SIX things you might not know about Spike Lee's DO THE RIGHT THING (Deptford Cinema's Spike Lee Mixtape Season)

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October in Britain is Black History Month, and for Deptford Cinema that means a sweeping retrospective of director Spike Lee’s joints. Since his breakout first feature She's Gotta Have It back in 1986, African-American filmmaker Spike Lee has built an incredibly diverse, politically-charged, and hugely respected filmography, from mainstream heist thrillers like Inside Man to this year’s topical Cannes-winning police drama BlackKklansman. Eight films from across four decades make up the season.

As part of each screening at Deptford Cinema, ticket holders will get a set of programme notes that explore the context of each film’s production and reception. As a taster, reproduced below are the notes from the screening of Do The Right Thing, Lee’s explosive third film which gained him Oscar nominations and much notoriety, and remains perhaps his signature piece of work. An appropriate film to kick the season off then!

  • Lee made his directorial debut with She’s Gotta Have It in 1986, which returned millions on its tiny independent budget. School Daze followed in 1988, but it was Do the Right Thing that made him a household name and media personality, cementing his status as a directing force to be reckoned with.

  • Among the audiences flocking to this controversial new release, which opened in American cinemas on 30 June 1989, were the young Barack Obama and his future wife Michelle, who remember going to see the film on their first date.

  • The film ends with quotes by both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X:  provoking the audience to consider the different approaches of each in light of what they have seen occur in the film. The above quotes are followed by a dedication to the families of: Eleanor Bumpers, Michael Griffith, Arthur Miller, Edmund Perry, Yvonne Smallwood, and Michael Stewart.

  • Lee developed the idea for Do the Right Thing after a discussion with Robert De Niro. The two had conversed about a 1986 incident at Queens, NY’s Howard Beach, in which a group of African-American men were attacked in a neighborhood heavily populated by Italian-Americans, and one of the victims was struck by a car and killed while attempting to flee. Apparently De Niro was Lee’s first choice for the character of “Sal,” but when De Niro decided against the role, he suggested Danny Aiello, who was eventually cast.

  • Principal photography began 18 Jul 1988, filming took place on one block in Brooklyn, NY, on Stuyvesant Avenue, between Lexington and Quincy.. The dilapidated and poverty-ridden street was transformed by the film crew, with new constructions including a working pizza parlor that doubled for Sal’s Famous Pizzeria, and a radio station that replaced a burnt-out building. Several of the characters’ residences were set in a former crack house that had been shut down by production, and the brownstone that doubled as the home of the only white resident, “Clifton,” had been a vacant building beforehand. On the Saturday preceding the start of principal photography, Spike Lee hosted a large block party in order to establish a positive relationship between the residents of the neighborhood and the filmmakers. Filming on the $6.2 million production was completed 14 Sep 1988.

  • For the final confrontation between Aiello’s “Sal” and Giancarlo Esposito’s character, “Buggin Out,” Lee allowed the actors to improvise as they slung racist remarks at one another. Esposito, who was half-Italian and half-African-American in descent, told HR that filming the scene had been cathartic.

  • The film showed in competition at the Cannes International Film Festival on 19 May 1989. Critical reception was largely positive. Lee’s unique style was lauded by NYT’s Vincent Canby, who described the young filmmaker as “the most distinctive American multi-threat man since Woody Allen.” Echoing that sentiment in her 30 Jun 1989 LAT review, Sheila Benson stated that Lee was a “director working with absolute assurance and power.” However articles in Newsweek, Village Voice, and New York accused Do the Right Thing of promoting violence and expressed concern about potentially volatile reactions from moviegoers. However, no violent incidents were linked to the film’s 30 Jun 1989 opening in 360 theaters across the U.S., and Lee conveyed his disappointment in the negative backlash.

  • As a writer I want everybody to get a chance to voice their opinions. If each character thinks that they’re telling the truth, then it’s valid. Then at the end of the film, I leave it up to the audience to decide who did the right thing. “ - Spike Lee, Rolling Stone interview.

  • “I’ll tell you my least favorite [reaction to the film]: the reviews of David Denby and Joe Klein saying that black people were going to riot after seeing this film. That they [black people] weren’t intelligent enough to make the distinction between what’s happening on screen and what happens in real life — so they would come out of theaters and riot all across America. You can Google it! Blood was going to be on my hands, and I was going to be personally responsible for David Dinkins not being the first African-American mayor [of New York City], because the primary was in that September. That still bugs the shit out of me. I know people might read this and say “Spike, move the fuck on,” but I’m sorry — I can’t. They never really owned up to that, and when I think about it, I just get mad.” - Spike Lee, Rolling Stone interview.

The Spike Lee Mixtape season runs October 11- November 6. See here for tickets and dates.




Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

It's all about TIME: Christian Marclay's epically ambitious THE CLOCK arrives at Tate Modern

Tate Modern| 14 September 2018 – 20 January 2019

More information here

RATING: ★★★★★

How many times have you checked your watch, or, as is more likely to be the case, your smartphone clock during a film screening? We tend to like to be aware of the time, particularly if we have somewhere to be. Movies, of course, have their own ‘film time’; the privilege of the filmmaker is to be able to make four hours pass in four seconds via editing and other techniques. Christian Marclay’s internationally celebrated 24-hour video installation The Clock, now installed at Tate Modern for the first time after touring around the world, is not an installation where you will have to check your watch at all, or feel the need to, as the film’s fascinating concept means it itself is always telling you what time it is, whilst making you think about WHAT time is.

Captivating audiences across the world since its debut in 2010, The Clock is a staggeringly epic montage of thousands of film and television clips from around the world that depict clocks or reference time in some way. It could be a glimpse of a wristwatch, a pan over a town hall clock face, or even - slyly- an hourglass filled with sand. Sometimes a clip will simply feature an onscreen character declare vocally the time, or we will see clips of various crowds behaving in a uniform fashion that suggests what time it is (a flow of human traffic exiting an office suggests it is probably the widespread clock-off time of 5.30pm). It encourages you to think about the universal, and non-universal, ways that people behave at certain times of day.

Following several years of rigorous and painstaking research and production, Marclay and his team edited these excerpts to create an immersive visual and sonic experience that, provided the film is started at exactly 8am, will synchronise the appearance of the time on screen to the actual atomic clock time in the real world. It is impossible to even imagine the scale of the task Marclay and his team set themselves to assemble and edit these clips to match ‘real time’. Ask yourself, how many clock faces can you remember in films, beyond the obvious ones (Back to the Future, for example)?

So you can enjoy The Clock simply as a feat of ambition and technical bravura. But this work operates as a compelling journey through cinematic history as well as a functioning timepiece. Even if you aren’t minded to start thinking deep thoughts about the ways movies depict and emphasise time, about how editing affects our perceptions (you can spot Marclay, for example creating little mini-narratives with his montages), you can play ‘spot the film title’ with yourself or any friends you are with. I myself spotted: Citizen Kane, To Catch a Thief, Notorious, Angel Heart, Mary Poppins, Broadcast News, and - of course - The Time Machine. But there are 100 years of well-known and obscure films, including thrillers, westerns and science fiction, to sift through. The Tate have 24 hour shows scheduled at certain dates to allow the devoted to try to tag them all.

About Christian Marclay:

Christian Marclay is recognised as one of the foremost contemporary artists working in sound and image. He received the prestigious Golden Lion Award at the Venice Biennale in 2011 when The Clock was shown. Tate jointly acquired this celebrated video work in 2012 together with the Centre Pompidou, Paris and The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. After touring internationally, this will be the first time Tate has shown The Clock since it joined the Tate collection. The work will be displayed in Tate Modern’s Blavatnik Building which since opening in 2016 has created flexible exhibition space to show large immersive video installations.

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

FrightFest 2018 review roundup

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Frightfest, the UK's premier horror film festival, is done for another year, and the Smoke Screen has stumbled out of the auditorium, wiped off the blood and brain matter, and got down to work writing up some of this year's highlights

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Film Review -  FrightFest 2018: Rock Steady Row

Director: Trevor Stevens

USA 2018. 77 mins.

RATING: ★★★★☆

I am always likely to respond well to the promise of a genre mashup that manages to somehow gel A Fistful of Dollars, Mad Max, West Side Story, and the aesthetic of comic books into one commentary on Trumpian times. That is what Rock Steady Row, from debut director Trevor Stevens, delivers over 70 highly-stylised, synth-inflected minutes. This cheeky dystopian delight is set in a future world where America has collapsed in all sorts of ways, one of those ways being that tuition has now become so unaffordable that student communities now resemble a wild frontier town in a post apocalyptic nightmare land, where lack of resources means that cruel fraternities have formed to control what little is left. The action takes place in one such hellhole - the war zone-like campus of Rock Steady Row - where two warring fraternities have taken over the ruined campus dorm house row, and bicycles dominate the campus economy. No one can afford a car, and public transport is a long-forgotten dream, hence freshmen and the generally unlucky will grovel to get their Schwinn out of protective custody. The established order gets upset when one newcomer, a man-of-few-words freshman called Leroy, decides to play both rival fraternities against each other, Man With No Name style, when his BMX gets stolen. Leroy handily has a sweet line of martial arts superpowers, which get enhanced when he has 80’s power chords and synth beats blazing from his walkman. Lead Heston Horwin makes for an appealing main man, managing to pull off the requisite balance of emitting wiry toughness whilst winking at the audience, and has buzzy chemistry with co-star Diamond White (playing student journalist Piper, doing her best Lois Lane in the face of the world’s end). Logan Huffman as fraternity godfather and main villain Palmer channels Heath Ledger’s Joker (Palmer uses pencils as weapons for one thing, pencils being another item in short supply) like his life depended on it. Some wacky fights and appealingly bizarre visions of how a post apocalyptic student community would function keep Rock Steady Row a short, sweet treat.


