Groundhog Day (USA 1993)

Saturday 2nd February 10:30pm

Phil Connors (Bill Murray): Excuse me, where is everybody going?
Fan on Street: To Gobbler’s Knob. It’s Groundhog Day!

Groundhog Day is a popular annual tradition celebrated in Punxsutawney, western Pennsylvania. Groundhogs hibernate each winter. The superstition is that if the groundhog (Punxsutawney Phil) emerges from his burrow on February 2nd and sees a shadow due to clear weather, he will retreat into his den and winter will persist for six more weeks; and if he does not see his shadow because of cloudiness, spring will arrive early.

TV weather presenter Phil Connors, news producer Rita Hanson (Andie MacDowell) and camera operator Larry (Chris Elliott) have the task of covering the festivities for a Pittsburgh TV station. In Punxsutawney the Pennsylvania Polka is playing. The weather is extremely cold. And clearly a day in the little town of Punxsutawney is not Phil Connors’ idea of fun.

Phil: This is one time where television really fails to capture the true excitement of a large squirrel predicting the weather.

The film Groundhog Day is a popular romantic comedy set in a an attractive small town that is a character in itself (actual location Woodstock, Illinois).

But there’s a lot more to Director Harold Ramis’s film than that.

I expect you know already, so I’ll risk a spoiler. After all the film is largely responsible for popularising the phrase ‘Groundhog Day’ in the UK.

I expect you know already, so I’ll risk a spoiler: Some events in the film “are or appear to be continually repeated”, trapping Phil in a time loop that no one else is aware of.

Phil: What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?
Ralph (Rick Overton): That about sums it up for me.

Some viewers interpret the film according to their own philosophies, creeds and religions, with enthusiasts ranging from Buddhists, fundamentalist Christians, and Nietzschean nihilists, to transcendental yogis and Hasidic Jews. The film is called “Black Hole of Love’ In South Korea. Whether you’re looking for purgatory, reincarnation, mitzvahs, or karma, you will probably find what you seek.

Other fans may see echoes of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief and loss as Phil Connors struggles to come to terms with his situation.

And some of us will simply sit back with our popcorn to enjoy an excellent cast, a snowy festival, and a little food for thought. After all, if you could live forever, if your actions seemed to have no consequences, how would you change yourself over time? Would you live your life well? Could you find anything to make this seemingly never-ending daily routine stop?

Phil: Well, it’s Groundhog Day… again…

This year Groundhog Day will repeat itself at the Hyde Park Picture House on Saturday February 2nd at 10.30pm.


Bill Walton

Rosa Luxemburg, Germany 1986

Tuesday January 15 at 6 p.m.

This is a welcome screening of one of the fine political dramas written and directed by Margarethe von Trotta. Rosa Luxemburg was one of the outstanding revolutionaries of the early C20th. Along with Lenin and the Bolsheviks and the suffragist Sylvia Pankhurst she adhered to the central platform of Marx and Engels’ position on capitalist war. This was the outcome of years of struggle in her native Poland and in the German Social Democratic Party for ‘Revolution’ against ‘reformism’. Her political activity led to numerous spells of imprisonment and finally her murder after the failed Spartacist uprising in 1919.

[see the recent demonstration in her memory].

Red Rosa now has vanished too. (…)

She told the poor what life is about,

And so the rich have rubbed her out.

May she rest in peace. “[Bertolt Brecht].

Von Trotta’s film opens in prison in 1916 and then takes the viewer back to 1906 and a Polish prison. Cutting in time and space between different periods of Rosa’s life and political action the film presents a complex and dramatic biography. Barbara Sukowa, a long-time collaborator with von Trotta gives a compelling characterisation of this committed and steely woman. The film brings out both the importance of Rosa political activity and the rich but demanding personal life she enjoyed.

The production team includes a number of von Trotta’s regular collaborator. Visually this is a tour de force and the team also manages to capture the look and detail of the years before World War I. When the film moves to the later years of the imperialist war and the post-war failed revolution the judicious use of archive footage integrates the personal life with the seismic social events.

