The Man from London

Format: Cinema

Release date: 12 December 2008

Venue: Renoir (London) and key cities

Distributor: Artificial Eye

Director: Béla Tarr

Screenplay: Béla Tarr, Lí¡szlí­Â³ Krasznahorkai

Based on: novel by Georges Simenon

Original title: A Londoni férfi

Cast: Miroslav Krobot, Tilda Swinton, Erika Bí­Â³k, Jí¡nos Derzsi

France/Germany/Hungary 2007

133 mins

‘Please sit down and be patient’, is a request addressed by a stone-faced police investigator to the distressed wife of a murder suspect in The Man from London. The Hungarian director Béla Tarr asks the same of his audience, as his first feature in seven years is a deliberately paced formal excursion into film noir that is ultimately more interested in the emotionally debilitating effects of daily drudgery than it is in the mechanics of genre.

Maloin (Miroslav Krobot) is a lowly night switchman at the local railroad whose interest in life is slipping away between arrivals and departures. His relationship with his wife Camélia (Tilda Swinton) consists of mundane exchanges regarding money and food, punctuated by aggressive arguments. His teenage daughter Henriette (Erika Bí­Â³k) has undertaken a menial job at a grocer’s, which Maloin perceives to be demeaning as the patrons can see too much of her legs. He seeks solace in alcohol, which numbs his disenchantment as much as it keeps the cold at bay, and in games of chess with the owner of the town inn. One night, Maloin witnesses a clandestine business transaction, which results in murder and the loss of a suitcase containing í‚£600,000, which he retrieves from the neighbouring harbour in an effort to better the lifestyle of his family. However, matters become complicated when an inspector arrives to locate the missing money and arrest the man who has stolen it. Maloin maintains his anonymous existence, eavesdropping on the investigation, whilst gradually developing a guilty conscience that will cause conflict in his home.

Although filmed in France, the unforgiving atmosphere of The Man from London is more suggestive of a town in Eastern Europe that has been omitted from the map. Indeed, the community that Tarr depicts is one that is so bereft of wealth, that when Maloin stumbles on to the fortune, he hides it in a locker, not knowing what to do with it. Shot in stark and simple black and white by Fred Kelemen, whose monochrome compositions often achieve a still life quality, this adaptation of Georges Simenon’s novel adheres to the noir template despite its digressions, and Tarr delivers several quietly bravura set pieces. The ill-fated money transfer is shot in one extended take from Maloin’s point of view, and there is a later scene in which the central character awakens at nightfall, only to discover that he is being watched from below.

However, whenever the narrative appears to be gaining a modicum of momentum, Tarr’s camera pans away from the principal players to an extended shot of a group of drunkards balancing billiard balls on their heads, or focuses on an elderly man slurping from a bowl of soup. Such carefully crafted depictions of squalor have much in common with the cinema of Emir Kusturica, but they are less emotionally resonant, and Tarr’s reliance on a foreboding chamber score by frequent collaborator Mihí¡ly Vig suggests a lack of confidence in aligning pulp source material with his own social concerns.

John Berra

Read this review and more in our winter print issue, which is explores celluloid snow with articles on Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World, Aki Kaurismäki’s Calamari Union, John Carpenter’s The Thing, Christmas slasher movies and cult Japanese revenge tale Lady Snowblood. You can buy the current issue online, order back issues, or subscribe to the magazine at Wallflower Press. Subscription is í‚£12 UK or í‚£15 overseas for four issues of Electric Sheep (incl. P&P) – buy online from Wallflower Press and get a 15% discount! For gift subscriptions please email Wallflower Press.


Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr S Thompson

Format: Cinema

Release date: 19 December 2008

Venue: Cineworld Haymarket, Odeons Camden + Covent Garden (London)

Distributor: Optimum Releasing

Director: Alex Gibney

USA 2008

120 mins

You’ve probably seen Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, you may have even read the book, but did you know that in 1970 Hunter S Thompson ran for sheriff of Aspen on the platform that no drug worth taking should have to be paid for? How about that in 1972 he single-handedly dashed the presidential hopes of the candidate for the Democratic nomination, senator Ed Muskie, by starting a rumour that Muskie was addicted to the exotic Congolese drug ibogaine? The latest documentary from writer-director Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Taxi to the Dark Side) rewards the Gonzo initiate and uninitiated alike by presenting the events of Thompson’s life in linear order so as not to spoil any of the surprises for those new to his work, but with enough detail to keep even the biggest fan happy.

