Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Girl and Her Blog are Eventually Reunited

Promotion for the first
Hobbit instalment assuming
Stalinesque dimensions in
Wellington, early in 2013.
Yes, lest anyone have thought that the wholly moribund appearance of A Little Lie Down was indicative of a retreat on the author's part from the world of cinema (or even from the “sundry other matters” which this blog's header purports the reader may also find addressed here), I've deemed it necessary to return to the Blogger coalface to chisel out an account of the year in film culture that was mine in 2013.

Indeed, it's been so long since the previous, Hobbit-heavy post here that a second fucking instalment of The Hobbit has already arrived in Melbourne cinemas. (Thankfully, it's a darned sight better than the first, and all credit to the wise heads who determined it'd be at 24 rather than at 48 fps that the media preview last week would be projected. That said, my criticisms in my last post regarding Jackson's vainglorious adoption of High Frame Rate technologies – and, by extension, shooting a film in this one, particular flawed format only to ultimately present it in multiple others, each unavoidably compromised by trickle-down shortcomings in the translation, and with, perforce, a corresponding diminution in cinematic vocabulary imposed upon all, especially with respect to any play with depth of field – still, vehemently, stand!)

But, look. I am already digressing.

What now follows will be a link-filled, media-rich reckoning of what I got up to in the year very shortly now to have been 2013.

I'll begin with work accomplished which had been harbinged here previously.

The fabulous Bright Lights Film Journal ran my review of Alexandra Heller-Nicholas' Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study in its 79th issue in February. It was a long time coming, my getting it to them and up to snuff, but I'm very glad that I did. It's a fine book, detailing thoroughly an often unpleasant, yet ethically complex realm of cinema which had never been given a tenth so comprehensive an account of before.

I alluded in my only other post here this year to ensuring there'd shortly be more on ALLD, and in Senses of Cinema, on legendary Czech animator Jiří Trnka. I came good on this promise in Senses rather sooner than on my blog; please refer “The Passion of the Peasant Poet: Jiří Trnka, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Hand” in February's issue 66 of a gal's longtime favourite film journal.

The context for my writing on Trnka is important, and is in fact key to my being so very busy this year that, till now, I had failed to blog even once since Thursday, January 3's “Less is more: If 3D is more 2D than 2D (and 48fps is even less truth per second than Godard's 24) then how much more 2D will 4D be than 3D?

Less is more, indeed?

My Trnka piece appeared in Senses of Cinema under “Cinémathèque Annotations on Film”, indicative of its having been written to provide contextualising accompaniment to Melbourne Cinémathèque screenings of certain of Trnka's sublime puppet animation films. Moreover, I had made it a personal mission to get those films over here in the first place, through becoming a Cinémathèque committee member after enjoying many a long year as a dedicated regular at the Cinémathèque's Wednesday nightly screenings, and as she whose task it had been for many of those years to prepare the annotations for publication in Senses of Cinema in my role as that journal's tireless, seldom-complaining Web Designer.

Trnka's sublime A Midsummer Night's Dream (1959), which screened at the 1st CaSFFA,
presented in conjunction with the Melbourne Cinémathèque

But rather more key still to acquiring those films for screening in Melbourne was the launch of the inaugural Czech and Slovak Film Festival of Australia (or “CaSFFA”) in May and June of this year, with me appointed as its first Artistic Director, who sought a partnership with the Cinémathèque in order to present these very rare films in sunny Melbourne on glorious 35mm, care of the National Film Archive in Prague and with no small amount of help from the Consulate of the Czech Republic in Sydney.

CaSFFA also presented an accompanying exhibition, “Jiří Trnka - Serving Imagination”, prepared by the Czech Centres, with other highlights of our debut festival including the presentation of a 50th anniversary digital restoration of Štefan Uher's brilliant The Sun in a Net and our restoring some utility to the still beautiful, but overlong neglected RMIT Capitol Theatre, by presenting the bulk of our other screenings there, along with two memorable absinth- and Becherovka-soaked parties!

The Sun in a Net also appeared at the 1st CaSFFA, co-presented by the Melbourne Cinémathèque
and with large thanks due to the enthusiastic co-operation of the Slovak Film Institute

Here's a taste of what you missed/a further reminder of all the fun you had, at the 2013 CaSFFA:

I'll pause here also to hail once again Alesh Macak's superb CaSFFA trailer, inspired by Linda Studená's super leggy designs, as seen all over all of our festival literature and collateral in promotion of our inaugural event!

A 2nd CaSFFA – bigger! bolder! even betterer! – will be staged in 2014 in Melbourne and, I will carelessly not hesitate to rumour, elsewhere too. Really wonderful things are in store, folks – watch this space!

And, in other developments

As anyone who knows me might tell you, after they've weighed up what's at stake in compromising my privacy, I'm very fond of hotfooting it abroad to attend film festivals, whether as a member of the media corps, providing coverage for Senses of Cinema; representing CaSFFA; attending in a more participatory capacity, or a mixture of all three. One such multi-purpose trip I took mid-year, escaping Melbourne's winter for a preferable European summer, took in major festivals in the Czech Republic and Ukraine. And hence, September's 68th issue of Senses of Cinema ran a report of mine entitled “Post-Soviet Bloc Partying West of the East and East of the West, Into and Out of the Past: The 48th Karlovy Vary and the 4th Odessa International Film Festival”. The smart money would have to be on some of the films mentioned within this piece making it to the 2nd CaSFFA in 2014 – but which?

Excerpt from the June 30 edition of the
Karlovy Vary Festival Daily
Whilst in Karlovy Vary, I managed, wearing my CaSFFA hat (not depicted at right), to find my way into the KVIFF's daily paper. And in Odessa – where my film geekdom may have come close to reaching its apotheosis in catching a screening of Murnau's Sunrise, at sundown, with live symphony orchestral accompaniment, on none other than the Potemkin Stairs – I wound up giving an informal lecture-cum-Q&A to the festival's Summer Film School students entitled “Film Criticism Sans Frontières: The roles that critiquing and staging international and transnational film festivals can play in furthering critical practice and professional opportunities in the Internet age”. No, really. I believe it went quite well, if falteringly at first, with hopefully not too much lost (and maybe a little gained?) in the translation into Russian. Personally, I can't bring myself to watch it (not least for my mortification upon realising I'm wearing the same top in both the KV Festival Daily pic as in the clip from Odessa, below). While I'll concede that this post could come across as something of a trumpeting of one's own 'orn, truth be told, I'm actually not over-enamoured of the sound of my own voice...

