Saturday, March 28, 2009

Personal Canon: 90. Separate Tables (1958)

Directed by Delbert Mann
Starring: David Niven, Deborah Kerr, Burt Lancaster, Rita Hayworth, Wendy Hiller, Gladys Cooper

Bournemouth hotels should be serene during the off-season; a time where the long-term residents can relish the lack of drunken tourists and screaming kids. The host of characters that inhabit the Bournemouth hotel featured in Delbert Mann's Separate Tables, however, seemingly don't want the drama of the holidays to end, and backstab, bitch, and conduct affairs with barely a second thought. This film isn't so much like Edmund Goulding's delightfully trashy 1932 Best Picture winner though, bleakly satirising its inhabitants to enlighten ever-present social divides and exercising a crisp, cut-throat humour.

Almost vehement that we consign the wild bunch to an array of archetypes (the old maid, the glamourpuss, the stubborn elite, the dirty old man) Separate Tables encourages us to evaluate these assumptions and their easily-concluded nature, and does so by distributing its characters in a thoroughly interesting political spectrum, which helps to highlight the internal struggles of these people to simply move with the times. The middle portion of the film, in which Dame Gladys Cooper's utterly immovable Mrs. Railton-Bell confronts the private life of David Niven's Major, is incredibly telling. Her desire to include everything and everyone in his business, as an act of morally-ingrained manipulation, emphasises the old-guard ethics and hypocritical etiquette of a generation in fear of its place in the world. With war long gone, and marooned in an age of consumerism, the teenager, rock n'roll, Mrs. Railton-Bell exhibits the still-prevalent desperation to live up to perceived class-driven archetypes, and typifies the confusion of Table's erratic, aging community.

A further salute to this is Burt Lancaster's reverence and hatred of the glamorous, man-eating Rita Hayworth, whom he truly loves but views as a riskier prospect than the matronly, traditional Wendy Hiller. When a man's doubting Rita Hayworth as a romantic option, you have to reckon he's got hangups, right? Deborah Kerr's Sibyl is the centre of the film, and the political spectrum, as she's been denied the freedom of thought by her restrictive mother. So too the major: the 'tentative' romance that he and Sibyl engage in culminating in a tremendous, wrenchingly half-spoken scene towards the end, which provides the most genuine and capping element of Mann's rich endeavour. As a term, 'separate tables' may appear harmless enough, but its mild-mannered etiquette is a mask for more insidious insecurities, fears, motivations; seeing yourself through other people is hard to take.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Grace the Ice

I don't know how many die-hard figure skating fans there are out there, but the arrival of the World Championships (taking place in the next couple of days) has brought back memories of when I fell in love with the sport.

It was six years ago, towards the end of a weary week in March of 2003, when I'd been struck down by one of the many illnesses I managed to contract in my teens (yes, I was one of those kids). I had an ear infection and was thoroughly miserable, holed up in the lounge watching crappy daytime TV. Had it not been for my predicament on that rainy afternoon in March I surely wouldn't have turned on British Eurosport and watched the entirety of the women's short programme.

Ice skating is thoroughly phenomenal. The fact that most of the competitors in a World Championship fall at least once during their routine emphasises how incredibly difficult the profession is, and so I've got total admiration for anyone connected with the sport. It also consists of colourful dresses, sequins, classical music, and judging, and so is alright by me. I try to keep in touch with the major events, like the Olympics etc. but it isn't always so easy. Nevertheless, this week's action has rekindled some of the fonder memories, and particularly one of the reasons I love the sport: Michelle Kwan's stunning, gold medal-winning Short Programme from the 2003 event. Enjoy!

Addicts 2008: Sound Editing & Sound Mixing

Sound Mixing

The Dark Knight
Ed Novick & Agce Ulas

Heath Ledger's distinctive cackle may be the most resonant snippet of audio that The Dark Knight has to offer, but it's only a towering component of the film's sound library. While the heavy, dramatic, overloaded score threatens to dominate, the sound mixing ensures that this seems like a rather tense countdown of the ilk you're accustomed to seeing every five minutes on 24, and the dialogue, similarly heavy, is punctuated with booming effect. This film is loud but rarely turgid.