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Film Review -  FrightFest 2018: The Dark

Director: Justin P. Lange

Austria 2018. 94 mins

RATING: ★★★☆☆

Dying as a result of a sexual assault and murder by her mother’s abusive boyfriend turns out not to be the end of for lonely American teen Mina (Nadia Alexander), as she is reborn mysteriously as an undead flesh-eating ghoul, cursed to haunt her childhood woodland home out in the rural midwest. After crawling out of her grave to wreck vengeance on her family, her hunting territory develops a local legend over the years after as ‘The Devil’s Den’, and her old house falls into a state of eerie disrepair. After presumably a decade of hunting human prey with her mother’s old axe and her ghoulish nails, Nina comes across Alex, an abused blind boy left in the car trunk of the very abuser who we witness ending up as Mina’s recent meal in the film’s opening ten minutes. After killing his obnoxious companion, Mina for some reason lets Alex live, an action that eventually allows her human side to re-emerge as he two bond, though not without the film eventually settling into a path already well-trodden by the likes of Let the Right One In. Exactly how the mythology behind Mina’s supernatural transformation isn’t made entirely clear, and the narrative drags out revealing Alex’s background without offering up a payoff that satisfied me. Still, young star Nadia Alexander leaves a lasting impression under all that putrefying makeup, as does the lensing of atmospheric rural locations.


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Film Review -  FrightFest 2018: Climax

Director: Gaspar Noé.

France 2018. 95 mins.

RATING: ★★★☆☆

A case of spiked sangria makes things get very, very crazy for a Paris-based dance troupe locked away in their studio, in wild child director Gaspar Noé’s throbbing, hypnotic, but sometimes frustrating style exercise.  Set in just one location, a young dance troupe led by Sofia Boutella’s lithe Selva are seen rehearsing for an upcoming American tour in a dingy school assembly hall before being allowed to ease into the snack trolley and punch bowl off to one side, but even before the wacky wine starts causing things to go VERY off kilter, Noé is giving us quite the technical showpiece; with extended takes allowing the agile cast to bust out some mesmerising choreographed dance routines. A pulsating, near-deafening score of the finest EDM beats combined with gliding steadicam shots that seem to ignore no possible angle of view creates quite the bewitching effect on the viewer, although I found most of the dialogue sequences in between the moments of dance sublimity kind of interminable: consisting mostly of men talking shit about women and women complaining about said shit talk. Perhaps the inanity is the point: maybe people should just shut up and dance if they’ve got nothing to say.


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Film Review -  FrightFest 2018: Anna and the Apocalypse

Director: John McPhail

UK 2017 107 Mins

RATING: ★★★★☆

It was only just a matter of time before someone mashed up Glee with a zombie movie. In fact, given my limited knowledge of horror movies, it is entirely possible I’ve been unaware of this having already been done, so I won’t say that the sassy, loopy zombie musical Anna and the Apocalypse, from director John McPhail, is the first of its kind. But it certainly gets the essentials right: actually have characters who are charming, funny, and whose journey you can invest in, and have the songs be both foot-tappingly decent whilst serving the plot. Star Ella Hunt is a smart, sympathetic and relatable lead as high-schooler Anna, looking forward to the end of high school so she can start jet-setting around the world to experience life before settling down. Problem: a zombie apocalypse has just engulfed her sleepy Scottish town, forcing Anna and her amusingly mismatched group of friends (plus the school jock who teams up with them) to baseball bat their way to freedom. In between the song and dance numbers set in the mundanity of a ‘bog-standard comprehensive’, the screenplay and performances muster up some surprisingly poignant moments, and I was kept on my tones by the cheesier beats always being counterbalanced with some genuinely funny scenes (many involving today’s teens being super nonchalant about a zombie apocalypse; they’ve all seen the movies and its somewhere in the middle of their priority list) followed up by some pretty merciless outcomes for the teenybopper lineup.


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Film Review -  FrightFest 2018: Crystal Eyes

Director: Ezequiel Endelman, Leandro Montejano

Argentina 2017 83mins

RATING: ★★★☆☆

This neo-Giallo may not be particularly surprising in how it plays out, but it sure looks and sounds the part (think lots of stained glass windows in chintzy corridors with shafts of purple light shining through, and ketchup blood oozing everywhere). The setting is the world of high-class modelling in Buenos Aires, 1985, and it is the first anniversary of the death of Alexis Carpenter, the unstable supermodel who died tragically in a horrendous catwalk fire. Fashion editor Lucia L'uccello wants to honour Alexis in a commemorative issue of her magazine. But the night before the cover photo shoot, Alexis' original dresses are stolen and staff members begin to disappear at the hands of a sinister silhouette in a long black leather raincoat. Is someone seeking revenge? Well...obviously!

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

A rarely-seen but super-chilling war film returns: It Happened Here

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Director: Kevin Brownlow

PG | 1h 33min | Drama, Fantasy, War | 12 May 1966 (UK)

Screening at the BFI 23 July and out now on remastered bluray

This week the Smoke Screen caught a special BFI re-release of the chilling and provocative counterfactual WWII Brit thriller It Happened Here, the work of director Kevin Brownlow (Brownlow was only 18 when he and Andrew Mollo – just 16 - embarked on this ambitious drama, which took eight years to complete). This dark 'what if' movie is a B&W social realist-esque look at what might have taken place if the Nazis had successfully invaded Britain in 1940. July 2018 marks the famous programmer, historian and writer Brownlow’s 80th birthday, and the BFI has remastered the film to mark the date. Following the screening at the BFI on Southbank (where Brownlow opined on the crazy shoot, which involved awkward encounters with real fascists, and last-minute help getting film stock from a certain Stanley Kubrick), it will be in stores in a new remastered BFI bluray format.

It Happened Here subverts expectations from the off by nothing down the route of a triumphant story of resistance, but instead drops us into the perspective of a 'collaborator'; a former nurse, who justifies joining the British Nazi nursing corps (called inoffensively the IAO "International Action Organisation) by arguing that saving lives during the partisan vs Nazi conflict is the best use of her time. But Nazism is like a disease; it leaks into everything. A nurse might wear a surgical mask and deliver penicillin, but you can't keep fascism out that way. Every where she turns, the regime consumes everything: locking up her friends (who themselves look on her Nazi nurse uniform in terror), forcing her to administer poison to TB patients, and refusing her desire to be a 'non political' nurse who can just tend to patients without being force fed the ideology.

It was struck by how the film's low budget helped create an eerie atmosphere. The Nazi occupation, following their successful invasion of 1940 (presumably after winning the Battle of Britain, though in reality a naval invasion would have to face the vastly superiorRoyal Navy) subsists sort of below surface of picturesque olde England. There simply wasnt the budget to design huge prison camps or giant Nazi monuments that overshadow contemporary London, but its arguably more disconcerting to see London look so...normal, with Brits still in high positions in the dull everyday bureaucracy. The indignity of occupation is you are made to police it yourself and pretend normality. Where the film gets really provocative is the open suggestion that occupation would turn the oppressed into oppressors: partisan groups fighting the Nazis for years are shown to have no hesitation killing surrendering SS troops- who are British volunteers themselves.

 

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

Grey Gardens and a film school education at the Lexi Cinema

The Smoke Screen is often out and about soaking up film knowledge through Q&As and pre-film lectures, so the Lexi's Cinema's 'Film School' series of screenings preceded by prominent film speakers is right up the proverbial alley. Last week The Lexi's LSF screening was a milestone in the documentary genre: Grey Gardens. Directed by the quartet of Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer and the Maysles brothers (AKA Albert and David), the 1975 doc explores the unbelievable but true story of Mrs. Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter Edie, the aunt and first cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and what years of retreating into a life of secluded eccentricity behind the walls of their decaying 28-room east Hampton's mansion has done to them.  Mother and daughter live in a world of their own behind towering privets that have basically isolated "Grey Garden," from the world; a place so far gone that the local authorities once threatened to evict them for violating building and sanitation codes. 

The incident made national headlines given Beales were from the American upper crust. Mrs. Beale, a.k.a. "Big Edie," was a born aristocrat, sister of "Black Jack" Bouvier, Jackie O's father. "Little Edie" was an aspiring actress who put her New York life on hold to care for her mother - and seems to have never left her side again.  The filmmakers took their camera into the Grey Gardens mansion, and as unobtrusively as possible, sat and watched this strange, co-dependent relationship veer all over the place, from little Edie dropping bags of bread into the attic to feed the masses of racoons that had settled in, the Big Edie and Little Edie having endlessly shrill and circular rows about who ruined who's life. The film has gone on to be a touchstone for discussing what documentary is, the ethics of filmmaking, and the extent to which the director, editor, and even the subjects are the "filmmakers".

Those were just some of the issues speaker Sophie Brown (critic and programmer and producer of DocTooth) was interested in raising before the screening. #LexiFilmSchool takes place on Monday evenings.  Tickets are £8 (£6 to Lexi members), with a reduced price of £20 when all 4 titles are booked at the same time. It is worth pointing out that, in addition to the speaker and the film, ticket buyers get additional information emailed to them before the evening: short film notes, links to further reading, and a few suggested 'if you like this, then...' titles. 

See the Lexi Website for more information. It really will be worth your time. Sophie Brown tweets as @SBrown400.

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

Celebrating the 25th anniversary of Jane Campion's Oscar-winning The Piano at the BFI's Woman With a Movie Camera summit

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The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have sparked an industry wide conversation and actions in response to widespread harassment and abuse of power. Not a bad time for the BFI to be hosting a summit titled “Woman with a Movie Camera” then. The Smoke Screen dipped into one of the panel discussions - “Before and After Time’s Up” - running at BFI Southbank throughout the day, which saw panel members Holly Tarquini (Film Bath CEO), Kate Muir (former critic and now screenwriter), Mia Bays (film producer), and Ellen Jones (campaigner and content creator) discuss the questions “why now?”, and ‘what’s next?”.

