The Edge of the World, UK 1937

Sunday May 21st 16 3.30 p.m.

[Following the Annual General Meeting]

The 1930s is often seen as a ‘low decade’ for British films. But, apart from many of the ‘Quota Quickies’ [made on the cheap to take advantage of state subsidies] there were  some fine and well made movies This title is one of those. It was directed by Michael Powell, shortly before he began his famous partnership with Emeric Pressburger.

The film is a melodrama set in a traditional community where modern influences are threatening the established way of life. Tensions within communities are accentuated by rivalries between families. These characters are well played by familiar actors like John Laurie (Peter Manson), Finlay Currie (James Gray) and Niall MacGinnis (Andrew Gray)  with lesser known performers like Belle Chrystall (Ruth Manson) and Kitty Kirwan (Jean Manson – seen in other classic films like I Know Where I’m Going (1945) and Odd Man Out (1947)]. They were supported by actual islanders living on the location, the Isle of Fulva in the Shetlands: and [rather Hitchcockian] Michael Powell as a Yatchsman.

Three cinematographers worked on the film but the key lighting cameraman was Ernest Palmer who captured the beauty of the wild terrains and massive cliffs of the island. Nearly the whole of the film was shot on location with a few linking shots added at the studio. The production team had to live on the island for several months from June till October, a long way from the studios which were the normal home of film crews. The latter stages saw them battling wind and rain. Michael Powell wrote the story and script: it was inspired by his reading of the reports of the actual evacuation of St Kilda [in the Hebrides] in 1930. The film was produced by a US émigré, Joe Rock, who ran a small independent studio near Elstree. Most of the technical crew had worked with Powell before. He had established himself with a number of ‘quota quickies’, including a recent success for the Rock Production Company The Man Behind the Mask (1936). The film’s pre-release was in the summer of 1937. Michael Powell recalled [in his autobiographical ‘A Life in the Movies’  (1986)]:

“The film opened at the New Gallery Cinema in Regent Street, now the London headquarters of the Seventh day Adventists, but then a rather classy movie theatre. [It is now a Burberry store, but the auditorium and its screen can still be seen and are used for promotional videos]. The critics gave it a cautious reviews. But my old admirer, C. A. Lejeune, writing in The Observer knew the difference between a lyric drama and a documentary, and said: “I hope everyone who can will make a point of seeing The Edge of the World. In some obscure judgement day, when these things are measured, I have a feeling it will come up somewhere near the top of English classics.”

And Basil Wright [of the British Documentary Movement] trumpeted in the Cinema: “If The Edge of the World achieves the success it so well deserves, it will be yet another reminder that vast production costs, exotic casts, and cosmopolitan scenarios are perhaps not the ultimate plan for the British Cinema.”

[Later] Joe Rock, who was fighting for the film, had sent a copy to New York to a small distributor, who submitted it to the National Board of Review film critics, and they chose it as one of the best foreign films of the year, which gave me a wonderful lift.”

This was well before British films won the occasional Academy Award. It was also seen and liked by film impresario Alexander Korda, And it was at his Denham Studio that Powell and Pressburger commenced the most memorable partnership in British Cinema.

The film was restored by the National Film Archive in 1990, though the present 35mm print is slightly shorter than the original release.

 

T2 Trainspotting, UK 2017

Daily from Friday February 10th until Thursday February 16th

t2-trainspotting

This is a sequel twenty years on from the popular and well received original.  I suspect that the pleasures of watching the film will depend on how much you liked the 1996 title: this is clearly an exercise in retro-pleasure, even nostalgia. The original cast are all there; Ewan McGregor as Renton; Robert Carlyle as Begbie; Ewan Bremner as Spud; John Lee Miller as Simon. Kelly MacDonald also returns as Diane, but only in a brief walk-on part. She does tell Renton that the new romantic/sexual character Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova) is ‘too young for you’.

The film also returns with familiar settings and tropes from the original: including toilets and the great Scottish outdoors. The new film also has the same certification as the earlier title, 18. However, from memory, I would say that this has slightly less violence and drug-taking and a little more sex.

The film uses extracts from the 1996 film, more frequently than I thought was justified or necessary. But it also shows the characters’ lives before the plot of 1996 and we get to see on-screen the meaning of the title of both films. At the same time it brings the story up-to-date in terms of changed mores and social settings. Thus we have Veronika who is from Bulgaria. And the ending of the film moves on from  that of 1990s Edinburgh.

The production values, including the cinematography and editing are very well done. However the film is circulating in  a 2K DCP which I think does less justice to the visual than the 35mm of the original. But probably as Renton proposes, ‘choose  Trainspotting 2′.

 

 

I, Daniel Blake UK/France/Belgium 2016

Screening daily from Friday October 21st until Thursday November 3rd               [excepting Sunday October 30th]

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The new film directed by Ken Loach comes garlanded with the Palme d’Or from the Cannes Film Festival. As usual it is scripted by Paul Laverty and has been part-funded by the BBC, the BFI and European companies. The film is set in Newcastle-upon-Tyne among the northern English working class. And the plot revolves round the travails of ordinary working people attempting to cope with an unsympathetic and exploitative state system. Thus it combines situations and themes that have dominated Loach’s films since the seminal Cathy Come Home (1966).

