Archive for Terence Davies

Listing slightly

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 27, 2012 by dcairns

“Oh no… can you imagine how sarcastic that coroner’s going to be THIS time?”

I try to avoid writing lists, mainly. I used to make to-do lists, but it seemed to be a way of putting off doing things. And I used to make lists of favourite films, which is perhaps an OK way to start thinking about films, but runs out of value pretty quickly.

But for some reason I bought Sight & Sound specially for the Critics’ and directors’ poll this month. Actually, more the directors’. A good list there works as a sort of map of the filmmakers’ head. Just agreeing or disagreeing with the choices isn’t enough, I want to learn something about the person. That’s why my favourite last time was Bryan Forbes, because he included his own movie, WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND. Tells you a lot about him.

Forbes wasn’t asked back, but my favourite lists were those Guillermo Del Toro (FRANKENSTEIN, FREAKS, LA BELLE ET LA BETE), Mike Hodges (all thrillers, all on the verge of noir but not quite typical), Richard Lester (visual comedies and period movies), Edgar Wright (from DUCK SOUP to THE WILD BUNCH) and especially Terence Davies (lots of cineastes listed SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN and THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, and one doesn’t doubt their sincerity, but with him it really means something). Also Bong Joon-Ho (CURE and TOUCH OF EVIL and ZODIAC) and Abel Ferrara (A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE, THE DEVILS).

I also like the mysteries: Charles Burnett is the only filmmaker to list Henrik Galeen’s THE STUDENT OF PRAGUE and doesn’t amplify; does Rolf de Heer really like FEARLESS that much or did he feel the need to list a film from an Australian (the film is good, but is it that good?); Andrew Dominik’s list is all-English language and all post-1950 — his choices are all great, but doesn’t he feel any embarrassment?

Atom Egoyan claims to have listed ten films that have had “the most dramatic impact on the artform,” as if his personal feelings didn’t come into it.

I find myself in favour of goofy lists. I don’t want the overall top ten to change that much, but it gets boring to see the same names again and again. In the critics’ poll, Ian Christie lists RW Paul’s THE “?” MOTORIST, Geoff Dyer has WHERE EAGLES DARE, and they’re obviously quite sincere, and the Ferroni Brigade has PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES (“We don’t believe these are the ten best films of all time, but we are convinced it would be better if they were,” begging the question, WHAT would be better?). One of Alexander Horvath’s choices, NOISES (anon, 1929) cannot be located using Google or the IMDb (“While it should be pretty obvious that these are the ten greatest films of all time, I still wonder if anyone will agree”). On the other hand, Slavoj Zizek, as always, tries a bit too hard to be interesting.

Creating an alternate list to the top ten ought to be fairly easy — just sub in an alternative choice from the same director or era or country or movement or genre. But in fact, the list is pleasingly stuffed with sui generis oddities — no other Dreyer film really compares to JOAN OF ARC (some may be better, but none are like it), CITIZEN KANE stands unique in Welles’ oeuvre even if one prefers CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, VERTIGO is a uniquely strange Hitchcock, LA REGLE DU JEU a uniquely strange Renoir, and Vertov offers only one obvious candidate. Ozu, Ford and Fellini made enough masterpieces for credible substitutions, though 8 1/2 still seems summative.

I know my favourite film: HE WHO GETS SLAPPED (ten years ago, Mark Cousins listed this: now, I don’t think anyone has). And then PLAYTIME and 2001 are the most amazing films I know. Beyond that, I’d surely have to have Powell, Welles, Sturges, Kurosawa, Keaton, Hitchcock, Russell, Lang, Fellini… oops, that’s eleven already. This is a silly game, I’m not playing.

Right city, wrong time

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , on June 30, 2008 by dcairns

One of my larger incompetencies during the festival was missing the screening of OF TIME AND THE CITY, Terence Davies’ new documentary, which is serving to remind everybody what a great filmmaker, and personality, he is. But, despite missing the screening and Mr. Davies himself, nevertheless, gentle ShadowplayersI did not fail you.

A Videotheque is a special room designed for watching films under whatever the opposite of “optimum viewing conditions” is. Despite the cool name, there’s usually no dancing. You have a TV and a DVD player and a set of headphones and you’re surrounded by other people similarly equipped. It’s like being at home, only uncomfortable. Actually, home isn’t always comfortable either, especially last night when Fiona, suffering from a killer migraine, accidentally threw a live cat into my face. But there was something strangely appropriate about watching PRIMITIVE LONDON with blood tricking down my chin.

The E.I.F.F. videotheque is located in the shiny bowels of The Point Conference Centre, which looks like an office building out of Tati’s PLAYTIME, all metallic sheen and inhumanity. Adding a welcome note of the organic was regular Shadowplayer Kristin Loeer, who was running the place. Kris and her team sorted me out with various movies I’d been too slack or drowsy to catch on the big screen.

(This is part of why you should never trust professional film reviewers, who won’t tell you if they saw the stuff projected as it should be, or on a poxy monitor inside a strange metal box administered by Germans. And I can’t recall the last time Armond White admitted his viewing of, say, the latest Dardennes brothers opus had been marred by a flying cat gashing his lip.)










The movie, a portrait of Liverpool mainly through archive material, is very attentive to signs and graffiti. Narrated by Davies himself, whose sonorous, rich voice I’ve always admired (it’s how I remember my childhood G.P. Dr. Robertson sounding) this is a moving, passionate, sometimes angry and always poetic vision of a city I normally don’t care anything about, but which is brought to life like a richly textured yet unbelievably screwed-up movie character — perhaps a cross between Auntie Mame and the bad lieutenant.