In terms of the current landscape, the panel were worried that what has been widely seen as a social media-driven campaign remained limited just to that. Change is messy, and until the big film studios fully got on board, all doubted enough progress would be made. There was more confidence in public sector bodies like unions embracing the message, however. As for the question as to why it has been 2017-8 that has seen the perception of a tipping point being reached in terms of representation awareness, all agreed social media played a key role, as well as a global swell of desire to fight against what President Trump represented. Modern media allowed more rapid and widespread communication and mobilisation today, and being heard galvanised others to speak out. Men like Harvey Weinstein were also more vulnerable in this decade, as their power had waned in recent years even as the had created long lists people waiting for their chance to speak out against them - who were now taking it. Powerful men no longer had the means to control the message, they could be bypassed. “To be heard is so galvanising,” and “to know you are not alone” were comments that had all heads nodding.

What happens next will depend on continuing collaboration, agitating in the large studio spaces, education, and mentoring. Mentoring by older and more experienced women is something in particular that Ellen Jones, the youngest of the panel, wanted to see become the norm, given how opaque and hostile the media industry can seem. Change really needs to occur in the stories on screen for the fullest effect. As Holly Tarquini put it: “truths are what we see on screen,” and she “grew up a misogynist” due to seeing only negative stereotypes of women on film.

The centrepiece screening of the day was a 25th anniversary reissue of writer-director Jame Campion’s drama The Piano, the 1993 film that scooped the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and won three Academy Awards out of eight total nominations in March 1994: Best Actress for Holly Hunter, Best Supporting Actress for Anna Paquin, and Best Original Screenplay for Campion. The Smoke Screen had never seen the film before, but found it a beguiling, sensuous and mysterious experience, with Holly Hunter an intense and luminous presence as the mourning-clad, voiceless Scottish widowed pianist Ada, sold by her father into marriage to a New Zealand frontiersman named Alisdair Stewart (Sam Neill, as good as ever as a man toxically unable to fulfil his patriarchal fantasies), bringing her young daughter Flora (a great turn from Paquin, who was just 11-year old) with her.

Ada's twisted sexual relationship with the illiterate New Zealand sailor Baines (a suitably brusque and hulking Harvey Keitel) and her coldness and lack of availability towards the baffled and emasculated Stewart contrasts with her passionate piano playing and her tender, sign language-based relationship with her daughter. Ada is a complex, difficult to pin down figure, who is surprisingly brusque and even violent in her communications, her mute status regardless. Some spectacular cinematography and framing - Ada playing her abandoned piano on a windswept New Zealand beach as the tide roils in the background - give us a sense of this lush, yet faraway and lonely land Ada has ended up in. The titular piano itself becomes an object intriguingly open to interpretation, beyond the obvious that it serves as Ada’s ‘voice’. It is it a fetish object? A representation of some suppressed passion that might stir in her thanks to Baines? By the end Ada worries it has become something darker, like a black hole pulling her in.

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

FILMBOX Community Cinema presents the gripping Humphrey Bogart murder mystery In a Lonely Place

FILMBOX Community Cinema: Langley Park Centre for the Performing Arts (LPCPA) created for Langley Park School for Boys, in Beckenham, Kent, BR3 3BP (UK).

Tickets and details here.

In a Lonely Place

Director: Nicholas Ray

PG | 1h 34min | Drama, Film-Noir, Mystery | 19 June 1950 (UK)

Rating: ★★★★★


The Smoke Screen is always on the lookout for a chance to catch a classic from the Hollywood golden era, and this month FILMBOX Community Cinema kindly obliged with a screening of Nicholas Ray's (well-known for helming Rebel Without a Cause) gripping and unsettling murder mystery, starring a never-better Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame. Bogart is well-known for his sparky pairings with Lauren Bacall, but putting him up against a co-star of the calibre of Grahame is hardly a second-tier move. Check out FILMBOX at their site here; they have two screenings a night now, with one of their auditoriums being a huge purpose built performance hall room which can seat well over 400. Prices are very affordable and their are detailed introductions before each film, and a bar on site. It is volunteer-run and the programming is diverse, tending towards classics and indie films that have had some box office success or critical acclaim (i.e you tend not to get Marvel superhero movies.) You can join up as a member, but non-members are welcome, tickets from £5-£8 depending on status.

Widely regarded as a classic thriller from director Nicholas Ray, In a Lonely Place stars screen icons Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame at their absolute best, in roles that require pushing at the edges of expectations of the kinds of roles worthy of a golden era star. Bogart is really working against his tough-but-good-hearted image here as a cynical, booze -addled Hollywood screenwriter called Dixon Steele, who seems to have left his talent and sobriety (as well as the ability to control his violent asshole temperament) back in the just-finished overseas global conflict. When Steele, after a day boozing and complaining with a bunch of other Hollywood leftovers in a local bar (one of the many ways this film is dripping with cynicism about the flicks; Ray has his own reasons for feeling this way), decides to invite a young admiring female fan back to his apartment on the dubious claim that she can help explain the plot of this novel he is struggling with, he sets himself up as the prime murder suspect when the girl winds up dead in a ditch the next morning.

We don't see her safely leave his apartment and make it to the nearby taxi stand as she said she would do, but Grahame's character's testimony -she is Steele's alluring and mysterious neighbour Laurel who lives in the opposite apartment- gets Steele clear of the cops for the time being. But the compelling questions remain: did Steele do it, and is Laurel safe once she starts becoming romantically entangled with Steele? And it is, of course, way more of a compelling question when it is an icon like Bogey who is the suspect. Bogart only gets more and more darkly fascinating as this film goes on, seemingly unable to stop flaunting the idea that he might have done it in to cops and friends, as if he has finally cottoned on to a plot worth milking after years of pissing his talent away. The key scene where, with a twisted glare on his face, he orders his close friend and his wife to re-enact the murder the way he visualises it took place, is worth the price of admission alone. Grahame has great chemistry with Bogart too, though I preferred her in the film's first act; where her in teasing flirtation with Steele - whilst she knows he is a suspect- raises all kinds of questions about whether she is a moth-to-flame danger seeker.

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Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

As 2001: A Space Odyssey warps back into cinemas, the Smoke Screen recalls speaking to the original Discovery astronauts

 GARY LOCKWOOD AND KEIR DULLEA IN  2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.

GARY LOCKWOOD AND KEIR DULLEA IN 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.

With 2001: A Space Odyssey, director Stanley Kubrick redefined the science-fiction film genre,  the limits of filmmaking itself, and cemented his legacy as one of the most revolutionary and influential film directors of all time. Originally released in 70mm Cinerama roadshow format on April 3 1968, the film's 50th anniversary is being marked by a new roadshow aiming to recreate the visual and audio experience audiences would have had in 1968. No digital tricks, no extra scenes. This is not a 'director's cut'. You can read more about the cutting of this new print here courtesy of Cannes (where it premiered recently) and Warner Bros. technical staff.

For the first time since the original release, this 70mm print was struck from new printing elements made from the original camera negative. Supported by celluloid lover and acclaimed director Christopher Nolan, this is a true photochemical film recreation from an age-old process which will go on tour worldwide. This screening will have a 15 minute interval also, as per the good old days. Picturehouse cinemas in London currently have tickets for a May period.

To mark the occasion, the Smoke Screen went back into the archives to dig up an interview roundtable with the cast members who play as the two beleaguered astronauts who come up against both the devious computer HAL, and the mysterious alien Stargate that ultimately opens the path to the film's mindbending conclusion. This was conducted around time of the Autumn 2014 BFI Sci-Fi "Days of Fear and Wonder" season, which saw 2001 play in a headline slot in a new restored digital print. A very different print will play this time, of course, but the interview remains  a real trove of insights into the mercurial Kubrick's making of a true classic. The entire feature is printed below, and also can be viewed in full here.


You can't get away from Stanley Kubrick’s grandiose, mysterious and undeniably trippy 1968 space epic 2001: A Space OdysseyLike the imposing, sleek monoliths from the film, 2001 looms over all cinema genres, not just science fictionEven director Christopher Nolan’s new sci-fi film Interstellar, released in the same month that the BFI and Warner Bros studio have released a new digital transfer of Kubrick’s movie, openly pays homage to its predecessor.

Eventually becoming a huge box office and critical hit following its release  2001 is now a permanent fixture in all the major “best of” charts. It remains still in the top ten of the Sight and Sound Magazine Greatest Films poll, and was recently voted No. 1 in a Time Out London poll for the best 100 Sci-Fi films. It is fair to say that 2001, with it’s largely dialogue-free narrative, avante- garde music and benchmark-setting special effects, has gone beyond being just a film that is widely regarded as a masterpiece; it is spoken of and written about as if it is a piece of art.

Though the most famous character in 2001 is undoubtedly supercomputer HAL 9000, the human presence in the film's second half is made up of astronauts David Bowman and Frank Poole, two men on what must be the loneliest mission in history aboard the spaceship Discovery. The pair are bound for Jupiter, following the path of a mysterious alien transmission from the alien monolith found on the moon. Actors Keir Dullea (Bowman) and Gary Lockwood (Poole) were reunited this month in London to celebrate the 2K digital reissue of 2001 playing as part of the BFI’s Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder season, and kindly shared their memories with me of going on “The Ultimate Trip” (as studio MGM sneakily billed the film when they realised how certain 60s youthful audiences were enjoying the film).

The two are an interesting double act; Dullea’s precise, carefully-considered answers contrast with the curmudgeonly Lockwood’s more roundabout ways of telling stories. Both are sharp as a knife when it comes to recalling various behind-the-scenes memories, thought that did not prevent the pair putting our interview on hold on occasion to get stuck into a friendly row or two as to the order of certain scenes in the film. Both remain fierce in their praise of the director who gave them the job.

