Saturday, July 24, 2010

Of poor careerist manouevering & MIFF Days 0 and 1

Did I err? Has a golden opportunity to be a “first” passed me by? I've just missed a deadline to submit the paperwork for my inclusion in Who's Who of Australian Women 2011, putatively for my “outstanding contribution to the film industry both nationally and internationally”. I've never discovered which wily prankster nominated me, but the idea of being (presumably) the first entry in that august tome born neither Australian, nor a woman, really tickled me. Next year, perhaps.

Never to mind. Hopped up as I am on cold and flu medication, I will troop on. And prattle on now about MIFFier matters.

For the third year running, the Melbourne International Film Festival opened with a MIFF Premiere Funded feature: The Wedding Party (d. Amanda Jane). This blowing of own trumpets had worked to advantage in its first two years, with the triumphs of Not Quite Hollywood and Balibo creating expectations that could in no way be met by this year's opener, the tepid rom-com The Wedding Party.

I didn't much like another wedding-themed film I saw recently, which I reviewed during “A Fistful of Celluloid” on SmartArts on Thursday just gone: from New Zealand, Second Hand Wedding (d. Paul Murphy). And while Second Hand Wedding was terribly stagily acted, it charmed me rather more than did The Wedding Party, which was very competently produced, but just lacked something – probably it needed a little tighter scripting, a little less focus on one or two character arcs, and definitely a little magic. Second Hand Wedding, for all its faults and creakiness, did have a little magic up its sleeve.

(As I'm rather too busy with MIFF to write in depth about what I covered on Thursday's radio spot, I'll mention only this: Richard Linklater's Me and Orson Welles is a joy, wonderful in evoking time (1937) and place (New York City and The Mercury Theatre), and in portraying the young, egomaniacal Boy Wonder, with so singular a talent and vision, that was Orson Welles (Christian McKay – sensational!), before the universe found its all-too-many ways to stymie his latter day ambitions and projects. And speaking of magic... it's got it in spades, without and within its narrative! Oh, and Inception is quite good too... (see previous entry.))

As much as I didn't warm to the Opening Night film, I really felt for its cast and crew, in strong and exuberant attendance for that film's night of nights, for the film began – and ran for another five, or even ten, minutes – with 10-20% of its picture being projected onto the curtains to either side of the screen. Astonishing, and squirm-inducing, that this wasn't fixed much, much sooner.

Nevertheless, having Opening Night back at The Regent Theatre, and its party downstairs in the opulent Plaza Ballroom, made for much greater a sense of occasion than the same held at Hamer Hall these last couple of years. Were that Melburnians saw more of this grandiose Spanish Baroque function room, and the equally ornate passage running discreetly down into it from Collins Street. The Plaza would make for a magnificent band room...

I know I'm far from alone in wishing that MIFF had greater access to the Regent throughout the festival proper, and far less need to utilise the dowdy Greater Union cinemas on Russell Street. And, if not the Regent, if only then the Capitol could be pressed back into service. Seems the reasons for its absence from recent MIFFs are manifold; I most certainly hope they are not insurmountable. A visit to the Capitol has all the sense of occasion that a major international film festival demands, while the Greater Union has any atmosphere at all only by dint of the loudly chaotic scenes one ever walks into on entering the complex and negotiating sprawling queue upon queue upon queue.

Clearly, the festival would benefit from another screen or two, in as magnificent surrounds as possible, the better to get us all out of the Greater Union cinemas and into somewhere more picture-palatial, as befits the occasion. My pie-in-the-sky solution for MIFF/The City of Melbourne/their fellow stakeholders is 1) Get the stunning, Walter Burley-beGriffined Capitol Theatre's projection and sound system up to scratch and address any OH&S/public liability issues as may also exist, ASAP, and 2) Restore the Flinders Street Station Ballroom – this is crying out to be done at any rate – and whack a great big screen in it... could the location be any better? The sense of occasion on going to a festival screening any greater?

