Sunday 31 January 2016

Vale Frank Finlay - Brit actor of renown

Plowright and Finlay

Finlay and Plowright
Strange how things happen. The first time I really became aware of Frank Finlay was in a performance in the West End of Eduardo de Filippo’s Filumena. I’d bought the tickets because the show starred Joan Plowright, a well-known  thespian, wife of Sir Laurence Olivier and a Shaftesbuy Avenue star.  Imagine my surprise when shortly after the start I realise that this is Vittorio de Sica’s Marriage Italian Style, or rather the play by Eduardo De Filippo the movie was based on. Frank Finlay played the part taken by Marcello Mastroianni in the movie. (Sophia Loren,  far more glamorous casting, played Filumena.) But Finlay was mesmerising on stage and the familiarity once adjusted to still made for a great evening of that polished British theatre that fills up the London venues with locals and tourists. The show had been a big hit at Olivier's National Theatre and later shifted to the West End and then on to Broadway.

Finlay and Finney in Gumshoe
All this happened sometime in the late 70s or early 80s, so when I looked up Finlay’s filmography it came as a bit of a surprise to realise his film career went all the way back to Caspar Wrede’s Private Potter (UK, 1962) and included some notable movies. I cant remember Finlay in any of these:  The Longest Day, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, I’ll Never forget What’s is name, The Shoes of the Fisherman; Twisted Nerve, The Molly Maguires, Cromwell or Robbery but I'm sure he was very good in them all.  I do remember him in those two Musketeers movies made by Richard Lester (for the price of one so the legend goes) and he was a nasty in Stephen Frears feature film debut Gumshoe playing opposite Albert Finney’s jolly private eye. He won prizes for his Iago in Olivier’s record of his National Theatre production of Othello.

Finlay made films for forty five years and did a huge amount of work in the theatre before and during a career that kept him in a lot of work if not in the memory. Others may like to recall moments from his career that have escaped me.

There you go. There’s a good news item about him on the BBC’s online news site .

Vale Jacques Rivette - John Conomos remembers one of the great and enduring figures of French Cinema

 R.I.P Jacques Rivette ( March 1928- 29 January 2016). Very sad news : the incomparable Jacques Rivette , one of the founding cornerstones of the French New Wave and Cahiers du Cinema, has left us. As a film director and film critic Rivettte, indeed as one of the more experimental pioneers of post-war French cinema, lived a life exclusively dedicated to the creation, watching and criticism of cinema. To his dear friends, peers, and contemporaries Rivette's life was quite enigmatic, private and solely dedicated to cinema. It's without any sense of exaggeration to say that Rivette's sublime art and life was Mallarmean in its overriding character is not to stretch our proverbial long bow here. Rivette's oeuvre of 28 films was one that in comparison with others of his time was not exactly large but it was an oeuvre that cinema's future possibilities spoke to us in such enduring, poetic, rapturous and fictional terms. To see a Rivette film for the first time is akin to watching the birth of cinema itself. Such were the protean transcendental capabilities of Rivette as an auteur who always experimented, improvised, often started with a few loose outlines or notes rather than an elaborate script as such, shaping his works as loose narratives of exceptional long running times and full of improvisatory 'zig-zag' creativity with his actors, locales, sets, etc. To fracture Mallarme's famous quote about the world as an eternal book - "Everything in this world exists in order to end up as a book " - Rivette made his fantastic labyrinthian, paranoid, open-ended, conspiratorial, and theatrical films of magical everydayness in the light of Mallarme's cardinal belief. But importantly Rivette's cinema was a highly unique amalgam of the geometric fatalism of the crime films of Louis Feuillade and Fritz Lang and the discursive free ranging characters of Jean Renoir and Howard Hawks. 

Amongst the Cahiers  du Cinema critics Rivette was one of the more significant perceptive commentators on cinema especially on American genre cinema with filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, Otto Preminger and Nicholas Ray, among others. He was, like Truffaut and others, highly critical of mainstream French cinema and his critical pieces were, on the whole, among the more deftly and perceptively crafted contributions to the journal. Who cannot forget reading Rivette's eloquent, knowing and horizontal-expanding film criticism for the first time yet alone being rapturously embraced by the sheer dancing materiality of his lyrical enduring films ? We watched his beautiful elaborate improvised films with the dawning seductive conviction that not only Paris belonged to us but his films did as well. I am saddened by Rivette's passing at 86 years old but we who are still living have his captivating films to watch  and not just among ourselves. They will survive for future eyes and hearts to see and feel.

In the sixties when I first encountered Rivette's oeuvre here in Sydney then in London, New York and Paris later in the 70s, aside from the obligatory film journals like Sight and Sound, Film Comment, and Monthly Film Bulletin, among many others, one should single out Jonathan Rosenbaum for championing his work back then not only in his important journal articles but also in his influential 1977 book "Rivette : Texts and Interviews." The other critic that comes to mind on Rivette was the enthusiastic John Hughes who wrote a few delirious cinephlliac pieces - if memory serves me correctly - in Film Comment. Perhaps in the coming week I may post a further piece on Rivette - the films that mattered for me over the years - till then dear readers reach out for Rivette's cinema and criticism : both are enchantments that will endure for us all.
Celine and Julie Go Boating

Film Critics Circle of Australia - Nominations for the Annual Awards for Australian Film for 2015


The Dressmaker Producer: Sue Maslin
Holding The Man Producer: Kylie Du Fresne
Last Cab To Darwin Producers: Lisa Duff, Greg Duffy, Jeremy Sims
Mad Max: Fury Road Producers: Doug Mitchell, George Miller, P.J. Voeten
Paper Planes Producers: Robert Connolly, Liz Kearney, Maggie Miles
Tanna Producers: Martin Butler, Bentley Dean, Carolyn Johnson

