15 Years after its first premiere, notorious bad film, The Room (2003), has continued success with regular screenings all over the world. This success is down to its growing cult fanbase, and in turn, The Disaster Artist, a film based on the making of The Room, is created by those fans.
In August 2010, journalist Tom Bissell wrote a brilliant piece for Harper’s magazine entitled ‘Cinema Crudité’, charting his growing obsession with The Room, which he describes as “…the movie an alien who has never seen a movie might make after having had movies thoroughly explained to him.” His deep dive culminates in an interview with the director/screenwriter/producer/star himself, Tommy Wiseau.
In his interview, Bissell eludes to an article by Clark Collis entitled The Crazy Cult of ‘The Room’, which charts the growing cult success of the film among Hollywood’s comedy elite, including Judd Apatow alumni Jonah Hill and Paul Rudd. Bissell asks Wiseau if he had been approached by any of his celebrity fans, to which he gives a typically left field and cryptic answer, a roundabout way of saying ‘no’. Funnily enough, it would be Bissell, and his book The Disaster Artist (written with Greg Sestero, Wiseau’s friend and co-star), that would finally connect Wiseau with his celebrity fanbase. It was the book that also introduced director/star James Franco to the film, which he is already envisioning as a film of sorts in his 2013 Vice article about it (“The book reads like the combination of two Paul Thomas Anderson film scripts…”).
The film version of The Disaster Artist begins with a prelude of talking heads, including Kristen Bell (who is interviewed in the original Clark Collis article), trying to articulate their complicated relationship with “the Citizen Kane of bad Movies”. The film itself is made up of high profile fans of the film, including all three hosts of the podcast ‘How did that get Made’, who interviewed Sestero before The Disaster Artist book was published (at that point with the working title of ‘Lost inside The Room’)
Richard Brody’s review of The Disaster Artist for The New Yorker, describes the acting style of Tommy Wiseau (played convincingly by Franco) as a “theatre of attention” which is most apparent in a scene played out in a cafe, where Wiseau and Sestero command the attention of bemused patrons. This was an inspiration for producer A24’s viral campaign, an award given to the best scene from The Room acted out in public. This in turn mirrors those early midnight screenings, as it was a staple, to dress up as characters from The Room and act out scenes, in the aisles and in front of the screen, which essentially provides the core of The Disaster Artist. Apparently around 25 minutes of the The Room was recreated shot-for-shot, evidenced in the films closing credits.
There’s a clip on youtube (below) of Tom Bissell before he went to his first midnight screening of the film, the one he wrote about in his piece. In the video he is asked about his favourite scene, one which he calls “incomprehensible”. At that point he had only seen clips online, recently he said he has seen it “More than 100 times”, I wonder if it makes any more sense to him now, or if the delight is still in the incomprehensibility of it all.
Our annual Christmas screening this year is the Coen Brothers’ Fargo. Jerry Lundegaard is a car salesman in Minneapolis who has landed himself deep into debt. Desperate for money, he hires two inept crooks to kidnap his own wife in the hope that her wealthy father will pay the ransom. But when Jerry’s plan goes horribly wrong, Marge Gunderson – a pregnant but persistent police chief in rural Minnesota – is brought in to try and unravel the deadly scheme.
Members are invited to join us any time from 7:15pm for sherry, mince pies and a chance to look at plans for the HLF scheme. The film won’t begin until after 8:30 though so arrive whenever suits you. We anticipate this will be a well attended screening so if you would definitely like to see the film can you please RSVP to Wendy before 10th December.
Remastered Director’s Cut Showing Saturday 2nd December 8:40pm
Marty: “I got a job for you.”
Private Detective Visser: “Well, if the pay’s right, and it’s legal, I’ll do it.”
Marty: “It’s not strictly legal.”
Private Detective Visser: [Thinks for a second] “Well, if the pay’s right, I’ll do it.”
