Wednesday, February 9, 2011

SHADOWS Autumn Part 1: WONDERLANDS




DOWNLOADABLE FLIER HERE

The afternoons stretch and the blaze cools. Leaves tan and wither. The skies thicken with grey smudges and the breeze curls, chilled, around ankles.Evening comes down sooner every day and the dark prepares to swell around the daylight until spring. Not quite the time for rugging up but Milos will chop and burn some wood if the merc drops too low after dark. S'autumn, friends. Time for tales 'n' wine (or beer) and here they are, six tales o' flight for earthbound Friday eves. Your chairs, soeurs 'n' freres!

Unless otherwise stated, doors open at 7.00 for a screening at 8.00. The first few screenings might have to start closer to 8.30 to allow for daylight saving (ceiling has skylights).

VENUE: Milos's place (link at end of post for map), ABC Gallery 127 Campbell St,  Collingwood.


Friday March 4 8pm

THE FALL
(Tarsem, ?, 2006)

Comfortable? Right, let's begin. Once upon a time there's a man called Roy who is a stuntman for the silent movies in the bakelite eon. He's in hospital after a mishap on the job, possibly crippled for life. Also, the unattainable movie star he was trying to attract seems to have hooked herself up to the leading man. He's not looking forward to tomorrow.

Into his ward falls a child's note, meant for someone else. When its author comes to retrieve it, Roy sees a solution to his problems. How do you get a child to kill you? You make it fun.

This candid take on the reason for telling stories is only the beginning of why The Fall is good. From this point there is a constant reminder of how the manipulation at the heart of storytelling expresses itself in cinema. The little girl, Alexandria sees an accidental camera obscura image very early on in the film. The spectacuar scenes of the story that Roy makes up as he goes along are her imagination. When he describes a character as Indian he means Native American but she imagines a Sikh. The forbidding figure of a radiologist in his lead armor gives her the look for the evil henchmen in the tale. The heroine of the story often talks and acts like her. And the story itself is chaotic, being frequently retooled by Roy as Alexandria doesn't like or understand a detail. However slick this film looks (and it really does) it must in the end bow to the limitations of its story and the forces forging it.

Tarsem Singh made this film with a Babel of funding and support from industry friends (Spike Jonez and David Fincher add their names to the credits as presenters) and even his own coffers while on the many locations he went to for his main work, hi-gloss tv commercials and music videos. But it's not just locations. The guy has an eye. The world of Alexandria's imagination is told through some of the most beautiful cinematography I've seen in a fiction film. If the overall tale of the movie weren't substantial by itself I could just watch this one all day long for the pictures alone.

This film took me completely by surprise as I'd expected it to be little more than a show reel of hollow setups. Singh, however, took his inspiration from a Bulgarian film called Yo Ho Ho (acknowledged in the credits) which gave him the kind of solid base for his imagination that he lacked with The Cell (the final and most idiotic of the 90's serial killer genre). The reason you haven't heard of it is due to its being near impossible to market. Too violent for the kids and too whimsical for their parents, perhaps.

Whatever, this is the film that the filmmaker wanted to put on the screen. As such it joins the signature works of anyone who ever struggled to do the same which makes it a rarity. Happily, it's a good rarity.





Friday March 11 8pm

THE TIN DRUM
(Volker Schlondorf, Germany, 1979)
 
"Once there was a gullible people who believed in Santa Claus...but Santa Claus was really the gasman."

The best literal film adaptation of a novel EVER.

Nobel laureate Gunther Grass became my favourite living author after I read his first novel. The native Danziger combined his own life with that of a brattish child he observed in a cafe and set them both coursing on the slight shoulders of Oscar Mazerath as he walks through the Nazi years unhindered.

Oscar, highly intelligent from the age of embryo, does not like what he sees when he sees adults. They are deceitful, lustful, violent, hating buzzkills, worse when they're having fun than when they're serious. He chooses not to join them and effectively prevents any expectations that he might, by injuring himself irrevocably. From that time he walks through the world of his town of dangerously divided loyalties (the Free City of Danzig) as unhindered as any child. For everyone else they are a Pole, a Jew or a German (Grass actually went one further by declaring Oscar and his family Kashubian). This would make for tough enough stuff if it weren't for the fact that in the relative peace of the inter-war years the adults in his life are so forcefully directionless. Then when the ones with the swastikas on their arms come marching, blundering, thundering, crashing and bashing in then all bets are off.

