Day 287: Week 9: History of Cinema with David Stratton

Day 287

Thursday 12 April 2018   11.29pm

Week 9: History of Cinema with David Stratton

Typically David Stratton talks for sixty, seventy or eighty minutes, depending on how long the film he’s chosen runs. He shows clips from the year we’re studying and provides a bit of background information on the director and what the film is about. Often he shows little scenes without any words of judgment, not painting the film in a certain way. More often than not, however, he does have something to say, which in some weeks, like when discussing American comedies from 1965, can be overwhelmingly negative. This week, looking at films from France, Italy and Germany, he had many positive things to say, even about a big budget spectacle like, Is Paris Burning? Often the big budget spectacles get hauled over the coals, like The Hallelujah Trail which he labelled as an attempt at a Comedy Epic. “It’s neither funny, nor epic,” he says. With this film he noted it was modelled after The Longest Day (1962) and he read out an extraordinary list of actors to prove it, call Is Paris Burning?, “long but quite absorbing.”

“We’re going to start this evening in France with a comedy.” The film, The Sucker, shows two men and blonde girl in a convertible jumping out of the car to take photos of the leaning tower of Pisa. Then the phone in the car rings. [This is 1965.] The blonde answers it, and it looks like a regular phone. In another car, a man warns her of several things which might be useful to know. It’s quite funny.

This was followed by René Clair’s last film, La fête galante, a period film showing men protecting a fort and other men trying to climb up to the battlements using ladders, with bombs and bullets going off all around. But when the hour for lunch is reached a bugle is sounded, the leaders of both armies acknowledge how well fought the other army had fought, and take a break, the war to continue once lunch has been finished. Very amusing also.

There were also clips from Juliet of the Spirits, a Polish filmmaker’s animated film, Les jeux des anges (Angels’ Games), For a Few Dollars More and The Tenth Victim, in which a deadly hunting game is organized, with real guns and real bullets. Just not in restaurants or childcare centres. The restrictions are becoming so broad now that one killer sighs, declaring that you’re not allowed to kill people anywhere these days.

Visconti also made Vaghe stelle dell’orsa (Sandra), in which we see the beautiful Claudia Cardinale in bed with a man, Fists in the Pocket (“a striking debut… a very powerful first film by Marco Bellocchio”) – we saw the trailer  – Io la conosceno bene (I Knew Her Well), where a man tries to talk a woman into paying to have nude photos taken of her and Die abenteuer des werner holt, an East German film which is typical of the kind of film the German Democratic Republic would allow to be shown. This scene was to contrast with the film, another film completely out of left field, Das kaninchen bin ich – translated in English as The Rabbit is Me.

Stratton said that the restrictions around how far you could go politically in films were relaxed a little bit in the mid-sixties, then Kurt Maetzig made his film, the restrictions were then tightened again before the film could be released. The result was a ban that last for twenty-five years. The film came to light in 1990 and screened in 1991 at a Film Festival which included a German retrospective. Until then the film hadn’t surfaced and he said that it was a well-kept secret by the East Germans, because in his capacity as Director of the Sydney Film Festival, where he would travel the world looking for interesting foreign films to bring to Australia, it was usual to hear about the films that were banned in any given country even if you couldn’t get to see them. In this case, the East German government kept even the film’s existence a secret, along with the ban. It was hidden from the world, essentially not existing for a quarter of a century. The director was in his mid-fifties when he made it and was almost eighty when it was finally released.

According to Stratton, the film was banned for being, “anti-socialist and pessimistic”, and was seen as “a revisionist attack on the state.” It would have been a new direction for filmmaking in 1965 but it wasn’t seen until “the [Berlin] wall came down”.