Posts Tagged ‘DVD & Blu’

Ishiro Honda in Outer Space

Alan Price remembers the days of X-rated Sci-fi with these three Japanese classics from ISHIRO HONDA, The H-Man (1958), Mothra (1961) and Battle in Outer Space (1959)

Aged thirteen I sneaked, under age, into a Liverpool flea-pit cinema for a double bill of X certificate films. A horror / SF programme kicked off with The H-Man followed by House of Wax starring the charismatic Vincent Price a rising star in the horror film firmament. H-Man was my first viewing of a Japanese film and badly dubbed into English. House of Wax featured effigies melting in a fiery climax. The only thing I remember about The H-Man was an intense screaming followed by a gooey substance running into drains as the rain poured down; this radioactive liquid was being transformed into a glowing green man.

In the cold war years of the 1960s “radiation” was a word constantly on everyones’ lips. To witness a drugs trafficker, exposed to nuclear radiation, and transformed into a poisonous creature, appeared, to my young mind, as dangerously plausible.

Many years later in 2020 I again encountered the 1958 H-Man restored, with all its gooeyness digitised, on Blu Ray. It felt like a re-union of my young fears with an older understanding of things. A force called H-Man never existed but I was still gripped and entertained by a remarkably effective film managing to fuse the crime detective film with an Sci-fi monster movie.

1958 was also the year of The Blob (with the young Steve McQueen). I love the Google description of The Blob – “A misunderstood teen fights to save his town from a gelatinous monster from outer space.” If I had to sum up The H-Man it would be something like ‘an maligned professor tries to convince the Tokyo police force that a criminal has been turned into a radioactive liquid organism.’

Eventually Dr.Masada (Kenji Sahara) manages to convince the police in an apocalyptic climax that takes place in the sewerage system, and the ‘H monster’ is finally destroyed by gasoline poured on water and set on fire. The H-Man gets a hot ending whereas  The Blob’s fate was rather more frigid: it is deposited, by aircraft, in the Arctic wastes. The H-Man actually has more in common with another liquefying monster, that of Val Guest’s 1955 outing The Quatermass Xperiment which sees a former human reduced to an undoubtedly earthbound being rather than a menacing alien from outer space.

The original Japanese title of Honda’s 1958 classic is Bijo to Ekitai Ningen that translates as “Beautiful Woman and Liquid Man.” This gives the film an apt ‘beauty and the beast’ slant as the plot forefronts a beguiling cabaret singer Chikako (Yumi Shirakawa) who was once the girlfriend of the trafficker. She is pursued by her ex-boyfriend (now a slithering organism) along the burning sewers to be rescued by the professor, smitten by her good looks, as he saves her and the rest of mankind from their destiny as an ‘H man’ or ‘H woman’.

There is a great deal to enjoy here: the stunningly shot sewer climax is possibly the most outstanding moment in The H-Man, set on a deserted ship where the crew of a neighbouring ship stumble on the creature. It’s a creepy and potently-lit sequence providing both an incredible/believable back story explores the origins of the green substance: all done with a strong feel for the old ghost-ship tale.

There are no liquid men in Honda’s 1961 Mothra. Yet there is beauty in the form of two petite women discovered on an irradiated island (named Infant Island) in the Pacific. The Beast is Mothra, a giant female moth. Mothra is not out to destroy the whole world but only those who get in her away as she attempts to rescue the kidnapped twins (played by a singing duo called “The Peanuts” whose Mothra song “The Girls of Infant Island” was a pop chart hit).

Radiation sickness also surfaces in this story. Yet instead of a traditional monster movie we have more of an enchanting fairy story. The young women are dispatched to Tokyo to appear on stage in a show called “Secret Fairies Show.” Their exploitation reminded me of the chained Kong gorilla appearing on Broadway in the film Mighty Joe Young. But these girls are too good-natured and innocent to really mind performing, though they yearn to go back home.

One of my favourite aspects of Mothra is the editing between the girls singing and the dancing natives beseeching their god Mothra to break out of its giant egg and help. The caterpillar swims the Pacific Ocean towards Japan: becomes an adult moth (with a most genial face) and flies over Tokyo on its rescue mission.

Beneath its fantasy surface Honda is aware of the script’s political satire which he handles with a lovely light touch. Overall this is an irresistibly charming film. Its special effects still stand up and the mythic and adventure element of its storyline draws upon King Kong, Godzilla (Honda directed many of the Godzilla films) and probably went on to influence Bong Joon-Ho’s 2006 The Host.

Battle in Outer Space is the slightest of these re-issued Honda films. Aliens have based themselves on the Moon. They plan to attack and invade Earth. The UN launches two rocket ships on a reconnaissance mission. The battle commences. Finally the alien’s mothership is destroyed and Earth is saved.

The two most remarkable aspects of Battle in Outer Space are its comic book model work, no strings and all smoothly executed, plus a very early sixties optimistic belief in international co-operation: nationalism recedes in the face of universal goodwill to save the planet. How far away are we now from benign diplomacy and world peace in our strongly divided Earth of 2020!

If you search on YouTube I think you will find these Honda films. But they will be the cut, un-restored American versions. Forget them and go for the complete Japanese language originals on Eureka. They look and sound great. Light and dark fantasies from another differently inventive age of popular Japanese culture. ALAN PRICE.

The White Reindeer | Valkoinen Peura (1952) *****

Almost entirely dialogue-free and relying on a spellbinding score from Swedish composer Einar England to drive the narrative forward, it sees a beautiful young bride Pirita – the director’s own wife Mirjami Kuosmanen, who also co-wrote the script – fall prey to a tragic curse when she seeks advice on her love-life from a macabre Norse shamen.

Capturing the ethereal beauty of Finnish Lapland’s panoramic snowscapes, and picturing real herdsman at work in the icebound countryside, The White Reindeer is a magnificent example of low budget effectiveness and magic neo-realism in a simple but thematically rich storyline. Starting out in an upbeat mood Pirita is seen in full Nordic costume riding a sleigh alongside her lover and soon to be husband. But after their wedding night he is frequently absent.

Longing to capture his affection, she takes the shamen’s love potion and is transformed into an elegant white reindeer by night, drinking the blood of local hunters. This lyrical parable is both intriguing and mesmerising melding documentary footage with exquisite lighting techniques and elegant framing to produce a film that echoes Polanski’s Fearless Vampire Killers and Dreyer’s Vampyr with potent references to Norse mythology and themes of longing, loneliness and fear of abandonment. MT

THE WHITE REINDEER (Masters of Cinema) https://youtu.be/ECyp3fJBI20

Amazon https://amzn.to/2RUdXON

 

It Came From Outer Space (1953) **** Blu-ray

Dir.: Jack Arnold; Cast: Richard Carlson, Barbara Rush, Charles Drake, Joe Sawyer, Russell Johnson; USA 1953, 81 min.

Director John Arnold (1916-1992) was the mastermind behind seven Sci-Fi classics between 1953 and 1958. It came from outer Space was the first, shot in 3-D and based on the short story ‘The Meteor’ by Rad Bradbury and written for the screen by Harry Essex.

Seen as an anti-McCarthy feature at a time when Aliens and ‘Reds’ were both out to destroy the idyll of small town America, Arnold uses small Californian towns like Victorville and the Mojave desert as background to create an exotically eerie backdrop .

Astronomer and author John Putnam (Carlson) has moved to the desert, finding his intellectual viewpoint at odds with the small-time folks back home. He is in love with school teacher Ellen Fields (Rush) who plays truant when the two discover a meteor hitting Earth. It later transpires that an alien spaceship has made some sort of an emergency landing but Sheriff Matt Warren (Drake) is the first to denounce John’s theories after visiting the crash site, he also has the hots for Ellen.

Strange things happen all over town, as citizens are cloned by the Aliens. Among them are Frank Dayton (Sawyer) and George (Johnson) two electricians whose spouses are telling Warren their men folk changed personality before simply disappearing, taking their clothes with them. John, helped by Ellen, finds out that the Aliens are repairing their spaceship, using the tools and equipment of the local engineers and electricians. Then Ellen gets taken over by the strangers, she appears to John in an evening gown and leads him to a mine, where she is taken hostage.

John comes to an arrangement with the leader of the spaceship who appears as a glittering droopy-eyed monster. John pretends to blow up the mine, whilst Warren and his posse (or lynch mob), are closing in on the entrance. The Aliens repair their spacecraft and leave Earth.

DoP Clifford Stine creates some startling black-and-white images, often veiled by an ethereal mist. It Came from Outer Space shows Arnold (who was assistant to Robert J. Flaherty) as a chronicler of the The Eisenhower era, where anti-intellectualism and the McCarthy Witch Hunt was the dominating factor. Arnold’s other classics sided with outsiders, among them Creature from the Black Lagoon (famously restyled by Guillermo del Toro in 2017), Tarantula and The Space Children. He was also known for his Westerns, and one of his last cinema features, The Mouse that Roared (1959) which made Peter Sellers an international star.

A true creative, Jack Arnold later switched to directing TV fare, his seminal ideas providing the basis for some of today’s most popular big and small screen outings. There is hardly a series he did not have a hand from Wonder Woman to Dr. Kildare; The Brady Bunch, Ellery Queen and Perry Mason amongst the very best. AS

BLURAY/DVD AVAILABLE 14 DECEMBER 2020 | FABULOUS FILMS

Finding Vivian Maier (2014)

Dir.: John Maloof, Charlie Siskel | Doc; USA 2013, 85 min.

A nanny makes history in this fascinating film that was also one of the most popular documentaries in the year of its release. It’s not often than one finds a genius by accident, furthermore a genius who did not want to be discovered and who hid her art from everybody: but this is exactly what happened to the Chicago neighbourhood historian John Maloof, when researching photos to illustrate a history about his local district in 2007, and obtaining a box of photos from a nanny called Vivian Maier.

Ms Maier died in 2009, aged 83, just when Maloof began to collect all her work (over 100 000 negatives, 27 000 roles of film, audio tapes and 8mm and 16 mmm films) consisting of mainly street photography from the rougher parts of the “windy city”. Her photos are now shown all over the world; the work of a rare talent who hid from the world. Having discovered Maier’s work, Maloof began to research Vivian Maier’s life: this film is the result of his detective work.

Vivian Mayer was born in 1926 in New York, but her French mother and Austrian father (who soon cleared off), moved to a village in the French Alps, where Vivian was educated, before moving back to Manhattan in her mid-twenties. There she worked in a sweat-shop, before moving to Chicago in her early thirties where she was employed for the rest of her working life as a nanny. Maloof has found over a hundred of her ex-charges and their memories are mostly positive (some paid her rent in old age), but a few talked about her temper, or her style draconian discipline. But most remember being dragged by Vivian into the slums of the city where most of her photos were taken, though the more bourgeois quarters, where she lived, are also represented. Maier was an artist first and foremost: when one of the children she was looking after was hurt in a car accident, Vivian took photos of the injured child whilst the mother, rushing on to the scene of the accident, was relieved that it was not the family dog who was injured.

Vivian, who features in many of her photos taken with a Rolleiflex twin lens camera (which she always carried with her), was a tall, imposing woman. But in contrast, to her physical appearance, psychologically, she was very fragile. She was extremely shy, sometimes not even wanting to give her real name, calling herself V.Smith. Some of her former charges remembered that she was very hostile towards men in general, and speculated that she might have been abused as a child.

Looking at the photos it is clear that Vivian identified with the underdog in society, finding a split-second where photographer and subject become emotionally engaged. The same can be said about Maloof and his subject: this documentary is a labour of love, one obsessive collector researching another. The interviews are very informal and lively, and Maloof obviously shares his love of Chicago with Maier. Kafka asked for his writings to be destroyed, and we can thank his friend Max Brod for disobeying him – Maier never wanted the acclaim she is getting now posthumously, and we have to thank John Maloof for discovering her style. History repeats itself sometimes in strange ways – but then, Vivian Maier was in a way very much a stranger on this planet. AS

Vivian Maier Developed: The Untold Story of the Photographer Nanny by Ann Marks  | 
Atria Books £28 pp368

 

 

     

 

 

Birdman (2014) **** MUBI

Dir: Alejandro González Iñárritu | Wri: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., Armando Bo | Cast: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts  | Comedy/Drama, US  119mins

After Gravity comes Birdman, a breathless, funny, sad, esoteric meta-cinematical work that equals the former’s visual feat, but also an about-turn by director Alejandro González Iñárritu, the likes of which has rarely been seen. A return to the limelight comes in Michael Keaton’s great performance as Riggan Thompson, a former star of the superhero Birdman franchise, whose career has faltered into wilderness (comparison to Keaton’s real life are very much intended). He wants to stage a comeback on Broadway to direct and star in his own adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story. But it’s not plain sailing, even for a movie star, as he has to deal with ego-maniacal co-stars, a druggie daughter and disastrous previews. Oh, and he’s haunted by the voice of his Birdman character, and believes he can move things with his mind.

But that doesn’t begin to explain what watching the film is like. Directed to look like one continuous shot alongside Antonio Sánchez’s glorious free jazz score, but set over several weeks (following tricks out of Hitchcock’s Rope, it’s somewhere between the technical mastery of Russian Ark (2002) and the themes and styling of Synecdoche, New York (2008)– but in fact it looks almost like something that’s rarely been seen before. It’s far from Iñárritu’s previous works, which were grim, expansive world-is-connected films, shot with shaky steadycams and quick editing like Amores Perros (2000) and Babel (2006). And what a successful volte-face.

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Much of the thanks should go to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubeski, whose redefined 3D in Gravity last year to critics who dismissed stereoscopy as dead on arrival, creating long, dazzling steadycam takes. The first shot is a levitating Michael Keaton, and there are some magic moments – Keaton walking through Times Square in his Y-fronts is just one of many highlights. But perhaps the style’s greatest feature is simplicity, how after a big moment – an argument, a fight, for instance – the film doesn’t cut, change scene, but we find out that rarest of things: what happens in those moments next.

The cast are dynamite together with Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and Zack Galifianakis on top form alongside Emma Stone as Riggan’s dagughter, who delivers a zeitgeisty rant about how Riggan’s play is of little importance in the modern world compared to the 350,000 YouTube visitors that have seen her father in just his underpants. In a way it’s not dissimilar in tone to Truffaut’s Day for Night, also about a dysfunctional troupe of directors and actors. But while that’s about a film set, it struck me how much Birdman is actually one of the great films about the stage, where Broadway’s St James Theatre is as much a character as the players and which reflects the theatre in the film’s very composition – no cuts is, well, like theatre.

It’s also a searing satire of ego-centric thesps, Hollywood and of popular culture, where top actors have been downgraded and are now hired in Hollywood only for superhero flicks (Michael Fassbender and Jeremy Renner are roll called). But also it credibly shows the foolhardiness of putting faith in dreams and the pitfalls of grand artistic pretensions – a hole into which Iñárritu himself fell in the past. Riggan says he went into acting because Raymond Carver gave him a personal note with a good review as a youngster, but, as we soon discover, it was on a bar napkin, meaning the author was presumably (as he often was) drunk. With the film’s subtitle “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance“, would knowing that have made Riggan more or less happy, more or less willing to plunge into his art? Perhaps ignorance is bliss. The film went on to garner four Oscars, in the Academy Awards of 2015: for cinematography, directing, and screenplay, it also won Best Motion Picture of the Year. Ed Frankyl.

NOW ON MUBI | BIRDMAN PREMIERED AT VENICE 2014 | DVD BLU-RAY IS NOW AVAILABLE

 

The Overlanders (1946) **** Talking Pictures

The reason for the docudrama approach stems from the original idea of making a propaganda film for the Australian government who knocked on Watts’ door looking for a well known director and a reputable studios – Ealing naturally fitted the bill, although the film was released after the war was over.

River of No Return (1954) ***

Dir: Otto Preminger, Jean Negulesco | Cast: Robert Mitchum, Marilyn Monroe, Rory Calhoun | US Western 91’

Rather more rugged to make than Marilyn Monroe was accustomed to, she recalled River of No Return with a shudder as her worst film. This was probably more due to the arduous shoot than because it wasn’t actually any good, since she sprained her ankle while getting drenched on location in Canada and then had to repeat the performance back on the sound stage in Hollywood while Otto Preminger (who compared directing Monroe to directing Lassie) cracked the whip.

Today it holds up well as an atmospheric, entertaining production with two handsome leads, shot largely on location in Alberta in Technicolor and CinemaScope. Although much is made of her flaunting her legs in tights as a saloon girl in the scenes that bookend the film, Monroe spends most of the rest of the shoot in cowboy boots, tucking in a pair of classic rump-hugging fifties jeans she would never really have worn back in 1875 (a pair of which were auctioned off in L.A. as recently as 2017). She cuts an impressive figure shooting the rapids in what was Preminger’s only western and Monroe’s only outdoor adventure. It was also the only picture she ever made with Robert Mitchum who’s at his hunkiest; introduced felling a tree just before we hear him singing the title song. Richard Chatten.

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

Crash (1996)

Dir.: David Cronenberg; Cast: James Spader, Holly Hunter, Deborah Kara Unger, Elias Koteas, Rosanna Arquette; Canada 1996, 100 min.

Crash certainly broke ground on its release in 1996. Cronenberg adapted the screen hit from the 1973 novel by JG Ballard’s 1973 who was declared “beyond any psychiatric help” by a publishing house critic back in the day.

The thriller won the Special Jury Prize “for Audacity” at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival, where it was talk of the town, Crash feels rather trite in the age of the Pandemic, twenty five years later.

James Spader plays Ballard, a TV producer ‘enjoying’ an open relationship with his wife Catherine (Unger). The two entertain each other with salacious titbits from their extra-marital affairs. But even this kinky variation does not satisfy them – there is still something missing.

The ‘something’ is rather shockingly (at least at the start) a love for car crash related sex. After one such incident Ballard just pulls through although the other driver is killed. He gets together with the female accident survivor Dr. Helen Remington (Hunter) and she introduces him to fellow crash fanatic Vaughan (Koteas), a veteran of staged accidents, and James is entranced by their post crash sex.

Poor Catherine has to wait for her own crash before she can join the elite circle of sex-crash survivors. Vaughan meanwhile re-stages the 1955 deadly crash which killed James Dean, complete with Dean’s ‘Porsche Spyder’. Not satisfied with his endeavour, Vaughan plans for the re-construction of the Jane Mansfield decapitation. After Catherine finally had her own collision – not a particularly impressive one – she can join her husband again. But this time Rosanna Arquette joins the party in a chrome body suit and leg braces, and the re-united couple and Helen can have a three-some of sorts. 

DoP Peter Suschitzky shows a barren, snowbound Toronto in keeping with Cronenberg’s habitual bleak dystopian world inhabited by these  hybrid characters. For once the director shares a different view: “Even though people think the movie is cold, I don’t think it’s cold. It begins cold, but gradually fills with emotions. It is subtle and not delivered the normal way it’s delivered in movies.” Viewers might find it difficult to come to terms with this new subculture where the addicts seek “to re-experience the mortality they so narrowly escaped by purposefully getting into more accidents where the only goal is to have sex with fellow survivors”. Cronenberg paints the small elite “of people who understand the crash epiphany, which allows them to relate each other”. By definition, there is a whole outside world, where everyone is irrelevant to the self-styled elite of death-seekers – Freud would have had his fun with analysing them. But Cronenberg seems unaware of his closeness to Nietzsche’s postulate of “Mensch and Übermensch: “The subject of the film is there is no moral stance that you can take. And if impose my own art artificial standards, then I am completely spoiling my experiment, which is to let these creatures have their head and try to re-invent all these things they are trying to re-invent”.

Some films are made to be just for a particular moment, that’s were Crash belongs, a piece of utter decadence, great to look at, but ultimately driving on empty. AS

CRASH IS NOW A DIGITAL RELEASE ON 30 NOVEMBER 2020

The Son’s Room (2001) La Stanza del Figlio | MUBI

Dir: Nanni Moretti | Drama, Italy 89′

Nanni Moretti’s portrait of tragedy is an emotionally intelligent and cumulatively moving drama that won him the Palme d’Or in 2001. Naturalistic, unsentimental yet eventually quite shattering the film unpicks the slow and surprising way the sudden death of a close relative can completely change the way we see each other and the person we lost.

In the first half-hour or so this family is living life as normal in the pleasant coastal town of Ancona. The Sermontis are a happily married professional couple: Moretti plays the psychiatrist father Giovanni, Laura Morante is Paola his wife. Their teenagers Irene (Trinca) and Andrea (Sanfelice) are going through the usual teenage ups and downs at school. But when Andrea dies suddenly in a diving accident, his parents and sister find themselves so lost in sadness, anger and confusion their world is blown apart. But then the bombshell – there is another person involved in the equation: a girlfriend they never even knew existed. Nothing surprising – yet this stranger is pivotal in a drama so strangely gripping and psychologically profound, it forces each member of the family to re-examine life up to the event and going forward. Some films make a big impact but are instantly forgettable, this moving story will stay with you for a long time. MT

NOW ON MUBI | BLU-RAY, DVD & DIGITAL

 

Pickpocket (1959)

Dir.: Robert Bresson; Cast: Martin LaSalle, Marika Green, Pierre Leymarie, Jean Pelegri, Dolly Scal, Kassagi, Pierre Etaix; France 1959, 75 min.

Pickpocket, shot more or less at the same time as Godard’s A bout de souffle in the late summer of 1959, is by far the closest the French director got to the Nouvelle Vague. Even though the Bresson worked on his feature for ten months, Godard had rushed off his script on the first day of a shoot that would go on for between 15 minutes and 12 hours, depending on his ‘inspiration’.

Both directors opt for style over content, filming mostly on location rejecting the idea of film as photographed theatre. In both the main protagonist is a thief called Michel, although only Godard’s antihero commits a murder. Both directors had strained relationships with their lovers going on the run and aspiring to be above trivial everyday life. But here similarities end: Godard’s Michel is very much a personification of the classical film gangster, the script of Godard’s A bout de souffle is far more conventional than Pickpocket, and the denouement could not have been more different.

Michel (LaSalle) falls into petty thieving out of boredom rather than necessity, enjoying the surprise ease of the casual encounters which he goes on to study and perfect. At the Longchamp race track he steals money from a soignée punter and is enraptured by the euphoria this gives: “like I was walking on air with the world at my feet – a few moments later, I was caught”. The inspector (Pelegri) who arrests him (having to let him go through lack of evidence) will play a big part in the petty crim’s life. Michel joins a group of highly skilled pickpockets, working mostly in crowded places (like the Gare du Lyon) and the crime takes on the choreographed nature of ballet dancers at the Comedie Francaise.

Michel leads a sheltered existence until he meets meets Jeanne (Green) who will later fall for his only friend Jacques (Leymarie), a fellow pickpocket. The inspector entraps Michel via his book on the art of thieving – but finds no concrete proof of his activities despite a thorough search of his lodgings. After his mother (Scal) dies, Michel goes to her funeral with Jeanne only to discover the dying woman had made a complaint to the police about stolen money – later withdrawing the allegations realising it must have been her own son. Michel flees the country for Milan and Rome, travelling on to London and frittering away his ill-gotten gains. Returning to Paris he meets Jeanne who has split with Jacques but now has his child. Michel turns to thieving again to support Jeanne and her child, finding a sense of relief in his love for her.

Leonce-Henry Burel shot four of Bresson’s features, and his immaculate black-and-white images are absolutely mesmerising in sequences crisply edited by Raymond Lamy that bring a stylish grace, rather than a sordidness to Michel and his illicit activities. There’s an elegant beauty in the intimate delving of hands into plush leather wallets and crocodile handbags elevating the activity to an art form in its own right and one that somehow negates the nefariousness intent.  Michel slips into crowds and makes his sinuous escape, ducking and diving like an agile beaver. The locations often dwarve the thieves and they go about their business brilliantly in choreographed dovetailing.

Martin LaSalle is hypnotic as a non-pro, originally from Uruguay, he would disappear off to Latin America and a TV career. Bresson did not cast professional actors, preferring to move his protagonists around the set like mannequins. He specifically did not want professional actors with ‘skills’. So in many ways, Pickpocket feels more radical than Godard’s debut feature which seems superficial in comparison. Bresson focuses on Dostoyevsky’s theme of crime and punishment as a metaphor and thus adds another layer of nuanced meaning  (not for the first or last time). Bresson relies on the power of his images, Pickpocket could almost be re-shot as a silent film, the meaning would still be conveyed. A masterpiece.

BACK IN CINEMAS FROM 3 June 2022

Le Cercle Rouge (1970) New release

Dir.: Jean-Pierre Melville; Cast: Alain Delon, Ives Montand, Gian-Maria Volunte, Andre Bourvil, Paul Crauchet, Francois Perier, Anna Douking; France 1970, 140 min.

By the early 1970s the varied career of Jean-Pierre Melville (1917-1973) which included wartime dramas, psychosexual character studies and even a collaboration with Jean Cocteau – the two shared the same “do it yourself attitude’ – was drawing to a close. This penultimate feature echoes the fatalism of thrillers such as Le Deuxieme Souffle (1966), Le Samourai (1967) and his last film Le Flic (1972). Dictated by the various criminal criminals and detective codes as the only moral guide, protagonists and their players are often interchangeable, women just peripheral to sex up the scenario (the director was a notorious womaniser) and often admitted that his films were camouflaged Westerns – this clearly informed the choice of Herman Melville as his nom de guerre as a novelist.

Distinguished by a dialogue free 27 minute heist sequence, this stylised feature is very Seventies in feel, a jazzy score often giving way to stretches of silence that focus the attention on the elegant framing and distinct cinematic style of Henri Decaë, one has to admire Melville’s rigour and insistence on style over matter in this spare and soigné caper. The plot is rather convoluted and based on a Japanese proverb.

Commisaire Mattei (Bourvil who would die before the premiere) is transferring  the notorious criminal Vogel (Volunte) on the night train from Marseille to Paris, handcuffed to a couchette. Meanwhile Corey (Delon) is spending his last night in prison, where a guard tempts him with the ‘perfect’ heist that sounds right up his street. In a parallel timeframe Vogel has jumped from a train window escaping into open countryside, and is later rescued by Corey, who has robbed his boss, and seduced his girl friend (Douking). Corey is then ambushed by hitmen send by his ex-boss, and Vogel rescues him, shooting the two assassins. The two then set about planning the robbery of an expensive jewellery store at Place Vendome, inviting alcoholic ex-policeman Jansen (Montand), a famed sharp shooter, to join them in the plan. As the day of the heist dawns, all four players are determined to cheat fate.The robbery goes well, but the fence (Crauchet) gets cold feet, and the cat-loving commisaire dupes the trio with an invitation to meet him in the titular ‘Cercle Rouge’, where their fate is sealed.

The robbery itself is shot without any dialogue, like Rififi (1955), which Melville was slated to direct, before the Hakim Brothers, opted for Jules Dassin. Otherwise, the various strands are brought together in a sober and ceremonious fashion, with Delon glancing enigmatically at mirrors, whenever he leaves a room. Melville, who was once called the ‘godfather of the Nouvelle Vague’, later fell out with Godard and the other directors over artistic differences. Melville’s studio had burned down, just before he started shooting Le Cercle Rouge, and he lost scripts among other valuable items.

Le Cercle Rouge has a distinct style seen in the portentious nature of the pacing and the daring existential quality of the narrative. Melville was seen as a godfather of sorts for the French New Wave (Godard giving him a cameo in Breathless).  His most personal movie was L’Armée des Ombres, which, though misunderstood upon its initial French release in 1969, is now widely considered a masterpiece. Here the enjoyable trio of Delon, Montand and Volonte make this a memorable addition to his short-lived but fiercely independent career. AS

RESTORED FOR THE FIRST TIME ON 4K HD, BLURAY, DVD AND DIGITAL – 23 NOVEMBER 2020.

 

Night Moves (1975) Blu-ray

Dir: Arthur Penn, US Thriller, 100′

Filming on Night Moves was completed in 1973 right in the middle of the Watergate scandal but its release was held back until 1975. This was probably because the film’s tone of despair echoed the country’s political disenchantment. Dialogue such as this wouldn’t have helped it at the box office: Paula: Where were you when Kennedy got shot? Harry: Which Kennedy? Paula: Any Kennedy.

Night Moves sinuous storyline didn’t make for an easy film for Warner Brothers to promote. Certainly Alan Sharp’s screenplay is a dense and entwined narrative. The film’s noirish plot about smuggled Asian art treasures, killings and small plane crashes is made subservient to a riveting study of character: the script’s depiction of loneliness, uncertainty and failure was undoubtedly what really attracted Arthur Penn to direct, more than who did what to whom. 

Night Moves is an unusual production, as the mantle of noir is questioned and almost abandoned. It turns into a bleak road map for the private investigator, disturbed by a moral murkiness, that no longer allows for a comfortable resolution to a crime. Criminal intent is blurred with human frailty and responsibility. 1973 was also the year of Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye in which Eliot Gould’s portrayal of Philip Marlowe shunted the private eye into irreverence, parody and even de-construction. 

If Night Moves’s investigator Harry (Gene Hackman on great form) doubts the meaning and purpose of his work, whilst struggling with a troubled marriage, he still wishes to enjoy the process of detecting, whereas his contemporary Marlowe strides blithely and disengaged through dangerous and increasingly absurd situations. Harry Moseby is still hanging on to the fact that he does want real answers. Yet Philip Marlowe is tired of asking the questions and now plays along with a crazy game.

L.A. investigator Harry is hired by an ex-actress Arlene (Janet Ward) to find her missing teenage daughter Delly (Melanie Griffiths). He completes the job yet also experiences complex relationships that undermine his professional authority, confidence and marriage. 

There are two scenes that are so quintessentially Arthur Penn in illustrating his brilliance at the editing of an action sequence and a great tenderness and empathy for the soul of his characters. Rather than reveal the action/suspense – for the crucial violence is for the most part held back to implode in Night Moves’ still shocking climax – let’s dwell on the intimacy of the film and in particular the bedroom scene between Harry and his wife Ellen (Susan Clark).

It’s a moment that beautifully settles on Harry’s tracking down of information: not simply about the missing girl case, but on his own family. Ellen knows that as a boy Harry was left by his parents and brought up by his relations. She calls him the ace sleuth, the all American detective who did discover his parents. When questioned about his father, Harry tells Ellen: “…this old guy sitting reading the funny pages out of the paper, and his lips were making the words and I just stood there and watched him and walked away.” Ellen: “Why did you never tell me?” Harry: “It wasn’t something I was too proud of. To stand six feet away from your own father and then walk away.”

Penn’s enormous sympathy for people struggling for truth and self-knowledge (An investigation more difficult than detective work) is beautifully on show here in what is one of the greatest scenes in Penn’s films. For me it’s remarkably affecting: a heart of the matter episode that is also equally, if not so intensely, signalled in many scenes with other characters. Night Moves movingly describes people who try and fail to communicate their real needs or live long enough (Young Delly’s murdered in a tampered stuntman car crash) to move forward with maturity and insight. 

The despair of Night Moves is not simply one of working out the tropes of noir (An acute visual pessimism of setting and underhand motivations) but a reflection on the loneliness of the self. Penn was always a very European-influenced filmmaker (Bonnie and Clyde exults in his love of the French New Wave). Emotionally he was closer to the passion of an Ingmar Bergman (Of whom Penn was a great admirer) than the cynicism of Hitchcock. No surprise then that a character, early on in Night Moves, talks about going to see Eric Rohmer’s My Night with Maud (A film where a couple spend a chaste night in part-philosophic conversation). 

Night Moves was negatively described by one critic as a suspense-less thriller. Yet attend to the suspense of its relationships, over the plot, and the film grips and haunts, so that when the violence is eventually delivered it manages to feel horribly futile and inevitable, though never cathartic. The superb Night Moves is one of the finest, most melancholy and tragic American films of the 1970s. Deeply humane and compassionate and not quite the neo-noir journey we were expecting. © ALAN PRICE

NIGHT MOVES IS NOW AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY

Waxworks (1924) Blu-ray

Dir.: Paul Leni; Cast: Emil Jannings, Conrad Veidt, Werner Krauss, William Dieterle, Olga Belajeff; Germany 1924, 107 min.

German born filmmaker Paul Leni (1885-1929) was one of the greatest talents of the silent era. His German features include Hintertreppe (Back Staircase, 1917) and The Man who Laughs (1928), but he is probably best known for The Cat and the Canary (1927) made in Hollywood where he often worked as a director of photography. The fantasy drama Waxworks captured the comedy-horror craze (or ‘tyrant’ films) of the 1920s and was Leni’s final German outing before he set his sights on America.

Credited with inspiring The Wizard of Oz (1929) and House of Wax (1953) Waxworks (Das Wachsfigurenkabinett) sees a young author (Dieterle) commissioned to add value to the most popular figures in a waxwork museum by crafting their backstories: they Sultan Haroun al Raschid, Ivan the Terrible and Jack the Ripper. The writer has already fallen for the proprietor’s daughter Eva (Belajeff), and lets his imagination run wild making the lovers part of the fun in all three fairytales where they fight to stay together against all odds.

The first tale sees Emil Jannings as the portly Sultan Haroun al Raschid wondering where the smoke is coming from below his palace. His Grand Vizier (Biensfeldt) is tasked with killing whoever is responsible but when he sets eyes on the baker’s wife Maimune (Belajeff) he fails to execute her husband the baker (Dieterle) instead returning to the palace with tales of her great beauty. That night the baker argues with his wife about money and promise to improve things by stealing the ‘wishing ring’ from the Caliph at the dead of night. The womanising Sultan meanwhile visits the bakery to have his wicked way with the wife. When the baker suddenly returns all hell breaks lose, and the Sultan hides in the oven. But a happy ending is ensured courtesy of Maimune.

The second episode is an exercise in sadism. Czar Ivan (a sinister Veidt), loves to poison his adversaries, real or imagined and employs a special poison-mixer to this effect, although he is warned that the man has too much power. So Ivan does away with him, but the dying poison-mixer puts a curse on his final toxic potion: Ivan’s name on the poison bottle will kill the tyrant.

Meanwhile, the writer and his love Eine (Belajeff) are betrothed to be married, and the Czar is invited to the party. Ivan and the bride’s father are travelling on a sledge, the old man is dressed in the Ivan own clothes. Assassins kill the old man, and Ivan arrives unhurt. He takes the bride and bridegroom to the cellars of the Kremlin, threatening to kill the husband if the bride does not consent to having sex with him. But the poison-mixer’s elixir does the trick, and once again ensures a happy ending.

The third story is the shortest, but by far the wildest. The author and Eva find themselves in a distinctly terrifying fairground sharing a tent with Jack the Ripper (Krauss) who chases them round. Finally, Jack stabs the author in the heart – but he wakes up from the nightmare, having cut himself with his pen.

DoP Helmut Larski, whose exotic images dominate the feature, emigrated 1932 to Palestine before returning disillusioned to Switzerland in 1948. Writer Henrik Galeen (1881-1949), the celebrated author of The Golem and Nosferatu, went to work in Britain the late 1920s returning to Germany for a last film, before establishing himself in Hollywood after the Nazism reared its head in his homeland.

Though this fantasy is not as well known as Caligari or Nosferatu, Kracauer is convinced Waxworks goes even further in “The Procession of Tyrants” by “stressing the role of the fair: which in Caligari merely served as a background” Here the fair is very much part of the action. “In the course of their flight, the writer and the girl hurry past the constantly circling merry-go round while Jack the Ripper himself, Caligari and Cesare in one, pursues them in miraculous dream paths, hovering through a gigantic Ferris-wheel that also turns without a pause. Completing the kindred pictorial efforts of Dr. Mabuse, these images symbolise the interpretation of chaos and tyranny in a definite manner. Waxworks adds the final touch to the tyrant films proper.” Sadly Paul Leni died in Hollywood at the height of his career aged only 44, from a tooth infection. AS

NOW ON BLURAY COURTESY OF MASTERS OF CINEMA | 2020

Silent Running (1971) ***

Dir: Douglas Trumball | Cast: Bruce Dern, Cliff Potts, Ron Rifkin, Jesse Vinterberg | US Sci-fi, 86′

Douglas Trumball’s ecological Sci-fi outing s now nearly 50 years old yet feels more relevant that ever despite its slightly wacky mise-en-scene and a score performed by Joan Baez.

The year is 2001 and 36 year old fresh-faced blue-eyed Bruce Dern plays an evangelical botanist adrift in space in a Garden of Eden. His message is loud and clear, re-working that of 2001: A Space Odyssey (Trumbull was in charge of the special effects): The planet needed saving – and humans were the ones to do it. The Garden planet ‘Valley Forge’ has been carefully nurtured by Dern’s Freeman Lovell to nourish and preserve plant specimens rescued before Earth’s apocalyptic meltdown during nuclear war. But afterwards Lovell defies orders to destroy his nurtured slice of paradise, instead taking off for a spin around space (with Drone robots Huey and Dewey), on a mission to save the Earth in perpetuity.

Working with Deric Washburn, Steven Bochco (Hill Street Blues) and The Deer Hunter‘s Michael Cimino, Trumball’s feature debut is a fabulous ground-breaking idea full of fun and fantastic visuals. Dern brings a  febrile intensity to the part keeping things weird and wonderful, striking the perfect tone for a fantasy thriller with more up its sleeve than just space travel. MT

OUT ON DVD | 9 NOVEMBER 2020

King of New York (1990) Arrow Player

Dir: Abel Ferrara | Cast: Christopher Walken, Laurence Fishburne, David Caruso, Wesley Snipes, Steve Buscemi, Joey Chin  | Crime Drama, 103′

Abel Ferrara gives this US crime thriller a lyrical almost existential makeover spiked with some  vicious violence and an incendiary car chase on a storm-lashed bridge. Haunted by the otherworldly elegance of Christopher Walken as mercurial world-weary crime lord Frank White, a strangely likeable felon determined to do good, having done bad in gangland New York.

Walken carries his villain head and shoulders – quite literally – above the usual hard-nosed mobsters. Not that he doesn’t mince words, and there are some punchy lines thanks to Ferrara’s regular writer Nicholas St John: “are you gonna arrest me, because if so do it because I’ve got people waiting for me”.

Laurence Fishburne and David Caruso also add zest to the mix, Caruso as a frustrated cop: “every time Frank kills somebody out there, it’s our fault, and I can’t live with that”. But this is a film made of memorable moments rather than a true epic feature. Ferrara makes gangland look real but stylish, rather than gritty or dangerous – he a 5 million dollar budget to play with. Bojan Bozelli’s lighting in the high class brothel and neon nights scenes is particularly lush.

Back on the streets Frank White’s game-plan is to rebuild the community hospital out of his ill-gotten gains but his recidivist credentials cannot help getting in the way, especially when the Chinese gangster Larry Wong gets involved. Ferrara portrays a time when New York gangsters made millions and sunk it into real estate, adding to the city’s reputation for iniquity, finally addressed – and rectified – by Mayor Giuliani. Sadly, women only get to play molls and prostitutes (although one pretty boy serves as a nifty receptacle for cocaine). The soundtrack is terrific and Walken does his funky dances and makes some serious social comment about the drug trade. MT

NOW AVAILABLE ON ARROW PLAYER & 4k RESTORATION BLU-RAY/DVD

 

Hoop Dreams (1994) **** Blu-ray release

Dir.: Steve James; Documentary with Arthur Agee, William Gates; USA 1994, 172′.

A sporting dream based on basketball spawned this multi-award winning documentary about two becoming NBA stars.

Hoop Dreams started life as a thirty-minute documentary short for first time director Steve James. But after nearly five years of shooting and two years of editing 250 minutes the running time grew into nearly three-hours.

Arthur Agee and William Gates were fourteen year old Afro-Americans living in different housing projects in the West Garfield neighbourhood in Chicago. Their flair for the basketball that saw them beating their elders and competitors captured the attention of a scout who ‘encouraged’ them to enrol at St. Joseph’s, a middle-class (and therefore nearly completely white school) in a leafy suburb.

The star pupil there was Isiah Thomas an NBA legend. It took the two boys three hours a day for the roundtrip (something quite normal in the US unlike here). But it turned out Arthur was not as promising as they had hoped, so the school literally throw him out in the middle of the academic year, his now estranged parents being unable to pay their part of the school fees, so Arthur had to join his local community school.

William, on the other hand, found a wealthy sponsor in Mrs. Wier, who helped with his family’s finances. No such luck for Arthur, whose parents Arthur sen. (‘Bo’) and Sheila had split up, his father spending seven months in prison, selling drugs on the open-air playground where Arthur often played with his friends. When Sheila lost her job as nursing assistant, electricity and gas in the home was turned off. So the filmmakers decided to help out.

Gene Pingatore, the team’s basketball coach at St. Joseph’s, turned out to be a bully and particularly so towards William who suffered two serious knee injuries, nearly ending his career. Curtis Gates, Williams’ older brother, had been an outstanding player himself, but was called “un-coachable”. He would be shot dead just after the turn of the century. Bo, Arthur’s father, also was murdered in 2004.

Not surprisingly, Sheila was thankful that Arthur was still alive and able to celebrate his 18th birthday. For William, St. Joseph more than supportive: they ‘massaged’ his academic grades so he could attend Marquette University. Arthur too reached university level at Arkansas State, after a detour via the Mineral Area College. Neither men would play in the NBA, though William came nearest in 2001. After training with Michael Jordan, he missed his trial with Washington Wizards because of a foot injury. He is now a Pastor and Youth Team coach in Texas, Arthur does community work in Chicago, funding himself with the USD 200,000 bursary the producers gave each of their subjects after the surprise success of the documentary.

Watching Hoop Dreams, you can understand the Americans’ fixation for ball games of all sorts. Spectators become hysterical in their thousands, and on a scale that far surpasses anything we’ve come to appreciate in Britain. Hoop Dreams could be called the first reality doc: not a second has been wasted on Hollywood structures – a reason, the feature was boycotted by the Oscar jury for Documentaries. The three filmmakers capture the essence of the American Dream: sport and music as an escape from the poverty trap. Sadly, drugs and poverty are now the only release for the huge majority who fail to reach the promised land. AS

NOW ON BLU-RAY

Dede (2017) **** Georgian Retrospective DOCLISBOA 2020

Dir.: Mariam Khatchvani; Cast: George Babluani, Nukri Khatchvani, Natia Vibliani, Girshel Chelidze; Georgia/Croatia/UK/Ireland/Netherlands/Qatar 2017, 97 min.

This first feature from Georgian documentarian Mariam Khatchvani is based on true events that took place at the outset of the Georgian Civil War in the remote mountainous community of Svaneti, far removed from the modern world. It pictures a patriarchal society where forced marriages, pride and tradition dictate the code of daily life. Dina is a young woman promised by her draconian grandfather to David, one of the soldiers returning from the war. Once a marriage arrangement is brokered by two families, failure to follow through on the commitment is unthinkable.

Khatchvani uses an evocative visual approach with minimal dialogue to tell the story of this woman essentially trapped by men. Gegi (Babluani) has just saved his best friend’s David’s life. Ironically this leaves David (N. Khtachvani) free to marry Dina (Vibliani). But in reality Gegi is in love with her – the two fell for each other, though their original meeting was so brief they never even exchanged names. When Dina reveals her true feelings to David, he simply replies: “you will marry me, even if you are unhappy for the rest of your life”. David then suggests Gegi join him for a hunting trip which ends in tragedy leaving this intelligent woman thwarted by the controlling men in her life.

DoP Mindia Esadze impresses with towering panoramas of the mountains, and the more domestic-based clashes between progress and tradition. Babluani is really convincing in her passionate fight for happiness, even though she hardly raises her voice. 

Khatchvani shows the backward life for Georgian women in a country where traditional Spiritualism and the Muslim faith both conspire against them, and men end arguments by simply stating: “a woman has no say in this matter”. The director is living proof that women can succeed – with this atmospheric arthouse indie made on a restricted budge. The feature leaves only one question: since both fatal accidents were shown off-camera, we are left wondering whether Girshel might have been the perpetrator in both cases. AS

SCREENING AT DOCLISBOA, GEORGIAN RETROSPECTIVE 2020 | AVAILABLE ON AMAZON VIDEO & PRIME, DVD (AMAZON) VIMEO ON DEMAND AND INDIEFLIX

 

The Hammer Horror Collection | New blu-ray release

Celebrating 60 years of Gothic horror and grisly gore, THE HAMMER HORROR COLLECTION hails from the glory years of this iconic house of horror offering a chilling foray into a selection of British cult classics first spawned by Terry Fisher’s in 1957 outing The Curse of Frankenstein up until the 1970 with Peter Sasdy’s Taste the Blood of Dracula, now making its blu-ray debut. The production house was originally founded 82 years ago by William Hinds and James Carreras.

TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA | 1970, 91’

Atmospherically directed  by Hungarian Peter Sasdy, and adapted for the screen by Anthony Hinds – stepping in due to budgetary constraints under the pseudonym of John Elder (he told his neighbours he was a hairdresser to avoid publicity throughout his entire career) this outing actually broadens the storyline into a damning social satire of Victorian repression and upper class ennui. The eclectic cast has Christopher Lee, Geoffrey Keen and Gwen Watford and sees three distinguished English gentlemen (Keen, Peter Sallis and John Carson) descend into Satanism, for want of anything better to do, accidentally killIng Dracula‘s sidekick Lord Courtly (Ralph Bates), in the process. As an act of revenge the Count vows they will die at the hands of their own children. But Lee actually bloodies the waters in the second half, swanning in glowering due to his lack of a domineering role in the proceedings.

7C940955-3F3B-4D0D-A526-A2E93CD37184BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB

Directed by Seth Holt | Starring Andrew Keir, Valerie Leon | UK | 1971 | 89 mins
Adapted from Bram Stoker’s mystical thriller The Jewel of the Seven Stars, this supernatural shocker is one of Hammer’s most enduring classics. A British expedition team in Egypt discovers the ancient sealed tomb of the evil Queen Tera but when one of the archaeologists steals a mysterious ring from the corpse’s severed hand, he unleashes a relentless curse upon his beautiful daughter. Is the voluptuous young woman now a reincarnation of the diabolical sorceress or has the curse of the mummy returned to reveal its horrific revenge? Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb was plagued by the sudden deaths of director Seth Holt and the wife of original star Peter Cushing, leading to rumours of a real-life curse. Michael Carreras completed the movie that made a Scream Queen of Valerie Leon as the Mummy who, in a titillating twist, forgoes the usual rotting-bandages and is instead resurrected sporting a negligée.
Extras: New featurette – The Pharaoh’s Curse: Inside Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb

1DB70328-2F7E-4621-ABE6-82C9355D699FDEMONS OF THE MIND

Dir: Peter Sykes | Cast: Robert Hardy, Shane Briant, Patrick Magee | UK | 1972 | 89′

In 19th century Bavaria, deranged Baron Zorn (Hardy) keeps his children Emil (Briant) and Elizabeth locked up because he thinks they are possessed by tainted hereditary madness. It’s up to discredited psychiatrist Professor Falkenberg (Magee) to unravel the dark family secrets involving incest, traumatic suicide and proxy fantasies in this satisfying and unusual late-period masterpiece.
Extras: New featurette – Blood Will Have Blood: Inside Demons of the Mind

C2BB7EFB-1328-4D87-B707-705E379113E3FEAR IN THE NIGHT

Dir: by Jimmy Sangster | Cast Judy Geeson, Joan Collins, Ralph Bates, Peter Cushing | UK | 1976 | 94′

A damaged young girl (Geeson), recovering from a recent nervous breakdown, is about to move with her new husband (Briant) to a secluded boarding school in the country but, the night before they are due to leave, she is attacked by a one-armed man with a prosthetic hand. With no evidence remaining, her kindly old neighbour and the local doctor conclude that she may have imagined the attack and the intruder altogether. The terror follows her and at the school she is attacked again but again her story is met by doubt, this time from her kind and loving new husband. She continues to be terrorised by the mysterious one-armed man, but nobody believes her.
Extras: New featurette – End of Term: Inside Fear in the Night

9DA0E0C1-1ED9-46D9-A532-841BF4DCAC5ASCARS OF DRACULA

Dir: by Roy Ward Baker | Starring Christopher Lee, Dennis Waterman, Jenny Hanley, Patrick Troughton | UK | 1970 | 96′

Count Dracula (Lee) is brought back from the dead when blood from a bat falls on his mouldering ashes and once again spreads his evil from his mountaintop castle. When a young man, Paul, disappears one night, his brother Simon (Waterman) and his girlfriend (Hanley) trace him to the area, discovering a terrified populace. Thrown out of the local inn, they make their way, like Paul before them, towards the sinister castle and its undead host.
Extras: New featurette – Blood Rites: Inside Scars of Dracula

5FB7AF34-6BD5-4200-A000-99B6D4BD70CBDR JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE

Dir: Roy Ward Baker | Cast:Ralph Bates, Martine Beswick | UK | 1971 | 97 mins

In Victorian London, Professor Jekyll (Bates), an earnest scientist, obsessively works day and night haunted by the fear that one lifetime will not be enough to complete his research. Side-tracked from his objective he becomes consumed with developing an immortality serum. Once convinced his findings are complete, he consumes the potion only to discover that he is to become two as he turns into half Jekyll and half Hyde. Desperate to cover up his newfound identity he calls her his sister, but things take a turn for the worse when he realises that he needs female hormones if he is to maintain his existence. Before long he is battling with his alter ego Mrs Hyde (Beswick), as a number of young girls begin to go missing in the streets of London…
Extras: New featurette – Ladykiller: Inside Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde

B4674D93-6B5E-4B87-A1BB-45F72FBE630BTO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER

Dir: Peter Sykes | Cast: Richard Widmark, Christopher Lee, Honor Blackman, Denholm Elliott, Nastassja Kinski | UK | 1976 | 95 mins

In 1970s London John Verney (Widmark), a renowned occult writer, is approached by Henry Beddows (Elliot) to help rescue his daughter Catherine (Kinski) from a Satanic cult. Catherine is a nun with the Children of the Lord, a mysterious heretical order based in Bavaria and founded by the excommunicated Roman Catholic priest (Lee). When Catherine arrives from Germany, Verney sneaks her away from her bodyguard and takes her to his apartment. The order, however, are determined to get Catherine back and use all the powers of black magic at their disposal in the ensuing battle between the forces of light and darkness
Extras: New featurette – Dark Arts: Inside To the Devil a Daughter

STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING

Dir: by Peter Collinson | Cast: Rita Tushingham, Shane Briant, James Bolam | UK | 1972 | 96 mins)

This is not some sort of night of unmitigated lust chez Dracula, but the tragedy of  young Brenda (Tushingham), an innocent young girl, who leaves her hometown of Liverpool for London in search of love. By chance she meets Clive (Briant). Attractive, debonair and rich he seems to be the handsome Prince Charming she’s been looking for. Clive is actually a deeply disturbed young man and his psychotic tendencies soon manifest themselves and destroy Brenda’s dreams of a fairy-tale life offering instead a kind of COVID-19 style misery – and we all know about that

5603F039-792D-4DEF-BE89-8EB09D72EACCTHE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN

Dir: by Jimmy Sangster | Cast: Ralph Bates, Kate O’Mara | UK | 1970 | 95 mins)

Young Victor Frankenstein (Bates) returns from medical school with a depraved taste for beautiful women and fiendish experiments. But when the doctor runs out of fresh body parts for his ‘research’ he turns to murder to complete his gruesome new creation. Now his monster has unleashed its own ghastly killing spree and the true horror of Frankenstein has only just begun…Extras: New featurette – Gallows Humour: Inside The House of Frankenstein

TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA | AVAILABLE On BLURAY AND DVD DOUBLEPLAY  | Amazon | Warner Bros

CzechMate: In Search of Jiri Menzel (2019) **** Blu-ray|VOD

Dir.: Shivendra Singh Dungarpur; Documentary with Jiri Menzel, Vera Chytilova, Woody Allen, Raoul Coutard, Milos Foreman, Ivan Passer, Ken Loach, Andrzej Wajda, Agnieszka Holland; India 2018, 448 min./Special features 23 min.

Indian filmmaker Shivendra Singh Dungarpur fell in love with the films of Jiri Menzel (1938-2020) after watching the Czech director’s Oscar-winning debut Closely Observed Trains (1966) and this new documentary certainly does his hero justice – weighing in at over seven hours and eight years in the making – it also serves as a deep dive into the Czechoslovakian New Wave (that culminated in 1968 when Russian forces invaded!).

After meeting the Czech master in a Prague cafe ten year’s ago Dungarpur’s obsession grew, and the result is this labour of love – which would take him all over the world – CzechMate re-igniting the spirit of a world long gone by, at a time when Eastern Europe’s right-wing authoritarian regimes have ironically replaced their former Stalinist dictatorships.

Dungarpur had to be persuasive in chasing down the contributors to this mammoth endeavour “It was a challenging, often frustrating task to capture their stories: it took three years and a ruse to convince the Diamonds of the Night director Jan Nemec to give an interview; “I had to chase the veteran actor Josef Somr to a village hundred kilometres from Prague, and still he refused to talk to me. I drove five hours one way from Bratislava only to have Closely Observed Trains star Dusan Hanak refuse to open the door, forcing me to try again later. But in the end, I got them all”.

Jiri Menzel was a subversive rebel in the vein of Czech literary figure The Good soldier Schweijk. He chose to tackle the authorities head-on, unlike his compatriots Milos Foreman (Loves of a Blonde) and Ivan Passer (Intimate Lighting), who emigrated to Hollywood. Most of his films are portraits of small-town life (Cutting it Short, The Snowdrop Festival, My Sweet Little Village, and he brought out the humanity in his provocative characters who were loveable in spite of it all.

During his time at FAMU Film School in Prague, Menzel got to know the writer Bohumil Hrabel (1914-1997), who became the Czech New Wave’s leading light. But it was Vera Chytilova who gave Menzel his first break as assistant director in her 1963 feature Something Different. Hrabel went on to script Menzel’s own debut feature Skylarks on a String (1969) a rather mild comedy about life in a “reform” Camp, more satire than anything else. But it was banned by the authorities and kept locked up, only to be screened in 1989 – before winning the Golden Bear at the Berlin Festival a year later. Meanwhile, Menzel was left out in the cold cinema-wise and in the intervening years worked in theatre with plays by Chekhov, Shakespeare, Michael Frayn, and later Vaclav Havel’s stage adaptation of ‘The Beggars Opera’, (based on the original 1728 libretto), with a film version that would follow in 1991.

Five years after Skylarks Menzel would continue with his comedy output his 1976 Secluded, Near Woods garnering the Golden Shell at San Sebastian in the same year, and Who Looks for Gold (1974) was selected for Berlinale but went home empty-handed, and Cutting it Short receiving at Honorable Mention at Venice in 1981. In 2006  he adapted Hrabel’s novel I Served the King of England, which took the FIPRESCI prize at Berlinale the following year and this was his penultimate feature in a career that culminated with his energetic opera-themed swan song The Don Juans that met with a rather mixed reception, described by Variety called it a “frothy operatic romp” haunted by the spectre of the hated financier.

Dungarpur offers little in criticism of his idol whose only dissenter appears to be Agnieszka Holland, who thought Menzel’s approach to “twee”, particularly his portraits of the Nazis in Closely Observed Trains. For what it’s worth, the Polish director apparently preferred the more sombre confrontational works of the New Wave’s Slovakian filmmakers: Jurak Jacubisco, Dusan Hanak and Stefan Uher.

Menzel’s story is the story of the Czechoslavak New Wave in microcosm. Many suffered more than Menzel: Evald Schorm (Courage for every Day) and Eduard Grecner (Nylon Moon) were banned from working for decades, Stefan Uher (Genius) died prematurely from cancer at 62. Others, like Otokar Vavra (Witchhammer) gave in to the regime, but were criticised afterwards for getting too close. It was a non-win situation.

As for CzechMate, DoPs David Calk, Ranjan Palit, K.U. Mohanan and Jonathan Blum help to keep Dungarpur’s Opus Magna flowing gracefully. As film essays go, this is certainly as comprehensive as possible. It is carried by the playful relationship between Menzel and Dungarpur – echoing the jaunty exuberance of his oeuvre. Passionate and brimming with verve, this is a gem which can be tackled at once, or dipped into again and again for the pleasure of revisiting the Czech master’s life and work. Like most worthwhile things, CzechMate needs time commitment, but is well worth it for the joy of the ride. AS

AVAILABLE ON SECONDRUNVD.COM VOD from 26 OCTOBER | on BLU-RAY 2 DISC SPECIAL EDITION

The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) **** Blu-ray

Dir: Charles Crichton | Script: T.E.B. Clarke | Cast: Alex Guinness, Stanley Holloway, Sidney James, Alfie Bass | UK, Comedy Crime Drama 78′


Of all the British-produced caper films The Lavender Hill Mob has to be the most endearing. Almost seventy years old it still engages and delights with a period innocence that’s now impossible to recreate. Although Crichton’s comedy is on a par with the whimsy of Passport to Pimlico – both films were scripted by T.E.B.Clarke – this is not amongst the very best of Ealing comedies: that accolade still goes to Kind Hearts and Coronets, Whiskey Galore and The Ladykillers. But The Lavender Hill Mob delivers a unique gentleness of tone that makes it special.

The plot centres on the theft of a security van carrying gold bars which are melted down to be encased in souvenir paperweights of the Eiffel Tower, and shipped over to France. A supposed perfect plan, until a few are accidentally sold to a class of English schoolgirls, leaving the mob (each a grown-up kid at heart) panicking over one stubborn child who won’t exchange her Eiffel Tower for a ten shilling note. A simple story of a mob undertaking, with childlike courage, a heist remarkable enough to disarm a complacent British establishment.

Assembling a gang of East End thugs sounds somehow a lot less threatening than a mob of Chicago hoodlums. The spivs and gangsters of violent British films like They Made me a Fugitive (1947) have been replaced here by the mischievous ‘boy’ criminal. Ironically, sweet rationing came to an end in Britain two years after the release of The Lavender Hill Mob, so you can imagine how easily satisfied the British public were prior to that – just a lollipop made people happy back in the day, never mind a gold bar.

I emphasise the adult Lavender Hill mob as being deprived kids because, as in The Ladykillers, they are often subtly and ingeniously infantilised. There’s a delightful scene where a drunken “Al” Pendlebury (Stanley Holloway) and “Dutch” Holland (Alec Guiness) return to their lodgings to be reprimanded by landlady Mrs Chalk (Marjorie Fielding). She calls them noisy “naughty men” for disturbing the other residents. This prim old lady looks forward to Mrs Wilberforce (Katy Johnson) of The Ladykillers. As Charles Barr describes in his brilliant Ealing Studios “She (Wilberforce) becomes a triumphant nanny” on discovering what her furtive visitors are really up to.

Both films depict middle and working class blokes reprimanded for being naughty and irresponsible – even Lackery Wood’s missus forbids him to go on a boat trip to Paris to collect the golden souvenirs. Both films carefully reveal an astute feminine force at work to challenge the behaviour of bad men. If The Ladykillers is a black comedy that finally destroys the would-be murderous visitors then The Lavender Hill Mob is a light (or white) comedy intent to show gentlemanly thieves, without violent impulses or methods, eventually found out by Mum and her detectives.

Charles Crichton directs with confidence aided by the precise editing of Seth Holt. Witness Al and Dutch’s giddy descent on the steps of the real Eiffel Tower. Dizzy from their efforts (like kids after a Big Dipper) they regain their balance just as a car is speeding off with the schoolgirls happily clutching their souvenir towers. The edit from them standing up to witness the car leaving, is superbly done, and one the four chase sequences featured.

Chase two begins with Al and Dutch arriving at the port where the school party will catch a boat to sail back to England. They suffer the last minute frustration of having to buy tickets, go through passport control and customs. Each procedure is a gem of comic observation, culminating in them missing the boat.

Chase three is set in an exhibition hall illustrating how the police force works, or tries to work, in England. The little girl hands over her Eiffel tower model to a policeman friend. The thieves grab it and mayhem ensues. Trapped in a confined space police accidentally pursue other police, including one on an exhibition motor bike.

Chase four is the funniest of all and sees Al and Dutch steal a police vehicle to be pursued by patrol cars – one being driven by a man dressed in Robert Peel period uniform. The cars collide, their radio aerials entwine and Scotland Yard overhears a policeman singing as he cadges a lift by the mob, all this interspersed with loud pig snorts, the song “Old McDonald had a Farm” in time with a BBC radio broadcast.

Each sequence is handled with expert timing that not only recalls silent movie escapades but possibly inspired Cliff Owens’s sublime 1963 comedy The Wrong Arm of the Law – a satirical chase film about naughty villains and a befuddled police force. And Lavender’s fast moving antics are reinforced by an exuberant music score from Georges Auric.

If I’ve stressed the innocence of a film that appears to have no dark content, then I’d make one qualification. The film has a small note of despair. “Dutch” Holland, formerly a timid bank clerk, was lacking in drive and ambition. Alec Guinness (voice over) describes himself as a desperate nonentity. Cut to a shot of documentary footage of similar nonentities, trapped in their boring jobs, crossing over London Bridge. This oddly piercing moment made me think of Eliot’s famous lines in The Waste Land.

“A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many.
I had not thought death had undone so many.”

But to mention Eliot is probably too weighty. For The Lavender Hill Mob is first and foremost a seriously funny comedy more than a serious film. The meek Dutch (Holland’s first and real name was Henry) is transformed from being an anonymous worker to paradoxically a celebrated and plucky local-hero for the bank staff and a cunning mastermind thief who finally absconds to Rio de Janiero; wining and dining whilst generously donating the stolen money to good causes.

We never learn of the final fate of the other members of the Lavender mob. But this irrepressibly charming classic portrays them as typically 1950s post-war English eccentrics, repressed, but not bitter, more sweetly irreverent and decidedly special: characters that challenge the label of nonentity, as scripted by T.E.B.Clarke, with a golden touch of wit, enough to garner the writer a richly deserved BAFTA. ©AlanPrice

NOW ON BLURAY COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL

The Ladykillers (1955) ****

Dir: Alexander Mackendrick | Drama | UK 83′

Celebrating its 65th Anniversary The Ladykillers was the last of the legendary Ealing Comedies., a subversively amusing caper that proves the undeniable civilising force of charming female influence. The female in question is Katie Johnson’s Mrs Wilberforce, a genteel little old lady who agrees to let a suite of rooms in her St Pancras abode to a ghoulish looking ‘musician’ with unfeasible dentures (Alex Guinness). As we soon discover, his intentions are far from honourable when joined by a motley crew of what turns out to be rather gentlemanly crooks: Peter Sellers, Herbert Lom, Cecil Parker and Danny Green. The Ladykillers reflects on the kindness of strangers – but reminds us never to look a gift horse in the mouth – in a world that sadly no longer exists.

In a role originally intended for Alistair Sim, Guinness looks almost macabre as Professor Marcus, whose plan to dupe the seemingly naive Mrs Wilberforce into being part of a heist goes pear-shaped after the crew rob a security van. But the heist is just a vehicle for darkly amusing antics that involve a parrot, a tea party and a strange old house facing St Pancras Station in Euston Road, but now no longer exists.

This gothic caper is far superior to the Coen Brothers’ 2004 remake, the humour derived from Mrs Wildberforce’s typically English way of derailing the gang’s activities with her innocent requests for assistance, and offers of cups of tea. Meanwhile they try to conceal their sculduggery by posing as a farcical string quartet, though they are unable to play a note and are in fact miming to a recording of Boccherini’s Minuet. In the end the gang pull off the robbery, but none of them could have predicted that their greatest obstacle to escaping with the loot would be their well-meaning hostess. 

The Ladykillers was the last Technicolour three-strip film shot in Britain and went on to win Best British Screenplay for William Rose and Best British Actress for Katie Johnson, in the film that made her a star at the grand old age of 77.

Restoration-wise a 35mm Technicolor print was used as a reference for the colour grade to ensure the new HDR Dolby Vision master stayed true to the films original 1950s ‘Colour by Technicolor’ look. In total the remaster benefitted from over a 1000 hours’ worth of 4K digital restoration to achieve a sparkling new digital print. MT

IN CINEMAS FROM 23 OCTOBER 2020 | UHD, BLU-RAY/DVD includes Forever Ealing Documentary narrated by Daniel Day-Lewis and BBC Omnibus Made in Ealing (1986) featuring interviews with Alexander Mackendrick and William Rose.

Yield to the Night (1956) *** Blu-ray release

Dir: J. Lee Thompson | Cast: Diana Dors, Michael Craig, Yvonne Mitchell, Geoffrey Keen | Drama UK 99′

This sober female-centric prison thriller, echoing the Ruth Ellis case, stars Diana Dors as a hard-nosed convicted criminal waiting for a possible reprieve in her grim prison cell.

In stark contrast, the upbeat opening sees Dors ‘shopgirl’ strutting along in black stilettos, a cool articulate London blonde with love on her mind. Tired of her inattentive husband she has fallen for the darkly dishy musician Jim Lancaster (a sultry Michael Craig). Her romantically troubled past seems over and the future finally looks bright with her Prince Charming, or so it would appear. But Lancaster has feet of clay and and no money, and is unable to break off his existing relationship with well-healed socialite Lucy Carpenter (Mercia Shaw). But when Jim’s relationship with Lucy takes a tragic turn, a heartbroken Mary snaps, her love for him transformed into bitter hatred turns for her rival as she takes matters into her owns hands.

Adapted for the screen by John Cresswell and Joan Henry (from her own novel which preceded the Ellis affair), this anti-capital punishment study of stoicism and unrequited love stands out as a rare female led 1950s drama – both in terms of the story and the fact it was written by a woman. Mary Hilton was a precursor to the “Angry Young Women” ushered in the British New Wave realist features with their aggrieved girls like Jo in A Taste of Honey (1961), Eva Koenig in That Kind of Girl, 1963) and This Sporting Life’s Margaret Hammond, of the same year.

Dors maintains a dignified presence throughout, her radiant charm and vulnerability eventually giving way to dignified impenitance as she takes off her make-up and dons drab prison garb. Despite her incarcerated status she still pulls rank over the female prison officers in a role that received nods to best actress at Cannes and the BAFTAs in the year of its release. Michael Craig makes for an alluring low-level lothario, and Mercia Shaw a petulant and sophisticated woman of means.

Yield to the Night is makes for rather distressing viewing with its death sentence theme overriding the more exciting sequences where Gilbert Taylor’s artful black and white camerawork is given full rein. But Mary’s claustrophobic confinement certainly exerts a sinister thrill during the countdown to the inevitable. MT

FULLY RESTORED ON BLU-RAY, DIGITAL AND DVD ON OCTOBER 12

Blood and Money (2019) *** Digital/DvD

Dir: John Barr | Cast: Tom Berenger | US Drama 90′

This solid vehicle for Tom Berenger makes enjoyable autumnal viewing keeping us glued to the screen despite a generic storyline. Berenger’s laconic style and suave economy of movement have made him a cinema stalwart throughout his long and undervalued career as a talented actor in mainstream titles and B movies such as this first feature for John Barr, who makes a well-worn plot watchable with solid production values and Berenger at the helm.

Essentially a one-hander Blood and Money is also slim on dialogue that somehow suits its peaceful snowy setting in the wilds of a winter-bound Maine. Berenger is Jim Reed a man of few words with a laid back approach to life that seems to stem from his poor state of health and possible terminal illness. Despite regular coughing fits that spray blood onto his parka he doesn’t make any bones about it, and Barr weaves this cleverly into the narrative as a McGuffin. It soon emerges his daughter was killed in a car accident and Reed was at the wheel.

On a last ditch solitary vacation all togged for the icy conditions he cuts a rugged figure trudging through snow near his makeshift cabin in the woods. A custom jeep waits to transport him homeward to a comforting diet of peanut butties and painkillers washed down with milk, and a post prandial cigarette before sleep takes over, his sole mission to shoot a male deer is the only thing waking him up the morning. And he keeps missing his target.

One target he does manage to hit is a lonely figure hurrying away with a bag of money. What happens next is largely immaterial because we’re somehow lost in reverie contemplating the pointlessness of life and the weakness of the human condition when the chips are finally down. A big shoot out adds some spice to the final stretch but there is also a satisfying human twist to this lowkey thriller that takes us mildly by surprise but pleasantly so. MT

BLOOD AND MONEY IS AVIALABLE COURTESY OF SIGNATURE ENTERTAINMENT ON DIGITAL HD from 16 October and DVD 19 October 2020.

 

 

 

This Gun for Hire (1942) ***** Blu-ray

Dir.: Frank Tuttle; Cast: Veronica Lane, Alan Ladd, Robert Preston, Laird Crogar, Tully Marshall, Mark Lawrence; USA 1942, 81 min. 

Frank Tuttle gives the full film noir treatment to Graham Greene’s themes of guilt and redemption in this highly influential thriller with iconic performances from Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd.

Adapting Greene’s 1936 novel of the same name, the action is transported to wartime US where hit man Philip Raven has killed a blackmailing chemist and his girlfriend on the orders of shady operator Willard Gates (Crogar), who is after his research paper on poison gas. Gates works for Alvin Brewster (Marshall), the wheelchair bound Nitro Chemical boss, who wants to sell US secrets to the Japanese. Cat-lover Raven is quietly ruthless swearing revenge when he discovers his pay-0ff is counterfeit.

Nightclub-owner Gates has meanwhile hired magician and singer Ellen Graham (Lane), who, unbeknown to him, is working for a Senate committee on the trail of Brewster. Ellen is also engaged to police Lieutenant Michael Crane (Preston), who is hunting Raven. On a train journey, Raven and Ellen meet by accident, and he is smitten. Gates, who is also on the train, believes Ellen is Raven’s girl and plans to abduct and kill her. But Raven will save her life, finding her chained in a wardrobe in Gates’ mansion where Gates’ servant Tommy (Lawrence) is about to dump her in a river. Ellen and Raven are on the run, trying to nail Gates and Brewster. Meanwhile Crane is hunting the two, unsure if Ellen is still on his side.

DoP John F. Seitz (Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, The lost Weekend) conjures up smouldering noir settings, among them an underground chase (with shades of The Third Man) in a gas works where Ellen and Raven are fleeing from the cops.  

One of the most revered and successful film noir hits of the 1940s This Gun for Hire would see Lake and Ladd team up again although this remains their standout feature as a duo. Raven is a frightening yet oddly sympathetic hit man, Ladd bringing out his humanity in a breakout debut turn that transformed him into a star. As The New York Times said of Ladd upon the film’s 1942 release, “He is really an actor to watch. After this stinging performance, he has something to live up to – or live down.”

Working with writers Albert Maltz and WR Burnett, Tuttle also underlines Raven’s ambiguity as a broken individual suffering from an abusive childhood. This wariness of people has kept him an outsider, and the narrative revolves round his strengthening relationship with Ellen whose life as a female nightclub-chanteuse also put her in a vulnerable position in the society of the day. And whilst the censors would have insisted on a happy-end for Ellen and Crane, there are moments when Ellen is hard pushed to choose sides. Stunningly cinematic, This Gun for Hire is also a clever character study of forbidden love. AS

ON BLU-RAY | EUREKA CLASSICS RANGE | 14 SEPTEMBER 2020

 

Mademoiselle (1966) **** blu-ray release

Dir.: Tony Richardson; Cast: Jeanne Moreau, Ettore Manni, Keith Skinner, Umberto Orsini, Paul Burge; France/UK 1966, 105′

Based on a story by Jean Genet and adapted for the screen by Marguerite Duras, Tony Richardson’s sinister arthouse drama Mademoiselle did not fare well with the critics (or the public) when it was released after its Cannes premiere.

Perhaps audiences expected something different from an MGM release: in those days there was a chasm between mainstream and independent cinema. It could have been down to the fact that neither viewers nor critics were aware of Richardson’s sublime subversiveness, even though it was not the first time his idiosyncratic style had been aired on the silver screen.

Jeanne Moreau is the Mademoiselle in question, a school teacher and an inverted version of Colin Smith from The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner played by Tom Courtenay, a few years earlier. Here Moreau’s teacher rebels in a series of spiteful acts on her village community, each time covering them up with over-adjustment.

The attractive, middle-aged Parisian arrives in the country town of Corrèze (the film was shot in Le Rat, with cast and crew living locally for the duration) looking for a new start in life, and hoping to up the ante with her sophisticated urban ways. Put simply, she wants to be a big fish in a small pond. Posing as a respectable buttoned-down teacher during the day, the nighttime transforms her into a pyromaniac, setting fire to houses and barns, she poisons farm animals and even creates a flood of biblical proportions during an annual get together.

But the blame falls squarely on the resident Italian lumberjack, Manou (Manni) whose lady-killing potential have made him unpopular with the village men. Fellow Italian Antonio (Orsini) asks Manou to move on, but suggests his son slightly backward son Bruno (Skinner) should stay on at school where his studies are progressing rather well with Mademoiselle. But Bruno is no fool when it comes to male intuition, and he smells a rat when it comes to his teacher. Picking up on these bad vibes she lashes back calling him a ‘gypsy’ and demonising him in the classroom.

Meanwhile, a subtle chemistry simmers between Mademoiselle and Manou; and this fatal attraction drives the story forward, her covert lust fuelling the incendiary acts of rebellion. Sadly the farm animals come off worst, many of them losing their lives in the process. Eventually the two come together for a rather wild night of passion in the pastoral splendour. Arriving home the worse for wear, Mademoiselle is asked by a concerned neighbour “was it him?”. Her tacit agreement thereby signing Manou’s death warrant that sees him lynched by the angry male mob. Mademoiselle leaves for good shortly afterwards, Bruno spitting at her from a distance, having found evidence to confirm his suspicions – although lacking the confidence of his convictions.

Look Back in Anger DoP David Watkin once again joins Richardson’s Woodfall crew, his delicately rendered black and white images creating a bewitched and magical wonderland in the English countryside evoking folkloric associations with Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Wicker Man. Mademoiselle is an exercise in Freudian dualism. Ironically Richardson and Moreau began an affair during film, fired up by the heady atmosphere in the summer heat. Over fifty years later, the film still feels fresh and real with its central theme of xenophobia and mistrust.

NOW ON BFI BLU-RAY/DVD from 21 SEPTEMBER 2020

Five Graves to Cairo (1943) **** Bluray release

Dir: Billy Wilder | Cast: Eric von Stroheim, Franchot Tone, Anne Baxter, Akim Timaroff, Peter van Eyck, Fortunio Bonanova | US War thriller 96′

Before he made one of the most lauded film noirs ever committed to celluloid Double Indemnity Billy Wilder directed this gutsy Second World War espionage thriller that froths with energy despite its rather stagey confines of a chamber-piece. He had only been in Hollywood for a decade but Five Graves proves that Wilder and screenwriter Charles Brackett—who would collaborate on thirteen films, winning screenplay Oscars for The Lost Weekend and Sunset Boulevard—were already at the top of their game having cut their teeth together on a star-studded comedy The Major and the Minor with Ray Milland and Ginger Rogers, the previous year.

