Astro Boy

Osamu Tezuka: Movies Into Manga

Date: 18-24 September 2008

Venue: Barbican

More info on the Barbican website

Alex Fitch talks to Helen McCarthy, author of Hayao Miyazaki: Master of Japanese Animation and The Animé Movie Guide about the work of manga and animé pioneer Osamu Tezuka, whose work is featured in a season of live-action and animated short films and full-length movies at The Barbican centre in London from September 18 to 24.

Alex Fitch: The style of Tezuka’s early animated cartoons is very different to his manga – it is very 1960s. Disney cartoons of the time such as The Aristocats and 101 Dalmatians have this flat animation that is very calligraphic with hard outlines and he seems to be responding to that.

Helen McCarthy: It’s very much the graphic style of the time. If you look at a wide range of graphics – fabric design, furniture design etc – of the 1960s in general, there is a spirit that runs through it and Tezuka was very much a part of that zeitgeist.

AF: Where would his short experimental cartoons have been shown?

HM: Most of them were made for festivals or as ‘calling cards’. Obviously, success on the festival circuit is a good thing for an animator because it shows what kind of quality you’re likely to be able to deliver, so Tezuka went on making shorts. I think that if he had made nothing other than his short films he would still have a considerable international reputation as an animator but as time went on, his short films became more of an indulgence and less a part of his career.

AF: When did animé become big in Japan?

HM: Animé really boomed when TV arrived but it was big in Japan before that. A company called Toei Doga made animated classics – cartoon films for children – that were beautifully made, expensively produced and gorgeously filmed. They made two or three a year and kids would get taken to them at holiday times and it would be a big treat to go to the cinema. It’s the Hayao Miyazaki model of child film-going: Let them see only one a year and make it a good one! But Tezuka looked at how TV was spreading through Japan, and he looked at the cartoons coming from America, from Hanna-Barbera and from the studios at the cheap end of the market. An old friend of his – Shinichi Sakai – said to him: ‘We could do that… We could make Japanese content that’s cheap and fast for TV and then we could sell it back to America!’ Tezuka was wholly in agreement with that idea and so he made Astro Boy specifically with the aim of selling it to America, and did so enormously successfully!

AF: How long was the gap between it first being shown in Japan and being translated?

HM: Exactly six months. It was screened on New Year’s Day, 1963, in Japan and it hit the American airwaves at the end of June.

AF: We think of animé being translated into English for Americans as a fairly recent phenomenon, but presumably there was such an appetite for cartoons in America at that time that they were looking for anything they could show and dub with American voices?

HM: Absolutely, and of course animation lends itself beautifully to that, particularly very cheap limited animation because you don’t have to worry so much about lip-synching. Cheap TV animation is a godsend to anyone who wants to dub product. Tezuka was fortunate and so was the American industry in that they had a guy called Fred Ladd who was running a studio that could dub and turn around cartoons very quickly; and Ladd understood what the American audience would or wouldn’t take to… Many people vilified Ladd for the amount of material he hacked out of Astro Boy and other cartoons but you have to remember he was a product of his time. He was working at a time when the mass audience in America was not as sophisticated as it is today and would not have responded well to the original uncut animation. Ladd really had a tough job mediating animé for an earlier American audience and that he did it remarkably well is shown by the fact that people still watch and love Astro Boy and that many, many Americans who had never heard of animé would tell you that it’s their favourite cartoon!

AF: Why do you think people didn’t appreciate that these cartoons were coming from Japan – that they just put them in the category of ‘TV animation for kids’?

HM: Well, if you saw them dubbed you wouldn’t know where in the world they had been made. Unless you were a real animation buff you wouldn’t particularly pick them out as Japanese films in the same way you might see a dubbed beautiful Polish film with nothing to tell you it’s Polish. Would you be able to tell?

AF: Things like Astro Boy very much had a style that looks like classic Japanese animation to us now…

HM: It does now, but back then it looked exactly liked American animation because American animation wasn’t that well established, TV hadn’t been going in America that long… When you turned on the TV in America or France or the United Arab Republic and saw animation there in your language, that’s what you thought was American or French or Arab animation – there are an awful lot of people in The Gulf who think that Astro Boy is from their part of the world!

AF: What was the balance between animation and manga in Tezuka’s 60s output?

HM: He did them both full-time, 24 hours a day! Tezuka was a phenomenal worker, his work rate was quite insane! I did some maths and assuming he started work at age 17 and worked until the day before he died at the age of 60, he had to have produced 10 pages of manga as well as 20 pages of animation script every day! He also had to run his studio, produce his advertising, do all his other interests and somehow find time to see his family… Luckily his studio was right next to his house for most of his life, otherwise his kids wouldn’t have recognised him! In 1961 alone, Tezuka made $3 million from his manga and he spent it all on making animation!

AF: In terms of the flatness of some of his animation you’ve compared it to Terry Gilliam’s work a decade later and I can see a link with the work of Stone & Parker in South Park and even recent Japanese animation such as Mamoru Oshii’s The Amazing Lives of the Fast Food Grifters and the last couple of episodes of Satoshi Kon’s Paranoia Agent

HM: That comes from Kamishibai; it actually means ‘Paper Theatre’ and it’s kind of a cross between the cut-outs in Victorian cardboard theatres – where children move characters on sticks in from the sides – and Punch and Judy shows. Kamishibai started around 1910, the same time as animé, and you could almost see it as animé being performed live in the streets. Essentially it was a selling tool for sweets! Guys would go around villages with sweets and snacks on a push bike and when they got to the village or town square or even a suburb in Tokyo they’d knock these wooden clappers together and everyone would come rushing out because they knew they were there with snacks, not only kids but also adults. In order to lure them out every time, the Kamishibai man would sell his snacks and then say, ‘You’re all my good customers, so I’m going to tell you a story…’, and he would unfold this small wooden frame and put in a pile of papers with bits of painting on them and by pulling out the papers one at a time, so that you could see the different pictures, he told and performed the story. He would give you a thrilling, cliff-hanging performance -it was always a serial – and he would say: ‘I’ll be back next week, come and buy some more sweets and I’ll tell you more!’ Kamishibai was so popular in Japan that when television came along, people called it ‘Electric Kamishibai‘… Of course, TV practically killed Kamishibai, but it was performed right through the Second World War – it was performed in bomb shelters to distract frightened children and adults while there were air raids going on overhead. Tezuka, like a lot of Japanese children, watched Kamishibai as a kid and while he was working on his animé in later life, Kamishibai went through a bit of a revival as Japan, like a lot of countries, realised they’d thrown a lot of cultural babies out with the bathwater! There’s a Kamishibai tour of the UK during my Tezuka festival – we were very lucky that the dates coincided…

AF: The work that introduced Tezuka to a lot of new audiences – albeit after his death – was the animated adaptation of his book Metropolis / Metoroporisu, which admittedly is more of a remake of the Fritz Lang film done in Tezuka’s style rather than a faithful adaptation of his manga.

