Monday, February 13, 2012

Les Misérables, Ciné Lumière and a sunday cinema double bill

 When I checked the clock, it was still very early. My eyes were unable to pick up the light outside to tell me whether the sun had already set as I woke up from a terrifying dream: a tall, blonde guy was answering all the questions correctly; with answers that I would have no idea about. He was before me in the queue, and I would be the next up. I realised I had no chance, and that is when I woke up with a cold sweat. It did not take long before I went to sleep again. When the hour finally hit 10 and I woke up to a cold and dry Sunday morning, I prayed that the actual experience would have no resemblance to what I had earlier dreamt.

It took me about 15 minutes to walk down to Barbican from my house. I had not eaten breakfast but I had no intention to get to my destination any later than I already was. I did not shave although I thought about it. I did not comb my hair, not there is much of it, but I also thought about it. I did not wear anything special, and I did not put much thought in it, anyway. By the time I got to Beech Street, I could already see the long queue, that stretched all the way from the entrance of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, curling its way around the Barbican Centre and one of the iconic towers of the Barbican Estate. I was disappointed with myself, knowing that I should have gotten here earlier, say, at 8 AM. But to be fair to myself, I would not even have turned up for my first ever try to be an extra in a feature film, had I not met L. and Z. who told me about it yesterday; had I not gone to the cinema with M. and invited R. who ran into L. and Z. at the theatre, with whom we had lunch afterwards. By the looks of the queue, it looked as if I was not going to make it into the registration for Tom Hooper's remake of Les Misérables.

So, there were no questions or interviews in the end like those in my nightmare. But there was not much remedy in showing up a little late, neither. It was announced shortly after my arrival that already more than 2,000 people showed up and that we would have to wait up to 4 hours, with no guarantee to get inside the building. Soon after that turned into "we will issue some tickets to those of you who we believe to be unique but others will not be seen today". It was something spectacular to see such interest to be an extra for a film. To be fair, though, the production is big, its cast is ambitious and there is a £110/day to be earned over the few days of shooting that the extras would be part of. Sadly, I was not qualified as unique, and neither were L. or Z. for this film's purpose. I was less about the £110/day to be had, but more in the idea of getting a foot in a major feature film production, something that I keep on dreaming about, and looks like there will be more dreaming than reality in the foreseeable future. Ah, how I thought I would shine as an extra in one of the dreadful scenes as a prisoner or a "miserable", how I practised the day before in the company of others, only to first entertain and then annoy them, and how this would have fit perfectly next to my role at the 2012 Olympics. Well, so much for Les Misérables, we thought, as we moved on.

After a brunch with L. and Z., I decided to head to Leicester Square for a cinema double bill. It has been long time since I saw two films back to back at a cinema. In fact, it has been long since I have done it on the TV or on a computer, too, but my history with back-to-back films at the cinema go a long way. For those of you who at some point in their lives have been "festival-goers", you would know about the rituals of seeing 4 to 5 films a day with the occasional lunch, dinner, coffee breaks, hovering from one cinema theatre to another one, only to bump into celebrities, friends, and those involved with the art of cinema who are often not to be seen in social environments whatsoever for the rest of the year. I have had the privilege to experience this in Istanbul, Berlin, London (and almost in New York) over the years. Even though each city has its own characteristics, and often the events are held at different seasons (in the harsh snowy winters of Berlin to tulip-blossoming springs of Istanbul and the rain-washed autumns of London), they all have one thing in common. For the "festival-goer", the city becomes a large film set as you wonder from one scene to the another. People on the street are your own extras, and your environment is your soundtrack. These were the thoughts I had when I decided to give my lone self another go at a back-to-back cinema experience. There were two films in my list that have been at the theatres for a long time and were about to be pulled out: Hugo 3D and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Luckily on unluckily, they were both playing at the Odeon Cinema at Leicester Square and at back-to-back sessions.

