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My Darling Clementine, USA 1946.

Posted by keith1942 on November 27, 2014

MY DARLING CLEMENTINE-008-(1000003974)My Darling Clementine-008

This classic western directed by John Ford was screened at Il Cinema Ritrovato 2014. The screening used a 4K DCP, which offered excellent visual quality. The film had been digitally scanned at 4K from the Museum of Modern Art’s 35mm nitrate fine grain master. Then it was restored at 4K at Cineric Inc. with the audio track restored from a source element at Audio Mechanics. This was a demonstration of how good digital can be when the technology is set at the right level of quality and used well. A discussion on digital restorations and screenings produced the comment that 4K should be the minimum for digital cinema: something my experience of viewing confirms.

This great western, filmed in Ford’s favourite Monument Valley, makes excellent use of the landscape and vistas. This provides the setting for one of the finest performances by Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp. The Catalogue quoted Tag Gallagher; “Wyatt combines the godhead of Lincoln, the passion of Tom Joad, the directness of the Ringo Kid.” Somewhat over the top, as indeed is the film, but it aspires to and achieves mythic status. It is worth noting that two of the performances quoted are indeed by Fonda, but the third is by John Wayne. Much of the strength of the film arises from this combination of two artists, Ford and Fonda.

But it also arises from the writing – Samuel G. Engel and Winston Miller: the superb cinematography by Joe Macdonald; and fine production design by James Basevi and Lyle Wheeler. The music also aspired to mythic status, and the use of the traditional song, ‘We’ll gather at the river’, is memorable.

And the quality also stems from the fine supporting cast. Walter Brennan as the Clanton patriarch is splendid. And Victor Mature as Doc Holiday has a memorable sequence in which he quotes Shakespeare: far better than the ham he is sometimes thought to be. As you might expect for the genre the women characters are less developed, but Cathy Downs is excellent as Clementine and Linda Darnell makes Chihuahua memorable.

This was one of the great pleasures of the Ritrovato week, and unsurprisingly the Arlecchino cinema was packed. The film looked great on the large screen, wide enough for scope but masked to 1.37:1. Undoubtedly this restoration will circulate in the UK in the not too distant future. My fear is that we will only get a 2K DCP. Despite there being quite a number of 4K projectors around – we have three cinemas in Leeds and at least one in nearby Bradford with this technology – the UK distributors rarely expend the effort of resources to provide this quality. Several exhibitors have told me that one requires a minimum screen size for 4K projection: 10 metres in quoted. However, Torkell Sætervadet in the FIAF Digital Projection Guide (2012) provides several pages of refutation. One aspect that gets overlooked is that digital is not just about the number of pixels – 4K offers a greater degree of dynamic contrast: and My Darling Clementine is a film with magnificent dynamic contrasts. Let us wait and hope.

 

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Nomura Yoshitarō

Posted by keith1942 on May 5, 2014

Nomura [lower left] on the filming of The Demon

Nomura [lower left] on the filming of The Demon

The Bradford International Film Festival included a retrospective of this Japanese film director. The programme was titled The Crime films of Yoshitarō. We saw five films, all adaptations of novels by Seichō Matsumoto. The first screening enjoyed an introductory over view to the director and his films by Alexander Jacoby. There is profile of the director in his excellent A Critical Handbook of Japanese Directors (Stone Bridge Press, 2008). Nomura followed in his father’s footsteps, both by becoming a film director and by working for his entire career at the Shochiku Studio. After a typical apprenticeship with a more experienced filmmaker Nomura started as a director in 1951. Between then and 1985 he directed over eighty feature films. He worked in a number of genres. Alex comments: “Though his work was relatively conventional in style, Nomura was never less than a competent filmmaker, and he displayed, at his best, a subtlety and finesse rare among studio artisans.”

There were also introductions to the individual films by Tom Vincent, The Festival Co-director, and Omori Chiaki, from Shochiku’s International Department. Tom mainly talked about the writer Matsumoto Seichō. Matsumoto was in the 1950s the most popular and highest-paid writer in Japan. His crime stories reflected the changing and modernising Japanese society. One distinctive feature, present in the films, were recurring journeys, often to areas remote from the thrusting urban centres and still featuring more traditional aspect s of Japanese life.

