Saturday 31 October 2015

Hou Hsiao-hsien in Conversation with Tony Rayns

Here it is folks for all of you who have seen The Assassin  at the SFF, MIFF, AFF, the Taiwan Film Festival at the Dendy Opera Quays and for those who will see it at the forthcoming BAPFF, a video recording of the hour long conversation between great men Hou Hsiao-hsien and Tony Rayns on stage at the BFI during the recent London Film Festival on Youtube.  

Friday 30 October 2015

AFTRS and the quality curve - A reply on behalf of Mitch Fifield

Quite some time ago, a blog entry about AFTRS was posted here . The entry, the most popular ever posted by the way, was notified to the then Minister responsible for AFTRS, the well-respected Senator the Hon George ("Bookshelves") Brandis QC. Now the following reply has been received.

Our Reference: MC15-004403
30 October 2015
Mr Geoffrey Gardner
Dear Mr Gardner

Thank you for your email to the former Minister for the Arts, Senator the Hon George Brandis QC, regarding the Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS). Minister Mitch Fifield now has responsibility for the Arts portfolio, and has asked me to reply on his behalf. Please accept my apologies for the delay in responding.

As the national screen arts and broadcast school, AFTRS continues to adapt to the
changing demands of the industry in order to provide advanced education and training to meet the evolving needs of Australia’s screen and broadcast industries. AFTRS has been rated as one of the best film schools internationally and the Australian Government is proud to support its commitment to nurturing young artists. I note that AFTRS students have the opportunity for training in all facets of film and television production and in radio broadcasting, and it is notable that almost all graduating radio broadcasting students are employed in their chosen field.

I appreciate your interest in the performance of AFTRS graduates, and draw your attention to the AFTRS Alumni Survey published in issue 10 of Lumina. This can be accessed at Lumina 10 .

I thank you for writing on this matter.

Yours sincerely

Lyn Allan
Assistant Secretary

A belated vale to John Mackenzie - the man, the MFF and the Palais Theatre

Its one of those things that you pick up on late, but somehow while glancing at the Guardian's obituary for Maureen O'Hara, a link came up to another obituary by the estimable Ronald Bergan  which you can read here (Guardian obituary) about the Scottish film director John Mackenzie. I thought he must have just died but it turns out he shuffled off the mortal coil in 2011. Mackenzie had a solid career in both television and movies but, if you ask, most people will remember only one of his movies. The Long Good Friday (UK, 1980) is now regarded as a ‘classic’. It may be late but I'm inclined to finally tell this story. 

I was at what I think was the world premiere of The Long Good Friday at the Edinburgh Film Festival in 1980. It was the only time I attended that event, one which at the time was a model I aspired to emulate in some way or other. It had a sense of cinephilia about it that was hardly rivalled and it attracted film-makers, critics and festival directors in some abundance. In 1980 it devoted a significant part of its program to a retrospective of the films of Joseph H Lewis and I sat near alone in a large cinema away from the main festival venue to watch a couple of them. Blazing Six Shooters, a Monogram western of almost no virtues beyond one memorable shot in the final confrontation between hero and villain is the only title I remember off the top of my head. Doing retrospectives  selected from down among the esoterica might make the festival, its director and the compiler of the booklet or program notes feel  good but it is not a path to wild popular support.

After the screening of The Long Good Friday, a press conference took place in the festival club room. It was chaired by Simon Perry, the festival’s press officer that year, and it featured Mackenzie, Bob Hoskins and the producer of the film Barry someone or other. Mackenzie instantly started to roar and rant at the audience about how he was one of those in the British film industry who was constantly hard done by, how the big companies were always trying to suppress honest little battlers like him and his colleagues, how they need the support of all the people in the room so that their film might get its chance. Hoskins joined him, not quite so noisily but with an almost equal number of expletives. The producer Barry someone or other more quietly explained the difficulty he was having convincing the distributors that they had made something saleable.

And so it went for maybe a good half hour or so, every question being used by Mackenzie to rant afresh, the language ever more fruity. It was all quite entertaining though I’m fairly certain the rants and raves and foul language had the effect of diminishing the film’s merits in my eyes. Mackenzie of course may have got himself, as they say in westerns, all lickered up. Some people when drunk do get a little aggressive. Some get a lot aggressive. I later had a quick word with Mackenzie and Hoskins and they asked my opinion. I said I thought that the film was a tad unbelievable, especially all that stuff about the IRA robbing banks. For this observation I got my own personal tirade from Mackenzie and Hoskins, something along the lines of ‘ Antipodean know nothing prat’, I seem to remember. Whatever, the film went out of my head after that and I certainly didn’t put it down on the shopping list for the 1981 Melbourne Film Festival.

Then around March 1981 I had a phone call from Philip Adams. “Do you have an Opening Night film?” “No , not yet”. “Well I have solved your problem. I’ve just seen a great movie called The Long Good Friday and I’ve talked Hoyts into giving it to you for the festival opener”.  Wow. The MFF had never had a film from Hoyts distribution arm. So hey, why not. “All you have to do is ring and say you want it!” said the great man. That was true and the deal was done.

Come opening night and added to the audience mix are a bunch of Hoyts executives, many of them attending the MFF for the first time. The film starts to roll, the ancient projectors in the Palais groan into action and shortly thereafter, on the first reel change, some part of one projector blows itself up and the image goes into fluttering blur. Undeterred the projection team decide they have no choice but to continue, every second reel fluttering in and out of focus. A disaster has happened, for the second year in a row. Two out of two on my watch.

One of the worst moments of my life was fronting the grim faced Hoyts executives after the show.  They were not happy and I silently vowed this has to be it, the festival has to be out of the Palais, a crumbling edifice, too large for the purpose, its ancient machinery failing at every step. So it came to be and the festival I think, neither MFF or MIFF has ever returned to that pile... John Mackenzie’s The Long Good Friday (UK, 1980) with Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren was the last opening night. Later, on closing night, Jackie Reynal won the prize for best short film and that caused more grief but it’s another story.

Sunday 25 October 2015

Vale Maureen O'Hara - Noel Bjorndahl* remembers a star

Vale beautiful, ravishing Maureen O'Hara (nee FitzSimons), aged 95, She was John Ford's muse and frequent star in some of his best films, often opposite John Wayne with whom she generated a palpable chemistry and affection. 

