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Walkabout | Nicolas Roeg’s enigmatic coming-of-age story shimmers in 4K on Blu-ray

Following the suicide of their father (John Meillon), 16-year-old Mary (Jenny Agutter) and her seven-year-old brother Peter (Luc Roeg) are left stranded in the vast Australian outback. But their salvation comes when they cross paths with an Aboriginal boy (David Gulpilil) on his rite of passage ‘walkabout’. He teaches them how to survive in the wilderness, but a clash of cultures leads to tragic consequences…

1971’s Walkabout is one of the best films ever made about Australia – but was actually directed by a non-Australian. Nicolas Roeg brings his trademark enigmatic approach in both his visuals and his story-telling, which was mostly improvised from Edward Bonds’ 14-page adaptation of James Vance Marshall’s 1959 novel. Taking centre stage is the great Australian landscape, which Roeg lenses to hauntingly magnificent effect in order to build his themes about our destructive Western society and the loss of innocence.

The young cast is ideally suited to their roles: especially Luc Roeg (the director’s son) who doesn’t so much act the part of the grounded, yet curious Peter, but totally is the part (I actually wanted to trade places with him as he learns so much); as is Yolngu traditional dancer Gulpilil (making his acting debut, age 16) who brings much of his own heritage to his role, most significantly a courtship dance that would normally never be witnessed outside his community. Agutter, meanwhile, is the perfect embodiment of the young girl on the cusp of adulthood. But special mention must go to the legendary John Meillon, whose brief role calls to mind another film about Australia made by a non-Australian that was also released in 1971 – Wake in Fright.

Like all of Roeg’s films, Walkabout met with mixed reviews on its release in 1971, but has gone on to become a seminal classic loved by audiences and critics alike – and is one the 50 films you should see by the age of 14 (according to the British Film Institute). And the best way to revisit this masterpiece is with Second Sight Films stunning Limited Edition Blu-ray (out on 31 August), which features a brand new 4K scan and restoration and a host of extras, including Marshall’s novel, a first draft script book and a collector’s book with new essays by Sophie Monks Kaufman, Simon Abrams and Daniel Bird.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• Brand new 4K scan and restoration
• A new audio commentary with Luc Roeg and David Thomson
• Producing Walkabout: A new interview with Producer Si Litvinoff
• Luc’s Walkabout: A new interview with Luc Roeg
• Jenny in the Outback: a new interview with Jenny Agutter
• Remembering Roeg: a new interview with Danny Boyle
• 2011 BFI Q&A with Nicolas Roeg, Jenny Agutter and Luc Roeg
• Archive introduction by Nicolas Roeg
• English SDH subtitles for the hearing impaired

The System (1964) | Michael Winner’s dark drama starring Oliver Reed on Blu-ray

From Indicator comes the limited edition World Blu-ray premiere of Michael Winner’s 1964 drama, The System.

The first film on which star Oliver Reed and director Michael Winner collaborated (they later made The Jokers, I’ll Never Forget What’s ‘Is Name and Hannibal Brooks ), this is a bitter little essay on class and youth that deserves more recognition.

Reed plays Tinker, a photographer based in the fictional Devon seaside town of Roxham who, each summer, passes on the names of holidaymakers and local lasses to his out-of-towner mates – for a fee, of course. It’s all a bit of harmless fun, but his system turns sour when he tries to woo Nicola (Jane Merrow), the daughter of a wealthy local businessman…

Making great use of the coastal locations (including Brixham Harbour, Paignton Beach and Torquay) and gloriously shot (in black and white) by Nicolas Roeg, The System features a plethora of embryonic British talent, including John Alderton, Derek Nimmo and David Hemmings – who all looking incredibly slim and youthful, while Harry Andrews turns in a powerful character study as a surly photo-shop owner. Reed is perfectly cast here as the ‘Girl-Getters’ leader, and imbues his Tinker with great depth (plus a bit of own notoriously wild personality); while Jane Merrow brings an icy coolness to her fiercely independent heroine that will make you sit up a take notice.

On a trivia note, it was this film that first popularised the word ‘grockle’ – West Country slang for a tourist; and ‘boy!’ do screenwriter Peter Draper and director Michael Winner have great fun taking the mickey out of the stereotypes of the day (who favoured baggy clothing with handkerchiefs on their heads). Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)’s Mike Pratt wrote the catchy theme tune, which is sung by the Merseybeat combo, The Searchers. Winner’s previous film before this was West 11 (read my review here).

