Sunday, August 11, 2013

MY MIFF 2013

Foremost, due to the way the festival was erased for me last year it was my great and conscious pleasure to
walk to every screening (and back from most of them). Managing the stairs and seats of the venues I knew I was right not to even attempt it with the cast on my leg last year. I shuddered at the memory of it a few times while nearly tumbling down the stairs of the Forum exit.

The festival club was again a hit with its odd blend of classical splendour and Dr Seuss. I love its cathedral quiet and cloistered protection from the second remarkably frigid winter in a row. A dark and cinematic setting for some searching and bickering o'er a coffee or cider about what we'd just seen.


Catching up on almost all of last year's choices showed how good I'm getting at picking for my own peculiar pleasures. This year was pretty much the same. I missed one through illness but made it to everything else including the sessions I added to the minipass thirteen.

Best of the fest has to be Blancanieves for outright enjoyability. It didn't so much outdo The Artist as a contemporary silent film as it progressed from it. By dispensing with the gimmick of the silent form itself it blasted its way through the light and galloped to its shivery poignant ending with the joy of its own existence. I would've shown it at Shadows. One thing it did so that I didn't expect was to make surprising use of the 4X3 near square we all dismiss as limiting. The aerial shots of Seville's bull ring were breathtaking, filling the narrow frame the way they physically couldn't in scope. But the next big silent film needs to move beyond the period settings and embrace the changes while still using the limitation. That would be a new branch of cinema and I would be in the queue for it.

Others in the toppermost are: Upstream Color for its stubborn strong-arm pioneering beyond the bounds of the sci-fi genre; A Hijacking for its toughness and insistence on the value of committed performance; The Sunnyboy for bringing a lost boy back to us; Act of Killing for making its bizarre premise work and taking us into filthy corners we need to see and doing that through the momentum of the perpetrator's testimony and imagination; and Jin for the courage of its convictions and the boldness of its final tableau.

Of a lesser wow but with their own real power were: Blackbird for its restrained topicality and strong central performances; The East which I've put here for being noticeably lighter than the two previous Marling outings (I miss their audacity and sombreness, here it's mostly the latter) but would like to see the team's continued infiltration into the mainstream; Manuscripts Don't Burn for the fact of its existence against genuine prohibition and still managing to be good cinema; The Daughter for its toughness and ease with allegory; A Touch of Sin for the same reasons as the previous and for its gratuitous beauty (yup, I just typed that); and Good Vibrations for reminding me how much fun my own experience of punk was.

But Gebo and the Shadow, while appreciable as an exercise in adapting from the stage, was not for me. Aim High in Creation subverted itself by trying too much and producing too little, obscuring its own intentions: I wanted that one to blow me away. Expectations too high? Probably.

Outside of these as it was a revival screening I'm going to hold A Quiet Place in the Country aloft for its brashness, anger and the seriousness of its purpose. This is how feature films could be both cultural commentary and decent genre films.

I used to think myself successful at MIFF if I got four great ones out of the thirteen. I tend to choose by personnel and scenario once I've satisfied my requirement of a few screenings at my beloved Forum. The rest I'll let a few keywords guide me or perhaps a region from which I've seen too little. With that kind of decision making I'm easy on the judgement if I draw more than half poor to middling. The last few, though, have shown me choosing better. This is partly due to the vitality that the Michelle Carey led efforts of the last three years have resulted in a spicier banquet table but also partly due to my being able to spot things I like and others I might be challenged by. So, in two ways it's getting better.

If I lament the lack of anticipated movies in the line up I think it says more about what's out there than the organisers' choices.

My first experience of the Android app was mighty. Great instant info on session availability The two festivals I'd gone to previously were in the transition between the plastic card system and the apps so they were all about printing out paper tickets which annoyed me. The best way to do that was to print out as may sessions on as few sheets of paper as possible and keep them nice until they were scanned. It was horrible.

The cards were faultless but the last two festivals that used them didn't get them to their owners in good stress-relieving time and there were vaguely identified administrative problems that caused not only this but some misaddressing. I had to go and queue for my replacement for my last one, the very thing they were intended to eradicate. But the app puts the delivery into the hands of the punter and it's available on the day the program is released. A few tech hiccups I can deal with happily. A few app updates and everything worked perfectly well before the festival kicked off.

