Grey Gardens and a film school education at the Lexi Cinema

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

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

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

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

Comment

Owen Van Spall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comment

Owen Van Spall

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

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

Director: Todd Strauss-Schulson

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

Playing Film4 Somerset House open air cinema season

RATING: ★★★☆☆

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Comment

Owen Van Spall

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

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

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

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

Film4 Summer Screen at Somerset House

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

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

Rooftop Film Club:

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

The Nomad Cinema:

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

Cult Screens:

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

Pop-Up Screens:

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

The Luna Cinema:

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

 

Comment

Owen Van Spall

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

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

UK-USA 1995

Directed by Richard Loncraine

103 min Digital 15

Playing in the BFI’s Shakespeare on Film Season.

RATING: ★★★★★

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

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

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

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

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

On the translation of Shakespeare from stage to screen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the character of Richard III

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

On the use of modern sets and clothing:

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

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

 

Comment

Owen Van Spall

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

Sir Ian McKellan spearheads the newly-launched BFI Shakespeare on Film project

Who better to launch the BFI's nationwide celebration of the Bard - The BFI Presents Shakespeare on Film -  than the actor who has played, on stage and screen, some of his most memorable characters, including Richard III and Macbeth? Today, Ian McKellen was at BFI Southbank, in his role as the chief spokesperson for the project, to discuss both the upcoming events that will pay homage to Shakespeare's works, and his own experience making Richard III (1995) and how cinema has transformed and re-imagined Shakespeare's work before and since. McKellen himself will be far more deeply involved in the project than simply making introductions, with plans for him to appear live on stage to present a re-mastered Richard III for UK wide simulcast, as well as hosting London bus tours of Richard III’s iconic locations and opening the Shanghai Film Festival with Shakespeare on Film.

BFI Head Curator Robin Baker was also on hand to introduce this exploration of Shakespeare on film, billed as the biggest ever and which will range from the silent era to present day, marking 400 years since he died. Despite a huge number of events being planned for the UK, the entire programme has an international focus with many films going on tour around the world.

Ian McKellen said “400 years on, Shakespeare’s plays continue to dominate stages worldwide, mostly of course in translation, challenging actors, directors, designers and audiences. 

The BFI’s “Shakespeare on Film” is more than just timely, it is a glimpse of the matchless collection of brilliant endeavour from world-beating Shakespeare experts like Laurence Olivier, Peter Brook and Kenneth Branagh whose films have popularised Shakespeare over the years. Their theatre-roots are evident. They have respect for the text and cut lines with regret.

Other directors have successfully translated the stage plays for the screen, aiming, perhaps to make great cinema than great Shakespeare. Here, I relish Baz Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet; Julie Taymor’s Titus Andronicus; Orson Welles' Chimes at Midnight, Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood and Ran. And there are more.   

I will not be the only one to be grateful to the BFI for their initiative in this anniversary year.”

 Richard III

Richard III

Some of the highlights of the upcoming programme include:

  • Venues and outlets include BFI Southbank (April-May) and UK-wide, newly digitised content on BFI Player, new DVD/Blu-ray releases and film education activity.
  • Ian McKellen will present a re-mastered Richard III for UK wide simulcast, as well as hosting London bus tours of Richard III’s iconic shooting locations. The film will be simulcast, in partnership with Park Circus, across UK cinemas on 28 April with a special post-film on-stage discussion between Ian McKellen and director Richard Loncraine live from BFI Southbank. It will also be screened extensively at the BFI, and re-released in a special edition DD/Bluray with new material.
  • There will be new 4K restorations of Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet and Akira Kurosawa’s Ran.
  • Screenings of the 'landmark films',  including those by Laurence Olivier, Orson Welles, Roman Polanski and Kenneth Branagh.
  • Play On! Shakespeare in Silent Cinema - compilation of silent era filmed performances- premieres at BFI Southbank with new live score by the Musicians of Shakespeare’s Globe.
  • Screenings of film's influenced by Shakespeare or which allow routes into his work, including Disney's The Lion King and Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho.
  • From 1 April until 12 June an exhibition in the Mezzanine Gallery at BFI Southbank will showcase items from multi-award-winning Hamlet (1948) directed by and starring Laurence Olivier. 

Read more here on the BFI website.

 Ran

Ran



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 Genesis Cinema says goodbye to David Bowie with "The Man Who Fell to Earth"

 Bowie as an alien vistor lost in America in The Man Who Fell To Earth

Bowie as an alien vistor lost in America in The Man Who Fell To Earth

It was no surprise to see, amidst the outpouring of sympathy and praise following the recent death of David Bowie, that several London cinemas intended to honour the legendary artist by arranging screenings of his film work. Bowie never committed to film in the same way he did music, and his impact on the latter was undeniably more memorable. He will never be regarded as a 'great actor' and the argument that the roles he took simply involved him transmitting his preternatural charisma to the screen will never go away. But he did, over the course of his long career in the arts, turn in some interesting, provocative, and undeniably (certainly in the case of the Jim Henson 1986 puppet film Labyrinth) crowd-pleasing performances.

This weekend though it was to one of his more unconventional turns in front of the camera that the East London-based Genesis Cinema turned, in order to pay tribute to Bowie. In aid of Cancer Research UK, the Genesis screened a sold-out show of the 1976 Nicholas Roeg sci-fi drama The Man Who Fell To Earth, alongside live music and DJ's spinning Bowie's greatest hits late into the night.

 Screen 1 in the Genesis Cinema on Bowie tribute night

Screen 1 in the Genesis Cinema on Bowie tribute night

The film, which stars Bowie as the extremely pale, and extremely thin 'Thomas Jerome Newton', an alien visitor to our planet disguised as a billionaire tech inventor, is perhaps the best example of the unearthly qualities Bowie could bring to the screen. The BBC's Alan Yentob was actually responsible for getting the singer this proper first feature-film role, after director Nicolas Roeg watched the 1974 documentary Cracked Actor. In that documentary, Bowie is captured at perhaps his most exotic; rake-thin and with a shock of bleached orange hair. Notoriously, his drug use had become epic by that point, further enhancing his air of odd detachment, as well as that extremely gaunt appearance. Roeg was fascinated by the possibilities of using Bowie as the POV character in a film about an alien lost in modern Earth.

 Tributes to Bowie in the Genesis Cinema lobby

Tributes to Bowie in the Genesis Cinema lobby

As stranded alien Thomas Jerome Newton, seeking to transport water back to his parched planet, Bowie apparently required little physical transformation, even though its not clear how much directing he actually took or 'acting' he actually was able to do given his diet of cocaine at the time. But the film is striking in other ways too, particularly how the script, cinematography and sound mix make the world around Bowie, particularly 1970s New Mexico, ironically more strange than the extraterrestrial main character. Skewed camera angles, a character roster full of American eccentrics, endless rows of TVs (Newton becomes a TV junkie, as well an alchoholic) and a soundtrack laced with electronic quirks, all make this new America of cheap booze and cable TV appear like another planet itself.  Despite being far superior to us in terms of intelligence, Newton's quest ultimately grinds to a halt because our own planet freaks him out so much, to the point where he is reduced to yelling "get out of my mind' as he lies before a bank of TVs in his suite, unable to resist the allure of a device which fascinates him even if, as he muses, "it never tells you anything".

The Genesis were fortunate to be able to screen this strange but captivating film, given reports surfaced soon after Bowie's death that the UK distributors were not likely to allow screenings due to a desire to re-release the film in the near-future. Until that day, those wanting to see what happened when Bowie collided with the dystopian sci-fi sub-genre, are advised to look around retailers like Amazon, where previous bluray releases and VOD options can be found.

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.

Mike Oldfield and Tony Palmer’s restored The Space Movie at The Barbican: a charmingly leftfield look at the space race.

Originally released in 1978 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Moon landings (and as the director has admitted, to help keep the US congress hungry to fund NASA) and constructed from mountains of unused NASA and other archival footage covering the American space and Moon missions of the 1960s, Tony Palmer’s The Space Race (recently screened from a restored print at the Barbican) differs from more serious minded nuts-and-bolts space documentaries in that it showcases a somewhat irreverent, offbeat approach. This is expressed through the mix of footage that illuminates not just the awesome achievement of sending people into space, but the absurdity and humour inherent in the endeavour. It also features a score from Mike Oldfield that is sweeping and off-centre in equal parts.

What actually opens the documentary is not footage of the Saturn V rockets lifting off majestically on their mission to take Neil Armstrong to his famous rendezvous with history on the lunar surface (though the slow-motion footage of the Apollo 11 launch remains breathtaking to see), but instead a montage of various failed American rocket tests, virtually all of which end in a spectacular fireball, with some of the rockets doing a complete 180 after lift off. Intercut with these epic fails are archive sequences showing jaw-droppingly ineffective flying machines from the pre-Wright Brothers era. It is an unusual and funny way to start off what you expect to be a portentous documentary, but it also makes a fair point: heading up into the air, let alone space, was and is very dangerous. The Apollo missions were not sure things, involving as they did three astronauts sitting atop what was essentially a giant, hydrogen-filled bomb.

