The Colossus of New York

The West London Fantastic Film Society

Thursday 5 February 2009

Panic in Year Zero + The Colossus of New York

AVCOM Preview Theatre, Shepherd’s Bush, London

Four days into the worst snowfall London has seen in a generation and I found myself slip-sliding my way down an insalubrious street in a dark corner of Shepherd’s Bush. The end of the street led to an unlit car park and if it wasn’t for the groups of twos and threes that were also making the same journey – a casual observer might have thought we were convening for a swingers’ party – I’d have wondered if Google maps had taken me on a wild goose chase.

On the first Thursday of most months, The West London Fantastic Film Society meet in the preview theatre of a cinema equipment company in W12 to show double bills of classic and not so classic B-movies. The first screening of 2009 included Panic in Year Zero (1962) and The Colossus of New York (1958), two films I’d never even heard of before and enjoyed considerably. Previous screenings have ranged from the ridiculous (The Creature Walks among Us) to the sublime (The Exorcist) and it is this disparate programme, which mixes forgotten gems with masterpieces of the genre, that guarantees that a small but loyal membership keeps returning.

As the number of art-house and niche cinemas continues to dwindle throughout the UK, and in London in particular, clubs like the WLFFS provide the only opportunity for fans to see older movies that are not considered worthy of showing at the venerable BFI. While the internet (both legally and illegally) has made thousands of forgotten films available again, watching a DVD at home, no matter how impressive your home cinema system, is not quite the same as seeing a celluloid print of an obscure movie projected with a group of like-minded individuals. It is this, as well as the eclectic programme, that will ensure the club’s survival.

Neither Panic in Year Zero nor The Colossus of New York is a cinematic masterpiece. The former contained about 20 minutes of monotonous footage of cars on tarmac and a soundtrack of relentlessly cheerful lift music that might drive casual viewers to distraction. But the gonzo pairing of teen idol Frankie Avalon and B-movie stalwart Ray Milland in a film that has a nuclear war going on down the road while the cast goes camping made for diverting viewing. The latter film – a fun robotic take on the Frankenstein myth – was far more engaging and had a terrific mechanical monster that shot beams out of its eyes. However, The Colossus suffered from the same problem as the risible Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989): New York was represented by a few brief shots of stock footage and anyone expecting a space age thematic sequel to King Kong got their monster movie thrills in word rather than deed. But where else could you see these films projected on a cold dismal night in February while being able to buy popcorn and hotdogs for less than a pound?

The main films, one of which is occasionally swapped for an episode of The Twilight Zone or a related documentary, are accompanied by support material. When I attended, the strange double bill of caravan apocalypse and robot brain transplant was preceded by an old newsreel documentary about kamikaze pilots during the Second World War. Later, and better still, the interval was prefaced by old 1950s and 1960s cinema adverts that were terrific to watch for both nostalgic reasons and for the juxtapositions of theme and product that seem both charming and strange to modern eyes. The WLFFS experience also involves a swap shop for Italian exploitation DVDs (starting at £2.50) and a lovingly produced programme full of stills and original poster art that even includes a reproduction of the original foyer material for one of the films, printed on card as a brilliant keepsake.

The WLFFS is attended by both fans and retired film directors. It was fantastic to have my hotdog served by Norman J. Warren, the director of Satan’s Slave (1976) and Inseminoid (1981), and his apology that Panic in Year Zero was being shown in the wrong aspect ratio was both charming and unnecessary. Norman and host Darren Perry source the films from collectors’ fairs and in fact had shown both of these titles in ‘inferior’ prints at screenings earlier in the decade, but finding better 16mm copies and an increase in members’ numbers justified a repeat showing. Another, equally unnecessary apology came from the woman sitting behind me who said, ‘the interval can tend to go on a bit long as everyone likes to catch up, but Darren does try to make sure everyone is able to get the last train home’.

I first met Darren and Norman at another small film club in Croydon, which was in a cosier venue still, as the host projected films from his kitchen (through a hole in the sliding doors) into a screen in his living room and served nibbles in the garden. If Mike Leigh had directed an episode of Spaced, I suspect it would have been not dissimilar. At one of these nights, as the interval’s cheese and pineapple on sticks was followed by a darker horror film for the second part of the double bill, the host suggested to his aunt who was sitting in the back row that she might ‘want to sit that one out as it was a bit bloody’!

