The Eyes of Orson Welles, Britain 2018

Screening Saturday at 5.10 p.m. And Wednesday at 6.30 p.m.

More than any other film-maker of the sound era Welles seems to embody ‘renaissance man’: that is he ‘can do all things well’. His films sprawl across C20th cinema and Citizen Kane (1941) can still claim to be the outstanding Hollywood production. His series of Shakespeare adaptations on film are some of the finest renderings of the ‘Bard’, and Chimes at Midnight (1965) is one of the most moving. And F for Fake (1973) displayed his interest in magic and deception. His Federal Theatre Project productions, such as ‘Macbeth’ (1936), stood out in the decade. On Radio the Mercury Theatre’s ‘War of the Worlds’ (1938) remains the most famous media spoof in the modern era.

As an actor he graced both his own films and those of many other film-makers: in the 1956 Moby Dick he is as memorable as the great leviathan. For television he was the great raconteur; in the BBC series ‘Orson Welles Sketchbook’ he reminisced as he drew. And in the mammoth BBC Arena interview, when asked about Hollywood he responded,

‘I always liked Hollywood but it was never reciprocated’.

Equally slyly and witty were his famous commercial adverts including that for ‘Carlsberg’.

In this new film Mark Cousins explores Welles painting and drawings. This was a life-long activity and Cousins creates a biographical and artistic study using the art works, photographs, film clips and interviews. As this is Cousins there are slightly fanciful sequences but overall this is a fascinating study of one of the major film-makers of the C20th.

Dawson City: Frozen Time, USA 2016

Tuesday September 4th at 6.15 p.m.

You can now check out this film on the new Picture House Web Pages: replacing those that ‘crashed’ earlier in the year. The film is the work of the fine documentary film-maker Bill Morrison. I saw his earlier The Miners’ Hymns (2011) at the Picture House and it was a fine example of his skills in filming, selection and editing. It also has excellent use of music. This new title has fine musical accompaniment by Alex Somers.

The town and the ‘frozen time’ of the title refer to a cache of ‘lost films’ discovered in a remote township in the Klondike. These are all pre-sound films which were buried in a pool or rink in 1929. About two thirds of the films produced before the arrival of sound in the late 1920s are lost. So such a find is a real excitement for film buffs, Morrison, with his usual skill and command of technique, produces a portrait of the city and the treasure which combines historical detail with aesthetic pleasure. His work, tending to the avant garde, is often elliptical but repays continued attention.

Apart from Film Festivals, including Leeds, this fine film work has not had a British release, so it is great that there is this opportunity to see it here. The film runs for 120 minutes and Morrison uses both black and white and colour footage in the same ratio as the early films, 1.33:1.

 

Yorkshire Day, Jane Eyre (1996)

Wednesday August 1st at 8.00 p.m.

Charlotte Brontës novel is one of the most compelling narrative of C19th English literature and it has enjoyed numerous adaptations. This version is a pan-European, trans-Atlantic production with the adult Jane played by Charlotte Gainsbourg [France], the young Jane by Anna Paquin [Canada], Edward Rochester by William Hurt [USA], and a German Shepherd cross as Pilot; they are supported by other European actors and a bevy of British character actors, including at least two born in Yorkshire [Edward de Souza as Richard Mason and Peter Woodthorpe as Briggs]. The production crew equally hail from a number of European countries, the production company Rochester Films worked in association with Miramax; all is presided over by the Italian director Franco Zeffirelli

The film follows the book fairly faithfully for much of its 112 minutes running time. The famous ‘red room’ sequence precedes the opening titles. Then we meet the young Jane in full rebellion against her aunt Mrs Reed (Fiona Shaw) and the sanctimonious Mr Brocklehurst (John Wood). The sequences at Lowood school capture the oppressive nature of the establishment and add some distinctive touches to the school routine and the friendship between Jane and Helen Burns (Leanne Rowe]. A fine edit takes us the Thornfield, the friendly housekeeper Mrs Fairfax (Joan Plowright), the young pupil Adele (Josephine Serre) and the master Edward Rochester.

