Two-Lane Blacktop

Title: Two-Lane Blacktop

Format: DVD

Release date: 18 June 2007

Distributor: Universal

Cast: James Taylor, Warren Oates, Harry Dean Stanton

US 1971
103 mins

Title: The Shooting

Format: DVD

Release date: 2 July 2007

Distributor: Cinema Club

Cast: Jack Nicholson, Warren Oates

US 1966
78 mins

Title: Ride in the Whirlwind

Format: DVD

Release date: 2 July 2007

Distributor: 2 Entertain Video

Cast: Jack Nicholson, Harry Dean Stanton

US 1966
79 mins

Having seen Monte Hellman’s 1975 feature Cockfighter at the National Film Theatre in the mid-90s, every week for years thereafter a friend and I would check the TV listings to see whether Channel 4 or BBC2 were screening anything else by this singular director. His road movie Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) was top of our wish list. Unsurprisingly it soon became a rite performed more in jest than any serious anticipation of fulfilment and sadly my friend died only months before the NFT screened it in 2005. This year it has surfaced on DVD but only to highlight the sorry state of affairs with the rest of the Hellman back-catalogue. Of his ten features to date only three others are currently available on DVD in the UK. Two early Westerns, The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind (both 1966), were reissued on DVD in July. Both films have been available for a while, along with Flight to Fury (1965), on a five-DVD box-set showcasing the early work of Jack Nicholson though the quality of transfers is variable and Hellman’s name is just about visible in the small print, eclipsed by his mentor Roger Corman whose involvement was minimal. Some of the remaining output, like Cockfighter (1974), China 9 Liberty 37 (1978) and Iguana (1989), are available in the US, though copies of the first of these retail on the internet at upwards of $70. It’s unlikely to see a release over here as it has been deemed to condone bloodsports. The NFT got round this back in the 90s by screening it as a private function.

It’s a curious state of affairs that whilst 2007 saw the DVD release of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s entire output, the oeuvre of another so-called ‘cult’ figure like Hellman should remain in relative disarray. Watching Jodorowsky’s output back to back was one of this year’s highlights as one could trace his very particular technical, stylistic and thematic developments. The recent release of three DVDs is the occasion to do the same with Hellman in spite of the rather limited material at my disposal.

Nicholson’s continuing superstar status was undoubtedly a key reason for the reissue of both The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind and whilst his trademark grin sure enough finds its way into the former, it’s the lesser known Warren Oates who carries the film as he also does Two-Lane Blacktop. As Hellman reveals in the DVD commentary, he received the script of Two-Lane Blacktop only to insist it be completely rewritten by novelist Rudy Wurlitzer. One of the major changes was the inclusion of the Oates character who was absent from the original write. Probably best known for his lead performance in Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Oates was, until his death in 1987, a wonderfully versatile character actor who could play both straight and comedic roles and move fluidly between macho aggression and tender vulnerability (indeed in Cockfighter he manages this though barely speaking). If Nicholson’s grin is pure malevolence it is more than matched by Oates’ wonderfully disarming beam. In Two-Lane Blacktop he plays ‘G.T.O’, the driver of a yellow ’32 Pard Roadster’ who challenges James Taylor (‘The Driver’) and Dennis Wilson (‘The Mechanic’) in their grey 55 Chevvy to a race across the US from Los Angeles to Washington DC. As the only trained actor, Oates is the perfect foil for the laconicism of the other leads and without him the whole film might have been as grey and serious as the car they drive. Oates’ car, by contrast, is a mixture of schoolboy dream and camp excess and his character is all bluster and pompousness. Along the way they are joined by Laurie Bird (‘The Girl’) and they embark on a trip which, because it is from West to East, deconstructs the impetus towards American myth. Indeed, it’s tempting to see the Chevvy as a demythicised version of Melville’s great white whale, its dull matt grey signifying the end of days rather than the promise of glorious beginnings; it’s a road trip in which ‘nothing’ happens, with the race itself soon becoming something of a red herring.

