White Dog

White Dog
White Dog

Format: Dual Format (DVD + Blu-ray)

Release date: 31 March 2014

Distributor: Eureka Entertainment

Director: Samuel Fuller

Writers: Samuel Fuller, Curtis Hanson

Based on the novel by: Romain Gary

Cast: Paul Winfield, Kristy McNichol, Burl Ives

USA 1982

90 mins

1982 was a pretty good year for American cinema, with Blade Runner, The Thing, E.T. , The King of Comedy and First Blood being just a handful of the movies to be released theatrically. One film that home-grown audiences didn’t get to see though was Sam Fuller’s White Dog. Although it screened around Europe, receiving much praise in the process, Fuller’s tale of the attempts to recondition a dog trained to attack black people was shelved by the studio that financed it. This spineless, economically driven, act was precipitated by a well-meaning but utterly wrong-headed protest from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a representative of which raised concerns about the film – specifically that it could inspire racists to train their dogs in such a way and may even be racist itself – without having seen a single frame of it. Fearing that the entirely unjust ‘controversy’ would adversely affect the film’s box office potential, Paramount decided it wasn’t financially viable to release it.

This sorry story, recounted in the enlightening 50-page booklet that accompanies the new dual format Masters of Cinema release, highlights a number of contextual issues that add extra layers of interest to a film that has lost none of its power or relevance in the 30-odd years since it was made. Chief among these is the fact that artistic representations of issues pertaining to race/racism/racial equality have always, unsurprisingly, been a highly emotive area. Hollywood has often been uncomfortable, misguided or plain backward in its dealings with race, reflecting American society’s own turbulent relationship to both its slavery-stained history and its culturally diverse population drawn from all corners of the world.

At the time, Fuller’s film fell foul of either unfortunate or wilful ignorance. Considering White Dog’s subject matter – the attempts to counter the sometimes fatal effects of ignorance – it’s impossible to miss the irony of the treatment of what is, in actuality, an intelligent, passionate and pointed rejection of racism. The bone-headed disservice done to White Dog also says a lot about the, then, standing of its director, at least in terms of mainstream attention and the Hollywood elite. This was a filmmaker, remember, who was a decorated veteran of World War II, and one who, as a matter of course, included strong minority characters and tackled issues of equality and racism in his films throughout his career. Equal parts philosopher, hustler, humanist and maverick, Fuller was, and to a degree still is, regarded as something of an outsider within Hollywood, despite influencing the likes of Bogdanovich, Scorsese, Spielberg and Tarantino. This is more of a damning testament to Tinsel Town not quite knowing how to handle either the man and his no BS attitude, or the head-on, provocative nature of his films rather than pointing to any detrimental aspect of Fuller or his movies. This welcome Masters of Cinema entry does point to the fact that in some circles Fuller is rightly regarded as worthy of serious critical attention and respect, as well as foregrounding just how important it is to have companies such as Eureka, Criterion, Second Run and Arrow Videos, to name but a handful, releasing special editions of films that enrich our understanding of their directors and the eras and genres in which they worked.

White Dog itself is a simple story, dealing with a literal black and white issue. Inspired by a Life Magazine article and subsequent book written by Romain Gary, and co-written by Fuller and Curtis Hanson, the film works on many levels: it is a psychological thriller, an action flick, a human drama and a crime movie. If the premise of the film sounds sensational (in the wrong way), its realisation is resolutely not so. Ennio Morricone’s plaintive score complements a narrative that, while containing several violent set-pieces, is more concerned with philosophical inquiry than it is with explosive entertainment. The film’s two main locations – the Noah’s Ark centre where animals are trained to appear in TV shows and movies, and the Hollywood Hills where it is situated – sees the Dream Factory become an ideological battleground. The locations are also pointed reminders of the dangers of blindly consuming entertainment, and of mass conditioning to accept the status quo, both subjects which Fuller was always keenly aware of.

