Black Box Germany

Format: Cinema

The 11th Festival of German Films

28 November-4 December 2008

Goethe-Institut, Curzon Soho (London)

Focus on Andres Veiel, 24-30 November

Black Box Germany screens on 30 November, 1pm, Curzon Soho (London)

More info on the Festival of German Films website

In this year’s Festival of German Films, the special focus section, organised by the Goethe-Institut, is dedicated to documentary filmmaker Andres Veiel, who is best known in the UK for his award-winning film Black Box Germany, a disturbing juxtaposition of the biographies of a member of the Red Army Faction (RAF) and one of their presumed victims. Andres Veiel will be in London on November 30 to attend the screening of Black Box Germany and will be taking questions from the audience afterwards. Pamela Jahn had the chance to speak with the director beforehand and asked him about this divisive work, as well as his new feature film project, in which he returns to the subject of the Baader-Meinhof gang.

Pamela Jahn: You made Black Box Germany at the end of the 90s, over 20 years after the German Autumn. What attracted you to this subject matter at that time?

Andres Veiel: First of all, it is connected to my personal history. I was born in Stuttgart, the place where the trials against Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin and Ulrike Meinhof, the leading members of the Red Army Faction (RAF), took place in the mid-70s. I was still a teenager at that time, but my friends and I went to Stammheim to see the trials, and it impressed me a lot. In the beginning I even felt some sort of naí¯ve admiration for Baader-Meinhof and what they did, because, at least, they did something. At that point, I was somewhat at the fringe. On the one hand, I was still growing up in a very conservative suburb of Stuttgart, but on the other hand, suddenly there was this drift, a drift towards a radical political movement, and attending the Baader-Meinhof trials meant for us to defect to the other side, even to partly identify with the terrorists. Of course, I realised very quickly that the RAF was not a possibility at all for me and for most of my friends. But it had a big influence on me in this coming-of-age period between 15 and 17, and over the years, I always felt there was a lack of discussion of the issue, especially after the German reunification. I still had a lot of questions then: Why would anyone become a terrorist? What makes somebody go underground? This was something I felt had not been dealt with sufficiently. So I started researching what would eventually become Black Box Germany.

PJ: What interested you in particular in the story of Wolfgang Grams?

AV: My interest was triggered by something I realised when I was working on The Survivors, the film I made before Black Box Germany, which was about three school fellows of mine who had committed suicide. One of them, Thilo, went to Stammheim with me in 1975 to see the trials, but unlike mine, his sympathies towards the Baader-Meinhof gang remained quite strong for a while. So the question came up again: what kind of impact, what kind of influence makes people go underground? Especially in the 80s. If you look at the story of Wolfgang Grams in comparison to the first generation of the RAF, what is striking is that he makes that decision 15 years later. He went underground in 1985, when there was no longer any support for the RAF from left-wing young people in Germany. The third generation of the RAF was still active, but they were very isolated. And when Birgit Hogefeld, Grams’s girlfriend, was tried in the mid-90s, I became very curious as to what it was that made them go underground. But to explore that, I had to look deeper into their lives.

PJ: Why did you decide to look not only at Grams’s development as an RAF member, but also at the life of Alfred Herrhausen, one of the victims of the gang?

AV: I thought it was impossible for me to talk about the RAF without allowing space for their victims too. The films that had been made on this subject until then either dealt with the victims or the perpetrators, but never with both sides at once. But for me this was a necessity, since I wanted to understand what kind of fight the RAF was leading and who they were fighting. So I decided to focus on Alfred Herrhausen, the chairman of Deutsche Bank, who in a way served as a symbol of the ‘other side’ for the RAF, which is why he was murdered.

PJ:To a certain extent the film seems to provide parallels between the two characters rather than simply confronting two opposite perspectives. Was such a relationship intended?

AV:No, not at all. In the beginning, there was a protagonist and an antagonist for me, but step by step, during my research work, I felt there was some sort of affinity, that they had something in common, which you could call the German idealism, a need to change the world, to create a new image of another world and to fight for these ideas. And although they were active on completely different levels – of course you cannot compare the RAF with the Deutsche Bank – it is fascinating to see what remains of this idealism at these opposite ends, and to find some similarities in the way they acted within these different structures. For example, both of them were very isolated in their groups, because they didn’t fight for people who could support them. Herrhausen was isolated at the board of Deutsche Bank after he had made his proposal of debt relief for Third World countries. Grams couldn’t convince many of his friends to go underground. Grams and Herrhausen just went their own ways. And because of this, both of them died a very lonely death. A lot of people had turned their back on Herrhausen because he surged ahead too fast and because he didn’t want to affiliate himself with anything. Even his wife didn’t understand him, in a way. On the other hand, if you think about what happened in Bad Kleinen [when the police tried to arrest Grams and his girlfriend], Birgit Hogefeld got arrested but Grams ran away and got shot, or shot himself, that’s still not clear. But, again, he made a different decision. For him, it was impossible to get arrested and to stay in prison for the rest of his life; he preferred to die.

PJ:The topic you’re dealing with remains highly controversial in Germany even now, which explains why Birgit Hogefeld didn’t want to be in the film. But Traudl Herrhausen, the wife of the murdered banker, also refused to participate to start with …

AV:Yes, that’s right, and it took me quite a long time to gain her trust. I think I met her 15 to 20 times before we started shooting. We talked for hours, but she still had a huge amount of distrust of me and of the project. For example, very early on I told her that I went to see Birgit Hogefeld in prison. At first she was silent and shocked and then she asked me: ‘What did you see?’ And of course what she wanted to know was, ‘did you look the killer of my husband in the eyes?’ But this was something I could not answer, because I didn’t know, and I still don’t know the facts of what really happened on November 30, 1989. So it was very delicate to approach both sides. All in all, it took me five years to make the film and it was a very slow and long process to build up her trust in me, but at the same time I knew it would not have been possible to make the film without her.

