The Killing of Sister George

Date: Sunday 28 June, 2.30pm

Venue: Curzon Soho, London

Title: The World Ten Times Over

Director: Wolf Rilla

UK 1963, 93 mins

Date: Sunday 5 July, 3pm

Venue: Curzon Soho, London

Title: The Killing of Sister George

Director: Robert Aldrich

USA 1968, 138 mins

Club des Femmes website

Curzon Cinema website

It’s the 1960s and the setting is London. A bobbed-haired girl band play some rockin’ tunes while the crowd below jostles and sways. There’s nothing unusual about this scene, except for the fact that all the punters are women and most of them are real people.

Robert Aldrich chose to film this extraordinary part of his 1968 drama The Killing of Sister George at Gateways, the legendary lesbian bar of the era. As a diverse group of gay women slow dance – without being judged – in the background while the three lead characters (all lesbians) argue, it becomes apparent that their struggles are not so much social as internal.

June (Beryl Reid) is an actress known for her role as the do-gooder George in parochial BBC soap Applehurst. In real life, she is an abrasive hard drinker who dominates her babyish girlfriend, nicknamed Childie (Susannah York). The real trouble starts, however, when George finds out her character is due to be axed from the soap and an arch, sophisticated executive called Mercy (Coral Browne) intervenes, resulting in a darkly comic love triangle.

The film’s humour, which ranges from killer one-liners to near door-slamming farce, is what Sarah Wood and Selina Robertson of Club Des Femmes want to highlight at their summer screening. Sister George and her companions may be considered wicked by some audiences, and obscene by the original censors, who to Aldrich’s horror gave the film an X rating, but to Club Des Femmes they are heroines. ‘The film does ask you to take sides, but read in the context in which it was made, it says a lot about how much a gay character would have to suffer before an audience would sympathise and even empathise’, says Wood. ‘We hope that now, watching it in 2009, it’ll be obvious that it’s pantomime. What gives the film heart is the three wonderful central performances.’

A pantomime-style atmosphere is what Wood and Robertson hope to deliver at the screening. ‘Cheer the goodies, boo the badies’, incites the poster, and Sarah adds that she hopes that a 2009 screening of a film that, due to censorship, has so far been denied a big audience will help bring out the fun of what they call ‘dykesploitation’.’We’re jokingly reclaiming a genre of film, made up of certain tropes and stereotypes, to be read and enjoyed by a dyke audience. The Killing of Sister George was made as a general release film, but we like to encourage audience re-engagement. Watching the film on DVD or as a TV re-run in the lonely isolation of your home is one thing. Watching it with an audience who shares the joke is quite another’, she says.

Coinciding with both Pride and the Mayor of London’s Story of London project, the Club Des Femmes event is also a chance for those with memories of the Gateways club to share them with the audience, thus documenting a social history that for the most part has been ignored.

The other film in Club Des Femmes’ Swinging Summertime programme, The World Ten Times Over (1963), features scenes of another nightclub. Its lead characters Billa and Ginnie work as hostesses in a night spot frequented by rich businessmen. While Ginnie appears to revel in the position, and the riches and attention that come with it, her flatmate Billa has grown tired of it. However, when Ginnie’s boyfriend leaves his wife to be with her and she finds out Billa is pregnant, she too begins to unpick the delusion of her existence.

Wood and Robertson describe The World Ten Times Over as ‘possibly the first British lesbian film’. The relationship between the two women is cautiously developed by filmmaker Wolf Rilla, and the biggest display of affection is the loving embrace that closes this stylish and understated film. Although it features nothing as provocative as the sex scene in Sister George that shows a predatory Mercy drive Childie to orgasmic delirium, the censors were still unhappy, presumably because the film challenges the so-called ‘tolerant’ values of the time, which turned out to be anything but.

In case we get complacent about the times we live in, the screenings serve as a reminder of how quickly the freedom of sexuality in this country could be reversed, and how few of the gay female characters we see on screen nowadays are realistic, entertaining or reflective of the naturally diverse group. As Wood puts it: ‘When you want to make a lot of money the default characterisation is still knee-jerk. The lesbians are still to be hunted by the vampire slayers.’

Lisa Williams


Scorpio Rising

Format: DVD

Release date: 25 May 2009

Distributor: BFI

Title: Magick Lantern Cycle

Director: Kenneth Anger

USA 1947-1981

179 minutes

The BFI have recently released the Magick Lantern Cycle, a collection of 10 short films by the legendary Kenneth Anger. The two-disc box-set includes his explosive debut, the violent gay fantasy Fireworks (1947), the beautiful water dream Eaux d’Artifice (1953), the fetishistic hymn to the American biker Scorpio Rising (1964), the Aleister Crowley-inspired Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954) and the powerful, still dangerous evocation of counterculture through a Satanic ritual Invocation of my Demon Brother (1969). Kenneth Anger told Electric Sheep, Flux and The Quietus about using a Lutheran Sunday School film in Scorpio Rising, making a film about his neighbour Elliott Smith’s suicide and how the Soviet Union built a 3D screen made up of a million piano wires.

Electric Sheep: Your films seem to have very strong elemental motifs, in particular fire and water, and they seem to define contrasting sides of your work. Fireworks, Scorpio Rising and Lucifer Rising use fire imagery and are full of dark energy while works like Eaux d’Artifice and Rabbit’s Moon are more pensive, fluid poetic works that belong to the watery element. Do you see your work in terms of this opposition?

Kenneth Anger: I’ve got to have contrast, so I don’t think I have two conflicting things in my psyche, it’s just that the subjects I choose have those elements.

ES: Was there anything specific that influenced the making of the fire films or the water films?

KA: Eaux d’Artifice was made in the 50s, and the amazing thing is that I got permission from the Italian Department of Antiquities to film in the Villa d’Este gardens, which is about 30 miles outside of Rome. Of course they said, don’t break any statues or anything (laughs), which we didn’t. But I don’t know if they would grant that today. The Tivoli gardens have always been a tourist destination, and as I was filming I had the right to block off certain parts for half an hour. And usually it worked out fine, but a couple of times the American Express bus would come along and they would say, ‘Let us in, let us in, we’re going to be late to see something else!’ I just ignored them until I got my shot. It’s very tricky filming with the sunlight, and the reason why the Tivoli gardens were so wonderful was that it’s full of big cypress trees, which create wonderful dark shadows, so you have shafts of lights which are almost like theatrical spotlights coming down. I had to plan it all ahead according to the time of day. It’s all day for night, shot with red filters on panchromatic stock. It’s the only film of mine which has been chosen by the Library of Congress for preservation. I don’t know what that means (laughs), they haven’t given me any money to actually do the preservation. They do have a copy of it though.

