Mid Year Favourites

With July on the horizon it seemed like a good time for some mid-year reflection. Before they headed off to Glastonbury, committee members Stephen and Bill picked their favourite films of 2017. As always, it would be great to hear your favourites in the comments. If you need a reminder here’s a page with a list of everything shown at the Picture House this year.

Bill

Three of my best films so far feature women taking the lead in tales of sex and violence.
Elle (2016)
Another stunning performance from Isabelle Huppert.
Chicago (1927)
Cecil B DeMille film featured in the Yorkshire Silent Film Festival , with live music. Phyllis Haver stars, supported by a strong cast.
Lady Macbeth (2016)
Florence Pugh plays the lead character, a charismatic and chilling performance.
I Am Not Your Negro (2017)
Damn Right I’ve Got the Blues! Samuel L Jackson narrates James Baldwin’s elegant accounts of the murders of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, and brings the American civil rights story up to date. Great archive footage and sound track.
The Other Side of Hope (2017)
An entertaining film, set in Finland, which uses comedy to challenge our stereotypes of refugee from Syria.

Stephen

“My Trilogy Of Grief”:  Manchester By The Sea, A Monster Calls and Jackie

I’m starting with a cheat by grouping three films together. All three came out early in the year and for many (i.e. Americans) were considered 2016 films. All three deal with grief and all remain three of my favourite films of the year.

20th Century Women

After seeing this I wrote “Just beautiful. I can’t decide if it’s life affirmingly brilliant or depressingly sad but it all feels so very real.

Prevenge

I’ll need to see this again to know if it’s really one of the best films of the year but the Valentine’s night screening with Alice Lowe was a great night and one of the reasons why we’re so lucky to have the Picture House. The same could also be said for the preview of Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire.

My Life As A Courgette

Despite appearances I still think this is one of the most honest depictions of life and growing up.

Some Other Films

I thought it was worth pointing out that I don’t feel like I’ve seen as many films this year but that’s only because a lot of this years releases were showing at the Film Festival. If I hadn’t already seen them I’d be considering the following for my list: The Handmaiden, Toni Erdmann, Moonlight,  Certain Women,  Life Animated and Mindhorn.

 

La Strada, Italy 1954

Showing Sunday 25th June 3:20pm

 

The circus is here. “Zampanò e arrivato!”
La Strada (The Road) is a rich mix of love and loneliness, tenderness and violence, humour and sadness. Director Federico Fellini sets this story in Italy soon after World War Two. As in his other films, great photography makes full use of circus, parades, the sea, the weather, and bleak early morning light. La Strada was filmed on location, with local people and settings adding to the atmosphere.
What characters!
Giulietta Masina’s portrayal of Gelsomina (an impoverished, innocent simpleton, described in the film by her mother as ‘a bit strange’) is brilliant. In fact so brilliant that when she attended a showing of La Strada at the Italian Cinema Festival in London, viewers thought that Fellini had really rescued her from a circus. Out of sympathy they sent scarves, socks, sweaters and shawls to the hotel where she was staying. In reality, at that time, she had had been married to Fellini for over ten years. Charlie Chaplin said that he saw Giulietta as his spiritual daughter.
Actor and former prize-fighter Anthony Quinn gives an inspired performance as Zampanò, a brutish circus performer.  He excels as the volatile and dim-witted outcast, racked with jealousy.
Richard Basehart is very engaging as the exuberant, fun-loving Fool, a high-wire performer and clown. And the Fool can’t resist flirting with Gelsomina …
La Strada has had a huge influence on film making.  And apparently it was also the inspiration for  both Bob Dylan’s ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ and Kris Kristofferson’s ‘Me and Bobby McGee’.
This story of human frailties and personal rivalries should not be missed!
“It is only when I am doing my work that I feel truly alive”
Federico Fellini

Bill Walton

After the Storm / Umi yori mo mada fukaku, Japan 2016

Saturday June 17th and Monday June 19th

This is the new film by Kore-eda Hirokazu. Like a number of his recent films the story [scripted by Kore-eda himself] deals with family relationships: here between a father, ex-wife and their son. His film career goes back to the early 1990s and his his output is varied: the 2006 Hana is a Samurai film that plays with the genre conventions. But the majority of his recent films have dealt with family issues and, in particular, the relationship between the worlds of adults and the worlds of children.