PJ:Where you ever tempted to try solving the mysteries that remain around the Herrhausen assassination and the deaths of Baader, Meinhof and Ensslin in Stammheim prison?

AV:My main interest was not to show who was involved in what. To what extent Grams was in charge of the Herrhausen killing or involved in the planning process was never the question for me. He was a member of the gang, so he took at least some responsibility for the death of Herrhausen. As for the deaths of Baader, Meinhof and Ensslin, when it happened in 1977, I was in shock. I remember the situation very well. We were listening to the radio and when the news came on about their suicides, there was like a rift in the classroom. At that point, I was sure they had been killed, I couldn’t believe the suicide version. But later on, mainly through my own research work, I learned that it was a mistake, that they did commit suicide. Sometimes you are seduced by the idea of something, and in this particular case it took me years to realise it, but eventually I had to admit that I was wrong.

PJ:Bearing in mind your personal background and your own extensive research on the RAF, how do you see Uli Edel’s film on the same subject, The Baader-Meinhof Complex?

AV:First, I should tell you that I am currently working on a screenplay for my first feature film and it’ll be dealing with the same protagonists again but in the 60s. I am making this film because I still have a lot of questions. The Baader-Meinhof Complex tries to illustrate the facts, to illustrate the book by Stefan Aust, but the problem is that the director has no attitude towards his protagonists or his story. He merely reconstructs the facts without deeper questions. I can see The Baader-Meinhof Complex as an isolated phenomenon, but at the same time it shows the necessity to make another film about the RAF. So I’ll make one.

PJ: Why have you decided to make it as a feature film, rather than as a documentary?

AV:I spoke with so many people who said they didn’t want to talk in front of the camera. It’s still a taboo issue, and I thought it would be too difficult to convince the people I want to have in the film to participate in a documentary. So, I’ll write a screenplay and make it as a fiction film, but it will be based on long and thorough research, just like any of my documentaries, and I will stay close to the convincing and irritating facts that I gained from that research.

PJ:You mentioned The Survivors earlier, which is your most personal film so far. When you make a film, are you sometimes scared of finding out the truth about things you don’t want to know?

AV:Making The Survivors was a great challenge for me, even more challenging than Black Box Germany in the way that I had to deal with some disturbing facts about my friends, who were dead and therefore could no longer justify themselves. But in a way, every film is like a journey for me. The more I find out, the less I seem to know. So to some extent you can call all my films a black box. The deeper I delve into a subject or a biography, the bigger the black box becomes.

Interview by Pamela Jahn

Black Box Germany screens on 30 November 2008 at the Curzon Soho (London). The Survivors screens on 26 November at the Goethe-Institut (London). Andres Veiel will attend screenings of The Kick and Addicted to Acting on 29 November and Black Box Germany on 30 November. For more details, visit the Festival of German Films website.

Nightwatching: Interview with Peter Greenaway

Peter Greenaway (Photo by NOTV.COM)

Photo by: NOTV.COM

Nightwatching screened at the 16th Raindance Film Festival

Date: 2 October 2008

Venue: Cineworld

More info on the Raindance website

This year’s Raindance film festival included the premiere of Peter Greenaway’s new film Nightwatching, a dramatisation of the theory that Rembrandt included clues to a murder mystery within the imagery of his masterpiece, The Nightwatch. Prior to the Raindance screening, the director had created a ‘son et lumií¨re’ projection on the actual painting in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. After the film, Alex Fitch caught up with the director and asked him about his two projects associated with the painting.

Alex Fitch: I first heard you give a talk about your Nightwatch project at the BFI a year and a half ago. You said it was initiated by a conference about the growing lack of art tourism that you’d attended; the Rijksmuseum were interested in having you project a film onto the painting of The Nightwatch and eventually that metamorphosed into this feature film.

Peter Greenaway: Well, some of this is true, but I think we have to rearrange that to be absolutely historically accurate. The year 2006 was the celebration of Rembrandt’s 400th birthday – he was born in 1606 – and Amsterdam, where I live, is Rembrandt’s town. It’s a bit like Woody Allen’s Manhattan, or Godard’s suburban Paris! They say that The Nightwatch, painted by Rembrandt in 1642, is the fourth most famous painting in the world – number one is the Mona Lisa, number two is probably The Last Supper, both by Da Vinci, number three is Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling and number four is The Nightwatch. So, it’s a very important painting and it means an awful lot to the Dutch themselves.

In the 17th century, Holland was an incipient republic democracy surrounded by powerful monarchies who wanted to destroy it. It was the centre of the economic and political nexus for three generations, not just of Europe but of the whole world. They were at the very end of the Silk Road, so they were attached to China, and the country was the real, total depot of all the world’s goodies; and into all this came these amazing painters. There are supposed to be over 2,000 painters living in Amsterdam from about 1590 to the death of Vermeer, which was around 1673, and in that period there must have been over a million paintings painted. It’s extraordinary – never before or since have there been so many paintings painted in this little, tiny country – and it’s obviously the result of a burgeoning financial entity where it means there is a lot of spare money sloshing around…

AF: Like the Hollywood of its time?

