Sunday, 26 May 2013

Films This Week

(Click here to read my general introduction to the 'Films This Week' series of posts.)

After an unintentional hiatus last week, I'm back. (I was so busy last week that all my comments are too pithy to be worth posting here). 

Something in the Air
Watched The Seventh Victim, which has a good atmosphere, a couple of standout sequences and a brilliantly bleak ending, but which feels like the weakest of the Lewton's I've seen so far.
Went to see Something in the Air. It took me a while to get into it – which I guess was the time it took me to get to know the characters. And when I did, I can't say I particularly liked any of them (which perhaps isn't the nicest thing to say about an autobiographical film, although Assayas came across well in the Q&A which followed). The film suffers throughout from a slightly meandering structure, but as it progresses it builds a quiet profundity. It's also beautifully realised, and it feels like an authentic recreation of the period. Something interesting Assayas said in the Q&A: "I am defined by the perspective of the Nouvelle Vague" – in the freedom, if not the outlook. 
Watched The Ghost Ship, which starts as a clunky B-movie, but goes on to become an interesting examination of power (albeit one which still has the occasional clunk). I wondered if, given the year it was made, there was perhaps an aspect of political allegory to it - although something I read afterwards said it was meant as an attack on Lewton's bosses at RKO. Either way, it's a tense thriller with effective sequences throughout.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Quote for the Week

I read this a few weeks ago now, and I've not been able to get it out of my head since…
'Twice a week, watch a film about which you know nothing' – Mark Cousins, Outside the Bell Jar in Sight & Sound, April 2013.
I'm not sure I've quite put it into practice, but I've certainly taken it to heart.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Films This Week

(Click here to read my general introduction to the 'Films This Week' series of posts.)
Only two this week…
Went to the BFI to see 1860, which was great – I haven't seen a film depicting war as beautifully and as barbarically as this since Paths of Glory. The opening was frantic – effective, but also frustrating. The images were so stunning I wanted to soak them in for longer. So it felt overcut. Luckily, the editing soon settled down, but the splendour of the images remained throughout. It's not only a visual feast, though – there's a very quick, clever and convincing entwining of the personal with the political, making it an engaging and moving tale of the sacrifice of war.
La cicatrice intérieure
Back to the BFI for La cicatrice intérieure. It rendered me almost speechless. Writing about it seems reductive. (I am reminded both of my response to The Legend of the Suram Fortress, and of Kubrick's statement that films are an experience). Perhaps something more abstract – like a poem – might be suitable. In fact, that might be fun… A poem:
Footsteps of the Black Sail
(Faces in longshot)
Black. White.
Dark light.
We fight.
A primal scream.
A primordial screen.
Sand. Water. Air.
Fire. Flesh.
Rock. Cock.
Trudge on.

Mystic mythic black.
Where are your balls?
Trudge on.
A boat.
We float.
Black sail.

Fire. Water. Air.
Faces (in longshot).
I suppose I could persist, and write something proper. But why? Because I know this will be published on my blog? I can't let that alter the way I write this journal – it defeats the purpose. And to persist in writing something for no reason, on this occasion, seems like it would diminish the primal impact of the film's power.
An aside: I wonder if it was an influence on Gerry?
La cicatrice intérieure

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Quote for the Week

'…when we came to do Sunshine, we had this creature Pinbacker – Mark Strong's character – and I remember saying to the guys: "Oh, I know how to do this." And I didn't. When you have that arrogance it's deadly. I always believe you must approach something thinking: "How the fuck are we going to do that?" It should grow as you do it, and your ideas should come as late as possible, and as alarmingly and instinctively as possible' – Danny Boyle, p64, Sight & Sound, April 2013.