ES: Is it true that you found the dwarf lady in Eaux d’Artifice through Fellini?

KA: Yes, Fellini suggested her, I’d met him socially in Rome. I wanted to change the perspective, the scale of the film. She was a genuine midget, like a young child, only she wasn’t a child. And she was wonderfully cooperative.

ES: Why did you want that change of scale?

KA: I don’t know if you’re familiar with a famous etcher, an artist named Piranesi who did wonderful etchings of the ruins of Rome and the Tivoli gardens and several other things as they were in the 18th century. But he changed the perspective on everything. For instance, he has a coach and chair and carriages in front of the ruins of the Coliseum, but the horses are the size of dogs, so everything seems much more grand. It’s grand enough as it is, but even more so when you reduce the human scale. He did the same with the Tivoli Gardens, using small figures to expand it in a dream-like way, so I tried to capture that by using as reference a small figure. You can see when she comes down the stairs that her head is actually at the level where an adult hand should be, holding on to the balustrade, so it just changes the scale and it creates a kind of dream-like feeling.

The Quietus: I think you said Fireworks came from a dream. Do you often draw on dreams that you’ve had for your imagery?

KA: I can’t because they’d be too expensive (laughs). Oddly enough, my dreams very, very rarely have any speech, they’re mostly just visuals, so in that way they’re like my films.

ES: Is that why you have no dialogue in your films and you just use music?

KA: It started out of necessity because my early films were made with the family’s home movie camera, which was a wind-up 16mm camera called a CineKodak that held 100 feet, and one shot would last for half a minute if you wanted to push it that far. But most of my shots were shorter than that anyway. So the challenge was to make films with silent images and not use speech. Then I decided I liked it as a technique, so most of my films are that way. I have made a film with the musician Elliott Smith. He was a friend of mine who committed suicide in October 2003 and I was able to film him before that happened, so I put together a little film, a tribute to him called Elliott’s Suicide. That’s one of my recent films.

The Quietus: How did you know him? Did you live next to him?

KA: Yes, we lived in the district of LA called Silverlake and we were neighbours. He used to play in a club, a little neighbourhood thing where there would be about 20 people, just for fun. He had a serious drug problem, then he had a fight with his girlfriend. She locked herself in the bathroom, which is a very bad thing for any girl to do in a quarrel, the symbolism is all wrong (laughs). He went in the kitchen, opened the kitchen drawer, pulled out a steak knife and stabbed himself in the heart, which is really overdoing it. He was only 34, so we will never know what he could have produced, but he wrote some wonderful songs. There’s one particular song that I used full-length in my film called ‘Rose Parade’, which goes ‘follow me down to the Rose Parade’. That’s the famous parade in Pasadena every New Year’s. He was from New York, but when he settled in California he used to go every year to the Rose Parade after being up all night and stoned. And so he would see it through that filter, I believe heroin – I never went with him so I don’t know what he was on. But I understood that he used to enjoy watching it in that state. Anyway, I went back and filmed segments of the actual parade and I included them in the film.

ES: Many of your films have a great soundtrack. How did you choose the music for Scorpio Rising?

KA: They were the pop songs on the radio that year, 63. I knew these bikers, they weren’t like Hell’s Angels or anything like that, but they were a club, mostly Italian Americans living in Brooklyn, and they would have the radio playing as they were working on their cars or motorcycles. So certain songs I decided would make a good comment on the film. I had to clear all the rights. The budget was $8000 for a half-hour film, and clearing the music rights doubled it to $16000. The film was blown up to 35mm and shown all around the country with a couple of other films, so reluctantly I had to pay for the rights to the music even though I happened to think there’s something called fair use for artists; they should be able to occasionally dip into pop music, particularly things that made a fortune in their usual way. I recently used the music of The Police, ‘Every Breath You Take’. I titled my film I’ll Be Watching You, and it’s a tribute to my late friend Michael Powell and his 1960 film Peeping Tom, because it’s also about voyeurism. It’s also about the paranoia of our time, with surveillance cameras everywhere, certainly here in London, and I think most big cities have them now, as if anyone would be anxious to see a couple of sweethearts kissing or something (laughs), but it’s part of the 21st century.

ES: Do you feel your films always reflect the times that you live in? For instance, Scorpio Rising, which you famously described as a ‘death mirror held to American culture’ and Invocation of my Demon Brother, which is very reflective of 1969, the year in which it was made.

KA: I hope so. I’m just part of the zeitgeist and the mood of that time. It’s something I accept. I deliberately insert things that are reflective, like personalities – Marianne Faithfull, or a flash of Mick Jagger, when he held the tribute for Brian Jones (in Hyde Park in 1969). I attended that.

Flux: Did you feel you were being particularly brave at the time when you included homoerotic content in films like Scorpio Rising or Fireworks, or did you think that it was just something necessary?

KA: I just made the films the way I thought they had to be. There are some flashes of sensitive material in Scorpio Rising, but they’re so brief that you blink and you miss them, they’re three frames long. They’re not subliminal because subliminal means something you absolutely can’t see. The shortest thing you can do in a film is one frame, which is 1/24th of a second, which is actually quite slow and you can identify what it is.

ES: What was the reaction at the time to the homosexual imagery in these films?

KA: Fireworks was shown in 1947 at the Coronet Theatre in Los Angeles, which is a small, legitimate theatre where Charles Laughton was performing in Brecht’s Galileo at the time. There was a midnight screening after the play and I had a good reaction, no police raid or anything. That’s where I met Dr Kinsey, who was there doing interviews for his sex research volume on the human male. He offered to buy a print, the first print I sold to the Kinsey Institute at Bloomington, Indiana, and they still have it. It’s in good condition, they don’t rent it out that often (laughs). And other people I met at the screening were James Whale, the director of Frankenstein, and Robert Florey, another famous director of interesting horror films, so it was a good experience. And then it was shown in San Francisco at the Museum of Art, without any trouble. It wasn’t until I had an early showing in London that an Indian woman wearing a sari got up and said, ‘that film should be burned’ and stormed out, but that was the only bad screening. Just a ripple effect.

ES: Did you have any problems with the censors in America?

KA: Well, Scorpio Rising was denounced – this is ironic – it was denounced at its first screening. It was running at a movie house for art films called The Cinema for a week, and some members of the Nazi Party came and they thought I was insulting their flag, which is quite true, even though you don’t see much of it. So they phoned up the vice squad in LA anonymously and denounced it as porn or as obscene. The way it was in those days, this is 64, the police had to investigate if they had a complaint. They went there and without even watching the film they just seized it, and the poor manager of the theatre got arrested and had to be bailed out, so it was a bit of a fuss. But then it went to the California Supreme Court and a famous ruling came down about it, which applied to every film. It said, it has ‘redeeming social merits’, so it is acceptable. Of course this label has been used for all kinds of things since.

