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Saturday, 10 December 2016

On Blu-ray - David Hare rejoices over Joseph L Mankiewicz's HOUSE OF STRANGERS (USA, 1949)

They're so smart it hurts. Richard Conte/"Max" and Susan Hayward/"Irene" at a boxing match in Mank's terrific fourth feature House of Strangers. The new Blu-ray is the third BD "Hollywood Classics" series in a line from Fox France through the ESC label (fnac limited distribution) following the recent Dragonwyck (his second feature) and Hathaway's Kiss of Death from the same outfit. 
The screen is the end of a long take, in which Irene and Max discuss how their relationship as would be mistress and would be husband is going nowhere, in one of Mank's very best pieces of extra marital dialogue. To compound the unexpected upon the unexpected she acutely nails Max as a neutered mamma's boy who's too busy repairing the damage to a dysfunctional immigrant family that's been undermined by an old time paterfamilias (Eddie G Robinson/"Gino"). So her searchlight burns open that rarest of Italian secrets, the impotent, sexless son. 
The movie simply bristles with observation almost always within caesurae like these in which characters break to reflect, not on the action we've just seen, as a lesser director as literal as Huston might, but upon what the audience has barely begun to suspect. Mark's genius resides in these moments of relative inaction in which discourse enlarges and contradicts actions, layering narrative while endowing relationships with greater complexity. Firmly on the Far SIde of Paradise is Mank, and a movie like this almost straight after a studio turkey like Dragonwyck, easily makes the politique des auteurs sing again.
The French disc is fixed Region B with removable French subs. The master has been scanned from an older, unrestored but very good - I am guessing - fine grain which, while not as razor sharp as a new 2K from Mr Belston, shows beautiful grain, and a creamier than noir look. In that respect I think the encode is an excellent reflection of DP Milton Krasner's work for the film.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Defending Cinephilia 2016 (6) - Jack Vermee finds the patches of cinephile heaven in Paris

From our apartment in the 9th arrondissement, a 15-minute walk to the north takes me to Montmartre’s still-thriving Studio 28 (site of the L’age d’or riot; home to chandeliers designed by Cocteau), which continues mixing second-run repertory programming with ‘avant-premieres’ and director talks. This week alone I had the option of seeing the premiere of Sophie Blondy’s L’étoile du jour in the presence of both Blondy and star Denis Lavant, an afternoon screening of Bertrand Tavernier’s epic Journey Through French Cinema, or (if I had been feeling masochistic) a catch-up viewing of Oliver Stone’s Snowden.

Twenty minutes to the east of our place, the Cinéma des Cinéastes multiplex is offering, among other things, Captain Fantastic, Mungiu’s Graduation, and Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden. And the jewel in the crown of our local arthouse cinemas lies a mere eight minutes away, again by foot, to the east: the Louxor, a fully refurbished, Egyptian-style 1920s movie palace with three state-of-the-art screening rooms (the largest of which, aptly named the ‘Salle Youssef Chahine’, sports two balconies) and a rooftop patio bar. There, I could see what Brillante Mendoza has been up to with Ma’ Rosa, get my dander up in Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, or watch beautiful abstract explosions connote the end of the hippie era courtesy of a re-issue of Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point. (Programming quibble: who the hell programmed that for 10:30 a.m. on a Sunday? On the other hand, if the Louxor crew can get an audience for a rehabilitated classic like ZP on a Sunday morning – as the they evidently can, given there is always something interesting slated in that time slot – more power to them!)
Salle Youssef Chahine at the Louxor Cinema, Paris

All of the above is a rather longwinded way of saying that cinephilia does seem as strong as ever in Paris. Of course, all three of the above-mentioned cinemas benefit from enlightened state and city programs that subsidise both operational costs and equipment upgrades. This muddies the waters a little bit when trying to determine exactly how much of that cinephilia resides in the souls of audience members as opposed to budget functionaries in the mayor’s office, but the fact that a recent 10:00 p.m. screening of Fritz Lang’s Man Hunt that I attended at the Louxor  – an event that was accompanied by a scholarly introduction and a post-film discussion – was 75% full is strong anecdotal evidence that the love of cinema continues to flourish here. Given Netflix’s slow progress in the French market coupled with a French law that makes it impossible to (legally) stream any domestic cinema releases until 36 months after the theatrical release, I think cinephilia is likely to continue to flourish (at least until Donald Trump does something to bring about the end of civilisation).

