Friday, December 16, 2011

Curator's Report 2011: Thank Youse!

The final shadow sermon blares
So ends another year @ SHADOWS, and we have plunged the Shadow edge deeper into the ankle of the year than ever before, garnered out highest attendances and brought great cinema from the murk to the shining dark of night for the delectation of friend and stranger.

Early birds

Last night I screened one of my favourite films, The Producers (yes, the 1968 one) to a good sized crowd who loved it. I have seen it at a cinema twice before and it was a thrill to feel the waves of laughter build in the dark again. I didn't bring a support short but after first smelling it in the air we found we had this:

I'd come to screen a film and ended up making one as well. The car was cremated but no one was injured. With all the plastic and rubber (ie. inadvertant napalm) burning away it looked hopeless without a fire engine.  But two garden hoses did it and pretty quickly. Watch for the Firies asking for directions towards the end (swift response, though, they really were there in minutes).

After that ...

We saw the Producers, dug it, and I showed every trailer I'd made for Shadows. People were requesting replays. Nice.

The bar after the screening
2011 turned out to be the best year of the three and if it's the one I have to finish on then que sera sera. A lot of the screenings, particularly at the beginning were so well attended that when the inevitable winter slump set in I was getting cranky with numbers well above the previous years' average. But how can I complain about this? I shared a wealth of cinema with a range of persons known and unknown. That was the plan. Mission accomplished.

So, the year....

As usual, I'd like to start with what didn't work and offer some thoughts on why.

Will Shadows return? A matter for judgement

To crown my program of female protagonists I offered Juliet of the Spirits, Fellini's psychedelic valentine to his wife, Giullietta Massina. This is a difficult film that takes a lot of getting used to but does give riches. It was this year's Noriko's Dinner Table in that those who could not adapt to its plunges into surreality gave up trying and found it an interminable chore. The screening was disrupted by a mass late arrival which became a mass walkout ten minutes later. Not a film to come in at any time after the anchor points at the beginning have been established.

It's detractors after the screening attacked it from a mainstream sensibility which strategy I always find lazy-minded and said as much. But the wall was up, propped by both sides. It miffed me and I wrote a piece about the eccentric results of having a visible art house scene and the return of mainstream thinking of not having one. But that turned into this more pleasant piece. Once again, the question of whether I was wasting my and others' time with Shadows or just overreacting to what was, after all, a difference of perception.

I could not for the life of me sell the following: The Tin Drum, El Norte and Uncle Boonmee. All good examples of how magical realism can blend with edgy film making and emerge confidently owning itself. I don't know what turned people off about them but they were all screened during programs that were otherwise my most successful yet. After a lot of requests to screen Billy Liar after it was bumped last year, it drew less than ten folk.

See also The Spirit of the Beehive, a beautiful and eerie anti-nostalgic look at childhood subject of some particularly energetic requests by some folk who entirely failed to turn up for the screening. There are all sorts of reasons why people can't turn up for a film screening and I'm cool with all of them. But when people make a big thing of wanting to see something and then ignore it (not just staying away but saying nothing about that) it annoys the holy living fuck out of me. If you want to request something, honour its delivery. I keep getting signs that keeping this night free is keeping it devalued by its potential audience.

And then, almost at the end of the whole journey the biggest ever turnout was for Jacques Tati's highly experimental comedy Playtime. An almost standing room only audience met this comic genius' self-proclaimed masterpiece in almost perfect silence. This was a curious experience for me. This disappointing response originated in something that had never occurred to me about this film despite being a significant part of my pitch to audiences.

Tati shot it in the gigantic scene-stretching vistas of 70mm so he could break on through to the other side of comedy and let the audience decide what they wanted to laugh at. This results in an audience that can never quite settle due the anxious idea that no one is sharing their reaction. Comedies aimed at individuals rather than the whole audience are doomed. Tati, whose career up to that point had been one of resolute success, delighting his public with his signature character and an effortless talent at visual humour supported by an ear for soundtrack that David Lynch would envy.

And then his shot at a career-capping comedy revolution garnered him the least laughs he'd known from a piece; it almost destroyed his career. It took seeing it with a crowd for the centime to drop. That drop was heard by everyone in attendance.

Oh well....

Chris and Sonia Chringle


I had no idea why The Ninth Configuration was not only well attended but well, well loved. This curio, a theological comedy thriller, which was really intended as a vehicle of writer Peter Blatty after his lingering dissatisfaction following the Exorcist. But there it was, delighting and thrilling by turns with its odd, uncontrolled exploration and typically sharp Blatty dialogue.

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, Jamoril Jirez' extraordinary surrealistica not only attracted a full house (and more reads for a single screening blogpost before or since) but, for all its oddness and difficulty, virtually unanimous joyous praise. Gratifying, that.

The strange, severe fable from Greece Dogtooth, drew a small crowd but one that was left stunned in the best way possible.

