Cannes 2010


63rd Cannes Film Festival

12-23 May 2010, Cannes, France

Cannes Festival website

Pamela Jahn reports back from the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.

Complaining about lacklustre films at festivals is a favourite pastime for critics, but it seems that this year interesting films are genuinely harder to find. Still recovering from a disappointingly underwhelming Berlinale edition in icy February, my hopes were high for a more exciting experience of high-profile festival programming on the bright and bustling Croisette. At least on paper, this year’s line-up didn’t look as predictable as in 2009 where the Competition section primarily featured a handful of established old masters such as Palme d’Or winner Michael Haneke (The White Ribbon), a couple of cine-provocateurs of the von Trier and Tarantino variety and some of the most talked-about up-and-comers. Although there was no unexpected breakout gem to impress jury, critics and audience alike, the festival’s 63rd edition offered a late spate of extraordinary finds and must-sees in the Competition and Un Certain Regard section, as well as in the screenings of the Marché du Film.

Among those were Olivier Assayas’s sprawling, yet thoroughly enjoyable five-and-a-half-hour television docu-fiction Carlos, a compelling portrait of one of the world’s most notorious terrorists of the 1970s and 80s, and Pang Ho-Cheung’s excellent slasher Dream Home, which sees a young woman fight back against Hong Kong’s corrupt property market practices in a vicious and brilliantly dark comical way. Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s delicate, dreamy Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives deservedly won the Palme d’Or and – like most of Weerasethakul’s work – stood out as both an artistic and cinematic revelation. Drawing on the Buddhist notion of animism, the film follows an old man in need of kidney dialysis, who returns to the jungle and encounters the ghost of his deceased wife and the monkey spirit of his disappeared son, and also includes a fairy tale about a princess, a slave and a talking catfish. A film of wonderfully subtle emotions, both harrowing and heartening, Uncle Boonmee achieves a soft, yet ambiguous philosophical transcendence that confirms Weerasethakul as one of the most inventive and insightful artist filmmakers of our time.

Among a strong Korean contingent, directors Im Sang-soo and Hong Sang-soo made solid showings with, respectively, The Housemaid and Hahaha, the latter taking home the Un Certain Regard prize. A slick, slow-burning remake of Kim Ki-young’s cult 1960 Korean movie of the same name, Im’s The Housemaid profits hugely from its opulent production design and the performance of Kim Ki-young veteran actress Yoon Yeo-jeong in the role of the elderly housekeeper Byung-sik, yet does not quite produce the exciting result one could have hoped for. Depicting an affair between a rich, narcissistic husband and a newly employed maid, the plot soon turns into a twisted tale of male anxiety, materialism, sexual competition and obsessive psychosis. Perhaps the film is too slickly Hitchcockian for its own good, but there are some great moments, in particular the stunningly violent ending.

Although it was written off by many critics (just like The Housemaid), another notable Competition entry was Takeshi Kitano’s Outrage, his first yakuza gangster film in a decade. Despite the typical crime plot becoming a bit too muddled towards the climax, it was great to see Kitano back on form, both behind and in front of the camera, in what is arguably his most direct and violent film to date.

While Hideo Nakato’s eagerly awaited latest endeavour Chatroom proved very disappointing, one of the strongest films in the Un Certain Regard section was Carancho by Argentine filmmaker Pablo Trapero, whose Lion’s Den impressed us last year. Although not quite as good as its predecessor, Carancho is a well-crafted, tough-as-nails thriller built around the world of ambulance chasers, corrupt hospitals and unscrupulous lawyers who make their money out of late-night traffic accidents and other calamities. Echoing the style and moral decay of 1930s and 1940s Hollywood film noir, it feels at times like Trapero is a little too caught up in his own ambitions to push social realism on screen beyond its usual thematic and emotional boundaries, and to get the right balance in the web of corruption, murder and love that connects Sosa (Ricardo Darín), a legal vulture who is tired of his job, to young ER doctor Luján (Martina Gusman). But as predictable as the narrative is, the procedural set-pieces in which the culmination of car crashes and the couple’s dangerous liaison play out are shot in a handheld style with great old-school skill and energy, and the intense performances by the two leads make for a gripping film that aptly rings alarm bells for the state of the nation.

Another thoroughly enjoyable find was Gregg Araki’s Kaboom, which screened at one of the always well-attended midnight slots. Although the film didn’t turn out to be as stunning and exceptional as one would expect from the American enfant terrible – especially as a follow-up to his wonderful Mysterious SkinKaboom spins a totally out-of-this-world narrative of teen sex, drugs, dreams, cuckoo conspiracies and animal mask-wearing cultists. At the centre of this maelstrom is handsome but shy college student Smith, who secretly lusts for his chav surfer roommate Thor, but prefers hanging out 24/7 with his sarcastic lesbian best friend Stella. It’s a candy-coloured, bizarre, chaotic, silly joyride that wins you over instantly once you abandon yourself to its wackiness. Twin Peaks and Donnie Darko might obviously have been influences for Araki here, but Kaboom is way too soft and outright ridiculous to ever draw you in in the same way. Nevertheless, it’s sexy to look at and a fun piece of cinema for short-term pleasure.

When the official festival programme lets you down, Cannes’ Film Market usually offers plenty of distractions. My personal stand-out was David Michôd’s Australian crime drama Animal Kingdom, which caught my attention as it had just premiered at Sundance, where it deservedly won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize. Animal Kingdom tells the story of Joshua ‘J’ Cody (James Frecheville) and his entry into a world of armed robbery, drugs and murder as he falls into the care of his two uncles, who are working with their business partner Barry ‘Baz’ Brown to protect their eldest brother, the heinous Pope, from the police. Soon Josh gets caught right in the middle of the conflict, but he quickly realises that the only way to survive is to learn how to play the game. Striking a perfect balance between moments of extreme violence and gut-wrenching drama, Animal Kingdom makes for a riveting, thrilling, and in the end, heartbreaking cinematic experience. You could argue that alone made the trip to Cannes worthwhile.

Pamela Jahn

Recycled Film at AV Festival

Mock Up on Mu

AV Festival 10: Energy

Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough (UK)

March 5-14, 2010

AV Festival website

‘You can’t have a city without a library. You can’t have film culture without an archive.’ Craig Baldwin

A biennial beacon of eclectic audiovisual programming that spans Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough, the 2010 AV Festival took up the timely theme of ‘energy’. This was channelled through the form of its Recycled Film programme, an exploration of artists’ use of found footage and archive materials. Including a series of contextual screenings, a day-long symposium and an evening of live performance, the strand opened up an increasingly significant area of moving image practice.

A maverick figure in this area, Rick Prelinger premiered his new film The Lives of Energy, plus a collage of thematic works from his collection. He also kicked off the symposium with a mind-bending keynote speech. As an archivist with a collection of mainly industrial and educational films, Prelinger has taken the radical move of putting over 2,000 films online at for people to access, download and use with a Creative Commons Public Domain license.

Prelinger isn’t pioneering simply in his embrace of new business models though. He also disseminates ideas, as crystallised in his manifesto ‘On the Virtues of Preexisting Material’. Acknowledging a US-centric position to his rhetoric, Prelinger explained in his speech that American archives are often the preserve of private entrepreneurs, rather than attached to larger bureaucracies, as in Europe. Copyright law is vastly different too. Prelinger estimates 500,000 films are out of copyright in the US, compared to a fraction of that amount in the UK.

