Archive for Children of Men

Stertorous

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on January 20, 2016 by dcairns

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Fiona experienced a sensation of uncanniness right at the start of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s THE REVENANT, when laboured breathing on the soundtrack seemed to be coming from immediately over her left shoulder, to the point where she suspected some cine-pervert had snuck up behind her to wheeze in her ear. And no, I was sitting beside her at the time. And I didn’t experience the same sound. It’s the fulfillment of Walter Murch’s dream of sound design — “the sound designer positions sound effects in the auditorium the way the production designer positions furniture on the set.”

Unbelievers who find the film lacking in story are, arguably, failing to surrender to the experiental aspect of the film: its tactile, impressionistic, auditory qualities. A limited amount of narrative is actually helpful in appreciating these qualities, as viewers of BBC4’s more restful The Sleigh Ride discovered. Everybody shut up and let us just feel what it’s like!

Open your ears to Lon Bender’s astonishing sound design, seamlessly integrated with the score by Alva Noto and Ryûichi Sakamoto (a man who previously journeyed to the Pole to record the melting ice cap: the rushing, tinkling sound of our imminent extinction). The fraught tale of survival (and non-survival, if you’re a bear or a bystander) becomes oddly hypnotic and peaceful, so that I do understand those who grumble that they slept through the thing. Obviously, they didn’t get the whole experience so that’s frustrating, but it’s also their own fault, and it’s in no way a bad thing for a movie to offer a lulling, peaceful quality amid bear-mauling and impromptu frontier surgery and whatnot. Allah loves wondrous variety, as Morgan Freeman says in that other great bow-and-arrow romp, ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES.

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Exactly like The Sleigh Ride, the long take camerawork (I see CHILDREN OF MEN as the obvious influence on protracted action sequences staged as sequence shots) work to dump you in it along with the hero, and create a nervous tension simply by limiting the speed with which the camera can react to unfolding events. It’s decidedly NOT realistic, since the lens is always more sluggish than the human eye could be in such circumstances, but by weighing down our eye-movements so frustratingly, the film accentuates our impression of the world becoming too chaotic, too fast-moving for us to keep up with.

To be honest, I found some of the script’s elaborations on the true story to be slightly dumb (Hollywood movies have really lost the ability to question the satisfactions of vengeance intelligently) but the plot is not the thing here, merely a serviceable hook — the basic situation or set-up is very strong, so we don’t need an infernal machine of twists and reversals, or shouldn’t. Though what Leonardo DiCaprio does with a big forked stick made me smile for about ten minutes.

Autumn Smiles of a Winter Light Darkly

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 29, 2013 by dcairns

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Ran WILD STRAWBERRIES for students. As one might expect, following the plot synopsis I gave them, not as many attended this screening as had shown up for CRISS CROSS. This is a shame, as it’s a cracking film. I hadn’t actually watched it all since I was about eighteen or something, and was relieved to find it as interesting as I remembered it. Also, huge parts of it I hadn’t remembered at all, and I enjoyed those too. Afterwards, one student agreed with me that Bergman can be pretty funny.

(As I recall, I recorded the film off of BBC2’s Film Club on a Sunday night, and sat down to watch it Monday lunchtime with a plate of fish and chips. And something that happened during the dream sequence five minutes in caused me to fling my knife and fork across the room in shock, startling the spaniel.)

They just showed the film in Lyon, too, where I learned that the French call it LES FRAISES SAUVAGES. SAVAGE STRAWBERRIES. Sounds like the kind of film George Clooney might have made early on, just so he could look adorably rueful about it now.

Of course, it’s not that, and nor is it a gloomy art film (Woody Allen, in his praise of I.B,, seems to WANT him to be a gloomy Swede, and doesn’t even notice the comedy in THE SEVENTH SEAL, which is at least 50% laffs) — it’s more like an anthology genre mash-up, beginning with an expressionist horror movie dream, then becoming a road movie, with diversions into teenage romcom and Kafkaesque noir (another dream). There’s even a song. And a car crash. If only it involved the Mercedes of a comedy gay man, Jerry Bruckheimer could remake this.

