Oh, yes, the Oscars…

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That there is a category for Foreign Language Film tells you everything you need to know about the Oscars. Still, a few things about this year’s cinematic fashion show have managed to get past my old codger’s cynicism…

I’m pleased that The Artist and Hugo have done well. I love the former and I hear great things about the latter.

I’m particularly pleased that A Separation won the said Foreign Language category, partly because of something I mentioned in a previous post re the importance of diversity (different stories) in cinema:-

…goes some way to explaining why I think cinema – that is, a diverse cinema which reflects the experiences of people from all corners of the world, from every walk of life – is such a potentially important, enriching, enlightening, and empowering force. If, for example, you have seen the films of Abbas Kiarostami, or Asghar Farhadi’s recent A Separation, it is difficult to read or view news reports about Iran in quite the same way; to interpret these reports without being reminded of the humanity of Kiarostami’s and Farhadi’s characters, to be reminded of the many people just like us who are going about their daily lives in that country.

So I was immediately drawn to this Guardian piece by Saeed Kamali Dehghan discussing the reaction within Iran to news of the Oscar success:-

A Separation has become the first movie ever to take an Academy Award to Iran after winning the best foreign language Oscar, prompting national celebration at a critical time in the country’s history.

Millions of Iranians stayed up all night to watch the film’s director, Asghar Farhadi, going up on the stage and delight his countrymen at a time when their lives are clouded with fear of war with Israel and crippling economic sanctions.

“At this time, many Iranians all over the world are watching us and I imagine them to be very happy,” said Farhadi, while accepting the Oscar. “At the time when talk of war, intimidation, and aggression is exchanged between politicians, the name of their country, Iran, is spoken here through her glorious culture, a rich and ancient culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics.”

He added: “”I proudly offer this award to the people of my country, the people who respect all cultures and civilisations and despise hostility and resentment.”

How do Iranians feel about this?:-

Within few minutes of winning an Academy Award, Iranians took to the social networking websites such as Twitter and Facebook, congratulating themselves on A Separation’s success at the Oscars.

“Imagine Iranians are now waking up to find the world is talking about its cinema, not its nuke, for a change,” said Iranian journalist, Reza Asadi, on his Twitter account.

How different from the Iranian authorities:-

Despite generating patriotic sentiments among ordinary Iranians, Tehran leaders have been sceptical about the film’s worldwide success, especially in the United States which they consider as a sworn enemy.

A Separation was originally produced with permission from the Iranian government. But in the face of its success, the regime has not publicly denounced the film but many of its supporters have publicly spoken against it. In a programme broadcast in the state-run television, Masoud Ferasati, an Iranian writer whose views are close to those of the Islamic regime, said: “The image of our society that A Separation depicts is the dirty picture Westerners are wishing for.”

So, a great film has been given some much deserved extra publicity, and perhaps a few more people will come to see Iran as a country of ‘many stories’, not just the one that dominates the news.

Oh, and one other thing about this year’s Oscars, it has also lead me to watch the winning Animated Short Film: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore. It’s rather sentimental, but beautifully crafted – well worth a look:-


 

UPDATE

I’ve just come across the following Guardian article (thanks to Jonathan Rosenbaum posting a link) which talks about the reaction in Israel to A Separation winning an oscar:-

When Oscar-winning Iranian film-maker Asghar Farhadi spoke of the importance of recognising his country’s glorious and essentially peaceful culture at a time of “war, intimidation and aggression” he might have wondered if anyone in Israel was listening. At the very least, film buffs in the Jewish nation seem to have got the message, because they are turning out in large numbers to watch Farhadi’s best foreign film Academy Award winner A Separation at cinemas.

