Category Archives: BFI Player
The Appointment | The rarely-seen 1980’s Brit horror starring Edward Woodward gets a BFI Flipside release
Courtesy of the BFI, comes the 44th Flipside release, The Appointment, the rarely-seen British horror directed by Lindsay Vickers, on Blu-ray (11 July) and on iTunes and Amazon Prime (25 July).
Edward Woodward and Jane Merrow star as suburban parents Ian and Dianna, who finds themselves troubled by prophetic nightmares when Ian is unable to attend his daughter’s violin recital. Are dark forces about to be unleashed upon their comfortable life? And what has it to do with the mysterious disappearance of a local schoolgirl many years ago?
The Appointment was the only feature film directed by British filmmaker Lindsey Vickers. After honing his skills as a third and second assistant director on a host of 1970s Hammer films, including Taste the Blood of Dracula and Vampire Circus, and the Amicus horror, And Now the Screaming Starts, Vickers helmed a short film, The Lake.
In this 33-minute creeper, a young couple (played by Gene Foad and Julie Peasgood) and their loveable rottweiler (courtesy of Joan Woodgate, who supplied the dogs for The Omen) are beset by evil spirits at a lake beside a country house where a series of brutal murders took place. This was Vickers’ calling card to the British film industry. But no offers came, so he took up the difficult challenge (financially) to make his own feature, The Appointment.
Drawing on similar spooky themes he explored in The Lake, Vickers’ crafted a slow-burning chiller that culminates in a WTF ‘edge-of-your-seat’ ending. The director remarks in the extras that he felt the film was too slow, but watching the BFI’s new Blu-ray release, it only makes it all the more unsettling.
Before the shock ending (which features some adrenaline-pumping stunt work on location in Snowdonia), you are led into a false sense of security as you watch a normal family domestic drama play out. Woodward’s character, Ian, is miffed that he has been called away on business, and this doesn’t bode well with his musically-gifted teenage daughter, Joanne (Samantha Weysom). She may or may not be a conduit to the evil powers at play, and it’s never fully explained – as is a car mechanic’s gruesome demise. But, again, it’s what makes the film so bewitching and unique.
Oh, and watch out for the scene involving a telephone box – it’s a masterclass in creating suspense through careful editing. Also making a return appearance are Joan Woodgate’s rottweilers (although much more menacing this time around).
Following its British television airing, The Appointment, quickly faded into obscurity and, when the directing offers failed to materialise, Vickers turned his hand to commercials for the rest of his career. Thankfully, the BFI’s Flipside team have resurrected Vickers’ film for a new generation of film fans to appreciate, alongside some great extras (my favourite being an interview with Lindsay and his wife Jan – their memories of watching the film’s TV debut are a hoot).
- Presented on Blu-ray in Standard Definition
- Newly recorded audio commentary by director Lindsey Vickers
- Vickers on Vickers (2021, 41 mins): the director looks back on his life and career
- Another Outing (2021, 16 mins): Jane Merrow recalls co-starring in The Appointment
- Appointments Shared (2022, 7 mins): Lindsey and Jan Vickers remember the making of the ‘haunted film’
- Framing The Appointment (2022, 19 mins): Lindsey Vickers recalls making the film
- Remembering The Appointment (2022, 10 mins): assistant director Gregory Dark shares his recollections of the film
- The Lake (1978, 33 mins): Lindsey Vickers’ eerie short finds two young lovers choosing to picnic at a spot haunted by echoes of a violent event
- Newly recorded audio commentary on The Lake by Lindsey Vickers
- Splashing Around (2020, 18 mins): actor Julie Peasgood on making The Lake
- Galleries featuring annotated scripts, storyboards, images and production materials
- Newly commissioned sleeve art by Matt Needle
- Illustrated booklet with new writing by Lindsey Vickers including a message about this release, Vic Pratt and William Fowler; biographies of Edward Woodward and Jane Merrow by Jon Dear, notes on the special features and credits
Nineteen Eighty-Four | The celebrated 1954 BBC adaptation starring Peter Cushing gets a dual-format BFI restoration
Adapted by Nigel Kneale (whose centenary is being celebrated this year) and directed by Rudolf Cartier, the BBC’s adaptation of George Orwell’s seminal dystopian masterpiece, Nineteen Eighty-Four, broke new ground for television drama and caused quite the stir when it was first broadcast live in December 1954.
