Pour yourself a cup of ambition as sexual harassment revenge comedy 9 TO 5 is re-released in cinemas

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Director: Colin Higgins 

USA, 1980 110 mins

Playing at the BFI as part of their Comedy Genius season from November 16

RATING: ★★★★☆

Back in cinemas as a key film in the BFI’s jam-packed Comedy Genius season running to January 2019, the 1980 workplace satire 9 to 5 still speaks to today’s hot-button issues of discrimination against females in the workplace. You could argue its taken a staggering 40 years for the issues raised in this film - from sexual harassment to the lack of high-level jobs offered to women - to be taken as seriously as they should be. That being said, 9 to 5, with a plot that focuses a trio of mismatched New York female employees who refuse to put up with their sexist boss’s behaviour any longer, cloaks its empowerment message and pertinent observations about male-female relations in a huge amount of good-natured, briskly-paced fun, most of it generated by the chemistry between the all-star cast of Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton, and from the increasingly zany schemes they come up with to stay ahead of their boss. Audiences will get a chuckle out of seeing 80s-era office technology in all its clunky beige glory, from giant Xerox machines to rows of noisy typewriters. Then there is that great title song from Parton, which will get your foot tapping no matter how hard you resist. Appropriately, though directed by Colin Higgins, the film was in fact based on an idea by star Fonda and was written by Patricia Resnick.

Each of these three female stars packs enough charisma to hold such a movie on their own, but here they are perfectly complimentary to each other, and none of them end up fitting any stereotypes we might place on them from first sight. None require a romantic interest to succeed at the end. As the newest secretarial-level recruit at the sterile Consolidated Companies head office in Manhattan, Jane Fonda is nicely cast against type as the straight-laced and decidedly unglamorous Judy, who over time reveals a steelier side and throws herself into the sisterhood plotting with growing vigour. Lily Tomlin is pitch-perfect as the cynical office veteran Violet, whose world-weary demeanour interlaced with jabs of sarcasm and delicious detestation, signifies how she has internalised as routine the blatant workplace sexism that CEO Franklin Hart, Jr. (Dabney Coleman) emits on a regular basis. Violet is a depressing example, at least at first, of how even fierce women can get worn down by the relentless slights of misogynistic men who hold all the power, their resistance blunted by the sense that nothing can change by fighting. But watching Violet rekindle her sense of “I’m not taking this shit” and start throwing all the bullshit back in the other direction, is a delight to see. But it is Dolly Parton as Hart’s secretary Doralee who threatens to run off with the film, charm simply exploding out of her like fireworks. Interestingly, the surface-level ditzy Doralee is shown to be underestimated not just by Hart (who is pressuring her into having an affair with him, even callously giving her his wife’s birthday presents which Violet is tasked with buying), but by Judy and Violet too, who initially assume that she really is just the office ‘floozy’ that Hart has pegged her as, sleeping her way to the top. This adds interesting depth to the dynamics of the women, suggesting that patriarchy’s malign influence interrupts even women’s own views of each other, and that seeing past stereotypes is a job both sexes need to do if equality is to be reached. 

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.

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.

Joan Crawford has her claws out in THE WOMEN, a highlight of the BFI's Joan Crawford season

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The BFI's Joan Crawford season, celebrating the legendary star, is running at BFI Southbank this September.

As a fully paid-up member of the Joan Crawford fan club (Jonny Guitar remains a favourite western of mine, in large part due to her performance) it was my pleasure to see the George Cukor-directed 1938 satirical comedy THE WOMEN tonight. Stuffed to bursting with a football pitch-worth of female hollywood stars - Norma Shearer, Rosalind Russel and Joan Fontaine are just a few, in a film with top names seemingly happy to turn up in minor roles - Crawford purrs her way to the top even in a supporting turn, and it feels appropriate therefore that the BFI showcase this film as the highlight of their season celebrating the legendary actress. Crawford, as a shamelessly man-pilfering social climber called Crystal, gets some of the sharpest, slinkiest lines in the film, most of them shot full-force towards her rival in love: the more straight-arrow middle-class housewife, Mary (Shearer). Crystal is soon the talk of the town for going after Mary's husband, and she doesn't care who knows it. She seems, for most of the film, to be winning the fight too.

Anita Loos’ and Jane Murfin’s screenplay frames the Crystal-Mary feud against a rich backdrop of gossip, sisterly solidarity, money worries and much ranting about the caddishness of men that fills up the diaries of the disparate group of Manhattan women that circle around Mary's life. Intriguingly, not a single man appears on screen during the entire running time, making this film seem like a revolutionary act even if men, and marriage, makes up a good chunk of the female conversation. The more obvious satirical jabs at high society's peccadilloes and penchants, such as the opening sequence featuring a bravura tracking shot through the gossip-drenched rooms of a salon where only a good scandal tip-off is allowed to interrupt a good facial, makes it hard to judge how seriously the film wants us to take certain main characters when they express what we might call a more 'conservative' approach to sexual politics. Should we be laughing, or taking this as the film's 'message'? Treating your husband's infidelity as something partly your fault, for not kicking his lover's ass hard enough to impress him, is not a sentiment likely to impress modern audiences. But the huge number of women in the cast, and even the maids and cooks get a few minutes on screen to shoot the shit, mean we get a wide range of alternative views expressed on the intersection of marriage and masculinity and how women should deal with men's bullshit, with lashings of whip-crack smart humour in the mix to balance out the heaviness. Crackingly good stuff.

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 Black Star Season review: John Singleton's Boyz n the Hood feels as relevant as ever

Director: John Singleton

USA 1991, 112mins

The BFI and Park Circus will release Boyz n the Hood in selected cinemas UK-wide on 28 October.

Black Star runs 17 October - 23 December 206, see BFI site for details.

RATING: ★★★★☆

Usually, when a film reaches its 25th anniversary, reviews will note how the film has achieved 'time capsule' status, providing a nice dose of nostalgia for days gone by. It doesn't feel appropriate to say that about director John Singleton's Boyz n the Hood, given its anniversary and re-release into cinemas as a key part of the BFI's Black Star season comes at a time when tensions between the police and America's black community seem to be at an all-time high, and when black filmmakers like Ava DuVernay are releasing hard-hitting films like 13th (read the review here); which questions how far race relations have really come in the US since abolition.

Beyond its immediate visceral impact as a film frankly depicting the challenges faced by a troubled black teen in a tough South Central LA neighbourhood, Boyz n the Hood is notable for many other reasons, certainly when you consider the context in which it was made and released. Strikingly, John Singleton - a black director  - was just 23 when he wrote and directed what is now recognised as a seminal film; the success of Boyz n the Hood and the impact it had on popular culture in the US and abroad (it played at Cannes, for one thing) are now seen as a key part of the new phase of black filmmaking that emerged in the US. The cast reads like a who's who of major black talent looking back at it now - Laurence Fishburne, Cuba Gooding Jnr, and Angela Bassett amongst others - and the presence of rapper Ice Cube in his acting debut is a sign of the growing power of rap and hip-hop as a cross-media cultural phenomenon. The film's soundtrack packs in - apart from Ice Cube, of course -  "Jam on It" by Newcleus, "Sunshower" by Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band, "More Bounce to the Ounce" by Zapp, "Sucker M.C.'s" by Run-D.M.C., "Let's Go" by Kool Moe Dee, and "Ooh Child" by The Five Stairsteps. With all these elements in play, Singleton's film helped popularise the 'hood' genre of films.