HM: It’s a wonderful film! The score for Metropolis alone is beautiful, it’s a beautiful jazz and blues score…

AF: … as in the apocalyptic scene accompanied by a gospel song by Ray Charles – it’s a brilliant counterpoint to the action…

HM:Yes, the destruction of the city while ‘I can’t stop loving you’ plays over it! It’s not my favourite animé but it’s pretty close! I’ve got a new book out at the moment called 500 Essential Animé Movies (Ilex press). It’s a fun book, because although they made me stick to short series and features – so I had to leave out a lot of long series that I really love – I got to write top 10s and Metropolis is in one of my top 10 lists.

Interview by Alex Fitch


The Wave

Format: Cinema

Release date: 19 September 2008

Venues: Cineworld Fulham Rd, Odeon Covent Garden, Ritzy, Picturehouse Greenwich (London) and key cities

Distributor: Momentum

Director:Dennis Gansel

Writers: Dennis Gansel, Peter Thorwarth

Based on: the novel by Todd Strasser

Original title: Die Welle

Cast: Jí¼rgen Vogel, Frederick Lau, Max Riemelt, Jennifer Ulrich

Germany 2008

101 mins

In April 1967 in Palo Alto, California, a history teacher by the name of Ron Jones attempted to introduce his high school pupils to the realities of fascism by encouraging them to form a kind of classroom Hitler Youth. The experiment had disturbing results and unsurprisingly perhaps, it has inspired a novel, a theatre play and a short film. Now it has been given the full feature film treatment in Dennis Gansel’s The Wave.

Relocated to present-day Germany, Gansel’s slick, fictionalised account of the event revolves around young, hip and spirited social science teacher Rainer Wenger (an utterly mesmerising Jí¼rgen Vogel) who starts the experiment as part of a project about ‘autocracy’. What begins as an ambitious assignment, based on some basic rules and principles, develops within a few days into a genuine movement called ‘The Wave’ that soon grips the whole school, and ultimately culminates in a painful and devastating realisation as the violent final act unfolds.

The Wave had its UK premiere at the 2008 Edinburgh International Film Festival, where PAMELA JAHN talked to director Dennis Gansel to find out more about the dangers of playing dictator.

Pamela Jahn: Ron Jones’s experiment was meant to demonstrate the nature of dictatorship and fascism. What was your intention in reviving the story and in relocating it to Germany?

Dennis Gansel: I took the original event as a starting point, but Ron Jones’s experiment took place 40 years ago and things have changed a lot since then. My intention was to make a contemporary film with a very realistic approach that raises the question of whether what happened back then in California could actually happen again today in Central Europe and, in particular, in Germany. Most people in Germany know the story, because the novel is read in school. If you go to a German high school today, you’ll hear the kids say, ‘Third Reich, Nazis…not again!’ Since we seem to know our history so well, most people feel that we are immune to any form of totalitarianism, which I think is totally wrong and just a form of self-deception. I think that the group psychology that underlies such dictatorships is still very much alive. All it needs really is a charismatic leader with some strong ideas. No matter how much you know, or how cautious you are, that still doesn’t guarantee immunity from falling for a great team spirit or a seductive movement like The Wave.

PJ: How dangerous is it then to play dictator in school or in any other kind of environment?

DG: I think it’s incredibly dangerous. You just don’t play around with people like this, not in school or anywhere else. As an educational concept the experiment was a big mistake.

PJ: The film ends tragically, and violently, neither of which coincides with the true story nor with the novel. Why did you change the ending?

DG: I felt that The Wave was something that young people would think of as very cool, especially when I found out that the kids used the Wave greeting while we were filming. I felt strongly responsible as a German filmmaker to make a clear point by showing that if you play around with fascism, things may turn out badly. Therefore, I changed the ending with the clear intention of shocking the audience.


Interview by Pamela Jahn

Read the rest of the interview in our autumn print issue. The theme is cruel games, from the politics of blood sport in Death Race to sadistic power play in Korean thriller A Bloody Aria and Stanley Kubrick’s career-long fascination with game-playing. Plus: interview with comic book master Charles Burns about the stunning animated film Fear(s) of the Dark and preview of the Raindance Festival. And don’t miss our fantastic London Film Festival comic strip, which surely is worth the price of the issue alone!


The Rind

16th Raindance Film Festival

1-12 October 2008

Festival programme

Anyone with an iota of interest in indie film, or indeed mainstream film, knows Raindance, if not as an organisation that has championed independent filmmaking for close to 20 years, then most definitely for its annual film festival. The Raindance Festival, this year held October 1-12, is widely accepted as the most important event for independent filmmaking in the UK.

Now in its 16th year, the festival has quite a reputation to uphold. We asked festival producer Jesse Vile how they manage to keep things interesting: ‘We’re not tied to any government funding so we have free rein to do what we want. Nothing is ever too out there for us. We’re looking for balls, originality and something that shakes things up. The programming does evolve through the films we receive so when you look back on it, each year has an energy and style of its own’.

Over the years independent filmmaking has seen a shift in trends, and this has been reflected in both UK and international entries to the festival. ‘There has been an enormous increase in documentary film production over the last five years, and each year we get more and more sent to us’, explains Vile. ‘For a while everyone wanted to be Quentin Tarantino but now it seems they all want to be Morgan Spurlock’. Whatever genre they choose to work in, however, the most important thing would-be filmmakers should remember is to make a film with what is available. In an interview on Raindance TV, Shane Meadows reminds them that he started his career thanks to video. For Vile, this is simply what independent filmmaking is all about: ‘You’re not going to make The Godfather on a cheap camcorder but you can create something amazing that all the money and 35mm film in the world couldn’t create’.

Raindance has helped launch the careers of the likes of Guy Ritchie, Matthew Vaughn, Christopher Nolan, and Paul Brooks – all of whom were Raindance workshop participants back in 1992. Since helping these talents to emerge, the festival has not changed its core values and continues to expose and assist more filmmakers each year. For Vile, it is that aspect of the festival that makes it so vital: ‘We’re not just a festival that screens independent films, but we’re an independent organisation, so we know all about the struggles of getting things done on a limited budget. We maintain personal relationships with a lot of the filmmakers that come through our festival and continue for years to help them out in any way we can. I don’t know other festivals that do that to the extent that we do’.

The Raindance programme has now been announced and can be explored here. With screen legend Faye Dunaway as a special guest and a jury that includes Nicolas Roeg and Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys, it should be another top indie feast.

Siouxzi Mernagh


BLACKSPOT (New Zealand)

Two young men face darkness of an unexpected kind when their car breaks down on an isolated road during a night trip.


