Saturday 20 July 2024

Khaspush (Hamo Beiknazarian, 1928)

The original poster in Russian

 A Soviet production by the Armenian director Hamo Beiknazarian, Khaspush dramatises the Tobacco Revolt of 1890 in which an influential clergyman issued fatwa and banned the use of Tabaco after a Qajar king offered tobacco concession to the United Kingdom.

Il Cinema Ritrovato 2022 – Opening Speech

Screening of Vittorio De Sica's Sciuscià [Shoeshine] at Arlecchino cinema

Among the whole range of trigger warnings that tend to appear at the beginning of films nowadays, there was one I saw recently that I found genuinely moving. 

It was a warning that only Aussie viewers are likely to be familiar with, addressing as it did the Australian Aboriginal peoples. It read: "This film contains images and voices of people who are no longer alive."

I needed to catch my breath. It awakened something in me in connection with this festival. What we do very often involves looking at and listening to the images and voices of the dead. Are we breaking taboos, upsetting long-lost souls?

And that’s not to mention film restoration, which brings those sights and sounds even closer to their origins, heightening the resemblance. 

Thursday 18 July 2024

"Pictures for Peanuts" by Nick Grinde

From the Saturday Evening Post,  December 29, 1945, vol. 218, no. 26




Over on Stage 6 a million-dollar picture is starting this morning. The call was for nine little well-placed optimism you could say that the epic is beginning to show promise of getting under way. A lot of departments with a whale of a lot of mighty fine technical abilities have been working for weeks toward this very day. Propmen, grips, gaffers, electricians, boom men, recorders, mixers, cameramen, assistant cameramen, a script clerk overflowing her rose-colored slacks, a company clerk, an assistant director, his assistant and his assistant are functioning with the occupational movements that will find each one ready when the moment-finally comes to record the suspensive scene where Nancy says, ‘I am tired of wearing other people’s clothes. From now on I will wear my own or nothing!”

This confused efficiency, laced, of course, with a fine sense of self-preservation, is going on, all unnoticed, around, above and in between the associate producer and the director, who already are trying to see who can stay calm the longer. The pattern is familiar to everyone. Too much has been written about the habitat of the colossal picture for anyone to have escaped a willing or unwilling education on the subject.

But over on Stage 3 in this same studio another picture was scheduled to start this morning: at eight-thirty. It’s ten-thirty over there, too, and they have exactly two hours’ work under their belts. There are no press agents or fan-magazine writers hovering around. No newspaper columnists are harvesting their succulent crop. You’d think it said “Contagious” on the door instead of “Quiet, Please! Shooting!”

The difference is that this is just another little picture. A B picture, if you please. B standing for Bread and Butter, or Buttons, or Bottom Budget. And standing for nearly anything else anyone wants to throw at it. But it’s a robust little mongrel and doesn’t mind the slurs, because it was weaned on them. If the trade papers give a B the nod at all, they usually sum up their comments by saying it will be good for Duals and Nabes, which is why you'll find them on a double bill in the neighborhood theaters.

A B picture isn’t a big picture that just didn’t grow up; it’s exactly what it started out to be. It’s the twenty-two-dollar suit of the clothing business, it’s the hamburger of the butcher shops, it’s a seat in the bleachers. And there’s a big market for all of them.

Only by perpetual corner cutting can these often quite presentable cheaper pictures be made to show the profit that is so very agreeable to the studios which invested their money in them.

Like the less expensive suit of clothes, the cloth from which they are fabricated is not all wool, the buttonholes are machine made, and the buttons themselves are more or less synthetic. But when you are all through, you have a suit or a picture which goes right out into the market with its big brothers and gives pretty good service at that. The trick is to judge them in their class and not by A standards.

In the finer pictures, results are all that are aimed at, let the costs fall where they may. The best possible actors are hired to articulate the finest lines the top writers can conjure up. And the best directors mount the stories in convincing and appropriate settings. Of course, occasionally somebody’s aim is a little off, but that’s beside the point.

In making a program picture, all this is different. Cheaper raw materials are used and a more thrifty approach is indicated. No expensive best seller or Broadway play is bought. That’s out; it’s not even thought about. The whole picture will be made for much less than the cost of such a property. The story used will be an original submitted by one of the freelance writers who knows just what and whom he is slanting it for. Or it may be a magazine story from one of the pulps or a fifteen-minute radio program purchased for its basic idea or twist. These properties are then blown up into script form and length by a writer who either works at the studio already or is brought in for the job. If he gets six weeks’ work out of it, he’s lucky. If he takes much more, he had better buy bonds with the money, be- cause he won’t be back very soon.

There are all kinds of ways of writing a story besides good and poor. It can be written up or written down. It can be costly to produce or slanted on the frugal side. If the cast of characters can’t be held down in numbers, it’s the wrong story for limited money. And if they can’t be kept out of busy places like night clubs, railroad depots and football games, look out for the budget.

Friday 12 July 2024

Iranian New Wave: 1962–79 at Melbourne International Film Festival

Dead End by Parviz Sayyad

Iranian Cinema Before the Revolution, 1925-1979, a landmark retrospective held last year at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, was an eye-opener that traced a national cinema still largely unknown to a wide international audience. Thanks to the availability of new restorations and rare archival film prints, the majority of which now banned in Iran, an immensely creative period was revisited in splendid detail, revealing the roots of a rich and visionary cinematic tradition. While the New York program featured over five decades of Iranian cinema encompassing the avant-garde and the popular, this selection for the Melbourne International Film Festival, curated by the original team behind the MoMA exhibition, focuses on works associated with Cinema-ye Motafavet, or the Iranian New Wave.

