It’s taken me many months to track this one down but I finally nailed it, if you’ll excuse the rather suggestive expression, last weekend. Ever since it stormed Cannes in May and in an unprecedented move secured the prestigious Palme d’Or shared between the two lead actresses and the film’s director this has been a priority on my cinematic sensors, but alas it eluded me at both the Toronto and London festivals due to alternate priorities, as I figured that such a high-profile film was bound to get UK distribution at some stage. So, scanning last weekend’s release schedule I was pleasantly aroused to see that it was playing at my local Cineworld, quite a surprise as a three-hour subtitled so-called ‘gay’ drama isn’t exactly their métier, as I assumed I would have to journey to a Picturehouse or Curzon site to finally see what all the controversial, panting buzz was about. In what is perhaps the most brilliant scrabble scoring cast list Blue Is The Warmest Colour is the story of Adèle (a phenomenal breakthrough performance from Adèle Exarchopoulos), a fifteen year old French college student who instigates a hesitant romance with Emma (Léa Seydoux) a slightly older, more mature blue coiffured openly gay fine artist. That’s it really when it comes to the plot, it’s very much a melodrama focusing on Adèle’s sexual awakening and her romantic relationship moving from a tentative teenage lust into complicated adulthood amour, although in terms of context I should also mention that producer & director Abdellatif Kechiche has adapted his film from the 2010 graphic novel Le Bleu est une couleur chaude by Julie Maroh. The author is determinedly not happy with the film, a position shared by Seydoux or Exarchopoulos although their antipathy toward their acier auteur has somewhat cooled since complaints emerged over his alleged unprofessional and wretched behavior, with his crew also voicing concerns over his gruelling shooting practices and Union baiting violations. Fiction and non-fiction collide as clearly this film has passionate elements coalescing around its tear streaked core, with a pulsing passion embracing its ideological, narrative, visual and production levels.
My expectations were high given the overwhelming praise the film has received in tandem with concerns over its tyrannical manufacture and muddied sexual politics, so I’m not being prurient when I assert that this is one of the most intimate films I’ve seen in quite a while and no I’m not simply referring to the explicit fucking (which we will get to eventually) but more Blue’s overall empathic sense of a single character’s life and loves. Adèle is framed constantly in close-up, even when sleeping, traveling to college on the bus or simply going about her daily business, and make no mistake that although the two leads are sharing the kudos (quite rightly I have to stress) this is defiantly Adèle’s story as opposed to Adèle and Emma’s story, as she is in every single scene and the entire film plays from her perspective. Over the course of three hours you the film sculpts Adele as confidant, to see and struggle with her through an intense process of empathy which is forced and forged by the camera placement, further enhanced by the lack of an extraneous umbilical slicing musical score. This visual closeness has caused some consternation which again I’ll cover a little later, but in terms of other designs food and consumption is also a constant motif, I know the French are famed as a nation of gourmets but be warned that this film may decimate any potential diet, with the constant framing of events and character progression over family meals, dinner parties and café encounters which suggest our desires linked to the satisfaction of biological urges, elements which are essential to survival, both chemical and spiritual.
Many of these scenes are also pregnant with sociological charge , as Adèle’s romance with the artistically attuned Emma suggests an intellectual mentoring of sorts, small divisions which are gently manipulated in a cluster of domestic scenes - Adèle’s upper working class parents serve a traditional bolognaise while she keeps their intoxicating relationship secret (Emma poses as a student helping with her studies) whilst Emma’s parents serve a fine chardonnay and luxuriant shellfish as bourgeois bohemians who respect their daughters sexual identity, openly supporting her unorthodox identity. It wouldn’t be a French film without an Existentialist discussion at some point and what do you know at the start of the romance that’s exactly what we get, but not in a pretentious posturing mode but as example of Emma’s world view and credo, of being true to one’s self and schema in a ideological imperative. As a straight male viewer it also provided an illuminating insight into areas of human experience which we heterosexuals may not consider, how the most elemental of romantic entanglements can be complicated by a gay identity; meeting your significant others family and friends; public displays of affection; musing a potential long-term future together and the possible rearing of children. On a construction level the film has also received some mild criticism for its rather basilar attitude to story ellipses and the movement of time, with cuts of months and potentially years in the narrative not being signalled with a usual slow dissolve or other signalling techniques such as dialogue exchanges or seasonal montages, on the contrary I liked this loose and slightly distracted approach which gives the film a spritely quality, a sense of vivacious movement which is captured in a number of scenes through Adèle’s fondness for dancing, an expression of her spirit bathed in poignée d’amour.
And so we alight upon the films controversial explicit sex scenes. Well, the first thing to say is yes, they are extended and yes, the camera lingers over details for what seems like provocatively extended periods of time (the first encounter charts at about eight minutes I believe) and yes I did actually feel a little uncomfortable watching them, but not because I’m some prude or tittering adolescent which I understand plagued the films LFF public screening. No, I felt slightly uncomfortable because the scenes genuinely feel like an intrusion into an incredibly private and intimate relation between two people, I didn’t think it was even remotely lit or edited like a mainstream porn scene which some detractors have alleged, but as we have already built up an empathic rapport the scenes while powerfully charged do seem like a trespass would could have been curtailed to half the duration. We can understand why Kechiche lingers on these moments as they provoke an erotic charge and unequivocably instruct just how deep the well of passion is that both women draw upon, their sexual compatibility and passion, so they foreshadow the future problems of the emotional dimensions of their difficult romance. I can only speak as white, male, middle class straight observer – and almost every review I’ve read has seen the author take pains to contextualize their gender, class and sexual orientation which in itself is an interesting group response to a film – but I found the scenes essential as , and they also frame the future events of the film with a passionate authenticity. I have had these beliefs slightly challenged by an incredible review by Sophie Mayer in this month’s S&S however, its one of the best half-dozen film critiques I’ve read all year as it happens, where among a number of brilliantly astute observations – the rack focus from Adele to silent movie star and lesbian icon Louise Brooks during the dinner party scene, how the colour motif evident in the title migrates from Emma’s hair tints through the lighting patterns every time Adele directs her objectified gaze of desire – she slightly admonishes the film for its male perspective. For the uninitiated cinema has long enjoyed feminist born readings of texts, like the psychoanalytical model following Freud and Lacan’s models of consciousness feminist theory works from a position of gender inequality and patriarchal hegemony, and if you’re shaking your head in mock disbelief at the contention of these readings then I suggest you take more than a cursory look at just about any advert, music video or mainstream blockbuster these days. It’s brilliant to have your initial reactions challenged and that’s exactly what happens through this piece, as she points out that ’her body is subject to a constant disassemblage by framing and editing, reducing it to parts for consumption’ while the POV is directed from the (predominently) conventional male gaze of the audience.
