Rabbit-Proof Fence, Australia 2002

On Sunday 24th September – 1.30 PM

The screening jointly presented by the Picture House and Amnesty International. This was a relatively successful release in 2002 given that it is [in part] a foreign-langue film, in Aboriginal and English. The British distribution and exhibition scene does not do very well by such films. So it is good to see it returning to the Picture House for an opportunity to see or re-see a fine and moving drama.

The film is partly based on actual characters and events. In 1931, as part of the oppressive treatment of Aborigines, three young girls are taken from the families and placed in a ‘re-education’ camp. The film follows their epic journey home, following the fence that cuts across the continent. The fact that the fence was a built to control the imported rabbits population is a potent metaphor for the colonial policy in Australia.

The three young performers – two sisters, Evelyn Sampi as 14-year-old Molly and Tianna Sansbury as 8-year-old Daisy, with Laura Monaghan as their 10-year-old cousin Gracie are excellent. Kenneth Branagh plays the Protector of Western Australian Aborigines, A. O. Neville: the actor frequently embodies the British Empire, in this case known by Aborigines as ‘Mr Devil’. And there is David Gulpilil as Moodoo the Tracker, the Aboriginal actor whose career started with Walkabout in 1971.

The film is helmed by Phillip Noyce, the Australian director whose tally of films goes back to the 1970s including the fine Australian Film Commission production Newsfront (1978). The cinematography is the work of Chris Doyle. He is especially noted for his work with the Hong King filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai and he has won prizes at the Cannes and Venice Film Festivals. Here he reveals the sweep and epic nature of the outback landscape.

Fortunately the film, shot on Super 35 and in colour, is screening in 35mm, which will do proper justice to the visuals. And the soundtrack enjoys music by the British composer Peter Gabriel.

When released the film attracted criticism and controversy regarding the representation of the treatment of Aboriginal children. The source for the film is a personal autobiography. The film probably takes liberties in dramatising historical events. But there is plenty of evidence of the inhumane treatment of Aboriginals by the colonial government and the Australian government: from the 1978 The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith there are a number of fine film treatments of the issue,. The recent excellent documentary Al Jazeera on the ‘White Australia’ policy provides evidence on another aspect of the policies in this period.

 

The End of St. Petersburg / Konets Sankt-Peterburga, USSR 1927

Saturday September 16th at 3.30 p.m.

This was one of several films commissioned in order to celebrate the 10th anniversary of The Great October Revolution. The most famous of these is Sergei Eisenstein’s October Ten Days that Shook the World (1928). Both films include sequences showing the storming of the Winter Place: in fact the filming of these sequences found the two productions ‘stepping on each others’ heels’.

However, Vsevolod Pudovkin, the director, has a different approach to drama and to ‘montage’ from Eisenstein. There are parallels between this film and his earlier adaptation of a Maxim Gorky’s novel, Mother / Mat (1926). This film follows the experiences of a young rural worker who migrates to St Petersburg in search of employment. We follow him in a linear fashion as he experiences the exploitation of the proletariat in Tsarist Russia and he becomes politicised. The film includes very fine sequences showing the advent of war, the experiences of the Russian army and then the series of conflicts that led to the overthrow, first of the Tsarist regime, and then of its bourgeois successor.

Pudovkin, together with his script writer Nathan Zarkhi and the cinematographer Anatoli Golovnya, present the city, the social movements and its representative characters with a strong sense of the world they live in and of the historic events in which they were involved. Whilst Eisenstein’s film ends with the Vladimir Lenin announcing the start of Socialist Construction Pudovkin’s film ends on a quieter note, expressive of the victory but also of the cost it has levied.

The film is screening in a 35mm black and white print. It should have English sub-titles for the Russian title cards and lasts about 85 minutes. This screening enjoys a specially composed musical score by the Harmonie Band who specialise in Silent Film accompaniments.

This is fine film and a signal celebration as we approach the anniversary of the most important event of the C20th. Hopefully we can look forward to other significant dramas and records of 1917.

