THE CAMERAMAN: I’m not an expert on Buster Keaton, having only seen The General many years ago at BIFF 2005 but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to check out another one of his films screening at BIFF 2018. Arriving solo on an early Saturday morning 20OCT2018 at the Gallery of Modern Art South Bank I quickly saw a line backed up outside the entrance to the 11am session. Clearly I was not the only who thought this was a good idea. On the 80th anniversary of The General I watched the great organ player Ron West accompany live, and here on the 90th anniversary of The Cameraman I was to see David Bailey play the gallery’s 1929 Wurlitzer which came up out of the stage just beneath the screen. The audience was amused by his inventive addition of the iconic Jaws theme amongst other playful choices.
Where the opening party was held. Copyright Lloyd Marken.
Copyright Lloyd Marken.
Outside GOMA Cinemas. Copyright Lloyd Marken.
The line for The Cameraman. Copyright Lloyd Marken.
David Bailey performing. Copyright Lloyd Marken.
The Cameraman was a crossroads for Keaton, the silent era was fading, he lost creative control in his ventures and his personal life was about to go through an upheaval. In some ways The Cameraman is the last great Buster Keaton film despite him going on for quite some time after. The audience was full of all types of people drawn to the opportunity to see something as unique as a silent film. The print had long been believed lost and the film survives today as a mesh between two old prints. In some ways Keaton’s old movie seems more grand now, in an era of CGI effects I heard one youngster marvel they must have built that whole set for such a short gag, Keaton’s stunt work and balletic grace remains impressive even if it is reported he was not allowed to do them all himself this time around. Some things have dated its true, you can see the construction of how we’re meant to feel but the reason why these films remain timeless is the same reason they had such broad appeal back in the day. The characters were archetypes, the story simple and the gags broad because that is what it makes them universal. Seeing The Cameraman at BIFF 2018 was a treat. Afterwards David Bailey received an ovation.
IN THE AISLES: The next day Karen and I went and saw at 3:45pm at New Farm Cinemas In The Aisles which was in a way a choice made jointly by Karen and I after she got Arctic and I got Ash Is Purest White. From Germany and starring Sandra Huller, Franz Rogowski and Peter Kurth it tells the story of a night shift at a retail store in Germany. A few things came flooding back to me of my time working at BIG W as a young man, the veteran who knew all the good hiding spots, the jittery movements of using a power pallet jack for the first time. I didn’t know what to expect with In The Aisles a romcom that turns dark maybe but instead I got a powerful character piece about three people. There is so much care in every frame and shot of this film from Thomas Stuber that perfectly creates the geography of the store and being out of it. Delicate dialogue that says enough of the characters thoughts but not all of it and the way that the people who knew you at work know you in a way your family never will and vice versa. That they are a family of sorts. I don’t know if it will create the buzz needed but it would be no injustice if this received a nomination for Best Foreign Film at this years’ Oscars. I also noted that seeing a film at an old cinema like the New Farm Cinemas made it feel more like BIFF for me and reminded me the Old Regent Cinemas.
Gilda poster at New Farm Cinemas. Copyright Lloyd Marken.
New Farm Cinemas. Copyright Lloyd Marken.
Rainy BIFF. Copyright Lloyd Marken.
BIFF 2018 for me at least will go down as a particularly rainy BIFF. Also my suggestion would be to move the dates back to the traditional late July Early August run rather than having BIFF running the same time as the Byron Bay Film Festival and I wouldn’t mind seeing Palace as one of the venue partners in future. However I saw some fantastic movies at BIFF 2018 which was a relief since there were so many good ones on offer. I didn’t cover the globe as much but I saw 7 films, two from Australia, three from Europe, an American classic and one from Asia. Only one of them bad. Still have not gotten around to seeing an Iranian film at BIFF yet and there were plenty on offer this year. I couldn’t help but notice there were lots of callbacks to earlier BIFFs and earlier films I had seen there, that is the nature of film festivals I guess. One thing I am very excited about is Artistic Director Amanda Slack-Smith continuing in the role and seeing what she comes up with next year.
The 14th Brisbane International Film Festival was some of the most fun I ever had. I had graduated from University and moved back in with my parents but was still working at the hospital casual. I bought a BIFF Take 10 Pass and decided to go hard or go home. Evidently so did the organisers of BIFF, there were over 200 films screened, a free public screening program across the suburbs for kids called Cine Sparks and a relocation to South Bank Cinemas. While the bulk of movies screening were at South Bank, the BIFF Offices were still located at Regent. In 2004 the whole program ran out of the Regent in their 4 cinemas. This time they were screening downstairs in the classically elegant Regent 1, in the 1970s refurbished Regent 3. Over at South Bank films were screening at South Bank Cinema 3 and 4. The former IMAX screen (the only one in Brisbane and no more even then) South Bank Cinema 5 was where the Showcase screenings occurred. While a bigger cinema I don’t think there were special conversions for playing on this screen. Of course all these years later I can’t recall exactly what I bought tickets for and what I get into as a Volly though I will try.