Darren also volunteers as the projectionist at the Gothique film society, which meets once or twice a month at Conway Hall in Red Lion Square (next screening: Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter) and attracts some of the loyal band of WLFFS aficionados. However, there is nothing cliquey about these affectionate, welcoming groups, which are always delighted to have new members. Film journalists at major publications regularly bemoan the disappearance of the cult screenings at the Scala in King’s Cross, but these screenings are still taking place. These days you might have to travel outside of zone 1 and wrap up warm in a cold warehouse in Shepherd’s Bush or squeeze into the front room of a semi on the A215 to Norwood, but that’s a cinematic experience as worthy as anything mainstream critics remember with rose-tinted spectacles.

The next WLFFS offers the unexpected juxtaposition of Yoko Tani as ‘the Leader of the Lystrians’ in Invasion (1965) with David Cronenberg’s perennial head-exploding classic Scanners (1981). Freak weather notwithstanding, I for one will happily be making the trip.

Alex Fitch

Contact Darren for more info about the WLFFS – £6.50 for guests / £15 membership and £4 tickets if you join – on filmhorror (at) yahoo (dot) co (dot) uk. For The Gothique film society, visit

The Good, The Bad, The Weird: Interview with Kim Jee-woon

The Good, The Bad, The Weird

Format: Cinema

Release date: 6 February 2009

Venues: Cineworld Shaftsbury Av (London) and key cities

Distributor: Icon

Director: Kim Jee-woon

Writers: Kim Jee-woon, Kim Min-suk

Original title: Joheunnom nabbeunnom isanghannom

Cast: Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun, Jung Woo-sung

South Korea 2008

120 minutes

After the intelligent psychological horror movie A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) and the noir-inflected A Bittersweet Life (2005), Kim Jee-woon returns with an Asian take on the Western. The Good, the Bad, the Weird is an uproarious action-packed romp with more than a nod to Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), from the gunslingers’ supremely cool attitude in the face of death to the nonchalant whistling on the Ennio Morricone-inspired soundtrack.

Virginie Sélavy talked to the director during the London Korean Film Festival in October 2008.

Virginie Sélavy: You seem to tackle a new genre every time you make a film: you did comedy horror in The Quiet Family (1998), horror in A Tale of Two Sisters, film noir in A Bittersweet Life and now you’re taking on the Western. Is this deliberate?

Kim Jee-woon: I don’t know yet which genre I’m best at so I have to try lots of different ones! I don’t want to repeat a genre that I’ve already done because working with a variety of styles inspires me and gives me more cinematic energy. The genre I choose for each film is directly related to the theme. For example, when I chose horror, the theme of the film was the fear of things that you can and cannot see. Action films are about violence. With film noir it’s about the point at which people will break. And with a Western, the theme is revenge; it’s about strong male characters competing about who’s the best; and it’s about chasing and being chased. So when I choose a genre I choose a theme.

VS: In the credits, The Good, The Bad, The Weird is labelled an ‘oriental Western’. In what way is it different from a traditional Western?

KJW: Traditional Westerns have a low-key construction, a slow pace and simple action. I wanted to appeal to a more modern audience by making the action more powerful, by speeding up the pace and by having multi-dimensional characters, rather than just good and bad characters. Rather than just say ‘oriental Western’ I prefer to say that it’s a ‘kimchi Western’. Kimchi is a Korean dish of fermented cabbage, it’s very spicy and very hot. I like to call it that because the film reflects Korean people, who are very dynamic and spicy, just like kimchi.

VS: The Good, The Bad, The Weird was clearly very strongly influenced by Sergio Leone. Do you see your film as a homage, a parody or a re-invention?

KJW: All of them (laughs)! It started as a homage, but I tried to make it fun, with lots of humour, and I believe that there is some re-invention. It’s all of them.

VS: Why replace ‘The Ugly’ with ‘The Weird’?

KJW: Because when you call a character ‘Ugly’ it’s very limiting. But when you call a character ‘Weird’ it triggers your imagination, it makes you excited and it makes you expect more.

VS: The character of Tae-goo/The Weird, played by Song Kang-ho, seems to be the most different from the characters in both Leone’s films and in spaghetti Westerns in general. He seems closer to the type of character that Song Kang-ho also plays in The Host (2006) and in Memories of Murder (2003). At first, he seems to be a fool, but in the end he is revealed to be the most complex character in the film. Was he the character that you found most interesting?

KJW: The Tae-goo character is closer to human nature. You can identify with him. The Good and The Bad are very conventional characters, so without The Weird this film would only be entertainment. That’s why I wanted The Weird to lead the whole story, so human life was reflected through his character – it’s about how it can get complicated and how things can go wrong.