Blinky Bill The Movie Producers: Barbara Stephen, Jim Ballantine
Oddball Producers: Sheila Hanahan, Stephen Kearney, Richard Keddie
Paper Planes Producer: Robert Connolly, Liz Kearney, Maggie Miles

Neil Armfield Holding The Man
George Miller
George Miller Mad Max: Fury Road
Jocelyn Moorhouse The Dressmaker
Jeremy Sims Last Cab To Darwin

Nicole Kidman Strangerland
Charlize Theron Mad Max: Fury Road
Leeanna Walsman Manny Lewis
Kate Winslet The Dressmaker

Patrick Brammall Ruben Guthrie
Michael Caton Last Cab To Darwin
Ryan Corr Holding the Man
Sullivan Stapleton Cut Snake

Judy Davis The Dressmaker
Emma Hamilton Last Cab To Darwin
Ningali Lawford-Wolf Last Cab To Darwin
Sarah Snook The Dressmaker

Hugo Weaving in The Dressmaker
Mark Coles Smith Last Cab To Darwin
Alex Dimitriades Ruben Guthrie
Anthony LaPaglia Holding The Man
Hugo Weaving The Dressmaker
Hugo Weaving Strangerland

Jeremy Chabriel Partisan
Coco Jack Gillies Oddball
Ed Oxenbould Paper Planes

Steve Arnold ACS Last Cab To Darwin
Simon Chapman ACS Cut Snake
Bentley Dean Tanna
Donald McAlpine ACS ASC The Dressmaker
John Seale AM ACS ASC Mad Max: Fury Road

Putuparri and the Rainmakers
Putuparri and the Rainmakers Director: Nicole Ma
Producers: Nicole Ma, John Moore
Sherpa Director: Jennifer Peedom
Producers: Bridget Ikin, John Smithson
Snow Monkey Director: George Gittoes
Producers: George Gittoes, Lizzette Atkins
Tyke Elephant Outlaw Directors: Susan Lambert, Stefan Moore
Producers: Susan Lambert, Stefan Moore
Women He's Undressed Director: Gillian Armstrong
Producers: Damien Parer, Gillian Armstrong

Blake Ayshford Cut Snake
Robert Connolly, Steve Worland Paper Planes
George Miller, Brendan McCarthy
Nico Lathouris Mad Max: Fury Road
Tommy Murphy Holding The Man
Jeremy Sims, Reg Cribb Last Cab To Darwin

Daniel Lopatin
David Hirschfelder The Dressmaker
Tom Holkenborg aka Junkie XL Mad Max: Fury Road
Daniel Lopatin Partisan
Antony Partos Tanna
Nigel Westlake Paper Planes

Colin Gibson a.p.d.g Mad Max: Fury Road
Josephine Ford Cut Snake
Josephine Ford Holding The Man
Roger Ford a.p.d.g. The Dressmaker

Jill Bilcock ACE ASE The Dressmaker
Andy Canny Cut Snake
Dany Cooper ASE Holding The Man
Tania Nehme Tanna
Margaret Sixel Mad Max: Fury Road

Saturday 30 January 2016

Ettore Scola (1931-2016) Barrie Pattison remembers the career of one of the greats of the Italian Cinema

It took me a while to work out why I felt the death of Ettore Scola so intensely. Then it hit me that it meant I’d never have the chance to talk to him. One of the keys to
understanding the greatest period in Italian film was gone forever. Scola was pretty much the founder member of the cycle that would include Pupi Avati, Gianni Amelio  Giuseppe Tornatore and Gabriele Salvatores.

In fact his career preceded theirs and went back into the fifties, with a swathe of A
features that we saw before we were aware of Scola himself  - Albert Sordi Spending two nights with Sophia Loren’s Cleopatra and the rest. The films became more ambitious Adua e la Compagna (Antonio Pietrangeli, 1960), Il Sorpasso (Dino Risi,1962),
The March on Rome (Dino Risi,1962) and the famous faces of Italian and European cinema peered out of them at us - Mastroianni, Simone Signoret, Jean Louis Trintignant and Nino Manfredi but most often it was the grotesques of Vittorio Gassman, a tendency accelerated when Scola’s name moved from the writer panel to director with 1964’s  Se permettete parliamo di donne.

The films were also more often shown to us - dubbed circuit releases, Italian film weeks and regular outings on SBS, which seemed to have some deal with his producer. Mind you there was nothing remarkable about The Gaucho (Dino Risi, 1964), Devil in Love/L'arcidiavolo (1966) and Riusciranno i nostri eroi a ritrovare l'amico misteriosamente scomparso in Africa? (1968) though they were good performers on their home turf.

But curiously, beginning with Permette? Rocco Papaleo (1968), elements with more resonance than the production line Italian comedy crept into the director’s work. The dramatized documentary Trevico-Torino (1973) was followed by his first genuine masterpiece, the 1974 Cerevamo tanto amati/ We All Loved Each Other, where his stellar cast - mastheaded by Gassman, Manfredi & Stefania Sandrelli - age over the post WW2 decades.

Vittorio Gassman in L'arcidiavolo
Scola’s output stabilised into a string of masterworks, innovative, involving and unique films which people his native Italy with extraordinary characters. A large proportion of these looked like Gassman, who could reasonably claim to have done the bulk of his best work with Scola.

1980’s La Terazza looked like a talk bound society drama until we noticed the impossible time structure.  1981’s disturbing Passione d’amore with Bernard Giraudeau & Trintignant, the 1982 La Nuit de Varennes put a dream cast in the coach - Jean Louis Barrault, French speaking Harvey Keitel as Tom Paine, Mastroianni as Casanova,  Hanna Schygulla, Jean-Louis Trintignant, the non verbal  1983 Le Bal. These all did front and center art movie business but that didn’t last.

La Famiglia
A trip to Hollywood offered Jack Lemmon and Mastroianni in 1985’s agreeable
Macaroni. A couple of years later we got the impressive La Famiglia (1987) followed by Mastroianni in Splendor (1989) and Scola’s so beautiful, best ever Captain Fracassa (1990). The hits kept coming but they were wider spaced and nobody seemed to notice Albatuanto, Depardieu and Sergio Castellito in Concorrenza sleale/Unfair Competition in  2010.

