The Encyclopedia of Film Criticism: David Cairns

David Cairns 
...they not only conjure psychological states on the screen, but languish exultantly in them, only seizing the narrative ribbon as its last trailing tatters whisk past.

Known for: The Forgotten, LimerWrecks, Shadowplay, Natan.

Contributed to: Cineaste, Sight & Sound, The Believer, Criterion, Masters of Cinema, Arrow Video, Mubi, The Chiseler, Senses of Cinema, Electric Sheep. 

Noted champion of: Mitchell Leisen, Richard Lester, Lindsay Anderson, Ken Russell, Joseph Losey, Kathleen Byron, Frank Borzage, Julien Duvivier, Jean Epstein, Jean Grémillon, Lon Chaney, Victor Sjöström, Orson Welles, Bernard Natan.

Influences: "My only real influences in criticism, apart from everybody, are Colin McLaren, screenwriter, who taught me the joy of words, and B. Kite, who taught me (1) the joy of ideas and (2) what criticism is. Or at least he tried."

Scottish David Cairns (October 10th, 1967-) seems to never stop consuming and writing. Regular readers know he's got a new film to talk about in entertaining, brisk detail nearly every day. He says everything he needs to and before you know it you're scanning the backpages of his blog, Shadowplay, looking for more of his addicting prose. He devours books and films with uncommon speed, rarely letting a day pass without an update on what he's been taken with lately. But criticism came after filmmaking. He graduated from the Edinburgh College of Art, where he now teaches. His first film was a short called The Three Hunchbacks, which was the start of his award-laden first career. His 2001 film Cry For Bobo won approximately 23 awards from international film festivals, allowing him to make two more short films, write feature screenplays (one of which has just been produced) and opened the door for "a somewhat unhappy stint in kids' TV." His latest film is Natan, co-directed with Paul Duane, about the defamed innovator/producer Bernard Natan, who was almost single-handedly responsible for buttressing the French film industry after WWI as well as ushering the medium into modernity. Natan's story is incredible and tragic and he and Duane tell it splendidly. On the filmmaking: Paul Duane invited me into Natan since he discovered the story through my blog. Was never sure why he thought he needed me but I did my best to pull my weight.

Natan is just one example of the new, exciting ways Cairns engages with films. On his new foray into documentary and video essays: Through video essays and documentaries I'm now trying to combine the filmmaking and criticism. It's in progress, but shows promise. Needs to get a bit more fictional. He also contributes limericks that summarize films and size up performers at LimerWrecks. He recently studied Citizen Kane extensively, going from point-of-view to point-of-view, sizing up its many virtues in typically unique fashion. For several years he's been writing The Forgotten a now fortnightly column about movies that have fallen into obscurity, where he does some of his best writing. Cairns' writing is ruthlessly smart and dangerously witty; his pans are unparalleled in their mixture of Wilde-worthy bons mot, dark, often sexual humour, cheerful disregard for conventional logic that nods towards surrealism and a directness that can shock. His diction allows for no misinterpretation and often verges on poetic confession, all the better to let the reader into his world. He certainly uses parenthesis better than almost anyone. 

On The Love Parade:
In the film’s most daring number, he laments “But Nobody’s Using it Now,” perhaps the only time in musical history the leading man has been permitted to sing a tender love song (basically) about his own penis. And lubricious Lubitsch slips this, and much else, past those policing the nation’s screens, using the power of suggestion so that he could always blame any perceived salaciousness on the censors’ own dirty minds....Every time Lubitsch scored a hit like this (and he virtually reinvented screen comedy every five years or so), critics and audiences thought he had taken the form as far as it could go, but the best was always yet to come.

On Cinema Circus (a personal favourite -ed.):
Meanwhile, more hideous outsized masks are sported, embodying movie stars too authentically famous to be roped into this sideshow: Clark Gable comes first, Technicolor transforming his latex features to the cyanate blue of the freshly asphyxiated....Eddie Cantor (I think), eyes starting from their spheres in shocked reaction to some unseen cheese-wire garrote....The script, a drunken miscellany churned out with obvious contempt for audience and performers alike, allows for only the most disappointing kind of entertainment. Lee Tracy actually gets laughs, but only when delivering straight lines: whenever forced to deliver some broken-backed pun, he must call on all his reserves of self-belief just to get through it without organ failure. Likewise, the set-up to a tired joke-shop prank involving Jack La Rue and his dates (but not involving the shy baby chimp in Alice Faye's arms: he's just there, for no reason) allows La Rue to display courtly boredom and incomprehension at the serried acrobats displaying overhead, a joy soon fractured by the conscious attempt at humor.... Animatronic clowns, a vast inflatable blimp bestiary, Boris Karloff pumping smoke from his retinas, and Mickey Rooney, perhaps concealing even then, in the back pocket of his gorilla costume, his good-luck photograph of a naked, masturbating Judy Garland (to be revealed, decades later, to a dumbfounded Bruce Dern)... somehow the phantasmagorical, shrill, random and ugly cut-up poetry of the circus ring has been ramped up to a higher pitch of mania.

source: email interview


DavidEhrenstein said...

Aha! So he was born the year THIS was made!

Scøut said...

They've both aged well. ;)