Archive for Edinburgh International Film Festival

Cities of the Night

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on June 21, 2017 by dcairns

I’m doing something very un-Scottish — skipping out on a film festival I don’t have to pay for (Edinburgh) to attend a festival I do have to pay for (Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna). Though the latter is astonishingly good value. And I’m addicted to it. Means I have to somehow earn enough to attend it annually for the rest of my life. I wish there was any remote prospect of doing the same for Telluride.

I don’t even have a program for Bologna, but it’s sure to be good. Not that Edinburgh isn’t, with some juicy retrospectives and masterclasses, my favourite stuff since I’m less besotted with new movies than old (there, I finally admitted it! Feels good… feels CLEAN.)

Cannes was late this year, it’s just been explained to me by fest director Mark Adams, which has pushed a lot of fests back, including Edinburgh, resulting in a big overlap with Bologna, which has stayed put. Although, if they were to move it to a slightly less sizzling time of year, I wouldn’t be against that. The air conditioning in those cinemas really can’t cope with a standing-room-only audience, so you get people falling asleep, numbed by the heat, during movies they’ve waited all their lives to see. And since I never sleep very well away from home, that’s likely to be my fate. During my first visit to Cinema Ritrovato, I sat down to enjoy an early Japanese talkie, blinked, and when my eyes opened, it was the end credits.

Last year, the heat was so intense Fiona literally melted into a puddle on arrival, and was only reconstituted by the hotel air conditioning. This year my hotel doesn’t even have air con, as I’m saving money, and Fiona’s not coming. Last year I got something resembling trench foot, brought on by the sweltering conditions. My foot looked like Baron Harkonnen. And not the TV version.

So Fiona’s getting left behind. Keep an eye on her, and if she’s lonely, take her to a movie, you and Barbara.

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The deal was, she gets a tablet and a new cat (Momo, pictured) and I get to go to Bologna. Not sure what’ll happen next year.

So… the original, silent version of PRIX DE BEAUTE, in an Augusto Gennino retrospective. RIVER OF NO RETURN on the big screen ought to be pretty overwhelming. STEAMBOAT BILL JNR (co-starring Edinburgh man Ernest Torrence). Marion Davies in THE PATSY, which I missed this year at Bo’ness. JOHNNY GUITAR. More treasures from the Universal vaults (the Laemmle years). Sjostrom, Stiller, Borzage, Gance, Protazanov, Wiene, all from 100 years ago.

Update! The program is OUT!

And I had totally forgotten that heartbreaking feeling of two screenings being on opposite each other…

In a jam, alright

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 20, 2017 by dcairns

All I knew about LADY IN A JAM is that it was a late one from Gregory La Cava — at the Edinburgh Film Fest retrospective, Chris Fujiwara declined to show it but said it had elements which were defensible, unlike its follow-up, LIVING IN A BIG WAY. I feel bad for La Cava, finishing his career, more or less, with Gene Kelly. A great talent, Kelly, but a vulnerable alcoholic shouldn’t have to work with a man like that.

I guess elements of LIAJ are defensible. I expected, based on the vague description, that it would start strongly and go off the boil — a number of La Cava’s great films have slightly shaky endings — but in fact it only simmers throughout, with an occasional gleeful bubble. The movie never seems to know what it’s about, and it’s a very strange case of casting Irene Dunne as a ditzy heiress but making her bitchy too — she’s a horrible person. The idea that she has no sense of money, and therapist Patric Knowles is trying to cure her of this irresponsibility, is a potentially appealing one. But she has no sense of people either, and basically tried to trample all over anyone in her path. She’s like Katherine Hepburn in the early scenes of BRINGING UP BABY but removed the comedy.

Knowles as therapist is a kind of machine-man, so the idea should be that he’s humanized by Dunne and maybe she gains a bit of orderliness from him, but La Cava can’t seem to get anywhere with this, so they’re still the same half-persons at the end that they were at the beginning, and we can never really empathise with either of them. I was a little mean about Knowles’ boringness in IT’S LOVE I’M AFTER but he does have good comic timing here, and throws himself into playing the buttoned-down, repressed aspects of the character.

Ralph Bellamy comes along as a cowboy doofus, a grating exaggeration of his Okie dope from THE AWFUL TRUTH. Mainly you feel embarrassed for the actor. Eugene Pallette is his reliable self, but hasn’t been given any comedy to play. Queenie Vassar is pretty great and there’s an unconventional little blob of a child actor, Jane Garland, who’s a nice presence. But it’s all predicated on nothing.