ES: Did you have any problems with Christians because of the parallels you establish between the bikers and Jesus?

KA: I used clips from a Lutheran Sunday School film called The Last Journey to Jerusalem, which was delivered to me by mistake and left on my doorstep when I was cutting Scorpio Rising. And I just kept it and then I cut it into my film, because I thought it was serendipity, a gift from the holy powers, whatever you want to call them, not necessarily the gods, but maybe a prankster. I saw the parallels between the leaders and the followers and cut a little bit of it in, and after the film was shown all around the country I got a letter from the Lutherans, saying, are you actually using our Sunday School film, it looks awfully familiar. And I said, yes, but it’s called a fair use, and I said, you should be ashamed showing such clichés to children because to show a simpering Jesus is not really helpful. Christianity has become so sanitised. I discussed this with Martin Scorsese, who did an interesting film, The Last Temptation of Christ. There was a group of nuns in LA, the hip nuns as they were called. They got a copy of Scorpio Rising and they ran it. They said, ‘oh we think it’s very religious’ (laughs). They said thank you, I said, well thank you (laughs).

The Quietus: I’m interested in your view on how society is much more polarised now. You would probably get more criticism now, people seem much quicker to jump onto something and say, this is offensive to me personally.

KA: I’ve never censored any of my own work, it’s all part of a texture. You’ve probably heard of John Waters. He wrote a book called Shock Value. In his early films, like Pink Flamingos, with Divine, he deliberately put in shock. But I’ve never done that. He’s had a rather surprising commercial success, turning his scenarios into musicals (laughs). And his kind of offbeat sense of humour seems to appeal.

Flux: So there’s no plan for Scorpio Rising the musical?

KA: No, although back in the days I got an offer from a small-time producer in Hollywood, because the title became famous and it was written about in Newsweek Magazine and Time Magazine and so forth. So he said, you’ve got a good title, why don’t we remake it in 35mm feature length, only put in a romance, a boy-girl story (laughs). And I said, well that wouldn’t be Scorpio Rising, I’m sorry (laughs). It might have turned out like something like Easy Rider, I don’t know. But at the time I said thanks, but no thanks.

ES: What were your feelings when you saw Easy Rider? Did you feel that they had been influenced by your film?

KA: Well, I know they saw my film, and Dennis Hopper is a friend of mine, I’ve been friends with him and his circle, just casually, for years. The fact that they would pick up on pop songs for the soundtrack, that’s just logical, particularly if you’re a low-budget film, because it’s cheaper to clear the rights.

ES: In a 1951 essay you published in Cahiers du cinéma, which is included in the DVD booklet, you discuss the fact that film is an imperfect medium. Do you feel that digital technology makes it less imperfect?

KA: Oh, the problem is never solved. I’m releasing my films on DVD now, but DVD is not forever and possibly in 20 years they’ll be unplayable. Maybe some new thing will come along, maybe Blu-ray is the answer, I’m not sure whether you’ll have something that is more permanent. But I prefer to think you could sort of rest with the idea of something fairly consistent surviving in a good state. But it is an impermanent medium – if you paint watercolours, you don’t hang them where the sun will reach them and bleach out the colours – it’s the same kind of thing. But I’m still fascinated with moving images and I’m happy that I’ve been able to do as much work as I have. Now I’m working on digital and I like it, it’s simple and I do my coding on final console, which once you’ve mastered it, is easier than doing splices, waiting to dry, even though that has a certain contemplative quality.

Flux: Is there anything that particularly interests you in contemporary cinema?

KA: I like seeing action films that use CGI, just because it’s something that I will never be able to afford, to see what people can do, and I can say, well I can get the same effect doing this and that. But now that they have all these tools everything has become more literal. I’m fascinated by 3D but I doubt I will ever make anything in 3D, because someone would have to loan me a camera and everything. I’m waiting for 3D without glasses. It’s been here already for a short while. The Soviet Union had a 3D screen made up of a million piano wires in the 30s. It was perfect for a totalitarian regime because the only way you saw the illusion was if you sat absolutely rock solid and stared straight ahead. If you moved your head this way or that way the whole thing disintegrated (laughs), which would have been kind of interesting in itself. There were layers and layers of silver piano wires, and the screen weighed 20 tons, so it was built only once. But those damn glasses… there’s something about them that is gimmicky, and you can’t forget about them. And it’s better that the person watching anything, play or film, forget about themselves, physically.


Mr Klein

Format: Cinema

Joseph Losey retrospective

Dates: 4 June-30 July 2009

Venues: BFI Southbank (London)

Films include: Accident, The Criminal, Eve, The Go-Between, Mr Klein, The Servant

A restored version of Accident is also released in key UK cities on June 5.

Joseph Losey is not a household name in the UK. American by birth, he left the USA in 1952 after being blacklisted by the Hollywood studios for his leftist sympathies and for having worked with Bertolt Brecht. He subsequently settled in Britain though his first British film, 1954’s The Sleeping Tiger, was released under the pseudonym Victor Hanbury to protect the reputations of some of the cast. His films offer often unsettling insights into the private lives of characters whilst simultaneously providing dissections of the social milieus they inhabit.

He is best remembered these days for The Servant (1963) in which young aristocrat Tony (James Fox in his first screen role) hires manservant Hugo Barrett (Dirk Bogarde) to look after him and his newly acquired Chelsea townhouse. Tony’s girlfriend Susan (Wendy Craig) takes an immediate dislike to him and the situation is made worse when Barrett moves in his ‘sister’ Vera (Sarah Miles) as a maid, who soon proves irresistible to the master of the house. Although it is obvious to the viewer, Tony is unaware that Vera is in fact Barrett’s mistress, and when he returns home one night with Susan to discover them frolicking in the master bedroom he is outraged as much by the implications of incest as by his servant’s act of betrayal. When the real state of affairs is made clear to him, he throws them both out. Finding himself months later in the same pub as Tony, Barrett apologises and manages to work his way back into the house where he lives for a while apparently as Tony’s friend and equal, before bringing about the aristocrat’s downfall.

