At this year’s Film4 FrightFest, the obvious big hitters were not necessarily the most rewarding. The festival opened with the Guillermo del Toro-produced Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, which has his habitual mix of real-life childhood trauma and fantasy world, although the two levels of alternate realities don’t blend as well as in his own Cronos or Pan’s Labyrinth. A young girl moves to Rhode Island to live with her father and his new girlfriend in the 19th-century house they are restoring. Boredom and curiosity lead her to discover the mansion’s hidden basement, and loneliness makes her open a bolted door she should never have opened, releasing frightening creatures from an archaic world. There are some excellent atmospheric and frightening moments; references to Arthur Machen are tantalising, and the creatures are great, but those elements lack depth and resonance, and the ending seems like a feebly convenient resolution of the problematic family situation.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is released in the UK on October 7 by StudioCanal.
Anticipation was high for Lucky McKee’s controversial The Woman, the story of an American family who take in a feral woman found in the woods by the despotic father, Chris Cleek, while he is out hunting. He chains her up in a shed and tells his family that they have to ‘civilise’ her, giving them tasks to care for her, in the same way that they have to look after their dogs, as he says. It is not long before the dubiously worthy motivation gives way to vicious abuse and the dark secrets of the family are revealed. Although it is a compelling film in some ways, it’s not as deep as it thinks it is, and certainly doesn’t give any insight into abuse or the coercion of women into submission by men, despite its director’s avowed aims (as explained in the Q&A that followed the screening). It is a film in which all of the female characters are subjected to abuse by men, and it seems to suggest that there’s essentially nothing they can do about it. The Woman is a great character who exudes ferocious power, but she’s chained up for most of the film. Belle Cleek has been battered into subservience, and although daughter Peggy is the only one who attempts resistance, she is pretty much powerless. The final revenge is far too short and simplistic to be satisfying or meaningful and just seems like a cynical excuse to show nasty violence against women for most of the film’s running time. This is made worse by the fact that in the last quarter of the film, Cleek turns into such a cartoonish caricature that the end sequence feels completely unconvincing.
Pollyanna McIntosh gives an amazing performance as The Woman, and it’s frustrating to see such a fantastic actress and a potentially great character so wasted. Angela Bettis, who plays Belle, was the eponymous heroine in May, Lucky McKee’s excellent 2002 debut about an isolated young woman and her painfully misguided attempts at connecting with other people. May was both an original, gruesome, disturbing horror film and a brilliant, sensitive, heart-wrenching study of the central female character, and Bettis’s presence in The Woman only serves to highlight how crude McKee’s new film’s view of women (and men) is in contrast. Some critics have claimed The Woman is a feminist film, which it most definitely is not. It is a frankly dodgy film that feels exploitative. Anyone who has seen May will know that Lucky McKee is not a misogynistic director, but whatever point he was trying to make in The Woman is very badly put across.
The Woman is released in the UK on September 30 by Revolver.
Alarmingly, The Woman was one of two films in the festival that featured disturbingly casual rape scenes. The other was Switzerland’s first ever horror production, Sennentuntschi, a mish-mash of folk tale and TV drama-style small-town shenanigans. It is based on the legend of three shepherds who made a woman out of a broom; she was given life by the Devil to do the domestic chores and sleep with them, but when they abused her she took her revenge and killed them. Roxane Mesquida plays a mysterious, speechless young woman sequestered by three men in an isolated mountain farm, in an echo of the story. Despite her fine performance, it is a plodding, incoherent and quite unpleasant film. The return to the casual misogyny of the 70s and the playing down of rape were also observed by our Electric Sheep correspondent in Venice (read the article). What social attitudes or anxieties this reflects is not entirely clear, but let’s hope it does not herald a return to full-on retrograde sexual politics in cinema.
It was not all unsavoury rape-and-revenge stories though, and over the rest of the weekend the main screen hosted crowd-pleasing horror comedies Tucker & Dale vs Evil, Troll Hunter and Ti West’s The Innkeepers, as well as The Wicker Tree, Robin Hardy’s follow-up to his cult film. Also screened were the eagerly awaited British thrillers Kill List and A Lonely Place to Die, and the fine recession horror movie The Glass Man. The comedies in particular were very successful and hugely enjoyable, playfully subverting the clichés of the genre.
But it was in the Discovery Screen that the richest pickings were to be found. A Horrible Way to Die was an original take on the serial killer genre, seen mostly from the point of view of the former girlfriend of a murderer. After Garrick’s arrest, Sarah is trying to rebuild her life and address her problems, attending AA meetings, where she meets a sensitive young man. When Garrick is released, the film intercuts flashbacks of Sarah and Garrick’s lives together before she found out the truth about him with his journey down to the town Sarah now lives in, and her tentative new romance. Shot in an impressionistic, elliptical style, the film paints a nuanced picture, evoking the tenderness and love Sarah and Garrick shared, making her realisation of his betrayal all the more horrifying. A well-observed, evocative, heartbreaking story, it never feels sensational despite moments of violence, and develops slowly but compellingly, until all the pieces of the puzzle sickeningly fall into place.
Midnight Son, a vampire movie with a melancholy indie feel, was the other standout film in the Discovery Screen. Jacob is a night security guard with a skin condition that prevents him from going in the sun and who starts experiencing physical changes after he blacks out at work. He meets Mary, a girl who sells cigarettes and sweets outside a bar. They are attracted to each other, but Jacob’s deteriorating condition and Mary’s drug habit conspire to keep them apart. In addition, Jacob starts getting troubling flashbacks of a young woman who was found dead in the underground car park at work. The film uses the vampire motif to evoke the tenderness, heartache and destructiveness of two outsiders’ tormented love. Like Let the Right One In, it is sweet and creepy in just the right amounts. The moody feel, the hazy look and a low-key soundtrack all combine beautifully to conjure Jacob’s strangely detached, dreamlike life in a shadowy, oddly empty LA.
The Devil’s Business starts as a tense, tightly scripted character-driven drama with some excellent performances from Billy Clarke as a hitman (delivering a particularly spellbinding monologue early on in the film) and Jonathan Hansler as his chillingly evil victim Kist. It then shifts into supernatural territory, which seems somewhat superfluous and does not fully work with the rest of the story. As in Kill List, it is the rounded characters and dramatic tension that work best in the film, not the tacked-on occult element. Also worth a mention is My Sucky Teen Romance, the third feature directed by the incredibly driven 18-year-old Emily Hagins. Lovable and knowingly silly, this nerdy teen horror comedy has bucket loads of charm and marks Hagins as one to watch.
Colonial Report from the Dominion of Canada (above the 49th Parallel):
Cinematic Delights in Honour of Jack Layton (1950-2011)
The Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition in the Dominion of Canada
I have sad news from the Colonies.
Jack is dead.
The Official Leader of the Opposition passed away in his Toronto home on August 22, 2011. On direct orders from our Monarch’s representative, the Governor-General-in-Council, Jack became the first House Opposition Leader in the Dominion of Canada to receive the honour of a state funeral. Though the late Sir Wilfred Laurier was technically the first opposition leader to be so honoured, he’d previously held the position of Prime Minister – protocol dictated his lofty send-off.
Jack, however, was not Prime Minister.
He would have been.
You see, The Honourable John Gilbert Layton (referred to by friends, family, colleagues, wags, pundits, supporters, enemies, acquaintances and the millions who’d never even met him as ‘Jack’) devoted close to 30 years of public service to Canadians as a Toronto city council member, deputy mayor, acting mayor, Member of Parliament, leader of the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) and finally, after the historic 2011 federal election, he became the Official Opposition and was poised to duke it out in the House of Commons with Canada’s Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper (a not-so-closeted dictator and almost oxymoronically, a not-so-closeted libertarian).
