Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Takin' care of business. Or: all the world's a cinema!

This latest had been my longest hiatus from blogging yet. It wasn't meant to be, but my circumstances over the last several weeks have not been conducive to setting thoughts, cinematic and otherwise, to pixels. My days have been full indeed, the demands upon my time and energies, many.

In resuming blogging I first surveyed my files and g(l)azed over notes I had made for what could have become a post published at the end of October, entitled “Keeping it real. Or: a few desultory thoughts upon a surprise nexus formed subsequent to the viewing of two new biopics and the same-day chancing upon an article on dubbing practices in the Czech Republic.”


The biopics in question are Gainsbourg and The Social Network. I reviewed them both on 3RRR's “SmartArts” as far back as October 28 and I can't say I now feel half as interested in writing anything much about them as I seemingly did back then, even if, from the title of that abortive effort, I was only aspiring to wax desultory upon them in the first place. Perhaps nothing more had been at stake than an elegant segue... into something I had really wanted to pontificate about: the dark art of dubbing. (About which, finally, a little more below.)

The here and now: firstest things first

One of the things keeping me from blogging was a very tight deadline for laying out the latest issue of Screening the Past, a special issue focusing on “Cinema/Photography: Beyond Representation”, guest edited by Des O’Rawe and Sam Rohdie. Were that the deadline hadn't been half so tight; I hadn't a show of writing my promised review of William Beard's Into the Past: The Cinema of Guy Maddin in time. Nevertheless, there's sure some mighty fine reading (and viewing!) there people – get to it! And I'm sure my review, come a relaxation of time constraints, will smuggle its way into the next issue of STP.

On the matter of venerable Melbourne-based online film journals, let me record here my utter dismay and astonishment that Screen Australia has pulled ALL of its funding of Senses of Cinema, that online film journal of possibly unparalleled international renown, esteem, contributorship and readership, in a decision which, for mine, speaks great, vacuous, parochial volumes about what the nation's premier screen cultural funding body values in terms of contributions to Australian screen culture. The near-sightedness of this decision is breathtaking in all its gormlessness. I am flabbergasted.

I have long enjoyed a strong affiliation with Senses of Cinema, having previously, as the site's designer/administrator over eight or so years, slaved away over the mark-up and illustration of literally hundreds of superbly researched and written essays, book and DVD reviews, annotations for the Melbourne Cinémathèque, Great Directors profiles, and film festival reports, along with having contributed no few festival reports myself (along with, in a former guise, a strangely hyper-real “bricolage interview” with a certain Richard Wolstencroft – may the ludicrous business surrounding his house being raided by the police looking for copies of L.A. Zombie, two whole months pursuant to a widely publicised and uneventful civil disobedience screening of the same, resolve itself with the barest minimum of juridical intervention).

While I am no longer on staff at Senses (albeit I am still doing some work for it, migrating archival content into Senses' spanky new content management system), I still personally feel this grotesque, and conceivably crippling, slight against this wonderful journal, profoundly. I hope many others out there, readers and/or contributors alike, will, on this news reaching them, feel similarly appalled. Oh if only, somehow, the collective umbrage of all the world's cinéphiles could somehow be monetised...

Now, where was I?

Oh yes.

Well, bugger that business about the biopics. Let's move straight onto the dubbing practices in the Czech Republic... Although... perhaps... not until I've given a further account of things of interest to have occupied me between blog posts.

Max and Moritz: A Juvenile History in 7 Tricks (Minus 3)

Penelope Bartlau, Megan Cameron, Moritz and KT Prescott in Max and Moritz. Photo by Sarah Walker.
Max and Moritz promised to be, according to my own promotional materials circulated amongst my cronies :
... a quite deranged expanded marionette theatre production of most of Wilhelm Busch's 19th century tale of a couple of very naughty boys who just might get what's coming to them – and how! But not before certain entertaining unpleasantries might first come to pass...

... under the direction of puppeteer extraordinaire Megan Cameron and with no small amount of on-stage shenanigans courtesy of the same, in cahoots with KT Prescott and Penelope Bartlau...

... with musical accompaniment from Dirty Nicola and the Cheap, Filthy, Pre-Loved, Shop-Soiled Spud Hussies (myself, Katrina Wilson & Nicola Bell).
Shop-Soiled Cerise BRINGING IT during Max and Moritz. Photo by Sarah Walker.
Well, I had myself a fine old time over three nights performing cinema (some folk, coming from other, hoarier traditions, apparently refer to it as “theatre”) for carny folk and fellow travellers, their families, significant others, and passers-by alike, at The Village festival in North Fitzroy's Edinburgh Gardens earlier in the month. Aside from bringing some compositional and bottom-end prowess to the production, mine was also the responsibility to supply some foley to proceedings, which was a helluva lot of fun.

(Now here's a hot tip: If ever you'd been wondering how best you might simulate the sounds of children being ground to a pulp in an old mill, might I be so bold as to heartily recommend the strained employment of an egg-beater against several clumps of cement in an ice-cream container?)

For all its wonderful reception, I can imagine that the spectacle our Max and Moritz provided might well have bewildered some of its audience. Some of that might have been a function of our presenting this as very much a work in progress, and as such, a little rough around the edges. Another part of it might have been that eyelines to the stage weren't uniformly excellent, something quite important when some of the performance is presented in miniature – oh for tiered seating in future! But, most of all, our Max and Moritz was presented after a very European tradition of marionette theatre – a quite Czech approach to things, in fact. It's a mixed-media, multiple-representational, collage tradition little known around these parts.

My introduction to this sort of theatre came through the cinema of Jan Švankmajer, especially those films of his where the protagonists inhabit a universe wherein they, or any other given character, may oscillate between being (portrayed as) a living, breathing, thinking human being, or a puppet, whether a miniature model or of life size, in the process collapsing distinctions between representation and actuality, autonomy and manipulation, the natural order of things and the fantastical, all in accordance with the time-honoured synthetic Surrealist tradition. See, for example, Něco z Alenky (Alice / Something from Alice, 1988); Don Šajn (Don Juan, 1969), and especially, Lekce Faust (Faust / Lesson: Faust, 1994).

* Note to self: at some point when writing extensively on Švankmajer on future, note that all too little has been written (at least, in English), even by the great Peter Hames, on Švankmajer's involvement in Prague's Laterna magika expanded cinema, with especial respect to his part in creating Kouzelný cirkus (Wonderful Circus), a staple of that theatre's repertoire ever since its premiere in 1977. Here's a promo clip that does a fine job of demonstrating the multimedia, collage approach to theatre/cinema as expounded by the Laterna magika:

My dear friend Megan Cameron, whose wonderful brainchild Max and Moritz is, developed a lot of her formidable Czech marionette theatre chops from a couple of long stints working in Prague with Divadlo ANPU. Here's a photo I'm very fond of I took earlier this year of Divadlo ANPU rehearsing a new production; I think it illustrates very nicely the multi-layered and interpenetrative nature of representation, characterisation and indeed framing freely employed in this brand of theatre:

Divadlo ANPU rehearsing
Divadlo ANPU rehearsing
The more exposed I've become – as spectator and, latterly, in the case of Max and Moritz, as participator – to this sort of theatrical production, the more some extremely bizarre aspects of Jan Švankmajer's cinema have come to seem, if not so much any less bizarre, at least somewhat more explicable. All that business in Faust playing with an indistinction between a human order of being and a supernatural/puppet order is these days a good deal clearer to me as not simply whimsically Buñuelian, Brechtian or post-modernist manoeuvring on Švankmajer's part but at least equally an adherence to venerable Czech theatrical traditions in which representation is ever a slippery and unstable business indeed!

