Archive for The New World

The Monday Intertitle: Comin’ Thru the Rye

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , on October 21, 2013 by dcairns

Layout 2

From Pordenone Festival of Silent Film — RAGENS RIKE, or THE LAND OF RYE. This late-silent Swedish rural drama of love thwarted/fulfilled, begins with a figure standing, centre-frame, waist deep in a field of the titular food crop. A dissolve repositions him further in the distance, and another diminishes him to little more than a smudge.

And I am astonished to find this sequence of shots in 1929, since it will be repeated exactly in Kon Ichikawa’s AN ACTOR’S REVENGE (1963) and again in Terrence Malick’s THE NEW WORLD (2005). And yet it seems not that likely that Ichikawa saw Ivar Johanssen’s film, or that Malick saw either, though of course it is possible. Maybe wheatfields naturally evoke diminishing jump-dissolves in a film-maker’s mind, the way the centre aisle in a church always makes them want to do tracking shots?


The film is beautiful. Two student competition winners provided the live piano score, without benefit of having seen the film first, and they did a fine, sensitive job. The movie contains a great drinking contest scene, with blurry impressionistic effects to simulate drunkenness, lots of romantic outdoorsy stuff that the Swedes seemingly loved, and a great intertitle, very late in the story, which I can’t show here as I don’t have a copy of the film. The village is in turmoil due to the results of a single romantic problem. “The prophet” — a kind of heretical preacher admired by the lower village, is asked for help. He cuts to the quick: “You’re so stupid! Let the boy marry the girl and everything will be fine!”

Of course, being a Swedish movie, it takes another twenty minutes or so for this to get sorted out.

Kon gone

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , on February 16, 2008 by dcairns

kabuki monster 

Kon Ichikawa just died this week, aged 92. A good age, admittedly.

He directed on of my all-time favourite movies, maybe even a Top Ten contender — AN ACTOR’S REVENGE. My big regret is that AAR’s lack of commercial success in Japan prevented Ichikawa from working in that heightened, theatrical mode again — arguably his TOKYO OLYMPIAD shares some of the same qualities, and Ichikawa undoubtedly made other great films, FIRES ON THE PLAIN for one, but AAR is sui generis, as they say in Japan. The kabuki scenes have the same delirious fusion of reality and fantasy (the performer’s vision is transfigured by the theatrical experience, conjuring a whole imaginary world for them) as THE RED SHOES. And in Ichikawa’s film, the theatrical elements escape the stage and wantonly transform the supposedly “real” scenes. Also, it’s part film noir, part revenger’s tragedy, part samurai saga, with a dementedly romantic jazz score and a transvestite hero.

Made to celebrate star Kazuo Hasegawa’s 300th film appearance, and to punish Ichikawa for previous uncommercial films, the movie is the perfect example of a filmmaker triumphing over difficult conditions (admittedly with the aid of considerable funds). Hasegawa was clearly too old and heavy-set to play the lead role (which he had created in a 1935 serial version), but Ichikawa encourages us to overlook his protagonist’s Steiger-like burliness by stylising EVERYTHING (and also casting Hasegawa as a devil-may-care bandit). Everybody else in the film finds Hasegawa stunning and convincing as a woman (including the other Hasegawa!) so we have little choice but to go along with it — not quite believing, but indulging the storyteller as we do in the early stages of a play. We know the stage isn’t really a battlefield or a palace, but we make believe. Once the film has us doing that, it can have its way with us utterly.

Ichikawa pulls off something that’s widely presumed to be impossible.

An Actor Prepares

If only there were more movies like this. I’m not a huge Peter Brook fan, but i admit he’s onto something when he says that just because the standard way of staging a play is to have actors impersonate characters and act out scenes, that needn’t be the only solution. Anything that tells the story to the audience is acceptable (and you might not even have a story!) AN ACTOR’S REVENGE tells its story with breathtaking beauty, but isn’t concerned about believability at all, except in a psychological sense. I don’t even think it’s THAT extreme an approach, but it’s light-years beyond anything in mainstream cinema.

the cotton is high

This end sequence seems to be referenced in Terence Malick’s THE NEW WORLD!


I think I might toast the Great Man by running THE BURMESE HARP for the first time.