Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh in "No Country for Old Men."
Photo: Richard Foreman/Miramax

There are few things better than sitting down to watch a brand new movie in the comfy armchairs of the Duke of York's art cinema in Brighton, particularly when its made by the Coen brothers. The new film - 'No Country for Old Men' - is perplexing, mysterious and haunting. visceral, technically superior. Certainly up there with 'Miller's Crossing'.

From left, author Cormac McCarthy and Joel and Ethan Cohen.
Eric Ogden for Time.
Read the excellent interview with the three of them here.

Probably like you I go to the cinema less than I used to; now generally only for big sfx pictures which need to be watched on the largest screen available or art house classics as above. Apart from that, its home viewing which is what this post is about. Now is the time to buy VHS.

Nasturally everyone's getting rid of their VHS collections. Why bother to hang onto those clunky boxes and dodgy tapes when you can get slimline DVDs. Answer: they're cheap as chips. As somone who needs a constant supply of movies fodder and as a social experiment, for the last couple of months I have been haunting the charity shops and boot sales and picked up about 50 movies for an average price of £1.50 - a cult library of stuff such as 'Salvador', 'Deliverance', One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, 'Hudsucker Proxy', 'Five Easy Pieces', 'American X' - classics all.

Three particularly excellent discoveries:

'Wild Side' by Donald Cammell (of 'Performance' fame) starring Christopher Walken, one of the great actors and certainly one of the strangest. Never less than intriguing to watch. All Cammell's film are fascinating. More of that anon.
'The Basketball Diaries' featuring a young Leonardo di Caprio, with an intriguing cameo by Jim Carroll, author of the book on which the film is based. Most of di Caprios early films are great: 'Glibert Grape' and 'A Boy's Life' in particular.
'Fritz the Cat', the cult animated film by Ralph Bakshi based on the Robert Crumb characters. Strange to relate, I found a rare VHS of this at the boot sale, took it home, to find its unplayable; the following week, found another copy that worked at the same boot sale. What are the odds of that, I wonder?
It was Bakshi who made a rotoscoped version of 'Lord of The Rings' back in the 1970s. For more on rotoscoping see previous post: PHILIP K. DICK: A SCANNER DARKLY

Most important, one great rediscovery, and this gem I urge you to watch. The second film by Jane Campion, 'An Angel at My Table' is a long and very moving saga about the life of Janet Frame, now regarded as New Zealand's greatest writer.

[Left: Janet Frame stands behind the three actresses who play her at different ages in the film. From left: Kerry Fox, Alexia Cox and Karen Ferguson. They are all brilliant.]

The film, based on Frame's autobiographical trilogy, follows the story of her poor childhood in the Depression, her fascination with literature, her shy student days and her long and painful incarceration in mental hospitals after being misdiagnosed with schizophrenia and subject to repeated ECT treatment. Miraculously she survives, travels to Europe and experiences the bohemian life and finally achieves fame as a writer.

Coincidentally or not, the week after rewatching this powerful and very emotional film, The Guardian ran a feature by Campion which relates how she was almost born to make the 'Angel' film.

Her life changed when, at the age of 13, she read 'Owls do Cry', Frame's first novel, and later drove past the mental home 'Sunnyside' i n which Frame had been incarcerated. Whilst studying film, her mother sent her 'To the Island', the first volume of Frame's autobiographical trilogy and Campion determined to make a tv series on Frame's life, finally getting to meet her on December 24th 1982. Frame suggested she wait until she had published the next two volumes of the trilogy and she promised not to sell the film rights to anyone else in the meantime. The tv series was made successfully and became this superb film; its is to Campion's eternal credit that the film's success revived Frame's reputation and helped her financially in the last years of her life. Campion records that in 2003, when Frame was diagnosed with acute leukaemia, she was reported to have said that her death was an adventure, and "I've always enjoyed adventures." She died on 27 January 2004.

[Campion of course went on to win an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 1993 for 'The Piano', which also earnt her the Palme D'Or at Cannes, the first female director to be awarded that honour]

See: 'In Search of Janet Frame' (The Guardian 19.01.08) The essay forms the introduction to a new edition of the book of 'An Angel at my Table' just republished by Virago.

Excellent Wikipedia entry on Janet Frame

UPDATE: See 'Instant Nostalgia? Let's Go to the Videotape' in the
New York Times

“Be Kind Rewind,” Michel Gondry’s latest adventure in high-concept whimsy, appears to take place in a parallel universe without Netflix, TiVo or iTunes. When the entire VHS inventory of an old-school video store is demagnetized, the clerks respond to the disaster not by upgrading to DVD, but by enlisting the customers to remake the films with a VHS camcorder. Not far beneath the slapstick humor and communitarian spirit of Mr. Gondry’s movie (which had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival last week and is set to open Feb. 22) lies a strong nostalgia for a technology that revolutionized home viewing but now seems destined for the dustbin of history.'

No comments: