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Friday, 25 May 2018

Sydney Gastronomy - A DVD swap in an unlikely location R K San, Cleveland Street.

The lunch was a bit celebratory, a handover of some discs of movies by the lesser known but interesting Delmer Daves, an unsubtitled copy of Claude Sautet's Garçon last sighted at the 1984 Sydney Film Festival and a couple of the films from 1950 that the then named Cyril Endfield made in the USA, The Sound of Fury/Try and Get Me!  and The Underworld Story. The latter two are fierce in their obvious opposition to mob rule, devious journalists and witch hunts led by self-interested media barons and caused Cyril's name to become mud and contributed to his re-location to the UK a year or so later.

But the swap was rather overshadowed by the celebratory lunch in a place in the backblocks of Surry Hills on the unfashionable Cleveland Street.

R K Tamang
There, a couple of years ago, a young Nepali chef named R K Tamang opened up a place that looks just like any number of those drinking and eating places you see in Ozu movies - a long bench with seating on stools set up against the kitchen area and an interior with table seating. He has called it "RK San".

Here RK experiments with his own variations on classic Japanese dishes, regularly changing his menu and offering specials that he's sometimes still working on. On a quiet day, and lunches are usually pretty quiet in this neck of the woods, RK does it all himself, cooking and serving and discussing what might be the best wine accompaniment to any dish.

We ate grandly. A dish of marinated and spiced raw fish with some accompanying finely sliced potato chips, what he called a 'bouillabaisse' with big chunks of snapper in a miso-based syrup, some delicious pieces of squid fried in a tempura batter and some steamed pork belly in a bed of fine sweet potato mash. 

'...signature dish' (served in an ashtray!)
Then there were two of his signature dishes - what RK calls cigars - a fine cigar-shaped pastry stuffed with tiny pieces of spiced raw fish, nestling in a bed of coals on top of a pink mayonnaise. Stunning presentation. One was filled with snapper, the other with salmon. Superb stuff.

He has a good wine list as well which only one of us delved into.

You come across a gem every now and again and this was one of them.

The restaurant website, with some gorgeous looking photos of its unique dishes can be found if you click here

Ozu on Cleveland Street, RK San

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Streaming at SBS On Demand and shortly on DVD - Rod Bishop reports on Series Four of THE BRIDGE

The Bridge (Bron/Broen)
With her leather outfits, black boots and 1977 Porsche 911, Sofia Helin returns as Swedish homicide detective Saga Norén. Her place on “the spectrum” means poor social skills, but she is also capable of abrupt episodes of lateral thought, insightful enough to change the course of homicide investigations. 
Sofia Helin, The Bridge 
Saga and her investigative talents still draw admiration from both her colleagues and us viewers. She has long since entered the pantheon of the great television series crime fighters. 
Thanks to one of the most audacious setups in any police procedural series, Season One started with the Danish and Swedish police collaborating over a body found on the bridge linking Sweden and Denmark. It’s really the remains of two bodies – the upper torso of a female Swedish politician and the lower half of a Danish prostitute. Placed exactly on the border between the two countries, the case necessitated a joint investigation.
Now in its fourth and arguably its best season, her first partner, the wonderful Danish homicide detective Martin Rohde (Kim Bodnia) is still languishing in jail, convicted of murdering his son’s killer. As she is wont to do, Saga had dobbed him in. Her new Danish partner Henrik Sabroe (
Thure Lindhardt, Sofia Helin, The Bridge
Thure Lindhardt), is still haunted by the death of his wife, the disappearance of his daughters and his previous narcotics addiction. He is also the person Saga blithely and often inappropriately refers to as someone “I have sex with”.
Early in this new series, at a session with a shrink, Saga is asked for “the background to the events that led you here”. Her reply provides an interesting take on Saga’s perspective of the previous three seasons:
Mum had Munchausen by proxy. She almost killed my little sister. I made sure my parents went to jail. Then I took care of Jennifer. She killed herself at 14. Emil Larssen murdered my boss and friend Hans Pettersson. He’d used a paperclip I brought to his cell to slit his wrists. I don’t know if I left it there by accident or deliberately…When he tried to hang himself before I wasn’t sure if I wanted to save him. I think I wanted him to die. I reported my friend and colleague Martin Rohde for having poisoned his son’s murderer. He got 10 years. Then my mum returned. She killed herself but made it look like I killed her. I was in jail for just over a year and was released a few days ago. Having been stabbed in the neck with a broken table tennis bat.