You can read fuller version of my interview over at Grolsch FIlm Works who originally commissioned the piece, but here are some highlights below:

 

LOCKWOOD AND DULLEA THEN AND NOW

On getting hired by Stanley Kubrick for 2001:

Both Dullea and Lockwood were already Kubrick fans when they got the call to join 2001, so for both it was no brainer to sign up for the space mission. Keir Dullea was actually in England at the time, shooting an Otto Premigner film. Wandering in to a Battersea Park funfair one day, he encountered a palm reader who warned him: ‘I see a rocket ship in your future.’ ” A week after that, Kubrick called. 

Lockwood already had secured a place in sci-fi history, having starred in the pilot of a little show called Star Trek (where he plays Gary Mitchell, ultimately the villain of the story, in a one-off role).  He'd already worked with Kubrick on Spartacus.  At the time he remembers he was: “getting a lot of jobs, doing rather well, enjoying it, chasing beautiful girls and driving Porsches: the routine.” Then his agent called with Kubrick’s offer. Lockwood jumped at the chance: “I was a giant fan of Kubrick, even though I was a cowboy. I knew his stuff. I thought he was a genius.” 

On working with the legendary director.

Neither Dullea or Lockwood will have any truck with the myths that Kubrick was a strange, obsessive loner who enjoyed pushing his actors. Instead they found him professional, courteous, and amazingly curious, seemingly about everything. Says Dullea: "I’d just finished working with Preminger, so let me tell you, it was like going from hell to heaven! [Kubrick] was so easygoing with us, he never raised his voice, ever. He put us at ease quickly and was never demanding in the way you might imagine he would be. He was so prepared, the most prepared director I had ever worked with, so I guess he could relax about everything else.”

Lockwood liked Kubrick’s directing style, the way he let professional actors get on with the job on set and when the cameras rolled: “I asked him once why I got the part, and he told me that he thought I could ‘do a lot without doing anything.’ Stanley never said anything, that’s what I liked about him."

For Lockwood: There is only one Stanley Kubrick. People who are really good at something have to have an IQ! They have to be intelligent! I meet students out of film school and they say things like: ‘I wanna make films like Stanley Kubrick’. You can’t tell after just five minutes with them; there’s just not the grey matter there! Kubrick was curious, and so very, very intelligent.”

Dullea remembers Kubrick as: “the most curious man I ever met. I remember the Pentax camera had just come out that year: he stopped shooting and took hours to find out all about it!”

On their characters:

There is little dialogue in 2001, even when the film moves out of the prehistoric era. Dullea noticed that Kubrick cut more and more dialogue away the more takes they did. To help the cast, Kubrick prepped them via fictional biographies: “Our characters had double doctorates in sciences; the concept was that by year 2001 NASA wouldn't be taking astronauts from the military necessarily: they'd be looking early on at young men from high school and college, narrowing it down in terms of choosing based on their psychological profile.  

Both actors have little stories about they shaped the direction of 2001 with their own input. Lockwood laughs as he recalls how Stanley Kubrick challenged him to come up with a better idea of how the astronauts would confront HAL once he started malfunctioning. After a trip to a deli on Golders Green courtesy of Kubrick's driver, Lockwood scribbled out a scenario where the astronauts would plot in the pod, where they felt HAL couldnt hear them. Only a few hours previously, Lockwood had feared Kubrick was going to fire him for complaining about how he felt the narrative had been constructed. For his part, Dullea suggested to Kubrick that he break a wine glass during the sequence where Bowman ages in huge jumps in the strange artificial hotel room, after his voyage through the star portal. 

 

 On finally seeing 2001 in the cinema in 1968:

Both were blown away by seeing the film on the big screen, Lockwood in particular as he was extremely stoned at the time. Corralled by a film journalist for an interview after the screening, Lockwood remembers the man commenting: “ Well Mr Lockwood, you still look like you’re out there in space!” Dullea was struck by the Dawn of Man sequence (with its famous jump cut from the bone in mid air to a satellite orbiting Earth); as it was a section of the film that neither of the actors had worked on and thus were seeing it for the first time. 

On talking to younger audiences about 2001:

Though Lockwood deplores modern audiences “with their lack of attention thanks to MTV-style fast cutting”, Dullea is upbeat about 2001 finding new audiences now. He recalls that on the autograph circuit he started noticing that: “more than 50% of fans now were not born when 2001 came out. That speaks to the trans-generational aspect of this film. The genius of this film, of Kubrick, has appealed to generations up to this moment.”

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

Event Review: Science Fiction Theatre presents: 1973s Westworld

With HBOs highly-acclaimed new scifi show Westworld currently enjoying lashings of critical praise, whilst also consuming the tireless brains of hardcore fans determined to unearth the show's underlying mythology, the gurus behind the film club Science Fiction Theatre felt the time was right to revisit the original 1973 film that HBO mined for its new series. One of the most committed and welcoming film clubs the Smoke Screen has had the honour of patronising, Science Fiction Theatre is a monthly science fiction film club run by The Space Merchants, an online bookshop specialising in vintage science fiction. Their film events explore and celebrate classic science fiction film and television, and screenings are enhanced by custom-designed posters (which can be bought online and at events) as well as takeaway items like stylised tickets (such as the Westworld-themed ticket the Smoke Screen picked up at their Westworld screening last Monday), programme notes, and there is the odd raffle too.

In the movie version of Westworld, which was written and directed by none other than Jurassic Park's author Michael Crichton (note the "theme park gone bad" motif) businessman Blane (James Brolin) and lawyer Martin (Richard Benjamin) take a dream holiday to the newly opened technological paradise Westworld, a futuristic theme park offering its visitors all the thrills, but none of the dangers, of the old Wild West, which is recreated by supposedly harmless robots. However, when one of the computerized gunslingers (Yul Brynner) malfunctions, the two city slickers find themselves in a battle for their lives.

Fans keen to compare the movie to the television series will of course be unable to avoid the difference a few extra million dollars and an advanced CGI toolkit can make. HBO's series simply has more technical oomph, and a multi-season order with HBO's traditional hour-long episodes give the show's creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy far more scope than Crichton's film ever had to create a richly-detailed world of hosts and robots in a huge recreation of the old American west, whilst exploring the related themes and concerns more deeply. Yet, interestingly, HBO's first season has so far limited itself to exploring only one park - the titular Westworld - whereas Crichton's film features not only an old West setting, but the sybarite Roman World and Medieval Worlds too. Future HBO seasons might address this. And 1973s Westworld wasn't exactly primitive when it was released, it does in fact feature some of the earliest use of computer-aided visual effects to create several pixellated robot POV shots.

Whilst Crichton's film is a good deal of pulpy fun, ending in a quite memorable last act chase scene and squeezing in some commentary on the effect of unlimited power/ zero responsibility on humans on the side, HBO's series took a leaf out of the Battlestar Galactica remake's playbook and introduced the conceit of the robots having been designed to such an advanced level that they are developing their own self-awareness. Blade Runner levels of paranoia about who is human and 'replicant' are also in play, as HBO's robots are all but indistinguishable from humans, and some have been programmed to think they are human. With this twist, HBO's Westworld opens up whole new avenues to explore the moral/ethical minefield that the park has created. That being said, HBO's show, for all its fine dressings, lacks a character with the poise and edge of the movie's Yul Brynner, whose performance as the malfunctioning gunslinger allows just enough man into the machine to make you think this might be personal. In many ways he is the "first Terminator."

The poster for the Westworld event was designed by Daniel Huntley, and you can see it on facebook and twitter humans 

Check the Science Fiction Theatre website for more information on upcoming screenings, to buy prints, or to find out about their podcast and recommendations.

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

1000 Londoners' NECROPOLIS shorts show how the capital gets its All Hallows on

As a born Londoner and film buff, the Smoke Screen makes it a priority to catch the short programmes produced by 1000 Londoners: a project produced by Chocolate Films and directors Rachael Wang and Mark Currie, which aims to create a collage portrait of the city via 1000 short films with each one following a different Londoner. 1000 different points of view, from all over the city and from various times of the year. It is an ambitious target to be sure, with the project still not complete yet.

Each week a new Londoner's story is broadcast on http://www.1000londoners.com , but 1000 Londoners also run movie nights around the capital, collecting together several shorts under one overall theme and often intercutting them with quirky archive footage gleaned from the London Screen Archives. This month's programme is titled (appropriately, given the dark nights are setting in) "Necropolis", and it collects a variety of Londoner's stories together which were all recorded on Halloween night. The programmers set themselves a challenge of spontaneity with this one, with a team of twelve filmmakers venturing out into the streets after dark to see how many stories they could gather.

The eleven films that are the result of that one night's work feel very true to the ethos of 1000 Londoners: in that you truly feel that before you on screen is a cross-section of the melting pot of people, feelings, dreams and conflicts that modern London is made of. There are immigrants, harmless eccentrics, the devout, the elderly, and the carefree young, all rubbing shoulders. One subject - "transformational intuitive coach" Sri - is one of the those true originals you hope the 1000 Londoner's team will dig up every time they head out; Sri being a spell caster who we see running a training session to a rapt crowd on Halloween in full zombie costume (it seems Halloween costumes and fake blood are no impediment to casting a spell). Paul, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia five times but now discovering the joys of roller skating in Halloween regalia with crowds of likeminded types, provides an inspirational tale of self-help and redemtpion. But more poignant is our introduction to Peter, an elderly Highgate resident who has lived in the area for nearly 40 years, and likes to visit the Highgate wood in his retirement, whilst wistfully recalling the days he was more active. Halloween doesn't mean as much to Peter as it used to; he is painfully aware that more years are behind him now than ahead. In a city that seems so fast moving, with masses of people always coming and going, Peter is also a reminder to us that some Londoners like to stick to their patch. You can only imagine the changes he has seen.

You can see more of 1000 Londoner's work on their website, and they will return after the New Year with more film nights.

1000 Londoners: Necropolis was held at the Lexi Cinema in North London.

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

UK Jewish Film Festival 2016 review: The Small World of Sammy Lee

Director: Ken Hughes

X | 1h 47min | Drama | April 1963 (UK)

Playing during the UK Jewish Film Festival 2016  at JW3 on 15 NOV 6.30pm.