During the election campaign of 2011, a cane clenched firmly in the right hand, Jack vaulted from planes, trains and automobiles – as it were – criss-crossing the country AFTER recently beating cancer and undergoing hip surgery. Jack the Juggernaut overtook the once-reigning, now-pathetic federal Liberals (easy enough given the wishy-washy egghead leader Michael Ignatieff), but also drove his party to the highest levels of support in Canadian history. Most importantly and stunningly, Jack dealt a powerful blow to the separatist movement by thoroughly decimating the traitorous Bloc Quebecois, winning a whopping 59 of 75 seats in the mostly French-speaking province.
Jack proved to be the real force behind Canadian unity.
Jack was a maverick! And I love mavericks! Hell, as nutty as he is, I even love Prime Minister Stephen Harper – he too (at least in my own world of equal opportunity acknowledgment) is a right-royal-maverick-fuck.
Jack, however, took the maverick cake in politics – he was, in my humble opinion, a veritable Sam Peckinpah of the Canadian political landscape. He steadfastly became an early and continued advocate for the rights of AIDS victims, the working class, the homeless, visible minorities and all those disenfranchised elements of society that had become easy targets of derision for those on the right wing.
Jack had little use for the Status Quo. That said, his remarkable favouring of ‘the little guy’ was not the usual knee-jerk bleeding-heart Liberal lip service – he fought the good fight (though some chose erroneously not to believe it) for ALL Canadians in our fair Dominion. Fairness was the key word when it came to Jack.
Jack wanted a world where everyone was treated with compassion – rich and poor alike.
I loved Jack.
On the day of his state funeral service, I chose to celebrate his life in my own private way. I chose to celebrate cinema in his honour.
Something tells me he wouldn’t have minded at all.
HOW I FIRST MET JACK
In 1995, Jack sold me several humungous flesh-coloured prosthetic penises.
The prosthetics proved prophetic in more ways than one.
Jack was the official auctioneer at a charity auction for Toronto’s ‘Buddies in Bad Times’, the first theatre in Canada devoted to queer culture (and for many years, my home away from home).
I was producing a feature film called Bubbles Galore, a porn satire I co-wrote, which would eventually star legendary triple-X queen Nina Hartley, porn-star-turned-performance-artist Annie Sprinkle, Penthouse Pet Shauny Sexton, a bevy of exotic dancers and a who’s who of Canada’s acting community – all of whom had performed on the Buddies stage – including Daniel MacIvor (legendary Canadian playwright, actor, theatre director and filmmaker), the late Tracy Wright (Highway 61, Last Night), Sky Gilbert (founder and then-Artistic Director of Buddies), Andrew Scorer (Happy Town, Cube 2, Jack of Hearts), the late Ed Fielding (the nude jogger in Welcome to Mooseport), Peter Lynch (legendary Toronto theatre actor), Thea Gill (Lindsay Peterson in Queer as Folk), Rosalba Martinni (Where the Truth Lies, Slings and Arrows) and Kirsten Johnson (eXistenZ, Eclipse and one of Canada’s most acclaimed visual artists).
I needed props – very special props. So I decided to see what I could scare up at Buddies’ charity auction and at least put some money into the pocket of this great theatre company.
Jack was a born auctioneer. This made sense, of course. He held a doctorate in political science and was – for many years – a brilliant lecturer, and by this point, one of the country’s most articulate politicians. He performed his role at Buddies with gusto – describing the bevy of butt-plugs and other sex toys/aids with all the snap, crackle and pop of a 42nd Street barker (from those halcyon days before the NYC clean-up).
In Apocalypse Now, Marlon Brando as Col Walter E. Kurtz says: ‘I see a snail crawling along the edge of a straight razor.’ Kurtz pauses – as only Brando could – and then rasps: ‘That’s my dream!’
My dream, whenever I think of Jack publicly shilling sex toys at Buddies, is imagining him in front of the now-defunct Rug Room on 42nd Street, hustling prospective customers to enter the den of iniquity to see the ever so charming ‘live dildo-dipping beauties’.
Have I mentioned yet that Jack was a good sport?
But I digress.
The props I needed were strap-on, life-like penises. And they… uh… had to be BIG!
In the late 70s and throughout the 80s, Russ Meyer started outfitting all the studs in his pictures (Supervixens, UP! Beneath the Valley of the Ultra Vixens) with ludicrously engorged schwances of the prosthetic persuasion. In homage to the brilliant director of Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill! I wanted all the male actors in my film to be equipped with similarly endowed dinky-toys. During the shoot of Bubbles Galore I recall Daniel MacIvor quipping that after people saw him in the movie, his cachet at Woody’s (Toronto’s finest gay bar) would rise (so to speak) due to the massive member popping from his pants virtually every minute he was on screen.
Jack’s spirited sales job was enough to purvey the prop penii (yeah, not a word, but it should be) directly into my greedy mitts to then be strapped on our male stars (save for the late Ed Fielding, whose endowments rendered prosthetics of such length and girth completely unnecessary).
Years later, Bubbles Galore became the centre of a controversial shit-storm when the former Reform Party (now Canada’s Conservatives – ruled by PM Stevie-Boy) used my little movie just prior to their national convention in Ottawa to drum up headlines and crap all over the reigning Liberals. A front-page headline in Canada’s National Post, the paper-formerly-owned by famed jailbird Conrad Black, screamed: ‘LESBIAN PORN FUNDED BY GOVERNMENT’. Similar headlines followed as well as a flood of TV news items and talk radio yammering.
At the time, I couldn’t figure out what the fuss was about. It was pretty much a slow-news-day story that lasted far longer than it should have. The movie was explicit, to be sure, but it was about porn, not really the thing itself. That said, like all satire, it did straddle the lines of being the thing it satirized which, of course might have shot well over the heads of the right-wingers.
The few times I ran into Jack at parties over the years, I’d remind him of his fine hucksterism at Buddies. He’d laugh and (I assume) pretend to remember me. I did, however, never ask him if he ever saw my movie and how he would have responded to the Bubbles Galore controversy if he’d been involved in federal politics at the time. I should have, but never did. It’s probably best to imagine his response since no politician at the time rallied to the defence of the film.
In fact, to this day I’ll never forget the pathetic, cowardly response of Canada’s Liberal Heritage/Culture Minister at the time, crapping on the government agencies in the portfolio providing arts funding, blaming the Conservatives (who weren’t even in power when the film was granted funding) and then releasing a massive, putrid bovine dump on the movie – admitting to not seeing it, nor intending to see it.
The total amount of government shekels awarded and approved by juries of peers was $120, 000 – not the most princely sum, especially compared to the millions stolen by the Progressive Conservatives during the Airbus/Schreiber Affair, through the Goods and Services Tax and in entering into a moronic Free Trade agreement with the United States that fucked Canada royally. In the end, it fucked America too. (Something Jack himself commented on to President Barack Obama.) As for the Liberals, they too eventually defrauded taxpayers of millions of dollars during the Canadian sponsorship scandal in Quebec.
Hmmm. In retrospect, I’d like to think Jack might have rallied to the film’s defence if he’d been a Fed at the time. After all, the picture was not only a satire on the porn industry, but thematically proposed that sex workers should never be criminalized and/or demonized, but should in fact be supported by making the sex trade a safe place for them to work – and furthermore for women to take control of a male-dominated industry – one in which they were its primary commodity.
