Fear(s) of the Dark (Burns)

Format: Cinema

Release date: 3 October 2008

Venues: Odeon Panton St, Ritzy (London) and selected key cities

Distributor: Metrodome

Directors: Charles Burns, Blutch, Marie Caillou, Richard McGuire, Pierre di Sciullo, Lorenzo Mattoti

Writers: Charles Burns, Blutch, Pierre di Sciullo, Jerry kramski, Richard McGuire, Michel Pirus, Romain Slocombe

Original title: Peur(s) du noir

France 2007

85 mins

Charles Burns is famous for his superb graphic novel Black Hole, which follows a group of teenagers affected by a sexually transmitted disease that causes weird physical mutations. With Fear(s) of the Dark he makes his first foray into film. A collection of black and white animated short films by six illustrators, the film explores deep-rooted anxieties, from attacks by savage beasts to possession and haunting to darkness itself. Done in his characteristic high contrast style, Burns’s contribution tells the disturbing story of a shy young man with an interest in insects whose first relationship with a girl turns into a nightmare. Virginie Sélavy met him in Edinburgh, where the film received its UK premiere.

Virginie Sélavy: How did you get involved with the project?

Charles Burns: I was contacted by a French production company, Prima Linea. It was an ideal situation for me. I had the opportunity to work with a group of people and to have control over every aspect of the story. It also came at a point when I had finished working on Black Hole. After this long story, I really wanted to do something that was a collaborative piece, work with other people, get out of my tiny little studio.

VS: How did the collaborative process work?

CB: They wanted the artist to be totally in charge of the film, but by the nature of the medium someone has to animate it, so you can’t control everything. With comics I control every single aspect of it, even down to the paper stock that it’s printed on. So I did find out that there is a reason why I do comics, I really do like having that complete control. But I was perfectly happy with the results and it was a great experience.

VS: Your piece is done in the high contrast black and white that is characteristic of your comics. How essential to your work is that style?

CB: I like working in colour, I’m working on a colour comic right now. But 99.9% of my comics have been in black and white. My style of drawing has this kind of very rich brush line from the 40s and 50s and the American comics that I liked and tried to imitate when I was younger. The look of my film pretty much emulates the look of my comics. The producers searched for the perfect match for each artist’s style. For me the studio did 3D animation and they had this very strange process that would render these 3D characters in a kind of shading like my drawings.

VS: Just as in Black Hole, your film explores a certain anxiety and ambivalence about sex.

CB: It’s an incredibly strong part of a person’s life. Black Hole examines adolescents, people coming to terms with their sexual identity and moving from childhood to adulthood, and the turmoil that takes place. Fear(s) of the Dark is based on a very early comic that I did and that I don’t want to show anybody now, because it wasn’t very successful. However, there were ideas in it that I wanted to go back to. A lot of the themes that I come back to again and again concern identity and sometimes stereotypes. Black Hole was much more about the characters than about the plot. In Fear(s) of the Dark, the characters are much more generalised and two-dimensional. You’ve got the typical wimpy, shy guy and the vivacious sexy blonde. But I like playing with those ideas, the fact that her role gets reversed, she’s turned into this aggressive, masculine character who basically impregnates this guy.

VS: The reversal of roles in both Fear(s) of the Dark and Black Hole seems to be represented visually by the deep wound that appears on the male characters.

CB: Sometimes the symbolism is very heavy-handed but it’s fun for me to push those things in there. So of course there’s all kinds of wounds, vaginal orifices, all those things.

VS: But it also reveals the weirdness of sex, and the fact that sexual identities are maybe not as clear-cut as people would like to think.

CB: Exactly. It’s like, this girl has a tail, why am I attracted to this girl with a tail, what is that? (laughs) And Keith in Black Hole doesn’t know how to process that idea. Obviously I could have told a similar story without that physical deformity or this disease. But for me the disease makes it even stronger, pushes it to this very extreme situation.

VS: You use these external elements to bring that out. In Black Hole, it’s the disease, in Fear(s) of the Dark it’s the insect. Why the insect?

CB: I don’t know. (laughs) I’m trying to think, why the insect? I don’t have an answer for you.

VS: I thought that the insect was very striking because there was a certain humanoid element about it. Was that a conscious thing?

CB: Oh yeah, of course. You have someone that is recognisable in the movement, and the scale even. To be honest… Now I’m talking about this… That’s the question, how much do I want to reveal? (laughs) The story is based on the fact that when I was a little kid I slept on a bed that had creaking little sounds inside and I imagined that it was insects. And you think about that bed that actually does have something inside… There you go. (laughs) Right? What are you afraid of? It’s something that’s inside your bed, that’s moving around.

VS: And then it’s inside your body…

CB: Yeah, then you wake up and there’s a wound on your arm, and there’s something in there… (laughs)

VS: The cowboy bed is another interesting detail in the film.

CB: It’s very childish, it’s a symbol of childhood and she’s teasing him because he took this bed with him. There’s also the idea that the story starts out with this very isolated kid. You never see his mother, but you hear her horrible voice downstairs; and you can tell that he’s scared of her to a degree and he’s hiding things from her, he’s hiding this insect from her. And then this thing is transferred into his bed and carried on to his life.

VS: The other thing that’s interesting is this amateur lab that he has as a child. You seem to suggest this almost casual cruelty of the scientist with the insects in jars or pinned to the wall.

CB: It’s also the idea that he’s looking at other people, and other women especially as almost, not specimens, but the species that he doesn’t understand. He’s in this window looking down and you see the women almost insect-sized walking around; and lo and behold there’s this woman who actually likes him and treats him like a normal human being, and then things go wrong…

Interview by Virginie Sélavy

Read this interview and much more in our autumn print issue. The theme is cruel games, from sadistic power play in Funny Games to fascist games in German hit The Wave and Stanley Kubrick’s career-long fascination with game-playing. Don’t miss our fantastic London Film Festival comic strip, which surely is worth the price of the issue alone!


Hansel and Gretel

52nd London Film Festival

15-30 October 2008

Various venues, London


The last major event on the festival circuit, the BFI London Film Festival showcases some of the best films of the year, celebrating diversity rather than big budgets and red-carpet stars, unrestrained by the high-profile awards ceremonies that dominate coverage from festivals like Cannes and Venice.

Under the umbrella of ‘history, memory and politics’, the 52nd edition of the festival kicks off with the world premiere of Ron Howard’s latest film, Frost/Nixon, an adaptation of Peter Morgan’s successful play revolving around the legendary interview granted by the disgraced Nixon to a young, ambitious David Frost. While the parallels with Bush’s own ignominious eight years in office are plainly clear, Oliver Stone’s latest tragicomedy W. hits the nail more squarely on the head. Starring Josh Brolin as George W Bush, the film charts his rather inglorious career from drunken college kid to president of the United States.

Shifting the spotlight to the Middle East, one of the festival’s undoubted highlights is the powerful, brilliant Waltz with Bashir, Ari Folman’s animated documentary about the nightmare futility of Israel’s 1982 war with Lebanon. This film should not be missed. The exploration of history, memory and politics continues with two highly anticipated films that delve into the radical terror groups that sprang out of Germany and Japan in the 1970s: veteran TV director Uli Edel’s The Baader Meinhof Complex, and Koji Wakamatsu’s United Red Army, a hit at this year’s Berlin Film Festival.

The themes of retribution and redemption appear in Austrian director Gí¶tz Spielmann’s Revanche, about an ex-con seeking revenge for the death of his girlfriend in a bungled robbery. Matteo Rovere directs an Italian film noir in A Game for Girls, centered on a teenage femme fatale, while Denmark’s The Candidate is a taut and suspenseful thriller about a desperate man hunting down his blackmailers. Moving away from Europe, Hansel and Gretel is an eerie fairy tale-based thriller directed by South Korea’s Yim Phil-sung. More politically charged, Indonesia’s The Secret is a metaphysical thriller set on the mean streets of a brutal police state as two men hunt down a phantom killer.

Several noteworthy UK films are making an appearance at this year’s festival. Gerald McMorrow explores an intriguing (and stylish) alternate reality in his sci-fi film Franklyn, starring Ryan Phillippe and Eva Green. Two other British debuts are devoted to pop music culture: Nick Moran’s Telstar charts the rise and tragic fall of the influential music producer Joe Meek, while 1 2 3 4, directed by Giles Borg, is another pop-enthused film about an aspiring indie band that promises a great soundtrack.