Enter Guy Maddin

What would a year of Little Lies Down be (even if numbering in posts only two) without a guernsey for my favourite Winnipeger?

Early in the year, Slovenian print journal Kino! surprised me by commissioning me to contribute to a dossier it was compiling on zombie movies. In turn, I provided Kino! with probably the very piece of writing of mine on cinema of which I am most proud, “Guy Maddin, Zombie Master”.

To whet your appetite for something you'll, at least for the time being, only be able to obtain in, or from, Slovenia (or, I suppose from me directly, if you play your cards right (which is to say, ply me with liquor or with film festival accreditation)), here's the abstract for my essay, from Kino! no. 19/20:

Guy Maddin is a filmmaker almost invariably overlooked in the consideration of zombie films. This essay aims to right that wrong, not only by dredging up multiple clear instances where Maddin has explicitly employed the tropes of zombie films in his work, but also in demonstrating that, in fact, the entire cinematic corpus of Winnipeg's most celebrated filmmaker is predicated upon exhumation, on and off the screen. Maddin is forever resurrecting long dead film aesthetics, language, genres, performance styles and even entire lost films, whilst ever privileging an aesthetic of impossible material agedness and decomposition. His is a cinema full of somnambulists, amnesiacs and entranced obsessives whose actions resurrect elements of Maddin's often traumatic autobiography. It is a cinema absolutely bursting at the seams with zombie-ism and undeath. Maddin himself will be positioned both as zombie and zombie master, à la Bela Lugosi's 'Murder' Legendre in White Zombie (Victor Halperin, 1932). Moreover, his cinephilic audience, extensible to all cinephile audiences, will be implicated in zombie-ism as well. Ultimately at stake in this essay is nothing less than an argument for cinephilia as an entirely zombie fascination, with Maddin, one of the most cinephilic of all filmmakers, providing the perfect springboard for this argument. Along the way, analogues for Maddin's zombie film practices will be explored variously in the limitations of method acting, in the writing of Laura Mulvey and in the vexing matter of film canons.

Wheeee! 'Tis a fortunate thing indeed that I conquered some time ago my fear of overreaching. And another that such folk exist as my wonderful friend Maša Peče to incite me to write such things as this, as would likely otherwise never get written, in the first place, especially given my lamentable track record on my own blog. Consider here also my (admittedly scarcely trumpeted) desire to write a definitive critical history of orchids in cinema. Will not someone one day dangle before me money/liquor/film festival accreditation in order to goad me into actually writing it?

Closer to home

On many Thursday mornings fortnightly throughout 2013 I could be heard in my usual slot on 3RRR joining Richard Watts on “SmartArts” for the segment “A Fistful of Celluloid”, which would oftentimes begin with Richard noting that this several-year-old segment is increasingly conducted under the pall of a dreadful misnomer, as celluloid is surely not long for this world, followed by me mule-headedly insisting that there's plenty of life in the old girl yet, and more even than there ever will be in the inert digital image which, anyhow, isn't proven to be long for this world at all, quite the contrary in fact, given the dire problems yet to be surmounted in reliably preserving it... (Discuss.)

Shirley Clarke
I also made some other appearances (so to speak) on the 3RRR airwaves this year, joining a crack couple of Plato's Cavers in Tara Judah and Josh Nelson for a couple of "Max Headroom" specials, both of which are still accessible online, “on demand”, as follows:

From Thursday, October 24: Tara, Josh and I wax lyrical about the cinema of Shirley Clarke, in celebration of ACMI's splendid season “Uptown Girl: The Cinema of Shirley Clarke”.

And lastly, much as was vaunted in ALLD at pretty well this same time last year, I'll have a contribution to Senses of Cinema's annual World Poll published any day now.

And that will about do for now, barring my customary pledge not to forsake this blog in the year to come... Well, let us wait and see.

Lawks! I almost forgot! Sundry other matters, matter to me...

Yes, it was a year when certain sundry other matters came into their own. I'll give a quick shout-out to the fab folk at Black Hole Theatre for inviting my lovely carny-lounge sometime trio, nowadays more oftentimes quartet Dirty Nicola and the Spud Hussies to tap into the musics of Jacques Brel, Irving Berlin and Cole Porter in accompanying some top-notch live puppetry at “Puppetry Slam Noir: How I Wish The Wish I Wish” at this year's Castlemaine State Festival. Fun!

The Spud Hussies – myself on bass, Katrina Wilson O'Brien on keys, David O'Brien on guitar and Nicola Bell on drums, with all keen and handy when it comes to contributing foley – may even have just landed a prize slot at the annual Great Trentham Spudfest in 2014 for our troubles – hurrah!


I spent two weeks in November ensconced in the fabulous Footscray Community Arts Centre BRINGING IT with a fab bunch of magnificent lady folk working towards the realisation of something grandly theatrical which I'm not sure I can much speak about yet. But! As and when I can, you might hear about it here first.

But for now, till 2014, ahoj!

x Cerise

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Less is more: If 3D is more 2D than 2D (and 48fps is even less truth per second than Godard's 24) then how much more 2D will 4D be than 3D?

Being a post occasioned by a scarcely coherent ad for “4D Dynamic cinema” stumbled upon in the Melbourne CBD, opposite that city's sole remaining Brutalist multiplex fleapit, albeit one still offering 35mm projection, to Greater Union's credit. And becoming in part a reflection upon one gal's cinephilia, as cultivated in a Wellington backwater, home once also to a certain Peter Jackson, whose early works she remains greatly enamoured of, at odds with her attitudes towards the latter-day Tolkien trilogies.

