Adrien is a piano prodigy, but when he fails to win the music prize he worked so hard for his life falls apart and he retreats into work as a piano tuner, but then he creates a pretend persona as a blind man, finding his clients are more trusting and kinder and more intimate with him when they believe he is blind. And then on one visit he sees something he shouldn’t, and the question is does his client think a blind man may stumble on their secret or not? Very stylish short French film, with English subtitles:
By Jacques Tardi
Published by Fantagraphics
I’ve been pretty delighted to see the crew at Fantagraphics translating and publishing some of the excellent work of acclaimed French BD artist Jaques Tardi over the last year or so (with more to come), but I’ve been especially keen to read the translation of his It Was the War of the Trenches, having first come across it in French a few years ago, just a few pages from it extracted in a French comics mag I’d picked up. Even those few pages made quite an impression on me and I’ve had a strong desire to read the whole book ever since, so before we start kudos to Fanta for publishing this and other works by Tardi for the English language readership.
Where do you start when your subject is the Great War? How do you approach a conflict which had casualties running into the millions? Which brought new levels of unbelievable, mechanised, mass-produced horror and slaughter to the world, which saw the fall of governments and whole empires, redrew the map, shattered an entire generation and broke social divides? The statistics from the First World War are mind-numbing; they become mere numbers after a while. Our brains simply cannot really process the fact of millions of deaths – we need the personal level in order for us to emotionally engage with the savage events and, like Mills and Colquhoun did with the classic British WWI series Charley’s War, we get that personal, soldier’s level view of events. The men in these trenches may only represent a fraction of the millions from many nations dug into the scarred earth of the trenches, but they are personalised, they’re real and that makes it much easier to identify with them and empathise with the awfulness of trench warfare.
(Tardi captures the industrialisation of the slaughter of war and contrasts the awful effectiveness of manufactured steel and explosives against human bodies and the very earth itself, a Hellish landscape where even the dead cannot rest; (c) Tardi, published Fantagraphics)
Lacking the ongoing characters of a serial strip like Charley’s War, Tardi opts for a more documentary approach, selecting scenes from the war and following a short story of a small group or an individual caught up in a collective madness beyond their control (reminiscent of Burns’ approach in the highly respected Civil War series, using personal tales and reminiscences to give us a human, personal face to vast events). Starting with an even-handed scene setter showing the daily routine of shelling from both the German and French, which then introduces the trenches and the hell of No Man’s Land, cleverly introducing the first man he will follow, Binet. Alas, when we first see him, Private Binet is already dead and rotting away in No Man’s Land, so we already know that he’s going to be one of those vast numbers of statistics. As Tardi goes back to fill in some of Binet’s life he becomes a person, not another number. I think it’s quite brave of Tardi to have as his first character a man who’s quite misanthropic and unlikeable; he’s not trying to paint all of the fallen as saints or heroic paragons of virtue and honour, they are people, some good, some miserable, some funny, some selfish. Binet is not very likeable, but he doesn’t deserve the dreadful death he will endure.