The film’s fledgling box-office success in a country whose leaders are currently considering a pre-emptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities is all the more remarkable because A Separation was up against Israeli drama Footnote, a Talmudic scholar saga from film-maker Joseph Cedar. The film is being shown mostly at the seven Israeli sites owned by Lev Cinemas, whose CEO Guy Shani said all screenings were sold out on Friday and Saturday. “We are being helped a lot by the press in Israel,” Shani told the Associated Press, adding that the threat of war between the two countries had helped to draw viewers.

Yair Raveh, a leading Israeli film critic who writes for the Pnai Plus entertainment magazine, said his countrymen were often surprised to note that Iranians did not seem all that different from themselves. “It’s very well acted, exceptionally well written and very moving,” he said of the film. “Ultimately you don’t think about nuclear bombs or dictators threatening world peace. You see them driving cars and going to movies and they look exactly like us.”

Filmgoer Rina Brick, 70, said she was surprised to see that the Iranian bureaucrats portrayed in the film did not behave very differently to those in Israel.

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The story behind a favourite portrait: Stan Tracey by William Ellis

Stan Tracey©William Ellis

One of my favourite portraits of the jazz legend Stan Tracey is that by William Ellis.

So I was very pleased to come across this New Statesman piece where Ellis discusses some of his portraits, starting with the one of Stan.

This photograph of Stan Tracey, sometimes called the “Godfather of British Jazz”, was taken in 2003 at the Guildhall in Bath and captures a true jazz legend in a relaxed, intimate atmosphere. “I’ve got to know Stan since then and I’ve often photographed him on stage. This was taken at the sound check for the concert to be given by him and his long-time collaborator Bobby Wellins.

“Stan is one of those guys who came through, even when, as he dryly puts it, ‘The phone never started ringing.'”

Even for someone as experienced as Ellis, nerves still take hold before a shoot. “I couldn’t sleep the night before thinking about how I would arrange this sitting. But when I meet the sitter I feel so relaxed, almost like we’ve already done the session.

Ellis sums up what he thinks the essence of portraiture is:-

A portrait can be more than memorable, it can be definitive. The face is a theatre — drama, emotion and expression happening right there. A good portrait gets inside, behind the safety curtain. All the planning and the thought about how a portrait should be set up just provides a framework, but that’s all it is. It’s the intimacy and intensity during the shoot that makes it work.

For me his image of Tracey captures both the modesty, and self-deprecating nature of the man, and also his quiet determination, his refusal to compromise. It is certainly a fitting portrait of one of our greatest musicians.

Fay Godwin – a subtle eye

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Large White Cloud near Bilsington, Kent, 1981.

Here lies a subtle eye; and an even sutler human spirit.

John Fowles, describing the landscape photographs of Fay Godwin in his 1984 essay featured in her book Land.

It’s a book I treasure.

As an avid collector of all things Fowles, it was the essay which lead me to the photographs; but I quickly fell under the spell of Godwin’s sublime and sometimes enigmatic landscapes. Fowles’ eloquent description of the photo above perfectly captures how I feel about the best of this artist’s work:-

A number of her pictures I know by heart, yet look at again always with renewed pleasure. Almost all her finest ones are jealous with their secrets. It is certainly so for the one I should count as my own most cherished favourite: that superbly balanced field, tree, cloud in Large white cloud near Bilsington, Kent. I have had it beside me all through this writing, and I am convinced it is a very great photograph. Yet I am hard put to analyse why it satisfies and pleases so much: says things I know I could never write, epitomises so many unspoken feelings. It is like a certain kind of rare poem, unalterable, perfect in its every syllable.

This short piece of text moves me almost as much as the photograph it describes. All art which touches us deeply seems to defy proper explanation. We might offer suggestions and contextualisations, but the analysis is always reductive and can only be partial. The art is jealous with its secrets. And yet there is a joy in trying to explain, and the best of the commentators open up new possibilities, new ways of approaching the art. Perhaps explanation is the wrong term, it is more about sharing, finding ways of expressing to others our sense of wonder or fascination or intrigue.

