Archive for Bernardo Bertolucci

Two Deaths

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 27, 2018 by dcairns

Bernardo Bertolucci evidently hoped to make more films before getting the cancer that killed him. Nic Roeg, after writing his autobiography, had grown frail in mind and body, and would not have been able to. Still, we wish it were otherwise. The fact that Roeg was unable to make his own projects for so long is deplorable, an extraordinary tragedy to add to the more mundane fact of death. (“This isn’t the worst,” Von Stroheim is said to have lamented on his death-bed. “The worst is that they stole twenty years of my life.”)

To a friend, Roeg freely admitted to trading on his reputation with nonsense like SAMSON AND DELILAH (with Liz Hurley! On the basis that Baby Spice hadn’t been discovered yet, I suppose). He clearly wasn’t the kind of filmmaker who could be a gun-for-hire and still bring his distinctive sensibility into play. His work was cerebral, and if the underpinnings weren’t there, you couldn’t expect a gloss of Roegian affect. Bertolucci was lucky enough never to have to make a biblical epic for HBO, though he’d probably have been a better choice for the task.

I first caught a glimpse of Roeg’s work when Barry Norman, presenting Film 83 on the BBC, showed us what the programme (and he himself) had looked like when it started ten years earlier, and there, startlingly, was a clip of a sodden Donald Sutherland screaming in slow motion, holding his drowned child, a trail of droplets raining from her toe, as a slide of a church dissolved into a lurid phantasmagoria of colours. I immediately knew I had to see this film, even thought (or BECAUSE) I had no idea what the images meant.

I looked the film up in Halliwell’s Film Guide, and surprisingly, if you know Halliwell, he actually managed to capture some of the strangeness I had felt, though I think he also managed to (a) spoiler the ending and (b) render the plot garbled and meaningless in a single two-line synopsis.


Then there was a Guardian lecture at the NFT, broadcast by the BBC again, where we saw clips from other Roeg movies including his latest, EUREKA!, which I was able to rent on VHS a bit later. I may need to revisit it to see if I still feel that the beginning is great and the rest, progressively less great. By the time INSIGNIFICANCE came out, I think I’d caught up with the earlier films and been blown away. Even if I didn’t always enjoy or understand the experience first time round, some blowing-away always took place. I used to alternately hate and then love BAD TIMING each time I watched it, and even though half the time was no fun, I couldn’t stop watching it. On VHS!

ARIA screened at Edinburgh International Film Festival but I can’t actually recall if Roeg took to the stage for the intro. Ken Russell was there with a plastic cup impaled on the end of his golf umbrella and that rather stole all the thunder, I’m afraid.

I think the first one I was able to see on a first run at the cinema was CASTAWAY (maybe that’s worth revisiting? It was one he really wanted to make). Barry Norman previewed it, saying he’d seen a rough cut with the director sitting right behind him muttering, gloomily, “It is what it is, I suppose…”

A guy I know worked on a script for Roeg. He said a lot of the script notes were just muttering, really, but then you would get these blinding flashes of brilliant insight. And Roeg would turn up on TV interviews, muttering quite dreamily to himself, the words sometimes completely indecipherable, then snapping into sharp focus. Kind of like what my developing mind would experience when struggling through the denser passages of his films.

Another guy I know worked for years and years to get another Roeg movie made, and he was absolutely certain Roeg was still a master, powers undimmed, if only the right project could be launched. This was a kind of Jekyll & Hyde story, and when the idea of an octogenarian Roeg helming the whole thing came to seem unduly optimistic, the plan became to have one, younger director for Jekyll while Roeg handled Hyde, or maybe it was the other way around. Donald Sutherland was up for starring, and when scheduling conflicts intervened, Ruther Hauer was slotted in. But the financing never came together.

I don’t have such a clear image of when Bertolucci impinged on my mind, but Paul Schrader discussing him on The South Bank Show (ITV this time) would have brought THE CONFORMIST into my ken. I hadn’t even seen TAXI DRIVER at this point, I think, and the interview made me rent that and RAGING BULL and probably AMERICAN GIGOLO but Bertolucci had to wait until BBC2’s Film Club, I think, screened THE CONFORMIST, and then there was THE LAST EMPEROR at the cinema, and LAST TANGO IN PARIS at the University Film Society (but maybe at one of the Cameo’s late-night double features first, with something unsuitable like BETTY BLUE).

