Posts Tagged ‘BFI’

The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

Dir.: Ernst Lubitsch; Cast: Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart, Frank Morgan, Joseph Schildkraut, Felix Bressart, William Tray; USA 1940, 99 min.

“The American movie-going public has the mind of a 12-year old child; it must have life as it isn’t. (Ernst Lubitsch)”

Of all Hollywood’s immigrant filmmakers, German born Ernst Lubitsch (1892-1947) was the most successful in serving his new audience, adapting well to the change-over from silent to sound. The “Lubitsch touch” became a trademark, success was guaranteed, he reeled off classic Hollywood comedies like Trouble in Paradise, Ninotchka or To Be or Not To Be. He would have churned out even more, but for a heart condition which slowed him down in final years of his life, succumbing to it whilst shooting That Lady in Ermine.

The Shop Around the Corner is based on the play ‘Parfumerie’ by Miklos Laszlo, adapted for the screen by Lubitsch regular Samson Raphaelson (Heaven Can Wait), with some uncredited work by Ben Hecht. Whereas most of his comedies played out in world of the idle rich, The Shop is set in a working environment, taking him back to his father’s tailoring business where he did the accounts as he took his first steps as a stage actor.

The setting is a leather-goods and novelty shop in Budapest (via Hollywood), run by the imperious Hugo Matuschek (Morgan), whose bark is worse than his bite. His deputy is Alfred Kralik (Stewart), a likeable but air-headed man and the day unfolds amid bickering with new shop assistant Klara Novak (Sullavan). Little do they know that after office hours they are falling in love through the post as each other’s anonymous pen pal.

When the great day arrives for the ‘lovers’ first meeting in a local cafe, Mr. Matuschek orders his staff to stay late for an inventory, and then later fires Kralik suspecting him of having an affair with his wife. The real culprit will be soon be revealed. Off to his meeting Kralik looks through the window and, to his horror, sees Klara reading Tolstoi at the cafe table. He enters, talks to her, but does not reveal his true identity. Meanwhile, Mr. Matuschek is saved from suicide by the apprentice Pepi (Tray) who is promoted, as is Kralik who then becomes the manager.

The film positively glows in fluffy fairy-tale black-and white by William Daniels (Cat On A Hot Tin Roof), Lubitsch again ducks the censors by talking sex, but only showing a perfunctionary final kiss. The director might have been inspired by the relationship of Maurice Chevalier and Jeannette McDonald who played love birds in numerous features, despite oathing each other off screen. Lubitsch directed McDonald’s debut (and also his first sound feature) alongside Chevalier in The Love Parade (1929). Often remade with disappointing results – with Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail (1998) the latest offering, Lubitsch’s The Shop is from another universe: A true classic.AS

IN CINEMAS FROM 3 DECEMBER 2021

The Conscience (2021)

Dir.: Aleksey Kozlov; Cast: Vladislav Komarov, Alexandre Kononets, Vasily Shcipitsyn, Natalya Sveshinova; Russia 2021, 93 min.

Already winning awards for screenplay and artistic achievement this compulsive crime drama from Russian director/co-writer Aleksey Kozlov takes place in the early 1920s Petrograd where Boris Letush, a law professor at the university, becomes embroiled in a dark underworld of politics and secret police while investigating the death of his brother and sister in law, – his nieceMargo survived, but was struck dumb by the traumatic experience.

Letush (Komarov) is a busy man. Teaching his university students, and actively working for the Police, his boss Matveer (Shcipitsyn) is an unscrupulous and greedy little man, who steals food and sleeps with women who are in thrall to, fully aware he has syphilis. So far the chief murder suspect is a well known felon and gang leader Lyonka Panteleev (Komonets). The police boss is convinced he has his man but Letush suspects Matveer himself of the crime, and his lover, a cabaret singer, is ready to denounce him. But the fly in the ointment is that Panteleev was also working for the police as undercover agent. But the do decide to go ahead with Matveer’s plan to have Panteleev ‘escape’ from prison, being shot “whilst escaping”.

Of course it all goes wrong on the night and Panteleev escapes for real, leaving Letush and Msatveer in the lurch, and attracting the attention of the Cheka (Secret Police) after  Letush’s lover Vera (Sveshinova) falls foul of the law trying to escape to Paris.

Paranoia seethes throughout a city where everyone seems to be untrustworthy, not least the Cheka on the regular Police. Letush, for all his scruples, is caught up in these over-lapping spider-webs of deceit. He may be a goodie with the best of intentions but somehow the climate conspires against him, leaving him no alternative but to participate if he wants to save Vera and Margo.

Throwing shadows all over the place, DoP Viacheslav Tyurin creates a German expressionist underworld of subterfuge and sculduggery where it never seems to get light as the characters struggle to survive the atmosphere of menace. There is no quarter given for mitigation or self doubt, the only way forward is to hunt with the wolves, as Letush will find eventually find out to his chagrin. AS

THE CONSCIENCE is showing as part of the London Russian Film Festival, currently being held for the first time in the UK – from November 12 to December 10, 2021. New customers can enjoy the festival films on BFI PLAYER as part of an extended Subscription free trial using the voucher code RFF21.

 

ALSO SCREENING AT THIS YEAR’S TALLINN FILM FESTIVAL 

 

Stanislavski. Lust for Life (2020)

Dir.: Julia Bobkova; Documentary with Declan Donnellan, Renata Litvinova, Katie Mitchell, Nikita Mikhalkov, Marina Brusnikina, Yuriy Butosov, Oskaras Korsunovas, Lev Dodin; Russia 2020, 82 min.

A new film explores the pioneering work of Russian actor and director Konstantin Stanislavski (1863-1938) who became synonymous with a performance style based on his ‘Actor’s Manual’ in three parts, published during the 1930s.

The ‘Stanislavski Method’ is the bible of all progressive theatre artists, and still hotly discussed in all the best dressing rooms, even though Stanislavski himself is quoted saying “Create your own method, don’t rely on mine. Keep on breaking traditions”. Stanislavski himself managed to maintain his inner freedom and true artistry within the harsh boundaries of the Soviet system, all thanks to the power of his prodigious talent.

The MHAT (Moscow Arts Theatre, which Stanislavski founded with Vladimir Nemerovich in 1898), seems an appropriate setting for a series of interviews with leading proponents on this method immersive feature documentary directed by Julia Bobkova. We meet Lithuanian director Oskaras Korsunovas who claims sitting in Stanislavski’s chair, rehearsing ‘The Seagul l’, gave him the inspiration for his performance. Marina Brusnikina, also a stage director, talks about the master’s polemic writing “Theatre is Dying”, which was published when he was still alive in the late 1930s. She sees the modern actor as a journalist and explorer, crossing the borderline of regular theatre. She laments the fact that Shakespeare is no longer on the curriculum in London acting schools. The general consensus nowadays is that studying the bard is unlikely to help you a get slot on HBO as a filmmaker.

Katie Mitchell, Artistic Director of the ‘Globe Theatre’ (and stage director of a Virginia Wolfe novel based purely on the reflections of the main character) goes a step further: “Cinema deprives the audience of imagination. It replaces imagination with itself. Theatre happens not so much on the stage, but in the imagination of the audience”. Russian film and stage director Nikita Mikalkov (Burnt by the Sun) talks about his adaption of Stanislavski’s approach to rehearsals: “During rehearsals, with five or more cameras active, I ask one of the actors to do something which is not in the script, like putting a cup of tea forcefully on the table where the rest of the cast is sitting. Their reaction is priceless and gives me ideas.”

An exhibition at the MHAT shows stills and other memorabilia of all “Seagull” productions the theatre has ever staged, from Stanislavski’s (it did not open the theatre as commonly reported) to the most recent, directed by Oskaras Korsunovas.

Stanislavski’s tour of the USA from 1922-24 was a great success, and “was the best thing that could have happened to Hollywood. Many Russian directors and actors left the hunger they faced in Stalinist Russia, and emigrated to the New World”. Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren are seen heaping praise on the Russian innovator. Renata Litvinova, who teaches at the ‘Actor’s Studio’ is adamant, that “Genius is 95% work. You have to throw yourself away every day.” And Ivana Chubbuck, who has taught countless Oscar and Emmy winners, underlines Litvinova’s sentiments: “It is not just one day, where you have to give everything, it is your life”. There are some pessimistic thoughts raised at the MHAT events: “Now the office dictates to actors and directors. But it should be the other way round. People become more and more irrelevant, as we head to a virtual life. It’s a kind of de-personalisation, with a lack of direct, intimate connections. Today everything is becoming a sort of a product measured in currency.”

At the end of the film, the actors and directors are given some writing by Stanislavski to read out in front of the camera. Declan Donellan, Artistic Director of ‘Cheek by Jowl’, is annoyed when he reads the Master’s advice not to copy him, and goes spontaneously on strike.

Bobkova keeps talking heads to a minimum, thus avoiding hagiography, instead her more radical approach focuses on the lively camera crew of six and entertaining archive clips of the master, bringing the past and the present together, and keeping Stanislavski’s independent spirit alive. AS

If you’re in the UK you can discover the best in contemporary Russian cinema as part of an extended free trial to BFI Player Subscription – simply sign up here using voucher code RFF21 to claim an additional free month.

RUSSIAN FILM AT TALLINN BLACK NIGHTS FILM FESTIVAL 2021 are also screening CONSCIENCE, STANISLAVSKI, A SIEGE DIARY, LAST ‘DEAR BULGARY’

The Outlaws (2021) Bfi London Film Festival

Dir.; Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken; Cast: Asmund Hoeg, Filip Berg, Benjamin Helstood; Norway 2021, 79 min.

This Norwegian take on Bonnie and Clyde, also based on real life, is remarkable for its visual allure and picturesque beauty in startling contrast the carnage that erupts when a young drifter loses his way in a ‘follie a deux’ set in 1920s Sweden.

Johannes (Hoeg) really needs a role model in life, and he finds it in fellow lumberjack Peder (Helstod), an older man who offers some sort of security. But when Peder is killed in a tree-felling accident, Johannes takes up with another, older man, in the shape of Mikhael (Berg), who impresses the young labourer with his stories of America but soon turns out to be a dangerous psychotic, who has stolen the car he is driving.

The two men derail a train. But Johannes is shocked to discover that Mikhael is also a murderer, killing two policemen who give chase, and quite obviously enjoying the experience. And it doesn’t stop there. The two of them hide out in a house belonging to a man and his daughter and then take off in another stolen car in a finale that is quite remarkable for the stark contrast in the two men’s reactions.

Dahlsbakken does not enlarge on the sexual angle of the relationship, but it is clear that Johannes, who has slept with women before, is really just looking for love and protection, which Mikhael, who is certainly gay, takes advantage of. Johannes is prepared to go along with Mikhael’s psychotic outbursts just to avoid being alone. Outwardly masquerading as a softly spoken educated man, Mikhael, emerges a psychotic monster, with no feelings for Johannes or anybody else, for that matter.

Berg is impressive as ‘Lucifer’, Hoeg playing the perfect ‘lap dog’ who just wants to be loved. The Swedish countryside is a wonderful background for the exploding mayhem, the director continuously probing the dissonance between the two elements highlighted in DoP Oskar Dahlsbakken’s stunning camerawork. AS

SCREENING DURING BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Nashville (1975) Robert Altman Retrospective

Dir.: Rosbert Altman; Cast: Karen Black, Keith Carradine, Henry Gibson. Geraldine Chaplin, Lily Tomlin, Keenan Wynn, Ronee Blakley, Barbara Harris, Scott Glennon, Shelley Duvall, David Hayword, Gwen Welles, Barbara Baxley, David Peel; USA 1975; 160′.

Nashville, undoubtedly director Robert Altman’s greatest feature, was scripted by Joan Tewkesbury and shot by Paul Lohmann: it is still, 26 years later, a magnificent portrait of the American South.

Set in Nashville, Tennessee, is tells the stories of stars, drifters and wanna-bee singers, all fascinated by country music and unaware of anything political going on: the most important agitator is never seen during the Presidential primaries for 1976 election: Hal Philip Walker, an early Donald Trump version, candidate and founder of the radical right ‘Replacement Party’, sends his PR man on a mission to win over musicians for his campaign.

Twenty-four central characters pass the baton around, the playing field gradually growing until violent fragments destroy nearly everyone’s life. Barbara Jean (Blakley) is the archetypal Loretta Young type, mismanaged by her punitive husband, living in her own world, even if on stage – but still remaining the ‘Queen Bee’.

Rival Connie White (Black) makes a good enough stand-in after Barbara, just recovered from treatment on the East-Coast for a burn treatment, has lost it completely in front of a bewildered audience. Singer and promoter Haven Hamilton (Gibson) had opened proceedings with his recording of “We must have done something right to last 200 Years” hymn on the United States. Hamilton is upset with his son Bud (Peel), who has hired the “wrong” pianist. Haven breaks off the session and tells the pianist: “Get a haircut, you do not belong in Nashville”. His companion Lady Pearl (Baxley) is certainly living in the past: she had had worked for the Kennedy brothers in the 1960s and 1968 elections, and can’t get over her frustration about Nixon winning Tennessee by a small margin over JFK in 1960.

Then there is Tom Frank (Carradine) a narcissistic womaniser and singer – Carradine would win the only Oscar for Nashville, for his original song. Tom spends all day and night in bed, inviting women to join him. One of them is Linnea Reese (Tomlin, in her debut), a mother of two deaf children and member of a Gospel Choir. Also to be found between his sheets is BBC reporter Opal (G. Chaplin), who makes the most inappropriate racial comments when interviewing members of the music scene. When she visits a disused car lot, her take on this hyperbole is more suited for the millennium.

Two women try their luck as newcomers: Albuquerque (Harris) is running away from a husband, and trying to get a debut as a singer. She has no idea how her wish will eventually become reality. Sueleen Gay (Welles) is a waitress, who in spite being tone-deaf, tries her luck as a singer: The rowdy audience cajoles her into stripping. There is a quartet of more lowkey participants, led by Mr. Green (Wynn), who is looking after his dying wife in hospital. His niece Joan (Duvall) is an incompetent groupie who never gets to see her aunt or meets the musicians. A uniformed soldier (Glennon) is lurking around Barbara Jean during most of the film, we fear the worst, but the shots at the ending are fired by smart and pleasant Kenny (Hayward).

Nashville is a kaleidoscope of celebrity fandom showcasing the early stages of political manipulating through culture. Haven Hamilton has been given the nod to become the next Governor of the State if he supports Walker. But the drifters and onlookers are given equal screen time for their shattered dreams. A marvellous script which is acted out by a stellar ensemble cast. Nashville remains the benchmark for everything following in its wake. AS

ROBERT ALTMANN RETROSPECTIVE AT BFI Southbank 2021

The Killing of Two Lovers (2020)

Dir/Wri: Robert Machoian | Cast: Clayne Crawford, Sepideh Moafi, Chris Coy, Avery Pizzuto, Arri Graham, Ezra Graham, Jonah Graham, Bruce Graham, Barbara Whinnery | US Drama 84′

A searingly honest portrait of relationship breakdown plays out like a social realist thriller in the bleak big sky country of snowy Utah.