Definition of Blood Simple: What happens to someone psychologically once they have committed murder; craziness. A phrase coined by novelist Dashiell Hammett.
Revenge is sweet. This could be the perfect crime. But who can you really trust? And might human fallibility bring unintended consequences? This tense Texas thriller will keep you guessing. Make sure you keep an eye on those little details … the gun, the cigarette lighter, the knife, the contents of the safe.
Blood Simple is the Coen Brothers’ first film and my personal favourite. They bring together a great script, cinematography and soundtrack. The director’s cut is just a few minutes shorter than the original. M Emmet Walsh (Private Detective Visser); John Getz (Ray); Dan Hedaya (Marty); Frances McDormand (Abby); and Samm-Art Williams (Meurice) bring their flawed characters to life. One damn things just leads to another …
The Four Tops record on the jukebox blares out:
You’re sweet as a honey bee
But like a honey bee stings
You’ve gone and left my heart in pain
All you left is our favourite song
The one we danced to all night long
It used to bring sweet memories
Of a tender love that used to be
It’s the same old song
But with a different meaning
Since you been gone
It’s the same old song
The screening will be the director’s’ cut of the film following a recent digital restoration from StudioCanal.
The film festival may be over but with arguably one of their best programmes, there’s still plenty to talk about. We asked our contributors for their highlights from LIFF2017 and it would be great to see yours in the comments:
- The Wages of Fear
- Lover for a Day
- The Teacher
- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
- Gaza Surf Club
- Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion
- The Rider
- Happy End
- Happy End
- Taste of Cherry / Ta’m e guilass
And the best film not screened at the Festival, Oktyabr / October 1917 (Ten Days that Shook the World, 1928), co-written and directed by Sergei Eisenstein.
- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
- The Florida Project
- Good Time
- Bad Genius
- You Were Never Really Here
- The Breadwinner
- The Rider
This Soviet classic is screening at the Hebden Bridge Picture House on December 2nd. This is another of those rare chances to celebrate The Great October Revolution through the films that it inspired. If you saw The End of St. Petersburg / Konets Sankt-Peterburga (1927) here in Leeds in September you will have an idea of how impressive Soviet silent montage films can be.
The film is screening in a 35mm print from the restoration by the Munich Archive in 2005. This is now the closest version to the original screened at the Bolshoi Theatre in 1925. The restoration relied to a great extent on a surviving print in the BFI National Film Archive which was screened for the London Film Society by the director Sergei Eisenstein in 1929.
The print has both the original editing and title cards, some of which were cut by censorship later. It will have a live piano accompaniment by Darius Battiwalla. If you saw and heard the presentation of Berlin: Symphony of a Great City / Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Grosstadt (1927) here you will know what an excellent accompanist he is.
The film created a great stir on its release, both in the Soviet Union and internationally. The young Luis Buñuel was so inspired that he and his comrades erected a barricade in the street after watching the film. Especially famous is ‘The Odessa Steps Sequence’ but it seems likely that more people have seen that extract that have actually seen the whole film. Now is the opportunity to see the film complete and as close a possible to the version that created the sensation back in 1925.
The Hebden Bridge Picture House is accessible, about an hour by train or car from Leeds. It is an attractive cinema which opened in 1921, only seven years after the Hyde Park Picture House.
The 2017 Festival launches during the Leeds International Film Festival with a new documentary Gaza Surf Club. The film has been directed by two young filmmakers with funding from German Public Broadcasting Company, Westdeutscher Rundfunk Köln. In Gaza there is a small band of enthusiasts who ride the surf in the coastal waters. The added dangers of the sport here are the Israeli blockade and maritime restrictions. It is in colour and with both English and Arabic.
The Occupation of the American Mind is a documentary produced by the Media Education Foundation. The writers and directors Loretta Alper, and Jeremy Earp have provided an exploration of that central movement attempting to protect Israel from scrutiny and justice in the USA. This ‘propaganda’ and pressure is replicated to a smaller extent in Britain as well. Filmed in colour and all in English. The film will be followed by a talk and discussion with former Reuters journalist Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi. Naomi is a leading campaigner for ‘Free Speech on Israel’.