And then I went to Wellington

(If only, alas, for just a few days.)

Wellington's where, back in the day, I was a) born and b) spent many of my formative years, and I had been away from it for way, way overlong. The hows and whys are not the stuff of this blog, but a few choice snaps taken, methinks, are. Whose blog is it anyway? Yes, that's what I thought too.

Scenes from the 2010 Wellywood Collection

But one third of the spectacular view from the back of my Aunt's place in Wellington.

Why would you watch TV?

I sat here on the beach at Lyall Bay, making light work of a first paua fritter in 10 years, watching the planes come and go. Skull Island scenes from Peter Jackson's King Kong were shot nearby.

Colonial timber houses tumbling down the hillside at Lyall Bay. A whole different approach to terrace housing.

The Beehive, on the prowl, Dalek-stylee...

On the Cable Car, heading up to the Wellington Botanical Gardens.

Henry Moore's Inner Form, enjoying the view from the Wellington Botanical Gardens.

Gorgeous Second Empire building in Wellington's CBD.

This CBD Art Deco stunner is for sale! Will some kindly soul not buy it for me?

In “Arty Bees”, a wonderful Wellington vendor of pre-loved books, I stumbled upon the find of my too few days spent in the Windy City: Gene Deitch's wonderful memoir For the Love of Prague (2nd edition – there have now been five).

For the Love of Prague
It's the memoir of a man uniquely placed to observe and comment upon the experience of living in communist Czechoslovakia for 30 years; Deitch, an animation producer – a UPA alumnus, no less – was the only American resident in Prague throughout 30 years of communist rule (and beyond! When originally he'd intended to stay for no more than 10 days...) Deitch enjoyed considerably more freedom of movement and considerably less harassment by the state than the rest of the population, bestowing upon him a privileged position both in society and as a documenter of communist Czechoslovakia's everyday, absurdist drudgery and, eventually, the seismic events that proved the regime's undoing, ever the outsider, looking in...

As a Czechophile, that's already premise enough to have got me interested in his memoir, but the jackpot is that Deitch's book also recounts his time overseeing production of cartoons, including an Oscar winner (Munro (1960)) and numerous Tom and Jerries destined for the American marketplace, created by workers in none other a studio than Bratři v triku (“Brothers in T-Shirts”, but, equally, “Brothers in a Trick Film”), the Prague animation studio founded in 1945 by none other than legendary Czech puppet animator, Jiří Trnka!

One passage early on recounts how Deitch, before becoming acquainted with his new workmates, had been naïvely fearing the worst, conditioned by American propaganda to expect them to be a bunch of humourless, party line-toeing drones toiling away mechanically and unemotively at their work; it couldn't help but remind me of the fancifully draconian production line approach to creating cels and merchandising for The Simpsons as envisioned by Banksy as occurring in China in his recent Simpsons title sequence that many of you would have seen by now:

I can't say enough wonderful things about Deitch's memoir. Of course, I now desperately want to get a hold of its most recent edition – I'm three behind. Until I do though, there is “The Occasional Deitch” online to tide me over and... a feature-length documentary film adaptation of his memoirs to also hunt down!

Finally: a few musings on the practice of dubbing

An article from 2008 I stumbled upon recently on the website for Radio Praha, “The continuing Czech love affair with Jean-Paul Belmondo”, considers the enduring appeal in the Czech Republic of a French actor not greatly well known these days beyond France outside of cinéphile circles (within which, of course, he is revered, especially for his roles in Godard's A Bout de Souffle (Breathless) and Pierrot le Fou). What for me makes this especially interesting is that, as this article would suggest, there is a high likelihood that most of his Czech fans have probably never actually heard Belmondo speak – at least, not in his own voice.

(Instead, one of the two actors known to have been his voice for Czech audiences throughout Belmondo's career is none other than Jan Tříska, so brilliant as the Marquis in Švankmajer's Šílení (Lunacy).)

Jan Tříska in Šílení
Jan Tříska in Šílení
When we view a film in which there are “stars”, that is, established performers known to us through previous exploits on- (and, just as often, off-)screen, we can't help but take that prior exposure to those performers in with us on viewing them enacting new roles; that exposure can't help but inform - and even prejudice - our subsequent engagements with those same performers. Thus is created, and cultivated, their star personae.

One essential element for anglophone audiences in the construction of star personae in the Hollywood system is, of course, voice. It is very rare – outside of the conspicuous or mannered adoption of an accent or some sort of speech “impediment” – that a star's voice isn't recognisably the same from one role to the next. We pretty well take it for granted – I doubt any of us ever rarely spare the matter much thought at all – that an actor, already familiar to us, will sound much like he/she always does when we go to watch them in a new role. Likewise, we take it for granted that their lip movements will reliably synch well with the dialogue on the soundtrack.

Throughout much of Europe, however, including the Czech Republic, local voice talent is often employed to dub the dialogue in foreign films, for theatrical release and for television. In these cases, wherever established actors are involved, there are particular local actors assigned as the voice of those stars. This consistent assignation of voice to foreign star no doubt helps cultivate, and by degrees, cement, those stars' personae within those marketplaces; otherwise, just imagine how weird and distancing it would be to hear Sean Connery dubbed by an appreciably different voice every time you saw an old Bond film.

But then... imagine never even realising that Connery himself has one of the most distinctive voices on the planet, with that rich, thick Scottish brogue so beloved of parodists throughout the anglophone world!

I wonder how often Hollywood stars meet their matches? Has Brad Pitt ever met the Spanish Brad Pitt? Has Angelina Jolie the German Angelina? What would happen if ever Belmondo and Jan Tříska were cast together? Perhaps they could dub one another - in many nations, who would ever be any the wiser...

That's enough for now

Chances are the next post to A Little Lie Down will come rather sooner than this one did. Meantime, I'll be joining Thomas Caldwell on this Saturday's Film Buff's Forecast on 3RRR, midday-2pm. Tune in! Turn on! Etc.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Of blogging further but fewer between

A generous shout-out from a Melbourne colleague-in-arms has inspired this post. Well, something needed to; nothing else's rattled my cage sufficiently just lately to distract me from my umpteen other sometimes gainful enterprises to inspire me to film-blog anew.

But Thomas Caldwell's kind ravings about A Little Lie Down on 3RRR's “Film Buff's Forecast” on Saturday just passed – accessible post-initial broadcast in podcast form – has goaded me into renewed activity, for he has made me aware that I have been remiss in a) giving lie to his assertion that I blog roughly weekly (by not blogging for close to a fortnight now – heavens!) and b) in not yet having restored to this blog a roll call of local bloggers whose writings on film y'all ought be acquainted with.

Re point b): the links I had established to other Melbourne film blogs – and indeed to other sites of interest – all vanished when I upgraded this blog's back-end a little while ago, the better to facilitate the appending to ALLD of all manner of groovy social media-friendly mechanisms.

