O.D.

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

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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

tyburnia

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.

TRANSAT 1

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.

 

Hill’s Angels

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 27, 2015 by dcairns

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Fiona and I both flashed on the same minor detail in Walter Hill’s THE LONG RIDERS — a dog defecating in the main street of Northfield, Minnesota. There’s realism for you. John Ford sets up STAGECOACH with a stray horse cantering through town. Hill goes one better. Did he get lucky, or train the dog to squat on command, or wait like David Lean for his mythical perfect sunset, in the form of dog poop?

There’s also the steam-driven abstraction that putters through town just before the James-Younger Gang’s raid. The outlaws just stare at it in sullen bafflement. It’s a symbol of their obsolescence, I guess.

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Hill’s gimmick of casting real sets of brothers (David, Keith and Robert Carradine, Randy and Dennis Quaid, Stacy and James Keach, Christopher and Nicholas Guest) arguably depends on the audience being in on the gag, since no sets of brothers ever looked less alike (the Guests achieve a kind of resemblance only because they’re styled as a matching set). But it’s still fun, and all of those actors are excellent actors. Pamela Reed maybe beats all of them, though, as Belle Starr. I’ve been obsessed with her since THE RIGHT STUFF, but somehow never saw this properly before (another brown western, I thought, catching snippets on TV) and then got her confused with Joan Allen. She’s really quite different — earthier, for one thing. She had these huge, lizard-lidded, wide-spaced eyes, like the kind you might find looking out of a dwarf. Too big for the skull trying to contain them. Amazing. It’s funny when Michael Beck from THE WARRIORS turns up as her hubbie, still wearing a waistcoat with nothing underneath.

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Hill usually admits to being uncomfortable writing for women, so the fact that he didn’t script this himself is a blessing. Compare Deborah Van Valkenburgh’s translucent-topped tart in THE WARRIORS (“She was a nasty little shit-stirrer, wasn’t she?” said Fiona) with Reed’s complex, intense, angry human being here. The actor and script even manage to find a wholly unfamiliar attitude to take — ambiguous, defiant — when her rival menfolk prepare to fight over her. The potential pitfalls of obnoxious cliché are so numerous here it’s a miracle the movie negotiates them, but it does.

Bill Bryden, a Scottish writer who had been running the BBC Scotland Drama Department, initiated this script, and my main takeaway from it is that bank robbers are fools and everything these guys did was destructive and counter-productive. It could be seen as an entirely negative film. But it has some kind of affection for its characters in spite of everything, and a love for the kind of Americana it wallows in. Hill’s long collaboration with composer Ry Cooder never yielded anything else as marvelous as this, a score to rank with Bob Dylan’s for PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID and Joe Strummer’s for WALKER.

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Hill’s debt to Peckinpah (he scripted THE GETAWAY) is certainly evident in the action scenes, which look seriously dangerous to both man and horse. The lensing of talk isn’t always fluid or interesting — Hill’s comic book approach comes through here, with players locked into stand-and-deliver mode, the framing static and life supplied only by staccato cutting patterns. It verges on the televisual — but then Hill’s restless editing can make a tense stand-off out of a few flat closeups and one begins to admire how far he can push a limited technique.

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