Apparently, she first indicated her talent on radio as a child, and graduated to roles with the Abbey Players. In 1939, she joined Charles Laughton in Hollywood playing a stunning Esmeralda to his celebrated Hunchback of Notre Dame in a haunting studio evocation of medieval Paris, one of the best films William Dieterle ever made during his Hollywood years. John Ford cast her in the key role of Angharad, opposite Walter Pidgeon, Donald Crisp and Sara Allgood in his moving studio recreation of a Welsh coal mining community, How Green Was My Valley. There followed further substantial roles at Fox and RKO (The Black Swan for Henry King; The Immortal Sergeant for John M. Stahl, This Land is Mine for Jean Renoir; The Fallen Sparrow for Richard Wallace; The Foxes of Harrow, again for Stahl; the very funny Clifton Webb vehicle Sitting Pretty (Walter Lang, USA, 1948) with Webb as the deliciously acerbic Mr Belvedere). 

In 1950, Ford gave her another substantial role in the last film of his celebrated Cavalry Trilogy, Rio Grande, as the estranged wife of John Wayne. They shared some extraordinarily moving scenes and were serenaded by The Sons of the Pioneers. In 1952, Ford again cast her, as Mary Kate Danaher with John Wayne in his idiosyncratic comedy romance The Quiet Man, a beautiful, boisterous, brawling yarn centering on the payment of a dowry and the intransigence of O'Hara's brother played by Victor McLaglen. Set in the idyllic village of Cong,Ireland, it became a huge hit and won Ford his 4th Oscar. Winton Hoch deservedly was given a Best Colour Cinematography Award. O'Hara continued to enjoy leading roles with Ford and/or Wayne-The Long Gray Line, The Wings of Eagles, McLintock, Big Jake.

On a personal note I felt very privileged to explore some of the Cong locations during a trip to Ireland in 2011.

(*Cinephile Noel Bjorndahl first published this tribute on his Facebook page. Thanks Noel for permission to reprint and circulate via Film Alert.)

Saturday 24 October 2015

The Duvivier Dossier (30) - A Teeming Anthill - Allan Fish reviews Pepe le Moko

Pépé le Moko 
p  Robert Hakim, Raymond Hakim  d  Julien Duvivier  w  Henri Jeanson, Roger d'Ashelbe, Jacques Constant, Julien Duvivier  novel  Roger d'Ashelbe  ph  Jules Kruger, Marc Fossard   ed  Marguerite Beauge  m  Vincent Scotto  art  Jacques Krauss
Jean Gabin (Pépé le Moko), Mireille Ballin (Giselle ‘Gaby’ Gould), Gabriel Gabrio (Carlos), Lucas Gridoux (Insp.Slimane), Fernand Charpin (Régis), Saturnin Fabre (Grandpa), Gaston Modot (Jimmy), Line Noro (Ines), Roger Legris (Max), Gilbert Gil (Pierrot), Fréhel (Tania). France, 1937 90m. On DVD regions 1 and 2

Come with me to the Casbah” – make that “Come viz me to ze Casbaaah” - is one of those lines enshrined in cine-legend, not just in that it provided source material for a thousand Charles Boyer imitators, but because, like so many so-called classic lines, it was never actually said.  The supposed source film was Algiers, a 1938 Hollywood thriller which must surely go down as one of the best ever Hollywood treatments of a French original.  Yet its excellence is achieved by proxy, in that the audiences who swooned over Charles wouldn’t have known a subtitle from a subway, and would never have heard of the French original, its director (though they soon would as he went to Hollywood) or its stars.  Algiers is a very fine film, but it’s a romantic film in every way.  The original was romantic, but it was fatalistic, too.  One of the reasons why it is now seen as a pivotal film in the development of poetic realism, but also why Graham Greene famously said of it, “I cannot remember a film which has succeeded so admirably in raising the thriller to a poetic level.”
Pépé le Moko is the name given to a legendary criminal housed in Algiers before the war.  He has become celebrated not just in the eyes of the underworld, but also in the eyes of the helpless police.  Why can’t you catch him, a Parisian detective bemoans, and he is informed of the nature of the Casbah, “a vast staircase where terraces descend stepwise to the sea…a population of 40,000 in an area meant for 10,000.”  They try to go in after him, but are left looking shambolic when he escapes with little trouble.  One detective even admires him, but waits for the time to strike, and sees that opportunity when Pépé takes an interest in a rich tourist with a taste in 20,000 franc jewellery. 

In all honesty there are aspects of Algiers that are better than the original, in particular some of the support cast; one longs for Alan Hale over Fabre as Grandpa the fence, and Joe Calleia was superb as the inspector where Gridoux just makes one long for Charles Vanel.  In virtually every other aspect, though, and certainly in terms of iconography, Duvivier’s film is not only vastly superior, but it may be his greatest work (for me, only his unjustly overlooked 1946 thriller Panique comes close).  It’s a film which captures like no other the taglined teeming anthill of the Casbah, a truly immortal district in old Algiers whose very character is so perfectly evoked in the introductory montage.  Yet Duvivier is at pains to point out that there’s nothing romantic about it, the Casbah is very much Pépé’s own private prison, from which he can never hope to leave.  His detective nemesis knows this and is content to wait for the right moment, like the Sheriff hoping to lure Robin out of the impenetrable mazes of Sherwood.  He is helped immeasurably by the camera of one of that greatest of forgotten cameramen, Jules Kruger, whose work truly is breathtaking to behold, from the dewy-eyed close-ups of the protagonists to the crisp panoramas of the Algiers port to which Pépé wakes every morning.  

Amongst the cast, meanwhile, Charpin’s informant is indelible (“I’m an informant, not a hypocrite”), and there’s a rare appearance by the legendary Fréhel and another stylish cameo from Gaston Modot, complete with toy, to savour.  At its heart, though, is the truly immortal Gabin, who takes oral sex to new levels in the memorable sequence where he and Balin rapturously recall their favourite Parisian landmarks, while the portside railings finale was paid homage by Carol Reed in Odd Man Out.  Just as the Casbah stands as a city apart, so does Duvivier’s film stand as a film apart in the history of French popular culture.