Wrapped around a simmering central performance from Clayne Crawford who co-wrote the script and plays David, a mixed-up musician who is barely tolerating a break from his marriage to Niki while they ‘work things out”. Niki meanwhile has taken a lover – Derek – into the family home she shares with their four kids, two boys and a teenage girl, who are all apposed to this new set-up.

David is out on limb in many ways – rather like Adam Driver’s character in Marriage Story – he’s in a no-win situation, an articulate wife holding all the cards. An unemployed musician and part-time carer for his ageing father – Bruce Graham in amusing vignette – David also acts as house husband to Niki and the kids. But his self esteem has hit rock bottom, and we see him toying with a gun in the opening scene as he agonises over killing the titular sleeping couple now occupying his own marital home.

The background to this sorry story is left to our imagination – but we can scope out the scene: Niki is sick of running the show financially, David possibly not pulling his weight, so they go for a trial separation, David unable to get Niki or his beloved kids out of his head. We also see the couple declaring love for one another – it’s a familiar situation, and we feel for them both.

The tautly spare narrative gives nothing away and wastes no time in words. It’s an astonishing first feature for writer-director Robert Machoian who joins Clayne Crawford in the writing of an intimate, intense and incendiary realist drama that bursts into flames in the breathtaking final scene that will leave you gasping with its brutal impact.

An angsty occasional percussive score drives the action forward, sometimes echoing gunfire: it’s a bewildering sound technique. Worth mentioning also is the grainy look of the film shot by Oscar Ignacio Jiménez in the boxy claustrophobic 4:3 aspect ratio used in the silent era, making the emotional impact more keenly felt. MT

ON BFI PLAYER FROM 9 DECEMBER 2021

 

 

 

After Love (2021) BAFTAs 2022

Dir/scr: Aleem Khan | Joanna Scanlan, Natalie Richard, Talid Arris | UK, Drama 89 mins

A spare but transcendent feature debut that takes place between Calais and Dover in the aftermath of a cross-channel menage-a-trois. Happily married Muslim convert Mary/Fatima (Scanlan) discovers her husband’s secret on his mobile ‘phone, shortly after his sudden death. Curiosity sees her travelling to France where she tracks down Genevieve the middle-aged mother of his love child Solomon, now an unruly teenager much loved by both his parents. Through a understandable mix-up the women’s lives come together, but only Mary is aware of Genevieve’s identity. Both women are forced to deal with loss and longing in different ways.

Writer director Aleem Khan delivers an accomplished and insightful drama that speaks volumes about race, identity and the nature of love and faithfulness through a storyline that goes to unexpected places. Joanna Scanlan is quietly tremendous as a woman exploring grief and bereavement in a graceful and philosophical way that never descends into melodrama or histrionics, so commonplace in this kind of story. And it’s also down to Khan’s economic style of writing that follows the saying: ‘speech is silver, but silence is golden’.

Instead the two women discretely and gradually explore the past and the present in a way that is both surprising and satisfying. Khan leaves a great deal to the imagination – we are left to make up our own minds about Mary and Genevieve’s life, the focus here is the dynamic between them as they feel their way forward, largely in the dark, as the truth gradually emerges questioning their core beliefs and feelings.

One scene in particularly mirrors the women’s crushing loss of faith seen through a section of Dover’s white cliffs literally crumbling into the sea. It’s a stunning metaphor for this graceful two-hander that portrays women at their best, coping calmly with disappointment and bewilderment, reflecting on their lot with dignity and philosophy. A stunning and mature drama in the classic tradition of storytelling. MT

BAFTA AWARD FOR LEADING ACTRESS Joanna Scanlan | Released on Blu-ray and digitally as a BFI Player Subscription Exclusive on 23 August 202

 

 

 

The Traitor (2019) Bfi player

Dir: Marco Bellocchio | Writers: Marco Bellocchio, Ludovica Rampoldi, Valia Santela, Francesco Piccolo | Cast: Pierfrancesco Favino, Alessio Pratico, Maria Fernanda Candido, | Italy, Drama 135′

In the early 1980s, an all-out war rages between Sicilian mafia bosses over the heroin trade. Tommaso Buscetta, “boss of the two worlds”, flees to hide out in Brazil. Meanwhile back home, scores are being settled and Buscetta watches from afar as his sons and brother are killed in Palermo, knowing he may be next. Arrested and extradited to Italy by the Brazilian police, Tommaso Buscetta makes a decision that will change everything for the Mafia: He decides to meet with Judge Giovanni Falcone and betray the eternal vow he made to the Cosa Nostra.

With thundering vehemence Marco Bellocchio portrays the behind-the-scenes shenanigans of Sicily’s real-life ‘men of honour’, and although The Traitor certainly packs a punch, it somehow lacks the heart and soul of many Mafia-themed features – and particularly Kim Longinotto’s recent documentary Shooting the Mafia – in telling the story of the Mafioso boss turned informant. In explaining the inner working of the organisation, the director blends dark humour and brutal violence with vibrant set-pieces (in Sicily, Rome, Brazil and the U.S) to provide a visual masterpiece with a palpable sense of the era. The mammoth endeavour runs at two and a half hours, blending archive footage (of Falcone’s tragic death ) and entertaining court scenes that revel in the cut and thrust of the debate and the raucous ribaldry of the gangsters showing just how impossible it was actually to bring them to justice and how dishonourable they actually were – and some are still on the run.

Giovanni Falcone (Fausto Russo Alesi) once again emerges a gentleman and a diligent lawyer who garnered great respect from Bruscetta, and met his terrible end for simply doing his duty. Bruscetta is a macho man with a lust for life and love, and Pierfrancesco Favino is tremendous in the lead as this main mafioso figure who decided to testify before Falcone and appear in the mafia ‘Maxi Trial’ that lasted from 1986 to 1992. His testimony was historically crucial in implicating others and also securing him reduced prison sentences.

The action begins in 1980 when the two main Sicilian families in Palermo had decided to call a truce (Bruscetta from the Porta Nuova family and Toto Riina from Corleone). Tommaso had moved to Rio de Janeiro with his Brazilian wife (Maria Fernandez Candido) but left two of his eight children behind in the care of Pippo Calo’ (Fabrizio Ferracane), a big mistake as we soon discover.

After a resurgence of killing back home, shown in savage bloodshed, Tommaso decides to stay put, his sidekick Totuccio Contorno (Luigi Lo Cascio) surviving the massacre. But Tommaso doesn’t escape being arrested and tortured for drug-trafficking during which his wife is seen dangling from a helicopter over the bay in Rio. Extradited back to Italy he agrees to meet the authorities and  starts a dialogue with Falcone, mutual respect being the watchword.

The courtroom scenes are amongst the most stimulating in this bodyblow of a film, Nicola Piovani’s operatic score ramping up the emotional timbre. Once the trial is over, Buscetta and his family enter witness protection in Florida, but he is still determined to settle old scores, despite suffering from terminal cancer.

Naturally, this is not a film to be overjoyed about, but at least Bellocchio leaves us with a message of hope posited by Judge Falcone: “the mafia is not invincible; it had a beginning and will have an end,” MT

NOW ON BFI PLAYER

 

Maborosi (1995) **** Blu-ray release

Dir.: Hirokazu Kore-eda; Cast: Makiko Esumi, Takashi Naito, Gohki Kashima, Tadanobo Asanao; Japan 1995, 110 min.

Born in 1962, Hirokazu Kore-eda studied literature at university with plans to become a novelist, later establishing himself as a documentarian in the late 1980s, working in television, were he directed several prize-winning programmes. Maborosi brought him and his DoP Masao Nakabori international acclaim, winning awards at Venice film festival. He would later win the Palme d’Or at Cannes with Shoplifters (2018).

Maborosi is a mature, poetic discourse on the meaning of loss and longing. Scripted by Yoshihisa Ogita and based on a novel by Teru Miyanoto. Maborosi takes its title from the Japanese word for mirage, and resonates with Feu Follet, Louis Malle’s feature about a suicide. Kore-eda was 34 when he shot Maborosi; contrasting modern and traditional life, rather like Japanese master Ozu.

In Osaka, Yumiko (Esumi) is content with her easy-going husband Ikuo (Asano) and their baby-boy Yuichi. One morning she finds the police on her doorstep: Ikuo has been killed on the nearby railroad tracks. Yumiko is shattered, the tragedy bringing back memories of the disappearance and death of her grandmother Kyo, when Yumiko was twelve years old. For a long time Yumiko lives in limbo, not able to accept the death of her husband. An arranged marriage brings her to the remote windswept coast of Uniumachi on the Noto peninsula. Her new husband Tamio (Naito) and his daughter live with an extended family and Yuichi (Kashima) bonds easily with the two. But Yumiko takes time to adjust to her new life, unable to forget her the deep affectionate love she shared with Ikuo. And when she returns to Osaka for a visit, all the old wounds open – particularly when she re-connects with Ikuo’s friends about the circumstances of his death. She goes back to Uniumachi but the past stays with her.

The hustle and bustle of city life in Osako contrast with the tranquil setting of the fishing village. Although in both places Kore-eda shows the warmth and humanity of close neighbours and the daily routine. Yumiko’s anxiousness and the barriers she puts between herself and a new life are palpable: for most of the film we see her as an observer, looking in from outside. The languid tempo also brings to mind Ozu, as do the frequent near static shots, featuring the rough landscape around the village. The feeling that fate could once again We observe this grieving process with a shared feeling of ambivalence: Yumiko has lost confidence in happiness, doom is constantly waiting round the corner. She is not yet ready to say goodbye to her former life and the limbo between the past and an unknown future, where “she brings death to the ones she is close to” – like her first husband and her grandmother.

Moborosi is a story that also paints an emotional portrait; music, light and weather express the heroine’s sate of mind while her serene persona is also deeply troubled. The spoken word is often replaced often by an inner monologue. In the end she has to make up her mind whether she, like Ikuo, wants to ‘listen’ to the siren songs in the light of death, or whether she is ready to progress with her life and new family. Like his compatriot Hsiao Hsien Ho, Kore-eda takes care of every frame: nothing is superfluous, everything is stripped down to the minimum. Kore-eda’s whole oeuvre is about using the screen to paint poetry, his protagonists seek to overcome their banal reality with something more meaningful which, as in this case, can also be destructive. AS

NOW ON BLU-RAY

 

BUÑUEL in the Labyrinth of the Turtles (2020)

Dir.: Salvador Simo; Animation with the voices of Jorge Uson, Fernando Ramos, Cyril Corral, Luis Enrique de Tomas; Spain/Netherlands/Germany 2019, 80 min.

Salvador Simo’s fluid animated feature is a treasure chest for film historians, and an entertaining jewel of inspiration for newcomers to the legendary artist’s work.

Based on Fermin Solis’ graphic novel about the making of Luis Bunuel’s 1933 documentary Land without Bread (Las Hurdes: Tierra Sin Pan) it all starts at the premiere of his scandal ridden feature L’Age d’Or 1928 in the Paris cinema “Studio 28”. With the audience leaving in great numbers, there is clearly no doubt that Bunuel (Uson) will have difficulty finding backers for a new project. But luck is on his side in the shape of a winning Christmas lottery ticket purchased by his friend, the anarchist painter Ramon Acin (Ramos). The money provides finance for Land without Bread. Surrealism is victorious again. The jackpot also provides Bunuel with a new car, and he sets off with Acin and the photographer Eli Lotar (Corral), armed with  Mauricio Legendres’ book about the region of Las Hurdes (Western Spain). Pierre Unik (de Tomas) makes up the foursome, who will serve as ‘Girl Friday’ during the shoot

But the journey to Las Hurdes is full of surprises. In a small village they come across a bizarre wedding ceremony: the prospective brides riding on horseback through streets, tearing off the heads of live chickens hanging from a rope. A later scene sees the filmmakers paying a farmer to repeat the act, as they stand by in trepidation. Bunuel soon goes a step further, shooting a mountain goat, who tumbles down spectacularly into a steep ravine.

Meanwhile Bunuel comments to Acid.: “We are here to help these people, not to mess around and pretend to be artists”.  At night he plagued by dreams of his traumatic childhood, and his constant fear of death. In one dream, he encounters death, begging to live longer, because “I have so much more to do” Death simply replies: “you are not important, who says I have come for you?”

Other dreams feature his tyrannical father, who shows him a giraffe from whose open stomach birds fly. Yellow butterflies recur in many of these dreams, showing how Bunuel was trying to shake off Dali’s influence. 

Land Without Bread was banned in Spain and France. Only in 1936 did the Spanish Republic allow screenings, but the name of Ramon Acin – who had been executed along his wife by the Spanish Fascists – at the beginning of the Guerra Civil – had to be scratched off because of his anarchist past. In 1960, when Bunuel created a restored version, Acin’s name was re-instated, and Bunuel gave the money from the re-release to Acin’s daughters Katia and Sol.

The animation is about simplicity and clear lines, there is no grandstanding, and this approach goes well with the many clips from the original documentary: in both cases, the lighting is crucial and central to the aesthetic. Arturo Cardelos’ plangent piano score subtly champions the struggle between surrealism and realism, fought out by Luis Bunuel. AS    

PREMIERING ON BFI PLAYER ON 9 JULY 2020                       

The Bigamist (1953) *** MUBI

Director: Ida Lupino. Screenplay: Collier Young. Cast: Edmond O’Brien, Joan Fontaine, Ida Lupino, Edmund Gwenn, Kenneth Tobey, Jane Darwell. Drama / United States / 80′.

Ida Lupino directs and stars in  this final feature for her production company The Filmakers before moving into television.

The blunt title serves as a massive spoiler from the word Go. There’s no doubt as to where the plot is going, but strange as it may seem today, bigamy was surprisingly common at the time, as this film is at pains to point out.

A British film called The Bigamist had been made as early as 1916; but during the 195os the subject was usually treated light-heartedly as a subject of comedy (as in the same year’s The Captain’s Paradise, with Alec Guinness, Celia Johnson and Yvonne de Carlo). But when children are involved – as is the case here – it really becomes significant; and bigamy is just one of a whole raft of issues – including unplanned pregnancy and adoption (where do most adopted children come from in the first place?) – the film explores in just eighty minutes.

With so many people raising kids these days without bothering to get married, the mores of this era seem rather quaint and as remote as the silent era. The earnest tone of the film rather recalls the silent ‘social problem’ films of pioneer women directors Lois Weber and Mrs Wallace Reid in whose footsteps Lupino was following.

The Bigamist is rather like a silent film in the way Lupino’s pregnancy is implied to be the result of the sole occasion she had slept with her lover (O’Brien) as a “birthday treat” for him. And she becomes pregnant the very first time she had slept with a man since she got a ‘Dear Phyllis’ letter from a previous boyfriend several years earlier. O’Brien never squares with her that he’s married; but the thought must have crossed her mind.

It was brave of Edmond O’Brien to take on such an unheroic role, and interesting that Lupino chose to cast herself as the Other Woman rather than the wife. Under any other circumstances it would have been refreshing to see Joan Fontaine as the wife so confidently holding forth on technical matters at the dinner table were she not shown immediately afterwards to be neglecting O’Brien’s need for physical intimacy by immediately turning her back on him in bed (they sleep in separate beds and have been unable to have children).