The melange of archive footage takes viewers from the beginnings of the US’s tentative probes  into orbit with John Glenn, the first astronaut to orbit the earth in February 1962, right up to Apollo 17 in December 1972. The internal camera footage of the Eagle lander cockpit as it races towards the Moon’s surface, as a strangely calm Armstrong counts down the distance, still has the power to thrill. But even an Astronaut needs to goof off once in a while, as Palmer throws in some sequences where the suited-up and moonwalking Apollo crew bounce around on the lunar surface humming little ditties to themselves. Overall, this newly restored and complete edition of this space documentary works as a nicely different companion piece to the more stately For All Mankind.

The Space Movie: US, 1980, Dir Tony Palmer, 78 min


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.

“What you don’t see is a dramatic recreation of his Wikipedia page”: Michael Fassbender and writer Aaron Sorkin on "Steve Jobs".

 Michael Fassbender as tech iconoclast Steve Jobs. Source : Universal

Michael Fassbender as tech iconoclast Steve Jobs. Source : Universal

We all carry Apple co-founder and tech design visionary Steve Job’s legacy around with us every day, in the form of the iMacs, iPhones and iPads that sit in our pockets and briefcases, and on top of our desktops. Apart from revolutionising the way we communicate with each other, Jobs arguably embedded the Apple company and its products into the very structure of our language, his devices becoming a key part of the recognisable iconography of our modern culture. Parents regularly joke now that their infants take to iPads easier than crayons and paper.

After a series of twists and turns, failed product launches and a period where he was even booted out of Apple by the board, Jobs eventually took the throne as the company’s CEO and rode the success of the 1998 iMac home computer launch to a point where Apple bestrode the tech world and its stock became worth more than the GDP of many nations. But few people could get to that position without snagging some controversy along the way, something director Danny Boyle’s new film Steve Jobs, scripted by The Social Network and Moneyball writer Aaron Sorkin, fully engages with.

Working from Walter Isaacson’s best-selling biography of the man, Sorkin’s script takes an interesting, non-traditional approach to depicting the tech iconoclast. Instead of a giving us a cradle-to-the-grave story, the film’s narrative structure is built around three seminal product launches overseen by Jobs – the Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT Cube in 1988, and the iMac in 1998. Each becomes a focal point for the many trials and tribulations surrounding Jobs at the time.

Danny Boyle, Aaron Sorkin, stars Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet, and the rest of the main cast talked about the making of the film, and their thoughts on the legacy of Steve Jobs, at a press conference in London to promote the picture closing the 2015 BFI London Film Festival. You can read the full Smoke Screen review of the film here. Steve Jobs is released in the UK on 13 November.

 Director Danny Boyle, write Aaron Sorkin, and stars Michael Stuhlbarg, Katherine Waterston, Michael Fassbender, Jeff Daniels and Kate Winslet at the Steve Jobs BFI LFF 2015 press conference. Copyright: Owen Van Spall, Smoke Screen.

Director Danny Boyle, write Aaron Sorkin, and stars Michael Stuhlbarg, Katherine Waterston, Michael Fassbender, Jeff Daniels and Kate Winslet at the Steve Jobs BFI LFF 2015 press conference. Copyright: Owen Van Spall, Smoke Screen.

On the objection of some members of the Jobs family to the film:

Michael Fassbender: To be honest, it did make me hesitate, the idea of playing somebody who really did live in the same world as we do and who recently passed away, who had close ones who would be worried how their late husband or father would be portrayed. It weighed on my conscience. But I spoke to my own father and close friends, and they said: “It is like journalism; you have a responsibility to tell stories. That is your job, so long as you approach it with the utmost respect.” Which I did. And as I’ve said previously in answer to questions, I have the utmost respect for Steve Jobs, and I had no intention of setting out to portray someone without that respect going into it. Hopefully when they [Steve Jobs’s family] see it, if they see it, they wont feel hurt by it. It certainly wasn't my intention.

Aaron Sorkin: Can I just say that, and this has been widely reported; while Laurene Powell Jobs certainly did from the get-go object to the film being made, Lisa Jobs did not; and she is the one portrayed in the movie.

On working with a ‘Sorkinese” script:

Danny Boyle: It was an amazing experience for all of us, I think, picking up that script. It was like 185 pages of dialogue, whereas your regular script would be 110 plus stage directions. There was no real hint as to how to do it, just a few notes like “interior: day” and such. But we wanted to make it a rich experience for the audience in two ways really. One was the acting, and the other was making it an immersive experience. I do love theatre, but I have to say I love cinema more; it has that weird, illogical thing where you can get lost in it. I did go to see Hamlet with Benedict Cumberbatch the other night, I loved it, but with a play…you’re just not quite immersed in it in the way you would be in a film.

Michael Fassbender: I just felt really lucky that it landed on my lap. It’s a one off when you get scripts like this. I remember thinking: “there goes my break”; which I had planned over that time. I just thought to myself “this is extraordinary writing, the best script that I’ve ever read”. Most scenes today comprise just ten sentences or something. Here, all of the electricity in this film is dialogue driven. So it’s rare,rare opportunity.

Kate Winslet: When I first read the first few pages my reaction was “Wow, these people talk for a long time!” Page 55: “yup, they're still talking! How the fuck are we going to get through this one?” But to be honest my immediately reaction was, aside from how incredible it was to read, and how solid each character was - and as Jeff [Daniels] has said, Aaron writes the way that these people think, and I don’t think I had come across that before to that extent - was the thought I was going to play Michael Fassbender’s friend! And hold his hand! Of course he didn't need any of those things! 

Much has been made about the length of the script and such but, you know, you are an actor. You learn your fucking lines! You just get on with it. The pressure really comes trying not to forget your lines; the whole thing unravels and turns to dog shit! That was the pressure; and it is not just the actors you are walking and talking with. You’ve got the steadicam guy; who was just unbelievable holding that camera for 20-30 minute take sometimes. You’ve got the boom operators running after you with wires and such. There is so much concentration going on that it really falls horribly on the actors if they forget something. 

On recreating an uncompromising real-life individual and his time:

Danny Boyle: I have to say, Michael is an uncompromising actor, and I think on some level I connected that to what we knew about Steve Jobs. I knew Michael would not be in search of some hatchet job or some deification, but the truth, in the way Jobs pursued perfection in his work. To watch Michael pursue perfection in his work, yes that was uncompromising. I think it lifted the level for all the actors and crew. When you get someone on set like that, who is willing to pursue something, everyone becomes like: “lets do it!” Michael even suggested we shoot the rehearsals. I’d never done that before! It’s an amazing thing; often it’s the best take. I’ll be doing that from now on.

Michael Fassbender: The script as I’ve said was exceptional, and there was lot of it! And I think Danny, coming from a theatre background, set it up so that it would be about the actors. He was just so generous and patient with me, many times! He set up an environment for us where we could do our best in the most supportive surroundings. For example; we got rehearsals. We had two weeks of rehearsals before we started the first act, we filmed the first act in two weeks, then we had two weeks to prep for the second. That is unheard of, accountants usually go apeshit. But Danny, coming from a theatre background, realised the importance of that, that we would be well-rehearsed, we would have worked out our mistakes in the rehearsal phase, and got to feel it out with one another. On the day, we could shoot fast and effectively. 

We also shot it in San Francisco. Which is not cheap! There were other options. But Danny insisted it was important we set it here, where this whole thing was born. And I think that really helped. The feeling that we were doing it in the home of not only Steve Jobs, but of the new wave which we all live in now.

Kate Winslet: To me the word uncompromising is the opposite of collaboration. For me, what I felt was a fundamental sense of collaboration, and that came from Danny. Danny insisted on rehearsals, and also put all of us in the room for read throughs from day one. For the majority of the time we were all in that space. Michael and I would be thrashing a scene around, and sometimes we would run out of ideas, but we could turn to the room and ask how it played. It neutralised the entire environment and made everybody equal. With a small company of actors like that - which we were - it pulled all of us together. No hierarchy and no fuss. That tone was set by Danny and Michael. Michael didn't have any “stuff” around him. 

The appeal and legacy of Steve Jobs:

Danny Boyle: I think the reason why we all made this film is that, well, this guy has changed our lives in an extraordinary way. Both in an obvious way; communication, but in so many other ways as well. The implications are huge and significant, even if we don't discuss them in the film. To see where it emerged from and to see who that person was, or a version of who that person was, was to me and all of us essential. 