With the dog a canvas upon which the worst of humanity has been forced, the post-attack shots of its blood-stained white coat providing stark visual symbolism, a hearts-and-minds battle is played out between man and beast. Having taken on the seemingly impossible task of un-training the dog, animal wrangler Keys, played by African-American actor Paul Winfield, becomes locked in an emotionally and physically draining stand-off with the ‘four-legged time bomb‘. Kristy McNichol’s bit part actress Julie, who, after running over the dog, takes it in as her own, and Burl Ives’s Carruthers, the owner of Noah’s Ark, are also put through the wringer as Keys and the dog play out their very private but universally relevant duel. Fear, hate, aggression and violence – their existence within the individual and society – are confrontationally challenged, as are the notions of how to combat these destructive forces. The later revelation as to the identity of the owner of the white dog, the person responsible for its racial conditioning, is provocatively chilling, raising an unsettling mirror to certain sections of American society.

Featuring numerous, expertly shot suspense and action set-pieces, including an attack on a black actress by the dog that De Palma would have been proud of, White Dog also suggests the idea that reconditioning, even from ‘bad’ to ‘good’, is itself a form of psychological violence, as the film’s downbeat conclusion attests to. Comparisons to the aftermath of the use of the Ludovico technique in A Clockwork Orange are readily apparent, as the Pavlov-like conditioning implemented in both films has dire consequences.

On a wider plane than the specific story White Dog tells, the role the state, church and family plays in the upbringing of each new generation is of clear concern to Fuller, his method of addressing these issues being characteristically forthright and presented with knife-sharp clarity. The frequent use of low camera angles and POV shots, giving the audience a ‘dog’s eye’ view of proceedings, cannily places the viewer as both victim and perpetrator, making us intimate with subject matter from which some may still wish to turn their eyes and ears away.

Neil Mitchell

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Jodorowsky’s Dune

Jodorowskys Dune 1
Jodorowsky's Dune

Format: Cinema (US)

Release date: 21 March 2014

Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Director: Frank Pavich

USA 2013

90 mins

If we imagine a world without Star Wars, we can imagine a world where cinema was not dying as it is now. If we imagine a world where Alejandro (El Topo) Jodorowsky beat Star Wars to the punch with his planned film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novel Dune, we can imagine him laying the groundwork for a new and different kind of film spectacle, rather than the empty state-of-the-art 1980s blockbusters that spawned endless rollercoaster rides masquerading as movies.

Read Virginie Sélavy’s interview with Alejandro Jodorowsky.

Frank Pavich’s feature documentary is as close as we’re ever going to get to seeing what might have been one of the great movies of the late 20th century. A mere five-million-dollars short of becoming a reality, the film was to star Mick Jagger, Salvador Dali and Orson Welles. Seeing this doc is to indulge in the creative excitement that went into every second of preparing this epic motion picture. We experience Jodorowsky’s pride (albeit with a tinge of melancholy) at planting seeds for the future greatness of others from a movie that was never made. The films exists only in a massive frame-by-frame storyboard book with the screenplay and Jodorowsky’s notes – a document used to raise additional financing in Hollywood, but which was instead passed around to one filmmaker after another. Hollywood accepted the genius, but rejected the artist and, sadly, his film.

This review was first published as part of our 2013 LFF coverage.

Greg Klymkiw

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The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?

Format: DVD (R1)

Release date: 28 September 2004

Distributor: Guilty Pleasures

Director: Ray Dennis Steckler

Writers: E.M. Kevke, Gene Pollock, Robert Silliphant

Cast: Ray Dennis Steckler, Carolyn Brandt, Brett O’Hara, Atlas King, Sharon Walsh

USA 1964

82 mins

From the director of The Adventures of Rat Phink a Boo Boo (1966), this is another cinematic curio that is as much a document of 1960s underground culture as an achievement in low-budget schlock. The (thin) plot sees the director doubling as lead actor, playing a ne’er-do-well called Jerry who haunts the sideshows and carnival in Long Beach, California. Behind the velvet rope, a clairvoyant keeps mutated punters who have upset her in a cage at the back of her tent, and with Jerry and his friends queuing outside to have their palms read, a clash between the two is about to take place…

A film more famous for its name than its content is never likely to be a classic, but TISCWSLaBMUZ isn’t devoid of memorable moments. As a brusque layabout, Steckler is a surprisingly engaging lead, and Brett O’Hara as the witch-like clairvoyant Madame Estrella – complete with facial warts that move position from scene to scene – is a suitably baroque villain. The movie runs at least 20 minutes too long, with most of the padding comprising scenes of burlesque dancing that occur almost every 15 minutes. This gives a Bollywood-style construction to the proceedings, as if the director felt viewers would rather be watching a TV variety show than a proper film.

