Monthly Archive for March, 2010

Article – Obsessed with Obsession

One of cinemas most extraordinary directors and bewildering characters is one Werner Herzog. This is a man thankfully still working today in an industry which is all too often unable to provoke or excite its audience. The only horizon of expectation attached to Herzog is to expect the unexpected for his films know no genre styling or format. He is as au fait with documentary as he is with historical drama or modern pulp fiction. However one theme sticks to his work both in front and behind the camera, and that is obsession.

It was 1972 when the 30 year old German filmmaker travelled to Peru to film his first feature. Most aspiring directors make their debut in their backyard covering a subject matter familiar to them, not Herzog. 16th Century conquistadors seemed like a good start for him so he packed his bags, his camera and his psychotic leading man/childhood friend and departed for Machu Picchu. The initial frames of Aguirre Wrath of God depicting Spanish soldiers and Peruvian natives scaling the misty slopes of that awesome and ancient monolith is truly one of cinemas greatest visual moments. What followed is a story of madness and obsession on both sides of the lens. On screen a search for El Dorado the mythical city of gold, behind it Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski sought a different treasure, a modern cinematic masterpiece. Kinski played the deluded monkey wielding conqueror as only he could. The manic reality of Klaus Kinski is more captivating than any performance. The charismatic but ever so slightly temperamental actor found time to anger the locals with his explosive outbursts and prima donna demands. This behaviour would only increase through the years until 1982 when the indigenous extras on the again Peruvian set of Fitzcarraldo asked Herzog if he would like them to kill Kinski. The director mused it over but decided that a living lead man was necessary to complete his film.

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Six of the best – Scotland on film

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Retro Review – Requiem for a Dream

Addiction is a theme often explored in cinema. Sinatra rolled up his sleeve for The Man with the Golden Arm in 1955, a courageous move for both filmmaker and actor to cook up (pun intended, sorry) such a movie, taken of course from the brave and beautiful book of the same name by Nelson Algren. Algren’s poetic prose was unflinching in its depiction of degenerates, drunkards and dope heads as he waded valiantly through the scummy waters of drug use and addiction. In 1978 However Hubert Selby immersed himself completely and slipped right under. Requiem for a Dream was born, a novel which took America, the land of dreams and twisted it into something dark and unseemly. It took over 20 years for somebody to take up the reigns and project this living nightmare onto the silver screen. That man was the young visionary filmmaker Darren Aronofsky.

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Article – The Sacking of Seijun Suzuki

Let’s start this story at the end. In April 1968 the 45 year old movie director Seijun Suzuki was fired by Kyusaku Hori, President of Japanese film studio Nikkatsu. This was a period when directors were contractually tied to studios and worked on a movie factory line. In a fiercely competitive marketplace Nikkatsu were struggling financially and drastically required genre action films; economic bankers which could lead them out of their precarious position. Oblivious to previous warnings over his outragous back catalogue and always one to be contrary, Suzuki delivered them Branded to Kill.

Suzuki’s crime’s which resulted in his P45? Too numerous to mention. ‘Nikkatsu Action’ had basically become a trademark during the late 50’s and early 60’s, a brand all of its own and specific to the studio. An alluring cocktail of Hollywood glamour, film noir and western, Nikkatsu Action was devoid of the reality of mid-century Japan. This made it the ideal tool of escapism for a disenfranchised youth. Often described as borderless due to the international stylings and settings, Nikkatsu Action was in fact clearly enclosed by well defined genre guidelines. When the studio asked Suzuki to direct a hit man action flick they probably expected something closer to the 1977 Sonny Chiba classic Golgo 13. What they were delivered was a baffling, incoherent mess of surreal imagery and distorted narrative; an absurd genre defying bag of nonsense. A masterpiece.

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Red Corner/Blue Corner – Infernal Affairs v The Departed

This regular feature puts original films in the ring against their remakes and lets them slug it out over 5 rounds. Feel free to disagree and leave your comments at the end.