Featuring a career-defining central performance from Peter Cushing as Orwell’s fatalistic protagonist, Winston Smith, this small-screen landmark has been restored by the BFI using original film materials from the BBC Archive and the BFI National Archive.
André Morell co-stars as deceptive Inner Party member O’Brien, Yvonne Mitchell as Smith’s rebel lover Julia and Donald Pleasence as Syme, Winston’s Ministry of Truth colleague. Giving a brief, but notable, turn is Wilfrid Brambell, who had also appeared in the BBC’s previous Kneale sci-fi, 1953’s The Quatermass Experiment.
Kneale was so in-tune bringing Orwell’s cautionary tale on totalitarianism and the cult of personality to dramatic life that it caused great upset within British public and political circles when it was first performed on Sunday 12 December 1954 (mainly due to a torture scene involving rats). While criticised for being ‘horrific’ and ‘subversive’, it was restaged on Thursday 16 December (thanks in part to Prince Philip’s announcement that the Queen enjoyed the first screening) with some 7 million viewers tuning in. And it is this telerecording that has become one of the earliest surviving British TV dramas.
The following year, an Australian radio adaptation was aired as part of the Lux Radio Theatre with Vincent Price taking on the role of Winston Smith, while Donald Pleasence would be the only actor from the BBC play to appear in director Michael Anderson’s 1956 film adaptation starring Edmund O’Brien.
The BFI restoration has really spruced up the image and sound of the 1954 production which is a mix of the live recording and 14 filmed inserts that were required for the scene changes. These inserts look fantastic now – but seeing them alongside the live (soft and grainy) footage they do somewhat jar. Nevertheless, it’s the performances (especially Cushing’s) that count. So time to ditch that old ‘taped off the telly’ DVD (or in my case VHS). Nineteen Eighty-Four is also available on DTO via iTunes and Amazon Prime on 11 April 2022.
Order from the BFI Shop here:
- Presented in High Definition and Standard Definition
- Audio commentary by television historian Jon Dear with Toby Hadoke and Andy Murray
- Late Night Line-Up (BBC, 1965, 23 mins): members of the cast and crew look back on the controversies surrounding this adaptation of Orwell’s classic. This is a historic time capsule — and a must-see for Cushing fans.
- The Ministry of Truth (2022, 24 mins): in conversation with the BFI’s Dick Fiddy, television historian Oliver Wake dispels some of the myths that have grown up around the groundbreaking drama over the course of the past half-century.
- Nigel Kneale: Into the Unknown (2022, 72 mins): writer, actor and stand-up comedian Toby Hadoke and Nigel Kneale biographer and programmer Andy Murray try to unpick who Kneale was, what he did and why his work still matters today.
- Gallery of rare images from the BBC Archives
- Original script (downloadable PDF)
- Newly commissioned sleeve artwork by Matt Needle
- Illustrated booklet with essays by Oliver Wake and David Ryan; credits and notes on the special features.
I Start Counting | BFI Flipside releases the British coming-of-age psychological thriller classic on Blu-ray
Psychological thriller meets coming-of-age drama in the long-unavailable 1969 British feature, I Start Counting, which is now out on Blu-ray, featuring a new 2k restoration print, from BFI Flipside in the UK.
Jenny Agutter stars as Wynne, a 14-year-old schoolgirl living in a new-town tower block with her adopted family. Her latest infatuation is her older stepbrother George (Bryan Marshall), but after finding a jumper she made for him dumped in a bin and covered in blood, she wonders if he might be the killer strangling teenage girls in the nearby woods. However, when Wynne starts investigating, she gets a stark introduction to adulthood.