The psychiatrist responds: “I see…we’ve got a bit to work with”.

The intricate, often brilliant plotting produces some immersive police investigations. But The Bridge is significantly elevated by Sofia Helin’s portrayal of Saga. Her talk with the psychiatrist encapsulates why we have become so fascinated with her. For a person who conducts herself almost entirely without interest in private lives (hers or anyone else’s), who speaks the word ‘emotion’ as through it came from another planet and who thinks love is only a conjunction of certain biological elements, it’s the personal, emotive events that constantly disrupt her modus operandi

She wants her existence to be solely defined by her forensic skills at homicide investigations and thereby avoid what she regards as the “psychosocial”. Sofia Helin is brilliant at showing Saga’s almost robotic misfiring as the personal barges into her professional life. 

Underneath, she’s an altogether different text. “And everything…comes back to the beginning”.

Editor's Note:  You  an watch Series Four of The Bridge if you go through the hoops starting here or you can order the DVD in advance of its release in July 2018 by clicking here 

Bruce Hodsdon on Authorship in 'Hollywood' - Writer/Directors - Part 2

      This is the latest part of Bruce Hodsdon’s erudite series devoted to Hollywood film-makers and film-making methods.The previous essays can be found if you click on the links below.

Charles Chaplin                                
Classical Hollywood
List 1
This  proposed canon of auteurs in classical Hollywood (1929-68) includes credited writer-director auteurs in bold.
Robert Aldrich, Charles Chaplin, Frank Borzage, Frank Capra, George Cukor, Cecil B DeMille, Blake Edwards, John Ford, Samuel Fuller, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley KubrickGregory LaCava, Fritz Lang, Jerry Lewis, Joseph Losey, Ernst Lubitsch, Anthony Mann, Leo McCarey, Vincente Minnelli, Arthur Penn, Otto Preminger, Nicholas Ray, Don Siegel, Douglas Sirk, Josef von SternbergPreston Sturges,George Stevens, Jacques Tourneur, King Vidor, Raoul Walsh, Billy WilderOrson Welles, Edgar G Ulmer  (1)       

Other notable credited writer-directors not included aboveGeorge Axelrod, Richard Brooks, Delmer Daves, Phillip Dunne, Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, John Huston, Nunnally Johnson, Garson Kanin, Elia Kazan, Burt Kennedy, Norman Krasna, Albert Lewin, Joseph L Mankiewicz, Dudley Nichols, Abraham Polonsky, Robert Rossen, Andrew L Stone, Frank Tashlin     

John Ford
An example of the ambivalent relationship between a revered auteur and his established screenwriters is John Ford referred to in Part 6 (click here for link) of this series.  Lack of a screenplay credit does not mean that the auteur necessarily lacked major creative involvement in, or control over the screenplay to the extent that his authorship is in question. At the very least, leading and 'A' directors usually had some time, often amounting to weeks, working on the screenplay with the writer prior to the commencement of shooting. Nevertheless authorship ambiguities at the heart of the studio system most often remain substantially unresolved and will always be present to some extent in any system of collaborative creation.
Ben Hecht
List 2
Some leading writers in classical Hollywood. Notable writer auteur collaborations are indicated : Charles Brackett/Wilder, Leigh Brackett/Hawks, Sidney Buchman, Niven Busch, Borden Chase/A Mann,Betty Comden and Adolph Green/Freed-Donen, I A L Diamond/Wilder, Jules Furthman/von Sternberg, Hawks,John Michael Hayes/Hitchcock, Ben Hecht/Hawks,Nunnally Johnson/Ford, Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon/Cukor, Burt Kennedy/Boetticher, Howard Koch, Ring Lardner Jr, Arthur Laurents, Charles Lederer/Hawks, Ernest Lehman/Hitchcock,Ben Maddow, Herman Mankiewicz/Welles, Edwin Mayer, Frank Nugent/Ford, Samson Raphelson/Lubitsch, Robert Riskin/Capra, Casey Robinson, Morrie Ryskind/LaCava, Dalton Trumbo, Phillip Yordan

