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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.

Director Lindsey Vickers on set with Samantha Weysom, Jane Merrow and Edward Woodward.

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).

Special features

  • 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

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).

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • 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.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• 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

Sebastiane (1976) | Derek Jarman’s first feature on Blu-ray and iTunes from BFI

Sebastiane

Derek Jarman’s first feature, Sebastiane, directed with Paul Humfress and released in 1976, presents the controversial, sensual and sexualised story of the 4th century Praetorian Guard whose human goodness leads to humiliation and martyrdom.

Back in March 2019, Sebastiane was released as a stand-alone Blu-ray for the first time in the UK, and iTunes, released by the BFI.

In Sebastiane, the heat of the Sardinian desert is powerfully captured on film – both cast and crew go through their paces, sweating it out Herzog-style – while Brian Eno’s distinctly moving score beautifully complements the superb framing and stunning slow-motion photography.

A glorious hymn to the very real, living, breathing, male body, Sebastiene is presented in a new digital version remastered from the original camera negative by the BFI National Archive.

Special features
• Presented in High Definition
Jazz Calendar (1968, 36 mins): footage of the Royal Ballet in rehearsal featuring scenery and costumes by Derek Jarman
Sebastiane: A Work in Progress (1976, 62 mins): an incomplete, black and white and un-subtitled work-in-progress cut featuring alternative music
The Making of Sebastiane (1975, 23 mins): Super 8 making-of, shot by the feature’s sound assistant Hugh Smith, along with Jarman
• John Scarlett-Davis Remembers Sebastiane (2018, 7 mins): artist-filmmaker John Scarlett-Davis talks about his experiences on the set of Sebastiane
• Stills Gallery
• Illustrated booklet with writing on the film by BFI curator William Fowler, original review by Tony Rayns and full film credits

Jarman – Volume Two (1987-1994) | The BFI presents six final features from the iconoclastic artist, plus 66 superlative special features, on Blu-ray

It has been 25 years since British filmmaker Derek Jarman died, aged 52 (on 19 February 1994), and yet his artistic legacy continues to live on. Embracing the experimental, the political and the artistic, his cinema was fearlessly unique but also touchingly personal and truly inspirational.

The BFI’s second Limited Edition Blu-ray collection brings together Jarman’s final six features, made during a prolonged burst of creativity and political activism that followed his HIV diagnosis in 1987, and all of them featuring his artistic muse, Tilda Swinton.

These include The Last of England (1987), War Requiem (1989) with Laurence Olivier in his last screen performance, The Garden (1990), Edward II (1993) with Steven Waddington, Wittgenstein (1993) with Michael Gough, Blue (1993) with composers Brian Eno, Coil, Scanner and Simon Fisher Turner, and the posthumously-released elegy to Super 8, Glitterbug (1994), with music from Brian Eno.

All the films are presented in High Definition for the first time in the UK, and the box-set includes 66 amazing special features – both new and archival, plus trailers, galleries of rare stills and promotional materials, and a 100-page collector’s. This truly is a must-have, and a perfect companion to the BFI’s first volume (1972-1986), which contains In the Shadow of the Sun (1974), Sebastiane (1976), Jubilee (1977), The Tempest (1979), The Angelic Conversation (1985) and Caravaggio (1986).

•••THE FILMS AND THOSE EXTRA FEATURES IN DETAIL•••

THE LAST OF ENGLAND
Jarman’s highly personal allegory of England in the 1980s. The film combines images of inner-city decay, footage from home movies of three generations of Jarman’s family and a post-apocalypse vision of London ruled by a para-military authority.

