Last Friday I found myself in Leeds city centre with several hours to fill. I wanted to participate in a Palestinian Solidarity Group demonstration for the 67th anniversary of the ‘nakba’: which did not start to 5 p.m. I have to say that there was not a great selection of films available last week. The Vue in the Leeds Light was screening Mad Max: Fury Road, just released. The Guardian review awarded it four stars, though I also noted that it suggested that the film had a very loud soundtrack. So I took the precaution of purchasing a set of ear plugs: a wise precaution as it turned out.
At the Vue I found myself just behind five people in the queue. However, they had to buy any food at the same time as their tickets. So by the time I reached the ticket position there were now about two dozen people in the queue behind me. The ticket cost me £1.50p more than usual. When I queried this I was told that it was ‘dynamic marketing’. When asked what that meant I was told that this was because it was a popular film: we ended up with about forty punters in the auditorium!
Since it is not possible to determine exactly how long the adverts and trailers run there I caught some of the former. They were as naff as usual. They also included ‘cineme’; which encourages audience members to use their mobile phones and tablets to answer quiz questions. However, there was no subsequent warning to switch them off again. The trailers included two for a forthcoming release, San Andreas. The title suggests the plot-line: I am surprised that it has taken so long since the advent of CGI and 3D to get round to this treatment. When the feature started, in 2.39:1, there was no appropriate masking though the Vue does have masking equipment which used to operate.
Mad Max: Fury Road (Australia, 2015) is essentially an action movie using some of the characters and tropes from the original. There are some impressive sequences and settings: some of the CGI is impressive, but some is rather obvious. The film lacks the sort of devil-may-care charisma of Mel Gibson: Tom Hardy as Max looks more like a James Bond hero. Charlize Theron is as good as the script allows as the wonderfully named Imperator Furiosa. The other characters reminded me of a trailer I saw for Game of Thrones (and similar fantasy series). The film also lacks the intentional humour of the original. I laughed a lot, the rest of the audience less so but still occasionally.
As I left the multiplex I sought out the price list, not exactly in an obvious position. Apparently I was correctly charged. I then had a pot of tea and read the whole Guardian review. I never quite worked out why Peter Bradshaw had awarded it four stars. His headline read:
The legendary Aussie-post apocalyptic road warrior rides again – as extravagantly deranged as ever …
Sort of true, though I would query the ‘as ever …’. This is a ‘post-modern’ version. To paraphrase Claude Rains in Lawrence of Arabia
I wished I had stayed with the original.
Roy advised me that OK Kanmani was screening at Cineworld in Bradford: I assume he will post on the film. I went along last Thursday: the film was fine but the presentation left something to be desired. My last post was regarding the failings of the distribution sector, added to by Roy; but the multiplex chains have their own failings
This is the most recent film directed by Mani Ratnam; I think he is the most interesting and skilful filmmaker working in the mainstream film industries in India. OK Kanmani [Madras Talkies 2015, the title is a song at a wedding celebration late in the film] is essentially a Romcom and it is limited by many of the conventions of this genre. Adhi and Tara, Tamil-speakers working in Mumbai, meet and start a romance. He is a designer of games, hoping to hit the big time: she is an architectural student, but she comes from a wealthy family. The ups and downs of young love are embroidered by issues like dementia in a family member and attitudes to non-marital partnerships [live-in]. This adds depth and emotion to the film but there is an absence of the strong social issues that are common in Ratnam’s films.
Technically and stylistically this is a tour de force. Ratnam and his production team produce some of the most visually and aurally interesting productions in contemporary Indian cinemas. The film, in colour and 2.39:1, looks and sounds great. And both sound and vision have slightly unconventional tropes which add interest. The film makes intelligent use of current mobile and tablet technology: there are games sequences, stemming from Adhi’s work: and some beautifully composed sequences of architectural sites visited by Tara. The music is rhythmic with strong beats, but also uses unconventional sounds and instrumentations. One reservation I have is that one aspect of this was undeveloped. Tara and Adhi’s aunt are both skilled in Tamil music, but only once [for plot purposes] do we enjoy their performance.