Could there have been some way of engineering a happy resolution by having O’Brien present Lupino’s child to Fontaine to raise as their own? Perhaps. But Lupino probably wasn’t seeking a tidy resolution, and instead it all ends messily in court with O’Brien getting his knuckles sternly but regretfully rapped by a judge. Richard Chatten.

THE BIGAMIST IS now SCREENING ON MUBI

Lolita (1961) ***

Dir.: Stanley Kubrick; Cast: Sue Lyon, James Mason, Shelley Winters, Peter Sellers; UK/US 1961, 152 min.

Vladimir Nabokov wrote a screenplay of 400 pages for Stanley Kubrick’s film adaption of his 1955 novel – it would have amounted to a running time of over seven hours. Kubrick also had to take into account the Hays censorship code, which made it impossible to show detailed sexual aspects of the love between Humbert Humbert, a middle aged college lecturer and a twelve-year-old girl named Lolita, whose name became synonymous with any young temptress – even though she was the victim of adult male predators.

Lolita opens with a murder: a drunk elderly man is shot dead while playing Chopin on the piano. Then the linear events leading to this crime unfold: A lecturer in French literature Humbert Humbert (Mason), arrives in Ramsdale, New Hampshire, in search for lodgings. On the verge of turning down the rooms on offer from Charlotte Haze (Winters), he is just about to reject them, when he sees her daughter Dolores ‘Lolita’ (Lyon) and falls in love. But Charlotte has a shine for Humbert too, and drives her daughter to a girl’s camp, leaving a letter for Humbert, telling him to move out – or marry her. Humbert, still obsessed with Lolita, then marries Charlotte who later reads his diary where he confesses to his love for the school girl. Charlotte runs out of the house to post a letter to the authorities, but is killed in a car crash. Humbert fetches Lolita from the camp, pretending that her mother is in hospital, but seduces the girl in a motel. They set off on a romantic adventure, and are followed by an obnoxious stranger. In the autumn, Humbert enrols Lolita in a nearby High School where she is to participate in a school play. A discussion with Dr, Zempf (Sellers) upsets Humbert and he takes Lolita out of the school, touring the country again. Finally, Lolita disappears; leaving Humbert desolate. Much later, he learns that she is pregnant, living in a tranquil suburb. He gives her money, from the sale of her mother’s house, but she wants to stay with her husband Dick. She also tells Humbert that she ran away with Clare Quilty (Sellers), a famous playwright, who impersonated Dr. Zempf and followed them on their journeys. Humbert dies before the murder trial.

Kubrick set his sights on Mason to play Humbert from the beginning, but he was unavailable due to other commitments. Laurence Olivier and David Niven also turned down the part, but finally Mason took it on board. Kubrick and Nabokov were happy with the casting of Sue Lyon – who was fourteen, playing a twelve-year-old – Nabokov later admitted he would have preferred the French actress Catherine Demongeot, who played Zazie in Louis Malle’s Zazie dans le Metro. Over 800 actresses had test screenings for the young Lolita. 

Meanwhile, a 1977 remake by Adrian Lyne –  much more faithful to the novel – made a colossal loss at the box office.

And while Kubrick tried to make Humbert into an “Unreliable Narrator” telling the story from his own selfish viewpoint, he fails to do the Lolita character any justice. Lolita certainly has its merits as a drama, but it’s un-conceivable that such a film could ever be made today. AS

Stanley Kubrick RETROSPECTIVE | APRIL AND MAY AT THE BFI 2019  

    

 

Shakespeare Wallah (1965) **** Bluray

Dir.: James Ivory; Cast: Shashi Kapoor, Felicity Kendall, Madhur Jaffrey, Geoffrey Kendall, Laura Liddell, Jennifer Kapoor; India 1965, 115 min.

This is the second feature of writer/director James Ivory and producer Merchant Ivory, co-scripted by the latter’s wife Ruth Prawar Jhabvala; the trio would go on with opulent productions like Heat and Dust and Howard’s End, describing the fate of strong women in male-dominated, authoritarian societies.

This is about change and belonging: The Buckingham parents Tony (G. Kendall) and Carla (Liddell) tour India with a travelling group of players, including their daughter Lizzie (F. Kendall),  bringing Shakespeare to a country changed beyond belief after the British left for home. But the change is not only a cultural one; Indians are saying goodbye to their own heritage in a post-colonial era that replaced Shakespeare with Bollywood and old palaces of Maharajas with hotels. Lizzie, who plays Ophelia and Desdemona on stage, falls for Indian playboy Sanju (Kapoor), who also has a mistress: Bollywood actress Manjula (Jaffrey). While the Buckinghams and their plays become more and more tacky, Manjula represents a modern India, which is aggressively taking the place of the old – be it Indian or British. Manjula commits a faux-pas on purpose: she arrives at the theatre with only ten minutes of Othello to go. But the nomadic players have no recourse, they are redundant in a country where they don’t belong any more. They are rootless, like Ruth Wilcox in Howard’s End. “Everything is different when you belong to a place. When it’s yours’, says Carla Buckingham wistfully. Her daughter has never set foot on her “home” country.

Kendall’s and Lidell’s experience with their own touring company have been an inspiration for the feature, stage and reality overlap. When Tony (as Othello) talks endlessly to himself, before facing Desdemona for a last time and in the real world, Manjura enters with aplomb. Finally, with Feste’s song in “Twelfth Night”, the “rain raineth”everything away, it becomes not only a summing up for the play, but the fate of the actors, swept away by history.

The misty black and white images express the evocative fragility of the narrative, there is much to admire, apart from the acting – Madhur Jaffrey would win the Prize for Best Actress at Berlin Film Festival in 1965. The score is by none less than Satyajit Ray. His long-time collaborator, DoP Subrata Mitra, conjures up sensitive images of a  group of Thespians who are lost, languidly suffering a maudlin nightmare. Ironically, Shashi Kapoor’s marriage to Felicity Kendall’s sister Jennifer (who made an uncredited appearance) was one of long-lasting happiness until her death aged 50. AS

NOW ON BLURAY from 15 April 2019 COURTESY OF THE BFI

iTUNES RELEASE ON 29 APRIL 2019

Human Rights Watch Festival | 15-22 March 2019

Creating a forum for courageous individuals fighting worthwhile causes on both sides of the lens, this year’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival returns to the Barbican, BFI Southbank and Regent Street Cinema with an international line-up of 15 award-winning documentary and feature films from Venezuela, South Africa, Palestine, Thailand and more.

The festival will open at the Barbican on 14 March with Hans Pool’s Bellingcat – Truth in a Post-Truth World, which follows the revolutionary rise of the “citizen investigative journalist” collective known as Bellingcat, dedicated to redefining breaking news by exploring the promise of open source investigation. 
 
Among other topics highlighted in the festival are: modern-day slavery in the fishing industry, South African students’ #FeesMustFall movement and the call for the decolonization of the education system; ‘boys will be boys’ rape culture; the impact of non-consensual gender assignment surgery on intersex infants; urban displacement; and a behind the scenes access to the trial of Ratko Mladić. Many filmmakers, protagonists, Human Rights Watch researchers and activists will take part in in-depth post-screening Q&A and panel discussions, some of which are detailed below:

UK Premiere: Screwdriver Mafak
Palestine-USA-Qatar 2018. Dir Bassam Jarbawi. With Ziad Bakri, Areen Omari, Jameel Khoury. 108min. Digital. EST. 15

Shot entirely on location in the West Bank, award-winning Palestinian director Bassam Jarbawi’s debut feature film tackles the physical and emotional toll of one man’s return home after 15 years in an Israeli jail. This mesmerising drama examines the trauma of reintegration after imprisonment, together with the unpredictable set of challenges faced in modern-day Palestine.

FRI 15 MAR 20:30 NFT3 | SOUTHBANK

UK Premiere: Facing the Dragon 

Afghanistan-Turkey-Germany-Australia 2018. Dir Sedika Mojadidi. 81min. Digital. EST. 15 

Afghan-American filmmaker Sedika Mojadidi pursues two awe-inspiring women on the front lines as the United States withdraws from Afghanistan and the Taliban regains their hold. As the country’s fragile democracy shakes, threats of violence increase against Shakila, a journalist, and Nilofar, a local politician. They are soon forced to choose between duty and love for their country, and their families’ safety. 

SAT 16 MAR 18:10 NFT3 | SOUTHBANK

UK Premiere: Roll Red Roll 

USA 2018. Dir Nancy Schwartzman. 81min. Digital. 15 

In small-town Ohio, USA, a sexual assault involving members of the beloved high-school football team gained global attention. With unprecedented access to a local community struggling to reconcile disturbing truths and the journalist using social-media evidence to reveal them, this true-crime thriller cuts to the heart of debates around engrained rape culture, and unflinchingly asks: ‘Why didn’t anyone stop it?’ 

SAT 16 MAR 20:30 NFT3 | SOUTHBANK

UK Premiere: The Sweet Requiem Kyoyang Ngarmo
India-USA 2018. Dirs Ritu Sarin, Tenzing Sonam. With Tenzin Dolker, Jampa Kalsang Tamang, Tashi Choedon. 93min. Digital. EST. 15

At the age of eight, Dolkar fled her home with her father to escape Chinese armed forces, and faced an arduous journey across the Himalayas. Now 26, she lives in a Tibetan refugee colony in Delhi, where an unexpected encounter with a man from her past awakens long-suppressed memories, propelling Dolkar on an obsessive search for the truth.

Tickets go on sale to the general public on 12 February 2019. Members of BFI Southbank can purchase tickets from 5 February and members of the Barbican can purchase tickets from 6 February.

Starring Barbara Stanwyck | Retrospective | BFI 2019 | February – March

The STARRING BARBARA STANWYCK season offers a chance to see one of Hollywood’s most successful and memorable actors of all time, whose career spanned more than four decades. The season will include an extended run of Preston Sturges’ hilarious comedy The Lady Eve (1941), also released in selected cinemas by the BFI on Friday 15 February. During March, the season will highlight the breadth and depth of Stanwyck’s characters, whether in classics or in less familiar, rarely screened titles.

Diva, grande dame and femme fatale, Stanwyck adapted to any genre, be it comedy, melodrama or thriller. Her natural wit and raw emotion was particularly resonant in her Westerns, where she played  resourceful, confident women holding their own in a male-dominated world. The BFI are screening 3 examples in March. Her first western Annie Oakley (George Stevens, 1935) was based on the life of ‘Little Miss Sureshot,’ one of the most famous sharpshooters in American history; Stanwyck oozes confidence in her portrayal of the determined and spirited protagonist. Cecil B. DeMille brought a characteristically epic sense of scale to the western with Union Pacific (1939), about the construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad. Mixed in with the historical elements is a love triangle between a troubleshooter, a gambler, and a train engineer’s daughter played by Stanwyck. The director was mesmerised by her performance, and she became one of his favourite stars. In Forty Guns (Samuel Fuller, 1957), a late-career highlight for Stanwyck, she portrays a wealthy landowner exerting influence over an Arizonian township by commanding a staff of 40 men. Beautifully shot and packed with psychosexual subtext and directed with bravura, Samuel Fuller’s western influenced a generation of filmmakers, including Godard.

In the delightful screwball-mystery-romance The Mad Miss Manton (Leigh Jason, 1938), a scatty but canny heiress (Stanwyck), whose claims to have discovered a murder are dismissed by the police, enlists a working-class journalist to help prove her case. Ball of Fire (Howard Hawks, 1941), follows a nightclub dancer who needs to lie low, and a house shared by eight professors provides the ideal hideout. Inspired by the story of Snow White and boasting razor-sharp dialogue and perfect Hawksian comic timing, Ball of Fire is another classic screwball comedy. Written by a master of screwball – Preston Sturges – Remember the Night (Mitchell Leisen, 1940) sees a New York attorney (Fred MacMurray) take pity on a shoplifter he’s prosecuting. He gets her out on bail and invites her to his family home for Christmas – which somewhat complicates their relationship. There is genuine chemistry between Stanwyck and MacMurray in their first film together, an amusing and affecting blend of courtroom drama, road movie and romance. The pair reunited for another tale of adulterous temptation There’s Always Tomorrow (Douglas Sirk, 1955); he’s a toy manufacturer feeling neglected by his family, and she is the ex-employee whose return to Pasadena reignites illicit passions. Forbidden (Frank Capra, 1932) sees her playing a librarian falling for an unobtainable man.

Barbara Stanwyck, Adolphe Menjou, Ralph Bellamy, Dorothy Peterson

Two more Frank Capra films will screen in March – in The Miracle Woman (1931) Stanwyck plays a minister’s daughter who, following the death of her father,  teams up with a conman to stage evangelical shows in which she performs ‘miracles’. Meanwhile Meet John Doe (1941) sees her play a journalist who invents a story about a tramp planning to commit suicide in protest of the state of the world. The resulting interest forces her paper to get someone to fit the role and the man they find (Gary Cooper) instantly becomes a celebrity – and a political pawn. Completing the season will be screenings of Sorry, Wrong Number (Anatole Litvak, 1948), a noir thriller adapted by Lucille Fletcher from her acclaimed radio play, focusing on a wealthy, rather complacent, bedridden woman who overhears a conversation involving a planned murder. (All images are strictly the property of the BFI, and not to be copied)

SCREENING AT THE BFI, SOUTHBANK | FEBRUARY – MARCH 2019 | BFI WEBSITE

9 to 5 (1980) **** BFI re-release

Dir.: Colin Higgins; Cast: Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton, Dabney Coleman, Sterling Hayden; USA 1980, 109 min.

Colin Higgins’ revenge comedy 9 to 5 is in many ways a symbol for the way Hollywood produces films – not only in the past, but very much today. Take an engaged female scriptwriter (Patricia Resnick) who has written “a dark comedy” about female harassment in the workplace. It is produced by the company of the leading star (Jane Fonda), who is afraid that “the women would not be sympathetic enough”. And then, the coup-de-grace, put a male director (Colin Higgins ) in charge (literally), who told Resnick “I write by myself, I am not going to write with you. I believe, there is one captain on (the) set, the director. If you want to visit on set once and have lunch, that’s fine”. The result was 9 to 5. Higgins was gay and died of AIDS aged 47. 

Three women meet in the offices of Consolidated Industries: Violet Newstead (Tomlin), the efficient office manager hoping to be promoted to management level; Doralee Rhodes (Parton), secretary to her sexist, scheming and downright nasty boss Franklin Hart Jr. (Coleman) The trio was completed by newcomer Judy Bernly (Fonda), newly divorced and still broken-hearted.

Hart lusts madly after Rhodes who gives him the cold shoulder. He ‘employs’ an office snitch who sits in the toilet cubicle, noting down the conversations of the staff on toilet paper. The three women spring into action after Hart overlooks Newstead for a promotion, choosing a man instead. Newstead finds out her boss is embezzling money from the company, but the papers they need as proof will only be available in two week’s hence. So they kidnap Hart and imprison him in his own empty house. Meanwhile he has sent away his wife on a long holiday so he can pursue his secretary. Although Hart escapes, putting the stolen merchandise back, his boss Tinsworthy (Hayden) is so taken by the changes Newstead has made to office life in Hart’s name (gliding working hours, on site-crèche, equal payment for both genders) that he promotes Hart to a senior position in Brazil, with Newstead replacing him.

