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Archive for the ‘Festivals’ Category

Kino Zoo Palast, Berlin

Posted by keith1942 on March 28, 2019

online photograph – berlin-gaycities-com

This cinema is sited between the Zoologischer Garten Berlin, the Berlin Zoologischer Garten Station and close to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church at the top of the Kurfürstendamm. There is an U-Bahn station opposite, the S-Bahn serves the nearby Garten and a number of the excellent Berlin bus services pass by.

One of the main venues for the Berlinale, during the rest of the year this multi-screen runs as a mainly mainstream venue. It was built in 1957 and then it was distinctive in having two auditorium. The opening in 1957 was graced by Liselotte Pulver. One of her memorable performances seen outside Germany was as Elizabeth Kruse Graeber in A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1957) and she had a standout sequence in One, Two, Three (1961) as secretary Fräulein Ingeborg, entertaining East German officials whilst James Cagney’s C.R. MacNamara demonstrated the superiority of Machiavellian capitalism.

The cinema was extensively rebuilt in 2010 as part of a larger project in the area. The redesign was careful to prese4ve many of the features of the original and the impressive façade was restored as were parts of the entrance and the existing auditorium.

Now the cinema offers five auditorium and it includes the facility for both digital and ‘reel’ film. The exterior is eye catching with coloured lights playing over the façade. The night I went some celebrities appeared to be leaving after a screening and the small plaza outside was packed with onlookers.

Room 1 is the main auditorium and seats 780 people. It has 70mm projection, [installed in 2018], 4K digital projection with 3D and Atmos sound. The screen is 21 metres by 8.8 metres, There is wood panelling with red velvet.

the oval ceiling with light vaults, which looks like a starry sky through dot lights. With new LED lighting, you can set a wide variety of lighting moods in the hall. This opportunity is exhausted in the great new pre-show before every film, which is likely to be unique in Germany so far. Not only are there three curtains (a red, a yellow and a cloud curtain) but also a fourth curtain of water spraying from the ceiling!”

The manager I spoke to stated that they now have five 70mm screenings a year. These all seem to be, like the general programme, mainstream releases. Recently they have had The Hateful Eight and Dunkirk. They have not screened Roma [4K digital] so far; it seems it is not considered mainstream, but the Oscars may change that.

Room 2 was the original auditorium for 70mm and it also has 2K digital projection with 3D and Dolby 7.1.. The screen is 14.8 by 6.2 metres and the auditorium seats 270. The reel projector here [and in room 1] is a Philips DP75 which can also screen from 35mm prints. This was the auditorium I visited and it has a similar décor to room 1 but predominantly pink. The semi-circular auditorium has good seating and viewing. The proscenium has rich tapestries and has proper masking.

This auditorium, along with rooms 3 and 4 has it own entrance lounge. Room 3 seats 150 with 2K digital and Dolby 7.1,with a 11.8 by 5.8 metre screen. Room 4 seats 160 with 2K digital and 3D with Dolby 7.1 and a 14 by 5.9 screen. Room 5, tucked away at the back, seats 150 with 2k digital and Dolby 7.1 sound with a screen 12.1 by 5.1 metres.

There is a smalls screening area in the ‘blubkino’ bar and there are two other facilities offering coffees etc. and some meals. I thought this a really attractive venue. The cinemas were comfortable, the projection [[digital] and sound was fine and the presentation well done.

Cineastes should definitely put this venue on their list to visit and enjoy in Berlin.

I saw a Chinese film, Ye (The Night, 2014), part of the Panorama 40 programme. This was ‘cinema with a long-term memory’, celebrating 40 years at the Berlinale of the Panorama section. Dedicated to ‘convention-busting’ films, 2019 was revisiting of some of the titles from the earlier years.