Screw it. Jack would have been there swinging for the right to make the film with government support. He was never afraid of taking positions unpopular with the Status Quo. Besides, it was Jack who sold me schwancen galoren.
What a guy!
* * * * *
MOVIES FOR JACK
The Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition officially took office on May 2, 2011. On July 25, the entire Dominion of Canada was stunned when Jack announced he would need to take a temporary leave from his activities to battle a new diagnosis of cancer and get adequate rest before returning as Opposition Leader to unsheathe his sword against that of PM Harper when the House of Commons would resume on September 19.
Jesus Christ! Jack already beat cancer, got over hip surgery, fought the most stunning battle in Canadian political history, preserved Canadian unity and was poised to decimate the right wing in the colonies during the next four years.
Jack was a fighter.
He’d lick the Big ‘C’ again.
So, fuck you God! Fuck you, religious right! Fuck you, fake conservatives. I say: ‘fake’ because the Progressive Conservatives were crooks, but they were ‘old style’ cons who valued Canadian culture – so much so that cultural funding on a Federal level was never (in my experience) more bountiful than under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. It was a trough all artists in the Dominion dined on ever so swinishly.
Two days after Jack’s announcement of his temporary leave, I was one of numerous individuals in the Canadian film industry to get an email from Sarah Polley.
Sarah is not only one of the best actors in Canada, but she has proven to be one of the Dominion’s best filmmakers, serving up the astounding short drama I Shout Love, the tremendously moving Academy Award-nominated Away from Her and her soon-to-be-unveiled Take This Waltz starring one of the world’s most gifted Canadian funny men, Seth Rogen.
Sarah Polley is a maverick. I love mavericks and I most certainly love Sarah.
As if she isn’t/wasn’t busy enough, Sarah always made time for ‘the little guy’. Since her earliest years, the former child star of Terry (out-of-his-fucking-mind) Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and the beloved family TV drama Road to Avonlea Polley had maverick qualities and activism hard-wired into her genetic code. For example, at the height of its popularity, Polley up and left Avonlea in protest over the increasing ‘Americanization’ of the Canadian series produced by Canuck Kevin Sullivan in collaboration with Disney. And, speaking of Disney, it’s been reported that she attended some public function the Mouse-Eared conglomerate was sponsoring and refused a dim-witted studio executive’s demand that she remove a peace-sign button affixed to her blouse.
Who needs peace when you can start another useless fucking war?
Through her teens and 20s Sarah continued to confound and delight movie fans the world over as she blossomed into adulthood – engaging in several political protests wherein she was physically assaulted by goons (uh, the fine members of Toronto’s Police Department), while on the silver screen she performed some truly major-zombie-ass-kicking in Zack Snyder’s surprisingly effective remake of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and butted heads with a crazed creature created from gelatinous amphibian goo cloned with her character’s own DNA in Vincenzo Natali’s deliciously fucked-in-the-head monster movie Splice.
Sarah became revered and respected as one of our Dominion’s most powerful and persuasive activists and artists.
For many years, she’s fought strenuously for a theatrical exhibition quota system in English Canada to bolster Canadian cinema. It’s a cause close to my heart and I long for the day she finally wins this good fight.
Socially, politically and culturally, Sarah Polley has led the way on so many fronts and, I might add, NOT in that annoyingly fashionable way contemporary Hollywood stars have done. Sarah was an activist early on in her life – long before celebrity activism became so degraded. She came by it truthfully, honestly and one might even say, innocently.
Like Jack, she has always fought for the rights of what’s genuinely right.
She’s also funny and has one of the most perverse senses of humour I’ve ever encountered. Sarah Polley is probably one of 10 people on this planet who actually gets the insanely muted knee-slappers that Atom Egoyan occasionally dollops like globs of rich sour cream into the dour, though flavourful borscht of his movies.
She’s also a thoughtful and generous human being, which, finally brings me back full circle to the email she sent two days after Jack announced his temporary leave.
In it, she wrote:
Hey smart film people that I know…
Olivia Chow [Jack’s beloved wife and a prominent NDP Member of Parliament] asked me to put together a list of movies for Jack while he’s at home. I’m thinking I’ll just go buy a whole bunch and leave them in a care package on their doorstep in the next few days. I’m trying to come up with a list of movies that are inspiring in some way – and frankly – I’m not exactly an encyclopaedia of film and could use some help and suggestions… can you send a list of your favourites?
Keep in mind that this was a private gesture on Sarah’s part and the last thing she’d want is for anyone to publicly tub-thump her stalwart ring-leading in a drive to provide Jack with a whack o’ inspirational and uplifting movies to keep his spirits buoyed during this latest battle with cancer. The fact is, however, this – nobody suspected Jack would die. We all believed he was in recovery mode – that he’d beat this thing again. It made perfect sense that his beloved Olivia would ask an activist-artist extraordinaire like Sarah to recommend some inspirational movies and more importantly, that she would turn it into a collaborative, cooperative affair, asking friends and colleagues for help.
They responded immediately. Not only was Sarah flooded with suggestions, but many people dropped movies off at her home to pass on to Jack. The love and generosity of spirit among these members of the Canadian movie business speaks volumes about them as human beings, but also speaks to the love so many had for Jack.
Sarah, by the way, is someone who always makes a big deal about being film illiterate. This is utter nonsense. When she received my insane 40-or-so pages of must-see movie lists when she attended Uncle Norm Jewison’s Canadian Film Centre in 2001, she began reeling off a bunch of obscure titles on my list – agreeing with their inclusion and even suggesting a few she felt needed to be there. I’ll excuse her this self-delusion.
I was thrilled to provide a few suggestions in response to her email. I initially went a tad overboard and fired off a crazy list of 50 movies. Sarah responded – not at all about the breadth of the list – but instead wanted to know what titles were TRULY uplifting.
‘I don’t mean uplifting for YOU. I mean for humans.’
‘Yikes!’ was my first thought. She’s right, of course. I’d included titles like Ulrich Seidl’s Dog Days (two hours of depravity – brilliant and cinematically inspiring depravity, but yeah, not uplifting in any way, shape or form. I quickly revised my list – keeping the truly inspirational pictures in there and dropping some of the more – shall we say ‘challenging’ titles or rather, those that are inspirational in a purely cinematic sense.
I won’t reel off my entire list here, but it might be of some interest to provide of few of my top picks. (You can rest assured that Chariots of Fire is not on this list.)
Save for the first film listed in this category the rest of the titles are in alphabetical order.
Grab a whack o’ these yourself and prepare to soar.
High. Very high indeed.
How Green Was My Valley
‘Men like my father cannot die. They are with me still, real in memory as they were in flesh, loving and beloved forever. How green was my valley then.’
This profoundly moving John Ford classic was my first and most emphatic choice. Replete with painterly compositions, uplifting Welsh choral music, childhood memories of a place and time so perfect, yet filled with tragedy, hardship, triumph over adversity and the importance of holding on to the spirit of those we love, it is unquestionably the perfect picture to raise anyone’s spirits and one I’ve seen well over 100 times.
‘If I knew things would no longer be, I would have tried to remember better.’
Barry Levinson’s brilliant, sprawling, autobiographical tale of Eastern European Jewish immigrants in Baltimore charts the value and importance of communication – REAL communication between human beings and the insidious eradication of personal connection in an increasingly impersonal world fraught with the pitfalls of technological advancement.
Bob le Flambeur
‘I was born with an ace in my palm.’
