Archive for the Painting Category

News from Catland

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , on December 18, 2021 by dcairns

The Benedict Cumberbatch cat movie is better than the Benedict Cumberbatch dog movie, in our view. Not just because the dog movie has no dogs, just shadow that looks a but like one, whereas the cat movie has actual cats, lots of them, some of which speak to us via subtitles, but because the cat movie is surprising, original, wonderfully moving, and because it is inside the realm of stuff B.C. can do compellingly well. Not that it doesn’t stretch him, but it stretches him into places he can actually reach.

You have to stick at it: Will Sharpe’s film, THE ELECTRICAL LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN, co-written with Simon Stephenson, documents the life of Edwardian cat painter Louis Wain, and his undiagnosable strangeness, and it uses several techniques that get it off to an uncertain start. There’s an omniscient narrator, Olivia Coleman, who sometimes makes it feel too much like a documentary, or worse, a tape-slide presentation — Arthur Sharpe’s score sometimes has a docu-quality too, the way it runs on from one scene through another — however, it is absolutely gorgeous, and weird, the best film score I’ve heard lately. The other problems seemed to me to lie in an over-fussy condensation of images, as if the film had been mired in post-production with a lot of competing voices arguing over the first act (there are twelve producers listed), and a tendency for the wide-angle lens to be observing from too far away or from the wrong side altogether. When it calmed down and simply observed the performances (Cumberbatch is great, Claire Foy is great) things immediately got better.

As an artist biopic, the natural comparison for it would be the works of Ken Russell — and the VO makes it early Russell. But it’s photographed inside the artist’s mind, so it also has aspects of mid-period Russell. The two best periods, arguably. And it’s its own thing, at the end of the day: not hugely like anything else out there.

Cumberbatch has a false nose, a distant stare, awkward body language, an accretion of old age makeup (very effective) — but it seems to me a truly FELT performance, not a bunch of tricks. Since Louis is always a step or two away from consensus reality, the early parts of the film also suffer a little from our difficulty in getting close to him, especially since his sisters, the other main characters at this point, are rather noisy and unsympathetic. Foy’s entrance into the film forms a bridge to Louis, allowing us greater access to his emotions. It clearly allows HIM greater access to his emotions, too.

Totally recommend this one, but you have to give it more than half an hour, brushing aside impatience and irritation and waiting for the catmagic to take hold. I picked up the director’s previous film, BLACK POND, a while back, now I must watch it.

Page Seventeen III: At World’s End

Posted in FILM, literature, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 29, 2021 by dcairns

The lift was not working so I had to walk down all the stairs to the studio. They had Conversation after Midnight on Stage A, and on Stage B they were shooting the night-club sequence for Black and White Blues. Outside in the yard they were trying some extra scenes for Peep and Judy Show, the Inigo Ransom comedy which was long over schedule time. I met the continuity girl from the new studio and I asked her whether she had seen anything of Robertson lately. She was tired and said no she had not and asked me how I was getting on with the cutting of The Waning Moon. She was interested in it because she had been the floor secretary for the production.

“Let her go,” said Port to Tunner, whose face showed concern. “She’s worn out. The heat gets her down.”

But Porter was not only making his own films now, he was training new directors to work under him. The motion-picture audience and my mother’s middle were growing proportionately. My infancy, the infancy of Edison’s Kinetoscope, and Porter’s callow moving-picture shows, are intertwined.

As editor of IMP films, Jack Cohn provided an invaluable service to the economy-minded Laemmle. IMP directors were led to believe they were shooting one-reel films and hence were encouraged to be niggardly with film stock and production time. Through chicanery by the executives, the movies were actually released as two-reelers.

‘But how did you discover by means of our watches?’ asked Clinton.

