Format: Cinema

Release date: 7 December 2007

Distributor: Yume Pictures

Director: Rigoberto Castañeda

Mexico 2006

103 mins

A big hit in Mexico, Rigoberto Castañeda’s horror thriller KM31 centres on a young woman whose twin sister is in a coma following a road accident. Bathed in blue light, the film has more than a whiff of J-horror about it, and Catalina’s search for the truth inevitably leads to a spooky ghost child.

KM31 received its UK premiere at FrightFest in August on the same day as the Zombie Walk. When I arrived at the Odeon for the interview hordes of dazed zombies were still hanging around Leicester Square, blinking in the sun as though it hurt or crumpled on benches: the perfect setting for an interview with a director who is a horror fan through and through.

Virginie Sélavy: You’ve said before that KM31 was influenced by films such as The Shining, The Exorcist, The Others and The Ring. Out of all these it seems to me that The Ring is the most relevant comparison, and you seem to have been influenced a lot by Japanese horror in general.

Rigoberto Castañeda: Many people have said that but I started writing the script for KM31 about seven years before pre-production started, so way before The Ring came out. It’s based on a well-known Mexican legend. Five or six years after I wrote the script The Ring came out. I went to see it and I was crushed because I thought it was so similar! I was about to quit! The producers suggested some changes but I said, you know what, fuck it, this has happened a hundred times in the history of cinema. The thing is, now more than ever because of the Internet, everybody sees the same things so it’s natural to have the same ideas. So I decided not to do anything.

VS: You don’t mention any Mexican films or directors in your influences. Why is that? Were you not influenced by Mexican horror in any way, by directors like Taboada and Moctezuma?

RC: In a way I was. When I was little I would go to my best friend’s house and watch horror movies at the weekend. I was pretty young when I saw The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining, and also the Taboada movies and Alucarda by Moctezuma, which shocked me. I was really traumatised by those films. When I started film school I tried to find them but when I saw them again, I was like, that’s not as scary as I remember! So they influenced me because of the memory of watching them as a kid but they didn’t influence me in a cinematic way. As a filmmaker I’m influenced by directors who are not horror directors, like Hitchcock or Kubrick or Kurosawa, all the classic directors.

VS: In recent years Guillermo del Toro has had a big impact on the horror genre. Has he influenced you in any way?

RC: He’s God! I love him. In film school everybody knew him. I wanted to do horror so the teachers said there’s one person in Guadalajara who also likes horror film, he’s a make-up artist, you should hire him. I wanted to work with him but by the time I was ready to make my first short film he was already working on his first feature

VS: Do you think del Toro’s success has made it easier to make horror films in Mexico?

RC: His first picture in Mexico was Cronos. It was successful but it wasn’t really a horror film, it was more of a fantasy tale with horror elements. There was a vampire in it but the film was more a romantic story about the transformation of the vampire. When Cronos came out, everybody was like, that’s it, we’re going to have horror cinema, but nothing came out of it. So no, it’s weird but it didn’t help. KM31 is actually the first feature since Cronos that really is a horror film. When I decided I wanted to make a horror film, I thought that it would be a big success because there hadn’t been a horror film in Mexico since the 70s and Mexicans love horror. It was like a big wide open space. Now there are several horror films being made.

VS: I’ve seen that several of Taboada’s films are being remade.

RC: Yes, two of them. That’s fantastic! I hope they’re good! Right now there are several things that are helping. One of them was KM31, it was a big success so it helped the genre a lot. And then, many different Mexican directors have been very successful internationally and that’s helped to show that in Mexico we can make good films. The Oscar nominations were on when we were making the film, and there were sixteen nominations for Mexicans, so that helped a lot. Mexican people go a lot more to the movies, it’s definitely growing. The Mexican film industry in general is healthy.

VS: Is there anything that makes your film specifically Mexican?

