Archive for David Robinson

The Other Side of the Edit

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 7, 2018 by dcairns

Welles’ THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND appears alongside two new documentaries — a wealth of Wellesiana!

THEY’LL LOVE ME WHEN I’M DEAD is excellent but infuriating. I guess director Morgan Neville decided not to include captions identifying any of his interviewees because we wanted to cut like fury, impersonating Welles’ eccentric choppiness. But it’s a slapworthy offence. Luckily I know who a lot of those people are, but it makes it more annoying when I don’t. The end credits list them all, but Netflix shrinks your window to a tiny box as soon as they start, so damn everybody to hell anyway.

The actual effect of the doc’s slick intercutting is more like the usual opening sequence of a TV doc, where you typically get a lot of provocative and titillating statements designed to lure you into watching — an editor friend described this approach as “chum in the water. Funnily enough, Welles anticipated this with the newsreel in KANE: “…a communist!” “…a fascist!” declare interviewees.

But Neville has impressive resources: he seems empowered to quote from every Welles-directed movie, as well as a host he acted in, plus JAWS and STAR WARS. And he musters them well: to depict the disasters befalling Welles on TOSOTW he shows the film-maker dropping dead in the water at the end of TOUCH OF EVIL *and* in START THE REVOLUTION WITHOUT ME. He can’t resist quoting the drunken champagne ad out-takes, which earns him another slap, but he manages to talk to sworn enemies like Jaglom and Bogdanovich, Oja Kodar and Beatrice Welles, and pretty much every participant in Welles’ movie. Though he shoots them from very eccentric angles. We might be able to draw firmer conclusions about the honesty of Welles co-producer, accused by some of robbing from the budget, were he not reduced to more or less a single eyeball.

And then there’s the wholly unnecessary Alan Cummings*, whose role as a fictional documentarist adds little. He’s often required to criticise Welles, even if statements like “Welles seemed to be going out of his way to alienate everybody” are flatly contradicted by what interviewees have just told us, in footage positioned by Neville himself. What’s he playing at? I do get a bit annoyed at anti-Welles stuff, which this movie has a bit of: the idea that he deliberately avoided finishing his films is floated, yet again, but mercifully trounced by those in the know.

Still, it’s hugely entertaining, and illuminating, and if it’s imperfectly sympathetic to Welles, it’s very considerate to the much-abused Bogdanovich.

Morgan Neville shares a birthday with me: we both turned 18 the day Welles died. (Welles was 70, the same age his fictional alter ego dies at in TOSOTW.)

The other doc, Ryan Suffern’s A FINAL CUT FOR ORSON WELLES: FORTY YEARS IN THE MAKING is more unassuming. It tells some of the story of the film’s eventual completion. All very nice, and hearing Danny Huston talk about dubbing his dad is moving too. The exciting part for me was a discussion about Welles’ quirky approach to editing which clears up a bit of a mystery. Apparently Welles would produce long, rambling assemblies in which he would sometimes include multiple takes of a line or moment. They would be fine-cut, so you would know how long he wanted the moment to run; but you wouldn’t know which was the preferred take. Presumably Welles himself hadn’t decided yet, and wanted to delay the final choice until he had a sense of the surrounding sequence. It makes a kind of sense, though it’s the opposite way round to how most films are cut: we usually select our preferred takes, THEN cut them together.

This quirk may go some way to explaining why Welles took, seemingly, a long time to edit his films. He was delaying some key decisions long past the point most filmmakers would have made a commitment. This lengthy process seems to have resulted in Welles being ejected from MR. ARKADIN’s edit, and had he been naturally faster he might have avoided problems on AMBERSONS, TOUCH OF EVIL and maybe others. But I’m happy to allow himself his unusual approach.

But you see how this clarifies the surprising condition of TOO MUCH JOHNSON? Though, characteristically, it produces new puzzles. When I saw TMJ at Pordenone, I briefly discussed it with the then festival director David Robinson, who was convinced that what had been rediscovered was not the cutting copy but the outtakes. This made partial sense, and had me more or less convinced. Though it was weird that the film was more or less in sequence and showed so many signs of being not only spliced together but intercut and worked on, there was so much repetition, so many takes of nearly everything that it was hard to see it as an actual edit. But now we learn that this was typical of Welles. TMJ is a cutting copy, but a uniquely Wellesian one, containing multitudes.

Of course, that reintroduces the puzzle of how the film came to be found intact in Pordenone (so conveniently!) when we’d been told it was burned to a crisp in Spain. I suppose that might have something to do with Welles being a big fat liar. Bless him.

Still wholeheartedly recommend both pictures and the film they document. Put ’em on a loop!

*Nothing against Cummings per se. I was in a car with him once.

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A Gala Day Is Enough For Me

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 17, 2013 by dcairns

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Rosey Grier and Ray Milland in THE THING WITH TWO HEADS.

Because I didn’t read to the end of David Robinson’s welcome note to guests at Pordenone, because I am an idiot sometimes, I was unaware that the closing gala was a ticketed event. I had been cheerily breezing into films all week, waving my pass, and suddenly discovered that wouldn’t work here. And it immediately became clear that I had not a squid’s chance in OLDBOY of getting a seat.

