Jenni Fagan is Agent Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks

Agent Dale Cooper 1
Twin Peaks

Jenni Fagan is a Scottish author and a poet (her collection The Dead Queen of Bohemia is out now), who has adapted her debut novel, The Panopticon for the screen. Her recently published second novel, The Sunlight Pilgrims (William Heinemann) is a wonderfully odd tale of winter, love and cinema. She says of the process of writing: ‘I enjoy that magpie way of storing and stashing little bits of things that glitter, that turn up later in prose or poems.’ Her filmic alter ego is Agent Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks. Eithne Farry

It’s really hard to pick a single film alter ego, I love so many characters.

Coffy (Coffy), Mallory (Natural Born Killers), Frida (Frida Kahlo), Elizabeth Bishop (Fly Me to the Moon), Clarice Lispector (Silence of the Lambs), Ofelia (Pan’s Labyrinth), Alice Wakefield (Lost Highway), Mia Wallace (Pulp Fiction), or Sugar Kane Kowalczyk (Some Like it Hot) –perhaps an amalgamation of all of them might work best.

For the sake of committing to one alter ego for now I will pick Agent Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks.

Special Agent Dale Cooper has a coffee addiction and he fetishes apple pie. He often runs in opposition to the FBI with unorthodox methods that get him uncanny results. He’s always taking notes and trying to figure out the mystery, which pretty much sums up most writers’ lives. He’s full of geekery and highly uncool (to the point where he is kind of cool) and he’s grappling with strange forces in this world and the next (again correlates with a writing life). Also, he walks around to an Angelo Badalamenti soundtrack, quotes like a sage and hangs upside down so he can think better. He’s extremely introspective and while other film detectives use logic to fix a case, much of Agent Dale Cooper’s approach is based on intuition and dreams.

Three years before Twin Peaks he sees a Tibetan truth in a dream and is so struck by it that his work methodology is based on that dream alone. He meets his evil doppelgänger in the Black Lodge and he is willing to give his soul to save someone else, so he’s brave as well.

Agent Dale Cooper ends the film in the mysterious Red Room with his hand resting on Laura Palmer’s shoulder. You could read it that, to be present with her on the other side like that, he must have never made it out of the Black Lodge. He is a mystery in his own right and he has a fierce sense of what is right even although he’s flawed and has seen too much tragedy in life.

Saying all that, I’m not sure I could wear a suit and be so clean cut, even if I were a special Agent.

Actually now I think about it perhaps I’d just be Gertrude Stein in Paris Was a Woman – imagine having all those artists and great paintings around every day, utterly divine!

Jenni Fagan

Victoria: Interview with Sebastian Schipper

Victoria 4

Format: Cinema + VOD

Release date: 1 April 2016

Distributor: Curzon Artificial Eye

Director: Sebastian Schipper

Writers: Sebastian Schipper, Olivia Neergaard-Holm, Eike Frederik Schulz

Cast: Laia Costa, Frederick Lau, Franz Rogowski, Burak Yigit, Max Mauff, André Hennicke

Germany 2015

140 mins

German director Sebastian Schipper reveals the secrets behind his one-take tour de force, from his football coach approach to directing to his fascination with bank robberies.

Only ever so often comes a film that gets under your skin, not only because of the story, the brilliant performances or pumping soundtrack, but because it is fresh, radical, vigorous and raw and, most importantly, highly entertaining. Victoria is all of that and more, as the film follows its eponymous heroine (played by newcomer actress Laia Costa) in one continuous 140-minute shot from her first encounter with a gang of four persuasive thugs led by the charming Sonne (Frederick Lau) on a mild summer night in Berlin to an ill-fated bank robbery and the nerve-racking police hunt that follows it – all in all zipping through 20 odd locations in the early hours before the city awakens. No doubt that a venture like this required not only months of meticulous planning and an excellent crew, but also one big leap of faith. After two disastrous attempts Schipper managed to pull it off, making Victoria not only the runaway favourite at last year’s Berlinale but the most exciting film to come out of Germany in a very long time.

Pamela Jahn talked to the actor-turned-director about his football coach approach to directing and his fascination with bank robberies to get behind the secret of his one-take tour de force.

Pamela Jahn: What came first, the concept of shooting the film in one take or the story that you wanted to tell?

Sebastian Schipper: To be honest with you, I cannot separate them. What I actually had in mind was to make a film about a bank robbery that grabs you like one. It was, first of all, an emotional concept in terms of how to make it feel real, how to share the experience. And why is it, that if you make a film about a bank robbery, it always has to be the biggest bank robbery in the world? Presumably, that’s because it means you create the greatest possible experience for the audience, but I think that sort of approach sometimes kills the opportunity to really get into the moment, to feel what is actually going on. That’s how the concept to do the film in one shot evolved. The more we worked on it, the more I realised that this is not necessarily a film that tackles the brain or the mind, maybe it doesn’t even affect the heart, but it feels as if it has a direct impact on your nervous system. And I really like that. Of course, there are many mistakes in it, which, ultimately, I would have liked to cut or correct in the editing process. But at the same time I feel that because it’s all in there, because time flows and you can’t really escape the high points and the low points, it is almost like you’ve been conditioned by the way you watch the film.

You both write and direct. Does that make it easier when you’re shooting, especially with a project like this?

I wish I could say it’s easier but I find writing a script really painful. It takes an awful long time, sometimes years. Even if you write fast, it still takes at least two years, and that’s only the basic amount of time you are investing. But for some reason I feel I have to do it myself. Having said that, for this project I wrote only 12 pages and we didn’t edit anything in the end. When I think about it, the one big idea I had was that I wanted everything to happen in a team. Of course, with that kind of approach you lose a lot of power as a director in the overall hierarchy on set, but everybody else gains more. At the same time, the pressure is on everyone who is part of that crew. Like the smallest runner, everybody knew, ‘I can’t fuck it up! If the elevator is not downstairs when they come, I am the one who’s made that mistake.’ So everybody involved has a lot more responsibility, and I like that. I also wanted to bring the creation of the characters, of the story and the rhythm – which is normally part of the scriptwriting – into the entire process. To some extent that was a crazy thing to do, but it was also really beautiful.

Apart from the responsibility you also give your actors an incredible freedom to improvise.

It’s funny that you’re saying that because when I did my first film Absolute Giganten, people would ask me, ‘So, did you improvise a lot?’ Back then, I felt almost offended and said, ‘I didn’t, I wrote it all myself.’ And now it’s the complete opposite. That’s something that is very important to me, to have a sense of how people speak, for example, or how it really feels to talk to a friend, a soul mate or whoever. I am very interested in that. And I love actors. But again, this was different to when you direct actors in a more conventional way where you give them instructions about how you want them to say this line or that line. This time I really talked to them about their deepest feelings about the characters, not about the scene, not about the moment, not about the line. I felt almost like a football coach telling them their position on the field, and then they had to play football and follow the match and know what was going on all the time. They all had to take care of themselves.