Two-Lane Blacktop also plays out a very American tension between myth and pragmatism whereby the overarching idea of the race is broken down into the constituent pragmatics of the journey, and ultimately it’s these that become more pressing – the need to eat, sleep, fuck, and fill up with gas. It’s the incidentals, watching the characters stroll through a town, inhabit a diner or move around a filling station, that give the film its particular texture. On the commentary Hellman himself talks about how filming on location made such a difference to the feel of Two-Lane Blacktop and he uses one filling-station scene as an example. Its parerphanalia, he says, is as significant as the ‘action’ to the extent that it becomes ‘characterful’. As The Driver leans nonchalantly on a gas pump, the sign ‘regular’ written across it describes more than just the fuel going into the cars. But it’s not just words that live this double life. Objects, like the gas pump itself, are imbued with a significance they might not ordinarily possess. On one level this is what any art is all about but it’s also part of another peculiarly American tradition in which the factual and the everyday, what the nineteenth-century American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson called ‘the heavy, prosaic and desert’, possess an epiphanic quality. A lot of American painting is filled with this quality as is a lot of American film. Perhaps I need to revise what I said about the anti-mythic nature of Two-Lane Blacktop: myth in it resides elsewhere.

Bearing all this in mind, it seems even more remarkable that a major studio like Universal stumped up the cash for what Hellman and producer Michael Laughlin proposed: a road movie in which all the characters have generic names, in which the cars also share the billing as ‘characters’, and in which the proposed competition fizzles out almost as soon as it starts with the competitors effectively helping each other out along the way. Indeed the move from Darwinistic struggle and the survival of the fittest to a programme of cooperation might seem a little belated in 1971. Easy Rider had already dealt with the end of the Summer of Love though with US troops still very much in Vietnam the call for mutual aid was still vital in many minds.

Hellman’s earlier films, however, offer an altogether bleaker version of humanity. The Shooting similarly uses the journey motif with Millie Perkins’ unnamed woman leading Willett Gashade (Warren Oates) and his foolish and garrulous sidekick Coley (played by Will Hutchins in an earlier incarnation of Oates’ character in Two-Lane Blacktop) through a dusty Utah landscape on a trail whose end is unknown until the final frames of the film. Joined late in the day by Nicholson’s sadistic hired gun Billy Spear, who insists on leaving Coley to fry when one of the horses is lamed, the party winds its way further and further into the desert, and before the inevitable shoot-out, Nicholson and Oates grapple with each other in the sand in a nod to the famous scene at the end of Eric von Stroheim’s Greed. In Flight to Fury, smuggled diamonds are the pretext for multiple double-crossings, self-interest infecting all the characters who survive a plane crash in the jungle of the Philippines only to kill each other off one by one as the diamonds change hands. In the end, Dewey Martin’s Joe Gaines pursues Jack Nicholson’s Jay Wickham through a labyrinth of rocks. The final shot is of Nicholson’s dead legs sticking horizontally into the frame, a gruesome parody of the hanged bodies that swing vertically from the trees in Ride in the Whirlwind which, in an economics lesson from Corman, Hellman shot back to back with The Shooting. In it a trio find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time when they hole up in a shack with a bunch of outlaws who are smoked out by a vigilante mob and picked off one by one, the survivors strung up from the nearest branch. Only Nicholson survives and the film ends with him riding off not into the sunset but into an uncertain future, the clip-clop of his horse’s hooves a stark soundtrack to his bleak predicament.

Hellman has often been called an existentialist – indeed it’s an adjective he seems happy enough to accept on the commentary to Two-Lane Blacktop – though this blanket term perhaps obscures some of the other themes that emerge from his films. One of these is the relentless probing of masculinity. Hellman uses the genre of the Western, traditionally a proving-ground for extreme masculine behaviour, to question our assumptions about the way men behave. One of the ways he achieves this is by reconfiguring the female figure. In The Shooting, Mollie Perkins hires ex-gunfighter Gashade and Coley out of retirement to lead her to her quarry. Not only is she the film’s prime mover but her refusal to reveal her name gives her the air of mystery usually accorded heroic male figures in Westerns, most notably Clint Estwood’s ‘man-with-no-name’ in Sergio Leone’s famous trilogy. With her black hat and leather gloves, she dresses like the classic male gunfighter. When Nicholson’s Billy Spear joins the group in the same get-up he is made to look like a version of her. Indeed at one point Gashade comments to Coley, ‘See how she look like him’, but it’s as much the other way around as Coley’s rejoinder implies: ‘Real strong and a pretty ain’t he, the way he got himself up?’ Billy Spear’s masculinity is further questioned in the course of events. Before leaving Coley to the mercy of the Utah sun he asks him, ‘You wanna ride with me boy?’ then threatens ‘to blow [his] face off’. Later Perkins looks at his leather gloves commenting, ‘You never take those off do you, not even when you’re with a woman?’ Spear and Gashade’s fight in the dust culminates with Gashade picking up a rock and stoving in not Spear’s head as we might expect but his right hand. Sometimes a cigar isn’t just a cigar.

