What was it for you, that life-changing moment? As film lovers, most of us have one. The point at which a mild interest suddenly becomes a love affair, a passion and a way of life.
For me, it was finding this magazine at a second hand market in the Edinburgh Meadows. I was a first year student at the university there and for something like £5 a year we could see unlimited movies at the Film Society, so my film education had already begun. The Film Society put on the most amazing double-bills: The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and Suspiria, Mizoguchi and John Ford, Paul Schrader’s Blue Collar alongside Robert Frank’s Pull my Daisy. Like the Surrealist poets in the 30s, half the time we didn’t know anything about the film or what we were turning up to see but we went along anyway. There were some dud moments – but very rarely.
It was an incredible education that stuck with me long after my course, and it paved the way for a lifelong love affair but the real clincher was finding this magazine. I think the film soc had done a double bill of “Belle et la Bete” and “The Singing Ringing Tree” (now there’s a thought…) so I had vaguely heard of Cocteau, but something about this cover really drew me in, and by the time I had flicked through the pages of the French issue (Godard! Orphee! Pickpocket! The Wages of Fear! Jaques Tati!) I was a goner.
The film I couldn’t wait to see was “Orphee” – just reading about it and seeing these pictures felt like a door opening into another realm, a new understanding of cinema as not just an evening’s entertainment but actually as an art form.
Orphee wasn’t in the programme at the film soc and as this was way before DVDs and downloads, by the time I actually got to see the film itself, I was already making my own films – but it was worth the wait.
In some ways camp as a nine bob note (Jean Marais was Cocteau’s long term lover and it’s hard to see him as a convincingly devoted husband), it’s nevertheless a visually stunning and mysterious film, its monochrome gorgeousness set off by the New Look chic of Maria Casares as well as the experimental cinematography and soundtrack. Every time I see it, I see something new, and continue to be amazed that in these days of CGI wonders, the imagery and the in-camera special effects still have an innovation and style that belies their date.
So many things in Orphee – passing through a mirror into another dimension, the psychedelic journey through a dream world, sudden changes of colour scheme to denote emotional shock – have been referenced by other film-makers from Jean Luc Godard to Ridley Scott and Christopher Nolan (Inception is fundamentally the Orphic myth, the hero travelling in search of lost loved ones through an underworld that may consume him if he makes the wrong move…)
Meanwhile, the strange audio effects and the haunting fragments of speech transmitted through the car radio may reference wartime broadcasts as well as experiments to capture the voices of the dead, but also herald the future merging of poetry and jazz and random sampling. Watch it and find your own points of reference.
We’re screening “Orphee” as part of the Off the Shelf festival, with a “Café des Poetes” ambience and a chance to discuss the film afterwards (see Coming Up). We really hope you will enjoy it too – in the meantime, tell us about your moments of falling in love with film. Where was it, and when, and what was the film? We’d love to know….