EIFF 2011 - Day 3

Whisky Galore! (UK) (wiki)

Slowly but surely, I'm knocking off the Ealing comedies one by one, so when Whisky Galore - one of the earler ones - showed up in the list in a quiet slot, I made sure I got a ticket.

On a remote, Outer Hebridean island sits the small town of Currie, the inhabitants lead a quiet existence in wont of nothing, at least until the supply of Whisky on the island completely dries up thanks to the war rationing. Help is on hand in the shape of the SS Cabinet Minister, a ship on its way with prescious restocking of the stuff, which unfortunately runs aground on the rocks before it can get to the shore. Not so good when two of the young bucks of the town are proposing to their fiances and there is a celebration to be had (on top of all the other excuses anyway), so when the town learns of the precariously-angled ship on the verge of sinking, they make for the waves in whatever boat they can get hold of, while trying to keep the towns' only upstanding law abider Captain Waggett of the local home guard out of the loop and unawares of the smuggling.

It was nice to see, but one of the weaker Ealing comedies, not having the focus and refined scripting of, say The Ladykillers. But it had it's moments, some cheeky digs at the scots and their love of the dram, and the action builds to a pretty good chase at the end. 7/10

Bobby Fischer Against the World (UK/US/Icl) (site/review)

A good documentary can make entertainment from any subject matter. Chess is certainly one of the less socially popular forms of entertainment around at the moment - try to engage your close circle of friends on the subject and you're likely to get a series of blank expressions, and an expectation to move back to more familiar ground unless you wish to be ostracised. But even chess had it's day in the social spotlight, nearly 40 years ago, in 1972.

Bobby Fischer came out of nowhere, a Brooklyn kid with a focused genius in the game that went to obsessional levels. He was also arrogant, short tempered, and a bit of a prima donna. Still he gained recognition and massive respect with the chess community, and beyond. At the time, the Soviets took every chess crown, and used the game to play politics with the Americans, as the country of intellectual and strategic prowess. Henry Kissenger himself worked to get Fischer into the 1972 showdown match against Boris Spassky, to put one in the eye of the Soviet political chess machine. Fischer was rude and arrogant, demanded more money for competing, and turned up an hour late for his first of a grudging 24-match marathon. But he won, and took the crown of the World Chess Champion for 1972.

But the story has much more to go from there. This was Fischers' high point of his tragic life. The praise and adulation, and the attention that came with it when he returned to America started a long and painful process of self-destruction. One that turned him from arrogant but likeable hero in the eyes of the ruskie-hating American public, to a reclusive, psychotic anti-semite, betraying his Jewish roots and cutting him off still further from his small circle of remaining friends.

I watched Bobby Fischer open-mouthed, knowing nothing of the man and finding it incredulous that such a shattered life had occurred under the catalyst of such a seemingly benign sport, but as the film goes on to explain, true chess grand-masters need that unusual mix of genius and psychosis that allows them to own the board and the myriad of moves that are available to them and their opponents at any one time, and a life spent wholly staring at 64 squares and nothing else, will be a life that struggles to comprehend the complexities of the rules of life outside. A compelling documentary. 8/10

Tender Son: The Frankenstein Project (Hun/Ger/Aus) (a rather scathing wiki entry)

Kornel has made a comfortable existence for himself persuing his dreams of being a film director after a bit of a blip in his earlier, more sleepy-aroundy days. But an aspect of his past - a feral, hormone-filled son of a past, looking for answers and vindication, comes fist-dragging back into his life when, after clumsily leaving a bunch of flowers at the home of the mother who abandoned him to an orphanage, takes part in Kornel's latest audition. Neither father nor son is aware who they've stumbled upon, but when the improvised audition goes really wrong, the boy is forced to flee, only to return to his mothers' for sanctuary, where fellow orphaned teen Magda stirs feelings in the monster boys' loins.

As you can expect from such a title, the film is a contemporary re-imagining of the Mary Shelley novel though you could easily miss the relationship unless it had been pointed out. The film does manage through darkened rooms and pregnant silences to recreate the brooding sense of a monster fighting helplessly with his anger and primal urges and trying to be 'good', and Kornel's role as the man tasked with putting the creature beyond harm is imaginative if underused. But the film does fall short of being a good one because of it's bloated runtime, and a needless shifting around of the characters in the laboured middle section, which tries to explain out some of the mysteries the first quarter brings up. By the time the final third comes along, you're already tracing through the original story to see how long it is before the film ends, and you don't want that as a director. 6.5/10

Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure (Australia) (site)

The term 'Audio Verite' has been coined to mean the surreptitious recording of an event for the amusement of others. One particular example are the end-of-the-world 'conversations' between two elderly men in a San Francisco apartment by a pair of young students who moved in next door to them in the late 1980's. Peter J. Haskett and Raymond Huffman are massively morose and irritable alcoholics living together in a dingy flat, and when the drinks begin flowing, so does the cussing. They cuss each other bad, in fact. So bad, that Eddie and Mitch decided - initially in case something bad happened and they needed evidence for the police - to record their conversations by strapping a microphone to a ski pole and hovering it in front of their window.

What they caught on several hours of tape came to be known as 'Shut Up, Little Man!', a phrase Peter would often use to talk Ray out of an argument. Word got around, people started asking for copies, and it began to snowball.

What started out as a prank and a laugh, started to have consequences. Record companies started ringing. People wanted copies from all around the world. Because the boys had just made the tapes and stuck them in the public domain, people started doing things with the material - comic books, audio mashups, and even an LA stage play. When it got to the point that several movie producers were trying to get in on the act and things were starting to turn ugly and legal, it was clearly time to try and sort the mess out, and perhaps even give some of the royalties to the unsuspecting people at the centre of it all.

Shut Up Little Man!, is a guilty laugh at the start, you're in there giggling at the things they got on tape, but the middle section kind of runs out of puff, explaining the legal complications and getting a bit samey in content as if the guys were only wanting a certain amount of material released into the film so they had to repeat some of it. The ending however feels a lot warmer, as the guys involved, now middle-aged and more mature, look on their subjects with a more affectionate eye, especially as Tony - a friend of the squabbling pair who occasionally came round to the flat and is the only surviving link to the conversations - is finally interviewed as a frail shadow of himself - and still none the wiser of his global fame.

The dip in the middle doesn't harm the film so much (and could have something to do with my heavy eyelids), and the piece as a whole takes the viewer through the whole emotion spectrum, including a lot of laughs. 8/10

No comments: