Friday, October 22, 2010

Evening Course & David McWilliams

Reel Chancers, our evening course, is in full swing. Last week’s showing of The Italian Job – the original, featuring Michael Caine in some fabulous suits and sharpest Cockney - and follow-up talk by film lecturer Madeleine Lyes, went down a treat, even if a lot of Minis were harmed in the making of the film!

Next Tuesday’s showing of Wall Street, from 1987, will bring back memories of Gordon Gekko, the ruthless corporate raider who coined more than a few phrases that encapsulated the greed of the 1980s financial world. Finance guru David McWilliams, well known for his own pithy sayings, will give his thoughts on the film. Gekko was hardly ‘Breakfast Roll Man’, but this original character brought to life by Oliver Stone’s masterly direction gave us a reel chancer whose influence can be seen in numerous subsequent portraits of insider dealers.

Alicia McGivern
Head of Education

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Horrorthon 2010 Update

The raison d'etre of the Irish Film Institute is to celebrate film in all its wild and woolly forms, and it doesn’t come wilder or woollier than the Horrorthon weekender, a glorious (nee gorious) celebration of horror movies and cult classics past, present and future.

Now celebrating its thirteenth unlucky year, Horrorthon started life as a lively monthly gathering for horror movie devotees in the IFI Meeting Room, before founder members Edward ‘The King’ King and Michael Griffin expanded it into an annual festival event: these days, it’s a five day extravaganza, and one of the IFI’s most popular and beloved happenings… And, trust us, Horrorthon is a bash to remember, a gleeful celebration of that most-maligned of genres: the horror movie refuses to die, and continues to reinvent itself for generation after generation of punters, revelling in the incomparable shared experience of digging a fright flick on the big scream… sorry, screen.

Over the years, Horrorthon has presented the Irish premieres of any number of modern classics, from Pan’s Labyrinth and 28 Days Later (with director Danny Boyle and cast in attendance) to Donnie Darko and last year’s Opening Night Presentation, Paranormal Activity. The real fun is to be had in bringing classics like John Carpenter’s Halloween and Steven Spielberg’s Jaws back to the big screen, while affording Irish audiences an opportunity to view any number of under-the-radar delights they might otherwise be forced to catch on DVD. And then there are the truly indescribable guilty pleasures that Ed King feels compelled to share with his beloved Horrorthon massive, ranging from obscure giallo masterworks (Don’t Torture A Ducking) to Filipino James Bond knock-offs – anyone lucky enough to catch For Your Height Only, starring pint-sized action hero Weng Weng, won’t forget the experience anytime soon.

This year’s Horrorthon programme offers the usual eclectic treasure trove of delights, from the inevitable Paranormal Activity 2 and acclaimed alien invasion stunner Monsters, to the controversial remake of seminal ‘video nasty’ I Spit On Your Grave and any number of breakthrough indie hot-tickets, amongst them Aussie neo-western Red Hill or Texan revenge flick Red, White & Blue. Then there are the cult classics, from Charles Laughton’s masterpiece Night Of The Hunter to Ed Wood’s legendary z-movie Plan 9 From Outer Space - Horrorthon is an equal opportunities offender.

The Bottom Line: this labour of love is one of the most truly unique events on the IFI calendar, and bloody good fun from start to finish. Why not treat yourself to a weekend pass and enjoy a truly horrible weekend?

Derek O'Connor

Since going to print, Horrorthon has added an extra title for your sheer fright! On Saturday, October 23rd at 23.30, catch the revenge flick Red, White & Blue.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

2 million YouTube hits...

Who’d ever imagine that a clip from a 1925 silent film would get over 2 million YouTube hits? Well that’s the record for the ballet scene from The Gold Rush, our evening course opening film next Tuesday, October 12th. In the famous scene Chaplin, as the hapless gold prospector, does a ballet routine with two bread rolls and forks, before his imaginary dinner guests. Johnny Depp fans will recognise it from the homage paid in his film, Benny and Joon or even Simpson-ites will remember Gradma Simpson’s re-enactment. Better to see the original, though, and a rare opportunity on the big screen too for our course.

NCAD lecturer James Armstrong who will talk after the film about Chaplin and other silent comics like Buster Keaton believes that The Gold Rush is one of the Tramp’s finest and most tender roles. ‘With Chaplin you get laughs and tears, as well as an insight into the art of the silent master. It’s a film of glorious moments. The Tramp goes off in search of gold, but finds love instead, and in 1920s America that was making a point." As good a metaphor today as any…

Our four-week evening course, Reel Chancers, starts on Tuesday, October 12th.