Higgins (The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas) created a farce, including Warner Brother cartoons and over-the-top dream sequences. Roger Ebert wrote after the premiere “Nine to Five is a good-hearted, simple-minded comedy that will have a place in film history, I suspect, primarily, because it features the movie debut of Dolly Parton”. Later he concedes “it also has a dash of social commentary”. One can see, that Fonda/Higgins succeeded in “making the social message more palatable”. 

Whilst Fonda is planning a sequel, Resnick is more realistic: “In some ways we have moved forward a little bit, but one of our political parties seems to be trying to undo what little we’ve been able to do. The other thing is that so many people think all this has been settled.’ After Resnick was involved in a musical version of 9 to 5 on Broadway, most male journalists opined: “Well. None of these issues are a problem in contemporary life, so how are women of today going to relate to it all?” Well there have been some changes: You cannot sexually harass someone as obviously, and we do not call people ‘secretaries’. Apart from that, life goes on as it always did. But people would kill to work just from 9 to 5.” AS

SCREENING FROM 16 NOVEMBER 2018 NATIONWIDE

 

    

Ealing Film Studios: A Retrospective

Man In The White Suit Britain’s best-loved, independent cinema organisation, EALING STUDIOS, produced a dazzling array of comedies and noirish dramas during the 1940s and 50s, adding a rich vein of provocative and subversive films to the British film canon, some of them surprisingly radical in their implications.

The Studios has a unique place in the history of British cinema and has become a byword for a certain type of British whimsy and eccentricity but it also pioneered the underdog spirit, producing some tough, cynical and challenging portraits of British life. During the War years, Ealing produced romantic features that roused the British public during the War effort and the studio’s films boasted a surprising variety of characters from all walks of life. Many of these now rank among the undisputed cult classics of British cinema, among them Dead of NightThe Blue LampThe Cruel SeaThe Man in the White Suit and Passport to Pimlico. There are many other worthwhile features that have been unseen or inaccessible for decades.

IT ALWAYS RAINS ON SUNDAY  (1947)  Set over a single 24-hour period in postwar Bethnal Green, Robert Hamer’s noir-ish thriller was Ealing Studios’ first popular success and it widely considered one of the greatest achievements of British Cinema of the last 1940s.

Ealing was presided over by Michael Balcon, a towering figure in British cinema who was an early supporter of Alfred Hitchcock. He gathered around him a band of talented collaborators including the very influential Braziilian Cavalcanti brothers and directors Charles Crichton, Robert Hamer, Basil Dearden and Alexander McKendrick.  Battling against competition and a certain hostility from the major studios of Rank and the American giant Hammer he successfully ran Ealing for more than 20 years.

Today Ealing Studios is the oldest working film studio in the world and the only British studio that produces and distributes feature films as well as providing facilities. It recently joined forces with leading film financier Prescience, co-formed in 2005 by Paul Brett and Tim Smith, to create the new one-stop international sales company ‘Ealing Metro’.  Prescience uniquely positions Ealing Metro as an international sales and distribution company that can deliver an integrated solution for filmmakers.  Through Prescience and its Aegis Film Fund, Ealing Metro works with independent producers to help develop and finance product so that, along with Ealing Studios’ own productions, it can market and sell a unique and growing slate in the international marketplace.

The theme of Ealing: Light & Dark is a rich and revealing one. Even the renowned comedies have a dark side within them: Kind Hearts and Coronets is a wittily immoral tale of a serial killer in pursuit of a dukedom; Whisky Galore! has a mischievous approach to law and order as a Scottish island population attempt to beat the Customs men to the free whisky washed ashore from a shipwreck.  

Part of the enduring appeal of Ealing is its witty challenging of authority in films such as Passport to Pimlico and The Lavender Hill Mob, which touched a nerve with audiences eager for social and political change faced with the austerity of the immediate post-war era.

Beyond the apparent frothy entertainment, Ealing’s darker side dares to show wartime failures, imagine the threat of invasion or to contemplate the unsavoury after-effects of the war in the subtly supernatural The Ship That Died of Shame or the European noir Cage of Gold, in which Jean Simmons is lured by the charms of an homme fatal. Another pan-European story, Secret People (featuring an early appearance for Audrey Hepburn), contemplates the ethics of assassination, while in Frieda, Mai Zetterling faces anti-German prejudice in a small English town.

The posters for Ealing Studios films feature artwork by many of the era’s greatest artists including John Piper, Edward Bawden, Eric Ravilious, Edward Ardizzone and Mervyn Peake, while the acting talent is a roll-call of many of Britain’s greatest performers, among them Alec Guinness, Stanley Holloway, Margaret Rutherford, Joan Greenwood, Dennis Price, Jean Simmons, Googie Withers, Michael Redgave, John Mills, Thora Hird, Diana Dors, James Fox, Virginia McKenna, Herbert Lom, Maggie Smith, Jack Warner, Alastair Sim, Will Hay and many more.

E A L I N G   F I L M   N O I R

NEXT OF KIN

UK 1942. Dir Thorold Dickinson. With Mervyn Johns, Guy Mas, Basil Radford,

Nova Pilbeam, Thora Hird. 102min

Ealing’s first major artistic triumph for the war effort, Next of Kin is a cautionary tale about careless talk and the scourge of fifth columnists at large in the UK. The film’s sober tone marked a change in war propaganda for Ealing, whose earlier blind celebration of military prowess gives way to an authentic depiction of the dangers and sacrifices faced by the wartime nation. Plus All Hands (UK 1941. Dir John Paddy Carstairs. 9min) a MoI short that warns of the dangers of careless talk in the navy.

WENT THE DAY WELL? UK 1942.

Dir Alberto Cavalcanti. With Leslie Banks, Basil Sydney, Frank Lawton, Elizabeth Allan. 93min. PG

In the middle of World War II  Cavalcanti provocatively imagined a postwar England in which the failure of the threatened German invasion could be safely seen in flashback, thanks to the resourceful villagers of Bramley End. Once the ostensibly British troops in their village are revealed as Nazis, and the local squire as a fifth columnist, the community unites and fights back with startling ferocity. A call to arms as persuasive as Powell and Pressburger’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.

DEAD OF NIGHT

UK 1945. Dir Alberto Cavalcanti. With Googie Withers, Mervyn Johns, Michael Ralph, Michael Redgrave. 102min

Straying from more familiar realist fare, Dead of Night was Ealing’s only venture into the horror genre. The film recounts five supernatural tales, held together by a linking story which itself has a creepy conclusion – a forerunner to the anthology films that flourished in the early 1970s. The film’s nightmarish world of haunted mirrors and ghostly hearses lingers long after the closing credits, with Michael Redgrave’s performance as a crazed ventriloquist proving particularly unsettling.

PINK STRING AND SEALING WAX

UK 1945. Dir Robert Hamer. With Googie Withers, Mervyn Johns, Gordon Jackson, Sally Ann Howes. 89min. PG

Two worlds collide in this melodrama set in Victorian Brighton: a repressive household, run by a tyrannical chemist, and a sleazy tavern, presided over by a passionate landlady. The chemist’s son (Jackson) finds himself, understandably enough, in thrall to the landlady (Withers). His naïve passion and rebellious feelings against his father lead him into a murder plot from which he barely escapes, prompting a very equivocal happy ending.

FRIEDA

UK 1947. Dir. Basil Dearden. With David Farrar, Glynis Johns, Mai Zetterling, Flor Robson. 98min. PG

Telling the story of a family trying to make sense of a postwar world, Frieda asks the question, ‘Does a good German exist?’ There isn’t one simple answer but many, represented by the varying reactions of the inhabitants of the English village of Denfield when a German refugee arrives as the wife of one of their war heroes. In her first British film, Zetterling portrays Frieda sympathetically but the film allows the audience to reach its own conclusion over her individual responsibility for the horrors of war.

SARABAND FOR DEAD LOVERS

UK 1948. Dir Basil Dearden. With Joan Greenwood, Stewart Granger, Peter Bull,Flora Robson. 96min. U

In this rare excursion for Ealing into historical drama, Bull and Greenwood are perfectly cast as the dissolute Prince George-Louis and his reluctant bride Sophie-Dorothea. Shooting in colour for the first time allowed the studio to give full rein to the period costumes and sets (the latter were nominated for an Oscar). The design provides an evocative backdrop to the princess’s tragic story. As her lover, Granger shows why he was soon poached by Hollywood, his stature and looks making him the perfect screen hero.

WHISKY GALORE!

UK 1949. With Basil Radford, Joan Greenwood, Wylie Watson, Bruce Seaton,

Gordon Jackson. 82min. PG

Mackendrick’s glorious debut was the second of the trio of 1949 films that defined Ealing Comedy. When the whisky-parched Todday islanders spy salvation in the form of a shipwreck and 50,000 contraband cases, first they must outwit the morally upstanding English home guard Captain Waggett. One in the eye for puritan English priggishness and a joyous salute to the transformative power of a ‘wee dram’ – or ‘the longest unsponsoredadvertisement ever to reach cinema screens the world over,’ as producer Monja Danischewsky put it.

KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS

UK 1949. Dir Robert Hamer. With Dennis Price, Alec Guinness, Joan Greenwood,

Valerie Hobson. 106min. U

Even Hitchcock couldn’t make murder this much fun. Hamer’s ageless classic challenges The Ladykillers for the title of Ealing’s blackest comedy (call it a score draw, though Kind Hearts has the higher body count). Near perfect script and direction are crowned by wondrous performances. History tends to remember Guinness’s virtuoso turn as all seven members of the lofty, aristocratic D’Ascoynes. But it’s really Price’s film: as the D’Ascoynes’ ruthless nemesis Louis he gives us surely the screen’s wittiest and most charming psychopath.

CAGE OF GOLD

UK 1950. Dir Basil Dearden. With Jean Simmons, David Farrer, James Donald,

Herbert Lom. 83min. PG

Simmons’s only film for Ealing is an unfairly neglected slice of Euro-noir, built upon the (apparently) un-Ealing foundations of passion, infidelity and blackmail. Simmons is a nice, middle-class girl with a nice, steady fiancé who is enticed to the dark side by the return of an old flame. The film flits between cosy suburbia and a vivid Parisian demi-monde, and if the conclusion inevitably opts for safety, the alternative is painted with relish, and Farrer, as ever, makes an appealing rogue.

THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT

UK 1951. Dir. Alexander McKendrick. With Alec Guinness, Joan Greenwood, Cecil Parker, Michael Gough,Ernest Thesiger. 85min. U

Mackendrick’s plague-on-all-your houses industrial satire may be the most cynical Ealing film of all. Guinness delivers his most complex comic performance as the unworldly genius Sidney, whose invention of an indestructible, dirt-proof fabric terrifies textile barons and trade unions alike. A parable of the inexorability of technological progress and the tyranny of vested interests – with some sly sexual politics thrown in – it’s as acerbic a piece of social commentary as ever escaped from Ealing.

SECRET PEOPLE

UK 1952. Dir Thorold Dickinson. With Valentina Cortese, Serge Reggiani, Charles

Goldner. 96min. PG

An untypical Ealing film, drawing on Dickinson’s own Spanish Civil War experiences. Maria (Cortese), orphaned in London, is a hesitant revolutionary enlisted by her lover to  assassinate her country’s fascist leader, the man responsible for her father’s death. Compelling and strikingly inventive, Secret People upset contemporary critics for its  apparent indecision, but today it seems an intriguing study of a moral dilemma, with engaging performances from its Italian leads and a notable early role for young Audrey Hepburn.

MANDY

UK 1952. With Phyllis Calvert, Jack Hawkins, Terence Morgan, Mandy Miller,

Edward Chapman. 93min. PG

In this rare Ealing tearjerker, Calvert and Morgan play a couple who disagree about how best to help their deaf child; their relationship is strained further when they become pawns in a political situation at a special school. The story is presented largely from the female point of view and Calvert gives an exceptionally moving performance as the mother torn between her husband and her child. Mandy never succumbs to mawkishness, approaching the subject with sensitivity and reason.

THE CRUEL SEA

UK 1952. Dir Charles Frend. With Virginia McKenna, Stanley Baker. 126min

The ‘Battle of the Atlantic’, as experienced by the captain and first

lieutenant of an anti-submarine convoy escort. Based on Nicholas

Monsarrat’s novel, Ealing’s most popular war film celebrates the commitment and bravery of the British naval forces but isn’t afraid to engage with the harsh realities of combat. Jack Hawkins and Donald Sinden lend British grit to the military spectacle and claustrophobic tension, depicting those men shaped and permanently shadowed by the war.

THE MAGGIE

UK 1954. With Paul Douglas, Alex Mackenzie, Abe Barker, Tommy Kearins,

Hubert Gregg. 92min. U

An unsentimental counterpart to Ealing’s The Titfield Thunderbolt, with the latter’s vintage steam train crewed by high-spirited amateurs replaced by a ramshackle ‘puffer’ boat and its gnarly old skipper. The devious MacTaggart cheats his way to the commission to transport a US businessman’s cargo – the first in a series of indignities heaped on his hapless client. The Maggie pits wealth and modernity against heritage and intransigence in a gleeful subversion of Ealing’s ‘small versus big’ convention.

THE SHIP THAT DIED OF SHAME

UK 1955. Dir Basil Dearden. With George Baker, Richard Attenborough, Bill Owen,

Virginia McKenna. 95min

Director Basil Dearden combines sharp thrills with loose social commentary in this tale of Motor Gun Boat 1087 and her once-celebrated officers now turned smugglers. Ealing’s occasional engagement with the supernatural and nostalgia for the war is spun into one of the studio’s darkest and best final films. Richard Attenborough is on form as a crooked chancer making the best out of the bleak social realities of postwar Britain.

 NOWWHERE TO GO

UK 1958. Dir Seth Holt. With George Nader, Maggie Smith, Bernard Lee, Bessie

Love. 97min. U

A rare, late excursion into noir for Ealing Studios, scripted by first-time director Holt and critic Ken Tynan. A good-looking ex-con (Nader) coolly robs an old lady of her coin collection, anticipating prison, but also the later recovery of the proceeds. Nothing proves that simple and he discovers the truth of the film’s title. Stylish low-key cinematography, a jazz score and Maggie Smith’s debut performance add to the pleasure.

EALING DRAMAS 

THERE AIN’T NO JUSTICE

UK 1939. Dir Penrose Tennyson. With James Hanley, Edward Rigby, Edward Chapman, Mary Clare. 81 min

An aspiring boxer hopes to transcend humble origins and build a name for himself, but comes up against the corruption of the sporting establishment. ‘The film that begs to differ’, announced the publicity for this first film by Ealing’s youngest director, the gifted 25-year-old Pen Tennyson, great-grandson of Lord Alfred. It’s a striking departure from the shallow representation of working-class life in 1930s British films, and the first film to set out recognisably Ealing values: decency, courage and an optimistic faith in humanity and community.

