Rumble Fish

Rumble Fish

Format: Blu-ray

Release date: 27 August 2012

Distributor: Eureka (Masters of Cinema)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Writers: S.E. Hinton, Francis Ford Coppola

Based on the novel by: S.E. Hinton

Cast: Matt Dillon, Mickey Rourke, Diane Lane

USA 1983

94 mins

‘Time is a funny thing. Time is a very peculiar item. You see, when you’re young, you’re a kid, you got time, you got nothing but time. Throw away a couple of years, a couple of years there… it doesn’t matter. You know. The older you get you say, “Jesus, how much I got? I got thirty-five summers left.” Think about it. Thirty-five summers.’ – Benny

Rumble Fish is a film dominated by time. Clouds race across the skies, shadows drip from walls, clocks slice through the seconds in the foreground, hang on every wall and a soundtrack by Stewart Copeland ticks and bangs with the percussive anxiety of time running out. ‘Biff Wilcox is looking for you Rusty James, says he’s gonna kill you,’ Midget tells Rusty James (Matt Dillon) at the beginning of the movie. Rusty James is trapped in the wrong time, missed his moment. The gang fights he’d love to bring back finished when he was 11 years old. Then his older brother, the Motorcycle Boy, was a gang president and local hero, but the Motorcycle Boy is gone, leaving a younger brother with a hankering for former and imagined glories, getting his kicks from his girl Patty (Diane Lane) and hanging out with his pals. The fight is a rare moment of interest, a re-enactment, and Coppola has it choreographed as a dance scene, giving Mickey Rourke, as the Motorcycle Boy, an entrance to kill for. With Motorcycle Boy’s return to the family home - complete with a beautiful performance from Dennis Hopper as the ‘lawyer on welfare’ sot of a father - Rusty James hopes for a return to the good old days, but he’s been wounded by Biff and his life looks to be falling to pieces as he realises his own limitations and, more poignantly, the limitations of his obviously damaged brother.

But how has time treated Rumble Fish? My friends and I, as teenagers, watched and rewatched Rumble Fish so many times that if Mickey Rourke was ill one day and couldn’t make it, we could have played the role. Of course, we knew we were actually Rusty James wanting to be Motorcycle Boy, and we feared that in actual fact we were Steve (Vincent Spano), Rusty’s goofy nerd friend who harbours a rage against the Motorcycle Boy: ‘I don’t know why someone hasn’t just taken a rifle and blown your head off.’ When we watched it, I remember being uncertain of when the film was set. The black and white (and the sound design) take their cue from the Motorcycle Boy’s colour blindness and intermittent deafness - ‘like watching black and white television with the sound turned down’ - but it also has the effect of making the film seem like something from the 50s or 60s. The glimpse of a Casio keyboard or a modern motorcycle jars. The film is a dream vision, smoke and fog drift across the screen and nothing is ever quite what it seems, with hallucinations and out of body experiences. Watching it now I realise it’s actually an ageing man’s view of youth. Youth is not exhilarating and carefree; it is already in a process of deterioration. Poor Rusty James can hardly walk by the end of the film, he’s so battered and beaten. All that he’s got going for himself is his wilful ignorance against Motorcycle Boy’s experience: ‘he looks really old, like 25’. Rourke’s otherworldly performance, his quietness that had the technicians dub the film ‘Mumble Fish’, his occasional willingness to use vicious violence, his brilliantly delivered ponderings - ‘Even the most primitive societies have an innate respect for the insane’ - creates that most elusive thing: a convincing portrait of cool.

Given what happened to Rourke through the subsequent two and a half decades, not to mention Coppola, who is currently capping his career with a horrendous so-bad-it’s-sad Val Kilmer piece, watching Rumble Fish persuades me that time … time is a very peculiar item.

John Bleasdale

The Imposter

The Imposter

Format: Cinema

Release date: 24 August 2012

Venues: Key cities

Distributor: Picturehouse/Revolver

Director: Bart Layton

Cast: Adam O’Brian, Frederic Bourdin, Carey Gibson

UK 2012

99 mins

The Imposter tells the story of Frederic Bourdin, a French-Algerian drifter who compulsively impersonates children, and who managed to pose as missing American teenager Nicholas Barclay, convincing both authorities and the boy’s family, and returning with the latter to live in San Antonio, Texas. The film employs techniques more often associated with tabloid television than with theatrically released documentaries: dramatic reconstructions buoyed by histrionic, tension-laden music; to-camera interviews, cinematically lit and shot, in which the subject’s emotions spill forth; and a gradual build-up of suspense, with a slow and well-timed release of important details.