The indie aesthetic is also at the heart of the documentary Beautiful Losers, which celebrates a loose collective of DIY artists who did their own thing on the fringes of the New York art scene in the early 90s. Another highly anticipated documentary is American Teen, something of a real-life Breakfast Club directed by Nanette Burstein (The Kid Stays in the Picture), while Not Quite Hollywood by Australian director Mark Hartley delves into the ‘ozploitation’ films of the 1970s.

The Experimenta section of the festival offers a rare opportunity to see two 35mm films by the Situationist leader Guy Debord, one a 1959 anti-documentary on the Situationists and the other Debord’s final film, an attack on both society and cinema made in 1978. For a lighter treat after such revolutionary fare there is The Good, the Bad and the Weird, a homage to Sergio Leone set in 1930s Japanese-occupied Manchuria from director Kim Ji-woon (A Tale of Two Sisters, A Bittersweet Life); and screening in the French Revolutions section is Louise-Michel, the follow-up to the outrageously funny, bad-taste road movie Aaltra.

There are countless other films with intriguing storylines screening at the festival and the only challenge will be finding a way to see them all. The festival starts on October 15 and public booking is now open.

Sarah Cronin



Format: DVD

Release date: 13 October 2008

Distributor Icon Home Entertainment

Director: Franco Rosso

Writers: Franco Rosso, Martin Stellman

Cast: Brinsley Forde, Karl Howman, Trevor Laird

UK/Italy 1980

95 mins

As the 1970s, a decade of immense upheaval in Britain, came to a close, three films exploring and, to a certain degree, defining the various and often contradictory aspects of what it meant (means) to be black and British astutely chronicled the changing face of youth politics and incipient popular culture, the impact of which has only truly been acknowledged through more recent and closer examination.

Horace Ové’s Pressure (1975, UK), the first feature film made by a black director in Britain, Menelik Shabazz’s Burning an Illusion (1981, UK) and most poignantly Franco Rosso’s Babylon (1980, UK/Italy) all contribute a telling insight into the changing face of Britain from a minority perspective, at a time when the traditional notions of class and politics were being fiercely debated and challenged. The films marked a paradigm shift in what it meant to be British, in the broadest sense, and how that affected notions of race and class identity. The films, in retrospect, would form a trilogy; highlighting some of the smouldering issues that were to become the major battlegrounds of the early Thatcher years.

With racial tensions finally erupting across Britain’s inner cities, in places like Toxteth, St Paul’s, Hansworth and the Notting Hill Carnival, Margaret Thatcher’s axiom ‘there’s no such thing as society’ seemed to ring particularly true for a whole generation of black British youth. It is this brooding undercurrent that informs Rosso’s film and makes it stand above so many of the overly romantic, retrospective portrayals of British youth culture such as Frank Rodman’s Quadrophenia (1979, UK), Isaac Julien’s Young Soul Rebels (1991, UK) or Nick Love’s The Football Factory (2004, UK).

The generational and cultural conflict between the optimistic, often middle-class, immigrant sensibilities of the Windrush generation, and the predominantly pessimistic, working-class notion of black Britishness, is steadily unfolded in Pressure and Burning an Illusion, yet it is Babylon, recounting the travels and travails of a small South London sound system, Ital Lion, and their struggle to make a name for themselves, that crucially identifies the formation of a unique and stridently militant identity amongst the first generation to fully have come of age under the banner of black Britain.

Central to the success of the movie is its intelligent and realistic depiction of reggae music and the cultural milieu provided by the sound system as the social building block of a new, disenfranchised generation of black youth caught in the no man’s land of a Diaspora culture, born in a country that many felt they could not claim as their own, yet separated from the ancestral homelands of their parents. The film is also one of the first to not only identify but, more importantly, fully embrace vernacular language, music and fashion. This was the springboard from which black British popular culture would become the driving force behind British youth culture as a whole, before the brand-laden and all-pervasive aspects of American hip-hop (itself beholden to the influence of the reggae sound system) became a global, commercial omnipresence.

Unlike a plethora of revisionist depictions of youth culture, Babylon captures the zeitgeist of the era, avoiding the grip of nostalgia, instead providing a harrowing yet ultimately uplifting account of a cultural and spiritual triumph over the adversities of poverty and overt racism (institutional and physical) that were still so ingrained in Thatcher’s England. Without resorting to the cliché of a Hollywood happy ending, with everyone learning the error of their ways, the film’s climax relies upon its lead characters looking inward to find an inner strength from which to build an identity.

Joel Karamath

Toronto International Film Festival 2008


Toronto International Film Festival

4-13 September 2008


Films followed by * are showing at the London Film Festival, 15-30 October 2008.

‘Returning to Toronto was like finding a Jaguar parked in front of a vicarage and the padre inside with a pitcher of vodka martinis reading Lolita.’ This quotation is from an article in Maclean’s magazine in 1959, and 49 years on, the vicarage is now a film festival, the padre a media publicist (some things never change), the martinis still flowing and Lolita has become flesh and hangs out at festival parties.

The 33rd Toronto International Film Festival held last month was a hectic, well-run film bonanza which was rather low on sparkling Hollywood fare – the lacklustre Appaloosa (dir. Ed Harris) was a sub-Fordian western that added nothing new to the genre and starred a miscast Renée Zellweger as ‘the widder’ woman’ and Jeremy Irons as a more camp than crook ‘baddie’; his American accent put me in mind of the one-octave-lower school of Yankee voice exemplified by Hugh Laurie in House. There was Spike Lee’s worthy, sometimes touching, but ultimately under-edited and slightly unfocused film, The Miracle of St Anna* along with the the Coen Brothers’ Burn After Reading and Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married.

More promising (and rewarding) though, was to push beyond the galas and premieres and dip into the plentiful screen space given over to other cultural players. Several programming strands – and a very well appointed and excellent army of press and publicists – provided plenty of scope for off-mainstream viewing like the Discovery programme, which highlighted ‘provocative feature films by new and emerging directors’. It offered two strong films, one a notable and clever first film from South Korean director Noh Young-seok with the irresistible title Daytime Drinking, the other a flawed but nonetheless very interesting film set in the days of Pinochet’s Chile, Tony Manero*, which was a second film by Pablo Larrain.

The Vanguard programme of ‘innovative filmmakers and bold films that challenge our social and cultural assumptions’ revealed its strongest works in Thomas Woschitz’s broad portmanteau Universalove, which had a significant soundtrack provided by Austrian indie band Naked Lunch, and the Filipino/French co-production Serbis (dir. Brillante Mendoza), an excellent story of a matriarchal family who own a run-down soft-core porno cinema ironically named ‘Family’, which is swarming with various misfits and characters on the societal fringe – a real discovery, this film. The Visions (‘Filmmakers who challenge our notions of mainstream cinema’), Contemporary World Cinema, Real to Reel, and Midnight Madness programmes were likewise repositories of promising and challenging films. I especially enjoyed the poetic and atmospheric black and white meditation, El Cant dels Ocells (Birdsong)* a second film from the Spanish director Albert Serra which had echoes of Tarkovsky’s work, the Cassavetes-like film of Mika Kaurismäki, Kolme viisasta miesta (Three Wise Men), and finally what was for me probably the most rewarding film of the festival, the small and wonderfully formed Goodbye Solo* (dir. Ramin Bahrani), a film set largely in a taxi cab and in which we are immersed in the character’s lives from the very outset. The film boasts a brilliant script, which the actors make seem improvised, and two fantastic performances by the leads, Red West (formerly of Elvis Presley’s Memphis Mafia) and Souleymane Sy Savane. Savane has a terrifically charismatic screen presence and easily embodies the goodness of his character Solo, in striking contrast to the darker demons and disillusionment internalised by West’s character, William. It offers an honest and accurate portrayal of the character’s stories and avoids the slick resolution that a Hollywood treatment would have required. The Real to Reel documentary programme likewise held many pleasant surprises; one notable film, which also caught my attention at the Brit Doc Festival earlier this year, was the Richard Parry film Blood Trail, which comes with the tagline ’13 Years, 3 Wars, 1 Photographer’ and follows the fortunes (and misfortunes) of war photographer Robert King. It is to these alternative strands that, I suspect, most readers of Electric Sheep would have found their cinematic radars pointed, and if there is any cultural justice in this world these festival gems will be picked up and given distribution and exhibition.