This is a engaging and fascinating biopic and treatment of political events that are as relevant today. Rosa’s own ‘Reform or Revolution’ is as an apt a commentary for 2008 as it was for 1900.

Margarethe von Trotta is one of the outstanding German directors of recent decades. Along with fellow women film-makers she will be part of a retrospective at the forthcoming Berlinale. The Independent Cinema Office are distributing this film [in digital versions] with three other titles: The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum / Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum (1975): The Second Awakening of Christa Klages / Das zweite Erwachen der Christa Klages: The German Sisters / Die bleierne Zeit. Let us hope we are able to see these three as well.

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Spain 1988

New Year’s Eve Double-Bill
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown & 9 to 5

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

QUESTION:Take an intense world of machismo, voiceovers, red gazpacho,  answering machines, love triangles, Arab terrorists, and a mambo taxi driver who puts Uber to shame. To this vivid background add a vibrant cast of women crazed with love, along with a nosey secretary, a Jehovah’s Witness, two policemen and the telephone repair guy. What do you get?

ANSWER: Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar’s smart, funny and touching international breakthrough film. A feast of style, colour, and music. ‘Nervous breakdown’ may not be quite the right translation for the Spanish ‘Ataques de nervios’; but look out for dramatic outpourings of negative emotions, bodily gestures occasional falling to the ground, and fainting, often in response to receiving disturbing news or witnessing or participating in an upsetting event. (Thanks, Wikipedia, for the clarification.)

Ana (Ana Leza) : I’m fed up. I’m gonna get myself some quick cash, buy
myself his bike and split. With a bike, who needs a man?
Pepa (Carmen Maura): Learning mechanics is easier than learning male
psychology. You can figure out a bike, but you can never figure out a man.

Almodóvar’s film doesn’t quite pass the Bechdel test for representation of women in fiction, but it comes pretty damn close. (More than two named women ✔︎; who talk to each other ✔︎; about something besides a man – some of the time).

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown takes place mostly in a snazzy Madrid penthouse. Pepa wants to know where her lover Iván (Fernando Guillén) is because she has to tell him something, Over a hectic 48 hours. Pepa, her friend Candela (María Barranco), Iván, Lucia (Julieta Serrano), Carlos (Antonio Banderas), Marisa (Rossy de Palma), and Paulina (Kiti Mánver) gradually figure out their relationships to each other. Spoiler alert: expect the unexpected.

Iván: How many men have you had to forget?
Pepa: As many as the women you remember.

Surely you deserve a bit of fun. On New Year’s Eve at 4pm put the trials and tribulations of 2018 behind you; treat yourselves to a beer or glass of wine from the Picture House kiosk; and prepare for the trials and tribulations (and successes) of 2019, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is being shown as double-bill with 9 to 5 (1980) which features Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton and Jane Fonda.


Bill Walton

Meet Me in St Louis, USA 1944.

Sunday December 16th at 5.30 p.m. Friends of the HPPH Xmas screening.

This is the Friends’ Christmas movie though technically it is not a seasonal film The plot actually covers the summer of 1903, then autumn, winter and spring. However, the Christmas sequence is one of the most memorable in the film, indeed in all Hollywood. It is full of seasonal tropes and motifs and features the wonderful ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’. The film is a musical and one of the classics produced by the M-G-M Studio.

The plot follows the domestic and romantic developments in the household of Mr Alonzo Smith (Leon Ames) and Mrs Anna Smith (Mary Astor). Their family includes four daughters; Rose (Lucille Bremer), Esther (Judy Garland), Agnes (Joan Carroll and “Tootsie” (Margaret O’Brien). There is a single son, Lon Jr. (Henry H. Daniels, Jr.). There is also a youthful Grandpa (Harry Davenport) and a maid with a tart tongue, Katie (Marjorie Main).