CHEER BOYS CHEER

UK 1939. Dir Walter Forde. With Edmund Gwenn, Peter Coke, Nova  Pilbeam,  84 min.

An ‘Ealing comedy’ before its time? Venerable family brewery Greenleaf finds itself under threat from monopolistic industry titan Ironside. But with an unlikely ally in Ironside’s lovelorn scion, plucky little Greenleaf mounts a courageous fightback. Predating Passport to Pimlico and its comic cohort by a decade, this half-forgotten film was an almost uncanny premonition of Ealing delights to come, in its evocation of community, gently progressive values and ‘small v. big’ dynamic. A missing link in the Ealing story, then, but thanks to comedy veteran Forde, a joyous one.

THE BELLS GO DOWN

UK 1943. Dir Basil Dearden. With Philip Friend, Tommy Trinder, James Mason, Mervyn Johns. 90 min.

“In the East End they say London isn’t a town, it’s a group of villages,” begins Dearden’s tribute to the intrepid firefighters confronting the Luftwaffe’s nightly raids. Village London is a very Ealing conception: the vast, anonymous city reduced to a more human scale. But The Bells Go Down is no mere sentimental homily. Its community has its share of divisions, petty squabbles and criminality, but these fade in the face of a common enemy and the stoic endurance of routine tragedy. An inspiring companion piece to Humphrey Jennings’ Fires Were Started.

SAN DEMETRIO LONDON

UK 1943. Dir Charles Frend. With Ralph Michael, Walter Fitzgerald, Robert Beatty, Gordon Jackson. 104 min.

In 1940 the oil tanker San Demetrio, half torn apart by U-boat torpedoes but still somehow afloat, was valiantly rescued by a handful of its crew and steered home through treacherous Atlantic waters. Frend’s admirable second feature takes a true story of wartime heroism and, without sensationalism or triumphalism, shapes it into something approaching national myth (the damaged but defiant ship stands for Britain, the crew a people united by determination, courage and democratic values). It’s Ealing’s most potent and inspiring fusion of propaganda, documentary and people’s war ideals.

THEY CAME TO A CITY

UK 1944. Dir Basil Dearden. With Googie Withers, John Clements, Raymond Huntley, Renée Gadd. 78 min.

This most unusual of Ealing’s features has long been hard to see and is now in a new digital transfer. A fantastical allegory from the pen of J.B. Priestley, it transports nine disparate Britons to a mysterious city. What they find there is, according to their class and disposition, either an earthly paradise of peace and equality or a hell starved of ambition and riches. A film once dismissed as naïve and uncinematic, it has more recently been viewed as a striking expression of its era’s most utopian impulse.

THE BLUE LAMP

UK 1950. Dir Basil Dearden. With Jack Warner, Dirk Bogarde, James Hanley, Peggy Evans. 82 min.

Ealing’s defining contribution to the police procedural genre – with ex-policeman T.E.B. Clarke’s script lending authenticity – sits on the border between the studio’s dark and light sides. There’s tragedy at its core, and a portrait of snarling, lawless youth (a mesmerising young Dirk Bogarde) that’s tough for its time, not least for Ealing. But if it takes us to dark places, its conclusion expresses an irrepressibly optimistic and comforting vision of the ability of society to overcome its most hostile elements.

THE PROUD VALLEY

UK 1940. Dir Pen Tennyson. With Paul Robeson, Simon Lack, Edward Chapman, Janet Johnson. 77 min.

An American seaman is welcomed into a Welsh mining village and bolsters a community facing industrial decline and the tremors of war.  Paul Robeson brings warmth, integrity and powerful bass tones to his role as David Goliath, the figure around whom the struggling miners unite and discover their own proud voices.  Pen Tennyson directs this simple story with compassion, beauty and dignity to make The Proud Valley one of the most satisfying of early Balcon-era Ealing. 

THE HALFWAY HOUSE

UK 1944. Dir Basil Dearden. With Mervyn Johns, Francoise Rosay, Glynis Johns, Esmond Knight. 96 min.

Towards the end of the war, Ealing films took a positive turn and The Halfway House uses a ghostly setting to look towards a future in which wartime problems such as black marketeering, broken relationships and mourning for lost ones are left behind. A disparate group of people find themselves at a remote inn in the Welsh valleys which turns out not to be quite what it seems. A fine ensemble cast balances the film’s humour with its more serious undertones and the supernatural atmosphere is reinforced by a haunting score.

THE OVERLANDERS

UK 1946. Dir Harry Watt. 

With Chips Rafferty, Daphne Campbell, John Fernside, John Nugent Hayward, Peter Pagan. 91 min.

A band of Australian drovers, led by Dan McAlpine (Chips Rafferty), drive 1000 cattle across the harsh Northern Territory to fresh pastures in Brisbane. Ealing’s first Australian production is a stellar tribute to the country’s WWII scorched earth defence against the Japanese.  Rafferty embraces the sprit of defiance that characterised a nation under threat of invasion, while director Harry Watt brings a documentary sensibility that celebrates the sheer ambition and vast achievement of the drive.

HUE AND CRY

UK 1946. Dir Charles Crichton. With Harry Fowler, Jack Warner, Alastair Sim 82 min  Script: T E B Clarke

In the first of the EALING COMEDIES, Harry Fowler leads the ‘Blood and Thunder Boys’, a group of adolescents who discover their favourite boys-own magazine is being used by criminals to plan robberies. Largely acknowledged as the first in Ealing’s cycle of post-war comedies, Hue and Cry gives us a joyfully chaotic of the kind of English eccentrics which would come to characterise the later films.  Alistair Sim and Jack Warner are the old hands whose exaggerated performances lead a cast of mostly newcomers.

SCOTT OF THE ANTARCTIC
UK 1948. Dir Charles Frend. With John Mills, Kenneth More, John Gregson, James Roberston Justice. 109 min.

Michael Balcon’s self-confessed preference was for tales of adventure and derring-do and Scott fits the bill perfectly. The British spirit of endeavour and determination, even to the point of foolhardiness, pervades the film, as Scott’s expedition gets ever closer to failure. Filming in Technicolor was an interesting choice given the bleak locations but the scenery is captured exquisitely and offers a dramatic backdrop to the exploits of the party. Vaughan Williams’ score heightens the drama so poignantly enacted by Mills and the rest of the sterling cast.

PASSPORT TO PIMLICO

UK 1949. Dir Henry Cornelius. With Stanley Holloway, Margaret Rutherford, Jane Hylton, Paul Dupuis. 84 min.

A group of Pimlico residents discover that they are in fact citizens of the Duchy of Burgundy, a change of nationality that offers them the opportunity to dodge post-war strictures. Tearing up their ration books, they embark on self-governance but soon find that, despite all its problems, Blighty is the best place to be. Cornelius’s only directing credit for Ealing (though he went on to success with Genevieve), Passport to Pimlico is perhaps the studio’s most joyous celebration of Britishness.

THE MAGNET

UK 1950. Dir Charles Frend. With William Fox, Stephen Murray, Kay Walsh, Meredith Edwards. 79 min.

James Fox, (credited here as William) plays Johnny, a 10-year-old who tricks a younger boy into giving him a toy magnet.  Feeling guilty over his deception Johnny anonymously offers the magnet to auction, but when it raises raise enough funds to buy a life saving piece of hospital equipment he is nowhere to be found.  A comedy of childhood errors, The Magnet pokes fun at a cosy adult world made insensible by the fantasies of some of its younger  inhabitants.  Ealing regulars Gladys Henson, Thora Hird and a disguised James Robertson Justice provide support. 

 THE LADYKILLERS

UK 1955. With Alec Guinness, Herbert Lom, Cecil Parker, Peter Sellers, Danny

Green, Katie Johnson. 97min. U

Everyone’s favourite knockabout black comedy caper – or a political fable with the ‘ladykillers’ as the incoming post-war Labour government and the little old ladies as the obstacles of Conservative tradition? Beyond any doubt The Ladykillers is the last great Ealing comedy, and the studio’s final production before its sale to the BBC.American screenwriter William Rose apparently dreamed up the plot overnight, but casting, script, production design, and the Technicolor camerawork combine effortlessly for the blackest of farces.

Rivalling Kind Hearts and Coronets for the gleeful blackness of its humour. Posing as an amateur string quintet while planning a robbery at Kings Cross, an ill-assorted group of crooks led by the sinister Professor Marcus (Guinness) rent rooms from a sweet little old lady (Johnson). Despite a few setbacks, the Professor’s plan works superbly. But there’s one factor he hasn’t allowed for… At 77, veteran bit-part player Johnson all but walks off with the film.

THE LAVENDER HILL MOB
 UK 1951. Dir Charles Crichton. With Alec Guinness, Stanley Holloway, Sidney James, Alfie Bass. 78 min.

Ealing’s theme of the ‘little man fighting back’ finds its culmination here, as upstanding citizens Guinness and Holloway turn to crime, hooking up with two small time crooks to form a gang of unlikely gold smugglers. The heroes’ dreams of freeing themselves from wage slavery in a grey, bombed out London have us rooting for them against the inept police pursuit. Writer T. E. B. Clarke’s comic observations are spot on; he creates a postwar Britain in which demure-looking little old ladies devour American detective fiction with relish.

THE TITFIELD THUNDERBOLT

UK 1952. Dir Charles Crichton. With Stanley Holloway, George Relph, John Gregson, Hugh Griffith, Sid James. 87 min.

The commuters of Titfield form an amateur rail company when they discover that their local branch line is to close.  Despite physical opposition from a rival bus company, the train enthusiasts unite behind their eccentric village vicar (Relph) and his affable drunk benefactor (Holloway), to bumble their way to an operators licence.  Perhaps the archetype of ‘Ealing Light’ Crichton’s gentle and nostalgic film was also the studio’s first made in colour.

Many of these films are available on DVD/Blu atand HUE and CRY, THE LADYKILLERS, THE MAGNET are re-released by STUDIO CANAL in June\July 2015

 


The Misfits (1961)

Director: John Huston   Screenplay: Arthur Miller

Cast: Montgomery Clift, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Thelma Ritter, Eli Wallach, Estelle Winwood

125min   Drama Romance Western  US

The jury’s still out on posterity’s final verdict on the merits of this early road movie set in and around Reno. While it was in production a major event was anticipated: Pulitzer prizewinning playwright Arthur Miller’s script was his first original screenplay – written especially for his movie star wife Marilyn Monroe – and by the time it hit cinemas in early 1961 audiences also knew the film would mark the final screen appearance of Clark Gable. But no one could have dreamt that the film would turn out to be Monroe’s swansong too.

Miller continued ceaselessly to rewrite the script on location as his marriage to Monroe fell apart, and would later describe the shooting of THE MISFITS as a low point in his life. (The pair were divorced just before the film’s premiere). Doped up to the eyeballs, Monroe’s constant late arrivals on set – or complete no-shows – resulted in production relentlessly dragging on for months, and when Gable finally completed his scenes he sighed “Christ I’m glad this picture’s finished. She damn near gave me a heart attack. I’ve never been happier when a film ended”. Just two days afterwards Gable did suffer a heart attack, from which he died ten days later. Despite the massive advance publicity THE MISFITS received, the filmgoing public proved uninterested in the two-hour ramblings of a bunch of blue-collar losers and stayed away. The film continues to dismissed by some as a failure.

The_Misfits_1Yet from all this wreckage – aided by the immaculate location photography of Russell Metty (fresh from his Oscar-winning work on Spartacus) and the editing of Hitchcock’s regular collaborator George Tomasini (fresh from Psycho) – a beautiful and moving film somehow managed to emerge. While the fragile mental state of both Monroe and co-star Montgomery Clift are all-too apparent in the finished film, Monroe remains hauntingly beautiful in a role a million miles from the Hollywood glamour her name usually evokes. With the subsequent untimely loss first of Monroe and then of Clift the film’s morose self-pity began to mellow into melancholy (and it’s always wonderful to see Thelma Ritter again!).

Although making the film almost certainly killed him, THE MISFITS has ironically secured Clark Gable’s reputation with a younger generation that might otherwise know him only – if at all – as Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind. Even those who know their old movies would be hard-pressed to name more than a couple of his post-war vehicles; and his name remains largely the property of those who cherish the classic Hollywood cinema of the thirties. (Gable himself once said that “The only thing that has kept me a big star has been revivals of Gone With the Wind“). Hence the glorious incongruity of his towering presence in this early example of independent US filmmaking; which in retrospect resembles the first of an unofficial trio of black-&-white early sixties contemporary anti-westerns, each dominated by a commanding male lead performance as a drifter in a stetson: the latter pair being Lonely Are the Brave with Kirk Douglas and Hud with Paul Newman. The late David Shipman described THE MISFITS as “an attempt by a New Yorker to come to terms with the West”. A precursor had been Nicholas Ray’s The Lusty Men (1952), whose star Robert Mitchum had also been John Huston’s intended lead for THE MISFITS. Mitchum however didn’t like Miller’s script (or the prospect of strenuous stunt work roping steers in the searing heat of the Nevada desert) and ironically turned it down; since the film is now unthinkable without Gable. He lost two and a half stone for the part, and at 14st looked trimmer than he had in years; and although looking every one of his fifty-nine years, the virility and charisma that nearly thirty years earlier had wowed Jean Harlow and Carole Lombard survives intact. After more than half a century THE MISFITS continues to remind audiences just why Gable was known in his heyday as the King of Hollywood; and his closing speech (“Just head for that big star straight on. The highway’s under it. It’ll take us right home”) has long ago taken its place in film legend alongside Scarlett O’Hara’s “After all, tomorrow is another day”. Richard Chatten.

THE MISFITS IS ON LONG RELEASE AT THE BFI  FOR THE MARILYN MONROE SEASON FROM 12 JUNE 2015

I Am Michael (2015) | FLARE London LGBT Film Festival 2015

Director: Justin Kelly

Writer: Justin Kelly |

Cast: James Franco, Zachary Quinto, Charlie Carver, Emma Roberts, Daryl Hannah, Avan Jogia

98min  US   Drama Biopic

The ubiquitous James Franco is either behind the camera or in front of it these days, playing both gay and straight roles and in  I AM MICHAEL he does both with this inspired foray into the life Michael Glatze, a gay magazine editor who becomes heterosexual after finding God, and transforming into a Christian pastor with unsettling undertones.

Gus Van Sant has financed the debut feature from writer-director Justin Kelly, which is based on a real-life story with  Zachary Quinto and Emma Roberts lending able support as his boyfriend and subsequent fiancée. This is not a straightforward film but one that offers much food for thought in a nuanced and cleverly-scripted narrative (based partly on a New York Times article about Glatze’s life) that  insightfully explores the nature of sexuality, love and belief.