Sunday 7 July 2024

HE Who Gets Slapped (Victor Sjöström, 1924)

A chilling study of humiliation and obsession, blending circus-world spectacle with symbolism and philosophical undertones, HE Who Gets Slapped was Swedish master Victor Sjöström’s second Hollywood film. This is a tale of the fickleness of social status and a treatise on “man as clown”. There were major transformations at work in and around this seminal silent: Sjöström’s full transformation into Seastrom, a major Hollywood director; the merger of Goldwyn Pictures and Metro Pictures Corporation into Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, with this film as the new company’s first production; and, in the story, Lon Chaney’s metamorphosis from a heartbroken and disillusioned scientist researching the origins of mankind, into a clown letting lions loose on evil men.

Il Cinema Ritrovato 2024: Favourites & Discoveries

70mm projection of North by Northwest in the Piazza Maggiore

The XXXVIII edizione of Il Cinema Ritrovato ran from June 22 to 30. In reality, it started a few days before the official date and stretched into one extra day at the tail end of it. Four hundred-plus titles were screened, from early cinema to documentaries made in 2023-2024, from great classics to obscure gems, from experimental films to pornography. This edition also finally saw the opening of the restored Cinema Modernissimo which now has turned into the heart of the festival.

5,700 from 72 countries acquired the festival pass, 700 higher than last year.

The title of all the films and moving images screened can be accessed here.

I asked some of the attendees about what they had taken from the festival. They generously sent me the titles they have liked and those they have discovered, or those they have rediscovered and now loved. 155 festivalgoers –  including curators, archivists, festival bums, film historians, 35mm fanatics, programmers, writers and critics – have responded to this call for building a new canon based on what we played this year.

Friday 5 July 2024

The Lady with the Torch: Columbia Pictures, 1929-1959 [book]


Columbia Pictures, 1929-1959

Edited by Ehsan Khoshbakht

Published by Les éditions de l’oeil

Published on the occasion of the retrospective of the Locarno Film Festival 2024

288 pages, fully illustrated (rare stills from the collection of Sony/Columbia and the Cinémathèque Suisse

Contributors: Jeremy Arnold on Nick Grinde, Matthew H. Bernstein on the history of Columbia, David Cairns on Edward Dmytryk, Paola Cristalli on Richard Quine, Chris Fujiwara on Joseph H. Lewis & Robert Rossen, Philippe Garnier on Roy William Neill, Haden Guest on Phil Karlson, Milan Hain on Hugo Haas, Pamela Hutchinson on torch-bearers, Elena Lazic on Alexander Hall, Christina Newland on CP stars, Kim Newman on William Castle, Geoffrey O’Brien on Hawks, Jonathan Rosenbaum on Andre De Toth, Christopher Small on Capra, Farran Smith Nehme on John Sturges, Imogen Sara Smith on Boetticher and David Thompson on Charles Vidor.

The hyperrealist image of a lady on a pedestal holding a burning bright torch was an idealised vision of Americanism. It proclaimed the arrival of another Columbia Pictures film, very often in black-and-white, most probably short in length but fast and furious in tone and pace. The Columbia films, however, tended to drag this figurehead of liberty down and examine her more unglamorous side. American values were dissected and questioned through tales of fast-talking career women, existentialist cowboys, and prophetic anti-fascist quickies. Yet, the symbol of the still burning torch over The End title was an affirmation of the values being rebuilt through the skilful art of John Ford, Dorothy Arzner, and Nicholas Ray.

This book, accompanying a Locarno Film Festival retrospective celebrating the centenary of Columbia Pictures, follows the period of the retrospective, 1929-1959, but expands on its directors and directions.

The collection of essays to follow examines the particularities of Columbia in relation to what is generally known as the Genius of the System. This volume acknowledges the brilliance of the system but finds the genius somewhere between a filmmaker’s vision and the industrial infrastructure that allowed them to nourish.

Illustrated with hundreds of rare stills, the stories are as much in the images as in the words. Both words and images aim at reconstructing three exuberant decades of incessant creativity, evolution, and growth, reminding us that once upon a time there was a brilliant exchange between art and commerce, between the system and the artist.

Thursday 4 July 2024

L'Héritage de la chouette (Chris Marker, 1989)

L'Héritage de la chouette [The Owl's Legacy], directed by Chris Marker plays on July 28 at Closeup Cinema in London. For this screening I have selected three episodes of the series around the themes of memory, image and cinema. – EK

Chris Marker's rarely seen magnum opus about the influence of the ancient Greek culture on the contemporary world remains his most elaborate project for television. Produced by the Onassis Foundation, Marker found the budget and freedom to invite some of the world’s leading philosophers, writers, logicians, politicians, artists and filmmakers (very often with explicit links to Greece, such as Theodoros Angelopoulos and Elia Kazan) to sit in front of his camera and, in a clear act of creating a cinematic forum, discuss thirteen themes, including Democracy, Nostalgia, Music, Cosmogony, and Misogyny. There is an abundance of Marker’s usual wit and his use of the image of animals for linking his philosophical investigation, here, in the form of the owl which was the symbol of wisdom for the Greeks. Marker’s words, in the English version, are spoken by Bob Peck.