The novel, written in a kind of magical realism developed independently of the better known Latin American strain, uses the perceptions of the self-made freak at its centre. An able bodied adult male in these circumstances would be absorbed by nazism or resist it. Oscar avoids both by his childlike appearence which harbours the experience of adulthood and the determinedly childish worldview. David Bennent seems to have materialised from the pages of Grass's manuscript, he is a radiant young boy with a pair of ice blue eyes which at once gather and judge the world entering them. His voice in the quote I began with goes from a singsong to a Hitlerian rasp and chills the line to permafrost. Lesser casting of this role would have left it a curio. With Bennent in the lead, The Tin Drum is a masterpiece. Volker Schondorf's only one. but he could die with only that film on his slate and get a decent seat at the table of the cinema greats.

Funny, terrifying, heartrending, eye-widening, The Tin Drum is always compelling. Locally released but it's in here as I've found few among those I've spoken to recently who know of the film or its source. Come and change that.




Friday March 18 8pm

THE NINTH CONFIGURATION
(William Peter Blatty, USA, 1980)
 
What is a wonderland without a Mad Hatter's tea party? Exorcist author William Peter Blatty took that story's themes of belief into more theological terrain. Where better than a mental institution, a place held by many to have replaced the church as sanctuary to the troubled spirit?

Blatty's inmates are not the patients Fr Karras sees when he visits his mother (they were real patients, btw), they are drawn from Shakespeare and his bloodthirsty, bearbating colleagues of the Jacobean theatre. Remember, this is not about psychiatry, it's about belief, and Blatty is happy to let the lunatics take over and carry on like actors challenged at an audition to "really go insane". The gothic Californian castle they live in seems, also, to have an unlimited prop room and wardrobe. The archaic face of their condition is deliberate, though it takes a little settling for the point to become visible.

Into this Krazy Kastle comes the new head of psychiatry, Colonel Kane, gentle, self possessed and haunted as MacBeth. Through the noise of the loonies (who nonetheless are given some deleriously funny lines) comes Cutshaw, the astronaut who panicked at the last moment and had a kind of spiritual implosion. We quickly see in the highly theatrical meet-up scene between the two that here are two souls who might save or destroy each other.

If you make it that far you are in for a reward. This is not a proto buddy movie, it's a dialogue. And it's a serious one, about the nature of belief and the need for a purposeful science or a responsible god. If you're worried about this sounding like those old Christian Television Association dramas, don't. Take a tip from a lifelong atheist (hi, it's me, come and see this film).

If you enjoyed The Rapture's honest look at personal faith you just might find this a worthwhile extra step.






Friday March 25 8pm

VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS 
( Jaromil JireŇ° Czechoslovakia 1970)
 
Filmed fairy tales usually play fair. They begin with a realistic frame (like The Fall or The Princess Bride) which makes it easy for anyone to plunge into the imaginary world. Usually, this involes a tranistional device. Alice falls down a rabbit hole and comes out in Wonderland. That doesn't quite happen here. And Valerie's Wonderland can be found on any map that includes the Carpathian Mountains and the land of Maldoror. No rabbit hole but a single drop of blood on a flower is enough for the journey. From her first period, Valerie steps into a fairy tale both sumptuous and deeply troubling.

If her Mittel European village was picturesque and endearing it is now, piece by piece, a seething pit of rabid eroticism and near sadomasochistic repression. It's not all good: the avuncular figure who might well be her absent/deceased father/uncle/related authority figure appears to also be a chalk faced nosferatu. Or is he a priest? Actually, in the world of this film there's no "or" about that. What of the young maid being prepared for nuptials at the beginning in a ceremony so highly ritualised it could be an outtake from The Wicker Man? Valerie's landscape has changed forever and she must do some quick thinking to survive.

This remnant of the initial push of the Czech surrealist movement (reputedly still in rude health) made it to the screen against all odds. The recognised auteurs of the Czech new wave were busy getting squeezed out of work and nation or just pressed behind bars as the great red hope moved in. This strange and constantly anti-authoritarian dreamscape survived the Soviet invasion's crushing of the flowers and cancellation of the Spring. Was its superficial whimsy deemed harmless? Did any of them actually watch the thing?

