Category Archives: Double Take Reviews

Double Take: The Raid 2

The Raid 2
The Raid 2

Format: Cinema

Dates: 11 April 2014

Distributor: Entertainment One

Director: Gareth Evans

Writer: Gareth Evans

Cast: Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, Arifin Putra, Julie Estelle

Indonesia, USA 2014

150 mins

Virginie Sélavy and Sean Hogan share their views on the eagerly awaited sequel to The Raid – the 2012 Indonesian action stunner, written and directed by Welsh-born Gareth Evans.


The Raid took everybody by surprise in 2012: a lean and mean, hyper-kinetic, brutal Indonesian martial arts film shot by a Welshman, this unlikely proposition giddily renewed the genre and showed tired Asia and stale Hollywood how it was done. The Raid 2 ups the ante still, not just in relation to the first film, but to action film generally. A prodigious amount of energy has gone into devising super-dynamic, brilliantly inventive fight scenes, choreographed to exhilarating perfection and expertly filmed, with Gareth Evans able to handle elegant wide angles and tightly confined spaces with the same dexterity. The film is one seriously jaw-dropping, breath-taking, gasp-inducing set-piece after another: the toilet cubicle melee, the mud brawl, the car chase to top all car chases, the savage kitchen fight where anything goes, with side distractions courtesy of hired assassins Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man (the latter recalling the enigmatic assailant in Satoshi Kon’s Paranoia Agent). The violence is not only superbly imaginative but full of humorous touches too: Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man in particular have assassination scenes that are as funny as they are vicious, involving claw hammers and a baseball as weapons respectively.

This second helping of 100&#37 freshly squeezed action is, however, slightly adulterated by its narrative ambitions. Where the plot of The Raid was threadbare and fiercely functional, its follow-up attempts to develop a grand crime saga with colourful rival gangs fighting over control of the city, a deadly father-son conflict, and a taciturn hero caught in a hopeless situation (Iko Uwais reprising his role and taking up where the first film left off). Melancholy assassin Prakoso adds to the misguided and tepid efforts at tugging at the audience’s heartstrings, his fate underlined by a particularly distracting use of Handel’s ‘Saraband’. (He is played by Yayan Ruhian, who was terrific as Mad Dog in the previous film, but whose talents are sadly not best used here.)

These, however, are minor gripes, simply because the action is what truly matters here – and what action! Admittedly the radical economy of The Raid had a ruthless perfection that is missing here, but this is not a film that you choose to watch for its story. Despite its flaws, it is impossible not to enjoy this new furious assault on the senses. The whole 150 minutes are a full-on riot of orgiastic violence and preposterous fun: you will be grinning all the way home. Virginie Sélavy


Proof that you can have entirely too much of a good thing, Gareth Evans’s The Raid 2 stands as a curious artefact of what happens when indie filmmaking meets the modern franchise mentality. For whilst feted by grassroots genre audiences as a gritty, no-holds-barred alternative to Hollywood CGI action pablum, The Raid 2 actually bears all the hallmarks of any committee-made studio sequel you’d care to mention: the wearying insistence that bigger equals better; a paper-thin how-can-the-same-shit-happen-to-the-same-guy-twice narrative (along with the obligatory insistence that this is now going to be a trilogy and was always intended as one, honest); and a general unwillingness to realise when one has outstayed one’s welcome.

Opening a short time after the climax of The Raid, the sequel picks up hero cop Rama (Iko Uwais) as he agrees to go undercover in a bid to bring down the criminal power structure of the city. The plan requires him to be declared dead, just another faceless victim of the events of the previous film. So leaving his pregnant wife, off Rama goes to prison for two years in a bid to bolster the underworld cred of his new identity, before coming out and immediately infiltrating his way to the heart of the criminal organisation.