Scola’s final production was a tribute to Fellini who had once been a fellow newspaper cartoonist and figures as a character in C’erevamo Tanto amato. We could see the same acid observation mixed with the warmth of the fiction films.

Scola looked like the total establishment director, working with star actors in studio
filmed vehicles, until you notice the daring departures from form of his work on La
Terazza, Le Bal
or the barely fictional Trevico Torino or Genti de Roma. How about
aging La Famiglia’s character by cutting back to Gassmann in the same seat in the same clothes as the younger actor in the middle of the scene?

I can only hope the Italians sent him off big. His passing barely got an English language mention. Don’t hold your breath for a retrospective.

Friday 29 January 2016

The Current Cinema - Rod Bishop on the key Oscar contenders The Revenant, Spotlight & Carol

Be aware....Spoiler Alerts

The Revenant
There are lots of influences to unpick in The Revenant. The first and most obvious is Man in the Wilderness (1971) where Richard Harris played Zachary Bass, a character also based on the life of Hugh Glass. But there are many others. The fight sequences filmed with a wandering, participatory Steadicam contrast starkly with the majesty of the natural world and suggest Terrence Malick of The Thin Red Line. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass recalls the masochistic abuse and suffering of Marlon Brando in One Eyed Jacks or The Chase and when DiCaprio climbs inside the disembowelled body of a dead horse to survive freezing blizzard conditions, anyone who has seen Of Horses and Men recognises Inarritu’s homage to that memorable Icelandic drama from 2013. The references go on: the arduous insanity of the struggle against nature from Aguirre, Wrath of God; the snow covered return to the military fort in The Searchers; and the all-consuming revenge drives of Kill Bill or The Limey. Along with convincing visual effects of bear, bison, arrows and dead horses, Inarritu seamlessly stitches his epic together into a very long two and half hours. Deserving or not, it has Big Oscar Contender written into every frame and DiCaprio’s commanding, anguished and very physical performance has him short odds for Best Actor.

If Inarritu’s saga has numerous points of reference from other films, Spotlight would appear to have only one – Alan J Pakula's’s clear-eyed and emotionally detached All The President’s Men, an absorbing account of The Washington Post’s crusade over Watergate. In Spotlight, Liev Schreiber –who coincidentally plays a character abused as a boy by a Boston Catholic priest in the television series Ray Donovan - is The Boston Globe editor who guides an investigative team through a now well-documented public disclosure of the institutionalised abuse of children by almost 250 Boston priests. The lawyers negotiated confidential settlements (so no one would know) and the police looked the other way (so no-one would find out) and the Church just placed the abusing priests elsewhere, all three institutions perpetuating an odious cover-up. It was to become symptomatic of world-wide abuses of children by Catholic priests, institutionalised world-wide by the conscious targeting of “at risk” children. All The Presidents Men lost out to Rocky for Best Picture in 1977 and the fear is Spotlight will probably suffer a similar fate.

The central strengths are Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, actors who produce two of the most nuanced and memorable performances of a couple in love in recent memory. Perhaps only equalled by Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard in Brief Encounter. They are more than worth the price of admission as is Ed Lachman’s amazing Super 16mm cinematography, the film grain pronounced and perfectly suited to the film’s 1950s aesthetic. Blanchett, all furs, blonde-hair and snake-eyed intensity and Mara, outwardly vulnerable, but inwardly all strength are both worthy Oscar contenders. Carol is exquisite but hardly a flawless gem. The three male characters and one female (Therese’s supervisor) are all one-dimensional and off-putting to watch compared with the rich characterisations of the leads. Strange mistakes from Todd Haynes, a director whose previous work (Far From Heaven or I’m Not There, for instance) has rendered balanced performances throughout. Other quibbles might include some clunky tracking shots (Carol driving against NYC skylines), jarringly out of place with the rest of the film’s aesthetic. There is also the strange use of the private investigator Tommy Tucker who bugs Carol and Therese’s love-making in a motel. Would he really turn up at breakfast next morning pretending to be a travelling salesman and embarrassingly impose himself on the couple? And why? Perhaps it works better in Highsmith’s book.

Wednesday 27 January 2016

Tony Rayns writes an open letter to the people of Busan supporting the work of Busan International Film Festival Director Lee Yongkwan

Tony Rayns

As one of BIFF’s foreign advisors, I’ve spent the past year in London watching events in Busan with mounting disbelief. My incredulity began when Busan Metropolitan City Council demanded that a documentary essay-film about the Sewol ferry disaster should be withdrawn from the 2014 festival. When the festival very properly rejected this interference in its programme selection, the City Council stepped up its attack by demanding the resignation of the festival’s director Lee Yongkwan.
Lee Yongkwan, Director of BIFF
And when Mr Lee very properly refused to resign, the national government suddenly decided that it needed to rethink its subsidies to Korea’s film festivals – and it was no doubt entirely coincidental that this entailed making a drastic cut to its support for BIFF. And then, in December, the City Council launched a criminal prosecution of Mr Lee for alleged fraud, citing “irregularities” in his handling of fees paid to sponsorship brokers.  It’s reported in the film-trade magazine Screen Daily that the City Council has made it known privately that it will drop the charge if Mr Lee resigns.

There’s an old English saying: “cutting off your nose to spite your face”. It means doing damage to yourself in an effort to prove yourself right. This old phrase seems remarkably relevant to Busan City Council – and, presumably, to its political friends in the presidential Blue House.

I first visited Busan in 1995 at the invitation of Mr Kim Dongho and his team, who were then busy trying to create Korea’s first film festival. Mr Kim asked me to meet the city’s mayor and some councillors to explain to them (from the point of view of a foreigner who works with both films and film festivals) what a film festival is and why I thought they should support the BIFF project. The then-mayor Mr Moon asked me some pointed questions and I did my best to answer them clearly and persuasively. As we know, the city council did eventually decide to support the festival, and it was launched in 1996.