Derek Mansvelt

Another loud film; not that I think loud necessarily equals worthy, as you'll see further down. Neil Marshall's Doomsday is a runaway fledgling of B-movie anarchy, and the vehicular carnage that becomes its trademark custom feels wholly diegetic to the senses. The mobbish, grating platform of sound feels über-pulpy, and heightens the on-going battle, perpetuating the 'doom' half of its appropriate title.

The Strangers
Jeffree Bloomer, Marti D. Humphrey & Chris M. Jacobson

Horror movies are churned out ten-a-penny these days, so finding one that legitimately "scares" you is a tiresome task in itself. Enter The Strangers, which understands that the success of shocking the audience relies primarily on the quality and effect of the soundwork, as well as its mystery and unpredictability. The film is not perfect, but neither is it predictable, introducing bursts of sound that stir you to the point where you can't really accept them as manipulative devices. The contrapuntal bursts of folk music provide a certain eeriness by themselves.

The Wackness
Ken Ishii, Eric Justen & Jeffrey Perkins

Set in a time when Hip-Hop was still a revelation, The Wackness has a rather catchy and relevant song score to accompany its vehemently 'indie' circumstances. I realise that this is a sound mixing category, and was incredibly impressed with both how the film was put together, and particularly how it integrated the sounds of the period into its plot, without these moments appearing too focus-pulling, deliberate, or self-conscious. These moments also gave the film a much-needed (at times) energy.

Ben Burrt, Zach Martin, Tom Myers, Michael Semanick & Tony Sereno

Wall-E is a quiet, patient, and modest film that does everything you'd really want it to, and the sound is indicative of this. From Wall-E's voice, robotic but intricate and emotional, to the subtle, pattering score, to the institutional chaos of life in outer space. It's all interesting, involving, and perhaps encourages us to ruminate a little more about what's going on. Kind of like an animated version of 2001.

Winners: Jeffree Bloomer, Marti D. Humphrey & Chris M. Jacobson (The Strangers)
Runner Up: Ben Burrt, Zach Martin, Tom Myers, Michael Semanick & Tony Sereno (Wall-E)

Sound Editing

The Dark Knight
Michael Babcock, Richard King, Michael W. Mitchell & Hamilton Sterling

More bombs than you can shake a stick at (although why you'd want to, I don't know) and countless numbers of crashes, smashes, and thuds litter the latest Batman installment, and it's testament to the sound department that it doesn't become repetitive or tiresome, like other parts of the film.

Eagle Eye
Christopher Assells, Karen Baker Landers, Albert Gasser, Per Hallberg, Peter Staubli & Bruce Tanis

If action films are supposed to be thrill rides, Eagle Eye is a pretty top-billed fairground attraction. You know this when it almost deters you from seeing the flaws through sheer energy and confidence. The film feels so mapped-out and is full of plot holes, but its super-slick, never-say-die attitude extends to some wonderful sound effects (explosions, electronics, mammoth vehicles) that it's often a joy to sit through.

The Strangers
Scott A. Hecker, Rick Hromadka & Cliff Latimer

Containing some of the sharpest sound-work I've ever seen in a horror film it playfully and torturously terrifies; whether it be banging, scraping, shooting, or otherwise.
Taken from

Ben Burrt, Dustin Cawood, Teresa Eckton, Al Nelson & Matthew Wood

The mechanism of the sound in Wall-E is far from standard. The sharp, clanging, rickety nature of the moving robot a fascinating observation in the film's opening minutes, and the introduction of the highly-strung, bubbling electronica of Eve another smart touch. The conveyor-belt consumerism of space allows for more recognition, but in theory, so it should. All-in-all, fascinating variety.

Margit Pfeiffer, Wylie Stateman & Jon Title

Although I doubted that Wanted would be embraced by the Academy's sound branch, I did enjoy the film's audio work in a similar way to Eagle Eye. In fact everything in the film is flash, but when you've got a budget as huge as this film was afforded, you'd kind of expect the soundwork to be good. A standout in that area is the gunfire, which feels wickedly gratuitous and certainly grips your attention.