Gibney’s great advantage over Thompson’s other cinematic biographers is the unprecedented access he was given to Thompson’s estate. What he found was a fascinating collection of previously unseen home movies and unpublished material. It also doesn’t hurt that he managed to get Johnny Depp to reprise his role as Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, only without the make-up, to read this material along with excerpts from Thompson’s major works. Gibney then couples Thompson’s home movies and Depp’s narration with archive footage and new interviews with Thompson’s wives, his bosses at Rolling Stone magazine and his high-ranking political subjects such as senator George McGovern and president Jimmy Carter. The picture of Thompson that emerges is a man who was happiest in the 60s, surfing the wave of the hippy movement, and whose suicide was not only contemplated, but also decided upon the moment that wave broke. A life member of the NRA, Thompson always planned to blow his head off with a shotgun, which he did in 2005. Everything prior to this was just a series of temporary reprieves while he used his typewriter in the service of people he thought might be able to revive his particular version of the American dream.

Drug-fuelled, partisan and irreverent was how Thompson’s gonzo style of journalism was most often described, and these qualities were represented at his elaborate funeral, which Depp paid for and Gibney shows here – the writer’s ashes were fired over Aspen from a rocket launcher mounted in a giant two-thumbed fist holding a peyote button. However, it’s easy to forget that beneath his wit, which Gibney demonstrates by the Cadillac trunk-load, Thompson saw his work as a means to an end. As far as he was concerned, this end wasn’t achieved, so suicide was a natural choice. Gibney, on the other two-thumbed hand, argues that if Thompson found himself lacking, he was just about the only one who did, and that by taking his own life, the good doctor deprived the world of a voice that was still powerful enough to bring about change for the better.

Alexander Pashby


Patti Smith: Dream of Life

Format: Cinema

Release date: 5 December 2008

Venue: Odeon Panton St, Ritzy (London) and key cities

Distributor: Verve Pictures

Director: Steven Sebring

USA 2008

109 mins

Part of the fascination in Steven Sebring’s affectionate documentary portrait Patti Smith: Dream of Life comes from the way it strives to be as elusive as its subject. As one would expect from a filmmaker who is first and foremost a high-end fashion and pop photographer, Sebring’s film is full of wonderfully moody black and white shots, superbly composed and often at once hauntingly beautiful and desperately sad. Essential to the film’s dark charm, however, is the melody of Patti Smith’s own language: in slow, hypnotically gentle, yet radiantly emphatic voice-over she briefly compiles key biographical data as well as momentous events and significant encounters that shaped her life, her narration underpinned by a vigorous force that makes every word sound like it is carved in stone. Applied to a different persona, Sebring’s approach might seem disturbingly self-indulgent, but for the most part it suits this portrait perfectly. The enormously influential punk rock poet, her music and poetry, and the times in which she flourished are indeed best served by a cinematic style that remains determinedly impressionistic.

Yet, Dream of Life is undoubtedly driven by the need to make sense of the enigmatic and overpowering figure at its heart. Sebring met Patti Smith in late 1995, one year after the deaths of her husband, the guitarist Fred Smith, and her only brother Todd, when she decided to return to the stage after an absence of 16 years. He followed her with his camera in utter devotion for over a decade, shooting Smith at home or while touring around the world, visiting the graves of the poets she reveres from Alan Ginsberg to William Blake and Shelley, or checking in at her parents’ house in Deptford, New Jersey. Interwoven with these glimpses of her past and present life, there is a recurring, essential image, in which Smith is sitting in a white, sparsely furnished room amidst her greatest personal treasures, at one point showing off her favourite childhood dress before picking up her guitar and giving away secrets like her crush on the late author William S Burroughs.

