We got there too late for Clyde Jeavons' introduction to Carousel, so I'm going to extrapolate from his previous introductions to other restored archive films. Carousel was a huge hit when it was originally released in 1956, but over the years it has undergone all manner of indignities. Only one decent 70mm print remains in existence, and when the Fox restoration team examined it with a view to producing a new theatrical release version, they were horrified to discover that the You'll Never Walk Alone sequence had been massively truncated. The damage was tracked down to a cinema projectionist in Liverpool, who had been cutting frames out of the sequence and randomly splicing them into other films in an attempt to subliminally make people support Liverpool FC. It's taken the Fox restoration team nearly twenty years of combing film archives to retrieve these individual frames and splice them back into the movie. Simultaneously, a second team has been scouring landfill sites all over the north of England, searching for the bits the projectionist had to cut off the ends of the 70mm frames in order to make them fit into a 35mm print. The elements of each butchered frame were then scanned into a computer and hand retouched by a team of Koreans working on sweatshop wages who were only allowed to use Microsoft Paint. The result is the film on display here today.
Well, that's the sort of thing he usually says.
Carousel, of course, you probably know already. It's one of two classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals that the good people at Fox have recently performed their restoration magic on: the other one's The King And I, but Jeavons has shamelessly admitted that we get Carousel at this year's Festival because it's his favourite. It's the story of fairground carousel barker Billy Bigelow (Gordon MacRae), a rough and extremely dodgy man ("one fly gazebo" as he's confusingly described by a cop), who tries to change his ways when he meets the girl of his dreams, Julie Jordan (Shirley Jones). They run off and get hitched, but find married bliss hard to come by, as elopement came at the cost of their respective jobs. When the family's fortunes are at their lowest ebb, Bigelow is offered the once-in-a-er-lifetime chance to put things right again.
Not wishing to piss on Jeavons' strawberries or anything, but you do find yourself wishing that he'd preferred The King And I to this, because Carousel has aged badly in the last fifty years. It was an early showcase for the Cinemascope 55 format, where the frame is a whopping 2.55 times wider than it is high (the standard for most scope films is 2.35). Director Henry King's approach to filling this space is generally to lock the camera down and having things moving within the frame, and the results feel curiously uncinematic due to the general lack of camera movement you'd associate with the best musicals of the period - a simple filmed version of a stage performance probably wouldn't look very different from this. There are a couple of showstoppers in the film - If I Loved You always gets me at that chord change in the fourth bar, and June Is Bustin' Out All Over is the one chance the chorus has to seriously cut loose - but it's a sad fact that no English audience can ever listen to You'll Never Walk Alone without thinking of Scousers. And no matter whether you buy into the melodramatic story of Billy and Julie's life or not, the last half hour is a complete and utter nosedive: a tediously overextended ballet sequence, and then a rushed deus ex machina ending to sum up the twin themes of the story, Conformity Is Good and Wifebeating Doesn't Hurt Really.
Still, at least it all looks lovely. Those Koreans sure know what they're doing.
6.45pm: The Soup, One Morning
Izumi Takahashi's film tells the story of a, frankly, doomed young Japanese couple. Both Shizu (Akie Namiki) and Kitagawa (Hiromasa Hirosue) are currently out of work: Shizu has had to leave her company when they relocated offices, while Kitagawa is on long-term sick leave following a panic attack. She's working the phone to try and get a replacement job, and keeping the home together: meanwhile, he's started attending a series of mysterious seminars, which over time start to take their toll on the relationship.
There was a time several years ago - probably say 1998 or thereabouts, the peak of the Dogme period and the year I started covering the LFF for you lot - when a film like this would have been feted simply for existing. Made on video for what appears to be little or no money, with a five-person crew consisting of the five people who act in the film, back then we'd have lauded it as a triumph of the punk rock DIY aesthetic. Nowdays, I think that isn't enough: we know a film can be made on such limited resources, and we're more concerned with whether it's any good or not.
There's certainly interesting drama in the power plays between the two leads, Kitagawa's passive-aggressiveness playing off against Shizu's increasing frustration. But the whole thing looks like crap: shot in murky lighting on fuzzy DV from a strange assortment of security camera angles, it looks like nothing so much as a small-scale Japanese edition of Big Brother. The low-fi visuals work against the drama because it's all very dull to look at, the only vibrant element on screen being the bright yellow sofa that triggers off a turning point in the relationship (and makes you wonder in passing how you'd get hold of that much amniotic fluid). A movie with definite moments of interest, then, but not enough to sustain the full 90 minutes.
