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Films and fireworks

Recent days have seen:

Sunday afternoon - Oculus and The Call of Cthulhu. This was a double-bill, showing as part of the current Leeds International Film Festival. I went with nigelmouse, both of us drawn mainly by The Call of Cthulhu. And indeed, that was good. Made in 2005, it picked up on the original period of Lovecraft's writings by presenting the whole story in 1920s-style silent movie format. There were one or two shots that didn't quite ring true, mainly because the camera was too mobile or simply framing shots from angles which weren't used in the 1920s. But on the whole, it was very convincing, and the constraints of the medium were actually capitalised on quite effectively to make sense of the story.

I haven't read the books, but I understand that this was quite a faithful adaptation, and as such it demanded several levels of stories within stories. At one point, we were hearing a story told by some Bayou people to a police inspector, who told it to a group of archaeologists (including the main character's uncle), who told it to his nephew, who told it to his doctor. Argh! But the interplay of captions and images helped to keep the whole chain nice and clear, by separating out the narrative voice from the action, and in extreme cases using margins on the captions to indicate reported speech. A number of dream-sequences early on were also very neatly shot in German Expressionist style while the rest was more naturalistic, capturing their nightmarish quality and again helping them to stand out from the waking action. All that said, it somehow wasn't as captivating as I was hoping for. But still, I'm glad I saw it, and glad that I'm now more familiar with the Cthulhu Mythos than I was before.

Meanwhile, Oculus turned out to be the real star of the pairing! It was a 30-minute film, set simply in a white-painted room with a man, a mirror and a bunch of video cameras. He's convinced that the mirror drove his father to kill his mother when he was a child, and is trying to catch the mirror's effects on camera. As the audience, we see not whatever 'real' version of events his cameras are capturing, but his own point-of-view experience of several hours spent in the room with the mirror. Like most of the best horror stories, it remains ambiguous as to whether the mirror really is haunted, or he is simply experiencing psychological trauma. The unravelling of the story was very effective, with lots of genuinely tense and discomforting moments. Basically, all the best aspects of that kind of claustrophobic setting were brought out very effectively.

A LIFF employee explained to us before the film began that it was actually number 3 (although the first to be shot) in a planned series of 9. Looking on the IMDb's trivia page for the film, I find that the rest of the sequence is all to be about the same mirror. And you know what? I think this would be a real mistake. The entire story of the mirror up to the dramatic date of Oculus is narrated by the character in the film anyway, so little would be gained by telling it again. Also, all the best aspects of chapter 3 in the sequence would be lost if it were pushed further - the claustrophobic one-character setting, the ambiguity about whether the mirror really is haunted or not, and the uncertainty at the end about whether he survives or not. Further films would just become a repetition of the same themes, with the element of novelty lost. As it is, it's a perfect little gem with lots of questions left unanswered to just the right degree.

Sunday evening - maviscruet's bonfire party. It's ages since I've been to a proper bonfire party, so this was a very welcome way to spend an evening - especially on Bonfire Night proper, and with a full moon! Mavis cut down lots of leylandii at the back of his garden in September, leaving a perfect bonfire-sized area at the top of it, and lots of wood to burn too. Perfect! There were some issues with the wood still being a bit fresh and the wind wanting to blow out the fire all the time, but this just meant lots of opportunities for Real Men to show their fire-management capabilities. Mavis had also cunningly invited a pyromaniac, who handled the fireworks side of the proceedings, and some small, cute children to inspire us all with their fresh-faced excitement. Add to that baked potatoes the size of Mars, and there's nothing more you can ask for, really. nalsa got some great photos, vividly demonstrating the effects of the wind.

Tuesday evening - GamerZ. If you're a role-player of whatever variety, or you know role-players, you will love this film. You'll sit there going "I know him!", "I've met her!", and - if you're familiar with Glasgow - "I've been there!". The story follow Ralph, a quiet, slightly awkward kid with *ahem* 'a rich fantasy life', as he starts University and joins the local RPGSoc. After a bit of politics with the incumbent game-keeper, he begins running his own game: The Reign of Z'rennk (or something). The rest of the film is basically about the relationships between the various members of the society, as worked out both in real life and through the game - represented by rotoscoped sequences which were tidied up after shooting by members of the public via the internet. It's very funny, and sometimes touchingly tragic as well.

If you take out the role-playing aspect, it's basically a film about a young man emerging from his shell and finding himself. But hey, why take it out when it's such fun? The only thing which didn't quite ring true for me was the way everyone was going on about how Ralph's game was 'magic', and they'd never seen anything like it before, when as far as I could see it looked pretty much like standard run-of-the-mill D&D, as parodied in the Munchkin card games. Oh well. Also, it had Ed Tudor-Pole in it as a truly brilliant eccentric Physics lecturer. Win!

Wednesday evening - angeoverhere, hieroglyphe and Anche Libero Va Bene. Finally, Wednesday evening saw drinks and tasty tapas in Sandinista's in Leeds with angeoverhere and hieroglyphe. We sat and chatted about Christmas, activism and polytics for a couple of hours, before I headed onwards to the cinema for another LIFF offering. This time, it was an Italian film, which I'd selected to get in a bit of language practice. And I learned some naughty words along the way, too, since it told the story of an 11-year-old boy coping with his parents' separation, and hence featured quite a lot of nasty arguments! As a film, it was effective and well-crafted, but didn't quite manage to be outstanding in any way. Still, the characterisation was good and the relationships convincing, and the acting was also good throughout, including the child characters. And the practice was definitely good for me - though I'd have been lost without the subtitles!

Tonight sees pintage with big_daz, and the weekend a jaunt down to Oxford for the nuptials of boblink and Tree. And then, d'y'know - next week I think I will stay in a bit!


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 9th, 2006 05:12 pm (UTC)
oh, bums. I really wanted to see Cthulhu, but thought it was *this* weekend. Not that that would have made a difference, as K's parents are up visiting for LB's birthday. Time flies!
Nov. 9th, 2006 05:24 pm (UTC)
Oh, well - it'd be worth picking up on DVD when it comes out.
Nov. 9th, 2006 07:32 pm (UTC)
It's been out on DVD for a while -- indeed, it was released directly to DVD other than a screening at the HPLFF, I think. I don't know if you can get it in a format other than Region 1, though. Anyway, check it out. The ordering link is at the bottom of the page here.
Nov. 9th, 2006 06:36 pm (UTC)
Polytics = instant teeth grinding :-)
Nov. 11th, 2006 08:40 pm (UTC)
Oculus sounds interesting, I'd never heard of it.

I have seen the COC movie, and while very faithful, it's perhaps not quite as atmospheric as it could be. Also, it's made by fans and really primarily for fans. If you haven't read the story, I think a couple of bits - notably the climax with Great Cthulhu himself - wouldn't be all that clear, as the low budget really couldn't quite achieve what they were obviously aiming for. I actually enjoyed it more on second viewing, though.

Now, a version of that story with equally talented and dedicated people making it, but a proper budget, could be really very special. The short story is very, very good; one of Lovecraft's best IMO. If done justice (a big "if" where large amounts of money are involved) it could be genuinely disturbing. None of that should be construed as deprecating the effort those guys put in, though - it's an amazing job given the lack of money.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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