Format: DVD

Date: 22 June 2009

Distributor: E1 Entertainment

Director: Gerald McMorrow

Writer: Gerald McMorrow

Cast: Ryan Phillippe, Eva Green, Sam Riley, Bernard Hill

France/UK 2008

95 mins

For someone who has never been a fan of the myopic, small-scale social realism that is too often synonymous with contemporary British cinema, the stirrings that are currently visible in the work of home-grown filmmakers are an exciting development. These ferments are evident in the season of new British cinema hosted by the ICA, which includes films such as Summer Scars, The Disappeared, The Hide and Crack Willow, which respectively attempt to infuse the reality of hoodies, council estates, bird watching or daily misery with something deeper, darker, richer and more mysterious. Simultaneously, June sees the DVD release of Gerald McMorrow’s Franklyn, an inventive, ambitious, genre-defying debut also located on the borderline between the real and the imaginary, which deserves more attention than it received on its theatrical release.

Franklyn opens in the retro-futuristic world of ‘Meanwhile City’, which combines Gothic architecture with post-apocalyptic urban stylings and is ruled by religion (any religion, adherence to one of the myriad cults, which include for instance the Seventh Day Manicurists, being compulsory) and policed by ‘Clerics’ clad in austere 17th-century black garb. We are guided through the bazaar-like atmosphere by a masked narrator called Preest (Ryan Phillippe), a mysterious lone operator who expresses himself in clichéd noir language and is up against the Individual, the leader of one of the most powerful religious sects that rule the city. The film cuts back and forth between this fantasy world and the real world, where we follow the three parallel stories of Milo (Sam Riley), a young man who has just been dumped by his fiancée; Emilia (Eva Green), a troubled young artist who attempts suicide every month as part of her art project; and Peter Esser (Bernard Hill), who is looking for his son, an ex-soldier who has disappeared from the mental institution where he was interned.

Aesthetically and conceptually, McMorrow aims high, but while he dazzles on the former level, he is not as successful on the latter. Although the film was made on a tight budget, Meanwhile City is beautifully crafted and is brimming with atmosphere and visual ideas. Preest’s striking hollow-eyed mask is perfectly sinister and marks him out as an ambivalent character from the start, contrasting with the narration that naturally places the audience on his side. The first transition between fantasy and real world is effected through shots of Gothic details of the Houses of Parliament, a great idea that draws attention to the beauty and magic of pre-industrial London, as it co-exists with the soulless steel and glass conformity of the capital’s modern developments.

Characters appear in both worlds in various guises, and the manner in which the many strands of the story fit together is not revealed until fairly late into the film. The labyrinthine narrative is pleasurable while it lasts, and by contrast the explanation, when it comes, feels rather trite and overly simplistic. So much effort and imagination have gone into creating a sumptuous, textured, enigmatic fantasy world, that it seems a shame to just explain it away in such a manner. None of the initial ambiguity and complexity remain at the end as the focus shifts to what is essentially a twisted but sentimental romantic drama.

Despite these flaws, Franklyn is a bold, impressive debut feature that attempts to break away from the narrow scope that has characterised much of recent British filmmaking. Visually, McMorrow shows himself to be a remarkably accomplished director; all he needs now is a script that matches his talents and provides substantial concepts on which to build even more elaborate cinematic constructions.

Virginie Sélavy


The Disappeared

Format: Cinema

Date: 19 June 2009

Venues: ICA Cinema (London)

Distributor: ICA Cinema

Director: Johnny Kervorkian

Writerz: Johnny Kervorkian, Neil Murphy

Cast: Harry Treadaway, Tom Felton, Greg Wise, Ros Leeming, Alex Jennings

UK 2008

96 mins

FrightFest remains the highlight of the horror calendar for many genre fans in the UK, offering the opportunity to not only see some of the hottest films in horror but also several chillers that are unlikely ever to legally see the light of day in this country. The Disappeared, a low-budget British supernatural horror with a largely unknown cast and rookie director, could well have fallen into the latter category, so it’s a delight to see the film receive an admittedly limited theatrical release almost a year after it debuted at the festival.