We were very lucky, in how we were able to illustrate it, we shot the first act on 16mm; it being the earliest act, and as Jobs felt like a guy fighting all these impossible forces stopping him getting to his vision, It felt like a rough and home-made version, as if they'd done everything in a garage themselves. Then we moved to 35mm for the second act, very much a storytelling act about beautiful illusion. Then we moved to digital. The 3rd act is set in 1998, but the Alexa camera we used wasn't generally used then in cinema. Jobs had already got there of course, as Pixar had released Toy Story in 1996. I remember going to see it at Odeon Leicester Square with my kids, and thinking; “the world has changed.”  Like you had been reborn. It was great to pay him that respect, really. 

On how truthful a portrait this is:

Michael Fassbender: The only thing I knew about the man was from his job, and through the prism of the media, and what other people were saying. I just really respected what was in the script; I know we were doing a dramatisation and not a biopic. All my information was in the script. I knew nothing about man really before we started. We know him as the guy in the turtleneck, but I find it curious how he kind of started wearing a uniform at a certain point in his life. I wonder if he was aware how that would venture into mythological status later on. Was that a conscious decision, or one less decision for him to make in the morning? 

I just tried to take my own feeling from what was in the script, then I just watched whatever was available on Youtube, from interviews, to seminars and speeches. So I can’t really say. I just filled in my own blanks, but I they could be totally off. You hear so many good and bad stories about him, it seems to me there was a balance there. 

Aaron Sorkin: The question I think you are asking is, would someone who came to this movie walk away with a fair sense of who Steve Jobs was? I don't know what a fair sense of anybody is really. I agree with Michael; if you asked a thousand people who knew Jobs what their impressions of him were, I think you'd get a thousand different answers. What you don’t see in this movie is a dramatic recreation of his Wikipedia page. What you see is something that is a dramatisation of several of the personal issues that he had in his life, and they illustrate something, they give you a picture. Are they fair? I do believe they are. My conscience is clear.

Generally speaking, Steve Jobs did not, as far as I know, have confrontations with the same six people 40 minutes before every product launch! That plainly is a writers conceit. But I do think that the movie gets at some larger truths, some more important truths than what really went on during the 40 minutes before product launches, which I don’t think was the stuff of drama.

Steve Jobs is released in the UK on 13 November.

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.

Deeds not words! Carey Mulligan, Meryl Streep and Sarah Gavron on Suffragette

It has been a while since this writer can remember attending a film press conference where all of the panel guests were women. But with women's movement drama Suffragette, which opened this year's London Film Festival, women were not just foregrounded in the casting, but were built into the DNA of the production from the ground up. The director, screenwriter, and most of the producers were all women. The film explores the journey of young London factory worker Maud Watts, a working class wife and mother, who grows more and more passionately committed to the burgeoning Suffragette movement in the early 1900s, in response to the terrible working conditions and oppression she encounters at all levels of her existence.

At a press conference to announce the launch of the film at the start of the festival, director Sarah Gavron, writer Abi Morgan and cast members Carey Mulligan and Meryl Streep discussed how the film was designed to highlight the status of women today, the challenges of getting a film made in which the main roles were all given to women who were not designed to be either funny or romantic, and who they felt were the Suffragettes of today.

How much resistance was there in terms of getting the film off the ground?

Abi Morgan: Sarah and I have been on this project for about six years, but it has been truly Sarah’s passion project for the last decade. That should give you some idea. FIlm’s take time, but I think putting over a film fronted not just by one woman but by an ensemble of women- and they are not being funny and it’s not romantic - is hard. I think that became a huge obstacle. But we had an incredible group of producers out in the front Fay Ward, Alison Owen and “our man” Cameron McCracken, and I think of all of them as feminists. So it really took both men and women to bring this to the screen. 

Sarah Gavron: It was a tough proposition but we wanted to stick to our guns. We did have champions; those producers who are sitting in the front row. There were others too: Tessa Russell at Film4 back in the early days, the people at Focus,  Cameron McCracken at Pathe who makes political and existing films, often directed by women. We were lucky to have those people around us.

On the lack of widespread knowledge about the Suffragette’s movement today:

Sarah Gavron: When we were talking to the academics who advised us on the film, they told us there weren't  surprised, it took age to get women’s history taken seriously in the academies, it took a long time to get it onto the school curriculum . I personally wasn't taught anything about it, I remember just a few lines at the bottom of a page in a history book. And I think it’s partly a symptom of inequality.

Meryl Streep: There are so many stories that haven’t been told; that’s an important part of this film. There is no such thing as “women’s history”; there’s just “history” which women have been shut out of. There are some brave souls who have done some ‘spelunking’ to try to find out about it; like Amanda Foreman who has a series on the BBC called “The Ascent of Woman”. We can’t get it in the United States: but I think there’s interest. It is a question of rousing that interest. For me, I knew a great deal about the Suffragette movement in the United States but I didn't know about it here. And I also didn't know the condition of women here in 1913. I didn't know that the marriage age was twelve for example; shocking. I didn't know that once a woman was married she had no further claim to her name, any property she brought to the marriage, her children; she had no say in how they were raised or educated or even if they were sold off to be married. But to me that’s recent history; my grandmother was alive then and had a couple of children; and was not deemed capable of voting. It feels recent to me, and I’m passionate about it. Its means something to me.

But what I think is the great achievement of this film is that it is not about the women of a certain class like Emmeline Pankhurst; its about a working girl. I think that is part of why we can enter the film so easily and empathetically, as Carey plays this young mother who looks like us, but who’s circumstances are out of her hands completely.

On the film’s connections to the status of modern women:

Carey Mulligan: For me, what I loved about this film is the it didn't feel like a documentary of the time, it felt more like a film about today. I always felt its resonance with where we are; a film to mark the achievements of these women and what they gave us, and to highlight where we are in the world. Of course we still live in a society, in a world, that is sexist, that goes throughout our history. I think for me it was great moment to re-understand what women went through to get the vote and for me to be empowered. Of course in the UK here we are largely very privileged, but the film does relate and talk to the situation in the rest of the world for women, in terms of their vote, not just living standards and wages and the way they are treated. We always felt that bringing the film back around to today and looking at where we are now was the most important thing about the film. Give people the history, but also open their eyes. It has really done that for me.

Meryl Streep: I agree. To make a film like this, it will circulate the globe. It will encourage people who have very little hope; people who’s lives look very much like those of the women in 1913 in London. 

As for the appearance of sexism today: the lack of inclusion of women in decision making bodies in every single enterprise in the world. For example, the decisions being made about refugees; why are the bodies making decisions about them not half women? Two places you cant vote in the world: Saudi Arabia, and The Vatican. If men can’t look around the board of directors in a company and not think something is wrong that half are not women, then we aren't going to make any progress. 

How did the cast work together?

Sarah Gavron: Well none of the cast had worked together before, but when we got together to rehearse -  we had three weeks of sitting in a room with Abi to discuss it plus months of prep before that - they all immediately formed this bond and became great friends. We actually had problems stopping them laughing and getting back to work! I had nothing to do with it. An unusual sense of camaraderie, and I wonder whether it was not just because we were telling this story that everyone felt passionate about, but also because there was this unusual balance; we had lots of men and women in key positions. That was exciting; to see lots of women on screen together. 

Abi Morgan: It’s quite rare to get this length of rehearsal period, but this means you can make things more bespoke for the actors and also start to listen to them; they are the keepers of the character. One of the things that is very interesting to me is that the great quote we use in the film was no act of genius on my part, it was Carey Mulligan who found it. I think that is when great work happens, when you truly start to collaborate and the actors discover stuff and bring it into the film. It is a beautiful end to the film, that quote, and I struggled to find that. It was down to the actors who understood the themes of the film and had journeyed through it.

Who are the Emmeline Pankhurst’s of today?:

Carey Mulligan: Malala Yousef (nods of agreement from all panel guests)


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.

Shorts on Tap: showcasing women filmmakers at the new Deptford Cinema

2015 marked the year Lewisham finally stopped being the only London borough without a cinema, as the community-funded and built Deptford Cinema finally opened its doors, having taken over an old shop on Deptford Broadway. The cinema has got right down to business with a raft of special screenings and seasons planned, including the fantastic "Cinemania New Worlds" season, but the Smoke Screen's first visit to the new venue coincided with an intriguing and diverse programme of short films by female filmmakers playing as part of the Shorts on Tap season.

The cinema itself is small, and the staff and volunteers are still putting the various bits together (there will be wallpaper and carpeting, maybe one day) but the projector and sound system were more than fine for the packed crowd that jammed into the basement screening room - the screening was oversubscribed, which is probably a good thing if you are new cinema looking to attract attention. Its a charming, and hopefully permanent addition, to a part of London that has been gathering increasing attention in recent years for its cultural richness.

Shorts on Tap aims to showcase short films, from both up-and-coming and well­ established film­ makers, at venues all over London. The screening at Deptford Cinema was part of Shorts on Tap's ongoing "Women in Revolt" roving short films event season, funded by Film London's Boost Award and arranged in collaboration with Club Des Femmes: a positive female space for the re-examination of ideas through art. Women in Revolt is three screening events across London aiming to specifically focus on female film-making, showcasing works that depict, describe and challenge the very essence of being a woman, and investigate sex, sexuality and the body. 