RC: It’s mostly the legend of La Llorona. If you’re Mexican you will have heard it at some point in your life from your mother or your grandmother or your aunt or somebody. Every young kid in Mexico knows that if you behave badly La Llorona will come for you – it’s very scary for a young kid! We never mention the character in the film but it’s not necessary. When KM31 was showing in Mexico I went to the cinema to see people’s reactions. When the main ghost appears at the end of the movie everybody got so scared and started shouting, ‘La Llorona! La Llorona!’ – it was a very emotional moment for everyone. That makes it a very Mexican film. But at the same time I think it’s a universal story: La Llorona is like a banshee; it shares things with the Bible, and with Jewish tales. I think everybody in the world can identify with this story.

VS: Why did you decide to take that legend as your point of departure?

RC: Actually, the point of departure was something else. I was listening to Mexico’s most famous radio programme, a horror show called ‘The Hairy Hand’. People call the programme and tell a horror story that’s happened to them. Everybody loves to listen to this show and to tell their horror story. It’s amazing. It’s so big that they’re now broadcasting in the US. The day I started writing the script I was listening to the show and a truck driver called and told a story about seeing a woman in the middle of the road who was clearly a ghost. He told it in such an incredibly dramatic way, I’ve still got goose-bumps just remembering it. It was fantastic, I was almost crying with fear. So I ran back to my desk and I wrote the first ten minutes of the movie – I never changed those pages. And then I thought this could be a fantasy story, the story of the crying woman. So while I was writing those ten pages, I was already thinking of the story of La Llorona.

VS: Where were the scenes on the road and in the forest filmed? How did you find those locations?

RC: I wanted to write the script in a special place. I went to the forest that is around Mexico City. There are people who live there, just like in the film, people who have houses almost in the middle of the woods. When I was little, my parents used to take me to the forest. There is an old Catholic convent there, with catacombs, so it was REALLY SCARY for a kid. I used to love to go there when I was little.

VS: On your own?

RC: Yes, on my own. (laughs) So I decided to go there and write. I went to the convent, I looked at the woods, and I wrote on my computer, sat on a rock, and I got this feeling of the woods. The highway is the actual highway. The river up there in the woods goes down to the city and as the city grew the river became the sewer system. So it’s based on something that is real and on the tales that people told me when we were doing the research. KM31 was invented by me, it’s not real. But what’s quite funny is that now in Mexico there are people who go to KM31 and record videos, searching for the ghost! (laughs) It’s turned into a real story in Mexico!

VS: The scene in the sewers is very atmospheric. Were they a set or do they actually exist?

RC: We were very lucky. In Mexico City, they close the sewer systems to do work on it for six months every seven years. We were lucky to be ready to film during those six months so we were able to go down into the sewer system and shoot there. Right now, it’s full of shit, literally. But it’s an amazing place. The final part in the sewer system, that was constructed on a stage.

VS: You’ve said before that you had the intention of writing a ‘commercial thriller’. How did you go about doing that?

RC: I’m a movie buff, I love going to the cinema. I enjoy art-house films but I’ve always gone to the movies for entertainment. That’s my education in film, watching movies at my friend’s house. So I try to make films that I would have enjoyed as a kid.

VS: Do you see yourself solely as a horror director? Would you like to direct other types of movies or are you happy to keep exploring the horror genre?

RC: I think I will make horror films all my life. I’m interested in other genres but what I love is horror, thriller and fantasy, and I’d like to work in those three genres all my life. Fantasy is the most difficult of them because it’s the most expensive, so the way to get to fantasy is by starting with horror and thriller. It’s a way to get to fantasy but it doesn’t mean that they’re inferior genres. I see myself at 92, directing a horror film, (squeaky voice) ‘blood! more blood!’ I will never do romantic comedies. Never! (laughs)



Photo by Lisa Williams

In an age where big studios dominate filmmaking, short films have become a means to bring experimental and adventurous work to the movie-goer, and no more so than at events like Rock’n’Roll Cinema. The evening of bands and short films, held at 93 Feet East in Brick Lane, is going into its fourth year – quite a grand old age for a monthly event, many of whose contemporaries have vanished without a trace.