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The fragmentary, tone-hopping picaresque approach allows the film to segue into flash-forwards to Bergman films he hasn’t even made yet. The protagonist (my man Victor Sjostrom) picks up a bickering married couple locked in a horrible sadomasochistic codependent purgatory. In one dream, a blackboard displays a message in an incomprehensible gibberish language, undoubtedly the same one invented for THE SILENCE.

Another student remarked that the film felt very modern compared to Hollywood films of the same era — which is true. Partly this is because it rejects genre (though as I just said, it sort of drives through a number of them); partly it’s because Bergman wasn’t subject to the same stringent censorship, which meant he could get into the habit of approaching things with a greater frankness (there’s no sex as such in the film, really, but he creates the feeling that if there were, it wouldn’t be coy); and technically, the film does some striking things which seem quite new. In particular, there’s plenty of subtle camera movement during the driving scenes, pushing in on the leads or sliding from one to the other, which of course means it’s done in a studio with rear projection background. But it’s so skillfully done it didn’t make me think of Hitchcock, but of the car scene in CHILDREN OF MEN, which reintroduced the same kind of dramatically-effective artifice.

Strange seeing Max Von Sydow turn up as a garage mechanic, but then it was strange seeing him at the next table in a restaurant in Lyon, sitting with Pierre Richard and other elder statesmen of European cinema. My friend Lenick was able to overhear and translate: “They’re complaining about how things are different now, you can’t have a glass of wine and go for a drive anymore.” And then Dominique Sanda showed up and introduced herself to Max: “My name is Dominique Sanda, I starred in a film with you once.” True, she’s been away from France and may not be as well-remembered as she should be — the modest retrospective at Lyon hopefully has done something to right that — and also, maybe Max has erased STEPPENWOLF from his mind.

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Somehow Victor’s closeup makes me think of Garbo in QUEEN CHRISTINA.

Anyway, this is basically A Christmas Carol, isn’t it? A mean old man has some dreams about the past, present and future and changes his way of behaving with others. Arguably one reason it seems more sophisticated than that is we never really see Victor Sjostrom being mean, we mainly learn about his emotional coldness via his son. He seems a fairly sweet old stick, and it’s hard to work out why his daughter-in-law is so mean to him. This removes the caricature element of Dickens and replaces it with Bergman’s more nuanced sense of sliding sympathies. It’s a proper grown-up film, so I was pleased that the kids today can still “dig” it, as I believe the expression is nowadays.

Trouble Speaking

Posted in FILM, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 25, 2008 by dcairns

Eddie Dick is an Edinburgh-based film producer and former head of Scottish Screen, the organisation for the promotion of film in Scotland. Fiona and I have known him for a few years, but only just this last week actually started sort-of working with him, with a horror screenplay called CELL 6.

Eddie’s most recent film, TROUBLE SLEEPING, directed by Robert Rae and made in association with Edinburgh’s Theatre Workshop, has its TV premier on BBC2 Scotland tonight at 10pm. I emailed him some questions about himself and his movie, and received the following fantastically frank answers:

Edinburgh!

Q: Who are you and where did you come from?

A: I TAKE IT THAT THIS IS NOT A CABBAGE-PATCH QUESTION.  EDDIE DICK, FROM A VARIED EDUCATIONAL/CULTURAL/FILM INDUSTRY BACKGROUND.
 
Q: How did you come to be a film producer?

A: A COLLISION OF ACCIDENT,OPPORTUNITY AND INTENTION.   I CAME AT IT FROM A EDUCATIONAL AND THEN CULTURAL ROUTE WHICH LEAD ME GRADUALLY TO THE FILM INDUSTRY ITSELF.   
 
You’ve rubbed up against both the sacred Bills, Douglas and Forsyth, via your book about BD’s COMRADES (which is easier to get hold of than the film itself) and a much-publicised-locally “row” with Forsyth during your time at Scottish Screen.