Thereafter talk of copyright ceased for fear of leading the symposium down a rabbit hole, and it was only referred to as the C word by all save artist Vicki Bennett who stated: ‘It would cost me £200,000 to clear copyright within the clip of the film you are about to see.’

‘Fans will save the media.’ Rick Prelinger

Much of the appeal of Prelinger’s talk concerned the real-life nuances his experience with the archive provides. It’s handled around 50,000-60,000 downloads, but he said that while many people will download for free on a Creative Commons license, others want to pay for paper indemnification. Prelinger has felt the tangible effects of the gift economy, but reminded us that you need to encourage people to knock on the door.

In this context, he cited Wired co-founder Kevin Kelly’s 1,000 True Fans theory (if an artist can encourage a thousand true fans to spend a small amount per year, they can earn a living). While it’s been proven flawed by many, including Kelly himself, extended to archives, it demonstrates an optimism and openness that doesn’t clash with Prelinger’s respect and enthusiasm for the people carrying out the core responsibility to preserve collections. ‘We need to applaud guardianship while criticising excessive deference to rights holders,’ he stated.

The keynote was a tough act to follow, and while it wasn’t a call to arms to place all collections online, it fell to Rebecca Cleman of Electronic Arts Intermix to express the nervousness many collections, gallerists and artists feel about opening up access, particularly when operating within the scarcity model of selling limited editions, or coveting particular types of exposure.

However, Cleman cited several contemporary artists in the EAI collection who are pushing things forward. Ryan Trecarthin, Cory Arcangel and Seth Price all have commercial galleries as well as a strong online presence, and Cleman suggested looking to such artists on strategies moving forward.

Drawing a distinction between the work of public archives and that of distributors’ collections, Mike Sperlinger of Lux put forward a critique of the levelling effect of the internet. ‘In contemporary art, context is a key element,’ he stated. ‘This is less charged for filmmakers. It’s not just about scarcity but cultural value and artists’ ways of framing their own work.’

Indeed, the contextual benefit that collections have when they place materials online can be found in the framing offered, with services such as Luxonline and CRAMI (Curatorial Resource for Artists Moving Image) contributing to moving image discourse and expanding the conversation around the works.

Mock Up on Mu

‘Found footage is a folk art.’ Craig Baldwin

An answer to another question raised by Prelinger – a danger of artists’ interactions with archives developing into a uniform aesthetic or style – was provided as several artists spoke about their experiences using found footage and archive material.

The best known UK proponent is Vicki Bennett (aka People Like Us), whose collage films have been making the most of online archives for over 10 years. Bennett is pragmatic about sustaining her practice and puts all her films online, making money from live AV sets, including her storming AV Festival premiere of Genre Collage.

Jon Thomson and Alison Craighead presented their new film A Short Film about War. This is a split-screen work that uses stills from Flickr and actors reading blog fragments as written by people in war zones – soldiers and civilians. With the exact source annotated in real time opposite the images, the film places the origin of the material with laser precision.

Meanwhile a presentation from David Lawson on the work of the Black Audio Collective in the 1980s and 1990s gave further evidence of the political agency archive material can engender. Lawson ended with a short clip from fellow BAC member John Akomfrah’s latest film Mnemosyne. A tone poem premiering at the Public in West Bromwich, it’s the result of a residency managed by another inspirational speaker at the symposium, Dr Paul Gerhardt of Archives for Creativity.

‘Are we enabling people to speak truth to powers?’ Craig Baldwin

‘There is a temptation to look at these films as psycho-cultural documents or as aesthetics kitsch. But these films contributed to filmmaking and the techniques of information-giving,’ Prelinger argued passionately. Dealing with this warning against cultural commodification was Craig Baldwin, artist, archivist, filmmaker and founder of the Other Cinema in San Francisco.

As well as speaking at the symposium and screening his latest feature Mock Up on Mu, Baldwin hauled a suitcase full of 16mm over to Newcastle to lead a workshop at the Star and Shadow for four days during the festival. ‘There’s no disposable film footage in Europe. Every time I run a workshop I have to ship stuff over from the US. For a lot of reasons; one, because there’s overproduction in the US; also we still have 16mm over there; thirdly, because of the war a lot of your archives were destroyed. So for a lot of reasons you can walk down the street in San Francisco, or any city, and find Super8 and 8 track tapes. So that’s my whole theory about overproduction or surfing the wave of obsolescence: in a way we have to recycle and redeem it – redeem the value of film that’s used for the worst kind of commercial purposes.’ And with this magpie-like tendency Baldwin constructs compelling counterculture narratives from the remnants of cinema history.

It’s an exciting time for the engagement of archives and artists, with plenty of opportunity for experimentation and new thinking. For example, there have been a slew of recent projects across the UK funded by the Digital Film Archive Fund (DFAF) in response to the screen heritage policy, which can be viewed alongside work by organisations such as Archives for Creativity.

The Recycled Film symposium provided a comprehensive and diverse introduction to the challenges faced, and suggested that if artists can continue to push the possibilities and institutions are open and entrepreneurial enough, then archive material will continue to offer revolutionary potential.

Kate Taylor

Bodyguards and Assassins: Interview with Teddy Chen

Bodyguards and Assassins

Format: Cinema

Screening: 9 May 2010

Venue: Prince Charles Cinema, London

As part of the Terracotta Far East Film Festival

Terracotta website

Director: Teddy Chen Tak-sum

Writers: Tin Nam Chun, Junli Guo, Bing Wu, James Yuen

Original title: Shi yue wei cheng

Cast: Tony Leung Ka Fai, Donnie Yen, Leon Lai, Nicholas Tse, Eric Tsang, Simon Yam, Fan Bing Bing, Hu Jun, Wang Xue Qi, Zhou Yun

China/Hong Kong 2009

139 mins

The 2010 edition of the Terracotta Festival closed with Teddy Chen’s Bodyguards and Assassins, a spectacular action saga set in Hong Kong in 1905, as historical revolutionary Dr Sun Yat-sen travels to the then British colony to meet with rebel leaders from other Chinese provinces and coordinate the uprising against the Ching dynasty. But the imperial regime has sent assassins to stop him and revolutionary Chen Shaobai puts together a team of ill-assorted and unprepared fighters to protect Dr Sun, with the help of businessman Li Yutang and his son Li Chongguang.

Mixing fact and fiction, the film was a hugely ambitious and expensive project, not least because an entire Hong Kong neighbourhood had to be recreated full scale. Produced by Peter Chan, it was plagued by many problems, including death, financial difficulties and the SARS epidemic and took 10 years to make, a process documented in Hiroshi Fuzakawa’s Development Hell (2009), also presented at the festival. To find out more about the film, Virginie Sélavy talked to Teddy Chen during the Terracotta Festival in London.

VS: You set the story of Bodyguards and Assassins against the background of historical events, namely the revolution led by Sun Yat-sen against the imperial regime of the Ching dynasty. Why did you choose that period of history?