The Night dealt with the ‘Lives of male and female prostitutes in China’ and was written, directed and stared Hao Zhou. This was a student film shot mainly on location in colour and black and white. The three main protagonists were played by Hao Zhou, Xiao Xiao Liu, Jin Kang Li. They are variously a male prostitute, a female prostitute and a tyro. The setting for the various sequences in the film is always a lit stairway in a red light area. Zhou character is a narcissistic pro and the other two circle round him like moths round a flame. The film is well done and has particular edgy camerawork. The sound track uses Chinese songs whose lyrics comment on the characters. But the constant revisiting of the same location and variation on a ménage a trois becomes repetitive. I found the 95 minutes over indulgent and the final resolution predictable.

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Die Bleierne Zeit (The German Sisters, Bundesrepublik Deutschland 1981)

Posted by keith1942 on March 16, 2019

This was another title in the Berlinale retrospective and the audience were fortunate in that the director, Margarethe von Trotta, was there to introduce her film. She first talked about the title of the film which was variously translated and changed during its international release; (there seem to be at least six variants). The German title is a quotation from a famous poem;

Trūb ists heut, es schlummern die Gäng’ und die Gassen und fast will

Mir es scheinen, es sei, als in der bleiernen Zeit

(Gloomy it is today, sleepy are the pathways and lanes and it seems as almost, we are, in the leaden times.) (Friedrich Hölderlin) (Translation Jane Buekett).

The last three words provide the title and a metaphor for the 1950s, a crucial decade for the story and the characters; and for von Trotta herself.

Von Trotta went on to recount how in 1977 she was with fellow film-makers who were working on a portmanteau film addressing in various ways the actions and the current trial of the Red Army Faction [often called the Baader-Meinhof Gang]; Germany in Autumn (Deutschland im Herbst, 1978). Von Trotta was not actually filming and she had a number of long conversations with Christina Ensslin, the sister of a member of RAF Gudrun Ensslin. This inspired her to start work on a screenplay, later this film, which studied the lives and relationships of two sisters. Von Trotta also remarked that the story was influenced by the Sophocles play Antigone, where Antigone is a rebel whilst her sister Iamene is more dutiful. However, in this story, the roles change as the narrative develops.

“The younger, Marianne, has joined the ‘armed resistance’ in West Germany and disappeared into the political underground. Juliane is an editor at a feminist magazine and is judgemental of her sister’s radicalism.” (Retrospective Brochure).

But the film develops far more complexity than is suggested in these bald sentences. Marianne is another brilliant and convincing performance from von Trotta’s regular collaborator Barbara Sukowa. Juliane, an equally good performance, though a more restrained character, is played by Jutta Lampe. We also meet their partners though the male characters pale alongside these powerful women. The exception is Jan, Marianne’s son by a failed marriage.

Early in the film we get a sense of the radically different lives and relationships of the sisters. There is a brief glimpse of the ‘armed resistance’ training with Palestinian fighters in North Africa. The film moves into it most intense mode when Marianne is captured and imprisoned. Juliane visits her regularly and we witness the emotional and sometimes overcharge relationship. We also see, in flashbacks, the earlier life of the two women, including a very strict religious upbringing in the 1950s. The ‘leaden’ 1950s and its silences on German history were a frequent target of attack for the New German Cinema.

It is in the latter stages that Jan becomes an important character. It is also the stage where Juliane has to confront her sister’s death and her suspicions, (widely shared at the time with regard to the deaths of RAF members) of her secret murder by the West German State.

This is an undoubted classic of the New German Cinema. It won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. The central performances are memorable, but the film is carefully constructed as well. There is fine cinematography from Franz Rath. This covers the modern apartment and more traditional family house which contrast with the grim and stark prison interiors. And exteriors range from a wintry wood to sun-baked Africa and then to the forbidding walls of the prisons. The settings and costumes, by Georg von Kieserite and Minka Hasse respectively, are excellent. The sound is fine and at times very atmospheric. And all of this is edited into a complex tapestry between past and present by Dagmar Hirtz. The now veteran composer Nicolas Economou, (recently working with Koreeda Hirokazu) produces an effective score, at times minimal, occasionally more forceful.

The film has been restored and was screened from a DCP. It seemed from memory a reasonable transfer and it was a pleasure to see this again in a cinema after a wait of many years.