What hurts The Raid 2 is not so much this sort of by-the-numbers plotting – The Raid was similarly slight on story – but its pretensions towards being some sort of The Godfather-with-roundhouse-kicks crime epic. Whereas The Raid understood that its slender narrative was merely the means by which it got from Kickass Setpiece A to Kickass Setpiece B, and thus wasted as little time on it as necessary, the sequel deludes itself into thinking that audiences are keen to learn more about its sprawling cast of cut-out characters, rather than simply wanting to watch them kick seven shades of shit out of each other at the earliest given opportunity.

Thus we have such digressions as the return of Yayan Ruhian (antagonist Mad Dog in the first Raid), this time around playing a contract assassin who unwittingly gets caught up in the creaking gears of the plot. We first witness him taking out a gang of hoods who have absolutely nothing to do with the story, then are forced to sit through an interminable dinner scene with him and his ex-wife (the curse of backstory strikes again), before the film finally remembers what it’s good at and throws him into an epic nightclub brawl. But as the fight nears its tragic climax (complete with Handel on the soundtrack for added pathos), you’re forced to consider that all of this has been in the service of a character who’s nothing more than a plot device, and that no amount of hamfisted scripting can make him anything more than that. It’s at times like these that The Raid 2 resembles a rambling old codger reminiscing in the pub, forever talking in circles and never getting to the payoff.

Nevertheless, whilst the film’s timing of punchlines may be slipshod, it is of course the punches that people have really paid to see. And in this regard The Raid 2 definitely justifies the hype, more than surpassing the action beats of the original. Several moments – a combination car chase/fight, a climactic faceoff in a restaurant kitchen – drew admiring applause from the audience, Evans’s grasp of his craft truly demonstrating just how turgid and lazy most modern action movies are. The choreography and stunt work are stunning, often jaw-dropping (one suspects the reason Hollywood doesn’t make films like this is partly because modern health and safety standards preclude it), and these set pieces are certainly enough to recommend The Raid 2 in and of themselves.

It’s just a shame that the film surrounding them is so flabby and shapeless, really only kicking fully into life in the second half. Gareth Evans may very well be the Second Coming of action films, but even Jesus needed a hand occasionally. And The Raid 2 would certainly have benefited from the input of another writer and editor. If (as seems likely) Evans parlays the success of these films into a US directing career, the fervent wish of his hardcore support seems to be that he might bring some much-needed balls to the complacency of modern corporate Hollywood. Fair enough. But what the Hollywood studio system always stood for was discipline and the art of delegation, and The Raid 2 serves as notice of the fact that there are lessons to be learned there for indie filmmakers too. Sean Hogan

Watch the trailer:

Double Take: Shame


Format: Cinema

Dates: 13 January 2012

Venues: UK wide

Distributor: Momentum Pictures

Director: Steve McQueen

Writers: Abi Morgan, Steve McQueen

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale

UK 2011

101 mins

Two of our writers share their views on Shame in a double take review of one of the most anticipated films of the year.


Steve McQueen’s second film, after his astonishing debut Hunger, surely places him at the forefront of British cinema. Despite McQueen’s day job as a renowned video artist, there is no tricksy-ness to his film, no radical inventiveness. Rather, his images reveal his artistic validity by dint of patience. Shots are held. We don’t watch this film, we stare at it. The tale itself could easily be a soap opera melodrama: Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a successful urbanite living an almost antiseptically perfect life in Manhattan, which is put at risk by his compulsive sex addiction and by a visit from his messy (but altogether more conventionally promiscuous) sister, Sissy, played with thrift store charm by the ubiquitous Carey Mulligan. So far, so sensationalist, as we see the would-be Michael Douglas being serviced by high-end prostitutes, prowling the streets and bars, and masturbating with painful frequency. His inability to look at a woman without immediate sexual desire makes his sister’s visit uncomfortable, if not dangerously complicated. This is not only sex without love, it is sex that is mutually exclusive to love, the opposite of intimacy. And yet, at the same time, as Hunger eschewed straightforward political argument, so Shame, despite its title, avoids a merrily reductive morality. Fassbender’s performance is at once comic and tragic, ferocious and sensitive, strange but remarkably common, the brutal buffoonery of the male face in orgasm. John Bleasdale