After the death of their baby daughter, a young couple foster a strange little girl who has lost her entire family. With Samantha Morton in the role of the grieving mother.


Documentary that chronicles the rise, fall and resurrection of Joe Meek, Britain’s first independent pop record producer.


Peter Greenaway’s extravagant look at Rembrandt’s romantic and professional life and the controversy he created by the identification of a murderer in the painting The Night Watch.

PVC-1 (Colombia)

A bizarre act of terrorism leaves a woman fitted with a plastic collar filled with explosives by a criminal gang who will detonate it if her family don’t pay a ransom. Shot in one continuous 84 minute steadicam take, PVC-1 is a groundbreaking thriller that has won numerous festival awards.

THE RIND (Uruguay)

Working in an advertising agency, slacker Pedro finds himself hastily promoted when his talented partner dies abruptly. Under pressure to put forward ideas, he investigates his dead colleague’s life in a desperate search for inspiration.


Colonel JD Wilkes (the charismatic frontman and songwriter of the Legendary Shack Shakers) sets off to prove that the older stranger South still exists in all of its eerie, time-worn and Gothic glory.



Wouldn’t it be nice… Wishful thinking in art and design

Somerset House, London

Sept 17-Dec 7 2008

The MacGuffin Library

Sept 17-Oct 5 2008

More details on the Somerset House website

The work of artists Noam Toran and Onkar Kular spans multiple disciplines and mediums, from film to installation, often using conceptual product design to engage with a broad range of social and cultural issues. For their most recent collaboration, an installation shown as part of the Somerset House exhibition Wouldn’t it be nice…, they propose the foundation of a library of MacGuffins. The MacGuffin is a term that Alfred Hitchcock used to describe a cinematic plot device, usually (but not necessarily) an object, for instance, stolen jewels or secret documents, a pretext that motivates the characters and moves the story forward. Over the course of the exhibition, Toran and Kular aim to design and produce up to 20 of their own MacGuffins after writing a series of film synopses around these objects. Turning the gallery space into a working ‘laboratory’, the artists will manufacture the objects on site using a rapid prototyping machine.

Pamela Jahn met Noam Toran and Onkar Kular at the RCA last week to find out more about the MacGuffin library project.

Pamela Jahn: What exactly is a MacGuffin for you?

Noam Toram: It’s a plot device, it’s the thing that is of vital importance to the characters within the film, that allows them to move through space. But it’s essentially something that is replaceable. So, as Hitchcock said, in spy movies it’s almost always the microfilm, in crime movies it’s the diamonds…

Onkar Kular:However, we want to build upon the Hitchcockian terminology. We are not going to stick to it as a rigid framework. We are trying to expand upon that and play with the idea of the MacGuffin, even subvert it. So, Hitchcock was our starting point, but while working on the project we found that it was much more interesting if we took the idea of the MacGuffin forward.

PJ: What was the starting point of the project?

NT: We’ve got a long-standing interest in film; we produce film and we also work with designed objects that exist within film. Often in my work, I foreground objects as protagonists in a narrative that I then film. While researching we came across the MacGuffin, and we realised that there was this object typology, which was something of a certain size that was easily hide-able or steal-able, and that, in cinema, the object that everybody desires needs to have a certain scale or a certain tangibility. There are numerous films that subvert that to great effect, or use it as a symbol of something else on a psychological level. This allowed us a space to play with and to come up with a series of our own objects and synopses. Although we are not making the film we are hopefully producing a space between the object and the synopsis where an audience can create the film themselves, and where they can think of what we are intending to present cinematically.

PJ: It seems quite a brave venture given that the nature of the MacGuffin is that it is irrelevant, or as Hitchcock says, ‘it can be anything or nothing at all’…

NT: That’s right, and that’s exactly where we find the challenge. We started to look at dramatising historical events; for example, if you shot a film about Christopher Columbus you could argue that ‘America’ is the MacGuffin. But then, how does one represent America? Because it’s not just the continent, it’s perhaps also the idea of America for an individual. Is there something physical, even if it’s totally abstract, that we could design that would represent that thought? It’s a struggle, but this is also what makes it very interesting. So, in some cases we are playing with scale, whereby some of the objects become representations of things that are architectural or even continental in scale.

PJ: What sort of objects does the library consist of?

NT: Some of the objects are ‘mundane’ objects; they are pre-existing objects and we are providing them with this sort of value and importance through the narrative. Other objects have been designed specifically for the purpose: we have created them and worked with engineers and sculptors to get them made just the way we want.

OK: For example, there is a videotape. People may think that videotapes are used as MacGuffins in a number of other films, but we are actually writing a new film plot based on the idea of the tape…

PJ:How are the MacGuffins presented in the exhibition?

OK: Each object will be presented with a 100-150-word film synopsis. We are hoping that the two elements will provide enough of a framework for people to interpret or have their own vision of what this film could be about.

NT: It’s the beginnings of a library, but that library is one that is based on a process of producing a piece of work. And we’ve found that this medium, the object and the synopsis together, is the basis for conversations that we have between ourselves about art themes and other interests that we have, for example, alternative histories, unorthodox fantasies, the way cinema influences reality and vice versa. To some extent, we hope that audiences will also add their own ideas to that, and that the library will become an open source.

PJ: Where do you take your ideas from to develop the film plots and objects?

NT: We are shameless in that way… literature and cinema are our main sources of course; we are taking some films and using them as the basis for a story that happens afterwards. So, not so much a sequel but, say, in a new film a character is influenced by a character taken from an existing film. Part of the pleasure is to get people to say, ‘oh, I know that film, that’s Peeping Tom‘ or ‘that’s Strangers on a Train‘, based on the information that they have been given. So there are clues. However, the themes are not necessarily immediately cinematic; the stories are based on our interests, and then we write them to make them feel like films, including the action, characters, conflicts – the things that make up cinema.

PJ: So, there are no remakes of films?

OK: Oh, yeah, there is one. Among the 20 objects we felt that it would be nice to recreate one existing MacGuffin and see how the audience might read that, or if they would recognise the original film because of the object and synopsis given.

PJ: And the remake-MacGuffin is…

NT: It’s the lighter… it’s the homage-MacGuffin to Hitchcock.

PJ: Do you follow a set of rules to create the objects or the stories?

NT: Yes, there is a certain structure in the way we create the stories and objects, but we are happy to go beyond those rules and go wherever our creativity takes us. We are already limited by scale, we are limited by the material, and we are limited by a definition of the MacGuffin, which a lot of people are happy to argue about. We use these rules as the basis of the project in order to express the themes that we find interesting, and to create a space that allows us to engage with the audience.

PJ: Are you planning to make the MacGuffin library available for filmmakers, scriptwriters or producers once the exhibition is finished?