The story opens as Glatze (James Franco) is editor of a gay magazine in late nineties San Francisco and happily involved with lover Bennett (Zachary Quinto), who persuades him to move to Canada so he can take up an important post in Architecture. The relationship with Bennett is natural and totally convincing and both actors seem entirely at one in their performances. But Glatze is jobless and soon bored with the life in Nova Scotia, despite meeting Tyler (Charlie Carver) who adds spice to the couple’s love life and is soon sharing their bed. Glatze launches a new magazine aimed at the ‘coming out’ market whose sexual beliefs are being compromised or constrained by their religious beliefs, and the trio start shooting a documentary entitled Jim in Bold. At this point, we’re persuaded that Glatze’s real raison d’être is to help humanity. James Franco’s forceful presence and hard-eyed gaze melts, on occasion, and particularly when Glatze comes across Jacob Loeb.

But the emergence of regular panic attacks seem to indicate that he’s not happy with his life or his relationship, and these also stem from the fear of a heart condition that cut short his father’s life as a young man. His close relationship with his mother is also a motif running through the film, and he regularly visits her resting place to reinforce his convictions and reminisce. transformation is fleshed out on a blog with voiceover describing his religious zeal. Unable to see himself or his ambitions clearly, Glatze emerges a troubled and confused soul and, while Kelly in no way seeks to condemn or judge him, James Franco reflects this accurately and powerfully in a performance that’s both compelling and subtle but also indicates the presence of a mild personality disorder – it’s a tremendously difficult role which Franco pulls off with remarkable aplomb. After a Buddhist retreat in Wyoming where he meets the gentle Nico (a fine turn from Avan Jogia) he ends up in Bible School where he falls in love with Rebekah Fuller (Emma Roberts) a naive yet appealing young Christian girl.

Christopher Blauvelt’s camerawork is competent on both the widescreen and on more intimate moments but the score occasionally overdoes it, producing an intrusiveness that makes contemplation impossible – and there is a great deal to take in and process in Glatze’s transformation. By the end though, we are more than convinced that this man has by no means found his way in life and those who stray onto his complicated path will continue to find themselves in emotional danger. MT

I AM MICHAEL HEADLINES THIS YEAR’S BFI FLARE LONDON LGBT FILM FESTIVAL FROM 19 – 29 MARCH 2015 AT BFI SOUTHBANK, LONDON SE1. REVIEWED DURING BERLINALE 2015

Katherine Hepburn | Retrospective | BFI | 2015

Christopher_Strong_1 copyKatherine Hepburn was one of Hollywood’s most charismatic female stars. Her career (1907-2003) stretched over fifty years from her debut film BILL OF DIVORCEMENT (1932), directed by her regular collaborator, George Cukor, who would be in charge of five more of her films and notably, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940). Having spent four successful years in the theatre (where she would return very often), she won her first “Oscar” nomination in 1933 for the role of Eva Lovelace in MORNING GLORY (1933), only her third film. Directed by Lowell Sherman, Hepburn plays a Broadway actress on her way to stardom. Here Hepburn plays the opposite of the scheming title character of All about Eve; attributing her success mainly to hard work despite rather lucky break to help things along. Shot in the same sequence as the script, MORNING GLORY (***) shows Hepburn as a very competent young actress but her wild temperament, which would be so noticeable in further performances, seems to be held in check by the director, who obviously gave the best lines to the two male stars Douglas Fairbanks junior and Adolphe Menjou.

Bringing_Up_Baby_1 copy

BRINGING UP BABY (*****) directed in 1938 by Howard Hawks, though a box office disaster (proving again that Hepburn was box-office poison between 1934-40), is still the ultimate film of all screwball comedies of the thirties and forties. Hepburn plays Susan Vance, a scatterbrain heiress who lures the unsuspecting zoologist David Huxley (Cary Grant) into all sort of adventures – mainly to keep her aunt’s pet leopard “Baby” out of trouble. Huxley’s engagement to his cold blooded assistant, and (in the last scene of the film) his life’s work, the reconstruction of a Brontosaurus, all are destroyed in the name of love – even though for most of the film Huxley is very unaware of any positive affections for Ms Vance. BRINGING UP BABY is the quintessential Hepburn film, before her mature period of “Spinsters and Shakespeare”.

Guess_Who's_Coming_To_Dinner_1 copyStanley Kramer’s GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER (****) might not seem very daring today, but when it was released in 1967 interracial marriage was still illegal in 17 (mostly southern) states of the USA. GUESS WHO’S COMING was the ninth and last film starring Hepburn and her long time partner Stacey Tracy, the latter would die 17 days after shooting ended. Their relationship had lasted since 1941, even though they never married – and their relationship was kept silent by the film companies because of Tracy’s marriage. Set in 60s San Francisco Joanna (Katharina Houghton, Hepburn’s niece), invites her black fiancée John (Sidney Poitier) and his parents to meet her own parents (Hepburn and Tracy). She is surprised that her liberal and progressive folks seem not to be overjoyed by the fact that she chose a black man – even though both parents try to camouflage their feelings as well as possible. The delicate subject is treated with some humour, even though harsh words are spoken – Joanna trying to come to terms with the realisation of the massive gulf which exists between her parents general attitude and their reactions to her engagement, so often still the case nowadays.

One year later Hepburn starred as Queen Eleanor in Anthony Harvey’s THE LION IN WINTER (***) together with Peter O’Toole as Henry II and based on a idea by John Goldman. This featured a sparkling debut by Anthony Hopkins as Richard the Lionheart. Whilst Henry II wants his eldest son, the future King John, as his heir Eleanor prefers their oldest surviving son, Richard The Lionheart. Henry locks all his sons in a dungeon, travelling to Rome to have his marriage annulled. He than sentences them to death, only to let them escape. Whilst going in a barge to prison, Eleanor still thinks that she has future life with Henry. Historically incorrect, THE LION IN WINTER is a showcase for the now mature Hepburn, whose performance carried the film, leaving O’Toole’s Henry II in the shade.

ON GOLDEN POND (***1/2) (1981) was to be Hepburn’s last major film, it won her the fourth “Oscar”, opposite Henry Fonda who also won the award for his last film. Ethel (Hepburn) and Norman (Fonda) Thayer are spending a (last) summer at her cottage near a lake called The Golden Pond. Norman, who is very stubborn and cantankerous, does not get on well with his daughter Chelsea (Jane Fonda), or her fiancé Bill. But in spite of their concern, Chelsea and Bill leave his teenage son with the old couple. During fishing trips Norman softens visibly and Billy, who misses his friends, gets used to his new company. At the end of the holiday, Norman suffers a heart attack and decides to die at the lake. Jane Fonda had secured the rights to the play of the same name from Ernest Thompson (who also wrote the screen play), the relationship in the film mirroring that of the two Fondas. Directed by with great sensibility by Mark Rydell, ON GOLDEN POND was the only film to be produced in Hollywood during the screen-writers strike in 1981 – a tribute to Hepburn and Fonda. AS

THE KATHERINE HEPBURN RETROSPECTIVE RUNS FROM 1 February until 19 March 2015 at the BFI Southbank London

10 Reasons to visit the LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2014

winter-sleep-2014-004-melisa-sozen-headshotWINTER SLEEP ***** Palme D’Or | Cannes | 2014

Sumptuously set in a mountain village in his beloved Anatolia, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s arthouse character study enters the slow-burn orbit of loquacious ‘resting’ actor and hotelier, Aydin (Haluk Bilginer). Presiding over his family and local community, he portrays a misunderstood victim, a gracious and urbane sophisticate who, destined for better things, is forced to civilise his unworthy community and minister to the needs of passing travellers. As the winter closes in on this feudal kingdom, Aydin is forced to come to terms with himself through a bitter and dysfunctional relationship with sister (Demet Akbag) and younger wife (Melisa Sozen) who both despise him. Themes of social class, moral responsibility and altruism weave slowly and sinuously through this engrossing tale that is intimate in style, yet epic in its length and ambitions (196 mins).  Stunning.

turnMr Turner ****  | Best Actor | Cannes | 2014

Mike Leigh’s ambitious biopic of J M W Turner’s middle-age serves as a worthy and painterly tribute to a national treasure. In a performance of some complexity, Timothy Spall portrays the ‘painter of light’ as a romantic gruffalo with a heart of gold but a curious style of love-making. The film opens in 1826 with a magnificent shot of a Dutch landscape where Turner is visiting for inspiration and work. A solid British cast works to the ‘Leigh family method’. At the Royal Academy we meet arch rivals John Constable (James Fleet) and his wealthy Patron and other Leigh staples (Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen). All are carefully worked into the narrative along with a humorous vignette from Joshua Maguire as a verbose live-wire John Ruskin. In Margate, Turner finds peace amd contentment with a local landlady (a luminous Marion Bailey). Victorian England is very much a character, proudly flying the flag of the Empire at its peak but Leigh is at pains to underline that Turner left his works to the Nation and not the homes of rich Victorian industrialists, who had funded him. Although this is a departure from his usual subject matter; in casting his usual actors, it all feels very ‘Mike Leigh’.

Jauja_Lisandro_AlonsoJAUJA **** FIPRESCI winner | Cannes | 2014

JAUJA (Land of Plenty) is a philosophical, existential drama, almost as enigmatic as the mythical place it claims to represent – an Argentinian ‘El Dorado’. Lisandro Alonso has wisely chosen Viggo Mortensen to play the role of a respectable but unsettled Danish 19th army captain travelling across the rugged region with his teenage daughter (Viilbjork Mallin Agger) and a motley collection of soldiers who speak Spanish, purportedly on a mission to wipe out the Zuluagas – a lethal tribe of natives, nick-named “Coconut Heads”.  In a horseback search across hostile terrain, the captain’s brushes with the Zuluagas are eerie and lethal. A change of tone midway signals a descent into a fantasy time-warp bringing the narrative back to contempo Denmark in a surprising but enchanting denoumen. Finnish photographer, Timo Salminen, captures this magical story in long takes, sumptuously lighting each frame as a work of art as Mortensen flexes his musical talents in an original score. MT

whitegodWHITE GOD **** Un Certain Regard WINNER | Cannes | 2014

Hungarian director, Kornél Mundruczó’s art house thriller has a ‘Pied Piper of Hamlin’ feel to it. An enigmatic parable that scratches the edges of horror, there are some bizarre and brutal elements. Dogs, or more correctly, mutts are the stars of the story which opens with a little girl cycling through the streets of Budapest, followed by a pack of barking beasts (front picture). From Alsations to Labradors, Rottweilers and even little terriers, WHITE GOD also brings to mind The Incredible Journey with a more sinister twist. These dogs are clearly well-trained and credit goes to the Mundruczo for his ambitious undertaking but then Magyars have a reputation for their handling skills with horses and this clearly extends to the canine species. Lilli (Zsofia Psotta) the girl on the bike, has adopted a large street dog called Hagen in a modern parable, quite literally, a tale of the ‘underdog’ rising up and claiming his rightful place in society. WHITE GOD is a unique and really captivating piece of filmmaking.MT

salvationTHE SALVATION ****  | Denmark| US | 2014

It’s always gratifying to see a great film that hasn’t had much buzz, pre-festival. THE SALVATION is one of those outings: but with Mads Mikkelsen and Eva Green what could go wrong? Well, we’ve certainly found the next Clint Eastwood in Christian Levring’s Danish-American Western. As Jon, a former soldier who immigrated to America after the Danish-German war in 1864, Mads has just the right look and smouldering buttoned-up anger to keep the action taut and macho throughout this glowering, sun-burnished saga shot by lenser Jens Schlosser in South Africa and with echoes of High Noon. When Jon’s wife and son join him in the lawless Mid West after joining him from Denmark, they are brutally killed; the modest, law-abiding outsider Mads turns hurt into hatred, by taking the outlaw’s life in return. Eva Green seethes in a speechless part (as Princess) rendered mute by an Indian’s weapon and married to the Colonel (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who heads up the villainous Delarue Family, and looking for retribution. With a zippy running time of 89 minutes, this is a slick and enjoyable ride through the Wild West: Danish angle works well with the xenophobic locals of the era. MT

leviathan 4LEVIATHAN  ****  | Russia | 2014

A saga set in Northern Russsia. Before anything else are the familiar strengths of Andrei Zvyagintsev’s work: Regular cinematographer Mikhail Krichman shoots with a reliance on the natural light of northwest Russia’s late summer/early autumn, giving the whole thing a pallet at once unhealthily under-lit and richly blue. Elena Lyadova, a less central performer in ELENA, is here elevated to key player: in her, Zvyagintsev has found an actress whose hardened beauty betrays all the hurt and disappointment that an ordinary life down on the lower rungs can bring. In so much as a glance here, she conveys a woman caught between the rock of an unhappy marriage and the unbearably hard place of a doomed affair. Philip Glass’s music also returns: ‘The Ruins’, from his 1983 opera Akhnaten, bookends proceedings over sequences of harsh, foreboding cliff faces and crashing, ominous waves. Does the film overreach? Though such passages as that just mentioned are vivid and gripping in themselves, they do suggest a director who’s possibly too eager to imbue his work with an air of thematic significance. All the more refreshing, then, that the film is also Zvyagintsev’s funniest by far. Never settling for any one simple tonal register, it at times reaching levels of black satire, most notably in its early depictions of Vadim the mayor, a shark in a small pond whose office boasts a framed portrait of Putin, to whose shady Machiavellianism he palpably aspires (other framed leaders, from Lenin to Gorbachev, feature in another scene). As Vadim, Madyanov steals the show, resembling a fluffy teddy bear dowsed in vodka one moment and a ruthless, no-nonsense brute the next. MP

goobTHE GOOB **** | UK | 2014

Guy Myhill’s debut evokes the open spaces of Norfolk veiled in golden summer. An unsettling coming of age story, it pits a young man’s burgeoning sexuality against that of his mother’s boorish boyfriend – an avid stock-car racing champion and local grower. Simon Tindall’s ethereal camera-work captures the rough and ready appeal of this farming landscape and its gutsy inhabitants and a soft-focus arthouse twist contrasts well with the pumping score of hits that include Donna Summer. Constantly on the move, the restless Dardennesque pace also brings to mind that motorcycle opening sequence of Lawrence of Arabia. This is a very English affair bristling with sexual tension and dreamy awakenings from childhood to young adulthood in the Fens, it teases with an enigmatic storyline that weaves into focus then departs again in a different direction, never quite revealing itself but conjuring up a family in turmoil. A really atmospheric indie Britflick. MT

Im_Keller_2-©Ulrich_SeidlIN THE BASEMENT (IM KELLER) **** | Austria | 2014

After exploring the sex lives of a three contemporary women (Love, Hope, Paradise), Austrian maverick, Ulrich Seidl, plumbs the domestic cellars of his homeland for more outrageous material in his latest documentary IM KELLER (In The Cellar). A word normally applied to horror film ‘unheimlich’ describes these underground spaces that are the total opposite of cosy: we meet group of characters who appear only too happy to share with us their unusual habits and hobbies in this subterranean world. With his regular collaborator Veronika Franz, Seidl’s preoccupation with obesity, nudity and S&M goes hand in hand with religious bigotry and undercover Nazis (Hitler was, of course, Austrian) – all are alive and kicking in the homes of the outwardly innocuous Austrians. Indie and art house audiences with a penchant for the macabre and Seidl’s dark brand of humour will certainly flock to see Im Keller even though it is, in parts, a sight for sore eyes. It certainly proves that in Austria as well as Yorkshire there’s ‘nowt so queer as folk”. Guaranteed to make you squirm in your seats.MT