Director Johnny Kervorkian will not be a name overly familiar to cinema-goers, but The Disappeared, his first fully-fledged feature film, has every chance of putting his name on the map. It’s a ghost story at heart and, while not entirely original - The Sixth Sense is the most obvious comparison - Kervokian shows plenty of talent for building a creeping sense of terror and delivering genuinely heart-in-your-mouth shocks.

The film is set in the a grey, crumbling London council estate, where the teenage Matthew is racked by guilt following the disappearance of his younger brother Tom, who he was supposed to be babysitting but neglected to party with his friends instead. After a failed suicide attempt, Matthew’s already strained relationship with his father is put under even more pressure when he starts hearing his brother’s pained voice calling out to him. When his best friend’s young sister goes missing, Matthew is beset by horrifying visions and ghostly visitations leading him to both her whereabouts and the shocking revelation of her kidnapper’s true identity.

Harry Potter’s Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) is probably the best-known name in the cast, but it’s Harry Treadaway who puts in the most impressive performance as the tortured, sullen and beleaguered Matthew. Starring in almost every scene, the captivating young actor shows he is more than up to the task of shouldering the responsibility of being a lead and is clearly someone to watch in the future - he’s soon to appear (albeit in a supporting role) in Oscar-winner Andrea Arnold’s sophomore feature Fish Tank, which was officially selected for competition at this year’s Cannes and will be playing at the forthcoming Edinburgh Film Festival.

Not all of the acting in The Disappeared is quite as good - in our experience London’s council estates are not quite so densely populated with such well-spoken, stage school kids - and the story occasionally slips into cliché, unwisely taking a step into the world of the satanic at the end. However, with Treadaway’s standout central performance coupled with Kervorkian’s directorial flair, The Disappeared offers a tense and absorbing experience that favours the kind of foreboding atmosphere of dread found in Hammer’s best supernatural thrillers of yore over the extreme violence and blood-splattering gore of more recent Brit genre fare.

Toby Weidmann

There will be a Q&A with the director and cast after screenings at the ICA Cinema on 17 and 22 June.

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


The Blue Tower

Format: Cinema

Date: 26 June 2009 (Preview 23 June)

Venues: ICA Cinema (London)

Distributor: ICA Cinema

Director: Smita Bhide

Writer: Smita Bhide

Cast: Paul Chowdhry, Sonnell Dadral, Abhin Galeya, Indira Joshi, Nicholas Khan, Alice O’Connell

UK 2008

85 mins

Screening as part of the ICA’s New British Cinema strand this month is The Blue Tower, the blistering debut from Smita Bhide, which won the best UK feature award at last year’s Raindance Film Festival. Made for a scant budget and set in the director’s hometown of Southall, the film takes familiar themes such as twenty-something angst and traditionalist family oppression, weaving them in a romantic thriller framework that’s at once realistic and thoroughly gripping.

Abhin Galeya plays Mohan, an out-of-work twenty-seven-year-old stuck with a beautiful wife with whom he shares no chemistry, her oppressive family ever increasing the pressure on him to extend the family line and join their import/export business. As he sees it, his only real chance to escape is a job with his old friend Vivek, who at best has an unreliable reputation. Adding to his troubles is his bedridden Auntie Kamla (Indira Joshi), his only living relative, whom he relies on for money. Tyrannical and unappreciative, Auntie K appears to represent everything that is wrong with his life at present. Things change when he begins to fall for her pretty white nurse Judy (Alice O’Connell), a seemingly simple yet enigmatic girl who not only gives Mohan a temporary escape from his problematic life, but also suggests how he could permanently solve his dilemmas if he’s willing to go the required distance.

