Archive for Edinburgh College of Art


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on September 2, 2017 by dcairns

Up at Edinburgh to York train at 6.55.

As a lecturer, I’m encouraged to do what is called “research” — but as I teach on a practical filmmaking course, nothing that would constitute research for me — stuff I could use in my practice — qualifies as academic research. But when Neil Sinyard notified me that there was a symposium on British cinema in the sixties, and that Richard Lester was taking part, I naturally wanted to go, so I offered a paper, and to my surprise it got accepted.

Richard Lester is appearing at the London bit of the programme next week, my paper was in the York section. So, two trips. Then I found out that, as a “teaching fellow,” I’m not actually required to do any research at all. Nobody had told me. This is possibly good news, except it leaves me in the dark as to whether I can claim expenses back. Too late now.

Sunny day. York is lovely. I haven’t been since I was a kid, and all I remember is the Cathedral, which stays out of sight this time. Taxi to campus because I don’t want to worry about getting lost. All the way there I see nothing later than the Victorian era, except the cars. And then the campus is completely brand new, and of course deserted (summer holidays).

I’m giving a paper on screenwriter Charles Wood (CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE, top image), which I’ll doubtless post here later. Right away I meet someone I know, my editor from Electric Sheep magazine, who’s presenting a paper on Michael Reeves using her secret identity. I’m slightly worried because I don’t really know what a symposium looks like. Will we be in a theatre with a podium or some kind of boardroom? Apparently it’s both — I can choose which bit to attend, as there are parallel talks going on at once, Reluctantly I pass up Michael Reeves to hear about Joseph Losey.

We get coffee and lunch and beer/wine, which makes it a pretty nice gathering, even though I don’t know what a symposium is. I get to talking to two men both called Martin Hall. “You’ve lost your identity,” says a Martin Hall, and I agree, but he points at the floor, where my name card has fallen out of my badge. I’m now wearing a translucent panel on my chest, the kind of ID the invisible man might wear.

The second strange coincidence, following on from meeting someone I know under a different name, is learning that the continuity girl on Losey’s FIGURES IN A LANDSCAPE was called Connie Willis. On the train down, I’d started reading To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis. A different Connie Willis. Time-travel comedy inspired by Jerome K. Jerome. Very hard to make anything of this synchronicity, except that time travel books are always about continuity, aren’t they?

I had been concerned that my presentation — I’d written as essay, probably too long, and was going to read it out — might not fit with what was expected, but it seemed to be roughly along the right lines. Some people had been poking about in archives — fascinatingly, all the correspondence from Film Finances, Britain’s biggest completion bond guarantor, is now available for research, but others had been talking to survivors of the era. One fascinating talk dealt with Peter Whitehead’s muses, one of whom was into trepanning, that ancient Egyptian practice whereby you bore a hole in yourself and let the sap run out. Some bloody images were shown. Whitehead had attempted to film his partner aerating her skull, but fainted, according to one account.

I shared the stage with a paper on widescreen style in THE IPCRESS FILE, which amounted to a strong defense of flamboyant style in British filmmaking.

My paper seemed to be well received! It was seen as odd that I was delivering this paper at the home of the Charles Wood Archive, but had not been to see it. I think that’s odd too — just didn’t have time. Hopefully I’ll find out I can claim expenses on it and can come back soon. At any rate, gratification was expressed that someone was paying attention to this important, criminally neglected artist.

The sun set all the way home ~


On the bus from the railway station to the chip shop, I sat behind a man with a livid X-shaped cut right on the apex of his cranium, in the centre of his bald spot, stitches visible. Had he been trepanned? It looked exactly like the bloody images I’d just seen. Strange coincidence No. 3.

Next week — London, Lester, Tushingham, Sandy Lieberson, PETULIA at the BFI Southbank!


Bathroom of Mystery

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , on April 30, 2015 by dcairns


Marking and hand-in time at college so my part-time job has become a full-time one for the moment, but to make myself even more tired I decided to do some midnight grouting. This did the trick and actually helped me sleep, I think. Light physical work after a day of mental work is quite relaxing. Of course, the fatigued efforts of an inexperienced grouter are not necessarily going to be the best you can get — the bathroom kind of looks as if the Michelin Man has committed suicide in it.