The Duvivier Dossier (29) - Like mother like daughter - Allan Fish reviews Voici le temps des assasins

Voici le temps des assassins/Deadlier Than the Male
p  Georges Agiman  d  Julien Duvivier  w  Julien Duvivier, Charles Dorat, Maurice Bessy, Pierre-Aristide Bréal  ph  Armand Thirard  ed  Martha Poncin  m  Jean Wiener  art  Robert Gys
Jean Gabin (André Chatelin), Danièle Delorme (Catherine), Robert Arnoux (Bouvier), Liliane Bert (Antoinette), Lucienne Bogaert (Gabrielle), Gérard Blain (Gérard Delacroix), Gabrielle Fontan (Madame Jules), Germaine Kerjean (Madame Chatelin), Robert Manuel (Mario Bonnacrosi), Jean-Paul Roussilon (Amédée), Olga Valéry (la Duchesse). France, 1956, 113m. Available on DVD Region 2, France only, No Eng subtitled version available. 

There was a time when Julien Duvivier was respected, admired by the likes of Jean Renoir at home and other masters abroad; the Duvivier who gave us Poil de Carotte, La Belle Équipe, Pépé le Moko, Un Carnet de Bal and La Fin du Jour.  Somewhere, though, it all went wrong.  An abortive trip to Hollywood didn’t help, but he came back and made the excellent Panique after the war and kept working for another fifteen years or so.  The culprits of the neglect were the auteurs of the nouvelle vague who decried the old-fashioned film-making of the likes of Becker, Autant-Lara, Bernard, Clair and Duvivier.  It’s true Duvivier wasn’t one of the innovators like a Gance or a Godard, a visionary like a Bresson or a Rivette, or a capturer of the mood of a given period – both of setting and making – like a Carné or Renoir.  He was old-fashioned, yes, but if so, fashion be damned.  He was the sort of film-maker we can afford to get nostalgic about.
Deadlier Than the Male isn’t listed in any major film reference book in English.  Indeed even in France it was neglected by everyone; not even a place for it in Sadoul’s Dictionary of Film.  It’s one of those cases where one can hardly blame the often culpable René Château for not putting English subtitles on the DVD, because hardly anyone in the English speaking world will have heard of the film, let alone want to buy it.  It’s an offence really, so let’s put the record straight.
Jean Gabin and Daniele Delorme
The setting is the Rue Berger just off the Halles market in Paris.  A young woman of 20 called Catherine is coming to the restaurant of celebrated chef André Chatelin to tell him that her mother, his ex-wife, has died.  He takes a shine to her and lets her stay as she has nowhere to go, but she quickly becomes the object of attention of his adopted son, medical student Gérard.  André’s mother is not alone in her suspicions of young Catherine, but André brushes fears aside and goes ahead with plans to marry her.  That, it turns out, is her plan, one cooked up with her drug addict mother Gabrielle, who’s not really dead, to marry André and then kill him off to gain his wealth. 

It’s the age-old adage “no fool like an old fool” dressed literally to kill.  Gabin is splendidly in his element, as comfortable under Duvivier’s careful direction as he had been in the classics of the thirties.  He fits the role of the restaurateur like the proverbial oven glove.  There are some priceless supports offered by a gallery of grotesque women, from harridan slattern to end them all Bogaert, whose legs have opened for more men than Messalina, hard-faced mother Kerjean and, especially, Fontan in the sort of role Sylvie became famous for, the sharp-tongued and -eyed diminutive sparrow who haunts the restaurant with her pearls of wisdom.  And then there’s Delorme, a forgotten figure outside of France, who made her name in the Colette adaptations of Jacqueline Audry playing winsome little things, but here so convincing as the scheming, cold-hearted bitch you could throttle her.  Among numerous sequences of ice-cold evil, she has one truly unforgettable moment as an admirer throws himself under a truck in front of her and she casually walks by barely pausing to glance at his body.  Needless to say, she gets hers in the end, and it’s immensely satisfying, but there’s no happy ending here, just characters in varying degrees of despair.  

Very French, and though there is admittedly nothing new about the piece, it’s made with such skill – a special mention to the equally underrated Thirard’s brooding cinematography – that criticism seems churlish in the extreme.

Thursday 22 October 2015

The Duviivier Dossier (28) Max Berghouse reviews David Golder

David Golder. Director:Julien Duvivier, Script: Julien Duvivier from a novel of the same name by Irene Nemirovsky,  Cast: Harry Baur/David Golder), Paule Andral/Gloria Golder, Jackie Monnier/Joyce Golder), Gaston Jacquet/Count Hoyos,  Paul Franceschi Soifer. France,1931, 86 minutes

In recent reviews of this director's work I questioned why he was drawn to particular projects. Was it simply a vehicle for work and money as a  journeyman director or was it a particular intellectual and emotional drive relating to a particular subject? I remain perplexed because I have such limited biographical information about Julien Duvivier. What I can say is that this is clearly the director's first truly mature work, at least in sound and compares, in my view, very favourably with La Fin du Jour (Fraance, 1939), generally recognised if not as Duvivier's absolute masterpiece (I happen to think it is), certainly as his pre-war masterpiece.

The film is one of unrelieved pessimism, even more so than the novel by Irene Nemirovsky upon which it was based. This novel had been published only a very short time previously, to rapturous acclaim that the author, being so young, could have produced something so mature. Ms Nemirovsky was an emigre Russian of Jewish background who arrived in France after the Russian October Revolution and subsequently married a French Jewish banker, David Epstein. Both were subsequently to perish in the Holocaust, she from typhus in a concentration camp, and he somewhat subsequently by being gassed. The issue of the author’s Jewish background and the subject matter of the book, inevitably colour, to some considerable extent, one's perceptions of the film.

Ms Nemirovsky faded from public interest relatively quickly after her death although her work has been revived in the last few years. It remains tarnished in the eyes of many because her novel "David Golder" takes a rather unflattering view of its Jewish subjects. The author has been consistently lambasted during this period of revival as an "anti-Jewish Jew". Also somewhat before the Second World War she was baptised Christian and wrote for a number of extremely right wing publications, possibly with the expectation that this would help her, even though she could not have in the prewar period known that the country would fall to the Germans. In reality it did not help her at all. But a modern reader of the novel, just like a modern viewer of the film, inevitably looks at anti-Semitism through the prism of the Holocaust and without wishing for a moment to diminish the moral complexity of this issue, I think we must accept that in the prewar period, in most Western countries, a sort of casual anti-Semitism was more or less universal, though not an anti-Semitism that would for a moment contemplate mass killing. It seems to me to be far better to face this fact directly and judge the film taking this into account in accordance with the standards of the time, rather than judge it (certainly not exclusively anyway) by modern perceptions.