It is one of the films directed by Margarethe von Trotta in the Independent Cinema Office retrospective programme. This is titled ‘The Personal is Political’. This is partly accurate as von Trotta, as in other films, is concerned to bring out how personal relationships feed into political issues. But it is also true that in this film, as in most of her other films, the political both determines and limits the personal. This indeed is where the film leaves us with a stark and complex scene that speaks volumes about the sisters and the future of Juliane and Jan.

The film runs 106 minutes in colour and with English sub-titles. The latter on this digital version are reasonable but in the traditional white-on-background; so occasionally, in lighter scenes, you have to focus carefully. A small challenge to what is, for me, probably the finest film made by Margarethe von Trotta. And she has turned out a number of really fine film including Rosa Luxembourg (1986, featuring Barbara Sukowa].

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Kino International, Berlin

Posted by keith1942 on March 1, 2019

This prestige cinema is sited seven minutes from Berlin’s Alexanderplatz. It was at one time the premier cinema of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik. In 1958 one of the pioneer urban planning and construction projects was started along the Karl – Marx – Allee. The International was a part of a number of buildings placed around the Schillingstraße U-Bahn station. The cinema opened in 1963 as the prime site of DEFA [Deutsche Film-Aktiengesellschaft]. The occasion presented the screening of Optimistic Tragedy (Optimisticheskaya tragediya, USSR 1963). This film was set during the 1917 revolution and its lead character was a female commissar; a handy choice given that DEFA already had more female directors than the industry in the Bundesrepublik Deutschland.

As a prestige project the International was graced with special care and style on both its exterior and interior. As well as an impressive glass frontage the building had a series of sculptures specially designed to illustrate scenes from ‘everyday socialist life’.

Entry to the cinema is through a ground floor vestibule with stairs leading to spacious and stylish lounges and bars. The entrance to the auditorium is through large and high wood panelled doors. The actual auditorium, which seats 551, has a gentle incline down to the proscenium. There is a large central block of seats and separate blocks on the left and right. The large screen, 17 metres by 9.2 metres, is behind two sets of drapes. Standard blue and when these part they reveal pail-studded white curtains; I assume the latter are the originals.

The projection box at the rear of the auditorium has 35mm, 70mm and 4K digital projection with Dolby Digital sound. Unfortunately there were not any 70mm screenings during my stay. A friend told me that the favoured seat of one-time leader Erik Honecker has a little plaque. In a crowded auditorium I was unable to check.

It is a splendid venue in which to watch a film. On this occasion we had a new release in the Berlinale Out of Competition, The Operative (Germany, Israel, USA, ). This title did not match its setting but the production values were good so I did get sense of the quality of the digital projection and sound system.

This is a recommended call on any trip to Berlin. There is the Schillingstraße or the Alexanderplatz, both on the excellent U-Bahn and the latter also enjoys the city bus services. I am sure the great prophet would be happy to have his street graced by this temple to an art form that hopefully will survive until the point at which socialism replaces capitalism.

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Women filmmakers at the 2019 Berlinale

Posted by keith1942 on February 6, 2019

The Berlinale, Berlin’s International Film Festival, opens this coming Thursday, February 7th. The Festival is a vast terrain with a wide selection of contemporary films from all over world cinema. The key films are often landmark titles and the Festival Awards are rightly prized trophies. But the Festival also offers opportunities to visit fascinating aspects of cinema history. The Retrospectives, organised by the Deutsche Kinematic, are singular filmic events. Last year we enjoyed a return to Weimar Cinema in an impressive and rewarding programme. And the presentations, of film in both celluloid and digital formats, were also really well done. And the silent titles enjoyed live and skilful musical accompaniments.

This year the Retrospective moves forward three decades to celebrate the contributions of women film-makers to German cinema.

“The Retrospective of the 69th Berlin International Film Festival takes as its subject women film-makers between 1968 and 1999. The programme encompasses 26 narrative and documentary features from the former East and West Germany, as well as German films after re-unification in 1990. In addition, the Retrospective will show some 20 shorter films on their own, or as lead-ins to the features. What the film-makers and their protagonists have in common is an interest in exploring their own environment, and the search for their own cinematic idiom.

