Rotterdam Film Festival 2018, Day 5: Annette Bening Can’t Save Gloria Grahame Biopic

Beyond tracking the latest discoveries on the scene, festivals have a responsibility to the history of cinema. And that of Rotterdam demonstrates it by integrating classics within its different sections, normalizing their presence alongside current titles.. A very successful way of establishing a dialogue that goes beyond the impositions of contemporary cinema, which in any case will always be connected to the long century of history that precedes it. These embers include the presence of ‘El disenchantment’ by Jaime Chávarri, ‘House Party’ by Reginald Hudlin, ‘The sun always shines in Kentucky’ by John Ford or ‘A mosca cieca’ by Romano Scavolini, a kind of response to ‘At the end of the getaway’, which was censored and whose original montage was considered lost for years, from which the restoration of the Italian National Cineteca was screened.

In this chronicle we focus on two radically opposite approaches to the history of cinema, which demonstrate the heterogeneous program of the festival. ‘Movie stars don’t die in Liverpool’, a biopic that delves into the last years of the life of actress Gloria Grahame, and ‘The Infinite Movie’, a project as unusual as it is fascinating, which combines cinematographic preservation and experimental remixing from fragments of unfinished Argentine films.

During the opening credits of ‘Movie stars don’t die in Liverpool’ we are allowed access to the interior of Gloria Grahame’s toiletry bag, in which he keeps, among cosmetic products of all kinds, precious memories of his past in Hollywood. Objects of enormous emotional value, capable of evoking the protagonist of ‘In a lonely place’ better than the rest of the film, which is shipwrecked by focusing on her last and stormy romantic relationship, full of common places.

Movie stars don't die in Hollywood

One quickly comes to the conclusion that the problem with this adaptation of Peter Turner’s autobiography is its director, the British Paul McGuigan, who has lost his creative pulse and accepts any commission or episode of a television series that passes through his hands. Aware that he is facing an opportunity with which to show off for the Oscars, we see him more pending to execute leaden camera movements than to approach the material with a minimum of personality. The director of ‘Sherlock’ resorts to conventional montages with music from the 70s, confuses the vintage setting with reloading each shot with green screens and plans tacky temporary transitions in sequence shot, but then it turns out to be unable to film a conversation without resorting to the shot-reverse shot. Where is the style then? Does this word still make sense in much of today’s cinema?

We will soon discover that the script has no remedy either. Full of that kind of dialogue that verbalizes who Gloria Grahame is and her career, in case someone is left confused in the room, also confusing cinephilia with gossip from the pink press, Matt Greenhalgh’s libretto (‘Control’) refuses to delve into the relationship of its protagonists, interrupted by capricious temporal jumps, reaching the point of repeating the same situation from different points of view, with the sole purpose of dramatically recreating themselves in Gloria Grahame’s terminal illness. It is a pity that the project does not live up to her memory or to an Annette Bening who exposes her wrinkles in all splendor, bringing fragility and sweetness to her performance., although the tear incontinence of Jamie Bell as his cowardly partner ends up contaminating it, starring in a reading of Romeo and Juliet that falls without blushing into the embarrassment. A biopic to forget.

'The infinite movie'

When the cinema takes on a new life

With ‘The infinite film we find ourselves before a captivating collage that recovers fragments of unfinished films from the recent history of Argentine cinema, in a simultaneous exercise of conservation and unprecedented formal exploration. Although in avant-garde cinema there are multiple cases of authors who have made use of found footage and have appropriated foreign celluloid for their artistic interests, such as the Austrian Peter Tscherkassky, it is difficult to think of a project with such ambition.

Like trying to read Hopscotch without instructions, letting ourselves be carried away by chance, sequences are enchained with no apparent narrative connection between them (obviously, they belong to different filmmakers and periods, there is even an animation piece), but little by little common elements emerge, even an actress, our impossible protagonist, from which the montage gives meaning to the whole. We will not say that it gives it linearity, it would be absurd to try, but it does generate evocative connections that could have given to multiple films, hence its title. This is only one of the infinite films that we could see based on the existing material. And also, the fact that they are not finished gives them this timeless entity.

The infinite movie

The key by which the filmmaker and curator Leandro Listorti makes the experiment work lies in the partial reconstruction of the sound design, which tries to endow the images with strangeness, only doubling some dialogues or accentuating certain sounds, reminding us of its condition as an unfinished film. In this sense, Listorti integrates the reel jumps between shot and shot, shows the failures of the shoot or uses disposable a priori scenes. Definitely, assumes the imperfection of filming on celluloid, including the presence of clapperboards and other elements that break the illusion of cinema, but on this occasion keep it alive.

Films such as ‘Leisure’ by Mariano Llinás and works by directors as relevant and far removed from the prevailing sensibility as Hugo Gil, Alejandro Agresti or Martin Rejtman take on a new dimension, they are rescued from oblivion and abandonment to talk with each other. Because as its author confessed in the colloquium, in the film libraries there is no space for unfinished films, so it was necessary to look for them in the houses of the filmmakers. A material in 16mm and 35mm that they had to digitize and preserve, fulfilling a double function that turns ‘The infinite movie’ into a narrative experience and a treasure of Argentine cinema.