Saturday 28 November 2015

A Cinephile's Diary (1) - Peter Hourigan reports on his week - the first of a continuing series

SUNDAY:     – 
Ramin Bahrani
I had just watched two items from Werner Herzog’s filmography, when the invitation came to keep a Cinephile’s diary for a week.  So I should start with Lemonade Wars and Paper Bag. I was exploring them on YouTube because my film discussion class this week will be talking about 99 Homes from Rahmin Bahrani, and I was checking him out on line.  These two shorts show him wearing his social commitment openly on his sleeve, and it’s interesting that his circle includes Herzog who appears in both.  Lemonade Wars is a perfect companion for the feature, didactic, but then it looks like it’s been made to make kids aware of how capitalism works to exploit and defeat the rest of us.

Looking ahead at the week, there aren’t any specific cinephilic highlights planned, so it’ll be interesting to see where the  inspirations that decide my viewing come from.  Sunday night, I watch two films at home. The back story for the first started when I came across one of those lists populating the net at

These lists have become so ubiquitous that they’re often very questionable – and this one is no exception.  (Is Mother India really a musical?)  But I’ve watched several things in the last few weeks because of this last, including Om Shanti Om (Farah Khan) about  which I was a bit dubious at first, because I’m not really into Bollywood musicals.  But I have to confess I loved it – exuberant, quite moving, imaginative numbers, fabulous over-the-top colour.  So, I confessed this joy to our resident Bollywood expert, Adrienne McKibbins, who drew something else to my attention – Peter Bogdanovich’s At Long Last Love,  and an interesting article about it on indiewire.
So, there’s now this version that is not a director’s cut, but the musical fan’s cut that the director thinks is better than his. And it’s on YouTube. So, I had to watch this. I was surprised how few of the songs I knew, though I thought I had a good knowledge of the Cole Porter song book. The stars are clearly not professional 
musical performers – but they’re enjoying themselves, and taking themselves seriously in an attractive “Let’s put on a show” way.  Certainly not a dud, but in this cut very watchable.
I’m not sure where my next item of viewing came from, but I must have read some reference that induced me to buy The Unspeakable Act  (2012) by Dan Sallitt. But whatever that spur was, I’m 
glad of it. It’s an American Indie, about a young 17 year old girl, with a bit more than a crush on her older brother who’s about to 
go away to College.  There aren’t many films that immediately 
come to mind about brother-sister relationships.  Of course, two of the best are the hot-house films by Visconti and Cocteau, Sandra and Les Enfants Terribles. But this is more interested in how one sibling has to re-define the relationship as they pass from 
adolescence into young childhood.  Its style is uncharacteristic 
for an American film – so restrained it almost disappears back into itself.  But this suits the film, 
which has a  refreshing but quiet directness (which Adrian Martin comments on in his liner essay.) 
This theme matches one of the themes in Eugene Green’s La Sapienza, where two siblings need to readjust their relationship at this point of their maturity. But this comparison also points up the 
greater richness in La Sapienza[i]. This has several other themes playing through the film as well, all of complexity and  imagination, and all four major characters are presented in depth. Any could 
become the focus of the film.  In Unspeakable Act, it’s really only the sister who we really get to 
know.  However, one of those films that makes you feel excited that there are still these new 
discoveries to be made.
out to a real cinema to see 99 Homes again, to prepare for my
class later in the week. I’m glad to see Rahmin Bahrani at last 
getting some cinema screen time here – after all this is his fifth 
film, and all the preceding works have been more than just 
satisfying.  In fact, I used his first film, Man Push Cart (2005) for several years as a teaching film for senior secondary media 
students. In this new film his political and social awareness is 
very much to the front, but it’s much more than just a political 
piece of preaching because he takes us so strongly into his three main characters.
And tonight, perhaps made curious by A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Contemplating Existence appearing at ACMI I checked out Roy Andersson’s first film, A Swedish Love Story from 1970. A much more straightforward film, but it has a charm. He’s already 
handling a broad cast, looking them over with his distinctive, 
somewhat off-centre visuals and observations.