Enjoying an equally strong cast of Franchot Tone, Anne Baxter and Eric von Stroheim (who gets some of the best lines, including the fiendishly misogynist: “I don’t like women in the morning, go away”) the thriller is based on a play by Hungarian writer Lajos Biro, and retains a slightly claustrophobic feel despite the stylish camerawork of Oscar nominee John F Seitz who creates evocative shadow-play within the confines of the hostelry and inthe wonderful opening desert scenes (filmed in Arizona) recalling those velvety sand dunes in Laurence of Arabia. 

The plot is an engaging one. Tone is British Corporal Bramble, the only survivor in his unit after a battle with Rommel’s soldiers in North Africa. After falling from his tank and staggering to the isolated Empress of Britain hotel, he is offered sanctuary by owner Farid (Akim Tamiroff) and his French employee Mouche (Anne Baxter). But Eric von Stroheim’s Rommel soon fetches up crunching on a cigar and shooting the cuffs of his elegant desert rig-out (designed by Edith Head who really goes to town on the costumes). He soon commandeers the hotel in an extraordinary performance and claims it as the new quarters for his Nazi sidekicks. Meanwhile Bramble is back-footedly forced to assume the identity of a recently killed waiter. It soon emerges that this waiter was also serving as a German spy, a role Bramble now has to adopt for his own survival. And while Mouche knows Bramble’s true identity, she has her own reasons for not wanting to aid and abet him as they survive in close quarters in this nest of wartime vipers.

Named by Quentin Tarantino as one of his favourite films, Wilder enriches the minimal action scenes with archive war footage and explanatory inter-titles. The interior scenes dice between light-hearted wittiness and sinuous tension as the disparate group of characters are huddled up hiding their own secrets and ulterior motives. The director would soon become one of Hollywood’s most lauded talents, but his genius was clearly evident in this early work.

Masters of Cinema Series is proud to present the film in its UK debut on Blu-ray from a new 4K restoration

https://youtu.be/rmrE1FHUyjY

 

Horse Money (2014) |Best Director | Locarno 2014 | Bluray Release

Dir/Wri: Pedro Costa | Cast: Ventura, Vitalina Varela, Tito Furtado
Portugal Drama 104mins

Drenched in profoundly mannered grief, Pedro Costa’s tortuously paced HORSE MONEY (CAVALO DINHEIRO) is a magnificent monument and/or an egregious folly, demonstrating the Portuguese director’s expertise in arresting compositions as well as the decidedly acquired taste of his opaque minimalism. Starring Costa’s regular protagonist Ventura, a charismatically stalwart, mononymic Cape Verdian, the film won Best Director at LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL’s 67th edition and is now playing in the Journey Through History strand at this year’s celebration (viewable online via MUBI).

Though German Expressionism might be an unlikely source of inspiration for Costa, there’s more than a touch of Robert Weine’s THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1919) about his latest feature, which before anything else seems to entrap its listless characters in harsh quadrants of chiaroscuro lighting, with ominously shadowy depths encroaching from the extreme edges of frame. Cinematographer Leonardo Simões employs wide-angled lenses and canting horizons to distort the film’s claustrophobic interiors into a nightmarish grid of dilapidating geometry. It’s as if the very axes of the earth shifted a long time ago—and people are only now adjusting.

Also like CALIGARI, HORSE MONEY is set for large portions of its narrative in a medical centre, unfolding as a succession of dreamily purgatorial fragments that suggest a kind of hallucinatory hotchpotch of somnambulant trauma. Ventura is one of only a few patients left at this half-abandoned outpost, being treated for a nervous disease after being badly beaten by soldiers sent in to displace him and others from the Cape Verde settlement of Fontainhas decades previously (forgoing traditional drama, Costa presumably assumes his audience is familiar with the real-life history so obliquely referenced here). Claiming he’s 19 years and 3 months old, Ventura may or may not be a reliable narrator: one consequence of state violence is, apparently, the aggressive onset of senility—which of course benefits a state eager to bury its colonial guilt.

Our visibly shaken hero is visited by ghosts from rosier pasts. This circle of displaced pals posthumously places its trust in Ventura to unshackle memories and preserve the truth. Chief among such friends is Vitalina, a benumbed widow who speaks only in a monotonously stately whisper—as if wary of disturbing sleeping dogs from their slumber. In a concluding sequence, Ventura is confronted by long-suppressed horrors in an elevator—a space he shares with a street performer-like ‘human statue’ dressed as a soldier from the Revolutionary Army. Large parts of this scene arrive intact from ‘Sweet Exorcism’, Costa’s largely insufferable contribution to the typically uneven portmanteau project CENTRO HISTORICO (2012). At least on this occasion we’re given a little more context.

Like the elevator itself, the film as a whole seems reluctant to move forward: though Ventura is eventually discharged from the facility, his mental wounds don’t appear to be healed. In fact, stasis is one of the film’s visual strengths: it opens stunningly, with a series of Jacob Riis photographs. Hereafter, Costa repeatedly shows himself as a potential master of still photography, having his performers pose motionless within absorbingly framed scenarios. Moments such as that in which Ventura walks along a road in his red underpants only to be stopped at a crossroads by armed soldiers and a tank, for example, have such a potency and urgency about them that one can’t help but wonder if the director’s thematic aims would be better served by a stills exhibition.

Until then, we’ll endure these glacial temporalities the Lisboan dares to impose upon us. In passing, we’ll merely note that challenging, politicised cinema doesn’t need to be a challenge to sit through. But at least this pertains to somebody’s idea of a worthwhile artistic experience—which, for any artist wanting to do things her or his own way, is sometimes enough. MICHAEL PATTISON

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | A JOURNEY Reviewed at LOCARNO

 

 

The Man Who Laughs (1928) **** Bluray release

Dir Paul Leni | Silent Drama, 100′

This visually remarkable late silent film is an adaptation of a French novel (by Victor Hugo) within an English setting, directed by a German filmmaker (Paul Leni) in an American studio. By the end of the 1980s critics were complaining that cultural identity in Trans-euro pudding films was neither one thing nor the other. Yet in 1928 the ingredients were well-baked: The Man who Laughs is no flat hybrid, but a splendidly risen cake. And the icing on top is the charismatic actor Conrad Veidt.

England in the 1680s and King James II has had his political enemy Lord Clancharlie killed. His son Gwynplaine is disfigured by Dr. Hardquannone who works as a comprachico (a dealer in mutilated children intended to play fools or dwarfs at Court.) The grown-up Gwynplaine (Conrad Veidt) now has a permanent fixed grin, due to his disfigurement, and is reduced to working as a clown in a freak show carnival. He falls in love with a blind actress named Dea (Mary Philbin.) Meanwhile, a jester at the Court of Queen Anne, ‘discovers’ Gwynplaine and reveals his royal lineage and inheritance. Yet the estate is now owned by a seductive vamp, the despised Duchess Josiana (Olga V. Baklanova.). And when Gwynplaine is bought to Court, emotional and political turmoil ensues.

First, let’s get one thing out of the way. The Man Who Laughs is today seen as an influence on the Joker character in the Batman comics and movies. However, the only resemblance between Conrad Veidt and all the actors who’ve played The Joker, is the fixity of that grotesque grin. Unlike Batman’s adversary Veidt’s Gwynplaine is not malicious and wears no  pronounced makeup: in other words the two characters have nothing in common with each other. 

Conrad Veidt uses his hypnotic eyes to convey a complex personality that both attracts and repels women. Veidt was a highly intelligent and subtle actor: throughout The Man Who Laughs he evokes the anguish and joy of Gwynplane’s thoughts – his performance is an master class in how the eyes can be used to express deep emotion. Writer Daniella Sannwald cleverly puts this into words in an extract from The Oxford History of World Cinema:

‘Veidt’s face reveals much of the inner life of his characters. The play of muscles beneath the taut skin, the lips pressed together, a vein on his temple visibly protruding, nostrils flaring in concentration and self discipline. These physical aspects characterise the artists, sovereigns and strangers of the German silent film…’


Of course, no film is solely the landscape of a great actor’s face. The design and spatial excitement of Paul Leni’s film, a German silent tradition enriching American silent cinema (often as lyrical as Murnau’s Sunrise), is considerably enhanced by his spry and stylish direction. The Southwark fair scenes; the chase at the London harbour and the episodes at Court are full of exciting mobile camerawork and editing.

The Man Who Laughs is more of a tender love story than a horror film. Veidt’s scenes with Mary Philbin (the heroine of the silent The Phantom of the Opera) are genuinely touching and steer well clear of sentimentality. Their romance is unconsummated yet charged with erotic tension– how far does Gwynplaine want to go in the relationship? He is terrified that Dea might just possibly regain her sight and then see how strange he looks. 

Gwynplaine’s frustration is put to the test in a deliciously sexy scene where Duchess Josiana (perversely attracted to Gwynplaine’s grin) attempts to seduce him. Here Conrad Veidt’s placing of a face cloth over his lips is in order to resist temptation. Whereas when with Dea, he does it to hide his shame. Olga V.Baklanova really lets rip, giving a glowingly photographed scene much sexual animalism. There are even some earlier nude-back scenes of her emerging from a bath, risqué for 1928, or maybe not given what Eric Von Stroheim was up to in his 1928/29 Queen Kelly.) 

Of course the film changes Victor Hugo’s ending. Best not to divulge, and it really doesn’t matter, for it perfectly suits the fate of the two romantic leads (who we really care for.) My one complaint about The Man who Laughs is the over-use of a faithful dog with the obvious name of Homo the Wolf,  played by a dog called Zimbo: it’s a case of a canine melodramatic over-drive.

But the case for Paul Leni’s film (for me his greatest) doesn’t need to be argued, just experienced. And in this beautiful restoration from a 4k source I was enthralled by the passion of The Man Who Laughs. ALAN PRICE©2020   

OUT ON BLU-RAY COURTESY OF MASTERS OF CINEMA ON 17 AUGUST 2020

A Matter of Life and Death (1946) | New 4k Restoration | Poetry

Dir: Michael Powell | Writer: Emeric Pressburger | Cast: David Niven, Roger Livesey, Raymond Massey, Kim Hunter, Marius Goring, Abraham Sofaer, Robert Coote, Joan Maude, Kathleen Byron, Bonar Colleano, Richard Attenborough | UK / Fantasy / 104min

Although by general consensus it is now accorded the status of a classic, it actually took quite a while for this beautiful and unique film to be considered as such. Lindsay Anderson at the time actually used it as his yardstick for mediocrity when he despaired in ‘Sequence’ of audiences that “allow themselves to be diverted by A Matter of Life and Death, but confess themselves too lazy for Ivan the Terrible“, while as recently as 1973 it had been dismissed by Angela & Elkan Allan in ‘The Sunday Times Guide to Movies on Television’ as “[e]xtravagantly awful… told not as a comedy, but as a serious, ludicrous drama”.

Matter-870When it first appeared plenty of critics grumbled at its lack of realism, although director Michael Powell himself took great satisfaction in the fact that everything in the film was psychologically explicable as a hallucination on the part of the hero, Peter Carter (engaging played by a young David Niven). The light-hearted backdrop of fantasy, however, made palatable the graphic depiction of the violent death of two of the film’s characters (we first see Bob Trubshawe [Robert Coote] looking very realistically dead with his eyes open), since within the context of the film’s narrative they are both soon depicted jauntily bounding back to life, when in reality at the film’s conclusion they would both have been very much dead, and remained so for all eternity.

 Under the baton of maestro Michael Powell, A Matter of Life and Death is an enormously satisfying exercise in organisation, with the many components that make up  a feature film – Emeric Pressburger’s literate script, the enthusiastic performances by a uniformly fine cast, Jack Cardiff’s Technicolor photography, Allan Gray’s music, Alfred Junge’s production design, Reginald Mills’ editing and so on – smoothly coalescing into a sublime whole, which Powell himself prided himself on making it all look so easy, when it had been anything but.  It was typically audacious that the film chose at so early to reverse the convention already emerging in cinematic fantasy by depicting real life in Technicolor and Heaven in black & white. The transitions are smoothly organised, although some took exception at Marius Goring’s line – breaching the fourth wall – that “One is starved for Technicolor up zere…!”  Depicting Heaven in black & white was perceived by Raymond Durgnat as satirising the welfare state, and in an odd little book published in 1947 called ‘The World is My Cinema’ E.W. & M.M. Robson heaped page upon page of abuse on the heads of Powell & Pressburger accusing them of being unpatriotic fascist sympathisers (although it’s worth noting that nobody from the Axis Powers is anywhere to be seen, the Chief Recorder is a woman (Joan Maude) and The Judge is played by an Asian actor [Abraham Sofaer]).

matter-4A remarkable amount of Britain’s imperial dirty linen indeed receives a very public airing during the heavenly tribunal (including a laugh-out-loud moment depicting the introduction of an Irish juror in standard IRA uniform of trilby and trenchcoat) led Richard Winnington of the News Chronicle to suppose it was there just for “American box-office purposes”, which ironically attests to the artfulness with which Powell & Pressburger’s company The Archers had camouflaged their propaganda, since the whole reason for the film’s existence had been a request from the Ministry of Information to make a film stressing Anglo-American friendship (relations between the Allies were becoming strained even before Germany surrendered). Anyone else would have simply obliged with a conventional romance between a Brit and a Yank, but The Archers didn’t do conventional, and only they would erect such a formidable edifice to get their message across.

It’s hard to imagine any other national cinema or filmmakers combining such technical and philosophical ambition with such boundless exuberance in its telling. The whole film looks so extraordinary, it’s easy not to notice the skilful use of sound throughout – from the hollow, echoing acoustics of the opening scene narrated by John Longden taking us on a tour of outer space, through the ominously ticking clock in the control room at the air base, to Allan Gray’s exquisite and atmospheric score, his last for an Archers production.

A Matter of Life and Death represents both the culmination and conclusion of The Archers’ first phase, since as their later productions became more ornate they in the process lost much of the gusto and graceful good humour which had characterised their earlier productions. ©RChatten

The film also inspired Alan Price to compose this poem:

A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (1946) 

No one has ever dramatised a brain seizure like you guys. 

An airman hallucinating on earth and its WW2 ‘heaven.’ 

Pilot Peter Carter, so English a fighting poet. One moment 

in a three-strip Technicolor village, the next on a staircase 

to a monochrome beyond. Blaze of aircraft crashing down. 

A beach. Her cycling. You meet; grab the falling handlebars, 

embrace and kiss. Not some visionary sight of a nether world. 

Nor a surgeon spying the street with his camera obscura. 

Nor the French messenger who lost his head. Nor the smell 

of fried onions can change my mind: the idea of a sacrifice

for love. June got her man. Peter got his woman. Emeric and 

you Michael got the film you wanted. AMOLAD determined 

my fantasy after-life. I was born premature three years later: 

taken out of my pram; nurtured in a cinema, entranced by 

black & white pearls with the option for wide screen rainbows. 

Hovering betwixt and between, knowing I’d never starve.

©ALAN PRICE

The Woman in Black (1989) **** Blu-ray

Dir: Herbert Wise | Cast: Adrian Rawlins, Bernard Hepton, Pauline Moran, David Ryall, Clare Holman | UK Horror Thriller, 100′

Originally made for TV and screening on Christmas Eve 1989, Herbert Wise directed this well made and effective thriller that takes us back to the Gothic tradition of storytelling in a Victorian ghost fantasy based on Susan Hill’s original 1983 novel. The Woman in Black follows the same formula as Bram Stoker’s Dracula, minus the blood-sucking Count who is replaced by an equally menacing woman in black, and the boxes of earth by a trunk full of evil trappings.

On the request of his crusty old boss young lawyer Arthur Kipps (Adrian Rawlins) travels from London to the North Eastern coastal town of Crythin Gifford, and out across the eerie salt marshes to attend the funeral of a friendless old widow, Alice Drablow. During the church service a be-hatted, black-robed woman appears to be watching Arthur Kidd from a distance and reappears on the marshes later that day, her face set in a ghastly grimace.

Wise’s film is chockfull of ghastly horror tropes. The wind moans and gulls screech as Kipps makes his way in the swirling mists to Eel Marsh House, only to discover a mournful legacy of untimely death and ghostly appearances in this miserable corner of Victorian England. A talented British cast includes Bernhard Hepton who plays a kindly professional Sam Toovey a sort of Devil’s advocate in explaining away the terrifying sounds and occurrences. The other locals are a sceptical bunch. And no one can explain how a ball comes to be bouncing and a little boy’s voice greets Kipps laughingly in a room that has apparently been locked since Alice’s death. Not to mention a recurring sound of a carriage crashing amid blood-curdling screams outside the house. All this has been recorded on a phonograph by Mrs Drablow herself. Meanwhile, Kipps seems to be losing his mind – not surprisingly. And things don’t improve when he returns to London, freaked out by the whole affair which continues to haunt him in the film’s shocking finale. Made in the late 1980s this reliable horror story  still has an undeniable kick thanks to Wise’s able direction. MT

https://youtu.be/wYfKkf_0Pnc
The worldwide Blu-ray debut of The Woman in Black is available exclusively from the Network website on 10 August 

The Heiress (1949) **** Tribute to Olivia de Havilland

Dir: William Wyler, Script: Ruth Goetz, Augustus Goetz | Cast:                                        Montgomery Clift, Olivia De Havilland, Ralph Richardson, Miriam Hopkins, Vanessa Brown, Selena Royle, Betty Linley, Ray Collins, Mona Freema | US Drama | 110mins

Dame Olivia de Havilland, who has died aged 104, claimed her second Oscar for leading actress in William Wyler’s stirring drama, based on Henry James’s novel, ‘Washington Square’. She had already won an Academy Award for Mitchell Leisen’s To Each His Own (1946) and was one of the last surviving cast members of the 1939 epic Gone With the Wind.

As the sister of Joan Fontaine, she was not only an acclaimed actress but also a feisty member of the Hollywood studio system and had had the presence of mind to successfully sue her employers Warner Brothers in the famous “De Havilland decision” – that was a victory not only for female performers but but actors in general.

The Heiress was originally a play by Ruth Goetz that successfully ran on Broadway, with Basil Rathbone and Wendy Hiller headlining. Betty Linley is the only one to survive from the play, here reprising her role as Mrs Montgomery. Goetz’s husband Augustus then adapted the play for the screen

It’s a silken, subtle piece really, about human psychology and the impact that loss can have on a person and on those around them. Ralph Richardson plays the imposing, exacting father to a naïvely young Catherine Sloper (de Havilland), an heiress in waiting to a fortune, both from her already deceased mother and eventually, her father; inexperienced in the ways of the world at an age when she should be out meeting potential suitors, rather than staying at home endlessly threading tapestries.

The entire production was beset by off-screen politics. In the Forties and Fifties the director was often chosen by the actors and, indeed, de Havilland chose Wyler, confident he would push her enough to get the requisite strong performance. Word is that Method actor Montgomery didn’t regard her as much of an actress though and this, combined with Ralph Richardson improvising through his scenes in the hope of stealing as much of the limelight as possible, made it a very bruising experience  for her. But de Havilland triumphs with a wonderful performance that garners Best Actress.

 

Wyler championed her and protected her throughout the shoot and their mutual support and belief in each other paid huge dividends, the film going on to take down four Oscars, including Best Actress for de Havilland, but also Costume, Art Direction and the last for a very interesting score by Aaron Copeland.

Copeland was a true talent, but what is less known is that Wyler was  uncomfortable with his score and is rumoured to have had it heavily rewritten and re-orchestrated. Not the first time an Oscar has been awarded to the public face of something potentially ghost written, and certainly not the last. Copeland was ahead of his time with his spare score but traditionalist Wyler was unsure of this new sound.

Clift was chosen over Errol Flynn for his more subtle and committed brand of acting and indeed, learned the piano for the scenes where he plays and sings, however, he was unhappy with his performance in general and walked out of the premier, disgusted.

The Heiress doesn’t run as a standard ‘play by the book’ drama and is so much the better for it, especially when compared to so much of the current derivative screen fare, and Monty was perhaps not the best judge of his outstanding talents and certainly too harsh on himself.  He is perfectly suited as the devastatingly handsome and charming love interest, whose true motives remain tantalisingly cloaked as the story unfolds.

Made in an era when depth of character, superlative crafting and inventive choices were the touchstone of filmmaking, this well-constructed drama is a tribute to a British star who has now taken her rightful place in the glittering Hollywood firmament.  MT

THE HEIRESS

 

The League of Gentlemen (1960) *** Bluray release

Dir: Basil Dearden. Prod: Michael Relph. Scr: Bryan Forbes, from the novel by John Boland. Cast: Jack Hawkins, Nigel Patrick, Roger Livesey, Richard Attenbrough, Bryan Forbes, Keiron Moore, Terence Alexander, Norman Bird, Robert Coote, Melissa Stribling, Nanette Newman, Lydia Sherwood, Doris Hare, David Lodge, Patrick Wymark, Gerald Harper, Brian Murray. Comedy drama/ Great Britain/ 116 mins.

Michael Relph and his production team would provide ‘entertainments’ like this between ‘message’ films such as Sapphire (1959) and Victim (1961). Their short-lived company Allied Film Makers hit the ground running in 1959 with this slick, enjoyable early ‘caper’ film in which eight army officers fallen upon hard times pool their talents to rob a bank. The League went on to become the sixth highest-grossing British film of 1960.

No relation to the TV series, and originally written with Cary Grant in mind, it anticipated the James Bond films with its pre-credits sequence that saw the gang’s mastermind Hawkins emerging from a manhole cover immaculately dressed in black tie. In contrast to the earnestness of their ‘message’ film, The League of Gentlemen light-heartedly throws in cynical home truths about the newly affluent postwar Britain (including passing references to its activities in Cyprus and Ireland) and is gently satirical about the deference to authority still rife in Britain during the 1960s. Crime was still not allowed to pay in 1960, so the ending is a bit of a downer. But you couldn’t expect everything in those days. Richard Chatten.

NOW ON BLURAY

The Good Die Young (1954) *** Blu-ray

Dir: Lewis Gilbert | Cast: Stanley Baker, Gloria Grahame, Joan Collins, Laurence Harvey, John Ireland, Richard Basehart | UK Drama

This watchable if rather moralistic British thriller sees three law-abiding men brought together Producer Clayton and director Gilbert (the most hard-working of all British post-war film-makers) assembled a top Anglo-American cast for this rather moralisitic and decent thriller, based on a book by Richard Macauley).

Boasting a stellar cast that also includes Gloria Grahame (The Bad and the Beautiful), Joan Collins (Cosh Boy) and Robert Morley (The Battle of the Sexes), this compelling crime picture is presented in both its original theatrical version and in an extended export cut (Blu-ray only), originally intended for international audiences.

Psychotic playboy Harvey finds himself short of the readies so he persuades ex-GI Basehart, AWOL Air Force sergeant Ireland and no-hope boxer Baker to join him in holding up a mail van. This being a British picture from the ’50s, you don’t expect them to get away with it – but neither do you quite anticipate Joan Collins and Gloria Grahamepopping up in such low-key supporting roles as they do here.

Amoral aristocrat Miles Ravenscourt (Laurence Harvey, Room at the Top) plots a daring robbery to settle his gambling debts in this taut, tough thriller played out on the shadowy streets of post-war London. Enlisting the aid of washed-up former boxer Mike (Stanley Baker, Zulu), ex-GI Joe (Richard Basehart, Moby Dick) and US airman Eddie (John Ireland, Red River), Ravenscourt sets out to plan the perfect heist. But is there any such thing as a sure thing?

Blu-ray/DVD release on 20 July 2020, and on iTunes and Amazon Prime on 3 August 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cronaca di un Amore | Story of a Love Affair (1950) ****

Dir: Michelangelo Antonioni | Cast: Lucia Bose, Massimo Girotti, Ferdinando Sarmi, Gino Rossi | Italy, Drama 98′

Antonioni’s impeccably stylish social critique unfolds crisply in black and white, in and around his hometown of Ferrara known for its beauty and cultural importance. Set amongst the wealthy industrialists of Italy’s Po Valley powerhouse whose main concern other than business and their elegant cars and fashions is, of course, love. And for the women especially. But  Cronaca di Amore gradually emerges not just as a sombre story of marital infidelity and discontent but also a tightly-plotted noirish expose of the life and times of a seemingly innocent young bride.

Cronaca di Un Amore was Antonioni’s first feature but his graceful sense of framing and mise en scene were already evident – in one of the early scenes is an aerial view of four gleaming sports cars sets the tone for this menage a trois amongst the upper classes and the star lead was his then girlfriend 19 year old Miss Italy Lucia Bose.

She plays Paola the self-focused and voraciously acquisitive new wife of a rich but workaholic Milanese fabric manufacturer. Her truculent attitude to his amorous overtures along with photos of her past cause him to hire a private investigator to track her movements in an around Ferrara and Milan. As always in Italy the”Bella Figura” is of the utmost importance to both sexes and Antonioni reflects this in his choice of costume designer in the shape of cutting edge couturier Ferdinando Sarmi who headlines the titles not only for his costumes but also as Paola’s cheated husband, Enrico.

But Paola wants the only thing money can’t buy, namely love. And although the two never really look happy together, she soon confesses her undying love for the good-looking but impoverished ex Guido (Girotti) who she wheels in to fill the emotional void in her life, although Guido is already spoken for. Tortured by their feelings for one another, and plotting Enrico’s demise, the two embark on a doomed but very well-turned out love affair, primped by Giovanni Fusco’s plangent score, and chiaroscuro camerawork by Enzo Serafin. MT

Story of a Love Affair is on Blu-ray for the first time ever and digital on demand 27 July from CultFilms

 

 

 

They Came to a City **** (1944) | Dual format release

Dir.: Basil Dearden; Cast: Googie Withers, John Clements, Raymond Huntley, Renee Gadd, Mabe; Terry-Lewis, Fanny Rowe, A.E. Matthews; UK 1944, 77 min.


Basil Dearden (1911-1971) was one of the most undervalued of British directors. His films featured the persecution of homosexuals (Victim, 1961) and the not so latent racism in Sapphire (1959). No surprise therefore that J B Priestley’s little known but worthwhile play They Came to a City (premiered 1943) should capture his imagination in the final days of the Second World War. Taking its title from the Walt Whitman poem ‘The City’, it is a Sartre-like scenario set in a transient underworld, ever more relevant in the current climate.

Nine characters, picked from every stratum of British society, are stranded at the entrance to a city; the huge door is locked, and the protagonists feel unsure of the way ahead. But after the door opens and they are (unlike the audience) allowed into the ‘magic’ city, and soon recover their mindsets, very much the product of their individual places in society. It emerges that this city offers the option of social equality, but  only two will stay. The rest, for whatever reasons, will return to the life they had. 

Of the minor characters, Sir George Gedney (Matthews), is every inch the upper-class gentleman, kept away from his game of golf, and only too ready to forget all the arguments arising from their encounter. Lady Loxfield (Terry-Lewis) is his equal, but her daughter Philippa (Rowe) finds enough strength to cut loose from her over-bearing mother, who is too stunned by her daughter’s sudden resistance, to react. Malcolm Stratton (Huntley) is a bank manager, who looks through the charade of the hierarchy he is working for, calling the chairman of the bank a pompous idiot. But his wife Dorothy (Gadd), totally dependent on him, is fearful of any change, and even promises to be more outgoing if Malcolm returns with her to their middle-class existence. The main couple, barmaid/shop girl Alice (a sparkling Googie Withers) and the explosive seaman Joe (Clements), might be falling in love with each other but nevertheless argue non-stop. She reacts against his aggressive masculinity, and talks of the sexual harassment she encounters at work. He raves on about this new opportunity but has no idea how to make it happen. These two soon become aware that neither they, nor society as a whole, is ready for change.  

Using most of the original stage cast, Dearden directs thoughtfully, letting all the characters explore themselves as much as their hopes for a future. Whilst this often feels stuck in its stagey setting, and would have possibly worked better as a radio play, DoP Stanley Pavey (Home is the Hero) brings a certain poetic realism to the proceedings. In many ways, the doomed affairs of French films such as Quai de Brumes, are re-enacted through a British gaze. Needless to say, They came to a City was a disaster at he box-office, and it is to the credit of Ealing supremo Michael Bacon, that the brave feature came to be be produced at all. MT

ON RELEASE ON A NEW 2K FORMAT FOR THE BEST SURVIVING 35 mm ELEMENT  COMPLETE WITH AUDIO NFT LECTURE BY MICHAEL BALCON IN 1969 | BFI

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Murders in the rue Morgue, The Black Cat, The Raven **** Blu-ray release

This trio of classic 1930s horror films—Murders in the Rue MorgueThe Black Cat, and The Raven—is also distinguished by a trio of factors regarding their production. Most notably, each film is based on a work by master of the macabre Edgar Allan Poe. Part of the legendary wave of horror films made by Universal Pictures in the 30s, all three feature dynamic performances from Dracula‘s Bela Lugosi, with two of them also enlivened by the appearance of Frankenstein‘s Boris Karloff. And finally, all three benefit from being rare examples of Pre-Code studio horror, their sometimes startling depictions of sadism and shock a result of being crafted during that brief period in Hollywood before the enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code’s rigid guidelines for moral content.

Director Robert Florey, who gave the Marx Brothers their cinema start with The Cocoanuts in 1929, worked with Metropolis cinematographer Karl Freund to give a German Expressionism look to Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), with Lugosi as a mad scientist running a twisted carnival sideshow in 19th-century Paris, and murdering women to find a mate for his talking ape main attraction. Lugosi and Karloff teamed forces for the first time in The Black Cat, a nightmarish psychodrama that became Universal’s biggest hit of 1934, with Detour director Edgar G. Ulmerbringing a feverish flair to the tale of a satanic, necrophiliac architect (Karloff) locked in battle with an old friend (Lugosi) in search of his family. Prolific B-movie director Lew Landers made 1935’s The Raven so grotesque that all American horror films were banned in the U.K. for two years in its wake. Specifically referencing Poe within its story, Lugosi is a plastic surgeon obsessed with the writer, who tortures fleeing murderer Karloff through monstrous medical means.

THE BLACK CAT

Dir.: Edgar Ulmer; Cast: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lucille Lund, David Manners, Julie Bishop, Harry Cording, Egon Brecher; USA 1934, 69 mins.

When Moravian born director Edgar G. Ulmer (1904-1972) directed The Black Cat, losely based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe and adapted for the screen by Peter Ruric, he teamed up legendary horror stars Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi for the first of seven co-operations. Ulmer, who had worked in Vienna with Max Reinhardt and co-directed Menschen am Sonnatg (1930), first went to Hollywood in 1926 to assist Murnau on Sunrise. After the Nazis took power in 1933, Ulmer then returned to Hollywood, directing Damaged Lives in the same year. He had a great future ahead of him – before falling in love and eloping with Shirley Castle, wife of the producer who also happened to be a nephew of Carl Laemmle, the Universal Studio boss. Ulmer was blacklisted by the major studios for marrying Shirley, so was relegated to working for Producers Releasing Corporation, the lowest of Hollywood’s Poverty Row studios. Despite this he directed a string of successes including the famous noir Detour (1945) with a meagre budget of USD 20,000. Soon he could command better budgets with runaway success Ruthless (1948), bringing out a great performance from Hedy Lamar. Ulmer also made features in Jiddish, amongst them Amerikaner Schadchen (1940) and the most famous Jiddish/American film Green Fields (1937). He ended his working career with a return to Europe, and Germany (Meineid Bauer, 1956) and Italy (Cavern, 1964).

The Black Cat sees American newlyweds Peter (Manners) and Joan Alison (Bishop) on route for their honeymoon in Hungary. Travelling in a train carriage they meet Hungarian psychiatrist Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Lugosi) who despite his sinister appearance and woeful tale of discontent is in fact a goodie in this surreal charade, . While sharing a cab to their destination Joan is injured, forcing the trio to hole up in the imposing modernist villa of Hungarian architect Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff), built on the ruins of First World War Fort Marmorus.

It soon emerges that Werdegast was denounced by Poelzig, spending 17 years in a prison camp in Siberia, Poelzig marrying his (now dead) wife Karen, and sharing a bed with their entranced daughter also called Karen (both played by a luminous Lucille Lund). In an extraordinary twist, Werdegast suffers from ailurophobia – a fear of cats – and kills one of Poelzig’s black cats much to his Satanist host’s anger.

Poelzig intends to sacrifice Joan, Werdegast pledging to save her, and her husband, by beating Poelzig at chess, but sadly losing the game. Poelzig and his ghastly servant Thamal (Cording) attack Peter and carry Joan to her fate in his catacombs underneath the building. Werdegast chains Poelzig to a rack, threatening to skin him alive, while Joan desperately tries to get the key to the chamber of horrors. Peter awakes, and accidentally shoots Werdegast who blows up the whole building with Poelzig and his cult members.

Ulmer acted as his own costume and set designer in Poelzig’s Bauhaus construct of steel and glass. DoP John Mescall (The Invisible Man, Bride of Frankenstein) moves the camera along vertical lines, creating a maze-like atmosphere. Lugosi cleverly manages to convince us, playing against type in his role as a mournful character full of bitterness and regret. In some way Ulmer must have understood his miserable hero, having been thwarted and blackballed himself, this time from directing major features – and just for falling in love with the wrong person.

MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE

Dir.: Robert Florey; Cast: Bela Lugosi, Sidney Fox, Leon Ames; USA 1932, 62 min.

Based on the short story of the same name by Edgar Allan Poe, and adapted for the screen by Tom Reed and Dale van Every, Poe’s fictional detective Pierre Dupin making his first appearance in this delicately rendered arthouse gem. Director Robert Florey (Till we Meet Again) was involved in Frankenstein (1931), but was assigned by Universal to Murders in the Rue Morgue. It stars Bela Lugosi, born 1882 as Bela Ferenc Dezsö Blasko in Hungary, who had made the burgeoning horror genre his own since appearing as Dracula (1931) in Tod Browning’s version of the legend.

Set in a fake but fabulous Paris of the turn of the century, Dr. Mirakle (Lugosi) uses his pet gorilla Erik on sideshows in fair grounds. But this is just a cover for his murderous activities with young women, whom he injects with ape blood in a bid to find a mate for Eric, his unsuccessful attempts given rise to a slew of murders in the titular road. When Mirakle comes across Dupin (Ames) and his finance Camille L’Espanage (Fox), Erik is so taken by the young woman it nearly strangles Dupin in a fit of jealousy, but Mirakle finally succeeds in kidnapping Camille with the intention of making her his ape’s bride. The body of Camille’s mother is found stuffed into a chimney, clutching ape fur. Dupin and the police chase down Mirakle, who is killed by Erik, before running off with Camille, Dupin coming to the rescue.

Shot by the great Karl W. Freund (The Last Laugh), Murders is very much based on the school of German expressionism. Long shadows dominate, and the hero is always with his back to the wall, gaining the sympathy of the audience, Dr. Mirakle channelling his namesake Calligari. There are also undertones of Frankenstein, proof of Florey’s involvement as script writer – he himself was replaced by James Whale, Lugosi losing out to Boris Karloff in the title role.

THE RAVEN

Dir.: Lew Landers (Louis Friedlander); Cast: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Irene Ware, Lester Matthews; USA 1935 61 min.

Prolific director Lew Landers (1901-1962), whose credits include Law of the Underworld and Bad Lands, bases The Raven on Edgar Allan Poe’s narrative poem, hiring David Boehm to write the screenplay. And once again it stars ‘the terrible twins’ of the genre, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.

Jean Thatcher (Ware) is gravely injured in a car accident. Her father, an eminent judge, implores the best surgeon in the land Dr. Vitus Vollin (Lugosi) to save her. Vollin does his stuff and befriends the grateful Jane, expressing his obsession for Edgar Allen Poe’s work, his homemade collection of Poe-inspired torture instruments: pit, pendulum, razor, and the shrinking room guarded by his talisman the Raven. Vollin soon becomes obsessed by Jean, despite the protestations of her father who vehemently opposes the union. But Vollin is not to be thwarted, and  engages the services of escape convict Edmond Bateman (Karloff) in a Faustian pact, proposing to surgically change Bateman’s looks if he agrees to assist him in an evil act of evil revenge on the Thatcher family. The elegantly crafted thriller touches on themes of devotion, obsession and revenge in a series of gripping plot twists underpinned by Vollin’s lament at love lost that turns to anger.

DoP Charles Stumar (Werewolf of London), born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, uses light and shadows brilliantly, before ending in a magnificent creshendo, when the love-mad doctor is literally obliterated. Karloff again plays the innocent victim/aggressor, with great humanity.  

ON Limited Edition (3000 copies only) Blu-RAY from 20 JULY 2020 

 

Maserati: A Hundred Years Against All Odds (2020) **

Dir: Philip Selkirik; Documentary with Carlo Maserati, Stirling Moss, Juan Manuel Fangio; Germany 2020, 89 min.

Unlike the sleek and streamlined vehicle in question this new documentary is a dreary journey through detail weighed down by a monotonous voice-over and too many backseat talking heads.

Maserati originates from Bologna where brothers Alfieri, Ettore and Ernesto had a fight on their hands to keep their legendary company on the road, surviving thanks to take-overs by Orsi, Citroën, Fiat, even sharing the same owners as arch rivals Ferrari. Henry Ford II was keen on producing Maserati models for the mass market in the USA – rather like he was with Ferrari and the late British GP driver Stirling Moss talks about “spare girls and spare cars”, before lauding the Maserati as the best car he has ever driven.

Philip Selkirk does his best occasionally enlivening his film with archive footage of races such as Nuvolari’s triumphs in 1930s. But the focus seems to be company politics: and we learn that Maserati will soon be re-united with old rivals, made possible by the forthcoming merger of PSA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Group) and Peugeot /Citroën/DS/Opel and Vauxhall. Maserati has not driven in F1 for 50 years, unlike Mercedes or Ferrari.

Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason’s comments dovetail into the avalanche of technical data. Selkirk bills the Fascist movement in Germany and Italy as “just a change in politics”, mentioned in passing between the more glorious successes of the Maserati “Trident” car: The symbol of Neptune’s powerful weapon was adapted in 1920 as a company symbol, copying the spear of the Fountain of Neptune statue in the Piazza Maggiore in Bologna, before the factory was moved to Modena. Unfortunately for Maserati, the brand’s trident symbol has recently been closely associated with far-right organisations such as ‘For Britain’ and fascist groups such as Trident Antifa.

Maserati is hard work, as one critic put it, “make sure of adequate food and drink supplies”. Intended as a doc for mainstream audiences Maserati somehow misses the Zeitgeist of our times – by a mile and more. It’s more likely to please diehard fans of the brand or petrol-heads. AS

AVAILABLE ON DIGITAL DOWNLOAD 20TH JULY, DVD & DIGITAL RENTAL FROM 27THJULY

Dark Waters (2019) *** Home Entertainment

Director: Todd Haynes | Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Pullman, Bill Camp, Victor Garber, Mare Winningham, William Jackson Harper, Louisa Krause, Kevin Crowley, Bruce Cromer, Denise Dal Vera, Richard Hagerman

Mark Ruffalo plays a whistleblowing lawyer in Todd Haynes’ fact-based drama, co-starring Anne Hathaway and Tim Robbins.

After some rather elegant arthouse dramas such as Carol Haynes returns to more conventional territory with this sober legal inquiry that echoes Safe (1997) in gradually unearthing the facts behind the DuPont water poisoning travesty that came to light as a result of a 1990s New York Times magazine article “The Lawyer who became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare”. It reveals how the conglomerate had been contaminating water in the area around West Virginia with the carcinogenic substance PFOA. Cattle in a local farm were dying and the chemical – used in Teflon – had entered the bloodstreams of people living nearby with disastrous affects.

Ruffalo plays the scandal’s original hero Robert Bilott who slowly but surely builds a case against DuPont, much to the initial consternation of his boss (Tim Robbins) and colleagues at a Cincinnati law firm who realise they could be losing more than they stand to gain against the corporate giant.
In all starts in 1998 when a local farmer Wilbur Tennant (a sad-faced Bill Camp) approaches Bilott impressing him with his conviction that DuPont are dumping chemical waste near his farm in Bilott’s home town in West Virginia. Cows are literally dropping dead and some of the locals have blackened gums, flagging up water as the likely contaminant. Bilott remembers a photograph of girl with this problem, and is the kicker for him to proceed. It takes legal tenacity and perseverance to pursue the case and Bilott has this in spades, along with a quietly spoken, lowkey charm that makes him a likeable character guided by moral integrity and supported in his endeavour by his clever professional wife (Hathaway, in equally subdued mode).
Fraught with unsettling undertones and creeping paranoia, Ohio looks sombre in Ed Lachmann’s blue-tinged visual makeover, and West Virginia even more so. But Dark Waters is not all bleak: Robbins get some caustic dialogue in a case that is complex and a film that is plodding but satisfyingly persuasive. MT
RELEASE ON 6 JULY ON HOME ENTERTAINMENT

 

The Specialists (1969) *** Blu-ray

Dir: Sergio Corbucci | Cast: Johnny Hallyday, Gastone Moschin, Francoise Fabian | Western 104′

Casting is crucially important to the success of a film – even in the Italian Western where it was often lumbered with poor English dubbing, making it harder to discern how credible a character was intended to be (or incredible given the stylisation of the genre).

Even with the original language and decent English subtitles the lead is vital. Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef were relaxed and laconic masters, of the less said and barely suggested school, who perfectly pitched their cunning minimalism to light the fuse for a violent gun raid or duel. Actors like Terence Hill and Franco Nero continued this tradition of self-confident strangers and equestrian loners. 

Johnny Hallyday (a famous French pop singer) is the star of Sergio Corbucci’s film The Specialists, but despite his lithe physique and good looks delivers a wooden performance – any charisma is in his athletics not his line delivery which hardly departs from its single register. He simply can’t act well. During the early development of the film Lee Van Cleef was hired but eventually fell out with the director. So the producer brought in Hallyday and a near-fatal flaw was planted.

Johnny Hallyday plays Hud who rides into the town of Blackstone, where his brother has been wrongly accused of robbing the bank. Without a proper court hearing he is then hanged. Hud is determined to avenge his brother’s death. One of the town’s most respected citizens has actually robbed the bank. So Hud is compelled to shoot his way through the corruption of Blackstone, stave off Mexican bandits, desiring their own share of the stolen money and then finally repel the furious dignitaries and townsfolk.

The Specialists is a revenge Western. On its first release Tony Rayns (in the MFB) described it as ‘dourly going through the motions of the Continental revenge western’ and for a large proportion of the film I wouldn’t disagree. The Specialists contains its stereotyped villains (a one armed Mexican bandit over-acted by Mario Aldorf); Sheba (Sylvie Fennec) the passive orphaned woman who pines for Hud; a world-weary sheriff (Gastone Moschin) and a cheated community acting as a vociferous chorus.

Now all this is agreeably entertaining if over-familiar material. We have to wait for the last act for some pleasing, if irrelevant, originality. Corbucci throws in an anachronism in the shape of three young male hippies who chose to anarchically misbehave. This politicisation of The Specialists has the hippies (looking like ragged leftovers from Godard’s 1968 Weekend) forcing the townspeople to crawl naked along the main street. Once capitalism’s naked self is revealed Corbucci has Hud, who has discovered the bank’s money, burn the banknotes and throw the part-ashy remains to the eager crowd below his balcony on the saloon. This humiliation is engendered by the hippie’s own humiliation, at the beginning of the film, when the nasty Mexicans force them to bathe in pig excrement. When they are rescued a respectable, middle class citizen cries out his thanks to The Mighty Hud (it’s hard to resist not calling Hallyday ‘Mud’ at this moment.) “I’m against drugs and hippies. I wanted to denounce them in The Specialists. I’m really against their attitude, and I hate Easy Rider.

If The Specialists had developed Corbucci’s intended critique then we might have had a relevant sour rather than obvious dour film. Sadly the film’s critical gestures don’t make for a coherent political western. The action scenes are effectively staged, there’s some beautiful landscape photography and a tuneful score. That said, I sat through The Specialists not really caring about the outcome of its slick revenge story. Lee Van Cleef might have convinced me if he’d been re-hired and also re-written the script. Yet we are left with a wounded Johnny Hallyday limping away on his horse, abandoning a beautiful woman and riding off into an over-filtered sunset. 

Did they forget that Hallyday is a singer? Why didn’t the producer insist on a scene where Hallyday strums his guitar and sings a bitter ballad? It all feels like a cynical case of the Mighty Hud unsung, when it could have been a focussed anti-hippy or agitprop version of a Johnny Guitar drifter. ALAN PRICE©2020

NOW OUT ON THE EUREKA LABEL

Walkabout (1971) **** Blu-ray

Dir.: Nicolas Roeg; Cast: Jenny Agutter, Luc Roeg, David Gulpilil, John Meillon; UK/Australia 1971, 100 min.

Nicolas Roeg (1928-2018) is, like his contemporary, Ken Russell, was a unique talent in British movie history, a pioneering maverick with his own cinematic vision. Whilst Russell chose to be megalomaniac, Roeg set himself apart as the man with a shuttered vision of reality: his narratives dissolve in enigmatic, opaque images, which he honed as DoP before coming to direct his first single feature Walkabout at the age of 43.

He had made his name as DoP for The Servant (1963), Fahrenheit 451 (1965) and as second unit cameraman for David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia. Lean was so impressed, he wanted Roeg to shoot his subsequent epic Dr. Zhivago, but the two fell out over artistic differences. In Performance, co-directed by the tragic Donald Cammell, Roeg’s filmmaker’s ambition were at last fulfilled.

Walkabout, written by Edward Bond, based on the novel by James Vance Marshall mainly set in the Australian outback. Although the early city-bound scenes in Sydney feel dated in their Seventies concrete aesthetic they bookend a fantasy tale where nature forms the beguiling backcloth to a parallel universe of Aboriginal and urbanite, the outback assumes an exotic character of its own where a father (Meillon) comes to wrestle his personal demons with his pubescent daughter (Agutter) and his six-year old son John (Luc Roeg) in tow.

There he has a psychotic episode, shooting at his children, before setting fire to the car and killing himself. Jenny Agutter is epitome of naive teenage beauty instilling in her younger brother the mores of modern middle class society, but in this savage desert they soon run out of water. Their saviour is an aboriginal boy (Gulpilil) on his ‘walkabout’ (a rite of passage into manhood) who shows them how to draw water from a hidden well, and takes them to his home on a farm, having watched in shock, how white hunters killed dozens of buffalos. The two boys soon develop a line of communication, the girl is not tuned in to the subtle sexual advances of the Aboriginal boy, who does his best to attract her with  teenager a mating dance, showing off his male prowess with tragic results. The scene, in which all participants were naked, was removed, for the premiere in Cannes and following cinema run, but later restored.

In an epilogue, we see the girl as a mature married woman listening to the banal banter of her husband, and harking back in her dreams to that surreal experience in nature that changed her forever, even though she was unaware of it at the time. Walkabout works on several levels, but perhaps the most significant channels Proust’s idea that underpinned his novel Remembrance of Things Past. Youth is a dream that can teach us so much about ourselves and our vital connection with nature and the nurturing purity of a simple way of life that soon becomes clouded by sophistication, although we are unaware of it at the time, it will haunt us through our adulthood when life becomes complex and often unsatisfactory.

Roeg’s features seem to hover between dream and reality; particularly The Man who Fell to Earth (1976) and Don’t Look Now (1973). His characters are suspended in time, a case in point is Bowie in The Man, drifting in the supernatural, or seeing a mirage, in this case our planet. In Don’t Look Now, the grieving parents enter a nightmarish time warp in Venice, where fact and fiction continuously float beyond their grasp in a vain hope of bring their drowned child back to life. In Walkabout too, Roeg is his own DoP, a watery Venice is replaced by the searing heat of the Australian outback, creating a mirage of images, the kids lives become one with nature which opens up and swallow them for a time until reality bites. We are left to bring their own conclusions to the melancholic ending, when the mirror is smashed forever, and we are never quite the same. AS/MT

ON LIMITED BLURAY RELEASE FROM 27 JULY 2020

War of the Worlds (1953) **** Blu-ray release

Dir: Byron Haskin | Wri: H G Wells (novel) Barre Lyndon | Cast: Gene Barry, Ann Robinson, Les Tremayne, Robert Cornthwaite | US Fantasy/Sci-fi 85′

Although a brash travesty of H.G.Wells’ original 1898 novel, and despite Steven Spielberg’s 2005 ‘upgrade’ and last autumn’s well-received TV version, George Pal’s original big screen version is still for many the last word in fifties Technicolor destruction on the grand scale (blessed as John Baxter described it with “the smooth unreality of a comic strip”).

With Oscar-winning special effects (which took so long to complete the award went posthumously to Paramount special effects veteran Gordon Jennings), the elegant fire-spewing war machines like dragons based on manta rays by Japanese-American designer Albert Nozaki bring a touch of eastern elegance to their menace, while the sophisticated use of sound throughout to mount up suspense at key moments remains exemplary.

In all it adds up to a film with a power that remains in the words of critic Richard Mallett “in places quite hypnotic”. And it can now be savoured in all it’s pristine glory on Blu-Ray! Richard Chatten

OUT ON BLU-RAY FROM 7 JULY 2020

Black Shadow (1989) **** Blu-ray

Dir: Mike Hodges | Cast: Rosanna Arquette, Jason Robards, Tom Hulce | UK 100′

Rosanna Arquette shines as a clairvoyant on tour with her father (Jason Robards) in this supernatural curio from undervalued English director Mike Hodges.

Black Shadow plays out like a thriller but goes in unusual directions and has wit and quirkiness too thanks to a clever script and a charismatic Jason Robards who keeps things tethered to reality with his skeptical view of his daughter Martha’s work, and her flirty encounters with Tom Hulce’s investigative journalist.

The two New Yorkers are travelling through the Southern States bringing solace to the bereaved thanks to Martha’s psychic gift. During a séance she communicates a message from a dead man to his wife in the audience. Shocked, the wife claims her husband wasn’t dead when she left him just a few hours ago. Their journey is full of surprising encounters taking a road less travelled and exposing the deep insecurities of our life here on earth.

There’s plenty to enjoy in a fantasy drama that explores fate and human dynamics with humour and sinister vibes, with some fabulous performances from Robards, and Arquette at the top of her game. MT

NOW ON BLURAY FROM 6 JULY 2020 | from ARROW FILMS

 

 

 

 

 

 

It Couldn’t Happen Here (1987) *** Blu-ray release

Dir/Jack Bond | 86′ Biopic Drama

Jack Bond throws every English icon into this absurdist outing. It sees the Pet Shop Boy’s Neil Tennant dolled up In evening garb and ready to party, rather soberly, alongside his partner in crime Chris Lowe rocking a beanie and leather jacket. The two fetch up in the English seaside resort of Clacton where they befriend a bonkers blind priest (Joss Acland); a camp Gareth Hunt; nuns in drag; a ventriloquist’s dummy and marauding school boys for an existential day that spills into a neon night.

Scored by their legendary classics, one of the best scenes features Lowe in a biplane soaring over the English countryside in Summer, Tennant riding below in an old Humber banger complete with a bunch of dice. At a funfair pervy bovver boys threaten to queer the pitch as they whizz by on a big wheel. Tennant finally returns his mother’s call (an unlikely Barbara Windsor in curlers and psychedelic lipstick). Zeebras, cows and snakes roam through the Victorian station of Horsted Keynes where a train is – naturally – derailed.

If you’re an avid fan this nostalgic trip to those glory days will have you singing from the rafters – but it’s a kitsch bridge too far for most audiences, feeling very dated in its 1980s ponceyness. MT

NOW ON BFI BLURAY | 15 JUNE 2020

Cross of Iron (1977) **** Amazon Prime

Dir: Sam Peckinpah | US War Drama, 132′

How many English language films, realised by an American director, portray German combatants in trenches and dugouts during the first and Second World War? At first four films spring to mind depicting the German army at the end of the two wars. For the First World War there is All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). For the Second World War we have The Young Lions (1958); Cross of Iron (1977) and Inglorious Besterds (2009.) Yet there are really only two films that deal with the practicalities of German combatant warfare, solely from the viewpoint of approaching defeat, and remaining resolutely determined in their anti- war stance. They are All Quiet on the Western Front (the 1980 remake could be included but that poor film is negligible) and Cross of Iron. The other films I’ve mentioned, that potentially stand alongside the German-centred The Eagle Has Landed (1976) or Where Eagles Dare (1968), may show German soldiers over-heroically or ineptly fighting, but don’t attempt to describe the day to day life of an army trying grimly to survive. 

Cross of Iron deals with a German platoon involved in the 1943 retreat from the Russian front. The ordinary soldiers and officer class are equally disillusioned and realise they have probably lost the war. An aristocratic Prussian officer Captain von Stransky (Maximillian Schell) arrives as the new commander of the platoon. The regimental commander Colonel Brandt (James Mason) and his adjutant Captain Kiesel (David Warner) express surprise that Stransky deliberately applied for transfer to the Eastern front, as he had a greater chance of winning the Iron Cross from this standpoint. What he fails to mention is his lack of loyalty to the Nazi state, a medal will serve as a symbol of pride for his family. The arrogant Stransky immediately clashes with Corporal Steiner (James Coburn) who disrespects officers and appears to conduct his own form of anarchic warfare. The conflict between the ambitions of Stransky and the cynicism of Steiner takes centre stage.

This was the only war film made by Peckinpah but he directs with the aplomb of a war veteran. Cross of Iron contains some of the best staged minor battles in any WW2 film. The sound design captures explosions and gunfire with an intensity not fully developed until Speilberg’s Saving Private Ryan (1998) which is a precursor, sound-bombardment wise, to Nolan’s Dunkirk (2017). Yet because Cross of Iron is not aiming to be an immersive experience (As Ryan and Dunkirk often are) an argument for realism can be credited to it more than the other films. Peckinpah has an instinctive feel for the relentless bombardment of war – true, you could argue that his slow motion killing effects (apropos The Wild Bunch) has a stylising effect on proceedings, somehow Peckinpah manages successfully to integrate these slow-mo sequences and the noisy hell of battle into a plausible and intelligently written storyline. 

Ultimately, the all too human clash of class conflict, military authority, ambition and personal freedom is what makes Cross of Iron so engrossing. As in Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1957) the film attempts to be analytical about a military power structure and the questioning of motivations and needs. Stransky wants his cross, Brandt wants to maintain a semblance of order, and Steiner seems to escape into his own bitter anti-authoritarian war game.

“Do you know how much I hate this uniform and everything it stands for? 

“I believe God is a sadist but probably doesn’t know it.”

“What will we do when we lose the war? Prepare for the next one.”

All these utterances are from Corporal Steiner, who rejects his promotion to Sergeant when in arrives, continuing to act as a partly shell-shocked outsider. James Coburn is very good and very watchable in this part but sometimes appears to  respond like an outlaw or renegade in a Western, rather than a war film. Is he fighting a private war against the Nazi war machine (that he’s part of) or merely being self- destructive? Arguably a bit of both. Cross of Iron depicts Steiner hallucinating about a Russia boy soldier whom he saves and sets free, only for him to be mistakenly shot by the Russian army. The splits in Steiner are only an exaggeration of conflicts to be found muted in Brandt and sadistically expressed by Stransky who would lie, cheat, blackmail – he discovers two gay soldiers in his platoon – and have men killed in order to get his iron cross.

Cross of Iron has strong performances from not only Coburn but Maximillian Schell (who makes a repellent aristocrat seem sympathetic) and James Mason (the General’s hurt and shock at Steiner’s disrespectful behaviour is superbly conveyed.) I’ve mentioned the soundstage but the editing by Michael Lewis and Tony Lawson is terrific whilst John Coquillon’s photography has a dusty war-weary beauty. There are weak episodes: Steiner’s convalescing and subsequent brief relationship with a nurse (Senta Berger) at the hospital fails to convince and feels all a bit hurried and undeveloped. The sequence when the platoon captures an all-female Russian detachment certainly raises a familiar accusation made about Peckinpah’s films that he’s a misogynist. And powerful though Coburn’s performance is, his character has an untrammelled and violent energy that feels too much at odds with the film. But perhaps I am wrong here. Steiner is certainly not a despicable Rambo action man. Steiner’s character is much more reflective and intelligent. Not a brute, but a crazed, even philosophic force?

All Quiet on the Western Front ends with that unforgettable shot of a German soldier reaching out for a butterfly, just beyond his trench, only to be shot down by an enemy sniper. There is no such poetic ending for Sam Peckinpah’s Cross of Iron. In fact, it doesn’t quite appear to have an ending,  more an abrupt, though perfectly satisfying, anti-conclusion; the film’s producers ran out of money and had to halt filming prematurely, but this proves an aesthetic bonus. For at its ‘end’ the bitter laughter of James Coburn is heard off-screen, scornfully indicating that this hellish defeat of the German army will be a recurrent bad dream. It would be a shame to disclose the finale. Let’s just say that Cross of Iron’s final bleak sense of a death-trap has none of the tragic ‘release’ of the young soldier’s death in All Quiet on the Western Front. 

 “Don’t rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again.”

Those lines from Bertolt Brecht’s play about Hitler, The Resistible Rise of Aturo Ui appear in the end of the film’s titles sequence. However a line before that has been cut out, “This was the thing that nearly had us mastered”. I wonder if Peckinpah dropped that line because it was another reference to Hitler, and by losing such specificity he wanted to generalise more about men in war fighting on madly and uncontrollably, to erase the ‘heat’ of their own private all consuming war? Certainly in the figure of James Coburn as Sergeant Rolf Steiner he looks, at the ‘end’ of Cross of Iron as if he has lost, along with the war, the plot (his sanity) and can only self-destructively fight on.

Cross of Iron reminded me of a Brechtian experience at London’s Riverside Studies in the 1980s while watching “The Berliner Theatre Ensemble” reciting Brecht’s poetry, in German, on stage. I had an English language translation sheet in my hand but what gave me most pleasure that evening was listening to the harsh, rasping sound of an East-German dialect. The sounds of that all male ‘chorus’ had an unforgettable and meaningful sting of anger, compassion and political concern. This memory resonated with the considerable sting of Peckinpah’s remarkable film. Alan Price

CROSS OF IRON  IS NOW ON BLU-RAY

Throw Down (2004) *** Blu-ray release

Dir.: Johnnie To; Cast: Louis Koo, Aaron Kwok, Cherrie Ying, Hoi Pang Lo, Tony Leung, Calvin Choi, Eddie Cheung; China/Hong Kong 2004, 95 min.

Throw Down has a very special place in Johnnie To’s body of work. It stands apart from narrative driven films like Election or Office: Throw Down is Kurosawa on speed, the plot being more or less accidental. The son of Judo Master Cheng introduces himself to his opponents in the violent arcade games “I will be Sanshiro Sugate, you will be Higaki”, referring to Sanshiro Sugate I and II, Kurosawa’s first and third features featuring judo fighters.

Sze-to Bo (Koo) is a bar owner who steals big time from gangster boss Savage (Cheung), only to lose the money on the gambling table. Bo had been a judo champion a long time ago, but has retired for unknown reasons. Lee Ah-kong, the current champion, has a grudge against Bo because the he failed to turn up for a fight Lee was sure he would won. Master Cheng (Pang Lo) is Bo’s former teacher; his son Ching stricken by dementia, prone to introducing himself as Sugagte. Into this murky milieu comes Tony (Kwook), a keen judo fighter, and Mona (Ying), a would-be singer, who is running away from her pimping manager. Bo joins this desperate, spunky trio, with To staging some bizarre sequences. At one point, Bo steals money from Savage and his men, only to lose it on their flight, with Mona returning to pick up some bank notes, Savage’s henchman doing the same at the other end of the street. Mona then runs to Bo, who has lost a shoe – Mona running back to pick it up front of the gangsters, still collecting the bank notes, which have flown everywhere like confetti. When Bo gives up fighting because of threatened blindness due to his detached retina, a frantic finale starts to unfurl, Bo trying to wipe out his adversaries before losing his sight. But the atmosphere remains the dominant factor right to the end.

DoP Sie-Keung Cheng’s stylish images of noirish sleaziness overlay this angst ridden riot. Artificial light dominates in the studio and the eerie empty streets of Hong Kong. Yeun Bun, in charge of the fight scenes, choreographs like a ballet master. Ying is by far the liveliest protagonist, running riot over the fighting males. Overall, Throw Down is an idiosyncratic mixture of fight movie and melodrama, with large dollop of surrealism thrown in. AS

NOW ON BLU-RAY COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA   

The Vanishing | Spoorloos (1988) **** Blu-ray release

Dir: George Sluizer | Gene Bervoets, Johanna Ter Steege, Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu | Thriller | 107′

A simple plot grows into a suffocatingly desolate psychodrama exploring the depraved wickedness of the human mind. Although Stanley Kubrick claimed it was the most terrifying film he’d ever seen, George Sluizer was unable to find distribution for his film that screened at the Sydney film festival to critical acclaim. And it’s not difficult to see why. A group of singularly unappealing characters fill a narrative so bleak and uncharitable it leaves you utterly dejected by the time the credits roll. What starts as a tender love story in the sun-drenched South of France ends in an autumnal Amsterdam as leaves fall on human tragedy.

A young Dutch couple, Rex and Saskia  (Bervoets and Ter Steege) are on their way to her French holiday home, in a battered old Peugeot. After stopping for drinks and petrol at a service station near Nimes, Saskia vanishes into thin air. A protracted and febrile search by Rex draws a blank. Scripted by Tim Krabbe from his own novel The Golden Egg, a parallel narrative introduces Raymond Lemorne, a devious and conceited father of two who starts to contact Rex claiming to know the whereabouts of Saskia, via taunting postcards that reveal a disturbed mind.

In this portrait of obsession and frustrated desire, Sluizer focuses on Rex’s desperation but also on Donnadieu’s conniving Raymond who makes for a cynically asexual psychopath with his immaculately trimmed goatee beard. He lives a banal quotidian existence with his two daughters and pleasant wife, who starts to question his protracted lone visits to the family’s country house.

Rex, by contrast, cannot move on emotionally after losing Saskia and is tortured into an angry mess of a man by his troubled dreams, despite a supportive new girlfriend. Eaten up by his desire for closure, Rex confronts his nemesis and ends up in a Faustian pact, submitting himself to Raymond’s unfeasible requests just to satisfy his inner demons. Clinically plotted and devoid of any humanity after the upbeat opening sequences Sluizer’s thriller makes for a critically watertight but thoroughly unpleasant watch.MT.

ON VOD, EST and Blu-ray from 8 JUNE 2020

 

The Epic of Everest (1924)

Wri/Dir/Prod: Captain John Noel | UK Doc, 87min

George Mallory and Andrew Irvine’s failed attempt to climb Everest in 1924

There’s a moment during The Epic of Everest that really reflects the powerless of human endeavour when faced with the magnitude of nature: As three tiny insect-like creatures totter over a snow-caked precipice of solid ice and gradually disappear from view, the total insignificance of man versus the mountain finally dawns. What sheer folly to think that these men could conquer a force of nature dressed flimsily in tweed jackets and plus fours almost 100 years ago but, of course, North Face puffas didn’t exist then.

1924_Everest_expedition_group_photo copy

Captain John Noel accompanied Mallory and Irvine on this third attempt to conquer the magnificent Himalayan peak using the most powerful lenses of the day to produce jaw-dropping photos and ethereal time-lapse sequences that are testament not only to the dangers of the snowscape but also the spiritual splendour of this deeply spiritual part of the world. To add context, Noel captures footage of the megalith of Rongbuk monastery (where they are told that the expedition is fated not to succeed) and the local people of the world’s highest town: Phari-Dzong, who never wash from birth to the day they die, when they are ‘hacked to pieces’ on a slab of stone. They seem cheerful enough.

Despite restoration by the BFI National Archive, the photography naturally feels dated in comparison with recent mountaineering films such as Chasing Ice and The Summit but what Captain John Noel has captured here is the extreme sense of loneliness and isolation of the vast expanses. Filming the lead party up to two miles away, thanks to the clarity of visibility, they look like tiny dots on a hostile landscape often shrouded in swirling mists and eerie legends of local Tibetan folklore.

Heights mean nothing to those of us who stay happily at sea level, but when we hear that sherpas carved up to 2,000 steps in the ice on some of the ascents, the extreme arduous nature of the expedition finally hits home. On the day of his birth, a tiny donkey was forced to walk 22 miles and collapsed in sheer, sleepy exhaustion after his first day of life. These bare facts really put this extraordinary venture into human context that can be appreciated.

The Epic of Everest is accompanied by Simon Fisher Turner’s atmospheric ambient soundtrack featuring cowbells, Tibetan music and vocals gradually turning more sinister and haunting as the expedition unfolds. A moving and peaceful tribute to our courageous men. MT

THE EPIC OF EVEREST IS NOW free ON BFI PLAYER marking TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH: EXPLORATION AND ENDURANCE ON FILM. 

Journey across the planet’s most challenging terrain in this ode to exploration and endurance on film, accompanying TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH: EXPLORATION AND ENDURANCE ON FILM, season at BFI Southbank continuing throughout January.

On 5 January 1922 the ‘heroic age’ of Antarctic exploration drew to a symbolic close with the death of Anglo-Irish explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. Marking this centenary and that of Britain’s first attempt to summit Mount Everest, this collection tells a connected story about human endurance, our relationship with and impact on the natural world. The birth of film collided with exploration’s heyday as a competitive sport, source of national pride and beacon of scientific discovery. This free curated archive collection includes early film records of expeditions to Everest and the Arctic and beyond to remote regions of South America and South Asia. Many of the films are part of the extraordinary Royal Geographical Society collection, preserved by the BFI National Archive.

https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/collection/to-the-ends-of-the-earth

 

Outside the City (2019) **** Digital/DVD release

Dir: Nick Hamer | UK Doc 82′

In his lavishly filmed documentary Nick Hamer meets a group of Trappist monks in the Leicestershire monastery of Mount Saint Bernard Abbey. He talks to them individually about their lives, thoughts and prayers. The Cistercian Abbey is a closed community that has seen its numbers dwindle since the early decades of the 2oth century. Now there are only 30 monks in residence.

Although the film subverts our expectations about spirituality, the main focus is the monks’ desire keep their community thriving and viable. And to this end they have converted their dairy farm into a brewery, a traditional monastic occupation which has been successful enough to ensure the abbey’s survival. Their beer is called Tynt Meadow, and is sold as ‘English Trappist Ale’, Helped by Belgian brewing advisor Constant Kleinemans it has become a successful craft beer.

The inspirational tenet of the Cistercian monks is simplicity. Life in a monastery is not an escape route from the world. Apart from running the monastery and brewing, the monks lives are spent in deep contemplation, silencing their minds and stripping back their own desires and thoughts and offer themselves to God in prayer. Not to be confused with meditation that has as its focus green fields, beaches or or the next holiday: the monks are taught to empty their minds so as to make room for God’s presence. Their existence is enriched by the simplicity of their lives and not their material wealth.

Death is not a sad end but a joyful culmination of their existence, and everything they have learnt and given to others through prayer. Two monks actually die during filming and their passing is a peaceful and contented occasion. By the end of Hamer’s film we have learnt that the monastic life is not about suffering or deprivation but a journey towards fulfilment and acceptance of themselves and their selfless commitment towards the world as a whole. And Hamer conveys this convincingly in this spare and dignified documentary. Being a monk is about achieving the highest form of life. MT

ON DVD and DOWNLOAD from 8 June 2020

 

America as Seen by a Frenchman | l’Amerique Insolite (1960) ***

Dir.: Francois Reichenbach; Documentary with commentary by Jean Cocteau; France 1960, 90 min.

French writer/director/DoP Francois Reichenbach (1921-1993) made his name with a series of musical biopics, amongst them Serge Gainsbourg, Herbert von Karajan, Yehudi Menuhin and Mireille Mathieu. Chris Marker collaborates on this freewheeling travelogue with its delightful preamble by Jean Cocteau  that praises his homeland’s spirit of resistance.

The journey kicks off at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Franciso, where Reichenbach meets participants of the ‘Salt Route’, re-staged in Houston. Ordinary Americans saddle up horses and carts and re-live, for a few days, the experience of the founding fathers. The voice-over expresses how their Native Indians will live forever live in their hearts – a rather dubious statement. But Reichenbach really gets going with the next sequence, a photo shot on a beach in California where a couple of actors get really excited by their activities, “even beyond their remit”. This male perspective never comes to rest.

After a cursory visit to Disneyland (back then a far less technological experience) and a ‘Ghost Town’ in LA where extras from Hollywood pose with visitors, we visit a Rodeo in a prison where the winner will have his sentence reduced by a year – the runner-up will have three weeks ‘holiday’ from jail to spend with his wife. Then starts a nostalgic trip to American childhood, expectant fathers learning to bathe and feed babies in a three week course. When said babies have been born, we discover they have their own TV programmes in hospital. Hula-hop contests and various parades with children and adults, show a strict segregation, but the director turns a blind eye. Further on, boys under thirteen are taught to be impervious to their injuries at Soap-Box Derbies, toughening up the new generation.

But soon we come back to the sexy side of it all, visiting a school for striptease where young women learn the trade. A half-naked young  woman appears in a ad while the off-voice commentator states”this woman has an ordinary husband”. Reichenbach spends an awful long time at the beach where teenagers “discover their sexuality”. After a demolition derby, the feature takes us to New Orleans, where the carnival processions are strictly segregated: Black and White Carnival do not meet. Finally some unruly young men are seen in prison, following by a sequence involving their positive counterparts in a cult-like ‘Holy Rollers’. It all ends up in New York with its massive glass store-fronts, making Reichenbach wonder “if the US is not just a big shop with slogans” and fearing “that Europe might look the same in twenty years.” Clearly he wasn’t wrong!

Nothing prepares for the violence of the Kennedy or Martin Luther King assassinations, or the Vietnam War, which dominated the next decade. But thanks to Reichenbach’s uncritical approach, we start to appreciate the fault lines of a society which would explode not long afterwards. Forget the white-washing commentary, just take it all in with your eyes. Reichenbach offers a cinematic and valuable heads-up for what was to come. AS

ON RELEASE COURTESY OF ARROW | 1 JUNE 2020

David Hockney: A Bigger Splash | Blu-ray/DVD re-release

Dir/DoP: Jack Hazan | With: David Hockney, Celia Birtwell, Mo Mc Dermott, Kasmin, Mike Sida, Ossie Clark, Patrick Proctor, Henry Geldzahler, Nick Wilder | UK Doc, 106

This rather sombre partly imagined drama is set in a wintery London in the early 1970s and follows episodes in the life of Britain’s most expensive living artist David Hockney (1937-), in the early days of his career. For those who revere Hockney and his coterie: Celia Birtwell, Ossie Clark, Mo McDermott – all of whom appear here in the flesh – this is cinematic catnip. The four of them went on to form what is still described by Bonhams as “a Northern invasion of Swinging London” they would become its epi-centre.

Made on shoestring but none the worse for it, A Bigger Splash was at first rejected by Hockney who offered Hazan £20, 000 t0 destroy the print. But his long term confident Shirley Goldfarb gave it a big thumbs up so the release went ahead, and the film was accepted for Cannes Critics’ week and Locarno where it won the Golden Leopard in 1974.

Critically speaking the script is confusing with its bewildering fractured narrative, and his idea to frame the film as a drama is also problematic: the real life characters, though fascinating, feel rather wooden and self-conscious in their attempts to be natural – Hockney emerges the most appealing and unaffected of all,  his unassuming placidness, his tall ranginess, blond hair and iconic round glasses setting a look that still rocks. That said, the real people give the film a blinding authenticity that in retrospect makes it an important chronicle of the era and the pioneering artistic community that lived through it, although many elements never actually occurred in reality. A straightforward documentary may have been more informative in fleshing out the characters, but this strangely dreamlike affair (newly remastered on blu-ray) captures the zeitgeist of a time when the art world was still relatively unaffected by rampant commercialism, and the cult of celebrity unheard of. John Kasmin is seen at his London gallery, trying to persuade the artist to speed up his work and expressing frustration that most of his paintings leave the country without being exhibited. Hockney says nonchalantly: “John, I’m going to leave now”. Kasmin’s gallery transformed the art world of the 1960s. And he continues to be a major force in the art world.

The dramatic focus of the film is the break-up of Hockney’s affair with photographer Peter Schlesinger: “when love goes wrong there’s more than two people suffer”. As much an intimate study of a relationship breakdown it also offers insight into Hockney at work – he has just finished Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy (now in the Tate and featuring Celia, Ossie and their cat). It shows how Hockney  prepares by taking copious photographs, figures are then be incorporated into the landscape canvas, stencilled in for clarity.

While talking to another famous curator Henry Geldzahler (1935-94), Hockney expresses his deep love for painting and his feelings of isolation from a wider like-minded artistic community, considering New York as a possible new place to express his ideas. And the end of his relationship provides the ideal opportunity to broaden his horizons. The New York scenes add further texture to this enjoyable, almost ethnographical piece. There are illuminating discussions with Patrick Proctor (1936-2003) on his method of starting with a white canvas and building his marks from there, and Hockney examines these at close range with his lighter, before enjoying a cigar.

The muted pastel aesthetic of the London scenes contrast with the vibrancy of those flashback reveries of poolside California and Southern France, giving A Bigger Splash a lowkey melancholy, Hockney haunted by memories of Peter during the wee small hours which flip back to salacious scenes of his ex, poolside or actually swimming naked, always in a pool. A sequence in the blue tiled shower of his South Kensington flat – David didn’t know Hazan was shooting him naked – segues into more daydreaming; Hockney warming to his focus on these ‘pool period’ paintings, and preparing extensively with photographs, assisted by his close sculptor friend Mo McDermott. ‘A Bigger Splash’ painting would in November 2018 fetch $90.3 million – nearly doubling the previous record-holder Jeff Koons for his 12 foot sculpture Balloon Dog). Koons regained the title in May 2019 however with the stainless steel sculpture ‘Rabbit’ which sold for $91.1 million.

The painting on the cover of the DVD/Blu-ray is Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), 1972. The first composition for the painting started in 1971 but was destroyed by Hockney as documented in the film. In April 1972 however Hockney decided to return to the concept ahead of a planned exhibition due to open just four weeks later.

The National Portrait Gallery was due to showcase an exhibition of Hockney’s work titled David Hockney: Drawing from Life devoted to Hockney’s drawings from the 1950s to the present, depicting himself and those close to him. The exhibition was due to run until 18 June 2020 | A Bigger Splash is available to buy on DVD and Blu-ray at amazon.co.uk.

Suddenly, Last Summer (1960) Blu-ray

Director: Joseph Mankiewicz | Script: Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal | Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Katherine Hepburn, Montgomery Clift, Albert Dekker, Mercedes McCambridge, Gary Raymond, Mavis Villiers | US | 110′

Sam Spiegel was already firing on all cylinders by the time he backed an adaptation of the standout stage play by the great Tennessee Williams, having already made The African Queen, On The Waterfront and Bridge On The River Kwai. It’s therefore no surprise that he was able to command a headliner cast anyone else might give their right arm for, Taylor, Hepburn and Clift.

