Archive for the literature Category

The Look # 1: Julie Flashes

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 25, 2016 by dcairns

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Julie Christie flashes the camera in BILLY LIAR.

I am reading and enjoying Geoff Dyer’s Zona — it really is as good as everyone says. The kind of book I’d like to write, if I could settle on a film and if anyone would agree with me on which film was worth settling on.

Dyer has plumped for Tarkovsky’s STALKER, and his discursive approach echoes the antics of a lively mind watching a slow film — sometimes totally concentrated on the sounds and images in front of him, sometimes darting off into memory or fantasy, inspired by the movie but running on a parallel track. Here’s Dyer on a moment when Tark’s characters seem to meet the camera’s gaze ~

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This is in direct contravention of Roland Barthe’s edict in his essay ‘Right in the Eyes’, that, while it is permissible for the subject to star into the lens–at the spectator–in a still photograph, ‘it is forbidden for an actor to look at the camera’ in a movie. So convinced was Barthes of his own rule that he as ‘not far from considering this ban as the cinema’s distinctive feature…. If a single gaze from the screen came to rest on me, the whole film would be lost.’

Either the quotation is doing Barthes no favours, or Barthes is a silly man who hasn’t seen enough movies. “Don’t look at the camera!” cries Francis Ford Coppola in APOCALYPSE NOW, playing a documentary director, ignoring the fact that in documentaries (which are, arguably, movies), characters looking at the camera actually ENHANCES the realism. It’s when they’re too good at pretending it isn’t there that the fly-on-the-wall approach starts to seem artificial, staged.

Nevertheless, in fiction films it’s true that there’s a convention — which only means that those, quite frequent moments when the rule is broken always seem mildly unconventional. In a mainstream film, the effect is noted, and the ticket-buyer says, “OK, this is a little unusual, but as long as the filmmaker doesn’t get too crazy, I’m going to allow it.”

My favourite video store story: two young men looking at prospective rentals. One picks up the Christian Slater vehicle KUFFS. The other says he’s seen it. “Any good.” “Aye, awright.” “Much action in it?” A micro-pause. “Ah… he talks to the camera.” Said as if this were, arguably, a form of action.

In BILLY LIAR, Julie’s lapse is momentary and obviously unintentional, but in good movies even flaws are good. This scene is already breaking from Billy’s POV, which makes it a violation of the movie’s own rules. If Julie is exceptional enough to merit a scene of her own, away from the prying eyes of the POV character, and devoid of any fundamental narrative purpose (well, it’s introducing Julie, swinging her handbag, and that’s ENOUGH), then surely she’s allowed to sneak a peek at camera operator Jack Atchelor. She’s Julie Christie, she has special privileges.

Inaugurating a little season considering some looks to camera, and what they might mean.

The Sunday Intertitle: The English Coast

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , on July 24, 2016 by dcairns

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The English coast? Well, that narrows it down a bit. (Since Britain is an island, saying someone is on the coast doesn’t really help locate them.) The film is SHERLOCK HOLMES (1916) and it’s an American film restored from a French print, titles translated, so maybe that explains the oddness. To the French, “the English coast” would mean the bit facing France.

Miraculously rediscovered, and restored with funding from the team behind the BBC’s Sherlock, this is initially stagey and stodgy, with a great deal of longshot lipflapping in drawing rooms, but it’s fascinating and fun nonetheless. William Gillette as adaptor and star does a good job as the world’s first consulting detective, looking a bit like Clive Brook or Jeremy Brett. As the story unfolds, the camera actually starts to move — rather than simply following people about, it will often set off on its own and let them join it at their own speed. This is quite enjoyable.

The intertitles do exhibit that regrettable trait of early silent films, spoiling the action by telling you what’s about to occur. I would have thought this approach, visible in the famous Edison FRANKENSTEIN, would have gone out of fashion pretty quickly, but here it is in full suspense-killing force.

But the acting is interestingly low-key, and since this is a fairly faithful reconstruction of a play, using the original cast, it probably gives us a clearer picture of early twentieth-century theatre acting than most movies of the time.

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Don’t smoke while doing chemistry, Sherlock!

Grim Tales

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , on July 18, 2016 by dcairns

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I had heard Matteo Garrone’s GOMORRAH was great, but with my usual untimeliness had never gotten around to seeing it, but TALE OF TALES proved impossible to resist. I just liked the sound of it — it felt like he’d made a film for me.

And my response is weird — most of what I have to say about the film would be nitpicking criticisms —

It’s based on three separate stories, intercut, intersecting at start and finish — it would have been easy to make them interrelate more — none of the stories is full satisfying — the dialogue is ugly, neither fairy-tale archaic nor naturalistic, and it’s full of awkward modernisms like “disrespect” used as a verb — intercutting the stories means it takes forever for any of them to develop —

But oh! this film is GORGEOUS.

Also nicely acted, with a fascinating multinational cast. The director, admirably, doesn’t care that Salma Hayek is Mexican. So what? Vincent Cassel is French.

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But it’s the gorgeousness that carries it. The fairy tales all develop in intriguing ways and throw out many opportunities for surreal, visceral imagery (a giant flea; an ogre’s cave; a sea monster’s heart served on a platter; an old woman glueing her skin back in flaps to give herself a medieval body-lift (an interesting audience reaction here: the women all laughed, we gentlemen maintained a reticent silence).

“[Producer] Jeremy Thomas has such great taste in films,” said Fiona.

“And filmmakers,” I added.

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