Friday 30 December 2016

Defending Cinephilia (12) - Tina Kaufman shows what an indefatigable spirit can track down.

While I firmly agree with recent comments about how poorly served Sydney is, cinema-wise, and I'm jealous of other cities' curated programs, and even more I find myself green with envy reading of the many cinephilia defenders who are travelling the world in their various quests, I know I have to make do with what's available here.  I have managed to find a selection of films, both old and new, to (almost) satisfy my viewing habits over the last year.  And my viewing habits still mean going to the cinema, despite the difficulty of getting there - I keep thinking, as I'm dealing with Sydney's increasingly messed up transport system, trudging along badly paved footpaths, or climbing those bloody stairs in so many cinemas, about staying home and watching, on my nice, new and sizeable smart TV, some of the DVDs from my packed shelves, or the hours and hours of stuff recorded on my two hard drives.  And that's before I even think about streaming services!  But no, off to the cinema I go. 

Hong Sang-soo (younger days)
In a year dominated by mainstream (and not so mainstream) releases, the Sydney Film Festival, and Palace's seemingly never ending stream of "national film festivals" (of which more later), there have been some genuine surprises, some interesting new venues, and some reliable oldies.   In August, for example, I discovered that the Museum of Contemporary Art was having free curated screenings on Saturday afternoons, with four films that month, curated by MUBI's Daniel Kasman, by one of my favourite filmmakers, Korean director Hong Sang-soo.  I'd seen two (one, Right Now Wrong Then, only a week or so before at the Korean Film Festival) but I was very happy to see (again) The Day He Arrives, and for the first time A Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, and Nobody's Daughter, Haewon.  An absolute treat, especially for being so unexpected.  

Apichatpong Weerasthekul
The next month promised the four new Portuguese films curated by Adrian Martin (that he's written about here, and the first to screen was Others Will Love the Things I Loved, Manuel Mozos' loving cinematic essay and tribute to the late João Bénard da Costa, who was apparently a cinephile extraordinaire and one of the most important figures in the history of the Portuguese Cinematheque; I thought it was wonderful, even though (embarrassingly) I knew nothing about either the subject or the filmmaker.  I also saw A Woman's Revenge, and from the next month's selection of four films by Apitchatpong Weerasthekul, curated by MIFF's Michelle Carey, I managed to see Blissfully Yours and Tropical Malady (both of which I'd seen before, but they were even better on a second or even third viewing). But the MCA did make things difficult - screenings were sometimes changed from the Saturday to the Sunday, or to the next week, sometimes cancelled altogether or perhaps played later (without telling you when).  Then a couple of months went by with no screenings, and I'd almost given up on them, but suddenly discovered three films programmed for December, of which I only managed to see Rohmer's The Romance of Astra and Celadon. This however, was the last of such screenings; while the MCA will apparently be using the screening space for video and electronic artworks, James Vaughan, who's been organising these little seasons with very little support from the MCA, is hunting for an alternate venue for next year.  Here's hoping he can succeed.

Then there is the Golden Age Cinema, Sydney's newest venue, a tiny cinema tucked away under Paramount House in Surry Hills.  (It used to be Paramount's screening room, back in the day!)  The Golden Age has an interesting program, a mix of new and old films (plus some live events), and they often pick up films that have only had a short run in other cinemas, or films that haven't managed to get released elsewhere in Sydney.  I'd go much more often if it weren't so difficult to get there and get home from there. But I did get to see A Cemetery of Splendour there (it was only on twice and I wish I'd gone back for the second screening).  And for Chinese New Year they screened two films by Li Luo, which I was encouraged to attend by Michael Campi and found totally engrossing and strange.  And then there was City of Gold, a gentle doco about food, eating, and the importance of writing about it - three things I love!

While I didn't get to one of Sydney's oldest and nicest cinemas, the Hayden Orpheum at Cremorne, as often as I used to, I was enticed over the bridge to its David Stratton-curated Great Britain retrospective, where I saw Blithe Spirit for the first time and A Matter of Life and Death for the umpteenth, and then for the Hitchcock retrospective where I saw the Hitchcock/Truffaut doco, Kent Jones' intelligent and insightful tribute to a book and two filmmakers, as well as Foreign Correspondent (which I realised I'd never seen) and Notorious (which I've seen umpteen times and will see umpteen more times, if I can). And it was at Cremorne that I had another viewing of my friend Margot Nash's lovely film, The Silences - even more involving the second time.  And on the very same day I saw the lovely Japanese film, An. What a treat.

At the Domain Theatre at the Art Gallery of NSW, Robert Herbert keeps on curating interesting programs around each current exhibition at the gallery, and screens the films on beautiful 35mm or occasionally 16mm. My highlights - All the Mornings in the World, Grand Illusion, The Blue Angel, Bullets Over Broadway, The Shop Around the Corner, Offside, Who's That Knocking at my Door?, and the unexpectedly gorgeous Tarzan and His Mate.  (The AGNSW recently received a irate letter from someone complaining about not being let in to a session that he arrived nearly an hour late to; he described the audience as "elderly and poverty-stricken".  Well they (we) may be - but they are also appreciative of both the program and of the protocol.) 