Winners: Ben Burrt, Dustin Cawood, Teresa Eckton, Al Nelson & Matthew Wood (Wall-E)
Runner Up: Christopher Assells, Karen Baker Landers, Albert Gasser, Per Hallberg, Peter Staubli & Bruce Tanis (Eagle Eye)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Fairytales and Fireflies: The Weird World of Eurovision

Eurovision is officially looming on the sequin-clad horizon, ready to engulf everything and everyone in its veritable inferno of theatricality. This past Monday saw the deadline for each country to find its entry this year. Some (including the UK) have had theirs sorted for quite some time now, and others (i.e. the Swedes) waited until the eleventh hour to make the big decision.

So far all of the headlines have been about Georgia's entry, "We Don't Wanna Put In", fairly blatantly a political statement aimed at Vladimir Putin, the president of rival country Russia. They were forced to withdraw under dated regulations, stipulating that distasteful and overtly political songs are forbidden. What is it with Eurovision and politics? There's a different controversy every year.

There are 42 participating countries this year, ranging from Romania to Montenegro to Azerbaijan (!), of which 24 will compete in the final of the contest on Saturday May 16th. They've kept the semi-final system that has proved such a tiresome but generally effective system in the last couple of years, and only 5 countries have a free pass to the final: Russia (the holders), and the countries that continually plough their money into the event (to little benefit), France, Spain, United Kingdom, and Germany.

The big change this year is the jury system, which -- it has been agreed -- will be comprised of "music experts" from the various participating countries. Whether our representative will be Simon Cowell or someone equally obnoxious has yet to be revealed, although I'm betting they send someone like Edith Bowman or Fearne Cotton; such is life. Their vote will count for 50% of the overall tally, which will still probably leave the balkan countries with an advantage (taste and culture cannot be eroded) but will hopefully pave the way for the Western European countries with a decent song to be in with a chance of winning.

As a rule, I generally try not to listen to too many of the songs before Eurovision night. Part of the brilliance of the experience is being surprised by the weird and appalling wonderful concoctions on display. I will however give a quick rundown of the more interesting offerings this year that may or may not make the cut, and my opinions on the 5 that already have.

Already Qualified

1 France
Patricia Kaas - "Et s'il fallait le faire"

A bit of a french female Placebo, no? The mood, if not the grunge. This woman would eat you up, spit you out, and most probably light up a fag afterwards. Lots of mirrors. This woman loves herself. And I love that the name of her album is Kabaret. Could you get more Eurovision? It's a shame the song is DULL as dishwater. Awful follow-up to probably the best song in years, last year's "Divine".

2 Russia
Anastasiya Prikhodko - "Mamo"

Typically very heavy -- not that I'm stereotyping Russians at all. The black certainly doesn't help her, considering she's got jet black hair, and the design is totally unflattering. The song is repetitive and not very exciting. Worse than last year, and I'm not a Dima Bilan fan. Surely they can't win again? Ouch she just started shouting. She's hysterical. Somebody help her.

Alex Swings Oscar Sings - "Miss kiss kiss bang"

Deutschland have really got an identity crisis. The country song a couple of years ago was totally random and now they're going back to the swing and jazz era. Bizarre. I thought it was gonna be a bit more fun when I read the title but it's a bit middle-of-the-road. Camp though. How white are his teeth? "Do the dip de dip de dee"? Oh dear.

United Kingdom
Jade - "It's my time"

Blah. Sickly sweet, banal, and totally unoriginal.

Soraya - "La noche es para mi"

This is more like it!! Fit men, a choreographed routine, an upbeat tune. It's fiery like you'd expect of the Spanish. "No more taboos. I wanna nail you to my cross." This chick wants it all. I love it.

A Couple of Contenders

Montenegro (Semi Final 1)
Andrea Demirovic - "Just get out of my life"

There's nothing much funnier than foreigners trying to write an English language song. "Everybody's trying to help me to come free"... "For all their reasons I must agree". Pretty basic stuff. They even managed to slot a lil' bridge in. It's quite a standard Eurovision song as well, but in a good way. You can dance to it at least -- if you're that way inclined.

Romania (Semi-Final 1)
Elena Gheorghe - "The Balkan girls"

Sweet jesus. What are the fans for? If they're trying to be classy I'm not buying it. The backing music is lacking punch, but the woman's singing isn't that bad. They're singing about girls who like to party but they don't really seem to be enjoying themselves and the song isn't begging me to leap into action. A bit limp.