Jean Pierre Melville’s glorious tale of a silver-domed Gallic charmer, an old dog gambler who’s beyond learning new tricks and applies what he knows best – old-school values – to make one last big score. Steeped in romance and atmosphere, the picture allows us to see humanity in all its splendour – its flaws AND its indomitable spirit.
‘I heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.’
This was John Huston’s last film. His perceptive eye, his acute sense of the story’s natural cinematic rhythm and the staggering brilliance of every single performance are enough to commend The Dead to its rightful place as one of the great films of all time. I obviously can’t say this about every movie, but I will about this one – it’s perfect! What’s especially amazing about the movie is that Huston adheres to the literary qualities of James Joyce’s original material and manages to do so in ways that are wholly and supremely cinematic. This is a movie about love – or more pointedly, PASSION. The final third of the movie is without a doubt one of the most exquisitely wrought series of emotionally wrenching scenes you’ll ever experience.
The Enchanted Cottage
‘Do you know what loneliness is, real loneliness?
This movie is insane! Two ugly people residing in the said enchanted cottage eventually fall in love, and within the confines of the cottage, become physically beautiful to each other. They don’t make movies like this anymore. They should. It has more to say about love and the relationship between sexual attraction and physical appearance than most movies I can think of. The picture’s got impeccable direction from ace studio hack John Cromwell plus a script by Herman Mankiewicz (Dinner at Eight, The Pride of the Yankees and – fuck me! – Citizen Kane) and the great RKO scribe DeWitt Bodeen (The Cat People, The Curse of the Cat People, The Seventh Victim and I Remember Mama) and an impeccable quartet of performances from Robert Young, Dorothy McGuire, Mildred Natwick and Herbert Marshall. This is one motherfucker of an inspirational picture!
The Friends of Eddie Coyle
‘I spent most of my life hanging around crummy joints with a buncha punks drinkin’ the beer, eatin’ the hash and the hot dogs and watchin’ the other people go off to Florida while I’m sweatin’ out how I’m gonna pay the plumber. I done time and I stood up but I can’t take no more chances. Next time, it’s gonna be me goin’ to Florida.’
I’ll never forget the first time I saw The Friends of Eddie Coyle as a kid with my ex-cop Dad. It was a movie that stayed with me and haunted me for the 30 or so years since first seeing it. Robert Mitchum delivers his greatest performance as the title character. From Eddie Coyle’s first appearance – heavy-lidded, baggy-eyed, paunchy, world-weary and shuffling with the gait of a once-physically-powerful man now consigned to the throbbing aches of late middle age – we pretty much know he’s doomed. The movie deals unsparingly with the disenfranchised and what leads them to The Life they live. What I’ll never forget was my Dad’s response at the end of the movie. ‘That’s the way it is, kid, that’s just the way it is,’ he said to me, with more than a little sadness in his voice, and with many long years under his belt as a cop, dealing with guys just like Eddie Coyle. Seeing the movie now, Dad’s words still hold true. Only now, as an adult, I see Eddie lumbering through the inevitability of his doom – those same words emblazoned, no doubt, on HIS brain. ‘That’s just the way it is.’ And, yeah, it’s really fucking depressing and not uplifting at all. It is inspiring though to anyone who fought or continues to fight strenuously against ‘the way it is’.
The Ghost and Mrs Muir
‘You must make your own life amongst the living and, whether you meet fair winds or foul, find your own way to harbor in the end.’
From Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All about Eve), this is one great love story! Rex Harrison works overtime etching an irascible and charming sea captain – his body long departed, but his spirit still beating. His final monologue to the sleeping figure of Gene Tierney before traversing back to the spirit world is one of the great show-stopping moments of screen acting. I can’t think of a better movie for people in love to watch together.
Meet John Doe
‘Oh, John, if it’s worth dying for, it’s worth living for.’
One could drop a bunch of Frank Capra titles into a fish bowl, pick one and know – beyond a shadow of a doubt – that it’d be supremely uplifting. That said, it wouldn’t be Meet John Doe. So many of Capra’s pictures shared the ideals Jack Layton stood for, but this one bursts at the seams with them. There’s a strange darkness to the film that’s hinted at in Capra’s other movies, but never fully exposed the way it is here. When an ordinary guy is duped into becoming the public face of a corporate/government campaign that pays surface lip service to the plight of the disenfranchised he manages to bring hope back into the lives of millions of people – real hope! This is a lot more than the Status Quo bargained for. Capra and his brilliant screenwriter Robert Riskin expose the sort of inherently evil machinations used to mute movements designed for the good of all kind. In a sense, their ordinary guy becomes a Frankenstein monster run amuck – fighting for truth, justice and fairness for all. Capra eventually drags us through the film-noir-like mire engineered by the power brokers, but the movie ultimately proves that perseverance will always yield a light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.
Nights of Cabiria
‘There is some justice in the world. You suffer, you go through hell then happiness comes along for everyone.’
Federico Fellini continually explored the notion of redemption via false prophets. And I do not mean Christ, but rather, those within, and most often at the highest levels of any organized faith, who seek to dominate and control by proselytizing distorted teachings to the weakest and most vulnerable of society. Cabiria (Giulietta Masina) is just such an individual and it’s no surprise that even the film’s title states clearly that we are to journey through the Nights of Cabiria. It’s the darkness of night that roots us in a place from where we are allowed to find the light, an idea not far removed from the aforementioned Meet John Doe. This simple tale of a waif-like, almost Chaplinesque figure of innocence (or naïveté) that works the world’s oldest profession to preserve a higher standard of living is ultimately about her search for a state of grace. She looks for love and instead finds redemption. This is a picture guaranteed to have you soaring higher than you ever thought possible. That’s the real greatness of Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria – it allows you the freedom to be weightless within the overwhelming spirit of humanity.
‘There’s a lot to be said for making people laugh. Did you know that that’s all some people have? It isn’t much, but it’s better than nothing in this cockeyed caravan.’
Preston Sturges made many great social comedies about the plight of the poor and working poor, but his crowning glory is still this hilarious, romantic and heartbreaking odyssey of a successful studio director (Joel McCrae) who gets it in his head to stop making celluloid cotton candy (like Ants in Your Pants and Hey-Hey in the HAYLOFT) and devote his energies to making a movie about the plight of the homeless. But first, he needs to divest himself of all comforts. With a dime in his pocket he hits the open road to experience the misery of homelessness and gets far more than he could ever have imagined – including romance with the peek-a-boo-coiffured Veronica Lake. Sturges’s dialogue is still unbeatable. It puts the best contemporary comedy writers to utter shame. His actors spit out their words like machine guns and the overall pace of the movie almost never lets up, and when it does, it’s to deliver wallops of heart-wrenching emotion.
So those were 10 of 50 or so movies I recommended Jack see. Sarah Polley blasted down to Bay Street Video, bought a bunch of movies, painstakingly affixed Post-it Notes to each with the name of whoever recommended it and a brief description of who they were in the movie business. The movies she couldn’t find, she typed up on lists with the names of those who recommended them and Jack’s wife Olivia intended to use Netflix. Sarah placed the movies in a basket, hightailed it down to Jack’s house and left the goods on their front porch.
Jack called Sarah soon after. He left a message on her answering machine. Sarah relayed the following to all of us via email:
‘It meant so much to him that the recommendations came from so many people in our community. He read all your ‘bios’ that accompanied your suggestions and was thrilled.’
A few weeks later, Jack died.
