Archive for Blue

Am I Blue?

Posted in FILM with tags , , on December 4, 2019 by dcairns

FINALLY, I’m watching Derek Jarman’s BLUE.

In common with Jarman’s collaborator Ken Russell, for whom Jarman designed THE DEVILS and SAVAGE MESSIAH, I loved Jarman more than I loved his films. Russell identified Jarman’s personal joyousness as being the quality somewhat lacking in his films. But the same charge was leveled at Ingmar Bergman, who claimed to be a fun guy. Jarman was a force of life — I was lucky enough to see him speak a number of times, at Filmhouse and the DeMarco Gallery, and each time I felt I’d seen a whole movie.

THE LAST OF ENGLAND marks the beginning of Jarman’s late period — he goes from early to late without a middle, thanks to AIDS. I believe we’d have seen a whole series of films building on the particular strengths of CARAVAGGIO and featuring Tilda Swinton as muse, if not for that terrible illness. When ENGLAND screened at Edinburgh, we were told that Jarman hadn’t even been able to watch it — the shattering music and sound design was too strong for him to withstand.

BLUE comes on as a gentler work — not just because it almost totally lacks an image track, just that luminous blue. Of course, your eyes keep working, and won’t accept such a blank picture.

A friend who saw the film projected remarked that he fixated on a spot of damage on the cinema screen. The version I’m looking at has a fair bit of sparkle on the original print, so my eyes are darting around to follow these little glitterballs. And I don’t have the benefit of a darkened auditorium. But at least the cat has shut up.

For some reason I hadn’t anticipated the effect of natural sounds — initiially, a cafe — in this film, shorn of the usual visual accompaniment. The blue screen — blue was all that Jarman could see at this point — makes us feel blind, in a way that we never do listening to a radio play. Something is less than nothing.

“I have played this scenario back and forth for a year,” says the VO, and Simon Fisher Turner follows it with a discordant recurring set of chimes that perfectly captures the sensation of an unshakeable thought spiralling around in your mind.

“Blue transcends the solemn geography of human limits.”

The last time I saw Jarman he was very thin, very frail, and being assisted across the Filmhouse lobby. Though I’d heard he was dying, his appearance was shocking to me since I’d last seen him a few years before in good health.

But he was smiling.

“Blue transcends the solemn geography of human limits.”

BLUE is the film where Jarman expresses his joy, his love of life, as it is ending.

“Blue transcends the solemn geography of human limits.”

“Blue transcends the solemn geography of human limits.”

“Blue transcends the solemn geography of human limits.”

Stealing Time

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 3, 2019 by dcairns

I’m in the edit today — Fiona and I have recorded a video essay for KWAIDAN. So not much time for blogathoning. But I tell you what — Timo Langer and I are cutting at Mark Cousins’ place. How about I wander about and see if I can find any late films to write about, in between cuts?

The reference material from Mark’s THE EYES OF ORSON WELLES lie all around, so there’s CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, F FOR FAKE and THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND.

There’s a Derek Jarman box set, but it doesn’t contain BLUE, which I really ought to write about — one of the ultimate late films, you could argue, made when its director had been struck blind by AIDS.

Ah, there’s WAR REQUIEM, late-ish Jarman and positively final Olivier. You can’t get later than late Olivier.

(Is it bad manners to blog about somebody’s flat when they’re out?)

Two Theo Angelopoulos box sets. Haven’t seen THE DUST OF TIME, but it’s a great title for a last film, even though its creator probably wasn’t planning to curtail his career by stepping in front of an off-duty cop’s on-coming motorcycle.

Wow, here’s THE BRAVE, the only film directed by Johnny Depp, to date. (And a follow-up seems less and less likely.)

This place is a treasure trove of cinema, including late cinema…

Mark’s back, now I feel guilty and furtive.