Chiaki talked about Nomura’s working practices. Once he became an established director he seems to have had a penchant for ‘ultra-realism’. On the film Stakeout there was one scene set at one a.m. and Nomura insisted on shooting it at one a.m. For another scene set on a sweltering hot summer day he insisted on turning off the air conditioning to that the actors were sweating real perspiration.

Stakeout (Harikomi, 1958, black and white scope) was the earliest of his films screened and the one that impressed me the most. It seems that this was his ‘breakout’ film after a series of genre movies, and one to which he devoted much time and resources. The basic plot follows two Tokyo detectives who journey to a remote island in South Western Japan to track down a murder suspect. They believe he will contact his ex-lover Sadako who has married a business man with three children. The first part of the film involves a pre-credit train journey and then the police procedural detail as the detectives secretly keep watch on Sadako. She finally leads them to the suspect. However, at this point the film changes dramatically. No longer involved with police procedures it become Hitchcockian as one detective follows and observes the fleeing pair. The film becomes reminiscent of Mizoguchi’s Crucified Lovers (Chikamatsu monogatari, 1954) or Fritz Lang’s You Only Live Once (1937).

The ending of the main plot is predictable. However, there is a subplot as well. The younger detective is wrestling with a possible marriage: and we see messages to and flashbacks about his fiancée. And as the two detectives wait to return to Tokyo he finally comes to his decision. The cast are excellent with Oki Minoru as the young detective, Miyaguchi Seiji [the master swordsman in Seven Samurai) as his partner, and Takamine Hideko as the ex-lover Sadako. Takamine was an iconic presence in several films directed by Naruse Mikio.

The second feature was Zero Focus (Zero no Shōten, 1961, black and white scope). In this film a newly married woman journeys to the North of Japan when her husband on a business trips apparently goes missing. As she delves into the mystery we are given a series of flashbacks. These become complicated as they present different possible explanations of events from several viewpoints. The scriptwriter, also worked on Kurosawa Akira’s Rashomon, and there would appear to be a debt to that film. The film is powerful at time, but the plot seems over complicated.

The Shadow Within (Kage no Kuruma, 1970) was in colour. The main protagonist is Yukio, who is married but begins an affair with an old school friend Yasuko. In part he is motivated by his wife’s pre-occupation with various businesses she runs involving a small clique of women friends. The film is set in the years of Japan’s ‘economic miracle’ but the plot seems rather critical of the economic pre-occupations of the times. There are a number of flashbacks to Yukio’s childhood in a small seaside rural setting. The use of such a setting crosses over with other films by Nomura and stories by Matsumoto. However, Yasuko has a young son and problems arise in Yukio’s attempted relationship with the boy. There is a touch of horror in some of the scenes between the two: rather as in a western film like The Omen, 1976). As the film progresses the actuality of these problems becomes ambiguous.

The Castle of Sand

The Castle of Sand

The Castle of Sand (Suna No Utsuwa, 1974) was one of Nomura’s most popular films in Japan: it was in colour and was also the longer of the films screened. The original novel was serialised in a major national newspaper. Two Tokyo detectives investigate a mysterious murder and have to travel to a remote northern area to solve the crime. What the detectives finally unravel involves a character inflicted with leprosy. Surprisingly it seems even in the 1970s in Japan there was a strong antipathy to any contact with sufferers. The film’s liberal treatment of the problem is a reason why the film it still regarded as a classic. In the course of the film a father and son wander across the rural Japanese landscape, suffering the aversion of most people to the decease. Some critics felt these sequences were a diversion from the central plot, but I found them deeply moving. And they paralleled in some fashion the wanderings of the two fatal lovers in Stakeout.

The final film in the series was The Demon (Kichiku 1978). This was not strictly a police procedural in the sense of the other films. Most of the film was concerned with a cheap printing business run by a married couple. The husband, Sôkichi, is suddenly saddled with the children he has fathered by a mistress. This unexpected burden leads the married couple in to ever more extreme attempts to rid themselves of the unwanted children. This was a really downbeat film which was [to a degree] based on recorded events.

