Apostrophe Soixante-Huit

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EXPLANATION IMMINENT. In the meantime just enjoy this piece on Charlie Bubbles.

’68 Number One – Charlie Bubbles


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The sole directorial effort from legendary British actor Albert Finney, Charlie Bubbles is a wonderful lost gem from the late 1960′s. The story of a successful writer returning home to the Northern town that he grew up in, the film is a welcome spin on the brand of kitchen sink drama that Finney made his name acting in, with allusions made to his role in Karel Reisz’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, as well as other films of the movement such as The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner and Look Back in Anger. The “welcome spin” that was referred to is the slightly surrealist take on the execution of the story, with influence from the European cinema of the time evident.

The most notable of these European stylistic influences comes in the shape of the complex scene set within the confines of Charlie’s home workspace. In front of Charlie’s work desk lies a series of 10 security cameras, with each one filming a specific room in Charlie’s house. For the ensuing ten minutes or so we see the story unfold as key characters move from room to room. Its a very cinematic technique, and is perhaps a sign of a debutante at work, as per the visual flair and experimentation. Freezeframing and heavily paced editing (as per Bresson) features at points too, with the quirky nature of the food fight displaying not only a technical pacing far from the expected but also proving to be an effective announement of the move away from traditional execution for the filmmaker. We are immediately aware that this isnt just another kitchen sink drama. The use of inconsequential dialogue in several key scenes (the service station encounter being the most immediate) that doesn’t flow naturally and seems to be bordering on nonsense reminds heavily of Godard and the like, as does the ambiguous nature of Charlie’s relationship with several of the people he meets along his journey.

This is countered by some heavily reactionary meeting with virtual strangers. For example Charlie’s encounter with the elderly waiter at his hotel is very moving, as is the hopeless relationship between Charlie and his son, which comes to an ultimate fruition during a rather awkward football match. At times Charlie comes across as somewhere between polite and passive (see the way he handles the talkative RAF soldier), but this lifeless appearance makes the more articulate scenes all the more effective. Its a testament to Finney’s performance that such subtleties prove so effective. Finney surrounds himself with great actors, with special mention must go to Liza Minnelli, in a role which reminds of how great she once was, prior to becoming a tabloid oddity.

The ending to Charlie Bubbles is wrought in ambiguity, which again furthers the film from its kitchen-sink roots and serves to be the most apt conclusion to a genuinely wonderful piece of British Cinema, and one that ought to be celebrated much more vocally.

’68 Number Two – The Firemen’s Ball

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Screened as part of the Apostrophe Sioxante Huit Project, Milos Forman’s groundbreaking early career highlight, The Firemen’s Ball tells the story of the eponymous annual event in the firefighters calendar. Based on real events witnessed by Forman, the film is presumed to be a political allegory, yet Forman attests these charges. As a result the film was “banned forever” in his native Czechoslovakia.

The film is made up of several interconnecting anecdotes over a slim running time of 72 minutes. This brief running time and situation-based nature of the comedy reminds of a traditional television sitcom at times, yet the beautiful photography helps a great deal to seperate the film from such fare. The comedy is laugh out loud funny, despite the age that has passed since production and is definately not lost in translation.

Its obvious at times why people mistakenly believed that The Firemen’s Ball did indeed contain a political message, as some of the humour could easily be interpretted in that manner. For example the way that the spectatorial attitude of the masses gathered outside of the burning house is presented is highly cynical, and could be seen as an approach to tackling the contextual political situation in Czechoslovakia in 1967. Further to this, the way in which the gathered masses applaud themselves upon being thanked for giving the man raffle tickets for the practically non-existent tombola also felt satirical in tone. As a result I’m not sure whether or not I believe Forman when he claims that the film contains “hidden symbols or double meanings”.

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