The Best of 2020

At the start of the year we usually look back over the previous 12 months and pick out our favourite films. Normally for this blog these would be restricted to those shown at the Picture House and I though this year it might have to be different. However the first few months of 2020 were really good for cinema and I’m not sure if this top 5 would be much different even if the doors had stayed open for longer.

So my Top 5 of 2020 is:

  1. Portrait Of A Lady On Fire
  2. Little Women
  3. Uncut Gems
  4. Parasite
  5. JoJo Rabbit

Of the films I saw on the smaller screen at home the following would make it into my Top 10: Lynn + Lucy (BFIPlayer), Wolfwalkers (Apple+), Saint Frances (Netflix), Babyteeth (Netflix) and Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Sky/NowTV).

What about you? Did you still manage to see lots of great films (on screens of any size), let us know in the comments.

More Festive Fun

Unfortunately we haven’t been able to put on our Christmas screening this year but there are other events and festive treats to be found online. Heart’s Lockdown Film Club continues on Fridays (see Bill’s post for details), the Kennington Bioscope seasonal special is happening tonight (7:30pm Youtube) and Carol Morley is bringing her Friday Film Club back for a festive special this Friday (18th December) at 8pm.

Director Jeanie Finlay has visited the Picture House a few times with Sound It Out and most recently Seahorse. Her 2015 film tells the story of how a small community theatre fights to keep afloat in austere times so is perhaps even more relevant today.

“The film captures magnificently the spirit of the production in all its chaotic, funny, joyful and exhilarating glory”

THE TIMES

“Wonderfully uplifting”

RADIO TIMES

A link to watch the film for free will be available on Friday (see @CarolMorley‘s Twitter page or the #FridayFilmCub hashtag for more details ), the idea is to watch at the same time and then go on Twitter to discuss the film. If you’re not on Twitter you can still watch the film and tell us what you thought in the comments below.

We’ll keep an eye out for any other online events or great films that available to watch at home over the festive period and hope that you all manage to still find a way to enjoy the holiday period.

A Festive Treat On Line

Kennington Bioscope Presents [on YouTube].

The Kennington Bioscope is a film club at London’s Cinema Museum.  It used to run on Wednesday evenings and usually offered screenings in 35mm [or sometimes 16mm] enhanced by live musical accompaniments. The prints were always from early cinema and from a ranger of territories. The musicians were really able performers; several have played for silent titles at International Film Festivals. With the arrival of the pandemic The Bioscope has gone on line; earli8er programmes are still available on You Tube and now a Festive special is panned for the coming week.

A Christmas Special courtesy of the BFI and the EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam.

Featuring a whole array of shorts of Winter and Christmas by the enormous generosity of EYE Filmmuseum and the British Film Institute (BFI).

 Holland in Ijs (NL 1917) – Scenes from the Netherlands in what was an extremely cold winter for them – Daan van den Hurk

Expedition to the North Pole (USA 1916) – Animated adventure by airship to the frozen North – Cyrus Gabrysch

 Il Natale di Cretinetti (IT 1909) – Early film comedian André Deed wreaks havoc with an outsize Christmas tree – José María Serralde Ruiz

Ida’s Christmas (USA 1912) – Dolores Costello and John Bunny star in this heart-warming tale from the Vitagraph studios – Colin Sell

Snowstorm in New York (NL 1926?) – A blizzard paralyzes Manhattan – Ben Model

Scrooge; or Marley’s Ghost (UK 1901) – R.W. Paul’s early and ingenious depiction of Dickens’ seasonal story – Meg Morley

Snowballs (UK 1901) – Schoolboy scamps besiege passers-by with handfuls of the cold white stuff – Lillian Henley

 Santa Claus (UK 1898) – The wonder of Christmas. British filmmaker G.A. Smith’s film features his children and wife Laura Bayley – Stephen Horne

The Little Match Girl (UK 1914) – Percy Nash directs this, the second British adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s heartrending story – Donald Sosin

The Mistletoe Bough (UK 1904) – An unlucky bride is locked in a trunk in this early film – Costas Fotopoulos

Broncho Billy’s Christmas Dinner (USA 1911) – Villainous Broncho Billy finds himself accidentally invited to the Sheriff’s home for the festive repast – Philip Carli

 Santa Claus and the Fairy (UK 1898) – Have you been naughty or nice? Stockings at the ready! – John Sweeney

This will offer a pleasure for fans of early cinema.  The titles [facsimiles versions] are provided by the support of our own National Film Archive and the fine archival collection at the Eye Museum in Amsterdam. During the pandemic, The Eye, like a number of archives is offering access on line to parts of their collections; though these screenings are usually silent. The Bioscope music is a real cachet and, in a nice touch, the pianist’s hands and instrument can be seen in a small  additional frame. The Bioscope organisers also ensure sub-titles for films with foreign language title cards. You also get introductions to the titles by film historian Michelle Facey and a chance to see the Cinema Museum.

If  interested you can read more about the Bioscope af Early and Silent Cinema.