The story takes place against the backdrop of early eighties South Central LA, as black teen Tre Styles (Gooding Jr), tries to navigate life in a community ravaged by drug addiction, poverty, gangs and police harassment. He's not been living in this part of South Central full time though, having instead been housed with his mother Reva (Angela Bassett) for much of his pre-teens, and his Mother's looming university Master's studies seem set to pay off with new job opportunities for her. But following increasing tension at school, with Tre prone to losing his cool, Reva sends him back to live with his father for the duration, convinced that (the brilliantly-named) Furious Styles (Laurence Fishburne) can 'teach him how to be a man'.

The two parents are an interesting pair of poles to see the boy pivot between. Separated but still in touch, Reva and Furious are both intelligent and committed parents, but emphasise different things. Reva is focused and ambitious, Furious given to the kind of firebrand preaching and code of living that the likes of Malcolm X favoured. Interestingly, both are middle class, meaning Tre doesn't exactly fit with all his old friends - including the street hustling Doughboy (Cube) - in what is shown to be a diverse, but still troubled, neighbourhood. Furious and Reva have had their own share of racial discrimination to face though, with Reva being bluntly asked by Tre's teacher on the phone if she is 'educated'.

It is the sense of authenticity and vibrancy in the depiction of this LA neighbourhood that is one of the great strengths of Singleton's film. Shot largely on location, the film takes its time to show the rhythms of the streets, and it isn't just all a showcase of guns and drugs either. Tre and his group of friends spend a good deal of time just hanging out, drinking and smoking and talking about girls; a universal experience of youth made believable by the naturalistic performances and raw dialogue peppered with profanity and tangental stories. But this is a vision of peace that rarely lasts when the sun goes down, and sirens and helicopter rotor blade beats start to dominate the night air. At certain points Singleton dials up the volume of this background cacophony to literally drown Tre out, driving him to despairingly claw at his ears. When violence bursts into Tre's life, it isn't glorified and is shown to carry lasting psychological scars, and solves nothing,

As Tre, Cuba Gooding Jnr is fine when it comes to portraying a callow youth, torn between the diktats of his parents, and  the urge to back up his friends when they get mixed up in gang hostilities. Ice Cube is a little shaky at times as Doughboy, but his final, poignant scene - as a man aware of his own ticking clock - carries real weight. But it is hard to deny that Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett add that essential gravitas, and their combatative-come-flirtatious scenes together are some of the film's bests. Fishburne, it is fair to say, gets more screen time, and his depiction of Furious is fascinating. In many ways a 'man's man' with an old-fashioned view of a male child needing input from a parent of the same sex and gender (this film has been accused of pushing a male-centric view of parenting), Furious nevertheless complicates this by both urging Tre to stay away from the darker side of the streets, whilst delivering epic sermons on how the system is rigged against the black community. One of his key speeches is delivered under a real estate banner, where he explains how white flight and gentrification are a linked system of exploitation, with blacks left with plentiful gun and liquor stores on every corner, as "they want us to keep killing each other." Furious's speeches manage to be both overblown but also contain nuggets of larger, abstract truths at the same time, and it is easy to see how all these competing missives - to fight the system, to be a man, but to also stay out of trouble - are confusing Tre as well as educating him.

Though it does betray the rawness of a first feature at times (there is the odd tip into melodrama, for example), Boyz n the Hood remains an urgent, exciting, saddening, and still-relevant piece of work that holds the attention on its own terms regardless of the place it has been assigned in history. But speaking of that history; for this hard-hitting drama, Singleton was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and Director, making him the youngest ever nominee for the latter and the first African-American to be nominated for it also.

 

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 Black Star Season Review: Pool of London - the film that launched Earl Cameron's career

Director: Basil Deardon

A | 1h 25min | Crime, Drama | 13 August 1951 (Sweden)

On DVD/Bluray from StudioCanal from 25 October

RATING: ★★★★☆

Screening as part of the BFI’s Black Star season, and now released on bluray for the first time as part of Studiocanal’s Vintage Classics Collection, Pool of London is an enjoyable, compact Ealing Studios crime caper directed by Basil Deardon (The Blue Lamp, Dead of Night) that became notable for featuring veteran actor Earl Cameron CBE, known as one of the first black screen actors to break the colour bar in the UK. He has acted in 91 films and TV series, has over 70 years in the business, and is still working. His role in Ealing Studios’ classic thriller was a breakout opportunity for him.

In Pool of London, Cameron plays Johnny, a young and upbeat Jamaican ship worker earning his way on board the Durham; a British Empire merchant marine vessel with a mixed nationality crew. Johnny idolises Dan MacDonald (Bonar Colleano), a roguish American of Italian heritage who looks out for Johnny and has clearly enjoyed playing the older brother role. Arriving in the Docklands for shore leave and to offload the Dunbar’s cargo during the summer of 1951, the two men find themselves getting into troubled waters when ashore. Dan falls in with a gang of smugglers looking to use his boat to smuggle a diamond stash out of the country, whilst Johnny finds himself falling for Pat, a white girl (Susan Shaw) who’s race and nationality means it is impossible for him to really consider being with her. Dan ends up using Johnny to further the heist scheme, assuming he won’t get his pal into trouble so long as things go smoothly, but when the heist goes wrong and the police get onto his tail, he risks getting Johnny stitched up in it all. Dan has to face a choice: let Johnny fall under police suspicion which, given his race, will surely be fatal, or stick up for his friend.

Apart from offering the great Cameron a breakout role, Pool of London also was the first British-made post-Windrush film to feature an interracial relationship, and although the lack of seeing it consummated on screen might have been due to the conservative sensibilities of the time, this enforced distance between Johnny and Pat does serve the film’s wider purpose of commenting on race relations and gives the story quite a poignant tone. Restrained though the film might seem compared to today’s standards - there is no blood or harsh language to be seen or heard - the screenplay does not shy away from putting Johnny in situations where he is subjected to discrimination due to his colour. Though the “N” word is never used, the phrases “you people” and “your kind” are all too frequently thrown at the young Jamaican, usually following some kind of exclusionary act, whether it is a security guard moving him on when he is simply waiting near a door, or bouncers throwing him out of a gin joint.

And speaking of gin joints, the film pleasingly drinks in the rarefied air of such night life haunts, as well as underground dance halls, vaudeville theatres, and even those quaint places known as “milk bars”. The plot ranges across a London still visibly recovering from the Second World War and dotted with piles of rubble and half-repaired buildings, a place all the more striking for being without the hyper-gentrification of today. Trams still trundle through central (though Pat notes they are due to be closed down - the irony!), and the Thames bustles with commercial shipping. Thus, even though the crime at the centre of Pool of London’s central story arc could hardly be called epic (though the band of criminals have a nice touch of eccentricity to them, one being a circus performer who uses his jumping skills to get into the bank) the film functions as a compelling time capsule of a London long gone.