Here then, as some sort of penance, and hopefully not running any real interference with Thomas' project to review Melbourne film blogs on a regular basis on Film Buff's Forecast – the very project to have inspired my belated return to blogging in the first place – is a minimally annotated account of those very links to blogs to have disappeared from these parts some weeks back, augmented by the addition of a couple of other notables.

In no particular order then, per their original listing as right-side column links previously grouped under the header “Essential fellow travellers MIFFing up a storm”:

Richard Watts

It's on Richard's weekly 3RRR arts behemoth, “SmartArts”, that I enjoy a fortnightly radio segment. Richard is indeed the consummate MAN ABOUT TOWN – nary is there a day, nor an evening, when Richard isn't gadding about Melbourne town, getting in the thick of things artsy, openingsy and drinksy. He must, I think, ingest more art, including film, per waking hour than any other Melburnian. And he has the blog posts dating back to June 2004 to prove it!

Cinema Autopsy
Thomas Caldwell

Thomas, ever in greater demand hereabouts as a conductor of film discussion panels and the like, sees a lot of films so you don't have to. For this we should all count our blessings. At Cinema Autopsy, atop writings about more general matters cinematic, you can always be sure to find up-to-the-moment, intelligent and considered analysis of films freshly hitting the big screens at a googolplex near you, which increasingly bounce off his sonorous contributions to 3RRR's “Film Buff's Forecast” and to “Breakfasters” of a Thursday morning ~ 7.45am.

movie (a)musings
Emma Westwood

MartyrsEmma gives good horror! Not that that's all that she's about – oh no no no – but it's clearly nonetheless a principal abiding passion. And hence her hunting down the likes of Pascal Laugier to discuss his almighty horror film Martyrs for an interview found in its entirety on her blog. Hence too, a little more recently, her posting “Ten of the Best Monster Movies”, which you really ought have a look at, 'cos Emma previously troubled to write a book on just that very subject and so is your go-to person when it comes to Mothra and friends.

Liminal Vision
Tara Judah

Tara is another who sees a lot of films so that you don't have to, ever writing about the experience in depth, sometimes letting fly with this or that academic line of inquiry (e.g., tags for a review of James Ivory's The City of Your Final Destination include “Psychoanalysis, Freud, The Real ...”). Tara knows several things or two, and so will you after dropping by Liminal Vision.

Luke Buckmaster

Son of Babylon
Cinetology, as part of the essential indie news web emporium Crikey, broke the story of MIFF's not doing the right thing by the producers of one of the greatest films of recent times, for mine, the extraordinary Son of Babylon (d. Mohamed Al-Daradj). (My thoughts on which are here.) But Luke's not all about scandal and scuttlebutt; he often gives good, raffish review too, with particular emphasis on stuff that's out now.

Screen Machine
eds. Brad Nguyen & Conall Cash

Many are the contributors to this fine portal of local film-crit which, aside from offering thoughtful, erudite examinations of Melburnian film cultural happenings after they've happened, also words us up very well on them beforehand. Yes, Screen Machine's weekly To-do lists compile close to everything on a week-in, week-out basis, that you – you insatiable cinéphile, you – might care to catch in sunny Melbourne town.


Josh Nelson (aka Dr.Philm)

In which, in recent posts, Josh takes on Joaqey Affix at their own game and fakes (?) an interview with Casey Affleck, as well as casting his eye over cinematic offerings ranging from The Human Centipede to Toy Story 3 (unravelling gender politics arguably at play in Pixar's latest and greatest in the process); from the ridiculous, to the sublime...

Jake Wilson
Jake Wilson

Jake Wilson's blog. An ex-colleague of mine at Senses of Cinema and for several years now a fixture at The Age, Jake, as you surely (!) know, is one of Melbourne's foremost writers on film. So get thee along to his blog.

And Now... For a Bit of Fun

Seeing as this is, to this point, still a bit thin as a first post for nearly a fortnight, and seeing as I really can't be arsed writing anything terribly in-depth about film just at the moment, I propose a little game, in the interests of a greater reflexivity here at ALLD. (And, but, lo! What's that – an ulterior motive, you say? Moi? Well, yes... Yes, it would be nice if you people – yes, I do know you're out there (and hence what's following) – it would be nice if you people actually troubled to leave a comment or two on your way out...)

So: below you will find five images. Each image corresponds to the first result from a Google Images search query to a search term by which people from far and wide have found their merry little way to A Little Lie Down.

Can you guess what each search term might have been? All of them pertain directly and literally to a film, or film cultural event, to have been discussed here previously. If you think you can guess any of them correctly – or wildly inaccurately, no matter – then please, BE MY GUEST, and pop your guess in the comments box.

(And for those of you possessed of a curiosity that simply demands immediate satiation, there are in fact answers at the very foot of this post.)

So, without any further ado:






ALLD Search Term Quiz Answers

(Just turn your monitor upside-down)

5. (ǝɔıʇɔɐɹd puɐ ʎɹoǝɥʇ) ǝɟıl ƃuıʌıʌɹns
4. ƃuıɥʇ ʇsol ǝɥʇ
3. lɐʌıʇsǝɟ ɯlıɟ ɹǝɥʇo ǝɥʇ
2. ǝıqɯoz .ɐ.l
1. uɐɯ ɐ ǝʞıl ǝıp oʇ

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Cabbage Patch Kids: Women Make Movies!

Two nights ago it was my privilege to sit on a panel at a Fringe Festival edition of Cherchez la Femme, an ever lively, informal, monthly feminist salon presided over by the formidable Karen Pickering.

Along with my wonderful fellow panellists Namila Benson, Lou Sanz and Megan Evans, we discussed, at Karen and our audience's goading, matters pertaining to feminism and the arts.

Women's Cinema: The Contested Screen
Being the sort of person who is always sure to research matters extensively before daring to let loose any sort of commentary into the public sphere, I prepared several pages of notes for Cherchez la Femme, accounting for many of the major players and developments in “women's cinema” from the very dawn of the seventh art through to the current day.

My fear of public humiliation no doubt to some extent fuels my thoroughness in these matters and so, naturally, I made note of so many more women filmmakers and theorists, and pertinent moments in time, than I was remotely called upon to wax knowledgeable about. Of course, while it is generally best that any error on these occasions be on the side of being over-prepared rather than the opposite, I feel it is even better still to put to some use all of that extra, otherwise redundant preparation. And hence, this blog post.

A text I referred to extensively ahead of last Tuesday's forum was Alison Butler's Women's Cinema: The Contested Screen, part of Wallflower Press' “Short Cuts” series and which, atop giving a readily digestible guide to key developments and shifts in feminist film theory, offers a historical guide to women-made cinema, at least in so much as that might encompass films directed by women and, furthermore, films perceptibly bearing some sort of discernible authorial imprint, which is to say, its focus is on auteur films directed by women.

Running to just 144 pages, Women's Cinema is a great primer in the contributions women directors have made to the cinema across its 115 years... and counting. Indeed, it plays a vital part in the necessary rehabilitation of some very major figures in film history who still haven't received their fair due, none more so than Alice Guy, whose 1896 minute-long film The Cabbage Patch Fairy looks certain now to have been the first narrative fiction film ever made, and who even ran an American studio in the early 1910s. But that's not all, folks; she made early experiments with synchronised sound around 1905 (!), and many are now arguing that she, and not D.W. Griffith, was the first to use the close-up, on which cinematographic device hangs the whole of the subsequent Hollywood star system! (For better or for worse...)