Annual General Meeting

When we postponed our AGM (which was originally planned for May) we hoped that we would still be able to hold it later in the year. Unfortunately that has not been possible and with no clear sign of when we would be able to hold a meeting, we have decided it move it online.

Our ‘2020’ AGM will now take place on Monday 1st February 2020 at 7pm as a Zoom meeting. We will provide further details in the new year but you can find some of the documents that will be presented on our AGM page now.

Lockdown Film Club

I remember the last picture show. It was on Friday the 13th, or maybe 28 days later. Life became rocky and I started feeling dazed and confused. I took a hard look in the mirror and vowed to never say never again. While it was not exactly a matter of life and death, I was in a lonely place until I joined the Lockdown Film Club. That was a night to remember. Now all is well. Life is beautiful. Members are happy together. So don’t be clueless! No titanic effort needed. Do the right thing and get in touch with the Lockdown Film Club (details below). You will find that you don’t look back.

Steamboat Bill, Jr

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Friends’ Update For Members

Since the initial lockdown for Covid-19, the Friends of the Hyde Park Picture House have effectively been in hibernation. This was always planned to an extent given that the cinema was due to be closed for its Lottery-funded refurbishment during 2020. This work has now been unavoidably delayed due to the pandemic and the cinema is likely to stay closed for at least another year.

The Committee has met remotely using the wonders of digital technology and it has been decided given present circumstances to postpone the AGM (though the draft minutes of the 2019 AGM and the Accounts that were prepared for the postponed 2020 AGM, are available). The Accounts includes a brief report on the Friends’ activities since the 2019 AGM.

The Committee have also decided, given the unavoidable continued closure of the cinema, that the current Friends’ membership from 2019, which has already been extended at no charge to the membership, though 2020, will be extended further through 2021 as well. The Treasurer is happy that the Friends can afford this move.

The Committee is continuing to meet and is now engaged on discussing an agreed future for the Friends, given the intention of the cinema to launch its own membership scheme involving discounted tickets, running in parallel to the Friends. The Committee anticipates that this will result in a smaller Friends membership, with potentially a greater focus on volunteering and actively helping to promote the work of the cinema.

The Committee wishes all members and their families well at this difficult time and hopes that everyone has been able to keep safe and to maintain their love of film, even if cinema attendance has been severely curtailed. We look forward to seeing you again soon in happier circumstances.

Committee of the Friends of the Hyde Park Picture House
November 2020

Leeds Film Festival Extended

Leeds Film Player

Normally at this time of year the film festival will have come to end but as we all know this year is far from normal. Plans to show films in venues had to be cancelled as cinemas closed again at the start of November but this has made the online selection even stronger and many of the films are still available until the end of the month.

I found the Leeds Player to work very well with only a few minor niggles, it’s certainly better than offer online film festival platforms with no visible watermarks and the ability to cast to TVs.

Here’s my selection of the films I liked the most that are still available to watch until November 30th.

Poster for Anne at 13,000ft

Anne at 13,000 ft

A divisive film but one I really liked with a very strong central performance; it stuck with me for days after viewing.

Poster showing Aida in front of a warehouse of refugees.

Quo Vadis, Aida?

A really powerful film centred around a translator in Bosnia, 1995 as the Serbian army take over her town. It manages to be both intimate and cover the larger scale of what happened and always feels very relevant.

17 year old Selma eating a honey cigar

Honey Cigar

A late addition to the online programme but a great coming of age film with a really good central performance that wonderfully captures the life of French-Algerian teenager living in Paris in the early nineties.

Illustrated bear wearing a regal robe with a number of human and bear character standing behind him

The Bears’ Famous Invasion

One from the Young Film Festival selection but this charming animation is a delight for all ages (and only £3 to rent).

Poster featuring a woman in a white suit covered in blood holding a pair of shears.

The Columnist

It doesn’t always make a lot of sense and can get quite silly but this is also the most fun I had watching a film for quite some time. A black comedy about a newspaper columnist taking on social media trolls.

I didn’t have time to explore the Cinema Versa strand but hear that Andrey Tarkovsky. A Cinema Prayer and Kubrick by Kubrick are worth watching. I’m making my way through the Shorts, as always this is a varied selection but so far have been consistently good.

I was slightly worried that there may not be as many good films this year but once again it has been a really good programme. I only saw one film that was (arguably) bad and there were a few I struggled to get on board with but I’m glad I saw everything else. You can see my comments on all of the films along with star ratings on my Letterboxd list.

A virtual Palestinian Film Festival

The Leeds Palestinian Film Festival 2020

This year’s programme is, as with so many events, on line. It runs from November 14th until November 28th. The programme is structured through four themes:

Annexation, Occupation Defiance

As Seen by Annemarie Jacir

As Seen by Children

As Seen Through Creative Eyes

All told there are fourteen features that include both dramas and documentaries. In addition there are several supporting videos. As with earlier Festivals there are a range of views and experiences from amongst Palestinians and the few critical voices found among Israelis

The Festival is available on line through ‘InPlayer’ which is an online streaming platform. It claims to be ;

‘the world’s leading pay-per-view and subscription solution’.

