Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Vol. 32. No. 25. October 9, 1969
Full Fathom with Christians
Full Fathom with Christians
Two unfortunates at the festival (I wont bother to comment on audience reaction, which was, basically sincere; extremely well attended, thank goodness) did not dampen the spirit or whatever much, such was the enlightening experience of being there and seeing some fantastic films: Wajda's new Everything for Sale, his masterpiece it seems, did not arrive from Warsaw, and did not make Adelaide either (it was replaced by Goto the Isle of Love, a futuristic thing from France, 1 have just learnt of is remarkable!) and the last film, Robert Bresson's Au Hasard Balthazar (I feel a mute sadness in not being able to see this masterpiece: unanimously the festival's greatest work), but Contemporary distribute his films easily, and it may be a lead for their releasing it; while the federation next year is negotiating to purchase Mouchette (and maybe next years festival will include his latest work Une Femme Douce in colour). End of Bresson obit.
Before I sink deep into the offerings a few side-enlightenments, which help things along etc. . . .
Projection standards varied and were often responsible for wrong lenses (Goopy and the Engagement, Reels 1, not very funny), occasional misfires for Q-dots (in the case of the Czech films, black squares and in Jancso's and Ray's film, red lines slashed across, scratches, and multitudinous extraneous blemishes), on occasion the K.O. pop band blared forth straight after the film (with some, one needed, if anything, a few hours to recover), if it didn't pull the curtain across and show a where-to-havc-a-friendlycoffeeaftertheshow slide, while the credits shone feebly beneath.
Despite this usual total disregard etc., the golden monkeyup award for most typical ineptitude was on the 11 am showing of The Red and the White; reels 1 and 2, 3 and 4 were all shown out of order. I was not aware of Jancso's work (thank you, P. Kael!) and could not make out, (well co-ordinate truthfully) and re-act to the film's structure.
I understand the 2 pm screening even had a variant on that! But on the second viewing at 8 pm, the film was shown correctly, achieving a most humane status, certainly more intelligently moving, and for me (among other things) by far the best film of the week.
A large ad announced The Red and the White from Czechoslovakia. I blushingly told the door-woman (who else? Authority, it seemed, was never at hand) and threatened her of the insults and troubles she could have. "Oh, dear," she said, "I think you're right". Nevertheless, it stayed there —all day.
The unbelievable following summary from the programme notes of Hunger, is a classic of the snobbic ridiculousness and obvious disregard for proof reading of any kind:
". . . Knut Hamsun's novel is a remarkable study of a mind on the brink of dissolution; a mind rendered more acute bystarvation but also becoming uncontrollably wayward driven to the brink of despair through inability to express itself, but also kept in a state of permanent optimism by the need to express itself, but also kept in a state of permanent optimism by the need to express itself. All of this and more is beautifully conveyed in the film. The locations are wonderfully atmospheric uncontrollably wayward driven to the brink of despair through inability to express itself, but also kept in a state of permanent optimism by the need to express itself. All of this and more is beautifully conveyed in the film. The locations are wonderfully atmospheric ..." (sic!!!)
Elsewhere was the news that Friday's film was the Bofors Fun (which it wasn't). The newspapers (bent on distortion, the comments were of brainless buggers!) in colourful mood had a field day. Jiri Menzel was called Firi on every occasion, Per Oscarsson was called Par and the Herald said he will be remembered "locally"(!) for his role in Dear John! There was also a Miklos Janesco and a Hugh Claus, plus many more. Not very funny, really.
On with the show . . .
Henning Carlsen's Hunger opened the festival, and I understand at the evening showing it was opened by a Mr D. A. Highet, National MP, who along with rows of young ladies in Norse garb (bit hard to pin point these Scandys!) made a lot of Stewpid noise, greeted with much laughter and other rabblings—not reported on, naturally, in the Press. I need not quote what he said (for I know not what unquotable things he did say) but let me say it did not dampen what was to follow, and contrary to public taste the young ladies did not burst forth into many folkeries!
