Sunday 26 April 2020

Plague Times Diary (22) - Peter Hourigan survives Week 4 from the Lockdown - Rediscovering Bo Widerberg, THE WOMAN IN WHITE (1917), and a Michael Moore-produced doco.

               If there was any defining characteristic feature of my viewing for this fourth week of lockdown it was reaction. If I had had any plan, or thought of what I’d probably watch that evening, an email or Facebook recommendation sent me in another direction. This also had me exploring a little more exploring Netflix, Stan and my now shrinking pile of unwatched DVDs. 

For example, I have probably seen lots of comments about the website Rarefilm (click to link) from time to time, but never looked at it. I did this week, and it’s both a treasure and a junk trap. They boast 1886 films, with the next update happening when they reach the 2000 mark. There are undoubtedly some treasures, many rarities, films you’ve probably never heard of (and some you probably don’t want to). Some wonderful films to put high on your schedule, others in such poor condition they’re unwatchable. 
When I did go on the site this week, I chose to watch Francesco Rosi’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold from 1987, a film I have fond memories of, but one that has practically vanished. But this copy was unwatchable.  Probably sourced from some old VHS tape, colours had almost vanished from who knows how many dupings, and the ‘scope images were mutilated into the old TV box shape.  So, I went looking for a substitute and chose Raven’s End (Kvartaret Korpen) Bo Widerberg’s 1963 film. Similarly, one that has practically disappeared.  There was a time when Widerberg’s reputation was high, now he’s almost forgotten except for the trivia that one of his films gave its name to a Mozart Piano Concerto. (Elvira Madigan.)
This print was in its original Academy ratio, and in a really lustrous black and white. Set in Malmo, in a bleak working class block of units, during the even bleaker 1930s with the first stirrings of right wing agitators, Thommy Berggren is an aspiring young writer looking to break away from this area and his family, or at least his father who has  been crushed by the depression.  Berggen would play Elvira Madigan’s dashing Lieutenant Sixten Sparre for Widerberg several years later. His performance here is nuanced and involving.  Absolutely worth chasing.
A couple of other viewing choices were also reactions to something read on the day. David Bordwell’s blog is always inspiring. This week on his blog (click link)) he was writing about a film from 1917 The Woman in White (aka The Unfortunate Marriage). I’ve always had more fun with the novels of Wilkie Collins than with those of his contemporary and friend, Charles Dickens.  And Bordwell always writes about films in a way that makes you see so much more in them. As he says, this is not a great film. But it’s fun, and his comments are so insightful as to how the film is constructed, and your appreciation of how advanced cinema language was already by 1917. It’s on Vimeo.
And now for something completely different. Earth Day 2020 was on Wednesday, and so there were feeds of events or postings. One of these events was the appearance of a new Michael Moore film on that day, Planet of the Humans. So, on the spur of the moment I chose to watch that. Except it is only loosely a Michael Moore film – he’s the executive producer, Jeff Gibbs is the director.  This means we are spared those ‘Gotcha moments’ and set-up moments and it is a straightforward journalistic documentary.  But its material is powerful. The take  on the environmental issues is also one that is new to me as Gibbs explores how the green movement is being captured by the very forces that it is attempting to expose and impede from their destruction of the planet. 
I’ve had a personal little tradition for some years of always watching something Shakespearean on April 23. This year it was Kenneth Branagh’s As You Like It. It’s ok – after all he does have great source material. But it’s by no means his best, and it’s not really surprising it has not had the life of some of his other Shakespeare adaptations. 
Lastly, a few comments on Dracula which Geoff Gardner wrote about enthusiastically last plague week. I’d been less enthusiastic when I first watched this earlier in the year, and gave up on it early. Inspired by Geoff’s endorsement I gave it another go, finding the ‘resume watching’ bar showed I’d only watched about ten minutes. Perhaps something else came up at the time and I never went back. I have one episode to go, and my response is still a bit mixed. I loved the tongue-in-cheek (better than teeth-in-neck) humour of it in episode 1. But I felt this wearing a bit by the second episode. At this point I will finish episode – but this isn't the equal to Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes!

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