Firefighters Under Occupation is a distintive documentary. Sponsored by the Fire Brigade Union it was filmed by a South Wales firefighter on a trip to the Occupied West Bank where indigenous firefighters operate the equipment donated by their comrades in Britain. The event also has a distintive venue, the converted Gipton Fire Station now an East Leeds Community venue.
The Time That Remains is the most recent feature by Elia Suleiman released in 2009, screening at the Hyde Park Picture House. Suleiman is a pioneer of Palestinian cinema, his first films in the 1990s were produced before the present expanded cycle of films made in the occupied territories emerged. Dramatising his own life and that of his father Fuad Suleiman produces a complex narrative setting out both the Israeli domination of Palestinians and their resistance. The film treats the subject with a degree of irony.
The Idol from the 2016 Festival at a new venue. This title dramatises the story of Muhammad Assaf, the Gazan wedding singer who won the prestigious Television Contest ‘Arab idol’. The film had some fine sequences set in Gaza in his childhood and returns there at the end with actual footage of the celebrations on his success.
Also returning from 2016 is Balls, Barriers & Bulldozers, a documentary following a British tour of the West Bank playing against Palestinian women football teams. The film is about the sport and about the experience of visiting the Occupied Territories.
‘Existence is Resistance’ is an evening with short films and an exhibition of photographs. The theme is ‘Sumud’, that is ‘steadfast’. The short films are Sumud: Everyday Resistance; Journey of a Sofa; and Shireen of al-Walaja the portrait of a popular resistance leader.
Finally we have ‘Film Maker as Activist – an afternoon of short films and discussion with Jon Pullman’. The Forgotten addresses the condition of the millions of Palestinian refugees who still wait for the liberation of their homeland. The filmmaker will also talk about his planned film, The Lynching, which will deal with the current ‘anti-semiotic’ witch-hunt in the British Labour Party.
The Festival offers a varied selection of films in both theatrical and community settings. Now well established the Festival brings a political edge to film viewing in West Yorkshire.
Festival Webpages: http://www.leedspff.org.uk/
This title opened the 2017 Leeds International Film Festival. It was screened in a fairly packed Victoria auditorium at Leeds Town Hall. This has a large well placed screen for the occasion and the illumination levels are suitably low; though you get extraneous light when people enter or leave during the feature, [now reduced as they have dimmed the lights in the foyers]. The acoustics are less favourable, especially for dialogue. This feature offers Swedish, English and Danish with part sub-titles. Presumably because of the English dialogue the soundtrack was fairly loud but one could manage.
The film itself won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. I am not totally convinced by the Jury’s choice but I could see why the film received the award. It was written and directed by Ruben Östlund whose Force Majeure was one of the stand-out releases in 2014. The bad news for those who enjoyed the earlier title is that C20th Fox have acquired ‘remake rights’.
The Square is a worthy follow-up and the style and themes of the film are recognisably similar. However, I thought this title lacked the tight focus and some of the subtlety of the predecessor though I found the ending stronger. This is rather like a picaresque novel as it follows the travails of a curator of a museum devoted to contemporary art in Stockholm. One nice touch is that the museum is called ‘X-Royal’ because it is sited alongside and uses part of the original Royal Palace.
In the course of the narrative we follow Christian (Claes Bang) at work and outside of the museum. And we meet a range of other characters including his managers and colleagues, his children from a separated marriage and the privileged members of the ‘Friends of the Museum’. The Museum and its patrons are the main target in a feature that is predominately satire. The museum elite and the patrons are holders of what French intellectual Pierre Bourdieu termed ‘cultural capital’. And the film draws a contrast between these members or hangers-on of the bourgeoisie and a range of characters from the lower depths of the working class, possessing literally no or minimal cultural capital.
