Cinema has always found itself delicious. Showing at the London Film Festival next month is a movie made out of movies in which people watch movies at the movies. There are movies within the movies within this movie, and it will leave you with an intense craving for popcorn – as well as celluloid.
Paul Anton Smith was one of Christian Marclay’s assistants on his tick-tock supercut The Clock. For his debut feature, he has dipped back into the archives to create Have You Seen my Movie? (2016) – a less ambitious film, but with a more romantic theme. Have You Seen my Movie?, which screens in the Experimenta strand, stitches together sequences from feature films in which characters watch films, mostly at the cinema, but occasionally in screening rooms or edit suites and in one very enjoyable sequence, at the drive-in. The movie is roughly chronological not by era, but by the stages of movie-going: beginning in the ticket queue, taking us through the whole feature presentation and ending only when the cinema has closed and the last customer has been booted out.
So there are sequences devoted to the rituals of cinemagoing – a succession of teenagers attempt to neck discreetly, talkative audience members spark a row, youngsters sneak in to see films they shouldn’t (a youthful Nicholas Hoult gets in to see A Clockwork Orange by telling the cashier she looks like Elizabeth Taylor, the wee scamp). Some scenes shown here (mostly) only happen in the movies themselves – serial killers with hidden blades, crowds of angry gunmen storming the auditorium. What I really liked was the way that nifty editing allowed characters from different films to make eye contact with each other across the seats. Because the cinema, like this film, is all about a shared experience.
The highlight of the film is a gorgeous sequence when several groups from different films all watch the Cheek to Cheek scene from Top Hat together. There’s a blissful communal viewing of the final scene of Casablanca, and Brief Encounter pops up a few times. The emotion in the red velvet seats is every bit as intense as that being mimicked on screen, and it’s very difficult not to get swept away on this thirdhand passion.
Have You Seen my Movie? is not ashamed to pilfer from the classics, so if you have a movie sequence in mind, you’ll probably find it here, from Cinema Paradiso on to Inglourious Basterds, to The Seven Year Itch, to True Romance, The Purple Rose of Cairo, The Aviator, The Last Picture Show, Vivre sa Vie, An American Werewolf in London … It’s remarkable really how often films go to the pictures. There are genre clusters, such as a foray into horror with such meta delights as Scream 2’s cast watching a recreation of the opening sequence of Scream, itself a homage to many a film that came before it. There is a deeply uncomfortable glance at pornography. And there is a whirlwind of Wurlitzers – that totem of cinematic nostalgia.
There are several trips back into the silent era, from The Artist, to The Magic Box, to Chaplin, to The Wind that Shakes the Barley (complete with Neil Brand at the piano), to Francis Bacon slavering over the Odessa Steps in Love is the Devil, but they are all impersonations. There is barely any silent footage at all. There is a tiny snippet from A Cottage on Dartmoor, but that’s it, and of course that involves the screening of a talkie. So no Sherlock Jr, for example. Perhaps Smith’s research didn’t reach that far, or he didn’t expect silents to be meta that way.
That is barely even a quibble, though, as this movie-movie offers a thoroughly engrossing two hours of cinephile joy. If there is a point to it, well I think Smith is urging us to go see a movie. A real movie, on celluloid, at a good old cinema. There are so many luscious close-ups of film being snipped and spliced and threaded and wound, so many hazy beams of light picked out by cigarette smoke here, and not a VHS or a DVD or a hard drive in sight … It’s ever so exotic.
You can see Have You Seen my Movie? at the London Film Festival on 13 October at the Prince Charles Cinema and 15 October at the Curzon Soho – two precious cinemas that still have the means to thread a projector or two. Although, in this case, Have You Seen my Movie? will be shown digitally. You can buy tickets here.
- Don’t miss Silent London’s shamelessly silent film-oriented preview of the London Film Festival.