Melbourne's Russell Street has taken quite the turn for the Pythonesque of late. On the north side of the unglamorous Bourke Street intersection, any number of fringe-dwelling Chinatown restaurants' menus, atop their already literally hundreds-of-items-strong offerings, now tout a wide range of Spam dishes. As in, “I'll have the Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam in black bean sauce, Spam, Spam, Spam and Spam”.

Ad for 4D Dynamic cinema
And now, a few doors up, just along the south side of that same unlovely crossroads, the impish forces behind that same Flying Circus episode's celebrated “Dirty Hungarian Phrasebook” sketch seem to have tried their hand at pitching the charms of 4D cinema to undoubtedly bemused passers-by.

A few choice excerpts from the text in the image to the right:

“The elderly people are prohibited from watching.”

“Please be prudent before purchasing a ticket for timorous people.”

“So close as if it was tangible.”

And then there's the agreeably equivocal “Based on 3D films, 4D films could bring audiences personally to scenes by adding physical stimulations...:”

I'm not, however, convinced I'd especially like to experience “falling down” during a film, to pick on just one other of this technology's ill-pitched attractions.

I couldn't in fact discern whether this ad was trying to solicit my custom of the technology as a whole, or rather, just a film or two presented in demonstration of it – but if the latter, why not pitch them as well, and by name? Ah, were that I were not myself so timorous and prudent the day I wandered past (New Year's Eve), to find out for myself!

And were that the address promoted on this banner – found perched on the steps outside this very location – wasn't the same as that of the Melbourne Theosophical Society (along, natch, with the Theosophical Society Bookshop). Alas, keeping such company doesn't exactly inspire (in me, at least) a very great deal of confidence in the wares being flouted within (presumably within – but surely there's not really been a cinema constructed somewhere in that building just recently – has there?)

Now, I gather the resurgence of so-called 4D cinema has already taken audiences in certain other parts of the world by storm – or perhaps that ought instead to read “has already submitted audiences in certain other parts of the world to 'smoking, storming, thunder, snowing and bubble-blowing'” (on top, of course, of the already vaunted heady thrills of falling down). The Sydney Morning Herald, as far back as July 12 of last year, ran with a story from Richard Verrier, “Are 4D movies the next big thing?”, noting that cinemas in South Korea, Thailand and Mexico were packing them in by tacking onto blockbuster titles an array of 4D sensations,  which is to say that audience members there were subjected to various sorts of bodily interference at key points during The Avengers, Prometheus, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and other major box office attractions. Things shook, foul smells wafted through auditoria, and thems as might (only might!) otherwise have enjoyed watching Prometheus got additionally to enjoy having goop flung at them in the dark by strangers.

William Castle has surely risen from the grave! (Perhaps following 4D Disney theme park attraction, and Michael Jackson vehicle, Captain EO's lead (director a certain Francis Ford Coppola, no less!, ca. 1986)). *
* Actually, the exhumed Captain EO is being presented in a mere three dimensions.

Hopefully Peter Jackson, champion of all that is (old that is) new (again), will not catch wind of this with his next Hobbit instalments. For it'd be an ill wind then that'd blow indeed, mark my words, one awaft with the meady, meaty smells of beardy, leathery dwarven goings-on, and worse...

A segue, if inelegant: Onto the question Jackson!

Well, here we are at the outset of 2013, still trying to come to terms with another putatively brand spanking new technological development slated to change cinema and cinema-going as we know it. Only, it, just like 4D, has been tried and tested before (and by no less a luminary in the industry as 2001's special FX whiz Douglas Trumbull, even!) I refer – no surprises, here – to Peter Jackson's box office record-breaking The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first (third of a) film to be shot at, and projected (in some cinemas) in 48fps, a frame rate double the long-time standard of 24fps, presumably selected on that neat, readily digestible and saleable numerical basis alone (rather than, say, 40fps. Or 36. Or 42.578142 recurring.)

For mine, a big screen presentation of The Hobbit in 48fps often resembles nothing so much as an outsize HDTV Blu-Ray shop demo playing Lord of the Rings easter eggs. It's all same same, only different. Everything is crystal clear, hyper-real – or, should I say, hyper-unreal? For as much as 48fps bestows upon everything within the frame an extraordinary steely crispness, it is also extremely unforgiving and betraying of flaws and seams. It's not so very much a worry during action scenes – indeed, it is then even something of an asset, ensuring a liquid, judder-free smoothness to the marriage of a soaring camera (whether real or virtual) with a screen teeming with flailing bodies (likewise real and/or virtual). But when the camera is relatively still, and the action more pared back, everything takes on the sickly hue of a glossy reality TV show, and all that is artificial, but which is purpose-built to look real, instead looks as fake as it really, truly is. That can even extend to principal characters' make-up and costuming, which rather impinges upon one's ability to take those characters, and the film as a whole, seriously.

The Hobbit - in 'RealD 3D', HFR 3D and IMAX 3D
So many flavours of 3D:
"RealD 3D", HFR 3D and IMAX 3D.
We don't know how lucky we are...
And then there's the matter of Jackson having adopted 3D as well, an apparently necessary tagalong to the adoption of 48fps to reinforce An Unexpected Journey's position in the marketplace as being at the very forefront of the contemporary motion picture-going experience. Yet it too deceives to flatter, and its effect is reductive more than it is expansive; rather than adding another dimension to the film it is gracing, it in fact takes one away.

There seems to have been decreed an unwritten law that for anything in a 21st century film to jump off the screen towards the audience is tacky and gimmicky in the extreme; yet, without utilising the (suggestion of) space off-screen, of the space between the screen and the audience, then why really even bother with 3D? 2D has always been abundantly effective in suggesting depth within an image and, furthermore, allows for play with depth of field within the filmed image that 3D simply doesn't

3D, to make sense as 3D, demands that everything on screen presents just as if we were negotiating our own off-screen, real world environment. Binocular vision is the order of the day, and utilising it, we expect things to be in focus as soon as we cast our eyes upon them. When filmmakers forget this – whether wilfully, or otherwise – and present to us only part of any given 3D image in focus, they are making a fundamental mistake. Never mind when they start racking the focus, to bring into focus, for example, an object in the foreground when only just previously something in the background had been in focus instead, thus “pulling” focus from it. This happens on one especially egregious occasion in An Unexpected Journey, which manoeuvre alone may have been responsible for the unpleasant headache I had when I wearily emerged from the cinema at film's end, my perceptual faculties scrambled.