OK: I suppose there is a chance that could happen…I would feel flattered if someone wanted to make a film out of one of the MacGuffins, absolutely.

NT: Mmmh, maybe we should copyright everything… Some of the MacGuffins are based on films that we wanted to do, one in particular, that I wanted to do. Getting the budget to produce this film is currently totally unfeasible, so actually getting it out there in this manifestation is great.

PJ:What is your favourite MacGuffin at present?

NT:It’s hard to say, I think I like some of the objects more than others and I think some of the synopses are better or more interesting than others. I like this piece very much (points at a bunch of twisted cables) because…

OK:…because it is your story (laughs)

NT:(laughs) …because even physically, the object itself isn’t so rigid, and there is a lot that can be interpreted through this, as to what it is, what its function is; potentially it could be a very unpleasant function; and that space where the audience will perhaps come up with their own sick ideas or fantasies is a nice one.

Interview by Pamela Jahn


The Compass of Mystery

The Compass of Mystery

Sept 26-Oct 19


More information on the Compass website

The Compass Film Festival is not the average week-long-vaguely-film-related-piss-up audiences have come to expect from indie film festivals. On the contrary, it is a considered, annual event embracing the arts scene of Bristol in addition to screening films from the four compass points of the world, which each year are represented by four different countries. This year the festival looks at Poland as North, Somalia as South, Argentina as West, and Pakistan as East. Since 2006, the Compass Film Festival has shifted both thematically (Horror in 06, Resistance in 07 and Mystery this year) and physically, from Bristol art cinemas in 2006-07 to the Mivart St Studios, a former Victorian factory that houses over 40 resident artists and which organiser Sam King describes as ‘the perfect choice for the theme of mystery as an unknown and as yet undefined venue’.

It’s all a big nod to the richness of the Bristol arts scene: Bristol, it seems, is the Berlin of the UK right now. The festival programme aims to balance international films with those that are locally produced. Unusually, the festival is only open for submissions in one category, the ‘Five Minutes of Mystery’ short film competition: the remainder of the programme is selected by the organisers to fit the festival’s aims and theme. This year, the three-week event will also involve VJing master classes, a theatrical performance by a Bristol-based collective, an art project by local schools, exhibitions by local artists, a live poetry event and potentially some involvement from the Bristol Society of Magic!

So what motivated the choice of theme this year? ‘Mystery appealed to us as a concept that would be accessible and imaginative, but that would also allow for a broad range of creative interpretations’, says King. ‘The occult is just one element of mystery that we would like to explore through the film programme. We are also looking at representations of mythology and mysticism, science fiction and alternative realities in film. The range is very varied – from a session on film noir, through science fiction to thinking about mystery in terms of representing unknown or emerging filmmakers, and promoting the cultural production of lesser known areas in Bristol.’

It is a timely choice, and it fits well with the interest in the mystery and the occult that is currently found in mainstream filmmaking. Paradoxically for King, mystery is often a way of clarifying complex issues: ‘The increase of a mysterious element in film may come from a public demand for answers, and the sense of blindness about influences and factors that contribute directly to political decisions. Fantasy often offers a means of making sense of political conflict and war. I think the popularity of fantasy and mystery is not simply about escapism, but about dealing with social and political issues through an imaginative lens’.

Coming largely from an academic publishing background, King and the rest of the organisers are interested in bridging mainstream and scholarly film interests. They have set themselves quite a task. The rest of us can sit back and benefit from a unique and informed festival that’s all about generating a positive community spirit and encouraging new directions in the arts.

Siouxzi Mernagh


Death Race


Release date: 26 September 2008

Venues: Nationwide

Distributor Universal

Director: Paul WS Anderson

Writers: Paul WS Anderson, Robert Thom, Charles B Griffith, Ib Melchior

Cast: Jason Statham, Joan Allen, Ian McShane

USA 2008

89 mins

Alex Fitch talks to Paul WS Anderson about Death Race, a slick B-movie revolving around a car race set in a prison, produced by Roger Corman and loosely based on Death Race 2000 (1975), also produced by Corman.

Alex Fitch: The new Death Race seems to be very much about now, as much as the original Death Race 2000 was very much about the 1970s. At the moment there’s a craze for these souped-up racer films such as Taxi and 2 Fast 2 Furious – were you trying to work within the boundaries of that genre or trying to subvert it?

Paul WS Anderson: I think Death Race is a lot more subversive than a traditional car action movie; the studio keeps referring to the film as the movie that no major movie studio should have made! I think that’s true because it’s both very violent and very anti-authoritarian. It’s also a throwback to the way movies were made in the 70s and 80s – it’s got a gritty visceral feel that harkens back to Mad Max II, Bullitt and Sam Peckinpah’s The Getaway rather than the movies you referenced, as those movies are 12 certificate pieces of frippery full of computer-generated images! There isn’t a single CG stunt in Death Race – every time you see a car crash it’s was all done practically.

AF: As a filmmaker, do you get a vicarious thrill thinking, ‘I’m going to have a chance to destroy a lot of cars in this movie!’?

PA: I would like to say it’s a pleasure, but it was in fact incredibly difficult. My orders to the crew were: ‘I want to put the most spectacular car stunts we can on film and I want to do it for real.’ And in order to pull that off and not kill anybody, it took about a year’s worth of pre-production, building the cars and building the camera rigs, so we could get the cameras close enough to film all of the action without killing the camera crew. It would have been much easier to film the actors and put some CG cars in afterwards, but we wanted to make a movie that offered the same thrill to audiences that I had when I walked out of Mad Max II, compared to Speed Racer, which was all CGI cars and tracks and stunts.

AF: Presumably that’s why the cars in this film are much more industrial than the ones in the original as they had to withstand the stunts.

PA: Absolutely. The original Death Race 2000 was a low-budget movie and it was amazing what they did with the money they spent, but they were basically VW Beetles in the original with a different shell put on top. They could never crunch together because they only had one of each and didn’t want to damage them or drive them faster than 42mph!

AF: The timing of the remake couldn’t be better – when the original Death Race came out, they were in the middle of an oil crisis, petrol stations were closing, they were at the end of an unpopular war and the most unpopular president in a generation was just leaving office, and here we are in 2008 and things seem exactly the same!

PA: It’s definitely a dystopian view of the near future of North America and that’s what audiences have related to. In our Death Race, the year the movie is set in is kind of vague – whether it’s five years in the future, 10 years in the future…

AF: The satire in the original is a lot more focused on recent targets, while here you’re commenting on the nature of reality television and the way the internet perhaps leads people towards entertainment that is more barbaric.

PA: Definitely. Roger’s movie was a more overtly satirical movie, which was not the movie we wanted to make. I didn’t want to make an obvious comedy satire. He was explicit; in our movie the criticism of reality television and the internet is more implicit.

AF: Is this a project you had been wanting to do for a while?