See here for bluray details - out from 14 November.

RATING: ★★★★☆

Playing as part of the UK Jewish FIlm Festival 2016, and now remastered for a new bluray release courtesy of StudioCanal and their Vintage Classics Line, Ken Hughes’s (Alfie) The Small World of Sammy Lee is a dark, funny and stylish romp through a seedy Soho from decades past; a side of London that has long since been smothered by gentrification and tourism. In this 1963 British-Jewish crime thriller, Anthony Newley is pitch-perfect as strip-club compere Sammy, the kind of guy who keeps his shady dealings small-time, but has nevertheless used up almost all of his nine lives by the time the film’s main plot kicks off. Having screwed up one card game too many, Sammy has to go on the run from the heavies, managing to convince the surprisingly affable enforcer who is sicked onto him (this is one of those films packed full of gentlemen thieves) that he can muster up £300 by the end of the day.

The narrative is built around the remaining half a day Sammy has to scare up the dough; racing against the clock to chase up every debt he is owed, lining up several black market deals that pay cash up front but only require a (inevitably late) check from him, whilst rifling through the piles of ‘back of the lorry’ merch he has stashed in his flat to see what he can offload. There’s plenty of appeal in watching this cheeky chancer scrabble from cafes to pool halls, trying to see if his gift of the gab can get him out of one last scrape, and the film works well as a time capsule of a period when Soho really did have edge. Lensed in brooding black and white by cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky, the film also boasts an exceptional supporting cast that packs in Miriam Karlin, Wilfrid Brambell, Roy Kinnear and Warren Mitchell. Plus, the jazz score will nestle in your ear for hours after.

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

Scalarama Review: The Final Girls present Brian de Palma's CARRIE

Carrie, dir. Brian de Palma, USA 1976, 98 mins

The Smoke Screen has been a huge fan of the feminist film programming duo The Final Girls, who’s mission is to explore the presentation of women in the horror film genre. Given how iconic - and notorious - Brian de Palma’s Carrie has been and continues to be since its release in 1976, it seems entirely appropriate that The Final Girls would have wanted to tackle it as part of their contribution to Scalarama film month. In concert with a panel made up of Michael Blyth (BFI Festivals Programmer), Catherine Bray (Film4 Editorial Director and Producer) and Dr. Alison Pierse (Lecturer at York University) at the ICA, the Final Girls offered up some fascinating routes to take when approaching what undoubtedly remains one of the cult horror flicks.

The story of Carrie - which of course is adapted from the smash hit novel from Stephen King that helped launch his career - is so well-known it barely bares repeating. Yet the core of the story clearly resonates, with elements of its central conceit being reworked into popular genre fare today: you only have to take a brief look at the hit Netflix show Stranger Things, for example, to see elements of both King’s ideas and de Palma’s stylistic flair in its DNA. Tormented by her hyper-religious mother Margaret (a barnstorming turn from Piper Laurie) and the meanness of teenage girls, young American teen high schooler Carrie (a ghostly Sissy Spacek) develops - and uses to devastating effect - telekinetic powers that appear to have been activated by her reaching the age of puberty. Unable to fit in at school due to her isolated and extreme home life, the regular bullying that Carrie suffers has left her a hushed and timid figure. A crack of light appears when sympathetic classmate Sue asks her boyfriend, the sensitive school jock Tommy Ross, to take Carrie to the upcoming prom dance- and event which seems to have monumental significance for these high schoolers. But scheming classmates, led by the vicious Chris Hargensen (de Palma's frequent collaborator Nancy Allen), have other plans. It all ends with that bucket of blood showering the newly-crowned prom queen Carrie at the dance’s finale, and the humiliated young woman responds by unleashing all the telekinetic power, fuelled by all that long-suppresed rage and bitterness, and aiming it right at the crowd of school kids in front of her. Few survive the inferno.

Carrie has obviously been read as an allegorical tale about the fears society nurtures about female sex and sexuality, with Carrie’s mother’s cruel treatment of her daughter being revealed as driven by something far more complex and troubling than just religion: a mix of disgust and fear of the joy of sex itself. It is almost as if she resents her daughter for reaching the age where she can now enjoy sexual pleasure, something she as a devout mother has denied herself - though, when in one of her raving fits - she confesses to a stunned Carrie that she too once gave in to lust, which resulted in Carrie’s creation. Now her daughter stands for the sin she gave in to. The character of could easily be read as a stand-in for a hypocritical, conservative patriarchal society itself with all of its unresolved complexes.

This certainly seems like a progressive slant for a horror film to take, yet one of the things that makes Carrie so fascinating is how problematic - almost gleefully so - the film is even as it foregrounds its intriguing conceits. Brian de Palma's films and his own statements have been controversial to say the least, something the Carrie panel tackled right from the start of their conversation. This is a film that begins with a tracking shot that has become somewhat notorious; the camera journeys through a steamy changing room as Carrie’s high school gym class are seen in various stages of nudity. This is far from the last time in the movie de Palma’s camera will linger on female flesh either: with female cheerleaders on the pitch and high school bad girl Chris’s bra-less torso getting plenty of screen time. This is also one of many de Palma films that put their female characters through the wringer, to put it politely.

Thus the panel agreed that at some point they had all been driven to ask themselves: “Is it cool to like Carrie [and de Palma]?” But the consensus was that, after repeat viewings and after taking a few steps back to reconsider de Palma’s career as a whole, rejecting Carrie entirely as mysoginistic felt too much like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Alison Pierce for example praised the way the film - largely through Sissy Spacek’s intense performance - effectively transmitted the desperate sadness of the plight of this hapless but incredibly powerful young woman. You empathise with Carrie as almost a Frankenstein-like figure, a victim created by monstrosity. The panel also noted how both De Palma and King explored her victimhood in interesting ways - with the narrative and characterisation of Carrie seeming at times to provoke the viewer to almost want this pathetic figure to get tormented. De Palma arguably manipulates viewers to effectively swing between delighting in seeing Carrie suffer, and yearning to see her inflict terrible vengeance on her tormentors turn. The bucket of blood sequence, with its long, almost gleeful build up in slow motion, was much discussed as an example of this. Viewers might want to ask themselves; do you maybe sneakily want that rope to be pulled, and the bucket to fall, knowing both what the immediate humiliating result will be, and what will happen next?

Author Stephen King and de Palma also have an interesting kingship, as Catherine Bray noted: they are good at “serious fun” - taking a ludicrous concept and imbuing it with genuine terror and emotional weight. Of course, Carrie can simply be enjoyed as campy, shlockly fun, with Michael Blyth half-joking if you could convert this film easily into a musical given its tone and setting. Regardless, the panel noted that the film remains very striking from a cinematographic perspective, with a visual approach that teeters on the deliciously overblown at times. De Palma throws in a tonne of tricks that he would become well known for, including diopter lens shots, and the use of montage which really works well in the prom terror sequence, as Carrie starts to come apart, her attention and powers jumping to various points as she singles out her enemies for destruction. The Smoke Screen in particular was struck by the deliriously bold lighting throughout the film too. Much of the film’s early sequences seem drenched in a warm, apple pie glow, but in the prom night sequence sees de Palma start us off with a dreamy kaleidoscopic mix of purples and yellows that highlight how carried away Carrie is by her one moment of bliss, only to drench the entire affair in an insanely deep red shade once the psychic assault starts.

It seems a fitting moment to screen and discuss this film given it has now reached its 40th anniversary, and this Final Girls show nicely coincided with the release this month of the documentary De Palma from directors Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow. There is a definitely a vibe in the air that this is the right time to take a step back and asses/re-asses the work of a director who's middle name is “polarising”.

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

Film Season Review: Catch a slice of meta-horror comedy as THE FINAL GIRLS plays at Film4 Somerset House season

Director: Todd Strauss-Schulson

15 | 1h 28min | Comedy, Horror | 9 October 2015 (USA)

Playing Film4 Somerset House open air cinema season

RATING: ★★★☆☆

Scream meets The Last Action Hero in Director Todd Strauss-Schulson’s bloody, sweetly charming, and uber self-aware horror pic THE FINAL GIRLS, which plays at this year’s annual Film4 Somerset House open air cinema season (the film itself screens on 13 August). Though it played at the 2015 Toronto, SXSW and Sitges Film Festivals, audiences in the UK haven’t really had the chance to see The Final Girls here on the big screen, it having only played once before in cinemas at the Glasgow Youth Film Festival. But one of the Somerset House season programmers is a big horror buff, and felt that it was a really unjustly overlooked gem that should have got more love and attention. 

Seen projected on a big screen, late at night with a beer in hand, is probably the best way to enjoy the film, as despite the movie being a dissection of some of the most notable - and notorious - aspects of the horror genre, it is really more interested in having fun and pleasing a crowd. You don’t have to be a horror aficionado to get what the film is digging at either, most people who have some familiarity with the genre, especially its slasher offspring, know at least some of the key elements. Or as the kids in Wes Craven’s hugely influential Scream movies like the call them: “the rules”. And one of the key slasher rules, certainly the one that The Final Girls is most interested in exploring (and which has provoked a mountain of debate in fan and academic circles), is the truism that only the virgin can survive. 

The "final girl" here is Max Cartwright (Taissa Farmiga), the teenaged daughter of deceased actress Amanda (Malin Akerman (Watchmen) who for all her career - much to her frustration - remained best known for her role as the noble serial killer victim Nancy in a Friday the 13th-style slasher favourite called Camp Bloodbath. Under pressure from her somewhat intense horror junkie friend Duncan, Max reluctantly agrees to attend a nostalgic fan screening of the film with friend Gertie (Alia Shawkat), her teen crush and school hunk Chris (Alexander Ludwig) and the bitchy prom queen-esque Vicki (Nina Dobrev). Of course, this mismatched high school-aged quartet perfectly fits the bill of the exact kind of target that a gruesome serial killer would be just happy to stalk and hack to bits. And that is exactly what happens when, at the screening, a fire causes Max and her cohort to instinctively try to cut their way out of the panicked crowd through the cinema screen where the Camp Bloodbath film is being projected…only to find themselves literally falling into the world of the movie itself. They emerge into a cheery summer camp complete with totem poles, cabins and a group of camp guides who all fit the specific stereotypes of clueless, oversexed slasher victims. And lurking around the corner is a masked killer with the mandatory giant rusty machete. 

