Monday, 30 March 2015

Festival round-up megablog 3

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter was the film I had my misgivings about beforehand. It had all the hallmarks of a festival fan favourite: it’s based upon an urban myth and it pays homage to another film. I was worried that it might be an American independent movie designed to tickle the fancy of the regulars at Sundance. I’m not against that kind of thing but I can find it on FilmFour. It's not that film. Rinko Kikuchi gives a wonderful performance as Kumiko. She’s a 29 year old ‘Office Lady’ or Personal Assistant. As her boss points out, she’s old for an OL. Usually, apparently, they have married and started families by 29. Her mother, who judges her by phone, is of the same opinion. Kumiko has nothing in common with the other OLs. They behave like young Tokyo female office workers in films always do: they are obsessed with their appearance. [I was reminded of them during the wonderful documentary The Salt of the Earth. The Zo’e Tribe must have thought that Sebastiao Salgado was doing a shoot for Vanity Fair.] Kumiko’s understudy must devote hours every morning to looking flawless and childlike. Kumiko does not – and she’s still late for work. Their chattering of her colleagues brought the all-female scenes of Ten Canoes to mind. She’s in a job she despises. Her life is going nowhere.

Kumiko’s apartment tells us that she’s having a nervous breakdown. It’s not unhygienic but it is a mess. She cannot deal with her post either. It spills out from her pigeon hole; she stuffs it back in. I like these details: they’re well-observed and understated. Both Birdman (2014) and Foxcatcher (2014) feature a smashing-up-the-room scene. It happens in a lot of movies but not in this one. Birdman is the most purely enjoyable film I've seen this year. Its director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, plays a few games in each one of his five movies. Some critics found them a distraction. Birdman pretends to be one continuous take; it’s like an album where each song leads into the next. I was reminded of All That Jazz (1979), another film about the key man under stress before opening night. Both films rattle along, take a few risks and they’re a lot of fun.

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter begins with a day at the seaside. [Far From the Madding Crowd had one; it never occurred to the husband in Gett: the Trial of Viviane Amsalem.] Her treasure map leads to a sodden VHS of the Coen Brothers’ movie Fargo (1996). We don’t find out where this map came from but we see her create her next one. I have a small collection of ‘found films’ retrieved from skips and woods. It’s my contribution to Contemporary Archaeology and one method of escaping my demographic profile. One find was a DVD-R bootleg of Catwoman, copied in the cinema on camcorder. I thought such artifacts were an urban myth themselves.

Fargo, which announces that it is based upon a true story (and the sequence with the tree chipper certainly was set in fact), leads Kumiko to believe that Steve Buscemi did bury a suitcase full of money beside a very long fence in Minnesota. It’s a very funny moment in Fargo and 1990s cinema in general. How did he ever expect to find it again? Kumiko intends to.
Kumiko, the Treasure Huter
It was during a very tactile moment in The Duke of Burgundy that I remembered how little physical contact Kumiko makes with another human being during her film. A security guard takes her back to the library; an old friend she has no interest in prods her playfully with a mobile phone; she responds to a policeman’s kindness. Thankfully, Kumiko has a rabbit. It’s the other thing in her lonely, sorrowful existence that gets her out of bed each day. It’s also a relief for the audience. There’s nothing going right in her life but she is not thinking of ending it.

The film is beautifully balanced. Some films are just a chain of events. There has to be a relationship with the viewer. Amour Fou incorporates moments – the same song is sung three times – to contemplate the latest character developments. Patrick Keiller or Adam Curtis [his latest film, Bitter Lake (2015), is on release on the BBC iPlayer presently] will give you a minute or two, watching a spider build a web or some bizarre clip from the archives, to process the PPE paper's hypothesis being presented. Kumiko is punctuated with well-judged humorous interludes just when a laugh would help.

It’s a skill. Humour is a part of people’s lives, like football. A man in Black Coal, Thin Ice places a bet on Chelsea. [Chelsea also get a mention in Will Hay’s very amusing Windbag the Sailor (1936). It’s on YouTube. There are indigenous peoples in that too. “Did that sound like Norwegian to you?” I’m sure the Chelsea joke is referenced in a Crazy Gang picture. Chelsea had been a Music Hall punchline. Hay reacts because they won away at West Bromwich Albion. The club was founded, at great expense and fanfare, in 1905. Their first trophy arrived in 1955.] The men in Timbuktu are obsessed with the game. I know a few humanitarians who often visit the African continent. There’s a different man in a Man Utd top in every crowd they photograph. The jihadists are debating who’s best: Zidane or Messi. That’s globalisation. One Malian suggests that France won the 1998 World Cup by buying off Brazil with a shipful of rice. That’s ignorance. During the trial of the Toureg herdsman, in Timbuktu, a mobile phone rings. It has the same ringtone as a dead man’s in White God, in Budapest.

Difret was executive produced by Angelina Jolie. Sayeeda (now Baroness) Warsi engineered a meeting between Jolie and William Hague. They met at the 'End Sexual Violence in Conflict' global summit, campaigning for an increase in the number of prosecutions for warzone rape offences. When Warsi was profiled on BBC Radio 4 I got the impression that Hague doesn’t rate films. Simplistic tosh and three hours lost networking time. Perhaps Boris “we just want someone to come along with a bunker-buster” Johnson, Mayor of London, could watch Timbuktu then explain how a 10,000 ton bomb undoes an ideology. They would have greater effect launching 10,000 copies of Woody Allen’s fantastic Bananas (1971): “All citizens will be required to change their underwear every half hour. Underwear will be worn on the outside. So we can check.”   

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter could have made mistakes. I worried when we spent some time with her video recorder. I’m as prone to nostalgia for solid state technology as anyone (and I still use mine; there are films on VHS you just can’t find anywhere else) but it’s an ingredient that can overpower the recipe. I was in a very appreciate audience for Violette (2013) last month, the French biopic of Violette Leduc, more project than prodigy of Simone de Beauvoir. The period detail was there but gently. Whereas, I could not wait for The Look of Love (2013) to end. Michael Winterbottom, Steve Coogan and many nudie ladies had made a boring biopic of Paul Raymond, pornographer and Britain’s richest man. The film had been colonised by the set designers. I met a man who took the photographs for Kays Catalogues all his working life. If the firm had archived their negatives they would still be in business. Albeit, a different business. British films get the twentieth century all wrong.

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter could have been a film as fan convention. They did not resuscitate the fairly fictitious accent for a safe and easy laugh. The movie makes its own laughs. The scene with the library’s security guard has a great pay-off. The cameo by the North Dakota police officer is warm and funny. A funny scene can work wonders. George Clooney’s directorial debut, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002), is great fun but it is lifted to the next level by Robert John Burke’s appearance. In Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem Viviane’s witness, straight out of Jewish comedy, has her (and us) in fits. You can feel the waves of catharsis flooding from her. A film without a laugh in it should have its reasons. Given that Kumiko’s situation was extremely cold and life-threatening, it keeps the audience on the right path. I’ve seen a lot of herding in the past week – Gabriel Oak’s sheep, Mali’s cows – but few as skilfully as Kumiko’s audience.

