Children of the Night

The following is a slightly modified essay on two films 'about' Dracula I wrote a little while ago. Just about everyone knows the story of Count Dracula, so I'll just cut to what makes euro trash legend Jesús Franco's version different.    I've learned a lot from Franco, probably more than most people feel liked admitting. Everytime I'm about to direct or edit a scene, I hear the dubbed dialogue in Devil Hunter and Women Behind Bars. I think of everytime the indefatigable auteur zooms in and out and in and out on some poor starlet's crotch for what feels like an eternity, everytime a public school classroom masquerades as a courthouse, everytime his wife and muse Lina Romay accidentally walks into the camera. Franco's films are invaluable in figuring out how easily something can stop being affective and start being fucking hysterical. But the biggest lesson to be learned is just how hard everyone worked to make Female Vampire, Eugenie De Sade, A Virgin Among the Living Dead and all of his nearly 200 feature films. People worked (and showed) their asses off for these films and mock though we may, it's always good to remember just how the hell hard it is to make a film worth watching for the right reasons. If you could follow the crew of a bad film in the making, you'd probably be pretty astonished by how devoted everyone was. In fact, that's just what someone did, during the making of Franco's Count Dracula, but before we can see what makes that film so amazing, we must first look at its source.

In any other director's hands the involvement of some truly first-rate European talent in front of the camera: Klaus Kinski, Herbert Lom and Christopher Lee would hint at something regal, or at the very least something slightly dignified. Between Franco directing and Bruno Mattei in the editing room, the film's chances at self-respect were smothered in their crib. It is however novel and plenty fun to see Franco regulars Fred Williams and Jack Taylor in such well-worn roles as Jonathan Harker and Quincey Morris, because they calibrate you to the experience, the world of our director, a strange and beautiful place. Christopher Lee was reportedly sick of the old fangs and cape because they offered him little chance to delve into the stuff he loved about the novel. And after playing the count a half dozen times for Hammer Films, he could safely say by 1970 just what they were going to ask of him each time he did it for them and it didn't involve Bram Stoker's chilling prose. So how did Franco convince one of the greatest horror actors of all time to star in this most terrible late-in-the-game Hammer knock-off? He lied and said that the film would follow the novel closely. It’s a good thing for Franco’s sake that they hadn’t yet invented home video because if Christopher Lee had seen some of Franco’s earlier films he would very quickly have seen that there was no fuckin’ way Franco had the resources available to make a straight adaptation of Stoker’s novel. Francis Ford Coppola had more than enough money and he still couldn’t make a straight adaptation! Perversely, a few of the changes Franco made to the script (which frankly could have been Lee’s idea for all I know) made the story make sense in a way it didn’t before. I always had trouble swallowing that Dracula happened to move in right next door to the sanitarium where Harker's fiance lived. But bringing Lucy and Mina to the Sanitarium to look after Harker, where they’re then attacked, makes all the sense in the world. That Franco wasn’t as clear-headed on a few other points may account for why Lee put the cape back on for Hammer another three times.

For the first act, the action drifts at a decently ethereal trot, the atmospheric sets and the dubbing mostly counter-acting each other and making it as moody a Dracula adaptation as had ever been attempted. And Franco pulls an interesting cheat that winds up creating a whole new kind of mood by shooting most of the nighttime footage in very early dawn. It was naturally a cost-cutting measure (day for night may not have been expensive, but I'm guessing it was time-consuming), but it works to the film's advantage. But you forget all that once we get to the borgo pass and then…that voice. Christopher Lee shows up disguised as the coach driver and with just three sentences blows everyone in the cast out of the fucking water. You can see in one of Franco’s ubiquitous close-ups that Lee was still very much a young man despite having played the ageless count Dracula as often as Bela Lugosi did in his whole life; a testament to his not inconsiderable weight as an actor. Christopher Lee was one of the few titans of the stage who almost never left the genre. He was the Peter O’Toole or Laurence Olivier of horror, and even though the roles treated him with less respect over the years, he never did anything less than his best. To his credit, you can tell that Franco was trying to make a respectable film for his star. He took off all but his most simple baggage, settled in and got serious enough to make a mostly decent movie (between monumental mood-killers), even as it was clear he was becoming a less capable filmmaker by the minute. Compared to his version of Venus in Furs just two years before or early work like The Awful Dr. Orloff, this film shows a pretty shockingly shaky grip on tone and dynamics. A hint of what was to come.