Dead Cat (1989, 20 mins): Derek Jarman and Genesis P-Orridge feature in this startling surrealist film in which a young man is terrorised and humiliated, later engaging in a mechanised, industrial sexual encounter
Isle of Sheppey (1984, 7 mins): edited highlights from a VHS video shot on a location-hunting expedition, featuring Derek Jarman and cultural historian Jon Savage
Depuis le jour (1987, 5 mins): Derek Jarman’s sequence from the anthology film Aria
Depuis le jour: audio commentary by producer Don Boyd
Remembering Derek Jarman (2014, 13 mins)
• James Mackay Remembers The Last of England (2019, 14 mins)
• Don Boyd Remembers The Last of England and Aria (2019, 16 mins)
• Homemade Stuff and Wild Ideas: Simon Fisher Turner on Derek Jarman (2019, 16 mins): the composer looks back on his involvement with Derek Jarman’s art
• Another Derek: Jarman’s Life Away From the Limelight (2019, 5 mins): interview with artist filmmaker John Scarlett-Davis
• An Odd Morality (2019, 4 mins): interview with Lee Drysdale
• Another World for Ourselves (2019, 9 mins): director John Maybury on meeting Jarman
• David Lewis Remembers Dead Cat (2019, 15 mins)
• Audio commentary on The Last of England with James Mackay, Christopher Hughes, Christopher Hobbs and Simon Fisher Turner
• Galleries

WAR REQUIEM
A must-see for anyone who wants to immerse themselves in Benjamin Britten’s choral masterpiece, Jarman’s film interpretation includes readings of Wilfred Owen’s World War One poetry and disturbing images of wars since. Tragedy without the triumph, in other words. Features Nathaniel Parker (as Owen), Laurence Olivier, Sean Bean, Patricia Hayes and Nigel Terry.

Books By My Bedside: Derek Jarman (1989, 25 mins)
Derek Jarman in Conversation with Simon Field (1989, 32 mins)
Requiem For Jarman (2008, 37 mins): recollections on the making of War Requiem
• Don Boyd Remembers War Requiem (2019, 38 mins)
• John Maybury Remembers War Requiem (2019, 8 mins)
• The Nature of Super 8 (2019, 8 mins)
Caravaggio was Accidental (2019, 10 mins): Simon Fisher Turner remembers his first feature soundtrack for Derek Jarman
• Before The Last (2019, 15 mins): James Mackay recalls working with Derek Jarman on The Angelic Conversation and Imagining October
•Derek Jarman Presents (2019, 27 mins): John Maybury remembers the Super 8 filmmaking scene
War Requiem trailer
· Audio commentary on War Requiem with Don Boyd
War Requiem image gallery

THE GARDEN
In the last of three very personal films, Jarman used an explosive combination of scenes and images to bring together his loves, hates and desires – united by his imagery of the Passion.

Derek’s Shoot in Dungeness (1990, 6 mins): rare behind-the-scenes Super 8 footage shot on location at the time of The Garden
The Wanderer (1991, 30 mins): experimental film by David Lewis based on the Anglo-Saxon poem of the same name, featuring Michael Gough and Michael York
Kiss 25 Goodbye (1991, 7 mins): experimental short on the 1991 OutRage! ‘kiss-in’ protest at Bow Street police station
Clause and Effect (1988, 19 mins): the gay community unites against Clause 28
Orange Juice (1984, 41 mins): Derek Jarman’s location shoot for the promo for ‘What Presence?!’ by post-punk band Orange Juice, fronted by Edwyn Collins
Shooting the Hunter (2015, 5 mins)
• James Mackay Remembers The Garden (2019, 15 mins)
• Anything Can Happen (2019, 11 mins): Richard Heslop on working with Derek Jarman
• David Lewis Remembers The Garden (2019, 15 mins)
• The Other Great Masterpiece (2019, 6 mins): John Maybury considers Jarman’s enthusiasm for gardening
The Garden trailers
• Life with Derek (2018, 44 mins): Composer Simon Fisher Turner’s collage of audio clips

EDWARD II
Jarman’s trenchant sort-of-modern-dress adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s play about the downfall of the medieval monarch, richly-textured with atmosphere, but with the homosexual content expanded, embellished and politicised.

