Archive for Cabaret


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 8, 2013 by dcairns


I’m jumping on a plane to Venice today, en route to Pordenone. So as a stop-gap measure, here’s the list of screenings I’ve set for students at Edinburgh College of Art where I work. They’ve already had THE GENERAL, M and CRISS CROSS.

The screenings start off in chronological order but then meander. The choices are not so much to fill in vital areas of film history — impossible to do with so few! — but to hint at the development of the medium while pointing to clues useful to our students’ work. Things like POV and subjective emotional effects, use of time, movement, props and their relationship to character and story, seducing the audience to go on a journey…

My blurbs are on the basic side, written in half an hour…

(Akira Kurosawa)
The film that introduced Japanese cinema to the west. A dizzying exploration of truth and lies. Several people have witnessed a murder, but at trial their accounts differ so radically that nobody can make sense of what really happened. Kurosawa turns this premise into a hypnotic, sometimes shocking, always beautiful study of our problematic relationship to truth.

(Ingmar Bergman)
An old man nearing death goes on a journey into his past. Bergman’s poetic film uses cinema to explore time and memory as a key to character. The aging actor/director Victor Sjostrom, in his last role, is extraordinary.

(John Frankenheimer)
A man is approached by a mysterious company who offer him a new life. A new face, a new identity, a chance to start again. Second helpings. Both melancholy and stylistically dazzling, the film unites the influences of Hollywood, television, and European arthouse to paint a haunting portrait of longing and failure that will incidentally terrify you.

(Nicolas Roeg)
Visually beautiful, romantic, frightening. Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie are grieving parents in wintry Venice, haunted by visions of their dead child and embroiled in a deeper, darker mystery. Roeg practically reinvented film cutting with his allusive, mosaic-like approach, fragmenting time and space.


(Bob Fosse)
Not always considered in the context of New Hollywood cinema (Scorsese, Coppola etc), but he definitely belongs there, the choreographer-turned-director Fosse proved himself with this divinely decadent exploration of Berlin night-life in the years just before the rise of Hitler. A musical which is also sinister, sexy, scary, political and unsettling.

(Mohsen Makhmalbaf)
Documentary and fiction crash together in such a way that you can’t tell them apart. Director Makhmalbaf decides to make a film about the policeman he stabbed during the Iranian revolution. He hires the policeman to play himself. What will a fictional recreation of a real event reveal?

Classic and obscure short fiction films selected to broaden or even explode your thinking about story, performance, photography, design, editing…

Pierre Etaix stands somewhere between Jaques Tati and Woody Allen, delivering visuals gags around romantic situations. Playing almost like a series of short films, The Suitor follows Pierre’s misadventures as he doggedly tries to find romance, without understanding really what it is. For his use of framing, props and the language of film, Etaix is a master to learn from.

(Bernardo Bertolucci)
Simply one of the most exhilarating pieces of filmmaking ever, this political thriller is also a dark psychological drama and a joyous romp through cinematic technique. Clerici wants to please Italy’s fascist rulers because he needs to feel he belongs – he’s worried about an event in his youth which may mark him as different. The state sends him to Paris to assassinate his old teacher, to prove his loyalty. Since he’s getting married, he brings his new wife along – it’ll make a nice honeymoon…

A delightful mystery which serves up the true spirit of Christmas: murder, suspicion, insanity and malaise. But all wrapped up at the end in a way that’s charming and funny and surprisingly heart-warming. Amazing to think this confection was first served up during the Nazi occupation.

Up until the last minute the list included COME AND SEE, an amazing film which I think students would get a lot out of… but I began to fear that the schedule was getting to be too much of a wrist-slitter. I don’t find any of these films depressing, but some light and shade is useful.


“I am not a mung seed.”

Posted in FILM, literature, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 3, 2008 by dcairns

A Scottish Kenneth Williams?

A treat for you! DIARY OF A MADMAN is a half-hour short directed by Morag McKinnon back in the ’90s, written by and starring Colin McLaren, based on the story by Nikolai Gogol. Morag, assisted by Travis Reeves has planted the thing on YouTube in three bite-sized morsels, to be enjoyed by all.

I edited the film! I don’t recall there being that much work involved in that — the long-take style employed meant that 90% of the work was done when I’d removed the clapperboards. But I had a good time with the sound effects, which I roughed in before Bronek Korda and Derek Livesey at BBC Scotland mixed things and thinned it down and took out all the distracting stuff I’d tried. Looking at it now the editing seems the weakest thing about it. As it goes on there are fewer match cuts and it gets better and better. My choice of when to dissolve or fade looks alarmingly random though.

The Scotsman newspaper rightly praised the film as a minimalist masterpiece and bemoaned the fact that the talents emerging from Edinburgh College of Art’s film department weren’t finding the financial support to create a new wave of Scottish cinema. That might be finally changing, with former E.C.A. students like Travis, Morag, Martin Radich and Sarah Gavron all making feature films recently. The idea that it takes the U.K. film industry ten years to spot new talent isn’t too encouraging, but at least it’s happening.

