Archive for Buster Keaton

A Gala Day Is Enough For Me

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 17, 2013 by dcairns


Rosey Grier and Ray Milland in THE THING WITH TWO HEADS.

Because I didn’t read to the end of David Robinson’s welcome note to guests at Pordenone, because I am an idiot sometimes, I was unaware that the closing gala was a ticketed event. I had been cheerily breezing into films all week, waving my pass, and suddenly discovered that wouldn’t work here. And it immediately became clear that I had not a squid’s chance in OLDBOY of getting a seat.

This is a blow since (1) Not only are they showing Harold Lloyd in THE FRESHMAN, which I’ve actually seen extracts from, but (2) they’re showing it with an orchestral score conducted by Carl Davis and (3) they’re prefacing it with a newly-discovered, extended alternate cut of Buster Keaton’s THE BLACKSMITH, with accompaniment by Neil Brand. Amazing. But I’ll never see any of this, unless a particularly ruthless miracle occurs.

I’m about to become an unsympathetic character in this story so bear with me.


The people at the box office, who are not unsympathetic, say something about “It’s in your welcome pack,” which I don’t have with me, so I race back to my accommodation to rummage through it. It’s five minutes to curtain and the flat I’m in is five minutes away. I make it there in two, wheezing and sweating, and rifle my paperwork. Sure enough, there’s Robinson’s note warning me to buy my ticket well in advance. That would have been very helpful a few days ago.

I race back to the Teatro, now further behind in the queue/crowd waiting for return tickets than ever. My only hope now was to either throw my weight around, using my “status” as one of the few living filmmakers with a movie in the fest (I think there were about four of us), or collapse sobbing on the floor and hope they take pity on me. Also, I’m slightly inspired by a story the great animator Don Herzfeldt told about getting to see his heroes, the Monty Python team, perform live, just because he had the optimism to walk through an open door that should’ve been shut. Nothing ventured…

I see Mr. Robinson in the foyer. Breathless, I explain the situation. And at that moment a festival volunteer shows up with an envelope, obviously containing a ticket and marked “David.” David Robinson explains my problem to this guy, to see if anything can be done for me, there is a moment which may in hindsight have been confusion, and the guy offers me the envelope. An expressions flits across Mr. Robinson’s face which may, again in hindsight, have been horror. I take the ticket, thanking him profusely.

I go in, and find I’m sitting in something of a place of honour, next to 91-year-old Jean Darling, the festival’s most important guest, a co-star in the OUR GANG films from 1927-1929. Three separate people try to persuade me I’m in the wrong seat. I tell them Mr. Robinson gave me his ticket, but I’d be happy to sit somewhere else. David Robinson appears and introduces me to Jean Darling, who has already started chatting to me. I don’t perceive any subtext that he’d like me to stand up/get out — either he’s happy for me to have the seat, he’s too much of a gentleman to say he’d appreciate a seat at his own festival, or he’s giving me signals I’m too autistic to read. In this life, it’s not only survival of the fittest, it’s survival of the most crassly insensitive to social nuance.


THE FRESHMAN begins, and I find myself identifying, with unusual intensity, with Harold’s struggle to find the his place in life.

“Comedy is tragedy,” observes Jean Darling.


Afterwards, I locate Mr. Robinson and anxiously ask if he found a seat at his own festival. A bit late, but it’s apparently my evening for being a bit late with things. He assures me he was fine. I tell him that when he was director of Edinburgh FIlm Festival he screened my first short (THE THREE HUNCHBACKS) and it got a special mention at the Chaplin Awards before the final screening. And I couldn’t afford a ticket so I wasn’t there to hear it. And so in a way, I feel like I have finally kept my appointment with that Closing Gala.


THE CONFRONTATION, the lesser of two Miklos Jancso films at Cannes ’68, is addressed by Scout Tafoya over at Apocalypse Now. A lesser Jancso is still a Jancso…


Posted in FILM with tags , , , on November 10, 2012 by dcairns

A new piece at The Chiseler on Edinburgh’s own Steamboat Bill Snr, Ernest Torrence (left). By me.

Moonrise Keaton

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on July 11, 2012 by dcairns

As I believe I mentioned, Fiona and I (and houseguest Chris) really dug MOONRISE KINGDOM. Which opinion is of no use to anybody else, of course, so I thought I’d talk about the Keaton connection, which might even be of interest to people who don’t like the film, or Wes Anderson, or even Keaton.

Chris reminded me that it was David Bordwell who, borrowing the term from Heinrich Wölfflin, used the term “planimetric” to describe Anderson’s trademark shot, perpendicular to a flat surface such as a wall, characters arranged along it in a clothesline formation. Earlier, Steven Soderbergh had labeled what he called the “Lester tableau” in Richard Lester’s films –

HELP! “Nice boys, and still the same as they was before they was…”

Symmetry isn’t so important (though in the masked ball of  THE THREE MUSKETEERS Lester basically invents the whole Peter Greenaway style) as the arraying of the elements across the screen, treating the screen AS a screen rather that trying to create an illusion of depth. And Lester’s biggest influence as a director is Buster Keaton.

ONE WEEK. Buster has the house turned slightly at an angle to show off its dilapidation, but he still has the front porch fencing horizontal, and it plays as a continuation of the utterly perpendicular fence running through the background. Ozu-esque!

One of MOONRISE KINGDOM’s minor pleasures is the way it uses the Bruce Willisness of Bruce Willis while at the same time diminishing him to human status, a small town cop trapped in an unhappy adulterous relationship, dismissed as dumb and sad even by children. Yet by the climax he’s doing DIE HARD stuff with ropes and dangling and high places and exploding buildings, and it’s delightful.

But that’s Keaton schtick too. So at the risk of spoilers if you haven’t seen MOONRISE KINGDOM (or any Keaton films), here are some elements that MK appropriates from the Keaton oeuvre –


that results in flooding — STEAMBOAT BILL JNR

A bursting dam — THE GENERAL (and OUR HOSPITALITY)

Dangling, tied from a rope, with another character dangling from one’s wrists — OUR HOSPITALITY

MOONRISE KINGDOM is very funny and sweet and I find no flaws to pick on in it. If there’s anything I can imagine enhancing Andersons’ work further it’d be a collaborator with an unusual talent for devising gag sequences (a rare thing today), so that the Keatonesque framing and low-key performances could be augmented by Keatonesque gags which build upon on another. The last filmmakers with a real gift for that seem to me to be Lester and Tati, but I will accept other nominations from Shadowplayers


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