I Start Counting was director David Greene’s third film, and came hot on the heels of his equally offbeat features, Sebastian (with Dirk Bogarde) and The Strange Affair (with Michael York). It adapted for the screen by Richard Harris (who was then working on The Avengers at the time) based on Audrey Erksine Lindop’s 1966 thriller novel.
Together with Alex Thompson’s evocative camerawork, Brian Eatwell’s modern art direction and Basil Kirchin’s atmospheric melodic score, Green and Harris have crafted an engrossing, intelligent drama that’s well worth a revisit.
Part ‘kitchen sink’ reality – part dark fairytale, the film not only follows Wynne’s journey out of childhood but also offers much comment on Britain taking its first awkward steps towards a new, modern future.
Thanks to Green’s gentle direction, Agutter gives a compelling, genuinely touching performance as Wynne – and such was her joy at working on this film, that it convinced her to become a professional actor. There are also winning turns from the supporting players, including Clare Sutcliffe as Wynn’s flirty school friend Corinne, Madge Ryan as Wynne’s mum, and Simon Ward as the bus conductor hiding a terrible secret.
A bona-fide British classic, that would also make a great double-bill with another thriller bearing similiar themes, director Robert Fuest’s And Soon the Darkness (1970).
- Feature newly scanned and restored in 2K from the 35mm Interpositive.
- A Kickstart: Jenny Agutter Remembers I Start Counting! (2020, 20 mins): a new interview with the actress (wonderful memories, but there are spoilers so watch this after seeing the film).
- An Apprentice With a Master’s Ticket (2021, 40 mins): screenwriter Richard Harris looks back over an eclectic career in television and film, ranging from The Avengers to A Touch of Frost
- Worlds Within Worlds (2021, 33 mins): Jonny Trunk on the life and art of ambient music pioneer Basil Kirchin (this was the extra I was most looking forward to as I’m a big Kirchin fan and have collected all the Trunk Records releases of his work (but damn it, Jonny shows some rarities that I now need to add to my collection). Interestingly, Jonny doesn’t touch on Kirchin’s The Abominable Dr Phibes score.
- I Start Building (1942-59, 25 mins): Two archive films recalling the ‘New Town’ dream.
- Danger on Dartmoor (1980, 57 mins): two children land in peril (in a Hound of the Baskervilles kind of way) in this Children’s Film Foundation feature, written by Audrey Erskine Lindop. It also features Hammer veteran, Michael Ripper, the wonderful Patricia Hayes and Barry Foster (Frenzy, Van de Valk).
- Don’t Be Like Brenda (1973, 8 mins): A cautionary film designed for adolescent viewers back in the day about having sex before marriage. It’s rather sexist by today’s standards, as it puts the entire blame on women, rather than also being a lesson for young men.
- Loss of Innocence: a video essay on I Start Counting! by filmmaker Chris O’Neill. This is a well-crafted analysis of the film that sums it up perfectly in a few minutes.
- Audio commentary by film historian Samm Deighan.
- Theatrical trailer
- Image gallery
- Newly commissioned sleeve artwork by Matt Needle.
- Illustrated booklet with an essay by Dr Josephine Botting, a curator at the BFI National Archive, and biographies of David Greene, Jenny Agutter and Clare Sutcliffe by Jon Dear.
Dementia | A strange and surreal 1950s noir horror that’s a must-see
If you are a fan of surreal, experimental fare such as Carnival of Souls and Night Tide, then you are going to ‘get’ Dementia, which is now out on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK from BFI.
Waking from a nightmare in a seedy LA hotel, the terrified woman (Adrienne Barrett) heads into the night-time streets and into the arms of lecherous men. Haunted by a childhood trauma involving her abusive father, she enacts her revenge by stabbing to death a wealthy trick (Bruno VeSota). But her world closes in on her when she cuts off his hand in order to retrieve a pendant that will identify her.
A highly stylised fusion of horror, film noir and expressionism, this 58-minute ‘dream within a dream silent’ is one of the most unique slices of American independent cinema.