TC: Actually, the film was inspired by a film made by Peter Chan’s father in 1973 [Tung Man Chan’s The Bodyguard]. I started working on this film with Peter 10 years ago. I wanted to mix action with a bigger historical background to make an epic film. It sounded more interesting to me because all my previous films were made up – Purple Storm, The Accidental Spy, they’re not real. I thought about a subject for a long time, but nothing came to me. But then Peter said, ‘I’ll show you a video, it’s about a film that my father made, it’s about protecting Dr Sun’. When I heard this, I knew that was it. Dr Sun was kidnapped in London once and was almost killed in San Francisco by assassins, so I thought this great revolution father could be the background of the story. So it’s not because of the historical period, it’s because of the person.

You focus more on the fictional, unknown characters who helped protect Dr Sun during a visit to Hong Kong, rather than on Dr Sun himself. Why is that?

It’s a human drama. I want all those unsung heroes to move you for different reasons. Some of them don’t even know who the revolution father is, or what the revolution is for. They have their own reasons – they want to prove themselves, they want to die to serve a great cause, or they do it for the next generation, or out of friendship, or for the person they love. Many people have made films like this before, so I wanted to shoot it in a different way and I wanted to focus on why people become unsung heroes.

The film opens with a teacher explaining the idea of democracy to his students before he is assassinated. The message seems to be that you have to make sacrifices to bring about democracy, is that something you believe?

Yes, I totally believe that. We know the names of the famous heroes in every revolution, but there are many more unknown heroes to make the revolution a success. It took over 11 years, place after place in China. The main point I want to make is that there are heroes with no names.

Can the film be taken as a comment on the current situation in China and the desire for more democracy?

Nothing to do with that.

Did you have any problems with the censors in China because of the subject matter of the film?

Five years ago, when we started shooting the film, we had some problems because they had a department called the ‘History Department’ and if my movie had to go through that, I wouldn’t have been able to make it. But now, it’s more open in China, there’s less censorship. The authorities have now recognised that Dr Sun Yat-sen is a revolutionary father. Now there’s a picture of him in the People’s Square – there are five pictures, and one of them is of him. So they think it’s a good film to remind people to love their country.

What was their problem with the film before?

They said I was making up history, that this never happened in Hong Kong in 1905. But now they’re more open, they say ‘OK, it’s a made-up story, but the idea is right’, so they allowed me to make the film. There didn’t even make one cut.

Did you worry that audiences and critics might expect an accurate historical account?

Before we started I was a bit worried. But I think that as long as you fall in love with one of the characters, you will accept the whole story. I try to move the audience – if it works, they don’t care.

The film shows the role that Hong Kong played in the revolution, due to the fact that it was a British colony. Was that an important part of the story for you?

Yes, very important. I wanted to show the attitude of the British. They were not afraid, they didn’t want to be the enemies of the Ching dynasty, but they thought Dr Sun was doing the right thing, so they were in the middle and they said to him, ‘you can come but don’t make problems’. In fact, before 1905 Dr Sun Yat-sen was not allowed to come to Hong Kong because they didn’t want to make the Ching dynasty angry, but after five years the ban was lifted and he was allowed to come. So he really did come to Hong Kong on that day. Some say he didn’t come to the shore, he met people on the boat, but others say that he did, for a few hours. So there are several versions of the history. No one really knows what happened.

How did you recreate Hong Kong in that period?

When we first started we brought the crew, the art designers, etc, and they did some research, but then production stopped and we had to wait year after year. So at first we had a hundred pictures, but after all those years we had thousands, we had lots of research to support the film! Something very touching happened. I’m a Buddhist, I have a master, and he came to visit our set so at lunch time I showed him around. We went to one street and he stared at a staircase leading to the second floor of a building and he said, ‘do you know what was there 80 years ago?’ I said I didn’t. He said, ‘it was a tailor who worked there’. I said, ‘how do you know that?’ He said, ‘it was my father’s shop’. And it was exactly the same. I was so moved. We’d built it exactly as it was. We reconstructed everything according to the pictures. When the film starts, you really go back to 1905.

How important is it to you that Western audiences understand the historical background?

It’s not a documentary, it’s a drama! You don’t need to know what is real or not. As long as you go along with the characters, you will follow the story.

How did you create the different characters of the bodyguards?

It’s kind of a calculation. If they were all doing it for the revolution, for the same reason, I don’t think the audience would love every single character. But if they have different reasons, you might fall in love with one of them and you might like the other ones and follow the story. I want to make an action film that women also love because it’s a touching story. Until a few years ago, action films were men’s films, but if women love it, it’s not because of the action, the action just supports the film, it’s because of the characters and the emotions.

The scene where the push-chair containing Li Chongguang rolls backwards down the stairs, chased by the chief of the imperial soldiers, reminded me of the famous scene of the Odessa steps in Battleship Potemkin, which also shows revolutionaries rising against imperial power. Was it a conscious reference?

It did inspire us. But it is a mainstream action film, a traditional Hong Kong film, so it should have a fighting scene at the end. At the same time, it is a kind of tragedy, so many people have risked their lives, and the young boy is last. But you don’t have to try and sustain the action, you have to let people think, it’s not just an action film. So that’s when we brought in the scene you mentioned. The staircase was good for us. We spent a lot of money building it, it’s a very iconic place in Hong Kong. The rickshaw is also famous in Hong Kong. We used the staircase to extend the time to let the audience think about what the point of the film is.

The very last shot of the film is Dr Sun’s face on the boat back to China. Why did you choose to end on that image?

A lot of people said, ‘Why did he come? So many people got killed’. But Hong Kong was the only place where he could go and meet the other revolutionaries because it was a British colony and the Ching dynasty couldn’t do much about it. That’s why I wanted people to realise that this man knew that people would have to be sacrificed but still he had to come. Revolution is sacrifice, you have to think big, you can’t stop.

Interview by Virginie Sélavy

Cine-Excess 2010: The Movie Orgy

Poster for Tarantula

Cine-Excess 2010: Corporeal Excess: Cult Bodies

Odeon Covent Garden, London

April 29 – May 1, 2010

Cine-Excess website

‘The 50s were a great time to be a kid, because the whole culture was so juvenile.’
Joe Dante

‘Go get ’em, midnight!’ says the scarred man, sending his trained horse down by itself to attack the two riders in the valley below. ‘Lousy cops, always crowding a guy,’ snarls a teen hoodlum anti-hero swerving his car to avoid a back projection. Later he’ll be beaten up in a clumsy cafe brawl that he starts with the line ‘you’re outta your class, throttle jockey!’ Alfred Hitchcock pops up, presenting something. Then there’s Naked City spliced with a stag reel. The Lone Ranger patronises Tonto, Nabisco cereals are giving away ‘Defenders of America’ cards with their shredded wheat, baseball cards depicting US submarines, planes and missiles to warm the heart of your little cold warriors. The sponsors of Robin Hood, Wildroot Cream Oil, proudly announce that it ‘contains lanolin and cholesterol’, and on it goes: George Reeves’s Superman, Abbot and Costello, Rin Tin Tin, Bufferin and Lifebuoy soap, Alpha Bites cereal and Lustre Creme….

This is Joe Dante’s Movie Orgy, a hand-spliced avalanche of mostly monochrome pop culture, adverts, TV shows, B-movies, and whatever else Dante could find, made in 1968 and then toured round college campuses for the next two years. Screenings were supported by Schlitz beer, and the full thing lasted for seven hours (Dante: ‘after the third hour it got funny’). I’m watching a 90-minute edit courtesy of Cine-Excess, the cult film conference, and then sticking around as the charming Mr Dante is interviewed by Kim Newman afterwards. There was only ever one print of The Movie Orgy, and it played 200 dates, constantly falling apart, being added to, cut and re-spliced. No permission was sought for the use of the Orgy footage, and it carries a sly 68 anti-Establishment charge; Vietnam hangs heavily in the background (a trailer for John Wayne’s The Green Berets is one of the few contemporary clips to turn up), and the sexual and racial attitudes of the 50s are repeatedly brought into question. You can almost smell the dope smoke as you watch it today.

