Squaring the Circle: Czech Film and the Prague Spring

The Ear

Still from The Ear (DVD available from Second Run)

All Power to the Imagination: 1968 and its Legacies

May 2- June 10

Various London venues


In 1965 and 1967, Czechoslovakia won its first Hollywood Oscars – for A Shop on the High Street (Ján Kadár and Elmar Klos) and Closely Observed Trains (Jiří­ Menzel, 1966). In the same period, Miloš Forman’s A Blonde in Love (1965) and The Firemen’s Ball (1967) were also short-listed, and at Cannes in 1968 – before Godard and Truffaut closed the Festival – three Czech films were in competition. It was a golden era for Czech and Slovak cinema and, for a time, names such as Miloš Forman, Jiří­ Menzel, and Věra Chytilová were up there among the leading art-house directors.

This change in the public face of one of the Eastern bloc’s most hard-line regimes was not deceptive. In 1968, the so-called ‘reform Communists’ took over and a new leader of the Communist Party was elected in the person of Alexander Dubček. ‘Socialism with a human face’ was the journalist’s description, yet the actual and proposed reforms went much wider – the rehabilitation of political prisoners, the curtailment of the powers of the secret police, the abolition of censorship, freedom of the press, the reintroduction of market mechanisms, the permitting of alternative political parties, the establishment of workers’ councils among them. In fact, to quote Dubček, ‘the widest possible democratisation of the whole socio-political system’. Without actually abdicating the ‘leading role of the Communist Party’, there was a genuine sense that Communism had taken the moral high ground – that the circle could be squared and that Communism and democracy could be combined. The ‘mistakes’ of the 1950s could be left behind, change was possible, and the dreams of a generation could be achieved.

In retrospect, particularly in the light of the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian revolution in 1956, it seems inconceivable that anyone thought this would be allowed. The reforms did, after all, represent a threat to the whole system of bureaucratic rule established in the Eastern bloc. The West, since it had participated in the division of Europe at the Yalta Conference in 1945, would only shed crocodile tears if the experiment went wrong. Had the reformers succeeded, they really would have demonstrated that there were political alternatives to the fossilised models of East and West. Yet, when the Warsaw Pact armies invaded on August 21, it came as a profound shock and surprise. People defended the reforms, tried to explain the real situation to their perplexed invaders, and the Communist Party held its secret congress. But the government was kidnapped, taken to Moscow, and forced to sign an agreement legalising the occupation.

Over the next year, the reformers were systematically removed from office and a government amenable to Moscow’s demands was instituted. According to one source, the Communist Party was purged of 70,000 members and many more resigned or were ‘removed’. Many, particularly intellectuals, emigrated – up to 80,000 in the autumn of 1968. Major filmmakers associated with the cinematic New Wave such as Forman, Ján Kadár and Ivan Passer, ended up in the USA, where they continued their careers.

It is often argued that the Czech ‘New Wave’, which attracted so much attention in the 1960s, was essentially a non-political movement, that it only produced art films and comedies for a middle-class international audience. But this was far from the truth. Forman’s films such as A Blonde in Love and The Firemen’s Ball had put a reality on screen that was far from the sanitised and idealised world promoted by Socialist Realism. Also, during 1968, more directly political films had begun to appear, among them Vojtěch Jasný’s All My Good Countrymen and Jaromil Jireš’s The Joke. Jasný’s film, released in July, had first been written in 1956 but was only passed for production in 1967.

The film focuses on the experiences undergone in a single Moravian village in the years 1945-57, together with an epilogue set in 1968. While it bluntly exposes the horrors and failures of agricultural collectivisation, its originality lies in the way in which it concentrates on a group of seven friends, whose lives and relationships become fragmented. The film is also a lyrical poem that asserts ‘the eternal course of Life and nature’ with some remarkable cinematography by Jaroslav Kučera (perhaps most famous for his work on Věra Chytilová’s more avant-garde Daisies). At the end of the film, a well-meaning Communist returns to the village and, with reference to the Prague Spring, indicates that everything is now changing.