She also had women playing men in films, the narratives of which, while often very brief, were wont to espouse highly progressive views. The list of her firsts could go on and on and on. And yet it wasn't long ago at all that hers was a name barely even mentioned in accounts of film history.

Clearly, a necessary part of the feminist “project” in film must be to excavate and celebrate the accomplishments of pioneering women in the industry whose achievements have been left in the margins for much too long.

On which note, I wish to devote much of the rest of this post to a major shortcoming I perceive in Butler's generally very worthy book. Of course, 144 pages can only be expected to encompass so much, and it is clear that the achievements of key players in areas of the production of “women's cinema” other than direction – actors such as Katherine Hepburn or Marlene Dietrich, or current-day producers like the estimable Christine Vachon, or male directors like George Cukor or Douglas Sirk, known for being “women's directors” – fall beyond the scope of this book.

So, sure, Women's Cinema is not meant as a comprehensive account of all those who can be said to have contributed to a women's cinema, just those who have made a directorial contribution, especially wherever that intersects with feminist film theory.

But this doesn't excuse what I perceive to be a terrible absence from Butler's book, an absence all the more glaring because it corresponds to a field of cinematic production and directorial/authorial practice where women have been pioneers many times over.

Here then, as a small corrective, is a shout-out to a few major women animators, without whom this most protean subset of film production – and, by extension, all of the cinema – would be immeasurably the poorer.

Lotte Reiniger

The Adventures of Prince Achmed

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) is the oldest surviving animated feature film and features a technique indisputably the invention of its director: silhouette animation, a cinematic analogue to shadow puppetry.

Three years in production – Reiniger had to pose and re-pose her silhouette figures something along the order of 300,000 times! – The Adventures of Prince Achmed has lost none of its charm in the succeeding 80-odd years, and I can't recommend highly enough tracking down the British Film Institute's DVD release of it, especially as it features a terrific documentary on Reiniger.

Mary Ellen Bute

A highly influential animator, yet little-known today, Mary Ellen Bute was a pioneering synaesthetic animator, which is to say, she was one of a number of animators/experimental filmmakers around from the late 1920s/early 1930s onwards endeavouring to visualise sound.

Apparently her work was often seen in cinemas back in those halcyon days when cinemas ran shorts – even experimental work – ahead of feature film presentations. Were that we would see the likes of those days again.

Claire Parker (and Alexandra Grinevsky)

Alongside Alexandre Alexeïeff, in the early '30s Parker pioneered (with contributions in the prototyping from Alexeïeff's first wife, Alexandra Grinevsky) what is surely the most meticulous animation method ever devised, that of pin-screen animation, which achieves a beautiful, monochrome chiaroscuro effect derived from the shadows cast by the meticulous frame-by-frame arrangement of literally hundreds of thousands of headless pins embedded to varying depths within a screen.

Night on Bald Mountain

Alexeïeff and Parker made a few stunning shorts employing this unbelievably painstaking method, but their best known film work is probably the beautiful still pin-screen images that accompany the opening voice-over narration in Orson Welles' The Trial. Don't though let that put you off tracking down their incredible 1933 short horror film, Night on Bald Mountain, just for starters!

Caroline Leaf

In the late 1960s, Leaf pioneered sand animation, a technique profiled at last year's Melbourne International Animation Festival, in which sand, or other grains or powdery substances, is poured upon a lightbox and, frame-by-frame, rearranged. It can make for beautifully fluid, texturally rich animations, whether of an abstract or narrative bent. Certainly, that most ubiquitous of cinematic transition devices, the dissolve (from one scene into the next), achieves new levels of poetry when done with sand... which leads me to...

Kseniya Simonova

You might not know her name, but perhaps you've already seen her work. Has not everybody in fact already seen viral clips of this extraordinary young woman's work as demonstrated on Ukraine's Got Talent?

Simonova is not just a sand animator; she's a performance sand animator. Her work is like a behind-the-scenes, making-of production of itself, a performance where the act of animation and the animation itself are inseparable, and where the whole concept of a frame, as a measurable, consistent, discrete unit of time, completely breaks down, is completely dissolved, for Simonova's frames are both frames-in-the-making and transitions from one frame to the next within themselves!

Deleuze would have loved this.

I'm reminded too a little of Jan Švankmajer's privileging of the visibly palpated animated object in his films. Not for Švankmajer concerns about wanting to remove fingerprints from moulded clay, erasing evidence of the human manipulation of marionettes or any other perceivable traces of the animator's artistry in the interests of a greater “suspension of disbelief” – quite the contrary! (All the better for nonsensing any suggestion that the realms of “reality” and “the imagination” might be entirely discrete constructions, never prone to slippage from one to the other, nor back again.)

I mention this because Simonova's work clearly only gains from seeing her perform her beautiful – and emotive – animations.

It's animation, but not as we hitherto had known it. Surely animation festivals the world over ought be clamouring to have her grace their events?


Women's Cinema: in a cinema in Melbourne near you!

I'll wind this post up by noting that there are several films directed by women in Australian cinemas presently, and another, one of the very best films of the year in fact, due to be released here very shortly.

I was asked early on during Cherchez la Femme, apropos of a woman, Kathryn Bigelow, winning a Best Director Oscar for the very first time only this year, why it is that so few women are presently making films, or having their films distributed, and latterly, acclaimed.

Of course, the reasons that so few films made by women receive widespread distribution and/or are of the Hollywood big-budget blockbusting ilk are many and complex, but it is certainly not the case that women are making very few films at all, or that they are being altogether ghettoised and denied distribution. Things ain't totally bleak, as the following list of women-helmed feature films in distribution in Australia will illustrate.

The Tree (d. Julie Bertucelli)

In release now. Screened at MIFF. A beautifully lensed tale set in a south Queensland everytown in which Charlotte Gainsbourg's French migrant character loses her Aussie husband after he dies at the wheel, ploughing into the massive Moreton Bay Fig Tree that looms large – and then larger and larger – on their property. Perhaps her husband's spirit is then infused with the tree, as his favourite daughter, who frequently communes with it, believes, and perhaps not...

The Tree

It's a lovely film, graced with superb performances all round, but I have to say it's somehow not as magical as I had hoped. I don't think it quite played up the supernatural-cum-magic realist elements of the narrative to the degree it ought to have; it feels like Bertucelli hedged her bets a little, making for a last act that is ultimately a little underwhelming, notwithstanding that it features a ferocious cinematic storm ripe for the likes of a Peter Tscherkassky to plunder.

The Kids are All Right (d. Lisa Cholodenko)

In release now. Screened at MIFF. I haven't seen it. I have heard some very good things but also note that it has infuriated several lesbian friends of mine.

Please Give (d. Nicole Holofcener)

In release now. Screened at MIFF. I haven't seen it either but note the presence in it of Catherine Keener, for whom I will always have time!

Sagan (d. Diane Kurys)

In release now. A biopic on French writer Françoise Sagan whose first novel, Bonjour tristesse, was adapted for the big screen in 1958 with Jean Seberg in the lead (d. Otto Preminger). Alas, I haven't seen Sagan.