Jane, Pilot and Rochester

Gainsbourg is excellent as the heroine; her accent is mostly good and she presents the steely nature of Jane’s character. Hurt offers a lower key Rochester than in other versions, taciturn but also repressed. Schneider’s Bertha is haunted rather than manic. Billie Whitelaw as Grace Poole cares for her. And Elle Macpherson as Blanche Ingram is all haughty beauty.

All this plotting at Lowood and Thornfield is very effective. Whilst the narrative represents that of Jane in the novel, there is only limited use of voice-over and indeed there are scenes that Jane does not see or recount. When St John Rivers (Samuel West) appears the film diverges markedly from the novel. I wondered if this was to reduce the ‘long arm of coincidence’ for which the book is noted: if so it introduces equal co-incidents of its own. It is likely that this aimed to reduce the complexity and length of the novel’s plot, but the final drama does seem a little rushed.

The film was scripted by Zeffirelli with Hugh Whitemore. Whitemore has an extensive background in screen writing including a television version of ‘Rebecca’, Daphne du Maurier’s novel infused with the spirit of ‘Jane Eyre’. The script uses much of the familiar dialogue from the book and other film versions and, apart from the changes, works well. The production design by Roger Hall has a strong sense of early Victorian style and colour. What stands out is the cinematography by David Watkins [in colour and standard widescreen], assisted by David Browne with the second unit. The interiors often use chiaroscuro and at times there is a definite Gothic feel to the image. The exteriors, shot at a Derbyshire stately home but also on a Yorkshire location, add visual pleasure to the film. The editing by Richard Marden, as noted, has some fine transitions. The music is generally restrained, only rising on the track at moments of high drama and moments of transition. It is by Alessio Vlad, Claudio Capponi and Stefano Arnaldi. This is a film that works even if you are not familiar with the original novel: there are such readers? And for those familiar with Brontës master-work there is sufficient of the novel to offer the pleasure of a revisiting. There is the added attraction of a screening of the film in its original format 35mm.

The best so far this year, …

at the Hyde Park Picture House, [January to June]. So the films that really impressed me were:

Jupiter’s Moon / Jupiter holdja , Hungary, Germany France 2017. A brilliant and subversive story done with panache.

The Rape of Recy Taylor, USA 2017. A tapestry of documentary, testimony and fiction that dramatises the struggle of African-American women.

Sweet County, Australia 2017. An ‘outback’ movie that includes the pleasure of a township screening of the early and seminal The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906).

The Third Murder / Sandome no satsujin, Japan 2017. Another in the series of penetrating family studies by film-maker Koreeda Hirokazu.

Zama, Argentina and seven other territories. A nine year wait for a new feature by Lucretia Martel was worth it.

And one film I am hoping to see soon,

The Young Karl Marx / Le jeune Karl Marx, France, Belgium, Germany 2017. The historic friendship between Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels together with Jenny Marx and Mary Burns.

Zama, Argentina, Spain , France, Mexico, The Netherlands, Monaco, Portugal, USA, Lebanon, Britain, Dominican Republic, 2017

Opens today, Friday, and on Sunday and Wednesday 6 p.m.

This is the new film by Argentinian film-maker Lucrecia Martel. Her earlier films, La Ciénaga (2001), The Holy Girl  / La niña santa (2004) and The Headless Woman  / La mujer sin cabeza (2008) were fine examples of C21st Latin-American cinema. These three features were all set in a contemporary world and dramatised some of the contradictions in her home country. This new film is a literary adaptations set in the C18th and part of the Spanish colonial empire. The film was shot on digital formats and critics have rightly praised the visual style and sound design of the film.