Sarah got a personal note from Olivia. In it, she made reference to the movies:
‘The beautiful film collection kept him company in his final days. They kept him laughing, kept him inspired and kept his spirit up.’
Movies are like that. They really are a great gift to mankind.
Deep down I guess that when I made a list of inspirational movies for Jack, I tried to also think about who he was, what he did and what he represented to so many Canadians. A part of me wanted to select movies that would not only entertain but address issues and themes close to Jack’s heart.
I recently asked Sarah about Jack. She expressed the following sentiments: ‘Jack lifted my spirits time and time again with his tireless efforts on causes that were supremely un-sexy at the time he was championing them – gay rights, homelessness, violence against women, the environment. Every time I see a bike lane or that big wind turbine down by Lake Ontario I think of him. He was also the only person who I felt ever raised the issues of the film and television community eloquently in Parliament. Above all though – I think he redefined what it means to be a public servant. He dedicated most of his life to making this city and this country better and more equal and just. I don’t think I’ll ever meet anyone again who works that hard.’
Out of the ridiculous amount of movies I recommended to Jack via Sarah – one stands out: David Lynch’s The Elephant Man. It’s the story of the hideously deformed John Merrick, who spent much of his life in the late 19th century being abused and exploited until taken under the wing of Dr Frederick Treves. The movie details the unflagging efforts of those who attempt to breathe humanity into this poor man’s life. The end of the film is sad, yet uplifting. Merrick, who could never sleep lying down, as the weight of his head would choke him, spent his nights sitting up. One night, after a seeing a glorious, magical stage production, he retires to his room and decides to remove the pillows from his bed that would buffet him up through the night in order to breathe. He nestles into the bed, takes one last look at his mother’s picture and places his head back to sleep ‘normally’. Lynch creates a series of indelible images to represent Merrick’s final death dream. In it, among glittering stars, Merrick’s long-dead mother appears to him and whispers ever so gently:
‘Never, oh never, nothing shall die.’
I feel the same way about Jack.
NEXT ISSUE: PART TWO of my cinematic tribute to Jack Layton will detail what I did on the day of his state funeral, including a trip to my favourite movie store Sunrise Records, visiting with Vincent Price’s daughter, stalking Hayden Panettiere and a full review of The Complete Jean Vigo, the Criterion Collection Blu-ray I bought that very day and watched in Jack’s honour. It seemed fitting to watch Vigo on the day of Jack’s funeral. Vigo was one of the greatest film artists of all time. His legacy – Zero for Conduct and L’Atalante – both continue to inspire, but he left our good Earth far too early and one can only imagine the greatness to follow.
Just like Jack.
From the Dominion of Canada,
On the northernmost tip of the Bruce Peninsula,
I bid you a hearty:
Mark Stafford previews three films showing at the Raindance Film Festival.
This Will Sharpe/Tom Kingsley film is an odd little piece of work, mixing faux-documentary and drama, in which a rich and estranged couple’s encounter with a quietly damaged, mentally troubled man leads to tabloid notoriety, amid a tangle of miscommunication, unrequited love and poetry. Chiefly of interest for the welcome presence of Chris Langham, best known for TV’s The Thick of It and his spell in prison, as the well-meaning, clueless husband and father who takes the stranger in. Simon Amstell gives a disarming turn as an ethically dubious ‘psychiatrist’. Feels more like an over-extended short than a fully satisfying feature, and strays too far into shapeless whimsy, but there are nice flourishes, and it definitely has character.
Black Pond is released on 11 November by Black Pond Films.
The Most Important Thing in Life Is Not Being Dead
Very pretty, largely monochrome Swiss work set in Spain about an ageing piano tuner whose relatively frictionless life and marriage under the Franco regime turn out to be a whole lot more complicated than he thinks. As he loses sleep and his sub-conscious tries to tell him something, we get moments of animation and a fair few dream sequences in this contemplative, affectless film. It has a certain charm, but I could have used a lot more grit in the oyster.
Music from the Big House
Bruce McDonald’s b/w US documentary about blues singer Rita Chiarelli organising a concert at the Louisiana State Maximum Security Prison, where a group of lifers get to perform R&B and soul numbers for a largely captive audience, plus invited family members. The filmmaking is nothing new, though it’s well framed and looks fine. Its main appeal lies in the characters of Rita and the prisoners, and their interaction as they pull the various performances together. For a brief while they become musicians and singers, in a short respite from a harsh existence. These aren’t young men, for the most part, but old lags with decades of time under their belts, after they’ve found Jesus or lost hope of parole. We get to know them as people with favourite drummers and unexpected previous lives, only learning about their crimes at the close of the film.
British supernatural-tinged gambling neo-noirFlutter screens at the Raindance Film Festival on October 5. It is director Giles Borg’s second film, following last year’s bittersweet indie comedy 1234. Below he shares his tips for surviving the life of an indie filmmaker.
I had been working making TV, commercials and shorts for 15 years before I made my first feature but still nothing prepared me for what that first week was like. I felt like I’d been hit by a train, every day was just a barrage of questions and decisions to be made and it never seemed to stop. At night I’d dream I was on set so I’d wake up tired, feeling that I’d already done my day’s work. Even though I knew it was coming it was pretty much the same on my second film, Flutter, although the bigger budget did mean I got a lift to set every day rather than taking the bus as I did on 1234. Having said that, I’d do it all again in an instant, it really is the best fun I’ve ever had, but here are a few things I discovered during what seemed like the longest weeks of my life.
Look calm. Even if inside you’re screaming, outwardly look relaxed. If you look calm, everyone else relaxes. If you start screaming, so will they (probably).
Prepare. The more preparation you do before going on set the better. When you’ve nailed all the mundane stuff beforehand you’ll be in a much better situation, mentally, to react when it all goes tits up. Because at some point it will.
The director and the DoP are quality control on set. Let the 1st AD worry about keeping to the schedule, let the producer worry about the budget, you and the DoP are there to make sure everything that goes on film is the very best it can be, the shots and the acting. Just think about making those amazing and let other people worry about their jobs.
Without actors you’re nothing. If there’s a close-up on your actor and the audience looks in his eyes and doesn’t believe what they see then you might as well have not bothered. Spend time with your actors, they’re your greatest resource. Work on ideas with them, take their input, they’re going to live these characters on screen for you, make sure you let them own them. Give them the space they need and they’ll reward you handsomely.
There are no such things as stupid questions. Those two leather jackets may look pretty similar to you, but costume have been thinking long and hard about it and they need you to make a choice, and that choice will affect how the rest of the wardrobe looks. Lots of other people have work to do that can only be done when you’ve made your choice, so give it some thought. And if you get it wrong it’ll only annoy you every time you see it on screen. And it’ll be your fault.
Be nice to everyone. You could shout at people and not bother learning anyone’s name and they’d still work really hard, but really, you’re only making a film, not bringing peace to the Middle East, so try not to act like a twat.
Flutter screens on Wednesday 5 October at the Apollo. More information on the Raindance website.
Mark Stafford talked to legendary Italian director Ruggero Deodato at the fifth edition of Cine-Excess in May 2011, where Deodato was a guest of honour.
Mark Stafford: When I first saw Cannibal Holocaust it depressed me, it’s such a nihilistic view of humanity. Where did it come from?
