Archive for Edinburgh International Film Festival

Stray Bullets

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on July 2, 2015 by dcairns

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A double treat at EIFF — a screening of Johnnie To’s gracefully kinetic action-crime flick EXILED, followed by a Q&A with the man himself. Like Walter Hill’s THE WARRIORS in a way, sort of, EXILED throws the audience into a moving plotline right away, zero prep, and lets you catch up with who the people are as you go. This is made smoother by the fact that every scene is a set-piece, a masterclass, a triumph of some aspect of film technique. Just the choreography of four men getting into a car becomes a piece of film poetry.

(Never liked John Woo’s kitsch style — mawkish mayhem – this is altogether different, though there is a cute baby, a hilarious squirming podbert of a thing. To enjoys pointing handguns at it, but you know it’ll be fine.)

According to To, he never has a complete script when he starts shooting, due to the extreme tightness of Hong Kong movie schedules. When someone referred to him not needing a script, he corrected them: “It’s not that I don’t NEED a script. I just don’t HAVE a script.”

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This was fascinating to me since EXILED has a classic moment of set-up pay-off that must have surely been concocted in mid-process. Just after the halfway mark, the story, dealing with four hitmen sent to Macau to waste a former friend, runs utterly out of juice. The friend is dead, and the protagonists are literally wandering around in a wilderness, tossing a coin to decide each change of direction.

It seemed evident to me that someone in the writing process hit a wall, then said, “We need to go back and create an earlier scene which establishes something that’s going to happen, then let the audience forget about it, then surprise them by having it happen HERE.” So the gang run straight into a gold shipment they can heist — a wild coincidence, but one the viewer accepts because it was set up earlier.

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My guess is that’s exactly how it went down, only To must have encountered the problem on location rather than at the computer keyboard, and resolved to insert the set-up scene in order to make this pay-off possible. But who knows? This connects, very nearly, with Billy Wilder’s dictum, “If there’s a problem in the third act, the solution is in the first act.”

I stuck my hand up and asked To how he prepares his visuals under these tough circumstances (something I was later told he hates to discuss). As he explained (all through an interpreter), he’s constantly thinking of ideas for shots and sequences, so there is a mass of preparation. But nothing can be decided until the day, when he gets to the location or set and sees what’s possible. So in a sense there is massive planning, and in a sense there is none at all. And the desperate energy of all this does find an expression in the film, as does the looseness of plotting– hard for the audience to predict the next scene if the people shooting it didn’t know what it was going to be until the day.

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O.D.

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 29, 2015 by dcairns

seymour

Too many movies — my memories of Edinburgh International Film Festival have becomes a swirling series of overlays, like the visionary multi-exposure fugues of Paul Clipson, whose MADE OF AIR screened in the Black Box strand. Saturday was the day the movies came out to get me.

On Saturday I saw an old drama, a new documentary, an experimental/performance piece and an In Person event with Jane Seymour. (On Frankenstein: The True Story — “That was the first time I had to look at a line-up of naked women and pick one as my stand-in, saying, ‘That one looks the most like me naked.'”). I had a ticket for a fifth film but I gave it back — my brain was full.

In Person With Jane Seymour featured the actress and powerhouse recounting her near-death experience, and explaining why John Gielgud never stopped working: “I’ve never missed a day on set so if I see my name in a call sheet I know I’ll be alive tomorrow.”

At the climax of IMAGINE WAKING UP TOMORROW AND ALL MUSIC HAS DISAPPEARED, musician and artist Bill Drummond gathers the cinema audience itself into one of his situational sound experiments, making us participants in the film and hence legally entitled to add our names to the credits at the doc’s website.

During TYBURNIA, the Dead Rat Orchestra left the stage during the film and tiptoed up the steeply-raked bleachers of Traverse 1 to freak us out with strange music from behind.

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The inadequate air-conditioning turned THE BRAVE DON’T CRY, a 1952 Grierson-produced drama about a mining cave-in, into a fully interactive experience, as we gasped in asthmatic sympathy with the entombed workers onscreen.

This was all getting too real, so THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT, from the producer of INSIDIOUS, began to seem like a BAD RISK.

Will continue to report on some of my more memorable cinematic encounters over the next week, but will also resume abnormal service with a random smattering of other observations and experiences. Meanwhile, here’s my top ten American films, chosen with a few spare neurons for Scout Tafoya. They are basically movies I can rewatch endlessly — my students will recognize several.

The Sunday Intertitle: The Wind’s Twelve Quarters

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on June 28, 2015 by dcairns

tyburnia

How can you have TWELVE quarters of anything?

Be that as it may, we had another set of intertitles on view in TYBURNIA at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and once again I can’t show them to you or even quite them at you — I failed to commit any of the dozens of title cards to memory (it was late).

Tyburnia Trailer Three from James Holcombe on Vimeo.

The movie looks at the district where London’s gallows once stood — 70s horror movie company Tyburn Films took their name from the same spot. Director James Holcombe uses Tyburn to explore modern politics and protest alongside the grim history of hangings, beheadings and disembowelings that took place regularly over 700 years — until the gallows was destroyed in a storm thought by many at the time to be the work of ANGRY GHOSTS.

The film, shot on Super-8 and 16mm, is fascinating, but I was even more taken with the inventive and experimental work of the Dead Rat Orchestra, grim folk songs and weird amplified scratchings and rattlings — highly atmospheric.

Despite lacking any visible onscreen carnage, the verbal evocation of maimings and judicial murders and mutilations must qualify TYBURNIA as the most violent experimental film since Kiarostami’s SHIRIN (with its bone-crunching soundtrack played over shots of watching actors).

I’ve grown to trust programmer Kim Knowles’ choices in EIFF’s experimental “Black Box” category, so it’s one part of the fest where I just turn up at stuff randomly without knowing the filmmakers or the subjects.

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TRANSATLANTIC, by Félix Dufour-Laperrière, takes place on a cargo ship clanking towards Canada. It departs its point of origin at the start, and arrives at the end. In between, dream and reality, day and night blur together. We don’t exactly meet anyone and nothing exactly happens. I found it riveting. I don’t know for sure if a breathtaking shot of the sea, blackly luminous, was played in negative. It could just be that Dufour-Laperrière captured a new light hitting the water in a new way. Seeing this film is like being handed a fresh set of eyeballs.

Also, we get one of my favourite tropes, the Floating Head of Death (see also Wini Shaw trilling The Lullaby of Broadway in GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935). A Bollywood star of the 50s is abstracted from her film, disembodied at the neck, and presented against a sea of blackness, lips moving silently, song lost in transit, as a throbbing him rumbles beneath. Only later do we see her in context, viewed on a laptop by a crewmember. Was the hovering head a dream? Or a spirit of the sea?

Trailer here.

 

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