Archive for Lumiere Film Festival

Autumn Smiles of a Winter Light Darkly

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 29, 2013 by dcairns

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Ran WILD STRAWBERRIES for students. As one might expect, following the plot synopsis I gave them, not as many attended this screening as had shown up for CRISS CROSS. This is a shame, as it’s a cracking film. I hadn’t actually watched it all since I was about eighteen or something, and was relieved to find it as interesting as I remembered it. Also, huge parts of it I hadn’t remembered at all, and I enjoyed those too. Afterwards, one student agreed with me that Bergman can be pretty funny.

(As I recall, I recorded the film off of BBC2’s Film Club on a Sunday night, and sat down to watch it Monday lunchtime with a plate of fish and chips. And something that happened during the dream sequence five minutes in caused me to fling my knife and fork across the room in shock, startling the spaniel.)

They just showed the film in Lyon, too, where I learned that the French call it LES FRAISES SAUVAGES. SAVAGE STRAWBERRIES. Sounds like the kind of film George Clooney might have made early on, just so he could look adorably rueful about it now.

Of course, it’s not that, and nor is it a gloomy art film (Woody Allen, in his praise of I.B,, seems to WANT him to be a gloomy Swede, and doesn’t even notice the comedy in THE SEVENTH SEAL, which is at least 50% laffs) — it’s more like an anthology genre mash-up, beginning with an expressionist horror movie dream, then becoming a road movie, with diversions into teenage romcom and Kafkaesque noir (another dream). There’s even a song. And a car crash. If only it involved the Mercedes of a comedy gay man, Jerry Bruckheimer could remake this.

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The fragmentary, tone-hopping picaresque approach allows the film to segue into flash-forwards to Bergman films he hasn’t even made yet. The protagonist (my man Victor Sjostrom) picks up a bickering married couple locked in a horrible sadomasochistic codependent purgatory. In one dream, a blackboard displays a message in an incomprehensible gibberish language, undoubtedly the same one invented for THE SILENCE.

Another student remarked that the film felt very modern compared to Hollywood films of the same era — which is true. Partly this is because it rejects genre (though as I just said, it sort of drives through a number of them); partly it’s because Bergman wasn’t subject to the same stringent censorship, which meant he could get into the habit of approaching things with a greater frankness (there’s no sex as such in the film, really, but he creates the feeling that if there were, it wouldn’t be coy); and technically, the film does some striking things which seem quite new. In particular, there’s plenty of subtle camera movement during the driving scenes, pushing in on the leads or sliding from one to the other, which of course means it’s done in a studio with rear projection background. But it’s so skillfully done it didn’t make me think of Hitchcock, but of the car scene in CHILDREN OF MEN, which reintroduced the same kind of dramatically-effective artifice.

Strange seeing Max Von Sydow turn up as a garage mechanic, but then it was strange seeing him at the next table in a restaurant in Lyon, sitting with Pierre Richard and other elder statesmen of European cinema. My friend Lenick was able to overhear and translate: “They’re complaining about how things are different now, you can’t have a glass of wine and go for a drive anymore.” And then Dominique Sanda showed up and introduced herself to Max: “My name is Dominique Sanda, I starred in a film with you once.” True, she’s been away from France and may not be as well-remembered as she should be — the modest retrospective at Lyon hopefully has done something to right that — and also, maybe Max has erased STEPPENWOLF from his mind.

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Somehow Victor’s closeup makes me think of Garbo in QUEEN CHRISTINA.

Anyway, this is basically A Christmas Carol, isn’t it? A mean old man has some dreams about the past, present and future and changes his way of behaving with others. Arguably one reason it seems more sophisticated than that is we never really see Victor Sjostrom being mean, we mainly learn about his emotional coldness via his son. He seems a fairly sweet old stick, and it’s hard to work out why his daughter-in-law is so mean to him. This removes the caricature element of Dickens and replaces it with Bergman’s more nuanced sense of sliding sympathies. It’s a proper grown-up film, so I was pleased that the kids today can still “dig” it, as I believe the expression is nowadays.

The Monday Intertitle: Dreamcatcher

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , on October 28, 2013 by dcairns

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Picked up for 1 Euro at a movie and photography market in Lyon — a lovely little booklet produced by a company offering intertitles for home movies. The pamphlet is from 1948 but the designs look like they’ve probably been around since at least the thirties — which means they look LOVELY. A reminder that silent cinema didn’t end with the twenties, since home movies stayed silent for decades to come.

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The illustrated cards are particularly nifty.

These would add professional flair to anybody’s holiday footage. The choice of titles offered in the booklet also suggests the kind of movie the average cine-wielding Frenchman was thought likely to produce. I confess to bafflement, however, over what sort of shot would have followed THIS card ~

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“An infant’s dream.”

It seems the question “What do babies dream about?” was not always a mystery. In France in 1948, most middle-class families with 9.5mm equipment could answer it with confidence, and furthermore were able to extract imagery from their infants’ crania, rather the way Bernard Quatermass does with Martian memories in QUATERMASS AND THE PIT. If any of these in-child movies still exist, I would be fascinated to view one.

Bought my tickets…

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on October 6, 2013 by dcairns

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… which means I am indeed going to Pordenone, Italy for Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, the 32nd Pordenone Silent Film Festival, who are showing NATAN, the film Paul Duane & I made. NATAN is a talking picture, a documentary about a filmmaker mainly associated with talking pictures, but it does deal with Natan’s production LA MERVEILLEUSE VIE DE JEAN D’ARC, and it features Lenny Borger and Serge Bromberg, two experts on silent cinema who are Pordenone regulars, so they’re stretching a point and including us.

It’s also nice because the festival director, critic and Chaplin biographer David Robinson, used to program Edinburgh International Film Festival, so maybe I can interview him and resume my series The Edinburgh Dialogues.

And of course the movies are an exciting lot — Louise Brooks in William Wellman’s BEGGARS OF LIFE, Harold Lloyd in THE FRESHMAN with musical accompaniment by Carl Davis, seasons on Anny Ondra, Swedish movies, silent animation, and very excitingly indeed, the premiere of Orson Welles’ TOO MUCH JOHNSON.

I leave Tuesday.

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The following week on Wednesday, the day after I get back, I’m off to Lyon for NATAN’s first French date, at the Lumiere Film Festival in Lyon. Lyon actually appears in the film, in a newsreel where we see Natan preparing the opening of a new cinema. Lyon have homages to Hal Ashby, Studio Ghibli, film noir (with special guest Peggy Cummins), and they have a programme dedicated to experimental filmmaker Germaine Dulac who briefly ran Pathe-Natan’s newsreel department, and they’re showing LE BONHEUR, a spectacular Pathe-Natan production from Marcel L’Herbier starring Charles Boyer. The film’s co-director Paul Duane and producer Paul Duane is also attending, as is one of Natan’s granddaughters, the wonderful Lenick Philippot. Should be pretty special.

It’s going to be a busy and exciting fortnight and I fully expect blog postings to be on the light side… but you never know!