Madman McLaren, seen here in full flow, has scripted Morag’s forthcoming tragi-comic feature ROUNDING UP DONKEYS. Although almost pathologically sane, to quote Herzog, Colin has a rare handle on insanity in his writing that’s reminiscent of Spike Milligan. Here he deftly interweaves original gags with Gogol material. You can’t see the join!

I’m sorry that Colin hasn’t done more acting of late — I think Morag would like to tempt him back, but I don’t blame him from withdrawing — he did a bunch of student films, which must have been a bit tiresome at times, but he also had several theatrical triumphs, playing Hamlet, the M.C. in Cabaret and creating a theatrical version of MADMAN in which Morag appeared.

Colin’s work here is even more impressive here given that he had a cold during the three nights of filming. And swinging those shoes round his neck nearly sawed his head off.

I’m impressed all over by Kenneth Simpson’s 16mm photography. I recall we had one shot that was out of focus, which we ditched — the only out-take! I think it featured the conclusion of the Fat Patsy “sub-plot”. The rear projection worked great, and the long take at the end now seems… rather brave!

Apologies if the inter-titles are hard to read — they are on 16mm too!

“I’m not right glad the now.”

More Gogol madness soon!

Euphoria #39:Somewhere a glory awaits, unseen…

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , on February 6, 2008 by dcairns


We are collecting the little bits of film that make induce joyfulness. When we have fifty, they will be melted down and injected into Michael Haneke, in an effort to cheer him up. 

Today’s volunteer from the audience, his “consciousness violently shaped by war,” profers a slice of Cinema Euphoria that is STRONG MEAT:

“Tomorrow Belongs to Me”

So many moments of CABARET are talked of, repeatedly shown, revered. We think of the compere, Liza’s rendering of “Money, Money, Money,” the dancers using the chairs as props, the seedy life of some, the occasional splendour — but let’s not forget the oft-forgotten scene of the Hitler Youth choir singing in the bier-garten: memorable, hypnotic, seduction of another form. Would you have signed up? I might have. Fortunately, tomorrow belonged to me — not them.

Emotions can be disturbing.

Circa 1939

Who is this masked man, lurking behind the mask of anonymity like Hugo Weaving in a tall hat, answering only to the nom-de-plume of “Circa 1939”?

It’s my Dad, and that’s the year of his birth.

When he mentioned, after a very satisfying dinner, that this would be his nomination, I have to admit that eyebrows were raised to stratospheric heights where the chilly conditions threatened to wither them at the roots.

“Is that euphoric?” queried Fiona, dubiously.

“It’s a toe-tapper,” I admitted.

The power of this sequence is the exquisite balance of seduction and repulsion, letting us see how empowering it would be to join that song, how hard and frightening to resist, while trusting our knowledge of history to let us make the right choice. It’s an amazing piece of MONTAGE, drawing it’s power from the assembly of little bits of film of faces, connected to a stirring tune to create an extraordinary emotive crescendo.

Leni Riefenstahl’s extraordinary Nuremberg rallies material from TRIUMPH OF THE WILL quickly became an icon of easy horror, but this sequence freshens the imagery and makes it potent and alarming again.

(I love the stories about various filmmakers sitting down to a screening of TRIUMPH OF THE WILL to see what America’s propaganda response should be. René Clair was horrified: “This must never be shown!” Frank Capra wrote later was that his initial reaction was that immediate surrender was the only sane response in the face of such mass unity of will. Only Chaplin sat laughing until the tears ran down his face. He’d had an idea for a film.

Adenoid Hynkel

Later, Capra claims to have conceived the idea of turning this weapon back on the Nazis, using it show the horror of mass conformity, threat of fascism and the need to resist. Luis Bunuel seems to have had the job of cutting Riefenstahl’s epic down to size so that it could be deployed in this way.)

CABARET was turned down by at least ten top directors, including Gene Kelly, who must have been terrified of it,* and Billy Wilder, who had lived through this time and place and felt too close to it. (I always think of the stubborn old guy in the Bier-Garten as Wilder.)

So Bob Fosse got the gig, despite SWEET CHARITY, his only other film, having rolled over and died at the box office. An incredible piece of luck, for us and for him (he pipped Coppola to the Oscar). I am SO impressed with the shot of the Joel Grey’s compére at the end there, dropping in out of the blue like the images of demonic Linda Blair in THE EXORCIST, and doing a camp variation of The Crazy Kubrick Stare. Chilling and oddly exhilarating.

– – – – – – – –

Speaking of the volk, we are halfway through watching Lang’s NIEBELUNGEN, so expect more thoughts on mythic structure when we’re done with Part II: KRIEMHILD’S REVENGE.

*See Comments for Aunt Suzy’s correction, re Gene Kelly’s role in CABARET’s gestation.