Onto Day One of the 59th MIFF

Hopped up, as I was yesterday too, on over-the-counter cold and flu medication, only with a hangover, fatigue from a day's toil just endured and sleep deprivation post-Opening Night thrown in as well, it was off to Russell St, to the dreaded Greater Union cinemas, to catch the much-anticipated The Illusionist, Sylvain Chomet's animated adaptation of an unproduced Jacques Tati(scheff) screenplay. Chomet is best known for his previous hand-drawn feature-length animation, The Triplets of Belleville, of which I'm uncommon fond, so I was really looking forward to this fascinating collaboration-of-sorts from beyond the grave.

Strikingly beautiful, imbued with melancholy, dialogue-free, and charmingly Tatiesque, from its eponymous character's gracefully awkward bodily movements to its humour, ripe with pathos, it in no way disappointed. A curious, even tellingly, reflexive moment occurs towards its end when Tatischeff the illusionist enters a cinema screening Mon Oncle (in live-action), which seems to precipitate an existential crisis in Tatischeff, one which seems highly pertinent in light of certain autobiographical elements within the film, and liberties perhaps taken with them, to the chagrin of the family of an estranged daughter of the great Tati.

Ah, in the old, pre-Interwebs days, such riches of extratextuality would never have furnished a filmgoing experience so soon as now. If you're curious to learn more about long-ago scandals informing and, perhaps, misinforming, The Illusionist, you could do worse than to start at The Arts Desk.

Family feuding aside: I loved, and was transported by, The Illusionist. Edinburgh (albeit ca. 1950s) has never looked better on film!

Next up, in the most capacious of Greater Union's six cinemas: Lemmy. It's a very entertaining, if somewhat loose, documentary on one of rock 'n' roll's most indestructible, talismanic figures, Motorhead's Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister. And it was great fun, more so for seeing it in a big cinema full of ardent Lemmy-philes. That helped compensate for the dreadful projection, cropping the image on all sides, such that the subtitles, naming the tens of endearing talking heads gracing this sprawling doco, were often partially off-frame to the sides and below.

Someone I spoke to after the screening said he'd talked to the cinema manager about this and had been assured that the film was projected every bit as its makers had wanted it; could that reek any stronger of bullshit? As is abundantly clear from this film, Lemmy is a very giving, very genuine human being, and a stickler for getting created things just as he wants them; it's unimaginable he'd endorse a film which would either deliberately and amateurishly short-change its audience, or that he'd have any truck with structuralist pretension along the lines that “no documentary can ever really tell the whole truth about its subject, so we cropped the frame for the film's entirety to represent the essentially compromised nature of the medium.” No, I don't think so either! Adding insult to injury, the curtains closed before the film had completely ended.

Still, Lemmy's a hoot, and does justice to a very humble, unaffected, wondrous strange, great and wise old man of rock.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Cinema Oneirica, or: A Few Musings on Inception and... Jess Franco!

Sure, MIFF is due to start in only two days, but my film-mind is wandering across other fertile ground just at the moment. I caught Inception, the blockbusting new Christopher Nolan flick, just last Friday, and both do and don't want to write reams about the experience RIGHT NOW.

With respect to holding back, my first consideration is one of timeliness. Firstly, Inception isn't released in Australia until Thursday, and while this isn't an issue in this particular case, part of the pact we make with publicists in attending previews of films is that we are sometimes asked not to go public with our impressions until the day of release, so that a film isn't 'spoilt' for its prospective audience.

(Should this really still be a concern in this day and age, when mountains of spoiler-riddled commentary on any film is almost invariably available online ahead of, or at least, coinciding with, its Australian release anyway? Still, mine, in this post, is not to question why.)

Secondly, and more strongly, I'm not sure how I feel about possibly spoiling things for myself, in so much as I have another, far longer established, outlet for my film criticism, and that's a fortnightly spot on “SmartArts”, Richard Watts' arts behemoth on Melbourne radio station, 3RRR, and I want to ensure I still have some original thoughts on the film left in the tank to surprise us both with come our discussion of it this Thursday, when I'm next on (around 11.30am AEST). Perhaps it's a foolish fear, but I worry that if I commit all my thoughts on Inception to this blog right now, I'll have too few fresh ones come Thursday to a) make for good radio and b) avoid repeating myself, lest anybody should find themselves reading this and tuning in to SmartArts.