THE DEMON

The whole series was rewarding and fascinating. I tended to agree with Alex Jacoby that Nomura is not a front rank Japanese director, but he is always interesting and all the films we saw had memorable sequences within them. The depiction of less frequently seen areas of Japan [which comes from the source novels] was fascinating. Moreover, Nomura has a tendency for strong women characters which I enjoyed.

It seems Nomura’s films are rarely seen outside of Japan. Two of the prints screened were in 16 mm black and white scope: the reason being that these were the only prints with of those films with English subtitles. Alex Jacoby’s study suggests that there are other Nomura crime films, and films in other genres, which are worth seeing. I hope that the opportunity to see these will arise in future.

 

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The Tango Lesson

Posted by keith1942 on April 11, 2014

Tango 2

The second feature from Sally Potter featured in the Bradford International Film Festival’s retrospective of her work. There are twelve tango lessons in the film, though the lessons are not merely about the Argentinean dance. In addition the main character Sally, played by Potter herself, is working on a screenplay which is a sort of murder mystery involving three models, a designer and his film crew. Whilst the film is predominately shot in black and white these sequences are shot in brighter colour. This also applies to a set of sequences where Potter is pitching the screenplay to a group of unidentified Hollywood producers. She eventually gives up the attempt when faced with the contradiction between their commercial values and her own auteuristic preoccupations,

The focus of the film is the lessons with the Argentinean tango dancer, Pablo Veron (also playing himself). These take place in Paris and in Buenos Ares. The tango is, of course, an extremely seductive dance. And the typical milieu, a slightly formal setting, usually a bar, adds to this sense. Potter trained as a dancer and eh accompanies her skilled a professional partner with real panache. The lessons are part of a bargain – she will learn the tango, he will enjoy an on-screen performance. There is also another professional performance in the film when Potter accompanies him in a professional, theatrical display.

Apparently some film critics were less than kind about Potter’s performance on the films initial release. I thought that she performs her role as a tyro dancer extremely well. In the theatrical display, whilst she performs the intricate steps skilfully, there is also a sense of stiffness and less than complete confidence. The lack of confidence reflects the changing relationship between Sally and Pablo. Theirs is an ambiguous relationship she enjoys the tango dancing but it is presented as demanding that the woman ‘do nothing’. This power relationship is subverted when Sally as film director takes the helm.

The tango m music and dances are great. The black and white cinematography, especially, is finely shot by Robby Müller. And the changing locales provide a varied and intriguing series of settings. Like Potter’s best films the exploration of gender relations and power struggles is acute and mainly subversive.

The final resolution seems rather stretched out. I have this sense with several of Potter’s film. There is the sense that she is exploring the possibilities while finishing the construction of the film. In the end the one that she settles on seems the less radical of the possibilities.

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‘Wider still and wider’.

Posted by keith1942 on April 10, 2014

Widescreen

After the delights and surprises of the Bradford International Film Festival we have the Widescreen Weekend. Three and half days of big screen entertainment now firmly established as a film buff’s must. The Festival offers all the major widescreen formats, 35mm anamorphic, 70mm, 2K and 4K digital theatrical projection and Cinerama.

This years programme is as varied as usual. There is a tribute to the VistaVision format with White Christmas (1954). Sadly this is a digital version. Apparently the Museum does have an old VistaVision projector but it needs major technical attention. And I am not sure how many of the originals VistaVision prints now survive. We have just faint memories and its occasional use in technical effects.

The 70mm presentations include The Big Blue (1988), Big Trouble in Little China (1986) and West Side Story (1961) and Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991). The Museum is able to project on both flat and curved screens. The latter a rare treat. The main 35mm print is For a few Dollars More (1965) in a Scope print. There is also The Way We Were (1973, a personal favourite) in the next best thing to celluloid print, 4K digital.

There are also interesting presentations and talks. There is a session by restorers on working digitally on 70mm prints. A panel will be Remembering Widescreen, with illustrations. And Christopher Frayling is coming along to talk about Sergio Leone.

The brochure [online at the Bradford Film Festival’s pages] is impressive. The programmer Duncan McGregor, provides both the original technical details of the films and those of the print or digital version being presented. This makes a pleasant contrast to many of the multiplexes where on cannot even tell if one is going to see – film, theatrical digital and video. Duncan heads an experienced team of projectionists so we will get not only memorable films but also the films presented with skill and attention.