But there are a number of parodic techniques and moments that seem to sabotage or undermine the suspenseful mood and the emotionally heightened story. Sometimes, when Bourdin relates telephone calls he made, a tinny telephone effect is added to his voice. Sometimes his voice synchs up with the lip movements of the actor playing him in the reconstruction. The film demonstrates Bourdin’s expectations of the American authorities by using a brief montage of TV cop shows, including Telly Savalas as Kojak.

Some of the characters, too, appear as movie archetypes, most notably the grizzled private detective with a wild hunch that no one else quite takes seriously. He doggedly pursues Bourdin, babbling to anyone who’ll listen about how Barclay and Bourdin don’t have the same ears. Also, there are numerous implausible details that gradually accumulate (no one challenged Bourdin when he suddenly dyed his hair and got tattooed two days before the Barclays arrived to meet him), which add to the uneasy sensation that Bart Layton’s film is an ‘impostumentary’, an elaborate fake. Even the murky NTSC news footage could be convincingly manufactured, as Chris Morris proved with certain segments of his The Day Today. Indeed, some of the film’s more bathetic moments seem to have a touch of Morris’s unsparing mockery about them.

Yet Bourdin is a real phenomenon, the subject of countless news reports and of a lengthy New Yorker profile in 2008. As his story unfolds, one gets the uncomfortable sensation that a joke is being played. But on whom? On the God-fearing Texan rubes who think that Spain is ‘along the country somewhere’ and are desperate to reclaim their missing boy? Or on the marginalised outsider, unloved from birth due to his mixed-race lineage? On the uncritical credulity of the new emotionalism, the uncritical empathy for the next emotional rollercoaster? Or on the guffawing cynicism that assumes everything is a ‘fake’ or a witting joke that they are hip enough to be let in on?

John A. Riley

F for Fake

F for Fake

Format: Cinema

Release date: 24 August 2012

Venues: Key cities

Distributor: BFI

Director: Orson Welles

Writers: Orson Welles, Oja Kodar

Cast: Orson Welles, Oja Kodar

France/Iran/Germany 1973

88 mins

In Richard Linklater’s film Me and Orson Welles (2008) we get an image of cinema’s great auteur as a self-important egotist and an ambitious womanising tyrant. His character is reminiscent of the spoilt brat from his second film, The Magnificent Ambersons‘ George Amberson (played by Tim Holt), whose irritating selfish behaviour leads the town’s people to wish he’d get his comeuppance. The lauded boy-genius Welles was certainly to get his. After two classic (although commercially unsuccessful) films for RKO, Welles’s career stalled. He found himself a washed-up has-been at just 27. The studio’s subsequent motto ‘Showmanship in place of genius’ was surely a personal slight.

His meteoric rise was followed by a steady decline during which he struggled to put together a messy (although occasionally brilliant) body of work - Shakespeare adaptations shot over several years with money from his acting work; a similarly financed but unfinished Don Quixote (1957-1985); an almost finished film - The Other Side of the Wind (1970) - confiscated by the Iranian government following the fall of the Shah; and at least one classic B-movie-noir. This sporadic filmmaking career was to end with F for Fake (1973).

It is ostensibly a film about the Hungarian art forger Elmyr de Hory, who claims to have painted many of the Modiglianis or Matisses still housed in top galleries, and de Hory’s biographer Clifford Irving, who himself faked an ‘authorised autobiography’ of Howard Hughes. Welles spent a year editing together footage from a documentary on de Hory by Franí§ois Reichenbach with scenes of himself telling stories and doing magic tricks (also shot by Reichenbach). Welles, of course, can’t resist talking about his own former glories as a faker. The famous story of his War of the Worlds radio broadcast (1938), which panicked America, is retold over re-edited footage from the 1956 sci-fi classic Earth vs the Flying Saucers (directed by Fred F. Sears).

It certainly poses illuminating questions about authorship. De Hory asks what it is that makes his paintings inferior to the originals when no expert can tell them apart. But perhaps more interesting is what the film adds to the debate on cinematic authorship - being made by perhaps the studio system’s most undisputed auteur. Stylistically it doesn’t look like a Welles film - there are none of his trademark directorial flourishes, no deep focus or elaborate crane shots - but it is undoubtedly a personal film. My favourite version as to how Welles came to make the film is that he was asked to provide the voice-over for a documentary about the art forger - Welles’s rich sonorous voice was much in demand for voice-over narrations - and took it over to make a film about himself.

