Comrades

Discuss DVDs and Blu-rays released by the BFI and the films on them.

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colinr0380
Joined: Mon Nov 08, 2004 4:30 pm
Location: Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, UK

Re: Comrades

#26 Post by colinr0380 » Mon Jan 04, 2010 7:36 pm

Oops! :oops: (Which actually might lead to an interesting topic, since this isn't my area of expertise and I'm desperately trying to cover up my embarrassing faux pas - are there actually many female cinematographers currently working?)

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zedz
Joined: Sun Nov 07, 2004 7:24 pm

Re: Comrades

#27 Post by zedz » Tue Jan 05, 2010 12:01 am

colinr0380 wrote:(are there actually many female cinematographers currently working?)
Moving briskly on, one of the modern greats, Agnes Godard, leaps to mind. And Ellen Kuras, of course (Gondry, Jarmusch, Spike Lee).

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GaryC
Joined: Fri Mar 28, 2008 3:56 pm
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Re: Comrades

#28 Post by GaryC » Tue Jan 05, 2010 3:57 pm

zedz wrote:
colinr0380 wrote:(are there actually many female cinematographers currently working?)
Moving briskly on, one of the modern greats, Agnes Godard, leaps to mind. And Ellen Kuras, of course (Gondry, Jarmusch, Spike Lee).
Sue Gibson, the present President of the BSC, though she's mostly worked in TV for the last decade and a half.

Mandy Walker (who photographed Australia, amongst others)

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Sloper
Joined: Tue May 29, 2007 10:06 pm

Re: Comrades

#29 Post by Sloper » Fri Jan 08, 2010 10:30 am

colinr0380 wrote:Oops! :oops:
I assumed he was a woman too... Evidently the Gale/Gail distinction is only taught at select British schools.

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zedz
Joined: Sun Nov 07, 2004 7:24 pm

Re: Comrades

#30 Post by zedz » Fri Jan 08, 2010 2:26 pm

Not all Gales are guys. I wasn't positive one way or the other when I posted, and imdb didn't help, so I avoided pronouns, but I assumed he was a he simply because of the industry's gender bias. (Does that make me a bad person? Or was it pushing that old lady in the wheelchair down the stairs?)

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Sloper
Joined: Tue May 29, 2007 10:06 pm

Re: Comrades

#31 Post by Sloper » Fri Jan 08, 2010 8:16 pm

And of course the wonderful Gale Sondergaard. (But yes, the not-so-great Gale Anne Hurd sprang to mind first.)

I saw Comrades a while ago and can't quite believe how good it was. Even after being amazed by the trilogy, I was very sceptical that Douglas could pull off a sweeping epic of this kind - rave reviews notwithstanding, I fully expected it to be a grand and hopelessly naive folly. If anything, it's even more self-assured than the earlier, autobiographical films. Douglas completely inhabits this story, effortlessly (it looks that way) marrying the images to the human narrative without ever letting the one tread on the other's toes. Like Malick (only perhaps a little more so) he has the confidence of a great poet, speaking from the heart with every frame, and no hint of the lumbering 'respectful distance' you get in even the best historical recreations. Lots of grandeur, but nothing grandiose: I nearly swooned with admiration when I saw how the journey to Australia was depicted. So simple, so perfect.

However, like the reviewer Peerpee referred to earlier, I'm not totally sold on the recurring lanternist - if it had always been the same character, maybe it would have worked, but this film's major weak point is the comedy relief (thinking especially of Freddie Jones's drunk act) and Alex Norton's turns as the (French?) silhouhettist and Italian photographer are a little embarrassing. Thematically it's a fascinating idea, but I'm just not sure it comes off in the execution.

Robin Soans is another figure in all this who should have received more recognition. His performance as Loveless is consistently perfect, holding the film together and lending it the sincerity and warmth it needs, tempering both the idealism and the anger which drive the story. Even with all the other great things going on here, I think a bad actor in that part would have made this pretty hard to watch.