PA: This is the very definition of a labour of love for me! Not only did the original movie leave a huge impression on me, but also the movies that were directly inspired by it. George Miller has been very forthright in saying he was heavily influenced by Death Race 2000 in his movies and his films made a huge impression on me as a movie-goer and a filmmaker. I’ve literally been working on this movie for the last 13 years off and on. I originally met Roger (Corman) because he released my very first film Shopping in North America – he was a judge at the Tokyo film festival where he saw it. He didn’t actually release it until after my second movie Mortal Kombat, which 13 years ago was the number one movie in America. So I then had lunch with Roger and he said, ‘Great kid, you’ve got a number one movie, what are you going to do next?’ and I said, ‘Well, I want to re-imagine one of your movies, Death Race‘ and he said, ‘That’s great! We’ll make it your next movie!’ It’s a typical Hollywood development story: we cut to 13 years later and we finally made it!

AF: A film called Death Race 2020 was nearly made in the 90s – was that the version you were originally attached to?

PA: Yes, I’m like the caretaker in The Shining, I’ve always been there! It was my idea to remake the original and I feel a bit like Sisyphus, pushing the boulder up the hill! It’s been a long journey… Roger has always stood by me and for 13 years, he’s helped steer the movie, which is great because he made the original Death Race and 33 years later he gets to make the new one as well. He made the one for $200,000 and the one that cost a lot more!

AF: If you had made Death Race in the 90s I assume it would have been a very different film.

PA: Absolutely. I’ve done my arc of CG movies – when I did Mortal Kombat I was very enamoured with computer-generated images – but now I’m very excited by doing a movie with no CG images in it. The Death Race I might have made 13 years ago would have been a very different movie to the one I’ve made now. I’m glad it has taken this long because I think I’ve made a better movie. The kind of movie I wanted to make has changed, and the world is more ready for dystopian world views now, more like the ones we had in the 1970s than in the feel-good 90s!

AF: Are you a fan of Roger’s movies in general?

PA: I’m a huge fan of Roger’s movies and who Roger is – he’s given some of the best filmmakers working in Hollywood their first break and he’s the man who’s made a hundred movies and never lost a dime on any of them! He’s made so much money making these movies, but he’s still so passionate. I had lunch with him a few months ago and asked if he’d like to come up to the cutting room to see the rough cut of the movie and he said, ‘I’d love to, but I’ve got to go back to my cutting room now!’ because he was making a low-budget movie for the Sci-Fi Channel – it’s very inspiring.

AF: As well as Mad Max, the original Death Race influenced computer games such as Carmageddon and Grand Theft Auto. In the film, racers have to drive over tokens in the road, and it was the first time I’d seen something like that in a film rather than a game. I was wondering if it was some sort of comment on the overlap between games and film iconography?

PA: I’m sure those games were influenced by Death Race 2000, so in a way it’s coming full circle. But the idea of power-ups definitely came from games – I can’t point to one in particular we took the idea from. I’m a game player and for me, the kind of imagery that appears in games is a valid form of modern culture, so it’s something I would always consider putting in movies. I was also very aware that the problem with a lot of car race movies is that after you’ve been around the track a couple of times, it becomes a little boring! Every race scene had to be different and that’s a concept that came from video games where you complete one level, and then progress to the next level where things become a little more difficult.

AF: One interesting aspect of your films is that they combine genres – sci-fi and horror, sci-fi and action, etc – and that’s something that’s often used as a definition of cult films. In mainstream films you have to stick to one genre and not break the rules. Is that something you’ve become aware of throughout your career?

PA: I don’t know that the level of box office of my films can really be called cult! I think when a movie makes close to $200 million worldwide, it’s kind of beyond a cult level!

AF: But you know what I’m getting at: the way that ‘cult’ has become a genre in its own right, even if it breaks box office records, just as, for example, ‘indie’ is used to describe films that have a more skewed way of telling a story than ‘mainstream’ films.

PA: I think if you’re making genre movies, your audience is very sophisticated because they’ve seen everything – especially now when you can watch so many movies on DVD, or on TV, or download them. So if you’re going to present something fresh and interesting to audiences or subvert expectations, I think that’s where combining genres can sometimes help – for example, you think you’re watching an action movie and suddenly it has a very scary moment in it… I think it becomes harder and harder to take a genre audience by surprise and maybe that’s one of the reasons why the movies I’ve made have combined elements from different genres and been successful.

AF: How much of a challenge is it to make films that audiences find unexpected?

PA: It’s a huge challenge. Sometimes I think genre filmmaking is not regarded with the esteem it deserves. People look down on it a little bit, but it’s much easier to make a drama than it is to make a genre movie because the audiences of genre movies are the most critical in the world. It would be much easier for me to make a film where I’m just filming two actors in a room!

AF: Talking about exceeding audience expectations, I was wondering if that’s what attracts you to computer game adaptations because they’re a form of narrative that perhaps film audiences aren’t used to?

PA: I think there are video game references in my work that are fresh to the world of cinema, such as the power-ups in Death Race. I think that’s a challenge when you make this kind of film, especially when you make a video game adaptation: you walk the thin line between satisfying the hardcore fans of the game you’re adapting and delivering a movie for a more mainstream audience that don’t know anything about it.

AF: When you were developing as a filmmaker, were there various genres that you wanted to tackle, either separately or at the same time, or did each project suggest a different genre approach? My favourite of your films, for example, is Event Horizon, which successfully mixes horror and sci-fi to an unexpected extent.

PA: I’ve always made the kind of movies I enjoyed when I was growing up, and I guess those movies combined those genres anyway. Alien, for example, is the best known horror/sci-fi movie and it is really effective. I’ve done it on a project by project basis – there’s no overall plan to a filmmaker’s career. With Death Race, I’ve kind of made three movies in one – it’s a prison movie, a car movie and also a war movie! With the heavy weaponry in the movie, it has more in common with Black Hawk Down than your average car race movie.

Interview by Alex Fitch

Read Alex Fitch’s feature on both versions of Death Race in our autumn print issue. The theme of the issue is cruel games, from sadistic power play in Korean thriller A Bloody Aria to fascist games in German hit The Wave and Stanley Kubrick’s career-long fascination with game-playing. Plus: interview with comic book master Charles Burns about the stunning animated film Fear(s) of the Dark and preview of the Raindance Festival. And don’t miss our fantastic London Film Festival comic strip, which surely is worth the price of the issue alone!


Tin Can Man

Sydney Underground Film Festival

September 11-14 2008


Tin Can Man has been described as the most violent film you’ll ever see. At its premiere screening in 2007 at the Sydney Underground Film Festival, there were audience walk-outs and complaints made to the festival’s organisers. At the same festival it won the ‘Boundary-Breaking Best Feature Award’ and ‘Best Actor’ for the film’s star Patrick O’Donnell. This is clearly a film that divides its audiences. Above all, it is a film that courageously refuses to be ignored.