 

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Early short films by Sally Potter

Posted by keith1942 on April 3, 2014

Thriller

Thriller

This was the opening event in a full retrospective of this filmmaker at the Bradford International Film Festival. The films varied in length between 2 minutes and 32 minutes and were filmed on various formats, including 8mm and 16mm. The Festival included a quote by Potter in a 1998 interview:

“Sally outlined the questions she implicitly considered in these early films: ‘what is film space and film time? What is the frame?” However watching the films I was also struck by a focus on bodies and movement – a preoccupation that explains why, though she says she always wanted to become a filmmaker, she also studied dance and ballet.

The programme consisted of five films. The three shortest are clearly early experiments in the medium of film. The other two are more substantial explorations of narrative worlds. The London Story (1986, colour 15 minutes) seemed to me to be a nicely produced but essentially lightweight spy story. In fact, it was the only one of the film funded by a public body, the BFI. I rather thought that said something about film funding in them UK.

Thriller (1979, black and white, 32 minutes) was a much more substantial work and really impressive in its linking of themes and style. There are two major strands in the film: the first is a series of still photographs of a performance of Puccini’s opera La Bohème in Italy in the 1930s. This accompanied by a recording of an opera performance in London in the 1950s. The second strand combined a drama and dance rendering of the opera’s plot. The setting is some sort of attic room. The performers are in contemporary dress. And the lead performer, re-enacting Mimi, is a young Afro-Caribbean woman. In the course of this we hear Bernard Herrmann’s accompaniment to the shower sequence in Psycho (1960) several times on the soundtrack. Towards the end we also hear a commentative voice that asks questions about the drama.

One question poses what would be the effect if Musidora rather than Mimi was the protagonist in the drama? This pursued only briefly. The main question suggests that Mimi’s death could be murder – hence the use of Herrmann’s score. This raises a much larger question given the predilection of modern melodrama to present the woman as victim, and therefore as an object rather than a subject.

Like much of Potter’s work the film is full of what seem to be deliberate references to cinema and to other arts. She appears to have a taste for references to Surrealism. I discerned hints of Luis Buñuel, Marcel Duchamp and Rene Magritte. I found the film both enthralling and stimulating. It also seems to illuminate preoccupations that recur in Potter’s later work. There is certainly a recurring address of issues found in Feminist theory and practice. And there is a continuing interest in what is called intertexuality – the way that cinema, and other arts, intertwine their meanings and motifs.

 

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20th International Bradford Film Festival

Posted by keith1942 on March 6, 2014

BIFF logo

March 27th sees the welcome return in the 20th edition of this showcase for films from all over the world and from many different periods of |International Cinema. The launch on February 26th saw the Festival co-directors, Tom Vincent and Neil Young, present some of the highlights of the eleven days of screenings and a show reel of trailers for these. What can, I presume, be called their mission statement offered ‘We think we put the world before you’. The programme will include 127 films, of which 43 will be UK premieres.

Many of the latter will be in the Festival Official Selection, hosting films from 20 different countries. These include dramas, melodramas and documentaries. And among these are a number of promising new UK productions.

There will be a complete retrospective of the work of Sally Potter who will receive the Bradford International Film Festival Fellowship. The retrospective includes her early short films and all of her seven features. The only disappointment is that it seems that Orlando (1992) is only available in the HDCam format.

Then we have five ‘crime films’ directed by Japanese filmmaker Nomura Yoshitaro. A major director he worked at the Shochiku Studio from the 1950s to the 1970s. These films were all adapted from the stories of the writer Matsumoto Seichō,

The regular section of the Festival Uncharted States of America features a tribute to James Benning. His films have been a recurring feature in the programme over the years. They are distinctive studies of Americana, with a strong minimalist feel. The programme includes both his work on 16mm and using digital formats.

There is also the regular horror strand, Bradford after dark. The films seem to include comedy, the surreal and the genuine unsettling.