I can tell you one day we needed to get something from the Regent down to South Bank. There is a lot of downtime as a Volly. I was 25 and overweight but maintaining irregular exercise with weights and jogging. I offered to run from the South Bank Cinemas across the river into the Regent in the city. There were cars allocated to the festival from one of our sponsors Mazda but God bless’em they let me do the run. As I ran across the fountain courtyard at South Bank I saw a bagpiper and offered him some change. I asked could he play The Bonnie Banks O’Loch Lomond? I ran off to the bridge in the hot sun hearing his notes fade into the background of the traffic and the wind blowing over the bridge. A long time ago a tourist bus driver sang this to me and a group in Scotland and I’ve asked every bag piper to play it ever since. A young one once answered he didn’t he was just learning. Another night in town an older player with some personality told me “Every bagpiper knows that song!”. Maybe I settled for Scotland the Brave that day, maybe it was the young guy. Maybe it was someone else and I heard Loch Lomond. I can’t remember which but I remember smiling like a big kid as he powered my legs forward as the sweat began to pour and I had to pace my breathing. I was young, hanging out at the film festival again, running with the wind and enjoying every second.
Most likely I saw the movies I did in 2004 for free during shifts as a volunteer. In 2005 I decided I would buy tickets to movies I really wanted to see so as a paying customer I could relax I wouldn’t be called away. I also did shifts as a Volly at all hours of the day any day of the week. Still I didn’t attend Opening Night as Volunteer or cinemagoer. I was just too shy.
Just wanted to let Beetley Pete know a favourite of his Bombon: El Perro screened at BIFF 2005. Unfortunately, no I didn’t see it Pete but I will.
I AM A SEX ADDICT: There was a screening at Regent Cinema 1 at 7:10mpm on 30JUL2005 but most likely the first film I paid to see at BIFF that year was I Am A Sex Addict at South Bank Cinema 3 at 6:40pm on Thursday the 28th of July the day after opening night with U-Carmen eKhayelitsha from South Africa. If you see the photo above and notice the word sex in the title you’ll pretty much know why I chose to see this. I was a young man, always been a horndog and was single. I was interested in depictions of sex, discussions about sex and relationships and what could be learned about sexual addiction. So was this film some smut or did it have something to say? I believe the latter, Caveh Zahedi was genuinely a sex addict and was far from likeable with some of his decisions in his life. Yet the honesty to say that and put himself forward warts and all seems brave. Caveh Zahedi attended BIFF 2005, before the film screened he was asked to introduce the film. The only thing he would say is “Everything you’re about to see is absolutely true and actually happened.” There was humour in it to be sure but also some dark places. I’m not sure I would like Caveh very much. He films people when they want their privacy, was snarky that a porn star didn’t want to do a sex scene with him and revealed one co-star as an alcoholic. He does throw that kind of full disclosure about himself painting himself in an uncompromising and embarrassing light at times. It would be interesting to see now what I think of it but at the time I found it fascinating and remember it as a good movie that also raised interesting discussion. Caveh must have known that and fronted up to the crowd afterwards where he was quite charming, self effacing but also straight forward. It was nice to see that by film’s end he was in a solid relationship and happy.
THE LOVE CRIMES OF GILLIAN GUESS: Right after in South Bank Cinema 3 at 9:10pm was the Canadian film The Love Crimes of Gillian Guess. Again a pick from my insatiable 24 year old libido. Directed by Bruce McDonald and starring Joely Collins (daughter of Phil Collins) the film tells the story of the real life case of juror Gillian Guess who slept with the man on trial who she was on the jury for. Another film that would be fascinating to watch in through the prism of now and some hopeful extra maturity. A few things stand out, first of all the film I remember being very sexy. Secondly with the running set-up of Gillian telling her story on a talk show and flashbacks to her adolescence perspective was everything and we were treated to looking at Gillian’s story in many different ways. Despite the sexiness, Bruce McDonald I believe had some insight into how women can be viewed. How some can be led to believe that their sex is the only power they’ve got and how people can appear one way and that’s not the whole story. How men can view women too. How condescending and smug they can be at times. This was one of my favorite films I saw at any BIFF and something I probably would never have seen otherwise. It also turned me on to seeing Canadian films if I could at BIFF. Sadly alas I missed Maudie and Weirdos (which I found out was directed by Bruce McDonald too) this year but maybe next time.