There are a number of zany Franco touches that stop it from getting either too respectable or too dreary. Like that there’s simply no way that the house that Dracula buys is in London. It’s a villa in coastal Spain…there’s just no way around it. Of course, Kubrick's New York and Vietnam were both London, so he's in good company. Then there’s the scene with the taxidermied animals. Now Franco had been doing ok up until this point and it actually comes at a pivotal moment. Van Helsing (the always mysterious, movingly sinister Lom), Quincey and Harker have just come from cutting off Lucy’s head and they then head over to Carfax Abbey to kill Dracula or at the very least sanctify the grounds. Instead they're met by a veritable menagerie of unmoving dead animals. There are dead weasels, dead boar, even a goddamned ostrich! And they start barking and roaring and in perhaps the most shameful shot in the whole movie, someone holds a stuffed owl and shakes it around, his hand unnecessarily just out of the frame. It would be a little sad except that these three men, trained actors all, have to pretend they’re terrified of the owl, something Franco couldn’t even bother to light properly or give spooky eyes. I think everyone (or anyway, Lom and Kinski, playing the most soulful Renfield in history, just a decade away from playing the Count for Werner Herzog) understood that there was no one in the house who was going to believe what they were seeing, so didn’t exactly give 110%. Kinski doesn't do much but look bored and slightly feral as Rennfield, but boy does he do it well. On their commentary track for Death Smiles On A Murderer, Wyatt Doyle and Kim Newman hypothesized that much of Kinski's work in the 70s was done in a day. Joe D'Amato would pay him for 12 hours because that's all he could afford, Kinski would show up and stare a hole in some beakers or out a window, and your film was better. Simple as that. Who says movies aren't magic.

After the feathers have finished flying, Harker and Quincey race to beat Dracula to his castle. They overtake his carriage on the road, desperately trying to find his tomb to kill him and save Mina and the world by extension! “How do they know it’s his tomb?” I hear you asking…cause it’s got his name in big fucking letters on the side! Just when Franco had me rooting for his ambitious little film, he goes and provokes a hearty bout of laughter and the climax is ruined. Shame, shame. Count Dracula moves faster than just about all of its director's later work. The seeds for his later ‘style’ are planted here, including his tendency to zoom to create (some, any) tension. But it's not without its charms, Lee's performance being the handsomest. But then there are little curios that you wonder about the purposefulness of. Like the pronunciation of Lucy’s last name, Westenra as ‘Westerner,’ which gets to an interesting point about her place in the story. She and Quincey, who in the novel is a bit of an uncouth boor (and a Texan to boot), bring their improper moral code and ideas about sex into polite society and both suffer for it. This would have made for a welcome addition to a slightly more literate adaptation where Quincey and Lucy are more characters than time filler, but it’s the only film I can think of where that little Freudian slip made its way into the dialogue. But like I said, go looking for a lot to write home about and you’ll find happy accidents, the kind that make film my favourite medium. But why go to the trouble of seeing a workmanlike adaptation of a book that was already dog-eared by 1970 undone by the third act, a few extraordinary performances keeping it afloat? Because it gives a helpful context in which to place Vampir Cuadecuc, the astonishing documentary made on the set of Franco’s film.

While Franco was working overtime to make a film worthy of Lee’s commitment, a young Catalan director called Pere Portabella sat in the shadows with a 16mm camera recording it all. He turned what could have been an ordinary behind-the-scenes doc into one of the more stunning meditations on just what it means to make movies. Because Vampir is silent the performances are limited to the physicality of each actor. Even robbed of his voice Christopher Lee, who can communicate several lifetimes in just his walk, still seems like the better actor next to Fred Williams (who looks like Han Solo thanks to the black & white photography and vague costuming) and Jack Taylor. Though bless 'em they try, something they very obviously didn’t do on later Franco films. Actually, the film isn't entirely silent. The last scene, the only one with synch sound, finds Lee taking his make-up off and reading aloud from the original novel for the benefit of the cast and crew. He makes you weak in the knees. Not many of us are blessed with his voice, but it's not even that. His commitment, his excitement at being able to entertain and illuminate viewers with what he saw in the novel Dracula, goes past thrilling and into seductive. He was born to play the count and it took Portabella to discover what was always lying beneath the surface of Lee's best-known work.

Portabella gets a lot of mileage out of something as simple as playing a broken record on the soundtrack as he shows bad special effects and cobwebs and smoke machines. “You’ve seen this before, you’ve seen this before, you've seen this before,” he seems to say and when he takes the record off, he then has Lee take his make-up off and show you who he really is, a perfectionist intellectual who clearly enjoys getting into character and researching his roles, no matter how trivial they might seem (and it doesn’t get much more trivial than acting in a Harry Alan Towers production). And as long as we're talking happy accidents: the shot of Lee's hands taking out his contact lenses recalls Buñuel's Un Chien Andalou but how much of that was planned. Some believe that Lee’s treatment by Portabella was meant to symbolize General Franco, and that we see how much work and clumsy staging goes into building the image of a monster. Only Pere knows, but you’ll notice no one bandying about this kind of theory about the movie he stole the performance from. It's often true and frankly amazing that the making of a movie can be inherently more interesting than what it produces. Joe Bob Briggs said that Blood Feast is one of those films that's more interesting to talk about than watch and a lot of Franco's oeuvre fits that bill.