DVD/BR Special Features:

  • New interview with Earl Cameron.
  • New locations featurette with film historian Richard Dacre.
  • Production stills gallery.
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.

Kirk Douglas Season at the BFI: why Ace in the Hole is one to watch

The BFI is in the midst of a multi-month tribute to the legendary Hollywood star Kirk Douglas, who reaches his 100th birthday this year. Though he hasn't acted in a long time, Douglas's active career spanned many decades and 'eras' of Hollywood. Though his heroic turns in roles such as Spartacus continue to resonate, the BFI season aims to showcase how Douglas was also unafraid of playing unpleasant characters and eschewing sentimentality. The Smoke Screen believes that Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole, playing as part of the season this month, is a great example of one of Douglas's wanders over to the dark side, playing one hell of a schemer, and looking like he is enjoying every minute of it.

In Wilder's edgy dissection of the news industry, Douglas chews up the scenery like a hungry wolf as Chuck Tatum, a ruthless journalist washed up in Alberquerque, New Mexico and sniffing out a spot at a small local news joint. Tatum barges his way into editor Jacob Q. Boot's office with a shameless pitch based on his low cost and record of getting top-drawer stories from his days back in New York. Pressed, he admits he got fired from every paper he ever worked on for a variety of misdemeanours ranging from libel, drinking and taking up with the wives of too many bigwigs. But editor Boot thinks Tatum can't possibly run into any trouble this far away from any major news, this being a town where the biggest news event of the year is a rattlesnake hunt, so he takes him on, despite knowing Tatum just wants to bide his time here before wangling his way back into the big East Coast papers. But Boot hasn't reckoned on Tatum's willingness to create the news, as opposed to reporting it.

After a year of cooling his heels reporting on cats stuck in trees and pie-making contests, Tatum sees his chance when a rockslide traps a local worker in an old Indian cave outside of town. Before long he is exploiting – and needlessly extending – the predicament of the man: the hapless and trusting Leo Mimosa. The resulting media circus that Tatum whips up - which extends to half-threatening/half charming Leo's bored wife Lorraine to turn her cafe near the cave into a paying waystation for tourists keen to gawp at the rescue operation, to arranging for a funfair and special tourist train to set up shop outside - will be a thoroughly recognisable phenomenon to those of us who have grown up with 24/7, social-media enhanced news cycles. All that is missing to make the crowds Tatum pulls in look like they stepped out of our present day are the smartphones with twitter apps firing clutched in their hands. Much darker though is Tatum's promise/threat to the local sheriff to keep rival reporters out of the picture, and to ensure the most lengthy rescue option is chosen, so he can file as many updates as he can. It's what Tatum refers to as a 'rattlesnake' plan, if a bunch of rattlesnakes get loose in a town, a good reporter will keep one hidden in his desk to keep the story playing.

If the film has maybe lost some of its bite given how cynicism of the fourth estate is now so embedded in popular culture, Wilder's acid script, as sneered out energetically by Douglas (admirably refusing to make his character likeable, becoming more devious and dangerous as the situation deteriorates for Leo), still drives home some prescient observations about how we choose and consume news. Having quickly won the puppy-dog admiration of the young, bored newshound Herbie, Tatum enjoys imparting a few choice pearls of street-level journalism to him: such as his belief that selling papers on the street taught him more than a three year journalism course ever could ("bad news sells") and that people don't really register tales of mass death and disaster (as they see it all as just statistics), but respond much more strongly to a singular personal tragedy that they imagine they could get caught up in. The dialogue gets positively noirish at times, making this a good choice for fans of that genre, such as Lorraine's awed comment on Tatum's Machievellian scheming: "I've known some hard boiled eggs in my time, but you, you're twenty minutes." 

Ace in the Hole plays at the BFI as part of the Kirk Douglas season on 10 September. 

The season as a whole runs September - October 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.

BFI PUNK.LONDON season review: Wolfgang Buld's fascinating look at punk at the crossroads in "Punk in London"

Punk in London

West Germany 1977. Dir Wolfgang Büld. 111min.

Playing as part of BFI PUNK.LONDON: 40 Years of Subversive Culture film season.

RATING: ★★★★★

The Smoke Screen was born too late to see the rise and fall of the Punk scene in London, butthanks to the BFI Punk.London film season screening of director Wolfgang Büld’s doc Punk in London, that long-gone era was brilliantly evoked for a short time. This insightful German documentary came about when Buld took his camera team to a grimy, gritty London during the summer and autumn of 1977. As the documentary reveals, and as the director has discussed, this was a particularly fascinatingtime to drop into the London scene.“The last battles between commerce and and protest were being fought and the fate of the punk scene hung in the balance” Build has said of the experience, referring to how punk had become a national obsession and a media sensation, but also a lucrative genre within the music industry. Many of the figures Buld gained access to in this doc - both major artists and struggling wannabes - speak about the sense that those at the top of the scene have failed to find that magic (probably impossible) balance between record label backing and cutting edge musical sensibility.

And what excellent access this documentary team got! Buld’s camera captures many of the key figures of the time, including touchstone bands like The Clash and The Jam. But, pleasingly, the director is also interested in the smaller groups of the time - Subway Sect and The Killjoys are of particular note -  plus permanent underachievers X-Ray Spex give a blinding demo in what looks like a basement somewhere, led by lead singer Poly Styrene’s truly unique lyrical work. Much of the time the camera is in the wings during gigs, filming the bands giving it their all on stage from a privileged position, and when it isn't the filmmakers are hanging about with the bands in recording studios or backstage, as they smoke and bitch about their crappy management and other issues great and small. Particularly electric is the scenes of The Clash recording in their rehearsal studio in a run-down Camden warehouse, filled with what looks like junk from a funfair.  Weirdly, The Stranglers refuse to give an interview as their lead singer claims to not like Germans.

The doc really brings home what a vital venue scene London was for punk too, taking in gig spots like the sweltering hot Marquee Club where we see Bob Geldof’s Boomtown Rats going at it, to various clapped-out looking pubs with peeling wallpaper and smoke-stained ceilings in Hammersmith. As one of the distributors of the cult punk fanzine Sniffin’ Glue observes when interviewed, the variety and affordability of venues like this in the capital and beyond made the punk scene much more vital in London than over the pond in New York. Truly it was a time to be alive and a Londoner.

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.

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.

Kinoteka - Polish Film Festival London review: A Woman Alone

Directed by Agnieszka Holland

Poland 1981| 91 min| Digital | With English subtitles

Playing Kinoteka: Polish Film Festival in London 2016

RATING: ★★★★☆

Polish director Agnieszka Holland’s 1981 film A Woman Alone is back in cinemas this month, playing as part of the annual Kinoteka Polish Film Festival in London. The film has been digitally restored by Di Factory with the support of the Polish Film Institute. This restoration has added approximately five minutes of material which had previously been removed by censorship. This was possible thanks to Polish Television and the Polish National Digital Archives where the original pieces of film were stored in a very good conditions. Di Factory was able to scan these pieces of negative in 4K and then restore them. London’s BFI screening in April was the first time that the restored version was publicly screened.

