Archive for the literature Category

The Image

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , on July 23, 2015 by dcairns

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This fortnight’s edition of The Forgotten looks at THE MAN WHO LIES, by writer-director Alain Robbe-Grillet. I’ve meant to write something about him for ages, but never found an angle that made him clear to me. His erotic fantasies — sexy but queasy and dodgy — are presented in detail but never explored as to meaning, and don’t seem particularly connected to his interest in deconstructing narrative. A clue was provided by Mme. Robbe-Grillet’s revelations about her marital life, and I now see Robbe-Grillet as some kind of Hitchcockian fetishist, constructing filmed rituals as a kind of sublimation of the conventional sex drive.

As I explain here.

Like Night and Day

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , on July 21, 2015 by dcairns

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Lest complaining at length about Fangoria’s editing of an article I had a hand in makes me seem the obstreperous type (it certainly gave F-bomb conniptions to one staff member on Twitter), I should mention that most of the experiences I’ve had with editors has been extremely productive. Shadowplay itself would be a lot better if it had a full-time editor. The pieces with the typos are the ones Fiona hasn’t had a chance to read before I hit the PUBLISH button. The pieces that trail off into nonsense are the ones even I couldn’t be bothered to re-read. Editors don’t just perform a necessary function, like garlic presses or elbows, they are inspirational creative midwives.

In particular, the folks at Criterion are a constant pleasure to work for. So I take further pleasure in announcing the imminent publication of a new Blu-ray of DAY FOR NIGHT, for which I have contributed an essay. This was a fascinating job as I hadn’t seen the film in some time, and I wanted to see if there was a path between youthful enchantment — Truffaut was one of my earliest love affairs with subtitled films — and later cynicism — there are plenty of examples of Truffaut behaving badly or saying dickish things or making substandard movies. Hopefully I found a way to slide between starry-eyed and smart-ass.

21 bees, Baker Street

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 18, 2015 by dcairns

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Though Cannes is not what you would call an egalitarian film festival (few of them are), it did used to be the case (I haven’t tried it lately) that you could show up at the Palais, present a cheap business card declaring yourself to be the director of a fictitious film company, and you would, eventually, be presented with a low-level pass. This would get you into the odd gala screening, if you queued early in the day, and into the various pavilions, and into market screenings, which meant you could see a lot of films, just not necessarily the hot tickets. This suited Fiona and I just fine, and in this manner we were able to see Bill Condon’s GODS AND MONSTERS, which we thoroughly enjoyed.

So we were hoping MR HOLMES would be a worthy successor, and it just about is. Despite its leisurely narrative pace, it does create a series of compelling mini-mysteries for the aged Holmes (Ian McKellan) to solve, from the forgotten conclusion of his last case, lost in the mists of incipient senility, to the problem of who or what is bumping off his bees.

Mitch Cullin’s source novel picks up on a few references in Conan Doyle to Holmes eventually retiring to Sussex (like Richard Lester) to keep bees (unlike Richard Lester). Adding in the idea of Holmes declining mental powers allows for a compelling set of subplots, two unfolding in parallel flashbacks, one in present tense. Like GODS AND MONSTERS, it’s quite moving. Modest budgetary means are well-mustered so the film never strains to convince us of its period setting (though I thought the Japanese scenes maybe needed something — I’m not sure what — more to really convince us we weren’t on British soil).

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Sadly, I don’t think McKellan’s Holmes is as good as his James Whale in GODS AND MONSTERS. We have less of an idea of what Whale was like, of course, and McKellan’s lack of physical resemblance to the great director wasn’t really a problem. In a sense, Whale, who is visible and audible only in a couple of seconds of ONE MORE RIVER and in various stills, is less real than Sherlock Homes. Somehow I can’t imagine a young McKellan playing a young Holmes, so I struggle a bit to see an older one playing an older one. Also, McKellan has gotten very keen on pulling faces, chewing his lip, tonguing his teeth, etc. That’s probably quite appropriate for the pensive, anxiety-prone senile Holmes, but he did so much of it in his last turn as Gandalf that it feels less like characterisation and more like actorly mannerisms.

Still, he can work our emotions as of old, and he’s backed up by an excellent Laura Linney and wunderkind Milo Parker, who shares most of the key scenes with McKellan. He’s pretty amazing — he has to do everything Brendan Fraser did in GODS AND MONSTERS only backwards and in heels while being much, much smaller.

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One real issue — the film is seriously over-edited. The deliberate pace cannot be converted into a hurly burly by intercutting like mad. There’s a lack of variety to the rhythms, with everything rushed on and offscreen, where a contrast between longer shots and more hurried one would have been much more exciting and appropriate. It’s apparent at once, where a scene in a train carriage is framed to let Holmes resemble a Tenniel illustration for Through the Looking Glass. But the shot is whisked away before we can enjoy it, we get barraged with closeups for a bit, and then the shot returns for another blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance.

Never repeat a master shot. If anyone can tell me why, I’ll give you a jar of honey.

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