A few years ago, at this festival, I noted the same cinematic shorthand in three very different movies: a male character rearranging his crotch after visiting the lavatory. It tells us what it tells us. In Timbuktu and Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter a woman walks oblivious to her ragged shawl dragging in the dust / snow. She is, we can assume safely, a bit chicken oriental.

In Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem husband stopped going to the cinema because of the sex and, after Charles Bronson retired, the wrong kind of violence. He would not have liked The Duke of Burgundy (2014). There’s a scene when three women discuss the purchase of a human toilet. “Well,” I thought, “This film passes the Bechdel test.” The Duke of Burgundy has elicited memories of other films-featuring-bondage. Oddly, because we only see Evelyn’s tied hands for a couple of seconds. I had not heard of  The Nightcomers (1972), starring Marlon Brando, Stephanie Beacham and Thora Hird, before. It was directed by Michael Winner. He directed more than 40 films. He never revisited them. I am sure some of them have their aficionados. I am sure some of them are better than the garbage Quentin Tarantino’s ilk have championed over the years. Perhaps he thought it wiser to leave sleeping dogs lie. His will’s executioners discovered his accounts to be his greatest epic.

The Japanese have an entire genre devoted to women and knots: kinbaku. The Historical Dictionary of Japanese Cinema describes it as, “A form of sexual bondage specific to Japan, with the emphasis on performance. Kinbaku, literally ‘tight binding,’ has been a frequent component of pink cinema.” A bit like Henry Mancini. I watched a lot of Morecambe & Wise last year. Glenda Jackson appeared with her Oscars. That led me to Negatives, a strange and memorable British film from 1968. She’s involved with a role-playing relationship with her lover but, as good male role-players are hard to find, risks losing him to another. It’s on YouTube.

The Duke of Burgundy is a study of the law of diminishing returns. There was a comic strip in the science fiction comic 2000AD called 'Rogue Trooper'. It had a superb premise which made it the favourite strip of every new reader. The problem was, after a couple of years, they’d done everything they could do with it. It became a post-apocalyptic Billy’s Boots – he loses his most prized possessions most weeks and goes looking for them. The authors admitted as much. There was nowhere to go with it but they were stuck. In Love is Strange George criticises a girl’s piano recital. It’s the most animated he gets. It sounded fine to most of us. He tells her how to do it better. It is much better. The sales pitch patter of the two novelty toy salesman of A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, very much in the wrong job, falls exhausted from their mouths. I was reminded of those grim comedies about very old Vaudeville acts doing the same routine together several times a day for forty years: production line work plus that old razzle-dazzle. It’s no wonder some go mad. One act attacked his producer last week.
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence

The Duke of Burgundy was the film I had to see. I enjoyed Peter Strickland’s previous film Berberian Sound Studio enormously. Almost too much. It’s about a sound engineer; I’ve done that. The soundtrack is by Broadcast; I went to their first ever gig, supporting Pram, at The Jug of Ale, Moseley, in 1996. At one point I expected Toby Jones to spend the next half hour cleaning the tape paths of Uhers and Revoxes with Q-tips and his bottle of isopropyl alcohol. I wouldn’t have minded if he had. In The Duke of Burgundy Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) enjoy a sado-masochistic sex-life, the most trusting of relationships. The first time we see it, we see its greatest game. Like Groundhog Day (1993), there’s one outlier date that goes far better than the rest. Evelyn purrs that it was perfect. In fact, it cannot be matched. It grows as dull as ritual. There’s a lot of humour in their less successful sessions. It’s like watching a sheriff trying to get his horse to start. On one occasion Cynthia cannot ‘perform’ at the crucial moment. On another, Evelyn gets the surprise she demanded but, like Kato and Inspector Clouseau, it’s not how she imagined. Cynthia allows her true emotions into her performance. Cynthia worries that Evelyn might want to break up the double act. There’s an old joke about S&M: the masochist makes a suggestion and the sadist ignores it. There are jokes that had to be made but this is a smart film. They have a good relationship but, like any other, they will have to keep working at it.
The Duke of Burgundy
I like thorough credits. The opening credits alert us to Lingerie by Andrea Flesch and Perfume by Je Suis Gizella. That’s because it’s important. Evelyn dresses up Cynthia in complicated arrangements by her favourite fashion designer. And a woman complains about the underwear her partner bought for her. Their relationship is punctuated by equally complex lectures about butterflies. They are both lepidopterists. The audience, and you will have to imagine the scent, are arranged with the same precision as the moths in their display cases. I want to believe that they’re all wearing Je Suis Gizella; method acting needn’t involve missing a night’s sleep. The closing credits list all the insects featured in the film, stage name and Latin name. The documentary Leviathan (2012) – not the other one (2014) – honours its featured sea-life in the same manner. I’m sure there are other people who want to check out the film clip or the painting or the architecture or the dreampop. Hot Shots! (1991) includes a recipe for brownies.

Peter Strickland makes every penny count. There are passages involving rostrum cameras that are a lot cheaper than filming explosions. I avoid films with explosions but there was one in A Little Chaos (for gardening purposes). I am reminded of an interview with a ‘lo-fi’ band: “Why are you ‘lo-fi’?”, “Because we have no money.” There are no men in his film at all. Not even a picture of one. A mannequin among the lecture audience is as close as we get. I found this incredibly refreshing. There are very few women in The Tracker – and the Australian soldiers ridicule then kill them.

Stephen Fry was interviewed about British cinema. He pointed out that other countries prefer our films to be about the class system. They can make their own gritty urban dramas. But they don’t have butlers. The minor aristocracy are as exotic to them as hunter-gatherers are to me. Hence, I’m guessing, a quarter of British movies feature a country house and a large number of actors are employed as the types who live and work in them. I’m grateful that British directors like Peter Strickland, Joanna Hogg and Peter Greenaway travel the World’s film festivals, demonstrating that there are other stories in British cinema. Though, it has to be said, the dwellings in their films aren’t humble either. There’s a lot of unclaimed territory in the British film landscape waiting to be grabbed.


Robin Clarke

Monday, 23 March 2015

Festival round-up megablog 2

Love is Strange


Love is Strange (2013) is an increasingly rare slice of life picture, set in New York right now. How else will future generations know about last year’s red trousers outbreak? I paused The Passenger (1975) the other week in order to fathom the apparel of a passer-by. I can’t describe it. Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) are getting married after a 39 year engagement, of sorts. They would have done it sooner but it was not in the statute books. Their new status leads directly to George losing his music teacher job at a Catholic school. He does not contest it. Ben’s pension is their only income so they downsize: they sell their apartment, getting stung by the small print, and stay, separately, with neighbours or relatives.