Featuring a weird score from avant-garde composer George Antheil (and wailing from the legendary Marni Mixon), a cool West Coast jazz interlude from Shorty Rogers, and stark monochrome photography from Ed Wood’s go-to guy William C Thompson (that makes atmospheric use of Venice Beach’s dingy alleyways), this is the only film to be made by John Parker (using money from his mum, who owned a theatre chain).
Dementia started out as a short, but when Bruno VeSota came on board, it was expanded into a longer film, and many believe that it was VeSota (who would go on to join Roger Corman’s milieu) who was the actual mastermind in charge of the visuals and underlying Freudian themes.
Originally banned by the US censors, it got a limited release in 1955, then was acquired by producer Jack Harris who re-released it as Daughter of Horror in 1957, with added dialogue by Ed McMahon. But its biggest claim to fame is that it features in a crucial scene in The Blob (1958) – also produced by Harris. Here’s a pic from that cult fave.
• Presented in Standard Definition and High Definition
• Audio commentary by Kat Ellinger
• Daughter of Horror (1957, 55 mins): the alternative cut with narration by Ed McMahon
• Alone with the Monsters (1958, 16 mins): a study of people’s unconscious cruelty to others, this experimental film was directed by Nazli Nour with cinematography by Walter Lassally
• Trailers From Hell: Joe Dante on Daughter of Horror (2013, 2 mins)
• Before & After: Restoring Dementia (2020, 3 mins): A look at the work done by the Cohen Film Collection for the 2015 restoration
• Dementia trailer (2015)
• Daughter of Horror trailer (1957)
• Stills and publicity gallery
• Collector’s booklet with new essays by Ian Schultz, William Fowler and Vic Pratt
Catch Abel Gance’s revolutionary silent masterpiece Napoleon on the big screen and on Blu-ray
Painstakingly restored by the BFI National Archive and Photoplay’s Kevin Brownlow as part of a 50-year project, Abel Gance’s 1927 five-and-a-half-hour masterpiece, Napoleon, is now screening again accompanied by the longest score ever written for a silent film from composer Carl Davis before heading to Blu-ray, DVD and BFI Player on 21 November.
Originally conceived by Gance as the first of six films about the French military leader, this five-and-a-half-hour epic features full scale historical recreations of episodes from Bonaparte’s personal and political life, that see him overcome fierce rivals and political machinations to seal his imperial destiny. The film is also famed for its groundbreaking technical innovations – including its triptych finale.
The BFI Blu-ray will include the following special features…
• New 2K restoration
• The Charm of Dynamite (1968, 51 mins): BBC documentary on Gance’s silent films, narrated by Lindsay Anderson.
• Composing Napoleon: An Interview with Carl Davis (2016, 45 mins)
• Feature-length commentary by Paul Cuff
• Digital restoration featurette (2016, 5 mins)
• Alternative single-screen ending
• Individual triptych panel presentations
• Illustrated collector’s booklet
Frank (2014) | Music, madness and a giant papier-mâché head collide in the oddball, anarchic comedy drama
With the offbeat comedy drama premiering on Film4 today at 10.40pm, here’s my take on Frank…
Don’t stop believing in your dreams
Following a chance encounter with the avant-garde Soronfrfbs rock band and their eccentric front man Frank (Michael Fassbender), who wears a giant papier-mâché head 24/7, wannabe musician Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) finds himself propelled on an anarchic journey of self-discovery.
Recruited as a replacement keyboard player, Jon struggles to connect with the other band members, especially distrusting Theremin-player Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), but ends up using his inheritance to produce the band’s latest concept album. While cooped up in a log cabin on a remote island, the social media savvy Jon posts videos on the internet and ends up scoring the band a big gig at the South by Southwest festival in Texas. When a disastrous warm-up gig causes the band to fall out, Jon manages to convince Frank to take to the stage as a duo. But is he doing it for Frank, or himself?
Will it push you to your furthest corners?