Ruggero Deodato: Cannibal Holocaust was made 30 years after the concentration camps, when I saw those photos it took me several months to recover. It’s 60 years ago now, but those are the things that should be of real concern to us, that’s where the real evil is. The thing that gets me is, say, there’s 1000 people and 100 people with guns, and the ones with guns say ‘Dig your own graves’. Even if they had no weapons, 1000 against 100, why didn’t they just attack? I’ll tell you why, it was terror. And that really got me thinking of what terror does to people. It’s the same in my film, these four individuals terrorise the Indios, and their terror keeps them from mobilising.
My film is fiction. Why do people react to CH, but don’t react to an American soldier being beheaded? Forget my film for a second, do people have no recollection of what happened in history? Public executions with people being torn apart by horses, and even the guillotine! There would be an audience, people clapping and cheering. I’m not that terrible! I’m annoyed that there is a reaction to violence in my films but no reaction to the terrifying violence happening out there every day. Why do people only wake up when they see a piece of fiction, and say ‘Oh, that’s horrible’? There are horrible things that are far more serious because they’re real. Everybody wearing rose-tinted spectacles. That makes me angry.
The worst film that I’ve seen is that French film about an execution and the worst thing in that is that they don’t tell you when. You’re there and they come to grab you and that’s it. You’re gone. That’s the film that creates the worst anxiety for me.
Cannibal Holocaust is released on DVD and Blu-ray on 26 September by Shameless Screen Entertainment. Read the review.
Cannibal Holocaust presents a pretty hateful view of documentary makers, as opposed to fiction filmmakers. Is that just the logic of the film, or did you genuinely feel angry with TV journalists at the time?
It’s the media. For example, the children of a family have been horribly killed, the journalist asks the mother, ‘What do you feel?’ I think, what do you think she feels? She’s lost her kids! What do you want from her? You want sensation, you want something to increase your audience, that’s what I’m against. To get back to your question, when I wrote it I was very angry about these filmmakers. With fiction, if I do something in one of my films, everybody says that I’m an evil criminal bastard. If the press show the same thing, they are praised to the skies. I’m guilty of that as well, I understand it because if you were to throw me out of a plane with a film camera I would carry on filming. Why do we have so many views of the planes and the buildings on 9/11? If people see someone being stabbed and they have a camera, they’re going to film it.
You pioneered the faux-documentary techniques, and the ‘found footage’ idea that ages later got used on The Blair Witch Project. How do you feel about its success?
Everyone went to see Blair Witch because of what happened on the internet, which was very clever, and there are parts of how it’s shot that are very interesting. But when people leaving the cinema were interviewed they said, ‘an Italian guy made this film 20 years ago’. So everybody wanted to interview me, from Japan and everywhere, and from this Cannibal Holocaust was reborn!
Do you regret the animal cruelty scenes, if only for the effect they’ve had on the success of the film?
The same rose-tinted guys. They don’t make the connection between the food on the table that mummy has cooked from the supermarket, and the fact the animal has actually been killed. When you go to a Third World country people kill animals. I saw pigs and rabbits being killed growing up on a country farm when I was young. My son has not seen this because times have changed, he hasn’t had the experiences I have, for him it all comes pre-packed.
I’ve always been curious about Michael Berryman, he’s turned up in a couple of your films…
He’s nice. He lives with 14 wolves. He was born at five months. I love him. He’s a quiet man, a sweet man. But he has no issue with doing terrible things on screen, because he lives in the countryside.
Thanks to Ruggero Deodato, Paul Smith for setting up the interview and Shameless Entertainment for their translation duties and bearing the brunt of
Deodato’s annoyance at being asked the same damn questions over and over.
During an interview with Xavier Mendik later during Cine-Excess, Deodato went into the stuff he wanted to talk about: his father-son relationship with Rossellini (both Taurus, both realists), his debt to Cartier-Bresson, his politics (‘I am an anarchist. I am a liberal. I am a democrat. I vote.’), the nature of Italian cinema. ‘Italian film has always been dominated by formula, neo-realism dominates, dies, comedy dominates, dies, Spaghetti Westerns, comedy westerns, police films, the same. At the moment group comedy is king. Now and then a great idea for a film comes along, we wait for them to come along so we can all follow them.’
Tucker & Dale vs Evil was one of the films that impressed Alex Fitch at this year’s Film4 FrightFest.
Tucker & Dale vs Evil
I went into the screening of Tucker & Dale vs Evil (2010) expecting the film to be a guilty pleasure, as a fan of both horror-comedy and the leading man, Joss Whedon regular Alan Tudyk. But the film surpassed my expectations and proved to be one of the most enjoyable of the festival, an uproarious comedy that takes the ‘teens in peril’ slasher genre and subverts its clichés.
Tucker and Dale (Tudyk and Tyler Labine) are an amiable pair of misfits with a close homoerotic relationship that comes across as less affected than Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s reoccurring schtick. Travelling into the woods to fix up a shack previously owned by cannibalistic murderers of the Texas Chainsaw variety, Tucker and Dale amble from one misadventure to another and inadvertently present themselves to a group of teens on holiday as the slasher movie style killers the kids are already expecting to find in the woods. As the hapless duo go out of their way to be friendly, the kids variously impale, burn and shred themselves to death trying to escape the innocuous pair.
Hilarious, subversive and occasionally shocking, this is a very welcome example of a spoof slasher movie, a sub-genre that has almost always proved to be unwatchable when attempted in the past, with the gruelling Scary Movie franchise being the most interminable and depressingly successful (part 5 is due in 2012) example.
With its schlocky name, seemingly familiar plot and cast of TV actors, Tucker & Dale vs Evil might struggle to find an audience among the onslaught of bad horror movies that fill DVD rental shelves, but it is to be hoped that it will attract the cult following it deserves and mark the start of a successful career for fledgling director Eli Craig.
Tucker & Dale vs Evil is released in UK cinemas on September 23 by Vertigo Films.
The Glass Man
On the second day of FrightFest, the main screen’s line-up consisted entirely of movies about people killing other people, which is to say they contained no supernatural elements, only monsters of the human kind. As such, not all of the films shown were actually horror films. Preceding The Glass Man was an underwhelming thriller/drama called The Holding (along the lines of Dead Man’s Shoes). The Glass Man itself straddles these two genres, and its only horror credentials are an extended cameo by Neve Campbell, star of the Scream franchise, and the fact that director Cristian Solimeno had the misfortune of playing the male lead in Dario Argento’s Mother of Tears (2007).
The Glass Man, however, is an excellent film. A mid-recession British take on one of David Fincher’s finest movies (I won’t say which one or you’ll get the twist immediately), the film concentrates on the travails of Martin (Andy Nyman), a businessman who has been fired from his job for an unknown reason; the film implies some kind of whistle-blowing. With a mortgage to pay and a lifestyle he and his wife have become accustomed to, he has been lying to her about still going to work for some time and amassed crippling debts when a hitman (James Cosmo) comes to his front door and gives him a choice between becoming his accomplice for the night or waking up Martin’s wife and…
A belated addition to the ‘yuppie in peril’ sub-genre that flourished briefly in the mid-1980s (Into the Night, After Hours), The Glass Man‘s relentless atmosphere of impending doom and Nyman’s constant nervousness about unarticulated peril keep the audience transfixed even though not a lot happens on screen for much of the running time. A terrific directorial debut by Cristian Solimeno, who proves himself to be an actor’s director, in a film dominated by the interaction between Nyman and Cosmo, judged exquisitely well.
The Wicker Tree
Some belated sequels, which no one particularly expected or wanted to see, are actually well worth a look. These include films that see actors returning from the original, for example Paul Newman in The Color of Money (1986), or ones that revisit the title and the source material, for example Return to Oz (1985). Others, while they retain one of the original creators, for example Arthur C. Clarke’s 2010 (1984), seem ill-conceived from the start, as few directors, if any, could top Kubrick at his best.