All of these films were, of course, part of an approved programme of production which continued on course both during and after the invasion. Curiously enough, The Joke was shooting its celebratory scenes about the arrival of Communism during the invasion itself. Based on the novel by Milan Kundera, which had been published the previous year, it is a tale of revenge in which past and present are intercut in an ongoing critical commentary. Its hero, Ludvik, once wrote ill-advised comments on a postcard to his militant girlfriend in the 1950s as a joke – ‘A healthy spirit reeks of idiocy. Long Live Trotsky!’ The result is two years forced labour, three in the army, and one in military prison. On his release, he determines to revenge himself on his former friend, Pavel, who had been instrumental in his condemnation. However, his plans to seduce Pavel’s wife are misplaced, since Pavel has now abandoned her and has also allied himself with the cause of reform. But this seems to be no more than a superficial change and, by the time of the film’s release in February 1969, the failure of the reform dream was apparent.

Other films shot during the invasion included Juraj Jakubisko’s The Deserter and the Nomads, a three-part film focusing on the First and Second World Wars, and ending with a post-nuclear allegory. During filming, the Soviet tanks rolled into shot. With Soviet tanks in the next street, Karel Kachyňa was also shooting his film The Ear, a terrifying tale of totalitarian mentality set in the 1950s. Kachyňa’s film tells the story of a deputy minister and his wife who return home to discover that their house has been visited by the secret police in their absence. Shot very much in a film noir style, its journey into the atmosphere and state of mind of an era evokes a world of paranoia and fear. The world of Kafka has come to life, with inexplicable fates visited even on those at the centre of the system.

What the year 1969 saw, rather perversely, was the completion of the production programme planned during the Prague Spring. When the cinema should have died, it flowered. Among the films produced between autumn 1968 and the end of 1969 were: Adelheid (František Vláčil), Birds, Orphans and Fools (Jakubisko), A Case for the Young Hangman (Pavel Juráček), Witchhammer (Otakar Vávra), The Ear, Skylarks on a String (Menzel), Adrift (Kadár), 322 (Dušan Hanák), Fruit of Paradise (Chytilová), Seventh Day, Eighth Night (Evald Schorm), and Funural Rites (Zdenek Sirový). Paradoxically, film achievement was both critically and aesthetically at the same level – perhaps higher – than in previous years.

The real repression of cinema began in late 1970 and well over 100 feature films from the previous decade were banned during the next five years. Four of them – All My Good Countrymen, The Firemen’s Ball, together with Jan Němec’s allegorical tale of totalitarian power, The Party and the Guests (1966), and Evald Schorm’s comedy End of a Priest (1968), in which a fake priest engages in ideological discussions with the local Communist mayor – were to be banned ‘for ever’. Others were stopped in mid-production, and a further group of completed films could not be released.

The dead hand of ‘normalisation’ descended on the country for the next 20 years. As the political scientist Milan ýimečka put it, it was a period in which the Communist Party was to become what it had been in the past – ‘united only by obedience and a readiness to fulfil its role as a trustworthy receiver of instructions and directives’. It was to become ‘an age of immobility’.

Given the political changes and new economic realities, relatively few films from this late flowering reached international markets at the time and some – Kachyňa’s The Ear, Menzel’s Skylarks on a String, a stunning comedy adapted from Bohumil Hrabal, and Sirový’s Funeral Rites, an atmospheric journey into the corruption of the 1950s – only made their international debuts in 1990. Thus, Skylarks on a String had the distinction of winning the Golden Bear at the Berlin Festival 20 years after its completion.

But filmmakers didn’t just follow the production programme of 1968, they also filmed the invasion itself. Much of the footage reaching Western media was smuggled out by Jan Němec and finally formed part of his film Oratorio for Prague (1968) – and was also used in Philip Kaufman’s later adaptation of Milan Kundera’s novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1987). Another powerful assemblage was Evald Schorm’s silent film Confusion (1968, released 1990), put together in association with Jan ýankmajer’s current producer, Jaromí­r Kallista.

One of the most interesting films of the time was The Uninvited Guest (1969), a student graduation film made by Vlastimil Venclík. His original story, written two years earlier, was about a couple who receive an uninvited guest – a great hulking man – who decides to stay with them permanently. After originally planning to murder him, they decide to put up with his presence. In the meantime, they discover that all their neighbours have similar guests. Venclík, in this case, does not deny that he intended it as an allegory on the invasion and on the country’s ‘accommodation’. The film was confiscated by state security, and Venclík was expelled and charged with sedition. He finally graduated in 1990 when his film could at last be shown.

