IT SHOULDN’T HAPPEN TO A FILM JOURNALIST
Editor-at-large Jamie graham lifts the lid on film journalism.
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.
NUTS AND BOLTS
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.
FIRST CUT IS DEEPEST
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.
‘ACTORS AREN’T LYING WHEN THEY SAY THAT SHOOTING SEX SCENES IS FAR FROM SEXY’
Jamie, fortunately, is fluent in the language of interpretive dance…