One of the most talked about films on last year’s festival circuit, Steve McQueen’s Shame could have been a great movie. While Fassbender puts in a terrifically compelling performance, Mulligan is given much less to work with - her character is the ditsy, manic-depressive blonde, needy and demanding, desperate for attention, leaving endless messages for men that she’s slept with, not understanding that all they wanted from her was sex. While she has a few great scenes - and one in particular, already notorious - her character is a cliché that’s been seen and done before. Predictability is the problem with the film as a whole. The nearly wordless opening and closing scenes that bookend the film are incredibly powerful, but there are times when the dialogue is frustratingly flat, and the depiction of corporate New York and its club scene are too reminiscent of the early 90s and American Psycho. There is real tension in the tormented relationship between Brandon and Sissy, while his uncontrollable, violent outbursts are a shock, but the screenplay just isn’t quite strong enough to make the whole a truly remarkable film - what’s frustrating is that it comes so close. Sarah Cronin

Double Take: Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Format: Cinema

Release date: 21 May 2010

Venue: Curzon Soho, Empire Leicester Square (London) and nationwide

Distributor: Lionsgate UK

Director: Werner Herzog

Writers: William M Finkelstein + earlier film: Victor Argo, Paul Calderon, Abel Ferrara, Zoí« Lund

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer

USA 2009

122 mins

How Werner Herzog ended up helming a kind of remake of Abel Ferarra’s 1992 film, starring Nicolas Cage, I don’t know, and don’t really want to. I prefer to think of it as a product from an alternate universe where Herzog does this kind of thing all the time. What you need to know: it’s a blast, and funny as hell, with Ferrrara’s gritty, tortured Catholicism tossed in favour of wilful absurdity and a plethora of lizards. Cage is terrific, with a lopsided gait and a crackpipe laugh, torturing grannies and shaking down football stars, screaming one quotable line after another. It’s every cop show cliché reflected in a hall of mirrors - wholly indecent fun.

Still mystified by what I’ve seen, I hook up with Vertigo online editor Robert Chilcott to talk about the film. Earlier plans to play the dialogue with Robert as Ferrara and me as Herzog are abandoned as Robert fears the substance abuse would kill him, and I fear that I can’t take a bullet with the required sang-froid. We open in a café in Victoria, surrounded by notes, both versions of Bad Lieutenant on the laptop.

Robert Chilcott: This shot (of the iguanas) is filmed by Herzog himself? It’s his point of view. He is the iguana.

Mark Stafford: When they had a press conference at Cannes last year, Herzog praised the iguanas as the best thing in the film. And you also have Englebert Humperdink singing ‘Please release me, let me go..’

RC: That’s Herzog, stepping outside of this detective genre, disdainful of the conventions of the script.

MS: I find myself hesitant to describe it as a great film. Before the press screening of MICMACS I went to, there was a circle of top rank film critics knocking back the freebie wine and quoting line after line from Bad Lieutenant with obvious delight. Contrast this with a friend of mine who just saw it on some kind of download and thought that Nicolas Cage, and the film in general, were awful. I think that tells you what the reception for it is going to be. Filmheads are gonna love it, but I don’t know if it works properly for anyone outside of the circle of celluloid junkies.

RC: Sure. There’s all this stuff in it that is fairly generic. There’s a crime, the cop solves it, all a bit too CSI. But Herzog takes it to a different level with his asides. And Cage’s performance, his little chuckle whenever he mentions ‘your boy G’. He knows there’s something ludicrous about the whole thing.

MS: The same laugh every time. He’s there from the word go, the profanity, the hunched back, the gun in the waist band. He’s just fun to watch.

RC: And Herzog is the reptile - hissing, pissing, laughing. The joke is on everyone else. Who’s this idiot cop and this straight-to-video storyline. He empathises with the alligators, the iguanas, the snake at the beginning. The fish in the tank at the end, they’re all cold-blooded. It’s a big prank.