VS: You’ve said before that no one is meant to be just The Good, just The Bad or just The Weird, but Do-won seems to be the one with more good in him, Chang-yi with more bad in him and Tae-goo with more weird in him.

KJW: Initially they’re all good, bad and weird in their own way. Do-won is good, Chang-yi is bad and Tae-goo is weird, but to make things more complicated, I gave a different mission to all the characters. I told The Good that his mission was to do super-spectacular action, I told The Bad to express emotions and sensibility and I asked The Weird to lead the story and the pace of the film.

VS: There are many references to the Koreans no longer having their own country in the film. How important is the historical background to the story?

KJW: I chose that period and that place because that’s probably the most suitable time for a Western, so it’s the other way around – the story came first. But because the historical issues were very heavy during that period, whether I intended it or not, people always say there are political issues in the film.

VS: Why do you feel that this was the best period for a Western?

KJW: First of all, to make a Western it’s very important to have a place where you can ride a horse, and as you can see in the film, the endless landscape in Manchuria is perfect. There were all those countries, China, Japan, Russia, fighting for control of Manchuria at that time, so there’s this atmosphere of lawlessness that is very suitable. It also means that there are lots of different people there for different reasons and I was interested in showing this multicultural situation. And then, there are a lot of bandits, which was also perfect for a Western and I wanted to show that very rough, wild time.

VS: You say that political issues are not important, but the idea that the three main characters are free but don’t have a country comes back several times. Is the film about Korean identity in some way?

KJW: The scene where Do-won and Tae-goo talk under the moonlight is about identity and for that reason probably appeals more to Korean audiences than to Western audiences. It’s about a certain Korean sensibility.

VS: There is also a very spectacular scene in which Do-won single-handedly inflicts some serious losses on the Japanese army. It’s a great action scene but I was wondering if it was also a way of expressing some kind of anger at Japan in a humorous way?

KJW: I guess you’re right (laughs). Er… (more laughs). Yes, but it is only in a humorous way, it’s not a political statement.

REALITY FICTION: Japanese Films Based on Actual Events

Who's Camus Anyway?

6-12 February 2009

Venue: ICA, London

ICA website


7-21 February

Watershed, Bristol

2-5 March

Queen’s Film Theatre, Belfast

11-19 March

Filmhouse, Edinburgh

9-19 March

Showroom, Sheffield

The Japan Foundation is returning to the ICA for a second year to present its new touring film programme, ‘Reality Fiction’. Featuring six films, the season explores the way Japanese directors have used actual events as the source material for their work. While the selection of films is not entirely devoted to crime drama, murder is definitely a popular theme.

Picked from the archives, the 1965 film A Chain of Islands (Nihon retto) begins with the discovery of a drowned US Army Sergeant, found floating in Tokyo Bay; the 1970 film Live Today, Die Tomorrow! (Hadaka no Jukya-sai), directed by Kaneto Shindo, probes the background and motivations of 19-year-old Norio Nagayama, who murdered four people between October and November 1968 using a gun stolen from US troops; in Junji Sakamoto’s 2001 Face (Kao), mild-mannered Masako, who kills her sister in a fit of rage, learns to live on the run in the aftermath of the devastating Kobe earthquake.

In Who’s Camus Anyway? (Kamiyu nante shiranai, 2005), Mitsuo Yanagimachi uses the motiveless killing of an elderly woman by a teenager in 2000 as the basis for a clever film-within-a-film that owes as much to pop culture and teen movies as it does to the crime genre. An impressive long take introduces us to the main characters as the camera tracks around the sunny campus of an arts college: the young, charismatic director, the cool, good-looking cameraman, even the film geek, who enthuses over the infamous opening shots in Touch of Evil and The Player. Their student project is to make a film based on the murder, but their attempts to get into the mind of the killer (which include the obligatory reading of Camus’s The Stranger) lead them into dangerous situations of their own. Yanagimachi could have done more to ramp up the suspense throughout the film, but the terrifically shot, well acted bloody ending leaves the audience unsure of where the boundary between reality and fiction lies.

A much more modest, but powerful film is Yasutomo Chikuma’s Now, I… (Ima, Boku Wa), made in 2007 with a budget of less that $5000. Chikuma, who also wrote and directed the film, plays Satoru, a 20-year-old NEET (‘not engaged in employment, education or training’) who virtually locks himself away in his bedroom in self-imposed isolation. His distraught mother stages an intervention in the form of an acquaintance who offers Satoru a job, but his refusal to engage with the outside world is virtually insurmountable. Chikuma’s sullen, monosyllabic Satoru is both infuriating and strangely endearing, while dramatic moments (which initially seem outsized for such a low-key film) make his exile all the more disturbing.

