Hebden Bridge Picture House Centenary

This surviving independent cinema in the Calder Valley opened its doors on July 12th 1921. A year of celebration starts this Saturday, July 10th, with an evening event this Saturday, starting at 7.30 p.m. and including a screening [digital] of Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid (1921). The Picture House has many affinities with our own Hyde Park Picture House. Both are supported by the local council: both have an active support of a society of Friends: both have histories written and published by the said Friends: both can screen 35mm and digital, even 16mm: both have traditional auditoriums with proper masking and a low level of illumination during screenings: and both have a varied programme including mainstream titles, art and foreign language titles and early films with live music accompaniment.

Hebden Bridge’s first cinema was a wooden structure which opened in 1911. In 1913 the nearby Co-op Hall also started screening the new ‘moving pictures’. Following World War 1 a purpose built cinema was proposed and approved. The rather large building for a small town had a classical exterior and the auditorium boasted a balcony. The opening ceremony included travel and topical pictures and musical quartet. The first features at the new Picture House were two British dramas of the period. Torn Sails (1920) was a tragic romance set in Wales. The Iron Stair (1920) was a crime drama. They were followed by a film directed by Cecil Hepworth, Anna, The Adventuress, a drama of changed identity set in Paris. Hepworth also directed a film using locations around Hebden Bridge, Helen of Four Gates (1920), though that film was screened at the Co-op Hall.

The Picture House flourished through the 1930s to 1950s. There was a period closure in the 1960s and again in the 1970s. But then it came under the control first of the local council, then the Metropolitan Council and finally Hebden Royd Town Council.. It continues furnishing theatrical entertainment for the area though it has suffered in local flooding, most recently in 2016. In the year of celebration there will be screenings of titles from its history, 35mm prints and ‘silents’ with live music..

There is a programme with The Adventures of Prince Achmed / Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed, a dazzling animation by Lotte Reiniger from 1926 using silhouette techniques. In December there is a screening of Pandora’s Box / Die Büchse der Pandora; G. W. Pabst’s film version of Franz Wedekind’s famous or infamous play. The film is illuminated by the luminous Louise Brooks in the main role. And the year ends with a screening of Helen of Four Gates; a print of what was though a ‘lost film’ was discovered in Canada in 207 and has now been fully restored.

The cinema is only ten minutes from Hebden Bridge railway station on the line with regular services between Leeds and Manchester. The balcony is rather cramped with wooden seats; however, the ground floor of the auditorium spacious and comfortable with a commendable low level of illumination during screenings. And the foyer offers real cups of tea with homemade cakes. So a trip to see ‘reel’ film in a real cinema should help assuage the absence until 2022 of our own Picture House.

 

Two films by Satyajit Ray

May 2nd was the centenary of this outstanding film-maker and a seminal figure in Indian cinema. The British Film Institute is planning a complete retrospective of his films later this year. Whilst we wait and wonder how many actual films will make it to Yorkshire Film 4 offers transfers of two of his fine titles in the coming week.

The family in ‘Mahanagar’

Monday / Tuesday night  at 01.15 a.m. [now available on All4].

Mahanagar (The Big City) – the film was shot in 1963 in black and white academy ratio: the language is Bengali with some English and with English sub-titles: and is set in Ray’s home city of Kolkata (Calcutta). The film follows the experiences of a family home which contains parents, two children and the grandparents on the husband’s side. The husband, Subrata Mazumdar (Anil Chatterjee), works as a senior clerk in a private bank; part of Bengali ‘bhadralok culture’ which Europeans would think of as lower middle class. The large family place a strain on his income and his wife, Arati (Madhabi Mukherjee) offers to help by taking a job. Despite the disapproval of the grandfather Arati obtains a post selling knitting machines door-to-door in middle class areas. Arati is the centre of this fascinating film; Madhabi is splendid as the young wife and the whole cast are excellent. Ray’s direction is beautifully and effectively restrained and his production team are excellent, especially the regular cinematographer Subrata Mitra.

Ray won the prestigious Silver Bear Award at the 1964 Berlin International Film Festival whilst the film won the Golden Bear.. However, the film itself failed to achieve a nomination by the Hollywood academy in the Best Foreign Language Film category; this was typical of the Academy. Mother India made a nomination in 1957; the next success was not until 1988 with Salaam Bombay. Three of Ray’s fine films failed to get nominations.

Wife and husband in ‘Charulata’

Tuesday / Wednesday night at 1255 a.m. [now available on All4].

Charulata (The Lonely Wife) – the film was shot in 1964 in black and white academy ratio: the language is Bengali with some English and with English sub-titles:it is set in Kolkata (Calcutta) in the 1880s. Thus this is a period film which is set in a Bengal and India under the rule of the Raj. This period also follows the 1857 ‘first war of independence’ [termed a mutiny by the British rulers). At one point in the film the Bengali men discuss a British general election contested by the the political parties led by Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone.

As the title suggests the film focuses on the young wife, Charu and her relationship with her husband and a visiting relative. Bhupati Dutta plays the husband whilst two actors from Mahanagar, Madhabi Mukherjee and Anil Chatterjee, play Charulata and Bhupati’s younger cousin Amal respectively. The cast are excellent. Ray’s direction provides a slowly paced portrait of the marriage interspersed with some fine lyrical moments. The opening and closing sequences are especially highly praised, [so stay awake].

The scenario was adapted by Ray from a story by Rabindranath Tagore, the leader of the Bengal Renaissance and an important influence of Ray himself. Ray is an auteur in the fullest sense of the term; in this film providing the scenario, costume design, direction and music. However, he relies on a really skilled production team. In particular this film contains some of the finest cinematography by Subrata Mitra.For the second year running Ray won the Silver Bear Award at the Berlinale. Whilst the film did not follow Mahanagar in winning the Golden Bear it is to my mind the finer film and one of Ray’s great achievements.

With adverts both titles will run over two hours. Especially with the Charulata there are few cinematic double hours which offer the same quality and pleasure. If you are new to Ray, or indeed if you are familiar with his films, then the Saudha International Satyajit Ray Congress [available on You Tube] offers a range of interesting comments on Ray’s art.

Manchester by the Sea on BBC 2

Friday May 14th at 11.20 p.m. and then the BBC iPlayer

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.