Rosie, Ireland 2018

This movie was screened at the Hyde Park Picture House in 2019; now it is transmitted this coming Sunday evening at 8.40 p.m. on the new BBC Three channel [Freeview 109 – also on the BBC iPlayer) . The Picture House screening was accompanied by presentations from members of the production, including  the director;  which added a welcome dimension to the event. I was impressed and included the title in my ‘best of the year’ selection . Rotten Tomatoes had very positive reviews and commented:

“Equal parts empathy and outrage, Rosie offers a heartbreaking glimpse of economic insecurity that will hit many viewers uncomfortably close to home.”

A day in the life of a family whose lose their rented home and find that the city [Dublin] is no place to be homeless. The key character is the mother, Rosie Davis (Sarah Greene); critics generally had high praise for her performance. But the whole family cast are really good with her partner John Paul Brady (Moe Dunford) and their four children, Kayleigh (Ellie O’Halloran) and three younger children Millie (Ruby Dunne), Alfie (Darragh McKenzie) and Madison (Molly McCann) equally convincing.

The day is a bleak procession of failures and lack of provision. The parents desperately seek a shelter, even for one night, as the children suffer from their poverty and insecurity. Much of the day is spent in their car as they search the city: this offers distinctive variation on the road movie: perhaps influenced by some of the also distinctive but different variants in Iranian cinema. This is the bleak landscape for the homeless in Ireland’s capital, but this is a story that could equally be filmed in British cities and in those of North America.

The screenplay is by the noted Irish writer Roddy Doyle. And the script was developed from real-life experiences  of people caught in the trap of homelessness. Filmed on location in Dublin the cinematography by Cathal Watters  uses frequent hand-held camera and large close-ups to present the emotional problems for the family.  The director Paddy Breathnach handles the production extremely well and achieves a documentary feel to the drama.

The film was likely shot in colour on a digital format in colour, it circulated on a DCP. It should show up well on the BBC HD channel though the widescreen 2.35:1 ratio may be slightly cropped. The title runs for 86 minutes. If you missed the Hyde Park screening the title was hard to see; the fate of many independent but really worthwhile movies. So it is a definite must on Sunday; be prepared for an emotional and powerful drama.

Stan & Ollie (Britain, Canada, USA 2018)

This is a portrait of two icons of film comedy, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. However, most of the film deals with their later years, an eight month tour of Ireland and Britain in 1953, presenting performances on stage in music halls based on their famous routines. It was a success at the time and now offers a combination of celebration, humour and nostalgia. The film is screening this Wednesday [April 6th] at 9 p.m. on BBC 2. Since it is, in part, a BBC production it should be featured on the iPlayer for some time.

The film is well put together and has a fairly straightforward narrative. The stand out aspect are the performances as Stan / Steve Coogan and Ollie / John C. Reilly. For fans like myself it was as if watching the duo once again. The supporting cast is excellent, especially their two partners: Ida Laurel / Nina Arianda: Lucille Hardy / Shirley Henderson. In fact the actual tour, organised by impresario Bernard Delfont (Rufus Jones), is more or less played in reverse. At the opening the audiences are small and lukewarm; the reverse of actuality. The intention it would seem is to develop a rising narrative ending with a highly successful performance and a delighted audience.

It is not all humour. The tour ended when Oliver suffered a heart attack and following the tour they were unable to work again. So there is also a disconsolate note at the conclusion. The film also shows in flashback how Stan and Ollie ended their association with Hal Roach (Danny Huston). Continue reading

Oscar Micheaux: The Superhero of Black Filmmakers

This is a documentary screening on April 1st on Sky Arts at 2.40 a.m. This appears to be the only Sky channel available on Freeview, Channel 11. It offers a range of programmes on the arts including frequent studies of cinema, film and film-makers. The majority of these are rather lightweight; they tend to ‘talking heads’, which means the comments are spread across a series of interviewees and rarely have the space to develop complex comments. And the extracts from films tend to be short and not necessarily illustrative of the important points. Some, like the programmes on Buster Keaton or Josephine Baker, involve the European Media Company Arte and are more analytical. This documentary falls rather in the middle.