Did you rehearse at all?

Yes, we had some rehearsals. But I don’t really want to go too much into detail about the way we made the film, because it takes away the magic. All I can say is that we did have rehearsals and then we had three days where we shot the whole film three times. So theoretically, there are now three films, but honestly, only the last one is actually a film. The other two are works in progress.

Did shooting become more difficult after the first run-through, because you then had a version of the film, an idea of the dialogue, the action and so on?

No, thank God. It was an improvisation, but there was still a very strict structure we had to follow from the outset every time we did it. It’s like a band who is playing an improvised piece. You’ve still got to know when it’s your solo, or that this is the rhythm, this is the tune and so on. But most importantly, you have to really know your instrument if you want to improvise. So we were very focused in that way.

How much do the three versions differ from each other?

A lot, mainly in quality. In the first one, nobody wanted to fuck it up, so everyone was very concentrated and technical, but there was no sparkle, no chemistry. So afterwards I said to them, ‘OK, guys, you’ve got to be alive. Make mistakes! Be chaotic, just go with it’. But then they tried that too hard and were all over the place. Those three days were horrible, because I was very nervous and tense – again, like a coach at half time. It was all very heartfelt and so I said to them, ‘You know what, we don’t have to win this game, but we have to start playing football. We have to show them that we are a good team. So don’t be afraid of making mistakes, but please, please concentrate’. And after that they really put it all together.

You talked about the rhythm of the film earlier. How did you manage the energy between your main cast?

They very much managed it themselves. I just had to organise it slightly. For me, it was all down to the casting, especially if you have them improvise so much as in this film. It’s very important that it feels organic, that it flows. And Burak and Freddy are friends in real life as well. First I was sceptical about that because Freddy showed me a picture and I thought Burak might be too much of a macho type and I didn’t want that. But when I met him in person I realised that he is actually very charming in his own way and that he has the biggest heart of all. And then it made sense to me, because he is like the heart of this group, Boxer is the leader while Sonne is good in talking to people, and Fuss is the little sidekick who always comes up with a crazy idea. I think if you structure a group like that then they become a team. It’s a natural process so they don’t all fight for the same spot. In a way it’s like an X-Men group, they all have their little super powers and that’s what I think is really important here too.

Where does your obsession with bank robberies come from?

I think it’s because I have that feeling that we sometimes get trapped in thinking that life is just one consecutive stage after another. You did this, now you are allowed to do that. Then you go a bit further, you move up into a better position, you get a little more money, a little more respect, and this is your life. And I guess the thing with bank robberies is that you walk in and pull your gun and you say, ‘I want everything, motherfucker! Give me my life, right now! I don’t want to be good anymore, I don’t want to wait’. And that’s why Victoria is the piano player in the film. She tried so hard and she’s always been the good girl, but I think we live in a world where things are getting more and more absurd, where you don’t have to be good anymore. On the contrary, it seems like you have to be sneaky and you have to betray people to get further in life. And that’s also what I see in this bank philosophy, it’s all about the money and no one cares about anybody else anymore. It’s like Brecht used to say, ‘Bank robbery is the business of amateurs. True professionals found a bank’.

Interview by Pamela Jahn

Mario Bava Season at Castle Bleasdale (Part Two)

black sabbath
Black Sabbath

The second part of a diary of watching Mario Bava films over a week.

It was January, cold, and everyone was dying. I chopped enough wood for the week and stored it against the wall with the kindling. There were frosts every night at Castle Bleasdale – my current residence, a shuddering pile located on the River Piave where the plains meet the first mountains of the Dolomites – but while my wife and children slept fitfully upstairs, I would get the fire roaring, turn out all the lights and watch a film by Italian horror director Mario Bava. Prior to this week, I’d never seen any of his 30-odd films. This is the second part of my scientific record of the Mario Bava season at Castle Bleasdale.

Read part one of watching Mario Bava films over a week.

Friday, 15th of January, 2016

The funeral took place in the local cathedral and outside the sun was strangely, unseasonably warm. I know I’m not going to stir up controversy on my next assertion but I don’t like going to funerals. This one was not the worst. My student, although not old-old, was not young either. He filled a cathedral with family and friends and because of my damned atheism I stood outside and listened to singing of the choir of Alpine soldiers coming from the church. Afterwards they brought out the coffin and people tried not to be too loud when they met friends they hadn’t seen for months, years in some cases. Funerals have this strange social substratum. I wandered home depressed, stopping at the supermarket to stock up on firelighters and food for the weekend. I was going to stay inside and watch as many Mario Bava films as I could. I wanted nothing to do with the sunshine and blue skies. I would close the shutters and keep going. The film I took to next was Black Sabbath – from whence the name of Ozzy Osborne’s heavy metal band – an anthology that is a little too in awe of its Hollywood legend Boris Karloff and young American star Mark Damon. The first film is about a beautiful woman who is bothered by a telephone call from a stalker – possibly her ex who has escaped from prison. It’s a Tale of the Unexpected and highly effective in a sinister voyeuristic way. The second is a classic tale of vampirism and possession but it is fairly rudimentary. The colours are excellent. Mario Bava colours everything with the vividness of boiled sweets. Reds and greens, blues and vermillion. The last story is the one that is really creepy as a nurse (Jacqueline Pierreux) is called to a house to prepare the body of a dead medium for burial. The rictus grin of the freshly dead is off-putting enough to ward anyone off but our nurse spies a ring that she would like to steal.

Saturday, 16th of January, 2016

It has just occurred to me that I haven’t seen my wife or my children since the end of last week. Could it be they aren’t upstairs after all? I’ve been eating alone. Bowls of boiled potatoes sprinkled with vinegar and black bread with white butter. The same meal again and again. Hatchet for the Honeymoon does away with any vestige of mystery and takes on the murderer’s point of view. Blessed with the kind of Crystal Ken handsomeness that only existed in 1970, Stephen Forsyth plays John Harrington, the owner of a haute couture house that specializes in bridal wear. Unhappily married to Laura Betti, Harrington is also a self-aware psychopath who kills brides-to-be with a cleaver – not, note, a hatchet. Bava takes a slender plot with many familiar genre elements – a suspicious police detective circulates, Mrs Harrington has a séance – and makes it into something stylish and weird. Harrington’s objectification of women, his impotence and his mania are coolly represented. His charisma and his honesty make him a proto-Patrick Bateman. He watches his prey with a set of binoculars and then, sitting with his wife, reverses them so she is far away. This kind of visual originality is something I’ve come to expect from Bava and the murders are all used as moments of striking invention, each one vaguely trippy as the screen dissolves into a liquid state, colours explode and the soundtrack lays it down heavily. Each murder also brings about a further flashback, a little like Sergio Leone’s Once upon a Time in the West (1968), to the kind of Freudian backstory that Hitchcock loved. At the end of Black Sabbath, Bava pulled his camera back to reveal that Karloff was in a studio riding a fake horse and surrounded by stage hands moving the scenery about him. Bava likes to show that he’s not taking everything seriously, and here again he uses one of his own films on television as an excuse for the screams the policemen heard. Does watching horror films cause violence? No. But they can be handy in getting away with it. I also watched The Evil Eye, an early film about an American woman visiting Rome and witnessing a murder. It was black and white and John Saxon was in it, the way he pops up in films all over the place. He stars in a Dario Argento movie but I’m too tired to type his name into IMDb tonight. The fire died and the room is full of smoke.