‘It was born out of a combination of me being in a band and wanting new places to play, and of knowing different creative people who could come together to help me put on a night. I also found that when I went to the cinema I always wanted to talk about the film afterwards’, explains Dan Cundy, founder of the night. The different creative people include Dan’s girlfriend Wednesday, known as Rollergirl, who skates around singing jingles and selling popcorn, and the DJs, VJs and compí¨res he chooses to pull together the night.

Also with him from day one was the team at Future Shorts, who provide the night with a tailor-made programme of short live action films, music videos and animations. The choice of films is dictated by the nature of the crowd and the set-up at Rock’n’Roll Cinema, according to Pippa Rimmer, director of exhibitions at Future Shorts. ‘I think the films we choose to show here are a little bit quirky’, says Pippa. ‘We choose lots of music videos, show the longer films earlier in the night and try not to use many with subtitles because it isn’t a theatre venue. When we see films in the office we can often tell straightaway which films the crowd here will really like.’

One of the films specially picked for the Brick Lane crowd today is Fitness Video by Japanese director Nagi Noda. A surreal spoof exercise routine led by a young girl with Popeye-style muscles backed by a chorus of bipedal poodles, it is lapped up by the audience. You can tell when the audience likes a film because the laughs are louder and longer than those usually heard in a cinema. The same goes for the gasps, and even the awestruck silences seem more silent. ‘I think people are more relaxed here because they can walk around. It might mean that they’re less absorbed in the films because they’re right next to a bar but you get a better reaction from them as they’re having a laugh with their mates’, says Pippa.

The loudest gasps come during the opening film Spider, an Australian film directed by former stuntman Nash Edgerton. Its slow build-up of tension and triple-shock ending show that with the right story and execution you can move the viewer more in eight minutes than some films manage in two hours. There may be speed-dating and cakes in the next room, a barbecue and bottle bar outside, and bands and hula-hooping to come, but while this film is playing all eyes are fully forward.

Lisa Williams

Rock’n’Roll Cinema takes place every first Sunday of the month at 93 Feet East, London. For more details visit the website.


Zombina and the Skeletones

With songs called ‘Leave My Brain Alone’ and ‘Can’t Break a Dead Girl’s Heart’, the horror fiends of Zombina and the Skeletones were the obvious choice for our spooky November jukebox. Guitarist Doc Horror takes us on a hilarious ride through hardcore Z-movies and reveals a particular fondness for wrestling Japanese girls in spandex costumes as well as films that have ‘living dead’ somewhere in the title. Their new album ‘Death Valley High’ is out now and available here. You can catch them doing their hell-raising high-jinks horror punk-rock thing in Cambridge on Nov 3, London on Nov 4, Winchester on Nov 8, Preston on Nov 10 and Manchester on Nov 30. More details here.

1- The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
The best film ever and the video bible for horror punks! ‘You think this is a fuckin’ costume? This is a way of life!’ This film is the reason why people think zombies say ‘Braaainssss’ all the time. Dig that killer new wave soundtrack! Cramps! 45 Grave! Roky Erickson! Those who have not seen Return of the Living Dead deserve everything they’re gonna get when the zombies attack for real!

2- City of the Living Dead (1980)
City of the Living Dead has replaced Zombie Flesh Eaters in my heart as Lucio Fulci’s finest work. It makes no sense at all but it doesn’t matter ‘cos it’s got people crying blood all over the place and so many worms and maggots where there shouldn’t be any worms or maggots, and things bursting into flames for no reason. Fabio Frizzi is the all-time grand master of zombie chill-out music.

3- Rat Pfink a Boo Boo (1966)
The best super-hero action thriller ever made. Bin all your stupid Spidermans and X-Mens and whatever else garbage the man shovels to ya. This is the real deal. Ten-years-too-late rockabilly singer Lonnie Lord dons a balaclava and cape to become Rat Fink and sets off with his plucky sidekick Boo Boo on a mission to rescue his woman when she’s kidnapped by a gang who choose their victims at random by prodding the phone book with a hammer. This film is so hardcore low-budget that the filmmakers couldn’t even afford to correct typos on the title sequence (it’s supposed to be called Rat Fink and Boo Boo) and ends up stuck with the stupidest name of all time. Legend.