The festival was dominated by two themes this year: the much bandied about perception of a ‘New Realism’ in recent cinema (sounding very much, I recognise, like a themed issue of Granta magazine), and the triumph of screen veterans who we didn’t know we cared about in the first place, namely, Mickey Rourke and Jean-Claude Van Damme in The Wrestler and JCVD respectively. Electric Sheep bills itself as ‘a deviant view of cinema’; well, here’s one: Mickey Rourke is one of the greatest screen actors of his generation. OK, I admit to more than a bit of hyperbole there, but his performance in Aronofsky’s fine film (don’t look for the over-wrought significations that characterise the rest of the director’s work) is exquisite: it is well-paced, well-judged, well-balanced, incredibly nuanced, thoughtful, deeply committed – and I can hardly believe that I’m stating all this in print. But I am.

Of course, Rourke looks like hell – a combination of who knows what boxing blows, steroids, botox and surgery that makes him look like a walking, talking plasticination artwork by Prof Gunther von Hagens. But it’s one hell of a bravura performance that he creates and it could fit comfortably in a list of best-ever sporting performances, just narrowly eclipsed by Robert De Niro in Raging Bull. A bet: Oscar nomination forthcoming. Any takers? His performance notwithstanding though, the film does have flaws, with a storyline that entails the proverbial hooker with a heart of gold, the estranged daughter who all too quickly reconnects with the father figure and the near-obligatory contemporary text of masculinity in crisis.

Jean-Claude Van Damme in the Belgian/French/Luxembourgian film JCVD is also a bit of a revelation. Directed by Mabrouk El Mechri, the film is an action-comedy examination of the nature of fame – particularly Van Damme’s own – in a very surprising and highly intertextual film reminiscent of Being John Malkovich. In fact, intertextual and self-reflexive narratives as well as elliptical story lines were found in many of the films shown in the festival.

It would be remiss not to mention the many films – short, documentary and feature length – that were made in the host country and are screened annually at the festival. Canadian cinema has had a bumpy history: sometimes shining, more often good rather than great, and full of sub-Hollywood, sub-European cinematic compromises. Too often worthy and aspirant, it has produced few genuine masterpieces – among which I would cite Claude Jutra’s Mon Oncle Antoine, Denys Arcand’s The Decline of the American Empire and, for historical reasons, Don Shebib’s Goin’s Down the Road. The best directors, like Atom Egoyan and David Cronenberg, have often sought funding and facilities outside the country. The two ‘Great White North’ hopes this year were Passchendale (dir. Paul Gross – he of Due South television fame), a First World War epic, and Toronto Stories (dir. Sook-Yin Lee, Sudz Sutherland, David Weaver and Aaron Woodley), which is very reminiscent in structure of the multi-directed New York Stories (1989). Both films share some of the previously mentioned national qualities: worthy, aspirant and just short of truly major Canadian/international statements. Hold out for Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg.

There remains only one highlight of the Toronto Festival to note: the return to filmmaking after a self-imposed sabbatical of 17 years in which he developed his painterly skills, of the great Polish director, Jerzy Skolimowski, the maker of several significant international films including Deep End (1970), The Shout (1978) Moonlighting (1982) and the rarely seen Ferdydurke (1991). His new film, Four Nights with Anna, is an intense portrait of a romantic loner who becomes increasingly bold in his obsessive spying on a local nurse who he had seen raped years before. He eventually penetrates her personal space by entering her apartment, unseen and unheard, while she sleeps. The slowly unfolding, carefully framed and atmospheric filming tells a slightly sinister, deeply psychological story. Excerpts from an interview with the director will appear in a later ES issue.

