Archive for Lindsay Anderson

Histories and Legacies

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 9, 2017 by dcairns

Me and Richard Lester. Photo by Sheldon Hall, complete with psychedelic projections. Thanks, Sheldon!

The image above was taken at the symposium British Cinema in the 1960s: Histories and Legacies at the BFI Southbank on Thursday. This was Part 2 of the conference I presented at last week. It was lovely to see Richard again, and meet Neil Sinyard, who literally wrote the book on him, and to acquire the latest edition of said book at a hefty academic discount, and hear more of his stories of his early career. Many of these appear in Andrew Yule’s book The Man Who “Framed” the Beatles, but Richard tells them better.

Academic conferences are strange things — rather jolly, though. I couldn’t believe the obscurity of some of the stuff under discussion. In York, there had been a paper based on research into the completion bond guarantor’s notes on  Joseph Losey’s FIGURES IN A LANDSCAPE. In London, there were entries on the Children’s Film Foundation, the production design of IF…., censorship and colour in Hammer films (centering on that naughty studio’s practice of submitting b&w prints of colour films, to disguise the gore) and trade advertisements for Eastmancolor. I was in hog heaven, glorying in the utter abstruseness of this info. I also learned about a few films I hadn’t seen (or, in the case of TWO GENTLEMEN SHARING, even heard of). And I made some new friends.

Also: a stunning 35mm screening of PETULIA.

My idea of academia before attending the conference.

Sandy Lieberson and David Puttnam were interviewed on Wednesday, and Rita Tushingham on Thursday. So it wasn’t all about the obscure byways of the business. Some of the papers were critical analyses, Charles Drazin using Lindsay Anderson’s relationship with his former headmaster as a lens through which to re-examine IF….’s politics. Others were historical, based on archival digging or interviews. There were a trio of presentations based around the public’s memories of cinema-going at the time, looking at sexual attitudes (and behaviour in the dark of the auditorium), responses to the fantasy of Swinging London, and the difficulties of getting to a screen if you lived in the countryside. There was lots on Ken Loach (KES and POOR COW) but I was even happy to hear about that.

My only criticism would be the lack of analysis of the visual, of the craft of filmmaking. There was some of this, and there were a good number of papers which dealt with areas far removed from the art of framing, cutting, mixing, in which technique wasn’t relevant. But in some of the actual discussion of movies, the “close analysis” was confined to the story and dialogue, with the cinematic approach completely ignored. I suppose it’s inevitable when the people looking at films are word people. Richard Lester got in a gentle crack about academia when he said that he had expected that A HARD DAY’S NIGHT, once it had fulfilled its ephemeral pop-culture purpose in 1964, would only be of interest “in, well, frankly, rooms like this.”

(Of course, my paper was on a screenwriter, so I give myself a free pass on this issue.)

My idea of academia after attending the conference.

I’d go again! My odd situation is that, as a teaching fellow at Edinburgh College of Art, I’m not officially expected to do what they call “research,” although I only just found this out. For years, they’ve been asking me to tell me all about my research activities, and I’ve obliged, but none of my filmmaking or criticism really counts as academic research. Can I even claim expenses for my trip? I don’t know. If I can, I’d go to lots of these things! To me, it was just like a science fiction convention, only without the cosplay, and more fun.

 

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Canary Row

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

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A bit of Warners Islamophobia to balance Disney’s anti-semitism.

I bought a DVD of Porky Pig cartoons because it was only 33p, and seemed worth a punt. I didn’t recognize any of the titles. Well, I doubt Porky is anybody’s favourite Warner Bros cartoon character, and by the time Warners got around to issuing his own collection, it seems all the valuable titles were used up. The disc contained several b&w Porky titles, and a couple of colour cartoons not featuring Porky (doubtless somebody feared the kids the product was being advertised to would be disappointed with only monochrome pig action), and most strange of all, a b&w toon not featuring Porky. But this was probably the highlight of the set.

It seems like the DVD, though labeled KIDS WB, was really intended as CAIRNS WB, because I can’t imagine there are very many more people in this country who would have devoured it with more interest. The majority of the contents were directed by Frank Tashlin, sometimes credited as Frank Tash. Since most of his WB cartoons are b&w, most of them haven’t been made available, and so I haven’t been able to compare his animation with his later live action work as much as I’d like.

Several of the filmlets featured pomo/fourth wall breaking gags, including two separate altercations with some guy in the third row of the cinema in which the cartoons are putatatively being screened. So that was good. Tex Avery is the guy best known for this kind of thing, but Tash was the one who was permitted to carry it over into feature films.

We were also treated to lots of extreme angles and cinematic showing-off, including obsessive play with shadows, so you could see the filmmaker’s ambition.

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Plus — scary villains! Not so much of that in later Tashlin. There are occasional grotesque moments — one could argue that the entire oeuvre is somewhat grotesque — Lindsay Anderson felt like THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT had been photographed inside a juke box — but Jerry Lewis is much more disturbing.