But I also found time to enjoy all 383 minutes of LA MAISON DU MYSTERE, and this forms the basis for this fortnight’s edition of, you guessed it, The Forgotten. The 1923 serial is available from Flicker Alley and features translation and liner notes by my chum Lenny Borger, and music by other chum Neil Brand. Linkage.

The Sunday Intertitle: Style and Title

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 30, 2014 by dcairns


Getting back to Edinburgh on Thursday, I returned to work the following day to see a talk by Jan Harlan, Kubrick’s brother-in-law and producer, director of the Malcolm McDowell documentary O LUCKY MALCOLM! etc (pictured above with Head of Film & TV Emma Davie).

Harlan is a delightful fellow, and the theme of his talk — music in cinema — was one he was well-qualified to discuss having worked with Kubrick on all his scores from 2001 on, and having an extensive knowledge of classical music. The wide range of film clips he presented illustrated how music can be used as a storytelling tool, to control the pace, to enhance character and to generally beautify the film. Harlan was, in effect, proselytizing for classical music and suggesting that all filmmakers should study it and fall in love with it. “If you don’t love it, you’re likely to ruin it,” was his mantra. And, “If you want to know how you acquire ownership of art, it’s very simple: you just fall in love with it and it becomes yours.”


It’s a huge and tricky subject. My advice has often been to never use a piece of music you know from another film. TV magazine shows do this — so that you couldn’t escape PULP FICTION’s surf guitar for at least a year on TV — and many documentaries do this, because to a large extent documentaries haven’t learned to take themselves seriously as art — hence they recycle titles from other movies, or slightly adapt them, which otherwise only porno movies do. There are exceptions to my rule — years before Kubrick made the Blue Danube his own, Julien Duvivier had used in memorably in THE GREAT WALTZ, where obviously you couldn’t avoid it, but more excitingly, Clouzot had used it with great imagination in THE WAGES OF FEAR, where Yves Montand slewed his truck all over the road in waltz time. But Kubrick had confidence that he could trump those films, and he was right.

But when that plinky-plonk bit of Carl Orff that forms the theme of BADLANDS gets used in TRUE ROMANCE and MONSTER, the filmmakers don’t think they’re superceding BADLANDS. They’re just copying BADLANDS. And the thinking seems to be, “Young couple, road movie, murders, therefore we need the music from BADLANDS.” Absurd. The deliberate placing of your film in second-best position. A failure of imagination. A dive into the mediocre.

Harlan’s suggestion to study the field is sound advice, because filmmakers have exhibited a dreadful tendency to repeat the same few pieces of the repertoire until they become unsuitable for any use save parody. Barber’s Adaggio is an obvious victim (David Lynch used it beautifully before PLATOON, and when Harlan showed the PLATOON clip I was struck by the obscenity of it — whose tragedy is this music expressing? As the American soldiers burn a Vietnamese village and separate civilian families, we are being asked to feel sorry for the soldiers, the poor youth of America who are being corrupted by violence). Lahkme by Delibes has been done to death not just by Tony Scott, who in fairness obviously loved the piece, but by everyone else who can’t be bothered selecting something less hackneyed (Brian DePalma and CARLITO’S WAY, stand up).


The counter-argument to Harlan and Kubrick’s suggestion that the best music ever composed is all available to us, is that it may be the best music but is it right for the film you’re making? It’s notable that FULL METAL JACKET uses not only considerable original score, performed by Kubrick’s daughter on the Fairlight synthesiser, the rest of its music is period-appropriate pop of a particularly and deliberately moronic nature (I like some of those songs a lot, but taken as a group I think they’re making a not-too-subtle comment of the dumbness of pop culture). Maybe PLATOON and APOCALYPSE NOW forced Kubrick’s hand — using classical pieces would have invited invidious comparisons — but I think Kubrick’s ultimate decision also skirts the western-centric solemnity and false dignity that could come from pasting high culture all over barbaric acts.