Norway (Semi Final 2)
Alexander Rybak - "Fairytale"

Believe it or not, this is the odds-on favourite. I have to admit it's really catchy and different. It's kinda got that folky tone to it but there's enough going on there to keep you interested. I especially love the instrumental bits. The guy is super adorable, but not a great singer, and I'm not entirely convinced he's playing that violin live. No idea what the song's saying but I like it.

Cyprus (Semi Final 2)
Christina Metaxas - "Firefly"

Cyprus have been known to go for this china doll act before but this time it seems like they're going for atmosphere, fantasy and imagery rather than elegance, sweetness, and light. What is this firefly supposed to be? Very odd. I almost feel like this girl should be wearing a pair of wings to hammer the point home. She has a good voice but really, is anyone gonna go for this? I guess stranger things have happened. Case in point: Serbia 2007.

Eurovision Song Contest 2009 - 1st semi final

1 Montenegro Andrea Demirovic - "Just get out of my life"
2 Czech Republic - "Aven romale"
3 Belgium Patrick Ouchène - "Copycat"
4 Belarus Petr Elfimov - "Eyes that never lie"
5 Sweden Malena Ernman La voix
6 Armenia Inga & Anush Arshakyanner - "Nor par"
7 Andorra Susanna Georgi - "Get a life"
8 Switzerland Lovebugs - "The highest heights"
9 Turkey Hadise - "Düm tek tek"
10 Israel Noa & Mira Awad Einaiych - "There must be another way"
11 Bulgaria Krasimir Avramov - "Illusion"
12 Iceland Jóhanna Guðrún Jónsdóttir - "Is it true"
13 FYR Macedonia Next Time - "Nesto sto ke ostane"
14 Romania Elena Gheorghe - "The Balkan girls"
15 Finland Waldo's People - "Lose control"
16 Portugal Flor-de-Lis - "Todas as ruas do amor"
17 Malta Chiara - "What if we"
18 Bosnia & Herzegovina Regina - "Bistra voda"

Eurovision Song Contest 2009 - 2nd semi final

1 Croatia Igor Cukrov - "Lijepa Tena"
2 Ireland Sinead Mulvey & Black Daisy - "Et cetera"
3 Latvia Intars Busulis - "Sastregumi"
4 Serbia Marko Kon - "Cipela"
5 Poland Lidia Kopania - "I don't wanna leave"
6 Norway Alexander Rybak - "Fairytale"
7 Cyprus Christina Metaxas - "Firefly"
8 Slovakia Kamil Mikulcík & Nela Pocisková - "Let tmou"
9 Denmark Niels Brinck - "Believe again"
10 Slovenia Quartissimo - "Love symphony"
11 Hungary Zoli Ádok - "Tánclépés"
12 Azerbaijan AySel - "Always"
13 Greece Sakis Rouvas - "This is our night"
14 Lithuania Sasha Son - "Pasiklydes zmogus"
15 Moldova Nelly Ciobanu - "Hora din Moldova"
16 Albania Kejsi Tola - "Më merr në ëndërr"
17 Ukraine Svetlana Loboda - "Be my Valentine"
18 Estonia Urban Symphony - "Rändajad"
19 The Netherlands De Toppers - "Shine"

91. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

Directed by Woody Allen
Starring: Mia Farrow, Michael Caine, Dianne Wiest, Barbara Hershey, Carrie Fisher

Woody Allen has a well-documented fascination with women. His films are usually scattered with interesting females, besieged by them in fact, and his penchant for sticking by his Actresses and getting them nominations (at least in the Supporting sense) is to be admired. This ability is epitomised none moreso than in his 1986 film, Hannah and Her Sisters, which sees a selection of Actresses (all of which probably deserved Oscars for this) navigate the murky waters of uncertain romance and sisterhood.

A lot of what makes Hannah so successful is that it won't really commit to telling any one story in particular, scanning a network of people without making each of their lives a separate, static representation of their personality, but a realisation of a constantly evolving family, whereby relationships aren't restricted or set in stone, and where sisterhood doesn't necessarily mean unconditional admiration or adulation. Each sister comes across as individual, but none of them have massive arcs to undergo or major hurdles to encounter, our view of them capable through their attitude towards each other, be it a hint of jealousy and resentment at a man's preference of one sister over the other, or an outraged reaction to literary truth.