So, I find it hard to ‘analyse why’ Godwin’s best photographs ‘satisfy and please’ me so much, but can only say that they are indeed like a ‘rare poem, unalterable, perfect in its every syllable’

Here are some more poems…

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Too Many Cinematic Masterpieces?

This short piece by Geoff Andrew caught my eye: O masterpiece, where art thou? [no longer available].

Between a couple of Berlin’s press screenings, Nick James and I found ourselves discussing the overuse of ‘masterpiece’, a word apparently as vulnerable to abuse as ‘classic’.

I felt uncomfortable on reading this, since I’m probably guilty of being a little too free and easy with my superlatives as far as films go (and music as well for that matter).

What, though, might the characteristics of a masterpiece be? Andrew suggests:-

The accent should be on ‘extraordinary’. A masterpiece can’t just be a terrific movie; it has to be far more than that. It is by definition the greatest work (or at the very least one of the greatest works) of a proven master; it is also a ‘consummate piece of work’. That surely suggests, among other things, immense depth, richness and resonance – a real sense of completeness.

This looks like a good, working guide (though I’m not sure about the ‘proven master’ component – what about Orson Welles). However, things begin to unwind a little for me when he says:-

In Berlin, some have claimed that Miguel Gomes’s Tabu is a masterpiece, just as others have harked back nostalgically to last year’s edition which, it’s alleged, produced two masterpieces in A Separation and The Turin Horse. Now, impressive as all these movies are, I consider none of them deserving of the M-word. Each is clearly flawed in one way or another; and if the film with the most persuasive claim to greatness is the one by Béla Tarr, I’m afraid even that must surely yield to the Hungarian maestro’s Sátántangó, which remains a truly monumental and extraordinary achievement.

I haven’t seen The Turin Horse yet, but I have seen and greatly admired Tarr’s Satantango. For me this film is indeed ‘truly monumental and extraordinary’; but I think it has its minor flaws and I’m not entirely convinced – if we are going to be really strict – that the label of ‘masterpiece’ is appropriate. I would be far happier to bestow that honour on Tarr’s perfectly formed Werckmeister Harmonies.

But in the end that’s just my opinion, and one that might possibly change with time and more cinematic experience… Still, when I’m next poised to hail a film as a masterpiece, I’ll try and hold myself in check at least long enough to put my assessment to the Geoff Andrew test.

The danger of the single story…

It’s thanks to Rich Pollett on Google+ that I watched the TED talk given by novelist Chimamanda Adichie. It is an eloquent and moving account of the power of stories.

Adichie sets the scene by illustrating the power of stories in her childhood:-

I was an early reader, and what I read were British and American children’s books. I was also an early writer, and when I began to write at about the age of seven…I wrote exactly the kinds of stories I was reading. All my characters were white and blue-eyed, they played in the snow, they ate apples, and they talked about the weather and how lovely it was that the sun had come out. Now this, despite the fact that I lived in Nigeria – had never been outside Nigeria; we didn’t have snow, we ate mangoes, and we never talked about the weather because there was no need to.

What this demonstrates, I think, is how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of stories, particularly as children.

Now I loved those American and British books I read, they stirred my imagination, they opened up new worlds for me. But the unintended consequence was that I did not know that people like me could exist in literature. So, what the discovery of African writers did for me was this: it saved me from having a single story of what books are.

She goes on to describe how stories have a powerful effect on how we see others:-

[An American] professor once told me that my novel was not authentically African. Now I was quite willing to contend that there were a number of things wrong with the novel, that it had failed in a number of places, but I had not quite imagined that it had failed in achieving something called African authenticity. In fact, I did not know what African authenticity was. The professor told me that my characters were too much like him, an educated and middle class man; my characters drove cars, they were not starving, therefore they were not authentically African.

Show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become. The single story creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. The consequence of the single story is this: it robs people of dignity; it makes our recognition of an equal humanity difficult. It emphasises how we are different, rather than how we are similar.
Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanise. When we reject the single story; when we realise that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.

