Format: Cinema

Release date: 23 April 2010

Venue: Gate, Odeon Covent Garden, Renoir, Ritzy (London) + key cities

Distributor: Verve Pictures

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

Writer: Efthymis Filippou, Yorgos Lanthimos

Original title: Kynodontas

Cast: Christos Stergioglou, Michelle Valley, Aggeliki Papoulia, Mary Tsoni, Hristos Passalis, Anna Kalaitzidou

Greece 2009

94 mins

The well-deserved recipient of the Un Certain Regard award at last year’s Cannes festival, Dogtooth (Kynodontas) is the strikingly bizarre and genuinely mind-blowing second feature from Greek writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos. Taking place almost entirely within a single location, a spacious house with a garden and a swimming pool surrounded by a tall wooden fence, the film centres around a married couple and their three grown-up children, who have never set foot outside and are confined to the ludicrous universe created by their tyrannical parents. Peculiarly innocent and eager to make sense of the skewed world they live in, the siblings are subjected to a regimented daily life that includes rigid exercise sessions and competitions as well as lessons from home-made tapes on which the parents teach them perverted definitions of words. The only outsider allowed to penetrate this insane domesticity is Christina, a female security guard at the father’s factory who is employed to have sex with the son but seems to have her own agenda.

Proving to be the chink in the family’s armour, Christina’s intrusion sets off a chain of events that has increasingly nasty and tragic consequences. To elaborate further would give too much away, but the madness and cruelty of the father’s plan to raise his kids in a completely sheltered existence is exposed as the three ‘children’ characters slowly forge ahead to explore their growing curiosity about the outside world. The relationships between them are superbly performed in a matter-of-fact style that is at times shocking, yet unashamedly funny too, as when the brother is forced to choose one of his sisters to relieve him of his sexual urges when Christina stops coming to the property. And although determinedly not a horror film, there are a few moments that are sure to make the audience gasp.

Set on the borderline between the real and the incredible, Dogtooth plays on everyone’s perception of the family while offering a glimpse of the distorted dynamics that are set in motion by over-controlling parents. Yet, the film has a lot more to offer than a psychological survey into the shoals of family dysfunction. Contributing to the parents’ outrageous stories about the dangers that lie beyond the garden fence, the isolated country home gives the film a claustrophobic feel and a consistently troubling atmosphere of hilarious otherworldliness and lurking evil. But the film’s truly brilliant achievement, and what makes this odd fable all the more effective and original, is the deftly balanced mixture of raw and uncompromising realism with a dark and absurd sense of humour and occasional, unpredictable moments of cruelty. Marking Lanthimos out as a great talent to watch, Dogtooth is a bold and unsettling mini-marvel that first sneaks up on you before biting you to the bone.

Pamela Jahn

DVD of the month: Henri Georges Clouzot’s Inferno


Format: DVD

Release date: 12 April 2010

Distributor: Park Circus

Director: Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Medrea

Original title: L’Enfer d’Henri-Georges Clouzot

France 2009

102 mins

This documentary about Henri-Georges Clouzot’s unfinished 1964 psycho-thriller L’Enfer is as tantalising as it is frustrating. Clouzot remains one of the most masterful of French directors, having produced such unsurpassable classics as The Raven (Le Corbeau, 1943) and The Wages of Fear (Le Salaire de la peur, 1953). A meticulous filmmaker as well as a master of suspense to rival Alfred Hitchcock, he inexplicably seems to have lost control on the big-budget production of L’Enfer. The long-lost raw footage is intriguing and dazzling, infused with swirling lights and blue-lipped, cigarette-puffing fantasy temptresses. A real shame, then, that although directors Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Mederea have managed to speak to numerous members of the original crew, this behind-the-scenes investigation has so little to say about the reasons behind Clouzot’s failure to complete the film. In spite of this, the undiminished power of Clouzot’s extraordinary images makes the documentary a fascinating watch.