While dangers of womanhood fill the screen the accompanying freedom of coming of age is never too far away, here. If that's too esoteric, there's always the sheer beauty of the Autumnal sunlight and the arresting visuals of pretty much every single scene. And can you look at yourself and really not love a film that inspired an entire Broadcast album (Haha Sound)? Oh, you want inspiration? How about Angela Carter's Bloody Chamber and Company of Wolves?






Friday April 1 8pm

BILLY LIAR 
(John Scheslinger, UK 1963)
 
Billy Fisher is young and exploding with dreams, ready to catapult himself into the great tide of NEW that was Britain in the 60s.But if his imagination could lead him to greatness it has already landed him into such a well of trouble that his days become a series of dodges against rapidly rising consequences.

Swinging London is just down the road and if he were there he would be a star and all these annoyances would be celebrations of his style. But in the dowdy old northern town he wades through nothing is going to be like that. Whether it's the two girls he's engaged to or the increasingly futile quest to hide the futz he made of a simple PR task for his job he is not going to get out of it easily. Into this bleak comedy come the twin lures of a tv comedian in town to open a supermarket and a vision of everything he wants in a young and radiant Julie Christie. He could get a script to the comic if he can get close (and if he can be bothered to write one) and/or just accept the girl's outstretched hand and zing down to London and launch. Then everything will be alllllllright.

Well, this is a British film from the kitchen sink era. All those from Cliff Richard movies happened on the other side of town. Billy Liar is constantly funny and dizzyingly accurate in its depiction of a youthful imagination but it is determinedly set in a grey civic purgatory of an England that celebrates the industrial revolution more than the Blake that damned it. But instead of a worker's paradise we have a working class debarked by consumerism in a ceaseless damp winter. London's only a train ride away, Billy, the Beatles are about to crack America wide open.





Friday April 8
ZABRISKIE POINT 
(Michelangelo Antonioni, USA 1970)

The film opens in a setting typical of late 60s American cinema, a student political meeting. Mark, unaffiliated and unimpressed walks out. He is soon to be politicised, however, when he is thrown into the slammer with a lot of other longhairs and embarks on arming himself for the good fight to come. This goes awry when his planned debut on the stage of student protest goes horribly wrong. He takes flight, literally, heading to the desert in a stolen Cessna. Meanwhile, Daria, hippy-leaning secretary to a land developer determined to concrete the desert with dream homes, heads west in her car to join her employer in his lookout aerie for a meeting with the larger of the local wigs who might buy into it. Guess which pair of hopeless dreamers meet mid-desert?

Ok, so the plot of Zabriskie Point isn't the point. Here the desert isn't a barren waste, it's a haven. Once the politics have served to launch Mark into Icarus territory they are dispensed with. His dashing flyover courtship of Daria is the stuff of legend and that is the point. Having nailed the fragility of pop image making (and self image making) in Blow Up, Michelangelo Antonioni turned his eye to the unavoidable spectre of America. He found an America of futile struggle and stasis, a mythical land without a myth. Like the mythmakers of cinema before him, he headed west to see if he could find the makings of legend.

Did he succeed? I still don't know but the remainder of the film does have the clean lines and expansiveness of a legend. Once we hit the desert we know the forces that have shaped the central pair. Their meeting feels inevitable and their communion in the desert has a quiet epic quality as though these human figures enter the landscape to complete it. The meeting itself seems to amount to little (unless we are to take the great sandy love-in literally) but each continues richer for it toward graver things. So it feels like a legend.

I can take or leave Antonioni. I can find him inspiring or ponderous and dull but here I was surprised on my second look in as many decades at the elegance of his execution here. As an early example of a sourced soundtrack it has few rivals in this regard (always felt Easy Rider's constant late 60s jukebox intrusive) and, outside of The Wall (nyuck nyuck) you won't find a better use of Pink Floyd's music in a film. It grounds the deliciously excessive surrealist finale in a way that a conventional orchestral score or a cutesy ironic pop song ever could. I don't know if this is great cinema. I don't know if this is an aaaaaart film. But I do know that I like it.

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