4- Tromeo And Juliet (1996)
…and all the other Troma in-house productions (particularly Toxie 4 and Terror Firmer). Detractors accuse Troma films of being cheapo frat-boy comedy shock-factor rubbish but these people need to have their faces stabbed off. Especially those that believe that stinking Baz Luhrmann abomination to be the superior reworking of the greatest love story ever told. Open your damn minds to the genius that’s at work here! The new Troma film has one of our songs on the soundtrack, but I ain’t seen it yet… it’s called Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, so it’s probably brilliant.

5- Beneath the Valley of the Ultra Vixens (1979)
I’m not sure why this is my favourite Russ Meyer film over Faster Pussycat and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, possibly because of that cool thing where all the characters bleed different coloured blood, depending on their traits… or possibly just ‘cos I’m a bit lecherous and I like when Kitten Natividad gets it on with the dental nurse. It’s cool to mix social satire and soft porn, though, isn’t it? Or am I kidding myself? Is this just a dirty film and I’m showing myself up by listing it?

6- Phantasm (1979)
Jettison Dervish (our bass player) and I both share this as a candidate for best-scary-film-ever. It’s like one of those horrible inconsistent nightmares you have when you’re six years old and got the flu. In fact, I’m sure I had a recurring dream of something very similar to the Tall Man when I was little. Any money Phantasm was based on a real nightmare somebody had! The sequels are all amazing, but the first one is properly special.

7- You’ll Find Out (1940)
The only time Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Peter Lorre all appear in one film. It’s a musical horror-comedy starring the Kay Kyser Orchestra, the members of which are surprisingly hilarious in a gentle post-Groucho sort of way, contrasting most pleasingly with the scary men being their usual sinister selves. Kick-ass swinging tunes too.

8- Dead Man’s Shoes (2004)
The tensest film ever made. Shane Meadows is a genius. I hope he makes another horror film one day. That reminds me, I really wanna see This Is England at some point in my life, the rest of the band keep telling me how great it is…

9- Cutting Moments (1997)
You get some crazy stuff in the pound shop sometimes. Not many people seem to have seen Cutting Moments so I won’t spoil it for anyone who may chance upon it some day. It’s ‘orrible though, I’ll tell you that much. Ignore the rest of the stories in this portmanteau and skip straight to the title feature.

10- L.E.G.S.: Lady Enforcers General Security (1998)
I found it on Ebay when looking for women’s wrestling videos. Of all the things I have ever discovered in my life, of LEGS I am the most proud. Japanese girls in weird spandex costumes having semi-erotic, semi-slapstick chainsaw battles one minute, then turning into a sort of riot grrl punk band the next. Someone should dub it, What’s Up Tiger Lily style, and put it on TV so everyone can enjoy!


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.


The Amazing Lives of the Fast Food Grifters

Raindance Film Festival

25 Sept-07 Oct 2007

Festival programme

Celebrating its fifteenth birthday this year, the UK’s biggest independent film festival runs in London from September 26 to October 7, with a packed programme that comprises eighty features as well as numerous shorts and documentaries from all over the world. In the last decade or so, independent cinema has grown to encompass anything from modest, no-budget works to bigger crowd-pullers and this is reflected in the selection, which includes Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park as well as obscure gems such as gritty Icelandic social drama Children, camp sci-fi comedy Turks in Space or quirky Argentine oddity La Antena.

Since its inception in 1993, Raindance has played a vital part in bringing eccentric, challenging and unusual films to these shores, films that would not stand a chance of getting a general UK release. Originally set up as a platform to promote independent film, it has remained true to its objectives. Says Senior Programmer Suzanne Ballantyne: ‘We aim to promote first-time directors, discover new talents, open up new worlds to cinema-goers and show audiences that there is life outside the multiplexes.’ The criterion for selecting the films is simple: ‘At least two or three people in the office have to like the film.’

Raindance has always had an interest in music, and inviting punk icons to sit on the jury is becoming something of a habit: last year Marky Ramone was playing film critic, and this year it’s the turn of Iggy Pop and Mick Jones. ‘A lot of people who work at Raindance are into punk’, explains Ballantyne, ‘and I think it’s very good to have a musician judging films. It’s an interesting mix, and Raindance has always featured music documentaries in its programme.’ Sadly, there are fewer music-related films this year, simply because there were fewer submissions than in previous years.

