Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The Great Acting Blog: "The Independent Actor"


Donald Wolfitt made a name for himself at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in 1936 as Hamlet, and he tried to persuade the management to finance him on a tour of the provinces. They declined the invitation, so he withdrew his savings and started his own touring company in 1937.


 I, like pretty much everyone else, have been indoctrinated to believe that an actor is someone who spends his time asking the powers that be for permission to do work, and occasionally that permission is granted. If a poet wants to work, he merely grabs his pen and starts writing, a filmmaker picks-up his camera, and a painter his brush. This seems patently obvious, none of these people feel that they need to seek permission in order to work, it would be absurd for them to do so. But this is not true for the actor, who is supposed to pass through some process before he is allowed to perform*. And, as always when a new production of my own starts to come into focus, one in which I will not only act, but write the script, direct and produce**, I must once again find a rationale for doing so, or, put another way; make the way clear for artistic freedom by sweeping away the dulling crust which forms around the employee mindset. One of the problems is that there is a tendency to over complicate things – essentially, all an actor does is communicate something to a group of people – but the complications arise when we think of it as a “career”, because then the notion of communicating something to a group of people becomes the holy grail rather than the norm – bizarrely, validation must be sought from outside agencies: attending auditions and meetings, but before we attend auditions and meetings, we have to set up those auditions and meetings, and how are we going to do that, and so on and so forth...yes, it can get complicated, and it's easy to see how the true work of the actor gets lost in the tunnel-vision-pursuit of winning the favour of potential benefactors (as we perceive them) - infact, many who try their hand at acting, quit, as they become overwhelmed, demoralised and exhausted by the constant demands of having to scythe their way through the layers of resistance between them and the audience.


As I try to design a philosophy which will carry me through my next project then , I wonder if the modern notion of the jobbing industrial actor need be rethought, and my mind turns to the pre-industrial actor. In the beginning, there was only the actors, who had formerly been priests but were cast out of the church for being too entertaining, moving from village to village, delivering corner-street oration for their daily bread; if they were good, then they ate, if they were bad then they starved to death (perhaps the choice for the modern day actor is not quite as stark, but perhaps that is one reason why standards are falling despite ever more “training”). But the point is, the actors were there long before the playwrights, long before the directors and the producers, and the theatres and the marketing people, and (the most powerful class in our society) the bureaucrats. Long, long before any these people came along, there was only the actor, who entered the village as a stranger, alone and broke, possessed with only his wits and his intent to create a powerful illusion – he certainly didn't ask permission.


So now it's the 21st century, and actors have been colonized by the paper-pushers – the implication is that the courage and generosity of the actor is worthless, that only obedience has any value. The downside risk of starvation is no longer the motor for the drive to greatness. Nowadays, the street corner is the internet, and digital technology offers the possibilty for the actor to reclaim the work which is rightfully his. It's time to cut out the middle men.


*Perhaps that is part of the actor, his psyche, that needs this process, but perhaps we shall reserve an analysis of that for another time.

**The separation of these job titles is, for me, in practical terms, utterly meaningless. I only separate them here to emphasize my point.



From Fake IndependenceToward A True Artistic Culture


Thursday, 22 March 2012

Drifting Clouds Blog: "Mastering Visual Ostinato" - Nuts4R2 reviews Rouzbeh Rashidi's HE

Mastering Visual Ostinato

HE Ireland 2012
Directed by Rouzbeh Rashidi
Experimental Film Society

I’ve been kind of looking forward to seeing HE because it’s the second feature length collaboration between two people I follow on twitter, director Rouzbeh Rashidi and the actor James Devereaux. I know I’ve reviewed films by the prolific and mercurial Rouzbeh Rashidi before on here (as I have Devereaux’s) but I’m beginning to get more of a handle on his creative signature now, I think (not that he’d neccessarily want a creative signature).