Then there’s PUSS N’ BOOTY, with Tashlin credited as “Supervision” (the Director’s Guild didn’t consider these guys to be directors, and I don’t think Warners did either) and Cal Dalton as lead animator — but the whole thing feels very Chuck Jonesian, thanks to the excellent cat animation. True, the mistress of the house appears only as legs and bits of torso, like the maid in Tom and Jerry, and Tashlin shows a more salacious interest in those legs than Hanna & Barbera would at MGM, an interest which is quite typical of his later work. And the cat and canary conflict anticipates Sylvester & Tweety Pie, characters I mostly associate with Friz Freleng. But all this beautifully observed feline stuff is hugely reminiscent of Jones’ Pepe le Pew heroine.

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It’s an eye-popping cartoon — at the start, the cat has just finished off its fifth canary, and is overjoyed when its owner orders a sixth. Sylvester never got to actually kill any of Tweetie’s relatives. And the punchline is pretty remarkable too — the cat finally gets into the canary’s cage, after the expected slapstick failures. A titanic struggle. And when the mistress arrives to investigate — only the canary remains… and then it belches and the cat’s bow flies out of its mouth.

It’s unusual to find a cartoon with real killing in it, and no translucent ghost angel figure to make it unreal. I just know this one would have upset me as a kid. So I admire it greatly as an adult.

Good start

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 26, 2016 by dcairns

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On Friday, saw Jacques Becker’s CASQUE D’OR in the Piazza Maggiore. Looked up and could see the rays of the projector beam spreading across the stars. If I were the hardcore cinephile you all expect me to be I would have seen Bertrand Tavernier’s 3hr+ documentary on French cinema also, but the trip had been somewhat strenuous.

Today the screenings started at the civilized hour of half past two in the afternoon (or 14:30 as these crazy continentals call it) and I saw four shorts by Slovenian filmmaker Karpo Godina, all recently restored, then a recently rediscovered Argentinian slice of poetic realism from the thirties, then a silent French film by Marie Epstein and Jean Benoit-Levy, then MODERN TIMES in the Piazza, crammed full of people as never before, as Timothy Brock’s reconstruction of Chaplin’s score was played live by a 65-piece orchestra.

  1. Cinema Ritrovato’s lavish program book quotes Lindsay Anderson on Jacques Becker, which made me smile as I first saw CASQUE D’OR via the critic/filmmaker’s personal VHS recording. It’s a lot better on the big screen!
  2. Godina’s films were ALL suppressed by the Yugoslav government, and he was nearly jailed for one of them. He is a cinematic hero! Using static shots as a formal restraint and sometimes as a formal joke, he gets unexpected laughs and sews indefinable disquiet. One film was banned purely for this sense of not being quite sure what he’s up to. More on him soon.
  3. A season of Argentinian oddities opened with ESCALA EN LA CIUDAD, whose most famous crewmember was ace cinematographer John Alton (here “Juan”) — Alton spent 8 formative years shooting in South America, but little of this work survives. This one had profoundly amateurish acting and dialogue, weirdly messy sound (mixing was apparently nonexistent in Argentina), but a touching story showing the influence of Carné, and fine work from Alton, though the master had not yet fully learned to limit his light sources to create his trademark source-lit chiaroscuro. Some lovely camera moves and a gorgeous score by various artists.
  4. PEAU DE PECHE gets rediscovered partly because co-auteur Marie Epstein is a valuable addition to the pantheon of female cineastes, but her work with Benoit-Levy is so moving, eloquent and innovative it would be deserving of celebration even if she had been a mere man. If her gender forms a convenient peg to hang the film from, so much the better. I already admired LA MATERNELLE by the same pair, and I will try to see more in this season. Also of note: charismatic child star Le Petit Jimmy, who does a hilarious Chevalier impression. (This film, accompanied by John Sweeney on the piano, brought a fat tear to my right eye.)
  5. MODERN TIMES? What is there to say? With live score, it’s different but the same — the most notable departure was the singing waiters’, who are now mute, making Chaplin’s the first voice we hear which is not a mechanical reproduction (all the other speakers are on closed-circuit TV, gramophone or radio). Arguably an improvement, but a slight distortion. The music sounded pretty great, though, as did the five thousand or so people laughing and applauding.

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Last time I was in Bologna, I never seemed able to fit in five shows in a day, because I had a half hour trip in to town every day and a half hour trip back at night, so my energy didn’t sustain. This year, I’m in a hotel five minutes from the Piazza and fifteen from the Cinemateque, though in this 38° heat every Google Maps estimate is somewhat optimistic. At any rate, four shows in a day that only started in mid-afternoon strikes me as a promising start. Tomorrow I’m aiming to start at 9 a.m. and finish around midnight.