Archive for The ’68 Comeback Special

The ’68 Comeback Special: Capricious Summer

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on February 13, 2014 by dcairns

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The Cannes selection committee were totally on top of the Czech New Wave — other major film movements and filmmakers may have come and gone without being noticed outside their native lands, but this is one that obviously excited keen interest at the time. I guess the excitement of such a movement arising in a communist country, a movement rejecting propaganda and amiably dawdling amid dead air and empty, interstitial scenes, must have been hard to miss. While the other Czech entry, THE FIREMAN’S BALL, can be seen as social critique, and the Czech censors evidently spotted that and clamped down, Jiri Menzel’s CAPRICIOUS SUMMER seems too oblique, too limpid and indifferent, to excite that much ire or smuggle cutting commentaries. And I mean that as a compliment.

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The film’s big achievement, to me anyway, is the way it wafts along, seemingly devoid of plot, tension, point, but still generating some low-level electrostatic interest that keeps you dreamily hooked into the screen. It has a summer quality, even though the weather is mostly lousy. Menzel also appears, as a floppy acrobat-magician, sporting the granny glasses John Lennon popularized in HOW I WON THE WAR, and his performance exactly suits the personality one would attribute to the maker of a film like this — dreamy, indifferent, noodle-like. The film and its characters can contain a few obnoxious moments and traits, but the overall drizzly, good-natured apathy of it all subsumes any whiff of outrage. (It is vaguely possible to get annoyed by Menzel’s more recent I SERVED THE KING OF ENGLAND, 2006, in which a Nazi eugenics experiment becomes the basis for a prolonged yet curiously flaccid male sexual fantasy.)

I will resist congratulating Menzel on his long, ongoing career, since I did that with Carlo Lizzani and the poor blighter promptly defenestrated himself.

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It’s hard to get to grips with why Menzel’s film seems so seductive. It does speak to something in British culture, actually — The Wind in the Willows, Three Men in a Boat, Last of the Summer Wine — a tradition of middle-aged or elderly layabouts waffling away, wasting time in the country. The quality of colour in Czechoslovakian cinema at that time is also appealing. There’s a sly, teasing eroticism, here embodied by sex kitten Jana Drchalová/Preissová, whose circus dance in a pink onesie was probably the sexiest moment at Cannes that year, or would have been if Cannes had actually happened. Is that faint sound the far-off fapping of Federico Fellini?

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If I can’t pin down exactly what makes the film so appealing, I can isolate exactly what was distracting me all the way through it — Rudolf Hrusínský reminded me strongly of someone. I eventually decided it was a work colleague, but then I couldn’t figure out WHAT it was about the beefy Rudolf that called to mind a much thinner acquaintance. I eventually decided it was the neckline of his jumper. That, and a sort of slouching stance that turns boredom into an aggressive posture. The bullish Rudolf’s character is a collection of bad qualities, but again, as with the rest of the film, I found him oddly attractive. I covet his filthy linen suit and his stripey jumper. Even his stripey, baggy swimming trunks, held on by bizarre braces. It’s a good look for him, and I think I might be able to pull it off.

Menzel’s short tribute to Hrusínský is touching, and a little horrifying. One of the best, and certainly the most elegiac, of the TEN MINUTES OLDER shorts.

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Bound with Love

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on February 6, 2014 by dcairns

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A bonus intertitle –and you’ll find another over at The Forgotten, where I delve into what may be the gayest  Hollywood silent film I’ve seen. In WINGS, it sometimes seems as if Clara Bow’s role is not so much romantic interest as diverter of suspicion, as the two male leads are so closely bound up emotionally, even sharing an impassioned kiss, that someone may have felt wedging a pert flapper between them to be in order. Well, in PARISIAN LOVE poor Clara is almost left out in the cold altogether. Now read on.

And — as if that weren’t enough — Dave Scout Tafoya continues our exploration of the ’68 Cannes Film Festival fiasco with a movie by one of the greats — a European master who was still living until this last dreadful weekend. Miklos Jancso.

The ’68 Comeback Special: Days of Matthew

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2014 by dcairns

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Video stores, those vanished pleasure palaces of yesteryear, used to be good places for picking up bits of conversation, Alan Bennett snippets of amateur movie analysis from the citizenry. I well recall a young fellow handling a VHS of the Christian Slater flick KUFFS and asking his friend, “This any good?”

