Barbarella: 60’s Space Romp

Creatures of the Night: Saturday 5th May 10:30pm

Barbarella (1968), based on the French comic series of the same name (by Jean-Claude Forest), is a cult classic for a reason. Several reasons really.

We (the audience) follow the beautiful space adventurer Barbarella (Jane Fonda) on her mission to retrieve the scientist Dr. Durand Durand, to stop his super weapon, the positronic ray, falling into the wrong hands.

The opening scene, iconic and eternal,  Barbarella, floating around her ship, undressing. It just gets better and better. The Sci-Fi adventure is a product of its time, Jean-Claude wanted Barbarella to be representative of a free and liberated woman. This was the 60’s, and it was all about free love. Barbarella faces numerous perils in her journey to find Durand Durand, discovering sex and pleasure along the way. One early sequence, Barbarella is taught what “actual” sex is, as opposed to what has developed on earth in the future (taking pills and touching hands), far from the natural way of doing things. You can really see the films influence on future sci-fi film’s tackling of sex ( see Demolition Man).

From start to finish, the film is steeped in eroticism, fashion and far out ideas. To compare it to another cult classic, 2001:A Space Odyssey which came out the same year, a cold realistic view of space and humanities future. Barbarella came out of the psychedelia of  the 1960s, one of the most striking aspects of the film is the bizarre scenery that the titular character crashes into from scene to scene. It’s far out maaaaan.

Dealing with a chaotic, bizarre and weird worlds, we follow Barbarella on her weird journey of her mission to save the universe, and her own personal sexual exploration. Barbarella’s use of sex is inherent to film and its plot.

The film doesn’t feel hemmed in by tropes or rules, and because of this, we get an enjoyable, if not a little chaotic film. Some aspects of it may seem dated, but that comes with any piece of cinema.

If you are in the mood for a weird sci-fi space adventure with erotic overtones, Barbarella is the film for you.

You may also like these non-erotic recommendations;

  • Logan’s Run
  • Demolition Man
  • Flash Gordon

Henry Stocks-Fryer

The Third Murder / Sandome no satsujin, Japan 2017

Screening Sunday April 29th at 12 noon and Thursday May 3rd at 3.10 p.m.

Happily we have two screenings of the new Koreeda Hirokazu film. His earlier titles include the beautifully low-key Our Little Sister (Umimachi Diary, 2015) and the more dramatic but equally complex After the Storm (Umi yori mo mada fukaku, 2016). Koreeda is both a seriously fine film-maker and adept at working across genres. Apart from these two titles his output includes the children’s adventure I Wish (Kiseki, 2011); the Samurai film Hana (Hana yori mo naho, 2006); After Life (Wandafuru raifu, 1998) set in an equivalent of the Christian purgatory.

In this new film Koreeda again rings the changes in what appears on the surface to be a ‘legal thriller’. Misumi (Yakusho Kôji) is under arrest and charged with murder. A previous conviction for a double murder explains the title. Shigemori Tomoaki (Fukuyama Masaharu) is recruited to his defence team. He finds that Misumi’s account of events changes nearly every time he is questioned. He also finds that the family of the murdered victim, the wife Yamanaka Mitsue (Saito Yuki) and daughter Yamanaka Sakie (Hirose Suzu), also offer suspect testimony. The legal plot is not about innocence or guilt but the severity of the charge which may or may not lead to execution.

But if Koreeda works across genres, as an auteur, he is still identifiable by the themes which dominate his films. In this drama three of the main characters are fathers who have failed their families, in particular a daughter. Here the film crosses over with many of the director’s earlier works. Along with those mentioned these include Still Walking (Aruitemo aruitemo, 2008) and Like Father, Like Son (Soshite chichi ni naru, 2013).

There are parallels in the settings as well. The main places are towns close to the Tama River, south of Tokyo; but we also visit the region of Hokkaido in the north, noted for its cold climate.

The style is somewhat faster in rhythm than Koreeda’s other recent films. Here the team are working for the first time in an anamorphic ratio. Cinematographer Takimoto Mikiya makes excellent use of the wide frame. There are some evocative night-time sequences and a stunning use of superimposition late in the film. Koreeda who scripted, also edited this production. And there is an evocative music score by Einaudi Ludovico.

I thought, along with Sweet Country (Australia, 2017), that this is the most impressive new release so far in 2018. The film was shot in a digital format and has transferred very well to DCP. The quality of the visual and aural presentation means that much of the pleasure from the film will be missing on video or download. So this is a title to be seen at the cinema.