In the early 70s Richard Corliss, in response to Andrew Sarris's The American Cinema asserted the claims of the screenwriter. “Often when a fine film is signed by a middle-rung director, the film's distinctive quality can be traced to the screenwriter. If the work of screenwriters like Ben Hecht, Howard Koch, Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon, Dudley Nichols and Robert Riskin had been looked at half as closely as an auteurist examines the work of Otto Preminger or  Robert Mulligan you'll find yourself staring at some dominant theme or style –a strong personal trait of film authorship. Film is a dramatic medium and the screenwriters are the medium's dramatists...But the hallmark of many fine screenwriters is versatility not consistency. Subject matter dictates style.”

Corliss identifies the need to distinguish several layers of screenwriting authorship comparable to the distinction between the auteur and journeyman director: the indifferent work of a mediocre writer in original script or adaptation from another medium, or an adaptation by a gifted adaptor like Donald Ogden Stewart, or a superior original like Herman Mankiewicz's for Citizen Kane.
Budd Boetticher
List 3
Metteurs en scenea select listBudd Boetticher,Michael Curtiz, André de Toth, Stanley Donen, Allan Dwan, Richard Fleischer, Tay Garnett, Edmund Goulding, Henry Hathaway, Phil Karlson, Mervyn LeRoy, Joseph H Lewis, Mitchell Leisen, Gerd Oswald, George Sidney, Robert Siodmak, John M Stahl, James Whale

Four directors included in the canon above as auteurs – Cukor, Minnelli, Tourneur and Ulmer – would seem to be relatively clear-cut examples also of metteurs en scène  (literally 'scene setters') although the work of Raoul Walsh and Anthony Mann (particularly Mann's early noir films with cinematographer John Alton), should also be considered in this context. Almost all of the metteurs en scènelisted above were rarely given writing credits on the films they directed and in a some cases also produced. If they appear at all in this regard it is as an original story source.

I have attempted to address the notion of metteur en scène,a critic's concept specific to the studio system of film productionin three of the previous parts of this series, especially parts 9 (Minnelli) and 11 (Tourneur and Oswald), also part 5 on Cukor. Barrett Hodsdon discusses the critically neglected concept on pp 7-101 of The Elusive AuteurHow individual auteurs like Ford, Hitchcock, Hawks and Fritz Lang are known to have worked with writers is referred to in his assessments of selected individual directors as auteurs in chapter 10 of his book.
Monte Hellman                          
Post-classical Hollywood
List 4
The following is a proposed canon of auteurs (with list 1 forming a select Pantheon of 55 American auteurs 1929-2018) whose directing careers were established in the two decades of transition from the early to mid sixties; with the exceptions of Eastwood, Hellman and Spielberg, all reinforced their auteur credentials through writing credits:

Robert Altman, Paul T Anderson, John Cassavetes, Joel & Ethan Coen, FrancisCoppola, David Cronenberg, Clint Eastwood, Milos Forman, Monte Hellman, Walter Hill, Spike Lee, David Lynch, Terrence Malick, Michael Mann, Elaine May, Sam Peckinpah, Roman Polanski, George Romero, Paul Schrader Martin Scorsese, StevenSpielberg. ( 2) 
John Singleton
List 5
Contemporary Hollywood now produces (i) medium to big budget blockbusters by the six majors with a budget  $80-100 million plus, including about one third of the budget for marketing for wide theatrical release; (ii) the so-called art and 'specialty' films mostly produced or acquired by the six majors' indie subsidiaries for a limited ' art house' niche market release (a few dozen to a few hundred urban area screens) averaging budgets of $30-40 mill also including about one third for marketing; (iii) indie releases produced by free standing producer-distributors on average budgets frequently less than $5 million and often with small marketing budgets which are expanded if the film opens well. (Source: “Independent Film” in Wikipedia)