Unfortunately, and somewhat inevitably, The Wicker Tree (2011) is an example of the latter. The original film, The Wicker Man (1973), was in many respects an example of lightning caught in a bottle – a dependable British cast at the top of their game, an unusual story and a witty script that flirts with different genres but is hard to pin down. As the original film depended on many disparate elements fitting together in a production that was beset by problems, a sequel would have to be brilliant to match its reputation. A script of ‘The Wicker Man II’ by original writer Anthony Shaffer did the rounds for decades, but this was stymied both by his death in 2001 and Edward Woodward’s in 2009. The actor, almost unbelievably, was prepared to return to the role of Sergeant Howie, following in the footsteps of Donald Pleasance in Halloween 4 (1988) as another apparently fireproof hero. With Shaffer and Woodward gone, director Robin Hardy has come up with his own thematic sequel, which takes the audience to another Scottish pagan community who enjoy orgiastic celebrations and sacrificing Christians.
Christopher Lee returns in a brief cameo as a former patriarch of the community (possibly Lord Summerisle, depending on the vagaries of copyright law), but the cast of TV actors he’s surrounded with rarely lift the material above the standard of an episode of Midsomer Murders, which in tone, atmosphere and set dressing the film seems particular keen to recreate. As in the original, there are some great uses of music, some well-judged moments of tension and some good depictions of decadent Brits taking their desires to their logical conclusion. However, the comedy moments are often forced and occasionally embarrassing to watch while the horror is never extreme enough to be particularly shocking, with more disturbing and memorable cannibalistic orgies served up in recent years by Perfume (2006) and episodes of True Blood in 2009.
The Wicker Tree isn’t unwatchable, unlike parts of the misguided American remake of The Wicker Man (2006), but adds nothing to the original. A worthy sequel to the 1973 cult movie is perhaps one best left to our imaginations.
More FrightFest reviews online next week, including Lucky McKee’s controversial The Woman.
The line-up for this year’s Venice film festival looked excellent and it had to be. With Cannes snatching some of the most prestigious directors (Malick being a particular catch) and Toronto nibbling away at its calendar, Venice is beginning to look increasingly embattled, threatened as it also is by domestic rival Rome and increasingly important European festivals in London and Berlin.
The programme offered a good mix of established hands – David Cronenberg, Roman Polanski, Ermanno Olmi and William Friedkin – and relative new-comers – Yorgos Lanthimos presented his follow-up to last year’s Oscar contender Dogtooth, Tomas Alfredson cashed his Let the Right One In cheque with a classy le Carré adaptation and Britain’s very own Steve McQueen and Andrea Arnold were both in the main competition, making it the strongest British presence that Venice had seen for years.
One of the first things that became apparent was the fact that many entries were drinking from a theatrical well. Polanski’s Carnage, based on the French play by Yasmina Reza, maintained its stage origins most closely, refusing to pretend that it was anything other than filmed theatre. This one-set, real-time play follows two couples attempting to come to a civilised agreement after a fracas between their children ended with one of the boys in hospital. Each character begins firmly in control of their respective roles: Christoph Waltz is a high-powered, Blackberrying lawyer, Kate Winslet is the beautiful wife who smoothes things over; John C. Reilly plays the kind of ‘hail fellow well met’ type familiar from his many character parts and Jodie Foster a furrowed-browed finicky liberal who won’t let matters rest. However, as the strictures of middle-class politeness struggle with a primal urge to have the last word, each character regresses to something much more savage. The result is often hilarious and the film is a master class in acting, with each character a lead, and in minimalistic direction as Polanski manages to make his limited resources play out to their best advantage. In this he achieves what Sidney Lumet managed in 12 Angry Men.
If Carnage doesn’t quite fulfil the hyperbole of its title, Killer Joe could just as easily snatch it for a one-word summary. William Friedkin’s adaptation of Tracey Lett’s play is a ferocious dissection of a Texas trailer park family; absurdist and blackly funny, the film goes somewhere to re-establishing Friedkin after years in the wilderness and shows, perhaps for the first time, that Matthew McConaughey can act. David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method was a solidly realised version of Christopher Hampton’s The Talking Method (Hampton had also done the English translation of Carnage but there have been wrangles about credit), and yet Cronenberg suffered from the expectations raised by his own career. Had this been directed by Stephen Frears, the plaudits would have flowed, but with the director of Crash handling sexual shenanigans, madness and Freud, many felt let down by the formal restraint on display.
Michael Fassbender’s spanking of Keira Knightley in A Dangerous Method paled in comparison with Mr Fassbender’s second festival performance in Steve McQueen’s Shame. This was one of the highlights of the festival and Fassbender fully deserved the best actor prize he subsequently won. He plays Brandon, a successful New Yorker whose fastidiously orderly life is threatened by his compulsive sexual needs. The arrival of an untidy and emotionally needy sister, Sissy, played by Carey Mulligan, sets to tip the balance towards the chaos that always threatened. As only McQueen’s second feature, the film is remarkably confident. Compositions are assured and scenes are held long past the time required, but to wonderful effect. Carey Mulligan’s performance of ‘New York, New York’ is given in its entirety and almost all of it in a close-up of the singer’s face, allowing us to become immersed in the experience. The film refuses a pat pathology of sexual addiction and sex is seen in its whole spectrum, from the genuinely sexy to the mechanical and boring, the sleazy to the pure and occasionally the comic. Its explicitness is well earned and applied.
Wuthering Heights is released in the UK on 11 November 2011 by Artificial Eye.
Unfortunately, Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights came over less as a passionate love story than a convincing but cold post-colonial reading of the mid-19th-century Victorian novel. The academic validity of certain choices (a black Heathcliff and the use of non-professional actors) sadly did not translate into on-screen interest. The sense of place is marvellously rendered – never has the Wuthering of Wuthering Heights been so effectively reproduced – but a film that should have left the audience emotionally exhausted left many simply exhausted, with none of the affecting power of, say, Jane Campion’s better period pieces. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was a much more appropriately cold adaptation, which oddly packed more of an emotional punch.
Other fare in competition included Yorgos Lanthimos’s follow up to Dogtooth, Alpis. As decidedly oddball as his previous film, Alpis follows a small group (the Alps of the title) who hire out their services substituting for a recently dead family member or friend, reciting set speeches, wearing items of their clothing and re-enacting scenarios. The film lacks any real sense of reality to offset the barmy ideas of the Alps group; there is no outside world, the way there is in Dogtooth. In fact it is almost as if the madness contained in the family of the earlier film has infected the whole of society, and so no one questions the morality or even efficacy of what the group are trying to accomplish.
Perhaps the surprises of the festival were Johnnie To’s Life without Principle and Sion Sono’s Himizu, which won best newcomer awards for its teenage actors. Both filmmakers have been made famous by their often extreme genre pieces, but these films were more mature and weirdly quieter films. Life without Principle sees the financial crisis affecting a series of characters, cops and criminals alike, whose scurrying to fix things seems trivially small set to the background of the amoral, if not immoral, operations of the banks.
Himizu starts with a nightmare vision filmed in one of the worst hit areas of post-tsunami Japan. Two teenagers are left to fend for themselves as all the structures of society fail: family, school, the police. There is violence in the film but it is divided between the innocent violence of the rough and tumble of emerging adolescent sexuality and the more sinister grown-up version of the yakuza, and more disturbingly still, parental violence, which is located often in the brutal dialogue as much as in fists and feet.
