"Thus open the gates of paradise."

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TIFF 2000 Day 6

Day 6: September 12

Beckett Shorts

This series of short films was among the best I've seen so far. Here's some notes, hastily cribbed together:

What Where

Damien O'Donnell
Written By: Samuel Beckett
Cast: Sean McGinley and Gary Lewis

Director Damien O'Donnell introduced it saying, "Thank you for coming to see my film. There are some others on after it, but you don't have to say for them. If you do leave, please do it quietly."

This is the first film adaptation of a Samuel Beckett play I've ever seen, and it's just lovely. It's set in a library of sorts -- a tall thin room with floor to ceiling books and an illuminated strip of letters running backwards from ceiling to floor. An inquisitor and two lackeys converse about an interrogation, what was learned, what was said. Like Shakespeare, it takes a while for the ear to acclimatize to the patterns of the language and to the repetition of dialog, but once it does, it becomes a puzzle. What's going on? How fast can you figure it out? There's nothing so engaging as a challenge.


Sir Richard Eyre
Written By: Samuel Beckett
Cast: Penelope Wilton

"More?" A woman rocks in a chair by night at her window. She rocks in a chair by night, by night in a chair. She rocks. By a window. She must stop.


David Mamet
Written By: Samuel Beckett
Cast: Harold Pinter, Rebecca Pidgeon, Sir John Gielgud

David Mamet's contribution to the Samuel Beckett project. Rebecca is lovely, and Sir John just has to stand, be manipulated, and have his flesh whitened. The programme book says that this is "Beckett's most overtly political work." I'm new to this, but I'm still struggling to understand why this is a political work at all. Please don't hate me.

Rough For Theatre

Kieron J. Walsh
Written By: Samuel Beckett
Cast: David Kelly, Milo O'Shea

A back alley in Dublin has never looked so forlorn as in this film, shot in crisp black and white. Kelly and O'Shea play a blind violin player (he can't play at all) and a one-legged man in a wheelchair. Unlike the other plays presented in this series, there was no discernable repeated dialog.


Anthony Minghella
Written By: Samuel Beckett
Cast: Alan Rickman, Juliet Stevenson, Kristin Scott Thomas

Minghella was there to introduce the film, though I can't remember what he said, exactly Three people in urns tell a story, very quickly, twice. Minghella noted that, "Alan Rickman has never spoken so fast in his life."

O'Donnell and Minghella stayed for the Q&A, as did the series' producers, Michael Colgon and Alan Moloney

Q: I understand these films were shown at the Venice International Film Festival. How were they received there?

A: (Minghella) The only thing anyone was talking about was Atom Egoyan. No one even mentioned the other ones. Is that the answer you were looking for?

Q: Do you know who I am?

A: (Minghella) Aren't you his father? [Yes, it was]

Q: What did you think of the other directors' work?

A: (Minghella) I though Damien's was the best of the lot.

A: (O'Donnell) Yes. It was the best. I hope it wasn't too bad having to sit through the others.

Q: Did Beckett give any details about what order his plays should be seen?

A: (Colgon or Moloney) No. He wrote 20, but said he didn't want one to be performed. There's some controversy about this because if he really didn't want it performed, he could have destroyed it, but he didn't.

A: (O'Donnell) I think the festival did a really good job of programming these films together. I wouldn't want mine to be shown with some other action genre film, or in a programme of short films, because it's too much of a shock [too different from anything that's not Beckett.] If you show them all at once like this, by the second film, you're into the rhythm of the language.

On the way out, Minghella remarked that some of the outtakes from "Play" were great fun because of all the mistakes the actors made. When you're speaking that quickly, it's inevitable.

The Turandot Project

Allan Miller
USA/Germany, 2000

A documentary about a production of the Puccini opera "Turandot", originally mounted in Florence, and then in Beijing. The claim to fame: it would be directed by Chinese film director Zhang Yimou of "Raise The Red Lantern" fame. Conductor Zubin Mehta wanted this to be an "authentic" production: real Chinese design, not a western imitation, not something that "looks like a Chinese restaurant."

