Archive for Charles Burns

Festival Round-Up, June 18th

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 18, 2008 by dcairns

Escaping the round of conferences at work I took in a round of movies at Edinburgh Film Festival, but since I was celebrating with graduating students last night I awoke with the proverbial “sore heid and a pocket full of sticky pennies”, too late to attend the press screening of Lucky McKee’s RED, starring Greatest Living Scotsman Brian Perfect Cox.

(The name Brian Perfect Cox derives from a graffiti on a big wooden gate at the bottom of Edinburgh’s Ferry Road. Reading simply “BRIAN’S PERFECT COCK”, it managed to be both obscene and yet oddly moving. The anonymous author simply wanted to exult in one of life’s rare perfections, and since actor Brian Cox often seems like another of those splendid anomalies, the two have become linked in  my mind.)

There was more red on display in Martin Radich’s visceral art film CRACK WILLOW. I have no idea what the title means, and little idea about the film, but it’s a searing, often lurid piece of work. Martin’s photography is even more stunning than I expected, with sodium-lit night scenes looking like scratched copper, and nightmare interiors tinged iridescent red and green. The Bennett’s, father and son, stars of Martin’s first film short, IN MEMORY OF DOROTHY BENNETT, are back, but the years have done their destructive work. One is overweight, the other aged and disabled. The scenes of son caring for father will strike a chord with anyone who has cared for an older person. But a shift has occurred — by moving the Bennetts into a fictional storyline where the father dies and the son undergoes a crisis, Martin has changed the relationship between subjects, artwork and audience. We are no longer getting a window into the private world of the Bennetts, but are seeing them perform for us, and there’s an uncomfortable element of exhibitionism to it. It’s doubtful if the younger man would be lying in his bath and urinating into the air if the camera wasn’t there to capture it. Intimate scenes of human behaviour are interspersed with show-off stunts. While the use of improvisation maintains an air of absolute emotional authenticity to the interplay between the “actors”, some scenes seem added for sensation’s sake. Long and rather nauseating scenes of the pair noisily eating seem to gloat over bodily revulsion, sabotaging the human sympathy which was the hallmark of the earlier short. Some of the nudity and swearing seem forced, straining for shock effect that refuses to come. There is a whiff of the freakshow.

(Publicity gurus please note: when promoting a low-budget film that’s a hard sell, you could at least provide more than one still. Also, “synopis” is not a word.)

More problematic still are the interpolated scenes of stylised photography and theatrical performance, in which an apparently psychotic man capers and cavorts in a tinted apartment space, sometimes thrashing in accelerated motion like that fellow in JACOB’S LADDER. If it weren’t for the more compelling spectre of the Bennetts, this might be disturbing, but it seems both tame and melodramatically contrived by comparison, even though imagery and sound design are impressive in themselves. The guy (credits are unavailable) is a brilliant physical performer though.

Nothing directly relates this action to the main thread of narrative, save a brief scene in which Bennett fils glimpses the twitchy man on a beach. A similar encounter loosely connects Bennett to a woman seen confined in what seems to be a psychiatric hospital (although it doesn’t feel like anybody connected to the production has any experience or understanding of mental illness or psychiatric care in this country), so there are three basically free-floating units of action drifting around in the film, unattached by any detectable structure.

Martin is a graduate of the Cinema Extreme shorts programme, and this is exactly the kind of thing they love — “strong” subject matter, “radical” treatment, uncertain meaning or purpose. It’s nevertheless pretty compelling, due to the skill with which it’s made. Chris Morris’ TV show Jam is cited as an influence in the Film Festival programme, but the mission of that series, to push comedy deep into the disturbing until 99% of humour is suffocated, is not shared here. Perhaps this film is heading in the other direction, driving drama into the realms of the grotesque until empathy snaps and we are left with absurdity and horror. There ARE a few laughs along the way though. The younger Bennett’s brilliant malapropism “I quite like that Allied Llama,” is my first favourite line of the Fest.

Grabbing a muffin for sustenance, I plunged into OBSCENE, a documentary on the life of Barney Rosset, whose Grove Press published Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Tropic of Cancer and The Naked Lunch in America for the first time, battling through the courts to do so. It’s a fascinating story, but such an iconoclastic subject perhaps deserves a less conventional approach. Talking heads were of a high calibre though — I particularly enjoyed John Waters’ dismissal of the once-shocking I AM CURIOUS YELLOW: “It’s a limp dick and an ugly girl and talking about communism.”

