Archive for April 8, 2008

The World According To…

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on April 8, 2008 by dcairns

Living humans in the UK can see a series called Three Minute Wonders on Channel 4 after the news, at 7.55pm every night. The rest of you can enjoy the pictures here. Not quite the same, but if you scroll the page really fast while blinking rapidly… 

This week the films are directed by two 4th year students from Edinburgh College of Art. My guys! Although these shorts are animated, the weird wrinkle is that neither filmmaker is really an animator. Jamie directs live action comedy and drama, while Anders is a devotee of cinema verité.

The theme of their short films is “The World According To…”, or T.W.A.T. for short, as producer Laura Clarke gleefully told me. Some kids have been interviewed (ah-hah, the documentary verité angle!) and their crackpot theories about Electricity, Space Travel, Robotics and Recycling have been illustrated in ZANY PICTOGRAMS.

The above image demonstrates that “electrons are very warm.” The films are cute as HELL and move at lightning speed, using a revolutionary process of washing powder on glass. The glass is lit from below and the clear areas show as bright (I think that’s right).

Jamie and Anders swathed themselves in protective gear, even though they figured something as universal as washing powder couldn’t be too harmful, and set about rendering their films in a specially constructed studio — Jamie’s bedroom. Partway through it became necessary to move a potted plant, and when they did, all the leaves immediately dropped off, dead.

Thereafter they switched to using aquarium sand, which they reckoned would be quite safe. If any readers can tell me that aquarium sand is toxic or carcinogenic or anything like that, hey, feel free.

Above — terrorist attacks! Remember how we were never going to see burning skyscrapers in entertainment ever again, after 9:11?

I’m kind of envious of the editorial freedom here! When I’ve worked in kids’ TV the censorship is quite ridiculous. Gone are the days of characters concussing each other with baseball bats and blasting each others’ faces off with shotguns. Sigh. But Anders and Jamie escaped all that supervision by showing their films in the evening when adults are watching.

Here’s the cause of those blazing buildings — a robot rebellion. A child’s terrifying vision of the future!

Gory alien autopsy! Some Scottish schoolboy actually proposes we entice aliens back from Mars so we can hack them up.


A tyrannosaur in a rubber room! Where else can you find such entertainment?


Quote of the Day: the stone head kids

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , on April 8, 2008 by dcairns

Thank you for smoking

More from Jean Cocteau’s Diary of a Film ~

“The kids who play the stone heads are incredibly patient. For they’ve got the most uncomfortable positions, having to kneel behind the set with their shoulders fixed in a sort of armour of plastic and resting their hair which is all gummed and bepowdered against the pillar with the arc lamps full in their faces. The effect is so intensely magical that I wonder if the camera can possibly get it. These heads are alive, they look, they breathe smoke from their nostrils, they turn following the artists who are unaware they are being watched. Perhaps as objects which surround us behave, taking advantage of the fact that we believe them to be immobile.”


And the camera DID get it.

Shadowplay Swordplay

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 8, 2008 by dcairns

Back in December, I wrote very briefly about the opening scene of Masaki Kobayashi’s SAMURAI REBELLION, which I’d sneaked a peak at.

The Edge



The Wicker Man

Swing High, Swing Low

The Field

Well, rather belatedly, we finally watched the whole thing.

Fiona: “He’s one of my favourite filmmakers.”

Me: “You’ve seen TWO of his films. And five minutes of this one.”

Fiona: “Yeah.”

I knew just what she meant. Fiona is a huge fan of KWAIDAN (which should really be kaidan — Kobayashi’s films have suffered considerable retitling in the west). I admire it enormously — it’s as beautiful a film as was ever shot and designed — but I don’t find it too dramatically compelling or scary. But I was utterly wowed by SEPPUKU (which Criterion have decided to call HARA KIRI), an excoriating attack on the samurai ethos, and what feels like an incredibly bold film to have come from a film culture like Japan’s. Reading up on how the young Kobayashi did his best to resist his nation’s plunge into militarism in WWII deepened my respect and understanding for him. He’s somebody whose life story really feeds into and illuminates his work.

SAMURAI REBELLION (Jôi-uchi: Hairyô tsuma shimatsu — I don’t know what that means but I doubt it’s been translated literally, and the IMDb lists several alternative English titles) is a Kobayashi from 1967 that confirms the man’s mission: to tell the stories history has omitted to record. In this and SEPPUKU, Kobayashi makes a point of telling us that his characters will be not only defeated but erased from the record. We will inherit the myth of the honourable samurai code simply because all other stories have been bloodily suppressed.

Face / Off

This movie’s ending isn’t quite such a spectacular downer as the earlier film’s, which in a way makes it seem a lesser work. But neither film is actually depressing, despite the bleakness of their message and the violence of their action. Kobayashi’s style is hard, beautiful and incisive, using strikingly modern sharp push-in movements on his characters, Langian cutting to illustrate the cause-and-effect unfolding of the plot, and sometimes wild flourishes like theatrical lighting changes, freeze-frames and jump-cuts. Conversations between sitting or kneeling characters on the floor, an essential feature of Japanese period drama, have unique edge and ZING in Kobayashi’s work, as he holds his edits back until they really count. The intensity and grace of the technique prevents the film from becoming depressing, in the same way Shakespeare’s poetry prevents his tragedies from ever acquiring a deadening gloom (unless Peter Brook is on hand to steamroller them into submission).

The plots of these Samurai tragedies are genuinely Shakespearian, it seems to me. They also relate to the classic western. Unlike any modern action movie, both films build to an inevitable outburst of violent conflict, but tend to avoid decorating the path with action set-pieces. You have to wait for that promised samurai rebellion. While it’s hard to envisage a pacifist action film, what Kobayashi does with his stories almost amounts to that: as he slowly builds the sense of injustice, tension rises to the point where violence comes to seem essential, the only human response to the oppression on view. And at the same time, the violence harms only the underlings and the innocents: in the long term, it achieves nothing, and is destined not even to be remembered.

to the hilt

With Toshiro Mifune AND Tetsuyo Nakadai, the film has plenty of iconic honourable bloodshed stature, but at the same time undercuts its genre superbly, making it simultaneously a samurai film for those who don’t like samurai films, and one for those who do.


Surprisingly, script collaborator Shinobu Hashimoto also worked with Kurosawa on projects such as THE SEVEN SAMURAI which, though they include some knocking of the samurai myth, ultimately reinforce it.


There doesn’t seem to be any more Kobayashi available in the west for us to groove to. Criterion’s imprint of his epic three-parter THE HUMAN CONDITION is out of print and retails for exhorbitant prices second-hand. If anybody wants to burn me a copy I will love them madly.