It’s not often I come across a film that really connects on a personal level, but comedy drama, Frank, from Irish director Lenny Abrahamson really hit home. Loosely inspired by the cult figure of Frank Sidebottom (aka the late Mancunian singer-comedian Chris Sieves), in whose Oh Blimey Big Band one of the writers, Jon Ronson, played keyboards in the 1980s, the film also adds elements of notorious rock legend Captain Beefheart and schizophrenic Texan singer/songwriter Daniel Johnston, but sets the action in contemporary Ireland.
Michael Fassbender gives a nuanced performance as the titular outsider artist, whose absurd headgear hides a fragile soul which Domhnall Gleeson’s callow fan boy Jon ends up shattering (its their journey that’s at the heart of the film). And Maggie Gyllenhaal is a real standout as Clara. She’s like a female Syd Barrett, whose permanent scowl actually hides a deep love for Frank.
The film’s first half is a crazy road-movie-styled delight (the opening titles span a very post-modern 10 minutes btw) and I found myself helplessly drawn into Jon’s bromance with Frank, while his onscreen tweets are #hilarious (but you’ll never make them out if watch the film on a mobile). But when the comedy gives way to more serious matters (and the truth about Frank is revealed), the film’s fun factor comes to a screeching halt. While those introspective scenes put a dampener on the oddball adventure, the home truths that are revealed are food for thought – especially on the nature of the artist versus the cult of celebrity, maximising our online presence, and mental illness vs true genius.
Oddball, yet deep (in sentiment), passionate, yet punk-spirited (about the creative process), there’s a lot going here, just like there’s a lot going on behind Frank’s papier-mâché cartoon face. It’s also got some bonkers brilliant toons.
Frank is also available from Curzon Film World on Blu-ray and DVD, which includes audio commentary with Lenny Abrahamson, Domhnall Gleeson and composer Stephen Rennicks; commentary with writers Jon Ronson and Peter Straugaan; behind the scenes featurette, sound promo, deleted scenes and trailer.
Also available from ArtificalEyeFilms on YouTube and BFI Player
The Frank soundtrack is released by Silva Screen, check it out here: http://www.soundtrack.net/album/frank/
Three Otto Preminger film noir classics get a limited edition BFI Blu-ray release
This essential collection brings together three of acclaimed director Otto Preminger’s greatest films for the first time on Blu-ray, delivering a unique combination of intrigue, moral ambiguity and stylish black and white photography, which truly defines this much loved film noir genre.
In Fallen Angel (1945), Dana Andrews stars as a down-on-his-luck press agent turned amateur sleuth, investigating the murder of the sultry waitress, Stella (Linda Darnell).
Whirlpool (1950) is a fascinating blend of noir and woman’s picture starring the beautiful Gene Tierney as a troubled socialite who falls prey to the machinations of a sinister hypnotist (José Ferrer).
Whilst in the down beat Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950) Dana Andrews again stars, as a tough cop whose brutal methods leave a trail of murder, deceit and cover-ups.
Special features include audio commentaries by film scholar and critic Adrian Martin and The Guardian Lecture: Otto Preminger interviewed by Joan Bakewell (1972, 80 mins, audio with stills), plus an illustrated booklet.
Otto Preminger Film Noir Collection released on Monday 28 September from BFI
Les yeux sans visage (1959) | Georges Franju’s classic horror masterwork shocks again on Blu-ray
French director George Franju’s 1959 Les yeux sans visage (aka Eyes Without a Face) reigns supreme as a masterpiece of cinéma fantastique, and is now available in a new high definition release in the UK for the first time from BFI.
Obsessed Parisian plastic surgeon Professor Génessier (Pierre Brasseur) and his devoted assistant Louise (Alida Valli) abduct young woman to graft their skin onto the face of his disfigured daughter Christiane (Edith Scob). But with each surgery, the isolated Christiane begins losing her sanity and her will to live…
Les yeux sans visage caused outrage on its release in 1959 where its gruesome scalpel scenes exert a shocking fascination, while it’s poetic visual style (where noir meets Cocteau), shadowy monochrome cinematography (by Eugen Schüfftan) and disconcerting circus-style music (by Maurice Jarre) imbue the film with a heady atmosphere of menace, anxiety and unflinching horror.