SPECIAL FEATURES:
• High Definition remaster
• Original mono audio
• Audio commentary with film historians Thirza Wakefield and Melanie Williams
Getting the Girl (2019, 18 mins): interview with actor Jane Merrow
Drinking and Dancing (2019, 6 mins): interview with actor John Porter-Davison
Fun and Games (2019, 4 mins): interview with actor Jeremy Burnham
Haunted England (1961, 24 mins): Winner’s Eastmancolor travelogue about stately homes and other famous places with ghostly tales to tell, hosted by broadcaster David Jacobs
• Image gallery
• New and improved English subtitles
• Collector’s booklet with essays on the film and Haunted England, contemporary critical responses, and film credits.

 

 

Track 29 | Nicolas Roeg and Dennis Potter’s bizarre psycho-drama gets a world Blu-ray premiere release

Freely adapted from Dennis Potter’s 1974 BBC TV play Schmoedipus, this weird psycho-drama sees director Nicolas Roeg toying with his audience as he describes the hallucinations of a mind going off the rails.

Theresa Russell (making her fourth of six films with her director husband) is Linda, the unhappy wife to Dr Henry Henry (Christopher Lloyd) who is more interested in his model trains than her. As Linda contemplates suicide, demons torment her, chiefly the vision of a strange English hitch-hiker Martin (Gary Oldman) who says he’s her long-lost son…

Oldman (doing a satanic variation on Norman Wisdom) is the dynamo that galvanises this bizarre black comedy into life. Overloaded with arthouse conceits bordering on the pretentious, this is Roeg at his most Roegish, and probably the weirdest ever film to be produced by George Harrison’s Hand Made Films. Look out for some suitably surreal supporting turns from Sandra Bernhard and Colleen Camp.

The Indicator limited edition world premiere Blu-ray release includes the following features…

• High Definition remaster
• Original stereo audio
• The NFT Interview with Nicolas Roeg (1994, 68min): archival audio recording
• Audio commentary with filmmaker and historian Jim Hemphill
Postcards from Cape Fear (2019, 18min): actor Colleen Camp on working with Nicolas Roeg
On the Right Track (2019, 10min): interview with editor Tony Lawson
An Air of Mystery (2019, 6min): interview with costume designer Shuna Harwood
Buzz and Gossip (2019, 15min): interview with sound mixer David Stephenson
• Isolated music & effects track
• Original theatrical trailer
• Image gallery
• New and improved English subtitles
• Exclusive booklet with a new essays, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and film credits

Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker | Clive Donner’s spellbinding film adaptation gets a newly restored BFI release

The Caretaker

The Caretaker remains one of Harold Pinter’s most famous works. This study of shared illusion, tragic dispossession and the fraternal bond of unspoken love, combines the magic of Pinter’s dialogue with some mesmerising performances from Alan Bates, Donald Pleasence and Robert Shaw into a spellbinding film, sensitively directed by Clive Donner and shot by Nicolas Roeg, which is now out in a dual format release from the BFI, presented in a newly-restored print and with a host of extras (check them out at the end of this post).

Here, guest reviewer Ali Pye gives her low down on Pinter, the play, the film and the BFI release…

Harold Pinter was in the right place at the wrong time. A schoolboy witness to the World War II carpet-bombing of London’s East End, his response to such violence placed him as one of the angrier young men on the writing spectrum. By the late 1950’s he was well on the way to blowing the bloody doors off.

The Caretaker was his first commercial theatrical success. Burrowing upwards through inner city post-war debris like a weed, spare, sparse, resilient, it debuted in April 1960 and was feted first off the Charing Cross Road later transferring to Broadway. Regardless however of such glittering cosmopolitan acclaim, the blunt 3 hander set in a single cluttered room remained very much grounded among the bricks and bric-a-brac of down-at-heel Hackney. It was in this borough, where Pinter was born and schooled, that Clive Donner assembled an artist/actor collective and camera crew in late 1962, filming during the coldest winter on record.

Underwritten with donations from British stars of stage and screen, the project was an early GoFundMe fifty years before the concept existed. Each benefactor supplied £1000. Twice that could get you a fourth floor bedsit in Islington within thieving distance of the library. There is little imagination required to explain the empathy behind Peter Sellers’ backing, solitary child of a nomadic theatre family whose shallow roots had dug into the similarly bleak soil of East Finchley. Noel Coward and Elizabeth Taylor’s subscriptions suggest some less personal forces at work.