Pamela Jahn and Virginie Sélavy

Buy Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno [DVD] [2009] from Amazon

The Sky Crawlers

The Sky Crawlers

Format: Cinema

Release date: 23 April 2010

Venue: ICA Cinema (London) + preview BFI Southbank April 16

Distributor: Manga Entertainment

Director: Mamoru Oshii

Writer: Chihiro Itou

Based on the novel by: Hiroshi Mori

Original title: Sukai kurora

Japan 2008

122 mins

A glorious return to form for director Mamoru Oshii after the innovative but impenetrable Amazing Lives of the Fast Food Grifters in 2006, the pointless CGI remix of Ghost in the Shell (as version 2.0) in 2008, and the overly complicated and visually crowded Innocence in 2004. The Sky Crawlers is a languid tale of young fighter pilots in a near future that evokes both real world conflicts, such as the 1940s War in the Pacific, and fictional ones, such as the perpetual warfare in George Orwell’s 1984.

Although not explicitly located in the same fictional universe as Oshii’s ongoing ‘Kerberos saga’, which includes the aforementioned Amazing Lives, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade (for which he wrote the script) and a number of manga and live action films, this is another depiction of alternate history that explores Orwellian themes of continually ongoing, distant warfare against a vague enemy and a retro future in which the development of culture is stalled due to the priority given to war. Set against the backdrop of conflict, The Sky Crawlers resembles American live action movies that use the Second World War as the historical setting for generic romance, but Oshii uses these tropes as a springboard for meditations on youth, memory, the fetishising of technology and the war against terror.

The above might suggest this is a dark, heavily laden movie about war and death, but this is far from the case. The Sky Crawlers is a dreamy, beautiful film that gently weaves its way around the lives of various young fighter pilots as they learn their skills, romance local girls, clash with authority and take part in graceful, exhilarating dogfights with the enemy. The general look of the film is inspired by the 40s and 50s but with a hard SF twist that I won’t reveal here, which adds additional poignancy to the notion of the brief lives of the (handsome) young when pressed into military service. Many of Oshii’s films unwind at a deliberate pace, but the elegiac animation of sky, land, sea and aircraft here also seems inspired by younger filmmakers such as Makoto Shinkai, whose melancholy style suits the material and is echoed as Oshii captures memories of long, golden, youthful summers that now seem alien and impossible.

But it is not simply a wistful, nostalgic film and there are clear parallels with the real world, starting with the so-called war on terror: the young pilots are kept ignorant of all but the skills required to do their jobs while the long, pointless war with a foreign enemy serves as almost another form of entertainment in the media. There are also parallels with the dumbing down and narrow focus of modern education and entertainment and the resulting short attention span of audiences, but all of these themes are subtly dealt with and never mentioned explicitly or heavy-handedly. Wherever these ideas come from, be it from Hiroshi Mori’s original novel or Chihiro Itou’s screenplay, it is interesting that they should fit so well with the worldview expressed in the rest of Mamoru Oshii’s filmography.

The Sky Crawlers is Oshii’s finest film since 2001’s underrated Avalon and his best animé since the original Ghost in the Shell. The familiar subject matter of wartime romance may even attract new fans to the director’s work who might not have initially warmed to the cyberpunk thrillers and Gothic siege warfare found elsewhere in his oeuvre. My only concern is that the gentle pace of the film might put off viewers who expect more ‘bangs for their bucks’ after the violence of Ghost in the Shell, Patlabor and the director’s various other war movies.

Alex Fitch

Life during Wartime

Life during Wartime

Format: Cinema

Release date: 23 April 2010

Venue: Curzon Soho, The Gate, Renoir, Ritzy (London) and key cities

Distributor: Artificial Eye

Director: Todd Solondz

Writer: Todd Solondz

Cast: Ciarí¡n Hinds, Allison Janney, Shirley Henderson, Ally Sheedy, Paul Reubens

USA 2009

96 mins

The term ‘sequel’ suggests a cinematic safety net for filmmakers and audiences alike; bigger and better than before, but immediately familiar and easily accessible. Sequels are, of course, also associated with the role of cinema as a commercial enterprise, and it is rare that Hollywood invests in a follow-up to an unsuccessful film, unless there is a palpable sense that the core market was not adequately targeted. In fact, sequels are so synonymous with the Hollywood mainstream that they represent the antithesis of American independent cinema, which is defined more by its social-political sensibility and aesthetic experimentation than it is by box office returns. However, some American independent filmmakers have navigated the cinematic territory of the sequel; Richard Linklater revisited the characters of his backpacker romance Before Sunrise (1995) with Before Sunset (2004), while Kevin Smith caught up with the convenience store slackers of his debut feature with Clerks 2 (2006). Both directors were able to comment on the passing of time through characters that were already familiar to their small but loyal audiences.