Welles was to claim, ‘I believe a work is good to the degree that it expresses the man who created it’ and, by that standard, F for Fake must be a masterpiece. However, the picture of the creator is much less critical than in Linklater’s film. One suspects it is merely presenting us with Welles as he would like to be seen: the cape-wearing, entertaining storyteller/magician who appeared on TV chatting to Merv Griffin, Dick Cavett or Johnny Carson. Perhaps the film that best reflects its creator (and in the least flattering light) is Chimes at Midnight (1965), where Welles surely recognises himself in that great corpulent braggart, Falstaff.

It somehow seems fitting that the great auteur’s career should end with him cutting up someone else’s film and making something truly personal out of it; but that this personal vision made with total freedom from studio interference should result in endless shots of his new starlet/paramour Oja Kodar’s bottom and an urbane monologue about himself is a little disappointing.

Paul Huckerby

Secret Number

Secret Number

Format: Internet streaming

Website: Secret Number

Director: Colin Levy

USA 2012

15 mins

Secret Number may be driven by the idea of a scientific conspiracy theory but its presentation is completely transparent. Not only is Colin Levy’s award-winning student film viewable in its entirety online, there are also accompanying diary films, recording the production process. The film is an adaptation of a short story by Igor Teper, which challenges our everyday perceptions by proposing that there is a secret number between three and four. The suggestion comes in the form of a conversation between troubled mathematician, Prof Ersheim (played by Tom Nowicki in the film), and his psychiatrist, Dr Tomlin (played by Daniel Jones). The more Ersheim insists on the existence of the number, named ‘bleem’, the more Tomlin is forced to question basic assumptions about the world around him. Perhaps Ersheim and ‘bleem’ itself are being hushed up much in the same way as Galileo’s support of heliocentrism was condemned as heresy during his lifetime. Perhaps those in power have much to gain from keeping ‘bleem’ secret from the population at large. The idea throws open some interesting questions about our individual experiences of reality (and sanity), suggesting that there is subjectivity to what is accepted and propagated as the norm.

Levy does an accomplished job of handling the material, creating a sustained air of menace and un-reality, assisted by skilful post-production visual effects. Indeed, Secret Number is an extremely well shot and nicely edited work, especially for an emerging director. However, it is a shame the film does not rise above being a straightforward drama to become a more unusual work in its visual representation of how numbers shape our understanding of the world. There are a couple of scenes in which Tomlin and Ersheim try to imagine or communicate ‘bleem’ (usually through the medium of scattered jelly beans!) but these could have been pushed further visually to produce imaginative effects and allow the audience more space to consider the existence and meaning of numbers in our everyday lives.

Rather than exploring this element, Levy made the choice to supplement the basic conversation of Igor Teper’s short story and create a more involved narrative, uniting the two men in a flashback sequence focusing on an accident experienced in Tomlin’s childhood. The addition can be interpreted as direct proof of the existence of ‘bleem’ (the victim of the accident is not identified, hinting at some sort of cover-up) or alternatively as a product of Tomlin’s increasingly confused and paranoid state. By the end of the film, there is growing ambiguity about the roles of doctor and patient. While the ending succeeds in emphasising how thin our grasp of reality can be, the accident scene also feels like the necessary twist of a more conventional thriller and, as such, slightly disappoints. Still, these reservations aside, Secret Number demonstrates a great deal of technical promise and Levy’s ability to create a tight, well-paced narrative structure.

Eleanor McKeown

Prisoners of War

Prisoners of War

Format: DVD box set (TV series)

Release date: 16 July 2012

Distributor: Entertainment One/Arrow

Director: Gideon Raff

Writer: Gideon Raff

Original title: Hatufim

Cast: Ya&#235l Abecassis, Mili Avital, Adi Ezroni, Ishai Golan, Yoram Toledano

Israel 2009-2012

495 mins

Prisoners of War/Hatufim, the 2009 series written and directed by Gideon Raff, opens in the moment when the release of three prisoners of war is secured in tense, high-level negotiations. Seventeen years after the army reservists were taken prisoner in the midst of the Israeli-Lebanese war, the men - two alive, one nothing more than unidentifiable remains - are set free as part of a prisoner swap. During the years of their captivity, the men became icons in Israel, with their youthful faces, frozen in time, appearing on billboards and banners everywhere. But the men, brutally beaten and tortured during their imprisonment, are now shadows of their former selves.

They are reunited with their families at the airport in a perfectly executed scene, fraught with tension. Nimrod (Yoram Toledano) has a passionately loyal and devoted wife, Talya (Ya&#235l Abecassis), who spent 17 years fighting for his release, sacrificing her own life in the process. Nimrod also has a rebellious daughter who has an addiction to sleeping with older men, and a son he’s never met, who is about to be called up for military service. Uri (Ishai Golan), on the face of it, returns to nothing: his fiancée, Nurit (Mili Avital), beautiful, and demonised by the Israeli media and public for her lack of faith, gave up hope of his returning alive, married Uri’s brother and had a son. But the real mystery in Hatufim surrounds the fate of the third prisoner, Amiel, who leaves behind a distraught, grieving sister, Yael (Adi Ezroni), to try and come to terms with the death of her beloved older brother.