“It’s alright.”

“Much action?”

“Uh.” A thoughtful pause, and then, helpfully, “He talks to the camera.” As if that were a form of action, or a decent, if weird, substitute for it.

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Several actors were talking to the camera in Cannes films of ’68, and one might guess the influence overall was Michael Caine in ALFIE, whose complicity with the audience makes him a kind of Richard III of shagging. But for several reasons I think the key influence on Witold Leszczynski’s ZYWOT MATEUSZA (DAYS OF MATTHEW) might be THE KNACK…AND HOW TO GET IT (1965) which predates the Lewis Gilbert picaresque bonkathon in having Michael Crawford briefly monologue at us. THE KNACK won the big prize in Cannes that year and so would have been widely seen by foreign filmmakers.

Matthew lives with his sister in an isolated house by a lake in the countryside. He seems to be either a little simple-minded or a little schizophrenically detached — more of a holy innocent than a clinical case one can connect to any actual condition. Like Crawford, his soliloquies are directed out, into the audience, but not consciously at them, so they feel more internal than Michael Caine’s smirking asides. Franciszek Pieczka is sometimes a little too cute in his intimacy with us, but nothing like as bad as his main competitor in the direct-address stakes at Cannes that year, Barry Evans of HERE WE GO ROUND THE MULBERRY BUSH, a bloke who will long live in infamy.

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Rather than a lot of plot, the film drifts through stunning gray-on-gray misty landscapes as we become more aware of our hero’s instability — he is overly impressed by a heron, is traumatized by a nearby tree’s destruction by lightning (he thinks it signifies that his sister will die or leave him), and is socially awkward around bikini-clad lovelies. These jiggling swimmers are the film’s least credible characters, seemingly invented to show how Matthew doesn’t know how to get to first base even with the most available, seemingly vapid and underclad females. It’s like putting Jerry Lewis in a scene with Monroe: sit back and watch the fireworks implode up the fumbling pyrotechnician’s sleeve.

But this isn’t the film’s point of comparison to THE KNACK. It’s vastly more melancholic, solemn and ethereal (though I always feel the Lester film has an autumnal sadness tucked away somewhere). But it does share some camera movements. Lester doesn’t normally move the camera. Probably less than Bresson. He told me he regards it as showing off. But THE KNACK is like his RASHOMON — he probably had the grips lay out track about five times. There’s a particularly striking moment when Rita Tushingham addresses the lens, not as a soliloquy, but as if it were sexual predator Ray Brooks’ POV. And the camera tracks right into a claustrophobic closeup of her — then cuts back to its starting point and does it again. Three times. It’s a disconcerting effect that throws the whole scene into a conflicted, uncertain state of unreality. Because if this is Brooks’ POV, he is either walking up to her or her isn’t, and if he is, he’s certainly not teleporting back to his starting point.

NOBODY has copied this sequence, that I know of, though Skolimowski’s student film EROTYK, made five years earlier, has something a little similar. Maybe it’s a Polish thing — Leszczynski doesn’t tie it to POV, but he repeatedly tracks straight forward in a scene, then cuts back to where he began. And he shares with Lester a love of the planimetric, architectural view.

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For some reason, he never really tracks in the forest scenes, though — a missed opportunity.

Even the photography resembles David Watkin’s work for Lester, and especially on Tony Richardson’s MADEMOISELLE.

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With its perfectly-composed shots, pervasive melancholia, music by Arcangelo Corelli (which sometimes the protagonist seems to be able to hear along with us, as if the woods were wired with loudspeakers nailed to trees like birdhouses) and haunting, allusive narrative sense (a dream sequence, weird silences and hums, lost time), this comes close to being a masterpiece — maybe it is. I was wary of the ending. As the film neared the 80 minute mark, with little narrative in play, I suspected that Matthew would either do himself a mischief or do it to someone else — characters like him typically do in movies, though in real life this isn’t actually that common. It’s the sane, normal-IQ people you have to watch out for. Sure enough, things don’t end well. It’s portrayed poetically rather than horrifically, and just bypasses the dangerous area of romanticizing this kind of tragedy.

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One of the most beautiful films of its year, and quite unknown.

Meanwhile — NATAN, part 2, over at Mostly Film.