"Topsy-Turvy is both an anomaly among the films of Mike Leigh and, contrary as it may seem, a Rosetta stone." Writing for Criterion, Amy Taubin explains how it can be both and adds a third vital aspect: Of all Leigh's films, it's "hands down the most pleasurable. The complexity of the characters and their relationships, the wealth of historical detail, the energy generated when Gilbert and Sullivan and the members of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company rehearse The Mikado (their most successful operetta), and the buoyancy of the music itself — sung by veterans of many Leigh movies, some newcomers, and a full chorus — make for a filmed entertainment that becomes more rewarding each time one watches it… When I recently asked Leigh how Topsy-Turvy seemed to him today, he said he was rather amazed by the scale of it — close to eighty actors (counting the chorus) — and that they had made it on such a small budget: ten million pounds, just half of what they had initially hoped for… The actors needed to be so steeped in the language of the period that they could improvise their dialogue without betraying the characters through modern idioms and constructions. The film takes its shape from the characters, their relationships, and the abundance of historical information about the world they inhabit — and the ways in which it's both distant from and close to our own."
Also for Criterion, Sam Wasson talks with costume designer Lindy Hemming, who tells him, "I believe Topsy-Turvy was something Mike wanted to do his whole life, for as long as he could remember." Update, 3/31: "Topsy-Turvy might be the greatest collaboration between Leigh and his frequent cinematographer Dick Pope," writes John Lingan in Slant, "and it's a marvelous chance to see the director's incredible attention to design detail applied to a 19th-century setting. It may also be the most purely fun movie he's made, and his most richly scripted dialogue. But it's relatively light on interpersonal conflict, which is Leigh's bread and butter."
To The Mikado itself. For Joseph Jon Lanthier, writing in Slant, "the disappointment of the 1939 film adaptation of the opera by director Victor Schertzinger and producer/composer Geoffrey Toye, now out on Blu-ray [and also from Criterion], rests less on the clumsy hacking received by the already convoluted libretto and more on the awkwardness with which the play's usually sharp comedy is rendered. To be sure, the fusillade of exposition provided by the introductory title cards makes David Lynch's Dune appear narratively competent. But one feels as though he isn't supposed to follow the story too doggedly here anyhow. What we truly miss is the half-smirking pomposity of Gilbert and Sullivan's élan; the simplicity of the camera angles and by-the-book editing pace can't quite keep up with the deftness of the music or lyrics."
Update: "The unmodified theatricality of the filmed Mikado, often taken as a defect, is actually what is most fascinating about it," argues Geoffrey O'Brien for Criterion. "To have adapted The Mikado to the norms of late-30s filmmaking would have been to destroy the almost kabuki-like stylization of Gilbert and Sullivan's theater, a stylization that incorporates the unrestrained silliness of music hall and English pantomime, elaborate parodies of popular romance and melodrama, vigorous topical satire, and (in Gilbert's most inspired lyrics) flights of verbal invention worthy of Lewis Carroll or Edward Lear."
"The story of Dirk Bogarde's war against himself is one of the great narratives of British cinema," writes Matthew Sweet in the Guardian. "It's the tale of a gifted young actor who became trapped in the smooth screen persona prescribed for him by his employers, and how he broke from it by embracing controversy, art and Europe… A new box set of some of Bogarde's less well-regarded films is released [this] week; a present their star might not have received with good grace. For me, its contents demonstrate that taking the lead role in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning would hardly have taken Dirk Bogarde off in some new and unexpected direction. The frustration and the fury of the sort that rose from the stage of the Royal Court in the late 50s had been burning inside Bogarde for years. You can feel it as early as the 1949 picture Once a Jolly Swagman, in which he plays a figure who is often assumed to be a discovery of the kitchen-sink generation — a young production-line worker tormented by his aspirations, who pursues a disastrous sexual relationship with a more experienced woman."
For Philip Horne, writing in the Telegraph, "the BFI's new set of Early Kurosawa — all his films to 1947, with the exception of Those Who Make Tomorrow (1946), which he only co-directed and anyhow disowned — has been a revelation."