Key to buying into this family's thinly-veiled and rather sad dynamic is the way that life is treated as so incidental; affairs happen matter-of-factly, and there's never any lingering impression of their lives as a drama. These sisters embody guilt, angst and contempt but aren't riddled with or defined by them. In theory, this family could so easily implode from within, but the nature of these women as unaware, the different perspectives that they have on life and the different roles that they fulfill, tell you that this is and always has been how things will operate.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Can You Afford Norma Desmond?

That may sound like a stupid question, because really, who can? But what I really mean to say is, can you afford to pay £6,000 for a vintage original Sunset Boulevard poster?

have a preview of some of the posters auctioned off at Christie's this coming Wednesday, and it includes an original print of Carl Dreyer's incredible The Passion of Joan of Arc, which is poised to appear in the upper echelons of my personal canon, if ever completed. It's definitely one of the more interesting designs, and its use of light and shade alludes to Dreyer's own technique, even if it's kind of a waste not to depict Falconetti's expressive power. The Vertigo one is very famous, and I love how it feels so breezy, like it's a part of the Wacky Races scenery, or something equally flimsy. Lighter still is the fluffy confection of Audrey Hepburn's Sabrina, firmly in control of everything and everyone without seeming to be. The Sunset Blvd. poster seems a lot more standard, with its emerging faces and promises of melodrama, although the knotted film reel is a classic touch.

If I had £6,000 lying around, and couldn't spend it on clothes, holidays, or anything else that might tickle my fancy a little more than seeing Swanson, Hepburn et. al on my bedroom wall of an evening, then I'd probably head for Lot Dreyer, with it being my favourite film of this bunch and the most abstract offering.

How about you? Do any of these strike a chord? Are you lucky enough to have vintage artwork already? Or is there another famous poster you'd love to get your hands on?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Addicts 2008: Actor in a Supporting Role

Actor in a Supporting Role

Jaymie Dornan
Turn the River

One of the main things I like about Turn the River is that it isn't afraid to leave you in the dark. The parents of Jaymie Dornan's Gulley are estranged, and we aren't privvy to many of the details of their less-than-amicable separation, but it hardly matters as the trio ably craft a convincing dynamic and sufficient backstory on their own. Dornan seems affected, a shadow of a former self, and employs Gulley's intelligence in a passive, absorbing way, that you sense has emerged from suppression and anxiety. The product of this anxiety is often deception, and there's a hint of guilt and contempt to Gulley that he can so easily think up lies and get away with them despite being self-conscious and without confidence. Dornan becomes the film's crucial point of identification, and our main source of reason amidst a collection of very confused and erratic characters.

Robert Downey Jnr.
Tropic Thunder

Certainly one of the strangest performances I've ever witnessed, Robert Downey Jnr. navigates the idea-heavy, lazily executed Tropic Thunder as if it were a production of Hamlet. He effectively method-acts the part of an Australian method actor, method-acting a black soldier. Consequently, it's very difficult to assess how good he really is, and I'm not even sure it's capable to contemplate and process the actions of the saturated personality that is Kirk Lazarus. Downey is definitely aided by the wild abandon of the film, but his refusal to ever be fickle with the material is probably his greatest success, and his personae will likely outlast anything else on display.

Bill Irwin
Rachel Getting Married

It's bad enough having two daughters, never mind two fundamentally different ones, and women that really have a lot of bees in their bonnets. Bill Irwin's patriarchal quest for peace in Rachel Getting Married is indicative of a home-maker, and it's his unconditional tact that represents the film's closest outlet of assurance and comfort in what is an often deliberately tense and confrontational affair. He's a vital component of an incredibly successful ensemble, making concessions and remonstrating with what he believes is the balance to achieve a healthy resolution, and believably tripped up by his eldest daughter's growing lack of tolerance. His performance is a sometimes painfully honest one, and his character is perhaps the most genuine and least questionable offering of the year.