But this year’s selection promises plentiful cinematic delights, including Ballantyne’s personal favourites Phantom Love, ‘a very special, visually breathtaking film about a woman’s subconscious by true indie auteur Nina Menkes’, and Waz, ‘a flashy British thriller that has been compared to Se7en‘. Below we take a closer look at five films showing at the festival.


This bizarro-comic fantasy from Mamoru Oshii (author of the brilliantly ambitious animé Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence) is the kind of film that makes Raindance so special. Catch it at the festival for it is doubtful that any UK distributor will take their chances with such a baffling, beautiful and plain bonkers UFO of a film.

The Amazing Lives presents itself as an erudite study of the con artists who began to swindle free noodles out of food merchants in post-war Japan. We hear about mythical characters such as Moongaze Ginji, the charismatic white-haired old man who started it all, the gorgeous Foxy Croquette O’Gin who vamped her way around the noodle houses in the 50s, and many more. As this is Oshii, this is not simply about food but each grifter’s own particular approach to life, revealed by their individual scamming style.

Through the tale of the grifters’ exploits Oshii also charts the history of Japan in the second half of the twentieth century. In the background of each story there are references to political and social events of the time, from WWII to student protests and a Red Army plane highjack. The grifters are outsiders who, through their attitude to food, represent individual resistance to political power and business interests. Nowhere is this as clear as in the story of Hamburger Tetsu: as he brings down a thriving fast food chain by ordering hundreds of burgers his tactics are compared to that of the guerrilla fighters in the Vietnam War.

Oshii creates here another wondrous visual world, experimenting further with animation techniques, mixing fuzzy footage of devastated post-war Japan and the occasional animé image with computer-generated visuals. At a time when CGI animation is all about the excitement of 3D, the director decidedly goes the other way and makes it all as flat as he can. Not only does he succeed in creating a singularly weird, atmospheric world but such resolute individuality is truly inspiring.

Virginie Sélavy


Indie comedy The GoodTimesKid is the second feature from director Azazel Jacobs, son of avant-garde filmmaker Ken Jacobs. Taking a more mainstream tack than his noted ancestor, the interestingly named Azazel constructs a gentle, good-hearted if slightly inconsequential tale of romantic estrangement around three disillusioned thirtysomethings crossing paths over 24 hours in LA.

Shot in fourteen days with a crew of six, on film stock lifted from a major Hollywood studio, the film is low-budget and proud of it. Taking its cues from early Jarmusch, Hal Hartley and classic Chaplin, the film develops almost wordlessly. The minimal narrative centres around two men, both called Rodolfo Cano, and their helpless attraction to an unnamed girl, charmingly played by the director’s girlfriend Sara Diaz. Indeed, the entire film could be seen as something of a love letter to Diaz, as the two Rodolfos find themselves in orbit around this unpredictable creature.

There are scenes of real beauty in The GoodTimesKid: a central sequence of tentative romance on a houseboat unfolds almost flawlessly, opening up these taciturn characters, drawing us into their world. The camera is used to magical effect, intimate close-ups capturing every flicker across the actors’ effortlessly expressive faces. There are a few indie clichés on display here: hints of artful dispassion; helpless, existentially traumatised men; a free-spirited woman who expresses her independence by dancing to old jazz records. But the film is perfectly constructed, strikingly photographed and never less than involving. The enduring impression is of a sweet, transitory experience, as slight as a backward glance but just as intriguing.

Tom Huddleston


M is a bleak and often perplexing psychological drama which journeys into the seedy underbelly of Japanese society, exposing a thriving industry of pornography, prostitution and violence. Satoko (Miwon) is a seemingly ordinary, contented housewife and mother who secretly works as a prostitute for a dangerous and violent yakuza gang. Minoru (Kengo Kora) is an intense young man who delivers newspapers and hangs out at hedonistic parties thrown by bored bourgeois teenagers. One day their paths cross: they share a lingering gaze and Minoru becomes intrigued by Satoko. After seeing her photo on a porn site, an image strangely bereft of any eroticism, he attempts to warn her away from the dangers of the yakuza, but the pair develop a perverse and destructive bond which leads to brutality and murder.