As I explained in the introduction to cinematheque, I feel that film feeds itself. Cross pollination should occur between cinematic regions for it to develop and there’s nothing wrong with directors wearing influences firmly on their sleeves. However there is a big difference between dining on new ideas and eating your own tail. Authenticity is a subject to be debated in-depth and at a future moment. For now let’s just have a little fun.

Remakes are part of silver screen heritage, the classic 39 Steps a prime example, reaching audiences in 1935, 59 and 78. Theatre gives us numerous productions of the same story so why should cinema not chronicle its tales with multiple interpretations? Is the stage more worthy than the screen? What is not up for discussion is the fact that remakes divide opinion like politics. Certain films hold specific meaning with fans and to tamper with them can only be met with cries of blasphemy. But should we always be so precious?

In this new regular feature I plan to hold a versus match between an original production and its remake. Has an opportunistic director bled the spirit from a sacred cow or blown life into it? In this first instance let’s bring out the big guns and pit Infernal Affairs against The Departed.

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Article – Coulda Been Contenders

When Brando turns to Rod Steiger in the famous scene from On the Waterfront and desperately cries “I coulda had class, I coulda been a contender!” it mines a deep seam of emotion for almost all who watch it. There are reasons why it’s among the most quoted lines in cinematic history. Most people have discarded a dream, wasted a talent. Even those living successful existences have at least one opportunity missed. That is why the scene resonates so strongly on a universal level. Personally, whenever I hear those words I think of two individuals who lived in the same cinema universe but worlds and years apart.

Charles Laughton and Saul Bass have sadly now passed away, but both plied their trade in the film industry. Laughton, amongst other talents was an actor of note. His high cultural water mark was the role of Captain Bligh in Mutiny on the Bounty and Quasimodo, the famous Hunchback of Notre dame. Bass is relatively unknown but most will have unwittingly viewed his work. His title design for films such as Psycho, Spartacus (a touching stone with Laughton who also starred here) and Vertigo is legendary. Spartacus apart, these men had very little in common, besides one key link. Both directed one full length feature each, both were instantly derided; both now garner cult classic status and universal praise.

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Six of the best – Heists

For this first occurrence of a regular feature let’s look at the best movie scenes involving heists.  I’ve picked my top six, please take a look then add your comments and suggestions below.  So, please help me in staking out the internet and stealing the crown jewels of robbery and heist clips.

Financial depression is often the forbearer of crime.  In the 1930’s it created a new breed of criminal, forced by greed or necessity to grab what they could from the monolithic banking corporations.  In this modern recession the tables are reversed and the bankers have turned out our pockets.  Both deeds are morally questionable but when it comes to excitement and romance the robbers win hands down.  Fred Goodwin finding an extra few million in his pay packet cannot compare to the panache of a carefully planned and executed jewel heist.   Will the Shred ever be immortalised on screen like the great thieves of the past, Bonnie & Clyde, John Dillinger?  I doubt it very much and certainly hope not. 

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Retro Review – Audition

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Cinematheque – an introduction

This is currently an interesting moment for cinema.  Seemingly untouched by the global recession the Hollywood giants continue to produce films which are record breaking for both budget and profit.  2009 was a high water mark for studio profits so it would seem that all is rosy for the Zeus-like moguls who rule all before them.  But cinema should be more than a business, it’s an art form, and history looks fondly upon films which manipulate emotions rather than profit margins.  2009/10 will be remembered for Avatar, but should it perhaps be engrained in our memories because of films made out-with the borders and structure of Hollywood?  and are arguably the best films of the last year, and most recent years, yet they are not applicable for the best film Oscar on the 7th of March.  Language dictates that they cannot be.  So, these wonderful works of art languish in the foreign language category, an afterthought.  Is this wrong?  No, because the Oscars are the awards of the Hollywood film industry.  They are not universally representative, but they are marketed as such and this belief is passed onto the casual cinema viewer.   Hollywood is simply one film industry existing upon this third planet of the solar system.

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