HE has a really strong opening... especially for people of my age and maybe just a little older. A man who may or may not be Devereaux, wearing some kind of white environment suit, is exploring an abandoned and run down office corridor in long shot with film colouring somewhat reminiscent of sepia tone. There is a grating, scratching sound causing tension on the audio track and visual cycling on the picture indicates that we might be watching a surveillance recording, as the man makes his way slowly, over the course of a few minutes, to the front of the shot, armed with his torch, carefully exploring the debris he finds on the way.

It’s a really, really strong opening and most of the films I’ve seen by Rashidi so far have a knack of opening with a really arresting sequence. This one, for me, had a very obvious early to late 70s Hollywood science-fiction vibe to it. The white environment suit giving the visuals a definitive and provocative sense of the sinister and unknown. The sound design is fantastically effective and reflects this sense of unease... coupled with this one long take of a shot, it contributes to a tonal pitch of almost fear and paranoia. Was really impressed with this opening again.

This is followed with a bit of a mood changer as Devereaux delivers a monologue in black and white, intercut with initially sepia footage of him exploring the odd contents of what looks like the same abandoned building (in terms of budgetary influences, I’m guessing it’s the same place anyway). In these sequences, however, the environment suit is not present... which puts this footage in another timeframe, if you want to stick with a conventional reading of a less than conventional film maker.

The actual monologue is very starkly shot but not to the point that any excessive tonal contrast pops out at you immediately. In this sequence the acting tour-de-force that is Devereaux, details his dissatisfaction with a recent lover, Mary, with whom he's presumably broken up. Devereaux's pacing is deliberately slow, like a man trying to find the words he wants to say... and having an inkling of how Rashidi does things, this may be a very accurate description because it might even all be improvised on the spot. Even so, this is not to suggest that Devereaux is making his character up as he goes along... more that he’s already in the character (to the extent that you can be to create that illusion for an audience), and that character is exploring his words with a sense of slow precision, because they are important to him.

As Devereaux continues what is the first in a series of extremely long, one take scenes and the first of two, quite lengthy, monologues... the shot starts cutting backwards and forwards between the footage of him exploring the building. Sometimes the two bits of footage are cut to a very fast rhythm of roughly a second as shot. Setting up an almost hypnotic sense of pacing, as the fast cuts set up a new mood in your brain. Things settle down a bit then and the cuts to and from the juxtaposed footage come slower as new layers are added to what are presumably memories... which is what the human brain will pick up from the language of cinema as the correct interpretation of the same person being cut against footage of himself (whether this is a correct interpretation or not). Rashedi knows this and exploits that basic self-taught human response to his own uses... I was very much expecting him to pull the rug from under me in this sequence to be honest.

After a while, the director/editor sets up another intense sequence of similar rhythmic cutting within the same monologue. So what we now have is a secondary layer of different rhythms creating a larger, slower rhythm which is being received directly into the mind as a fast series of rhythmic cuts... when what is actually happening at a deeper, and probably subconscious level for the majority of the audience, is that a larger and more serene rhythmic response is being set up... much like the way the music of Philip Glass can play out in the ear as speedy repeat phrases when they are actually piecing together a slower melody inside your head. So what we have is a very striking and initially grating visual ostinato making up a slower piece, which owes as much to Dennis Hopper’s similar cross-cutting effects in his directorial debut Easy Rider as it does to anything else.

The quality of the intercut footage starts to get more colourful and dreamlike in some places and then knocks back down to a state of distress in others. In this second tier of footage, Devereaux continues to wander a rundown building interior, randomly exploring and interacting (passively at first) with his immediate environment on a purely physical level. After a good long while he picks up a load of big Garrick Glen bottles of still water (product placement in a Rashidi movie?) and places them on a ramshackle table he finds. This is a red herring that something pivotal is about to happen because, after undoing the tops of each one and sniffing them in turn before putting the tops back on, he knocks them off the table with a walking stick he's been carrying and carries on exploring his environment. As I write these words now and revisit the movie in my head... I suddenly realise I’ve got a very strong idea of what he is looking for, but to reveal that here would possibly spoil things a little for potential viewers.