And that’s surely part of Tardi’s point, that this huge, mechanical, industrialised war swallowed all who came before it, regardless of their character, the good and the bad, the poor and the noble born. The suffering Tardi portrays is universal to all of the front line troops – on both sides – and civilians caught up in the maelstrom of events too. A scene from the earlier, more mobile segment of the war shows advancing German troops driving Belgian refugees in front of them to act as human shields, uncaring of the vicious immorality of their actions. It sounds like a piece of the (rather obvious to modern, media savvy eyes) propaganda that was circulated in Allied nations about the ‘monstrous Hun’, but actually it is based on real events. Not that Tardi paints only the decisions like this by war-mongering Prussian generals, he shows the French commanders as uncaring and immoral as the German ones, when they order their men to fire anyway because, after all, the human shield isn’t composed of their countryfolk…
(Belgian refugees caught between equally uncaring French and German troops in the early days of the war, (c) Tardi, published Fantagraphics)
A burning sense of injustice and anger runs throughout War of the Trenches, and rightly so; to anyone who has read the history of that disastrous, monstrous start to the last century it isn’t hard to see why anyone should still be angry about it ninety years after the Armistice. He highlights the sheer ridiculousness of the war, of how nations and entire empires were prepared to spend their entire wealth and resources on slaughtering millions and yet for far less they could have housed, educated and fed every single one of their own citizens (including the many who lived in squalor and poverty, ignored by their countries until their countries required them ‘to do their duty’). He sketches the global nature of the conflict, of regiments drawn from the far corners of the world empires of the French, British and others, the Sikh soldiers from India fighting for the British Empire that had happily taken their country, the Algerian and Vietnamese troops from French colonies who, as Tardi points out, were pressed into service for the glory of France and who would, only a few decades later, be killing French troops as they fought for their own freedom, making a few pages of a single war into a shorthand for the seemingly constant conflicts which litter that entire century around the world.
(past conflicts may have ranged across the world – the French and British empires fighting from the Indies to the Americas, for example – but it took the Great War to make conflict so truly global. Not the best way to bring together the peoples of the world… (c) Tardi, published Fantagraphics)
It isn’t an easy read – there are moments of humour, but it is of the gallows variety (a pair of police who harassed soldiers end up strung up in a ruined village in front of the Charcuterie – the pork butcher’s shop, a macabre pun on referring to police as pigs). But for the most part it is, as you would expect given the subject matter, often grim reading. Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t read it, quite the reverse – yes, it is grim and frequently horror-filled, but Tardi draws on history and personalises it, bring huge events down to a human scale we can understand and empathise with in a way that we don’t always get from a large history volume (although for those who do want to learn more I’d recommend the highly respected Hew Strachan’s The First World War as a very accessible single volume introduction). I have actually read quite a bit of the history over the years but the visual aspect that comics bring to the human aspect of the history adds enormously to its impact, even more so than other visual medium, such as film, can manage (the classic WWI film J’Accuse – obviously an influence on Tardi – is a masterpiece in imagery, but unlike a comic you go at the filmaker’s pace; here you can pause on a scene, a frozen moment, an expression, a detail).
(several times Tardi uses a page layout which is reminiscent of some of the illustrated gazettes of the era; (c) Tardi, published Fantagraphics)
When I was a boy, first reading comics, most of the strips of the time made warfare seem like something of a Boy’s Own Adventure, with the notable exception of Mills and Colquhoun’s Charley’s War, which left a lifelong impression on me. So when I say Tardi’s War of the Trenches is the most powerful comic I’ve read on World War One since Charley’s War, you’ll understand what a compliment that is. The black and white art is perfectly suited to the era being covered, an era we are most used to seeing in monochrome film and photographs, while Tardi, not for the first time, proves himself a master of expression, the looks on the faces of the men caught up in the war speaking absolute volumes (a hallmark of a true master comics artist, a single frame depicting men’s expressions is worth pages of eloquent prose) and some pages are laid out in a fashion reminiscent of an illustrated gazette of the era (a nice touch). It’s a hugely powerful work, both moving and horrific and filled with anger for the suffering and injustices one group of ‘civilised’ humans can visit upon another (and in some scenes on their own people); as I said it isn’t the easiest read though, but then it shouldn’t be. And it does deserve to be read; as the last voices of those who were actually there are fading into silence works like this are needed to remind us of the monstrous acts we can be capable of in service to the beasts of jingoism and nationalism and hubris, that we should read them and take cautionary lessons from them. Never forget.
This review first appeared on the Forbidden Planet blog
I thought I might start occassionally blogging on a series of ‘triple Ms’, or what I refer to as Magical Movie Moments. Its those scenes that stand out from a movie – sometimes a fabulous movie, sometimes just a wonderful scene in an otherwise average flick – that just encapsulate for me the real magic of cinema. They are those scenes that transcend narrative, genre or any of the qualities we would normally discuss about a film, they simply are and they are wonderful; they make you forget everything else for a few precious moments by their utter perfection, they enchant you and for those moments you are lost, a child again lost in another world. Long after the film ends and the houselights come back up that special scene, where the story, the imagery, the music all combined to a few moments of magical perfection, will stay in your mind.