Franck Keita
The Class

Petulance comes at a price for Franck Keita's fiery Souleyman, the biggest opposition to peace in Laurent Cantet's classroom drama. It's easy to see Souleyman as facilitator of his own downfall, and Keita is often insolent and unsympathetic, but he has all the bravado of that kid at the back of the class that's willing to push, challenge and unrelent (you had one in your school, right?), reluctant to accept either praise or criticism, dismissive of need. Keita always hints at Souleyman's capability of going too far, and brilliantly demonstrates it in a scene full of heated aggression, but even still possesses a knowledge of his environment and the spirit with which the class engage in discussion, suggesting that his rage be less of a flippant outburst than an extension of his own character, contribution, defence.

Jack O'Connell
Eden Lake

O'Connell's role, as Eden Lake's Brett, is more of a modern-day representation of villainry, allbeit a rather standard one as a troublesome knife-wielding teenager. His casual approach towards violence is designed to both shock and provoke, and there's something about O'Connell that appears conscious of the need to be this serial image of society-gone-wrong. As it happens, his attempts at barking orders translate as 101 the likes of Alan Rickman in Die Hard and John Lithgow in Cliffhanger, but it's this desire to be in control, professional, important, that gives Brett a menacing edge. There's branded culture and emotional neglect present in his demeanor, his walk, his tone of voice, turn of phrase. An unflinching expression in the film's final shot says it all: chaos rules.

Jaymie Dornan - Turn the River
Runner Up: Bill Irwin - Rachel Getting Married

Sad to Exclude

Eddie Marsan's and Brad Pitt's comic timing are both ace; Marsan in admonishing a carefree Sally Hawkins' in Happy-Go-Lucky, and Pitt with his noir-wannabe extortionist tendencies in Burn After Reading. Jeffrey Donovan's adamant police detective was more than a match for Angelina Jolie's frantic mother in Changeling, and in Milk Josh Brolin gave his conservative character more than was down on paper.

Hottest Track: Black Lips - Take My Heart

Monday, March 09, 2009

Addicts 2008: Costume Design

Costume Design

Catherine Martin

Everything about Australia feels visually defined and gratuitous; epic in a way that stings of deliberation, exhibition so obvious it puts Atonement in the shade. But one thing that really can't be over-the-top is the costume design. Scarlett O'Hara may have modestly knocked up a dress from some handy curtains, but there's no mistaking the delicious fun of its design or its role as eye-popping, head-turning couture. Catherine Martin similarly appears to have gone all-out with her wartime romance, making riding crops and goggles seem like fashion accessories, conjuring up images of Ice Cold in Alex by de-frumping beige tunics. Martin's ability to align her attire to the cleanliness of the other elements of the production is a blisteringly special feat. Edith Head is smiling somewhere.

The Duchess
Michael O'Connor

Oscar-winning Michael O'Connor already had a leg-up with the nature of his film, a costume drama. Even Marie Antoinette's Milena Canonero (and I say "even" not because I dislike the film but because it went down like a lead balloon) managed to win this prize, and there's unquestionable evidence of historic favourability in the period stakes. But rather like Canonero, and the aforementioned Catherine Martin, he's able to see past authenticity and reach for what the public really want to see: juice. Keira Knightley is drowned in The Duchess, by the production but also by her dresses, which are eye-catching grandiose and almost have a stonewashed flavour to them that makes their finery attractive and tangible. Extra points for the to-die-for embroidery on hats.

The Edge of Love
April Ferry

If Sienna Miller and Keira Knightley are atop many designers' 'would like to dress' list (as I suspect) then April Ferry turned them green with envy, not letting the side down in John Maybury's messy film The Edge of Love. A lot of Ferry's designs wouldn't look out-of-place at Topshop, such is the cyclical nature of the fashion world, and I reckon a lot of girls would kill for some of the dresses on offer. Nothing outlandish, lots of floral prints, boots, shrugs, the elegance of the forties summarised in one clothes rack. And it's interesting how the costumes evolve from the slightly more tempered pallette of city living (allbeit a glamorous one), to the feminine freedom of the countryside.

The Fall
Eiko Ishioka

Picking up where The Cell left off Ishioka has still got the costuming beacon, expertly crafting the colourful creations in The Fall. They're quirky, striking, and have such depth in colour that in the film's stark conventional period you long for the forays into fantasy. The designs really capture the essence of the middle East and help to contribute to the level of intrigue that the film evokes, both as an enigmatic, mythical tale and as a construction, a blend of reality, experience, escapism. Plus I can guarantee no other film will have clothes or tools as original and off-the-wall as this, a testament to Ishioka's vision, second perhaps only to Tarsem's in this regard.