As a background historical fact, France lost vast manpower during the First World War and was forced to accept immigration from other European countries subsequently. Many of these new migrants came from Poland including a very considerable number of Jews from the Pale of Settlement and this significant influx of "Orientals" caused considerable discomfort to traditional French society. While immigration was permitted, obtaining citizenship was rendered very difficult and indeed Ms Nemirovsky failed in several attempts to become a French citizen. When the Germans occupied France, the first Jews to be kidnapped and killed were these non-citizen immigrants.

So let us be entirely candid, pictorially, the film panders to all the usual anti-Semitic stereotypes. David Golder himself, profoundly financially successful, wallows in the obsession with money. His friend, Soifer, whom we meet early in the film, dining with Golder, and who is almost certainly a successful jeweller (another typically "Jewish" profession) is hooked nosed, very unattractive, unshaven and with bad table manners. To top all this off, he walks on the points of his shoes, so that he will not wear out the soles. Harry Baur, a quite magnificent actor, was not himself Jewish (although his wife was) and he manages to convey a Jewish physiognomy, just by almost imperceptible changes in facial expression and demeanour. It is an extraordinarily refined and compelling performance such that he makes us emotionally identify with Golder, even if not necessarily liking him.

At the same time as dinner is going on Golder rebuffs a former co-venturer (this co-venturer seemingly being a Gentile) who has cheated Golder. Rebuffed the man takes his own life to Golder's apparent indifference. "I don't care.", he says. Yet it does not seem to me that he is by nature cold; rather, despite his worldly trappings, he is profoundly unhappy. What he has achieved cannot bring him acceptance and intimacy. It is the playing out of this "aloneness" which I think is the kernel of the movie. Concerned with the onset of angina, he decides to join his estranged wife (Gloria) and sole child (Joyce) in Biarritz where they live in splendour in a villa. Golder is picked up at the airport by Gloria's driver. Golder observes that it is a new car – a Rolls-Royce and the driver observes that Mme grew tired of the previous car, an Hispano Suiza. I should note at this point the fidelity to consistent style of the director. The Rolls-Royce in question was a then recently released Phantom II, probably only about six months old and with an English body, all of which indicates a conspicuous attempt at verisimilitude. Somewhat subsequently Joyce implores her father to get a new car, which he does: a Bugatti sports car. This car was similarly wildly expensive and rare.

Manifestly uncomfortable and not made really welcome by either his wife or child, nor by the gaggle of hangers on in and at the Villa, Golder becomes more estranged. His wife, stunningly groomed all the time, from morning till night, is positively dripping jewellery and shows absolutely no interest in Golder's ill-health. She is concerned exclusively with her ability to maintain her lifestyle, including a surreptitious long-term adulterous relationship with Count Hoyos whom in a moment of anger she reveals is the father of Joyce.

There is no doubt that Golder is a very hard man. He is a "chancer" in business but has had long-term success. He displays this hardness by going to the casino and winning, pretty much against the odds. But this indomitable hard nature must be construed as having an adverse effect on his health and as it is gradually revealed that his business empire is in danger, he begins to take more chances to hold things together, not so much for himself but for his daughter whom he cannot see at all does not care a whit for him. He exists solely as the provider of her lifestyle. What we as viewers see is completely hidden from him.

Leaving the villa he pursues a final gamble: seeking oil concessions from the Soviets in the Baku oilfields to the irreparable damage to his health. He dies in the presence of a young Jewish Russian emigrant (my guess is that the city they have left from in Russia is Odessa) but he is not a confidant. Golder dies without the support of family and indeed begs the young man to ensure that his daughter is the recipient of his wealth. His life ultimately is without purpose or comfort.

This is one of those rare films that from apparently unpromising material, an emotional bond is created – and this is solely due to the director – so that we identify and understand completely with the character, in this case Golder. Everything about this film is first class. It might seem that the supporting actors are not of particularly high standard, but this would not be accurate in my view. They are all superlative. It is just that Harry Baur is so overwhelmingly convincing. The set pieces are superbly constructed. Scenes in the villa capture completely the brittleness and falseness of a mini society that is only held together by the rapacious desire for someone else's money. An absolute masterwork!

The Current Cinema - Whitey Bulger is no Mabuse....

Coming right on top of Legend (Brian Helgeland, UK, 2015) a film noted earlier  here, Black Mass (Scott Cooper, USA, 2015) invites some rudimentary comparisons. First there is the 'true story' though as those whose memories go back a long way, all the way back to Night and Day (Michael Curtiz, USA, 1946) or Rhapsody in Blue (Irving Rapper, USA, 1945) or Words and Music (Norman Taurog, USA, 1948), biopics about nice people containing lies innumerable to count,  perhaps will know. ‘True stories' often have the facts changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty.

Then there is the bravura acting performance by the lead actor, burrowing deep into the technical box of tricks and often assisted by the make-up department, to look and sound authentic and in character. Where well-known criminals are concerned most especially, the actor is called upon to try and try and convey the idea that associated with their character is a sense of wild, uncontrollable, erratic and very dangerous violence, something likely to be unleashed at a moment's notice and which at least once in the film will involve a repetition of the scenes in Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, USA, 1990) where the gang members so-called 'fuck with each other's brain'. When it happens, the audience is usually taken in along with the poor victim of the prank. I feel rather certain that both Tom Hardy, who got the chance to play two villains, and Johnny Depp who got the chance to go into serious disguise immediately thought Oscar! when they and their agents got to look at the scripts.