Clearly a labour of love, Dream of Life is a tremendously visceral composite whose strength lies in letting the look, the sound and the mystique of Patti Smith speak for themselves. Though Sebring is no doubt guilty of glamorising his subject and often meanders instead of providing deeper insight or even just plain facts, he edits his film in much the same wildly emotional, attentive yet open-ended way Smith performs. Although there is no denying that mild self-complacence makes this an imperfect film, it remains in the mind as a slow-paced, beautifully shot and softly nostalgic documentary, a stylised capsule of an artist’s free-floating, intense and troubled life. It is an apt celebration of Smith’s extraordinary spirit and of her continued willingness to encounter the world with undying creative desire, even after being battered by fate time and again.

Pamela Jahn


Love and Honour

Format: Cinema

Release date: 12 December 2008

Venue: ICA (London)

Distributor: Eureka Entertainment

Director: Yôji Yamada

Writers: Yôji Yamada, Emiko Hiramatsu, Ichirô Yamamoto

Based on: novel by Shûhei Fujisawa

Original title: Bushi no ichibun

Cast: Takuya Kimura, Rei Dan, Takashi Sasano, Mitsugoro Bando

Japan 2006

121 mins

Following The Twilight Samurai (2002) and The Hidden Blade (2004), director Yôji Yamada has capped his masterful samurai trilogy with another rich and involving study of day-to-day life in feudal Japan. As before, Yamada has looked to the historical fiction of novelist Shûhei Fujisawa whose fifty books explore, in intricate detail, the country’s Edo period (1603-1867) – a time of peace when the samurai’s code struggled to find a place within the emerging political structure. Love and Honour amplifies their plight, focusing on a blind samurai cast out by society, struggling to keep a sense of honour but discovering how love can be a much stronger force.

Samurai Shinnojo (Takuya Kimura) dreams of teaching children the art of sword-fighting but is reduced to serving as a food taster at the Lord’s castle. He lives a simple life with his wife Kayo (Rei Dan) and ageing servant (Takashi Sasano) who bears the brunt of Shinnojo’s frustrations. One of Yamada’s many strengths is in portraying the mundane, token traditions the samurai are left to perform as near peasants, drawing parallels to modern life where ambition so often gives way to the necessity of earning a crust. Whether it’s intentional or not, the subtitles also allude to British working-class melodrama with the use of ‘Missus’ and the occasional ‘Aye’ in agreement. The film’s atmosphere of rigid properness even gives it a Jane Austen air, but although it is a period piece it is one that any runner in the rat race can relate to.

After Shinnojo loses his sight from food poisoning Kayo convinces him against seppuku, but she must find a way for them to survive. Reluctantly she seeks out an admirer, the Chief Duty Officer at the castle (Mitsugoro Bando), who agrees to keep paying Shinnojo, in return for certain favours. As Kayo hides her secret, Shinnojo becomes more and more isolated and suspicious, the possibilities gnawing away at him. This is all familiar territory – think Ali MacGraw getting Steve McQueen out of the slammer in The Getaway (1972), or more recently, Turkey’s Cannes winner Three Monkeys – but Yamada approaches it with delicacy and heart, his fragile Kayo driven by love to do anything for her husband while Shinnojo cannot shake his need to maintain honour.

Think of a blind samurai movie and Takeshi Kitano’s Zatôichi (2003) might spring to mind, but unlike Kitano, Yamada has no interest in making Shinnojo a cartoon character. When he does pick up the blade again the film eschews ridiculous theatrics; Shinnojo’s driven to it as a last resort, a way of preserving his last shred of honour. The single, climactic duel may be short but it’s tremendously exciting thanks to Yamada’s investment in making his characters believable. It may go against the usual Japanese exports of slick martial arts action but Love and Honour is a much more satisfying look at the samurai’s existence, showing them as real people trapped in their own daily routine. Honour may be part of that life, but Yamada shows it’s love that truly defines everyone, transcending rank or class.

Richard Badley


Sleeping Beauty

Format: DVD

Release date: 1 December 2008

Distributor: BFI

Director: Lotte Reiniger

Germany 1922-1961

197 mins

‘What Cinderella suffered from, the two sisters and her stepmother, how she grew into a fairy princess, here is seen, told by a pair of scissors on a screen.’ Those poetic words provide the introduction to Lotte Reiniger’s 1922 animated short Cinderella, ‘a fairy film in shadow show’. Her silent classic, featured in the BFI’s terrific new retrospective of her work, is a wonderfully expressionistic film that begins with the silhouette of a pair of hands cutting out Cinderella’s shape from a piece of black paper, breathing life and grace into the figure of the princess.

