Archive for Picasso

Ooh, Guernica!

Posted in FILM with tags , , on October 1, 2008 by dcairns

Mr. Picasso in LE MYSTERE PICASSO.

Yes, “Ooh, Guernica!” That’s what I said when I realised this was on YouTube, “The Tube Youse Uses To View”. The film of the painting of the event. By turning Picasso’s entire pre-Guernica output into a kind of strip-cartoon narrative, with Guernica as the climax, the film, using edits and sound, achieves all kinds of effects which I’m still trying to process. One revelation is the idea of Guernica’s rawness being a kind of traumatic reaction to the horrors of war, a stylistic shift in Picasso’s work triggered by all those bombs. I probably remember such a thing from my art history classes at school, but here it’s rendered viscerally.

I love Resnais’ early documentaries, those few I’ve managed to see with translation. Reading the surtitles in this one demands a small amount of mental recalibration — I find myself continually trying to read the subtitles instead, which were less helpful.

The clips seem to be extremely slow to buffer, at least on my ‘puter. Suggest clicking both of them on and then taking a bath. By the time you’re towelled off and powdered, they should be ready to go, and you will be nicely relaxed! Shadowplay — organising your viewing AND your personal hygiene.

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Final Festival Round-Up

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 29, 2008 by dcairns

E.I.F.F. 2008.

Today was Best of the Fest day — or “What prints are still in town?” day, to give it its informal name. But there was plenty of good stuff on, so I tooted over to Filmhouse, discovered that my press pass had officially expired, and shelled out some cash for movies for the first time in ten days.

WALL-E was first. I felt guilty about seeing something non-rare like this at a festival, but quite good about missing all the ads that will precede it when it goes on general release. I started to wonder if I was in a fragile emotional state as it went on, as I found myself having an exaggerated response to EVERYTHING. I spent much of the film close to tears. Then i decided that, no, I’m no more fragile than usual, it’s just a deeply beautiful film.

It’s kind of sweet also that Michael Crawford finds himself in one of the biggest films of the year, without actually doing anything (he appears in the clips from HELLO DOLLY, Wall-E’s favourite/only video). Opening in space, with Crawford’s voice ringing out, before descending towards a litter-strewn Earth upon with only North America is visible, Andrew Stanton’s extended C.G.I. homageto Douglas Trumbull’s SILENT RUNNING actually has a beautiful, live action, ’70s long-lens, misty, smoggy look, like the titles of SOYLENT GREEN, for all its terrestrial scenes. Roger Deakins consulted on the virtual lighting, and expressed his astonishment in Edinburgh at the joy of position virtual lights in a virtual set and not having to worry about hiding them.

Did I like all the film equally? No, but things don’t have to be perfect. Enough of this was. And it was interesting to see Fred Willard spoofing President Bush: “Stay the course!” This must make Bush the first U.S. president to have been slammed by Disney while in office, unless I’m forgetting something major.

Pixar’s hit-rate is so high it could almost get monotonous. I seriously dig how they mainly avoided dialogue here and would suggest they get even braver and make an entirely wordless feature next.

*

I jumped from Filmhouse to the Cameo, grabbing a sandwich, and plunged into the art deco world of MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY, a ’30s farce which fails as a comedy (for me) but which seemed to just about hang together as drama. The material is far from the level of Wodehouse, although the story is acceptable. The dialogue and situations fail to deliver the expected comedy (although the audience I was with laughed kindly a few times). Director Bharat Nalluri, from high-end Brit T.V., avoids overkill and restrains the visuals, but there’s neither a refreshing, modern attitude nor any evocation of an old-fashioned film style. and the performances refuse to gel in a way that’s kind of fascinating.

McDormand and Adams.

The extras — several terribly over-eager perfs from background artistes, something you don’t often see.

The stars — well, there aren’t any big ones, which ought to mean Nalluri had the pick of non-famous thespian talent at his disposal, with no commercial pressure, but it doesn’t always work that way.

Frances McDormand — a talented comedienne, as we’ve seen before, here she can only manage to generate a few warm smiles, and most of those are snatched solo. Whenever she has to interact with fellow performers, she’s hampered by the unevenness of tone. Any scene with more than two co-stars leaves her torn between wildly different acting styles, since she’s the only performer paying close attention to her fellows. But she makes an appealing Pettigrew and that sympathy holds the proceedings together at least somewhat.

Amy Adams — plays the whole thing in a fake Marilyn Monroe voices which in 1939 had yet to be invented. Anachronistic and more than a little annoying. She’s CONSISTENT, but her tropes get shopworn fast. There’s talent there, but it lacks guidance.

