Day one here (Day two of the actual Festival, and Day four if you count the Chaplin symposium that opened it). A somewhat late start as I tried to get a bus into town, having foolishly booked a cheap hotel way in the boondocks. But a plan is underway to move to more convenient location. Despite not making it into the dark until 10.15am, I managed to pack in two Wellmans, two Renoirs, a Parajanov and a program of shorts. All were enjoyable, and I hadn’t seen any of them before except UNE PARTIE DE CAMPAIGNE, Renoir’s longish short based on a Maupassant, which plays a bit like the lost fourth episode of Ophuls LE PLAISIR. Another, less likely comparison: the two riverside Lotharios we meet in it are just like blokes in a swinging London sex comedy. I christened them Pete & Dud, in fact.
The two most delightful surprises were in the short program, which was themed around music. THE NIGHTINGALE’S COURTSHIP (1926 or 27) might be the strangest film ever made in Britain. It stars the Plattier Bros, billed as celebrated French clowns but unknown to history outside this five-minute phantasmagoria. One clown is in drag. The other is a moustache-twirling roué. They communicate in bird tweets, facilitated by some kind of early sound system. It all takes place on a cramped set, and to exit, one clown practically has to squeeze past the rumpled backdrop hanging just outside the front door.
Adding to the aura of cheese dream, for some reason every shot is separated by a few seconds of blank leader, adding a new layer of abstraction and fragmentation. This HAS to be a mistake that crept in during the duping process, surely, but why fix it? It does nothing but enhance the ERASERHEAD feeling.
The other amazing thing was PRELUDE, written, produced and directed by Castleton Knight, as a kind of music video for Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C Sharp Minor. You can watch it here.
Castleton Knight, who later made THE FLYING SCOTSMAN with Ray Milland (so THAT’S where I’d heard his name!) gives it plenty of invention — the interred unfortunate is filmed in his panic through a translucent coffin lid patterned with wood grain, solving the problem of the confined space which makes these things so tricky to shoot (see also Dreyer, as Jonathan Rosenbaum pointed out). There are giant closeups of a staring eye, and then images are reflected in it. And finally we get a subjective camera shot from the POV of a man drinking a glass of gin — a refreshing way to end any picture.