Towards the end of this first monologue section, Devereaux’s HE reveals that he is recording his monologue to send to Mary, because he is going to kill himself. It's an audio suicide note.

We then have a scene change with a more colourful and sharper picture, as we cut to what can only be Mary herself. She is talking with someone (possibly her latest lover) in a room as they both gaze out of large windows. We cannot hear the actual conversation they are having, however.

At first Mary is occupying the same basic space to the left of the screen that Devereaux was visually filling during his monologue... so this scene cuts very naturally into this segment before quickly cutting to a long shot of Mary and the other guy in profile... Mary still occupying the left of screen so this is already not nearly as jarring as the sequence with Devereaux in it... until the intercut footage of Devereaux wandering the building continues to be intercut into this sequence, enabling a more intense rhythm mixed with a more aggressive, almost musical sound design... we are now entering the realms of pure visual poetry, ladies and gentlemen, which makes Rashidi something akin to a direct descendant, mutant love child of the cinematic poetry of Andrei Tarkovsky cross pollinated with late 50s beat generation writing (somebody needs to give this guy a big budget and see if he can handle it without losing creative impetus... come on all you slap dash producers!).

We cut to a single shot of the guy which holds for a longer time, like the first shot in this section of the female lead and, yes, he's occupying the opposite space within the frame of the shot to what she and Devereaux did. Is this sequence a mirror image of itself developed through the rhythm of the shots? Well yeah and that’s obviously the intent but it’s almost here as a visual bookend to bring us into a second monologue while still retaining continuity of the cross-cut footage, because as this shot sequence ends we cut to a new scene of Deveraux in a standard colour shot with a new monologue delivery... but intercut with more footage of Deveraux wandering the building, this time (at first) without any deterioration to the quality of the film stock... perhaps symbolic of less mental deterioration as this monologue seems a little faster and more confident... it being another recording, this time to the parents of the character.

The intercut footage grows more angry and destructive and is perhaps a visual echo of the anger that the central character feels to his parents. The content of these shots calms down for a while but the monologue drops out with aggressive audio phase shifting (or some such technique) in what seems like a key place, to deliberately restrict the viewer from being spoonfed certain information and to instead fire the potent imagination, I would imagine... before dropping back into the natural sound of the monologue. It could also, of course, be a way of cutting out material which didn’t, in the final analysis, gel with the tone of the piece... but if so it’s a valid and creative solution to that particular kind of problem and so not to be seen as an invalidation of a piece of work. I suspect half of what happens on a film set is accidental anyway (even with Hitchcock, but I’m not going to try to defend that statement here).

This monologue also becomes an aggressive diatribe against the evils of television and the lack of a role model in the character’s parents which is actually quite heartfelt and somewhat amusing (I can really identify with certain parts of this stuff and believe I’ve said similar about the evils of daytime television to various friends over the years).

We then have another break from the format after a while and various experimental techniques are applied to crosscut footage intertwining with contemplative shots of other characters. Devereaux continues his explorations and antics within the building, this time back in the environmental suit, while sound and atonal music dictates the intensity that these shots are informed by... or at least a retrofitted sense of the informed, if such a thing is possible (and of course it is in cinema).

A sequence intercut to this with the couple from earlier in bed with the guy not being in any way responsive to the world about him, even when aggressively shaken, is cut against a new and hard to digest rhythm.

This is followed by a sequence where Devereaux’s character discusses his impending suicide with a friend, which is a great sequence of two really masterful actors who seem to work pretty well together, juxtaposed against footage featuring a character played by director Maximilian Le Cain, who meets with Devereaux as he assists him by providing him with the means to take his suicide objective a step closer. Le Cain isn’t in it much but adds a little more intensity in his static performance. I once wrote of him in my blog review here that he seems like someone who would “be chasing me down a street brandishing a big board with a nail in it” but in these short scenes he seems somehow less physically aggressive... perhaps more like someone who would be “paying and organising subordinates” to be chasing me down a street brandishing a big board with a nail in it, instead. Either way he has an intensity in this that’s hard to ignore.