I’ve been back to Busan every year since then, some years more than once, and have watched both the festival and the city grow. Obviously the city would have grown and developed anyway in the last twenty years; the whole of the country has been transformed since the end of military governments. But I don’t think it can be disputed that BIFF has been one the main engines of the city’s growth.  By basing itself in Haeundae, the festival prompted major improvements to the city’s transport infrastructure: a subway-line extension, a bridge across the bay. By attracting countless foreign visitors, the festival helped turn the city from a rather dingy and parochial port into a spectacular, cosmopolitan metropolis. The name “Busan” was known to few people around the world twenty years ago, but it’s now known to many millions – and that, too, is largely due to the festival. Such changes are worth vastly more to the Korean economy than the government and city council have spent on subsidising the festival.

This is why I’m incredulous:  the government and city council seem hell-bent on damaging one of Korea’s proudest and most cost-effective achievements. Is that what they were elected to do? Are voters happy about the tactics and actions of their elected officials? It seems incredible to me.

Looking at this situation from Western Europe, on the other side of the world, I’m obviously not going to comment on the legal issues.  Those are matters for Korea’s own cultural bureaucrats and lawyers. But the events of the past year raise two big questions which are universal, and I’d like to modestly express my thoughts about both.

The first is the question of competence and professionalism in the running of the film festival.  It’s transparently clear that the Busan Metropolitan City Council’s problem with Mr Lee Yongkwan is political.  The current council is right-wing, and it sees Mr Lee as its political enemy. It takes this political opposition as a valid reason to try to force Mr Lee out of his job. The council must think that Mr Lee could easily be replaced with someone more to their liking: someone who would not protest against political interference in the programme choices. This doesn’t surprise me. I’ve seen bureaucrats thinking this way in many other countries, including my own. But this kind of thinking is hopelessly ignorant of the way that festivals need to be run and need to interact with their audience, both at home and abroad.

Big film festivals are complex institutions. At the most basic level, they need to find the right balance between film as a business and film as an artform – or between the interests of the film industry and the cultural specificity of the medium itself. This means being able to talk to both business people (producers, financiers, distributors) and creative people (directors, writers, actors) in terms that they understand and respect. This perhaps sounds easy enough, but it’s not: understanding the aesthetics of cinema is often not compatible with the nuts and bolts of getting films financed and shown. It’s quite rare to find a festival director and a programming team who are competent to have both kinds of conversations. BIFF has been lucky to be led by Kim Dongho and his successor Lee Yongkwan.

Festivals also need to strike the right balance between the domestic and the foreign, and between crowd-pleasing populism and specialist interests. The days when “cinema” was easy to grasp are long gone, along with Hollywood cinema’s one-time automatic dominance in the world market. “Cinema” now means many things to many audiences. Some viewers want glossy entertainments which give them emotional and experiential kicks, but others prefer more thoughtful and refined films which are more obviously artful. And some are most interested in documentaries, or animation, or experimental films, or even films which cross the boundaries between the movie-theater and the art-gallery. From the very start, BIFF has been sensitive to the differing needs of its many audiences, and has explored all areas of filmmaking with commitment and enthusiasm.

Of course, the obligation to be both generalist and specialist extends to political matters too. I never thought I would agree with film director Park Chanwook about anything, but he was absolutely correct to point out that it was the city council’s attempt to block the screening of the Sewol ferry documentary which made the issue political, not the festival’s initial decision to choose it for the programme. The documentary was one of some 300 films screened by BIFF in 2014, and screening it did not imply that the festival was promoting the film more than other documentaries, or that the festival director and staff endorsed the film’s point of view. It’s very simple:  the festival’s job is to present many points of view, some of which will inevitably seem contentious or offensive to some people. That’s how democracies work.

Thinking about the city council’s concerted attacks on Lee Yongkwan, I can’t help being reminded of the last time that selfish and narrow-minded politicians interfered in the running of a Korean film festival. Does anyone else remember the disaster of the Chungmuro Film Festival in Seoul, hijacked by politicians for what they thought was their own interest? That festival died in its infancy, unable to survive the conflicting pulls of politicians who thought that they could use it to promote themselves and their political parties.

If Busan Metropolitan City Council were to succeed in forcing Lee Yongkwan to resign, what would happen next?  No doubt some opportunist hack could be persuaded to take on the job of festival director, even if it entails constant grovelling to the city council, but many of the festival staff – including the specialist programmers, for sure – would resign in sympathy with Mr Lee, leaving the shiny new director to build a new team of fellow-opportunists. At the same time, BIFF’s many friends around the world would boycott the festival, probably also orchestrating a campaign of protest against the city council’s political stupidity. Many filmmakers would refuse to supply their films, journalists and critics would stop taking the film programme seriously – and BIFF would soon go the same way as the Chungmuro Festival. As I said, this is “cutting off your nose to spite your face”. Is that really what Korea’s right-wing politicians want?  Do they think that these tactics will endear them to the film community at home and abroad? Do they sincerely care at all about Korea’s status as a constitutional democracy?

These considerations bring me to the second big question raised by what’s been happening in Busan. Korean politics changed profoundly in 1993 when the late Kim Youngsam was elected president, and so did Korean society and the Korean economy. Almost everything that we think of as characteristic of modern Korea has developed since 1993, from the global fame of Korean film and television to the country’s ultra-fast broadband network. At the same time, Korea has become a genuinely pluralist society. Women and minority groups have made their voices heard as never before, the lowering of trade barriers has given Korean consumers access to foreign products and culture as never before, and political differences have been debated openly. These are all hallmarks of a modern democracy. They were worth fighting for, and they are worth defending.