There is a deconstructionist, Post-Punk aesthetic running through Vampir. The notion of this kid sitting in the bushes taking high-contrast black and white footage of a film in progress, in effect stealing someone else’s idea but appropriating it in an unusual context, is radically impudent. By the 1970s artists were no longer content to simply play with genres or existing forms and Portabella’s examination of the filmmaking process, leaving no secret like he found it, is refreshing to the point of avant-garde in its nakedness. To see the bat-on-a-string effects and the application of fake cobwebs (which for some reason makes me incredibly happy) is to show people what goes into horror films. ‘Here are the ingredients!’ it seems to say, "now make the cake yourself." It put me in mind of a rather brilliant bit of skullduggery that The Clash pulled off on the song “Up In Heaven (Not Only Here)” from their under-appreciated Sandinista! The Clash were famously, almost ridiculously loud. Listen to the audio on their Saturday Night Live performance. The microphones are about to break. On this particular song, instead of a guitar solo they lower the levels of all the instruments while the song plays on for an unheard verse and an obnoxious bit of isolated feedback takes over. I believe it's actually a train passing through the London Underground but the message is clear enough: Here’s the feedback you wanted. I’m sure it’s been pointed out elsewhere (it’s simply too good to pass up) but Portabella’s film can be thought of as a vampire, sucking the blood from Jesus Franco’s film and making a shell of its former self do his bidding. Perhaps it’s cynical of me, but I largely prefer Portabella’s damned creature of the night to Franco’s drab beating heart. Notice how through excellently underplayed music and editing Portabella manages to wring some tension out of the scenes between Mina and Lucy, which is totally absent from the original.

Neither Franco nor Portabella could have known it at the time, but this was one of Soledad Miranda’s last performances. Miranda was Franco's first love and she was his surrogate in many of his most idiosyncratic films from the first act of his career. He started zooming because he needed to be as close to her as the distance between actor and director could allow. But Franco's obsession partly blinded him to her gifts. He was so preoccupied with capturing her that he didn't really present her with any understanding. When she died, the year of Dracula's release, Franco's cinema changed forever. And just like Lee's dedication, her relationship with Franco made sense for the first time in Vampir. Starting with her subliminal first appearance Portabella's camera treats with her a kind of reverence. They were still releasing Soledad Miranda’s movies up to four years after her death, making her something like the 1970s equivalent of Jay Dee which tells me that the public shared Franco's love of this unfortunate beauty. Miranda is, like everything else in Vampir, someone or something that happened to be on set, but she comes across as the most vivacious and exciting woman for miles. Her body language, her smile, the way she moves all convey a humanity, a timeless beauty and likeability that Franco never once captured despite his years-long obsession with her naked form. In simply catching her smiling, Portabella found her essence. People still move like she does, still give off that winking joie de vivre, but not like her. She was the Marilyn Monroe of genre film. Celluloid may make liars of everyone who touches it, but there is no denying the truth in those few seconds she gets to laugh and be herself. It’s almost unfair that the man who had dedicated himself to putting her image on film forever completely failed to do her justice. Along comes a kid with what I imagine to be a spring-wind 16mm Bolex and in a few moments preserved her forever. Such is the cruelty of art.

The '68 Comeback Special - The Awards

I've always wanted to be on a film festival jury, and now here's my chance! Sure it's off the books, but hell, Ima embrace it! With the right honorable David Cairns as my co-juror, we deliberated long and hard, smoked hundreds of cigarettes, drained the '68 Comeback Special greenroom of all its whiskey and wine, and made four hundred paper cranes out of unused ballot sheets. It was tense, it was nerve-wracking, it was deeply erotic. And here, ladies & gentlemen, are our decisions.

Palme d'Or – Capricious Summer

I'm beyond thrilled we decided on this. It's a film I fell head-over-heels in love with the first time I saw it and it's the sort of film that rarely walks away with the big win. It's slight, it's lovely, its ambitions are much more about improving your mood and lulling you into a cinematic spell. It's a joy, pure and simple, and runs a cool 74 minutes, occupying the same fugue state as Terence Davies The Long Day Closes and Jacques Tati's M. Hulot's Holiday, spaces of play tinged with bittersweet melancholy. You may not have your life changed, but you'll almost certainly want to live in these films.