Some powerful and at times sardonic sequences in the film focus on this class conflict. And Christian’s metaphorical journey in the film appears to be designed to accomplish something similar in audiences. So the film veers between almost slapstick humour, sometimes heavy-handed satire and emotive dramatic moments. It is a long film, 140 minutes. I do not think it is too long but in the weaker moments I was conscious of the length. A member of the audience opined that
‘the film tried to include too much’.
I think this is accurate but it is also that the film has too many targets whereas Force Majeure limited itself effectively to gender and family contradictions. The Square reminded me of the 2016 festival entry Tony Erdmann. Both films follow a picaresque form, both are partly satirical partly dramatic; and each critically examines aspects of European political culture. But both are scripted by the director and I think a specialist scriptwriter would have improved the work. It is the sort of film that Jean Claude Carriere would have been good on.
The film is very well produced. The cast are excellent. Even in some of the more bizarre scenes they are completely convincing. The technical aspects are extremely well done in terms of settings, cinematography, sound and editing. The last named technique uses abrupt cuts frequently positioning the audience to fill in an ellipsis and its consequences. The production team are especially good at the use of stairwells, two finely presented settings. The title was shot on the Codex digital system and on Alexa cameras. It is distributed in a 2K DCP which looks fine.
It is a film I think i will see again. It goes on general release via Curzon [who follow somewhat restrictive practices] and there are further screenings in the Victoria and at the Hyde Park Picture House. The film has a couple of genuinely shocking sequences. The BBFC have not released their certification yet but I believe it will receive a ’15’.
This year’s Festival includes eight screening sourced from 35mm prints, [baring accidents]. I make this one more than in 2016, progress. All the films will be projected at the Hyde Park Picture House as the only other venue in Leeds with 35mm projector, The Cottage Road Cinema, is not participating in the Festival: shame. In another example of progress all the titles are listed in the printed ‘Free Guide’ and are noted on the Festival Webpages.
Stephen has already mentioned the ‘breakfast’ screening of Amelie (France 2001).
The Deputy / El diputado is a Spanish thriller from 1978, filmed in colour and standard widescreen. The plot involves a left-wing politician, the police and security services, black mail and even treason. The treatment makes all of this both complex and fascinating, widening the story with sexual orientation.
The Lives of Others / Das Leben der Anderen (Germany, 2006) was a popular success on its initial release. It studies the situation of an artist under the Stasi in the German Democratic Republic in the 1980s. What makes the story dramatic is a borrowing from Victor Hugo’s great novel ‘Les Misérables’.
Orphée (France 1950) is a film version of the famous myth by poet and artist Jean Cocteau. The film has a dreamlike quality and is full of actions and settings beloved of the Surrealists. The black and white cinematography really does deserve to be seen on film.
The Party and the Guests / O slavnosti a hostech (A Report on the Party and the Guests, Czechoslovakia, 1966) was part of the 1960s ‘new wave’ and was banned for many years. The film only appeared in Britain in 2008. Shot in academy and black and white, the film is an absurdist drama, at times reminiscent of Samuel Beckett.
Seven Days in January / 7 días de enero (Spain, 1979) is a thriller based on actual events. Aftert the welcome death of General Franco and Spain’s transition to a more democratic society elements from the fascist past attempted to undermine the process.
Taste of Cherry / Ta’m e guilass (Iran, 1997) is one of the fine films from this country’s art/independent sector. The director Abbas Kiarostami is noted for his minimalist approach. Here, in another Iranian film set mainly in an automobile, we spend a few hours with a man debating a fundamental question.
Volver (Spain, 2006) is another excellent drama from Pedro Almodóvar. This is a film centred on women and the fine cast, as a collective, were awarded the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festivals. This is mainly a dramatic comedy but with many of the issues that always fill Almodovar’s films and titillate audiences.
