The Post, USA 2017

From today and on Sunday January 28th at 5.00 p.m. with a Q&A

You can see the Academy Award nominated film and be involved with a Question and Answer session with Granville Williams at this special screening. Granville is an experienced writer on the Newspaper and Media Industries and is the Editor of ‘FreePress’ from the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom.  He writes;

The Post in an honourable addition to Hollywood films (All The Presidents Men (1976), Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), Spotlight (2015)) which portray journalists and journalism in a positive way, as opposed to grubby hacks chasing squalid, sensational headlines .

When I see films like these I wonder why UK film directors haven’t tackled such subjects. Couldn’t the dogged work of Guardian journalist, Nick Davies, as he probed and finally exposed the industrial scale of phone-hacking at Murdoch’s ‘News of the World’, be a suitable subject?

The credits for The Post say it is ‘based on a true story’ and whilst I can quibble with the way the film modifies some of the facts about the way the Washington Post’s publisher, Katharine Graham, finally came to back publication of the Pentagon Papers, I think the film captures perfectly how enmeshed she was in the Washington elite and the political and commercial pressures on her to take an easier route, and not publish the papers.

I will talk more about this in the Q&A session following the 5.00pm showing of the film on Sunday 28 January at the Hyde Park Picture House. Here I just want to develop a couple of points about two aspects of the film.

One is the way that Spielberg focuses on the old hot metal printing press scenes and the workings of the Linotype machines assembling the lines of type for the stories. It’s very evocative.

In 1975 after Watergate there was a ferocious strike by printers which set her and the newspaper on a conservative course. Graham devoted dozens of pages in her autobiography ‘Personal History’ to vilifying Post press operators who went on strike in 1975. She stressed the damage done to printing equipment as the walkout began and “the unforgivable acts of violence throughout the strike.”

John Hanrahan, a Newspaper Guild member at the Post, wouldn’t cross the picket lines and never went back. He pointed out,

“The Washington Post under Katharine Graham pioneered the union-busting ‘replacement worker’ strategy that Ronald Reagan subsequently used against the air-traffic controllers and that corporate America — in the Caterpillar, Bridgestone/Firestone and other strikes — used to throw thousands of workers out of their jobs in the 1980s and the ’90s.”

The other point is on the role of Ben Bagdikian in the film – he’s the journalist who gets access to Daniel Ellsberg and persuades him to hand over 4000 pages for the Post to use. He was national editor on the Post, a man who the editor, Ben Bradlee, in his autobiography, ‘A Good Life’, describes as ‘thorny’. Bagdikian had a big influence on me, and others interested in media reform. He wrote a key book ‘The Media Monopoly’  (1983) which warned about the chilling effects of corporate ownership and mass advertising on US media. Fifty corporations owned most of the US media when he wrote the first edition. By the time he wrote ‘The New Media Monopoly’ (2004) it had dwindled to five.

NB A couple of friends who have already seen the film thought it helps if one is clear about ‘The Pentagon Papers’. You can check this out on Wikipedia.

 

Loving Vincent, UK / Poland 2017

                                                      There is one more screening on Saturday 23rd at 5.15 p.m.           with subtitles for the hard-of-hearing,

 

The last screening of this title was sold out, an uncommon feat at the cinema. It is the recipient of a number of Awards including Best Animated Feature Film Award at the 30th European Film Awards in Berlin. Comments have focused on the sheer visual beauty of the images.

This is an animated feature and it has used a set of distinctive techniques:

“Each of the film’s 65,000 frames is an oil painting on canvas, using the same technique as Van Gogh, created by a team of 115 painters.”

The film also uses live action sequences. These are mainly flashbacks within the narrative.

Van Gogh is one of the most prized [and expensive] painters in European Art and he has a presence in popular culture as well. His personal life and tragic demise have fed into this celebrity. The narrative in this production takes the form of an investigation. A young man, charged with delivering Van Gogh’s final letter, delves into the final days of the artist. Thus the film explores both the personal and the artistic.

