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The Making of Farinelli, and Other Stories

Little by little I will be sharing the interviews I made when producing and hosting The LOOK show in Manchester in 2005-2006. The first is the interview with Marc Rothemund, an Oscar-nominated German director of Sophie Scholl – Die letzten Tage (2005), Pornorama (2007), and Groupies bleiben nicht zum Frühstück (2010). In our interview Marc also told the story of working as an Assistant Director on Farinelli Il Castrato (1993, dir. Gerard Corbiau).



Views of Manchester

I remembered listening to a short talk by Slavoj Žižek on Channel 4 last year, in which he discussed (very briefly) Charlie Chaplin’s film, The Great Dictator. Although the image of a dictator was unambiguously drawn on Hitler, the *true* dictator, metaphorically speaking, was the sound. Chaplin manipulated this comparison by alternating scenes with a silent Jewish barber with those with a hysterical quasi-Nazi leader, thus showing us the potential, but also the drawbacks, of using and hearing a person’s voice.

The drawback is not in the possibility of an actor having a weird voice, which may not fit their appearance or character. The drawback of a sound movie is in that it minimises the dramatic effect. Some will certainly argue otherwise, and it is indeed almost impossible to imagine, say, Kieslowski’s trilogy, Trois Couleurs, without the use of sound (especially in Trois Couleurs: Bleu). But however helpful it may be, sound imposes on us not only a directorial vision, but also a specific vision of our own. We may begin, for instance, to associate a certain tone of voice with a particular type of character; or a certain type of music with a specific kind of films. Those who have seen Sophie Scholl – Die letzten Tage, and especially those who attended a Q&A session with Mark Rothemund at Cornerhouse in October 2005, will remember that some film critics thought the music theme in his film has reminded them of Jaws’ soundtrack. The conclusion is easy to draw.

But methinks sound is not the only disputable gain in the media and arts world. I love colour photography, but some scenes, I believe, are made to be captured on black-and-white film, or mastercoloured in sepia. At best, it can teach a viewer that such colours, as black and white, don’t really exist. It can also make familiar sites look unfamiliar and more dramatic. Last but not least, b/w and sepia photos allow the viewer to use their imagination, instead of restricting them to a specific shade of colour palette.

I do think it is important to lift up this restriction through colour and sound and to revert to one’s intellectual (directorial, perhaps?) effort in filling up a silent “monochrome” space with colours and sounds. Which is why I’ve found myself continuously taking b/w and sepia pictures in Manchester. Captured this way, they remind me of some Parisian endroits I’ve seen in books, on early daguerreotypes, and on the photos by Eugene Atget.

The first two pictures were taken last Sunday, when I was killing time, walking in Castlefield, between watching Manhattan and Eraserhead at Cornerhouse. The image on the left is the passage of the Town Hall extension, which has got an Italian air about it (again, as far as I am concerned).

Although I might have appeared as if I didn’t like the use of colour or sound, this is obviously not true. Sometimes colour is invaluable – like on the shot below. As I wrote in the picture’s description on Flickr, I haven’t watched the sunset for quite a long time. And when I finally got the chance this Thursday, I absolutely could not miss it.

A Short Post on Jean Cocteau and Cinema

There must be some curse that doesn’t let me see La Belle et la Bête by Jean Cocteau. Every time it’s on TV I either forget or cannot find time to watch it. Naturally, when I received an email update from Cornerhouse telling me that on Sunday this classic was being screened, I jumped up and down with joy.

I was going to Cornerhouse relishing the thought of sinking into a chair in a dark hall and watching one of Cocteau’s masterpieces. At the counter there was a small queue, which I joined. As I approached the counter, I suddenly noticed a big A4 sheet of paper telling me that all tickets for Cocteau’s film had been sold out.

‘What, completely?’ I asked the guy behind the counter, still refusing to believe that I was missing this film yet again.

‘Yes, completely’, he nodded, ‘we’re sorry’.

Don’t think I blame Cornerhouse, or those people who bought tickets before me. I don’t even blame myself, as it never occurred to me that there might be a lot of people like myself. So, I’m trying to be philosophical and say: never mind.