The extensive celebration of 1968 – All Power to the Imagination: 1968 and its Legacies – provides a rare opportunity to see some of these works. The season at the Barbican ‘Censorship as a Creative Force’ offers screenings of Skylarks on a String and Funeral Rites (both April 30) while, on May 6, at the Ciné Lumière there will be a screening of Confusion and a selection of contemporary newsreel coverage of the invasion. The evening will be completed by a revival of Leslie Woodhead’s seminal British documentary drama Invasion (1980), which he will introduce.

Woodhead, who headed a special unit at Granada Television, specialised in using documentary drama to explore contemporary subjects inaccessible to conventional reporting (Three Days in Szczecin [1976] among others). Invasion is based on the reminiscences of Zdeněk Mlynáõ (Night Frost in Prague, London, Hurst, 1980), a lawyer who played an important role in the drafting of the Dubček government’s reform programme. With performances by Julian Glover as Dubček and Ray McAnally as Josef Smrkovsky (President of the National Assembly), it’s a remarkable portrait of what went on behind closed doors as a nation’s government was held to ransom, and a penetrating insight into the ways in which Brezhnev and his government viewed the activities and traditions of the smaller countries that fell under its control.

Peter Hames

Peter Hames is the author of The Czechoslovak New Wave, published by Wallflower Press. We have a copy of the book together with a DVD of The Party and the Guests to give away in our May competition. To enter, just spin the Film Roulette!



Still from P2, screening at Cine-Excess on May 1

Cine Excess Cinema

1-3 May 2008

Venue: ICA (London)


P2 is released nationwide on May 2

Distributor: Tartan Films

Director: Frank Khalfoun

Writers: Frank Khalfoun, Alexandre Aja, Grégory Levasseur

Cast: Rachel Nichols, Wes Bentley, Philip Akin

USA 2007

98 mins

Launched last year as part of Sci-Fi London, the Cine-Excess festival was so successful that it returns this year as an independent festival hosted by the ICA (London) from May 1-3. Over three days, this cult extravaganza offers academic papers alongside film screenings and talks by leading genre filmmakers and critics. The guest of honour this year is Roger Corman, who will be presented with a lifetime achievement award. We talked to Xavier Mendik, director of the Cult Film Archive at Brunel University, author of a number of books on cult cinema and organiser of Cine-Excess.

Virginie Sélavy: You aim to bring together the academic world with the world of cult film fandom. How does that work?

Xavier Mendik: It might surprise you to know that academics have been really interested in cult movies for quite a while now. There’s been a lot of activity for the last ten years around genre filmmaking, around cult auteurs and particularly cult fans. So really what we’ve done is harness the interest that’s been there for ten years within a film festival format.

VS: What are the advantages of having a mixed festival?

XM: All the directors I’ve interviewed have been really interested in academic interpretations of their work. Someone like David Cronenberg, who I interviewed a few years back, really gave me a run for my money by saying things like, ‘well, actually, your interpretation of Freud is rather narrow there’, and I thought, wow, these people really do know the other side of the coin. In a way, all we’re doing is bringing to life those connections that remain hidden and we’ve found that people want to make those connections.

VS: Can you give us an idea of the kind of topics that will be discussed in the conference part of the festival?

XM: We’ve got 15 parallel strands that deal with everything from famous cult auteurs to Italian trash cinema, to global cult film traditions, particularly Third World traditions, to debates on the role of the cult performer and a panel session on cult soundtrack. We’ve also got a number of panel sessions around dangerous cult genres, one looking at the erotic image, one looking at grindhouse traditions, and later Stateside cult phenomena. What we’re doing is to indicate that cult these days is global, and we’re trying to capture the very best of the global market and hopefully bring it to an interested audience.

VS: Are the conferences open to all or are they only for the academic participants?

XM: It’s all about breaking down boundaries, so what I see is that ordinary cinema-goers will be as interested in the debates as they are in the UK premieres.

VS: You’ve also got a special panel discussion on Brit horror, chaired by Kim Newman. Is this part of an effort to focus on home-grown cult cinema?

