Ed­i­tor-at-large Jamie gra­ham lifts the lid on film jour­nal­ism.

Total Film - - Contents - Jamie will re­turn next is­sue… For more mis­ad­ven­tures, fol­low: @jamie_­gra­ham9 on Twit­ter.

Jamie on the del­i­cate art of watch­ing un­fin­ished films.

Acou­ple of months ago, I was among a hand­ful of film jour­nal­ists in­vited to a hush­hush screen­ing of Sus­piria. As the lights went down, we were warned that the English sub­ti­tles were yet to be added to the “cou­ple” of scenes that play out in Ger­man, but dis­trib­u­tor MUBI was ea­ger to show us the movie and gar­ner our thoughts. Turns out that about 25 per cent of the film is in Ger­man and my thoughts were thus: “For fuck’s sake.” Per­haps it was some meta-ex­per­i­ment, for Mater Sus­piri­o­rum, aka the Mother of Sighs, cer­tainly had ev­ery­one ex­hal­ing loudly that night.

As a film jour­nal­ist, you’re oc­ca­sion­ally shown an un­fin­ished film – not for re­view pur­poses, but so that dis­tribs might know what they have on their hands or so a journo can get the gist be­fore an in­ter­view. Of­ten it’s sim­ply in need of some colour cor­rec­tions or mu­sic cues; some­times it’s miss­ing FX se­quences, which is dis­com­bob­u­lat­ing but also kinda cool, mak­ing me think of Ge­orge Lu­cas screen­ing Star Wars to his fel­low movie brats with footage of World War 2 dog­fights act­ing as place­hold­ers for space bat­tles. De Palma thought it was garbage but Spiel­berg got it – all it takes is a lit­tle imag­i­na­tion.


The prob­lem is that it pulls back the cur­tain to re­veal the but­ton­push­ing me­chan­ics. Noth­ing quite snaps you out of a movie like hav­ing a blank screen in­ter­rupt the ac­tion with “ES­TAB­LISH­ING AERIAL SHOT OF PARIS” em­bla­zoned upon it.

The first time I saw The Mar­tian, many of the ef­fects shots were still in the lab, mean­ing I watched an­i­mat­ics of Matt Da­mon blast­ing off from Mars in his des­per­ate at­tempt to trade poo-tatoes for a bag of McCain’s. How To Train Your Dragon 2 flip-flopped be­tween fully ren­dered scenes and sto­ry­boards, while The Lego Bat­man Movie did the same dur­ing sin­gle con­ver­sa­tions

– one shot would be pris­tine, the re­verse shot rough. And then there was the time I saw We Were Sol­diers ac­com­pa­nied by Hans Zim­mer’s score to The Thin Red Line; the emo­tional wal­lop was con­sid­er­able, and en­tirely lost when Nick Glen­nie-Smith’s mu­sic was fi­nally fit­ted, all sledge­ham­mer and slush.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen any­thing to com­pare to the ex­pe­ri­ence that be­fell one of my col­leagues, mind – in­vited to an early cut of a film that shall not be named, the plen­ti­ful nu­dity fea­tured an A-list star still wear­ing her un­com­fort­ablelook­ing mod­esty patch be­fore it was dig­i­tally re­moved. Turns out ac­tors are telling the truth when they say that shoot­ing sex scenes is far from sexy.


And yet some­times watch­ing an un­locked pic­ture is ace. At Cannes in 2017, You Were Never Re­ally Here was miss­ing its end cred­its be­cause Lynne Ram­say was work­ing on it un­til the day be­fore it screened. In fact, the buzz through­out the fest was that it might not make it in time, and the at­mos­phere when the cur­tain rose on a still-wet print was elec­tric.

More mem­o­rable still was the re­ac­tion, again at Cannes, to Vin­cent Gallo’s fea­ture The Brown Bunny. Such was the tox­i­c­ity that the film didn’t get a re­lease for more than a year, and then mi­nus 25 min­utes. Which means I was one of just 400 peo­ple in the world who saw the in­fa­mous blowjob scene in all of its, ahem, ex­tended glory. And you know what? That first cut was great. In­dul­gent, yes, but also scuzzily beau­ti­ful, de­serv­ing of its place in Cahiers Du Cinéma’s top 10 of the year.

Some­times, a work in progress, un­tamed, doesn’t strip away the magic at all. Some­times it feels more alive than the fin­ished film.


Jamie, for­tu­nately, is flu­ent in the lan­guage of in­ter­pre­tive dance…

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