For the first MMM I had to select a scene from my all time favourite film, Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s astonishing Cyrano de Bergerac. Colossus of modern French cinema Gerard Depardieu is perfectly cast as the titular Cyrano; the finest swordsman in the realm, an inventive wit, writer, poet, philospopher, yet cursed with is enormous nose he feels women judge him not by his prodigious merits but his physical looks and so brave on the battlefield or the duel, he retreats from announcing his love for the beautiful Roxanne (Anne Brochet, never more beautifully luminous as here).
The entire film is simply perfect – the costumes and sets are wonderfully evocative of the period, the characters perfectly played by a superb cast, the doomed tale of love, swords and poetry delivers a heady mixture of swooning romance and flashing blades of pure swashbuckling grandeur, all given with the flair of poetry; even the subtitles, the English ones by Anthony Burgess, are a work or art, often translated into verse, suiting Cyrano’s larger than life character perfectly.
Its hard for me to pick just one scene when I love the film so much (I rewatch it at least once a year) – the balcony scene as Cyrano in the shadows feeds line to the handsome but none too clever Baron to relate to Roxanne (who is drawn to his beauty but his words even more so, unaware they are Cyrano’s), the scene where she tells Cyrano she loves someone, he thinks she means her but then learns otherwise; she leaves all breathless, commenting on his recent duel with a whole crowd of assassins “what bravery”, “oh,” he replies to her departing back, “I have been braver since…” and that wonderful scene where, convinced she does love him, he takes on a hundred men who are sent to kill his brother poet, “take away the midgets, bring on the giants!”, the ‘schink’ of a hundred swords beign drawn then Cyrano leaping from one to the other, dispatching all the villains with his sword as the music swells… Fabulous.
But I can pick only one scene and I’ve opted for the famous duel in verse. It happens quite early in the film, as Cyrano is in the theatre after dispatching a fat actor from the stage for insutling his cousin a foppish aristocrat approaches him and insults his prodigious nose. Cyrano then follows him, teasing him and humiliating him in front of the crowd for not being intelligent and well read enought to craft a more inventive insult, himself tossing off dozens of poetic variations on possible insults he could have used, clearly showing that the Viscount may have rank and title but Cyrano is how own man, intelligent and brave and so beholden to none simply because they have the lace and clothes of rank (reminiscent of Rabbie Burns A Man’s a Man for a’ that). Then the swords are drawn and Cyrano announces to the crowd of Parisian onlookers he will compose a poem of the duel while he actually fights the foolish aristocrat. Flashing blades, swashbuckling swords cross as poetry flies, a wonderous marriage of verse and action that enchants me every time. I love film, I love poetry, I spent many years at school and college enjoying fencing, how could I not love this scene?
Happy Bastille Day – vive la revolution! This is the fancy cover on a bottle of wine in my local French deli/restaurant, the fine La Marche Francais in Edinburgh’s Haymarket, that caught my eye one day while in getting some nice wine and cheese and they were nice enough to let me take my ever-present camera out and fire off a couple of snaps, so I thought it seemed appropriate to post today for the Fête Nationale.