Ken Loach’s long and illustrious career makes him one of the most productive of contemporary British film-makers and the oldest recipient of the Cannes Festival’s premier award. Yet his work has a continuity and repetition that makes all his films easily recognisable. We are told that, as is his wont, the film was shot chronologically. It uses both experienced and non-professional performers. And it relies to a degree on the long shot and the long take, giving it an observational style. Note, despite the clips in the Versus… documentary this film screens in standard widescreen, 1.85:1 and is in colour. It was shot on Kodak film stock but is being distributed on a DCP.

In an interview this week Loach took the BBC and television generally to task for their failings in representing the working class of Britain in any meaningful manner. So his continuing engagement with this world and with the politics of resistance makes the film essential viewing.

South Riding UK 1938

8.30 p.m. Monday August 1st
Free for members – preceded by a Special General Meeting at 7.30pm

Richardson, Best and Clements.

Richardson, Best and Clements.

This is a fine adaptation of Winifred Holtby’ s 1936 novel with a screenplay by Ian Dalrymple and directed by Victor Saville. This was

“A novel of Yorkshire life between the two wars.”

The author dedicated the book to her mother, an Alderman in the County Council. Here she wrote,

“I have laid my scene in the South East part of Yorkshire, because that is the district which I happen to know best: … [and] … when I came to consider local government, I began to see how it was in essence the first-line defence thrown up by the community against common enemies – poverty sickness, ignorance, mental derangement and social maladjustment.”

The film preserves much of the social consciousness of the novel, but one relationship takes centre stage. This is between the two stars of the film, Ralph Richardson as landowner Robert Carne and Edna Best as the modern headmistress Sarah Barton. The film even retains an extremely unconventional [for the period] dramatic scene between them. The drama concerning local government is especially filled out by Edmund Gwenn as a businessman cum councillor Alfred Huggins and John Clements as ‘socialist’ councillor Joe Astell. Both the latter parts are fairly conventional for the period.

The film was also produced by Victor Saville who was one of the outstanding talents in British film in the 1930s. It was filmed at and around the Denham Studio and features some excellent location sequences. Unfortunately, I do not think that there are any Yorkshire locations in the film, but you may spot some. The production is very well done, particularly the cinematography of Harry Stradling and the production designs of Lazarre Meerson. And there is an excellent score by Richard Addinsell.

This is a good example of a first class drama of the period.  Marcia Landy, in her study of British genres, notes that the film is one of the most successful examples of a ‘melodrama of conversion and initiation’.  There is more compromise in the film than in the novel but it remains a fine portrait of 1930s Yorkshire life. And on this year’s Yorkshire Day it is screening in its original format of 35mm black and white academy.

Versus: The Life and Films of Ken Loach UK 2016

Screening On 11th June – 6.45 PM : On 12th June – 3.30 PM Wednesday 15th June 8.50 p.m. 

ken-loach-cannes

This new biopic comes out at a propitious time. Ken Loach has won his second Palme’ d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for I, Daniel Blake. He joins an elect group of filmmakers, Bille August, Emir Kusterica and Shohei Imamura, who have also won this prestigious award twice since its inception in the current form in 1975. The award confirms Loach’s status as one of the most important of contemporary European filmmakers: though one who has been honoured more on the continent than in his home territory.

The documentary has been produced by Loach regular Rebecca O’Brien, scripted by his colleague Paul Laverty, and directed by Louise Osmond. It also includes many of the people who have worked with Loach, including Tony Garnett, whose output at the BBC is also seminal. My main reservation is that Osmond’s previous film, Dark Horse (2015), was made like a typical television documentary and utilised archive and found footage of rather low quality. But its focus was ordinary working people who are the recurring centre of Loach’s own films.

It was shot in 2.35:1 and that ratio does allow some striking shots by cinematographer Roger Chapman. But it also means that the extracts from Loach’s own films have been re-framed to fit this format. This does not do them any favours, in some frames heads are cut off. The footage of Loach working on I, Daniel Blake is in the same ratio. Some of this is interesting, but often it feels like a ‘making of ….’ treatment.

Where the films scores are the interviews with Ken Loach and Tony Garnett. Loach is unassuming but rigorous in his comments. And Tony Garnett is both intelligent and stimulating. We also get a brief interveiw with Nell Dunn [Up the Junction] and recordings of Jim Allen. The latter was an important collaborator and influence on Loach. And there is an excellent comment by Gabriel Byrne on the suppression of the production of Perdition. It would have been good to have more from other important collaborators like Rebecca O’Brien and Paul Laverty.

The documentary is also strong on the frequently myopic and predjudiced treatment of Loach’s film among British critics. As Derek Malcom remarks, he is much more honoured on the continent. Whilst he has won many awards at the Cannes Film Festival, The Berlin Film Festival and even a French César. None of his films has ever been awarded a BAFTA!