Derek’s Edward (2009, 24 mins): the making of Edward II
Ostia (1987, 27 mins): Jarman embodies Pier Paolo Pasolini in this ambitious student film imagining the last hours of the Italian director’s life
Ostia director’s audio commentary
The Clearing (1993, 7 mins): short film by Alex Bistikas starring Derek Jarman and Keith Collins
The Extended Derek Jarman Interview (1991, 70 mins): With Colin McCabe
Cut/Action (2019, 8 mins): Video essay with music and narration by Simon Fisher Turner
• David Lewis Remembers Edward II (2019, 4 mins)
• The Same Spirit (2019, 6 mins): Don Boyd remembers Jarman’s later years
• Truly Beautiful (2019, 19 mins): interview with costumer designer Sandy Powell
Derek Jarman in Conversation with Colin McCabe (1991, 97 mins, audio only)
• Galleries

WITTGENSTEIN
Jarman executed this critically-acclaimed Channel 4 film celebrating the life of Austrian-born philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein in just two weeks (on a tiny £300,000 budget). Visually stunning, with some fantastic costumes (from Sandy Powell), it explores Wittgenstein’s repressed homosexuality alongside his reputation as one of greatest thinkers of the century, and features Michael Gough and John Quentin as Bertrand Russell and Maynard Keynes.

• Karl Johnson on Wittgenstein (2007, 9 mins)
• Tilda Swinton on Wittgenstein and Derek Jarman (2007, 10 mins)
• Tariq Ali on Producing Wittgenstein (2007, 9 mins)
Wittgenstein: Behind the Scenes (1993, 22 mins)
Wittgenstein: An Introduction (2007, 4 mins)
Face to Face: Derek Jarman (1993, 41 mins): Jarman discusses his HIV status and sexuality with Jeremy Isaacs
• Producer Tariq Ali on Wittgenstein (2014, 7 mins)
• Jarmanalia with Simon Fisher Turner (2019, 17 mins)
• Films Made by a Painter (2019, 5 mins): James Mackay reflects on Jarman’s distinctive style as a filmmaker

BLUE & GLITTERBUG
Blue – the third film in the highly-personal trilogy begun by The Last of England and The Garden – received a standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival for its uncompromising look at what it’s like to live and work as an artist with the emotional and physical agonies of AIDS. A challenge to conventional filmmaking ideas, the film sees Jarman (and friends) musing on life, death and living with AIDS using vocal and musical testimony against a blank blue screen. Its a fitting goodbye from a director who never once compromised his principals or his own vision. The posthumously-released Glitterbug is a wonderful elegy to Super 8, featuring a compilation of shorts in which the likes of Adam Ant, William S Burroughs and Marianne Faithfull all contribute.

21st Century Nuns (1994, 10 mins): A look at the British chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and their ‘colourful’ activist efforts at fighting homophobia. Great to see this included, as it features some dear friends (some of whom are no longer with us), and is a reminder of just how far we have come with gay/lesbian/transgender rights.
Delphinium: A Childhood Portrait of Derek Jarman (2009, 13 mins)
• James Mackay Remembers Blue (2019, 15 mins)
• Simon Fisher Turner Remembers Blue (2019, 8 mins)
• David Lewis Remembers Blue (2019, 13 mins)
• Hard to Imagine (2019, 8 mins): John Maybury recalls Jarman’s journey towards Blue
• After The Garden (2019, 10 mins): Richard Heslop remembers Jarman’s later days
• Total Magic (2019, 6 mins): production designer Christopher Hobbs looks back upon Jarman’s fascination with occult imagery
• After Neutron (2019, 8 mins): interview with Lee Drysdale
• The Best Mentor (2019, 9 mins): John Scarlett-Davis on Jarman’s artistic legacy
Glitterbug and Beyond (2019, 7 mins): James Mackay on the production of Glitterbug
• David Lewis Remembers Glitterbug (2019, 7 mins)
Bliss (1991, 40 mins, audio only): the London debut of the avant-garde live show that helped raise funds to produce Blue, featuring Derek Jarman and Tilda Swinton. This is another of my personal favourites as I was in the audience for this performance, and ended up meeting and chatting with Jarman after the gig. He later gave me some Super 8mm film to shoot my own experimental short, Cruising Headstones.
• Galleries

Michael Gough in The Wanderer

 

Orphée (1950) | Jean Cocteau’s fantasy masterpiece looks divine on Blu-ray

Poet, playwright, artist and filmmaker, Jean Cocteau was one of the most significant artists of the 20th-century and 1950’s Orphée, based on the classic legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, is regarded as his masterpiece. Following the film’s theatrical release last October by the BFI in the UK, it is now available on both Blu-ray and on iTunes.