The Secret Life of Bees
Sandra Hernandez

There's no denying that Bees is a little too sweetness and light, with a couple of issues thrown in for good measure, but Sandra Hernandez's saccharin-infused collection of costumes suggests that she knows this all too well. The joyous colour of summer, the spirit of family, and the liberal lifestyle of this film's inhabitants are all taken into account, and as such we're treated to a very assured, comfortable but tailored set. I'm especially fond of how easy it all feels, which is apt considering how the narrative constantly seems to want to involve you in its friendly community of women, and generally succeeds.

Winner: Eiko Ishioka (The Fall)
Runner-Up: Catherine Martin (Australia)

Sad To Exclude

The cutting (like everything else in the film) designs by Savage Grace's Gabriela Salaverri, Albert Wolsky's figure-hugging and very flattering dresses for Kate Winslet in Revolutionary Road, Poppy's efervescence is captured wonderfully in Jacqueline Durran's work on Happy-Go-Lucky, and Doomsday's raw, primitive, and admittedly scant costuming, designed by John Norster.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Actress Profiles: Ruth Chatterton in Dodsworth (1936)

Dodsworth opens to ambitious, rectilinear art direction and luscious cinematography. It's a prelude to the European glamour that will inevitably follow, Samuel Dodsworth's sale of his own motor company in favour of retirement and a journey to Europe with his beloved missus the end of the line for the working man. His friend picks up on this in the film's opening minutes, more than hinting that Mrs. Dodsworth, Ruth Chatterton's Fran, is leading this dynamic businessman into a life of smoke and mirrors. It's an accusation that we deem as rather harsh in the beginning. After all, this woman has (presumably) stood by him since marriage, looked after his home, raised his kids, and so isn't she entitled to some me-time with her husband? As it turns out Dodsworth's friend isn't too far away, and one of the many effective realities of Ruth Chatterton's enthralling performance is that her betrayal is such an instinctively long-lasting one, and yet by the time it comes seems completely unpreventable. This film works wonders in allowing us to see husband and wife both for what they are, despite aligning us very much with the male party.

Chatterton, like all thirties leading ladies, has immeasurable beauty, and her character is refreshing in the sense that she knows and is able to exploit this beauty instead of it being relayed to her by a handsome knight in shining armour. Not that she doesn't need affection, in fact she craves it, but more through the fear of an unknown future than body hangups. She's rather like Scarlett O'Hara, navigating the male population of Seven Oaks for ninety minutes, assuredly desired but never wanting to think about tomorrow. But while O'Hara was young and understandably carefree there is an err of desperation to Fran's self-preservation and fascination with her own lofty image. An antidote to Huston's direct, honest and upfront hero the film is keen to place her at its main focus point, and it's a brave move of Chatterton to make Fran so unsympathetic. Her dismissive gaze renders spouse Samuel (and us) as powerless voyeurs to her vanity, and as she revels in the newfound power and freedom afforded through ascension from housewife to playgirl, Chatterton and Dodsworth become especially valuable, offering up different perceptions about the meaning of marriage, and how those vows concerning love, honour, and forsaking all others can become diminished or moulded with time.

Fran is not a particularly likeable character but shares the fate of fallen women like Stanwyck, Signoret, Taylor et al. that fished a line out to AMPAS and duly received a chomping response, which in turn makes it all the more surprising that she was passed over for other Actresses, most unfathomably Luise Rainer's bizarre turn as a jilted performer whose repertoire features a song about bumblebees nonetheless. It's also strange that Dodsworth was able to grab other nominations for picture, director William Wyler, actor Walter Huston, and supporting actress (Maria Ouspenskaya for a three-minute scene with Chatterton), but not for its leading lady. Alas, you can't win them all. Ruth Chatterton is more than worthy of her fancy flick, emanating the insidious desires of Fran without drawing attention to them, and believably, palpably wrestling with time.