Cue lots of attempts by these two gangs of “types” to negotiate the ins and outs of the classic “summer camp slasher” - which is the kind of trash movie Camp Bloodbath is - as they desperately try to stop the various scantily-clad and intellectually-challenged female camp guides from having spontaneous sex with the resident testosterone-filled jock, whilst also trying to figure out how to turn the tables on the killer. There’s lots of gurning, pratfalls and various gags made at the expense of the hyper-stereotyped characters whilst the overall vibe remains total 80s, with the film shot and dressed in colours that pop: think lots of cheerleader-gear yellows and reds. Still, the screenplay doesn’t quite pack in as many funny/smart beats as you might hope for, and its hard not to feel the whole affair would’ve felt more fresh and sharp if Craven’s postmodern meta-murder franchise hadn't got there first. The film is more affectionate than funny, and it certainly isn't remotely scary or even that bloody.

What the script (written by Joshua John Miller and M.A. Fortune) does manage more effectively is working in a few neat visual riffs on the nature of existence inside a strip of celluloid, such as the gang realising they can trigger “horror flashbacks” by reciting the tale of the birth of the serial killer, which causes their surroundings to melt into a black and white warp (because, of course, horror origin tales take place in black and white), and also there is a surprisingly poignant relationship built up between Max and scream queen victim Nancy. Nancy of course is the exact spitting image of Max's long-dead mother, giving the younger daughter a chance at saying a final goodbye, though this is a second chance overshadowed by the grim realisation that Max might have watch her “Mother” die again in front of her. Max’s attempt to reconnect with her mom co-exists with her self-aware acceptance of her own role as the final girl of this piece (though the film doesnt seem to entirely know where to finally park this lighthearted critique of that tendency), with all the ass-kickery that entails. So you get a bit of empowerment along with all the meta musings.

The Final Girls plays at Film4 Summer Screen as part of a double-bill with Galaxy Quest on Saturday 13th August. Guest tickets for the double-bill are available upon request.

FILM4 SUMMER SCREEN AT SOMERSET HOUSE runs from August 4th-17th. This year’s season includes three UK premieres – Mia Hansen-Løve’s Things To Come starring Isabelle Huppert screens as opening night; Pedro Almodóvar makes his third appearance at Summer Screen to introduce his new film Julieta on August 10th; and closing night will be Cannes award-winner Captain Fantastic starring Viggo Mortensen. The season also includes classic and contemporary films including Sunset Boulevard, Funny Face, Walkabout, Girlhood and a classic film from Stanley Kubrick (to be determined by a Best of Ten audience vote). Full details here.

Read more  of what Todd Strauss-Schulson had to say about THE FINAL GIRLS at this special blog he wrote for Film4.com - http://blog.film4.com/todd-strauss-schulson-on-the-final-girls/.

 

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

In praise of: The Final Girls film screening group

The Smoke Screen is always on the hunt for new and interesting film programmers and clubs around town, and has just crossed paths with such an outfit. Last week saw THE FINAL GIRLS take over the top floor screen at The Prince Charles Cinema to showcase a screening of photographer Cindy Sherman's only directorial effort - Office Killer.

The Final Girls is a London-based screening series with a mission  "explore the intersection between horror film and feminism."  Office Killer certainly fulfils that mandate, but the film offers so much more than just a study in things like the re-appropriation of genre tropes or subversion of the male gaze. This film is a truly out-there experience, a great example of one of those movies that literally disappeared between the cracks upon release, given its unclassifiable nature and refusal to offer up an easy way in for the viewer. Legendary photographer Cindy Sherman brings her unique eye to this quasi comedy-horror, creating a shamelessly weird world of bland 90s office cubicles and backstabbing bitchy work colleagues.  The film stars Carol Kane (currently tearing up the screen in Netflix's The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) as mousy and withdrawn office-worker Dorine Douglas, who, after accidentally electrocuting a colleague, loses her already slim grip on reality and starts killing off her fellow workers. As if that wasn't enough, she re-arranges the various mangled corpses into gross parodies of domestic bliss in the drab house she shares with her uncaring mother.

Beyond being defiantly weird when it coms to tone, the film is also striking in its production design - the office setting is totally unrealistic, hyper-grotesque in its blandness. In some cases the fakeness of the sets is deliberately foregrounded. The film plays around with the familiar tropes of the slasher genre, flipping things around by making Dorine the stalker/slasher yet also the 'final girl' at the same time, with her seemingly unstoppable butchery through the office ranks offering up a provocative subtext about female power and patriarchal structures. Interestingly, Office Killer also has an astounding array of supporting characters played by Molly Ringwald, Jeanne Tripplehorn and Michael Imperioli. 

The Final Girls will continue exploring feminist themes in horror cinema and highlighting the representation and work of women in horror, both in front of and behind the camera. You can see their next screening - Single White Female - at The Prince Charles Cinema on 4 August. Details on the link.

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

Event Review: Daydreaming with Stanley Kubrick Exhibition at Somerset House

Tying in nicely with the upcoming 4k digital re-release of Stanley Kubrick’s underrated masterpiece Barry Lyndon (which Smoke Screen will be covering, watch this space), Somerset House this month unveiled a new exhibition - Daydreaming with Stanley Kubrick - curated by Mo’Wax and UNKLE founder, artist and musician James Lavelle, featuring a host of contemporary artists, film makers and musicians showcasing works inspired by the revered filmmaker. The Smoke Screen, long a worshipper at the feet of the master director, could not resist taking a peek.

It is important to note that this is NOT an exhibition showcasing artefacts or substantial amounts of footage from Kubrick’s films. For that, you are advised to head to the Kubrick Archives at the London College of Communication (UAL), or get yourself a Kubrick boxset. Instead, Daydreaming is based on the concept of participating artists responding to a film, scene, character or theme from the Kubrick archives, and then putting forward new perspectives onto the director’s lifework. In concert with this, James Lavelle collaborated with contemporary musicians and composers to produce a soundtrack to some of the installations. Also worth bearing in mind is not all of the works on display here are newly commissioned, some, like Jane and Louise Wilson’s exploration of Kubrick’s unmade films, have been seen before.

Such a diverse collection of works inevitably means the experience is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of impact. Some works seem either a bit too obscure, or on the flipside, too prosaic, to really translate the epic transcendent heights that the best of Kubrick’s work could reach. Political artist Peter Kennard’s contribution - Trident: A Strange Love 2013-2016 - juxtaposes images of characters set in the War Room of Dr Strangelove with present day leaders of nuclear states - but this is a bit of an obvious take to go for and doesn’t exploit the glorious black comedy vibe and intricate world building of the film. Mat Chiver’s Eye sculpture, which is based on a reflection seen in the eye of astronaut David Bowman in 2001 in one scene, just feels too offbeat and uninspired when you finally see it sitting there inert on the floor. Likewise, Gavin Turk’s tabletop sculpture - The Shining-  a work that recreates the Shining’s maze in silver reflective surfaces to scale, feels lacking inthe all-encompassing menace that the film;s full scale counterpart as imbued with. On the other hand, Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s Requiem for 114 Radios, which sees the artists fill a room with dismantled radios and clocks, fees like a neat allegory for the inside of Kubrick’s mind. He loved technology, and could spend forever and a day taking things apart to see how they worked.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given what a visual titan Kubrick was, it is the installations that use film footage themselves that seem better able to transmit that special ‘Kubrickian ‘ vibe. The outstanding contribution to the show comes from Jane and Louise Wilson with their film Unfolding the Aryan Papers. This film is as much about a film that never happened as it is a portrait of lead actress Johanna ter Steege, and was built from time spent in Kubrick’s vast archives. Johanna ter Steege was cast as the lead in Kubrick’s great unfinished exploration of the Holocaust, The Aryan Papers, a film which consumed years of his life in research, and was eventually abandoned in pre-production. The installation film begins with images of Johanna taken in 1993 by Stanley Kubrick - they are of the wardrobe shoot for the film. Johanna was to play the lead role of Tania, a Polish Jew trying to save herself and her family from the Nazis. Intercut between stills of Johanna are images from the archive of specific scenes Kubrick wanted to recreate, including harrowing images captured from the jewish ghettos and war zones from WWII, and images from the Ealing Studios Archive of interiors, shot in 1939/40. The film moves into live action with footage of Johanna filmed now, fifteen years later, where she appears to come to life, recreating stills from the original wardrobe shoot. It is both a powerful tribute to Kubrick’s desire for authenticity and his hunger for information, and a haunting exploration of the great tragedy of the Holocaust. Implicit in the film is the idea of it being ultimately impossible to ever sum up such a tragedy into a singular film. It was a subject that was too much even for a filmmaker like Kubrick to hammer into shape: the experience apparently left him deeply depressed.

Actress and filmmaker Samantha Morton’s Anywhere out of this World turns out to be one of the more compelling video pieces, because it feels so straight-forwardly personal. The short film sees a young girl, who seems to be fleeing a background of abuse, flee to the sanctity of a near-empty cinema during matinee hours (in real life this is the gorgeous Phoenix Cinema in north London). After messing about in the back row, bored, the girl is soon immersed against her expectations by the film that starts playing: Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Morton’s film overcranks the sound effects of the cinema operation, with the curtain’s slide back set to a roar, as if it was the space ship in the film, suggesting the transportive effect of Kubrick’s work. The camera holds on the young girl’s face as she watches astronaut bowman fall into the star gate in the film’s famous surreal light sequence: what is she thinking? Is this a brief window of respite from what seems like a harsh home life? Is this a life changing moment? It turns out that this is a semi-autobiographical tale from Morton’s troubled childhood, and like the best of Kubrick’s work, is it both touching and troubling, complicated and extremely straightforward, all at the same time.