Sunday, 17th of January, 2016

The bells in the village toll for another death. This time the 90-year-old mother of a friend. I can tell that it is her. She’s been at death’s door since Christmas. The bells toll once for a man, twice for a woman, and they toll twice so it must be her. It can’t be anyone else. They bury the dead quick in Italy so the funeral will be tomorrow or Tuesday at the latest. Today is the last day of my Mario Bava season and I still have many films to get through. I begin with Rabid Dogs. Completed in 1974, the incomplete film was seized following a bankruptcy wrangle and didn’t get cut and released until the late 90s. Bava is trying his hand at the Polizia genre, which exploded in the mid-70s in Italy and told brutal, violent stories of cops and robbers. Following a heist gone wrong, three bandits grab a hostage and carjack an unsuspecting father who is taking his son to the hospital. The atmosphere is laden with tension and the claustrophobia of a sizzling car in the middle of a Roman summer gets progressively more uncomfortable. The bandits are a psychopath, a leering, sweating rapist and one icy professional. A fantastic twist elevates the film. The same is true for Bay of Blood, a slasher often cited as a primary inspiration for all the Friday the 13th style movies that were to follow. A complex legal case regarding a piece of property on a bay is the MacGuffin, but essentially Bava produces a daisy chain of stylish, elaborate and occasionally ridiculous kills with a variety of weapons and murderers capped off with one of the funniest and most daring twists of any of his films.

Monday, 18th of January, 2016

I woke up early this morning. I just lay in bed and listened to the sound of the wind that always blows strongly in the valley in the morning following the river down from the mountains. I wonder about the morality of what I’ve done. Mario Bava took time to make those films. A lot of time. Poured a lot of effort into them. But I just watched them in a week. Half a lifetime’s work probably. And I watched it in a week. It seems unfair, disproportionate somehow: the asymmetrical warfare that criticism wages against art. I can’t help but hope that people stop dying now. January has been so fatal. I don’t want to get out of bed. I don’t have the strength to lift myself, like the corpse in the ‘Drop of Water’ sequence of Black Sabbath. Maybe I too wear a horrid grin. I wonder if the wind blowing outside is the same Italian wind that blew in Mario Bava’s imagination. It is blowing so strong that it almost takes away the sound of the bells tolling. This time they only toll once.

Mario Bava’s Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970) is out now on Dual Format (Blu-Ray + DVD) released by Arrow Video.

John Bleasdale

Gun Outfit’s Film Jukebox

Gun Outfit

LA-based-via-Olympia band Gun Outfit have been releasing records for nearly a decade. Raised in the world of hardcore punk, they now marry a love of Americana, tinted with their passion for cinema, with psychedelic flair. Their newest album Dream All Over is out now via Paradise of Bachelors, while their Two Way Player EP, opening with ‘Expansion Pact’ is out on Wharf Cat Records on 12 February 2016. Gun Outfit play London’s Lexington on 17 February 2016, with more dates in the UK (see below) and Europe throughout the month. For more information, visit the Gun Outfit website. Below, vocalist and guitarist Dylan Sharp discusses 10 inspiring films.

Here are 10 movies I enjoy. Definitively stating even my own name induces a faint shiver of anxiety within me, so I’ll refrain from claiming these as my top 10 of all time. I’ve tried to keep to slightly more obscure examples of the types of things I draw from in movies, and I’ve left off the great masterpieces that we all love, because nothing is more unnecessary than my own salty take on the tired legends of cinema past. Movies are the greatest art, they are psychological propaganda operating on the deepest levels, ideology’s fever dream and utter compromise, and I’m honoured to have an excuse to blab on about them. These are, in no particular order:

1. Out 1 (Jacques Rivette, 1971)
Forgive the outrage of selecting the abbreviated cut; I have back problems and arthouse chairs can be stiff. Rivette has a self-assured class and a playfulness that makes his films enjoyable and easy – they’re long but they care about you. There’s a certain quality of experience you get from watching very long, very ‘boring’ films – your attention is freed from the fascist dictates of the storyline and left to ponder dully the curvature of the wall or the fabric of the cloth touching your throat. It’s a validation of thought because, for me at least, thinking is only possible after bravely withstanding the compulsive refusal to do so for many minutes. Many filmmakers know this and use it to make art, but Rivette took pains to thoroughly infuse reality with fantasy and, especially in this film, to entrust the actors with the privilege of creation in a uniquely collaborative process. A process working on this many levels is rare.

2. Under the Men’s Tree (David MacDougall, 1970)
As a foolish young man struggling with the straight-faced discussions of objectivity in the social sciences, I thought it would be ‘fun’ to sneak onto the University of Washington campus and, after wolfing down a paper bag full of fresh-cut cubensis mushrooms in a men’s room, spend an afternoon watching ethnographic films in a weird viewing booth. This film stuck out for its grace and simplicity. In Under the Men’s Tree, MacDougall calmly allows the stationary camera to capture a group of African men sitting around under a tree gabbing with each other, exaggerating about simple things that happened throughout the day (one young man lies about seeing a car drive by, for example). It’s a simple depiction of people telling stories, a deliberate resistance to the heavily laboured mythmaking that can seem to be the only path for those inclined to work with moving images. Art and life is just bullshitting, and here it’s studied and celebrated. It is perhaps simultaneously the most and least pretentious film (actually a wonderfully ghosting Portapak video) I’ve ever seen.

3. Godzilla vs. Hedorah (Yoshimitsu Bannu, 1971)
As an even younger person I was obsessed with Godzilla. An ambiguous, indomitable manifestation of pure force in all its conceptual ridiculousness – the Japanese Godzilla movies were the most satisfying example of pure cinematic entertainment I’d known. I’d grown up on Nintendo, and Godzilla was the first thing in art that could satisfy that strange desire for simultaneously banal and weird repetition that hours of hopping over a poorly rendered bush had induced in me. Godzilla vs. Hedorah is here because it’s really the weirdest one – it’s simultaneously psychedelic exploitation and prescient environmental commentary that’s dark and serious and insane. It’s the only movie in the series where Godzilla flies (by shooting his hot breath onto the ground and squirting upward into the air) and he gets his ass kicked by a fucked-up blob in a disturbing sequence that reminded me of an animal battling with cancer. Godzilla is the only character in movies that I can say I love without qualification.

4. Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979)
This was the first film to blow my mind. I saw it in a small 15-seat theatre above Scarecrow Video in Seattle when I was 16. There were projector problems and it was about 95 degrees in there – I remember just sweating while they struggled for 20 minutes to change reels. The experience I had watching it was as close to religious as I’ve ever had. It’s the one Tarkovsky film I’ve only watched once, I’m superstitious about it. Honestly this is the film that caused me to throw my life away studying Russia, philosophy and experimental filmmaking in college. I don’t know what else to say… it blended science fiction and philosophy and spirituality with seemingly zero budget and really beautiful sepia/monochromatic film stock, and it made me think that the world was serious about itself for a protracted moment.

5. 10 Rillington Place (Richard Fleischer, 1971)
I’m not saying this is one of the best films ever, but it’s the best horror/suspense film I’ve seen in the last five years. It’s the story of serial killer John Christie. Richard Attenborough is slimy and the crude-homemade-gas-murder-in-bombed-out-postwar-Britain-by-an-ingratiating-impotent-landlord theme is so dark. The fact that it was filmed in the actual house where the murders took place makes you come out of the theatre feeling dirty. This is true crime at its best, with a proper emphasis on the potential for murderous exploitation by power in times of want.

6. Lancelot du Lac (Robert Bresson, 1974)
Filmmaking is expensive and there are seemingly endless opportunities for lavish waste and extravagance, and if you can’t afford to do it visually you can always go nuts with the storyline. The fact that Bresson is able to maintain his dark economism while recreating archetypal fantasy Europe is pretty impressive. I love minimalism in cinema and music, like the sound of crunching leaves as we watch the forlorn knight’s feet trudge through the empty glade. I get sick of ham acting and self-congratulatory cinema, and Bresson is as pure an antidote to decadence as you can get. I’ve always had a fantasy of getting a job working on crappy historical recreations for bad TV shows and finding a way to create some small sequences of pure art away from prying eyes, but if that ever happened they would resemble this movie and I would be yelled at by my young boss.

7. Love and Anarchy (Lina Wertmuller, 1973)
This is how you make a romantic comedy. Italian ham Giancarlo Giannini plays a forlorn hick who is so obsessed with his idea of assassinating Mussolini that he totally misunderstands the meaning of his erection (I can relate). The crux of the comedy lies in the subtle movement of Giannini’s facial muscles and in his relationship with the other anarchist prostitutes, and it’s a very humanist take on radical politics and a send-up of romance that has yet to really be equalled. It’s a feminist film and an anarchist film and it’s very funny, quite the feat.

8. Arabian Nights (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1974)
Pure spectacle. A nude man wanders through sweeping vistas and ornate castles. Pure lust. Arabian Nights is one of the first books I remember getting into and this movie is a fully adult realization of cinema’s epic potential. It perfectly indulges the fascination for the Islamic golden age I picked up while living in Istanbul with the gay sexual renaissance of the 70s, another period I think about often when the phantasmic notion of true freedom pops into my head. Pasolini also has a great sense of humour. Couldn’t really ask for more.

9. The Hired Hand (Peter Fonda, 1971)
I guess since I play in a trippy American western band I should probably stay on brand. The opening sequence, in which bathing cowboys blend into a brightly sparkling river in a sequence of very slow dissolves, is a great visual realization of what we’re trying to do musically, and it’s as beautiful a depiction of experiences I’ve had in the western US as anything I’ve ever seen. The rest of the movie feels like the residue of an acid trip, not because it’s explicitly psychedelic, but more because of the themes of gently deteriorating masculine friendship and the slow dawning of unspectacular reality on the horizon at the end of your twenties. The pure ecstasy and unity of the trip can’t be maintained, but the relationships you form can last forever.

10. Level Five (Chris Marker, 1997)
Fast forward to the 90s, when I was actually alive. This movie, a bizarre pseudo-documentary investigation into Japanese resistance to the US invasion in Okinawa and elsewhere, came out in 1997. At that time I was in high school living in Saipan in the Marianas Islands with my father. While there, I visited the cliffs where, in the film, we see Japanese women jumping to their deaths in slow motion. By the time I saw this a couple of years ago I almost had a panic attack thinking about how personal history and national history intertwine in infinite aspects, forming invisible threads that direct our every action. Marker is impossibly creative within a non-existent budget and creates works of art that are unlike anything else. He blends so many spheres of being and understanding, and couples that with a charismatic personality that just expresses an openness and love for the world. Just makes you want to create something out of nothing, as now you know it can be done.

Gun Outfit UK Tour Dates:
12.02.16 Brighton, Green Door Store
13.02.16 Manchester, Gullivers
14.02.16 Glasgow, The Hug & Pint
15.02.16 Leeds, Brudenell Social Club
16.02.16 Cardiff, Clwb lfor Bach
17.02.16 London, The Lexington

XConfessions: Interview with Erika Lust

My Master

Format: DVD + download/stream

Release date: Volume 6 released on 28 January 2016

Event: Erika Lust will be in Berlin in February for a special screening of the Director’s Cut of her latest XConfessions short films followed by a Q&A, hosted by the Berlin Film Society at the Babylon Kino. The original event on 10 February is sold out but another screening has been added on 12 February 2016.

The Barcelona-based erotic filmmaker on women and pornography, trying to change the adult industry, and her interactive project XConfessions.

Swedish-born, Barcelona-based erotic filmmaker Erika Lust has been challenging the tiresome clichés and uninventive formulas of the porn industry since her 2004 debut, The Good Girl. Following a string of award-winning features including Life Love Lust and Cabaret Desire, she started the interactive web-based XConfessions project: members of the public are encouraged to confess their secrets and fantasies, which Erika Lust then makes into films. The resulting stories range from daily situations, as in the self-explanatory Meet Me in the Workroom or The Couch Surfer (think erotic air b’n’b), to the oneiric as in Spectrophila (an erotic encounter with a ghost lover), bondage reveries as in An Appointment with My Master (an S/M session presented like an appointment at the doctor’s), or flights of fancy inspired by books or TV as in Mad Men Porn. What all have in common is a joyful and tender approach to the diversity of human sexuality supported by a strong artistic vision that gives the films style and sensual beauty.

Virginie Sélavy talked to Erika Lust about women and pornography, trying to change the adult industry and innovating with XConfessions.

Virginie Sélavy: You describe yourself as a feminist porn filmmaker, what does that mean to you?

Erika Lust: I normally describe myself as a filmmaker, and I’m interested in the subject of sexuality, especially female sexuality. I think that the whole concept of feminist pornography can be very confusing for people because it seems that there’s something anti-male in feminism and something anti-female in pornography. I don’t believe that, but I think people have that idea about those two words, even though feminism is a basic idea about human rights. When you consider yourself a feminist it means that you believe women and men should have the same rights. I think it’s very sad that there are so many people who misunderstand the concept and think that feminism is an extremist movement against men.

In your book Good Porn, your friend Audacia Ray says that, for her, feminist porn is not about what is on the screen but about the way the film is produced. Would you agree with that?