Much has been written about Franju’s artistically-made shocker, and its influence has informed generations of genre filmmakers, including Jesús Franco, John Carpenter and Pedro Almodóvar. Every re-visit is not only a reminder of Franju’s artistic precision, but also offers up new insights and readings into this most-perfectly executed horror film. And nothing can match the hauntingly beautiful final scene in which Scob’s Christiane walks through a moonlit wood surrounding by fluttering doves.
The BFI Dual Format (Blu-ray/DVD) release features the film re-mastered in High Definition and presented in its original aspect ratio (1:66:1), made available by Gaumont. The release also includes the following special features:
• Audio commentary by Video Watchdog‘s Tim Lucas.
• Monsieur et Madame Curie (Georges Franju, 1953, 14min): a study of the life and work of the Curies, told through the words of Marie Curie.
• La Première nuit (Georges Franju, 1958, 20min): a young boy spends a night in the Métro.
• Les Fleurs maladives de Georges Franju (2009, 50min): an overview of Georges Franju’s career.
• For Her Eyes Only (2014, 17min): An interview with Edith Scob.
• Booklet featuring essays and full film credits.
Bicycle Thieves (1948) | Cinema re-release – Vittorio De Sica’s celebrated postwar drama back in UK cinemas
Italian Actor/director Vittorio De Sica is best known for his celebrated 1948 film Bicycle Thieves, which tells the story of a simple man called Antonio who scours the streets of Rome looking for his stolen bicycle, which he needs to be able to secure work.
Ranking high in almost every Top 20 film poll imaginable, Bicycle Thieves is neorealism at its best, making excellent use of non-actors and real locations. But this is no improvised documentary, rather a tightly woven drama about humanity surviving the devastating after effects of war and poverty. Unforgettable.
• Bicycle Thieves screens at the BFI as part of the Vittorio De Sica season until Thursday 27 August (so catch it while you can)
• The 2014 Arrow Academy Dual Format release features a restored, high definition transfer of the film; feature length documentary on screenwriter Cesare Zavattini; documentary portrait of De Sica; trailer; and booklet.
Miracle in Milan (1951) | Vittorio De Sica’s sublime Italian fantasy parable is a ray of sunshine in a cynical age
In between making his gritty neo-realist masterpieces Bicycle Thieves and Umberto D, Italian director Vittorio De Sica lensed the fantasy parable Miracle in Milan, that would earn him the Grand Prize at Cannes in 1951.
Francesco Golisano (who tragically died at the age of 29 in 1958) gives a beautifully, understated performance as Toto, an orphan possessed by eternal optimism. Abandoned at birth, Toto was raised by the elderly Lolotta, who taught him to find joy and wonder in the simple things in life. Following her death, he is placed into an orphanage, but when he leaves, he ends up wandering the streets with the city’s beggars.
Finding refuge at an old rubbish tip on the outskirts of the city, Toto’s optimistic approach to life infects all those he encounters. Soon he and his fellow poor are creating their own mini-town, complete with street signs, main square and water fountains, and all is happy until Toto receives a magical dove that grants wishes. When the shantytown residents use the dove for materialistic purposes, two angels steal the dove back just when Toto needs it most – to stop the town from being razed to the ground by the new owners.
In the 1950s, Italy experienced an economic miracle with industry booming and living standards rising sharply. However, there was still acute poverty throughout the country – especially in the south. De Sica’s fantasy is a direct response to this and to the universal themes of the great rich and poor divide – something that has special resonance today – especially if you think of the worldwide Occupy movement.
But unlike de Sica’s other neo-realist films – especially Il Tetto (The Roof), this is not a harrowing tale of misery, but a lesson in the power of optimism in the face of adversity. And while the later half of the film does become somewhat farcical, it is Golisano’s gripping performance as the Christ-like Toto that carries the film.
Miracle in Milan screens Saturday 8 August and Monday 10 August at the BFI as part of the Vittorio De Sica season and is available as a Dual Format and Blu-ray release (both including Il Tetto) from Arrow Academy