Because the car is a technologised version of the horse, the leather gloves of The Shooting are passed on to Oates’ character in Two-Lane Blacktop as part of his driving ‘get-up’ and he wears them along with an ever-changing array of woollen sweaters not unlike the jester’s traditional particoloured ‘motley’ – Hellman is nothing if not ludic. Masculine behaviour is under scrutiny here too as Hellman presents us with a cast of characters whose sexuality is fluid rather than fixed. When Oates rebuffs a gay hitcher (played by Harry Dean Stanton) who tries to seduce him at the very beginning of the race it’s because he ‘doesn’t have time for that sort of thing’ in the context of the competition, not necessarily in his life. The Driver and The Mechanic are curiously a-sexual and when The Girl arrives on the scene it does little to disrupt their partnership. Although she sleeps with The Mechanic she’s soon taking a driving lesson from The Driver but his inability to teach her how to get the car in gear can be read as a failure to get it on. He’s happier when his own hand is changing gear, one of the other things in America, as well as drawing a gun, your right hand is for.

As Chris Petit has suggested, Hellman’s films are all ‘terminal in their implications’ though many of them simply stop rather than end. Endings offer little or no resolution but are merely vectors for further uncertainty. However, both The Shooting and Two-Lane Blacktop offer particularly radical takes on endings. In The Shooting, after multiple gunshots ring out it’s unclear exactly who’s left dead or alive except for Nicholson who hobbles distantly across the screen, which then whites out as the camera aperture is opened to its fullest extent. It’s as absolute an indication possible that Hellman can take things no further, except possibly with the conclusion of Two-Lane Blacktop where the race ends not with a victory by either party but with the destruction of the very film stock Hellman is shooting, which burns up before our eyes. This is so much more profound than Barry Newman driving into a gas tanker at the end of Richard Sarafian’s Vanishing Point (also 1971), a film to which it’s often compared. Vanishing Point wears its so-called existentialism far too obviously on its sleeve whilst that of Two-Lane Blacktop resides much more covertly, lurking somewhere in the knit-and-purl of one of Warren Oates’ V-necks.

Jeff Hilson



London Film Festival

17 Oct – 1 Nov 2007


Arriving at the end of the season, the London Film Festival attempts to summarise a year’s worth of cinema, cherry-picking the choicest titles from around the world. Largely eschewing awards galas and celeb-spotting, the festival aims itself squarely at those who love film in all its diversity, offering everything from major works by big-name directors to micro-budget experimental shorts and features.

Notable among the former is Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There, a mischievous portrait of Bob Dylan in which the artist is played by seven different actors, from African-American pre-teen Marcus Carl Franklin to a laconic, unnervingly precise impersonation by Cate Blanchett. Other name directors returning to the festival include Ang Lee with Lust, Caution, a lush and explicit tale of wartime romance and espionage, and Harmony Korine with Mr. Lonely, which stars Diego Luna as a tragic Michael Jackson lookalike wandering the streets of Paris. Michael Haneke directs the American remake of his own Funny Games, a subversive and increasingly relevant account of torture and sadism.

Moving out into the wider world and further down the economic scale we find a series of films dealing with human survival, and characters living on the fringes of the civilised world. Asif Kapadia’s Far North is a bleak tragedy played out among the endless wastes of the Arctic tundra, while the gorgeously monochrome Frozen details the life of a girl nearing adolescence in a remote Himalayan village. Two films deal with figures marooned in the rainforest: The Mourning Forest is an immersive study of an elderly man and his caregiver adrift in the Japanese jungle, while Werner Herzog’s Rescue Dawn tells the true story of US fighter pilot Dieter Dengler and his experiences in a Laotian prison camp during the Vietnam War.