In West Germany, this development was embedded in the 1968 student movement, and closely linked to the new women’s movement and the New German Cinema wave. In East Germany, by contrast, all films were made within the state-controlled studio system. That studio, DEFA, gave a few women a chance to direct as early as the 1950s, however they were mainly assigned to children’s films. Towards the end of the 1960s, everyday life in the socialist country became the focus of East Germany’s women directors. “

The length of the period covered means that this is likely to be a series of snapshots. One of the best known directors, Margarethe von Trotta, has only a single title, The German Sisters / Die bleierne Zeit (1981). This I though a welcome presentations, a film that I have not seen for a considerable period [though it currently has a limited release in Britain courtesy of the ICO) but which I remember finding powerful and stimulating.

Other well known film-makers are also featured.

“Helma Sanders-Brahms – Her early films engage critically with the themes of labour, migration, and the situation of women in West Germany. Under the Pavement Lies the Strand / Unter dem Pflaster ist der Strand (1975, Federal Republic of Germany / Bundesrepublik Deutschland) was a central film for the German women’s movement and for the student movement, as well as for the director’s own emergence as an explicitly feminist film-maker.” (Wikipedia)

But, for me, the bulk of the titles, are unknown and promise to offer an exciting exploration of German film. There has always been a limited selection of German films circulating in Britain, but in recent years hardly any cross over the channel or the territories barriers.

There will be films from four women film-makers working in the German Democratic Republic / Deutsche Demokratische Republik. I have seen only a small proportion of the films produced in the GDR. And I cannot recollect seeing a film directed by a woman. So this will fill an unfortunate gap in my film knowledge.

And there are other titles from the FGR or contemporary Germany. From the FGR in 1984,

The Image of Dorian Gray in the Yellow Press / Dorian Gray im Spiegel der Boulevardpresse.

Our organization will create a human being whom we can shape and manipulate according to our needs. Dorian Gray: young, rich and handsome. We will make him, seduce him and break him.

Director and writer: Ulrike Ottinge.” (Details on IMDB).

As well as the features and documentaries there are a number of short film, more also from the GDR. And there is animation work. So it promises to be great cinematic week.

Added to this are the regular Berlinale Classics. There are six titles, five of which I welcome seeing again and one, for me, completely new; Ung flukt (The Wayward Girl), dir: Edith Carlmar, Norway 1959. They are all digital restorations. Certainly the digital versions I saw last year were all of good quality. Moreover, several of these are in 4K versions, a quality rarely seen in Britain.

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On film boycotts.

Posted by keith1942 on December 7, 2018

When the Leeds International Film Festival 2018 Brochure appeared in early October it included in the ‘Time frames’ programme The Knife in the Water / Nóz w wodzie (Poland 1962). There were to be two screenings from a 35mm print. The film was scripted by Roman Polanski with

Jakub Goldberg and Jerzy Skolimowski. It was the first feature film directed by Roman Polanski after he attended the National Film School in Łódź. The film over the years has garnered a reputation for quality, along with other films directed in later years by Polanski.

When I tried to book a ticket for a screening of the film I was advised that it had been cancelled. And when the Catalogue appeared on the opening night of the Festival this title was missing. Why it was missing was a mystery as there was no explanation from the Festival office. However, a little later I discovered a comment on the screening on a twitter account, one that had been copied in the USA. A social media site, ‘realwomenrealstories’ contained this tweet,

“BREAKING: Leeds International Film Festival (@leedsfilmfest) cancels screening of “Knife In The Water” by convicted child rapist Roman Polanski. This is an urgent time to say NO to #sexualabuse against women. Movie is removed: https://www.leedsfilmcity.com/film-year-round/knife-in-the-water/ … #timesup #metoo #speakup”

The pages contained a number of other tweets concerning Polanski’s sexual misconduct as well as reports of other allegations of sexual violence in media reports and especially by well-known public figures. The site is rendering a public service by exposing such crimes and offers a place for women to report this. However, as with most social media, you have to take the reports and claims on trust. In Polanski’s case it is a matter of legal record that he was found guilty of an offence in the USA. This was of ‘unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor’ for which Polanski was sentenced to a term of imprisonment. He fled the USA to avoid the jail term and has never served the sentence. In the 1990s he did conclude a settlement with the victim which involved a payment and confidentiality clauses. There have been two other accusations of sexual molestation but neither has been legally investigated or tried.