Daydreaming with Stanley Kubrick runs 6 July – 24 August 2016

www.daydreamingwith.com
#dreamkubrick

Open daily 10.00 – 18.00 (last admission 17.00)

Late night Wednesdays & Thursdays on 20, 21, 27 & 28 July until 21.00
(last admission 20.00)

West Wing Galleries, West Wing

£12.50/£9.50 concessions

BOOK TICKETS NOW

Advance tickets must be booked by 23.59 the day prior to your visit.

Tickets can be purchased in person from the admissions desk on the day. 

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

Beat the heat with outdoor cinema options this season in London (updated)

We are possibly set for the hottest summer on record here in the UK, so, although this means the planet is doomed by climate change, it also at least allows for one more year where we can chill to open air film screenings in the capital.

Already running screenings or advertising upcoming seasons for the summer are:

Film4 Summer Screen at Somerset House

Film4 Summer Screen at Somerset House is back in the neoclassical courtyard in August, with 14 nights of classic, cult and contemporary films, plus three premieres on London’s largest outdoor screen with full surround sound.

This year, you can play a part in the programme by voting for your favourite Stanley Kubrick classic. The winning film will be shown on Thursday 11 August. The winner will only be revealed to the audience on the night of the screening itself. New films screening include Things To Come starring Isabelle Huppert, and Pedro Almodovar's new drama Julieta.

Rooftop Film Club:

Providing headphones, deckchairs, cocktails, and a blanket if it gets too cold, the Rooftop Film Club, as their name suggests, will be using various roof venues across London this year, including the Bussey Building in Peckham, Queen of Hoxton in Shoreditch, and Tobacco Dock. Screenings are running now and include Straight Outta Compton at the Queen, and Withnail and I at the Bussey Building on on 22 May. Future dates through to June on sale too.

The Nomad Cinema:

The Nomad Cinema is the roaming pop-up running since 2010, and has earned the reputation as ‘London’s best outdoor cinema’ [so said the Evening Standard], popping up at a range of beautiful, unique and intriguing screening locations across London and beyond. This year's venues include the Biscuit Factory in Bermondsey and The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. Films on offer include the expected crowdpleasers like Dirty Dancing, but also some offbeat choices; including Orlando and Marie Antionette at the aforementioned NMM. Screenings running now and future dates through to September on sale.

Cult Screens:

Similar to the Nomad, in that the mission statement of Cult Screens is to be ".. the country’s most luxurious and comfortable open air cinema experience. We run events throughout the UK and turn some pretty unusual and spectacular locations into cinemas." The difference is it is a UK wide project, but their London venue will by York House and gardens in Twickenham. There you can see Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Pulp Fiction and Dirty Dancing from 31 August on.

Pop-Up Screens:

Also similar to the Nomad, with venues including Fulham, Greenwich Peninsula, The City, Holborn, Hammersmith and Hither Green.

The Luna Cinema:

Classic cinema under the stars in some of the UK's most picturesque settings. London locations include Brockwell Lido for Jaws and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and Alexandra Palace for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

 

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

Ian McKellen on Richard III and Shakespeare on film: 'You can have a wonderful “Shakespeare movie” with hardly any Shakespeare in it all...'

UK-USA 1995

Directed by Richard Loncraine

103 min Digital 15

Playing in the BFI’s Shakespeare on Film Season.

RATING: ★★★★★

Back on the big screen in a new Park Circus digital restoration, and part of the BFI Shakespeare on Film Season, Richard III is looking mighty fine at age 21. A bombastic and zippily-paced adaption of the bard’s epic study of villainy and ambition, this version, originally released in 1995, was adapted by actor Ian McKellen and Richard Loncraine from the National Theatre’s stage production by Richard Eyre. It helped make McKellan the international star he is today, he himself admitting it opened up the roles of Magento in X-Men and Gandalf in Lord of the Rings  (though of course he had a long history of film and TV work before).

This take on Richard III is set in a glamorous, alternate history of 1930s England, full of silk and champagne and braided uniforms. A vicious civil war is taking place, one fought with WWII-era submachine guns and tanks, and within the first five minutes a gas mask and trench coat wearing Richard, Duke of Gloucester, has murdered the current besieged King (after driving his tank through the King’s HQ wall) with a pistol. To the sounds of gunshots, the RICHARD III title flashes up on screen as McKellan rips off the gas mask, revealing a sneer under a pencil mustache. The film never deviates from this hyper-stylised tone, and the fact it embraces it so fully makes it all the stronger.

Impressively squeezing the huge play into just two hours (McKellan and Loncraine have claimed only about a quarter of the text is on screen) through bold visuals, vivid set designs and costuming that clearly defines each character and place, and working with actors who deliver the ornate dialogue with comfortable ease, Loncraine gives us a rip-roaring tale of the classic ambitious ruler who could ‘murder while he smiles’. At the heart of the film is the oversized but compelling performance from McKellan, bedecked in regalia that blends British aristocracy with Italian and German fascist pomp, lurching about the place due to his character having a limp and withered arm. Though a disgusting, murdering villain, what makes Richard III so compelling is the way we are given access to his thoughts via to-camera addresses, a very postmodern touch from the bard which survives today in the shape of characters like House of Cards’ Frank Underwood. Through these intimate conversations about his schemes, we the audience become complicit in his deeds, as Richard moves, out of a mix of spite (he is a physically disabled child of his mother’s brood after all), ambition and his own self-hatred, to murder his way through his own family tree to get to the throne. We are both shocked at how far he will go and how brazen his scheming becomes - at one point Richard woos the wife of one of his slaughtered foes in the actual morgue where she mourns - but we also come to understand that an unstable but all-too-human mixture of feelings drive him.

Aside from McKellen, there is a great cast on hand; from Jim Broadbent as Richard’s sycophantic, but increasingly fearful and guilt-addled ally Lord Buckingham, to Nigel Hawthorne as the tragically innocent Duke of Clarence, who even when being knifed to death on Richard’s orders cannot believe his brother would do the deed. The use of London’s many atmospheric and often derelict locations, including the Battersea Power Station, makes the film work well as a time capsule of a bygone era. The costumes are a riot of colour and glamour, and when added to the striking shooting locations, make the film look far more expensive than it actually was (the film was budgeted for about $5m and actually ran out of money in the early stages). Overall, a great way to introduce the unwilling or fearful to the many ways Shakespeare’s classic tales can be told on film.

Director Richard Loncraine and actor, writer and producer Ian McKellen were at the BFI to take part in a post-screening Q&A of the new print of Richard III:

On the translation of Shakespeare from stage to screen.

IM: Well I’d played Richard III for the National Theatre, just a few blocks away from where we are now today actually, directed by Richard Eyre, which I guess makes him “Richard the first” and you [to Loncraine] “Richard the second!”! So I had a lot of the play inside me, including its long speeches: thought we actually had to cut out of lot of the characters and long speeches which link to the play’s past. The last third actually only really makes sense if you know about the history that preceded it. I was stuck with the idea that the audience comes to hear, rather than to see, and that an audience for Richard III would like a lot of talking! But here we are; this is a film. How much the cinema could replace the words was the question. I wasn't at all confident it could be done. But I presented a cut-down version, knowing the play very well and the essentials, to Richard. He looked at it with beady eye of a cinema man! 

RL: I just thought it was still a bit “pros-arch” still [prosenium arch], but I went to see Ian at his house, and instead of showing me the door, he asked me what we could do to fix it. We sat down, talked, and very quickly worked out - well it took months actually -  how to carve up the text. You [to McKellan]handled the text as I knew nothing about it, and I tried to create images that I guess would be…disrespectful in a way. I always thought it needs debagging in a respectful way. I think that’s where the toilet idea came from didn’t it?

IM: When you do that speech [Richard III’s first on-screen address to audience] on stage, it breaks, it starts as a public declaration, then gets very personal, inviting the audience in to the private insides of Richard. Cinematically, to make it a public occasion and then reduce it to the most private place that a man can be, was actually cinematic, but Shakespearean too! You have to give up as a stage actor on the idea that you can make a film of Shakespeare and it'll be just like the play. It won’t. It’s a translation as it were. You don’t have to regret it.

You can have a wonderful “Shakespeare movie” with hardly any Shakespeare in it all: Throne of Blood for example. Because those directors are sympathetic towards Shakespeare they get to the heart of the matter, which is the character, the complications and human nature, which is why Shakespeare has survived all these years.

RL: I was taught Shakespeare really badly at school, I really came out of school thinking Shakespeare wasn't really very good. I was the idiot, not Shakespeare! It took me 38 years, until I met Ian, for me to realise he was a genius. But I felt we had to make it accessible, easy to understand: because I didn’t understand it! I wondered how I could direct actors if I didn’t understand what each scene meant. I had to understand every nuance of what was going on. Sometimes it was not possible. Obviously we couldn’t write Shakespeare, but we did things like create names that would be spoken on screen, like “Prime Minister". Ian cut the text back and back, and I tried to create imagery to extend the story, for example trying to establish the political situation at the start of the play, with the tank driving through the wall.

IM: For the first ten minutes of this movie, nobody speaks, you think it’s going to be a silent movie. I rather like that. I want people to be sitting there wondering “when are these people going to speak”. Then they are ready for Shakespeare! Of course when they get it it starts “Now is the winter of our discontent”. What a great way to begin. I was terribly, terribly aware of the words, and wanting them to come through. So I was very pleased when Richard cast the actors he did. Maggie Smith! In just two speeches: doesn’t she give it the welly it needed!