PG: Exactly, including in the way in which a lot of those paintings were no good and a lot of them have disappeared… I think top of the pile would be two painters, Vermeer – who, personally, I actually prefer – and Rembrandt. But there’s no point in making a historical film unless you refer it to ‘now’ and there are many references – even to the death of Theo Van Gogh – in this film. We misuse the Voltaire quotation saying: ‘Democracy is ideal, as long as it is tempered by assassination’! You could say that about America in the Kennedy / Martin Luther King period – and it was certainly true here: when they got sick of democratically elected leaders, they used to kill them! And now in contemporary Holland, Pim Fortuyn, a very charismatic politician, was murdered, and a couple of years later, Van Gogh’s grand-nephew, a filmmaker who was associated with fundamental Islamic politics, also got killed. So, maybe again, it’s this notion of when democratic free speech reaches an edge, people can’t stand it anymore, and the only way to change that is by some violent act. If you listen very carefully to the soundtrack, all these things are built into the film. On a personal level, we’ve tried to play the game that Rembrandt is a proto-filmmaker; ‘Get in the light! Get out of the frame! Go over there and you won’t be properly colour coded!’ So in a sense, what a contemporary filmmaker does has been already preceded by many, many painters, and of course, by Rembrandt!

AF:When you originally projected your film onto the painting of The Nightwatch at the Rijksmuseum did you feel that you were kind of gilding the lily or was it something necessary to attract people to come and see the painting?

PG: I’ve always complained about the fact that we’ve got a text-based cinema, not an image-based cinema. In every film you can see everything is constructed around text. I’m trained as a painter and I believe that text has so many other media to play with – novels, theatre – that surely the extraordinary medium of cinema should be image-dominated. All my career, I think, has been pushing for a medium that speaks its meaning through images rather than text. I think that’s ironic because a lot of my movies are very wordy and full of all sorts of ideas that are text-based, but I think nobody could deny – whatever they think of my ideas – that there’s an incredibly imagistic imagination behind these movies!

The Dutch know I’m interested in light – I’ve been working in Holland for 25 years and living there for 12. They can see in my films that I have almost an academic interest in art history and they made it an invitation: ‘Mr Greenaway, would you like to come along and play with The Nightwatch, to make it more open, to make it more receptive, to explain to the media of the year 2006 what this painting’s all about? And I did! What was I doing? I was trying to put 8,000 years of painting into 113 years of cinema! Godard tried to do the same thing in Passion, but we got much, much closer because we were able to use the painting itself. We didn’t make a film and we didn’t animate it, but we looked incredibly scrupulously at how Rembrandt had created it, with its five light sources, with its characters and its colour coding, and through modern computer technology we were able to mask it and remask it. I’d like to show you what we did, but I could only show you a DVD, which isn’t the same as playing with the real iconic masterpiece. We manipulated the shadows, so in a sense we repainted the painting! It was so successful that we were invited to go to Milan to tackle Da Vinci’s The Last Supper and we’re about to start, in one month’s time, on Veronese’s The Wedding at Cana. Then we have Velázquez’s Las Meninas, Picasso’s Guernica, a Jackson Pollock in The Museum of Modern Art, New York, a famous Seurat in Chicago, Monet’s Water Lilies in Paris… We might get more invitations, but I said: ‘Look, enough’s enough or I’ll be doing this for the rest of my life! We’ll do nine paintings – we’ll call it “Nine classic paintings revisited”.’

Now, in relation to your question: in the world at large there is a falling off of cultural tourism. 18% of Italians are no longer looking at their paintings! So this creates a new sort of excitement vis-í -vis art history. There are people around who are prepared to invite us to come along in order to get people to look at cultural heritage again.

AF: But of course you’ve taken this project one step further by making a film about the creation of the painting, that perhaps again will create new audiences for the painting itself…

PG: Cinema’s only been going for 113 years while this extraordinary heritage of amazing painting has been going on for much, much longer. I was trained as a painter and I often think, ‘what the hell am I doing in cinema?’ It was a series of accidents and mistakes, but it was music that interested me in cinema. I wanted to find a media where I could put music to image. I still do a lot of painting – I have a painting exhibition in Ghent, another one in Budapest coming up very shortly, another one in Amsterdam – but it’s that particular combination of image and music that brought me initially into cinema. In my films there are long relationships with people like Philip Glass, John Cage, Meredith Monk and Michael Nyman, recently Brian Eno, Vim Mertens, Louis Andriessen. So I’ve collaborated… Is ‘collaborate’ too strong a word? Let’s say I’ve worked in association with some extraordinary mid-20th-century composers.

AF: You said that editing was very important in your training as a filmmaker and editing with music can very much dictate the pace of a scene.

PG: Sure. The music on this particular production is quite lush and romantic, but it comes out of minimalist tradition. I think often that music or the art forms that are very important in your formative years tend to stay with you. I think we’re now in the fourth or fifth generation of minimalist composers, but I still have an emotional affiliation to that sort of music.

AF: You’ve spoken before about breaking the cinema screen because you find it very restrictive, and in that sense, The Last Judgment is your ideal subject matter, because it’s painted on a curved roof, in a place we’re not used to looking at for entertainment. Is that a first step for you towards making films projected on a screen that isn’t dictated by the history of widescreen cinema?

PG: Well, we do a lot of that stuff now; it was mentioned casually, that for my sins, we perform in a VJ context. I don’t think to call me ‘a VJ’ is very satisfactory. What I’m interested in is present tense, non-narrative cinema on multiple screens, to break away from the restrictions in the way we go to the cinema. I’m looking for 360-degree phenomena and I want to get rid of this notion of the single parallelogram, which is very archaic and old-fashioned. We’re pushing and pulling and we’re seeing a new phenomenon, which is the democratisation of cinema. YouTube is an amazing, positive event! We break though all those restrictive, elitist barriers of distribution – you can now distribute yourself! The balance in the equation between the maker and the receiver is becoming much more equivalent. The ideal situation is that every maker is everybody’s receiver and vice versa…

Interview by Alex Fitch


Starfish Hotel

Format: DVD

Release date: 27 October 2008

Distributor: 4Digital Asia

Director: John Williams

Writer: John Williams

Cast: Koichi Sato, Tae Kimura, Kiki, Akira Emoto, Kazuyoshi Kushida

Japan 2006

98 mins

Originally from Wales, director John Williams has lived in Japan for 20 years. His 2006 film Starfish Hotel, which has just been released on DVD, was an East meets West atmospheric fairy tale that played with cultural borders as well as those between dream, fantasy and reality. In an email interview, he told Richard Badley about in-between-ness, unravelling stories, Haruki Murakami and being like a Minotaur.