Two more drama-documentaries bring the subject of warfare right up to date: both Nick Broomfield’s Battle for Haditha and Brian De Palma’s Redacted combine reality and fiction to investigate American atrocities in Iraq: the latter utilises video diaries and YouTube postings to explore the truth behind the apparent rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl by American soldiers. Other documentaries explore less controversial topics: Black, White & Gray is a tender portrait of the relationship between art collector Sam Wagstaff and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, while the playful, experimental We Want Roses, Too tells the story of the sexual revolution through interviews, drama and animation.

In fact, animated films are one of this festival’s strong points. Vexille is a dazzling futuristic fantasy rendered in eye-popping CGI, while Persepolis utilises more traditional techniques to tell the story of a girl growing up through the Iranian Islamic Revolution. For younger viewers, Bee Movie marks the long anticipated return of the great Jerry Seinfeld, while Yobi, the Five-Tailed Fox is a giddy tale of magic and adolescence, a South Korean take on Miyazaki. And an intriguing live-action film for children arrives in the form of Island of Lost Souls, a dark, supernatural adventure story steeped in Scandinavian folklore.

In addition to the all the fresh work on offer, the BFI have dug into the archives to present new prints of a number of classic films: from diametrically opposing ends of the cinematic spectrum come the restored Blind Husbands, Erich von Stroheim’s riveting silent tale of forbidden lust and mountaineering, and Charles Burnett’s Killer Of Sheep, a glorious, heartbreaking work of black American neo-realism.

Tom Huddleston



London Film Festival

17 Oct – 1 Nov 2007


For two years running, the task of choosing the short films that make up the London Film Festival programme has fallen to Simon Young from the distribution company Shorts International and Philip Ilson, founder of Halloween and organiser of the London Short Film Festival. Out of the thousands of films that were submitted they had to select just over 40 shorts, which are organised into six themed programmes.

Young and Ilson come from two different sides of the short film world, which means their programmes are very complementary. Young likes well-structured, well-written films: ‘Too many filmmakers make very downbeat, inconclusive, open-ended type films. I think it’s just lazy.’ His favourite film in this year’s selection is I am Bob, starring Bob Geldof, not only because it’s well-made but also because it will appeal to everybody: ‘I like films that people who aren’t necessarily involved in the short film world will enjoy. I am Bob is a very rounded piece, it’s very funny and accessible because it has one of the most famous faces on the planet basically sending himself up completely.’

While Young likes shorts to have ‘a beginning, a middle and an end’, Ilson, by contrast, likes things to be left up in the air: ‘A lot of short filmmakers seem to think they have to have this sort of ending with a twist, or a definite sort of point where the film finishes. I was looking for stuff that was a bit looser, a bit more genuine than that.’ In order to showcase those shorts that don’t fit the ‘short film genre’, Ilson has created the ‘Death to Short Film’ section, which this year includes such works as Hinterland, an understated drama centred around a mother and her two children walking through a remote part of the French countryside. ‘It doesn’t hit you with any kind of quick, easy answer or any quick, easy plot. Not much happens but it’s really powerful stuff, there are so many emotions in that film.’

Ilson also programmes ‘Mondo Mayhem’, a selection of very short, low-budget and generally bizarre material. Aside from music videos, surreal shorts and strange documentaries, it includes the horror-tinged Belgian drama Anémone. Says Ilson: ‘It starts with this little girl, and there’s obviously some strange things going on with her. It’s got the feel of something like Don’t Look Now, or Japanese horror films, little hooded kids in a corridor as in Dark Water, but it’s not so obviously horror. It’s shot a bit voyeuristically so it might make people feel uncomfortable but it’s the whole point of this programme, trying to find the slightly disturbing, freaky stuff that’s out there.’

One thing the two curators do share is a love of beautiful photography. For Young, one of the most visually impressive films in the programme is an American short entitled Left. ‘It’s inspired by a painter called Andrew Wyeth, so it’s really about the visuals, there’s no dialogue at all. It’s a poignant end-of-a-relationship kind of thing and it’s set in the rolling landscape of the Midwest, with this incredible light and amazing photography.’

‘It really deserves to be seen on a big screen’, is something both Ilson and Young say again and again. Starting October 18, they get their wish and London audiences will get a chance to appreciate these films in their full cinematic splendour.