I’ve also “cleared” several films I’d recorded off SBS.  A few weeks’ back I read Christos Tsiolkas’ review of The Lobster in The Saturday Paper and thought it was one of the best reviews I’ve read for a long time. This pointed me today towards Dead Europe directed by Tony Kravitz from a Tsiolkas book I haven’t read.  It’s an interesting and ambitious film. Its scope is vast geographically and thematically. But the film is weakened by some inadequate performances in a few of the small, but still important minor roles, which have the effect of leadenly pointing up these themes.   Meanwhile all I’ll say about Stuart Gordon’s Reanimator is it’s really not my type of film.  It has the exuberance and pace of full confidence in its pulpy story, but I’m not its demographic.
TUESDAY.   Other things in my life – a class I’m doing on Ancient Egypt late morning, and the end of year get together of my book group.  But in between of course a Cinephile fits in a film. If I saw the original Argentine film I don’t remember it. Billy Ray’s remake The Secret in Their Eyes is certainly diverting, but ultimately disappointing. Some years back I used his Shattered Glass with secondary students, and I like the way it tackles important issues. It’s one of the best films I know on journalistic ethics. But this new films flubs it on ethics, and its resolution falls back into the good old American Vengeance format, and ethics, law and society are all finally less important than one person avenging herself.
WEDNESDAY   Cinematheque for my cinephile addiction today, and the final night of the Miklos Jancso set.  Tonight The Red and The White and My Way Home.  Seeing six in fifteen days is probably some form of masochism.  I respect his incredible power with his choreographed actors, horses and camera over the vast Hungarian plains.  But I rather feel I’m doing a penance watching them, rather than really getting caught up and involved. 
THURSDAY   The focus for my day, was my evening discussion class on 99 Homes. During the day, I prepared by picking up a few extracts from Bahrani’s earlier films, and it was a pleasurable indulgence to revisit them – especially his first Man Push Cart. I also looked again at several of the shorts 
on YouTube, which is where I started this week. Lift You Up made for a project sponsored by Mont 
Blanc pens, is from his very empathetic side, where in about 8 mins he builds a beautiful portrait of 
an elderly man with such a wonderful outlook on life.  The class itself went well. Everyone loved 99 Homes. I was interested that several of the members, when they commented on the performers 
commented first on Andrew Garfield.  In a lot of the write-ups first mention often goes to Michael 
Shannon. His is a powerful performance, often dominating the screen as his character dominates his part of the world. But Garfield’s performance is surely even more wonderful, cutting right into the 
being of this man who under pressure from the system makes that deal with the devil.

After the class I had time to look at a disc that arrived yesterday. Often new releases sit on my shelf 
for weeks, but this I had to see straight away. I’ve never forgotten the impact of a rock opera I saw in London back in 1970, Catch My Soul created by a music producer, Jack Good. Billed as the ‘rock 
Othello’, it moved the story from a garrison in Cyprus to an army fort in Texas. It was a transition that worked brilliantly, with the stage set of the fort resembling the original Globe Theatre, and the racial tensions of the story resonating strongly.  When I saw the news of this new BluRay release, I was 
surprised because I never even knew it had been filmed, back in 1973.
But not really a viewing experience that recreated that first wonderful memory. Some surprises in the credits.  The film was directed by Patrick McGoohan, the only film he directed. And Conrad Hall was cinematographer.  These aspects of the film are really good. But it seems that between the London production and the film, Jack Good “got Catholicism” and the whole focus of the story changed. The film takes place in a commune near Sante Fe, with Othello becoming the priest and Iago the Devil, and religious iconography abounding.  It’s not a happy transmutation, losing the focus of the 
Shakespeare original and not replacing it by anything really of much worth.  The score is still 
effective – Richie Havens is the Othello character, the photography is great, and it looks like all the 
cast who took part in the desert party had a great time. I’m sure they were stoned all the time!
FRIDAY    Not much time to indulge my Cinephilia today, but I did watch the recent Masters of 
Cinema release of Oshima’s Cruel Story of Youth. It’s a well packaged disc, and Tony Rayns’ hour 
long talk on the film is packed with information and insight. 
          In the Intray of the emails, was the results of Sight & Sound’s Top Ten for 2015, a warning that over the next few months we’ll be inundated with everyone one and their dogs coming up with their 
lists. S & S’s lists are interesting because they’re upfront about how it is compiled and it is backed up with several hundred individual lists to  become lost in.  I haven’t had time to really start taking them all in, but a first reaction – there are certainly a lot of “brave” choices  in the S & S  list that I’m not 
expecting to see appear in the nominations for Oscar!  Not far behind came the Cahiers list – several overlapping titles.
Kon Ichikawa
Today to a combined House Warming/80th Birthday. 
There weren’t any filmies there – but most had 
seen The Dressmaker! Some, twice.  Oh, well, they liked 
it!  And 80th birthdays don’t go late, so I was able to get to a 9pm screening as part of the Japanese Film Festival here of Kon Ichikawa’s Conflagration. It’s a long time since I saw this, but it’s still a great film. How wonderful, too, to 
see it in a beautiful 35mm print, filling the huge ACMI 
screen.  ‘Scope is always wonderful on this screen. 
And that was my week in film. 

[i]  A week later an interesting point.  I made the link between this film and La Sapienza.  And now I’ve noted that Adrian Martin wrote the essay for The Unspeakable Act, and put La Sapienza in his Top Ten for 2015.

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