Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Lego on film

When I was a young boy, Lego was one of my favourite things to play with. Well, not necessarily to play with, but to build with. Once I had built something nice, a car or a house, I would either demolish it and build something new, or, if I was particularly pleased with it, I would put it on display on a shelf. Had I been more precocious I might have called myself a Lego artist...

Nowadays Lego is not what it once was. It's less about imagination and free-spirited building, but franchises and commercials. Star Wars Lego for example. And it's less about building things than playing with already pre-built things it seems. I don't particularly like that I have to say, it feels like they've completely sold out. Maybe it tells us something sad about the world we live in, I don't know.

But an interesting trend is to make short films using Lego figures. Sketches, classic film scenes and other things have been remade using Lego. Youtube is full of them. My own favourite is one based on a fantastic stand-up number by Eddie Izzard about the Death Star Canteen (yet more Star Wars).

What's even more interesting is that Lego seems to have caught up with this trend and incorporated it in their own thinking. Just look at this film on Lego's website, clearly inspired by Heat (1995) and the armoured car robbery it opens with.

This slightly frivolous post is the last post of the year. But I'll be back next week, next year.

And here's Eddie Izzard. Happy New Year!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

More on Blake Edwards

I suppose my first contact with his work was the Bruce Willis/Kim Basinger comedy Blind Date (1987), about, well, a blind date, with Willis taking Basinger to an office party, which eventually leads to general mayhem and humiliation for both of them. I haven't seen it since it came out so whether or not it is any good I can't say, but I remember it vividly, partly because I saw it on several occasions, first at the cinema and then home on the VCR.

And then there were the Pink Panther movies, my favourite of which was The Return of the Pink Panther (1975), at least back then, when I was young(er). I saw all of them, but the later ones were not any good. And eventually, I saw Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) and was completely smitten by it. Despite the fact that I watch it at least once a year it still hasn't lost any of its tremendous appeal (although it has one problem, that I wrote about last year).

Edwards of course does comedy, and an integral part of his kind of comedy is cruelty, bordering on the sadistic, and often in so-called bad taste. Even films which are not comedies have elements of the farcical and vulgar. The western Wild Rovers (1971) has a scene when the two main characters get drenched in urine, thrown out of a window by a woman. I'm not necessarily a fan of this kind of humour, but Edwards almost always manages to pull it of, partly because he uses it consistently and cleverly, so it takes on an additional meaning. He was something of a misanthropist, depressive and suicidal, and you get the feeling that he was using his comedies as a way of exorcising his demons, tormenting his characters.

It should therefore not come as a surprise that he also did some truly frightening films, including the steely Experiment in Terror (1962 aka The Grip of Fear).

But the thing about Edwards was that he had such an exquisite style. Not always, he could be tired and sloppy as much as the next man, but his best films have such an elegance, finesse and panache. Sometimes, as in the first Pink Panther, The Pink Panther (1963), and Breakfast at Tiffany's, it goes hand in hand with the subject matter, but even other films usually revel in the smooth camera work and the long takes, with beautifully lit and composed images. It's not elaborate as Minnelli, or complex as Wyler, perhaps the expression would be deceptively simple, albeit beautiful. But you often feel that he was a man who worked long and hard on every shot.

And he was often his own man, writing and producing as well as directing. Although occasionally he had studio interference, especially after Darling Lili (1970) became a colossal flop, and lost millions of dollars. In the mid-70s he therefore moved to Europe, and he also restarted the Pink Panther brand, ten years after the first two instalments. But it's those two early ones that are the best. It's safe to say that he did loose his way a bit there, in the mid-70s. But he had a great commercial hit with 10 (1979), and in 1982 he made one of his very best films, Victor Victoria (1982). It combines elegance, slapstick, tenderness and music. Here, everything works beautifully together, and, as was so often the case in his films, Julie Andrews shines in the leading role.

