Archive for the FILM Category

The Sunday Intertitle: Clan Gathering

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , on March 29, 2015 by dcairns

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I already wrote about ANNIE LAURIE here, but that was based on a very fuzzy copy — nothing about the experience could compare to seeing the film on 35mm at the Bo’ness Hippodrome, accompanied by Shona Mooney and her ensemble. The news that HippFest was commissioning scores from respected musicians new to silent film accompaniment had been both exciting and worrisome. I certainly hope Jane Gardner is back next year. But the policy was an undoubted success, due partly to the sheer talent of Moishe’s Bagel (who scored SALT FOR SVANETIA) and Shona Mooney, and partly to the policy of having experienced accompanists mentor the composers. Stephen Horne advised on this one.

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The folk song Annie Laurie is one of the most beautiful pieces of music Scottish culture has provided, and Mooney used it eloquently, weaving it in with other themes and building the emotion of this rip-roaring melodrama/historical farrago to a perfect series of crescendos. A particularly striking effect was the use of silence, always timed to heighten key moments: the music drops out, one character looks at another, there’s a moment of understanding, and then the score starts up again. Powerful.

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On the big screen, MGM’s lavish production values could be fully appreciated, with a studio Scotland concocted from models, glass paintings, capacious castle interiors and papier-mache boulderscapes in the manner of Welles’ MACBETH. All this expenditure resulted in a loss for the studio and accelerated the end of Lillian Gish’s stardom, but the Hippodrome was packed with enthusiastic movie lovers. Probably half the crowd was Scottish, enjoying the blatant traducement of our history and culture — we were just flattered that a Hollywood studio would think it worth doing. I described the film to curious prospective viewers as “BRAVE without the bears,” but it also has bloody limb-loppings, homoerotica (hulking clansmen recalling Groundskeeper Willie’s frequent shirtless action scenes; girl-on-girl kissing with Gish and her BFF) and David Torrence (brother of the more famous Ernest), an actual, honest-to-God Scotsman ~

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An audible gasp from the assembly when the print blossomed into Technicolor at the end.

The Bo’ness Hippodrome knows how to do these things — there’s a sense of occasion, dressing up, informative and funny introductions (Bryony Dixon this time), a short subject with some light-hearted connection to the main film, and a great sense of social gathering, with friends from all over and a community spirit too. It would be great to get some of this going on in our larger film festivals.

Copyriot in Cell Block 6

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , on March 28, 2015 by dcairns

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One day before the screening of LET US PREY, the spectacularly bloody horror film Fiona and I co-wrote, at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (a lovely fest: fond memories of seeing my other blockbusters NATAN and, er, CLOUD ATLAS there), the movie leaks all over the internet like a geriatric dog passed out on a modem. Prompting thoughts about cyber-piracy and what to do about it.

The producers of LET US PREY were actually pretty careful about piracy, as they were duty-bound to be — not only do they stand to lose money if the film is available free, the various participants, cast and crew, who deferred parts of their salaries to get the film off the ground, will lose out on the money they’re owed. Profit points mean nothing if there’s no profit. So, for instance, Fiona and I don’t even have a legit copy of the film we can use to show off our achievements, chop up for a showreel, or screen for prospective employers or agents. I was able to get a link to an online screener to show one interested party, after a little back-and-forth. So they’re being pretty diligent, and rightly so.

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But the film is out on DVD and Blu-ray in Germany, and with an English language audio option. Basically, that meant inevitably it would be pirated, and those who are so keen to see it they just can’t wait now have the chance to grab it from a torrent site at zero cost. I can’t say I blame them for choosing the fast, free option.

I’m not a distributor or publisher of DVDs, but it seems to me that if I were, I would tackle piracy by coordinating the film’s release so it comes out everywhere at the same time. Of course, I have no idea how difficult this would be in practice, but it seems like it ought to be possible. That way, honest film buffs are not punished for their honesty by being forced to wait for a release in their country, of to pay extra to buy the thing from abroad. I mean, *I* haven’t bought the German DVD, despite it’s really bitchin’ cover art, and I co-wrote the bloody thing.

Instead of doing this, movie companies petition for harsher penalties and probably impractical policing of the web. And circulate bogus statistics about how much money they’re losing, statistics which assume that everyone who downloads a piece of video or audio illegally would pay to do so if the free version were removed. Which is clearly ridiculous. I mean, one of the joys of the virtual wild west raging online is that you can grab far more stuff than you could ever afford to buy. But I’m sure billions are indeed being lost. This is to some extent an inevitable result of technology, of moving the industry to a place where all its product is composed of little ones and zeroes, digital information which can be copied exactly with relative ease. So why doesn’t the industry do something itself to minimise the loss?

If a film opens everywhere at once, you can maximise publicity on the internet instead of co-ordinating a series of campaigns for different territories at far greater cost. You can allow people to buy the film as soon as they hear about it and are enthused, and before they have a chance to read a lot of negative reviews. You remove one of the advantages of illegal downloading, its ability to deliver the film ahead of the official release date in your territory. Your other advantages, the nice packaging and reliable quality and extras, start to gain ground in this environment.

This will in no way solve the problem, but it doesn’t look like anything will, totally. We should concentrate on more serious internet crime ahead of movie-ripping. But this ought to save quite a lot of money.

The attitude of the industry at present strikes me as equivalent to a small-town pensioner complaining of the days when one could leave one’s door open all day without getting robbed — while leaving its door open.

Sitcom The IT Crowd adroitly mocked the industry’s bathetic response to piracy.

Meanwhile, whether you are watching LET US PREY legally or illegally, I hope it gives you some kind of sick pleasure, And watch out for the bit with the fingernail. Ewww.

Humming Birds and Gas Masks

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on March 27, 2015 by dcairns

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I couldn’t see everything at the Hippodrome this year. I missed the WWI programme, which sounded interesting. Pamela Hutchinson of Silent London reported that one short was described as “stop motion animation with gas masks,” which she thought sounded like “the most David Cairns film ever.” In fact, it turned out that the animated sequences did  not include gas masks, so the alluring image of gas masks flopping about like the killer brain-aliens in FIEND WITHOUT A FACE came to naught.

But I did win credit for pointing out the hummingbird outside Buster Keaton’s home in THE NAVIGATOR.

Looking at my DVD now, I’m not convinced it’s a hummingbird, maybe it’s just a butterfly. It’s a tiny hovering thing — screen right, a broken white line parallel with Keaton’s knees. What’s amusing about it is that it’s visible when Buster leaves his house to ask Kathryne McGuire for her hand in marriage, and it’s still flopping about when he returns, disconsolate, after being rejected. A minute plus screen time. It’s quite possible that the little fluttering thing was hanging around on the threshold for hours on end, but I think it’s far more likely that Buster did the logical thing: exited the house in a reasonably upbeat way, kept the camera running, and turned on his heel and walked back in, catching two shots in one go. Whatever that little buzzing beastie is, it’s a clue to his working methods.

At any rate, even though it seems to have been wiped from the DVD in the second shot, perhaps treated as an artefact by an overzealous remover of print damage, I swear it is a real organism and not a smudge or scratch on the celluloid.

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