While I was in Paris I took the opportunity of browsing in some bookstores and bouquinistes (the rare and second hand booksellers with the lockups by the Seine) for some bandes dessinée (French comics, basically). Unlike the English language book world comics and graphic novels are taken more seriously as culture and art; we cover a tiny bit of the European scene on the FPI blog but what gets translated into English and republished for the UK and US markets is pretty limited compared to what actually gets published in Europe so I decided I would have a look at some BD while I was there, my basic and rusty French not withstanding and ended up writing an article out of it for the FPI blog last weekend, which I’m repeating below:
Apologies to Wim for appropriating his usual title for this post (normal continental correspondent service from Belgium will be resumed shortly), but I’m just back from a terrific break in Paris where, as well as the usual tourist pastimes of marvelling at the motoring madness that is the Circus Maximus around the Arc de Triomphe (the greatest free show in the City of Light) or wondering if it was permissible to push very loud and irritating backpackers off the Eiffel Tower, I managed to have a couple of little browses through some bandes dessinée. Sadly the first dedicated comics shop – Super Hero Libraire – was closed when we passed it (unlike the UK French shops don’t always stick to the regular 9 to 6 sort of hours every day, but many are open into the evening, so its worth checking hours if there is a specific store you want to catch) and it was too far from our hotel to make a return visit feasible.
(French one volume edition of V For Vendetta and a big dollop of Wolverine – did you know Logan spoke French?)
But this is France and unlike Britain you can find BD pretty much wherever books are sold – even the famous bouquinistes with their distinctive green lock-ups along the banks of the Seine often feature both BD albums and old comics issues, although since some of these may be rare rather than simply second hand you have to watch the prices. I came across a multi-volume series collecting V for Vendetta en Français and was quite tempted to pick them up, but at just shy of 20 Euros per volume it was just too pricey.
(one of the windows of the Super Hero Librairie; in the bottom left shelf you can see Chroniques Birmanes which Wim reviewed here last week)
Still, the bouquinistes are something any book lover will want to enjoy, whether you are looking for BD, paperback novels or any other literature; actually on a spring day simply browsing among them as the barges move along the Seine, the simple pleasure of rummaging through used books combined with being outdoors and sightseeing. One stand in particular had an interesting mix of French BD and English language titles, so you’d see second-hand Bilal albums next to a rack of old Daredevil issues. As with second hand and antiquarian bookstore here though, the bouquinistes choose their opening hours according to arcane signs among the stars and from a formula calculated using an ancient equation worked out by Diderot, so it is pure luck which ones will be open or closed when you go past at any time of day or evening, but hey, if you’re there its as good as an excuse as any for a walk long the banks of the Seine without feeling like a total tourist.
(some of the bouquinistes by the Seine, near Notre Dame)
In the bouquiniste stands, the comics stores and the mainstream bookshops it is also common to come across English language titles translated into French – the aforementioned V Pour Vendetta, of course, but quite a diverse selection, even in mainstream bookstores (some of which had graphic novel sections almost half as big as you’d find in specialist comics stores here, and that’s just adult BD, not counting the younger reader’s material). Even in the land where comics are considered the Ninth Art you’re still going to find the ‘underwear perverts’ as Boing Boing refers to superheroes, translated and nestling among the slimmer, hardback BD albums – as with any comics store its hard not to spot some X-Men titles.
Kirkman and Adlard’s excellent, Romero-influenced zombie series The Walking Dead seemed popular too and I spotted several large paperback translated collections cropping up in a number of places. There’s something fascinating about leafing through the pages of something you’ve read but now in another language (and this seems universal – plenty of the many tourists who come to Edinburgh like to pick up Tolkien in bookstores here, for example, to read in English having read it in French, German etc). In one of the many bookstores between the Saint Michel and Latin Quarter areas I also came across a very handsome, thick collection of Eddie Campbell’s early work. You’ll appreciate the irony that if I want to track down most of that work by an acclaimed British artist at home I’d have to go second hand because it’s currently out of print, yet in France I can find a very fine-looking collection in an ordinary bookstore. Then again the French probably appreciate it more; “Monsieur Campbell, sacre bleu, ‘e is a true artiste de BD.” (and of course, they are right). And I noticed quite a few artists familiar to me via their translated works which have come out from Top Shelf, Drawn & Quarterly, NBM, First Second and Fantagraphics over the years, from Trondheim to Zograf.