The cast are excellent and one of the great pleasures of the film. Judy Garland, in her nineteenth feature, is in her youthful and vibrant mode rather than the darker and more emotional tone of her later years. Her songs are done with accomplishment, especially my favourite ‘The Trolley Song’. Margaret O’Brien, in her tenth film, is a well-practised scene stealer but always entertaining. The story does tend to sentiment but Marjorie Main’s Katie continually inserts a more caustic note. The beaux of Rose and of Esther are not quite as interesting as the girls [neither in Lon Jr.), but this is [among other things] a woman’s picture.

Much of the film is in bright sunshine and vibrant Technicolor. But autumn introduces a darker tone with some fine chiaroscuro. And winter offers both twilight scenes and plenty of snow. The director, Vincente Minnelli, is a fine craftsman and he is a master of musical genre; he would later direct The Pirate (1948) and An American in Paris (1951). Early in his career he was a production designer and Minnelli makes use of splendid mise en scène and has a preference for fine travelling shots. In this he is aided by the excellent craft personnel of M-G-M. The Art Direction is by Lemuel Ayres, Cedric Gibbons and Jack Martin Smith; the Set Decorations are by Edwin B. Willis with the costumes designed by Sharaff. They all look and meld beautifully. The cinematography is by George Folsey, who had a long and distinguished career. The Technicolor is excellent and the sequence shots are finely smooth; watch the way the camera handles the opening number, ‘Meet Me in St Louis’.

The screenplay was adapted from a series of short stories by Irving Brecher and Fred F. Finklehoff. They have succeeded in blending these into a complete and integrated story. The songs are a medley from many sources including that of the 1904 Great Exhibition with which the film ends. Most of the score was adapted by Roger Edens but clearly also involved Arthur Freed. Freed is the guiding spirit behind the cycle of classic films from M-G-M, of which this is one of the finest.

The film was a major success on release, coming second in the annual box office. It received four nominations in the Academy Awards though it failed to win one. However, since then it has been listed among the American Film Institute’s ‘Greatest American Musicals’ and two of the musical numbers made it into the AFI’s ‘100 years … 100 songs’. It remains a perennial, classic. 113 minutes of pleasure in glorious colour, songs and unrivalled Hollywood production values. Happily the film is screening from a 35mm print so it can be enjoyed in its original format.

Shoplifters / Manbiki kazoku, Japan 2018

From Friday December 7th until Thursday December 13th

This film was the worthy winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year and of the the Asia Pacific Screen Award for Best Feature Film. It came fourth in the Audience voting at the Leeds International Film Festival; to my mind an underestimate. I rate it one of the three or four best films released this year.

The film is was written, directed and edited by Koreeda Hirokazu. His previous films include the very fine Our Little Sister / Umimachi Diary (2015) and I Wish / Kiseki (2011). Like his earlier films this fits into a cycle of titles that explore representations of the family. Koreeda has done this in a variety of genres but the films all fit into a Japanese genre known by scholars as ‘shomin-geki’, the lives of the common or ordinary people. A major influence here, acknowledged by Koreeda, are the films of Naruse Mikio, one of the masters of classical Japanese cinema. Both directors present portraits of people from the petit-bourgeois, working class and, even the lumpen-proletariat.

The title of this new film describes an activity practised by the main characters. But there is much more to the film than this. As in his other films the cast are excellent and the characterizations and the relationships between kith and kin are both fascinating and complex. The film is realist but with elements of melodrama and moments of intense emotion.

The production values are great. Both the cinematography by Kondo Ryuto and the music by Haruomi Hosono are visually and aurally impressive. The title screens from a DCP but was filmed on 35mm and several digital formats, including Arri and Canon cameras. There are particular moments of superimpositions and one very fine overhead shot that recall the recent The Third Murder / Sandome no satsujin (2017) and the earlier Our Little Sister. This film is in colour, standard widescreen and has English subtitles. It runs 121 minutes. I cannot think of a better two hours spent at the moment.