Here’s a brief anecdote from my own experience. One of my closest Korean friends studied film-making in London and found himself dissatisfied with the standard of teaching at the school. His graduation film was an attack on the school. It included documentary sequences in which fellow-students discussed the shortcomings of some of their teachers by name. It ended with a fantasy scene in which the protagonist dynamited the school building. The question arose: would the school include this film in its graduate screenings? Yes, it did screen the film.  The school’s director told me that some members of his staff had objected, but he felt it was important to give the graduating student his voice. He didn’t run away from the criticism, as a coward would, but instead faced up to it.

I had very little first-hand knowledge of the “dark days” under military governments in Korea (my first visit to the country was in 1988, when the worst was over), but I know from Russia, China and Singapore amongst other countries how authoritarian governments work. They don’t believe in debate and don’t tolerate opposing points of view. Their first instinct is not to meet opposition with counter-arguments but to silence it. When Busan Metropolitan City Council tells BIFF not to screen a documentary that’s critical of the government, it’s a textbook example of an attack on free speech and an impulse to silence opposing voices. Apparently Korea’s right-wing politicians haven’t noticed or understood the changes since 1993. Apparently they are nostalgic for the “dark days” of censorship, of silencing dissenting voices and of strict social control. I’ve always thought that Korea has a very bright future, and I’ve said so in public many times, but the pig-headed political tactics of Busan’s city council mark a step back into the past. It makes no sense to me.

Tony Rayns is a London-based film-maker, writer, critic and festival programmer with a long held interest in the films of East Asia. He has been a program consultant to the Busan International Film Festival since its inception.

Tuesday 26 January 2016

Paul Harris posits an alternate cinephiliac history of David Bowie and the movies - Number 2 - A pillage from Facebook

                           A DAVID BOWIE PHANTOM FILMOGRAPHY                               
The projects that never saw the light of day 
Number (11)
NEUTRON (dir-Derek Jarman) (circa 1979-1983)

When the Engilsh filmmaker Derek Jarman died in 1994 he left behind many unrealised projects but none more bizarre and tantalising than the ambitious futuristic drama Neutron which was to have been filmed following The Tempest (1979) with David Bowie and Steven Berkoff.
With Bowie's participation executive producer Don Boyd provided script development funds and attempted to raise the larger budget that was necessary to realise the post-apocalpytic world as visualised in Jarman's detailed sketches, contrasting the idyllic environment of Aeon (Bowie) , rock singer,with that of Topaz (Berkoff), an urban guerrilla.His plan was to make most of the film in an abandoned power station.

Inspired partially by Carl Jung's book Aion (1951) and Orwell's 1984 he described the film as " an attempt to rework the Book of Revelation as a piece of science fiction " Jarman travelled to Switzerland to meet with an initially enthusiastic Bowie. But the project undoubtedly lost momentum when Bowie left, the latter blaming a lack of funds but that may have been an excuse to diplomatically sever his involvement. Jarman persevered with various co-writers from 1979 to about 1983 

In a 1999 press interview Bowie expressed regret about Neutron's demise and his admiration for Jarman's ' scary piece of work ". Here's a bizarre account on the planned film's background which makes much of Bowie's interest in the occult and an odd meeting . The ever enigmatic Bowie dismissed all of this as ' urban myth ". " Jarman wanted to do a film called Neutron. Prospects looked good financially, as he had lined up an impressive cast-list and who else than David Bowie wanted to play the lead. The two had a meeting in Jarman’s apartment and everything seemed hunky-dory. But then Bowie suddenly started chain-smoking and Jarman noticed that his guest was getting more and more nervous and was shooting furtive glances at one of his bookshelves, plus some drawings on the wall. Then suddenly, in the middle of a conversation, Bowie stood up, made a lame excuse, and left. Twenty minutes later Bowie’s driver and bodyguard came back to the flat and said that the master had forgotten something and then proceeded to remove the cigarette stubs from the trash ...
Needless to say, Bowie backed out of the project, which then collapsed. Jarman never did have the time to explain that his John Dee books and the Enochian squares on the wall were souvenirs from the time when he made Jubilee, a film in which Dr. John Dee (1527-1608), Elizabeth the First’s astrologer, had been one of the main characters. Dee’s “Enochian” system of magic, with its complex magical diagrams, was an important part of the Golden Dawn and also of Aleister Crowley’s teachings. Angels had communicated their knowledge to Dee in a strange language, Enochian, referring to Enoch of the Old Testament, who spoke with God. Here is one of Crowley’s “secret teachings”: “All bodily excrements, such as cut nails and hair, should be burnt; spittle should be destroyed or exposed to the Sun; the urine and faeces should be so disposed of so that it is unlikely that any other person should obtain possession of them.” Yet still, in March 1987, Bowie was insisting: “I never was in the occult”... but for years he sang about the “Jean Genie” who “keeps all your dead hair for making up underwear.”
-- From "The Laughing Gnostic: David Bowie and the Occult", by Peter-R. Koenig, Ultraculture Journal One, 2007
Below are links to concept art for the proposed film which, if realised , might have gazumped Terry Gilliam's Brazil which was released in 1985 .

Number 12                                                      
Blow-up I'm not suggesting that Bowie was ever a contender for Antonioni's most unconventional of thrillers Blow-Up (1966) but he was an admirer. In a serendipitous coincidence the seen-it-all fashion photographer played by David Hemmings drives his car through the West End of London, stopping at Heddon Street in Mayfair ,not far from Piccadilly Circus This site
became the location for the 1972 albu
m cover of the landmark The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust, commemorated now by a simple plaque.

In 2003 Bowie and model Kate Moss,a longtime friend,most posed for a photo shoot in Q Magazine which paid homage to Blow-Up. Below on the left the 1966 original with Hemmings and model Veruschka, on the right Bowie and Moss.

Number 13
I can't vouch for the veracity of these two casting claims which I have heard or read about about over the years so to be taken with a grain of salt and any input most welcome

Before the diminutive Paul Williams was chosen to play the part of the record producer Swan the scuttlebutt named Mick Jagger and then Bowie.