Grand Prix – Petulia / Kuroneko

This was tougher. We both agreed that these films deserved recognition for their formal chops and ability to upset and enchant in equal measure. Their of a kind, when you get right down to it. Women punished for expecting to wait on men, now ghosts in their own lives. Richard Lester uses his pop-psychedelic montage to its greatest imaginable effect, crafting a world of facades where it's easy to understand how pain is hidden and ignored. It's easier to pretend we fit in than to really look at ourselves and our suffering. Kuroneko places the same story in the context of historical Japanese art. Kaneto Shindo presents a fourth wall-smashing miasma where women are at the mercy of men corrupted by war and honor, or lack thereof. Both are haunting, both are splendid, both uniquely cinematic stories.

Caméra d'Or – Albert Finney for Charlie Bubbles

As David pointed out in his late show-edition of the comeback special Finney only directed one movie. Like Brando before him, all it took was the failure of a film he cared about for him to kind of drop out of the artistic vanguard. Still shows up for a paycheck, and in largely decent movies, but ever since Charlie Bubbles that twinkle's been missing from his eye. Finney has a knack for innovation that proved he wasn't just idling between takes working for Tony Richardson and Karel Reisz. He dreamt a lot of ingenious devices people are still copying, discovered Liza Minelli and all the while gave one of his best performances. Not bad for a first try, is it? We almost gave the prize to Marcello Fondato, but Finney's been given almost no credit for the elegiac Charlie Bubbles so we're hoping to right some of that egregious wrong. Now, how about a blu-ray, world?

Prix du Jury – Doktor Glas

Speaking from personal experience, Mai Zetterling's Doktor Glas was the ideological pièce de résistance of the Totally Illegal Film Festival. The Long Day Closes shut us all up with its suspenseful gymnastics and raw imagery, but Doktor Glas had us all talking. About motivation, about patriarchy, about abortion, about murder, about justifications. Any film that can get a room full of people volleying interpretations at each other is worth talking about. Doubly so considering that no one talks about Zetterling. Criminal, we say! Criminal!

Prix du scénario – Firemen's Ball

Bitterly funny and warmly cynical, Firemen's Ball ties you into knots with its many strains and schools of humour, its sly critique of authority and coterie of non-plussed faces. Though directed in a style that would inform every third major American classic of the 70s, without its razor sharp script, one of the finest of an unprecedented era of charming malcontented masterpieces. And as dark as it gets, it never loses its cock-eyed wit, and makes you smile ever broader with every new defeat. 

Prix d'interprétation féminine – Lisa Gastoni for Grazie, Zia

Quite simply she's the whole film. The rest is D.O.A. Gastoni, who was not often asked to do more than look disturbingly gorgeous, seems weighted down not just by her lot in life but by the script, and her weariness is transcendent. She retains her irresistibility, her adorable remove, the untouchable quality that makes you fall for her, but her melancholy seems in danger of outweighing it. That battle is by far the most compelling conflict in the film. Her performance makes this horrible, horrible movie worth watching. That is no mean feet. 

Prix d'interprétation masculine – Woody Strode for Black Jesus

Strode is the ultimate underrated American performer. No Oscars, no Golden Globes, no retrospectives programmed around him, no tacky portraiture available in the lobby of similarly tacky Vegas hotels or wild west gift shops. He was never stretched by American directors, so much as they leaned on his chiseled features for support whenever they needed an illustration of winsome sturdiness. Not handsome so much as monumental. It took an Italian (and not Sergio Leone) to put Strode's face in the context it so richly deserved. His performance is undercut slightly by dubbing (not bad dubbing, by any means) but he's so perfectly attuned to the character of a martyr in rags that even though his death is inevitable (see: title) it becomes high tragedy. We cannot look away. We don't want to.

Prix de la mise en scène – Miklós Jancsó

Even before his tragic passing there was no question that Jancsó was the only pick for Director. As I've said 150 times, he remains the only filmmaker good enough to have two films, which, it should be noted could not be more different even if they are quite evidently the work of the same man, in competition for the highest honor at Cannes. How did this titan become, in Adrian Curry's words, "something of a forgotten man?" Perhaps it was that he was constantly denied the Palme? Or that it appears as though the majority of his films never made it to the US? Maybe he was just too embedded in his mythic modernism? Whatever excuse we've come up with isn't going to do anymore. He was a genius who made several undeniable works of beauty and he deserves more than what we've given him. As far as I'm concerned that ends today. 

The Encyclopedia of Film Criticism: Dan Sallitt

Dan Sallitt 
The structure of the dream has been phased out, supplanted by the discontinuous dramatic passion of young adulthood. Was there ever a dream, a spell or a princess? 