One of the topics covered in Daniel Kasman and David Phelps's recent conversation with Dave Kehr is the phenomenon of the ever-expanding past, which is to say that the more films we watch and read and talk about, the more we realize how much we don't know about the history of cinema. The sheer number of titles and filmmakers seems to grow exponentially. As he notes in his latest column for the New York Times, Dave Kehr's job carries on growing more challenging and exciting: "Sony Pictures Entertainment is now making its collection of manufactured-on-demand discs, Screen Classics by Request, available through Amazon's CreateSpace program as well as directly from Sony. This should make Sony's eclectic assembly of some 125 comparatively obscure titles from its Columbia Pictures library more accessible to collectors. It's an excellent initiative… Meanwhile, back at the Warner Brothers ranch, the manufacture-on-demand releases through the Warner Archive Collection (available through Amazon as well as through Warner Brothers' online store) continue to multiply beyond the ability of this ardent viewer to keep up with them."
Gene Kelly's Invitation to the Dance (1956) is out from the Warner Archive. Amid Amidi at Cartoon Brew: "The film's third segment, 'Sinbad the Sailor,' is a half-hour combination of live-action and animation, the latter directed by MGM's team of Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera. The film has never been on DVD before, and if not necessarily a classic, the combination of Kelly, Hanna and Barbera makes for some fun moments. The delightfully grouchy Ed Benedict, who I interviewed in 2002 for Animation Blast #8, spoke about his involvement in the film and why he disliked it."
DVD roundups. Ed Gonzalez (House Next Door), Mark Kermode (Observer), Noel Murray (Los Angeles Times) and Stephen Saito (IFC).
Hammer to Nail's Michael Tully would "bet actual cold, hard cash that Fanny, Annie & Danny is more abrasive than anything you've seen in a long time, but it also happens to be a memorable micro-budget achievement that has a tender, excruciatingly funny heart."
IN OTHER NEWS
On the day that it was announced that Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura has won this year's Pritzker Prize, Catherine Grant points us to the new issue of World Picture Journal whose overriding theme this fifth time around is sustainability. If, as Tina di Carlo writes, introducing a dossier of statements from, among others, Rem Koolhas, "In little over a decade sustainability in architecture has gone from a design imperative to a default position," then Souto de Moura might be considered an exception to the new rule, having once said, "There is no ecological architecture, no intelligent architecture, no sustainable architecture — there is only good architecture." On the other hand, he added, "There are always problems we must not neglect; for example, energy, resources, costs, social aspects — one must always pay attention to all these." What's more, he acknowledges the influence of Mies van der Rohe on his work and, as di Carlo writes, "although modernism was not overtly 'green,' it could be argued that sustainability, as an economy of means and a leanness of design, has always defined modernist architectural practice and theory."
So what does all this have to do with cinema? Di Carlo makes no overt connections, but the covert ones are tantalizing. In the statements she's collected, "six visionaries from six different disciplines propose that the limits of sustainability are perhaps best thought, best questioned, and best challenged through excess and exacerbation: the speed of work; the density of the megalopolis; the proliferation of erasure and abandonment; the heightened realities of fiction and storytelling; the hedonistic, drug-induced pleasures of a false urbanism; cities that float in the clouds."
Also in this issue: Ken Jacobs on 3D, Karen Pinkus and Cameron Tonkinwise's "Dialogue on Sustainability with Images," Rebekah Rutkoff's interview with Carolee Schneeman, Phil Solomon's Innocence and Despair (2001; "Note: this video was intentionally rendered to be on the darkest edge of visibility. It helps to shut off lights and close curtains when viewing."), Allan Stoekl on Agnès Varda and more.
Tokyograph reports that the actress and jazz singer Okiyama Hideko died of heart failure on March 21 at the age of 65. She "made her acting debut in 1968 in Imamura Shohei's movie Kamigami no Fukaki Yokubou, also known as The Profound Desire of the Gods. Her other roles included Kurosawa Akira's Dodesukaden (1970), Suzuki Seijun's Kagero-za (1981), and Arato Genjiro's Akame 48 Waterfalls (2003)."
"Wenche Foss, one of Norway's most popular actresses and widely referred to as the country's last diva, died Monday," reports Views and News from Norway. She was 93.
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