Monday, 21 February 2011

To Have and Have Not

1944 - Dir: Howard Hawks

Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 26th February, 2011

Hemmingway wasn’t too proud of his book "To Have and Have Not". Warner Brothers didn’t think much of it either but they’d bought the rights and wanted to make some money on the investment. The solution was to get William Faulkner and Jules Furthman to completely rewrite it (it remains in the same setting and the theme of rum running survives). They then threw their hottest property (Humphrey Bogart) at it and got Howard Hawks, one of the steadiest hands in the business, to direct it. All seemed set for a solid but rather unexciting film that would have done modest business even during wartime... but then there was Lauren Bacall.

Hawks had spotted Bacall in New York where she was a model and bit part stage actress. He persuaded her mother to let her travel to Los Angeles, signed her to a Warner Bros contract, and spent many months grooming her for a major role in the movies. There’s little doubt that Mr Hawks regarded the nineteen year old Bacall as his protege and expected a "reward" for his attentions. But then Bacall met Bogart on the set... Mr Hawks was not best pleased. Bogart was married to actress Mayo Methot but the marriage was on the rocks - largely due to Mrs Bogart’s overindulgence in whisky on the rocks.

Bacall claims to have been so nervous during the shoot that she trembled almost uncontrollably before takes. If that’s the case there’s not a sign of it in the finished movie where she can be said to smoulder rather than shiver. When the film was released she was the sensation of the moment. Despite the studio’s misgivings the story of their whirlwind romance was lapped up by the public and they became one of Hollywood’s most established and stable pairings. Howard Hawks never spoke to Bogart again.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs

1939 - Dir: Walt Disney with six sequence directors

Shown at the FeckenOdeon on 26th February, 2011

This is the first full length animated feature film ever made. It hadn’t been thought that animation could sustain anything more that a few minutes of madcap merriment involving mice and chases. Walt Disney was convinced that a really well made film with strong characters and a good plot could work as well, if not better, than any live action picture.

Disney's inspiration was not in creating Snow White but in creating her world. At a time when animation was a painstaking frame-by-frame activity and every additional movement detail took an artist days or weeks to draw, Disney imagined a film in which every corner and dimension would contain something that was alive and moving. From the top to the bottom, from the front to the back, he filled the frame. So complex were his frames, indeed, that Disney and his team of animators found that the cels they used for their short cartoons were not large enough to contain all the details he wanted, and larger cels were needed. The film's earliest audiences may not have known the technical reasons for the film's impact, but in the early scene where Snow White runs through the forest, they were thrilled by the way the branches reached out to snatch at her, and how the sinister eyes in the darkness were revealed to belong to friendly woodland animals. The trees didn't just sit there within the frame. Nothing like the techniques in ''Snow White'' had been seen before. Disney demonstrated how animation could release a movie from its trap of space and time; how gravity, dimension, physical limitations and the rules of movement itself could be transcended by the imaginations of the animators.

Ironically it’s only today, through the wonders of High Definition Digital projection, that we can see the film as Disney wanted it to be seen. No worn projectors, scratches, dust or colour fade - just rock solid, pin sharp animation - every frame (or field in modern technospeak) is a work of art in its own right.

  • The film took 750 artists four years to make.

  • From many who auditioned for the voice of Snow White (Walt turned down Deanna Durbin), he chose the young singer Adriana Caselotti. Harry Stockwell, the father of Dean Stockwell, did the voice of the prince.

  • For a while after its release the film was the highest-grossing motion picture of all time, until it was finally surpassed by "Gone With the Wind" a couple of years later.

  • In England, the film was deemed too scary for children, and those under 16 had to be accompanied by a parent.

Monday, 7 February 2011

The Concert

2009 - Dir: Radu Mihaileanu

Shown in FeckenOdeon 2 on February 11th, 2011

You may need an extra hankie for this one! It’s advertised as a comedy and much of it is very funny - but even the hard bitten critic of the Daily Mirror was forced to admit that he was reduced to tears by the end. If you think about it this is an odd subject for a comedy. Doubly so when you realise the basic premise - that, in the Soviet Union of the 1960s, Jewish musicians suffered in much the same way as they had in Nazi Germany - is a bit flawed. The director has said that the conductor Filipov is ‘inspired by real-life conductor Evgeny Svetlanov’, which is odd because although Svetlanov was indeed principal conductor at the Bolshoi, this was in 1962-1965 - long after the anti-semetic excesses of Stalin. At no time in his long career was Svetlanov linked with political controversy involving Jewish musicians - but this is fantasy where the facts should never be allowed to spoil a good story! Perhaps it was never intended to be "true to life" as it pokes critical fun at what lies behind power, ambition and even failure.

There are terrific performances by its Russian-Franco-Romanian cast and fantastic playing by the (hidden) musicians of the Budapest Symphony Orchestra. Melanie Laurent’s violin playing is dubbed by Sarah Nemtanu of the Orchestre National de France - who doesn’t even get a credit!