Manchester by the Sea on BBC 2

Friday May 14th at 11.20 p.m. and then the BBC I-Player

This 2016 release won a Best Actor Oscar for Casey Affleck in the role of Lee Chandler. The whole cast are fine and Michelle Williams has a small but well crafted sequence. The film was written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan; his earlier writing includes working on Martin Scorsese’s epic Gangs of New York. This film is set on the New Hampshire coast. It starts in Boston where Lee is a handyman with an ‘anger management’ problem. It is some way into the film and in the Manchester seaside town that we learn the back story to his situation. A family tragedy haunts Lee. It is partly a relationship with a nephew and their outings together on the sea that start a healing process.

This is a film about grief; part of a cycle of films [most of which are exceptionally fine] dealing with bereavement and grief. The film is long, 137 minutes, and slowly paced. But the production is as good as the acting; I especially like the cinematography by Jody Lee Lipes. As a bonus we get a Duke Ellington number performed twice, once by Ella Fitzgerald.

The film was shown at the Picture House in 2016; I saw it twice and I am looking forward to seeing it again.

‘Happy Lazzaro’ on Film 4

Film 4 Monday-through-Tuesday at 12.55 a.m. and now available on All 4.

Happy as Lazzaro / Lazzaro felice (Italy / France / Switzerland / Germany 2018

This film was one of the outstanding releases in 2018. I enjoyed immensely both the screening at the Leeds International Film Festival and again when it returned to the Picture House in 2019. And I look forward to seeing it again on terrestrial television. It should look reasonably good as long as Film 4 stick to the 1.66.:1 aspect ratio. It runs just over two hours and has both Italian and English dialogue with sub-titles for the former.

Directed by Alice Rohrwacher, one of her earlier films was The Wonders (2014). This film has been described as magic realist. It combines naturalistic observation with a plot that includes references to myth and folk tales, social exploitation and a touch of fantasy. Lazzaro of the title is a sweet natured and apparently simple minded peasant. He is part of a village cut off from modern Italy and involved in some form of share cropping. Later in the film a migration leads members into a lumpen-proletarian existence. The film shares tone and tropes with recent migrant films. It is fascinating and at times moving. Visually Hèléne Louvart’s cinematography is both beautiful and atmospheric and the overall production is excellent. I thought this the best film I saw at the Festival. A friend commented,

“I greatly admired The Wonders … and this was even better. This tale of a holy fool in a setting which blurs the borders between realism and the fantastic is not, perhaps, for the literal-minded but should delight most of the rest of us.”

The number of foreign language titles screened on terrestrial television has severely reduced in recent years. So a film like this is a rare pleasure. It is unconventional and the narrative tends towards the picaresque; and it is also really imaginative.

Peterloo on C4

Saturday March 13th on C4 at 10 p.m.

So if you missed this title on release or you want to enjoy it again this very fine film is screening tonight on C4 (and will be available on All4 ). Quite a few reviewers did not really appreciate the film on its release. British film critics, with some exceptions like Derek Malcom, do not really engage with actual and detailed politics in dramas. Even when they admire Ken Loach they tend to prefer his dramas built round personal lives rather than those constructed around political movements. This would seem to be one reason why British cinema has never quite equaled the output  from the continent.

This is one of the finest films to be made in Britain in this new century and it is certainly one of the most interesting. It is flawed in some ways. This seems to have been due to the project being rushed in its final stages. Originally planned for the Centenary of the Peterloo Massacre in 2019 it came out a year early. This seems to have affected in particular the final sequences of the title which seem less developed, especially after the lengthy treatment of the causes and actual violence of this historic protest in Manchester.

It has been very well filmed by a talented craft team with excellent cinematography by Dick Pope and sharp editing by Dick Gregory. It has a very intelligent script from Mike Leigh.  Care has been taken to render accurate local dialects and the setting shave been well reconstructed . But what stands out is that the politics of the emerging working class are given full expression here; something not often seen and heard in British films though it is also found in the other fine study of C19th working class radicalism Comrades (Bill Douglas, 1986). The cast of proletarian characters and their middle class allies are generally very fine. And the opposing local functionaries and the rising bourgeoisie are convincing.

The major weakness is in the representation of the aristocracy and the dominant political figures. Other Mike Leigh films have presented upper and middle class characters close to caricature and the royal and authority figures here are not convincing. Nevertheless their preening narcissism and their  ruthless and violent defence of undeserved and unearned privileges is accurate. .

This is a film that combines documentary style recreation, powerful and emotional sequences with a compelling political representation. It is amazing that it has taken over a hundred years of British cinema till we have a film of such a major historic event. It should be noted that Peterloo is a motif in the earlier Fame is the Spur (the Boulting brothers 1945 adaptation of Howard Spring’s novel) which is also well worth viewing. I cannot think of much else  this coming Sunday evening to match this presentation. And Jacqueline Riding’s ‘ Peterloo: The Story of the Manchester Massacre’ (2018) is worth reading as well.

A Festive Treat On Line

Kennington Bioscope Presents [on YouTube].

The Kennington Bioscope is a film club at London’s Cinema Museum.  It used to run on Wednesday evenings and usually offered screenings in 35mm [or sometimes 16mm] enhanced by live musical accompaniments. The prints were always from early cinema and from a ranger of territories. The musicians were really able performers; several have played for silent titles at International Film Festivals. With the arrival of the pandemic The Bioscope has gone on line; earli8er programmes are still available on You Tube and now a Festive special is panned for the coming week.

A Christmas Special courtesy of the BFI and the EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam.

Featuring a whole array of shorts of Winter and Christmas by the enormous generosity of EYE Filmmuseum and the British Film Institute (BFI).

 Holland in Ijs (NL 1917) – Scenes from the Netherlands in what was an extremely cold winter for them – Daan van den Hurk

Expedition to the North Pole (USA 1916) – Animated adventure by airship to the frozen North – Cyrus Gabrysch

 Il Natale di Cretinetti (IT 1909) – Early film comedian André Deed wreaks havoc with an outsize Christmas tree – José María Serralde Ruiz

Ida’s Christmas (USA 1912) – Dolores Costello and John Bunny star in this heart-warming tale from the Vitagraph studios – Colin Sell

Snowstorm in New York (NL 1926?) – A blizzard paralyzes Manhattan – Ben Model

Scrooge; or Marley’s Ghost (UK 1901) – R.W. Paul’s early and ingenious depiction of Dickens’ seasonal story – Meg Morley

Snowballs (UK 1901) – Schoolboy scamps besiege passers-by with handfuls of the cold white stuff – Lillian Henley

 Santa Claus (UK 1898) – The wonder of Christmas. British filmmaker G.A. Smith’s film features his children and wife Laura Bayley – Stephen Horne

The Little Match Girl (UK 1914) – Percy Nash directs this, the second British adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s heartrending story – Donald Sosin

The Mistletoe Bough (UK 1904) – An unlucky bride is locked in a trunk in this early film – Costas Fotopoulos

Broncho Billy’s Christmas Dinner (USA 1911) – Villainous Broncho Billy finds himself accidentally invited to the Sheriff’s home for the festive repast – Philip Carli

 Santa Claus and the Fairy (UK 1898) – Have you been naughty or nice? Stockings at the ready! – John Sweeney

This will offer a pleasure for fans of early cinema.  The titles [facsimiles versions] are provided by the support of our own National Film Archive and the fine archival collection at the Eye Museum in Amsterdam. During the pandemic, The Eye, like a number of archives is offering access on line to parts of their collections; though these screenings are usually silent. The Bioscope music is a real cachet and, in a nice touch, the pianist’s hands and instrument can be seen in a small  additional frame. The Bioscope organisers also ensure sub-titles for films with foreign language title cards. You also get introductions to the titles by film historian Michelle Facey and a chance to see the Cinema Museum.

If  interested you can read more about the Bioscope af Early and Silent Cinema.

A virtual Palestinian Film Festival

The Leeds Palestinian Film Festival 2020

This year’s programme is, as with so many events, on line. It runs from November 14th until November 28th. The programme is structured through four themes:

Annexation, Occupation Defiance

As Seen by Annemarie Jacir

As Seen by Children

As Seen Through Creative Eyes

All told there are fourteen features that include both dramas and documentaries. In addition there are several supporting videos. As with earlier Festivals there are a range of views and experiences from amongst Palestinians and the few critical voices found among Israelis

The Festival is available on line through ‘InPlayer’ which is an online streaming platform. It claims to be ;

‘the world’s leading pay-per-view and subscription solution’.

It appears to be based in Britain and be an independent company. It relies on the Vimeo provision. There does not appear to be a test video to check reception but when I looked both the image and sound were of a good quality.

You can check yourself on the Festival Web Pages by looking at one of the ‘free’ videos like ‘Through the Eyes of Others – Launch Event’. This is useful as there is an introduction and a conversation regarding grassroots film provision.

You can buy a festival pass for the whole period or buy tickets for individual titles. Note, with the latter your viewing window is 48 hours. I assume that the pass enables you to view right through the period.

 

A Hole in Babylon, BBC 1979

BBC Tuesday October 20th at 10 p.m. and on the I-Player

This was a drama in the BBC’s ‘Play for Today’ series. The series followed on from the pioneer ‘Wednesday Play’ series and ran from 1970 to 1984. There were some 300 hundred entries by notable dramatists, film-makers and craft people often commenting on their contemporary world. Fifty years on from the launch of the series BBC Four  is offering a celebration. ‘Drama out of a Crisis’ offered an overview of the series last week and is still available on catch-up. Now we can look forward to screening of some of the highlight dramas, though which and how many is as yet unknown.

This drama from 1979 was written by Horace Ové and Jim Hawkins and directed by Ové. It presents the events in which three Africa-Caribbean men attempted a robbery at the Spaghetti House Restaurant in Knightsbridge and held the staff and customers hostage for six days whilst the police lay siege. This was a dramatisation of actual events in 1975.

The director Horace Ové was one of the really talented and interesting film-makers in Britain over the last sixty odd years. However, he is seriously under-represented in the film canon. He was only able to produce two features in that period though these are seminal films; Pressure (1976) and Playing Away (1987). His career started with three short documentaries, including Baldwin’s Nigger (1968). He did an amount of work for television including two for ‘Play for Today’: episodes in the popular series Empire Road (1979): and a drama mini-series The Orchid House (1991). He also worked in photography and in the theatre.

His film work, including A Hole in Babylon, still speaks to the contemporary world of Britain: especially in a period when ‘Black Lives Matter’ has achieved such influence. The drama presumably will be on the I-Player well into 2021. The overview ‘Drama out of a Crisis’ is already on the iPlayer. It is a little selective in its coverage but a full listing of the ‘Play for Today’ series is on Wikipedia.

 

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Britain 1943

BBC 2 Sunday April 26th at 12 noon.

This is a film from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger; arguably the most imaginative British filmmakers to work in our mainstream industry. The 1940s was the great decade for the duo with a string of master-works that were both popular and ground breaking. The pair had their own production company, ‘The Archers’, with the famous logo of an arrow striking a target.

The ‘Colonel Blimp’ of the title was well known in war-time Britain; a character in a cartoon series by David Lowe which satirized the traditionalist British military. Powell and Pressburger transformed the character though they cleverly retained aspects of the series as with the Turkish bath sequence that opens the film.

At this point the ‘Blimp’ character, Clive Candy [Roger Livesey) has come out out retirement to manage the newly organised Home Guard. He retains traditional military attitudes which come into conflict with the modern and ruthless attitudes of a young brash regular army lieutenant. The action leads into a flashback which traces Clive career and personal life from the Boer War period.

This, the main part of the film, is partly a war story, partly a romantic drama, but also a moving portrait of ageing, devotion and friendship. The friendship is with a member of the German military, Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff (Anton Walbrook). The devotion involves a series of women, Edith, Barbara and Angela, all played by Deborah Kerr.

The cast are superb. Roger Livesey also played the lead in the later and equally fine I Know Where I’m Going (1945). Deborah Kerr was the lead in several films by Powell and Pressburger, notably Black Narcissus (1945). And Anton Walbrook played the far less sympathetic ‘’Svengali’ producer Boris Lemontov in The Red Shoes (1948).

Walbrook – Livesey – Kerr.

Whilst Clive Candy’s career and personal-life are full of interest there is also a strong thematic current. This is the critical examination of the mores of war when Clive commenced his career at the turn of the century and those now required by the current European war against the ruthless Nazi regime. The film manages to marry this critical perspective with an emotional interest in Candy and his friends and his loves.

The film runs 183 minutes, but I never found this a long film to watch. As is the case with really talented film-makers, Powell and Pressburger had a fine eye for skilled craft people. The Technicolor cinematography by Georges Perinal is excellent. The Production Design by Alfred Junge together with the Costumes by Joseph Bato are very fine. And there is clear crisp editing by John Seabourne with well-scored musical track Allan Gray.

