Archive for the FILM Category

The Return

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on October 18, 2016 by dcairns

Big spoiler for UGETSU MONOGOTARI in this one. If you haven’t seen it, here it is — watch it!

I usually use a certain clip (starting at around the one hour twenty-three minute mark) when discussing long takes with students. Mizoguchi liked his long takes. Since UGETSU is a ghost story (and perhaps we should be getting in the mood for Halloween and/or the Day of the Dead), our director gets to use this technique, often associated with realism, in a more fantastical way.

Our “hero,” who may be a talented potter but is something of a louse, has been away from home for ages, dallying with a woman who turns out to be a ghost. Discovering this enchantment, he leaves, resolved to return to the wife and kid. In this scene he gets there, and Mizoguchi cuts to the inside of the barren, lifeless home as the potter arrives, enters, crosses the room, and exits.

Then we stay in the room and observe through the windows and doors as our man wanders disconsolately around the outside of the house, calling for his wife.

Finally he returns to the door he previously entered, and comes back in and now finds his wife and their baby with a little fire going, the whole place looking much cosier and more lived-in.

Of course, we’re in ghost story terrain again. The potter’s family are dead, but have risen from the grave to welcome him home. As in Edith Wharton’s short story Afterwards, the thing about ghosts is you only realize you’ve seen one, well, afterwards.


Somehow Mizoguchi, while creating a slight sense of the uncanny in this shot, convinces us to forget what we’ve seen (a deserted hovel) and accept a new reality without questioning it overmuch. It’s as if the long take, which we’re used to seeing as a representation of uninterrupted time, with no jiggery-pokery or sleight-of-hand or hanky-panky, can be used to overwrite itself (as in crackpot philosopher Daniel Dennett’s “multiple drafts” theory of consciousness), so that what we perceive to be true in the first half of the shot is replaced by a fresh, contradictory perception in the second half. We have to accept that the house is occupied because that’s what we’re seeing NOW, and we trust that better than our memory. Rather than immediately realising the supernatural has slipped back into the story, we just have a vague, head-scratching sensation of not-rightness. Unheimlich, in fact.

It’s also fun to think about all the busy Japanese stagehands redecorating the interior while the camera is busy looking elsewhere, including the tricky job of sliding a lit fire into position…

Living in it

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 17, 2016 by dcairns


The GFT was a building site on Thursday — on Sunday it was almost pristine, with improved carpets, lighting, curtain, and whatnot (you can’t have a cinema without good whatnot). I had nipped through by coach to see ROBIN AND MARIAN, adding it to the very short list of Richard Lester films I have actually seen on the big screen. This was a 35mm projection, which had the positive effect of eliminating all ads and trailers — they don’t make ’em on film anymore, and who wants to switch projectors mid-show?

Unfortunately, the colour had faded in the 1976 print, giving the distinct impression of Merrie England viewed through a thin slice of salmon. All praise the digital revolution, for thanks to DVD I could superimpose a more natural set of colours, thus preventing the whole experience getting too chroma-claustrophobic. It seemed to be mostly blue that had gone — there was still verdant lustre to the green of Sherwood — in reality Spain, which cinematographer David Watkin bolstered with filters which had the bonus effect of reducing Sean Connery’s vivid tan.


“They haven’t changed a thing!” remarks Little John, seeing Nottingham for the first time in years.

This movie gets more emotional for me every time. I think it’s the tragedy of male-female miscommunication which it captures so well. You can’t get much more male than Connery (plus Nichol Williamson, Robert Shaw, Richard Harris) or more female than Hepburn, and the way the leads’ emotions mesh yet miss, their values completely fail to coincide, and their priorities set them on a fatal course… just gets me. Lester almost dismissed the romance when I raised it with him — he’s mordantly anti-romantic, yet happily married for decades — saying it was a necessary spine supporting all the things he was really interested in, which had to do with medieval life and politics and religion and militarism.

(On working with a cast of hard-drinking thesps including Williamson, Shaw, Harris, and the “lovely” Denholm Elliott, Lester said with wonderment, “I never had a problem with any of them!” He’d already handled Oliver Reed…)


A very young Victoria Abril and a very young Kenneth Cranham (right), looking almost like a proto-Michael Praed. “Kenneth Cranham played a character called “boy” in the script. Now, every time I see Kenneth Cranham on television I think, That was our Boy!'”

Bigger piece here.

The Sunday Intertitle: Baby’s Got a Gun

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on October 16, 2016 by dcairns


…and, in this cylindrical container pilfered from an unsuspecting uncle, the ammo to  go with it.

Today I’m off to the Glasgow Film Theatre to see ROBIN AND MARIAN in 35mm, but first off, here’s a look at a 1911 short by Louis Feuillade, BEBE TIRE LA CIBLE (Baby Shoots the Target, AKA JIMMY PULLS THE TRIGGER). Before LF recruited little René Poyen as child star, he worked extensively with Bebé, aka René Dary AKA Clément Mary, who was a right little bastard.

While the Liquorice Kid lived outside the rules but used his powers for good, Bebé lives a pampered existence as a spoiled brat, motivated only by an instinct for mayhem. In this short, an indulgent uncle presents the little beast with a toy shotgun, hanging on to the ammunition so that the firearm can only be used under supervision.


Of course he does! You don’t need Google Translate to work that one out, do you? See top image for illustration. Before long, small holes pepper the parlour and the cook. It’s a Louis Fusillade!

As in later Feuillade films, the actors are all somewhat aware of the camera and perform little gestures for our benefit, to aid comprehension. Considerate of them. And like the Liquorice Kid, Bebé enjoys our confidence more than the other characters. But there the resemblance ends. He’s a little shit.

He did, however, enjoy an unusually long career, making his last appearance in Walerian Borowczyk’s GOTO, L’ÎLE D’AMOUR in 1968.