I will end this post with the music. Edwards worked almost exclusively with Henry Mancini from 1959 onwards and together they became an intricate whole. It's impossible to separate the music and the films, and the films usually had wonderful musical numbers, some of which are very famous. The other day I posted Audrey Hepburn singing Moon River, here are some other favourite examples:

This is from Darling Lili, with Julie Andrews singing, in one long take, Whistling Away the Dark:


This is from The Pink Panther:

I should perhaps add that, despite Darling Lili being such a total fiasco, I like it, and in many ways it is the very essence of Edwards. But I think that Wild Rovers is his best film, even better than Breakfast at Tiffany's. Perhaps.

Nollywood

The other week I wrote about Africa and cinema. Here's an article about Nigerian cinema, i.e. Nollywood, and its economic and cultural impact in and on Africa: http://www.economist.com/node/17723124?story_id=17723124

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Blake Edwards RIP



Just got the news that Blake Edwards has died. He did some great films, and some less good films which still had amazing scenes in them. He combined slapstick with detachment, sometimes being vulgar, sometimes being sad. As I have written before, Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) is probably my favourite, because it has all of the things that made him great. I also have a few films left to discover, some of which holds great potential. Will wrote more soon.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Archives

Since I have worked in an archive (the Ingmar Bergman Archives), it shouldn't come as a surprise that I feel very strongly about them. Many are badly looked after, and the space in which the material is being kept is not always suitable. But they should be nursed tenderly, because there are real treasures out there, waiting to be discovered.

Archival research hasn't always been considered really OK, not necessarily something film scholars should belittle themselves with. But there's something in archives for pretty much everybody. It's not only about the cult of the great artist, a comprehensive archive will have material of economic, cultural and industrial, as well as artistic, relevance. Letters between producers and financiers, between directors and censorship boards, between production companies and agents. Financial reports, salaries for actors and technicians, recording schedules, all of this things can help bring order and clarity to the history of cinema. It can also help answer many questions of authorship and influence, challenge some held notions and put a lot of conventional wisdom in perspective.

But there is no denying the fact that one of the biggest thrills in going through archives is the discovery of information about individuals, and their thoughts and comments, their behaviour and their struggles. Sometimes a particular letter might change your whole view of somebody. Background information might disappoint you, or it might enrich your experience of watching a particular film.

I cannot quote here from letters I've read, you'll just have to take my word for the potentials they possess. But students of film history and theory should at one point be introduced to the world of archives, and hopefully get the opportunity to visit one for a social call. In Scotland, there are for example the wonderful archives of Lindsay Anderson, John Grierson and Norman McLaren at University of Stirling. I was there last Thursday, having a wonderful time. I was mainly looking at the connections between Anderson and John Ford (since my love for Ford runs deep), but that was just the tip of the iceberg. I will go back soon. And there are many more archives out there, just waiting to be devoured.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Meet Me in St Louis (1944)

Meet Me in St Louis (1944) is in many ways a fantastic film. It's perfectly structured, wonderfully acted, has excellent music numbers, and, above all, the cinematography and the compositions are breathtaking and exhilarating. It's an early Vincente Minnelli, and the cinematographer is George Folsey, and even though it isn't Minnelli's best, it's still a prime example of what he does so brilliantly. Pitched emotions, lush mise-en-scène, elaborate and complex camera movements, and a touch of hidden darkness behind the merriments. I will soon write a longer blog post on Minnelli, who is one of my favourite filmmakers, but today, due to lack of time, I'll just provide some clips from Meet Me in St Louis. My favourite is a long take of Esther (Judy Garland) walking through her house, turning of all the lights, together with the object of her affections (Tom Drake). It's an astonishing sequence, from a technical point, and so very sweet and moving on top of that. But I couldn't find it, so you'll have to settle for this one instead. It hasn't the magnificent camera movements I love, but I like that it's reflexive, and acknowledges the fact that singing out loud might be annoying for some people, even if it happens to be a musical:

Here's another scene, which I can only link to, not embed. Here you get both the mise-en-scène and the camera movements. It begins with a long take, starting outside in the snow, moving in through the window, sweeping through the entire ball room, until it finds the main characters, Rose and Esther, after a minute or so. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsYazm2jzCw