Will seeing An Unexpected Journey in 2D – and at 24fps – make for a better experience? Possibly, but probably not dramatically better a one. For to have shot in 48fps, and especially in 3D, in the first place, is to unavoidably transmit most of those approaches' shortcomings to a 2D projection. The resultant 2D experience simply cannot, of course, be enlivened or enriched by play with the depth of field which wasn't a part of the original captured image. The sins of the parent image are communicated to the children.

And oh that bloaty narrative!

There has already been plenty of carping about the decision to make a trilogy out of The Hobbit, which, on the evidence of the first instalment, will feature three films each too long in isolation, let alone as part of a whole.

That said, I have to say I didn't find part one of The Hobbit any more overlong than any one instalment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

I did, however, find it much more narratively preposterous. More cartoonish, even.

And it's not all the exposition and backgrounding, the tying in of the Hobbit and LOTR universes, that some say needlessly occupies the first half of the film, that troubles me, like it has so many impatient others. It's in fact the action-packed second half I take exception to.


Because An Unexpected Journey in no way throughout its second half conveys any sense of the passage of time. How long is the party questing for? How much time passes between one fight scene and the next?

Because it in no way throughout that second half conveys any sense of the party's passage through space. How much ground does the party cover between one chase sequence and the next? What distance did those bloody giant birds cover when they retrieved all the do-gooders from those perilous cliff-hanging treetops? (And why didn't Jackson have the good sense to treat that cliff-hanging scene as an actual cliffhanger and end the fucking film there, for fuck's sake!)

All the good guys appear to be invulnerable. They can all of them fall and tumble any distance – or even be squashed en masse by a corpulent plummeting Goblin King – and obtain nary even a mild contusion or concussion for their troubles.

The bad guys get what's coming to them, but without any blood shed. What the fuck's with this? The Hobbit, like The Lord of the Rings, obtained, and presumably was produced aforethought for, an M rating, surely voiding any concerns about on-screen violence in the adaptation of a book considered, I'm told by Tolkien aficionadi, as much more a “children's book'” than its sequel. So where then is all the blood and ichor one would expect in a film from the director who made, in the form of the magnificent Braindead (1992), far and away the (fake, but not CG) bloodiest film of all time! The absence of bodily fluids from An Unexpected Journey is just perverse.

And because, just when the good guys are poised to get a good, sound, lethal drubbing, Gandalf can evidently simply cast a deus ex machina spell in order to miraculously appear and save the day FFS.

Of technological advancements that ain't necessarily so, and a gal's first auteur love

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is doing colossal box office. I guess the greater film-going public couldn't give a tinker's cuss for arguments raging in the critosphere, about the harm done to it by its adoption of technological albatrosses in 48fps and 3D, before they've seen it for themselves.

Much as I would love to give Peter Jackson the benefit of the doubt, and declare 48fps' betrayal of his film's artifice knowingly Brechtian, and that particularly egregious racking of focus in 3D mentioned above as some sort of deconstructive avant-garde manoeuvre, and thus make a claim for An Unexpected Journey as the most expensive – and remunerative – experimental film ever made, I, of course, cannot. Oh, I wish I could understand why Jackson has become such an evangelist for technologies which I wish could have been experimented with and honed first elsewhere, over several years even, rather than having him unleashing them wholesale on The Hobbit. It smacks of hubris, and, why, lookee here – is this not another sad case of a man becoming one of his own satirical (co-)creations – is not Jackson becoming none other than Colin McKenzie? At this rate, will not an overgrown Hobbiton one day be un(Middle)earthed by a mockumentary film crew of the future, who'll marvel that the wilds of Matamata could ever have housed a film set on the Griffithian order of the Salome set of Colin McKenzie's that Jackson uncovered in Forgotten Silver (1995)?

Hobbiton today...
The Salome set discovered in Forgotten Silver
The Salome set discovered in Forgotten Silver. Or is this Hobbiton in 75 years' time?

It hurts; Jackson was my first director crush. Back in the late '80s, when I was of late high school-going age, I, like PJ, lived in the outlying hicksville seaside Wellington 'burb of Pukerua Bay (2006 population: 1722), where I became fascinated that someone local had actually done something interesting. A man, name of Peter Jackson, had apparently made a film, name of Bad Taste (1987), which concerned an invading alien horde looking to make human beings the next intergalactic taste sensation, on a shoestring over three or four years of Sundays. It screened late on Friday nights at Wellington's not-yet glorious-again Embassy Theatre, and I, hard-pressed to find anyone game enough to come along to see it with me (A New Zealand film? Worth seeing? As if!), headed there alone several times to marvel at it, to tentatively, at first, join in in the communal crying out of “Get the chainsaw, Derek!” at the appropriate moment, to relish the scene in which Derek (Jackson) somersaults down the cliffs at my local beach, to land in a bloody heap upon the rocks far below, there to have seagulls peck out his brains. And thus, ingloriously but joyously, was my cinephilia born!

Clipping on Peter Jackson from the Kapiti Observer, 1987
A clipping I took from the local paper, the Kapiti Observer,
some time in 1987, it must have been.
(The Embassy these days still has a strong connection with Jackson; refurbished for the 2003 world premiere of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, it's where An Unexpected Journey premiered too.)

Not terribly long after, I moved to Melbourne. Jackson's next two flicks, the gleefully offensive “spluppet” film Meet the Feebles (1989) and the zombie comedy splatterfest, by-way-of satire on the stuffy mores of '50s New Zealand, Braindead, both won a theatrical season at Melbourne's bygone Carlton Moviehouse. I adored them both and saw them multiple times too, firstly at the cinema and later on VHS.

Chase those down with the revelation that was 1994's Heavenly Creatures – still his best film – and the brilliant, made-for-TV mocko Forgotten Silver (co-director: Costa Botes, through whom you can acquire a DVD), and Jackson seemed like he could do no wrong. My admiration for him, even as I started to become more learned and worldly about this thing called “cinema”, was in the ascendancy.