Devereaux and his friend explore the motivation and reasoning behind his decision to kill himself and it’s a very rational and almost calm conversation, one that perhaps contradicts the inherent struggle of Devereaux’s first monologue and naked aggression of his second. This gives a sense of depth to the character because it’s clear that he is not telling his friend everything... or at least that’s the way I interpreted it and I’m really not going to say anymore about the content of the film because I think this seemingly inherent but unhighlighted contradiction pretty much sums up Rashidi’s directorial style, which I touched upon somewhat in my review of his movie Bipedality.

That is to say...

In terms of visual aesthetic, this is very much a film which pits beautifully framed, static and crisp shots against more downgraded and less palatable textures and moving camera work. But no answers are provided and visual touchstones are deliberately (I believe) set up to create a “story space” to make up your own ways of reading and interpreting the text. Is the environment suit needed, for instance, because the building is radioactive and Devereaux’s character didn’t know and now he has cancer? Is that the reason why he’s decided to take this course and reexamine his life? Or is he a ghost from the future in a post apocalyptic time period. I don’t know and neither, do I think, am I supposed to.

Rashidi doesn’t tell stories, he sets them up and then leaves them absolutely to the audience's own struggle to provide a shape to house the visual and aural ideas prevalent in his movies. He doesn’t leave it completely without structure and, as we have seen, there is plenty of structure and rhythm within the editing of his sequences... but he does provide a rough guide to an exploration of the narrative and not the key to a fixed narrative conclusion itself. This is the strength of this director’s films and, I suspect, one of the reasons why they have interest independent of their obvious visual beauty. I won’t say more on this because I don’t want to over think this guys working method but I will say that, while some audiences for this kind of, almost challenging but certainly not passively consumed, cinematic dish may find this kind of meal less palatable than others, I would have to say that I quite enjoyed HE and think it’s an another fine example of a director who is making really unique films which unfold on the director’s own terms and which don’t cowtow to commercial pressures. Seek this one out, if you can, if you are into watching a purer (I hesitate to say rawer given the obvious craftsmanship which goes into these kinds of films) and more demanding form of cinema.

For more information on Rashidi and Devereaux, go here and then follow the links...

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Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Check out the trailer for Angelopoulos' The Dust Of Time

The Great Acting Blog: "The Shy Poetry Of Irene Jacob"



I suppose Irene Jacob will always be inextricably linked with Krzysztof Kieslowski, and the two masterpieces she made with him: The Double Life Of Veronique, and Three Colours: Red, which made her name. I am convinced had Kieslowski lived on, he and Jacob would have made many more films together; the aesthetics of Jacob's acting and Kieslowski's cinema are utterly compatible, both marked by an unpretentious poetry and a sensitivity – no other actor is as seemless in Kieslowski's films as Jacob, infact, the BFI's Geoff Andrew wrote that Kieslowski was “making those films around her”. However, it could be said that Jacob has never quite reached the heights of those films with Kieslowski since, although it's true that after winning the best actress award at Cannes in 1994 for Red, the offers poured in, from Europe and Hollywood*, but Jacob instead retreated and took nine months off, spending most of her time “reading Tolstoy, Balzac, Singer and several autobiographies”.She worked with Louis Malle before Kieslowski, and Antonioni after, and latterly delivered a masterpiece of screen acting in Theo Angelopoulos' The Dust Of Time.