James B Evans


Six Men Getting Sick

Format: DVD

Distributor: Scanbox

Release date: 20 October 2008

Director: David Lynch

Writer: David Lynch

Cast: David Lynch, Richard White, Dorothy McGinnis, Virginia Maitland, Robert Chadwick, Catherine E Coulson, Harry Dean Stanton, Jack Nance

USA 1969-95

90 mins

To mark the DVD release of The Short Films of David Lynch, which coincides with a new print of Eraserhead, Alex Fitch sat down with the artist Tom Humberstone to discuss Lynch’s short films within the context of his career as a whole as well as their relation to late 20th-century filmmaking on both sides of the Atlantic.

Tom Humberstone: I’m not sure if I was in the best frame of mind when I watched his shorts, having just had an agonising trip to the dentist…

Alex Fitch: They do look like visions of a disturbed mind, so perhaps you were in exactly the right mental condition to appreciate them!

TH:Perhaps! I can’t remember who said that the true sign of an artistic masterpiece is when the art transcends the artist’s original intent, and it can be interpreted in a thousand different ways by a thousand different people. I’m not sure I agree with that, but it seems very apt for describing Lynch’s work, because he creates films that aren’t necessarily meant to be understood…

AF: Well, some of them are wilfully obscure – he does it on purpose…

TH: He’s said as much – that when he starts a film he doesn’t necessarily know where it’s going to end. So it frustrated me that everybody was trying to figure out Mullholland Drive when it came out. You had these ‘cheat sheets’ on the internet where you could see all the signs listed that you were supposed to pick up on. But it completely defeats the object of his films. You could obviously dissect the movies and try and work out what Lynch’s intentions were, but ultimately they mean what you want them to mean. There are exceptions to the rule, The Straight Story is exactly what the title implies…

AF: You mentioned Lynch when we were talking about Dark City last month – you said both his shorts and features, like Mullholland Drive, have a very elliptical dreamlike quality where things are presented as if in a traditional narrative, but that the images don’t actually add up to anything.

TH: Absolutely, they wash over you like a dream. There comes a point after the first act of most of his films where you give up trying to figure it all out and you give in to the dreamlike narrative and take from them what you can! Approaching the shorts on the DVD, I was reminded of my problem with experimental shorts and art-house films in general: if you’ve got the possibility of moving imagery and audio to accompany it, and you’re dealing with what is predominantly a narrative medium, I feel you have a responsibility to your audience to create something that does flow from a beginning to an end point.

AF: In terms of an emotional arc, if not one that makes actual narrative sense?

TH: Yes.

AF: In the introduction to his first short, Six Men Getting Sick, he says that he came to film as a painter who just wanted to animate a painting, but that after manipulating a moving image he wanted to become a filmmaker.

TH: That was an interesting film. Certainly the animation that was used in his early shorts is quite accomplished and reminiscent of early Terry Gilliam. I would be interested to find out if Gilliam was working concurrently and if one of them was influenced by the other?

AF: I think Gilliam started doing animation at art school earlier, but didn’t get his cartoons on to TV until after Lynch had made his first couple of shorts. Gilliam studied in LA and then moved to England to work on British TV while Lynch made his shorts in Philadelphia and then moved to LA to make Eraserhead. I don’t know how long it was before Monty Python appeared on American TV. Maybe there was just a certain school of thought in experimental animation in America at the time!

TH: Absolutely! I found the imagery really interesting – even then it was clear that he had a way with images – and there are stylistic conceits there that are fascinating already, but Six Men Getting Sick is an incredibly difficult short to watch. The police siren was hell! Once I’d seen the sequence and realised it was just going to repeat six times, I questioned why I was still watching it.

AF: Well, you almost expected it to be a trick, that it would start to change, that he was having you on and it was different and you almost start seeing things in a way: ‘I’m sure that was different to the last version!’

TH: Maybe that’s the point, but I don’t care, it infuriated me! It reminded me of that scene in Ghost World, where the teacher shows this black and white film that she’d made, and it’s just her repeating the words: ‘Mirror, Father, Mother’ and so on.

AF: I’ve seen awful experimental videos like that…

TH: If Six Men hadn’t been by David Lynch, would we be watching it and thinking, ‘Oh god, another terrible art student film’?