As for the film itself, Holland’s movie remains a powerful piece of work, even more so when considered in the context of its creation. Banned in cinemas when martial law was proclaimed in Poland, this film gathered its reputation through clandestine screenings. The plot centres on a middle-aged working class woman, Irena, living alone on the outskirts of Wroclaw with her 8-year old son. Irena’s arc in this grim film is largely one of misfortune, misery and desperation, all laid out for us in unsparing detail, with Holland’s camera capturing the minutiae of life in the lower income bracket in a state crumbling under inept Communist rule. Irena lives in a drab apartment by a clatteringly noisy rail line, seemingly at the mercy of a thuggish landlord next door who wants her gone and rips her flat’s fuses out when he feels like it. She and her son wash in a tin tub. Their food looks dismal: hunks of bread and butter and study jam. They have to share a bed, with rooms separated by dank curtains.

Outside this tiny apartment, Irena gets no respite either. She is a mail carrier reliant on keeping her good route to stay afloat, a route coveted by other staff at her postal office. In between shifts she has to care for a sick relative who has seemingly been left at home to die of some unspecified illness: presumably cancer (leading to one disturbing monologue where the woman rants to Irene at how meaningless her life was, a moment of utter hopelessness). Irena starts a desperate love affair with a younger disabled man, Jacek, who earns his keep by using his disability card to queue jump for impatient and needy citizens who offer him a cut of the cost. But Jacek is needy and a heavy drinker, soon dishing out the same kind of abuse to her as her previous husband did, who himself wanders occasionsaly in and out of her life.

Though unrelentingly grim to an almost absurd degree, Holland’s film captures the stark reality of being a woman at risk of sexism and violence in everyday existence (a sadly universal story), a situation made worse by the conservative nature of Polish society around her and the crumbling nature of the state. In fact Holland’s film - and this is maybe where it got into hot water - seems to suggest a link between the failing and corrupt imposed Communist regime and Irena’s specific misery. As she trudges downcast around the city, we see queues outside cake stores and pharmacies: here things citizens of the free west would take for granted as mere minor items on a shopping list require hours of waiting. Conversations between family members and friends reveal the hypocrisy of an ‘equal’ system where people expect the ruling party to do favours for its members and allow queue jumping in social provision. Even chocolate is rationed. Jacek rages about a lack of hope and aspiration in this country, and despicable though he is, you can understand what he is talking about. Even the film’s cinematography seems to agree with him: everything seems overcast and grey, lifeless. In a country without hope is it any wonder people turn violent and petty?

Maria Chwalibóg gives a tour de force performance as the postwoman whose deeply frustrating life means we totally understand the moments where she just screams or runs, or both, though Holland never makes her entirely a Mother Theresa figure. Her role in making this film a powerful condemnation of a society without hope of help is key.

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.

New to the films of Preston Sturges? Try The Lady Eve...

Director: Preston Sturges

USA 1941, 93 min, Digital U

The Lady Eve Plays at BFI Southbank until 17 February. Also available on player.bfi.org.uk

RATING: ★★★★☆


The Coen Brothers' latest manic comedy caper, Hail, Caesar!, is about to hit UK cinemas, and with it will inevitably come the comparisons between the work of the brothers and that of their acknowledged idol from decades' past: director Preston Sturges. With many of his films sitting permanently in several 'greatest of all time' categories (four of his seven 1940s hits – The Lady Eve, Sullivan’s Travels, The Palm Beach Story and The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek – made the Writers’ Guild of America’s 101 Funniest Screenplays poll last year) Sturges’ is considered one of the masters of the screwball comedy genre, easily juggling witty repartee, laugh-out-loud slapstick, and a good bit of poleaxing of social mores. Conveniently coinciding with the release of the latest Coen film is the BFI's month-long tribute to Sturges this February, and viewers not sure where to start with the director are heartily advised to check out the much-admired The Lady Eve.

If you are only used to seeing Henry Fonda in his traditional film roles as a modest, apple pie hero, his turn as the lead in The Lady Eve might surprise you. Here he is literally a doofus: one Charles ‘Hopsie’ Pike, a bumbling biologist and snake expert who also happens to be heir to an ale fortune built up by his even more eccentric (and gastronomically-enthused) father. When he is not hunting down snakes, one of whom we see he has decided to keep as a pet called Emma (complete with its own cushioned travel box) after picking her up on a previous expedition, he is typically falling over his own feet, or avoiding the legions of hungry female gold-diggers desperate to get at his trust fund. 

Fonda is a lot of fun as the hapless-but-minted rube, and gets to have a good go at a lot of physical comedy: about half his screen time is spent pratfalling and getting covered in spilled condiments. But the film is really stolen by a firecracker of a turn from Barbara Stanwyck as the sultry, wisecracking con artist Jean. Jean sets her sights on conning Charles out of his fortune by getting him to fall for her and wed her, so she can ruthlessly poison the marriage until the expensive divorce. It is all part of a long-in-the-making plan she and her co-conspirator father Colonel Harrington (Charles Coburn) have thought up: their career path being that of the itinerant crook, albeit ones who aim for marks who can get them access to the finer things in life.

Jean's ruse comes undone just a tad when she genuinely falls for the guileless Charles after catching his eye during a boat cruise, and he also falls for her because she seems to be literally the only woman there who seems disinterested in his fortune: a result of the cunning Jean knowing exactly how to play him. But when Charles finds out about her past, he rebuffs her, leading a hurt Jean to plan another brazen caper to get revenge on him, with even more crazy results. Jean and Charles's madcap relationship arc zips along at breakneck pace, and is peppered with cracking dialogue, stylish settings (much of the action takes place on both a luxury cruise ship and a sleeper train), and some side-splitting set pieces (witness the over-eager horse keen to butt in on Charles's parade during his already-awkward wooing speech, a superbly staged sequence). Sturges even gets to fool around with the traditional romantic Hollywood ending.

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.

The Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme 2016: Miss Hokusai

Taking its title from Akira Kurosawa’s acclaimed 1952 film Ikiru (“To Live”), the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme 2016 - “IKIRU: The Highs and Lows of Life in Japanese Cinema” - explores the way in which Japanese filmmakers have been observing and capturing people’s lives, and how people across the ages persevere, negotiate and reconcile with the environment and situation they live in. This year’s programme features a mixture of classics, animation and contemporary films and Smoke Screen has been taking a look at some of them, and reviewing some of the highlights. Opening the season is the animated film Miss Hokusai from Production I.G- the company behind the animated series Ghost in the Shell.

The season will open at the ICA, London on Friday, 5 February 2016 before touring.