The Louxor Cinema after it closed in 1988. Now restored and reopened in 2013
(see above at para 2)

Jack Vermee is a film programmer, writer, editor, educator and musician born in Canada and now living in Paris. He has worked for the Vancouver International Film Festival since 1987, chiefly as editor of and major contributor to the uniquely excellent program book issued by the festival. He currently serves as a programming consultant and associate editor at VIFF.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Not Yet On Blu-ray - David Hare gets upset about what the French did to IVAN THE TERRIBLE PT 1

Finally, after years of anticipation the Ruscico restoration of Ivan the Terrible Part 1. These screens are from a very recent Arte France HD broadcast which the producers incomprehensibly wrecked by presenting it in a "live" concert format with endless cutaways to chorus and orchestra with the screen in the background, and - even worse - split screens to keep the ADHD audience at bay (see example below). A total insult surely to the father of dynamic montage. And further insult to one of the great underrated films of all time.
French TV presentation of Ivan the Terrible Part 1
(Click to enlarge) 
For the interim anyway at least until an official Blu-ray and 4K theatrical release, a great looking restoration, the chaotic timing notches on edits, and the frame jumping and instability that plagued older prints have been completely tamed and it appears all surface and emulsion damage has been wiped clean. Image quality on the Arte broadcast is only so so, thanks largely to the idiotic production decision to relegate the actual film to a secondary "event status" in the fucking presentation. Somebody should be shot for this. Where's Stalin when you need him!

Defending Cinephilia 2016 (5) - Tanner Tafelski sends in a Trio of Personal Defences

1.    Jack Sargeant’s Flesh and Excess: On Underground Film

I read few film books this year, but I’m happy to have spent time with Jack Sargeant’s latest book. Flesh and Excess is an essential and necessary book because it covers a period woefully neglected for a type of film that gets little attention in the first place—the underground film. This book is a gift, for Sargeant covers underwritten films from not just the 1970s and 1980s, but also the 1990s and 2000s, paying special attention to Mark Hejnar’s Affliction (1996), Todd Philips’ Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies (1993), as well as the works of Aryan Kaganof and Usama Alshaibi.

2.    Bill Ackerman’s Supporting Characters podcast

Supporting Characters debuted back in March, and it has quickly become one of my favorite film podcasts, along with Mike White’s Projection Booth, Karina Longworth’s You Must Remember This, Peter Labuza’s The Cinephiliacs, and Tom Sutpen’s Illusion Travels By Streetcar. Each hour-to-three-hour podcast highlights a person (mostly people from the United States) who’s doing their part in adding to the film conversation, whether that’s publishing a zine like Jeremy Richey’s Art Decades, programming films like Philip Bresler, writing about cinema (Heather Drain, Samm Deighan, Mark Walkow, Violet Lucca, Travis Crawford, Kier-La Janisse and more), or doing a combination of all these activities and more.  

Phillipe Grandrieux

3.    Philippe Grandrieux’s Unrest exhibition at Harvard University

It’s certainly not the most groundbreaking exhibit like Laura Poitras’ Astro Noise at the Whitney or the Bruce Conner show at MoMA, but it was a memorable one for me. February and March were Grandrieux months, for I finally saw Meurtrière (2015) and Malgré la nuit (2015). Soon after, I made the trip to Boston with my friend Jason Evans, proprietor of the swell This Long Century. We then spent a brief spell with Grandrieux himself. If you get the chance, meet your heroes.   

Tanner Tafelski is a cinephile and writer based in New York City 

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

my father - Poetry by Bill Hannan

my father dealt in dicta
I’m a Labor man he’d say
they fed a lot of canaries white bread
and they all died he’d announce
sausage wrapper he interjected
when the orator quoted The Herald

since he was a sheep man
who could tell the value of wool
by testing a fleece with his hand
I took him to a film about droving
but at the opening scene he snorted
crossbreds  and fell asleep

terse he was but he had a dream
I could see it in his eyes
as he narrowed them to scan
what lay beyond the horizon
a land where roses grew
and eucalypts prayed to lost gods

as old men are wont to do
he went to bed to die
he stayed there for a while
dreaming of the plains
he’s gone now past the horizon
and is camped where the roses grow

Editor's Note: Bill Hannan was my English and French teacher at Moreland High School in the early sixties, He has remained an engaged and engaging figure with active interests across local and Australian history, literature, politics and the arts. This is the thirteenth poem published on the Film Alert blog, an unusual element of the offering but one which has caused some very large page view numbers to occur.

But times change, things happen and now Bill has his own website where he'll be posting not only his poetry but some other stuff about his life and his talented family of poets, musicians, teachers and all round active people. You can find it by clicking here

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

NISHIKAWA Miwa - Michael Campi draws attention to a new talent from Japan

Nishikawa Miwa
If you haven't already done so, try to see some works by the Japanese director Nishikawa Miwa. After working with Kore-eda Hirokazu through the late 1990s, she has now directed five features and provided episodes for portmanteau short story films. Last weekend in Melbourne  the Japanese FF  concluded with her latest, THE LONG EXCUSE, which is an exceptionally nuanced drama about dealing with the expected grief that normally follows the accidental death of a partner. But here we can see that love on both sides has completely eroded in the exquisitely developed opening scene.