 

Cinema and Film Heritage

This Sunday, September 10th, film fans have a chance to explore the Hyde Park Picture House as part of a Heritage Open Day. Between 1000 and 1500 they can enjoy the beauty of the cinema auditorium, one of the finest surviving examples in Britain, with its distinctive gas lighting. There will also be conducted tours of the Projection Room every half-an-hour: including the 35mm projectors, fine specimens of a species that is in danger of extinction. These tours will be a little like the recently screened German silent film, Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Grosstadt (1927:  just as the Berlin of 1927 is no longer, the Picture House will soon be remodelled thanks to a Heritage Lottery Fund Award.

Appropriately there will also be a screening of 35mm films. There will all be the work of the ‘Poet of British Cinema’, Humphrey Jennings. His films are beautifully crafted and imaginative portraits of Britain in the 1930s and 1940s.

There will be Spare Time (1939, 13 minutes) a film that reflected the work of Mass Observation, a pioneering sociological research movement of the period. The film visits several regions in 1930s Britain to examine the culture of ordinary working people. The commentary is by Laurie Lee, another poet. I especially enjoy the sequence with the Welsh choir.

Then the wartime film Words for Battle (1941, 8 minutes): documentary footage of Britain during the Blitz is accompanied by a selection of poetry and prose read by Lawrence Olivier.

The Silent Village (1943, 36 minutes) is a retelling of the massacre by the Nazi occupiers of the villagers of Lidice in 1942. This was notorious event early in the war. The film relocates the story to Wales to increase the immediacy of the barbarity.

And finally Listen to Britain (1942, 20 minutes) is one of the true masterpieces of British cinema. Jennings weaves a tapestry of documentary footage, dialogue, sound and music to present the Home Front of a Britain at War.

All these films are in black and white. Note that the last three all enjoy the editing of Stewart McAllister, not always credited but a key colleague in Jennings’s film work. Also important are the regular cameraman H. E. Fowle and the sound engineer Ken Cameron. All contributors to these heritage classics.

Scalarama – Leeds 2017.

Organising film treats for September.

Every September we now have this month-long Festival dedicated to cinema and film of all shapes and sizes. The Festival offers varied pleasures for film lovers and cinema goers across Britain. Happily Leeds has a well-endowed and well organised presence. The recently hoisted Webpages have a full list of titles, events and venues throughout September.

Wednesday August 23rd sees the programme launch at the Left Bank in Cardigan Road – 7.30 to 11 p.m. As well as fliers and details there will be a new documentary, Jobriath A.D. and live music from ‘Das Pain’.

From September 1st, there will be almost daily events spread across the whole city. The titles that catch my attention include:

Berlin: Symphony of a Great City / Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Groβtadt (1927) at the Hyde Park Picture House. This is a classic ‘city symphony’ from the silent era. Tending to the abstract it is dazzling portrait of Berlin. And there will be a live piano accompaniment.

Moonlight, the surprise Academy Award winner this year, is at the Otley Film Society. The film is engaging, unconventional and beautifully realised.

My Life as a Courgette /Ma vie de Courgette  (2016) is at HEART in Headingly. This is a delightful French animation, with an inventive and slightly oddball story.

The Intruder aka The Stranger (1962), is at Wharf Chambers. A cult film by Roger Corman,  set in the earlier segregation period: it seems eerily prescient in 2017

London Symphony (2017) at Left Bank. This is a C20th ‘city symphony’. Only just released but promising a visual treat.

Do the Right Thing (1989) at Leeds Cineforum [ previously The Arts PGR Film Club]. Spike Lee’s masterwork spoke volumes about the USA of its decade and still speaks loudly today.

There is a lot more: and enough to satisfy every taste.

Notes from another India

Wednesday August 16th at 6.30 p.m.

Kolkata view.

This is another screening presented by the Pavilion together with the Picture House. In fact, we can look forward to a number of films about the su-continent and the sates created seventy years ago, in 1947, India and Pakistan. As one would expect from the Pavilion these are unconventional film which offer a distinctive take on the sub-continent na d its culture.

Here the focus will offer :

“three perspectives on Kolkata, a city whose name was anglicised to Calcutta during the British Imperial period, then officially changed to it’s Bengali pronunciation in 2001.”