Life during Wartime finds Todd Solondz attempting a similar trick, revisiting the dysfunctional family of his jet-black comedy Happiness (1998) to explore the theme of forgiveness through reference to the seemingly irredeemable acts committed in the earlier film. The work of Solondz, which also includes Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995) and Storytelling (2001), has always been more divisive than that of Linklater and Smith due to his exploration of such subjects as child molestation and statutory rape and his strangely sympathetic attitude towards paedophiles and obscene phone callers. The director must be commended for finding financing for a sequel to a film that many viewers struggled to sit through on its initial release, although Happiness has since become a cult favourite and the subject of some discussion with regards to the suburbanisation of American culture. Solondz also breaks with sequel convention by refusing to bring back the actors from the previous film while aiming to achieve tonal consistency through his finely observed screenplay.

Life during Wartime opens with Allen (Michael K Williams, formerly Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Joy (Shirley Henderson, formerly Jane Adams) celebrating their first wedding anniversary, only for Joy to discover that her husband is still a pervert, prompting a move to Florida where her mother and sisters have relocated. She finds Trish (Allison Janney, formerly Cynthia Stevenson) moving on with her life following the incarceration of her ex-husband Bill for sex crimes and embarking on a romance with the older but ‘normal’ Harvey (Michael Lerner), while Helen (Ally Sheedy, formerly Lara Flynn Boyle) is now writing screenplays in addition to novels, but remains mean-spirited despite receiving attention from Keanu Reeves and Salman Rushdie. Joy struggles to reconnect with her family, and receives ‘visitations’ from former suitor Andy (Paul Reubens, formerly John Lovitz), who committed suicide after being jilted by Joy ten years earlier. Although the early scenes seek to establish Joy as the emotional anchor of Life during Wartime, the focus shifts to the more grimly compelling story strand of Bill (Ciarí¡n Hinds, formerly Dylan Baker), who is released from prison and visits his son Billy, now a college student majoring in sexual deviancy in the animal kingdom, to make sure that the sex crime gene has not been passed on to the next generation.

Solondz’s stab at subverting sequel conventions through re-casting is sometimes distracting, but serves to underline his oft-stated view that, as much as people may try to change, they remain fundamentally the same. Some of the casting changes are more successful than others; Paul Reubens mines the same tragicomic depths as John Lovitz, while Ciarí¡n Hinds is a hulking, haunting presence, a self-declared ‘monster’ who physically embodies the potential threat that was so expertly disguised behind Dylan Baker’s buttoned-down suburban facade. Unfortunately, Ally Sheedy does not so much take over the role of Helen from Lara Flynn Boyle as deliver an exaggerated impersonation of her predecessor, and Michael T Williams is not afforded enough screen time to establish a dramatic link between his interpretation of Allen and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s earlier incarnation.

The title of the film refers to the current political climate in the United States, and there is discussion of terrorism, which Solondz links to the topic of paedophilia, and references to Bush and McCain. Perhaps surprisingly, the director is less interested in criticising the Republican regime than he is in finding forgiveness in its aftermath, while Trish’s insistence that ‘sometimes it’s better not to understand’ suggests that the director may even be questioning the necessity of his own brand of cinematic provocation. While there have been subtle shifts in the cinematic universe of Todd Solondz, there have been more noticeable readjustments in the world of American independent film; in 1999, Happiness received a release through Universal subsidiary Good Machine, while Life during Wartime will rely on the comparatively guerrilla strategy of IFC. It is arguable that Solondz has been somewhat marginalised in recent years, but this ‘sequel’ exhibits a newfound mellowness that those who lost interest following the middle-class mockery of Storytelling may find oddly endearing.

John Berra

Double Take: The Disappearance of Alice Creed

The Disappearance of Alice Creed

Format: Cinema

Release date: 30 April 2010

Venue: Vue West End (London) and nationwide

Distributor: Cinema NX Distribution

Director: J Blakeson

Writer: J Blakeson

Cast: Gemma Aterton, Martin Compston, Eddie Marsan

UK 2009

100 mins

J Blakeson’s feature debut is a taut, low-budget British thriller about two men, Danny and Vic, who kidnap a young woman named Alice. As they wait for the ransom, locked together in a small flat, tension mounts and details emerge about who they are. The relationship between the three characters develops in unexpected directions as they all try to manipulate the situation to their advantage. Below, Pamela Jahn and Virginie Sélavy discuss the film and what it shows about current British filmmaking.