I started off with Hugo 3D. It was 2 PM, I was full with a nice Sunday roast and on time to avoid the early commercials and nothing could make me less happy... than the fact that Odeon was overpriced, the hall was tiny, the screen tinier, and I was sitting at the corner of the first row. It was not the 3-D glasses I wore for 2 hours that bothered me, it was rather my neck that squeaked more than the automaton featured in the film.

It was around the halfway through the film that Isabelle, the lead girl of the film, referred to Hugo, the lead boy and the character, as Jean Valjean in a reference that I cannot remember right now. If it wasn't for T. who reminded the day before that Jean Valjean was the main character of Les Misérables, I would probably have missed that funny reference. Then, after all, could the name Hugo, of the main character, be a reference to the great Victor Hugo, the author of Les Misérables? It felt as if my day with Les Misérables was not over yet. Jean Valjean did not provide the only coincidental reference to some of the conversations we had the day before with T., L. and Z. L. works for an organisation, based at the UCL who run a documentary film festival in June called "Open City". Although I did not recall this at first, now I seem to remember that we occasionally received emails from this organisation on their monthly documentary screenings while I worked at LSE Cities. There is a round of screenings for the European Documentary Festival starting at the Ciné Lumière in London on 16th of February, Thursday and there is a screening at the UCL on the 22nd.

The fact that Hugo celebrates the cinema of the late George Mèliés and therefore touches upon the history of early cinema and the Lumière Brothers was another nice coincidence linking up today and yesterday. The extraordinary visual representation of cinema of Mèliés is one aspect of Hugo that I think may win the film the Academy Award for Best Picture. In that regard, I am sure it will touch some people's hearts rather lightly like one of its competitors The Artist does. However, what makes Hugo even more extraordinary is its use of the 3D technology. I am one of those who believe that Avatar was somewhat a joke and its use of 3D was such a gimmick. I listened to many podcasts of Kermode and Mayo on BBC Radio 5 (much recommended for film lovers) over the years and got myself indulged in thinking about where I stand with the whole 3D debate in contemporary cinema. I found it very courageous of a filmmaker like Martin Scorsese to open himself to such development. I guess that what makes him one of the most celebrated directors of all time, his ever continuing appetite for progress and boy has he been successful in genres and over decades. He talks to Kermode and Mayo about how he "wants to do all his future films in 3D from now on" in one of their programmes. There is a lot to be said about Hugo but I do not want to make a full film review out of it, here and now. I just want to say I really enjoyed it, and it was yet another joyful coincidence to see Michael Stuhlbarg take part in it, the man who plays the character of spectacular Arnold Rothstein, the early 20th century and Prohibition-era mafia in what is my current favourite TV show, Boardwalk Empire. And guess who is one of the executive producers and the director of the pilot episode of the show?! None other than Mr. Martin Scorsese, himself.


The second film of the day was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I was looking forward to this film for a long, long while. I have to admit I was a bit confused when I first saw the trailer to and the posters of the first of the trilogy by David Fincher's adaptation of Stieg Larsson's literature. The name of the film sounded very familiar but I could not quite make out how. I did not know of Larsson's books before hand but then I realised that films with a similar name to this had just been released a couple of years ago; these were the Swedish versions of what Hollywood then re-made. This was probably one of the fastest remakes I have ever encountered. Although it may be argued that they are not remakes but just Hollywood adaptations of the novels, as against the Swedish versions, I reckon, had there been no Swedish TV-cinema production of this literature, Hollywood may have never picked it up. There were a number of reasons why I looked so much forward this film, other than its trailer being awesome.