Altman_1ALTMAN **** | Venice | 2014

The fascinating career of Robert Altman is the subject of Ron Mann’s biopic that kicks off with the auteur’s chance meeting that changed his life. It all seemed so simple in those days, one lucky meeting leads to a career spanning 50 years. But you do need talent, of course, and perseverance, and Altman, we discover, had this in spades along with an ability to inspire and impress, and to re-invent himself in a career that led to prodigious TV work (Bonanza) before he even started making films. The only director to win top prize at three major European film festivals (Cannes, Berlin, Venice) and the first director to have concurrent conversations in his films; he developed a way of recording, allowing audiences to listen to several conversations at once, adding a feel of reality to his dramas. He also invented the ‘portmanteau’ film (Short Cuts, The Player). The majority of his films were financed independently and box office standout Gosford Park found finance at the last minute through the UK Lottery: ironically  it was also made after he received the heart of a young woman. Packed with fascinating details, Mann’s doc is watchable and entertaining. MT

photoTHE DUKE OF BURGUNDY **** 

Peter Strickland’s focus on the exploitation genre has already alighted on the Italian ‘giallo’ (Berberian Sound Studio) and the ‘revenge thriller'(Katalin Varga). Here he turns his talents to a seventies-set story of lesbian erotica. The Duke in question is a butterfly,  delicately exploring the love between two female etymologists engaged in a dominant/submissive affair. Chiara D’Anna (Evelyn) and Sidse Babett Knudsen (Cynthia) play the lovers in this intriguing and unconventional drama which drifts into dreamlike abstract and experimental episodes (complete with unusual  sound effects) evoking the emotional ecstasy of this complex sexual adventure. MT

THE BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 8 – 19 OCTOBER 2014 ALL OVER LONDON

 

 

 

Pawel Edelman – Cinematographer

PE: Well I was born in Lodz (Poland), this is the famous city where the film school was founded and all the time when I was a young boy I was remembering that very special place in the city where all the great directors were learning how to make beautiful films so from the very first moment I was thinking about movies.  And then, and this was by accident, my brother gave me a camera and I didn’t think about making stills or even movies at that time, let alone cinematography, but it was such a great pleasure that I decided to go to the film school (which was then funded by the Government) and it all started like that. It you’ve even seen The Promised Land by Wajda, it was filmed in the city of Lodz. It was industrial, full of red brick, dull buildings but the only place that was shining was the film school and that’s why everybody wanted to go there. 

Q: Lódz is not only know for the film school but it’s the only city that has a festival aimed at cinematography, the famous Camerimage Festival that takes place each November. Was it natural that you were always going to study there, rather than some other place? Was it because you wanted to follow in the footsteps of Wajda and Polanski?

PE: Well of course, I never imagined that I would go somewhere else, from the very first moment I knew that this was where a young Polish filmmaker should go.

Q: Tell us about the training there and how you ended up working towards  cinematography?

PE: Well Lódz was a very special film school. Right from the beginning, we started making a black and white film on 35mm and all the films during my training there were only made on 35mm which was very rare because all the other schools during my training were using 16mm, a smaller camera, so that was the first difference about Lodz.  The second was that we had a professional crew; we had gaffers, camera assistants and grips, so from the first year we had to co-operate with those people which was a great training because later on when we started working on professional productions we already had some tricks and knew how to handle the crew, which is one of the most important elements if you’re going to be a good DoP, so we had some great teachers and we made some fantastic friends.  So just after film school I started to shoot features with my colleague directors, which was fantastic.

Q  So let’s move on now to one of the major collaborators of your career, (Roman Polanski), and it’s somebody who I want to come back to later because this was your international breakthrough.

But first, let’s show a clip of the film you made with Andrzej Wajda, that was the starting point to Hollywood:

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ED: Yes, and that’s why I wanted to show you this Pan Tadeusz clip (of the Last Foray in Lithuania (1999)) because it was about the 10th film I did in Poland and probably the one that attracted the attention of Roman Polanski, because after that he called me and asked me to join him in The Pianist (2002) so that was the link between my Polish period of my career and the international one.

Q Before we look at The Pianist I want to find out how exactly you defined your role in the making of all these films.  Where you someone who involved yourself very early on with the script-reading with the director and the actors? How did you start to get a vision for the film?

ED: That was the good thing about Lodz film school, we were working most of the time with the directors. After finishing film school I started working with my friend Wladyslaw Pasikowski, I think we’ve made 8 movies together, and the films we made together were like a stylistic breakthrough in Poland and they were very popular. Wladyslaw was like a star. We were working on the script, talking about the locations, scouting together, collaborating on the writing and that tradition is something very special at that school. Together we made Kroll (1991); Pigs (1992); Psy 2: Ostatnia crew (1994); Bitter-Sweet (1999); Demony wojny wed ug Goi (1998); Operacja Samum (1999); Reich (2001); Poklosie (2012).

Q: And does this make things much easier for you when working on the film?

ED: Of course it does: it’s interesting to be involved as early as possible, to know the main subject and the themes to be a part of the whole machinery of the movie-making process, which makes you (as a DoP) more involved and in the  centre of the process.

Q: So we come to The Pianist, which won you a César and also the Eagle Polish Film Award 2003 for best cinematography and numerous nominations leading to your becoming Hollywood Cinematographer of the Year in 2005.  What were the initial meetings with Polanski like?

ED: Roman is a director who knows exactly what he wants. We didn’t have a long conversation at the beginning, we just met very briefly in Berlin, because that’s where the movie was to be shot, in Berlin and the second part in Warsaw. We were briefly talking about the style of the film and the only thing was said was that it should be as natural and as documentary (in style) as possible and everyday when I went on set I kept in mind that it should be as simple as possible. Because if I can make it like that it will be believable.

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Q:  I mentioned my interest about the relationship between the DoP, the director and the film editor and then tensions between them all.  How much did you and Roman Polanski speak about the way you were going to shoot this scene in terms of how it was going to eventually appear with the close screen shots of the actor in the room and then the camera going outside to the streets below?

PE  Roman’s way of working is always the same.  We don’t know too much about the scenes before we meet with the actors. Every morning there’s a meeting with the DoP, the directors and the actors, we start from scratch with the actors reading the script and he’s (Roman) placing them in the room, in that case. They rehearse the scene over and over again and then after the rehearsals, when everybody knows what they’re doing, we look at the scene created by them and we discuss how to film it.  We don’t know what will happen later ’til after the rehearsals and I just love that type of work because everything goes naturally from the script and from the actors.

Q: And is that the way it worked even from the “documentary-type” style you tried to follow in The Pianist?

PE: Yes, nothing is pre-planned, everything seems to be absolutely natural.

Q: So The Pianist led you into Hollywood and how would say that changed things from the point of view of working style?  Did you find it more enjoyable, or did you find yourself (being) more of a cog in a large wheel?

PE: Definitely there’s a huge difference between making films in Europe and making them in America. Making films in America you become part of the ‘film industry’, making films in Europe is working with friends, and my friend directors.  And this is a totally different type of activity. In the US, you’re part of the big machinery, in Europe you’re working in a creative process with your friends. And that’s always going to be more fun, working with friends.

Q: It’s great that we’ve got two examples of American Film clips to show you and, in a way, you couldn’t get a more different visual style.  We’re going to start with All The King’s Men (2006) by Steven Zaillian and the second is Ray (2004) which you made with Taylor Hackford.

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Q: Ray uses a very soft palette of rich colours, embued with the warm South and reflecting the mellow feel of jazz music but with All The King’s Men you’ve used a very cool steely palate with interesting use of shadow and harsh.  Could you talk about how you and Steven Zaillian created the look of this film?

PE: I think the idea was ‘German Expressionist‘ because we all had this picture in our minds on those beautiful black and white films and that’s why we wanted to go with this feel of going away from colour, being de-saturated, not strong and we wanted to use a harder light intentionally to show the hardness and cruelty of that type of politics.  Things are a little different now and times have changed and I think the audience likes this type of commercial films rather than the artistic, ambitious type of film.

Q: Just taking that point further, do you think that there’s still a very strong visual culture in Poland?  In the UK, I think because we come out of a culture of theatre and writing, there’s a more literary culture but I don’t think there’s ever been a strong visual style here compared to Poland. Is the visual aesthetic still there in contemporary Polish film?

PE: Obviously there’s a huge tradition of classical cinema in Poland and this is Wajda and friends.  I was lucky to meet Andrzej  and have been with him on many films and he is one of the directors who’s thinking more about the visual side and how the movie will look but I can’t say that this tradition is existing in every single section in Poland. It’s sad but it’s gone.  I think that the story has to visible, that’s the most important thing.  I wouldn’t like to be remembered as a guy who did good pictures on bad films, I would rather be remembered for good films with bad pictures and I’m being serious (laughs).  I’m not fighting for something that’s mine, I’m fighting for the characters, I’m fighting for the scenes, that’s why the composition is good because of something, because of the accent you should put on somebody or some element that should be there and very visible in the film.

Q: So to sum up, looking back over your career so far do you think you have a specific visual style or do you feel your imput is ABSOLUTELY dictated by the material you’re working on?

PE: Yes, as I’m getting older I believe that the script gives all the answers: you just take the script and feel script and smell it…that’s how I think of it. The script dictates the solutions.

Q: Moving on, let’s talk about  Roman Polanski and about the very strong story of your second collaboration with him in 2005, Oliver Twist.

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PE: Yes this production had effects that had to be larger than life. We were 90 days shooting this movie in Prague. The costumes were highly exaggerated and we used more make-up on the actors.  To create that special look we made use of candle-light, and locally placed lanterns. There were loads of people dragging hundreds of lanterns and different lights around the set just to give the correct feel to the lighting, it was very intense and special.

Q: And moving on to The Ghost Writer (2010) tell us about the way you created the visual look for that film?

PE: There was clouds, and we were waiting for clouds all the time and there was no sunlight or hard light and my goal was to build a contrast, sometimes quite high levels of contrast using only the soft light and also a de-saturated palette of colours.

Q You go from a very short depth of field to a very wide lens in the scene of Ewan McGregor and Olivier Williams when they’re walking along the beach:

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PE: Well this is a different subject: choice of lenses. Roman is using only two lenses, no more.  Not everybody know this. For each film we were just picking two lenses and just shooting everything with them. This is very rare.

Q: Why does he do that?

PE: Because he feels that if he switches from long lenses to short lenses for the shot, there will be no consistency for the shot, for the look he’s going for, so in The Pianist we were only using 25 and 32.  In Oliver Twist, because of the larger that life idea we were using little lenses like 21 to 25 then for The Ghost Writer we came back to 25 and 32. And nobody else is like that.  I’ve never worked with another director who’s so strict, who picks such a small variety of optics.

Q: Let’s look at another clip of The Ghost Writer – one where Ewan McGregor is involved in a car chase.
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Q: This is an action sequence.  Do you find it pleasurable, upping the ante and working with more dynamic action scenes?
PE: Roman is very precise. Everything grows from the rehearsals, tons of rehearsals, and there’s a little story about this, not about that film but about The Pianist. There is a scene there when 2000 extras are leaving the ghetto and the Germans are putting them into carriages.  We had only two days in the schedule to prepare and shoot that scene and it was a complex and very complicated and yet we wanted it to appear very natural. And it was costing tons of money each days with these 2000 extras and on the first day Roman was just rehearsing again and again the producers were going crazy because by the end of the day we hadn’t shot even one metre of film. So on the second day we shot the whole scene very quickly because, after the tons of rehearsals, we know exactly what we wanted.  And everything is like that with Roman.  Things that appear terrible complex and difficult just seem to be suddenly be so easy and natural and that’s his way of doing complex scenes.
He likes it when the situation is limiting him and when people are difficult and when there’s no time left.  At the moment we are shooting Venus In Fur, which is about limitations and only has only two people in real time in the theatre, which is limiting and this is what excites him.
Q: What sort of equipment do you like using?
PE: I think all the cameras are different. I was just used to using Panavision, but for the last 3 or 4 films I was using Arricam which are better and lighter and wellmade and for lens I use Cooks 4.  In Carnage we used 25 and 32.
Q: And how do you capture the feel of a film in the opening scene?
PE: When I’m reading the script for the first time, I try to get a feeling: I’d say I literally smell it – for example no sun, only clouds,  black and white,  handheld, It’s the basic imagery that comes out from the lines in the script.  And as soon as I’ve caught it I start the film and I’m not doing the film until I’ve captured the feel or style of the script because otherwise i don’t know what to do.
Q  Have you ever had to compromise your vision to make a film?
PE: My point of view is that the images shouldn’t be beautiful per se.  The images have to capture the film, they have to serve the film and it’s not a sacrifice it’s just understanding my work.  I don’t think beautiful pics are the best picture, the pics have to serve the general idea and style: handsome or not.
Q Give us an example of where you felt extremely happy with what you’d achieved on a film?
PE: It’s not like that.  But there are always mistakes things i’d now in a different way.
Q: Do you prefer working on location or in a studio.
PE: Well on location it’s sometimes easier; you’re there in the surrounding and don’t have to work so hard to imagine the style but and it’s less boring because you’re moving around but on the other hand, the studio gives you the opportunity to control the film and you’re not waiting around for the weather.  When I’m sitting around waiting for sun or clouds it’s hopeless and I want to be independent from the weather but then in the studio you always want to be in the other place!
Q: How do you feel about your relationship with editors?  It is sometimes difficult?.
PE: I have to say that sometimes I have arguments with editors, especially nowadays (general laughter). Recently I’ve had experiences where they are making decisions about which takes to use; because nowadays everything is transferred on to tape including the take you dont want to use. The editor can choose bad takes that are out of focus or not the ones we chose at the time of shooting.  So the editors decisions are technically wrong and I try to explain to them why they’re wrong but they are still going ahead and use the wrong material and it makes me furious. But I’m sure there are still good editors out there (laughs).
Q: Film or digital, which do you prefer?
PE: Yes, all the films so far have been on 35mm.  I’ve shot one film on digital and that’s the last Polanski movie, Venus in Fur.  Every time, for the last 7 years, before we start the movie we run the tests and all the time the winner was 35mm.  And this time we ran the tests and the result came out that new digital Sony F65 was best. Roman and I agreed that this was the one to use for the first time.  So we haven’t finished the movie yet and I still have to go through post production.  But we’ll see if we’ve made the right decision when I see the final result.  Or I’ll be crying (laughs).
Q: Do you find that using digital has effected your performance during the filmmaking process?
Digital is different, I must admit. Looking through the eyepiece used to be the best way to see the filming process but the digital cameras don’t have good eyepieces so you have to look at the shooting process and see the scene is on the monitor which is different, so you don’t operate the camera from the eyepiece anymore.  The monitor shows you details, colours, contrast etc so it best to look at that.
Q: Tell us about your relationship with Andrzej Wajda?
PE: We have in Poland since the Second World War, two major film directors: one is Roman Polanski and the other is Andrzej Wajda and I’ve had the luck and the fortune to work with both of them and they’re both completely different, I must say but they are both great Masters: Andrzej is more intuitive and all about the visual side of the film, and his vision because before he was a painter, may be that’s why.  Roman is an actor so he knows how to connect with and direct the actors in a very precise way and is very connected to the acting and re-hearsing process. And there is a difference because Andrjez is trying to solve political and social problems but Roman is more interested in telling stories that interest him. But they are both wonderful filmmakers coming from different perspectives.
Q: Do you find your relationship with Andrzej in more intuitive when you’re working with him.  Over the last few decades of collaboration, do you find you know what he wants immediately when you start work.
PE: No. With Andrzej  every day is an improvisation and completely different. Some days we are working on changes with the script. Others we are implementing these changes with the actors.  I never know how it’s going to develop.  With Roman, everything is very precise, close to the last detail which I also find very fun and very interesting. I have great pleasure in working with both of them.
Q: We are going to close with a clip from Katyn.  Tell us why you want to close with this film.
PE: We wanted to show the mechanism of the crime. There was a great deal of improvision with actors and with the stunts and it was all shot very quickly and shows the cruelty of the situation, filmed with a handheld camera.
Q:Thanks very much Pawel Edelman for talking to us tonight.
PE: Thank you very much.
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PAWEL EDELMAN WAS SPEAKING AT THE BFI ON 14TH MARCH 2013.