It is inviting to view The Servant as a fairly straightforward case of substitution with Barrett supplanting Tony as master. Their respective names suggest things should be the other way around and Losey’s preoccupation with showing the homoeroticism of their relationship implies a closeness that threatens to overturn the master/servant hierarchy. ‘Apart from the cooking I’ll need everything, general looking after, you know’, says Tony in their initial interview, to which Barrett replies, knowing more than Tony ever could at that stage, ‘Yes I do, sir’. However, the introduction of a third party in the shape of Vera adds a twist to this situation.

Throughout his career, Losey constantly examines the complex dynamics of erotic desire. In The Sleeping Tiger, psychiatrist Clive Esmond (Alexander Knox) invites young criminal Frank Clements (Bogarde again) to stay in his house instead of sending him to prison. It’s effectively a social experiment in rehabilitation, which goes drastically wrong when Frank becomes involved with Esmond’s wife, substituting himself for her husband, whose obsession with his work has made him neglect her. In Accident (1967), the situation is even more involved. University professor Stephen (Bogarde once more) falls for young foreign student Anna (Jacqueline Sassard), but he has already persuaded another of his students, the aristocratic William (Michael York), to ask her out. Stephen is already married, and his wife is expecting their third child. This doesn’t stop him from rekindling an old affair with the daughter of the university provost while another colleague, Charley (the wonderful Stanley Baker), begins an intense affair with Anna. It’s a messy situation with multiple substitutions revealing Losey’s interest in probing the hypocrisies that break out in closed environments: the house in The Servant, the cloistered setting of the university in Accident and the marital home in both Accident and The Sleeping Tiger.


Jeff Hilson

Read the rest of the article in the summer 09 issue of Electric Sheep. Substitute is the theme of the new issue, with articles on the fraught relationship between Takeshi Kitano and ‘Beat’ Takeshi, the various cinematic incarnations of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley, the dangers of false impersonation in neo-noir Just Another Love Story, the paradoxes of black and white twins in offbeat lost classic Suture, not to mention cross-dressing criminals, androids and body snatchers. Also in this issue: interview with Marc Caro, profile of whiz-kid animator David OReilly, comic strip review of Hardware, and The Phantom Band’s favourite films.


Summer Scars

Format: Cinema

Release date: 6 June 2009

Venues: ICA (London) and selected key cities

Distributor: Jinga Films

Director: Julian Richards

Writers: Julian Richards and Al Wilson

Cast: Kevin Howarth, Ciaran Joyce, Amy Harvey, Jonathan Jones, Darren Evans, Christopher Conway, Ryan Conway

UK 2007

73 mins

British director Julian Richards has a number of successful micro-budget horror features under his belt, including 1996’s Darklands and 2003’s The Last Horror Movie. His latest, the adolescent thriller Summer Scars, has enjoyed a successful festival run internationally and now returns here for a screening as part of the New British Cinema strand at the ICA, to be followed by a DVD release from Soda Pictures. The film follows six Welsh teenagers from the wrong side of the tracks as they encounter a much older stranger while up to no good in the woods. What starts as a marginally uncomfortable situation soon escalates into a fight for survival.

James Merchant caught up with the director to discuss the benefits of filming in the woods, working with 14-year-olds, and his unconventional approach to selling the film.

James Merchant: Summer Scars clearly pays great attention to the representation of its teen characters. Did you draw on your own youth when making the film?

Julian Richards: The whole thing started off with a few childhood experiences rolled into one; the most notable being an event where myself and a friend were held hostage in the woods by a guy with an air rifle. Unsurprisingly, the experience stuck with me, and as I developed as a storyteller and a filmmaker I always wanted to find a way to turn that into a film. I had been approached by a writer in 1998. He was from Barrie in South Wales, a roofer who had jacked in his job and pursued a dream as a screenwriter. He had written a full-length script that I was impressed with. I thought he had a good eye for observing people and their behaviour, particularly the way they speak. So I approached him with my ideas for Summer Scars and he wrote it as a short 30-minute script to begin with. We put in an application to the Welsh Film Council to get Lottery finance, but we weren’t successful. At the same time, I was offered Silent Cry to direct, and soon after that did The Last Horror Movie. It took around five or six years for me to get back to the project, but when I phoned the writer back he had already rewritten it as a feature script. We put in another application with the Film Agency for Wales and this time we were successful.

JM: Did you find that by setting the film primarily in the woods you escaped some of the constraints of micro-budget filmmaking? The location also seemed to work well, considering the type of narrative you were working with, in that the woods provide an escape into a make-believe world.

JR: Very much so, plus the fact that it’s all set during the day and focuses on six characters held hostage in one single location. Even though the tradition says you should never work with kids, it was very manageable and achievable. I didn’t feel that my resources were being stretched at any point on set. You’re also right about the escapist qualities, as the run-down urban environment the kids live in, as seen in the opening few minutes of the film, is a stark contrast to the woods. The woods for me evoke memories of childhood, playing war games and such as kids, something innocent but with the potential to turn dangerous.

JM: The film is really built on the performances of the youths. Did the cast members have much acting experience prior to working on the film?

JR: I knew that the biggest obstacle was going to be getting the casting right, especially when you’re dealing with six 14-year-olds who are acting with each other rather than acting with adults, so I spent a lot of time casting. The first place I went to was an agent and actor’s workshop for children in Cardiff. They meet every Thursday to train in acting. A lot of these kids are from underprivileged backgrounds, the scheme set up in part to give them something constructive to work on. This was perfect for us as we’d found that many actors of that age are more stage school types who find it difficult to play the working-class kids the film depicts. I didn’t want acting, I wanted the real thing. I found all six of my actors from that one school, so they all knew each other outside of the film. This obviously had its benefits as much of the on-screen chemistry was genuine.

JM: How do you feel the film differentiates itself from the similarly themed Eden Lake, which was made after your film but got a theatrical release prior to Summer Scars? You are careful to avoid holding any moral judgment on these children in spite of their anti-social behaviour, whereas Eden Lake seems to place much of its focus on the stereotyped attributes of the working-class youth.

JR: I have discussed the film very thoroughly with (Eden Lake director) James Watkins. Even though there are a lot of similarities in the film they are very different. Eden Lake is essentially a classic backwoods story that we commonly see in the US, a type of urban myth story that demonises a certain class. It just happened to tap into the fears of youth crime of the zeitgeist. In Summer Scars, the writer and myself were out to portray the sort of childhood we had. You don’t often see those types of characters as most films are made by filmmakers from a certain background. I suppose there’s a Famous Five element to the film, though crucially they’re a gang of hoodies rather than well-spoken middle-class kids, so it was always a challenge to make these characters sympathetic. One of the arcs of the story is that you are presented with characters who aren’t likeable, but when they’re put in this situation, seeing how they react to it, you see they are vulnerable like the rest of us.