The film has undergone two restorations over the years. Contemporary 35mm prints enjoy a high standard of colour and definition. This film is screening on BBC HD which should do sufficient justice to the original. And be thankful. Winston Churchill disliked the film but his efforts to stop the production were in vain. Whilst the British public liked the film which came fourth in the 1943 box office.

 

 

Cheer up with Ealing Comdedies

Three of the finest contributions to British cinema have been Powell and Pressburger, British Documentary and the output of this famous studio from 1945 until 1955. If you want an excellent overview then the book to read is Charles Barr’s study, [a Movie Book, 1980 and 1993, Leeds Central Library have a copy when they reopen]. This is of a comparable quality to many of the best titles produced at Ealing.

As Stephen pointed out BBC 2 is screening one of the comedy classics every day this week. Three of them are, to mine mind, among the great classics of our own film industry.

The Man In The White Suit

BBC2 Tuesday 3.25 p.m.

1951, black and white, 85 minutes.

This is a superb film which is effectively a science fiction drama. It was directed by one of the finest film-makers in Britain in this period, Alexander Mackendrick. The director also worked on the script with two experienced writers John Dighton and Roger Macdougal.

Alec Guinness, in a decade that saw a string and variety of fine performances, plays inventor Sydney Stratton, with a new miraculous cloth. There are a fine cast of supporting players including Joan Greenwood, she of the memorable husky voice, as the romantic interest; as a key mill owner; Cecil Parker, the embodiment of pomposity; and a delightful cameo by Ernest Thesiger, as a wily capitalist

The invention has both positive and negative aspects, and this fuels the drama. The research laboratory sequences are marvelous and this film is replete with not only visual but also aural humour. The finale, with the joining of forces of both capital and labour, is a subtle critique of the entire British establishment.

Whisky Galore!

BBC2 Thursday, 3.35 p.m.

1949, black and white, 92 minutes.

Another masterwork from Alexander Mackendrick and on this occasion working on the script with Angus Macphail and the author of the source novel, Compton Mackenzie. This film enjoys another performance by Joan Greenwood, accompanied by a fine supporting cast including Gordon Jackson, James Robertson Justice and, as the film’s fall guy, Basil Radford.

The population of the small island of Toddy relish their malt whiskey but wartime brings restrictions. Then a miracle; a transport ship, laden with export whisky, is driven ashore, The rest of the film depicts the ploys of the islanders to rescue and enjoy the precious liquid whilst the authorities, representing far away Whitehall, attempt to recover the salvage.

This is a different type of comedy from The Man in the White Suit. At times whimsical and at time almost farcical, this is delightful portrait of a small, intimate community. The film manages to combine some sort of moral with a celebration of Scottish island culture. Presumably there will be many member of the Scottish National Party enjoying this outing.

The Lavender Hill Mob

BBC2 Friday 3.30 p.m.

1951, black and white, 81 minutes.

This is a fine heist movie; written by one of the key writers in the Ealing of this period, T. E. B. Clarke. The film was directed was Charles Crichton; his later A Fish Called Wanda (1988) is on BBC 1 next Sunday evening.

Once again Alec Guinness stars, this time as the ‘mastermind’ of the robbery of a van of gold bulletin. He is supported by Stanley Holloway and as fellow criminals Sid James and Alfie Bass. John Gregson makes an early appearance as the representative of law and order.

The film is told in a flashback and the opening sequence features a cameo by Audrey Hepburn, stopping off in Britain on her way to Hollywood. The plotting is ingenious, in particular the method used to dispose of the stolen merchandise. And the final chase sequence has some inspired moments.

These three titles are all representative of a particular period and a particular interpretation of this ‘sceptred isle’. But they all subtly undermine this representation.

Cineaste treats on Freeview

BBC 4 Thursday 26th March at 10 p.m. and Saturday March 28th at 4.10 p.m.

We still miss the Hyde Park screening programme but there are at least two well made film classics on terrestrial television over the next few days. On Thursday we can watch a fine biopic of England’s greatest leader, Oliver Cromwell.