The director is a Polish animator Dorota Kobiela with her first feature. Her co-director is Hugh Welchman, who normally works as producer,. The film relied on funding from the Polish Film Institute, an institution with a long and illustrious history.

The production was shot on a digital camera and is in colour and the academy ratio. [IMDB gives 1.33:1 but thus us usually masked to 1.37:1].  The film used a number of ac actors as ‘models’ for the paintings and they also appear in the ‘live action’ sequences. The British release has an English language soundtrack, dubbed by the credited actors and other voices. .

Van Gogh has enjoyed frequent representations on film. There is Lust for Life (USA 1956), directed by Vincente Minnelli with Kirk Douglas playing the artist. Some of the relationships in the film seem a little facile but the artist and his work are well presented. Then there is Vincent and Theo (France, Netherlands, UK, Germany, Italy) a film by Robert Altman with Tim Roth as Van Gogh. Roth makes excellent casting for the tortured artist. And there are several well made documentaries.

Battleship Potemkin (Bronenosets Potemkin, 1925) at Hebden Bridge.

This Soviet classic is screening at the Hebden Bridge Picture House on December 2nd. This is another of those rare chances to celebrate The Great October Revolution through the films that it inspired. If you saw The End of St. Petersburg / Konets Sankt-Peterburga (1927) here in Leeds in September you will have an idea of how impressive Soviet silent montage films can be.

The film is screening in a 35mm print from the restoration by the Munich Archive in 2005. This is now the closest version to the original screened at the Bolshoi Theatre in 1925. The restoration relied to a great extent on a surviving print in the BFI National Film Archive which was screened for the London Film Society by the director Sergei Eisenstein in 1929.

The print has both the original editing and title cards, some of which were cut by censorship later. It will have a live piano accompaniment by Darius Battiwalla. If you saw and heard the presentation of Berlin: Symphony of a Great City / Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Grosstadt (1927) here  you will know what an excellent accompanist he is.

The film created a great stir on its release, both in the Soviet Union and internationally. The young Luis Buñuel was so inspired that he and his comrades erected a barricade in the street after watching the film. Especially famous is ‘The Odessa Steps Sequence’ but it seems likely that more people have seen that extract that have actually seen the whole film. Now is the opportunity to see the film complete and as close a possible to the version that created the sensation back in 1925.

The Hebden Bridge Picture House is accessible, about an hour by train or car from Leeds. It is an attractive cinema which opened in 1921, only seven years after the Hyde Park Picture House.

 

Leeds Palestinian Film Festival 2017


The 2017 Festival launches during the Leeds International Film Festival with a new documentary Gaza Surf Club. The film has been directed by two young filmmakers with funding from German Public Broadcasting Company, Westdeutscher Rundfunk Köln. In Gaza there is a small band of enthusiasts who ride the surf in the coastal waters. The added dangers of the sport here are the Israeli blockade and maritime restrictions. It is in colour and with both English and Arabic.

The Occupation of the American Mind is a documentary produced by the Media Education Foundation. The writers and directors Loretta Alper, and Jeremy Earp have provided an exploration of that central movement attempting to protect Israel from scrutiny and justice in the USA. This ‘propaganda’ and pressure is replicated to a smaller extent in Britain as well. Filmed in colour and all in English. The film will be followed by a talk and discussion with former Reuters journalist Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi. Naomi is a leading campaigner for ‘Free Speech on Israel’.

Firefighters Under Occupation is a distintive documentary. Sponsored by the Fire Brigade Union it was filmed by a South Wales firefighter on a trip to the Occupied West Bank where indigenous firefighters operate the equipment donated by their comrades in Britain. The event also has a distintive venue, the converted Gipton Fire Station now an East Leeds Community venue.