I do agree with that part of it. For me the concept of feminist porn has three pillars. First it’s about what you’re showing on the screen; it’s about the sexuality and how the people on the screen are interacting. Then it’s about women in important roles, where they are moving forward, being a character, taking care of their own pleasure, and it’s about seeing their pleasure on the screen. But it’s also how you make the movie, who is behind the movie, and what ideas they have. I think it’s extremely important that women step in and start telling their stories about sexuality. So I mainly have a female crew behind my movies. When I started it was basically me and a few more people, but now I have a crew of around 15 people. In all important creative decision-making roles I have women – director of photography, line producer, assistant director, casting. For pornography to progress it really needs women behind the camera. It’s a genre that is created by 98 or 99% of men. There are still very few women involved today and they are mainly in the independent adult genre.

The Couch Surfer
The Couch Surfer

Throughout your work you challenge clichés about women and porn, one of them being the idea that women are not stimulated visually by explicit sexual material.

I think we are stimulated by all our senses, and one of them is obviously vision. I think it’s extremely erotic to see images. And I think that most women feel the same way. What happened with pornography is that it started as something more attractive back in the 60s and 70s, when there were actual filmmakers behind some of the films being made, they had ideas, visions, they wanted to tell stories. But then the whole genre turned into a money-making factory that was just interested in the penetration and the fluids and the acrobatic positions. It’s not that I don’t find that interesting, but I want something more. If you get into the most visited porn sites of today, like Porn Hub, YouPorn, Red Tube, etc, it’s aesthetically very ugly. And many of those films are basically men punish-fucking women. I feel that most women don’t feel comfortable with that, and I have to add, many men don’t feel comfortable with that. I think it’s a vision that we need to talk about. It’s getting very important to look at what kind of sexual images we are selling because internet has become a power of its own when it comes to pornography – one third of all internet traffic is about porn. When we log into those websites we are after sexual stimulation, we are after trying to figure out who we are and what we like. If the only images you find online when you look for pornography are those kinds of images then your view of sexuality will be affected by that. You will start to believe that the main goal of women in this world is to make men come. Sex-positive feminists believe that the problem is not porn, it’s that there’s too much bad porn, and we have to make it better. That’s what I’m trying to do.

How did XConfessions come about?

When I was going around doing screenings, especially with my last one, Cabaret Desire, people were coming up to me wanting to share because they felt that porn is pretty much all the same and their stories were quite different. When I was thinking about my next project after Cabaret Desire I couldn’t decide on one idea, so I decided to do ten short films. At that time, it was two years ago, there was a huge shift. DVD sales dropped, the way we were consuming movies changed. It’s not so long ago that we started to use the internet more and more as opposed to the cinema, TV or DVD. And that’s why I saw the opportunity to do a web project where people could interact and send me their confessions and I would make films from those confessions. Sometimes the films have a lot to do with the confessions, but sometimes the confessions are just inspiration for the films.

Do you get ideas sent by more women or men?

It’s 50/50, or at least it’s what the statistics are telling me, because who knows – the confessions are anonymous so because they choose a feminine name I think it’s a woman. But I don’t feel there’s a lot of difference between men and women in their confessions and what they write about. It may also depend on the audience that I have. My feeling is that it’s quite a smart audience, they are very articulate, they know how to write, they have a lot of ideas and fantasies, and even cultural references to books, music, films, a whole cultural world.


Which fantasy has surprised you the most?

I don’t know what surprised me the most. There are so many of them and they are so different, but there are some tendencies, a lot of things coming back. There are plenty of threesome situations, people love those films. People want to explore, I don’t know if they want to do it in real life or just in the fantasy world, but they love exploring. There are also a lot of confessions around power play, domination, submission, both men and women being both roles. And infidelity comes back quite a lot.

Has there been any confession that you haven’t wanted to make?

I haven’t done any rape fantasies. People ask me for that sometimes, there are confessions around that theme. But I feel that it’s not really something that I can deal with. I don’t know what to do with it. There are a lot of women who have those kinds of fantasies, I’m not saying that it’s the limit, but I don’t really see it. I have to believe in it, there has to be something that I want to go for.

The films are really diverse and they really show how inventive and varied human sexuality is.

That’s exactly what I want to show in the project. I love the idea of gathering all these films together to show that sexuality can be so many different things. It doesn’t have to be the pizza guy, the mafia guy, and the babysitter. Keep on dreaming! And that is one of the biggest problems with the adult industry and the way it’s become. The industry doesn’t have much creativity, or much fun. Imagine if in the film world you only had Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jean-Claude van Damme. It’d be a very small world, and porn has ended up a little like that. It needs the Woody Allens and the Tarantinos and the Isabel Coixets and the Sofia Coppolas. But I think it will change. Things are happening, there are new people coming in.

On the other hand, porn has seeped into independent film, with films like Gaspar Noé’s Love, Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac or Michael Winterbottom’s Nine Songs. What do you think of that evolution?

When sex gets into independent film, what happens is that it gets very dark and complicated. It’s like in Nymphomaniac, it’s normally only disturbed people who are sexually active and who go beyond the limits. Many of those films are made by men, there are few women. And very few of those films are positive about sex. What I try to do in my work is show a positive vision of sexuality.

Interview by Virginie Sélavy

Mario Bava Season at Castle Bleasdale (Part One)

Blood and Black Lace 1
Blood and Black Lace

A diary of watching Mario Bava films over a week.

It was January, cold, and everyone was dying. I chopped enough wood for the week and stored it against the wall with the kindling. There were frosts every night at Castle Bleasdale – my current residence, a shuddering pile located on the River Piave where the plains meet the first mountains of the Dolomites – but while my wife and children slept fitfully upstairs, I would get the fire roaring, turn out all the lights and watch a film by Italian horror director Mario Bava. Prior to this week, I’d never seen any of his 30-odd films. This is a scientific record of the Mario Bava Season at Castle Bleasdale.

Monday, 11th of January, 2016

David Bowie died last night. An inauspicious beginning to the week, to the year in fact. I resist the temptation to watch The Man Who Fell to Earth – there’ll be time enough for that later – because tonight I must begin my journey into the cinema of Mario Bava. I’ve put it off too long and now it calls to me. All the wonderful titles: lots of blood, lots of black, covens of witches and parties of demons. I eschew the synopsis and trailers and pick Blood and Black Lace from 1964. In Italian (and I watch it in Italian) the title is Six Women for the Murderer. The first thing I notice is the wind. A wind blows through the film as a series of murders are committed around a fashion house. The models and the owners are somehow involved. Throughout there is an air of scandal and the diary of a victim becomes a focal point for many of the characters. There is a widespread guilt. The women fear exposure as much as they do the murderer who stalks them with his strange cloth mask, as if he (or she) were fashion itself. The murders are brutal and the sadism of the killer mixes with obvious misogyny, as the fear of the women is accentuated and one of the women has her face thrust against a red hot stove. Everyone is trapped in or about the creepy villa and Bava is obviously attuned to the Gothic. The wind slams windows and billows curtains. Mannequins stand frozen waiting to come to life. There is drapery and blood and the grotesque comedy of death which leaves the women in poses without poise, eyes bulging, faces ruined, mere things to be carted around. This is the very beginning of the giallo, a whole genre dedicated to the fascination of what beautiful women look like when they’re frightened, and later when they’re dead.