The film improved days after I’d watched it. They are a lovely couple – it’s Lithgow and Molina – but we don’t see them together enough. I would have liked a prelude; we first see them on their wedding day. When the two men embrace, after weeks apart, you remember they’re still newlyweds. The b-story, about a teenage boy’s growing pains, did not add much for me at the time. Though he did have a five pound note pinned to his bedroom wall. They put the budget on the screen. The scenes between his mother, Marisa Tomei, and her brother and lodger, John Lithgow, were far more fun. The credits listed 26 producers, thanks another 70 and I suspect that the artists made a small contribution to have their paintings featured. It’s a sweet, sad, small snapshot. It’s only when I thought of other films about loss of income that its subtleties are revealed. They should have been able to continue from where they left off. If they had not married George would not have lost his job and all the things that followed. This small set-back – Ben imagines it will all be sorted out within a few weeks – has the worst possible consequence. We leave George, remarkably stoic, hanging Ben’s final, unfinished, painting on the wall of their dream apartment. This bad year cost him a further ten years of Ben’s love and company.

Is George too placid? During their date night Ben claims to have campaigned for gay civil rights during the 1960s. They don’t fight any battles, despite several opportunities, during the film. In his sister’s house Ben does not know when to speak and when not. The b-story boy does not attend his own uncle’s funeral. They have been sharing the same bunk-bed for the past few months. George accepts his rationale. It’s an approach that worked blissfully for 40 years and then, like an economic policy, fell apart overnight.

The Tracker (2002), a superb Australian Western, also features an old man holding the middle ground and a young man with some growing up to do. The moment you see his small stringed instrument you know it will be the first of the group to go. He destroys it in a young man’s idea of penance. Westerns have taught us that the man with the gun wins the argument. There’s a difference of opinion, a gun is produced and, as if by magic, the decision is made. Might is right. To think I avoided Whiplash (2014), which everyone says is excellent, because of the aggression. David Gulpili plays The Tracker, leading The Fanatic (Gary Sweet), The Follower (Damon Gameau) and The Veteran (Grant Page) after The Fugitive (Noel Wilton). The Fanatic is a serial killer in a soldier’s uniform.
The Tracker

I first came across game theory, the study of power and how it pans out, watching The All New Pink Panther Show during the late 1970s. (The first Pink Panther animation, The Pink Phink, won an Oscar in 1964.) It included old episodes of The Inspector; the only reason I watched the show. The plots are, to say the least, variable in quality but the music and drawings are great. Pat Harrington, Jr’s take on Peter Sellers’ Jacques Clouseau is extremely good. Anyway, in Toulouse La Trick (1966) Clouseau makes a particularly rash decision whilst transporting a prisoner he’s handcuffed to. He overvalues the extent of his status when compared with the size of the enormous felon dragging him around France. There’s a wonderful French thriller, Point Blank (2010) where allegiances are made and dropped at a dizzying rate. They should show it on election night. So let’s see how the man in chains plays his cards. We soon discover that he’s not the least powerful at all. You can spend the next day figuring out just how much control The Tracker had, from their very first steps. It’s worth focusing upon the fate of the sage old man. He was the only non-murderer among the four – and he was the first to go.
The Salt of the Earth

In The Salt of the Earth Salgado is told that he must not gift his knife to the indigenous peoples he’s visiting. I heard of an island that had existed happily within its own socio-cultural eco-system for thousands of years. A decade after they saw their first movie the divorces started. Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (2014) was the simplest, and most gripping, film I saw all week. It was reminiscent of Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011), Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s film before Winter Sleep (2014), because a group of people do the same thing, over and over, getting nowhere whilst we get to know them. In this case, we witness every blind alley of Viviane Amsalem’s five year long attempt to divorce her husband. A friend of mine is in her fourth year of divorce proceedings. It rang too true. The laughter, the tears, the bad complexion days, false hopes, the sheer frustration at the pointlessness of it all. You could move from BA to PhD in that time. Some people look at trench warfare divorces and, like small children, reason that it takes two to tango. It only needs one to dig in. In Israel divorce falls “under the jurisdiction of the Orthodox rabbinical courts” – and requires the husband’s consent. He would not. She cannot leave her marriage and we never leave the building. We see them waiting to enter the courtroom. We see the courtroom: cheap tables for two parties, Viviane (Ronit Elkabetz), her lawyer (Menashe Noy) and, if they turn up, her husband (Simon Abkarian) and his brother, a rabbi (Sasson Gabai). The three judges are rabbis. Another rabbi keeps a record of proceedings. What is a court case but a storytelling contest? Our picture of their lives outside builds up during the 115 minutes. Sisters Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz have written and directed three films. The other two in their marriage trilogy are To Take a Wife (2004) and 7 Days (2008). Ronit Elkabetz and Simon Abkarian appear in them all.
Gett, The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

Difret (2014), an Ethiopian film about an incredibly important legal case in their recent history, had to put certain story lines to one side. There wasn’t space enough. Boyhood (2014) does the same. We watch Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, grow from a 7 year old to a personable young adult. How fortunate that Ellar became an actor. The fact that they were able to make the film at all, reuniting the cast for a couple of weeks every year for 12 years, is remarkable enough. I did not want anything more during its 165 minutes. Mason hangs out with older boys – but nothing terrible happens. Mason gets a shotgun for his birthday – but nothing terrible happens.

There aren’t many films that feature a gun without someone getting shot. In fact, in this festival, a sharpened stick is a murder waiting to happen. His father tells him, most deliberately, never to use a mobile whilst driving. He’s 19, driving, and his girlfriend wants him to look at a cute picture on her phone – but nothing terrible happens. They tend not to. Someone else can make those films. Actually, Werner Herzog made a documentary, for four mobile phone manufacturers and the public domain, about that last tragedy: From One Second to the Next (2013). In The Salt of the Earth Salgado photographs the incredible aftermath of the first Gulf War. Werner Herzog also made a documentary about extinguishing the oil fields of Kuwait: Lessons of Darkness (1992).

Mason isn’t the only character to grow up during the next twelve years. Remarkably, his father, played by Ethan Hawke, does too. It’s rare to see an adult character try that. All the terrible stuff happens to his mother, played winningly by Patricia Arquette. She escapes one dismal relationship for the next. There are a lot of miserable marriages in this festival. Poor Mrs. Ruskin, played by the festival’s new friend Eleanor Yates, in Mr. Turner; the perjury Viviane Amsalem is put through; two others – in Pandora’s Box and Difret – last a day and end in manslaughter. But the most unfortunate must be Nihal in Winter Sleep because she’s married to Aydin, one of the vilest men in movie history.
Winter Sleep

Winter Sleep is 196 minutes of Palme d’Or winning High Art. Aydin (Haluk Bilginer) is a retired and famous actor of considerable wealth. He owns the Hotel Othello, and several other properties in Cappadocia, Turkey. These dwellings are built into outcrops of lava from previous epochs. It is an astonishing landscape. He tells his lackey, “My kingdom may be small, but at least I’m the king.” Which makes his sister, his wife and his tenants his subjects and, given his profession, his audience. If there were jokes I wasn’t prepared to smile at them. The director, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, has stated that Chekhov has influenced all of his films. The film contains extremely long and engrossing scenes examining each interrelationship. He never discusses a subject – he wins arguments. Much of the script would translate to the theatre. Aydin has married a beautiful woman less than half his age, Nihal. In a heart-rending scene he sets about removing, with impeccable philanthropy, her sole intellectual property and, of course, last shred of independence. Having won his beautiful wife his next project will be to leave his mark upon her. The debtor’s reaction to her charity is shocking but understandable. It will have added years. 

