Final Cut – Ladies and Gentlemen (Hungary 2011)


Multiple images and homages.

This film was the closing act in last year’s Leeds International Film Festival. It returned for two showing this year to packed and appreciative audiences. Chris Fell, the Festival Director, introduced the film.

It is a compilation of hundreds of film extracts, a sort of long and varied homage to the greats of cinema. Chris advised us that the film is not usually available for screening and is not available on video. This is because there are copyright issues around most of the extracts. However, the Festival is able to screen it as special occasion. The director and his four editors, together with a sound crew, have put together an amazing and intelligent selection of visual and sound clips.

The film also offers a simple romantic story. Boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, another man or husband threatens the pair but is packed off: they make love, they marry and conceive a child, war arrives, the man enlists or is called up, battle scenes, he is killed – but the magic of cinema brings him back and they are reunited. This final sequence revisits earlier clips to produce a satisfying climax, ‘Nothing will ever die’.

That is the plot that binds together disparate extracts from Hollywood, Bollywood, art cinema and foreign language films (for every audience). The period range from the silent era right up until the 21st Century. There must be about every genre in film studies, plus the occasional avant-garde film. The plot idea is simple but does not work all the time – some sequences demonstrate a trope or motif not necessarily apt for the story.

Sequences are composed of numbers of shots. Some are familiar tropes from film – smoking a cigarette, eating, symbols for coitus, ringing and knocking on doors. There are sly inserts like several shots from Psycho (1960) and from Belle de Jour (1967). There are also surprising omissions – Tom Jones (1963) from the sequences of eating. Some are familiar but less fortunate tropes – like men slapping women. But there is also a sequence for forthright women, opened by Thelma & Louise (1991). And some feature fairly explicit sex and violence. The film would be a likely candidate for an 18 certification and one of the BBFC’s little homilies.

The average shot length is 3 to 5 seconds, but some are under a second. Longer shots tend to feature travelling shots or dialogue that propels the plot forward. All dialogue, from possibly a dozen languages, is subtitled in English, including the US and UK films. Meanwhile sometimes we hear the original soundtrack, sometimes sound (including dialogue) overlaps shots. And sometimes, music or a song carries us through a succession of shots – notably from Saturday Night Fever (1977), The Graduate (1967) and Love Me Tender (1956).

Appropriately enough for this sort of film there are several clips from Cinema Paradiso (1989). The most unlikely clip would seem to be from Dziga Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera (Chevolek a Kinnoapparatom, 1929). However, I was disappointed that there was only one canine appearance – one of the later Lassie’s. But the human stars are there – Lilian Gish, Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, John Garfield, Marilyn Monroe, Al Pacino, Mifune Toshiro and any number of modern actors, including Sharukh Khan.

The whole collection displays a taste for a wide range of films. The end credits list all the film clips and all the music clips. I think even a hardened cineaste would find it difficult to note all the extracts as they tumble by.

The film is directed by György Pálfi: whose best known film release in the UK is probably Hukkle (2002). The Festival Catalogue quotes him on the film’s production:

I had some extra money which I did not need for I am not your friend, so I decided to make another film. This was I ended up with two low-budget films. The idea for Ladies & Gentlemen is simple, but we quickly realised that it’s a huge project. Actually I was going to make another film, but when the government withdrew their funding, I took the budget I had and made Ladies and Gentlemen.

At the film’s end a title notes that ‘All rights remain with the authors’ and then notes ‘For Educational Purposes. Presumably Hungary has the same ‘fair usage’ entitlement as that in the USA but which is lacking in the UK.

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