Pamela Jahn: What I liked about the film is that, for what it was, a hostage story, it was pretty tight and well performed. But there were some twists that were beyond plausibility, and I thought it started more strongly than it played out in the end.

Virginie Sélavy: The way that some of the revelations about the characters were brought on showed that the plot was weak. They just felt like a cop-out, like a way out of the plot that Blakeson had built. They weren’t really justified in any way and were quite unconvincing as a result.

PJ: The opening scenes where Danny and Vic set up the kidnapping and take Alice to the flat were really tense and really good. You don’t know the motivations behind Danny’s weird behaviour at first.

VS: That’s true, the beginning is excellent because it’s very sparse, it doesn’t explain anything. The two men are very purposeful and they are brutal without hurting her, which is very unsettling and very effective. You don’t quite understand what’s going on.

PJ: But then I found the first twist laughable. Alice’s reaction wasn’t worked out properly.

VS: I expected the film to be cleverer, but in the end what you have is yet another film that focuses on a female victim who is stripped naked and humiliated, but is not smart enough to get herself out of the situation. Although she is constantly trying things, she doesn’t make anything happen - everything happens outside of her control. That annoyed me, and I know this is partly to do with my own expectations, but I don’t think you can have just another female victim film without having a little bit of a twist, so that she’s more than that.

PJ: Yes, I totally agree, but given the fact that she is under so much pressure I think that at least it’s realistic. I thought her character was convincing in the way that she tries to get out of her situation.

VS: But did you think that she was an interesting female character?

PJ: No.

VS: That’s my point. Danny is probably the most interesting character because he’s manipulative and complex and you can’t quite figure him out, whereas she just reacts to situations. She’s a very passive type of character. I expected more of a battle of wits, which I don’t think you really get.

PJ: What annoyed me more was that it became predictable, that I could actually foresee the end. In terms of the characters, I thought what was interesting is that Danny seems weak at the beginning and he turns out to be quite strong. And even though I didn’t have as much of a problem with Alice as you, I think it’s a bit of a shame that Blakeson did not put more effort into creating her character. He does concentrate on the two guys and their relationship a lot more, but she’s just the victim, she doesn’t have to be anything other than that.

VS: I think the other problem in the film is the way information is revealed.

PJ: It’s quite clumsy.

VS: Yes. I always remember what Hitchcock said about suspense and surprise, and in this film Blakeson went for surprise. If he had given his audience more information about the characters, he would have been able to create much more effective tension by making the audience aware of what is being played out in front of them. That said, the relationship between the two men is better dealt with, there is a more interesting power struggle between them.

PJ: Absolutely. That’s because Blakeson keeps things simple - one location, three characters - it’s a different sort of tension that keeps the film together and makes it enjoyable.

VS: I did find it enjoyable in spite of my reservations. I think for a first feature film with a very low budget, they did well. The kidnapping set-up was a good idea to justify the one location, which is so important to keep the budget down. But the problem I have with it, and in that respect it made me think of Exam, which is also a one-room low-budget British thriller, is that these new directors try to make films that they can sell, and as a result I think that there is something a bit formulaic about them. Ultimately, they are fairly empty films because they don’t really have much to say. They seem to make a film for the sake of it, rather than because they have something to say or show. But maybe this is a step for those first-time directors towards making the film they really want to make - I hope so.

PJ: One of the reasons for this might have to do with the funding. They have to show that they can make a film within a tiny budget that looks good and is saleable and not too controversial.

VS: Yes, the funding is the problem. Of course you have to be realistic when you make your first film, but you have to have a story to tell, not just a narrative device that is a pretext to make a film.

PJ: They may not be empty, but they’re flat. A lot of these films pretend to be interesting but they’re not thought through properly. In both films, there are probably one or two twists too many, which keep the audience going, but are too obvious.

VS: You could have done something more interesting with the power games in this scenario, but Blakeson doesn’t really explore that deeply enough. The film doesn’t tell you anything of substance about the dynamics of power in this triangle, because of all those twists.

PJ: In terms of the performances, I thought Eddie Marsan was the best one. He’s totally convincing as Vic, the older kidnapper, and I can take all the plot twists that involve him because of his performance. I think the performances carry the plot to a certain extent. Whenever the plot weakens, there is still a fantastic quality to the acting and it keeps you interested to the end.

