Cast & Crew Interviews are fairly short but in Leigh’s case revealing as she discusses her approach to the film and how she wants the audience to be a “tender witness.” Apart from that there are only trailers; one for Sleeping Beauty, the disturbing serial killer movie Snowtown (2011, Justin Kurzel), and a TV mini-series called The Slap starring Melissa George and Alex Dimitriades.
Jane Gardner – Pianist
Jane has accompanied screenings of silent movies in London at the Barbican Centre and the National Film Theatre. This is her second appearance at The Station after accompanying a screening of The General (1926, Buster Keaton) in January.
Douglas Fairbanks (1883-1939)
There’s a great story about Douglas Fairbanks which emphasises the playfulness and remarkable agility of this legendary Hollywood star. While filming Robin Hood (1922, Allan Dwan) the producers forbade Fairbanks from performing an elaborate stunt. The sequence involved Robin riding towards a castle, then holding on to the drawbridge as it is raised, jumping on to a chain and climbing 50 feet up the front of the set. A stuntman was hired and seemingly performed the stunt with aplomb. Until it dawned on the production crew the stunt man was standing next to them watching the show. The figure waving to them from above was the real Doug Fairbanks.
Physically graceful with a gift for comedy Fairbanks quickly became a popular star in Hollywood. An early highlight is the short comedy The Mystery of the Leaping Fish (1916, Christy Cabanne, John Emerson) a Sherlock Holmes spoof with Fairbanks as a detective who uses cocaine for inspiration and solves a crime involving an inflatable beach toy.
In 1919 Fairbanks, his lover Mary Pickford, D.W. Griffiths, and Charlie Chaplin formed the studio United Artists to give themselves more artistic independence. Fairbanks took a huge risk by producing the swashbuckler The Mark of Zorro (1921, Fred Niblo). Nobody had tried anything like this before. In case it failed Fairbanks made a backup film, an ingenious slapstick comedy called The Nut (Theodore Reed 21) about an eccentric inventor.
Zorro was a huge success and turned Fairbanks into the most bankable star around. Fairbanks continued in this vein playing D’Artagnan in The Three Musketeers (21) with Niblo again directing. There quickly followed Robin Hood (22, Dwan), The Thief of Baghdad (24, Raoul Walsh), Don Q: Son of Zorro (25, Donald Crisp), The Black Pirate, and D’Artagnan again in The Iron Mask (29, Dwan).
Aware of cinema’s growing cultural importance. Fairbanks helped create the USCLA’S film programme. An innovator onscreen and off he was one of the first to experiment with sound though the technology wasn’t quite ready for The Iron Mask. Fairbanks first Talkie saw him delivering iambic pentameter in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew (30, Sam Taylor). His career eventually tailed off and after his marriage to Pickford broke up Fairbanks moved to England. There was one last hurrah in The Private Life of Don Juan (34, Alexander Korda) with Fairbanks as the great lover realising his swashbuckling days are coming to an end.
“Some people can’t tell where it hurts. They can’t calm down. They can’t ever stop howling."
Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin
“At our closest point, we were just .01cm apart. 55 hours later I was in love with this woman.”
Wong-Kar Wai’s Chungking Express proved to be his breakthrough movie internationally. Kar-Wai’s previous film, the elliptical Days of Being Wild (1991) won him acclaim, but was a box-office failure. Chungking Express contains certain genre elements; a femme fatale, a cop, a drug dealer, but Kar-Wai is more concerned with romantic longing.
Filmed in and around the Chungking Mansions, a huge residential building in Hong Kong that also contains bars and fast food joints and serves as a meeting point for the city’s ethnic minorities, Chungking Express tells two stories, both about cops and their love lives. Cop No 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro) becomes infatuated with a mysterious blonde haired woman (Brigitte Lin) he nearly bumps into when chasing a criminal. Cop No 663 (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) begins a flirtation with an eccentric fast food worker (Faye Wong).
Wong Kar-Wai made Chungking Express while taking time out from his martial arts epic Ashes of Time (1994), a troubled production which went over budget. Chungking Express is the antithesis of the expensive and elaborate Ashes of Time. Together with his cinematographer Christopher Doyle Kar-Wai shot Chungking Express fast and on location. This seemingly improvised style of filmmaking recalls the French New Wave. Doyle makes extraordinary use of artificial lighting in the cramped interiors of the Chungking Mansions.
Wong Kar-Wai gives a sense of time moving on, with shots of clocks changing throughout the film, and occasionally speeding up the film so passers by move rapidly past his protagonists suggesting they are out of step with everybody else. The first segment sees Cop No 223 ruminating in voiceover about the break-up of his relationship, loneliness, and the possibility of finding love while he is still young. The first story is noticeably shorter than the second, which makes sense given Kar-Wai intended Chungking Express to be a three part movie.Kar-Wai would eventually film this final storyline as the full-length feature Fallen Angels the following year.
As entertaining as the first story is it pales in comparison to the second as Faye (Wong) falls for Cop No 663. Bizarrely, her attraction leads her to break into his flat at every opportunity and to become increasingly hard to get. The boyish figured, wide-eyed Wong is astonishing. It may be that Kar-Wai felt he might as well shelve the third part and concentrate on Wong and her will they/won’t they/what is she doing? jousting with Tony Leung’s bewildered beat cop.
Funny, affecting, and rapturous, Chungking Express is the perfect starting point for those unfamiliar with Wong Kar-Wai’s work. Despite being about urban loneliness and heartbreak the film is directed with a lightness of touch that offsets the melancholy. It aches with the possibility that something magical might just be waiting around the corner.
“You can’t live on memories alone.”
I picked Dellamorte Dellamore off the bottom shelf of a video shop in 1995 thinking nothing of it. It had been re-titled Cemetery Man, presumably because the protagonist works in a cemetery. The Spanish title translates as My Girlfriend is a Zombie while the Australians went for the poetic Of Death, Of Love but clearly the US/UK distributors weren’t trying too hard with this one. I thought Dellamorte Dellamore might pass the time. It’s haunted me ever sense. The film has never been available on DVD in the UK before but Shameless Screen Entertainment are releasing it on 27th February.
In this thoughtful, dreamlike horror Everett plays the caretaker of a cemetery whose occupants have a habit of returning from the dead. Michel Soavi has a gift for creating stunning visuals (Terry Gilliam used him on The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and The Brother’s Grimm) and the film’s beauty is complemented by a truly warped sense of humour. Dellamorte Dellamore is based on a novel by Tiziano Sclavi and features a character who appeared briefly in the author’s ‘Dylan Dog’ comics. Dellamorte bears a startling resemblance to Dylan Dog and is essentially an alter-ego for the Nightmare Detective. Sclavi based Dylan Dog’s appearance on the English actor Rupert Everett so the big fella is perfectly cast here and gives the performance of his career. The Americanised version of Dylan Dog (2011, Kevin Munroe) appears on DVD and Blu-ray in March and while it is nowhere near as bad as expected, it is no match for Dellamorte Dellamore.
Following his affirmation came training: anonymous country houses, anonymous instructors, a good deal of travel and, looming ever larger, the fantastic prospect of working completely alone.