Archive for An Actor’s Revenge

The Sunday Intertitle: Birdman

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on February 8, 2015 by dcairns


Look, I don’t mean to brag — probably what I do mean to do is GLOAT — but I was turned loose in the Criterion storeroom during my recent New York excursion (alongside Scout Tafoya). I don’t actually have a bucket list — too cheap to buy a bucket — but if I did this would have shortened it to the tune of one item. Bill Forsyth had described to me how his wife tried to drag him from the room as he frantically tried to stuff more swag into his Criterion carrier bag — “No, it’s free! They said it’s all free!” and I shared his Scottish thrill at the offer of unlimited audio-visual riches, while also bitterly regretting that the wretched laws of physics wouldn’t allow us to simply put the storeroom inside the bag. What one feels, in short, is a mixture of pleasure and panic, rather like what I imagine it must have been like to meet the young Brigitte Bardot.

JUDEX was one of the films I not-quite randomly snatched up. Georges Franju’s knowing recreation of Louis Feiullade’s unknowing surrealism moves at his usual stately pace, something which confused me when I first saw EYES WITHOUT A FACE — GF just isn’t interested in conventional dramatic tension. Here, he even fades to black in the middle of what is technically an “exciting chase.”


Rather than tension, Franju relies on wondrous variety and what-fucking-next? plotting, mostly quite faithful to his source, but compressed and simplified. As I noticed while revisiting AN ACTOR’S REVENGE recently, movies based on serials pull all kind of tricks with narrative that normal movies wouldn’t go near — in particular, introducing new characters very late on, to reinvigorate the action. Ichikawa brings in a two-fisted priest, whereas Franju boldly has a travelling circus ride past, in a deserted street, at night, just when the plot requires the services of an acrobat (Sylva Koscina). And she turns out to be the detective’s ex-lover, newly liberated to marry him. The whole story is turned around because of this person showing up twenty minutes before the end (and having a girl-fight with the cat-suited villainess).


It’s interesting to see how Franju mixes the film grammar of 1914 — irises and intertitles — with fluid camera movements which look more like the 40s than the early 60s when the movie was made. Really magnificent costumes, especially for Francine Bergé, and art nouveau sets and props — everything’s a triffid!

Elsewhere, we have the avenging hero sans motivation, who has invented closed-circuit television in 1914, who can bring dead doves back to life, and who communicates with a prisoner using a kind of ceiling etch-a-sketch intertitle ~


And yet he has not thought to capitalize financially upon any of these inventions and abilities. Most extraordinary.

Extreme thanks to the great people at Criterion: Liz, Kim, Susan, Peter et al.


The Monday Intertitle: Comin’ Thru the Rye

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , on October 21, 2013 by dcairns

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From Pordenone Festival of Silent Film — RAGENS RIKE, or THE LAND OF RYE. This late-silent Swedish rural drama of love thwarted/fulfilled, begins with a figure standing, centre-frame, waist deep in a field of the titular food crop. A dissolve repositions him further in the distance, and another diminishes him to little more than a smudge.

And I am astonished to find this sequence of shots in 1929, since it will be repeated exactly in Kon Ichikawa’s AN ACTOR’S REVENGE (1963) and again in Terrence Malick’s THE NEW WORLD (2005). And yet it seems not that likely that Ichikawa saw Ivar Johanssen’s film, or that Malick saw either, though of course it is possible. Maybe wheatfields naturally evoke diminishing jump-dissolves in a film-maker’s mind, the way the centre aisle in a church always makes them want to do tracking shots?


The film is beautiful. Two student competition winners provided the live piano score, without benefit of having seen the film first, and they did a fine, sensitive job. The movie contains a great drinking contest scene, with blurry impressionistic effects to simulate drunkenness, lots of romantic outdoorsy stuff that the Swedes seemingly loved, and a great intertitle, very late in the story, which I can’t show here as I don’t have a copy of the film. The village is in turmoil due to the results of a single romantic problem. “The prophet” — a kind of heretical preacher admired by the lower village, is asked for help. He cuts to the quick: “You’re so stupid! Let the boy marry the girl and everything will be fine!”

Of course, being a Swedish movie, it takes another twenty minutes or so for this to get sorted out.

Is it just me…

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 28, 2008 by dcairns

Something Wicked This Way Comes... 

…or does Mike Leigh’s new film, HAPPY GO LUCKY, look incredibly awful and annoying? If you’ve seen the trailer you surely agree.

As usual, you can tell the lead actress is actually really good and charismatic, only she’s smothering her appeal in a patina of affected “theatrical” Mike-Leighism. Horrible horrible horrible.

In an attempt to be “cinematic” Leigh has decorated this one with brightly coloured turquoise and magenta bunting. It makes me want to inject codeine into my eyeballs.

And what rough beast it's hour come round at last shambles toward Bethelhem to be born?

People keep telling me I would really like TOPSY TURVY and maybe I would, and I haven’t purposely avoided seeing it, but I refuse to give any money to the man who made all those other appalling flicks, so I’m dependant on it turning up on TV. Suspiciously, none of the people who tell me I’d really like it actually own copies they can lend me.

I hate Mike Leigh’s stuff! Rather than giving him money to make films, the Film Council or Film4 or whoever should actually send him one of Timothy Spall’s fingers whenever he releases anything. He should be allowed to do theatre, where posh people can come and see Leigh’s quaint ideas of what working class people are like, for their amusement and edification. Or else he should just run a zoo, with Jim Broadbent and Brenda Blethyn in the cages.

Do Not Feed The Spall.

How can these terrified vague fingers push the feathered glory from her loosening thighs?

I’m being mean. I don’t like to be mean. But nothing I say can harm Leigh. He will go on making films, and on, and on. Some of them will be quite successful. He will complain they don’t get good enough distribution, so people in housing estates can come and see his quaint portrayals of what life is like on a housing estate.

In case he runs out of titles, here are a few that he can apply randomly to his next projects: MUSTN’T GRUMBLE; STONE THE CROWS; DEAR ME; WHOOPS A DAISY; YOU’VE GOT TO LAUGH; A NICE CUP OF TEA.

Whew. Sorry. Just had to vent.

Like one who on a lonesome road doth walk in fear and dread

(Since I could not bring myself to use any images from his films, this post has been lavishly illustrated with images of actual cinema.)