What is unusual about Jacob on screen, is her shyness. She is never aggressive, or flamboyant, and hardly makes any attempt at intensity, even though her performances are vivid. There is a gentleness about Jacob, with a hint of melancholy. However, there is always joy in her performance, it is the energy source for all her work, and it may be re-shaped in all kinds of ways, such as sadness or confusion, depending on the needs of the moment in the scene. Jacob's performances flow from her, which sometimes gives her an ecstatic quality. Her performances are unfettered, and unmolested by vanity. There is a sensitivity and delicacy about her which can at times be heartbreaking. Her acting has the absolute ring of truth to it. As with all great actors, it is her essential goodness we respond to. Further, we also sense that her performances are coming from a deep place, they are important to her. Although she is physically small, she has a magnitude of soul, as though there is so much more to be explored, as though we are only seeing a fraction of what she may express.


Jacob, by her own admission, came from a “shy” family, who rarely if ever expressed their feelings. As a result, through much of her childhood, she will have repressed much of what she felt, locking it away somewhere. Then she discovers cinema:


They made me laugh and cry, and that was exactly what I was waiting for in a film: to awaken me to my feelings”.


Suddenly those repressed feelings are stirred, and the possibility of being an actor, offers the possibility of an escape from introversion, albeit temporarily and under imaginary circumstances (ie – for the duration of the performance), and the possibility of giving expression to that repressed material. Here's Jacob again: -


...the protection of a's the distance that creates the poetry”.


The protection of a character is an interesting point – there is no character, everything the actor expresses is of himself, not of anybody else. In Jacob's case, an introvert, the objectivity of playing a character, creates a vehicle to transport the repressed material out into the world. However, she is such a captivating actor because there is a tension between her inclination for introversion and the demands of the scene (her performance). The poetry is the repressed material touched off by the actor's response to the scene, and reconfigured as truthful fiction by the actor's performance.


Jacob (as with all true actors), possesses a surfeit of thought and feeling brought about by shyness, and from this surfeit, Jacob creates her poetry.



Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The Great Acting Blog: "A Beautiful Object"


“I get impatient when I hear dialogue that's just too natural. I write what people would really say and then I artificialize just enough so it becomes a beautiful object”. - Hal Hartley

For anyone not familiar with Hartley's work, the dialogue is very distinctive, it's precise and rhythmical (the clip above will give you a taster), critic Jason Wood even described the characters as speaking in inverted commas. Hartley doesn't disguise the fact that what we hear is scripted dialogue. An attempt to create “naturalistic” dialogue, is an attempt to convince the viewer that what he is hearing is real – which of course it isn't.

“Naturalistic” acting then, is a style which the actor applies to his performance in order to convince the viewer that what he is doing is not acting but real, and hopefully, the viewer will buy into the fiction of the film as a result. However,  whether a film seems real or not, is irrelevant - The Fox And The Hound is no more nor less real than Casablanca - what counts is whether the film is true or false.  When the work is true, the viewer will accept that a talking fox and a talking dog can be friends, and the viewer will accept that Humphrey Bogart is in love with Ingrid Bergman – the viewer uses his own imagination. In the theatre, it is more obvious: the actor stands on a bare stage, and, speaking in verse, informs the audience that he is stood in a castle, and the audience will create the castle for themselves, in their own minds.

Artificial means consciously creating something which serves a specific function within the overall piece, creating it with a specific intention, which gives it a specific meaning – this is very different from adding extraneous details to masque a lie. And so with acting; having a specific intention for the scene, for the performance, organises it, gives it definition, rhythm and force. Talking of Casablanca, a quick comparison of American acting from that era, where nothing was included which wasn't serving the film, with the “naturalistic” performances of contemporary American acting, reveals how trivial and tight-fisted the vast majority of modern actors are. An attempt to naturalise our performance, is the attempt to remove from it all beauty, as if ashamed, but the actor needn't be ashamed: cut out the feeble-minded irrelevance, find an intention and stick to it with an iron will.