The teen hoodlum flick is called Speed Crazy, the cheapo Western remains unnamed, a random pattern that continues throughout; we know that Teenagers from Outer Space and The Giant Gila Monster are in there, and devotees will recognise Bert I Gordon’s The Beginning of the End and Jack Arnold’s Tarantula, but for much of the rest we’re on our own in a world devoid of explanation, the only context being provided by juxtaposition. Whole features are hacked down to their essentials, mined for weirdness and hilarity, the stuff that Dante and friends found funny at NYU at the time, and the stuff that they thought was cool when they were nine years old. At times it resembles a teenage mix tape made with love, at others a scabrous unveiling of the American subconscious, and mostly it’s a goofy mess. With its hand-lettered titles, varying sound levels, clicks, pops and hisses, it’s a distinctly low-fidelity experience, but that adds to its crude power. It’s like Andy Warhol via Mad Magazine, and though it’s largely shapeless there’s a definite method in the madness somewhere. Dante recalls that the original epic ended with a solid 20 minutes or so of the closing moments of dozens of different old shows, and the whole ‘happy trails, buckaroos’ montage would reduce most of the hardy souls who had sat through the whole thing to tears. In a world without video, DVD or the internet, all this material, this 50s juvenilia, had disappeared from people’s lives, and The Movie Orgy dredged it up, sliced it into pieces and fed it back to the viewers, in what must have been a strange and heady experience. Dante had the idea for The Movie Orgy after noting the popularity of a college screening of a complete 1940s Batman serial over five hours. Without the week-long wait between episodes that characterised the original run the audience were made forcefully aware of the repetitions of footage, the outrageous cheat cliff-hanger endings, and all the absurdities and narrative contortions of the type of entertainment that they had doubtless accepted at face value when they were children.

Susan Sontag’s influential essay on camp had recently been published, and The Movie Orgy followed its lead: to be included, footage had to be played totally straight, otherwise it wasn’t funny, and it should ideally push the buttons of the baby boomers in the audience. Rules are made to be broken, and some knowing satirical clips appear amid the Howdy Doody and Puralin, but for the most part it’s an unpolished, disarming trawl through the cathode ray hinterland I only knew through Drew Friedman’s genius comic strips. Here they are, the aging music hall comedians, hard-sell commercials and nightmarish kids’ shows, a festival of hokey staging and stiff delivery. It’s baffling and alarming and hilarious by turns; one moment you could be watching an ad for the Little Hostess Buffet set ‘by Marx’, a toy full dinner service for the career-free little girl, the next you’re pitched into the sheer proto-Lynchian hell of Andy’s Gang, where a live cat and mouse (Midnight and Squeaky) have been strapped into torture devices so that they can be filmed playing Salvation Army drums from a variety of angles while a distressed-looking fat man warbles ‘Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so’ over the footage. It’s a good thing that the kids in the Andy’s Gang audience are provided by stock footage, otherwise they would be screaming in abject terror, as I would have been had I not been laughing so damned hard.

I would love The Movie Orgy for this sequence alone, and there’s plenty more where that came from. It’s a social document from the heady days of revolution, it’s a post-war treasure trove, and for Joe Dante fans it’s a touchstone. This is where the strait-laced dialogue from Mant, Matinee‘s film-within-a-film came from; here’s the first evidence of the anti-corporate, anti-military creator of Gremlins, Small Soldiers and The Homecoming; hell, here’s even the puerile knucklehead who had a hand in Amazon Women on the Moon. It’s a gas. Now, let’s get the full seven-hour cut over, somebody score some Schlitz beer and home-grown, pull up a beanbag, let’s watch this bastard properly.

Mark Stafford

The Movie Orgy (Joe Dante, USA, 1968) screened at Cine-Excess on April 29.

Nippon Connection 2010

Island of Dreams

Nippon Connection

Frankfurt, Germany

April 14-18, 2010

Nippon Connection website

Nippon Connection is now firmly established as the biggest festival of Japanese cinema held annually outside of Japan, and 2010 marked the 10th anniversary of the event with a diverse programme that ranged from major studio releases to independent films and digital video productions; the line-up included Toshiaki Toyoda’s psychedelic jidaigeki The Blood of Rebirth (2009) and Shûichi Okita’s warmly received documentary The Chef of South Polar (2009), while Momoko Ando’s Kakera: A Piece of Our Life (2009) maintained its festival profile en route to potential crossover success. Appropriately enough for a festival in its 10th year, the Nippon Retro strand revisited some of the highlights of the past nine years, such as Takeshi Kitano’s Dolls (2002), Shinya Tsukamoto’s Vital (2004) and Michael Arias’s Tekkon Kinkreet (2006). Festivities were sadly undermined by the eruption of a certain Icelandic volcano, although the variety of films and other events (workshops devoted to voicing animé and shiatsu massage, lectures about Japanese television drama and Haruki Murakami’s latest literary opus), not to mention the generous hospitality of the Nippon Connection team, meant that few were particularly concerned about their flight arrangements until the festival was winding down. Hopefully, some of the following films will make the move from the festival circuit to general release in the next 12 months.

A Big Gun (Hajime Ohata, 2008)
When their ironworks is threatened with closure due to a lack of clients, the owner and his brother accept a proposition from a local gangster: to manufacture 10 copies of a revolver and to deliver the weapons by a strict deadline. When they are then expected to make more guns despite not receiving payment, they take matters into their own hands. For the most part, A Big Gun is a sparse, intense examination of the financial difficulties facing businesses in small communities, and the desperate measures that some resort to in order to stay afloat, although the realism is somewhat undermined by a climactic lurch into ‘splatter film’ territory. A Big Gun was programmed alongside the altogether less focused Schneider (Yusuke Koroyasu, 2009), which explores how tensions in a small town community are accelerated when the owner of a restaurant goes missing. Schneider also features some shocking violence in its third act, and once again questions the effectiveness of law enforcement in rural areas.

Crows Zero II (Takashi Miike, 2009)
Crows Zero focused on a cast of teenage thugs whose ability to miraculously heal from even the most savage beating made it inevitable that they would all be back for a sequel that would up the ante in the brutality stakes. Genji (Shun Oguri) is now the top dog at Suzuran High School, but he has yet to fully unite all the factions, and must now face challenges from outside the institution. Takashi Miike delivers a testosterone-fuelled, youth-orientated action movie, which fully subscribes to the rule that sequels must be bigger, longer and louder – but not necessarily better – than their predecessors. With one particular fight sequence running for 27 minutes, there is little time for character development, and nominal hero Genji only manages three scenes with his love interest, the club singer played by Meisa Kuroki, between hyper-kinetic punch-ups and the navigation of plot machinations, which may not be entirely clear to those not familiar with the original manga.