Our Little Sister, (Kore-eda Hirokazu, Japan, 2015)

While the Sydney Film Festival is still the high point of the year, with its packed program (my favourites, Goldstone, Aquarius, Certain Women, Letters from War, Fukushima Mon Amour, Fire At Sea, Chevalier, Hot Type, No Home Movie, and a pair of terrific Australian docs, Baxter and Me and Night Parrot Stories), there are other smaller festivals throughout the year worth cherry-picking. At the Young At Heart FF I saw Kore-eda's sublime Our Little Sister for the second time, at the Mardi Gras FF the fascinating doco Feelings are Facts - the life of Yvonne Rainer, and at the Sydney Underground FF the doco on Richard Linklater: Dream is Destiny (and I could kick myself for not seeing the doc on Brian de Palma.) At the Korean Film Fest I saw Right Now Wrong Then (for the first time), Two Rooms Two Nights, and Assassination (for the second time; I'd seen it at Event last year).  And then there's the Silent Film Festival, whose title's a bit of a misnomer; it doesn't only screen silent films, and programs almost the whole year round at several different venues, some outside the city, and purists would complain that they don't show anything on film, only digital. But where else could I have seen the Japanese silents, Story of Floating Weeds and Dragnet Girl (Ozu), Japanese Girls by the Harbour (Shimizu), and Street Without End (Naruse)? I also saw Epic of Everest (1924), a program of Buster Keaton short films and the sublime The General (again, but who's counting?), Blackmail, and a program of suffragette short films from 1899 to 1917.  And The Kid Stakes - again, but I love this film.
Philippe Garrel
Then there's Palace, and their seemingly never-ending festivals filled mostly with films I couldn't be dragged to, but with thorough research you can find some worth seeing. From the huge French and Italian programs I only saw a few films, and the best for me were Arnaud Desplechin's wistfully romantic My Golden Days, Philippe Garrel's spare and wryly funny In the Shadow of Women, and the funny and touching Italian road movie, Like Crazy.  Truman was the only film I saw in the Spanish FF, and I really loved it - it got a release later and I kept telling people to see it - don't know if they did. My friend Janet Merewether's sweet doco/travelogue, Reindeer in My Sami Heart, turned up in the Scandinavian FF, and Fatih Akin's Goodbye Berlin (or Tschick) was my only pick from the German Fest. I saw more in the British FF;Terence Davies' lovely film about Emily Dickinson, A Quiet Passion, Their Finest, a fascinating look at filmmaking in the early days of WW2, Versus, a documentary on the "life nod films of Ken Loach", The Limehouse Golem, a Victorian melodrama with the wonderful Bill Nighy, and Burn Burn Burn, a terrific road trip with a difference.,

This year Palace expanded their repertoire, adding a Hot Docs festival, at which I saw the underwhelming Legacy of Frida Kahlo, Stig Bjorkman's lovely doc Ingrid Bergman In Her Own Words (not only words but lots of her own home movies - apparently she always had a camera with her); and the big surprise, the nutty but terrific Chuck Norris Vs Communism.  They also added Essential Independents - American Cinema Now, at which I saw In Transit, Albert Maysles' last film, and the restored version of Kelly Reichardt's lovely first film, River of Grass(poster below).  But both these festivals were squeezed into the busy May/June period, just before SFF, both had substantial ptograms, and I doubt that either attracted the sorts of audience numbers that Palace expects. I wonder if they'll be repeated.      

In this the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, I had a bit of a binge.  Through the Theatre on Screen program I saw Kenneth Branagh's A Winter's Tale, with Judi Dench, the Globe Theatre production of Richard II, the Royal Shakespeare Company's Hamlet, and a wonderful Richard III with Ralph Fiennes, as well as Henry IV and Cymbeline.  I also saw Olivier's Henry V (the only Shakespeare of his I like), and Chimes At Midnight (for the umpteenth time, but it's still one of my favourite versions of Shakespeare on film), and then, to cap it off, the Russian Film Festival screened the restored version of Kozintsev's King Lear, which I've been waiting for years to see - and it was worth the wait.

Event and to a lesser extent Hoyts are screening Asian cinema (Hong Kong, Chinese and Korean films) on a reasonably regular basis, and highlights for me were Phantom Detective, Detective Chinatown, New York New York, Cold War 2, Tunnel, Mr Six, Johnnie To's Three, Swordmaster, and the sexy, surprising and absolutely exquisite The Handmaiden. I missed a couple of films I wanted to see when they disappeared after only one week - very annoying!

And let me put in a word for New Zealand filmmaking.  Like practically everyone I know, I really like Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and also the very engaging documentary, Poi-E, the story of our Song.  And then there was Tickled, which screened at SFF but I missed it there; luckily I caught up with it at its very short run at the Dendy Newtown, Since then I've been trying to get people to see it (it still pops up every now and then at the Golden Age); it's a terrific, if rather eccentric NZ doco about a truly bizarre subject - and really worth seeing.

I'm on the board of the Antenna Documentary Film Festival, which is now in its sixth year, and slowly growing in program size and audience numbers.  Highlights for me this year included the tribute to Chantal Akerman (the doc about her, I Don't Belong Anywhere, plus two of her short films, One Day Pina Asked . . . and La Bas), The Seasons in Quincy, Tilda Swinton's lovely tribute to her friend John Berger, Kritin Johnson's terrific Cameraperson, the fascinating Fear Itself, and the stunning Chinese documentary, Behemoth.

And a quick mention of Ira Sachs' gentle and moving Little Men, Susan Sarandon in The Meddler, which I really liked, and the wonderful new Japanese anime, Your Name.

Editor’s Note: Age shall not weary them! Tina Kaufman has been involved in the Sydney cinephile community for many decades. She is a Life Member of the Sydney Film Festival and has been involved in many of the efforts to establish a Sydney Cinematheque. She was, for its duration of publication, editor of the great newspaper Film News, the entire contents of which have now been digitised and made available online via the National Library's Trove facility click here 

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