Still, I had to forgive him for The Frighteners (1996) and, rather than dwell on it overlong – and, let's be clear, it wasn't terrible by any stretch, just a bit... Hollywood – I instead looked forward to a King Kong that rumour had it he would shoot in Auckland, an agreeably absurd proposition that was doing the rounds in the mid- to late '90s...

And even though nothing surfaced of his Kong project in any hurry, I remained one of his staunchest fans, and followed, upon its announcement, the development of his LOTR trilogy with great interest, applauding his canniness in engaging online with those books' millions of hardcore fans throughout the trilogy's production. When finally the films emerged to be seen, I was as amazed as any other. The sheer bloodymindedness and ingenuity he'd tapped all those years prior in making Bad Taste against all odds, including well-documented widespread domestic industry indifference, he'd now harnessed to make these awesome epic spectacles, on his own terms and in his own backyard. Which is to say, in my own old backyard too. I was awestruck by these De Millean achievements, albeit principally, it must be said, in an industrial sense. I have to confess the films – the stories being told by the films – really didn't much connect with me. But I nonetheless thought them Herculean accomplishments.

His return to a more personal order of filmmaking, The Lovely Bones (2009), unfortunately didn't do much for me, although I feel it has some very strong sequences.

But here we are now in 2013 with another bloaty great behemothic Tolkien trilogy hitting our screens, only, it's one where the films have become far more in thrall to the technology, rather than the other way around, as was the case with, and even part of the pitch for the production of, LOTR. Jackson had been able, back then, to get the go-ahead to produce that first trilogy because he could persuasively argue that the technology had developed to the point where a cinematic adaptation, using his own cost-cutting proprietary hardware and software, and his own backyard locations, could do the beloved books justice. With that point long proven, through the production and great critical and commercial reception of the first trilogy, he's now gone and got that whole equation completely arse-about with the second.

A real test for 48fps will be whether the second Hobbit instalment will match the first's takings when it hits cinemas in just under a year's time. I'm far from convinced folks catching An Unexpected Journey in 48fps will necessarily want to see The Desolation of Smaug and There and Back Again at that frame rate as well. (Let alone at 60! Back off, James Cameron, you've done enough damage already with Avatar and its concomitant fostering of a cult of 3D, you smug bastard, you.)

My serious misgivings about 48fps, as introduced to us in An Unexpected Journey, aside, I'm prepared nonetheless to assert that there is a future for it. My feeling is that rather than 48, or another number there or thereabouts arbitrarily arrived at, becoming a new standard for frames per second, variable frame rate projection will be the way of the future. Variable, that is, within the course of any given single projection. Now that would seem much more sensible than trying to push any one frame rate to rule them all...

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The cart before the horse: Addenda to a contribution to Senses of Cinema's 2012 World Poll

Or, everything really is cinema, more or less: part one in an ongoing series

Cerise Howard and Otesánek
Your humble correspondent pausing
a moment to pose alongside a
prostrate Otesánek, who, doubtless a mite
peckish, is just biding his time...
Senses of Cinema's annual world poll supplement will be posted online early in the new year. Meanwhile, so itching have I been to ensure there's some new content gracing this seemingly moribund blog before year's end, and so eager to expand, especially illustratively, upon some of the arguably more fanciful aspects of what I've contributed to Senses of Cinema's latest poll, with particular respect to claims towards the everything-is-cinema-ness of all things, that, well... here we are!

Some of what follows – whether for better or for worse, I cannot say – will adopt certain of the characteristics of a travelogue. This is somewhat unavoidable as this post's central cases in point were the stuff of recent adventures abroad, for, not so terribly long ago, I was summoned to my beloved city of Prague to sit on a jury at Mezipatra, the Czech Republic's wonderful queer film festival, or at least for the Prague leg of it. Now, to either side of my gleefully adopted Mezipatra duties – not to mention right smack-bang in its midst as well, of course (samozřejmě!) – I had me some (extra-)cinematic adventures, as demonstrated below and which will link to my corresponding part in Senses' 2012 world poll, as and when it's live.

By the way, wrapped up in all the pictorial splendour and waffle below lies in wait an allusive announcement, whose time I can comfortably say has almost now come, with respect to a project of mine and certain esteemed others set to launch in mid-2012 and shake up stuffy old Melbourne town, where too many film festivals is never enough...

But let's deal with one horse before its cart at a time – on with the picture show – roll camera!

Backdrop to the 2012 Mezipatra closing ceremony
Here's the rather de Chirico-esque big-screen backdrop above the stage at Kino Lucerna ahead of this year's Mezipatra closing ceremony. Should I hasten to add that de Chirico was cinema? After all, I've just watched Alain Robbe-Grillet's Eden and After (1970) (thank you thank you thank you! the Slovak Film Institute, for releasing this on DVD!), and if those scenes in the Eden nightclub weren't de Chirico all over (if also a few parts Mondrian, after a '60s Godardian fashion), then my name isn't Cerise Howard, and nor has it always been.

(Mezipatra's website hosts a fab gallery covering its closing night, which was altogether rather busier and more glamorous than my photo above would suggest, and in which I make a few appearances.)
Now, I could scarcely have timed my journey to Prague any better. For unbeknownst to me at my journey's outset, what should happen to be on in the very centre of olde Prague but...

"Jan Švankmajer: Dimensions of Dialogue – Between Film and Fine Art"

in the House at the Stone Bell in Prague's Old Town Square
(26 Oct 2012 – 3 Feb 2013)

Per my world poll contribution, "Dimensions of Dialogue" is "room after Rudolphinian room a-glut with Švankmajeriana. Magical, obsessive, capital-S Surrealist objects abound, all riffing on relationships, direct or indirect, with Švankmajer's 48-year-long filmic output, with one film, whether long- or short-form, looping in its entirety in each room, and the exhibition's great plenty of uncanny objects organised correspondingly. Magnificent!"