Himizu and Alpis both picked up prizes and the Golden Lion went to Sokurov’s Faust, an unapologetic piece of high cinematic art that mixed inventiveness and wit with occasional stretches of tedium. It very much served to highlight, however, Venice’s resolve to serve both the glamour the Lido provides for visiting Hollywood royalty – George Clooney has been almost a fixture since Good Night, and Good Luck premiered here in 2005 – and showcase cinema from the most challenging directors.
Writer David Flusfeder was born in Summit, New Jersey, but now lives in South London. He has been a film projectionist, a TV critic and a poker correspondent. He’s written scripts and an opera and is the author of six novels. His latest, A Film by Spencer Ludwig (4th Estate), is a hilarious, heart-breaking father and son on the road story, which takes in police and prostitutes, film festivals and gambling, as the duo attempt to make sense of each other’s lives. It therefore won’t come as a surprise that David Flusfeder can’t quite decide if he’s the father or the son in Howard Hawks’s Red River. Eithne Farry
Like jazz – which, coincidentally or not, is the other cultural form invented in America – the Western is a male form. (Women in Westerns are generally just there to signpost the way to redemption or fall: the schoolmarm or the prostitute, the girl from back east with her dainty ways, or the doomed saloon singer.)
In Red River (directed by Howard Hawks, 1948), John Wayne and Montgomery Clift play the ruthless rancher and his adopted son out on an epic cattle drive. The movie climaxes in a fight between them, broken up by the civilising girl with a shotgun.
Wayne and Clift sit, abashed and bruised, in the dirt. ‘You better marry that girl,’ Wayne says. Their dispute is over; through the intercession of a woman and the intimate violence of a fist fight, the father finally recognises the son as his equal. He draws the new brand for their ranch in the dust, their initials together, like lovers’ carved into a tree. ‘You don’t mind that, do you?’ ‘No.’ And both smile, then look away, feeling an equivalent truth, an equal love.
As the director John Ford said after seeing the movie, ‘I didn’t know that big son of a bitch could act’.
Honey-voiced duo Peggy Sue have gone electric and come back as a trio with heavier, but still lushly melodic sounds for their second album Acrobats (Wichita Recordings), out on September 12. They play Winchester on Sept 14, Bristol on Sept 15, Manchester on Sept 17 and Leeds on Sept 18. For more information, visit their website. Below, singer Katy Young picks her favourite 10 films.
I decided to be greedy and do this all myself. All views expressed are mine alone and not representative of the other two thirds of Peggy Sue (who I know would have some strong dissenting ideas of their own).
1. Empire Records (1995)
I have seen this film more times than any other (except maybe The Wind in the Willows). I know pretty much every line. I cannot help but admit that it is my favourite film although sometimes I keep this to myself.
2. Paper Moon (1973)
I have stolen this one from Rosa [Peggy Sue’s other singing half]. It is her favourite film and I only watched it for the first time recently. It is funny and sad and pressed all my buttons.
3. Badlands (1973)
Probably the most beautiful film I have ever seen. Sissy Spacek and Martin Sheen are so cool in this movie. Plus I am a sucker for meta-textual references so all the James Dean nods are really satisfying.
4. Guys and Dolls (1955)
Some films are perfect for a Saturday afternoon. Ones with Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando are ideal. The soundtrack has some really big tunes on it, like ‘Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat’. There is a really annoying super long romantic scene in the middle but it’s the perfect time to make some tea.
5. Valentin (2002)
Beautifully sad Argentine film about a cross-eyed boy who wants to be an astronaut.
6. AristoCats (1970)
Rosa had a deprived childhood and hasn’t seen very many Disney films. I think she maybe had seen Mulan, or another rubbish one like that, and was scarred by that experience so I showed her the ‘Everybody wants to be a Cat’ scene from AristoCats and she was persuaded that there are some great ones.
7. Scorpio Rising (1964)
We performed the soundtrack of this film at an event in London this summer. It is comprised entirely of massive 1960s pop hits so it is basically one long music video and the songs were so fun to learn and play. The imagery is immediate and there are some brilliant ironic moments.
8. Delicatessen (1991)
I love the attention to detail and colour in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s films and how he creates those surreal worlds. Delicatessen is pretty dark but very funny.
9. Raising Arizona (1987)
This is my favourite film by the Coen brothers. Maybe because of Nicolas Cage’s hair and moustache, or maybe because of Holly Hunter’s accent. It’s pretty much a live-action cartoon.
10. In Search of a Midnight Kiss (2007)
Sometimes one just wants to watch a romantic comedy. At these moments a low-budge mumble-core film is ideal because you can pretend you are watching it because of its interesting aesthetic and semi-improvised performances while mindlessly devouring the really satisfying plot about a New Yorker looking for a date on New Year’s Eve. Alternatively you could just watch 10 Things I Hate about You, which is also pretty great.
Two FrightFest hits are released in early September – full FrightFest round-up coming soon!
Ben Wheatley’s second feature was one of the most eagerly awaited offerings at Film4 FrightFest on the August bank holiday weekend. Wheatley’s debut, Down Terrace, was a festival hit two years ago, and deservedly so. Tightly written, finely observed and darkly humorous, it mixed dysfunctional family drama with criminal elements in a refreshing take on the tired British gangster genre.
Kill List similarly combines gritty realism and crime film, but adds a sinister cult to the mix, not entirely wisely. It begins like a kitchen sink drama about the life of a work-shy hitman, Jay, who has blazing rows with his worried wife Shel and a son to provide for. Over a dinner party, his friend and partner Gal manages to convince him to go back to work. But as they go through their client’s kill list, Jay is shaken by what they discover about their targets and becomes increasingly psychotic, his violent behaviour fuelled by self-righteous moral indignation.
Kill List is released in UK cinemas on September 2 by Studio Canal.
As in Down Terrace, the character study, the observation of family dynamics and male friendship, and the excellent dialogue are utterly compelling. But the introduction of the cult element seems unnecessary and unoriginal and does not quite blend with the rest of the story. It is never explained fully, and although mystery and ambiguity are entirely desirable in a film, it is not evocative enough to fire up the imagination. Despite this and an ending that feels tacked on, Kill List is thoroughly engaging for most of its running time and Ben Wheatley is clearly a talent to watch. Virginie Sélavy
A Lonely Place To Die
FrightFest closed with another gripping British thriller, directed by Julian Gilbey. A party of would-be mountaineers on a climbing holiday in the Scottish Highlands make a shocking discovery in the woods, uncovering a Serbian girl buried in a box. They deduce that she is part of a kidnapping plot and resolve to get her back to civilisation. But the kidnappers are out there somewhere, and the girl may be part of something far more dangerous… Gilbey’s film works pretty well as a peril-in-the-wilderness thrill ride, with the small cast members being picked off one by one against spectacular scenery in a variety of unpleasant ways. But it’s more ambitious than it at first seems, throws in a surprise or three, and gets more paranoid and political in the final act. I’m not sure how well this all sits together, though; the dialogue is clunky at times, with characters telling each other things they’d already know. And the kidnappers’ avowed professionalism is undermined by bouts of incompetence and suicidal stupidity. But it rattles along nicely, Sean Harris adds another great turn to his portfolio of horrible bastards, it’s not dull, and the script has its moments – ‘He’s gonna go like Christian fucking Bale in there!’ Mark Stafford
A Lonely Place To Die is released in UK cinemas on September 7 by Kaleidoscope Entertainment.
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