Richard Badley: Western audiences are used to seeing Tokyo as all neon lights and futuristic skyscrapers but in Starfish Hotel it seems almost bland. Could you tell us about your approach to the city in the film and what you wanted to say, if anything, about its culture?

John Williams: I wanted to deliberately avoid all the clichéd shots of Tokyo, such as the blazing lights of Kabukicho from Lost in Translation and the Shibuya crossing from every commercial shoot. These two areas seem to dominate in Western images of the city, and they are the places a lot of people go to have fun, but Tokyo is a huge, sprawling city, and can be very grey and ugly. This was as much as anything about the psychology of the central character, who is trapped in a cold, geometrical maze. The present day in the film is all washed-out and cold and we chose locations to reflect his depressed state, whereas the past, represented more by Taisho period architecture, is warm and full of reds and woody browns. This was not political nostalgia, but the nostalgia of the character, but I also wanted to suggest that all the concrete, glass and sprawl represent a kind of death of the soul. This is a motif in much recent Japanese cinema too.

RB: What led you to make the film in Japan?

JW: I’ve lived and worked in Japan for 20 years and am now a Permanent Resident, though I still have a UK passport. The question always comes up, but the easy answer is ‘because it’s where I am’. A year before the shoot a UK producer tried to persuade me to reset the film in the UK. It could be done, and I did tinker with a script, but I always felt the story made more sense in Japan and the locations and the references felt very Japanese to me at least. (Strangely, many people in the audience outside Japan found the film very ‘Western’ and some people in Japan talked about the strange ‘in-between-ness’ of the film. They felt they were seeing a slightly wonked version of reality, which was the intention. In the end, the film is very personal and very much about my own first few years in Tokyo. I had lived in Nagoya for 12 years and moved to Tokyo after my first film (Firefly Dreams). Tokyo was a real shock, because Tokyo is not really representative of Japan in so many ways and I felt very isolated and alienated. The darkness of the city scared me. When you’ve got all that artificial light, you also have a lot of shadows too.

RB: After Firefly Dreams, what drew you to doing a much darker/noir story? American noir seems to be a central influence in Starfish Hotel so was it a risk doing such a film in Japan?

JW: It was a big risk to do this film. I didn’t know that at the time. A sensible choice would have been to do another Firefly Dreams with a slightly bigger budget. It was just that I had moved to Tokyo and this led to an obsession with noir and Japanese ghost stories. I really felt I wanted to blend the noirish elements in Kwaidan (traditional Japanese stories of the supernatural) with a detective fiction. Of course I was reading Murakami avidly and the strange limbo he describes seemed so accurate about my own experience and the city of Tokyo.

RB: The central plot about finding Chisato seems linear enough but it’s surrounded by many ambiguous elements. How difficult was it writing the script? Did you rearrange things in post-production?

JW: The plot is very simple. A man’s wife disappears. He goes to look for her, goes through the usual tropes of the detective quest and finds her, whilst thinking all the time about another woman. What I wanted to do though was open up big puzzling holes in the story, so that all the time you’re really wondering whether you’re putting the puzzle together or not. This ambiguity is where we live now and perhaps it’s really where we’ve always lived. We make up these stories to explain our world and our experience, and they constantly unravel. I like that unravelling. The edit is pretty close to the script. The film was supposed to have a dream logic rather than a linear plot logic, but this is hard to pull off.

RB: There are many themes at work in the film – escapism, authorship… What was it in particular that you wanted to explore?

JW: More than anything else I wanted to make a film about the importance of storytelling, both in people’s personal lives and in society at large. If stories die, then I think we are in big trouble. When commercialism takes over from art, you get a terrible sense of emptiness, hence the grey city of Tokyo described above. In this world we have to go inside to make things good again. (Sounds pretentious I know, but that is what I was trying to say.)

RB: The film’s central tension is between Arisu wanting to be a writer and Kuroda who is constantly watching him, controlling the story. Were these characters inspired by your own life as you became a filmmaker/storyteller? Or was it maybe a comment on the power of authors?

JW: When you write something you create a universe that you control, but very often, when the writing is going well and you let your unconscious work, then ‘something else’ takes over. This is both terrifying and exhilarating. I’ve had that feeling a couple of times and I know many writers who have it. This ‘something else’ can completely destroy the mask you wear everyday, so it’s not a great place to stay, but everybody wants to go there. Don’t they?

RB: You’ve cited Haruki Murakami as a major influence and the film demonstrates a similar concern about modern society. What do you respond to in his writing?

JW: I think what I respond to is his openness to his own unconscious. Murakami is a writer who lets the ‘something else’ speak through him and this is very disturbing. Perhaps this is why he is so disciplined about his writing and his running. He needs to control every other aspect of his life in order to let the big beast free at the back of his mind. I think he also thinks Japan has buried the beast too much and he’s letting it back out of the bag.

RB: Were you conscious about making the film as universal as possible by combining elements of Western and Eastern culture (Alice in Wonderland, the symbol of the Fox)? As a result have you had different reactions from Western/Eastern audiences?

JW: Yes, I always saw this film as being a kind of fox-marriage of East and West. I talked all the time with production designer Iwao Saitou about the concept of ‘Wayou-Sechu’ or a blending of East and West in art, design and story. Purists hate this and think somehow it is not ‘Japanese’ enough. Personally I don’t like purists. When cultures blend to create something new, such as in Japanese jazz or Western uses of Japanese art (Van Gogh) then you get something very exciting. I wanted the film to be like that, to take the best of both worlds. The difficulty of course is in the reception by audiences, because people who don’t know both worlds sometimes only see one side of the coin. I wasn’t trying to be clever, though. It just grew out of my own personal history, having lived half my life in the UK and then the other half in Japan. I ended up as a sort of Minotaur, and I’d like to remain that way. (PS – sounds funnier in Japanese.)