Please find here following a corroborating, annotated gallery:

Conspirators of Pleasure room in the Jan Švankmajer exhibition
This is a room devoted to Conspirators of Pleasure (1996), which also featured a number of "tactile portraits", object-characters from the film and, centre-frame, its unforgettable masturbation machine, which had in fact been switched on for the exhibition. (On which note, Prague's Sex Machines Museum is just a hop, skip and a wank away from the House at the Stone Bell and the Old Town Square, but I don't recall it having anything half so elaborate, nor half so modern, let alone half so amusing, as the Conspirators of Pleasure machine amongst its offerings. If anything, as memory serves – I visited it several years ago – its exhibits are not terribly far removed from those in Prague's cheesy mediaeval torture museums...)
Historia Naturae, Suite room in the Jan Švankmajer exhibition
In the room devoted to Historia Naturae, Suite (1967) can be found collaged drawings and objects, imaginary creatures, and taxonomic descriptions thereof galore, in a fabulous demonstration of the full rein Švankmajer has always given himself towards the creation of alternative zoologies, ones to long outlive we sadly less fabulous critters to presently have the run of our grimly imperilled planet.
Historia Naturae, Suite room in the Jan Švankmajer exhibition
Natural enemies in the wild?
Historia Naturae, Suite room in the Jan Švankmajer exhibition
The scenes in this and the preceding image have more than just a little in common with Salvador Dalí's 1936 painting, "Autumn Cannibalism". See also the second section of one of my favourite Švankmajers, his final short film, Food (1993).
Tableau from Švankmajer's Alice
A tableau familiar from Alice (1988). This, like so much of JS' work, is equal parts Švankmajer and Švankmajerová.
Tableau from Švankmajer's Alice Characters and sets from Švankmajer's Alice
Characters and sets from Švankmajer's Alice.
Some of the cast from Švankmajer's Faust
Waiting in the wings with some of the cast from Švankmajer's Faust (1994)

Some of the cast from Švankmajer's Faust
Some of the cast atop and within a set from Faust.
Cerise Howard and some of the cast in a set from Švankmajer's Faust
Several of the oversize puppets from Faust, and one oversize human from Wellington, by way of Melbourne.
Scary set from Švankmajer's The Pit, the Pendulum and Hope
Scary prop from Švankmajer's The Pit, the Pendulum and Hope (1984), as designed by the late, great Eva Švankmajerová. Fortunately, perhaps as much an OH&S consideration as anything else, it was rather more still in the exhibition than in Švankmajer's brilliant film. I don't think Poe has ever been as frightening on screen as in The Pit, the Pendulum and Hope.
Otesáneks, and parts thereof, galore.
Otesáneks, and parts thereof, galore. As seen in Little Otik (Otesánek) (2000).
Oh, and did I mention that I actually had a chance early morning encounter at a Prague tram stop with Švankmajer himself? Were that I could have captured the look in my eyes in that moment they locked fleetingly with his! Were too that I wasn't so dumbstruck by the occasion that I so easily let him slip by my clutches before I could surprise him with some strongly Australasian-inflected Czech, conveying some sort of gormless, grating, ingratiating précis of my adoration of his work ever since I first encountered it in the '90s. Actually, perhaps it's for the best I did keep my mouth shut after all. Next time, though, Švankmajer, next time... I'll be prepared!

"Slovanská epopej" ("The Slav Epic", Alfons Mucha, 1912-1928)

Now hanging permanently, if not without controversy, at Veletržní Palace, a campus of the National Gallery in Prague

Now, I may have made some slightly contentious claims in my poll contribution, if, I would argue, not really either as specious nor as spurious as all that, for Czech Art Nouveau godfather Alfons Mucha's 20-colossal-canvas-strong magnum opus "The Slav Epic" as cinema...

Here follow only a meagre few photos – my photography simply hasn't done these magnificent pictures justice – in under-substantiated support of certain aspects of my flimsy hypothesis. Happily, much better quality reproductions of Mucha's magnificent masterwork can be found all over the Web, and they do my lunatic theorising far prouder than my own underwhelming photography here can hope to.

2nd canvas of The Slav Epic
This is the 2nd canvas in "The Slav Epic" – now, I ask you, is that a big screen, or wot? (Refer relative size of awestruck, darkened space-inhabiting gallery patron to artwork.) This is "The Celebration of Svantovit in Rügen" (1912).
Detail of the 2nd canvas of The Slav Epic
This is a detail – almost a close-up, even – of that same canvas, from centre bottom. To stand but a foot away from the painting is for mother and child to fill "the frame". This woman's eyes have haunted me ever since I laid mine upon them.
Detail of the 1st canvas of The Slav Epic
Eyes no less haunting – a detail from the 1st canvas of the Slovanská epopej, "The Slavs in Their Original Homeland" (1912).
Detail of the 5th canvas of The Slav Epic
An awful purdy doodad which wouldn't be at all out of place in Argento's Suspiria (1977) but which is in fact merely a detail of the 5th canvas in "The Slav Epic", "King Otakar II of Bohemia" (1924).

Further postcards from Europe to prop up one's claim that everything is cinema

And now for a little more photographic everything-is-cinema-ness, surplus to requirement as addenda for my contribution to the 2012 Senses of Cinema world poll, as I in no way alluded to the following in my poll text, nor need have. But I no got worry.

I'll let the photographs, if necessarily aided to some extent in each instance by their captions, speak for themselves...

Jiří Trnka installation in Veletržní Palace, Prague
Elsewhere in Veletržní Palace, this permanent installation pays tribute to the great puppet animator, Jiří Trnka. (He was pretty handy in a few other fields, too.) There'll be more from me about Trnka hereabouts, and in the pages of Senses of Cinema, soon – that's a promise! (For many happy reasons which will become apparent in due course.) It's a shame about the shadow of a certain gormless pillock in this one. Reflective surfaces: the scourge of amateur photographers everywhere!
Vintage film posters in Veletržní Palace, Prague
In the same room as the Trnka installation can be found these gorgeous vintage film posters. The two leftmost are for Gustav Machatý's 1931 film, From Saturday to Sunday. "Jsem děvče s čertem v těle" translates as "I'm a girl with the devil in (her) flesh"; it's credited to director Karl Anton and is instantly as tantalising a film to hunt down as any I've heard tell of any time lately.
Vintage film posters in Veletržní Palace, Prague
Also from that same room. I haven't figured out which films these gorgeous images pertain to – something by Martin Frič, perhaps? Anyone, any leads?
Oh lookee here – seems we've taken a wrong turn mid-exposition, as can happen, and have wound up in Vienna.