Still Walking / Aruitemo aruitemo (20080 covers a day-long visit by grown-up children to their older parents. The film is reminiscent, both thematically and stylistically, of the work of the great Japanese film master Ozu Yasujiro. I Wish / Kiseki (2011) deals with the attempts of a twelve year old to re-establish contact with his brother after a divorce. Finally, the wonderful Our Little Sister  / Umimachi Diary (2012), adapted from a manga novel, follows the lives of four ordinary but beautifully characterised sisters.

These films by Kore-eda all fit into the Japanese film genre of Shomin-geki, stories of ordinary people. And like many films from South-East Asia, the films use food and meals as both plot devices and metaphors.

In an interview in the July Sight & Sound Kore-eda commented on the ‘storm’ in the film:

“A typhoon is part of everyday life in Japan. When i was a child, every time there was one, everything looked fresh in the morning. I remember going to school the morning after the big storm and the grass seemed greener. It was a kind of elevation of ‘ordinariness’. Nothing has been resolved; the problems are still three. But everybody feels cleansed after the storm.”

After the Storm was shot on 35mm and there is a 35mm print version, though I do not know if it is available in Britain. Hopefully it will look good on digital. Note, there are only two screenings at the cinema, but this will be a film that repays efforts to see it.

My Cousin Rachel – a novel and two films.

The new film is screening daily from Friday June 6th until Thursday June 15th.

Daphne Du Maurier published this novel in 1951. It offered a romantic and mysterious story with many of her familiar features. The novel is set in the C19th, but offers no particular dates. The setting is Cornwall, and the book includes descriptions of the Cornish countryside and, importantly, the coastline and the sea. There is a Gothic feel to the novel, and there are traces of the influence of the Brontë sisters. The obvious reference is Du Maurier’s earlier classic, ‘Rebecca’. It shares the setting and the mystery from the past. However, instead of a young and naïve female narrator, we have a young, naïve and male narrator. This is Philip Ashley who has been bought by up an older landowning relative Ambrose. Early on Ambrose’s death takes Philip to Florence and later leads to his meeting Ambrose’s widow Rachel.

Rather as with ‘Rebecca’ the book offers an investigation of a woman; in the earlier novel this was the dead wife of Maxim de Winter; this later novel investigates Philip’s cousin Rachel. However, the final resolution of this story holds ambiguities whereas in ‘Rebecca’ the mystery is fully explained. Just as Rebecca is aided by the intimidating Mrs Danvers Rachel is aided by the more slippery Rainaldo: [slippery perhaps because he is Italian].

The first film adaptation of the book was produced by Twentieth Century Fox in 1952. In black and white and running 98 minutes the film was helmed by Hollywood professionals: script by Nunnally Johnson who also produced and direction by Henry Koster. The filmed starred Richard Burton as Philip and Olivia de Havilland as ‘my cousin Rachel’. This was Burton’s first film in Hollywood. Du Maurier was not keen on the initial screenplay and later unimpressed with de Havilland’s characterisation. She did, though, enjoy Burton’s Philip and some sequences actually filmed in Cornwall. The cinematography by Joseph LaShelle is finely done. And the visual chiaroscuro emphasises the Gothic feel more than the novel. There is a romantic and dramatic score by Franz Waxman. The screenplay is highly compressed: 98 minutes is really insufficient for the plot and characters. The setting of the film is the 1830s: information gained from Ambrose’s tombstone visited by Philip, something he avoids in the novel. Burton has Philip’s intensity and impetuosity but lacks the naivety in relation to women. De Havilland lacks the complexity of Rachel, but this is at least partly due to the scriptwriting. The film does retain the ambiguity of the novel, but the relationships do not convincingly prepare for this. On a happier note Don, the Labrador, survives avoiding his accidental death in the novel.