I own precisely one song by Larry 'Wild Man' Fischer, the subject of Josh Rubin's documentary. It's called Go To Rhino Records - a one-minute jingle for an LA record store, screamed in Fischer's distinctive Barney-Gumble-off-The-Simpsons vocal style. I've known the record for close on a quarter of a century, and the prospect of finding out more about the man behind it seemed an interesting one. However, that minute of silliness doesn't alert you to one important fact: when they called Fischer a Wild Man, they were using it as a euphemism for manic depressive paranoid schizophrenic.
Fischer has had long-term mental problems, leading to him being committed at the age of sixteen for attempting to stab his mother. On his release, he started working the streets of LA, making up songs on the spot for passers-by at ten cents a pop. This was in the late sixties, when a label like 'freak' was a badge of honour there, so he started to get a reputation. Many people have since tried to get Fischer in a studio and bottle his particular brand of lightning - Frank Zappa was notoriously unsuccessful, Barnes and Barnes (of Fishheads novelty hit fame) had better luck. But as the film progresses, it becomes apparent that not many people seem to care how Fischer's mental health is affected by all this attention: the main bulk of the interviews with him come from 2003, when he was in a very unstable state indeed.
Quite early on, a doctor is brought on to discuss the appeal of listening to insane people making art. Part of the attraction, it's suggested, is the access to a human spirit with no attempt at filtering or self-censorship: but, of course, there's also the whole prurient interest that makes entertainment out of gawping at the emotionally confused, which goes back as far as the English tradition of family day trips to Bedlam, and continues today whenever Jose Mourinho gives a press conference. Derailroaded's problem is that it doesn't really give us much evidence of the quality of Fischer's art - he can produce the odd affecting fragment, but has no idea how to develop it beyond repeating it over and over again. However, the laugh-at-the-loony angle is emphasised a little too much for my liking, and the narrative line of the film frequently boils down to establishing how much Fischer has been exploited by his various collaborators. You get the impression that Zappa's work with him was a deliberate attempt to freak out the squares by presenting them with an entire double album of songs made by a crazy person. Barnes and Barnes, on the other hand, seem to have had a real affection for the guy, and came up with a number of interesting ways of converting those Fischer fragments into actual songs.
Of course, if we're talking about the exploitation of someone who doesn't really understand what's going on, the film itself counts as exploitation too - particularly in its final sections, where it tries to whip up a climax out of Fischer damn near having a total breakdown while they happened to be filming him. Having said that, the whole thing is compulsive viewing: that's undeniable. But it's compulsive and uncomfortable at the same time, and that combination may not be for everybody.
11.00pm: Sympathy For Lady Vengeance
When we first meet Lee Guem-ja (Lee Yeong-Ase), she's just been released from prison, after serving thirteen years for the kidnapping and murder of a five-year-old boy. Her first act on leaving prison is to get back in touch with her former cellmates who are now back out in society: and as we discover in a series of flashbacks, they're all grateful to her for the good deeds she did for them while they were inside. Lee has a series of favours to ask of them now, because her involvement with the kidnapping and murder wasn't as clear-cut as it may have originally seemed, and someone has to pay. "Have you started your plan yet?", one of the ex-cons asks her. Dumb question. This is a Park Chan-Wook film: she started her plan thirteen years ago...
This is the third film in Park's self-styled Vengeance Trilogy, and I'm happy to report that it's the Baby Bear's Porridge of the three. Sympathy For Mr Vengeance was too cold - it spent so much time wallowing in the unpleasantness and stupidity of its characters that it didn't give the audience anyone to identify with. Oldboy was too hot - its Swiss cheese plot was too slapdash to be taken as anything other than dark farce, but the emotional involvement with the lead character kept the viewer from achieving the required ironic distance. Sympathy For Lady Vengeance, meanwhile, is juuuuuust riiiiiiiiight.
Park establishes the tone early on - violent black comedy - and manages to sustain it throughout, something he's never managed before. The downside of this is a lack of depiction of actual pain, which would suggest that Park's been keeping in touch with Tarantino since they met at Cannes. But the actual suffering of the people involved isn't what keeps us watching, since we don't really care about it and aren't supposed to: it's all about the ingenuity of the machinations of the plot. As a result, Park's dispassionate depiction of Lee's appalling revenge is funny as hell, as ordinary people are driven by circumstances into extraordinary actions. He keeps control of the tone so perfectly that by the time the last half hour is crossing all manner of moral lines, we're laughing along with him all the way.
And it all looks lovely. Those Koreans sure know what they're doing.
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