For me, this is a beautiful description, and one which goes some way to explaining why I think cinema – that is, a diverse cinema which reflects the experiences of people from all corners of the world, from every walk of life – is such a potentially important, enriching, enlightening, and empowering force. If, for example, you have seen the films of Abbas Kiarostami, or Asghar Farhadi’s recent A Separation, it is difficult to read or view news reports about Iran in quite the same way; to interpret these reports without being reminded of the humanity of Kiarostami’s and Farhadi’s characters, to be reminded of the many people just like us who are going about their daily lives in that country.

We are reminded of our ‘equal humanity’.

Ronnie Scott and All That Jazz

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I managed to catch some of the two programmes featuring the great saxophonist Sonny Rollins on Friday night; both shown as part of BBC Four’s jazz weekend. The second programme looked particularly interesting, with Sonny on fine form at Ronnie’s back in 1974. I didn’t get as far as the jazz bagpipes (not played by Sonny); that “treat” awaits me when I watch the programme in full!

What I did get to see, in its entirety, was the documentary called Ronnie Scott and All That Jazz made back in 1989 at the time of the 30th anniversary of Scott’s famous jazz club. It’s a programme I remember seeing when first transmitted and which made a big impression on me at the time. It is a warm and evocative (though necessarily partial) portrait of modern jazz in Britain, which manages to capture some of the magic of the music, as well as the dedication and idealism of its practitioners.

As well as enjoying the (sadly) short musical snippets from the likes of Ronnie himself, Zoot Sims, Stan Getz, Sonny Stitt, Dizzy Gillespie, Bill Evans, Nigel Hitchcock, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, Buddy Rich, Stan Tracey, etc, there were also lots of fascinating observations from the interviewees.

It was interesting to hear just how radical bebop was when it emerged in the ’40s, and how it ostracised its followers from the establishment. Saxophonist John Rogers says:-

Don’t forget when bebop came out, the Melody Maker’s chief critic said Charlie Parker can’t play his instrument, this isn’t modern harmony it’s wrong notes.

This sound incredible now.

For the musicians who had fallen in love with this new musical language, Ronnie Scott’s club – when it opened in 1959 – became (as Scott’s club partner Pete King says) “somewhere to try and develop our music”. It was a place where the music came first; and what great music it was. As the club began to book the American star players, people could see their heroes – the true masters of the art form – live and up close.

Stan Tracey, house pianist for many years at Ronnie’s, played with most of the visiting superstars. Asked who he was happiest accompanying he says:-

The one who stands out above all the others for me was Sonny Rollins – for his inventiveness, night after night. Tremendous.

Talking of Stan Tracey, I was disappointed that this jazz weekend did not include a repeat of the excellent documentary about Tracey, “The Godfather of British Jazz“. However, at least he is part of this film, which includes the classic moment when he breaks the piano string mid-solo!

One of the most interesting observations, which goes to the heart of this documentary, is by Benny Green:-

If you’re in the jazz business, you’re not going to be a rich man – that’s not the point of the exercise. They used to say that if the musicians had spent the same amount of energy and time and application studying accountancy they’d all be millionaires, which I think is probably true. There is no more dedicated or hard working person really, though they’ll often deny it. They’re the only idealists I’ve ever come across, as it happens. I know all kinds of writers, actors, politicians; I only ever met idealists in the jazz world, no where else.

It’s the kind of idealism which drove Ronnie and Pete to set up the club in the first place, and it’s the kind of idealism which you see in many jazz musicians today (though they’ll probably deny it!).

Huw Warren: Infinite Riches In A Little Room

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On its release in 2001, John L Waters wrote in the Guardian that:-

This solo piano album already sounds like a classic.

It’s an album that has grown in stature the more I’ve listened to it, and one that never loses its freshness or its ability to reveal new treasures.