Film Review: Miss Hokusai

Miss Hokusai, dir. Keiichi Hara, Japan 2015, 90 mins, Japanese with English subtitles

RATING: ★★★☆☆

This intriguing animated film from Production I.G and director Keiichi Hara takes a surprisingly offbeat approach to depicting the life and times of the famous artist and “ukiyo-e” (“pictures of the floating world” - a genre of art that flourished in Japan from the 17th through 19th centuries) master, Katsushika Hokusai. The focus of the story, based on the original manga Sarusuberi by Hinako Sugiura, is actually on Hokusai’s daughter O-Ei, who bounces between her father’s house and studio and that of her father’s estranged wife and blind younger daughter. Holusai’s’ studio is in Edo in the early 1800s, where O-Ei spends her days alternately working and bickering with her laconic father: they are both as stubborn as the other. The film follows the pair during a few weeks of a particularly strange summer: the story is really about their relationship rather than Hokusai’s famous works, even though some of his artwork is seen being worked on, and his aesthetic occasionally is blended into film’s landscapes. 

The Edo period is recreated quite well through hand-drawn 2D art with 3D techniques, though the animation doesn’t hit quite the levels of peak Studio Ghibli lushness. Ghosts and demons seem to be commonplace in Edo during this time, which is odd, and the narrative doesn’t really offer much explanation for this, though it is implied that Hokusai’s art is a reflection of their existence, and in some cases might be creating them: in one scene he has to correct one O-Ei’s commissions to prevent the ‘wrong’ kind of spirit being freed and menacing their patron. 

The film’s real draw is the engaging dynamics between the misanthropic characters: O-Ei and Hokusai have a strained relationship due to his lack of attention for his disabled younger daughter, but O-Ei correctly senses that it is baed on guilt and fear rather than disgust. Father and daughter are clearly two peas in a pod though. Comic relief is provided by the two resident pupils in Hokusai’s studio including the drunk, woman-chasing Zenjro, who gets rarely anything more than a weary shrug and an insult from his elder. O-Ei is mocked as stiff and gruff by the two younger, horny male artists, but out of their sight she is compassionate with her blind sister, spending afternoons describing the world around her in a way that betrays her artistic eye for details. The film pleasingly does not try to shove the independent-minded O-Ei into a conventional marriage/domesticity path to resolve her issues, in fact, according to the film, she remained Hokusai's overlooked collaborator and defiantly itinerant to the end.

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.

The exquisite Le Mepris is the highlight of the BFI's tribute to Jean-Luc Godard

Film Review: Les Mepris (Contempt).

Directed by Jean-Luc Godard

France-Italy 1963. 103 min Digital. With English subtitles. 15.

Playing as part of Jean-Luc Godard Season at the BFI 

RATING: ★★★★☆


Has a critique of the commercialisation of modern cinema ever looked this good? With Le Mepris, legendary French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard employs both the poise and smouldering looks of the impossibly beautiful Brigitte Bardot, and the sumptuous scope cinematography of DP Raoul Coutard to depict the tangles in the relationship between a compromised French filmmaker and his wife over the course of one summer. Echoing films like Rossellini’s Voyage to Italy, the film is itself adapted from the Alberto Moravia’s novel A Ghost at Noon. It has something of a stately air to it, but at times you can feel Godard being playful. This duality, the classical vs the radical, might take some viewers expecting a lush jaunt in the sun off guard. Certainly, viewers should not in expecting a happy time; the translated title of the film is ‘contempt’, and Godard, during the shooting of this film, was apparently feeling quite a fair bit of that (both for the source material and his studio paymasters). The film is currently the centrepiece of a new season, starting this month at the BFI, devoted to the mercurial French filmmaker.

In this study of a rocky marriage and fraught professional relationships, Bardot is the increasingly restless Camille, wife of scriptwriter Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli) who is struggling to complete a new filmic adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey for a boorish American producer Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance). Prokosch is the classic swaggering figure of the studio system, he objects not at all to plenty of naked female flesh in his films, and is given to tantrums and the throwing of various objects when he doesn’t get his way, which we see him do to hilarious effect in a screening room early on when Javal goes to meet him. Prokosch doesn’t care much for the angle his current director is taking on this film - too arty - so he tempts Javal into signing on to do a rewrite in Italy. Over time, Javal finds himself increasingly worried by the artistic compromises he is making both in this film and in his wider career, but is caught between the slick, dominating Prokosch, the film’s German director Fritz Lang (amusingly cast as himself) and his wife, who is increasingly annoyed by his indecision and herself drawn to the playboy Prokosch, whom she is increasingly left alone with by her self-obsessed husband.

It goes without saying that Bardot is stunning to behold in this film: there is something almost arrogant about her beauty here. As Camille she is unobtainable, unfathomable, uncontrollable; at times hiding behind a pair of sunglasses to ad to the air of stylish mystique, and even donning a black wig at one point (presumably a sly nod to Godard’s muse Anna Karina). The ghost of Karina and the storyline’s focus on the compromises of filmmaking further invite the assumptions that Godard saw some resemblance here to his own life, relationships and career. In fact Godard was borrowing quite a fair bit from his own experiences and directly inserting them into the materials even as production rolled on; for example producer Carlo Ponti was apparently disappointed that Godard’s adaptation of Moravia’s novel contained no nude shots of the then so-hot Bardot, that Godard compromised by adding an explicit scene of Camille naked on a bed with screenwriter-husband Paul in the film’s opening minutes; life truly imitating art and vice versa. 

Beyond the sparks between Bardot and Piccoli as they play out their character’s various disintegrations (check the central apartment scene as they circle each other), there are some lush landscapes to enjoy, particular the cliffside mansion where some of the final scenes occur. Godard’s playfulness might jar a little with those expecting a straightforward narrative, the score and visuals are manipulated at times to show the artificiality of what we are seeing (George’s Delerue’s romantic score, for example, keeps fading in and out with often no correlation to the action on screen) and this writer over time found that a little grating.


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: Rock in Reykjavik and the Barbican's Never Mind the Baubles anti-Christmas Punk film season

If you don't much like idea of sitting through endless marathons of Christmas heart-warmers like It’s a Wonderful Life and Scrooged (and if you don’t, what’s wrong with you?) the Barbican Cinema have just the counter-seasonal programming medicine this December. Their Never Mind the Baubles season celebrates the glory of punk on film, from GG Allin and the Murder Junkies, to Bruce LaBruce’s No Skin Off My Ass and Rock ‘n’ Rock High School featuring The Ramones. The season plays Tue 1 - Thu 17 Dec in Cinema 3.

This writer was able to drop by the catch the Icelandic documentary Rock in Reykjavik from director Friðrik Thór Friðriksson, which turned out to be a hugely entertaining exploration of how punk crossed over national boundaries, and was interpreted and reinterpreted by other nations that had very different cultures to the US and UK. Shot during the winter of 1981-1982, Rock in Reykjavik dives into the bustling alternative music scene that was emerging from Iceland at the early part of the decade, capturing various live performances and interviews from key bands from the era including Egó, Vonbrigdi and Purrkur Pillnikk. There’s plenty of political cynicism, a lot of cigarettes, even more leather, and even a bit of classic guitar smashing from one punk band that all look like they have an average age of about twelve. 

At one point a teenage Björk even turns up, singing as part of Tappi Tíkarrass, her striking voice already in evidence. Some of the bands actually seem to veer more towards New Wave, adding to the feel of diversity. This doc would make an interesting companion piece to another Nordic punk film: Lukas Moodysson's We are the Best!

