09 September 2005

Rashomon

Rashomon
I saw Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon today, a very thought-provoking film. Although the absolute truth of the events it describes is shown to be irrelevant, I can't help wondering exactly what the 'real' scenario is.

The plot is, at least initially, uncomplicated: a woman is raped by a bandit and her husband is killed. Also, the film has only three locations: the wood where the rape and killing take place, an open-air court where witnesses describe the events, and a derelict building in which the situation is discussed during a rainstorm. The action begins in medias res, like many of Kurosawa's narratives.

What the director does with this simple scenario is quite amazing: he presents the narrative in flashback, from the perspectives of four different people as reported by others. Each version of the events is different, as each one favours its own self-serving and unreliable narrator. We are never told which, if indeed any, of these versions is entirely true, though we are left with the clear awareness that truth itself is highly subjective. We may doubt the veracity of many of the characters, though the film is ultimately optimistic, with the rainstorm ending and an abandoned baby being cared for.

Toshiro Mifune stars as the proud yet naive bandit. He recounts what he regards as his noble actions, though, in one version of events, the woman escapes after he begs her to marry him. Her surprisingly stoical husband reacts calmly to everything around him though is also a skilled samurai swordsman. His wife is alternately terrified and dominant, screaming in fear though later mocking the two men for their lack of verility. So, each version of the story presents a different interpretation of the characters.

In the wood where the central events take place, the sun shines through the trees creating a dappled light like Pierre Auguste Renoir's painting Moulin De La Galette. Kurosawa also films the sun itself, glinting between the trees; he was apparently one of the first directors to point his camera directly at the sun, and when he does so in Rashomon the effect is beautiful and natural.

22 August 2005

Black God, White Devil

Black God White Devil
I saw Glauber Rocha's film Black God, White Devil today. The film looks stunning, with black-and-white, almost solarised, photography. At the start, the camera is hand-held and moving frenetically, but later there are some lovely images of desert landscapes and ruined buildings. It's a very slow film, though, with the ritualised action punctuated by long pauses in which the characters simply stand around staring at each other. Most characters also have a knack for speaking with portentous pauses, which slows things down even more.

Rocha was the most influential director of Brazil's New Cinema movement in the 1960s, and this was his first internationally-famous film, but the earlier social realist New Cinema films are arguably more important than the theatricality of Black God, White Devil.

20 August 2005

The 50 Greatest Films Of All Time

Vanity Fair
The current issue of Vanity Fair has a feature listing The 50 Greatest Films Of All Time. They don't explain who wrote the article, or who chose the fifty films, and the titles are listed alphabetically:
  • All About Eve
  • Amarcord
  • Annie Hall
  • Blow-Up
  • Bonnie & Clyde
  • Breathless
  • Bringing Up Baby
  • Casablanca
  • Chinatown
  • Citizen Kane
  • The Conformist
  • Die Hard
  • Dirty Harry
  • Double Indemnity
  • Dumbo
  • The General
  • The Godfather
  • The Godfather II
  • Goldfinger
  • The Gold Rush
  • Gone With The Wind
  • GoodFellas
  • The Graduate
  • Grand Illusion
  • It Happened One Night
  • It's A Gift
  • Jaws
  • Lawrence Of Arabia
  • Mildred Pierce
  • National Lampoon's Animal House
  • North By Northwest
  • Now Voyager
  • Old School
  • Paths Of Glory
  • Psycho
  • Red River
  • Reds
  • Rome: Open City
  • The Rules Of The Game
  • Seven Samurai
  • The Seventh Seal
  • Singin' In The Rain
  • Some Like It Hot
  • Stagecoach
  • Sullivan's Travels
  • Sunset Boulevard
  • Toy Story
  • Trouble In Paradise
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • The Wild Bunch
  • The Wizard Of Oz
  • The Women
Film lists like this can broadly be divided into three types.

Classical Hollywood lists:
Golden Age films like Gone With The Wind and The Wizard Of Oz, selected by nostalgic film critics with rose-tinted glasses.

World cinema lists:
arthouse films like Pather Panchali and Seven Samurai, which are selected by film directors simply because they always have been.

New Hollywood lists:
American cinema 1970s+, like Star Wars and The Godfather, which appear at the top of lists voted for by the public.

Of these main types, the Vanity Fair one is closest to the 'Classical Hollywood' list. It emphasises classic Hollywood films like Casablanca, Stagecoach, and The Wizard Of Oz. It also finds room for Animal House and Die Hard, though, which is almost criminal considering the films it leaves out (Apocalypse Now, A Streetcar Named Desire...). There are only eight foreign-language films, which is nowhere near enough.