The source of this story is a novel from 1956 of the same tiltle by Antonio Di Benedetto, [only translated into English in 2016]. Set in 1790 somehere on  a river dividing Argentina from Paraguay, the protagonist is Don Diego de Zama (Daniel Giménez Cacho) a magistrate [‘corregidor’ government official}. We first see him in the film [as in the poster] staring out across the river, symbolising his frustrated hopes of a move: away and upward socially and economically. The book offered a subjective narrative and the film translates this into a hallucinatory telling that is full of ambiguities. The story takes in three different periods of Zama’s sojourn in this provincial city, best identified by the changing face [i.e. actor] of the governor under whom he serves. The first two periods focus on his recurring requests for a transfer and the contradictions of his work, a sort of C18th ‘Catch 22’. His social position is problematic because he is an ‘Americano’, born in this ‘new world’ where colonial characters from Europe control society and power. His ambiguous status is reflected in his attempt at sexual conquest, both amongst the European and the indigenous women.  These first two thirds of the film have a surreal quality with elliptical editing and moments of bizarre humour when, for examples, animals cross the frontier between the world of nature and that of human society.

The final third  involves Zama enrolled in an expedition to hunt down a local bandit, Vicuňa Porto / Gaspar (Matheus Nachtegaele) who could be as much myth as a criminal disruption. Now the film takes on aspects of horror: something Martell also essayed in her very fine The Headless Woman. The first two thirds of the film have some of the absurdist quality found in ‘magical realism’ There are the recurring and ineffectual social forays of the protagonist; writing by the characters that seems completely fruitless; and odd acts of sexuality and violence that seem totally arbitrary. The last part moves into the world of the exploration: a trope in Latin American fiction and film where the horrors that beset the Europeans and their helpers betoken the ultimate futility of their search.

Martell has scripted and directed the adaptation with genuine skill. Her cinematographer, Rui Poças, has produced a fine range of visual imagery, some in stark brightness, some in a pattern of lights and shadow. And the sound design by Guido Berenblum is really distinctive. using internal and non-simultaneous sound. Both have used digital formats which work well to produce a rather flat colour surface and aural depth that suits the non-realist form.

Her last film, The Headless Woman , was a terrific and successful melodrama dramatising class and corruption. So why have we had to wait nearly a decade for her latest film. Part of the answer lies in the number of territories where she has found funding. Clearly there has not been a rush of investors to support her work; the number of companies involved in the production takes up four columns in the Sight & Sound credits.. One is reminded of the comment of Osmane Sèmbene, comparing putting a film together as like making up a cigarette out of butt ends in the street.

The novel is, apparently, dense but only runs to 200 pages. if you have to wait to read a copy, which sound really worthwhile, then there is a fine review by J. M. Coetzee in ‘The New York Review of Books’ . This sets out the main features of the plot but also, importantly, give a sense of the tone and characterisations of the novel. It seems that Martell has been relatively faithful to the book but some material has been excised and some given greater emphasis.

At least the film is now here. It should be a treat, especially as there is a scarcity [at least in West Yorkshire] of films from this great cinematic continent. Sight and Sound have both a review and a specialised article on the film. There is also a transcript of an interview with Lucrecia Martell, excellent reading.

I found the film challenging at first. It took about half-an-hour before I felt clear about how the narrative worked. But from then on I followed the film fine. This included some colonial Spanish terms retained in the English sub-titles. So there is ‘corregidor’ and also ‘encomienda’ which referred to the practice of awarding control of indigenous people to colonialists.

There is one remaining screening this coming Wednesday [June 20th] and at present no sign of further screenings in the Leeds/Bradford area. Do not miss this film or, at some future date, you will be embarrassed during a discussion of the outstanding Latin-American films from the first two decades of the C21st.

The Rape of Recy Taylor, USA 2017

Wednesday afternoon, Tuesday and Thursday evenings.

 

This is an impressive and important film though at times it offers painful viewing. The film recounts the rape of a young Afro-American woman and mother in 1944 in Alabama by a gang of white men. This was before the period of activism known for ‘The Civil Rights Movement’. Rape of black women, like the lynching of black people, was common in the period dominated by the racist culture called ‘Jim Crow’. Recy’s struggle for justice was supported by National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People [NAACP] and by one of its field officers, Rosa Parks. Parks is famous for her role in the ‘Bus Boycotts’ in the 1950s. But this case was equally important in the development of black resistance to the racism endemic in the USA. The NAACP, committed to constitutional action, was for decades the lead organisation in the struggle for equality for Afro-Americans. In this case the struggle achieved only partial results but it was a seminal step in the struggle.