Alicia McGivern
Head of Education

A week at Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone, Italy

I have just returned from a most illuminating week at Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone, Italy. This festival, now in its 29th year, is unique; a highly concentrated week-long event which presents a rare collection of archival films in the presence of many (perhaps most) of the world's best qualified experts in film history – scholars, historians, archivists, collectors, programmers, critics, musicians and enthusiasts.

The festival sets and maintains incredibly high standards of film presentation. Most of the programme is projected from 35mm film: luminous black and white sometimes interspersed with reproductions of original tinted and toned sequences;  projected at a variety of speeds from 16 to 24 frames per second (the choice of which proved a popular topic for heated debate among purists). Films are generally accompanied by piano played by a handful of the world's leading exponents of the art. They are occasionally joined by others - percussionists, vocalists, flautists. 

Giornate Del Cinema Muto 2010 featured a number of special programmes. The lead programme focussed on the work of three outstanding filmmakers from Japan's Shochiku studios – work virtually unkown to western audiences. I was intrigued by Yasujiro Shimazu's Love Be With Humanity (1931), a four-hour epic of family treachery featuring the tumultous realtionships between a ruthless stock-broking pater familias and his children, borne of a series of compliant wives. A second strand of Soviet cinema, featuring directors active in Stalin's Soviet Union, presented some powerful, muscular dramas and a smattering of oddities – such as Chess Fever, a Pudovkin comedy about the International Chess Tournament held in Moscow in 1925.

My rationale for attending was two-fold. Firstly, to present a programme celebrating the centenary of the birth of the late Liam O Leary. Liam was the creator and nurturer of a cinema culture in Ireland through his founding of the Irish Film Society in 1936 with Eddie Toner. He directed a number of educational and propagandist films in the 1940s and 50s before taking up the post of Acquisitons Officer at the British Film Institute in 1963. Author and creator of the Liam O Leary Film Archive, he was a great friend and supporter of the fledgling IFI Irish Film Archive. The film programme included a montage of Liam's cameo appearances in a variety of fiction and non-fiction works; Our Country (1947), an election campaign film for Clann na Poblachta; At The Cinema Palace (1983), Donald Taylor Black’s profile documentary about Liam and his passion for cinema. It was a pleasure to present the film about this wonderful cineaste to a large auditorium filled with like-minded people. Many of Liam's friends were there; David Robinson (the festival director), David Francis, Kevin Brownlow (a protegé of Liam), and Jean Darling (Aunty Poppy to Irish radio listeners), a friend of Liam in his RTÉ days and a star of silent cinema herself. We hope to reprise this programme at the Cork Film Festival next month; appropriate as Liam was born in Youghal, Co Cork in 1910.

The second reason for attending was to continue conversations which Kasandra O’Connell and I had begun about bringing an Irish programme to Pordenone in 2011. It was important to see the range of material considered presentable at the event. Would the focus be entirely on feature and fiction films? Was there room for non-fiction? Could an Irish programme include newsreel, actuality, anthropological and advertising material? And how strict were the rules about silence? Was there a cut-off point at which the sound period ended (with the Jazz Singer in 1928 say?) Or could we consider programming semi-professional or silent amateur material from the 1940s?  How elaborate or modest could the musical accompaniment be? Could we aspire to bring local Irish players with us? All of these questions and others were considered and answered.

We look forward to moulding a wonderful programme for Giornate Del Cinema Muto 2011 and to  attaining the standards of presentation created and maintained by the world’s leading festival of silent cinema.

Sunniva O’Flynn
IFI Curator

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Jacques Tati & Playtime

Playtime is a crowded portmanteau, a kaleidoscope of behavioural patterns, a visual symphony in four movements. It is Tati’s most ambitious and expensive film (shot in 70mm), and his longest. Technically, it is a piece of virtuoso filmmaking. In numerous scenes as much is taking place in the background as in the foreground. The screen is perpetually ‘alive’, an animated mosaic which wholly justifies Tati’s predilection for using mostly non-actors. The enormous sets, built at Joinville and designed by Eugène Roman, are deceptive. They give no impression of a studio production. It has been generally assumed that the entire film was shot on location in and around Orly Airport. This would have been impractical given the scope of the film as a multi-faceted view of tourists, bureaucrats, restaurant diners, waiters and the passing parade.

Although people appear to be coming and going in haphazard fashion, every scene is carefully orchestrated. As the tourists check into their hotel, one recalls Lewis Stone in Grand Hotel, repeating the moribund observation: “People coming and going . . . nothing ever happens.” Tati observes something happening all the time. He shows us that life is becoming standardised. People foolishly pursue modernity for its own sake, and office workers are boxed in their cubicles like battery hens. But if one is aware of the underlying absurdities and the incongruities, humanity is preserved.