Certainly Loach’s film and television output has deserved this. From the pioneering work in the 1960s, notably Cathy Come Home, made for the BBC with Tony Garnett, to the recent series of annual film releases, his work has been among the best and most interesting produced in the UK. And this film does pay due attention to his early work for the BBC. Whatever its limitations this documentary is worth seeing as a deserved retrospective of his contribution.

Cathy come home

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The Lady in a Van UK 2015

On 30th January – 2.30 PM and on 31st January – 3.10 PM 

The-Lady-in-the-Van’

Much comment on this film has focussed on the lead performance of Maggie Smith. She has garnered nomination for Best Actress at both the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs, [though to be honest Charlotte Rampling’s in 45 Years is finer]. Smith characterisation in the film is a crowd pleasing and vastly entertaining act. It is also an interesting variation on her well-established persona. However the film actually offers two ‘national treasures’. This is another fine work from  the pen of Alan Bennett. He not only is the shrewdest writer on the English culture but is also something of modernist. In this film we get the ‘actual’ Bennett and his own imagined double.

The pair at the centre of this very funny but also occasionally moving film are equally well served by the production. Director Nicholas Hytner has marshalled his team with excellence. The music by George Fenton is judicious, the  Cinematography by Andrew Dunn is fine, and the  Film Editing by Tariq Anwar and Production Design by John Beard both serve this well.

This is the type of film that British crafts do so well. Adapted from a successful stage original it also has a very good co-star in Alex Jennings and a fine supporting cast, with some delightful cameos.

Spectre UK / USA 2015.

From Friday December 11th.

Spectre

So James Bond arrives on Friday. I don’t think I have ever seen a Bond at the HPPH before. However, it appears that this film is only distributed in a 2K DCP [or on Imax] so it should look and sound just as good as elsewhere on the cinema’s screen and sound system. Bond films are usually entertaining, and recent ones have all included spectacular action sequences.

Daniel Craig is, for me, the best Bond since Sean Connery. I shall miss Judi Dench though. And Léa Seydoux and Monica Bellucci presumably did not have to make the same sort of effort they put into their more serious characterisations. I wondered if Christoph Waltz was able to resist being funny.

The production team should provide quality. We have Sam Mendes, John Logan and Neil Purvis directing and scripting, and they are all experienced in this genre. I thought Skyfall (2012) was pretty well done, though the ending and goodbye to Judi Dench was too drawn out for me. This new film is five minutes longer.

Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema worked on Interstellar (2014), visually stunning. Editor Lee Smith worked on Inception (2010), extremely well put together. Whilst Production Designer Dennis Gassner also worked on Skyfall. And they had an extremely large production crew working with them, many of them experienced in the genre. The composer Thomas Newman has also provided the score for Bridge of Spies (2015).

My most serious reservation is the return of Spectre. I never found that organisation convincing. Though it was always nice not to have to suffer another film with anti-Soviet plot and characters: a tradition continued in the aforementioned Bridge of Spies. And just an aside, if you want to see really good chess on film watch Satyajit Ray’s The Chess Players (1977).

45 Years, UK 2015

Continuing until Thursday September 10th.

Berlin

The film garnered Best Actor Awards for both Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtney at the Berlin Film Festival – serious critical prizes. Both are deserved, but it is Rampling’s character Kate who is the centre of this film. She is a skilled actress with an ability to use extremely subtle expressions and movements. The film is a pleasure to watch as we explore the character and situation of Kate and her husband Geoff (Courtney). And they are well supported by a several fine British actors in minor roles. They are preparing for the forty-fifth wedding anniversary party: the unusual anniversary is something we learn about in the course of the film.

The film is beautifully crafted around these performances. The cinematography by Lol Crawley is especially fine. There is a precision in the use of close-ups and two-shots: and well judged use of long shots and long takes, with the occasional slow forward track. The design, sound and editing all ably support this: and visually and aurally [at a second viewing] I was struck by minor but significant detail. A good example is the opening credits with non-simultaneous sound, which acts as a plant for later in the film. Max, the German Shepherd, the settings in the Norfolk Broads, and a piece of piano music by Liszt, all bring resonances to the story.

Director and writer Andrew Haigh has adapted the film from a short story by David Constantine. Apparently he has shifted the focus of the film to Kate. It is beautifully judged. This is a character study and tale with great complexity. It also [consciously I assume] references a British film tradition of denial. There are subtle parallels with the classic Brief Encounter (1945): more recently The Deep Blue Sea (2011).

It is a film of ambiguities, as with the characters. Inattention can mean you miss an important point: and I think you need the big screen and a clear sound system to take in all its aspects. Whilst it is immensely rewarding I suspect that it will generate different responses, depending what experiences and values audiences bring to the film. After a screening I heard the tail-end comment of a discussion in the foyer:

“I’ve come to see a wonderful film with a bunch of cynics!”