Archive for Cannes

21 bees, Baker Street

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 18, 2015 by dcairns


Though Cannes is not what you would call an egalitarian film festival (few of them are), it did used to be the case (I haven’t tried it lately) that you could show up at the Palais, present a cheap business card declaring yourself to be the director of a fictitious film company, and you would, eventually, be presented with a low-level pass. This would get you into the odd gala screening, if you queued early in the day, and into the various pavilions, and into market screenings, which meant you could see a lot of films, just not necessarily the hot tickets. This suited Fiona and I just fine, and in this manner we were able to see Bill Condon’s GODS AND MONSTERS, which we thoroughly enjoyed.

So we were hoping MR HOLMES would be a worthy successor, and it just about is. Despite its leisurely narrative pace, it does create a series of compelling mini-mysteries for the aged Holmes (Ian McKellan) to solve, from the forgotten conclusion of his last case, lost in the mists of incipient senility, to the problem of who or what is bumping off his bees.

Mitch Cullin’s source novel picks up on a few references in Conan Doyle to Holmes eventually retiring to Sussex (like Richard Lester) to keep bees (unlike Richard Lester). Adding in the idea of Holmes declining mental powers allows for a compelling set of subplots, two unfolding in parallel flashbacks, one in present tense. Like GODS AND MONSTERS, it’s quite moving. Modest budgetary means are well-mustered so the film never strains to convince us of its period setting (though I thought the Japanese scenes maybe needed something — I’m not sure what — more to really convince us we weren’t on British soil).


Sadly, I don’t think McKellan’s Holmes is as good as his James Whale in GODS AND MONSTERS. We have less of an idea of what Whale was like, of course, and McKellan’s lack of physical resemblance to the great director wasn’t really a problem. In a sense, Whale, who is visible and audible only in a couple of seconds of ONE MORE RIVER and in various stills, is less real than Sherlock Homes. Somehow I can’t imagine a young McKellan playing a young Holmes, so I struggle a bit to see an older one playing an older one. Also, McKellan has gotten very keen on pulling faces, chewing his lip, tonguing his teeth, etc. That’s probably quite appropriate for the pensive, anxiety-prone senile Holmes, but he did so much of it in his last turn as Gandalf that it feels less like characterisation and more like actorly mannerisms.

Still, he can work our emotions as of old, and he’s backed up by an excellent Laura Linney and wunderkind Milo Parker, who shares most of the key scenes with McKellan. He’s pretty amazing — he has to do everything Brendan Fraser did in GODS AND MONSTERS only backwards and in heels while being much, much smaller.


One real issue — the film is seriously over-edited. The deliberate pace cannot be converted into a hurly burly by intercutting like mad. There’s a lack of variety to the rhythms, with everything rushed on and offscreen, where a contrast between longer shots and more hurried one would have been much more exciting and appropriate. It’s apparent at once, where a scene in a train carriage is framed to let Holmes resemble a Tenniel illustration for Through the Looking Glass. But the shot is whisked away before we can enjoy it, we get barraged with closeups for a bit, and then the shot returns for another blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance.

Never repeat a master shot. If anyone can tell me why, I’ll give you a jar of honey.

The Empty Space

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 2, 2014 by dcairns


This is the empty space where this week’s edition of The ’68 Comeback Special should be — a critical look at the films that should have screened in Cannes ’68 but couldn’t because there were film directors literally hanging from the curtains. Scout Tafoya and I aim to cover all the entries. Well, what with New Year and all, I’ve fallen a bit behind, so I thought I’d write about the one Cannes film we haven’t been able to track down. Much easier to review a film without the tiresome effort of watching it, as I’m sure some professionals in the business could attest (check out Andrew Pulver on CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING for The Guardian. Does it sound like he watched more than half an hour?)

The vanished film from Cannes is — and you should prepare yourselves for a mild shock — TUVIA VESHEVA BENOTAV / TEVYE AND HIS SEVEN DAUGHTERS, which I take to derive from the same story as FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, a West German/Israeli co-production directed by none other than Menahem Golan. When no copy of the film materialized from any of the usual sources, Scout actually got in touch with the director himself, but he didn’t know where we could find it either.

Of all the filmmakers whose careers were, arguably, harmed or derailed or curtailed by the non-occurrence of Cannes ’68, Golan’s could be the most extreme — he certainly never had a shot at that kind of critical acclaim again. His very next film was WHAT’S GOOD FOR THE GANDER, a mid-life crisis sex comedy starring Norman Wisdom, featuring Judy Geeson (a fellow Cannes 68 veteran fresh from HERE WE GO ROUND THE MULBERRY BUSH) and summed up by a friend in the pithy phrase “Makes NOT NOW DARLING look like the fuckin’ MAHABHARATA.”

Then Golan, truly became the man Billy Wilder called “Menahem Golem,” directing THE DELTA FORCE and becoming a real movie mogul, heading Cannon Productions and briefly giving the Hollywood majors a run for their money, capitalizing on the boom in video pre-sales as a way to make films that were in profit before they even opened. At Cannes, Golan could work the marketplace like Ricky Jay works a pack of playing cards. To bolster his fledgling studio’s artistic reputation, he signed a deal on a napkin for Jean-Luc Godard (one of the ringleaders who shut down Cannes in ’68) to make KING LEAR with Orson Welles, which didn’t quite work out but the movie was made, with Godard reputedly insisting on flying the Atlantic on Concorde every week to collect his cheque (but that CAN’T be true, right?). We also got TOUGH GUYS DON’T DANCE and OTELLO, showing that Golan’s idea of class was wide-ranging and eccentric.