The shorts playing at Deptford Cinema were linked under the banner of "Crossing Boundaries", and there was not a weak entry amongst the films, all of which explored female encounters with personal challenges, and physical and conceptual barriers. The Archangel shooting locations for  Maria Loyter's sexual awakening tale Ice Floe made for a hauntingly beautiful and striking backdrop, whilst the illuminating Taklif from Maryam Tafakory abstractly, yet powerfully, related the innocent perspective of a young Iranian girl as she is prepared for a womanhood ceremony at what many would consider a startlingly early age. If there was a highlight though, it had to be Stephanie Zari's blackly funny, disturbing, yet also very touching Marigolds, that morphed from a twee domestic comedy about a mother fussing over her  son and his new girlfriend into something that hinted at a much deeper and more troubling relationship between mother and child.

The next Women in Revolt screening is at Hotel Elephant on April 20 at 8pm.


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.

Herzog for the perplexed: the wild card German director in conversation


Now 72, with more than 60 feature and documentary films behind him, legendary wild card director Werner Herzog shows no sign of slowing down: in recent years he completed the acclaimed documentaries Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Into the Abyss, directed a frenzied Nicholas Cage to perfection in Bad Lieutenant, and has a new film due to premiere this year - Queen of the Desert - at Berlinale.

 As befits a man with such a fascinating filmography, Herzog has quite a few stories to tell, so much so that Paul Cronin (who edited the original book Herzog on Herzog) has turned over a decades worth of talks with the director into a substantial published collection entitled Werner Herzog - A Guide for the Perplexed. Appropriately, the tour to promote the book has involved Herzog engaging in conversation in front of an audience with Paul Holdengräber (founder and director of LIVE from The New York Public Library), although the interviewer has preferred to call it more a continuation of an ongoing dialogue with his interviewee. Thus, audiences in Westminster in January who turned up to hear the acclaimed filmmaker speak were somewhat thrown into things, with Holdengräber and Herzog seemingly picking up their respective trains of thought from where they last left off. Here are just a few things the audience learned:

 Herzog would much rather watch movie moviesthan the works of Godard:

 Before coming on stage, Herzog played for the audience a dance sequence from the Fred Astaire musical Top Hat .This might have surprised some who were expecting a clip from his own filmography, but in fact Herzog has referred back to Astaires work before, such as when he used  it to illustrate Cave of Forgotten Dreams. For Herzog, this Astaire film is a movie movie, like Kung-fu films; accessible and enjoyable, the best example of what Hollywood can do. Godard, Herzog believes, is not a filmmaker who makes these kind of movie movies. Instead Godard makes in his opinion: cerebral stuff, and much of it is counterfeit money.

 Herzog is currently intrigued by immersive, Oculus Rift-type cinema:

 Having toyed with 3D before in Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Herzog now sees potential in new immersive viewing devices: I am fairly certain this is not just an extension of 3D cinema or video games, it is something completely different and new, it is not anything that we can edit like we could edit a film, because we see things all around us. It is an utterly new instrument and nobody knows how to play it. The more contemplative possibilities of this technology interest Herzog, he mentioned one programme he has seen featuring a Mongolian yurt and its inhabitants, which the viewer can enter using such immersive viewing headgear and look around in all directions.

 For Herzog, this is possibly going to be a truly game changing point in cinema, which he believes has been a largely static medium for most of its lifetime since the Lumiere Brothers: Very early on you could see what you could so with cinemaeverything you could see in cinema and that was possible was basically there except for 3D. A more contemplative approach to this kind of wraparound cinema he believes might be very beneficial to viewers in rehab or experiencing some kind of mental illness, or even those on death row.

 His childhood growing up in post-war Munich was tough, but he was not short of inspiration and fascination:

 Herzog was once stuck in hospital as a child during a severe German winter, where he kept himself occupied for over a week with a single piece of thread pulled from his blanket. Herzog described to the audience that as a youngster roaming the post-war landscape, playing with the detritus of WWII, the tiny things he found there turned out to be: full of fantasy for me, full of stories.

I understand what a rope is all about, it is not just an instrument, it has some secret life in it, some purpose in it. You can develop whole stories around a rope, or a piece of thread. Somehow that has always been within me.

Continuing in this vein, Herzog described his powerful first experience of seeing an orange as a youth: I remember for the first time in my life seeing an orange in the hospital as I was given one. I studied the orange, as no one had shown me this before. They told me to eat it, so I very carefully licked the skin, finally understanding that you had to peel it. Then inside were the segments; I peeled them very carefully, and inside them, I found the liquid fluid filled with tiny parts. I took them apart, and bit by tiny bit I ate it. It took me five days to eat this orange!

 He has carefully developed his use of language and speaking voice:

 Herzogs distinctive, accented voice is an inseparable part of many of his non-fiction films, and he has even made a few on-screen appearances, such as playing the villain in the 2012 Tom Cruise thriller Jack Reacher. He has given quite a lot of thought to fashioning a particular speaking voice, drawing from a variety of sources, some quite surprising (Herzog thinks the narration on factual crime shows on American TV has had a lot to offer). The Iliad is a personal favourite: The musicality and the incarnation is something that has never, ever left me. This has followed me even today, even when playing a villain. Im good at playing a villain, lets face it!

 He doesnt find his own dreams illuminating, and is suspicious of psychoanalysis:

Despite being a director so associated with films about dreams and ambitions, Herzog himself claimed he doesnt draw much inspiration from his own sleeping visions. There is something illuminating about dreams which I personally do not have, Herzog confessed to the audience, I do not dream, probably because I don't dream I make movies. I compensate.

 Continuing with the subject of dreams, Herzog was challenged to explain why he once claimed psychoanalysis was worse than the excesses of the Spanish Inquisition. Well, I would put them on a par today, he confessed. What made the Inquisition so similar to todays psychoanalysis is the way it too aimed: to force you to explain the deepest nature of your faith.

 He continued: I think it doesnt do us any good to self-scrutinise ourselves too much. We should be very, very careful; I certainly am not to circle around my own navel. It doesnt do good for us. I think the 20th Century in many ways was a mistake and one small part of that was psychoanalysis.

He hates being called a romantic:

Herzog had this to say about the oft-repeated claim that he is a German romantic: I dont like cliches or shallow inaccuracies. I can deal easier with an outright lie than this sloppy, half-witted, half-informed pseudo-reality statements. I never felt really deeply connected to the culture of romanticism. For example, look how I view Timothy Treadwell in Grizzly Man: the vanilla ice cream romanticism is on the side of Treadwell there. In my commentary for the film I have an ongoing argument, and I say that here I differ with Treadwell; the world is not like Walt Disney movies full of fluffy bears to whom you are singing.

 For me wild nature is rather hostile, murderous and chaotic. You do not dance with the bear, you don't love the bear. You respect the bear. I learned that from an Alutiiq native with a PHD from Harvard who ran a museum on Kodiak Island. He spoke to me about respecting the bear, and understanding the boundaries.

 That being said, the cover of his new book of conversations is not Photoshopped. Herzog was, apparently, really standing in front of that bear.

 His favourite actor of all those he has worked with is Bruno S (Bruno Schleinstein):

 Herzog has worked with some of the most highly - regarded performers in the industry, including Christian Bale and Nicole Kidman. But Herzog maintained when asked that his favourite actor remains Bruno Schleinstein (AKA Bruno S). Schleinstein, who died in 2010, was a deeply damaged individual, who was often beaten as a child, and spent much of his youth in mental institutions. A largely self-taught musician, he was spotted by Herzog in a documentary and was promptly cast as the lead actor in The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974), and later in Stroszek (1977), which Herzog wrote especially for him. He gives a truly mesmerising and unsettling performance in both.

 Herzog recalls how Bruno had seem to him “beyond repair given the decades of abuse he had suffered. And yet he was: the deepest and greatest of all actors with whom I have ever worked. There is something about him that moves me to my core.

 When given the choice of going anywhere he wanted in the USA to study, he chose Pittsburgh:

 In 1964, Herzog ended up in the unlikely location of Pittsburgh, USA, arriving by boat after winning a scholarship (which he claims was based on a fraudulent paper). Rejecting the fancy Ivy League institutions, he chose to study Pittsburgh so he could see first hand what he calls real people, steel factories, workers and welders. Herzog felt an affinity with blue-collar types, having worked as a welder himself on a night shift during school to earn money for his films. He gave back his scholarship after three days though, unsatisfied, and this left him homeless for three weeks until an American family took him in after they noticed him wandering around. They ended up putting him up in their attic with all its old furniture for six months.

 “It was the most wonderful acceptance in America, in mid-America you can find this, thats what I love, Herzog recalled, even if the family was completely crazy and included a 94-year old, failed rock singer grandmother who talked to a dog in an invented language. In politics the highbrow east and west coasters call them the flyover states , Herzog explained, but I do not like this term as I have had my best experiences in America there. He lives in the US to this day, in Los Angeles.