THE STORY
Orpheus (Jean Marais), a famous left-bank poet in post-war Paris who is married to Eurydice (Marie Déa), sees fellow-poet Jacques Cegeste (Edouard Dermithe) knocked down and killed by a motorcyclist. Orpheus then meets Cegeste’s mysterious patron, The Princess (Marîa Casares) and, through her, discovers The Zone, a realm of death that Orpheus will come to know all too well…

Cocteau’s hypnotic fantasy was awarded the top prize at the 1950 Venice Film Festival, and its ingenious special effects and images (like the dissolving mirror through which characters pass into the next world) will stay with you long after the film itself is over.

Georges Auric’s music, Nicolas Hayer’s cinematography and Cocteau’s own simple but dynamic invention also greatly contribute to the look and feel of a most remarkable film.

Originally, Cocteau had considered asking Greta Garbo in the role of The Princess, but in the event 28-year-old Spanish actress Marîa Casares proved perfection.

For many years now I have owned and loved the Criterion Collection boxset of Cocteau’s Orphic Trilogy from 2005, in which The Blood of the Poet (1930) and Testament of Orpheus (1959) book-end Cocteau’s unrivalled 1950 masterpiece. But this new BFI release is just too good to resist – the print here looks (and sounds) simply divine and have a gander at the fantastic extras (all new except La villa Santo Sospir). Add this to your World Cinema collection now!

SPECIAL FEATURES
• Presented in High Definition
• Feature-length commentary by Roland-François Lack
• Jean Cocteau by Pierre Bergé and Dominque Marny (2008, 35 mins): the former and current presidents of the Jean Cocteau Committee provide a portrait of the filmmaker
• Memories of Filming by Jean-Pierre Mocky and Eric Le Roy (2008, 16 mins)
• Jean Cocteau and His Tricks (2008, 14 mins): assistant director Claude Pinoteau reveals the film’s visual tricks
• The Queer Family Tree – Reflections on Jean Cocteau (2018, 15 mins): director John Maybury on Cocteau’s influence on his own work and on queer cinema in general
• La villa Santo Sospir (1952, 38 mins): A short 16mm colour film lensed by Cocteau
• Theatrical trailer
• 2018 Re-release trailer
• Stills gallery
• Illustrated booklet featuring essays by Ginette Vincendeau, Deborah Allison and William Fowler

Beyond the Clouds (1995) | Michelangelo Antonioni’s final film is a reflective walk through love’s labour’s lost

Michelangelo Antonioni returned to his birthplace in Ferrara, Emilia Romagna for his directorial swansong, 1995’s Beyond the Clouds (Al di là delle nuvole), a gorgeous-looking quartet of erotic tales, co-directed by Wim Wenders, dealing with love and desire that harks back to auteur-lead anthology films like Spirits of the Dead and Boccaccio ’70.

Beyond the Clouds

From out of the clouds, an American film director (John Malkovich) arrives in Europe in search of inspiration for his next picture. What follows are four stories, each about the hypnotic effect women can have on men, including the director himself – who literally stalks Sophie Marceau’s husband killer in a deserted, off-season Portofino.

This really is Men Are from Mars, Women Are From Venus territory with each story adapted from a vignette in Antonioni’s 1986 book That Bowling Alley on the Tiber. But beware, as the director makes no excuses in portraying women the way he sees them, which means breasts and lots of them – exposed by some of Europe’s leading actresses.

Beyond the Clouds

In the first tale, set in the fog-shrouded streets of Ferrara, Silvano (Kim Rossi Stuart) meets Carmen (Ines Sastre) and asks her out on a date. But despite his attraction, he can’t follow through on his feelings for her. Cue: sex and some lovely scenery.

The film then moves to Paris, where New Yorker Roberto (Peter Weller speaking perfect French) starts an affair with an Italian girl (Chiara Caselli). But despite his stale marriage to the drunken Patricia (Fanny Ardant), he still loves her.

Also in Paris, Carlo (Jean Reno) arrives in his swanky apartment by the Seine to find his wife and furniture gone. When Ardant’s Patricia arrives to view the apartment, she reveals that she too has left her husband and taken the furniture as well. Cue: a caress, and the possibility of something new.