All was not quite as it seemed though. In 1957, Clift had been involved in a near fatal car crash and had only been saved by Elizabeth Taylor pulling two teeth out of his mouth, preventing him from choking to death. He required extensive facial reconstruction and was also a serious addict to pain killers by the time filming started, however Taylor would only accept the role if her great friend Clift was cast opposite her.

Spiegel understood the draw of Taylor; there was nobody hotter, she having recently completed Giant opposite James Dean, her Oscar nominated Raintree County and Cat On A Hot Tin Roof with Paul Newman, so he passed over his more favoured choice of Brando to keep her onboard.

Liz first met Monty when the studio asked her to accompany him to the 1949 premier of The Heiress in an attempt to assuage growing rumours of his homosexuality, prior to their working together in A Place In The Sun. They hit it off immediately and remained close friends until his untimely death in 1966.

The subject matter for Suddenly, Last Summer was a delicate one and perhaps a difficult sell, if it wasn’t for the star wattage involved in the cast. Mental health might not be the first choice topic for a blockbuster, but the film was a huge success and Taylor was again Oscar nominated alongside Katherine Hepburn. They both lost out to Simone Signoret (for Room At The Top), but Taylor did win a Golden Globe for her performance as a traumatised young woman who cannot remember something truly horrific that she witnessed.

Hepburn plays Violet Venable, her rich, powerful but deeply manipulative aunt, threatening to have her lobotomised to keep her silent about what she witnessed the day Violet’s ‘canonised’ son died. Under extreme duress, it’s down to Monty’s Surgical Doctor Cukrowicz to cure her.

Obviously, Tennessee Williams is no slouch and the story is a good one, tension coming from the personal politics and financial need and greed as much as Catherine’s desperate illness, all topped off with sexual desire. It’s a heady mix and one we are quickly drawn into; Hepburn is sublime as the all-powerful grieving multi-millionaire.

Clift is good too but the role demands less of him and having seen several movies in the Monty canon in short order recently, the transformation to his visage is marked and appears even to have left him partially frozen. Upsetting to see his star power here prematurely on the wane.

But it’s Liz Taylor who tears up the screen. If you haven’t seen a Liz Taylor film for a while, then this is an example of why she was regarded as one of the last true screen legends, nominated for Oscars for four consecutive movie performances. There’s a vulnerability, a truth to her performance and a luminescence to her beauty that comes across in spades, even here in black and white.

Structurally, this is a storyline that may feel overfamiliar to many; even hackneyed, but it is also worth considering that this film was made in 1959 and has had many imitators in the intervening years. At the time, it was busy blazing a trail for what was permissible for the big screen as much as for a new way of performing. One to see perhaps for Kate and Liz then, rather than Monty, but one to see nevertheless. MT

SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER | Blu-ray 

 

Another Shore (1943) *** Blur-ray release

Dir: Charles Crichton | DoP: Douglas Slocombe | Cast: Robert Beatty, Moira Lister, Stanley Holloway, Michael Medwin | UK Drama 77′

Robert Beatty leads a sterling British cast in this upbeat bit of Ealing whimsy that sees him dreaming of the South Seas during an inclement postwar Dublin summer. Although the story is rather slight (based on Kenneth Reddin’s novel) the theme of escapism is a universal one – particularly at the moment when everyone is cooped up at home due to Covid.

On his daily walkabout in Dublin, Gulliver Shiels (Beatty) meets a variety of different characters – and  characters is the operative word. There is poor old Mrs Gleeson (Delaney) who sells newspapers; an alcoholic called Moore (Wilfrid Brambell) whose dog Gulliver adopts, Michael Golden as a police detective; he also makes a drinking friend of Michael Medwin’s Yellow. A chance encounter with a wealthy alcoholic (an elegant Stanley Holloway) offers him the chance to realise his adventure, but eventually he plumps for Moira Lister’s bored but wealthy widow in an unconvincing trade-off.

But the main reason to see Another Shore is for Dublin itself which is very much the star of the show. DoP Douglas Slocombe creates a magnificent sense of place in and around the Liffey, St Stephen’s Green and Merrion Square which glow in his immaculate black and white photography. Ealing costume designer Anthony Mendleson creates some rather dapper costumes. MT.

On BLU-RAY from 18 May 2020 | AMAZON

 

 

Convoy (1978) **** Prime video

Dir.: Sam Peckinpah; Cast: Kris Kristofferson, Ali McGraw, Ernest Borgnine, Burt Young, Madge Sinclair, Franklin Ajaye, Cassie Yates, Seymour Cassel; USA 1978, 110′.

In a career spanning twenty-two years – but just twelve features, US director Sam Peckinpah (1925-1984) fell foul of producers more often than not. His films were butchered in the editing rooms, Convoy being no exception: the supervising editor credit for Graeme Clifford shows how EMI lost trust in the director. Written by BWL Norton, based on a song by CW McCall of the same title, Convoy is Sugarland Express meets Easy Rider. 

Set in the (then) contemporary American South West, legendary trucker Rubber Duck (Kristofferson) and his merry band of truck drivers, among them Pig Pen(Young), Widow woman (Sinclair) and Spider Mike (Ajaye) are at loggerheads with the corrupt Sheriff ‘Dirty’ Lyle Wallace (Borgnine), who has the National Guard on his side, but is more interested in preventing Mike from seeing his pregnant wife, and issuing speed tickets to the rest of the truckers. Meanwhile, Rubber Duck has picked up journalist Melissa (McGraw), whose Jaguar XKE has broken down, and she has to get to Dallas to start a new job. They set off from a cafe where Violet (Yates), Duck’s former flame, but now Lyle’s wife, works as a waitress. A whole town falls victim to the ensuing destruction derby, before Duck look like he’s heading for a watery grave, State governor Jerry Haskins (Cassel) promising at his funeral to help the truckers in their fight. Still, there is a happy-end: “You ever known a duck that couldn’t swim?”

Pauline Kael talks about Peckingpah’s feature as ‘nihilist poetry”, claiming the director of The Wild Bunch, The Getaway and Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is only interested in showing his disgust with American society, which did not allow any form of resistance during the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement. The truckers represent the earlier cowboys, not for nothing is Mexico the escape target for the truckers. Yes, these haulers are a Wild Bunch, running over policemen and crashing homes – but only because their path of destruction is as inhuman as that of the authorities. The truckers also represent the film crew – and their fight against interfering producers. John Huston, Peckinpah’s idol, once commented on the demise of a film company “as the end of the world”. It is therefore only fitting that Borgnine’s mad laughter at the ending very much channels Captain Ahab from Moby Dick.

Kristofferson takes the film in his stride leaving McGraw (again) underwritten on the sidelines, observing his antics. Highlights are the well choreographed trucker chases, a ballet of machines, much more impressive than Michael Bay’s Transporters a later, much paler rider. DoP Harry Stradling jr (McQ) stylises the fight between nature and technology in brilliant panorama shots, and the close-ups in the truck cabins echo those war features by Samuel Fuller. Peckingpah would only direct one more feature, the (again) heavily re-edited The Osterman Weekend (1982), before his early death.

NOW STREAMING ON PRIME VIDEO + BLU-RAY

The Flavour of Green Tea over Rice (1952) **** Blu-ray

Dir: Yasujiro Ozu | Cast: Shin Saburi, Michiyo Kogure, Koji Tsuruta, Chishu Ryu | Japan, Drama 116′

The Flavour of Green Tea Over Rice tells the story of a marriage slowly imploding as Japan shifts into the modern world from its pre war traditions.

Like many luminaries of the last century Japanese legend Yasujiro Ozu (1903-1963) experienced some milestones – from the Manchurian Invasion to the Second World War and the atomic bombs that ruined Japan on an epic scale. But the director absorbed all this tragedy and distilled it into gentle domestic dramas reflecting on the virtues of humanity and the subtleties of relationships in family life as seen in Tokyo Story (1953) and Good Morning (1959).

The Flavour of Green Tea Over Rice (1952) cleverly skirted round the censors in telling a story of one family unable to overcome the shift from the traditional to the contemporary. Taeko Satake (Michiyo Kogure) comes from a wealthy family but her marriage to working class husband Mokichi (Shin Saburi) is in trouble, her refined ways and preference for wearing kimonos is at odds with his more down to earth attitudes, and the couple have no children to keep them together. During a spa trip with friends she voices her feelings of disenchantment. Meanwhile, her niece Setsuko (Keiko Tsushima) expresses her own desires to make a break from tradition dressing in the latest fashions and resisting her aunt’s attempts at matchmaking, pointing out how her own arranged marriage is clearly not the answer.

All this is handled with the lightness of touch and underlying humour so familiar to Ozu’s films. The tone is upbeat and there is still an affectionate playfulness to the couple’s discord with the usual daily tiffs that speak volumes about their troubled relationship. Taeko prefers cultural pursuits such as the  kabuki theatre while Mokichi is more at home riding his bicycle. But they eventually reach a compromise over a simple meal of green tea over rice they prepare together late at night after their maids have gone off duty. Meanwhile Setsuko finds a new boyfriend in the shape of Noburu, a young friend of Mokichi. The final scene is a cleverly enigmatic depiction of the one of the film’s pivotal themes. We see Setsuko running away from her lover down a Tokyo street: is she rejecting the idea of marriage or simply playing hard to get? Underlying tensions are teased out delicately in this graceful domestic drama from the Japanese master. MT

Blu-ray/DVD release on 18 May 2020 and simultaneously available to stream or buy via iTunes and Amazon Prime. On BFI Player from 5 June 2020 within a collection of 25 Yasujirô Ozu films released on BFI Player’s Subscription service as part of JAPAN 2020, a major new BFI season launching this month (more details below)

The Importance of Being Oscar (2018) ** DVD release

Dir.: Richard Curson-Smith; Commentated excerpts from Oscar Wilde plays with Anna Chancellor, Anna Devlin, James Fleet, Freddie Fox, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Freddie Fox, Alice Orr-Erwing, Nicholas Rowe, Claire Skinner, Ed Stoppard; UK 2020, 84 min.

If you are expecting another amusing arthouse drama from one of Ireland’s greatest writers, you will be disappointed by this pot pourri of Wilde’s work. Director/producer Richard Curson-Smith, whose TV portraits of Nureyev, Ted Hughes and Francis Bacon are highlights of the BBC programming, fails in his attempt to have Wilde scholars connect his work with his stormy life story. The Importance just makes you yearn for a whole play, especially with this fine assembled cast of Freddie Fox, Anna Chancellor and Ed Stoppard. And although the dramatised excerpts are enjoyable in themselves, there are too many talking heads, the only engaging commentators on Wilde being Giles Brandreth and Stephen Fry who share early tit-bit such as his appearance in ‘Punch’ magazine.

They discuss Gilbert & Sullivan’s Patience (1988), a parody of the genius-in-the-making. We learn, that Wilde went to the USA in 1882, and was greatly impressed by the circus impresario Phineas Taylor Barnum. On his return he became, among other occupations, a contributor and editor to London outlet ‘The Strand Magazine’. From this era there are  excerpts from The Canterville Ghost (1887), a short story. There is an interesting (part) dramatisation of his essay The decay of Lying (1882). Equally captivating is De Profundis (1897), which got the same treatment as the above mentioned essay, quoting from Wilde’s letters from prison, published posthumously in 1905.

But his famous society plays, as well as a part adaption of The Portrait of Dorian Gray make up most of the running time, and commentary concentrates on the well known trial of Wilde for homosexuality, instigated by the Marquise of Queensbury, whose son, Alfred Lord Douglas, was Wilde’s long term lover. What the film does establish is that Wilde was imprisoned not so much for his homosexuality but because, as a wealthy man of society and standing, he took advantage of less fortunate members of the community in the shape of rent boys desperate for money. As such Wilde’s story connects to the narrative of the #metoo movement.

Wilde’s grandson features but adds nothing sparkling to the party and DoP Graham Smith’ images are perfunctionary. And this is one example where an attempt to cram the life and work of a major literary figure into just 84 minutes should be questioned. Surely, the subject deserves much more – and this goes not only for the length of this rather flimsy affair. AS

ON DVD FROM 11 MA Y 2020

 

Lola Montès (1955) **** Blu-ray release

Dir.: Max Ophüls; Cast: Martine Carol,Peter Ustinov, Anon Walbrook, Lisa Delamare, Oscar Werner, Will Quadflieg, Ivan Desny; France 1955, 114 min.

This dazzling visual masterpiece was Max Ophüls’ last feature and based on the novel La vie extraordinaire de Lola Montès by Cecil Saint-Laurent. Clearly a femme fatale Martine Carol was however, no actress and brings the film down with her lack of talent. The original version was then butchered by the producers and some shorter versions ensued, all with a linear style that destroyed the Austrian filmmaker’s original fractured narrative. Then in 2008, a restored widescreen version was made available, showcasing all the glory of widescreen Technicolor. This blu-ray further enhances the thrill of it all.

We first Lola Montès first in a circus in New Orleans where the famous 19th century dancer and courtesan is being disported by the ringmaster (Ustinov) like a fair ground attraction of times gone by. Under two glittering chandeliers (that echo the Vienna theatre, where Ophüls’ career in the 1920s), a band is playing and a chorus line of girls, juggling ninepins, introduces the ringmaster’s storyline. Lola makes a triumphant, as a counterpoint to her troubled background, which plays out in flashback, her cruel mother (Delamare), whose lover, lieutenant Thomas James (Desny) she goes on to marry. There are affairs with a a student (Werner); Franz Liszt (Quadflieg) and Ludwig I, King of Bavaria (Anton Walbrook) who leads the film along with Peter Ustinov. In the end, Lola exists only for her male audience who can touch, or even kiss her, for a Dollar extra fee.

Ophüls films are characterised by their roving camerawork uniting one moving shot to another. His grandiose aesthetic echoes in the decor – like that rather strange Goethe arch in Liszt’s room. “Details make art”, Ophüls opines. There are some rather gruesome ‘details’, a sequence showing a soldier with the maimed leg in Ludwig’s famous castle, where his servants run hither and thither on some gratuitous errand for their King.

In contrast to the ambitious settings, the script is just another version of the ‘tart with the golden heart’. Whilst Dumas’ Marguerite Gautier attempts to show humanity in a femme fatale, Lola: is all about the heroine’s exploitation. That said, the cyclical structure of many of Ophüls films: La Ronde, Le Plaisir and The Earrings of Madame de… is also visible in Lola: instead of a fade-out, the camera moves further and further away from her, the customers lining up, rather like the Chorus Girls at the beginning – DoP Christian Matras (La Grand Illusion) leading the film audience in a merry cycle, symbolised by the circus ring. Ophüls was very much aware that the audience was paying to watch his caged diva, because, as usual, the producers wanted to get their money’s worth. But Ophuls was only interested in talent and creativity. AS

NOWON BLURAY FROM 11 May 2020

 

                          

     

           

   

Revenge (2018) **** Blu-ray release

Wri/Dir: Coralie Fargeat | France, Thriller 106′

Dirty weekends don’t come any dirtier than the one in this ferocious indie revenge thriller that has ravishing locations, a twisty storyline, and a female lead who is not just a pretty face.

Revenge is the impressive debut from French filmmaker Coralie Fargeat. This is a movie that will resonate with women everywhere with its feminist humour, from the dreaded chipped nail polish to the unwelcome male attention, especially the unwanted male attention. Bathed in garish technicolor and pulsed forward by a pounding electronic soundscape, Revenge snakes its way through the Moroccan desert where its heroine, the cheeky bummed hottie Jen, fetches up with her smugly married lover Richard (Kevin Janssens) for a sexy sun-drenched ménage à deux. But this French woman (Mathilde Lutz) is not just gorgeous, she is also extremely cute. And although she can play the seductive siren at will, she can also be as tough as old boots. And when two of Richard’s friends suddenly appear on the scene, their company is distinctly ‘de trop’.

Revenge is a playful film that teeters on the brink of fantasy: combining surreal Grande Guignol with down to earth horror in a gore fest so stylishly achieved it actually becomes vital to the plot line in the incendiary finale laced with spurts of subversive humour, along the lines of I Spit on Your Grave. Jen is seen rocking raunchy tops and a seductive smile that makes up for her monosyllabic part, she is just there to perform on the shag carpet which is perfect for soaking up the bloodshed that will follow.

Meanwhile the misogynist love rat Richard makes disingenuous phone calls to his wife back in France, discussing the canapés for a forthcoming event, and pretending he’s there just to enjoy some downtime with pals Stan (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchede), who are later seen leering at Jen through the enormous windows of the glamorous modern villa.

Fargeat makes brilliant use of the local flora and fauna echoing the over the top, tongue in cheek decadence of it all: insects crawl over a rotten apple core, as Dimitri urinates over a scorpion emerging from the sands. But it all turns nasty when Stan takes a shine to Jen and ignores her clear rejection of him. Just because Jen presents herself as a purring sex kitten it doesn’t follow that these men can stroke her at their own volition. What comes next will set this cat amongst the pigeons in a prolonged showcase showdown that sweats out between the foursome in the dazzling desert heat. A woman behind the camera allows a licence for extremes, and Fargeat pushes her story to the limits in a thriller with appeal for every sexual persuasion. And the moral of the tale: if you have a secret lover, keep them strictly to yourself. MT

LIMITED ADDITION BLU-RAY FROM 11 MAY 2020

https://youtu.be/YTJrztVvmx0

A Fistful of Dynamite (1971) Bluray release

Dir: Sergio Leone | Cast: Rod Steiger, James Coburn | US Western 157′

Sergio Leone’s final foray into spaghetti western territory was originally called Duck, You Sucker!, a title that certainly rings true with the unexpected comedy talents embodied in the dynamite duo of Rod Steiger (Juan Miranda) and James Coburn (John Mallory) who exude a feisty chemistry as a couple of anti-establishment hellraisers who are both on the run, for different reasons. At the beginning of the Mexican Revolution in 1913, they fall in with a band of revolutionaries and embark on a rip-roaring journey to rob a bank – but their real triumph is as saviours and heroes in the pursuit of the revolutionary cause

With thrilling support from Maria Monti, Romolo Valli, Rik Battaglia and Franco Graziosi and an atmospheric score by iconic composer Ennio Morricone, Fistful of Dynamite never quite reaches the heady heights of Leone’s  Dollars Trilogy but Steiger and Coburn more than make up for it with their sheer bravura.

ON RELEASE COURTESY OF EUREKA 

 

 

The Overlanders (1946) **** Blu-ray release

The reason for the docudrama approach stems from the original idea of making a propaganda film for the Australian government who knocked on Watts’ door looking for a well known director and a reputable studios – Ealing naturally fitted the bill, although the film was released after the war was over.

The Man with X-Ray Eyes (1963) **** Blu-ray release

Dir/Wri: Roger Corman | Cast: Ray Milland, Diana Van der Vils, Harold J Stone, John Hoyt | Sci-fi Thriller UK, 79′

Drawing comparisons with Jack Arnold’s Incredible Shrinking Man this gripping foray into Sci-fi showed Roger Corman capable of inventive storytelling as well as horror in this enterprising low budget thriller with a razor sharp wit that stars Ray Milland in the leading role. It even has a forward- thinking female role in the shape of Diana Van der Vils who plays a vampish pearl-rocking blond Dr Diane Fairfax, who also provides the romantic twist.

Space exploration had captured the collective imagination of the cinema-going public for all things scientifically ground-breaking in the early 1960s and The Man with X-Ray Eyes buys into this vibe. There’s also ‘something of the night’ about Ray Milland, despite his sparkling blue eyes, and these take on a superhuman power for his character Dr James Xavier who has invented a serum for championing human vision.

Set in Las Vegas, Nevada – we get to see blue skies and palm trees – but the action mainly takes place in the confines of labs and domestic interiors (aka the studio). At first his vision leads to cheeky revelations about women’s underwear and even their spines! Twisting with a blond who picks him up at a party he comments on her (hidden) birthmark and underwear: “Remember I’m a man”: he jokes lasciviously, and she quips back:”Remember I’m a woman” taking him off guard, realising he has been successfully pulled, and gets his coat.

But things get serious when he discovers that his serum has a cumulative affect, giving him the ability to see inside a patient’s body to their veins and organs during an operation, and his colleague threatens him with malpractice. But Xavier is not afraid: “Soon I’ll be able to see what no man has ever seen”. And this knowledge is power. So much power that he accidentally throws his colleague out of the window during the ensuing contretemps.

Forced to go on the run, Corman gets the chance to cast the brilliant Don Rickles as Dr Xavier’s stooge/compare when he embarks on a foray as a fortune teller in a bizarre turn of events. And soon he’s seeing to much for his own liking, donning an enormous pair of dark glasses that give him a striking resemblance to Ricky Gervais.

Overnight he becomes a miracle worker, treating the sick but also seeing the downside of his gift, which works both ways, showing him the sinister, seamy side of humanity warts and explores the ethics of power: In the process he loses his empathy for the common man.

Corman avoids sensationalism creating some rather clever visual affects that are in keeping with the integrity of the performances and thematic strength of a story that explores the moral side of Xavier’s powers, and the nature of what it is to be human. Corman was forced into a studio-dictated ending which is nevertheless reasonably satisfying, Ray Milland carrying the film from start to finish. And whatever the question was at the beginning, love was always going to be the answer. MT

NOW ON BLURAY from 4th May 2020 COURTESY OF SECOND SIGHT FILMS

 

The Green Man (1956) *** Blu-ray release

Dir.: Robert Day; Cast: Alastair Sim, George Cole, Jill Adams, Terry-Thomas, Raymond Huntley; UK 1956, 80 min.

Robert Day, who died age 94 in 2017, had an interesting and varied career after directing his first feature, under the guidance of Basil Dearden and based on the play Meet a Body by Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat,The slight but entertaining farce takes its title from a hotel on the South Coast where Alastair Sim is Harry Hawkins, a watchmaker with a sideline as a professional hitman.
He is tasked with killing politician Sir Gregory Upshott (Huntley) but in the process  comes across skirt chaser Charles Boughtflower (Terry-Thomas), whose latest crush Ann Vincent (Adams) teams up with vacuum cleaner salesman William Blake (Cole) to save Hawkins’ victim – without even knowing what he looks like. After repeatedly getting in the way of Hawkins’ plan, they manage to derail his efforts and the whole crew end up in a dilapidated seaside hotel (The Green Man), where the tension and laughs steadily rise to a brilliant climax.Cole is hilarious as the gadget obsessed Blake, who cannot understand, that hardly anybody shares his love for the newest inventions. Terry-Thomas is his usual blustering self, and Huntley’s pompous Sir Gregory does not deserve to get away. DoP Gerald Gibbs tries hard to overcome the theatrical setting, whilst Day directs with great panache.
Day would later direct Boris Karloff in The Haunted Strangler and Corridors of Blood, Peter Sellers in Two Way Stretch, Ursula Andress in She and George Sanders in Operation Snatch. He also was in charge of four Tarzan features in the 1960s, but would later turn to TV work, directing episodes of Dallas, Kojak, The Avengers, The Streets of San Francisco, McCloud and classics like Police Story and The Adventures of Robin Hood. Work didn’t dry up and in the 1980s he signed off with the TV disaster movie Fire: trapped on the 37th Floor in 1991.
For the 2020 restoration of THE GREEN MAN, STUDIOCANAL went back to the original camera negative where possible and alternative sources where severe damage that could not be repaired was encountered. These elements were scanned at 4K resolution in 10bit and then restored in 4k.
ON RELEASE FROM 18 May  | BLU-RAY, DIGITAL DVD

The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse | Die tausend Augen des Dr. Mabuse (1960) ***

Dir.: Fritz Lang; Cast: Peter van Eyck, Dawn Addams, Gert Fröbe, Werner Peters, Wolfgang Preiss, Lupo Prezzo, Reinhard Kolldehoff; Germany/Italy/France 1960, 103 min.

Fritz Lang (1890-1976) goes back to the beginning with his final output: The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse: there is the re-emigrant Lang, making his last of three films in West Germany, finishing his career with completing the Mabuse trilogy that started with Mabuse the Gambler (1922) and The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1932). Joining fellow Hollywood re-emigrant Peter Van Eyck, Lang concentrated on the Nazi spirit of evil, still virulent in West Germany, and his favourite topic: machines versus humans. Based on the novel by Polish author Jan Fethke and using the Mabuse character created by Norbert Jacques, The Thousand Eyes is a melancholic good-bye from one of 20th century’s greatest directors, who had forged his career in the early days of silent film.

Having promised his radio station an impressive scoop, a reporter is murdered in his car. Meanwhile in the Hotel Luxor, where the Nazis used spy on the clientele with hidden microphones, wealthy American Henry Travers (Van Eyck) saves the live of fellow guest Marion Menil (Addams) not once but twice: he saves her from committing suicide, then kills her club-footed husband Roberto (Kolldehoff) with a single shot. A voyeur is in control of the hotel, watching every room via TV: the new Mabuse is after Travers’ nuclear plans to dominate the world. But detective Kras (Fröbe) is puzzled by the identity of the evil genius: is it the ubiquitous salesman Hironymos B. Mistelzweig (Peters); the blind clairvoyant Cornelius (Prezzo), or the enigmatic Professor Jordan (Preiss)?

The Thousand Eyes is a feature of double mirrors: every scene is connected to the previous one. Each take is followed by something “directed” by the evil genius. As in Metropolis, the story is one of triumph and destruction of a machine come alive. This Mabuse is the very much in the spirit of the 1932 feature: Hitler using technology first to conquer Germany, then the world. But this Mabuse is more creative than ever: he makes friends, divulging his secrets to them, only to destroy them when they are no longer of use. He is subversive, hoping to change the power structure from within.

Sadly DoP Karl Löb’s black-and-white images lack elegance and fluidity, short-changing the feature along with the German cast who are anything but enigmatic or unfathomable: they were the same actors who played clichéd characters in the UFA re-makes of the era – at a time when the Nouvelle Vague in neighbouring France was re-inventing cinema. So we often get second-hand emotions, and bemusement instead of real angst. That Lang’s last feature is still by far the most interesting of the era in West Germany’s post WWII film history speaks for itself – the era was  dominated by caricature thrillers based on the work of British author Edgar Wallace, who met deadlines by dictated his books from London phone boxes. No fewer than six Mabuse ‘thrillers’ were produced in the next decade in Germany, Lang was eventually forced to retire after his eye-sight worsened. AS    

ON BLU-RAY FOR THE FIRST TIME IN THE UK ON 11 MAY 2020

               

The Debussy Film (1965) **** Blu-ray release

Dir: Ken Russell | UK Doc-drama 82′

The longest of his outings for the BBC Monitor series, this is an ambitious and gently flamboyant biopic that certainly reflects the hazy impressionism and subversive imagination of its subject, the French composer Claude Debussy (1862-1918) who was around at the same time as Claude Monet, both trying to reject the creative formalism of what had gone before.

The Debussy Film oscillates between several strands in evoking the emotionally complex life of Debussy. Essentially a film within a film, there is a dramatisation of his relationships with his friends, lovers and collaborators played by an eclectic cast of Vladek Sheybal (as ‘the director’ and Debussy’s own Svengali who is juggling his own demons while trying to capture those of the composer).

Sheybal had risen to fame for his role in Dr No. and adds an exotic touch to proceedings, along with Vernon Dobtcheff. Oliver Reed, only 27 at the time, makes for a smoulderingly seductive Debussy, his roving eye constantly alighting on a succession of nubile females notable of whom is the small but perfectly formed Annette Robertson (an ex wife of John Hurt) and Penny Service.

Russell co-scripts with Melvyn Bragg and the often frothy mise en scene is shot in schmoozey black and white by Ken Westbury with a very 1960s feel to the fashions – Courrèges often springs to mind in the costume department, although this was clearly the mid 19th century. And despite Huw Weldon’s beady eye on proceedings, Russell manages to get away with some outré ideas while largely sticking to the facts embellished,  of course, by his vivid imagination. MT

NOW ON BLU-RAY

 

Tchaikovsky and the Music Lovers (1970) **** Blu-ray

Dir.: Ken Russell; Cast: Richard Chamberlain, Glenda Jackson, Max Adrian, Christopher Gable, Kenneth Colley, Izabella Telezynska, Sabina Maydelle; UK 1970, 122 min.

Blending the crass with the ethereal as was his wont Ken Russell billed his portrait of Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) as “a romance about a homosexual married to a nymphomaniac”. Riding high on his success with Women in Love, United Artists allowed a lavish budget for The Music Lovers, and it was completed in the same year as Russell’s Richard Strauss biopic Dance of the seven Veils for the BBC.

As a director of sober BBC biopics and large screen escapism, Russell was having a field day. Dance of the Seven Veils was only aired once until recently, after the Strauss family forbade any music by Richard Strauss to be played in the feature because they misinterpreted the composer being shown as a staunch Nazi, which the archive material shows quite clearly. The Music Lovers, on the other hand, is aesthetically much closer Russell’s Mahler portrait of 1974. Based on the letters between Tchaikovsky (Chamberlain) and his benefactor Madame Nadezhda von Meck (Telezynska), edited by Catherine Drinker Bowen and Barbara von Meck, Melvyn Bragg’s script has operatic proportions but uses dialogue very sparsely, leaving the music to stand for itself.

In a romantic setting, we meet the composer first with his lover Count Chiluvsky (Gable). But homosexuality was illegal in Czarist Russia, and at the conservatoire, fellow composers including Rubinstein (Adrian) had started gossiping. Tchaikovsky takes an aggressive, and as it turned out, not too wise approach to the dilemma: he marries the over-sexed and rather fragile Antonina Miliukova (Jackson). The marriage ends in disaster with Antonina becoming more and more unhinged, finally ending up in a psychiatric ward. Tchaikovsky dearly loves his family, brother Modest (Colley) and favourite sister Sasha (Maydelle), he also has a horrible memory of his beloved mother’s death, which will, in the end, mirror his own. He transfers all his attentions to Madame von Meck, who lives in Switzerland. On her estate, the composer rests for long periods of time, whilst von Meck travels in Europe. In reality the two never met, but in the feature von Meck watches the sleeping composer. The episodic character of the narrative, combining Tchaikovsky’s music and psychological estate, as it does in the 1812 Overture, is less jarring than in later features such as Lisztomania.

With much help from the great Douglas Slocombe (Rollerball, Hedda) and his sweepingly romantic images, The Music Lovers just stays on the right side of the line between opulent drama and over-the-top showmanship. Chamberlain and Jackson are outstanding in their turbulent train crash of a the newly married couple paired with Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, and this is the highlight of Russell’s stylistic achievement. AS

NOW ON BLU-RAY

 

Becky Sharp (1935) Blu-ray release

Dir Rouben Mamoulian | Cast: Miriam Hopkins, Frances Dee, Cedric Hardwicke, Billie Burke | US Drama 84’

The first feature film shot entirely in the newly perfected Technicolor process, Becky Sharp – which had cost an estimated $950,000 – was dismissed at the time by Otis Ferguson as “As pleasing to the eye as a fresh fruit sundae, but not much more”. Unlike The Jazz Singer – which had blazed an equivalent technological trail eight years earlier – Becky Sharp was not a box office hit, and colour was to take another thirty years to become the cinema’s default setting the way sound did; more associated with historical rather than contemporary subjects.

Becky Sharp was in fact the third film version to be made of Thackeray’s sprawling 1847-48 novel (which had originally appeared in serial form) set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars. This version was based upon the hit 1899 Broadway dramatisation by Langdon Mitchell, and as meticulously designed by acclaimed theatre designer Robert Edmond Jones. The rigours of early Technicolor filmmaking resulted in an extremely stagy and studio-bound experience which whizzes in just 84 minutes through an originally very long and convoluted narrative under the punishingly hot lights that made early Technicolor films such a trial to act in. (Mira Nair’s 2004 remake with Reece Witherspoon, by comparison, clocks in at 141 minutes!)

The men at whom Miss Sharp sets her cap are all inclined to be pompous middle-aged caricatures (with the honourable exception of Alan Mowbray as Rawdon Crawley), since she is after financial security rather than romance. Opinion continues to remain divided over Miriam Hopkins in the title role, whose stature as an actress has dimmed considerably since she received an Oscar nomination for this film; but she does bring sparkling blue eyes to the part, seldom apparent in her other movies. Although the most eye-catching moments involve red British army uniforms, much of the rest of the film actually employs blue (a hue hitherto absent from the Technicolor palette) to attractive effect. The credits, for example, are in blue, and the first shot of the film itself is of a blue stage curtain being pushed aside.

For over forty years the film languished in the public domain in a cheap 67 minute 16mm Cinecolor travesty until finally restored in 1984. It subsequently received only one British TV screening ten years later; but now be enjoyed on BluRay as the “triumph for colour” Graham Greene declared it on its first appearance. Richard Chatten

BECKY SHARP (1935) NOW AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY

Kwaidan (1964) **** Blu-ray release

Dir.: Massaki Kobayashi; Cast: Michiyo Aratama, Misako Watanabe, Renaro Mikuni, Tatsuya Nakadai, Keiko Kishi, Katsuo Nakamura, Tetsuo Tanba, Takashi Shimura, Hanuko Sugimura, Osamu Takizawa, Ganjiro Nakamura, Noburo Nakaya; Japan 1964, 183 min.

Japanese director Massaki Kobayashi (1916-1996), best known for his Human Condition trilogy, adapted writer Yoko Mizuki’s script based on four short stories by Lafkadio Hearn, into a sumptuous, eerie and beguiling horror feature, with the images of DoP Yoshio Miyajima of carrying the sometimes rather slim narrative. To use the term horror is perhaps a little misleading since the storyline often focuses on supernatural forces invading the human sphere and re-creating a balance, which was disturbed by the protagonists. The quartet are more or less fairy-stories, all told with a didactic undertone. 

In The Black Hair (Kurokami), a poor Samurai (Mikuni) leaves his loving wife (Aratama) because he can not stand the poverty any more. He marries the daughter of a wealthy family (Watanabe), but soon tires of her, telling the lday-in-waiting he had only married for her inheritance, sending her back to the family in shame. After years of wandering around, the Samurai returns to his first wife’s house, finding it in disrepair. She surprisingly takes him back and, before falling asleep, the re-united couple make plans for a happy future. When the warrior wakes up next morning he discovers, he has slept next to her rotting corpse and tries to run away in horror, but the titular hair of his wife keeps him back.

The Snow Maiden  (Yukionna) is the tale of two woodcutters who seek refuge from the cold in a fisherman’s hut. One of them, Mosaku is killed by a Yuki-Onna (Keiko Kishi), a ghost-like creature. When it is Minokishi’s (Tatsuya Nakadai) turn, the spirit spares him because he is so handsome. But she tells him never to share her secret. Minokoshi returns home, and obeys her. One day she meets a beautiful woman, called Yuki, another incarnation of the Yuki-Onna. When she stitches a kimono at night, he sees the resemblance and tells her. Yuki forgives him for breaking his word because of their two children, but leaves him behind, heartbroken.

In Hoichi the Earless (Miminashi Hoichi no Hanashi), a blind musician/monk, Hoichi (Nakamura) is an accomplished biwa player. He is singing about the battle between two clans at the height of the Genpei War. One night a Samurai (Taba) visits him in the garden, asking him to play for his master, the Warlord. The High Priest of the monastery (Shimura) finds out about Hoichi’s nightly adventures, and tells him he is in great danger. The monks paint the text of the war ballad all over Hoichi’s body, but forget the ears. This has dire consequences for Hoichi, but there is still a happy-end waiting for him.

The last episode, In a Cup of Tea  (Chawan no naka) is rather tame in comparison with the previous trio. A writer (Takizawa), who is also the narrator, hears the story about the attendant Sekinai, who sees the face of un unknown man in a cup of water. Even though he refills the cup many times, the face will not go away. Later on, the person’s face comes alive, calling himself Shikibu (Nakaya). He brings two friends with him, the trio trying to kill Sekinai. The writer leaves the end of the story open, leaving the solution to the imagination of the readers.

Kwaidan went on to win the Special Jury Price at the Cannes Festival in 1964. Today it is mainly considered a masterpiece due to Miyajima’s masterly photography. The whole set was located in a huge aircraft hangar, with the hand-painted sets reflecting the changing seasons and settings. Kwaidan needs to be watched, not seen or interpreted. It has all the qualities of a Grimm fairy-tales, coupled with a specific Japanese form of angst and fatalism. AS

NOW ON BLURAY COURTESY OF MASTERS OF CINEMA | 27 APRIL 2020

Viaggio in Italia (1954) | Journey to Italy | Bfi Player

Dir: Robert Rossellini | Wri: Roberto Rossellini, Vitaliano Brancati | Cast: Ingrid Bergman, George Sanders, Maria Mauban | Drama, Italy/France, 86

In this groundbreaking film it is almost impossible to take your eyes off Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders as they enact the fading love story of a well-healed fifties middle class couple both undergoing painful heartache of their own, behind the scenes. Roberto Rossellini’s drama is the culminating masterpiece of Italian neo-realism and arguably one of the greatest neo-realist love stories of the era.

Inspiring and ushering in the New Wave, Viaggio channels the ideals of the neo-realist movement in the use of non-professional actors and rural everyday life, in the this case in Naples and Pompeii and although it performed badly at the Box Office, it went down very well with French critics, based loosely, as it was, on Colette’s novel Duo and Francois Truffaut, called it the first ‘modern film’.

The film’s plot is simple: an unhappily married couple drive down to Italy to organise the sale of an inherited villa in one of the most scenic locations in the South, the bay of Naples. They bicker and neither is at peace. Katherine is young and vivacious but disappointed with her hostile husband, Alex, who – she claims – cares only for money and work and dislikes the area: “I’ve never seen noise and boredom go so well together.” As the trip grows more complex with delays in the property sale so Alex takes it out on his wife, who harks back to a previous lover and starts to sense that divorce is inevitable. The two flirt openly with outsiders on every social occasion and spend increasing time away from each other during in activities and venues that seem to enhance their feelings of desperation and sadness. Katherine visits a morbid catacomb, Alex becomes close to a girl he meets through friends. The final moments are unforgettable, unexpected and transcendent in the history of Italian cinema and mark Viaggio in Italia out as a significant film that has stays in the memory long after the titles fade.

The production was not without it difficulties. Ingrid Bergman’s marriage to Rosellini was under severe pressure. George Sanders was at the end of his union with Zsa Zsa Gabor and was fraught from his attempts to contact her long-distance.  He was not only annoyed that he was expected to improvise, but also that the director himself appeared to be making it up as he went along.

According to Tag Gallagher (The Adventures of Robert Rossellini, New York Da Capo Press, 1998) Sanders was waiting in his hotel reception as instructed at 2pm: “I was led like a man in Sing Sing’s Death House to the waiting car which whisked me away to some Neapolitan back street where Rossellini had set up the camera to shoot the momentous scene for which we had all been waiting so patiently.  He had his scarlet racing Ferrari with him (a new one!) and he kept eyeing it and stroking it while the cameraman was fiddling with the lights, getting the scene ready. Finally when all was ready, Rossellini changed his mind about shooting the scene and dismissed the thunderstruck company. While we watched him in stupefied silence, he put on his crash helmet, climbed into the Ferrari, gunned his motor and disappeared with a rorar and screeching tyres round the bend of the street and out of our lives for two whole days…). Meanwhile Ingrid Bergman was equally distraught. She couldn’t improvise, she hated to improvise, which Roberto well knew.  Yet whenever she’d ask what she was supposed to say, he’d snap: “Say what’s on your mind”.

After a long and tortuous process, the film was finally released in July 1954. Despite all the set-backs and unpleasantness and Rossellini’s wasteful and unorthodox methods the film emerged as one of the most enduring examples of ingenious innovation and timeless inspiration.  Rossellini managed finally to get convincing performances from two people authentically portraying the end of love. MT

Recently restored l’Imagine Ritrovata VIAGGIO IN ITALIA | BFI Player 

Fedora (1978) *** Mubi

Dir.: Billy Wilder | Cast: William Holden, Marthe Keller, Hildegard Knef, Frances Sternhagen, Mel Ferrer | France/W Germany | 116min.

Since his last film Buddy, was just a remake of a French comedy, FEDORA can be easily counted as Wilder’s swansong. Some view it as a masterpiece, others, a misguided attempt to recreate his classic Hollywood movies that made his famous.

Down-on-his luck producer Barry Detweiler (Holden) learns about the death in a train accident of the famous actress Fedora (Keller), who seems to have never grown old. Detweiler suspects foul play: when he visited her two weeks before the suspected ‘suicide’, the actress seems to have been kept like a prisoner at her home by the shady countess Sobryanski (Knef), the servant Miss Balfour (Sternhagen) and her doctor (Ferrer) who was responsible for her seemingly eternal youth. It then emerges that Fedora had a daughter, and Detweiler is determined to delve deeper.

Holden narrates Fedora in the same style as Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, but that’s where the comparisons end. After the commercial failure of Front Page, Wilder had difficulty finding a Hollywood producer for the project, even though his crew was really stellar: DoP Gerry Fisher (Wise Blood), veteran PD Alexandre Trauner (Irma La Douce), composer Miklos Rozsa (Quo Vadis), editor Fredric Steinkamp (Out of Africa) and Wilder’s long time co-writer I.A.L. Diamond. But none of them could compensate for a script which oscillated between nostalgia and self-parody. Fedora has a certain charm and old-world emotional intensity, and is certainly worth a watch as a Wilder curio. AS

NOW ON MUBI from 3 May 2020 | On Dual Format EUREKA 

Krzysztof Kieslowski – Early works on Blu-ray

Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski (1941-1996) brings a raw emotional simplicity to his films that disarm even the hardest heart. Nothing is overstated or irrelevant in his sober depictions of human life during the last thirty years of Polish communism.  Starting his career as a documentarian, by the mid 1970s a novel by Romuald Karas was to inspire his first feature The Scar (1976).

THE SCAR (BLIZNA, 1976)

Dir.: Krzysztof Kieslowski; Cast: Frantisek Pieczka, Marius Dmochowski, Jerzy Stuhr, Halina Winiarski; Poland 1976, 106 min.

In the small Polish city of Olechov, the local party committee decides to build a huge chemical complex. The project is forced through despite the local fear of environmental fallout. Stephan Bednarz (Pieczaka) heads up the project. A very straightforward and honest Party man, he and his wife (Winiarski) used to live in the area and had some unpleasant experiences there, although the exact nature of these is not alluded too. Bednarz is responsible to the Party boss (Dmochowski), who has his hands full with infighting in his many sub-committees. Stephan’s wife (Winiarski) has been very sceptical from the beginning, along with his assistant (Stuhr). Everyone wants a piece of the action, and Stephan is buried under an avalanche of complaints. Kieslowski and DoP Slawomir Idziak handle the crowd scenes very well, as the focus narrows on Stuhr’s assistant. Fans will appreciate this dour slice of social realism made starker by Kieslowski’s documentary style which lacks humour or even irony. A bleak start for the director’s dramatic career.

CAMERA BUFF (AMATOR, 1979/80)

Dir.: Krzysztof Kieslowski; Cast: Jerzy Stuhr, Malgorzata Zablonska, Ewa Pacas; Poland 1979/80, 112 min.

Camera Buff is a much more human affair. Kieslowski, co-writes in a drama that concentrates on the individuals, the society issues melting into the background. Remarkably, Kieslowski had five DoPs sharing camera duties. The story revolves around Filip Mosz (Stuhr) who has bought himself a an eight millimetre camera to film the birth of his daughter. He takes his new hobby seriously: When his daughter falls off her chair, he continues to shoot oblivious. “Would you have gone on filming, had she fallen off the balcony?” asks his wife Irka (Zablosnka). As his talent develops, his boss asks Filip to be the official chronicler of Party activities. With responsibility comes privilege, and the “man with the camera” turns into more than just an observer: When he shoots the workers mending the pavement, he does so from his balcony – symbolising his new empowerment. Family life takes a back seat and he belittles his wife when she walks out on him: “I saw you walking away. You looked so small. I will always see you like this”. Filip is proud to be a chronicler, but, as one of his friends puts it “filmmakers are service providers”. His new sense of entitlement blinds him to his obligations to society. Total autonomy and independence are illusions, as Julie will find out in Three Colours Blue.

NO END (BEZ KONCA, 1985 

Dir.: Krzysztof Kieslowski; Cast: Grazyna Szapolska, Maria Pakulniss, Alexander Bardini, Danny Webb; Poland, 107 min.

Even though playful at times, No End is a serious story, the narrative’s absurdist elements never overshadow the sober nature of the human struggle at the film’s core. The main character Ursula Zyro (Szpolska) has lost her lawyer husband Antek (Radziwilowicz) to a heart attack. And Antek faces the camera in the opening scene describing the moments surrounding his death on the way to take their son Jack to school. He was set to defend a man accused of organising activities for the repressed Solidarity movement during a time of draconian martial law in Poland. Ulla, an English translator, currently working on ‘the’ Orwell project, feels guilty, because their marriage had been going through a bad patch. Ulla reaches out to an American tourist (Webb) and they sleep together even though he doesn’t even speak Polish, but Ulla shares her grief all  the same. Meanwhile, the activist’s case is taken up by an old lawyer called Labrador (Bardini), who had been Antek’s teacher, but is now rather cynical, convincing his new client to agree a plea bargaining sentence. Meanwhile, Antek comes back to haunt proceedings as a ghost, still talking directly to the camera and watching over Ulla and Jacek. At one point he is seen stroking a dark Labrador (sic). It’s amazing that No End got through the Communist censors and made it to cinema screens. Ironically, the only criticism came from the opposition parties and the Catholic Church. No End was Kieslowski’s first time collaboration with scriptwriter Krzyszof Piesewicz, a partnership that was to last until the end of Kieslowski’s career – and further. The two worked together on three scripts before the director’s death. These were filmed by Tom Tykwer, Stanislaw Mucha and Danis Tanovic, in the first years after the new millennium. AS

BLIND CHANCE, 1987

ON LIMITED EDITION BLURAY | CINEMA OF CONFLICT: FOUR FILMS BY KRZYSZTOF KIESLOWSKI | 20 APRIL 2020

Battleship Potemkin (1925) **** Bfi Blu-ray release

EISENSTEIN ON THE STEPS  Alan Price shares some thoughts on Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 epic that sees the crew of a Russian battleship mutiny against the brutal, tyrannical regime of the vessel’s officers, resulting in a street massacre with police when the ship finally docked in Odessa in 1905.                          

There are three problematic shots of lion statues in Battleship Potemkin (1925) that disturb some critics when they discuss the use of montage in film. And they profoundly offended V.F.Perkins in his landmark book Film as Film. He didn’t proceed to attack Potemkin’s most famous montage moment, the Odessa Steps sequence. No, it was the lions, as symbols of authority, inserted arbitrarily into the general narrative of Potemkin, which he thought to be wilfully self-imposed. Though if you consider Potemkin as a great example of revolutionary propaganda then can you denounce Czarism’s lions the right to be assertively present and thus exposed as another enemy of the people?

Victor Perkins considers the lions to be a “momentary flaw” that “adventurous filmmakers are bound to explore.” Does that mean directors will become over-iconoclastic and throw in any image to make a dubious point? Yet his argument is more with critics “I would wish the limits of my attack on montage to be clear. I claim only that there is no special merit attached to the use of editing devices as such, and nothing more cinematic or creative about these usages than about achievements in the significant use of lighting, dialogue, décor, gesture or any other of the film-maker’s resources.”

The expressiveness of a fully functioning mise en scene requires what’s listed. And the outcome of such cinematic density can be synthesised into the long take – the logical antithesis to rapid cutting. As Andre Bazin said of the films of Stroheim, “One can well imagine in theory, a Stroheim film composed of a single shot which would be as long and as close-up as one liked” I can easily conjure up shots from Stroheim’s often raw and pitiless Greed (1924) that create the illusion of holding your attention longer than their actual screen time. But they are never un-cinematic or boring. 

The mise en scene of Eisenstein’s Potemkin is often a fidgety motion holding back or anticipating the rapid editing of the film’s climaxes. Thousands of words have been written on the construction of the Odessa steps sequence but they cannot really paraphrase its dynamic (though director Roger Corman made a fine attempt now viewable on YouTube.) Film students can theorise about the meaning of the editing but as an ordinary viewer you really have to bodily feel that you and its victims are helplessly falling down and down. Even today we are forced to emphasise with the fate of that baby in the pram, just prior to it bumping down the many steps. It makes you want to reach out a hand and save the innocent. The firing soldiers move, like a stark Italian Futurist machine, over the running and falling bodies forcing you to imagine peoples screams and the cracking of heads and ribs. Those seven and a half minutes of violent repression still exert an artistic and visceral power that shames other cinematic crushes (or more precisely bloodbaths) like the formulaic violence often found in Tarantino and De Palma’s self-conscious Odessa imitation, The Untouchables: but at least managing to constructively inspire the massacres in Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch or the violent mayhem of The Godfather 2.

Potemkin is a film in five parts. (1) Men and Maggots – The sailors protest at having to eat rancid meat. The doctor, peering through his pince-nez, examines a carcass and tells the sailors that it’s not worms but only maggots that can be easily washed off with brine (In the BFI Blu Ray restoration they have never looked so sharp and repugnant.) (2) Drama at the Harbour – the sailors’ mutiny and their leader Vakulynchuk is killed along with some officers and a priest (played by Eisenstein, suddenly laughing and yielding his cross after feigning death.) As the mutiny is enacted Eisenstein’s masterly eye for group composition is apparent– though I do have sympathy with those of his Russian contemporaries who accused Eisenstein of being a mere formalist- for this grouping and re-grouping of men can’t escape from sometimes being manipulative and self-conscious – not exactly a slow game of chess more rapid checkers. (3) A Dead Man calls for Justice, the body of Vakulynchuk is mourned over by the inhabitants of Odessa (The composition of the shots we view from inside the covering, over Vakulynchuk, as mourners approach him, has a superb lyric strength.)  (4) The Odessa Staircase – the Tsarist soldiers kill and trample everyone with the cold logic of a programmed Terminator. Heightened realism it might be but a realism that shifts its killing machine into fantasy, even SF. (5) The Rendezvous with a Squadron. We assume the navy is about to attack Potemkin, but end up joining forces with the rebellious sailors (wonderful images of sailing boats and warships here but less wonderful is the relentless pounding rhythm of Eisenstein’s editing accompanied by Edmund Meisel’s apt, if bombastic score, that rapidly becomes hectoring.) 

Parts 1 – 4 climaxing on Odessa are mostly thrilling. But after the magnificent steps magic Potemkin has nowhere to go. Of course anything afterwards was bound to be an anti-climax. But the film can’t end here – there must be an epilogue. Yet Part 5 begins to bludgeon you with its revolutionary fervour. If only it had been shorter and not built up over-inexorably to its triumphant conclusion. Sergei, the state required a communist message, but it should (could have?) have been trimmed and then I might have forgiven you that shot of a hoisted up, red-tinted flag.

The violence of Odessa lives on as great cinema amidst Potemkin’s other episodes where ‘masterly’ filmmaking can appear strained. Odessa will always command our compassion and horror even though that sequence is heavily aestheticized An aesthetic call to revolution can work powerfully in political cinema (see The Battle of Algiers) yet at Potemkin’s climax it naively feels like a command to rejoice in victory, or else comrade! 

Stark Eisenstein violence preceded Potemkin in his savage first feature, the consistently brilliant Strike. Eisenstein moved on, with his mathematical film concepts, and realised, for me, his greatest compositional achievement (and most satisfyingly film) in Ivan the Terrible Part 1.  Whilst an even more richly sensual and liberated imagery is to be found in the stunning fragments that remain of his uncompleted Que Viva Mexico (with the gay shots of Potemkin sailors in hammocks anticipating the Mexican peasantry in their hammocks too). Mexico and the tyrant Ivan appeared long after the explosion of Potemkin – produced when Eisenstein was twenty seven: youthful genius indeed that we’ll continue to celebrate along with the other films I’ve admired, his theoretical writings, a vast amount of drawings (sometimes erotic) and generally marvellous artwork. ALAN PRICE

BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN is now on blu-ray at the BFI 

  

Hockney: A Life in Pictures (2014)

hockDirector: Randall Wright | 113min   UK Biopic

“We grow small trying to be great”.

Born in a tightly-terraced house in Bradford, the fourth of five children, David Hockney’s early memories were of darkness and claustrophobia. It was a happy and aspirational childhood with his strong mother and a father who encouraged him not to care about what the neighbours thought, and fired his imagination and enthusiasm for the world outside with regular visits to ‘the pictures’.

Randall Wright’s portrait of the artist is as ambitious and upbeat as Hockney himself, enlightened by archival material and enriched by cine footage from Hockney’s family collection. Spanning a career that started in local art school and the RCA as a popular and gently opinionated maverick, it shows how he was associated with the Pop Art movement of the 60s, abstract expressionism and figurative work, and is now considered one of the most influential artists of the 20th Century, and the most expensive living artist when his Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures (1972) was sold at Christie’s for 80 million dollars under the hammer in November 2018.

Kicking off with the usual talking heads who share their fondness for the artist contemporaries and American pals (Ed Ruscha who fleshes out a picture of a philosophical thinker, capable of amiable friendship, lively wit and occasional bouts of introspective loneliness: “I think the absence of Love is Fear”). After a sexually and artistically explorative spell in 1960s New York (his blond hairstyle was the result of a Clairol advert on TV), Hockney gravitated to California spending many years developing his technique with acrylics in bright colours, a fascination with the spacial qualities of water and swimming pools led to his most famous work: A Bigger Splash (1967) – the splash took seven days to paint.

Friendships with Christopher Isherwood and his partner Don Bachandry feature heavily during these years along with a love affair for Peter Schlesinger, an art student who also posed for him and followed him back to London where Tchaik Chassey designed a lateral apartment for the couple in Kensington. Embarking on a series of portraits for friends and relatives, we also meet Celia Birtwell who appeared with Ossie Clark in his other well-known figurative painting, Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy (1970/71).

Continually broadening his artistic horizons, Hockney also stresses the intellectual side of art as opposed to photography: “the longer it takes to put (an image) together, the more representative it becomes of time and space”. Hockney also developed an interest in Opera due to his gift of synesthesia, an ability to see bright colours when listening to music. His iPad paintings are possibly his most innovative work with landscape, developing and exploring a spacial awareness unique to painting and allowing us to chart the development of his paintings from the first marks  “the way we depict space and the way we behave in it are different – wider perspectives are needed now”.

Filled with serenity, insight and gentle humour, Randall Wright’s biopic overflows with information, facts and fascinating footage, packing in every subtle nuance of this remarkable creative force in just over two hours.  We are left with a feeling of pride and admiration for our national figure who is as charmingly appealing and strangely naive and this colourful legacy. MT

HIS LATEST EXHIBITION entitled THE ARRIVAL OF SPRING 2020 IS NOW SHOWING AT THE ROYAL ACADEMY IN LONDON

HOCKNEY: A LIFE IN PICTURES IS ON DVD

 

 

They Live By Night (1948) **** Blu-ray release

Dir: Nicholas Ray | Cast: Farley Granger, Cathy O’Donnell | US, Film Noir 95′

Legendary director Nicholas Ray began his career with this lyrical film noir, the first in a series of existential genre films overflowing with sympathy for America’s outcasts and underdogs. When the wide-eyed fugitive Bowie (Farley Granger), having broken out of prison with some bank robbers, meets the innocent Keechie (Cathy O’Donnell), each recognizes something in the other that no one else ever has.

The young lovers dream of a new, decent life together, but as they flee the cops and contend with Bowie’s fellow crims, who aren’t about to let him go straight, they come to realise there’s nowhere left to hide. Ray brought an outsider’s sensibility honed in the theatre to this debut, using revolutionary camera techniques and naturalistic performances to craft a profoundly romantic crime drama that paved the way for decades of lovers-on-the-run thrillers to come.

Available on Amazon from 20 April 2020

Why Don’t You Just Die (2019) Blu-ray release

Dir/Wri: Kirill Sokolov | Cast: Vitaliy Khaev, Aleksandr Kuznetsov, Evgeniya Kregzhde, Mikhail Gorevoy, Elena Shevchenko

Russian director Kirill Sokolov’s debut feature is a bloody-spattered, neon-infused cocktail of toxic manhood tinged with bitter comedy that sees a war of attrition play out between a meat-headed bellicose gangster and his daughter’s wiry and wilful boyfriend.

Set almost entirely within the confines of a pokey Moscow apartment, this luridly gory genre piece makes a striking showcase for the 29 year old Russian filmmaker’s nascent talents, eking out a shoestring budget to remarkable effect. A lively inventive script elevates the film’s pulp credentials with some shocking social commentary on Putin’s Russia and an illuminating take on today’s Russian womanhood. Resonances with Tarantino are clear from the outset. But this first film is slick and surprisingly confident, its turbulent tension primped by a perky score from Vadim QP and Sergey Solovyov.

Twentysomething Matvei (Aleksandr Kuznetsov) is feeling a little back-footed when he fetches up at the family home of his girlfriend Olya (Evgeniya Kregzhde), armed with a hammer and an assignment to murder her detective dad Andrei (Vitaliy Khaev). Clearly the old bruiser is no pushover, but strangely neither is the lithely ‘up for it’ Matvei. A wrestling match soon turns nasty and the mayhem sees Matvei’s face embedded in a TV screen, luckily it’s switched off.

In the thick of the fight, Sokolov cuts to threefold flashbacks filling in the backstories on Matvei, Olya and Andrei’s police partner Evgenie (Mikhail Gorevoy). The showdown in the apartment is rooted in an earlier blackmail pact between the crooked cops, which released a killer from prison but ended in tears all round. As the tangled threads of skulduggery come to light, friends and family turn against each other and the mounting body count becomes a bloodbath.

This is a hyper violent affair that may prove too much for many with its ludicrous fight scenes, Sokolov ramping up the butchery while maintaining a sardonic upbeat tone that sees the good, the bad and the ugly bite the dust – women included. Although it must be said that the bad get their just deserves in a pitiless payback scenario.

Why Don’t You Just Die! can and will be read as a caustic commentary on Putin’s rotten Russia, but Sokolov certainly makes a meal of it all – cashing in on his opportunity to put the boot in, big time. The film’s original title translates as Daddy, Die! hich and Sokolov emerges as a refreshing and raucous new talent on the Russian indie film scene. MT

ARROW FILMS BLU-RAY RELEASE ON 20 APRIL 2020 

 

The Wind (1986) ** Blu-ray release

Dir: Nico Mastorakis | Cast: Robert Morley, Meg Foster, Wings Hauser, David McCallum | Horror, 92′

The Wind (aka Edge of Terror) is an odd film that begins as a promising Greek giallo thriller but loses its way half way through despite a brilliant cast, lush locations and Hans Zimmer’s spanking score – his first of many.

Robert Morley (Alias Appleby) and David McCullum (John) add ballast to the tenuous plot constructed by Mastorakis and his Blind Date writer Fred Perry in the second of their colourful collaborations that sees John’s successful novelist wife Sian (Meg Foster) leave their luxury LA home to finish a book on the Greek coastal town of Monemvasia. Shame then that the film’s best two male actors only get slim cameos.

Why anyone would travel to Greece from LA to find a remote retreat is a first mystery, especially when Meg has to tolerate Alias Appleby’s condescending banter on her arrival. At least Morley adds swagger to the opening scenes, offering her a stylish hideaway that comes with a caveat about the tunnels running under the property, and the ferocious nocturnal wind. Sadly the film makes scant use of its magnificent setting, confining most of the action to claustrophobic interiors and cramped alleyways.

Monemvasia is far from the sanctuary Meg had in mind; more a hub of frenzied activity of the worse kind involving the unwanted attentions of a psychotic handyman in the shape of Phil (Wings Hauser) whose opening gambit is the comforting: “Death is a whole lot different than on paper”. From the get-go we get the impression this guy is going to be a major pain in the neck, and Mastorakis never fails to disappoint in his irritating characterisation of Phil, which is neither terrifying not compelling, just plain irritating. And that’s the only psychic part of this story. Inspired by Phil’s skulduggery Meg’s writing then bizarrely pushes the plotline forward, predicting events as they gradually come true – and leaving us in doubt as to the murderer at large.

For some reason, Mastrovakis squanders all his trump cards by half-baking the script: there so much that really doesn’t follow through, lending a hollow feel to proceedings: What is Phil so angry about? What happened in his past to inform the present? What are the reasons for the demonic wind? None of this is properly explored, and there’s a latent misogyny that has us believe that Sian is a numpty who is game for verbal and physical abuse from two men, and believed to be over-doing it when she contacts the local police, when clearly she is a sane and accomplished intellectual who is being traumatised? Mavrokakis would go on to make another slasher the same year, in the shape of Zero Boys. How much more low can you go.? MT

NOW ON BLU-RAY from 13 April 2020

 

Two Marilyn Stopovers | Niagara (1953) Bus Stop (1956)

Both Niagara (1953) and Bus Stop (1956) provided parts for Marilyn Monroe to accommodate a studio imposed stereotype and yet subvert its imposition. A dumb blonde transitions into a femme fatale. And when the dumb blonde becomes a feisty gal she demands and wins respect, says Alan Price. 

In both films Monroe effectively exploits her sexual power over men: her tight clinging dresses being both a sensual invitation and a slinky suit of armour for Monroe’s constantly alert body. In Niagara Marilyn is trapped in her marriage to a psychologically disturbed war veteran – Joseph Cotten. Whilst in Bus Stop Marilyn is courted and literary lassoed by a country hick rodeo rider – Don Murray. She triumphs (even after dying in her Niagara role) to crush murderous behaviour and reform the immature.  

Niagara (a beautiful colour film noir) employs the background of its stunning waterfalls as a character in its own right. Yet this set-up is not for a holiday but crime. Honeymoon couple Ray and Polly Cutler (Max Showalter and Jean Peters) arrive at their holiday cabin to discover George and Rose Loomis (Joseph Cotten and Marilyn Monroe) occupying their reserved abode. Rose tells them her husband isn’t well. The Cutler’s are content to accept another cabin but become increasingly concerned about George’s mental health and the Loomis’s unhappy marriage. Enter a young lover Patrick (Richard Allan) whom Rose has persuaded to kill George. Yet it’s Patrick who dies in the struggle leaving George to pursue Rose. The Cutlers change from being bystanders to helpers, with the police force, to track down a now frantic husband.

You can appreciate Niagara on three levels. As a liberating vehicle for Monroe (it was her first, and financially very successful, starring role); a noir that joyfully employs colour symbolism (the holidaymakers are provided with raincoats to resist the spray of the falls – black for the men and yellow for the women: with Marilyn wearing, at one point, black, yellow and red to exploit her conflicted, or harmonised, masculine and feminine energies) and director Henry Hathaway’s skill at integrating his natural locations to make Niagara Falls feel perfectly at home in its noirish plot.

Monroe presents us with an alluring and credible scheming woman as far as it goes. For there is still too much of the frustrated victim written into Marilyn’s part, and acted out, that conflicts with the real vulnerability conveyed when Marilyn is at her very best. Here she is not as forcefully vindictive as say Barbara Stanwyck is in Double Indemnity, nor as assertive as Jean Peters once was playing a girlfriend of a communist in Pick up in South Street. 

Jean Peters would have been excellent playing the part of Rose in Niagara. It’s not a case of miscasting, having instead Monroe playing Polly, the wisely practical if conventional wife of an advertising man, but the correct actor persona. In real life Jean Peters hated being seen as glamorous or sexy and manages to bring a splendid warmth and wisdom to her Niagara character. This almost makes us forget, but its hard, her prostitute role in Pickup. Peters was a fine actor but not someone groomed to be a star and deeply resistant to that process anyway. 

Marilyn Monroe was a cunningly created star, a hugely gifted actor, with a greater emotional range than Peters and a powerful erotic presence achieving miracles in some parts that severely underestimated her talent. I’m not saying she isn’t right in Niagara.  But I sense strain: a struggle to get the femme fatale side to fully click. She bravely tackles Rose’s dark behaviour well enough but not so effectively as the yearning depicted in her loneliest moment – here Rose, as a sexually liberated female, in a tight purple dress, part sings along to her special song “Kiss” and it’s remarkably affecting. If I had to chose the roles that she didn’t have to ‘struggle’ through and are fully worthy of her talents, as an exquisite comedienne and commandingly serious actor, they’re to be found in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Some Like it Hot, The Misfits and Bus Stop. Here you discover the unforgettable real thing: glowingly crafted performances and, most importantly for Marilyn, authentic.

Niagara is famous for the scene where Marilyn walks away from us, high heels on cobble stones, to establish the famous Monroe walk. It lasts for all of seventy feet of film. Most commentators have noticed, in an obvious sexist manner, that this moment epitomised the potent sexy wiggle of the dumb blonde. Yet if you carefully watch her walk it doesn’t appear affected or provocative at all (In interviews Marilyn always insisted that she walked naturally on and off screen.) In the context of the film Rose / Marilyn is employing all the shrewd resources of her body language to convey her triumph at the thought (mistaken) that her lover has just disposed of her husband. 

Graham McGann’s 1988 book simply called Marilyn Monroe quotes the ballerina Margot Fonteyn who met Monroe in 1953 and perceptively observed: “She was astoundingly beautiful…What fascinated me most was her evident inability to remain motionless. Whereas people normally move their arms and head in conversation these gestures, in Marilyn Monroe, were reflected throughout her body, producing a delicately undulating effect like the movement of an almost calm sea. It seemed clear to me that it was something of which she was not conscious; it was as natural as breathing, and in no way an affected “wiggle”, as some writers have suggested.”

Fonteyn is correct to note the ‘balletic’ skill of Marilyn. This is an attribute Monroe shares with Jacques Tati, Charles Chaplin and Clara Bow. When these great talents performed each brought their own joyful, innocent and distinct movement to perfect and constantly accentuate the needed motion of a motion picture.

What then of Marilyn’s movement in Joshua Logan’s delightful romantic comedy Bus Stop? On the surface it’s a simple story of a naïve cowboy (Beauregard Decker) energetically played by Don Murray who finds his “angel” in Monroe (Cherie a singer hostess in a run down bar) and ‘kidnaps’ her to take home on the bus back to his ranch in Montana. His long suffering buddy (named Virgil Blessing, winningly played by Arthur O’Connell) being the only sensible barrier between Decker’s crass behaviour and Cherie’s charm. Logan directs with a lightness of touch, expertly handling the wide screen with the kind of prowess he exhibited in Picnic and South Pacific. 

The scene to single out is the moment Murray and Monroe eloquently sprawl across the counter of a café where the bus party stayed overnight because of a snowstorm. It’s cinemascope poetry, a physically elongated love scene that encapsulates the film’s breakthrough to real romance and common sense. The hick stops fooling around. The singer looks like she’s getting the man she needs to respect her – something never accorded to Marilyn in real life. But in the fabricated happiness of a movie called Bus Stop we believe it and the agile Marilyn’s wonderful at convincing us that it’s happened. Perhaps the long shadow of Jean Harlow’s wit and the misbehaviour of Mae West are behind Monroe. Yet aren’t they more an encouragement for her to act well, serious and true without any obvious influence? Two movie stopovers then, always worth our attention: on a country bus and besides a thunderous waterfall that are inimitably Marilyn’s. Alan Price. 

BOTH NOW AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY 

 

The Horse Soldiers (1959) *** Blu-ray

Dir: John Ford | US, Western

John Ford is renowned for his US cavalry pictures but not for his American Civil War films. On this issue he only made one feature (The Horse Soldiers) a film segment (The Civil War 1861-65 for How The West Was Won) and a TV episode of Wagon Train (The Colter Craven Story.) Arguably the most visceral, though historically limited, of those three is the tragic How the West Was Won episode.

Ford was vocally passionate and highly knowledgeable about the Civil War. He’d always wanted to adapt a biography of Ulysses C. Grant but it never materialised. So we are left with his sole feature, The Horse Solders – containing an opening scene that briefly includes an appearance by Grant. To this day, The Horse Soldiers is unloved by most critics: Ford’s chief biographer Joseph McBride calls it “mediocre”, critic Scott Eyman considers it “a dud” and in Peter Bogdanovitch’s interview book, Ford himself admits, “I don’t think I ever saw it.”

Over the years my reaction has ranged from good but meandering, then better than I’d recalled, to a flawed and underrated film containing deeply felt moments. The passage of time has proved kinder for this production. Although for me it will never be as compelling as other late Ford (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Seven Women) The Horse Soldiers has considerable pleasures. It’s not the big Civil War picture Ford should have made but a considerable and accomplished gem.

In April 1863 the U.S. cavalry lead by Colonel John Marlow (John Wayne) goes on a 600 mile raid through Mississippi into Louisiana to cut railway lines and attack Confederate troops from Grant’s drive towards Vicksburg. Accompanying him is army doctor, Major Henry Kendall (William Holden) who has to put up with Marlowe’s animosity – he’s distrustful of doctors since his wife died, wrongly diagnosed with a tumour, at their hands. En route they encounter the Southern plantation mistress, Hannah Hunter (Constance Towers). She and her slave Lukey (Althea Gibson) eavesdrop on the officers’ plans to thwart the Confederates and to protect the secrecy of their mission they are taken with them.

No director filmed long lines of men on horseback better than John Ford – place riders on a hill at sunset, singing a ballad or military song, and Ford’s poetry never fails to captivate. His eye for composition was immaculate. There are numerous examples of this in Fort Apache and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. It was never macho posturing but an affirmation of folkloric and communal values. Ford’s group formations have a painterly depth. The Horse Soldiers has some of the best photographed patterning of men and equestrian power in all of his work. Ford’s viewpoint is the long shot, or medium long shot that impacts so well with his careful framing.  And William H. Clothier’s photography gives the troops and scenery a lovely autumnal charge. So much so that there are times when you could almost forget the story and characters of The Horse Soldiers and simply delight in a lyrical mise en scene of cavalry expertise.

But the problem with The Horse Soldiers is its undeveloped screenplay. Too much time is spent on the argumentative feuding between John Wayne and William Holden. This is lively and engaging but overdone, causing the film to often be a series of war episodes intercut between the their incessant personal scrap.  Yet if you relax into the rhythm of The Horse Soldiers – which is detached, but not disengaged, then you’ll also discover a sensitive questioning of military and civilian values, the tension of the actual military raid and how war represses feelings of love, shame and regret.

There’s a fine scene where Marlow, in a captured saloon, is talking to Miss Hunter about his wife’s death. It’s so beautifully acted by Wayne – his hurt looking eyes conveying a bitterness and anguish that’s reminiscent of Wayne’s great performance as Ethan Edwards in The Searchers. The attack on the Confederate troops, coming in on a train, contains a haunting shot of an apprehensive officer that echoes the barber scene in My Darling Clementine. And the soldiers’ response to the shocking killing of Lukey has a tenderness exhibiting Ford’s compassionate sense of community. Finally perhaps, and most striking of all, is the bizarre skirmish with the boy cadets from a local military school.

Civil War to one side The Horse soldiers, as a cavalry picture, is never as expressive as She Wore a Yellow Ribbon or as complex as Fort Apache yet it avoids the musical bombast of Rio Grande. It’s a quieter, restrained, but equally angry and concerned film of personal and military conflicts. We may mourn the fact that Ford never gave us a Ulysses C. Grant bio-pic (though with Grant’s early reputation for heavy drinking that could have been over the top) but we do have Ford’s subdued The Horse Soldiers still riding along, slowly growing in stature. ALAN PRICE    

NOW AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY

Accident (1967) **** Digital/DVD release

Dir: Joseph Losey | Wri: Harold Pinter | Cast: Dirk Bogarde, Michael York, Stanley Baker, Jacqueline Sassard, Annie Firbank, Alexander Knox, Freddie Jones | UK Drama 105′

Another Losey/Pinter/Priggen/Bogarde collaboration and Losey’s last film with Bogarde. Constructed in flashback after a car crash in the opening sequence, this was another book adaptation by Pinter, who jumped at a fourth chance of working with Joseph Losey.

Although finally shot in colour, black and white was considered long and hard; indeed, the chosen palette is decidedly muted, the colours really taken out by debut DoP Gerry Fisher, under instruction from Losey.

This classic dissection of British life focuses on power-play among the upper classes; as with almost all Pinter, the menace seethes just beneath the sheen in a world of sunny picnics, tennis and punting down the river. In this case the brutality of deception, lies and envy is given vent through games and even the making of an omelette, in a claustrophobic academic world where everybody knows everybody else’s business.

Exploring this underbelly: the true cost to those halcyon, timeless days at Oxbridge, Bogarde and Baker play Dons to the students of Michael York and a feline Jacqueline Sassard (as Anna), who stirs the loins of middle-aged Bogarde, even though he is married with two kids.

Michael York will always have his detractors but here he is at his best as the dashing young blade, vying for the aloof Austrian Anna’s affections. Stanley Baker cuts a dash as the man living life on his sleeve, much to the irritation his long-suffering, buttoned-down colleague, Bogarde.

Harold Pinter and Annie Firbank make fleeting but impactful appearances, as do Terrence Rigby, Freddie Jones and Alexander Knox as the Provost, who has seen it all and misses nothing.

The original DVD from StudioCanal has a bundle of extras: Talking About Accident, Losey and Pinter Discuss Accident, John Coldstream on Bogarde and Harry Burton on Pinter.

Another very classy outing then from the Losey/Pinter union and a very profitable one at that; Losey was again pushing the envelope in how he shot scenes and Pinter proved a willing sparring partner, himself experimenting with the methodology of how one can tell a story. MT

ALSO AVAILABLE ON MUBI from 13 April 2020

 

Henri-Georges Cluzot | Mubi

LA PRISONNIЀRE (1968)

Josée (Elizabeth Wiener) is the wife of an artist whose work is exhibited in Stan Hassler’s modern art gallery. Stan (Laurent Terzieff), impotent and depraved, satisfies himself by photographing women in humiliating poses. Josée is fascinated by the man and soon falls completely in love with him.

LE CORBEAU (1942)

A veritable masterpiece of French cinema, LE CORBEAU is a dark and subversive study of human nature starring Pierre Fresnay and Ginette Leclerc. A wave of hysteria sweeps the small provincial town of St. Robin when a series of poison-pen letters signed ‘Le Corbeau’ (The Raven) begin to appear, denouncing several prominent members of society. The slow trickle of sinister letters soon becomes a flood and no one is safe from their mysterious accusations. Upon its release in 1943, Le Corbeau was condemned by the political left and right and the church, and Clouzot was banned from filmmaking for two years.

QUAI DES ORFEVRES (1947)

A marriage that has fallen on hard times is further tested by the couple’s implication in a murder. Jenny Lamour (Suzy Delair) is a music hall chanteuse married to her pianist husband Maurice (Bernard Blier). Keen to get ahead, Jenny leaps at the chance when an ageing wealthy businessman (Charles Dullin) offers her the chance of some gigs.

However, when she agrees to a meeting at his home and he is found dead later in the evening – Maurice’s untamed jealousy is in the frame. A Maigret-esque detective, Antoine, played by Louis Jouvet, leaves no stone unturned in his exceedingly private investigations of the down-at-heel showbiz couple’s sad, tempestuous life.