I leave you with that maestro of acting, Charles Laughton:

“Great acting is like painting. In the great masters of fine art one can see and recognise the small gesture of a finger, the turn of a head, the vitriolic stare, the glazed eye, the pompous mouth, the back bending under a fearful load. In every swerve and stroke of a painter's brush, there is an ambundance of life. Great artists reveal the god in man; every character an actor plays must be this sort of creation. Not imitation – that is mere caricature – and any fool can be a mimic. But creation is a secret. The better – the truer – the creation, the more it will resemble a great painter's immortal work.”



Gerard Depardieu in Maurice Pialat's Under The Sun Of The Satan

Exclude The Meaningless


Sunday, 11 March 2012

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

The Great Acting Blog: "Artist As Movie Star - Alain Delon On Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samourai"

Please watch this 4 minute interview of Alain Delon, upon which, this blog is a response to.


Alain Delon is speaking the truth. How do we know? Because he does not try to sell what he is saying to us, he does not narrate his emotions, he does not indicate to us what we should be feeling in response to his words. No, Delon speaks simply and directly, which is how we speak when we  speak about something which is important to us – we do not embellish those things which are important to us, nor do we embellish the truth. It's worth pointing out that Delon was a major movie star at this time, and Le Samourai was a box office smash – compare his interview to those of the modern day movie star: drenched in the slime of self-promotion, expert in the smug schmooze, and all false self-deprecation*, and it is only ever patronizing when they praise the film they are working on (what is really meant is that film did an adequate job of showcasing their specialness).

Delon's reverence for Jean-Pierre Melville, his love for the film and for cinema itself, are obvious, and they inspire and refresh – no mere “exploitation of the form” for Delon. He recognises an auteur film when he sees one. I've said before on this blog, that actors need to learn about the aesthetics of cinema in order to choose which work to accept and which to decline, which filmmakers to support, and which to ignore – this is especially crucial with the proliferation of micro-budget cinema in recent years (and similarly, I have called on directors to improve their understanding of the aesthetics of acting, so that they can actually tell the difference between good and bad acting, and not just cast an actor because they've got the right colour hair). Delon describes Le Samourai as a work of art, a word ridiculed by self-styled “commercial” filmmakers these days, but perhaps it's worth thinking about what it actually means, and then we might strive to create same, and find the wherewithal to describe it as such.


*..."the director didn't even want me for the role, I had to fight for it, I had to prove to him that I was an artist" (note how the word “artist” here, is used as a term of self-aggrandizement).



Alain Delon

Acting, Ambivalence And The Creative Urge

Boredom Of The Disgust & Monotony Of The Tediousness

Year 1 Filmography

From Fake Independence To A True Artistic Culture


Sunday, 4 March 2012

Nuts4R2 Reviews Luis Bunuel's The Exterminating Angel

No English subtitles

Angel Poise Lambs

The Exterminating Angel
(aka El ángel exterminador)
Mexico 1962
Directed by Luis Buñuel
Criterion Collection Region 1

Warning: Spoilers hanging surrealistically
above your head... much like a fish.

Okay then, it’s been nearly two decades since I last saw Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel at the National Film Theatre after first reading about it in a book on Bunuel in my old college library. A friend and I sat there mesmerised by a film, an artistic triumph, that can only be described as what the word “sublime” was invented for. I’ve long considered it one of the three great key works of Buñuel’s career, along with the two he made with Salvador Dali, Un Chien Andalou and L’Age d’Or (yeah, okay, most people would cite other movies as his greatest achievements but, hey, it’s my blog and of the ones I’ve seen by him, these are the three that really worked for me). I’d have to say that now, after having caught up with the excellent Criterion release of this masterwork, the film has certainly not lost any of its charm and doesn’t fail to live up to my hazy but awestruck memory of it.