With its designs echoing the realism of the Dardenne Brothers or the cinema of Ken Loach this is a powerful and affecting liaison and whatever its gender politics or potentially disquieting dimensions I found the film to be a deeply moving piece with a heartbreakingly poignant performance from Exarchopoulos, if she doesn’t walk away with just about every award that the foreign intelligentsia can offer then their really is no justice in this godforsaken world. Veering away from specifics but in Blue there is one absolutely devastating scene which was almost as difficult to watch as some of the gruelling sequences in 12 Years A Slave, with emotional torment and violence almost equalling the physical punishment that is inflected upon Soloman Grundy, I don’t wish to belittle the experiences of a man enslaved and tortured for a dozen years against a seemingly inconsequential cyclone of romantic turbulence but in terms of a wrenching force emanating from the screen then they are almost peers. It’s certainly one of the most essential films of the year from a cinephile perspective, although I don’t think it’s going to quite crack my top ten which I’m finalising at the moment it’s definitely glanced into the next tier of quality, so for what it’s worth Blue Is The Warmest Colour is a beautiful sapphire of a film, with a burning blue soul;
What ungodly sorcery is this? Is this lunatic blogger attempting to create some mockery of man by welding together two preceding films seasons into one scientific monstrosity? What kind of mind, plagued with delusions of cackling grandeur could possibly hope to amalgamate his year-long Universal Monster movie season with the BFI’s spooky Gothic celebration? Well, this deranged mind that’s who, as with the arrival of the November programme I saw my opportunity to stitch together two competing priorities with the shriek scorched screening of one film forming in Asmodian alignment – The Bride Of Frankenstein. It is an oft used phrase but the film is a corpse cold classic, it’s not often that a sequel can be considered the superior to the original but a strong case can be made in this instance, as the lumbering Karloff returns as the iconic creation of the gibbering maniac Dr. Frankenstein, locked in a nebulous nexus of mortality and madness, malevolence and murder. I’m not entirely sure why but the BFI flew over Karloff’s daughter Sara to introduce the picture, it was quite humbling to see the film with second tier Tinseltown royalty in attendance, and she quite disarmingly opened her remarks by asking ‘What the hell are you all doing here? Don’t you have anything better to do?’….
Screening as a gleaming new digital abjuration the film opens on a curious beat, a framing technique of a storm-swept Chateau housing the literary romantics Lord Byron, Percey Shelley and Mary Wollenscroft Shelly (Elsa Lancaster who makes a dual appearance in this film), she continues her story of man tampering in god’s domain of creation with a tale that immediately follows the explosive conclusion of 1931′s Frankenstein. The hulking monster has survived the pitch-fork wielding mob by hiding in the basement of the ruined windmill, awaiting his chance he clambers back to civilisation and ostracised by humanity he roams the gloomy countryside in search of a sympathetic companion or friend, another wretched soul who will not judge his horrific appearance. Meanwhile the apparently slain Dr. Frankenstein (a loon eyed Colin Clive) quite fortunately isn’t, as he sparks back into life with no apparent explanation - don’t ask, don’t tell I guess – after being sequestered back with his fiancée Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson) at the family castle. Vowing never to interfere in the infernal arts again his vow is shattered approximately 30 seconds later with the arrival of the blackmailing Doctor Septimus Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger, director James Whale’s eccentric theatre mentor) a professor who urges Frankenstein to continue his experiments with his support or he will reveal to the authorities his colleagues satanic meddling with creation, and soon the twin tyrants decide that perhaps the abominable beast can be tamed and controlled with a female companion…..
The first illustrative word that struck me when I mulling over this film is hysteria. I’m not just talking about the frequent screams and faints that many of the films characters emit when confronted with the hulking homunculus but also hysterical in its comedic sense, as the The Bride of Frankenstein is so obviously a sly satire on the printed tale with a performance style so ridiculously high that even Navajo construction veterans would suffer from vertigo. It’s shrieking blast of a film, a howl of sly obscenity and chaotic intellectual inquiry, with a necrotic beating heart at its centre which frames the monster as the poor persecuted soul who just wants what we all want from (un)life – a little friendship, a smidgen of affection, a tolerant respect. It’s so very difficult to take this scene seriously given just how effectively Mel Brooks demolished its metaphors in Young Frankenstein, but once these memories are quelled it does retain a quiet solemnity, cruelly punctuated by the interference of foolish hu-mans. Karloff wasn’t keen on the project as they made the monster talk – quite ironic just as the movies were finding their voice and shifting from silent to sound – and it was Whale you impugned his wicked imagination on the picture, including Lancaster’s dual parts as the Bride and her creator Mary Shelley, the bizarro world miniature sequence, crafting in celluloid clay a sequel which which was an enormous success the equal of a Jaws or Avatar of its day. Some of that success is due to the retention of his primary henchmen from the first movie including Jack Pierce’s groundbreaking make-up designs, by proliferating the film with cold tombstones protruding from the ground like rotten teeth framed in expressionistic lighting, and Franz Waxman’s key throbbing score (one of the unimpeachable best scroes of the 1930′s) which herald impish Wagnerian character beats for the principal puppets in this lunatic shadow-play.
The initial cut of the film was considered deeply subversive by the newly enshrined Breen Office, those moral charlatans curtailing the blasphemous religious iconography and subtextual teasing of society, forcing Whale to cut the film by a couple of reels down to a modest 75 minutes and incurring the loss of an entire child murder subplot which is erroneously blamed on the creature. As previously revealed I’ve been reading The Genius of the System which deserves its own detailed blog posting, nevertheless it grazes over the film in terms of the industrial infrastructure of Universal in the 1930′s and their production methodologies which drove the entire horror cycle, its fascinating stuff in comparison to todays package deals and modern production techniques as the picture went a generous ten days over schedule and cost a creepy $397,000, a relative bargain for an A list picture of the period when you compare that with a $250 million risk for something equivalent like the The Dark Knight Rises some ninety years later. Some of much of this is cliché now but if you push aside its firm infection of popular culture then there is so much to enjoy, the production design and ghoulish atmosphere is second to none, even as its plot veers from the ridiculous to the sublime in a stuttering heartbeat. Why give the monster a bride? Well, just because we can seems to be the imperative, as the kidnap of Frankenstein’s fiancée by the monster forces him to reprise his bubbling beaker and storm charged experiments they all lead to a hair curling conclusion which is amongst the best in the genre.
Enter the bride herself who makes the irrevocable impression, I’m struggling to think of any other female horror monster with an equal historical presence (the Alien Queen maybe, although that’s really not the same thing?) as she is on-screen for a maximum of 60, or maybe 90 seconds but her bird-like twitching physicality is firmly stained into cinema history, indeed no less than authority as legendary critic Leslie Halliwell cites the sequence as the ‘most bizarre and incredible six minutes in Hollywood history’. I’m not sure I’d go that far but it is a wonderful creature wracked moment which is arresting and heartbreaking at the same time, the poor beast dooming them all to a second plunge into the abyss as his abhorrent form is rejected by the living and dead alike. Some of these confusions around creation have led to readings of the movie as a gay film and I guess that’s one reading of it, the notion of an outcast from society seeking affection among persecution, or the scheming Pretorious enamoured of Frankenstein’s skills pulling him away ‘from his bride on their wedding night to engage in the unnatural act of creating non-procreative life’. Well, I guess it’s a notion which gains a meta-momentum given Elsa Lancaster’s status as the wife of the secretly gay Charles Laughton in what was obviously a marriage of mutual career convenience, of Whale’s admitted and open and Thesiger’s presumed sexual orientation, in any case it’s an example of a richly thematic film which hums with many potent symbols and charges, concluding on a satisfying emotional climax which reasserts the hetronormal status quo as Frankenstein is reunited with his wife. In terms of context the film Gods & Monsters charts Whale’s career in Hollywood and recreates the scene with amusing affection, Bride is one of Del Toro’s all time favourites and you can see his affection and affinity with the monstrous throughout his work, but hark is that a distant howling I hear that echoes eeriely from the moors? Be swift Igor, fetch my blunderbuss and silver shot, it’s a full moon tonight so we must hunt and slay that lethal lycanthrope and finally expunge that scourge of our kinfolk;
As I grapple with breathing life into my latest infernal creation – it just needs a little stitching around the decaying limbs and the infusion of an incendiary electricity – please permit me to signpost you wretched souls to the BFI’s repository of all things macabre, the awesome Gothic season website which lists all the events, screenings and video material of things best left undisturbed around the UK – its not just a London thing. Here’s the more recent season trailer for the second phase of frights;
I also have a curious urge to go and see the reissue of Gone With The Wind in all its 4K, four-hour restoration majesty over the Christmas season, mostly due to my finally finishing this fantastic overview of the studio system which really deserves its own report, one of the all time studio era classics could finish the year off in epic style. Before that we have a cabal of more Gothic chillers next month, but this weekend I think I will finally track down that elusive Cannes controversy….