(just some of the BD on offer in Gibert Jeune in the Saint Michel area of Paris)
Of course while you’re there you want to have a look at some European titles. Now my French is pretty basic and those school lessons seem a long time ago, but one of the advantages the comics form offers is (usually) less actual text to comprehend (or not!) and the visual aide of sequential pictures, so even when your command of French is less than stellar there’s a lot of extra context to give you a hand. It doesn’t make the medium completely accessible and bypass the linguistic barriers (unless it is a ‘silent’ strip), but if you have even a small grasp of the language a comic is going to be a much easier way to try and interact a bit more with another tongue.
That shouldn’t be surprising to us; after all we first encourage the comprehension of written language and structure in children using picture books. And living as I do in Edinburgh, as awash with visitors as Paris, I’ve seen a number of adult tourists deliberately picking up Asterix and Tintin in English to take home because it is a great way to try and get more into another language, so I thought I’d take a similar tact and ended up coming home with some Jodorowsky – Les Technopères, with fabulous science fiction art from Zoran Janjetov which made it worth picking up just to admire – and on spotting a recent collection (just published by Air Libre/Dupuis in January) by this year’s Grand Prix winners at Angoulême, Dupuy and Berberain, Un Peau Avant la Fortune, I thought that would be worth a bash too.
(cover to Dupuy and Berberian’s recently published Un Peau Avant la Fortune, published Air Libre/Dupuis and (c) Dupuy and Berberian)
To be honest I could easily have blown more money picking up several more, but since I don’t know how well I will cope with them it seemed prudent to limit myself (and spend the remaining money on wine). But language aside it is hard to resist when you are faced with shelf upon shelf of BD, everything from the funny books to tales of daring Resistance heroines in wartime Paris (one book I randomly picked up had a scene with the Resistance heroine set on one of the Seine bridges I had just passed over to get to that very bookstore, sadly I can’t remember the title now), science fiction, biographical… Even if you aren’t going to buy yourself some, if you find yourself visiting France its still enjoyable for any comics fan to have a good browse through the BD section; its always good to try something different in your reading, as we’ve said here on more than one occasion (and will doubtless say again, because its true and there is so much out there just waiting to be read).
There is another way for those of us with only a limited grasp of the language to buy into the French BD experience a little more though, and it is much cheaper than buying new hardback albums – the journals. Paris is awash with newsstands and as in any city the railway and metro stations and the airports also have plenty of stores where among the newspapers, movie mags and copies of Elle (I was vaguely disappointed the French version of Elle wasn’t called ‘her’) you are likely to find several magazines and journals dedicated to BD and some specialising in manga. Of course the language barrier is still there, but if you are interested but wary because of the language a mag is a lot cheaper to buy and try than books – it’s also a good way of introducing yourself to different comics creators.
I settled on BoDoï – “explorateur de bandes dessinées” – which has a special edition celebrating 35 years of the Grands Prix at Angoulême. For 7.50 Euros (about five pounds, slightly pricey for a mag, but it does have a lot of colour art) I got a special edition which offered up some 40 artists, with two or three pages each of art and a short bio/interview (in French, naturellement). And just check some of the artists covered here – Robert Crumb, Enki Bilal, Morris, José Muñoz, François Schuiten, Trondheim, Hugo Pratt, Moebius, Will Eisner, Jaques Tardi, Jean-Claude Forest, Jaques Lob, Neal Adams, Max Cabanes, Uderzo… That has to be worth a fiver of any comics fan’s money, surely?
(an excerpt from Mister I, (c) Lewis Trondheim)
The art and themes on offer are as varied as the artists – Philippe Vuillemin riffs nicely on the old joke – old jokes seem to be universal, I’m pleased to note – about the young polar bear (I won’t ruin the punchline in case you’ve never heard it), Georges Wolinski offers up a take on psychotherapy which would work in almost any Western culture (especially if you’re a Woody Allen fan), Lewis Trondheim’s Mister I makes a welcome appearance with a wordless tale (so it was only the bio/interview I had to struggle to read!) and we get a quick visit to Eisner’s Dropsie Avenue.
