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Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Sydney Underground Film Festival - Tina Kaufman unearths DAWSON CITY: FROZEN TIME (Bill Morrison, USA, 2017)

I saw this fabulous film at the Sydney Underground Film festival last weekend, a film by Bill Morrison (who I'm feeling guilty about not knowing, but I'm now going to chase up his work!).  Dawson City - Frozen Time, is about a hoard of silent film prints found in the late 70s during excavations in Dawson City, an old gold rush town in the Klondyke in Canada.

The filmmaker tells the fascinating story of Dawson City itself, using lots of archival material - old photographs, newspaper excerpts -from its heyday as gold was discovered and fortunes made, to its decline.  He tells how the films came to be dumped there, how they were found, and how they were rescued and restored. The film is filled with fascinating bits of information, such as how nitrate film was invented, and how it contributed to the many fires that burnt down buildings in Dawson City and of course elsewhere.

But it's the way in which he uses clips from the films that were discovered to illustrate the story in the most wonderful, hypnotic way that is so entrancing. Delirious silent film montages - beautiful clips in astonishingly good condition, apart from the traces of water damage that fray the sides of each clip to a greater or lesser extent - weave together a mad background to what is already a gripping story.

The treasure trove pool in Dawson City
Several hundred reels of volatile nitrate film from the 1910s and ’20s were discovered in the hoard, many presumed to be permanently lost. There were melodramas (The Mysterious Mrs M, The Halfbreed, Polly the Pirate, The Unpardonable Sin, and many others), there were newsreels and even films about frogs and flowers, and Morrison tells the story about the heady days when the town had three cinemas as well as much other entertainment, and how the town's decline meant that the film prints had actually been forgotten, buried underground at a time when their artistic or historical value was not even considered, and he weaves the films themselves beautifully into the story.

Dawson City - Frozen Time is an intricately structured, wonderfully absorbing film that tells a rich and involving history - I just hope it will turn up again soon.  I'm already dying to see it once more.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

On Blu-ray - David Hare is a total enthusiast for Kelly Reichardt's CERTAIN WOMEN

Michelle Williams, Certain Women
The screens show Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart and staggering newcomer Lily Gladstone with Laura Dern topping and tailing in Kelly Reichardt's sublime Certain Women from 2016 now released on a flawlessly beautiful Blu-ray by Criterion.  The film was, like all of Reichardt's movies shot on 16mm film - Kodak Vison stock 3 with an Arriflex 416Ss camera for this one. The format and stock gives movies back an entire universe of visible ethereal fine grain, itself an intensely, orgasmically beautiful component of film that's so long been invisible or hidden, and this encode from the 2K DI is a work of great beauty. Her DP on this is Christopher Blauvelt who also shot her previous two pictures.

Kristen Stewart, Certain Women
I've been a big fan of Reichardt since Old Joy, which was released in 2006, and Wendy and Lucy in 2008. SInce then I've seen everything else including the two features before Certain Women, Meek's Cutoff (2010) and Night Moves (2013.) Her entire work is now easy to find and discover on Blu-ray.

The only living American director who comes even close to her for formal and cinematic control today is PT Anderson, but Kelly's world and style is closer to an artist like Raymond Carver and his microscopic emotional lives, rather than Anderson's big subjects. And her geography is not California, or the vast sweep of 20th Century America but the seemingly endless immensity of Montana.

Lily Gladstone, Certain Women
Her characters are often hurt, often unlucky but testy real women whom Reichardt catches in the middle of apparently dead lives that seem to be going nowhere. With Certain Women she's adapted three stories from two volumes of stories, Half in Love and Both Ways is the Only Way I Want by the writer Maile Meloy, I've not read Meloy's stories, but Kelly's adaptations and movies are the closest thing to Raymond Carver the American Cinema (or any other cinema for that matter) could ever hope to achieve.