In the final – and best story of the feature – set in that French tourist Mecca, Aix-en-Provence, a young woman (Irene Jacob) leads the desperately-in-love Niccolo (Vincent Perez) on as he persistently follows her to church, unaware that she is to become a nun. No wonder some men turn gay, poor Niccolo.

Beyond the Clouds

Wim Wenders with Michelangelo Antonioni

Completed by Wenders after Antonioni suffered a stroke, Beyond the Clouds is a gentle, reflective walk through love’s labour’s lost – although Malkovich’s ponderings do get a little tiresome. Beautifully shot, with a terrific score (thanks to Van Morrison and U2), it also boasts a great cameo from Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau as two old-timers debating the worthiness of copying an artist’s work at the 1hr 16hr mark.

Beyond the Clouds is available on DVD from Second Sight (2009) and also screens at the BFI Southbank on Sunday 17 February and Thursday 21 February 2019 as part of their Antonioni season.

Pinter at the BBC | ‘If 628 minutes of this is too much you need to stay in more’ – Digging through the BFI’s 10 play DVD collection

Harold Pinter (1930-2008) was one of the most influential British playwrights of the last century. Pinter at the BBC is a 5-disc DVD box set containing 10 plays made for the BBC between 1965 and 1988, and featuring a dazzling array of British acting talent including Michael Gambon, Julie Walters, Leo McKern, Vivien Merchant, John Le Mesurier and Miranda Richardson. Highlights include Tea Party (1965), Old Times (1975) and The Birthday Party (1987), which sees a rare example of Pinter acting within his own work.

Released by the BFI on 28 January 2019, the plays are accompanied by a range of special features (see full list at the bottom of this post) and a 40-page collector’s booklet.

Guest reviewer Ali Pye has watched them all and here’s her take on the ‘Hackney oracle’…

It’s easy to see why Pinter endures. “The system’s wrong.” declares Roote some minutes into The Hothouse, an austere 5 hander set in what would appear to be an asylum, although there’s an absence of clarity on who exactly is running it. Christmas morning heralds timely resonance with the birth of a baby of uncertain paternity (there is a historical precedent) l and within some small hour or so the seemingly random murder of most of the staff. So far so relevant, only The Hothouse was written in 1958 and first produced in the early ‘80’s.

If ever a playwright predicted our junk-strewn, chaotic and narcissistic existence in broken Britain it was Pinter. We pace neurotically in dark towering silos, counting our steps and checking our likes, suffocated with fear and shot through with doubt, untrusting of friends and wary of families where brothers loom big.  As foretold by the Hackney oracle across a career encompassing 50 years and 29 plays.

Pinter at the BBC is released to loosely coincide with the 10th anniversary of the author’s death, which fell, with a Pinter-esque poignancy on Christmas Eve 2008. In the divisive decade since his concerns with politics, power and prestige, and the language in which these are negotiated has if anything increased quite dramatically (puns intended) in relevance.

This 5-disc set comprises of ten televised films from 1963 to 1988 with a striking confidence and dismal prophetic accuracy. In The Tea Party, Disson insists that the young would be-employee he interviews understands explicitly the role is that of “a very private secretary”, emphasis falling just hard enough to make ears attuned to #Metoo defensive linguistic wriggling prick up.

Constantly staged, the Harold Pinter Theatre on Panton St, SW1 is currently half way through a six month run of one hour double-bills, the medium of television injects an added intimacy and chill to the collection. The Basement, in which three people tussle for dominance, rooms and rivalry being a recurring theme, presents as such an overcrowded space that the camera appears jacked up. It is literally in the face of the performing Pinter himself (another monumental plus) and Derek Godfrey as they duel, literally and metaphorically, for the prizes, in no particular order, of the girl, the soft furnishings and the fish tank.

Tight focus pulls and disconcerting edits repeat.  The small screen frames the claustrophobia, the fish-eye lens, the scratchy fuzziness of Disson’s failing eyes reflecting his fractured perceptions in jarring static that disembodies the dialogue. The TV audience loses sight as the character does so. The perspective is uniquely interior.