MS: Herzog has said that he hadn’t seen Ferrara’s Lieutenant. Ferrara is a Catholic boy, albeit of a heavy-drinking, drug-taking persuasion. His film is all about sin and redemption in a very staunch, religious, Graham Greene way. Herzog, of course, happily believes in an entirely meaningless universe of hostility, cruelty, and death. He’s not gonna take the sin and redemption angle seriously. There’s warmth there, in the characters, the dad, his girlfriend, all lovely people, but essentially Herzog’s removed, it’s all absurd.

RC: The Ferrara is a more serious film, more serious in its aesthetic, slower paced. A shorter film, but with longer takes. Cage revels in the mania of his drug abuse. Harvey Keitel is a sluggish coke addict, he doesn’t look like he’s having a very good time on it. Then there’s the rape of the nun, which he can’t really deal with. But that’s absent here, Cage’s soul is not tied to the case. And it’s almost like he’s taking coke for medicinal reasons, for his back pain!

MS: There is the murder of an immigrant family, but you’re right. Apart from being a terrible degenerate, Cage is a good cop, he seems to have his eyes on the prize and his heart in the right place - whereas you genuinely fear for Harvey.

RC: Though there is a redemption scene in this new one. Chavez, the prisoner he rescues at the beginning, saves him at the end. There’s a full circle. There is reflection in the final scene.

MS: It’s just not played out in such Catholic terms. It is a lovely ending. Apparently it arose from an improvised Herzog line, though typically it takes place 15 minutes after most directors would have finished the film.

RC: Keitel’s cop meets a fairly squalid end, whereas Cage’s lieutenant triumphs in the most absurd extreme, where everything just seems to go ridiculously right for him.

MS: It’s like a parody of your normal ‘well written’ Hollywood film, where the resolution is wholly brought about by the hero’s actions and his will is forced upon the world, but here…

RC: It’s luck, or fate. It all falls into his lap. Like when he tries to fix the football game, it doesn’t work, and yet the results of the game turn out right for him anyway.

MS: Well, he brings some of it about. The fate of Big Fate, the murderous gangster, is his doing. But the rest of it, it fits into Herzog’s world view. Blind chance has a much bigger role in life than Hollywood would allow.

RC: And what about this bizarre character that says ‘whoah’ all the time. Again, it’s Herzog taking the piss?

MS: I think that’s typical of the reason a lot of people expecting a grim thriller, or a similar film to the Ferrara, are going to be nonplussed, there’s all this odd broad comedy. There’s the bit with the old lady’s oxygen tube, and this ‘whoah’ guy who gives a ridiculous, mannered performance, but at the same time I could happily believe in him as a person, even though it’s completely mad. It’s like someone showed him and Cage tapes of the Herzog/Kinski films and said ‘look, this is how far you can go, this is what Werner’s happy with’.

RC: With Aguirre, Fitzcarraldo and the other films they made together, you kind of knew that Klaus Kinski was Herzog, there’s not much doubt that he’s an alter ego.

MS: In this scene and elsewhere, there’s B-movie dialogue and bits of business that would sit happily in Miami Vice. And then you’ve got bits like this guy, which would just not.

RC: Ferrara directed two episodes of Miami Vice.

MS: Herzog didn’t need to. He’s had this career, the amazing art-house hits of the 70s, then he disappears, for many people, into the documentaries in the 80s, and in the last 10 years or so he’s come back as this incredibly prolific great director who’s all over the shop. Ed Pressman offers him this and he says sure. Knocks it out on a 35-day shoot. You end up with the least Herzog Herzog film. But it’s still utterly his.

RC: The general critical consensus is that he’s made a lot of poor fictional features in the last 10 years, but that his documentaries are superior. Where does this fit in?