However, two members of the crew give the cinematography the quality of a production 10 times the budget: assistant cameraman László Kovács and camera operator Vilmos Zsigmond. Kovács would go on to shoot Five Easy Pieces (1970), The King of Marvin Gardens (1972) and Ghostbusters (1984), while Zsigmond improbably has Deliverance (1972), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and The Deer Hunter (1978) on his CV. Needless to say, the film looks terrific, from the night-time shots of the carnival, a futuristic vision of sodium lamps and neon that seems more like Tron (1982) than 1960s California, to atmospheric shots of Jerry as he walks under the Angel Flight funicular railway in Downtown L.A.

The impressive look of the film is both aided and hampered by the editing, which varies between inspired match cuts of headlights and eyes to hamfisted jumps between scenes. As Don Schneider’s only other feature editing credit was on Eegah (1962), featuring many of the same cast and considered one of the worst films ever made, a cynic might suggest the clever edits on screen were more by accident than design.
I imagine more people have experienced TISCWSLaBMUZ on Mystery Science Theatre 3000 in 1997, a TV show where comedians Michael J. Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy among others watch old movies and make jokes about what they’re watching. As this is a film best appreciated for its visuals, this is no bad thing (although MST3K rarely used the best quality prints). It’s a movie made more enjoyable in the company of friends or with one finger on the fast forward button to skip the repetitive dancing scenes and interminable ending where a (look away now if you didn’t see this coming) mutated Jerry runs along the seashore chased by the police. The one scene where the variety acts and the plot intersect, as the mutants invade a stereotyped voodoo performance, is played out too long, wasting the opportunity for such a crossover.

As a scholar of the development of the modern zombie, I watched it with fascination and would love to ask Steckler about the film’s title. When his character first falls under the influence of Madame Estrella he’s a mesmerised, murderous puppet in the style of Doctor Caligari’s Cesare, before her undefined curse makes him, like his predecessors in her cage, some kind of devolved monster. For everyone else, it’s certainly a curate’s egg worth watching for fans of bad movies; actually, with the opportunity of skipping the boring bits, I’d happily give another one of the director’s films a try.

Alex Fitch

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To mark the BFI’s two-month season on the work of Derek Jarman, which runs until the end of March at BFI Southbank, Lee Christien takes an illustrated look at one of Jarman’s best and most original films, Jubilee. For more information on ‘Queer Pagan Punk: Derek Jarman’, please visit the BFI website.

Jubilee1 Jubilee2 Jubilee3
Comic Strip Review by Lee Christien
More information on Lee Christien can be found here.

Under the Skin

Under the Skin
Under the Skin

Format: Cinema

Release date: 14 March 2014

Distributor: Studiocanal

Director: Jonathan Glazer

Writers: Walter Campbell, Jonathan Glazer

Based on the novel by: Michael Faber

Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Paul Brannigan

USA 2013

108 mins

Scarlett Johansson is an alien. I first noticed her as the gawky teenaged misfit in Ghost World then as the object of Billy Bob Thornton’s chaste affections in The Man Who Wasn’t There. Of late her programme of world domination has involved a brief creative partnership with Woody Allen, a number of odd bathroom mirror selfies, a spunky anti-Paltrow fixture in the superhero maxi-franchise The Avengers and interminable and politically suspect adverts for SodaStream. And yet in the midst of the busy vortex of a career that is in danger of spiralling into the celebrity stratosphere, there are still these playful excursions into art-house territory. Earlier this year she voiced Samantha – taking over from Samantha Morton – in Spike Jonze’s Her, a silky Siri whose initial PA/best friend with booty call benefits becomes the object of Joaquin Phoenix’s metrosexual affections. The flimsy elevator pitch premise is imbued with something more, partly because of the shift of focus in the third act to Johansson’s rapidly developing persona. In a coy joke, Samantha begins as a happy female slave – a Jeeves to Phoenix’s Bertie – but as she learns and communes with her own kind this intimacy, which a star of Johansson’s magnitude trades in, is superseded by the altitude she is soaring. This trajectory could be matched by an audience member who recalls her best friend role in Ghost World but now sadly recognises her unattainable ascension in the current culture.