I have been on a World tour of legal systems: I have seen the Aboriginal people’s sentences for rape and accidental death and Ethiopian common law, in Difret (2014), deal with the same. I have mentioned Israel Orthodox rabbinical divorce proceedings and now we get to sharia. A scene in Timbuktu (2014) shows two people buried up to their necks. It recalled Beckett’s play Play (2000), starring Alan Rickman in an urn. He directs, and plays King Louis XIV, in A Little Chaos (2014). It’s important to enter the cinema in the right spirit. Mr. Turner (2014) aims to be the definitive, most accurate, portrait of Britain’s most important artist. A Little Chaos is a box of cream cakes. If you hanker for old-fashioned family entertainment every film set before 1880 features a singer, a pianist and a drawing room. You never see many insects in period drama. I bet they were absolutely everywhere.

White God (2013) is the kookiest film I have seen for a long time. It’s a horror film that’s more interested in a Budapest girl’s first rites of passage. I’m sure the father, collecting her from the police after her first visit to a nightclub, had wished he’d let her feed the dog from the table. He should have let that phase play itself out. It’s very uneven – but I suppose dogs are too, fangs and fur. I was reminded of many other films, good and embarrassing. Lili’s search for her dog Hagen echoed The Vanishing (1988). The trip to the nightclub: Christiane F (1981). But it is difficult to portray a dog battalion without stirring memories of adverts for Pedigree Chum. Lili pledges to never discipline Hagen. Later, we’re given a how-to guide on training a ‘fighting dog’. It’s a stray dog’s life. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s first film, Amores Perros (2000) features dog fighting. I can’t recall seeing it in another film, let alone a 15 certificate. Though, after looking up a long-forgotten West Midlands post-punk band that surfaced in a charity shop, YouTube recommended all sorts of ‘underground’ pastimes for me. I only watched a clip from Look! Hear!
White God

We also learned that, in Hungary, a harassed father might ask his daughter, “Are you the Queen of England?” And that they have dogs named Fido. During the credits a spontaneous seminar broke out among the audience. That film was peculiar – what genre was it? White God also includes a clip from Tom and Jerry’s The Cat Concerto (1947). It won an Oscar. Later, Tom and Jerry starred in one of most disturbing children's cartoons ever made: Blue Cat Blues (1956). It ends with the two of them sitting on a railway line, waiting for the next train to put them out of their misery. I suspect the makers weren’t happy with their new contract. Neither animal resembled Henrich von Kleist.
To be continued...

Robin Clarke

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Festival round-up megablog 1

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
There’s always a sweet moment, about a dozen films in, when your own film season emerges from the programme. It was film noir this year. There is no femme more femme and fatale more fatale than Louise Brooks in Pandora’s Box (1929). Pabst’s use of the dark prefigured the next thirty years of gumshoes and gangsters, from Jimmy Cagney to Kiss Me Deadly (1955) and every (unmissable) beat-up B&W buried in the bowels of Freeview. Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014) acknowledged some of them (without turning into a pub quiz for film buffs). Anyone screening it should sell noodles and dumplings afterwards. That may have been the most heart-breaking moment of the festival: Zhang leaving his meal half-eaten. Kumiko’s video player choking, in Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (2014), was also a worry. Or, putting The Salt of the Earth (2014) to one side, it may have been the wide shot in Timbuktu (2014) that revealed two men were incapable of sharing the same enormous lake without coming to violence.

Inherent Vice
The Tracker (2002) demonstrates that the job of gumshoe is part-facts, part-instinct, and part-making-things-happen. It also reminds us that the investigator may have different aims to his employer. The detective, Doc Sportello, in Inherent Vice (2014), has his mix pretty light on the first. He’d rather get stoned, a lot. His approach to note-taking was the single funniest cut-away of the week. We also liked his plain clothes look. The press coverage was bizarre: several articles on how it was hard to follow. You don’t think?! Paul Thomas Anderson is known for ensemble pieces (Boogie Nights, 1997) whose characters are often less than steadfast (There Will Be Blood, 2007). It’s the first time Thomas Pynchon has allowed one of his books to be made into a film. And it’s set in California during the 1970s.

As The Storyteller explained in Ten Canoes (2002), the first Aboriginal-language film, that the older brother’s allegory was, “Growing like a young tree that is flowering for the first time.” When the younger brother wants to skip to the action scene he learns that, “All the parts of the story have to be told for proper understanding”. In the 1970s the way of the world was unravelling and a lot of films reflected that. Not even The Rockford Files could be relied upon for resolution. Apparently, London audience members were either leaving Inherent Vice early or going back several times. I expect it was the same people. They walked out the first time because of Doc’s foul-mouthed female friend. Then they went back to walk out during the sex scene. The film was a ride. Our audience rocked in their seats, giggling away for 149 minutes like it was being screened in smell-o-vision.

Ten Canoes must be one of the oldest stories ever told, passed down by an oral culture dating back tens of thousands of years; David Gulpilil tells the one about coveting thy neighbour’s wife. The threatened husband reacts to his rival by … telling him a story. Though I'd heard they could track down a kidnapped wife in ten minutes. Amour Fou (2014) covers the same commandment with similar discussions about death and the soul. Amour Fou is an account of the suicide pact, in 1811, between the German Romantic poet, playwright and author Henrich von Kleist and Henriette Vogel. Wikipedia informs me that this incident has been re-enacted many times in European cinema. I was entirely ignorant of them – though I did notice that Heinrich (some names have been changed to protect the innocent) resembled Bud Cort’s character in Harold and Maude (1971) so maybe Hal Ashby knew.

Melancholia has been a constant theme in literature since Ancient Greece; Al Alvarez’s book The Savage God, his study of suicide, covers its appeal as a phenomenon rather than an act. This was before the well-drilled Gothic movement made its play for monopoly. In 1991 this Heinrich would have been on a course of fluoxetine and writing articles about Primo Levi for his Manic Street Preachers fanzine. He’s made to look foolish by the director, Jessica Hausner. Christian Friedel does very well to keep us from hating this man. I suspect some redressing of the balance on her part; Vogel doesn’t receive anything like the same attention in German literature circles. Heinrich wants a woman to join his suicide pact. It’s almost a form of sexual harassment. Henriette doesn’t dislike Heinrich – the women make allowances for his artistic talents – but she is a wife and devoted mother.
Amour Fou
I really liked this film. I was reminded of those late-period Ingmar Bergman films that Channel 4 used to screen in the middle of the night 30 years ago. It’s beautifully put together. Hausner’s compositions are as precise as Mr. Turner (but from a different period). There isn’t a expressionist shadow in it. Henriette is a picture of colour when she’s killed, prematurely. Heinrich is too excited and self-absorbed to wait for her last words. I have watched a lot of sad films this week. Is it the programme or me? A film festival will focus upon excellent films that mainstream cinemas do not find appealing. It is no surprise that a few of these films roll their end credits in silence whilst the audience takes a deep breath. There’s dancing in [deletes list] half the films I saw. I have not seen the steps in Amour Fou before.
to be continued...