MC: I love it, but I’m a Herzog fan. I think three quarters of the viewing public are just going to think it’s a thriller made wrong, that somebody screwed up along the way, or that it’s a comedy that isn’t consistently funny enough. I think that unevenness of tone, the sense of play, is part of what makes it entertaining. But most people are going to think it’s a sloppy mess. Camera shadows in shot and all…

RC: There is a scene that could be out of The Wire where Big Fate is going to buy condos, get into real estate, and he wants Cage’s cop to be the frontman for it. There’s this whole political corruption angle which…

MS: …which doesn’t go anywhere. There’s no time for it. But again, Big Fate is delivering his spiel while at the same time his two henchmen are pulling an obvious wrapped body out of the back of the SUV and dumping it in the river, so the scene becomes absurd comedy. That’s the film all over. The post-Katrina setting adds a definite presence to the film, but the post-Katrina politics aren’t explored, and the tourist New Orleans is wholly absent, not a blues bar in sight. Only one cemetery scene. It says in the notes that they filmed there mainly because of the tax breaks. It was a good decision. Cage says that New Orleans was the town that turned him into a philosopher, which is why you should never read interviews with actors.

RC: One of his philosophical principles in the film is ‘it’s amazing how much you can get done when you’ve got a simple purpose guiding you through life’.

MS: It sounds like something Ferris Bueller could say. I don’t know if it’s great philosophy, it’s a good T-shirt. It’s something that could be said by a great violinist, or a paedophile (laughs).

RC: A Katherine Hamnett T-shirt from the 80s. Here’s another: ‘When we engage with another human being we remind ourselves we are not alone’. That’s probably a quote from somewhere else that they’ve re-attributed.

MS: ‘When we engage with water we remind ourselves we are not always damp’.

RC: This one works better, in larger font: ‘Shoot him again - his soul is still dancing!’

MS: I’d get that shirt. That’s going to get quoted. Together with I’ll shoot you ’til the break of dawn!’. And ‘You mean you don’t have a lucky crack pipe?’

RC: There’s a scene where Cage gets a couple coming out of a nightclub and basically shakes them down, then makes it with the girl, forcing her boyfriend to watch. With the earlier film, Keitel gets two girls to talk dirty to him while he jerks off.

MS: In the Herzog it’s funnier, it’s outrageous. In the Ferrara it’s a scene of seedy depravity, it’s much more unpleasant and uncomfortable to watch, you’re wondering where the hell it’s going to go.

RC: It’s good to wonder. It’s good to not know.

MS: Abel Ferrara’s film is probably of more worth as a piece of art. But comparisons are futile. It’s like rating a garage punk band versus the Brodsky quartet.

RC: What’s the last Abel Ferrara film you saw?

MS: (long pause) I don’t remember. He came out of the arty end of the Times Square grindhouse cinema, with Driller Killer and Ms 45. He’s like a cousin of the cinema of transgression, like Nick Zedd and Richard Kern, but his work was just disciplined and shaped enough to play ‘proper’ theatres. His Lieutenant is pretty lean and mean, Herzog’s is baggy, oddly shaped.

RC: In the Ferrara film there’s a lot of indulgent scenes of Keitel following the Mets games coverage. He’s driving around listening to the game, the Mets lose and he shoots the radio. Everyone looks at him, so he just puts the police siren on and drives away. Now that could be a Cage/Herzog moment.

MS: There’s no scene in the Herzog as screamingly raw as that one of Harvey Keitel, out of his mind, naked and crying like a baby. His body looked like concrete covered in rubber.

RC: Ferrara said that finding out the film was being remade was a horrible feeling ‘like being robbed’. And that ‘They should all die in hell’, and wondered how Cage ‘had the nerve to play Harvey Keitel’, and called (screenwriter) Finkelstein ‘an idiot, man’.

MS: ‘He then vomited and fell off the sofa’. I guess that the difference between the two Lieutenants is that, in true punk spirit Ferrara ‘means it, maaan’, and Herzog’s playing games.

RC: The two films are separated at birth. Two babies throwing their toys out of the pram.