Isle of Dogs: A Dog-friendly screening 

A dog-friendly screening? Hmm … part of the Cinema’s relentless efforts to build new audiences. What could possibly go wrong? And who could resist writing a review peppered with references to Dog Day Afternoon (1976), K-9 (1989) and Lady and the Tramp (1955)? So, here are my notes:

The Picture House: Auditorium lights on low during the film, film subtitled. Dog blankets and (shh!) treats provided.

The audience: diverse and generally well behaved. A few barks here and there but, as I remarked to Jack (Russell), at least I didn’t see any dogs checking for messages on their phones while the film was running. Certainly popular. Both dog-friendly screenings have been sold out.

The film: The Isle of Dogs was a great choice. Beautiful stop-motion animation and a simple story. Despite it being set in Japan I didn’t notice any Hokkaidos or Kai Kens in the audience.

This screening was a credit to everyone, canine and human: director Wes Anderson and the excellent voice cast; with  special mention for the staff and volunteers at the Hyde Park Picture House; and of course the support of Dogs Trust.

We are promised more dog-friendly films at the Picture House. What next? Watership Down (1978), Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), or the wonderful Kedi (2016) about the street cats of Istanbul?

Tibbs, the cat who once took up residence in the Picture House foyer, must be turning in their grave.


Bill Walton

The Pavilion Presents Alia Syed.

Monday April 16th, 6.30 p.m. until 8.00 p.m.

This is an evening of films with the voice of the artist. Alia was born in Swansea and she enjoys both Welsh and Indian heritages. She works in film and on exhibitions and also teaches in Further Education. She now has three decades of film-making behind her.

The programme will include:

Points of Departure, 2014, video, 17min

Eating Grass, 2003, 16mm, 24min

Fatima’s Letter, 1992, 16mm, 19min

Alia will be there to talk about the themes and pre-occupations in her work. These include gender, colonialism, the diaspora and borders.

“I am interested in language; we construct ourselves through language; it creates the space where we define ourselves. Film can be a mirror—it can throw things back at us in a way that makes us question the ideas we have about ourselves and through this each other…I [am] interested in what happens when you hold more than one ‘culture’ within you at any given time.” [From a Q&A at an evening in L.A.]

Alia works within the experimental film discourse. You can get a sense of her approach by looking at one of her films [Points of Departure] on BBC Arts OnlinePavilion events are always worth attending; the Hyde Park Picture House has hosted a number; and this promises to be rewarding. It will be at The Swarthmore Centre on this Monday evening.  Swarthmore is quite accessible. From the Picture House walk up through the park, and down Cardigan Road to Woodhouse Square.

Isle of Dogs USA Germany 2018

Screening every day Saturday through till Thursday April 12th

Judging by the sell-out for the preview screening this title is the most eagerly awaited new release this year. Cult director Wes Anderson has produced a digital animation in colour and widescreen. The film is produced by his own Indian Paintbrush but also involving Studio Babelsberg, a partner in the earlier The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). Babelsberg was once the site where Weimar cinema produced trailblazing special effects in the 1920s. Set in Japan, though with predominantly English dialogue, the film offers a pack of leading canine players voiced by well-known stars. Owners with cinephilic pets can enjoy a special dog-friendly screening on Saturday April 7th: repeated on April 14th. Later on the 7th a rather different canine representation can be seen in Samuel Fuller’s White Dog (1982).

Wes Anderson has experience of both animation and star voicing in Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009). He also used the techniques in the underwater sequences in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004). The plot revolves around a boy’s search for a lost dog. Youthful protagonists, along with dogs, have been seen in several Anderson titles, notably in my personal favourite Moonrise Kingdom (2012). This film also had one finest uses of an established composer [Benjamin Britten] so it will be interesting to see how Anderson and his team handle musical accompaniment.

The film also seems likely to stray close to the style and themes of Japanese anime. Anderson is, like a number of contemporary film-makers, also a film buff. His American Express: My Life. My Card was a brilliant homage to François Truffaut’s own celebratory Day for Night (La nuit américaine 1973). And I think Anderson must have had some involvement in the ‘Isle of Dogs mobile phone warning trailer’ screening at Picturehouse venues. Let us hope audiences have seen the latter.

What seems likely to be new thematically is an apocalyptic narrative. There is though the school drama in Rushmore (1998) which tends a little in that direction. What should be certain, noting Anderson’s existing output and the reviews of his new film, is that it will offer a very entertaining 100 minutes.

PS The film  is brilliantly done with excellent stop motion animation and CGI. The visual and aural quality on the DCP is fine. The canine characters speak English whilst the human characters speak Japanese with aural translation or sub-titles into English.  The soundtrack includes music by ALexandre Desplat, Hayasaka Fumio and  Sergei Prokofiev. The references and homages come thick and fast and it probably takes two viewings to catch them all. However, there are a number for Kurosawa Akira.