South Solitary (d. Shirley Barrett)

In release now. Was the Opening Night Film of this year's Sydney Film Festival. Again, I regret to say I'm yet to see it.

The Waiting City (d. Claire McCarthy)

In release now. I've not seen it. Whereas...

Winter's Bone (d. Debra Granik)

Screened at MIFF. Will be released here 28 October. One of the films of the year! A great slice of Social Realist Ozark Gothic (if you will), a wonderfully atmospheric and really rather chilling descent into a desperate backwoods underworld where Southern hospitality is stretched to breaking point when it comes to matters surrounding methamphetamines and their production.

Winter's Bone

There are unfailingly terrific performances from the whole cast, most of whom are lumbered with extremely unattractive characters and made up to look like they really ought to grace Faces of Meth scare posters. I'll be sure to rave a little more in-depth about Winter's Bone a little closer to its release.


Now, it might well be the case that most of these films are independent, narrow release productions, but with the relatively limited exposure to a public that that signifies, a happy flipside exists too; you can be sure that these films represent much less compromise on the parts of their makers than invariably occurs when almost anybody, man, woman or beast, is entrusted with the big BIG dollars that are the stuff of Hollywood blockbuster production.

Something else to note: four of the films listed just above got an airing at Melbourne's flagship film festival ahead of a cinema release, while another opened the Sydney film festival. Let's pause then to consider the salutary influence of our major film festivals upon the exhibition and distribution prospects of films from women (and indeed, from all less enfranchised) filmmakers, and pause also to note, and to trumpet the fact, that the Artistic Directors of the Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide Film Festivals are presently all women (Michelle Carey, Clare Stewart and Katrina Sedgwick, respectively), not forgetting that Anne Démy-Geroe oversaw the Brisbane International Film Festival from its birth in 1991 all the way through to just last year as well!

I don't know if that has much been commented on elsewhere, but that sure strikes me as a victory for female representation in the upper echelons of Australian film culture. The incumbency of women in programming films for the major festivals, as well as for other events, and within cultural institutions (like ACMI) is not in any way to be underestimated when it comes to getting more women filmmakers' work projected onto the umpteens of big screens around these parts, whereupon, it falls to us, to give them an audience...


Lastly, it would be remiss of me not to plug “Voice of the Grain: Films by Arthur and Corinne Cantrill” at ACMI over the coming weeks, beginning this Sunday. Jake Wilson has curated four programs, each a Sunday apart, spanning 50 years of the practice of the godparents of Australian experimental cinema. Go see!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Superstream, or: Many projectors make light work. PLUS!: Švankmajer

Superflux, a long-established live cinema quartet hailing from Grenoble, France, and presently touring Australia and New Zealand, hooked up last night with Melbourne AV collective Stream for a night of improvised, albeit to some indeterminable extent, rehearsed, “live cinema”. Kitted out between them with two prepared 16mm projectors; two digital projectors running video feedback and processing; prepared saxophone; bass guitar, and “noise toys”, Superstream let rip with a seriously cacophonous, multi-pronged flickerfest free-for-all of the likes not often seen around staid little Melbourne town.

It seems fitting that this occurred in Brunswick's venerable Mechanics Institute. I'm sure the night's events weren't quite amongst the goings-on its 1868 founders had anticipated would grace its premises but I can't help but feel they'd have appreciated the hands-on, bespoke approach to the AV mayhem that filled the Institute's performance space.

Cast upon, and across, a large grainy white canvas, multiple projections, thrown this way and then that, rectilinear as a rule but circular and elliptical as well, subdivided the canvas into frames (within frames, within frames), jockeying for position on a busy, collision-filled screen, ever toying with the chance/risk of generating some sort of transitory meaning or narrativity, never less so than when the projections thrown were less of an abstract nature and contained recognisable imagery, whether for split-seconds or for sustained periods.

When I say "recognisable", I mean by dint of containing shapes that conform at least roughly to forms assumed by human beings, animals, objects and environments (why, I'm sure at one stage I was seeing, even though its source footage was heavily solarised, a man in military garb grappling with a sealion. I do, however, concede that I might have been mistaken!) They might also have been recognisable by virtue of, on occasion, clearly originating from a familiar source. Amongst all the furious flickering, and the interference/complementarity of rapid-fire barrages of superimposed imagery and visual noise, I'm sure I recognised images/sequences from The French Connection and Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages, along with generic Western footage and many other things besides!

Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages
Aside from all of the in-the-moment image manipulations generated in the act of projection (as was also a large part of the spasmodically, illusorily rhythmic but mostly chaotic soundscape, via the manipulation of optical soundtracks), there was a great deal of play with emulsive chemical processes, not in-camera (presumably... surely that would be very dangerous!) but rather, prepared earlier, leading to some extremely eerie visuals, as faces, bodies and environments just melted away and decayed in a fashion no CGI will ever, ever better. (Be sure to see, sometime, Bill Morrison's stunning and exemplary Decasia!) These images, often digested subliminally, in concert and/or in antagonism with the greater bombardment of audiovisual (non-)information, are the ones from the evening I took home to bed with me...

Another pleasure: those moments when the whirr of 16mm projectors occasioned to be heard above the noise, or heard amidst it, providing the loud, but not quite too loud, noisescape with some faltering, underpinning rhythms, as well as conveying a strong sense of those projectors', and their projected materials', very materiality, the latter reinforced by moments when the film was evidently being spooled through a little skew-wif, as when sprocket holes started creeping their merry way across the screen.

And, for a little corporeality to add to all of this wonderful, frantic fusing of analog and digital projected materials: some playful, polymorphous shadow-puppetry penetrated the frame late in the piece from stage-right.

Extraneous to the performance per se, but expanding upon it in a pleasing historiographical sense, it was a pleasure to see eminent, old guard members of Melbourne's film avant-garde in attendance: here a Cantrill or three, there a Dirk de Bruyn. (Note to one and all: be sure to get along to "Grain of the Voice: 50 Years of Sound and Image by Arthur and Corinne Cantrill" at ACMI between October 10 and 31, curated by my former Senses of Cinema colleague and current day Age critic, the estimable Jake Wilson.)

Enjoying some after-show drinks with a good friend and various of the folks to have earlier provided such splendid (and free!) entertainment, down the road at the Brunswick Green on a busy AFL Grand Final Day night, I concluded I'd had myself a lovely evening, and that I've successfully stoked in myself quite the interest in attending more expanded, performative cinema events. I've been remiss in seeing all too few in times gone by, even despite – or perhaps because of – having been a party to amateurish perpetrations of such a couple of times in the past myself.


Jan Švankmajer in Surviving Life (Theory and Practice)
Along a more narrative-minded, but equally alchemical vein of image-smithing, I will take pause to announce how great a sense of anticipation I can't help but have towards the new Jan Švankmajer film, Přežít svůj život (teorie a praxe) (Surviving Life (Theory and Practice)), which may even (gulp) be his last.

My appetite could scarcely be any whetter... but lest yours need further whetting, here are a few stills from Surviving Life, which has just premiered at Venice and which opens in the Czech Republic November 4.

Surviving Life (Theory and Practice)
Funnily, extremely excited though I am, I can't bring myself to look at Surviving Life's trailer (viewable at Bonton Film). The stills, in all their Max Ernst collage-novel-esque glory, are more than enough to sustain me for now, whereas I feel to watch the trailer would be to spoil the joy I anticipate on ultimately seeing these images move. On, need it be said, as BIG a screen as possible.