TOMMY (1975)
Was Bowie genuinely considered as a casting option,playing the Acid Queen, a role that was eventually undertaken by Tina Turner ?

Bowie was was mentioned to play the role of Abel Rosenberg that eventually went to David Carradine. Richard Harris , who had just completed Orca for Egg producer Dino De Laurentiis came down with pneumonia and was replaced by Carradine .

Number 14
In a fraudulent press report Bowie was announced as the star of Robert Heinlein's Stranger In A Strange Land . In the biographies I have read the consensus seems to be that this was , according to Bowie, a 'ploy' and a successful one at that to attract movie offers.Before long he would be cast as The Man Who Fell To Earth, another manifestation of the Ziggy Stardust otherworldly persona he had perfected with such great alacrity.

Bowie and Burroughs
Number 15
Here's the craziest of them all by a country mile. A Bowie biopic to be directed by Ken Russell from a screenplay by William S. Burroughs. Bowie admired Russell's work greatly, the pair first met on the set of Mahler (1974) and exchanged mutual pleasantries . And while we're talking fanciful projects how about Ken's Hamlet teaming Bowie and Elton John ?

Number 16
One theory about Elizabeth Taylor in her later years is that she befriended the likes of Michael Jackson and Bowie so as to curry favour with the younger set and to find new avenues for her own self-promotion. A more prosaic theory is that she actually enjoyed their company. Since meeting him in 1974 Bowie and Taylor got on like a house in fire and she suggested to him he might like to consider a supporting role in her latest acting venture.veteran director George Cukor's remake of The Blue Bird, a parable about the meaning of life and the achievement of true happiness, to be filmed in Leningrad .The film turned out to be an unmitigated disaster which drained the spirits and energy of all involved including 20th Century Fox which lost a bundle. But none of this affected Bowie who astutely declined to be involved, citing boredom. His quoted assessment after reading the screenplay : " a very,dry high fairytale with nothing to say " .
As a curious footnote the only market in the world where the film took any money was in Melbourne,Australia where an enterprising independent exhibitor David Wayside assiduously promoted the film at his Mayfair Cinema in Collins Street in the heart of the city.. Leading theatre chain Hoyts , which had first look rights on Fox product, passed on the film and he cleaned up .
Here's a curious background account from Hollywood Reporter :
Elizabeth Taylor had hatched a plan: She wanted Bowie to audition for a role in her movie, The Blue Bird, which was due out the next year. So she asked her good friend, photographer and Faye Dunaway ex Terry O'Neill, to set up a meeting. The noted British lensman arranged a get-together at director George Cukor's house in Beverly Hills, to which the gender-bending musical mastermind showed up two hours late. And, as one can imagine, Dame Taylor was not a lady who liked to be kept waiting.
"Liz was pretty annoyed and on the verge of leaving," O'Neill told London's National Portrait Gallery of the incident. "But we managed to persuade her to stay."
To break the ice when Bowie finally arrived, O'Neill started snapping photos, which resulted in the now-iconic series of the unlikely duo sharing a cigarette. Taylor got over Bowie's lateness, though he didn't end up in her film after all. And still today, the linen keyhole tunic and felt fedora she wore to take a business meeting shows us how understatedly cool the movie star was away from her sequins and shoulder pads.

For Paul's earlier post containing items 1-10 you can click here. More to come.

Discovering Jang Jin (2) - More notes on a largely unknown South Korean film-maker

Someone Special, South Korea, 2004, 107 minutes
The advice I received along with the subtitled Korean release DVD was that Jang made this film to help recoup losses on his earlier efforts. It was thus intended as commercial fare. The film delivered and was a hit in its day.

Dong Chi-sung (played by Jang's fetish actor Jung Jae-young) is a man who has never had a first love. His opening breakup sets the tone. His girlfriend dumps him just after admonishing him for holding her hand in a baseball grip. A fantasy rage explosion is followed by a trip to a bar where he turns out to be a three pot screamer and quickly makes a fool of himself. The female bartender manages to get him out of the place and into a nearby hotel room. "How did I get here?" "I brought you here in a box" she says, an image we actually see and which adds a further moment of, shall we say, heightened reality to the earlier romantic break up rage.

Dong has a problem however. He has been diagnosed with cancer, incurable and fast moving, and is given three months to live. This affects him mostly as a baseball player. He's a former pitcher whose shoulder gave out and so he's now an outfielder. As well he made a fool of himself on a simple fly ball and has been relegated to the minor leagues. He wants to pitch one more game as a starter. In the meantime, he's not noticing the overwhelmingly charming love and devotion being afforded by the bartender, notwithstanding that they are thrown together when a nearby house gets robbed and he ends up, inadvertently, with the loot.

Now this might have been just a romcom but Jang is too much a satirist, too much a director wanting to effect a far more playful demeanour on his movie. The effect is that the film is utterly unsentimental and far funnier than the rest of its cohort, features which may have caused it to be that box office success I referred to earlier.

Romantic Heaven, South Korea, 2006, 115 minutes
I'm not the best person to be writing about this one because my knowledge of biblical references is near to zero. I didn't pay attention at Sunday School or St Augustine's Morning Prayer and Holy Communion services.

Jang's riff on biblical themes involves half a dozen intersecting characters and narratives all of whom have to deal with death and the afterlife. Among them is a benign white-suited, grey haired old guy who conducts a somewhat ramshackle entrance exam into heaven and who turns out to be the
God (r) in Romantic Heaven
Christian God. He's a soft touch, as one of the characters discovers when he begs to be allowed to go back to sort out some unfinished business. (The moment when he's on the way back while the family are gathered round the body for the moment when the plug is pulled is very tense indeed.). Tony Rayns described the film as having a three-stranded plot which 'runs rings around the notion of a benevolent god watching over individual destinies." Yep....and very droll to boot. Jang's films are high on enjoyment and pure pleasure.