MUBI | 14 April 2020 |  BLURAY, DVD AND DIGITAL | STUDIOCANAL

Buster Keaton | Three films | Blu-ray debut

Buster Keaton directed these three films between 1920 and 1929, establishing him as “arguably the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies”.  The Navigator, Seven Chances and Battling Butler. may not be on a par with The General; Sherlock and Steamboat Bill Jnr, but they are certainly enjoyable examples of his talents as an entertainer, and presented by Eureka for the first time on Blu-ray boxset.

The Navigator (1924, dir. Buster Keaton & Donald Crisp) – Wealthy Rollo Treadway (Keaton) suddenly decides to propose to his neighbour across the street, Betsy O’Brien (Kathryn McGuire), and sends his servant to book passage for a honeymoon sea cruise to Honolulu. When Betsy rejects his sudden offer however, he decides to go on the trip anyway, boarding without delay that night. Because the pier number is partially covered, he ends up on the wrong ship, the Navigator, which Betsy’s rich father has just sold to a small country at war. Keaton was unhappy with the audience response to Sherlock Jr., and endeavoured to make a follow-up that was both exciting and successful. The result was the biggest hit of Keaton’s career and his personal favourite.

Seven Chances (1925, dir. Buster Keaton) – Jimmy Shannon (Keaton) learns he is to inherit seven million dollars, with a catch. He will only get the money if he is married by 7pm on his 27th birthday, which happens to be that same day! What follows is an incredible series of escalating set-pieces that could only have come from the genius of Buster Keaton. Elaine May made a similar film with Walter Matthau in 1971. It was called A New Leaf.

Battling Butler (1926, dir. Buster Keaton) – A rich, spoiled dandy (Keaton) pretends to be a champion boxer, “Battling Butler”, to impress the family of the girl he loves. When the real Butler shows up, he decided to humiliate the imposter by having him fight the “Alabama Murderer”!

BUSTER KEATON: 3 FILMS (Vol. 2) [Masters of Cinema] 3-Disc Blu-ray Set Trailer 

The Elephant Man (1980) ***** Home Ent release

Dir.: David Lynch; Cast: John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Freddie Jones; USA 1980, 124 min.

David Lynch based his feature about Joseph “John” Merrick (1862-1890) on case studies by Dr. Frederick Trevers and Ashley Montague. Merrick was grossly deformed but highly intelligent. Much credit must go to Make-Up artist Christopher Tucker, who inspired the Academy of Motion Pictures to create an Oscar for Best make-up artist, after Elephant Man was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor (John Hurt), but did not win anything.

Surgeon Frederick Trevers (Hopkins) finds John Merrick at a Victorian Freak-Show in London’s East End where he is exploited by the alcoholic and sadistic Mr. Bytes (Jones). In order to gain access to this sadly deformed human being Trevers pays Bates and examines Merrick at his London Hospital. Mr. Carr-Gumm (Gielgud), the hospital’s Governor, cannot see any possible benefit in taking on such a difficult case, not least because of the aftercare involved – most of the nurses are appalled by his condition. But Mrs. Mothershead (Hiller) agrees to look after him and Merrick soon strikes up a genial relationship with Trevers and his wife, and is introduced to the actress Madge Kendal (Bancroft). Unfortunately Merrick’s condition still leaves him open to ridicule. Jim, a night porter, sells tickets to the locals, so they can gawk. Then Merrick is kidnapped by Bytes and taking to Belgium, where is he suffers the same indignity, and almost dies. Lynch comes up with a happy ending, which is deeply moving due to John Hurt’s’ extraordinary talents as one of our most complex screen actors who brings out the humanity of this pitiful yet deeply intelligent man.

Lynch positions Merrick between Yobs and Nobs: he is tormented in different ways by both classes. Trevers slowly realises that Merrick is defined by his deformity, no-one can see beyond this to his abilities as a creative talent. His most famous line “I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being. I..am…a..man!” is a sorrowful critical de cœur. Lynch reflects on the isolation and loneliness of the artist, showing Merrick as a transcendent personality. DoP Freddie Francis, best known for his Hammer Horror features, shows the Victorian era in all its morose and cruel sordidness. It was a time when death and suffering loomed large. Haunting and passionate, The Elephant Man might still be Lynch’s most impressive feature. His later work would the artistic ambition and inventiveness but this has the heart and soul. AS

Back in cinemas on April 6 On Digital, DVD, BD & 4K UHD Collector’s Edition 
https://youtu.be/kxb_1457gGs

  

The Year of the Sex Olympics (1968)

Dir: Michael Elliott | Wri: Nigel Neale | Cast: Leonard Rossiter, Suzanne Neve and Brian Cox

First broadcast by the BBC on 29 July 1968, The Year of the Sex Olympics is one of the most original pieces of television drama ever written, foreshadowing both the likes of Big Brother and Love Island and the sexualisation of digital space.

Unavailable on DVD for many years, on 20 April 2020 it will be re-released by the BFI in a new edition with a host of accompanying extras including a feature-length audio commentary by actor Brian Cox and Nigel Kneale in conversation. Also on the disc is Le Pétomane(1973), a short comedy biopic of Joseph Pujol, starring Leonard Rossiter and written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson (Hancock’s Half Hour and Steptoe and Son).

Nigel Kneale’s eerily prescient drama is set in a future when society is split into two strata. The low-drives are the passive majority, mentally anaesthetised by an incessant diet of TV consisting largely of pornography. Television, and by extension the populace, is controlled by the high-drives, an educated class engaged in a perpetual quest for better ratings and audience subjugation. But when the low-drives become increasingly uninterested in the programming on offer, production executive Ugo Priest (Leonard Rossiter,  Rising Damp, The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin) and his team happen upon a new concept: reality TV.

The Year of the Sex Olympics was originally broadcast in colour. At some point after that single broadcast, the original colour tapes were erased and all that remains is a black-and-white 16mm telerecording which has been remastered by the BBC for this release.

DVD release on 20 April 2020 

Special features

 

Rio Grande (1950) ** Bluray

Dir.: John Ford; Cast: John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Claude Jarman jr., Ben Johnson; USA 1950, 105 min.

John Ford’s Rio Grande is the final part of the “cavalry” trilogy that started with Fort Apache and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and continues in the same vein: the Indians are dastardly, real men – when on the right side – are above the law, and women get to see what’s good for them, even if it takes them a long time.

Colonel Kirby Yorke (Wayne) is fighting the Indians at the titular river, but the cowards always decamp into Mexico when things get rough. And the high command allows him not to go in hot pursuit, since Mexico is a foreign country. Enter Jefferson Yorke, a son Kirby hasn’t seen for fifteen years. Jeff’ has just flunked West Point, but still wants to be a good soldier under Dad’s command. Hot on his heels comes mother Kathleen (O’Hara) – who has also has not seen Kirby since the latter burned down her family mansion during the Civil War. Kathleen wants to buy her son out of the army, but Jeff is hellbent on following Dad, and earning his spurs. Up comes trooper Tyree (Johnson), who is on the run for manslaughter, but is given a helping hand by the Colonel and his mates. Eventually, the Colonel finds a way to track the Indians down – even if it means breaking the law. But hell, if a certain Lt. General Sheridan is your best friend, you can take a chance or two.

Rio Grande now seems so dated, not only in look but also in theme. And there are many little ‘Trumps’ at work: misogynists for whom the law means nothing. The Indians are shown as a wild bunch who need to be killed lest they further endanger white women and children. The script by James Kevin McGuiness is as vapid as a plume of pipe-smoke, the downtime between fighting scenes filled with songs by the Sons of the Pioneers. DoP Bert Glennon (Stagecoach) does his best, but General Sheridan didn’t need to worry  (“I wonder what history will say about this”): all is now being revealed in the White House today. AS

NOW ON BLURAY COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA | APRIL 6TH   

  

 

The Nights of Cabiria (1957) **** Blu-ray Home Ent

Dir: Federico Fellini | Drama, Italy 113′

Although Fellini’s The Nights of Cabiria won him an Oscar for Best Foreign film in 1957, and his wife Giulietta Masina Best Actress at Cannes as the typical “tart with a heart”, the film then drifted into the long grass, Gwen Verdon later taking up her role a decade in Neil Simon’s Broadway classic which was filmed by Bob Fosse, starring Shirley MacLaine in Sweet Charity (1969). 

 

Nights of Cabiria was caught in the cusp between Italy’s neo-realist period, which came to a close with Rossellini’s Viaggio in Italia (1954), and the later more lushly surreal Fellini features such as La Dolce Vita, as Italy moved out of post war austerity and towards prosperous golden era of the 1960s. That said, Cabiria shares certain elements of Dolce Vita in its Via Veneto settings and the high Baroque style of the church ceremonies that contrast with the flirty night clubs scenes.

Masina is perfect as the poignantly chirpy fallen angel about town in the eternal city, looking for love in all the wrong places. An eternal optimist she is at home on the streets and in the nightclubs, a disillusioned romantic dusting herself down after each failed love affair, Francois Perier’s Oscar offering hope that once again disappoints. Pier Paolo Pasolini made contributions to Fellini’s script which was based on another story from Tullio Pinelli.  MT

OUT ON BLU-RAY for the first time and on DVD and DIGITAL | 6 April 2020 ALONG WITH THE WHITE SHEIK | COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL

Magic (1978) **** Bluray

Dir: Richard Attenborough | Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Ann Margaret, Ed Lauter, Burgess Meredith | UK, Horror 100′

Weird dolls have long been a fascination for horror fans. From Hugo to Annabel and the many incarnations of Chucky, meet one of the original devilish dummies: Fats…the side-kick from hell.

He belongs to Charles ‘Corky’ Withers (Hopkins) a shy magician who just cannot get his act together, quite literally, until he introduces a foul-mouthed ventriloquist doll to his shtick, and his star begins to rise. His powerful agent Ben Greene (Meredith) asks Corky to appear on TV, after his double act’s great success. But Corky runs away into the Catskill mountains, claiming he is afraid of success. There he meets his high-school love Peggy (Anne-Margret), who is in a sterile marriage with Duke (Lauter), also known to Corky. Corky tricks Peggy into believing he is love in love with her and they sleep together. Fats becomes jealous of Peggy, but first he has to ‘deal’ with Greene and Duke, who meet a sticky end. After Corky puts a knife to himself so as to stop him and Fats from doing any more harm, the latter, also feeling very faint, already has his eyes on another ‘person carrier’.

Adapted for the big screen by William Goldman from his best-selling book Magic is directed by Richard Attenborough who crafts a creepy study in schizophrenia, following in the footsteps of Hitchcock’s Psycho and later The Dummy and Caesar and Me in the ‘Twilight’ series. All of these share a popular misunderstanding about schizophrenia, assuming that there is clear cut split into two defined personalities. In reality, schizophrenia fragments the personality into small sub egos, allowing sometimes a sort of domineering second identity, which allows the old self to accomplish (often violent) acts of omnipotence.

Goldman mixes elements of the “Incubus” mythos into his script, muddling the waters slightly. The cast, particularly Hopkins and Ann-Margret are convincing, Hopkins deftly morphing between Corky’s various personalities. Dog Day Afternoon veteran Victor J. Kemper’s (Dog Day Afternoon) is behind the camera, although the production now feels dated visually. Magic is a bloody tour-de-force, and there is a certain gleeful voyeurism at work, without reaching the eeriness of Powells’ ‘Peeping Tom’. AS

HOPKINS’ 1978 HORROR CLASSIC WITH ITS FIRST UK BLU-RAY RELEASE SET TO ARRIVE 23 MARCH 2020

Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971) **** Blu-ray

Dir: John Schlesinger | Cast: Peter Finch, Glenda Jackson, Murray Head, Vivian Pickles, Frank Windsor, Tony Britton, Marie Burke, Peggy Ashcroft | UK Drama 110′

In John Schlesinger’s ménage a trois drama kids smoke dope, men snog each other and then slip between the sheets, and a patient undergoes an intimate examination. All perfectly natural de nos jours but on the cusp of the 1970s this was all quite groundbreaking. When the film went on release in California a woman bustled her husband out of the cinema saying: “Come on honey this is not for nice folk” according to the audio interview with the director (included in this BFI bluray release).

John Schlesinger’s breezy direction is spiked by Penelope Gilliatt’s daringly perceptive script capturing the zeitgeist of a decade more world-weary than the one preceding it, in this snapshot of suburban society. Glenda Jackson and Peter Finch play disillusioned Londoners Alex and Daniel,  linked by their younger bisexual lover Bob (Murray Head) whose glib favours they are forced to share. Their daily professional lives seem to revolve around their dependence on Bob who leads a butterfly existence as an artist. Meanwhile they are brought to their knees by their love for him, each feeling the stultifying presence of the other. Alex and Bob spend a rather louche weekend looking after the kids of some friends of hers in Blackheath (Vivian Pickles and Frank Windsor are typically nonchalant as 1970s parents). On the audio interview, Schlesinger admits to regretting having cast Head in the role of Bob. Clearly Jackson and Finch outshine him, leaving his rather shallow turn in the shadows. Tony Britton’s talents are showcased in a playful role as Alex’s debonair one night stand. Peter Finch is outstanding in his ability to create resonance in what he is feeling but not showing. And this particularly comes across in the deeply affecting final scene where he talks to the camera and connects with everyone who has suffered for love. MT

BLURAY RELEASE ON 16 MARCH 2020

 

 

 

Long Day’s Journey into Night (1962) **** Dual Format release

Dir.: Sidney Lumet; Cast: Katherine Hepburn, Ralph Richardson, Jason Robards, Dean Stockwell; USA 1962, 174 min.

Nobel literate Eugene O’Neill (1888-1953) wrote Long Day’s Journey into Night in 1941/42. He stipulated that the highly autobiographical play should not be staged until 25 years after his death. But his widow Charlotta Monterey was so impressed by Lumet’s stage production of late husband’s play The Iceman Cometh she gave him the film rights despite higher bids from other directors. Trust the Swedes to get their paws on the gloomy Bergman-esque play), it premiered in in Stockholm in 1956, nine months before the first US staging in Boston and New York,

Set in August 1912, Journey follows one day in the life of the Tyrone family playing out in their house in rural Connecticut. This is a family in denial: Patriarch James (Richardson) is in his mid sixties and looks back on a long acting career channelled into one role, limiting him severely. His penny-pinching ways have caused his wife Mary (Hepburn) to become addicted to cheap morphine easing the pain suffered by the birth of their youngest son Edmund (Stockwell) – now in his early twenties. Their oldest son Jamie (Robards) is a drunkard and womaniser, trading on his father’s name to get on in the acting profession. He also suffers from tuberculosis – which the whole family fail to recognise. Now and again the truth rears its ugly head: Edmund being blamed for his mother’s trauma. Moody and melancholic, Mary is afraid her chronic depression and addiction will be the death of the family, not least because of their financial worries. Their story is an ongoing love and hate scenario par excellence.

Eugene O’Neill Sr. had a difficult relationship with his children: he disowned his daughter Oona in 1943, when she married Charles Spencer Chaplin, 36 years her senior – he was never going see to her again. Both his sons, Eugene Jr. and Shane, would commit suicide. 

Lumet’s sensitive direction gives the actors plenty of freedom. Hepburn takes centre stage, whilst Richardson seems to stay on the back burner, veering erratically from an Irish brogue to Shakespearean declamation in his lowkey performance. Robards is bombastic and over the top,  Stockwell’s Edmund feels rather out of place, given his meekness: certainly a rather unjustified self-portrait by the playwright. Lumet’s script sticks faithfully to the page, DoP Boris Kaufman  (Twelve Angry Men) achieving an atmosphere somewhere between The Magnificent Andersons and The Glass Menagerie.AS

ON DUAL FORMAT (BLU-RAY/DVD) for the first time ever | MASTERS OF CINEMA SERIES | 16 MARCH 2020    

Beat the Devil (1953) *** Bluray release

Dir.: John Huston; Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, Edward Underdown, Peter Lorre, Robert Morley, Ivor Bernhard, Marco Tully; USA 1953, 95 min.

Beat the Devil is based on a novel by James Helwick, written by Claud Cockburn and a 28 year-old Truman Capote.  What would become the first Camp movie, started out as an earnest endeavour about the evils of colonialism. But when the location was switched from France to Italy, with Capote writing the script in daily instalments, putting in a call to his pet raven in Rome, the narrative became secondary. Bogart had put his own money into the project but thought ‘only phoneys’ would like the box-office flop. Meanwhile, Huston told Jennifer Jones she would be remembered much longer for Devil than for her previous role in Song of Bernadette.

Billy and Maria Dannreuther (Bogart/Lollobrigida) and Harry and Gwendolyn Chelm (Jones/Underdown) play two couples down on their luck but pretending otherwise. They team up with four villains, O’Hara (Lorre) Peterson (Morley), Major Ross (Bernhard) and Ravello (Tully) to exploit uranium resources in British East Africa, biding their time in an Italian resort while their decrepit ship is made seaworthy. Then on the voyage to Africa, Major Ross tries to kill Harry, but Billy thwarts him. Once in Africa they are arrested by Arabian soldiers; Billy convincing the troops to send them back to Italian shores, where they are interrogated by Scotland Yard. The crooks are charged – Peterson for the murder of a British Colonial officer, who had discovered his scheme – Harry buys the land containing the uranium and sends a telegram to Gwendolyn, forgiving her for her affair with Billy.

There are some corny jokes, like the Major exclaiming “Mussolini, Hitler – and now Peterson” after the latter appeared to have been killed in a car accident. Overall the chaos of the shooting has a liberating effect in the finale, nobody grasping what was going on. Things are made murkier by the Hays’ Office insistence that no extra-marital sex should be shown on set. The grainy black-and-white images of British DoP Oswald Morris are very evocative, and the self-written dialogues by Morley and Lorre often hilarious. Ironically Beat the Devil looks more modern today than it did at the premiere when neither the public nor the critics saw the funny side of things. AS

BLURAY/DVD RELEASE | 16 MARCH 2020 WITH SIMULTANEOUS RELEASE ON BFI PLAYER, iTUNES and AMAZON

 

 

 

 

Last Holiday (1950) **** Bluray release

Last Holiday is based on a simple premise: a man believing himself to be terminally ill splurges his life savings on a luxury stay in an exclusive seaside hotel. Alec Guinness plays the man in question, JB Priestley produced the film and wrote the script which was directed by a young Hampstead filmmaker Henry Cass who was known for The Glass Mountain (1949) and would go on to make The Reluctant Bride (1955) and comedy, Castle in the Air (1952).
Aware of his impending fate, Alec Guinness’s George actually has a new lease of life and loses his inhibitions to indulge in some traditional English pastimes such as croquet and horse-racing, all kitted out in some seriously elegant outfits. Priestley makes some witty and ironic observations on the nature of life, love and loss this is a poignant and enjoyable B movie which ends happily – but you’ll have to watch it to find out why. MT
LAST HOLIAY | DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital | 9 MARCH 2020  COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL VINTAGE CLASSICS
https://youtu.be/m2dO-ufQpvo

Scandal (1989) **** Blu-ray release

Dir: Michael Caton-Jones | Wri: Michael Thomas | Cast: John Hurt, Joanne Whalley- Kilmer, Bridget Fonda, Ian McKellen, Leslie Phillips, Britt Ekland, Daniel Massey, Roland Gift

Michael Caton-Jones’ first feature is a sophisticated but fun-loving affair made just thirty years after the Profumo Scandal itself. It re-creates the Swinging Sixties with a well-paced script that puts the focus on the genuine and heartfelt friendship between Christine Keeler and Stephen Ward. Scandal also exudes the rather quaint buttoned up feel of London in the late 1950s with its sleazy underbelly and arrant racism (Ward refers to Lucky as a ‘lovesick jungle bunny). The period detail is strong but the performances make this head and shoulders about the others – it really is a fabulous cast: Joanne Whalley is a softer more kittenish Keeler than Sarah Cookson’s sultry hard-edged take. And John Hurt was such a complex actor and here he plays Stephen Ward  as raddled but genuinely likeable in his seedy vulnerability. He is a more appealing, less smarmy Ward than the BBC’s James Norton. And of course Bridget Fonda brings her elegance and Hollywood style to the party as Mandy Rice Davies. A shaven headed Ian McKellen is less appealing as Profumo, lacking a certain sardonic charm, but Leslie Philips has just the right shambling allure as Lord Astor. Jean Alexander is underused as Mrs Keeler and makes for a convincing even loveable working class woman of the era. Music by Carl Davis is sparing and effectively used in this enjoyable and illuminating trip down memory lane. MT

BLURAY/DVD RELEASE ON 24 FEBRUARY 2020 with SIMULTANEOUS release on BFI PLAYER, iTunes and Amazon

The Old Dark House (1932)

Dir: James Whale | Wri: Benn Levy/J B Priestley | Cast: Boris Karloff| Charles Laughton | Eva Moore | Gloria Stuart | Melvyn Douglas| Raymond Massey | Horror / Comedy |US  75′

James Whale’s greatest film was arguably The Bride of Frankenstein but The Old Dark House comes a near second with its spine-tingling blend of thrilling suspense piqued with deliciously dark humour, cleverly sending up the horror genre in a subtle and brilliant way, thanks to Benn W. Levy’s script based on J B Priestley novel, Benighted. The storyline is secondary to spirited performances from a superb cast led by Raymond Massey, Mervyn Douglas and Gloria Stuart as a trio forced to take refuge in a macabre household presided over by sinister siblings (Ernest Thesiger and Elspeth Dudgeon). Things go bump in the night and Boris Karloff plays the monstrous hirsute butler off his rocker – hinting at an early version of Frankenstein himself. But it’s the quirky characterisations that make this supremely entertaining, along with an eerily evoked Gothic atmosphere. Another threesome soon emerges – a ménage à trois between Charles Laughton’s bumptious  Yorkshire mill-owner and his gal (Lilian Bond) who is chivalrously courted by Douglas whispering sweet nothings in the gloaming. Good fun all round. MT

New 4K restoration of THE CHILLING LOST CLASSIC from the director of FRANKENSTEIN, THE INVISIBLE MAN & THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN | and on dual format from 21 May 2018 COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS of CINEMA | ALSO SHOWING AT THE CINEMA MUSEUM, LONDON on FEBRUARY 23  

 

 

Villain (1971) *** Bluray release

Dir: Michael Tuchner | Co-Wri: Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais | UK Thriller 108′

This 1970s British crime caper pales in comparison with Mike Hodges’ Get Carter of the same year. But Villain is certainly enjoyable as gangster sagas go, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais’ pithy dialogue raising a titter as we step back down memory lane to those refreshing politically incorrect days. Villain has a fabulous sterling British cast including Ian McShane, Donald Sinden. Joss Acland and Nigel Davenport, not to mention T P McKenna. The problem here is Richard Burton. Well versed in his suave role as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold; he makes for a wicked working class hero in Look Back in Anger, a peerless Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew, and was masterful as Cleopatra‘s Mark Anthony. But cockney wide-boy he ain’t, and he really struggles with an accent that somehow throws his performance off-kilter as mob boss Vic Dakin. Burton is also an unconvincing homosexual is this otherwise enjoyable thriller from TV director Michael Tuchner, now on re-release and hoping to attract a wider audience with its LGBTQ+ credentials: McShane and Burton nip between the sheets – although the scene was cut and you only see them slipping their fitted shirts off. There is a great deal of old style violence involving coshes rather than today’s more ubiquitous guns and knives, giving this classic an authentic twist. And it’s fun guessing the locations with 1970s London looking decidedly grim: Battersea Power Station, Notting Hill Gate and Kensal Rise Cemetery all feature in this solid but rather stolid Britflick. MT

FULLY restored on BLURAY, DIGITAL and DVD | 30 March 2020 | STUDIOCANAL’S VINTAGE CLASSICS COLLECTION 
 

The Son of the Sheik (1926) ***** Bluray release

Dir: George Fitzmaurice | Cast: Rudolph Valentino, Vilma Banky, Montagu Love | US, Silent drama 69′ | English intertitles

This simple love story of lust and betrayal is elevated by exquisite performances from Valentino and his personally chosen co-star Vilma Banky who is visibly transformed by his sultry love-making in the desert sands of Araby, sumptuously evoked in William Cameron Menzies’ set design.

The narrative is driven forward by Artur Guttmann’s atmosphere score primping the emotional lows and highs of the tragic fable. The legend behind the camera was George Barnes whose evocative images would see him winning an Oscar for Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1941), a Golden Globe for Cecile B. DeMille’s 1952 extravaganza The Greatest Show on Earth and many other nominations.

ON THE EUREKA LABEL FROM 17 FEBRUARY 2020

 

 

 

Judgement at Nuremberg (1961) *** Blu-ray release

Dir.: Stanley Kramer; Cast: Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Maximilian Schell, Marlene Dietrich, Werner Klemperer; USA 1961, 179 min.

Director Stanley Kramer (1913-2001) was always ready to bring controversial stories to the screen, Guess Who is Coming to Dinner being one of them. When he directed Aby Mann’s adaption of his own story in 1961, Judgement at Nuremberg was very much a slap in the face for Cold War warriors, who had forgiven (West) Germans the Holocaust, just to have old Nazis to fight against Bolshevism. 

Four years after the original Nuremberg trials, Chief Justice Dan Harwood (Tracy) is presiding over the trial of four German judges who had sentenced the defendants to death following the orders of Nazi laws. Dr. Ernst Janning (Lancaster), who heads up the defendants, had sentenced a Jewish man to death for committing “Rassenschande” (Blood defilement) by sleeping with a ‘gentile’ German girl of sixteen. Despite being aware of his guilt, Janning asks Harwood to reason with him: poverty in Germany had been one of the main factors in Hitler’s rise to power and he was one of the many to embrace Nazism. But he denies knowledge of the death camps.

Colonel Tad Lawson (Widmark) is the combative military prosecutor. The same can be said for defence lawyer Hans Rolfe (Schell), who questions the US Judges authority. Defendant Emil Hahn (Klemperer) goes even further: he harangues Harwood: “Today you sentence us to death, tomorrow the Bolsheviks will do the same to you”. Trying to empathise with the German, Harwood befriends Frau Bertholt (Dietrich), the widow of a German general killed by the Nazis for his part in the uprising against Hitler on 20th July 1944. Harwood later visits Janning in prison, after the four defendants have been give ‘life’. Closing credits reveal that at the time of the film’s release all 99 defendants of the original Nuremberg trials, who were imprisoned in the American Zone of West Germany, had been set free.

Apart from the overindulgent length (and verbosity), Kramer succeeds again with this strong moral tale, raising the profile of war crimes that should never be forgotten, even when political alignments change. DoP Ernest Laszlo (Kiss me Deadly) re-creates the harrowing visual landscape of post-war Germany, zooming in on the court scenes to reflect the angst ridden trial. Maximilian Schell won the Oscar for Best Actor, with Montgomery Clift leading a starry cast that included Judy Garland. Judgement at Nuremberg does its best to avoid sentimentality and melodrama in a moving testament to a monumental human tragedy. AS

NOW ON BLU-RAY COURTESY OF THE BFI 

https://youtu.be/Gz2USfzaCUE

Fellini’s Casanova (1976) | Fellini Centenary 2020

Dir.: Federico Fellini  | Wri: Bernardino Zapponi | Cast: Donald Sutherland, Tina Aumont, Cicely Browne, Carmen Scapitta, Diane Kourys | Italy/USA 1976, 155 min.

The last years of Casanova’s life are a permanent odyssey through Europe indulging in a variety of amorous but mostly tired adventures. Fellini’s production echoes this emotional ennui. But the film was also an exercise in misery that started with a long search for the leading man: Alberto Sordi, Michael Caine, Jack Nicholson and Gian Maria Volonté were all in line to play the raddled seducer before Donald Sutherland finally got the part. More than one producer gave up and had be replaced. The shoot was suspended between December 1975 and March 1976; on top of everything, some of the  reels were stolen and the scenes had to re-shot.

Sutherland’s Casanova is an old man, a shadow of himself. His role as the Count Von Waldstein’s librarian occupies his days but at night he is hellbent on enforcing his virility at the Venice carnival before he is imprisoned by the inquisition and accused of ‘black magic’. After his flight from the infamous ‘Piombi’ (lead chambers) he travels to Paris, but his stay is short-lived: he finds out that the hostess Marchesa d’Urfe (Browne) is only interested in gaining the secret of eternal life from him. An affair with the young Henrietta (Tina Aumont) causes him to fall into a deep, suicidal depression when the young woman suddenly leaves. After many more affairs, Casanova feels his existence become an ordeal, and ends up dancing with an automated puppet as he is reduced to an object of ridicule by the  servants.

In an interview Fellini is quoted of saying:  “I wanted to realise the total film. I wanted to change the celluloid of film into a painting. If you look at a painting, the effect is total, there are no interruptions. But if you watch a film, the effect is different. In a painting, everything is included, you only have to discover it. But film is just not as complete: The audience does not look at the film, the film allows the audience to look at it, and so the audience becomes the slave to the rhythm of the film, it dictates the tempo. It would be ideal to create a film which has only one sequence. A film in one, great, permanent and varied movement. With Casanova, I would have liked to get closer to this ideal, with Satyricon I nearly reached my goal.” AS

SCREENING AS PART OF THE FELLINI CENTENARY | BFI LONDON 2020

The Winslow Boy (1948) *****

Dir: Anthony Asquith | Cast: Cedric Hardwicke, Robert Donat, Margaret Leighton

Anthony Asquith and playwright Terence Rattigan worked together on three literary adaptations, but this legal-themed drama about defending justice is possibly the best. It was also a great stage success for Rattigan, reflecting the traditional values of middle-class society in a glorious portrait of Edwardian England. David Mamet’s 1999 version isn’t a patch on this black and white masterpiece with its drole comedy undertones. Based on the true-life Archer-Shee case of 1910, it sees a strong-willed father (Cedric Hardwicke) determined to risk his reputation and fortune in defending his son’s honour when the young navy cadet (an earnest Neil North) is accused by the establishment of stealing a £5 postal order (a bill of payment, rather like a cheque). Meanwhile the Winslow family relationships come under strain as the legal case plods on endlessly – nothing has changed there.

Cedric Hardwicke and Robert Donat are superb as Ronnie Winslow’s father Arthur Winslow and his defending barrister Sir Robert Morton respectively (Morton is based on a renowned Irish lawyer Sir Edward Carson). Margaret Leighton is also superb as Winslow’s suffragette sister, Catherine, looking graceful in William Chapell’s elegant designs (she was a willowy, 5.10’). Mona Washburne plays against type as an amusingly plucky female journalist who comes to cover the case for the Evening News (Morton later has a dig at the press: “What you say, will have little bearing on what they write”). There are rousing musical interludes capturing the zeitgeist of the era, and one echoes the public’s support, courtesy of Herbert Clifford’s musical compositions. Mother Grace (Marie Lohr) berates her husband for devoting his life to his son’s innocence at the expense of the rest of the family: Catherine’s upcoming nuptials are put in jeopardy by her future father in law. This is all captured in Freddie Young’s lustrous monochrome camerawork. The Winslow Boy competed for the Grand International Award at Venice Film Festival that year but came home empty-handed. The winner was Lawrence Olivier’s Hamlet, with Jean Simmons winning Best Actress, so at least the British didn’t lose out that year. MT

FULLY RESTORED AND RELEASED FOR THE FIRST TIME ON BLURAY | DVD | DIGITAL | 3 FEBRUARY 2020

Cloak and Dagger (1947) **** Home Ent

Dir: Fritz Lang | Cast: Cary Cooper, Lilli Palmer, Robert Alda | 106′ US Spy Thriller

This virtuoso World War II espionage thriller is one of Fritz Lang’s most underrated films, its edgy European cast adding grist to Albert Maltz and Ring Lardner’s screenplay based on Corey Ford and Alastair McBain’ book: Cloak and Dagger – The Secret Story of the Office of Strategic Services. The noirish classic was Lang’s first post-war and stars Gary Cooper as a suave and sardonic nuclear physicist Alvah Jesper (Cooper) who is tasked by the U.S. OSS to become a reluctant undercover agent, embarking on a secret mission to Switzerland and then Italy to investigate Germany’s plans to construct an atomic bomb. His plans are waylaid when he falls for vulnerable resistance fighter Gina (Lilli Palmer, in her first Hollywood role). The two then join forces in a eventful and often tortuous effort to smuggle a scientist out of Italy. Although Cloak and Dagger is not quite as pithy and focused as You Only Live Once, but definitely worth a watch. With Max Steiner’s rousing score, Sol Polito’s captivating chiaroscuro camerawork and some dazzling shoot-outs and set pieces, Cloak and Dagger is an intriguing wartime story that melds romantic melodrama with stylish spy thriller as the lovers embark on an adventure fraught with danger and sinister characters, into the unknown. Lang’s original footage was lost, and so the ending changed for the theatrical release. MT

CLOAK AND DAGGER (Masters of Cinema) out on 27 January 2020

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The Umbrellas of Cherbourg | Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (1964) *****

Dir.: Jacques Demy; Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Anne Vernon, Ellen Farmer, Nino Castelnuovo, Marc Michel, Mireille Perrey; France/West Germany 1964, 91 min.

Jacques Demy (1931-1990) was a unique and multi-talented filmmaker who rose to fame in the wake of the New Wave. The Umbrellas was the second of a trilogy, bookended by Lola (1961) and Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (1967). American style musicals are dominated by song and dance numbers, whereas in The Umbrellas is entirely sung. Demy wanted to create a European counterpart to the American tradition: The film is much closer in style to opera than musical.

It all focuses on Sixteen-year old Genevieve Emery (Deneuve) who is madly in love with car mechanic Guy (Castelnuovo). Her mother (Vernon) is not keen on the marriage, she is holding out for a more substantial match for her daughter. Guy is not really poor, he still lives with his godmother Elise (Perrey), who spends most of her time in bed, being looked after by Madeleine (Farner). But Madame Emery has another reason to wish for a financially more rewarding partnership for her daughter: her umbrella shop is on the verge of bankruptcy. Enter Roland (Michel), a diamond dealer, who falls for Genevieve.

When Guy gets drafted into the army, with the possibility of seeing action in the Algeria War, the lovers consummate their relationship. Madame Emery’s best laid plans seem to come to nothing when her daughter gets pregnant. But Roland (who was part of Lola, and quotes from it), forgives all and suggests they bring up the child together. But the marriage ceremony is anything but joyful, and the little epilogue is even grimmer: Guy has married Madeleine after the death of Elise, and has bought a petrol station with the money he inherited from her. On a cold winter evening Genevieve stops at the petrol station and asks Guy if he wants to speak to his daughter, who is in the car. Guy is not keen at all, looking forward to meeting his wife and little son.

Comparing The Umbrellas with Godard’s Un Homme et une Femme (1961), it turns out that Demy is very much more a realist than the self-proclaimed revolutionary Godard. Whist Anna Karina (in bohemian Paris) just wants to marry Jean-Paul Belmondo to have a baby – even if the baby’s father might be Jean-Claude Brialy, Genevieve and her mother (in provincial Cherbourg) see the child as a fly in the works. Instead of a fairy tale ending, where the pigherd marries the beautiful princess and they live happily ever after, Demy offers an exchange relationship: Genevieve’s young beauty is traded for Roland’s wealth. The ending is more bitter than sweet.

Michel Legrand’s score and Jean Rabier’s colourful images have made The Umbrellas into an emotionally resonant classic. Shot on Eastmancolour, notorious for fading, Demy’s widow Agnes Varda created a restored copy in 1992. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 6 DECEMBER 2019 at BFI SOUTHBANK and NATIONWIDE as part of the BFI MUSICALS! THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH

Betrayed (1988) *** Blu-ray release

Dir:Costa-Gavras |Screenwriter:Joe Eszterhas Cast: Tom Berenger, John Heard, Ted Levine,Jeffrey DeMunn, John Mahoney, Betsy Blair, Debra Winger | Thriller UK 127’

With its universal themes of alienation and racial division, comes a particularly timely re-release that highlights the continuing issues surrounding anti-semitism in the Labour Party thirty years on, and nearly fifty years since the Holocaust.

After the Chicago killing of a controversial radio talk-show host by right wing extremists, FBI agent in the shape of Debra Winger goes is tasked with investigating the prime suspect (Tom Berenger). A thanks to his moves on the dance floor, and tousled haired charm, it doesn’t take long before she is seriously smitten by this outwardly clean living widower despite nagging feelings of doubt.

But it all goes pear-shaped when this appealingly earthy guy takes her on a night time  hunting expedition of a very sinister kind, one involving human beings. Clearly Winger is not impressed but her boss and ex-lover (John Heard) forces her to keep on his trail, one that reveals serious crime involving a white supremacist conspiracy against Jews, blacks and the LGBT crowd in the heartlands of America’s tradition-bound midwest that serves as a thorny counterpoint to her own ambivalent feelings about her new lover. Highly intelligent she may be as a detective, but we are sometime fools for love.

The strength of this thriller is undoubtedly in the performances. Winger and Berenger skilfully navigate Eszterhas’ flawed script, riding over the potholes to make this convincing and often gripping viewing, with its highly corrosive subject matter. MT

On 2 December the BFI will bring Betrayed to Blu-ray for the first time in the UK. Special features include a new audio commentary and audio interviews with Costa-Gavras and Joe Eszterhas.

 

What’s New Pussycat (1964) *** Bluray

Dir: Clive Donner | Cast: Peter O’Toole, Romy Schnieder, Capucine, Paula Prentiss, Woody Allen, Ursula Andress | 109′ France/US Comedy

What’s new Pussycat? Is a light-hearted often hilarious comedy farce thanks to a witty script by Woody Allen (who also stars) and its fabulous cast. Nowadays it will be criticised for its perceived misogyny, but back in the 1960s this is how life was. So the film is certainly not laudable ethically or aesthetically but that doesn’t mean it’s not highly entertaining, and not least because of its performances and jazzy score from Burt Bacharach.

The opening sequence sets the tone for what is a flagrant but lush satire and outlandish behaviour from both the sexes, and everyone seems to play by the same rules, the men never upstaging the women. 

Clive Donner would eventually go on to direct Peter O’Toole in Rogue Male (1976). Here he plays Michael Voltaire James, a rogue of a different kind. One who is dating Romy Schneider’s “Pussycat” but is giving out clear signals that he doesn’t want to be tied down. “Marriage is forever, like concrete”. The other women is his life enjoy his attentions but are never degraded or hurt by him. 

So off he goes to seek the advice of Peter Sellers’ dementedly camp psychoanalyst who is himself not exactly averse to the odd extramarital affair, causing his wife (Eddra Gale) to inquire: “is she prettier than me? “Prettier than you?”, he replies “I’m prettier than you”. 

Donner’s skilful direction plays down some of the film’s more slapstick sequences but still allows his prodigious cast free reign to style their own idiosyncratic roles, and this makes for some inspired and enjoyable vignettes from the likes of Capucine, Paul Prentiss, Romy Schneider, Ursula Andress, and Sabine Sun, although Peter Sellers shouts far too much for everyone’s enjoyment. Peter O’Toole is incredibly debonair as the philandering chain-smoking lead character who never seems able to curtail his romantic attentions.

Pussycat does have a happy ending and and brilliant finale – and Allen’s script provides plenty of memorable one-liners to make this a cult classic worthy revisiting. MT

NOW ON BLURAY | EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA | 2 December 

A Fistful of Dynamite (1971) Bluray release

Dir: Sergio Leone | Cast: Rod Steiger, James Coburn | US Western 157′

Sergio Leone’s final foray into spaghetti western territory was originally called Duck, You Sucker!, a title that certainly rings true with the unexpected comedy talents embodied in the dynamite duo of Rod Steiger (Juan Miranda) and James Coburn (John Mallory) who exude a feisty chemistry as a couple of anti-establishment hellraisers who are both on the run, for different reasons. At the beginning of the Mexican Revolution in 1913, they fall in with a band of revolutionaries and embark on a rip-roaring journey to rob a bank – but their real triumph is as saviours and heroes in the pursuit of the revolutionary cause

With thrilling support from Maria Monti, Romolo Valli, Rik Battaglia and Franco Graziosi and an atmospheric score by iconic composer Ennio Morricone, Fistful of Dynamite never quite reaches the heady heights of Leone’s  Dollars Trilogy but Steiger and Coburn more than make up for it with their sheer bravura.

ON RELEASE COURTESY OF EUREKA from  DECEMBER 2019 

 

 

Operation Petticoat (1959) *** Home Ent

Dir: Blake Edwards | Cast: Cary Grant, Tony Curtis, Joan O’Brien, Dina Merrill, Gene Evans, Dick Sargent (TV’s Bewitched) | US Drama 124′

William Blake Crump, better known by his stage name, Blake Edwards, was an American filmmaker who began his career in the 1940s as an actor, but soon began writing screenplays and radio scripts before turning to producing and directing in television and films in a comedy vein, the most famous of which is arguably his 1961 light-hearted romantic drama Breakfast at Tiffany’s starring Audrey Hepburn. He was also responsible for creating the Pink Panther series with Peter Sellers playing the bumbling Inspector Jacque Clousseau, “an officer of the low” that ran from 1963 until 1993 culminating in an eighth sequel Son of the Pink Panther, where Roberto Benigni takes over as Clousseau’s progeny, alongside Herbert Lom.

Cary Grant and Tony Curtis, are the dynamite comedy duo behind Edward’s Academy Award-nominated sixth film Operation Petticoat. Filmed in glorious Eastmancolor, by six times Oscar-nominated Russell Harlen, Grant is in his usual sardonic guise this time as Admiral Matt Sherman in charge of a submarine USS Sea Tiger during the Battle of the Philippines at the time US involvement Second World War. In flashback Sherman reflects on the amusing misadventures of the fictional U.S. Navy submarine, in a script that was based on real incidents affecting the Pacific Fleet’s submarines during the war. 

As Sherman is due to relinquish command to the morally questionable Lt. Nick Holden (Curtis), who is tasked with taking the vessel to the scrapyard, he is joined by a motley collection of female nurses, adding a frisson to proceedings, along with a goat. Most of the humour is on the lewd side, but no more so that Gerald Thomas’ comedy Britflick Carry on Jack that would follow five years later, starring Kenneth William, Charles Hawtry and Juliet Mills. A threadbare narrative is saved by enjoyable performances from Grant, Curtis, Merrill and O’Brian who all have a whale of a time. Blake tried to transform the energy of the film into a TV series which never really took off. MT

EUREKA Classics presents one of Blake Edwards most beloved comedies on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK in a Dual Format (Blu-ray & DVD) edition | 2 December 

 

 

Tommy (1975) *** re-release

Dir.: Ken Russell; Cast: Roger Daltrey, Ann-Margret, Oliver Reed, Elton John, Tina Turner, Eric Clapton, Robert Powell, Paul Nicholas; UK 1975, 108 min.

After his subtle and convincing art features for BBC 2, and his iconic dramas Ken Russell’s sortie into rock music suffers from bombastic overkill. The vibrant visuals are still astonishing, but Russell treats his narrative like an assault course. Hovering between a masterpiece and a manic mess, this is one of his worst features, and, not surprisingly he himself admitted that “Tommy is his most commercial film”.

The film is set in a wartime Britain. Captain Walker(Powell) and Nora (Ann-Margret) have recently become parents to the titular child Tommy whose childhood is getting off to an awful start. The young boy witnesses Nora’s lover Frank (Reed) killing his father, and he reacts with a catatonic stupor that makes his deaf, dumb and blind ushering the classic hit That Death Dumb and Blind Child. Moving on to his teenage years, Tommy (Daltrey) is neglected and abused, his wizardry at pinball being his only escape. There are some decent cameos, the best by Elton John, performing Pinball Wizard in his skyscraper boots. Also enjoyable is Tina Turner’s Acid Queen. Ann-Margret excels in her champagne detonation cum baked beans and soap suds explosion scene, whilst Reed and evil cousin Kevin (Nicholas) use Tommy as a scapegoat for all their own frustrations. This being Russell, it is no surprise that Tommy finally becomes the Messiah, climbing the mountain.

Russell is not interested in any form of dramatic structure, his aim is to set the night on fire with a slew of cinematic musical numbers: the relentless visuals, the gaudy design and the over-the-top acting of his stars excites the wild child in him and he is oblivious to the chaos and near incoherence. The music is based on the Rock Opera by Pete Townsend, and while fans will thoroughly enjoy the spectacle, although newcomers to the story might find it all too dated. But the main reason for a re-run must surely be Roger Daltrey’s sheer dynamism as a performer captured spectacularly by Dick Bush and Ronnie is this all singing and dancing seventies showstopper. AS 

Opening at BFI Southbank, in cinemas UK-wide on 22 November 2019 as part of the major season

BFI Musicals! The Greatest Show On Screen, November 2019 – January 2020

 

The African Queen (1951) **** Bluray

Dir: John Huston | Katherine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, Robert Morley | US Drama 105’

The African Queen, is one of the best romantic adventures to come out of the First World War. Adapted from a novel by C.S. Forester, this rollicking rollercoaster sees Bogart and Hepburn as an unlikely couple forced to travel together down a hazardous East African river.

Katharine Hepburn plays Rose Sayer, the unmarried sister of a prim British missionary (Robert Morley). When occupying German forces pitch up in her village, killing her brother, Bogart comes to the rescue in the shape of raddled old captain Charlie Allnut (a role that won him his only Oscar), whisking her away in his rambling tramp steamer called the African Queen. But the voyage is more eventful than either could possibly imagine. And from their intense hatred of one another develops a sparky romance that carries them through against the odds. And they sail towards calmer waters united by their battle against the Germans.

The African Queen is one of the most popular films in the history of cinema, and may well be the perfect adventure film and certainly is one of the best literary adaptations ever to hit the big screen.

THE AFRICAN QUEEN is available from 18 November 2019 EUREKA

Nuri Bilge Ceylan | The Complete Works

Nuri Bilge’s langorously contemplative dramas draw on Turkish life and offer a unique style of visual storytelling often reflecting his personal experiences as exponents of the disillusionment and unfairness of Turkish life, particularly where family trauma or social injustice implodes on the individual.

The past collides with the present, the countryside with the city and the rich with the poor in these gorgeously rendered reveries that muse on fraught domestic scenarios, betrayal or officialdom calling to mind the work of Tolstoy, Ibsen or even Terence Davies. 

Social realism shapes his early work that observes everyday life in thoughtful moments of reflection. His beguiling moody cinematic style and need for spontaneity combines magnificent widescreen images with a potent intimacy that draws us into the minds of his often troubled characters whose lives are exposed through vibrant visual storytelling. His delicately rendered black and white feature debut Kasaba (The Small Town, 1997) sees the changing seasons through the eyes of two school children whose family is at odds with the local set-up in and forms part of the unofficial “Provincial Trilogy” along with Clouds of May and Uzak.

Uzak is a study in alienation which sees a man’s life imploding after his marriage breaks down and he is forced to re-adjust to changing circumstances of his personal life. In some ways this same theme is teased out in Climates that explores the deteriorating relationship of a married couple and the repercussions as their marriage slows spins out of control. Two crime thrillers follow: The powerful Three Monkeys is a visual metaphor for anxiety, a moody reflection on family guilt echoed after a tragedy under the glowering skies of Istanbul. The darkly amusing Once Upon a Time in Anatolia burns through the torpor of a stifling summer afternoon where the impact of crime and officialdom weighs down on the lives of those involved in a local murder and their tight-knit families. Clouds of May (2009) actually stars his own father as a filmmaker returning to his village to cast the locals in a feature about their daily trials and tribulations.

In his Palme d’Or winner Winter Sleep (2014) Ceylan hones his discursive style in an intense meditation on the ties that bind. Set in the snow-swept panoramas of his beloved Anatolia, a couple engage at length on the complexities of their relationship and their family. This brings us full circle to his most recent and resonant work The Wild Pear Tree that once again sees the present connecting with the past when a troubled writer returns to his hometown in Marmara to seek financing for a book while dealing with his ageing father’s gambling debts.

ON BLURAY/DVD from 11 NOVEMBER at NEW WAVE FILMS 

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The Golem: How he came into the World (1920) ****

Dir.: Paul Wegener, Carl Boese; Cast: Paul Wegener, Albert Steinrück, Lydia Salmonova, Ernst Deutsch, Lothar Müthel; Deutschland 1920, 91 min.

The Golem was one of the highlights of German  Expressionism. Directors Paul Wegener (The Student of Prague) and Carl Boese (Grock) created a world of chaos and destruction in the Jewish ghetto of Prague, where love and political commitment are shown as equally destructive. 

Set in the Middle-Ages, the Emperor gives the order for all the Jews to leave the country. Rabbi Löw (Steinrück) is able to to convince the Emperor to take the decree back. And he is helped in his endeavour by the Golem (Wegener), a giant who is  (sometimes) under the command of the evil genius Astaroth. The Rabbi is not aware of it, but when the Cosmic forces allow the Golem becomes destructive. He is helped by the Rabbi’s assistant (Deutsch), who is in love with the Rabbi’s daughter Miriam (Slamonova). When his assistant finds Miriam in bed with the Knight Florian (Müthel), he brings the Golem back to life: the Rabbi had merely ‘disarmed’ him. The Rabbi’s assistant tells the Golem to open the heavily locked door to Miriam’s bedroom, but the Golem kidnaps Miriam and runs riot, destroying nearly all of the ghetto. The Rabbi is able to destroy the connection between the Golem and Astaroth, making the giant docile again. Finally, a little girl innocently plucks away his amulet, which gives him life force.

Brilliantly shot by Karl Freund (The Last Laugh) and Guido Seeber (Sylvester), this, the forth Golem film version (The 1915 version was lost), was a great success at the box office, and is also, according to Kracauer “the only progressive feature made during the post-war period. If this attempt of reason would have been successful, reason would have denounced the character of torture and given way to the true alternative to tyranny and chaos”. AS

THE 4K RESTORATION IS AVAILABLE 19 November 2019 COURTESY OF EUREKA

 

Clockwise (1986) ****

Dir: Christopher Morahan | Wri: Michael Frayn | Cast: John Cleese, Alison Steadman, Sharon Maiden, Stephen Moore, Chip Sweeney, Penelope Wilton, Joan Hickson

Cleese plays a toned down version of his iconic hotel owner Basil Fawlty in this whip smart comedy drama brilliantly written by the great English playwright and author Michael Frayn.

It sees a clock-watching comprehensive headmaster Mr Stimpson (Cleese) finally go off the rails after perpetually brow-beating and berating his pupils and staff with a loud speaker. Heading for a vitally important Headmasters’ Conference in Norwich, he first boards the wrong train then leaves his speech in the carriage. This leads to a major misunderstanding with his wife when he goes hell for leather in a female pupil’s car in order to make it to the conference across the summery East Midlands countryside in time for the keynote speech.

Michael Frayn is famous for his pithy writing skills and is supported by a well-known British cast making this all highly entertaining. But Cleese tops the hilarity bill as the masterful headmaster whose calmly pragmatic approach always teeters on the brink of barely suppressed hysteria as desperately tries to make it in time dressed at one point as a monk. But it’s his final modish rig-out that will have you in hysterics : “I can take the desperation, it’s the hope…”.

CLOCKWISE is the film that inspired Cleese to make A Fish Called Wanda and won him the Evening Standard Peter Sellers Award for Comedy in the year after its release. MT

ON BLURAY, DVD and DOWNLOAD | 19 NOVEMBER 2019 from STUDIOCANAL

 

The Invitation (2016) Bluray release ***

Dir: Karyn Kusama | Wri: Phil Hay  | US Thriller 100′

In this hypnotic psychological thriller Karyn Kusama creates a cocoon of tension that slowly implodes during a friends’ evening get together in the Hollywood Hills.

Grieving father Will (Marshall-Green) turns up to visit his ex-wife Eden (Blanchard) who has clearly put their tragic past behind her. But an unsettling vibe seems to haunt this shadowy get-together where everyone is behaving in a bizarre fashion while secrets and desires slowly muddy the familiar water. Will gradually becomes convinced there is a hidden agenda at play behind the invitation to join the people he thought he knew and loved. The tension mounts amid an increasingly unsettling atmosphere of paranoia and suspicion as the evenings turns decidedly hostile – and friends soon become enemies. Kusama’s taut pacing, spooky sound design and suggestively ambiguous narrative combine to make this impressively tense thriller well worth a watch. MT

ON BLURAY FROM SECOND SIGHT FILMS | 4 NOVEMBER 2019

 

Uzak | Distant (2002) ****

Dir/DoP:  Nuri Bilge Ceylan | Cast: Muzaffer Ozdemir, Mehmet Emin Toprak, Zuhal Gencer Erkaya, Mazan Kirilmis, Feridun Koc, Fatma Ceylan, Ebru Ceylan | Drama Turkey

In his third feature Uzak you can sees Ceylan gradually transitioning from the social realist cinema verite style of his early two works to something more like an urban arthouse drama. Spare on dialogue and score, Mozart’s Symphony Concertante (K364) accentuates the feeling of displacement and alienation in this thoughtfully sober two-hander.

At this stage Ceylan is still writing, photographing, editing and producing his own features and this melancholy depiction of loneliness and isolation is set in a dour and wintry Istanbul where Yusuf (Mehmet Emin Topak) fetches up from the country in order to find work on the banks of the Bosphorus. He moves in with Mahmut (Muzaffer Ozdemir) a distant relative and successful photographer whose flat over looks the harbour. Keen on arthouse cinema, particularly Tarkovsky, he enjoys the company of various women friends or hanging out in a jazz-filled local cafe. The contrast between the rough-edged young blade and the louche yet faintly sophisticated older man makes Distant compellingly watchable as the two ruffle each others feathers in a low-key but extremely masculine way. Ceylan’s static camera observes their daily life from a detached point of view: eavesdropping on casual conversations, laconic encounters and familiar comings and goings in the block of flats where they live out an uneventful existence.  .

Mahmut is often pictured in front of the TV, his feet up on a poof, enjoying a film while in the background distant conversations emanate from the concierge downstairs. His wife Nazan has left him and he has grown accustomed to his state of isolation almost relishing it as a badge of honour and with a comforting pride. But he still mourns hiss loss. Meanwhile his mother is forever leaving urgent messages on the ‘phone which he ignores as a matter of course.

Yusuf, on the other hand, is uneasy and restless, out of sync with his newfound urban freedom. He spends his days idly wandering around the locale, trying to meet women in the hope that something will give without much effort on his part, in the style of Dickens’ Mr McCawber. A poignant moment sees him worrying about the suffering of little mouse which Mahmut has tried to poison. The country boy still has a feeling for nature, lost to the man inured to harshness of city life.

Stunningly visual, leisurely and slow-burning but not to the extent of his later films Winter Sleep and The Wild Pear Tree, this is very much a tale from the city that relies on an atmosphere and takes the viewpoint of a detached observer allowing plenty of scope for our imagination to wander and even enjoy the subtle situational humour created by the growing friction between these uneasy flatmates who are clearly both lonely but also loathe to come to any satisfactory modus vivendi. The only moment of real drama is when Mahmut berates Yusuf about not flushing the lavatory. And this leads to a contretemps with the older many suddenly tiring of this young feckless loser who expects to be handed things on a plate, a conversation which highlights Ceylan’s ongoing preoccupation: the contrast between town and country; the old and the new. MT

NOW ON DVD/BLURAY COURTESY OF NEW WAVE FILMS | 11 NOVEMBER 2019

 

 

Five Films by Samuel Fuller | Bluray release

A towering figure of American cinema, Samuel Fuller was a master of the B-movie, a pulp maestro whose iconoclastic vision elevated the American genre film to new heights. After the major success of The Steel Helmet, Fuller was put under contract by Twentieth Century Fox after being impressed by Darryl F. Zanuck’s direct sales pitch (other studios offered Fuller money and tax shelters; Zanuck simply told him, “We make better movies.”).

Over a six-year period, Fuller would produce some of the best work of his career, (and therefore, some of the best films in American cinema), an uncompromising series of masterpieces spanning multiple genres (the Western, the War film, film noir, the Crime-Thriller) that would establish the director as a true auteur, whose influence continues to be felt today.

Five of the films from this fruitful period, are now presented on blu-ray from stunning restorations. The impossibly tense Korean-War drama Fixed Bayonets! (1951); the outrageous and confrontational spy-thriller Pickup on South Street (1953); the Cold War submarine-actioner Hell and High Water (1954); the lushly photographed, cold-as-ice film noir House of Bamboo (1955/main picture); and the audacious Western with a feminist twist, Forty Guns (1957). Also included is Samantha Fuller’s 2013 documentary, A Fuller Life, featuring friends and admirers of the great director reading extracts from his memoirs.

ON BLURAY | 28 OCTOBER 2019 | EUREKA 

 

Hair (1979) **** Bluray Release

Dir Miloš Forman | Cast: John Savage, Treat Williams, Beverly D’Angelo, Annie Golden | US Comedy musical 121′

Emblematic of the so-called Swinging Sixties this zany anti-establishment smash hit musical captured the imagination of Czech director Miloš Forman who made a film of it ten years later.

John Savage plays Claude Bukowski, a naive country boy who leaves Bible-bashing Oklahoma for a journey of love and self-discovery in New York City, before reality finally bites in the killing fields of Vietnam.

The film was nominated for two Golden Globes but came home empty- handed: only the music remains in the collective memory with a string of hits such as: The Age of Aquarius and San Francisco.

Loosely based on Hair: An American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, the musical play, book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, the opening scene seems ludicrous today – it sees a group of hippies sashaying along a country lane extolling the virtues of masturbation, just as some rather posh women are riding by on their horses. But there’s a joyful energy at play throughout this coming of age musical that sees the wide-eyed Claude (Savage) waiting for his Vietnam drafting while falling in love with a rich but rebellious ‘it’ girl (D’Angelo). He certainly experiences a baptism of fire – but not the one he originally had in mind back in Oklahoma. And although Hair occasionally feels cheesy and dated, there’s plenty to enjoy in this provocative and sometimes downright hilarious musical memoir. MT

Celebrating its 40th Anniversary this year, HAIR will be released on Blu-ray (a UK premiere)/DVD in a Dual Format Edition by the BFI on 28 October 2019 as part of a UK-wide season, BFI Musicals! The Greatest Show on Screen.

Dual Format Edition release on 28 October 2019

And Soon the Darkness (1970) **** Bluray

Dir: Robert Fuest | UK Thriller 99′

Directed by Robert Fuest (The Abominable Dr. Phebes, Wuthering Heights) AND SOON THE DARKNESS is an unsettling Claude Chabrol style thriller starring Pamela Franklin and Michelle Dotrice as young English nurses enjoying a cycling holiday in the French countryside. In a bar they come across a dark and seductive stranger (Paul/Sandor Eles) who is the catalyst for the two falling out and going their own separate ways. But Paul is not what he seems. A local woman then warns Jane (Franklin) to be careful and Cathy (Dotrice) finds a broken bicycle and some female underwear in the bushes. Desperately they try and find each other as the tone grows increasingly sinister with suspense generated largely by the film’s atmospheric sound design, Laurie Johnson’s clever score and Ian Wilson’s vibrant camerawork (both are still alive). Based on an original story by Terry Nation and Barry Clemens who also co-wrote the script AND SOON THE DARKNESS cleverly confounds expectations and extracts the maximum amount of suspense, sustaining jeopardy and a sense of claustrophobia despite the story all taking place in wide open spaces in complete daylight. Unlike Chabrol, Fuest makes no real attempt to explore his characters, preferring to rely on atmosphere, score and clever editing to drive the narrative forward.

FRIGHT (1971) | 87′ | Dir: Peter Collinson (main picture)

Directed by Peter Collinson – best known for The Italian Job, Straight on Till Morning) – this original British slasher film from 1971 stars Honor Blackman (Goldfinger), Susan George (Straw Dogs), Ian Bannen (The Flight of the Phoenix), George Cole and Dennis Waterman (Minder)

Young babysitter Amanda (Susan George) arrives at the Lloyd residence (Honor Blackman and George Cole) to spend the evening looking after their young son. Soon after the Lloyds leave, a series of frightening occurrences in the gloomy old house have Amanda’s nerves on edge. The real terror begins, however, when the child’s biological father appears after recently escaping from a nearby mental institution. Pre-dating the release of Halloween by seven years, FRIGHT was the groundbreaker for the ‘terrorised babysitter’ variation of the ‘home invasion’ horror genre.

FRIGHT and AND SOON THE DARKNESS release on 14 October 2019 http://po.st/AndSoonTheDarkness and http://po.st/Fright

 

Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom | Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (1975) *** 

Dir.: Pier Paolo Pasolini; Cast: Tatiana Mogilansky, Susanna Radaelli, Giuliana Orlandi, Liana Acquaviva, Paolo Boacelli, Giorgio Cataldi, Umbert Paolo Quintavalle, Aldo Valletti, Caterina Boratto, Elsa De Giorgi, Helene Surgere, Sonia Saviange; Italy 1975, 117min.

Banned, censored and reviled the world over since its release, Salò was Pasolini’s final and most controversial masterpiece. The content and imagery is extreme, retaining the power to shock, repel and distress. But it remains a cinematic milestone: culturally significant, politically vital and visually stunning.

Originally intended as the first part of a trilogy about death, it was actually Pier Paolo Pasolini’s swansong: it was premiered at the Paris Film Festival on 23rd November 1975, three weeks after his murder. Based on the novel The 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade, it takes place in Northern Italian Fascist Republic of Salò (1943-1945), controlled by Mussolini with the support of Nazi Germany. It tells the story of the Libertines, who kidnap 18 teenagers and subject them to four months of violence, murder, sadism and sexual and psychological torture. Told in four segments ((Ante Inferno, Circle of Manias, Circle of Shit, Circle of Blood), all based on Dante’s The Divine Comedy. There are also quotes of Friedrich Nietzsche (On the Generality of Morality), the poem The Cantos by Ezra Pound and A la Recherche de Temps Perdu by Proust. Shot brilliantly by DoP Tonino Delli Colli and with a score by Ennio Morricone, the drama has moments of brilliance.

The public officials The Duke (Bonacelli), The Bishop (Cataldi), The Magistrate (Quintavalle) and the President (Valletti) decide to marry each other’s daughters: all four are raped and killed in the end. The victims are told “we will govern your life”. Heterosexual intercourse will be punished by mutilation and “the slightest religious act committed by anyone will be punished by death.” Most of the action takes place in a villa, including the coprophagic wedding banquet. Like a Greek chorus, four middle-aged prostitutes are commenting on the on-going bloodshed. The four men dictate everything, their slogans are actual fascist quotes or ones by de Sade. Death is the central topic, Pasolini claims that real and imagined death is connected, and that political and pornographic dehumanisation are the same kind of phantasy. Filmed with radical artificiality, on purpose Saló is very uncomfortable to watch. The Cubist art on the walls, the camp outfits, the sheer absurdity of certain scenes – especially the drag wedding – all make it impossible to reason with anything. The fascists laugh, but it is certainly not funny when they declare: “You cannot reason your way to an understanding of us or a prediction of what we will do next”.

The overriding impression of is of dread. The violent scenes are brief, but the torture that unfolding in the imagination is even more unbearable. The essence of torture is not violence or physical pain, but in the de-humanisation that takes place beforehand. Comparisons with Liliana Cavani’s The Night Porter and Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing are clear.

Roland Barthes felt that Pasolini failed on both accounts with Salò: describing fascism and combining it with de Sade. “A flop of figuration (both of Sade and of the fascist system). That is why I wonder, if, at the end of a long concatenation of errors, Pasolini’s Salò is not, all things considered, a proper Sadean object: absolutely irredeemable: no one, indeed, so it seems, can redeem it.” 

Surprisingly, most of crew and cast claimed to have enjoyed the shoot, despite the bruises and cuts they suffered. During the filming at the Villa Gonzaga-Zani in Villempunta, the Salò team where not far away from Bertolucci’s 1900 shoot, which provided the ideal opportunity for these directors to bury the hatchet on their long-standing disagreement that had started when Pasolini criticised Last Tango in Paris. AS

On 30 September 2019 the BFI will release Salò on Blu-ray utilising a High Definition master new to the UK. Special features for this release include a new commentary by Kat Ellinger.

 

           

Local Hero ( 1983) **** Bluray special Edition

Dir: Bill Forsyth | Cast: Burt Lancaster, Peter Riegert, Denis Lawson, Peter Capaldi, Jenny Seagrove, John Gordon Sinclair | UK Drama 111′

Bill Forsyth’s lyrical comedy drama feels at relevant now as it was back in the 1980s with its sterling British cast led by Burt Lancaster. He plays a canny local hermit who refuses to give way on negotiations when Riegert’s Texas oilman attempts to buy up an idyllic Scottish village to build a refinery. With echoes of Alexander Mackendrick’s whimsical fable Whisky Galore! the film conjures up the gentle mystique of its island location that contrasts gracefully with the amusing brashness of the Texas tycoon. Things don’t go as expected but everyone has fun along the way including a girl with webbed feet. A true British classic worth revisiting if you haven’t yet had the pleasure. MT

NOW on  Blu Ray. The special new remastered Collector’s Edition includes brand new extra features, including an audio commentary with director Bill Forsyth

 

 

Pickup on South Street (1953) ***

Dir.: Samuel Fuller; Cast: Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, Thelma Ritter, Marvyn Vye, Richard Kiley, Willies Bouchey; USA 1953, 80 min.

Pick Up is another classic film noir that gained considerably from Fuller being adamant about the female lead. 20th Century Fox wanted either Marilyn Monroe, Shelley Winters or Ava Gardener for the role of Candy, but director Samuel Fuller not only resisted the three divas on the grounds of them being “too beautiful”, he also threatened to walk off set if Betty Grable (who wanted a dance number for herself) was cast instead of his own choice Jean Peters.

Pickpocket Skip McCoy steals a wallet from Candy (Peters) in a subway train. FBI agent Zare (Bouchey) is tailing Candy, but loses Skip. He then contacts Police Captain Tiger (Vye), who asks his old informer Moe (Ritter) to identify Skip. She agrees happily, and Zare can now go on the hunt for the micro film in Candy’s purse, which she got from her ex-boyfriend Joey (Kiley), a communist agent. He later murders Moe – who had cashed in a second time on Skip’s identity, selling it to her killer. Candy has fallen in love with Skip, but he has no faith in her. Finally, Skip tracks down Joey and the communist ringleader, and starts a new life with Candy.

Samuel Fuller was known as an anti-communist, but Pick-Up, in spite of its topic, is ambivalent about taking sides. As often in Fuller’s films, the American bourgeoisie which had most to gain from the status quo, is ‘saved’ from communism by the down-and-outs of society. Moe, who lives in utter squalor and Candy, the ex-prostitute, are the most violent defenders of the system, Moe does not want to sell her information after she learns Joey is a communist: “Even in our crummy kind of business, you gotta draw the line somewhere”.

Pick Up is first and foremost a gangster film, a milieu which the ex-crime reporter Fuller knew well. Fuller might have been right-wing, but he took very badly to J. Edgar Hoover’s criticism of Pick Up; Skip laughs off appeals to help as ‘patriotic eyewash,’ and only goes after the communists in revenge for the beating they gave Candy – with producer Daryl F. Zanuck backing Fuller up in an acrimonious meeting with the FBI boss. The film was selected for the 1953 Mostra in Venice, where it won a Bronze Lion in a year when the jury withhold the Golden Lion for the ‘lack of a worthy film’, – in a selection which included Kenji Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu Monogatari.  The festival compensated with six Silver and four Bronze Lions.  AS

NOW OUT ON BLURAY COURTESY OF EUREKA

Dogs of War (1980) **** Bluray release

Dir: John Irwin | US Thriller 118′

Christopher Walken (The Deer Hunter) is a masterful presence as a brutal mercenary who must fight the ultimate battle – against his own conscience – in this powerful, energetic action thriller. Based on Frederick Forsyth’s paperback The Dogs of War, the screen adventure brilliantly captures the horror – and glory – of war, in an imagined African state of Zangar

Walken’s James Shannon is no pipe and slippers man – he only feels alive in the heat of armed conflict. After being captured and tortured while on reconnaissance on behalf of a British mining concern, he goes back to Africa with a vengeance, and a mission to invade the corrupt dictatorship and replace it with a set-up more friendly to the British. With him are a select bunch of well-trained buddies – in the shape of Tom Berenger, Paul Freeman, Hugh Millais and Jean Francois Stevenin. John Irvin’s feature debut is now on Blu-ray courtesy of Eureka. MT

ON RELEASE  14 October 2019

https://youtu.be/oaAh2tgOHcg

The Criminal (1960) **** Home Ent release

Dir: Joseph Losey | 97′ UK Crime drama

Stanley Baker was once of the most unusual romantic heroes during the 1950s. His stock in trade was a mean masculine allure and leopard-like physique and he triumphs in this British gangster thriller that has become a cult classic with Losey fans. Baker leads a sterling British cast of Sam Wanamaker (The Spy Who Came In from the Cold), Grégoire Aslan (Cleopatra), Margit Saad (The Saint) and Jill Bennett (For your Eyes Only), as an angst-ridden loner and recidivist criminal whose self-destructive personality sees him locked into a life of crime. Ricocheting between empowerment as a kingpin behind the prison walls run by a sadistic chief warder (Magee) and the underworld of a gangland boss (Sam Wanamaker) who has his eyes on Baker’s crock of gold, THE CRIMINAL is a jagged, violent film that gleams in Oscar winner Robert Krasker’s camerawork, complemented by Johnny  Dankworth’s jazzy score. Losey’s direction gives it the edge on many other British crime thrillers of the time. MT

THE CRIMINAL from director Joesph Losey which will be released on DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital Download on September 16 2019.

Comes a Horseman (1978) *** Blu-ray release

Dir: Alan J Pakula | Western | US 118′

Alan J Pakula made some outstanding films – COMES A HORSEMAN was not one of them but certainly entertains as an impressive modern day (1940s) Western with a remarkable cast and crew. The Blu-ray release positively gleams in its vibrant Technicolor scenery of Westcliffe Colorado; Flagstaff, Arizona and the Coconino National Forest, brilliantly brought to life by the inimitable Gordon Willis.

Jane Fonda and James Caan play Ella Connors and ‘Buck’ Athearn, Montana ranch-owners who join forces against the depredations of her ex-lover, Jason Robards’ ruthless J R Ewing determined to increase his empire no matter what. In the opening scene he confronts her when the dust has settled, taunting her with the possibility of a re-union. The onscreen chemistry between them crackles. An interesting foray into Western territory then, but certainly not as strong as his thrillers.

The film won an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for stuntman Richard Farnsworth in the role of a craggy cowhand called Dodger, although another stunt man Jim Sheppard was killed when a horse that was dragging him veered off course. And the script also goes off course slightly too despite Pakula’s able direction. His best known film Klute (1971) was another collaboration with Jane Fonda, and he would go on to make more stylish thrillers such as Sophie’s Choice; Presumed Innocent and The Pelican Brief during the course of a career which concluded with Brad Pitt starrer The Devil’s Own (1997). MT

OUT ON BLURAY FROM 16 SEPTEMBER 2019

 

 

 

 

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Triology of Life (1970s) ****

Dominating Pier Paolo Pasolini’s work of the 1970s, is a trio of exuberant dramas that explore three literary classics: Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron (1971), Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales (1972) and The Thousand and One Nights (1974) (often known as The Arabian Nights). These came to be known as his ‘Trilogy of Life’.

Challenging consumer capitalism and celebrating the uncorrupted human body while commenting on contemporary sexual and religious mores and hypocrisies, Pasolini’s scatological humour and rough-hewn sensuality leave all modern standards of decency behind.

Full of bawdy, earthy spirit, The Decameron romps through its tales of sex and death – of lusty nuns and priests, cuckolded husbands, murdered lovers and grave-robbers – with five of the stories linked by the character of an intriguing artist, played by Pasolini himself.

Plunging with gusto into some of the blackest and bawdiest of The Canterbury Tales, Pasolini celebrates almost every conceivable form of sexual act with a rich, earthy humour. A particular delight is the use of a largely British cast, including Hugh Griffith, Jenny Runacre and Tom Baker, and Pasolini takes the part of Chaucer.

Arabian Nights was two years in the making. The locations – Yemen, Ethiopia, Iran and Nepal – form a rich, exotic backdrop to these tales of slaves and kings, potions, betrayals, demons and, most of all, love and lovemaking in all its myriad forms. Engrossing, mysterious, profound and liberating, Arabian Nights is an exquisitely dreamlike, sensuous and adult interpretation of the original folk tales.

Available on Blu-Ray from 9 September, courtesy of BFI | High Definition masters | Special features in the set include Notes for an African Oresteia(1970) and an interview with Robin Askwith about Pasolini.

 

 

Kaleidoscope (2016) **** Home Ent release

Dir.: Rupert Jones; Cast: Toby Jones, Anne Reid, Sinead Matthews, Cecilia Noble; UK 2016, 100 min.

British director Rupert Jones keeps it in the family with this surreal and nightmarish psychological thriller, enhanced by yet another standout performance from his brother Toby as the tortured anti-hero.

Set in a large London Housing Estate, where Carl (Jones) lives in a pokey flat – a throwback to the 70s. We learn that he has moved in a year ago after being released from prison where he’s done  time for a serious crime. One morning Carl wakes up to find the body of a young woman in his bathroom. His memory serves up a meeting with her, she was called Abby (Matthews), they danced and he might have locked her in the bathroom. When he walks up the stairs, the staircase becomes a kaleidoscope, it seems to strangle him in continuous twists and turns. The police show up, and so does a helpful neighbour, Monique (Noble). Toby is convinced of some wrong-doing – but can’t think what, exactly. When his mother Aileen (Reid) invites herself over- very much against his will, the images of Abbey and Aileen mingle, Toby certainly suffers from displacement activity – a repressed guilt complex, exposed in the final reveal.

This is 10 Rillington Place meets Kafka’s The Trial: spookily Jones even looks like Richard Attenborough as the murderous landlord. The grimy atmosphere in the flat is another parallel – but while Attenborough’s John Christie was sheer evil, Carl is suffering from past trauma. He hectically tries to cover up the traces of whatever he might have done; objects, he wants to destroy or find, becoming his enemies. Carl is paralysed: whenever he meets authority, be it the police, or his boss at the garden centre, he goes into meltdown. His anxiety grows the longer Aileen stays in his flat. And when she reveals she has bone cancer and wants to spend a lottery win on a last family visit to Canada with her son, Carl is close to breaking point.

Kaleidoscope is crucially “a psychological thriller, a tragedy, but not a horror feature”. The score, using a harp concerto by the German/American composer Albert Zabel, underlines Carl’s feeling of tension. The whole film resonates with Hitchcock,  particularly in the way the staircase is shot. It also brings to mind Bernhard Hermann’s score for Hitchcock’s Vertigo: But whilst Scottie was suffering from Vertigo (and love sickness), Carl is haunted by a past he has yet to understand fully. DoP Philipp Blaubach (Hush) creates elliptical camera movements, showing Carl permanently fleeing from himself, the long tracking shots mark him like a hunted animal. Overall, Jones has made the most of his limited budget, avoiding any gore, and staying consistently on a psychological level. AS

 On UK digital platforms on 12 August 2019, followed by its DVD release on 23 September 2019. The cast includes Sinead Matthews (Jellyfish), Cecilia Noble (Danny and the Human Zoo) and a stand out turn from national treasure Anna Reid, MBE (Last Tango in Halifax).