Pamela Jahn and Virginie Sélavy

Valley of the Bees

Valley of the Bees

Format: DVD

Release date: 22 March 2010

Distributor: Second Run

Director: FrantiÅ¡ek Vlí¡čil

Writers: Vladimí­r Kí¶rner and FrantiÅ¡ek Vlí¡čil

Original title: íšdolí­ včel

Cast: Petr &#268epek, Jan Kačer, Věra Galatí­koví¡

Czechoslovakia 1968

97 mins

The Czech director Frantisek Vlí¡čil is best known to audiences outside his native country for his 1967 masterpiece Marketa Lazaroví¡. His following film, Valley of the Bees, is also set in the 13th century, and was made using some of the same costumes and actors as its close predecessor, although it’s far from being a sequel. It is at once a simply told tragedy and a stinging critique of ideology, oppression and the loss of free will, ostensibly during the Crusades. Filmed in the spring of 1967, but released a year later during the Prague Spring, it seems inevitable that the Soviet forces that invaded Czechoslovakia later that year would view the film as an attack on communism.

At the height of summer, in idyllic, rural Bohemia, bees buzz in and out of their honeycombs while a young boy hides away in their midst. His aristocratic father is marrying a young girl barely older than his son; when the boy, Ond&#345ej, frightens his new mother with a macabre wedding gift, his father attacks him in a fit of rage. Instantly terrified that he may have killed his only son, he promises to dedicate Ond&#345ej to God if his life is spared.

Forced to join the Order of the Teutonic Knights to uphold his father’s vow, Ond&#345ej is bound by a rigid code that decries any bonds with family, forbids any contact, even visual, with women, and demands total subjugation to both God and the Order. They are violent, merciless monks who believe in a vengeful God, preferring to throw a treacherous brother to the baying hounds than practise forgiveness. They are crusaders battling for the soul of Christianity, rich in their power to sow fear and obedience in the hearts of the peasants outside their monastery walls.

There is nothing merciful about the monks, their humanity stripped away by their unquestioning devotion to dogma. Ond&#345ej, bound to the earth rather than the heavens, is determined to escape and return home. He is pursued all the way by the fanatical, yet charismatic crusader Armin von Heiden, who prays as much to his sword as to God, and carries with him sand from the deserts outside Jerusalem where he was defeated. He genuinely, passionately believes that Ond&#345ej’s soul can still be saved despite his treachery; but touched by madness, Armin’s idea of salvation when he finds Ondrej is truly horrific.

Vlí¡cil’s 13th-century Europe is a sparse, barren and violent place. But rather than evoking the darkness so often associated with the Middle Ages, the beautifully composed black and white cinematography is luminescent, and despite the director’s formal style, the visuals are modern, at times even abstract in their austerity. While the landscape is bleak and uninhabited, there is something poetic in the way that the rolling fields and waves crashing against the monastery’s shore are captured by František Uldrich’s camera.

While not nearly as epic in scope as Marketa Lazaroví¡ (which was named the best Czech film of all time in 1998), Valley of the Bees is a visually stunning, hypnotic and disturbing film that has managed to remain totally relevant, stylistically and politically.

Sarah Cronin

Online Movies: Stingray Sam

Stingray Sam

I discovered The American Astronaut (2001) while channel-hopping late at night, and the broken space, skewed songs and weird world-building suited the dark. For months I’d floundered for descriptions, eventually settling on ‘It’s Blade Runner meets Rocky Horror via Clerks‘. But in the strictest sense I hadn’t actually been channel-hopping. I started coming across 10-minute fragments of the film on that online grindhouse YouTube, alongside the usual slew of dogs on skateboards and music videos: the universal guilty pleasures of the internet.

American Astronaut‘s writer-director Cory McAbee seems to appreciate that. Approached by the Sundance Institute to create a film that could be viewed on mobile phones as easily as in cinemas, McAbee put together a six-part singing and dancing space-Western: Stingray Sam (2008). According to the theme song (oh yes, it has a theme song), Stingray Sam is not a hero: he (played by McAbee) is, in fact, a lounge singer on Mars, which now resembles a washed-up Vegas-in-space. One night, old friend The Quasar Kid (Crugie) arrives at his saloon, looking for Sam’s help to rescue a little girl. And so their adventures begin!

To find out more, go to the Stingray Sam website, where you can watch all six episodes.