Robin Clarke

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Some thoughts on The Duke of Burgundy

The Duke of Burgundy
Peter Strickland is bound up in our minds with Borderlines, as it is where we saw his audacious debut film, Katalin Varga. With this director, and The Duke of Burgundy is no exception, the attention to detail in all aspects - cinematography, sound design, soundtrack, editing  - is all important. This, his third film, looks and sounds sumptuous. Set in an unnamed but clearly European country, the film could also from my point of view (Simon) have been set at any point in the last, perhaps, 60 years, but I (Claire) feel that the clothes and make up suggest the 1950s or 60s - there is electricity but you see no vehicles, only bicycles, no telephone, let alone a hint of a computer.

The film centres on two women in an S&M  relationship. Although given an 18 certificate, and one discovers a fair bit about S&M, the film is at no point titillating or pornographic, with some of what those of us who might not share an S&M persuasion regard as more extreme aspects taking place off screen. In fact, the relationship is dealt with fairly gently, and with a good deal of humour!

There is a great deal of ebb and flow to the relationship. The film deals very well with the complexity that exists in any relationship between two people - with always much more under the surface than outsiders could imagine - what at times seems balanced, at other points is clearly less so. Perhaps in the end, the S&M is a metaphor for the give and take necessary for any couple.

This is surely Strickland’s most rounded film, and we cannot wait to see where his imagination and talent take him next.

Claire and Simon Scott

Monday, 16 March 2015

Pandora’s Box (Die Buechse der Pandora) + Stephen Horne

Louise Brooks in Pandora's Box
Thanks to this website - genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/ - I can tell you that at around 11.40pm on Thursday 26 December 1985 my heart skipped a beat. We were at my grandparents’ house, gathered around Barry Norman’s Films of the Year, thinking how late it was. Barry mentioned some of the film legends the world had lost in 1985 and that was the first time I saw a picture of Louise Brooks.
Colleen Moore
Brooks was not the first film star to have her hair cut that way. The style was popularised by Colleen Moore, who told Kevin Brownlow, in his documentary series Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film, that she had copied her bangs from one of her dolls. (Most of “Hollywood” is on YouTube. It’s well worth watching.) One of the many pleasures of watching 1920s silent comedies is ladies fashion. You are guaranteed one petite young woman with bobbed hair. Buster Keaton’s delightful Seven Chances (1925) has two. In 1925 Brooks’ film career was just beginning.

I kept a look out for Louise Brooks. In 1986 the BBC devoted an Arena to her. (It’s also on YouTube.) Brooks was a very perceptive analyst of the movie industry’s origins. “The thing that finally succeeded [when Mack Sennett was looking for backers for his company] was that he introduced them at parties to all these lovely girls. That’s what convinced them to invest their money. They decided it would be perfectly fine to own beautiful girls,” she said.

The BBC also screened a few of her films and I cut her photo out of the Radio Times. Pandora’s Box, Diary of a Lost Girl (both 1929, both directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst) and, starring John Wayne, Overland Stage Raiders (1938), her final movie. She wore her hair long in that one; a lot can change in 9 years. Back in the late 1980s Time Out (a London listings magazine of the period) profiled her. Magazines – style, Sunday, fanzines – would and still do: she has become an icon, a dash of credibility. Her image decorates my sister’s make-up bag.

Brooks was ‘rediscovered’ during the 1950s by key critics: Francois Truffaut and others in France; Kenneth Tynan, following suit, in the UK. These men worshipped her. Tynan: “In her acting, she fused amorality and innocence, playing impulsive, spirited, sexual women. Her performances seemed to be unrehearsed reality” (The New Yorker, 1979). As “Lulu”, in Pandora’s Box, Louise Brooks personified Frank Wedekind’s creation as definitively as Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein’s Monster inhabited Mary Wollstonecraft’s.

So reading about Louise Brooks was a good teenage hobby, leading in lots of directions. Lou Reed’s final album was about “Lulu”. Her books were full of information. Brooks' private life was not dissimilar to that of her greatest role. She became a crucial contributor to the field of film history. For example, she wrote to Kevin Brownlow after receiving his first cinema history book The Parade's Gone By... (1968); he had missed the significance of Clara Bow, a huge star to young women.

Yet Brooks was forgotten. Be warned, here’s how Variety magazine reviewed Pandora’s Box in 1929: “Louise Brooks, especially imported for the title role, does not pan out, due to no fault of hers. She is quite unsuited to the vamp type. Grave mistake to try to make a film of a Franz Wedekind play. Heavy vamp stuff which he wrote is already dated. On the stage, dialog is still of sufficient interest to hold, but the mere plot outline is trivial and overdone. G. W. Pabst, director, is an attempt to keep the whole natural and easy, succeeds merely in making it superficial and lacking in suspense or thrill. Germany’s newly discovered juvenile find, Franz Lederer, doesn’t have a chance to show much, nor can Fritz Kortner get anything out of the heavy” (from Variety Movie Guide 1999). Other critics hated her free-spirited sexuality. The biggest hit of 1929, by a mile, was Gold Diggers of Broadway, a musical in Techicolor: Girls! Songs! Dances! Color! Musical comedies were huge in 1929.

Brooks plays a woman with a superpower: some people cannot stop themselves from falling in love with her. This skill of hers reaches out of the screen and some people in the audience fall in love with her too. Only those men who want to exploit this talent escape its consequences. This is a German Expressionist film: it is not important that it does not appear to be set in 1888 until it reaches London. The dress sense of Countess Geschwitz, an undisguised lesbian, is far more interesting. It’s not all compositions with shadows either. The backstage scene, as crowded as a Marx Brothers cabin, where Lulu gets what she wants by destroying either the opening night or a couple’s engagement, is mesmerising. The story shrinks with Lulu's options.  
Stephen Horne on the accordion, Pandora's Box, Borderlines 2015
The Courtyard’s projectionists screened the film, on celluloid, at the 1929 speed of 20 frames per second. Stephen Horne accompanied the film on piano, accordion and flute but, when I could steal a glance, just two at a time. He recalled the first time he improvised a score to this moving picture. He became so involved that he imagined Louise Brooks actually spoke to him. There was a close up, her lips moved and he heard her voice. He was under her spell.
Stephen Horne accompanying Pandora's Box at Borderlines


Robin Clarke, 
Festival Volunteer

Saturday, 14 March 2015

The Duke of Burgundy: the focus-puller's viewpoint

The Duke of Burgundy
A friend of mine, Robert Dibble, was on the camera crew of The Duke of Burgundy which has screened at Borderlines at The Courtyard in Hereford and at kinokulture cinema in Oswestry. I asked Rob what it was like working on the film.