 

 

 

Black Orpheus (1959) ***** Locarno Black Lights 2019

48_bd_3d_stickerDir.: Marcel Camus; Cast: Bruno Melo, Marpressa Dawn, Lea Garcia, Lourdes de Oliveira, Ademar Da Silva; Brazil/France/Italy 1959, 100 min.

Screening as part of the Black Lights retrospective comes this classic arthouse drama from Marcel Camus (1912-1982). Only his second film Black Orpheus is a stunning portrait of life and carnival in the favelas, Rio’s most deprived areas. Bursting with colour, movement and emotional drama, Black Orpheus was a massive hit at Cannes where it unanimously won the Palme D’Or in 1959 and later the Oscar for best Foreign Film. While Camus was never able to equal this triumph it is still a ravishing treat.

A re-telling of the Greek myth, it follows the story of tram conductor Orfeo (played by the professional footballer Melo), a guitar-strumming neighbourhood hero who meets the shy Eurydice (Dawn) in Rio a day before the Carnival kicks off. On the same day, he gets engaged to Mira (De Oliveira), a feisty and jealous young woman. Eurydice has come from the country to visit Orfeu’s neighbour, her cousin Serafina (Garcia) (Garcia) who is being stalked by Death (Da Silva), who wants to kill her.

Orfeo and Eurydice fall for each other, spending a night of passion before the onset of the carnival festivities. Mira is furious and starts chasing after her – but so does Death, who disarms Mira. Eurydice escapes to Orfeo’s tram station where she hangs precariously from an electrical cable and is accidentally  electrocuted when her lover arrives. In the ensuing scuffle Orfeo is knocked out by Death (Ademar Da Silva) who claims the body of Eurydice. And when Orfeo comes to he heads of to the “Missing Persons’ Office”, a place which could have been dreamed up by Kafka. Then he fetches up in the symbolic underworld (complete with a frightening Cerberus), where an old woman speaks with the voice of Eurydice, begging the singer not to look at her. In vain, Orfeo goes on to the morgue, where he picks up Eurydice’s body, and carries her into the favela. But Mira is still unhinged with anger, she hurls a rock at her unfaithful lover, sending them to their fate.

After working as assistant to Jacques Becker and Luis Bunuel, Camus’ set his first film Mort en Fraude in Saigon with an anti-colonial tone. The film was banned in French Indochina – as it was then called – and Camus was accused of showing an over-romanticised view of the deprived favelas. But ORFEU NEGRO is true to magic realism, a vision: its pleasures evoked in brash and vivid colours (Eastman Colour) by DoP Jean Bourgoin (The Longest Day). In some ways, the tram scenes on the day the two lovers meet, echo those of Hitchcock’s Vertigo: a passion found and lost in another place where trams roam the hilly city. Here love blossoms against the background of a an exotic landscape, alluring, warmed by sun and framed like classical painting (Camus taught art at university before becoming a filmmaker). But equally impressive are the scenes of impending doom, shot in sharp contrast to the feverish dancing and cajoling of the carnival itself: there is certainly a madness of abandonment, but the gloom lingers on. The chase scene is riddled with “haunting imagery” that later influenced the films of Mario Bava and Dario Argento, with their saturated colours. There are also embryonic elements of a modern Slasher film, the masked killer stalking his victims – John Carpenter in particularly springs to mind. The ending shows an ambiguous, timeless solution: a hint of mystery built on the legend itself, played out by three children in front of the rising sun – which would rise in response to Orfeo’s beguiling music. AS

BLACK ORPHEUS | BLACK LIGHTS RETRO | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2019 

 

 

Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back (1967) | Tribute to D.A. Pennebaker

DYLAN-Dont-Look-Back-DROPDirector\Writer: D A Pennebaker

With: Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Donovan, Alan Price, Marianne Faithfull, Allen Ginsberg

96min | Documentary | US

Although it may not have meant much back in 1967, D.A. Pennebaker’s full-length documentary DON’T LOOK BACK now offers an absorbing and resonant tribute to a handful of folk heroes of the ’60s and particularly Bob Dylan who it follows on his 1965 British tour.

This freewheeling and voyeuristic trip down memory lane offers a rare and real portrait of the recalcitrant singer songwriter performing impromptu in hotels and more formal venues showcasing his laid back but often prickly approach which won the hearts and minds of his young audience of the time, Dylan went on to capture the imagination of many and achieve iconic cult status. Whether the film pictures the real Dylan or just his facade is a matter for consideration but Pennebaker makes us feel the intimacy of these encounters.

Surrounded by an entourage of contempo cronies: his rebarbative manager Albert Grossman; his long-term companion Joan Baez; the Scottish balladier Donovan; helmer of The Animals, Alan Price, the film offers behind the scenes glimpses of their convivial gatherings offering up ad hoc renditions of their work: Dylan strums and sings “The Times They Are A-Changing,” and Donovan ‘To Sing for You”. There is a chance to see Baez’ gentle beauty and spiky humour in offguard moments that capture her feral beauty.

The awkward approach of some of the interviewers – particularly a journalist from Time Magazine – is very amateurish, and it’s a wonder that Dylan didn’t punch him in the nose – but he adopts his usual acerbic style, hiding behind a public persona, ruffled hair and sunglasses, refusing to be riled but engaging nevertheless.

D. A. Pennebaker has since made several impressive biopics: Monterey Pop (1968) and Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars being among the best. His handheld camera offers a grainy indie feel with jump cuts that keep the pace lively despite the relaxed tone that often hints at an underlying anger, that eventually seeps out in a scene featuring an ugly encounter between Grossman and a hotel manager. The film’s finale sees Dylan kicking backing after a successful concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall, happy to be seen as an artist peddling no particular message and who no one understands. MT

OUT ON CRITERION UK | Amazon BLURAY

 

Le Sang d’un Poète | Le Testament d’Orphee – re-mastered on Bluray

Jean Cocteau – poet, playwright, novelist, designer, visual artist and one of the avant-garde movement’s most inventive and influential filmmakers was born in 1889, and grew up in Paris, immersed in the theatre and art world. He published his first volume of poems at just 15 and began mixing in bohemian circles becoming known as the Frivolous Prince.

He associated with Marcel Proust, Maurice Barres, Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani and numerous other writers and artists with whom he later collaborated. At a time when society condemned it, he was openly homosexual and homoerotic undertones, imagery and symbolism pervade all aspects of his writings, art and films. Despite financial constraints he continued to work even through the war years when he was forced to ad-lib often making do with bric-a-brak and bed sheets as part of the scenery in Le Belle et la Bête (1946). It still looked ravishing.

Made thirty years apart, these two recent 4k restorations effectively frame his filmic career and are both considered masterpieces of the avant-garde movement. 

LE SANG D’UN POÊTE – is an exploration of the tortuous relationship between the artist and his creations. LE SANG D’UN POÊTE, seeks to explore the feelings within a poet’s heart and soul, beginning in an artist’s studio where an unfinished statue comes to life. The lips of its androgynous face move, pressing a kiss to the artist’s hand. At the statues demand, he plunges it into a mirror.

LE TESTAMENT D’ORPHÉE brings full circle the journey made in 1932, the first part of the ‘Orphic’ trilogy LE TESTAMENT D’ORPHÉE (1960)

This last film is a truly abstract piece of work. Portraying an 18th century poet who travels through time on a quest for divine wisdom, it is another finely crafted, surreal and magical piece set in a mysterious, post-apocalyptic desert where Cocteau meets a series of enigmatic characters, joining them to muse about about the nature of art. Often gently poignant and whimsical in tone, this ethereal drama resonates with his Spanish roots – he settled in Andalucia for a while, in common with Picasso. Cocteau assembles an eclectic cast that includes vignettes with  Pablo Picasso himself, Jean Marais, Brigitte Bardot, Charles Aznavour, Roger Vadim and Yul Brenner in a piece that veers between gentle irony and low-key pessimism. Cocteau admirers will probably find it very moving.

LE SANG D’UN POÊTE (The Blood of a Poet) and LE TESTAMENT D’ORPHÉE (The Testament of Orpheus) will be released on ON BLU-RAY, DVD AND DIGITAL DOWNLOAD – 5TH AUGUST 2019

Pre-order now: http://po.st/TestamentOrphee; http://po.st/SangPoete.

https://youtu.be/qW84uNnNv0Y

The Night Has Eyes (1942) **** Blu-ray release

Dir: Leslie Arliss | Cast: James Mason, Wilfred Lawson, Tucker McGuire, Joyce Howard | UK Gothic Horror 79′
Although he directed some of the biggest British box office successes of the 1940s, Leslie Arliss‘s contribution to British cinema remains under-celebrated. He was born Leslie Andrews in London on 6 October 1901, and started life as a journalist in South Africa, returning to London in the late 1920s to take up a job as a screen writer during the 1930s, turning his hand to various genres from comedy to historical epic dramas such as William Tell (1958); The Wicked Lady (1945) and Idol of Paris (1948). One of his most successful scripts was for Ealing studio’s The Foreman Went to France directed by Charles Friend in 1942.  
Based on the novel by Alan Kennington The Night Has Eyes sees James Mason at his most suave and sinister as a troubled ex-soldier from the Spanish Civil war. Schoolteachers Marian (Howard) and Doris (McGuire) are looking for their friend Evelyn who has gone missing in the Yorkshire dales (actually filmed at Welwyn Garden City Studios, an overflow for Elstree). Retreating during a storm to a remote cottage for the night they soon fall under the seductive thrall of the owner, a reclusive pianist Stephen Deremid (Mason) who is strangely appealing especially to Doris who soon senses some connection between this cool customer and the disappearance of her friend. Gunther Krampf’s evocative camerawork does wonders with shadows and light while Arliss keeps us gripped with his tortuous storytelling. MT
NOW OUT ON Blu-ray at AMAZON.CO.UK
https://youtu.be/lwts14_PIlc

Coming Home (1978) *** Blu-ray release

Dir: Hal Ashby | Cast: Jane Fonda, Jon Voight, Bruce Dern | Drama US

One of director Hal Ashby’s biggest hits (second only to Shampoo) is a compelling and uncompromising tale of love and loss, exploring the shattering aftermath of the Vietnam War and starring a trio of Hollywood’s best: Jane Fonda, Jon Voight and Bruce Dern.

When Marine Captain Bob Hyde (Bruce Dern) leaves for Vietnam, his wife Sally (Fonda) volunteers at a local hospital. There she meets and falls for Luke Martin (Voight), a former sergeant whose war injury has left him a paraplegic. Embittered with rage and filled with frustration, Luke finds new hope and confidence through his growing intimacy with Sally. The relationship transforms Sally’s feelings about life, love and the horrors of war. And when, wounded and disillusioned, Sally’s husband returns home, all three must grapple with the full impact of a brutal, distant war that has changed their lives forever.

Coming Home is sometimes over-sentimental in its portrayal of a nation’s guilt but the performances win through and the movie won three Oscars, for Best Actress (Jane Fonda), Actor (Jon Voight), and Original Screenplay.

Available on The Masters of Cinema Series for the first time on Blu-ray in the UK on 15 July 2019.

Romance (1999) | Blu-ray release | Bfi player

4767 copy Dir.: Catherine Breillat | Cast: Caroline Ducey, Sagamore Stevenin, Francois Berleand, Rocco Siffredi | France 1999, 84/99 min.

Catherine Breillat, novelist and filmmaker, has been a victim of censorship (and misinterpretation) from the beginning of her career as a cinematographer: her debut film Une Vraie Jeune Fille (1975), based on her own novel Le “Sopirail” was banned after its premiere until 1999. Influenced very much by George Bataille (whose 1928 novel “Histoire de l’oeil” was wrongly indicted for pornography), Breillat, too, had to fight off the same accusations.

Her heroines do not fit into the mainstream categories of either victim or aggressor: they like their sex in whatever form, but at the same time they want to determine their lives; fighting their male partners successfully for domination in their relationships. And they are no goody-two-shoes: Barbara in Sale Comme Un Ange (1991), is married to the young detective Didier Theron, and willingly seduced by his much older superior George Deblache, who might be a drunkard, but satisfies her carnal needs much better than her bland husband. Deblache gets Theron killed on a job, and slaps Barbara at the end of the film: he is only now aware of her manipulating, whilst she smiles like the cat that got the cream.

Marie (Ducey) in ROMANCE (1999) chooses a not so different way to punish her narcissistic boyfriend Paul (Stevenin) for his refusal to sleep with her, simply because he wants to control her. First Marie, a primary teacher, has a casual affair with Paolo (Siffredi, a well known porn star), then she plays S&S games with her headmaster Robert (Berleand). Somehow, she gets Paul to sleep with her after all, and the resulting pregnancy makes him even more removed from her, neglecting her in favour of friends and relatives. But he ends up paying the price: after the birth of Paul junior, only one male with this name ends up being part of Marie’s life.

Breillat’s films show an understanding of women’s sex life from their own perspective – just the opposite of the male view that is usually trotted out. Whilst male sexual transgressions (in films and books) are usually tolerated, Breillat’s female counterparts are censured, her films condemned as pornographic. Like Simon de Beauvoir and Bataille; Breillat in her novels and films, often adds an essayistic character, strong symbolism and abstract images, best described by Linda Williams as “elitist, avant-garde, intellectual and philosophical pornography of imagination, [as opposed] to the mundane, crass materialism of a dominant mass culture”. Whilst one can describe male sexuality (including nearly all phantasies) as strictly one to one, meaning that there is no ambivalence left, actions and desire are one, female sexuality thrives on ambiguity and imagination. Whilst sex from a male perspective (and its mostly male descriptions in all forms) is treated as an object. For Breillat and her heroines, sex is the subject of their emancipation. There is no pleasure in Breillat’s sexual images, the best example being Marie’s encounter with a man on the staircase. The man offers her money for performing cunnilingus on her, but she does not take the money. Instead she turns over, having rough sex doggy-style. The scene ends highly ambiguously: Marie cries, but when the man calls her names, she retaliates: “I am not ashamed”. Further more, the whole scene begins as voice-over, Marie informing us that this particularly way of being taken, is her phantasy. In blurring the boarder between phantasy and reality, Breillat leaves the audience to judge what they have seen, and how to categorise it. This is just the opposite of conventional pornography, where a mostly male audience is never left in any doubt what is going on, taking their pleasure from the submission of the female.

In A Ma Soeuri! (2001) Breillat went a step further, trying to redefine rape: Anais (12) and Elena (15) are sisters; the latter attractive and sexual active, the former overweight and insecure. On a parking lot, an attacker kills Elena and her mother, afterwards raping Anais. When questioned by the police, the young girl stoical denies having being raped, in her experience, she has at long last caught up with the experience of her sister: for the first time in their rivalry she has come out on top. Breillat’s interpretation gives room for misunderstanding, as does the use of un-simulated sex in her films – but she is a major figure of modernist filmmaking; her films are dominated by reflectiveness and a desire to reinvent class consciousness; not via an out-dated model but by describing women as a class via their experience of sex: Breillat is an innovative heir to the ideas of de Beauvoir’s “Le Deuxieme Sexe”. AS

NOW OUT ON BLURAY COURTESY OF SECOND SIGHT FILMS and BFI Player 

 

La Ronde (1950) **** Blu-ray release

 

Dir: Max Ophüls | Arthur Schnitzler | Cast: Anton Walbrook, Simone Signoret, Serge Reggiani, Simone Simon, Daniel Gelin, Danielle Darieux, Fernand Gravey | France, Drama 93′

Max Ophüls (1902-1957) creates a delightful avant-garde merry-go-round full of subtle sexual vignettes based on Arthur Schnitzler’s play from 1920. Using the same technique and narrative structure as he would in Lola Montez (1955), this delicately dreamlike pot pourri of romantic rendezvous takes place in Vienna in the last decade of the 19th century and is set to a melodious score by Oscar Strauss.

Led on by the Master of Ceremonies (Anton Walbrook), talking directly into the camera, he changes the proceedings symbolically, altering the outcome of the encounters – not unlike the ringmaster of the circus in Lola Montez.

Leocadie (Signoret) and the soldier Franz (Reggiani) enjoy a romantic interlude under a bridge. This sets off a carousel of rather casual affairs in which the lovers treat the person they come across like a runner in a relay race. First of all, Simone Simon (Marie) is seduced by her employer (Daniel Gelin), and so the affairs continue, until the Count (Philipe) closes the circle, falling for Marie.

There are echoes of von Sternbergs’s romantic comedies, particularly Shanghai Gesture, that played out like a roulette wheel. Both directors make use of irony and wit, as well as well as farcical moments. The female characters are often victims of male society, they are courtesans or bourgeois women who have failed to fit in with the hypocritical standards of their class. The male characters strut around like peacocks in their dandy-like attire, and soldiers in highly decorative uniforms. Songs and music are key elements in the work of both directors, driving the narrative forward, as here with Strauss, the “Waltz King”.

The highly fluid camerawork of Christian Matras (Lola Montez, Grand Illusion) is crucial in maintaining the flirty lightness of touch in compositions which roll along in an elliptical scroll, the camera reflecting the changing thoughts of the characters.

La Ronde is a nostalgic look back to a world which had been destroyed by the social changes of the First World War. Ophüls’ films yearn to re-create this lost world of gentility, reflecting moral codes and social mores that no longer apply. AS

NOW ON BLURAY from 27 May 2019

Odette (1950) **** Home Ent release

Dir.: Herbert Wilcox; Cast: Anna Neagle, Trevor Howard, Marius Goring, Peter Ustinov, Alfred Schieske; UK 1950, 124 min.

Directed by Herbert Wilcox (1890-1977) and scripted by Warren Chetham-Strode after the book Odette, The Story of a British Agent by Jerrad Tickell, Odette was produced by Wilcox and his leading lady and wife Anna Neagle (1904-1986). 

A popular star of the British cinema from the 1930s onwards, she played Neil Gwynn, Queen Victorian (twice) and Edith Cavell, Neagle was nevertheless reluctant to be cast as Odette Hallowes- Samson-Churchill, a French born British Special Operations agent, who survived Ravensbrück Concentration Camp after being captured working for the resistance in France. Wilcox (The Lady with a Lamp) offered the part to Michèle Morgan and Ingrid Bergman, who both turned him down. The real Odette Samson finally convinced Neagle to take on the role.

Odette works with the resistance as British operative in France. She meets and works for commander Peter Churchill (Howard), whom she would marry after the war. Odette and the Russian agent Arnaud (Ustinov) are lured into a trap by ‘Henri’ (Goring), who is really the German Abwehr spy Hugo Bleicher, pretending that he is on the side of anti-Hitler forces. The three of them are captured, and Odette is tortured in the notorious Fresnes prison near Paris. Whilst Arnaud (real name Rabinovitch) is sent to the extermination camp Rawicz, near Lodz in Poland, Odette is transferred to Ravensbrück, where she is to be executed. But the camp commandant Fritz Suhren (Schieske) believes her lie, that she is Winston Churchill’s niece. He hopes to bargain for a pardon after letting her go free to meet the advancing American troops. Odette is reunited with Peter in the UK, and a witness in the trial against Suhren – who was, ironically hanged the same year, the feature Odette hit the British cinemas, being the forth most successful film that year at the box-office.

This was a picture with some real howlers (like Bleicher apologising to Odette, and making it possible for her to see Peter Churchill in prison ‘for a last time’), Neagle is superb in her understatement. But the star is veteran DoP Max Green aka Mutz Greenbaum (1896-1968), a German émigré who founded the ‘Deutsche Bioscope’ and was after his emigration responsible for classics like The Stars look Down, Night and the City and So evil, my Love. The black-and-white images, particularly the one in Fresnes and Ravensbrück, belie the studio background. Only slightly dated, Odette is still a harrowing reminder of the price women had to pay in the liberation from fascism. AS

DVD, BLU-RAY, DOWNLOAD | JUNE 11th | STUDIOCANAL VINTAGE CLASSICS | COMMEMORATING THE 75th ANNIVERSARY OF D DAY 

The Kid (2019) *** Home Ent release

Dir: Vincent D’Onofrio | Wri: Andrew Lanham | Cast: Ethan Hawke, Leila George, Dane DeHaan, Jake Shur | Western US 100′

Vincent D’Onofrio’s first foray behind the camera is a good-looking Western that keeps the camp fires burning with some top tier performances and a contemporary look. The Western genre is still popular, the classics packing some punches with their tales of macho males and simmering molls created by the heavyweights John Ford, Sam Peckinpah and Walter Hill. Some of themes seem outdated and politically incorrect in today’s modern world, but perhaps that’s why they still strike a cord with some nostalgic audiences. The only modern ones that shake a stick at the cult classics are Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven (1992), Kristian Levring’s The Salvation (2014) and John Mclean’s Slow West (2015).

The Kid reworks the story of a young boy called Rio (newcomer Jake Schur) who witnesses Billy the Kid’s encounter with Sheriff Pat Garrett – Dane DeHaan and Ethan Hawke playing the respective roles with skilful aplomb. After an unnecessary voiceover introduction we see Rio (Jake Schur) killing his father to prevent him doing for his mother, then scarpering in the direction of Santa Fe with his older sister Sara (Leila George) to avoid reprisals. The pair get holed up on the way in an abandoned house with the charismatic Billy, in a terrific turn by DeHaan, Hawke allowing him all the glory and holding back with a rather stylish performance. Andrew Lanham plays fast and loose with the Garrett/Bonney story and the whole thing looks rather fresh with a cinema vérité twist to proceedings, while still maintaining its traditional tropes. It’s decent but not memorable, if Westerns are your thing. MT

NOW ON RELEASE | DVD, BLURAY AND DIGITAL DOWNLOAD

https://youtu.be/LNUlXRp0Ax0

When a Stranger Calls (1979) **** Blu-ray release

Dir: Fred Walton | Wri: Steve Feke | Cast: Carol Cane, Steve Beckley, Rachel Roberts, Charles Durning, Colleen Dewhurst | Thriller | US, 1979 | 97′

A sinister soundtrack, the camera playing on ordinary objects in a shadowy sitting room, a neurotic woman, and our own pavlovian response to a ringing phone all coalesce to inspire terror in WHEN A STRANGER CALLS. Fred Walton’s astute psychological thriller starts with a 20-minute scene that gradually develops into something altogether more horrific and a showcase showdown. The second act explores the criminal mind through two scary looking specialists in the shape of Rachel Roberts’ Dr Monk, who has let the killer escape from her mental asylum, and Charles Durning’s hard-eyed police investigator who has himself become unhinged in his determination to catch up with the felon. Infact, the entire cast of this urban thriller look pretty unsavoury – but Tony Beckley tops the bill as the psychopathic murderer who terrorises a lonely babysitter, savagely rips apart her two charges with his bare hands and then returns to menace her again, seven years later with the chilling phrase “have you checked the children?”.

After Beckley (the killer) has done time, he escapes the asylum and fetches up on the streets of Downtown Los Angeles where he chats up a confident woman (Colleen Dewhurst) in a bar, and is later duffed up by another barfly – he really strikes an unnerving chord in the scenes that follow. As much a portrait of social alienation and emotional disintegration in the seamier side of Los Angeles, as a spine-chilling thriller, this auteurish arthouse shocker is one of the best, and certainly the most atmospheric. Beckley brings out the pitiful humanity of his character who is both vulnerable and deeply hateful. It’s an astonishing performance and his last. He died six months after the film was released. MT 

Along with its recently released WHEN A STRANGER CALLS/WHEN A STRANGER CALLS BACK: LIMITED EDITION and the rarely seen, short THE SITTER. Brand new interviews; a 40-page perfect bound booklet; Original Soundtrack CD; reversible poster featuring new and original artwork; reversible sleeve featuring new and original artwork | 1 July 2019 |

 

The Holy Mountain (1933) Blu-ray release

Arnold Fanck’s THE HOLY MOUNTAIN, the greatest of the German ‘mountain films’ and the film which launched the career of Leni Riefenstahl, digitally restored in 2K and presented on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK as a part of The Masters of Cinemas Series from 17 June 2019.

German filmmaker Arnold Fanck made this beautifully photographed Bergfilm, or ‘mountain film’, in 1926. Written in three days and nights – especially for Leni RiefenstahlThe Holy Mountain took over a year to film in the Alps with an entourage of expert skiers and climbers.

Ostensibly a love triangle romance – between Riefenstahl’s young dancer and the two explorers she encounters – Fanck relishes the glorious Alpine landscape by filming death-defying climbing, avalanche dodging, and frenetic downhill ski racing.

THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (Masters of Cinema) New & Exclusive HD Trailer https://youtu.be/Ny47rsWx2GE

Available to order via the Eureka Store: http://bit.ly/2TUWZBd Amazon https://amzn.to/2VulzdN

Room at the Top (1959) Bfi Player

Dir.: Jack Clayton; Cast: Simone Signoret, Laurence Harvey, Heather Sears, Ambrose Phillipotts, Donald Wolfit, Allan Cuthbertson; UK 1959, 115. Min.

Jack Clayton (1927-1995) is one of the most underrated of British directors. He made his mark with only seven features – and it could have done more had some of his projects not been abandoned by circumstances beyond his control. We are left with the Henry James adaption of The Innocents, the equally eerie Our Mother’s House,  The Pumpkin Eater (scripted by Pinter) and Room at the Top, his debut film. 

Based on the novel by John Braine and adapted by Neil Peterson, Room at the Top won two Oscars: Simone Signoret for Best Actress (as she did in Cannes,) and Peterson – Best Adaption. Clayton was known as a middle-of-the-road director (and his name was not Tony Richardson or Karel Reisz), so he did not get the credit for the first “Kitchen Sink Drama” in British film history.

Joe Lampton (Harvey) a young man from a working-class back ground is determined to make it big. Working in the treasury department at Warnley, near Bradford in Yorkshire, he meets Susan Brown (Sears), the daughter of the local industrialist (a terrific Wolfit) and makes his mind up to marry her. But Susan’s parents send her abroad to avoid the bumptious social climber, and Lampton falls in love with Alice Aisgill (Signoret) whose husband George (Cuthbertson) treats her like a possession. When Susan returns Joe switches his attentions back to her, but after they consummate their relationship Joe swears eternal love to Alice. Furious, her husband threatens to ruin their life and when Susan gets pregnant Joe marries her. Alice is distraught and has a fatal car accident after getting drunk, and Joe is beaten up by a gang after making a pass at one of the girls. But he recovers in time to marry Susan, the girl of his dreams but not the love of his life. 

Room at the Top is full of the subtle inequalities of English provincial life and the film’s success at the box office was based on the premise that sex (even in the afternoon!) could be enjoyed in an industrial northern town, by mature adults. The locations were exactly right, and the display of sexual frankness was an eye-opener.

Born in Lithuania and bred in Sough Africa, Harvey was already a small star but this role as a glib social climber catapulted him to fame. But it was Simone Signoret who carried the feature, her smouldering sexuality was a first for British cinema. The great Freddie Francis photographed Bradford luminously as a post-war ruin, just before re-generation arrived. 

Jack Clayton’s unrealised projects include the Edna O’Brien adaption Sweet Autumns, John Le Carre’s The Looking Glass War, The Tenant, later directed by Polanski, and an early version of The Bourne Identity (1983). He never got the tributes his realised films deserved, and he withdrew into virtual silence. AS

NOW ON BFI PLAYER | SUBSCRIPTION | Also available to own in a BFI Dual Format Edition (Blu-ray & DVD) packaged with numerous extras including a new feature commentary and a selection of archive films of West Riding, Yorkshire, where the film is set.

 

 

 

Dr. Strangelove (1964) *****

Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Dir: Stanley Kubrick   Writers: Terry Southern, Stanley Kubrick  Peter George: Novel | Cast: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Slim Pickens, Tracy Reed | UK/USA1963, 94 min.

Conflict was the theme that ran through all Stanley Kubrick’s works and he created three major anti-war films: Paths of Glory (1958), Full Metal Jacket (1987) and Dr. Strangelove: the latter being by far the most far reaching and most significant of the trio and was to have a profound political impact, with policy changes ensuring that the events depicted could never really occur in real life. Based on the novel “Red Alert” by Peter George, who co-wrote the script with Kubrick and Terry Southern, Dr. Strangelove is a biting satire centred on the reality of the nuclear deterrent, reflecting the fears of the Cuban Missile crisis of 1962, when a nuclear confrontation between the Super Powers was only just avoided.

Columbia Pictures insisted on Peter Sellers playing multiple roles – arguing that his performance in Kubrick’s Lolita had been the reason for the commercial success of the film. In the end, Sellers, who was in the middle of a divorce and could not leave England (Dr. Strangelove was filmed at Shepperton Studios), only played three parts, Slim Pickens taking the role of  Major TJ ‘King’ Kong, after Sellers sprained an ankle. He was paid over half the film’s budget – $1 million – for his role, Kubrick famously quipping “I got three for the price of six”.

General Jack D. Ripper (Hayden) believes that Russia is poisoning America’s water supply to meddle with the nation’s fitness. He orders the RAF Captain Mandrake (Sellers) to start a nuclear war without the permission of the Pentagon or the US President. General Turgidson (Scott), an ultra-nationalist, briefs the president and his aids in the War Room, obviously very happy that the Code to recall the nuclear bombers would take two days to recover, since the targets in Russia will be attacked in one hour. The Russian ambassador informs President Muffley (Sellers) and the Military that his country has developed a doomsday device which will bring an end to all life on the planet, in the event of Russia bing attacked. After being overpowered by troops loyal to the Pentagon, General Ripper kills himself, for fear of giving away the Recall-Code for the bombers. Finally, Mandrake can relay the code via pay phone to the SAC command, which succeeds in bringing back nearly all aircraft – apart from Major Kong’s whose communication system is disabled together with then release doors of the bomb doors – the Major solving this by straddling the nuclear bomb like a wild horse at a rodeo. Dr. Strangelove (Sellers) is an ex-Nazi scientist who is supposed to help to defuse the situation but when he suddenly jumps out of his wheelchair proclaiming proudly “Mein Fuhrer, I can walk” the nuclear arsenal of the Super Powers rain down on the planet, accompanied by Vera Lynn singing “We’ll meet Again”.

The original ending was supposed to be a pie-fight between all main protagonists, but Kubrick could not use the material as the cast were all laughing. The film’s test screening was supposed to be on November 22.11. 1963 – the day of Kennedy assassination. Its release was postponed to January 1964, some lines -“ you’ll have a pretty good weekend in Dallas” were changed to “..in Vegas”, out of respect, and one whole line “our young and gallant president has been struck down in his prime”, was cut in its entirety, even though Kubrick claimed later that it would have been cut anyway.

Apart from Sellers’ particularly impressive turn as Strangelove; Ken Adam’s production design, particularly of the War Room, has become a classic example of ingenuity and imagination. Kubrick always tried to show the absurdity of the slogans of “manageable survival” after a nuclear war: with politicians debating a post-war life underground, where ten women would each share each man in order to restart the rebirth of the species. AS

NOW SCREENING AS PART OF THE BFI’S KUBRICK RETROSPECTIVE during May 2019 | AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY 

 

 

Full Metal Jacket (1987) **** Kubrick Retrospective 2019

Dir: Stanley Kubrick | Writers: Stanley Kubrick, Michael Herr, Gustav Hasford | Cast: Matthew Modine, R Lee Emey, Vincent D’Onofrio, Adam Baldwin, Dorian Harewood | US Action thriller 116′

The last film to be released during Kubrick’s lifetime is a bleak and violent look at the Vietnam war through the eyes of recruits moving from the brutal US Marine training bootcamp into the nightmare of active service overseas. Pessimism combined with dark cynicism gives us a flavour of what came before in Paths of Glory and Dr. Strangelove.

The first half of the film is extremely loud and shouty, focusing on the recruits’ dehumanising and draconian training programme. Although it makes for grim viewing there’s a certain visual symmetry at work here echoing Leni Riefenstal’s Olympia (1938), although the dialogue is coarse and sweary, and full of racist bigotry as you might expect given the all-male environment where the men are toughened up and whipped into shape. There then follows a brutal and melodramatic baptism of fire before the men head to Vietnam, where top recruit and military journalist Pvt Joker (Modine) decides to try his hand in the front line: “a day without blood, is like a day without sunshine”. Kubrick maintains a cold-eyed distance throughout the mayhem and hard-edged horror. There is no attempt to bring out the humanity of these men who are now reduced to killing machines, murdering anything that moves as they fight for their own survival in the dog eat dog delirium. Kubrick’s message is clear: War is no place for decency. You come away not knowing or caring about any of the characters. Stunned and saddened by the senselessness of it all. No pity or poetry here. MT

BFI STANLEY KUBRICK RETROSPECTIVE | APRIL-MAY 2019 at BFI Southbank 

The Blue Angel (1930) ***** Bluray

Dir.: Josef von Sternberg; Cast: Emil Jannings, Marlene Dietrich, Kurt Gerron, Hans Albers; Germany 1930, 106 min.

One of many Germans who would later emigrate to Hollywood, UFA boss Erich Pommer wanted to raise the profile of German cinema, feeling it had not adapted well to sound. So he  engaged Hollywood director Josef von Sternberg (Undeworld) to direct Heinrich Mann’s 1905 novel Professor Unrat at Babelsberg. 

Set in 1924, Emil Jannings played the anti-hero, Professor Rath, who is a strict teacher, and a very repressed man. When is comes to his attention that his High School students are visiting a rather notorious establishment called Der Blaue Engel, to meet the well-known singer LoLa-Lola (Dietrich), he is hell bent on destroying their fun. But instead, he falls in love for the first time in his life. After a night with Lola, he asks for her hand, and is immediately dismissed from his position. With his new wife, he tours small towns, and even takes part in the stage acts: the cabaret owner Kiepert (Gerron) asking him to crow like a cockerel. But Lola is not the faithful type, preferring the young and athletic Mazeppa (Albers) and Rath soon becomes disillusioned and turns to alcohol. When the troupe arrives in his home town, where a large crowd awaits his appearance on stage, Rath has a nervous breakdown. And after trying to strangle Lola, he runs off to his old school to meet his maker.

Dietrich’s songs: “Ich bin die fesche Lola”, dominate the feature: Von Sternberg took her to Hollywood, where she starred in six of his films, becoming an American citizen in 1939, and, for a while, an international star. Siegfried Kracauer, for whom Fritz Lang’s M and The Blue Angel were the most significant German films of the the Weimarer Republic, called the feature “sadistic”. And it is true: Rath is tortured in every way possible after he sets eyes on Lola – he is no match for her, or the milieu he has chosen to live in. He is a victim of what Kacauer called the “Street films”, where the middle class man attempts to follow his passion, but is brutally punished. Rath is one of many tragic screen heroes who can only function in a restricted lower middle-class environment due to his emotional regression. For Kracauer, the majority of German men fell into this category.

Dietrich’s casting proved to be a turning point in the life of two German actors – just six months apart by birth – who aspired to convince Von Sternberg to cast them. The other was Leni Riefenstahl was already an established film star who had had great success in ‘Mountain’ films, a popular sub-genre in Germany. Dietrich on the other hand, was not much more than a singing extra both in films and on stage. Riefenstahl dined with Von Sternberg hoping to get a part in The Blue Angel, but after she heard that he had plumped for Dietrich, she told the newspapers that she had recommended her rival, in order to save face. But according to a another version she shouted “Okay, let the whore play the whore, who cares”. The rest, as they say, is history – and much more than film history. AS

Eureka and The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to bring The Blue Angel back to big screen once again from 31 May 2019, when it is released in selected cinemas nationwide (UK and Ireland) to coincide with the centenary of the Weimar Republic and the BFI Southbank’s major two-month season Beyond Your Wildest Dreams: Weimar Cinema 1919-1933                      

Edvard Munch (1974)

Writer|Director: Peter Watkins | Biopic | Norway /Sweden | 210min | Drama

In the ultimate biopic of Norway’s most famous artist, Peter Watkins sketches a profoundly atmospheric cinéma vérité portrait of 19th century Kristiania (now Oslo) where the expressionist painter (Geir Westby) grew up in a protestant middle class family with two brothers and three sisters in 1863.

His mother was to die when he was five, inauspiciously shaping his introspective life in a society where sickness and death were prevalent amongst the young. Munch himself nearly died of a haemorrhage aged 13  and legalised prostitution and child labour were the norm offering the artist plenty of scope to draw on for his iconic paintings. “Illness, insanity and death were the black angels that watched over my cradle and accompanied me every day of my life”. It seemed inevitable that this milieu of grief and nihilism would culminated in his ultimate expression of anxiety ‘The Scream’ thirty years later.

A fly on the wall camera introduces the Munch family, Watkins’ slow and deliberately didactic narration presents their lives in a factually informative way, making use of the painter’s own diaries and key historical events of the era. Peter Watkins is well known for his dispassionate treatment of often inflammatory subjects and his biopic is a leisurely two-hour affair that immerses us in the era and the artist’s own world which ran contrary to the establishment, his work being described as ‘ugly and deranged’ in a critical assault that continued for most of his career. Munch was simply expressing his feelings in a visual way using a “nervous, dissolving treatment of colour”.

The scenes of his love affair with Mrs Heiberg (a graceful Gro Fraas), a married woman without children, are sensually rendered in the romantic fashions of the era and provide a welcome counterpoint to those featuring Munch’s sombre childhood marked by grief and illness: “Sex is the only human pleasure that spares man from ultimate loneliness”: Munch describes his relationship with Mrs Heiberg as making him feel much calmer although the affair was not to last.

From then on Munch’s brushstrokes are shown scratching and scraping at the canvas as his work becomes more impressionistic, and Watkins cuts back to scenes of him weeping pitifully. Watkins’ treatment gets increasingly more manic and dreamlike as the film progresses echoing Munch’s troubled state of mind with an evocative use of flashback and cuts. At a time where all of the major artists are still involved in exterior depictions: Cézanne, Van Gogh and Renoir, Munch was painting groundbreaking symbolist works that transcended all external reality to express innermost feelings and emotion.

His critics stood by and laughed at the canvasses. Hurt and confused by their negativity Munch withdrew from the world during the 1888s while his fellow artists died of syphilis, consumption, suicide and tuberculosis. But Munch gains strength again in the early 1890s as his work takes on more detail and clarity of vision. Still obsessed with Mrs Heiberg, he marries in hast but then leaves for Paris. His diaries maintain that his inner pain is clearly the origin of his creativity: “Without anxiety and illness I should have been like a ship without a rudder”. With Edvard Munch Peter Watkins presents an epic work of historical and artist genius that is still unparalleled. MT

NOW ON MUBI | ON BLURAY COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA |

One, Two, Three (1961) ***

Dir.: Billy Wilder; Cast: James Cagney, Pamela Tiffin, Arlene Francis, Lilo Pulver, Horst Buchholz, Howard St. John; USA 1961, 108 min.

When Wilder adapted Ferenc Molnar’s stage play from 1929 with his regular writing partner I.A.L. Diamond, he wasn’t to know that real life would interfere dramatically with his film set in the divided German capital. But on the day after filming a scene at the Brandenburg Gate in August 1961, when Wilder was putting his feet up at the Kempinski on the Kurfurstendamm, the Wall went up. And Wilder and his team had to scramble over to Munich, where the Brandenburg Gate was re-erected in a studio for a cool $200 000. No wonder, the feature bombed at the box-office: nobody could see the fun any more.

Cagney is CR McNamara, boss of Coca-Cola in West Berlin, but angling for a return to the HQ in Atlanta. Top dog Hazeltine (St. John) entrusts him with his 18 year-old daughter Scarlett (Tiffin), who comes to stay with McNamara and his wife Phyllis (Francis) in their West Berlin home. After Scarlett asks Phyllis “if she had ever made love to a communist”, Phyllis answers in the negative, but adds “I once necked a Stevenson Democrat”. So Scarlett goes on to make sure she’s succeeds, falling in love with communist agitator Otto (Buchholz). CR is successful in having the relationship terminated, “torturing” Otto with American hit songs. But it then turns out Scarlett is pregnant, and CR’s new task is to re-model Otto into a good capitalist, before the Hazeltine parents arrive.

The change from a comedy to a tragedy killed the film off. At its premiere in West Berlin it was slaughtered in the press, the chief critic of the “Berliner Zeitung” writing “our hearts are crying out, but Wilder only sees the funny side”. But when the feature was re-released in 1985, it went on to play for a whole year in West-Berlin’s cinemas.

This was supposed to be Cagney’s last film (he returned with Ragtime in 1981), and his staccato voice delivered the gags memorably. DoP Daniel L. Fapp (West Side Story) films the divided city impressively in black-and-white and Andre Previn’s score underlines the fricative heel-clicking of the Germans, who see in CR just another “Leader”. It may not be Wilder’s finest hour, but it’s very much worth a look in. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 15 APRIL 2019 courtesy of EUREKA

Khrustalyov, My Car (1998) ***** Bluray

Dir: Aleksei German | Wri: Joseph Brodsky | Comedy Drama USSR, 147′

Named after the apocryphal exclamation of Soviet security chief Lavrentiy Beria as he rushed to Stalin’s deathbed, this raucously, rip-roaring ride through Soviet history captures the anticipation and anxiety in the Moscow air, as the Soviet despot lay dying.

In January 1953, the Vladimir Ilin’s camera thrusts us right into a surreal snowbound Moscow where Stalin still rules like the ‘man of steel’ of his nickname. An alcoholic military surgeon, General Yuri Georgievich Klensky (Yuri Tsurilo), finds himself a target of the “Doctors’ Plot”: the anti-Semitic conspiracy accusing Jewish doctors in Moscow of planning to assassinate the Soviet elite. Captured, arrested and marked for the gulags, Yuri enters an Hieronymus Boschean hell where characters abuse each other, one stubbing a cigarette out on another. Sexual acts are degenerative and ubiquitous but caught off camera, dialogue random as the characters come and go, fight and wrestle in the dizzying dystopia. At one point Yuri wipes his nose and moustache on his wife’s fur coat. The fractured narrative of this demonic, chaotic, histrionic yet delicately poetic dark comedy captures the madness of a desperate era where everyone had lost the plot.

Filmed in high-contrast monochrome by Vladimir Ilin and directed by Aleksei German (Hard to Be a God), Khrustalyov, My Car! went on to win multiple awards long after its premiere at Cannes where it picked up the Palme d’Or. wildly provocative when it was screened at the 1998 Cannes film festival, despite being championed as the best film of the festival by the president of the Cannes jury that year, Martin Scorsese. A one-of-a-kind collision of nightmare and realism, German’s film is presented here in a new restoration with a wealth of illuminating extras. MT

ON BLURAY 29 APRIL 2019 COURTESY OF ARROW 

Vladimir Ilin won Best Cinematographer at the NIKA Awards 2000

 

Mr Topaze (1961) **** BFI Flipside

Dir: Peter Sellers | Wri: Pierre Rouve | Cast: Herbert Lom, Billie Whitelaw, Leo McKern, Peter Sellars, John Le Mesurier, John Neville, Joan Sims | Michael Gough | Comedy Drama | 97′

Peter Seller’s debut as a director is a rather lyrical bittersweet 1960s version of a Marcel Pagnol play adapted for the screen by Pierre Rouve with wit and insight. Playing the lead with a drôle debonair melancholy, Sellers is a well-meaning provincial teacher desperate to do the right thing and marry his love Ernestine (a foxy Whitelaw). He prides himself on his integrity but puts his foot down at giving higher marks to the grandson of a wealthy baroness (Martita Hunt). He is fired (by Leo McKern) as a result, and then led astray by Herbert Lom’s snide and corrupt government official, Castel Benac, who with his mistress and actress Suzy (Nadia Gray cutting a dash in a series of soigné rigouts) intend to set up a dodgy financial business using Topaze  (“He’s an idiot I like him”) as the malleable managing director. The moral of the tale is that money is power. And Topaze eventually discovers this.

At the time Sellers was going through a divorce and relied on the film to keep him said. But despite his time of trauma, the film’s success lies in its happy ending that confirms what many have discovered. It’s not the money that makes you happy but the freedom it offers: So when Topaze is asked “Has money bought you happiness? he answers “I’m  buying it now!”.

First entitled I Like Money (a song by Herbert Kretzmer gracefully performed by Nadia Gray swathed in furs) the film was chosen by the British public in an online vote in 2016 to be digitised by the BFI National Archive. It certainly proves its crowd-pleasing qualities with some enjoyable performances from Gray, McKern and Le Mesurier, although Sellars sadly reigns himself back too much leaving Lom to shine as the comedy standout. MT

DUAL FORMAT EDITION (BLURAY/DVD) ON 15 APRIL 2019 

Mélo (1986) *** Bluray release

Dir: Alain Resnais; Cast: Sabine Azéma, Pierre Arditi, André Dussollier, Fanny Ardant; France 1986, 112 min.

Mélo, based on the play by French author Henri Bernstein (1876-1953), has already been filmed three times, before Alain Resnais (Hiroshima, mon Amour), adapted it for the screen in a theatrical version, which proved again that the director prefers style over contents.

This doomed love story sees married couple Romaine (Azéma) and Pierre (Arditi) live in the Parisian suburb of Mont Rogue, where they invite Marcel (Dussollier), Pierre’s friend from the conservatoire, for supper. Since their youth, the men’s careers have taken very different directions: Pierre is a member of a not all to prestigious orchestra, while Marcel is a violinist of some renown. But when it comes to their love life, roles are reversed: Pierre is happy with Romaine, but Marcel doesn’t really trust women with his heart, making happiness impossible. The kittenish Romaine, much more mature than her husband, in spite of him treating her like a child, falls for Marcel, and after a musical beginning in his posh Parisian flat, they begin a torrid affair. The naïve Pierre closes his eyes to everything, and even after Marcel returns from a tour, he still overlooks his wife’s absences. It is unclear whether Romaine tries to poison her husband, but cousin Christiane (Ardant) appears on the scene, and the desperate Romaine commits suicide. An epilogue desperately tries to make Marcel admit the truth.

Renais is known for his stagey approach and love of theatrical formats. Before every new scene, there is a curtain opening, and no fourth wall: Resnais reminds us that he is directing a play: the film outings by German director Paul Czinner (Germany 1932, UK 1937), seemed dated at release, but fifty years later, the conflicts are even more arcane. But Resnais’s aesthetic rigour, and Charles Van Damme’s static, long shots echo Last Year in Marienbad  and Manoel de Oliveira’s films, keep the audience interest until the final denouement. Azéma (who would marry Resnais twelve years later), is the centre of attention, her confusion makes her much more sympathetic than Arditi and Dussollier, who both are somehow wooden and one-dimensional. Ardant brings in some rigour, certainly a woman who knows what she wants. Mélo is very much a melodrama from a bygone era. AS

ON BLURAY FROM 8 APRIL 2019 COURTESY OF FETCH.FM

 

 

The Prisoner (1955) **** Blu-Ray

Dir: Peter Glenville | Wri: Bridget Boland | Cast: Jack Hawkins, Alec Guinness | UK, Drama 95′

Jack Hawkins and Alec Guinness are the dynamite duo driving this intellectually daring and morally complex thriller forward. With its themes of pride and betrayal, The Prisoner is based on Irish Catholic novelist Bridget Boland’s play of the same name, embellished by a rousing minor love story that bubbles along under the surface of its main plot line involving an inquisition between Guinness’s ‘Cardinal’ and Jack Hawkins ‘Interrogator’ that takes place in solitary confinement in an unspecified totalitarian Eastern European country under siege. The outdoor scenes are pure social realism, but the interiors benefit from John Hawkesworth’s elegant set design. Guinness exudes a peerless subtlety as the breathtakingly sinuous man of God interrogated, tortured and broken – with equal finesse – by a charismatic Jack Hawkins. Benjamin Frankel’s sinister occasional score compliments the slow-burning narrative directed with stylish aplomb by Peter Glenville (Becket, Term of Trial) and photographed by DoP Reginald H Wyer in velvety black and white. This is a fine British film ripe for rediscovery. MT

OUT ON BLURAY 11 MARCH 2019 |

Phantom Lady (1944) ****

Dir: Robert Siodmak | Wri: Bernard C Shoenfeld | Cast: Franchot Tone, Ella Raines, Alan Curtis, Aurora Miranda, Elisha Cook, Regis Toomey, Fay Helm | US Noir Thriller 87′

This was Robert Siodmak’s first American success, a Noir thriller based on a book by Cornell Woolrich who would seed the storyline for a series of similar titles. Woody Bredell’s moody camerawork and Siodmak’s jagged angles echo German expressionism heightening the suspense of this twisty whodunnit. The wife of an unhappily married engineer (Alan Curtis) is murdered and his only alibi is a woman with a distinctive hat who disappears without trace after the two spend an impromptu evening together. But no one can remember the woman after their soiree so Curtis faces the chair, depressed and losing faith in his own judgement. His only hope is his faithful secretary (a vampish Ella Raines).who is determined to save him, along with a cop called Gomez (Burgess) who adds psychological insight into the criminal mind. As they work through the clues and the evidence together, the woman and the hat eventually emerge. Taut and tightly scripted, Phantom Lady seems to pack a great deal into its modest running time. Stylish costumes are by Vera West (Shadow of a Doubt) and musical choices are evocative. There’s also a racy jazz scene, the instruments filmed up close, adding a frenzied feel to the affair. MT

OUT ON BLURAY FROM 4th March 2019 | with extras Dark and Deadly: 50 Years of Film Noir a documentary with insight from Edward Dymtryk, Dennis Hopper and Robert Wise. 

 

Picnic (1955) **** Home Ent release

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Ring (1998) *** Home Ent Release

Dir: Hideo Nakata | Mystery Horror | Japan, 96′

Ring was only his second feature, yet director Hideo Nakata became an over-night sensation with this supernatural B-movie, written by Hiroshi Takahashi, based on the novel by Koji Suzuki. And despite budget-related poor production values, Ring spawned many worldwide copy-cat features and although it now feels dated, the original impact is still tangible.

It all starts with teenage girls, Tomoko (Takeuchi) and Massami (Sato) discussing a strange video with three other friends in a motel room in Izu. At the end of the video, comes an even stranger phone call telling them they will die in a week’s time. And sure enough, death comes to them all on the day in question in the form of a cardiac arrest, their faces bearing expressions of the horror they encountered. 

Journalist Reiko (Matsushima), Tomoko’s aunt, starts to investigate the mysterious deaths, and watches the video tape in question. She too gets a strange phone call after watching, but this time she enlists the help of her ex-husband Ryuji (Sanada), to avoid the fate of the earlier victims. The couple has a son, Yoichi (Otaka), who, like his father is gifted with sixth sense. Both father and son watch the video, before the parents discover some clues, buried in the past: The psychic Shizuko who predicted the eruption of the volcano in Mount Mihara, later leaped into the volcano, after a scandal involving her mentor Dr. Ikuma and her uncle Takashi. But the real mystery surrounds her daughter Sukado, who was murdered and thrown in a well. Reiko and Ryuji are working against time – but Ring has a rather ghastly surprise in store.

Performances are on a par with the rather crass images. The overall effect verges on the theatrical, Kenji Kawai’s doom-laden score always warning of some imminent threat. There is blatant misogyny, with Ryuji slapping his ex-wife brutally, when she shows signs of fears. He also accuses her of not looking after their son, whilst he is a totally-absent father. The murder victims (in both the flashback and the main story) are, with one exception, all female. There is also the question of Japan’s very violent past (which has never been addressed), like the invasion of China and the consequent taking of sex slaves in the occupied country – perhaps the flash-backs are a form of recognition of these crimes. Finally, TV and video are seen like a virus, infiltrating Japanese society – a warning in a country, which, whilst very modern in its approach to technology, is still moored in an ancient past, which, though denied, comes back to haunt the present. A successful sequel was directed in 1999 by Nakata with Ring 2, in which most of the main cast re-appeared. AS

RING, will release in cinemas 1st March 2019 | It will then release on Digital, DVD, Blu-ray, Limited Edition Steelbook, and Limited Edition Collection featuring Ring, Ring 2, Ring 0and Spiral 18th March 2019.

Stranger in the House (1967) **** BFI Flipside release

Dir: Pierre Rouve | Cast: James Mason, Geraldine Chaplin, Bobby Darin, Ian Ogilvy, Moira Lister | Comedy Drama | UK, 104′

I wish I love the human race;  I wish I loved its silly face;

I wish I loved the way it walks; I wish I liked the way it talks; 

And when I’m introduced to one; I wish I thought “What jolly fun”.

Sir Walter Raleigh (1861-1922)

This rather cynical and satirical portrait of Sixties Britain is held together by an impressive James Mason as a disillusioned and often drunken ex-barrister reflecting back on his life, tormented by a mindless wife and a directionless daughter who holds him in contempt.

The Swinging Sixties was a time when parents were not your close friends but the older generation. That said, the scenes with the younger generation feel rather silly and dated and are much less enjoyable that those with Mason who holds court in a well-pitched sardonic turn, and gets the best lines, all of them drily amusing and satirical. Moira Lister is superb too as his sister, and Ian Ogilvy as his nephew. Even Yootha Joyce makes a small appearance in the court scene.

Based on Georges Simenon’s book of the same name, this was the only film Bulgarian writer and broadcaster Pierre Rouve directed and scripted. And it’s extremely entertaining. Flushed with success after producing Antonioni’s 1966 cult classic Blow-Up, he went on to script Diamonds are for Breakfast (1968). Geraldine Chaplin was still honing her craft and it shows. She is dating a Greek ‘immigrant’ Jo Christoforides who is implicated in a murder of one Barney Teale (Bobby Darin). And after insulting her father, Chaplin begs her him to defend Jo in court. There’s some well-observed comedy scenes such as the one on the escalator between a shopgirl and her boss. And the Southampton streets scenes bring the era flooding back to life. Musical choices are redolent of the era as is Tony Woollard’s iconic artistic direction. A BFI flip-side not to miss. MT

OUT ON DUAL FORMAT WITH SPECIAL FEATURES FROM 25 FEBRUARY 2019 | BFI

Les Quatres Soeurs | The Four Sisters (2018) *****

Dir.: Claude Lanzmann; Documentary with Ruth Elias, Ada Lichtman, Paula Biren, Hanna Marton; France 2018, 273 min.

Just seven months before his death in July 2018, Claude Lanzmann’s last “satellite” feature Shoah was shown on French TV. Even though the four interviewed Holocaust survivors are not genetic siblings, they share the real burden of survival (each the last of their families), yet their stories are very different. In reality their stories of survival are stranger than fiction. Two of them, Paula Biren and Hanna Marton, are still suffering from survivor’s guilt, because, however unwillingly, they were the one who escaped the Nazi extermination machine.

THE HIPPOCRATIC OATH (Le serment d’Hippocrate)

Ruth Elias (1922-2008) sings Czechoslovakian songs from her childhood, accompanying herself on the accordion. These tunes helped her and her fellow sufferers to survive in Auschwitz. Now at home in Israel, her upbeat optimism somehow jars with her macabre story as she cuddles a German Shepherd, the archetypal emblem of Nazi Germany. When the Germans occupied her native city of Moravska Ostrava (Czechoslovakia) in 1939, the family lost not only their – non-kosher – sausage factory, but had to go into hiding with false papers. In April 1942 the rest of the family was deported to Auschwitz, whilst Ruth married her boyfriend and stayed behind in hiding. In Auschwitz, the genders were separated, but Ruth’s mother did not want to leave her husband, and was shot dead in front of him. Ruth’ sister Edith was also killed. And Ruth too was caught eventually, and via Terezin reached Auschwitz, where she found out she was pregnant. She miraculously survived the selection process, other inmates hiding her from Mengele. When he found out, he was furious, especially as Ruth’s friend Berta, also near term, also got away. But Mengele was vengeful: after the birth of her baby-girl, he had Ruth’ breasts bound, so that she could not suckle her offspring. Mengele wanted to find out how long a baby could survive without being fed. After nine days, an imprisoned Jewish doctor, Maza Steinberg, told Ruth that she had sworn the Hippocratic oath to save human lives – and since the baby was dying, it was her duty to save Ruth. She got hold of some morphine, and Ruth injected her baby with a lethal dose. The next day Mengele appeared and was somehow disappointed: “You are really lucky, I had planned to deport you and the child with the next transport”. Via Hamburg and Ravensbruck, she ended up back in the CSSR, totally broken, even after ‘liberation’ She was put into a sanatorium, where she finally found the will to go on living. Later in Israel, she met Dr. Steinberg with her two sons, the women stayed in contact for the rest of their lives.

THE MERRY FLEE (LA PUE JOYEUSE)

Born in Galicia, Ada Lichtman then moved with her family to a village near Krakow. When the Germans invaded in 1939, they gathered the Jewish men, and shot all 134 in a nearby wood. Polish people made life hell for Ida and the other survivors, they looted their flats while the Germans looked on . Ida was captured and housed in an aerodrome where hunger and disease whittled down their numbers. Her fiancée had been shot along with the other weaker Jews, who were hit over the head with rocks. Deported to Sobibor, she soon met Gustav Franz Wagner, SS Oberscharfuhrer. Discovering Ada was a kindergarten teacher’, he said “Then you might be able to keep house for me”. The SS in Sobibor thought it amusing to christian one of the houses “The Merry Flee”, making it sound like an operetta title. In reality the whole camp was filthy. The SS enjoyed stripping all the newly-arrived prisoners, and made the oldest men dance with the youngest girls. Later, when they were drunk (ie. often), they raped the women. Ada never wanted to believe that Sobibor was a death camp but she survived, along with her husband. The Nazis made Ada mend the murdered children’s dolls so they could give them to their own kids to play with. When a convoy with Dutch prisoners arrived, they had to fill out postcards, telling their relatives that everything was fine. They would be gassed, before their postcards arrived home. Wagner, who was called ‘Wolf’, relished performing the executions. After the successful uprising in October 1943, the prisoners scattered around the area. But Sobibor was never re-opened.

BALUTY

This is the titular name for the Lodz Ghetto, where Paula Biren would end up as a member of the Jewish Police. She was seventeen when the Germans invaded, and had helped to dig ditches to stop German tanks. Paula listened to Hitler’s radio reports so she was aware of what would happen to the Jews After the invasion, Polish people would beat up Jews. In October 1939 the Germans started to build the Jewish Ghetto, in the poorest quarter of the city. 200 000 Jews would end up there overseen by Germans and the (Jewish) Judenrat, led by Mordechai Rumkowski, who turned the ghetto into a slave labour camp on behalf of the Germans: 45 000 Jews died of starvation and disease. He and his closest colleges were all deported to Auschwitz. After they lost their flat, Paula’s family moved into the ghetto, it “felt like going to prison”. The Judenrat had once been a Jewish welfare organisation, but now it was a parody of the Jewish state. In 1942 the first transports went to the death camps in Auschwitz and Chelmno. Paula and her family started a vegetable garden, and hopes were high. But she was soon commandeered to join the Jewish Police, initially working in the office, but later on her night patrols. Beggars and ‘loiterers’ were given a warning, and they would be deported to the death camps. Paula managed to hide but her family was deported to Auschwitz and killed. When the ghetto was finally liquidated in August  1944, Rumkowski made a list of people who would go to a special camp.  Nobody believed him any more. “I was finally put on a train to Terezin, which was not a death camp – if I’d stayed put, I would have been killed like my family”. After liberation, the Polish people in Lodz told her to leave –pogroms started up again. Living in the USA, Paula refuses to answer Lanzmann when he asks if she thought Rumkowski was guilty. “I leave this to others”.

NOAH’S ARK (L’ARCHE DE NOE)

Paula Morton had just has lost her husband, also a survivor of Hungarian death camps, when Lanzmann interviewed her in her home in Tel-Aviv. She grew up in Cluj ( also know as Klausenburg) a Romanian/Hungarian city of over 15000 Jews lived. Hungary had send 60 000 Jews to the front in WWII, to fight alongside Germans and Italians in Russia. The Jews had no rifles or other weapons, they were used as slave labour. Only 5000 survived; Paula’s brother was one of the victims. Until 1944 Jews were left alone, then the deportations started. Paula is rather scathing about her fellow Jews: “I kew if Hungarian Jews are asked to come at 12.00 for their execution, they would all appear on time”. Paula and her husband, a lawyer, had been in the Zionist Youth organisation in Hungary, and later got to know Zionist leaders like Dr. Fischer, Dr. Kastner and Hillel Danzig. These three had ties to the SS, and particularly to Eichmann. They agreed that 1684 Jews would be exchanged for huge sums of money (the SS always put the price up, and even when the Jews arrived in Switzerland, huge sums changed hands.). An estimated 500000 RM was being shelled out by the Zionist organisation. Paula and her husband were deported to the Kistarcsa transit camp near Budapest. Between the 10th and 30th June 1944 all Jews from the camp were deported to Auschwitz, just the 1684, mostly Zionist and/or wealthy remained. The group was supposed to travel to Auspitz (!), but the Hungarian authorities wanted them to go to Auschwitz. Kastner intervened along Eichmann, and the transport left Hungary. But before the convoy reached the Swiss border, two families had to leave, and because they were not Hungarian, they were deported to a death camp. Paula is obviously guilty about her survival, but she claims to Lanzmann that her husband was a fatalist and felt no guilt at all. She told him, “it was beyond a personal choice. What people forget is that the Nazi terror produced the situation. They alone decided in the end, who lived and who died. Some will say, if you can save one thousand and let 10 000 die, do it. Others will say, all should die”. Dr. Kastner was later killed in 1957 Israel after being found guilty of collaborating with the Nazis. A later court cleared him posthumously.AS

NOW AVAILABLE COURTESY OF EUREKA CINEMA 

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Human Desire (1954) **** Dual Format release

Dir: Fritz Lang | Noir Thriller | US, 1954, 90′

Fritz Lang brings a seething expressionism to this steely hard-boiled Noir. And although Jean Renoir’s 1938 version is better known, Lang’s American remake re-works themes of fear, jealousy and hatred into an equally provocative and suspenseful thriller that translocates the action to a working class New Jersey railroad setting. Loosely based on Emile Zola’s La Bête Humaine, Alfred Hayes script pictures Glenn Ford’s tortured train engineer cum Korean War veteran (Warren) fall for Gloria Grahame’s married femme fatale (Vicki Buckley). Set amidst the bleak monochrome marshalling yards, their doomed love affair is the only spark. Vicki’s abusive alcoholic husband Carl (Broderick Crawford) is fired from his job and blackmails her to stay with him using as his weapon a letter that links her to a jealousy-fuelled murder he committed on a train. He begs Vicki (Gloria Grahame) to speak to John Owens (Grandon Rhodes), an influential businessman. But when her love affair is revealed, it all ends in tears. Oscar-winning cinematographer Burnett Guffey creates a remarkable opening sequence where a train hurtles through the urban landscape. Set to Daniele Amfitheatrof’s rousing score, which primps the highs and lows of the narrative, this is one of the highlights of the mean and moody affair. Meanwhile costumier Jean Louis works his mastery on some seriously well-tailored rigouts. MT

NOW OUT ON DUAL FORMAT RELEASE COURTESY OF EUREKA

 

 

 

So Dark the Night (1946) *** Bluray release

Dir: Joseph H Lewis | Cast: Henri Cassin, Micheline Cheirel, Eugene Borden | US Noir, 70′

Joseph H Lewis dabbled in various genres but is particularly well-known for his 1940s film noir outings . So Dark the Night has the advantage being shot by the Oscar-winning Burnett Guffey (Bonnie and Clyde) whose chiaroscuro mastery elevates this rather implausible French-set whodunit making it stylish and worthwhile, along with its fine score by Hugo Friedhofer (who would win the music Oscar for The Best Years of Our Lives in the following year). Based on a novel by London-born Aubrey Wisberg, it stars Steven Geray as exhausted Parisian detective Henri Cassin who decides to take a break in the country. There he falls for the hotelier’s daughter Nanette (Hollywood star Micheline Cheirel) who is already engaged to a local farmer, but who (as usual) yearns for the bright lights of gay Paree. On the night of their engagement both Nanette and the farmer disappear leaving the hapless detective with another mystery – and more work – on his hands. Plus ça change!. MT

OUT ON BLURAY FROM 18 FEBRUARY 2019 COURTESY OF ARROW

My Name is Julia Ross (1945) ****

Dir: Joseph H. Lewis; Wri: Muriel Roy Bolton, Music Mischa Bakaleinikoff, Art Director Jerome Pycha Jr | Cast: Nina Foch May Whitty George Macready Roland Varno Anita Bolster Doris Lloyd | Noir thriller US, 64’

Joseph H Lewis’ tautly tense psychological melodrama runs for just over an hour, yet every minute is packed with seconds with Muriel Roy Bolton’s clever script adapted from Anthony Gilbert’s novel The Woman in Red about a decent girl down on her luck who falls into the clutches of a Machiavellian mother and her disturbed son. 

My Name Is Julia Ross immediately secured Joseph Lewis a place in the noir firmament, and was soon to be followed by A Lady Without Passport and Gun Crazy in 1950; Cry of the Hunted (1953); and The Big Combo in 1955.

The premise is slightly outlandish, but suspend your disbelief and you’ll enjoy this Noirish thriller with its eclectic international cast. Dutch actor Nina Foch plays a secretary who secures a live-in position working for a wealthy English dowager (Dame May Whitty) with a dark secret. It soon transpires that Julia (Foch) has been employed under false pretences, as a shoe-in for the dowager’s dead daughter-in-law. She then wakes the following morning to discover she has been heavily drugged and transported to a Cornish seaside mansion where she is now Mrs Marion Hughes, and married to the dowager’s son Ralph. But that’s not the end of a waking nightmare that sees her trapped by circumstances beyond her control. 

Foch makes for a vulnerable yet stylishly foxy heroine decked out in Jean Louis’s elegant designs. Meanwhile, Burnett Guffey’s subtle lighting and chiaroscuro shadow-play spices up the sinister nature of this sinuous English-set psychodrama. Whitty gives a chillingly commanding turn as the mother, and Macready is suitably convincing as her abusive son. In this first class B movie, Joseph H. Lewis shows that great results can be achieved with a modest budget. MT 

OUT ON Bluray 18 FEBRUARY COURTESY OF ARROW FILMS 

Rogue Male (1976) Prime

Dir: Clive Donner | Writer: Frederick Raphael | Cast: Peter O’Toole, John Standing, Alistair Sim, Harold Pinter, Robert Lang, Cyd Hayman, Philip Jackson, Maureen Lipman | UK Drama | 103′

Peter O’Toole is perfectly cast as a seedy, tweedy, down at heel aristocrat embarking on a ‘sporting stalk’ of his deadliest enemy Adolf Hitler from frost-bitten Bavaria via London to the wind swept English countryside in 1939. Based on Geoffrey Household’s cult thriller, Rogue Male is a tense and chilly thriller whose source themes are deftly condensed into a compact and witty affair directed by Clive Donner (The Caretaker) and written by Frederick Raphael, who adds a touch of caustic humour to the dialogue.

Alastair Sim (of ‘Something Nasty in the Woodshed’ fame) is in it too (as The Earl), along with Harold Pinter (Saul). They create that sardonic sense of ennui and superciliousness of the upper classes – O’Toole particularly so as Sir Robert Hunter, recently captured by the Gestapo and left for dead after attempting to shoot Hitler at close quarters. His chase from Germany to England sees his hunting prowess and resourcefulness coming into full force in order to survive the wintry rigours of the hostile landscape.

Clive Donner and his scripter Frederick Raphael originally put the piece together on a shoe-string budget for the BBC small screen in 1976, as part of a series of films offering a historiography of British pluck. Rogue Male melds suspense with social commentary and Peter O’Toole comes across as raddled yet gritty, rigged out in his hunting gear and sporting raffishly scruffy sideboards. The film version sees him as more upmarket (a ‘minor baronet’ ) than he is on the page where he enjoys a lunch of beer and ‘a cold bird’ rather than Raphael’s classy lunch of ‘Moet and Chandon 1928 and gull’s eggs’. O’Toole’s lines are priceless. Even when facing death on the edge of a ravine, he retains his pride. When the German officer tells him about his Charterhouse education, Sir Robert calls the school: “a mousy little middle-class establishment”. “Well we can’t all go to Eton”, the Officer responds. “Thank God! is O’Toole’s retort. But who could fail to root for the foxy hero with a valiant vendetta against Europe’s most wanted man. Later on he declines to politely shake hands, claiming “my hand isn’t really up to it”. Contemporary writers and directors would probably downgrade him to a more working class hero, in tune with the zeitgeist, and maybe Mark Strong would fit the role.

The tightly plotted narrative whips along smartly as Sir Robert pursues his enemy Quive Smith (Standing). Fritz Lang had already tackled Household’s thriller in his 1941 outing Man Hunt but according to film critic Paul Fairclough, Donner describes this version (led by Walter Pidgeon) as “a travesty”.

Away from the glumness of the country setting there are contrasting scenes that take place in the dank confines of a steamy Turkish bath. And its here that Alastair Sim, swathed in white towels and bathrobe (as Sir Robert’s uncle), leisurely declines to assert his influence, declaring that despite being a man of influence, as part of Chamberlain’s post-Munich-agreement government, that ‘Bobberty’ should go into hiding to save his own skin, and his uncle’s reputation. When asked for advice by his nephew, The Earl responds presciently: “I’m a member of the Government, how should I know what people should do?” Clearly, he is not going to rock his own boat even to save his relative.

Pinter plays Sir Robert’s lawyer and friend Saul with reassuring cameraderie, offering to find funds for his time “underground”. There is a terrific chase through the London Underground and even a slim interlude where Sir Robert’s romantic psychology is fleshed out through rather awkward scenes with Cyd Hyman as Rebecca. This excellent made for TV film could easily fill the big screen along with other HBO and Netflix outings, if it had been made nowadays. It makes great use of its tight budget, feeling intimate but ambitious in scope. As Benedict Cumberbatch will pay Sir Robert in the latest big screen version of Rogue Male, with Household and Michael Lesslie (Macbeth (2015) on board as screenwriters. But no-one can replace the compact elegance of Peter O’Toole. MT

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO 

 

Climax (2018) *** Home Ent release

Dir: Gaspar Noé | Drama | 97′

The Argentinian provocateur is now in his fifties but still loves to see the worse in people, as his latest ‘thriller’ shows. This nihilistic metaphor for modern youth starts with a group of young Parisian dancers sharing the joy of their art through a series of video vignettes in the wake of their US tour. This all plays out on TV screen sunk into a bookshelf of bizarre titles ranging from suicide manuals to DVDs of Possession, Harakiri and Schizophrenia. With its ghastly blood red and green tinged camera work, Climax is a well-executed but unedifying affair that’s best left for the horror crowd or those who enjoy a touch of dirty dancing – and I mean dirty.

Shot in fifteen days and opening with the final credits – the camera erupts onto a dance floor basking in gory neon where skanky-looking types writhe and wriggle to the sounds of ‘Supernature’ – all spinning out in one hypnotic take. Scantily clad and in various states of undress the disco divas then move to the sidelines to share inane banter along the lines of: “you’re so fucking fake”. The dancing grows more frenetic after they unwittingly imbibe LSD spiked Sangria. And this is where the film finally descends into a nadir of full-blooded decadent debauchery.

Neither seductive nor particularly interesting, this devilish chamber piece may be a delight to Noe’s fanbase, but others will find it sad to see society’s bases impulses played out as a soi-disant arthouse piece.  Shirking a coherent narrative, the film’s throbbing electronic beats appeal to the darker more reptilian impulses of the human brain. As the camera plummets and soars, the desire to vomit grows stronger. Couples copulate and urinate in the name of art. Noé’s schtick is growing tiresome. Can we play at something else? MT

DVD and BLURAY | 21 January 2019 courtesy of Arrow Films 

https://we.tl/t-Rnh1zai4tW

 

 

Eduoard et Caroline | UK Premiere | Bluray release

EdwardandCaroline_BR_3DDir.: Jacques Becker; Cast: Daniel Gelin, Anne Vernon, Elina Labourdette, Jacques Francois, Jean Galland, William Tubbs; France 1951, 85 min.

Director/co-writer Jacques Becker was very much one of the ‘fathers’ of the French Nouvelle Vague, even though he only directed thirteen films, before dying in 1960 aged 53. Chamber piece EDOUARD ET CAROLINE is a variation on his earlier feature Antoine et Antoinette (1947), though much more daring concerning the sex life of the titular couple, and very critical of high society.

The pianist Edouard Mortier (Gelin) is married to Caroline (Vernon); they live in a small Paris attic flat. Edouard’s family background is modest, whilst Caroline’s uncle and cousin, Claude (Galland) and Alain Beauchamp (Francois) are part of the gilded bourgeiosie, living a life of Reilly. Cousin Claude still lusts after Caroline, trying to break up her marriage, while looking down on the gifted, but impoverished artist Edouard, trying to better his lot, and asking him to play for a selected audience of influential citizens in his huge house. Getting their glad-rags on for the evening, Edouard and Caroline argue about her dress, and come to blows, Caroline is adamant about wanting a divorce. Cousin Claude tries his best to exploit the situation, chasing Caroline around her flat. Edouard is forced to get drunk before he can summon to courage to play, and society  Florence (Labourdette) falls for him. But it is her husband Spencer (Tubbs), a rather blunt American businessman, who actually sees potential behind the nonsense being played out in before his eyes, and he offers the young pianist the chance to play in front of a great audience. The action takes place in the confines of the couple’s apartment and the Beauchamps’ opulent villa, bookended by two identical exterior shots through the window of the cramped flat, signalling a blissful solution.

Becker was obviously influenced by Hollywood screwball comedies, even though his rather daring detailing of the sexual relationship would have never passed an American censor of the era. Everybody wants to have sex, preferably outside marriage – apart from Claude, who is so stultefyingly boring he believes in his own superiority is good enough to carry him through life.

EDOUARD ET CAROLINE satirises the French Upper Classes for their vulgarity and small talk: while their impeccable etiquette belies a lack of real manners. But Becker’s misogyny is everywhere: Tubbs tells Edouard that he is fully away that Florence if unfaithful, he too has a lover, a seamstress. “She works all day, so, she does not cuckold me. But rich women, they have too much time, so I am the cuckold”. Compare this to François Truffaut’s Antoine et Colette a decade later and it’s clear that Becker was by no means alone in his sexist views.

DoP Robert Lefebvre (Porte de Lilas) uses clever lighting techniques in the rather crampted settings and illuminate the characters’ faces to great effect. Although lighter in tone than Godard, he was clearly influenced here for Le Mepris: the camera tracks the couple’s every movement in both films, the flat becoming a war zone in a gender battle. AS.