The Reality Fiction season spans a variety of budgets, eras and genres (historical drama gets a look in with Chosyu Five, about a group of samurai who travel to Europe in the mid-19th century in a bid to master Western technology), but the films all have one thing in common: a desire to understand what drives people to extreme behaviour, whether it’s murder, self-imposed seclusion or sailing halfway around the world.

Sarah Cronin



6th London Short Film Festival

9-18 January 2009

LSFF website

‘It seems cinema and politics don’t go together anymore’, said Sarah Wood of Club des Femmes as she introduced the Body of Work section at the London Short Film Festival. She and her colleague Selina Robertson, whose mission as CdF is to provide a ‘positive female space for the re-examination of ideas through art’, chose their return slot at the festival to look at female nudity on camera, screening a programme of films selected from the archives to demonstrate Wood’s point.

Marina Abramovich & Ulay’s 1977 film Imponderabilia features a naked man and woman standing opposite each other in the narrow doorway to a museum. As swathes of people cross the threshold, only a handful turn to face the man. The rest – both male and female visitors – choose to face the woman as they squeeze past, revealing the dynamics of power relations and gender roles simply and visually.

A striking sequence in Jayne Parker’s black and white film K (1989) shows the director standing naked in an empty room, pulling a long internal organ out through her mouth and knitting it into a cloth-like structure with her hands. ‘I bring into the open all the things I have taken in that are not mine and thereby make room for something new. I make an external order out of an internal tangle’, Parker said of this work. Indeed, there is something satisfying about seeing the grotesque and abject woven into a symmetrical dress-like structure – which Parker then holds up to shield her nudity – taking on myriad meanings in a feminist context.

Parker uses the female body to awe-inspiring effect in Almost Out (1982), a film that rarely makes it on to the big screen. At 112 minutes it defied the ‘short’ remit of the festival, but was a key part of the CdF Body of Work programme. Self-consciously breaking the taboo of maternal sexuality, Parker films her mother Joyce naked, while asking probing questions such as, ‘Can you see yourself being penetrated?’ Intercut with this footage are scenes showing the filmmaker naked in a similar set-up, being interviewed by a disembodied male who is credited only as ‘Camera-man’. ‘I don’t know what I can do to get you to see me more. I’m sitting here naked and willing to talk’, Parker tells him, before she concedes that, as the film’s scriptwriter and editor, she ultimately is in full control.

Joyce has no such power. Her scenes are seemingly unscripted and she tells her daughter she is taking part only because of the absolute trust she has in her: ‘If you love someone you wouldn’t make them do something they didn’t want. You wouldn’t put them in that position of having to refuse.’ At her daughter’s request, Joyce talks about body image, sex, motherhood and family. Her open and loving manner is at odds with the mode of questioning which is, comparatively, intrusive and confrontational. She fulfils all of Parker’s wishes, apart from explicitly showing her where she came from, whereas her one request – to know if her daughter thought she was a good mother – goes unanswered. But the power imbalance is rectified by comments made by Parker in her own interview: ‘I’m cross with my mother because I depend on her and she sees that I do.’ She claims she wants her mother to desire her. In turn, Joyce wishes she looked young, slim and beautiful – as Parker does. In this way, the cycle of wishes between mother and daughter, and the push/pull dynamic of their exchanges become as fascinating as the taboo-breaking nudity of the piece.

Measures of Distance (1988) is another example of maternal nudity caught on camera. Director Mona Hatoum contrasts the emotional closeness between mother and daughter with their physical distance, brought on by war and exile. Still shots of her mother taking a shower dissolve over images of letters they wrote to one another. A voice-over ties the two together by reading out the text of the letters, which describe the moment the photos were taken, and their repercussions. In Almost Out, Joyce reveals that she was pleased to stop breastfeeding, as it meant her body was her own again and, similarly, Hatoum’s mother describes how her husband feels betrayed by the photos of her taken by their daughter – as if she belonged to him alone.