BADLANDS: There was a program at the 14th Brisbane International Film Festival, amongst others called Blacktop Dreams which concerned 14 road movies. The 14 were It’s A Mad Mad Mad World, Two-Lane Blacktop, They Live by Night, Vanishing Point, Gun Crazy, Badlands, Don’t Look Back, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Backroads, Near Dark, Roadgames, The Road to God Knows Where, Wrong Side of the Road and Gallivant. Out of the 14 I saw 5 and I still that I didn’t get to see Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. In addition free screening next door at the Suncorp Piazza had the Mad Max movies, Thelma and Louise, The General and goodness knows how many more possible road movies. Jack Sargent who had written Lost Highways: A History of the Road Movie was a guest at BIFF 2005 and at the break up party I asked him about Thelma and Louise but we’ll get to that later. I had seen The Thin Red Line at the cinemas and not been particularly impressed but Roger Ebert had loved Terence Malick and I had read his review of Badlands several times over the years. So on Friday 29JUL2005 at South Bank Cinema 3 for a 3:30pm session I saw it. Badlands is a beautiful film, still most probably Malick’s best. Telling the story of a young man who went on a killing spree and the girl he took with him it introduced the world to Sissy Spacek and Martin Sheen. Having grown up watching them as middle aged people it is still a treat to see them in such a different light, Sheen really did have a bit of James Dean about him in this film. There are no easy answers for why they what they did or how they felt about it. Maybe they just weren’t right in the head, maybe they were scared, in love, maybe they just didn’t want to lose. Their restless, boredom, sadness but also romance is captured wonderfully and I was delighted to find a first rate car chase in the film. Tyres don’t always hold, there’s a power in early car chases where the cars always look like they could lost control. The first classic film I saw at the film festival, what it gave me was an opportunity to see films that hadn’t come to DVD and hadn’t been seen in years let alone on the big screen. Now this is less of a big deal, the Gallery of Modern Art regularly holds screenings of classic films on large screens and cinemas hold special screenings of classic hits regularly now. However a lot of these will be digital screenings, a 35mm print was shipped to Australia to watch this in 2005. For me too, there is something about 35mm film on a big screen even with scratches which is really special. These are experiences I will miss and hope are not completely non-existent in the future. Albeit digital does things easier and with people like Roger Deakins it can look good. I remember carrying a 35mm print up some stairs with another guy and this was only half of the film. They’re heavy. In the projection room I looked over and saw what looked like a videocassette. I was told that was a digital copy. It looked unimpressive, surely that was not the future sitting right there?
ME AND YOU EVERYONE WE KNOW: Later that day at Regent Cinema 3 there was a film screening at 9:30pm and I attended. It sounded like a quirky love story about outsiders who were hurting. Written and directed by Miranda July and starring her along with John Hawkes I was very interested in it. It started off with Hawks burning his hand which was interesting but sadly I have to say I kind of snoozed and so can’t really fairly tell you what I thought. Having missed some of it I might have even left. This does happen from time to time I have to admit.
PHIL THE ALIEN: You may recall from the post about BIFF 2004 that Phil the Alien was intended to screen there due to some legal issues with the music. It screened twice at BIFF 2005, on Saturday 30th of July at 11:15pm in Regent Cinema 1 and on the following Friday at 10:45pm in South Bank Cinema 3. I’m fairly certain I saw it at the Regent but memory can play funny tricks. I thought Phil the Alien was everything I hoped it would be, telling the story of an alien who crash lands in the wilds of Canada and is befriended by a young boy. The anti E.T. follows with Phil becoming a drunk and a Christian rock singer amongst other things. The biggest star in it at the time was Nicole deBoer who some will remember from the latter seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and who was a completely different character here. Alumni of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart may also be recognised by some here. It was the feature film debut of Rob Stefaniuk who wrote, directed , co-edited and starred as Phil. To my joy it came out a year or two later at my local video story on DVD and got my brother and father to watch it. They didn’t seem so impressed but I can tell you the packed crowd there at BIFF 2005 laughed and clapped and cheered. It was a fantastic crazy Canadian cult film to see at a midnight screening at a film festival with similar minded folks. We might have had to wait another year to get it but Phil the Alien proved well worth the wait. The music by the way was a crucial part of it and I’m glad we waited.
THE GENERAL: On Sunday 31JUL2005 at the Suncorp Piazza 1:30pm I went and saw Buster Keaton’s The General with my friend Mike. This as it turned out would be the only time Mike and I went to BIFF together. The silent film was accompanied live by organ player Ron West who played his organ at the Majestic Theatre in Pomona which still screens silent films and is Australia’s longest continuously running cinema. Ron himself only recently retired in 2011, of course having Ron come and perform in Brisbane was a special treat. The genius of Buster Keaton has not dimmed in all the years, a fantastic physical performer who told a story effortlessly The General still entrances with its scope, speed, daring and yes heart. I was surprised to hear it was not a huge success at the time and led to Buster Keaton having less creative freedom subsequently. In the end though good films endure and their makers remembered. I was glad to see such a film with my friend.