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Thursday, 9 September 2010

Going to the Picture Show

I think that's what people used to call going to the movies in my 'olden days' and it's a usage that suits me just fine to describe the joys of cinema-going. While I watch a number of films most days, only a small proportion of these are seen at their best on a big screen, and my regular film festival marathons apart, I probably don't average more than one cinema attendance per fortnight, if that. So I am pleased to report that I have been to 'picture shows' twice in the last three days with an additional unexpected bonus as well:

The Girl who Played with Fire (2009): Having been more than impressed with the first of the Stieg Larsson trilogy film adapations "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", which premiered here at last summer's FrightFest, I was very keen to see this second entry, which is not so much a sequel but a continuation of the Millennium saga. While it was entertaining, I do not think it was as involving as the first film, probably because of the very limited interaction between the two main characters, Michael Nyqvist's crusading journalist and Noomi Rapace's punk hacker. Both were following leads to find the culprit for three murders, for which she had been set up as the prime suspect, but their paths only joined in the last minutes. Rapace's feisty turn is the main reason to see this movie and the loose plot threads seem to indicate where Part Three is likely to turn. (I have yet to read the novels, so I could be wrong.)

Since the film was apparently cobbled together from two parts of a mini-series first shown on Swedish TV, the movie did not really benefit from its cinema showing and had a definite small-screen feel. Also while Hollywood seems to be dead keen to get going on their remake of Part One (with I believe no improvement likely), I very much doubt that they will go on to remake this entry -- unless of course they can entice Rapace to reprieve her role, a highly unlikely scenario.

Crossways/Jujiro (1928): As a complete change of pace we went to see this Japanese silent at the National Film Theatre. I found it a little disappointing, although still worthwhile viewing. Mind you I could have done without the half-hour 'introduction' by some oriental female which largely involved her reading out the text of her slide show presentation. The director Teinosuke Kinugasa started his career as a female impersonator before it was acceptable for women to take on film roles, but switched to directing in 1922. Some years back I was privileged to view his "Page of Madness" made in 1926, an expressionistic movie without any intertitles which has stayed with me vividly since, and I was hoping that this film would be equally as memorable, especially since it has the distinction of being the first Japanese film released commercially in Europe. Teinosuke went on for a long and illustrious career culminating with the Oscar-winning "Gate of Hell" in 1953.

The film itself is a fairly simple story of a sister and her wayward brother, who is enamoured of a simpering courtesan in the nearby pleasure quarter and who thinks he has killed his love rival. A grotesque elderly man pretending to represent the law and claiming he can prevent her brother's arrest does his best to have his way with her, despite the fact that we the viewer know that there has been no murder. For a silent movie, it is particularly silent with long stretches between the few intertitles, where the characters' expressive silent screen acting comes to the fore in an often impressionistic way. Mixed with rapid cutting and the abstract use of the sets' design elements -- swinging lanterns and spinning balls -- the film is so very different from the stillness of later Japanese films, especially those of dear Mr. Ozu. However these visionary techniques are counter-balanced by equally long stretches of inaction, which marginally detract from the film's strangeness and appeal.

The Surreal House: I didn't even manage to escape my cinema obsession when we visited this stunning exhibition on surrealism at the Barbican's Art Gallery. It was not only much larger than we had anticipated, but it also incorporated a number of old films in its remit. Had I had the time I could have gorged myself on rewatching Keaton's "The Navigator", Tati's "Mon Oncle", the concluding sequence from Tarkovsky's "The Sacrifice", and even Godard's "Le Mepris (not a film I particularly like) which uses the surreal Casa Malaparte in Capri as its architectural centrepiece. As it is. I was able to take in several clever Svankmajer shorts including the brilliant "Jabberwocky" which I don't think I've seen previously.

On balance this week's 'picture shows' were time well spent!
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