Huw Warren is a pianist and composer who, as his website states:-

…has achieved a reputation for innovative and eclectic music making over a twenty year career. Equally at home crossing the often exclusive worlds of Jazz, World and Folk and Contemporary music, he has a distinctive and personal voice. Known both for a lyrical beauty and a ferocious rhythmic energy, his own compositions have a gentle ironic wit underpinning them. Recent collaborations with musicians such as Mark Feldman, Maria Pia de Vito, Peter Herbert, Joanna Macgreggor, Theo Bleckmann , Pamela Thorby and Erik Truffaz.

I was introduced to him via his work with:-

…the award winning quartet Perfect Houseplants and his collaboration with English singer June Tabor.

(As an aside, after a hiatus of some years the fantastic Perfect Houseplants are playing gigs again, and as I found out last year when I saw them at the Kingfisher Way Festival, they are brilliant live – it was one of the best gigs of the year!)

The range of colours and expansiveness of musical ideas emerging from the fertile imagination of this great musician means the description ‘solo piano’ album is woefully inadequate. Here’s Waters again:-

[Warren sequences] the 16 tracks to create a wide variety of mood, tempo and timbre, using digital editing, synthesisers and samples to expand the basic sound source of a Steinway piano…Xibaba, by the great Brazilian composer Hermeto Pascoal, is exuberant, with a punchy prepared-piano part. Charlie Parker’s bebop standard Moose the Mooche is transformed into asymmetric boogie-woogie with a touch of Conlon Nancarrow. Infinite Riches is still and contemplative, a kind of jazzy Howard Skempton. Loopy might remind you of a Jerry Goldsmith horror score before it settles into A-grade British modal composition. Quiet (R) Riot and . . . Still Dancing are aggressive solo versions of pieces commissioned by the six-piano new music ensemble Piano Circus. [On] Burke and Van Heusen’s Like Someone in Love, just 35 seconds from the end of the piece, he adds a percussive prepared-piano ostinato and a whistling synthesiser in the irreverent style of [Django] Bates’s Human Chain.

These are all fantastic pieces, but the ones I am increasingly drawn to are the:-

…suite of eight pieces based on John Dowland’s 1604 composition [Lachrymae]. This provides a rich and absorbing set of materials for Warren’s explorations: the formal, courtly nature of Dowland’s melodies provides a distinctive flavour for the improvisations.

Just listen to the suite’s opening track – Teares – and hear how the tender melody is developed so beautifully, with such exquisite voicings. As a total contrast, try the restless, insistence of track three – Unfit Guests – where a fragment of melody serves as the launchpad for mini improvisations which take fascinating musical forays, but are always brought back home by the repetition of the initial fragment. Or listen to the final track of the suite – True Teares – which begins like some murder mystery with its strange effects and unsettling harmonies (watch out for the sudden echoing bass, like a ghost has just walked into the room). Then hear how the piece gradually begins to draw itself together to end with a fragile, tentative restatement of the Dowland theme and a final bass note which this time brings resolution. Just fantastic!

Daniel Kahneman: Thinking, Fast and Slow

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There have been many good books on human rationality and irrationality, but only one masterpiece. That masterpiece is Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow.

So says William Easterly, writing in the Financial Times. Having just finished this book, I would add that not only is it a masterpiece, it is an eminently readable and comprehensible masterpiece. Easterly again:-

He achieves an even greater miracle by weaving his insights into an engaging narrative that is compulsively readable from beginning to end. My main problem in doing this review was preventing family members and friends from stealing my copy of the book to read it for themselves.

