Spank's LFF Diary, Wednesday 27/10/2010
Simian Substitute Site for November 2010: Monkey Fireworks

Spank's LFF Diary, Thursday 28/10/2010

Reviewed today: The Autobiography Of Nicolae Ceauşescu, Dear Doctor, Lemmy.

Dear Doctor1.30pm: Dear Doctor [official site]

It's officially Day 16 of this Festival, although those of us who can't afford Opening Gala tickets are calling it Day 15. And as the show grinds to a halt for yet another year, anyone who's been at it for two weeks solid should be allowed the occasional lapse in concentration. What I'm trying to say is, you should count yourself lucky that I've only caught myself nodding off during two films this year. One of them was Surviving Life, but as it's a film about the clash between reality and dreams it seemed appropriate, and I don't believe I missed much anyway.

However, the second film where I found myself doing the Rip van Winkle headsnap once or twice was Dear Doctor. Part of this was down to end-of-fest tiredness, I'm sure. But there's no denying that the first half of this film is a wee bit dull. Still, Steven Berkoff said once that sleep is a perfectly valid critical response - actually, he YELLED it, which may have been part of his point - and it does perk up in the second half. Any plot holes may not all be the director's own, is all I'm saying.

In one of those quirky little villages where they set all the Japanese films that don't take place in cities, Doctor Ino (Tsurube Shohukutei) is a local legend. With a team consisting of a junior doctor, a nurse and a stray pharmaceutical salesman, he's indispensible to the old people in the village, curing their minor complaints and in one instance apparently raising them from the dead. But one day Ino vanishes, and the subsequent investigation reveals that he was carrying a secret. A rather big secret, all things considered.

I'm saying that the film falls into two halves: the dull first part that I dozed off in, and the second part that's more interesting. The first part is concerned with setting up Ino as some sort of minor saint, with only the tiniest hints that he might not be all that. Once the cracks start appearing in his facade, the story perks up a lot: we're concerned at how far he can go before getting caught, and also drawn into the whole moral debate about his motives. If he was helping people, does it matter?

Writer/director Mina Nishikawa takes all these strands and eventually weaves them into something rather pretty. She's worked as an assistant to Hirokazu Kore-eda in the past, and shares something of her mentor's basic humanity: there are no goodies and baddies here, just people trying to get through life as best they can. After the bloodbath of Cold Fish yesterday, it's nice to be reminded of the gentler side of Japanese cinema for balance. (Though as I've said earlier, I am seeing Big Tits Zombie tomorrow, which probably disrupts the balance again.)

The Autobiography Of Nicolae Ceausescu6.30pm: The Autobiography Of Nicolae Ceauşescu [trailer]

Christmas is a time for families to get together and share experiences. It used to be the Christmas Day meal that acted as the focal point, or perhaps a social gathering of some sort: but, regrettably, these days it tends to be television that we use to bond together.

I have fond memories of Christmas 1989, when my dad and I festively bonded over the footage of Nicolae Ceauşescu's show trial and subsequent execution. In my mind, the Romanian revolution is an even stronger image than the fall of the Berlin Wall, because it made for such spectacular telly: each night we watched Channel 4 News to see the impromptu gatherings inside the Bucharest TV studio, or the fuzzy pictures of Nicolae and Elena smirking their way through accusations of genocide. So Andrei Ujica's documentary was always one I was interested in, but I couldn't make the original slot it had in the LFF programme. Happily, thanks to the subtitle fiasco reported on by Lesley, they've hastily arranged this extra screening on the final evening of the Festival - and yes, we have subs this time.

Ujica opens with those astonishing images from December 1989, before flashing back a quarter of a century to when Ceauşescu took over leadership of the Party in Romania. The 25 years in between are told entirely in contemporary archive footage - no captions, no voiceover, not even a single explanatory talking head. Which makes this at the very least a brilliant work of editing, as the narrative of Ceauşescu's life is told completely in these images: his rise to President of the Republic, and his sudden and shocking downfall. (Possibly even more sudden in this version, because inevitably there's very little contemporary footage of the incidents leading up to his arrest.)

Ceauşescu is at the centre of every scene, so they don't call it an 'autobiography' for nothing. And with such an intense focus on the man, his personality flaws quickly come to light. He's terrible at speeches, rambling on in circular dogmatic cliches that ultimately mean nothing at all. He's similarly bad at photo-ops: not too long after becoming Party head, he develops a nervous tic of throwing sidelong glances to camera, like Ricky Gervais in The Office.

He's fine welcoming visiting dignitaries on his own turf, but a lot more nervous when he's off visiting them. Whenever he travels to China, he's welcomed with a gigantic parade that makes the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics look like the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics: obviously rattled by this, he spends the whole of his first meeting with Mao looking like a rabbit caught in headlights. His state visit to England is a little more relaxed, but undercut here by a magnificent shot of the royal parade passing by a cinema showing Deep Throat. (It's reminiscent of the photo that recently did the rounds of the Popemobile passing through Edinburgh's Pubic Triangle.)