The film’s self-described quiet and shy writer/director/producer/editor (and sound recordist!) Ivan Kavanagh takes the walk-outs and complaints as compliments. For him, the only time to be concerned about audience reaction is if it’s indifferent. Tin Can Man is Kavanagh’s third feature – it follows Francis (2005) and The Solution (2006), which has played at over 15 festivals worldwide and has been described as ‘a gritty masterpiece’.

Unexpectedly, Kavanagh describes the process of making Tin Can Man as a ‘joy from beginning to end’ and he is already making plans for a sequel Tin Can Man: House On Fire Monster. Below, Siouxzi Mernagh quizzes him about this ‘joyous’ process, and finds that Ivan’s sensibilities are an inspiration to anyone who calls themselves an underground filmmaker.

Siouxzi Mernagh: Firstly, congratulations on your awards at the Sydney Underground Film Festival for Tin Can Man – although it seems that the audience had mixed opinions on the film. Strangely enough (for an underground film festival!), several audience members walked out during the screening, and there were around 10 complaints that the film was too violent.

Ivan Kavanagh: To hear that people walked out and complained is an indication that the film made an impression, it stirred an emotion in them. The films that influenced me most when I was growing up were the ones that divided the audience. They may hate or love the film, but cannot ignore it. These are exactly the type of films that a festival that promotes itself as ‘boundary-breaking and subversive’ should be showing. I think the only time to be worried is when the films get no reaction. Also, Tin Can Man has no actual on-screen violence. It all takes place off-screen. What affects people, I think, is the unrelenting oppressive atmosphere, which is achieved through the sound design, the lighting/camerawork and the intense performances. There is a sense of dread that I think is way too much for some people. I suppose that it can only be taken as a compliment that people believe they have seen the most violent film ever made, when they actually ‘see’ nothing.

SM: Recently in Australia there was a ridiculous amount of controversy around photographer Bill Henson: very weighty moral assumptions have been made about Henson as a person based on the subject matter of his work. Do you ever feel that assumptions are made about you based on the darkness and violence evident in your work? Perhaps people take it all a bit too seriously?

IK: People sometimes assume that if an artist’s work is dark or violent, then the artist is a dark and violent person – which of course is ridiculous. I, for example, am a shy and quiet person. In fact, I think I might be a disappointment to people who are expecting someone quite different. When Taxi Driver was originally released some people attacked the filmmakers for being racist. But, as I think Paul Schrader said, there is a big difference between making a film about a racist and making a racist film. Artists sometimes explore and analyse difficult themes and subjects, and of course they should always be free to do so.

SM: Speaking specifically about Tin Can Man, to me the film is about father/son relationships and the fear of failure in the eyes of the father…. What’s your take on this?

IK: I wouldn’t want to analyse this too much myself. But Tin Can Man is probably my most personal film. There are so many elements of myself in the character of Peter, played by Patrick O’Donnell. This personal aspect is further heightened by the fact that the father in the film is played by my own real-life father, Christopher Kavanagh.

SM: Aside from the pragmatic struggles of getting Tin Can Man made did you find the process of making the film emotionally draining, considering its material?

IK: It’s funny and it may not look like it, but making Tin Can Man was the most enjoyable filming experience I have ever had. It was a joy from beginning to end. I came off finishing a very dark and serious film, The Solution, and wanted to do something a bit lighter, a genre film. It didn’t quite work out like that, but I still find Tin Can Man very funny. The crew consisted of Colin Downey (cinematographer) and I (I also recorded the sound). That’s it, there was no one else. So it was a very intimate filming experience – which of course is great for the actors.

SM: Can you tell us anything about the process you went through with the actors, particularly Patrick O’Donnell?

IK:I had worked with Patrick O’Donnell previously and knew what he was capable of. He’s a great actor. Then, when I met Michael Parle, I knew instantly the film would work. I love working with actors and employ different methods to aid their performances. For example, in Tin Can Man, Patrick didn’t see any of the script before the filming began. He knew it was a ‘horror’ film and that’s all. I would give him the information he needed to know just before the scene. So when you see fear in his eyes it’s probably real fear. But this only works with an experienced, disciplined and talented actor like Patrick and is aided by the fact that he’s acting opposite another very talented and unique actor like Michael Parle.

SM: All the performances are extremely powerful and you’ve managed to create exceptionally unique characters. I’d be very curious to hear how you found the inspiration for the man with the bleeding ears…

IK: A couple of years ago, I lived next to a man who would play techno dance music excruciatingly loudly, all day. When I complained he moved his speakers right against the wall so that the music was even louder. In fact, it seemed as if it was coming out of my walls. So that’s where the man with bleeding ears came from.

SM: Now that it’s been a year since you made Tin Can Man, how do you feel when you watch it?

IK: I don’t usually like watching my own films, but I saw Tin Can Man again recently and I’m quite proud of it. I don’t know when I will get the chance, but am really looking forward to returning to that world.

SM: Can you tell us anything about the sequel to Tin Can Man or your other feature Our Wonderful Home?

IK: The sequel is called Tin Can Man: House on Fire Monster. I think it’s a really exciting idea and if I could start filming immediately, I would. It’s a road movie and again takes place during the course of one night. It has many of the same characters and a few new ones. But that’s all I’ll say. It will require a little bit more money this time, but not much more. But I’m hoping it shouldn’t be too difficult to raise it on the back of the original film. I am also in the final stages of post-production of my new film Our Wonderful Home and currently writing two other films to be shot in 2008-2009.

So brace yourselves for another relentless, heaving spiral into the darkness: Tin Can Man: House on Fire Monster will be coming your way soon. And never, ever, forget to thank your guests for their lovely cake.

Interview by Siouxzi Mernagh


The Dead Outside

Film4 FrightFest

21-25 August 2008

Odeon West End, London


Survival in the wilderness was a big theme of this year’s Film4 FrightFest, with British thriller Eden Lake, Spanish offering King of the Hill (El Rey de la montaña, a last-minute substitute for The Substitute), and the straightforward chase movie Manhunt from Norway all re-treading the familiar backwoods path of this particular horror sub-genre. The much-anticipated Eden Lake, which opened the festival, was the most disappointing of the three. The tale of a young couple who come to harm at the hands of a group of local thugs while on a weekend away in the country, Eden Lake crassly played on tabloid fears of delinquent youths in the most unsubtle way. The middle-class lovebirds played by Kelly Reilly and Michael Fassbender were attractive and decent and had enough of a back story to ensure that we would care about them. The working-class youths and their families were caricatured as rude, violent, ugly white trash. The depiction of the group’s dynamics was simplistic and unconvincing and the escalation of violence ludicrously over the top. The film provided no insights into class conflict or youth violence, but simply further demonised an already beleaguered social category. Much less hyped and much superior was Julian Richards’s as yet unreleased Summer Scars (shown at Cine-Excess last May), which offered an infinitely more nuanced, intelligent and credible approach to a similar subject matter.