Below is a (non-canon) sample of mainstream directors who have generally worked multiple times as directors or writer-directors on productions in the mainstream dominated by six major Hollywood production-distribution companies (now Warner Bros, Universal, Paramount, Sony, Fox, Disney) on genre films and films most often budgeted in the $50-100million plus range, in expectation of success in wide release and foreign markets. In some cases (eg Brian De Palma, Sam Raimi, Bryan Singer, Kathryn Bigelow) they made their early features as “independent” productions on modest budgets. It is select list of directors (qualification: active in c2015) with minimal or no writing credits indicated in bold:

J J Abrams, Sean Anders, David Ayer, Ben Affleck, Michael Bay, Kathryn Bigelow, Shane Black, Tim Burton, James Cameron, Cameron Crowe, Alfonso Cuaron, Bobby & Peter FarrellyJames  FoleyAntoine Fuqua, Guillermo del Toro, Tony Gilroy, Paul Greengrass, Brian De Palma, Scott Derrickson, David Fincher, Jodie Foster, Mel Gibson, Craig GillespieLasse Hallstrom, Ron Howard, Alejandro Innarritu, Peter Jackson, Rian Johnson, Angelina Jolie, Lawrence Kasdan, Ang LeeDoug Liman, Baz Luhrman, Adam McKay, Christopher McQuarrie, James Mangold, Rob Marshall, Sam Mendes, Mike Newell, Christopher Nolan, Alex Proyas, Sam Raimi, Eli Roth, Joseph RubenAnthony & Joe RussoRidley Scott, M Night Shyamalan, Bryan Singer, John Singleton, Denis Villeneuve, The Wachowkis, Joss Whedon, Robert Zemeckis, Ed Zwick   
Allison Anders                                                 
List 6
Below is a sample list of indie directors (qualification: active in directing features for theatrical release c2015). Based on information in the IMDb, those who directed their first feature on a low or minimal budget (< $200,000 or most often <$50,000) are indicated in bold italics. The majority of indies started by directing short films, most likely self financed. A few like Oliver Stone, Darren Aronovsky, David Russell and Marc Webb have moved between mainstream blockbuster and art house scale budgets. Over the course of two decades, Tarantino saw his budgets expand from $1.2 million for Reservoir Dogs to $100 million for Django Unchained matched by worldwide box office returns of $5million for Dogs to Django’s $425 million.There has been an increase in the number of US independents financing films through international co-productions especially with EU countries.

Woody Allen, Michael Almereyda, Allison Anders, Wes Anderson, Gregg ArakiDarren Aronovsky, Miguel Arteta, Noah Baumbach, Ramin Bahrani, Sean Baker, Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck, Mike Cahill, Joshua Caldwell, J C Chandor, Damien Chazelle, Lisa Cholodenko, Larry Clark, George Clooney, Sofia Coppola, Andrew Dominik, Ava DuVernay, Valerie Faris & Jonathan Dayton, Abel Ferrara, James Franco, Terry Gilliam, Dan Gilroy, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, Michel Gondry, Debra Granik, James Gray, David Gordon Green, Paul Haggis, Catherine Hardwicke, Hal Hartley, John Hillcoat, Alex Holdridge, Todd Haynes, Eliza Hittman, Nicole Holofcener, Jim JarmuschBarry Jenkins, Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufman, Harmony Korine, John Krasinski, Neal LaBute, Richard Linklater, Kenneth Lonergan, David Lowery, Bennett Miller,Vincenzo Natali, Mira Nair, Jeff Nichols, Alexander PayneAlex Ross Perry, James Pondsolt, Nicholas Winding Refn, Dee Rees, Kelly Reichardt, Jason Reitman, Robert Rodriguez, Matt Ross, Alan Rudolph, David O RussellIra Sachs, Josh& Benny Safdie,  Lynn Shelton, Taylor Sheridan, Kevin Smith, Steven Soderbergh, Todd Solondz, Whit Stillman, Oliver Stone, QuentinTarantino, Jean-Marc Vallée, Gus Van SantJohn Waters, Marc Webb, Elizabeth Wood