Cromwell was written and directed by Ken Hughes. This is his best outing as director though an early ‘B’ movie, Joe Macbeth (1955) was an interesting variation of Shakespeare’s character; and The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1960) was a convincing portrait with Peter Finch playing against type as Wilde. The merit of Cromwell is that this is a sympathetic treatment of a historical figure often vilified by conservation and reactionaries. Whilst he should be criticised for the suppression of the Leveller movement and the brutal invasion of Ireland, he led possibly the greatest transition in English history.

The stand-out aspect of the production is Richard Harris as the lead character. Harris almost seems born to play this powerful and committed military and political leader. From his early parliamentary opposition, through his reorganization of the People’s Army and to the setting up of a Republic, he dominates the screen and the other characters.

Alex Guinness provides a graceful performance as the ill-fated king, Charles 1st. There are some excellent battle scenes and a number of skilled British actors in supporting roles. This is definitely a better version that them later 2008 Cromwell.

Geoffrey Unsworth’s cinematography is excellent. The costume design won an Academy Award for Vittorio Nino Novarese. John Stoll’s production design is also very well done. The film was shot in 35mm Panavision and Technicolor; fortunate film buffs could also see it in 70mm.

And if you like period dramas then there is also an adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s great novel, Jane Eyre on BBC2 on Saturday. This is the 1944 version with Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine. Any day on which you can watch Welles is a good day.

What to do on Saturday night

BBC2 (HD) Saturday March 21st at 9 pm and 10:40 pm.

Stay Home, walk the dog, watch …

My condolences to fellow cineastes, but the closure of the Hyde Park Picture House has only come forward by a week or so. And the development work will continue. So there is a future after the crisis.

Fortunately terrestrial television is still screening a few quality films and on HD channels; two of these you may have seen at the Hyde Park. Both are well worth revisiting. The two films are fairly different but both privilege performances by two of the finest actresses in English language cinema. Both were circulated to cinemas on 2K DCPs so on TV HD the loss of quality is less than with 35mm film. They were though both shot on wide screen formats so they will be reduced.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

UK, 2017.

In fact this title offers two great Hollywood leading ladies; with Annette Bening playing the earlier star Gloria Grahame as she finds solace in later life and illness in one of Britain’s most distinctive cities. Gloria Grahame was a fine and attractive actress in the late 1940s and 1950s with a persona that fitted well in film noir; think In a Lonely Place (1950) and The Big Heat (1953). This story takes place between 1979 and 1981 when Grahame, acting in Britain, starts a relationship with a minor actor Peter Turner (James Bell). Later he takes her back to his home in Liverpool. The film apparently closely follows Turners own memoir of the same title.

The story is well acted by the leads and develops real emotion. And the film makes good use of Liverpool locations and a studio recreated California. A fine drama that only enjoyed a limited release.

You can read a fuller review;

Personal Shopper

France, Germany, Czech Republic, Belgium, 2016.

This film was written and directed by the French film-maker Oliver Assayas. He had Kristen Stewart in his mind as leading actor. He had already worked with her on Clouds of Sils Maria (2014); a film in which Stewart performed alongside Juliet Binoche. This was another fine film with both actors turning in excellent and convincing performances.

The ‘Personal Shopper’ of the title is Maureen (Stewart) who buys clothes and jewellery for a super-model Kyra. There are some intriguing sequences where Maureen selects commodities for her employer, not seen until late in the film. This is a situation in which a young American woman, with a strong sense of style, provides services for a wealthy and pampered celebrity. This aspect harks back to Clouds of Sils Maria.

However, the meat of the story is a dead relative and their house, apparently haunted. This is Lewis, Maureen’s recently deceased twin brother, with whom she shared both a heart condition and an interest in spiritualism. It is the exploration of this ‘other world’ that occupies most of the movie. There is though crime/thriller plotting late in the movie.

What the film does effectively is to conjure up the ‘other’ world, full of ambiguities for both the protagonist and for the viewer. Stewart is excellent; her performance here and in Clouds of Sils Maria made me go back and check out one of the ‘Twilight’ series. I was also impressed by her skills in the 2014 Still Alice.

The Guardian offered the release five stars, calling it

“uncategorisable yet undeniably terrifying”

I did not find the film at all terrifying though it does generate a disturbing air at times. But it is fascinating and fits more or less into the ‘haunted house’ / ‘ghost story’ genre. The languages – English, French, Swedish and German – have English subtitles where needed.