The Current Cinema - Max Berghouse reviews Spotlight after an open air preview screening at Mrs Macquarie's Chair

Spotlight Tom McCarthy (Director and co writer), Josh Singer (co writer). Starring: Michael Keaton (Robby Robinson/head of Spotlight investigative team), Mark Ruffalo (Mike Rezendes), Rachel McAdams (Sasha Pfeiffer), Brian d'Arcy James (Matt Carroll) – investigative journalists in the Spotlight team, John Slattery (Ben Bradlee Jr/Deputy editor of Boston Globe newspaper), Liev Schreiber (Marty Baron/editor of Boston Globe newspaper), Stanley Tucci (Mitchell Garebian/plaintiffs' attorney for abused Catholic children), Len Cariou (Bernard Law/Cardinal – Archbishop of Boston). Anonymous Content, First Look Media, Participant Media and another (production companies). eOne films (Australian distributor), (2015), 128 minutes.

This film seems to have received universally adulatory reviews, which fortunately or otherwise, I don't share. I do not doubt for a moment the overwhelming veracity of the storyline, perhaps its complete and absolute veracity. That "veracity" relates to the decades long abuse by Catholic religious, especially priests, of minors and its conscious cover-up by the Catholic hierarchy, and in particular Cardinal Bernard Law. My objection is that while it is consciously accurate, this happens at the cost of drama.

The plotline is really quite simple. An incoming principal editor of the Boston Globe, Marty Baron, unmarried (and possibly with the implications this might entail) and Jewish to boot, decides to re-open long-standing but desultory investigations into improper behaviour by Catholic priests and its hierarchy. The Spotlight team which despite being the longest standing investigative journalistic team in the country, appears to be housed in a basement, windowless office, is delegated to the task. The team members are all (lapsed) Catholics who conduct their investigations without any sense of "divided loyalties" and perhaps this should be so. The investigation is patient, methodical and professional. This produces some results including some excellent and quite painful vignettes of persons, now adult, previously victimised and with quite clear and current disabilities, being interviewed by members of the team.

But there is also chance good fortune such as when the team discovers that predatory priests who are transferred from parish to parish, are featured in the Archdiocese's very substantial directory of its affairs published annually (it is like a telephone book of a substantial country town) as having been on "sick leave" or similar. By matching year upon year, it is apparent that the predation has continued over a very long period of time and involves a much greater number of priests than previously indicated. Some explanation is given through telephone contact with a psychotherapist, former priest, Richard Sipe that statistically 6% of Catholic clergy will be predatory and in diocese of 1500 priests, that indicates 90 predators. In fact investigations concluded clearly that there were 87. Just as an aside, I think written work by Sipe on this very subject had been previously published, well before the investigations shown in the film but it does indicate the way in which the information can be conveyed dramatically, rather than say one of the journalists reading from the book.

Len Cariou
The capacity to successfully cover up these "matters" is very subtly but clearly shown to rest upon the extraordinary power of Cardinal Bernard Law – an excellent Machiavellian performance by the distinguished stage actor Len Cariou. In fact all performances are completely without blemish and this is probably because the actors are servants of the facts and the material, rather than being given "starring" roles. There are no histrionics, sudden and unexpected revelations just the patient and fairly emotionally uninvolved work of the journalists. There is one particularly affecting interview by Sasha of a particularly disturbed and gay abused victim. Despite the pain the interview is causing him she remains absolutely committed to getting the truth. Stanley Tucci gives a completely absorbing performance, one which engages as to his general humanity while all the while, making clear why he was looked at ascance by others particularly defendants' lawyers.

Examples of the almost perfect recreation of a journalist' s real working life abound through this film. Unfortunately as previously indicated, I think this is a at the expense of drama. Drama heightens and remodels "reality" to intensify our perception of that reality. This is where the film really comes undone. It might be said that a viewer comes to a film like this – one which is substantially documentary in form, with the expectation of the normal dramatic imperatives such as the background of the journalists and the expectation that they will be disparate and to some extent competitive will feature. There is a fact very little of this. It may be that my expectations are so deeply ingrained that I cannot readily accept a change of convention. And ultimately I can't complain because the director decided to do something in relation to his film whereas I would have preferred something else. For what the film sets out to do, it does it accurately and quite clinically. I found it emotionally distant and increasingly uninvolving because it is really very long.

There is a theory in relation to documentary films that notwithstanding any original intention in relation to the purpose of the film, if the director comes across something interesting, as it were by the by, then he should follow the "interest", rather than the "purpose". Given the documentary style of the film I think the same comments apply. There was so much in the film which was really critical to an understanding of "how and why" which was simply shown without any explanation or real understanding – so it seems to me. During the earlier scenes Marty Baron is informed that he is expected to meet with the Cardinal Archbishop, as previous editors have done. Quite apart from the fact that Baron is Jewish, that the paper should feel the necessity of his meeting the Cardinal, seems extraordinarily strange. The action takes place in the early 21st-century and the really substantial changes of Vatican II were taking place from about 1965 onwards.

There are plenty of cities with a large Catholic population: Sydney, London, et cetera. It really is hard to conceive that a Catholic prelate should have such power. Equally that he, Cardinal Law should be so emotionally insensitive (as he is portrayed in the film) as to offer Marty Baron a "guide to the city of Boston" which is a copy of the catechism of the Catholic Church. Similarly the covering up of the depredations of the clergy is facilitated by police and a singularly large number of lawyers. That they would cover-up predators over long periods of time and multiple offences, certainly is beyond my experience of Catholic life. This seemed to me to be more interesting than the detail in fact shown, because I genuinely cannot imagine this systemic cover-up in the lay community, pretty much anywhere. Because it is largely unexplained – and it is mystifying – it drew more of my attention.