Tom Payne — another terribly self-conscious British prettyboy. I didn’t like his HAIR — was any man wearing it that long? He’s ruinous to any scene of farce that requires timing. He has appeal, and may well become a decent actor, but asking him to do anything that requires precision is madness. He gets all the script’s Bertie Wooster archaisms, as if all the movie requires is one character who talks ’30s. He gets away with the “don’t you know, what?” stuff better than anyone could reasonably be expected to when surrounded by non-period-specific speakers, so he deserves some credit for that.

Lee Pace — from his first scene I thought he was a truly horrible actor. By the end I kind of liked him. Then I discover he’s American, which I hadn’t suspected. Suicidal of the filmmakers to have saddled themselves with yanks in Brit roles. They’re already attempting farce, which rarely works on screen, and ’30s screwball reconstruction, which generally dies like a dog (AT LONG LAST LOVE?) so they didn’t need to kneecap themselves before even starting. What’s odd about Pace is that although he seems awkward and out of place, he seems exactly like an awkward out-of-place Brit. He doesn’t slot into place with the others because he’s too naturalistically gawkish for the milieu. Interesting but wrong.

Ciáran Hinds — really sweet. The only actor who can talk to one character and then to another without making himself or them seem like a stray alien. His perf is so low-key and gentle it almost disappears before you, but he’s the one you remember.

Mark Strong — he was the best thing in Polanski’s (rather good) OLIVER TWIST, as the usually-deleted character Toby Crackit. Here he could actually get away with going more O.T.T. as he did there, but I don’t blame him for holding it in, surrounded as he is by erratically varying styles and pitches. He makes a good cad though — I need to check out some of his other work (SYRIANA, STARDUST).

Shirley Henderson — is a very dangerous woman. Versatile to the point of omnipotence, she can produce effects beyond the range of any earth-creature. Being fallible like the rest of us, she’s quite capable of making bad choices though, and playing them to the hilt so as to torpedo a whole movie, as in DOCTOR SLEEP. Here she does her Cruella-type villainess as if on helium, which is wildly impressive (if it were anyone else I’d assume she had computerized assistance, but NO, this is Shirley we’re talking about) as a technical feat, slightly distracting much of the time, but serves as a possible clue as to how all the other roles could have been played — with gusto, speed and sharp timing. Is this really so impossible today?

I’m usually a sucker for WWII stuff — MRS MINIVER slays me and the novels of Patrick Hamilton lay about my heartstrings with rusty saw-blades, but this fest I’ve seen two flicks set around wartime, this and THE EDGE OF LOVE, and neither really got me at all.

*

Out of PETTIGREW, bagel across the road, then back into the Cameo for my third helping.

ELEGY is directed by Isabel Coixet, whose episode of PARIS JE T’AIME was quite enjoyed round our place. This movie seems to relate quite closely to it in plot terms, too. But I.C. needs to wean herself off the V.O., which doesn’t add anything to this movie AT ALL.

Nicholas Meyer scripts. Remember him? As a novelist and film director he had a definite personality, tackling romps like TIME AFTER TIME (H.G. Wells chases Jack the Ripper in his time machine) and THE SEVEN-PER-CENT SOLUTION (Sherlock Holmes teams up with Freud). He also managed to make a going concern out of the STAR TREK franchise, directing entries 2 and 6 (remember, the even-numbered TREKS are the good ones). In this movie he’s adapting Philip Roth, and there’s nothing to relate this to his earlier films — but quite a lot to connect it to THE HUMAN STAIN, another Roth adaptation by Meyer.

Sir Ben Kingsley, who will always be Handhi Bendhi Gandhi to me, falls madly in bed with Penelope Cruz, whose breasts he declares, not unreasonably, to be the best in the world. A lot of this film revolves around those breasts, so it’s a good job they were able to cast such a convincing pair. There is actually a surprising chemistry between the two stars. Sir Ben is on top form, managing to be real and surprising at the same time. Why hasn’t he played Picasso? He has a big bald head and his torso, which he staunchly parades here, is a dead ringer.

Ben can’t believe his luck with P. Cruz, which leads him to sabotage the relationship. Bad Sir Ben! It probably doesn’t help that he’s getting his romantic advice from Dennis Hopper. There might possibly be better people to listen to. What’s Robert Blake up to these days?

“Do you know what a love letter is? It’s a bullet from a fucking GUN.”

So the beautiful Cruz missiles go out of his life, only to return with a tragic twist (ouch). The perfs are exquise, the situations adult and interesting, only the cinematic qualities descend to cliché. Walks on the  beach: the couple together, then, morosely, Bendhi alone. That bloody voice-over. I have nothing against V.O., but try taking it out and see what happens. My guess: nothing. Erik Satie on the soundtrack. I was just watching Welles’ THE IMMORTAL STORY, as part of the Moreau retrospective, and thinking what a shame the Gymnopedies have been so overused since then, and here they come all over again.