Hunger was pretty disappointing, and very fragmentary; relying on the incredible Oscarsson to carry scene to scene: he played a young impoverished writer/philosopher, at the turn of the century, who is quite mad, grovelling for food, pawning his clothes, dreaming of unwritten masterpieces, befriending a young woman (Gunnel Lindblom) and finally selling his sight and soul to the ocean. I was expecting to be moved by all this sombreness, the terrifying pity of it all that sometimes Oscarsson achieved, but it rarely hit home with any true tenderness. A marvellous creaking score by Krzystof Komeda and Nykvist-clear processing. My favourite scene is in the forest with the writer chasing the two girls, sounds of leaves, beautiful white clothes, and utter bewilderment and frustration on all their faces; they walk out of frame, into and out of frame, into the grass. Quietly moved by that; but not much else. Too much imagery, uncongratulated.
An embarrassingly naive short on the history of some of Columbia pictures greatest achievements(!) was narrated with ocular aversion by Gregory Peek from (shall we say) You Can't Take It with You, up to Lawrence of Arabia. The processing must have been done in soup: Wong-Howe's Picnic looked positively leprous!
Jiri Menzel's Capricious Summer (1968) was so beautiful, if slight; bucolic if not at all whimsical, and so utterly enchanting in a spell-binding way. It literally took your breath away, especially the opening sunny moody scenes. Just over an hour long. Menzel's tale is of a Czech village 40 years ago. Summer rain falls in the day, the nights are hot—the swimming instructor, his wife, the padre and a colonel, sit in the sun on the banks of the cool river, sometimes swimming, and fishing, laughing and drinking wine. (There is a shot of 3 tall glasses, with a little red wine in each, a bee buzzing in one, the music has a high violin trilling, the rain splashes in the glasses, cut to the swimming instructor, old blue striped swim-suit standing above, mystified in the river, puffing a cigar! This is typical of Menzel's enchantment all throughout the film.)
A tightrope walker arrives in a creaking caravan (Menzel plays this little elf deliciously) with his young mistress; third rate performers on la strada. All the men fall in love with the girl, and the wife in love with Menzel. Eventually everyone gets hurt in some sort of way, physically or mentally. The padre is fed fish by the young girl, the local drunks upset the caravan, the padre's ear is torn by accident and in one of the gruesomest scenes I have ever seen: the instructor mends it with a fish hook and pure alcohol (he drinks a bit as well!), the bloody ripped flesh of the ear, the sewing up with a fish hook, he finally bites off the thread—all in close-up. The theatre's reaction was terrifying (I could hardly watch the first time) almost hysterical paranoia! Like Forman and Ivory, Menzel's humour is of observance, the delights of subtle and personal characterisations. On the second viewing the subtlety of the humour, if it attempts slightly, to move us, succeeded, but I wish everyone could see it. A little jewel.
Jan Nemec's A Report on the Party and the Guests was the most gruelling 70 minutes I have ever spent in the cinema. In fact the two together culminated in some of the most exhaustive film watching I saw. This film is a concentrated masterpiece (certainly after second viewing) as was Diamonds of the Night. If it is a "thinly veiled attack on the Stalinist regime of pre-Dubcek days". I can well believe (and see) it, but. as it is, it is a frighteningly nasty tale, with enough overtones to give you nighmares for the rest of the year. It has the naturalness and inescapably relentless puzzlement of Kafka or Gombrowicz. (By the way, both these films were photographed by Jaromir Sofr—the Nemec's black and white used from grainy to sheeny black and whites— the Menzel, colour far natural than ever I remember seeing before.)
A picnic in the forest for nice silly people, hot sun and delicious wobbly cakes, jokes, all pleasant and drowsy. One of the women turns and laughs straight into the camera at one point—most disturbing. Another pulls out chewing gum and laughs. They see a wedding party clanging through the trees, and are then persuaded by a mad crank called Rudolph to attend his little game, something like a war trial, full of Ionesco dialogue, strange faces and laughter of uncertainty. Never have I felt madness and Sanity so beautifully intertwined. A Lenin looking host arrives, apologises for Rudolph's behaviour (a man escapes, the thugs pounce on him, Rudolph has a fit!) and invites them to a huge alfresco candelabra'd banquet by a lake in the forest. There's talk and strange mutterings. One woman finds she's sitting in the wrong place, so do others, but after everyone has shifted around, they sit back in exactly the same place. The lunatic (like American Paul Lynde, he is brilliant) slobbers, and drops his food. One crying woman's husband has run away, the wine flows, the gigantic silver candleholders, hold fast dripping candles— all wax and decay in a bourgeois open-air asylum! A speech is made to the absent friend. The host decides to hold a hunt for him. The picnickers stay on, eating the remains, guns are loaded, the crowds depart with dogs and drunken singing through the trees. The last shot is of an arm, a gun, a candle, and the sounds of dogs barking louder and louder until they seem to tear through the now black screen. Have never seen (or felt) such a washed-out audience, stunnedly groping for the exist's light before. Would it be too much to hope for Nemec's Martyrs of Love for next year? The Czech cinema has still the most fantastically rewarding films—I hope the current situation will never deprive the world of creativity of unparallelled sensitivity, such as this.
