Archive for The Guardian

Worst best or best worst?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on July 24, 2009 by dcairns


An article in todays’ Guardian by Tim Lott seeks to question the quality of some of cinema’s sacred cows, dissing DEATH IN VENICE, JULES ET JIM, THE SEARCHERS, LA DOLCE VITA and SCHINDLER’S LIST, with secondary side-swipes at Kieslowski’s THREE COLOURS trilogy, SOLARIS, GREED (Lott appears to have seen a ten-hour cut of this, the lucky fellow), LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS, LA REGLE DE JEU, NIGHT OF THE HUNTER and ON THE WATERFRONT.

Making the highly original point that one man’s meat is another man’s poison, Lott basically fails in a potentially interesting task, maybe because he hasn’t enough space to consider even one of these films in the space it deserves, but partly because he squanders the space with profligate cheap shots and non-points. Saying “DEATH IN VENICE’s beautiful cinematography doesn’t make it a great film” does not really address the many ways in which it could still be a great film, and nobody to my knowledge ever claimed it was a great film just because it was well photographed anyway. Straw man argument, how are you?

It all gets to be pretty much like Leslie Halliwell’s reviews — a guide to the personal prejudices of Tim Lott that’s perhaps quite useful to the friends and family of Tim Lott, but perhaps less so to Guardian readers. So films are dismissed as “campy” (the Visconti) or “melodramatic” (the Laughton) or “French” (Carne), as if that were enough to stop them being great. If we can’t have camp, melodrama or Frenchness, one suspects we’re on the way to a rather dreary list of alternative great films. And so we are.

Lott champions THE PAWNBROKER, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, KOYAANISQATSI (“one of the most original movies of the last thirty years”), SOUTH PACIFIC and THE RAPTURE. I’m with him on some of his other choices, but these aren’t films I’m in a hurry to see again. They’re not terrible, you understand, but I’m not sure there’s even much you can say about them.

It’s an amusing and well enough written piece, but not only does it not demonstrate that any of these films might not deserve their reputation, which would be pretty hard to do, it doesn’t really address why they do have their reputations. Part of the problem is I can agree with many of Lott’s criticisms, without feeling that they particularly matter in the case of the films he’s on about. In the comments section you can read everyone else getting in on the act, and very unedifying it is too — opinion really is the least interesting aspect of criticism, and sadly it’s come to dominate. Pieces like this foster the entirely false belief that simply saying “THE GODFATHER? Overrated,” counts as a statement worthy of anybody’s attention.

Mad Bastard II: Madder Bastard

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on July 21, 2008 by dcairns

The following story has wound its way around the world, like an anecdotal ourobouros, from screenwriter Stephen Volk to me, so apologies to all concerned if it’s turned mythical en route.

Volk is the man who scared Britain to death with GhostWatch, a TV special that starts out as, seemingly, a cheesy light entertainment documentary for Halloween, before turning mockumentary and apocalyptic, with ghosts attacking the BBC via the airwaves. I didn’t find it very convincing, but it upset a lot of people, and one poor mentally unstable chap actually became obsessed with the show and hanged himself some time later.

For our purposes, Volk is also the writer of THE GUARDIAN (no relation to the newspaper of that name), a supremely fatuous killer tree movie from 1990 starring Jenny Seagrove as a tree-worshipping psycho nanny and oh God it’s just too awful to go into.

I’m not inclined to blame Volk for the mess, knowing the powerlessness of the writer in Hollywood (if it’s anything like the powerlessness I’ve experienced as a TV writer here, it’s a bit like being the guy in THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, only nobody understands the code you’re winking at them) and especially knowing this anecdote.

Volk has handed in his latest draft. The producer calls him to his office and congratulates him. “It’s perfect! We won’t change a word! This is exactly what we were hoping for — and more!” etc.

BUT — it’s a glass office, and Volk, out of the corner of his eye, can see Friedkin in the next office, actually READING the script, his face a mask of revulsion and fury, his lips mouthing the foulest obscenities, until finally the pent-up anger takes possession of his limbs and he starts tearing pages from the screenplay and crumpling them, hurling the rest of it around the little glass room, and trampling it into the carpet with outraged loafers.

And all the while, the producer’s voice drones on: “…just delighted with your work on this…”

One cappuccino, one latte, one black

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 5, 2008 by dcairns

MC Charmer

Coffee with Fiona and the ever-charming Mark Cousins. He was fresh from prostrating himself at the feet of Terence Davies in Cannes, where Davies’ new documentary, OF TIME AND THE CITY, had reduced him to tears. He says he’s found himself tearing up almost every time he’s tried to discuss the film since. He and Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw were chatting about it after the screening and neither could hold back their tears. That must have been quite a scene. But I bet it has the same effect when it plays Edinburgh.

Apparently both Davies’ unmade drama projects now have a bit of heat again, after his Cannes success. Even French critics who were not overly familiar with Davies were blown away by it.

I’m reminded of Mitchell Leisen’s TO EACH HIS OWN. It ends abruptly at its emotional peak, and audiences were staggering from the cinema, blinded with tears, crashing into the walls and each other and generally gashing their heads and knees. Cinema proprietors contacted Leisen and begged him to add thirty seconds of nothingness, chatter or additional end credits to the film just to allow patrons to compose themselves. His response: “No.”

Mark is now well into the production of his eight-hour television version of The Story of Film. The book comes with a quote from Sean Connery. I remember reading it: “Mark Cousins is incapable of writing anything about cinema -” at which point I thought, “Hang on… That’s not very nice!” but the Great Man goes on, “- without making it fascinating.” I mentioned this to Mark one time and he said that when Connery dictated the quote over the phone, he actually paused at just that point. “The cheeky monkey.”

Hume Condish

My mercenary purpose in dragging Mark across town for this meeting was to extract from him copies of the rare and out-of-print THE HUMAN CONDITION trilogy by Shadowplay favourite Masaki Kobayashi, which I successfully did, so I’ll be writing about those beauties as soon as I’ve watched all nine hours.

Nine hours???!!!

Mark bought the films years ago on the advice of a friend who described them as the greatest film/s ever. The fact that Volumes 2 and 3 of Mark’s set are still shrink-wrapped strongly suggests that Mark did not share this view…

But he very kindly encouraged me to take my blogging skills, whatever they may be, into the more lucrative world of the printed page, and advised me on whom to approach. So, now I need to think about what kind of film book I would write. Any suggestions?