Archive for March 22, 2008

Roadkill

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 22, 2008 by dcairns

On the Road 

I’ve been sounding people out about my treatment of RED ROAD (in brief, watching it in episodes over an entire week and sorta live-blogging the experience). I was worried that I wasn’t being fair to it. I was much meaner about THE COTTAGE (and somebody, perhaps the director, has objected to this in the Comments section) but at least I saw that one in approved conditions, at the cinema and in one go.

Generally, friends said things like “You’re being quite even-handed about it, but the fact that it’s taking you a week to watch it…one can read between the lines.”

Well, without my even noticing, I managed to watch more that 24 minutes of it last time — in fact, it was more like 30! So I knew I had only one short burst left in store, but somehow I couldn’t quite settle down to it last night. I spent the evening making screen grabs of Anton Diffring’s arse exploding instead, which somehow felt more, I dunno, rewarding.

An angle on my shoulder

But, with Jaffa Cakes to the ready I finally completed my epic slog through the film. I was pleasantly surprised! As I had suspected, the long-delayed revelation that explains Kate Dickie’s erratic behaviour through the whole film was kind of a damp squib in dramatic terms, failing to exceed what I’d already imagined. And in the aftermath of her LADY VENGEANCE-style attempt at gaining retribution (a completely half-arsed scheme that could never have worked — does Andrea Arnold have any idea how appallingly hard it is to secure a conviction for rape?) the pace slows to a crawl, to the point where you expect it to start replaying backwards, like that bit in FUNNY GAMES. Kate’s in-laws make tea. We watch three cups being carefully poured, in real time. A biscuit is selected. Will her dad-in-law have a biscuit? No, he’ll not bother.

BUT! A happy ending. How surprising. Not overwhelmingly happy, but redemptive. Joy Division drone rapturously onto the soundtrack, just to stop us getting TOO excited, and this is accompanied by a high-angle shot that might as well have “The End” stenciled across it — the combination of song and locked-off composition rupture the carefully-preserved aesthetic of the rest of the film, but it’s arguably appropriate to do so. It seemed kind of wrong, though. Maybe making the shot a security camera view would have justified it.

This is the first in a three-film scheme originated by Lars Von Trier’s Zentropa Films, who have been drawn to Scotland by the preponderance of gloom. Like moths to a flame, only a flame that somehow makes the room darker. Lone Scherfig and Anders Thomas Jensen created a core group of characters (a not-too-diverse bunch of working-class whites, alas) who are to feature in all three films. As I always say, it seems a screwy justification for making films, but if the films are good they won’t need any justification. I’m dining with the writer of the second film this evening, so expect GOSSIP.

RED ROAD seems to struggle slightly with the imposed form. At least one major character, Natalie Press, has no storyline of her own and no real involvement with anybody else’s. Martin Compston is only slightly more integrated. The film apes REAR WINDOW’s construction to a moderate degree, with Kate Dickie’s surveillance job affording her a window into numerous lives, but this isn’t exploited the way Hitchcock did it: there’s really only ONE supporting character, a man with a dog, and his “story” is extremely slight (dog dies, is replaced, a distant echo of one strand from the Hitchcock film). The surveillance work is smoothly woven into the central plot, but other elements, such as Dickie’s van-driving, premature-ejaculating lover, have no real narrative function and seem to occupy space that could be better filled.

Blue in the Face

My feeling is that the film’s constant hugging of its central enigma to its chest is a neurotic mistake. If we opened with the background tragedy, all Dickie’s behaviour would carry more emotional weight, while still being intriguing and baffling. The story overall has a decent heft to it, but it’s drawn out to staggering lengths, and what might help would be a bunch of supporting stories using the other characters. At present they don’t serve any purpose except to pad out a thin plot.

RED ROAD is a superior Scottish film. That’s my problem — it exemplifies an approach to filmmaking that ignores the need for complex narratives and replaces it with nothing but nice photography. It’s well shot, well-acted, well-scored (but some actual TUNES would have helped), but it seems parsimonious, refusing us subplots, tonal variety, changes of pace, fun. It’s the kind of film people abroad might expect from the Scots: dour and tight-fisted.

Behind the Screen

I don’t need each Scottish film to fulfill every possibility of cinema, but I’m tired of the sameness. A filmmaker as able as Arnold ought to separate herself from the herd by making something genuinely different for her next project. Scottish cinema needs a change.

Anton Diffring’s Arse is on Fire…

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on March 22, 2008 by dcairns

…in Terence Fisher’s THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH.

Pfffft!

Sparky

Fiery

I try to find something to say about almost everything I see, but this wasn’t too interesting. It did have fun performances though (especially from Diffring), plus the burning backside and one or two nice images…

Court of Appeal

Hands Across the Table

The Green Room

Fisher’s very traditional approach is such that he can appear stodgy if the material doesn’t deliver regular thrills. And he has a tendency to cut together single shots where one character doesn’t look at the other for the longest time, until you suspect he’s mismatched the eye-lines… then at last Character A turns to face Character B and you realise he’d just been staring into space. Fisher does this in STOLEN FACE as well, the most recent Fisher-Hammer flick I watched, and it’s disconcerting in a way that doesn’t seem too helpful…

But there are lots of good qualities in Fisher’s work, as I’ve previously mentioned — and shall again dot dot dot…

Bass relief

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 22, 2008 by dcairns

CARMEN JONES. 

The start of the Bass-Preminger collaboration…

THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM.

Title sequences by Saul Bass. It’s interesting that Otto Preminger, something of a control freak one might think, was happy to basically hand over the openings of his movies to somebody else to direct. I mean, no doubt Bass and Preminger discussed these sequences intensively. But they still smack of untrammelled creativity, so it would be astonishing to me if Otto interfered much after the concept was agreed.

But then, Otto was also able to collaborate effectively with some great composers, and of course there again the filmmaker must entrust a large part of the movie to somebody else, somebody who cannot be directed in quite the same way as an actor or cinematographer…

SAINT JOAN. Impressive how Bass’s hip work merges so well with the period flavour.

BONJOUR TRISTESSE.

ANATOMY OF A MURDER. A classic.

EXODUS. “Otto, let my people go!”

ADVISE AND CONSENT.

“When the Saul Bass credits conclude with the dome of the Capitol lifting to reveal Preminger’s name, the limitations of the whole enterprise are already apparent.” ~ Jonathan Rosenbaum.

THE CARDINAL. Again, simple but stunning due to the careful design of action and lettering together.

IN HARM’S WAY. Just the placement of the words over the image is beautiful, it makes it inexplicable why so many title sequences don’t seem to bother with composition at all.

BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING. Probably my favourite late Preminger, of those I’ve been able to see in decent form. The best ever Olivier film performance, and a superb turn from Noel Coward.

THE HUMAN FACTOR.

Preminger, a useful combination of artist and huckster, undoubtably borrowed from Hitchcock’s zesty promotional gimmickry, pushing himself forward as a personality, as a bigger star than those in his films, and even narrating his own movie trailers in a lugubrious fashion (Hitch was way better at that though). But Preminger was the first to use the iconic Saul Bass as titles designer (unity was achieved by having Bass design ALL the publicity material as well).

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