From Hungary Miklos Jancso's The Red and the White was so overwhelmingly, a completely new visionary experience in the cinema, nothing of the kind I had ever seen before, or imitated in. It is his fifth feature (he has since made Silence and Cry and Winter Sirocco—Confrontation, in colour). He seems to be individually responsible for all his films being "the same". The effect of a man locked in his style—and place—with nowhere to go with it.
Furrowing brows and eyes in disbelief at a cinematic talent so fantastic, The Red and the White was a chilling, moving and unbelievable film, one of the greatest films I have ever seen. Jancso shoots all his films on a huge wide screen that seems to go past the natural visionary phase; the confusions of Hungarian history, 1918, the civil war period after the Russian revolution. Men drilled in explicit positions, chess of the fields, barking orders, creeping up and killing, playing games, puzzles, helicopter shots of horses thundering across fields, rivers shining. The camera moves like a frightened swan, wandering back and forth unrelentlessly, hardly ever stopping, all enquiring, taking in, gliding past hundreds of faces, sad faces (no one smiles in this film) and death: each observantly minutely detailed death is a moving occasion. The men are either shot at short range, shot in a collective heap, or speared by poles in the river. The women (usually nurses), stripped, humiliated, left cold (or as in this, lead into a forested glade to waltz to a bitter magyar band, in shafts of light, with each other—a wonderful scene).
The final suicidal confrontation between the reds and white troops, the lost soldier wandering in the flaxy grass on the hillside among the bodies, the muted bugle call, pressing a sword against his saddened face, Jancso ends this film brilliantly, his theme, a simply satisfying—no one wins a war. Sometimes one is not quite sure what is happening, "nothing is but what is not". I cannot conceal my hurried anticpation to see another (and another) Jancso film soon. Penelope Houston sums him up beautifully, so on there I'll lie: "It is a world so sealed off, threatening and glacial that it makes Bresson (with whom jancso has so often been compared) seemed to be positively overflowing with easy human warmth . . . The film is all action and will power; it would be lost—and Jancso knows it—if it let in the breath of an outside world."
A few interesting short features at this juncture: les Escargots (France) a horrifying cartoon fable of when the earth was ruled by gigantic snails. Sound effects and wailing jazz. plus a surrealistically true series of incidents, wiped the dripping laughter from the faces of those who thought animation a light-hearted diversion.
In the Void (Netherlands) also animatedly and graphically showed us violence and vampirism, a latent trait in us all perhaps?
The Fisherman (USA) in 5 minutes nearly reduced the theatre to an uproar. A man is fishing on a beach; he eats his lunch. After 4 fish, he is still hungry, but he see's a sandwich. In it is a hook which catches in his throat, and we it rip his face. He is dragged screaming, and page 21tugging back into the ocean. Absolutely revolting!
From the British Film Institute, an experimental feature, The Locker, by Barry Tomblin, Another Kafka talc shot in a white room with two demented idiots, one who comes for an interview and is stuck on a baby's chair, everyone speaks backward! A bikinied woman steps (I think) from the locker, and they make frienzied love, all expressed in the others mad face. They climb Into the locker, the other then for 10 minutes tries every possible way to get into it, smashing, rocking, he departs defeated and blood) (I think he had bloody knuckles, a lot of it was too fast to comprehend—plus interspersed Hashes of cars whizzing past!)