Tuesday, 12th of January, 2016

Last night I tweeted about my first Mario Bava film and Massimo B. sent me a message from Amsterdam. They’re making a horror movie: would I submit a treatment? I base it on Blood and Black Lace and send it off. He gets back to me. Read it, liked it, will be in touch. Heartened, I build the fire up. It’s almost too hot. Outside there is a full moon casting sharp shadows. The cold is so intense, it’s like you’re immersed in freezing water. My daughters and wife sleep upstairs. I have chosen Kill Baby Kill (1966). A title that Roger Corman might have been proud of. Operazione Paura in Italian! But the film opens like something out of Hammer. A village is approached. There’s a terrible secret. The young doctor arrives to assist with the investigation of a grisly death. The local villa houses a Miss Haversham of sorts, who in the ruins of her former glory, surrounded by the dolls of her lost child, leaks a malign influence onto the village. The corruption of the locals see them hounded to death if they spill the secret. Inside the corpse of the young girl – an apparent suicide – a coin is found. The investigating policeman is found killed and the coroner, played by the impossibly square-jawed Giacomo Rossi Stuart, teams up with a local girl (Erica Blank), who has returned after a long sojourn away to find out what is going on. Bava is extremely good at the traditional elements of the horror story. As with Blood and Black Lace, the wind moans and shutters slam. A little girl wanders the film, a terrifying precursor to the little red riding hood of Don’t Look Now and a ball bounces down a spiral staircase and we could be forgiven for thinking it settles in a corridor of the Overlook Hotel. As the film slides effortlessly into the surreal, the haunted house becomes increasingly psychotic and beguiling. As I turn off the lights and lock all the doors before going to bed, I catch sight of my own reflection and recoil at the lurid grin that contorts my face.

Wednesday, 13th of January, 2016

One of my students died. Death comes by email these days, or worse still, Facebook. I learned of a suicide via Facebook two years ago. Last year Twitter alerted me to the massacre in the offices of Charlie Hebdo. The world we live in death comes tweeting. The fire is lit early this evening. The Planet of the Vampires (1965) was Bava’s foray into science fiction. He also directed comedies and Spaghetti Westerns. Two space ships land on a mysterious planet after they pick up an SOS message. As they land, the crew are gripped by a mass psychosis and set about trying to kill each other. Once recovered they find that the crew members on the other ship were similarly affected but had gone the whole hog and murdered each other. The film was made on the cheap with only a couple of rocks, some slow motion and a wind machine with which to make an alien planet. The wind blows again and seems to be a crucial element to the Bava universe, that invisible force that we all take for granted but which moves and affects the world. Likewise there are invisible beings on the planet that can only be perceived by their effects on others as they reanimate the corpses of the dead crew and attack the living. Bava regular Barbara Steele joins US TV actor Barry Sullivan in trying to make the sets and the situation credible. The creepiness is well done and although everyone involved denies it, there is more than a germ of Alien here, though Bava’s film borrows liberally from Forbidden Planet (1956) as well it must be noted.

Thursday, 14th of January, 2016

I’m rehearsing a play to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday when I get the news that Alan Rickman has died. I saw Rickman in St. George’s Hall in Liverpool perform Hamlet in the mid-90s. He was a wonderful Dane and I walked back to my student digs blathering fake Shakespearean verse. I take the rest of the day off and decide tonight I will double bill Mario Bava. The fire is lit and the wood is consumed, the flames, reaching high into the chimney as if they’re trying to grab something. Just as Dario Argento – influenced by Bava’s Blood and Black Lace is claiming the giallo for his own, Bava lurches back towards the Gothic, which lies at the heart of his concept of horror. Baron Blood has the Italian title Gli orrori del castello di Norimberga. Peter Kliest (Antonio Cantafora) visits the castle of his ancestors where he meets Eva (Elke Sommer), a student who is studying the ancestral pile, which is due to be sold. A series of murders coincide with the arrival of the wheelchair-bound Alfred Becker (played by an ageing Joseph Cotten), the new owner of the castle. There is gruesome murder, an Iron Maiden gets some use and a wonderful foggy chase. Joseph Cotten can’t really compete with the grisly make-up of his un-rejuvenated Baron, but it doesn’t really matter as it is the Austrian castle that is the true star of the film. Released the same year – 1972 – Lisa and the Devil also starred Elke Sommer, this time as Lisa, an American tourist in Spain. Here she meets a strange man (Telly Savalas) in a mannequin shop. He bears a striking resemblance to a fresco depicting the devil on the wall of the local church. Lisa loses her group and is given a lift by a rich couple and their chauffeur, who in turn find themselves stranded near a fog-shrouded villa, the butler of which is the mannequin-lugging devil. Invited in, the travellers find themselves part of a weird role-playing game as a mother and son see in Lisa a resemblance to a sweetheart long dead. There is necrophilia, sadism and black magic at play as Leandro (Savalas) manipulates everyone in the house like the mannequins he positions, which come to life. Leandro could be seen as a stand-in for the director himself, manipulating pain and grief and exhuming memories in order to make his own entertainment. Savalas sucks on a lollipop throughout the movie, a detail that he liked so much he used it for his iconic TV detective Kojak, which he filmed the following year.

Friday, 15th of January, 2016

The funeral took place in the local cathedral and outside the sun was strangely, unseasonably warm.

John Bleasdale

Anna Smaill is Kiki from Kiki’s Delivery Service

Kiki's Delivery Service
Kiki’s Delivery Service

Anna Smaill was born in Auckland in 1979. She became entranced by the violin when she was seven and decided to become a musician. She headed off to university to study performance art, but chose to concentrate on literature instead. Her love of music feeds her creative writing – her book of poems is called The Violinist in Spring and her Man Booker Prize long-listed debut novel The Chimes (published in Feb 2015) is full of melody, inspired by Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game, Vladmir Gavreau’s theories on infrasound and Anna’s own memories of living in Tokyo. Below she explains why she picked Kiki from Kiki’s Delivery Service as her filmic alter ego. Eithne Farry

One of the benefits of taking filmic pleasure alongside a pre-schooler, as I chiefly do at present, is a steadily growing intimacy with the oeuvre of Hayao Miyazaki. I loved Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away and others long before becoming a parent, but I only recently watched, and discovered, my aspirational alter ego in Kiki’s Delivery Service. It’s a strange Ghibli film in many ways, more slowly paced and less lyrical than most of the others and, for a film about a young witch, emphatically down to earth. Kiki’s relentless difficulties form the grain and texture of the film. Kiki just can’t catch a break. In her training year as a witch, she’s intensely homesick; she struggles to make new friends; she falters in her work due to demanding customers and meteorological forces; she becomes sick. Just as things seem to improve, Kiki loses the very things that define her: her powers of flight and the connection to her talking cat, Jiji. What makes Kiki so wonderful and memorable as a character is how very brave she is in the face of this experience. I’m continually moved by how Studio Ghibli renders her face, the openness of her eyes, the inward complexity expressed in the flush along her cheeks, her halting and then hectic speech. There is a moral quality to her cheerfulness, and to her sadness.

