Ed Harris' biopic of the American painter Jackson Pollock has been out in the US for ages now, and for a while it looked like it would never get a release in this country outside of film festivals. Happily, the news from this screening is that Columbia Tristar have picked up the movie for a Spring 2002 release in the UK, which can only be a good thing. Harris covers 15 or so years of Pollock's life in the film: from the early days when he was living in a spare room in his brother's apartment, through his relationship with fellow artist Lee Krasner (Marcia Gay Harden) and the onset of fame, to the final days of alcoholism and decline.
With one of America's finest actors behind the camera for the first time and also taking on a lead role of this intensity, it's no surprise that Pollock is very much an actors' film. There aren't any real visual fireworks to speak of, apart from some energetic camerawork and editing during the sequence when he paints a huge mural for patron Peggy Guggenheim (played by Harris' wife Amy Madigan, unrecognisable under a spectacular makeup job). All the excitement comes from the performances, which are universally excellent: even the confusion you feel on discovering that Pollock takes his main critical guidance from Hank Kingsley off The Larry Sanders Show is eventually mitigated by how well Jeffrey Tambor (for it is he) develops in the role. Once in a while Harris gets a little indulgent and lets the more dramatic scenes go on for slightly too long, but for the most part this is a masterclass in screen acting.
In his (very short) introduction before the screening, Harris asked us to give the movie time, and it's a fair thing to ask of the audience. At the beginning of the film, there are one or two too many scenes which almost act as art history lectures for the audience, in which the characters explain to each other (and therefore us) why Pollock's art was so great. But this passes once we're more deeply involved with the characters, and in the end Pollock's own explanation is probably the best: "when you look at a bed of flowers, you don't pull your hair out trying to work out what it means." It's an intelligent, witty, moving examination of a man's life, that even manages to include one of those classic Biopic Moments - the shot where Pollock discovers his late period style accidentally - and still make it almost convincing. Besides, any director who runs his end credits over a Tom Waits song can do no wrong with me.
3.30pm: Last Orders
Jack (Michael Caine) is dead. His final wish was to be cremated and have his ashes scattered off the pier at Margate. Three of his oldest friends - Ray (Bob Hoskins), Vic (Tom Courtenay) and Lenny (David Hemmings) - together with Jack's son Vince (Ray Winstone), take a day trip down to the coast to pay their final respects. On the way there are numerous digressions, diversions and reminiscences about the previous fifty or sixty years in their lives.
Last Orders played as the Festival's British Gala on Saturday night, implying that it was the best British film they could lay their hands on this year: or at least, the one where they could guarantee that most of the cast could attend the screening. And yes, it is a fine cast (also including Helen Mirren as Jack's widow), and they're all rather good, and writer/director Fred Schepisi has done a reasonably solid job in adapting Graham Swift's novel for the screen, but...
...but this is telly, isn't it? For all the war flashbacks and conspicuous period product placement, this is still just a feature length domestic drama, with a bankable array of faces in the cast and enough tricksiness in the narrative structure to keep viewers interested. There's nothing cinematic to speak of here apart from the use of the Scope frame. Still, as I said, if you saw this on TV on a weekday evening you wouldn't be too annoyed with it (and you may be intrigued by the performance of J.J. Feild as the young Jack, looking disturbingly like a cross between 60s Michael Caine and 90s Jude Law). But I really, really hope that there are better British films out there this year.
6.30pm: Ed Harris Guardian Interview
As the news from New York about the Queens air crash started to filter through just before this interview, it seems inappropriate to bang on about how great it is that Ed Harris is one of the few American stars who's flown over here to appear in person. Best just to celebrate the fact that he was here, and in a talkative mood too. He suggested that Jackson Pollock's reluctance to talk about himself was one of the things that drew him to the character: but there were no signs of that reluctance in the 90 minute session with LFF deputy director Sandra Hebron.
As is traditional with Guardian Interviews, we started with four short clips of the man in action: well chosen and a great introduction to the evening, as his performances in The Right Stuff, Sweet Dreams, Just Cause and The Truman Show display Harris' versatility to the full. The format of the interview was a chronological run through the actor's life: from his decision at Colombia University to pass up an athletic career in favour of a dramatic one ("I liked the applause"), through his years of slogging it out in small theatres and TV show bit parts, to his big break on The Right Stuff and his progression from there.