Available to buy on DVD/Blu-ray/EST  

 

King of Thieves (2018) *** Home Ent release

Dir: James Marsh | Cast: Michael Caine, Jim Broadbent, Tom Courtenay, Paul Whitehouse, Michael Gambon, Ray Winstone, Charlie Cox | UK Thriller |

James Marsh casts the diamond geezers of British acting as perps who bring their woes and their wiles to the table in planning their final felony – that actually took place over the Easter weekend in 2017. Joe Penhall’s script pieces together newspaper footage to provide a convincing account of a caper that’s more plodding than racy, often over-emphasising its veteran credentials in a narrative that focuses on settling scores rather than offering thrills. Michaels Caine and Gambon are certainly entertaining to watch, with Paul Whitehouse pulling off a comedy performance to remember. But Jim Broadbent is the real revelation as a sardonic softy whose sheep’s clothing disguises him as the real wolf of the pack. MT

OUT ON DIGITAL DOWNLOAD ON 14 January 2019 | BLURAY/DVD 21 January 2019

 

 

 

Laura (1944) **** Bluray edition

Dir: Otto Preminger | Cast: Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price, Judith Anderson | Film Noir, Mystery | US | 88′

Otto Preminger, the bombastic Austro-Hungarian protegé of Max Reinhardt, trained as a lawyer in his homeland before emigrating to make his name in Hollywood with this glorious Noir love story. A divisive director, he often tackled themes that were taboo during the Hollywood era, such as drug addition (The Man with the Golden Arm 1955) and rape (Anatomy of a Murder, 1959). The project started life with director Rouben Mamoulian in 1944, but Preminger soon took over the reins and Laura gained iconic status due to its sparkling script, adapted from Vera Caspary’s novel, and velvety black and white visuals that won Joseph LaShelle an Oscar at the 1945 Academy Awards. But David Raksin’s soaring score is one of the most memorable things about Laura – and you find yourself humming it long after seeing the film.

Gene Tierney stars as the beautiful New York advertising executive, Laura Hunt, who is mysteriously murdered, raising an investigation by Dana Andrews’ Detective Mark McPherson, who falls in love her, Hitchcock-style. There are also roles for Laird Cregar (The Lodger) who is brilliant as the film’s villain, and Vincent Price who plays Laura’s lascivious boyfriend Shelby Carpenter. Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder was undoubtedly a better crime thriller, as the genre goes, but Laura somehow captures the imagination and lives on in our memories as a lasting classic. MT

BLURAY RELEASE COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA | JANUARY 2019

A Taste of Honey (1961) **** Bluray release

Dir: Tony Richardson | Writers: Shelagh Delaney, Tony Richardson | Cast: Rita Tushingham, Murray Melvin, Dora Bryan, John Danquah, Robert Stephens | UK | Drama | 101′

“Kitchen sink drama” is a lazy journalistic term glibly applied to long-ago films like A Taste of Honey. Posh critics in film magazines once spoke of the British New Wave as being inferior to the “Nouvelle Vague.” French cinema was praised for its liberation and spontaneity whilst the Brits where dammed for having too much depressing grit. It’s easy to be disparaging about working class dramas of the early 60’s (the bleakest example is probably A Kind of Loving but no one today mentions the rival optimism displayed in Clive Donner’s Some People). 

After the influential “Free Cinema” shorts of the fifties gravitas arrived in the form of A Taste of Honey, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and This Sporting Life: they are the overseas cinematic children of the Italian neo-realists. The background of these films is not wartime, nor a country suffering from immediate post-war difficulties, but the beginnings of a still repressive, and materially poor decade, prior to huge social changes in British culture. They are immensely moving and involving films: trenchant, angry and authentic expressions of the lives of ordinary people, bearing comparison with the visceral social concern of either a De Sica or Rossellini.

Jo (Rita Tushingham) is a 17 year old Salford schoolgirl, who lives with her mother, Helen (Dora Bryan). Poverty and Helen’s drinking means they’re constantly in debt and moving homes. Jo meets a Black sailor named Jimmy (Paul Danquah) and loses her virginity. 40 year old Helen is dating a younger man, Peter (Robert Stephens). Tension arises between Peter and Jo. When Mother moves out to live with Peter, Jo leaves school, finds a job in a shoe shop, rents a room and discovers that she’s pregnant. A young gay man Geoffrey (Murray Melvin) befriends Jo and moves in to her rooms. The relationships / friendships of Mother and daughter don’t really work out. The future seems uncertain for everyone.

It’s now crazy to think that Audrey Hepburn was the first choice to play the teenage Jo. Could Hepburn (with her Eliza Doolittle cockney role still to come) coached in a Salford accent have made the role as convincing as Tushingham? But should it matter? Under Tony Richardson’s direction Tushingham’s body language, line delivery and facial expressions are perfect. Jo’s face constantly conveys an unfulfilled desire for security and affection (close-ups can be over-used in cinema but in A Taste of Honey they’re exactly judged and telling – the camera falling rightly, though unsentimentally, in love with Tushingham).

A Taste of Honey has further brilliance of casting with Dora Bryan giving a comic-tour de force as a selfish mother who resolutely avoids caricature. Murray Melvin brings deep sensitivity to his role as the mothering friend. Paul Danquah expertly sketches in his brief role as the black sailor who never returns. And Robert Stephens is shrewdly spot-on as the car salesman. 

Such characters were not being portrayed in the other British films of 1961. Back then they appeared as outsiders marginalised from the accepted norms of family life; all anxious to have a voice, and articulate their presence. The poignancy of A Taste of Honey is that no one is able to communicate fully their needs. Everyone aspires to a better life; to make sense of their muddled life and move on. Yet sufficient knowledge, education, money, sexual fulfilment and power, within their class, gender and sexuality, are just out of reach.

Richardson’s direction is thoughtful, compassionate and poetic (it’s undoubtedly his finest hour). Walter Lassally provides stunning cinematography. John Addison’s musical arrangements of The Big Ship Sails on The Ally-Ally-Oh are modulated to create a folk ballad. Whilst each carefully shaped performance never makes anyone become a victim – behind potential despair is always a space – cinematically and emotionally – of great resilience. However uncertain the future appears at the bonfire scene climax of A Taste of Honey we have journeyed with hugely sympathetic characters just like you and me. The camera rests on Jo’s face, and her burning sparkler, to create a fleeting moment of peace within the film’s large question mark. In an earlier moment, by a canal, Jo, still so young and unsure about being a mother, yells out: “My usual self is a very unusual self. We’re bloody marvellous!”

And A Taste of Honey is also a bloody marvellous film powerfully decrying earlier moribund theatre and formulaic cinema for being so patronising towards ‘common’ people. In 1961 audiences were shocked, surprised and gradually delighted by its power. Fifty seven years on it still delivers an affecting realism of great concern and sensitivity. Alan Price©2018    

NOW OUT ON BLURAY COURTESY OF BFI | 10 December 2010 | along with THE GIRL WITH GREEN EYES

Khartoum (1966)*** Dual Format release

Dir: Basil Dearden | Wri: Robert Andrey | UK, 1966 | 134′ | Historical Action Drama

KHARTOUM is the kind of spectacular, rousing historical adventure that doesn’t get made anymore, certainly not along the same lines as Basil Dearden’s star-studded epic that exposes English colonialism, religious fanaticism, heroism and sacrifice in a magnificent visual masterpiece. Back in the day, it all seemed perfectly harmless to our innocent childhood eyes as we sat round the telly oblivious to the political incorrectness. And that wasn’t the worst thing: it later emerged that over a hundred horses were severely injured or killed immediately during the battle scenes, due to unethical stunt methods of the time.

Sir Laurence Olivier actually plays the Arab fanatic Muhammad Ahmad, whose troops massacre thousands on British-led Egyptian forces in 1880s Sudan. He truly believes he is the Mahdi, choses by the profit Mohammed’s to topple the Anglo-Egyptian rule. Meanwhile, Legendary Major General Charles George Gordon (Charlton Heston was nearly a foot taller than the General himself) is sent by Prime Minister William Gladstone (Ralph Richardson) to save the city of Khartoum from the Mahdi, but is given only one aide in the shape of Richard Johnson), and limited support from the British government that sent him there. Intrepid til the last he faces a fearless opponent determined to create a new empire. Gordon sees that further bloodshed is imminent.

With impressive battle sequences given greater weight by philosophical and moral debates about the righteousness of military action, Khartoum is a widescreen extravaganza and was the final film to be shot using Ultra Panavision 70 (and screened theatrically in Cinerama) until Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight in 2015. And it’s an extraordinary endeavour with its masterful performance from a heavyweight cast of actors at the top of their game. Perfect entertainment for a drizzly afternoon or a long winter’s night – if you’re not an animal lover!

FROM 3 DECEMBER | COURTESY OF EUKEKA MASTERS OF CINEMA

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Red, White and Zero *** Bluray compilation release

This 1967 portmanteau film from Woodfall both disappoints and surprises in equal measure. Three short films make up an offbeat production that MGM backed only to then shelve on completion. They understandably realised that its box office potential was insignificant and they probably hadn’t a clue as to what it was all about. The White Bus and Red and Blue films are the more radical, whilst The Ride of the Valkyrie is the most traditional. Anderson’s The White Bus was the only film to be shown in cinemas and is the best of the three: yet all of them are failures.

In terms of failing, the worst offender is Peter Brook’s The Ride of the Valkyrie starring Zero Mostel as an opera singer trying to make it on time for his small-part entrance in Wagner’s Die Walkyrie at London’s Royal Opera House. Filmed like a slapstick silent comedy Brooks proves he’s never ever going to effectively pastiche Keaton, Chaplin or even Norman Wisdom! Unfunny sound effects, clunky acting, badly timed gags and a desperate feel of British low-brow farce bring it all crashing down. Zero Mostel (usually a very funny comedian) is here clumsy and self-conscious. His only amusing moment is when, dressed in full costume and yielding a spear, he mistakenly rushes onto a production of a West End drama. And I suppose taking his spear through customs at Heathrow makes you smile because today it would be forbidden and he’d be arrested. But everything else is tedious and quickly forgettable.

The premise of Tony Richardson’s Red and Blue comes across well: a singer’s disappointment with her relationships as she sings of her unhappiness in the present and the past.

Yet despite a convincing and stoical performance from Vanessa Redgrave (who can’t really sing but makes a decent go of it) the film never manages to effectively marry its melancholy with an involving story or convincing atmosphere. It’s partly because the acting of Michael York, William Sylvester and Douglas Fairbanks Jnr, (looking very uncomfortable in the part of Redgrave’s elderly lover) is well below par. There’s some effective use of colour filters and a few Jacques Demyish vocal touches which playfully shake the realism of a film that’s never quite a love letter nor a musical offering. Sadly Richardson’s direction lacks real engagement leaving too much up to Vanessa Redgrave. Red and Blue is deeply flawed with some crude New Wavish gangster scenes but still marginally interesting.

Lindsay Anderson’s The White Bus is the most substantial production. However be warned – if you are not an Anderson enthusiast (as I am) it will make less of an impact, as The White Bus is often a series of sketches and notes for If… and O Lucky Man. The script by Shelagh Delaney is adapted from her own short story. Patricia Healy (A look-alike for Delaney) is a writer / office secretary who travels up by train from London to the North. On the platform she encounters a bowler hatted guy eager to date her. On board the train she’s accompanied by a group of football supporters. On reaching Salford, Manchester she joins some foreign tourists, the Lord Mayor (Arthur Lowe) and his dignitaries on a White Bus tour of the city. Throughout all this she remains remarkable impassive– early on in the office scenes Anderson cuts to a not-full body shot of her having hung herself.

So is The White Bus a post-suicide journey to the writer’s background and roots? Or is she travelling home to the moment when she might take her life? – either way the woman’s cool detachment from events has her rubbing shoulders with the semi-depressed landscape of Manchester and the script’s odd, unfunny satirical tone (maybe the geography and manners of Northern England then was too glum to raise a laugh and therefore that’s the point.) The film’s beautiful and soulful greyness of image, intercut with colour footage, is supplied by the great Czech photographer Miroslav Ondricek who worked with Anderson on If… and O Lucky Man.

I was prepared to regard The White Bus as an intelligent but very unsure film until the writer leaves the bus tour to walk round the streets of her neighbourhood. She stares in the windows of houses and sees an old man being shaved and a young girl (herself?) playing the piano. In an alleyway she disturbs a man insisting that his girl-friend have sex with him. Then in a fish and chip shop she eats a meal: its last customer of the day as chairs are stacked up and a voiceover, of its owners, has them talking about the monotony of work. Recalling the film’s earlier suicidal image then a logical development has been made to make us understand the young woman’s alienated state.

Lindsay Anderson revered the poetic direction of John Ford and Jean Vigo. Although often difficult to precisely pin down, a cinematic poetry is apparent in Anderson’s finest work. As a whole piece The White Bus is not him at his best but a preparation for his more mature work.  Yet the autobiographical Delaney scenes have a surreal and haunting power intimating a great deal about environment, class, work, upbringing and its potential to condition and depress.

For these moments alone I’d give The White Bus a three star recommendation, advise you to buy Red, White and Zero and tolerate the other segments. Alan Price©2018

AVAILABLE AT THE BFI FROM EARLY DECEMBER 2018

https://youtu.be/KnQpxCN_SgQ

Atoll K (1951) *** Bluray/DVD release

Dir: Leo Joannon | Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy | Comedy Drama | 98′

ATOLL K marked the big screen comedy return of Laurel and Hardy in 1951. It was also their swan song. The much loved duo were lured back during a European stage tour to take a trip of another kind – this time involving a ramshackle voyage to the Pacific to save Stan’s island inheritance. The odyssey was actually filmed off the coast of the French Riviera and was an ambitious attempt to add a satirical twist to their well-known slapstick scenarios. It  certainly showcases their versatility and inventive comedy talents. Atoll K (the French title) also comes as a welcome ‘Laurel and Hardy’ refresher in the wake of a new feature film: Stan & Ollie, that arrives in the New Year and stars Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly.

After 1945 Laurel and Hardy had found new popularity with audiences deprived of their films who during the war years. The comedy duo had signed up with 20th Century Fox and MGM for a series of movies, but by the end of the 1940s their career had ground to a halt after a long association with producer Hal Roach. Atoll K (also known as Utopia and Robinson Crusoeland) was the result of a big budget French-Italian initiative, with the production to take place in France. But the project did not run smoothly, and filming took over a year – from Spring 1950 to the following April – instead of the projected 12 weeks. To make matters worse, there were artistic and communication issues between Laurel and the director, who could only speak French. Lancashire born Laurel was diabetic and suffered severe complications during shooting, further hampering the production. And with seven writers contributing to the script, it’s hardly surprising the storyline drifts rather, despite some great comedy moments revolving around the usual setbacks and mishaps during a voyage that’s stormy – both on and off the boat. Despite its flaws this buried treasure from archives provides solid gold entertainment. MT 

ON RELEASE FROM 3 DECEMBER 2018

Eureka (1983 ) *** Nic Roeg Tribute

Director: Nicholas Roeg     Screenplay: Paul Mayersberg   Writer: Mashall Houts (Who Killed Sir Harry Oakes)

Cast: Gene Hackman, Theresa Russell, Rutger Hauer, Jane Lapotaire, Mickey Rourke, Ed Lauter, Joe Pesci, Cavan Kendall, Corin Redgrave The story of a man richer than Getty, stranger than Hughes

130min | Thriller  | UK US

Nicholas Roeg was a true visionary: his films are unique in portraying our struggle with the mysteries of the universe; in viscerally capturing what it is to be human: Walkabout; Don’t Look Now; The Witches; The Man Who Fell to Earth. They are all romantically sexual, visually audacious; formally superb, thematically adventurous and always powerfully acted and intense as here with this fascinating mix of European and American talent – Mickey Rourke, Joe Pesci and Rutger Hauer at their elegant best before they went for seedier roles, a delightfully graceful Jane Lapotaire and Theresa Russell, the sensual jewell in the crown. Gene Hackman is captivating and masculine in the lead, rocking a rather ill-advised yellow tint in his receding coiffure, he is nonetheless the svelte hero of this impressive fantasy drama. He also gets some dynamite lines: “I’m the most dangerous man I know – once I had it all, now I just have everything”.

EUREKA is a complex tale about greed, power and passionate love. And Roeg certainly knows what it is to be in love and how to express that potently through his characters powerfully portrayed by a international cast of Gene Hackman, There Russell, Rutger Hauer and Jane Lapotaire.

Based on a true story, in 1925, a man (Jack McCann/Hackman) finds a rich source of gold after being empowered by a supernatural lover in the magnificent opening scenes – a ‘mystic Meg’ (Kallianiotes) who has the wonderful line: “we had all the nuggets we needed between your legs”. Becoming the richest the man in world however is not the answer to his McCann’s dreams, and as more complex issues start to emerge in this imagined utopia, we soon learn why.


From the icebound snowscapes of the Yukon the film fast forwards to a sultry Caribbean Island of ‘Eureka’ (actually Jamaica) where Jack now holds sway in the Colonial splendour of 1945. Married to a soignée Coco Chanel lookalike Helen (Jane Lapotaire), the couple no longer have sex so she passes her time reading the cards in hope of inspiration (“You don’t need your fortune told, you’ve got a fortune” quips Jack). They have a daughter Tracy (Jane Russell) whom Jack is obsessed with physically and emotionally but, despite still being daddy’s little girl, she has fallen madly in love with Rutger Hauer’s Claude Maillot Van Horn, a statuesque roué whom Jack falls out with on a regularly basis amid scenes of hilarious violence involving meat cleavers and vituperative exchanges. Strangely, Tracy is also deeply in love with her father but she is sexually in hock to Van Horn. The serpentine narrative is driven forward by Jack’s almost psychotic belief that everyone is after his money: and they are, in their various ways.

EUREKA is a fascinating mess: elegant costumes, spectacular set pieces with cleverly devised supernatural and voodoo elements often threatening to topple the bewildering narrative, although pacing and editing never quite allow this to happen; Roeg deftly mixing moments of raucous melodrama with some quieter meditative scenes. Theresa Russell keeps things exciting both in and out of the bedroom with her extraordinary range of looks (designed by the talented Marit Allen – Eyes Wide Shut and Brokeback Mountain), appearing sexually alluring one minute; kittenishly coy the next and elegantly vivacious in the explosive final court scene. Russell had just married Roeg at the time and was only in her mid twenties but clearly possessed an amazing maturity and feminine allure for one so young.

Paul Mayersberg’s script is fantastically curt: full of witticisms and Roeg brings a scintillating vision to the party with his larger than life characters: women who really know how to exude love and sensuality and men who are masterful and powerfully driven despite their human weaknesses. Hackman and Russell hold sway with their magnetism and extraordinary charisma in this intensely watchable, often complicated, but extremely rewarding rollercoaster. MT

OUT ON DUAL FORMAT BLURAY AND DVD COURTESY OF MASTERS OF CINEMA EUREKA | NICOLAS ROEG 1928-2018

Yanks (1979)**** Dual format release

John Schlesinger’s YANKS, a moving and romantic WWII tale of love starring Richard Gere and Vanessa Redgrave is based on Lancashire born Colin Welland’s original story, he also wrote the script.

Colin Welland was one of England’s finest film and TV writers best known for The Dry White Season (1989), Chariots of Fire (1981) and numerous popular TV series including Play for Today and Armchair Theatre. He also appeared in Kes (1969); Straw Dogs (1971) and Villain (1971).

Capturing all the subtle emotional complexity that marked Schlesinger out as a one of our finest directors, this captivating social drama is imbued with English sensibilities of the local characters that contrast so eloquently with the looser and more playful US soldiers, YANKS is full of sweepingly romantic moments and amusing interludes that show how easily petty resentments or racial differences could easily catch fire in the heat of the moment inflaming hearts and minds fraught with the stresses of wartime occupancy.

Ambitious yet intimate YANKS is a World War II epic that won BAFTAs for Best Costume Design (Shirley Russell) and Best Supporting Actress (Rachel Roberts). John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy, Far from the Madding Crowd) went on to get the Evening Standard British Film Award in 1981. Crucially, his drama focuses on the human angle, avoiding battle scenes to explore the romantic and social entanglements between the locals and the U.S. soldiers stationed in a small town in Greater Manchester just before the Normandy landings of 1945. The American G.I.s set female hearts aflutter across the social divide: in one amusing scene in a train station Mollie (Wendy Morgan) cries”Excuse me, I’m pregnant!”. A woman quickly responds: “So is half the bloody town, love!”.

Gere is particularly charismatic as Sgt. Matt Dyson, falling for Lisa Eichhorn’s delicate heroine Jean Moreton who misses her fiancée Stan overseas. Redgrave is wealthy socialite Helen, engaged in an affair with a gallant captain (William Devane), while desperate to remain faithful to her husband serving in the British Navy. Sergeant Ruffelo’s romantic interlude with Mollie (Wendy Morgan) shows how romance can be heightened by wartime adversity when love and lust helped to counteract the stress and uncertainty of conflict.

Schlesinger had a rare gift for capturing romantic desire and yearning in a typically understated English way, and Yanks was a personal passion project for director whose success with Marathon Man (1976) here allowed him free creative rein. Although the film never really caught fire upon initial release, here is emerges as a soaring classic wartime romance that really deserves to be revisited – hankies at the ready. MT

YANKS NOW AVAILABLE COURTESY OF EUREKA MODERN CLASSICS on 3rd December 2018.

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Pina (2011) Bluray and Home Ent release

Dir: Wim Wenders | Germany, 2011 | Doc | 113′    

PINA is an amazing and lavishly attractive musical that combines 3D to heighten our enjoyment of a series of dance sequences filmed by Wim Wenders and featuring the celebrated dancer Pina Bausch in her Tanztheater in Wuppertal in the southern Ruhr valley, Germany.

The German choreographer died in June 2009 at the age of 68 just as she was starting her collaboration with Wim Wenders but he so believed in the project that he continued with Pina’s versions of Vollmond, a dance that centres on water splashing in a rock pool, Stravinsky’s exotic expressionist piece The Rite of Spring; Kontakthof, where rhythmic movements are inspired by a heightened naturalism; and the dynamic routine Café Müller, where six dancers move around in a restaurant as they rearrange the tables and chairs. West End Blues sees the troupe in full evening dress with lounge suits and long flowing gowns as they move to the jazz syncopations of Louis Armstrong and his band. The dances often break out into the nearby streets where they swirl around using the backdrop of the monorail and green spaces as inspiration for their graceful compositions. Ever inventive this is one of Wenders’ most memorable and enjoyable films along with Wings of Desire and the cult classic Paris, Texas. MT

PINA RELEASES ON BLURAY FROM 12 NOVEMBER 2018 and on DVD on CURZON ON DEMAND

The Last Waltz (1978) **** Home Ent release

THE LAST WALTZ is deeply personal yet timeless in its universal appeal. Martin Scorsese’s love song to rock music is a resounding one, and arguably the best concert film of all time. Dated in its Seventies look, but endearingly so, the doc has been remastered onto bluray, and the result is stunning. The film showcases the legendary rock group The Band’s final farewell concert appearance. Joined on stage by more than a dozen special guests, Van Morrison,  Eric Clapton, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell perform their iconic numbers to dazzling effect. The Last Waltz started as a concert, but it became a celebration. In between numbers, Scorsese chats to members of The Band, filmed by master DoPs Laszlo Kovacs and Vilmos Zsigmond. Scorsese’s message to the audience, “this film should be played loud” MT

ON RELEASE FROM 12 NOVEMBER 2018 | COURTESY OF EUREKA FILM LABEL 

THE BAND | BOB DYLAN | ERIC CLAPTON | NEIL YOUNG | JONI MITCHELL | VAN MORRISON | NEIL DIAMOND | EMMYLOU HARRIS| MUDDY WATERS | THE STAPLES | RINGO STARR | RON WOOD | DR. JOHN | PAUL BUTTERFIELD | RONNIE HAWKINS

 

My Neighbour Totoro (1988) ***** 30th Anniversary release


Dir: Hayao Miyazaki | Japan | Anime | 86′

This delicately drawn brightly animated fantasy is possibly the best loved of all Hayao Miyazaki’s Ghibli offerings. The magical ‘ghost’ story is so cute it couldn’t say boo to a goose yet remains unsentimental and rooted in reality. With a featherlight frisson of fear, Miyazaki captures the wonder, amazement and uncertainty of growing up, and our childhood need to retreat to a secret fantasy world. Brimming with hope and excitement, two tiny girls move with their father to a countryside retreat where their mother is recovering in hospital. The nearby woods are full of fantasy and intrigue. A cuddly creature called Totoro provides a source of spiritual nourishment and soulful awakening for the sisters as they face the reality of their mother’s illness, constantly lurking at the back of their minds. This sumptuously beautiful Japanese anime offers versatile entertainment. There’s something for everyone to take away, if you can manage to leave. MT

MY NEIGHBOUR TOTORO: 30th ANNIVERSARY LIMITED EDITION (1000 max) DOUBLE PLAY BOXSET WITH BRAND NEW ARTWORK AVAILABLE 3 December 2018

Long Weekend (1975)*** Bluray release

Dir: Colin Eggleston | Writer: Everett De Roche  | Cast: Briony Behets, John Hargreaves | Horror | 97′

Long Weekend literally shouts 1978 in a garish aesthetic, tinkly soundtrack and flared trousered kind of way. But it could also be classed as an Avantgarde eco-thriller. Not up there with Wake in Fright but decent as Australian cult horror thrillers go (and kangaroo kills are also included, not to mention glorious seascapes). It sees a miserably unhappy couple head off for a doomed few days on the beach – or at least that’s the plan. Early on in the journey they hit a kangaroo who is dazed by the headlights, and this roadkill seems like a metaphor for the death of their love life. As they venture deeper and deeper into the outback, a supernatural element rears it head through strange exotic sounds in the forest. Come morning though things are looking more positive and they manage a pre-breakfast kiss on the idyllic seashore. But the primeval forces of Nature are not far away (thanks to eerie sounds and a repetitive Hammond organ chord motif, set to vibrato). It feels like Nature will get them in the end, if they continue to catch fish, use insecticide and shoot every bird in sight – and these events are over-laden with symbolism, signalling  the impending doom. And to be fair, Peter gets his just desserts – he’s a pretty base individual who doesn’t seem to have much sympathy for his gorgeous girlfriend (a dazzling Briony Behets), or the local flora and fauna, which he destroys with alarming frequency (even by 1970s standards). Peter’s a latent misogynist (a brash John Hargreaves) and Marcia’s dislike of camping and loss of sex drive makes things unfeasible, particularly as she’s depressed and mourning an unwanted abortion. They finally decide to hit the road after he gets bitten by a possum. But things go from bad to worse, and their conversation is scintillating: “You should have married your mother!” – “but you’ve got better tits”  Fun doesn’t even begin to cover to it!. MT

NOW OUT ON BLURAY BY SECOND SIGHT ON 5 NOVEMBER 2018

 

Nancy (2018) *** DVD release

Dir/Writer: Christina Choe | US Drama | 74′

In this understated study in narcissism downbeat Upstate New York is brought to life by a captivating Andre Riseborough. She plays a woman who thinks she may be have been kidnapped at birth.

Nancy is a compulsive manipulator of the truth, and a game-changer. In a misjudged bid to garner sympathy, she messes with people’s minds. Leaving meetings early, pretending to be ill or even pregnant – all these kind of moves show her to be at best a fantasist, and worst, completely untrustworthy. A slim story but a worthwhile one draws us into its fascinating web as Nancy quietly drops little thoughts into a conversation which ripple out and affect those around her, changing their dynamic in the process while she retreats into the darkness of her own personality.

A frustrated writer, Nancy prefers her cat Paul to her mother Betty (Ann Dowd), who has Parkinson’s Disease. Their relationship had clearly long since broken-down, but when she dies suddenly Nancy decides to contact a couple she sees on TV (J Smith-Cameron and Steve Buscemi) who talk movingly about their daughter disappearing 30 years previously. Nancy takes things further. 

Naturally, the couple want to believe Nancy is their long lost daughter, there’s an undeniable similarity between the photofit of the missing child and how Nancy looks in the present day. They also enjoy her company as she plays to their sympathy exposing her (pseudo) vulnerability and bringing out the woman’s maternal instinct, while Buscemi gives a strong performance as the inquiring father. The doom-laden tone is enforced by Peter Raeburn’s discordant score. This Sundance and Biennale College-supported indie debut is glum but certainly intriguing. MT

ON DVD AND DIGITAL DOWNLOAD 5 NOVEMBER 2018

 

Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) Viennale 2021

Dir: Terence Davies | UK Drama | 83′

Davies’s epic, musical celebration of the working class evokes a late 40s to late 50s cultural space. This was  soon to be replaced by more individualist post 1963 space where there existed, in certain areas of Liverpool, communal values and social cohesion. All that celebration of feeling (Distant Voices, Still Lives is a visceral and passionate work) comes hurtling back with vivid memories of a lost culture. It wasn’t all good, nor that bad, just considerably more honest and trusting. A lot of life was regimented, ordered and repressive yet authority had still managed to resist the effects of intense commercialisation. 

By 1988 we could look back wistfully at the better, and more authentic, aspects of those far distant voices and still lives – with “still” meaning organically centred or fixed by memory – and wonder what the film was saying about us in the present. By the eighties some of us sensed that society had become a hard and rapaciously driven market culture. 

Now in 2018 we can more thoughtfully analyse, to the point of mourning, the family and neighbourhood values that Distant Voices, Still Lives both celebrates and critiques. Those values may be now corroded, or even lost to us (Brexit is looming) but such a deep expression of the communal found perhaps its greatest, and most un-patronising, expression in Terence Davies’s eloquent film. Alongside such British films as Powell’s A Canterbury Tale, Losey’s The Servant and Anderson’s If…it’s a masterpiece and a landmark picture about English identity, class, aspiration, emotion and power. 

There is no linear narrative. The story is simple. A family’s reaction to a tyrannical father (brilliantly played by Pete Postlethwaite.). His death. The mourning. New life for the family as they grow up, marry and have children. The celebration of that fact. Growing old. The vicissitudes of extended family life where patterns of domestic abuse are dolefully repeated. Things forgiven. Put up with. Then, from the women, the fighting back. Whilst the men remain both complacent and shaken.

The film consists of two parts with the Still Lives section being filmed two years after the Distant Lives half. It’s a cyclic memory film indebted to Alain Resnais (minus the cerebral) and with a warmth that we get from Jean Renoir (all the performances of Distant Voices, Still Lives feel more ‘lived’ than acted.) Impressions, fragments, epiphanies, words and gestures are rigorously bonded by two musical soundtracks. 

We have the music of popular culture, such as O Mein Papa, Love is a Many Splendid Thing, blues, classical art and folk song (O Waly Waly) Vaughan Williams’s 3rd symphony, choral music, radio comedy and the shipping forecast amongst others.

That eclectic line-up functions as both counterpoint and relief to the song repertoire of ordinary people at home or in pubs singing their hearts out. Such popular songs as Taking a Chance on Love, I Love the Ladies and Dreamboat. Yet not just hearts but also minds are revealed as Terence Davies skilfully uses song with a dualism to both masquerade and expose his characters’ thoughts. 

Take the moment when actor Angela Walsh sings her solo “I Wanna be Around to pick up the pieces when somebody breaks your heart” it’s especially affecting when you realise she is unhappily married. None of the community singing ever becomes mannered or sentimental. Its pitch-perfect delivery keeps delving into character motivation – raw, soulful and compassionate utterances: collective and individual needs are voiced and move the film’s people on, in time and space, through beautifully shot and composed scenes. (Interestingly the fierce father never gets to sing with a group. His only lone singing moment is when he’s shown cleaning the coat of a pony in a barn, watched by a secret audience – his children when very young.) The musical genres of opera, operetta and the MGM musical (adored by Davies) giving his film the structure of a hybrid, autobiographical ballad. And complementing this extended song (both joyful and heartbreaking) are some masterly tracking shots.

One breathtaking example is one where a daughter weeps for her dead father and the camera moves along into darkness, followed by lit candles and the Catholic family together celebrating Christmas. States of death, belief, innocence and forgiveness are effortlessly trailed in front of you like a cine-poem (Terence Davies greatly admires T. S. Eliot.) Watching it again I thought of the working class voices of the pub scene in The Waste Land and flash forwarded to Davies’s 2008 Liverpool documentary Of Time and The City where Davies himself reads excerpts from Four Quartets as his camera tracks over the waterfront’s Royal Liver building at night.

I return to the year and month the film was released – September 1988. My father died aged 79 in May of that year. I wrote a short film script about him. It was called A Box of Swan and was accepted and broadcast on BBC2 in October 1990. Pete Postlethwaite was cast in the film as the older son having to deal with the funeral arrangements of his father. 

My own real father wasn’t like the violent man portrayed by Postlethwaite in Distant Voices, Still Lives. But when I witnessed the domestic violence depicted in Davies’s film I thought of my long dead Uncle Harry. He was a morbidly religious man and did what the father did in the film – beat his daughter and wife with a broom in the coal cellar. I thought of my poor Aunt Edie. And not just how art, as the cliché goes, imitates life but can tighten your memory’s hold on the cruelty of real actions. 

Yet cinema can also have a powerful redemptive charge. And Davies’s courageous film is of that high order of filmmaking. I don’t know if he knows, along with Eliot, the poetry of W.B.Yeats but the working class rituals and habits of Distant Voices, Still Lives make me think of lines from his poem A Prayer for my Daughter.

                                  “How but in custom and ceremony 

                                    Are innocence and beauty born?” 

You don’t have to know any of this poetry to appreciate the film, for it has its moving and cinematic own. And is, without me really needing to say, wonderfully acted by all concerned, a technical triumph (now beautifully re-mastered) very sad, very funny and resolutely affirmative – once seen it’s unforgettable. Alan Price©2018     

TERENCE DAVIES RETROSPECTIVE | VIENNALE 2021 | 21-31 OCTOBER

Edie (2018) *** Home Ent release

Dir.: Simon Hunter; Cast: Sheila Hancock, Kevin Guthrie, Amy Mason, Wendy Morgan; UK 2017, 102 min.

Oscillating between embarrassing and clumsy, Simon Hunter plays a tune with another inter-generational dalliance, this one sees a 83-year woman climbing a mountain in the Scottish Highlands, but wastes the great talent of lead Sheila Hancock.

After the death of her tyrannical husband, confined to a wheelchair for thirty odd years of their marriage, his widow Edie (Hancock) is on the verge of being packed off to a care home by her daughter Nancy (Morgan). Their relationship has always been strained so instead Edie decides to fulfil a burning ambition to scale the mountain in the Scottish Highlands, a trip originally planned with her father before he died. Her controlling husband had since managed to scupper the plans.

Leaving a slightly diffident message for her daughter, Edie heads North where she meets young Jonny (Guthrie), who sells her his services as a guide and paraphernalia from his sport shops. But his overbearing girlfriend Fiona (Mason) becomes jealous when Jonny takes a shine to Edie, impressed by her enterprising ambition to conquer one of Scotland’s most challenging peaks (Suilven), to make up for years of marital bitterness and resentment.

In this tale of life-affirming tale of redemption Simon Hunter certainly captures the magical beauty of the Highlands as well as the slightly comic camaraderie between Guthrie and Hancock, who is magnificent as Edie. But there are also some slightly misjudged moments such as when Edie attends a raucous party with Jonny’s loutish friends, made up like a caricature of a much younger woman. The film also verges into the realms of luxury travelogue, when Edie stumbles during a storm into a glamorous ‘hut’ with a blazing fire, and is fed porridge by the silent owner, things start to feel rather over-egged – or maybe over-salted? Which ever way, this is way over the top, even for a mountain drama. AS

Home entertainment | on blu-ray and DVD from 29th October 2018

Olivier Assayas | Early Films | On Bluray

DISORDER (DÉSORDRE) (1986) ***

Dir.: Olivier Assayas; Cast: Wadeck Stanczak, Ann-Gisel Glass, Lucas Belvaux, Remy Martin, Corinne Dada, Etienne Dacla, Etienne Daho, Philippe Demarle, Juliette Maihe, Simon de Bosse; France 1986, 88 min.

After editing Cahiers du Cinema and writing scripts, among them two for Andre Techiné, Assayas’ debut feature is a playground for lost souls in limbo. Three members of a band, Yvan (Stanczak), Anne (Glass) and Henri (Belvaux, a future director himself) rob a music shop but Yvan loses his nerve and kills the owner. The tone is chaotic and it’s clear that the trio will never be the same again, haunted by their own neurosis, self-doubt and self-obsession. There all react in different ways: Anne is traumatised by the murder; Ivan and Henry go on as if nothing has happened. But Anne soon distances herself from the other two, appalled by their blatant denial. Henri and Yvan get on with the daily running their band. Drummer Xavier (Martin) loses his girl friend band member Gabirel (de Bosse), whilst Ivan falls in love with Cora (Dacla), the manager’s girl friend. Henri is finally overcome by the darkness that has literally defeated him, leaving the rest behind with their doubts, affairs and long phone calls.

What starts as a Bonnie & Clyde drama soon morphs into a classic riff on the soul-searching that would continue to appear in his work: instead of the police (who never appear) we get the inner selves of the protagonists, desperately clinging on to the idyllic days they have left behind in the music shop. Shot in London, Paris and New York, by Assayas’ regular Denis Lenoir (Winter’s Child, Demonlover), whose images are the reflections of the tormented trio, everything rushing by frenetically. Perhaps most memorable are the long sessions in the phone box. Disorder is a modern Dostoyevsky.

WINTER’S CHILD (L’ENFANT DE L’HIVER) (1989) ****

Dir.: Olivier Assayas; Cast: Michel Feller, Clothilde de Bayser, Marie Matheron, Jean-Philippe Escoffey, Anouk Grinberg, Gerard Blain; France 1989, 85 min.

Winter’s Child, the director’s second feature, is a logical follow-up to Disorder. Set in a familiar milieu (the theatre), Assayas once again visits spiritual and emotional stagnation . Stephane (Feller) and Natalie (Matheron) are running out of steam as a couple. Casting around for away to revitalise their relationship they make the mistake of having a child – and this actually makes things worse. Stéhane leaves Natalie during the pregnancy and has a short affair with Sabine (de Bayser), a young set designer. Sabine likes Stéphane, but has just left a passionate relationship with actor Bruno (Escoffey). Sabine shuttles between her two lovers until Bruno rejects her once again, even asking her to leave the theatre so they can be rid of one another, once and for all. This endless chopping and changing goes on until Sabine threatens then with a gun one New Year’s Eve.

Assayas shows how adults are so often prone to emotional immaturity where affairs of the heart are concerned: narcissism predominates, a lack of commitment parades as spontaneity. Natalie’s motherhood at least allows her to progress to adulthood. These characters are brutal and self-pitying at the same time, changing their outlook on life and relationships change as often as their underwear. Winter’s Child would have benefited from the title of the Fassbinder’s first feature: Love is Colder than Death. Assayas certainly makes great progress in the three years between Disorder and Winter’s Child, the latter being an analytical portrait of self-centred emotions, mistaken for love in this brilliant La Ronde of self-deceit. AS

ON BLURAY FROM 8 OCTOBER COURTESY OF ARROW FILMS 

    

Kings of the Road (1976) Bluray release

Dir: Wim Wenders | Cast: Rüdiger Vogler, Hanns Zischler | Drama |

The final part of WIM WENDERS’ loose trilogy of road movies (following on from Alice in the Cities and Wrong Move), KINGS OF THE ROAD has been hailed as one of the best films of the 1970s and remains Wenders’ most remarkable portrait of his own country.

After driving his car at high speed off a road and into a river, losing all his worldly possessions, Robert Lander (Hanns Zischler) hitches a ride with Bruno Winter (Rüdiger Vogler), who travels across Germany’s hinterland repairing projectors in run-down cinemas. Along the way, the two men meet people whose lives are as at odds with the modern world as their own. In attempting to reconcile their past, the two men find themselves increasingly at odds with each other.

KINGS OF THE ROAD is a meditation on the passing of the age of great cinema, an acute study of life in post-war Germany and to this day remains one of Wim Wenders’ most accomplished films.

WINNER – FIPRESCI PRIZE 1976 | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 1976 | RESTORED/REMASTERED IN STUNNING 4K | Commissioned by the Wim Wenders Foundation and supervised by director Wim Wenders

The Comfort of Strangers (1990) **** Dual Format release

Dir: Paul Schrader | Writer: Harold Pinter | Cast: Christopher Walken, Natasha Richardson, Helen Mirren, Rupert Everett | US Thriller | 104′

Perhaps better named ‘Never Trust a Stranger’ this unsettling cult thriller sees Colin (Everett) and Mary (Richardson) head to Venice to spice up their jaded sex life. But the trip will also lead to tragedy putting an end to the sensual piquancy they hoped for.

Harold Pinter wrote a winning script that explores the more exotic avenues of sexuality through the couple’s chance meeting with a generous but often brutally playful aristocratic Robert (Walken) and his submissive wife Carol (Mirren). The sultry Venetian ambiance lulls them into a devil may care sense of adventure as they endure a bizarre evening with this strange couple in their magnificent palazzo after which Colin and Mary discover a new zest for each other that melds with obliging uneasiness to comply with Robert’s wishes. Not put off by this second encounter, they surrender to a third get together with devastating consequences. There is seemingly no limit to their naivity which can only be put down to a distinct lack of judgement, and a foolhardiness resulting from their innate English politeness. Schrader’s gracefully paced slow-burner exerts a beguiling yet sinister torque on the viewer, while impressive performances make for an engrossing if unsettling watch, amplified, in hindsight, by Richardson’s untimely death less than a decade later. This is a stifling erotic thriller enriched by Dante Spinotti’s camerawork surrounding us in the richly torpid environment that is Venice in Summer, Gianni Quaranta’s sensuous sets showcasing scenes of stultifying horror. MT

OUT ON DUAL FORMAT FROM 24 SEPTEMBER 2018 | BFI releases are available from all good home entertainment retailers or by mail order from the BFI Shop Tel: 020 7815 1350 or online at www.bfi.org.uk/shop

Eye of the Needle (1981) *** Bluray release

Dir: Richard Marquand | Cast: Donald Sutherland, Kate Nelligan, Christopher Cazenove, | Action Drama | UK |

EYE OF THE NEEDLE is an ambitious wartime spy thriller set on the Isle of Mull and based on Ken Follett’s novel adapted for the screen by Stanley Mann. It was one of several big screen outings made by the British TV director Richard Marquand along with Jagged Edge and Return of the Jedi.

Evergreen themes of passion vs marital allegiance are bought sharply into focus when a stranger arrives on the remote Scottish Island en route to Germany with secrets that will stop the D-Day Invasion. Donald Sutherland’s ruthless spy is the outsider who inveigles himself into the household of Lucy (Kate Nelligan) and her ex-RAF husband David (Christopher Cazenove) who is wheelchair bound after a car accident pictured in the early scenes in an idyllic English countryside. But can illicit passion survive the harsh realities of war? This is a gripping and energetic affair, with appealing performances from Cazenove and Nelligan as the conflicted couple, but somehow Donald Sutherland never feels attractive enough to appeal to this lonely woman, and despite his best efforts to bring charisma to the role, he just remains a weirdly unlikeable psychopath.

After a brief prelude in the summer of 1940, Sutherland’s unsavoury German spy called Faber -”Needle” is his codename – finds out that the Allied invasion of Europe will take place in Normandy. But while he’s about to relay this information to his superiors he is shipwrecked on Storm Island (Mull) and rescued by Lucy and David, who is threatened by his steely presence in their family home.  Meanwhile, Faber goes straight for the jugular when he realises that the couple’s marriage is in trouble largely due to David’s feelings of inadequacy, and it’s not longer before he has cast a spell over Lucy with a combination of his powerful persona and bedroom skills. Their passionate affair then becomes the central focus, the spy story taking a back seat with its rather inevitable and unsurprising showdown as Lucy comes to her senses – and there’s nothing like a drab morning in Scotland for staging a wake-up call.

But it’s Kate Nelligan who you’ll remember, nearly three decades after the film’s initial release. It’s a shame her feature film career never really went further than TV work because she brings a remarkable tenderness to her role as Lucy. As war romance thrillers go, Richard Marquand certainly made an impressionable one. MT

OUT ON DUAL FORMAT FROMT 24 SEPTEMBER 2018 | BFI releases are available from all good home entertainment retailers or by mail order from the BFI Shop Tel: 020 7815 1350 or online at www.bfi.org.uk/shop

https://youtu.be/tZTWyNrWkqk

The King (2018) **** DVD release

Dir: Eugene Jarecki | US | Musical Biopic with Alex Baldwin, Ethan Hawke, Ashton Kutcher, Lana Del Rey, Emmylou Harris | 109′

Using Elvis Presley’s life as a metaphor to explore America’s modern malaise from so-called dream to disaster, Eugene Jarecki’s Sundance Grand Jury Winner heads across the States for a musical mystery tour in the legendary star’s vintage Rolls Royce, four decades after his life as one of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century ended in a heart attack, aged 42.

Although Jarecki adopts a novel approach to the life of the legendary singer and entertainer, the results are sprawling, spirited and great fun in a biopic that gazes deep into the soul of a nation in flux and features an eclectic cast of stars and well known places from Presley’s birthplace in Tupelo, Mississippi, to Graceland, Memphis, Las Vegas and New York.

Enlivened by archive footage, musical interludes and enlightening observations from Ethan Hawke and Alec Baldwin, ex-band members and those associated with Presley’s life, Jarecki cleverly draws a comparison between the star and President Trump  showing how these two  transformative figures made a terrific impact on the US culture. In Presley’s case his musical style created a bridge to ease racial tension which sadly ended in disappointment, particularly in the southern states, due to the pursuit of financial above humanitarian goals (Presley always chased the money in his career choices, and when once purportedly asked by President Reagan whether he would choose a new swimming pool or to help kids with AIDS, he went for the swimming pool). On the face of Jarecki’s seems like an inspired and persuasive viewpoint: whether it stands up beyond this cursory glance, remains to be seen and sometimes his approach feels as it Elvis has been slotted in to meet the needs of his argument. 

Needless to say, the musical soundtrack is astonishing (shame the excerpts are so short) and Jarecki’s wide angle images of the glittering skylines and sweeping landscapes of Route 66 make this an enjoyable romp as well as an informative biopic of the “King of Rock and Roll” MT

ON DVD FROM 1 October 2018

ARTISTS FEATURED IN THE KING

EmiSunshine and The Rain; Leo “Bud” Welch; STAX Music Academy All-Stars John Hiatt; Loveful Heights; Immortal Technique; The Handsome Family; Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers; M. Ward ; Justin Merrick and the STAX Academy All-Stars; Lindy Vision; Robert Bradley

FILMS FEATURED IN THE KING

LOVING YOU (1957); SPEEDWAY (1968); JAILHOUSE ROCK (1957); KID GALAHAD (1962); GI BLUES (1960); FOLLOW THAT DREAM (1962); GIRL HAPPY (1965); CLAMBAKE (1967); IT HAPPENED AT THE WORLDS FAIR (1963); TICKLE ME (1965); EASY COME EASY GO (1967); FUN IN ACAPULCO (1963); BLUE HAWAII (1961); LIVE A LITTLE LOVE A LITTLE (1968); HARUM SCARUM (1965); PARADISE HAWAIIAN STYLE (1966); FRANKIE AND JOHNNY (1966); VIVA LAS VEGAS (1964)

The Nun (1966/67) ****

Dir: Jacques Rivette | Cast: Anna Karina, Liselotte Pulver, Francisco Rabal, Micheline Presle | Drama | France | 140′

Jacques Rivette is famous for his playful features such as Céline and Juliette go Boating, and his one and only excursion into mainstream fare, La Religieuse (1966), based on a Diderot novel, is also full of anarchic fun and was almost banned due to its salaciousness, but went on to be nominated for the Palme D’Or in the year of its making. Suzanne Simonin (Anna Karina), is incarcerated in a cloister against her will and soon falls foul of not one, but three Mother-Superiors who respectively treat her sadistically, tenderly, or as an object for plain lesbian lust – but Suzanne stays pure. This anti-clerical romp was very popular at the box office and served as a liberating force for Karina giving her the emotional impetus to finally divorce JL Godard after having completed their last collaboration, Made in USA, in the same year. AS

IN ARTHOUSE VENUES NATIONWIDE FROM 27 JULY 2018 with a HOME ENT release planned for September 2018 | COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL

 

The Crime of Monsieur Lange (1936) **** Bluray release

Dir.: Jean Renoir; Cast: Rene Lefevre, Florelle, Jules Berry, Nadia Sibirskaia; France 1936, 80 min.

Jean Renoir’s The Crime of Monsieur Lange is often seen as a political film, supporting the Front Populaire  – Renoir working with the Left Bank agit-prop theatre Premiere Groupe Octobre, but it goes much further: criticising misogyny and the unjust laws regarding abortion. One of his most successful dramas it is humane and entertaining, scripted by Jacques Prevert (Les enfants du Paradise), the film was also notable for its innovative techniques in depth of field photography.

Amadée Lange (Lefèvre) is a day-dreamer, unlike his scheming boss Paul Batala (Berry) who runs a publishing house exploiting its women workers. Strangely, or not so, Lange’s Western comic-strip hero Arizona Jim is the total opposite of his creator: always trying to defend the poor against the rich. Batala even uses Lange’s stories to prop up the small ads. But when the womanising Batala starts to run up debts with his creditors, he asks Estelle (Sibirskaia) to sleep with one of them to keep him at bay. All in vain: Batala has to make a run for it, escaping on a train, which later crashes. He goes into hiding disguised in the clergyman robes of one of his fellow travellers. Meanwhile Lange and his lover Valentine (Florelle, star of Moulin Rogue) witness a reversal of fortune: Arizona Jim and his creator have become a success, and all the employees of the company share the profits. But, alas Batala soon re-appears, wanting to re-instate himself.

The Crime is told in flashback: Lange and Florelle are on the run at the Belgian boarder when she asks the “court” in a local relais to decide if her lover was really guilty when he shot the returning Batala in the courtyard where the action unfolds. This roving scene is a masterpiece shot by DoP Jean Bachelet in the style of the handheld cameras that would follow in the future “eyeing the life layered all around it with persuasive urban density”. 

The drama also showcases Renoir’s controlled spontaneity, a breezing sublimity where a character can jump suddenly into the frame, thus changing the narrative. Berry makes for a terrific pantomime villain, showing real flashes of evil. Florelle lures the hesitant Lefevre with her in a superb turn. Even though La Regle du Jeu and La vie est à nous, were much more admired, Le Crime is the most spirited of the trio. AS

NOW OUT ON BLURAY COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL

   

 

The Poetic Trilogy (1996-2012)

Mohsen Makhmalbaf is one of its shining lights of Iranian cinema lauded by critics and cineastes alike on the international film circuit and at home. His Poetic Trilogy is a collection of three of the writer-director’s most lyrical, imaginative works:

GABBEH

Dir.: Mohsen Makhmalbaf; Cast: Shaghayeh Djodat, Abbas Sayah, Hossein Moharami, Rogleih Moharami, Parvanah Ghalandari; Iran/France 1996, 75 min.

THE SILENCE (SOKOUT)

Dir.: Mohsen Makhmalbaf; Cast: Tahmineh Normatova, Nadareh Abdelahyeva, Goibibi Ziadolaheva, Araz M. Shirmohamadi; Iran/Tajikistan/France 1998, 76 min.

THE GARDENER

Dir.: Mohsen Makhmalbaf; Cast: Ririva Eona Mabi, Paula Asadi, Bal Kumar Gurung, Maysam Makhmalbaf, Mohsen Makhmalbaf; South Korea/Israel/Iran/UK 2012; 87 min,  

Director/writer Mohsen Makhmalbaf (*1957) went to prison at the age of seventeen, protesting against the regime of the Shah of Persia by knifing a policeman. After serving five years of his life sentence, he was freed in the aftermath of the Iranian Islamic Revolution, and his first four films are one-dimensional propaganda features. But his growing criticism of the Islamic authorities led finally to his exile in 2005. He has since lived in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, India and Paris, before settling finally in London. His three children Samira, Hana and Meysam are all filmmakers in their own right.

This ‘Poetic Trilogy’ consisting of three features shot between 1996 and 2012, could be called lyrical journeys, very much in the manner of Sergei Paradjanow’s The Colour of Pomegranates. The emphasis is on the visual, and GABBEH starts with an exploration of the colourful titular carpet, floating downstream. The carpet depicts a couple riding a horse, and whilst the owner of the carpet, elderly couple (Hossein and Rogleih Moharami) fight over their past, recounting their romantic miss-adventures, the girl in the picture, also called Gabbeh (Djodat), springs to live, to tell her story. Living with Nomads, Gabbeh is looking forward to marry her beloved for a long time. But her repressive father always invents new reasons to postpone the marriage: her uncle (Ghalandari) is used as a reason for the father to stall. First Gabbeh has to wait for the uncle’s return from a trip, than he has to find a wife for himself – somebody who will sing near a river “like a canary”. But Gabbeh tires of seeing her future husband only as a shadow on the horizon, and she will have to make a decision.

Filmed in a small town in Tajikistan, SILENCE tells the story of ten-year old Khorshid (Normatova), who is blind, but earns a living as a tuner of musical instruments, to support his mother. His master always threatens him with dismissal, since the young boy gets obsessed with the four opening notes of Beethoven’s Fifth, which keeps him distracted. A young woman (Abdelahyeva) acts as his eyes, selling bread and fruit near the river. She wears cherries instead of earrings and flower petals instead of nail varnish. In one scene, she becomes very nervous, when a soldier looks like he wants to arrest a woman, who is not adequately covered. SILENCE is a symphony of images (DoP Ebrahim Ghafori) and sounds, a magic and sensual journey into the world of a special childhood.

In THE GARDENER, not quite a documentary, but more a travelogue about the role of religion, Mohsen senior and his son Meysam visit the magnificent Gardens of the Baha’i faith headquarters in Haifa. The Baha’I religion has about six million followers world wide, but in Iran, its members are persecuted and often imprisoned. Makhmalbaf sen. interviews one of the volunteers tending the garden, Ririva Eona Mabi from Papua New Guinea, to learn more about the Baha’I faith. Afterwards son and father split up: Whilst Mohsen will play the role of the defender of religion and faith, Meysam will prove the destructive force of every organised religion. He travels to Jerusalem, where he films Israeli citizens praying at certain parts of the West Wall where the equally important Al-Asqua Mosque is literally a stone’s throw away. Meysam concludes quite rationally that religion has been exposed and damaged beyond repair by groups such as the Taliban. Meanwhile his father finds enough bystanders only too happy to discuss the positive aspects of religious faith. In the end Mohsen and Eona Mabi “mirror their hearts”, carrying big mirrors which reflect the red of the flowers surrounding them, before listening to the waves crashing down on a stormy beach nearby.  

The trilogy is a feast of colours and ideas directed by a filmmaker who has paid the price for expressing his vision of tolerance, framed in images of splendour and beauty. AS

The newly restored Blu-ray release of Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s The Poetic Trilogy? Out 27th August from Arrow Academy. 

   

Witness for the Prosecution (1957) **** Bluray release

Dir: Billy Wilder | Writers: Billy Wilder, Harry Kurnitz, Lawrence B Marcus | Cast: Marlene Dietrich, Tyrone Power, Charles Laughton, Elsa Lanchester, John Williams, Torin Thatcher, Norma Varden, Una O’Connor | US Crime Drama | 116′

A veteran British barrister takes on a slippery client in Billy Wilder’s twisty courtroom triumph based on Agatha Christie’s international stage success.

WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION is an enjoyable classic masterpiece that blends humour, intrigue and stunning performances from an outstanding cast lead by Charles Laughton as the bombastic diehard Sir Wilfred Roberts (Laughton), who is determined not to be outwitted by his charmingly glib client the putative murderer Leonard Vole (Power) whose steely wife Christine (Dietrich) plays a vixen with a heart of gold. Wilder and his co-writer Harry Kurnitz lace this deliciously intoxicating cocktail with their signature witty one-liners that pretty up this elegantly pleasing theatrical courtroom drama with its robust legal underpinnings and insight into England in the late 1950s, the distant echoes of WWII and Colonialism adding gusto to the storyline.

The film was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director and was reportedly praised by Agatha Christie as the best adaptation of her work she had seen. MT

AVAILABLE ON BLURAY COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA FROM 10 SEPTEMBER 2018

The Senator | Chappaquiddick (2017) *** | Digital HD DVD

Dir John Curran | Cast: Jason Clarke, Kate Mara, Ed Helms, Jim Gaffigan, Clancy Brown, Taylor Nichols, Olivia Thirlby, Bruce Dern | US | Political Drama | 97′

The Senator looks swanky enough with its Ivy League Sixties aesthetic but as a gripping account of when Ted Kennedy (Clarke) had a car accident in Chappaquiddick, Martha’s Vineyard that led to the death of campaign worker Mary Jo Kopechne (Mara), it’s a pretty flaccid affair.

And that’s no fault of these two versatile actors – Jason Clarke is a dead ringer for Ted, and Mara makes a cool but brief appearance as Mary Jo – or a decent cast that includes veteran Bruce Dern who do their utmost to serve this legendary incident in American 20th century history, that, on the face of it, offers luridly exciting dramatic potential with its themes of adultery, sexual shenanigans, cover-ups and dirty politics in an era fraught with glamour and intrigue. Not least is the fact that Ted Kennedy kept the whole thing under wraps from the authorities – or even his advisors, for a 10 whole hours, even enjoying a night’s sleep before spilling the beans about the mishap and his colleague’s disappearance.

Yet Curran plays all these explosive elements down to offer a sober, morose, almost worthy, drama that adopts a near religious respect to the scandal that rocked the final knockings of the Sixties, and debatably put paid to Ted’s Kennedy’s political career. In the event, the whole episode was buried under the breaking news of the first moon landing two days later.

Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan’s debut script plays out like a tame crime procedural maintaining that because the tragedy took place on Kennedy home soil in Massachusetts, it was possible to stage manage the incident and keep the incendiary potential underwater, drowning most of the scandal along with its sorry victim, who was only 28 at the time. What is not played down however is the strongly patriarchal influence of a frail Joe Kennedy (Bruce Dern) who continued to pull rank on his son: despite being semi-gaga and confined to a wheelchair he manages to deflate his progeny with a potent allure.

Curran and his writers make no attempt to elaborate or delve deeper into the well-known facts – that Ted was offering Mary Jo a lift home from an ordinary campaign evening when his car left a bridge and somersaulted into the shallow river below. Kennedy escaped but did not rescue Mary Jo, claiming amnesia brought on by shock. After getting a metaphorical clip round the ear from pater during a telephone call where he asks for advice, Ted then disappears into the bosom of his family as advisors close ranks around him.

What transpires, unsurprisingly, is that this powerful US scion appears to be above the law: Curran shows Ted to be a rather spineless individual whose ill-conceived decision to don a neck brace for Mary Jo’s funeral also proves him to be rather narcissistic and lacking in integrity. In the event, Kennedy pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of a crash causing personal injury and got away lightly with a two-year suspended sentence.

With its sonorous score by Garth Stevenson, The Senator offers decent but rather lacklustre viewing, and while it will certainly enlighten those not familiar with the story, it hardly sets the night on fire with what could have been an incendiary political thriller. MT

NOW ON DIGITAL HD AND DVD from 20 AUGUST 2018

 

 

Separate Tables (1958) **** bluray release

Dir: Delbert Mann | Writer: Terence Rattigan, John Gay | Cast: Deborah Kerr, Rita Hayworth, David Niven, Burt Lancaster, Gladys Cooper, Cathleen Nesbitt, Felix Aylmer, May Hallett, Rod Taylor Audrey Dalton | UK | Drama | 100′

Based  on the one act plays “Table by the Window” and “Table Number Seven” by Terence Rattigan. This intimate and exquisitely-crafted character drama from Marty director Delbert Mann shows darker noirish shadows lurking behind its chic and gracefully turned out long-term residents staying at the Beauregard Hotel in the English seaside resort of Bournemouth, in the late fifties. 

The hotel manager is the prim and dignified Miss Pat Cooper (Wendy Hiller) who seems to be involved with Burt Lancaster’s recovering alcoholic. But it soon emerges that the troubled writer is actually still in love with his beautiful but insecurely narcissistic former wife (a glowing Rita Hayworth) who – on a dynamic-changing rebound – makes a smouldering entrance amongst the assembled guests, an unhappy assortment of troubled misfits, loners and fakes who welcome the chance to have the company of fellow souls as they dine at separate tables, all elegantly attired by costumier Edith Head. David Niven plays the part of a Walter Mitty major, a delusional phoney who tries to impress the emotionally fragile and histrionic Deborah Kerr, styling himself as a war hero. Deborah is accompanied by her brittle and overbearing mother (Gladys Cooper). 

Considered controversial at the time it all feels rather quaint but its underlying themes of emotional dysfunction, family breakdown, lost love and broken dreams are enduring and just as meaningful now as they ever were, and John Gay’s thoughtful script (complimented by David Raksin’s atmospheric score and Charles Lang’s pristine cinematography) never resorts to melodrama or sensationalism in expressing them as the narrative gradually reaches a satisfying conclusion with the ensemble cast giving some really fabulous performances. This is English classic cinema at its best. MT

AVAILABLE ON BLURAY | DVD FROM 20 AUGUST 2018

The Last Movie Star (2017) *

Dir.: Adam Rifkin; Cast: Burt Reynolds, Ariel Winter, Clark Duke, Ellar Coltrane, Chevy Chase; USA 2017, 94 min.

Adam Rifkin has had a mix career in movies and TV, coming up with features like Dawn of Sex (original title Homo Erectus), and here shows an ageing Burt Reynolds in the worst possible light.

Keeping the best part for starters, we first meet elderly actor Vic Edwards (Reynolds) in the waiting room of a vet’s practice where he will later be told that his dog must be put down. Driving back to his sprawling mansion, we do feel for him. But Rifkin makes sure that our sympathy won’t last. Talking to his buddy Sonny (Chase) in an outdoor restaurant – where no woman escapes their lascivious glances – Edwards tells him about his invitation to Nashville to receive a lifetime award. He’s not keen to go but Sonny eventually talks him into making the all-expenses-paid trip and he is soon met at the airport by Lil (Winter), a millennial Goth pestered by an abusive and two-timing boyfriend. 

In Nashville, Edwards is aghast at the shabby hotel but even more by the venue of his prize giving: a backroom of a bar where Lil’s brother Doug (Duke) and Shane McAvoy (Coltrane) lead the proceedings. After a pathetic ‘ride’ on a rocking horse meant for children, even Edwards has had enough, and wants to be taken back to the airport. But seeing a motorway exit leading to his hometown of Knocksville, he changes his mind, and revisits old haunts: his family home and the football stadium, before meeting his first wife in a care home. “Having made peace” with his past, he can return to Sonny and ogling young women.

This choice cinematic experience with its themes of nostaligia and last chances is made considerably less bearable by interludes from two Reynolds films (Smokey and the Bandit/ Deliverance) spliced into the narrative. This allows the older Reynolds to talk to his young alter-egos. The Last Movie star is beyond saving: Cheesy, sentimental, cliché-ridden and utterly sexist, it’s certainly a contender for “Turkey of the Year”.

COMING TO DIGITAL ON 20 AUGUST 2018

The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (1971) **** Die Angst des Tormanns for den Elfmeter

Dir.: Wim Wenders; Cast: Arthur Brauss, Kai Fischer, Erika Pluhar, Libgart Schwarz, Marie Bardischewski, Rudiger Vogler; FRG/Austria 1971, 101 min. 

Based on the novella by German playwright Peter Handke, who would be his collaborator on Falsche Bewegung, Wenders’ debut The Goalie’s Anxiety is a portrait of alienation, where meaningful communication has ground to a halt. 

The story kicks off when anti-hero and professional footballer Joseph Bloch (Brauss) is given the red card for protesting against a goal scored (in his opinion) from an off-side position. In the aftermath, he wanders around Vienna losing the will to live until his first casual sexual encounter with Marie (Bardischeewski). Next on the list is Gloria (Pluhar), a cinema cashier who sells him a ticket for Howard Hawks’ Red Line 7000. After spending the night in her flat near the airport, Bloch strangles her without any apparent motive and sets off for Bierbaum, a small border village near Hungary. There he falls out with his old friend and innkeeper Hertha (Fischer), after trying to flirt with her and barmaid Anna (Schwarz), without really showing any real commitment to either. He then bores a salesman rigid with his stories about penalties, as the two watch the game.

Wenders’ regular DoP Robby Muller keeps his camerawork mostly static, reflecting the intransigent mood of the main protagonist. Bloch is unconcerned about being pursued by the Poice, even when he sees a composite drawing of his mug in the newspaper he stays put. His nonchalant reaction to the murder suggests sociopathy, he’s possibly a serial-killer, so bored with himself and everyone else that the act of killing leaves him unimpressed and catatonic.

After a recent visit to the States, Bloch (like Wenders) is obsessed with America, and gadgetry of all kinds (a latter-day substitute for his mobile ‘phone?). The Wurlitzer juke box in the bar gets all his attention. His talk is flat and casual – a dead fish at the best of times. Vogler plays a village idiot and would go on to play the many ‘broken’ male heroes in Wenders’ films. Strangely, he seems to be the only one who cares for others. 

As spare and striking as a noir-feature in colour, The Goalie’s Anxiety is a brilliant study of chronic introspection seen through the eyes of an individual who can only express himself through violence. Desolate and disenchanted, he is caught in a trap of his own making, an island off an archipelago of sorrow. A triste portrait of psychotic gloom. AS

Having remained commercially unavailable for over three decades due to music licensing, Wim Wenders’ 1972 classic THE GOALIE’S ANXIETY AT THE PENALTY KICK returns to UK cinemas in Summer 2018, restored and remastered in stunning 4K. Also available on Blu-ray and DVD

The Changeling (1980) **** Bluray release

Dir: Peter Medak | Cast: George C Scott, Trish Van Devere, Joh Colicos, Melvyn Douglas | Horror | 107′

Born into a Jewish family of textile merchants in 1937 director Peter Medak fled his native Hungary during the late 1950s uprising to embark on a film career in the UK which would see him directing for both TV and the big screen. In 1963 he signed with Paramount Pictures where his feature debut was Negatives (1968). This was followed by such successes as The Ruling Class (1972); The Krays (1990) and Let Him Have It 1991). Medak’s TV work includes episodes for The Wire; Hannibal; Homicide: Life on the Streets and Breaking Bad. Slated to world premiere at Venice this September, his latest film is a documentary entitled The Ghost of Peter Sellers based on the unreleased film Ghost in the Midday Sun, filmed in Cyprus in 1973.

The Changeling is a gripping supernatural thriller anchored by a terrific turn from George C Scott as a talented composer who seeks solace in a remote West Coast mansion after the tragic death of his wife and daughter. In this stylish horror outing, Medak quails away from cheap thrills and sensationalism in favour of a more elegant and intriguing approach gradually inveigling us into the life of John Russell (Scott) and the mysterious history of his haunted home and its connections to a powerful local senator (Spencer Carmichael). All the usual tropes are deftly employed to disturbing effect: murderous wheelchairs, mysterious banging doors and séances, as the sceptical Scott and his friend Claire Norman (real wife Trish Van Devere) gradually identify both victim and usurper in a shocking and satisfying denouement.  MT 

NOW OUT ON BLURAY COURTESY OF SECOND SIGHT FILMS | 13 August 2018

https://youtu.be/ro4aYYPgctI

The Producers (1968) | Bluray

Dir: Mel Brooks | Cast: Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Estelle Winwood | US Comedy | 90′

Mel Brooks’ debut feature is a flagrant  New York Jewish comedy so gross it is actually hilarious and hammy in the extreme – in the best tradition of American Burlesque. Set in Broadway is stars Zero Mostel as Max Bialystock a failing theatre producer forced to flatter a series of rich widows in order to finance his plays. When timid accountant Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) is brought in to do his books, he inadvertently reveals to Bialystock that under the right circumstances, a producer could make more money with a flop than a hit. So Bialystock cajoles Bloom into helping him achieve this end and together they come up with what they consider to be a sure-fire disaster waiting to happen – a musical version of Adolf and Eva’s love story entitled ‘Springtime For Hitler’. 

Directed by legendary filmmaker Mel Brooks (Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles), and starring Zero Mostel (The Front), Gene Wilder (Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory) and Estelle Winwood (Murder By Death), The Producers was adapted for Broadway in 2001, starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, and went on to win a record 12 Tony Awards.

THE PRODUCERS new 4k restoration from the original negative screens nationwide on August 5 2018 in celebration of the film’s 50th anniversary. The Oscar-winning feature will also include a very special Mel Brooks introduction from Turner Classic Movies. MT

The Producers will be released in UK cinemas for one day only on August 5th, and then on DVD/Blu-ray/EST on September 10th 

In Harmony | En Equilibre **** (2016)

Dir: Denis Dercourt | Cast: Cecile de France, Albert Dupontel | France | Drama | 82’

Two magnetic performances (not to mention a great supporting act from stallion Othello) make this elegantly crafted uplifting drama really watchable. Based on the true story of paralympian Bernard Sachsé, a stunt horse trainer who suffers life-changing injuries, it stars Albert Dupontel) as Marc, paralysed from the waist down after an accident on a film set. It turns out that his insurance loss adjuster Florence (Cecile de France) has a sideline as a former professional pianist playing just the kind of tunes that the good-looking rider enjoys as the two gradually fall in love while fighting over the claim resolution.

Set in the glorious countryside of Brittany in springtime, this cleverly written and well-paced story shows how two people can come together through their artistic appreciation of one another. Florence is attracted by Marc’s courage and self-belief in pursuing his dreams, and also his appreciation of the skills that she herself has neglected in order to pursue a safer, more traditional life as a working mother. But it’s not all straightforward, and seasoned director Denis Dercourt adds a twist to his tale that creates a soupçon of dramatic tension as the film trots satisfyingly towards its final denouement. An inspiratonal, feelgood film with some moving moments. MT

NOW AVAILABLE ON DVD FROM ICARUS FILMS 

 

It Happened Here (1965) | dual format re-master

Dir: Kevin Brownlow/Andrew Mollo | Cast: Pauline Murray, Sebastian Shaw, Bart Allison, Reginald Marsh, Derek Milburn | Drama | UK | 93′

Made on a shoestring budget – and none the worse for it – Brownlow/Mollo’s Neorealist re-imagining of a Nazi invasion of Britain is plausible and chilling: even though the event never happened. Financed by Tony Richardson and his Woodfall Film Production Company, it was shot in 16mm and 35mm, with a mainly amateur cast and incredible attention to detail.

Eight years in the making – Brownlow was only 18, Mollo 16 when they started – IT HAPPENED HERE pictures the whole scenario in the wake of the British retreat from Dunkirk in 1940 where the German army are strongly resisted at first, but finally crushed, lacking outside support. Then in 1944, it reappeared and the result sees history being re-written with Germany winning the Second World War with England under occupation.  MT

SCREENING AT BFI SOUTHBANK ON 23 JULY AT 18.00 FOLLOWED BY A DISCUSSION WITH KEVIN BROWNLOW AND ANDREW MOLLO TO MARK BROWNLOW’S 80TH BIRTHDAY | DUAL FORMAT RELEASE NOW AVAILABLE.

 

 

La Belle et la Bete (1946) Bluray and Prime Video


Dir, Writer: Jean Cocteau | Cast: Jean Marais, Josette Day, Mila Parély, Nane Germon, Michel Auclair, Marcel André | 96min | Fantasy Drama | French with English subtitles

LA BELLE ET LA BÊTE is one of the most amazing fantasy films ever made, drawing you into its Gothic spell and enchanting beauty.

Jean Cocteau was a visionary intellectual and one of the creative geniuses of the 20th century.  A poet, writer, painter and filmmaker, the dreamlike nature of his work is perhaps best showcased on the silver screen.  Given the climate of austerity, shortages and widespread power-cuts when the film was being shot during the end of the Second World War, it seems even extraordinary – and nothing less than a work of art.  And although some of its effects may appear unremarkable to contemporary audiences, its mesmerising style and ambience was unlike any other film that had gone before.

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Based on a fairytale by Madame Leprince de Beaumont, there is something delightfully innocent yet sophisticated about this fable with its dark Freudian implications. Light of touch and ethereal in atmosphere – evoked by Henri Alekan’s sensual cinematography (assisted by Rene Clement) – there is nevertheless a sinister undertone to proceedings enhanced by Georges Auric’s haunting music, placed in a Gothic setting in the French countryside where La Belle lives with her family not far from the bewitched chateau of La Bête, inspired by Gustave Doré.  In LA BELLE ET LA BÊTE, Cocteau (who was 60 at the time) asks us to suspend our disbelief as adults and return to childhood with all its magic and mystery.

La Belle’s father is a refined merchant who has fallen on difficult times. Lamenting their reduced circumstances, La Belle’s two nasty sisters Felicié and Adélaide (played with coquettish petulance by Mila Parély and Nane Germo) and sneering brother Ludovic (Michel Auclair) constantly diminish her. Suitor Avelante (Jean Marais) who also plays La Bete, prancing around in his regal splendour in one scene, before descending into brutish behaviour in the next – fangs bared and eyes glistening: very much the epitome of the modern alpha male. His make-up alone is a masterpiece. The costumes were designed by Lanvin and Pierre Cardin.

There’s an experimental feel to the film with its trance-like episodes as La Belle glides through the corridors of La Bête’s bewitched Château, with its draperies wafting eerily and mysterious statues coming to life in the glint of lighted candelabras and goblets of wine:  There are even ‘electric’ gates and an enchanted white horse: Le Magnifique, whose rider’s wish is its command. This is the stuff of dreams; there a magic mirrors, and gauntlets that transport the wearer from one place to another. La Bête is a sad figure, almost like that of Count Dracula; forced to live a life without love entombed in a nocturnal doom, and forced to beg each night at seven for La Belle’s hand in marriage.  The answer will surprise you. Avant-garde fantasy coalesces with the peerless disciplines of traditional methods and drama, even teaching the American cinema of the day some tricks that it never thought possible. MT

LA BELLE ET LA BETE IS ON BLURAY and PRIME VIDEO

 

 

Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) Prime Video

Dir.: John Frankenheimer; Cast: Burt Lancaster, Karl Malden, Thelma Ritter, Edmund O’Brien, Betty Field, Telly Savalas; US 1962, 147 min.

Director John Frankenheimer (1930-2002) came from a TV background and retains his documentary approach once at Hollywood which was nominated for several Oscars and went on to sweep the board at Venice in 1962.

There were various setbacks – Charles Crichton actually started at the helm but the British director fell out with the film’s star and de-facto producer, Burt Lancaster, and left alongside his DoP John Alton.

There were script issues too: Frankenheimer was told that Guy Trosper’s screenplay would run for four and half hours, so clearly scenes had to be re-shot later to fall in line with a new narrative, Birdman still running for well over two hours.

Lancaster plays Robert Stroud (Lancaster) spent 53 years of his life in prison and mostly in solitary confinement until his death in 1963. His life-long tormentor was Prison Warden Harvey Shoemaker (Malden), the two clashing on numerous occasions.  Stroud’s original sentence was for the murder of a bartender who did not want to pay for one of Stroud’s prostitutes. In prison he killed a guard for not letting his mother Elizabeth (Ritter) visit him. Originally sentenced to death, his mother’s campaign eventually saved Stroud’s life. 