Citizen Kane and Battleship Potemkin are almost obligatory on lists like this - if a 'greatest films of all time' list doesn't include these, it can't really be a credible list. Personally, I think 2001: A Space Odyssey and Psycho should also be obligatory, too.

Howard Hawks, Francis Coppola, Victor Fleming, Billy Wilder, Michael Curtiz, Jean Renoir, Alfred Hitchcock, and Stanley Kubrick are the only directors who appear twice in the list. I think, in addition, Akira Kurosawa and Orson Welles each deserve another entry.

Fritz Lang and Sergei Eisenstein don't appear here at all, because silent cinema is very under-represented. The only silent films included are the comedies The General and The Gold Rush. This is a shame, considering the many experimental silent films available to choose from. I know Vanity Fair is a glamour magazine not an academic journal, but Un Chien Andalou, Metropolis, Cabinet Of Dr Caligari, and Battleship Potemkin are far more important silent films than the two they chose.

There aren't precisely fifty films on this list - they admit that they (inexplicably) included Old School as an extra guilty pleasure, and (like many such lists) they treat The Godfather and The Godfather II as a single film. Note, by the way, that there are two films called Some Like It Hot: the one on this list is the 1959 comic masterpiece, not the obscure 1939 comedy.

29 July 2005

The Sun

Cameron Diaz has been awarded damages today after winning her High Court libel suit against The Sun in the UK. In an article published on 12th May, the newspaper had falsely claimed that Diaz had been seen kissing an MTV producer.

The article said: "JUSTIN Timberlake's bride-to-be Cameron Diaz has been caught snogging a married man. The Hollywood babe, 32, was spotted in a clinch with the TV producer while her pop star fiancée prepared to go into hospital for a throat operation. Witness Oscar Duran said: 'Cameron wrapped her arms around the guy and started kissing him on the mouth. They stood kissing for a good three minutes.' Cameron and producer Shane Nickerson, 33, who works on her MTV travel show Trippin have enjoyed more than just a professional relationship, according to a US magazine. Mr Duran told how he saw the pair emerging from the Oracle Post studio in Santa Monica where Trippin is dubbed and stop behind bushes in broad daylight. He said: 'They seemed to glance around to see if anyone was watching.' Mr Duran confessed: 'I was surprised they would stand there in public on the sidewalk kissing.' Nickerson's wife Elisa is a high school teacher. They have a one-year-old daughter Lucy."

10 July 2005

The Stanley Kubrick Archives

The Stanley Kubrick Archives
An exhibition of artefacts from Stanley Kubrick's personal archives was held in Germany last year, and will begin an international tour later this year. The exhibition was curated by Bernd Eichhorn, who was one of a select few researchers permitted to examine Kubrick's archives in situ at Childwickbury Manor (his home in St Albans, near London) after his death. Alison Castle also delved into Kubrick's storage boxes at Childwickbury, and her new book The Stanley Kubrick Archives is arguably the definitive work on Kubrick.

If a book's weight is any indication of its quality (and it often is), then The Stanley Kubrick Archives is very good indeed, weighing 5kg. This lavish, folio-sized book begins with frame-enlargements from each of Kubrick's films from Killer's Kiss (under its working title Kiss Me, Kill Me) to Eyes Wide Shut. Unfortunately, this section is problematic for a couple of reasons: it omits Fear and Desire (the feature debut that Kubrick later disowned), and it lists incorrect aspect ratios for three films. (Paths of Glory's correct ratio is 1.66:1, Lolita's alternates between 1.33:1 and 1.66:1, and Barry Lyndon's is 1.66:1).

The second half of the book presents "the nuts and bolts of Kubrick's creative history." This is a treasure trove for Kubrick fans, illustrated with more than 800 photographs, script pages, and props. There are also reprints of selected Kubrick interviews, and new essays by Gene D. Phillips, Rodney Hill, and Michel Ciment. Each copy of this (admittedly expensive) book also comes with a CD recording of an interview Kubrick gave to Jeremy Bernstein on 27th November 1966, and a strip of twelve frames from Kubrick's personal 70mm print of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

04 June 2005

The Jaws Log (expanded edition)

The Jaws Log
The Jaws Log, by Carl Gottlieb (who co-wrote the Jaws screenplay), has been released in an expanded 30th anniversary edition. The book was first published in 1975, and provides a behind-the-scenes account of the making of Steven Spielberg's Jaws.

