Archive for Sylvain Chomet

Yoyo

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 3, 2012 by dcairns

A clip from YOYO (1965) by Pierre Etaix (co-written with Jean-Claude Carriere). Comparisons with THE ARTIST may prove instructive. He even has a wee dog!

Etaix worked with Jacques Tati as AD on MON ONCLE, and with Bresson as an accomplice in PICKPOCKET, thus forging a link between two artists who are more closely related than one might think. He split with Tati (to the latter’s visible distress) and became a director-star in his own right. But then all his films fell into a copyright-dispute legal black hole and were unavailable for decades. To add to that, one of his major roles as an actor for another filmmaker is in Jerry Lewis’s still-unseen THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED.

Etaix’ films only just emerged from their limbo and are available on DVD in France (buy them! not much French is required). Etaix has been jetting around the world to promote them, and seems to have a new lease of life. He’s been acting in more films, including Aki Kaurismaki’s LE HAVRE, and in 2010, at the age of 82, he directed a short.

Tati wanted to cast Etaix in THE ILLUSIONIST — the magician character was more of a seducer than in Chomet’s eventual animated version, and no way could Tati envisage himself in the role. Chomet, in making the magician a Tati-facsimile, had to de-sex the film. Whereas Etaix can do louche! Comparisons with Tati are inevitable, but misleading — Chaplin and Keaton inform the films, but the cinematic and narrative playfulness at times recalls Woody Allen. Really, he’s his own man.

I think you can also see Carriere’s influence, the kind of crazy jokes you get in ZAZIE DANS LE METRO and VIVA MARIA! — jokes which defy common sense, like the one with the footman’s arm holding the light (my favourite).

Criterion are soon to release a truly essential Eclipse collection of Etaix films, but for the French speakers, there’s already this: Intégrale Pierre Etaix – Coffret 5 DVD

The Sunday Intertitle: Anti Bellum!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 22, 2010 by dcairns

Thursday evening was wild — we’d booked seats for Buster Keaton’s OUR HOSPITALITY at the historic Cameo Cinema (as featured in Chomet’s THE ILLUSIONIST) at 7, and then belatedly found out that, after initially being rejected, we had, after all, been granted free tickets (as part of a promotion for Grolsch beer and Little White Lies magazine) free tickets to see SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD, at 8. Depending on projection speed, OUR HOSPITALITY is about an hour and ten minutes long. It looked dicey.

Fortunately, I realized that both films were playing in the same auditorium, so unless they intended to project the first ten minutes of SCOTT P on top of the last ten minutes of OUR HOSPITALITY, it looked like we were OK. And while, yes, I agree that would have been interesting, I’m glad they adopted the more traditional one-film-at-a-time approach.

Neil Brand on the piano — live! Fully amplified, and making a dramatic racket to simulate the onscreen thunderstorm in Scene One. I’ve seen solo piano accompaniments before, but none as effective as this at the serious bits. I once saw NOSFERATU with a pianist who made it seem funny and quaint with his tinkly counterpoint, and wondered whether a single instrument could do justice to a more serious tale. Now I’m itching to hear Brand’s take on Murnau.

This was ideal musical treatment, melodic at times, percussive at others, standing in for absent sound effects but in a discreet and elegant way. With the Edinburgh Festival raging outside, the audience wasn’t as big as I’d have liked, but the laughter still resounded at these eighty-year-old gags. Fortunately, despite the film’s deep south setting, Keaton eschews the racial caricaturing endemic to films of the time, so there’s nothing to greatly embarrass amid the pleasure. A joke about domestic violence (Buster intervenes to protect a battered wife, and she furiously drives him off with heavy blows, before proudly surrendering to her husband’s brutality once more) is certainly non-PC, but contains an uncomfortable kernel of psychological veracity.

I hadn’t actually seen a 35mm projection of this, Keaton’s second feature as (co-)director. My first big-screen viewing of SHERLOCK JNR had allowed me to appreciate the fine ensemble playing more (on TV, Keaton completely dominates). Since everyone save Keaton and a couple of locomotive workers (one played by Joe Keaton, Buster’s dad, athletically kicking hats off tall men’s heads — a trick that once rendered Buster unconscious) is played straight here, that wasn’t the revelation this time, although I appreciated Natalie Talmadge (Keaton’s real-life wife) a little more.

What came over were the production design details, like the little brushes affixed to the front of the train (a working copy of Stephenson’s Rocket) to clear small obstacles from the track, which incidentally is also Henry Fonda’s job description in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. What was also noticeable was the storytelling style, which isn’t as refined as it would later become. While it’s fascinating to see Keaton shoot the melodramatic opening in a serious manner, he hasn’t quite reached the minimalist perfection of his coverage of THE GENERAL. Richard Lester said of that film, “You can’t take a single thing from it.” Every shot is absolutely essential to the scene it’s in, and every scene essential to the plot. This theoretically means that if a single shot hadn’t worked, the film would be fatally flawed… based on this assessment, THE GENERAL may be one of the very few objectively perfect films, in terms of construction at least.

OUR HOSPITALITY doesn’t aim for such economy and precision. When Natalie is introduced, her dog, who has no narrative function whatsoever, gets a length closeup. When Buster goes for a ride on his bike, there are numerous shots of him running along astride it. The later Keaton would have settle for one. But these “flaws” are so charming they can hardly be objected to. They merely characterise the film as a more loose and rough-edged production than the “so real it hurts” detail of THE GENERAL.