RB: You’ve been very successful in moving East, what are the challenges and benefits of working in Japan as opposed to somewhere like the UK?

JW: Of course the biggest challenge is the language. When you work in English everything is faster. On the other hand, you get this really exciting sense of always learning, which is easy to forget in the UK. I love UK cinema, but the UK film industry sometimes seems almost as inward-looking as the Japanese industry. If anything, I think the Japanese filmmakers I know are looking out more at the world these days, but their work is less known, because of the language barrier. There are more films made here every year (over 400 a year) and Japanese films have a bigger share of the domestic market (50%), but the budgets are lower, there is little soft money, and not much training. The majors dominate everything, but the indie sector is vibrant. I’d love to make a film in the UK one day, especially in Wales, where my home is.

Interview by Richard Badley




15-30 October 2008

The Electric Sheep team round up their favourite films of this year’s London Film Festival.


A gripping, powerful and hauntingly beautiful film, Hunger is artist Steve McQueen’s slow-paced dramatisation of the last months in the life of Irish Republican Bobby Sands, who starved himself to death in 1981 in protest against the British government’s refusal to treat convicted IRA members as political prisoners. Despite an arguably impressive display of physical violence, there are moments when stunning shots of artistic beauty lend the film a grim poetic atmosphere. The result is a mesmerising choreography that demands utter commitment from the actors (an extraordinary central performance from Michael Fassbender), and it is also an inventive bursting forth of McQueen the filmmaker. PAMELA JAHN

Waltz with Bashir

Ari Folman’s brilliant animated documentary about the 1982 Lebanon war was one of the best films at the LFF. This is a brave and powerful movie, both stylistically and in its treatment of Folman’s involvement in one of the most controversial episodes in Israel’s history, the massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. The animation beautifully conveys the depth and intensity of Folman’s story as he meets with fellow friends, soldiers and journalists in his attempt to counter the collective amnesia suffered by witnesses of the event. This is an astonishing, unmissable piece of filmmaking with one of the most harrowing and moving endings seen in years. SARAH CRONIN

United Red Army

Koji Wakamatsu’s latest film is by far the most complex, stunning and utterly demanding film I’ve seen in the course of this year’s festival circuit. In 190 visually and conceptually engrossing minutes, United Red Army traces the history of the Japanese militant left from its origins in 1960 to its escalation in the early 1970s. Basing his film on comprehensive research as well as his own memories and connections to some members of the Red Army faction when it was still active, Wakamatsu not merely reveals the gruelling events that took place at the time, he once again pushes the boundaries of filmmaking in almost every take, taking the story from docu-style drama to claustrophobic chamber piece into breathtaking action thriller in the final act. What remains is a profound and painful dissection of ideology itself, rendered with an impressive clarity that is rarely seen on the big screen. PAMELA JAHN


I found myself utterly stunned by Antonio Campos’s feature debut Afterschool. A class video project in an upscale American prep school accidentally captures a tragedy, and we follow the reactions of the school, its pupils, and particularly of the boy, Robert (Ezra Miller), who shot the incident, an alienated and unpopular student who becomes a source of anxiety for the institution. If, as is usually the case, high school/college movies are intended as portraits of America in microcosm, then this is the most bilious, vicious picture of that nation I’ve encountered in years. It’s a tough watch from the outset, with an unsettling montage of internet clips giving way to the face of Robert as he wanks away to some unpleasant porn, and never stops being unnerving thereafter. The dark nature of the story is emphasised by visually inventive, oddly framed photography throughout; imitating both the lopsided compositions of amateur cameramen and the disaffected gaze of a sociopath, it builds its own woozy unhealthy atmosphere, a world viewed through the wrong head. It’s creepy and smart and it may just screw with your head for days. MARK STAFFORD


A happily eccentric middle-class family live in the ideal, open surroundings of the French countryside, right on the edge of a long unused motorway. However, when the motorway is suddenly opened to swarms of traffic, their lives become intolerable as the noise, pollution and danger invades their lives. As the disruption to their normal routine eats away at their freedoms, they descend into semi-primordial behavioural patterns and bizarre somnambulant rituals. Beautifully filmed, with a superb, believable cast (Isabelle Huppert is outstanding), Home explores the deep ramifications of urbanisation and the impact of rampant capitalism upon the human psyche. On one level it’s a witty, modern-day environmental parable, and on another it’s a surreal descent into the subconscious fears and desires of the id. Birthed from the same otherworldly penumbra as classics like Weekend, Themroc and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Home is a unique and strange masterpiece where Kafka meets Ballard on the arid tarmac of the Motorway. JAMES DC

Hansel and Gretel

A South Korean grown-up reworking of the familiar children’s story, Yim Phil-sung’s Hansel and Gretel is a dark, surreal fairy tale weaving themes of lost innocence, dysfunctional families, revenge, trust and love. When a young man driving along a country road crashes his car, he is taken to a ravishing house in the middle of the forest by a strange, ethereal young girl. He is looked after by her family but when he tries to go back to his car the next day, and the following days too, he finds he cannot leave the forest. Forced to remain with the three children and faced with a series of bizarre occurrences, he gradually disentangles the web of mystery that surrounds the children to discover the truth about their identity. The enchanted house and forest are beautifully depicted, the children are suitably ambivalent and the film’s atmosphere is perfectly balanced between sinister and magical. A real treat. VIRGINIE Sí‰LAVY

