A Cinematic Life
Monday was brilliant. I got to have lunch and dinner with an old friend and see a new (as in one I hadn’t seen before) film: David Stratton, A Cinematic Life, which I probably would never have had the opportunity to see – given, I’m not current with what’s on television, nor what is on the fringe in local cinema. If I recall correctly, he has seen and written about (even in a capsule review for his own benefit), 22,500 films. That’s impressive, because I’ve only seen 9,764.
But, I can still feel proud that I’ve managed to have a career and still made a decent attempt to see the films that matter, and a whole bunch that don’t.
It’s curious listening to him talk about Muriel’s Wedding (1994) and The Castle (1997). The first I didn’t like at all. I thought the film was “terrible, Muriel”. The second I thought was a fair attempt to capture a certain kind of Australian – it had its moments. But I’m not adverse to that kind of Australian or that kind of depiction. I liked The Big Steal (1990), The F. J. Holden (1977), The Dish (2001), Crocodile Dundee (1986) and Crackerjack (2002). I do get some of it – just not Kath and Kim or The Comedy Company.
I – shamefully – admit I never watched a single show of The Movie Show or At the Movies, or even more than one or two clips where Margaret and David were agreeing or disagreeing.
My friends were in an ongoing, probably perpetual, state of disbelief about the fact that I love movies more than anyone and I never watched that show – ever.
I’d tell them,
I don’t want to be influenced positively or negatively before I see a film. I always like to see the films – like they do – before they take on-board anyone else’s opinion. I don’t even want to sit through a trailer.
Mostly they’ve had that luxury themselves, of seeing almost every film, before the critics (and audiences) have responded positively or negatively.
But, by Crikey!, David Stratton, A Cinematic Life was excellent. It really brought together several different parts of his life and very importantly provided a significant appraisal of Australian film, through his eyes.
It gave too much time to an awful film called Razorback and yet it never mentioned Stratton’s reaction to one of Australia’s great writers – Patrick White – and his adaptation of The Night, the Prowler, or Peter Carey’s Bliss, an unfilmable novel. Or The Devil’s Playground. I know it can’t be a four-hour documentary, but seriously, there’s the absent The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, The Fringe Dwellers and Rabbit Poof Fence, important films exploring Australian Aboriginal heritage.
I liked that they gave time to Evil Angels. Thank God they gave time to one of the best Australian movie ever, Wake in Fright.
I don’t know if it is – probably, potentially, terribly, highly inaccurate, or whether it’s actually telling most of the story, via the whims of the writer or director – satisfying to the subject, Mr. Stratton. I hope so.
Why do most external illustrations of a life seem to end with so much dissatisfaction from people who actually know them. That dissatisfaction from the person who is the subject of the film or article is something that really concerns me.
Documentary directors, or writers, who indicate they have real knowledge about someone: they make the documentary (or write the article) they want to make; they tell the world about the person who they think they really know and understand, but it consists of preconceived beliefs and inaccuracies – or substandard research. Having grown up in the film industry (a little differently to most who can claim that), I know of so many cases where people who have been subjects, don’t think they’ve been represented well or fairly. When biographing a person, it’s important to look at the comments they have made on record, about their beliefs, loves or lives – and represent them.
How Bad Does It Get?
It gets as bad as the directors of documentaries who want to tell the story they have become accustomed to believing during the journey, leaving out some things that don’t support their vision. If they do that, then it’s not a document – it’s a biased opinion, with an agenda.
How Good Does It Get?
A person who is the subject who says, “you, bastard, you’ve misrepresented me. but everything it says is true. You’ve got the things I wish people never knew, but you’ve got the things that also make me tick.”
Summing up Jean Renoir
Just like the two weeks of Ingmar Bergman and Robert Bresson, I’ve ended up with The Two Weeks of Jean Renoir. What started out as just watching the two big ones, Illusion and Rules – and would have included The Crime of Monsieur Lange if I could have got a copy, because it was on the TIME Top 100 List by Schickel and Corliss – turned into a ten-film marathon, simply because I came across several significant film people who believe him to be the greatest filmmaker of all time.
That piqued my interest and made me give him a lot more time. Today, I spent more than 8 hours just writing; mostly about French Cancan (1955), La Grande Illusion (1937) and La Règle du Jeu (1939). I’ll have something to put up on the website in a day or two.
It has been exhausting and rewarding and fulfilling, although not quite as much as The Ingmar Bergman Weeks. That was just incredible. There was so much to discover and trying to pull the films apart and analyse them was difficult but revealed one of cinema’s deepest thinkers. It was eighteen weeks ago, and I still have so many things I want to write and down. Whereas, Robert Bresson, was a lot more difficult, and only a little less enjoyable.
Jean Renoir was difficult director for, with the exception of Boudu sauve aux eaux (1932), The Lower Depths (1936), La Grande Illusion (1937) and La Bête humaine (1938). The River (1951), was very good, although the story was a little bit too theatrically acted at times. I hoped for a more distanced narrative style, like his use of actors in Règle, more remote from their character’s emotion. But then again, it’s churlish to complain about an abundance of emotions in the main three female characters, given they’re all on the cusp of, or are, transitioning from girls to women. Big emotions are more realistic in these girls than reserved emotions. The formal film aspects are superb, and that is what Renoir has proved himself to be the master of, in all these films, when shooting on location. Renoir’s use of music is the most sophisticated and deliberate than in any of the other nine films where I don’t get the feeling he cared much about the music in eight of the other nine. Obviously, with French Cancan (1955), music was fundamental, and it was superb.
The Southerner (1945) was a film which excited me prior to watching it, then left me caught in the middle after. I thought it was very good in depicting realism, particularly in nature and within the family unit. The relationship with the neighbour, and the acting style by those characters related to the neighbour is so different to the pared down style of the Tucker family (with the exception of the deliberately annoying – comic – grandmother).
In Lower Depths, La bête and Southerner there are actors who are given license to exaggerate their characters. It clashes with the other style. In Boudu, Une Partie du Campagn (1936), Grande, Rules, River, it is consistent. In French Cancan, and Elena I can’t complain because they are farces and the farcical characters are mixed amongst the more restrained characters. But yet again – for me – that juxtaposition of acting styles is unsatisfactorily at odds.
The Gold Rush (1942 Ver.)
I watched it and realized it was another ordinary member of the silent movie class, regarded as extraordinary.
Today, tonight, I celebrated a birthday dinner with my 87-year old father. Then we came back to my place and we watched The Gold Rush: the 1942 version. It looked fantastic and it had a brilliant music score. It also had a narration which Chaplin put on the film in 1942, which was spoken by him.
Then we watched an introduction by someone I’d never heard of. Then a film called Totally Chaplin or Completely Chaplin or Essentially Chaplin or Today’s Chaplin. I don’t remember the title.
There are technical things in this film which are as extraordinary as The General.
But, even if you paid $1 million in 1925 that doesn’t mean that the money buys you anything other than ‘production values’. It is, however, amazing that that much money could be spent on a film in 1925.