The way Satoko (and other women) is treated in the film suggests that male fantasies revolve around sexual violence against women: sadomasochism, humiliation and exploitation are explored in a frank and unflinching manner, and static, clinical camera angles coupled with Satoko’s cool detachment exclude any trace of sensuality. But baffling plot twists and flashbacks hint that Satoko isn’t simply a passive object of desire, nor is Minoru simply her knight in shining armour. Although it is never clearly spelt out, childhood secrets may well be the source of their dark desires. Does Satoko perceive the abuse as punishment she deserves? Does Minoru see his mother in Satoko? Such ambiguities in the narrative suggest that nothing should be taken at face value; fantasy, reality and illusion frequently blur and collide.

Director Ryuichi Hiroki learnt his trade working in the Japanese ‘pink film’ (soft-core porno) industry, before going on to have international success with his 2003 road movie Vibrator. His formative experience has visibly influenced M, but he is clearly commenting on the industry from the outside, making it an unusual and uncompromisingly dark film.

Lindsay Tudor


In this Yorkshire-set British thriller, the whole film itself is ‘exhibit A’, a tape recovered at a murder scene by the police. Filmed by fourteen-year-old Judith on her brand new camera, it starts as a home-movie of ordinary family life before turning into the chronicle of her father’s descent into an increasingly psychotic state.

Shot in an ultra-naturalistic way, the film replicates the style of an amateur filmmaker down to the flat TV image, shaky camera and funny angles. This uncompromising realistic approach is applied unwaveringly throughout the film so that some events occur off the screen, with sounds and voices the only clues as to what is happening. Although the constant jerks of the camera can be a tad tiresome, they succeed in creating the impression that what we’re watching is strictly impromptu filmmaking. In this way the film makes us privy to the inside reality of a sensational news story and implicates us as voyeurs.

In a Hidden-like way, Exhibit A plays on the ambiguity of different kinds of images. The film we’re watching is really a piece of evidence in a murder enquiry. Within it there are more incriminating images, including revealing photos and embarrassing mobile phone footage. Images are double-edged, and both Judith and her father’s disturbingly stalker-like behaviour is also bizarrely well-meaning: by exposing everything, they believe they will be able to put things right. They are, of course, sorely misguided and as more and more uncomfortable truths emerge, the unity of the family is dangerously threatened. Too much truth is toxic, the film seems to be saying, and the omnipresent recording devices of modern life place us all under a scrutiny so intense that no relationship can survive it. One question remains at the end: Would any of this have happened if Judith hadn’t been filming?

Virginie Sélavy


On the surface, Being Michael Madsen is a slightly dubious premise for a movie. A self-consciously self-reflexive work of self-mythology, a pseudo-documentary about a pseudo-documentary, this is cinematic meta-fiction taken to a new and dizzying level. It doesn’t help that, in the early stages, the celebrity ‘interviews’ are quite obviously scripted, the actors’ efforts to appear casual and off-the-cuff somewhat unconvincing.

But the central sections, as the crew pursue the hapless Dant through the streets of LA, have a gripping, manic energy. And there’s a genuine desire to explore the complex relationship between celebrities and their hack stalkers, a situation which seems to serve everyone’s needs while simultaneously making them all angry and miserable. Gratifyingly, the film offers no easy answers, blurring the lines between celebrities, journalists and the ‘ordinary’ people in between, taking well-aimed potshots at each.

Being Michael Madsen is listed as unfinished, and it could perhaps benefit from a little fine tuning. Nevertheless, this is a witty, intelligent examination of stardom, its pitfalls and its pratfalls, with a wry sense of humour and an agreeably non-judgemental outlook.

Tom Huddleston


This year’s festival opener is a witty, laugh-out-loud stoner comedy from Canada in which two dopeheads desperate to get their hands on some dosh to pay back an angry drug dealer have to contend with a Satanic cult, Medieval midgets and an undead girlfriend.