The text confirmed what had been suggested to me by a festival goer, that the film had been withdrawn because of complaints about screening a Polanski film because of his record of sexual molestation. I did ask the Festival organisers regarding withdrawal. They confirmed that the title had been dropped from the programme because of various issues; one being complaints regarding a film by Roman Polanski. They declined to discuss this further and also declined my offer of a comment which I could include in this posting.

The complainants seem to be agitating for a boycott of Polanski’s films.

“A boycott is an act of voluntary and intentional abstention from using, buying, or dealing with a person, organization, or country as an expression of protest, usually for moral, social, political, or environmental reasons. The purpose of a boycott is to inflict some economic loss on the target, or to indicate a moral outrage, to try to compel the target to alter an objectionable behaviour.”

The word derives from the actions of the Irish Land League in 1880 against the agent, one Captain Boycott, of an Anglo-Irish Peer, representative of the British occupation of Eire. Thus its original use was as part of a National Liberation struggle against a colonial power. A current example of parallel action would be the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction Movement against the Zionist occupation of Palestinian lands. However, it has also been used as part of campaigns against individuals deemed to inflicted unacceptable behaviour on people.

I have a number of reservations about this matter. Foremost is the dropping of a title without any public information nor an opportunity for film and festival goers to comment. The Festival is publicly funded – by the Council and the British Film Institute – as well as by other agencies. So public money is involved. I am not aware of a policy by national or local government of banning works by artists who have committed sexual molestations. Clearly though in the last couple of years it has become a much discussed issue with groups and individuals advocating such bans. However, there is not uniformity of opinion on this so I think public events should be prepared to have a debate when such actions are proposed. The organisers did make the point that the programming of the Festival involves choices, with some films being selected and some not. However, I would like such criteria to be matter of public knowledge and discussion. This is especially important when not just critical judgements are being made but when it is an issue of censorship; i.e. certain works are not permitted. Beyond this censorship is a thorny issue. I think there should be limited grounds which allow for this. And in the case of a film title of a particular film-maker I feel that there are a number of aspects that need to be put.

The proposal to not screen films directed or written and directed by Roman Polanski conflate his personal life with that of his profession. There are plenty of examples of artists whose personal lives and behaviour do not match up to the contemporary moral code but not many are banned. The contemporary is important because I think it is a problematic approach to judge art works, not by the standards of when they were produced, but by the later standards of some critical voice.

In fact Polanski’s films have a rather different treatment from sexual matters to his ways in personal life. Whilst sexuality is common an prominent theme in his films it is also one that is treated critically in terms of the mores operating when the film was produced. A prime example is a film produced in the USA in 1974, Chinatown. The main women character, Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) is certainly the victim of misogynistic treatment. To what degree one thinks that the protagonist J. J. Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is a misogynist is dependant on interpretation but the film quite clearly treats the action perpetrated on her critically; I find her the most sympathetic character in the film. Similar points can be made regarding Polanski’s two earlier British films, Repulsion (1965) and Cul-De-sac (1966). And Knife in the Water treats the sole female character Krystyna (Jolanta Umecka) better than the two men. It is their masculine pretensions that the film exposes.

Knife in the Water raises another important aspect. One of the appeals of the film is the acting and the characterisations. The three actors do a fine job of the people set out in the screenplay which is the combined work of three people, Jakub Goldberg (scenario), Roman Polanski (scenario), Jerzy Skolimowski (dialogue). And part of the pleasure of the film are the cinematography by Jerzy Lipman and the score by Krzysztof T. Komeda. The film as a whole is extremely well done and the credits [as usual with films] include a long list of skilled crafts people. All of these members of the production are barred by banning this film though I am not aware that any other of them have been accused of sexual misdemeanours.

