Archive for The Revenant


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on January 20, 2016 by dcairns


Fiona experienced a sensation of uncanniness right at the start of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s THE REVENANT, when laboured breathing on the soundtrack seemed to be coming from immediately over her left shoulder, to the point where she suspected some cine-pervert had snuck up behind her to wheeze in her ear. And no, I was sitting beside her at the time. And I didn’t experience the same sound. It’s the fulfillment of Walter Murch’s dream of sound design — “the sound designer positions sound effects in the auditorium the way the production designer positions furniture on the set.”

Unbelievers who find the film lacking in story are, arguably, failing to surrender to the experiental aspect of the film: its tactile, impressionistic, auditory qualities. A limited amount of narrative is actually helpful in appreciating these qualities, as viewers of BBC4’s more restful The Sleigh Ride discovered. Everybody shut up and let us just feel what it’s like!

Open your ears to Lon Bender’s astonishing sound design, seamlessly integrated with the score by Alva Noto and Ryûichi Sakamoto (a man who previously journeyed to the Pole to record the melting ice cap: the rushing, tinkling sound of our imminent extinction). The fraught tale of survival (and non-survival, if you’re a bear or a bystander) becomes oddly hypnotic and peaceful, so that I do understand those who grumble that they slept through the thing. Obviously, they didn’t get the whole experience so that’s frustrating, but it’s also their own fault, and it’s in no way a bad thing for a movie to offer a lulling, peaceful quality amid bear-mauling and impromptu frontier surgery and whatnot. Allah loves wondrous variety, as Morgan Freeman says in that other great bow-and-arrow romp, ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES.


Exactly like The Sleigh Ride, the long take camerawork (I see CHILDREN OF MEN as the obvious influence on protracted action sequences staged as sequence shots) work to dump you in it along with the hero, and create a nervous tension simply by limiting the speed with which the camera can react to unfolding events. It’s decidedly NOT realistic, since the lens is always more sluggish than the human eye could be in such circumstances, but by weighing down our eye-movements so frustratingly, the film accentuates our impression of the world becoming too chaotic, too fast-moving for us to keep up with.

To be honest, I found some of the script’s elaborations on the true story to be slightly dumb (Hollywood movies have really lost the ability to question the satisfactions of vengeance intelligently) but the plot is not the thing here, merely a serviceable hook — the basic situation or set-up is very strong, so we don’t need an infernal machine of twists and reversals, or shouldn’t. Though what Leonardo DiCaprio does with a big forked stick made me smile for about ten minutes.

I haven’t seen anything.

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 13, 2016 by dcairns


What do you expect? I’ve been filming all week. But now we’ve wrapped and I plan to catch up with THE REVENANT and HATEFUL EIGHT and some nicer older movies.

Above is a frosty image from Lev Kuleshov’s 1926 icecapade PO ZAKONU, because it reminds me of the hardships we faced out on a freezing hill.

Meanwhile, Sight & Sound have published their lists of best DVDs of the year —

Regular Shadowplayer Anne Billson and Trevor Johnstone both list DRAGON INN, to which I contributed a video essay.

Philip Concannon and Sam Wigley go for A NEW LEAF, which has another vid essay by me.

Sam Dunn and Neil Sinyard include SECONDS, which has a text piece I wrote.

David Thompson cites DIARY OF A LOST GIRL — another video essay, written by me and narrated by Fiona.

Michael Brooke and Philip Kemp each include WOODEN CROSSES, again from Masters of Cinema, produced by Bernard Natan.

Most exciting of all, Pamela Hutchinson of The Guardian and Silent London lists NATAN itself, the documentary I made with Paul Duane and which is available from

It’s official — I have been working too hard.