In Mountain Language, a profoundly political piece influenced by the horrific treatment meted out by the Turkish regime to the 11 million Kurds and directed for the BBC by the author himself, the high, long, unflinching perspectives mimic security camera angles. As if CCTV footage were playing out in real time, which Pinter’s embracing of Amnesty International and a recent trip to Turkey with Arthur Miller had informed him was precisely the case.

The additional bonuses in the compilation practically define the word. The ICA interview (1987) at almost an hour catches Pinter responding to current affairs with increasing fury. His work had always been combative and concerned with power but the plays of the mid 80’s, the brutal Mountain Language and One for the Road (not in the set) bypassed ambiguity, depicting security guards and brutalised inmates in undefined high-wire prisons. But speaking in English and with names, when given, as commonplace and familiar Sara and Nicky.

Flora’s concern that not enough notice is being taken of “what grows in your garden….”  (A Slight Ache) suggests more than tutted irritation at a distracted husband who fails to identify the honeysuckle. Interpreting this as a strictly horticultural reference would suggest you are possibly watching the wrong compilation. A sinister silent shadow is at the gate. The stench is unbearable. There is a deepening, creeping and more pestilent rot.

Small nuggets abound. Besides the magnificent casting, John Le Mesurier giving an oddly sinister 7 minute cameo as an optician, Joan Plowright and Julie Waters conspiring for Stanley’s night to remember although it isn’t his birthday, Pinter directed two TV films and featured in two others himself. The breadth and scope never lets up across two decades. From basement, to tea party, to birthday party to hothouse Pinter wrote and the small screen acts as a prism, pinpointing with laser precision a landscape that suggests escape is impossible. If you think A Night Out is any more than a temporary release you would be proved wrong.

If 628 minutes of this is too much you need to stay in more.

Pinter at the BBC

THE PLAYS
• Tea Party (Charles Jarrot, 1965)
• A Slight Ache (Christopher Morahan, 1967)
• A Night Out (Christopher Morahan, 1967)
• The Basement (Charles Jarrot, 1967)
• Monologue (Christopher Morahan, 1972)
• Old Times (Christopher Morahan, 1975)
• The Hothouse (Harold Pinter, 1982)
• Landscape (Kenneth Ives, 1983)
• The Birthday Party (Kenneth Ives, 1987)
• Mountain Language (Harold Pinter, 1988)

SPECIAL FEATURES
• Writers in Conversation: Harold Pinter (1984, 47 mins): an ICA interview with Harold Pinter by Benedict Nightingale
• Pinter People (1969, 16 mins): a series of four animated films written by Harold Pinter
• Face-to-Face: Harold Pinter (1997, 39 mins): Sir Jeremy Isaacs interviews Harold Pinter, who discusses the images and events which have inspired some of his most powerful dramas
• Harold Pinter Guardian Interview (1996, 73 mins, audio only): an extensive interview with the legendary playwright by critic Michael Billington, recorded at the National Film Theatre
• Illustrated booklet with new writing by Michael Billington, John Wyver, Billy Smart, Amanda Wrigley, David Rolinson and Lez Cooke, and full film credits

Chung Kuo, China (1972) | Michelangelo Antonioni’s absorbing behind the bamboo curtain documentary

Chung Kuo China

In 1972, Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni was given the rare opportunity to film in China. It was an era of change for the isolated country, which was in the grip of Mao Zedong‘s Cultural Revolution, and Antonioni aimed to capture that. But his documentary, Chung Kuo, China, ended up being condemned by the Chinese authorities, and was banned in China, along with all of Antonioni’s films, until 2004.

Long regarded as something of a ‘holy grail’ of world cinema, Antonioni’s film is one of the few first-hand accounts of life behind the bamboo curtain in the 1970s. Apart from a screening at the BFI back in 2005, it’s rarely been seen in the UK, until Mr Bongo Films released it onto DVD in 2012. Now its being included in the BFI Southbank’s major retrospective of the celebrated film-maker’s work (Sunday 3 & 9 February 2019).