Contributed to: LA Reader, Chicago Reader, Mubi, Moving Image source, Film Journal, Masters of Cinema, Wide Angle, 24FPS, Modern Times, Nashville Scene, Slate, Senses of Cinema, Chemical Imbalance. Much of his writing has been collected here and here

Noted Champion of: Catherine Breillat ("Along with F. X. Feeney at the LA Weekly, I may have given Breillat her first rave reviews when Tapage Nocturune played Filmex in 1981"), Nils Malmros ("Along with Blake Lucas and Bob Fukuyama I've been a big supporter since Filmex 1983"), Alan Clarke, Alan Rudolph, Joe Swanberg ("I was more or less the whole Joe Swanberg cheerleading squad until Richard Brody got on the case"), Howard Hawks. 

Influences: "Andre Bazin above all, but along the way Andrew Sarris, Robin Wood, and Truffaut."

Like a lot of critics, Wilkes-Barre, PA born Dan Sallitt (July 27th, 1955-) has a second life as a filmmaker. After getting a Bachelor of Arts from Harvard in 1976, he moved to Los Angeles to get his Masters in Screenwriting at UCLA, which he received in 1979. His directing career would wait a few years while he honed his critical voice. He started writing for zines and had his first piece published (on Hitchcock) for the magazine Wide Angle in 1980. Right around that time he briefly took over as lead critic at the LA Reader when critic Myron Meisel took a leave of absence. He continued as a second-string Reader critic after Meisel's return, also contributing to its sister paper the Chicago Reader; in 1983, he assumed the first-string gig full-time. During this time he wrote "lots and lots of 1000-word articles and 150-to-250-word blurbs, tons of writing that mostly has never been digitized...I wrote on Alan Rudolph for the Toronto Film Fest: a 4-page article that was in their program, a 40-page monograph that wasn't published." In 1985 he make his first feature Polly Perverse Strikes Again!, which along with the rest of his canon was recently revived at the Anthology Film Archive. The film was completed in 1986 which also signaled a break from criticism. Working other jobs for ten years following Polly, during which time his critical output is slim, he saved money enough to make his second feature Honeymoon (1998). In 1999 he discovers online film communities and his interest in criticism is slowly rekindled. "After I started making Internet friends, the writing started picking up." Soon he found himself writing for Slate and doing coverage of the Toronto Film Festival for Sight & Sound and he's been contributing steadily to website and online journals ever since. And thankfully he's found time to make two new films, All The Ships At Sea in 2004 and the transcendent The Unspeakable Act in 2012. Michał Oleszczyk: He is a master of the discreet: everything from costume details through props to his fondness for symmetry and rectangular shapes (characters are typically seen framed by doors or windows), is both subtle and consistent.

"My home page is pretty up to date on most of my writing in the 2000-2009 period: a few pieces I like that were commissioned by Gregg Rickman for comedy and sci-fi compilations, some decent stuff for Zach Campbell and Gabe Klinger's 24fps site, a few Nashville Scene pieces via Jim Ridley, a fair amount of writing for Danny Kasman at MUBI starting in 2008, one-off pieces for Rick Curnutte in the Film Journal and Dennis Lim at Moving Image Source.  Off the net, Chris Fujiwara asked me to do some essays for his Defining Moments In Movies book, and a few essays on Ford and Edwards for the FIPRESCI web site; and Craig Keller has commissioned a bunch of stuff for Masters of Cinema DVD releases that's regrettably hard to get: a nice 100-page roundtable on Keaton short films, two Pialat essays, a McCarey essay.  The last thing I did was a Pema Tseden essay for the Punto de Vista festival that's about to be put online. I'm also really into this Naruse monograph that I'm secretly updating a bit at a time, though I've already self-published it: in a while it will be a reasonably polished monograph on all extant Naruse. I have grateful memories of being edited by Michael Lenehan (at the Chicago Reader) and Chris Fujiwara."

Speaking personally, Sallitt is one of the most interesting critics alive. If he seems a man apart today with his rigorous mise-en-scene deconstruction and championing of Howard Hawks, I get the feeling he would have been the star critic at Cahiers du Cinéma in the 50s, the one everyone remembered above the flashier likes of Godard. His understanding of film dynamics, of tone and technique, of the importance of gesture, is as deep as blood or bone. He keeps a busy schedule of rep screenings in New York but writes only about the films and directors that speak his language. He's often most riveting when a film doesn't quite work, as in this discussion of the divergent sexual 'currents' of the movie Good Dick. One discovers entirely new ways of thinking about art reading his best criticism.