Island of Dreams (Tetsuichiro Tsuta, 2008)
A young man works on Dream Island, an artificial wasteland in Tokyo made entirely of trash, and becomes a terrorist bomber. A police detective is assigned the task of tracking him down, and struggles to grasp the motivations for his crimes. Clearly influenced by the thrillers that Seijun Suzuki churned out in an almost unbelievably prolific manner in the 1960s, Island of Dreams is a rare Pia film that works as a genre exercise rather than as a social statement. The police procedural dialogue is leaden, and this is yet another thriller where the detective cracks the case by using Google and proceeds to provide exposition by reading from his laptop screen, but Island of Dreams excels when it is on the move; a foot chase through crowded city streets that takes in an underground club and the climactic race against time are both superbly handled.

Kaiji (Toya Sato, 2009)
Kaiji is a noncommittal job-hopper who lives month-to-month with little concern for his long-term financial security. When he suddenly finds himself burdened with a debt of two million yen due to the non-payment of a loan that he casually co-signed for a friend, Kaiji is forced to play a high-risk game onboard a cruise ship to try and clear it. It’s an ingenious premise, one that recalls the sinister escapism of David Fincher circa The Game (1997) and comments on current economic conditions in recession-hit countries where people are paying the price for taking out ‘easy’ credit. Unfortunately, Kaiji is undermined by an irritating central performance by Tatsuya Fujiwara, which makes the titular protagonist pathetic rather than emphatic, while Yuki Amani is merely window-dressing as the initially icy, ultimately sympathetic credit collector. An over-reliance on fast edits and swirling camera movements makes Kaiji an unfortunate case of a neat idea undermined by erratic execution.


Miyoko (Yoshifumi Tsubota, 2009)
Shinichi Abe became a well-known manga artist in the early 1970s due to his stories in Garo magazine, expressionistic portraits of doomed relationships that mirrored his own partnership with Miyoko, his regular model and later girlfriend and wife. This quasi-biopic of Abe represents the continuation of two trends in Japanese cinema: films about artists, either real or fictionalised, and films about long-suffering wives who stay with men who leave them unfulfilled. Miyoko moves at the same measured pace as Takeshi Kitano’s superficially similar Achilles and the Tortoise (2008), but is more lurid in tone and, by the time that Abe has acknowledged his schizophrenia, the audience probably feels as far removed from him as his strangely devoted spouse. The hermetically sealed world of Miyoko may not be particularly easy to engage with, but the film effectively blurs the real with the imagined as comic book panels fade in and out and the dual identities of Abe and Miyoko are emphasised through graphic re-enactments of the narratives that were published in Garo.

Oh, My Buddha! (Tomorowo Taguchi, 2008)
Jun is a first-year student at an all-boys Buddhist high school, who is more interested in listening to Bob Dylan and writing songs than he is in studying. He travels with two friends to the island of ‘free love’ for his summer vacation, hoping to lose his virginity, but things do not quite go to plan, and on his return to school he still struggles to break free of his middle-class constraints. Tomorowo Taguchi’s second feature is ostensibly a teen sex comedy, but Oh, My Buddha! is actually a much more culturally acute coming-of-age movie, mainly due to its copious references to pop culture; there are comparisons to Dylan ‘going electric’ as Jun listens backstage as a raucous rock ‘n’ roll group excite the crowd gathered in the high school gym, and realises that his heartfelt folk songs need more of an edge if he is going to compete. It is not clear whether the title refers to the three men who mentor Jun at various stages (his hippie tutor, the proprietor of the youth hostel, his father) or the counter-culture figure of Dylan that he worships, but Oh, My Buddha! is a genuine crowd-pleaser that blends brisk pacing with warm nostalgia.

One Million Yen Girl (Yuki Tanada, 2008)
Lightweight but likable, One Million Yen Girl finds writer-director Yuki Tanada following previous festival successes Moon and Cherry (2004) and Ain’t No Tomorrows (2008) with the story of Suzuko, a 21-year-old who moves from town to town, trying to conceal the fact that she has served a short jail sentence for a minor offence. Suzuko lives and works in each town until she has saved up one million yen (the amount needed for rent, deposit and fees in her next temporary home), and tries to avoid forming attachments to those she encounters. The irony of One Million Yen Girl is that, for all her moving around, Suzuko finds much the same experience in each town; a mundane job, the discovery of some ‘hidden’ talent, and a potential boyfriend. Tanada’s humour is mostly of an observational nature, although there is a hysterical scene in which a town council demands that Suzuko become their ‘peach girl’ and represent the community in an advertising campaign. Yû Aoi is almost defiantly low-key in the title role, building on her turn as a pizza-girl-turned-recluse in Bong Joon-ho’s segment of Tokyo (2008), and convincingly conveying the burden of a young woman who feels that she has brought shame to her immediate family.

Toad’s Oil (Kôji Yakusho, 2009)
Kôji Yakusho directs himself as Takuro, a private trader who takes great delight in earning – and even in losing – vast sums of money on the stock exchange, but has become somewhat disconnected from his family. When his son Takuya falls into a coma due to a collision with a van, Takuro learns about his offspring’s life through the history in his mobile phone. Making contact with his son’s girlfriend, Takuro keeps the youthful romance alive through a series of conversations and deceptions. Just as the film seems to be playing as an extended advert for the benefits of cellular technology, Toad’s Oil embarks on a wayward road trip when Takuya passes away and Takuro and his son’s best friend Saburo make the journey to Mount Fear to lay his remains to rest. There is a great running joke about the amount of money that Takuro pays in taxes, and the patriarch’s encounter with a black bear is also fitfully amusing. The more contemplative moments do cause pacing problems, but Toad’s Oil is a heartfelt directorial debut that offers some rich insight into Japanese familial life amid the occasional indulgences.

Zero Focus (Isshin Inudo, 2009)
In 1957, the naïve Teiko (Ryoko Hirosue) enters into an arranged marriage with Kenichi, a Tokyo-based employee of an advertising agency. Seven days after their wedding, Kenichi takes a business trip to Kanazawa, his previous posting, but when he does not return, Teiko becomes suspicious and launches her own investigation. Upon arrival in Kanazawa, Teiko encounters two other women who may hold the key to her husband’s disappearance; Sachiko (Miki Nakatani), the socially prominent supporter of a female candidate for the role of mayor, and Hisako (Tae Kimura), a company receptionist who was appointed despite lacking the required qualifications. It is debatable as to whether this second adaptation of Seicho Matsumoto’s novel (following the 1969 film by Yoshitaro Nomura) is entirely necessary, although this latest cinematic incarnation of Zero Focus is impeccably crafted; the story may deal with a particular period in Japanese history, but its cinematic reference points are Douglas Sirk and Hollywood dramas aimed at a largely female audience. The lead actresses are uniformly excellent, with Nakatani offering a chilling portrait of rural royalty and Hirosue subtly conveying Teiko’s shift from optimism to disillusionment.

John Berra

The Virtues of Restriction: The Hide and Other Cinematic Enclosed Locations

The Hide

Format: DVD

Date: 11 January 2010

Distributor: ICA Films

Director: Marek Losey

Writer: Tim Whitnall

Cast: Alex Macqueen, Phil Campbell

UK 2008

82 mins

On the Isle of Sheppey, birdwatcher Roy (Alex Macqueen) settles into a remote hide in the hope of spotting a rare sociable plover to add to his checklist of ornithological species recorded in the British Isles. With his buttoned-down appearance, use of a pen that was given to him by his mother, and habit of talking to a photograph of his wife, Roy does not seem like someone who is well-suited to spending time with others, but he soon has company in the hide when he reluctantly takes in the mysterious Dave (Phil Campbell) during a downpour. The two men engage in awkward exchanges, which are indicative of their opposing social backgrounds, although they eventually bond over chicken paste sandwiches. However, it soon becomes apparent that his new acquaintance may not merely be a man out for a stroll without the appropriate attire, although Roy’s own behaviour is odd enough to suggest that audience loyalty should not be too readily placed.