Galen Strawson, in the Guardian, describes the themes of the book:-

An outstandingly clear and precise study of the ‘dual-process’ model of the brain and our embedded self-delusions. We apprehend the world in two radically opposed ways, employing two fundamentally different modes of thought: “System 1” and “System 2”. System 1 is fast; it’s intuitive, associative, metaphorical, automatic, impressionistic, and it can’t be switched off. Its operations involve no sense of intentional control, but it’s the “secret author of many of the choices and judgments you make” and it’s the hero of Daniel Kahneman’s alarming, intellectually aerobic book. System 2 is slow, deliberate, effortful. Its operations require attention. System 2 takes over, rather unwillingly, when things get difficult. It’s “the conscious being you call ‘I'”, and one of Kahneman’s main points is that this is a mistake. You’re wrong to identify with System 2, for you are also and equally and profoundly System 1. Kahneman compares System 2 to a supporting character who believes herself to be the lead actor and often has little idea of what’s going on.

Easterly points out that:-

In Kahneman’s words, System 1 is “indeed the origin of much that we do wrong” but it is critical to understand that “it is also the origin of most of what we do right – which is most of what we do”. The “marvels” of System 1 include an ability to recognise patterns in a fraction of a second, so that it will “automatically produce adequate solutions to challenges”. An even more remarkable accomplishment is “expert intuition”, in which after much practice a trained expert, such as a doctor or a firefighter, can unconsciously produce the right response to complex emergencies.

However:-

Kahneman is one of the fathers of the field of cognitive biases, and most of the book is indeed spent on the mistakes made by System 1. We get probability and uncertainty terribly wrong, usually leading to overconfidence and mistaken decisions. We react to identical situations differently depending on what is already on our minds. Even worse, we don’t know what we don’t know.

As Galen says:-

We think we’re smart; we’re confident we won’t be unconsciously swayed by the high list price of a house. We’re wrong. We’re also hopelessly subject to the “focusing illusion”, which can be conveyed in one sentence: “Nothing in life is as important as you think it is when you’re thinking about it.” Whatever we focus on, it bulges in the heat of our attention until we assume its role in our life as a whole is greater than it is. Another systematic error involves “duration neglect” and the “peak-end rule”. Looking back on our experience of pain, we prefer a larger, longer amount to a shorter, smaller amount, just so long as the closing stages of the greater pain were easier to bear than the closing stages of the lesser one.

As Oliver Burkeman writes in the Guardian:-

The biggest challenge this posed was to economists, most of whom assumed that people were basically rational and selfish and acted in their own best interests. The work that won Kahneman the Nobel showed otherwise. As Richard Thaler, another leading light in the revolution that became known as behavioural economics, told an interviewer, Kahneman and Tversky’s research meant that “rationality was fucked”. Kahneman, on the other hand, likes to say that you’d need to study economics for years before you’d find his research surprising: it didn’t surprise his mother at all.

I have to agree to some extent with Easterly one very minor reservation:-

Kahneman’s endorsement of “libertarian paternalism” contains many good ideas for nudging people in the right direction, such as default savings plans or organ donations. But his case here is much too sweeping, because it overlooks everything the rest of the book says about how the experts are as prone to cognitive biases as the rest of us. Those at the top will be overly confident in their ability to predict the system-wide effects of paternalistic policy-making – and the combination of democratic politics and market economics is precisely the kind of complex and spontaneous order that does not lend itself to expert intuition.

However, I would wholeheartedly agree with Easterly’s final paragraph:-

But I hope that [this] one quibble does not deter readers because this is one of the greatest and most engaging collections of insights into the human mind I have read. Kahneman’s book will help you Think Slow about what Thinking Fast gets very wrong, and what it gets very right.

It’s no understatement to say that this might be one of the most important books you read for some time.

From The Artist to Dracula

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Last weekend I saw The Artist for the third time: I still love it!

At the back of my mind there was the vague memory of another film which had impressed me with its use of the stylings of silent cinema. Thanks to a rather circuitous chain of associations that emerged out of various conversations last week (involving Gershwin, An American In Paris, Manhattan, and ballet – don’t ask!) I suddenly hit upon the obvious answer: Guy Maddin’s “Dracula: Pages From A Virgin’s Diary”. I vividly remember seeing the film at the Cambridge Film Festival some years ago, and emerging from the cinema with a real sense of excitement at discovering something very special.