Turning up with my phone, as I would anyway, with all my tickets and session info and any last minute texting for organisation etc could not be easier. It even looked good and was a breeze to navigate and vote with.

One thing that annoyed me about it, now I think of it was the weird thing that happened every time I tried to rate a movie. It told me I had to log in for that when in every single case I was logged in already. It took logging out and then back in to work. A small gripe but a real one.


Ever since I found at the end of an interminable wait in the freezing rain on Russell St that I would have got my favourite seat if I'd just sat in the warm foyer in filed in after everyone else, I've stopped queueing. This has led to a much easier mooded festival. As I said elsewhere, it also drove the last nail in the coffin for the appeal of festival membership for me. I only had to queue once as the person I was seeing the film with had a problem sitting too close. I was happy to oblige, especially as I didn't quite see how close I was to the head of the queue (and then watched in quietly seething vindication as the front three rows filled last).

"Only the best films make the cut"? Has it been used for three years now? It hangs off the artwork like a sheep's dag and makes me wonder what a giant plaster figure of a scarfed and beret-ed winterbod would look like in Fed Square just outside of ACMI: the Big Cinephile welcomes you to all the magic of the movies at MIFF 13!

When I played my band's album to my Dad decades ago he approved and said it sounded very professional. I winced because it was the kind of thing you'd say about a covers band. We were meant to be original and fresh. Dad was only trying to be nice and, being of soundly technical mind, chose an industrial reference for his compliment. If anyone my age and of my poste punque stylings (however desperate) had said that to me they might as well have called it mainstream. That's what this tagline reminds me of. You may as well call it a festival of world-class films

I spent the first week under the cloud of the last wave of this year's epic cold. The fever and fatigue got so powerful that it obliterated the day I would have enjoyed watching Rhino Season. I might have been able to swap the session for the following Sunday but I kept thinking I might feel better as the start time approached. Not so. Also I was visited by something I've been plagued by since childhood, ear ache and ear blockage the latter of which defeated the nurse's best assaults upon it with a warm water syringe. A week of regular attacks on it with a kind of earwax napalm and her second attempt broke through and my personal stereo got its left speaker back. And my balance, that came back too.


I can't remember which year it was but there was once a MIFF trailer that worked as both a joke and celebration. Two people seen through a shop window get hot 'n' heavy on the shop counter. The guy tries to close the metal security screens but can only get them so far and we end up with what looks like a scope ratio image of a love scene. Funny, but when the joke wore out it was still sharp and clever, inviting, enticing.

Subsequent trailers have mostly been embarrassing jokes with what a brother of mine used to award a high ph level (ph=pensioner humour), glimpses of high naughtiness that would have proudly made it into sketch shows of those tired comedians from the 70s like Dick Emery and Benny Hill.

When I first saw this year's I thought, wow, they've done it. A clip from a Chinese movie. A woman stabs a man and the motion slows to a crawl as we see him reel back and eventually collapse. How beautiful an image, its campiness saving its violence from confrontation, the fluidity of the motion mesmerising. And then the bogan voice comes in with the cringingly try hard yobbo-party-Monty-Python crap about it being unrealistic. It's down there with the "oh-really" lameness of the Elegant Gentleman's Guide to Knife Fighting. There's an old tv commercial whose punchline is how a lovely photo of a pair of old dears at the beach is annihilated by the sudden appearance of a fat guy in a g-string going past. This trailer reminds me of that (and I don't mean its punchline).

A joke trailer might be good for about three viewings if it's a good joke. If it's a painfully bad one like this it doesn't even get through the first viewing and if you have to see it at every screening you have to find ways of zoning out. It only goes for about two minutes but, Christ, they're long ones. Everyone I spoke to about it was puzzled by the direction of its marketing. Is the boganism of it dissing MIFF audiences who supposedly would have only a welcoming response to the scene's traditions and its own humour and- That's the other thing! It's like: when someone jokes and a resentful other wants to top it despite a sudden lack of material the resenter will mock the joker, hoping that everyone else will go with the negativity. The ploy works only if the riposte has enough contempt in it to engender timidity or the one doing it stands higher in the pecking order. But when some shithead thinks he's being witty by diverting from the value of this clip he's invoking all the smudgy philistinism of anyone who would ridicule this kind of festival it's too much. Even a stranger who sat next to me at one movie expressed her distaste for it and composed an impromptu hymn of hatred while it was on before the lights lowered and we could once again forget it ... until next time.

