Tuesday, 28 June 2011

early morning benway

So, I'm cycling to work, and I'm pretty damned tired after waking up ridiculously early three days in a row and working like a busy-working-thing, and for some reason my sleep-deprived mind suddenly conjures up lots of resounding exclamations, all saying "Benway!", and I realise it's a moment from Cronenberg's Naked Lunch infiltrating my mind, with cigar-chewing Roy Scheider leading the "Benway!" charge and lots of bumpy mugwumps all echoing the cry. And, so for the remainder of the journey, I'm accompanied by cries of "Benway!" which seemed amusing and odd and vaguely giggle-inducing at the time, but now that I've found a clip of the scene just to understand what the hell my brain is trying to tell me, I'm disturbed. If this is some kind of example of lucid-dreaming funtime that my mind is trying to entertain itself with while sleep-deprived, then its clear I need to get some zzz's.

Friday, 24 June 2011


UNE HISTOIRE DE VENT (Joris Ivens/ Marceline Loridan; Netherlands/UK/ France/ Germany; 1988)

“Filming the impossible is what is best in life.”

Ivens utters this epithet near the end of this exquisite film, and it may well be seen as a summation of the heart of this particular work as well as the summation of his lifetime of cinematic achievements. For his final film, at age 90, Ivens stepped out from behind the camera and essentially performed as himself, a elderly director determined to film the wind. After a lifetime pursuing lyrical and/or militantly political cinematic paths, this film can be seen as a culmination of all that Ivens set out to do in his entire career – capture and map the relationship between humans and their natural environment. Here, breathing and the movement of the wind are intertwined with cinema, each cyclically giving life to the other. Film animates and give life to the wind, and the wind enriches and shapes the movement of this film.

Ivens chose to shoot the film in China, and specifically to capture the wind in a desert. Why China? A past relationship with China, having filmed there in the 1930's and the 1970's, certainly must contribute to his return to this country. But I can't help but imagine there's a deeper reason, and I haven't fully nutted it out yet, although I'm wondering if the inclusion of martial arts (control of self through breath) and dragons (symbolic mythical embodiments of weather) provide clues – perhaps Ivens is seeking a different cultural relationship to this aspect of nature, a deeper relationship to wind and breathing? Or it may simply be that locating himself in China allows Ivens to tie together all the strands of his film-making career, not only the lyrical and political aspects but the 'travelogue' component as well.

The moments spent in the real or imagined everyday China are interesting enough, whether those moments be Ivens watching martial arts instructors guiding their students, or Ivens negotiating with museum staff regards filming the Qin terracotta warrior army statues, or a mock village being set up in a studio with Peking Opera, gymnastics, a political rally, and a Children's Communist Choir all vying for attention. However, the richest and most memorable segments of this film are when we return to Ivens, seated alone in the desert, back to us, waiting for the wind to arrive. When the wind finally arrives, and Ivens stands and smiles, hair whipping back, arms outstretched to embrace the breeze, its as if the purpose of his desire and the purpose of the film become clear – Ivens wanted to create his own epitaph, to put his final signature to his life making film by focusing on the thing that gives life – air, breath, wind. The last shot of Ivens, walking away from us, arms aloft, enraptured and joyous, has to be the most affecting final image I've seen in a very long time.

Thursday, 16 June 2011


MR DEEDS GOES TO TOWN (Frank Capra; USA, 1936)

I was thinking just now how, for my tastes, Capra's comedies have never quite hit the same heights as those made by his peers. Films by Lubitsch, McCarey, Hawks, and Preston Sturges have remained more memorable, lingered deeper in the memory. His erring towards innocent, naïve characters leaves a semi-sweet taste, but I've been more beguiled by the fiery word-battles, snappy wit, and a kind of robustness that I've felt is delivered by all those directors. As a gloss on the memory, Capra feels thin.

But after casting my mind back to some of his other comedies, it seems there's a little more to Capra than I gave him credit for. For a start, his characters are not all innocent oddballs – Clark Gable's reporter in It Happened One Night out-does any other screwball-comedy character in the smart-ass stakes. In You Can't Take It With You, although the incessant happiness of the main family is vaguely cloying, there's a spark and energy that is allowed to naturally breath. No forced eccentricities here – just characters rich and satisfied with their own freed creativity. It's not 'big' moments, but 'small' moments that provide rich viewing. For some reason I'm thinking here of how Jean Arthur answers the phone with her teeth in You Can't Take it With You, because she's quietly nestled inside the moment of having her hands held by James Stewart and she can't be bothered to remove them for a ringing phone. A little moment, naturally played and not at all goofy.

In Mr Deeds Goes To Town we get another innocent oddball character, an out-of-towner who undergoes the scrutiny of the big-city media and the big-city public, driven to believing he's insane because of a handful of over-analysed idiosyncrasies. After consumption, the film, as usual for a Capra vehicle, feels fine but light. But there is weight to this vehicle. It's not via the delivery of any message, whether that might be questioning the meaning of sanity and normality, or promoting the ideals of the 'common person' as preferable to those of the 'city-bound cynic.' Messages are fine, but that's not the meat to this sandwich. This kind of weight is the same kind of heft that seems to fill Capra's other apparently-light vehicles – in the small details. Capra's camera seems to draw out a kind of minimalism in Gary Cooper's performance, lingering on his frame to highlight angularities and rhythms of movement. Cooper's sullen stillness in the early part of the courtroom scene allows for the minutest of glances to impart a visual richness. There's a kind of quietness inside many scenes in this film, and this lack of rushing seems to be particular to Capra. There's an unhurried air to his films, allowing for tiny yet noticeable gaps in dialogue and little spaces between one moment of action and the next. And then there's occasional symmetry, people carved into space to create appealing little visual sculptures – the moment when Mr Deeds and his three manservants all play with echo in the lobby of his house is an exquisite example of this.