Born in Berlin in 1899, Reiniger was captivated by shadow puppets from an early age. Though she initially studied acting with the theatre director Max Reinhardt, she became involved with the Berliner Institut fí¼r Kulturforschung, an experimental animation studio, while in her early 20s. There, she began turning her silhouette art, inspired by the shadow plays popular in China and Indonesia, into short films based on fairy tales, many from the Brothers Grimm.

One of the most notable silent films from her time in Berlin, featured in the collection, is The Death-Feigning Chinaman (1928). There is real beauty in the shape of the pagodas and lanterns that form the backdrop for the satirical story about the drunken Ping Pong, a favourite of the Chinese Emperor who stumbles from one mishap to another. As with the wicked stepsisters in Cinderella, Reiniger creates fabulous caricatures out of paper, depicting her characters with an almost grotesque exaggeration that mirrors the over-the-top acting in live action silent pictures.

Some of her most visually stunning films are those based on the tales of the Arabian Nights. Aladdin and the Magic Lamp (1954?) is the first film featured in the collection that was made for Primrose Productions, a company established by her husband Carl Koch with fellow émigrés (who, like Reiniger, had left Germany for England in the 1930s). She beautifully renders the opulence of ancient Baghdad, with its mosques and minarets, while creating wonderfully intricate, cut-paper clothes for the Princess Dinarzade. Her flowing silhouettes are set against atmospheric watercolour backgrounds, used to great effect in creating a sense of drama as Aladdin fights his way back to the princess.

Her Sleeping Beauty (1953-54) is the perfect counterpoint to the idealised, sentimental Disney film released a few years later in 1959. There is an elegance in the silhouettes that is unmatched by more conventional animation, and a real sense of darkness in the tortuous thorns that smother Beauty’s home as she falls under the evil spell cast by a wicked fairy. Reiniger is equally evocative in depicting the natural world, crafting beautifully stylised landscapes in films like Snow White and Rose Red (also a more traditional telling of the Brothers Grimm tale than Disney’s distorted version).

Sarah Cronin


Season of the Witch

Format: DVD

Release date: 20 October 2008

Distributor: Starz Entertainment

Director: George A Romero

Writer: George A Romero

Alternative titles: Jack’s Wife, Hungry Wives

Cast: Jan White, Raymond Laine, Ann Muffly, Joedda McClain

USA 1972

104 mins

‘The least qualified person to understand a dream is the dreamer.’ (Therapist, Season of the Witch)

Also known as Jack’s Wife or Hungry Wives, Season of the Witch was a strong political and stylistic statement by George A Romero, who chose to critically explore female identity during some of the most dynamic years of the feminist movement while eschewing the zombies that had made him famous in favour of witchcraft. It’s tricky to say whether or not Romero was fully aware of the sort of statement Season of the Witch was making in relation to women’s liberation. Stylistically, however, it is clear that Romero was fully conscious of the break he was making, at least temporarily, with Night of the Living Dead.

The film was originally released as Hungry Wives – the trailer of which is included on the DVD as a special feature – and was marketed as a sexually charged exploitation film, with the emphasis on the sexual, violent and supernatural mischief bored housewives will get up to if left unchecked. The film’s star, Jan White, recalls (in an interview also included on the disc) the strong protests she made for the film’s title and trailer to be changed, as she thought audiences would be disappointed that the film was actually quite ‘avant-garde’ and not a ‘porno’ as they may have been led to believe. But whether the film is seen as art or exploitation, Jan insists that Season of the Witch is Romero’s take on women’s liberation.

The film follows the disintegration of bored housewife Joan (Jan White), then her subsequent rejuvenation as a witch through the discovery of dark sexuality and the occult. Joan is already seeing a therapist at the beginning of the film, but her mental state continues to decline as her nightmares are increasingly infused with her waking life. It is not until the leader of a coven introduces her to witchcraft that she begins to take some control over her existence: practising rituals and spells under her Catholic husband’s unsuspecting nose in the living room, seducing her daughter’s lover, and ultimately, engaging in an act of violence that seems to represent an extreme example of Romero’s take on the potential of feminism. This fear is also echoed through characters’ verbal references to two other films of the time, Rosemary’s Baby and The Graduate and in a visual reference in the opening sequence to Belle de jour. All three films also revolve around a bored housewife and the sexual, supernatural or violent potential within her: ‘all of them witches’!