Hairspray, USA 1988

Showing Saturday 31st March 11pm

Maybe you are too young to remember the ‘60s.
And if you remember the ‘60s, you really weren’t there!!
Now, who first said that … was it Timothy Leary, Pete Townshend, Grace
Slick, Robin Williams or someone else? … well, whoever it was, this
great John Waters movie is your gateway to early ‘60s Baltimore.

Hairspray reveals a world of big hair, plus-size models, the Corny Collins
teenager dance show (with its “Negro Day” on the last Thursday of every
month), Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” and, of course, exuberant dances like
The Twist, The Mashed Potato, and The Watusi.

Motormouth Maybelle Stubbs (Ruth Brown): No matter what you’ve
heard, we are gonna teach the white children how to do The Bird!

Despite the upbeat music, all is not well in Maryland. Racism is an ever-
present reality. Life is certainly a bit of a challenge for some of the
parents like Edna and Wilbur Turnblad (Divine and Jerry Stiller), and
Velma and Franklin Tussle (Debbie Harry and Sonny Bono). And it’s not
just the dancing. Listen up …

Amber Von Tussle, Franklin von Tussle: Segregation today. Segregation
tomorrow. Segregation forever!

But the times, they are a changin’. Something’s blowin’ in the wind.
Iggy (Josh Charles): Would you swim in an integrated swimming pool?

Tracy Turnblad (Ricki Lake): I sure would, Iggy. I’m a modern kind of girl,
I’m all for integration.

It’s subversive. It’s gleeful. It’s bawdy. And the issues raised by
Hairspray remain very relevant today. Be there or be square!

As delightful Tracy Turnblad exclaims: Let’s dance!


Bill Walton

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, USA 2017

Tuesday March 27th at 6.30 p.m.

Hedy Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in 1914 in Vienna, then part of the Austria-Hungary Empire which collapsed at the end of World War 1. She worked in Max Reinhardt theatrical company as a stage actress but then moved into the German film industry. Her most famous role was in Ekstase (1933), a Czech/Austrian production in German directed by Gustav Machaty. The film featured erotic scenes and a nude bathing sequence which ensured that it achieved notoriety. The film was screened at the a Leeds International Film Festival along with an earlier silent tile by Machaty, Erotikon (1929),

A failing marriage with a military munitions business man [experience she utilised later] and her Jewish status led Lamarr to leave Germany. She was recruited in Paris by Louis B. Mayer to the M-G-M studio. In Hollywood Lamar became a famed on-screen beauty. However, her roles tended to be based on her physical attributes and tended towards exotic characters. She rarely was cast in roles with strong acting potential.

Hedy Lamarr was with M-G-M from 1939 until 1943. Titles there included White Cargo (1942) in which she played Tondelayo, a black siren who seduces white colonial administrators (Richard Carlson). The story, which also had an earlier British version in 1929, suffered from racist caricature. H.M. Pulham, Esq (1941), adapted from John P Marquand’s novel, was of higher quality and was directed by King Vidor. Lamarr’s Marvin Myles was cast opposite Robert Young’s Harry Pulham.

For several years she worked free-lance, including with Warner Brothers, more titles for M-G-M, two minor Hollywood studios and at RKO. The last was Experiment Perilous (1944), directed by Jacques Torneur, which had her playing Allida Bederaux opposite George Brent and Paul Lukas in a Gothic melodrama.

Then she was at Paramount from 1949 until 1951. Here she played one of her most famous roles as Delilah in Cecil B de Mille’s Sampson and Delilah (1949), opposite Victor Mature playing the Jewish prophet and hairy heavy.

Lamarr’s film career ran out in the 1950s. However, aside from acting her ‘hobbies’ involving inventions give her story a distinctive turn. Hedy Lamarr had picked up some military science know-how from her first husband. During World War II, with support from the mogul Howard Hughes, she helped to develop a ‘radio-hopping’ device which has been utilised in more recent technologies.

Alexandra Dean’s documentary presents both aspects of her story, combining film clips and interviews, including audio tapes of Hedy Lamarr. It should provide a fascinating representation of both the film industry and the unseen other life of a Hollywood star. Hedy Lamarr was one of a select group of female stars described as the ‘world’s most beautiful woman’. More accurately the publicists could have described her as both the ‘most beautiful’ and ‘the smartest’.

Cinephiles’ Health Warning:

The title has archive footage in academy ratio reframed to 1.78:1 [television’s 16:9]. Oddly some television footage [4 by 3] and some 16mm footage [academy] are both in their original ratio.

Aliens: Ripley’s Back Believe It or Not

sigourney-weaver-as-ripley-in-james-camerons-aliens
Released in 1986, the xenomorph returned to the silver screen under the vision of budding Canadian Director James Cameron, who got his start with Piranha II: The Spawning (seriously look it up).