Channel 4 (see how television used to play such an active role in cinephilia) showed 1900 over two nights, and I watched it with my parents, treating it as a big miniseries, and my dad summed up the weird, allegorical ending with a quite literal interpretation that turned out to be exactly what BB had in mind. I can only assume that screening was censored at least a bit, because there are SO many WTF images in there that I can’t imagine my parents lasting ten minutes. Fiona’s face nearly fell off when I ran it for her.

While the experimental arm of commercial cinema in which Roeg had been able to work — the very fag-end of British sixties cinema — sputtered out and left him to waste his time on hackwork — Bertolucci was somehow able to keep making personal films. What hurt him, I think, was the end of the arthouse cinema he’d come out of, and the end of the hope for a particular revolutionary change in society which had animated his vision. The man who made STEALING BEAUTY and BESIEGED was still talented, but I think he’d lost key elements of his relationship to the world, so that his talent didn’t know quite where to go. He gamely kept at it.

We saw him in Bologna a few years ago, in his wheelchair with the Mondrian wheels. I was going to say “I love your wheelchair” and then I realized who he was and would have added “and your work!” but he had a big guard standing over him making sure nobody interrupted his chat with the guy from Variety. So I didn’t get to have an encounter as charming as the one I heard about from a friend of a friend on the internet, who had approached him at a cafe and asked, “Those colours in THE SHELTERING SKY… was that what the desert was like, or were they created?” to which BB replied, “They were created… for you.”


The Man with the Mondrian Wheels

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 1, 2016 by dcairns


9 a.m. HER MAN (Tay Garnett). Proto-Wellesian tracking shots, and Phillips Holmes looking Greek-godly in a shredded sailor suit. “That was practically a bdsm costume,” said Meredith Brody.

11. a.m. BROADWAY (Pal Fejos, whose very credit drew applause). “You’re seeing all sorts of fresh-minted clichés,” observed Mark Fuller.

16.00 MAS ALLA DEL OLVIDO (BEYOND OBLIVION, 1955) Argentinian Gothic melodrama which draws from REBECCA and GASLIGHT while harking forward to VERTIGO and even THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK. See it if you ever get the chance.

21.45. THE HIGH SIGN (music by Donald Sosin), COPS (music by Timothy Brock) and THE KID (music by Charlie Chaplin adapted by Timothy Brock). Orchestral accompaniment. The Piazza Maggiore. Sublime.

A rare “golden” print of REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE was displayed. Andrew Moor observed of the movie, “It’s a sort of mash-up of BILKO and EQUUS.”

Saw a man in a very cool wheelchair — it had Mondrian wheels. “We should compliment him on his chair!” Moving a little closer: “We should compliment him on his career!” Bernard Bertolucci, in the flesh. But the towering bodyguard maintaining his privacy as he chatted to Scott Foundas barred all compliments.

Dreaming the Shot List

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on November 21, 2015 by dcairns


“For a long time, I tackled each shot as if it were the last, as if someone would be taking my camera away just after I finished shooting with it. Therefore, I had the feeling I was stealing each shot, and in this state of mind it’s impossible to think in terms of “grammar” or even “logic.” Even today, I prepare nothing in advance. In fact, I try to dream in my sleep the shots I will be shooting the next day on my set. With a little luck, I’m able to do it. If not, when I arrive on set in the morning I ask to be alone for a while, and I roam around the set with my viewfinder. I look through it and try to imagine the characters moving and saying their lines. It’s almost as if the scene were already there, invisible or impalpable, with me trying to seek it out and give it life.”

Bernardo Bertolucci interviewed in Moviemakers’ Masterclass by Laurent Tirard. Reminds me of Buster Keaton’s, “By God, when we was making movies, we ate, slept and dreamt ’em.” My problem as filmmaker, in common with many others, is that I’m an insomniac whenever I travel or whenever I make a movie (the two processes are related). My theory is that directors are usually grouchy for this reason, and films are usually bad for this reason. They’re made by people who haven’t slept and can’t think clearly.

Tirard’s book is enjoyable and informative and he has rounded up an amazing array of talent — Woody Allen, Almodovar, Boorman, the Coens, Cronenberg, Godard, Kusturica, Lynch, Pollack, Scorsese, Wenders, Wong Kar-Wai… I wish he asked a wider range of questions, more tailored to his subjects. I think Bert, above, is the only guy with a really good answer to the boilerplate question “Does film have a grammar?” Most of those asked say it does, but you can break it, but you have to know it to break it, blah blah. Listening to Cronenberg, who, for all his wild imagery, has never really done anything with the interplay of shots that broke with the tradition of Griffith, coming out with this pablum is mildly irritating. He could give a better answer to a better question.

Still, it’s a great array of interviewees. Some of them give slightly more practical advice than Bertolucci, too.