Rock in Reykjavík (15*) (Iceland 1982 Dir Friðrik Thór Friðriksson 83 min)

The full season includes:

Never Mind the Baubles Tue 1 - Thu 17 Dec, Cinema 3

No Skin Off My Ass (18*) (Canada 1991 Dir Bruce LaBruce 82 min)

Wed 2 Dec 8.45pm, Cinema 3

Canadian filmmaker and artist Bruce LaBruce directs and stars in this cult classic as a punk hairdresser who becomes obsessed with a young skinhead. After spotting the skinhead in the park near his home, the hairdresser invites him to his apartment, gives him a bath and takes him captive. Shot in black and white with a range of jarring camera angles this is a stylised and incredibly graphic look at two punks in love. 

GG Allin and the Murder Junkies (18*) (US 1993 Dir Todd Phillips 55 min)

Wed 16 Dec 8.45pm, Cinema 3

A wild, polarising soul, there’s never been a punk quite like GG Allin. Onstage exposure, violence and coprophagia were hallmarks of his incendiary live performances. Detested by critics but beloved by a core, cult audience, this controversial documentary mixes concert footage and interviews with Allin and his wider circle, placing him in the 1980s. Allin is a fascinating figure: genuinely christened ‘Jesus Christ’ by his parents, he suffered an abusive upbringing and a chaotic adolescence, finally finding expression in the hard core punk scene. This film is a record of his energy and utter disregard for authority; absolutely fearless and completely unique. 

Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (15*)

Thu 17 Dec 8.45pm, Cinema 3

After driving their last principle to a nervous breakdown due to their love of rock ‘n’ roll music, the students of Vince Lombardi high school face a shock when stern new principle Miss Evelyn Togar arrives on the scene. Attempting to put a stop to the students’ unsavoury antics, she burns their records and confiscates Riff Randall’s (P.J. Soles) ticket to see her favourite band, The Ramones. In classic teen film style, the students take over the school after enlisting the help of Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee and Tommy and which leads to a truly explosive climax. With a perfect blitzkrieg soundtrack featuring Alice Cooper, Chuck Berry and Fleetwood Mac, this hilarious film is still as fresh today as it was 35 years ago. 

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: Mapping Londoner's stories one film at a time

Documentary specialists 1000 Londoners (with Chocolate Films) are currently hard at work on a highly ambitious and unique ethnographic filmmaking project- producing a series of 1000 short films charting lives of all kinds across contemporary London.

1000 Londoners is a digital portrait of the city aiming to offer an insight into the lives of 1000 people who consider themselves to be Londoners, taking in all ages, religions, race, income, interests and opinions. Each week, a 3 minute profile of a Londoner is posted on the 1000 Londoners home page, and at the start of a new week at midnight GMT, the home page changes to show the profile of a brand new Londoner. All the profiles are archived into a searchable online gallery of Londoners.

The plan is not just to leave these stories sitting on the website however, and over the last few weeks sets of these short films have aired across London venues, each week devoted to a different theme and group of people. 

The first theme, starting from 2 November, was Night Crawlers and featured Londoners who do their living in the nocturnal hours and includes escorts, cabaret artists and clubbers, as well as Trevor who puts up Christmas lights and Save Soho's Tim Arnold. Easy Riders looked at those who traverse the city (and their own) limitations using two wheels, be it wheelchairs, pedal power or those, like Vicious C*** Cycle rider Gemma, who prefer Harley Davidson horsepower. Fight Club looks at the tougher side of life, taking hits and giving them be it in boxing or wrestling.

This writer popped down the the Hotel Elephant to catch the Easy Riders film collection on a chilly Friday on November 20, and was duly impressed by the diversity of subjects the filmmakers had captured and the intriguing niches of London life they had burrowed their way into, from Critical Mass riders to the capital's idiosyncratic rickshaw riders. There is no discernible agenda or slant to things, no on-screen text or other voiceover other than the chatter of the subjects, and no two are alike. 

The filmmakers are also on hand at each event for Q&A's, with the Easy Rider post-screening talk becoming quite lively as it ranged over the backstories of the interviewees, how well they were practicing cycle safety, and exactly how safe it is to be on two wheels in London today. As to how long it will take 1000 Londoners to finish this project at the rate they are going, that was a question for another day.

There is still one last chance to catch the last program- Fight Club- tomorrow at Hotel Elephant. Details of the entire program is below.

The screenings are part of the BFI’s Britain on Film season and are supported by Film Hub London with Londonist as media partner. 

The entire programme runs as:

Night Crawlers

Night Crawlers shines a light on the stories of Londoners who come out at night, from club kids to security guards.

Hackney Picturehouse | Monday 2 November 7pm

The Exhibit, Balham | Tuesday 3 November 7pm

Deptford Cinema | Wednesday 4 November 7pm

Stow Film Lounge | Thursday 5 November 7pm

Hotel Elephant | Friday 6 November 7pm

 

Easy Riders

Easy Riders follows the tracks of London’s bikers. If it has two wheels, they are on it.

Hackney Picturehouse | Monday 16 November 7pm

The Exhibit, Balham | Tuesday, 17 November 7pm

Deptford Cinema | Wednesday 18 November 7pm

Stow Film Lounge | Thursday 19 November 7pm

Hotel Elephant | Friday 20 November 7pm

 

Fight Club

Fight Club smashes through into the world of boxing and wrestling. Grapple with the Londoners who fight for fun.

Hackney Picturehouse | Monday, 23 November 7pm

The Exhibit, Balham | Tuesday 24 November 7pm

Deptford Cinema | Wednesday, 25 November 7pm

Stow Film Lounge | Thursday, 26 November 7pm

Hotel Elephant | Friday, 27 November 7pm

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.

The Pope of Trash, John Waters, on his rarely-seen sleaze epic Multiple Maniacs

 Divine has a lobster intervention

Divine has a lobster intervention

Directed by John Waters
USA 1970 82 min 18

RATING: ★★★★☆

The BFI John Waters season continues into October, see here for details.


The filmmaker hailed (and slated) as the “Pope of Trash, the Prince of Puke or Baltimore’s favourite son”, the one and only John Waters, is currently being celebrated by the BFI with a season devoted to his films. But programmed alongside his more ‘“family friendly” fare such as Cry-Baby (which star Johnny Depp credits with launching his career) and the beloved rom-com musical Hairspray (incredibly, a PG-rated Waters film) , are some of the rawer, meaner and lesser-known films that Waters cobbled together with various crowds of freaks and underdogs - his favoured types of collaborators.

It is in this category that Multiple Maniacs falls. Completed in 1970, the film is not currently in distribution on home video, putting BFI audiences who caught the battered 35mm print of the film this month in a lucky position. The film has a ramshackle feel to it, this is real low-budget,“grab anyone you can and shoot on the run”, filmmaking. It also is a showcase for many of Waters’ collaborators - called “The Dreamlanders’”- with whom he made several low budget, made-to-offend, trash films. Chief amongst these partners in crime was the one and only Divine, the American actor, singer and drag queen who takes the central role in Multiple Maniacs and acts as a form of nitrous oxide injection into the entire film. Before this film Divine and Waters had collaborated on his taste-free satirical short The Diane Linkletter Story, incredibly made just a day after the US talk show host's daughter had killed herself by jumping from a window whilst allegedly high on LSD.