JM: Can you talk me through the character of the drifter, Peter, who is also a complex character and alternately elicits both empathy and hatred?

JR: From the beginning, we didn’t want to nail down that character’s backstory, as I often find in narratives that filmmakers try to justify why people are as they are. We looked at Peter and thought that he’s probably had some military background, but then realised that it would be better if he’s more of a fantasist in that he’d wanted to be a soldier and never followed through with it, but wears the uniform nonetheless. It was an element I had liked in films such as Taxi Driver and I found it worked well within this context. We also wanted to suggest that he was a product of a cycle of abuse. That said, he’s not the archetypal bad guy, and there are things about him that the audience can empathise with.

JM: You run your own sales agency (Jinga Films). How has this progressed since its inception?

JR: I founded Jinga Films through a frustration with the distribution of my first two films, where sales agents were effectively liquidating or were in the process of closing down. I decided that I would be better off selling the films myself, and my girlfriend and I set up the company to sell The Last Horror Movie, then began picking up third-party films. We’ve now been going three years and have built up a library of 28 films, all British, with a specialty in the horror genre, which is where my expertise lies.

JM: In recent years, we’re seeing more films being self-distributed theatrically, on the model used by Ed Blum with Scenes of a Sexual Nature, where everything up until the DVD release was handled in-house before selling the rights for the final home release. Do you find this model works for you?

JR: Yes, since we completed the film just over a year ago we’ve sold it to TLA in North America, and a few other territories like Germany, Spain, Yugoslavia and Thailand. We always find with UK films that the home territory is the hardest market to crack. About six months ago we closed the deal with Soda Pictures for a DVD release but felt that it needed a bit of theatrical exposure before this, so we’re screening at the ICA and we’re also booking it into 10 or 11 cinemas around the UK. We’re only just beginning to explore distribution. What we’ve found with a lot of the films we’re representing is that they’re lucky to go straight to DVD as there’s no theatrical window for them at all, so by doing this with Summer Scars we’re finding that there are possibilities to get the films out there.

Interview by James Merchant

Summer Scars will show at the ICA (London) from June 6 to 10. The screening on June 8 will be followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers. The film is released on DVD on August 24.

Read about other films in the New British Cinema season at the ICA The Blue Tower and The Disappeared.



Festival de Cannes

13-24 May 2009


Even before Cannes 2009 had started, critics and film buffs had celebrated this year’s line-up as the strongest official selection in years, primarily on the basis that some of the most bankable directors in world cinema had rushed through post-production to take their latest offerings to the Croisette. And with Michael Haneke’s excellent The White Ribbon (Das Weiße Band) winning the Palme d’Or ahead of a handful of mostly satisfying entries, including Jaques Audiard’s intensely gripping A Prophet (Un Prophète), Park Chan-wook’s slick and stylish Thirst (Bakjwi), Johnnie To’s likable Hong Kong action drama Vengeance, and British filmmaker Andrea Arnold’s assured second feature Fish Tank (also screening at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in June), the prestigious competition section did to some extent live up to its promises, even beyond the usual predominant poles of Dardennes-style reality bites and mainstream juggernauts. Yet what really made Cannes a thoroughly enjoyable experience was the wealth of ‘smaller’, weird and wonderful films that screened in the festival’s increasingly popular sidebar sections or at the Marché du Film.

Despite being a little patchy this year, the Un Certain Regard selection remained a good place for discovery. One of the most pleasurable entries here was Greek director Giorgos Lanthimos’s prize-winning Dogtooth (Kynodontas), a nice little oddity that centres around the daily life of three teenage siblings cut off from the outside world and confined to the fake, grotesque universe dictated by their parents’ cruel games and extraordinary educational methods. A hyperbolic piece of absurdist satire that skews genre conventions to the extreme, the film creates a convincingly bizarre world beyond the garden fence where the kids spend their days dwelling in their induced infantilism, until nasty, violent reality catches up with them in the form of a woman who is allowed into the house to have sex with the son.

From the fairly large selection of Asian titles, I quite enjoyed the new film by Hirokazu Koreeda, Air Doll (Kûki Ningyô), a poetic and soft-centred urban fairy tale about an inflatable sex doll that suddenly comes to life (based on the graphic novel by Yoshiie Gouda), as well as Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s Nymph (Nang Mai), a slow-paced, abstruse yet strangely engaging ghost story about a pseudo-happy married couple who take a trip into the forest. But the pick of the festival for me was the superb and beautifully accomplished Mother by The Host director Bong Joon-ho. Offering a standout lead performance by long-time Korean TV actress Kim Hye-ja as a feisty widow determined to prove the innocence of her fragile, dim-witted son who has been accused of murder, the film merges a stunning visual language and use of sound with a brilliant script. It creates a poignant exploration of pure, uncompromising motherly love against the backdrop of a tense, twisted murder mystery, intensified by rare moments of violence.

The biggest disappointment by far this year was Lars von Trier’s latest work, the constrained and increasingly infuriating horror essay Antichrist. Another let-down was Spanish thriller Hierro, which had its premiere at the market. After the first showing was cancelled when a mob of demonstrating French electricity and gas workers blacked out cinemas around the Palais des Festivals, the rescheduled screening revealed an initially decent but ultimately weak and hollow thriller about a woman’s frantic search for her missing son. Eagerly awaited (and hyped) as the latest hit in Spanish cinema’s wave of feral, aggressive and stylised chillers, the film failed to deliver anything like the powerful, subtle and uniquely terrifying experience provided, for example, by last year’s Cannes stand-out, Pascal Laugier’s controversial French horror tale Martyrs.

All in all, this year’s festival offered a passable feast of gore and horrific thrills, and it was perhaps Park Chan-wook who contributed with the most enthusiasm. His Thirst not merely adds another pleasurable angle to the renewed interest in the vampire genre but shows signs of Park getting back to form, with a style that is reminiscent of his wildly imaginative, brooding Vengeance trilogy. It’s a tale of a troubled and sick priest who volunteers for a dangerous medical experiment and who, to his utter disgust, inadvertently becomes a vampire as a result. While the film certainly has its flaws and the plot becomes increasingly erratic and messy, Thirst is a visually riveting and peculiar experience, as indeed the festival was overall.

