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

Neruda, Chile, France, Argentina, Spain, USA 2016

Daily from Friday April 14th until Thursday April 20th

[but only in late evening performances]

The film is set in 1948 as the famous Chilean poet and Communist Party Member [Partido Comunista de Chile] Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco) goes into hiding and exile when the Party is outlawed. The subject is immediately interesting and the film’s director, Pablo Larrain, has already achieved an enviable reputation for his earlier films.

His last film, Jackie (2016) was both highly praised and relatively  successful. The earlier Tony Manero (2008) and then The Club (2015) were stylish exercises that used noir techniques to offer stories that commented obliquely on Chile’s fractured past. Both the latter films enjoyed the talented cinematography of Sergio Armstrong. He is back on Neruda and the film also offers the acting skills of Gael Garcia Bernal.

My reservations are that I am not certain that Larrain will deal effectively with the politics of the work of the great revolutionary poet. Tony Manero and The Club were effective partly because they used less obviously political stories as metaphors. In Jackie, dealing directly with the Kennedy legend, its myths were uncritically revisited. And Larrain’s other film, No (2012) dealing with the 1988 Referendum on the Junta in Chile, presented a one-sided view of the organised working class in that country, effectively ignoring the Socialist Party of Chile [Partido Socialista de Chile].

It will be interesting to compare the portrait of the great poet with that in Michael Radford’s Il Postino: The Postman (1994 with Pilippe Noiret). Even if the film fails to do justice to Neruda’s politics it is most likely to be an absorbing and well produced film.

Certain Women, USA 2015

April 8th and 9th only.

This film was screened at the 2016 Leeds International Film Festival but inextricably it was not in the top twenty ‘picks’. It is a very fine film from the talented and stimulating filmmaker Kelly Reichardt. This is a portmanteau film with three stories, all centred on female characters and set in Montana. Laura Dern plays Laura a lawyer: Michelle Williams plays Gina, a business woman, mother and wife building her new house; Kristen Stewart plays ‘Beth’ teaching an evening class on the law. All three actors provide fine performances and the final story also offers stand out performance by Lily Gladstone as Jamie, a worker on a horse ranch.

Reichardt’s films frequently fit into contemporary treatments of the western; such as Brokeback Mountain (2005), though that is a rather different film. She also has a fine feeling for landscapes, assisted her by her regular cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt. Reichardt herself edited the film.

The director also has ‘simpatico’ for our canine friends: witness the fine Wendy and Lucy (2008). In this film Laura is accompanied by a faithful canine retainer and Jamie patrols the ranch in the company of  madcap sheep dog.

These are all reasons to make sure you see the film, or see it again. Note, it is only on Saturday and Sunday as the Leeds Young Film Festival kicks off on Monday. Meanwhile, if like me you are a fan of Kristen Stewart, then she also appears in Personal Shopper (2016) at the cinema: and that film is preceded by high praise from critics. It was directed by Olivier Assayas who also wrote and directed the excellent Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) in which Stewart worked with Juliette Binoche to fine effect.

Free Fire

Showing multiple times daily until Thursday 6th April

The main feature this week is Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire, “a mad contraption, bristling with bravado and black, sardonic wit” according to Robbie Collins in The Telegraph.  The director and local actor, Sam Riley, brought the film to a sold out screening at the Picture House last month as part of a national tour.

Here are some Tweets from that night:

The Salesman / Forushande Iran, France, 2016.

Daily from Friday March 24th until Thursday March 30th

Salesman

This film won the Best Foreign Language title at the Academy Awards. It also gained attention when the director boycotted the ceremony in opposition to new and discriminatory immigration controls by the USA. It is rather pleasing that most notable bane of the USA has recently won two Academy Awards; this title and A Separation / Jodaeiye Nader az Simin in 2012. That title was also written and directed by Asghar Farhadi. This film repeats some of the tropes of the earlier title though the central theme is rather different.

Both films rely on the importance of place for the characters, especially the apartments that provide their home. But this new film has an added dimension: a play within a play, ‘Death of a Salesman’. There are definite parallels between the apartment of the lead characters and the theatrical setting. However, I thought the relationships were closer to Tennessee Williams than to Arthur Miller.

The are fine performances as the central couple by Taraneh Alidoosti as Rana Etesami  and Shahab Hosseini  as Emad Etesami.  They were also a couple in Farhadi’s earlier About Elly / Darbareye Elly (2009) and if you saw that film the relationship then it offers a faint but interesting prequel to that in this film.

This is a fascinating and absorbing study. And the production is very well done. However, I found it was less compelling than the two earlier films made in Iran, [Farhadi has also worked on a French film The Past / Le passé, 2013). And I felt it was not quite as telling in its portrayal of contemporary Iran.

It is still worth seeing, especially as this has not been so far [with a few exceptions] a great year for new releases. Note regarding the UK trailer; it includes more plot than is necessary; and the cutting does not represent the film effectively, this has a rather different tempo,

Elle, 2016

elle-verhoeven
Bill Walton was impressed by Elle and recommends you catch one of the remaining screenings this week…
Our question today is:
“A woman should never be a victim of male violence. Discuss.”
The answer:
“Male violence is obviously intolerable, no exceptions, the ultimate threat of patriarchy.
Nothing more to say …”
We may know where we stand on this, but is there anything else to say? What if a ‘victim’ doesn’t accept victimhood? Is revenge the answer? What are the impacts on friends and family? Might the resulting feelings get complicated? Elle explores this disturbing territory with style and humour, and not a few very uncomfortable moments. The film works so well because of the great cast, with a standout performance by Isabelle Huppert as Michèle Leblanc, and the edgy direction of Paul Verhoeven.  A whirlwind of thrills, suspense, plot twists, shocking behaviour, and so many funny moments.
Michèle “Shame isn’t a strong enough emotion to stop us doing anything at all. Believe me.”