If Jonze’s film is a more-in-sadness-than-anger meditation on the revenge of ineffable female glamour, then Under the Skin features a nightmare retelling of the same star quality. Here Johansson is a predatory alien who prowls Glaswegian streets in a white transit van searching for young men who will not be missed. The cold and unattractive grit of the setting and the impenetrable accents contrast with Johansson’s apparently vulnerable slumming. Playing against her glamour, she adopts a BBC Radio One English rather than utterly other-worldly American and sports a fur coat and a mop of dark brown hair. And yet she is warm and inviting, friendly, unthreatening and fatally attractive. It is once trapped that she can apply her mesmerizing charm, tempting her victims to their doom.

In his first film in a decade, Jonathan Glazer has produced a darkly fascinating work of art. A Roegish trip, the film is an intense abstract horror story. Time and again our sympathy for and fascination of Johansson are manipulated and provoked. Even as we are aware of her antagonistic role and essential vicious otherness, we can’t help but feel for her as she falls over in the street, or is bustled into a nightclub. She is – after all – Scarlett Johansson. She is the misogynist’s wet dream: a bewitching femme fatale, a destroyer of young men, venereal disease made flesh, a prick tease whose ultimate punishment fulfils an atavistic nastiness the film doesn’t shy away from. Sexiness is the opposite of sex, becoming, like Oscar Wilde’s cigarette, the perfect pleasure by being utterly unsatisfying (and incapable of satisfaction).

And yet as Glazer’s underrated Birth explored the obsidian angles of a woman grieving, so Under the Skin escapes the vegetarian parable of the original novel and becomes an utterly beguiling retracing of the word glamour back to its witchy origins.

John Bleasdale

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Dead of Night (1945)

Dead of Night 1945
Dead of Night (1945)

Format: DVD + Blu-ray

Release date: 24 February 2014

Distributor: Studiocanal

Directors: Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden, Robert Hamer

Writers: John Baines, Angus MacPhail, T.E.B. Clarke

Based on stories by: H.G. Wells, E.F. Benson, John Baines, Angus MacPhail

Cast: Mervyn Johns, Michael Redgrave, Roland Culver

UK 1945

103 mins

The history of horror has often been written up by people who don’t have a sense of humour. In some ways the commentary on this special edition DVD and Blu-ray release of Dead of Night (1945) strives to remedy this fact, but also falls into the same earnest, po-faced reverence. The inclusion of John Landis’s talking head notwithstanding, a familiar coterie of limey Brit pundits do tend to harp on about the film as though it’s the second coming, even though it has been canonised as a cult home-grown classic for well over a decade now, and even makes it to number 11 on Scorsese’s top 10 list of horror favourites.

Long before Ealing created their 1950s comedie humaine, studio top cheese Michael Balcon had intended to diversify the studio’s genre output. Though there are laughs here, some intentional, others not, what’s really horrific and terrifying is the British stiff upper lip, a patriotic condition suspicious of the occult and in denial of subtext and ambiguity – the mind is merely a puzzle that can be satisfactorily decoded. Mervyn Johns plays the slaphead everyman, an architect invited down to an isolated cottage, a pilgrim’s farmhouse in Kent, for the weekend with assembled guests to swap stories about their brushes with death. There’s even a Viennese psychologist at hand, to accommodate the then new and voguish fad for The Interpretation of Dreams, a little bit Freud, a little bit Jung… ‘Mother what did you do with that bottle of schnapps we got for Dr Van Stratten?’ This bridging device umbrellas a quintet of ghost stories – a child death, a haunted mirror, a grim reaper bus conductor – which, while now familiar and even clichéd, originated here.

Ealing Studios had apparently rejected the hierarchical structure of the cottage British Film Industry – over several pints in the Red Lion pub, leftist ideologies favoured a more communal and socialist environment, though the notion of the Auteur was far too suspect and continental. Ironically, Cavalcanti’s name looms largest, as the helmer of two of the five episodes – the English eccentricities have always been more acutely observed by European refugees. The most imitated story is the final one, with Michael Redgrave as a ventriloquist possessed by his demonic dummy, prone to misanthropic Tourrete-style public outbursts, slowly taking control of his master’s voice, a device that recurs in everything from The Twilight Zone to Bride of Chucky.