If you have never seen a film by Naruse Mikio the BFI do have a 35mm print of his 1964 title Yearning / Midareru. This not only has a fine narrative but is graced by the presence of the great Japanese star Takamine Hideko. To see this would be a treat and an interesting comparison with the work of Koreeda.

1945, Hungary 2017

Tuesday December 4th at 6.20 p.m.

This new title has a very limited release in Britain so this is a rare opportunity to see a very fine film. It is set on August 12th 1945, commencing precisely at 11 a.m.  as a train arrives at the railway station in an unnamed Hungarian village. The location seems to be south of Budapest not far from the Danube river.

The train deposits two figures dressed in black and accompanied by two large boxes. Over the next 85 minutes we watch as their boxes are carted into the village. We also watch the responses of the inhabitants, and occasionally Soviet soldiers, part of the liberating armies in Europe. What gradually emerges is a secret guilt over events that occurred under the Nazi occupation.

The film is happy to only gradually reveal the nature of the events and the rather differing responses of the inhabitants. Unlike in some westerns with similar plots the two visiting protagonists do little and, apart from one scene, do not address the villagers. The resulting slow pace and series of ambiguities contribute to the drama and tension developed in this film.

Beautifully shot in black and white with a minimal but effective accompaniment this production offers excellent characterisations from the cast and a convincing representation of place and period.

This will be a fine screening and possibly the only opportunity to see the film in its proper theatrical form. [A longer review is here].

The Blues Brothers

Showing Saturday 24th November 10:30pm


Sister Mary Stigmata (Kathleen Freeman) to the Blues Brothers: “You are such a disappointing pair. I prayed so hard for you. It saddens and hurts me that the two young men whom I raised to believe in the Ten Commandments have returned to me as two thieves, with filthy mouths and bad attitudes.
Get out, and don’t come back until you’ve redeemed yourselves.”

‘Joliet’ Jake Blues (John Belushi): “We’ll put the band back together, do a few gigs, we get some bread. Bang! Five thousand bucks.”

Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd): “We’re on a mission from God”.

The Blues Brothers takes us into the world of Joliet Correctional Center, honky-tonks and sleazy backstreets, the “L” train, shopping malls, the Chicago Cubs, gas stations, Bob’s Country Bunker, the Palace Hotel Ballroom, and Chicago City Hall; a world of music, carnage and mayhem,  not to mention a varied diet of soul food, prawn cocktails, beer, dry white toast, cocaine, and Cheez Whiz.

Theirs is a world populated by nuns, gospel choirs, Holiday Inn resident musicians, Illinois Nazis, Good Ol’ Boys, and jilted sweethearts. The music and dance numbers are fabulous and fun. Get rocking with the Blues Brothers band, James Brown, Cab Calloway, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, and John Lee Hooker, amongst others. There’s country and western too (“We got both kinds”).

But Elwood has run up 116 outstanding parking fines and 56 other traffic violations. The authorities are after them. Use of unnecessary violence in the apprehension of the Blues Brothers HAS been approved. But the cops haven’t reckoned with the Bluesmobile (an ex-police Dodge Monaco).

Elwood: Our Lady of Blessed Acceleration, don’t fail me now.

The car chases involved more than 40 stunt drivers, plus many stunt pedestrians. 103 cars were wrecked during filming (a world record at the time).

Bill with the Bluesmobile in Illinois

So can Jake and Elwood outwit the cops, the SWAT teams, Sherman tanks, helicopters, the Nazis, the mystery woman (Carrie Fisher), and the Good Ol’ Boys and accomplish their mission?

The Lord moves in mysterious ways!

This cult film was made for the big screen. So dig out your trilby fedoras and  Ray-Ban Wayfarers, and get yourself down to the late night screening of The Blues Brothers at 10.30 pm on Saturday November 24th.


Bill Walton

Wajib (Palestine, France, Germany, UAE 2017)

Tuesday November 20th at 6.30 p.m.