In so-called true stories of today, especially those about villains, there seems to be some basic pattern to hove fairly close to known detail as well, especially if the crowd might know just a thing or two about events. Still, hoving to the facts if the criminals in question are low life extortionists, standover men, petty numbers and other cheap racketeers, as well as murderers, doesn't get the audience very involved. But the fairly recent tradition of keeping to the facts means you cant make up and insert the pulling of elaborate and brilliantly plotted heists or other criminal activity which create suspense and has the audience on the edge of the seat not knowing the outcome. You cant do what Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould have done with Breaking Bad  and Better Call Saul and go on amazing flights of criminal fantasy set in the dull quotidian reality of suburban Albuquerque. The Krays and Whitey Bulger were not the type to get their money by elegant robberies or outrageous schemes. They simply killed people and took other people's money. Mabuse they are not.

The banality of their criminal lives stands between them and the audience. That was the trope that David Chase and his team of writers and actors developed for The Sopranos. For six seasons the wise guys sat outside the butcher shop drinking coffee. They sat out the back of the Bada Bing playing pool and reading the papers. They ate sloppy fat filled food. Occasionally they roused themselves to some slightly higher form of activity though not usually in their homes where they were faced with rebellious kids and cranky wives. Occasionally they murdered an enemy usually with maximum efficiency. Torture rarely played a part. But The Sopranos made you chuckle as well as gasp. Matters were contrived to generate suspicion and surprise. Characters did the unexpected and they betrayed each other. Everyone betrayed others, all the way from the high school kids through to aging near-death seniors. Some criminal activity was often recorded with documentary authenticity, most especially the construction and garbage disposal trades overmanning and rorting. It also had something deliciously droll about it. Human endeavor has a wonderful way of finding money making methods that break the law with impunity. Chase and his team relished telling the stories, no doubt all of them derived from case studies.

But the 'true story' tradition demands you cant relish telling the story of the hardened and violent criminal. You have to appall the audience not have them cheering on the bad guy. The lead actor, in his push for an Oscar, is encouraged to be excessive, caricature almost. Their movie versions will inevitably make them smarter and more articulate to go with their maximised sense of menace. They will also know to fight, deftly bringing down opponents. There is, however, one brawling encounter in 
Legend that occurs when the two brothers fight and its quickly reduces to flailing arms and wrestling on the floor, something like a real fight between drunks usually is.

These film-makers are thus faced with trying to make us interested in the banal lives of those who have chosen to make their way in the world by exploiting others and using violence to back it up. Not an edifying subject by itself. To this is added the story of a rather dim-witted, but cunning, FBI agent (Joel Edgerton) who decides he can walk both sides of the street. The relationship however is underdeveloped. We're told it's happening but we dont get sufficient close-up bone and gristle between the two guys. Maybe it's the the star system operating here. The film is not written as a wrestle between the FBI Agent Connnolly and the arch-fiend Bulger. It's about Bulger and it's fascinated by him, or at least fascinated by Johnny Depp as him. Without giving us something interesting to follow (it lacks all the inside technical stuff of tracking and tracing that used to make The Wire so enthralling), you just watch bemused. 

You can of course marvel at all the authenticity of the recreations in the look on display. Painstaking work by the designers and photographers get everything right. That might be where any Oscar actually lands.

Monday 19 October 2015

Film Festivals - Simon Taaffe continues the discussion

I agree with David Young's earlier post.

I didn't know about the Taiwanese or Czech & Slovak festivals. (There doesn’t seem to be a web-link to the Sydney  Czech and Slovak screenings, only to Melbourne, which have been and gone. I don’t know whether this represents some outbreak of ugly factionalism or not.)

There's a good case to be made for the word ‘festival’ changing its meaning or having meanings added. It now means, when preceded by any nationality and a common noun, a leap in admission or cost in general. My ‘free’ glass of champagne at The Young Girls of Rochefort at George Street cinemas cost $10.00. Using  a Cinebuzz pass, it would have been a hefty $17.00.

At the same time, I wouldn't like Palace to close.

The point about overlapping movies on the one date is also good. I wonder could one art house multiplex profitably run festivals all year round, especially now that the national
festivals have expanded into retrospective and restored prints. Here's a link to demonstrate how big the net will become next year, Cremorne Orpheum Special Events. Scroll down to March, May, July 2016, and on the way see the new Quentin Tarantino in 70mm, along with the Orpheum's version of cult doubles of Alien+Blade Runner etc.

A Barrie Pattison Postcard from Milan

Anything after Pordenone was going to be an anti-climax but Milan was an abrupt return to movie goer reality. The DVD businerss, which was a major incentive to hit Italy, has shrunken out of all recognition. Ricordi Galleria, which had the best selection I ever saw, have sold out to Feltrinelli who have filled the space with (!) books. There was one shelf of familiar titles. Feltrinelli did have a more substantial selection in their store in the Stazione Ferroviere but all the rare and unexpected material has vanished along with most of the outlets.

Going to the movies is losing it's zest too. My beloved Odeon Space Cinema has gone back to the old Primo Tempo routine, inserting a sales interval arbitrarily into the middle of their movies. The pick of what I saw was an Italian film SUBURRA (Stefano Sollima, Italy, 2015), playing a pre-9/11 plot in a scenario of excesses - naked B girls OD'ing on smack (I think) and a victim hit by vehicles in opposite traffic lanes - name stars and elaborate production. L'Arlecchino around the block is also a beautifully appointed auditorium despite it's unassuming foyer and they didn't feel the need to flog Pop Corn and Coke in the middle of the movie but in both theaters. I found myself sitting next to people who were texting through the show and couldn't be persuaded to stop.

They were doing a red carpet gala while I was in Odeon. I left a movie early and found my only way out was UP the red carpet among the glittering celebrities. I wonder whether I made it into the TV coverage

Milan is all high fashion and pizza. I did spot a film crew at work on the city fringe and hopped out of the tram to check them out. Turned out to be a Bollywood unit with half a dozen dancers in skimpy outfits shivering between their bits of playback performance.  I couldn't figure out who one film crew was because no one uses clapper boards now. I miss clapper boards.

Whether movie enthusiasm has gone away or shifted into the internet ether I can't tell.

Sunday 18 October 2015

Film Festivals - Cinephile David Young on the uncoordinated surfeit

It was interesting to hear about the Taiwan Film Festival  and Sydney Indie  film festivals. 

It seems that lucky Sydney cinemagoers are currently deluged with 'film festivals', with seven more that I know of over the next month or so. The Palace group leads the field with four festivals - Greek FF (14 October - 01 November), Football FF(!) (22 - 25 October),  the 2nd China Australia International FF ("The ONLY official film festival in Australia initiated by China's State government...") from 23 to 28 October, and the BBC 1st British FF (27 October - 18 November).