Not that Tati is all the time making profound comments on the human situation. This is, of course, a motivating factor, but he was always a showman in the music hall tradition and a mime artist. He didn’t want audiences to say “What a wonderful picture!” but to enjoy themselves. The enjoyment, especially in Playtime, lies in recognising details and situation which normally pass us by in our own busy lives. There is an exquisite scene, for example, where M. Hulot, trying hopelessly to make contact with an official whom he loses in corridors and around corners, sees him at last a short distance away. Determined not to lose sight of the man again, Hulot hurries across a concourse to get to him - only to discover he has been observing the man’s reflection in plate glass.

M. Hulot wanders in and out of the film like the host at a party who goes missing when the fun is at its best. Tati explained that Hulot is not the hero of Playtime. The main character, he insisted, is the décor, “and the heroes are the people who break it up.” Whimsically, he recalled that for Playtime the producers offered him a big budget for décor or Sophia Loren. He chose the décor because he disliked star names.

Playtime needs to be seen a number of times (preferably in 70mm) to be fully appreciated. At a first showing one is tempted to pick out bits and pieces, choice incidents and grand moments, while ignoring or forgetting the rest. The impassive man standing at a bistro counter, eating a snack while Hulot looks at him, remains embedded in the memory. But why? Perhaps he personifies anonymity in a consumer society, the automatic consumer of tasteless food. He does not react and stares blankly as he carries on munching.

Tati told Penelope Gilliatt that he likes his films to be about everybody but also about nobody big. In Playtime we see ourselves as Tati sees us, without mockery or condescension. He breaks the plastic chains that bind us.

Ray Seaton

Jacques Tati's Playtime screens on Saturday and Sunday, October 9th & 10th, at 15.35.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The World of Jacques Tati

It is easy to be bored by Jacques Tati, just as it is easy to be bored by life. To paraphrase an old saying, who is tired of Tati is tired of life. His comedy is made up of incidents, or rather incidentals. Nothing really dramatic happens. At times nothing much seems to be happening at all. Then, when one looks closer and observes the incongruities, the human comedy looms large. Isn’t this the common experience of most people’s lives?

Thoreau maintained that most men lead lives of quiet desperation. Tati would claim that most men and women lead lives of quiet exasperation or habitual confusion. Various critics have seen his comedy as basically Russian (Slavic fatalism?) or English (understatement?). It cannot be adequately explained or assessed in such nationalistic terms. One might as well label it Gallic simply because Tati was French. It is, perhaps, most felicitous to see his Monsieur Hulot character as a kind of Everyman in a chaotic world which is committed to postures of order and stability. Not that Hulot sees the truth of things beneath the surface. His creator does, or he wouldn’t have been able to make the films for which he is renowned. Hulot observes without comment. He is the innocent bystander caught up in everyday complications, an anti-hero who does not mock the conventions with which he comes into conflict because he is neither sceptic nor cynic.

There is none of Charles Chaplin’s studied pathos, none of Harry Langdon’s wistfulness. If Tati can be compared to any other visual comedian it is Buster Keaton. Strangely, he was quoted as saying that W. C. Fields and Woody Allen made him laugh the most. Yet Fields’ comic malevolence and Allen’s intellectual flippancy are worlds apart from Tati’s gentle humour. They observe the world around them and tear it to pieces while remaining within their own self-protected enclaves. Fields, one feels, keeps antagonists at bay in mumbled asides, while Allen takes refuge in analytical wisecracks. Tati strides on and survives the pitfalls and hazards of life by virtue of his innate curiosity. His casual intrusions are the result of tireless inquisitiveness. What gives M. Hulot a comic perspective is the narrow range of his vision at any given time or in any given situation. He does not foresee the consequences of his intrusions or his actions. When he is forced to contemplate the consequences and is embroiled in embarrassments, his attempts to extricate himself are not frantic but measured responses.

Cinema audiences conditioned down the years by slapstick comedians and an emphasis on running gag routines do not easily succumb to Tati’s anticlimactic style. They come away feeling let down, their expectations confounded. Tati would not have survived in Hollywood, even in the great days of silent comedians, because he was not a ‘gag man’. His forte was to “give the comic personality more truth”, as he put it. “There was a school that said silently to the public, ‘I am the amazing star of the evening. I can do a terrific number of things. I can juggle. I can dance. I’m a great man. I’m the gag man.’ That was the old school of the circus and music-hall, and one I came from. What I’ve been trying to show is that the whole world is funny. There’s no need to be a comic to make a gag.”

People are not funny when they are trying to be funny. Tati does not laugh at himself. M. Hulot remains unaware of his absurdities. As Penelope Gilliatt observed in a profile of Tati, he shows that the absurd lies not in the film universe but in the consciousness of the spectator. “His gags are never one-liners detached from character, however much the characters are detached from one another. The tail of each gag follows the original burst of life, like a comet.”

