Archive for August, 2013


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on August 31, 2013 by dcairns


Out-of-LoveTo give you an idea —

I descend into Telluride each day in what they call a gondola, though it comes without a man singing Italian opera while wielding a punt — it’s a cable car that dangles you above the deer and bears and trees and afford a spectacular, gently lurching view, the perfect combination of beauty and terror, a bit like being attacked by Halle Berry with a hammer.

It’s impossible to choose from the wealth of stuff on show so I’ve been trying to repay the nice filmmakers who have attended NATAN by seeing their films. We met Battiste Fenwick and Esther Julie-Anne and hit it off and so I dragged myself to their films at 9.20 am Friday — if not for insomnia I’d never have managed it. And I was SO glad I did.

In a day that included Pierre Rissient screening MUSCLE BEACH and an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Don DeLillo reading from Underworld as accompaniment to the Zapruder Film, stories read aloud/performed by Jason Reitman, Buck Henry, Gregory Nava, Teller, Tamara Jenkins, Joyce Maynard, Salman Rushdie and Michael Fitzgerald, Battiste and Esther’s films, documentaries produced at UCLA, were still probably the highlight.

They’re a husband-and-wife team, each having directed one movie and edited the other. And their wedding forms a part of one of the movies, and they now have their first kid very much on the way. The films were submitted separately to Telluride but the smart programmers realized that the two movies make a perfect double feature, being wildly different yet underneath, if not similar, certainly mutually complimentary in all kinds of ways.


Q&A chaired by Godfrey Reggio, left. Photo by Richard Parkin.

The screening was sparsely attended: it must have been crushing to see those empty seats — but everyone who was there had an unforgettable experience. Unforgettable. And we were privileged. These films deserve a HUGE audience.

Battiste has made UNA CHANZA MAS (ONE MORE CHANCE) about Pedro, a former LA gang member attempting to build a new life, and Esther has made OUT OF LOVE, a film about her much-married father, his “harem” of ex-wives, and his relationship with his kids, in an attempt to discover whether love can last. Two very different films which resonate beautifully with each other. I rarely cry at movies (well, fairly rarely), and certainly not more than once per movie, but I was a mess here, and fully expected to be bursting into tears all through the rest of the day. Fortunately the other entertainers listed above kept me distracted, but I may go weep into my pillow now. It’s 01:36 am and I’m pretty tired. I want to write more about these movies soon and I urge everyone to see them.

Happy endings department — word spread — Telluride is a word-of-mouth film festival — Godfrey Reggio likens it to an ocean liner where you stroll around and meet the same people again and again. For their second screening, Esther and Battiste had a huge full house, and again an amazingly enthusiastic response. Another of the magic Telluride stories everyone seems to have, and well-deserved. These are filmmakers to watch, and they are now well and truly LAUNCHED.


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on August 30, 2013 by dcairns

(L-R) Andy Serkis, David Bowie, Hugh Jackman

So, here’s the order of events —

We find out we’re screening at Telluride, but we’re sworn to secrecy. The peculiarity of this festival is that nobody knows what’s on until they get here.

Then I realise that the reason the place-name is familiar to me is from Richard Lester’s BUTCH AND SUNDANCE: THE EARLY DAYS, where the town is regarded as a kind of outlaw paradise.

Then, through circumstances that may be narrated one day, I get to meet Mr. Lester. Despite being sworn to secrecy, I mention Telluride to him, because, well, I figure Who’s he gonna tell? No, not that, I figure he’s trustworthy. And he tells me about filming there, and how it was one of the first towns with electric street lighting anywhere, because of the generator needed for the mine, and how they featured those streetlights in his film.

Then, looking up Telluride under “locations” on the IMDb, I realise that actual incident, the electrification of Telluride, is recreated in Christopher Nolan’s THE PRESTIGE, a film I actually like better than most Nolan movies (but what it really needs is a big wide CITIZEN KANE shot at the end to actually clarify what has been happening — thinking about it, a big wide shot in that warehouse with a few identifiable corpses floating in tanks — clear everything up beautifully).