Harris was engagingly honest about some of his career choices. He's always preferred to choose interesting roles rather than high profile ones, but realises you have to offend the acting gods sometimes and take on something just to get yourself noticed. "I made some terrible films in the 90s - Needful Things, Milk Money - you should have shown clips from those..." Obviously the subject of Pollock was covered in detail, and it's interesting to note that the initial inspiration was Harris' father, who sent his son a biography of Pollock simply because he thought the painter looked like him.
Harris' comments about being a first-time director were particularly interesting: he only took on the direction of Pollock because by the time he'd spent several years getting a decent script developed, he felt he couldn't trust another director to get across what he wanted to say. It's also telling to note that Harris isn't certain if he'll direct again: partly because of the time involved, partly because he'd rather make a film to say something rather than just for the sake of making one. A rather good Q&A session followed, with a couple of anecdotes about working with other directors (notable for the throwaway line "I said to Jim Cameron - and this was back in the days when I could talk to him..."). Harris' final statement of what directing has taught him about the acting process sums the man up perfectly: "the best takes are when people say the words and just do it."
9.00pm: Jan Dara
Jan Dara is based on the classic Thai erotic novel The Story Of Jan Dara by Utsana Pleungtham. Presumably the film's opening disclaimer comes from this book, warning you that the story is "for entertainment purposes only" and "unsuitable for children or people with strong religious convictions." Wa-hey! Jan Dara himself (Eakarat Sarsukh) is a boy who's hated by his father Khun Luang (Santisuk Promsiri) for the unforgivable crime of killing his mother in childbirth. Matters go from bad to worse when the household is joined by Khun's new daughter Khun Kaew (Patharawarin Timkul), a monstrously spoilt bitch who makes Jan's life even worse. Luckily, there are enough loose servants around the house to give Jan the basics of an erotic education, and before long he's got a couple of women on the go: including Khun Boonlueang (Christy Chung), his father's latest mistress.
For the first hour or so, it looks like Nonzee Nimibutr's film could be that rare thing: a comparatively good-natured melodrama with heaps of shagging in it. It looks lovely (some fine sun-drenched photography on display here), the cast are all nice to watch, and Jan's erotic adventures have a reasonable amount of wit and humour in the telling. You desperately hope that the melodrama won't get overcooked and force people to suffer for all the naughty fun they've been having in the first half: but predictably that's just what we get, as the plot descends into madness and death. Pity, really, we could have had something there.
Notes From Spank's Pals
The Cat's Meow
Nico [sent by snail mail, hence the delay - Spank] - I have a theory about film festivals: that there are probably only twenty good films in any festival, and this is not one of them. Seeing this film at a matinee performance with the director Peter Bogdanovich (a Jack Benny lookalike, for any silver surfers who remember him) and Adrian Wootton (the director of the LFF, who is to film reviewing what estate agents are to house selling) was thoroughly engaging. Bogdanovich brilliantly set up the premise of the movie and talked about the locations (Greece and Berlin), and so I wanted to enjoy his movie. But by the end the film amounted to little more than a ball of fluff (Spank gave me this hairy thought, along with his choc ice carton from under his seat) and some brilliant performances.
Eddie Izzard was brilliant as the slightly crumbling Charlie Chaplin character, but the real star was Kirsten Dunst, who gave an enlightening performance as Marion Davies: and this was further enlightened by Bogdanovich in the Q&A at the end of the performance. Bogdanovich revealed Orson Welles had been troubled by his portrayal (or should that be betrayal) of the Marion Davies lookalike in Citizen Kane, and this movie attempts to redress the balance. It appears Marion Davies was a highly engaging and intelligent woman, not the airhead alluded to in Citizen Kane: and as a character rehabilitation, this movie worked. This and only one asshole question in the Q&A: "did the Hollywood curse stop the movie being made before?" Bogdanovich had already taken the trouble to explain the Hollywood curse, but still dignified it with a reply.
Lee - Lovely film from Iceland about an isolated community who think they are being threatened by a demon. When the ‘demon’ turns out to be a young boy from Greenland encased in a snow white fur suit, some members of the community are still not convinced he’s human. The film examines how ignorance, superstition and the fear of the unknown can become life threatening in an environment where the perils of nature are only too real.
