As a big fan of Spaced, I was very hopeful for Shaun of the Dead, and was not at all disappointed. Perhaps you could criticise it for being too close to the TV comedy by the same creative team (Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg), but that didn't matter to me - it's a style they've made their own, and the format deserved a turn on the big-screen. I really like Edgar Wright's style of cutting, and just hope he can move onwards and upwards with it from here. The film was funny but actually incredibly dark, particularly when Pegg's character finds himself faced with having to shoot his own mother, a scene I found almost unwatchable, but it added an unexpected weight to the film. Another notable scene is the line up of British new-comedy talent on show when the two bands of survivors meet, mid-suburbia, one headed by Simon Pegg, the other by his Spaced co-star, Jessica Stevenson. Matt Lucas hardly grunts but it gets a laugh. Go and see it!
I had to rest my eyes from the computer screen so decided to take a break and watch a DVD I received at Christmas, but hadn't yet had the time to watch, Kurosawa's 'Red Beard'. Apart from it being lovely just to take a break and relax, the film was utterly wonderful. I don't think I've ever seen a film that had me in tears from the tragic stories one minute then laughing like an idiot the very next. And not laughing because of comedy necessarily, but just at the joyous bits.
It really is remarkable, Kurosawa, yet again, doesn't disappoint. As Alex Cox explains on the DVD extra, 'Red Beard' was the last of Kurosawa's recognised greats (1965), pretty much until 'Kagemusha' in 1980. I don't agree with Cox when he suggests the film reveals Kurosawa's sexism though. The female characters from this film are not unlikeable, they do have character, and despite what he says, not all the patients at the clinic (around which the film is centred) are female - two of the main patient-characters are male. The female characters are memorable and dominate parts of the film. Seek this film out if you can, but don't expect another 'Seven Samurai'. There's one fight sequence (brilliantly done, of course) in the entire two hours fifty-two minutes. A very positive film whose message seems to say that goodness of being can get results.
This is a reliable guide to most of the DVDs and videos that are available in the UK featuring Charlie Chaplin, and can tell you which editions are good quality, which ones are cheap and cheerful, and which ones are badly produced. If you're new to silent film in any form (comedy or drama) then watching a badly produced video can turn you off them for good, whereas watching a film that has been lovingly remastered, rescored and given its due care and attention can realise the beauty of this art form for you. Sadly, many volumes are of the former variety, often because the film rights are either free, cheap, or no one cares and it gets put together on a budget, often along with a lack of knowledge. Things are getting better, with the MK2 editions of Chaplin's classics, and Eureka have improved greatly since their early releases, most recently to give us a stunning edition of the wonderful Sunrise .
Last night we went to see Hayao Miyazaki's wonderful Spirited Away, one of the best films of the year, certainly the top animation, just nudging out Belleville Rendezvous, and towering above Finding Nemo. The film is brimming with potent imagination, both visual and in storyline. The environment is totally believable and the characters are human, even the non-human ones which dominate the film. It can be favourably paralleled with Alice in Wonderland in concept, but less manic and more amazing. I haven't been to a film in a long time that produced sounds of awe from the small audience. Perhaps The Return of the King will reproduce that experience... A good Miyazaki site is Nausicaa.net.
It's one of those magic moments on film that hits you totally. The atmosphere is snapped back when Watanabe's companion for the night jumps up saying "That's the spirit!", turning emotional awe into a laugh.
Linda is an American researcher who is making fascinating discoveries on Edna Purviance (Chaplin's leading lady 1915-1923, see the amazing ednapurviance.org) and we added a few more little bits thanks to the collection (white gloves donned), which I have been wanting to see since the days of my now defunct ChaplinUK website and its Edna section.
The festival itself was wonderful. We met up with some old Chaplin Society friends including Dominique (and Emeline) from the south of France, and Dave Johnson who runs Famous Flying Films (check out The Koala Brothers on Wednesday mornings, BBC2), as well as Peter Jewell of the Bill Douglas Centre. The festival itself consisted of short discussions with Paul Merton, Carl Davis and Kevin Brownlow and the film showings, of course, all accompanied live by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by Carl Davis - 'City Lights', 'The Circus' and 'The Kid', with the shorts - 'The Cure', 'The Adventurer' and 'The Immigrant', as well as rare screenings of 'How To Make Movies' and 'Kid Auto Races'. The Festival Hall was packed every night with everyone in stitches, absolutely the best way to see Charlie Chaplin.
Charlie and Edna in The Immigrant (1917)
I used to work as a porter in the conference section of a Gatwick hotel. It was on the second floor, and when everyone went home at 5 or 6pm, the entire floor was deserted and silent. My late shift finished at about 10pm, and my last job was to lock the conference rooms and switch the lights out for the whole floor. Where were the master light switches? They were right at the end of a corridor, into the concrete stairwell and into a claustrophobic cupboard, where after pulling down all the massive switches, you had to walk back along the pitch black corridor, past all the locked doors (I'm sure I locked them all, I'm sure I did...). Try as I might to think of nice things, The Shining always popped into my head, especially the twin girls and the woman in the bath. It was a long corridor, but I couldn't run, because that would make imagination real.
Older films bear the language of cinema more bluntly than most modern films, and I love this aspect. The visual language of the film carries much more of the storytelling, it's more apparent and this is translatable to comic strips. Today the grammar of movie making is more intuitive, even subliminal, whereas in the earlier days it was thought about more obviously and therefore - in most cases - more carefully. Silent films in particular were forced to show rather than tell, resulting in some wonderful storytelling. It's not absent today, but is much more hidden, and quite often I think it is forgotten. My article on 'A Woman of Paris' goes into some of my admiration for this side of film story.