Monday, 29 March 2010

Wood Green

I've spent the last few days travelling backwards and forwards between here and the other side of London. Why? For the 8th Wood Green International Short Film Festival, which kindly selected my films Paintbrush: The Epitaph and Hungerford: Symphony of a London Bridge. This is my third consecutive year screening in the festival, and it's been interesting to see how the event has developed and grown during that time. From the increase in the quality of the shorts through to this year's introduction of Q&A sessions, the fest has evolved into something really worth paying attention to (no doubt due to the hard work and enthusiasm of current festival organiser David Waterson).

As the actor
Adam Deacon rightly pointed out while hosting the award ceremony at Alexander Palace, people often have negative ideas about Wood Green, but the festival serves as a testament to the talent in and around the area. For instance, two of my favourite films from last year's FilmstockMilk Man and Modern Life Is Rubbish – were screened in the local programme, while the Venice-selected GirlLikeMe took home the local award. Moreover, the impressive work on show from the Youth Film Day showed that there's a promising new generation on its way.

Of the work I saw from outside the borough, I particularly enjoyed
Viliam and Stretching, while Photograph of Jesus was a fitting winner for the best UK short.

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Thursday, 18 March 2010

Quote for the Week

'One doesn't paint souls. One paints bodies; and when the bodies are painted well, damn! The soul, if they had one, the soul shines forth and shows through from all sides'
- Paul Cézanne, Une visite au Louvre

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Scorsese does Soderbergh

After waiting out the months of delays, I finally got to see Shutter Island on Friday. I've made no secret on this blog of my love for Scorsese, so, understandably, my expectations were high. As is usual for a Scorsese film, Shutter Island evoked plenty a ghost of cinematic past. However, the film which it called to my mind most strongly was not one of the many films of the 40s and 50s to which it pays homage, but instead that other recent filmic metatext, The Good German: both films (very successfully) play out as attempts to pay tribute to, and reinvigorate, the films of the post-war period, both in style and content.

It is often said that Soderbergh is a polystylist whose clearest auteurist signature is his eclecticism. Although I don't think that's true (or indeed know if it's even possible to speak of such things in a post-Barthesean age), I do feel that somehow The Good German fits snugly into Soderbergh's oeuvre in a way which, upon initial viewing, I'm not sure if Shutter Island does into Scorsese's. As someone who has always argued in favour of Scorsese the filmmaker of staggering range, as opposed to Scorsese the filmmaker of gangster pictures, I'm not entirely sure what I mean by this – but it somehow felt like the typical Scorsesean exuberance was...lacking. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying for a second that it felt like Scorsese's touch was missing – it's far from absent – just that it felt a little more subdued than usual. Perhaps, and I think this is the point I'm trying to make, Scorsese did this deliberately, downplaying his own personality in favour of channelling the filmmakers of the past.

Lest this all seem a little negative, I should state that I enjoyed Shutter Island a lot. It's powerful, gripping, moving and intelligent. But there's still a part of me which can't but agree with Jonathan Romney's remark in his Sight & Sound review of the film that 'Even the most fascinated Scorsese followers may need more than one viewing to decide whether Shutter Island really works or is simply an experimental folly'. To return to the comparison with The Good German above, Romney's statement could well be applied to almost all of Soderbergh's films, and, as it happens, more often than not, his films really do work. So, for me, I guess the jury is still out on Shutter Island. But, if I'm honest, I can't wait to revisit it and find out my final verdict...

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Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Quote for the Week

Having at last completed my Dreyer 'season', it felt like there was only one possible way to follow up my last post: with the final words of My Only Great Passion:

'In early 1968, Dreyer fell and broke his hip. The recovery seemed to go well until, unexpectedly, he was stricken with pneumonia. On the morning of March 20th 1968, Carl Th. Dreyer died.
A few days later, Denmark's most celebrated motion picture director – and one of its most important artists in any medium – was buried in Frederiksberg Cemetery, in a simple ceremony attended by his family and many from the film industry who had known and worked with him. His small head stone simply says

Carl Theodor Dreyer 1889-1968

For a man of his stature, nothing more is needed'.

Friday, 5 March 2010

What Makes a Filmmaker Great?

Here's a post that I've been meaning to write for a while, but only just got around to. Apologies to my regular readers for the lack of proper posts recently. Thanks for sticking around.

Last month, I finally finished reading
My Only Great Passion: The Life and Films of Carl Th. Dreyer by Jean and Dale Drum, which I've been slowly reading as I study my way through Dreyer's complete oeuvre (and hence the recent Medea related posts). Along with my own obsession and admiration for his work, my Dreyer 'season' (if you will) is part of the reason for the continual referencing of his work on this blog, so some of you will probably be pleased to hear that it's coming to end (what next, I'm not quite sure, though I'm considering a potted history of British cinema). I feel like I've learnt an awful lot about filmmaking from studying Dreyer's films and theories, and of course the many books, essays and documentaries I've been taking in alongside the films. As those who know me well can testify, undertaking a study such as this is nothing new for me, and in 2006 I spent seven months trawling my way through the work of another of my favourite filmmakers: Stanley Kubrick.

One thing that struck me very early on when reading My Only Great Passion was how many similarities there were between Dreyer's life and personality, and Kubrick's (at least as described by
Vincent LoBrutto's seminal biography). For instance:

• They both had an early interest in flying which they later lost.
• They both started in journalism.
• They both had an obsession for meticulous research.
• They both mainly worked on films adapted from pre-existing material.
• They were both very productive in the early years of their career, but ended up with long gaps between their final films.
• They both have reputations for being tyrannical on set – reputations disputed by those who actually worked with them.
• They were both said to have never shouted on set and have an exacting politeness which meant that they actually always got what they wanted.
• They were both perfectionists who wanted complete control.
• They both had long, stable marriages.
• They both had a great fondness for animals and pets.
• They are responsible for perhaps the two greatest unmade projects, which also happen to be about the two most written about people of all time: Napoleon (Kubrick) and Jesus (Dreyer).

Although a lot of this can be put down to coincidence, it does make me wonder if there's also something more to it. Perhaps, quite simply, some of the qualities listed above are the qualities that make filmmakers great.

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