It appears to be based in Britain and be an independent company. It relies on the Vimeo provision. There does not appear to be a test video to check reception but when I looked both the image and sound were of a good quality.

You can check yourself on the Festival Web Pages by looking at one of the ‘free’ videos like ‘Through the Eyes of Others – Launch Event’. This is useful as there is an introduction and a conversation regarding grassroots film provision.

You can buy a festival pass for the whole period or buy tickets for individual titles. Note, with the latter your viewing window is 48 hours. I assume that the pass enables you to view right through the period.

 

Sapphire (1959) for #BlackHistoryMonth

The Hyde Park Picture House’s ‘On The Road’ programme has restarted this month, with daily screenings at the City Varieties attracting film audiences back to see films on the big screen.

However, as it’s still too soon for some people to return to cinemas, this weekend the Hyde Park Picture House team selected a film that can be watched at home as a #HydeParkPick and are sharing it as a way to mark this year’s Black History Month.

Poster for Sapphire with the tagline "The sensational story of a girl who didn't belong"

Sapphire is a British drama directed by Basil Dearden in 1959, it’s a fascinating film that reveals much about levels of prejudice in multi-cultural London just as it was on the cusp of a more permissive 1960s.

We’re presenting this choice with an exclusive new essay written for us by author and film scholar Josiah Howard.

Josiah is a specialist in film and cultural studies who has written four books, including Blaxploitation Cinema: The essential reference guide in 2008. He is a senior contributor at Furious Cinema and his writing credits include articles for The American Library of Congress, The New York Times and Reader’s Digest.     


 The 1959 release in Britain of Basil Dearden’s Sapphire and the same year’s release of Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life in America, marked the cinema’s return to the controversial topic of black people passing for white—be they British or American. Subterfuge, “misrepresentation” and the fluid nature or racial identity made good copy: it reinforced the notion that you can’t trust anyone and that things were often not what they seemed.

Released in a world devoid of the internet, cell-phones, home video and digital entertainment, cinematic depictions of passing had a proven and lucrative pedigree: they were titillating, headline-grabbing attractions that appealed to the prurient; the curious visitor who wanted to know about the netherworld but also wanted to remain at a safe and respectable distance.

Elia Kazan’s Pinky and Alfred L. Werker’s Lost Boundaries (both 1949), George Sidney’s Showboat (1951; made three times over the years), and Fred M. Wilcox’s I Passed for White (1960) captivated audiences and did what film studios and distributors wanted: they made money—Pinky even garnered three Academy Award nominations.

Sapphire, under referenced and generally underseen remains a watershed: a bold, audacious, modern tale (itself occasionally insensitive and racist) that dealt with the challenges of immigration, class, culture, the youth generation, identity, and the power of costume, charade, sexual attraction and fetishism. That was a large plate for prolific director Basil Dearden, best-known for his fast-moving procedurals, but he and everyone else involved delivered the salacious goods in fine fashion.

A beautiful conservatively dressed, white girl (whose lacy undergarments are deemed incongruous and “flashy”) is found stabbed to death in a park. But is she white? And what does “white” mean? That’s the essential question that Sapphire explores and it’s a compelling one, especially as Britain’s racial discomfiture was, for the most part, generally unfamiliar outside of Europe. America was the place where there was racial strife and division that was firmly on record. The long-established history of slavery, segregation and, of course, the Civil War were part of America’s dark past: a stark truth that everyone could point to.

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A Hole in Babylon, BBC 1979

BBC Tuesday October 20th at 10 p.m. and on the I-Player

This was a drama in the BBC’s ‘Play for Today’ series. The series followed on from the pioneer ‘Wednesday Play’ series and ran from 1970 to 1984. There were some 300 hundred entries by notable dramatists, film-makers and craft people often commenting on their contemporary world. Fifty years on from the launch of the series BBC Four  is offering a celebration. ‘Drama out of a Crisis’ offered an overview of the series last week and is still available on catch-up. Now we can look forward to screening of some of the highlight dramas, though which and how many is as yet unknown.

This drama from 1979 was written by Horace Ové and Jim Hawkins and directed by Ové. It presents the events in which three Africa-Caribbean men attempted a robbery at the Spaghetti House Restaurant in Knightsbridge and held the staff and customers hostage for six days whilst the police lay siege. This was a dramatisation of actual events in 1975.

The director Horace Ové was one of the really talented and interesting film-makers in Britain over the last sixty odd years. However, he is seriously under-represented in the film canon. He was only able to produce two features in that period though these are seminal films; Pressure (1976) and Playing Away (1987). His career started with three short documentaries, including Baldwin’s Nigger (1968). He did an amount of work for television including two for ‘Play for Today’: episodes in the popular series Empire Road (1979): and a drama mini-series The Orchid House (1991). He also worked in photography and in the theatre.

His film work, including A Hole in Babylon, still speaks to the contemporary world of Britain: especially in a period when ‘Black Lives Matter’ has achieved such influence. The drama presumably will be on the I-Player well into 2021. The overview ‘Drama out of a Crisis’ is already on the iPlayer. It is a little selective in its coverage but a full listing of the ‘Play for Today’ series is on Wikipedia.