I guess there is something in my own experience with music – the seeming failure of a formerly self-defining gift – that draws me to Kiki. I find the phenomenon of performance anxiety both horrifying and fascinating. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, Malamud’s The Natural – these are the plots of inescapable nightmare. How do you sustain the thing that used to come naturally, the thing of pure fun, when it has become a profession? How do you step clear of hamstringing self-consciousness? David Foster Wallace’s essay ‘The Nature of the Fun’ essentially follows Kiki’s exact arc. But the answers in this film are radically simple in contrast to those Wallace provides. And they’re not insular but communal – those of friendship, artistic generosity and kindness. I still have much to learn from this 13-year-old witch.

Anna Smaill

A Krimi-Giallo Hybrid: What Have You Done to Solange?

Solange 2
What Have You Done to Solange?

Format: Dual Format (DVD + Blu-ray

Release date: 14 December 2015

Distributor: Arrow Video

Director: Massimo Dallamano

Writers: Bruno Di Geronimo, Massimo Dallamano

Original title: Cosa avete fatto a Solange?

Cast: Fabio Testi, Cristina Galbó, Karin Baal, Joachim Fuchsberger

Italy, Germany 1972

107 mins

Massimo Dallamano’s Catholic girls’ school psycho-sexual thriller combines elements of German and Italian genre cinemas.

A German-Italian co-production, Massimo Dallamano’s What Have You Done to Solange? is one of several films intended to bridge the gap between the West German Edgar Wallace krimi and the Italian gialli. The relationship between the two subgenres dates back to the late 1960s, when gialli like Antonio Margheriti’s Naked You Die! (1968) were released in Germany in black and white (despite being shot in colour) to resemble the classic Wallace krimi in appearance. At the same time Rialto Film, the primary producer of the Wallace films, were trying to find ways of revitalizing their formula, in response to declining popularity. Their first attempt, Double Face (1968), was certainly equipped for lasting cult appeal, being directed by Italian horror legend Riccardo Freda and co-written by the future ‘godfather of gore’ Lucio Fulci. It also starred Klaus Kinski in a rare leading role, as well as a number of Euro-horror veterans, including Gunther Stoll, Margaret Lee and Annabella Incontrera. Unfortunately, Freda’s star had waned by that point, and despite the efforts of the cast, Double Face is bland and uninvolving.

The film’s commercial failure doused Rialto’s interest in further ventures, and the matter might have rested there, were it not for Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. One of the big European box office hits of 1970, Argento’s debut feature sparked off a wave of similar thrillers, bringing the giallo firmly into the mainstream. In Germany The Bird with the Crystal Plumage was distributed by Artur Brauner’s Central Cinema Company (a.k.a. CCC Films), Rialto’s main competitor in the field of the Wallace krimi. Brauner added a spurious credit to German prints of the film, claiming it was based upon a story by Bryan Edgar Wallace, the son of the famous author whose own works had been adapted by CCC Films. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage was then marketed to German audiences as an authentic krimi.

Having noticed the film’s impressive box office takings, Rialto decided to attempt another krimi-giallo crossover. Although most of the technical aspects of What Have You Done to Solange? were left to the discretion of the Italian crew, Rialto made a number of changes to bring the film closer to their previous Wallace krimi, including setting the film in London. The main detective would be played by Joachim Fuchsberger, Rialto’s most popular leading man, while the German wife would be played by Karin Baal, the star of two earlier Wallace films, including The Dead Eyes of London (1961), arguably the finest example of the form. A single line of dialogue was added to justify the appropriation of the title of a genuine Edgar Wallace story for the film’s German title (The Clue of the Green Pin), despite the two stories having absolutely nothing in common.

Enrico Rosseni (played by Fabio Testi, best known for his role in The Garden of the Finzi-Continis) teaches Italian and gymnastics at a prestigious Catholic school in London. Even though his severe German wife Herta (Karin Baal) teaches at the school as well, Enrico is having an affair with one of his students, Elizabeth Seccles (Christina Galbó, The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue). During one of their meetings, Elizabeth sees a young girl and the flash of a knife, but Enrico angrily dismisses her claim. The following day a girl’s body is discovered in the same location, with the victim another student of the school. Even though Elizabeth is a key witness, Enrico discourages her from contacting the police because of his marriage. When another student is murdered, Enrico realizes that Elizabeth is not just a witness, but a key figure in the events unfolding and a potential victim too.

Despite its hybrid origins, What Have You Done to Solange? is very much a classic example of the 1970s giallo. As usual, the police are present but take a backseat role to the hero’s amateur investigations. Although Enrico himself is not a witness to the crimes like his counterpart in Dario Argento’s thrillers, his girlfriend Elizabeth is, and she experiences the same confusion and progressive revelations as the heroes of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Deep Red (1976). The killer is visible only as a pair of black-gloved hands, although we hear his voice. His motivations are a little more complex. Instead of being a witness to, or a victim of, a traumatic event, he’s taking revenge on behalf of that victim. The incident itself is one of the most unpleasant of its kind and certainly effective, but would perhaps be more appropriate for a Roman Catholic country; the United Kingdom’s laws on the subject make such events largely unnecessary (a similar point applies to Elizabeth’s age; in Italy she would have been over the age of consent). The brutal and sexualised nature of the killings (and their motivation) is sharply at odds with the standards of the Wallace krimi, which rarely featured graphic violence and generally couched any sexual content in a light-hearted tone.

By technical standards, What Have You Done to Solange? is exceptional, especially the cinematography. Although best known as a producer of notorious splatter movies (including the excellent Beyond the Darkness) and hardcore pornography, Aristide Massacessi (a.k.a. Joe D’Amato) is a skilled cinematographer whose framing and shot composition are consistently solid. Director Dallamano is a capable cinematographer himself, having worked on A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and For A Few Dollars More (1965) before moving into direction. Together Dallamano and Massacessi create a stylish, visually interesting film, with a number of memorable and eye-catching moments. Legendary composer Ennio Morricone provided the scores to more than a dozen gialli in the early 1970s, including Argento’s early thrillers. His work on What Have You Done to Solange? relies on many of the same motifs and themes that characterise his other giallo scores: angular, discordant bass figures; wordless child-like singing; high-pitched, screeching strings. Despite this, it’s a strong enough score, and certain passages correspond well to the images they accompany.