The Wiener Riesenrad in Vienna's Prater amusement park The Wiener Riesenrad in Vienna's Prater amusement park
The Wiener Riesenrad – which is to say, this is the Ferris wheel seen in The Third Man (d. Carol Reed, 1949) in Vienna's nowadays impossibly kitsch Prater amusement park.
Magic Dreamland in Vienna's Prater amusement park
Kitsch? The Prater? With this photo, I rest my case.

Still: what is this post if not a paean to the "Magic Dreamland" that is the cinema, anyway? And is that really any less naff a term than "Dream Factory", that popular epithet for Hollywood?
Well, that'll do for now. I've more piccies from other far-afield adventures in cinema recently had, but it'd be remiss not to save some for another day, which would greater risk this blog's going another few months without an update...

But wait – a pledge! Yes, I hereby pledge, contrary to all recent indications, that this blog will actually regularly feature new content in 2013. Truly!

Let's see then if I'm not yet as good as my word. (And here I'll confess to knowing something you don't, at least, not for very much longer – my year in film in 2013 will be a very busy one, and it'll sure need some documenting and ballyhooing here. Stay tuned!)

Toodles for now then,

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Of content elsewhere, new and old, and more on MIFF releases

Firstly, a stocktake

With but five further days to go of the 61st Melbourne International Film Festival, folks who missed it going live to air might like to do some catch-up listening to last Thursday's hour long "Max Headroom" MIFF special on Melbourne radio station 3RRR, in which I and estimable fellow critics Tara Judah and Josh Nelson set the 61st MIFF to rights, alternately waxing laudatory and scornful about umpteen of the festival's big screen offerings and various peripheral matters.

(A bonus? - seldom can Kylie's "Can't Get You Out Of My Head" previously have been heard to emanate forth along the airwaves from Melbourne's legendary independent community radio station nonpareil, but it did, and, what's more, in context. Who'd ever hitherto a-thunk it?)

Kylie Minogue in Holy Motors
Our Kylie, all growed up, in Leos Carax' sublime Holy Motors
Speaking of 3RRR and Max Headroom specials, and with ACMI's thorough Guy Maddin season not long come to a pre-MIFF close, here's reminding y'all of the hour long "Max Headroom" Guy Maddin special I, fab fellow critic (and, latterly, MIFF's Next Gen & Shorts Coordinator) Thomas Caldwell and ACMI programmer and season co-curator Kristy Matheson perpetrated back in late June, replete with many minutes of interview gold contributed by Maddin himself. It's still available "on demand", courtesy of 3RRR, for another few months.

laying with Memories: Essays on Guy Maddin, edited by David Church
(Here's reminding you too of the double Guy Maddin book review of mine in the Senses of Cinema before last, the better that you, whether an old or a new convert to Maddin's singular cinema, might want to deeper immerse yourself in (critical writing on) critical writing on Winnipeg's finest and most delirious filmmaker.)

Speaking of Senses of Cinema, issue #63 finally emerged at the very end of July and with it, my festival report "The South’s Not Long for This World: The 26th Fribourg International Film Festival", accounting for my 3rd trip to this terrific Swiss film festival in beautiful, principally francophone Fribourg and my first experience as a member of a FIPRESCI jury, something I'm still savouring. Maybe everyone who lands one of these gigs is as lucky as I was (though I doubt it), finding themselves working entirely with altogether lovely, super smart and highly collegiate fellow critics; mad props and shout-outs go out to fab fellow jurors Sheila Johnston (President, Great Britain), Hauvick Habechian (Lebanon), Katja Čičigoj (Slovenia) and Nina Scheu (Switzerland) - wotta team! May that we all be reunited somewhere, sometime, and were that such a thing were possible here in Australia, where such juries, with all their exciting, horizons-expanding internationalism, are nowadays almost unheard of. (Grrr, argh.)

Hell Is For Hyphenates: Jan Švankmajer edition
Image: Caroline Alexandra McCurdy
Moving on, in my last post (lawks, has it really already been a month?), I neglected to plug something I put out into the world, which, I'll concede, is unlike me. I refer to my guesting on the May 2012 edition of Hell Is For Hyphenates, in which I join HIFH hotshots Paul Anthony Nelson and Lee Zachariah in poring over the ever astonishing film work of my pick of a filmmaker to focus upon, Czech Surrealist Jan Švankmajer, after a precursory gloss over a few recent releases and a consideration of the sometimes vexing matter of film remakes.

Oh, and while we're on matters Czech, it was only last week that I was party to the incorporation of CaSFFA, or the Czech and Slovak Film Festival of Australasia. Just call me Paní prezidentka! Let's see if we can't just pull off a memorable inaugural festival in mid-2013. Much more news about this will emerge in due course.

Secondly, a MIFF release dates update

Before getting to the nitty-gritty, I feel I should mention another couple of avenues through which you might legitimately encounter films screening at this year's MIFF outside of this year's festival, perhaps then sparing yourself from needlessly making haste to see them at MIFF rather than catching something altogether scarcer, something which you really might not have the opportunity to ever catch on a big screen, or even on 35mm, ever again, or from the worry that to have missed them at this year's festival might be to have missed them altogether.

Firstly, any number of this year's MIFF titles will doubtless re-emerge at other film festivals staged hereabouts in the year ahead, whether, for example, at the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, which often re-runs a handful or so of queer themed MIFF titles in the March of the following year, or at any of the multitude of festivals celebrating (typically only the recent) cinema output of a given nation.

To cite just one example, it has been announced that the Taviani brothers' highly regarded Caesar Must Die will screen at the forthcoming Italian Film Festival, running from 19 September through to 9 October in Melbourne, and at different times in other capital cities.

Credentialled industry bods could also look to the Festival Scope platform to access 10 out of 12 of the features in the TeleScope program and as many of the Accelerator offerings as well, presuming they're willing to pony up/have already ponied up for an initial subscription charge to stream them (and much, much more) on demand.