Mark Stafford and Robert Chilcott

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

Double Take: Jane Arden’s Separation


Format: DVD + Blu-ray

Release date: 13 July 2009

Distributor: BFI

Director: Jack Bond

Writer: Jane Arden

Cast: Jane Arden, David de Keyser, Ann Lynn, Iain Quarrier

UK 1967

93 mins

Also released by the BFI: The Other Side of the Underneath (1972) and Anti-Clock (1979)

Although she has been inexplicably forgotten in recent cultural history, Jane Arden was a prolific and challenging writer, filmmaker, playwright and actress. To mark the release after 26 years of obscurity of restored versions of three of her films, Separation (1967), The Other Side of the Underneath (1972) and Anti-Clock (1979), LISA WILLIAMS discusses the former with SELINA ROBERTSON and SARAH WOOD, film curators of Club Des Femmes. Written by Arden and directed by her partner Jack Bond, Separation is a visually inventive, fragmented but playful evocation of a woman’s inner world as she faces the breakdown of her marriage.

Sarah Robertson: When I searched for Jane Arden’s name online initially I found her to be a US comic book heroine from the 1940s… So there are two Jane Ardens floating around.

Lisa Williams: Arden was born Norah Patricia Morris. I wonder whether she had the early comic book heroine in mind when she renamed herself. Both figures are women braving a man’s world, whether that be investigative journalism or filmmaking.

Sarah Wood: It made me think of Shakespeare’s Forest of Arden where all gender roles can transform: girls can be boys. I had mixed feelings about the film. In some ways, I found Bond’s direction too stylised, too self-conscious. I felt that it hadn’t found its own form, that it was 8 1/2 crossed with Performance crossed with Persona crossed with Alphaville. At the same time, I liked the fact that it was a fractured jigsaw of styles, that no one approach could express the new thing that the film was trying to convey. What is radical for me about the film is the content. To hear the early voice of feminism expressed before there was any form of collective identification is amazing and vulnerable. I was most struck by the dialogues between Arden’s character and her ex-husband. It was very powerful to watch his pathologising control countered by her tentative voicing of the need to be seen as an equal.

SR: I have to say that I had never seen anything like it before, certainly in British avant-garde cinema. It was thrilling, painful, coquettish, beautiful and so joyfully experimental that all I could do was watch. I just couldn’t believe that I had never heard of her name before. The way she placed herself in the story, her body, her image, her emotions, for me very much challenged the typical construct of female subjectivity - woman as spectacle…

LW: I loved how ‘Jane’ the character and Jane the filmmaker were represented by ‘Jane’, ‘Granny’ and ‘Woman’. To me, it was like a forerunner of some of Cindy Sherman’s photography.

SR: Absolutely - feminist personas. I loved the fact that the film notes say that her clothes were from Carrot on Wheels, Quorum, Deliss and Granny Takes a Trip!

SW: Yes! She is a wonderful fashionable construct. It is such a joke within a joke!

LW: It is said that Arden ‘directed the film from within’. She wrote the script and praised Bond’s way of reinterpreting it on the screen. But it certainly complicates matters that such a feminist and personal work is directed by a man.

SR: At the BFI screening of Separation her absence created a big hole: Bond did not really want to talk about his working relationship with Arden – I’m not sure why – and there was only one question from the floor about her plays. I guess this is understandable because he was there representing the film - but frustrating as well. But I think her absence is not atypical. When was it that Linda Nochlin wrote that famous text ‘Why have there been no great women artists?’ I think it was in 1971…


Read the rest of the dialogue in the autumn 09 issue of Electric Sheep. The focus is on religious extremes on film from Christic masochism to satanic cruelty with articles on biblical hillbilly nightmare White Lightnin’, Jesus Christ Saviour, a documentary on Klaus Kinski’s disastrous New Testament stage play, and divine subversives Alejandro Jodorowsky and Kenneth Anger. Plus: Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, political animation, Raindance 09 and louche mariachi rockabilly Dan Sartain picks his top films!

Double Take: GAZWRX: The Films of Jeff Keen

GAZWRX: The Films of Jeff Keen (Marvo Movie)

Format: DVD + Blu-ray

Release date: 23 February 2009

Distributor: BFI

Director: Jeff Keen

UK 1960-1990s

570 mins


The BFI has just released a DVD collection of short films by experimental British filmmaker Jeff Keen. To review a selection of these films, Alex Fitch is joined by Tania Glyde and (belatedly) Kim Morgan, former presenters of Midnight Sex Talk, a frank programme on all aspects of sexuality that ran for two years on Resonance FM. Tania also worked as the agony aunt for Time Out and has written three books; the most recent, Cleaning Up: How I Gave Up Drinking and Lived, has just been published in paperback by Serpent’s Tail.