The concept of strangers engaging in a combative, yet subtly humorous, game of psychological cat-and-mouse in an enclosed location is by no means new, but with its barely concealed class warfare, Marek Losey’s debut feature The Hide makes for a particularly British addition to a rapidly growing sub-genre. The Hide was adapted by Tim Whitnall from his own play, and the roots of this cinematic tradition could be seen to be theatrical; Wait until Dark (1967), in which an Oscar-nominated Audrey Hepburn plays a recently blinded woman who is terrorised by a trio of crooks searching for the stash of heroin that they believe to be in her apartment, originated as a 1966 play by Frederick Knott. Sleuth, Anthony Shaffer’s 1970 play, was filmed by Joseph L Mankiewicz in 1972, then again by Kenneth Branagh in 2007, and revolves around the battle of wits between an ageing mystery writer and his wife’s young lover, with their psychological duel taking place around the former’s country estate. Robert Altman’s screen version of Donald Freed and Andrew M Stone’s Secret Honour (1984) concerns one man in his office, with the man being Richard Nixon (Phillip Baker Hall) and his stream-of-consciousness monologue taking in the Watergate scandal and his subsequent resignation.

However, some formidable cinematic talents were exploring the cramped confines of restricted space before the aforementioned theatrical transfers. One of the earliest examples of the sub-genre is Alfred Hitchock’s Lifeboat (1944), which concerns the survivors of a ship torpedoed by a German U-boat, which has also been sunk by engaging in combat with their vessel. The survivors pull another man out of the water, but when he turns out to be the captain of the German U-boat, discussion turns from how the group will survive to what they should do with the enemy in their midst. In 1954, the Master of Suspense would deliver Rear Window, a classic thriller concerning a wheelchair-bound photographer (James Stewart), who spies on his neighbours out of boredom, only to come to suspect that the resident across the courtyard may have murdered his wife. The more socially conscious Sidney Lumet also weighed in with 12 Angry Men (1957), which takes place almost entirely in a jury room where 12 nameless men decide whether a teenage boy accused of murdering his father is guilty; Lumet employed telephoto lenses to enhance the sweaty atmosphere of the room as juror 8 (Henry Fonda) gradually persuades the others to reconsider their verdict.

The seemingly restrictive elements of films set in confined spaces (one location, small cast, emphasis on dialogue over action) has made the sub-genre extremely appealing to independent filmmakers working with limited resources. However, these films often break the unwritten rules of the sub-genre; James Wan’s Saw (2004) opens with two men waking up at opposite sides of a filthy bathroom, with a dead body between them, while Simon Brand’s comparatively little-seen Unknown (2006) begins with five men coming around in a locked-down warehouse with no memory of who they are or how they got there. However, Saw segues into flashbacks to show how the captive men came to be in their predicaments, while Unknown alternates between desperate escape attempts and the parallel FBI investigation. Even Quentin Tarantino’s legendary debut Reservoir Dogs (1992), which takes place in an abandoned warehouse where a gang of sharp-suited criminals have arranged to rendezvous following the heist, is interspersed with flashbacks to the ill-fated jewellery store robbery and the assembly of the crew.

Two independently financed examples of the sub-genre that do not play as fast and loose with its conventions are Vincenzo Natali’s ingenious Cube (1997) and David Slade’s gripping Hard Candy (2005). In Cube, six strangers wake up in a cubical maze and have to use their combined skills to defy a series of death traps in order to escape, with Natali offering ingenious science fiction on a bargain-basement budget by utilising the same set repeatedly and simply redressing it. Hard Candy opens with an establishing scene in a trendy coffee shop as 14-year-old Hayley (Ellen Page) meets up with charming photographer Jeff (Patrick Wilson) with whom she has corresponded on the internet, but soon relocates to Jeff’s suburban home, where his underage ‘admirer’ drugs and tortures him, convinced that he is a paedophile who uses internet chat rooms as a virtual hunting ground. Hard Candy flirts with the morally questionable ‘torture porn’ of the Saw franchise in a scene in which Hayley freezes Jeff’s body from the waist down in order to emasculate him but, as with The Hide, the film is more interested in toying with the sympathies of the audience, suggesting that Hayley may have accused the wrong man.

If the contemporary confined space films that have emerged from the independent sector have been conceived as vehicles for directors to prove their creativity, the major studio productions that have followed their lead have served as showcases for established stars, as with Rear Window and Wait until Dark in earlier eras. In Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth (2002), Colin Farrell’s slick hustler unravels due to taunts from the sniper who has him in his sights, while in 1408 (2007), John Cusack’s cynical writer spends a night in a ‘haunted’ room at a New York hotel, encountering some instances of paranormal activity before descending into madness as the décor of the room comes to reflect the demons within his own psyche. Both stars acquit themselves admirably, although the studio trappings of Phone Booth and 1408 entail that the audience never has any doubt that the trapped protagonist of either film will not fail to find a way out of their respective predicament.

As indicated, films that take place in a confined space usually find increasingly frayed tempers resulting in irrational action, with John Hughes’s high school detention drama The Breakfast Club (1985) and Kevin Smith’s convenience store comedy Clerks (1994) standing out as rare humorous entries in a sub-genre that is better exemplified by the almost unbearable claustrophobia of Wolfgang Petersen’s submarine classic Das Boot (1981), which dives ‘down below’ with the crew of a German U-boat during World War II. It is also a sub-genre that, in contrast to most other forms of cinematic escapism, is becoming logistically smaller as opposed to bigger; 2010 will also see the release of Buried, in which Ryan Reynolds wakes up to find that he has been buried alive inside a coffin with only a cell phone and a lighter to assist him. Although this thriller by Rodrigo Cortés sounds like the finale of George Sluizer’s The Vanishing (1988) stretched to 90 minutes, it does at least promise to add a political dimension to the sub-genre in that the trapped character is an American contractor working in Iraq. The Hide also offers some social-political commentary, with Roy’s discussion of his redundancy and how it has soured his marriage, but it works primarily as a taut, low-key thriller that utilises the confined space of its titular location – not to mention the sparsely atmospheric sounds of the moor on which it is situated – to unsettling effect.

John Berra

This article is part of our ‘Confined Spaces’ theme.