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MichaelB
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Re: Comrades

#32 Post by MichaelB » Sat Jan 09, 2010 4:48 am

Sloper wrote:effortlessly (it looks that way)
Certainly on screen, but I doubt that anyone who actually worked on one of Douglas's films would see it that way! He was renowned for being a highly temperamental perfectionist on set - sadly, one of the reasons why he found it so hard to raise production funds.

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Sloper
Joined: Tue May 29, 2007 10:06 pm

Re: Comrades

#33 Post by Sloper » Sat Jan 09, 2010 6:58 am

Oh yes, I guess I just meant that his films feel very intuitively made - un-storyboarded. To be honest I sometimes find Malick's films a bit shapeless and meandering because of this same quality, and occasionally felt that way about Douglas' trilogy. But in Comrades he somehow manages to join that sense of lyric spontaneity with a really compelling story. I've no doubt that it took a lot of blood, sweat, tears and phlegm to get it to seem so completely organic.

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zedz
Joined: Sun Nov 07, 2004 7:24 pm

Re: Comrades

#34 Post by zedz » Sun Jan 10, 2010 3:41 pm

I understand what you mean about some of the register shifts that accompany the appearances of the lanternist, but I think the entire conceit is inspired, and the more I see the film and think about the way it's structured, the better worked-out it appears. Comrades is a film that really rewards close study, and Douglas seems to me perfectly in control of all of his details and effects, even when his decisions at first might seem odd.

Because the lanternist ties together so many of the film's abstract themes and motifs (his inclusion in the film's title, and the way in which he's included, is very precise and significant), having him as a single consistent presence would in my opinion be quite damaging to that crucial abstraction, even though it seems at first as if that would be more narratively satisfying. He's there to anticipate the advent of cinema (and is also naturally associated with the film's sophisticated play with light) - that's the 'lanternist' part - but he's also there as a witness - that's the 'account' - and the film is also very concerned with the ways in which news circulates, stories get told, and how they're spun (in more ways than one). "A penny for the show but the news is free."

So Alex Norton's characters don't always slot comfortably and dutifully into a particular template. He isn't always on the 'right side' of history, and he isn't always 'appropriately' aligned with the main thrust of the narrative in terms of tone as well. Part of his role is to jar us out of the narrative so that we have to repeatedly reflect on how it's being conveyed (Douglas' bold ellipses serve a similar purpose), and sometimes this is done by shifting gears in terms of media (e.g. the sea voyage) or tone.

I find the episode with the Italian photographer rather delightful - completely self-contained and well out-of-whack with most of what surrounds it (though Douglas runs a thread of needling farcicality through his depictions of the upper classes, which doesn't make them any less threatening), but absolutely dead-on when it comes to the film's themes and motifs. It would take a whole chapter, maybe even a whole thesis, to trace everything that Douglas is doing in that sequence in relation to the rest of the film. Douglas condenses all of this into a few minutes - which is why he's making a film rather than writing a thesis. The scene is like a window on the entire work that also opens further windows into other important realms (the relationship between colonizers and indigenous peoples, the role of 'foreign' immigrants, history as a posed shot - which in turn invites us to interrogate the visual beauty of much of the rest of this 'account', etc.) - but it also reminds us that opening windows has a cost: some stories / historical records can only survive in the dark.

EDIT: Whoops! I forgot that I started this post to agree with Sloper's comments on the film's look. I'm prepared to go so far as to say that Douglas had one of cinema's greatest eyes, John Ford standard, a gift for finding compositions that seem so absolutely right both in their solid physical representativeness and in their poetic and symbolic implications that you can't imagine an adequate substitute. And in context, these images do seem 'effortless' because once you've seen them, they're self-evident. The problem is, hardly any directors or DoPs see them in the first place, so we never know. Speaking of context, all of Douglas's films are immaculately edited, and the precision of shot length and shot juxtaposition only makes the shots themselves seem more inevitable. Hats off to Mick Audsley.