And the film was produced by Zespol Filmowy “Kamera”, a Polish State Production Company which closed in 1968. In Britain the British Film Institute holds the distribution rights to the film.

I do not know who holds the rights for the film now; it would seem unlikely that is Polanski. So the economic impact of the proposed boycott falls not on the subject but on another agency and, of course, the BFI. The latter presumably have paid for the distribution rights. Apart from hitting the limited budgets of the BFI this is likely to discourage then Institute from trying to distribute other films, possibly not just titles by Polanski.

It strikes me that the intent and the effect of such restrictions is confused and for sure produces unintended consequences. Britain is not a hospitable environ for foreign language films and it is becoming more and more difficult to see such titles in theatrical settings; even more so to see them in their original format. I think people and groups that would like to prohibit films by Polanski [and other individuals who have committed offences] would do well to give serious consideration to what they propose and for what they organise agitation.

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A Wasted Sunday / Squandered Sunday / Zabitá needle, Czechoslovakia 1969

Posted by keith1942 on November 5, 2018

This film was screened in the ‘Time Frames’ programme at the Leeds International Film Festival. I had never come across this title before and it seems little-known. The film, a first feature, was banned on completion. The production had halted for a time because of the arrival of Soviet tanks and it was completed after the Soviet-led forces forced a change in government. The film was only released in Czechoslovakia in 1990 and here in Britain in 2016. The director, Drahomíra Vihanová, had previously made one short film, Fugue on the Black Keys (Fuga na cerných klávesách, 1965), in black and white and running 34 minutes. After this feature she was banned and only able to make short documentaries in the late 1970s and 1980s. Her next feature was not produced until 1994, Pevost. She died in 2017 so this screening was posthumous.

The film has a commentary in voice-over and frequent on-screen titles which offer what at times appear to be quotations, some of which have a religious or moral tone. The protagonist, around whom the whole film revolves, is Arnošt (Ernest – Ivan Palúch), a commander of an army unit stationed in a small town and backwater. We follow Arnošt through the Sunday, from his awakening to the end of the same evening. We see him in his mess of a room and with a friend and fellow army companion Ivan (Petr Skarke). We see him at the local army barracks; pretty desolate. And we see him drinking and socialising in a bar, though he is nearly broke. At times we watch what are flashbacks motivated by Arnošt; but there are also fantasies or dream sequences motivated also by him.

Much of the flashbacks and dream sequences concern women and sexual activity. Arnošt seems to be fairly manipulative in his dealings with men . But his dealings with woman are of a different order. I think the term misogynist is often an overused term: some male prejudices are not of the same order as real hatred or contempt for women. But Arnošt struck me as a fully-paid-up misogynist. There is one regular female companion, I think this is Irene (Irena Boleslavská), who he treats with real contempt whilst exploiting her affection for him.

Panelstory aneb jak se rodí sídliště

There is also a separate sequence that opens the film. This is a funeral in a local cemetery, and it seems to have been Arnošt’s mother. I am not clear how much this might be an explanation for some of his behaviour and actions in the subsequent film. I do not think we ever have a further reference to the loss.

The film has English sub-titles but quite a few of the Czech on-screen titles filled the frame and it was difficult to read the sub-titles, so I am unsure how much I missed and what was its import.

I have to say that I did not fully engage with this film. Arnošt is the most objectionable protagonist I have seen for some time; [Marcello in Dogman is a victim by comparison). And stylistically I found the film somewhat of a melee. A friend remarked that he thought that the director

‘had scoured the history of cinema for techniques’.

There are expressionist scenes, partly surrealist scenes, but also many that seem mainly realist. And at time we get editing that is almost Soviet montage. I did find that I found the film more interesting towards the end, perhaps I found the disparate strands coming together. The ending is worthy of a noir film. We have earlier seen Arnošt playing with his revolver and several scenes on shooting range. Almost predictably he shoots himself, off-screen. But we then see Ivan in the role of local commander.

