Archive for Film Club

Two Deaths

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 27, 2018 by dcairns

Bernardo Bertolucci evidently hoped to make more films before getting the cancer that killed him. Nic Roeg, after writing his autobiography, had grown frail in mind and body, and would not have been able to. Still, we wish it were otherwise. The fact that Roeg was unable to make his own projects for so long is deplorable, an extraordinary tragedy to add to the more mundane fact of death. (“This isn’t the worst,” Von Stroheim is said to have lamented on his death-bed. “The worst is that they stole twenty years of my life.”)

To a friend, Roeg freely admitted to trading on his reputation with nonsense like SAMSON AND DELILAH (with Liz Hurley! On the basis that Baby Spice hadn’t been discovered yet, I suppose). He clearly wasn’t the kind of filmmaker who could be a gun-for-hire and still bring his distinctive sensibility into play. His work was cerebral, and if the underpinnings weren’t there, you couldn’t expect a gloss of Roegian affect. Bertolucci was lucky enough never to have to make a biblical epic for HBO, though he’d probably have been a better choice for the task.

I first caught a glimpse of Roeg’s work when Barry Norman, presenting Film 83 on the BBC, showed us what the programme (and he himself) had looked like when it started ten years earlier, and there, startlingly, was a clip of a sodden Donald Sutherland screaming in slow motion, holding his drowned child, a trail of droplets raining from her toe, as a slide of a church dissolved into a lurid phantasmagoria of colours. I immediately knew I had to see this film, even thought (or BECAUSE) I had no idea what the images meant.

I looked the film up in Halliwell’s Film Guide, and surprisingly, if you know Halliwell, he actually managed to capture some of the strangeness I had felt, though I think he also managed to (a) spoiler the ending and (b) render the plot garbled and meaningless in a single two-line synopsis.

   

Then there was a Guardian lecture at the NFT, broadcast by the BBC again, where we saw clips from other Roeg movies including his latest, EUREKA!, which I was able to rent on VHS a bit later. I may need to revisit it to see if I still feel that the beginning is great and the rest, progressively less great. By the time INSIGNIFICANCE came out, I think I’d caught up with the earlier films and been blown away. Even if I didn’t always enjoy or understand the experience first time round, some blowing-away always took place. I used to alternately hate and then love BAD TIMING each time I watched it, and even though half the time was no fun, I couldn’t stop watching it. On VHS!

ARIA screened at Edinburgh International Film Festival but I can’t actually recall if Roeg took to the stage for the intro. Ken Russell was there with a plastic cup impaled on the end of his golf umbrella and that rather stole all the thunder, I’m afraid.

I think the first one I was able to see on a first run at the cinema was CASTAWAY (maybe that’s worth revisiting? It was one he really wanted to make). Barry Norman previewed it, saying he’d seen a rough cut with the director sitting right behind him muttering, gloomily, “It is what it is, I suppose…”

A guy I know worked on a script for Roeg. He said a lot of the script notes were just muttering, really, but then you would get these blinding flashes of brilliant insight. And Roeg would turn up on TV interviews, muttering quite dreamily to himself, the words sometimes completely indecipherable, then snapping into sharp focus. Kind of like what my developing mind would experience when struggling through the denser passages of his films.

Another guy I know worked for years and years to get another Roeg movie made, and he was absolutely certain Roeg was still a master, powers undimmed, if only the right project could be launched. This was a kind of Jekyll & Hyde story, and when the idea of an octogenarian Roeg helming the whole thing came to seem unduly optimistic, the plan became to have one, younger director for Jekyll while Roeg handled Hyde, or maybe it was the other way around. Donald Sutherland was up for starring, and when scheduling conflicts intervened, Ruther Hauer was slotted in. But the financing never came together.

I don’t have such a clear image of when Bertolucci impinged on my mind, but Paul Schrader discussing him on The South Bank Show (ITV this time) would have brought THE CONFORMIST into my ken. I hadn’t even seen TAXI DRIVER at this point, I think, and the interview made me rent that and RAGING BULL and probably AMERICAN GIGOLO but Bertolucci had to wait until BBC2’s Film Club, I think, screened THE CONFORMIST, and then there was THE LAST EMPEROR at the cinema, and LAST TANGO IN PARIS at the University Film Society (but maybe at one of the Cameo’s late-night double features first, with something unsuitable like BETTY BLUE).

Channel 4 (see how television used to play such an active role in cinephilia) showed 1900 over two nights, and I watched it with my parents, treating it as a big miniseries, and my dad summed up the weird, allegorical ending with a quite literal interpretation that turned out to be exactly what BB had in mind. I can only assume that screening was censored at least a bit, because there are SO many WTF images in there that I can’t imagine my parents lasting ten minutes. Fiona’s face nearly fell off when I ran it for her.