He doesnt take light reading on holiday:

Original translations of Luther, and books on Hannibal and the Punic Wars are some of the texts the director packs in his suitcase when going on trips. Currently Herzog is getting through The Peregrine by English author J.A. Baker: a writer about whom we know almost nothing. Everyone who wants make films, or be an artist, should read this. Herzog enjoys the consolation he finds in literature, and obstacles a leader like Hannibal and the Roman commanders opposing him had to face offer many analogies for the daily humiliations involved in trying to get a film made. Herzog once said that he felt: the hand of Fabius Maximus (the Roman commander who fought Hannibal) on my shoulder when struggling to drag the steamer over the mountain ridge during the production of Fitzcarraldo.

He thinks Mike Tyson is a fascinating, underrated figure:

 It was Herzog who recommended to his interviewer Paul Holdengräber that he invite the former boxer onto his New York Public Library programme, urging him to quiz Tyson on his surprisingly deep knowledge of the Frankish kings and the Roman Republic.

What is so wonderful about it is looking at where Tyson comes from. I think he was a semi-literate, his mother a prostitute, and they were living in one room - the same room where the clients would come in. He would go through the pockets of they clothes hung on the chairs. I think before he was eleven he had been arrested forty times, and on, and on. And now this man has this fervent desire for literature and history; it isn't just astonishing, it moves me deeply. That is something I do not believe we should overlook, and we should not dismiss him as just a violent man.

 

The enigmatic characters that appear across his films are connected in some way:

 From the megalomania of Fitzcarraldo to the flight-obsessed Vietnam War POW Dieter Dengler in Little Dieter Needs to Fly, both Herzog’s feature and non-fiction films showcase a medley of weird, complex, near-unclassifiable individuals. He finds it difficult to explain what draws him to them, and them to him: It is a very complex thing, as complex as families are. Families are very strange creatures. Yet there is a kinship, and you know they belong together somehow, and for the oddest reasons. For example the skier in The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner who defies gravity is a close relative of Fitzcarraldo, who defies the laws of nature and of gravity, who moves a ship over the mountains.

But it is not just in these few films, though I would dissuade anyone from trying to watch my films all in one go, you would need to go on a cruise ship after to recover. It is complicated and I dont fully understood it myself, but I know right away they belong together. You dont need to explain everything and you don't need to know yourself, completely.” 

He doesnt approach his documentaries as a journalist:

 Using his American death row documentary Into the Abyss as an example, Herzog explained how he approached the inmates and staff of the prison in a particular way, at one point prising out a tearful response from the resident priest by asking him about squirrels of all things. “I like to bring something out of them, some kind of humanity, though that does not mean I sympathise with them. To one of the young men, Perry, who features in Into the Abyss, I told him within two minutes of filming: I sympathise with some of you arguments but this does not necessarily mean I have to like you. Of course, the film could have been over right then and there. But I had a way to talk to him, and it is completely divorced from journalism.

 “I think it is a massive mistake of much of what we see in documentaries: they have not divorced themselves from journalism. And I do that. I have no questionnaire, I come in with no idea of what is going to happen, ready for anything. I do it probably now much better than many years ago I have more experience in life, I can respond and figure things out quicker. I know the hearts of men.

The best you could do with actor Klaus Kinski was try to make his insanity productive:

They worked together across four feature films, but Herzog admitted that Kinskis hysteria remained beyond shaping as a performer. No, he just had it, you couldn't shape it, only give it a frame and make it productive. I didn't invent it; he was on his own.

 After listening to Holdengräber recite an epic essay Kinski once wrote discussing the number of ways he would like to see Herzog tortured to death, Herzog added that he would often help the frenzied actor, when in the peak of his rages, add even more florid prose and vile metaphors to such writings. He always said to me: Werner, I have to do these things, because the vermin out there, the readers, need this kind of stuff otherwise they wont buy the book!’” Kinskis simple screaming fits (his yell outs) Herzog learned to deal with and sometimes provoked them, as they were less serious than having the actor smashing a camera, destroy a set, or trying to break his contract and leave.

 Herzog remains fatalistic about dealing with egos: “When you make films, you have to deal with this. If you cant deal with it: dont do the job.

 

Despite all our problems, it is good to be alive today:

 Humanity might be on course to trash the planet via climate change, but Herzog is dismissive of the comforting idea that technological advances will let to escape our fate, as in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. Yes, we are too many and we consume too much, it doesnt look good, but at the same time we cannot be nostalgic and say: well we can always go back to being nomads again. We just wont. This is what it is. It is a very precarious existence and situation.

 “I hear it all the time; Ah, but we will evolve and colonise the planets. No, we wont! The biggest planets are only gases. The solar system is unfriendly. We shouldn't even be on the moon! We need air to breathe, that breath comes from hundreds of millions of humans and trees and volcanoes that have exhaled too. The history of breath doesnt exist out there!

 So, like it or not, we are stuck here on terra firma and Herzog believes we should celebrate the brief time we have: “It is wonderful to be alive; to plant an apple tree or make a movie. Martin Luther was asked what he would do if the world came to and end tomorrow. And he said: today I will plant an apple tree. That was a good one. I would start a movie. It would remain unfinished of course, but so what?


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.

DVD Bang - film rental South Korean style


If you want to see how the South Koreans do movie nights,  DVD Bang in Waterloo from 21 November might satisfy your curiosity. Similar to the concept of renting a karaoke booth, DVD Bang is a not-for-profit project based on the lo-fi South Korean movie rental shops and micro cinemas. DVD-bangs are South Korean entertainment spaces where you dont get a ticket to see a film: you rent the room space with some chums, stock up on snacks, and choose the movie you want. This imported version is running in a shop-front in Waterloo and offers a selection of East Asian Sci-Fi cult classics and rare collections including Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Park Chan-Wook's I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK, pink movie musical Underwater Love and acid nightmare Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack.

DVDBANG has a recommended capacity of 10 people. All ages welcome, but ID may be required for certain film choices and for alcohol purchase.

Part of BFI Sci-Fi Days of Fear and Wonder film season, running until December 2014 across the UK.

The Smoke Screen team rented our own booth this week, stocked up on Shrimp crackers and South Korean sweet puff crackers, and watched a bluray of Satoshi Kon's surreal Inception-like  anime Paprika.



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.

Space Oddities: A look inside the Stanley Kubrick Archive at UAL

A few years ago I was lucky be invited, on behalf of the New Statesman Magazine, to take a look inside the Stanley Kubrick archive collection housed at the London College of Communication as part of the University of Arts London. The famous, mercurial director was something of a hoarder, and after his death in the late 1990s his family gifted much of this material to the institution. Now this November sees the BFI and Warner Bros' re-release his acclaimed 2001: A Space Odyssey in cinemas in a new digital transfer- see the review here.

You can read my review of the trip here at the New Statesman's website.

Journalist and writer Jon Ronson visited the Kubrick House to dig through some of this before the material was moved to its new home:

The Archive spans all of Kubrick's career from his time as a photographer for Look Magazine to his final film Eyes Wide Shut, though most of it covers work created during the development and making of his films. There is also material from his unfinished projects (which themselves could involve years of work and heaps of material gathered in the process) particularly AI: Artificial Intelligence and The Aryan Papers, and records created posthumously relating to projects such as the creation of DVD and video re-releases, documentaries and books about Kubrick and his work.


The Archive includes draft and completed scripts, research materials such as books, magazines and location photographs, set plans and production documents. There are also call sheets, shooting schedules, continuity reports and continuity Polaroids, props, costumes, poster designs, sound tapes and records and publicity press cuttings.

The Archive is open to academic researchers, students and the public. Some access requests will require prior permission from the Archive's donors. Contact the UAL here to enquire.
 


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.

Monolithic: A look at Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, back in cinemas this November


Director: Stanley Kubrick

UK. Original release: 1968

141 Mins

Re-released nationwide 28 November 2014 in a new digital transfer

 

He may have been declared the 21st Century’s blockbuster auteur, but even director Christopher Nolan acknowledged he toils in the shadow of Stanley Kubrick’s grandiose, mysterious and hugely influential 1968 space epic 2001: A Space Odyssey. Nolan’s new sci-fi film Interstellar, conveniently released in the same month that the BFI and Warner Bros studio have released a new digital transfer of Kubrick’s movie, openly pays homage to 2001, throwing in match cuts and slow-paced sequences of spaceships spinning in orbit framed against the curve of the Earth. And yet to watch both 2001 and Interstellar in the same month is to be reminded how truly bold and experimental 2001 is compared to the technically superb but ultimately more conventional Nolan blockbuster.