Karel Zeman
The Dendy group has one - the Czech & Slovak FF from 21 to 25 October (with the bonus of FREE screenings of three features by Karel Zeman at UTS in Ultimo), while the Event cinemas have snagged two - the Russian Resurrection FF (which originally started with Palace) from 23 October to 04 November and the Japanese FF (which originally started with free screenings at the Dendy, Martin Place way back in the past, and was undoubtedly an offshoot of the regular screenings by the Japan Foundation at their then headquarters in North Sydney).

While it's a great opportunity to see films that would be unlikely to get a general release, I can't help feeling that we are being dudded somewhat by the fact that it's only through a 'festival' setting that we can see them - and of course, 'festival' pricing is always about 50% higher than regular pricing.

The other problem is the number of films shown at any one time. Saturday 24 October is a typical example with all these available for your viewing pleasure: Ballad of a Soldier (1959, Grigorii Chukhrai, USSR); I Am Sitting on a Branch I Am Fine (1989, Juraj Jakubisko, Czechoslovakia), The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (1961, Karel Zeman, Czechoslovakia), The Fabulous World of Jules Verne (1958, Karel Zeman, ), Brotherhood of Blades (2014, Lu Yang, China) and Mountains May Depart (2015, Jia Zhangke, China).

For some further and later thoughts go to

A Taiwan Film Festival - short but sweet

So what constitutes a film festival? The description is contracted to the minimum with the forthcoming Taiwan Film Festival, a two film event at the Dendy Opera Quays in Sydney on 27 and 28 October. Here at least the quality rating is very high indeed. It is screening Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Cannes prize-winner The Assassin, already shown at the Sydney Film Festival and thus needing no introduction  and, out of the blue and without any public attention of any kind, the Australian premiere of Thanatos, Drunk. This film recently had its North American premiere at Vancouver and the program note described it thus. If you didn’t already know: Thanatos is the Greek demon of death. Given that, the title of this indie gem promises something wild, and something wild is precisely what you get.
Rat and Shanghe are brothers, the former straight, the latter a nightclub-loving gay man. This is a close-up look at their misadventures as they trek through the back alleys and shady clubs of Taipei. The cast of characters also includes a gigolo, a mute prostitute and one seriously aggravated mobster. We meet this charming bunch in a narrative in which the past and present intermingle, play off each other and keep us on our toes. The storytelling is far from alienating, though; if anything, it only heightens the intensity.
Director Chang Tso-Chi knows a thing or two about throwing the audience for a loop, so prepare yourself for surprises, including some unexpected moments of quiet and poignancy. The indie film scene in Taiwan is bursting with talent right now, and this is one of the most inventive features to emerge from it. Chang gives us a bittersweet portrait of brotherhood, a wide-angle view of contemporary Taiwan and a whimsical tale of survival in the mean city.

“Fierce and emotionally poignant… [It] feels like a lethal projectile striking at the core of humanity.”—Ho Yi, Taipei Times

Friday 16 October 2015

Pordenone Silent Film Festival - A Postcard from Barrie Pattison

So I arrived at Pordenone after a battle with  Ryanair who bring a full force to the term cattle class. It's really no faster than  the train or bus, with all the traveling to their chicken wire depots and waiting time, to be followed by another struggle with Trenitalia who specialise in making it not work. The flat share I was booked into proved to be a mile out of town and when I got there (after the taxi had left) there was no one home. That meant I was stranded somewhere I didn't know in a country where I didn't speak the language with a pile of luggage and rain looming. I thought things couldn't get worse and then I dropped my glasses and the lens fell out.

I guess I rose to the occasion because I got it all sorted out and am now half way through the festival which is proving one of the great experiences of my life. Yesterday I sat through the six hour tinted silent 1925 LES MISERABLES in the row behind the director of WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT.  Whether or not it's a great film it is certainly a great show. I was one of thousand people who leapt to their feet to give Neil Brand a standing ovation for the live piano accompaniment. After the show I discussed it with the deposed head of the Russian archive.

.....Alessandro Blasetti's life's work was spread out on the dealer table on DVD at fifteen bucks a time. Being in terror of running out of cash I only bought one and the next day they were all gone - just like the Ethnic Video store whose Blasetti's all got stolen hey?

PK -The Box office champ that 'nobody' has seen + A Report from Adrienne McKibbins

Aamir Khan in the Box office champ PK
Do we need film critics, blogs, reviews and the rest of the paraphernalia of the first step in movie consumption. The highest grossing foreign-language film of the year  in Australia is titled PK  and I suspect you have never heard of it, let alone been to see it. It was made in Bombay by the Hindi-language film-making apparatus that alone and unaided regularly produces several mega-hits for the domestic market. Its stars are the most famous people in India. 

In Australia the film opened simultaneously with the Indian release on 19 December 2014. It went on at 36 screens and took $1,190,142 in its first week and ended at number 7 in the overall box office. It did so unaccompanied by any reviews in the mainstream media. In its second week it took $603,931 and dropped to number twelve. By the time it had finished its run it had grossed over $2.2 million. That earned it the prize for highest grossing foreign language film recently presented at the Australian International Movie Convention.

This is the second year in a row that a Hindi film made by the Bollywood machine has won this prize. In 2014 it was a franchise picture Dhoom3 that got the gong. Previously the winners were so-called art house hits The Intouchables, The Women on the Sixth Floor, Coco Avant Chanel  and two parts of the Swedish versions of the Stig Larsson Girl Who  trilogy. You have to wonder whether those days are over now that the Indians would seem to have worked out some smart methods of tracking down the diaspora. One part of the trick is to release close to a hundred films a year day and date with the opening in India. Anyone who logs on the web versions of the Indian press for instance would of course have reviews, comments and articles near to hand.

One interesting feature of the local market is that the money at the box office has to be raked in quickly. Within a couple of weeks of any film’s release, the same diaspora has access to bootleg copies sold for as little as a couple of dollars.