Let us open with what can charitably be anointed as a joke – Zombie Lord ‘WHAT DO WE WANT?’, Zombie Horde ‘BRAINS’, Zombie Lord ‘WHEN DO WE WANT ‘EM?’ Zombie Horde ‘BRAINS’. Well, fuck you, it made me laugh. The Lord of the Zombies as we know them is the almighty George A. Romero, the Bronx born, Philadelphia based industrial training filmmaker turned horror maestro with his 1968 macabre Midnight Movie masterpiece The Night Of The Living Dead which seismically changed the foundations of horror cinema. This black & white, independently made staple of the drive-in and grindhouses sparked a cultural nerve during a period of social turbulence in the US, we’ll get into that a little later but its certainly one of the top dozen most influential post War horror films, so the opportunity to see Romero in conversation as part of the BFI’s Gothic season was an opportunity that was impossible to miss. It’s difficult to imagine but prior to this picture zombie cinema meant Lugosi in White Zombie or the eeriely atmospheric I Walked With A Zombie, two golden era tales where somnolent mannequins were being manipulated by Haitian voodoo warlocks to yield to their bidding, and only in 1968 was the idea of reanimated, brain ravenous mouldering corpses regarded as the cultural manifestation of the term ‘zombie’ which has since seized popular culture by the groaning throat. Now the undead hordes are everywhere, my weekly Lovefilm perusal of new releases can barely contain the epidemic of shambling cyphers which are of an increasingly deteriorating quality, alpha status stars are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into blockbuster translations of the pandemic, and of course the fantastic The Walking Dead has devoured the TV schedules – if you’d have told a teenage Minty that a popular, uncompromising, incredibly violent and gory long running series revolving around a groups fragile survival in post outbreak universe, well, hmph, I would have had no choice other than to impale you to a tree with my trusty spear-gun and strip your still twitching corpse of all reasonable resources and rations, whilst shaking my head in an excited glee.
Again with Alan Frightfest Jones in the interviewer chair the first thing that struck me was just what a humble and easy-going chap he was, I think he’s quite down to earth due to the relative financial returns of his movies, despite the wider cultural meme that his work has entombed and enjoyed over the past half century. I wasn’t aware that he started as career as general blue-collar production assistant on North By Northwest no less although alas he never met Hitchcock, before moving on to making commercial and industrial films he finally made the plunge into fiction filmmaking with the epoch defining Night Of The Living Dead. It was quite clearly an attempt at commercial success as horror movies generally enjoy the most efficient cheap production / maximum profit schemata of the entire industry, he wanted to make a return of course and pay back the crew whom all worked for free, but he said he was too busy working on his next project to pay much attention to the critical praise and financial success which was mostly diverted to their rather shady distributors. The deployment of a black & white patina to this hungry nightmare was fostered as a a financial decision, but he does feel that an alternate unsettling aura can be veiled over a film with monochrome photography, I think I know what he means when you consider films such as The Haunting or The Innocents which excel in the brooding and evocative over the gruesome and glutinous. This remains one of the great all-time horror film openings;
Socially speaking this was a
miletombstone for the genre, and Romero revealed that the night he and his producer partner picked up the first answer print from the lab and were driving back to the studio the radio crackled into life to inform them of the horrific news of Martin Luther King’s assassination. The sense of social malaise, of a society turning in upon and devouring itself is Night’s great gift to the masses, not to mention the racial undertones of casting a African American guy in the lead (Romero still maintains that this was purely because Duane Jones was the best actor, I’m sure he was but he must have appreciated the cultural undertones this casting would have inflamed in 1968) whom is executed by red-neck hunters in the final reel, not necessarily because he is black, but at a distance he appears to just be another shambling threat. Jones was quite rightly worried about his starring role given that at one point he has to slap a hysterical woman in order to bring her to her senses, and feared for his own safety after being seen on-screen as a black dude striking a white woman. Cities were ablaze, beatings were the norm, as the civil rights infestation struggled to infect the conservative body politic.
Next was Dawn and after an amusing head-splicing clip (this got a massive series of laughs and a round of applause, heh) he was a little dismissive of the 2004 remake, not as a film per-se or of Snyders filmmaking prowess but he questioned the point of the project (other than commercially of course), if the film really had anything to contribute as to its setting, themes, or musings then why even re-appropriate the title? Whilst I enjoy the movie the man is correct that there is really nothing that isn’t simply trading on the name, it could have been any other above average zombie movie regurgitated over the past decade, and there is no illustrative interplay between the characters so aside from a few amusing set-pieces there really isn’t much to recommend it – other than running zombies but let’s not exhume that coffin again. Alas there wasn’t much mentioned about my favourite Day Of The Dead other than they had to significantly scale back the ambitions of the production due to financial constraints, and a few action scenes and visions of a post zombie apocalypse city landscapes were abandoned, man I would have paid good money to see some of that. A quick detour into Creepshow territory then followed which marked a long friendship and series of collaborations with Stephen King – I keep meaning to revisit his (if memory serves) adequate but largely unremarkable TV adaption of The Stand which has probably dated quite badly – and he expressed surprise that this film which has built a steady fan-base over the years is the only film which he hasn’t been approached for a re-issue with a director’s commentary or retrospective reminiscence, or indeed any remake options for either the first or second installment.
He was quite candid on how Orion pictures generally fucked up two of his 1990′s efforts Monkey Shines and another Stephen King adaptation The Dark Half with their amendment of the final reels and the rigid enforcement of their horrendously restrictive contracts, a flirting with the mainstream which has soured Romero’s liaison with any studio ever since as he still sources his budgets independently by mostly trading on the waning kudos of his name. I have to say the last two Dead films have been terrible, whilst he is undoubtably a major figure in genre history (see also cult curios The Crazies, Martin and The Season Of The Witch) he has lost his touch which is no surprise as you get longer in the tooth, although I do still quite like Land Of The Dead which at least had a sense of coherence, horror and mild social commentary. For the connoisseurs this is his real contribution to the banquet of horror, a strong sense of social critique whether it be racial tensions, consumerism or the military industrial complex - three areas which are just as potently pungent as they were back in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties – as it’s the interactions and groupings that the survivors form after the outbreaks which are really the films spines, the micro examples of macro politics and groupings, whilst the gelantious gore and eviscerated entrails are the abhorrent icing on the cake.