I think it important, as a critic, to remember that one is still also a cinéphile, and hence prone to possibly slightly unprofessional adoration of certain film world figures whose work one can never engage with on quite the same level of detached objectivity as with the great morass of others.

And hence, this outburst of fannishness.

That said, perhaps it all evens out; no doubt the risk of disappointment is higher when more is invested in the work of someone whose work one loves and is forever championing. But then, perhaps we also can't help but be a little too forgiving on occasions, bringing more to a reading than is necessarily there to be read of what might, sometimes, really truly be a lesser work, the better to elevate and enshrine it in our hearts and minds and keep at bay any suggestion that our precious emotional investment could ever be compromised... Ah, 'tis the stuff of a Freudian field day, to be sure! And most aptly so, for so too looks Surviving Life!

Surviving Life (Theory and Practice)
Navel-gazing be damned. Old Švankypants has never disappointed me and I simply cannot wait to see Surviving Life!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Far from the Maddin crowd

Into the Past: The Cinema of Guy Maddin
Gentle reader, you might recall from my previous post that I have, per my preferred modus operandi, happily boxed myself into a corner and committed to reviewing William Beard's Into the Past: The Cinema of Guy Maddin for the next issue of Screening the Past.

Now, while being a great admirer of Maddin's works, I still haven't, by some stretch, seen all of his films; why heck, I haven't even seen all of his features!

An ideal I almost always hold out for, for as long as ever is possible, is to view on the big screen the films of anybody whose work I have come to admire or obsess over. And for many a long year I've held out thinking that surely, surely, somebody in Melbourne would stage a Maddin retrospective or season before long. Why, he's been a staple of MIFF programs for several years now, dating back as far as Twilight of the Ice Nymphs (with the doco on Maddin's struggles to make that film and conquer his own self-doubts, Waiting for Twilight, screening at MIFF that selfsame year of 1998.) He's a name (albeit not exactly a household one), a bona fide auteur, a man now with a substantial and accoladed back catalogue ripe for the picking and exceedingly rich in intertextuality, that greatest of boons for a prospective programmer. Furthermore, there's nowadays quite the heft of critical literature penned about (and, indeed, by) him.

But no. No-one here has yet done Maddin any sort of justice, and here I must, frankly, even point and wag the finger of blame at myself. Staging a Maddin retrospective was a notion I strongly entertained myself for quite some time, particularly so when still in the thick of MUFF. (That's the sometimes disreputable, sometimes deservedly so, Melbourne Underground Film Festival, for whom I curated some interesting programs, staged some strange events and ran no small amount of damage control over its fledgling, ramshackle first three years.)

But subsequent to my time with MUFF, with MIFF reliably bringing us in turn each of Maddin's new features and a sometime sprinkling of shorts along with them, my enthusiasm for trying to stage and bankroll a Maddin spectacular off my own steam slowly diminished, and I've let the idea slide.

Oh, but to think... I was in London a little over two years ago, only weeks out from a thorough Maddin retrospective at BFI Southbank. I came oh so close!

But no cigar.

So now it falls to me, ahead of devouring and reviewing William Beard's comprehensive-looking new tome on Maddin, to finally get acquainted with those few major titles of his to have given me the slip and which I've been dying to watch all along. So it's to my DVD and poky little home screen I now turn to watch The Dead Father and Tales from the Gimli Hospital for the too, too-long awaited first time.

And watch, and indeed relish them, I did.

Tales from the Gimli Hospital

And rather than immediately document my thoughts on these two early Maddins, fool! that I am, I sooner turned to Beard's book to pore over his chapters on them both. And now my newest, and heretofore unconfided, best laid plan – to write up here some sort of account of the umpteen ways The Dead Father and Tales from the Gimli Hospital would doubtless clearly prefigure his later, better known and better travelled works – The Saddest Music in the World, Brand Upon the Brain!, My Winnipeg, et al – appears utterly redundant. Because our man Beard is just all over it. He – with Maddin's acknowledged cooperation – is simply exhaustive in adumbrating every little tip of Maddin's hat to cinema's most heightened yesteryears, in identifying the point of origin of every little exaggerated gesture lovingly pastiched to the brink of delirium, in charting (safely assuming, I think, that the book carries on in the same vein) the evolution of all of Maddin's antediluvianist manoeuvrings and all the richly, often hilariously, Freudian obsessions that riddle his most singular and post-ironic of oeuvres. All that seems, so far, to be missing, is a little Vaseline smeared around its edges...

Short then of a really compelling reason I cannot yet anticipate, I likely won't much mention my own private Maddin-a-thon again around these parts before such time as I'm ready to trumpet the publication of my review of Into the Past in the next Screening the Past. That'll be towards the tail end of the year. But no matter, dear readers, there's plenty enough else grist meanwhile for the Little Lie Down mill. Plenty enough else indeed!



Come Tuesday, 5 October, come one, come all! To the Melbourne Fringe Festival edition of “Cherchez la Femme” at The Penny Black in Brunswick, which will focus on “Feminism and the Arts”.

I have been kindly asked by the formidable Karen Pickering, whose brainchild this ever lively monthly feminist salon is, to join an illustrious panel featuring the likes of Namila Benson, Lou Sanz and Dr Megan Evans to discuss with you, oh glorious public, artsy matters of import to feminists and all their fellow travellers...

Flattered, it will be my great honour to throw my five cents into a very stimulating night spent setting the arts world to rights, interspersed with outbreaks of … variety!

To wit, and I quote from this event's Facebook page:
Song and dance goodness provided by the divine Jane Dust, Emily Jarrett, Eloise Maree and Kitty Bang, who've promised to share some of their own feminist inspiration with us all. It's going to be a huge night and tickets are now on sale at:

Fun! Surely!



If you've got this far it probably didn't escape your attention that just off to the right and back up a bit is a little box headed “Pocket blitherings”, in which is gathered as many as four “tweets” attributed to my good self.

Yes, I've lost the good fight and upped and joined Twitter.

But it's not all bad. In fact, I fancy some good can yet come of this!

Summer Coda
Why... if only I'd already enlisted by the time I emerged from a preview of Richard Gray's delightful, tender début feature film, Summer Coda, on Tuesday morning just passed, so that I could have immediately let fly a pointed, pithy little snark to the effect of “Here's the film that ought've opened MIFF, had it only not been or felt beholden to run with an undercooked Premiere Funded feature instead.”

But let us not lament this lost opportunity (mine, or MIFF's). Sure, you'll all have now to wait instead till nearer its release in mid to late October to hear any tell of how lovely and moving a film Summer Coda ultimately is, recovering beautifully from a slightly wobbly first 15 minutes to have me, come the credits' roll, yearning for a home among the orange groves! (Of Victoria's Sunraysia region, that is.)

Here on in then, if I've just watched me a film, and feel that in the experience there's a high horse worth a-straddlin', you'll not be made to wait to hear tell a little bite-sized something all about it, ideally ahead of a more banquet-sized consideration of the same here and/or on my regular Thursday fortnightly spot on Richard Watts' SmartArts on Melbourne radio station 3RRR. (Exceptions being those strange, increasingly pointless instances (in a post-Twitter age) where publicists insist no advance word be leaked of a given film's merits, no matter whether that word might even turn out to be positive.)