Ironically, Birdman is shot mostly in Leavenworth Prison, where inmates were allowed to keep pets. After his transfer to Alcatraz, Stroud could not look after birds anymore. In Leavenworth, Stroud had became a self-taught ornithologist, developing  medicines for his bird patients. He was so successful that he and his wife Stella Johnson (Field) founded a company for the supply of the pharmaceuticals. In spite of his running battle with Shoemaker, Stroud helped to put down a prison revolt in 1946. He would also meet his future biographer Thomas E. Gaddis (O’Brien), on whose work the film is based. Telly Savalas also makes a moving impression as one of Stroud’s fellow prisoners and bird keepers.

Frankenheimer shot his masterpiece The Manchurian Candidate in the same year, proving his versatility as a director. He would go on and direct a trio of features (All Fall Down, Seven Days in May, The Iceman Cometh), which like Manchurian Candidate, would feature Trump-like politicians, ready to overthrow the constitution of the USA by manipulation and force. 

Birdman is hyper-realistic, but Stroud’s exclamation “You ain’t got much, but you keep subtractin”, is proven wrong in the end. DoP Burnett Guffey’s (Bonny & Clyde) black-and-white images are cast in deep shadows and as stone cold as the prison walls. in spite of his brush-up with Crichton, Lancaster is brilliant, winning the Volpi Price for Best Actor in Venice 1962.AS

OUT ON BLURAY COURTESY OF EUREKA

The Chapman Report (1962)

Dir: George Cukor | Writer: Wyatt Cooper/Irving Wallace | Cast: Efrem Zimbalist Jr, Shelly Winters, Jane Fonda, Claire Bloom, Glynis Johns, Ray Danton, Ty Hardin, Andrew Duggan, John Dehner | Comedy Drama | US | 125′

Jane Fonda remains highly attractive at eighty starring recently in the wholly unworthy Book Club (2018), in which the tome raising temperatures is Fifty Shades of Grey. In the fifties it was Alfred Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953) that was stirring the pot with its jaw-dropping revelations about the passions simmering among suburban American womenfolk, and provoked a run of best-selling ‘exposés’ like Peyton Place which duly hit the big screen in glossy but bowdlerised form, including Irving Wallace’s fictionalised 1960 version of the Kinsey report called The Chapman Report; also promptly filmed with a cast including a young Miss Fonda (in her third film), whose character is ironically the one who’s frigid. (Her role was also the one that suffered the most from Darryl Zanuck’s post-production chopping and changing and feels as if there’s quite a bit missing – and not just orgasms.) 

As befits the veteran gay Hollywood director George Cukor (who in 1939 had directed the all-women The Women), the result is elegantly mounted with meticulous colour design by the pioneering fashion photographer of the 20’s and 30’s George Hoyningen-Huene and the cast all immaculately dressed by veteran costume designer Orry-Kerry (also both gay, surprise, surprise). It also – like Sex in the City – boasts eye candy for both gay men and straight women in the form of a trio of hunks played by Ty Hardin, Corey Allen and Ray Danton, while the husbands played by Harold J Stone and John Dehner are portrayed as solid but unexciting. However, the hunks let all the women down (is this based on Cukor’s own experience of men?), with Hardin proving a big kid, Allen a jerk, and Danton under the thumb of his lawful wedded.

The acting is uniformly good, with doe-eyed Glynis Johns (happily still with us) providing most of the laughs and Claire Bloom and Shelley Winters the tears. As the one who’s getting too much sex rather than not enough, Bloom as a tormented drunken nymphomaniac (complete with her own film noir lighting) is heart-wrenching (she would soon be playing a lesbian in The Haunting), but her tragic fate underlines the actually rather conservative mores of the film as the married women return to their husbands and Miss Fonda finds salvation in the form of marriage to researcher Ephraim Zimbalist Jr.  Along with Jane Fonda, Claire Bloom is still acting. She’s in a film called Miss Dali, which premiered at the Guadalajara International Film Festival in March 2018.

Cameraman Harold Lipstein’s hot colours, the plush settings and – especially – Leonard Rosenman’s febrile score all also conspire to evoke Vincente Minnelli’s earlier, extremely eccentric melodrama set in an up-market sanatorium, The Cobweb (1955). Richard Chatten.

AVAILABLE ON DVD

 

 

The Long Good Friday (1980) | New restoration on Bluray

Dir: John Mackenzie  Writer: Barry O’Keefe  Composer: Francis Monkman (Curved Air) | Cast: Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, Dave King, Bryan Marshall, Derek Thompson, Eddie Constantine, Paul Freeman, Pierce Brosnan.

THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY is firmly built on a dynamite performance from Bob Hoskins who smoulders throughout as hard-edged East End crime sion masterminding a deal that heralds the dawn of London’s Big Boom transforming the Docklands wasteland into a property powerhouse and ushering in a new dawn of prosperity for the capital.

As underworld boss Harold Shand, he is poised to pull off a multi-million-pound property deal to be built on the backing of American money. It all turns out to be a dodgy as Shand himself when it emerges that the Mafia is involved. But just as he’s hoping to trouser a tidy profit, Shand comes under siege from one of his own trusted clan; and rapidly his house of cards collapses as bomb blasts blow away his Rolls-Royce, East End pub and his dreams, in scenes of epic destruction. Helen Mirren is queenly and kittenish as his savvy moll, who knows just when to bare her claws and when to purr in the background.

The meat-heads are called in for a moratorium –  a hilarious “heads-down” that takes place in a local abattoir as they are notoriously up-ended  from meathooks – but it ends in tears. A furious Bob Hoskins steams with anger, surprise and indignation throughout, fetching up in a fiendish finale of facial gesticulation – as Francis Monkman’s classic score blares out to mask Mackenzie’s off-scene encouragement to his lead. The last scene also marks the debut of a sly-eyed, fresh-faced newcomer in the shape of Pierce Brosnan. But this is Bob’s film and will go down as his most legendary performance. MT

A BRAND NEW RESTORATION SOURCED FROM THE ORIGINAL CAMERA NEGATIVES AND APPROVED BY CINEMATOGRAPHER PHIL MEHEUX IS OUT ON BLU-RAY WITH INTERVIEWS AND EXTRAS COURTESY OF ARROW FILM FROM 16 JULY 2018

 

 

Secret Beyond the Door (1947) | Bluray release

Dir: Fritz Lang | Noir | US 1947

This domestic noir from Fritz Lang. SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR  stars a luminous Joan Bennett as Celia, a elegant woman who marries a troubled and mercurial architect Mark (Michael Redgrave) with a secret past. Lang himself had started studying the profession in Vienna (his father was an architect). Film Writer Walter Benjamin wrote: “that watching films is a simultaneous and collective effort, therefore architecture is closest to the cinema of all the classical art forms. They are related and they are viewed the same way, but cinema is able to show the masses in their way of life. Film shows us an enlarged, unbelievable new world”.

So Death and architecture are again the themes here, as they were in Metropolis (1927): more than twenty years after Der Müde Tod Lang (1921) Lang again picks one of his favourite combinations. The feature has a layered Russian-Doll like structure, there are continuous flashbacks – optical, verbal and architectonic – including daydreams, hallucinations and phantasies that come to life. All the time, the objects become symbols, which often in a pathological way, transform memories and phantasms into a much more potent layer of consciousness than the real world.

0263_SECRET_BEYOND_THE_DOOR_01The architect Mark Lamphere (Redgrave) has closeted himself in a gothic mansion where he has designed three rooms, filled with furniture from a secret room where a murder had occurred. This room is dedicated to the memory a wife stabbed to death by a husband who thought she was being unfaithful. In the second chamber, a young man tied his mother to a chair, and drowned her. The third room is the copy of the bedroom of Mark’s first wife Caroline (Revere), for whose death Mark feels responsible. He has certainly a very disturbed view of women, and when he shows his second wife Celia (Bennett) the third room, she is stunned to recognize her own bedroom. Since his childhood, Mark had repressed murderous instincts, for which he feels guilty. Celia knows that if her “therapy” is not successful, she will pay with her life.

Lang himself was no fan of this feature –  during the shooting there were many setbacks. “The ending is really ridiculous. Nobody is healed so quickly from traumatic obsessions”. But there is much to be said in favour of Secret Beyond the Door: Silvia Richards’ screenplay, based on the novella by Rufus King, is very tight but also innovative. veteran DoP Stanley Cortez (The Magnificent Andersons, Night of the Hunter) excelled with his stylish dissolves and long panning shots and the music of Miklos Roza is haunting, but never competes with the visuals. Lang might not have like the end product, but Secret is a small masterpiece.

NOW AVAILABLE COURTESY OF ARROW ACADEMY FROM 25 JUNE 2018 

 

Allure (2017) ** bluray release

Dir.: Carlos and Jason Sanchez; Cast: Evan Rachel Wood, Julia Sarah Stone, Denis O’Hare, Maxim Roy; Canada 2017, 105 min.

Carlos and Jason Sanchez’ feature debut is an overblown melodrama lacking any serious theoretical background deserving of this sensitive topic of sexual abuse. Well acted by the two leads, this sensationist psychodrama relies on Sara Mishara’s eclectic images to convey atmosphere. 

Laura (Wood), a woman in her late twenties, works as a cleaner in her father William’s business. She is introduced to us having rough, anonymous sex with a stranger. On one of her cleaning jobs, she meets sixteen year old Eva (Stone), whose controlling mother Nancy (Roy), wants to move her out of her childhood home so they can join her new boyfriend in his place. Somehow Eva falls for Laura, and instead, moves in with her. Laura obviously suffers from severe Bi-Polar symptoms and is hardly the ideal partner, but Eva stays with her as a toxic relationship develops. Slowly a role reversal takes place as Eva starts to mother Laura who seems more and more imbalanced, eventually becoming the sexual victim of two men. It appears that Laura has been sexually abused by her father (O’Hara) who at one point tries to apologises for his behaviour. But since we are never quiet sure of the past, the enigmatic narrative just veers into a series of meaningless, melodramatic encounters.

It is well known that abuse victims create a circle of violence in their own lives, trying helplessly to re-create the situation of the original dysfunction. But Allure is so one-dimensional that Laura’s relationship with Eva is simply shown as a homophobic nightmare. This simplistic approach often spoils the positive production values, and Mishara’s moody images using filters to highlight the nightly atmosphere of threat, are a case in point. Wood and Stone put on a bravura performance, but ALLURE still fails to convince, deserving a more mature and less sensationalist approach. AS .

NOW OUT ON BLURAY COURTESY OF EUREKA FILMS AND VIDEO

Shooting Stars (1928) | Bluray release *****

Dir: Anthony Asquith | UK | Drama | 101′

British Instructional Films is a production credit that makes Shooting Stars sound as if it’s going to be a dull affair, suggesting a utilitarian entertainment for the masses. In fact it’s quite the opposite: Shooting Stars has a strong popular appeal but is never complacent. Throughout a running time of 101 minutes this stunning film has much of the flavour and emotional sophistication of the European Cinema with the craft and enthusiasm of Hollywood of the 1920s: a confident young man’s film (Anthony Asquith’s first) assimilating, without ever imitating, the influence of Lang and Murnau (the staging and lighting of sets) an expressive Chaplin/Lubitsch style acting and a precise attention to detail equalling Hitchcock, who was Asquith’s contemporary.  

Asquith really did his homework: visiting European studios and Hollywood where he met and spoke to prominent producers, directors and actors. On returning to England he wrote a clever, nuanced story so tightly constructed that the credited A.V. Bramble only went thorough the motions as a director – a very much in-charge Asquith completely oversaw the production.  

Mae Feather (Annette Benson) and Julian Gordon (Brian Aherne) are a married couple and movie stars. The marriage is strained. Mae is attracted to actor/comedian Andy Wilkes (Donald Calthrop). Julian finds out and threatens Mae with a scandal that will ruin her career. The distraught wife plans an act of violence against her husband. 

The title Shooting Stars operates on three levels: the film making process itself; the transient nature of a film star’s fame; and that star being the possible victim of a shotgun loaded with real bullets, fired on the set. Between these conceits the film oscillates, creating constant tension, comedy and tragic rejection.

Asquith’s later A Cottage on Dartmoor displayed an acute editing comparable to Hitchcock and indebted to Eisenstein. In Shooting Stars it’s not so much the cutting but a representation of objects that’s remarkable. Much playful suspense is created between the similar shape of a lipstick and a bullet. They become symbols of both sexual betrayal and Mae’s plot to kill, as they’re jostled back and forth in the couple’s home, and then in abstract imagery against a skyline. One is mistaken for the other as the camera compounds a perception of dangerous ambiguity. Such inter-changeability proves fascinating. 

And round these ‘tease’ object moments, Asquith directs a sad marital drama and sharp satire on the film industry. The leading actors are being directed in a Western drama called “Prairie Love.” This is set in a British film studio, in Cricklewood, North London with some location work on the Devon coast. In the opening scenes the camera prowls around this frontier romance, but also over another film being shot in the same studio space. All done with a superbly staged crane shot looking down on the comedies and dramas being filmed, as extras get out of the way of electric cables and musicians rehearsing: a fluid long take achieving a semi-documentary elegance that is breathtaking.

Arguably, Asquith never bettered his great late 1920s achievements: Shooting Stars, A Cottage on Dartmoor and Underground are his best pictures. After that his career was pretty uneven. Check out The Way to the Stars, Pygmalion, The Browning Version, Orders to Kill and A Woman in Question as terrific highlights. Avoid The V.I.P.’s and The Yellow Rolls-Royce. His work in the sound era produced much brilliant craft, involvement and style but is unevenly spread. To watch Shooting Stars is to experience the visual poetry of a young filmmaker fully, and comfortably, in first love with his newly chosen medium. Alan Price©2018

NOW AVAILABLE ON BLURAY COURTESY OF THE BFI       

Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980) ***** | Bluray Limited Edition

Dir.: Rainer Werner Fassbinder; Cast: Günter Lamprecht, Gottfired John, Barbara Sukowa, Hanna Schygulla; West Germany/Italy 1980, 940 min.

This captivating 15 hour odyssey is Fassbinder’s adaption of Alfred Döblin’s 1929 novel of the same name. It is the story of two men who can not admit their love for each other, and go on to destroy themselves and the women they become involved with. At the same time, it is a symbol of advancing Fascism in the Germany of the Weimar Republic – of which Döblin (1878-1957), a practising psychiatrist and novelist, became a victim himself, and was punished with emigration for being Jewish.

Berlin Alexanderplatz is often compared to James Joyce’s Ulysses and Don Passos’ Manhattan Transfer, two contemporary novels where the protagonists play a major part. Fassbinder has translated the associative structure of the text into an impressionistic portrait of the German capital, where half-sentences and poster texts mix with a permanent flowing traffic: a city which never sleeps, everything dazzles and glimmers. But the chaos of words, sounds and thoughts covers the growing infection with the Fascist bacillus, a regime which promised a new order of certainties.

Franz Biberkopf (Lamprecht) has just been released from prison, after serving four years for strangling his girl friend Ida. He is forbidden by the Police to live in certain areas of Berlin because the milieu might make a recidivist of him. Franz is working as a hawker, selling necktie holders, but he has not the gift for the gab, and finds it impossible to make ends meet, so he is talked into selling the Nazi newspaper Der Volkische Beobachter, even though some of his Jewish contacts warn him of the consequences. Unfortunately, Franz does not want to take on board their efforts to protect him and he sinks further and further into the negative influence of this misguided political movement, where robberies are supposed to benefit the NSDAP, but more often than not serve only the perpetrators. Franz gets to know his nemesis Reinhold (John), a sort of underground leader. Reinhold get quickly bored of his girlfriends, and Franz “inherits” them. One of them is Eva (Schygulla), who once worked for Franz on the streets of Berlin. But his true love is Mieze (Sukowa), who is only too glad to lose Reinhold as her pimp. But Reinhold is jealous of Franz’ chance of a happiness, and he murders Mieze, before throwing Franz from the back of a truck, after a robbery. Franz survives, but loses his right arm – ironically, he cannot perform the ‘Heil Hitler’ greeting anymore. An epilogue sees Franz recovering from his psychosis in a closed psychiatric ward where he suffers from nightmares: dreaming of the atomic bomb and other Armageddon-like events. In the end, he is prepared for work in a Fascist society, but becomes very much a prisoner of the system.

This impressive endeavour, described as the longest film in history at 900-plus minutes, is photographed brilliantly by Xaver Schwarzenbeger (Querelle, Lilli Marlen). With a cast and crew of over a hundred, most of them Fassbinder regulars – such as composer Peer Raaben and editor Juliane Lorenz – Berlin Alexanderplatz is the director’s greatest opus: the homoerotic element of German Fascism symbolised by the bi-polar love-hate relationship between Franz and Reinhold, causing (self) destruction first on a private, then on a worldwide level. AS

AVAILABLE from Second Sight as a LIMITED EDITION BLURAY BOXSET ON 23 JULY 2018 | Complete with a luxury 60 page perfect bound book. 

SPECIAL FEATURES FOR LIMITED EDITIONLimited edition deluxe box set (2000 copies only)

  • ‘Fassbinder: Love Without Demands’ – The acclaimed 2015 feature length documentary by ChristianBraad Thomsen
  • Berlin Alexanderplatz – A Visual Essay by Daniel Bird
  • ‘A Mega Movie and its Story’ documentary by Juliane Lorenz
  • ‘The Making of Berlin Alexanderplatz’
  • ‘The Restoration’ documentary including ‘before and after’
  • The Original Recaps
  • Berlinale 2007 trailer
  • 60-page perfect bound book featuring new essay by Cahiers Du Cinema’s Stephane du Mesnildot andarchive material by Wim Wenders, Thomas Elsasser and Christian Braad Thomsen

 

Iron Monkey (19930 | **** Bluray release

Dir: Yuen Woo-ping | Action drama | China | 90′

Yuen Woo-ping’s kung-fu classic is a breathtaking action adventure from perhaps the greatest action choreographer of all time, Yuen Woo-ping’s Iron Monkey combines innovative special effects and remarkable fight choreography with a classic story of courage, honour and sacrifice, all doused in deliciously dark humour.

Wong Kei-ying (Donnie Yen; Ip Man, Rogue One), a physician and martial artist, is mistaken for a masked vigilante known as the Iron Monkey (Yu Rong-kwong); a Robin Hood style hero who has been robbing the wealthy local officials in order to provide medical treatment for the poor. The two men must team up to defeat a corrupt political regime, and protect the lives of the people whose cause they champion.

NOW OUT ON BLURAY FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA FROM 18 JUNE 2018

Darkest Hour (2018) **** Bluray release

Dir: Joe Wright | Cast: Gary Oldman, Kristen Scott Thomas | Lily James | Ben Mendelsohn, Ronald Pick-up | Biopic Drama | UK

Darkest Hour is to be believed, Britain’s destiny was actually decided during a tube journey from St James’ Park to Westminster on the 28th May, 1940 when the war cabinet met to make a pivotal but in the end winning agreement to continue resisting Hitler’s inexorable plans to invade the British Isles.

English director Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour follows on from Jonathan Teplitzky’s Churchill which concentrates on the hours leading up to the invasion of Normandy. They are both worthwhile and weighty films deriving considerable dramatic heft from these crucial and compelling moments during the Second World War.

The film opens as Parliament is returning a no-confidence vote against Neville Chamberlain’s shaky leadership (he was suffering from cancer), in favour of fellow Conservative Winston Churchill who is played with considerable conviction and aplomb by Gary Oldman in a performance that won him an academy award at the year’s Oscars. Ironically the US film came away empty handed but won a BFDG award for production design.

Although Churchill was seen as a bumptious drinking man – and he wasn’t a well man himself, he nevertheless got up and finished first in the charisma stakes and the rest is history. While all around him – including the weakened King George VI were clammering for Britain to strike a deal with Germany and retire graceful from the fray, Churchill confidently led the country to victory through a precarious series of potholes from Hitler’s imminent invasion through to winning the war. Strangely Clement Attlee doesn’t feature at all, but that’s for another film.

This is a beast of a role and Oldman takes it on masterfully – deftly playing up the vulnerable ego-driven empathiser, he makes for a sleeker and more dapperly upbeat Churchill than Brian Cox’s blustering bull of a man, although they both have their moments in creating an indomitable English hero who is still much treasured in the Nation’s collective memory. And it falls to Joe Wright and his writer Anthony McCarten to turn the action around from the fateful tube journey and a time of desperation to the successful end game with their rather clunky plot device.

The distinguishing factor about Darkest Hour is the atmospheric way Wright catapults us back into 1940 with the extraordinary look of the film. From the scenes in Buckingham Palace, in Parliament and even in Churchill’s intimate domestic rooms we are surrounded by the gloominess of the era, daylight shafting in through windows onto characters dwarfed by the enormity of what was at stake. Lit by Bruno Delbonnel’s terrific cinematography the walls and wood-panelling soars up around us, making us feel small in the scheme of things.

Impressive also are the performances: Ben Mendelsohn makes a stutteringly good George complaining of being “harshly tweeted” (he probably would have been had twitter been invented at the time). And Kristin Scott Thomas is gracefully deferential of her husband, much less forceful but, strangely, just as convincing as Miranda Richardson’s Clemmie. Lily James gets a small but perfectly formed and even amusing cameo as Churchill’s secretary Elizabeth Layton.

But at the end of the day it is Oldman’s Churchill that powers this forward. His alluring way with words and his charismatic showmanship energises this biopic sending it soaring into the annuls of Second World War film archive. MT

NOW ON BLURAY

King of Hearts (1966) ***

 Dir.: Philippe de Broca; Cast: Alan Bates, Genevieve Bujold, Pierre Brasseur, Micheline Presle, Jean-Claude Brialy, Adolfo Celi; France/Italy 1966, 102′

Director Philippe de Broca (1933-2004) was assistant director to Claude Chabrol and François Truffaut, before setting out to direct thirty features; which, like King of Hearts were mainly light-hearted entertainment, but this is notable for its legendary English star Alan Bates. The director’s most popular outing, The Man from Rio (1964), was a sparkling adventure escapade starring Jean-Paul Belmondo.

Set in the French town of Marville in the last days of WWI, Scottish Private Plumpick (Bates) is sent by by his buffoonish commander Colonel MacBiberbrook (Celi) to defuse a bomb in the city, evacuated by the Germans who have intercepted Plumpick’s carrier pigeons, and are waiting for him in the deserted town. Running for his life, Plumpick takes refuge in the local asylum, where the patients greet him with adoration after learning, from the Germans soldiers, that he was the King of Hearts. Soon the patients from the asylum change into fancy dress, imitating the French court and a real brothel. The courtiers, among them General Geranium (Brasseur) and The Duke De Trefle (Brialy), want to crown Plumpick in the derelict church. But he falls for the virgin whore Coquelicot (Bujold), having been introduced to her by Madame Eva (Presle). After defusing the bomb, Plumpick watches the patients celebrate his great ‘firework’. But the explosion brings the two fighting armies back, and the patients run back to the asylum, where they are joined by Plumpick, who, having survived the.

With bears, lions and cycling monkeys running wild in the town after being liberated from their cages by the patients, this is a riotous romp, even though it was a disaster at the box office in France. It also bombed in the USA, but during the Vietnam war it went down a storm on the campuses. It now feels dated but the great ensemble acting and the production values are first class. DoP Pierre Lhomme (Camille Claudel) and composer George Delerue (The Last Metro, Day for Night) also go to make this anarchic cult classic solid entertainment. AS

KING OF HEARTS in cinemas NATIONWIDE (UK & Ireland) on 8 June 2018

The Knack..and how to get it (1965) | Bluray release

Dir: Richard Lester | Cast: Rita Tushingham, Ray Brooks, Michael Crawford, Donal Donnelly | Comedy | UK

It’s indicative of our more conservative century that in 2001 the Wallflower Critical Guide appreciated the creative cinematography and editing of The Knack, but then said it disrupted the storytelling. That’s ridiculous. The bare storyline of The Knack makes for a comedy pitched exactly in tune with its technique: a style conveying zany behaviour, sexual freedom and cheeky irreverence. Never a case of disruption but a familiar eruption of the visual approach associated with director Richard Lester. 

Sandwiched between the two Beatles films, A Hard Day’s Night and Help, The Knack is very much a Sixties production. Amazingly, it won the 1965 Cannes Palme D’Or and has become one of the ‘swinging’ 60s films that people either love or hate. I like it, but with a few reservations. Blow-Up is the other 60s film now lazily described as ‘swinging’. Antonioni’s film doesn’t swing but provokes and mystifies: a film of its time yet also magisterially timeless; whereas The Knack has begun to look dated: caught in its own charming time capsule.

Colin (Michael Crawford) is a schoolmaster with little sexual experience of women. His friend Tolen (Ray Books) is a smug and conceited womaniser. He has the knack of seduction. Colin wants it too. Only with the disruptive arrival of Nancy (Rita Tushingham) on the scene does it seem possible that Colin’s inhibitions will be swept away by a potential girlfriend.

The Knack was adapted by Charles Wood from a play by Ann Jellicoe. I’m not sure how much of the dialogue is Jellicoe’s and how much is Wood’s. What is apparent is a strange and strained tone of both awkward misogyny and exhilarating energy. You disapprovingly groan at Tolen’s remark that women are ‘just skirt’ and that “skirt is meat”, and his assertion that “girls don’t get raped unless they want it.” These attitudes are powerfully counterpoised by Nancy’s assertive dialogue. As Tolen approaches, intent on rape, Nancy blasts out, “Mr. Smarty, Smarty, tight trousers – just you don’t come near me!” whilst her constant asking to be directed to the YWCA becomes a repeated knack leitmotif. Will the YWCA ever preserve Nancy’s virginity?  

The Knack is a semi-absurdist mishmash of Wood/Jellicoe lines that manage to attract and repel. And Lester directs his actors to speak in a frenetic, questioning manner as if they were tearing through the text of Beckett’s Godot – not anxiously waiting for redemption but running up and down stairs intent on sexual gratification.

If The Knack hadn’t been so perfectly cast then I don’t think I would be giving it very much critical attention. Michael Crawford, Ray Brooks, Donal Donnelly and Rita Tushingham deliver wonderfully winning performances. The film might be an uneven, if brilliantly photographed, fantasia on sexual drives, but I strongly identified with the frustrations and ambitions of its very likeable and very human characters. 

The comedy sometimes fall flat – both the child-like lion taming scene and the wheeling of a bed, through the London streets, are over-long – but when The Knack’s comedy works, it becomes an appealing bundle of anarchic energy. And British films are always in need of a good dose of that. Alan Price.

NOW ON BLURAY TO CELEBRATE BFI’s WOODFALL: A REVOLUTION IN BRITISH CINEMA 

Special features

Product details

RRP: £19.99/ Cat. no. BFIB1292 / Cert 15

UK / 1965 / black and white / 85 mins / English language with optional hard-of-hearing subtitles / original aspect ratio 1.66:1 / BD50: 1080p, 24fps, PCM dual mono audio (48kHz/24-bit) / DVD9: PAL 25fps, PCM mono audio (48kHz/16-bit)

 

The Dam Busters (1955) | 75th Year’s Celebration | Home Ent Release

Dir: Michael Anderson | Writer: R C Sheriff | Cast: Richard Todd, Michael Redgrave, Ursula Jeans, Basil Sydney, Ernest Clark | Aventure Drama | UK | 124′

British classic, The Dam Busters was directed by the late Michael Anderson (Logan’s Run) from a script by R C Sheriff (Goodbye, Mr Chips) exploring the legendary true story of Commander Guy Gibson and his elite squadron, The Dam Busters (1955). The film captures all the thrilling action and suspense of the magnificent exploits of a group of young pilots and their crews, charged with taking out the supposedly impenetrable Ruhr river dams of Germany with an ingeniously designed bouncing bomb. Starring Richard Todd as Gibson and Michael Redgrave as scientist and engineer Dr Barnes Wallis, the film also immortalised composer’s Eric Coates’s masterpiece: The Dam Busters March.

The impact of The Dam Busters on modern filmmakers spans the decades: director George Lucas hired the film’s special effects photographer Gilbert Taylor to work his magic on the original Star Wars; and The Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson has long been attached to a remake, based around a screenplay by actor/writer Stephen Fry.

THE DAM BUSTERS DVD / Blu-ray / EST and Collector’s Edition | Courtesy of STUDIOCANAL’S Vintage Classics label from June 4th, with a host of extras including an exclusive‘Making of The Dam Busters’ documentary. The Collector’s Edition will include the feature in 1.37 and 1.75 aspect ratios, a 64-page booklet, a rare aerial photographic print of the Möhne Dam following the raid (signed by the surviving members of the original 617 Squadron), an RAF Chastise Lancaster Bombers poster and a set of 5 art cards. Pre-order here: https://amzn.to/2I4z400

Tony Richardson and his New Wave Wonder

Woodfall Film Productions was founded in 1958 by English director Tony Richardson (1928-1991), the American producer Harry Saltzman (later of James Bond fame) and the English author and playwright John Osborne, whose play Look back in Anger was filmed by Richardson in 1959 as the opus number of the company that championed the British New Wave. So it’s only fitting that Richardson should finish the circle in 1984 with Hotel New Hampshire, creating a sub-genre of dram-com, which was later developed by Wes Anderson.

The Entertainer featured Laurence Olivier in the title role, reprising his stage role from the Royal Court, co-written by John Osborne from his own play. There is nothing heroic about Olivier’s Archie Rice: he is a bankrupt womaniser, exploiting his long suffering wife Phoebe (de Banzie) and using Tina Lapford (Field) – who came second in the Miss Britain contest – and her wealthy family to prolong his stage career. Not even the death of his son in the Suez conflict can deter him from his vain pursuit of a long dead career. Using his father – who dies on stage – for his own advantage, Archie sinks deeper and deeper. There is a poignant scene with his film daughter Jean (Plowright), whom he asks: “What would think, if I married a woman your age?” and Jean answers exasperated “Oh. Daddy”. At the end of productions, Olivier would marry Plowright, after his divorce from Vivien Leigh. Shot partly at Margate, this is a bleak portrait of show business, shot in brilliant black and white by the great Oswald Morris (Moby Dick, A Farewell to Arms).  

Set in a desolate Manchester, A Taste of Honey would make a star of the lead actor Rita Tushingham. She plays 17-year old school girl Jo, who is totally neglected by her sex-mad mother Helen (Bryan), who only has time for her fiancée Robert (Stephens). Jo gets pregnant by the black sailor Jimmy (Danquah), who soon leaves with his ship. Jo befriends the textile student Geoffrey, a brilliant Murray Melvin, who is not sure about his sexual orientation. He looks lovingly after her, before Helen returns, after having been rejected by Robert. She shucks Geoffrey out, and pretends to look after her daughter and the baby, whilst having one eye on the next, potential suitor. A Taste of Honey is relentlessly gloomy and discouraging. Photographed innovatively  by Walter Lassally, who would become a Richardson regular.  

Written by John Osborne, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner again created a new star: Tom Courtenay in the titular role as Colin, a young, working-class petty criminal. After being caught by the police, he lands in up in Borstal, which is run by the posh Ruxton Towers (Michael Redgrave). The vain headmaster loves nothing more than to prove his theory that hard labour and physical exercises will reform his juvenile clients. Colin has a talent for running, and Towers trains him to beat the best of the Public School runners, in the annual competition.  Teased by his mates as ‘teacher’s pet’, Colin strives hard to fulfil his potential – but, in one of the great endings in film history, he has the last laugh, making a complete fool of Towers. Again shot in grainy black-and-white by Lassally, The Loneliness of the Long Distant Runner is a classic of the new genre of kitchen-sink dramas.  

Nothing could be more different than Richardson’s next project, the historical romp Tom Jones, based on the novel by Henry Fielding. Albert Finney is the bumptious titular hero, who is nearly hanged due to the schemes by his adversary Bliflil (the debut for David Warner). With a great love story involving Sophie Western (York) and her father (Griffith), there are some great performances by Edith Evans, Joan Greenwood and Diane Cilento. Like his auteur Richardson, Lassally changes style effortlessly in this colourful wide-screen bonanza. It would garner an Oscar for Richardson, and was a huge success at the box office: the slender budget of £467000 pounds would result in a cool 70 million takings. AS

NOW AVAILABLE FROM THE BFI THIS CLASSIC BOX SET SERIES IS PACKED WITH QUALITY EXTRAS

Blu-ray RRP: £79.99 / Cat. No. BFIB1296 / Cert 15

UK / 1959-1965 / black and white & colour / English language with optional hard-of-hearing subtitles / 921 mins (+ extras)/ original aspect ratios / 24fps, 1080p / 7 x BD50 & 2 x BD25 / Blu-ray: PCM mono audio (48kHz/24-bit)

DVD RRP: £69.99 / Cat. No. BFIV2113 / Cert 15

UK / 1959-1965 / black and white & colour / English language with optional hard-of-hearing subtitles / 885 mins (+ extras)/ original aspect ratios / 24fps, PAL / 9 x DVD9

 

 

La Signora senza Camelie (1953) **** Dual Format release

Dir: Michelangelo Antonioni | Drama | Italy

From the opening credits of La Signora Senza Camelie we’re in very recognisable Antonioni territory. First, a close overhead shot of a young woman pacing up and down the street at night: she’s hesitant, anxious and uncomfortably placed against an architecture that appears to disturb her. On the soundtrack we hear a melancholic title theme composed by Giovanni Fusco (Who later worked with Antonioni on L’avventura, L’eclisse and Il Deserto Rosso). Then the woman enters a cinema to catch the final moments of her latest film. As she watches herself, singing in a nightclub, Signora’s filmic intersection of life and art undemonstratively signals what will be the cause of the woman’s continuing stress – the capricious and uncaring Italian film industry of the 1950s.

Clara Manni (Lucia Bose) is a beautiful-looking shop assistant now transformed into a film starlet. After Clara’s first successful film, the movie executives propose a project entitled “Woman Without a Destiny.” Attempts are made to make the film more erotic and provoke the censor. Producer Gianni Franchi (Andrea Checchi) persuades Clara to marry him and commence with the new production. The film does well but Gianni objects to the sexual exploitation of his wife. Upset by the studio’s control of her talent and image, Clara walks out of the marriage and requests a part in a more artistic film. A version of the Joan of Arc story is completed, but is badly received. Clara is shaken by the ordeal and continues to strive for serious roles.

Hollywood would have treated this storyline with either black satire (Sunset Boulevard) or sophisticated critique (The Bad and the Beautiful). But not Antonioni. In interviews he’s said that it was not the workings of film production that interested him but the personality, or soul, of an actress, praised then denigrated by forces that prevent her self-realisation.

Lucia Bose was also the leading actress in Antonioni’s first film, Cronica di un Amore. This masterly debut feature contained outstanding acting from Bosse and the supporting cast. La Signora Senza Camelie is a cooler and less intense affair. Yet both films are companion pieces in so far as they eloquently convey the despairing looks of Bose –prefiguring the haunting look of later Antonioni women such as Jeanne Moreau and of course the incomparable Monica Vitti. It’s a look not of victimisation but of outward betrayal; a vulnerable face revealed to the world: but subtly concealing both a determination and strength to be respected for your inner worth. Men also struggle in Antonioni’s films but it is the women who appear more resilient in situations and relationships that threaten moral vacuity and loneliness. 

Bose’s performance is superb at capturing such intense disappointment. But is she not too middle class and sophisticated to project the fate of a humble shop-girl? Both Gina Lolibrigita and Sophia Loren where choices for the parts: sadly Antonioni couldn’t get either actress. Yet ‘miscast’ or not, Bose brings much nuanced depth of feeling to her character. 

Without Bose, Antonioni’s camerawork and the photography of Enzo Serafin the story of La Signora Senza Camelie might have collapsed into melodrama or worse, soap opera. Antonioni may not have wanted Lucia Bose, but he ably guides her to deliver a radiant performance, making the final ten minutes of the film touching and transcendent.  

In one scene Clara is shown reading Pirandello. And it’s from Pirandello that Antonioni begins to comment on the complex realities of identity. Antonioni’s seamlessly ‘light’ and graceful direction integrates the disenchantment of the business of living with the industry of film production and its commercial imperative to manufacture dreams and illusions.  

Already within a conventional narrative Antonioni is an auteur bringing both rigour and spontaneity to an overworked plot. A short story by Cesare Pavese is better realised in his next brilliant feature Le Amiche and once we reach L’avventura Antonioni’s  technical control is completely assured, here plot evaporates and abstraction triumphs. 

Admirers of Antonioni have to see La Signora Senza Camelie. For it remains a fascinating springboard for the ideas of Antonioni’s great films of the 1960’s, which have a modernity that hasn’t dated, remaining just as urgent and pressing as we make difficult ethical decisions in our new century. Those Italian writers, artists, socialites, intellectuals, businessmen and poor Anna (Still gone missing on the island in L’avventura) really matter. There’s never definitive closure in Antonioni’s world but continual exploration. Alan Price ©2018   

NOW AVAILABLE ON DUAL FORMAT COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA

eXistenZ (1999) | Bluray release

Dir: David Cronenberg | Jennifer Jason-Leigh, Jude Law, Ian Holm, Willem Dafoe 
Visionary director David Cronenberg (Videodrome) challenges the boundaries of reality in sci-fi thriller eXistenZ. During a closed-door demonstration of her new virtual reality video game, brilliant game designer Allegra Geller survives an attempt on her life by a crazed assassin. On the run with Ted Pikul, a young marketing trainee who falls into the role of bodyguard, Allegra convinces Ted to join her in her game, eXistenZ. As the line between fantasy and reality begins to blur, the real-life dangers they sought to escape start to merge with their virtual world.
Special Features
Brand New Extras
• The Leader: An interview with Christopher Eccleston
• Commentary with Kim Newman and Ryan Lambie
• Commentary with Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson
• Limited edition booklet includes: ‘Enemy of Reality: David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ’ by Alex Morris, and ‘Of Fabrics and Flesh: An interview with Denise Cronenberg’ by Phillip Escott.
 
Additional Extras
• Audio commentary by David Cronenberg
• Making-of documentary
• Promo Featurette
• Special Effects Featurette
• Backstage interviews with Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Willem Dafoe, Jim Isaac (visual effects) and David Cronenberg
• Trailer
 
101 Films launch their new Black Label with The Grifters and eXistenZ both on dual format on 21 May 2018
 
Pre-order both for £25 direct from 101 Films: http://bit.ly/101BlackLabel  

 

The Grifters (1999) **** Bluray release

Dir: Stephen Frears | Anjelica Huston, John Cusack, Annette Bening | Thriller |

Directed by British auteur Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons) and producer Martin Scorsese, The Grifters, is a taut thriller that explores themes of seduction and betrayal. When small-time cheat Roy Dillon (Cusack) winds up in hospital following an unsuccessful scam, it sets up a confrontation between his estranged mother Lilly (Huston) and alluring girlfriend Myra (Benning). Both Lilly and Myra are con artists playing the game in a league far above Roy, and are always looking for their next victim. As Roy finds himself caught in a complicated web of passion and mistrust, the question is who’s conning whom? Frears elicits memorable performances from this talented cast in one of the 20th century’s most edgy and memorable cult classics. 
 
Special Features
Brand New Extras
• Seduction. Betrayal. Murder: The Making of The Grifters: A brand new feature length documentary on the film’s production, including new interviews with director Stephen Frears, cinematographer Oliver Stapleton, editor Mick Audsley, executive producer Barbara De Fina and co-producer Peggy Rajski.
• Limited edition booklet includes: ‘Jim Thompson, Noir, and the Popular Front’, an essay by David Cochran, and ‘Elmer Bernstein: Grit not Grift’, a review of the legendary composer’s career by Charlie Brigden
101 Films launch their new Black Label with The Grifters and eXistenZ both on dual format on 21 May 2018
 
Pre-order both for £25 direct from 101 Films: http://bit.ly/101BlackLabel  

Breakheart Pass (1975) *** | Dual format release

Dir Tom Gries | Writer: Alistair Maclean | Cast Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland, Richard Crenna | US | 95’

With shades of Narrow Margin to its locomotive setting BREAKHEART PASS is a Western murder mystery that takes place on a stream train at the height of the frontier era, starring Charles Bronson and based on Alistair Maclean’s bestselling novel, who also wrote the script.

Bronson plays an undercover agent who is hotly pursuing a murderous gang during an perilous journey to a remote Army post across hostile wintery terrain featuring marauding Native Indians and some brutal action sequences. None of these men can be trusted to post a letter and moll Jill Ireland realises this, but she can’t be trusted either – at least, not on the romantic front, and ends up switching partners during the action. With a rousing score by Jerry Goldsmith and some magnificent set pieces – including one where a entire train careers full length into a ravine – this is a roadie Western with plenty of thrilling twists up its snow-covered sleeve. MT

OUT ON DUAL FORMAT BLURAY DVD FROM 14 MAY COURTESY OF EUREKA ENTERTAINMENT

Mean Streets (1973) | Masterclass with Martin Scorsese | Cannes Film Festival 2018

“You don’t make up for your sins in Church. You do it on the streets. You do it at home.  The rest is bullshit, and you know it”

Mean Streets was an autobiographical feature with Harvey Keitel’s character loosely based on Scorsese’s father’s relationship with his younger brother, played by Robert De Niro, who was always in and out of jail. Scorsese explores themes of responsibility and obligation, pondering where they end, and if they ever do in a society based on strong moral ties and close relationships, such as his own strict Catholic upbringing, in a tough working class neighbourhood of Queens, where he suffered from asthma. With no books or money, music and visits to the cinema became his abiding influences. In the film, he asks:. How do good people exist in a bad society, and can they still remain good surrounded by evil. Bad people, too, are often capable of extreme acts of kindness and generosity, so where do the boundaries lie? Most of his work closely examines his close relationships with other men, who were a particular feature of his own life, and he is most familiar with these male bonds: brother; cousins, fathers and friends.He is also interested in exploring compassion in society and how difficult it is to care for others who are challenging and cannot see the light, such as his father’s younger brother.

Before making a film, Scorsese generally locks himself away for 2 weeks and draws the entire thing on paper which he then shows to his DoP. He considers the minute geography of the film he’s working on, examining all the angles thoroughly before starting. His latest film has so many scenes, he has started working more closely with the actors, and making things comfortable for the them, often person by person. 

Robert De Niro phrase YOU TALKING TO ME happened as a pure accident while they were rushing to finish a scene, but it’s become legendary. Another happy accident was Joe Pesci’s line: “ou think I’m funny? These all happened due to time constraints. There has to be laughs during the filmmaking process because the anxiety and tension of making the dark stuff is harrowing, he makes music films as a way of balancing things out. MT 

Dir.: Martin Scorsese Cast: Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, David Proval, Amy Robinson, Jody Foster; USA 1973, 112 min.

Imagine being told by a fellow director you admire, that “you have just spent a year of your life making a peace of shit” – Martin Scorsese was told exactly this by John Cassavetes, after he’d watched Scorsese’s Box Car Bertha (1972). Cassavetes suggested that his next film should resemble his debut feature Who’s that Knocking at my Door? (1967), set in the Italian/American community in New York. Scorsese followed the advice and directed MEAN STREETS – the rest, as they say, is history.

MEAN STREETS (original title ‘Season of the Witch’) takes it title from a Chandler essay: “But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid”. Based on Scorsese and Robert de Niro’s personal experiences in “Little Italy”, MEAN STREETS is a “passion play” – not only because of the religious undertones but also in the sense of the anger and violence displayed. Charlie (Keitel, who had starred in Who’s that Knocking) is in love with money, Teresa and God – in a constantly changing priority. But Charlie’s life is complicated by his best friend Johnny Boy (De Niro), a psychotic gangster who prefers to keep his cash for clothes, instead of paying back his creditors, who will eventually get their own back on him.  Charlie not only has to look after Johnny, he also has to hide his love for Teresa (Robinson), an epileptic girl, who happens to be Johnny’s niece. And then there are Charlie’s relatives, wanting him to take over the family restaurant – very much against his will. The violence escalates after Johnny insults the loan shark Michael once too often. When he, Teresa and Charlie head out of town for a holiday they are ambushed and a professional killer (Scorsese) peppers their car with bullets. Unlike Glenn Ford who comes too late to save his wife from the burning car, in Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat – which Charlie’s uncle is watching on TV; Charlie leaves the severely injured Teresa in the car.

Amazingly MEAN STREETS was shot mainly in Los Angeles, Scorsese – the crew only spent six days in New York. The physical and emotional violence is best symbolised by Jodie Foster’s child prostitute, Iris. Foster was just eleven at the time the film was shot, and her older sister Connie had to body-double for her in the sexually explicit scenes. MEAN STREETS is the key to all Scorsese’s crime films: metaphors and quotes have vie with the violence, the integrated score(often overlaying the fighting – ironically), seventies hits such as ‘Be My Baby’ and ‘I Looked Away’, religious themes and the lack of male engagement, leading to the brutal conclusion of total annihilation.

Whilst MEAN STREETS was not a success at the box office, the New York Times’ film critic wrote after the premiere: “No matter how bleak the milieu, no matter how heart breaking the narrative, some films are thoroughly, beautifully realised, they have a kind of tonic effect that has no relation to the subject matter. Such a film is Mean Streets”. Amen. AS

MARTIN SCORSESE MASTERCLASS FOR HIS CAROSSE D’OR | THEATRE CROISETTE | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2018| NOW OUT ON DUAL FORMAT | BLURAY COURTESY OF MASTERS OF CINEMA

Youth (2017) | Bluray release

Dir: Feng Xiaogang | China | Historical Drama | 148′

Feng Xiaogang (I Am Madame Bovary) is widely considered as China’s answer to Stephen Spielberg, and he certainly proves himself in this crowd-pleasing if over-ambitious drama that straddles an entire generation of young Chinese, caught in the vortex of political and social change.

Setting off in the 1970s this magnificently-mounted saga tries – and initially – succeeds in being all things to all people: a musical laced with political commentary; a tragedy of war and of first love all narrated by Xiao Suizi (Chuxi Zhong) a dancer in a military troupe where another young woman He Xiaoping (Miao Miao) has just arrived determined to escape her troubled background by making a name for herself. The professional dancing standards are exacting even by Chinese considerations but He does her best for the national cause despite bullying from the other girls. Feng (Xuan Huang) takes her under the wing and the two grow close.

While the dizzy backdrop of political events unfolds – Chairman Mao’s death is a highlight – the troupe (the the drama) powers on at a relentless pace amid rivalries, and romantic crushes all masterfully recorded by Pan Luo whose energetic camerawork darts around taking it all in.

With Chairman Mao gone, a new sense of confidence invigorates the troupe and, slowly, materialism rears up in the face of the previous hardships as the film segues into a bloody depiction of the Vietnam War and its salient Chinese protagonists. Meanwhile, our own heroes don’t get away lightly during the decades – and we feel for them, especially Liu Feng whose dedication and sacrifice shines through, while He seems also to be misunderstood. As time marches relentlessly on, the film loses momentum as the focus becomes more scattered, its previous authenticity turning soapy in contrast to the convincing earlier scenes.

Overall this is an entertaining romp through the Chinese history books, its schmaltzy score milking the memorable moments with a rousing gusto that Chinese audiences will relish and take to their hearts. MT

NOW AVAILABLE ON BLURAY/DVD | Reviewed at PINGYAO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | YEAR ZERO | 28 OCT – 4 NOV 2017

Marty (1955) | Dual format release

 Dir.: Delbert Mann; Cast: Ernest Borgnine, Betsy Blair, Esther Minicotti, Joe Mantell; USA 1955, 90 min.

Based on the TV play by Paddy Chayevsky, who would later script Network (1976), Delbert Mann won both the 1955 Oscar and the Palme d’Or in Cannes for his debut feature (he had directed the original TV Playhouse production with Rod Steiger and Nancy Marchand).

Ernest Borgnine won an Oscar for his thoughtful performance in this  independent production (Hecht/Lancaster) which had a mini-budget of USD 300 000 but grossed over five million US Dollars at the box office. It was a follow-up to his impressive turn as the sadistic sergeant in From Here to Eternity,

Director Delbert Mann was an intellectual with a TV background, restricting his Hollywood output to a few, but memorable, features such as The Outsider (1961). His career would lead him back to TV, a medium which gave him more freedom than the Hollywood studio system. Shot in brilliant blackand-white by the veteran Joseph LaShelle (Laura, The Apartment), Marty is a chamber piece, which g set in the Bronx, during two days between Christmas and New Year’s Day: Marty (Borgnine) is an affable but rather thick-set butcher, who is mistreated both by his mother (Minicotti) and his “best friend” Angie (Mantell), a superficial misogynist. They both criticise 34year old Marty for not being married, but would rather keep him under their control, to suit their own needs. Up to a certain point, Marty plays ball, talking in the Mickey Spillane style  – but deep down he is aware of his lack if appeal to the opposite sex, his social clumsiness: he is the anti-hero, and he knows it. When he meets Isabel (Blair), a schoolteacher who has just been stood up on a blind date, the two outsiders slowly find happiness together – in spite of their shyness and awkwardness.

In an era dominated by big, colourful blockbusters from Hollywood, fighting the advent of TV with more and more sensational technical innovations and lame, simplistic plots, often featuring invincible male heroes, Marty was the antithesis to all these adventures: escapism, which never engaged the audience brains, so they would not forget where they had parked the car. Marty and Isabel were anything but the heroic winners, which sailed through the feature, but ordinary working people, whose problems were rooted in a society, where interaction between the genders where stereotype, and “a good line” was more important than a reliable character. Angie is the classical example of male insecurity, who is only too happy, to transfer his helplessness onto Marty. Having said this, Marty relies very much on the witty dialogues by Chayevsky, who identifies the conflict with the lines between the two friends: Angie trying to keep Mart at his side, as a fellow man, who never wants to grow up, and lives in the phantasy land of hard-boiled detective novels.

After winning an Oscar for her part in Marty, the Spanish director Juan Antonio Bardem would cast Blair in his subversive anti-Franco feature Calle Mayor, where she plays another unfortunate female in a story about three bored young men, one of whom pretends to be in love with her, while his friends support this illusion. Sixty years later, Marty’s humane message is still strong, and the acting is outstanding, avoiding sentimentality at all times as its simple appeal shines through. 

NOW OUT ON DUAL FORMAT COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA

 

 

 

Cure (1997) **** | Dual Format release

Dir/Writer: Kiyoshi Kurosawa | Japan | Mystery Thriller | 111′ 

Twenty minutes into Cure (Kairos) I was reminded of David Fincher’s Seven, and the first Japanese Ring film, both causing me to think that they had influenced Kiyoshi Kurosawa. In fact Seven (1995) was 2 years before Cure: with Fincher’s urban decay corresponding with Cure’s grimy and rundown suburbs of Tokyo. However Cure was made 1 year before Ring and shares some of its long dark-hair menace (from both ‘villian’ characters) pulsating as strongly as their similar eerie soundtracks. A further link is the menacing way that spilt water is filmed, prefiguring Dark Water (2002) and reminding you of the malevolent power of water in old Japanese ghost stories.  

Putting influences to one side, Cure is more of a hybrid than the other productions. Part psychological thriller, cop movie and supernatural horror film – blending all these generic elements with impressive skill. This is a film absent of sensationalist gore and full of creepy menace. There is no cure for anyone in this ironically titled drama. Quite the opposite. Characters are infected by a sinister hypnotism event, from 100 years back, causing people to be mentally manipulated to kill those they work or live with.

Kenichi Takabe (Koji Yakusho) is a Tokyo detective investigating a serious of gruesome murders – a large X is cut across the victim’s neck. The killers are caught and cannot explain what made them kill. Takabe accompanied by psychologist Sakuma (Tsuyoshi Ujiki) trace a connection with a young man called Mamiya (Masato Hagiwara). When brought in for questioning Mamiya appears to be an amnesiac – he’s very dazed and confused about who he is, where he is and what he’s doing. After searching his apartment the police discover that he used to be a psychology student who studied the ideas of the 19th century hypnotist Anton Mesmer. They conclude that Mamiya is capable of planting hypnotic suggestions in people that turns them into murderers.

The ex-student mesmerist, the stressed detective and his mentally unstable wife are pitted against a force which initially appears emphatic. Mamiya wants to know his victim’s emotional state. “Let’s talk about yourself” is a re-occurring request through Cure. Mamiya wishes to make “the inner become the outer” and have them act on their darkest impulses. The very matter of fact depiction of the killings in Cure is what makes for an unsettling experience. The scene where a policeman takes out his gun and kills his colleague, just outside the police station, is chilling for its casual horror. He carries on working then drags the body inside. Filmed at a distance, acutely well framed and morally detached: nothing unusual is seen to disturb the policeman’s banal routine. 

There is little obvious thriller action in Cure. Many clashes of will and personality occur in a hospital or police headquarters: the best of these almost equalling the interrogations in Silence of the Lambs. Aided by excellent performances from Koji Yakusho and Masato Hagiwara, setting up their suspenseful games, Kurosawa powerfully creates a highly personal and atmospheric world of damaged individuals.

If you carefully examine the plot then you will find holes. Why would Anton Mesmer be such an influence – where’s the real proof? Why did the hospital nurse appear to tear off the face of the bloodied corpse in the waiting room? It’s never explained. How was the ‘curse’ of hypnotic suggestion actually passed on to new perpetrators over time? But this is the logic of a mysterious and highly intelligent horror film where emotion suppresses cold rationality. By not explaining too much Cure allows its creepiness to infiltrate the viewer. And like all good horror stories plants its dread of the unknown in a plausibly real and indifferent world.  

Cure is so strong and gripping that it makes me eager to seek out Kurosawa’s other works, both horror movies and art house cinema. He is subtle, understated, visceral, very in control of his medium and ought to be better known. A remarkable filmmaker. ALAN PRICE ©2018    

Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s CURE [Kyua] (Masters of Cinema) now out on Dual Format |  Available from Amazon 

 

 

Hou Hsiao-Hsien | Three Early films | MUBI

Hou Hsiao-hsien is one of contemporary cinema’s most dynamic and esteemed auteurs, and a leading light of Taiwanese cinema and its New Wave movement.

It’s surprising that his pre New Wave debut CUTE GIRL/Lovable You (Jiushi liuliu de ta (1980) is a raucously upbeat romantic musical comedy of the ‘golden age’ of Mandarin cinema in Taiwan. This first film is light years away from the director’s complex and poetic portrayals of Taiwanese social history that would first emerge with The Boys from Fengkuei (1983).

Although Hou Hsiao-hsien tries to play down his early films – CUTE GIRL (1980) *** is evidence of his talent for clever comic timing and situational comedy, as well as the more serious fare that would follow later. The romcom was a commercial vehicle for two leading stars of the 1980s: Feng Fei-fei (who has since died) and Kenny Bee, who was the main character in this first part of the trilogy that continued with Cheerful Wind/Feng er ti ta cai (1981) and The Green, Green Grass of Home/Zai in hepan quincao qing (1983).

So boy (Bee) meets girl (Fei-fei) with profuse musical accompaniment and a nod to Taiwan’s economic boom – although technology is still confusing and mobiles have only just really arrived. Themes of modern life in Taipei contrast with the traditional rural idyll and come into play when a young surveyor is practically forced by his parents to marry the daughter of a rich industrialist in the schematic but amusing plot line. The social context is familiar, but the serenity and sumptuous widescreen cinematography is absent, along with the slightly melancholy tone of his later work.

THE GREEN, GREEN GRASS OF HOME (1981) *** is the third part of the Kenny Bee trilogy and continues in a formulaic romantic/musical comedy vein, with a considerably more auteurist feel already emerging along with some impressive extended takes and naturalistic, improvisational performances from impressive child newcomers.

Bee arrives in the country village as a substitute teacher and soon becomes part of a community where adults are often more childish than their pupils. Ironically, Bee succeeds in offering some lessons in conservation to these ‘back to nature’ types, as they make their emotional way into adulthood. Sadly, the young female schoolgirl characters hardly get a look in, but this is an interesting prelude to his masterpieces that would follow.

THE BOYS FROM FENGKUEI (1983)**** His first work as an auteur (rather than a commercial director ) is a coming of age story set in an idyllic fishing village in the Penghu Islands where a group of boys are waiting to be called up for the army. The harsh realities of city life soon bite in a cautionary tale that sees three of the youngsters leaving for the large port of Kaohsiung, where their fate awaits and reality finally comes home. Slightly darker in tone but with some gentle humour, Hsiao hsien stresses the importance of a good education and a proper start in life in this poetic and at times sentimental rites of passage drama. MT

CUTE GIRL IS NOW ON MUBI | HOU HSIAO-HSIEN: THREE FILMS 1980-83 MASTERS OF CINEMA  

 

 

 

 

Sleeping Dogs (1977) | Bluray release

Dir: Roger Donaldson | Sam Neill, Warren Oates | 107′ | NZ Thriller

Tightly scripted and tense, SLEEPING DOGS is the gritty political action thriller that revolutionised New Zealand filmmaking, kicking off its New Wave movement at a time when the country was not well known for its cinema, at the end of the 1970s. Resonating with audiences at home and abroad with its themes of politics and personal struggle, it also launched the Hollywood careers of Sam Neill (Possession) and director Roger Donaldson (No Way Out). Neill, in his first lead role, plays a mercurial young man escaping his failed marriage and two kids by taking temporary refuge in an island off the Coromandel Peninsula Meanwhile at home, political turmoil and an oil embargo leading to civil war is drawing him slowly but surely back into its claws. Warren Oates is also brought into the conflict as the commander of a US army unit. Together, they fight against the country’s dictatorship, in a narrative based on C K Stead’s novel Smith’s Dream. Amazingly, Donaldson enlists the cooperation of the NZ Air Force in this entertainingly subversive and occasionally surreal action thriller. MT.

ON BLURAY COURTESY OF ARROW FILMS FROM 16 APRIL 2018

The Passionate Friends (1949) *****


Dir: David Lean | Writer: David Lean, Eric Ambler; Stanley Haynes, David Lean (both adaptation); H.G. Wells (novel) | Cinematography: Guy Green | Cast: Ann Todd, Claude Rains, Trevor Howard, Isabel Dean, Betty Ann Davies | UK | Drama | 95′

Before embarking on his widescreen epics, this romantic drama was Lean’s first filming foray outside the UK when he replaced Ronald Neame as director, due to clashes with Ann Todd. For his part, Lean had been having an affair with Todd for some time and the two would eventually marry sometime shortly after filming The Passionate Friends which competed in Cannes on the year of its release.

Travelling to Chamonix and Lake Annecy in Switzerland The Passionate Friends tells a similar love story to that of Brief Encounter (1945) although on this occasion the focus is on the ménage à trois rather than simply the couple in love, although all three characters here are aware of each other and essentially out of control concealing their emotional distress with a graceful sense of propriety and aplomb. The classic English rose Ann Todd stars as a woman who has one last flirt with the man she had fallen in love with (Trevor Howard’s Steven), before marrying Claude Rains’ rich banker for stability, wealth and social position. While on her luxurious Swiss holiday awaiting her husband’s arrival, Todd’s Mary Justin reflects on her previous lover who has been (unknowingly) booked into the hotel room next to hers. Mary had refused to marry Steven fearing their sexual passion would stifle her emotional integrity, and therefore her freedom to operate as an individual. With Howard she enjoys an affectionate companionship, but it she really as emotionally independent in her marriage as she imagines? In their thoughtful script, Lean, his co-writers and H G Wells explore how habit, affection and compatibility can be just as emotionally bonding as sexual passion, where marriage is concerned.

Captured in Guy Green’s box-fresh black and white camerawork, the elegant London interiors contrast with the magnificence of the Swiss lakeside settings to offer an enjoyable moral drama, and although it lacks much of the tear-jerking emotional undertow of Brief Encounter, The Passionate Friends is unexpectedly moving largely due to Claude Rains’ impeccable performance as the financier, Howard Justin. It is also notable for H.G. Wells’ romantic storyline that explores different kinds of loving and commitment – quite a departure from his usual Sci-fi writing but displaying a consummate understanding of male and female psychology – and Lean successful employs the use of flashback to achieve considerable dramatic tension, particularly in the final denouement.

Ronald Neame was not the only one to have issues with Todd. According to David J. Skal in the biography Claude Rains: An Actor’s Voice: “Rains disliked Todd, who he felt had wasted everyone’s time through her prima donna behavior with Neame over the script and Neame’s direction. As Lean later told his biographer, Kevin Brownlow, “I said I was going to stop the picture. We couldn’t go on spending money at that rate. We had commitments to Claude Rains, and we had permission to pay him in dollars. You don’t realise how difficult that was. That had to be a top-level decision. He’d already been sitting there doing nothing for most of the time he’d been in the country.” In addition to his dislike of Todd, Rains was also concerned about Lean’s personal life which seemed to be slipping over onto the set and affecting the picture. He also knew that Lean was seeing a psychoanalyst at the time which didn’t bode well. Yet, Rains recognized Lean’s immense talent and said, “I can’t say enough about the man as a director. He’s magnificent.” (TCM).

NOW AVAILABLE ON BFI PLAYER AND DVD

 

Heimat – A German Chronicle (1984) | Bluray release

Dir.: Edgar Reitz; Cast: Marita Breuer, Dieter Schaad, Michael Lesch, Rudiger Weingang, Eva Maria Bayerswaltes, Karin Rasenack, Michael Kausch, Peter Harting, Jorg Richter, Jorg Hube, Gudrun Landgrebe, Gertrud Bredel; West Germany 1984, 924 min.

Edgar Reitz was originally intending to publish Heimat as a semi-autobiographical novel but a meeting with producer Joachim von Mengershausen inspired him to film this as a chronicle of Germany’s wartime social history set in the imaginary village of Schabbach, from 1919 to 1982. He was especially keen to avoid the phoney undertones of the US soap opera ‘Holocaust’ (which ironically went down very well with German TV audiences). HEIMAT (1984) is an epic achievement that captures the turbulent years of postwar economic hardship, the rise and fall of Nazism, The Second World War and the decades that followed through the prism of traditional family life rather than through the eyes of Germany’s leaders, politicians, or creatives. Marita Breuer gives a wonderful performance as the woman at the centre of it all, holding the family together as a daughter, wife and matriarch from childhood to old age.

The story begins after Germany’s routing in the Second World War that sees Paul Simon (Lesch) returning to his family in Schabbach, where he escapes the confines of the small community by building a radio and escaping into world events. He falls in love with Apollonia, but later marries Maria (Breuer). His brother Eduard (Weigang), panning for gold in a nearby river, catches pneumonia and never really recovers and is sent to Berlin for treatment. Paul suddenly ups and leaves and Maria is left with the children.

Eduard falls in love with social climber Lucie (Rasenack), who runs a brothel and talks him into joining the SA. Back in the village, another member of the Simon clan is imprisoned in a KZ, for his Communist Party leanings. Maria has now fallen in love with the engineer Otto Wohlleben, but a letter from Paul, who is living in the USA, destroys any future for them. When Paul finally remerges, arriving in Hamburg, he cannot enter the country due to to his name being misconstrued as being ‘Jewish’ – and he has no proof of his Aryan ancestry. Meanwhile Otto is defusing bombs at the front when he learns that Maria has borne him a son called Hermann who he will meet for the first time at the end of the war, when American troops arrive in the village, after the Allies’ victory in 1945, bringing with them a sense of normality – and food. Paul finally returns from the USA, his big limousine is the talk of the village. But his return is not celebrated by everyone and he soon goes back, missing the funeral of his grandmother Katherinna (Bredel). Maria lives her life through her son Hermann who is interested in music and poetry. He eventually falls for Klärchen, who is eleven years older than him. Paul has since sold his company to the Americans for a huge profit, and channels his success into helping Herman with his musical career.

The shoot ran from 1981, and took 18 months, before 13 months of editing resulted in a 15-hour potted version, down from 18 hours of rough-cut. Over ten million West Germans watched the eleven episodes. Thanks to DoP Gernot Roll, a later cinema version was internationally successful, the seemingly arbitrary changes from colour to black-and-white and back giving the chronicle of the years between 1919 and 1982 an added feature. The main premise of HEIMAT was to show how ordinary people – in this case the Germans – can easily embrace a murderous regime such as Nazism, and even in a small village like Schabbach, could tolerate the existence of the concentration camps, almost turning a blind eye. These same people went on to embrace consumerism, this time following in the footsteps of the Americans. Reitz would follow Heimat with The Second Heimat (1992), Heimat – Fragments – The Story of the Women in Heimat (2006) and Home from Home (2013) – all together another 30 hours viewing, premiered at the Venice Film Festival, which became Reitz’ second home.

HEIMAT | 30 APRIL 2018 | Newly restored version for the first time on Blu-ray as Heimat Limited Edition Box Set courtesy of Second Sight. Restored from the original negative by The Edgar Reitz Film Foundation, the set comes complete with a limited-edition luxury 50-page soft cover book and features a vast array of brand new bonus features including Edgar Reitz’s two-hour documentary ‘prologue’ to Heimat and interviews including Edgar Reitz and Marita Breuer  Weigang.

 

 

The Dinner (2017) *** DVD release

Dir.: Oren Moverman; Cast: Richard Gere, Laura Linley, Rebecca Hall, Steve Coogan, Charlie Plummer, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Miles J. Harvey, Cloe Sevigney; USA 2017, 120 min.

Oren Moverman (Time out of Mind) is the third director to brings Herman Koch’s 2009 novel to the screen. By introducing more characters and a reflection of the battle of Gettysburg, he delivers less punch than his predecessors Menno Meyjes and Ivano de Matteo who stayed very close to the original where two sets of parents try to cover up their offsprings’ serious crime History teacher Paul (Coogan) is not keen to join his wife Claire (Linley) at a posh restaurant, for dinner with his brother Stan – who is running for governor – and his second wife Kate (Hall). The rivalry of the brothers is well documented in flashbacks, along with a meeting at the scene of the deciding battle of the American Civil War, where both men reflect on the dominance of violence in American history. Little does Paul know that the dinner guests are well aware of the ghastly murder committed by his son Nick (Plummer) and Stan’s offspring Rick (Davey-Fitzpatrick), burning a homeless to death. The dinner courses are used as chapter headings, and the hilarious serving ceremony by an army of waiters brings light relief to the brutal contents. Stan’s PA, who is in the lobby, also interrupts the discussions, since a vote in House and the forthcoming elections have to be organised. Surprisingly, Stan is alone in wanting the teenagers punished. The others invent excuses, and in the end, Paul goes so far as to try to kill his brother’s adopted son Bean, who is awre of the crimes. The evening ends in pandemonium, the protagonists stripped of their bourgeois masks, defending their tribe with violence, like a pack of wild animals.

The problem here is that Moverman dilutes the plot, with references to Paul’s mental illness, and Stan mentioning the history of these health issues in the family. Furthermore, the introduction of Stan’s first wife Barbara (Sevigney) in the flashbacks, makes this meal feel overstuffed and verbose: more theatre than film, as Coogan, particularly, milking his role for what its worth. DoP Bobby Bukowski (Arlington Road) uses film-noir elements in the restaurant scenes, creating an unreal atmosphere. Moverman’s mealy-mouthed treatment results in a bloated  affair that drifts around desperate for the concentrated flavour of the novel. AS

DVD release on Monday 2nd April.

Hell Drivers (1957) **** | Bluray release

Dir: Cy Endfield | Writer: John Kruse | Cast: Stanley Baker, Herbert Lom, Peggy Cummins, Patrick McGoohan, William Hartnell. Sidney James | 108′ | Crime Drama

“They fight to the death – and their weapons are ten-ton trucks.” So screams the poster publicity for Hell Drivers. This tough and tautly directed thriller unconsciously echoes the lorry driver tribulations of Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear and anticipates the internal combustion engine, as monster, in Spielberg’s Duel. The Wikipedia entry for Hell Drivers actually supplies a credit for the vehicles “The Doge 100 Kew” parrot-nosed truck, with a tipper body.” The trucks are as much a star of this film as are the macho guys who manically drive them, loaded with gravel, on 20 mile round trips.

Tom Yeates (Stanley Baker), just released from prison, gets a job as truck driver after seeing Carley, (William Hartnell) the manager for a local building contractor. He soon meets Red (Patrick McGoohan), the head Irish driver and violent bully. Lucy (Peggy Cummins), the manager’s secretary, is dating driver Gino Rossi (Herbert Lom), but is really more interested in Tom. Red and Tom compete fiercely and dangerously to be the top driver so they can claim a gold cigarette case (their prize and flashy symbol of strength). Meanwhile, Hell Drivers’ sub-plots of managerial corruption, loyal male friendships and the attraction of the hardly conflicted Lucy, all simmer in the pot for this powerful duel.

Hell Drivers is fascinating for its Americanisation of the parochial British thriller of the 1950s. Director Cy Endfield (a victim of the McCarthy purges) is an émigré who directs as if whipping up a posse pursuit in a Western, with a nod to that Warner Brothers melodrama about truck driving: They Drive by Night: all the action being sharply spiked by an angry script about worker exploitation. Yet Hell Drivers seems to address conflicting forms of masculinity rather than small business swindles in today’s climate.

Stanley Baker is outstanding as Tom. It’s a perfect role for his idiosyncratic fiery Welsh temperament. Baker consistently expresses a potent mix of surface menace and suppressed tenderness. He cares, yet doesn’t really care. Baker’s wayward “devil may care” persona was always impatient to get things done and achieve a kind of class justice in a treacherous world. His acting had a fantastic edge. He was at his very best when directed by Cy Endfield and Joseph Losey: exhibiting a Celtic Brando-like power (minus any method acting) that gripped you by the throat and worth a quote from critic David Thomson here.

“Until the early 1960s, Baker was the only male lead in the British cinema who managed to suggest contemptuousness, aggression, and the working class. He is the first hint of proletarian male vigour against the grain….”

Patrick McGoohan was compelling in the role of Red. But unlike Baker he is a bit too self-consciously acting for effect. He was a highly individual and intense performer who was most famous for his TV work on Danger Man and, of course, the iconic The Prisoner. In The Prisoner he was always searching to find ‘No 1’. Whilst in Hell Drivers he is the foreman driver of the ‘No 1’ truck. After several viewings of Hell Drivers I’m beginning to think that Red is just a bit too much of a stereotyped baddie. McGoohan snarls his way through the film as if aping Lee Marvin on a bad day. Or prefiguring an imitation of Eli Wallach in a spaghetti western. Yet in spite of the hugely enjoyable over-acting, Red’s character doesn’t flaw the realism of Hell Drivers: it works to provoke the Tom character to discover some moral virtue behind his gritty attitude.

The third element of masculine force is Gino – finely played by Herbert Lom. Any caricature of an Italian abroad in a rough community, is avoided. True, he does have a Catholic side, in the form of a prayer-room point in the lodging house. But religious sentimentality, mama mias and a love of pasta are absent. Lom touchingly stresses the sensitivity and kindness of Gino. He acts as a feminine catalyst between the opposing forces of Tom and Red: pairing himself up with the tough Lucy (a strong performance from Peggy Cummins).

All the characters in Hell Drivers – including the minor supporting actors, such as a very young Sean Connery – keep testing one another. And not simply on a testosterone tough guy level. They’re challenged by the company’s demand for profit and hence their need for insanely reckless driving. Through an exposure of the cheating management, Red does eventually receive his come-uppance and Tom, a form of salvation, or more specifically he comes to his senses and might be a changed man.

The crisp photography of Geoffrey Unsworth; tight editing; expertly-used locations and a strong pace to the story make for an exciting film. Although the benefits of American materialism hadn’t yet fully hit British society, our cinema was invigorated by the intervention of outsider Cy Endfield (and soon after by Joseph Losey with Blind Date and The Criminal both starring an even more intimidating Stanley Baker). And what with Hammer’s Dracula and the British New Wave waiting in the wings, sedate manners trembled. ALAN PRICE©2018

NOW AVAILABLE ON BLURAY | NETWORK

Breathless (1983)* * * | Bluray release

Dir: Jim McBride | Cast: Richard Gere, Valérie Kaprisky | Drama | US | 100′

There’s a lot to be said for Richard Gere in his early days of tousled-haired charisma and cupid bow lips. With an sweet smile and a svelte body, he played the perfect Officer and a Gentleman and the Armani-clad, snake-hipped seducer in American Gigolo and had acting chops too.

In his Jean Luc Godard neo-noir remake Jim McBride (The Big Easy) translocates the action from Sixties Paris to Eighties Los Angeles, where Gere cuts a dash as Jesse, a wanton opportunistic wayfarer and Jerry Lee Lewis devotee with a gift for the gab and a side-line in stealing cars. He then goes on the run after killing a cop in Las Vegas and flees to Mexico where he meets Valérie Kaprisky’s French  architecture undergraduate Monica and the two fall in love. Breathless’s breezy charm turns into something more sinister as Jesse’s crime catches up with him and Monica is forced to make a choice. MT

OUT ON BLURAY COURTESY ON SECOND SIGHT FILMS FROM 26 MARCH 2018

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Oddsockeaters (2017) **** DVD release

Wri/Dir: Galina Miklinova | Animation | Czech Rep | 83′

This Czech animation cleverly makes a strangely endearing storyline out of the sock that routinely go missing in the wash, while the other sits forlornly at the back of the airing cupboard waiting to be reunited with its other half.

Clearly this is an annoying scenario, and one that has worried Galina Miklinova enough for her to make a feature length musical Noir set in a dystopian corner of modern Prague, where its invisible sock inhabitants have been successful dubbed into English – with Brooklyn accents – and its central character little Hugo (Christian Vandepass) is a cute and curious stripy blue sock who has stolen not one, but an entire pair of socks to give to his grandpa Lamor on his deathbed: “baby socks give you the best nutrition” says Hugo as his grandpa’s life slips away, telling him to seek out his uncle, a gang leader, Big Boss (Gregg Weiner), the only family he has left.

The street recreations are absolutely terrific as the film deftly mixes 3D computer animated adventure with themes of alienation and homesickness, not unlike a sort urban-based and more nefarious version of The Clangers. What follows is a fascinating survival story where Hugo and his twin cousins, Ramses and Tulamor have to compete with their arch rival Professor René Kaderábek, who also shares their attic abode by the river in Prague, while drawing courage from the rules his grandpa has told him. It turns out however, that their biggest enemy is a gangster named Sid who head another gang of Oddsockeaters. The two rival gangs sock in out an this inventive and enjoyable urban adventure that never outstays its welcome during its modest running time. MT
OUT ON DVD FROM 27 MARCH 2018

Shirley, Visions of Reality (2013)**** | Bluray release


Director: Gustav Deutsch | Cast: Stephanie Cumming, Christoph Bach, Tom Hanslmaier, Florentin Groll, Elfriede Irrall | Austria | Drama | 89′

In Shirley, Visions of Reality Austrian architect and filmmaker Gustav Deutsch daringly imagines a story behind thirteen of Edward Hopper’s most famous realist portraits of American life during the 1930s.

The Iconic artist was probably best known for his urban and rural scenes of detachment such as “Nighthawks’ and ‘New York Movie’. Deutsch opens each vignette – literally tableaux vivants – with a pithy news bulletin setting the scene for the unfolding, fictitious story of an actress whose unique experience takes place in New York from 1931 – 1963, and is immaculately filmed by cinematographer Jerzy Palacz, and gracefully performed by Canadian actress Stephanie Cumming (who looks rather like Jessica Chastain), her voiceover delivering the story from her unique POV. Her boyfriend Steve occasionally appears but remains silent but expression-filled.