“I tell you nothing. You can work it out for yourself.” Thunderpeck loved to lecture me. “You know the cost of these new anti-gravity units; it’s phenomenal. Only a very rich man could afford one. There are few of them in production as yet; they go only to heart cases. A ten-stone man can wear one of these units and adjust it so that he weighs only two stone. It saves the heart pump a lot of work. So we know our friend was rich and suffered from heart trouble. Right. Where do such people often live? On the coast, by the sea, for the good of their health. So he died walking along the front–people do, you know. An offshore breeze carried him out to us.”

In the Middle Ages there was a curious belief that everything in the air or on the earth had its double in the sea. So when a previously undiscovered fish was found washed up on the coast of Norway and described as having a close-shaven head and an ungracious face, it was straightaway called a monk-fish. Its shoulders were said to be covered with what appeared to be a monk’s hood with feathering fins for arms, and a long tail at the end of its body. The King of Poland took a particular interest in this odd fish, and asked for it to be sent to him to see.

Seven passages from the page seventeens of seven books from around here. The last-quoted is the only book I have left from my childhood, its sentimental value somewhat tarnished by the discovery that it’s substantially plagiarised from Borges’ own monster dictionary.

The Face on the Cutting-Room Floor by Cameron McCabe; The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles; Moving Pictures by Budd Schulberg; King Cohn by Bob Thomas; The Warder of the Door by Robert Eustace & L.T. Meade, from The Black Veil & Other Tales of Supernatural Sleuths edited by Mark Valentine; Earthworks by Brian W. Aldiss; A Dictionary of Monsters and Mysterious Beasts by Carey Miller.

The Illegible Sunday Intertitle: Holmy

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 21, 2021 by dcairns

A short comic “race film,” A BLACK SHERLOCK HOLMES is as interesting for its playful reworking of Conan Doyle’s sleuth in African-American terms as it is for having seemingly been filmed in an acid bath — nitrate decomposition and fungus have had their way with the celluloid, creating subaquatic rippling and shimmering in the image and dancing bubbles and gloop that boil across the liquefying scenery and actors. Bill Morrison could basically put his name in front of this and it’d be a Bill Morrison experimental film.

I actually find it hard to tell how racist the film is, because of this obscuring patina and equally obscuring “underfilm”, to use a Theodore Roszak term from his essential novel Flicker. The concept would seem to be playing with the joke that a Black Sherlock would be dopey and foolish — there are lots of silly Sherlock parodies in cinema, but using race to explain his silliness is extremely worrisome, and the film being made by R.G Phillips and Ebony Films Co. would make that tragic rather than purely hateful.

Couldn’t tell if all the weird hairstyles and moustaches were parodies of white folks’ goofy fashions, but I’ve seen other heroines with ironed hair in race films of the time…

But in fact, though all the actors are playing it clownish, the detective, “Knick Carter” (let’s parody all the fictional tecs while we’re at it) isn’t obviously stupid, thankfully. Or if he is, I couldn’t see it through the decalcomania*. The plot is a little opaque, because it’s a surprisingly epistolary film, driven forward by letters exchanged, which the characters react to wide-eyed but which we can read barely if at all. It’s a great simulation of macular degeneration, but without the occasional hallucinations. Or maybe with them — how could we tell? Somewhere in there I glimpse a business card, always a welcome moment in a silent film, here doubly so, as it reads “Baron Jazz, Minister Munitions, Hot Dog, Africa.” He should get together with Chaplin’s Baron DooBugle, the prime minister of Greenland.

Everybody in the film has a comedy name (the heroine is Sheeza Sneeze) but besides that I can’t tell if it was ever funny, maybe because I used The Rite of Spring as a soundtrack, which didn’t match the main action at all but seemed to accompany the frenzied molten underfilm perfectly.

*Decalcomania is a Max Ernst word for that nursery school activity where you smear paint on a page, fold it over, and peel it apart to create lovely splodgy patina where the colours cling to one another. Celluloid rolled in reels and melting into plasticky jam from old age does the same thing when it’s unspooled.