A 25th anniversary edition appeared in 2001, with new introductions by Peter Benchley (author of the Jaws novel) and Gottlieb, and a selection of on-set photographs; the book's main text was not altered, though extensive footnotes were added. For the 30th anniversary edition, Gottlieb has written a short foreword, though there's no other additional material.

04 May 2005

The Poseidon Adventure

The Poseidon Adventure
The Poseidon Adventure was the film that established the basic conventions of the disaster genre, i.e. a group of A-list stars in peril. In this case, they're guests on a luxury liner which is capsized by a tidal wave.

One of the highlights comes when Gene Hackman realises that, if they propped up a large Christmas tree, they could climb up it and reach a ledge that led to a potential exit. He convinces a small group to climb up, but most of the others won't listen to him. He tries one last time to make them see sense, but they still ignore him. So he climbs up the tree himself, and, from the ledge, he pauses to look down contemptibly at them. Then there's an explosion, and the scene below him looks like Sodom and Gomorrah in hell - a writhing mass of burning people. Hackman turns his back on them and goes through a door to safety... and then he closes the door behind him!

It's one thing to turn his back on them, but closing the door on them as well seems a bit harsh. (Hackman's character is a priest, after all.) It's a very funny moment, though, and the film is worth seeing despite most of the acting (apart from Hackman and Shelley Winters) being a bit ropey. It also has Leslie Nielsen as a deadpan ship's captain at the start, so you think it's going to be a parody but in fact it isn't (not intentionally, anyway).

07 April 2005

Book On The Beach

Book On The Beach
My third book review column, Book On The Beach, has been published in the April issue of Guide Of Pattaya magazine. The article is a review of Donna Leon's novel Doctored Evidence. My previous columns were published in February and March.

PDF

07 March 2005

Book On The Beach

Book On The Beach
My second book review column, Book On The Beach, has been published in the March issue of Guide Of Pattaya magazine (on page 9). The article is a review of Ian Rankin's novel Fleshmarket Close. My first column was published in February.

PDF

03 March 2005

Cumhuriyet

Cumhuriyet
Haftalik Penguen
Turkish newspaper cartoonist Musa Kart has been fined $3,500 after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan filed a lawsuit against him. The charge relates to Kart's cartoon depicting Erdoğan's head on a cat's body, published in Cumhuriyet on 5th April last year.

In solidarity with Kart, on 24th February the magazine Penguen printed caricatures of Erdoğan as a variety of animals on its front cover. Predictably, Erdoğan has also filed a lawsuit against the magazine.

07 February 2005

Book On The Beach

Book On The Beach
My first book review column, Book On The Beach, has been published in the February issue of Guide Of Pattaya magazine (on page 8). The article is a review of Carlos Ruiz Zafon's novel The Shadow Of The Wind.

PDF

06 February 2005

Seeds Of Peace

Seeds Of Peace
Sulak Sivaraksa, publisher of the journal Seeds Of Peace, is being investigated for lèse-majesté due to an article in the journal's January-April issue (volume 21, number 1). Sulak is a Buddhist writer and academic, who has spoken in opposition to Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The lèse-majesté charge relates to a feature titled Revenge Of The Forgotten Monarch.

The article, on pages 6-9, has no byline except for the initials BP. It discusses the unexplained death of King Rama VIII: "As for the killing of Ananda, officially it remains an unresolved mystery. In Thailand where even a hint of criticism of the monarchy is a serious criminal offense, inquiries are actively discouraged."

Sulak previously discussed the case in his book เรืองนายปรีดี พนมยงค์ ตามทัศนะ ส. ศิวรักษ์, in which he quotes from a 1948 diplomatic cable from the American ambassador reporting Phibun Songkhram's private comments on the matter. The book was later published in English translation as Powers That Be: Pridi Banomyong Through The Rise And Fall Of Thai Democracy.

09 January 2005

Tak Bai VCD

Same Sky
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra announced last month that anyone selling VCDs containing footage of the 'Tak Bai incident' would be prosecuted. On 25th October last year, more than 1,000 Muslim protesters were rounded up by the army and taken to a military camp. The men were forced to lie on top of each other for five hours while they were being transported, resulting in seventy-eight protesters dying of suffocation. Footage of the incident was not broadcast by state television, though it has been circulating on VCD. Same Sky magazine (volume 2, number 4; October-December 2004) distributed a Tak Bai VCD last year, which shows the amy firing at the protesters.