Sunday was fully rectified on Monday morning, when I woke up to the long-awaited news of Dame Helen Mirren and Martin Scorsese each winning an Oscar. I didn’t watch this year’s ceremony. On the one hand, as I have to get up early in the morning, I wouldn’t be able to stay awake at work. On the other hand, I didn’t watch any of this year’s nominated films, but that has to do with personal reasons, rather than an overall change in my attitude to cinema. In addition, last year I was almost compelled to watch the Oscars, as I interviewed Mark Rothemund and Gavin Hood, who were both nominated in the Best Foreign Film category. As we know, Hood’s Tsotsi has scooped the award, and I had one of the biggest balls in my entire life.

Back to Cocteau, I’ve seen Orphee. Cocteau brilliantly reworks the ancient myth, not only through cinematography and imagery of the film, but also through the narrative proper. In particular, in this revocation of the myth, Orphee cannot look at Euridice even after he’d safely transported her from the world of the dead, otherwise she will disappear again.

What I find most interesting is the scene in Cocteau’s film, when Death (Maria Casares) sacrifices herself for Orphee (Jean Marait), so he could return on Earth and continue to please people with his art. As I haven’t yet read Les Ombres Errantes by Pascal Quignard, I cannot say whether in his text the following quotation is somehow related to this scene, or not. Evidently, though, that Cocteau’s scene symbolises the immortality of Art, and Quignard says in his novel:

Les artistes sont des meurtriers de la mort (The artists are the murderers of death).
And as everyone would agree, the myth of Orphee plainly states that ars longa, vita brevis. As do the works of Jean Cocteau.

And to conclude this little post, a brilliant quotation from Jean Cocteau which he dropped in the interview, describing a postal stamp with his portrait of Marianne, France’s national symbol. He explained that Marianne was in fact a secretary’s wife, for which reason he didn’t want to create anything pompous. His Marianne indeed looks like a secretary’s wife, complete with a perm. And he said:

I think this stamp is too conventional, but perhaps it is better this way. When one is licked by so many, it doesn’t pay to be too singular, lest one is licked in disgust.

(The image is taken from the site covering the works of many artists, including, apart from Jean Cocteau, Lee Miller, Albert Camus, Andy Warhol, etc. Pay a visit and discover the amazing work by some of the greatest artists of the past).

Once upon a time in Manchester…

…there was a screening of the film Sophie Scholl – Die letzten Tage by Marc Rothemund. We did an interview with him at Cornerhouse, the article on which you can read here. And on the web there is a video of Mark talking to David Lamble. It’s long, so make sure you’re nice and cosy if you listen to it.

Now, Marc is currently shooting his new film, called Pornorama. Shall I say it sounds intriguing? It certainly does. In the words of Marc himself, he wanted to commemorate the stiff atmosphere of the 1960-70s Germany, in which some dangerous minds (probably inspired by anything from Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! to Deep Throat) decided to shoot a porn movie.

I hope, when the film is released, Cornerhouse welcomes Marc again, not least because he’s a very witty and passionate speaker. With the subject of his new film in mind, I’m sure the Q&A session that could follow would be absolutely unforgettable.

Robert Altman

Several directors with whom I’ve spoken cited Robert Altman as their inspiration and teacher. Marc Rothemund, the director of the Oscar-nominated Sophie Scholl – Die letzten Tage, did not hesitate for a second, when I asked him about his favourite film directors. Robert Altman was a huge figure for him.

Robert Altman was one of the cinema giants, influencing generations of filmmakers and film aficionados. In March 2006, he’d received an Honorary Oscar from the Academy. Looking at his jovial face during the ceremony and hearing the jokes about his young heart, one would think that this recognition of his role in modern cinema was a little belated. Now, it seems to be have been just in time.

His latest Oscar-nominated drama Gosford Park was a brilliant ‘whodunit’ movie, but for me as a person who has always been particularly attentive to an actor’s play, this film provides one of the best examples of extracting the top level performances from every single actor. The chance to forget that you are watching famous faces and to get immersed in the story of their characters is occasionally something to wish for, and Altman hardly ever failed to capture the viewer’s focus.

It is a great shock to all cinema fans to know that this brilliant director has now left us. Our condolences certainly go to his family. It is probably trivial to mention that his legacy lives on and will continue to inspire actors and filmmakers. There is a strange feeling of void that comes onto you with this piece of news, and all of a sudden you feel like you have lost something yourself. In fact, you just once again realise that time never stops, but sometimes it introduces the most unexpected pause.

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