Archive for Seconds

I haven’t seen anything.

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 13, 2016 by dcairns

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What do you expect? I’ve been filming all week. But now we’ve wrapped and I plan to catch up with THE REVENANT and HATEFUL EIGHT and some nicer older movies.

Above is a frosty image from Lev Kuleshov’s 1926 icecapade PO ZAKONU, because it reminds me of the hardships we faced out on a freezing hill.

Meanwhile, Sight & Sound have published their lists of best DVDs of the year —

Regular Shadowplayer Anne Billson and Trevor Johnstone both list DRAGON INN, to which I contributed a video essay.

Philip Concannon and Sam Wigley go for A NEW LEAF, which has another vid essay by me.

Sam Dunn and Neil Sinyard include SECONDS, which has a text piece I wrote.

David Thompson cites DIARY OF A LOST GIRL — another video essay, written by me and narrated by Fiona.

Michael Brooke and Philip Kemp each include WOODEN CROSSES, again from Masters of Cinema, produced by Bernard Natan.

Most exciting of all, Pamela Hutchinson of The Guardian and Silent London lists NATAN itself, the documentary I made with Paul Duane and which is available from Amazon.fr.

It’s official — I have been working too hard.

 

 

Running on Empty

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 9, 2015 by dcairns

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Both of John Frankenheimer’s last cinema features, RONIN (1998) and REINDEER GAMES (2000), are set at yuletide, though the latter, with its heaps of bloodstained Santas lying dead in the snow, is certainly the more festive. Most of the best Christmas films are the work of Jewish filmmakers anyway.

RONIN, which I saw at the cinema when it was new, for DeNiro’s sake, and which I just showed to Fiona, seems the better film, which is interesting — RG has a twisty-turny plot with a killer set-up and an escalating menace and a truly ludicrous volte-face at the end which makes perfect narrative sense, in its demented way, but simply can’t be believed for an instant. RONIN is just about a bunch of guys (and Natasha McElhone) trying to get their hands on a shiny box (well, it IS Christmas). There are double-crosses and there are action sequences and there is, essentially, nothing else.

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David Mamet wrote pretty much all the dialogue and then they wouldn’t give him sole credit so he used a pseudonym. His terse, hardboiled stuff is quite effective here, sparser than usual because everybody is trying to make this movie be like a Jean-Pierre Melville heist flick — the title clearly references LE SAMOURAI. What ultimately elevates the tone into something approaching Melville’s oddly serious pastiche style, is the music of Elia Cmiral, which imposes a palpable melancholy over the quieter scenes.

Frankenheimer and DoP Robert Fraisse frame gorgeously. While the all-real car chases attract most of the attention, with the camera scudding just above the tarmac as we rocket through Paris and Nice (is that fapping sound a burst tire or Claude Lelouch furiously masturbating?), the scenes of plotting and confronting and staring down are so beautifully framed and cut, every frame seething with dynamic tension, with a chilly blue metallic tinge, that I could cheerfully watch a version of this movie without any of the searing mayhem.

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I recently contributed an essay on Frankenheimer to Masters of Cinema’s essential Blu-ray edition of SECONDS. This was subject to oversight by Paramount’s lawyers, who are strangely fussy creatures — they objected to my harsher words about some of Frankenheimer’s lesser works. To my surprise and wicked pleasure, though, the overall gist of the piece escaped their notice — in comparing Frankenheimer to the protagonist of SECONDS, I suggested that he had cut him off from his authentic self and become a hollow shell, making empty films whose most compelling subject matter is their own emptiness. In this regard, RONIN is a brilliant summation.

The whole plot revolves around this shiny box, a pure MacGuffin whose contents are never revealed (doubtless they glow when the box is opened, but it never is). By the end, it even transpires that the box is itself irrelevant, a decoy for an assassin, not what the plot was revolving around at all. And the title, meaning masterless samurai, patiently explained by Michael Lonsdale (yay! Michael Lonsdale!), turns out not to be an honest description of the protagonist. An empty film about emptiness, with Frankenheimer even reprising his shots of boxes and corpses montage from THE TRAIN, which he would re-reprise in his very next film.

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The jarring note is the end, where some idiot has decided the film SHOULD, after all, be about something, and has dubbed in a radio broadcast alleging that the plot had something to do with the Northern Ireland peace process. So all that carnage was in a good cause. This is completely unacceptable — I kind of respected the movie’s ruthlessness in staging shoot-outs and car chases on the streets in which innocents are casually mown down and blown up. I accepted that this was a dog-eat-dog, amoral world we were being shown. To now try to argue that all this collateral damage is somehow JUSTIFIED in a HIGHER CAUSE is the work of a moral imbecile. It feels like a studio afterthought. On this second viewing I’m able to disregard the nonsense, but it throws Fiona for a loop, as does Jean Reno’s sudden internal monologue, which ends the picture. “He never had a voiceover before! What happened?”

“Somebody panicked,” I suggest. To make a truly hollow movie takes guts, something Frankenheimer had.

Side by Side

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on November 13, 2015 by dcairns

JeanDarling

Some people have died, and even though I don’t do obituaries here, really, I should mark their passing. Jean Darling, star of OUR GANG comedies, whom I sat next to at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival, in a seat I sort of scammed my way into through a kind of willful obtusity, passed away in September, aged ninety-three.

“Comedy is tragedy.”

And now Mike Sutton has died, much too young. I got to know Mike properly when he contacted me on Facebook, worried that we had both been commissioned to write essays for Masters of Cinema’s Blu-ray of John Frankenheimer’s SECONDS, and hadn’t known about each other so hadn’t conferred. I told him my piece was mainly about Frankenheimer and he was relieved because his piece was mainly about the book-to-film adaptation.

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Now I hold the disc, and booklet, in my hands, and though there are a couple of overlaps — neither one of us could resist talking about how apposite Rock Hudson is in the role of a reinvented man, a human facade — I feel the essays compliment each other well. I’m pretty pleased with how mine came out. Mike’s is brilliant and heartbreaking. I’d known from his Facebook posts that he was battling oesophageal cancer, but didn’t realize the fight was this close to over. Knowing that, while you read his piece, which is full of sorrow and anger, like the film, like life, makes it all the more powerful.

“Seconds. Second lives, second chances, seconds ticking away in our hopelessly fragile, trivial little lives.”

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That’s the first line. The last, describing Hudson staring out the window of an airliner, is ~

“Even before his new life collapses in on itself, one feels that he is already dying, looking at an empty sky, in the words of Philip Larkin, he is staring into “the deep blue air which shows nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.”

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