I will, though, on the subject of Inception, say this straight away: I really want to see it again. For, like another film I've just watched and which, for good reason, I'm about to allow to hijack this post, Inception's is a most unreliable narrative. For the time being, I can only conjecture as to whether further viewings, with the advantage of foreknowledge of the film's universe, and of that universe's laws and logic as spelt out in the film, will lend themselves to a 'definitive' interpretation of the film's consensus reality-bending narrative. Never mind that the film has action sometimes unfolding 'simultaneously' upon multiple planes of dream/reality (it is in fact surprisingly not disorienting in that respect); what is hard to pin down is whether the narrative as a whole is unreliable, and indeed, whether it may even be organised along something of the order of a Möbius strip – just like Jess Franco's 1969 film Eugenie... The Story of Her Journey into Perversion, aka (the Marquis de Sade's) Philosophy in the Boudoir, of which literary namesake it is an adaptation.

It's not these films' debatable endless loop-iness I want to dwell upon in pointing this post's focus now more onto Eugenie. I do though want to harp on for a bit about this business of representing a dream-state on film. For while Inception presents us with a great wealth of narrative development situated expositorily within lucid dreams – dreams probably more (narratively) lucid than any presented cinematically before – Eugenie actually feels like a dream throughout. Inception does not; it feels like an extremely intelligent, serpentine blockbuster, a veritable Matrix for 2010.

At least, Eugenie feels like that to me, and I pointedly concede it might much less so for a Franco novitiate. Many first, second or even third-time viewers of Jess Franco's films often hurriedly have very disparaging things to say about his merits as a filmmaker. But therein also lies my point, for part of what made Eugenie so compellingly oneiric for me a couple of nights ago is that, unlike Inception's narrative-contained dreamweaving, Eugenie's oneiricism is, to the Jess Francophile, not the least bit contained. In fact, its oneiricism is far more than it alone could ever dream of containing. And that's because for the true Francophile, one Jess Franco film is every Jess Franco film bleeding into every other Jess Franco film. It's the auteur theory manifest, pruriently running amok with its head cut off.

Watching Umbrella's local Region 0 DVD release at home, Eugenie had not long started when the familiar repertory figure of Paul Müller lanked into frame, instantly exuding an opaque ulterior motive from which little good would presumably come to somebody... . And why, it could have been that he'd just walked in off the set of any one of a number of his many other seedy Franco collaborations from around that time, like, perhaps... Eugenie De Sade (another fine film, one of Franco's Soledad Miranda starrers c. 1970, and not to be confused with this film... or is it?... In fact, can it possibly not be?)

And in Eugenie's creepy black mass-like introductory sequence, with Christopher Lee sombrely, but menacingly, liturgising words straight from De Sade, did I not spot the director himself, who pops up, often unflatteringly, in any number of his other works? Did not also a wonderful Bruno Nicolai soundtrack enliven the film throughout – jaunty one moment, sinister the next, sinisterly jaunty but a scene, a flogging and a quick costume change later, not unlike in countless other Franco flicks? Those, that, is, not the better instead for a gorgeous Daniel White score, like Female Vampire (1973), which, come to think of it, featured Jack Taylor, who appears in Eugenie, as well as in Fritz Lang's favourite and one of mine, 1968's Necronomicon, to name but three of Taylor's many mad Franco dalliances. Klaus Kinski pops up, bewildered, in a fair few too. Howard Vernon. Antonio Mayans. Maria Rohm. Susan Hemingway. And Lina Romay. Lina Romay! Franco's post-Soledad Miranda muse, and life companion, lets rip in... I doubt even they know how many they've made together!

What I'm driving at is: once you've become a little au fait with Franco, once you've seen at least, say, a handful of good 'uns from amongst his 190 or so title-strong filmography, and have become... fond of them, then a cumulatively greater oneiric impact is brought to bear upon the viewing of each and every subsequent one. For to watch another Franco becomes akin to returning to a dream, to variations writ upon a recurring dream template, replete with countless recurring figures, recurring names, recurring themes, even whole recurring narratives (for in his heyday Franco never tired of remaking and re-imagining his previous films after a fashion as repetitively Sadean as many of his films' protagonists; hell, he was even often shooting several films at once, ever ensuring further extratextual slippage). It's just a matter of a little Freudian displacement and one Franco film is in fact the next.

