Sunday, September 28, 2008

Film — Nightwatching

A late addition to the program, and unsurprisingly a sell-out.

It's a Peter Greenaway film, earthy, dreamlike, more theatrical tableaux than realist narrative, never afraid to ignore the 4th wall, and, if there is to be sex on screen, never coy about it.

The secret history of the famous painting usually known as The Night Watch, adding conspiracy theory overtones to the commonly held view that this -- rather than the overall shift in fashions -- was the painting that broke his reputation.

And then, as my last act of the festival, casting what is possibly going to be the only vote for End of Evangelion for the BFI's 75th anniversary "Film for the Future" poll.

Film — Fermat's Room (La Habitación de Fermat)

Why is it that Spanish cinema has produced all the meagre amount of win in this festival, by letting slip a couple of films (this and Time Crimes) of new productions that aren't social(ist) realist? That's a trickier question than most of the ones posed in this film to the four mathematicians trapped in a shrinking room -- those are on the level of the standard Microsoft interview puzzle of yore (including the old chestnut about the box with the three switches and a lightbulb) -- another Diamond Dogs, this is not. Another tricky question is "why did it start to get dark so early in late July?" -- sunset on the 25th of July in Gibraltar would be 21:32 local time, with half an hour of twilight, or 15 minutes earlier for Barcelona. And why were they so overdressed for summer weather?

A limited cast, a sealed room, an implausible level of skeletons emerging from closets later, we are served a somewhat anti-climactic conclusion after the initial build up. Personally, I was disappointed in all the puzzle-solving that the four key members of the cast were distressingly two-dimensional in their thinking.

Still, it was interesting to see Goldbach's Conjecture used as a motive for murder, presumably because it is a puzzle that can be explained, unlike the more useful, but equally unsolved, Riemann Hypothesis about the zeroes of the ζ-function.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Film — Captain Blood

Amongst a bunch of terribly worthy titles for the Warner Bros. retrospective, this by-the-numbers Errol Flynn swashbuckler, meant, I fear, for a less cynical age than this (or perhaps not for the 10:00 showing after Tine Crimes finishing at 01:00). For a tale of high adventure on the seven seas, it was remarkably low on moments of tension while Flynn as the roguish Irish physician sold into indentured labour in the Indies schmoozes his way into the affections of key people, before taking over an attacking Spanish ship while the crew are ashore looting.

Even then it lumbers along, with the obligatory rapier duel with Basil Rathbone coming pretty much out of nowhere, and then quickly returning there. And, given the dates, the resolution was obvious a mile off.

Film — Time Crimes (Los Cronocrímenes)

Though the Festival notes compare this low budget Spanish timetravel movie with 2005's Primer, the two take very different views on time travel.

Whereas Primer's take dissolved into ambiguity and unresolved destinies, Time Crimes takes the pre-established harmony route, and, once sucked into his closed causal looping, the unwitting Hector is sucked along by the script that he has unwittingly written for himself -- and when he tries to go off-message, well, that's when things get ever more tangled.

Tightly written and executed as mundane life just steps a little sideways into the strange. Probably the best film of the festival.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Film — The Black Cat and The Bride of Frankenstein

The late show Karloff double bill -- one new to me, the other seen many times before, when the old Universal horror movies were late shown on TV during student days.

The Black Cat had at its core a psychological revenge drama, with two men who had met in the Great War (Lugosi, as a doctor, recently returned from a long spell in a -- presumably Russian -- internment camp; Karloff as an architect, and the commander of a fort that had been betrayed to the Russians) settled their differences. As it was, it had a bunch of needless side-story -- gratuitous Satanic rituals (a mood destroying hoot to anyone with even a smattering of Latin), and a bumbling everyman (and woman) newly-wed American couple (good luck making a getaway on foot when wearing those heels, lass).

If only they could have trusted to their material -- not that a modern version could be trusted to have done better. But despite that, Karloff (giving the appearance of a Secret Master recently arrive from a UFO) and the urbane and subtle Lugosi, perform to the limits they were allowed.

The Bride of Frankenstein -- despite its opening with Byron and Shelley -- is the start of a treadmill of sequels to Karloff's first appearance as the monster, leading eventually to Abbott and Costello. Great in the set pieces -- the blind hermit, the final scenes in the laboratory -- but larded with comedy yokels in the mode of Shakespeare's crowd-pleasers.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Film — Feature

A free show, and we got our money's worth. But with the dramatis personae including Billy the Krishna, it deserved at least a hearing.

Filmed locally, on -- presumably -- a shoestring budget, it mixed motifs from western and zombie movies and beyond into what can only be described as as shaggy god story. It's a game of cinema, testing the mythmaking power of film and imagination to destruction, as the Potemkin-village western sets have inconvenient bits of modern English countryside poking into them.

Ultimately, it didn't have very much to say, but said it a great length -- each tableau was drawn out about twice as long as it should have been. At half an hour it would have been quirky -- at an hour, it felt like the editing had been done in a "we filmed it, we show it" style.

Film — The Lark

[Departing -- the odo read 27500.]

I chose this low budget Cornish film on the basis of its set -- a derelict factory/office complex like a Gormenghast of 1950s industrial -- which was really the star of the show.

It starts off with the semblance of a 1970s post-apocalypse, with, Niamh and her children taking refuge in this labyrinth; but very soon things start not making any sort of internally coherent sense, and when intruders break into this sealed world, the feeling of who is in danger from whom soon flips around, and the heavy stench of metaphor rises all around.

The film didn't quite seem to hang together as being entirely internal, nor as projection onto a saner world (one prominent character not quite fitting in either interpretation); and the final sequence of Niamh marching though her world could have benefited from severely editing down.

And then emerging just after midnight into the real world -- only a short film, despite how long it felt and despite the late and delayed start -- into Cambridge Saturday night with a large number of police vehicles outside, and clearly some disturbance having been quelled at the Regal.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Film — The Old Dark House

First film of a fairly thin season at this year's Cambridge Film Festival, and part of the Karloff strand. Based on a JB Priestley novel, this film opens with a Producer's Note stating that yes, this is the same Karloff as did Frankenstein. Since his first appearance might make you think you were watching Lon Chaney in The Wolf-Man, this may not be too out of place.

The film has not aged well over the last 75 years, even when factoring in being an early example of disparate travellers forced to shelter in a house occupied by the somewhat strange; or when allowing for the various impositions of the time. Continuity editing has come a long way in the interim, the lack of which is where the film grated.

A serious slice of ham and cheese to start off with.