You may be asking why I didn’t follow-up this with an actual screening of Night and the answer is quite simple – digital. They showed the clip above which looked great on the big screen, but it was obviously that this was a pixellated presentation and it just looks a little too sanitized, a little too clean for my tastes. I think we’ve established that I’m no tedious purist or Luddite when it comes to new technology, I just think that a film like Night of The Living Dead really should be savoured as a distressed print on the big screen, with sound glitches during reel changes, with claw and gnaw marks across the frames, with a sense of a diseased scrambling through the dirt if you’re really going to do justice to the films apprehensive aura. One day I’ll track it down alongside Day and Dawn (the Prince Charles regularly programmes trilogy all-nighters) but we already have quite the frightening feast to get through with this season over the next two months, with a further scares this weekend and a delious double bill at the start of December. In any case a genre nuclear reaction of Argento and Romero lurking in the same room with a throughly appreciative audience was one of the high-point of the year cinematically speaking, so let’s close with a fine montage from their chilling collaboration which asserts ‘when there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth‘;
Critical horror mass was successfully achieved this evening with the presence of two of the remaining legends of the industry in the same place, at the same time. I’ve made a hesitant start on last nights Argento event but to see him in the audience this evening as his old mate George A. Romero received the interview treatment was quite the genre occasion, with a terrific buzz of excitement in the air. Now, since I am entertaining guests this weekend I won’t be crafting my thoughts until far into next week given other work related activities, so here’s a quick placeholder which will hopefully sate your ravenous, ghoulish appetites;
The screening of Suspira was good fun, not to pre-judge things but I’m not a massive Argento fan, but this was a fantastic print which made for quite a double-bill. Then of course there is the king of the zombies;
All in all a terrific twilight close to my exceptional movie year thanks to the BFI, I may be mopping up with some further Gothic screenings next month……and of course yes, this cult favourite was mentioned…..
‘The Gothic is about mystery: the mysteries of the past, and of what lies beyond accepted thresholds of reality: the mysteries of what cannot be controlled by science; of sexual power and charisma; of the demonised and repressed; of the mythical and the dead’ - so intones Rhidian Davis superb Sight & Sound introduction to the BFI’s exhaustive new Gothic season which opened last week, with a formidable titan of the industry to usher in a serrated season of the morbidly macabre. What more can I possibly say about Roger Corman, the producer of over 400 films across his incredible sixty year career that I haven’t already mused upon here? Well, not much more other than to say that this was a fantastic season opener, with none other than Kim Newman occupying the interviewers chair for the 90 minute cantor through his wretched career, mostly focusing on his celebrated cycle of Edgar Allen Poe adaptions from the early Sixties which are beloved of genre fans, and have quietly been accruing more critical praise and analysis over the past half century. This report has taken a ling time to animate as the accursed day-job nas kept me occupied, but I couldn’t let All Hallows eve slip away without at least a notional stab at a sacrifice to the horror gods of the movies now could I?
If I’m honest there wasn’t a great deal revealed here which isn’t already widely known by his acolytes such as yours truly, beginning in the 1950′s with his work for AIP in just about every B movie genre of note (including inventing many of them) before striking out as a maverick with New World Pictures in 1970, cycling through just about every exploitation and youth orientated genre there has ever been – biker movies, drug films, monster flicks, SF strangeness, bikini beach movies, animal attack atrocities, delinquent movies, women in prison pics, kung-fu chopsocky and well, I could go on. He’s widely considered as something of a schlockmeister, the ‘King of the B’s' which is a sobriquet he quite enjoys, but given that he was a Oxford literature graduate there is a concealed intelligence beneath the prosthetics and bikini pictures, and an absolute crucial grasp of the industry as a business, and applying some of those techniques and - advertising, block-bookings, control your costs and always give the public what they want. So if the journeymen directors of Hollywood embraced the ‘one for me, one for the studio’ dichotomy then Corman will maybe be a ‘one for me, a dozen for them’, as he has on occasion crafted something more personal then the films designed to be shot in a week or two, with a budget of a couple of hundred thousand, designed to loot teenage wallets and purses at the drive-in before fading to obscurity before the next weekend’s picture shrieked on-screen. The most notable of these off reservation works, apart the Poe’s are probably the pre-Kirk Shatner starring The Intruder which looked at racial segregation and prejudice from the perspective of a bigot , and his step back in into the directors chair in the 1990′s to craft Frankenstein Unbound, a long gestating dream project of his.
But the emphasis of the evening was on the Poe films, as a childhood fan of the work of the emaciated gin chugging reprobate of 19th century he also confessed to an early adoration of Stoker and Shelley, so in 1960 he jumped at the opportunity to adapt the work of master of gothic literature, and had enough directorial intellect to design the film’s production and style around the psychological infrastructure of the source material. Poe’s books are deep psychological works which flirt with the otherwordly, the insane and the deluded so Corman felt that housing the entire shoot on interior sets where he could control all the production elements and provoke an unconscious sense of artificiality would echo the fevered perceptions of the anti-heroes erratic imagination, as always played with a malevolent nasal sneer by the screen legend Vincent Price. With his collaborators art director Daniel Haller and noted cameraman Floyd Crosby they conspired to deliberately mould the vivid colours of the costumes and production trappings to ferment a chiaroscuro effect on the film stock, heightening the dreamlike trappings and echoing the unreal impulses. It’s really quite rare for such a modest production to receive anything more than a cursory attention to details such as this – bear in mind that the film was shot in ten days at a cost of – but that atmosphere smoulders eeriely on-screen a half century hence, with more wispy tendril teared panache and pupating panic than contemporary chillers such as The Conjuring or The Exorcism of blah blah blah…
Newman treated himself to a few questions on The Tomb Of Ligeria, his favourite of the celebrated cycle (clearly he is a dolt as it’s the last of the season and suffers from the lack of originality, atmosphere and evocative atmosphere of the cabal) before moving on to further anecdotes which fuel debate, chief among them a quite amusing revelation on his counter-culture themed 1960′s cult classic The Trip – ‘Back in those days if you were going to experiment with something like LSD’ he explained ’it was considered wise to have a ‘straight’ partner who wasn’t on anything for safety reasons. We had sourced an isolated beach outside the suburbs of San Francisco to try the material, and soon a small merry band of friends and colleagues was snaking its way down the valleys. Of course, I had selected a young actor as my straight man, a impish young chap known as Jack Nicholson’ – cue a big laugh. Speaking of Jack he also ran through how the film The Terror was essentially formulated due to some unforseen rain on a Sunday, as kicking around his house and being unable to go and play tennis he called a screenwriter friend and they formulated how they could shoot a second film on the set of The Raven which was shooting during the day. Frontloading the schedule with the ‘star’ Boris Karloff for three days of shooting he then had the other cast and crew work in the evenings for the remaining eight days of production, drafting in other directors to film on a day by day basis – Monte ‘Two Lane Blacktop‘ Hellman, Jack ‘Switchblade Sisters’ Hill, and Francis ‘Jack’ Ford Coppola, before responding to Nicholson’s complaint that ‘every jerk in town is directing this picture’ before offering him a day with the riding crop and monocle – Jack’s directing debut. The result is a Frankenstein monster assembled movie which is quite amusing to watch,I’m not sure it makes much sense from memory but I’ve got to see it again with that amusing anecdote in mind.