The Blue Tower is a remarkably assured film, especially given that this is Bhide’s first feature. The lead characters are all multi-layered, allowing the script to take many unpredictable turns while remaining believable and coherent. It’s also palpable that much thought has gone into even the minor characters, such as Mohan’s slacker friends who spend most of their time eating cheap food in a high street restaurant or hatching ridiculous money-making schemes, and there’s a convincing sense of menace in his wife’s intimidating family. There’s a great authenticity to be found in the film, which sets it apart from other British Asian hits such as East is East or The Guru, which arguably played upon racial stereotypes. The Blue Tower appears more like a solid Mike Leigh film given a new perspective by Bhide’s fresh female voice.

The relationship that builds between Mohan and Judy is engaging and heartfelt, making it difficult not to empathise with them despite the forbidden nature of their liaison, and while the lengths they go to in securing their future may appear extreme, in the context of the piece their actions are understandable. The natural yet beautiful cinematography and orchestral score further evoke the realities of Mohan’s experience dealing with his own culture and underline the difficult choices he has to make to change his situation.

With strong performances and a refreshingly smart and darkly funny script The Blue Tower is a little gem, and one hopes that the current interest in British Asian cinema in the wake of Slumdog Millionaire‘s success allows it to be discovered by eager audiences nationwide.

James Merchant

There will be a preview of The Blue Tower at the ICA (London) on June 23 followed by a Q&A with the director and cast. The film will then show at the ICA from June 26 to 30.

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


Anything for Her

Format: Cinema

Date: 5 June 2009

Venues: Barbican, Cine Lumiere, Cineworld Haymarket, Curzon Soho (London) and key cities

Distributor: Metrodome

Director: Fred Cavayé

Writer: Fred Cavayé

Original title: Pour elle

Cast: Diane Kruger, Vincent Lindon, Olivier Marchal

France 2008

96 mins

Everyone, at some point in their lives, has been a fool for love, doing the most reckless things for the person who has stolen their heart, but the protagonist of co-writer and director Fred Cavayé’s debut film takes this a step further than most. In a neat twist on the prison break genre, popularised by such cinematic greats as The Great Escape (1963), Cool Hand Luke (1967) and The Shawshank Redemption (1994), Cavayé’s film cunningly switches the action from inside the prison to the outside world, where loving husband Julien (Vincent Lindon) plots to break his beautiful wife, Lisa (Diane Kruger), out of jail and then abscond with their young son to a place far out of reach of the French authorities.

As exciting a premise as this is, the plot of Anything for Her does unfortunately rely too much on incredulous developments, not least because Julien is not a criminal mastermind, as an early botched encounter with the Parisian underworld illustrates, but a middle-aged everyman and humble teacher who is driven by a desire to help his loved one, who has wrongly been convicted of murder. Although he is faced by a few hurdles - a tense confrontation with a drug dealer is particularly well played out - Julien overcomes most of them far too easily, and while chance will always have some bearings in such an audacious scheme, he enjoys so many lucky coincidences he must be carrying round a sackful of shamrocks.

Equally, his moral transformation from loving husband and doting father into a stop-at-nothing Jack Carter hardman character is too simplistically portrayed. The film also misses a trick by quickly assuaging any anxiety over his wife’s guilt, undermining an ambiguity that would have added extra spice to their seemingly perfect relationship.

And yet the film has many redeeming features. It is particularly well cast: Lindon is excellent as the tortured Julien, juggling bringing up a child, relating to his suicidal wife, confronting his parents’ scepticism over Lisa’s crime and plotting their escape; Kruger’s descent into despair is both unnerving and captivating; and even young Lancelot Roch plays their distressed moppet with suitable conviction. The rest of the cast is filled out with some wonderful character actors, including Olivier Marchal (a former French copper and the mastermind behind 36 Quai des Orfí¨vres) as a former prison escapee who becomes Julien’s Yoda, and the granite-faced Hammou Graí¯a, who plays the tough investigating detective hot on their trail.