He converses with film in a scholar's diction but he has a grace and openness, a careful understanding of the world, usually only found in Japanese prose poets. He grapples with issues typically outside the focus of a weekly reviewer, dealing with a film as it fits into a body of work, building up relationships with artists along the way and taking into consideration the analysis that has defined the films in the past (his Hawks reviews are great summaries of the history of Hawks criticism). Look at the many threads and ideas introduced in this brief review of Isild Le Besco's Bas-fonds: I hope Le Besco's third film got more attention in France than it has in the US. Here she manages a trick that only a major director can pull off: to depict monstrous behavior but not building dramatic expectations around it, giving herself the flexibility to shift tones at will and bring harmony out of great dissonance. That second sentence touches on intentions dramatic, technical and spiritual, hinting that her greatness lies in her orchestrating all three. It's one sentence and yet it's one of the best reviews I've ever read. Something about shifting from the tangible ("monstrous behavior," "dramatic expectations,") and intangible ("flexibility," "Harmony from great dissonance") is uniquely his. I've long thought of him as the Kenji Mizoguchi of film criticism (I also see a little of the master's gentle hand in Sallitt's films too, though that's another conversation). 

On Amoureuse:

A typically intense audience with the extraordinary Monsieur Doillon, who commandeers the cinema in the name of his fantasies of life lived at the edge of emotional rapture and collapse.

On A Girl In Every Port:

The film probably seems more weirdly personal today than it did to audiences of the time. Contemporary viewers would have noted the film's considerable debt to the success of the 1926 What Price Glory? (also starring Victor McLaglen), another story of two tough guys whose friendship takes precedence over the women for which they compete. Certainly Hawks dials up the “love story between two men” angle (Hawks’ phrase) by having his male protagonists enact a number of the dramatic conventions of love stories. (Robin Wood long ago noted Hawks’ willingness to give the same dialogue or situations to both men and women in different movies.) Yet, without being able to provide citations, I have the impression that cinema culture was, more then than in recent decades, permeated with a sense that the heterosexual love story was a concession to the commercial, and that reducing or eliminating the feminine aspect was a mark of integrity. Perhaps Hawks was able to hide his polymorphous perversity in plain sight. In any case, no contemporary review that I’ve read is fazed by the fervor of the protagonists’ friendship...One of the pleasures of A Girl in Every Port is seeing Hawks successfully take on the silent tradition of physical comedy. The first half of the film is essentially one bar fight or drinking scene after another, and where a Walsh or a Wellman would let show some of their identification with the emotional intensity of the physical life, Hawks gravitates naturally to a Keaton-like comic distance. His typical reliance on long shots with a margin of space around the human figure lends itself well to physical comedy, and the roughneck subject matter encourages in him a comic cruelty that is perhaps closer to Arbuckle than Keaton. 

On Pema Tseden: 

Pema Tseden’s misfortune is that he will likely be pigeonholed for the foreseeable future as the most important Tibetan filmmaker; whereas he required only a few films to establish himself as one of the best and most confident filmmakers anywhere in the world....The sometimes offputting primitivism of Tseden’s camera in The Search gradually creates a sense that the world through which the film moves, and the seemingly unlimited supply of creative talent that springs unbidden from the landscape of the Tibetan plateau, are the film’s true frame of reference, with the narrative relegated to little more than a winking pretext. Near film’s end, Tseden crystallizes his priorities in an astonishing two-and-a-half-minute take that deprecates the narrative even more ruthlessly than the last shot of Antonioni’s The Passenger - so much so that it’s possible to see The Search multiple times without even realizing that the climax of the story is occurring. In the yard of the school where Kathub Tashi teaches, Tseden stages a folk dance on a vast scale, with several large circles of student dancers arrayed from near the foreground of the shot to the extreme background, all moving to the sound of music broadcast throughout the space by mounted speakers in the yard, so that the music is partly obscured by distance, echo and chatter. On the right side of this magical vista, far away from the camera, the long-awaited meeting between A Je Drobe and Kathub Tashi finally occurs, midwifed by the film crew; one at a time, both the young people exit frame right, giving even the most focused viewer no more than a bare sense that the reunion did not result in a romantic clinch and a happy ending.

The Encyclopedia of Film Criticism: Michael Pattison

Michael Pattison
Just as the cinematic landscape as a whole is peppered too sporadically with outstanding works, so on a micro level, unremarkable films frustrate precisely because otherwise fine technical rendering is undone by an apparent unwillingness to confront prevailing political currents.

Contributed to: Sight & Sound, MUBI, Fandor, Grolsch Film Works, Jigsaw Lounge, IndieWire, Film Comment, Senses of Cinema, Slant Magazine, Eye For Film, Front Row Reviews, Permanent Plastic Helmet, The Big Picture, Beyond the Green Door, Festivalists, New Empress, So Film UK, de Filmkrant.

Noted Champion of: The Sopranos, Patrick Keiller, Story of My Death, Ken Loach, Russell Crowe, Alfred Hitchcock.

