Bill’s 2019 delectable dozen

In alphabetical order:

  • Beanpole – gripping story of survival in Leningrad after World War 2
  • A Dog Called Money – after seeing this documentary I’m an even bigger PJ Harvey fan
  • The Favourite – Emma Stone, Olivia Colman and Rachel Weisz stretched my imagination in enjoyable ways
  • Foxtrot – a great anti-war film; something goes terribly wrong at an isolated Israeli military checkpoint
  • If Beale Street Could Talk – a beautifully made adaptation of a James Baldwin novel
  • It Must Be Heaven – a fresh angle on what it means to be Palestinian
  • Judy and Punch – Punch and Judy for feminists, a heady mix of anarchy, comedy and violence
  • La Belle Époque – for anyone (like me) who wants to revisit a key time in their life
  • The Lighthouse – what could be better than two lighthouse keepers losing their sanity, especially when they are Willem Defoe and Robert Pattinson?
  • Loro – everything you ever wanted to know about bunga bunga sex parties
  • Marriage Story – breaking up is the hardest thing to do, as Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver show us with sharpness and humanity
  • Shooting the Mafia – documentary about a remarkable Sicilian woman, Letizia Battaglia, who defies the odds by exposing the brutality of the Cosa Nostra

Bill Walton

2019 in retrospect.

So, I found 2019 not a great year for new releases; lots of popular films but not that many outstanding ones. Those that stood out for me both in terms of craft and subject were:

Rosie, Eire. This was a drama about homelessness in Dublin. Very well done and the cast were impressive. It was distributed independently so I am afraid many people may have missed it.

Happy as lazzaro / Lazzaro Felice, Italy. A compelling drama, both of exploitation and the problems of migrants. One of the most imaginative stories I have seen for a  long time.

A Season in France, France. A drama about an African migrant family. This was a bleak tale but finely done.

Never Look Away, Germany. An artist travels from East Germany to the West and from Socialist Realism to the avant-garde. Fascinating.

Pain and Glory, Spain.  An exploration of sexual orientation and of cinema and of art; beautifully put together.

Bait, Britain. This title only qualified on 35mm. The digital version did not handle the distinctive techniques on the film well.

So Long, My son, China. One of several epic dramas from the territory presenting a canvas that was large in terms of time and space; a study of  the contradictions of family relationships.

We also enjoyed several screenings of classics in their original format of 35mm.         Sans Soleil / Sunless, France 1983 was part of a weekend of screenings curated by the Pavilion of the  Artist Moving Image Network. This is a classic documentary, visually stunning and with a complex tapestry of themes. Among the other gems of the weekend was Colloque de chiens, France 1977; a sardonic 20 minute film on 35mm and in colour. The canine characters were a metaphor.

2019 At Hyde Park Picture House

2019, the year Brad Pitt fixed antennas (Ad Astra and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood), Scarlett Johansson tied shoelaces (Marriage Story and Jojo Rabbit – out in the UK on 1st Jan), Adam Driver seemed to be everywhere and washing machines featured more than expected (In Fabric and Seahorse).

There were a lot of films shown at the Picture House during 2019, here are my highlights from the new films:

  • La Belle Époque – It’s too soon to know if this is really as good as it made me feel during the film festival or an “overegged French time-travel comedy” as Peter Bradshaw claimed in The Guardian.
  • The Favourite – One of the first films I saw this year which made me think it would be a while until I saw something I enjoyed more and I was right.
  • Eighth Grade – A really long wait to see this in the UK but it was worth it, a film about hope, despair, anxiety and it manages to be terrifying and funny in equal measures.
  • Marriage Story – Everything feels so authentic, it’s heartbreakingly beautiful and also surprisingly funny.
  • If Beale Street Could Talk – A beautiful film with a beautiful soundtrack.
  • Knives Out – Another recent film that may not stand the test of time but I had so much fun whilst watching it I had to include it in this list.
  • Midsommar & Us – Horror is a genre I tend to overlook but both of these films exceeded my expectations, both are carefully constructed and unravel in an enthralling way.
  • Irene’s Ghost, Seahorse, Our Most Brilliant Friends – Great documentaries that were enhanced by Q&A with the filmmakers.

My favourite film of 2019 only got a single screening as a Tuesday Wonder and (confession time) I didn’t see it at the Picture House. Minding The Gap: An American Skateboarding Story is one of those documentaries where the subject matter is just a cover story for the way it brilliantly exposes just what it means to be human and I absolutely loved it. It’s available on iPlayer as part of the Storyville strand and would make a great double bill with the underrated Mid90s.

Honorable mentions to: Collette, Beautiful Boy, RBG, Pond Life, Vox Lux, Madeline’s Madeline, Booksmart, Sometimes Always Never, Apollo 11, Only You, The Farewell, Peanut Butter Falcon.

Notorious (UK 1946)

 

Alicia Huberman’s (Ingrid Bergman) behaviour is NOTORIOUS.

Has she had enough to drink? “The important drinking hasn’t started yet.”

“You can add Sebastian’s name to my list of playmates”

And personally I wouldn’t trust her as my chauffeuse!

So what’s on the menu of this excellent melodrama? For a start it includes some dodgy fare … burnt chicken, indigestible wine and adulterated coffee. And you’ll find a heady stew of manipulation and blackmail, disappointment  and murder, all seasoned with occasional expressions of trust and openness to love.