That's all for today's show, folks.

PS A cursory scan of the index of Into the Past: The Cinema of Guy Maddin shows no mention of Jack Smith. No mention at all! So perhaps, as with even the most obsessively thorough of (cinéphile) enterprises, there will be blind spots in Beard's book yet, after all.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Bugger August; that was soooo last month

In the interests of maintaining a semblance of a resumption of usual services, and lest anyone fear this blog be taking a turn for the moribund, please find following a (one) blog post appertaining to the cinéphilic life in Melbourne, Orstraya, as given due consideration by an eagle owl, the film buff's spirit guide, etc etc yadda yadda blah, with all due apologies for the delay, consequent in some small part to a birthday had, against one's wishes and against one's better judgement, the week prior, and all the all-engulfing hoopla attendant upon it – ticker-tape parades, audiences with foreign dignitaries, a few drinks too many at The Tote chasing down a colossal Czech feast, and whatnot.

But life hasn't, these absent last two weeks, been all beer and skittles, overcoming a bout of pleurisy and delusions of grandeur. I've busied myself playing my behind-the-scenes part in letting loose into the world a new edition, #28, no less, of the venerable Melbourne-based film journal, Screening the Past. (Its first issue, long before my involvement began, emerged in 1997. 1997! Just imagine! – film had then just barely itself been invented, never mind the Interwebs!)

What's that – films? Yes, I suppose I've still found time to see a few of those lately. Blathered about some of them on the radio a bit, too, both today just about gone, and on the Thursday a fortnight prior.

I'm Still There

Today's blatherings principally concerned the mock-mockumentary I'm Still There; Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, and the very slight, but fun, The Extra Man. The lukewarmth I felt towards all three of these productions may not have been the stuff of scintillating radio. I'm not sure.

Whereas a fortnight ago my on-air focus was fixed on MIFF alumni The Killer Inside Me; Lebanon, and the wonderful Boy, along with the Message Sticks Indigenous Film Festival, and in particular its bringing to Melbourne the superb Reel Injun, a documentary investigation of the relationship between Hollywood and American indigenous folk, from the days of proto-cinema to very near to the current day, and not merely restricted to the depiction of native Americans in front of camera but, crucially, shining a light on their longtime involvement behind it as well.

Alas, I've neither the time nor the energy just now to wade in anywhere near as deep as I'd like in waxing critical upon all of these and other things to have unspooled before my beady, bloodshot little eyes these last sixteen days.

Why, I'm fatigued too from devoting energies and hours to under-the-bonnet tinkering for, would you believe, another august Melbourne-based film journal, Senses of Cinema, whose colossal archive is, by degrees, being migrated, in no small part by yours truly, into its mostly spanky new content management system. I have just today flicked a switch ensuring Issues 38 through to 51 – 750 wonderful articles on film in total, a few of which are mine – now seamlessly appear only at the 'new' site.

That took quite a bit of doing.

Still, in these last umpteen days, I've nonetheless also managed, remembering... the canon is my friend, the canon is my friend... to get along to big-screenings of Melville's Le Cercle Rouge and Visconti's Rocco and His Brothers, both long overdue. (Mental note to self: Inaugurate “A Little Lie Down vs. The Canon” in a future, in-depth post.)

And I've committed to writing a review of William Beard's Into the Past: The Cinema of Guy Maddin for the next issue of Screening the Past. As an ardent admirer of Maddin's fruity films, this commitment must, atop reading Beard's account of Maddin's entire filmography and his analysis of the Winnipegian's arch and antediluvianist practices, needs occasion several viewings of Maddin's films. Hurrah! I only have so many about the house so, whilst tracking down others to bring into my home to watch, I have also treated myself to a few short Švankmajers to tide me over. (He is a kindred spirit and genius, surely! If one with nothing much really in common.)

And, to wrap, it's now to pause to note the passing of some true greats.


Satoshi Kon: much, much too soon! I adored Perfect Blue from the very get-go; notwithstanding that it's an anime, it's one of the greatest gialli of all time. And Paprika. Paprika! What a magnificent great cavalcading headfuck that film is; Inception Schminception! Millennium Actress, viewed for the first time upon learning of Kon's death, is very good too, if played in a wholly different register to Perfect Blue and Paprika...

Which reminds me... a party I was late to just last night is Centre Stage, Stanley Kwan's wonderful 1992 tribute to iconic 1930s Chinese actress and suicide, Ruan Ling Yu, in which Maggie Cheung plays Ruan as well as herself, and in which much original footage from Ruan's work appears, along with re-creations, in which respects it was very appositely double-billed by the Melbourne Cinémathèque with Irma Vep, Olivier Assayas' valentine to Cheung, in which she plays 'herself' essaying the lead character, in front of, and away from, the camera, in a deranged director's (Jean-Pierre Léaud, having a grand old time) remake of Louis Feuillade's Les Vampires...

Which is, at length, by way of saying that Kon's Millennium Actress reminds me, for all the right reasons, of Centre Stage. Pending an abundance of spare time, I will write about this at length.

Vale also fellow Japanese animator Kihachirō Kawamoto, whose stop-motion puppet works drew from Japanese folkloric traditions as well as from the inspiration and tutelage of Czech puppet maestro Jiří Trnka. He did at least live though to a ripe old age.

And, lest I forget, it's farewell too to Claude Chabrol, one of the principal kickstarters of the French New Wave, all of whose films I've so far seen I have enjoyed, all of them enough to know that I ought to have seen still more of them. Ain't that often the way?

Right. That'll do for now.

In anticipation of a proper resumption of usual services shortly,



Tuesday, August 31, 2010

That was the rest of the August that was... August 2010. (Part One)

Post-MIFF, and more particularly, post-Friday the 13th, when my beloved little cat became an ex-Pushpaw, August has been a trying time indeed.

That's not to say I've been denied the pleasure of seeing films, although, alas, I've almost as good as missed attending as many as three whole film festivals (the Indonesian Film Festival; the Melbourne Underground Film Festival, and The Other Film Festival) due to my faltering health and energies.

Ahead of that fateful 13th day in August, I did at least get to a media preview of The Other Film Festival and so can offer some thoughts on a few films to have screened at TOFF, if not on the festival experience, per se.

That said, I am disappointed to have had so limited an engagement with the TOFF this year as a) I worked for the festival a few years ago and enjoyed, and gained from, the experience tremendously and b) the festival, with its focus on “cinema by, with and about people with a disability”, both screens material acknowledging, and indeed celebrating, “otherness”... of which I am a fan..., as well as acting as (one hopes) a harbinger of a more utopian future where cinema is for, and accessible by, everybody, not just those boasting a full complement of senses, the capacity for autonomous bipedal motility and an at oneness with consensual reality, like I often am.

The good folks of The Other Film Festival have a dream, a dream I tells ya!, and, more importantly still, take measures through their own fine example to demonstrate that that dream can – nay, should – be a reality.

My TOFF films seen, then:

Rita (d. Fabio Grassadonia & Antonio Piazza)
A very fine 18 minute-long Italian short which does wonderfully well in communicating something of the experience of the blindness of its titular character, a strong-willed, ten-year-old girl (Marta Palermo), principally through a combination of effective sound design and strategically keeping the camera trained upon her highly expressive face for all of the film's housebound first act.