He also recanted the Jaws story which I’ve frequently fleshed out here – ‘oh no the studios have cottoned on and are making B movies with ten times my budgets and making a killing’, and also a general discussion around the cult favourite The Man With The X Ray Eyes before a surprising thing happened – a Q&A without any inane or wasteful questions. Out of his entire career, out of over 400 films not one has lost money, as the only black sheep ‘flop’ of his career was the previously mentioned The Intruder which just lurched into a profit with a DVD re-release with a commentary with him and Shatner. Inevitably he was queried on the shift to digital which he naturally embraced given its cost efficiencies, robust speed and quality of representation, given his age you might have expected him to be a more conservative fellow but he has always embraced new technologies and industrial developments, being one of the first moguls to jump onto digital download and alternate delivery models in the past decade – and this of course is why he has always been successful. The only star persona I spotted in the audience was Jane Asher of The Masque Of The Red Death, but fret not as we have some further events lurking upon the horizon, pregnant with other starcrossed brood of this strand of cinema, and that’s before the December schedule arrives which I’m sure will have me howling with joy. A fantastic prologue to the season I think you’ll agree so let’s just remember exactly whom got there break through Corman as it’s an unmatched list – Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Peter Bogdanovich, Armondo Linus Acosta, Paul Bartel, Jonathan Demme, Donald G. Jackson, Gale Anne Hurd, Carl Colpaert, Joe Dante, James Cameron, John Sayles, Monte Hellman, George Armitage, Jonathan Kaplan, George Hickenlooper, Curtis Hanson, Jack Hill, Robert Towne, Michael Venzor, Timur Bekmambetov, Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern, Michael McDonald, Dennis Hopper, Talia Shire, Sandra Bullock, Robert De Niro oh, and um David Carradine, see who you can spot among this merciless B Movie medley;
I planned on seeing Captain Philips this afternoon and when I got to the cinema I had a bit of a shock – it had sold out. I can’t remember the last time that happened, so good luck to Mr. Hanks and Mr. Greengrass, I’ll try again during the week. Here’s the last update from the LFF, so we can draw a veil over that extravaganza whilst we move into the BFI Gothic season which starts for me on Friday;
If you’re so inclined my review is here, and whilst going for a sniff around youtube I recently discovered this which is a terrific documentary on cinematographers and the art of lighting;
I can’t imagine a more explosive finish to the LFF for me, this is my last film for this annual cycle of the festival and it was phenomenal – here’s a reminder;
NO SPOILERS but I must say this, even though you’re waiting for it through clenched teeth there is one scene in this film toward the end which is one of the most powerful pieces of cinema I’ve seen in quite a while, in general the last half hour or so is just……..phew. I can also see why it has one objection of a political nature which has offended some viewers, and mark my words those concerns will be amplified when the film goes on general release, but given that the film is lifted from a true story, and presumably that element is truthful, then those concerns are a little redundant if mildly understandable. As it hits all those Academy favourite elements there will be Oscars galore – male lead and support, direction and best film, although Gravity must be a lock for all the technical awards. Now where’s the number of my bookies?…..
In other news of a LFF variety certain ‘bovine’ comments in this review have caused some consternation, and in general the film has got a lot of flack from the Sight & Sound paddock of critics, even the normally genial Mr. Cousins has got quite upset over the alleged ’leering sex scenes’. I haven’t seen it so can’t comment, but it’s always nice to get a bit of a spat going isn’t it?
Hmm, not a bad list I suppose (no Starcrash? for shame sir), but I’d argue that E.T. and Alien are less SF than they are horror and melodrama respectively which just happen to take place within SF trappings – the 2001 write-up is fairly good though. Why am I muscling in on a blatant linkbait article crafted by the Gruandiad? Well, it kinda links into my latest review, of a man responsible for one of the most prescient SF’s of recent decades final effort to complete his beloved trilogy;
Review here, I’m sure I’ll get pilloried from some sections for my opinion but so be it, like George Washington I cannot tell a lie, and believe me as much as I’m ambivalent about 12 Monkeys I was seriously praying for a strong film to complete this so called Dystopia trifecta but alas it has stumbled at the final hurdle…..
Besides, nothing can phase me today as I’ve just negotiated a contract extension out to April, potentially May 2014 which is a huge relief, but it does mean I’m taking the lead on a specific programme which means I have to present to the GLA board and those god-damn suits down at City Hall just before Christmas – so no pressure. Annnnnyways, a new Wes Anderson anyone?;
OK, as my reviews slow down it’s time for some padding, but you might find some of the context to the better films interesting;
….and there is Nebraska with Payne;
…and finally the usual;
One more review to join the group, I thought that one would be quite difficult to coax out but once I got into it the words flowed quite easily – it’s not an easy film to crack from a single viewing and there is more going on than the trailer suggests. Given that I’ve already posted that teaser a few times here I thought a little overview of the Coen chaps career might be in order, especially since this film holds many connections to their earlier work;
I liked the cat, you’ll understand when it appropriately hits screens at Christmas - it is a particularly chilly film. I have to say I’m a litle distressed at missing some other events at the festival, I’m missing out on all the Q&A’s this year and I’d really have liked to catch Isabelle Huppert today but such is life, the day job must trump the hobby sometimes (sighs). Still, I’m sacrificing Friday morning for the press screening of 12 Years A Slave, it better live up to the extraordinary hype. Here’s the usual round-up;
A scattering of my reviews are slowly being processed, I don’t think I’ve particularly covered this before but it was quite an entertaining movie – everything that The Zero Theorem wasn’t;
So one film has finally got a full trailer which didn’t transport from Toronto to London, given Claire Denis’s world cinema stature I’m fairly certain it will get UK distribution over the next six to nine months, and believe me some of the people I discussed it with in Canada couldn’t praise it high enough as a rather distressing work which earns the inclusion of grevious subject matter;
I’m paraphrasing but one Wisconsin film programmer claimed it made ‘Nicholas Winding Refn look like Richard Curtis’ - sold. Finally, the usual;
I don’t know what genius decided to schedule the new Coen film’s with an early Sunday morning slot but here we are, ploughing through a very wet and blustery city for a packed screening of a fine little ditty;
I’m a huge Coen’s fan but I admit to being a little ambivalent on this one from my glimpse of the original trailer – the machinations of the early 1960′s New York folk scene really didn’t jump out at me – but this was intriguing an amusing little movie, one part O Brother Where Art Thou with a sprinkling of Barton Fink, all drizzled with the sense of a man’s life slowly closing in on him as seen in A Serious Man. It was better than expected, very funny in places with the usual vivid Coenesque characters, and a very odd structural framing choice which should encourage duplicate viewings.
I took it easy today with just the single film in order to free up some time and compose some reviews, tomorrow it’s back to the day job but I do have one screening planned during the week….
This unintended strategy in combining press and public screenings seems to be paying dividends, as today I managed to catch two more fantastic films with an unexpected guest to brighten proceedings, and there was certainly much more of an atmosphere to this afternoons programme than sitting with miserly hacks groaning and moaning throughout transmission. Unfortunately I have had to dismiss Blue Is The Warmest Colour from the list as catching this would have negated seeing both these movies, given that its guaranteed distribution here at some point over the next six months I’ll catch it later. First up, All Is Lost;
Boy did this shiver me timbers, a turbulant companion piece to Gravity now that I think about it, a near dialogue free testament to human resilience and endurance which soaks you in a gripping atmosphere from start to finish – Hitch would have loved it. Then something of a change of pace, my first ‘world’ cinema screening if you will of Koreeda’s fantastic Like Father, Like Son;
I’ll save details for my full review but this was a very funny and melodiously moving account of two boys switched at birth, and the reaction of their loving parents once the error is unearthed six years later. It was a pleasant surprise to welcome director Hirokazu Koreeda to the podium after the screening for a sadly short Q&A with Tony Rayns, but at least I’ve managed to slip in some talent spotting this year;
In other news, a big thank you to our Melbourne correspondent for sending me an unexpected treat in the guise of a copy of this, looking forward to finally beating that one off if em, you catch my drift. Now, if you’ll excuse me I have more nautical nastiness to watch and a metric fuckload of reviews to scribe….