T.R. Devlin(Cary Grant) is a government agent aiming to infiltrate a group of Nazis who fled Germany for Brazil after World War 2. The setting is Rio de Janeiro in 1946. Essentially, Notorious is a Hitchcockian romance highlighting tensions between feelings of love and duty, which rivals Michael Curtiz’s film Casablanca (1942) for style and entertainment. The script, acting, screenplay and photography all showcase director Alfred Hitchcock at his best. If you are quick you can even see Hitchcock quaffing a glass of champagne just over an hour into the film.

Alicia: This is a very strange love affair.
Devlin: Why?
Alicia: Maybe the fact that you don’t love me.
Despite this, there is an extended kiss, the longest on screen at the time. In the 1930s Hollywood had introduced the Hays Motion Picture Production Code which dictated strict rules to writers and directors about permissible limits to lovemaking, immorality and vulgarity in their films. For example, in love scenes women had to have at least one foot on the ground at all times, and kisses could only last three seconds. Hitchcock got around the last one by having the lovers kiss for three seconds, stop, say a few words, kiss again, walk for a little bit and then kiss again, for a total of two and a half minutes. See the results for yourself!

Another psychological element is Alex Sebastian’s (Claude Rains) intriguing relationship with his mother, Anna Sebastain (Leopoldine Konstantin).

Madame Sebastian to her son: “We are protected by the enormity of your stupidity … for a time”.

Maybe I should have mentioned that Alex is also in love with Alicia …

So get along to the Picture House to see this iconic film at 2pm this August Bank Holiday Monday.


Bill Walton

Bill’s Films of 2019 (So far)

Five films that stick in my mind, in no particular order:

Loro (Them)

A very stylish Italian film directed by Paolo Sorrentino and starring Toni Servillo as Silvio Berlusconi. This is the ultimate cinema-goer’s guide to bunga-bunga parties, ostentation and (alleged … to protect me from the mafia 😎 ) corruption in Italian politics. It’s surely no coincidence that l’oro is Italian for gold.

Foxtrot

Director Samuel Moaz. A powerful anti war film set in a remote military outpost where four soldiers are spending their military service in the Israeli Defence Forces. The film won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2017 Venice Film Festival.

The Favourite

Director Yorgos Lanthimos. Great fun with Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz in C18 England. I doubt that Queen Anne would approve. A positive F-rating (highlighting what women contribute to film) for lead characters, and writer Deborah Davis (co-writer with Tony McNamara).

RBG

A documentary about American Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. What a woman! What a career! Directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen also score highly on the F-rating.

If Beale Street Could Talk

Based on the James Baldwin novel, directed by Barry Jenkins. A well told struggle for life and a struggle for justice in 1970’s New York.

 

So once again the Picture House has offered us a great variety of films from around the world. And I didn’t even mention Burning (South Korea), or Happy as Lazzaro (Italy).


Bill Walton

A Report From the AGM

My first time at Hyde Park Picture House (HPPH) was to see Much Ado About Nothing in 1993 – I was still at High School. I’m a huge Keanu Reeves fan and because this film was not to be shown at the former Odeon or ABC cinemas, off I went to the HPPH feeling exceptionally cultured to watch my true love play a plain-dealing Shakespearean villain.

I’m sure there are many of us who have similar first-time memories of visiting the HPPH. I took the opportunity to volunteer to contribute blog posts to the Friends of Hyde Park Picture House (The Friends) and was really excited about being invited to attend the AGM and to write a report from the perspective of a new volunteer.

The AGM

The meeting started with committee member Ian Sanderson giving a tribute of a founding member and former Chair Peter Chandley who died last year. It was nice to hear about Peter and how passionate he was about the cinema.

10% of members needed to be in attendance at the meeting to be quorate (having the necessary number of people present for decisions to be made). There were only 49 at the meeting out of approximately 700 members. I wondered how well it had been advertised and if the importance of being in attendance was stressed, especially if decisions were to be made.  Fortunately there were only procedural matters that required a vote this year and these will be carried over to a Special General Meeting on July 15th.  The Friends are now a registered charity and the committee wanted the group to stay focussed and relevant to members (who pay an annual membership fee) and recognise the importance of getting more people to attend future AGMs.

The purpose of the committee and The Friends was discussed at length and to me, it was not as clear as it should be (something the committee acknowledged and want to work on). When the cinema was in danger of closing, The Friends are the ones who saved it. Now it’s thriving and from January 2020-December 2020 the cinema will be closed and massive renovations will take place. Plans will be to add a second screen, meeting rooms, to extend opening times, to increase programming and the number of film-related activities.

Where will The Friends fit into this new phase of specialist film showing in Leeds? One way is to ensure that HPPH continues to deliver a good variety of films. Should the HPPH be doing more or something different?

Wendy Cook (Head of Cinema) continued the meeting with an informative presentation on what had been achieved throughout the past year such as showing 374 different films and hosting 1172 private events. Two new members of staff have been recruited to join the small team – Creative Engagement Officer and Young Audience Officer. The HPPH is expanding into a new entity and the committee of The Friends would like to expand with it. There was a call for more volunteers to join the committee that reflects the community of Leeds. The Friends ultimately are the voice of the community who love and appreciate specialist films.

It’s an exciting time of change.

All ideas and names of potential committee members should be submitted before the 15 July 2019 via the contact form, Twitter (@friendsofhpph) or Facebook (FOHPPH) which is when there will be a Special General Meeting.

Meeting Highlights

  • The membership scheme is under review (suggestions are welcome)
  • Volunteers are needed to help sift through the archives
  • The topic of reinstating film appreciation clubs and group discussions was suggested
  • A variety of alternative venues will be used throughout the temporary closure
  • More blog contributors are needed

Links