Biff also provides tributes to important contributions to British Cinema. So this year the Lifetime Achievement Award goes to the actor Brian Cox., The Festival is greening one of his television works – Nigel Kneale bizarre but forward looking The Year of the Sex Olympics (BBC 1968) – and five of his features. The one disappointment is that this does not include Ken Loach’s Hidden Agenda (1990), a film with a fine performance by Brian Cox which deals with a somewhat taboo subject, Britain’s ‘shoot to kill’ policy in occupied north of Eire. This last film would, of course, be extremely topical at this point in time.

There is also a selection of Short films and several silents. There are specialist talks and interviews and a range of supporting cinematic material. There is also a Filmmakers’ Weekend organised together with the Northern Film School at Leeds Metropolitan University. And a special bonus for traditional cinephiles – after the opening Thursday and Friday there is at least one 355mm screening every day. The Festival uses the Pictureville, Cubby Broccoli and Imax screens, and there are also screenings at Bradford Cathedral, Bradford University, the Impressions Gallery and [in nearby Leeds] the Hyde Park Picture House.

See http://www.bradfordfilmfestival.org.uk for full details: there is also a complete Festival Brochure.

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Dog Star Man

Posted by keith1942 on May 4, 2013

title_by_brakhage

This film was the centrepiece of the Tribute to Stan Brakhage at the 19th Bradford International Film Festival. The other five of his films screened ran for one and two minutes: this film ran for 78 minutes. Neil Young’s introduction was spot on when he stated that this film marked a change from a ‘lyrical style to an epic style’. Like the whole programme the film was screened in silence and on 16mm, so we saw Brakhage as he intended. The film is composed of five parts, constructed by Brakhage between 1961 and 1964. We saw all the discrete parts in sequence. Apparently the early screenings presented the separate parts individually and I did feel that at least a break between reels would have assisted viewers.

The opening part is a Prelude and runs for about 30 minutes. Part 1 is not quite as long: Parts 2 and 3 are shorter, though of about equal length. And Part 5 is the shortest, about 5 minutes. In P. Adams Sitney’s classic study of The American Avant-Garde 1943 – 2000 (Oxford University Press) there is a long section on this film. He quotes Brakhage himself on the film:

“The man climbs the mountain out of the winter and night into the dawn, up through spring and early morning to mid summer and high noon to where he chops down the tree.. There’s a fall – and the fall back to somewhere, mid-winter …”.

This gives an outline sense but Brakhage’s work is neither as simple nor as chronological as this suggests. Certainly the man, accompanied by a dog, is seen in recurring sequences struggling up a mountain: at times through snow and in darkness. But there are whole other sequences of seasonal variations, solar flares [this is found footage and the only credit in the film], sexual activity [explicit] and a newborn child. Much of this, like the baby, is partly autobiographical. Much of it is recurring references to art and symbolism: William Blake, Ezra Pound and the Vorticists are the most easy to identify.

The range of techniques bought to this is extremely varied. Most of Parts I to 4 involved superimpositions, often using different layers combined together. There are also scratching, painting, punched holes and inlaid materials on the celluloid. And the cameras uses most of the possible movements and angles, plus zooms, filters, distorting lenses and occasionally anamorphic lenses. Many of these techniques are familiar from Brakhage’s shorter films. And as with them much pleasure can be derived from the films’ distinctive aesthetic qualities. However with Dog Star Man it becomes clear that whilst this is not a narrative film Brakhage has invested the work with complex but [for him] important meanings, symbolism and metaphors.

Adam Sitney has several pages of comments, including attributing meanings rather different from those of Brakhage himself. I suppose this is fair comment, viewers responses are part of the developing meanings of films. However, my sense was that the film has a poetic rather than explicable set of meanings. And what struck me after the screening was that as the film is clearly autobiographical it could in one sense be an extended commentary on Brakhage’s own artistic endeavours. Certainly a Freudian approach to sexuality is central to his films: like Blake he is obviously concerned with the movement between innocence and experience: and the rise and fall of his career [in a rather esoteric field] parallels the sojourns of his protagonist.

In the end of the pleasures of Brakhage’s films are much closer to the art works of a group like the Vorticists, found in art galleries: or the poems of Blake and Pound, which we read in books. But his real achievement is to bring these into the darkened chamber of projected film, where the experience takes on a whole different dimension.