Now, in 2017, comes a new adaptation. The main production company is Fox Searchlight, who presumably retain the copyright to Daphne Du Maurier’s novel. It is a company project and writer and director Roger Mitchell was recruited to this. The film has received quite a few favourable reviews. It is in colour, with a ratio of 2.35:1 and runs ten minutes longer than the 1952 version. It has also enjoyed location filming in both England and Italy, so the film should offer settings that would meet the wishes of Du Maurier.

This is Mitchell’s first screenwriting credit, so that is an unknown. His previous directorial record does not offer a lot of relevance to this type of property. He did direct Hyde Park on the Hudson (2012) which I enjoyed and which has some slight parallels with this story. Rachel Weisz is cast as ‘cousin Rachel’. This would seem to be ideal. She has starred in some rather run-of-the mill genre films but also some fine dramas: of particular relevance here is her role as Hester Collyer in  Terence Davies’ beautifully judged version of The Deep Blue Sea (2012). Sam Claflin plays Philip. Rather like the director how appropriate he will be is hard to judge. The ‘Pirates’ film and the ‘Hunger’ series’ have little in common with Du Maurier’s romantic mystery. I thought he was good in Their Finest (2017) as Tom Buckley, but that character is far removed from Phillip Ashley.

Some reviews praise the romance but are less enthused by the mystery. It will clearly be worth seeing. Will it match the great Du Maurier adaptation, David O. Selznick’s 1940 version of Rebecca directed by Alfred Hitchcock?

Get Out, USA 2017

Friday June 9th at 6.00 p.m.

Sunday June 11th at 8.00 p.m.

Another chance to see this excellent genre movie:

This is a well made, and gripping 100 minutes of gripping entertainment. The film opens with an unexplained street crime which only makes full sense near the close of the film. The main story follows Afro-American Chris Washington, from LA, as he visits the family of his girlfriend Rose Armitage (Alison Williams) in rural Alabama. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) this is not.  His weekend becomes increasingly odd and the family/community he meets are, at times, reminiscent of the classic The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. There is a touch of sci-fi but we are not meeting aliens. As the film develops we move through comedy, the macabre to fully fledged horror.

This is the first film directed by Jordan Peel. He has a longer career as an actor, performer and more recently scriptwriting. This is an auspicious début, both exploiting and subverting genre expectations in audiences.

New Programme: May-July

The new programme started last Friday with Lady Macbeth,  “a British, period-set chamber thriller with a star-making turn on one side of the camera, and one hell of a directing debut on the other” (Tim Robey, The Telegraph), and there’s still chance to catch it on Tuesday and Wednesday.

This programme runs through until the middle of July, ending the long wait for Edgar Wright’s next film with Baby Driver. This Sunday the Yorkshire Silent Film Festival returns with a full day at Hyde Park featuring a free selection of cartoonsThe House on Trubnaya Street (1928), The Four Just Men (1921),  Behind the Door (1919) and Chicago (1927).

Other highlights include the brilliant animated films My Life As A Courgette and The Red Turtle and new releases such as My Cousin Rachel, The Levelling, Clash and After The Storm. There’s also chances to catch classics on the big screen including Manhattan (1979), The Seventh Seal (1957) and La Strada (1954) and Creature Of The Night screenings of The Thing (1982), Shaun Of The Dead (2004) and Heat (1994).

 

The Edge of the World, UK 1937

Sunday May 21st 16 3.30 p.m.

[Following the Annual General Meeting]

The 1930s is often seen as a ‘low decade’ for British films. But, apart from many of the ‘Quota Quickies’ [made on the cheap to take advantage of state subsidies] there were  some fine and well made movies This title is one of those. It was directed by Michael Powell, shortly before he began his famous partnership with Emeric Pressburger.

The film is a melodrama set in a traditional community where modern influences are threatening the established way of life. Tensions within communities are accentuated by rivalries between families. These characters are well played by familiar actors like John Laurie (Peter Manson), Finlay Currie (James Gray) and Niall MacGinnis (Andrew Gray)  with lesser known performers like Belle Chrystall (Ruth Manson) and Kitty Kirwan (Jean Manson – seen in other classic films like I Know Where I’m Going (1945) and Odd Man Out (1947)]. They were supported by actual islanders living on the location, the Isle of Fulva in the Shetlands: and [rather Hitchcockian] Michael Powell as a Yatchsman.