(Rendezvous a Paris by the one and only Enki Bilal)
Personal standouts for me came from Bilal, who I’ve always admired for his beautiful, imaginative science-fiction artwork. In this case it is just a couple of wordless pages, including one spectacular full page splash set above the Eiffel Tower. Jaques Tardi has four pages first created for the magazine L’Aisne set during the carnage of the Great War which are highly effective and moving. Even if you don’t speak word one of French I think you would still grasp the scenes of French infantrymen suffering and the word “boucherie!” repeated, larger and bolder each time until it is screaming “BOUCHERIE!” at the reader while below a smug General Nivelle stands in front of a charnel house of bones of fallen soldiers. Actually looking at a couple of the frames in Tardi’s piece I’m moved to wonder if they influenced the trench scenes in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s A Very Long Engagement.
(two pages from Jaques Tardi’s segment, these are from “la BD du Avril 16″ and although very different in style seem to me to be every bit as powerful and moving as the superb art Joe Colquhoun created for Charley’s War; originally published in L’Aisne magazine and (c) Jacque Tardi)
Max Cabanes’ Francis Cabrel, les Beaux Dessins, inspired by a song by Francis Cabrel, showcases some beautiful artwork; again, if you can’t read the language you can just admire the luscious art of two lovers amid the trees. François Schuiten (with Benoît Peeters) has two utterly gorgeous pages, Hommage à Winsor McCay (I think you can translate the meaning of that yourselves!), paying tribute to the immortal Little Nemo (I just keep turning back to those pages and looking at the, superb), while back in the world of black and white there’s a great extract from Superdupont by Jacques Lob with artwork by the great Neal Adams; you just have to love the Superman clone meeting his French counterpart Superdupont in his vest, paunch and beret, a Reagan-esque president and something spooky going on at a vineyard (hence the need for the French hero).
So, if you are lucky enough to be going to France on holiday, keep your eyes open – even if you only have basic French there are still comics delights to be had; as a wise comics character once declared, “there’s treasure everywhere!” There are a number of comics jewels in this special issue and I will try to share some more scans from it over the coming days because they are too good to keep to myself.
I’m still beavering away processing and uploading pics of the Paris trip to my Flickr site – 184 up and I still have a ton to go, not even got as far as the Eiffel Tower pics yet. I was going to post a few of the ones I had one on here but blogger is arseing around and for some reason just not uploading images, although it seems happy to post video… So until it lets me put some more pics up and I get round to doing more pics on Flickr, here’s another short video panorama of the Louvre, this time taken from the gardens between the wings and the famous Tullieres. As it turns round you get to see the Eiffel Tower in the distance over the top of one wing of the Louvre.
Darn it, I miss Paris, although it has to be said when you live in a city like Edinburgh having to leave Paris to go home isn’t quite such a blow. I was suffering some withdrawal pangs though so towards the end of last week I wandered down to Haymarket not too far from me and into La March Francais, a French deli/cafe which fills up wine bottle right from the barrels and corks them then and there for a very reasonable rate and then parked my Magnificent Celtic Arse – or perhaps Le Derriere Celtic tre Magnifique – down for coffee and a read of my BD (Bandes Dessinee, basically comics and graphic novels) journal and felt much better. Why aren’t I extremely rich so I could just keep an apartment in Paris and flit back and forth between there and Edinburgh whenever I felt like it? Real life, pah! Mind you, if I did I would need to import some Linda McCartney’s since trying to eat veggie in Paris is a nightmare…
Well, I have on occasion been accused of certain Frasier Crane behaviourisms. But no, I’m not talking about me, but about the truly dreadful movie I saw on Monday evening as part of the Film Festival: Process. A film so bad that even the sex scene with Beatrice Dallé and two guys failed to engage my enthusiasm (arthouse and therefore uncut, like a porn, but rather un-erotic, unlike a porno) – and you have to remember that for men my age Beatrice Dallé will always be a sex goddess because of her role in Betty Blue, possibly the mainstream film release with the hottest shagging scene ever (the opening few minutes – ‘I had known Betty for three weeks. The forecast was for storms.’).