Using his trademark style (ie: lots of long takes), Antonioni and his small crew travelled the vast country, visiting Beijing, Nanjing, Suzhou, Shanghai and Henan along the way, to film everyday life as it happened. The result is a three and a half-hour long visual meditation on Chinese culture in which images of progress and development interact with those of peaceful Hutongs (many of which do not exist today) where children play and old men practice their T’ai Chi.

With sparing use of voice-over (Antonioni’s own) and no scored soundtrack, Antonioni allows his camera to do all the work. This is most apparent in the Beijing section. Now, anyone who has visited the city will be familiar with the over-crowded streets and excessive air pollution caused by industry and car fumes. Back in 1972, however, Beijing was a different place altogether. While the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square still loomed, the streets surrounding them were much quieter with just the sound of bike bells ringing in the distance.

With so much change that has gone on since Mao’s Cultural Revolution, Antonioni’s documentary must be one of the most important visual documents of a defining period in modern China. It might take a few sittings to get through, but it will certainly leave you thinking, ‘What those people have seen’.

For more information about the BFI’s Antonioni Season, check it out HERE

La signora senza camelie (1953) and Le amiche (1955) | Michelangelo Antonioni’s early dramas shine a light on Fifties Italian womenhood

le amiche

Michelangelo Antonioni, who is getting a major retrospective at the BFI Southbank in January and February 2019, belonged to that elite group of Italian film-makers who made a huge impact on world cinema following the Second World War.

Best known for maverick fare like L’avventura, Blow Up and Zabriskie Point in the liberated 1960s and 1970s, Antonioni actually honed his unique vision in a series of wry character studies of Italian mores in the conservative 1950s.

Back in 2011, Eureka! Entertainment released newly-restored versions of two significant features from the celebrated film-maker as part of their Masters of Cinema series in which the director moved away from neo-realism – the dominate style of 1940s Italian cinema – to try his hand at new techniques of story-telling.

1953’s La signora senza camelie (The Lady Without Camelias) – one of the most insightful films about cinema ever made – tells the story of a former shop assistant called Clara Manni (Lucia Bosé) who finds herself thrust into movie stardom.

Clara has incredible beauty, but little talent or assertiveness to survive in the male-dominated film-making world that Antonioni portrays as fickle, frivolous and lacking in soul. But despite the disappointments and humiliations Clara encounters in both her career as an actress and in her loveless marriage to the wealthy, jealous Gianni, she is a woman whose inner resilience shines through.

The Lady Without Camelias

La signora senza camelie – a play on Alexander Dumas’s famous romantic work, The Lady of the Camellias – is a carefully-crafted character study about a woman out of sorts with her environment (a theme that would recur in Antonioni’s subsequent works). It’s also an opportunity for the director to poke a stick at the film-making process – in particular, Rome’s Cinecittà – making this a great companion piece to Minnelli’s Hollywood melodrama The Bad and the Beautiful (made the previous year) and Godard’s introspective art piece Le Mépris (made a decade later).

1955’s Le amiche (The Girlfriends) looks like a rehearsal for Antonioni’s masterworks. Adapted from Cesare Pavese‘s novella, Le amiche charts the story of Clelia (Eleonora Rossi-Drago), a successful dressmaker who returns to her native city of Torino (Turin) where she becomes involved with a group of wealthy women. But she soon finds herself torn between the conservative world of her working-class origins and the glamorous environment in which she now resides. It is only when one of her new friends commits suicide that she realises she belongs in neither.

La amiche

In this character-driven snapshot of the lives of five women, Antonioni experimented with a radical new style which would become his trademark: instead of the normal narrative structure, he presented a series of seemingly disconnected events – often using long, carefully framed, takes. This gives him the chance to explore each character and their own personal journey. It’s a tad stagy and experimental (his ideas would finally pay off in 1960’s L’avventura), but remains absorbing.

Both La signora senza camelie and le amiche address the role of women in modern Italian society. Over half a century later, they still have something to say and are now a window on an Italian landscape (both human and otherwise) that has changed so dramatically over time. For cineastes familiar with Antonioni’s better-known works, this pairing is the epitome of the director’s 1950’s period.

The Lady Without Camelias screens Saturday 12 January at the BFI Southbank, while Le amiche has four separate screenings, with the first on Wednesday 9 January. To book and for more information, check out the full season HERE

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