Pamela Jahn



Format: Cinema

Screening at the 28th International Istanbul Film Festival

4-19 April 2009

Director: Javor Gardev

Writer: Vladislav Todorov

Based on the novel by: Vladislav Todorov

Cast: Zahary Baharov, Tanya Ilieva, Vladimir Penev, Dimo Alexiev

Bulgaria 2008

92 mins

Submitted as Bulgaria’s official candidate for the Oscars, Zift is the striking directorial debut of Javor Gardev, whose theatrical background did not prevent him from conceiving and realising a film exuding cinematic knowledge from every frame. Mixing the aesthetic codes of noir with the absurdist provocation of sots-art (Soviet Pop Art), Zift follows Moth, an innocent man who was thrown into jail just before the communist coup in 1944 and is released on parole in the totalitarian Sofia of the 60s. The film plays on the binary opposition between the austerity of an oppressive regime and the murky atmospheres of the noir genre, here injected with a destabilising amount of irony (a diamond is secretly embedded in the oversized penis of an African statuette). The genre deconstruction parallels the critique of the pompous façade of Soviet sternness, sublimating the artistic project into the shiny black immanence of the zift (shit), whose meaning is as saturated as its coloration. The film possesses the rare gift of inventiveness and implies an artistic distance towards the sort of fare that crowds our polluted screens, and yet, besides a screening at the East London Film Festival we will probably be denied any further opportunity to enjoy this fine piece of filmmaking.

Celluloid Liberation Front met Javor Gardev in the entangled scents of Istanbul, eager to understand why being dangerous keeps you alive…

Celluloid Liberation Front: For a first-time director you handle the codes of film noir very confidently. Where does this confidence come from?

Javor Gardev: I researched the film noir genre extensively with the screenwriter. We watched lots of films from the 30s to the present, and like a sponge I absorbed all the constitutive elements of the genre. I also attentively watched over and over entire sequences in order to grasp the creative structure and the editing logic behind them. This preparation work resulted into a 280-page script where the whole film, sequence by sequence, image composition included, was written down in full detail. The image composition and the lighting were also prepared in advance with the director of photography with whom I looked for a compositional balance between the aesthetic process and its position within the montage, but also within the broader alchemy of the whole film, soundtrack included. It’s also interesting to note that the creative crew behind the film (except the DOP) is entirely constituted by first-timers with whom I had already worked with in theatre; the young music composer started writing the soundtrack when the film was still being shot.

CLF: Does the twisted deconstruction of the noir genre somehow parallel the critique of a totalitarian and austere regime?

JG: Yes, sure, the film is in fact very much influenced by Sots-Art (an avant-garde artistic current developed in 80s Russia) whereby the pompousness of the Soviet iconography was being undermined by placing it within absurd and ridiculous settings and situations. I proceeded along a similar perspective, trying to articulate what I personally call ‘grotesque social criticism’, that is, poles apart from Socialist Realism, the deconstruction of the façade certainties of the regime as much as those of a cinema genre. For example, in Zift there are Bulgarian folk stories injected with a dose of black humour and irony that function as a provoking challenge to today’s Bulgarian society in relation to its communist past.

CLF: How did the idea for Zift come about?

JG: The film is based on the first fictional book by Vladislav Todorov (the screenwriter of the film). His previous work in philosophy and cultural anthropology has included some interesting speculations about the symbolic overproduction of appearances in order to cover up the scarcity of goods characterising the Soviet era. The hard-boiled genre is also a novelty on the literary landscape of Bulgaria, and I immediately thought that the book was extremely apt for a cinematic adaptation.

CLF: Why not for a theatrical one?

JG: The book is very evocative in terms of landscape, it needed images, I couldn’t possibly have adapted it for the stage. Furthermore, the writer was iconographically influenced by cinema when writing the novel.

CLF: At some point, the main character hears ‘tobacco-stained voices’. I really liked this ‘sonic image’ and I thought it was representative of your eloquent aesthetic approach. Were soundtrack and photography conceived in close connection?

JG: All the filmic inputs are conveyed together, we worked with the idea of a choral composition, always looking for a harmonic balance between the different elements. The smells of the movie are conveying its moods.

CLF: Which elements from your theatrical background helped you in realising your first feature?

JG: The timing of dramaturgy is surely one of them. Editing helps you a lot in cinema, but the management of the perception of time and how to make it work during the screening in order to interact with the audience is something I learnt in theatre.

CLF: Do you think it is different to direct an actor on stage and on set?

JG: Yes, definitely. On set, there is no continuity. In theatre, once the actor has entered the role it is easier for him/her to maintain it, but on set the actors are continuously interrupted. Hence it becomes much harder to keep the necessary concentration that the character requires; it’s very easy to ‘lose the role’. Cinema is a synergetic work, therefore a more fragmented one, where acting is built around different temporal coordinates.

CLF: How was the film received in Bulgaria and abroad?

JG: In Bulgaria, it was very successful, it was a box office record and even did better than the US blockbusters, and as soon as it leaked on the internet it was downloaded 42,000 times in two days. Nonetheless, it also sparked a bit of controversy since parts of the Bulgarian audience couldn’t deal with that kind of irony challenging their certainties. The film has been shown to critical acclaim in many festivals (Toronto included) and will be distributed in two very big markets, Russia and the USA.

CLF: Does the concept of national cinema concern you?

JG: Not in strict terms. Bulgaria is very concerned with this concept, but I believe that it brings up ideological predispositions that transcend cinema to go into ‘politics’. I wanted to engage the audience in a non-representational debate about Bulgaria’s past and its effects on the present, trying to figure out the metastases paining a social body burdened by its communist past.

CLF: Your film reminded me aesthetically of Lang’s M and the dense chromatism of Jean-Pierre Melville. What are your filmic influences?

JG:Early Kubrick, Dassin, Ritchie, Tarantino, the Cohen brothers and Russian avant-gardist Aleksei German.

CLF: What does Zift represent for you?

JG: You mean the film or the zift itself?

CLF: er…

JG: (Laughs) I expressly overloaded the word with meanings so the film would reflect this signifying density covering the holes of reality, sticky entrapment, the shit of life, the inability to get rid of it… the Zift.

Interview by Celluloid Liberation Front


Mother, Mine

Still from Mother, Mine

Glimmer: 7th Hull International Short Film Festival

21-26 April 2009

Reel Cinema, Hull, UK

Glimmer 2009 website

The recent Glimmer Festival showcased a wide variety of outstanding short films from around the globe, bringing further exposure to a form of filmmaking that is as industrially important as it is artistically invigorating. Three of the short films that were screened at the 2009 event were produced by the South Yorkshire Filmmakers Network, a not-for-profit organisation that aims to promote filmmaking in the region through developing shorts and running events and competitions, such as the recent 2 Weeks 2 Make It. The network’s Glimmer entries included Susan Everett’s award-winning Mother, Mine, about a young woman tracking down her natural mother, and Matt Taabu’s Into the Woods, in which a family outing in the countryside takes a dangerous turn following the appearance of a stranger. Both are suspenseful and unsettling thrillers, while Kieron Clark’s Joy is an entirely different proposition involving a singing fish. Each film was produced by Rob Speranza, a native New Yorker who relocated to Sheffield 13 years ago to undertake post-graduate study, and is now the Head of Operations of the SYFN and will be line-producing his first feature film this summer. John Berra met with him to discuss his recent projects, the importance of festivals, and the supposed marginalisation of short films.

