Friday, August 28, 2015
Wonderful Brothers Quay event at the Watershed in Bristol last night as part of the Festival of Puppetry. I confess to largescale ignorance about their work - long on the list of 'things I need to investigate' - but I couldn't have asked for a better introduction. Four films shown on 35mm (Maska, In Absentia, Stille Nacht III and Street of Crocodiles, the last three in rather gloriously scratchy prints), and as an extra treat, a Q&A session. The moderator was obviously very familiar with their work but managed, without actually waffling, to ask some splendidly unfocussed questions that often weren't actually questions at all. But fortunately just giving the Bros. a small trigger to talk was all that was needed. There were anecdotes about Stockhausen commenting that In Absentia needed "more blue", and about the connection between deer antlers and testicles, plus tidbits about how they actually collaborate on the films (the brother that built a puppet gets to animate it; if they disagree they do it both ways, but animation is timeconsuming so they try not to disagree very much). But most valuable was just to get a sense of the two of them: passionate but relaxed and self-collected, able to speak articulately about their work but also with areas they can only approach obliquely, and not so much telepathic as so sure of their general sensibility - their assumptions, points of reference, worldview - that it removes the need to discuss trivialities. So they can, one assumes, discuss minutiae instead, which are not at all the same thing.
Saturday, August 08, 2015
Aleksei German, Hard to Be a God (2014)
Quite extraordinary cinematography and production design, with very long takes which must have been very carefully planned but almost never feel like set pieces (nor do they feel improvised); the editing is fluid and joins the takes rather than setting them off from one another as exercises in virtuosity. Nor is the film divided into sections - even at the various points where it fades to black, one seems more often than not to return to the same scene, with the result that one never gets to relax one's attention. I read the novel on which it is based about a week before watching the film and having done so the plot was actually pretty clear (my companion at the showing hadn't read it and was entirely baffled throughout!); but even so there are things in almost every frame ranging from the obvious to the utterly inscrutable. Which I think is intended to emphasize that this is not the Earth - it really is an alien world and so even if we can come to understand the people inhabiting it, their assumptions, reactions and behaviours couldn't but initially confuse and alienate (ha!) us.
The huge number of characters looking directly in the camera did seem initially just to be a weird affectation (entertaining though it is), but about half way through I wondered if they were meant to replicate Don Rumata's experience. He is assigned to observe but having to be immersed in the world in order to so, and hence he is himself observable. So to evoke this German does not allow the cinema audience their customary comfortable position of being able to watch without feeling themselves to be seen. Which I realize means nothing to somebody who hasn't seen the film! It's certainly not a comfortable experience but if you want to see something that really is remarkable, and merits the much-abused epithet that it isn't like anything else you've seen then I highly recommend it. But if you're interested in plot, maybe read the book first.
(Oh, & I would have preferred it if the saxophone playing had been rather more Peter Brötzmann than it is...)