This is a blow since (1) Not only are they showing Harold Lloyd in THE FRESHMAN, which I’ve actually seen extracts from, but (2) they’re showing it with an orchestral score conducted by Carl Davis and (3) they’re prefacing it with a newly-discovered, extended alternate cut of Buster Keaton’s THE BLACKSMITH, with accompaniment by Neil Brand. Amazing. But I’ll never see any of this, unless a particularly ruthless miracle occurs.

I’m about to become an unsympathetic character in this story so bear with me.

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The people at the box office, who are not unsympathetic, say something about “It’s in your welcome pack,” which I don’t have with me, so I race back to my accommodation to rummage through it. It’s five minutes to curtain and the flat I’m in is five minutes away. I make it there in two, wheezing and sweating, and rifle my paperwork. Sure enough, there’s Robinson’s note warning me to buy my ticket well in advance. That would have been very helpful a few days ago.

I race back to the Teatro, now further behind in the queue/crowd waiting for return tickets than ever. My only hope now was to either throw my weight around, using my “status” as one of the few living filmmakers with a movie in the fest (I think there were about four of us), or collapse sobbing on the floor and hope they take pity on me. Also, I’m slightly inspired by a story the great animator Don Herzfeldt told about getting to see his heroes, the Monty Python team, perform live, just because he had the optimism to walk through an open door that should’ve been shut. Nothing ventured…

I see Mr. Robinson in the foyer. Breathless, I explain the situation. And at that moment a festival volunteer shows up with an envelope, obviously containing a ticket and marked “David.” David Robinson explains my problem to this guy, to see if anything can be done for me, there is a moment which may in hindsight have been confusion, and the guy offers me the envelope. An expressions flits across Mr. Robinson’s face which may, again in hindsight, have been horror. I take the ticket, thanking him profusely.

I go in, and find I’m sitting in something of a place of honour, next to 91-year-old Jean Darling, the festival’s most important guest, a co-star in the OUR GANG films from 1927-1929. Three separate people try to persuade me I’m in the wrong seat. I tell them Mr. Robinson gave me his ticket, but I’d be happy to sit somewhere else. David Robinson appears and introduces me to Jean Darling, who has already started chatting to me. I don’t perceive any subtext that he’d like me to stand up/get out — either he’s happy for me to have the seat, he’s too much of a gentleman to say he’d appreciate a seat at his own festival, or he’s giving me signals I’m too autistic to read. In this life, it’s not only survival of the fittest, it’s survival of the most crassly insensitive to social nuance.

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THE FRESHMAN begins, and I find myself identifying, with unusual intensity, with Harold’s struggle to find the his place in life.

“Comedy is tragedy,” observes Jean Darling.

***

Afterwards, I locate Mr. Robinson and anxiously ask if he found a seat at his own festival. A bit late, but it’s apparently my evening for being a bit late with things. He assures me he was fine. I tell him that when he was director of Edinburgh FIlm Festival he screened my first short (THE THREE HUNCHBACKS) and it got a special mention at the Chaplin Awards before the final screening. And I couldn’t afford a ticket so I wasn’t there to hear it. And so in a way, I feel like I have finally kept my appointment with that Closing Gala.

***

THE CONFRONTATION, the lesser of two Miklos Jancso films at Cannes ’68, is addressed by Scout Tafoya over at Apocalypse Now. A lesser Jancso is still a Jancso…

Bought my tickets…

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on October 6, 2013 by dcairns

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… which means I am indeed going to Pordenone, Italy for Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, the 32nd Pordenone Silent Film Festival, who are showing NATAN, the film Paul Duane & I made. NATAN is a talking picture, a documentary about a filmmaker mainly associated with talking pictures, but it does deal with Natan’s production LA MERVEILLEUSE VIE DE JEAN D’ARC, and it features Lenny Borger and Serge Bromberg, two experts on silent cinema who are Pordenone regulars, so they’re stretching a point and including us.

It’s also nice because the festival director, critic and Chaplin biographer David Robinson, used to program Edinburgh International Film Festival, so maybe I can interview him and resume my series The Edinburgh Dialogues.

And of course the movies are an exciting lot — Louise Brooks in William Wellman’s BEGGARS OF LIFE, Harold Lloyd in THE FRESHMAN with musical accompaniment by Carl Davis, seasons on Anny Ondra, Swedish movies, silent animation, and very excitingly indeed, the premiere of Orson Welles’ TOO MUCH JOHNSON.

I leave Tuesday.

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The following week on Wednesday, the day after I get back, I’m off to Lyon for NATAN’s first French date, at the Lumiere Film Festival in Lyon. Lyon actually appears in the film, in a newsreel where we see Natan preparing the opening of a new cinema. Lyon have homages to Hal Ashby, Studio Ghibli, film noir (with special guest Peggy Cummins), and they have a programme dedicated to experimental filmmaker Germaine Dulac who briefly ran Pathe-Natan’s newsreel department, and they’re showing LE BONHEUR, a spectacular Pathe-Natan production from Marcel L’Herbier starring Charles Boyer. The film’s co-director Paul Duane and producer Paul Duane is also attending, as is one of Natan’s granddaughters, the wonderful Lenick Philippot. Should be pretty special.

It’s going to be a busy and exciting fortnight and I fully expect blog postings to be on the light side… but you never know!