Archive for the FILM Category

Early Nothing

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , , , , , , on June 30, 2015 by dcairns

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A conversation with a friend years ago comes back to me. We debated the strange blandness of the interiors in Fritz lang’s American films. Strange because his German films were known for their elaborate, stylised and striking production design. When he returned to his homeland in the fifties, his Indian duology and to some extent his final Mabuse movie returned to the elaborate sets of the pre-war era. He had trained to be an architect, and gave us the first city of the future. But those American films have a distinct, flat, bleak quality to their look. In THE BIG HEAT, Gloria Graham even comes up with an aperçu to describe the decor: “Early nothing.”

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Looking more closely — frame-grabbing, in fact (a new critical weapon which not much has been written about) — I find that, firstly, you have to make an exception for the films with period or foreign settings, where the art direction works hard to create the required exoticism. Secondly, the design isn’t really all that flat. Even a film like WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS, which has a kind of pulpy, comic-book quality to it anyway, isn’t afraid of letting the sets make a splashy statement from time to time.

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I think it has more to do with Lang’s shooting style. The distance between the actors is one factor. Lang’s readiness to shoot actors from behind, which you see again and again. His willingness to pull way back and show the characters frozen in longshot, those aforementioned gulfs between them. It turns out Cinemascope isn’t just good for snakes and funerals, it can suck the warmth out of a scene and turn movie stars into distant planetoids signalling to each other in Jodrell Bank bleeps. There are quite a few shots, especially in SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR, which just show empty rooms, abandoned by any visible characters. Lang will flatten the set by shooting it straight on, or creating a crisp geometry even when the angle is more oblique. The very care of his composition, which certainly hasn’t slackened off from the German films, has a cold, clinical quality. The sense of America as a frosty, unwelcoming place, makes the country feel as it might to an exile.

As if al that weren’t enough (it IS enough — it’s too much — STOP!) Lang subdivides the frame, using architectural features, doors, windows, corners, to box his characters into their own little cubicles. Like prisoners in adjacent cells (for obvious genre reasons, cells recur) they can talk to each other but they’re still in solitary. The world is in solitary.

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(Lang’s German films were opulent, and so was his home — African masks on the walls, modern art, and all kinds of glamorous, slightly decadent stuff. No wonder he didn’t want to leave, and supposedly hung around almost long enough to be adopted by the Nazis as an official filmmaker — though Lang’s well-practiced anecdote about that may be a convenient fiction.)

Scorsese speaks of the way Lang’s tracking shots make his characters seem fated, in lock-step with their destinies — as if the very nature of the means by which the camera moved made existence a train track towards death. Meanwhile, Lang plotted out the actors’ movements like dance steps, measuring out their paces himself, though Lilli Palmer complained he made no allowance for their difference in stride. So with minute care the figures in his puppet theatre are slid from mark to mark, framed and reframed, staring at each other with longing as they are shuffled like playing cards.

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The classic Lang space is the corridor or stairway. All his rooms aspire to the status of interstitial spaces. Comfortless, more empty than full, propitious rooms for murders to happen in. Crime scenes in waiting.

Pics: THE BIG HEAT, YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE, WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS, MINISTRY OF FEAR, THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR.

 

O.D.

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 29, 2015 by dcairns

seymour

Too many movies — my memories of Edinburgh International Film Festival have becomes a swirling series of overlays, like the visionary multi-exposure fugues of Paul Clipson, whose MADE OF AIR screened in the Black Box strand. Saturday was the day the movies came out to get me.

On Saturday I saw an old drama, a new documentary, an experimental/performance piece and an In Person event with Jane Seymour. (On Frankenstein: The True Story — “That was the first time I had to look at a line-up of naked women and pick one as my stand-in, saying, ‘That one looks the most like me naked.'”). I had a ticket for a fifth film but I gave it back — my brain was full.

In Person With Jane Seymour featured the actress and powerhouse recounting her near-death experience, and explaining why John Gielgud never stopped working: “I’ve never missed a day on set so if I see my name in a call sheet I know I’ll be alive tomorrow.”

At the climax of IMAGINE WAKING UP TOMORROW AND ALL MUSIC HAS DISAPPEARED, musician and artist Bill Drummond gathers the cinema audience itself into one of his situational sound experiments, making us participants in the film and hence legally entitled to add our names to the credits at the doc’s website.

During TYBURNIA, the Dead Rat Orchestra left the stage during the film and tiptoed up the steeply-raked bleachers of Traverse 1 to freak us out with strange music from behind.

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The inadequate air-conditioning turned THE BRAVE DON’T CRY, a 1952 Grierson-produced drama about a mining cave-in, into a fully interactive experience, as we gasped in asthmatic sympathy with the entombed workers onscreen.

This was all getting too real, so THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT, from the producer of INSIDIOUS, began to seem like a BAD RISK.

Will continue to report on some of my more memorable cinematic encounters over the next week, but will also resume abnormal service with a random smattering of other observations and experiences. Meanwhile, here’s my top ten American films, chosen with a few spare neurons for Scout Tafoya. They are basically movies I can rewatch endlessly — my students will recognize several.

The Sunday Intertitle: The Wind’s Twelve Quarters

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

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How can you have TWELVE quarters of anything?

Be that as it may, we had another set of intertitles on view in TYBURNIA at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and once again I can’t show them to you or even quite them at you — I failed to commit any of the dozens of title cards to memory (it was late).

Tyburnia Trailer Three from James Holcombe on Vimeo.

The movie looks at the district where London’s gallows once stood — 70s horror movie company Tyburn Films took their name from the same spot. Director James Holcombe uses Tyburn to explore modern politics and protest alongside the grim history of hangings, beheadings and disembowelings that took place regularly over 700 years — until the gallows was destroyed in a storm thought by many at the time to be the work of ANGRY GHOSTS.

The film, shot on Super-8 and 16mm, is fascinating, but I was even more taken with the inventive and experimental work of the Dead Rat Orchestra, grim folk songs and weird amplified scratchings and rattlings — highly atmospheric.

Despite lacking any visible onscreen carnage, the verbal evocation of maimings and judicial murders and mutilations must qualify TYBURNIA as the most violent experimental film since Kiarostami’s SHIRIN (with its bone-crunching soundtrack played over shots of watching actors).

I’ve grown to trust programmer Kim Knowles’ choices in EIFF’s experimental “Black Box” category, so it’s one part of the fest where I just turn up at stuff randomly without knowing the filmmakers or the subjects.

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TRANSATLANTIC, by Félix Dufour-Laperrière, takes place on a cargo ship clanking towards Canada. It departs its point of origin at the start, and arrives at the end. In between, dream and reality, day and night blur together. We don’t exactly meet anyone and nothing exactly happens. I found it riveting. I don’t know for sure if a breathtaking shot of the sea, blackly luminous, was played in negative. It could just be that Dufour-Laperrière captured a new light hitting the water in a new way. Seeing this film is like being handed a fresh set of eyeballs.

Also, we get one of my favourite tropes, the Floating Head of Death (see also Wini Shaw trilling The Lullaby of Broadway in GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935). A Bollywood star of the 50s is abstracted from her film, disembodied at the neck, and presented against a sea of blackness, lips moving silently, song lost in transit, as a throbbing him rumbles beneath. Only later do we see her in context, viewed on a laptop by a crewmember. Was the hovering head a dream? Or a spirit of the sea?

Trailer here.

 

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