The Luis Buñuel Film School

22 02 2010

Luis Buñuel

Buñuel on set

Despite a fondness for cigarettes and bone-dry Martinis, the Spanish-born film-maker Luis Buñuel lived to the reasonably advanced age of 83. Had he gone on for 27 years longer, the director of Un Chien Andalou, Los Olvidados and Belle de Jour would be celebrating his 110th birthday today.

Buñuel’s work is still much admired by cineastes around the world, but its influence on wider film culture can be harder to pin down. His style of storytelling, in which dreams, memories and fantasies are taken at face value, and in which the church and ruling classes are ruthlessly satirised, is so distinct that it would be almost impossible to emulate. In fact, it’s hard to think of a single contemporary director whose work could be convincingly described as ‘Buñuelian’. The Swede Roy Andersson perhaps comes closest; his Songs From The Second Floor (2000) and You, The Living (2007) are both episodic, satirical and dreamlike in a way that recalls the Spanish director. And then there’s David Lynch of course, whose own insistence on ‘catching’ and running with intuitive ideas is close to the approach of Buñuel and his fellow surrealists.     

These exceptions aside though, it’s perhaps best to accept that the director’s lasting influence on cinema will have more to do with method and tone than content or style.

So, what can film-makers today learn from Buñuel’s work? And how can the old master inspire and challenge a new generation of directors?

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Being Takeshi Kitano

11 02 2010

Takeshi Kitano

Takeshi Kitano, yesterday.

Takeshis’, a new film from cult Japanese director ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano, arrives in UK cinemas this week almost five years after it first made an appearance on the international festival circuit.

Those looking for clues as to why Takeshis’ has taken so long to reach us might want to consider the film’s somewhat unusual subject matter. For a start it features not one Takeshi Kitano, but two, hence that slightly odd mucking around with the possessive apostrophe in the title. The first is ‘Beat’ Takeshi, a grizzled movie star who is in the midst of shooting a World War Two action film. The second is Mr. Kitano (also played by ‘Beat’ Takeshi), a convenience store clerk who idolises the movie star and dreams of becoming an actor.

It’s not long before the two men’s paths cross, and their real and imaginary lives begin to overlap to a confusing degree. Mr. Kitano’s violent, film-based fantasies spill over into the narrative while, for his part, ‘Beat’ Takeshi finds himself imagining and experiencing scenes from the other man’s life. At some points in the narrative it’s not clear whose point-of-view the audience is supposed to be seeing the story from, or indeed whether what we’re seeing is a real event, a dream or a fantasy. There are gun-fights, sudden deaths, and a musical tap-dancing interlude. ‘500% Kitano – nothing to add!’ is the film’s English tagline, and its director has spoken of wanting to create a work that defies logical analysis.

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An Introduction to…

5 02 2010
Joseph Cotton

"Hello, Film Advice Hotline?" Joseph Cotton in 'Shadow of a Doubt'

For a long time, I resisted getting into The Fall. The band were on the John Peel show a lot during my impressionable teenage years, and I was always rather taken with their brand of angry Manc ranting. But, at the same time, I was aware that The Fall had been going since 1978 and had averaged at least an album a year, not to mention a whole mess of live recordings, bootlegs and rarities. If I started buying their records now, I thought, I’d have a whole lot of catching up to do. So, for some years, I did everything I could to ignore them. Then one day, out of the blue, I thought ‘fuck it’ and bought a CD or two pretty much at random. 

The cinema can be a bit like that too. Many of the most famous and influential directors of yesteryear have back catalogues that, to a newcomer, can be a little bit intimidating. You may have heard of Bergman or Hitchcock or Ozu and have a vague idea that their work is important in some way, but as a novice where do you start? Bergman made 44 films, Ozu more than 50, Hitchcock 57. Knowing which ones you should watch first, to get a sense of the director’s style and preoccupations, can be nigh on impossible.

Here, then, are my suggestions for the two or, at most, three films that might best introduce you to some of the most prolific Big Beasts of the cinema. 

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