Debra Granik
1.    “Less than meets the eye”or as Andrew Sarris explained,“directors with reputations in excess of if personal signatures in their films were written with invisible ink”: Rouben Mamoulian, Lewis Milestone, William Wellman, William Wyler, Fred Zinnemann. Non-auteurists might question whether “the personal signature of the director” makes the film? There are directors like John Huston and Sidney Lumet who are perplexing in the on again/off again sense of engagement/disengagement, neither metteur en scène nor journeyman, that is the hallmark of their oeuvres. In this they are closest to Wellman of the above quintet.

 2.   The unique histories of George Lucas, Francis Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Stephen Spielberg, Clint Eastwood and Quentin Tarantino as “a new breed of auteurs” (referred to by Thomas Elsaesser as “post-auteur authors”) in relation to the notion of independence in contemporary Hollywood, are discussed by Barrett Hodsdon in chapter 14 of his book The Elusive Auteur.

The final two parts of the series will compare two writer-directors: Joseph L Mankiewicz  ('old' Hollywood), Paul Schrader ('new' Hollywood), and finally consider the role of the creator-writer (the showrunner) in long form television drama.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Digitisations, Restorations & Revivals (38) - Il Cinema Ritrovato - Bologna revives John M Stahl

One of the new management team at Il Cinema Ritrovato, Ehsan Khoshbakht, is programming one of the two Hollywood strands at Bologna this year. 

John Stahl
You can watch a film a day by neglected master John M Stahl. The webpage devoted to it lists the following films and announces that it is presented in collaboration with the Pordenone Silent Film Festival. 

The silent The Woman Under Oath (1919) will be screened in Bologna as a preview for the large retrospective in Pordenone, which will include the majority of Stahl’s surviving silents (1917-27). 

Other titles at Bologna will be
• Seed (1931) 
• Imitation of Life (1934) 
• When Tomorrow Comes (1939) 
• Holy Matrimony (1943) 
• Immortal Sergeant (1943) 
• Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

Editor's Note: After the above info was posted veteran cinephile David Donaldson sent an email to advise the following: 

I have never heard Immortal Sergeant since I left the cinema in Orange NSW, floating a little. In those war years, it was powerful stuff. We knew about Libya and all that. Did it seem incongruous that Fonda and co wore Brit-style tin hats, no.

Another film that fitted the mood of the time: Sunday Dinner for a Soldier (1944, Dir:Lloyd Bacon, Joe MacDonald cinematographer).

Monday, 21 May 2018

Sydney Film Festival - A link to David Bordwell's note on Abbas Kiarostami's final film 24 FRAMES

Abbas Kiarostami
In a note at the bottom of his review of Abbas Kiarostami’s24 Frames, David Bordwell makes a point by saying “24 Frames is being circulated to theatres and museums; please try to see it on the big screen, where all the little details can pop out at you.” 

You may never have another opportunity to do just that, in Sydney at least, beyond the two screenings at the Sydney Film Festival (details here)

It’s been programmed into one of the smallest festival venues, the Dendy Opera Quays Cinema 3 and the SFF website has a sign saying “Selling Fast”.

David’s illuminating thoughts on the film are a perfect introduction into the last film the great man completed before his death. You can read them if you head for this item on the Observations on Film Art blog.

Key image from 24 Frames  The elder Pieter Bruegel’s Hunters in the Snow

Sydney Film Festival - Alena Lodkina's STRANGE COLORS gets some support from an international observer as does Chloe Zhao's THE RIDER

Editor’s Note: The earlier post about the Sydney Film Festival screening of Alena Lodkina’s Strange Colours has caused some international chatter. Here’s some thoughts from a friend who wishes to remain anonymous.  For details of screenings and tickets  click here

Alena Lodkina, Venice, 2017
How does a young woman director capture loneliness and longing in an atmosphere of dust and oblivion, a landscape inhabited only by men? How does she manage to “record” these gruff old guys who act themselves, but under her direction? 

There is a lot of tenderness in this film in a very masculine setting and another recent film by a young lady comes to mind, Chloe Zhao’s The Rider*. It is as if somehow these young women cast a gaze on these “real men” with the piercing but protective eyes of a mother, a grandmother, and these men bare their most vulnerable parts to the gaze. Strange colors indeed, strange and precious.

* ALSO screens at the SFF. Details click here

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Sydney Film Festival - David King enthuses over Soda Jerk's TERROR NULLIUS (Re-posted from Facebook)

Editor's Note: This is the third post devoted to some of the films screening at the forthcoming Sydney Film Festival. The previous posts were devoted to Alena Lodkina's Strange Colors and Xu Bing's Dragonfly Eyes Click on the film titles to read more. This item is for the record. The film's three sessions are already sold out. 

Finally got up to Melbourne to see Terror Nullius, the work of film art by Soda Jerk currently (as of May 2018) screening in ACMI Gallery 2. 

Soda Jerk
This work was called 'un-Australian" by the Ian Potter Cultural Trust which originally commissioned and funded it. Even when I hadn't seen the film, I had trouble believing anyone actually working at the Ian Potter Cultural Trust would use such a term as 'un-Australian'. The term smacks of certain conservative Anglo-Saxon politicians. 

Having now seen the film, I'm utterly convinced the term was foisted on the Ian Potter Cultural Trust by some powerful but unseen and unnamed third party behind the scenes.

No one working in the arts today would even think of using such a term. The only people who could possibly think Terror Nullius was 'un-Australian' are the sort of people who despise Aborigines, gays and transgender people, refugees, republicans, environmentalists, and anyone with even vaguely leftist views.

The audience I saw the film with was predominantly young (early 20's to mid-30's) with a sprinkling of older people (40's to 70's). There were lots of giggles, outright laughs, and nodding heads from start to finish and no one walked out - which suggests that Soda Jerk spoke for a lot of people when they made this film. Certainly not for the conservative hard right politicians, but for nearly everyone else.

Terror Nullius
Let's face it: most fair-minded people in Australia have long since accepted Aboriginal rights, gay and transgender people, believe Australia should stand on its own two feet without the monarchy (or if we're so attached to the idea of a monarchy, have our own king or queen), and feel ashamed of the way our politicians are treating refugees. They would also like to see environment protected for future generations rather than exploited for short-term gain. So just who is 'un-Australian' here? Certainly not the filmmakers who seemed to strike a chord with the audience, if the laughter, nodding and grins were any indication.

Is the film art? Absolutely. You could hear the gasps of astonishment when the audience realized what was being done with the juxtapositions of different Australian films. It was brilliantly done.

Is it funny? Yes, in a satirical way which reminded me of Stanley Kubrick's Dr Strangelove, although it's a very different kind of film. It kicks the shit out of self-important politicians just as Kubrick's film kicked the shit out of posturing military men and their advisors.

Is it 'un-Australian'? It's about the most unapologetically Australian film I've seen for a long time. Most films funded by Government bodies are too afraid to be Australian - which means to take the piss, to mock authority, to give the finger to those who think they rule. to be larrikin and not give a rats. Terror Nullius is clearly - if audience reactions are anything to go by - a breath of fresh air.

Hats off to Soda Jerk and to ACMI for screening the film.