Take a simple scene in Playtime. A group of women tourists arrive back at their hotel after a shopping expedition. As they go up the escalator, in their street clothes and burdened with parcels, another group is coming down, women dolled up for a nightclub visit. The contrast is at once sharp and funny. Why is the scene funny? After all, it is a commonplace. Who hasn’t arrived back at a hotel, tired after a day around town, to see spruced-up people going out in search of night life?

Tati places the camera behind the incoming party and facing the outcoming one. The humour of this scene cannot be explained verbally because it is essentially visual. This is true of any Tati film. What seems inconsequential in print becomes on the screen an illuminating view of human nature. It is hard to imagine Tati working from a screenplay when what appears on the screen seems so spontaneous.

Tati’s sense of the ridiculous transforms a matter-of-fact, anonymous world into a repository of comic juxtapositions. The screenplays are all around us, all the time, if only we had the wit and sagacity, the inner vision and enough sense of the ridiculous to observe them. Jacques Tati does so for us. One can see a Tati film any number of times and each time discover fresh perspective and incidentals.

Ray Seaton

Jacques Tati's Playtime screens on Saturday and Sunday, October 9th & 10th, at 15.35.

Playtime, Wall Street & more new releases

It's another action-packed week at the IFI.

This evening we're delighted to present a sneak preview of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps to act as a taster for the next IFI Evening Course - Reel Chancers. Our four-week course will take a light-hearted and varied look at some of the archetypal characters and situations in films about money from over the years. Post-screening talks will consider the environments in which the films were made and how these contributed to the development of these characters. Our selected films are: The Prospector - The Gold Rush (1945); The Heist - The Italian Job (1969); The Broker - Wall Street (1987); and The Con Artist - Nine Queens (2000). If you want to come along this evening to find out more and catch our FREE sneak preview of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, we have just a small handful of tickets left, so contact the Box Office asap! The course officially starts on October 12th and runs each Tuesday for four weeks at 18.30.

Lovers of French cinema should be excited to learn of our screenings this weekend of Jacques Tati's classic Playtime. Shot on vast studio sets in 70mm, this film is a work of stunning visual design. Our screenings this Saturday and Sunday (Oct 9 & 10) will be in glorious 70mm and we're the only cinema in Ireland with this techonology. This is a rare cinematic treat and an absolute must-see.

We also have the usual comings and goings this week with our new releases. You only have until Thursday to catch Gaspar Noé's Enter the Void and the Sundance winner Winter's Bone (which has been garnering great reviews across the board). Staying with us for little longer is Joaquin Phoenix as a substance-abusing hip hop artist in Casey Affleck's I'm Still Here and a look at post-Ceausescu Romania in Police, Adjective (both playing exclusively at IFI). Buried (starring Ryan Reynolds) also continues its run with us.

One of this week's new releases (from Friday) is the story of Oxbridge graduate, drug smuggler, prisoner, author and raconteur Howard Marks in Mr. Nice starring Rhys Ifans (currently being spotted around town as he's here filming Neverland). Watch the trailer here. Restrepo also opens this week (again playing exclusively at IFI) and is the powerful portrait of U.S. troops under fire in Afghanistan. You can view the trailer here.

This Sunday (October 10th) we also have our monthly Ireland on Sunday slot, this time screening Frank Kelly's 140 which captures a moment in the life of the planet drawn from 140 simulataneously shot films by 140 filmmakers in 140 locations. Frank will be in attendance and will participate in a post-screening Q & A.

We hope you find lots to interest you at the IFI this week.

Ross Keane
Head of Marketing & Communications

Friday, October 1, 2010

Irish films in Helsinki

The Helsinki International Film Festival (Love and Anarchy) finished on Sunday September 26th. This year, for the first time, the Festival featured a large programme of Irish films. In total 4,318 people attended Irish films at the Festival, with 15 of the 41 screenings completely sold-out.

The Irish Film programme included Ondine, The Secret of Kells,  Gabriel Byrne: Stories From Home, Nothing Personal, Cairo Time, The Eclipse, His & Hers and a programme of Irish shorts. Guests of the Festival included musician Lance Hogan who wrote the music for Lapland Odyssey (co-produced by Ripple World Pictures ) and The Secret of Kells, and Pat Collins, director of Gabriel Byrne: Stories From Home.

The Irish programme was coordinated by David Healy of the Embassy of Ireland in Helsinki, with support from the Irish Film Board, Culture Ireland and ourselves in IFI Reel Ireland.

Aoife Coughlan
IFI Reel Ireland Coordinator