John Berra: What is the development process for short films at the SYFN?

Rob Speranza: When I get a script, I ask myself if it’s something that people are going to want to watch. It sounds really simple, but it’s the sort of thing that a lot of producers forget about; they ask themselves, ‘do I want to make it?’, and that’s a good question, but I ask that question after asking, is this something that people are going to want to see? Is it something that festivals are going to show? Is it something that is actually going to be marketable? Can I get bums on seats with this film, and can I see people enjoying it? If I can answer ‘yes’ to most of those questions, especially the festival one, then I ask if I want to make it and if I am interested in the subject matter. I might read the script and say yes to all those other questions, but the script might be about windsurfing, and I have no interest in windsurfing. But then I might read a script about a boy who wants to connect with his long-lost father, or a script about a war veteran returning to normal society, and I like those subjects, so then I ask myself if it’s going to be likely for me to have a working relationship with the writer and the director.

JB: Festivals are often discussed in terms of representing a creative community, but there is always an intensely competitive element to such events in terms of securing financing for future projects.

RS: I’ve rarely attended a short film festival with a direct view to financing, aside from Cannes. I love festivals. I go to them with a view to selling the film. I know a lot of producers who don’t like going to them, who don’t like networking and schmoozing with lots of filmmakers, but I really enjoy it, to an extent. After three or four days, I want to go home because when I go, I’m really intense; I go to all the screenings, all the events, I’m at every drinks reception, I’ll keep my mouth open and keep talking and, after a while, I don’t want to drink anymore, I don’t want to give away any more business cards and copies of my film, I just want to go home. But the most important thing about festivals is to go and watch other films, to enjoy other people’s work, and see what else is going on and go, ‘why didn’t I think of that? That’s a great idea, why didn’t I make that film?’

JB: It seems that much of your responsibilities involve handling the film after it has been completed and keeping it alive on the festival circuit?

RS: I’m very fond of saying that a producer’s job begins when the film is finished. It’s relatively easy to shoot a film, and I say that with an emphasis on the word ‘relatively’, but when it comes to getting it seen, that’s when you have to really step up your game. You have to get the film out there, send it to the right festivals and sell it. There is so much talent out there; everybody and their brother are shooting films on DVD camera or on mobile phones, so it’s a very competitive world.

JB: What can an award from a festival do for a short film or filmmaker?

RS: When you start to collect awards, as with a film like Mother, Mine, which is doing really well and has won multiple awards, you get a different kind of reputation where people hear of you and you get a bit of renown, which is very positive. Then, of course, sales agents come to you, and you start to see articles in magazines, and that’s the kind of thing that awards can do. They create a sense of importance, talent and maybe a bit of glamour, especially around the director because it’s a director-led industry.

JB: Do you think that putting a short film on the internet can suggest a lack of confidence on the part of the filmmaker?

RS: If you have a decent short film, you shouldn’t be putting it online first. If it’s a good short film, do the festivals first, put it out there, because that is where you are going to meet the people who will want you to make more films and pay you for the one that you’ve just made. I’m not saying that if you put it online, you can’t direct a sales agent to it, but there are all kinds of chances that you might scupper with a lot of festivals.

JB: The performances in Mother, Mine are very naturalistic and affecting. What is your approach to casting a short film, and is there much time for a rehearsal process?

RS: I always try to build in time for rehearsal for my directors. With short films, you don’t have a lot of money or a lot of time, so it’s wise to rehearse for as long as you can. With Mother, Mine the first thing we did was to get Rachel Fisher, our casting director, on board and she worked very closely with director Susan Everett; Sue wrote out her character descriptions and she had a short list of talent that she had been building up for a couple of years, because the short is a pared down version of a feature script she had written, so she had a short-list of names that she had gathered from either films or television. It takes time to generate the relationship between the director and the character, especially if the director didn’t write the script, and then for that person to suddenly come alive when they find them on the internet, or on the screen, or as a result of a casting director showing them clips. Most of the time when I’m working with somebody and they meet an actor who would be suitable for the role, they know it right away.

JB: Into the Woods is a very tight piece. How important is it to balance atmosphere and aesthetics with narrative urgency, and was the finished film stripped down from the original screenplay?

RS: The film did initially have a longer introduction. In the script, we spent longer with the family, they were walking through the woods, we were getting to know them, and it was clear that the mother and father were fighting and that the father may have had an affair at some point; but that was back-story, and back-story is the death of short films, so get rid of back-story, it’s not important. What is important is the way they are going to handle this confrontation because the subtle message in this film is that everybody probably has some kind of prejudice that emerges when you are confronted with a situation like that, when a stranger comes out of the woods, looking scary and bloodied, and saying all kinds of things in different languages.

JB: Why did you want to produce Kieron Clark’s Joy, a black and white film about a singing fish?

RS: Kieron is not the sort of director that I usually gravitate to but there was something about this story. He wanted to make a trilogy about the sea, and he is a very quiet guy, very reserved, extremely clever, very funny in a subtle way, and he knows what he wants. I thought it was a quirky little story, and he said he wanted to do it in black and white, and that there would be no dialogue, just a song. It appealed to my roots in poetry, because some of the first films that I made were eight short film-poems. I’m a much more mainstream, narrative, sales-and-festivals-driven producer now, I like to think I make things that people want to see, but Joy was a good mix because people do want to see it, because it’s not too weird, it’s not too avant-garde that it makes you go, ‘What in the world was that about?’

JB: How do you feel about the general perception that short films are marginalised, especially when compared to short literary fiction?

RS: Since the internet has taken off, you have all these different websites, popular websites like YouTube, Screening Room and, to show your film, and as a result of that, festivals are starting up all over the place. Every little town has a festival popping up, and bigger towns and cities a myriad of them, so there are so many ways to get your film seen. Short films are perfect for small, hand-held devices that do not have enough memory to store a feature film, like mobile phones and PSPs, so the market is expanding so quickly that there is a really good future for shorts. Short literary fiction was always marginalised, and yet now there is a massive market for short stories, mostly anthologies, and there are also more compilations of short films being produced and distributed.

JB: Do you think that short films should take more of an influence from commercial feature films in terms of narrative?