Stylistically, the film immediately posits itself as a leap away from generic horror flicks. Its emphasis on dream and nightmare sequences push it further in the direction of Buí±uel than, say, Friedkin. One of the most visually powerful sequences in the film has Joan half-masturbate, half-sob on her bed while a storm rages outside and lightning illuminates the recurring motif of the ornamental bull on the dresser. The graphic images of Joan’s writhings keep a strange rhythm with her daughter’s loud orgasm coming from the room next door.

Regardless of Romero’s political intentions with the film, he proves himself a master of the unheimlich. The house he chose to shoot in was an existing cosy family home, which was used for the film with very little set dressing. The gnomish lamps that Romero repetitively features with dramatic lighting were apparently the clincher that made Romero decide on this particular house as his location. Thus, an unadulterated, real family home is transformed by Romero simply through lighting, repetition and soundtrack into something supremely uncanny. The family space is suddenly secretive, unsettling and a place of impending sexual violence. It is this creation of the uncanny through such extraordinarily simple stylistic methods that is the great success of the film.

Siouxzi Mernagh


Black God White Devil

Format: DVD

Release date: 13 October 2008

Distributor: Mr Bongo

Director: Glauber Rocha

Writers: Glauber Rocha, Walter Lima Jr, Paulo Gil Soares

Original title: Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol

Cast: Geraldo Del Rey, Yoní¡ Magalhí£es, Othon Bastos, Mauricio do Valle

Brazil 1964

120 mins

Hailed repeatedly as the greatest Brazilian film of all time, Black God, White Devil is at the very least a truly remarkable work. A key film of the stridently leftist Cinema Novo movement, Glauber Rocha’s second full-length is notable both for the fact that Rocha was only 25 when he wrote and directed it and that its sometimes uneasy alliance of drama and symbolism was supposedly an influence on the young Martin Scorsese.

These things aside, however, what is truly incontrovertible is that this (Deus e o Diabo na Terra do So to use its original Portuguese title) is a film that is a decidedly acquired taste. Its deliberately unnerving pacing (long slow passages are interrupted with brief scenes of jump-cut violence), minstrel-style sung narrative and employment of an overtly theatrical acting style that sometimes borders on the parodic, can often overshadow a story that has clear echoes in the spaghetti Western movement of the same period: in 1940s Brazil, impoverished ranch hand Manuel kills his landlord in an argument over cattle and escapes with his wife Rosa into the sertí£o – the drought-ridden hinterlands in the north of the country. There they face a choice between the religious fanaticism of a self-proclaimed saint and his deluded followers or a life of violence among some equally dogmatic caingaceiros, or rural peasant bandits. Forsaking both religion and the cold logic of the outlaws, Rosa and Manuel discover that only through self-determination can they truly become human – before the film rushes hurriedly towards its disconcertingly pell-mell ending.

An exotic and undeniably ambitious blend of European avant-garde cinema (on its release in 1964 Black God was applauded publicly by Luis Buí±uel) and Brazilian folk traditions, it’s hard not to occasionally feel as though a lack of knowledge of the latter might be a barrier to a true appreciation of the whole. That the film’s central thesis – extreme poverty engenders desperation, which leads to the kind of superstition, fanaticism and eventually madness that should be resisted at all costs – is no less resonant 45 years later is beyond doubt. But while Black God, White Devil is daring in its execution, the extremes of its style arguably mean that Rocha’s point is delivered in a manner that’s as emotionally arid as the plains of the sertí£o.