He’s OK with it — in fact, he mentions an article he wrote on Late Style, which you can read here, at The Prospect. Quick discussion follows on why, so often, filmmakers’ work becomes tired or boring in old age, whereas that doesn’t happen so often with visual artists. The weight of all that equipment seems to be a burden. “Look at Bertolucci, how his films shrank, until they were one-room films.” Maybe lightweight digital cameras will transform this. But the filmmaker’s

I suggest that there’s a feeling that film is done best by people who are still discovering everything. It’s when we think we know what we’re doing that we get dull. It’s like those seventies Disney films where they had filing cabinets full of old animation cels as reference. You want a dancing bear, you just trace one somebody did earlier. Sometimes our brains get like filing cabinets.

There’s a relevant line in THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND: “It’s alright to steal from others, what we must never do is steal from ourselves.”

How To Be Meaningless

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on March 16, 2009 by dcairns


I casually picked up a couple of Hitchcock books in the library, only realising later that one of them was Donald Spoto’s The Art of Alfred Hitchcock, which I probably wouldn’t have given the time of day to if I’d realised what it was. But it’s actually full of useful stuff, and his film analysis isn’t too bad. On MURDER! ~

“Finally, the film hints at the expressionism to which Hitchcock had been exposed in Germany. There is a marvellous opening shot, a long pan down the side of a slightly surreal tenement.”

OK, so the shot is actually the second of the film, and it’s a tracking shot, not a pan, and he means that the building is designed with expressionistic distortions, rather than surreal in some other way. But one can largely see what he’s getting at, and the description bears some resemblance to the film.

By contrast, I was looking at If It’s Purple, Someone’s Gonna Die: The Power of Color in Visual Storytelling, by Patti Bellantoni, which is a really good IDEA for a book… but the first disappointment comes in realising that the films being looked at are a rather mainstream bunch. True, Nicholas Ray rates a mention for his use of red in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, but WORKING GIRL rates a higher page count. If I started to list the films that aren’t mentioned, we would all probably start to cry. Suffice to say that there’s no Tashlin and Lewis, no LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN, no RED SHOES and BLACK NARCISSUS, nothing on Vittorio Storaro’s work with Bertolucci, nothing on Demy or Tati or Hitchcock. Although Bellantoni has talked to Hitch’s production designer, Robert Boyle, she preferred to ask him about THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR, rather than, say, VERTIGO.

But that’s all fine. As long as the examples used lead to some good observations, it doesn’t matter much what they are, and choosing films familiar to the modern readership makes sense. I’m now going to open the book at random and type what I see ~

“When we see horrible actions taking place in a blue atmosphere, we can identify with the helplessness of the victims.” (On THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION.)

I flip a few pages, again at random ~

“Appearing as a visual non-sequiteur, bright red-orange (as from the bowels of the earth) shoots geyser-like out of the jungle: a warning without warning coming from the darkness.” (On APOCALYPSE NOW.)

“Maybe critics didn’t mention green because once you acknowledge its presence you need a syntax to place it in and that syntax is visceral and intuitive. It’s clearly a stylisation with no reference except to itself.” (Cuaron’s GREAT EXPECTATIONS.)

“Even the reds in this film have an orange cast, which makes us respond to them more intensely.” (THE GODFATHER.)

Not untrue, just meaningless. It’s not far from Ryan O’Neal in BARRY LYNDON: “I love the artist’s use of the colour blue.” Bellantoni diagnoses how she feels about the scene, describes the colours, and then simply asserts that the colours cause or intensify the emotion. She mentions her “research” and “experiments” a lot, but rarely gives any concrete examples of what they consist of, beyond watching movies with audiences. There’s a lot of colour theory out there to draw upon, but it isn’t referenced. Famous painters’ names do not appear in the index. And Bellantoni insists on discussing one colour at a time, although the contrasts of different colours are responsible for many of the psychological effects to be found in visual art, and of course movies rarely deal in single colours, unless they’re Derek Jarman’s BLUE.

Patti Bellantoni is a member of the faculty of the Conservatory of the American Film Institute.

Fiona points out that it’s terrible I’m saying this, because the book was a present. Sorry, Eric, but as you can see, your gift did come in handy!