Reservations over some of the plot mechanics aside, the final third of the film is also genuinely thrilling. Its breathless pace and some bold editing touches indicate that Cavayé does have a talent for suspense and could be a director to watch in the future. While this French-language film’s influences are certainly more Hollywood than European, lacking the edginess and profundity associated with the latter and bamboozling style over content, it still delivers enough excitement and drama to satisfy fans of prison break films. Forget plausibility, just sit back and enjoy Anything for Her‘s escapist fantasy.

Toby Weidmann


London in the Raw

Format: DVD

Release date: 25 May 2009

Distributor: BFI

Director: Arnold Louis Miller

UK 1964/1965

76/87 minutes

The BFI’s new Flipside strand unearths overlooked and obscure British films, but the almost-swinging 1960s presented in London in the Raw (1964) and Primitive London (1965) is a version of the myth we know well already, whether from cult movies like Beat Girl (1959), The Knack (1965) and Smashing Time (1967) or the more mainstream retro fare of Austin Powers (1997-2002) and The Boat That Rocked (2009). Post-war London, its rapidly changing landscape an ideal metaphor for accelerated culture, marauding sexuality and the shock of the new, here becomes an exotic backdrop for Arnold Louis Miller and cinematographer Stanley Long to undertake their ‘anthropological’ study of the city’s moral habits – a quest that leads almost inevitably back to breasts and buttocks, jiggling in proto-gyms, dancehalls, beauty contests and strip joints.

Of course, Miller and Long (who went on to shoot The Wife Swappers and Adventures of a Plumber’s Mate in the 1970s) were not, in any respectable sense, documentarists – yet this mondo double bill, by its very transparency of intent, is a fascinating insight into not only the British exploitation genre, but also the preoccupations that were ripe for being exploited. It is no surprise that sex is chief among these, but it’s primarily sex as fantasy and performance, with the realities of the act itself still a taboo. The body is viewed repeatedly as grotesque theatre (exotic dancers of all sorts, not only striptease artists, punctuate the first film, while martial arts, beauty parlours and body-builders pop up in the second); and some awkward teenage, working-class beatniks are asked their opinions about ‘free love’, as if representative of a libertarian lifestyle that in fact they’re unlikely ever to experience.

As historical artefacts of a pre-permissive society, both films deserve their reissue, but there’s little to elevate London in the Raw above curio status. Too many long sequences of stolid couples enjoying a taste of the ‘exotic’ in Indian and Moroccan restaurants do little but drive home the grim parochialism of the era, although a scene in the Universal Health Club, in which women in tights blithely lift weights to a chugging brass soundtrack with clanging industrial percussion, is wonderfully perverse.

Follow-up Primitive London is more enjoyable, if questionably so, revelling in its mondo status and upping the shlock tactics and nipple count accordingly, a solemn voice-over bemoaning the ‘synthetic eroticism’ of the day as the camera pans to yet another nylon-clad crotch. Horror composer Basil Kirchin provides music, and in true mondo style, sexualised murder gets a look-in, with a Jack The Ripper sequence alongside reconstructions of a contemporaneous series of killings of young prostitutes. These eerie, titillating shots of bodies dumped on suburban waste ground are a jarring reminder of the era’s attitudes towards women in the sex industry, lest we burlesque-fanciers get too comfortable in our nostalgia for the retro lingerie, ‘real’ bodies, furtive punters and quaint routines of the film’s many strip sequences. The inherent, often unpleasant, truth in clumsily staged, exaggerated versions of reality is what really fascinates with the mondo genre, and even more so when set against the mutable, war-ravaged, but instantly recognisable streets of London.