Paris Je T’Olerate

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 8, 2008 by dcairns

Paris, France 

PARIS JE T’AIME is a compendium film of shorts directed by various international film industry luminaries, on a theme made explicit by the title. If I describe it as a mixed bag, I won’t really be saying anything at all — these things are ALWAYS mixed.

For some reason they’re generally kind of nice though, even if the weak segments outnumber the good. You have the pleasure of knowing that however bad the current bit is, something if not better, at least DIFFERENT will be along soon.

Waiting for Godard

I sort-of enjoyed the typically pointless Coen bros episode with Steve Buscemi committing the fatal error of establishing eye contact in the Tuileries, the Alfonso Cuaron long-take exercise with an extravagantly shambling Nick Nolte, the Gus Van Sant meet-cute (is acceptable to simply recycle romcom cliches only with gay characters? Anyhow it was very nicely directed), the Nobuhiro Suwa yarn with Willem Dafoe as a phantom cowboy in the Place de la Victoires, the usual sort-of aimless but inexplicably compelling Olivier Assayas, and the Richard LaGravanese, which like many of the films was content to rely ENTIRELY on star power rather than actual ideas, but knew how to use its stars (and Fanny Ardant speaking English is a SENSATION! Bob Hoskins speaking French is…weird, but sweet, somehow).

The above segments passed the time, but seemed woefully unambitious if you stopped to think about it. If the filmmakers had had to write, shoot and edit them inside a week, I would have said they’d done a decent job within the restrictions. But I can’t really justify anybody spending any greater amount of time on such lightweight pieces.

I’ve enjoyed Vincenzo Natali’s features CUBE and CYPHER, but his piece was kind of embarrassing. I mean, he achieved a look that was distinct from all the other films (nobody else quite did this) but unfortunately it was a heavily CGI paintbox look, and after the establishing shots he somehow forgot to actually feature Paris.

Isabel Coixet actually achieves something impressive and moving in her section, which suddenly stands out from the preceding episodes as result. It also brings real imagination to its storytelling, as opposed to the mannerisms of Tom Tykwer. That guy’s getting to be like a bad Wim Wenders for the MTV generation.

Depardieu’s co-directed bit irked the hell out of me. It was nice seeing Ben Gazzara and Gena Rowlands again, but REALLY: filming two people sat at a restaurant table is one of the simpler tasks a director can have, as far as mise en scene goes, unless they choose to make it complicated. Depardieu and his stooge manage to cross the line for no reason almost immediately, and thereafter randomly alternate shot sizes, creating a meaningless jumble of shots that distract from the generally fine performances. What’s irritating is that somebody with no directorial sense whatever has been handed a chance to show off his lack of ability in front of a wide audience, when the job could have been given to a talented short filmmaker or an experienced pro.

Christopher Doyle put together some nice visuals for his episode but forgot to come up with a coherent idea.

I was fairly charmed by the Sylvain Chomet mime story, which I thought bode fairly well for his Tati project: Chomet can do live action, it seems. I was curious as to whether he’d seen my clown movie, though, since he lives just outside Edinburgh. Not that he’s stolen ANYTHING, mind you, but the idea of clowns/mimes as a persecuted minority is a tad close. If I had anything to do with inspiring him I’d be very happy.

Paris Qui Mort

Oliver Schmitz, like Coixet, got some emotional involvement into his story, and it was pretty cleverly constructed. I thought it spelled everything out too carefully at the end, instead of trusting the audience, though.

I loved the Alexander Payne, which makes me feel part of the great mass of humanity since everybody else does too. It manages a real JOURNEY, where the flat, horribly-accented narration of the frowsy middle-aged American tourist, in flat schoolgirl French, suddenly stops being a distanciation device and becomes tremendously affecting.

Several episodes were not really interesting enough to even mention.

But I’m still FURIOUS about episode 2, Gurinder Chadha’s Quais des Seine. Partly it’s because Chadha’s flying the flag for Britain here, so I would’ve liked to see something inspirational. Mainly it’s because her piece manages to encapsulate about half of what I hate about modern British film. Admittedly, she isn’t out to give the audience a hard time for no reason, or rub our noses in gritty realism as “a cheap holiday in other people’s misery” (to use Johnny Lydon’s phrase), but her piece is the very embodiment of the new Tradition of Quality, Social Realism Lite. Visually uninspired to migraine-inducing levels, banal, preachy, inane, actively uninterested in exploring nuance or complexity or ambiguity or shading, this “film” sets out to teach the ignorant masses that (a) boys shouldn’t shout abuse at girls because it isn’t endearing, and (b) Muslims are people too. That’s it. Both messages are prettily illustrated and then spelled out in dialogue form in case we missed it. And while I agree with both statements, neither strikes me as worth dramatising, for reasons that should be perfectly obvious.

Je Deteste

The overall effect is to suggest that British filmmakers are stuck somewhere in the era of Cecil Hepworth, presenting pat homilies and shunning the cinematic in favour of the photogenic. When you compare this piece to what’s being done in practically every other country in the world, it is SHAMEFUL. Chadha had the chance to connect to the great works of British cinema, or Indian cinema, or French cinema. What she’s achieved might just serve to pass the time between highlights on an episode of Eastenders.

Phooey!

BUT! Coming soon, I will have some good news about British cinema…