Friday, March 06, 2009

From One Addict To Another

Most of Pete Doherty's headlines are based on drugs, Kate Moss, or drugs. There are a couple of great Libertines and Babyshambles tunes from days gone by (his former bands) but aside from that you can be forgiven for thinking he's a bit of a lost cause. His debut solo single, Last of the English Roses, is a bit of a mumbling Morrissey-wannabe, although it's kind of catchy in a weird way. Here it is...

Yes, you can't hear what he's saying.
Yes, he looks completely off his face.
Yes, the video looks like an excuse for a kickabout.
And Yes, if you watch it for long enough, that is him snogging the face off some lad.

Hottest Track: Micachu and the Shapes - Lips

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Addicts 2008: Film Editing

Film Editing

Burn After Reading
Roderick Jaynes

I don't necessarily agree that multi-narratives represent a tougher job for the film editor, and Burn After Reading doesn't have the mammoth scope of an Iñárritu-style premise on its shoulders. But it's this very modesty, as a comedy of ruthless like-minded individuals in a fairly confined corporate setting, that allows the film to feel determined in its satire and cohesive in its message. The editing works well with the tone of the film, mirroring the mechanic day-to-day nature of corporate dominance, and making the lunatic greed of its brethren feel like a routine solution. Inviting of study through rigid measurement Jaynes always seems to linger upon people at their most cut-throat, and through their efficiency of character instigates the often chortle and squall, while alluding to how their actions could ever seem like a good idea.

The Class
Robin Campillo

If the entirety of my secondary school classes were condensed into two hours worth of footage it's difficult to know what would make the grade. The more I think about it the more it feels like Laurent Cantet's The Class gets it very right, skating comfortably between pestilence and harmony, allowing so many true personalities to surface, and deftly chronicling the tentative, fluctuating distance at which Mr. Marin observes and relates to his pupils. Robin Campillo's editing captures all of what a school year encompasses; friendships broken and re-made, discussions that act as a construction of community as much as a productive learning device, a smattering of insolence, reflection, and more than a little disruption.

Elliot Graham

When Milk began out of sync I'll admit I was a little worried it was going to flitter about too much. Thankfully, that didn't happen, and given that the film is above all a biopic, it's a crucial feat that Elliot Graham's editing achieves such a patient balance of Harvey's various political campaigns. The same can be true of his relationships, and perhaps most successfully in the integration of archival footage in the film, which acts as a graceful, appropriate and necessary inclusion. These well-placed snippets of the past form a fusion with the narrative, and consequently deter any sentimental tokenism that could have been brought about from their mishandling.

Quantum of Solace
Matt Chesse & Richard Pearson

In my
review of Quantum of Solace I wrote that:-

"Daniel Craig didn't edit this film but you feel like every burst of action, chase sequence, explosion, is somehow a product of the volatility he has brought to James Bond".

I'll re-iterate the point that he is not responsible for the film editing (I never thought he was but ya know), which in turn makes the achievements of Matt Chesse and Richard Pearson all the more greater. This film moves so well with Bond's thought process; the bursts of pace as escapism, the picturesque ruminative lulls in consciousness. Compact, accomplished, and since Quantum has such a linear style to it (more like a seventies Bond film, really) it needs to be as tight as a drum to hold our attention, and it is. Impressive work.

Helle le Fevre

There are scenes in Unrelated that I wanted to end before they did. From an emotional point-of-view that was entirely selfish, seeing as these moments are designed by nature to discomfort us. Genial conversations end and are often replaced with irrepressible tension and uncertainty that le Fevre helps to highlight. We get to know Anna in these sequences, through her erratic desires and misguided sense of belonging. The slow, revealing way that the picture unfolds results in a valuable sense of a group/family dynamic, and even in the most heated exchanges shows an incredible restraint, letting us view its characters' issues, more often than not, through a shifting environment rather than emotive displays or fierce confrontation.

Winner: Matt Chesse & Richard Pearson (Quantum of Solace)
Runner Up: Helle le Fevre (Unrelated)

Sad to Exclude

Joe Hutshing and Julie Monroe work wonders giving W. a bit of dynamism as it spans the decades, The Wrestler's Andrew Wiseblum contributes to its raw, fly on-the-wall feel, Kevin Stitt does his best to make Cloverfield seem like an authentic home video, and Man on Wire's Jinx Godfrey helps to create energy, even if the entire thing comes off as a little too uber-happy.