Il Divo

Winner of the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Il Divo sees director Paolo Sorrentino apply his trademark formal beauty to the life of one of Italy’s most notorious politicians. Seven-time Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti was tried on several occasions for murder, corruption and Mafia involvement, but defended himself successfully each time. The characters accused along with Andreotti are many and difficult to distinguish – expect a re-edit before the theatrical release – but rather than try to establish the facts, Sorrentino chooses instead to focus on the aegis of ambiguity that Andreotti forges for himself. In this character study he could have no better co-conspirator than his The Consequences of Love star Tony Servillo, who is hypnotic as Andreotti. ALEXANDER PASHBY

Momma’s Man

On paper, Momma’s Man doesn’t necessarily hold that much appeal: a thirty-something man visits his parents at their New York loft and finds himself incapable of returning home to his wife and baby in Los Angeles. But director Azazel Jacobs’ film is much more than a sum of its parts. Jacobs cast his own remarkable parents (influential experimental filmmaker Ken Jacobs and artist Flo Jacobs) and shot the movie in the same Manhattan apartment where they’ve lived for the last 40 years. Matt Boren puts in a great performance as their son, who’s desperate to be a little kid again. The location itself is terrific, packed with the eccentric ephemera collected over a lifetime, and while the film’s laid-back pace demands some patience, this funny and poignant film has that indefinable something that marks out the most memorable films. SARAH CRONIN

Beautiful Losers

Pulled from this year’s EIFF line-up at the very last minute, Beautiful Losers was a welcome addition to the small number of worthwhile documentaries included in the LFF programme. In an unashamedly nostalgic but extremely likeable fashion, co-director Aaron Rose looks back in affection at his own achievement, New York’s Alleged Gallery, and the loose-knit group of American artists who became involved in the creative movement that grew around the small storefront space in the early 90s. It features artists such as Barry McGee, Chris Johanson, Ed and Deanna Templeton, Jo Jackson, Margaret Kilgallen, Mike Mills amongst others, with Harmony Korine being no doubt the most weirdly charming contributor. PAMELA JAHN

Not Quite Hollywood

Not Quite Hollywood is music promo director Mark Hartley’s affectionate no-holds-barred-pedal-to-the-metal salute to Ozploitation cinema, charting its rise in the late 60s, fall in the late 80s, and recent resurgence with the likes of Wolf Creek. It rounds up an impressive roll call of talking heads from the scene, who, in true Aussie style, are refreshingly blunt about their experiences and each other, and intercuts them with a generous helping of clips from the films. It’s great fun: Hartley seems to be terrified of boring his audience and packs out his 102 minutes with insane stunts, montages of naked Sheilas, automotive carnage and explosions, and countless outrageous stories, all edited to a zippy sprint. The archive footage of Dennis Hopper scrambling for his life from his burning stunt double would justify your time and money on its own. It’s divided into three sections, sex, horror and action, and the movies can also usefully be divided into three types: familiar late night /video library classics (The Long Weekend, Patrick, Turkey Shoot, Road Games, and of course Mad Max ); films that you can safely avoid (Oz sex comedies of the 70s look just as toe-curlingly Christ-awful as British sex comedies of the 70s, which is some kind of achievement); and, and here is where NQH really scores, the numerous neglected, lost and largely forgotten films which the film makes you desperately want to see. As well as having a high population density of insane stuntmen the country was also clearly never lacking in spectacular outback scenery or 70mm lenses to shoot it with, and from the clips included here alone, the likes of Fair Game and Dead End Drive-In all look glorious. If I must quibble, I’d say that the pacy style of the film excludes any real discussion of the social context, aesthetics or especially the grisly sexual politics of ozploitation cinema; which is sorely needed, especially when the inevitable Quentin Tarantino keeps popping up enthusing about one woman-bashing scene after another. Hartley’s default setting is breathless, shameless celebration over analysis, and NQH often seems to actively avoid deciding whether the films are actually any damn good or not (Though I think it’s a pretty safe bet that Howling 3: The Marsupials sucks koala cock). Apparently, the director has launched his own line of ozploitation DVDs so any viewers wishing to familiarise themselves with some authentic Australian sleaze will soon be able to judge for themselves. Happy hunting. MARK STAFFORD


Dolly Mixture

Screening at: Barbican (London)

Date: 4 November 2008

Part of the Pop Mavericks season

As part of Bob Stanley of Saint Etienne’s Pop Mavericks season at The Barbican, November 4 saw the premiere of two new documentary films by Paul Kelly – Take Three Girls: The Dolly Mixture Story and Lawrence of Belgravia, the latter about the eccentric Go-Kart Mozart, Denim and, most famously, Felt singer/songwriter Lawrence Hayward. Kelly himself is also a musician, playing in bands such as 80s Byrds botherers East Village with his brother Martin, and with his partner Dolly Mixture’s Debsey Wykes in Birdie. Both Kelly and Wykes have for many years been auxiliary members of Saint Etienne.

To say there is nepotism afoot here is understating the case, but the members of Saint Etienne have always been fans of music and popular culture, and Bob Stanley in particular has tirelessly championed indie and 60s pop as a writer for music magazines such as Mojo, as the curator of events at the Barbican and the Southbank, and via his own record labels, even re-issuing the sole Dolly Mixture album in 1995. For the past few years he has been curating a film series at the Barbican, scouring the vaults (or scraping the barrel) to find the weirdest (Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains with Ray Winstone as a punk-rock star) and most wonderful (erm…) examples of the British pop music film. At times, the screenings seem more like cultural studies lectures on 70s youth cults and are often taken from the BBC’s Play for Today series and the like. The films are never very good but somehow always fascinating. However, although appearing under the same banner, the Kelly films are something quite different.