Marvo Movie (16mm, 5 mins, 1967)

Alex Fitch: I did like the Ken Russell quote that’s connected with it: ‘It went right over my head and seemed a little threatening, but I’m all for it’…

Tania Glyde: The sibilant voices and all that hissing did seem threatening! There was an anti-American feel with the horrible Mickey Mouse faces and make-up.

AF: It was as much an assault on the senses visually as sonically – a cacophony.

Rayday Film (16mm, 13 mins, 1969)

TG: There were some funny bits in this one, especially the part where ‘Back to 1942!’ appeared on screen – it seems that Keen’s drawing from his own life, from his experience in the war.

AF: There are reoccurring themes in his films: the melting dolls, starting fires on electric hobs, comic book references… Thinking of comic book lettering on screen, there was the Batman TV series in the 1960s, but no one’s ever really done that in film until very recently. I like the fact that he’s putting comic book sound effects and speech bubbles on screen.

TG: There was more sexual imagery and depictions of women’s bodies but it wasn’t heavy on the nudity. The animation was very Terry Gilliam. It looked like he was having a lot of fun with this, but at the same time acting out quite dark themes. Keen was in his mid-40s when he made that film – surrounded by all these young people just discovering drugs and sex in the 60s. I wonder if he was maybe envious of them not having known the war…


Read the rest of the dialogue in the new print issue of Electric Sheep. Our spring issue focuses on Tainted Love to celebrate the release of the sweet and bloody pre-teen vampire romance Let the Right One In, with articles on incestuous cinematic siblings, Franí§ois Ozon‘s tales of tortuous relationships, destructive passion in Nic Roeg‘s Bad Timing, Julio Medem‘s ambiguous lovers and nihilistic tenderness from Kôji Wakamatsu. Also in this issue: Interview with Pascal Laugier (Martyrs), Berlin squat cinema, the Polish New Wave that never existed and comic strip on the Watchmen film adaptation + much more!

Double Take: Dark City

Illustration by Tom Humberstone

Illustration by Tom Humberstone

Format: DVD + Blu-ray

Distributor: Entertainment in Video

Release date: 4 August 2008

Director: Alex Proyas

Writers: Alex Proyas, Lem Dobbs, David S Goyer

Cast: Rufus Sewell, William Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly

Australia/USA 1988

111 minutes (director’s cut)

In the last print issue, we experimented with a different kind of review done in the form of a dialogue between two film connoisseurs, and it pleased us so much that we’ve decided to make it a permanent feature. Here, ALEX FITCH and illustrator TOM HUMBERSTONE discuss Alex Proyas’s sci-fi film noir Dark City, which, just like last issue’s Paranoia Agent, is a story about unreliable narrators and shifting ‘truths’, making it perfectly suited to the dialogue treatment. Rarely seen but surprisingly influential, Dark City is a 1940s-style murder mystery set in an eerie futuristic city where it is perennially night and mysterious black-clad Strangers control the lives of the inhabitants. In this world, John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) awakens one day to find himself on the run, accused of a murder he doesn’t remember committing, forced to roam the perilous streets of the city trying to find a way of distinguishing reality from dreams. Dark City has recently been released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc in the form of a new ‘director’s cut’.

Alex Fitch: You told me recently that Dark City was one of your favourite films.

Tom Humberstone: Well, it’s science fiction, speculative fiction at its purest… When speculative fiction is done right, you can really relate to it.