While the experimental arm of commercial cinema in which Roeg had been able to work — the very fag-end of British sixties cinema — sputtered out and left him to waste his time on hackwork — Bertolucci was somehow able to keep making personal films. What hurt him, I think, was the end of the arthouse cinema he’d come out of, and the end of the hope for a particular revolutionary change in society which had animated his vision. The man who made STEALING BEAUTY and BESIEGED was still talented, but I think he’d lost key elements of his relationship to the world, so that his talent didn’t know quite where to go. He gamely kept at it.

We saw him in Bologna a few years ago, in his wheelchair with the Mondrian wheels. I was going to say “I love your wheelchair” and then I realized who he was and would have added “and your work!” but he had a big guard standing over him making sure nobody interrupted his chat with the guy from Variety. So I didn’t get to have an encounter as charming as the one I heard about from a friend of a friend on the internet, who had approached him at a cafe and asked, “Those colours in THE SHELTERING SKY… was that what the desert was like, or were they created?” to which BB replied, “They were created… for you.”

Advertisements

Talking Points

Posted in FILM, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , on August 7, 2015 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2015-08-07-11h07m15s139

Richard Lester once said that the difference between A HARD DAY’S NIGHT and THE KNACK was the four protagonists of the former enjoy perfect communication without having to talk, while the four protagonists of the latter talk all the time without ever communicating. When this was quote back to him by Joseph Gelmis he described it as “Very glib, and very true.”

What do we talk about when we talk about THE KNACK?

vlcsnap-2015-08-07-11h08m21s87

The anxiety of influence — it could be argued that the film had a negative effect, because the dumb copies proliferated to such a degree that the original came to seem less fresh — part of the reason it was neglected/despised in the eighties — and because those copies became THE style of the sixties, and the British sixties in particular. It could be argued that the movie demonstrates the danger of injecting a concentrated dose of originality into a formally staid and sclerotic industry.

How does a film go from winning the Palme D’Or and defining the style of a generation of cinema (far more so than A HARD DAY’S NIGHT, actually) to being considered old hat and sexist and embarrassing? It’s the same film, after all.

Is Michael Crawford annoying? Or brilliant? Or both?

Have you read or seen the play? What do you think of the changes? I think structurally, it’s one of the best adaptations ever — as Lester said, not so much “opening out” as EXPLODING the play. Also, they come up with an ending for Tolen, which the play lacks — I guess the point being that he’s an unchanging character. But I love what the film does with him. “We’re all of us more or less sexual failures.”

The Greek chorus. Why aren’t there more Greek choruses in movies?

When is a rape joke not a rape joke? Is the film unconscious of the offence it might give, is it deliberately courting offence, does it offend you? Or, radically, can I suggest that the discomfort it produces entirely intentional and part of its meaning? The play is feminist. Is the film? A bit?

Do you find Ray Brooks attractive? I find Rita Tushingham attractive.

Donal Donnelly is in WATERLOO, THE GODFATHER III, THE DEAD, and worked for John Ford three times. Why is he not an axiom of cinema?

Pauline Kael said “It’s a great technique, but what can you do with it?” How should we answer her, bearing in mind that she can’t talk back?

vlcsnap-2015-08-07-11h07m48s254

Don’t rush to answer me now — think it over between now and Monday is when we will DO THIS THING. And of course don’t feel limited. I’m just interested in anybody’s responses, what bits strike them as interesting, what we can learn about film storytelling.

For now, here’s one question you CAN answer — can you think of KNACK-influenced films where the influence was positive? There are definitely some.

BTW, the whole film’s on YouTube (shouldn’t be, but is) so there are no excuses for not seeing it (except honesty).

I’ve Been Picked Up

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on August 5, 2015 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2015-08-05-11h32m00s100

OK — Film Club, August tenth — next Monday — just got A LOT more exciting.

As regular readers know, I interviewed Richard Lester at length for Criterion’s A HARD DAY’S NIGHT disc, so I have some unused quotes from The Great Man I can make use of as required.

I’ve tracked down a rare-ish interview with playwright Ann Jellicoe so we can get her thoughts too.

And now I have conducted an email interview with screenwriter Charles Wood, who was kind enough to share his memories of working on the film.

And today, at 3pm, I shall be talking on the phone to Rita Tushingham, one of the film’s stars. This is extremely cool to me. I met Rita when we recorded the VO for my Criterion extra. She’s still best of friends with Lester and I think she’s actually going to be round at his house when we speak.

All of this makes this the most thorough and in-depth Film Club I can imagine, which means that rather than relaunching the Film Club thing, I may have to retire it, on a high.

New Yorkers are urged to see the movie, in 35mm, at Lincoln Centre on Saturday night or Monday evening. Link.