(The exclamation mark is important. Stingray Sam is narrated like a classic serial, each chapter closing with a stirring request to ‘Tune in to the next episode!’, an instant call-back to the matinée era. David Hyde Pierce provides that voice, authoritative while entirely gentle, helping to colour the universe around our monochrome heroes.)

(Parentheses are important too: so much of Stingray Sam‘s texture comes from the comic diversions and interludes that pepper each episode. When you reach the end of each 15-minute chapter you realise you’ve watched very little plot; instead you’ve seen a stream of ideas pour from the screen, each suggesting the possibility of another tangential story that would be just as entertaining, just as strange. It’s YouTube again, or wikipedia, where education and misinformation bleed together on the whims of the hyperlink.)

Stingray Sam screened at Sci-Fi London 8. Sci-Fi London 9 runs from 28 April to 3 May at the Apollo Cinema in London.

Despite the fragmented narrative, the heart of the film is a flushed whole, a story about fatherhood amid chaos that’s truly warming. In episode five, as the girl (played by the charming Willa Vy McAbee) drifts off to sleep, Sam and The Kid sing her ‘a lullaby song’ that skitters along the same path of patchwork verses and awkward rhymes that, I hope, everyone will recognise. It isn’t a stretch to see the McAbee family assuming such roles, with Cory building his crazy world of B-movies and dance routines while struggling to find the space to be the father he wants to be.

SCI-FI-LONDON has announced its 48 Hour Film Challenge, which is open to everyone in the UK: the Challenge takes place on the weekend of 10-12 April. Participating teams register online at Sci-Fi London and then attend a briefing at one of 4 cinemas in the UK or receive information by text message. The rules are very simple: Sci-Fi London give you the TITLE, some DIALOGUE and a PROP list on the morning of Saturday 10 April and you have 2 days to make a complete 5-minute science fiction film. More details on the Sci-Fi London website.

I watched chapters on a mobile, a laptop and a television, and it would be disingenuous to suggest there isn’t a difference: the depth of field really suits a large screen while the soundtrack never sounds better than when it bounces around headphones. But the infectious narrative and cast of misfits suit every platform, and for the first time in a long time I find myself idly clicking through videos and blogs, knowing I could be in danger of stumbling over art somewhere in the jumble.

Matthew Sheret

Watch episode 1:

Double Take

Double Take

Format: Cinema

Release date: 2 April 2010

Venue: BFI Southbank, Curzons Mayfair, Wimbledon (London) and key cities

Distributor: Soda Pictures

Director: Johan Grimonprez

Writer: Tom McCarthy

Cast: Ron Burrage, Mark Perry

UK 2009

80 mins

Scroll down to watch the trailer

Somewhere in Belgian artist Johan Grimonprez’s film - a vast montage of Hitchcock’s television appearances, Cold War footage and coffee commercials - is an adaptation of a Jorge Luis Borges story by art world luminary and novelist Tom McCarthy. Borges described meeting his younger self in ‘The Other’ and returned to the idea in ‘August 25, 1983’. Here it is Alfred Hitchcock who meets the 1980s version of himself during the filming of The Birds in 1962, which leads him to plan the perfect murder. ‘If you meet your double, you should kill him, or he will kill you,’ one tells the other.

This war between doubles is mirrored in the cultural tensions of the late 50s and early 60s. In the dialectic battle for supremacy we have: communism v capitalism, television v cinema and instant v ground (coffee that is). Hitchcock is an odd (but somehow perfect) choice around whom to build such a film - a seeming mass of contradictions who fails to add his weight decisively to either side of any argument. To him the Cold War was a handy plot device, a MacGuffin. Soviet agents, like the Nazi spies in Notorious (1946), or even the birds in The Birds, were simply the faceless danger to set the plot in motion. In the latter film, the apocalyptic fear of the Cuban Missile Crisis is stripped of any political content and turned into an animal class war (aves v mammalia). And yet, in contrast to the rest of Hitchcock’s oeuvre, it is a film that seems to invite allegorical readings. Is mankind’s faltering position at the top of the evolutionary tree a reflection of the Red Peril or perhaps even of cinema’s battle for the biggest share of the market place with television (that smaller, less intelligent but more numerous and successful upstart)? Among the highlights in Double Take is some excellent footage of Vice-President Richard Nixon defending his country in a ‘good-humoured’ debate with First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev: we may be losing the space race, he argues, but we have colour television.

