Archive for Dan Sallitt

Topic “I”

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on June 29, 2012 by dcairns

Dan Sallitt is someone I know, so although it’s lovely to have him in Edinburgh with his new film, THE UNSPEAKABLE ACT, I was nervous about seeing his film in case I didn’t like it. But somebody had already told a friend, “You needn’t worry,” and so it proved. His movie is a tender, sensitive and surprisingly funny film about a seventeen-year-old girl in love with her big brother, and by “in love” I mean just what you would assume I meant if I weren’t talking about a sister and brother. Jackie wants to try “the I word” with her brother, who gently demurs. There’s no shocking or offensive content here, though, apart from that one idea. Maybe this film is really just about that moment that comes in nearly everyone’s life when they’re in love with someone they can’t have?

Dan’s movie is beautiful both in surface (a pared-down style with no camera movement, maybe two pans) and content. The whole thing is inhabited by a kind of filmic and emotional grace. With elegant, formal compositions and a measured pace, he keeps the emotional temperature under control, so that we feel the passions seething inside the characters rather than seeing them erupt all over the screen — but this is by no means a cold film, quite the reverse. Nor does it feel slow — “measured” is not a euphemism for the S word.

Credit must go also to the excellent cast, particularly Tallie Medel as Jackie, the heroine with the socially unacceptable urges towards her brother (Sky Hirschkron, also very fine). She has a fascinating face. You can just see the thoughts flickering behind it, as though she were translucent.

Several of the reviews have focused on the calm performance style, as if it were something uniquely stylised and strange. I didn’t find it so, and I asked Dan about it and he doesn’t really get what that’s about either. To me, it was clearly a version of recognizable human behaviour, the way people do in fact speak. In the same way Altman’s overlapping dialogue is both a noticeable directorial choice and an authentic depiction of how people talk. Dan obviously likes his performances fairly low-key, the tone conversational, the obvious left uninflected. To me it made the film all the more moving, and funny.

Eric Rohmer is obviously a stylistic watchword, but I was pleased to spot a shout-out to Preston Sturges in the use of the expression “Topic A” (which means sex, according to THE PALM BEACH STORY). Another master of dialogue who likes his characters articulate. Dan explained that he felt that the phrase “Topic A” should be in common use and he wanted to popularize it. “I don’t think this film will be the tipping point, though,” he added.

You never know…

“I had hoped to be appointed to the first Venus rocket.”

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

“I once foolishly performed an abortion on a peach tree.”

Boy, PRETTY POISON, that’s some film. You should definitely rush out and get ahold of a copy, definitely. If anybody gets in your way, BRUSH THEM ASIDE LIKE INSECTS.

Well, it shouldn’t be necessary to go that far, it’s just my gentle way of suggesting you should bump it to the top of your rental lists, that’s all. Good to see it without knowing TOO much about it, so you’ll just have to trust me. I think I can tell you that –

1) Anthony Perkins is released into the community after a long time in an institution. But this is not Richard Franklin’s PSYCHO II.

2) He begins a relationship with high-school girl Tuesday Weld. But this is certainly not LORD LOVE A DUCK.

3) Said relationship gets… complicated. But this is not ANYTHING ELSE.

Dan Sallitt has more to say HERE. It’s spoilerific but seriously worth reading once you’ve seen the film. Or you can do as I did: read the post, forget most of the plot points over the course of a year, then see the film and have it be a lovely surprise. But that’s kind of time-consuming.

Noel Black, far from prolific but clearly rather interesting, directs. The years after the decline of the studio system and before the “new Hollywood” seem peppered with misshapen gems like this. Lorenzo Semple scripts, and it shows another side to him from the campy Batman show and FLASH GORDON script. I love both those things, but the slide from quirky screwball to noir here prefigures Jonathan Demme’s SOMETHING WILD (my fave Demme?) and is probably more deep, dark and interesting. Anyway, Demme’s is the only other film I can think of that achieves this exact genre-shift (although Nicholas Ray’s IN A LONELY PLACE actually kind of touches on comedy to begin with before heading for the shocking dark) and they’d certainly go great together.

Like Tony Perkins and Tuesday Weld! They have chemistry! Fiona observed this, and I agree: they’re very different players in every respect, but both good and seemingly instinctive and they pay keen attention to each other. Their reactions to each other are so genuine we have to believe they’re into each other.

Fiona rated Tony’s pick-up line as the best ever. Accosting Tues in a phone booth: “Don’t say a word act perfectly natural we’re under surveillance. Rendezvous tonight bring this object. Spring Street movie house eight p.m. seventh row balcony left side aisle got that? Make your phone call don’t look after me.” And with that he is off.

“You WOULD go,” asserted Fiona.

The Source

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on June 7, 2008 by dcairns

The Moving Image Source is up! Offering “articles by leading critics and scholars, an international Calendar, and a Research Guide to online resources,” the new website for the New York Museum of the Moving Image is far more than a “what’s on” guide. It’s an ever-expanding cultural database which will allow film-lovers to read up on films before and after seeing them, and will draw our attention to sites and events that may have escaped out notice.

Among the first articles are an affectionate and enlightening look at the late films of Howard Hawks, by regular Shadowplayer Dan Sallitt. It reminds me to view EL DORADO soon, and also offers a compelling and sympathetic theory of late filmmaking in general. 

We also get a review of Richard Brody’s new Jean-Luc Godard biography by B. Kite, the shadow who lurks in the shadows of Shadowplay, the echo of a whistle trilled in a vanished vault, like the faded tattoo on the back of a ghost. Kite’s piece not only works as an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the new bio, but sets out in capsule form an alternative vision of J.L.G. which you can accept in place of the biographer’s portrait or superimpose on top of it as you like.


The site is a great place for specific research or just to start browsing. A couple of clicks got me the famous detonating child presidential campaign ad that basically screams “Vote Barry Goldwater and he will destroy the Earth!” and another got me to the always-stimulating Pinewood Dialogues, audio interviews and conversations with some top filmmakers and critics including Wong Kar-Wei, Terry Gilliam, David Cronenberg, Chuck Jones, Michael Powell, David Lynch…

It’s going to be a regular pleasure to drop in on Moving Image Source and watch it grow, like a small child, or a mushroom cloud, engulfing us all. Yes, a small child engulfing us all.