Surprisingly several other films in the retrospective section are on digital even though I am pretty sure that 35mm prints exist. These include Satyajit Ray’s memorable Aparajito (India, 1956) and the more recent and compelling The Headless Woman / La mujer sin Cabeza (Argentina, 2008) directed by Lucretia Martell.
But the most serious lacunae in the programme is the complete absence of Soviet titles. The Centenary of the Great October Revolution [in the new style calendar] falls within the Festival. If this is not recognised as the most significant event of the C20th then surely the cinema it inspired, Soviet Montage, should be. It was the most challenging but also the most influential film movement in C20th World Cinema. It seems that we need a seminar on film history for the Festival office.
The Death of Stalin, the new film by Armando Iannucci (The Thick of It), based on the graphic novel of the same name, is currently showing at the HPPH.
Iannucci’s world building is second to none, dragging the viewer into the paranoid fear filled world of the U.S.S.R, where no one can be trusted, all rooms are bugged and no one is safe from the terror of the secret police, the NKVD, run by the sinister Beria (portrayed by Simon Beale).
The farcical power struggle that follows immediately after Stalin’s death between the Council of Ministers shows the absurd nature of the Stalinist Russia, and runs deeply into the themes that Iannucci covers in his previous work, The Thick of It, but this time around an added fear of execution, not Malcolm Tucker shouting at you.
Between the power grabs and scheming, we get a comedic glimpse into the theatre of the absurd that Stalin had created, Molotov (Palin) even quips ‘Stalin would be loving this’ at the height of the infighting. This film is one of the funniest out this year (the rest of the audience agreed with me I believe!), with moments of bleakness and sadness that pin the whole thing down in reality. These things happened and we are following the stories of cruel men, a product of a cruel regime.
Stand out performances for myself were Andrea Riseborough playing Stalin’s daughter Svetlana, whom all the council members were trying to win the favour of after her father’s death. A special mention for the Yorkshire-accented no nonsense Zhukov played by Jason Issacs (just wait for him to pop up!).
I cannot recommend The Death of Stalin enough, it gives the audience a glimpse into a strange world at a historically significant point in time, that not everyone is familiar with. Its funny, tense, farcical, paranoid and again, very very funny.
If you like The Death of Stalin, you should watch The Thick of It (Iannucci), In the Loop (Iannucci, 2009), and if you want to go old school, Yes Minister (Jay and Lynn).
I’ve been Comrade Henry Stocks-Fryer, you’ve been reading.
Last week the programme for LIFF2017 was launched along with the new Leeds Film City website (also Twitter, Facebook and Instagram). The paper programme should be available in the usual places (including the Picture House) and there is also a PDF version.
As always the programme is packed full of a wide variety of films and deciding what to see is tough process for film lovers. In the end I made a lot of my choices on how easily I could get from one screening to the next, of course it wouldn’t be LIFF if I didn’t have a few dashes between town and the Picture House. I made a clashfinder which shows which films are on at the same time and you may find it useful when you’re planning your festival. Other people are using the clashfinder which means I can see what films are getting highlighted the most and, although this may not reflect ticket sales, the current top 10 is as follows:
- The Square: Opening Film
- The Florida Project
- Bad Genius
- Summer Time Machine Blues
- The Killing of a Sacred Deer: Opening Film
- Dave Made a Maze
- Happy End
- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: Closing Film
- The Endless
- Good Time
I’m hoping to see all of those films so that list doesn’t surprise me much. I’ve got another 40 or so films in my current plan plus this year I’m hoping to try Night Of The Dead for the first time! What else am I looking forward to? Well there’s new films from Clio Barnard (Dark River) and Paddy Considine (Journeyman), the breakfast screening of Amélie should be a delight (plus it’s a 35mm print) and Mutafukaz looks like it’s the kind of craziness we’ve all come to expect from the festival.
What about you? What films are you looking forward to seeing and have you managed to put together a plan yet? Let us know in the comments.