Guy Maddin is the kind of director who is described as a maverick. A MUBI article on him gives a good flavour of the kind of films he makes:-

Frequently referred to as “the Canadian David Lynch,” Winnipeg-born filmmaker Guy Maddin’s surreal, dreamlike works are often cited for their striking visuals and obscure sensibilities. His film education came not with any formal training at a trade school, but with endless weekends of watching films with close friends John Paizs and Steve Snyder. [His own films often use] stark black-and-white … taking on the crackling texture of a film released at the turn of the century.

Dracula, Maddin’s fifth feature, is a very strange beast indeed. I particularly like Roger Ebert’s piece on the film, as it comes closest to expressing my own feelings. He says:-

Gay Maddin’s “Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary” uses (and improvises on, and kids, and abuses) the style of silent films to record a production of “Dracula” by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. The film is poetic and erotic, creepy and melodramatic, overwrought and sometimes mocking, as if F. W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu” (1922) had a long-lost musical version.

On paper the concept for the film sounds almost deranged, but it is in fact a revelation.

Guy Maddin … is Canada’s poet laureate of cinematic weirdness. His films often look as if the silent era had continued right on into today’s ironic stylistic drolleries. In “Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary,” he begins with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s stage production of “Dracula” and takes it through a series of transformations into something that looks a lot like a silent film but feels like avant-garde theater. The music is by Mahler (the first and second symphonies), the visuals include all the favorite devices of the silent period (wipes, iris shots, soft framing, intertitles, tinting), and the effect is–well, surprisingly effective. The emphasis is on the erotic mystery surrounding Dracula, and the film underlines the curious impression we sometimes have in vampire films that the victims experience orgasm as the fangs sink in.

[The film] is not concerned with the story mechanics of moving from A to B. At times it feels almost like one of those old silent films where scenes have gone missing and there are jumps in the chronology. This is not a problem but an enhancement, creating for us the sensation of glimpsing snatches of a dream. So many films are more or less alike that it’s jolting to see a film that deals with a familiar story, but looks like no other.

So, for something completely different to The Artist, but which is also lovingly connected to the silent cinema era, I can highly recommend Guy Maddin’s idiosyncratic take on the Dracula story.

UPDATE:
How strange, I’ve just found this article where Guy Maddin talks about The Artist:-

I haven’t seen The Artist yet. I’m really curious about it. A certain part of me wants to hate it, because I feel it doubles back to a use of film vocabulary that no one was interested in. And I sort of had it all to myself for a while. Another part of me fears I’ll love it.

David Kelly (1929-2012)

Today has been a touch miserable, as I’ve been coping with a nasty bug; but it became much worse when I heard the very sad news of the death of actor David Kelly.

In my youth, I remember him vividly and with great fondness as the one who always stole the scene in Fawlty Towers or Robin’s Nest. As this Irish Times piece says, though, his was a wide ranging and distinguished career:-

He worked in theatre, television and film for more than 50 years and had continued to work up until last year. In 1975 he had a brief but memorable role in Fawlty Towers when he played the part of the hapless builder O’Reilly. He often remarked that he had performed on stage for more than 50 years but the nine minutes on Fawlty Towers made him recognisable all over the world. He had a long list of film credits including the 1969 version of The Italian Job, Into The West and Waking Ned, which he credits for making him a sex symbol after he appeared nude on a motorbike.

I was also particularly interested in his work on Beckett:-

On stage he will always be associated with Samuel Beckett because of his legendary performance in the title role of Krapp’s Last Tape.

I was very much impressed with his contribution to the marvellous Beckett short, Rough For Theatre I, part of the Beckett On Film collection, a two-hander with another great actor Milo O’Shea (only 17 minutes long and well worth watching in full):-

Here is David receiving an IFTA lifetime achievement award:-

“My only true desire in life, ever, was to be an actor, and it is bizarre, truly bizarre, that I’m now being rewarded for having a dream come true.”