Archive for May 23, 2009

Balsa Minarets

Posted in FILM, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 23, 2009 by dcairns

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THE SINGING BLACKSMITH. A town in New Jersey is transplanted to a Russia of the mind by the simple addition of balsa minarets. Such is the no-budget magic of Edgar Ulmer.

My friend Mary Gordon, organising a screening of all Ulmer’s Yiddish films, booked me to introduce this one, probably the weakest of the set, at Edinburgh’s Filmhouse last Sunday. There’s not that much to say about the film, except that the lead is called Moyshe Oysher (and I had to remind myself not to call him Oyshe Moysher, because that would be ridiculous) and the young Moyshe is played by Herschel Bernardi, the voice of the Jolly Green Giant. Ho ho.

I decided to tell the story of how Ulmer was booted out of Universal after running away with the script girl, who was unfortunately wed to one of the Laemmle family who ran the studio, and how he came East to pursue work opportunities outside of the mainstream — the Yiddish films and the negro films resulted from this decision, eventually leading to the Poverty Row thrillers Ulmer is most famous for. And then it hit me that the negligible plot of THE SINGING BLACKSMITH, in which the musical ironworker has an affair with a newly married woman, had autobiographical elements that would tie the whole thing together nicely.

in-the-loop

And then I was off to see IN THE LOOP, that rare, almost unique, thing — a British comedy that’s funny. True, Armando Iannucci’s political satire doesn’t have the kinetic bustle of Edgar Wright’s SHAUN OF THE DEAD or HOT FUZZ, but it shouldn’t. It has an understated documentary flavour which works, without ever actually doing anything interesting. It’s left to the actors to drive the comedy forward, and here Iannucci is in safe hands: Tom Hollander, Gina McKee and Chris Addison are brilliant as the “normal” British characters, the politicos who successfully cover their moral shortcomings with the fumbling and prevarication of regular folks, while the more outwardly evil figures make them jump this way and that. We also get James Gandolfini as a general, and Anna Chlumsky (aw! little Anna Chlumsky!”) with her weird and lovely grown-up face sitting on the front of her head like a confused stranger.

David Rasche plays a “boring psychopath” on the US side (the film deals with Brit-US negotiations in the run-up to an unspecified war in the Middle East) with cold, calm deliberation, providing a bracing contrast to Peter Capaldi’s parliamentary pit-bull, Malcolm Tucker (one of the few characters Iannucci has transferred directly from his TV show, The Thick of It), a hysterically vicious, sweary Scotsman (even traditional valedictions become opportunities for creative cursing, hence “Fucketty-bye!”). I recently ran down Capaldi’s career highlights for a student, who was impressed that the gangling naif in Bill Forsyth’s LOCAL HERO was also the Oscar-winning director of short film FRANZ KAFKA’S IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (balsa minaret link: Capaldi’s enchanting miniature of Prague), and the loud, violent-tempered Director of Communications here.

Iannucci, a Glaswegian Italian-Scot, gets great mileage from this seemingly one-note character, and tops the gag with the introduction of the pit-bull’s pet pit-bull, Jamie McDonald, played by Paul Higgins, who is even more ferocious, foul-mouthed and threatening than himself. My favourite moment of anger from him was his response to UN chairman Sir Jonathan Tutt’s choice of music, some kind of operatic lieder: “It’s just VOWELS!” Impressive how much fury a Scotsman can inject into the word “vowels”.

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The Wall

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on May 23, 2009 by dcairns

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The torment of a man who knows Britt Ekland is naked behind a wall.

Inspired by the fact that Britt-searches seem to inspire a great many people to come to this blog. She’s so close, guys! So close!