The film is directed by Nancy Buirski whose previous films include a documentary The Loving Story (2011) and a dramatised treatment Loving (2016) of an inter-racial couple prosecuted for breaking laws against ‘miscegenation’. This films uses a complex mixture of personal film and audio testimonies, commentary and archive material. The latter include clips from feature films.  Most of the clips are from the films of  Oscar Micheaux whose work was a central component of the ‘race cinema’, segregated film production and exhibition in the USA from the 1910s to the 1940s.

The style of the film is excellent with fine work in cinematography, editing and special effects. In particular there are a series of beautifully composed superimpositions and some meaningful montage. The beauty of parts of the film provide a dramatic counterpoint to the agonies of the story. The testimonies from the family and Recy herself both describe the incident and comment upon it. Two contemporary commentators draw out the key position these events and struggle played in the long march of Afro-American resitance. But late in the film comments by white residents demonstrate how the much remains to be achieved.

This is a powerful and stimulating documentary on issues that, as the news constantly reminds us, remains a central problematic in US culture. What would be good would be if we could have a follow-up with a screening of one of Oscar Micheaux’s powerful film dramas: Within Our Gates (1920) is a classic that addresses both the rape of black women and the lynching of black people.

This week you can see …

Tuesday only.

The Girls / Flickorna Sweden, 1968), a classic and rare film offering a variation on  the seminal story of the ‘Lysistrata’ by Aristophanes. Part of the Radical Film Network’s ‘1968’ Festival.

Monday and Thursday.

The Breadwinner (Eire, Canada, Luxembourg 2017), a fine animation set in Afghan under the Taliban regime. The story is conventional, and reminded me of Osama (2003), The animation, which has two styles, one for the film’s present, one for the story told by the heroine, is beautiful to watch.

Monday to Thursday

Chesil Beach (British, 2017) is adapted from a novella b y Ian McEwan. A newly married couple spend an evening in a Dorset Hotel and on the nearby beach. Flashbacks fill in the back-story of their romance. With many aspects well done but I thought it did not quite cohere.

Wednesday only

Redoubtable / Le Redoutable (France, Myanmar, Italy 2017). Some reports found it funny but fans of Jean-Luc are likely to react with dismay. With English sub-titles for the French and Italian dialogue.

Thursday only

Filmworker (USA 2017) is likely to please the fans of Stanley Kubrick who, unlike Godard, has a good June: 2001 later this month.

Opening Friday

Jeunne femme (France 2017) by a new director portraying Paris and a footloose young woman . Comic and dramatic. Sub-titled in English.

The Wound / Inxeba, South Africa, Germany, Netherlands, France , 2017

Tuesday 29th May 6.30 p.m.

This screening offers a rare opportunity to see a film made in Africa. Supported by European funding the film was shot in the mountains of the Eastern Cape in South Africa. The plot concerns a secret initiation ritual, Ulwaluko, among the Xhosa people. [There is information regarding this in the online Press Notes]. The subject of the film, and the inclusion of a gay theme in the film, has made it controversial in its home country. It has been reclassified as 18 there.

Abroad the film has been well received. It made the short list for the Academy Award category of ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ and was voted ‘Best First Feature’ at the London Film Festival. These two awards presumably explain its availability in Britain.

The director, John Trengove, researched the film among men who had experienced and/or were involved in the rituals. He notes that there seemed,

‘something profound about a ritual that shows a young boy his place in the world of men.”

This is an adult them and the film has a 15 certificate, [“strong sex, language, drug misuse”, BBFC]. Reviews suggest that is is well filmed and set in a majestic landscape. And the cast are credited with convincing portrayals. The film was shot digitally in colour and a ratio of 2.35:1: it uses Xhosa/Afrikaans/English with English sub-titles.