Oscar Micheaux was a pioneer film-maker in what was known in early C20th USA as ‘race cinema’. These were films produced specifically for black audiences and usually screened in segregated cinemas in the South and either in segregated auditorium or programming in the North. The earliest ‘race’ film dates from 1905 but the cinema took off around 1910 , mainly in Chicago. There were independent ‘race films’ production companies like The Lincoln Motion Picture Company [1916 to 1921] owned by black entrepreneurs. Most companies in this field were owned by white entrepreneurs. There were also black production crew and ‘stars’ like comedian Mantan Moreland, who actually appeared in a few mainstream Hollywood titles. The ‘race cinema’ died out at the end of the 1940s when Hollywood finally decided to attract the ‘black dollar’; and then the 1950s saw the appearance of black stars in Hollywood like Sidney Poitier.

Oscar Micheaux was possibly the most important producer and director in this field. His Micheaux Film Corporation was set up in Chicago in 1918 and he later also worked in New York. Between then and 1940 he made forty four movies; most, like much of the ‘race cinema’, are lost. But the surviving silent and sound films are key examples of that cinema and also are seminal film texts in the history of US film and black film-making. Continue reading

Summer Of Soul

Showing at City Varieties on Tuesday 10th & Wednesday 11th August at 7:30pm

Summer of Soul (...Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

This Sundance award-winner is an absolute joy, uncovering a treasure trove of pulse-racing, heart-stopping live music footage that has remained largely unseen for half a century.

Mark Kermode, Observer (18 July 2021)

Mark Kermode isn’t the only person to suggest this is one of the best concert films ever made and it’s hard to disagree with such claims. The music from Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly & the Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips and more really is fantastic, not to mention incredibly moving at several points.

The film is more than just footage from 1969’s The Harlem Cultural Festival. The full title of the film is “Summer of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” because, although everybody involved knew how important it was to film these concerts, the footage was never seen and largely forgotten about. Unfortunately we can guess at some of the reasons why it never made it to TV but it’s great that we now get to see it. It was surprising to me how much more contemporary it seems compared to the more widely seen coverage of Woodstock that also took place that summer. The film captures the time and place to great effect, highlighting how much had happened leading up to the end of the decade and how much there was a need, and drive, for change.

It’s another music documentary (see also The Sparks Brothers) that will really benefit from the cinema experience. Not only will it look and sound great but this is a film to be enjoyed and experienced with other people. If you can’t make it to City Varieties it is also available to watch at home on Disney+.

Films at Heart

Bill Walton has been checking out some of the films at the Headingley Enterprise and Arts centre.

During Lockdown I’ve watched a lot of films on the small screen (though I draw the line at watching on a phone!), mostly on DVD or streamed from MUBI. But recently I’ve ventured out to events screened at the Heart centre in Headingley … a big screen, indoors, socially distanced, friendly, with flexible seating, refreshments and a friendly welcome.

First was Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950). This was a tasty Food and Film evening. I hadn’t seen Rashomon before but it lived up to its reputation. The term “Rashomon Effect” has become a byword for situations which demonstrate relative truth and subjectivity of memory. In the film we have conflicting accounts by a woodcutter, a thief, a woman and the spirit of her husband about a violent incident in the forest. Flashbacks highlight the disagreements. What particularly surprised me was the vitality of the cast. Definitely worth more than one watch.

My second visit to Heart was to see Purple Rain (1984) which was arranged by a Prince enthusiast. The soundtrack produced 4 top 40 hits. The rock musical drama draws to some extent on Prince’s early difficult childhood and backstage life at the legendary First Avenue nightclub in Minneapolis. Certainly a charismatic performance.