Pat Long

Hourglass Sanatorium

Hourglass Sanatorium

Format: Blu-ray

Release date:
7 September 2015

Distributor: Mr Bongo

Director: Wojciech Has

Based on: Bruno Schulz’s short stories Sanatorium under the Sign of the Hourglass

Original title: Sanatorium pod klepsydra

Cast: Jan Nowicki, Tadeusz Kondrat, Irena Orska

Poland 1973

124 mins

Hourglass Sanatorium is the second film by the Polish director Wojciech Has to be put out on DVD this year, following the release of his 1968 The Saragossa Manuscript in February. Also based on a literary work, this time Bruno Schulz’s remarkable collection of stories Sanatorium under the Sign of the Hourglass, Has’s 1973 film shares some of the same fantastical elements with its predecessor.

The film opens as our protagonist Josef (Jan Nowicki) travels on a dilapidated and mysterious train to visit his father at a sanatorium in the middle of the Polish countryside. On board, he’s assured by the blind, yet all-seeing conductor that he’ll know how to find his way. He stumbles across the Gothic hospital, and finds it abandoned, cobwebs strewn across the detritus of daily life, cakes and glasses still half-full. The doctor appears out of nowhere, explaining to Josef that his father Jacob, dead in the outside world, is still alive within the confines of the sanatorium. Precious time has been clawed back, and his father may even recover.

Like his father, Josef is essentially given the chance to live his life a second time. When he sees a young boy playing outside on the grounds, Josef pursues him only to find that he has wandered into a tangled world of real and imagined experiences. Credit must go to the cinematographer, Witold Sobocinski, for creating seamless transitions from one hallucinatory state to the next as Josef crawls through his past, from his cramped childhood home to a majestic synagogue. This remarkably ambitious film (at the time Poland’s most expensive) is considered to be one on Sobocinski’s triumphs, and its elaborate set-pieces are a testament to the ‘exaggeration of invention’ (as one character puts it) inherent in the film.

But this is a love-it or hate-it film, and the impressive cinematography cannot, at least in this critic’s opinion, make up for the nonsensical, pseudo-philosophical dialogue delivered in a maddeningly childish way by Josef throughout the allegorical film. The aimless, circular structure gives the unpleasant sense of being trapped in Alice’s rabbit hole, with no hope of getting out; a character voices, ‘One needs such patience to find the right meaning in this tangle’, but unbelievably lengthy digressions about historical figures like Emperor Maximilian seem utterly pointless.

Literary adaptations all too often strip away the magic that words convey, and Hourglass Sanatorium is unfortunately not any different in that regard, though fans of the surreal and psychedelic may approve of the approach (think The Brothers Quay and Terry Gilliam). Has does deserve praise for evoking the vibrancy of Poland’s pre-Holocaust Jewish community, as well as reflecting on the tragedy that befell it (Schulz was murdered by a Gestapo officer in 1942). But far too many gratuitous shots of half-naked women conjure up an image of a director more lecherous than respectful and prevent the film from being much more than a dated relic from the 70s.

Sarah Cronin

This review was first published in 2008 for the UK DVD release by Mr Bongo Films.

The Designated Victim

The Designated Victim

Format: DVD

Release date: 3 November 2008

Distributor: Shameless Entertainment

Director: Maurizio Lucidi

Writers: Augusto Caminito, Fulvio Gicca Palli

Alternative titles: Murder by Design, Slam Out

Original title: La vittima designata

Cast: Tomas Milian, Pierre Clémenti, Katia Christine, Luigi Casellato, Marisa Bartoli

Italy 1971

95 mins

The morally questionable literary universe of Patricia Highsmith has provided filmmakers with ample opportunities to explore the persona of the anti-hero, from René Clément’s stylish Plein Soleil (1960) to Anthony Minghella’s Oscar-nominated The Talented Mr Ripley (1999) and Roger Spottiswoode’s barely released Ripley under Ground (2005). In 1951, Alfred Hitchock adapted her novel Strangers on a Train, and delivered a classic thriller that aligned Highsmith’s twisted plotting with the trademark set pieces that audiences had come to associate with the Master of Suspense. Maurizio Lucidi’s The Designated Victim is an unofficial 1971 giallo adaptation of the same story, and due to its emphasis on psychology as opposed to suspense, and the material obsessions of the nouveaux riches, perhaps has more in common with Highsmith’s cynical world view.