The Time That Remains is the most recent feature by Elia Suleiman released in 2009, screening at the Hyde Park Picture House. Suleiman is a pioneer of Palestinian cinema, his first films in the 1990s were produced before the present expanded cycle of films made in the occupied territories emerged. Dramatising his own life and that of his father Fuad Suleiman produces a complex narrative setting out both the Israeli domination of Palestinians and their resistance. The film treats the subject with a degree of irony.

The Idol from the 2016 Festival at a new venue. This title dramatises the story of Muhammad Assaf, the Gazan wedding singer who won the prestigious Television Contest ‘Arab idol’. The film had some fine sequences set in Gaza in his childhood and returns there at the end with actual footage of the celebrations on his success.

Also returning from 2016 is Balls, Barriers & Bulldozers, a documentary following a British tour of the West Bank playing against  Palestinian women football teams. The film is about the sport and about the experience of visiting the Occupied Territories.

‘Existence is Resistance’ is an evening with short films and an exhibition of photographs. The theme is ‘Sumud’, that is ‘steadfast’. The short films are Sumud: Everyday Resistance; Journey of a Sofa; and Shireen of al-Walaja the portrait of a popular resistance leader.

Finally we have ‘Film Maker as Activist – an afternoon of short films and discussion with Jon Pullman’. The Forgotten addresses the condition of the millions of Palestinian refugees who still wait for the liberation of their homeland. The filmmaker will also talk about his planned film, The Lynching, which will deal with the current ‘anti-semiotic’ witch-hunt in the British Labour Party.

The Festival offers a varied selection of films in both theatrical and community settings. Now well established the Festival brings a political edge to film viewing in West Yorkshire.

Festival Webpages: http://www.leedspff.org.uk/

The Square, Sweden, France, Germany, Denmark 2017.

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This title opened the 2017 Leeds International Film Festival. It was screened in a fairly packed Victoria auditorium at Leeds Town Hall. This has a large well placed screen for the occasion and the illumination levels are suitably low; though you get extraneous light when people enter or leave during the feature, [now reduced as they have dimmed the lights in the foyers]. The acoustics are less favourable, especially for dialogue. This feature offers Swedish, English and Danish with part sub-titles. Presumably because of the English dialogue the soundtrack was fairly loud but one could manage.

The film itself won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. I am not totally convinced by the Jury’s choice but I could see why the film received the award. It was written and directed by Ruben Östlund whose Force Majeure was one of the stand-out releases in 2014. The bad news for those who enjoyed the earlier title is that C20th Fox have acquired ‘remake rights’.

The Square is a worthy follow-up and the style and themes of the film are recognisably similar. However, I thought this title lacked the tight focus and some of the subtlety of the predecessor though I found the ending stronger. This is rather like a picaresque novel as it follows the travails of a curator of a museum devoted to contemporary art in Stockholm. One nice touch is that the museum is called ‘X-Royal’ because it is sited alongside and uses part of  the original Royal Palace.

In the course of the narrative we follow Christian (Claes Bang) at work and outside of the museum. And we meet a range of other characters including his managers and colleagues, his children from a separated marriage and the privileged members of the ‘Friends of the Museum’. The Museum and its patrons are the main target in a feature that is predominately satire. The museum elite and the patrons are holders of what French intellectual Pierre Bourdieu termed ‘cultural capital’. And the film draws a contrast between these members or hangers-on of the bourgeoisie and a range of characters from the lower depths of the working class, possessing literally no or minimal cultural capital.

Some powerful and at times sardonic sequences in the film focus on this class conflict. And Christian’s metaphorical journey in the film appears to be designed to accomplish something similar in audiences. So the film veers between almost slapstick humour, sometimes heavy-handed satire and emotive dramatic moments. It is a long film, 140 minutes. I do not think it is too long but in the weaker moments I was conscious of the length. A member of the audience opined that

‘the film tried to include too much’.

I think this is accurate but it is also that the film has too many targets whereas Force Majeure limited itself effectively to gender and family contradictions. The Square reminded me of the 2016 festival entry Tony Erdmann. Both films follow a picaresque form, both are partly satirical partly dramatic; and each critically examines aspects of European political culture. But both are scripted by the director and I think a specialist scriptwriter would have improved the work. It is the sort of film that Jean Claude Carriere would have been good on.