First of all, I am a big fan of David Fincher's cinema. I am part of a generation of youngsters for whom Fight Club and its subsequent soundtrack meant something. The film was the cinematic representation of the way in which we wanted to go through our adolescence. Although other fringely mainstream films like Requiem for a Dream would be what we would like to aspire to, were we to have artistic careers (but not the types of lives depicted in it), most of us must have thought we could end up like Tyler Durden at some point in our lives. For me, Fincher was already special with Se7en and The Game (which a lot of people underestimate, I find) and Zodiac had just put him in a special place. And I think I also liked The Social Network more than many others I know. What I find so delightful in Fincher's films, apart from the great soundtracks, the audio-visual feasts, the always-right pace (often fast, sometimes delicately slow and always a good mix of both), his appetite for peculiar characters, is that he can pretty much make a film of any story you will give him. Obviously it helps if he is feeding from a text from Aaron Sorkin, or great literature, but I think he is one of the few directors that can make you watch what is practically a legal case and make a good entertainment out of it. With The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, he already had something fascinating to play with.

Another reason why I anticipated his take on the Swedish thriller was the Immigrant Song. Immigrant Song has been a top-20 in my playlist during my high-school years. I had given Led Zeppelin a good long break since high school, bar the summer when Robert Plant came into town (Istanbul) for the Jazz Festival I was working at, but hearing a raw Karen O (of Yeah Yeah Yeahs) take on a Trent Reznor cover of what was one of my long-time Led Zeppelin favourites clearly got me going. Should I also add here that Nine Inch Nails's dark The Great Below was a beyond-inspirational song during my early teens?

The film lived up to my expectations. I have to say that at times I felt Fincher compromised on the story's magnificence for the sake of some mainstream elements. It looks as if he gave into the Hollywood formula of making the film more approachable to wider audiences by making the characters a little more human than what they may normally be (I have to admit I have not read the books, though). Their relationships progress almost in a comical contrast to what we expect of their very strong, individual beings. Of course, with such successfully built-up violent rape and snuff scenes, the film is anything but a Sunday family outing, yet there is something in it that makes us realise we are watching a Fincher suspense thriller, but not a Gaspar Noé psychopathy. David Fincher seems to have followed, once again, his interest in dealing with complicated the state of affairs of individuals' dealing with some predominant social aspects of the societies in which they can (or cannot) operate (as he did so well with Se7en, Fight Club, or Zodiac). The fast-paced film makes for an easily followable and watchable two and a half hours of dark and wintry landscape. Some small details here and there also let the audience take a breather: I loved how the IT geek Lisbeth meets in the beginning of the film wears a NIN t-shirt, a reference to Trent Reznor who wrote the soundtrack. The entire theatre burst to loud laughter when Lisbeth was seen with her t-shirt reading "fuck you you fucking fuck" during her "morning after" enriched with the unexpected visit from Mikael, the journalist. And it did not take me too long to fall in love with the character of Lisbeth.

Fincher is one of the remaining great, mainstream filmmakers who has not yet adopted 3D into his cinema. I have not yet heard of him outrulr 3D from his future films, in the fashion that Christopher Nolan did. I have to say I agree with Nolan's reasoning of why he does not choose to use 3D, at least just yet, for the final part of his Batman: The Dark Knight trilogy. In this regard, as I said earlier, I hold Scorsese's pioneering decision and his use of the technology in high regard but for the moment, we can live with the IMAX, provided it comes with good stories, good acting and good directing. In that case, I don't even mind moving my neck right and left as if I am watching a tennis game (as against watching a bungee jumping event).

As my 4 hours and 45 minutes of double-bill cinema came to an end - and by its length, that could be 3 back-to-back films - I decided to re-fill my supplies with some "eat as much as you can" Chinatown goodies, reminiscing of my poor first year in London, doing my MSc. That was not the only thing that made me remember things, though. As I took a nice, 45-minute walk back home I re-visited the scenes from the day and from my own persona past. I traveled around Gare du Nord, making my way over the bridges over Seine, and across to the remote island in northern Sweden, then swimming down the Gulf of Bothnia to Gamla Stan in Stockholm, reminded of my "miserable" self cycling in the freezing cold in the dark winter nights in Denmark, or walking home from a long day of cinema through the prostitutes and stray cats on a spring evening in Istanbul. Yet again, the cities were my film set, devoid of extras on a late Sunday evening in London with deserted streets but I was happy to move from one scene to the next.