Three cinematographers worked on the film but the key lighting cameraman was Ernest Palmer who captured the beauty of the wild terrains and massive cliffs of the island. Nearly the whole of the film was shot on location with a few linking shots added at the studio. The production team had to live on the island for several months from June till October, a long way from the studios which were the normal home of film crews. The latter stages saw them battling wind and rain. Michael Powell wrote the story and script: it was inspired by his reading of the reports of the actual evacuation of St Kilda [in the Hebrides] in 1930. The film was produced by a US émigré, Joe Rock, who ran a small independent studio near Elstree. Most of the technical crew had worked with Powell before. He had established himself with a number of ‘quota quickies’, including a recent success for the Rock Production Company The Man Behind the Mask (1936). The film’s pre-release was in the summer of 1937. Michael Powell recalled [in his autobiographical ‘A Life in the Movies’  (1986)]:

“The film opened at the New Gallery Cinema in Regent Street, now the London headquarters of the Seventh day Adventists, but then a rather classy movie theatre. [It is now a Burberry store, but the auditorium and its screen can still be seen and are used for promotional videos]. The critics gave it a cautious reviews. But my old admirer, C. A. Lejeune, writing in The Observer knew the difference between a lyric drama and a documentary, and said: “I hope everyone who can will make a point of seeing The Edge of the World. In some obscure judgement day, when these things are measured, I have a feeling it will come up somewhere near the top of English classics.”

And Basil Wright [of the British Documentary Movement] trumpeted in the Cinema: “If The Edge of the World achieves the success it so well deserves, it will be yet another reminder that vast production costs, exotic casts, and cosmopolitan scenarios are perhaps not the ultimate plan for the British Cinema.”

[Later] Joe Rock, who was fighting for the film, had sent a copy to New York to a small distributor, who submitted it to the National Board of Review film critics, and they chose it as one of the best foreign films of the year, which gave me a wonderful lift.”

This was well before British films won the occasional Academy Award. It was also seen and liked by film impresario Alexander Korda, And it was at his Denham Studio that Powell and Pressburger commenced the most memorable partnership in British Cinema.

The film was restored by the National Film Archive in 1990, though the present 35mm print is slightly shorter than the original release.

 

Mulholland Drive, USA 2001

Showing Sunday 7th May 3:10pm

1

Rita:What are you doing? We don’t stop here.
Some of the many reasons for you to see Mulholland Drive (or to see it again!) –
  • Chosen by “Les Cahiers du Cinéma” as the best picture of the decade (2010)
  • Coco’s (Ann Miller) story about the kangaroo
  • Adam Kesher’s  (Justin Theroux) demonstration of how to smash a limousine with a golf club
  • Lorraine and the pool cleaner getting their comeuppance
  • Joe the hitman looking for a black address book
  • Betty’s audition
  • the tenderness of the relationship between naive and optimistic Betty (Naomi Watts) and the beautiful and confused Rita (Laura Elena Harring)
  • Rebekah Del Rio singing “Llorando”
  • the Mulholland Drive dinner party
  • and of course to explore the surreal logic behind clues ranging from a pillow, name badges, the blue box, and red lampshades, to a cowboy hat and the piano-shaped ashtray.
Director, David Lynch, described the film as “A love story in the city of dreams”.
All in all, Mulholland Drive is a great feast for the imagination, and one which will stay with you.
Blue-haired lady:Silencio …

Bill Walton

The Handmaiden/Ah-ga-ssi, South Korea 2016

I have seen the original release of ‘The Handmaiden’ at the Leeds International Film Festival but now the general release offers a choice between that [144 minutes] and the longer ‘Director’s Cut’ [167 minutes]. [Both have featured in the Hyde Park Picture House programme]. I found the original entertaining and at times very funny. It seemed to me that it was a film about pornography rather than being pornographic, though I do think it exploits that genre to a degree.