The Festival Catalogue commented on the film :

‘Squandered Sunday is an indelible portrait of a man overcome by the banality of his existence, and a powerful political allegory for Czechoslovakia after the Prague Spring was crushed.”

I though any political allegory was weak, but this was 1979 so overt parallels or symbolism were probably not possible. But since the film was in production at the time of the Soviet-led invasion it would seem that the film is more likely a comment on the situation in remoter places and the persistence of a social order that the reforms led by Alexander Dubček were meant to change. It also struck me that the cemetery scene, which seems distinct from the rest of the film, might have been added later in the production as a veiled reference to the suppression of the reform movement. This would explain an unusual facet; both Arnošt and Ivan are credited [on IMDB] as having separate actors acting and voicing the characters. A sequence added later would be a possible reason for this.

I have not seen Drahomíra Vihanová’s other films. However, her early short, Fugue on the Black Keys, focusses on a black African musician performing in Prague. He encounters racism but the most affecting moment is when he hears that his family back home has perished, [the cause is not given]. To the extent that I was able to find out the content of her other films it seems they frequently deal with relationships, isolation or exclusion and alienation. That would certainly tie them to this title, A Wasted Sunday. Perhaps her films bring together her own particular concerns with the larger concerns in a Czechoslovakia oppressed by occupation.

The titles on the film translated the Czech as A Wasted Sunday but it seems that Squandered Sunday is the circulated title. We were fortunate in viewing a good 35mm print. Shot in black and white in academy ratio it has excellent cinematography by Zdenek Prchlík and Petr Volf. The editing was by Miroslav Hájek who presumably was fully occupied with the cutting of the film also well done. The music by Jirí Sust is often discordant, which fits the narrative. The screenplay was by Jirí Krenek from his own novel and involved the director in the writing. The film was screened at the 2017 Cinema Ritrovato which presumably gave it exposure. It is good that the Leeds Festival also gave an opportunity to see this little-known film.

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October 1917 on film.

Posted by keith1942 on October 25, 2017

“A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre:…”

The famous s opening line by Marx and Engels of ‘The Communist Manifesto’ of 1848 appears to be as true today. Certainly the same spectre haunts the contemporary European bourgeoisie; hence the sad lack of celebrations to mark the Centenary of The Great October Socialist Revolution; 25th October old-style calendar, 7th November new-style calendar. The same silence and absence characterises cinematic celebrations [at least in my film circles] despite the fact that the Revolution was the inspiration for the most challenging and influential film movement in the C20th world cinema – Soviet montage.

It is not a total absence. Kino Klassica have organised a number of screenings in London including a performance of the 1928 October (October 1917 Ten Days That Shook the World / Oktyabr) at the Barbican on October 26th. Like the screenings earlier in the year this was a weekday evening, not viable for people far from the Metropolis. It seems that the organisation did apply to the British Film Institute for a grant to organise screenings outside the Metropolis, but were turned down. Unsurprisingly the BFI London Film Festival offered no screenings of any of the Soviet classics.

Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna did better, featuring several films of relevance in the programme ‘A Hundred Years Ago: 50 films of 1917 in 35mm’. This included an attractive Danish animation, Petrograd in the Sign of Revolution and a film from Jakov Protozanov, Stop Shedding Blood (Ne nado krovii). Hopefully future programmes will see films from the succeeding years of the Revolution.

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto did worse. The Soviet Programme was ‘Soviet Travelogues’ which were interesting but rather low on political content. There was a 35mm print of Aelita (1924), more interested in Science Fiction than the Revolution. And there was An Unprecedented Campaign / Nebuvalyi Pokhid (UkrSSr, 1931) directed by Mikhail Kaufman. The film celebrated the first five year plan: my friend who watched the whole film was impressed. I had problems with the digital copy, not good visual quality and running too fast. However, I had even more problems with the musical accompaniment by a Ukrainian collective. Anton Baibakov. This has more to do with Ukrainian petit–bourgeois nationalism than Socialist Construction and effectively sabotaged the film.