Old Lag - A very loud and very marigold film. I always thought marigolds were French flowers but obviously they are Indian as this wedding was strewn with them. The participants also ate the marigolds as they went along. One of the things that any Bollywood film stands or dies by is its music. The music in this film practically pins you to your seat it is so loud. One very fascinating thing is that concert bands (woodwind and brass) in the west tend to play covers of classical music. Here such a band had been scored for semi-rave music and it was an increadibly exciting sound, along with other move conventional songs and dance music. As the title suggests this is a film about a middle class arranged wedding in contemporary Bombay. The preparations and celebrations run for several days and involve a family reunion with members returning from around the world. Like any Shakespeare play there are a couple of good sub plots, the baddie without which no Bollywood film would be complete and a below stairs love story between the wedding organiser and the family's servant girl. The film was not afraid in the riotous fun, music and colour to tackle some difficult subjects and get away without spoiling the upbeat mood of the film. Mira Nair the director has directed east west cross over films before and this was a hugely upbeat and glorious example. It is bound to prove popular both in India and the UK.
Rob D - A whole day late I'm afraid but, frankly I was too pissed to do this on Sunday and too busy to do it today.
I was aware of the major events in Pollock's life from the exhibition we saw last year. I thought the film was good up to the point where Pollock's wife left him and was even funny in parts, but Harris could have chopped half an hour out of the last third of the film and it would have been improved no end (and my arse wouldn't have been so numb). Could be that the problem is that Harris directed AND starred so there was no one to control him - how does an actor direct himself?
I thought the moment where he accidentally dribbles paint off his brush and starts using the 'splatter' method that we all associate with Pollock reminded me of the ape with the bone at the start of 2001.
Lee - I thought the film was brilliant. A fascinating study of the artist and a wonderfully sensitive performance by Ed Harris. (Although I must admit to some bias as I’m a huge Ed Harris fan.) Although I agree with Old Lag it’s difficult to like these people, I think this film does display passion and some insight into the process of artistic creation. Interesting Q&A afterwards by the man himself.
Ten Days Without Love
The Cineaste - As if I hadn’t needed any further encouragement from Spank and his posse of Pals, TDWL was boldly penned in in my diary even before yesterday’s glowing reviews.
However, before I begin, bear with me for a couple of moments as I climb on my high horse and raise that ever-sensitive subject to the British, languages. The Spanish title of this film El Cielo Abierto translates quite straightforwardly as The Open Sky. So how on earth some linguistically-challenged brain-nerd twisted this to Ten Days Without Love is completely beyond comprehension.
The comments already made in previous reviews need little embellishment. The film is well-structured and well-paced, and uses humour sensibly. The dialogue between Miguel (the main character) and his assistant sparkles brilliantly, bristling and crackling, reminiscent of Bogart and Bacall of yesteryear. The only slightly adverse comment to make is that at times Miguel dresses just a little bit too much like a Chelsea football thug, rather than an upstanding member of a respected profession. But that is nit-picking, and this is an engaging, witty and mature piece of film-making. It just behoves me to re-inforce threats made elsewhere, and if this film doesn’t get its richly-deserved UK release, then add me to the list of trouble-makers. Star rating: four.
Warm Water Under A Red Bridge
Lee - I got the distinct feeling I was missing some vital point in this film. Maybe something got lost in the East/West cultural divide. The Japanese lady sitting next to me thoroughly enjoyed it and occasionally we laughed at the same bits but mostly I thought it was pretty silly, empty headed stuff.
The Cineaste - Well, what a palava. Before the film, you need to get to your seat. The OWE2 is a large auditorium, and taking the wrong aisle from the entrance can make it a bit of a combat exercise in finding your seat. The solution is having helpful stewards, and on Sunday the arrangements had worked perfectly – indeed the staff on duty that day deserve praise for their help and attentiveness. Contrast that completely with today, when despite a whole plethora of stewards, the audience were all directed down one solitary aisle, with the ensuing result that I only had to clamber over about 15 people to find my place. Most of these stewards were loafing about doing next to nothing, apart from giving the utterly convincing impression that they’d rather be doing something like cutting a rap CD, or attending a So Solid Crew shoot-out, or indeed doing anything apart from ushering at a cinema. So well done OWE, some cutting-edge personnel practices in place there, obviously.