Laura Dern, Certain Women
I thought Old Joy was and is a masterpiece, and the sheer unspoken-ness of the idea - a friendship that has just been allowed to age and go stale - is such a rarity in the world of movies, and one of so many denied realities amongst men in particular. It also delivers a repeated referral to her material, that is people who might take a chance to connect or change things, but don't, or who ignore a possibility, made all the more painful by the fact they are aware of the choice. She captures a vision of real life which is so hidden yet so universal, which goes beyond dialogue, screenplay and narrative, and even perhaps more intimate cinematic tools of gesture and mood like gesture and shadow. Her formal control is completely astonishing. No more gracefully and empathetically truthful a film maker could one hope to see in the 21st century.

I didn't think any new artist could top the work she did with Old Joy, but Wendy and Lucy (which stars the director's own dog, Lucy.) comes very close.  And to an extent Meek's Cutoff with regular MIchelle Williams and Night Moves although they both seem slightly down for sheer level of inspiration of those earlier pictures are still remarkable works. 

Certain Women however seems to take off all of a sudden, even before you notice it has, with this kind of palpable thrilling but unnerving inevitability and all 107 minutes of its running time becomes a rapid testament to emotion and lost opportunities, always within a "real life" scale of event and rhythm, but never with the grandiose arthouse pretentiousness of pseudo-tragedy so hideously self-indulged by total phonies like that wanker Aronofsky and other current darlings of the festival circuits.

The movie ends with a final credit, like her earlier Wendy and Lucy, with a dedication to Reichardt's dog Lucy, who had recently died (in real life.) As someone with very great wisdom said in an appreciation of the film elsewhere, in the end there's a fourth "Certain woman", who had a dog and made it a star, and then the dog died and she decided to dedicate this to her.
If you haven't discovered Kelly Reichardt, in my opinion one of the very greatest filmmakers working today, you are doing yourself a very grave disservice.
Kelly Reichardt

Italian Film Festival (3) - Barrie Pattison reviews LET YOURSELF GO (Francesco Amato)

Opening night at the Italian Film Festival you scored Francesco Amato's Lasciati andare/Let Yourself Go which, like too many film festival selections, must have been chosen because it wouldn't scare away paying customers.

This one is a conventional comedy where it’s a surprise to find current face of the Italian serious film Tony Servillo repeating Woody Allen. He plays a Jewish psychoanalyst who is too mean to pay for a divorce from the appealing wife still doing his laundry and living in the next flat in the ghetto block where Tony is infuriated by the Observant neighbour who leaves the top floor lift door open on Sundays to avoid breaking shabbat.

The patients from Tony's practice keep on turning up in the film’s plot developments. They include Giacomo, of the great Aldo, Giacomo and Giovanni team, who dates the wife and is more in his element.

Tony’s told by his doctor to get into shape or he’ll get diabetes, listing the consequences, and that bringing his mum’s exercise bike up from the cellar won’t help because he won’t stick with that the way he would with a gym membership.That's using psychology on the shrink.

Toni Servillo, VerĂ³nica Echegui, Let Yourself Go
In the gym, Tony collides with sex pot VerĂ³nica Echegui running her jazzacise class and when she hides from the owner’s jealous wife in the steam room with Tony, she convinces him he needs her as a personal trainer - predictable jokes about him running and working out with her as he gradually gets into shape.

Her whacked out sex life intrudes, with her black son setting fires, including one on Tony’s jacket. She is working Tony as part of the scheme where her psycho prisoner boyfriend Luca Marinelli wants to be hypnotized into remembering where he placed the jewel store robbery loot we've forgotten about him pacing out and burying at the start of the film. When Tony finally gets him on the couch the piece moves deeper into knockabout. The session puts pistol waving side kick Vincenzo Nemolato to sleep and recovering the loot involves dropping an owl cage on the hapless Slav's head.


The handling is brisk and the bright color scheme attractive. Mixing Jewish jokes, shrink jokes and slapstick crook comedy is occasionally amusing but we’ve been there before and might have hoped they’d come up with a more substantial vehicle for Servillo.