Ian McKellen is wickedly witty as the withered-armed king Richard III in this powerful adaptation that packs a punch and then some…
When it comes to film adaptations of Shakespeare, it’s Baz Luhrman’s Romeo & Juliet, Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V and Lawrence Olivier’s Hamlet that first come to mind. But 1995’s Richard III should really be counted among them.
Ian McKellen might be better known for playing Gandalf and Magneto in the blockbuster Lord of the Rings and X-Men franchises, but the knighted stage thespian admits he might not have got those parts had it not been for this labour of love, which he wrote the screenplay for based on the successful stage production that he also starred in.
Sporting a pencil-thin moustache, flat 1930s-styled greased and combed hair, and dressed in fascist military attire, his power-crazed Richard, Duke of Gloucester is a clever creation, witty and wicked, yet monstrously mad. He is the tyrant personified, whose deformities (twisted spine, dodgy eye and war-damaged scarred face) cause disgust in others and, in turn, are the root of his wickedness – as is hatred for his abusive mother (played by Dame Maggie Smith in full Downton Abbey mode). And he invites us to become part of his evil schemes by fixing us with his dodgy eye and breaking the fourth wall to utter some of Shakespeare’s most memorable prose.
McKellen has made a career out of playing Shakespeare on stage, so he knows how to craft a screenplay that remains true to the Bard’s words. But he’s ditched the archaic, which not only makes the verse more accessible, it serves to highlight Shakespeare’s ingenuity.
Director Richard Loncraine brings a cinematic eye that makes a perfect fit to McKellen’s vision. By dressing the tragedy in the aesthetic of the Third Reich, he shines a light on the pure evil at the heart of Richard’s devious agenda that results in his bloody, brief, rise to dictatorship.
But while Shakespeare and McKellen are the big draw in this condensed cartoon-like confection, so are the magnificent London locations, including those Brutalist beauties, Bankside and Battersea Power Stations, and the Art Deco Senate House at the University of London, which help give the film a grand sense of scale on a modest budget.
Featuring an all-star cast, including Kristin Scott Thomas, Robert Downey Jr, Annette Bening, Jim Broadbent, Nigel Hawthorne, a young Dominic West, plus lots of future Downton Abbey faces, Richard III gets a timely release on dual format following a re-master from the BFI. The special extras include a new audio commentary with McKellen and Loncraine, an engrossing 79-minute BFI lecture by McKellen about Shakespeare on stage and screen, and an illustrated booklet with an essay by McKellen. An annotated screenplay is also included as a pdf (on the DVD).
Rocco and His Brothers (1960) | Lucino Visconti’s working class melodrama is a gritty, gripping masterpiece
From Eureka Entertainment comes the worldwide Blu-ray release of Luchino Visconti’s melodramatic 1960 masterpiece Rocco and His Brothers.
In 1950s Italy, recently widowed Rosaria Parondi (Katina Paxinou) and her four sons, Simone (Renato Salvatori), Rocco (Alain Delon), Ciro (Max Cartier) and Luca (Rocco Vidolazzi), leave their impoverished home in Bari in the south for metropolitan Milan where they hope to lodge with their eldest brother Vincenzo (Spiros Focás). But, on discovering he is to be engaged to young Ginetta (Claudia Cardinale) without her consent, Rosario makes a scene that insults his potential in-laws.
Finding temporary housing in the basement of an unheated block of flats, the family struggles to fit into a city where southerners are treated with the utmost disdain. Simone and Rocco soon begin to train as boxers, while Ciro sets about studying, and Vincenzo begins a family with Ginetta. Over time, however, Rosaria finds her southern values challenged, while her sons’ tight-knit bond becomes sorely tested…
Taking inspiration from the novel Il Ponte della Ghisolfa by Giovanni Testori, Lucino Visconti weaves a working class melodrama that might seem grim, grey and angry on the surface, but it’s full of intensity and energy borne out by the sublime performances of Alain Delon, Renato Salvatori and Annie Girardot, whose characters are at the heart of this powerful, often violent tale of love, passion and morality.
Delon delivers one of his finest roles as the noble Rocco, a gentle soul who will go to the ends of the Earth to save his boxer brother Simone from the moral abyss that confronts him. Playing Caine to Delon’s Abel, Salvatori is a standout: raw, rough and the epitome of wounded pride; and as the spirited prostitute in love with both brothers, Girardot is totally captivating and makes for a truly tragic screen heroine. (Incidentally, Girardot and Salvatori married two years later).