AF: The point is, if it wasn’t by David Lynch, it wouldn’t be on the DVD. It is interesting watching these films as the ‘archaeology’ of David Lynch, seeing him form his ideas. Maybe we expect too much of them. They were never meant to be shown to fans of a successful art-house filmmaker 30 or 40 years later.

TH: I went to see a retrospective of Tim Burton at the BFI and got to see a lot of his early shorts and it’s the same sort of thing – you can see the genesis of a lot of ideas and a certain style starting to form. A lot of these DVD collections of short films serve two main uses for budding filmmakers or budding artists. People always ask the question: ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ So this is one way of seeing the germs and seeds of ideas. The other point is that they’re very inspirational: there’s nothing there to suggest, ‘My god, he’s going to become a great filmmaker’, and it’s encouraging to see that early amateurishness. I found I started to enjoy the shorts more as they went on, as he was getting a bit more funding – I assume – and as he was growing as a filmmaker. I was really encouraged to see The Cowboy and the Frenchman

AF: …although he made that much later in his career, after he had three or four features under his belt…

TH: …yeah, but it was nice to see David Lynch with a sense of humour by that stage! Basically, watching the shorts made me really glad that he ended up making features. His ideas and his stylistic approaches were given a structure. There were some really lovely visuals and concepts in the shorts, but what he really needed was the framework that you get from having to make a 90-minute film.

AF: Although it’s a shame that like Gilliam, he gave up animation. There are things he learned as an animator – like changing the speed of the camera and filming things backwards – that crop up in his later work, but no actual animation appears in his features, which is a shame because it works really well when it’s juxtaposed with the live action in shorts like The Grandmother and The Alphabet. There’s something profoundly dreamlike in those contrasts that he never quite got back to, no matter what tricks he used in terms of lighting or narrative or script construction in his later films.

Another thing you realise watching his shorts is that they do seem to contain a lot of references. For example, if you compare his work to that of Jan Å vankmajer, who was working on his shorts at exactly the same time and ironically made a short called House of Lynch, there are all these references to people being grown out of seeds and being born out of logs and turning into trees. It’s strange that experimental American animation should be so similar to Eastern European animation. We haven’t talked about The Amputee yet…

TH: The Amputee was horrible!

AF: Although, using Gilliam again as a reference, it’s that kind of British black comedy that certain Americans were attracted to, like Monty Python and early Kenny Everett, where you laugh at people having limbs cut off with arterial spray that no one seems to notice! I guess I found it funny and you found it disturbing…

TH: I’ve seen lots of gore and horror films, but The Amputee felt worryingly real. The one thing that struck me at that stage, watching the shorts, is how cold the actors reading the lines were…

AF: He’s never been an actors’ director…

TH: All his actors are so cold and stiff!

AF: …to the extent that there are scenes in The Grandmother, where he’s just using his actors as human puppets. He shoots a frame of them, moves their limbs a little bit, shoots another frame, moves their limbs a little bit more – he might as well be using mannequins instead of real people!

TH: He’s not a warm director. All these directors we’re talking about – Lynch, Gilliam, Burton – who are recognised as great visionaries…

AF: …all have problems directing humans and started off as animators…

Alex Fitch and Tom Humberstone


Christy and Emily

Christy and Emily live in New York and channel chamber folk through a fuzzbox misplaced by Lou Reed in 1971. Their last album, ‘Queen’s Head’ was released on The Social Registry label and is a masterpiece of understated, evocative pop. They’ve just got back from Berlin where they were recording with producer Joachim Irmler of krautrock í¼ber-pioneers Faust. European listeners can expect a release in the spring. In the meantime the video for a new track, ‘Superstition’, is up and scaring the YouTube rabbits right now. You can find out more on Christy and Emily’s website. This is their film jukebox. Interview by Nick Dutfield.


1- Flower of the Arabian Nights (1974)
This movie rules because it’s beautiful to watch. Pier Paolo Pasolini’s camera work is organic and simple but amazing. A lot of his players are non-actors, or actors that he ‘discovered’; but with this movie it really seems like he drafted the communities that were around him. I can just imagine Pasolini running around with his skeleton crew shooting on the fly, pulling people in and giving them minimal direction. He really celebrates the natural beauty in all the faces. It’s not make-up and styling that make these people amazing, but rather their real youth, the real sweat on their foreheads. The whole movie is about sex – straight, gay, whatever, and a bit of kink thrown in too. There’s some great optical printing to achieve rudimentary special effects and anyone who sees film as a photographic medium can appreciate its rough edges. Ennio Morricone does the music and that’s beautiful too.

2- Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982))
This film is always brought up whenever the genre of teen movie is discussed, and for good reason: it sets the template. The one thing that really separates it from the others is the coming-of-age story of a teenage girl. It’s probably the most realistic portrayal as well. I mean, she actually has the abortion (Juno this is not)! I don’t know the numbers on this issue but in the neo-conservative world we live in, female sexuality seems to be totally taboo or made to fit into some idealised vision of the world where everyone makes good. OK, Fast Times never means to be this serious and it’s really just fun to watch, but I’m glad it exists for the more adult themes it addresses.

3- Black Orpheus (1959)
Almost every scene of this movie has awesome music playing in it. The people dance everywhere, compulsively. Even when summoning souls beyond the grave there is beautiful singing. Life in this movie is music and only in the darkest and stillest moments of death is there silence. I’ve never been to Brazil – is it really like that? No, it’s all metaphor. At the end Orpheus sings, ‘The happiness of the poor is the great illusion of Carnival’. This movie too is full of amazing beautiful faces, and I really dig Death’s skeleton costume.

4- Starship Troopers (1997)
This movie is really dumb. It’s kind of like watching a Disney adventure movie but then Verhoeven will throw in some graphically violent blood and guts just to remind you you’re not. Science fiction is successful when it can convince you of the world it creates. I really like the themes of this world. Like the citizen versus civilian thing, the military propaganda ads, psychics, and the big bugs from space. There’s always going be more bugs to kill, right? There’s always going to be an enemy. It’s tongue-in-cheek satire, so maybe this movie isn’t so dumb after all.


5- The Parent Trap (1961)
Let’s get together yeah yeah yeah, two is always better than one. Let’s get together, oh yeah. We can have twice the fun. Although we haven’t got a lot, we should be sharing what we got. Let’s get together. Oh yeah, I really think you’re swell! Huh uh, you really ring a bell. Ooh wee, happy as can be… Let’s get together!

6- The Thin Man (1934)
This first movie in the Thin Man series is really boss. We can watch it over and over. Nick and Nora are the coolest alcoholic socialite super sleuths ever. The scene where Nick is shooting an airgun at the Christmas tree is especially amazing. Future instalments of Thin Man are enjoyable, especially the one where Asta has a significant subplot involving dog infidelity.


7- North by Northwest (1959)
I love this movie because of the aerial shot of the gardens at the UN in the scene where the protagonist is running away after being framed for murder. The simple geometric shapes from this angle are really stunning. It’s hard to believe they are buildings. I visited the UN building for the first time immediately after I first saw this movie and I’ve been obsessed with its architecture ever since. Like, renting-a-hotel-room-across-from-the-UN-so-I-could-stare-at-it obsessed.

8- Up with People
This is a very low-budget movie about the band Oneida, as they tour through the US. You will never laugh as hard at any movie. They are an amazing cast of characters and whoever shot and edited it did a fantastic job. The extent of food planning that goes on during an Oneida tour is a revelation. They have a menu book of the Southeast and will drive as much as an hour off route to eat where they want. I would never want to watch a movie about the dumb things I do on tour, even though I have a great time doing it. I wonder why this is so fun to watch and think the truth is the Oneida guys are just hysterical.

9- Amadeus (1984)
This movie was very important for me in terms of my sexuality. Because it’s about Mozart, I was sort of forced to watch it at a very young age, and in Christy’s words: ‘It’s not a kid’s movie.’ Educational sure, but not a kid’s movie. Music camp is a very educational place.

10- Madagascar (2005)
Like any great New York movie, Madagascar understands the city well enough to make wonderful jokes about it. I really relate to how the characters of this movie feel trapped here and fantasize about nature. I can’t decide who my favorite character is. The hypochondriac giraffe who has a daily MRI is very, very funny! The team of scheming penguins, top-notch! But my heart totally goes out to the lion, who really struggles as he realises that he wants to eat his friends.