Stanley Pavey’s lighting is noir-ish, and visual consistency is provided by cameraman Douglas Slocombe. Overall, it’s a cyclical narrative that ends where it begins, and the dreams-within-a-dream portmanteau suggests that it’s all the imagination of our hapless protagonist, an architect of his own mind. The scariest element of the film might be that there’s no mention of the war, though the claustrophobia of the English countryside is fully realised. In his intro to the golfing story, the comedic stop gap, Roland Culver observes ‘…Jolly unpleasant when you come slap up against the supernatural’. For the bulk of the stories, the emotional levelness of the national character unsettles the most – ‘Do you take milk and sugar’ rarely sounded so unnerving, as if a quick snifter or ‘one for the road’ can keep the silly, wretched ghosts in their place.

Robert Chilcott

Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London

Tonite Lets All Make Love in London
Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London

Format: YouTube

Director: Peter Whitehead

UK 1967

70 mins

Colours swirl on the screen, blurry footage of the capital’s signifiers swim into view, London buses and the like, as The Pink Floyd chug into ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ on the soundtrack, the one that sounds a bit like the theme to Steptoe and Son. We get the title, and then the subtitle, ‘a pop concerto,’ as a montage takes shape of magazine covers, straplines and hemlines, union jacks on everything: welcome to cool Britannia. Tonite is a definite case of the right filmmaker at the right time.

Photographer-director-editor Peter Whitehead was a well-connected hipster and his hour-long documentary, released in 1967, catches the British Pop wave at its mod zenith, just before things got a bit more… hairy. So we get interviews with Mick Jagger, Michael Caine and David Hockney, Edna O’Brien and Julie Christie, Vanessa Redgrave singing ‘Guantanamera’ in Cuban sympathy, the Ginsberg poem that gives the film its title, performances from the Animals and Floyd and Alan Aldridge painting on a naked dolly bird to keep the investors and the raincoat brigade happy, all tossed lightly together in labelled sections (‘The loss of the British empire’, ‘It’s all pop music’, etc.) on a bed of skilfully assembled observational footage. Whitehead has an eye for the arresting image and a talent for sly juxtapositions in the editing suite; in the section on ‘dolly girls’ we see a pair of nuns touring the fashion boutiques, and he plays the Stones’ fragile, chivalric ballad ‘Lady Jane’ over footage of alarmingly aggressive female stage invaders at a near riotous 1966 concert.

It’s interesting that here, at the height of it all, most of his interviewees are sceptical about London’s elevation to the kingdom of kool. Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham seems to be a portrait of louche disinterest behind yellow-tinted shades, hinting that his part in pop music will be over and he might move into film – he and Aldridge are pretty circumspect about what they do and its cultural worth. Christie opines that ‘a good time is much easier to have now’ but wonders whether that’s for a minority, a bubble she’s very much part of: ‘everything’s happened to me, I haven’t happened to anything’. It’s telling that both Hockney and Caine bring up the British licensing hours. Caine calls them a ‘condescending piece of class consciousness’ brought in for the First World War to keep the workers in their place. Both bemoan the fact that the average bloke has to call it a night at 11 o’clock and that the capital’s nightclubs are too pricey for the masses. Hockney witheringly describes one as a ‘rhythm and blues Aberdeen steakhouse’ and dolefully laments that you would be unlikely to find a plumber from Camberwell in any of them.

Money turns up over and over again, as freedom, as the reason people have the time to attend Vietnam protests. There is much here to confirm the suspicion that swinging London actually swung for very few, and that, as ever, it helped to be rich. Asked about ‘pop art seduction’ Caine says that ‘it helps to be a movie star, or a pop star, or at the very least among the first 200 people on the Aldermaston march,’ which is pretty damn cutting. It’s left to the yanks to be wholly enthusiastic in the last reel. Lee Marvin (!) calls the pop explosion ‘a healthy break away from the stoic, the stolid and the staid,’* Hugh Hefner just seems delighted that there’s somewhere to put on one of his Playboy clubs, where you can be surrounded by ‘recognisable people’.

On the whole it’s a great document, freely available on YouTube and well worth an hour of your time. It’s too smart to attempt to be a definitive document of the times, and is much more of a freewheeling impressionistic grab bag of moments, people, styles and music, a cousin to the Mondo movie. Still, it’s artfully constructed and there’s plenty here to chew on. ‘It’s all about the loss of the British empire,’ says Caine at the outset, as we see footage of a a phalanx of bowler-hatted old-school-tie types observing the trooping of the colour or some other such piece of pomp and ceremony, with the implication that the days of royalty and deference may be numbered. Forty-odd years later social mobility seems to be backsliding and the Eton boys are firmly in charge. Plus ça change, or ‘meet the new boss, same as the old boss,’ as The Who would have it. Toodle pip.