Although Dallamano is happy to kill off the girls in a brutal fashion and use them to provide the film’s plentiful nudity, there is something sad about his portrayal of these young women. They are essentially adrift in the world. Their parents are generally absent from the film and when they do appear, they present a rose-tinted, idealised view of their children that shows no awareness of their growing physical and mental maturity. Their Catholic upbringing provides them with plenty of rules and admonitions against sin but offers them no help with their predicament whatsoever. The other adults in their lives are equally hopeless. Their teachers (aside from the priests) include a lecherous hypocrite who ascribes to them every kind of sexual vice but spies on them in the showers. Even Enrico, the one teacher who takes their side in disputes with the school, is having an affair with a girl not yet halfway through her teenage years, and is not above pressurizing his lover to give in to his sexual demands. With no guidance except their own instincts, the girls drift into the clutches of perverts, sleazy photographers and backstreet abortionists.

The execution and genre mechanics make What Have You Done to Solange? an excellent example of its kind, but it possesses an emotional resonance that lifts it above the majority of its contemporaries. It is not a flawless film; Inspector Barth’s assertion that showing the teachers graphic crime scene photos is a ‘necessary formality’ is ridiculous and grotesque, while Enrico’s sudden change of heart is poorly handled and does the character no favours (indeed, none of the film’s characters are anything other than one-dimensional). Despite its shortcomings, What Have You Done to Solange? is a first-rate giallo that deserves this new restoration.

Watch the trailer:

Jim Harper

Ironically Howling at the Moon with An American Werewolf in London

American Werewolf in London 2
An American Werewolf in London

The soundtrack to John Landis’s much-loved horror comedy inventively subverts the clichés of the genre.

John Landis’s 1981 classic horror film An American Werewolf in London was something of a pet project: the script was written by the director many years before but the studio thought it either too funny or too scary to green light. Following the success of National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978) and The Blues Brothers (1980), Landis found himself with a carte blanche for his next project. Despite its odd comedy/horror mix An American Werewolf in London became yet another box-office smash. In 1981 it was a film everyone was talking about – particularly horror makeup man Rick Baker’s first-rate gore and the great man-to-wolf transformation scene. Landis and Baker would team up again in 1983 to zombify Michael Jackson in Thriller.

After all these years the inventiveness of the film remains striking. It is clearly in the horror genre and yet sidesteps cliché at every turn, and nowhere more memorably than with the soundtrack. There’s no scary music; instead we get mood music so subtle it is hardly noticeable and handful of pop songs with the word ‘moon’ in the title. All great songs and used with irony and humour.

The film opens with a shot of the moors, but not the foggy storm-battered moors of horror classics. These hills are pleasant and green and lit by a slowly setting sun. These shots are accompanied by the first of the film’s three moon songs, Bobby Vinton’s classy 1963 version of ‘Blue Moon’. It was recorded for his ‘blue’ concept album along with his hit records ‘Blue on Blue’ and of course ‘Blue Velvet’. This smooth, sweet, almost sugary confection stands as a paradigm of American pop music between rock’n’roll and the British invasion. With its lush production complete with subtle tasteful instrumentation and backing vocals whispering ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’, this is perhaps the piece of music with the least tension ever to open a horror film.

There is a gap of an hour featuring a visit to a pub, a wolf attack and a few dream sequences before the next song accompanies the young lovers: the werewolf attack survivor and his nurse take a shower to Van Morrison’s 1970 ‘Moondance’. Although less obviously ironic than the other songs its light jazzy swing is certainly at odds with the typical wailing saxophone that usually enhanced such scenes in 1981. The third moon song follows shortly after. Creedence Clearwater Revival’s apocalyptic stomp ‘Bad Moon Rising’ (1969) accompanies our lycanthrope as he spends a weekday afternoon battling boredom (he even tries British daytime television), a strange restlessness and lack of appetite. It is a truly great song and a great stripped-down production with one of the best drum sounds ever recorded, and it is completely at odds with the scene. Boredom never seemed so much fun.

Two more versions of ‘Blue Moon’ follow. Sam Cooke’s unique soulful phrasing plays over the painful transformation scene. And after the heartbreaking ending, the end titles are accompanied by the famous ‘bom-di-di-bom’ of The Marcels’ upbeat doo-wop version. It is now the most famous version of the song written in the mid-30s by show-tune specialists Rodgers and Hart. The joyful ending seems so perfect for a film imbued with the love of making movies. Landis’s career went from strength to strength and many more box-office successes followed. Those subsequent films were tight and entertaining but his love of cinema was never again so obvious.

Paul Huckerby

Ali Shaw is Yakul from Princess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke 1
Princess Mononoke

The award-winning author of The Girl with Glass Feet and The Man who Rained picks his filmic alter ego.

Novelist Ali Shaw grew up in Dorset and studied English literature and creative writing at Lancaster University. He’s written for BBC Radio 4, and worked as a bookseller and in the Bodleian Library. His latest novel The Trees (Bloomsbury), out in March 2016, hauntingly describes what happens when the trapping of civilization are taken over by nature, when a dense forest appears overnight, replacing houses and buildings with trees. Eithne Farry

The heroes are always the boring ones. As much as I adore Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke, its hero Ashitaka is as straight-laced and earnest as they come. ‘So you say you’re under a curse,’ Jigo, the mischievous monk tells him. ‘So what? So is the whole damned world.’ A fairy tale such as this one needs, of course, its serious prince. Yet it’s Ashitaka’s red elk steed Yakul who steals his scenes, often far more expressively than his rider. Since those scenes are all hand-drawn, I can’t help but think that’s deliberate.

I reckon I’d make a passable Yakul. I’m not as brave as Ashitaka, and I can’t hit running headshots with a bow and arrow. But I certainly can huff like a red elk, and run away from things as fast as I can. Galloping through Studio Ghibli’s exquisitely painted landscapes would be my idea of heaven, as would be hopping over their glimmering celluloid streams. I think I would feel just as out of place among the crowds and bowed oxen of Irontown, because the point about Yakul is that he’s not a beast of burden. He’s Ashitaka’s comrade, occupying a position of neutrality in the film’s central conflict between humanity and nature. Yakul and Ashitaka are living proof that the two sides really can get along. Crucially, they respect and honour not only the luminously antlered forest god and the cutesy bobble-headed kodamas, but the stark rage of nature as well. I hope that, whenever I’m next faced with a squirming nest of worms on legs that’s bound itself to the body of a fallen boar god, I too will have the courage to be so clairvoyant.

There is no such thing as a red elk. Miyazaki made them up. Yakul is more like a species of African marsh antelope called a lechwe than he is an elk. That’s just one more thing I love about him, because made-up animals are one of the best means we humans have for talking about ourselves. We have to make ourselves up all the time, and animal qualities can sometimes be the ideal components. So I will aspire to be bolder and more gracious and quicker-hooved, and to keep my eyes and ears alert for those who would blast the world apart just to scrape more iron out of the soil. I will be hand-drawn, frame by frame, and all the better for it. Skipping through the story with a huff and a snort, just like Yakul.

Ali Shaw