So just what is PK. Adrienne McKibbins, the foremost scholar of Hindi movies in Australia has provided some notes about the film. P. K. is a comedy of ideas about a stranger in the city, who asks questions that no one has asked before. They are innocent, child-like questions, but they bring about catastrophic answers. People who are set in their ways for generations, are forced to reappraise their world when they see it from PK's innocent eyes. In the process PK makes loyal friends and powerful foes. Mends broken lives and angers the establishment. P. K.'s childlike curiosity transforms into a spiritual odyssey for him and millions of others. The film is an ambitious and uniquely original exploration of complex philosophies. It is also a simple and humane tale of love, laughter and letting-go. Finally, it is a moving saga about a friendship between strangers from worlds apart.

Raj Kumar Hirani has an enviable record as a film director. He has never had a flop film. The four features he has worked on as Director, writer, and editor have all been blockbusters at the Indian box office and done extremely well overseas.

PK was released worldwide on December 19th 2014, became the highest grossing Indian film ever,  and the first Indian film to gross over 100 million US. Hirani's films always arrive with considerable expectation, more so with each film as his reputation grows. This coupled with the fact that his last two films have starred Aamir Khan, whose films are also eagerly anticipated, almost ensured that PK would be a sure fire hit even before it reached the screens.

The lead up to the film's release garnered some controversy (read additional publicity and word of mouth) when a promotional poster for the film was released featuring a naked Aamir Khan, except for a well placed cassette recorder. At the time the poster came out little to nothing was known of the films content or story. Subsequently the poster image was explained when the film was screened.

While it could be said that Hirani's film are always enjoyable and "feel good" they all deliver a message or a commentary on some aspect of Indian society. 3 Idiots (also starring Aamir Khan released at the end of 2009) was a critical observation of the education system.   Hirani was quoted as saying PK is a satire on Hindu Gods and their "Godmen".
The film was described by reviewers as satirical science fiction comedy film.  Aamir plays a humanoid type alien who lands on earth in Rajasthan, and is left stranded when the remote control of his space ship is stolen.  Our alien is befriended by a young woman (Anushka Sharma) who has not recovered from her wedding be called off because she wanted to marry a Pakistani Muslim. The film follows our friendly alien's adventures on earth as learns about humans their foibles and tries to understand the complexities of religions and how they are  practised

The film had a very wide release on some 6000 screens, 5200 of them in India. It was released on 35 screens in Australia. After its initial release the film was released in China in May this year on some 4,500 screens.There have been rumours of both a sequel and a Tamil & Telegu version of the film being made.In recent years with Indian films getting wider and wider releases both in India and worldwide, the money they are making has increased substantially, however the figures released on recent blockbuster Indian films never seem to take into consideration ticket prices, number of screens, or differences in deals for satellite rights (which can be enormous in India).

PK is available in a two disk DVD edition with notes (in English) and a disk of extras including "Making of the film". Search the net.

The Duvivier Dossier (27) - Duvivier at the Lumiere Festival in Lyon

The Lumiere Festival in Lyon, an event dedicated to screening the old rather than the new, has eight Julien Duvivier films in its 2015 program. The program notes, including a long essay on can be found  for Un Carnet de Bal (1937) , Voici le Temps des Assassins (1954) and Panic (1946)

The festival is also screening a 58 minute doco by Benoit Jacquot and others about Man of Cinema Pierre Rissient

Thursday 15 October 2015

The Duvivier Dossier (26) La Fin du Jour - Allan Fish writes about the 1939 masterpiece

La Fin du Jour (France 1939 105m)

Dear Anemone III

p  Julien Duvivier  d  Julien Duvivier  w  Charles Spaak, Julien Duvivier  ph  Christian Matras, Alex Joffre, Armand Thirard  ed  Marthe Poncin  m  Maurice Jaubert  art  Jacques Krauss
Michel Simon (Cabrissade), Victor Francen (Marny), Louis Jouvet (Raphael St Clair), Gabrielle Dorziat (Mme.Chabert), Madeleine Ozeray (Jeannette), Sylvie (Mme.Tusini), Gaston Modot (Bistro manager), Charles Granval (Deaubonne), Alexandre Arquillières (M.Lucien), Pierre Magnier (Laroche), Jean Coquelin (Delormel), Gaby André (Danielle), Joffre (Philemon), Jean Aymé (Victor), Gabrielle Fontan (Mme.Jambage), François Pèrier (reporter), Odette Talazac (singer), Philippe Richard (Maréchal Marmont), Simone Aubrey (Germaine), Luce Camy (Fanny Essler), Marie-Hélène Dasté (Adèle),

The first thing to notice may be the long cast list.  It wasn’t done deliberately and yet one wonders if the subconscious didn’t have something to do with it. 

So take one actor of around 60, the legendary womaniser and spendthrift Raphael St Clair.  He’s just finished a low grade production of Alexandre Dumas père’s Antony, and his audience has not exactly been appreciative.  Undaunted, he’s going to retire to his estates, his theatrical career a thing of the past.  Just bridge and hunting for him now.  If only it were true, for despite his success he’s destitute, has had to lay off his manservant Victor and is headed for the Abbey de Saint Jean la Rivière in the country, a retirement home for actors who have fallen on hard times. 

There numerous former conquests now reside and await him eagerly, along with several other cantankerous one-time headliners who now spend their days off private donations.  Among them are two in particular; Cabrissade, a fantasist who actually never did more than carry a spear but who, to hear him talk, sang Opera at the Met and did all the classics.  And Marny, a supremely talented classical actor who never got the success he deserved and who has had a broken heart ever since his wife deserted him over 20 years previously…for St Clair.  He saw it as a fling, and when he comes to the Abbeye he finds that Marny is taking an interest in the young daughter of a local bistro owner, Jeannette.  Marny does love her, but would do nothing about it, while St Clair sees her as a bit of fun young skirt to make him feel younger.  To add to the melodrama the owner of the Abbeye has been trying for some time to come up with extra funds to keep the home open, but to no avail.  He is forced to look for alternative rest homes for them, but where they will be treated no different to anyone else; the ultimate hell for an actor. 

At the time of its release La Fin du Jour was seen as the pinnacle of late thirties French film, but as Duvivier went out of fashion and Renoir was more and more in fashion, it seemed to pale beside the latter’s La Règle du Jeu. But the comparisons are unfair as they’re very different films. 