Magic Lanterns


Flatpack Festival

23-28 March 2010, Birmingham

Flatpack website

Title: Comrades

Format: DVD + Blu-ray

Release date: 27 July 2009

Distributor: BFI

Director: Bill Douglas

Writer Bill Douglas

Cast: Keith Allen, Dave Atkins, Stephen Bateman, Vanessa Redgrave, Alex Norton

UK 1986

183 mins

Paris’s Cinémathèque française was closed. I was left staring at locked doors, an expanse of concrete and a poster for a Jim Carrey retrospective. Lemony Snicket wasn’t part of the plan. It was Lanterna Magica I wanted, not Ace Ventura. Still, I resolved to re-trace my metro ride and find my phantasmagoria. The exhibition – ‘Lanterne magique et film peint – 400 ans de cinéma’ – was fairly humble by the standards of a national film institution. Narrow and dimly-lit, the room presented long wooden cabinets simply filled with slides and magic lantern apparatus spanning nearly four centuries. There were some projections and cornered-off screening rooms but, on the whole, the viewer could leisurely pore over and ponder these illuminated glass artworks: from grotesque 18th-century caricatures to delicate, ethereal paintings of polar expeditions; from sentimental 19th-century stories of childhood illness to playful sequences on a skipping rope; from religious didacticism to diabolical, dancing figures of death. Links from the magic lantern to early cinema were plain to see: a painted Muybridge-like sequence of Loie Fuller echoed the Lumière Brothers’ Serpentine Dance (1896); a staged photographic enactment of a lunar voyage mirrored Méliès’s A Trip to the Moon (1902). But with a primarily static presentation of the exhibition, it was left to the imagination to bring the majority of the slides to life. It was an enthralling, wonderful experience to spend a few hours trying, but I was eager to experience a full Lanterna Magica show for myself. The magic lantern bug had started to bite.

Luckily, two months later these enchanting slides came to life for real at Birmingham’s Ikon Eastside Gallery, as part of a special event organised by Flatpack Festival. The show demonstrated Flatpack’s continuing fondness for proto-cinema and early cinematic pioneers. Last year, artist Kevin Timmins presented his bicycle-powered phenakistoscope and filmmaker Mark Simon Hewis talked about making a life-size zoetrope. This year, magic lanternist Mike Simkin and his wife, Teresa, brought their Lanterna Magica to Flatpack audiences. There were travelogues with speeding trains and boats sailing across the channel. There were dancing American sailors and Victorian fairies. And there was my particular favourite: a dissolving view slide, which provided a feast of mesmerising, hypnotic optics, water pouring out of an ornate fountain. Like a strange 19th-century prog-rock video, the vision elicited a round of oohs and aahs from the assembled viewers. Happily, audience participation was actively encouraged as the lanternists asked for sound effects and heckles. This re-enactment of a historical show tied in nicely with the festival’s aim to explore not only film itself, but also how people view film. Elsewhere in the programme, there was a particular focus on the 30s’ cinema-going experience with a bus tour of art deco Odeon cinemas and a talk by Juliet Gardiner sharing surveys and diaries of everyday film enthusiasts. The limited technology – slides were mechanised with cranking handles; they accidently appeared upside down and back to front; they became stuck and were freed to a series of cheers – created a refreshing change from the uniformity of modern cinema experiences. There was a real sense of wonder rippling through the Ikon.

Read about the short films shown at Flatpack 2010.

It was this same magic that had bitten Scottish filmmaker Bill Douglas back in the 1960s. Preceding the magic lantern show, Flatpack hosted a screening of Lanterna Magicka (2009), a documentary exploring the rather fraught making of Douglas’s epic film Comrades (1987), which was released on DVD by the BFI last year. Comrades tells the tale of the 19th-century Tolpuddle martyrs punctuated by magic lantern shows and pre-cinema illusions. (Mike Simkin himself acted as lanternist for the production). Douglas was an avid collector of proto-cinema paraphernalia; the London flat he shared with friend Peter Jeffries soon became an extension of his ‘brain’, filled with books, slides and advertisements relating to Lanterna Magica. Douglas continued to be enchanted by the ‘magic’ of the lantern’s optical effects until the end of his life, taking an escapist delight in the aesthetic and technology of the past. And this escape provided a perfect retreat from Thatcherite Britain – the thinly-disguised allegorical target of Comrades. Douglas’s extraordinary collection is now housed at the University of Exeter. After the screening, directors Sean Martin and Louise Milne explained how thrilling it was to visit and film this archive, the embodiment of ’30 years of tenacity and obsession’.

Another tenacious, obsessive lanternist to make an appearance at this year’s Flatpack was Julien Maire. Maire is a French artist preoccupied by the mechanics of technology and the possibilities of illusion. Unlike Douglas, who sought a refuge in the escapist fantasy of early cinema pioneers, Maire looks at ways to reinvent and expand on the concept of the magic lantern. In his projection-performance, Demi-pas, Maire uses a computer-assisted projector, which he has dismantled and rebuilt in order to project fantastically intricate, multi-layered motorised slides. By adjusting the focus to highlight different layers and by using mechanical devices, Maire creates a live performance within each slide. Demi-pas presents a simple story of one man’s daily routine, but the effects are far from ordinary; real-life water boils and fizzes within the slide as the man cooks his dinner; drawings appear outlined through a mini etch-a-sketch; rain droplets spatter onto the screen one by one.

Read about Flatpack 2009.

Flatpack presented work by three different types of people inspired by the magic lantern – a historian, a filmmaker and a performance artist. Those still glass slides I saw in Paris came to life; and they did so in so many different ways and formats. Flatpack put on a magical, joyful spectacle and simultaneously raised illuminating questions about what constitutes a ‘film’ by programming events based around proto-cinema technology. After all, cinema itself is born out of the illusion of rapidly juxtaposing still images, but how many festivals are exploring and celebrating this fact? It is an important technological element of film but also a key to understanding the potential playfulness provided by film. At the beginning of Comrades, an itinerant lanternist knocks on doors to promote his act as ‘a show for the family, a show of comical pictures and colour: endless rollicking laughter’. Here is a description befitting of the Flatpack experience and the possibilities of film itself.

Eleanor McKeown

Colonial Report from the Dominion of Canada above the 49th Parallel

Bruce Peninsula

Dearest Cineastes of the Celluloid Ecumenical Order that is Electric Sheep:

I launch this colonial report on the art of cinema from the northern-most tip of the Bruce Peninsula in the Dominion of Canada above the 49th Parallel. Since landing on these remote shores of the Niagara Escarpment, I have borne witness to a wide array of fine cinema in addition to the flora and fauna of this magnificent UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. I am touched by the spirits of my long-dead Brethren of the Holiest of Orders when they, with their Black Robes and Rosaries, first traversed this grand Peninsula and penned their anthropological tomes oft-referred to as The Jesuit Relations.

With one road in and one road out, it is here, where a thin layer of soil allows some of the oldest trees to rest atop rock formations chiselled by the Great Spirit during the last Ice Age, that I can peacefully experience all that cinema has to offer. Like my Jesuit brethren, my flesh and soul will be pierced – not by implements of aboriginal torture, but rather through the feats of technology that deliver a means of experiencing cinema of the highest and lowest order. Nailing my feet to the floor of my rustic cabin, I attempt, for the umpteenth time, to sit through Béla Tarr’s Sátántangó as white-tailed deer feed upon lichen and moss affixed to boulders; magnificent orbs dotting the terrain like fossilised pellets expunged by the prehistoric Lepus americanus.

And just as the Jesuits experienced the wrenching pain of flagellation, I too alternately experience the Heavenly heights of pure orgasmic pleasure when at dusk, with the newly re-mastered Blu-ray of North by Northwest cued up, I notice a bulky figure on hind legs dining greedily from the bird-feeding trough. Hungry blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata) fret needlessly as their convenient source of nourishment is snorted back. ‘Fear not, little ones,’ I call out, ‘The delectable treats will be replaced by morning and the noble Ursus americanus will retreat into the forest and out of the gun-sights of the locals (Hosers bobus dougus mackenzieus Canadianus) who, ensconced within the venerable Royal Canadian Legion Hall, prepare for the Great Hunt over a breakfast of rye shooters and Molson Canadian beer chasers’.