Franco's is a true cinema oneirica. Granted, it probably isn't for everyone. It sure as hell ain't PC. But the whole, perverse, wild, wide world of Jess Franco's cinema isn't really that big a leap from the brainy Hollywood blockbuster of the moment, and it's much better to dance to to boot. Go on, you Franco virgins... take a bite! And then, like me, lament that nobody ever presents – ever dares present – his stuff on the big screen here.

Alas, Melbourne still has a conservative streak a mile wide, but while it seems unimaginable that any festival or institution will ever present a Franco retrospective here, consider this: he received a Spanish Lifetime Achievement Academy Award just last year, and the year prior, the Cinémathèque française ran a six week long season devoted to his work, which, it being Franco, nevertheless can't even begin to lay claim to being exhaustive!

Still: Viva Umbrella! For releasing several lovely restorations of his films on DVD. It's great to be able to pick a few of 'em up for a song hereabouts, go home and marvel at them, and to enjoy all awhile a nice little lie down.

PS The Franco hijack of this post notwithstanding, I really loved Inception. Loved it a lot.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Release dates for MIFF films

(Re the significance of the image above, see the postscript, below...)

Speaking of MIFF, here's a little something I prepared earlier: a list of films screening at MIFF with distribution deals already inked. Don't take the below as gospel, for these things are subject to change, but at the least be assured that all the information below has been taken directly from horses' mouths (the horses here being publicists for distributors and exhibitors both, as well as the small print in the MIFF festival program).

May that the following might help Melburnians with some tough scheduling decisions over the MIFF ahead!

WORLD'S GREATEST DADEagle28/07/2010 (DVD)International Panorama
SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP, THERoadshow05/08/10International Panorama
CLINIC, THEPolyphony06/08/10Night Shift
GHOST WRITER, THEHoyts12/08/10International Panorama
PEEPLI LIVEMind-Blowing Films12/08/10Special Events
SCOTT PILGRIM Vs. THE WORLDUniversal12/08/10International Panorama
SPLICEMadman12/08/10Night Shift
FOUR LIONSHopscotch19/08/10International Panorama
MATCHING JACKFox19/08/10Premiere Fund
KILLER INSIDE MEIcon26/08/10International Panorama
BOYTransmission26/08/10Next Gen
RELUCTANT INFIDEL, THEBeckerSept 2010International Panorama
WINTER'S BONECuriousSept 2010International Panorama
BLAMEThe PackSept 2010Premiere Fund
KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, THEHopscotch02/09/10International Panorama
PLEASE GIVERoadshow09/09/10International Panorama
DESPICABLE MEUniversal16/09/10Next Gen
TREE, THETransmission30/09/10Homegrown
CHLOERoadshow14/10/10International Panorama
SUMMER CODASharmill21/10/10Homegrown
DREAMLANDBunyaNov 2010Homegrown
CELL 211HopscotchNov 2010International Panorama
RED HILLSony02/12/10Homegrown
LEMMYHopscotchDVD only?Backbeat
CANE TOADS: THE CONQUESTRadio PicturesDVD only?Homegrown
I KILLED MY MOTHERMadmanDVD only?First Encounters
LEBANONRialtoDVD only?International Panorama
MAMMUTHVendettaDVD only?International Panorama
CATFISHHopscotchDVD only?Documentaries
WASTE LANDHopscotchDVD only?Documentaries
UNINHABITEDPolyphonyDVD only?Homegrown
BEESWAXAccentDVD only?International Panorama
I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRISRoadshowDVD only?First Encounters
HOLE, THERoadshowDVD only?Joe Dante
SURVIVAL OF THE DEADAnchor BayDVD only?Night Shift
LOURDESTransmissionDVD only?International Panorama
LOVE IN A PUFFDream MoviesDVD only?Neighbourhood Watch
ILLUSIONIST, THEMadmanDVD only?Animation
PIANOMANIAMadmanDVD only?Documentaries
TEENAGE PAPARAZZOMadmanDVD only?Documentaries
COLLAPSEAccentDVD only?Flawed Geniuses
CARLOSMadmanDVD only?International Panorama
CERTIFIED COPYMadmanDVD only?International Panorama
HOUSEMAID, THEMadmanDVD only?Neighbourhood Watch
DOWN TERRACEMadmanDVD only?Night Shift
MONSTERSMadmanDVD only?Night Shift
RUBBERMadmanDVD only?Night Shift
SILENT HOUSE, THEMadmanDVD only?Night Shift

PS Never mind that it opens in cinemas all of four days after the festival closes... if you haven't already heard, there's another very compelling reason to wait until August 12 to see the much anticipated new Edgar Wright film, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. For its single screening at MIFF is up against the only (semi-)announced screening of Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Palme d'Or winner, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives!