XM: One of the things that we’re often guilty of is looking too far overseas when in fact there’s a wealth of talent outside the mainstream here in the UK. My background is in Italian horror, I did all my research on Dario Argento years ago, and that was probably more dangerous than doing Cine-Excess because in those days it was seen as really going out on a limb to be talking about continental cult cinema. In the last two-three years we’ve seen a mini-explosion in Brit cinema and Brit horror in particular, and we’re really interested in that.

VS: What do you think of the state of British horror at the moment?

XM: I think it’s really interesting right now. Cult never occurs in a vacuum, it’s always a social barometer of things that are happening in wider society. That’s why American cult cinema is so interesting, it always reflects tensions and fears. From Shaun of the Dead onwards, I think it’s a reaction to the fact that there’s something quite stale and moribund and not very exciting in wider British society right now. And I think the cult film generation, the new Brit horror directors that are coming through, are really shaking that up in interesting ways.

VS: To go back to something you said earlier, it’s interesting that you think that things have changed in the academic world since you did your research on Dario Argento. When did things start to change and why?

XM: What’s happened is a growing critical acceptance that creativity does in fact lie beyond the mainstream, that so-called underground or cult areas of activities are populated by fascinating, possibly off the wall, but very creative individuals. And because they’re not constrained by the mainstream, their productions can be far more creative and challenging and often far more political. I think the way to think about cult movies is the pulp as political, that’s what we often say and that’s still the case.

I think in the case of Dario Argento, his growth as a cult figure coincided with the very notorious period of the video nasties in the early 80s, which meant that you had to trawl halfway around the country and see some kind of dodgy market dealer called Brian to get hold of these movies on third-generation copies. And what you found when you watched them is that despite their so-called horrific labels, they’re actually quite artistic. Argento is interesting for a number of reasons, because he breaks down the barriers between commercial film production and avant-garde. You’re never quite sure if these are art-house movies or straight-to-video horror films. But they’re also interesting in terms of gender representation. We’re still very much used to the whole idea of woman as victim within cult horror and what you find is that Argento’s films are populated by monstrously aggressive women. I have to say, he’s lost a bit of ground in recent years so the attention has moved elsewhere, but I’m still proud to say that I did the first MA research on Dario Argento.

VS: What films will you be showing this year?

XM:We have the new cat-and-mouse thriller P2, which is made by the creative team that brought us Switchblade Romance and The Hills Have Eyes. Alexandre Aja, the director of those movies, is the producer here, and Frank Khalfoun, who was the actor in Switchblade Romance, is directing for the first time. It’s a really fascinating movie about a female yuppie trapped in a high-rise building block on Christmas Eve by a deranged mechanic. After so many years watching cult movies, commissioning them for festivals, it’s very rare for a movie to make me jump out of my seat and this one did, so I had to have it. What I find fascinating these days about those kinds of movie-makers is the fact that you’re finding them so readily imported into Hollywood, so there’s an awareness that this European filmmaking talent is really reviving the American film industry.

VS: But they’re influenced by American filmmaking themselves; Alexandre Aja is very much influenced by Tobe Hooper and Wes Craven and 70s and 80s American horror.

XM: Absolutely. Robin Wood wrote a fascinating book many years ago; academic texts tend to date very quickly but this book Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan is as current now as it was in the early 80s. It’s about the fact that horror films in particular always reflect wider social crises and tensions, particularly in America. So in the 70s, in the years of Vietnam, the Watergate, race riots and political corruption, we had a whole slew of very pessimistic and nihilistic horror films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, Dawn of the Dead. And lo and behold, in the years of 9/11 those are exactly the films that are being remade by a new generation of filmmakers like Alexandre Aja.

VS: It’s interesting also that Aja is a French director because there’s no real horror tradition, at least not that type of horror, in France.

