Sunday, June 20, 2010

David Robinson (Sodankylä Morning Discussion with Peter von Bagh)

The Sodankylä School, 20 June 2010.

The first film you saw? Say It With Song with Al Jolson. But the first film that made a mark was Alice in Wonderland (1933) when I was 3 years old. - My brother bought the book based on the illustrations. I still have the book. W.C. Fields was great as Humpty Dumpty.

Cinemagoing in the 1930s? - You stood in line for a long time. No shows on Sunday. On Friday and Saturday the lines were long. It was a family affair. - Snow White was a huge event. Bambi influenced me most. - It was very formative. I kept a notebook, where I wrote the story.

Wartime? - The cinemas were fuller than ever - it was a wartime repertory. We loved the propaganda films. The Ministry of Information recruited good documentary directors and prepared good brochures. I collected a pile of these. It was the beginning of my collection.

You were a collector first. - I collect everything.

Your studies? - There was no such thing as film studies. There were four books such as Rotha and Lindgren. Ernest Lindgren was a strange man, a remarkable man, the founder of the science fo archiving and conservation. His doctrine is still relevant. He was very meticulous and bureaucratic with the NFT. - In FIAF, Ernest's pedantry was the opposite of Langlois' craziness. - In a strange way, FIAF never had such unified strength as then. - Otherwise I studied English literature at Cambridge. I read law.

Your first film reviews? - At Cambridge I don't remember writing very much. My very first film writing was on Chaplin for Cambridge Film Society. My father had been crazy about Chaplin since 1914, "Dummy" they called him. - I met Basil Wright, president of the Documentary Film Society. - I met Gavin Lambert, editor of Sight & Sound, and then Lindsay Anderson and Karel Reisz. The deputy editor was Penelope Houston. - From that time on I was solidly writing reviews. - I worked with Reisz programming the NFT.

Financial Times was more civilized than The Times. I couldn't review weekly now, see the six films and write about them. It would be easier to review washing machines.

Reviewing and film-making? - I was very lucky as I was in the center. There was not much space, and the two offices - Sight & Sound and the NFT were adjoining. Karel Reisz spoke the most beautiful, eloquent English. Lindsay Anderson was making commercials, shouted a great deal, "never be fair". Tony Richardson was always there. Derek Prowse. The two boys who skipped the Swiss army: Claude Goretta and Alain Tanner were filing books in the library and participating in short films. Lindsay Anderson was a tremendous activist putting the film programmes together. Free Cinema grew eventually to five programs. Tony Richardson was wonderfully pushy. It was a very good little period.

A keyword was commitment? - John Russell Taylor was speaking about taking cinema seriously. - Lindsay Anderson: Stand up! stand up! -

There was the exhibition 60 years of cinema on Trafalgar Square. Henri Langlois did a marvellous job in Paris, 1955. I was made responsible in 1956 in GB, and it was a peculiar battle. Decor by Lotte Reiniger, treasures of the Cinémathèque. Lindsay's article took this as a symbol of a useless approach to cinema.

French wave / British wave? - We all adored the films, the first program was Les Mistons and Le beau Serge. I saw them in Cannes, they were shown in Free Cinema 5. We adored the films, but we didn't care much for the writing in Cahiers du Cinéma.

The summing up of the old school - the top ten of 1952. The first top ten has permanent value. - I have participated in all of those. For my own use I've put all those together. Looking at the silent films, it hasn't changed much. They get 5% of the votes now, but the titles remain much the same.

In Pordenone we are now doing The Canon Revisited. There is a difference of meaning of the word "revisited" in English and in Italian. Some expect to see films they know. There is a sense of obligation to show the obvious.

You are a well-known critic and author of books. - The first book was Hollywood in the Twenties - then, Buster Keaton - at that time, films were lost, preserved in wrong order, wrongly identified, the book was full of mistakes - but it was the first book on his films - there was the annual Keaton congress - I edited the MK2 dvd series - and revised the book. - I have created the first Keaton gagography, but nobody will publish it.

Pars pro toto: mistakes are human. You are alert in the midst of the search.

The reviewer's job? - In the London circumstances when I started it was wonderful. It was an incredible period, and it lasted a good deal of my writing term. The editors gave me complete freedom. I put Antonioni first and Hollywood stuff at the bottom.

The newspapers wanted to tell readers things they didn't know. Now they want to confirm what people think. I loved to be different. It could be something screened at a suburb cinema.

Now they need to reflect the biggest advertisers. There is panic if your films are not in the same order as the others.

Then it was a wonderful time.

The essay? - Discussing the relevance of Keaton and Pee-Wee, or an intelligent small budget film and a big budget nothing. - You never say whether a film is good or bad. Few films are good or bad. - I couldn't go back. I couldn't do it.

The vanishing race: the film critics. - Life is not all bad. Cinema lives again. The audience -  I never encounter such an audience as here. - Monsieur Verdoux got the in Sodankylä. - Although they can't control their bottles.

Music for silents in Pordenone. - The best show in town is the masterclasses.

[I had to leave in the middle, after one hour, as the bus to the Rovaniemi airport was about to leave.]

Later I heard that David's desert islands films are: Stagecoach, and Tokyo Story.

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