Sunday, 30 November 2008

8 things that shouldn't happen in a cinema, but they do...

Inspired by number 3 below, a small collection of particularly curious experiences at the cinema:

1. The film burns - it did in one screening of an animated silent short at the Portuguese Cinematheque last Christmas. Big burning holes were projected on the screen, just like in a cartoon (spot the irony) growing and growing. I think I saw the last screening of that particular copy;

2. The film is shorted unintentionally - one of the songs in My Fair Lady (at the BFI in 2004) was cut in half, bound to happen again, because I think the problem is with the print. Why I didn't complained is beyond me;

3. The reels are not projected in the right sequence - it jumps one reel, although this was corrected in a few minutes (Period of Adjustment today at the BFI);

4. No one checked the quality of the print and it's inaudible for about 5min (The Devil and Daniel Webster at the BFI). This one I think they apologised just before the start, but I did complain because the room was freezing;

5. The film is long and has a break, but somehow no one stopped the projection - this one happened to my brother, in Lisbon during a screening of one of The Lord of the Rings trilogy;

6. The film has electronic subtitles projected onto it, and the machine breaks. Oh, and the film is in German, with French subtitles but only for part of the film (don't ask me why) - Max Ophuls' Libelei in Lisbon a few years ago;

7. There's a problem with a copy so a VHS is projected instead - Lola Montés at the Cinema Lumière in London, with extra bonus that you paid full price (although they did say what happened before the screening started and I decided to stay - which was a good thing cause the film is brilliant);

8. The wrong film is projected - instead of one particular version of "The Phantom of the Opera" another one was shown (again, the at the Portuguese Cinematheque). On this one I walked out and got a refund.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Friday, 21 November 2008

Tennessee Williams' "Summer and Smoke"

Two years ago I saw a magnificent stage production of “Summer and Smoke” with Rosamund Pike that closed too early (after just six weeks, ten weeks earlier) and yesterday I went to see the film at the BFI Southbank, with Geraldine Page and Laurence Harvey. Like the play, the film broke my heart in many little pieces, but the stage version was so much better. Rosamund Pike is as good actress as Geraldine Page ever was (and she was truly genial in Sweet Bird of Youth), but the fact she is younger and prettier helped to create a sense of pointlessness of the character which in my view is essential – Page created part on stage ten years before the film, by which time she was approaching 40. Also Geraldine Page did something weird and affected with her face while she spoke, which irritated me slightly and didn't have the naturalness and grace of Rosamund Pike. However, I have to admit that I am comparing two different mediums and Geraldine Page might have surprised me in the stage production.

The story is deceptively simple, because its life comes from its characters. In 1912, in New Orleans (I think), Alma Winemiller is in love with her next door neighbour, who has recently return home a doctor and with a lust for life that no one seems to fulfil (and yes, he does sleep around). Alma on the other hand, is much more, in Hitchcock’s words, a “snow covered volcano” and a minister’s daughter – and a confrontation/seduction game starts between the two, where each tries to persuade the other to come to their way of thinking, and this is Tennessee Williams, there aren’t really any winners, just different types of losers.

Of all Tennessee Williams' plays and stories that I have read or seen as either a film or a play, this is by far my favourite. Maybe it helped that I hadn’t any contact with it prior to watching the stage version. And on stage, the only one who came near was "The Glass Menagerie" with Jessica Lange and Ed Stoppard, mostly because of the very good casting. I am truly sorry Rosamund Pike’s performance won’t be available except for those who saw her in those six weeks. It was one of my best nights out at the theatre.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

On the ending of a short story

A few months ago I read a Portuguese XIX century short story collection entitled “Contos ao Luar”, by Júlio César Machado, which translates as “[Short] Stories in the Moonlight” or "Stories by the Moonlight" (either translation works). I bought the book because I liked the title and the look of it (lovely blue hardcover from 1889 I think – photo to the right), but the author was a complete unknown to me. The stories weren’t very good, nor were they particularly bad and they abused ellipsis (the three dots or "reticências", if you're Portuguese speaking), probably to create a little pause before the punchline, which invariably wasn't terribly good. However, the ending of the first one, "Os Noivos" (roughly "The Newlyweds") struck a chord with me for some reason.

The plot is banal – young and married pretty thing married is courted by womaniser, who happens to be really in love with her. Everything is blameless and rather platonic, but obviously it doesn’t really appear as such (oh dear…). She also has a mother and a sister which is very virtuous. Anyway, this gentleman gets obsessive, and the husband starts to suspect something. Meanwhile the mother dies, and one when the married couple and the sister go to the cemetery, the other man is there. In order to prevent a scandal, the virtuous sister quickly persuades the man that he must marry her to save everyone’s face.

I warned you of the banality of it. But the ending has struck a chord (it is presented as if selflessly motivated) and for some reason I think the interesting story is to know what would have happened next.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

A little something for my brother

(c) 2008 Bill Amend

In homage to my brother, with thanks for allowing me to understand the finer subtleties of this (see, all those explanations did have a purpose...), and to my endless love of Eileen Jacobson, which has to be one of my favourite characters ever in a comic strip - even when she's offstage. Click to make it larger (and readable).