Oh, so it's a self-reflexive joke. No, it bloody isn't. Not once did even a third of the audience greet this crap with laughter. At every session the only laughter I heard that could conceivably have been in response to this embarrassment was a few lonely titters falling dead from somewhere in the back seats where sit the blind and the timid of heart.

Oh, come on, it's just a joke, isn't it? If it's a joke why isn't it funny? Why do I only know it's meant to be funny?

How about in the future we just celebrate what the festival is about. If the Carey Administration can do such a good job at freshening what was becoming a welcome but weary event, can't they ditch the jokes of a bad date and seduce us a little with style and charm?

Why is it that cretins think they are the smartest people in the room? The Melbourne Horror Society reported on Facebook that there had been a lot of laughter at the screening of Deep Red, the Dario Argento classic thriller. I wasn't there for that but I'm glad I wasn't. I've been at those occasions before where sections of the audience want to show how far above the movie they are. It happened to a small degree at the screening of A Quiet Place in the Country. And then there's that over-protested incredulity, the laugh that sounds like "or whore whore whore whore whore!" and seems to contain everything but actual mirth. Hey, none of the acting on screen that you are trying to ridicule is as wooden as yours! Folks, relax and engage, just relax and engage. There will be laughs along the way both intentional and unintentional but these things you're guffawing at are NEVER that funny. EVER!

Other than that the audiences at my screenings were by and large there for the movie. They got into what they saw. Pleasantly, there feels like a lowering of tolerance of loungeroomism (talking, phoning, tweeting etc). One strong sharp voice at Upstream Color stopped some git from phoning and at the same screening a woman made her way from the back to the front to demand that some goof there shut his screen off. As for commentators who think their clunkingly obvious observations on what is going on onscreen: where the fuck do you think you are? SHUT UP! People have paid for the film's soundmix, not your smugness.

To the bizarre people who place their coccyxes on the very edge of their seats so that their legs jam against the seats in front of them are headed for well-deserved back pain. They will, if goofy-minded enough, elect chiropractic over physiotherapy which means that instead of a month of treatment it will be years of near-effective improvements during which time they will be so heavily indoctrinated with anti-vaxxer and anti-flouride bullshit that they will emerge toothless vectors of whooping cough and measles. Or ... they could try lodging their buttocks in the corner created by the seat cushion and the back (or sitting up straight which is how the seats are designed). It's more comfortable. You can sit more calmly for longer without fidgeting.


This is the crowning event of my favourite season in this city. I love the contrast of darkened cinema and bright cold sunshine outside on a morning session or the great steely grey of a big Melbourne rain greeting my rugged up self after a movie with a tropical setting. Chowing down to chips and beer for a mid afternoon postmortem in the big dark cave of the lower floor of the Forum. I love strolling along Flinders St still in the haze of the film I've been living in for the past ninety minutes, picking something that goes well with coffee from a shop and walking, yes, brilliant one foot in front of the other motion that failed me last year. This is a holiday to other corners of the cosmos of imagination, their colours and conceits, all packaged in the constantly relieving chill of winter. My summers are languid and more social. I take longer off for them. But this capsule of transcendence is the one I think of with a thrill.

Upstream Color


  1. Delighted with your aside about the appalling "Elegant Gentlemen" and their post-comedic, narcissistic horror show. Also agree that this is a beautiful time of year; the variety of grey tones, the sudden clear bursts of light, with their veiled threat of summer. The first shy blossoms, the oddly saturated afternoon colours.
    As for the festival, miffed to miss it due to a locomotion difficulty.

    1. "Post-comedic" is now my favourite slight on attempted comedy(for which, many thanks). I'm going to set the champagne bottle swingin toward the bow of my use of it by applying it 3RRR's strained Lime Champions. Good to hear from you, VJ, been a long time since we wrecked and reeled.