Perkins Cobb
Joined: Tue Apr 29, 2008 12:49 pm

Re: Comrades

#35 Post by Perkins Cobb » Mon Mar 08, 2010 4:56 am

Just checking in to give Comrades my highest recommendation. I had expected it might be somewhat academic, but it's exactly the opposite -- exhilaratingly cinematic in every shot. Every perilous choice Douglas makes -- the gimmick of the lanternist, the straightforwardness of its pro-union stance -- somehow pays off. As Peter Newell (or somebody) says in one of the documentaries, it's as if Douglas crammed every filmic idea he had in ten years into one movie.

As an Aussie-phile, I'm particularly in love with the Oz sequence. The cameos by David Hargreaves and Arthur Dignam are a delight, and Douglas films the landscape as beautifully as any actual Aussie film of the new wave era. I almost wish this section were longer, but of course its economy (compressing five separate stories down to less than 45 minutes of running time) is what makes it so good.

Only the third Blu-Ray I've watched, and an excellent choice for the format.

j99
Joined: Wed May 27, 2009 10:18 am

Re: Comrades

#36 Post by j99 » Sun Aug 29, 2010 2:46 pm

Perkins Cobb wrote:
As an Aussie-phile, I'm particularly in love with the Oz sequence. The cameos by David Hargreaves and Arthur Dignam are a delight, and Douglas films the landscape as beautifully as any actual Aussie film of the new wave era. I almost wish this section were longer, but of course its economy (compressing five separate stories down to less than 45 minutes of running time) is what makes it so good.

That's when the film really takes off for me, the Oz sequence. One of the amazing things about the film is the cast; what an incredible ensemble he got on board, and I'd guess the budget wasn't too high, albeit considerably higher than the Trilogy. Did they come on board because of the Trilogy or were they attracted to the subject matter? When I say "they" I'm probably referring to the likes of Michael Hordern and Vanessa Redgrave.

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closelyobserved
Joined: Tue May 26, 2009 5:37 am
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Re: Comrades

#37 Post by closelyobserved » Tue Aug 31, 2010 2:50 am

For me, though I do love the film, the Oz second part of the film, feels at times, less sure of itself than the first part, as if this was more imagined than felt. In many ways, I could envisage a version of the film that finished at the end of Part One. Very downbeat I know, but it would be consistent. Looking at the film again recently I also still have a bit of a problem with the caricatured performances of the aristocrats. Would the film have been stronger, if they had been conveyed with the subtlety allowed the working class in the film?
If the priest was a little less eye rolling would his hypocrisy have been felt to more powerful effect. I think it would, sometimes these performances disrupt the careful flow of nuances that Douglas has set up.

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bottled spider
Joined: Thu Nov 26, 2009 2:59 am

Re: Comrades

#38 Post by bottled spider » Wed Dec 05, 2018 2:40 am

This is an unusually beautiful Blu-ray (in my admittedly limited experience as a late adopter), similar in quality to BFI's A Month in the Country .

Comparisons could also be made to Akenfield -- television sponsored, unorthodox narrative, amateur or lesser known actors, the hardship of farm labour and the steep class hierarchy...

To reiterate what's already been said upthread, Comrades is every bit in the same league as the Trilogy.

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Aunt Peg
Joined: Fri Dec 21, 2012 5:30 am

Re: Comrades

#39 Post by Aunt Peg » Wed Dec 05, 2018 7:27 am

Perkins Cobb wrote:
Mon Mar 08, 2010 4:56 am
The cameos by David Hargreaves and Arthur Dignam are a delight,
It's John Hargreaves. I have always felt a large chunk of Australian cinema died when he passed away in 1996.

It is indeed a great film and presents Australia in a way that it has never been shown before or since. Having seen Peterloo a few weeks ago, and though vastly different in style, I do think they make excellent companion pieces.

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