XM: It’s interesting because in France there was always an exploitation tradition. France had the kind of cachet to be able to market exploitation as art-house, particularly in the 60s and 70s where in other regions nudity was taboo. So it’s always smuggled cult under the wire and I think Alexandre is just making that explicit. It’s rare to say that a remake is better but much as I like Wes Craven I have to say that the remake of The Hills Have Eyes is absolutely top. So we’re delighted to have P2. What we’re trying to do with Cine-Excess is to always try and be on the tip of current trends so alongside P2 we’ve got a new American backwoods splatter movie called Timber Falls, by Tony Giglio. That comes out nationwide on May 23. What I liked about that movie is that it’s doing interesting things with the American survivalist genre and highlighting the craze around religious fundamentalism. There’s a lot of swipes at the American right in the movie and the whole politics-into-religion vibe that’s so current with the Bush administration. I am also proud to promote Brit horror and we have two exclusive Brit screenings. We’ve got the new sex and horror thriller Mind Flesh by Robert Pratten, his second movie. His first movie London Voodoo got rave reviews. I remember him saying to me last year he didn’t think the Cine-Excess audience would like London Voodoo because it’s more of a mood piece; what I would say is that they will love Mind Flesh, because it’s extremely gory, extremely explicit, but as with Robert Pratten’s other work, it’s extremely intelligent. It’s almost like a Freudian gore movie. We’re also delighted to have a movie by Julian Richards, who’s another intelligent Brit horror director. This is his new movie, Summer Scars, which is apparently based on an incident in Julian’s teenage past about a scary guy who wanders into a teenage group’s daily life and disrupts it with fairly traumatic consequences. We’ve also tied in to the Curzon Soho to bring cinema-goers an evening of Roger Corman movies – we’ll be screening The Intruder and Masque of the Red Death.

VS:How do you select the films? You’ve just mentioned gore in relation to Mind Flesh, any other criteria?

XM:I would say gore isn’t a key thing here, I think these movies have to be unnerving and I’m always particularly interested in the fact that cult movies tend to be political movies. I think cult wouldn’t work in a period of social stability. 80s horror is nowhere near as good as 70s horror, because what tends to happen is when society feels stable and comfortable the horror tends to be very joky and unthreatening, which is why Freddy part 8 is nowhere near the movies Alexandre Aja was influenced by. Right now we’re in such a profound period of instability both in the UK and the US, it’s producing great movies. So gore is not a key criterion, the ability to be shocking and socially critiquing is more of interest to me than the actual splatter quota.

VS: I thought it was interesting that you described the films on the programme as ‘new cult movies’. Can you really have a ‘new cult movie’? Isn’t a ‘cult movie’ a phenomenon that happens with time, something that grows organically from the spontaneous response of the audience?

XM: Very good point. There’s lots of different ways of defining ‘cult’. There are movies that are ‘cult’ by virtue of the genre, and content that they deal with, and by that virtue I think those are cult movies – and also because I feel you’ve put me on the spot so I’ve got to wriggle like an eel out of that difficult position now (laughs). I do agree with what you say, many cult movies are cult by evolution and what’s very interesting is how cult audiences make them cult movies. To give you one example, Paul Verhoeven’s lap-dancing spectacular Showgirls was roundly condemned when it was released a couple of years ago, but the movie was picked up by gay audiences on the Midnight Movies circuit who read it as a critique of male sexuality and then it got its cult status. So it’s part genre and part content, but there is an evolutionary aspect. Maybe what will happen is that these movies will start out as cult movies but after Cine-Excess they’ll go mainstream.

VS: This year you have Roger Corman as your guest of honour.

XM: Yeah, we’ve invited him to receive a lifetime Cine-Excess achievement award in recognition of the fact that this is one of the true creators of American cinema. He directed some of the most memorable cult movies of post-war America, from The Intruder, a cutting-edge race drama with a pre-Star Trek William Shatner to all those great Gothic horror movies with Vincent Price like Masque of the Red Death, to ground-breaking biker movies like Wild Angels. He’s really been a profoundly innovative film director. But that’s only half the story; he’s also the man who in many respects made the new Hollywood, he broke new talent like Robert de Niro, Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda, as well as directors such as Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola. So we’re really celebrating a man of many unique talents and we’re delighted that he’s coming over to accept his award on Friday 2 May and giving an onstage interview on Saturday 3.


Fashion in Film Festival

Fashion in Film Festival

10 – 31 May 2008


While the BFI’s Pop Goes the Revolution season was a slightly fluffy affair offering little insight into French cinema and May 68, this month sees the Southbank cinema host part of the Fashion in Film Festival, which conversely offers an impressively rich and well thought out programme. Funnily enough, Pop Goes the Revolution included a screening of Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?, an absurdist, op-art inspired satire of the fashion world that would have been more at home at FFF – and was indeed screened at its first edition in May 2006. For this second outing, the festival explores the relationship between cinema, fashion, crime and violence through an imaginative selection that spans over ten countries, nine decades and a variety of genres from film noir to horror. In addition, seriously knowledgeable speakers will be discussing topics ranging from ‘the semiotics of stained clothing’ to the significance of the femme fatale‘s mink coat in 1940s cinema.

