Monday, March 26, 2012


Some are saying it's the movie event of the year, and they might not be wrong. As complete a restoration possible of the five-and-a-half hour cut of the silent film, with a new score composed and conducted by Carl Davis. With the intermissions and dinner break it took the day to get through


It was a day well-spent. The restoration is lovely, and the film is always engaging. Actually, for a 1927 film its cinematography and filmmaking techniques are bracingly modern - filmmaker Abel Gance was taking editing strategies to remarkable extremes, and his behind-the-scenes work (including building new cameras and mounts) matched his on-screen ambitions. One wonders what his full epic would have been like (or how it would even be experienced - what we have is just part one of a projected six-part mega-epic), but what survives (and has been restored) is extraordinary.

You got another weekend to see it, and tickets are likely going fast.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

the DARK SHADOWS trailer

I'm less than pleased with the clip above, which is shattering since I've been looking forward to this film for a couple of years. I'm quite surprised that this gaudy comic mishmash is the movie that Burton and Depp chose to make from the series, considering the decades each has spent nursing their affection for it. A friend quite reasonably reminds me that a trailer can't be counted on as a concrete indicator of what a film will be like, and one does wonder if the studio marketing department (who surely cut this trailer) were put off by stranger moments in the film and settled on the cutesier, more saleable stuff.

And yet the fact that so much of the latter seems so evident in the trailer is cause for concern. I'm not blind to the camp value that many ascribe to DARK SHADOWS (indeed, I've reveled in some of the show's more enthusiastic outbursts myself). And yet the craziness of the show was an outgrowth of its ambitious creative process, not a deliberately winking wackiness, and to play the story of Barnabas Collins and family mainly for yuks is an easy out that I'm disappointed to see Burton and Depp taking.

But even if they are going for something more interesting and varied, this trailer sets us up for a campy laff riot. Which is so much less than what the series offered, even amid the technical screw-ups and blown lines. I stand by my definition of the show as "the craziest community theatre in your town doing a short Gothic horror play EVERY SINGLE DAY" - the result of this approach is, just as often as camp, an atmospheric shudder delivered creatively on the cheap, and occasionally inspired romance (not to mention time travel and parallel worlds). The Burton/Depp film may yet provide these, and though the trailer gives me no hope, I admit I'll be heading out the second weekend of May to see for myself.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


A disappointment this, Frederick Wiseman's look at Paris' high-end erotic cabaret. There's so much show footage and background detail that the film is rendered completely unerotic. A likely deliberate goal on Wiseman's part, but if that's the direction he's leaning in, why isn't there more backstage footage? The production meetings and scenes depicting the technical work that goes into the venue's show's are by far the most interesting thing about the movie - there's much less of this kind of detail than in Wiseman's previous film, LA DANSE, which offered a much more compelling balance of on-stage and behind the scenes footage. (Wiseman films interviews with his subjects conducted by third parties, which seems like a cheat around his usual avoidance of direct interviews, which doesn't help.) I strongly doubt that my dislike of burlesque is solely to blame for my lack of connection with this film, which while watchable never engrosses.

Monday, March 5, 2012


Solicitor, widower, and single father Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) is perpetually in mourning. His distraction has been noticed by his supervisors, who give him one last assignment to prove his worth. He sets out to a remote northern town to straighten the legal affairs of Alice Drablow, the owner of the foreboding Eel Marsh Manor. Amid the gloomy environs of the house (and beset by local residents who want him gone), Kipps encounters a ghostly figure responsible for the deaths of the town's children, and a mystery that threatens to shatter his already fragile psyche.

I quite wanted to like this, a Hammer horror film playing by old school rules, emphasizing atmosphere over gore. But as gorgeous as it often is, it kept disengaging me at every turn.

Daniel Radcliffe makes a valiant go of it, but he was ultimately too young to fully convince - I could somewhat buy the harried solicitor/investigator, but Radcliffe didn't project the grief that would have fully engaged me with his story. (I use a personal pronoun here, because at least one commentator of my acquaintance had no trouble accepting Radcliffe in the role.) The supporting cast do a great deal of heavy lifting here, and CiarĂ¡n Hinds & Janet McTeer are very solid indeed as a married couple whose lives have been touched by the title character.

Much has been made of the film's atmospherics, but as if as a sop to modern viewers, the film is loaded with unnecessary shocks that dispel the atmosphere. I'm not sure the modern viewer really needs such rollercoaster effects to hold their interest; indeed, the group I saw it with became unusually quiet as the movie progressed, and none of us needed the steady shocks to hold our interest. Indeed, such scare tactics only undermine the narrative - if the Woman in Black is a lurking presence that rarely makes herself known, why does she insist on saying boo every so often to Arthur (and, by extension, us)?

But that's not the most frustrating thing about the film. (heh. film.)

The most frustrating thing about watching THE WOMAN IN BLACK was seeing it, as I suspect many saw it, in digital projection. A quick look at its technical background shows that it was shot on 35mm film, but how many people will see it in that format? And yes, the death knell of 35mm film has been sounded, but the real test of digital projection is precisely films like this, that call back deliberately to an earlier era in film history. The film's gorgeous settings are rendered beautifully malignant by ever-encroaching fog, water, and darkness, but the effect is lost thru the deadening effect of the digital transfer. It is certainly possible to make effective period pieces with digital cinema technology, but the mandated transfer to digital undermines films like this, that would be more effectively served by the warmer, more haunted images that film provide.