The Leeds International Film Festival [like that in London] was notable only for the complete absence of any Soviet Titles. This was despite the Leeds Festival including the date of the Revolution [new style Calendar]. HOME in Manchester went better with a number of Soviet titles in a programme of films. However, the title of the programme, ‘A Revolution Betrayed?’, denigrated rather than celebrated the Revolution. The title appeared to be a reference to the writings of Leon Trotsky. He was probably justified in feeling personally betrayed but given that in 1917 he was one of the leaders of the Revolution, this sectarian treatment seemed misconceived.

West Yorkshire did have screenings of The End of St Petersburg / Konets Sankt-Peterburga (1927) in September [HPPH] and October [[Sheffield Showroom] on 35mm: and Man With a Movie Camera / Chelovek s kino-apparatom (1929) in September [HBPH] on digital. The former had an excellent musical accompaniment from the Harmonie Band though unfortunately the print was a copy of a sound transfer in 1969 with cropping of the image. Still to come in Battleship Potemkin / Bronenosets Potemkin (1925) at Hebden Bridge Picture House on December 2nd, with live piano accompaniment.

There is always the account written by John Reed, ‘Ten Days that Shook the World’ (1921). The BBC Radio 4 offered a ten-part dramatisation of the book which is still available on the Webpages [definitely at least until November 7th]. It is much shorter than the book and is not a real substitute for reading this account recommended by Lenin himself. But it does give a taste of Reed’s fine writing and coverage of the Revolution. Interestingly it also includes occasional additions by Louise Bryant who produced her own account, ‘Six Red Months in Russia’ (1918).

*********************************************

Postscript:

I should add something on the new British release The Death of Stalin , written and directed by Armando Iannucci. I always found his television work distinctly unfunny and the trailer for the film seemed to be much of the same: heavy-handed satire. Like, he never uses a mallet when there is a sledge-hammer to hand.

So I have not seen it. Friends and colleagues opine:

‘funny but in bad taste’ – unfunny and in bad taste’ ‘much funnier than the trailer and totally reprehensible’.

It has a lot of good reviews but I do not have a high regard for much of the critical discourse.

Worse though is the release of the film as we approach the Centenary of the Great October Revolution: which I take to be a deliberate tactic. One exhibitor offered,

” CITIZENS! PATRIOTS! PICTUREHOUSE MEMBERS!

Your country needs you to celebrate the October Revolution (in comedy filmmaking)!

The Death Of Stalin, the greatest movie this nation has ever produced, is in cinemas now.

The leadership calls on all true comrades not to let the counter-revolutionary forces of nihilism and unpatriotic not-going-to-the-cinema triumph! Instead, make your way to your local Picturehouse to celebrate our nation’s greatest filmic achievement and maybe also buy some popcorn.

Death to mediocre films! Death to comedies that only raise the odd titter! They are traitor films, the product of saboteurs and imperialists and bad writing and stuff. Instead, join all Picturehouse comrades in saluting Comrade Director Armando Iannucci, Father of Alan Partridge and The Thick Of It, mighty excavator of major LOLs; praise Comrade Actors Steve Buscemi, Jason Isaacs, Michael Palin and the other supreme talents of the Central Committee in their selfless devotion to doing acting and saying their lines.

We call on you to join the appropriate throng of comrades heading to the Picturehouse, to revel in the patriotic triumph of this great movie, and then tell all your comrade followers on social(ist) media.

Though not during the film.

LONG LIVE THE DEATH OF STALIN! LONG LIVE CINEMA!”

This is truly reprehensible and banal but worth quoting in full so one can remember the depths to which the contemporary cinema industry can plunge. It is not actually accurate in reproducing the personality cult in the USSR. I suppose the one tenuous  connection is that, just as Stalin and the Party leadership did not have a full and proper grasp of Marx’s analysis, the writers of this poppycock have zero grasp of socialism.

 

 

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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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