On the character of Richard III

IM: Some actors have played Richard as if he’s a psychopath, he can’t stop killing people. But he actually only kills one person in this story, and then as a soldier. He issues orders: he tells other people to kill. Thats what tyrants do. This man is not unstable in the sense of a mass murderer. He is after power. He has ambition. He can do this because he doesn’t care. And Maggie Smith, bless her, texted me before this show saying; “stop saying its Richard’s mother that is the source of this”. But if you are born being told you are hateful and horrible, and your mother doesn’t like the look of you, it’s not a good start is it?

On the use of modern sets and clothing:

IM: Why do it in modern dress? Olivier after all had everyone in the accurate costumes for the time in his version.  Because: if you don’t, you might not know who in this story who is in the royal family, and who is just an aristocrat, or who is in the church or the armed forces and their rank - there was no uniform in Shakespeare's times to tell this. Richard is moving amongst them all. He gets on because he has a certain amount of charm.

You don’t have to relate it to the actuality of a history that might have been. It’s not real history. I think Shakespeare knew that. It’s a comment on history. In “modern-ish” dress, you just know who everyone is.

 

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

BFI Shakespeare on Film season review: Richard III

Directed by Richard Loncraine

103 min Digital 15/ UK-USA 1995

Playing in the BFI’s Shakespeare on Film Season.

RATING:  ★★★★★

Back on the big screen in a new Park Circus digital restoration, and part of the BFI Shakespeare on FIlm Season, Richard III is looking mighty fine at age 21. A bombastic and zippily-paced adaption of the bard’s epic study of villainy and ambition, this version, originally released in 1995, was adapted by actor Ian McKellen and Richard Loncraine from the National Theatre’s stage production by Richard Eyre. It helped make McKellan the international star he is today, he himself admitting it opened up the roles of Magento in X-Men and Gandalf in Lord of the Rings for him (though of course he had a long history of film and TV work before).

This take on Richard III is set in a glamorous, alternate history of 1930s England, full of silk and champagne and braided uniforms. A vicious civil war is taking place, one fought with WWII era submachine guns and tanks, and within the first five minutes a gas mask and trench coat wearing Richard, Duke of Gloucester, has murdered the current besieged King (after driving his tank through the King’s HQ wall) with a pistol. To the sounds of gunshots, the RICHARD III title flashes up on screen as McKellan rips of the gas mask, revealing a sneer under a pencil mustache. The film never deviates from this hyper-stylised tone, and the fact it embraces it makes it all the stronger.

Impressively comprising the huge play into just two hours (McKellan and Loncraine have claimed only about a quarter of the play is on screen) through bold visuals, vivid set designs and costuming that clearly defines each character and place, and working with actors who deliver the ornate text with comfortable ease, Loncraine gives us a rip-roaring tale of the classic ambitious ruler who could ‘murder while he smiles’. At the heart of the film is the oversized but compelling performance from McKellan, bedecked in regalia that blends British aristocracy with Italian and German fascist pomp, lurching about due to his character’s limp and withered arm. Though a disgusting, murdering villain, what makes Richard III so compelling is the way we are given access to his thoughts via his to-camera addresses, a very postmodern touch from the bard which survives today in the shape of characters like House of Cards’ Frank Underwood. Through these intimate conversations about his schemes, we the audience become complicit in his deeds, as Richard moves, out of a mix of spite (he is a physically disabled child of his mother’s brood after all), ambition and his own self-hatred, to murder his way through his own family tree to put himself on the throne. We are both shocked at how far he will go and how brazen his scheming becomes - at one point Richard woos the wife of one of his slaughtered foes in the actual morgue where she mourns - but also come to understand that an unstable but all-too-human mixture of feelings drive him.

Aside from McKellan, there is a great cast tackling meaty roles for audiences to savour; from Jim Broadbent as Richard’s sycophantic, but increasingly fearful and guilt-addled ally Lord Buckingham, to Nigel Hawthorne as the tragically innocent Duke of Clarence, who even when being knifed to death on Richard’s orders cannot believe his brother would do the deed. The use of London’s many atmospheric and derelict locations, including the Battersea Power Station, makes the film work as a time capsule of a bygone era of the capital. The costumes are a riot of colour and glamour, and when added to the striking shooting locations, make the film look far more expensive than it actually was (the film was budgeted for about $5m and actually ran out of money in the early stages). Overall, a great way to introduce the unwilling or fearful to the many ways Shakespeare’s classic tales can be told on film.

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

Celebrating the The London Film-Makers’ Co-operative at BFI and Tate this season

The London Film-Makers’ Co-operative holds a very unique place in London film history, one which will be celebrated this year by the Tate Britain through a selection of documents, ephemera and films from the period.

For the uninitiated: The LFMC was founded in October 1966 as a non-commercial distributor of avant-garde cinema. In contrast to similar groups that emerged around the world, it grew to incorporate a distribution service, cinema space and film lab. Filmmakers were able to control every aspect of the creative process, allowing them to explore the material aspects of celluloid and experiment with multiple projection and performance-based ‘expanded cinema’ outside of the mainstream market.  

The original group of film enthusiasts would meet in the basement of the Better Books shop on Charing Cross Road. Its founding members, including Bob Cobbing, Ray Durgnat, Simon Hartog, John Latham and Stephen Dwoskin, were inspired by filmmakers like Jonas Mekas and the New American Cinema Group in New York, who had established their own non-profit distribution cooperative in 1962. The closure of the bookshop the following year led to LFMC screenings relocating to the Drury Lane Arts Lab, until it found a more permanent base at the New Arts Lab on Drummond Street, near Euston Station.

Starting with working in avant-garde cinema, the LFMC also moved into published its own journal, Cinim. More filmmakers joined, including Malcolm Le Grice, Fred Drummond and David Curtis, and the LFMC eventually built its own film laboratory, a workshop for printing and processing 16mm film. This allowed experimental film to be experienced and experimented with first-hand, keeping the LFMC at the heart of independent film culture in London (including screenings and rentals) and the world for decades- though relying on run-down buildings provided by Camden Council in Kentish Town and Primrose Hill. The LFMC eventually folded in 2002, but it lives on in a new organisation: LUX, which continues to be the UK’s leading agency for the support and promotion of artists’ moving image.

The BFI have also been running a series of film programmes programmed by the actual filmmakers who were part of the organisation: LFMC50, a monthly programme, in partnership with BFI Southbank, curated by the original Co-op cinema programmers (David Curtis, Peter Gidal, Annabel Nicolson, Lis Rhodes, Deke Dusinberre (the next one is LFMC 50: Taking the Time on 24 May, from guest curator Deke Dusinberre). May 2016 also sees the BFI launch Crossing the Threshold: Experimental films and live performances from Malcolm Le Grice, one of the the filmmakers in the LFC who began in the underground scene of London and is well known for reconfiguring images through 16mm printing treatments, looping and other manipulations.

You can search the BFI Shop’s LFMC books and DVDs here.

The Tate exhibition is at Archive Gallery, Tate Britain, Millbank, London SW1P 4RG
25 April – 17 July 2016.

 

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

Has Secret Cinema now lost the plot with its exclusionary and pricey costume policies?

 

This was not the review that Smoke Screen expected to write, returning from the preview night of the new run of Secret Cinema Presents: 28 Days Later. In keeping with the previous  'presents' instalments of this pricey but cash-generating strand of the Secret franchise, this particular strand advertises the film in advance, making the secret moniker a bit redundant, but promises guests an immersive, intense experience for the high entry price (over £55 when you include booking fee). Past Secret Cinemas and Secret Cinema Presents have featured costumes as a key part of the experience, with the site's cryptic emails offering clues on how to deck yourself out to match the world of the film being shown, with the option of buying costumes on site or beforehand. Except with 28 Days Later, Secret Cinema seem to have crossed a line and now made buying their costumes on site, if yours are judged not up to scratch, mandatory (assuming you haven't ordered one before).

At least, barring a gigantic misunderstanding, that was the experience of Smoke Screen and friends when approaching the second entry gate at the 28 Days Later location. Based on the previous Secret Cinema Presents that the Smoke has been to (see reviews of the Back to the Future and Empire Strikes Back events), where costume policing was non existent and people seemingly free to experiment, Smoke Screen arrived with friends with no costume apart from the recommended loose/cheap clothing. We put on some surgical facemasks to blend in with the crowds who were wearing surgical scrubs. Previous emails sent out once tickets had been purchased, which directed guests to the "NSH" website set up as an in-world experience site, had listed out the 'required' costuming, ranging from £15-20 for a kit (no purchase of single items allowed) but given the easygoing costuming policies on previous events, we decided this was not going to be mandatory. At that price, for a one-shot use (unless you are really into hospital role plays) £15 was not chicken feed. Yet ushers at the site refused us entry unless we bought their costumes. On principle, we walked away.

Secret Cinema has been under the spotlight before: its high prices (up to £75 for Empire Strikes Back) have led to musings about elitism and greed. Their Back to the Future event started late, disrupting the travel and holiday plans of those guests who had made complex plans to attend. Questions have been raised about intern pay too. But something seems to have now also changed in regards to entry policy that contradicts a previous and more helpful attitude - this writer has seen costumes being handed out and collected as part of the ticket price on previous events (The Prometheus event for one, see reviewed here), so it is not unheard of for Secret Cinema to decide your high ticket price is enough to cover you for the basics if you don't have them.

What has changed since then? Has the cost of putting on these increasingly ambitious events now reached a point where ticket prices and already high concessions revenue is not enough? Is it greed? Or was there a miscommunication in how staff should work entry policies? Either way, something has 'infected' the thinking of Secret Cinema somewhere along the line. They should hope its sorted out within 28 Days and NOT later, as thousands of ticket holders are due to arrive over that time, and each has a social media account to vent on. 

Also, note here below the T&Cs on the ticket buying page of the Secret Cinema 28 Days Later site. If you can spot the section where it warns mandatory costume policy is now in force, do get in touch!

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.