The film, Process, is supposedly following an actress who has had a breakdown and embarks on a sequence of extreme experiences – her ‘process’ – before committing suicide. Things did not start well. As a crowd of cinephiles sat reeking of dampness in the Filmhouse auditorium on a soaking wet night the producer came forward to explain to us all before the film began that due to a mix-up we had the French version, sans subtitles. However as the film had only a few lines of dialogue this shouldn’t be a major problem, but he would explain a couple of scenes with dialogue just so we knew what was going on. He proceeds to outline several key scenes in the film before we see it, prompting one audience member to shout ‘can we just see the film?!?!?!?’ – and rightly so. Subtitle problem aside I don’t want someone telling me the key scenes (including some of the final ones) before I watch the movie. Hell, I don’t even like to read the text on a work of art in a gallery until I have had a chance to look at the piece myself and place my own interpretation on it.
The film is non-linear and is, frankly, a bloody mess. In fact, if the producer had not told us about some of the scenes I wouldn’t have known what the hell was going on, and I’m not exactly a person who struggles in the language of cinema (the cynical may think they deliberately engineered the non-titled print so they could explain this badly edited film). The non-linear chronology of the scenes would have been fine if there was sufficient anchorage to let the audience know what was going on. Instead we had effectively a pile of montages, overlapping scenes which were largely disconnected. I realise this may be to suggest the mental state of Dallé’s character, but as we have no emotion or characterisation it is impossible to give a damn what is going on. Some of the images are nice to look at, but the entirety looks very like the effort a 2nd year art student with more pretensions than skill would produce. It raids the French cinema cliché cupboard. Everyone is immaculately dressed, lives in designer apartments and smokes and pouts in silence, or with only the plinky piano accompaniment. And the frequent flashing up on the screen of the Process logo just re-enforces my impression of a dreadful student film. Truly awful and exactly the sort of pretentious and interminably tedious film you should avoid at all costs. Also exactly the sort of film where the makers will no doubt react defensively and say ‘you don’t understand it’, which is the defence of many poor artists. I do understand it – it’s just so badly put together and awfully edited that is utterly awful. Doesn’t help that in one scene in the designer home with the floor-to-ceiling windows framing our heroine (the director obviously wants to be Michael Mann here) you can clearly see the reflection of the camera crew. And free tip to the director: if you are attempting to show a specific ‘process’ the character has decided to go through deliberately, regardless of whether it is eating powdered glass or degrading, dehumanised sex, you need to show the choices and reasons, not just the scenes of the actions – how is the viewer to know she has chosen these? And as for the frequently over-long single-takes – have you never heard of the Miracle of Metonymy? Avoid.
Far finer was the low-budget horror Skinned Deep by Gabriel Bartalos. Made over a fair old length of time by Gabe and a bunch of friends whenever they had the time and the money this is, at it’s heart, an old-fashioned horror of the type I adored back in the original video boom of the early 80s, before asshole MP David Alton rode the popular tabloid folk devil of ‘evil video nasty made kids kill’ sensationalism to censor them into extinction. The all-American suburban family on holiday driving across the land break down in rural America. Now all of us know that this is trouble because Rural America is full of cannibalistic, chainsaw-wielding in-bred families (this may be part of the classical rural-urban binary opposition mythology, except in Missouri where it’s all true) and so will end in tears. The ultra-sweet old lady who runs the local diner – how lovely and polite, if a little backward. Come back to her home for dinner? ARE YOU CRAZY?!?!?! Of course our nice family are and soon we are being introduced to her family – Brain (dungarees wearing hick with, well giant brain; Plates (a plate-throwing deadly dwarf!) and the Surgeon General with his huge metal jaws. And an oldster gang of Hell’s Angels called the Ancient Ones who get involved later on (including SF fan legend Forrest J. ‘Forrey’ Ackerman).