Extras include the semi-fictionalisted stripper doc Carousella (1966) on the Primitive London DVD while London in the Raw has three documentary shorts from Peter Davis and Staffan Lamm, their soft black and white tones and unobtrusive direction a respite from the preceeding brashness. Pub (1962) observes an evening in the comfortable fug of a local boozer, the camera and microphone drifting between half-heard conversations. Strip (1965) and Chelsea Bridge Boys (1966) intersperse fly-on-the-wall footage with interviews which, at times, sail close to the prurience of Miller’s youth vox-pops. Perhaps Davis and Lamm were shooting exploitation films of a less overt sort, asetheticising and fetishising those disempowered by youth and poverty, but the visual compassion shown to these young subjects and their surroundings, not to mention the value of capturing the actual voices - the timbre, accents, vocabulary - of the era, invite sympathetic reappraisal.

Frances Morgan

Read our review of the third Flipside initial release, the demented satire The Bed Sitting Room, based on a play by Spike Milligan, directed by Richard Lester and starring Peter Cook, in the summer 09 issue of Electric Sheep. Substitute is the theme of the new issue, with articles on the fraught relationship between Takeshi Kitano and ‘Beat’ Takeshi, the various cinematic incarnations of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley, interchanging identities in Joseph Losey’s films, the dangers of false impersonation in neo-noir Just Another Love Story, the paradoxes of black and white twins in offbeat lost classic Suture, not to mention cross-dressing criminals, androids and body snatchers. Also in this issue: interview with Marc Caro, profile of whiz-kid animator David OReilly, comic strip review of Hardware, and The Phantom Band’s favourite films.



Format: DVD

Release date: 1 June 2009

Distributor: Second Run

Director: Věra Chytilová

Writer: Věra Chytilová

Original title: Sedmikrí¡sky

Cast: Ivana Karbanová, Jitka Cerhová

Czechoslovakia 1966

74 minutes

Two young women in their bathing suits sit listlessly by a pool, overcome by the alienation and apathy frequently observed in the youth of 60s European cinema. They move in jerky doll fashion, each gesture accompanied by creaking noises that emphasise the metaphor. After a brief philosophical exchange on the state of things, they conclude that, as the world has become bad and corrupt, they shall be bad too. What follows is a string of joyous anarchic pranks in which Marie I and Marie II eat, drink, smoke, mock, play with and destroy everything they can lay their hands on.

Daisies will be shown as part of the season Defiance and Compassion: The Films of Věra Chytilová at BFI Southbank in March 2015. For full programme details and to book tickets, visit the BFI website.

Given the central characters’ rebellious streak and their mischievous manipulation of men, the film has often been seen as feminist. The two Maries certainly do not conform to traditional expectations of femininity: they gleefully stuff their faces, fool around and fall over disgracefully or uninhibitedly take their clothes off. They display a total lack of interest in romance, ignoring a lover’s maudlin, clichéd pleas, all of which feels like a refreshingly truthful and satisfying representation of women. But their insubordination is not just an act of female resistance against patriarchal society: Věra Chytilová’s Daisies (1966) is more Dada than women’s lib, and the two Maries are above all non-conformist individuals, outsiders to the grinding machinery of society. Echoing Tristan Tzara et al responding to the madness of the First World War by retreating to Zürich to conduct turbulent artistic experiments, the girls’ bad behaviour is a direct response to the state of the world. This is emphasised by the stylised images of explosions that open and close the film, circumscribing the girls’ escapades within references to war. The resonance is made all the stronger by the film’s avant-garde style, the interest in visual experimentation, the sonic and graphic play with words, the non-sensical narrative and the delectable juvenile humour.

According to the accompanying booklet written by Peter Hames, the moral message of the film, as well as Chytilová’s own position in relation to her protagonists, are the subjects of some debate, with various commentators arguing that the director originally intended the film to be a critique of the girls’ behaviour. After the final scene of Dionysiac excess during which they ravage a richly laid out banquet hall, the two Maries, under threat of death, are forced to promise that they will now be good. But as they go about clearing the mess they’ve made, they do so in a manner that is entirely subversive, scraping cake off the floor before piling the revolting mush back onto dishes, or arranging fragments of broken plates and glasses in a mockery of the elegant table they ruined. In spite of their repeated assertions that they are ‘good’ and will work hard, order is not restored, and under the pretence of compliance the girls are still agents of chaos and destruction.