The last African film that I saw, Félicité (from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 2017) was the best new title that I viewed at the Leeds International Film Festival. In the 1980s African films were relatively frequent screenings and offered a world of quality and distinctive cinema. Now they are few and far between and deserve a serious effort to see them.

The Third Murder / Sandome no satsujin, Japan 2017

Screening Sunday April 29th at 12 noon and Thursday May 3rd at 3.10 p.m.

Happily we have two screenings of the new Koreeda Hirokazu film. His earlier titles include the beautifully low-key Our Little Sister (Umimachi Diary, 2015) and the more dramatic but equally complex After the Storm (Umi yori mo mada fukaku, 2016). Koreeda is both a seriously fine film-maker and adept at working across genres. Apart from these two titles his output includes the children’s adventure I Wish (Kiseki, 2011); the Samurai film Hana (Hana yori mo naho, 2006); After Life (Wandafuru raifu, 1998) set in an equivalent of the Christian purgatory.

In this new film Koreeda again rings the changes in what appears on the surface to be a ‘legal thriller’. Misumi (Yakusho Kôji) is under arrest and charged with murder. A previous conviction for a double murder explains the title. Shigemori Tomoaki (Fukuyama Masaharu) is recruited to his defence team. He finds that Misumi’s account of events changes nearly every time he is questioned. He also finds that the family of the murdered victim, the wife Yamanaka Mitsue (Saito Yuki) and daughter Yamanaka Sakie (Hirose Suzu), also offer suspect testimony. The legal plot is not about innocence or guilt but the severity of the charge which may or may not lead to execution.

But if Koreeda works across genres, as an auteur, he is still identifiable by the themes which dominate his films. In this drama three of the main characters are fathers who have failed their families, in particular a daughter. Here the film crosses over with many of the director’s earlier works. Along with those mentioned these include Still Walking (Aruitemo aruitemo, 2008) and Like Father, Like Son (Soshite chichi ni naru, 2013).

There are parallels in the settings as well. The main places are towns close to the Tama River, south of Tokyo; but we also visit the region of Hokkaido in the north, noted for its cold climate.

The style is somewhat faster in rhythm than Koreeda’s other recent films. Here the team are working for the first time in an anamorphic ratio. Cinematographer Takimoto Mikiya makes excellent use of the wide frame. There are some evocative night-time sequences and a stunning use of superimposition late in the film. Koreeda who scripted, also edited this production. And there is an evocative music score by Einaudi Ludovico.

I thought, along with Sweet Country (Australia, 2017), that this is the most impressive new release so far in 2018. The film was shot in a digital format and has transferred very well to DCP. The quality of the visual and aural presentation means that much of the pleasure from the film will be missing on video or download. So this is a title to be seen at the cinema.

The Pavilion Presents Alia Syed.

Monday April 16th, 6.30 p.m. until 8.00 p.m.

This is an evening of films with the voice of the artist. Alia was born in Swansea and she enjoys both Welsh and Indian heritages. She works in film and on exhibitions and also teaches in Further Education. She now has three decades of film-making behind her.

The programme will include:

Points of Departure, 2014, video, 17min

Eating Grass, 2003, 16mm, 24min

Fatima’s Letter, 1992, 16mm, 19min

Alia will be there to talk about the themes and pre-occupations in her work. These include gender, colonialism, the diaspora and borders.

“I am interested in language; we construct ourselves through language; it creates the space where we define ourselves. Film can be a mirror—it can throw things back at us in a way that makes us question the ideas we have about ourselves and through this each other…I [am] interested in what happens when you hold more than one ‘culture’ within you at any given time.” [From a Q&A at an evening in L.A.]

Alia works within the experimental film discourse. You can get a sense of her approach by looking at one of her films [Points of Departure] on BBC Arts OnlinePavilion events are always worth attending; the Hyde Park Picture House has hosted a number; and this promises to be rewarding. It will be at The Swarthmore Centre on this Monday evening.  Swarthmore is quite accessible. From the Picture House walk up through the park, and down Cardigan Road to Woodhouse Square.