Just before the festival a student asked me “What does ‘cinematic’ mean?” During the festival I heard various people debating it. Generally we agreed it was a tricky word with no set meaning. In ELEGY, Sir Bendhi quotes A.E. Houseman’s line about not knowing what poetry is, but recognising it at once when he sees it.

ELEGY is well-acted, written, and photographed, but I don’t recognise it as cinematic.

Quote of the Day: sounds like a plan

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 26, 2008 by dcairns

‘Even more than in THE WILD CHILD, THE GREEN ROOM was conceived as a succession of plans-séquence. The term “master shot” is used in English for what in French is “plans-séquence”, but the two expressions mean different things, because a “master shot” implies that there will be supplementary shots of the same scene (often close-ups), and that these will be inserted later on, during the editing. The fact that there is no American expression for “plans-séquence”  is evidence of a basic difference in concept. In Truffaut’s plans-séquence nothing can be inserted because it is sufficient unto itself. The character moves about from one character to another, lingers, makes a leap into the void to take in the whole scene, retreats, advances, all at a stretch, without cuts. The scenes between Davenne and Cecilia in the auction room are the best examples of this technique.

Green Wing

‘From the practical point of view, this sort of filming has advantages and disadvantages. One of the problems is focus. Since the camera is always moving on wheels, it is difficult for the assistant to correct the focus, since the actors are constantly at different distances from the lens. It also presents a challenge for the camera operator. In a short space of time innumerable compositions are being produced with every slight change of place. Preparing shots of this type takes hours, because the actors’ movements must be adjusted in relation to the movements of the camera. Sometimes a whole day is needed to get a single shot.

‘But when a scene is split into different shots, to be edited together later, it creates the false impression that shooting is done quickly, whereas in fact the opposite is true: one must be sure that there is continuity of illumination from one shot to the next, that the actors are looking in the appropriate directions, that entrances and exits from the frame fit into the preceding scenes. With the plans-séquence these preoccupations are no longer relevant. In any case, the main interest of this technique is not that it offers advantages from the point of view of production but that it allows the director to define his style. For it is in the style that we recognise the artist’s signature. All of this is quite close to certain concepts that Truffaut inherited from his mentor, André Bazin.’

~ A Man with a Camera, by Nestor Almendros.

Nestor

The term “sequence shot” is now often used to describe a shot that covers an entire scene without alternate angles being edited in, although the term is maybe more commonly used in criticism than “on the floor”. My suspicion is that we don’t have a widely-used term for this approach in Britain and America because (a) the technique isn’t widely used and (b) when we directors do it, we don’t tell anyone what we’re doing.

As my cinematographer friend Scott Ward says, there is a school of thought in television that says the director’s reason for being is to obtain sufficient coverage to make the show. Since shows are made for specific time slots, there needs to be a way to manipulate the duration of the footage, which becomes much harder if every scene has been covered with only one shot.

On my most extensive TV gig, I shot some scenes in sequence shots, purely because the schedule was so tight. I was aware that if anybody asked for additional angles in the edit, I would probably be in trouble (I was constantly in trouble on that shoot, or so it seemed at the time). So they had better work. More than half of the scenes had more than one angle, though after falling behind schedule on day one, and further on day two, I took to devising schemes that allowed even the most busy scene to be taken in no more than two shots, if at all possible. We finished on schedule and the episodes were manipulated into the right time slot with relative ease.

But consider the case of Leonard Kastle’s THE HONEYMOON KILLERS. The first five or so minutes of the film are a series of elaborate long takes, stretching the abilities of the camera crew beyond breaking point, but still fascinating and effective. The director of these scenes was the young Martin Scorsese, who was swiftly fired for only shooting masters. “If you only shoot masters, the film could end up four hours long,” he ruefully reflected, understanding his employer’s ruthless response.

It may be also that some producers will object to long takes for the very reason Almendros recommends them: as an expression of directorial style. Producer Pandro S Berman is supposed to have approached director Albert Lewin and asked, “Why do you do these long tracking shots?”

“It’s my style,” explained Lewin (naïve fool!).

“Style. I always wondered about that. What does that mean, style?”

Lewin is taken aback, bt endeavours to explain: “Well, style, that’s like when Picasso paints a certain way and you can tell it’s a Picasso. Or with Rembrandt, he has a style, and you can see how it’s different to Picasso.”

“Is that so? Is that what style is? Well, I don’t want any of it in MY PICTURES!”

Lewin

Now this may well be one of those libellous stories directors like to tell about producers (writers tell them about directors too), but there is a certain mindset that probably sees the producer’s job as being to quash any excessive outbursts of directorial style. Hiring the right director and then trusting her might be an easier option, but such a person, or such an emotion, is not always available on demand.

As Howard Hawks said to Peter Bogdanovich when asked if he ever had final cut; “No. Suppose I went crazy?”