Basically I found the film full of both irony and with a sardonic treatment. It is beautifully done in all technical departments. The way the film uses voyeurism makes it seem longer than necessary. However, I enjoyed the ending when the two male protagonists have their final confrontation and the two young women their rather different conclusion.

A friend has offered these comments on the Director’s Cut:

“I do not think that the Director’s Cut adds much more than time to the overall story . My bottom was stiff but not sore due to the extra spanking. Also , I think we get a little more explicit sex. Also a few scenes with close ups of symbolic items  are more in line with visual story telling.

Question :How old does one have to be to warrant the title ” male voyeur ? ( imagine Harold Steptoe saying it ). Park Chan-Wook is 53 , that is not the answer .A better question might be what does it take to make one feel like a voyeur?

I have viewed the film twice and not felt too worried on that score . I do wonder what couples feel when they watch side by side ( the trailer does not reveal the girls attraction for each other so much ) , a bit like watching a sexually explicit film at home with your parents ? A group of girls at the front laughed once or twice , I could not tell if it was nervous or really because of the obvious mischievous humour involved. I did not attempt a post film discussion to get the female view.

One of the actors in Blue is The Warmest Colour accused the director of exploitation , the other more experienced actress did not .Again it was a male director and the ‘male gaze’ question crops up. The two girls in The Handmaiden seemed to be having a good time , but perhaps the inscrutability of the Orient hides a multitude of sins ?

This is not a pornographic film obviously , especially considering what young boys can see on the internet . The set up of a costumed virgin telling gothic style tales of ladies jade gates etc would certainly not interest a modern audience , not even the puppet sequence . The two main actresses are beautiful and lively with enough physical difference to cause no confusion and they certainly make bells ring . I have not read ‘Fingersmith’ , the source material for the story and do not intend to even to check what elements of sexual play Park has added.

I believe that I am not a ‘mere voyeur’ , but did enjoy watching the girls dressed and not , But confess that I did not go to see the film for the things that the critics focus on : Japan and Korean politics and social aspirations , the playing parts and constantly shifting allegiances , the costumes and elaborate sets , etc

It is a beautiful film to look at and the girls are part of it . Perhaps the Psychologist in ‘The Dirty Dozen’ has the answer . When showing the Rorshac images to Charles Bronson , he gets sex as the answer each time .You seem to have a one track mind , says the Shrink , You’re the one with the dirty pictures , says Charley .Is it all in the mind or just the ‘male gaze’ (I  must dig out my De Sade )” DILLIPS “

I did think that Blue is the Warmest Colour did exploit female sexuality whereas I did not feel that about The Handmaiden. Of course the two young actors are performing, but the characters they play are meant to enjoy their sexual activity. Where is the border line between act and performance?

As for the ‘male gaze’ it has so many and varied meanings that it is difficult to pin down. I think, rather like Elle, that this film exploits the borderline between art and exploitation cinemas. A very contemporary sensibility.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, USA 1975

Bank Holiday Monday 1st May 2:20pm

Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) :The best thing we can do is go on with our daily routine.

McMurphy (Jack Nicholson):In one week, I can put a bug so far up her ass, she don’t know whether to shit or wind her wristwatch”.

The setting: a real Oregon psychiatric hospital in the 70’s (cast includes hospital patients). The film centres on the power play between polar opposites, Randle McMurphy and Nurse Ratched. This is arguably Jack Nicholson’s finest acting performance. Louise Fletcher’s performance is spot on too. Rebel versus the system. Who comes out on top? There’s a question for you …

The film is based on Ken Kesey’s excellent book of the same name. It was published at a time when Erving Goffman’s ‘Asylums’ and R D Laing’s ‘Self and Others’ were questioning the very concept of mental illness and how it is treated. Director Milos Forman and a superb supporting cast get us thinking about institutionalisation and routine, coercion and manipulation, rebellion and empowerment. It’s still extremely funny, sad, and thought-provoking 40 years on.

A great film. Make sure that you see it on the big screen!

Vintery, mintery, cutery, corn,
Apple seed and apple thorn,
Wire, briar, limber lock
Three geese in a flock
One flew east
One flew west
And one flew over the cuckoo’s nest.


Bill Walton