The new digital transfer of 2001 makes the already-spectacular visuals (courtesy of Geoffrey Unsworth’s camerawork, and Douglas Trumbull’s pioneering effects) even more of a feast for the eyes, and whilst directors like Nolan boast of their macho use of minimal CGI, 2001 is the real CGI-free deal. Whether it is the meticulously composed shots of sunrises over the curve of the Earth, kaleidoscopically coloured star portals, or majestic clusters of planets hanging in the heavens - 2001 still delivers a visual punch that truly does convey something of the wondrous terror that is the limitless expanses of space. But it is still striking how, having pushed 1960s filmmaking technology to the limit to create such breathtaking space vistas and still-impressive zero gravity starship interiors, how slowly Kubrick lets the resulting narrative play. It is hard to imagine a studio today allowing for the length of time many of 2001’s poetic space sequences run without hitting the alarm button and demanding some alone time with the director in the editing suite.

If 2001’s pacing feels even more unconventional watching it in today’s climate of roller coaster superhero movies that fill the multiplexes every month, the film’s minimal plot exposition, elliptical narrative (we go from the dawn of man to what seems to be the alien-assisted evolution of man thousands of years later in just one movie), and that ambiguous conclusion seem even more remarkable in contrast. Cutting much of the dialogue and backstory details from the original Arthur C. Clarke novel, which Kubrick collaborated on alongside working on the film script, Kubrick turned an already strange story into an almost unfathomable one that seems to beg you to feel it rather than interpret it fully. Exactly what the strange, sleek monoliths want for humanity, and the ultimate fate of the lone astronaut David Bowman on his long space journey following the monolith’s transmissions aimed toward Jupiter, have been the subject of decades of existential musings. Where exactly is Bowman at the end of the film? How and why did he seemingly become a giant “star child”? What are the intentions of this mysterious space-bourne infant, shown in the film’s iconic final shot staring down at our Earth? Is this our salvation or destruction?

By the time 2001 moves into the final act, it is almost as if the entire film has shifted fully into an art film. Bowman’s surreal journey through the alien wormhole, with star portals and planet surfaces depicted in supersaturated colours, ending in a bizarre artificial hotel room, is undeniably “trippy”. In fact, parent studio MGM soon realised that this aspect of the film offered them a marketing approach for those 1960s era audiences who might enjoy certain mind expanding substances, and the film was sold with the tag line “The Ultimate Trip”.

But perhaps the strongest impression 2001 makes, and what makes it so different from Nolan’s Interstellar, is how it is a film willing to almost de-centre humanity from the story. In Kubrick’s film, mankind seems easily lost amongst the sheer scale of the universe around us. Bowman is literally sucked up at the end of the film into a galactic scheme beyond his and our understanding. In contrast, Nolan’s Interstellar puts humanity firmly back at the centre of space and space travel, in fact the entire film is laced with nostalgia for the days of the “Right Stuff” where bold rocket men broke new frontiers with guts and swagger. In Interstellar, humanity goes back into space to save itself and seize back control of its destiny, whereas in 2001 our world seems to be just one small part of a giant cosmos that existed before we were conscious and will happily continue long after we are gone.


2001: A Space Odyssey: Key Facts:

 

  • 2001 is frequently high up on “best of” film lists. In the 2002 Sight and Sound Magazine poll, 2001 was ranked at number 6 of the greatest films of all time. The 2012 poll by the same magazine saw 2001 retain its place in the top ten - again at the number 6 spot. A recent Time Out poll put it at No.1 out of 100 sci-fi films.
  • The movie originated in a collaboration between director Stanley Kubrick and author Arthur C. Clarke, who's novel of the same title was actually published some months after the film was released. It began with a letter Kubrick sent Clarke in March 1964 after being advised by a Columbia Pictures PR associate that the author would be a useful collaborator for the sci-fi movie Kubrick was contemplating. Kubrick and Clarke then wrote the story in the form of a long, novelistic treatment that then developed into both the screenplay and the final novel. Clarke was not the first novelist Kubrick had worked with when it came to his film projects.
  • Kubrick had already imagined a sci-fi framing for his earlier hit Dr Strangelove, with n idea that the film would ultimately contain a pull-back sequence which would reveal aliens observing humanity’s downfall and a long-dead earth. This idea translated into an ongoing investigation by Kubrick into what the impact would be of humanity’s encounter with alien intelligence, and as to whether or not such an encounter and the knowledge it would bring might be the one thing that could prevent humanity destroying itself in a nuclear inferno. The Cuban Missile Crisis was only a few years in the past at this point. But alongside nuclear gloom, this was also a period where the science fiction genre was enjoying massive popularity, and there was widespread interest in the possibility of humanity encountering alien life.
  • Peter Kramer, in the BFI Classics Guide to 2001, argues that Kubrick’s letters and statements that display his concerns about the risks of nuclear war and his thoughts on how alien contact could unite humanity for the better show that he actually intended his film as an optimistic antidote to his more apocalyptic Dr Strangelove. He was also willing to work with a writer - Clarke - who was more on the optimistic end of the scale when it came to envisioning the future of humanity and the possibilities of technology and space exploration. Kramer argues this intention was often misunderstood by critics and viewers given the aura of pessimism that was seen to hang around the filmmaker then and now. The 2001 novel explicitly states that the star child destroys all nuclear weapons on Earth after it arrives, which led many commentators to interpret the conclusion of the story as a pessimistic one with humanity facing eventual extinction at alien hands. Clarke admitted his novel’s conclusion could be read either way. But a pessimistic reading is not what either Kubrick or Clarke originally intended according to Kramer, and Kubrick’s film does not actually feature this action on the part of the Star Child.
  • Kramer also traces in his BFI Classics book how studio MGM and Kubrick conceived originally of 2001 as a family-oriented blockbuster in the tradition of the dominant box office trends of the 1960s, but at the last minute Kubrick decided to shift the film into a more unconventional piece of cinema that nevertheless eventually found a mass audience. Kramer also argues that the film, contrary to the accepted story that it flopped at the box office before being rescued by the counterculture, was successful right from the start and its hopefulness was an essential part of its appeal.
  • Kubrick became notorious for his meticulous, lengthy planning stages on his film projects. 2001 was no exception, four years elapsed between Clarke laying out a basic story outline for 2001, and Kubrick approving the final manuscript for the novel in spring 1968. MGM announced the film in 1965 in its press release as set to start shooting in August,with the intention to release in late 1966. In fact, the release date was missed by over a year and Kubrick ended up taking the budget to $11million from $6 million.
  • The early draft of the script Kubrick and Clarke submitted to studio MGM in 1965 was entitled Journey Beyond the Stars and differed in substantial ways from the final film and novel (no star child, for example). Nevertheless, MGM at this early stage stumped up a surprisingly large sum of money for a project in this genre: committing $6 million at a time when many noteworthy science fiction films made less than half of that in rentals. As Kramer shows in his study of 2001’s marketing material, studio MGM was confident they could sell the film on the link the Clarke and on Kubrick’s track record; after all his 1960 film Spartacus had been nominated for six Academy Awards and won four, and was ranked high in various top grossing film charts. His Lolita and Dr Stangelove had also been box office and critical hits. MGM was also hoping to exploit the Cinerama widescreen format with this new Kubrick project and sell Journey Beyond the Stars both as a form of immersive, visually amazing virtual tourism and as a traditional big-budget epic of the sort that had traditionally dominated the box office.
  • MGM’s decision to back 2001 to such an extent, despite how strange the final film became, should also be seen as a decision made against a backdrop of a rapidly heating-up real-life space race, and the proven popularity of space-set and science-oriented shows in cinemas and on television. By 1965 US and Soviet astronauts were already orbiting the earth, and unmanned probes had reached the moon.
  • Kubrick and his production team shot 2001 in England from 17 December 1965 to 14 July 1966, mainly at MGM’s studios in Borehamwood near London, with second unit shoots in Africa (for the Dawn of Man section) and in the US. Even as late as 1967 Kubrick was still shooting additional material. The shoot involved elaborate production design, including an interior spaceship set but around a centrifuge 38 feet in diameter, built by Aerospace company Vickers Armstrong and designed to rotate at 3 miles an hour. Filming on the moving centrifuge allowed for the illusion of zero gravity. For example in one scene astronaut Poole (Gary Lockwood) is eating a meal apparently upside down, from the viewer’s POV, at the top of the wheel-like Discovery spaceship interior. Astronaut Bowman (Keir Dullea) then enters from the hub, climbs down a ladder, and seems to walk up the wheel to join him. In reality Lockwood had been harnessed to the ceiling, and the set rotated down to Dullea while he walked in place.
  • The film constantly evolved throughout production. For example, Kubrick and Clarke originally planned for there to be a voice-over layered into the audio track, and that the film would begin with a ten minute prologue featuring interviews with scientists, philosophers and other great thinker who would ruminate on the film’s themes. Both these elements were ultimately dropped. Originally, there was no plan to make the computer Hal 9000 the threat during the Discovery’s mission, but Kubrick felt the space mission needed conflict, tension, and an antagonist to oppose the human characters. Kubrick also decided very late in the production - a few weeks before the planed released date in fact - to drop most of Alex North’s original score, replacing it with 19th and 20th century classical and avant-garde pieces. Overall, the direction Kubrick’s film took was to move further and further away from the more explanatory slant of the book towards becoming a more ambiguous, visually intense experience. As Kramer concludes in his book, in many ways Kubrick decided to make his film as mysterious as the workings of the cold, sleek monoliths.