The second act begins when, heard well before he's 'seen', a bloodied intruder enters Rita's house, and one can't help but immediately fear the worst for the very vulnerable girl; any number of horror films previously viewed condition one to fear for any character claustrophobically framed, as here, when there are ominous bumping noises emanating from outside of the frame, even before matters of blindness are taken into consideration.

However, the intruder's visit ultimately proves a good thing... possibly... in an ambiguous, 'be careful what you wish for' sort of way.

Sound-Shadows (d. Julie Engaas)


A semi-animated short which, like Rita, goes some way to convey the experience of blindness, in this instance portraying it as a synaesthetic affair. The narrator (Hege Norset Blichfeldt) explains how she perceives the world as a soundscape in which objects and people within it emit “sound-shadows”, enabling her to negotiate her environment. Pencil-drawn outline animation, sometimes superimposed over real-world backdrops, helps visualise for the seeing-unimpaired that which the narrator cannot see, as we understand it, for herself. A lovely piece of work.

The Sunshine Boy (d. Fridrik Thor Fridriksson)
A feature-length Icelandic documentary on autism narrated by Kate Winslet. It chiefly concerns the quest of an Icelandic woman (Margret Dagmar Ericsdottir) to better understand, and hopefully improve the lot in life of, her nonverbal, autistic 11-year-old son, Keli. To which end she and he travel far and wide, spending a lot of time in the United States and interviewing many experts in the field before ultimately finding some joy through the “Rapid Prompting Method” developed and practised by Soma Mukhopadhyay in Texas.

While the film feels a little like it could benefit from a bit of trimming, there's no denying the power of the film's understated but nonetheless triumphant close, wherein Keli, by degrees, demonstrably comes to be able to express himself, to communicate interests and desires that would not otherwise likely ever have been expressed, let alone met.

Sigur Ros and Björk feature on the soundtrack, which is of course no bad thing. And admirers of Errol Morris' “First Person” series, ca. 2000/01, will welcome hearing once more from the marvellous Temple Grandin, autistic inventor of humane slaughterhouses.


Post Friday the 13th, Pushpaw's passing echoed wherever I went.

The Killer Inside Me
I caught Michael Winterbottom's neo-noir The Killer Inside Me just a few days later, which cheered me up no end. I jest. A friend who saw it at MIFF summed it up thus: “Spank spank spank, kill kill kill, spank spank spank, kill kill kill...”

I've not read Jim Thompson's 1952 novel, but it's hard to imagine it could be any much less pleasant a stroll through the mind of a psychopath, portrayed in Winterbottom's film by Casey Affleck. Affleck's performance as Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford is chilling, to be sure, and his graphically beating to a pulp Hollywood lovelies Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson is just about every bit as shocking as what Gaspar Noé inflicted upon Monica Bellucci in Irreversible, Michael Haneke upon Naomi Watts in his US version of Funny Games and Darren Aronofsky upon Jennifer Connelly in Requiem for a Dream. There is an undeniable and inflated horror and astonishment in seeing beautiful, established stars, rather than mere nobodies, having horrific things meted out to them on the big screen. And doesn't Winterbottom know it! We are spared nothing.

The Killer Inside Me packs quite a punch, and ends strangely and strongly (with perhaps a tip of a Sheriff's hat to a certain illustrious Robert Aldrich noir classic), even if its protagonist's psychopathology is explained away in a fairly pat fashion (albeit one, I suppose, generically satisfactory).

Winterbottom continues to startle as one of the most protean and fearless filmmakers going, but let no-one tell you The Killer Inside Me is anybody's idea of a good time waiting to be had.

The following night it was off to the Melbourne Cinémathèque to catch the Alain Delon double of Plein Soleil (René Clément, 1960) and La Piscine (Jacques Deray, 1969). I had seen neither before and had read up only a little on them, so knew not really what to expect.

So, of course, wouldn't you know it, both come to feature Delon murdering somebody, though the deaths this time are, in both films, a darned sight less graphic – and a good deal more watery – than in The Killer Inside Me.

I don't really feel like writing expansively on either other than to say that a) both were made in a time of higher pants and b) La Piscine, boasting charms additional to Delon's surfeit courtesy of his real-life ex, Romy Schneider, as well as a young and gawkily beautiful Jane Birkin, is an absolute cracker... up until when the police are called in, late in the piece, subsequent to which point everything just drags. At that stage in the film, the only good that could come of introducing Mr. Plod to proceedings would be to have him summarily dispatched too...

All About My Mother
Death even infiltrated my following night's trip to the theatre, though this time it came as no surprise when it showed its spindly narrative hand. I was joining my dear friend Richard Watts at the Opening Night of the Melbourne Theatre Company's production of All About My Mother, an adaptation of my favourite Pedro Almodóvar film, and one in which much of the narrative hinges upon a pedestrian being clocked by a passing car. (Sigh.)

Sadly, All About My Mother was highly disappointing. I had presumed to give it the benefit of the doubt; the adaptation was said to have come with Almodóvar's blessing and the original is heavily concerned with matters theatrical in the first place.


From the very opening, things were a bit amiss. Alison Whyte, in the lead role, gave her Manuela a bizarre, plummified Australian accent... oh if only she could have sounded a little more European, any sort of European!

This accent robbed her character of believability and gravitas, and jarred all the more when she shared scenes with certain members of the rest of the cast who did adopt some sort of Spanish accent. (Whyte once or twice did, perhaps accidentally, ostentatiously roll an 'r' – which just made matters worse.)

This wasn't the least of its problems, however. The idea to have Manuela's son posthumously moping around the stage for most of the play's duration was surely an ill-conceived one. Even sillier, he silently interacted once or twice, apropos of nothing, with some of the living characters. I felt for Blake Davis, the young man who landed that largely thankless and, frankly, quite embarrassing, part.

Of course, Paul Capsis is always going to be entertaining, and he is perfectly cast as tranny hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold Agrado. However, there really was no need whatsoever to have Agrado's addresses to the audience exist outside of the narrative; they had been perfectly integrated within it in the film.

All About My MotherAnd, while the first half held me, notwithstanding all of my reservations already outlined above, the arse fell right out of the whole production almost immediately after the intermission; the play's rhythm was gone, gone, gone. And not because of the intermission; the problem was that the second half began with an abrupt shift of mood, all easy laffs and camping it up, which just utterly smothered the following serious narrative developments.

There were some positives; I didn't mind the layered mobile screens that, three deep, inhabited, and subdivided, the stage throughout – screens in the double sense of being canvases for projections as well as being coverings behind which actions – diegetic and 'behind-the-scenes' – could be strategically unseen, or seen, to occur.

Wendy Hughes was fine too.

Let's hope though that the production of John Cassavetes' Opening Night, at the forthcoming Melbourne International Arts Festival, makes for rather more successful a theatricalisation of an already 'theatrical' film.


And that will about do for now. I'm tired, pleuritic and cranky as I type this, but will commit to putting August properly to bed within the next few days, probably just after my Thursday's contribution to 3RRR's SmartArts (11.30 Melbourne time (GMT+10:00)), during which I'll no doubt talk about a few of the things I didn't get around to covering in this post, as well as this year's Message Sticks Film Festival.

Toodle-oo meantime.