Virginie Sélavy


Allan Moyle

Title: Weirdsville

Format: Cinema

Release date: 16 November 2007

Venues: Key Cities

Distributor Contender Films

Director: Allan Moyle

Cast: Matt Frewer, Joey Beck, Wes Bentley

US/Canada 2007

90 minutes

An enigmatic Canadian director who has been making movies for nearly three decades, Allan Moyle has earned himself a reputation for films that combine great soundtracks with young casts and topical subject matter. Following Pump Up the Volume and Empire Records in the 90s, Moyle’s output became associated with TV movies and obscure titles relegated to the bottom shelves of video shops. His new film Weirdsville is a confident return to form that deftly mixes such outrageous conceits as inept Satanists, a vertically challenged historical re-enactment society who travel around in a limousine, and a lifestyle guru with a 12-inch icicle sticking out of his head. Perhaps incredulous that such a film might prove popular with an audience, the director started the interview by asking Alex Fitch to defend his movie…

Allan Moyle: What kind of a freak are you that you would respond to a movie like that?

Alex Fitch: Well, the stoner comedy genre seems overcrowded but at the same time it feels like you’ve brought a fresh voice to it…

AM: I haven’t. The writer did.

AF: You and the writer then, because there were some very visually memorable scenes in it, which you can’t entirely attribute to the script.

AM: A lot of them are in the script. I’m arguing for the script to go onto the DVD, so if it does develop into some kind of cult movie – I think that’s its destiny, I can’t see it having a wide release – people will want to compare the script with the movie and that’ll be fascinating because it’s mostly the script…

AF: That’s atypical for movie-writing because most directors want the screenplay to be so barren of description that they can put their own stamp on it.

AM: Well, I love a script that’s half-way directed, because I am not that aggressive a director and I need all the help I can get! Anyway, if you know my movies, they’re not very visual – they have some charm, they have good casting usually and some heart, but visually they’re not that exciting, thus far. Here’s a movie – for example – where there’s a scene where Scott Speedman skates towards the car. He’s actually skating – ’cause we didn’t have snow – on asphalt, on roller skates, but it’s night and you can’t quite see he’s wearing skates. We couldn’t afford to do the process we did in the opening titles where we cut out his skates and put in bare feet. So it could have been a nightmare, but luckily the audience suspend their disbelief and I think it’s a deeply mythic scene, as scripted. Now, did the writer have that perfect song? No. I contributed to finding the song. I never studied film theory, so I don’t know the terminology, ‘the gaze’, all that stuff. I’m all about casting actors who are so perfect for the role that all I have to do is turn the camera on.

AF: But you’ve been making films for the best part of thirty years. So you must feel that you’ve picked up some visual techniques along the way.

AM: It’s not the first thing that comes to mind! I’m interested in psychic phenomena, I’m interested in things that are happening invisibly beneath the surface. I’m deeply into the person who’s alone and an outsider and reaching out to be more than himself or herself. I’m into all those things. I feel that we got the poetic side of the thing down, as a team – the writer, the director of photography and the producer gave us enough time to execute it. I’m not being disingenuous… The movie feels so right for Edinburgh and Raindance because the so-called ‘indie’ festivals are no longer indie. Sundance and Toronto have been hijacked by the studios, the sponsors and the cult of the star. So it’s kind of depressing and even a movie with semi-stars like ours isn’t strong enough to compete in Sundance anymore. I’m not bullshitting you – it’s a huge relief to have the movie understood somewhere. Pump Up the Volume was more understood in France than it was in America. It played for months in France – they sent me over three times. The French title of the movie was: Y a-t-il une vie aprí¨s le lycée?, which means ‘Is there life after high school?’, which is so much smarter than ‘Pump up the volume, pump up the volume!’. In fact, I didn’t want that title. The title I wanted was ‘Talk Hard’, which was at least slightly poetic, but (producer) Bob Shaye had heard the song ‘Pump Up the Volume’, which was a hit, but it was a hit six months earlier! I said: ‘Bob, we can’t have a song advertising our movie that’s from six months ago, ’cause we won’t be cool!’ – and he’s fifty! I don’t know… All I’m saying is that the French got it. The Americans didn’t get it.

