Archive for Edinburgh International Film Festival

The Actual Sunday Intertitle: The Midnight Call

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on August 14, 2022 by dcairns

To the Cameo to see Murnau’s NOSFERATU, maybe the only film we’ll see at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival. The only other retro screening is THE LAST WALTZ. The modern films may be excellent but I don’t know anything about them. I think not having a retrospective is a mistake.

NOSFERATU may be one hundred years old but he’s fresh as a daisy. The screening used the original score as supplied by Eureka! Masters of Cinema. No live accompaniment. I think that score is good but too bombastic. I felt a disconnect — Murnau’s film seems stately and creepy, and Hans Erdmann’s judgement of when the big moments are doesn’t align with mine. But it certainly has atmosphere — it’s reminiscent of Wojciech Kilar’s work on BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA.

I’d forgotten about the hyena, a bit of geographically astray fauna that anticipates Tod Browning’s famed armadillos and opossums. An intertitle indicates that we’re supposed to interpret this mournful-looking rather than laughing fellow as a “werewolf.”

A few interesting things I’d forgotten or else hadn’t noticed before, apparent on this very crisp big-screen presentation. When Hutter, terrified by Orlok’s nocturnal appearance, rushes to the window, Murnau provides his POV of a chasm and cataract, making it clear that there’s no escape via that route. But the POV shot appears to be UPSIDE-DOWN. The water trickling from the cliffs rains upwards. This seems to make it more dramatically vertiginous.

Quite possibly cameraman Fritz Arno Wagner is hanging by his feet to get this shot, so possibly the unusual angle was unintentional. They could have flipped it in the edit if they’d wanted to.

On my very first short I had a guy hang by his ankles to get a cliff shot. I was reluctant to let him, but he was very keen. (He was lying on a slope with the camera off the cliff — he wasn’t literally hanging but it was necessary to hold his ankles so he didn’t slide downhill…) My shot turned out rubbish.

Always intrigued by the psychic linkages. The art of editing spatially unrelated scenes together invites “spooky action at a distance” — the suggestion of mental links that cross gulfs of space. Ellen is psychically hooked into Hutter. Hutter, on the other hand, is oblivious to his distant wife, and indeed to everything else. Graf Orlok seems to wiretap Ellen’s psychic connection and reacts to her sleepwalking as he’s about to bite Hutter.

Knock, the Renfield character, becomes hooked in to Orlok’s plans. Seeing a ship arrive, he knows it’s his master’s, and he senses the death scene at the end. One of the barriers to fully accepting telepathy as a thing is that we don’t yet know the medium it would operate in. But in movies, it’s definitely found its medium. As in THE SHINING, montage = telepathy.

Teahouse of the Rising Sun

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 28, 2021 by dcairns

The great Max Ophuls’ career was not only itinerant — Germany, France, Italy, the US, and back to France — it was very variable in quality. LIEBELEI is a masterpiece, but most of his first European films are either flawed or minor. Then he makes mostly masterpieces in Hollywood and returns to Europe to make four more.

I saw the first twenty minutes of YOSHIWARA, a French pic from 1937, at Edinburgh International Film Festival in 2000, but I had to leave early. Shane Danielsen, curator of the retrospective, warned us beforehand that we’d probably never get a chance to see this film again. Times have changed — Gaumont have released the film on Blu-ray.

The film, based on a French novel, creates a fantasy of Japan in the lead-up to the Russo-Japanese war — intended by the Tsar as “a short, victorious war” to boost his popularity and trumped up for no good reason, it turned into a fiasco which hastened his downfall. This movie presents a fanciful theory of how faulty intelligence led to that outcome. There’s a romantic triangle — rickshaw driver and artist Sessue Hayakawa is hopelessly in love with geisha girl, formerly daughter of a noble house, Michiko Tanaka, and she’s in love with Russian naval officer Pierre Richard-Willm, who’s basically a spy. The Japanese secret service forces Hayakawa to spy on his rival, thus endangering his sweetheart.

A kind of whiplash is introduced by the fact that Hayakawa and Tanaka are real Japanese people and the other locals are played by very gallic impostors. The Russians are all French, and I’m pretty sure Hayakawa is dubbed, unless his French was fantastically better than his English as heard later in BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI.

The set and costume design is fabulous, the social observation less so: geishas are synonymous with prostitutes in this vision of the east, as a for-instance. Yoshiwara exists behind an unscalable wall with a huge gate, almost like Skull Island (and Kurosawa would import that design, which apparently never existed in real feudal Japan, for the forts in his films such as THRONE OF BLOOD.

Michiko Tanaka was never really a movie star outside of this one film, but she’s startlingly beautiful. Sessue Hayakawa is pretty impressive too, and Willm is striking — I should see LE ROMAN DE WERTHER, his other Ophuls, a sort of farrago of Goethe which Ophuls rather regretted — he died with a copy of The Sorrows of Young Werther by his bedside.

The melodrama is slushy — an imaginary trip to the opera looks forward to the phantom ride of LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN, but is embarrassingly gushy and frenetic — but the visual direction is gorgeous. Watching it alongside THE RECKLESS MOMENT brought out all sorts of similarities, including the way the director will follow actors up flights of stairs and along catwalks in unbroken shots. A dynamic chase is staged in a hectic flurry of incredibly precise movements, filmed through swathes of occluding foliage. It’s almost frustrating — Ophuls regularly brought genius to the staging of stories carpentered together with little talent. But I guess it does mean that by the time he got good scripts, he was more than ready.

Square Eyes

Posted in FILM with tags , on August 27, 2021 by dcairns

My poorest ever showing at Edinburgh International Film Festival — a single outdoor screening in St Andrews Square.

The film of course was CASABLANCA and the screen did a great job blasting it out in the face of blazing sunshine. The technology for outdoor screenings has improved immensely seemingly in just the last few years. Unfortunately the people operating them have remained at the same evolutionary stage so we had to watch the film in the wrong aspect ratio, and when we reported it they didn’t know what we were talking about. “It’s coming straight out of the DVD.”

DVD?

The outdoor screenings are always of popular favourites — CASABLANCA was the oldest film shown, SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN the second — they’re only sort of a part of the Film Fest and I don’t think anyone there is to blame, except maybe they should supervise more tightly.

A baby seagull landed on the screen at an opportune moment.

At the indoor events we really should have booked early for ANNETTE and LA STRADA but pandemic inertia and out-of-touchness prevented it.

Still, we enjoyed our revisit to studio North Africa, and a chance to see watch-party chums Donald and Nicola on the next deck chairs over.