It reminds me of IF YOU COULD ONLY COOK, an early screwball in which millionaire Herbert Marshall, if I’m recalling this correctly, takes a job as kitchen staff. We were about half an hour into it when we asked, “Wait a minute, WHY is he doing this?” Similarly, why does Knowles abandon his research work to masquerade as Dunne’s chauffeur (a plot thread which goes nowhere as she immediately loses her car) and then head out to a desert ghost town and help Dunne strike gold? He complains often enough about having to do it, but we couldn’t see why he has to do it at all. That kind of thing certainly matters.

Still, the bossy heiress recalls FEEL MY PULSE, the earliest La Cava shown at Edinburgh, which had Bebe Daniels in the role. The interest in psychotherapy reminds me of PRIVATE WORLDS — La Cava had spent time in at least one sanatorium and I think his interest is genuine — he just doesn’t understand anything about it. Still, Knowles here communicates in psychobabble and stuff about represssed feelings, which is a bit better than Joel McCrea’s Horatio Alger homilies in PW. The earlier film is still far superior, though.

Maybe what kept La Cava from resolving this one (apart from the hooch) is that it’s not MY MAN GODFREY. A butler reforming the family he works for is an amusing conceit. A therapist reforming anyone isn’t, because that’s his job, after all. FIFTH AVENUE GIRL was able to use the reform plot, because Ginger Rogers was a low-status character who turned out to have more smarts than the millionaires she moved in with. SHE MARRIED HER BOSS did it with Claudette Colbert marrying into the family, which was less amusing on the face of it, but the clue is in the title — she’s still kind of an underling. But she can win too easily, and there’s nothing absurd about it, so the film starts relying on broad drunken knockabout towards the end to distract from a certain flatness which up until then we haven’t felt, thanks to La Cava and his cast’s skill.

So La Cava does all he can with Knowles, which is drive him to distraction. Which makes his half of the picture fairly amusing, but you never saw a less agreeable Irene Dunne. Her talent is working overtime, but it’s been aimed in the wrong direction.

After this and THE AFFAIRS OF CELLINI, I really must reconnect with some GOOD La Cava, but I’m also morbidly drawn towards LIVING IN A BIG WAY…

In Seine

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on June 25, 2016 by dcairns

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Having failed to appreciate MAUVAIS SANG as an ignorant youth, I’d given LES AMANTS DU PONT-NEUF the go-by — I probably wouldn’t have appreciated it then either. Fast-forward to a couple of days ago, and it made the perfect climax to my Edinburgh Film Festival activities. The comparison crossed my mind while watching — This is like Kusturica’s ARIZONA DREAM — both are spectacular, romantic, crazy, excessive and overlong films, documenting in convincing detail the tribulations and ecstasies of amour fou. You could double-bill them but you would be pretty sore and tired after that arse-marathon — the Carax, like the Kusturica, wears the viewer down with its stop-start narrative and wide-eyed intensity.

Denis Lavant is remarkable as ever, and Juliette Binoche is remarkable as never before or since. Carax seems to be channeling the energies of his beloved LA PETITE LISE and things like MENILMONTANT, while recombining story elements from Chaplin’s CITY LIGHTS (imprisoned hobo, blind girl, new miracle cure) in sometimes dark and disturbing ways. The combination of grand, budget-busting spectacle, documentation of the degraded depths of the underclass, almost psychotic levels of romanticism, and bursts of fantastical whimsy could easily be distasteful — Carax operates without a safety net, trusting that he can crush our reservations with sheer passion and overkill.

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Favourite moment among many: we track along looking at the pavement of the bridge, littered with empties from Lavant and Binoche’s cheap wine binge, eventually discovering their slumbering figures — which are the same size as the bottles. Carax has constructed a photorealist street curb and debris at many times life-size, and posed his actors within in. You could fit half a Binoche in that bottle. Astonishing. Nothing like it occurs elsewhere in the film, which is part of its impact. As with Herzog’s EVEN DWARFS, I think we should assume not that our leads have shrunk, but that the world has grown fantastically overnight.

Is it a nod to THE SMALL BACK ROOM? If so, like the rest of the film, it’s so extreme as to be almost a physical impossibility as nods go. The kind of nod produced by a guillotine blade.

It’s amazing Carax is still alive and working. This seems like the kind of orgasmic death-throe cinema that SHOULD kill a director.