The men are given only a day after to spend with their families, before they are ‘debriefed’ at a special facility by Israeli intelligence agents, who believe not only that the men are hiding information about Amiel, but that they may have been ‘turned’, posing a threat to national security. Rather than being treated as victims, the men are suspects, interrogated and spied upon by their own government, even after they are allowed to finally return to their impossibly alien homes.

It’s a slick, gripping series, with some terrific performances, especially by Toledano and Golan. Made while Gideon Shalit was still being held captive by Hamas, the series was also prescient, and must have been incredibly resonant when it aired in Israel. But the problem with Hatufim is the sense that Raff tried to make it mean something to too many people. The promise of a tense, political thriller contained in the first episode never quite materialises; instead, Hatufim develops into more of an emotional, sentimental drama as the prisoners, racked with complex feelings of guilt, seek to re-connect with their families. Many of the episodes contain moments that dissolve into unsettling tearjerkers. Even the storyline involving Iris, an intelligence agent who ‘befriends’ the vulnerable and damaged Uri in order to gain information, turns into something of a love story. This melodrama can sometimes seem like a distraction from the most compelling and mystery-tinged elements of the series (while it’s hard to know just what to think of the storyline involving Amiel’s ‘ghost’).

Raff does a brilliant job evoking the problems that POWs face when returning to their families after captivity; it just feels at times that Hatufim is never sure if it wants to be a domestic drama or a thriller. In the end, it’s hard to shake the feeling, after watching the final scene of the first series, that the entire 10 episodes leading to that moment are nothing more than an elaborate set-up, a teaser, to the most compelling storyline in Hatufim. It’s only then that we get a glimpse at what really happened to Amiel. Series two is promised for later this year.

Sarah Cronin

I Know Where I’m Going!

I Know Where I'm Going!

Format: DVD

Release date: 7 July 2003

Distributor: ITV Studios Home Entertainment

Directors: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

Writers: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

Cast: Wendy Hiller, Roger Livesey and Pamela Brown

UK 1945

91 mins

At the heart of I Know Where I’m Going! (1945), co-directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, is a dilemma between fakery and authenticity. Joan Webster (Wendy Hiller) is a determined woman who believes that she has chosen the right path in life. Her plan is to marry a rich businessman and see that she has all she materially needs in life. The film follows her journey up to the Hebrides where her wedding is due to take place but from the start nothing seems to go her way. First, she loses her itinerary, and then the weather is so bad that she cannot make the crossing across to the island of Kiloran for the ceremony. Powell and Pressburger were masters of creating fantastical and mystical stories. In this film, they conjure up a sense of adverse forces that work against the supposed desires of Joan. I say ‘supposed’, because after each obstacle Joan loses her drive to pursue her strategic marriage a little bit more. It seems that all Joan needs is a bit of time, some woolly jumpers and a good dose of Scottish down-to-earth straight talking and she will see sense and be true to herself. Down with airs and graces and up with following your heart!

What has always stayed with me about the films of these directors is that they manage to put together this argument against the fake and the untrue with a range of cinematic mechanisms and fabrications. One story, warmly remembered by fans, is about the male lead, Roger Livesey, who plays Torquil MacNeil. His character is the dashing down on his luck laird of Kiloran. He has had to lease the island to Sir Robert Bellinger, Joan’s fiancé. Joan is a bit disgruntled at this, as she expects Belinger to be landed gentry, but it is Torquil who seems more in touch with the genus loci of the island. We see him situated in the rolling hills of Mull where the film was shot, or at the foot of an ancient castle: he is a man defined by this Scottish location. True to their belief in the theatricality of cinema, Powell and Pressburger created his character on screen with some crafty tricks. While they wanted Roger Livesey as the lead for the film, he was also booked to appear in a West End play at the same time as the shoot in Scotland. What we see on screen is a combination of close-ups of Livesey filmed in studio and wide over-the-shoulder shots where a be-kilted body double took his place. The effect is a convincing portrayal and a cheeky twist to any simple reading of the film. Powell and Pressburger create a world where folklore and natural phenomena are extolled, where whirlpools and gusts of wind seem to have agency. Yet, they do this with models, sleight of hand and faith in their audience to suspend disbelief.

Nicola Woodham