Archive for Masters of Cinema

The Plasticine Philip Yordan

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on September 15, 2021 by dcairns

The Blu-ray of JOHNNY GUITAR from Masters of Cinema is getting its preliminary reviews. I made two extras for this with editor Chase Barthel, a video essay and an interview with Nicholas’ Ray’s widow, Susan Ray. The first of these involved me, for some reason, making plasticine puppets of the principle figures, including Philip Yordan (above), who maybe wrote it.

The project I’m at work on now seems perfect for plasticine, but unfortunately I made a quite detailed figurine of a noted Canadian filmmaker, filmed it being destroyed, and then realised I’d chosen the wrong camera angle… Note to self: don’t do that again.

Unstarry Nights

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Painting with tags , , , , , , , on July 3, 2021 by dcairns

Maurice Pialat’s VINCENT is, for some reason, the first Pialat movie I’ve gotten around to. I’ve owned the Masters of Cinema Blu-ray of it, and POLICE, for ages. This should prompt me to watch more.

I mean, one could complain — the movie is long and often slow and one ends with no huge sense of understanding the main character — it’s not clear whether he’s ill or mad, his eventual suicide comes out of left field, and although he was clearly not a happy man, there’s no obvious MOTIVATION behind him suddenly shooting himself. So any desire for narrative neatness is defeated.

Pialat in interviews seems obviously complicated, a tricky customer, but he never says anything that would help guide you through his movie. He never discusses the large fictional elements he inserted into VVG’s life. Some of the movie’s deleted scenes seem like they might have helped a little, and that may be why they were deleted.

But it seems churlish to me to complain about the movie’s length (it’s not THAT long but it does SEEM quite long) when so much that’s good in it wouldn’t be there if there was a serious attempt to chip away everything that doesn’t look like a story. In the hostelry where VVG has taken a room, we see people in the back bar, and then a big hay cart comes by the window, VERY CLOSE.

(Had to photograph it off TV because I can’t frame-grab Blu-rays currently.)

“That’s amazing,” I said.

“I was about to say that,” said Fiona. But neither of us could decide exactly WHY it was amazing. The reverberant trundle and rattle of the cart in the night street is part of its gentle ominous loveliness. Certainly it relates to one of the film’s major strengths, its evocation of time and place. Without trying to transform the landscape into a Van Gogh painting, as Minnelli and Kurosawa in their own ways do, it creates an immersive beauty. Paul Verhoeven once said that when you make a period movie, you often can’t afford to pan an inch to the left or an inch to the right for fear of exposing something modern (CGI has almost removed that problem). Pialat’s filmmaking makes it feel like the painter’s world surrounds us completely, and everything we see is real.

He seems to have had a fair bit of money, but there are no Parisian street scenes, so the budget wasn’t unlimited. He’s just really good. The performances are startlingly informal, they feel present-tense but at the same time they’re never anachronistic (the prostitute singing Carmen with da-dum da-dum raunchiness). It puts you inside Van Gogh’s world but can’t or won’t put you inside his head. But it succeeds so exceptionally at the former that it still impresses no end.

Shadowplay Goes West

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on July 1, 2021 by dcairns

Two more video essays —

For Arrow, I wrote and narrated and Stephen C. Horne edited a piece for the MAJOR DUNDEE restoration, entitled inevitably I suppose MOBY DICK ON HORSEBACK. If R.G. Armstrong’s famous phrase causes you to picture a top-heavy, untenable situation on the brink of collapse, that would not be entirely inappropriate. MAJOR DUNDEE is major Peckinpah but universally acknowledged to be flawed. But Peckinpah’s flaws are always interesting.

The main thing I wanted to avoid with this piece is weighing in too heavily on whether Peckinpah’s vision of the film would have resulted in a triumph had he been allowed to finish it the way he planned. I always get a bad feeling when anyone pretends to know whether footage none of us have seen would transform a film. It’s legitimate to ask whether perhaps the Indian raid intended to open the film was poorly filmed owing to time pressures, but unless you have awfully compelling witnesses — and even then — I don’t think you can draw any conclusions for sure.

My other western vid essay is on JOHNNY GUITAR, as contrasting a subject as you could hope for. Chase Barthel is editing this one. I was in the process of planning this one when I woke up one morning from uneasy dreams, mulling over how I was going to make Plasticine models of the characters. As I slowly woke up fully, I realised this would be madness.

A little while later, I decided to do it.

Well, Truffaut calls JOHNNY GUITAR “a dreamed western.” This will be in part a dreamed video essay.