PPS I've already seen The Special Relationship, Splice and Boy and will, nearer their local release dates, enthuse effusively in this here blog about the latter two. The Special Relationship, though, has no place in a film festival, no matter how good a Tony Blair Michael Sheen keeps on giving.

We Don't Know How Lucky We Are

A Little Lie Down: not just a quaint Britishism for something I often need after, before or during the night or day before, but also a tip of the hat to those who, for mine, in exalting the analogous relationship between a good night's kip and the experience of being mesmerised by the moving picture shows, were the first great film critics: the Surrealists.

A second invocation. In inaugurating this cinema-minded blog, I have chosen to invoke Fred Dagg, noted creation of much-admired comedian and satirist John Clarke, who, like myself, is a Melbourne-based New Zealand transplant. For 'tis the truth here in Melbourne town where, atop generally enjoying a high standard of living (even as a cash-strapped cultural labourer), we also take for granted the plenty afforded us by this city's film exhibitors and distributors. This assuredly is a town kind to those of a cinéphilic persuasion!

Given the above, when better could I inaugurate this blog than when Melbourne's foremost annual showcase of things big screen is but days away from rolling into town? Of course, I speak of the venerable Melbourne International Film Festival (curiously coy about its age this year in its publicity materials, I note. But it's a spry wee poppet, with but 59 years on the clock!)

Unusually, I go into this year's MIFF with a considerable head start, for the last twelve months have seen me whizzing about the globe far beyond what had heretofore been my wont, attending film festivals in locales and climes that could scarcely be further removed from the Melbourne of the times: parts of Europe variously in the spring, winter and autumn, and Abu Dhabi last November.

I was lucky enough to catch quite a number of films due to unspool at this year's MIFF on my travels, covering various film festivals for that august journal of record, Senses of Cinema (for whom, furthermore, I toiled (wo)manfully for eight years or so as its principal web designer/administrator, back in the day).

Here begins, then, in its very début offering, A Little Lie Down's coverage of the 59th Melbourne International Film Festival, with links to four festival reports of mine to have appeared in Senses of Cinema, each bearing at least a little commentary on certain films screening at the 59th MIFF:

Seen at the 2010 Fribourg International Film Festival (Switzerland):
Adrift; Lola; Tehroun; Border

Seen at the 2009 Mezipatra Queer Film Festival (Czech Republic):
To Die Like a Man

Seen at the 2009 Middle East International Film Festival (Abu Dhabi, UAE):
Son of Babylon

Seen at the 2009 AniFest: International Festival of Animated Films (Czech Republic):
In the Attic, or Who Has a Birthday Today?

And in, and extending, that vein, I've also had a review of Black Bus published at artsHub.

Nifty. So there's a little MIFF preliminary, which happily also sees me establishing some priors in this film criticking lark. Oh were that I could always be so economical with my verbiage! More birds, less stones - a new credo I might aspire to.

Meanwhile, expect plenty more MIFF coverage hereabouts over the coming weeks, and many more ruminations on film culture in Melbourne, and, one hopes once more, far beyond as well. And oh! so much more besides.

So if you'll excuse me now, I'll be off to smash some cheap champers against my monitor.


PS If you frankly cannot be arsed following all those links to scan those articles to find mentions made of the above films, know at least this: Son of Babylon plays
not unlike a cross between John Hillcoat’s recent Cormac McCarthy adaptation, The Road, and something out of the Rossellini canon circa Germany Year Zero
and is essential viewing, to my mind, as is the completely dialogue-free, but beautifully soundscaped, Border, in which
the hardscrabble, traditional lives eked out, season in, season out, by Armenian refugees along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border in a post-Soviet time of conflict are borne Kuleshovian witness by a runaway cow.

Seriously! Go see!