Body ownership is also the theme of Vital Statistics of a Citizen, Simply Obtained (1977). In the first part of what she describes as an ‘operatic work of three parts’, filmmaker Martha Rosler depicts herself stripping off before being examined by a man in a lab coat. As he reads out every conceivable weight and measurement, such as ‘sitting spread girth’, another man annotates an anatomical diagram in the background. A trio of women signify whether each measurement is above or below average by honking horns, or ringing a bell if the measurement is spot on. She is then made to dress up in ultra-feminine clothes, style her hair and apply make-up before being dismissed. This sequence takes up the best part of the film’s 40 minutes. It is a noble idea, demonstrated well, but the message is repeated to the point of tedium and beyond, and while the political message is urgent the filmmaking certainly is not.

Better filmmaking was seen during the ‘Femmes Fantastique’ programme, which featured new shorts with interesting and original female characters. They tackled a far more wide-ranging and political variety of topics than last year’s selection, and issues such as miscarriage, sexual dysfunction, prostitution and old age were treated with verve and sensitivity. Clare Holman’s winning film, The Escort (2008), showed a woman trying to balance family life with her job as an escort for young people confronted with the police and social services, and the struggles faced by the teenage girl she is currently escorting. While not as explicitly political as the archive films, it demonstrated that women’s issues and spiky storytelling are not mutually exclusive, and that CdF’s call for political filmmaking is not falling entirely on deaf ears.

Lisa Williams


Eugene McGuinness

The purveyor of an energetic, playful pop, Eugene McGuinness has made a name for himself creating rich melodies, complex harmonies and odd lyrics. Signed to the Domino label at the age of only 22, McGuinness has helped design a sound for young Britain, with influences that go from Scott Walker to his label mates Franz Ferdinand. Perhaps in an effort to be the coolest guy in the room, Eugene McGuinness releases a single entitled ‘Fonz’ on 23 February 2009. He will be playing live throughout January and February, including a London show at White Heat at Madam Jojo’s on February 10. More details on his MySpace and on the Domino website. Here are some movies that have helped shape his life. LUCY HURST

1- Rope (1948)
There are a couple of Hitchcock films that I’ve seen recently, but this one blew me away the most. It felt like I was watching a play in a grand theatre. It is set entirely in a character’s flat and the simplicity of the story only further demonstrates how wonderful the script is.

2- A Room for Romeo Brass (2000)
I’m a massive Shane Meadows fan. Paddy Considine is easily one of the best British actors at the moment. It’s a pretty dark film but its depiction of childhood, friendship and day-to-day adventures in the English suburbs rings true to me.

3- The Last Waltz (1978)
I first saw this when I was about 17 and I’ve barely stopped playing the DVD since – I’ve played it to death! I know every word, solo, facial twitch off by heart. Bob Dylan and Neil Young make appearances, but Rick Danko and Levon Helm are the heart and soul of the film.

4- The Godfather (1972)
It’s the best one, even though Sonny dies. Sonny is easily my favourite character but Al Pacino is a master in the Italian restaurant scene.

5- Get Carter (1971)
I would like a suit like the one Michael Caine wears in this film. I trust it would have the desired effect. There are few cooler scenes than the one in which he walks into a pub in Newcastle and orders a beer, ‘in a thin glass’. The southerner sticks out like a sore thumb.

6- There Will Be Blood (2007)
I watched this in the cinema, drunk. I think that made it even better. It’s a massive film in a very subtle way. Daniel Day Lewis is my favourite actor, I mean you wouldn’t get Mark Lawrenson sporting a moustache in the same way. But that’s beside the point; the cinematography and soundtrack are stunning. Bowling would never be the same again.

7- The Beat That My Heart Skipped (2005)
Another gangster film but this actor, Romain Duris, is brilliant. It’s set in the Parisian underworld and it’s all very gritty and seedy but it’s beautifully shot.

8- Factotum: A Man Who Performs Many Jobs (2005)
There are so many brilliant scenes in this horrifically funny and sad film. Henry Chinaski genuinely doesn’t give a shit; it’s all drink, sex and poetry. There is a moment between him and his father that is the most hilarious thing I’ve ever seen.

9- Jurassic Park (1993)
When I was seven, my dad took me to see Jurassic Park. We’d seen Ghostbusters and Home Alone 2 at the local Odeon in Gants Hill, but as a special treat dad took me to the Empire Leicester Square. It was amazing. Mind you, the scene when the two kids are in the car messed me up a bit.

10- The Deer Hunter (1978)
Chistopher Walken and Robert de Niro are at their very best and the Russian roulette scenes are astonishing. It sends out an extremely clear message about what war actually means. All the characters are so fully formed and real, it gets to the point where it stops feeling like a film and just becomes very sad.