First we have

Tales From Planet Kolkata, Ruchir Joshi 1993, 38 min)

He is an Indian writer and filmmaker and also authors a columns in ‘The Telegraph’, ‘India Today’ and other publications. He was born in Kolkata and how is an artist tin the Diaspora, commuting between London and Delhi.

“In 1993, Ruchir Joshi decided to spoof the Western cinematic notions of the city that he loves. “My documentary Tales From Planet Kolkata was made to mock the popular perception of the city. I was fed up of everyone telling me about the progression of Mumbai and Delhi while Kolkata, apparently, languished in the backwaters,” says Joshi.” (From ‘Indian Express’: the film was commissioned by Channel 4.

Mark Lapore [or LaPore] was a USA-based experimental filmmaker and teacher: he died in 2005. The ‘Boston Globe obituary included the comment on Lapore’s films as :

”unique, a form of visual anthropology but equally about the mystery of being and film as consciousness. These uncompromising films have enormous integrity and deserve a very important place within the entire history of film.’”

Two films by Lapore are featured:

The Glass System (Mark Lapore, 2000, 20 min)

Kolkata (Mark Lapore, 2005, 35 min – his final film)

And finally there is an excerpt from

Dreams and Apparitions of Mark Lapore (Saul Levine, 2006/7, 12 min)

friends and colleagues of Lapore talk about him and his work.

Lapore’s film are screening from 16mm, [a rare pleasure] and the other films are on video.

This will be a good way to kick off one of the important anniversaries of 2017.

Dunkirk, Netherlands, UK, France, USA 2017

Opens on Friday  July 21st at 6.15 p.m.

This is the new film directed by Christopher Nolan. He is not only an extremely talented filmmaker but also one who appreciates the superior qualities of ‘reel’ film. In an interview in Sight & Sound (August 2017) he explained that

“The entire film is shot on 65mm film. Seventy per cent of the film is 15 perf IMAX 65 and the other 30 per cent is 5 perf 65mm [‘perf” refers to the number of perforations on the print: the IMAX format runs horizontally rather than vertically]. …

Also, the entire film is finished photo chemically and so where we’re doing 70mm prints and were doing reductions of the IMAX photography, those are done on an optical printer. [A device for copying or altering film prints].”

However, the 70 mm version does not appear to be screening in West Yorkshire and the IMAX screenings all seem to be digital. So the screening of a 35mm print at the Hyde Park is definitely the best version on offer locally.

The epic of Dunkirk, a ten day military disaster that somehow is presented as a victory, looms large in the British psyche. And it also figures frequently in British cinema.

The Foreman Went to France (Ealing Studio 1942, in black and white) presents a parallel story about the evacuation of vital machinery from France to Britain.

A fictional treatments of the actual evacuation appears in a Hollywood product, M-G-M’s Mrs Miniver (1942 in black and white) with Greer Garson holding up the home front whilst husband Walter Pidgeon joins the heroic armada rescuing British and allied soldiers.

The definitive version to date is Ealing Studio’s Dunkirk (1958, in black and white and standard wide-screen) with John Mills, Richard Attenborough and Bernard Lee leading a familiar cast of British characters. This is very much in the mould of the low-key British war movies. It combines scenes of military action with the intervening moments of the troops waiting and watching as the evacuation proceeds.

Intriguingly there is a French treatment, Week-end à Zuydcoote / Weekend at Dunkirk (Paris Film Production, 1984 in colour and a scope format). This deals with French troops stranded on the beaches.

More recently Atonement (Universal Pictures and Studio Canal 2007, in colour and standard wide screen) has a fine sequence as James McAvoy’s Private Turner waits and dies on the crowded beaches.

Most recently Their Finest (BBC Films, Pinewood Pictures , 2016 in both colour and black and white and a scope format] offers a film-within-a film [The Nancy Starling] celebrating the event, whilst the main narrative celebrates British filmmakers of the period with a certain amount of irony.

It will be interesting to see where the treatment by Nolan and his team fits into this cinematic discourse.

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.

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.