AF: I think Dark City is a complete masterpiece, and yet somehow it’s this undiscovered gem. At the time Leonard Maltin, who’s one of America’s most respected film critics, chose it as his film of the year, and yet here we are, 10 years on, and hardly anyone’s heard of it. I wonder why The Matrix is so much more successful? Is it just that you can explain it in a sentence? ‘The reason Keanu Reeves can manipulate reality in The Matrix is because it’s a computer simulation and he’s a hacker’, while if you try to explain why Rufus Sewell can manipulate reality in Dark City, it takes a paragraph rather than a sentence! Do you think it’s as simple as that? Because in every other aspect, Dark City‘s better.

TH: The Matrix wears its ‘Philosophy for Dummies’ badge on its sleeve, but with Dark City you have to read between the lines and work a bit harder to see what it’s saying about the human condition. It also says a lot more about cities; I’ve lived in London all my life, I think that’s part of the reason Dark City appeals to me – its inescapable cityscape that you can never truly get out of.

AF: Dark City also has similar scenes to The Truman Show. When Murdoch travels geographically to the end of his journey, to find ‘Shell Beach’, it’s just a painting on a wall, it’s not really there. In The Truman Show, when Truman gets in a boat and travels across the ‘ocean’ to escape, he comes across a painting on a wall; and the only way to escape is to go to the reality on the other side of that wall. It’s interesting that the two characters find themselves in similar traps, which are controlled by deities that have a very profound and obvious effect on their lives.

TH: Also, when they break out, the audience is left with a sense of unease as to whether they should have escaped. In The Truman Show, you’re very aware of him going off to live his life independently with no outside controlling forces, but you know he’s going to suffer; you’re happy for him to have discovered what he is and what was controlling him but then…

AF: It’s like another film we’re discussing in this issue – Cube – in that the hero of the film has his doubts when he nears the exit and he doesn’t want to leave because outside is ‘boundless human stupidity’, as if being in this death-trap is somehow better, because at least you know the world you’re in…

TH: That’s the trick of The Truman Show because we know what reality’s like and actually ‘The Truman Show’ seems happier and much safer…

AF: …the same way some of the characters in The Matrix choose to stay in that fiction…

TH: Right, and in Dark City, when Murdoch finds out the truth and gains the ultimate power, he effectively takes the place of the alien overlords; so you wonder whether he can deal with that, considering he doesn’t know who he really is. You’re left kind of uneasy about it.

AF: I’ve just watched the director’s cut and they let that moment play a bit longer so it’s more ambiguous – you think for a moment, maybe he is going to destroy the world, maybe the process has made him as evil as the alien rulers are. There are all these hints in the director’s cut that he’s becoming more like the Strangers.

TH: I’d be fascinated to see the director’s cut because another flaw of the theatrical version is that it stinks of studio involvement and focus groups – you know, appealing to the lowest common denominator… The opening scene in the theatrical version when you have Kiefer Sutherland doing the voice-over…

AF: …it’s such sabotage! It’s like if you opened The Matrix with someone saying: ‘It’s the far future, humanity has been placed into booths where they’ve been hooked up to a virtual reality which makes them believe they’re in 1990s Sydney’. It would destroy the movie!

TH: I know! I have no idea why they thought that would make Dark City a better film. To an extent, that might be a reason why it didn’t get a huge critical response. It’s so much more fun to discover you’re watching sci-fi accidentally…

AF: Another theme of the movie is the nature of memory – the way you have these little artefacts of what actually happened in the past, your memory not being as clear as your photos of it.

TH: Films are structured like dreams – time doesn’t pass in the same way for example. In real life we don’t ever have a chance to cut time, to cut from one scene to another other than in dreams.

AF: In Dark City, it’s like Murdoch becomes aware that he’s in a film that’s like a dream. There’s one line that he has: ‘Do you remember it being daytime? How can it be night again? How can it be midnight again?’ And logically, if a character in a film asks that, it’s like he’s become aware that he’s in a film!

TH: Yeah, I really love that line as well because you’re watching this city surrounded by complete blackness and you don’t ever really question it. You think it’s just part of the style, the director has just chosen to skip scenes set in daylight; but as soon as it’s pointed out, the fact that there’s no sun becomes a plot point… It’s fairly meta-textual!

Alex Fitch and Tom Humberstone