Criminal youths certainly seem to be the bogeymen of the moment and King of the Hill also focused on murderous children. The first part was reminiscent of Duel, as protagonist Quim, derailed from his journey by a chance encounter with pretty kleptomaniac Bea, became the target of an invisible gunman while driving down an isolated mountain road. Soon Quim was re-united with Bea and they were forced to try and trust each other to escape from their hunters. Although the film had many familiar elements there were enough unpredictable twists to keep the audience interested. The hunt was finally revealed to be a cruel children’s game and the minimal motivations and characterisation gave the film a certain existential edge. The chilling dénouement in an abandoned village was all the more unnerving for the beautiful light that bathed it.

Manhunt was another pared down human hunt movie in which four gorgeous young people were chased through the forest by a bunch of hairy rednecks. Although it was nothing new, it was a very tight, well-made, gripping survival thriller. As in Eden Lake and King of the Hill – although for different reasons in the latter – the conclusion was entirely pessimistic, which made it marginally more interesting.

Doppelgängers also featured prominently, in Mirrors (Alexandre Aja’s remake of the excellent South Korean movie Into the Mirror), From Within, Time Crimes and The Broken. In the brilliant Time Crimes, the apparition of doubles was caused by the inadvertent time travelling of its hapless everyman hero, which gave rise to increasingly complicated and paradoxical situations. Sean Ellis’s The Broken was a tight, classy, intelligent psychological thriller in which doppelgängers entered human reality by breaking through mirrors. Bathed in a cold blue light throughout, it was a visually accomplished and chillingly convincing piece of work.

The Broken demonstrated the strength of British horror filmmaking, together with The Dead Outside. Produced on a micro-budget, the latter made great use of its gloomy Scottish location. The central idea of an epidemic that turns people into zombified aggressors owed something to 28 Days Later, but the film was more interested in psychological tension than in straight horror thrills. As two survivors separately took refuge in an isolated house occupied by a moody young woman, the film focused on the relationships that developed between the characters while they tried to fend off the infected.

Fear(s) of the Dark, a black and white animated film directed by renowned illustrators such as Charles Burns and Butch, and Let The Right One In, a Swedish teen vampire movie that has already wowed audiences at the Tribeca and Edinburgh festivals, were the two most original offerings of the festival. Fear(s) of the Dark offered a multi-faceted approach to our phobias and superbly demonstrated inventive visual and thematic uses of animation. Let the Right One In was a beautiful film that combined a slow pace and hushed atmosphere with a poignant exploration of love and a sensitive depiction of children intensified by rare moments of violence.

The prize for most extreme film has to go to Martyrs, which was described as ‘2008’s most unforgettable and controversial horror experience’ in the festival programme, and certainly didn’t disappoint. The story of two young women, one of whom attempts to take revenge on the family she believes abused her as a child, it developed in an entirely unpredictable way, taking the audience into uncharted territory. The extreme physical violence rarely felt gratuitous and the film’s exploration of human suffering and of the idea of martyrdom was fascinating. It was a film of excess, of excessive darkness and excessive violence, and as such it will repulse and captivate audiences in equal measures. But beyond the more explicitly brutal scenes, the film was really about existential despair, which made it deeply affecting. Martyrs was not without flaws, but there is no denying that French director Pascal Laugier’s vision is powerful, ambitious and unique.

Laugier was there to introduce the film and take questions from the audience, as were many other filmmakers, which is one of the great perks of FrightFest. The audience itself was as much the star of the festival as any of the guests, however, and was cheering, whooping and clapping throughout. Such enthusiasm and dedication (the pass holders were in the Odeon West End roughly from 11am to 11pm), not only from the audience but also from the organisers, make FrightFest a supremely enjoyable event and single it out as a very special occasion in the festival calendar.

Virginie Sélavy

Eden Lake is released in the UK on Sept 12 by Optimum, Fear(s) of the Dark (Metrodome) and Mirrors (Universal) on Oct 3. Read our review of Fear(s) of the Dark and our interview with Charles Burns in our autumn print issue, out now.


The Girls

16th Raindance Film Festival

1-12 Oct 2008


The Best of 15th Raindance Film Festival Shorts DVD is out now.

Sebastian Godwin’s The Girls and Tom Harper’s Cherries were two of the most memorable shorts presented at last year’s Raindance Festival and deservedly made the short list for the Best UK Short award. They can both be found on the Best of 15th Raindance Shorts DVD. This year’s Raindance Film Festival runs October 1-12 at various venues across London. LISA WILLIAMS caught up with Godwin and Harper to find out what being selected for Raindance last year has meant for them.


A graduate of the Lodz Film School in Poland, Sebastian Godwin is drawn to stories that revolve around the family unit. The Girls, completed last year, is about two pre-teens playing a twisted torture game with their father, while his forthcoming short, The Rain Horse, concerns a dad who encounters a wild horse while on a family trip to Wales. Godwin is currently working on a feature film in which he explores the theme further, this time through a story set during a holiday to Spain. ‘I’m interested in families because they can contain a high level of drama and tension’, he says. ‘The family can often be a very political idea as well – the idea that parents protect children, that the family is a “unit”… The family can also be a microcosm of wider society and a good way to explore and challenge certain notions we may have.’

Godwin is particularly interested in the father figure. Notions of patriarchy are placed under scrutiny in his films, often with the fathers being forced to undergo some kind of physical test. In The Girls, the unnamed father is subjected to being blindfolded, smeared in mud, fed with worms and jabbed by a rake. Godwin adapted the script from a short story by Joyce Cary, although the director insists that his version is not as violent as the original: ‘I read the story at school when I was young and it stuck in my mind. It really interested me but I didn’t understand it at the time. In the book, the girls actually strangle the dad but I extended the film so that it is drawn out over 10 minutes and there is more development. It is more playful rather than nasty or violent’.

With an enchanting visual style that moves from steady shots of a fresh autumn garden to a more disorientating, hand-held look as the game escalates, the film is unsettling because of its very domestic setting. Godwin credits the naturalistic feel to the use of different filming styles, which were edited together at the end. This took less planning yet provided a wider choice of shots to choose from for the final version.

As The Girls was one of the highlights of the Raindance Festival shorts last year, it has allowed Godwin to secure better funding for his next project, The Rain Horse, which is part of the Film London and UK Film Council’s Pulse Plus project. The Rain Horse is also an adaptation of a short story, this time by Ted Hughes. While out filming in the rainy Welsh countryside, Godwin reflects that having The Girls shown at Raindance was a big step up for him: ‘Raindance was one of the most helpful things that has happened for my career so far because it was one of the very first showings of the film. We had no idea what the reactions were going to be and everyone at Raindance was incredibly supportive. And the film was nominated for Best Short Film at the festival which meant there were extra screenings and it automatically got more exposure.’