Now, by writing about this before we’re done, I run the risk of the film actually turning up, but I figure that’ll be all the more exciting for this build-up. And if it never shows up, we avoid ending with a sense of let-down by talking about it now. And in any case, I haven’t done my homework and watched Marcello Fondato’s I PROTAGONISTI, which I just obtained a nice copy of. Look forward to that in a fortnight. And look forward — maybe — to TEVYE AND HIS SEVEN DAUGHTERS… someday.

(Obviously, if you have a copy, let us know!)

The ’68 Comeback Special: The Long Day’s Dying

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 26, 2013 by dcairns


“There ARE men dead. I know of men dead. And, and I know of a girl dead. This girl, this girl was loved by one of our lads who was asked questions and had lighted cigarettes pushed into his face… but survived. And came home, to bed and beauty. And she kissed him in the night, asleep. With love. And he stuck a knife in her, without waking, up to her heart. He woke up in Broadmoor.”

As my partner-in-crime Dave Scout Tafoya wrote last week, the would-be 1968 Cannes Film Festival contained good as well as bad competitors for the Palm D’Or, I’ll be writing about at least one of the British duffers later on, but it’s heartening to report that I’ve just seen a British entry which, though little-known and rarely-seen, proves to be a terrific piece of cinema.

Peter Collinson’s career is mysterious — the only quality linking most of his films is their tendency to be chamber pieces, either with a fringe theatre influence or tending more towards the suspense potboiler. One of the few filmmakers to carve out a distinct oeuvre at Hammer un-influenced by the major commercial trends at that establishment, Collinson gave us the fascinating oddities THE PENTHOUSE and STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING. More conventionally, he helmed FRIGHT and THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE.

Right before this one he was responsible for UP THE JUNCTION, the film adaptation of a kitchen sink TV play originally directed by Ken Loach — I think this is what gave Collinson the respectability to be considered for Cannes. Right afterwards he made THE ITALIAN JOB, his biggest hit and the film he’s most remembered for. In the window in between he made the movie with the highest artistic ambition, but on a small scale and tight budget.


A LONG DAY’S DYING follows three British soldiers lost somewhere in Europe in WWII. Charles Wood adapted the screenplay from Alan White’s novel — the previous year Wood scripted HOW I WON THE WAR and the same year he wrote Tony Richardson’s THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE. He also contributed heavily to the screenplay for PETULIA, another film due to have been screened at the abortive Cannes ’68. A sort-of-pacifist who is also an enthusiast for military history, Wood brings acute authenticity to his army stories, combined with a surreal sensibility which makes for rather thrilling, disconcerting contrasts. The main manifestation of this here is the internal monologues he gives to all his characters, which seem to talk to one another at times in a kind of faulty telepathy. The characters are always either overhearing each others’ thoughts or else failing to do so. Sometimes they shout-think their voice-overs at each other in a pathetic attempt to be heard and understood. It adds a strangeness to the simple tale of survival (or the failure to survive).

The Brits are David Hemmings (heart-breakingly youthful — a baby-faced killer) Tom Bell (before he got raddled — actually dishy) and Tony Beckley (also in THE ITALIAN JOB). The lone German is Alan Dobie, who sadly can’t do the accent — he sounds Russian. That, and some heavy-handed music choices at the start and (especially) the end are the film’s only major flaws.


Sadly, many of Collinson’s films have vanished from view, and this one could only be found on a rip made from a faulty VHS tape, which was a pan-and-scan butchering to begin with. The movie is strong enough to deserve DVD resurrection by the BFI’s Flipside label, I’d argue. Particularly with such a strong Hemmings perf. As a result, the cinematography is impossible to assess — even its atmospheric, earth-tone loamy quality may be simply a result of a bad transfer.

John Trumper’s editing survives better, although obviously the visual rhythms are thrown off by the cropping. Trumper, who would cut GET CARTER, has an edgy way with violence, cutting the graphic moments short and leaving us blinking in disbelief. At one point, Beckley’s character is warned that a grenade will go off in his face one day, and we cut not-quite-subliminally to Beckley’s bloody face and torn lips, as if it’s happened, and then back to reality. Disconcerting.

Collinson also throws in some slow-motion falls, and it’s tempting at first to see this as standard-issue action film-making. But this is 1968, and BONNIE AND CLYDE is only just coming out, Peckinpah hasn’t been allowed to use slomo yet, and so Collinson is ahead of the curve with only Kurosawa as his obvious influence.

It really is only the use of Elgar at the end that spoils this film. Fiona thought the freeze-frames were also overdoing it, but had they unfolded in silence I think they could have been starkly effective, even with all the overuse of that device in the ensuing decade. Collinson’s tendency to over-eggery may be the reason most of his films aren’t so well-remembered — that and, to be fair, his tragic early death at the hands of Ricky Schroder.*


*For legal reasons, we would like to make it clear that child actor Ricky Schroder did not in fact kill Peter Collinson.


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