AMERICAN CINEMA PAPERS
ALL THE WORLD’S A SCREEN
by Harlan Kennedy
For any film fan it
was a sprocketful of miracles. Twelve days of cinema obsessed with
cinema. The 2009
Yes: movies about movies. Films that use cinema as background enrichment, integral plot or explosive historical catalyst (INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS). Nearly all the directors were at it, though principally and most inventively Pedro Almodóvar. Marco Bellocchio and the Basterd d’Honneur himself, Q. Tarantino.
Is it an accident that
2008 and 2009 are centenary years? Ten
decades ago in
Bellocchio’s VINCERE is full of the excitement of early cinema, of an era when celluloid began to germinate, in the seedbed of popular culture, not just as an entertainment mode but as an instrument for political propaganda. Many scenes in VINCERE are set in movie theatres, where newsreels and patriotic films are like lightning storms agitating public conciousness. In one scenic tour de force, Bellocchio sets two opposing political factions each others’ throats in an auditorium, their silhouetted affray – filmed as if from the back of the stalls – mimicking the chiaroscuro ballet flickering above their heads.
Later in the movie Mussolini himself towers on black-and-white screens, his lordly and preposterous chin jutting up, like some mad punctuation point, at the end of each fiery phrase in his rallying speech. It wouldn’t work on TV, this dementia de grandeur. But TV hadn’t been popularized. Back then the audiovisual image was gigantic, elevated, mythmaking.
Tarantino honours cinema with similar powers – or by means of
symbolic fantasy even greater ones in – INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. Here the French Jewish girl (Melanie
Laurent) who escapes the Nazis in scene one survives to take over and manage
Here the explosive
potential of nitrate film, helpfully explained to us in a half-minute lecturette shoved into the narrative by Tarantino (nice
Dada-Brechtian touch), is employed to blast the
Third Reich basterds to hell. By this point
Tarantino’s movie has become at once uncontrollably surreal and
unrestrainedly gung-ho, a mixture as unstable as the pile of celluloid behind
the screen which waits to be ignited.
Pedro Almodóvar’s BROKEN EMBRACES completed a triptych of films that made love, in differing fashions, with filmmaking. Here the entire plot revolves around a movie; and not just the feature film that is in production and its maker (Lluis Homar), but the ‘making of’ film being shot around it by a creepy young man (Ruben Ochandiano) who may be the product of another kind of ‘making of’. Whose son is he? Where does he come from? Is he, in the technical rather than Tarantino sense, a bastard? What does he want?
In the magnetic
force-field that is a movie set, the fictive and melodramatic actions
performed for the camera infect the ‘real’ actions done by people off
camera. Or is it the other way
about? Either way, BROKEN EMBRACES
proposes a world where humanity is welded to its fantasy life and to emotions
enriched or elaborated by the templates we see in fiction. One could argue – and more than one
Yes, cinema was everywhere and everywhere was cinema. Sometimes for good, sometimes for bad. Lars von Trier got hooted for dedicating, in the film’s end credits, his blood-drenched metaphysical shocker ANTICHRIST to Andre Tarkovsky. Did he think the film was Tarkovskian? Wish on. And the spirit of Buster Keaton, like lettering running through seaside rock, permeated the gnomic Israeli comedy THE TIME THAT REMAINS, whose director-star even looks like Old Stoneface, though he has a long way to go to match the skill and insouciance of his ancestor’s gags.
More beguiling were
As for the digimation extravaganza that launched Cannes 2009, it begins in a glory of pastiche work. Spoof-recreating a pre-war ‘Movietone News” item, UP takes us all – even those too young to have been there before – to the days when screens were big, burbling and in black and white. Lobbing graphics with the zest of VINCERE, it honours a heyday long gone from the cinema but never from the hearts of those who grew up with it. Back then, giants stalked the magic light-patch called a screen. It seemed a world of enchantment even when the giants were real, and when the beanstalk of magic that was an evening at the movies had sherpa’d us only as far as the newsreel.
Even from those
reality altitudes we got a dizzy view.
For that was cinema, and in the giant screening spaces of
COURTESY T.P. MOVIE NEWS.
WITH THANKS TO THE AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE FOR THEIR CONTINUING INTEREST IN WORLD CINEMA.
©HARLAN KENNEDY. All rights reserved