The festival includes a number of silent gems, such as Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger (1927); seen by Hitchcock as his first proper film, it is a murder thriller inspired by Jack the Ripper, starring Ivor Novello in the role of a sinister stranger attracted to a blonde fashion model. Also of note is The Rat (1925), another British silent featuring Ivor Novello; when his cocky Parisian bad boy meets Isabel Jeans’s glamorous Zelie de Chaumet, sparks fly and the stage is set for a roaring melodrama.

Elsewhere, the programme draws from the bountiful supply of macabre stylishness provided by giallo cinema, including Mario Bava’s 1964 Blood and Black Lace (Sei donne per l’assassino), a gorgeously photographed baroque shocker set in a fashion house, and Dario Argento’s 1970 The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo), an Ennio Morricone-scored thriller about a serial killer clad in black PVC. Also from Italy is the rarely screened The Tenth Victim (La decima vittima, 1965), a futuristic, pop-art extravaganza starring Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress as the contestants in a deadly game, which somehow manages to fit in a fashion display of modernist geometric outfits.

Other films of interest include Follow Me Quietly (1949), an intriguing Richard Fleischer noir in which a detective uses a faceless dummy to reconstruct the crimes of an elusive serial killer. Vicente Aranda’s Fata Morgana (1965) is a formally daring thriller about yet another endangered model set in a dystopian future. Among the more recent films, Cindy Sherman’s first feature, Office Killer (1997), is a caricature of the psycho-killer genre, with a meek office worker transformed into a homicidal vamp. In The Red Shoes, Korean director Kim Youn-gyun delivers a gory update of the Andersen fairy tale that inspired the Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger classic. Among the documentaries, Zoot Suit Riots (2001) stands out, exploring the demonisation of the Mexican baggy-clothed youth in 1940s America.

In addition to the extensive film schedule, the BFI Southbank will play host to a weekend of 20s-style decadence and frivolity around the theme ‘Dressed to Kill’, including a jazz brunch, workshops, a Radio Days vintage stall, absinthe cocktails and a flapper evening entitled ‘The White Coffin Club’ (after the club featured in The Rat) hosted by Johnny Vercoutre (Time for Tea / Modern Times) and David Piper (Rakehalls).

Virginie Sélavy

SHORT CUTS: Franí§ois Ozon – Regarde la mer and other short films


Format: DVD

Release date: 31 March 2008

Distributor: BFI

Director: Franí§ois Ozon

Writer: Franí§ois Ozon

Titles: Regarde la mer, Action vérité, La Petite mort, Une Robe d’été, Scí¨nes de lit, X2000, Un Lever de rideau

France 1994-2006

152 mins

Franí§ois Ozon’s short films are not so much exercises in visual narrative as visual studies of people in situations. The main subject is faces of naked people in a sexual context. Mainly people to whom the context is new. So (conveniently) mainly young people – teenagers, and other experimenters. Ozon is not here interested in sex in a relationship, sex as part of a shared life. He is interested in sex as passing pleasure, as self-discovery, above all as recreation. This of course positions his work well for hipsters, who, one supposes, like to think of sex in this way. And, one might think, also for middle-aged voyeurs, but I am pleased to report that I detected little Larry Clark-style salaciousness here. As well as faces, Ozon is quite interested in bodies, particularly male bottoms and genitalia, and I think we should be grateful that this director does offer good parts for penises, a neglected resource in cinema, if you discount pornography. The shorter films in this compilation are varied in tone, mainly light and often whimsical. Ozon does a nice job of capturing natural performances from his cast. They often seem gauche and embarrassed, perhaps not surprisingly, but it seems to work.

The medium-length Regarde la mer is an entirely different matter, a disturbing psychodrama in which sexual attraction takes on a threatening or threatened aspect. Admirers of Ozon’s full-length Swimming Pool might wish to investigate, if they are feeling brave. It is hard to imagine anything further from my own Ozon favourite, the good-natured musical diversion 8 femmes.

