The Disaster Artist

The Disaster Artist showing daily until Thursday 14th
The Room screens tonight (8th December) at 9pm

15 Years after its first premiere, notorious bad film, The Room (2003), has continued success with regular screenings all over the world. This success is down to its growing cult fanbase, and in turn, The Disaster Artist, a film based on the making of The Room, is created by those fans.

In August 2010, journalist Tom Bissell wrote a brilliant piece for Harper’s magazine entitled ‘Cinema Crudité’, charting his growing obsession with The Room, which he describes as “…the movie an alien who has never seen a movie might make after having had movies thoroughly explained to him.” His deep dive culminates in an interview with the director/screenwriter/producer/star himself, Tommy Wiseau.

In his interview, Bissell eludes to an article by Clark Collis entitled The Crazy Cult of ‘The Room’, which charts the growing cult success of the film among Hollywood’s comedy elite, including Judd Apatow alumni Jonah Hill and Paul Rudd. Bissell asks Wiseau if he had been approached by any of his celebrity fans, to which he gives a typically left field and cryptic answer, a roundabout way of saying ‘no’. Funnily enough, it would be Bissell, and his book The Disaster Artist (written with Greg Sestero, Wiseau’s friend and co-star), that would finally connect Wiseau with his celebrity fanbase. It was the book that also introduced director/star James Franco to the film, which he is already envisioning as a film of sorts in his 2013 Vice article about it (“The book reads like the combination of two Paul Thomas Anderson film scripts…”).

The film version of The Disaster Artist begins with a prelude of talking heads, including Kristen Bell (who is interviewed in the original Clark Collis article), trying to articulate their complicated relationship with “the Citizen Kane of bad Movies”. The film itself is made up of high profile fans of the film, including all three hosts of the podcast ‘How did that get Made’, who interviewed Sestero before The Disaster Artist book was published (at that point with the working title of ‘Lost inside The Room’)

Richard Brody’s review of The Disaster Artist for The New Yorker, describes the acting style of Tommy Wiseau (played convincingly by Franco) as a “theatre of attention” which is most apparent in a scene played out in a cafe, where Wiseau and Sestero command the attention of bemused patrons. This was an inspiration for producer A24’s viral campaign, an award given to the best scene from The Room acted out in public. This in turn mirrors those early midnight screenings, as it was a staple, to dress up as characters from The Room and act out scenes, in the aisles and in front of the screen, which essentially provides the core of The Disaster Artist. Apparently around 25 minutes of the The Room was recreated shot-for-shot, evidenced in the films closing credits.

There’s a clip on youtube (below) of Tom Bissell before he went to his first midnight screening of the film, the one he wrote about in his piece. In the video he is asked about his favourite scene, one which he calls “incomprehensible”. At that point he had only seen clips online, recently he said he has seen it “More than 100 times”, I wonder if it makes any more sense to him now, or if the delight is still in the incomprehensibility of it all.

Blood Simple – Director’s Cut

Remastered Director’s Cut Showing Saturday 2nd December 8:40pm

Marty: “I got a job for you.”
Private Detective Visser: “Well, if the pay’s right, and it’s legal, I’ll do it.”
Marty: “It’s not strictly legal.”
Private Detective Visser: [Thinks for a second] “Well, if the pay’s right, I’ll do it.”

Definition of Blood Simple: What happens to someone psychologically once they have committed murder; craziness.  A phrase coined by novelist Dashiell Hammett.

Revenge is sweet. This could be the perfect crime. But who can you really trust? And might human fallibility bring unintended consequences? This tense Texas thriller will keep you guessing. Make sure you keep an eye on those little details … the gun, the cigarette lighter, the knife, the contents of the safe.

Blood Simple is the Coen Brothers’ first film and my personal favourite. They bring together a great script, cinematography and soundtrack. The director’s cut is just a few minutes shorter than the original. M Emmet Walsh (Private Detective Visser); John Getz (Ray); Dan Hedaya (Marty); Frances McDormand (Abby); and Samm-Art Williams (Meurice) bring their flawed characters to life. One damn things just leads to another …

The Four Tops record on the jukebox blares out:

You’re sweet as a honey bee
But like a honey bee stings
You’ve gone and left my heart in pain
All you left is our favourite song
The one we danced to all night long
It used to bring sweet memories
Of a tender love that used to be

It’s the same old song
But with a different meaning
Since you been gone
It’s the same old song

The screening will be the director’s’ cut of the film following a recent digital restoration from StudioCanal.


Bill Walton

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/

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.

 

 

The Death of Stalin

Showing until 1st NovemberThe Death Of Stalin Poster

The Death of Stalin, the new film by Armando Iannucci (The Thick of It), based on the graphic novel of the same name, is currently showing at the HPPH.

Iannucci’s world building is second to none, dragging the viewer into the paranoid fear filled world of the U.S.S.R, where no one can be trusted, all rooms are bugged and no one is safe from the terror of the secret police, the NKVD, run by the sinister Beria (portrayed by Simon Beale).

The farcical power struggle that follows immediately after Stalin’s death between the Council of Ministers shows the absurd nature of the Stalinist Russia, and runs deeply into the themes that Iannucci covers in his previous work, The Thick of It, but this time around an added  fear of execution, not Malcolm Tucker shouting at you.

