“That is why…we cannot consider fiction by periods, we must not contemplate the stream of time…Let us avoid it by imagining that all novelists are at work together in a circular room…The final test of a novel will be affection for it, as it is the test of our friends, and of anything else which we cannot define…The novel is sogged with humanity; there is no escaping the uplift or the downpour, nor can they be kept out of criticism. We may hate humanity, but if it is exorcised or even purified the novel wilts, little is left but a bunch of words.”
Last week while writing from France I spoke of the creation of La Liste, a list that would only contain movies I thought of as great. I still struggle to some extent with my own classification of what is and isn’t great but E.M. Forster, as quoted above from Aspects of the Novel, has helped a little. Remove the humanity from Citizen Kane, City Lights, Do The Right Thing, Edward Scissorhands, The General, The Lives of Others, Night of The Hunter and Toy Story 1, 2 and 3 and little may be left but a bunch of pictures; pretty, innovative pictures no doubt but would they mean all that much to me? However, how then to categorize the inclusion of Jaws, Jason and The Argonauts, Memento and La Regle de Jeu on my list of greats? Who knows, maybe that is a true test of greatness, a film apparently stripped of humanity (what is there to truly defend the characters we encounter in Memento or La Regle de Jeu?) that nevertheless lingers in one’s consciousness when considering favourites in film. Either way, I am going to take a little hiatus this week from considerations of greatness and recount my weekend’s experience at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).
First off, let me start by saying that the Bell Lightbox Building is incredible. A five storey complex in the heart of downtown Toronto with a three storey public atrium, 5 public cinemas, 2 galleries, 3 learning studios, a centre for students, a bistro, a restaurant and a lounge. Once the festival is over it will become the home for TIFF and between now and christmas it will house two major programs. Firstly, a season of essential cinema showing the 100 ‘greatest films’ across multiple viewings with many interesting guests and occasions such as Blue Velvet introduced by Isabella Rosselini and Citizen Kane introduced by Peter Bogdanovich. Secondly, November will welcome a Tim Burton Exhibition with props and maquettes from his movies as well as original never before seen artwork. This exhibition is now coming to the end of an immensely successful run at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, so next stop lucky Toronto.
And so to our Irish readers who are probably shaking their heads wondering what the point is in talking about film in Toronto. The answer is I don’t have one, except to say that with recent and ongoing threats of significant cutbacks to spending and funding of luxury/philanthropic pursuits such as the Irish Film Institute and The Film Council in the United Kingdom and with the closure of Ireland’s only independently run ‘arthouse’ cinema outside Dublin for want of 60,000 euros, (due to rapidly escalating costs from simply drawing up plans to expand from a “one-screen/one-storey structure to a three-screen complex with a bar/restaurant” – compare that to the TIFF particulars above) it is very hard indeed to see how the Irish Film Institute and the Capital Irish Film Festival (CIFF) can hope to develop to a point where they can compete for the premiere of the new Mike Leigh film, never mind how we can hope to register high enough on the radar to host an exhibit such as Burton’s. The answer obviously lies in a combination of philanthropy and government investment but when considering recent evidences of governmental priorities one truly can see a life stripped free of all humanity to reveal only the horror, the horror.
My reasons for contemplating such issues as this were mostly born from visiting the Bell Lightbox complex last Saturday night to see Danny Boyle’s new movie, 127 Hours. While riding the escalator ever skywards a large board hove into view proclaiming the names of major contributors to the complex’s construction. I noticed that one of the largest contributors was the Brian Linehan Charitable Foundation and due to a minor mental mis-spelling I momentarily thought that Brian Lenihan, the much respected Irish politician who passed away in 1995, had for some reason left more money than I thought he could ever have earned to the development of film in Ontario. Is it so outlandish to consider that a country that once again counts youth and talent as a major export would also be feckless when it comes to the ultimate resting place of the estates its citizens have amassed? For the record the Charitable, and yes Canadian, Brian Linehan was a Toronto-born broadcaster. His Irish dad explains at least the surname.
The final film I saw at the festival was Richard Ayaode’s Submarine. He is better known as Moss on the excellent comedy series, The IT Crowd, and Submarine is his directorial debut. It is a funny story (as you might expect), well directed and acted (as you would hope) and announces Ayaode as a ‘director to watch’ based on his original approach in the application of unique and unexpected visuals to what is essentially a familiar story. What must be an exceedingly worrying experience for new film makers is the amount of funding sources and production companies credited before the appearance of the film’s title or the director’s name, and this for a film that managed to receive funding from The Film Council, Film Four and, The UK National Lottery Fund. If we are to believe that Rupert Murdoch and Sky are to further monopolize television in the UK and the Coalition Government do indeed remove funding for the UK Film Council, then where does someone like Richard Ayaode find the money to make the films that his talent obviously facilitates? This is the part where we are told that what we need is less poorly conceived, poorly executed ‘projects’ so that we can concentrate instead on a few ‘bankable likelys’, or to put it another way, despite the fact that Submarine was an unexpected delight akin to finding enough money on the subway that you don’t have to feel guilty about keeping it, and Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip was possibly the funniest film I have seen since Withnail and I, when it came to the Festival’s People’s Choice Awards, the winner was The King’s Speech, starring Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter and Geoffrey Rush. A really good film I’m sure but an easy choice, and one to bolster those who swear by the ‘bankable likelys.’
Never Let Me Go, an adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 Booker-listed novel of the same name, stars Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightly and is perfectly fine, however, while applauding during the brief ovation that accompanied the closing credits I found myself wondering how many other people, like me, were applauding the audacity and ingenuity of the novel as opposed to the film itself. This may be the first time that I left a film promising to read the book as soon as possible and considering the mixed feelings induced earlier this year by Scorsese’s Shutter Island, I should probably do it more often.
Which only leaves two other films from my Festival experience of 2010. Anyone expecting 127 Hours to be a predictable follow up to Slumdog Millionaire does not know Danny Boyle. From the man who made Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Sunshine and The Beach, we should never expect the obvious. What we do get is a 90 minute tour de force performance from James Franco as he spends the titular time period pinned under a rock in a Utah canyon. What is truly unexpected is how quickly your viewing time passes before arriving at the gruesome and inevitable conclusion. Oddly uplifting, 127 Hours is a very good film but those who loved Slumdog be warned, this particular dog is also heartwarming but nowhere near housebroken.
Fans of Darren Aronofsky are going to see Black Swan no matter what I or anyone else say and that’s the way it should be. Suffice to say that as a fan of Aronofsky since his debut, Pi, his previous two films, The Fountain and The Wrestler, have surprised me in both content and visuals. An apparent shift to a greater focus on his actors, (an influence of Mrs Aronofsky perhaps, that’s Rachel Weisz to you and me) revitalized Mickey Rourke and co-incided with a momentary wobble in my appreciation for this most visual of directors but, if they delay the release of Black Swan until January or February, I would put early money on Natalie Portman being at the very least Oscar-nominated for her portrayal of a ballerina torn between the agonies of performance anxiety in the cut-throat gullet of the New York Ballet Company and the ecstasies of attaining a moment of perfection so rare that the rest of us buy tickets week in week out in the hopes of seeing it once in a lifetime.
Black Swan is exhilarating, frightening, visually inventive and strange. It is an excellent film, one that is all about Portman’s impressive and believable turn as a professional ballerina and the way that Darren Aronofsky has accompanied her with handheld cameras and treacherous mirrors. It is just the kind of movie that may one day make its way onto La Liste.