My first sortie was largely succesful, Nebraska was a faintly moving sliver of Americana, The Double much more amusing and assured than anticipated, however for me The Zero Thereom was a delve to far into the negative zone – here’s what else has been happening;
It warms my cheeks, cockles my heart and other ridiculous cockney allusions aside to see just how Gravity is being embraced around the planet, some minor concerns aside it is one of the defining films of the year so I’m so happy that it’s so commercially and critically successful. I pray that similar ambitious experiments will be forthcoming…
Once more into the breach gentle reader, yes it’s that time again;
I missed the press conference for the opening night film and the press screening, and as it stands I won’t be attending much of that strand of associated material, but we do have a schedule which starts tomorrow so I’ll be dropping a handful of reviews over at SoS over the next couple of weeks. I’ll collate the daily round-up and associated material here as usual, in terms of Captain Philips I’m hearing some tensely exciting things as you’d expect from Mr. Greengrass;
Given that the film opens here proper quite soon I can’t say I’m fussed to see this immediately, as one has much bigger fish to fry over the weekend – the new Gilliam, Alexander Payne, Adoyade, Coen and a couple of others….
Just to break things up a little this looks like, woooaahhh, totally awesome, and has been getting some fun notices from a few festivals;
It could be a welcome break from the winter tedium when it lands in the UK on Boxing Day. Some of my LFF material has also been emerging prior to today’s official launch, this upcoming weekend is looking pretty darn deliciously brutal with quite an agenda – and that makes me happy. In other news, I’ve made my +4 intuition check which makes me certain that some of you novices may be interested in this;
Naturally this combination skill attack of the LFF with two Hanks movies opening and closing the festival in alignment with a RPG themed movie makes one conjure this…..
“Movies usually make a pact with the audience that says: we’re going to play it straight. What we show you is going to add up. But we don’t do that. In that respect, it’s about movies and how movies dole out information” said David Fincher about his crucial follow-up to the necromantic nihilism of Se7en, the puzzling profundity of 1997′s The Game. It is certainly a film which toys with the audience as much as its central figure Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) as he is drawn into the conspiratorial playground of Consumer Recreation Services, a mysterious birthday gift from his former substance abusing brother Conrad (Sean Penn) who promises that the titular experience will be like nothing else he has ever experienced, a bespoke baptism for the idle wealthy whom have seen and brought everything yet remain aloof and isolated by their lofty trappings of power. Van Orton is particularly haunted by his fathers illogical suicide at the age of 48 – a benchmark which he also alights upon as the film opens – charismatic yet cold he has an ex-wife whom evidently still cares about him but whose affection is faintly tolerated, with no other family or friends he haunts the families San Francisco ornate mansion like a sartorially enhanced spectre. After being rejected for the scheme after a curious combination of psychological profiles and medical audits Van Orton is plunged into a conspiracy that could be an elaborate hoax to wrest corporate power from his perfectly manicured nails, or maybe a simple grift is afoot to loot his bloated swiss bank accounts, or perhaps something more epiphytal is on the incorporated agenda…..
Broadly speaking I guess film can be considered as a specific form of an alternate reality game, a shared consensual illusion where audience members delve into an artificially constructed illusion which has cost millions of dollars to reproduce, a mirror of our submerged psyches and dreams writ large over culture and occasionally touching an electrically charged divining rod to our specific histories and experiences – why else would we have our favourite stars and genres, why do certain movies become more important to us than others? In The Game a man whom has everything we are told to desire is cattle-prodded through a purification which transforms his psyche, a benediction that teaches him the importance of the human interactions within his life, falling into relief and release during the final revelation rather than rising which to me reads like a trademark Fincheresque inversion of a deeply ingrained semiotic allegory. In Panic Room, another film culled from the elite’s fears of the underclass and the underbelly of society puncturing their gilded bubbles a gruelling experience transforms the heroines relations, as the game progresses Van Orton finds himself associating with the working class of San Francisco in confused disarray among their modest and carefully manufactured interiors, his very mortality threatened by an intransigent taxi driver who ignores his instructions and plunges him into the enveloping waters of the bayside docks.
Fincher clearly has a fascination with the gilded sects of society beyond these movies, in The Social Network he turned to the next generation of the so crowned ‘Masters of the Universe’ in utero, in embryonic phases of gestation before returning again to its chilly misogynist embedding in European society still nurturing a fascist fulcrum in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, or more recently the political puppeteers in his Machiavellian translation of House Of Cards. You must wonder exactly how much those bruising encounters with the Hollywood purse holders which litter his career affected his world-view and the constant struggle between art and commerce which all genuine talents must balance. Clearly something is drawing him to return to the same character types and themes, not to mention of course his attraction to aspiring consumerist Gehenna of Fight Club where perhaps those perplexing questions of the current contradictions of self within society are given their most explosive vent, in another psychological release with a rare humorous bend – well, if you find a dude sticking a round in his cranium as the only acceptable resolution to his problems as funny that is…..
I’ve always been fascinated with this second generation of directors who rose through the ranks of music video production to narrative pieces, this must have been where he crossed paths with Savides whom is also responsible for some stunning work in the field, inheriting the mantle from an earlier UK contingent whom similarly arose to prominence through advertising commissions such as the Scott brothers, Adrian Lyne, Alan Parker and Hugh Hudson. These were practitioners of the so-called ‘nouveau look’ movement crafted some deliriously supplicant visual texts but only a few were wise and intellectual enough to factor in sub themes and designs into their work, partially neglecting performance for style, their scripts and structure sacrificed on the altar of optical panache and serrating sound. The interesting filmmakers from this paddock embrace CGI at the point of story, not to embellish and amaze but to deepen and delineate the way they formulate the communication of the story in their head, and understand the corporate dimensions of the business and the peculiarities of the star system where a simple miscasting error can destabilise an entire project. In The Game for example Fincher rejected approaches from actresses such as Jodie Foster for the Deborah Karen Unger role as occupying that supporting role would seem odd for an actress of her calibre, and could deviate attention from the constant uncertainty of her piece of jigsaw – we instinctively know that she is involved in the plot somehow and the presence of a star persona would cement those suspicions. They also understand the importance of music as they have been bloodied in repeatedly cutting five & six-minute stories to soundtrack alone, appreciating and digesting the prevalent MTV designs of the era but not necessarily cutting to those rhythms and writhing in the mere surface experiences of visuals and images colliding across the screen.
This brings me back organically to the cinematographer of The Game whom was the subject of this tribute, the great Harris Savides whose work is considering among the best of the form of the past twenty years. This was his first big studio film (he did light the opening ofSe7en though which might be one of the most influential showreels ever) and as some of the speakers at the event pointed out his style shifted from a rather obtuse signaling of imagery to a more subtle pandorum of communication, the mark of genuine artist developing and exploring his craft from project to project. The film clearly shifts from onyx and sheer fluid blacks to autumnal browns as it oscillates through psychological seasons, as Van Horton moves from chilly remoteness to the perils of emotional engagement, all framed within shadow stretched faces and overexposed rear planes, an iconography of renewal and growth which alights on a brighter, cleansing more promising (SPOILERS FOR THE ENDING) palette.