Kelly is known for having made Finisterre in 2003 (co-directed with Kieran Evans and in collaboration with Saint Etienne) – a bizarrely narrated slide show consisting of an endless sequence of close-up shots of almost recognisable London landmarks. It features voice-over interviews with some of the capital’s favourite cult figures (ATV’s Mark Perry) and art stars (Julian Opie). It is a slow hypnotic film set to one of Saint Etienne’s most ambient albums.

Here, Kelly has been able to adapt his visual style to something more suited to the raucous post-punk pop of Dolly Mixture. Formed in the late 70s, Dolly Mixture somehow garnered some press and a few top support slots (The Undertones, The Jam) and were even signed to EMI off-shoot Chrysalis, who tried to capture the band’s punky/poppy girl-group style with a decent but uninspired cover of the Beatles/Shirelles classic ‘Baby It’s You’. Despite the failure of that and all subsequent releases the band found fame (with many memorable Top Of The Pops performances) as Captain Sensible’s backing band on such hits as the UK number one ‘Happy Talk’, ‘Glad It’s All Over’ and ‘Wot’! Their association with the Damned guitarist’s novelty pop may have harmed their career, although if truth be told there are many many reasons why good bands get ignored. The band self-released their sole album (a 27-track double disc) before breaking up in 1984. This story was told in a BBC documentary made at the time, which was screened as part of one of Bob Stanley’s previous Barbican film seasons.

It’s claimed that despite their lack of success the Dolly Mixture were influential – I am not sure this is true. If Dolly Mixture had any lasting influence then surely music today would sound better than it does. It does seem as if Saint Etienne are making and promoting films about themselves and their friends – it might be approaching self-mythologising but, hell, someone has to do it. The sad truth is that Dolly Mixture should have been influential, should have been more successful and should be remembered (and still listened to). Dolly Mixture were a great band; Debsey Wykes’s voice was smooth as Cadbury’s caramel (Tracey Thorn take note); they had more great tunes than The Go-Go’s; and certainly had more star quality than Bananarama. They could have been bigger than The Bangles.

Paul Huckerby



Colombiage 08

16-19 october 2008

Riverside Studios, London

Colombiage website

With a whole weekend of talks, music, food and literature to take in, cinema was just one part of this Colombian cultural festival based at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith. The event began in 2007 and aims to display the richness of contemporary Colombian arts.

The film programme reflected the growing strength of Colombian film production. Directed by Felipe Martí­nez and a massive success in its home country, Bluff was a confident comedy/thriller with an inventive plot and some neat twists. There may be a Hollywood genre at the bottom of this but the film drew life from local nuances and a colloquial flavour and in that respect recalled Nine Queens from Argentina. In Bluff we got a nice line in insouciant cruelty from the soap opera diva Alexandra (Catalina Aristizábal), plus a great performance from Luis Eduardo Arango as the petulant and impulsive detective Walter Montes.

Felipe Guerrero’s documentary, Paraí­so, demonstrated a different kind of confidence. Presenting images of Colombia stripped of context and commentary, it relied on the strength of the imagery and its abstracted soundtrack. This dislocated and poetic approach evoked overpowering aromas of pain, memory and humour, especially in its wry spoken conclusion.

Other films shown at the event included the highly recommended Wandering Shadows (La Sombra del caminante), the 2004 debut of director of Ciro Guerra, and Satanas, an exploration of morality and human behaviour based on the novel by Mario Mendez.

Certainly Columbiage was a triumph in terms of presenting film from this often-neglected, or at least misrepresented, country. It was also the perfect appetiser for the Discovering Latin America film festival which kicks off in London on November 27.

Nick Dutfield

The Discovering Latin America film festival runs from November 27 to December 11 in London. For more details, visit the DLA website.


City Paradise

Format: DVD

Release date: 22 September 2008

Distributor: Future Shorts

Approx 120 mins

Future Shorts website

The first Future Shorts DVD is a compilation of the most interesting and entertaining 16 short films, animation and music videos screened by Future Shorts Festival over the past five years. Our resident scientist-cum-comic book artist Oli Smith methodically analyses its contents.

What’s a Girl to Do

A dark music video with a catchy tune. The film is just short enough for the symbolism to avoid pretentiousness. Plus the symbolism involves BMXers in animal masks.

City Paradise

Well, I’ve seen THIS a million times before. The animation is lovely but pretty standard for indie CG mixed with live action and the storyline is so insubstantial it might as well just be called a line. But the song over the ending credits is beautiful.

7:35 de la mañana

Very good. A man in a French bar holds the clientele hostage, forcing them to take part in an amateur musical number to serenade a fellow customer whom he fancies. A very original twist on the genre and the rough clumsiness of the participants who don’t quite know what they are doing is well realised.

La Barbichette

A terrible film to follow up 7:35. Three French brothers slap each other for five minutes? Sound like fun? It isn’t.

La Vie d’un chien

Humanity is set free by a scientist who invents a drug that turns people into dogs. Reminded me of a short story I read in a trashy SF anthology from the 50s once, but progressing into a quiet poignancy toward the end. An elegant parable.

I Want More

I don’t know what a Faithless pop video is doing on a disc of amateur filmmakers, no matter how cool it is. So I will pretend it doesn’t exist.


Ask a random person on the street to imagine what a black and white Russian short film about a prostitute with a young son would look like and they’d probably say this. It is so clichéd it’s untrue and about eight minutes too long. I was half expecting the words ‘reassuringly expensive’ to appear at any moment.


Cute is the word really, and that’s about it. In 10 minutes’ time I’ll probably forget I ever saw this.

Revolution of the Crabs

I laughed out loud at this near perfect animated short about a species of crab that can only walk in a straight line. Although the ending is a little muddled, the black and white line work sets the story off perfectly without detracting from the physical comedy.


‘Based on and old joke’. And a good one it is. But if the joke isn’t his then the artist has added very little of himself.

