Friday 27 November 2009

Favourite films

The other day I attended a rather formal lunch here in St Andrews, and there were eight at the table. I didn't know any of the others but after a glass of wine and some bread we all got along just fine. They were of course most interested in the fact that I was teaching and studying film and after a while the inevitable question came. "So, what is your favourite film?". I can't answer that. My usual reply is "It used to be Rear Window but not anymore. Not because I think any less of it, it's just that I've seen other films which are just as good, or even better." And then I usually mention some titles I feel will be appreciated in the particular setting I'm in. What I mean is that I mention films that I think they will have some knowledge of. So if I'm for example asked by kids I mention other films than I would when asked by people in their late 50s. And I can do this without cheating because there are so many films I can truthfully call favourites.

Friday 20 November 2009

Breakfast at Tiffany's

I love the book Breakfast at Tiffany's deeply and unquestionably (as is the case with must of Truman Capote's writing). And I wish I could feel the same way about the film version from 1961. But I can't.

Most of the film is irresistible. Enchanting. It has whitewashed much of the book, but there's still enough risky business going on, for example about them both having prostituted themselves. Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard make an adorable couple, both as friends and as lovers. Blake Edwards' patience and lingering camera work is very good, especially in the scene when Holly comes to visit Paul in the middle of the night, and they talk and eventually she falls asleep in his arms. It's a beautiful scene, how it's written, directed and acted. Tender and sweet, but with teeth and innuendo. And on top of that, Henry Mancini's music is also beautiful. When I saw it at a cinema yesterday night, I even discovered a new thing about it, concerning Holly's jewellery, even though I've already seen it more times than I dare to mention.

But then there's Mickey Rooney's role as Holly's neighbour Mr Yunioshi. It's a crude stereotype of a Japanese man, and it involves much slap stick, which is only in bad taste and so unnecessary. I wish it wasn't there. If it wasn't for that, I'd love the film with all my heart. By all means, there should be a mr Yunioshi, but made with a little less bad taste.

Sunday 8 November 2009

Chaplin lost and found

A man in Essex bought a box on Ebay for £3.20 , and when it arrived he found there was a Charlie Chaplin film inside. A 7 minutes long film on 35mm nitrate called Zepped, which apparently is a film nobody knew existed. But further research will discover whether or not Chaplin was actually involved in making it, or if it's some kind of compilation film.

Here's an article from The Guardian with more info.

A month ago I saw a Norwegian silent film which had been discovered not long ago at a market place in Prague, Historien om en gut (1919 - The Story of a Boy). I love stories like this. What will be found next? Maybe in an attic in Kyoto?

Wednesday 4 November 2009

Howard Hawks, scene 3

It is time for my third favourite scene from a film by my favourite director, Howard Hawks. Hawks is not usually known for his long takes, but if he wanted to he was no stranger to it, and this is a remarkable example. The opening shot of Scarface (1932), with the great Lee Garmes as cinematographer. And, as an added bonus, here's a link to the article on Hawks that Jacques Rivette wrote and that I mentioned in my previous post.

The two previous postings with favourite Hawks's scenes are here and here.

Monday 2 November 2009

Jacques Rivette at the circus

I've been travelling, hence the low activity here.

When I was in London last week I had the chance to see Jacques Rivette's latest film Around a Small Mountain (36 vues du Pic Saint Loup 2009) at the London International Film Festival. It's nice to still have the ability to see a new film by Rivette, he's 81 years old after all. I've long had a peculiar affection for Rivette, even though I haven't seen all that many of his films. This is just my sixth. (The fact that he's written one of the best articles on Howard Hawks naturally makes me even more favourable towards him.)

Around a Small Mountain stars Jane Birkin and Serge Castellitti and is set at a circus. She's at the circus, he's just passing by, helping her when her car breaks down. She offer him free tickets for the show, he decides to go, and then he stays, trying, much as he did with her car, to fix everything that's wrong. It's very leisurely shot, and although it touches on themes such as death, guilt and betrayal, it's light on it's feet. It has a weird off-handedness to it, I was about to say that it has a liquid feel to it, if I was sure I know what I meant by that.

Rivette is the kind of filmmaker who is always playing games, not least with the audience, and the films often revolve around artists and actors, of some sort. The films are also rather mysterious, not to say enigmatic. This one is rather straightforward though, at least until the end, when it's trying to reach a closure which takes an unexpected form.

The most beautiful and most fully realised of the six films I've seen is La belle noiseuse (1991). It has the same leisurely pace and lingering shots as Around a Small Mountain, but it's much more interesting and poetic. It's just a painter painting a painting of a woman, and still the film is four hours long. It's just one of the greatest films I've ever seen, for its pure beauty. CĂ©line and Julie vont en bateau (1974) is also a magnificent movie, but for very different reasons. But it's to complicated to discuss here and now. It's a movie I will be returning to. As is Rivette. The knowledge that there are so many films still out there that he's made, and I haven't seen, is a joy.