This is the second title in the Leeds Palestinian Film Festival following on from the very fine Reports on Sarah and Saleem in the Leeds International Film Festival. It testifies to the variety of Palestinian film that whilst the latter film was in part a thriller this is essentially a road movie. The journeys involve delivering invitations for a forthcoming Palestinian wedding in Nazareth [the meaning of the Palestinian title is ‘duty’]. This event is both an important traditional occasion in Palestinian culture and a regular feature in Palestinian films; notably in the pioneer feature A Wedding in Galilee (Urs al-jalil, 1987).

This new film is written and directed by Annemarie Jacir. She has written and directed a number of films; the earlier When I saw You / Lamma shoftak (2014) was set in 1967 amongst Palestinian refugees in Jordan. This was a splendid drama that I saw at a screening organised by Reel Solutions in Bradford. Her new release has already won awards including being selected as ‘Best Picture’, ‘Best Screenplay’ and ‘Best Actor’ by the Arab Critics assembled in Cannes this year.

The film works partly as a family drama and partly as a ‘bitter-sweet comedy’. The treatment of the political situation is handled with subtlety. It was shot in colour and is in Arabic with English sub-titles. It has received very good reviews; you can check out one here.

Daughters of the Dust, (USA 1991) – Leeds Film Festival Screening

Tuesday November 12th at 1230 p.m. and Wednesday November 14th at 3. 15 p.m. at the Hyde Park Picture House.

 

The film is screening the ‘Time Frames’ series. It was directed by an Afro-American woman, Julie Dash. It is a seminal film for both the Afro-American and the USA Independent cinemas. The basic story-line follows the migration from a Georgia island by women from an isolated and creole speaking community, once enslaved on plantations, in the early 1900s. However, the film has an unconventional use of time and space and an unusual narrative voice. This enables Julie Dash and her team to provide a film that is full of vivid imagery, metaphors and symbolism. It also dramatises the clashes within Afro-American cultures between tradition and the modern.

The film is full of poetic mages whilst the dialogue is in a form of Creole. The cinematography by Arthur Jafa is particularly fine, offering sumptuous images to accompany the characters and story. It won the Cinematography Award at the Sundance Festival and the film has since been included in the Library of Congress National Film Register

The film was partly funded by PBS American Playhouse after being turned down by major studios. Unfortunately none of Dash’s subsequent productions have received proper distribution. It remains her only well-known title despite a considerable output for cinema and television.

The film could be challenging; apart from an unconventional narrative it eschews sub-titles for the Creole [mostly understandable]. But it is a rich and compelling work. The film was originally shot on 35mm in colour and standard wide screen. It has now been restored and is distributed in a digital format. Hopefully this will do justice to the original. For two decades after its initial release it was not seen at all in Britain, so this is a welcome return. The film runs 112 minutes.

Reports on Sarah and Saleem (2018) Leeds Film Festival Screening

Screening at the Vue in the Light on  Saturday 10th November at 1030 a.m. And on Sunday 11th November at 3.30 p.m.

This is a new film from the developing Palestinian Film Industry and it is both a welcome feature in LIFF and [as in previous years] launches the Leeds Palestinian Film Festival which runs on until December.

The film deals with an affair between two married people, a Palestinian man and an Israeli woman. Affairs between Palestinians and Israeli’s have been a staple of the cinemas of both Palestine and Israel but adding marriage to the complications is rarer. The film combines the thriller genre with the romantic drama genre. The film is the work of director Muayad Alayan and [his brother] writer Rami Musa Alayan. They have worked together on both a feature and short films but I have not seen any of these. As is often the case the production relies on funding from a number of different countries, Netherlands, Palestine, Germany and Mexico.

The film was shot digitally in both East and West Jerusalem with their contrasting cityscapes and cultures. It is in colour and a 2.35:1 ratio with Arabic, Hebrew and English dialogue and sub-titles in English. It promises to be an engaging and thought provoking film. Palestinian film-makers have become expert at combining cinematic genres with political issues and characterisations.

NB. The Festival online pages do not seem to have an straight alphabetical listing,; I found the title under country [Palestine].