So, La Spagnola. Not, as the title may imply, an Italian film (“La Spagnola” means “the Spanish lady” in Italian, if that doesn’t sound double Dutch), but an Aussie one. Yes, eight films into the RLFF, and I was looking forward to my first English-language film of the festival, and the luxury of not having to grapple with dodgy subtitles (I’m still hunting that sneaky film-swapping NFT sod). Well, cue metaphors about chickens and eggs hatching. Because, although, yes, this is ostensibly an Australian film, the storyline revolved around Italian and Spanish immigrants (all the main actors/actresses are either Spanish or Italian), with the result that about 95% of the speech is in either of these languages. Now, I admit myself to enjoying both these lingos, so this came as little more than a bit of a surprise to me, but I imagine for many in the audience (of whom a significant number were Aussies, a people no more proficient in languages than ourselves), this would have been a seriously irritating departure from the anticipated status quo.
For some years now the Australian film industry has produced a rich variety of films, which makes it a shocking state of affairs when you consider that such a miniscule proportion of them get shown over here. Indeed, the average film-going Brit could be forgiven for thinking that Aussie films slot snugly into either the satirical humour category of Strictly Ballroom, or the less than humorous stable of Crocodile Dundee. Refreshingly, La Spagnola is very different from either of these. There’s still a healthy serving of wry Aussie humour, and all the better the film is for it. It starts straightforwardly enough – man leaves wife, wife and daughter have a prickly relationship, misunderstandings of well-meaning friends and neighbours – but then grows on you as a variety of characters and scenes create an engaging spectacle. It’s the humorous scenes which really make this film, in particular one in the kitchen during the preparation for a feast, and one absolutely priceless (and surreal) sequence at the local butcher’s. The daughter’s role is well outlined as a determined independent spirit. Shrewd use of period Latin music adds to the effect, and the whole adds up to an enjoyable, feisty and ebullient film. Star rating: three-and-a-half.
The Sleepy Time Gal
Lee - Jacqueline Bisset dying of cancer and looking back over her life and regretting that she never knew the daughter she gave up for adoption. A thoughtful film about the decisions we make in life. Although the mother and daughter fail to meet somehow this doesn’t matter. It’s the seeking and yearning that is important. It worked for me.
The Cineaste - Not to be confused with that other eagerly-awaited socio-sexual thriller showing at this year’s RLFF, The Innuendous Adventures of Finbarr Saunders. The Pornographer is French, and may give considerable weight to the arguments of those who claim that a lot of French cinema is sexually-pretentious pseudo-crap. I say may, because actually I fell foul of my risky strategy of not pre-booking my tickets, and couldn’t get in. At 8.00 p.m., there was a large throng milling around the foyer of the Cine Lumiere, and a lengthy queue waiting for returns. As time neared 8.30, the milling throng had become more bloated, and the queue was completely static. It transpired that The P would be starting 15 minutes late (and hence the over-bloated throng), for no better reason than that our French amis, with customary Gallic contempt for punctuality, had started the previous film about 25 minutes late. I couldn’t get a ticket, and so at least have the benefit of not being labelled a dirty old perv. I just had to cut my losses and wait for Finbarr.
LFF Food And Drink Reviews
The Cineaste - With a variety of places to eat and refuel, we certainly needn’t feel that the choices are limited to pizza or pizza. I’m a great fan of the Caffe Nero eateries, which not only serve divine coffee, but also a range of fresh soups, salads, hot snacks and exotically-filled sandwiches and ciabattas. Branches conveniently located for RLFF venues are the following:
- NFT: immediately over Waterloo Bridge, on the right hand side
- OWE: about five minutes’ walk away in Cranbourn Street
- Cine Lumiere: about three minutes’ walk away in Old Brompton Road.
Finally, for those intrepid souls venturing down to the Ritzy, this complex has its own fine bar/café upstairs (not the slightly wild-west one on the ground floor), which serves a good variety of wholesome snacks and light meals.
Rob D - Thanks to SeaPea for not getting me banned from another pub. She made up for it by taking me to a restaurant on Saturday that SHE had been banned from, but only telling me this when we started eating.
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