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Out of the Past 2010: David Cairns

We at MUBI think that celebrating the films of 2010 should be a celebration of film viewing in 2010.  Since all film and video is "old" one way or another, we present Out of a Past, a small (re-) collection of some of our favorite of 2010's retrospective viewings.

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Always on Sunday (Ken Russell, 1965), pictured above

Always on Sunday is one of Ken Russell's early British television films, most of which were portraits of artists. It was customary for years for Russell's haters to praise these unavailable films and bemoan the director's decline into heavy-handed vulgarity. It turns out that they were half right: the TV work is excellent, and tends to be more muted than the gaudy features that followed, no doubt in part due to BBC censorship. But the critics were wrong to miss the nuances, and genius, of Russell's blockbuster marathons of bad taste and joyous camp, and also to miss the obvious elements of gleeful iconoclasm which abound in the teleplays. This loving look at the painter Rousseau, whose naive style received a critical dismissal similar to that often accorded Russell's ebullient vision, features a cameo by Alfred Jarry, played by a woman, crashing into the film to the main title theme from Jules et Jim.

Knock (Guy Lefranc, 1951)

Knock stars Louis Jouvet, the world's greatest man. An actor who always relishes any opportunity to play a man who is himself playing a part, here he runs amok as a venal doctor who has barely a sincere moment in the entire story. With the motto "A healthy person is just a sick one who doesn't know it yet," this ambitious quack is soon able to reduce an entire district to shambling psychosomatic infirmity. And he has the audience on his side.

Darling How Could You! (Mitchell Leisen, 1951)

Hiding behind the hideously generic title is an unusual family comedy from the play Alice Sit-By-The-Fire by J.M. Barrie. Mitchell Leisen brings his usual sensitivity and meticulousness to the period setting, the expert comic performances, and the elegant mise-en-scène. Joan Fontaine, always full of surprises, pulls out the comedy and the maternal aspects, as a glamorous young wife suddenly challenged by the realities of motherhood. Even John Lund is effective in this one, and that's saying something.

Night World (Hobart Henley, 1932)

A network narrative pre-code drama revolving around Happy's Nightclub. When you learn that Happy is played by Boris Karloff, you may think you know what to expect, but this snappy number is full of surprises. Clarence Muse, Mae Clark, George Raft, Hedda Hopper (!) and Lew Ayres all put in (stereo) typical great work, and even Jack LaRue is there, as a hopped-up hitman named Lefty. He holds his heater in his right hand, though.

Insomnia (Erik Skjoldbjærg, 1997)

Vastly superior to Christopher Nolan's implausible, cutty remake, Erik Skjoldbjærg's bleak, black thriller, set in the whiteness of the far north, charts the moral disintegration of a detective tracking a murderer and excavating the moral vacuum in his own heart. Crisp procedural storytelling with a gnawing decay underneath.

Some well-deserved love for Skjoldbjærg’s “Insomnia”!
It’s really fine. Have you seen his new one? I’m praying for a return to form.
Fantastic creepy ambient score by Geir Jenssen aka: Biosphere.
David: Yes, his new one “Nokas” opened here in Norway this autumn. Brillant heist film, and very much an original – imagine “Heat” as if directed by the Dardenne brothers.
Wow! OK, I’m mentally bookmarking that one to see as soon as I get the chance. Looks like Hollywood was a mistake for Skjoldbjaerg (as a viewing of Nolan’s remake confirms) so it’s great to have him back in a conducive environment.
That is such good news. I had no idea he’d continued filmmaking after PROZAC NATION, so this is something very excellent to look forward to…and avoid the inevitable Hollywood remake of.

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