Monday, July 25, 2016

Silents Is Golden: The Complete Buster Keaton Shorts

“Have you ever been in a movie, Buster?” he asked.

When I told him I hadn’t, Roscoe said, “Why don’t you come over to the Colony Studios tomorrow morning? I’m starting a new picture there. You could try doing a bit in it. You might enjoy working in pictures.”

“I’d like to try it,” I told him.

– Buster Keaton: My Wonderful World of Slapstick

It didn’t take long for Buster Keaton to fall head over heels for the movies. He met Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle on the set of his two-reeler The Butcher Boy in 1916, and the next day he was making his debut in front of the cameras. He enters The Butcher Boy as a customer hoping to buy some molasses, an attempt that ends in a predictably sticky mess, and he later engages in flour-chucking fight and a chase around a school for girls (with Roscoe in drag). Keaton didn’t make much of an impact on audiences in this first appearance – in fact, Variety’s review neglected to mention him even as they found time to praise his canine co-star Luke – but many of the traits we associate with him were already in place. The dumbfounded expression, the astonishing athleticism, the porkpie hat. A star was born.

Read the rest of my article at Mostly Film

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Il Cinema Ritrovato 2016

What makes a classic? Why do some films establish unassailable reputations as great works of cinema, while other films with just as many virtues slip through the cracks of time and are forgotten? At this year’s Il Cinema Ritrovato festival in Bologna, a number of acknowledged masterpieces from the canon were screened – films such as Singin’ in the Rain, Modern Times, The Godfather, A Streetcar Named Desire and McCabe & Mrs Miller – but the thrill of a festival like this lies in uncovering hidden gems and being surprised by a film that you had no great expectations for, or in some cases had never even heard of. There were plenty of such revelations this year, and we unearthed a few films that really do deserve to have their names listed among the greats.

For example, take the strange case of Only Yesterday. The opening credits of John M. Stahl’s 1933 film suggest that it was adapted from a book by Frederick Lewis Allen, but it quickly transpires that the source material is actually Stefan Zweig’s Letter from an Unknown Woman, and Universal in fact quietly secured the rights to Zweig’s novella just two weeks before the film’s release. Of course, that story was filmed beautifully in 1948 by Max Ophüls, a film that is justifiably renowned as a masterpiece, but it’s hard to see why there is such a disparity between the reputations of these two pictures.

Read the rest of my article at Mostly Film

Friday, June 24, 2016

Remainder

Essentially, you’ve got to forget it ever happened,” the solicitor tells his client. “Put it behind you and start a new life, on your terms, with incredible resources.” That’s easier said than done. Tom (Tom Sturridge) has just received an £8.5 million payout as compensation for being severely injured in a freak accident – but how can a man move forward with his life when both his body and mind still bear such fresh scars?

As he hobbles around his small flat, fragments of memories keep flashing into Tom’s ruptured brain, giving him a reason to exploit his sudden and unexpected wealth. He finds a location that matches the home in his mind’s eye and hires actors to play roles within it, hoping that some kind of Proustian spark – the smell of liver? The sound of a piano? – will reconnect him with his former self.

Read the rest of my review at Little White Lies

No Home Movie

No Home Movie is haunted by two ghosts. The subject of Chantal Akerman’s film is her mother, Natalia, who passed away in April 2014 at age of 86, and the director herself who died in 2015, shortly after the film’s world premiere. Akerman may not have originally intended for No Home Movie to be her swansong, but there is the inescapable feeling of a chapter being closed with this film. Akerman’s relationship with her mother was one of the themes that united her eclectic body of work, with Natalia being a key figure in many of her installation pieces and most memorably in her 1977 film News From Home, to which No Home Movie feels like a companion piece.

Just as in News From Home, mother and daughter spend part of No Home Movie communicating from different continents, although this time Skype makes the interaction more direct. “I want to show that there is no distance in the world,” Akerman tells her mother who, with a look of confusion, peers into her monitor. “You always have such ideas, don’t you darling?” Natalia smiles back. At other times, Akerman and her mother sit across the table from one another to continue their conversation. “Tell me a story,” Akerman asks of the woman who fled Poland in 1938 and survived internment in Auschwitz, where her own parents died. Even as the pair discuss the most mundane things, such as Natalia’s upcoming medical appointments, or the best method of preparing potatoes, we get the sense that every moment is precious for a daughter who knows that the time she has to spend with her mother is rapidly running out.

Read the rest of my review at Little White Lies

Monday, June 13, 2016

Éric Rohmer: A Biography

Who was Éric Rohmer? Well, for a start he wasn't Éric Rohmer. The man we celebrate as one of the central figures in the nouvelle vague began life as Maurice Schérer, and Éric Rohmer was just one of many names he adopted throughout his lifetime. When he wrote the novel Elizabeth in 1946 he published it under the name Gilbert Cordier, and when he was trying to raise money to make his first 16mm short films he did so as Antony Barrier. The Ciné-Club du Quartier Latin's Bulletin introduced Barrier as “a young American avant-garde director who has just won the prize given in the United States for the best amateur film.” The report was written by Chantal Dervey, another pseudonym.

Why so secretive? In Éric Rohmer: A Biography (published in France in 2014 and now translated by Steven Rendall and Lisa Neil), authors Antoine de Baecque and Noël Herpe describe secrecy as “the true passion of his life” but note that this clandestine nature “did not conceal scandals, anti-conformist habits, or provocative commitments, and still less a complicated family romance or a closeted second emotional life.” Rohmer simply kept his personal and professional lives completely separate, to the extent that the Schérer clan (with the exception of his wife Thérèse, who was complicit in the lie) didn't know what he actually did for a living. Rohmer had grown up in a family driven by the importance of a classical education that looked down on cinema as a low artform, and Rohmer's mother died in 1970 believing that her son was working a teacher, rather than an acclaimed filmmaker and critic. “That would have killed her,” he said.