This is not my favourite Ratnam film, but it is always interesting and a pleasure to watch. But I need to add a few warning notes on my experience. When I got to Cineworld there was no queue at their combined ticket/food counter. But in the previous week when I arrived for a Hindi film there were five people in line: the two front members literally spent at least five minutes going through the Cineworld menu before I was able to persuade a staff member to open up another till.
Thursday though I was quickly in, but I had to walk down two corridors to reach screen 14. When the trailers came on they were for Hindi films, but without subtitles. I trailed back to the ticket person at the entrance. She went off to tell the manager. By the time \I returned to the auditorium the current trailer now had subtitles in English. The opening credits for OK Kanmani came on: they looked interesting but whilst the DCP was in the 2.39:1 the screen was cropped by two curtains to 1.85:1. At this point the staff member arrived to tell me that the manager had stated that the film did not have English subtitles. Given the distributor was a USA company this seemed odd – so we watched and as Adhi shouted his first line of dialogue the subtitle appeared. So I pointed out to the staff member the problem with the curtains. She went off to tell the manager saying it might take a few minutes.
The curtains were gauze so I could see something of the image in the covered parts of the screen. After a while the first song started, during a wedding ceremony. Since nothing had happened I went out and saw another audience member. He said he was going out and would tell the staff that the curtains had not yet been adjusted. I continued watching. When we reached the third song and 35 minute into the film the curtains still shrouded parts of the image. So I again trailed round to the entrance and the same staff member. She told me that the manager had just gone up to sort out the problem. Sure enough when I returned to the auditorium the curtains were slowly moving to reveal the whole widescreen image.
Then to add insult to injury when the intermission arrived I had to listen to a medley from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!
Paulo Cherchi Usai, along with other writers, has predicted the ’death of cinema’. If this comes to pass I would like see prosecutions of the commercial film companies for the manslaughter or even second degree murder of film.
This event was held at the National Media Museum as part of the Bradford Film Summit. The latter three-day programme did not seem to be that well publicised: I missed a couple of interesting looking events. Apparently there are newsletters that go round but I have only just discovered these.
The Roadshow bought together a number of voluntary and professional groups over a day to hear about and discuss film provision in Yorkshire. We had representatives from the National Media Museum, Cine North, the Film Hub, The Picture House Chain, Leeds International Film Festival, Mini Cine and the Pavilion Arts Project. Also I met people from film clubs and societies, a voluntary run cinema and several local exhibition projects. The day started with a networking session – i.e. socialising over teas and coffees. This gave us a chance to say hello to people, offer introductions and find about a bit about what people did. There is actually a wider range of film projects on the ground than one realises. Chris Fell later mentioned fifty projects or venues in Leeds with whom the Film Festival liases. So one came away with a larger picture of film going ‘up north’.
We then had a series of talks, mostly illustrated by short films or film clips. The first three were members of a Film Hub set of advisers, available with particular expertise for projects. There was Katherine Penny at the Media Museum, Jen Skinner with Reel Solutions and Michael Wood from Mini Cine. At the moment they mainly provide advice on aspects of business and fundraising, audience development and programming.
Then Katherine Penny talked about the Bradford Animation Festival and six short animated films that are available for screenings in 2015. In fact we had a chance to see all six later. There is quite a varied selection, a couple are suitable for children and a couple are definitely adult. My favourite was The Elephant and the Bicycle (France/Belgium 2014, Cert. U), a moral tale with a nice sense of visual humour. The most impressive was Hipopotamy (Poland, 2014, Cert. 18), beautifully drawn but fairly enigmatic. The whole DCP or DVD runs for about 50 minutes.
We had a nice lunch and later Chris Fell, Director of the Leeds International Film Festival, talked about their Short Film City Project, which enjoys funding from the Film Hub North. Chris showed us a couple of examples from 2014, including the winner of the Audience Award. In fact a number of the Short Films at the Festival have been reviewed on this Blog. Chris talked in particular about the difficulties in developing audiences for Short Film programmes. The project, with partners, is ongoing. I have to say that the best examples at the 2014 Festival offered more in 15 or 20 minutes than one gets from some 100-minute features.