Reg or semi-reg all equal in the eye of the Shadows

The most surprising one, though, was Diary. A recent entry from the innovative and always watchable Pang brothers from Hong Kong, this title has been allowed to fade in the shade after their internationally triumphant The Eye. I'd failed to be touched by their follow up, the stylish but harsh Abnormal Beauty, but seeing this compells me to give that one a second look. I watched this in hope that it would make a good bridge between the earnestness of Matador and the lightness of The Unbelievable Truth. Neither horror nor thriller, it's more a psychological study of morbid grief. When I screened it I saw it only for the second time. It was a revelation. I seemed to have seen a completely different film when I auditioned it. It had initially left me so flat that I had mentally struck it off the list while its credits were rolling. When I saw it with the Shadows audience I was moved almost to tears by its emotional compulsion and psychological depth. If uncertain, repeat.

David P, newbie, Miriam and Renn

One final note about failure and puzzling things. This year, even more than last, I consciously endeavoured to vary the tone of the programs so that an emotive range was not only present but clearly obvious. After polling what I claim as a public I was STILL getting people who thought I was showing too much horror or heavy mood pieces. A few real world conversations later revealed that this impression had more to do with time poverty than illiteracy; folk have to make increasingly superficial decisions on things distant from their immediate concerns. and an indy film night rightly ranks lower than a friend's birthday or other life event. But I was getting this from people who'd already supported me in spreading the tone of the line-ups, people who knew I was trying (ie not just the wearisome types who will work like Trojans to insert their dislike of a type of film into a conversation, however irrelevant the point).

I've come to the conclusion that if one (and I mean one) film of a particular genre displeases, then it colours the entire impression. So out of thirty-seven films screened this year, three could be called horror (and with each one of those that's still a stretch) and I had more than one speak of the night as a horror festival. Eleven were comedies and I had to put up with someone repeating to me (admittedly second hand) that the night needed to have "light and shade". What kind of maths is this? What the hell is up with it and why the hell should I tolerate it? Well, I don't always but I need to. Again, it's not stupidity, it's time and attention budgeting. The problem is not simply that these few have a warped impression which they won't reconsider but they convey this falsehood to others. Arrrgh!


Miriam and Renn


From the word go!

The Fall had been my virtual callling card last summer as I did everything I could to spread the word about it. It was a risk to start the year of this obscure film night with something that was itself an obscurity but it drew my biggest crowd to that date and the most adoration. This magnificent unmarketable piece (then again, I managed to do it) is the sole example of audience members approaching me long afterwards to tell me they'd bought their own copies of the film. Satisfaction!

The first time I showed Dellamorte Dellamore was not at Shadows but as part of a series of screenings intended to fill the gap that Dean Mc left one year as he made travel plans. It was well attended but marred by an audience member who had an almost psychopathic disregard for her fellow audience and gossiped loudly through the entire film. No one could shut her up. I almost feared the same thing happening when I showed it this year, like a record with a jump, but it went down a storm.

6ixtynin9, an accelerating gangster tale from Thailand won its day, vindicating the choice to put more comedy in this year. It delighted and surprised its audience.

One of my all time favourites, Little Murders delighted in my second screening of it with a big appreciative audience. It was so good to be part of the constant shared laughter from Donald Sutherland's wedding speech. It would not have had many chances at a non tv audience since its initial flopping back in 1971 but it did the bizz here and made we wonder how many other late night gems would shine in the dark like it did. Then I showed The Offence, a tough, unlovable film from the same year which did more to divide audiences than anything else I've screened. It's tough but stagey, alienating but intelligent. It was loved and hated.

David B who took most of these photos


Despite the winter slump and slow return of audiences in spring I continued my own discovery by sharing these films. I take the responses of the punters seriously. I'll argue a point gruffly at times but I'll also shut up and listen when I'm genuinely surprised by an insight not before encountered. This, for me is the margin of reward for doing all this; to slap it up there on the wall and see how it works for those assembled in the dark before it. Best response was for The Fall for inspiring people to investigate it for themselves and also spread the word. Most weirdly gratifying was Pauline M's token appreciative slap to the cheek for Dogtooth.

Milos M. continued to show great tolerance and patience with my efforts. We were only bumped twice (and once with more than enough time to adjust the program). He continued to offer his studio for my cinema evangelism without complaint and with genuine support.

Thanks be to my lovely regulars who continued to encourage me to continue despite some crushing setbacks and temporary drain of general interest. You are valuable to the world.

Thanks in great gratitude also, to all who attended who were not of my acquaintance and swelled the numbers of this year's triumphs. I didn't get around to meeting nearly enough of you and wish I'd taken more trouble. If you read this, please keep reading.

Even if I don't return to ABC next year or just find the odds too much against I've had three years whose wins have thrilled and whose losses have instructed. That by itself has made me happy. Mean it. Happy.

So, thanks.



  1. Having missed this year of Shadows, it was great to be able to read this blog and see just exactly what I have missed. Bugger!!
    Well done Peter, me old pal, in adding to the education of the masses!

  2. Well, you'll be first off the rank if I return next year. Fingers crossed