Monday, 6 May 2013

(Some of the) Films This Week

(Click here to read my general introduction to the 'Films This Week' series of posts.)
Slightly streamlined again this week, as some of what I've seen has been for research.
Cría cuervos.
Rewatched Cría cuervos. I was really struck by its melancholy this time. Very sad. I think it's creeping further and further toward my top ten films of all time, if one can say such a thing.
Watched Visages d'enfants. It's very good, though perhaps a little long and a little languid. I suppose, in a way, that's a result of the film's realism…not much happens in life either (but everything happens when nothing is happening, of course). The pace picks up for the final quarter. At times some of the editing made the space feel a little fractured (it didn't all quite hang together), but it was beautifully shot (by Léonce-Henri Burel, no less). It's a shame I watched such a low quality version. I'd love to see it projected. The avalanche sequence is brilliant (as is most of the last thirty minutes, even if it's a bit silly that Jean's step-mum knows exactly where to find him in those final moments). The only other thing that let it down slightly were a couple of moments of over-ripe symbolism. But, generally, it's a very fine piece of work. It also brought me back to my recent thoughts on whether silent cinema (or, more precisely, certain silent films) had a faster conduit to the inner lives of its characters. There are several times when a title card tells us explicitly what Jean is thinking (he was only hoping she'd get a scolding, etc.) – a short cut if ever there was one. I suppose you could argue that in filmmaking terms this is a little crass and simplistic (novelistic, even). And yet, if it's done right (as it is here) it seems incredibly effective. Of course, though, this is very different from the way A Page of Madness draws you in, once more proving that one can't make rash judgements about silent films as a whole. In the evening I rewatched The Leopard Man, which I really enjoyed. The baton-passing structure is brilliantly handled, and there's some very fine character work in the lead up to the kills – all of which are, in themselves, still very effective too (especially the first).
Went to the Antiquity in Silent Cinema screening at Bloomsbury Theatre. It was an interesting event, and busy, which was nice to see. Of the two films on show, The Odyssey didn't really do that much for me. There were some effective moments, but it never really came to life – perhaps in the same way as L'Inferno (though The Odyssey doesn't have that film's visual splendour). Julius Caesar was much better – a tragic melodrama, at once historical and epic, but familial and intimate at heart. There was a certain geometry to the compositions and designs which brought Die Nibelungen to mind, but the comparison is far too generous (Julius Caesar was very good, but nowhere near the quality of Lang's masterpiece).
Went to the British Independent Film Festival to see Sanctuary. It seems like the festival is doing good things for independent filmmakers. The film had some gentle human intrigue, but its real strength was its beautifully controlled compositions. Really striking.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Some Incomplete Thoughts on Incompleteness

From Dusk Till Dawn

In my last post, I touched briefly on the topic of the incompleteness of certain silent films, and the incompleteness of certain silent film viewing experiences. But a different kind of 'incompleteness' has been on my mind a lot recently too. More specifically, I've been thinking about it since I read Nick James' report from Berlin in the April 2013 issue of Sight & Sound. In his run-down of the festival, James lists Andrew Bujalski's Computer Chess as his ninth best film of the festival, before openly admitting to having only seen the first 45-minutes of the film. 
For some reason, this bothered me. Perhaps it falls down to the more common walk-out, which usually occurs when someone doesn't like a film – something else which bothers me. I have never walked out of a film, and never will. You don't judge a joke without hearing the punch line. And so it is with films. For instance, I can think of two experiences recently in which I've found the first hour rather a slog, only to be totally won-over and enthralled in the last third or so of the film (with the result that I now think highly of those films as a whole). I can even think of one film I hate which, when watching, almost won me over – and became all the more interesting for it. Films are, even at their most crass, artistic statements. Somehow, therefore, judging them without knowledge of the whole seems…wrong. 
I know this won't be a popular statement, but surely if you're going to have an opinion on something you need to be properly informed. I'm a big fan of Bujalski's work (and James', for that matter), so it's great to see the film being spotlighted in a magazine like Sight & Sound. But the film is listed as 92 minutes on IMDb – which means that James saw only half the film. And surely a lot can happen in half a film? It could derail into a total mess, or turn into a totally different film (imagine the impression you'd have of From Dusk Till Dawn if you walked out halfway through). 
In a sense, I've always (rather harshly) thought that if you don't see the whole of a film, you lose the right to have an opinion on it. I'm aware that by saying that I've probably just alienated every film critic reading this, but hopefully people will respect my right to have an opinion, even if they don't agree with it. I'm also aware that this becomes problematic when you come back to the idea of judging incomplete films. For instance, I never much cared for Metropolis until I saw the restored version, which went on to become the best film I saw that year. Perhaps this is a separate issue, perhaps not. 
Let's try and take another example. Would it be fair to judge the architecture of a 10 storey house based only on the first and second floor? Probably not. So why is it fair to judge a film from the first 10 or 20 minutes? In some ways, giving time to let the audience grow accustomed to the pace, themes and characters of a story is as important as having good foundations on which to build your house.  
As the title of this post suggests, I'm not trying to wrap up this thorny issue in one short blog post. I know that not everyone shares my vehement belief in viewing the complete work before forming an opinion – and I'm also still not sure how to reconcile this with wanting to form judgments of incomplete films. I just know that this is something which is important to me, which I've been thinking about a lot recently, and which I thought was worth commenting on here.