RS:A few years ago, people could only make a short funded by the Arts Council if you had to think about what it meant, but because of the popularity of short films now and the way that festivals like Times BFI London or Encounters have grown you have a very different world for short films now. People are making short films that have got great stories, great ideas, even if some of them are one-trick-ponies, and there are plenty of filmmakers out there who work in features but want to make short films in-between. You could make an argument that films like Short Cuts and Magnolia have got short film elements because they piece fragments together. Short Cuts is a good example because it’s based on a collection of short stories, but Robert Altman decided to merge the elements together and make the stories cross over. I love the way that a lot of short pieces can combine to create a really interesting whole and those are probably my favourite kinds of films.

Interview by John Berra

Rob Speranza is currently undertaking production work on two short films for Screen Yorkshire, shooting in 2009. Visit for more information about the South Yorkshire Filmmakers Network.


The Phantom Band

Photo by Steve Gullick

As 2009 has progressed the mysteries of The Phantom Band have been steadily revealed. With their debut album Checkmate Savage (Chemikal Uinderground) released in January to a swathe of critical acclaim with terms like ‘early contender for album of the year’ liberally bandied about, their initial identity confusion appears to have been ironed out. No longer changing their name before every gig or wearing bags over their heads, the Glasgow-based folk-meets-krautrock sextet combine humour with a very black outlook. Their single ‘The Howling’ was released in May and after a lengthy UK tour in the spring, the band are next set to hit the summer festivals. For more information check their website or MySpace. LUCY HURST


1- Gregory’s Girl (1981)
It’s basically a film about a girl trying to get in the school football team and a boy falling in love. Sounds terrible doesn’t it? It’s not. For no other reason than watching protective 15-year-old Gregory being patronised by the hip 12-year-old who is trying to pull his sister, watch this film. If you ever felt awkward at school, watch this film. If you’ve ever been in love, watch this film. To say that discovering the lighting tech at our gig in Stirling was Andy from Gregory’s Girl was one of the highlights of The Phantom’s British tour would be no understatement.

2- Grease (1978)
Why is Grease my favourite film? Is it because Olivia Newton John is cinema’s hottest ever sex kitten in skin-tight trousers? Possibly. Is it because she looks even hotter as the sweet girl next door? Probably. Is it because all the songs and the whole film make me so damn happy? Absolutely. Is it because John Travolta had the great idea to base it on the teachings of The Church of Scientology…?


3- The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner (1974)
My favourite of Herzog’s documentaries. The super slow-mo footage of the ‘ski-fliers’ endlessly falling, first through the air then cart-wheeling in the snow as they misjudge a landing, accompanied by Popol Vuh’s eerie soundtrack sends me into some kind of fugue state each time I see it. I’ve never been interested in ski-jumping but Walter Steiner makes the sport seem like an absurd yet necessary escape route out of the world.

4- Dead Man (1995)
I chanced upon this film on late night TV back when they used to show interesting stuff in the small hours (Alex Cox’s Moviedrome on BBC 2 in the early 90s was an invaluable education). I couldn’t believe this film existed; Johnny Depp looking like Buster Keaton in a plaid suit playing the reincarnation of William Blake, in an expressionist Western directed by Jim Jarmusch, sound-tracked by Neil Young – surely not? I love the deadpan dialogue; Crispin Glover’s disturbingly irrelevant monologue, and Iggy Pop as a transvestite cannibal describing a Philistine as ‘a really dirty person’. I still wonder if this film actually exists.


5- Highlander (1986)
I remember when I was a kid there was always some film I really, really wanted to see. I would briefly glimpse a poster in the video rental shop and it would be enough for me to go home and fantasise about it for weeks. The first time I think this happened was with Highlander. It was about Scotland; it had sword-fighting and Sean Connery in it; the soundtrack was by Queen! Are you kidding?! What was not to like? Incidentally quite a lot when you watch it now, but back then it seemed like it was easily the best film I had ever seen.

6- Nightbreed (1990)
This movie reminds me so much of the summer when I was 16. My friends would come over and we’d record loads of ridiculous songs onto a tape recorder then get drunk and watch Nightbreed. In the middle of the night we’d go out walking in the countryside, sometimes there would be this fog hanging over the fields, but it would be really light as well because the moon was so full and the sky was clear. The movie itself was marketed as a slasher picture but it is in fact more of a fantasy/horror/superhero movie. OK, it is a little stupid but I used to be a big Clive Barker fan and it represents to me all of the films I used to love when I was growing up.


7- Blade Runner (1982)
Aside from an amazing Vangelis soundtrack that helped spark a nerdy love for electronics, it’s perhaps the first film that made me really consider my humanity philosophically (‘maybe we’re all replicants?’ – that sort of thing). The first band I ever did a live gig with was (is) named Voigt Kampff, after the test in the film. Also, I had the wants for Sean Young, even with her androgynous Kraftwerk aesthetic. The opening scene in the hover car, with the firey towers in the distance is just like when you drive past the oil refinery in Fife. I’ve seen things…

8- Wild at Heart (1990)
We need a David Lynch film in the list. I was initially drawn to Wild at Heart because I really like ‘Wicked Game’, the Chris Isaak song that made it famous, and I love the way the soundtrack seeps onto the screen infecting the narrative like a musical, as when Nicolas Cage breaks into Elvis and a live metal band suddenly forms his backing group. The concept of travel (and escape) denoting psychological shifts references another great road-movie/musical, The Wizard of Oz (1939), and it uses the concepts of commodity and freedom to paint a nightmarish picture of the American Dream. Like all good David Lynch films, Wild at Heart touches you in ways you don’t want. And it’s Nick Cage before he was shit.


9- Carlito’s Way (1993)
Carlito’s Way is my favourite film. The cast are all excellent and Carlito Brigante is, in my view, Al Pacino’s last great performance. Sean Penn has never been better as Kleinfeld, the crooked shyster lawyer. Even if he’d been awful he’d have deserved the Oscar for his White-fro/tracksuit combo. Benny Blanco is also a great turn from John Leguizamo. The period detail of mid-70s New York and the soundtrack make it. And the end set-piece in Grand Central Station betters that of The Untouchables (1987) – another of De Palma’s nods to the Odessa Steps scene in Battleship Potemkin (1925). Every time I watch it I still think Carlito will make it.


10- It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Every Christmas I get drunk and go to see It’s a Wonderful Life at the pictures. It’s the least challenging, sentimental load of nonsense I’ve seen and I cry and cry every time. Sometimes in summer I remember it snowing when I left the cinema. It never has. Sometimes you just don’t need more piss and vinegar.