"The film was shot in Hungary. My name was put forward by the Hungarian First Assistant Director, with whom I'd worked on Birdsong, which was also shot in Hungary. The  house that our lead characters inhabit was apparently once owned by the state, and during the communist regime was used by the president to entertain visiting dignitaries. It's about twenty kilometres outside Budapest. The vast majority of the six week shoot was spent at this one location, but we spent a couple of days at a town quite a bit further away, where we shot the cycling through town sequences, and the 'pastoral' stuff.

"It was shot digitally, on an Arri Alexa camera. I think the 'carpenter' character was also in Berberian Sound Studio. The actor who plays the neighbour, an unfriendly character we see occasionally, sweeping leaves in the courtyard, was apparently once a regular player in the 'Euro erotica' films of decades past, that Peter was nodding to. As I'm sure you know, there are no men in the film. When you watched it, did you see the mannequins that were amongst the audience at the Entomology talk? I wasn't sure if that was a mistake, or an example of Peter's sense of humour.

"For the majority of the time I pulled focus on the basis of 'where's the obvious place to put the focus in this shot?' There was no particular style of focus dictated by Peter. With the exception of a scene of the two making love on a bed. We used a series of small mirrors to fragment the image, and Peter asked me to hold the focus and then let it go, then bring it back. I think he was after a woozy, dreamlike quality.
The Duke of Burgundy
"Peter was a lovely man to work with. He seemed quite shy and almost deferential, but you could tell he had a very clear idea of what he was trying to achieve. We would sometimes spend too long on un-crucial stuff early in the day, only to find that we were rushed to complete the day's schedule as evening approached. I wasn't sure sometimes whether Peter was well aware of this, but enjoyed the slightly feverish quality that occurs when you're running out of time.

"Anyway, a very pleasant shoot, with a lovely Hungarian and Brit crew. I'm glad you enjoyed the finished product. I was really happy to have been involved."

I’m so angry I could tweet….

Selma
….but so old I have no idea how to do it.  I will however tangle with (and possibly invent) the concept of the ‘mini-blog’ in order to say ‘how on earth did Selma fail to win best film at the Oscars?’.  I’m sure that Birdman is a technically ambitious fine film (though a significant proportion of the Borderlines audience were a bit iffy to say the least) but Birdman is yet another self-referential film about actors.  Selma is an important film focusing on a turning point in US history and with huge contemporary relevance after recent events in Ferguson.

Could it possibly be that the Academy members, 94% white, predominantly male are a little bit obsessed with their own profession?  And in any case, didn’t they give an Oscar to a ‘black’ film last year?  And for heaven’s sake, three of the main characters are played by British actors.  So Birdman it is and I’m so angry I could tweet.
Huffington Post
 John Banks, 
Borderlines Vice Chair




Ten Canoes, The Tracker

Ten Canoes


Borderlines Film Festival is screening three films by the Australia director Rolf de Heer that star the Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil. Gulpilil began his film career at 16 years old in Walkabout, opposite Jenny Agutter, in 1971. De Heer’s latest, Charlie’s Country (2014), screened on the opening day of the festival. Ten Canoes (2007) and The Tracker (2002) are playing this week. Like Rolf de Heer my cousin, Darren Clarke, emigrated to Australia as a boy. Darren was employed in a bridging role with the Aboriginal communities so I emailed him for some background information: 

The Aboriginal people have a very strong connection with the land in which they have lived for the past 40,000 years. They lived in harmony with the land, and each other, until the arrival of Captain Cook in 1788 - or, as many of the aboriginal people know it, the invasion by white man. [Tales of Captain Cook’s adventures were a seaside entertainment during Far From the Madding Crowd (1967). The festival's programmers tie it all together.]

Many aborigines live in dire poverty today. They have been forced to adopt a legal system that is not relevant to them and they have living standards (housing, education, health) well below the rest of the nation. Many have turned to drugs and alcohol which has only reinforced the perception most people have of them. [I checked with the Australian Bureau of Statistics. In 2008, 35% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, aged 15 years or over, had abstained from alcohol but 17% were alcoholics. Their unemployment rate is three times higher than non-Indigenous Australians. Life expectancy is about a decade less. The gap between living standards is not closing.]

Darren adds, “The closest thing I can think of is how American Indians have been treated. In comparison, the Maori of New Zealand are far more respected and integrated.” The key issues come down to: land rights; reconciliation; racism and equality; and, Dreamtime.

Aboriginals are the traditional owners of the land and have had some success in claiming land rights in remote areas and royalties from the mineral resources. Eddie Mabo is a key figure in this area of law. His test case, in 1992, determined the legal rights of the Meriam people to islands annexed by Queensland in 1879.

The Australian government apologised in 2008 but has not compensated the Aboriginal people for their treatment during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Such as the “Stolen Generations” scandal when aboriginal babies, by acts of Parliament, were taken from their mothers, as late as the 1970s, and raised as orphans or in white homes.

Dreamtime, in this context, refers to the unwritten history and beliefs of aborigines. They have no written language (as we understand it) so stories are passed down between generations. There is a great fear that these will be lost forever as future generations move away from their heritage.

There are some parallels with the Ethiopian film Difret, previewed last week. State law finds it very difficult to incorporate a way of life that does not involve paperwork. There are no birth certificates or title deeds. Family trees are not recalled, in precise detail, beyond living memory.
The Tracker

The Tracker, set in 1922, examines the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. Gulpilil, ‘the tracker’, assists three white men – ‘the fanatic’, ‘the follower’ and ‘the veteran’ – in their pursuit of ‘the fugitive’, an Aboriginal man accused of murdering a white woman. It comes very highly rated by all the major review comparison movie websites.

Ten Canoes, set at any time before 1788, is the first film in Aboriginal languages; it was a Best Foreign Language Film nominee at the 2007 Academy Awards. It is unique. Gulpilil is cast as The Storyteller and narrates in English. It ensures that one story, at least, will not be lost to future generations.

Robin Clarke,
Festival Volunteer

Befuddlement


Black Coal, Thin Ice

The Chinese thriller Black Coal, Thin Ice was a huge pleasure, not least for its droll characters and off-key humour.  I did however find the plot hard to follow in places.  I said so to Sue, my wife.   She said “That’s because you nodded off at a couple of key turning points.  The fatal third glass of wine at the Courtyard bar…”

She was right, of course. She set me wondering about the states of mind and body of cinema-goers, and most of all critics.  How many in the audience for Black Coal, Thin Ice had my impediment that night?   A few I’d guess, on over-hearing conversations on the way out: “I kept muddling two of the characters.  One of them had a moustache, that’s the only way I could tell them apart.”  (Sue: “Absurd.”)

I am convinced that many critics especially have their judgements affected by the places they view (small Soho viewing theatres) and their sobriety. Mostly, they watch in the morning or afternoon.  I can only see this as the explanation for the five stars that The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw gave to Inherent Vice.   The same marks were given by The Telegraph critic, perhaps exploiting the free time given him for not-reporting the HSBC scandal.  They have  first-thing-in-the-morning, ice-cold brains, with their mental dials turned to Maximum Concentration.