Influences: "My inner teenage completist-auteurist was influenced by annual Halliwell’s and Time Out Film Guides. I attribute much of my cultural taste and knowledge to the small message board community I hung out with between 2005-2010 (political sensibilities are definitely indebted to this period). I don’t read many critics. Nick James’s monthly editorials and Nick Roddick’s former ‘Mr. Busy’ column in Sight & Sound were influential for a number of years after I began reading that magazine in December 2004, aged 17."

The road to Gateshead-born Michael Pattison (October 12th, 1987-) publishing his first paid review for de Filmkrant in 2013 was long and storied. While in high school he co-founded an international online message board focused on politics and the arts (this would eventually become the foundation of idFilm, where Pattison collects his writing). From 2005-2009 his accolades are innumerable. In 2005 he's "awarded second prize in a writing competition that culminated in a published anthology of site-responsive prose." He was a member of the inaugural Northern Stars Filmmakers Academy, in Northeast England, where he began making films and playing many roles (writer, director, editor, actor). Directs and co-scripts Road which picks up a National Young Filmmaker’s Award at the Leeds Young People’s Film Festival. He graduates from the University of East Anglia, BA Honors in Film & English Studies. And during this time he never stops writing.

He writes prose, a dissertation on The Sopranos, is selected to be part of Words & Music Review, a music journalism initiative, and is President of the University of East Anglia Film Society for two years running, contributing regular reviews to the student newspaper. He begins contributing to Front Row Reviews before getting his MA in film at Newcastle University and just before moving into professional film journalism and reviewing writes a dissertation on Patrick Keiller’s Robinson Trilogy. Since his first review appeared in de Filmkrant, he's juried for and covered a dozen film festivals for various publications (first dispatched on behalf of Neil Young's Jigsaw Lounge), become a member of the Online Film Critics Society and FIPRESCI, has contributed to dozens of serious film journals, continued to make films, started programming for the Bradford International Film Festival and earned a regular column at Fandor's Keyframe. In other words he puts most of us to shame.

Pattison is a pragmatic stylist, someone who never flaunts his formidable intellect unnecessarily. Much of his writing, specifically his latest dispatches from the Rotterdam Film Festival for Mubi, contains the overwhelming sense that he not only hopes for the best from film artists, but will draw blood if necessary in defense of an ideal (and politically engaged) cinema. He holds everyone to a higher standard and believes that every gesture, articulation and decision can be the best imaginable. It's a genuinely exciting point of view and it makes his reviews all the more engaging.

On Classe Tous Risques:
Belmondo’s the kind of actor who imbues in his characters an inscrutable edge; as long as he’s in the scene, nought can go wrong. Classe tous risques was released the same year as Belmondo’s breakthrough, Jean-Luc Godard’s À bout de souffle, and while in that film he’s the happy-to-go-lucky, Bogey-admiring, footloose wanderer, here he’s a pro till the end. It’s somehow apt, then, that Classe tous risques fell into relative obscurity alongside its hipper, flashier counterpart. The nouvelle vague had fashion on its side. But this is the brawnier, burlier, bulkier and in some ways brainier film by far. 

On Bastards:

In Bastards, France is a top-to-bottom nightmare of all-consuming corruption. But its deeper, more troubling implication is not that big business is the bad guy, but that its position is enabled by more systemic evils. And just when you think you’ve dealt the beast a deathblow, the extent to which it has corrupted the innocent into aiding and abetting it is revealed. The lasting feeling here is one of absolute despair.

On Side Effects:

Following Contagion, Haywire and Magic Mike, Side Effects is apparently Steven Soderbergh's final feature as director - an announcement that has no-doubt overshadowed this intriguing and experimental work, as critics struggle to come to terms with what they'd like to be a kind of summary statement. But Soderbergh was set to do his own thing from the off, and the unfussy way in which he has gone about an experimental and prolific output for the past few years is something indeed to admire. Suffice to say, at a time of crisis with regard to the funding, distribution and exhibition of independent film, the apparent retirement of its one-time king says more than any film could. 

Jesus Gonna Be Here

One of my favourite films from last year, the moody cannibal poem We Are What We Are is about to hit screens in the UK, so the fellows at Mostly Film have kindly let me rap about its brilliance. Stand-up guys, the Mostly Film team, and I've been honored to write for them. I've written about We Are twice on these pages, but never quite got to the heart of the matter, so I'm thrilled I got to go on at length about what it gets right. Below is my previous entry on the film, when it made my best films of the year list and topped my best horror list. 