A third bout of disturbed cinema followed — FEAR(S) OF THE DARK is a French animated feature anthology, interweaving several short stories written and designed by top cartoonists like Charles Burns and Lorenzo Mattoti. I liked most of the sequences, and was blown away by Richard McGuire’s wordless ghost story in which a traveller sheltering from a snowstorm is persecuted by an avenging female figure in an old dark house. Pellucid darkness (pure b&w without use of gray), tense, gasping sound, elegant movement and design clearly influenced by Edward Gorey but stopping short of the usual wholesale plunder.

Why is b&w animation suddenly so big? First PERSEPOLIS, now this — I wonder if the repulsive SIN CITY isn’t in some strange way partially responsible, in which case, it deserves some credit.

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Coming out of my ears.

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 8, 2008 by dcairns

Wednesday morning I bussed up to Edinburgh Filmhouse for the official launch of the Edinburgh International Film Festival. It was nice seeing some old friends, like Scottish Screen’s Becky Lloyd, whose new baby tried to gum my finger off, Mary Gordon, Shona Thomson, Kristin Loeer, Robert Glassford — and then there was the festival programme as well.

The Jeanne Moreau retrospective includes most of the things I’d want it to, although not her Lillian Gish documetary, and there’s been no mention of Moreau attending. It’d be be a shame if that doesn’t happen. I’m particularly keen to see Joseph Losey’s EVA on the big screen, and Demy’s LA BAIE DES ANGES. Duras’ NATHALIE GRANGER is one of the more obscure films screening, which I should be sure and catch.

New films from John Maybury, Werner Herzog, Errol Morris (who’s attending), Gillian Armstrong, Andrei Konchalovsky, Bill Plympton, Ole Bornedal, Bernard Rose, Terence Davies, Cedric Klapisch, Wayne Wang, Lucky McKee, Shane Meadows, Olivier Assayas, Brad Anderson, plus shorts and lots of films from people I never heard of. I’m going to try and see as many as I can.

Two people from my circle, or intersecting circles — Martin Radich, whom I know, and Chris Waitt, whom I haven’t met, also have features showing.

And there’s Pixar’s WALL-E, and a FEARS OF THE DARK (pictured), a French animation created by Charles Burns (who illustrated the cover of the issue of The Believer I’m in!), which looks rather beautiful.

Appearances by cinematographers Brian Tufano, Christopher Doyle, Seamus McGarvey, Roger Deakins, and actor Brian Cox and stop-motion monster legend Ray Harryhausen (THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS). Fiona squealed in excitement at the thought of the last-named, even though we’ve seen him interviewed in person before.

skeletal army

On that very special occasion, Ray H produced a few of his miniature creations (the skeleton came in a little coffin), and suddenly every child in the cinema was down in front of the auditorium to be close to them. I think we may have been amongst them.

Thugs With Ugly Mugs

Posted in Comics, FILM, literature with tags , , , , , on March 4, 2008 by dcairns

don't you believe it

Set your thrillometers to overload as I prepare to move amongst you in printed form!

The new film issue of The Believer, out v. soon, features concerted verbiage by myself and the immortal man-myth B. Kite, in a little set of blurbs dealing with the HOT TOPIC of 1930s character actors. Those of you of an American disposition, geographically speaking, should have little trouble laying your fervid fingers upon it. 

The “article”, as I understand these things are called when applied to paper, is copiously illustrated by underground cartoon hero Seth, but even more thrillinger than that, the front cover is by demigod Charles Burns and he’s chosen to feature one of the thesps I worded about, the estimable Eugene Pallette (fat guy, lower right).

“…With the body of a warehouse and a basso-profundo voice which seemed to emerge, with loud echo, from somewhere beneath the floor he stood on, Pallette was often typed as wealthy capitalists, but his weight was seldom explicitly referred to. What we got instead was the perpetual umbrage machine, the tetchiness of a man who knows for certain that his waistline is about to be mentioned or at least thought about…”

Now buy a copy and READ ON.

thundering umbrage