A successful writer has arranged a tryst with his girlfriend on the night that his wife goes away on a holiday with a lady friend and their bus has a tragic accident. The writer discovers that tending to the more urgent needs of the other bereaved man and his two children can be so fulfilling.
The Long Excuse
Superficially like Kore-eda perhaps but it has a very different tone. Developing the script from her own novel may explain the intensity of character development. Performances including the two children are flawless.  Her films SWAY and DREAMS FOR SALE have done festival trails. I believe all the previous features are available with English subtitles from the usual sources of Asian films like YesAsia and

Defending Cinephilia 2016 (4) - Peter Hourigan on Streaming, Blogs, Animation, Restorations and more

The nature of cinephilia is constantly in flux, and at times keeping up with what’s happening or important can be a challenge.  So, with the face-saving proviso that if I did this tomorrow it might be very different, here goes.

STREAMING and all the new delivery systems.
Technology has raced way ahead of me. I never quite got into Pay-TV. And I haven’t yet signed up for one of the streaming networks.  But I have to acknowledge that so much more content (at least in quantity) is available this way.  Apart from the subscription behemoths like Netflix, we’re starting to see smaller pay per view services with more ‘curated’ offerings.  See for example Senses of Cinema dipping its toe into this pond. Some of the streaming services are initiating their own content in ‘long form’ and some of this has been outstanding.(The Night Of  from HBO,  Mozart in the Jungle from Amazon Studios).But the technology can also work to stop you seeing that special film or series.  Geoblocking is becoming more effective, and so in Australia we can find ourselves more locked out of access to films that should be part of the whole world’s cultural resources, and valuable works that once would have become DVDs we could get are disappearing.

Another problem with all this on-line material is simply knowing what’s out there and where it is.  One effect of the internet technologies has been the explosion of opinions too often from people who haven’t got much worth saying. 
Kristin Thompson & David Bordwell
But there are always the exceptions. Probably top of my list would be Observations on Film Art, the blog site for David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson .  It’s a reliable site for insightful pieces into both new films and classics, a stepping stone to material you didn’t know about, or to a better understanding of something you did know already.     

And let’s not forget Film Alert 101, and say thanks to Geoff Gardner for this.  It’s evolved into a wonderful and rich source for a range of comments from a range of people with interesting comments on film, and a place with important information on happenings in the wider film scene.

Cover of the James Layton & David Pierce book
This 1930 two-strip Technicolor musical directed by John Murray Anderson has been rolling out around the world this year in a new restoration.  But it’s not the film itself that gets the place in my llst, but the book by James Layton and David Pierce on the film, its creation and its fullest context, and the story of its life from its first release to the emergence of the restoration.  This detail is fascinating and rich. Layton and Pierce produced the wonderful The Dawn of Technicolor a year or two back.  This new book has the same depth of research, and gathering of wonderful material to illustrate its content.  The irony perhaps of this standard setter of a book on an individual film is that the authors themselves recognise that the film has, to say the least, limitations. Here, the book is greater than the film. 

Which provides a segue into acknowledging another important aspect of current cinephilia – the restoration.  Perhaps it’s not fair that we cinephiliacs love a medium that has turned out to be so fragile. So let’s honour those scholars and lab. workers who are putting in so much work into discovering, rescuing and restoring our cinema heritage so we can continue to love it.  And this lets me honour Bologna’s Cinema Ritrovato where so many new restorations are launched into a new life. This year, this ranged from mere fragments from the very first years of Cinema, silent masterpieces such as Fritz Lang’s Der müde tod (1921), French ‘forties works like Quai des Orfèvres (1947) and Adieu Bonaparte (1985) from Egypt’s Youssef Chahine.  A sign of the ephemeral nature of film – even Scorsese’s somewhat recent (1993) The Age of Innocence has been restored.

Animation is not one of most favourite genres. Most of the time, we only seem to have access to technically accomplished, superficially polished and empty works like so much from the big American studios. But this year several animations came my way that gave me such pleasure, and showed what could be achieved. The Red Turtle (Michaël Dudok de Wit) was promising, using animation to explore a story with significant ideas to be explored, but ultimately it was let down by a rather lifeless animation style, especially for the major characters. But then came My Life as a Courgette and Kubo and the Two Strings.  Courgette  ( Claude Barras), showed animation could explore childhood angst and resilience with warmth and intelligence and humour. Céline Sciamma, one of the scriptwriters and the director of some other telling French films (e.g. Girlhood), was surely an important contributor.  And Kubo and the Two Strings (Travis Knight) has been one of my most delightful joys in a cinema this year, and I shared my excitement at the time, thanks to Geoff’s blog (see comments above!)  and you can click through again here.

Peter Hourigan is a Melbourne based writer and teacher.