The portmanteau film has been enjoying something of a comeback of late. As I write Tickets, a triptych directed by Abbas Kiarostami, Ken Loach and Ermanni Olmi, is due in cinemas, whilst recent years have produced compilations as diverse as Eros, Three and 11”09’09 - and you could perhaps add BMW’s collection of The Hire shorts to that list. It all harks back to the auteurist sixties when the likes of Godard and Truffaut, Fellini and Pasolini would team up for The Witches, RoGoPaG, Histoires extraordinaire and other hit-and-miss packages. Indeed, these two Ten Minutes Older ventures, intended as companion pieces, are clearly hoping to emulate these works; between them they house contributions of fifteen directors of international renown, from Wim Wenders and Victor Erice to Bernardo Bertolucci and Mike Figgis. And, perhaps inevitably, Jean-Luc Godard. Moreover, each segment is greeted by its maker’s signature – so it comes as no surprise to discover that they are the projects’ guiding factors.
There is a theme however, that of “visions of time”, and it serves both features. Yet it’s also an exceedingly loose one meaning that it never really holds much sway; come to the film unaware of what unites them and you’d be hard pressed to make the connection. As such it also becomes difficult to decide quite how to approach these works. Viewing them on DVD as part of this two-disc set, we can flick between the component parts at will. There is a vague idea of a governing structure to both features – each segment alternates between black and white and colour; you could perhaps plot a graph of intensity if you will, and discover that some pieces up the tempo whilst others serve as breathers – but ultimately we’re forced to look at the film as being part of one unifying project. And in this respect the following review will not treat The Trumpet and The Cello as individual works, but as one.
For all the looseness of the central theme, time does in fact become the most intriguing factor. Not in any conceptual sense however, but rather in relation to how the filmmakers operate within the confines of a much shorter duration. These are feature film directors, after all, though here we find them allotted only ten minutes apiece. In some cases this proves an unexpected bonus. Take the Bertolucci, ‘Histoire d’eaux’, as an example: after two decades of often flabby, overlong epics, here he’s forced to pare away all of the excesses and get straight to the point. Figgis on the other hand reuses his four-screen technique (from Hotel and Timecode) for ‘About Time 2’, though here it’s the audience who have to make the readjustment. Whereas with Hotel and Timecode we had the luxury of a feature length and therefore didn’t feel overburdened as to where are attentions should lie, here we have only ten minutes to pick everything up and comprehend it. That Figgis is being far more elusive than usual only serves to intensify our task.
Yet if these pieces feel like finished articles, others could be seen as mere beginnings or endings to prospective features. ‘Dogs Have No Hell’ and ‘Ten Minutes After’, the respective contributions of Aki Kaurismäki and István Szábo, are just that. Both told in a style that is immediately their directors’ (Kaurismäki even casts regulars Kati Outinen and Kari Väänänen) and this leaves you wanting more. They try to cope with the shorter format by adopting a real time approach, yet you still get the impression that these could be mere scenes or set-pieces from a much bigger narrative.
Interestingly, some of the documentary pieces prompt similar reactions. Werner Herzog’s ‘Ten Thousand Years Older’ whets the appetite for a long-form consideration of the nomadic tribe at its centre, one who were introduced to twentieth century living in 1981. Despite its brief running time it’s still able to cover a lot of thematic ground – the generation gap, mortality, evolution – yet it can’t help but feel more like a taster than the genuine article. In contrast Spike Lee’s ‘We Wuz Robbed’ loses out by not having the time to cover all of the bases. It therefore emerges only as a one-sided account of the 2000 US presidential election and as such shouldn’t be considered as anything more than an aside. Certainly, it’s still heralded as “A Spike Lee Joint” and comes with the director’s typically expressive visual side intact, yet its lacks the strength of argument that went into 4 Little Girls, his previous foray into political documentary filmmaking.
Indeed, the pieces which emerge as the most accomplished – and therefore most satisfactory – are the one which could only be ten minutes in length; anything remotely shorter or longer and they may lose certain qualities. ‘Twelve Minutes to Trona’, Wenders lysergic take on C’était un rendezvous, is one such piece as is Erice’s ‘Lifelines’, the one contribution which is singled out time and again as the films’ standout effort. Similarly, those which take the more experiment approach (though this may also demonstrate how preferences may come down to personal tastes as much as they do the qualities of the films themselves) seem to come of much better. Both Godard and Jirí Menzel, with ‘Dans le noir’ and ‘One Moment’ respectively, use cinema’s past to create patchwork documentaries with a highly discernible fin de siècle mood: Godard, of course, is concerned with the end of cinema; Menzel uses Rudolph Hrusínsky’s cinema career to express an entire lifetime in his allotted time.
Certainly, the unifying theme does come through on occasion, but in such a loose and often chaotic manner than the respective Ten Minutes Olders never quite work as a whole. Indeed, it’s a practical impossibility given how they can house both the grandiose science-fiction of Michael Radford’s ‘Addicted to the Stars’ and Jim Jarmusch’s ‘Int. Trailer. Night’, which is low key even for him. Moreover, the disparate ways in which this theme has been interpreted – borrowed time, dead time, real time, even time travel – mean that any interest is unlikely to emerge from this particular dimension. Rather it’s the chance to catch up with some directors of whom we’ve seen too little of in the past few years (Erice, Menzel) and to see others grapple with their self-imposed restraints which makes these works to fascinating. And in this respect there’s plenty to enjoy (only Volker Schlöndorff and Chen Kaige could be said to have produced duds) even if they can never quite match their best efforts.
Both The Trumpet and The Cello are treated to their own discs and come with identical extras and presentations. With regards to the former this amounts to nothing, but then the latter is rather pleasing. Indeed, the only major complaint is that the films come without anamorphic enhancement, otherwise we have the original aspect ratios and prints in exceptional condition. Damage is at a bare minimal, whilst contrast and clarity are near excellent. Of course, the discs have numerous film stocks and styles to contend with, yet the only discernible flaws are the occasional instance of artefacting and some edge enhancement on the higher contrast black and white pieces. Also worth noting is the flicker that appears towards the end of Wenders’ effort, though given its overt stylisation and visual manipulation this may very well have been intentional. As for soundtracks, both The Trumpet and The Cello come in their original Dolby Stereo form and sound absolutely fine – from the talking heads of ‘We Wuz Robbed’ to the Bach of ‘Int. Trailer. Night’, there really are no problems to note.
Anthony Nield takes a look at Blue Dolphin's recently released two-disc offering of the Ten Minutes Older compendiums. Undeniably wayward in style and execution, these films nonetheless present new works from the likes of Jean-Luc Godard, Victor Erice and Jim Jarmusch - plus twelve others.