Peter Momtchiloff


The Mai 68s

The Mai 68s fit so perfectly with our 40th-anniversary-of-May-68 issue that some of you may think we made them up. But they’re real, honest, and they describe themselves rather brilliantly as ‘the sound of Dinosaur Jr if fronted by Ulrike Meinhof, the Ramones if they sniffed C86 comps rather than glue, and the band Phil Spector would have loved if he hadn’t gone the whole Starsailor/gunningpeopledownthang route (allegedly)’. Their single ‘Frothing the Daydream’ is due out soon on Cloudberry Records. They’re playing gigs in Leicester throughout May and June and you can also see them at the Indie Tracks Festival on July 26. For more details visit their myspace. Below, they pick their ten favourite films.


1- The Rebel (1961)
Tony Hancock, my lifestyle guru (at least in his kind-of-fictional, 23 Railway Cuttings guise) plays an enthusiastic but talentless artist, who abandons England and his suffocating office job for Paris, where he intends to pursue his vision of artistic greatness. Hancock’s childlike daubings and nonsensical explanations are seized upon by the local pseudo-intellectuals, who laud Hancock as a genius. The ignored, genuinely gifted artist with whom Hancock shares a studio, becomes disillusioned and abandons his work, leaving behind his paintings which, despite Hancock’s protests, are taken to be his, thus fuelling Hancock’s undeserved reputation for brilliance. Hancock’s innocence and bewilderment at his acclaim represent the main part of the film’s appeal, along with his proto-Reggie Perrin despair at the stifling nature of his daily life. His enforced conformity is epitomised when his boss, observing the row of identical bowler hats and umbrellas on the pegs by Hancock’s desk, notices that one umbrella is hung at an opposing angle to the others. The look of disapproval that he sends Hancock is unmistakable in its message: Individuality is not welcome. Both of my film choices feature a struggle between the expectations conferred by the collar and tie, and the need for a fantasy world; this concept is not entirely removed from my own life.

2- What’s Good For The Goose (1969)
Norman Wisdom was the most family of the family entertainers, whose films could be watched by all generations without any fear of embarrassment. No one was prepared, therefore, for his seedy, on-screen descent into the 1960s dream/nightmare of free love, loud clothes and loud, long-haired rock music. Driving to a banking conference with bowler hat and umbrella, the married character played by Wisdom is beckoned by two young women, who proceed to show him a lifestyle that he could never have known existed. His early declaration of love for one of the women reveals that he has not grasped the ephemeral nature of the pleasures on offer, and his consequent disappointment leads him to reconcile himself to his marriage, determined to show his wife the fun that he has just experienced. In the film’s most erotic scene, one of the women eats Wisdom’s sandwich while he is driving, and the way that his bearing conveys the possibilities that seem to be dawning upon him, during these silent moments, show what a fine actor he could be. With an underground club at which The Pretty Things were the resident band, and with Wisdom wearing clothes that could have graced Donovan, I still, as a Wisdom fan, marvel at the fact that this film was made.


3- The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
This is a Woody Allen film (which he doesn’t appear in) set in Depression-era America. It tells of Cecilia, a downtrodden waitress married to an uncaring abusive husband. The only escape for her is going to the cinema and she becomes so besotted with the dashing hero of a film that he notices her and steps out of the film to speak to her, leaving the rest of the characters in the lurch. Being fictional, he is, of course, flawless; he tells Cecilia ‘I love you – I’m honest, dependable, courageous, romantic and a great kisser’ because ‘it’s written into the character’. The pastiche of 1930s glamour in the film Cecilia watches is perfectly done. Of course the two-dimensional character has trouble adjusting to the real world and eventually has to return to the fictional realm, leaving Cecilia back where she started. This film is so funny and so poignant too (I always think I’d have stayed with the fictional guy – but I suppose that isn’t very realistic!) and it gets better every time you watch it.