Although it would take some years before television began to gain artistic credibility, the small screen was by the early 60s commercially (in America at least) whooping ass. And with the advent of colour it must have seemed that cinema’s days were numbered. Although Hitchcock appears to sneer at the new technology - there is a great joke about adverts being specially placed throughout the programme to stop the audience from getting too involved - he was, as always, adaptable - after all, he had already made the move to sound, to colour, to widescreen and even shot Dial M for Murder (1954) in 3D. And with Alfred Hitchcock Presents and its follow-up The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (the hilarious intros from these make up the bulk of Hitchcock’s appearances in this film), he became for a while more famous, certainly more recognisable, as a television host than as a director of films.

It seems that in Double Take Grimonprez is not really interested in Alfred Hitchcock the artist - there is no mention of voyeurism or the manipulation of the audience that dominate other studies. The Master of Suspense is reduced to a figure of his time - as much a 2D representation as the famous line drawing from his TV show. And yet this is somehow refreshing. Perhaps because he is ‘cinema’s greatest artist’, his art has dominated discussions and the socio-political context of his films has been often overlooked. This may also be because Hitchcock himself was as disdainful of when and where his films were set as he was of the plausibility of his plots. And yet he was forever setting his films amid contemporary political turmoil; the Cold War itself serves as background for both Torn Curtain (1966) and Topaz (1969).

Read our Reel Sounds column on the Psycho soundtrack.

It must also be said that Double Take is a very entertaining film and is at times very funny - aside from the Hitchcock intros, there is also the strange comedy double act of Nixon and Khrushchev. The pleasures the film offers are perhaps not unlike those of an ‘I love 1962’ compilation, but at the same time it is intelligent and complex with enough layers of reality to rival the Curb Your Enthusiasm ‘Seinfeld’ episode; we see the actor and Dead Ringers star Mark Perry practising Hitchcock’s voice and reading from Truffaut’s interview book (based on recordings made in 1962) and celebrity look-alike Ron Burrage, who shares a birthday with the filmmaker, posing with Tippi Hedren.

For those who need reminding of history’s relevance to the present we also have the true story of a plane crashing into the Empire State Building in 1945, among other references to 9/11. But such forced links are hardly necessary; we still have a capitalism v (Chinese) communism conflict; television and cinema are now both fighting a battle with newer media; but Folger’s ground coffee is still a bestseller stateside and, ‘as good as fresh perked’ or not, the instant variety remains as popular as instant tea in Britain. Perhaps what is genuine and authentic will prevail if only we can recognise it.

Paul Huckerby

Watch the trailer:

Film writing competition: Careful


Electric Sheep Film Club

Venue: Prince Charles Cinema, London

Every second Wednesday of the month

In connection with the Electric Sheep Film Club at the Prince Charles Cinema every second Wednesday of the month, we run a film writing competition in which film students and aspiring film writers are invited to write a 200-word review of the film on show that month. The best review is picked by a film professional, and Careful producer Greg Klymkiw was the judge of our Guy Maddin March competition. The prize for the best review is publication on the Electric Sheep website. We are pleased to announce that the winner is Tony McDougall. Greg Klymkiw said: ‘Good review. Remember - always ask yourself questions about everything you write. Poke and prod yourself. Answer your own questions. It can make for very good copy.’

Here’s Tony McDougall’s review:

Careful is a film out of its time. Guy Maddin uses techniques long since forgotten from old school cinema to create a fascinating and truly unique movie. Maddin successfully employs such methods as damaged film, sudden cuts, excessive make-up as well as over-dramatisation when it comes to the acting to create a surreal masterpiece. Any nostalgic feelings are limited to the aesthetic quality of the movie as the taboo subject matter of incest would never have featured in the visually similar films of yesteryear. The story takes place in a 19th-century French village in the Alps where all the residents are afraid to make any noise in case they start an avalanche. This dominant fear that casts a shadow over all the villagers causes high anxiety among them, which we see when the lead character is told to put his name on his toothbrush before there is an accident. This is a brilliant metaphor for the world we currently live in where the most mundane of tasks seems to involve some sort of risk. This is a strictly rare movie in that it is not only evocative, but also unique and above all else relevant.

You can read more reviews by Tony McDougall on his blog.

Next screening: Wednesday 14 April – Battle Royale + Q&A with anime expert Helen McCarty. More details on our events page.