Monday, September 29, 2008

Cambridge Film Festival 2008

Just returned from a wonderful week reviewing films at the Cambridge Film Festival.

Highlights of the week included interviewing Tilda Swinton, watching Belle de Jour on the big screen along with it's follow-up by Manoel de Oliveira, Belle Toujours, starring the fabulous Michel Piccoli. But the most memorable experience was, without a doubt, the screening of Jarman's Blue. The entire 79 minute movie is basically just a blue screen, inspired by Yves Klein's 'International Klein Blue', accompanied by a beautiful audio collage of voices and sounds, dealing with Jarman's personal experiences as an artist suffering HIV. The marine coloured screen has a very calming effect, yet it's also disconcerting as it forces the audience to focus more acutely on sounds and words. Largely based on Jarman's personal diaries, the narrative is extremely poetic, whilst also conveying Jarman's lively sense of humour. It's a very moving film.

As part of the Festival's Jarman Tribute, the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse also showed films by Richard Heslop, an artist/filmmaker who collaborated with Jarman and also made his own feature films and over 80 music videos for bands such as Queen, The Cure and The Happy Mondays. You can read my review here.

The festival was rounded off with a screening of Peter Greenaway's new film, Nightwatching, followed by a Q+A with the director, during which he elaborated upon his rather radical views on (the death of) cinema. It was also hilarious to witness Greenaway's outrage when it was suggested that his film might be likened to Derek Jarman's Caravaggio, to which he responded loudly, 'Why should I be a f***ing Jarmanian? Why can't I be a Greenawayan?" or words to that effect. The comparison had obviously touched a raw nerve.

I was particularly taken aback by the fact that Greenaway believes he's the only filmmaker around who makes films based around image rather than text. It seems like quite a bold claim to make. What about Godard, Rohmer, Rivette, Renoir, not to mention African filmmakers such as Haroun, I was thinking to myself. And if he meant specifically British cinema (it wasn't entirely clear), then Jarman would be an obvious example of a painterly filmmaker - but maybe that's why his name is unwelcome. I quizzed Greenaway about his views later on in the Arts Picturehouse bar. I was relieved to discover that the arrogance and pomposity is in fact an act, and that in real life he's actually rather playful and of course highly intelligent. It was interesting to learn more about his progression from studying painting at the RCA to filmmaking. He lives in Amsterdam now and his latest film certainly reveals his knowledge and passion for Dutch painting.

During the festival I also discovered a range of new French films, which I will talk about in a later blog. I saw the UK premiere of How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, too, which I found rather disappointing. The film is based on Toby Young's novel, a memoir of his cringe-worthy experiences of working at Vanity Fair in New York. I bought a copy of the book on Friday as Toby Young was there doing signings. I'm very glad I did as it's completely different from the film. The book is full of wit, intelligence and snappy observations, just like the 1930s and 40s screwball comedies Young talks about admiringly in the opening chapters. I can also identify with some of the situations he describes, given that they involve journalism and New York office politics. I particularly relished the accounts he gives of the Condé Nast hierarchy, and the bitchiness of certain fashionistas. Believe me I've been there...

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