AF: Music seems very important in creating the mood and the feel of your movies. In contrast to what you said about Bob Shaye wanting to include a song that was six months out of date, with Weirdsville were you trying to find songs that had not yet become popular and had the chance to become the next big thing – at least among the indie crowd?

AM: It costs $2,500 to purchase a song and I know from experience that I like to score with songs. We ended up with no money to buy songs. Luckily, Canada – especially Toronto and Montreal – is in some kind of music renaissance, so the soundtrack sounds like a real soundtrack, doesn’t it? But in fact we didn’t pay for any of those songs.

AF: Because the bands were happy to have publicity from the film?

AM: Exactly, they get publishing. They’re what I call dollar cues. In fact more like a thousand dollars, ’cause it costs that for the legal fees. We paid only a thousand bucks per cue. Maybe I should make that a secret! I’m certainly not proud of it, because I would like to be able to buy – for example – music from an obscure Montreal band we helped to discover called Arcade Fire, but we can’t afford to because they went from being ten grand to twenty five grand. Maybe we could have offered them five grand, but suddenly they took off, and it’s a shame because we had a temp score with Arcade Fire and a bunch of other songs. I’m not complaining – I’m just saying it’s serendipitous that this movie seemed to have some luck attached to it. It could have been a disaster – the whole dwarves and Satanists thing could have been horrible.

AF: It works really well…

AM: But can you see how horrible it could have been?

Weirdsville is released on 16 November.


Black Time

Black Time are a shadowy trio from London inspired by Link Wray, Huggy Bear and Suicide. They’ve released two albums of feedback-saturated raw and primal garage dance tunes on the excellent In The Red label, as well as numerous vinyl-only singles on obscure imprints around the world. Film references feature heavily in their lyrics, and they’ve even done a one-sided 12″ concept EP entitled ‘New Vague Themes’ with five songs inspired by French New Wave films! They only occasionally venture out of their dilapidated North London HQ to play live, but you can catch them in Holland on 3-5 October. Find out more here or here. Below guitar-slinger Lemmy Caution discusses his 10 favourite movies.

1- Bob le flambeur (1956)
I could have picked about 6 or 7 films by the director of this movie, Jean-Pierre Melville – I recommend seeing anything with his name on it. He was initially embraced by the nouvelle vague directors because of his stunning tracking shots and Hitchcockian pacing, but then subsequently rejected by them for his old-school cinema sensibilities. His work spans several genres but policiers were his forte – tough crime thrillers, usually featuring a heist and a blurring of the good/evil line between the cops and the criminals. Bob Le Flambeur brings to life the shady bars and underworld hangouts of Paris’ Pigalle district in luminous monochrome, and features the best last line of any film ever (I won’t spoil what it is – you have to watch and find out!).

2- Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montí³n (1980)
This is the ultimate punk rock movie. Pedro Almodí³var went onto acclaim and fortune directing emotionally nuanced family dramas, but his debut feature is a super-trashy paean to being young, dumb and in love with rock’n’roll. Like a cross between a Spanish telenovela, early John Waters and Rock’n’Roll High School. Gross-out humour, fabulous camp fashion, real teenage punks from the burgeoning Spanish scene partying to Public Image Limited records, a fictional but fucking great X-Ray Spex-style band, sassy girl gangs, a spoof intermission that sends up the advertising industry with hilarious perverse humour, and a cock-measuring contest – what more could you want from a film??!!!

3- Alphaville (1965)
I had to pick this one as obviously I nicked my name from the lead character. Supposedly a big influence on Blade Runner, Jean-Luc Godard’s urban sci-fi epic is the epitome of cool. Transforming night-time modernist Paris into a dystopian future city ruled by a megalomaniacal giant computer, Alphaville works on multiple levels – a style bible for brutalism, a funny parody of the hard-boiled detective genre and an existential romance.

4- Death Line (1972)
This is one of those weird budget Hammer-style horror films that Britain did so well during this period, and turns up regularly as a late-night TV staple. The plot is pretty silly – an underground race of cannibals living in the abandoned tunnels of Russell Square station, but it transcends the confines of the genre through a chillingly bleak depiction of early-70s London filmed in wintry bleached-out colour, the Sweeney-style hard-living policeman played by the great Donald Pleasence, and a cracking proto-electro moog score by Wil Malone.