4- It Happened One Night (1934)
This screwball comedy directed by Frank Capra stars Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert as a runaway heiress and a hard-bitten newspaper reporter (who thinks he can make some money if he gets an exclusive on her story) who meet on a night bus. Of course after many adventures they fall in love and after the almost inevitable misunderstanding, which always happens in these films, are happily reunited at the end. This film makes you realise why Clark Gable was such a big star in the 1930s. I love lots of Capra’s other films, such as It’s a Wonderful Life, Arsenic and Old Lace and You Can’t Take it With You, and am a big fan of other fast-moving comedies of that era such as The Thin Man and the Marx Brothers, so it’s quite hard to choose my favourites…


5- Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)
The first foray by the Chiodo Brothers into the world of socio-realism and political theatre?? Well actually no, instead from a simple plot….. Alien clowns turn up intent on turning the inhabitants of a small town into candy floss, they manage to create an insane world filled with bad jokes, even worse visual gags and some of the funniest shadow puppet exploits ever set to celluloid… Like all good films/marmite Killer Klowns splits opinion down the middle… You come away thinking either it’s the best or worst film ever made and truth be told it’s bits of both. Instantly watchable and awesomely funny, comic horror genuinely does not get any better.

6- Ladies and Gentlemen: The Fabulous Stains (1981)
Lou Adler’s ‘follow up’ to the hit Cheech and Chong movie was a pseudo-documentary about an all-girl LA punk band – the Fabulous Stains – starring Diane Lane, Paul Simonon and various members of the Sex Pistols. Disappearing off the face of the earth, it has resurfaced a few times, mainly in badly cut versions shown on late night cable TV… The film is inspiring to watch (to see its influence you only have to look at bands like Hole, Bikini Kill, Babes in Toyland) and has an amazing soundtrack including the should-have-been ‘punk classic’ ‘(So you wanna be) a professional’. Essential watching for the riot grrrl in all of you…


7- Breaking the Waves (1996)
The first time I saw this film I was utterly blown away. Like most of von Trier’s stuff this isn’t very pleasant to watch, I always think of Lukas Moodysson’s Lilya Forever too, when I watch it, although this has a happier ending of sorts. The shaky handheld camera techniques also used in his previous films almost give it a documentary feel, although the way it is split into chapters and the sepia effects used give it a fairy tale feel too. It’s a love story that simply batters you into exhaustion. It has been called the most moving movie ever made, and I would kind of agree with that. Emily Watson’s Calvinist, almost childlike Bess is completely mesmerising.

8- The Tin Drum (1979)
Refusing to grow up to join the world of adult perversity is something I have long agreed with! Although the central character is no Peter Pan. I don’t really go for war films as such, but this sets itself apart in so many different ways. The film is set in World War II Poland, in a town called Danzig, a free city invaded by the Nazis. A town with billowing smoke and towering spiral steeples. In other words, another fairy tale. The magical realism is captured brilliantly. It is about a boy living through the period who uses a tin drum to soundtrack the world around him. Most of the time Nazism is mocked; sarcasm is prevalent everywhere. The film gives a view on the mentality of the middle-class people in Germany and their racism and anti-Semitism before and during World War II. Next to that it also shows how little people did to prevent it, even though it was clear long before the war started, that what was happening would end in nightmares. I think it carries such a powerful message, which has a tremendous impact because it is seen through the eyes of a little boy.


9- Poor Little Rich Girl (1965)
Generally Andy Warhol’s films are either difficult to watch, art for art’s sake or just generally too long (24hrs??). Poor Little Rich Girl stands out by being both art and drama at the same time. The film itself is little more than two reels of Edie Sedgwick talking at the camera (one in focus, one horribly out of focus) yet it manages to draw you in and make you part of a world that even its inhabitants didn’t really occupy. The film gives the feeling that Warhol was trying to be both mocking and mould Edie into his Monroe, yet she comes across more of a tragic heroine; this makes the film uncomfortable to watch on occasion, yet it also celebrates a natural star who did not realise the talent she had.

10- Billy Liar (1963)
Based on the Keith Waterhouse book, this true to the story adaptation starring Tom Courtenay and Julie Christie is both beautifully shot and life-affirming. Anyone who has lived in a small town can empathise with the desire to escape from drudgery into fantasy. Like the majority of this list it (that awful word) stars people with a natural talent for reminding you that it is OK to escape from normal life and to dream of doing something different. Even if that dream is to be Head of the Federal Republic of Ambrosia. Sometimes people need to be reminded of that.