The sound design of the film is eccentric, but does the job. Some scenes play with their original audio, others have new effects and music dubbed over them. But quite a lot have no audio at all, just the ambient crackle of silent film. It's an unusual thing to hear in these Dolby Digital days, and forces you to focus that much harder on the visuals. It's also a gimmick that's frequently used to great comic effect. The silent depiction of Ceauşescu's first meeting with Gorbachev is especially hilarious, as Gorby appears to be animatedly outlining his masterplan while Nicolae slumps at the other end of the table, glumly aware that the game is nearly up.

Yes, I'm aware that my final image of LFF 2010 is that of an old man just about to be sentenced to death. Don't care. The Autobiography Of Nicolae Ceauşescu is an excellent example in using the art of documentary to make a gripping film out of real life events, in a festival that's showcased several other very good examples. But if you want to know what the absolute best and worst films were, you'll have to wait for The Wrap Party, coming in early November. And now, if you'll excuse me, I've got an appointment with a Big Tits Zombie to keep.


Notes From Spank's Pals

Lemmy [official site]

Suzanne Vega Fanclub - Goddam it, another ticket cock up. You see I thought this film was called Lenny. Although to be honest I wasn't sure was it about Dawn French's former husband, or one of the judges on Strictly Come Dancing. Instead it was all about some gnarly faced old geezer, with long greasy hair, and a leather jacket welded to his personage. C'est la vie.

Well okay then so it's another Rock Doc, which follows on from the two previous ones I have seen in the past at the festival: Edgeplay (about the Runaways) and Oil City Confidential (about the Feelgoods). This however is more of a fly on the wall effort. So although not a criticism of the two mentioned, it is to this film's credit that it resists the temptation to go down the route of a chronological history of Hawkwind and Motorhead (beyond the barest outlines).

What we get instead is to follow 63 year old veteran rocker Lemmy around, as he plays gigs, plays with computer games, plays with tanks, plays with Jack Daniels, plays with interviewers......... well you get the idea. Lemmy for his part does not seem to have mellowed with age, and despite diabetes and blood pressure, looks like he never will. Thus two stand out funny moments for me came when someone was saying how they went out drinking with him once, tried to keep up with him, and then had to be admitted to hospital the next morning with alcohol poisoning. Also his demonstration of how he played bass compared to the average bassist was a hoot, and sounded like a plane taking off.

So where did all go wrong for me then? Well to start with, there was no real structure or hook to this documentary, which you could hang the whole thing on. Instead Lemmy ambled about, and we just passively ambled about after him. It needed something to focus on, and there was a massive missed opportunity right at the end of the film which could have done exactly that. Thus one tension with Lemmy's character is his penchant for collecting and wearing Nazi military memorabilia. This was blandly passed off as a mere fashion statement; well fair enough then. However at the end of the film we found the 'uncompromising' Lemmy flying into Russia for a gig/s, minus all the Swastikas and Iron Crosses (wise man).

Oh yes the word 'uncompromising'. If all of us were given a pound every time that word was used, this would have been a complete freebie. Thus the entire film was virtually wrecked, by one after another, and another, and another, etc. etc. talking head, heavy metal contemporaries, saying how much they admired him because he was/is uncompromising. Well okay that is probably true as there are uncompromising people in all walks of life. However not content to leave well enough alone, but these sycophants to a man/woman went on to explain what a cuddly nice bunny of a man he was. In fact someone even asked in the Q&A (well me actually) did anyone have a bad word to say about him. Apart from his former band mates in Hawkwind, who complained he couldn't get out of bed in the morning, apparently no.

Well sorry but in my world, uncompromising people like this tend to leave a fair smattering of vendettas and enemies in their wake (and I wouldn't assume this guy is any different). So we are just slightly out of balance here. Thus if the makers wanted to do a fly on the wall doc, then they should have dumped all these talking heads, and stuck with that approach. Alternatively if they wanted to include them, then look a bit harder to find people with first hand experience of his darker side.

As an example we had some Rock Chick saying how Lemmy had written to her late ex-husband to say how they were only good friends, how much he respected them both, and how he would never ever cross that line. Yet earlier Lemmy himself had said the first thing he did when thrown out of Hawkwind was sleep with the partners of three of the band's members. So I think you see. Anyway Lemmy himself is never less than entertaining, and I finally discovered why Hawkwind had such a following among young men.

Also what a great little cinema The Studio is (first time I have ever been in it). A mere 40 seats and a screen that is so out of proportion to the size/capacity of the place, it is almost like being in the BFI Imax.


Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)