And now I’m here. Partying in the Rockies with Francis Ford Coppola, the Coens, Philip Kaufman, Allan Arkush, Robert Redford, Salman Rushdie, Werner Herzog, Errol Morris, Bruce Dern and David Thomson (who has written our programme notes in typically unconventional and imaginative style) while thunder rumbles in the not-so-distance, The drive up was total SHINING credits sequence material, but my hotel is less like the Overlook and more like the Great Northern in Twin Peaks. As for altitude sickness, I’m not sleeping, I’m breathless, my head aches and I feel weak as a kitten — which is all perfectly normal for me.

The bus driver tried to give me Bruce Dern’s luggage by mistake. Maybe I should have accepted it?

The ’68 Comeback Special: The Fireman’s Ball

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on August 29, 2013 by dcairns


Welcome. Scout Tafoya and I are blogging the entire line-up of the 1968 Cannes Film Festival — the Cannes that never was. Previous installments here and here.

I love this one. Milos Forman manages to square a number of circles here — he was able to make a film in communist Czechoslovakia with funding from capitalist Carlo Ponti. And he was able to combine Tatiesque behavioural comedy and comedy of movement with a documentary style, something even Tati couldn’t quite do (he tried, in TRAFIC). The stylistic trope is a success, though the financial one proved problematic, with Forman getting buffeted by censorship from the Czechs and lawsuits from the Italian.


The movie is a pretty courageous attack on a system that doesn’t work because it fails to take account of human weakness and corruption — that’s maybe the mildest critique one could make of soviet-style communism, but it’s a critique all the same, and thus dangerous. (When I screened the film for students they found it so plain enjoyable they didn’t want to hear about deeper meanings — “An allegory? That’s spoiling it!”) The authorities objected strongly to the portrayal of regional firemen as incompetent and venal. In an effort to provoke a controversy they could use against the film, they screened it to a real fire department, only to find the Czech firefighters largely agreeing with the film’s depiction, and reminiscing about their most spectacular bungles, which topped anything Forman had dared to portray.

As for Ponti, he objected to the film’s very short running time and claimed Forman had failed to live up to his contract by delivering a film of less than feature-length. Forman argued, rightly, that the film was the perfect length for what it was (it’s not exactly slight, but it would start to seem slight if you inflated it). For a while, a huge and terrifying lawsuit dangled over Forman’s head.

The film itself pulls off an exceptional balance between affection — I think Forman loves his subjects, non-professional actors whose hesitant performances manage the difficult job of seeming realistic rather than amateur — and cruelty — the comic developments are mercilessly observed and much of the humour downright mean. How does he even get away with reducing to a shambles the ceremony intended to honour an ancient fireman, now apparently about to expire from cancer? By making it something that’s more important to the ball organizers, a bunch of stuffed-shirt bureaucrats (though again, observed with affection) rather than the recipient, who attends more out of a sense of solemn duty than pride. Bow-legged and befuddled, he seems impervious to harm, whereas the gradual disintegration of the ceremony is mortifying to the idiots in charge. Thus, tragedy is circumvented and comedy achieved.


This strategy, whereby the real victims in the film are unable to suffer, is a very useful one. The climax, when a house burns down under the fire brigade’s noses, is kind of melancholic, but still hilarious, and part of its bittersweet ludicrousness comes from the fact that for once it shows the people acting together and trying to do some good, but in the most misguided way. The old man whose house is on fire is frail, so they sit him in a chair, one of the few belongings rescued from the blaze. Then they worry that he’ll be cold, so they move him closer to the fire. Then they worry that the sight of his life going up in smoke will be distressing to him, so they turn him around so he can’t see. Of course, the man shows no sign of distress, just bafflement at this odd behaviour.

There is a bit of pathos — somehow, speaking for myself, anyway, I’m able to laugh and feel pity and not blame the filmmaker for being a bastard,


Oh, and another thing that strikes me as near-miraculous — the beauty pageant. It’s a good, but risky, anti-communist joke, the beauty contest where the girls are all selected for political reasons and do not exactly fulfill the normal criteria for Miss World. Kind of chimes with western jokes about female shot-putters and stuff. But of course the danger here is more cruelty, and sexism to boot. Forman manages to make the sweaty firemen the butt of the joke, and the more attractive girls, the ones they want desperately to take part, are all really odd-looking too, so the parade becomes a celebration of physical idiosyncrasy, rather than a nasty put-down of females who fail to come up to some societal standard. In the context of this movie full of wonderfully odd-looking characters, the girls are all rather lovely.


I got the making-of info from Forman’s excellent memoir, Turnaround.

Buy this —