I’ve already booked for the next Heart Food and Film event on June 18th: a celebration of Mexico with fabulous food and Ariel Award winning film – THE GOLDEN DREAM.

Heart Food & Film Present: Mexican Food and Language Film - The Golden Dream 18 June 2021

Three teenagers, Juan, Sara and Samuel from the slums of Guatemala, travelling together on freight trains and walking railroad tracks through Mexico, meet Chauk from Chiapas who doesn’t speak Spanish. Together they face a journey that will change their lives forever.

For more information and tickets visit the HEART website

The Picture House’s own family friendly Hyde & Seek screenings will be starting again at Heart later this month. These screenings are ‘Pay What You Can’, which means you’re free to pay as much or as little as you can afford but must be booked in advanced via the Picture House website.

The first film is the Disney animated Robin Hood (1973) on Saturday 26th June at 10:30am.

You know, there’s been a heap of legends and tall tales about Robin Hood. All different too. Well, we folks of the animal kingdom have our own version. It’s the story of what really happened in Sherwood Forest

Alan-A-Dale


Bring your family along on the 26th to find out for yourselves.

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.

Movie Nights At City Varieties

“Please watch our movie on the largest screen possible and one day very, very soon, take everyone you know into a theater, shoulder to shoulder in that dark space and watch every film that’s represented here tonight.

Frances McDormand accepting the Best Picture Academy Award for Nomadland

With cinemas reopening the On The Road screenings are starting again with Movie Nights At City Varieties Music Hall. This week it’s Nomadland and Ammonite with Sound Of Metal, Minari and Wolfwalkers all coming up. These are all films that will really benefit from seeing (and hearing) on a big screen.

On Wednesday 19th there is also a “one night only” chance to see Pedro Almodóvar’s new 30 minute film The Human Voice starring Tilda Swinton and made last year under lockdown conditions. The screening will be followed by a recorded Q&A with Mark Kermode talking to Almodóvar and Swinton.

For ticket and safety information please see the Hyde Park Picture House website

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.

Black Bear

Available on Leeds Film Player during May

Aubrey Plaza as Allison staring out in to the distance.

All being well it shouldn’t be too long until we can start seeing films on the big screen again. The City Varieties’ Movie Nights are set to resume on the 17th and there are plans for more On The Road screenings over the summer. Until then there are still great films available to watch online. The latest addition to Leeds Film Player is Black Bear and is presented in partnership with Hyde Park Picture House.

Black Bear stars Aubrey Plaza, perhaps best known for her role in TV’s Parks and Recreation but also in great films such as An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn (2018), Ingrid Goes West (2017) and Safety Not Guaranteed (2012). This is a more dramatic role but one that still manages to be darkly funny. I knew very little about the film and that may the best way to experience it because part of what makes the film so engaging is how it unravels and it’s never clear exactly where it is going to end up.

I’ve missed seeing films in the cinema for a number of reasons. The visual delights of Wolfwalkers (2020) would have been more mesmerising on a big screen. The wonderful sound design of Sound Of Metal (2019 apparently) could be appreciated more if heard over a good sound system. David Byrne’s American Utopia (2020) would look and sound great but would also be a much better experience watching it with an appreciative audience. Watching Black Bear I found myself missing the audience for a completely different reason. It’s a film I really liked but one that I think is likely to be divisive; it’s intense, the characters are mostly unlikeable and it often ends up in awkwardly uncomfortable places. Much like in the second part of the film I wanted to know what other people would be feeling, was it okay to be enjoying this so much? Is ‘enjoying’ the right word or emotion? Would other people be laughing at the audacity of it all like I was? Hopefully, like all interesting things, there would be a mixture of reactions but I hope everybody would be able to find something to appreciate. Or maybe the lack of human interaction over the last 14 months means I’ve just forgotten how to react appropriately.

Black Bear is available to rent for £5 on Leeds Film Player until the end of May.

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.