The majority of the film takes place in a house... in one room mostly... and is set over a number of days and nights (I don’t think the exact timescale is made that implicit). It tells the story of a group of guests who come to a dinner party at a rich couple’s large house. Within the first ten minutes, the majority of the servants in the house all make excuses and leave for the evening, leaving one butler on his own. An atmosphere of trepidation is achieved because the house servants find themselves unable to explain why they feel the need to leave the house, some of them risking their employment should they leave their employers in the lurch. This is kind of moody and uneasy but things start to get surreal... well... "Bunuel-strange" anyway, when two of the servants enter the downstairs hallway and see all the dinner guests arriving en masse. They duck into another room to observe them and the group of dinner guests head on upstairs. Just when the two servants think the coast is clear they try to make their escape, only to be confronted with... all the same dinner guests arriving en masse again and saying exactly the same things as they did when they arrived the first time, before once again exiting upstairs. This time the coast is really clear and these two particular house servants make good their escape.

Things carry on in normal style for a while and the dinner party goes mostly as planned until, without warning, all the guests decide to kip down for the night in the room adjoining the dining room, even though some of them need to be away for other appointments. After the roomful of people spend their first night together, it becomes fairly evident to them the next morning that nobody feels they can leave first... everybody in the room feels compelled to stay in the one small room until somebody else leaves. There is nothing physically holding them there... they just can’t step over the threshold from one room to the next. As their plight becomes evident to them, tempers flare and over the days and possibly weeks that go by, the dinner guests find themselves starving because they feel they can’t leave. The whole thing descends into almost a Lord Of The Flies kind of existence... but set in a small lounge area as opposed to an island.

And all the while the guests feel compelled to stay, people outside, including the police and military, feel unable to enter the house to see what’s going on in there, no matter how much they try. Pretty soon the guests are breaking into the walls to get at the water pipes when they run out of water or, when three lambs walk in who were, along with a bear, family pets, at least one of the lambs is carved up and eaten.

Eventually, the solution to the problem seems to be the kind of game playing that the surrealists always loved so much. One of the guests comes up the idea of recreating the movements of the night when they all felt compelled to stay and this in turn “breaks the spell” as it were and they can leave once more.

After their terrible but self-imposed siege, the remaining guests are invited to a service in a church with a load of other people, to give thanks for their survival. However, after the church service has ended, it becomes clear that everybody in the church feels compelled to stay in there, no matter what. The whole thing starts again. Thus ends a film where nothing much, as such, happens but, nonetheless, it’s one of the most breezy and charming pieces of film making I’ve seen. Buñuel makes this stuff so easy to watch but I can’t hardly recall any of it already, which I find puzzling... it would make a perfect companion piece on a double bill with Alain Resnais’ Last Year In Marienbad I reckon.

It’s full of little surrealist touches like the image of a saw, sawing away at cello strings or a severed hand scuttling around the floor like a crab and attacking one of the guests (although the special effects are not anything to write home about) but these little moments of blatant madness are pushed right into the background in what is perhaps the most restrained and least self-indulgent movie I’ve seen Buñuel make... and because of this, the sheer weight of the main premise of a bunch of people just feeling compelled to stay in a room, even though it probably means their death, is given the full gravitas such a brilliantly subtle idea deserves.

The performances by the cast are all superb in this one and the camerawork is actually quite hypnotic. For a movie which is set in such a static environment, there is a lot of sweeping and panning, moving camerawork on show which lends a nice dreamlike quality to proceedings, especially in the earlier parts of the movie. Combined with the “small talk” of the party guests, it quickly pulls you into the atmosphere of the movie and doesn’t let you go until the guests are free from their surrealistic trap. If I was going to recommend any full length feature film of Buñuel’s to anybody who hasn’t seen any of his works, then this would be the one I'd pick (both Un Chien Andalou and L’Age d’Or are shorts of course, although L’Age d’Or is, it has to be acknowledged, a very long short... perhaps something in between the two forms). Criterion’s newish release of this is, as you would expect from Criterion, the obvious way to go with this film on DVD and I’d recommend this one to pretty much anyone who wants to explore the director who is the acknowledged “Father of Surrealism on Film.” Give it a go.

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