Will Rose from the Pavilion Arts Project talked about two films commissioned by them: 9 Intervals and Letter to the Editor of Amateur Photography. Both these have been reviewed on this Blog. The latter was screened recently at the Rotterdam International Film Festival; and is set to appear in Glasgow and New York. Will received a bursary from Film Hub in order to attend the event.
Chris Bate from the Film Hub North rounded off the presentations by highlighting the support that can be offered to film projects. Their new Website goes up very shortly and there are links to funding and bursary opportunities, and a regular newsletter. There was more networking over tea.
The day ended with a presentation from Picture House of their forthcoming release Dark Horse. This is a feature-length documentary due for release in April this year, [reviewed elsewhere].
At the moment the Film Hub North is linked via the Sheffield Showroom, but its own new site should be up soon.
The ratio of the film frame is often overlooked. However, it has changed as cinema itself has experienced major changes. In the silent era the dominant frame was 1.33:1, a third longer on the horizontal than on the vertical. With sound the norm, the Academy ratio was established by Hollywood: 1.37:1, accommodating the soundtrack on one side of the celluloid strip. Widescreen bought more changes: New Academy ratio settled on 1.85:1, though European films as frequently utilised 1.66:1. And anamorphic films offered between 2.55:1 and 2.35:1. Larger screen formats like 70mm, Cinerama and IMAX had their own variations.
When film first appeared on television screens they had to fit into an old-fashioned frame, 4:3. The digital age has bought widescreen television, the norm being 16:9, which equates to 1.78:1. At various times television has cropped, stretched or panned and scanned films. And whilst 16:9 is closer to the modern widescreen ratio such practices continue, though with a less drastic impact.
I tended to think that serious filmmakers and serious exhibitors of film will respect older films, preserving their original presentation: complete as intended, black and white or colour as fits, mono or stereo sound as fits, and the correct aspect ratio. The model here would be the filmmaker Hans-Jűrgen Syberberg, who’s Parsifal opens with the prescription that it only be exhibited in the Academy ratio.
From this point of view 2013 was not a good year. Not just one but four [in my viewing] major and serious filmmakers had films released in which older archive material was cropped or squeezed into a 1.85:1 or even 2.35:1 ratio. There was Ken Loach’s The Spirit of ’45: where the archive material, carefully researched and selected, was almost uniformly cropped to fit a 1.85:1 frame. Andrzej Wajda’s Walesa: Man of Hope (Walesa. Czlowiek z nadziei) also included archive film, this time cropped to fit a frame of 2.35:1. Margarethe von Trotta’s Hannah Arendt included material shot for television of the trial in Jerusalem of Adolf Eichmann. Early in the film there was a cut from such material, cropped to fit a 2.35:1 frame to a dramatised re-enactment in colour and widescreen. This might be justified? But later on there was a cut from Arendt watching a TV monitor to a POV shot, in 2.35:1. And then there was John Akomfrah’s Stuart Hall Project. In this case both earlier film and television footage was cropped to fit the 2.35:1 frame.
I assume that the rationale in all these cases was the time when these films were to be screened on television. In fact, Akomfrah had already used cropping of archive material for his television documentary Martin Luther King and the March on Washington (shown on BBC 2 in 16:9). Much of earlier material in all of these films was noticeably handled at some point – or as above ‘mishandled’. The cropping often cut off heads or the top of the frame, and rendered titles within the frame partial. In the case of 2.35:1 framing, this accentuated the film grain in black and white material. And with some of the colour extracts there was noticeable pixilation.
2014 looks likely to continue this unfortunate practice. Mark Kermode, who I mark as a serious film critic, fronted a profile of Steve McQueen and his new film 12 Years a Slave in which extracts from earlier films like The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Gone With the Wind (1939) were cropped to fit the 16:9 frame. Ironically the extracts from contemporary features were screened in their correct ratio.
NB – Stuart Hall Project is now released on DVD. According to the Sight & Sound review this is in a ratio of 16:9. Why it has been cropped I do not know: but presumably the contrast between the new film and ‘found footage’ will be less stark.