Archive for Samuel Beckett

Don’t Let the Bastards Grind You Down

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on December 17, 2010 by dcairns

A student of mine once revealed that a friend of his dad’s was some kind of a film director. “His name’s Karel Reisz. I know he did something called SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING. Is that any good?”

I told him it was, and filled him in slightly on the movie, including the catchphrase quoted above. “That came from his movie?” asked the student. Well, really it came from Alan Sillitoe and his book, but it’s great that Reisz helped popularize it, make it part of everyday philosophy like that.

Reisz’s last work has been lurking in my unwatched pile for quite a while — Samuel Beckett’s Act Without Words I, directed by Reisz (who hadn’t worked for some years, and may already have been ill) for a compendium of Beckett adaptations (Atom Egoyan’s Krapp’s Last Tape with John Hurt is rather good).

Maybe I was too influenced by the knowledge that Beckett was influenced by Buster Keaton’s SHERLOCK JNR, but I had trouble adjusting to the look and feel of Reisz’s version. In a blue-skied studio desert, a nameless, wordless man (Sean Foley) is tormented by his environment, which dangles a bottle of water just out of reach, offers him boxes to help him to climb to the suspended drink, then raises the drink further up. He’s a silent comedy version of Tantalus, imprisoned in a Hell of eternally frustrated desires. Even suicide is denied him, a hangman’s branch folding up uselessly when he approaches with an improvised noose.

Foley is quite good, throwing himself around the set with some athleticism, his face a mask of suffering — comedy is undercut. But the framing and cutting don’t have Keaton’s absolute clarity. In a world where objects shift about in obedience to some malign disembodied whim, it’s no good for Reisz to allow the hanging beaker of water to slip out of frame for long periods — we can’t assume it’s still there if we can’t see it. When the narrative point is that the water is unreachable, including a little dune in the foreground which makes it look as if the man could leap from it to catch the water, is a serious compositional blunder.

Even the dayglo sky, which I found not too attractive in itself, betrays some visible wrinkles in one shot. If they’d been like the creased diorama of FRANKENSTEIN’s blasted heath, I might have liked them, but they just seem like a flaw in something that’s already ugly. Compared to the lovely low-res video of Beckett’s own German TV work, this wasn’t what I’d call pretty.

For Reisz at his best, try the above-mentioned Albert Finney kitchen sink drama, as well as MORGAN: A SUITABLE CASE FOR TREATMENT, with a superb David Warner, and THE GAMBLER, a really strong James Caan piece, epitomizing 70s New Hollywood despair, written by James Toback.

UK: Morgan, A Suitable Case For Treatment [DVD]

Beckett On Film [DVD]

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The Sunday Intertitle / Congruence 3

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 4, 2009 by dcairns

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I had a pretty good time delivering my first lecture of the year at Edinburgh College of Art on Monday (on the history and uses of the long take), and then a really good time screening silent comedies on Tuesday evening — Chaplin’s A DOG’S LIFE, Harold Lloyd in FROM HAND TO MOUTH, and Keaton’s SHERLOCK JNR. Enthusiastic responses from students, some of whom had seen plenty of silent-era slapstick, some of whom I think had seen none. All pronounced themselves Keatonites at the end, barring one Chaplinist (who had seen several other films so had more to base her choice on). I only asked for a show of hands because I was curious, having previously advised that they shouldn’t feel that they can only like one.

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The three films fit together well, because they’re all fairly short without being tiny, and because you can see how all the silent clowns borrowed from each other (well, I’m not sure how much Chaplin borrowed…)

The Lloyd film (which crams three hours of plot and business into 25 mins) gave him dog and kid companions and cast him as a down-and-out, a la Chaplin, and the Keaton featured a close-following scene very similar to the one in FROM HAND TO MOUTH. Of course, SHERLOCK JNR is such a surprising, peculiar and downright avant-garde comedy that even if moments owe their existence to the work of other comics, the film as a whole is sui generis. And its principle descendant is Samuel Beckett’s Act Without Words.

(First, Buster literally breaks his neck falling onto railway tracks, then he climbs inside a motion picture…)

Anyway, it was a pleasure to share these eighty and ninety-year-old movies with a decent-sized audience, some of whose laughter had the delight of surprise in it — and the spontaneous applause was good too.

Congratulations

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

— to my newly graduated students Anders and Jamie, who just won the McLaren Award for New British Animation at Edinburgh Film Festival for SPACE TRAVEL ACCORDING TO JOHN, part of their THE WORLD ACCORDING TO series (TWAT for short). This more than makes up for the Fest’s strange decision to only show one of the series.

This WILL be the first of many awards as long as the guys get the films out there to be seen.

Watch out for those fellows!

“You like me! You really like me!”

In other news, the Michael Powell Award went to the new Shane Meadows film, SOMERS TOWN, which kind of disappoints me on principle. I’ve often felt the prize goes to films that Powell himself wouldn’t have thought particularly revelatory (and revelation was something Powell REQUIRED of cinema), but I haven’t seen the Meadows film, so that isn’t the problem. This year the ground rules have been changed — it used to be that first or second features by new directors in the U.K. were eligible. Now Meadows is in, with his sixth feature, and Martin Radich’s CRACK WILLOW, a genuine first feature, wasn’t even considered. The Festival is perfectly entitled to change the rules as it sees fit, but it would be nice if we could understand what the qualifying conditions actually are.

Enough griping — congratulations to the winners, and to the rest: “Try again. Fail again. Fail BETTER,” as Samuel Beckett would say.

Also, congratulations to festival director Hannah McGill and her team for a very enjoyable Fest.