But watch out for Katina Paxinou, her protective matriarch Rosario is the Italian mother personified. Her scene unleashing her wrath (complete with southern dialect profanties and gestures) on Girardot’s Nadia is one of the film’s most memorable, and identifiable, moments.
The film’s social statements may walk a thin line at times, but Visconti brings a neo-realist eye and an operatic sensibility to his episodic epic that grips you until the bittersweet end. But kudos go to cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno’s film for bringing Visconti’s powerful imagery to luminous life. From the framing of the film’s four male stars in all their masculine beauty to the sweeping city vistas; and from the dark side-streets and shadow-lit boxing ring to Milan’s deserted Ravizza park where the film’s most violent scenes play out, Rotunno’s monochrome camerawork is breathtaking, while Nina Rota’s hypnotic jazz score is an atmospheric highlight.
Eureka’s Blu-ray, released as part of The Masters of Cinema series, features a HD presentation of the film (which reinstates two scenes cut by the censors) from a new 4k restoration, which also feature the following extras…
- Optional English subtitles
- Two audio choices; the original Italian, and the French dub
- Les coulisses du tournage, a 2003 French documentary about the film
- 1999 interview with cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno
- Interview with actress Claudia Cardinale
- 2002 interview with actress Annie Girardot
- Luchino Visconti: A 60min documentary about the director’s life and career
- Two vintage newsreels
- Original Italian trailer
Would YOU give a home to a girl like Luci?
When her mother Liz (Diana Dors) commits suicide, 15-year-old Luci (Linda Hayden) leaves the Lancashire slums to live with Liz’s former lover, Robert Quayle (Keith Barron), and his family at their posh Hampton Court home. Haunted by her mother’s death and overawed by her new surroundings, Luci swings between depression and excitement, but her arrival also brings out deep-seated fears, guilt and desires within her adoptive family whom she seduces and ultimately destroys…
Sex, class and teenage fury!
Adapted from a novel by Tina Chad Christian, Baby Love was released in the UK at the same time as Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema, and both share the same central theme of a stranger who destroys a family and its societal values from within. Fuse that with a disturbing Lolita-styled story, a cracking cast and excellent colour photography and you have one helluva film. When it was released in 1968, it was the UK’s 11th most popular film of the year. Today, it’s ripe for rediscovery.
The opening titles certainly lets the viewer in on what to expect. It starts with droplets, followed by a trickle, then the viewer is showered with the full force of its fury in an explosive finale which is set in motion with the chilling line: ‘Don’t you want to play with your little doll?’ And the doll in question is Linda Hayden, who brings great depth and sensitivity to her troubled character, Luci, who alternates from being a lost child yearning for love to a sensual young woman testing the boundaries of her burgeoning sexuality. Hayden, who was herself just 15 at the time, would go onto star in the cult horror classics, Taste the Blood of Dracula for Hammer (1970) and Blood on Satan’s Claw for Tigon (1971), as well as the Confessions… sex comedies for Michael Klinger, the producer of Baby Love. But this is her finest hour.
Every scene builds an atmosphere of tension, and that’s down to the imaginative direction, tight editing and evocative camera work. Diana Dors’ death scene in a steamed up bathroom and the cat paws dripping her blood will stay with me forever. Director Alastair Reid later won a Bafta for Traffik (1990), while editor John Glen is best known for his work on eight Bond movies and veteran cinematographer Desmond Dickinson for his luminous lensing of Olivier’s Hamlet (1948).
Class and sexuality intertwine in the dark and disturbing drama. The artifice of British middle class values is ripped apart (most noticeably in a scene involving a drunken pool party in which Dick Emery plays it straight and very sleazy), while Luci’s exhibitionism is an overt comment on the sexual revolution happening in Britain at the time.