 

*This feature draws from The Bfi Film Classics: 2001 A Space Odyssey by Roger Kramer and the 2001 feature from the November 2014 issue of Empire Magazine.



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.

GENFEST sees the Genesis Cinema proudly celebrating its independence as 2015 approaches

Last week saw the East End's Genesis Cinema showcase everything it has to offer over the coming year crammed into just one night, with a Halloween twist. Part All-Hallows celebration, but also partly a statement of intent after 15 years in the business, the cinema's owner Tyrone Walker-Hebborn proudly declared to the assembled guests during the nights drink's reception in the upstairs Paragon Bar that this event showed that the cinema was still independent in term of ownership and attitude.

The night itself showcased just how much the Genesis Cinema, wedged in between Whitechapel and Stepney Green stations on Mile End Road, can offer to visitors today. "Independent" certainly should not be mistaken for "small" or lacking in the technical capabilities that multiplexes can offer.  Apart from the aforementioned stylish Paragon Bar for events, the Genesis has developed over the years to the point where it now has five screens with digital, 3D and 35mm capabilities: Screens 2&3 seat 158 each, Screen 4 seats 100 and STUDIO 5 has 40 seats made up of sofas and armchairs. But the real treat is the huge Screen One, which seats 575 and retains a flavour of the building's history as a theatre - in this case The Paragon Theatre Music Hall which was built in the 1880s after the original music venue was destroyed.

You can find out more about the history of the cinema and its transformation under the ownership of Tyrone Walker-Hebborn- who rescued it from the derelict state to which it had been reduced by 1989- in this excellent feature written by by Zarina Rimbaud-Kadirbaks (AKA www.dutchgirlinlondon.com). In case you were wondering, yes you can book the Genesis for weddings, Zarina had hers there!

 Genesis Cinema owner Tyrone Walker-Hebborn at the GENFEST party

Genesis Cinema owner Tyrone Walker-Hebborn at the GENFEST party

The events and screening list included so many options it was impossible to take it all in. This writer however could not resist a chance to revisit the work of Robin Rimbaud, AKA Scanner, who is a class act when it comes to rescoring films and giving viewers a new experience of an old classic. His electronic-driven score for Robert Wiene's German expressionist masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, which was screening in the giant Screen 1, is a haunting, pulsating experience.

Also showing at GENFEST were:

A special encore screening of the smash hit sell-out NT Live production of Frankenstein directed by Danny Boyle, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller.

The 30th anniversary edition of Ghostbusters remastered in 4k.

A screening of acclaimed horror film The Babadook.

The film club The Good, The Bad, The Unseen hosted a secret horror double-bill.

Live music and party in Bar Paragon from gypsy folk band The Wild Rye, plus DJs, comedy and poetry

Live street art from Kef in the ground floor gallery space.






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.

London International Animation Festival 2014: Celebrating master animator Norman McLaren

The 2014 edition of LIAF launched this weekend with a rousing programme devoted to the famed Scottish-born Canadian animator Norman McLaren. Aside from screening (from physical film) a series of well-known works from McLaren, the programme also also ran a set of short animated films from filmmakers inspired by McLaren.

Norman McLaren built a revered career as a filmmaker and animator over the course of 50 years. McLaren was actually born in Stirling Scotland in 1914 before moving to Canada later in life. Interested in painting from an early age, he entered the Glasgow School of Art to study interior design, but became enthused with filmmaking instead, joining a film society and consuming the films of the Russian filmmakers Eisenstein and Pudovkin. He became increasingly interested in abstract films, seeing abstract shapes in his mind when listening to music. These interests in the abstract, and linking abstract animation to music, run through his later animated works.  

Joining a film club at the college, he put together a series of experimental, abstract films using live action and animation, in some cases painting onto the celluloid. This talent got him a job working for the famous documentarian John Grierson at the General Post Office Unit in London, where he worked from 1936-39 and where he learned the nuts and bolts of filmmaking, a well as becoming a committed pacifist (following a stint fillming the Spanish Civil War) and developing an interest in surrealism and techniques of metamorphosis.

1939 saw McLaren moved to New York City, where me made more short, in some cases hand drawn films, experimenting further with drawing onto the actual film soundtrack area on physical film - an early form of 'electronic music'. McLaren would continue to pursue this method of making music (which he called animated sound) and developed two systems, one by drawing or scratching directly on the film; and the second by photographing patterns onto the soundtrack area. 

In October of 1941, McLaren immigrated to Canada to rejoin John Grierson at the recently founded National Film Board of Canada, of which Grierson was the head. Apart from making more hand drawn films, some for the war effort, he was also asked to found an animation department. The Canadian National Film Board site quotes his philosophy of animation, as taught to his students, as: 

"I have tried to preserve in my relationship to the film, the same closeness and intimacy that exists between a painter and his canvas… and so my militant philosophy is this: to make with a brush on canvas is a simple and direct delight – to make with a movie should be the same."

The view of animation as an art of personal expression was to have an enormous influence on animation universally, as was the work of the National Film Board overall.

At the NFB as animation head and maker of films for the war effort, Mclaren still was able to make films of a more personal nature as well as refining his techniques and exploring new ones. Amongst his many interests were manipulating celluloid by hand, including scratching and painting on it, directly working on the soundtrack sections of his films, in some cases to create a 'what you hear is what you see' effect, and working with both live action and hand drawing techniques.

His work ranged over a variety of techniques: he would use paper cut outs, superimpositions, painting directly onto celluloid, and in films like his live action 'trick' film Chairy Tale he manipulated a chair with strings as though it were a puppet. In hand-painting McLaren also was willing to do things like ignore the frame line: his film Begone Dull Care is an almost totally frameless film – an explosion of colour set to the piano jazz of Oscar Peterson; music accompaniment and creation being another important concern of McLaren throughout his career. His Academy Award-winning film Neighbours, where two neighbours fight in fantastic ways (McLaren animated the human cast frame by frame like cartoon characters, he called this stop-motion technique 'pixillation') over a flower that sits between their two houses, also displayed his continuing commitments to pacifism and making politically aware works.

You can read a fuller biography of McLaren, courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada, here.

The NFB also has his filmography here.

For the full LIAF 2014 programme, see here.

The McLaren films shown by the Barbican at the LIAF launch included:

Blinkity Blank
An example of McLaren’s cameraless animation style, with a striking soundtrack. An exercise in intermittent animation and spasmodic imagery, which involved engraving pictures on blank film.

Canada 1955 Dir Norman McLaren 5 min 16


Neighbours
An academy award winner, and one of McLaren's declared favourites of his own work. Neighbours showcases McLaren's stop-motion 'pixillation' animation style, painstakingly used to create a captivating, funny, and polemical tale of escalating violence, all for the sake of a daffodil.

Canada 1952 Dir Norman McLaren 8 min 7


Pas De Deux
A dreamy delight that showcases McLaren's ability to create multiple images. Here the figures of two dancers are mirrored repeatedly until the screen is full of kaleidoscopic, strange patterns.

Canada 1968 Dir Norman McLaren 13 min 22


Be Gone Dull Care

 An almost totally frameless film – bolts of colour moving to the piano jazz of Oscar Peterson.

Canada 1949 Dir Norman McLaren 7 min 49

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.

Accept no Imitations: Benedict Cumberbatch on playing Alan Turing in THE IMITATION GAME

517066757CS00048_The_Imitat.JPG

With The Imitation Game launching the 55th London Film Festival, star Benedict Cumberbatch was in town to discuss his on-screen portrayal in the film of cryptologist, mathematician, and father of modern computing Alan Turing. The film shows Turing’s struggles during the Second World War to not only decrypt the German Enigma military communications code, but to also deal with his repressed homosexuality at a time when to be gay was a criminal offence.

Cumberbatch was on good form during a London Film Festival press Q&A for the film, despite fielding inevitable questions about his penchant for playing eccentric geniuses following his acclaimed role as the BBC’s current Sherlock Holmes, and was eager to discuss Turing’s legacy which was buried for years due to official secrecy. He was also keen to stress the disgraceful treatment Turing received at the hands of the authorities once his sexuality became known in the early 1950s: the Professor ultimately committed suicide after being convicted of indecency and forced to undergo chemical treatment for his “condition”.