Now as usual lets movie from the archly pretentious cinephile stuff to the fanboy observations, I’ve said it before but the sight of Days Of Heaven narrator Linda Manz is a trainspotting (the activity, not the film) style coup in cameo appearance, and was that Spike Jonze as a paramedic in the final scene? I just love this movie and have regarded it as perpetually sadly neglected among Finchers dark nebula of human interactions, the logical Parallax View homages also refract back to the pulsing paranoia trilogy of Pakula, and like those 1970′s pieces the characters complexion and journey is of ultimate importance, it’s everything, it’s why every scene is propelled from Van Horton’s perspective thus making us unwitting confidants for his journey, wrestling with the same suspicions and paranoid inflections as we also never get a peek behind the curtain to see who is puppetering the patient. Douglas isn’t usually noted for his performances but he is a great actor when the occasion demands, it’s no mistake that this was ten years after the ’Greed Is Good’ catchphrase of 1987′sWall Street and Fincher must have had these factors in mind, so perhaps the film is a recalibration of the Clinton era Democrat display of fiscal affection for Wall Street embodied in the repelling of the Glass Steagall Act, a prescient foreshadowing of the financial collapse to come. Crucially Van Horton’s opponents are faceless cyphers, unmet and unseen, there is no antagonist to fear and we all know that Deborah Karen Unger’s character is involved in the plot somehow, but these suspicions are twisted and refracted as the structures and buttresses of his life are dissembled with the cold calculation of a takeover assault – his eerie mansion home, the five-star hotel suites, the teak moulded smoking rooms, his corporate HQ.
I have been musing over the best approach to the frequently criticised finale but I think I’ll keep this spoiler free but you can peruse that link provided above, other than to say this is a movie that in some senses is about movies so that potentially implausible decision needs to be digested within a certain pre-erected framework, when you’re telling stories through moving images a physical action can be everything in terms of communicating an idea, a shift, a breakthrough to an audience, and in terms of Nicholas’s final arc it is a perfectly logical resolution which of course is informed by his hereditary So now I can rest on my laurels for 24 hours as that’s another goal reached – every Fincher movie now seen at the flicks, of course these days I will see a new film of his during the weekend of release just like the other main behemoths in the Menagerie paddock – Nolan, Scorsese (well apart from the documentaries), Mann, Lynch, Spielberg, Anderson, Malick, just to name but a few. Alas there isn’t a great deal of material out there in terms of background material which may give this rubik’s cube film a puzzle solving context, so instead here is a fine little montage of his work and some thoughts on cinematography which of course is unusually apt for this post. Until I return with the second film of the event this looks (heh) pretty great as primer on the art of film light and shadow, but let’s close with a final peek down that rabbit hole;
Now here’s something to get our teeth into prior to the LFF exploding next week – on Sunday the ICA in London are hosting a tribute to one of the finest cinematographers of the contemporary era, the remarkable Harris Savides who passed away last October at the sadly premature age of 55. One need only cast the eyes over his CV to identify a procession of fantastic films and music videos, and the Badlands Collective have quite brilliantly sourced 35mm prints of two of his greatest achievements that I’ll outline shortly. Why am I published a context post? Well, given the material I’m minded to give both films the full Menagerie treatment, after musing over the programme I’m convinced that a single post covering both films and situating his work in context would be rather an unwieldy beast, and given that full film reviews have been rather sparse here recently I need to get back into the game (if you’ll forgive the pun) if I’m going to do the LFF justice. Here’s what’s first on the agenda;
Hmph, they don’t make teaser trailers like that anymore do they? I’m an enormous admirer of this film which like Panic Room usually gets overlooked in the Fincher constellation, this should be an interesting experiment as billionaire bankers weren’t exactly sympathetic characters back in 1997, let alone 2013. Still, that’s kinda the point, and despite the film being rather fresh in my mind after a small screen revisit last year this promises to be quite an investment.
Given Jonathan Glazer’s return to the spotlight after the growing anticipation for the otherworldly Under The Skin the further tipping point of my attendance at this double bill was threefold – the prospect of catching an elusive Fincher on the big screen of course, and then not only the presence of Glazer to introduce this screening of his movie but it also being his personal copy of the silver nitrate 35mm print of his film which I’m told hasn’t been publicly projected since its Venice debut a decade ago – celluloid catnip if ever I heard it. I did see Birth at the cinema upon its release back in 2004 and loved it, even then the obvious Kubrick comparisons were proceeding with the cool dexterity of an immaculately framed and executed dolly shot, so this gives me some licence to delve into earlier material as believe me the opening aira of Skin is perhaps the closest a collegial acolyte has come to grasping Stanley’s mantle in the past fifteen years. In the meantime here is some more of Davide’s work on the sadly increasingly haunting and precient Elephant;
Some further good news this week which should have minstrels of the macabre writhing in ecstatic adoration, as I just received notification that I’ve secured tickets to not one, not two but all three special events which jumped out at me from the BFI’s imminent Gothic season – back of the blood-stained net. Although I’m minded to keep these activities veiled with a shroud of mystery I’m too excited to keep schtum, but before we get into that the final press release schedule for the LFF has also been circulated today which provides some further fantastic news. Well, unfortunately due to my other commitments I’m afraid both the Brelliat and Jarmusch are simply not feasible, but the weekend schedule does mean I will be able to programme in the new Coen picture and a certain slice of lesbian art house controversy, pending confirmation of press tickets to public screenings of some other material which may be more difficult to secure – we should see. In any case I should be able to commit to more material than anticipated as I’ve been simply unable to book time off for any of the press screenings which started a couple of weeks ago, but this does mean we’re looking at a couple of weekends of back to back gorging which should make for a modest, but still successful spread. Then we move eeriely into a BFI celebration of chills, beginning with a screening of perhaps the most influential zombie movie ever made;
Pretty tasty I think you’ll agree, an early nightmare of all those mindless, groaning, perpetual consumers…..So yes the godfather of ghouls is over for a Q&A which is a brilliant coup, it may seem like a frivolous waste of funds to see Night at the cinema given that it long since lapsed into the public domain and can be seen for free just about anywhere (hence why it frequently crops as homage in other horror movies – there are no trademark fees to pay) but I think its only fitting to celebrate his appearance with a devouring of one of the most imitated and influential midnight movies ever made. And then we have this;
Italian horror comes in all severed shapes and behemoth sizes, The Beyond is a leftfield favourite of mine which should be quite challenging to cover from a research perspective, so I can really get into the guts of Fulci’s increasingly adored oeuvre. Speaking of the Italians;
I’m not the worlds biggest Argento fan but my only regret in not attending Frightfest this year was an appearance of the grim grandaddy of giallo, by all accounts though he was an irritable and stroppy sort and the Q&A didn’t exactly go down well. Maybe he’ll be a little more forthcoming when discussing his greatest film, a phantasmagoric nightmare which I’m positive will be quite an experience on the big screen. Then we look to Poe, and a fantastic companion piece to my faintly popular The Masque Of The Red Death post from a few years back;
To my mind there are three figures of the horror genre still drawing breath whom I would sell my soul to see. The first of course of John Carpenter who alas has not been netted by the BFI candy much to my disappointment, maybe one day I’ll finally catch up with one of my most influential inspirations but not this year. Then there is Christopher Lee whom I’m similarly glum in not seeing on the murderous roster, the BFI must have approached him given the restorations they’ve financed on some of the early Hammer classics which bloodied his career, maybe his health is such that he’s not up to public appearances anymore – a shame. They have however netted another titan and I literally shouted YES when I saw this on the schedule – Roger Fucking Corman is coming to London town;
This might be the film event of the year from a genre perspective, just to be crass for a moment this may also be his final visit to the UK given his venerable constitution, and completing this trio of guests should make for quite a roster. Of course there are many other films on the schedule which I’m simply dying to see – some other Hammers, a few more constricting items, some Universal golden age cadaveours which would dovetail perfectly into my long mouldering season – but I’ll have to play these by ear as I may just have some other horrendous news on the day job front – we shall see. It’s kind of a shame I’m working at all as I could seriously butcher this season and surpass my 22 Hitchcock articles personal best, but alas one isn’t independently wealthy and I have to keep a roof over my coffin somehow….but then again, this is just what’s on offer for October and November and the season stretches out through January 2014 so who knows where we might find ourselves;
Raise your virgin blooded sickles to the light of a waning moon if you remember my commitment to celebrating all the Universal horror movies as an ongoing blog season during 2013? Well, I haven’t, and whilst my latest Invisible Man post has admittedly been languishing in a torturous limbo whilst I was distracted with foreign treasures the latest BFI programme has just slithered through my portal, and the final spectacle of the long waited Gothic season has seriously got my blood pumping;
I’m not shedding any commitments yet as I’m rhesus A+ positive that some of the screenings will be satanically popular, so let me just say that there are three infernal guests on the table with associated screenings which I’ll sell my soul to see – and we’re not just channeling the fabulous new Hammer prints they’ve already exhumed. After TiFF and the LFF it seems there is indeed no rest for the wicked….(cue booming spectral laugh)….