And it’s through sex that Luci discovers she can get what she wants, and its best summed up in the line: ‘I’m going to paint my face and paint and paint and be utterly evil’. She’s a tease to Robert’s son Nick (Derek Lamden), and stirs something forbidden in Robert’s wife Amy (expertly played by Ann Lynn). The secret sexual liaison that develops between them is disturbing (for the viewer), but liberating (for Amy). Although avoiding being exploitative, the film’s treatment of lesbianism follows that of The Children’s Hour (1961) and The Killing of Sister George (1968) – as something tragic. But Luci’s ultimate goal is Robert (Keith Barron at his brittle best). Luci resents him for abandoning her mother. Everything could have been so different for her. But is this really all for revenge sake or does her presence just reveal the fragile cracks that already exist in the Quayle household?
THE UK DVD RELEASE
Released on DVD in the UK as part Network’s The British Film collection, Baby Love is presented in a brand-new transfer from the original elements and includes an image gallery and press materials in pdf format.
DID YOU KNOW?
Sir Christopher Wren’s former home in East Molesey stands in the family’s Hampton Court home, while the film also makes effective use of Richmond Lock and Twickenham Bridge, as well as London’s Bond Street and Hanover Square. The film’s theme song is performed by 1960s soft rock band KATCH22 during a disco scene, and was released on the album Major Catastrophe.
* photos courtesy of The Michael Klinger Papers, University of West of England
More (1969) & The Panic in Needle Park (1971) | Love and heroin create a deadly cocktail in two cinema greats that will have you hooked
First up is Barbet Schroeder’s More, which created quite a stir on its release back in 1969, and has since gained a cult following – notably because of its Pink Floyd soundtrack and Ibiza setting. Next up is director Jerry Schatzberg’s The Panic In Needle Park, which came out two years later and starred Al Pacino in his breakout role, and was equally controversial because of its realistic portrayal of heroin addicts in New York City.
Despite their different geographic locations and cinematic approach, the two films are both about wildly passionate love affairs fuelled by a shared addiction to heroin, and both explore the characters’ relationship with their particular setting.
In More, the island of Ibiza, a picture-postcard paradise of azure blue skies, emerald seas and dazzling white-washed houses, becomes the backdrop for German student Stefan (Klaus Grunberg) to seek out Estelle (Mimsy Farmer), an enigmatic young woman he briefly meets in Paris. Despite warnings to stay clear of the secretive girl, Stefan is spellbound and tracks her down on the island. When Estelle steals a stash of ‘horse’ (the street name for heroin at the time) from local bigwig Wolf, she convinces Stefan to try some. But just as Stefan’s love for Estelle is all consuming, so is the drug. Soon Stefan is hooked and when Wolf hunts the couple down, he is forced to work for Wolf to pay back what Estelle stole.
In stark contrast to Ibiza’s sun-drenched beaches, The Panic in Needle Park takes place in a real-life section of New York City’s Upper West Side, which was infamous for being a haven for drug addicts in the 1970s. Here, with car horns blaring and people racing about, small time hustler Bobby (Al Pacino) introduces the naïve, restless Helen (Kitty Winn) to his world of dealing and scoring. Helen’s growing addiction is played out in coffee shops, seedy hotels, back alleys and the local jail where she and Bobby both end up spending time before returning to life on the streets. But where More ends abruptly, and tragically, The Panic in Needle Park shows an addict’s life is a constant cycle of big ups and major downs.
Being phobic about needles, the hardest thing for me to watch were the scenes involving actual drug injections (it was these scenes that made the films so controversial when they were first released). And they still retain their power, especially Panic with its inventive documentary approach and all-too realistic performances from Pacino and Winn (who won a Best Actress award at Cannes for her role).
The Panic in Needle Park and More may be relentlessly grim in their outlook, but they still fascinate and their themes are just as valid in today’s society. In fact, they should be mandatory in any anti-drug campaigns in schools.
The 2011 dual format BFI release of More contains a re-mastered print of the film and a newly commissioned 17-minute documentary on the story behind it; plus trailers for Schroeder’s films other including La Vallée and Maîtresse, illustrated booklet, biographies, and notes on the Pink Floyd soundtrack.
The 2011 Second Sight release of The Panic in Needle Park is the film’s first-ever UK widescreen release, and includes some very informative interviews with director Schatzberg (who originally tested Robert De Niro for the role of Bobby), cinematographer Adam Holender (who lensed Midnight Cowboy), and writer Joan Didion (who talks about what is was like researching the script in the actual locations which have now been totally gentrified).[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RV-M-ryiDJw%5D [youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNeN9ZU2CSM%5D