Stefano (Tomas Milian) seems to be a self-made success in that he runs his own advertising agency, owns two gorgeous homes, and has no shortage of early 1970s fashions in which to wander around Milan with his mistress, the beautiful model Fabienne (Katia Christine). Feeling stifled by his marriage to the controlling Luisa (Marisa Bartoli), he has arranged to sell his company and relocate to Venezuela, only for his dreams of financial and emotional freedom to be thwarted by his wife, who controls the company shares. A series of chance encounters with the eccentric Count Matteo Tiepolo (Pierre Clémenti) leads to an unlikely friendship and the two men share their frustrations, but the Count prefers ‘radical solutions’ and proposes that he will kill Stefano’s wife and, in exchange, Stefano must murder the brother who is making his own life a misery. Stefano devises his own plan to gain financial independence, and forges his wife’s signature on official documents in order to complete the sale of the company, but the Count strangles Luisa, leading Stefano to become a murder suspect.

The Designated Victim is less sensational than such genre favourites as Twist the Nerve of Death (1971) or Deep Red (1975), which is perhaps why it is more obscure than the films of Mario Bava and Dario Argento. It is also a tragedy rather than a thriller, with an emphasis on baroque atmosphere; the murder of Stefano’s wife occurs off-screen, and the signature zooms are largely reined in. However, the director’s attempts at psychological complexity are undermined by awkward casting choices and a twist ending which is admittedly surprising, but does not entirely make sense. Milian is best remembered for portraying the tough cop Nico Giraldi in a series of brutally efficient Italian thrillers, and seems uncomfortable when being berated by his wife, or manipulated by the Count. As the scheming antagonist, Clémenti borders on camp, his almost mystical appearances accompanied by Luis Enríquez Bacalov’s overly lush score, and it is only when he is seen in his palatial home in Venice, surrounded by his art and antiquities, that he exudes regal menace. With a narrative that stagnates when it should accelerate, Lucidi’s film will probably be consigned to the also-rans of the giallo genre.

John Berra


The Mindscape of Alan Moore

Format: DVD

Release date: 28 April 2008

Distributor: Shadowsnake Films

Director: Dez Vylenz

UK 2003

80 mins

Comics artist and founder of London Underground Comics Oli Smith reviews Dez Vylenz’s documentary on Alan Moore.

Do you like Alan Moore, comics writer extraordinaire? Me too.
Will you like Alan Moore after watching this bazillion-hour-long documentary about him? God knows.

I first watched this movie at the Brighton Comics expo in 2006 and the big screen and shiny graphics juxtaposed with Moore’s husky tones delivering words of wisdom blew me away. I watched it again at another comics convention the following year, then bought it on DVD to show me mum. She sat through it, got bored, fell asleep, woke up and turned to me during the ending credits to say:

‘Does he really believe all that rubbish he’s talking?’

Followed by:

‘THAT’s your hero?’

Ending with a condescending sniff and reinforced idea that I should do something useful with my life.

And that’s the problem; Alan Moore is too ironic for a film such as this. Mindscape takes itself too seriously, hanging on every word from the master and representing them with pretentious imagery. The whimsical details of his life and philosophy, culminating in a quite frankly ludicrous world view (although meticulously justified), are fascinating if you love the man, but if you do love him, you already know that it all needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Sure Moore is an idealist, but he’s an entertainer first, and that’s what he’s good at. The best moments of the film are the reconstructions of scenes from his comics with Moore narrating. His capacity to realise the voices in his head, especially Rorschach from Watchmen, is stunningly good. But dear god there’s padding. Maybe Dez Vylenz couldn’t afford a cutting room session after forking out all that money to make a man walk backwards in slow motion with his hand on fire. If only the running time had been cut to an hour, it could have been THE definitive documentary on Mr Moore.

Included on the disc are a series of interviews with various other artists and writers talking about the projects they worked on with Moore, but I didn’t have the strength to sit through them. Having met some of them in person, it’s a shame these interviews couldn’t have been incorporated into the main feature; they could have put some much needed perspective onto the ramblings of a man whose REAL persona remains a mystery to me to this day.

This is a lovely package for Alan Moore fans (it comes in a cardboard sleeve!) and I’m sure the special features give an even greater insight into the mind of the great man but to me it works only in context, and as such is probably not the best thing to convert your mates into graphic novel whores.

V for Vendetta is.

Oli Smith