If you're going to make a film about "Turandot", you had better open with "Nessun Dorma", and close with "Nessun Dorma." And play it a couple of times in between for good measure, which is exactly what this documentary does, so that's good.

While it does take us behind the scenes of the production, and it is mostly fun to watch, as a documentary, it doesn't come close to the really good ones I've seen ("The War Room" for example). It doesn't show much of the creative decision making, which I found disappointing. I say "much" because we do get to see a very interesting conversation between Yimou and the Italian lighting director for the Beijing performance. Yimou wanted more light; the lighting director wanted less in an effort to prevent the show from devolving into mere "spectacle." And there are plenty of scenes showing the woman from the Beijing Opera (Ballet? Circus?) practicing as The Executioner (she's great, by the way.) And hundreds of young men from the army, assigned to the production as extras to play Imperial guards. Their drill sergeant commanded them not to look at the women, especially the "ballet dancers." Being young men, of course they do.

Rosie told me that some opera friends of hers had seen the first screening of this movie and had given it an ovation at the end. (The film ends the same as the opera, with a reprise of "Nessun Dorma") While I felt a swell of something myself, I don't think it was actually for the movie -- it was for the music, and for the great splay of Ming Dynasty costumes and set design. It was for the spectacle, you could say.

This will likely show on "The Passionate Eye" and will be interrupted every 15 minutes for commercials and new, and no one will mind a bit.

Canadian Shorts


Keith Behrman

Director Keith Behrman shows a lot of skill and promise here. It's about a high school student named Ernest who is audited (financially) by his control-freak father. What's notable about this short is the way the characters of Ernest's parents are so well revealed without obvious exposition. I hated them both in under 10 minutes. I attribute such a fast and unforced reaction from me to both the actors' skill and to a very good script.

The Lost Bundefjord Expedition

Matt Holm

A fake documentary about a team of arctic explorers trying to cross a frozen lake. It's light fun, but not jumping-up-and-down-fabulous. When asked where he got his inspiration from the film, Matt Holm said, "I'm obsessed with Arctic explorers."

Monday With The Martins

Jeffery Erbach

The director summed it up best in his introduction: "I'd like to thank CityTV for paying for this movie about a man with a hand for a penis."

New Neighbours

Anita McGee

"I've always thought it interesting that a woman could have an orgasm just from reading." -- McGee.

Abe's Manhood

Aubrey Nealon

Abe does not yet feel like a man, despite being in his mid 20's. He needs a ceremony to mark his passage into manhood. Not having one handy, he writes his own: Three days without eating or sleeping, followed by circumcision by a tattoo artist. You can imagine that Abe's girlfriend is not terribly impressed. Very nicely done.

Moon Palace

David Weaver

I could have sworn this idea was lifted from an old "Twilight Zone" episode: Slacker -- sorry, "writer" is hired by a Chinese restaurant to spy on customers and to craft custom messages for their fortune cookies. There's some good writing here, though I might have trimmed a bit more of the film away. Director David Weaver said he was working on a longer version of the story (or was it a follow-on) that he's hoping to turn into a feature.


Bryan Johnson
USA, 2000
Cast: Bryan Johnson, Ralph Lambiase, Scott Mosier, Brian O'Halloran, Brian Quinn, Scott Schiaffo, Kevin Smith, Ethan Suplee


I had no idea Kevin Smith was the executive producer on this until Sunny mentioned it in the line up. Smith was there to introduce the writer/director Bryan Johnson saying: "I don't encourage anyone to make films because frankly, I don't need the competition. But I did encourage, and am honoured to introduce... Bryan Johnson."

I would encourage him to write too because we clearly needs some practice. This is a dreadful film, and here's why:

  • Technically, it's the pits. Bad sound, bad lighting, grim camerawork.
  • Bad writing
  • Bad (unbelievable) acting

The Festival programme book claims there are hilariously funny parts to this. After a protracted triple rape scene, I began to sense that there was no hilarity forthcoming and left. Once again I could tell in the first five minutes what took me twenty-five to act on: this film is crap.