Manufacturing Dissent: Uncovering Michael Moore
Journalist or polemicist, genius or manipulator, influential filmmaker or paranoid megalomaniac, ‘St Mike of the working man’ or ‘Showman Mike’? A team of filmmakers turn the tables on Michael Moore and use his own methods to illuminate his true nature.

The Devil Dared Me To
Bad taste comedy from New Zealand about an incompetent stuntman – involves lots of disastrous stunts, outrageous deaths, maimings and gross bodily fluid jokes.

Offbeat, bittersweet Belgian comedy about a bumbling inventor who goes to Canada in search of his birth family, built around an intricate series of meticulously orchestrated coincidences.

John Waters: This Filthy World
John Waters shares pearls of wisdom and insights into his influences in this filmed one-man-show. Highlights include a hilarious account of filming a spoof of the Kennedy assassination with Divine as Jackie K crawling out of the back of a car in a pink Chanel suit to the shocked bewilderment of neighbours – only two years after the event. We are also treated to Waters’ fond recollections of watching underground movies as a young man: ‘You got arrested when you went to the movies. You’d go see Flaming Creatures and the cops would raid it and the whole audience would be taken away in police vans. It really perks up the movie-going experience.’


High Maintenance

Raindance Film Festival

25 Sept-07 Oct 2007

A-Z of Shorts

Selecting shorts for the Raindance Film Festival means sitting through thousands of films every year in order to pick the 100 that make up the programme. Having worked as a shorts programmer since 2000 Jamie Greco has seen his fair share, yet he has lost none of his enthusiasm for the format: ‘It always amazes me to see fresh angles and original concepts. You think you’ve seen it all before over the years, but there’s always something new that comes up. It’s great to find a film that’s totally unexpected, and that’s the whole Raindance ethic, to find invigorating, refreshing stories.’

Short film as a legitimate form has greatly developed in the last few years. For Greco it’s down to two reasons in particular: ‘Filmmakers now have got it down to a fine art. Instead of simply making a short film to promote their career, some use it as a format, like a writer might use the short story. And then there’s the likes of Future Shorts; Fabien (Riggall, founder of FS) has done an amazing thing with shorts, he’s really promoted the whole format in itself. Before, short films were just throwaway items, but now people will go out of their way to see a programme of short films.’

There are eight programmes of shorts on at Raindance, representing an amazing diversity of genres, subjects and styles: The Girls, a stunning slice of British Gothic about two cruel little girls; Cherries, a topical film set in an all-boy comprehensive which brilliantly subverts expectations; Quincy and Althea, in which an old couple discuss divorce while walking around a New Orleans devastated by Katrina. ‘Tales of the Unexpected’, the section devoted to the more surreal shorts, includes films such as High Maintenance, about a lady so unhappy with her unresponsive husband that she switches him off and exchanges him for another, and Forna, which, says Greco, is about ‘cocks growing in the garden… you know, genitalia.’ There is also a section devoted to animation, an area that has grown so much in the last couple of years that Raindance have now introduced a special animation award.

The film that surprised Greco most this year was The Demonology of Desire: ‘It’s about a teenage girl who’s praying for God to find her a boyfriend. At the beginning you think it’s going to be a nice teenage love story, but then it turns into a drama of manipulation and twisted desire. The leading actress is straight out of a David Lynch film. It’s bizarre, shocking and brilliantly done.’

Aside from the many unknown and first-time directors there are also some famous names in the programme: Dog Altogether stars Peter Mullan and was written and directed by Paddy Considine while Club Soda features James Gandolfini and Joe Mantegna. But the fact that big names were associated with the films had no influence on their selection. Says Greco: ‘It makes you take notice a little bit more, but it certainly doesn’t make you say, this is in, this is out. I rejected films with famous people in them; if they’re not good enough, they’re not in.’

Greco has worked hard to make the programme ‘as tight as possible’. The excitement he feels about this year’s films is contagious and on the evidence of the ones we saw, entirely justified. It is this kind of vibrant enthusiasm that makes Raindance such a unique festival.

Virginie Sélavy