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Widescreen Festival Weekend

Posted by keith1942 on April 22, 2013

The chief projectionist and colleague in the PIctureville projection box

The chief projectionist and colleague in the PIctureville projection box

This is one of the most popular features of Bradford’s Annual International Film Festival. This year film buffs and the organisers have a week in which to catch their breath before the next programme of events. We are now sixty years on from the re-introduction of widescreen cinema, or from Hollywood’s point of view, the introduction of widescreen film into mainstream cinema. And there are quite a few popular classics on show: The Guns of Navarone (1961, in a 4K digital version) The Great Escape (1963, also in a 4K digital version), and The Sound of Music (1965, on the 70mm curved screen). I have seen these all several times before though they all have sufficiently good production values to revisit. Then there is the regular focus on Cinerama, a speciality that can be seen in few other cinemas. This year they are featuring The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962), though I think the process is more about spectacular imagery than telling stories.

What strikes me as especially interesting are the following. Hello Dolly! (1969, in 70mm on the curved screen). This film suffers from miscasting, but it has some fine mise en scène and some fine onscreen dance sequences, mainly down to director Gene Kelly. There is How to Marry a Millionaire (1953, in 35mm CinemaScope). Director Jean Negulesco does not have the panache of Howard Hawks, but the stars, Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall and Betty Grable, make this a must. Then on the final Monday there is Gettysburg (1993 in standard widescreen 35mm). We are in the 150th anniversary of this epic battle: more intriguingly it follows on from Spielberg’s Lincoln (2012), which was fine bionic is still informed by rather conservative ‘American’ values. I am taking care that my eyes are rested and ready for these visual treats.

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Stanley Brakhage

Posted by keith1942 on April 11, 2013

notes-on-mm_brakhage

The 19th Bradford International Film Festival includes a Tribute to Stan Brakhage, one of the outstanding figures of the US avant-garde. In the programme are five of his short film works, only one or two minutes long, and his much more substantial Dog Star Man (196-64), which runs for 75 minutes. The short films precede features in the programme and are spread over the ten days of the festival. Dog Star Man screens on Saturday April 19th. All the films are being screened in their original 16mm format and without any sound or musical accompaniment. Most also feature ‘montages’ which include rapid flicker effects.
Brakhage was a central figure in film art in North America from the early 1950s until his death in 2003. He exerted immense influence in this field of artistic expression and was himself influenced by other major avant-garde filmmakers like the Surrealists, Maya Deren and Jonas Mekas. Among his other influences were the psycho-analytical guru Sigmund Freud, artists like William Blake and modernist writers like James Joyce and Ezra Pound. His films are far from the conventions of mainstream feature films, closer to artworks exhibited in galleries. It should be emphasised though that they are intended for cinema projection and this is where they can be seen and appreciated to their full effect.
The films are challenging and full of complex references and symbolism. Often there are rather different interpretations of their meaning or significance, including between Brakhage the author and critics who write about and discuss his work. But his film work is also full of beautiful and often riveting images. They can be viewed and enjoyed on purely visual aesthetic grounds. I should ad this will be my first opportunity to view the much longer Dog Star Man, and I am intrigued as to what will be the impact of a film that is so much more substantial than the bulk of Brakhage’s output, relatively short painstakingly crafted films. Dog Star Man is an epic film poem, crafted over three years and constructed in five parts. The Festival catalogue has some introductory comments on the film.
Of the five short films the one I would especially recommend is Mothlight (1963). Brakhage produced this work by using actual moths and gluing them to a thin 16mm film. This in many ways typifies his craft. His films include carefully selected shots, montages and superimpositions. But to these he adds manually altering the celluloid by scratching and other techniques, colouring and painting on the celluloid and attaching other materials, as with Mothlight. The results are both distinctive and idiosyncratic.
Brakhage’s films are extremely subjective, the aim being the expression of a personal vision. It is generally called Abstract. However, he makes great use of film of the actual world about him, including his family and himself. But these are blended in with more conventional abstract imagery. He also is at pains to produce films that are contrary to the mainstream conventional aesthetics.
He is quoted on his approach “Imagine an eye unruled by man-made laws of perspective, an eye unprejudiced by compositional logic, an eye which does not respond to the name of everything but which must know each object encountered in life through an adventure of perception.”
Perspective in composition in art is the norm for much or recent history, and is still dormant in the visual conventions of cinema. By comparison Brakhage’s images have a sense of flatness which is markedly different.
The Festival offers the rare opportunity to see these films as originally crafted, in their proper format and in a cinematic presentation.