On the responsibility of playing a real life historical figure:

BC: The idea of getting broader story, a broader picture of him out there to a wider audience is obviously something that does bear a certain weight and importance. It is his legacy; this has been an extraordinary decade for him: because of the pardons, because of the new books, because of the centenary, and now this film. It's all part of the momentum of what I hope is the recognition he deserves - as a scientist, as the father of the modern computer age, and as a war hero. A man who lived an uncompromising life at a time of disgusting discrimination.

This film is also an examination of something that was not well documented. Physically there is no medium of him: there are, ironically given what he was studying, no audio or visual recordings of him. So yes, it is a huge weight, but it is a blank canvas to an extent, and therefore there is a bit of freedom. But you are toying with something that you have nothing to bounce off with as a reflection. So I worked with Graham’s [screenwriter Graham Moore] brilliant script, and especially Morten’s [director Morten Tyldum] research and what he guided me towards, along with people who had met him or related to him. No matter how long ago it had been in their lives, they gave me accounts that were helpful to personalise this extraordinary man who’s achievements were becoming known in broad headline terms, but were more specific about who is was moment to moment in our story.

On Oscar Buzz:

BC: If it gets people to see the film, frankly that is all I care about. It is flattering, of course. But if it creates an interest to see this film and see what the fuss is about, fantastic. It means our jobs as storytellers are made easier if there is an audience for our storytelling. And more importantly for me, having had some experience with this extraordinary man I really want his story to be known as broadly as possible, and our film to be a launching point for more interest and understanding of him, and a proper celebration of him too. From that point of view, its good.

On working with a Norwegian director on a British story:

BC: I thought it was a very cool, intelligent and smart fit to bring a man who had brought an incredibly entertaining but dark thriller to our attention a few years ago [Headhunters]. He proved his brilliance with that. The minute I met him I realised how astute he was - and this was borne out with Headhunters - with character studies. You can't be invested in a thriller unless you care about the characters. So we talked and got on really well, and we both shared a passion for the subject having engaged with the script and both discovering more about this man than we knew before, and being ashamed of that. I felt the same as Morten: “Why isn't this man on the face of some denomination of our currency? Or the covers of science and history textbooks?”

I was thrilled day by day. He’s got an extraordinary energy. He was very specific in his direction, very highly attuned to the all the turns and twists and immediate circumstances and where we were in the story, and contextualising the moment. You need that when you are telling an important story, you need as strong director, not just with energy, but intelligence. And we got him. I knew from the first meeting it was going to be a riot to work with him.

On playing socially abrasive heroic geniuses:

BC: I didn’t read the script and think, this is Sherlock in tweed. I liked the wit of it, and I liked how uncompromising Turing was, and I suppose that is a strong strait, and strong traits always have an attraction for actors of every variety. I have played stupid people as well, I’d like to point that out, and if anyone has any more stupid character roles, bring them on. It’s a great honour to be asked to play someone like Alan Turing, so the last thing I’m going to do is go: “Well, it’s a bit like Sherlock isn't it?”. Because it’s not, it’s really not. And you cannot begin to fathom who an individual is if you just start categorising them according to similarities to other characters you've played. I do try to shake it up, but I also do see why people might think that these two very clever people might have similarities.

On why it took so long for Alan Turing to be acknowledged:

BC: I guess the Official Secrets Act, and the dark stain of shame on the government’s hand in persecuting thousands of men for their sexuality out of fear for Communist sympathies. I guess also the idea that somebody’s work, which is in the mathematical sphere, is devoid of any geopolitical interest or culture of celebrity. The true amalgamated importance of the man is his life as well as his work, and this is only just now becoming something that slowly people are acknowledging. I don't know; I’m not the Queen or David Cameron, though those might be my next roles. I don't know. But you immediately feel a sense of injustice playing a man who was treated as appallingly as he was, and who's achievements have for so long been overlooked or not conglomerated into the fuller picture.

This is a film where we touch upon those issues, and it is a thrilling story and it is funny. It is a film. But I beg anyone who is at all interested from what we present of him to look further into his life, to look further into Bletchley Park and the biographies that have been written about him. And the other characters from the film, like Joan and Hugh and Ken Cross. Fascinating characters who played the part of being quiet, stoic heroes, along with thousands of other men and women who remain nameless, some of whom still keep their secrets even when they don't have to. We celebrate them too. So that might be part of it: if we as a society have lived through a very secretive era, we are very good as overlooking things. But I think its dangerous to do that, as the smell from underneath the floorboards will eventually become impossible to ignore.

On how much of the maths he understood:

BC: There is a great, broad romance to the philosophy of maths and physics, which is tangible, because otherwise there is no point explaining it or sharing it with an audience. I think there are hugely exciting things that on a base level anyone can understand: ideas of programming, coding, the idea that what we use at language can be turned into something universal that can be used anywhere. Those things excite me, the fact that my eyelash contains carbon from a star excites me. I don't necessarily understand everything about how to make an eyelash, but the broad brushstrokes are very appealing. As far as the machine is concerned - the “Bombe”, or “Christopher” in our film, that was the moment where I started thinking, “Ok, this is pretty hard.” I understood a little bit about the Enigma machine, but yeah, if you put an algorithm in front of me now, even a quadratic equation, this press conference would go on too long.

The Imitation Game is playing at London Film Festival 2014 and is released across the UK on November 14 and in the US on November 21.


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.

Review: The BFI Presents Flash Gordon at the British Museum, launching the Sci-Fi Days of Fear and Wonder Season.

 Gordon's Alive! Sam Jones as Flash Gordon  takes on the merciless Ming in the 1980 film  Flash Gordon

Gordon's Alive! Sam Jones as Flash Gordon  takes on the merciless Ming in the 1980 film Flash Gordon


Projected onto a giant screen at the British Museum, and introduced by no less than director Mike Hodges and the roisterous star Brian Blessed, the BFI presented Hodges' 1980 film Flash Gordon as the last of three sci-fi classic screenings during the final August weekend that launched the huge Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder Season, which begins proper in October. The venue was a fitting one: the backdrop to the screening area was the forecourt columns of the British Museum, all illuminated an eerie green from lights mounted below, and the BFI had provided a huge screen married to an punchy and clear audio system.

But no venue could really outshine Hodges' film, which is today widely regarded as a cult, campy, vividly realised sci-fi classic of the pre-CGI era with an overblown Queen soundtrack merely the icing on the cake. The film’s influence and appeal continues to this day. Director Seth Macfarlane devoted roughly one-third of his recent comedy Ted to honouring star Sam Jones and Flash Gordon, with Jones even given a cameo that sent up his already sent-up role.

 The British Museum forecourt transformed into a screening area for the BFI Sci-Fi Season

The British Museum forecourt transformed into a screening area for the BFI Sci-Fi Season

The film adapts Alex Raymond’s popular comic strip and pays homage to the earlier adapted serials. Flash (played here with admirable woodenness by Sam Jones) is a hulking New York Jets quarterback from the USA who, along with roving reporter Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) and the unhinged Doctor Zarkov (Topol), has to heroically save the Earth from Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow, hamming it up with gusto), who is the ruthless ruler of the planet Mongo. Ming has his eye on destroying the Earth by collapsing the moon into it (there is no strategic value to Earth, vaporising it simply gives him pleasure ) and then taking Dale as his bride. Needless to say, Flash soon goes about disabusing Ming of both these ideas, allied with the roaring Prince Vultan (a rip-roaring performance from a winged Brian Blessed) and Prince Barin (Timothy Dalton).

Aside from the performances, which range from the unhinged to the tone deaf, the film’s appeal lies in the banquet of visual treats it offers up. To call this film’s production design and cinematography ‘ravishing’ is the understatement of the century. Fellini’s frequent collaborator Danilo Donati and production designer Ferdinando Scarfiotti provided costume and set designs that seem to suck in influences ranging from the source comics, Nazi Germany, old TV serials, art deco, baroque, sci-fi films of yesteryear, with a touch of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and any number of Universal horror monster movies thrown in too. On screen, this medley of colourful outfits mounted on the massed ranks of the characters, set against equally vivid backdrops that mix actual sets with pre-digital rear projection techniques and matte paintings, appears as both chaotic and yet also strangely well-planned at the same time. The overall effect made me think of the Andreas Gursky photographs of the American 99 cent stores, with their rows upon rows of confectionary aligned so as to be in uniform colour. 

The film also laces in, through monumentally unsubtle props and dialogue, a substantial amount of knowing humour and sexual innuendo into the proceedings: witness Ming ‘scan’ Dale Arden with his ring upon having her brought before him for the first time, sending her into what can only be called a ‘pleasant’ trance. It should come as no surprise that screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr. was also a central figure in the production of the knowingly campy '60s Batman television series. Interestingly, Nicholas Roeg was originally set to direct. 

The BFI has made Flash Gordon and other classics from the season available on BFIplayer.

 Concept design for Flash Gordon (unrealised, 1978) by David Bergen from the unmade Roeg project

Concept design for Flash Gordon (unrealised, 1978) by David Bergen from the unmade Roeg project


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.