

LET US PREY, written by Fiona and myself, screens at 20.15 tonight at Filmhouse 1, part of Edinburgh International Film Festival.

Director Brian O’Malley and his cast, led by Pollyanna McIntosh (FILTH, THE WOMAN), Liam Cunningham (Game of Thrones, HUNGER, pictured) and Niall Greig Fulton (NATAN), having done a sterling job. The main thing we don’t like is the title, so as an act of petty vengeance I’ve used our original title for this post. Let it have one outing at least.

If you are a fan of gruelling horror I venture to say you will not be disappointed by the violence quotient in this film. And people I spoke to after the press screening seemed to feel it was FUN, which is good to hear. One anxiety we had was that it might just end up being an unpleasant ordeal, the kind of endurance test some horror fans seem to appreciate but which was never our intent. Instead, you get a suspenseful, funny, very stylish mixture of claustrophobia, character byplay and mayhem.

A pre-Fest treat: we tagged along to DRAGNET GIRL at Filmhouse on Friday 13th, so eager was I to repeat the experience I had with it at the Bo’ness Hippodrome — scored by Jane Gardner and performed by the composer (piano) alongside Hazel Morrison (percussion) and Roddy Long (violin). With a slight tweak to the sound levels, the experience was even better this time, and I shared it with Fiona and our friend Ali, who liked it so much she’s thinking of taking her husband to the Dundee screening on her birthday. Ozu’s only gangster movie is a unique treat, and if you get the chance, I highly recommend it. It’s touring Scotland so check press for details.

A funding optunity — Neil O’Driscoll, the ex-student of mine who brought me the story of Bernard Natan, is raising cash for a psychological thriller called WAKING THE WITCH. Here. Neil is super-talented and very nice, so you should invest — if anyone can turn a profit in this cockeyed business, it ought to be him.

The Monday Intertitle: Moll Quiet

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 17, 2014 by dcairns

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“I’m pretty influential as Lefty Hiroshi.”

Beautiful deco kanji in an intertitle from Ozu’s 1933 DRAGNET GIRL, screened at the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema, Bo’ness. This may be becoming my favourite Ozu, but I have lots more still to see. I’m really an Ozu newbie. It was about ten years ago I saw a bunch of late ones screened on Film4, and made a point of catching up with TOKYO STORY, but the ones I’ve seen outside of those experiences mean more to me.

Chris Fujiwara, introducing the film, suggested that the large number of intertitles in the film may have been Ozu’s way of constraining the benshi, those sometimes-overzealous film describers who had a tendency to not just read out the titles for the benefit of non-readers, but to embellish the plots and elucidate the subtext and supply the thoughts of every character. They would scarcely have time in this movie.

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Image from here.

DRAGNET GIRL was screened with a live score by Jane Gardner, whose accompaniment of THE GOOSE WOMAN last year was a highlight. I found a couple of the scores on Saturday to be over-amplified — the venue is small and has excellent acoustics anyway. THE LAST LAUGH screened with a new arrangement of the original score, which was absolutely brilliant, but the violin and whistle could be a little piercing. Ozu is usually thought of as “restrained” and “minimalist” (not to mention “transcendent”) and if that were true of DRAGNET GIRL the piano, violin and percussion score would have been too lush, emotive and emphatic. But this middle period film is, as Chris said, very *free* — Ozu allows himself more camera movement, much of it lateral (the movie poster on the wall in the background for ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT suggests where that may have come from; otherwise, Sternberg and UNDERWORLD and the lost DRAGNET are clearly influences) but one shot rotating slowly around a big white coffee pot (symbol of the decadent western influence, we are told) rather like a prototype for the cuts in later films which will pivot our perspective around an orienting object such as a red kettle.

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And this is a crime melodrama — albeit one which avoids most of the possible cues for melodramatic incidents, admittedly. What looks like being a hit by typist/moll Kinuyo Tanaka upon her romantic rival, is averted by a girl-on-girl kiss which has as much impact — and is presented with even more aversion of the camera eye to protect the innocent — as an assassination would in a conventional gangster flick. But things do eventually reach a pitch of high tension and jeopardy, as our heroes go on the lam after a heist (really the only bit of crime-for-profit glimpsed in the movie).

And so the score seemed an apt expression of the emotions lurking just beneath the polite surface of the characters. And it was absolutely beautiful, which is important, because so’s the film.

I must have a word with Jane to see if I can get copies of her stuff so I can walk around with it playing in my head.

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