More FoxTrot can be found here or here.

Friday, 14 November 2008

One box of aspirins

Today I went to Boots to buy aspirins and I was told that I can only buy one box at a time. A first, as I usually buy two boxes at a time. I was also given instructions how to used them - since it clearly looked like this was the first time I bought this most rare and unusual product.

I can only assume that the reason for this measure is to prevent an overdose of aspirins. All it did was to make me believe that I was being treated like a complete moron. Even with my lack of belief in mankind, surely no one accidentally overdoses on aspirin? And what's more, if you actually want to do it, all you have to do is to go to another branch!

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

The Painted Veil (1934)

Among Garbo’s 14 sound films (15 if we count both versions of Anna Christie) there are several that are very famous and easy to find – among these Ninotchka, Anna Karenina, Camille, Grand Hotel and Queen Christina. All of the above are readily available on DVD, and whenever there used to be a season of her films on TV, and I remember two different seasons on Portuguese TV (oh, the good old days) most of these would be included. Some of the others however are really hard to find, so I was quite pleased when I got a chance to watch the 1934 adaptation of “The Painted Veil”.

I read Somerset Maugham’s novel many years ago, and then saw the 2006 adaptation with Naomi Watts and Edward Norton. The common story of the three versions is this: Kitty (or Katrin in Garbo’s version) marries a bacteriologist to run away from home. He takes her to Hong Kong and dotes on her until he finds out she’s been having an affair. He gives her three choices – if her lover would be willing to divorce his wife, he would let her go; otherwise, she must face a messy divorce or join him in a remote part of China where there is a cholera outbreak. From this point onwards, the two film adaptations differ slightly from each other and the novel.

The 2006 version is fairly faithful, if I recall correctly, but misses a couple of important points including not explaining why Kitty didn’t want to come back to London (an overbearing mother). The 1934 version is surprisingly faithful to the first part of the novel, sorting that problem, and also leaving no doubts that Garbo has indeed committed adultery. Yet, it transforms the English Kitty into the Austrian Katrin (thus giving a reason for Garbo’s accent, always an important issue) and gives the story an altogether different ending, in the opposite direction of that designed by Maugham, and rather unexpectedly, different from what I thought the Hays Code would impose.

This earlier version has of course some faults. Two of the most bland leading men ever appear as the vertices in the love triangle – Herbert Marshall as the husband and George Brent as the lover. Surprisingly, George Brent actually acts – he’s charmingly devious which works very well. I completely understood why a bored housewife would fall for him. More seriously miscasted is Herbert Marshall. He is a pain to watch – I always found him the weakest link in one of favourite films, William Wyler’s “The Letter”. He’s too nice and too pleasant (and let’s face it, too dull) to actually be believable as someone who takes his wife to the middle of an epidemic purely for revenge. Edward Norton pulled it much, much better. But this version has a big plus: Garbo, and from the opening credits she no longer needs a first name. And she’s relaxed and funny in the Austrian set scenes, and I was surprised on how MGM’s publicity machine made it sound that only in Ninotchka did she find her sense of humour. It is all here.

The more films of her earlier films I see, the more I am interested in her. I imagine that none will ever be as good as Ninotchka or Camille, but I am now keen to watch a VHS of Marie Walewska/Conquest recorded off TV a good 12 years ago that I have lying somewhere in Lisbon and never have watched. All I have to do is take a deep breath and swallow Charles Boyer the best I can. (Her leading men are often so not interesting...) Of course, I would love to get my hands on the remainder of her American film, silents and all, in nice pristine DVDs.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Boom (1968)

While I often give up on a film if I'm watching it on DVD, I've only did it once at the cinema. Not that I haven't been tempted a few times. The last one was with "Boom", an adaptation of Tennessee Williams' play "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore" with Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Noël Coward.

It's the story of a dying actress living in an island off the Italian coast who gets visit by a poet, who has the reputation to be the Angel of Death. It is actually even worst than it sounds. And here is the main problem. The play twice flopped on Broadway in the early sixties and was the beginning of the end for the playwright. As a film, it goes nowhere, is full of idiotic cuts and irritating camera angles, and at best has a reputation as a camp classic - I hadn't heard this, but I inferred from the reaction of some of the audience and from some internet reading afterwards. I like camp, but not even as such it managed to interest me.

It is also miscast. Elizabeth Taylor's definition of acting is to shout as much as she can and is too healthy and too young for the part. Also there are a few shots who must be a private joke at the expense of Cleopatra. Richard Burton was way too old and can not really convince as a man that can be considered for a toy boy - still at least he acted. Noël Coward was the reason why I paid for the ticket - and it was interesting to see him play a bitchy old queen (not sure if he was really acting). It was nice to see him in colour and see how blue his eyes were - but these are two hours of my life I shall never recover.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Sidney Turtlebaum (2008)

For personal reasons, I want to wish this film best of luck (and I am very, very proud). Official website here.