(Forsyth, having briefly served on the Scottish Screen committee, accused the organisation of “cronyism” and a “lack of transparency”, words which the media, particularly The Scotsman newspaper, soon had attached to Scottish Screen the way the word “bogus” is always attached to the words “asylum seekers”. The “Dear Bill” correspondence quickly became notorious, although I’m disappointed to see it doesn’t appear to be on the Internet.)

Q: Any anecdotes, or anything you learned from those experiences? It must be pleasing to you to see the Bill Douglas Trilogy out on DVD at last. 

A: RE BILL FORSYTH, THE MAIN THING I LEARNED WAS TO TRY TO AVOID GOING INTO FIGHTS WITH ONE HAND TIED BEHIND YOUR BACK; FAMOUS FILMMAKER VERSUS LOCAL BUREAUCRAT – THERE’S ONLY GOING TO BE ONE “WINNER”.   WITH THE OTHER BILL, THE MAIN THING IS THAT TALENT (ESPECIALLY THAT WHICH IS TROUBLED) DOESN’T PROTECT YOU AGAINST DEFEAT AND ANGUISH.

Shooting TROUBLE SLEEPING.
 
Q: How did you come to be involved with TROUBLE SLEEPING?

A: I WAS ASKED TO GET INVOLVED IN ITS DEVELOPMENT BY ROBERT RAE.   MY FILM’S BLIND FLIGHT AND TRUE NORTH MADE ME THE OBVIOUS, ALTHOUGH NOT THE ONLY, CHOICE.
 
Q: How was the finance raised?

A: PARTLY THROUGH TW’S SOCIAL/DRAMA CONTACTS AND PARTLY VIA MINE (SCOTTISH SCREEN AND BBC).
 
Q: What were the greatest difficulties in making the film?

A: FINANCE AND CONSTANT FIGHTS BETWEEN ME AND THE DIRECTOR.

Wow.
 
I’m very glad that a film has tackled this subject — asylum seekers — from a humanitarian standpoint. Modern Britain often feels to me much like the dystopias of V FOR VENDETTA and CHILDREN OF MEN (which features TROUBLE SLEEPING’S disabled actor Nabil Shaban in not so much a walk-on as a carry-through performance), and it was good to see that tackled in a less fantastical, more down-to-earth way.


 Gary “GANGS OF NEW YORK” Lewis appears in TROUBLE SLEEPING.

Q: The film mixes experienced professional actors with lots of screen experience in short cameo roles, with lots of newcomers in the major roles. (In this way it somewhat resembles Douglas’s COMRADES.) What was casting like, and was their any difficulty unifying the acting styles.

A: THE FILM WAS CAST FROM THE WORKSHOP’S COMMUNITYAND OPPORTUNISTIC WALKBYS( FOUAD, THE WAITER-CUM-SHOPWORKER SAW A NOTICE IN TW’S WINDOW, FOR EXAMPLE).  ROBERT RAE WAS INSTRUMENTAL IN THE CASTING; I ASKED GARY LEWIS AND ALISON PEEBLES, TO DO US A FAVOUR.

I THINK THAT THERE WAS DIFFICULTY IN UNIFYING STYLES.  THERE REMAINS AN UNEVENNESS IN PERFORMANCE, WITH SOME CLEAR WEAKNESSES.
 
I liked Nabil Shaban in the film. From what Eddie told me, I could see that they’d “hired a volcano then told it not to explode,” as Screamin’ Jay Hawkins complained to Jim Jarmusch re his role in MYSTERY TRAIN. But I like the sense of barely controlled ham, and he DOES keep it in check.
 
Q: What next? From out conversations, it seems like you’re moving towards more genre-based filmmaking? Is this a deliberate policy, or just the result of the projects you’ve found recently?
A: IT IS A DELIBERATE POLICY, BUT NOT AN EXCLUSIVE ONE.   I WANT TO MAKE A BROADER RANGE OF FILMS (HAVING MADE 3 SOCIO-POLITICAL ONES).  I’VE BEEN SEEKING GENRE MATERIAL SUCH AS CELL 6.
Many thanks to Eddie for helping out here.