Fin du Jour may have dated a touch, but the performances and the depth of feeling in the script make little gems of their own.  There are numerous vignettes, too many to do justice to here, and the attention must be given to the central trio.  Francen was never better, an actor worthy of comparison to all the greats in French cinema of the time, but not quite getting the roles (perhaps he could identify with Marny?), saying more when he says nothing at all, until the superb final scene where, refusing to read the pre-prepared fabricated speech of a departed ham, instead offers a more heartfelt one.  Jouvet is his usual brilliant self, thoroughly hateful in a scene where he comes into money from a departed conquest, but only remembers the ring because he got it out of winnings on a horse at Deauville races, eulogising more over the mare than the lady, to the obvious anger of her son, and then callously leaving him to pay for the bill while he makes the arrangements for another wasteful trip to Monte Carlo.  And rounding out the trio, Michel Simon; incorrigible, brilliant, but despairing Michel Simon as the braggart who everyone is annoyed by but feels affection for and worthy of all Francen’s eulogies.  The theatre, what a life!  Life, what a theatre!

Allan Fish is a British writer and critic currently compiling a personal dictionary of cinema. The above is one of the entries. It’s hoped that there will be more contributions to follow.

Thursday 8 October 2015

Chantal Akerman - some more thoughts

Chantal Akerman made 40 films over a period of 47 years. She dropped out of film school at age 18 and then made her first short Saute Ma Vie (1968, 13 minutes). Another six films followed, including one that was never finished, before she made Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles  (1975, 201 minutes) a film of legendary status and one of those that most people remember where and when they first saw it with remarkable clarity. It was to turn out to be a, perhaps the, peak of a career, and the film on which many of her obituarists have concentrated to the near exclusion of all others. But Jeanne Dielman  was just the first film in a close to a decade long streak of much critical warmth and support for her work. 

In his obituary in the New York Times Jim Hoberman mentions that after Jeanne Dielman (she) completed four more features: the austere and now classic New York documentary “News From Home” (released in Europe in 1977); the quasi-autobiographical and almost conventional “Les Rendez-vous d’Anna” (1978); the frugal yet elaborate ensemble romance “A Whole Night” (1982); and “Golden Eighties” (1983), an enchantingly deconstructed musical. “ After this little streak of success, Akerman struggled for recognition notwithstanding that  over the course of her career, indeed up to recent days, another thirty+ films were made. 

You can hardly be too critical here for Akerman’s career and her life after Jeanne Dielman involved a critical search for audiences and probably for funding and production support. It caused me to reflect on just how hard it is, both for the film-maker and their audience to keep working and to keep seeing the films as they come out. None of Akerman’s films ever made any money for anybody. I’m assuming that given she was not lacking in ego she would have felt doubly let down by any lack of enthusiasm from producers and others called upon to support her work. That’s one side of the coin and it’s a credit that she got to make forty films even though I suspect that there were a lot of major projects, especially adaptations, that fell over. In the last decade or so her adaptations of Proust and of Conrad did get made.

She was a perennial outsider, followed intensely by what can still be seen as only a coterie of those dazzled by the fierce intelligence and the dedication to ways of making films followed by no others. She was aware of this and seems to have been quite sensitive about her status. If you read Richard Brody’s piece published on the New Yorker’s website you get a feel for the extreme sensitivity she must have felt about her place.

On the other side of the coin I asked Adrian Martin, sure to have made the considerable effort to keep track of Akerman’s work despite living in the southern reaches of the antipodes and he came back with a quick summation of just what a Melbourne cinephile needed to do.  For starters it should be mentioned that a dozen or so of her key films were screened at both the MFF and at MIFF.  You can check these out via the MIFF Archive on its website. (I don’t know what Sydney Film Festival screened, its archive page on its website comes up blank of all information not just any info on Akerman!) Others were tracked down but still he says that Melbourne was a great place to follow her work, ....”I was a big fan from the start. Of course some more obscure films could only be seen by travelling to fests or getting VHS from friends off Euro TV. But I saw her early work including Je tu il elle at NFT (her New York films), and MIFF showed at least Jeanne Dielman (in 79 it was me who talked Erwin Rado into screening it, she was already a cult in the university/art gallery scene and Rado was shocked by the full house early Sunday morning), Man with a suitcase, The 80s (pre Golden Eighties), Night and Day (also screened on SBS a lot), The Captive, Almayer's Folly, plus others. Golden Eighties had a theatrical release thanks to MIFF projectionist David Thomas, & Les Rendez-vous d’Anna was in every uni film course. The National Library, thanks to Bruce Hodsdon, had various things by her. Michael Koller & co definitely did show whatever they could at the Melbourne Cinematheque. There was a lot of local writing on her too by me, Laleen Jayamanne, Lesley Stern etc – Chantal was a Filmnews heroine. A Couch in New York came out on video in 1996 or 1997 and I reviewed it in Cinema Papers. D'est was screened in art galleries. BIFF showed her docos. I do remember, thought, by the early ‘80s, in terms of personal appearances, her fee was already prohibitive (she virtually lived off such stuff) when galleries and festivals wanted her here (I think maybe she never visited Australia).

For which, many thanks.

Adrian has also mentioned that the obituaries have clearly had the media scrambling. I wont repeat the adjectives he has used to described this work. I can imagine however, any number of editors of everything from the trade papers to the city dailies going “Who?” when someone hit with the news of her demise. I will add that Adrian has linked to a most interesting piece by Marion Schmid  about Akerman’s near unknown dual activity as a writer and film-maker. You can find it here .

Needless to say, from the start she polarised opinion. That aspect of her work never seemed to go away. (Margot Nash has just reported on her Facebook page that her last film was booed at its premiere at Locarno a month or so ago.) From early in her career she generated quite intense dislike, even hatred, from many among the old critical establishment especially in the English newspapers. It was almost as if they resented her coming along at all not just her way of telling her stories, frequently slowly, always tinged with her own autobiography. I still remember way, way back one of their number telling me how he had to give the prize at a festival to something near worthless in order to prevent her 1978 film Les Rendez-vous d’Anna  getting the gong. 

The outpouring of dismay over her untimely death has been very genuine and heartfelt. What that intense love and devotion never managed to do was assist in finding more deserving audiences. Like many she remained that coterie taste whose work will probably be appreciated more after her death than it was during her lifetime.