Between the power grabs and scheming, we get a comedic glimpse into the theatre of the absurd that Stalin had created, Molotov (Palin) even quips ‘Stalin would be loving this’ at the height of the infighting. This film is one of the funniest out this year (the rest of the audience agreed with me I believe!), with moments of bleakness and sadness that pin the whole thing down in reality. These things happened and we are following the stories of cruel men, a product of a cruel regime.

Stand out performances for myself were Andrea Riseborough playing Stalin’s daughter Svetlana, whom all the council members were trying to win the favour of after her father’s death.  A special mention for the Yorkshire-accented no nonsense Zhukov played by Jason Issacs (just wait for him to pop up!).

I cannot recommend The Death of Stalin enough, it gives the audience a glimpse into a strange world at a historically significant point in time, that not everyone is familiar with. Its funny, tense, farcical, paranoid and again, very very funny.

If you like The Death of Stalin, you should watch The Thick of It (Iannucci), In the Loop (Iannucci, 2009), and if you want to go old school, Yes Minister (Jay and Lynn).

I’ve been Comrade Henry Stocks-Fryer, you’ve been reading.

Blade Runner: A Study in Humanity

Blade Runner: The Final Cut – Thursday 28th September 6.00 PM
Blade Runner 2049 showing from October 5th

harrisonfordblade-size-custom-crop-1086x0

Blade Runner, released on 25th June 1982.

Its initial run was met by a lukewarm response from critics, but has since grown into a cult film, and essential viewing for most film fans (especially Sci-Fi nerds). Based on Philip K. Dick’s book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Blade Runner has formed the building blocks to the genres of neo-noir and cyberpunk, and with the release of the sequel, Blade Runner 2049 (screening from Thursday 5th October), I’m sure it will continue to build on that foundation.

Set in the far flung future of 2019 (which makes the author of this piece wonder if flying cars are just around the corner for us?), the viewer follows Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a retired cop, brought back in by Gaff (Edward James Olmos) to help “retire” rogue replicants, androids created by Tyrell corporation. Harrison Ford’s performance as the anti-hero, who is forced to question the morality of his work by the femme fatale Rachael (Sean Young) , is one of his best.

Ridley Scott takes the viewer on a journey throughout the world, giving us a glimpse into a cyberpunk dystopia (the concept of ‘high tech, low life’ really rings true), the power of the omnipotent state and the unchecked might of corporations (such a Tyrell).

Alongside this exploration of society, is the emerging humanity we see in the replicants lead by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), the Nietzschean Ubermensch of the piece, who really steals the show. We witness their struggle for meaning in their existence and freedom they will kill for.

It’s an existential crisis, but with androids and guns.

I wanted to write about Blade Runner for many reasons, but it was mainly for my love of the cyberpunk genre, and with Philip K.Dick being its spiritual founder, I thought it was quite fitting.

If you like Blade Runner you should also read; Neuromancer by William Gibson, Akira (Manga & Anime) by Katsuhiro Otomo, Ghost in the Shell (manga/film) by Mamoru Oshii, 12 Monkeys (film) and if you really want to get into the Noir side of things,you should check out The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler.

But what you really need to watch is the original Blade Runner:The Final Cut at the HPPH on September 28th and then soon after the sequel (starring the dashing Ryan Gosling) Blade Runner 2049 from October 5th.

I’ve been Henry Stocks-Fryer. You’ve been great. Follow the unicorn.

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.

 

Inherent Vice, USA 2014

Showing Sunday 17th September 1:30pm

as part of Scalarama and the Philosophy & Film series

Sortilège (Joanna Newsom) narrating:

“Inherent vice in a maritime insurance policy is anything that you can’t avoid. Eggs break, chocolate melts, glass shatters, and Doc wondered what that meant when it applied to ex-old ladies”.

Inherent Vice is set in Los Angeles in1970. A classic stoner movie which reflects a counterculture that will be greatly appreciated by audiences who may or may not use cannabis … please remember that the Hyde Park Picture House is a non-smoking venue! The film’s director, Paul Thomas Anderson, adapted the film from the book by Thomas Pynchon.


Sortilège:

“She [Shasta Fay (Katherine Waterston)] came along the alley and up the back steps the way she always used to. Doc Larry Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) hadn’t seen her for over a year. Nobody had. Back then it was always sandals, bottom half of a flower-print bikini, faded Country Joe & the Fish t-shirt. Tonight she was all in flatland gear, hair a lot shorter than he remembered, looking just like she swore she’d never look.”

Doc, a dazed and confused private investigator, takes up Shasta’s case and is soon enmeshed in a surreal world of crime, menace and deception. Love, sex and comedy too are all part of the mix. In the background is the menace of Nixon’s presidency and the Vietnam War. I won’t reveal the plot, largely because I don’t fully understand it myself. Suffice to say that Doc is a brilliantly acted anti-hero, who is joined by a great cast including an upright (or is he?) police officer, Lt. Det. Christian F. “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), plus Martin Short, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro and Owen Wilson.

In total, it’s an entertaining neo-noir melange of moods and styles. It would take many viewings to grasp all the references to other films and to hippie lifestyles. Maybe you will be a little clearer after the Philosophy and Film Q&A that follows the film …

“What’s Up, Doc?” as Bugs Bunny used to say.


Bill Walton

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.