It doesn’t take long does it, to return from a holiday and get back into the grove of everyday life, it’s all bit like going from the starstruck purlieus of a Sofia Coppola picture into the stark tedium of a Mike Leigh drama – welcome back to local government. Still, at least my staff have made some strides with some projects in my absence, and I get to ask Boris for £7 million squid for a scheme I’m leading on next week, the chaotically coiffeured cretin. Until then movie visits are looking sparse so tonight’s entertainment will be of the home variety;
The phrase ‘amongst the best Russian action films ever made’ doesn’t get bandied around a lot, but I’ve good things about this evocative tale of a ghostly German tank which haunted the Western front back in 1944 – something a little different, comrade.
Then I figure it’s time to revisit an old friend, partially inspired by that BBC4 Soundtrack series I thought it was time to take a wander down to an early Scorsese joint, a film I haven’t seen in years. it’s been pretty slow trailer and news wise over the past week or so hasn’t it, but I guess I should link to the full preview for one of the best of the year – we shall speak no more of this until the end of the year.
Quite frankly I’m still exhausted from recent excursions hence the criminal lack of interruptions, my next planned cinema visit is for Prisoners next Monday night at a local Cineworld preview – in the interim I guess I’m obligted to post this;
How many do you reckon I managed? Well, for my first run at the menagerie going international I’ve stormed no less than 16 films at the festival, not bad considering two of these were four-hour documentaries so we could count them as two movies each, but they’re not so I’m not. In terms of spread as usual my itinerary kinda aligned with my general film preferences – roughly 25% documentaries from the leading practitioners of the field, 25% horror and genre atrocities, 20% oriental sourced cult movie madness, and the remainder the auteur led American fare, both Hollywood and indie in origin. General impressions is of a superbly run world-class operation, with a phenomenally diverse array of material from all over the world, and from what little I saw a useful side strand of debates, Q&A’s, industry seminars and all the associated networking, arguing and debate that you’d expect when a group of rabid fans and industry types get together in a confined space. I’ll peppering this post with some of my favourite screenings and associated material, some of this I’ve already posted ad nauseam but this is my final word on the matter so bear with me OK?
The public queues looked pretty awful but I’m not sure how you alleviate that given the festivals popularity, in any case at least they are not the frustratingly inept LFF who for the third of fourth year running have completely fucked up their members ticket launch and the public ticket lottery once again – how can that happen again, and again, and again? In terms of technology the 4K, surround sound auditoriums were stunning, enhancing films such as Under The Skin and Gravity given their cinematic nature in both sight and sound, they were both some of the most engrossing & brilliant cinematic experiences I’ve had in the past few years.
Now a long running dispute has rumbling on about cinema etiquette, and I’m sure I don’t need to rehash my capital punishment endorsing view of people who talk, text or fuck around with their precious phones during screenings, and I have to say other than an amusing incident during a packed screening of Night Moves - someone in the front row was messing about with their phone until a fellow colleague yelled out ‘FRONT ROW, TURN OFF YOUR FUCKING PHONE’ about 20 minutes into the film which was immediately complied with – at every one of the screenings I was at their were no problems or inconsiderate behavior, public screenings however may be a different matter. Then again I may have been fortunate with my press colleagues as this hilarious incident has now entered film culture lore, I was more impressed by the critic sitting next to me at my Cold Eyes screening who was writing his review on his laptop, with the screen pulled down to his knuckles so as to not emit any light, writing ‘blind’ just by touch typing. The only thing that slightly annoyed me was the steady stream evacuation of certain viewers around a half hour into some of the screenings, a practice which was due I assume to distributor types checking out product to see if it’s the sort of material their companies handle, the kind of film they might pick up for distribution in their markets, rather than actually going to see the film as a ‘film’ if you catch my drift – it can be quite distracting with a constant parade of bodies floating around in your peripheral vision.
A lot of the chatter was of the predictable ‘oh the festival is so corporate, the studios have muscled in’ variety, of course I can’t remark on past climates given that this is my virgin visit but given the 300 films in contention I thought the variety was staggering, including the big budget Oscar bait to be sure, but also the likes of Moebius which is just about the most offensive uncommercial film you could possibly hope to make (I liked it for an hour but then it began to seriously drag and its unique no-dialogue schtick exhausted my patience) will never ever get picked up for North American distribution and will maybe play in a handful of European arthouses as part of some offbeat ‘challenging’ season. There is something to be said for a buzz of a place when you’re having a spot of dinner on Kings Street and hear a distant roar of the crowd a hundred metres away because Scarlett Johannson has just exited her limo for the premiere of Don John, whether you’re a star spotter or not you can’t deny the ‘event’ status that such attention brings to bear, sometimes you have to remember that the name of the game is show and business.
For a peek behind that gilded golden curtain wandering into the press events was quite an experience, to quickly set the scene there is a special exhibition space sealed off in the Lighthouse, where the press and camera-people are arrayed facing the raised lectern, and before the above the line talent takes their seats they have to run a side gauntlet of photographers with camera flashes strobing away in an epileptic frenzy, with the paparazzi yelling ‘LOOK OVER HERE’ and “HEY, HEY, OVER HERE SANDRA’ – it’s all a bit like being in Coppola’s Somewhere although the razzmatazz diminishes after a couple of sessions. It was also amusing to me that we journalists may bemoan the ubiquity of star culture, of the all-pervasive emphasis on the attractive models and stars who front the films, but curiously never direct any questions to the screenwriters or producers on those panels, with maybe 20% of queries for the director, 80% for the A talent.
The city itself is remarkably chilled out for a major international metropolis, it always seemed so empty compared to the pandemonium of London, with a hipster vibe equal of Melbourne or Brighton which isn’t unusual given that I was staying in the hippie enclave of Kennsington / Chinatown, a 15 minute walk to downtown where all the fun was. I had a look around the Royal Ontario museum which was cool (it has a great dinosaur section) but I skipped the CNN tower as the natives informed me it was stupidly expensive for what the experience was, so I thought I’d give it a miss. Apart from that, it was movies all the way, and I loved how just wandering around with a press tag hanging around your neck was essentially carte blanche for anyone to approach you and engage in film related conversation, giving the enterprise a real ‘event’ and permeating vibe – can’t say I’ve ever felt that in London given how scattered and diffused the LFF is.
Commercially speaking this has been worth its weight in gold, I have about 300 emails from PR companies, distributors and associated industry types from across North American, Europe and beyond, so if I ever do decide to take this hobby a little more seriously I’ve already secured the beginnings of a healthy contact list, and I’m already receiving communiques about other new projects and events. So that’s that, a successful expedition in every sense of the word, so how do we improve on this for 2014? Well I’ve got one word baby – Cannes – so let’s continue with the training eh?