Divine is a misanthropic force of nature, totally unique, a foul-mouthed, swaggering dynamo of destruction. In Multiple Maniacs Divine is one Lady Divine, the mistress of the sleaziest show on Earth - “Lady Divine’s Cavalcade of Perversions” - a travelling freakshow currently set down in Baltimore, drawing in crowds of middle America conservative types who just cant resist peeking inside at the delights, which includes the act known as ‘the puke eater” . But the big top is also a front for Divine’s group of unruly criminals who beat up and rob the ticket payers, even killing them. But Lady Divine’s crazed ambitions and trigger-finger are growing too much for her beaten-down lover Mr David, who has been cavorting with his none-too-bright lover Bonnie, and plans to murder her. 

The film emerged from Waters already-established desire to make the most offensive films he could think of, whilst also reflecting his bafflement at the 1960s hippy free-love moment. Waters has said he felt like a fish out of water at the time, fantasising about the beginning of ‘the hate generation”. He wanted to make a film that would glorify carnage and mayhem for laughs. No sitting around in a muddy field and smoking grass whilst wearing hula necklaces for him. And so Multiple Maniacs instead incorporates not only the sleazy antics of Divine and a plot featuring murder, thievery and vomit, but even incorporates aspect of the real life Sharon Tate murders (unsolved at the time of shooting). This is John Water’s 1960s; in his own words; “We wanted to scare the world.”

Multiple Maniacs starts with freakshows, murder and robbery, and by the end has run the gamut from Lady Divine masturbating using a rosary while in church (known as a ‘rosary job’), killing her boyfriend and eating his heart ( in actuality a rotten cow’s heart left out on the set all day) and being raped by a giant lobster named Lobstora. Not surprisingly, the end result of all this dementedness is to drive Lady Divine to go on a killing spree in Fell's Point before being shot down by the National Guard, Godzilla style. The acting is as crude as the camera and sound work, but when the cast are spouting endless pages of filthily hilarious dialogue Waters had written for them, it fits perfectly. John Waters himself referred to all the resulting mayhem as a ‘celluloid atrocity’ which helped him flush Catholicism out of his system once and for all, and that is precisely why it is incredibly fun and totally unmissable. If you ever come across an opportunity to see it, take it.

John Waters on Multiple Maniacs (which he refers to as his “first sickie film”):

On the production of the film.

Well the Cavalcade of Perversion was shot on the front lawn of my parents house. What were they thinking to let us do that?  Lady Divine’s apartment in the film was my actual apartment; you can still see some of the posters on the wall in Pink Flamingoes 20 years later, I still had them hanging. 

The film was made at the heigh of the hippy love generation, and it was about us being the mass murderers! In the middle of making this movie, the Sharon Tate murders happened, and they hadn't caught Manson. We claimed that we did it! What was I thinking? This was a movie made to offend hippies and scare them. We were hippies too, sort of,  but the hippies wanted to be scared, that was the thing. This was a movie made to glorify violence-the one thing you could never do then.

On setting out to offend:

The movie has the most sacrilegious thing ever in a movie; a rosary job.I don't know if you’ve ever had one. Maybe you’ll want one after this!

It wasn't hard to do the Cavalcade, it was pretty normal stuff, you know, bra sniffing and such.  It was fun to do it, though the thing I always remember is we had a hamburger vendor there selling burgers for a dollar, and that was supposed to be so expensive! In the film the Calvacade is being shown to what we called “straight people”, what “straight” meant back then was not “gay” but it meant you didn't take drugs. I look back on it and I just think, “ah, youth”.

On the ‘crustacean intervention’ at the end of the film:

That came from Provincetown, there was always this beach postcard where there was this lobster flying in the sky; everyone back then ate lobster dinners. We took a lot of acid back then, so there I was imagining this lobster coming down and raping tourists. Vincent Perrenio, who went on to do the production design of all my films, this was the first thing he ever did for me. You can see his legs sticking out of his lobster outfit, he and his brother under there, having sex with Divine!

The BFI John Waters season continues into October.


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 Badlands Collective's Scalarama Cannon Cinema season - Barfly and 52-Pickup

draftbarflyposter-540x403.jpg

Scalarama, the UK-wide celebration of repertory cinema, is in full swing this month. Doing their part to bring rarely-seen, challenging, and sometimes just downright weird cinema to the masses are the Badlands Collective.  Their manifesto is simple: "We’re a group of film curators in London dedicated to putting on great events." Their contribution to Scalarama lives up to that promise, as for the month of September, the Collective will be running several double bill specials honouring that paragon of cinematic 'quality' - The Cannon Group.

Yes that's right, the very same studio set up by Menhem Golan and Yoarm Globus in Israel in 1979 that tried to barge its way into Hollywood by way of Chuck Norris's fists and Michael Dudikoff's ninja skills. The breeding ground for such politically correct, thought-provoking classics as Invasion USA and Missing in Action. Cannon's films are beloved now for how they provide regular infusions of nostalgia and guilty pleasure vibes to those of a certain generation. But the Badlands crew are taking a different approach here with their programming. Instead of digging up the sleaze, the schlock and the hustlers, their focus is on celebrating the adventurousness, invention and independence. Yes, it turns out Cannon coughed up a few gems amidst all the garbage.

At a time when safe superhero movies dominate the box office, the Badlands guys clearly feel it is illuminating to look back at how Cannon, so often a shorthand for crassness, actually produced some films that, even if perhaps not worthy of the term 'classic' , as least showcase something of a reckless spirit of experimentation and risk taking in the exploitation and genre field. Thus, in glorious 35mm, the Collective have lined up Barfly, 52-Pickup, Runaway Train, Shy People, Superman IV and Street Smart. None of these quite fit into the image that usually springs up when you see that unmistakable C logo, but they showcase the weirdly poloarzied nature of the Cannon head honchos - chasing the mega bucks while courting the occasional person of real talent from time to time. Follow the links to see more about the films.

This writer could not resist the call to see a different side of Cannon, and caught the Barfly/52-Pick-up double at the Prince Charles Cinema. It is worth pointing out that each screening is not only introduced by the programmers so as to give you some background, but you get a neat takeaway brochure giving you concise history of Cannon and details of each film in the season.

Barfly:

Director: Barbet Schroeder, 1987

Both Barfly and 52 Pick-Up were partnerships with major hard-boiled fiction authors. In Barfly, Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway  star in what is an autobiographical Charles Bukowski tale. Being about Bukowski, that means lots of boozing and brawling in the gutter. Rourke plays Henry Chinaski (Mickey Rourke), a destitute but seemingly quite happy alcoholic who lives in a rundown apartment and works menial jobs when he can find them.