Inherent Vice
When I saw Inherent Vice, I thought someone must have slipped a Mickey Finn into my drink.  I hadn’t a clue what was going on, what on earth Joaquin Phoenix was doing.   I was relieved to learn that the film has been dubbed “The Walk-Out, Mustn’t See” film of the year and to read that novelist Philip Henscher tweeted in the middle of it: “I think I must have had a stroke.”

But I may be wrong.  Fellow Borderlines board member Richard Heatly told me he rather enjoyed it, though he did intimate his wife Ingrid was of the Mustn’t See persuasion and had legged it from the Courtyard.

A very good old friend, the writer Richard Boston, always made sure he had several drinks on board before going to a film.  I once went with him to see Clint Eastwood’s great Western The Unforgiven.  For the first ten minutes he complained loudly that he couldn’t understand the accents.  “Why can’t they speak the Queen’s English?” he said.  I hissed “Because it is set in 1880s California.”  “Shut up, the pair of you” said a man in the row in front.

Richard then went into a deep slumber for more than an hour and a half, only to be jerked awake by the deafening, climatic shoot-out.  He said as we left the Gate cinema  he said: “I think that was the worst film I have ever seen.”

Richard is now watching his movies in the great multiplex in the sky.  I am sure I have heard him shouting :“St Peter, turn up the sound.  I can’t understand a word they’re saying. What is it  - Yiddish?”
Selma

There have been some fine movies in this year’s Borderlines festival.   My best film: Whiplash. Best Actor: Steve Carell in Foxcatcher, though closely pursued by David Oyelowo in Selma.

Still Life
My most deeply felt experience, though came in Uberto Pasolini’s Still Life.  Just mesmerising.   And I had had three glasses of wine.

Jeremy Bugler
Board Member




To be or not to be ..... too long

National Gallery
This year's Borderlines has featured several longer than usual films, and having a bad back made me wary of committing to 3 hours in a cinema seat to see them.  However, I did brave National Gallery because I love galleries.  I don't know that much about art - my background is media and politics - but I love spending time in them, and 3 hours with Fred Wiseman's documentary team turns out to be not too long.

You look at pictures, you look at people looking at pictures (surprisingly interesting), you look at people restoring pictures, and curators illuminating the history and context of artists. There is no commentary - no voice telling you what to think/how to make sense of it.  You have to do the work yourself and it rewards you with a fascinating experience and lots of quietly subversive questions.

The first one emerges - as a framing question for whole film.  It comes from a meeting between the Director and his Marketing Manager, who is trying to persuade him that the Gallery does not know enough about us - the visitors.  Who is it all for, this extraordinary collection of art and expertise?  What is it for?  From the school children to the rich patrons, and all those in between – is it working for them?  Who is paying for it all?

I was reminded of a month spent filming in the Hermitage Museum in, what was then, Lenningrad in 1979, and the parties of soldiers, nuns, students, workers, teachers, pensioners, children passing through every day – a very different (and long since forgotten) way of using their national art collection.

National Gallery
The National Gallery slowly reveals itself to the cameras and watching the film is like spending several days there, with privileged access.  I learnt so much about the artists, the pictures, the process of restoration, which itself is subject to great changes in fashion.  Since TV discovered Factual Reality very few documentaries are made with no commentary.  Savour it – it may not come back into fashion – the desire to involve the audience in creating the meaning – like good art perhaps.   National Gallery does it masterfully.

Maybe it is just a trifle long though…….. 
Jane Jackson, 
Borderlines Chair



Wednesday, 11 March 2015

A Piece of History

As Borderlines Film Festival 2015 rolled into The Courtyard, the technical department decided to go for a bit of nostalgia and set up one of our Victoria 5 35mm film projectors for all to see in the foyer for the duration of the festival.

The Victoria 5 was first introduced to the world of film in 1975, built by Cinnemeccanica based in Milan. Developed as a low cost 35mm machine for use in multiplex cinemas, the Victoria 5 would become the firm’s most installed unit accounting for 95 percent of sales of 35mm equipment worldwide.

Here at The Courtyard we still have the capability to project 35mm film and a fully functional Victoria 5 projector is still used within our studio space, although with the coming of the digital age, the distribution of 35mm film prints is becoming more infrequent with most films arriving on a hard disk as a Digital Cinema Package.

But with some of Hollywood’s biggest studios still shooting on 35mm film every year, there will always be a place, certainly in my generation, for this wonderful medium to continue allowing films to be seen as the director intended when they shot it.

Below are a few photographs of the Victoria 5 in the foyer here at The Courtyard, taken by our resident Production Manager, Carl Hulme. More of Carl’s photography work can be found at carlhulmephotography.com.
Lens housing of the Victoria 5
L to R: Simon Nicholls, Chief Projectionist, Martyn Eatkins, Deputy Chief Projectionist
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Simon making adjustments to the lens housing


Martyn checking the film has been laced up correctly
 Dave Beever
Chief Technician
The Courtyard, Hereford

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Foxcatcher is based on a true story too. I watched it two months ago at Worcester’s Vue cinema. In one scene we’re shown a field where 3,000 soldiers were killed during the American Civil War. I was sitting one hundred metres from a site, the old City Gate, where 3,000 Royalists were slaughtered during our Civil War. I didn’t know anything about the Team Foxcatcher story. I had been waiting to see Steve Carell in a drama. I have enjoyed his work since The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and far preferred his portrayal of the line manager in The Office. He exploits the humanity in his characters – The 40-Year Old Virgin, Little Miss Sunshine, Date Night – because it gave these comedies more scope. I cared what happened to them. So, as far I was concerned, Carell was already well-versed in dramatic roles. It became apparent, very early on, that Foxcatcher was going to be a sad film.

The Academy Award for Best Actor is a sprint finish in a cycle race. The team does everything that needs to be done for the one man launched towards the finishing line. It’s difficult to identify what’s wrong with Foxcatcher. Everything is top of the range. The period detail, late 1980s, is immaculate (but not too intrusive). The cinematography is evocative. The acting is never less than spot on. Steve Carell creates a believable John du Pont, the multi-millionaire who took it upon himself to provide the USA with a wrestling team that can win Olympic gold. You will believe that Mark Ruffalo is a better wrestler than his brother, played by Channing Tatum, who’d surely tear him apart. Vanessa Redgrave raises the standard in every scene, as John’s mother, without leaving her chair. Sienna Miller has a role that could have done by a hundred others, except that hiring a newcomer may have distracted the audience. The women never meet. It’s all about some men; uncommunicative, aggressive, self-obsessed men.

Ruffalo, giving a family man version of his character in The Kids Are All Right, plays David Schulz as a Saint. Ruffalo was in The Zodiac Killer too. Every time a lifer dies his agent gets an offer. There was one word delivered, off screen, in the voice Carell uses for ‘Gru’, his character in Despicable Me. After their initial success Du Pont continues to give the wrestlers everything they need but they just sit around. For a moment the movie appears to be saying something. It goes back to the story.

