Monday 12 December 2016

Defending Cinephilia 2016 (7) - Supercinephile Barrie Pattison on the Sydney gloom enlightened by internet nuggets of golden days

I don’t know about Defending Cinephilia. It seems more like a matter of working out where to plant the white flag.

The number of movie bookshops in Paris has dropped from half a dozen to one. Sydney’s Asian video stores are down from double figures to a half of one.  The restorations and vintage material that Turner programs in the ‘States don’t make it to Australia and, after including Wings in that first batch of multiplex golden oldies, they appear to have resolved never to do anything like that again here. The multiplexes will hiccup retrospectives on familiar “auteurs”  Kubrick, Bergman (Ingmar not Ingrid) or Polanski every few years and probably consider that to be quite enough to cover their contribution.

Now closed and derelict. Sydney's former Academy Twin
Nobody seems to have learned anything from the Sydney Cinematheque debacles and people are still talking about drawing plans. Meanwhile the former Academy site in Oxford Street has stood vacant for years. Clover Moore forwarded my proposal to establish a base there (right place, right size, established venue) to the Minister where it was doubtless considered for a nano second by a junior clerk.

Winding down the National Lending collection has decimated what was left of the film societies.

In Canberra they still uneasily plough millions into making audience free films but refuse any attempt to create the informed public that generates significant cinema. They detached the locomotive and no one can understand why the train won’t move.

The good news? God knows how many thousands of films can be accessed from your home computer. The chink in the curtain is YouTube. Most of what is on offer is irretrievably murky, almost always unwatchably shoddy or both. The bulk of the foreign language material has no translation - or sometimes English captions that are more baffling than the original language.

However once you discount the dross, the tiny percentage that is left still contains more significant material than has ever been offered here before. There actually is more special interest film available now than ever in my life time, even if no one here appears interested or motivated to use it.

City Girl, F W Murnau
For instance consider this brief list of eye popping quality vintage titles - 
City Girl (F W Murnau 1928)
Verdun, visions d'histoire (Léon Poirier 1928, with Albert Préjean  and Thomy Bourdelle) 
Trinadtsat/Thirteen (Mikhail Romm 1937)
Le Capitaine Fracasse  (Alberto Cavalcanti 1929, with Pierre Blanchard & Charles Boyer)
Dezertir/Deserter (Vsevlod Pudovkin 1933, with Sergey Gerasimov,
Vampyr (avoid English dubbed Castle of Doom) (Carl Th. Dreyer 1932,  with Sybylle Schmidt) or
Blind Justice/Hævnens Nat  (Benjamin Christensen 1916, Tinted).

Eartha Kitt, Anna Lucasta
Of course early films are not the only ones that exist in great transfers. Have a look at the 1958 Arnold Laven/Eartha Kitt  Anna Lucasta.

If you are less fussy about quality, the range of  desirable viewing immediately expands.

The Japanese have been particularly diligent putting up English sub titled copies of unseen and exceptional pre-1945 productions. Naruse’s A Woman's Sorrows, Apart from You, The Road I Travel with You, Tsuruhachi and Tsurujiro, The Actress and the Poet and Avalanche, Shimazu’s Eternal Heart (Tinted), Gosho’s The Neighbour’s Wife and Mine, The New Road and The Dancing Girl of Izu.

Of the films directed at Universal by Karl Freund, cameraman of  Metropolis and Dracula only The Mummy is generally known but 1933’s Moonlight and Pretzels with Leo Carillo or 1934’s Gift of the Gab are in there with Raoul Walsh’s Every Night at Eight, The Man Who Came Back or Sailor's Luck and Frank Borzage’s Bad Girl or After Tomorrow. These come from the under circulated libraries of Fox and Universal. If you haven’t been slacking, checking out Charles Farrell and Jack Holt is going to be more rewarding than going through Randolph Scott or indeed Robert de Niro and Alain Delon whose output has been continuously accessible.

I concentrate on the early (pre WW2) titles because later material is or should be better served by other operations - think festivals and other promotions, Country of Origin national events, commercial TV, the ABC and SBS.  The fact that their efforts in this area can be pitiful is another matter.

It’s not unlike Australian movies. The question remains as to who, if anyone, is watching. Where do they document their activities? Could they be organised into a significant lobby? Does anyone care? Without the cash incentives that go with commenting on theatrical releases, TV or associated markets is there anybody out there?

Barrie Pattison has been making films and watching, writing and lecturing about them for six decades or more. In England he wrote for Motion and Films and Filming among others and most recently has published books devoted to the work of Michael Curtiz and Anatole Litvak. Contact him at

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