This final scene has been read in many different ways, with some critics seeing in it the failure of the girls’ revolt, and others a deserved punishment for their behaviour. Whatever Chytilová’s original intentions may have been, it is undeniable that the film delights in the characters’ total freedom; their anarchic spirit proves irresistibly infectious, and the same playfulness and irreverence infuse the direction. The corruption of the world is what liberates the girls from the social norm, and this liberation from convention, whether filmic or social, unleashes an enormous amount of energy, both creative and destructive. This, more crucially than anything else in the film, is profoundly Dada. The voracious embrace of absolute freedom, and of the chaos that inevitably comes with it, is what makes Daisies so thoroughly energising and joyously inspiring.

Virginie Sélavy

Goto, Island of Love

Goto Island of Love
Goto, Island of Love

Camera Obscura: The Walerian Borowczyk Collection

Format: Dual Format (DVD + Blu-ray)

Release date: 8 September 2014

Distributor: Arrow Academy

Director: Walerian Borowczyk

Writer: Walerian Borowczyk

Cast: Pierre Brasseur, Ligia Branice, Jean-Pierre Andréani, Guy Saint-Jean

Original title: Goto, l’île d’amour

France 1968

93 minutes

It is Walerian Borowczyk’s peculiar misfortune to have produced in The Beast (La Bête, 1975) one of the masterpieces of artful, twisted, preposterous erotica. Its success not only led him to making incompetent slop like Behind Convent Walls (Interno di un convento, 1978) and Emmanuelle V (1987): worse, it skewed his whole profile as a filmmaker, and many will view the meretricious tack available on DVD unaware, or at least disbelieving, that this was once one of the most inventive of animators.

This review was first published in 2009 for the first UK release of Goto, Island of Love on DVD release by Nouveaux Pictures in 2009.

This release of Goto, Island of Love fills in a vital, pre-erotic step in Borowczyk’s work, revealing a highly individual approach to live action as seen through the eyes of an animator. A largely immobile camera fixed head-on to flat but grimy monochrome backdrops produces boxes within which actors are pinned with absurd symmetry like displays in the cabinets, or flies in the fly-traps, that litter the ritualistic world of Goto. The cells of this world also contain, and are seen from, improbable vantage points suggestive of optical devices. Binoculars are given thematic prominence throughout, but the whole mise en scéne implies peephole and camera obscura. In the opening credits we seem to peer into the workings of a giant live-action zoetrope. The rough planks of a riding school wall fill the screen as two horses periodically circle into view. Any idea of freedom or escape is produced and framed within a space of repetitive, mechanical illusion.

As we quickly learn via a school lesson, the island itself has been closed off from the outside world since the remarkable catastrophe of 1887, which wiped out most of the population and locked the survivors into the preservation of arcane tradition, like Gormenghast rewritten by Gombrowicz. Although suitably catechistic, the lesson is illustrated by an anamorphic image of the three governors to date - Gotos I, II & III. The attic of the riding school similarly offers three disjointed and illusory views: from one side, a grassy hill sloping down into woodland; from the next, a stark quarry; from the third, the rolling waves on a rocky shore. But these vistas prove deceptive in a world that offers no escape, no distance to run into. Imagine Father Ted‘s Craggy Island as a benevolent dictatorship: Goto III frolicking on the beach in full uniform is oddly reminiscent of Bishop Len Brennan’s holiday video. His adulterous wife Glossia, a mix of Garbo gloom and Buster Keaton stiffness throughout, is more the hapless marionette than ever in rugged nature. Clearly she will never make it out to sea, and escape from the island.