There may be better films this year but none that managed to be completely absorbing drama as well as a very effective horror film and one of the finest remakes I've ever seen. Jim Mickle's been getting better with every film and here we arrive at something on the level of Ti West's House of the Devil, though it's far closer in style to The Innkeepers. A wife and mother of three dies, leaving them to carry on in her absence as an important ritual draws nearer. Bill Sage's father is the source of the film's terror, himself a kind of walking jump scare. Religious fervor is the subject, and the faces of children a series of reflections. Watching the way Sage trying to get his son to sing Tom Waits with him says so much about the kind of life he's inflicted on his kids. It's frightening as anything in the moment when something unexpected comes into the frame without warning, but the scare lasts longer when it's against a child's hope of the life they want. The eldest daughter's dream doesn't include her father or his way of life, and in the film's most abrupt, violent outburst, he becomes the most scary force she's ever encountered. Everything she's ever believed is shattered, and yet she can't bring herself to turn away because family is all she has. The real injustice of religious indoctrination. Mickle's film overflows with moral conundrums but none he harps on. They merely colour the precedings as things spiral further and further out of everyone's grasp. We Are What We Are grew in my estimation with every day that passed. A remake, yes, but a haunting, lovely visit with some cannibals hiding away in the woods instead of the original's percussive visit to the lower depths. The more I ruminated the more I remembered every rainy composition on the fringes of the story. Mickle is a master at flow and he's far more interested in perspective and implication than traditional build-and-release favored by many horror maestros. If there's going to be blood, he doesn't hide it. He's a dramatist at heart, wringing more tension from the inevitable than the unknown, he just happens to love horror trappings. His voice is becoming clearer with every film and this is by far his most mature and enthralling work. 

True Detective: “Haunted Houses”

Fox covers episode 6 of True Detective

This weeks episode of True Detective tackles obsession in a whole new way. Rather than watch Rust obsess over scattershot clues in what is now a 7-year-old murder case we take charge of the new mystery that this series has presented us with. After the serious one-two punch that was the last two episodes we’re finally given a chance to slow down and try and figure all this shit out. Now I don’t know how other viewers are handling this show but I took the liberty of polishing off Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow between “The Secret Fate of all Life” and “Haunted Houses”. I found myself poring over every minute detail in the stories trying to connect them to True Detective in a million different ways. And what did I have when I was finished? An empty hand. 

And that just made me angrier. Did I miss something? I must have. I must just not be working hard enough to crack the code. The King in Yellow connection with this series has turned me into Rust Cohle. I’ve become completely obsessed with the smallest details of both works. And even in an episode like “Haunted Houses” which is probably this season’s slowest (or it just feels that way because it’s following two very serious acts) I still found myself staring a hole in my TV screen absolutely positive that there was something to be seen. Problem is in good mystery writing whether it’s film, television or good ole’ fashioned printed word the clues don’t mean anything until the author decides they do. And therein lies Nic Pizzolatto’s genius. Whether he meant for his viewers to take a walk to their library or dig through the basement of their closest used bookstore to find a copy (or download the free Kindle version) of The King in Yellow is irrelevant. Most viewers won’t but I did and I imagine all of us are experiencing something similar. The play-within-the-book is said to induce madness in anyone who even begins to read the second act because of the secrets of life that it divulges. Last week brought us into the second act of this season and I think with all the clues and questions that arose from it Pizzolatto is simulating the madness quite well. This week however tosses a brick wall right in front of all us obsessive’s speeding train of questions. Instead of answers (or even more clues to look into) we get some really plainly laid out melodrama. Marty is cheating again. Rust and Marty’s wife Maggie do some cheating of their own. It almost feels like a different show completely. Luckily for us, True Detective does melodrama better than most shows that do it as a day job. 

“Haunted Houses” is given the shit job of taking these characters and this story to a huge turning point. It ends Hart and Cohle’s partnership. It ends Marty’s marriage. It pushes everyone living in True Detective’s little universe off the edge of a cliff we’ve seen coming for six hours now. This episode is the breath before what I can only imagine is a deep plunge. So of course it features some of the toughest scenes to watch in the series’ run so far. Nic Pizzolatto is testing us. “Haunted Houses” is a gauntlet wherein this show’s sole writer is forcing us to come to terms with the fact that we love to watch murder and mayhem but never really know how to handle people who love each other behaving atrociously toward one another. It’s really been the only zone that’s been off limits so far this season and after this episode we’ve literally seen it all. And then just when I thought the episode would fade out with Rust and Marty staring at each other broken and bloodied in the Police Station parking lot after their little tussle we take a great leap forward into the real present that the series has been operating in. Rust tracks Marty down on a back road and implores him to buy him a beer so that a much needed discussion can take place. We’ve finally reached the timeline where the answers lay. And I can only hope they come soon. I don’t think I can keep searching so intently for clues. If blindness from sitting too close to the screen doesn’t get me, then anti-climactic disappointment surely will.

Accident Art: The Man With The Iron Fists

The Man With The Iron Fists by The Rza. Cinematography by Chi Ying Chan. Art Direction by Horace Ma Kwong Wing.