Mark Stafford

* He later says, ‘there’s more room in a Mini car than there is in a Cadillac, I don’t know if that holds true for the miniskirts,’ which makes me want to seek out more Lee Marvin interviews. Here, he seems to be in costume for the shooting of The Dirty Dozen.



Format: DVD + Blu-ray (Region 2/B)

Release date: 10 March 2014

Distributor: Artificial Eye

Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Writer: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Burkhard Driest

Based on the novel: Querelle of Brest by Jean Genet

Cast: Brad Davis, Franco Nero, Jeanne Moreau

West Germany, France 1982

101 mins

When Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Querelle was first released in cinemas in 1982, it was not received with much enthusiasm by the critics, despite its inspired imagery. Most of them thought the picture was messy; they found the plot confusing and the direction over-stylised. Nowadays, although it is still not considered a great picture, the film has managed to find its place among other cult classics.

The somewhat loose storyline follows a young, handsome sailor, Querelle (Brad Davis), as he arrives in the port of Brest, deals drugs, commits murder and has his first homosexual experiences. Adapted from Jean Genet’s novel Querelle of Brest, Fassbinder’s last film attempts a tricky balance between theatricality, striking visuals and heavy literary influences. This bold cocktail is not very well mixed, but the film should at least be applauded for its distinctive vision. Fassbinder’s brilliant and controversial idea to set the film in a fake set paid off, and it is testament to his talent as a film director that despite the stagey production design, the picture still feels extremely cinematic, thanks to the elegant and fluid camera work, and deep, vibrant colours.

The story takes place in the port of Brest during a seemingly endless (and painted) sunset. In this setting, time seems to be losing its significance. We are not sure if the story we’re watching takes place during one hour, one day, or one week, and this confusion adds to the film’s dream-like quality. This sun that never sets seems to be the film’s greatest symbol; perhaps a metaphor for ambivalence or hesitation, or an undecided state of mind. The film’s protagonist, Querelle, after all seems to be in such state of mind. Dressed in a veil of overbearing masculinity yet burning with homoerotic desires, he is the ideal representative of a world that Fassbinder seems to be mocking, although paradoxically, this dry, serious picture is bereft of humour. This world is based on a self-conscious masculinity and is heavy on pretensions.

These qualities are on full display in the scene where Querelle reunites with his brother after a long time. The two engage in a tender hug, and then, perhaps pressured by the other men’s persistent gazes, they start punching each other on the stomach. Although still not funny in any obvious way, that scene betrays Fassbinder’s bitterly sarcastic take on a ‘macho’ world that tries too hard to hide its many feminine sides. The men have to quarrel. And they have to fight. They even have to kill. But on the other hand they are allowed to have sex with each other. Not to kiss though. And they cannot fall in love with each other. For that would render them ‘fairies’ – weak, and feminine. Querelle shows the struggle of a young man to accept his homosexuality in such a world.

It is unfortunate that the film should get bogged down by its literary influences. Although Fassbinder stripped down the novel’s many and complicated storylines down to the essentials, it is still not enough. When the characters engage in endless philosophical conversations, both story and subtext become harder to follow. In addition to that, there are some confusing choices that don’t really have a clear dramatic pay-off and complicate things unsatisfactorily. The actor’s theatrical performances and the film’s deadpan serious tone and lack of humour do not help matters either.

However, Fassbinder’s bold visual choices make up for the film’s shortcomings. In perfect command of his tools, he makes inventive use of images and sounds to convey messages and emotions, even if some of the plot points and dialogue sidetrack the movie and may take the viewer out of the filmic experience. In all, Querelle might not be a great work of art, but it definitely is a distinctive one. And, in a strange way, that might be a much bigger compliment.

Special DVD/Blu-ray features include the mini-documentary Twilight of the Bodies: Fassbinder in Search of Querelle, as well as a presentation of the film by Volker Schlöndorff.

Pavlos Sifakis

The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here!

The Rats are Coming the Werewolves are Here
The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here!