Deutsch maintains the same calm frigid detachment from his subject matter. In this discrete and beguiling curio, the intrinsic feel of Hopper’s work is maintained by the garish brightness of starkly colourful interior scenes, envisioning a life beyond the isolation depicted in the soulless settings, occasionally accompanied by Christian Fennesz’ atmospheric score. In “New York Movie” Shirley muses vacantly over the life of a bored cinema usherette while “Intermission” sees her actually watching a French film with the comment: “intermission, like waking up from a dream”. Shirley projects no personality and is merely a elegant cypher frozen in an eerie time-warp as she muses reflectively over the historic milestones of the Depression, the Second World War, Civil Rights Activism and Vietnam, somehow creating a quiet sense of suspense in this sensuous and strangely affecting film.  MT

ON BLURAY DOUBLE PLAY COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA | 19 MARCH 2018

 

An Actor’s Revenge (1963) | DVD/Bluray release

Dir: Kon Ichikawa | Drama | Japanese with English subs | 113′

Thirteen years ago I visited Tokyo and saw a Kabuki play at their National Theatre. I was captivated by the long, elongated structure of the stage and its carefully assembled musicians and actors deliberately creating a stylised composition akin to, and obvious progenitor, of wide-screen cinema. Immediately I thought of Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress. And then Kon Ichikawa’s remarkable An Actor’s Revenge.

There have been many period films drawing upon Kabuki within strong storylines. Mizoguchi’s marvellous The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums is perhaps the most outstanding. But An Actor’s Revenge is most successful at drawing the viewer in to create the dual illusion of watching a play whilst experiencing a film, where each cinematic flourish of action is seamlessly fused with a theatrical gesture. Ichikawa skilfully avoids kitsch or camp excess (admittedly An Actor’s Revenge has a pulp fiction quality, yet I would distance myself from critics who underline its ‘fun’ and sense of the absurd, whilst playing down the poignant elements of the story).

The film is set in the late 1830s. Yukitaro (Kazuo Hasegawa) is a male actor who plays female roles and his stage name is Yokinojo. Whilst in Edo, acting in a play, he notices in the audience the three men who were responsible for the death of his mother and father. He is persuaded by the Hirutaro (Raizo Ichikawa), the head of the acting troupe, to take revenge on the murderers. Yet Yukitaro decides to drive them to a ‘theatrical’ madness before killing them (he announces his revenge will be “a flamboyant performance”). Unfortunately he is emotionally sidelined by the daughter of one of the guilty men. Namiji (Ayako Wakao) is genuinely attracted to Yukitaro and desires a romance. Initially, he sees her attention as a pretence to trapping him but gradually realises that she is sincere. Yokitaro’s revenge is achieved but on the way it is challenged by erotic attraction and the self-mocking criticism of a thief Hojin (Shintaro Katsu) who is continually pursuing the actor.

You could easily make out a case for An Actor’s Revenge being over-plotted and confused, making the viewer uncertain of its pitch and tone – how seriously are we expected to take these events? Are they only artifice – implausible theatrical happenings? If you succumb to the film’s visual style (impossible not to) Ichikawa’s film is an involving aesthetic delight. An Actor’s Revenge may lack Mizoguchi’s tragic intense view of the acting life, but its own viewpoint of life as a bitter theatre of – maybe made-up – destructive affairs is still compelling.

The film is completely set in the studio, making for a superb staging of action that intensifies its heightened theatrical ‘reality.’ This is a valid Ichikawa world where performers are cunningly immersed in the idea of performance (without ever being self-consciously aware of the effect they are striving to achieve). An Actor’s Revenge then becomes an intoxicating concoction when astonishing camerawork and a jazzy, lounge-lizard soundtrack are added to the mix.

For me, the fight scenes are thankfully the antithesis of modern martial arts productions. Swords glint and flash, choreographed against an inky blackness and have such abstract power – a ‘now you see the blade and now you don’t’ tease. And a scene where two thieves using a lasso to capture their victim is thrilling and balletic. All this is stunningly composed and edited with fantastic precision.

Kazuo Hasegawa reprieves a role he played in the 1935 film version directed by Kinugasa, and is terrific in conveying the contradictions of a Kabuki actor not always in control of his revenge plan or able to see its consequences. A rival actor says he is “A pale-face cross between a man and a woman” Yukitaro has an indeterminacy of sexual presence. You cannot take your eyes off him. Nor can his young lover – the beautiful Ayko Wakao – who is both elegant and touching.

Ichikawa’s tale often heads for a potential artistic divorce yet he technically keeps turning the key in the lock to hold the tension between melodrama and an expressive form that exhilarates. In the history of scope cinema An Actor’s Revenge has to be of the first order. To coin a pun – the imaginative scope of its use of scope still displays a mise en scene of considerable power. ALAN PRICE©

AVAILABLE ON DVD/BLURAY | 26 MARCH 2018 | BFI.ORG.UK

Rex (2017) * * | DVD

Dir: Gabriela Cowperthwaite | Cast: Kate Mara, Ramon Rodriguez, Tom Felton, Bradley Witford, Edie Falco | US Biopic Drama | 116′

Gabriela Cowperthwaite is best known for her impressive documentaries features Blackfish (2014) and City Lax: An Urban Lacrosse Story (2010) but her debut drama teeters between mawkish melodrama and war docudrama, barking up the wrong tree in creating a fitting tribute to Rex and many other brave animals who have served us during wartime. Even committed dog lovers will find it difficult to sympathetise with her efforts to channel a woman’s existential angst and emotional breakdown into the story of a fearless, committed and intelligent canine who saw active service as her military combat dog in the American Forces during the Iraq war. Cowperthwaite’s documentary experience really shines during the stunning combat scenes on location, but once Leavey returns home the sentimentality sets in and the result is frankly trivial and unconvincing. A superb cast is headed by Kate Mara who does her best as Ms Leavey in a difficult role that actually puts the dog in the invidious position of having to share its deserved tribute as a soldier rather than a domestic companion with the brilliant but clearly troubled Marine corporal Megan Leavey. MT

NOW OUT ON DVD  | 19 MARCH 2018 | LIONSGATE

Four films by Sasha Guitry (1936-38)

The New Testament  (Indiscretion) | Dir.: Sacha Guitry; Cast: Sacha Guitry, Jacqueline Delubac, Belly Daussmond, Gerald Christian Zacher; France 1936, 96 min.

Let’s Go Down the Champs Elysées /Remontons Les Champs Elysées | Dir.: Sacha Guitry; Cast: Sacha Guitry, Jacqueline Delubac, Robert Pizani, Jean Perier; France 1938, 100 min.

My Father Was Right/Mon Père Avait Raison  | Dir.: Sacha Guitry; Cast: Sacha Guitry, Jacqueline Delubac, Gaston Dubosc, Paul Bernard, ; France 1936, 81 min.

Let’s Make a Dream/Faisons un Rève | Dir.: Sacha Guitry; Cast: Sacha Guitry Jacqueline Delubac, Raimu, France 1936, 96 min.

French director/writer Sacha Guitry (1885-1957) was prolific: he wrote 124 plays, directed 36 films, published over 900 strongly opinionated columns, and was also active as a painter and sculptor. Born in St. Petersburg to French parents, his mother soon left Sacha’s womanising father Lucien, after he more or less kidnapped young Sacha (who birth name Alexandre Georges Pierre) to take him on a tour of Imperial Russia.

 

As a result, Sacha developed a strong father obsession, even going as far as to marry Charlotte Lyses, one of his father’s many mistresses. He was married five times, his wives after Lyses were invariably decades younger. An outspoken misogynist, he once stated: “We cannot count on women to love their children”. During the German occupation of France, he lived a lavish lifestyle, very much in contrast with the rest of the French population. He also director De Jean D’Arc A Philippe Petain in 1943, trying to justify Marshall Petain, who led the Vichy government allied to Germany. After the liberation, he was jailed for collaboration, but later released without trial, his reputation was tarnished for good, but he blamed the media for his downfall.

The themes that repeatedly occur in his work are those of death and ageing. He was obsessed with hedonistic pursuits and his films were invariably centred on unfaithful love affairs amongst the rich and landed gentry. The women tended to come of worst in the scheme of things. In Lets Make a Dream, Guitry explores the Anna Karennina syndrome in a ‘grass is always greener’ affair with an unsuspecting female conquest. As The Lover/Seducer, delivering his lines like “bullets” – he goes off the idea of The Wife after he successfully luring her away,(Jaqueline Delubac, his wife from 1935-39 is the star of four films in this collection) and the couple fall asleep without making love. Next morning, The Husband (Raimu) turns up, but not to challenge him to a duel, as The Lover had feared, but to confess his own waywardness. The Lover then goes off the idea of marriage to The Wife.

The New Testament/La Noveau Testament (1936) is rather a stiff affair that struggles to escape the stagey feel of its original stage format. Thematically typical of these four features,  it stars Guitry as Doctor Marcellin a sanctimonious character whose is eventually foisted by his own petard over a Will and a complex love triangle involving his wife Lucie (Betty Daussmond) who is  having an affair with the son of the Doctor’s former lover. In the same vain is My Father is Right: Guitry is Charles Bellanger, a man who passes his mistrust of women onto his son Maurice (Bernard) and it comes back to bite him, after his wife Germaine (Daussmond) returns after 20 years. Let’s Go Down the Champs Elysees is actually Guitry’s history lesson and tribute fable to the famous Boulevard from 1617 onwards. Sadly it lacks the wit of Story of a Cheat with the narrative rigour of Pearls of the Crown, but provides some entertainment. There is a great double role for Guitry as the schoolmaster, lecturing his Secondory School class and as Louis XV, who is very much afraid of dying. Finally, Robert Pizani excels in the roles of the composers Richard Wagner and Jaques Offenbach. Of all features, Lets Go Down the Champs Elysees is by far the most filmic, which is hardly surprising, since Guitry was foremost a playwright and theatre director.

Outside France, Guitry’s work has not always travelled well. That said, his plays are still popular throughout France and regularly find a stage airing. AS

SACHA GUITRY COLLECTION | ARROW DUAL FORMAT

The Earth Dies Screaming (1964)

Dir: Terence Fisher | Write: Harry Spalding | Cast: Willard Walker; Dennis Price, Virginia Fields, Thorley Walters, Anna Palk | UK | 62′

The Earth Dies Screaming is not a cutting edge sci-fi in the traditional sense just a delicate amuse-bouche of British black & white nostalgia (that would lead Fisher to his blow-out banquet at Hammer). Special effects are graciously subtle rather than gobsmacking and there’s some priceless dialogue and a solid cast who are sadly no longer with us: Willard Walker; Dennis Price, Virginia Fields, Thorley Walters and a captivating vignette of Anna Palk (The Main Chance).

Financed by American producer Robert L Lippert, Terence Fisher’s low-key approach showcases his laudable auteurist credentials in a sci-fi fantasy that unfurls elegantly in early Sixties Surrey, and a far cry from the lurid Gothic fare he went on to make for Hammer Studios. The Earth imagines a prescient vision of England invaded by aliens possessing the power to re-animate and control those who had lost their lives in the rural apocalypse. Willard Parker plays a masterful American test pilot who marshalls the survivors in an upmarket uprising against the alien invasion. Parker makes for an impressive hero, and Virginia Field plays attractive female lead Peggy, in control but also vulnerable to Dennis Price’s snide and supercilious Quinn Taggart, who is desperately trying to sneak her away from the rest of the group in a cheeky subplot (she was actually married to Willard at the time).

This is a classical production dressed by The Avengers costumier Jean Fairlie with dialogue that is terribly twee, despite the ominous tone throughout, Harry Spalding raises titters rather than shocks with lines like: “I’ve got your dinner warming in the oven”. Fisher makes the most of a minimal budget with glowing black and white camerawork from Arthur Lavis. The robots look more like deep sea divers in their natty quilted boxes. than scary monsters from outer space but when the dead characters start to reanimate their eyes glow opaquely in a really unsettling and convincing way, and Elisabeth Lutyens’ atmospheric score completes the picture of middle-class meltdown. That said, The Earth is about as terrifying as a fireside chat with Terry Wogan but equally entertaining. Watch it for the cast and the craftsmanship rather than the chills. MT

NOW ON TALKING PICTURES | THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING IS ALSO ON DVD DOUBLEPLAY

 

 

 

 

 

 

Legend of the Mountain (1979) **** | Eureka bluray release

Dir/Writer/Costume Designer: King Hu | Cast: Chun Shih, Feng Hsu, Sylvia Chang, Lin Tung, Feng Tien, Ng Ming Tsui, Hui Lou Chen, Rainbow Hsu | China | Drama | 192′

Born in Beijing in 1931, actor, writer and director King Hu left the mainland for Hong Kong in 1949 where he worked with the Shaw Brothers, later pioneering early wuxia fare such as Cannes winner A Touch of Zen, and this lesser known but bewitching fantasy ghost story.

After a coy start Legend of the Mountain is soon all over you like a slinky cheongsam if you surrender to its seductive charms and over-indulgent running time where the director’s slack editing often emphasises atmosphere and scenery over plot. But this stunning fantasy epic does have moments of palpable tension – such as the impressive drumming scene. Hu’s cypher-like characters also leave us intrigued and bemused rather than engaged in their eventual plight in the mysterious often perilous garden of Eden. The evergreen allegory for good and evil echoes the tradition of Japanese ghost stories like Ugetsu. Luminous set pieces and glowing imagery provide a magnificent backdrop to the feisty performances from duplicitous characters, led by Taiwanese actor Chun Shih (The Assassin) as naive scholar Qingyun who heads off to a remote mountain retreat on a mission to copy an ancient religious document (a sutra) for some Buddhist monks. This sutra has the redemptive power to release lost souls of the dead, but Qingyun is unaware of its intrinsic value, and how he is about to be manipulated.

After a long journey (30 minutes of the film’s 191′ running time), he eventually meets his host, Tsui (Lin Tung), in a vast abandoned fortress where things are clearly not what they seem: distant figures loom and disappear in the misty hilltops. The lulling effects of the mountain idyll are soon punctured by a brusque outburst from a sinister occupant, the forthright harridan Madam Wang (Rainbow Hsu) who browbeats Qingyun into tutoring her daughter Melody (Feng Hsu), soon after his arrival.  Clearly the pair have a hidden agenda, and during a home-cooked supper and cocktails Qingyun is regaled by Melody’s musical talents – she specialises in ‘percussion’ and magically mesmerises him into a dreamlike state, awaking the next morning to discover he is under the siren’s spell and betrothed to be married. But marriage is not the only thing on Madam Fang’s mind. Switching between charm and deceit Rainbow and Feng make for a unsettling pairing in Paradise but Qingyun has some protection through his sacred prayer beads. Good is represented in the final hour by his meeting with Cloud (Sylvia Chang) as his struggle with evil forces. Magic and deceit are cleverly expressed through the medium of musical instruments, as opposed to today’s ubiquitous use of tawdry CGI. Fascinating to watch Legend remains an epic visual spectacle, along the lines of traditional Chinese Opera, or Xiqu, dating back over more than a thousand years, incorporating music, song and martial arts, and where the legendary characters are household names in China, MT

OUT ON BLURAY | EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA | 19 MARCH 2018

 

 

Nightcrawler (2014) | Bluray release

Writer/Dir:Dan Gilroy | Jake Gyllenhaal Bill Paxton, Sharon Tay | US Thriller | 118′

When Nightcrawler was released in 2014 it proved popular with both audiences and critics. It did well at the box office and even received a Best Original Screenplay nomination at the 87th Academy awards. On the visual front Nightcrawler is a gripping affair but for me it’s been very over-rated, especially narrative-wise. So much of Nightcrawler is simply a shiny surface – outstanding photography of L.A. night scenes, from Robert Elswitt, does not compensate for an undeveloped and foreshortened plot. Which is a great pity because initially the storyline appeared to be aiming for a head-on jugular attack on the American public’s craving for violent crime reports satisfied by an ugly, breakfast TV news agenda.

Louis Bloom (A glassy-eyed Jake Gyllenhaal) is an unemployed guy who’s thieving material from a scrap yard. Unable to get a job after selling the scrap, he turns his attention to other late-night prowling. Bloom follows freelance journalists who turn up, with the police, to film violent crime scenes and accidents. He’s captivated by the idea of making a living from this work. After buying a camera he films the carnage and sells the footage to a TV company. An assistant named Rick (Riz Ahmed) is hired and they both begin to dangerously expand into filming territory that borders on the illegal. Bloom produces some seductively graphic material for TV director Nina Romina (Rene Russo) that will please her network. Yet the police department begin to suspect that Bloom may be withholding important evidence gathered at a crime scene.

Critics have tended to enthuse over Nightcrawler’s suspense. One commentator spoke of Nightcrawler as a “shattering critique of both modern-day media practice and consumer culture.” I would challenge the adjective “shattering” and replace it with the blander word “informative.” Its theme of morally reprehensive guys who feed television with voyeuristic content is hardly original. You can go right back to movies like Network (Grotesque satire) and Medium Cool (Semi photo-journalistic critique) to uncover dubious media ethics. Yet neither of those films fails to be disturbingly transgressive like Powell’s Peeping Tom (Its serial killer cameraman probably providing a model for the serial parasite/film reporter of Nightcrawler).

Nightcrawler isn’t the visceral experience that director Dan Gilroy intended it to be. Louis Bloom’s kind of newsgathering is only ‘shocking’ if it produces imagery and words that really get under your emotional skin. The beautiful lighting too often dilutes the violence – excitement, rather than suspense lies in the skill of lots of second-unit directors who worked very well on the car pursuit sequences.

I didn’t really believe that TV director Rene would let herself be so manipulated by Bloom (Even though she has job insecurity). As for Louis, he is an odd, strangely comic socio-path loner (Bloom’s business jargon echoed some of the autodidactic menace of Rupert Pupkin in The King of Comedy – a far superior film to Nightcrawler.) If only Gilroy’s script had pushed the idea of media power to its limit. We might then have had Bloom storm his way up to becoming the head of the network and then Nightcrawler might have possibly delivered a ‘shattering’ critique. Unfortunately the film’s good ideas run out of steam leaving us with smaller plot triumphs for its anti-hero.

Jake Gyllenhaal is effectively creepy and delivers some good lines – “Do you know what fear stands for? False Evidence Appearing Real.” Riz Ahmed touchingly conveys his vulnerability as Bloom’s sidekick. But Rene Russo’s acting appears stiff and uncomfortable. She doesn’t convince me of her guardedness towards the over-intense Bloom or her sense of anxious ambition.

Nightcrawler is not a bad film, just a good, if disappointing thriller that acts as if it’s being very daring. It’s not really posturing in a fake manner: but lacks a dramatic investment to realise its strongly held moral attitude. The stand that Nightcrawler takes is sadly lacking a raw edge that could have delivered something more provocative about America’s salacious relationship with the smart controllers of its crime-box in the living-room.

NIGHTCRAWLER | NOW ON BLURAY | ALAN PRICE ©2018

 

 

The Barefoot Contessa (1954) **** | Bluray release

Dir.: Joseph L. Mankiewicz; Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Ava Gardner, Edmund O’Brien, Warren Stevens; Rosanno Brazzi; USA 1954, 128 min.

Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who had won an Oscar for his 1950 Hollywood satire All About Eve (1950),  aims for the same with Barefoot Contessa, but this lacks the bitter cynicism of its predecessor, despite Jack Cardiff’s vibrant visual mastery of its Mediterranean setting. Somehow, Eve’s stark monochrome treatment by Milton Krasner  are better suited to a critique – colour gives the Hollywood system an excuse to shine and escape nearly unscathed.

Humphrey Bogart plays down-on-his-luck Hollywood director Harry Dawes who is asked by multi-millionaire Kirk Edwards (Stevens), to ”discover” a new star and restart his career with her – whilst also making lots of money for Mr. Edwards. Dawes chooses the Madrid nightclub dancer Maria Vargas (Gardner), a country girl who is rather naïve and trusting. She is no match for Dawes or Edwards, or the rest of Hollywood for that matter, and her – wildly publicised – marriage to the Italian Count Vicenzo Torlatto-Favrini (Brazzi), comes unstuck after it turns out he is impotent.

Starting with Vargas’ funeral – Bogart inconsolable in his dripping trench-coat – the narrative is told in flashbacks, which is, like so often, not the best choice. The – meagre- storyline is somehow held together by Edmund O’Brien’s press agent Oscar Muldoon, who got the best lines, with O’Brien receiving the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Bogart is strangely absent: Having just ‘escaped’ from a disaster in Billy Wilder’s Sabrina, where he and Audrey Hepburn lacked any chemistry, Mankiewicz casts Bogart as a marginal figure, a mere chronicler of events. He is a monument to himself, showing his age (54) proudly, whilst putting on a pair of glasses, happy to be ageing (for the era) and detached. Gardner outshines him easily and proves again that Bogart’s identity was (apart from The African Queen) clearly linked to black-and-white features.

The Barefoot Contessa is an entertaining ‘soft’ satire; not much more than a soppy melodrama. It lacks any real bite and relies mostly on great production values. Apart from Jack Cardiff, it’s worth seeing for Mario Nascimbene’s music (his last film score was Matchstick Men in 2002) and Arrigo Equini’s ravishing sets (Furia). AS

OUT ON BLURAY COURTESY OF EUREKA Masters of Cinema | 12 March 2018

Ramrod (1947)* * * | Bluray release

Dir: Andre De Toth | | Joel McCrea, Veronica Lake, Don Defore   Western | US | 94′

In 1947 Hollywood produced two remarkable Westerns, Raoul Walsh’s Pursued and Andre De Toth’s RAMROD. Both films prefigure the popular psychological westerns of the 1950s. Their pressing concerns are troubled characters with conflicting desires. If Pursued is the western’s venture into guilt and trauma forcibly shaded by psychoanalysis, then Ramrod is a head-on prairie encounter with contradiction and moral duplicity. Each is strongly noirish: with Ramrod the more talky and perhaps, in terms of all its characters, the more morally conflicted. The casting of Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake points up the tension to come: a seasoned Westerner clashing with a devious femme fatale went very much against the grain of the late forties.

Connie Dickason (Veronica Lake) is the determined daughter of ranch owner Ben Dickason (Charles Ruggles) who is controlled by cattleman Frank Ivey (Preston Foster). This powerful man was lined up, by her father, for marriage to Connie. Yet the man she really loves is shamed by Ivey. Connie forms a gang. As does Ivey. Ranch foreman Dave Nash (Joel McCrea) is hired, along with Bill Schell (Don Defore) to help Connie. Bill’s methods bend the law. Whilst the manipulative Connie seduces Dave and Bill, organises a cattle stampede and pushes on to claim her land.

Unpredictability comes to the fore in Ramrod. Throughout its violence and machinations you are never quite sure who to trust next. Characters act in their own naked self-interest – getting land, getting a partner or getting-back at a parent. Yet Ramrod is a subtly written drama of moral ambiguity. Enhancing the complexity of the scripting is a dense and tightly focused cinematic design. It’s storytelling with numerous in-depth shots, often through windows, that are as dark and troubling as the many moves of the protagonists (A climactic shoot out, executed at night, and accompanied by Adolph Deutsch’s music, has a brooding power.)

De Toth was an expert director of westerns. If not in the same high class B picture league as Joseph H. Lewis, in terms of staging, there are times when he’s not far behind. It’s difficult for a western of moral probity to avoid a strained seriousness (Some later 50’s westerns strayed into this territory.) However Ramrod’s actors obviously relished their excellent script, without ever over-acting, for even the most minor supporting player delivers a carefully considered performance. The film contains sporadic and exciting action that’s appropriate to the plot and reinforces the reaction of people making hard choices over who next to betray, or not, and what property to grab. De Toth’s direction is consistently strong and seriously engaged.

Ramrod is occasionally over-complex and forbidding (Yet, even to say that is more to praise than criticise.) Persevere beyond the ‘closed-up’ opening 15 mins and Ramrod offers you considerable rewards. Such a thoughtful western of chamber music intensity doesn’t come along very often. Ramrod would make a challenging double bill with Pursued. The blu-ray presentation is far superior to its previous DVD issue. BFI Southbank should program a Western season highlighting De Toth, Walsh, Ford and Mann’s use of landscape as they delve nature and mirror frontier psychology. My suggested title – “In Pursuit of a Rugged Dream.” Alan Price©

OUT ON BLURAY | 5 MARCH 2018 | ARROW FILMS

Las Acacias (2011) | Bluray release

Dir: Pablo Giorgelli | Cast: Hebe Duarte, German de Silva | 82’

Las Acacias is both a ‘road movie’ that eschews genre conventions (both violence and stunning scenery is absent) and an embryonic romance (its slow-burning fuse signposts a love interest at the end of the film.) And nearly all the action in its modesr running time is confined to the interior of a truck carrying three characters.

Ruben (German de Silva) is a middle-aged truck driver transporting timber between Paraguay and Buenos Aries. Ruben is asked by his boss to take a young Paraguayan woman Jacinta (Hebe Duarte) to Buenos Aries. She meets him at the truck stop, accompanied by her 5 month old daughter Anahi (Nayra Calle Mamani). At first Ruben and Jacinta make little conversation. Gradually their apprehension and resentment melts away as they begin to connect. Jacinta, with her three month visa, is hoping to get a job in Buenos Aries; the assumed long-divorced Ruben, estranged from his grown-up son, starts to emotionally open up. By the end of their journey the barrier of loneliness is lifted and there’s a suggestion of a future relationship.

De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves has one of the simplest stories in all cinema. A working class man loses the bicycle he needs for his new job. He and his son wander the streets of Rome looking for it. A sparse plot. Yet Las Acacia’s story is even more minimal than Zavantini’s scenario for De Sica. It has a classic simplicity that’s cut right to the bone, and excludes social critique (Though our brief glimpse of the face of the border guard, after Jacinta’s bags have been checked, speaks volumes about a suspicious authority.)

Las Acacias is a three-hander with a tiny amount of dialogue, employing looks, gestures and body language to communicate deeper needs. Their breaks in the journey (halting at a roadside café where Ruben tries, but fails, to get bus tickets for his passengers and get shot of them) and a brief scene of Jacinta chatting, round by the parked trucks, to a young man (causing Ruben to feel jealous and insecure) can hardly be considered substantial sub-plots, more carefully considered dramatic pauses.

Las Acacias presents a very clear trajectory: an acknowledgement of repressed feelings, dismantling of defences and the opening up to change from a chance encounter. This doesn’t make for a slight film. No Bicycle Thieves tragic intensity. But a powerfully warm-hearted work of acute social observation. We come too really like and care for Ruben and Jacinta. There’s a lovely little ‘break’ scene where they are sitting by a river bank and a dog joins them. They simply say that they like dogs and then curiosity slowly blossoms. Such recognition of human affection is done with beguiling humility.

Technically the film has a hard job to do – evoke the rhythm and tempo of being on the road so as to engage the viewer. This is achieved with great sensitivity, so that we come to feel very comfortable inside the truck. Giorgelli’s deft positioning of the camera creates the pleasurable illusion that each of us is a welcome passenger on this journey.

Beautifully cast (even the little baby charms us) and directed, Las Acacias is ordinary life made radiant in the moment. Its heart is not on its sentimental sleeve but quietly and gently, in the most filmically understated manner, stealing our attention. Las Acacias is a humanist delight, proving you can make wonderful films with either a lost bicycle or a found truck. ALAN PRICE©2018

NOW OUT ON BLURAY COURTESY OF VERVE PICTURES

After the Storm (2016) | Bluray release

Director| Writer: Kore-Eda Hirokazu | 117min | Drama | Japan | Cast: Hiroshi Abe, Yoko Maki, Taiyo Yoshizawa, Satomi Kobayashi. Cert tbc, 120 mins.

There are some really witty and perceptive moments in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s AFTER THE STORM, this is one of his more underplayed and subtle films that celebrates the comforting simplicity of everyday family life. Lighter and less sentimental than I Wish (2011), Like Father, Like Son (2013) and Our Little Sister (2015), this is a genial film with a gentle feelgood vibe as it explores the inter-generational conflict without ever being hard-egded or judgemental in doing so.

Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) is having a difficult time of being a son and a father. A failed writer and budding private detective in Kiyose (Kore-eda’s home town) he feels unfulfilled with his role as a voyeur in other people’s marriages and is working on another book. An expert gambler, most of his cash goes on feeding this habit and we’re led to believe it was responsible for his marriage breakdown to Kyoko (Yoko Maki), and jeopardising payments to his young son Shingo (Taiyo Yoshizawa).

Mourning the recent death of his father, Ryota frequently goes home to his canny old mother   Yoshiko (Kilin Kiki), from whom he steals lottery tickets and food whilst hoping to build bridges towards a closer relationship. The storm of the title is actually the 23rd typhoon to hit Tokyo in 2016 and it’s gradually making its presence known in nearby Tokyo. This act of God means that Ryota will have to spend the night with his mother with his ex-wife and son and sparks the beginnings of a poignant family rapprochment that is both humorous and delicately sad.

This is a well-crafted domestic drama where some of the comedy focuses on food preparation with surprising authenticity. It one scene Ryota attempts to eat his mother’s home made sorbet: “this has a refrigerator smell” – Japan may be a different cuisine and culture, but this well-observed  comment will be familiar to everyone. MT|

NOW AVAILABLE ON BLURAY FROM 19 FEBRUARY

The Colour of Pomegranates | Sayat Nova (1969) Bluray release

This heady, avant-garde cinematic reverie depicts the life of highly acclaimed 18th-century Armenian poet and musician Sayat-Nova (Vilen Galstyan) from childhood to his death, particularly focussing on his relationships with women. Glowing in a new bluray release, the sumptuously fantastical visual poem is said to serve as a metaphor for Parajanov’s own life. It was only officially seen in western cinemas in 1982 and immediately hailed as a masterpiece by cinephiles and critics alike. The director – who was to spend a large part of his creative life behind bars on account his sexuality and political beliefs – had spent the intervening years in prison with the authorities re-editing and diminishing his prized work.

Sergei Parajanov was influenced by Sergei Eisenstein and Alexander Dovzhenko and his highly stylised and dreamlike film blends new techniques such as the use of jump-cuts with exquisite tableaux often seen in  silent film to tell a story drenched in ancient Armenian art and folklore, and opening with a quote from a poem crafted by Sayat Nova: “I am he whose life and soul are torment”. His major contribution to the world of cinema was in raising the profile of his non-Russian Soviet heritage of Georgia, Armenia and Ukraine.

Parajanov was born in Soviet Georgia of Armenian parents in 1924 and started life as a musician before discovering film-making at the famous Soviet Russian All-Union State Institute of Cinematography film school in Moscow. He married in 1950 but his wife was sadly murdered the following year, possibly by her family on the grounds of religious scruples. A second marriage ended in divorce and precipitated a disenchantment with his own film oeuvre when he saw how Andrei Tarkovsky made use of dreams to present allegory in his extraordinary debut Ivan’s Childhood (1962).

In Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors (1964) Parajanov once again depicts ancient traditions through a tragic but magical tale of doomed love set in the exotic wilds of the Carpathians.

In Pomegranates, Sofiko Chiaureli is cast in five both male and female roles, underlining Parajanov’s attitude to non-binary sexuality and artistic freedom. He then made two more films sealing his international success on the film stage, allowing him to travel abroad and embark on his final auto-biographical project Confession, before dying of cancer in 1990. MT

THE COLOUR OF POMEGRANATES | SPECIAL EDITION BLURAY FROM 19 February 2018 | COURTESY OF SECOND SIGHT DVD.

 

Ice Cold in Alex (1958) | 4K Bluray release

 Dir: J Lee Thompson | Cast: John Mills, Sylvia Syms, Anthony Quayle | UK | 122’

1942: The Libyan war zone, North Africa. After a German invasion a British ambulance crew are forced to evacuate their base but become separated from the rest of their unit. Somehow they must make it to Alexandria, but how? Their only hope is a dilapidated ambulance named “Katy” and an irrational, alcoholic soldier known as Captain Anson. Facing landmines, a Nazi attack, suffocating quicksand and the relentlessly brutal and unforgiving Sahara desert, can Captain Anson face his demons and make the road to hell a journey to freedom? Winner of the FIPRESCI Prize and nominated for the Golden Bear Award at Berlin International Film Festival, the film was also nominated for 4 BAFTAs including Best British Film, Best Screenplay and Best British Actor for Anthony Quayle on its initial release. Directed by J. Lee Thompson (Cape Fear, The Guns of the Navarone) with one iconic set piece after the next and with career best performances from John Mills (Goodbye Mr Chips, Great Expectations), Sylvia Syms (The Tamarind Seed, The Queen) and Anthony Quayle (Lawrence of Arabia), ICE COLD IN ALEX is a suspenseful, invigorating journey which leaves film fans gasping for breath… and a beer.

Special Premiere Screening at Glasgow Film Festival
Thursday 22nd February, Glasgow Film Theatre 1, 12.40pm

New 4k restoration of ICE COLD IN ALEX (1958) released on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital Download 19thFebruary 2018

 

Neglected British Film Directors: Basil Dearden

BASIL DEARDEN will never join the frontline of British film directors. He won’t be canonised, nor does he deserve to be among ‘Britain’s Best’ alongside Michael Powell, Alfred Hitchcock or even David Lean. So is it fairer to classify him with the likes of Roy Ward Baker, Robert Hamer or Val Guest; as a minor director with major virtues, ambitious for authorship? At the risk of sounding derogatory or ironic, is Dearden just an intelligent craftsman?.

In 1962, British film critic Victor Perkins (1936-2016) launched a savage attack on the director: “Dearden typifies the traditional Good Director in the appalling performances he draws from good actors; and in his total lack of feeling for cinema. He sacrifices everything to impact and, consequently, has none.” In 1993, Charles Barr in his seminal book Ealing Studios said: “If I were re-writing the book from scratch, Basil Dearden’s contribution to Ealing would be handled differently.”

emotionheader5797743533Since then there have been two books on Dearden. And the internet’s font of film knowledge IMDB, notes some positive viewer comments, a BFI education link to Sapphire and Victims high placing, by some critics, in the canon of gay cinema. A customer remark on a Criterion Box set entitled ‘Basil Dearden’s London Underground (consisting of Sapphire, Victim, The League of Gentleman and All Night Long) puts a convincing case for Dearden: ”What Basil Dearden was able to bring to British Cinema during the roughest times in not just the UK but in the world, watching these films today, I was not only amazed and taken back, but I feel proud to have watched cinema that absolutely moved me.”

This is a warm and appreciative corrective against the earlier scorn. Yet I wonder if Dearden’s ‘sociological seriousness’ has hindered his appreciation as a fine UK film director? You only have to look him up in the BFI’s Encyclopaedia of British Film to think that: “It is now less easy to elide the achievement under patronising adjectives like “liberal” and “safe”. Dearden’s films offer, among other rewards, a fascinatinating barometer of public taste at its most nearly consensual over three decades.” I would drop the word safe, retain liberal as a positive and explore those “other rewards” of Dearden’s rich career. I have seen 26 (of his 38 films) and very few are disappointing.

Dearden starts out in the forties with three Will Hay comedies, The Black Sheep of Whitehall (1941) The Goose Steps Out (1942) and My Learned Friend (1943). All entertaining films – the sinister and farcical moments of the last film being his best directed (though with the verbal anarchism of Will Hay, how could Dearden possibly fail?).

They Came To A City Dearden contributes a notable episode to the 1945 portmanteau film Dead of Night and throughout the 1940s he is embedded as an Ealing Studios director.
The Half Way House (1944) and They Came to a City (1941) – pictured left – are deliberately theatrical films posing questions about (a) war-time dilemmas and loyalties and (b) what is to be done in the post-war world? These films are deliberately didactic but not without visual pleasures. Their message is somewhat crudely stated but they retain an intelligent social concern for British identity that still grips. In the National Film Archive records, They Came to a City is listed as “an unusual film which represented the first attempt to carry out socialist propaganda in the first British feature film” These two films begin the crCage of Goldeative partnership of Bail Dearden with Michael Relph. (His contribution was a shared producer-writer-director credit, yet his main creative achievement was as a set designer). The Came to a City and later Saraband for Dead Lovers (1948) have remarkably well realised sets.

Through the 1950’s they produced The Blue Lamp (1950); Cage of Gold (1950) right;  Pool of London (1951); I Believe in You (1952); The Gentle Gunman (1952); and The Ship that Died of Shame (1955) and Violent Playground (1958). I have to admit to having a nostalgic soft-spot for a delightful comedy about a flea-pit cinema The Smallest Show on Earth (1957, Of this group of films, The Ship that Died of Shame strikes me as the most interesting. It’s a story of wartime seamen who continue, after the war, using their Navy Convoy boat, for smuggling. The Ship that Died of Shame (top left) is a fascinating picture, adapted from a Nicholas Montsarrat story, and contains a superb performance by Richard Attenborough –now behaving like a grown up Pinky (Brighton Rock) minus his psychotic behaviour. As a depiction of post war disillusionment / moral decline The Ship that Died of Shame neatly links up with Dearden’s heist drama of 1963, The League of Gentlemen, where British society starts to feel cynical about its old ‘heroes.’

blueAnother noteworthy 1950s film is The Blue Lamp. Yet for me that’s still a problem. Its status as social realism is high, and it does give you a sympathetic picture of London’s police. But an over-melodramatic tone flaws The Blue Lamp. Particularly Dirk Bogarde’s self-conscious performance as a young hoodlum. (Accusations of melodrama have often been levelled at Dearden/Relph’s Sapphire, Victim, and Life for Ruth. Yet in those films melodrama, not in itself a negative trait, is thematically better contained and realised). Sapphire, Victim and Life for Ruth can be viewed as a loose trilogy tackling such themes as racism, homosexuality and religious belief. They have often been dismissively called social problem films, as if that where also a problem for the viewer. I prefer to consider them social issue films whose ‘messages’ are not writ up didactically large. (If you want that please go to the American cinema circa that time and suffer the clunky On the Beach 1962 (Kramer, doing nuclear war) The Victors 1960 (Foreman, doing WW2) and The Blackboard Jungle 1955 (Brooks doing war in the classroom).

img_3130Sapphire (1959) is an outstanding film for four reasons: (1) Its very honest depiction of racism (2) The detail of its police investigation; (3) The technical assurance of a thriller that’s both brilliantly economical and (4); Its employment of an expressive Technicolor design.

A woman’s dead body is found on Hampstead Heath. The victim is Sapphire a music student of black and white parentage. Sapphire passed for white and frequented night clubs in a black neighbourhood. Superintendent Robert Hazard (Nigel Patrick) leads the criminal investigation. Although they suspect Sapphire’s white boyfriend David (Paul Massey) and Johnny, a man Sapphire dated, their attention is also drawn to David’s racist father (Bernard Miles). However in the police’s probing of David’s family complex issues are uncovered. David’s paternalistic father (beautifully played by Bernard Miles) is subtly highlighted to reveal the horrible mix of repression, racism and unfullfillment he encouraged to taint his family.

John Hill in ‘Sex, Class and Realism – British cinema 1956-63’ considers Dearden’s ‘social problem’ film to be creaky (Not so. This is forceful and non-judgemental cinema. Sapphire’s ‘issues’ are effectively worked through the tropes of a crime thriller. With any melodrama kept in check by its visual power – it’s a noirish Eastmancolour production. However Hill concedes to Sapphire’s ‘message’: “For the focus of violence (in Sapphire) is not in fact the blacks but the white-middle class family home. The real danger is not the threat without but the sexual repression that is within.”

hd_pool_of_london_739_084For Hill this creates an irony in that black people are seen as more ‘natural’ than the white characters in Sapphire. But for me they are not more stereotypically ‘natural’ simply more open in their relations, and less hypocritical by being ‘outside’ of English society. Sapphire is a scrupulously balanced film about black and white relations. It won a BAFTA award for best film and was remarkable for its time in being such an astute, multi-faceted picture of a racially motivated crime.

When scriptwriter Janet Green joined Dearden and Relph’s production, they really delivered. Green’s writing is intelligent, subtle, analytic and must be acknowledged as a crucial part of the equation when assessing the directorial status of Basil Dearden. Her sensitive scripting takes social issues out of any obvious message box, so that screen characters are fully realised. Sapphire’s crime movie story has a considerable degree of sharp social observation. Dearden’s films now possess an un–patronising liberal urgency.

In Victim (1960) the issue of gay freedom is tackled as powerfully as Sapphire’s exploration of racism. And like Sapphire it’s another landmark film. Dirk Bogarde plays Melville Farr, a successful barrister happily married to Laura (Sylvia Sims). Farr is contacted by Barrett (Peter McEnery) who appeals for help. He’s being blackmailed. The blackmailer has a photo of Farr and Barrett together that possibly suggests a gay relationship. Farr tries to avoid Barrett. Eventually Barrett, who has stolen money from his employers, for the blackmailer, is arrested by the police. In his prison cell Barrett hangs himself. Farr then takes it on himself to discover who’s behind the blackmailing.

img_3132One of the strong points of Victim is that it’s such a comprehensive and sensitive picture of a gay London community. Dearden strongly fashions it like a crime thriller. Yet Janet Green’s screenplay plays down any melodrama by her empathy with the gay world and such great attention to detail. And both main actors, Dirk Bogarde and Sylvia Sims, are brilliant. Bogarde is made to look like a barrister aged about 50, rather than Bogarde’s real age of 39. This gives him a ‘safe’ feel of respectability, presenting a ‘mature’ barrister unable to repress his homosexual feelings. Perhaps this was an artistic error, but the complexity of characterisation in Victim prevents any fall into stock representations of ‘victimised’ gay men. Indeed putting social concerns to own side, Victim is not merely a crusading film about the injustice of illegal homosexual relations in 1961. For near the end of the film, Melville Farr’s anguish and hurt shifts to a deeper sense of his probable bi-sexuality. Farr clearly still loves his wife, yet is also pulled towards a love of men that he cannot deny. It’s Victim’s sense of a more generalised societal repression, blocking a full and workable sexual identity, demanding tolerance and empathy, which makes the film so remarkable.

Of course in today’s social and moral climate Victim appears a mild affair. Bogarde is on record of having said “It is extraordinary, in this over-permissive age (1988) to believe that this modest film could ever have been considered courageous, daring or dangerous to make. It was, in its time, all three.”

If Sapphire and Victim are concerned to tackle societal repression and conformity, in Life for Ruth (1961) ‘intolerance’ of religious belief and matters of conscience are closely scrutinised.

img_3131John Harris (Michael Craig) saves his young daughter Ruth (Lynn Taylor) from drowning in the sea. The child needs a blood transfusion. Harris’s religious beliefs forbid him to give consent. Ruth dies. Her mother, Pat (Janet Munro) separates from John. Doctor Brown, (Patrick McGoohan) of the local hospital, takes legal action against Harris for what he sees as a needless death of a young girl.

Of the Dearden / Relph ‘trilogyLife for Ruth was probably the least commercial project of the three. The film’s storyline making it more a candidate for a BBC Wednesday Play – still a few years down the line. It’s a sombre, even tragic film (aided by Otto Heller’s bleak grey toned photography) where your moral position on Harris’s behaviour constantly wavers. He was wrong to let his child die from not receiving blood. However was the doctor right to ‘hound’ Harris through the courts? The mother becomes horribly conflicted in her sympathies. Whilst Harris, clinging to his religious creed, anguishes over the terrible decision that he must live with.

maxresdefaultThough sharply edited and full of intense drama, Life for Ruth (unlike Sapphire and Victim) doesn’t employ a thriller format. In fact it’s closer (but not quite) to British New Wave realism. However Dearden’s brand of social realism concerns the rules of religion and the ethics of responsibility, rather than issues of class and power. Life for Ruth is about faith put on trial, hardly a fashionable subject for 1962. I can only think of Bergman’s Winter Light (1961) for atmospheric comparison. Though Winter Light is a better and greater film in its dealing with spiritual crisis, the silence of failed relationships and God’s absence. Yet by the end of Life for Ruth the viewer is emotionally shaken by what Harris has done and ponder on his fate after his religion has been seen to ‘betray’ him. Once more, Dearden and Relph are aided by a fine Janet Green script, containing some of her most nuanced writing. “Religion is a tricky business, very tricky-everybody feels, nobody thinks” That’s said by a police inspector. A key line in Life For Ruth about the persuasive, and potentially repressive moral authority of religious belief.

woman-of-straw-4After Life for Ruth, Dearden directed The Mind Benders 1963 (a flawed but compelling thriller about military brainwashing – picture above left) A Place to Go 1963 (A watchable kitchen sink drama worth seeing for Rita Tushingham) Woman of Straw (1963) right; Masquerade (1964); Khartoum (1966) – Charlton Heston starring as General Gordon; Only When I Larf (1968); The Assassination Bureau (1968) and finally The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970), a science fiction drama about a doppelganger, starring Roger Moore.

4036544128_ca6c18a530_oDearden died in a road accident in March 1971. He was only sixty. His films after The Mind Benders is only partially successful. Perhaps his best work had already been achieved with Michael Relph- both earlier with Ealing and after they left the studio to set up their own productions. “Versatility” is a word often employed to damn Basil Dearden with faint praise. The Times epitaph described him as “A versatile British Director.” Inferring that taking your hand to many diverse subjects was a workmanlike and very British drudge. Well Howard Hawks tackled most genres with craftsmanship and artistry. And they were rarely chores. Hawks’ versatility is applauded because he is a recognisable auteur. I’m not placing Dearden on the same artistic level as Hawks. Yet both really knew how to finely craft a movie.

At his best Dearden was a maker of serious films of cinematic skill and a passionate integrity. When dealing with issues in British Society he dug deep into cultural pressures and repressions. Perhaps he didn’t go far enough, and finally shied away from exposing the full hypocrisy of power – that was more the job of an outsider like Joseph Losey. And he certainly never had Losey’s dazzling style. However his films always look good. Not just efficiently good. But striking and imaginative (Noir, early British documentary and Neo-realism cluster round his imagery). Author or not, I respond to Dearden’s best films, not out of a sense of moral duty to British cinema, but with a cineaste’s genuine pleasure.
Alan Price 

THEY CAME TO A CITY  is released on 23 April 2018 | Bfi Films | Dual Format 2K |  BLURAYS|DVDS AVAILABLE COURTESY OF EUREKA, STUDIO CANAL, CRITERION | AMAZON.CO.UK

Inferno (2009) | Mubi

In 1964, Henri Georges Clouzot, the acclaimed director of thriller masterpieces Les Diaboliques and Wages of Fear, began work on his most ambitious film yet. Richard Chatten looks back at his unfinished work INFERNO (L’ENFER) and the documentary that emerged 45 years later.

Dir: Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Medrea | Cast: Romy Schneider, Serge Reggiani, Costa Gavras | 96′ | DOC

Like many other fields of human endeavour, the intricacies of the filmmaking process are often seen at their clearest when things go wrong, as has already been revealed in the fascinating documentaries, The Epic That Never Was (1965), about Josef Von Sternberg’s 1937 attempt to film I Claudius, and Lost in La Mancha (2002) about Terry Gilliam’s abortive The Man Who Killed Don Quixote in 2000.

Another such blighted project was Henri-Georges Clouzot’s L’Enfer (literally Hell), on which the plug was pulled in 1964, leaving behind 185 cans of film (about 13 hours) around which 45 years later Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Medrea assembled this remarkable documentary.

Known to have been a drama about an insanely jealous husband featuring Romy Schneider and shot in both black & white and colour (as indeed had Clouzot’s classic documentary Le Mystère Picasso in 1956), that was about all that was known about the film until Claude Chabrol filmed Clouzot’s original script in 1994, which revealed a plot about the proprietor of a lakeside hotel (played in Chabrol’s version by François Cluzet) who becomes unhinged through jealousy in a fashion similar to Bunuel’s El (1953) and Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (1999).

Clouzot (1907-1977) had been a gifted director with a mean streak a mile wide (frequently evident in his films) whose earlier and later years had been plagued by health problems (mental as well as physical). His most recent film, La Vérité (1960) with Brigitte Bardot had a been a critical and commercial hit and Columbia wrote Clouzot a blank cheque for this next projected film with Romy Schneider anticipating that Clouzot would enjoy equivalent success with Miss Schneider as he had had with Bardot. Unfortunately, while La Vérité had had the firm hand of producer Raoul Lévy on the tiller, Clouzot took the responsibility upon himself of producing L’Enfer and ran wild with both time and money, shooting hours and hours of bizarre ‘psychological’ colour tests while driving his cast and crew mad on location in Auvergne until after just 10 days in July 1964 his star Serge Reggiani walked out after being forced repeatedly to run behind a camera car along the side of a lake. Clouzot shortly afterwards  suffered a heart attack that provided the pretext to pull the plug on a production that had run hopelessly out of control.

The existing footage in Dayglo colours that he left behind  – much of it Miss Schneider, including her water-skiing in blue lipstick – is absolutely eye-popping (plenty of it not surprisingly has become popular on YouTube), but suggests he was more interested in them than in delivering a coherent narrative, portions of which also exist in black & white. Clouzot’s sole subsequent completed feature, La Prisonnière (1968) was a sadomasochistic drama also in pop-art colours (also known as Woman in Chains) that suggests how L’Enfer might have turned out had it been completed, and is ironically largely forgotten today.

Regrets that it may have been an unrealised masterpiece clouded the judgement of critics when they reviewed Chabrol’s version of 1994, and Chabrol ruefully observed that plenty of films have been unfavourably compared to earlier versions that had been made, but this must have been the first to be unfavourably compared to an earlier version that was never made! The two films would make a good two-disc box set, since the documentary makes much more sense if one has the grasp of the plot afforded by Chabrol’s version (which unfolds in straight linear sequence, whereas Clouzot’s film was going to be told in flashback); and watching Chabrol’s film the scene of Cluzet running alongside the lake now carries considerable additional dramatic impact as one experiences the thrill of recognition of finally seeing in its intended context what we saw poor Reggiani forced to do again and again thirty years earlier. @Richard Chatten

NOW AVAILABLE ON BLURAY COURTESY OF ARROW ACADEMY | MUBI

 

Michael (1924) | New 2k Bluray release

Dir: Carl Theodor Dreyer | Writer: Thea von Harbou | Silent | 90′

Danish auteur Carl Theodor Dreyer is best known for his five major films made over a protracted career of 40 years from The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), Vampyr (1932), Day of Wrath (1943), Ordet (1955) and Gertrud (1964). His output was hampered by lack of financing due to his unique cinematic vision which was viewed as  uncommercial and his perfectionism often made him unpopular to work with. But the result is an intensely stylish studies of human crisis or religious conviction.

The German drama MICHAEL (Mikael) was one such psychological drama exploring three characters involved in a love triangle. Variously released as Chained (in the US)  and The Story of the Third Sex, a more candid allusion to the film’s homosexual subtext, it features a mesmerising performance from Benjamin Christensen as “The Master,” an artist of international fame for his portrait of an art student Mikael (the sylthe-like Walter Slezak/Lifeboat), who awakens latent feelings of illicit desire while the two are tousling for the affections of an impoverished duchess who comes to have her portrait painted (the luminous Nora Gregor/The Rules of the Game). Such is the intensity of their smouldering rivalry that when The Master dies suddenly, Mikael comes under extreme public scrutiny as the perpetrator in his demise although it later emerges that he died from natural causes. This dreamlike silent drama leads on to a subtle subplot involving another tortured ménage à trois.

Filmed on a magnificent studio set, and in intimate close-ups where the characters often appear as if in a halo, silhouetted against the mysterious darkness, the piano accompaniment lends a sinister almost ghostly tension to the story. The meticulous camera moves with stealth drawing us in to the intrigue while maintaining an unsettling distance. Passion glows but never sizzles in Rudolph Mate and Karl Freund’s cinematography, Freund has his only role as an actor, in vignette, as an jovial art dealer. The film was scripted by Dreyer with Fritz Lang’s wife, Thea von Harbou (Metropolis, M), based on Herman Bang’s 1902 novel Mikaël. A real treat avant-garde gem.MT

Masters of Cinema  presents MICHAEL for the first time ever on Blu-ray | 12 February 2018

Loving Vincent (2017) * * * *

Dir: Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman | With Douglas Booth, Jerome Flynn, Robert Gulaczyk, Helen McCrory, John Sessions, Eleanor Tomlinson, Aidan Turner, Chris O’Dowd | Animated Biography |  Poland | UK | 94′

Seven years in the making LOVING VINCENT is a mini-masterpiece from directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman. Each of the 65,000 frames is hand-painted in the style of Van Gogh’s own work, to explore the mystery behind his tragic death. The film makes a superb companion piece to Van Gogh: A New Way of Seeing that highlighted the close relationship between Vincent and his brother Theo, told through their extensive correspondence. Other films about the famous post-impressionist painter are Vincent & Theo and Maurice Pialat’s Van Gogh. But this animated biopic drama sheds light on the controversy surrounding Vincent’s fatal gunshot wound, suggesting the possibility of murder.

Despite his prolific output of 800 paintings in fewer that ten years, Van Gogh was only 37 when he ended his troubled life in July 1890, during his stay in the countryside boarding house of the Famille Revoux in Auvers-sur-Oise,  Northern France. Although the performances are entirely animated, it is possible to identify the actors playing their roles due to the astonishing likeness of their animated counterparts. LOVING VINCENT glows with a ravishing lucidity to create a story that feels intriguing, intimate and heartfelt in its gentle examination of the facts behind Van Gogh’s turbulent final months and his early childhood memories, revealing the painter’s sorrowful ‘sadness at not amounting to anything’. Van Gogh is played by Polish actor Robert Gulaczyk and the detective work is done by Douglas Booth’s slightly sleazy Armand Roulin, who as the postman’s son, is the least convincing element of this highly inventive and enjoyable exposé. MT

NOW OUT ON BLURAY  from 12 February 2018 

 

Orchestra Rehearsal (1979) | Bluray release

Dir.: Federico Fellini; Cast: Baldwin Baas, Elisabeth Labi; Italy/West Germany | 70′.

Fellini’s little known TV vignette is a rather anarchic undertaking which suffers from its episodic form offering moments of brilliance, but even longer stretches of opaqueness.

Seen as Fellini’s only contemporary effort – his other films always reaching out to the past – Orchestra still has some hallmarks of his classics, with the film crew always present, this time we can hear Fellini as the director of a documentary crew filming the rehearsal. Everything gets off to bad start after members of the union squabble about musicians’ payment, and when the conductor (Baas) arrives, things get even worse. He is an arrogant German (perhaps a caricature of Herbert von Karajan), and behaves like a dictator, alienating everyone before he is  ‘sidestepped’ by demolition workers who arrive and tear the place apart. The harpist (Labi) is the victim of falling walls, and after the mayhem stops, the musicians, like frightened children, suddenly obey the conductor.
This was sadly the last music every composed by Nino Rota – a Fellini regular. DoP Giuseppe Rotunno (The Leopard), also collaborated on Fellini classics such as Roma, and he excels here in the limited space allotted to him. But overall the director seems oddly tired and not at home in this contemporary setting. AS

ON BLURAY | 12 FEBRUARY 2018 | COURTESY OF ARROW ACADEMY

House | Hansu (1977) | Dual format release

Dir: Nobuhiko Obayashi | Chiho Katsura | Cast: Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Kumiko Ohba | Fantasy Horror | 88′

This utterly outlandish cult fantasy flick feels like Five Go Mad in Dorset translocated to Japan and directed by Mario Bava. Nobuhiko Obayashi’s second feature follows the endlessly silly and psychedelic shenanigans of a motherless Japanese teenager who sets off with her six school friends to escape a much yearned for summer holiday with her dad and his new, weirdly placid girlfriend. Oshare (Ikegami) and her mates eventually fetch up in a carnivorous countryside cottage belonging to her aunt, who has since died and haunts the property along with her demonic cat. The cartoonish craziness is a non-ending nubile nightmare featuring phantasmagorical happenings: a carnivorous piano; a vomiting picture, spooky sound effects (including a catchy piano theme tune), as the giggly girls disappear one by one in this lewd, low-budget grand guignol gobsmacker.   MT

NOW AVAILABLE ON EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA SERIES

 

 

 

Property is No Longer a Theft (1973)***** Bluray release

Dir: Elio Petri | Writer: Ugo Pirri | Cast: Ugo Tognazzi, Flavio Bucci, Daria Nicolodi | Italy | Comedy Drama 126′

Property is No Longer a Theft is the final part of a trilogy by Elio Petri which comprises Investigations of A Citizen Above Suspicion (1970) and Lulu the Tool (1971) aka as Le Classe Operaia va in Paradiso. Bergman allowed himself a “faith” trilogy and Antonioni an “alienation” trilogy, so Petri, as a politicised filmmaker, delivers a “neurosis” trilogy. The inherent sickness of acquiring property, money and power is viewed from a darkly comic perspective: a corrupt Italian capitalism where the thieves, both legal and criminal, thrive and fall.

Total (Flavio Bucci) is a young bank clerk striving for a more meaningful existence beyond the daily grind of dealing with rich businessmen and their money. To get his own back on one of his clients – a wealthy but slightly dubious butcher (Ugo Tognazzi) – Total steals the meat man’s car, amongst other possessions, and kidnaps his young girlfriend Anita (Daria Nicolodi). Total’s motives are a crazed sense of social justice – punishing the rich butcher who he sees as representative of a corrupt class. Yet capitalism has rules that Total cannot break and he pays a severe price for his anarchic intervention.

Few films present us with a philosophy of theft. The emotionally-charged arguments in The Godfather 2 or spiritual tension in Pickpocket have a theoretical and philosophic power. Coppola depicts stealing as a natural activity. Bresson, as a means to find spiritual grace. Yet Petri presents us with a bitter and ironic escapade in ‘praise’ of a thieving world whose logic and highly normalised rules we cannot ignore.

A Brechtian/Godardian distancing effect interrupts his story, with monologues by his characters functioning as unreliable narratives. We criticise and examine their relationship with money and one another. These talks to the camera are filmed in a faintly sinister manner: leering, sweating people anxious to justify their actions whilst the sub-text is often a cry of pain. They’re vulnerable, very human and sometimes deeply sad. Without its comedy Property is No Longer a Theft might have been a tedious political diatribe against capitalism. Yet a brilliant and biting script makes for a compelling, even grotesque, experience as every mad attempt to justify the logic of stealing and owning is hilariously exposed.

Despite his humble role as the local butcher, Ugo Tognazzi’s character is an ill-educated, coarse and ego-driven man living a ‘nouveau riche’ lifestyle. He sexually abuses his girlfriend (Nicolodi’s Anita), who is partly complicit with his treatment and is strongly aware of how she functions in his and other men’s lives. In contrast, bank employee Total often appears deranged and deluded in his pursuit of justice.

Albertone (Mario Scaccia) is a burglar/professional actor employed by Total to rob the butcher. They’re caught by the police. Albertone dies during the interrogation. At his public funeral, a speech is delivered praising the criminal class over the legal class of thieves. Hyperbole is piled up in praise of Albertone, resulting in richly absurd comedy. The phrase “honour among thieves” has never been so superbly ridiculed in the cinema.

Property is No Longer a Theft is both very funny and very serious. It’s a bitter, radical and complex film about monetary contagion. Total suffers from itching, odd tics; always wearing gloves so as not to be physically contaminated by the touch of money. (There’s a great scene where he asks the bank manager for a rise. When refused he takes a banknote and burns it in front of his boss.)

“…in the struggle, legal or illegal to obtain what we don’t have, may fall such with shameful illnesses; they become plagued, inside and outside.”

Total’s opening speech sets the tone for the rest of the film. The characters’ almost farcical antics are captured by Petri’s acute eye for detail as Total purses his intension to be a “Marxist Mandrake”. The break-ins and bungled robberies are excitingly filmed. Fiercely exact editing and camerawork gives the film an exhilarating rhythm (accompanied by an off-centre and spiky score form Ennio Morricone)

Like Francesco Rosi, Petri is an almost forgotten director who urgently needs to be re-evaluated. Property hits all the capitalist bulls’ eyes and is a minor masterpiece, along with his feature debut L’Assassino (1961). More Petri please | ALAN PRICE© 2018

NOW OUT ON BLURAY FROM ARROW | 20 MARCH 2018

The Mystery of Picasso (1956) | Bluray release

Dir: Henri-Georges Clouzot | DoP: Claude Renoir | With Pablo Picasso | French | Doc | 78”

The only mystery about Picasso to many people is his legendary popularity given his well-documented abuse of his lovers which today would, no doubt, give reason for public outcry along the lines of the #metoo campaign: “Women are machines for suffering” Picasso told his mistress Françoise Gilot in 1943, and this statement is certainly borne out in his often tortured and butchered depictions of the female subjects which was clearly echoed in real life. Picasso was a serial adulterer who drew strength and artistic inspiration from his lovers, two of whom killed themselves, and one died of natural causes only four years into their relationship.

But his skill as an artist and painter is undisputed and masterfully captured here in Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1956 film showing Picasso in the act of creating works for the camera. Many of these paintings were subsequently destroyed and may only still exist on film. Clouzot was not the first to depict Picasso’s process of creation, that honour fell to Belgian director Paul Haesaerts in his BAFTA-winning A Visit to Picasso (1949) that featured the Malaga-born painter sketching out images on glass plates from the viewpoint of the camera.

Picasso was a master of simplicity. With a handful of black marks he could suggest a form that would be gradually fleshed out to a full scale sketch, collage or oil painting. Here, Claude Renoir’s camera captures each artwork’s creation as it comes into being, utilising a series of transparent canvases, until the final reel when the film switches to a CinemaScope ratio and burst into colour. The film went on to win the Special Jury Prize at Cannes 1956. Truly magnifique! MT

OUT ON BLURAY FROM 22 JANUARY 2018 together with A VISIT TO PICASSO and Man Ray’s ‘home movie’ LA GAROUPE (1937). 

 

 

Three films by Jia Zhangke | Arrow

Jia Zhangke has become widely regarded as one of world cinema’s most accomplished filmmakers and a leading figure of the Sixth Generation movement of contemporary Chinese cinema.

24 CITY (2008) here Jia successfully combines documentary and fiction film as he charts the transformation of a military hardware factory into a complex of luxury flats, and the social impact this has on the community. 112′

A TOUCH OF SIN (2013) this Cannes prize-winner follows the lives of four people across China who are driven to acts of violence. An angry miner enraged by corruption in his village; a migrant who discovers the infinite possibilities of owning a firearm; a receptionist at a sauna who is pushed to the limit by a client; and a young factory worker drifting through the foreign-owned factories and nightclubs of the south. 125′

 

Jia Zhangke’s restaurant in Shanxi province, China

 

MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART (2015) is an intimate and moving drama spanning several decades, which charts the impact of China’s capitalist experiment on the lives of one family. 126′

NOW ON ARROW PLAYER 

God’s Own Country (2017) | Bfi Flare Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Francis Lee; Cast: Josh O’Connor, Alec Secareanu, Gemma Jones, Ian Hart; UK 2017, 104 min.

Francis Lee’s feature debut is often hard watch to watch. This dour and utterly realistic portrayal of a gay relationship in the Yorkshire countryside does not spare humans or animals. But in spite of the gloominess of landscape and relationships, Lee allows a chink of sunlight into this country-noir.

Johnny Saxby (O’Connor) is a lost soul: he works for his stroke-impaired father Martin (Hart) on the family farm, his mother (Gemma Jones) watching his every step. The only entertainment is alcohol and quick sexual encounters in the pub toilet. Josh resents the world – but not as much as himself. Enter Gheorghe (Secareanu), a Romanian farm worker, hired to help Josh with the overbearing tasks of looking after the varied livestock and the land. Josh might be a country yokel, but he knows how to provoke Gheorghe at their first meeting: he calls him a Gypsy – but Gheorghe, who speaks near perfect English, wrestles him to the ground showing he’s no pushover. Gheorghe comes from a farming family experience and shows imagination and knowledge whilst saving a new-born lamb, Josh warms to him, and after yet another wrestling match in the mud, the two become lovers. With his mother growing more and more suspicious of the two young men, Josh’s father suffers a second stroke, leaving him bedridden for good. Stressed out, Josh takes up again with one of his casual lovers, but is caught in flagrante by Gheorghe, who leaves the farm.

DoP Joshua James Richards (Songs my Brother taught Me) beautifully captures the dappled Yorkshire countryside – always changing from light to shadow in support of the moody narrative. O’Connor is brilliant as Johnny, showing both vulnerability and brutal aggression. Secareanu is his equal: his Gheorghe is a much more developed personality than Johnny, but he is traumatised by the events in his homeland – one can only guess how homosexuals are treated in rural Romania, but we don’t know that he is not bisexual. Josh’s parents are trying to hold everything together, but in the end, they are both totally dependent on their son. So Josh, for the first time, gets a chance to be his own master.

God’s own Country has, in contrast with many contemporary British films, an intricate narrative, and a proper dramatic arc: Lee, who grew up on a farm in Yorkshire, directs with assurance, never rushing anything; incorporating the gloomy landscape into the human mire. A great character study, and a visual feast, even though some more delicate souls might have to close their eyes now and again. MT

Screening during Bfi Flare on 1st April |ON BLURAY AND DVD FROM 29 JANUARY 2018

The Innocents: Madness and Desire in Gothic cinema

Madness and Desire in The Innocents 

We lay my love and I, beneath the weeping willow,
But now alone I lie, and weep beside the tree.

Singing O Willow Waly, by the tree that weeps with me,
Singing O Willow Waly, ’til my lover returns to me.

We lay my love and I, beneath a weeping willow,
but now alone I lie, Oh Willow I die, Oh Willow I die.

So begins one of the most chilling films of all time: Jack Clayton’s The Innocents (1961). The tune repeats throughout, a recurring refrain of terror, still capable of sending a chill down the spine over fifty years after the film’s release.

Although now rightly held as a great masterpiece of cinema, it wasn’t always so for The Innocents: upon release, the film was not an immediate hit – perhaps because it failed to feature either the camp fun of the early haunted house drawing room mysteries, or the shocking thrills then so in vogue. The film starred Deborah Kerr as the prim and proper governess hired to look after two children who she becomes convinced are haunted by a former governess Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop) and a valet played by Peter Wyngarde, in one of his early film roles.

In the late 1950s, Hammer Films had redefined horror with The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Dracula (1958), smashing onto the Gothic scene with blood, gore, sex – and colour. By contrast, the black and white restraint of The Innocents seemed to owe more to the psychological horrors of Val Lewton’s Snake Pit unit, who had created a spate of low budget masterpieces over at RKO Pictures during the 1940s. However, upon inspection, there may be more similarities between the Hammer output and The Innocents than there first appears.

The_Innocents_(1961)_pic_3 copy

In Dracula, for instance, Hammer had focused on the sexual undertones of Bram Stoker’s novel, using the tale to explore the unfulfilled and unexpressed sexual desires of women living within a repressive, patriarchal Victorian society. In its story of a vicar’s daughter becoming governess to the estranged niece and nephew of a dashing playboy, who subsequently succumbs to either madness, desire or ghosts (depending on your interpretation), The Innocents can be read as a similar exploration into Victorian values and repression. In other words, Dracula and The Innocents share both genre and theme, and even their stylistic differences have perhaps been overplayed: like Dracula, The Innocents is both shocking and frightening, and even Jack Clayton felt that his portrayal of the beastly Peter Quint owed too much to Hammer (and many purists of Henry James – who wrote The Turn of the Screw, the novella on which The Innocents is based – appear to agree, rejecting the film as a cheapening of its source material).

It would seem, then, that what really distinguishes Dracula and The Innocents is their varying degrees of obliquity: where Dracula is hiked skirts and girls on beds, The Innocents is half-glimpsed men in misty towers. In making his film, Clayton was reportedly influenced by the essay The Ambiguity of Henry James (Edmund Wilson, 1934), the first part of which gives itself over to a detailed exploration of a theory which claims that ‘the young governess…is a neurotic case of sex repression, and the ghosts are not real ghosts at all but merely the hallucinations of the governess’. Freud, it’s fair to say, was in the air. Wilson also states that ‘nowhere does James unequally give the thing away: almost everything from beginning to end can be read equally in either of two senses’ – and thus we have the ambiguity of the essay’s title and, perhaps, the defining characteristic of Clayton’s approach to the material. For him, it was vital not to succumb fully to either interpretation, but instead to preserve this ambiguity.

To this end, then, he degraded film, shot through mist and frosted windows, and on many occasions (though not all, as is sometimes stated) shows first the governess’ terrified face, and then the ghosts – therefore implying the ghosts may well be only in her head (this ambiguity was also a key component of Deborah Kerr’s superb performance as the governess). Again following Wilson, we can note ‘that there is no real reason for supposing that anybody but the governess sees the ghosts’. Perhaps, therefore, what we are watching is not a ghost story, but a descent into madness. In some senses, this ambiguity (and specifically the refusal to posit the ghosts as real) ties The Innocents back into the original lineage of haunted house drawing room mysteries, in which natural answers were ultimately posited to explain away supernatural elements. Of course, the governess’ potential madness and the undercurrents of desire also tie the film into two other distinct strands of Gothic cinema.

Caligari_26_Copyright_Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung_PM copy

In the Gothic tradition, madness has been there since the beginning. It’s already there in early works of both literature (Jane Eyre, 1847) and cinema (The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, 1920). By the early 1930s, it’s a staple of the Classic Universal Horror cycle, simultaneously responsible for, and a response to, the monstrosities at the heart of Frankenstein (1932) and The Invisible Man (1933). It’s there too in Dracula (1932), as it had been in Stoker’s novel (interestingly, in their streamlining of the text, Hammer chose to jettison Renfield, the Count’s crazy underling, who, as performed by Dwight Frye, remains one of the most effective elements of Universal’s adaption; prior to Hammer, the character had also featured memorably in Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922), as he would do again in both Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)).

If, in Dracula, Renfield’s already mad mind is corrupted further by his dealings with the vampire Count, elsewhere madness is shown as the result of more natural and human causes. For instance, in The Hands of Orlac (1924) and Gaslight (1940), nefarious criminals strive to drive others to madness for the sake of – what else? – financial gain. Gaslight, though, can also be seen as belonging to what some have termed ‘Female Gothic’, a strand descended from the likes of the Brontë sisters, which serves to explore the subjugation of women to patriarchal authority (especially within the home). Gaslight’s director, Thorold Dickinson, has spoken of how he wished to undermine Victorian values and attitudes to women within the film, and thus a second clear link with The Innocents is formed: where Hammer’s Dracula ultimately reasserts the importance of Victorian family values, in The Innocents these values lead only to death.

The Shining

Death too, of course, is the fate ultimately suffered by Jack Torrance in The Shining (1980), surely still the greatest on-screen Gothic exploration into the disintegration of a mind. As Torrance, Jack Nicholson gives the performance of his career, so extreme a gurning gargoyle of a madman that cinematic madness is left with no place to go (or, indeed, to hide).

Much like madness, the theme of desire also dates back to the founding texts of the Gothic canon (we’ve already seen how it’s present in Dracula, and The Turn of the Screw itself dates back to 1898). The fact that much early Gothic fiction was written for, and by, women perhaps helps explain the recurring themes of sexual desires kept at bay by male-dominated Victorian society (let’s not forget that the turning point for the suffragettes was not until 1912). However, it’s also true that there was a tendency in early Gothic work – especially that belonging to the ‘Male Gothic’ tradition – to feature the female characters in minor roles, or as part of an ensemble. In cinema, this (male) tradition is perhaps best represented by the notion of the Scream Queen – the screaming heroine who faints when confronted with the beast, as most famously exemplified by Fay Wray in King Kong (1933).

Leaf

King Kong, of course, was made by RKO – the studio which, with producer Val Lewton, would help move horror away from the monster movies of Universal, and towards a more psychological approach. Indeed, Lewton’s 1942 Cat People (directed by Jacques Tourneur) concerns a young bride who believes she is cursed to turn into a killer cat whenever she becomes sexually aroused. If the premise and the studio-saddled title make it all sound rather daft, the film in fact remains one of the most haunting and beautifully played explorations into repressed desire, and the effects of such repression upon the repressed, in cinema history – second only, perhaps, to The Innocents.  @ALEX BARRETT

AVAILABLE THROUGH EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA | AMAZON.CO.UK, TALKING PICTURES TV

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) | Bluray dual format release

Dir: Billy Wilder | Writers: I A I Diamond, Billy Wilder | Comedy drama | US |

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is a triumph largely due to the wittily elegant repartee that Wilder wrote with I A I Diamond for Robert Stephen’s world weary Holmes and his sidekick Watson, played by Colin Blakely. Teetering on the edge of romantic drama the film delicately suggests, in an jokey endearing way, that the sleuthing duo are also a gay partnership, an assertion that Watson fiercely seems to refute, deeply concerned for his public reputation. But their status is somehow left gently in the ether in a clever scene where Holmes wants to disentangle himself from siring a child for a Russian ballerina. And later when Watson asks him if he can prove his sexuality via female conquests: “There have been women, haven’t there, or am I being presumptuous?” Holmes responds: “yes – you are being presumptuous.” Although the film feels dated in its classic 1970s aesthetic – a brassily florid and theatrical look – there is a great deal to enjoy thanks to the amusing dialogue and perfectly pitched performances. MT

AVAILABLE on dual format bluray from EUREKA Masters of Cinema series | January 22 |2018

Daphne (2017) | Home Ent release

Dir: Peter Mackie Burns | Writer; Nico Mensinga | Cast: Geraldine James, Emily Beecham, Nathaniel Martello-White, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor | Comedy Drama | 88′ | UK

DAPHNE is a fresh and believable comedy about a spiky young Londoner who seems at odds with everyone and everything in her life. Played with verve by Emily Beecham, who won ‘Best Actress in a British Film’ at Edinburgh 2017 for her feisty take on today’s young womanhood, Daphne is the impressive feature debut of Peter Mackie Burns (Come Closer) who has the maturity to give the film a tongue in cheek lightness of touch that makes it so watchable. Nico Mensinga’s sparky script is fraught with witty insights capturing the capital’s contemporary snarky vibe.

Part of Daphne’s problem is her fractious relationship with her worldly-wise mother – a wonderful Geraldine James. She is also loath to admit her interest in the opposite sex, and fearful of rejection, she makes each flirty encounter a battleground, a move that only encourages prospective boyfriends, particularly Tom Vaughan-Lawlor’s Joe whose declaration of undying love sends Daphne running for cover, with a nonchalant ‘whatever’. To make matters worse, her job as a part time chef is going nowhere, especially Daphne down-spirals into self-destruction. We’ve all been there in various guises and DAPHNE certainly rings true. It’s a perky comedy drama that champions the kind of ennui emblematic of youth – boredom laced with episodes of vulnerability; a goalless existence borne with snappy impatience. Helped along by a breezy score from Sam Beste, DAPHNE is all about that mid-point in our twenties or thirties – that limbo-like state before we realise our full potenti