The film is very well produced. The cast are excellent. Even in some of the more bizarre scenes they are completely convincing. The technical aspects are extremely well done in terms of settings, cinematography, sound and editing. The last named technique uses abrupt cuts frequently positioning the audience to fill in an ellipsis and its consequences. The production team are especially good at the use of stairwells, two finely presented settings. The title was shot on the Codex digital system and on Alexa cameras. It is distributed in a 2K DCP which looks fine.

It is a film I think i will see again. It goes on general release via Curzon [who follow somewhat restrictive practices] and there are further screenings in the Victoria and at the Hyde Park Picture House. The film has a couple of genuinely shocking sequences. The BBFC have not released their certification yet but I believe it will receive a ’15’.

LIFF’s 35mm Films

‘Orphée ‘ – a Festival highlight.

This year’s Festival includes eight screening sourced from 35mm prints, [baring accidents]. I make this one more than in 2016, progress. All the films will be projected at the Hyde Park Picture House as the only other venue in Leeds with 35mm projector, The Cottage Road Cinema, is not participating in the Festival: shame. In another example of progress all the titles are listed in the printed ‘Free Guide’ and are noted on the Festival Webpages.

Stephen has already mentioned the ‘breakfast’ screening of Amelie (France 2001).

The Deputy / El diputado is a Spanish thriller from 1978, filmed in colour and standard widescreen. The plot involves a left-wing politician, the police and security services, black mail and even treason. The treatment makes all of this both complex and fascinating, widening the story with sexual orientation.

The Lives of Others / Das Leben der Anderen (Germany, 2006) was a popular success on its initial release. It studies the situation of an artist under the Stasi in the German Democratic Republic in the 1980s. What makes the story dramatic is a borrowing from Victor Hugo’s great novel ‘Les Misérables’.

Orphée (France 1950) is a film version of the famous myth by poet and artist Jean Cocteau. The film has a dreamlike quality and is full of actions and settings beloved of the Surrealists. The black and white cinematography really does deserve to be seen on film.

The Party and the Guests / O slavnosti a hostech (A Report on the Party and the Guests, Czechoslovakia, 1966) was part of the 1960s ‘new wave’ and was banned for many years. The film only appeared in Britain in 2008. Shot in academy and black and white, the film is an absurdist drama, at times reminiscent of Samuel Beckett.

Seven Days in January / 7 días de enero (Spain, 1979) is a thriller based on actual events. Aftert the welcome death of General Franco and Spain’s transition to a more democratic society elements from the fascist past attempted to undermine the process.

Taste of Cherry / Ta’m e guilass (Iran, 1997) is one of the fine films from this country’s art/independent sector. The director Abbas Kiarostami is noted for his minimalist approach. Here, in another Iranian film set mainly in an automobile, we spend a few hours with a man debating a fundamental question.

Volver (Spain, 2006) is another excellent drama from Pedro Almodóvar. This is a film centred on women and the fine cast, as a collective, were awarded the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festivals. This is mainly a dramatic comedy but with many of the issues that always fill Almodovar’s films and titillate audiences.

Classic Almodóvar at the Festival.

Surprisingly several other films in the retrospective section are on digital even though I am pretty sure that 35mm prints exist. These include Satyajit Ray’s memorable Aparajito (India, 1956) and the more recent and compelling The Headless Woman / La mujer sin Cabeza (Argentina, 2008) directed by Lucretia Martell.

But the most serious lacunae in the programme is the complete absence of Soviet titles. The Centenary of the Great October Revolution [in the new style calendar] falls within the Festival. If this is not recognised as the most significant event of the C20th then surely the cinema it inspired, Soviet Montage, should be. It was the most challenging but also the most influential film movement in C20th World Cinema. It seems that we need a seminar on film history for the Festival office.

 

 

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.