Darling, do you love me? Was an underground screaming thing I thought our old computed friend Harvey might have made. M.ad, all 2 minutes of it! A thing called Ice Cream Soda (Netherlands) was incredibly banal. Like a straightbuttoned Theorem talc it did have some gratuitous eroticism, hut Dutch theorists aren't necessarily good film makers. I booed that one. Apart from some Pintoff (I didn't see) and Alan Arkin's The Last Mohican (I saw before, its a treat), and a National Film Unit colour yawn called (naturally) Wild September Snow (which, I heard was clapped at. Circulation problems. I bet, or mosquitoes!). The best short feature was The Dove (Di Duva) a mock-Bergmanesque treaty on various themes, made in the States by George Coe and Anthony Lover. Everyone loved this, even if a bit slow in getting the gist of it. The characters spoke mock-swedish, (e.g. Di sunn ist komen outska—sort of thing)—the titles in "natural" English. It gently nudged Wild Strawberries ("I have a hernia") and the Seventh Seal. The old man retires to a grot /"outhouse" for (among other things) a reminisce! Death plays badminton with the young things ana loses (he blames it on his perspiration!). A cigarette is offered thus. "phallika symbol?", the titles read: a cigarette? There's a corny nude romp, all full of lovely Sven Sunkist images in the summertime. The old man comes out of his house—his final coup d'etat: "I feel better now", brought down the other house. A glorious little film, be great if it could get commercial showing, despite a rather silly R16 certificate.
I'll only comment shortly on the rest of the features.
Ermanni Olmi's The Engagement, was enchanting and again, carefully observed, like Forman. Slightly documentary, and full of precise and loving warmth for its two people, I would love to see more of his work.
It was shown with Stereo (Canada. 1969) by David Cronenherg. a 70 minute "unconventionally" everything film about sexual psychology, the interactions of telepathis sexualis between three rather strange people at the Canadian Academy for Erotic Enquiry. It was a test case on the nature of sex among telepathists, 'to test the para-psychological theories of an unseen genius, called Luther Stringfellow." (!) No music. a very technical commentary, all shot in a futuristic contemporary concrete structure, it was fascinating, boring, and at times rather erotic. It was also in black and white! So am I.
The Enemies (Netherlands, 1968) a rather deceptive film by Hugo Claus, was unique in that it was spoken entirely in english, the characters given "banal lines of dialogue, like bubble-talk in comics." Expletives were freely used, and the characters rather one dimentional. But half-way through, a nudging suspicion I had, burst: it was nearly a re-vamp of Renoir's Vanishing Corporal. The film then started to work, and it niftily moved along to a rather saddening climax where all of its heroes were shot by their own men. Realistically, and objectively, a quaint re-working of the antiwar theme.
Jack Gold's The Bofors Gun (Britain 1968) was a bloody, depressing experience. Script by John McCrath from his play. it starred Nicol Williamson, now absolutely brilliant as the nasty. evil, Irish rebel and drunk. O'Rourke; he spat his words like boiling bile. Also in it. David Warner, quiet and "nice". The film centres on the events while a handful of men guard a mysterious gun in a British army barracks in German). 1954. No wonder it was banned in Aussie, the dialogue, certainly more explicit than any other film, could cause quite a reaction. The film will be released commercially. It is unnerving; Gold's style is simple and unobtrusive; still quite the most nasty film at the festival. One felt like a good hot bath after it (ugh!!).
There was an epic thing called The Column from that most enchanting country Rumania. Directed by that master of De Millesville Mircea Drogan (let me hear that name again?!), it was strictly Saturday afternoon kids' stuff, that starred, among all its other opaque drivea, Richard Johnson!! Enough. Finally (gaaaasp!) I saw Satyajit Rays latest, the Adventures of Goopy and Bagha (Goopy Gyne and Bagha Byne), the print of which looked as though it had been through a million Bombay flea pits. Completely disregarding all technicalities (and the fact, our friend, Subrata Mitra did not photograph it) editing (atrocious) especially. it was a hilarious, magical and on so happy little film. Two youngsters (well 20-ish youngsters) are given magical gilts to sing and play on drum and sitar. They enter a contest, charm a king, dampen a little war between rival kingdoms and win a lovely princess each. Hoorah! Ray gives his two leads, the most marvellous things to sing and laugh over; there's a mad magician, an equally mad king, and Lesterish tricks that nehant and entertain. I found it a glorious little phantasy, despite the rumblings of silence it was greeted with in the theatre. Need it be said: give it a wash, tidy it up a bit. blow a wee kiss, and send it into the cinemas here to give us all another two hour treat. It would be a fantastic hit.
So ends the festival (for me) and my last load of verbiage for Salient. The year's films have only started; what is coming seems even better than usual. I'm afraid too. that you won't be seeing Lind-say Anderson's If . . . in Wellington until February, 1970. a fact, I wish, I could too, believe. Hare Krishmas, anyway!