Park Football

Or Pongball as I like to call it. This is a stunning piece of visual comedy, which is even more remarkable considering all the characters are rectangles. The birds molesting the kid will have you rolling in the aisles.

I Just Want to Kiss You

A young Martin Freeman seems to be auditioning for Trainspotting. I just find it depressing that in 1989 he was already pulling the same funny faces he’s been doing in lieu of actual acting his entire career. I still love him in The Office though.

She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not

A lovely plot device about a man looking back on his past relationship a petal a scene. Unfortunately, the writer was so busy high-fiving after that he seemed to have forgotten that the idea is no good if the relationship isn’t remotely convincing.

On s’embrasse

And there was me thinking that the reason I hadn’t enjoyed the serious shorts so far was because five minutes wasn’t time enough to develop a sufficient emotional attachment. Turns out it’s not the time that’s been lacking, it’s the talent. This is heartbreaking stuff with a twist that will kill you.

Never like the first time

I have always been a proponent of the idea that the secret to autobiography is to get personal and you can’t get more intimate or universal than talking about losing your virginity. Beautifully animated and in turn heart-warming and frightening, this is creature comforts with soul.

Jojo in the Stars

Rayman Raving Rabbits meets Tim Burton in this predictable fairy tale that is saved by its visuals, which seems to be the excuse for most animated tales on this disc. A shame.

Oli Smith



Influenced by ‘alcohol, gravity and 20,000 years of culture’, Shrag’s arty indie pop balances the sweetness of girl vocals with appealingly bitter lyrics. So far they have released 10 songs over five 7” singles released by Where It’s At Is Where You Are, soon to be collected on an album, and they provided the most rock’n’roll moment of Indietracks 08 when they took to the stage to cheekily perform as the no-show Comet Gain. They play Ladyfest Manchester on November 8, the Buffalo Bar (London) on November 28 and La Flí¨che d’or (Paris) on January 2. For more info visit their MySpace or the Where It’s At Is Where You Are website. Below, guitarist/vocalist Bob gives us the low-down on his favourite films. And in case you wondered, ‘shrag’ means ‘to lob twigs off branches’.

1- North by Northwest (1959)
So cinematic it virtually defines cinema. It’s funny, thrilling and downright sexy, peppered with so many memorable set-pieces (modern Hollywood films would covet just one of them). Ernest Lehman’s witty, inventive screenplay. Robert Burk’s iconic photography. Bernard Herrmann’s pounding score. Eva Marie Saint. Cary Grant. James Mason. Hitchcock’s exemplary direction. It’s almost too perfect. You can see why many cineastes favour the darker, more psychologically complex material of films like Vertigo, Psycho et al (which were made immediately before and after this film), but call me a perfectionist because NxNW(as the noughties remake would surely be called) wins hands down for me. And that scene with Eva Marie Saint and Cary Grant in the diner car is so filthy I blush every time I see it!

2- Blue Velvet (1986)
David Lynch peels back the veneer of small-town America to reveal a grotesque underbelly. Disturbing, seductive and almost unbearably tense, it’s David Lynch’s most fully realised work and it’s fucking genius. Why are there people like Frank? Because they make the greatest screen characters of all time.

3- Orphée (1950)
Sometimes art in cinema falls flat on its self-satisfied face but Jean Cocteau’s dreamlike poetic masterpiece transcends any one single medium and manages to satisfy as a work of visual art, a work of poetry and above all a work of cinema. Bastard.

4- That Obscure Object of Desire (1977)
I’ll give its English title to stop sounding like a pretentious twat. Don’t be put off by the Frenchness (from a Spaniard), the artiness (from another proper ‘artist’) or the oldness of the director (he was a sprightly 77 when he made this). Buñuel also was a painfully astute satirist and this is such a fucking hilarious send-up of middle-class mores that emasculates to the extent that most men will be guarding their crotch throughout.

5- Trust (1990)
How can such humanity and warmth emanate from a studiously arch and stylised film as this? It’s quite a coup, and it made me want to be friends with Hal Hartley. He never returned my letters.

6- The Third Man (1949)
Here’s a challenge. Pop the VHS cassette in your video player. Fast forward this film with your eyes shut. Play, then pause. Keep them shut mind!… Now open them. Isn’t that fucking amazing! Every frame of this film (I haven’t counted how many) is such a stunning composition you could hang it in an Athena frame and gaze at its wonder for many years. Don’t worry: the film’s good too. Orson Welles is in it. He also made a few good films.

7- The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
More cold war machinations. Eerie. Weird. And so fucking cool. It’s got ol’ blue eyes Frank Sinatra in it. It’s so political and cryptic you’ll be scratching your noodle ’til your fingers bleed but don’t worry – there’s always the Hollyoaks omnibus.

8- Chinatown (1974)
Polanski genre-hopped like no other. His comedies were largely woeful. His horror films more rewarding. But his one stab at film noir is a direct hit. How can a 1974 film by a complete outsider usurp such genre classics as Double Indemnity, The Big Sleep, Kiss Me Deadly? I don’t rightly know. It’s gripping and brilliant and evokes mood and time without a hint of pastiche.

9- City of God (2002)
Another film by a latecomer that transcends (and possibly surpasses) its obvious lineage. I’m a huge fan of Scorcese but this film blew me away even more than Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas did on first viewing. And that’s no mean feat. Unlike Scorcese’s stoic representation of gangster life, City of God has a poignant humanity that makes you gasp, shriek, weep and punch the air at various moments. It’s that good!

10- Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
My favourite Woody Allen film. Included mainly to wind up my Allen-loving colleague who doesn’t even rate it in her top 20. It’s a brilliant film with one of the best narrative framing devices. How can you say it’s ‘SHIT’!. You are wrong! You are so fucking WRONG!!