Why isn’t Foxcatcher better? It isn’t possible to do it any better. I think it is the story. It makes an eye-catching magazine article but there wasn’t much to it. Two taciturn men, who prefer bizarre behaviour to words, and the poor guy stuck in the middle trying to work them out. Will he crack the code in time? There were a lot of films made in the late 1960s and early 1970s with sudden, jarring endings. Even in real life it’s a cheap way of resolving the plot.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Whiplash - the good is the enemy of the great?

…or is it the other way round?   I can see what all the fuss is about.  Whiplash (shot in an incredible 19 days) is a mesmerising film about what it takes to be truly great, rather than merely brilliant.   We’re talking Mozart and Charlie Parker rather than Vaughan Williams or Jamie Cullum.   Miles Teller as the young drummer is extraordinary.  You can fake a guitar solo or use camera tricks with the piano, but there appears to be little trickery here, just blood, sweat, tears and a lot of drum solos.   Teller comes from a musical family and owns a drum kit.  He’s probably a ‘good’ drummer, and of course through the magic of cinema we believe him to be a great one.

The real core of the film is the performance of J K Simmons as the scariest teacher on the planet.  A friend of mine studied the Japanese flute under a Japanese master, and each time he made a mistake was beaten with a stick.  A Mary Poppins compared with Simmons who uses anger, violence and humiliation to push his students to (and sometimes over) the edge.  As he says, the two worst words in America are ‘good job’.  Ironically, Simmons was something of a Mary Poppins on set.   Actors eh!

Simmons’ methods reminded me so much of my old grammar school headmaster, who didn’t actually throw things but was a master of fear and humiliation.  I suppose I’m grateful in a way that he gave me a valuable lesson in how not to teach.  My own efforts in education didn’t create a Charlie Parker, but did produce lots of people capable of a doing a ‘good job’.  And unlike Charlie Parker they didn’t die of a heroin overdose at 34.

So, film A +,  teaching methods C -.  And as Confucius said ‘Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without’.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Pandora's Box preview


Pandora's Box
Pandora’s Box is a silent movie from 1929. It’s also a million words more than that. Stephen Horne, a musician based at the British Film Institute Southbank building, will provide piano accompaniment. It’s the story of ‘Lulu’, the most tragic woman in fiction, played by Louise Brooks, the most beautiful woman of modern times.

If I may ask you to permit me a preamble... In 1980, after 20 years of investigation and restoration by Kevin Brownlow, Abel Gance's epic, Napoléon (1927) was screened again. Gance died the following year. “En 1983, Kevin Brownlow projette au Palais des Congrès une copie restaurée du Napoléon d’Abel Gance” – and was awarded the Légion d’honneur by the French Government for this work. In restoring the film, Kevin had also restored the standing of Abel Gance, a visionary, and the reputation of the silent movie era.

Kevin Brownlow received an Academy Award in 2010; the first time an Academy Honorary Award had been given to a film preservationist. Kevin’s ‘Oscar’ acceptance speech began: "If you ever wondered what reflected glory looks like, this is it!" A few days after being honoured in Hollywood, Kevin Brownlow introduced his own film Winstanley (1975) and a selection from silent shorts at the Borderlines Film Festival in Hereford. [Douglas Fairbanks Senior was a riot in A Modern Musketeer directed  by Allan Dwan (1917). He takes on an entire tavern full in one fight scene: it is thrilling, silly, violent and the punchline (on ‘intertitle’) got a huge laugh.]

Kevin was a friend of Louise Brooks. The silent movie industry had been utterly neglected: its masterpieces lost, its stars forgotten. He spoke to her at length about her own work. When his first history, The Parade’s Gone By… (1968), was published Louise reprimanded him for not realising the importance of hugely popular actors of the time, such as Clara Bow. We would never have known.

I had a short chat with Kevin at Borderlines five years ago. That’s about the extent of it. I sent him an email last night and received a reply by breakfast.

Dear Robin:
I am having to deal with a TV crew, so forgive haste. How about this quote from my Parade's Gone By...?

"Of all the stars of that era, Louise Brooks has emerged most triumphantly. She has become the object of idolatry for thousands who are far too young to remember her in silents and who base their admiration on revivals at archives and film societies. They see in her an actress of brilliance, a luminescent personality and a beauty unparalleled in film history."


Louise Brooks

Very best of luck! Give Stephen my regards
Kevin

Robin Clarke
Festival Volunteer



Thursday, 5 March 2015

Borderlines at Tarrington


The Lady Emily Hall, in Tarrington, has been involved with the Borderlines Festival for 5 years now – an association which grew out of our participation in the Flicks in the Sticks scheme. Originally, we used the Flicks technician and equipment service for the showings, but have now acquired all the necessary kit and (most of) the expertise to run them ourselves.

Preparation for the Festival, for us, starts before Christmas, when I am sent the catalogue of films to choose from. I then circulate this to about 30 of our regular Flicks attendees and ask them to pick their choices for our 2 showings. This usually results in a list of 20, which has to be re-circulated as a short-list ! Having picked 3-4, we submit these back to Ian Kerry, with dates, and he sorts out clashes between nearby venues and allocates us 2 films.

We are probably not bold enough, from an artistic perspective, when choosing films, because we are looking to get as large an audience as possible to maximise revenue for the Hall – the increased publicity from the Festival is very effective in doing this. However, the Festival films are usually very popular and the audience comes from all over Herefordshire.
In Glorious Technicolor event with Francine Stock Lady Emily Hall, Tarrington, Borderlines 2012
The Borderlines films nearly always provide us with the biggest audiences of the year, sometimes spectacularly so ! A couple of years ago, we showed Resistance (filmed in Herefordshire) and after having a lot of enquiries in the preceding week, decided to run 2 showings in the evening, without our usual mid-film break – so we started at 7pm with 110 in the audience, then ran it again at 9:30pm with another 45 as audience – our average Flicks audience is 35.
Interval tea break at Lady Emily Hall
We always provide refreshments at the halfway point in the film, with wine for sale as well, and often have this available before the films – in fact, my primary concern before the night is to judge the audience numbers correctly so I can provide enough wine ! I had to go home for more, while Grand Budapest Hotel was showing, as we had run out before the film.

The half-time break is sometimes difficult to finish, as everyone becomes engrossed in conversation – turning the lights off normally works ! It’s also useful for feedback, though, if the heating or sound level/ quality aren’t right – I’ve added sub-titles at this point several times.

It’s all a team effort, as it wouldn’t work in our Hall without volunteers who set out the chairs; prepare and serve refreshments; print the posters; distribute posters; and finally clear-up afterwards.

It also wouldn’t work, without the team at Arts Alive in the background, preparing the programme, all the associated publicity material and everything else required.

John Tallis
Flicks in the Sticks Promoter, (projectionist, wine waiter …)
Lady Emily Hall, Tarrington

Films screening at Lady Emily Hall, Tarrington at Borderlines 2015