Quotation from Visionary Film The American Avant-Garde 1943 – 2000 by P Adams Sitney, Oxford University Press, 2002. There are two chapters dealing with Brakhage’s work.

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Happy Birthday, Indian Cinema!

Posted by keith1942 on April 2, 2013

Deewaar

This is a strand in the 19th Bradford International Film Festival. The title points to the centenary of the production and release of D. W. Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra. This is generally treated as the first indigenous film feature in Hindi cinema. There had actually been earlier documentary-type films and dramatic features of stage plays. But Phalke’s film is a 40 minute long drama presenting one of the great Hindu stories onscreen. The event will offer a range of Indian films from its earliest days right up to the present. Alongside this, but already open for viewing] is Bollywood Icons: 100 Years of Indian Cinema.

This is an exhibition of between 45 and fifty posters spread across the history of the Raj India and post-independence Indian cinema. The earliest posters are a set of those for the films of ‘Fearless Nadia’. aka Mary Evans, from Australia. After a circus tour of the Asian sub-continent she ended up as the Indian equivalent of ‘Pearl White’. She appeared in a series of action films involved in great stunts and fantasy adventures in which she defeated stereotypical villains.

Another set follows the dynasty launched by mega-star Raj Kapoor. His films from the late 1940s and through the 1950s exploited an onscreen persona, which offered echoes of Chaplin but also involved melodramas that had a hint of Frank Capra movies. Various family members are still leading stars in contemporary Hindi cinema. Karisma Kapoor stars in Zubeidaa (2000), a film whose poster is an example of the films of Shyam Benegal, part of the New Indian Cinema.

Amitahb Bachaan, the greatest and most iconic star in Hindi cinema has a set of posters. These include his famous early films like Deewar and Sholay (both 1975), where his is a violent and ‘angry young man’ persona is central. There are also his later films where he has become the father figure of Hindi cinema.

And there is also a set of films featuring Shah Rukh Khan; the contemporary star whose fan base stretches far beyond India as ‘Bollywood’ has become a global player. Unfortunately my favourite of his films, Dil Se (1998), directed by the talented Mani Ratnam is missing.

There are posters of the classics such as the original poster for Mother India (1957), and for Mughal-E-Azam (1960), and Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959). The latter was the work of one of the finest directors of melodrama in Hindi Cinema, Guru Dutt. There is a poster for the Urdu movie Unrao Jaan (2006) centred on the courtesan characters common in Indiana films.

The styles and formats of these posters are as varied as they films they publicises. And they also, to a degree, represent the different language and regional cinemas, which contribute to the large totals of film production each year. Some examples show the influence on foreign cinemas, especially borrowings from Hollywood films. Whilst there is variation there is also development, given a sense of how the cinema has evolved over it history.

Pick up a copy of the Festival Brochure, handily available. It contains and excellent article by the curator of the exhibition Ima Qureshi, Decoding the Bollywood Poster. Ima Qureshi is giving an illustrated talk during the Festival, on Saturday April 13th.

Added to all this are some video projection. The larger offer music clips from a range of Indian films from the 1950s to the present. The clips have been provided by major distributors of Indian films in the UK. Unfortunately, as with quite a number of the UK DVD releases, some of the films have been cropped and it does show. The smaller video exhibit is from the 1913 version of Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra. When I visited the DVD from India had not arrived and the exhibit used a YouTube version. Unfortunately this has very poor image quality and has been filmed askew [probably from the rear of a cinema auditorium?].

Note one of the surviving fragments of Raja Harishchandra is being screened in the festival programme alongside A Throw of Dice (1929). The latter is a co-production involving Germany and is one of the few surviving films from India’s silent era. Mother India also gets an outing, as does Mughal-E-Azam, both in their original 35mm format. The other classic to catch is Kalpana (1948) recently restored by the World Cinema Foundation.

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