Not resting on his laurels, however, Godwin’s ambition is to make a feature film that would somehow fuse Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park and Michael Haneke’s Funny Games. ‘It would be nice to make a film that used the adventure/crazy fun of something like Jurassic Park but make it more indifferent and cold like Haneke’s film, which says something about cinema itself’.


Though some people insist they are happy with the short film format, Tom Harper admits that making it through to feature-length territory is no bad thing: ‘I think I will always make shorts when I can but you also need to make money. You can sell feature films and get them distributed, so I would like to make more of them’.

Since his short film Cherries was shown at Raindance last year, he has directed The Last Van Helsing television series and has made a start on his first feature film; known under the working title The Scouting Book for Boys, it is due to be shot later this year. It marks a key change in location and subject matter: Cherries was a paranoid but not wholly unbelievable look at the effect of the Iraq war on an inner London school; his earlier short film Cubs was a stark depiction of urban fox hunting filmed in London. The forthcoming feature, on the other hand, is a coming-of-age film set in a caravan park in Norfolk. Harper insists that his reasons for moving out of London were somewhat practical: ‘This script came up and it was set in a caravan park. As there are no caravan parks in London we had to move out’, he says. ‘I shot my short films in London because it was where I knew and where I grew up but I want to start telling bigger stories about different places’.

His interest in politics remains strong. With a social consciousness due in part to having studied theatre and ideology as part of an academic drama degree, he considers that the filmmaker’s role is not to be taken lightly. ‘If you have the opportunity to make a film I think you have a responsibility to tell a story that needs telling. I don’t want to be overly controversial but if I believe something is right for the story, then I’ll do it’.

Having started out as an editor in post-production, Harper only realised his talent for directing after shooting some of his own footage in order to practise editing. Since then he has taught himself although he acknowledges the role film festivals have played in his career so far: ‘With good festivals, you get a platform for your film as well as an audience. With a festival like Raindance, you also get a great networking arena where you can meet other people’.

Harper is now seeking the help of Shane Meadows’s protégé Thomas Turgoose (who plays the lead role in his new film) to find the right actors for the supporting roles: ‘Thomas is helping us with casting but when we ask him what he thinks of people he always says, “I really like them”. He’s such a talented young man, which is quite unusual to see. He’s going places!’

The same will no doubt be said of Harper himself.

Lisa Williams


Greg Weeks

From the quiet psychedelia of Greg Weeks’s solo projects to the gorgeous, textured folk of Espers, the Philadelphia band he fronts, Weeks’s fascination for the 60s-70s is evident. Unsurprisingly, all but one of his top 10 movies come from that era. His new solo album ‘The Hive’ is released on October 27 by Wichita Recordings. He will embark on a European tour throughout November. For more information, visit his MySpace page or Espers. He has also founded a record label, Language of Stone. Interview by Lucy Hurst.

1- Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
Like similar works, Innocence, Walkabout, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, Picnic evolves with dreamlike lucidity, touching on truths without ever laying down an explicit moral paradigm. For the viewer, the satisfaction lies in the moment, be it lush, poetic slow-motion figure studies, explorations of the natural world or a weighty conflation of sound and image (in this case the inspired trio of pan pipe, mellotron and modular synthesizer).

2- Accident (1967)
Hands down the best edited film of all time (as if a person can actually make such a claim!), and thus one of the best directed, since this temporal study required careful planning in both scripting and shooting. I don’t know what exactly created this blip on the radar of British cinema, but I imagine Beat-era psychology and psychedelics had something to do with it.

3- The Day of the Locust (1975)
On the surface this epic production seems to examine systemic corruption and greed and its impact on the common folk, but its true meaning shifts that blame completely. The Locusts referred to in the title aren’t the millionaires, moguls and decadents that drive the action of the film’s first 120 minutes, but the common folk who usurp the film’s final 20. As powerful as individuals get, it is ordinary men and women who allow them their influence. Here, that truth proves apocalyptic.

4- Irréversible (2002)
As nauseated as the viewer gets while watching the ‘opening’ club sequences (the entire film is edited in reverse chronological order) and the 10-minute or so rape scene two-thirds of the way through, the emotional rawness one reaches by the end allows for one of the deepest, most spiritually complex experiences in film history.

5- Electra Glide in Blue (1973)
I could just as easily have picked Night Moves, Loving, Two-Lane Blacktop, Cockfighter or any number of existential 70s films, but Electra Glide really speaks of the modern condition in a way that’s been bothering me lately. The best we can do in the face of no afterlife assurances is withstand the constant assault on our moral and ethical belief systems without finding ourselves subverted. We may get to where we are trying to go, or we may end up dead in the middle of some desert highway, but at least we stuck to our guns. It’s really all we’ve got.

6- The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh (1971)
Let’s lighten things up here with what could be considered the best Italian giallo outside of the Argento oeuvre. Hyper-mod apartments, widescreen Technicolor cinematography, acid-rock tinged orchestrations, chiselled leads, liquid eyeliner, the glorious Edwige Fenech, slow-mo scenes of sexuality laced with violence… this film has it all, right down to the standard bottle of J&B whisky in every study. I defy any modern action film director to trump the power and dead cool of this film’s last five minutes.

7- Three Women (1977)
Suffused in a malaise particular to the 70s, Three Women seeps anxiety and dread as its protagonists drift through a vacant culture, cobbling together psyches as if sifting through some overstuffed wardrobe. I remember stumbling onto this film in the early 80s (back when we only had five channels), thinking I’d found some little known work of horror. Twenty some years later I feel pretty much the same about it.

8- A Clockwork Orange (1971)
I must have watched my VHS recorded copy every day for three months after discovering this film. The opening surge of psyched-out Wendy Carlos Beethoven wed with the Moloko Milk Bar imagery imprinted itself on my brain in ways no other movie did or ever will again.

9- A Woman Under the Influence (1974)
Who makes movies like this anymore? It doesn’t even seem possible… catching people off guard (with a camera), lifting the veil of pretence to reveal raw humanity. Is there a director left who would ham it up to the extent Cassavetes does in Rosemary’s Baby in order to turn around and crank out a motherfucker like Husbands? Will an actress ever touch Gena Rowlands’s performance in this film? It certainly seems unlikely.

10- Thundercrack! (1975)
I would like to be the first to lobby that the epic piece of crap that is The Silence of the Lambs forfeit its Oscar to be awarded posthumously to Curt McDowell and George Kuchar for making the best, funniest (and perhaps only) pornographic melodrama ever created.