Despite looking like utter crap and having a bizarre way of speaking that rivals even Tom Hardy at his best, Rourke's character is strangely serene about his life. He is a drunk, and likes it just fine. He has no ambitions for money or status, even handing dollar bills back when he feels he doesn't deserve or need them. When he meets fellow drinker and danger-seeker Wanda (Dunaway), the two outsiders hit it off, and much drinking, fighting and aimless talking ensues. The film ambles along on its own offbeat direction in a way that is quite admirable, and it sports a nice grittily luminous pallour for its saloon settings thanks to the Kino Flo lighting from DP Robby Muller. A film that doesn't ask its losers to apologise or fit in.

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52 Pick-Up

Director: John Frankenheimer, 1986

52 Pick-Up is a seedy potboiler thriller from the mind of writer Elmore Leonard (Jackie Brown), paired up with director John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate). Add to this Roy Scheider and Ann-Margret and, lo, you have a quality Cannon thriller. Scheider plays a wealthy businessman drawn into the seedy world of bribery and vice when he is blackmailed by a group of colourful thugs, who have caught him in flagrante with a young model half his age. Things get dark and nasty pretty quickly. Noir and action sleaze collide to great effect, so well in fact that Leonard was known to praise it as the favourite of his adapted works for film.

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For details of the other Cannon screenings that the Badlands Collective are running, see their website for details.


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.

The BFI's Martin Scorsese presents The Masterpieces of Polish Cinema Season: A Short Film about Killing


Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski: 

18  |  84 min  |  Crime, Drama  |  26 October 1988 (France)

Playing as part of: Martin Scorsese presents Masterpieces of Polish Cinema

RATING: ★★★★☆


Curated by none other than Martin Scorsese himself, the BFI’s Polish cinema season showcases a diverse range of films that emerged after that country’s painful period of reconstruction post-WWII and the abolition of the policy of Socialist Realism which limited the creativity its directors could showcase. In response, the pent up energy was released from the late 50s onwards, in a  flurry of films exploring military history, the communist system, and crime and punishment. Every film in this two-part season has been upgraded to a pristine digital restorations, and each is regarded as a classic in their home country.

Playing as part of the two-part season, A Short Film About Killing (Krótki film o zabijaniu) directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski and released in 1981, is a visually striking and quietly harrowing study of illegal and legal killing that contributed to a national debate that ultimately ended capital punishment in Poland, thus making it somewhat similar to other low-key but polemical ‘social issue’ films like Ken Loach’s Cathy Come Home. Over its short 80 minute run time, the film charts in unfussy but determined fashion, how three different sets of people interconnect during the seemingly senseless, casual murder of a Warsaw cab driver one afternoon in the city. 

It is the itinerant, misanthropic loner Jacek who throttles a cab driver to death, a crime that is only offered context later when liberal-minded barrister Piotr hears his tale of a miserable, broken family background. Along with these two figures, we spend a lot of screen time watching the cab driver going about his daily routine before his fateful encounter, the prison executioner who is seen fussing over his death room curtains, and with a pretty local market stall girl who Jacek is revealed to be infatuated with. Death and violence exists alongside the mundanity of the daily grind here, a fact emphasised by cinematographer Sławomir Idziak’s use of bilious coloured filters which makes 1980s Warsaw looks like someone threw a bucket of urine over the lens. A Short Film About Killing is not an easy watch, but it serves as great introduction to Polish modern cinema.


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.

The Shadowmaster: classic noir Cry of the City leads the BFI’s Robert Siodmak celebration


"Robert Siodmak: Prince of Shadows" runs throughout April and May at BFI Southbank, see here for details.

FILM RATING: ★★★★☆


Robert Siodmak (1900-73), who is being given the retrospective treatment this month by the BFI, was one of the many European filmmakers who eventually found themselves in Hollywood, a part of the great migration of artistic talent that took place around the time of the Second World War. Siodmak was  a native of Germany, born in Dresden in 1900. He made his film debut with People on Sunday, a landmark in cinematic realism. Fleeing from the Nazis, he worked in France, then ended up in Hollywood; where he eventually made a name for himself as a major exponent of film noir, alongside that other great German ex-pat filmmaker, Fritz Lang.

Siodmak became celebrated for his use of expressionistic ,“noirish” techniques such as strong lighting to reflect the danger and distress of his characters. But Siodmak’s films also betray a droll, resigned tone as they trace the largely tragic street-level struggles of cops and criminals in a morally murky and dangerous America. The Killers and Criss Cross are great examples of this, but it is another of Siodmak’s great noirs, his 1948 thriller Cry of the City, that forms the centrepiece of the BFI’s celebration.

Though it may not have some of the more exaggerated visual stylings of other noir films, or a plot as famously twisted as The Big Sleep, Siodmak’s crime thriller is built on the tried-and-trusted plot conceit that the cop and criminal at the centre of the plot know each other from back in the day. It also grounds its urban cat-and-mouse game against an evocative backdrop of a tough, working class immigrant-populated neighbourhood in 1940s New York City.

It is in this patch of New York’s Little Italy that slick hoodlum Martin Rome (Richard Conte) and veteran cop Lieutenant Candella (Victor Mature) knew one another as kids, both being watched over by the fussy matriarch Mama Roma in one of New York’s many grimy, crowded tenement blocks. It is the relationship between Rome and Candella that gives Siodmak’s thriller much of its power and complexity. The film opens with Rome seriously wounded in hospital and being overseen by a priest (one of the many religious motifs in the film), with Candela waiting in the wings to grill him. This has been a long-running chase.

Candela projects a world-weary, quiet authority, whereas Rome is all rough-diamond charm under the pressure of interrogation. But actors Mature and Conte, working to an adapted script from Richard Murphy and Ben Hecht (adapting the novel A Chair for Martin Rome), add shades of grey to what should be a relationship clearly divided by the law. There is a palpable sense that Candella pursues his old childhood friend more out of sorrow than a burning desire for justice, even if the film goes on to clearly position him on the side of the angels as he seeks to lure Martin’s impressionable younger brother Tony away from the streets. Rome on the other hand, always quick with a quip, acts like they are still playing wild like the street kids they once were.

Inevitably, Rome escapes the hospital and sets out to reclaim both his girl Teena, and a stash of escape money in the form of a jewel heist he has got wind of. Siodmak populates the well-realised New York streets around the fleeing hoodlum with a deliciously entertaining rogues gallery of shady types. Lawyer Niles is Rome’s first target, as the slimy underworld legal eagle has already tried to blackmail Rome into taking the fall for the jewel robbery by threatening to frame Teena for the raid. His grisly fate at the end of Rome’s switchblade serves as a sharp reminder that the veteran felon, already wanted for the earlier shooting of a cop, can be as a ruthless as he is alluring when his back is against the wall. He almost meets his match though in the form of the memorably sadistic masseuse Rose Givens, who could give Kathy Bates’s character from Misery a run for her money. 

Alongside from the snappy chemistry between the noble Mature and street-smart Conte, which foreshadows other great cop/criminal dynamics like that of DeNiro and Pacino in Heat, a mix of on-location footage and in camera effects give the gritty and low-key proceedings a pleasingly steely realism, especially during the night sequences. A great jumping on point for those still unfamiliar with the work of Siodmak; the “Prince of Shadows”.


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.