Director: Andy Milligan

Writer: Andy Milligan

Cast: Hope Stansbury, Jackie Skarvellis, Noel Collins

USA 1971

91 mins

While he was in England in 1969 turning out a clutch of very cheap Gothic horror movies (and the artier Nightbirds), the Staten Island auteur Andy Milligan threw together something called The Curse of the Full Moon, which set out to do for werewolves what his The Body Beneath did for vampires.

Set in 1899, it features a typically Milliganesque hate-ridden, incestuous, corrupt and doomed family, the Mooneys, who fester in their old dark house as a horrific disease (lycanthropy) runs through their bloodline. Dialogue runs on and on, full of non sequiturs like ‘because of my age and my health, I decided to send you to medical school in Scotland’ delivered with authentic British accents by oddballs the director happened across in Soho.

Milligan, a one-of-a-kind filmmaker, was torn by self-loathing and inscribed his personal concerns in the lowliest throwaway project. Even if you can’t follow the plot or care about the people or raise a shudder at the amateur monster make-up, you can sense the ghastly conviction with which Milligan has his characters tear into each other verbally and physically. The depiction of werewolfery as a syphilis-like taint even resonates with his own later death from AIDS, though that was in the unimaginable future when this was being shot.

I’ve tentatively become a convert to Milligan as more and more of his films have become available, though he remains a hard sell to the uninitiated, and this is an entry in his filmography that even his most devoted fans don’t take a shine to. Jimmy McDonough, whose Milligan biography The Ghastly One is among the best books ever devoted to a marginal filmmaker, describes it as ‘by far the weakest effort from Milligan’s English sojourn’, though he notes the director’s presence in his only appearance in one of his own films as ‘a rather effete gun salesman’. Tame by the director’s standards, the film went unreleased until 1972 and it wins its place in this special issue against the director’s wishes since it was the distributor, William Mishkin, who insisted on a) padding out the under-length film with footage of rats, because Willard had been a big horror hit and put rats on the fright film map; and b) changing the title to The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here!. The title is a master-stroke – it seems almost like a mantra, and conjures up a weird menace and desperation that no film could really live up to.

Kim Newman

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The Machine

The Machine
The Machine

Format: Cinema

Release date: 21 March 2014

Distributor: Red & Black Films

Director: Caradog W. James

Writer: Caradog W. James

Cast: Toby Stephens, Caity Lotz and Denis Lawson

UK 2013

90 mins

British sci-fi film The Machine (2013), written and directed by Caradog W. James, is set during a new Cold War with China. Scientist Vincent McCarthy (Toby Stephens) is tasked with finding the most convincing artificial intelligence implant to build super-efficient combat androids for the Ministry of Defence.

The enigmatic replication of human presence via artificial means is a stalwart sci-fi theme. Today, the technology is not so much a vision of the future as a reflection of contemporary research, as robotics genius Hiroshi Ishiguro has shown with his development of his uncanny Geminoids which have a lifelike presence and are designed purely to be used in benign social settings. Compassionate creativity in opposition to the mindless use of this technology in the military sector is at the root of The Machine. McCarthy and his co-researcher Ava (played by Caity Lotz) find that their talents can only be securely and richly funded by defence budgets. Ava is a hyper-intelligent robotics scientist, who, through her sophisticated programming, generates a softly spoken deluxe computer capable of emotional nuances of wonder and contemplation that outshine her clumsy contemporaries. Together they work on a super computer that will function as the brain for an assassin droid to help fight the Chinese.

The Machine is released in the UK on DVD + Blu-ray (R2/B) by Anchor Bay on 31 March 2014 .

The film scores on its remote, minimal style. Nicolai Brüel, director of photography, creates some brooding pools of light that shape the mysterious, dark, labyrinthine base, which are remindful of the nuclear genre classic Edge of Darkness (1985), directed by Martin Campbell. There is also an interesting subtext around the voice. McCarthy has been experimenting with ‘rescued’ veterans with brain trauma. They are given implants to restore some of their sensorium. The implant renders them mute but they have evolved to communicate via a covert language that sounds like garbled electronic data generated by transmitted thoughts – a glitch in the hardware that enables them to form a rebellion. Through this, the filmmakers signal that in a not so distant future there will be ‘a new order’ organised via speech disguised as silence.

In all, The Machine is a stylish contender among sci-fi films that explore the inscrutable question of whether artificial consciousness can exist. Its contemporary edge comes from the fact that it highlights the rapid technological development that has taken place. What was once thought of as science fiction is now science fact.

Nicola Woodham

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