FASHION IN FILM FESTIVAL London 10-19 May 2013

FIFF celebrates  its fourth year with an excting array of films  from 10-19 May in four locations around London. Showcasing the common ground shared by the creative industries of fashion and film, this biennial  culture show highlights the rich and vibrant array of costumes and fashions that have graced the silver screen.  Adding  cinematic edge and visual impact and allure, fashion and costume is an invaluable element in creating the right atmosphere for the era portrayed.

2013 FOCUS; MARCEL L’HERBIER

This year the focus is on the work of one of France’s most iconic and innovative filmmakers: Marcel L’Herbier. An ‘architect’ of film, he collaborated with the likes of Alberto Cavalcanti, Robert Delauney, Fernand Leger and Lucien Lelong to bring together the various creative crafts of costume design, set design and make-up in the hope of elevating cinema to a new art form.  An avant-garde figure in the world of film during the vibrant cultural milieu of inter-war Paris, his films will be showcased in this year’s festival which paying homage to some of his classic silent films.

We particularly recommend: L’ARGENT (1928) which brings Emile Zola’s deuxieme empire novel to the screen in the era of Art Deco and has live musical accompaniment.

THE FULL PROGRAMME IS AS FOLLOWS

LONDON |
10 MAY 2013

L’Argent

Location:BFI Southbank, NFT3
Date & Time:10 May 2013 – 18:30
Directed By:Marcel L’Herbier
Programme:Marcel L’Herbier: Fabricating Dreams
11 MAY 2013

L’Epervier

Location:Ciné Lumière
Date & Time:11 May 2013 – 14:00
Directed By:Marcel L’Herbier
Programme:Marcel L’Herbier: Fabricating Dreams
12 MAY 2013

Le Parfum de la dame en noir

Location:Ciné Lumière
Date & Time:12 May 2013 – 14:00
Directed By:Marcel L’Herbier
Programme:Marcel L’Herbier: Fabricating Dreams
Introduced by Mireille Beaulieu
13 MAY 2013

Le Vertige

Location:BFI Southbank, NFT3
Date & Time:13 May 2013 – 18:15
Directed By:Marcel L’Herbier
Programme:Marcel L’Herbier: Fabricating Dreams
Introduced by Nick Rees-Roberts
14 MAY 2013

Your Guide to the Fashions of the Future

Location:The Horse Hospital
Date & Time:14 May 2013 – 19:00
Programme:Marcel L’Herbier: Fabricating Dreams
Hosted by Ken Hollings and Marketa Uhlirova
15 MAY 2013

Claude Autant-Lara

Location:BFI Southbank, NFT3
Date & Time:15 May 2013 – 18:10
Programme:Marcel L’Herbier: Fabricating Dreams
Claude Autant-Lara: from the Inter-war Avant-Garde to New Wave Pariah. An Illustrated lecture by Sarah Leahy
16 MAY 2013

Le Vertige

Location:BFI Southbank, NFT3
Date & Time:16 May 2013 – 20:30
Directed By:Marcel L’Herbier
Programme:Marcel L’Herbier: Fabricating Dreams
17 MAY 2013

Looking at L’Herbier: French Modernism Between the Wars

Location:Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design, LVMH Lecture Theatre.
Date & Time:17 May 2013 – 14:00 – 18:00
Programme:Marcel L’Herbier: Fabricating Dreams
Symposium organised by Caroline Evans
18 MAY 2013

L’Inhumaine

Location:Barbican
Date & Time:18 May 2013
Directed By:Marcel L’Herbier
Programme:Marcel L’Herbier: Fabricating Dreams
Introduced by Caroline Evans
19 MAY 2013

L’Argent

Location:BFI Southbank, NFT3
Date & Time:19 May 2013 – 15:50
Directed By:Marcel L’Herbier
Programme:Marcel L’Herbier: Fabricating Dreams
FASHION IN FILM FESTIVAL IS AT THE BFI, THE HORSE HOSPITAL, THE CINE LUMIERE AND THE BARBICAN, LONON  FROM 10-19 MAY 2013

 

The Absence of Love | Michelangelo Antonioni Retro

Humans are intruders in the film world of Michelangelo Antonioni: they destroy the harmony of nature and society. Only in a few cases, when they act in solidarity with others, do they have a chance to become part of something whole.

Antonioni grew up in Ferrara in the Po Valley not far from the setting of his documentary short GENTE DEL PO (1943-47). Visconti was in the throws of filming Ossessione nearby. Despite its neo-realistic moorings, this is a personal statement: an effort to interpret the world via the moving image, rather than the other way round. Antonioni’s realism is not to show anything natural, humane or  dramatic, and particularly not anything like an idea, a thesis. Memory alone forms the model for his art. Memory in the form of images: photos, paintings, writing – they form the basis of his later work – an adventure, where the audience peels off the many layers, like off an onion: a painting, more than once painted over.

Antonioni was already 38 when he made his drama debut with Cronaca Du Un Amore (1950)  Superficially a film noir, in the mood of Visconti’s first opus Ossessione, this expressed the overriding existential angst, loneliness and alienation that would permeate his work. Paola and Guido grew up in the same neighbourhood in Ferrara, and want to do away with Paola’s rich husband Enrico Fontana. This is no crime of passion, because Paola and Guido are unable to love, or even imagine a life together –  but they both stand to profit from Fontana’s death. And the city of Milan is much more than a background: life here is a reflection of the state of mind of the conspirators: like a drug, the street life full of chaos, the neurotic atmosphere in the cafes. All this is unreal, jungle like: modern urbanity as hell, a central topic of Antonioni’s opus. And he observes his main protagonists often, when they are alone, not only in dramatic scenes. This way, he creates an elliptical structure, with two combustion points: action and echo. As Wenders said: “The strength of the American Cinema is a forward focus, European cinema paints ellipses”.

I VINTI (1952) is set in three different countries (Italy, France and the UK), and tells the stories of youthful perpetrators, who commit their crimes not out of material necessity, but just for fun. Even though the crimes are central, Antonioni is not much interested in the structure of the genre. The police work is secondary, as are the criminals themselves: Antonioni is fascinated with the daily life of his protagonists, the crimes are more and more forgotten, the investigations peter out – shades of L’ Avventura and Blow Up.

In LE AMICHE (1955) Antonioni finds the structure for his features, seemingly overpopulated with couples and friends – who are all busy, but play a secondary role to their environment, in this case Turin. Clelia who comes to Turin, to open a designer shop for clothes, falls in with four other young women, all of them much wealthier than she is. Their changing couplings with men end tragically. Set between Clelia’s arrival in Turin and her leaving for Rome, LE AMICHE is a kaleidoscope of human frailty, in which the audience is waiting for something to happen, some sort of story of boy meets girl story, but when something like it really happens, it is so secondary, so much overlaid by all the small details we have learned before, that we are as dislocated as the characters: we flounder because Antonioni does not tell a story with a beginning and an end (however much we pretend), but he tells us, that the world can exist without stories. Because there is so much more to see in the city of Turin, as there will be in Rome: Clelia is only the messenger, send out by Antonioni to be a traveller, not a story teller. In so far, she is his archetypal heroine.

Aldo, the central protagonist in IL GRIDO (1956/7) is the most untypical of all Antonioni heroes: he has been expelled from paradise, after his wife left him. His travels are romantic, because he does not let himself go, but sticks to his environment, travelling with his daughter in the Po delta. Whilst looking back on his village, towered over by the factory chimney, it is his past history, which forces him to leave. He becomes more and more marginalised: an outsider, even when living near the river in a derelict hut, he becomes the victim of the environment, of the background of landscape, seasons and the history of his live, spent all here. El Grido ends tragically, because Aldo (unlike most other Antonioni heroes) insists on keeping to his past: he does not want to cross the bridges, which are metaphorically there to be crossed. And Aldo’s titular outcry becomes a good-bye, even though he is back home. Il Grido is also Antonioni’s return to neo-realism, another contradiction, because he never really was part of it.

 

L’AVVENTURA (1960) has four main protagonists, three of them humans, but they are dwarfed by Lisca Bianca, a rocky island in the Mediterranean See. A group of wealthy Italians visit the island but when they want to leave, the main character Anna, is missing. Her boyfriend Sandro starts the search, but is soon more interested in Claudia, Anna’s best friend. When they all leave, without having found Anna, Claudia and Sandro are ready to start a new life together. Antonioni is often compared with Brecht. Like the German playwright, he refuses the dramatization of the narrative, because it is a remnant of the bourgeois theatre. Analogue to this comparison, L’Avventura is epic cinema. Brecht’s plays are often transparent, because the actors do not identify with their roles. The audience is not drawn into the play, but left outside to observe. The same goes for Antonioni, because, as Doniol-Valcroze wrote “to direct is to organise time and environment”. Antonioni genius is, that he first introduces time scale and environment, before he develops the narrative, via the actions and words of the protagonists. The breakers on the island, are the real music of the feature. The fragility of the emotions manifests it selves mainly in the way the protagonists talk –  but mostly they are on cross purpose. Yet the overall impression is not that of a modern film with sound, but of a very sad silent movie. At Cannes in 1960, the feature was mercilessly jeered at the premiere, but won the Grand Prix nevertheless – a rarity of the jury being ahead of the public.

 

In LA NOTTE (1960) we observe twenty-four hours in the live of the writer Giovanni and his wife Lydia. Whilst their friend dies in a hospital, they have to accept that their love has been dead for a while. Antonioni uses his characters like figures on a chess board. They are real, but at the same time ghosts. He does not tell their story, but follows their movements from one place to an another. There is no interconnection between them and their environment. They have lost the feeling for themselves, others and the outside. Their world is cold and threatening. Antonioni offers no irony or pity. He is the surgeon at the operating table, and his view is that of the camera: mostly skewed over-head shots. It is impossible to love La Notte. Whilst Antonioni is the first director of the modern era, he is also its most vicious critic.

 

When L’ECLISSE (1962) starts in the morning, it feels somehow like a continuation of La Notte. Before Vittoria (Vitti) ends her relationship with Francisco, she arranges a new Stilleben behind an empty picture frame. Next stop is Piero (Delon), a stockbroker. Vittoria is like Wenders’ Alice in the City: a child in a world of grown ups, repelled by their emotional coldness. Piero, very much a child of this world, is all calculations and superficiality, his friend’s remark “long live the façade” sums it all up. Long panorama shots show very little empathy with the eternal city, particularly the shots without much noise (music only sets in after the half-way point of the film), are representative of a ghost town populated by little worker ants, dwarfed by the huge buildings. The couple’s last rendezvous is symbolic for everything Antonioni ever wanted to show us: none of the two shows up, we watch the space where they were supposed to meet for several minutes. L’Eclisse will lead without much transition to Deserto Rosso, where Monica Vitti is Guiliana, wandering the streets, getting lost in a fog on a very unlovable planet.

 

DESERTO ROSSO (1963/4)

 

Guiliana: “I dreamt, I was laying in my bed, and the bed was moving. And when I looked, I saw that I was sinking in quicksand”. Guiliana’s world is threatening, everything is monstrous, the buildings of an industrious estate are unbelievable tall. The machines in the factories, the steel island in the sea, and the silhouettes of the people surrounding her are enclosing around her. We travel with her from this industrial quarter of Ravenna to Ferrara and Medicina. She is never still, only at the end she is standing still in front of a factory gate. In Deserto Rosso objects become blurred, they seem to be alive, making their way independently. The camera never leaves Guiliana during her nightmare. We see the world through Guiliana’s eyes: “It is, as if I had tears in my eyes”. In the room of his son she sees his toy robot, his eyes alight. She switches it off – but this the only activity she is allowed to master successfully. There is always fog between her and everybody else, even her lover Corrado is “on the other side”. And the fable, which she tells her son Vittorio, who cannot move, before he is suddenly running through the room, lacks anything metaphysical. Roland Barthes called Antonioni “the artist of the body, the opposite of others, who are the priests of art”. For once, Antonioni is one with the body of his protagonist: Guiliana’s body is not one of the many others, she will never get lost.

 

BLOW UP (1966)

 

A feature one should only see once – never again. Otherwise one will suffer the same as Thomas photos: Blow Up. Antonioni to Moravia: “All my films before are works of intuition, this one is a work of the head.” Everything is calculated, the incidents are planned, the story is driven by an elaborate design. The drama, which is anything but, is a drama perfectly executed. Herbie Hancock, the Yardbirds, the beat clubs, the marihuana parties, Big Ben and the sports car with radiophone, the Arabs and the nuns, the beatniks on the streets: everything is like swinging London in the 1960ies: a head idea. Blow Up is Antonioni’s most successful feature at the box office – and not one of his best.

 

 

 

 

ZABRISKIE POINT (1969/70)

 

Given Cart Blanche by MGM, Antonioni produced a feature in praise of the American Cinema. Zabriskie Point is the birth of the American Cinema from the valley of the Death. Antonioni has to repeat this dream for himself. But he had to invent his own Mount Rushmore, his Monument Valley, to make a film about this country in his own image. A car and a plane meet in the desert. The woman driver and the pilot recognise each other immediately. The copulation in the sand is metaphor for the simultainacy of the act, when longing and fulfilment, greed and satisfaction are superimposed. Then the unbelievable total destruction: the end of civilisation; Antonioni synchronises both events, a miracle of topography and choreography. This is Antonioni’s dream: the birth of a poem.

 

Both, the TV feature MISTERO Di OBERWLAD (1979) nor IDENTIFICAZIONE DI UNA DONNA (1982) have in any way added something to Antonioni’s masterful oeuvre. The same can be said of his work after he suffered a massive stroke in 1985, leaving him without speech partly paralysation: BEYOND THE CLOUDS (1995), a collaboration with Wim Wenders, and Antonioni’s segment of EROS (2004). AS

A RETROSPECTIVE TAKING PLACE AT  THE BFI EARLY IN 2019

 

 

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