The use of found footage, and its relationship to the V.O., is often startlingly beautiful. As Davies muses on the vacuum of the great British Sunday afternoon, in which children of both our generations were bored to distraction by a complete lack of anything to do, he shows a little girl skipping across a patch of waste ground, then abruptly stopping as if she’s just realised she’s surrounded by the bleakest stretch of nothingness in Britain.

The movie’s also often funny, with Davies leavening his aching nostalgia with cynicism re the coronation of Elizabeth II (“Street parties were held to celebrate the start of The Betty Windsor Show”) and the Catholic church, whose influence dominated Davies’ youth (“Pope Clitoris the Umpteenth”). There’s also highly emotive music, both popular and operatic, and many many quotations. CARRY ON fans will be pleased to hear Kenneth Williams on the soundtrack (the camp “Julian and Sandy as lawyers” bit from radio’s Round the Horne: “We’ve got a criminal practice that takes up most of out time.”)

The quotes are probably the riskiest strategy, because unlike Godard, Davies is very fond of rather familiar lines, like Ozymandias, and that stuff about the “blue remembered hills”. But it’s such a uniquely personal documentary that this seems fine — Davies “blue remembered hills” are his own, not Dennis Potter’s. And Davies has always been a populist without a popular audience. The sheer misfortune of coming along during a weird bit of British film history has bracketed him amid the artsy, when he desperately wants to address regular folks, to whom he has much to say.

OF TIME AND THE CITY will undoubtedly play many festivals and do well on British T.V. (which should be throwing money at Davies to make dramas — socially accurate, non-aspirational, poetic work has always formed the bulk of quality British television), but the real hope is that it will allow him to make another cinema film.

In its own right, it’s a marvellous example of just that, and hopefully an appetizer for what comes next.

Sexual Ealing

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , on January 4, 2008 by dcairns

It was just after four when I got out the cinema, why was it NIGHT-TIME?

Anyhow, multiplexes are a bit like hell, the version that’s a giant building with a thousand rooms and a thousand tortures in each room, and my local was understaffed so that although I was only slightly late, by the time I’d reached the front of the queue the flick had started, which put me in a bad mood.

Why was I seeing this thing?Because I’d blogged about it, and because Ben Halligan recommended it (maybe he just likes public school movies, though?) and mainly because it got universally lousy reviews and I’ve been working on the theory that whenever that happens there’s something interesting going on. I decided on this after quite enjoying GOYA’S GHOSTS, which got a royal kicking from the broadsheet hacks.

Ealing Studios, if they want to live up to their glorious name, have got to stop remaking Oscar Wilde plays and old British comedies: that’s not what Ealing did. They may have had a conservative side, but at least they were original.

Having said that, the new ST TRINIAN’S is nothing to be ashamed of and certainly doesn’t merit the savagery the press has meted out. There are a few good laughs and lots of loud smiles, and an attempt is made to cram every kind of joke into it, from whoopee cushions to sly demolitions of every film in co-star Colin Firth’s CV. Unlike the earlier films, this one actually takes a bit of time to characterise the obstreperous kids. Like the earlier films, the new girl can’t quite decide if she wants to appeal to her peers or to the Dirty Mac Brigade. There’s some uncomfortable stuff early on as a newcomer is subjected to hazing and humiliation (being broadcast nude on the Internet) and the film looks like turning into sado-erotic faux-child porn. Then an anti-bullying message is produced from somewhere and we’re supposed to forget what we’ve seen.

As the hapless newbie, Talulah Riley shows some comic flair, particularly in a sloping walk alongside her father’s car as she tries to wheedle out of being sentenced to this “Hogwarts for Pikeys“. This almost stands comparison with Joyce Grenfell’s physical comedy work in the original BELLES OF. Gemma Arterton is a rather terrifying sex-bomb as the head girl. Comedian Russell Brand is fairly good as Flash Harry, but doesn’t really get much to do. But really, Rupert Everett is the whole show.

Sex Fritton

Like Alastair Sim in the first film, he plays dual roles, as headmistress Miss Fritton (try saying that three times quickly) and her no-good brother. Both roles are stylishly rendered cartoons, though neither has enough screen time to hold the fraying strands of the story together (the old ST TRINS sequels are likewise all over the shop, narrative-wise). While the rest of the film is scattershot and sometimes funny, Everett nails his every moment with grace and comic invention. The script seems to improve when he’s around, which suggests that either he’s shoring it up with ad-libs or he’s doing the even harder job of turning weak-ish material into gold by sheer force of magnetism and comedy chops. The film is actually worth seeing for him — there, I’ve said it! The moment where he swings through frame on a rope, in slow-motion, grinning at the camera, shows just the kind of CHEEK I’m meaning to blog about sometime.

It’s a shame the makers couldn’t sustain the quality throughout, or decide whether they wanted to be nasty and Ortonesque, mildly anarchic and silly, or preach an alternative educational lifestyle choice. And guys, you CAN’T do all three. But for the benefit of critics who have said things like “It is as funny as the worried frown on the face of an oncologist,” here is a short list of things to admire in this film (Everett is too obviously good to need including).

1) The girls. There are a hell of a lot of them, and they can all act. Some of the short ones are funny just standing there with their unformed faces.

2) The in-jokes. Markedly better than many of the out-jokes, admittedly. The reference to ANOTHER COUNTRY goes so far over the heads of the tweeny audience that they can’t even see the vapour trail behind it.

3) Russell Brand. This isn’t the quite vehicle he needs, but enough of his demented charisma pops out to merit him being given another chance.

All girls together

Footnote: And YES, it IS appalling that The Film Council is backing this muck and not supporting Terence Davies. They should be making quality cinema art AND commercial nonsense — preferably GOOD commercial nonsense — but this one film doesn’t deserve to be the whipping boy for the TFC’s numerous failings.

Footfootnote: actually, Terence Davies could have directed the hell out of this movie.