So, maybe I've been a little too tough on Capra. I can't help but rate other comedies from this era higher than Mr Deeds Goes To Town, but that's not to say there isn't any visual appeal to this film, or any other Capra comedy.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Again with the 1001 Movies List? (And other bits'n'bobs)

Yes, again with the 1001 Movies List. That has been my recent decision, in order to segue back into regular film-viewing. I need a project, of sorts, to help me portion time out of life to view cinema, and I got it in my head to complete something I set out to do years and years ago - watch everything in the 1001 Movies dum de dum book. For some reason, I want to complete this before the baby is due, at the beginning of December. So I have six months to watch the remaining 65 films from the book that I've yet to see.
A-ha, no it's not 65. Bugger. Y'see, there's been 7 editions since the first came out in 2003, and films have entered and dropped with dull regularity. Even though I still only own the earliest edition, I've kept up with the additions and deductions in order to geekishly claim, at some future stage, that I've seen EVERYTHING that this book has thrown at me. Boy, won't the kids be proud of me. I mean, that must be one of the key reasons that people are obsessively devouring this list of films - a casual browse on the interweb reveals scores of punters all eager to tick everything off from this list. And, hello, i'm one of them. The obsessive nature of list-devouring kind of irks me, but the world is my mirror and hey look that's me in the mirror. But, here's where I defend my habit - this list is not the be all and end all of my film-viewing. I get the vague feeling that some punters are addicted to completing this list only, and once its done it's back to normal transmission. 1001 films is barely a scratch. At best, the book should be a trigger to source other films, to challenge the list by finding your own personal canon. Use it as a launching pad to explore the terrain of directors newly discovered. I'd heard of Bruce Conner, Ken Jacobs, Harry Smith prior to flicking through this book, but the obsession to view everything pushed me to see their work, and viewing Report, Blonde Cobra, and Heaven and Earth Magic has lead me to wander freely through a host of incredible experimental films. I'd never heard of Jean-Daniel Pollet's Mediterranee or Forugh Farrokhzad's The House Is Black, but I feel my cinema-viewing life is all the richer for actively seeking them out and seeing them with epiphany-stricken eyes.

Anyway, I wandering off track. So, there are a handle of films from the most recent editions that I haven't seen - 8 in total. that makes a total of 73 films to see from this list. So, there's my project. See all of these films before the baby is due in early December.

But, this project alone will drive me nuts, and I can't run the risk of hating cinema by the end of it. So, I've got a couple of other ideas to keep me cinema-sane over the next few months. I'd got a loose idea at the mo to focus on unheralded/ little-known documentaries, maybe make a regular series out of reviewing these kinds of films. There's a horde of intriguing documentaries I've come across recently that I'd love to absorb. Maybe I'll even post a Top 100 Docs list....hey, everyone else seems to be having a crack at it, who's it going to hurt?

One last little point - my blog-posting time seems to be quite constrained, due to other commitments, and in the past this has meant that if I haven't got a lot of time, i won't post. The bummer with this way of thinking is that I go weeks without posting. And then my blog looks kind of anaemic and pale. So, I'm going to throw this 'all-or-nothing" attitude out of the window, and just....ramble. The writing might be a bit loose and sloppy. I don't know. Maybe I'll free up a little more and get into new grooves. I've tried to hone and sculpt my posts, but sometimes I think I'm losing something in translation when I'm doing that. Perhaps the need to just get the thoughts out will free up the writing style. Dunno, don't know, je ne sais pas. The blog might finally start swerving closer to the actual title of this little shindig, become a ramble on cinema. I choose the term 'ramble' because it connoted a tumbling casual chat as well as a pleasurable idle walk, and I sometimes see my appreciation of cinema from a psychogeographical point-of-view, wandering across new terrain, stumbling across new sights, heading down a path and seeing all there is to see down that path before roaming off down another lane. The term 'ramble' ties together chatting, mapping, pleasure, and discovery. So, perhaps there'll be a bit more rambling from this point onwards.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

On Returning

It's been over two months, but I'm finally returning to the blog-fold. There's been a series of events that have precluded me from staying on track with blog-posting. I was ill for a brief period of time, then there's been the trials and tribulations of trying to sell an apartment, mixed with new teaching responsibilities at university, and throw in the hectic schedule of organising a wedding, with everything else I'm trying to do in my life, and whammo, that's where the time goes. I've had very little time to view much in the way of cinema these past two or so months, so there's been little to write about anyway.

There's only been one memorable film I've seen in the past few weeks. It's a 22-minute short film, comprising of ultrasound images of our baby at 12 weeks. Yes, that's another reason why I've been away....my fiancee is pregnant. The grainy black and white images of our baby rolling around for 22 minutes - often wriggling, sometimes hiding, occasionally sleeping, once it even waved, I'm sure - hold infinitely more awe than any experimental film I could ever think of. I'm getting dad-sappy already, but I can't remember the last time I've ever been so floored and moved by the moving image as I have been watching this wee life stretch and squirm. Film of the year. Seriously. Check out the image of the star of the film. Cute, yeah?