5- I Hired a Contract Killer (1990)
Aki Kaurismäki is another one of my favourite directors – this particular film is an unusual one for him in that it’s set in London rather than his native Finland (most of his movies are set in the same working-class district of Helsinki and feature a core acting ensemble he’s been using for years). I really like his outsider’s view of a foreigner in London (the great French actor Jean-Pierre Léaud, also well worth checking out in classics like Les Quatre cents coups and La Maman et la putain) – he really captures the loneliness of a big city when you’re a newcomer. As an added bonus there’s a cameo from Joe Strummer, and Nicky Tesco from the Members plays the Contract Killer.

6- Bedazzled (1967)
Peter Cook’s film career is generally viewed to be an unmitigated disaster, with a string of turkeys to his name, and the public bitterness he expressed over the success his comedy partner Dudley Moore enjoyed in Hollywood. This retelling of the Faust fable with Peter Cook as a suave, mod-suited Satan and Dudley Moore as short-order fry cook Stanley Moon who sells his soul for seven wishes is a lost classic though – my favourite comedy film ever. It looks great, the satirical attacks on religion, advertising and contemporary society are spot-on, and the scene in which the Devil and Stanley go head to head on Top Of The Pops sums up the fickle nature of pop music with great songs (backing singer to the Devil – ‘You drive me wild!!’ The Devil – ‘YOU FILL ME WITH INERTIA’). Avoid the inferior remake from 2000 – Liz Hurley’s girl Lucifer is more page-3 centrefold than diabolical Mephistophelian charmer.

7- Qui íªtes-vous, Polly Maggoo? (1966)
This film is an anomaly on many levels. Written and directed by an expat American documentary photographer who had never made a feature film before (William Klein) in France with a French cast (with the exception of one American actor putting on a terrible accent!), it mixes up drama, satire, reportage, animation and Brechtian asides to the camera, attacking the fashion industry whilst carefully styling the film so every frame looks gorgeous (I wager that on any given week, a 60s club night somewhere round the world is using a still from this film on their flyers). The lead character is a self-absorbed free spirit simultaneously attracted and repulsed by the consumer society she’s trapped in. The question of who Polly Maggoo really is never gets answered, but the quest to find out is a fantastical and enormously entertaining one.

8- Every Day Except Christmas (1957)
On paper this sounds like a pretty boring premise – a documentary about a day in the life of Covent Garden fruit & veg market, but it completely sucks you into the world it captures. It’s a gripping social narrative about a place and people that have more or less disappeared entirely. The combination of the editing seamlessly matched to the rhythm of the working day, the amazing black & white cinematography and the mellifluous Welsh voiceover give it an almost trance-like, hypnotic quality. This was one of the key works of the ‘free cinema’ movement and director Lindsay Anderson went onto greater notoriety and acclaim with his feature films If, This Sporting Life and O Lucky Man.

9- Fear Eats the Soul (1974)
It’s hard to pick one Rainer Werner Fassbinder film – another auteur who left behind an amazing cinematic legacy. This one is possibly the pinnacle of his achievements – his generally cynical view of human motivations is tempered with a gently heartbreaking inter-racial love story. A homage to Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows re-told through the experiences of first generation immigrants in 70s Germany. The central protagonists are the instantly likeable but complex Ali and Emmi, and you’re practically willing for things to work out for them against terrible odds.

10- Deep End (1971)
I realised whilst compiling this list that a lot of my favourite films feature London seen from an unusual perspective, and this is another one – refracted through the strange and wonderful lens of Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski. It ostensibly concerns the experiences of a teenage boy working at a Public Baths in North London. At some points it verges on turning into a Carry On-style sex farce with his seduction by Diana Dors and pining after Jane Asher (her second great role after her turn as a naive schoolgirl in Alfie), but then veers off into weirder territory, taking in grimy scenes of pre-gentrification Soho menace, teacher’s dancing in a nightclub to a pulsating ‘Mother Sky’ by Can (!), and even a cameo by Burt Kwouk (Cato from the Pink Panther films) as a hot-dog salesman. The whole thing could easily be an overly quirky unwatchable mess, but somehow Skolimowski brings together the disparate threads to construct a rounded and satisfying work that is more than the sum of its parts. There’s a heavy dose of JD Salinger to the central plot, if Holden Caulfield had been growing up in 70s Kentish Town listening to krautrock.