Yep, it doesn’t take itself too seriously – this is a labour of love. Gruesome and mutilating love perhaps, but love nonetheless. It’s the proper old horror which actually has HORROR in it, as opposed to the toothless ‘horror’ films we’ve been fed by Hollywood studios masquerading as ‘independents’ and giving us post-modernist, slick films which pretend to be horror but are barely thrillers and so tame to those of us who grew up watching I Spit on Your Grave, Cannibal Ferrox, The Hills Have Eyes etc (and grew up to hardly mass-murder anyone at all, thank you Mr Alton – gee, think maybe it wasn’t the movies which twisted us kids?). Made by begging, borrowing or stealing this is a hugely fun film, following in the fine footsteps of Sam Raimi, both in some filmic touches but also in the way it was made (Sam working with friends, selling is car to raise money etc) or Romero when he made Night of the Living Dead (give me some money and you can be a zombie!). Take the word of an old gore hound – those of you who loved Evil Dead and the others of its ilk will love this. Horror and humour well mixed and with plenty of nods to other films and to the dedicated horror audience.
Better was to come though. There was a Q&A afterwards, as is common in the Film Fest. Gabe regaled the audience in the lovely Cameo cinema with tales of how the film came together over a couple of years (the branding session at the start is apparently real) and how the actor playing Brain didn’t hold it against him when they shot the scene of him streaking down a busy New York street. Alas, as underground movie-makers they had no film permit, they just drove to a location, quick shoot, grab him back in the truck and off to the next. Except as he streaked along one street he was nicked by the local coppers and huckled off to the clink! Trust me, if you only see one movie with an inbred, murderous hick with a giant external brain streaking joyously down a NY street, make it Skinned Deep. I joined a few others and the very friendly and extremely approachable Gabe in the Cameo bar afterwards and had a good old chat with him. He’s a lovely bloke who basically has the philosophy of making the film you want to see yourself, not one which will ‘make your name’ or whatever, which I respect enormously. He’s worked with Tom Savini and a host of others (including Warwick ‘Willow’ Davis who stars as Plates – a wonderfully funny but nasty camp turn played straight). No British distribution deal yet, so you’ll have to watch for film fests around the country to have a chance of seeing it. Hopefully it will get a deal and a DVD release – it deserves to be a cult hit. There is a section on the film on this website here.
Gabe talking at the Cameo after the screening of Skinned Deep
Afterwards I was somewhat hungry after all the exploding heads, removal of limbs etc and ambled across the road to a nearby café for a late lunch. A gorgeously bright Sunday afternoon, sitting at a table outside a nice café, idly flicking through the Sunday papers, sipping coffee, munching on a lightly toasted Panini and basically watching the world going past – a very simple yet very great pleasure. Good movie, chat with a really nice director and a relaxing lunch. Sometimes life is a pleasure. Finished it off with a nice ramble round some second hand stores and picked up a cool Blues anthology for four quid, with Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson on it.
Tuesday night saw Gordon and myself off to watch another almost home-made movie – the ultra low-budget ($7000!) SF film Primer. A bunch of geek engineers (who obviously buy their clothes at the same store as Dilbert) tinkering with gadgets in their spare time in a garage (Linus, I’m thinking on you here, for some reason!). Two of them finish tinkering with a device – unsure as to what exactly they have built and what application is may have if they sell it they experiment. Eventually they discover that the machine is having a temporal effect of some sort. How could they use it? What effects would it have? Okay, so some images are not the best – evening scenes are grainy because they didn’t have access to the right equipment for night shooting and some indoor scenes have everyone in a blue or yellow-tinged light because the chum shooting obviously hasn’t been trained on how to use the white balance settings on the camera – but for a movie, again shot over a fair old period of time by mates, made for $7k it’s impressive, if sometimes confusing (but anything to do with temporal tinkering always is confusing).