A strange brew, indeed!

Aptly, I pen my exploration of cinema from the village of Tobermory, a hamlet in Upper Canada that was named by its Irish, Scottish and British pioneers after the town in the Hebrides where Powell and Pressburger’s film classic I Know Where I’m Going was set. Coincidentally, the colonial namesake played host to the North American premiere of the aforementioned picture in the late 1940s wherein hundreds of peninsula denizens journeyed via ox-cart to celebrate the picture’s entry into our Dominion above the 49th Parallel.

When I first happened upon this Garden of Eden during one of its six weeks of summer, throngs of vacationers bloated the population of 300 to 30,000. Due to the overwhelming number of churches on the Peninsula, I had automatically assumed this was a pious community, but an overwhelming joy enveloped me when a sign hanging from a local business caught my eye as a beacon of unimagined permissiveness – ‘GS Watersports’. With salacious elation, I was most familiar with ‘GS’, an acronym for ‘golden showers’ and ‘watersports’, also in the quaint parlance of avid fetishists at such délicieux newsgroup cyber-hideaways as ‘’.

I approached a seemingly friendly and comely young lass at a souvenir and ice cream stand on the sidewalk near ‘GS’, pointed to the sign and queried her regarding the village’s spécialité de la perversion. She curtly informed me that Tobermory is – due to clear water, unfathomable depths, ancient rock formations and hundreds of shipwrecks – one of North America’s most sought-after scuba diving locales. I furthermore asked her why transport companies in the early days of the colonies used the tip of this deadly peninsula as a key port. Alas, a horrendously porcine American family who wished to order triple scoops of frozen dairy product interrupted her and she was unable to provide an answer. The question regarding so many ships going down in an obvious death trap is a mystery to me, but current residents seem grateful to the long-ago-drowned and rather boneheaded seamen, whose sacrifices provide locals a livelihood beyond hunting, trapping, fishing, fucking and boozing.

The joys of cinema and nature are ever so boundless on these far Commonwealth shores. As I write these words of welcome to this regular column for Electric Sheep, I prepare to view a magnificent new Criterion Collection DVD entitled The Golden Age of Television and look forward to providing you next month with a personal history of American anthology television and a detailed review of the above mentioned masterwork of home entertainment – small screen gems worthy of a large screen.

And this then, dear readers, is how I plan to explore the world of cinema from these colonies. Armed with Blu-ray, DVD and laserdisc players, a battery of remote controls, my trusty laptop, a strong satellite wifi signal courtesy of the Canadian Coast Guard, a roaring fire in my stove, a Baikal semi-automatic shotgun on my lap and picture-window views to remind myself of the flora and fauna when I briefly avert my eyes from the high definition screen, I hope Рin this quiet paradise of our fine Dominion Рto illuminate, inform, tantalise, engage and perhaps, to entertain you in the wonder of what was, over one hundred years ago, wrought by the immortal Brothers Lumi̬re Рwhen moving images first passed through light, and magic appeared, as it always should, larger than life itself.

Greg Klymkiw

Next month: The Golden Age of American Television

Reel Sounds: Ominous Silences – Knife in the Water

Knife in the Water

The story of Krzysztof Komeda provides a very good argument for US health reform. While in the States at the end of the 60s to compose the music for Rosemary’s Baby, the Polish jazz pianist sustained severe head injuries in a random accident. Lacking any health insurance, he was unable to get treatment and immediately put on a plane back to Poland. He died shortly afterwards without regaining consciousness. He had been one of Poland’s most celebrated jazz musicians, and the first to start a modern jazz group in Poland. His distinctive style was characterised by a mix of the cool school of Gerry Mulligan and the Modern Jazz Quartet, mixed with the bebop he’d witnessed at tiny jam sessions in a basement in Krakow. Under the influence of his years spent composing film scores, his 1965 album, ‘Astigmatic’, was noted for its unique approach to structure, and came to signal a whole new European influence on the development of jazz.

Markedly different from the Wagnerian approach of most Hollywood composers at the time, notably in the way it attaches leitmotifs to specific characters or themes and so on, Komeda’s music for Roman Polanski’s Knife in the Water (1962) acts more like punctuation, breaking up the tension of the dialogue scenes almost theatrically. But, as Steven Shaviro has commented, the most noteworthy thing about what he calls the ‘scansion’ of the soundtrack is its frequent recourse to silence. Tension is built up, not by the hysterical maximalism of Bernard Herrmann, but through gaps and absences. It is the horror of reading a crucial life-or-death document, partially blacked out by the censor’s pen. At what we might consider the dramatic climax of the film there are no swirling crescendos of discordant strings, no pounding brass or crashing cymbals, just a wandering bassline, circling, seemingly aimlessly, around some indistinct tonality, never quite resolving itself, or finding its home.

Robert Barry

Short Cuts: Puppetoons


Flatpack Festival

23-28 March 2010, Birmingham

Flatpack website

On Sunday 28 March, as the clocks sprung forward and the hangovers kicked in after a raucous night of plasticine revelry, some brave souls dragged themselves out of bed for Puppetoons: a celebration of Georges Pal’s puppet marvels from the 1930s and 40s. Pal’s charming stop-motion techniques were spotted by the electronics company Philips, who were looking for an offbeat way to promote their radio sets and decided to commission a series of commercials. The resulting films – imagine the woodentops sashaying to jazzy trumpets and Latin American rhythms – provided a lovely Sunday wake-up call. The programme also presented some of Pal’s work from the 1940s, which saw his retreat from war-torn Europe to the world of Paramount Pictures in America.

Read about the short films shown at Flatpack 2010.

His best-known film, Tubby the Tuba (1947), which tells the tale of a ruddy-faced and ostracised tuba trying to find his way among a group of sneering, snooty orchestral instruments, screened alongside Pal’s most controversial character, the racially stereotypical Jasper. Following Jasper’s in a Jam (1946), which featured a smoldering Peggy Lee number, came John Henry and the Inky-Poo (1946) – Pal’s attempt to re-balance the racial stereotyping found in his Jasper series. Indeed, at the time, the African American magazine, Ebony, praised the latter as ‘that rarest of Hollywood products that has no Negro stereotypes, but rather treats the Negro with dignity, imagination, poetry, and love’. Personally, I did not find too many positives in a tale focusing on a worker’s struggle and death on the railroad (!) but the animation and beautiful soundtrack (this time supplied by the powerful Luvenia Nash Singers) once again supplied a visual treat. The final film in the programme was Tulips Shall Grow (1942) – a tale of a smitten and be-clogged Dutch couple and their windmill, which is suddenly besieged by The Screwballs, an army of malevolent nuts and bolts. An allegory for the Nazi invasion of Europe, the film was in some ways a sentimental fairy tale, but it was also incredibly touching as the couple were eventually re-united, their windmill came back to life and tulips grew back among the fields. Knowing that Pal himself fled Europe during World War II made the subject matter doubly affecting. Puppetoons provided a great and rare opportunity to see the work of an immensely talented animator and one who, for various reasons, provided a lot of political food for thought.

Eleanor McKeown

Read our feature about Magic Lanterns at Flatpack 2010.