Cameron’s incarnation of the Alien universe is different to the atmospheric space horror that Ridley Scott brought to life, bursting through some poor souls chest and into our collective consciousness. Cameron made Alien into an action-movie. That’s not a bad thing.

We return to Ripley (played by the wonderful Sigourney Weaver), who has been floating around in statis for 57 years. She’s rescued and unfortunately, no one really believes her stories of aliens and blowing up ships for legitimate reasons. The audience can really join in with the Socratic irony of the this, the enraging knowledge that THERE’S ALIENS and no one really believes her. Oh how wrong they were.

Ripley, along with a rag-tag group of marines, is sent to investigate a colony that has gone erily silent. This is where elements of Cameron’s Aliens take hold, where horror shifts gracefully (or not so) into action. Ships, guns and plenty of flame throwers make this ride into the Aliens universe intense in a whole other way, and the ending….oh boy.

Cameron isn’t just explosions and one-liners, he continues to explore the themes set out by Scott in the previous film. Ripley’s distrust of androids and the uncanny valley that comes with that territory is explored further with her interactions with Bishop (Lance Henriksen), a staple of science fiction, with good reason.

The extent of mega corporations power in the future, the ineptitude of those in power, survival and the horrors of things we do not know. Aliens is favourite amongst science fiction fans, because it explores these themes, and at the same time…it’s an adventure.

Ellen Ripley, is the real star of this, not the xenomorph (sorry Giger). Ripley is possibly the start of a long line of amazon-heroines. Sarah Connor, Xena, Buffy…the list goes on. But Ripley was at the forefront, and Weaver’s performance in this well rounded/written character cements her as an icon. This stock character is a firm favourite of mine, and Ellen’s true grit ensures no acid-spitting alien is going to take her down.

Please watch this film. It’s essential.

Stand out performance: Carrie Henn as Newt.

If you like this you should also watch;

  • Starship Troopers
  • Piranha II: The Spawning
  • Event Horizon

Henry Stocks-Fryer

The Creature From the Black Lagoon: A Fishman Out of Water Story

Creatures of the Night: Saturday 24th February 10.30 PM

blacklag

The Creature From the Black Lagoon, the title is typical of the science fiction films of the  1950s, especially, Jack Arnold, director of this motion picture. The title does exactly what it says on the tin. Same with Jack Arnold’s other films (which I encourage our readers to see), The Incredible Shrinking Man (one of his best), Tarantula and It Came From Outer Space.

Originally filmed in 3D (a fad which went away eventually…), Arnold takes the audience on a trip deep into the Amazon. The suspense of the piece is carried on masterfully by the director, the constant looming presence of the creature is felt, Jaws before Jaws.

The exploration of evolution, and of the future is a theme in this film. Constant references to the world of tomorrow, and how science can help humanity advance, its pro-science leading man and woman, help cement it as a film ahead of its time. Gil-Man, the creature, is not the only star player in this piece, Richard Carlson alongside the beautiful Julie Adams, bring a classic Hollywood charm to the film.  Carlson’s character (David) is a forward thinking sort, at conflict with his less noble intentioned coworkers. Julie Adams performance as Kay as one to watch out for, playing the girlfriend and coworker of David. A character in her own right (instead of the atypical damsel in distress), bringing a refreshing change to the two dimensional female leads of B-movies. Of course it is not all about scientific discovery, as we see Gil-Man become infatuated with Kay, and his various attempts to carry her off to his lagoon lair bring further drama to this tense film.

We can see that Jack Arnold wanted to portray David and Kay as the future, of what society and people should be striving towards. They are still imperfect, but they are getting there).

Future meets ancient past as the intrepid science team stumbles into the black lagoon, disturbing the Gil-Man, and prompting him into action against these intruders. There are no true bad guys in this film, which makes it all the more well rounded. There’s no cartoonish villain twirling a comic moustache. Gil-Man might be a tragic monster, more akin to Frankenstein’s Monster than Dracula. Although he is not a monster of human creation, merely left behind by evolution….

This is one of my favourite monster-horror films, and was the start of the 50’s sci fi film binge (recommended list below). The atmosphere, the well rounded characters, the action and of course, the design of the monster it(him?)self all come together to create an iconic piece of cinema.

Come join us at the Hyde Park Picture House, Saturday 24th February 10.30pm. Popcorn is essential.

Further viewing, if classic sci-fi is your thing, check out the following;

  • The Incredible Shrinking Man
  • Forbidden Planet
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still.
  • Attack of the 50 foot Woman. (so bad it’s good)

Henry Stocks-Fryer