Meanwhile, we follow arriviste crim Grozo’s ruthless ascent from dog-minder and fly-catcher. Scenting success, he lets out the dogs and we see them bounding through a tiny door into the light, down to the sea. The camera follows them a little way in a rare moment of exuberance, but finally leaves them in the inconsequential distance, bounded by the sea, framed by the viewfinder of the door. Grozo’s ambition has never risen higher than to be a hound with its muzzle in Glossia’s lap. Even his treason is subservient, obeisant to the machine, and his moment of success brings not even the limited freedom of a dog. He, more than anyone, is caught up in the ‘manège’; that is to say ‘riding school’, but also ‘machination’, and ‘merry-go-round’. Through the objective lens of the wryly named animator, it’s just a complicated game. Where a dictator is chosen by a round of spin-the-shoe-last, the only revolution is the turning of the machine.

Stephen Thomson



Format: DVD

Distributor: Austrian Film Museum

Director: Dziga Vertov

Original title: Entuziazm: Simfoniya Donbassa

USSR 1930

67 minutes

It twists, it clunks, it shifts, it squeaks. Objects in motion, objects in synchronisation with sounds; audio-visual harmony, a perfect metaphor for Soviet collectivist supremacy. A pulsating network of people and machines and machines that make machines that people use to make machines to excavate coal and reap wheat and make movies. The dynamism of production shot with a gimlet-eyed mechanism and chopped with the finesse of a novice butcher.

Dziga Vertov’s symphonic 1930 experimental documentary film is primarily known as a bold foray into audio-visual synchronisation, commended for its deft and poetic use of concrete sound. Sound was not a new plaything for Vertov. Prior to experimenting with film, Vertov lurked in the orbit of cubo-futurist poet Mayakovsky, studied music, despatched miscellaneous essays and polemics about sound, radio and cinema and had attempted a major phonographic project - essentially a sound studio for the recording and cataloguing of concrete sound. He was also well versed in the art of propaganda film, having been an editor of the Kino-Pravda newsreels. He formed the Kino-eye collective, its remit to document actuality as opposed to theatrical or literary cinematic staging. Indeed, unlike that other Russian master of montage, Sergei Eisenstein, Vertov actually went out into the field, the factory, the street, to document quotidian life as it unfurled. Whereas Eisenstein would manipulate, restage and re-enact reality on scales both grand and pompous.

Enthusiasm: Symphony of the Donbass deploys, as its title implies, a musical structure in three movements derived from the symphony. The first movement appears to riff on religion (as opiate) versus mass communication. The second engages with heavy industry and the third primarily deals with agriculture. The soundtrack bristles with a gorgeous Brillo pad fuzziness, the images the work of a kinetic, acrobatic, camera that has its roots firmly embedded in the follicles of constructivist geometry and futurist dynamism.

Enthusiasm begins with three sounds, a cuckoo and an andante pizzicato bass and woodwind motif. We see extreme close-ups of tightly framed faces, a telephonist or radio operator, symbolising the auditory. Vertov plays a Brechtian card - we see the conductor of the film’s musical score conducting the film’s musical score. The sound of a bell is juxtaposed with the image of an ornamental crown - the death knell of Czarist autocracy. Shots of fluid religious architecture follow - church spires, onion-domed temples that quiver in the lens, and phrenological studies of the proletariat. We hear Russian orthodox liturgy underscored with a cuckoo, people at prayer followed by the gorgeous close-up of a human ear. Vertov rather crudely juxtaposes religion with mass communication. He tries a few camera tricks - time-lapse, double exposure - to convey both ecstatic delirium and just what a man with a movie camera is capable of.