I should also note that in the main the film is not anti-Catholic. It makes only passing judgement on predatory priests, indicating that they are emotionally stunted. It makes clear that those involved in the cover-up, are certainly to blame but it certainly does not draw a harsh judgement over the entire Church, even though the final scene it lists dioceses where predation has taken place and the list seems to run to many hundreds if not thousands.

Lastly having grown up with cinema and with the depiction of "America" as substantially New York on the East Coast and Los Angeles or San Francisco on the West, it is always welcome to see a "provincial" city like Boston displayed in its neighbourhoods and suburbs – far less glamorous than the usual glamorous reality. Not all the production took place in Boston itself. Some scenes were in Hamilton Ontario, but looked nonetheless convincing to me. 
Photo: Lynn Wood

Monday 25 January 2016

The Film Institutions in 2016 (3) - Preservation of the audio visual heritage - The ABC's dilemma

Since the shakeup of the National Film & Sound Archive that began in the early months of 2014 with the abrupt sacking of 28 staff, there has been an ebb and flow of interest in the issues around preserving our film heritage AND making it accessible to current and future generations. The plain fact is that across the Board of the various institutions charged with this task simply not enough funding has been supplied by the Federal Government for the purpose. The institutions suffering as a result are, in these days when Governments, and especially the Federal Government, are very intimidatory, most reluctant to rock the boat. There have been no stirring speeches about the catastrophe ahead, no leadership emerging and most importantly no politician anywhere willing to make this a cause. Nowadays causes are dangerous. 

As a result those charged with the task of preservation and increased access try and make do. With an election looming, it may be time for far more aggro to be applied. And, somewhat suprisingly, there may be a start point right here.

The Productivity Commission is examining Australia's intellectual property system. So far 128 submissions have been received.  

The ABC's submission may have lain unregarded however but for a journo working for online newsletter Crikey picking up on its content yesterday 25 January. Here's the opening couple of paras.

The ABC might not be able to preserve historically significant programs like episodes of Four Corners, Catalyst, Quantum and Compass, documentaries series like Liberals and Labor in Power, and state-based news programs, because copyright laws make it difficult to digitise such content without clearance from multiple copyright holders.

This comes from the ABC's response to the Australian Productivity Commissions Intellectual Property Arrangements public inquiry. Also at risk are some recordings of music and programs like Countdown, cricket broadcasts, and historical children's programming, such as Play Schooland Bananas in Pyjamas. 

The Copyright Act allows the ABC to make three copies of works for the purpose of preserving them against loss. But the ABC considers this "inadequate", "particularly for the purposes of generating digital copies for inclusion in the archive".

The ABC maintains the most significant archive of historical broadcast-quality raw material in Australia, its submission states. Commercial broadcasters, which used to maintain comparable libraries, increasingly dump unused tape within 30 days. 

Now I realise that copyright difficulties are not the same as the simple problem of finding enough cash to do the digitization job but it caused me to have a look at the paras referred to in the ABC submission. The first discovery however was that the ABC had simply recycled a submission it made to another enquiry back in 2012. Apparently nothing has changed.

But there is one crucial section about digitising the collection.

Unlocking the ABC archive
From an evidential point of view, the ABC refers the Commission to the two case studies relating to broadcasters unlocking archives for public access... These are the BBC experience and the NHK experience. The BBC also referred to this trial in its submission to the Hargreaves Review.
To negotiate 1,000 hours of archive programming (from an archive with over 1 million hours) available online for streaming it took the BBC around 6,500 person hours to check 1,000 hours of programming for rights implications and the archive trial team subsequently had to obtain permission for use from about 300 individual or collective rights holders. The BBC said: The trial data suggests [sic] that administrative costs of clearing the entire archive would be prohibitively expensive. We estimated that it would take 800 staff around three years to clear the entire BBC archive at a total cost of £72 million (equivalent to about 2% of the BBC’s annual licence fee income).

The BBC also spoke about the difficulty in clearing Doctor Who for digital use; a similar experience shared by the ABC

In 2008, NHK selected 1000 hours from its television archive. NHK estimated it would take a team of 20 people working full-time for eight months to clear this material.

While the ABC has not formally assessed the likely costs and effort required to clear the underlying rights in significant portions of its archive for digital use, these figures are broadly consistent with the Corporation’s experience. The costs of such clearances include both administrative costs and the actual licensing costs, which vary considerably across genres and need to be determined on a case-by-case basis. As a result, the ABC’s digitisation of its archive has been almost entirely confined to: (a) digitisation for preservation purposes, which does not necessarily require the clearance of underlying rights; (b) digitisation of content, such as news footage, that is ABC-owned and thus requires minimal clearance; and (c) digitisation for use in ABC Commercial products that are able to recoup the rights clearance costs through sales revenue.

In terms of testimony, Monique Potts said:
Within Innovation we have been exploring new publishing models where we can add value to existing broadcast content for niche audiences such as the education platform ABC Splash, where we are adding educational and curriculum information to a library of short form media content. The process of clearing rights for this content to be used online is a very manual and time consuming process and means the amount of content we can publish is much more limited. Any way of simplifying the number or range of rights holders and payments required to clear rights for this content would help to be able to reuse broadcast content efficiently across a range of digital platforms. The process of clearing archival material to make available online is very time consuming and difficult and means only a very small proportion of the available ABC archive can be made available for Australian audiences.

Robert Hutchinson said:
We were able to release Wild Side, Janus and Phoenix on DVD, but clearances got in the way of the digital release. It got way too hard, and one of the writers had disappeared.

So, will the Productivity Commission toss a bombshell into the politics of 2016 by picking up on the ABC’s needs and recommending that the copyright law be changed AND that more money be spent?  By extension the ABC’s needs are, broadly, those of all the film preserving bodies. However, given its difficult relationship with Malcolm Turnbull and the cronies/heavies and climate change deniers who sit behind him and rail away daily at what the ABC gets up to it’s hard to see the ABC wanting to pick a fight on this issue. 

Up to others.