(To quote the latest Festival Scope newsletter: "Time to swan dive into Port Philip's Bay!")

Now, there hasn't been a terrific flurry of new release date announcements made or press releases issued by distributors and exhibitors over the few weeks since my previous post. There have nonetheless been a few of significance, with the most notable regarding Tony Krawitz's adaptation of my favourite Christos Tsiolkas novel, Dead Europe, which wasn't even in the MIFF program when I previously posted. That, and my need to remedy an error I made last time, have led me to update the table, below.

Dead Europe
Dead Europe
Re that error, my apologies go out to Hi Gloss Entertainment. I had had DVD releases for the three titles of theirs listed below down for October but my original source was evidently not really in the know; no DVD release date has, in fact, been scheduled yet for any of Italy: Love It or Leave It, Journal de France or The Minister. Two of these three titles (with one of them being The Minister) are presently, furthermore, under discussion for theatrical release.

All the usual caveats then about the following table, and more, apply. None of the following can be taken as gospel, not least for the fact that human error, my own most certainly included, can be a factor in information provided below not ultimately standing the test of time. Let the browser beware!

(where known)
¡Vivan Las Antipodas! Madman Documentaries
[REC] Genesis Vendetta Films Night Shift
100 Bloody Acres Hopscotch Night Shift
11 Flowers Palace Next Gen
A Monster in Paris Madman Next Gen
A Simple Life Dream Movie Accent on Asia
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry Madman Documentaries
Alois Nebel Madman Animation
Amour Transmission Int. Panorama
Back to Stay Transmission Through the Labyrinth
Barbara Madman Int. Panorama
Beasts of the Southern Wild Icon 13 September Int. Panorama
Being Venice Curious Film Aust. Showcase
Berberian Sound Studio Madman Int. Panorama
Beyond Rialto Facing North
Beyond the Hills Madman Int. Panorama
Bully Roadshow 23 August Next Gen
Caesar Must Die Palace Int. Panorama
Chasing Ice Madman Documentaries
Croker Island Exodus ABC TV Aust. Showcase
Damsels in Distress Sony 6 September Int. Panorama
Dark Horse Roadshow Int. Panorama
Dead Europe Transmission 1 November Aust. Showcase
Easy Money Madman Facing North
Ernest & Celestine Rialto Animation
Errors of the Human Body Curious Film Aust. Showcase
Farewell, My Queen Transmission Int. Panorama
First Position Hopscotch 27 September Next Gen
Girl Model Aztec Documentaries
God Bless America Potential Films 15 November Night Shift
Hail Madman Aust. Showcase
Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai Icon 18 October Accent on Asia
Headshot Madman Accent on Asia
Holy Motors Icon 23 August Leos Carax
I Wish Rialto 4 October Accent on Asia
In the Fog Sharmill Int. Panorama
Italy: Love It or Leave It Hi Gloss Entertainment Documentaries
Jack Irish: Bad Debts ABC TV Aust. Showcase
Jayne Mansfield's Car Eagle DVD, early 2013 Int. Panorama
Journal de France Hi Gloss Entertainment Documentaries
Killer Joe Roadshow Night Shift
Last Dance Becker Film Group Aust. Showcase
Le Grand Soir Vendetta Films Int. Panorama
Liberal Arts Icon 2013 Int. Panorama
Make Hummus Not War Antidote Films Aust. Showcase
Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present Madman Documentaries
Mental Universal 4 October Closing Night
Metropia SBS n/a (has previously aired on SBS) Facing North
Miss Bala Transmission 22 November Through the Labyrinth
Monsieur Lazhar Palace 6 September Int. Panorama
Moonrise Kingdom Universal 30 August Int. Panorama
No Rialto Through the Labyrinth
On the Road Icon 27 September Int. Panorama
ParaNorman Universal 20 September Next Gen
Paul Kelly: Stories of Me Madman 18 October Backbeat
Policeman Curious Film Int. Panorama
Rampart Madman Int. Panorama
Robot and Frank Sony 15 November Int. Panorama
Ruby Sparks Fox 20 September Int. Panorama
Safety Not Guaranteed Rialto 18 October Int. Panorama
Save Your Legs! Madman 24 January, 2013 Aust. Showcase
Searching for Sugar Man Madman 4 October Facing North
Seeking A Friend for the End of the World Roadshow 23 August Int. Panorama
Shadow Dancer Potential Films 11 October Int. Panorama
Shut up and Play the Hits Vendetta Films Backbeat
Sightseers Rialto 26 December Night Shift
Sister Palace Int. Panorama
Sleepless Night Vendetta Films Int. Panorama
Sound of My Voice Fox Night Shift
Tabu Palace Int. Panorama
Teddy Bear Vendetta Films Int. Panorama
The Angels’ Share Vendetta Films Int. Panorama
The First Fagin Ronin Films Aust. Showcase
The Hunt Madman Int. Panorama
The Imposter Madman Documentaries
The Intouchables Roadshow 25 October Int. Panorama
The King of Pigs Madman Animation
The Loneliest Planet Palace Int. Panorama
The Minister Hi Gloss Entertainment Int. Panorama
The Sapphires Hopscotch 9 August Opening Night
The Sessions Fox 8 November Int. Panorama
The Taste of Money Madman Accent on Asia
This Ain’t California Management of Doubt Documentaries
Undefeated Madman Documentaries
V/H/S Roadshow Night Shift
Violeta Went to Heaven Madman Through the Labyrinth
Vulgaria China Lion 23 August Accent on Asia
War Witch Curious Film Int. Panorama
Warriors of the Rainbow – Seediq Bale: Part 1 Monster Pictures 13 September * Accent on Asia
Warriors of the Rainbow – Seediq Bale: Part 2 Monster Pictures 13 September * Accent on Asia
Wunderkinder Umbrella 6 September Next Gen
Wuthering Heights Transmission 11 October Int. Panorama
Your Sister's Sister Madman 6 September Int. Panorama

* You might like to note that Warriors of the Rainbow – Seediq Bale is being theatrically released as one film, not two.