Then he pauses to show us a constructivist maquette of a factory, the merry-go-round of state industrial production. In a loop, miniature tractors and goods speed around, followed by shots of a real factory and a mine. Chiaroscuro industrial pornography shot from hard geometric angles - furnaces, gantries, chimney stacks, a bridge, a black mound of coke. These images are loosely affixed to the sound of a steam whistle edited into a modulating electro-acoustic drone, which recurs throughout Enthusiasm in different variations.

The final, agricultural, section features a dance in a grain field, demented folk music, a procession of collectivist agricultural workers intercut with yet more industrial smoke belches, filthy black mechanisms and more Stalinist brass band pomp.

Enthusiasm is ultimately a propaganda film for totalitarian Soviet collectivisation. However, the film does not depict Soviet efficiency so much as it is itself mechanised Soviet state capitalism incarnate. It was an innovative thing no doubt, yet the innovation took place against a backdrop of hardcore economic interventionism, famine, Gulags, ethnic cleansing and slave labour. Riefenstahl aside, one wonders why cinema historians don’t have the same regard for fascist cinema or, rather, why cinema critics are a little softer on communist totalitarianism than they are on fascist totalitarian art.

Philip Winter

Baba Yaga

Baba Yaga

Format: DVD

Date: 27 April 2009

Distributor: Shameless Entertainment

Director: Corrado Farina

Writer: Corrado Farina

Based on the Valentina comic books by: Guido Crepax

Cast: Carroll Baker, George Eastman, Isabelle de Funes

Italy, France 1973

91 mins

If it didn’t date from 1973, this fumetti-based curio could be neatly filed under ’60s films that swing too hard’. Isabelle de Funes plays, or rather, looks good as Valentina (huge eyes, great Louise Brooks hair), a liberated photographer who comes under the malign influence of witchy Baba Yaga (Carroll Baker, with a fine piled mussy blonde do). Baba Yaga wants Valentina in a blatantly Sapphic way, but her seduction technique seems to involve cursing her camera, and killing one of her models with a creepy fetish doll that periodically transforms into a scantily clad dominatrix. This, unsurprisingly, doesn’t seem to push Valentina’s buttons, but does make her prone to some fantasies involving Nazis, boxing rings and firing squads, which periodically invade the narrative until it all gets a bit baffling in typical Italian Euro-sleaze style.

Frankly, Baba Yaga isn’t all that concerned with plot or internal logic, but serves more as a tick list of groovy stuff. It begins with an anti-American happening in a Milanese graveyard and continues to throw comics, radical politics, light bondage, fruggable music and half-naked models in cute cowboy/Indian costumes at the viewer throughout. This is fine by me, and most of the film’s minor pleasures come from odd period detail, like a startling racist detergent advert directed by Valentina’s half-arsed radical lover Arno (George Eastman, horrible hair and beard, like a Swedish porn star). But Baba Yaga suffers from an uncertainty of tone; it trundles on by in a swirl of funky, busily edited scenes, leaving the audience unsure as to how moving, amusing, creepy or meaningful all this is supposed to be.

Valentina was the late Guido Crepax’s regular heroine in 30 years of comic strips, and much of the reason to watch the film lies with curiosity over how well Crepax’s world transfers to celluloid. To be fair, director Corrado Farina, not a prolific filmmaker, has a decent stab at bringing Crepax’s scratchy eroticism to the screen, especially in the heavily stylised sex scenes, which use montages of black and white photographs to approximate the comic’s layered close-up panels. There is also an effective emphasis on the sensual, on the look, the texture, the touching of things, with Baba Yaga’s house full of strange Victorian clutter contrasted with Valentina’s chic minimal décor (I want that transparent phone). But this is half the film’s problem; it’s too preoccupied with surface detail and too little concerned with ideas. And anyone expecting this Baba Yaga to play with the rich details of the Slavic legends will be sorely disappointed. For what its worth, this is a lovingly packaged disc from Shameless, with a newly restored version, two cool short docs on fumetti and a commentary by Farina. Knock yourself out, if that’s your bag, man…

Mark Stafford