Shot entirely on location around Clapton, the outer parameters of The Caretaker are the distance a man could trudge from Mare Street in ill-fitting shoes. And no further. Despite the freedoms allowed by film at a time when it was not possible to get a van on stage at the Arts Club, even if had Pinter written one in, the piece remains chillingly claustrophobic. Three men, most usually in dual combinations and head-on, shuffle about the confined space of the upstairs bolt hole arguing status, standing, sheds, Sidcup and seagrass, never more than a few feet apart.

It is a tale full of sound and fury. And in part seemingly told by a madman.

One bitter winter evening, the homeless and dispossessed Davis is saved from a good kicking by a taciturn stranger, Aston and taken into his home. Initially disconcerted by the kindness, the tramp sets about negotiating residency in the rambling, ramshackle property in which, if care is taken, he may find permanent refuge. The garrulous and distracting Mick, Aston’s brother appears to offer alternative terms, although it’s a word game with much the same end.

Amid the chaotic and haphazardly piled junk hoarded by Aston, an ice-cold stove dominates the room. Even if the window were not open, at times with the snow flurrying down outside, diffusing the stench from the unwashed vagrant, there is no possibility of warmth or comfort.

“It’s not connected.” Explains Aston when pressed for a cup of tea.

A lack of connection pervades. Very much more than the cooker appears isolated and without purpose. Aston has entirely withdrawn following a non-specific institutionalisation. The blistering details of his shock therapy are recalled in an uncomfortably invasive single shot. Actor Robert Shaw’s eyelids twitch as he stumbles over the violation at the hospital somewhere “outside London”. For a film in which site-specific references come along more regularly than the #30 bus (via Highbury Corner), with journeys “down the Essex Road to Dalston Junction” taking on a mythic quality and Micks’ knowledge of hump backed bridges on the A2 almost encyclopaedic, there is no safe travelling outside the room resulting in terminus nor arrival nor completion. An offer to drive to Sidcup and collect finally ”the papers” that underpin Davis’ inconstant grasp of identity sees Mick’s van swerving pointlessly around a circular layby, depositing the old man back at the bench from which he started out some half a minute earlier.

Where the film can free itself from the immediate physical confines of the attic, Donner does so with a delicate poignancy. On the page the brothers share only two brief scenes together tight amid clutter under the steeple eaves. On the screen they are granted a soundless and affecting moment of reflection above a frozen pond in a winter garden, seen from a distance, indistinct, and tellingly through glass, the sacking-draped top storey window serving to emphasise we look through a camera lens and not straight at a stage.

The music too suggests an inhospitable landscape. Ron Grainer’s disconcerting soundtrack is high pitched scratching, screeching and oddly resonant metallic drips into a tin bucket tied to the ceiling. An echo of the bitter cold outside and in, there is barely a scene not underscored by grating electronic slides as if thin ice were cracking underfoot.

Davis’ obsession with bags and boots, the detritus of a wandering street life calls to mind, inevitably, other tramps from drama of the period. But the nifty pace of Donner’s film, despite long low shots across bedsteads and pipes and years’ worth of newspapers bound in carefully knotted string, ensures we never focus merely on the hiatus. This is much more than a wait between pauses. Donner’s low angles, the splintered lighting and unflinching close-ups are suggestive of a thriller.

Of the three actors, Pleasence, Bates and Shaw, the two former had developed their characters in The Arts Theatre in 1960 and taken them right across the Atlantic. The film-set off Lower Clapton Road must have felt like a homecoming. Pleasence, at forty-four some thirty years younger than the vagrant he portrays, is bundled in patchwork layers of castoffs and coats. Davis resembles nothing more than a tatterdemalion onion, the peeling of which may lead to a concrete identity thus saving the bother of schlepping to Sidcup.

Fear of the foreign, fear of the other and fear of each other all collide in The Caretaker. The film is an unsettling watch catching an unsettled time. The 60’s were not yet swinging but the oddly visionary consortium backing the production, Peter Hall and Richard Burton by no means the least likely pairing, suggest a pendulum movement starting to oscillate. Grainer, the composer of the shard-shattering and unsettling falls was already tinkering with the theme for a forthcoming BBC series. The pilot show in autumn 1963 would feature another ungrounded senior gentleman of dubious provenance and a box smaller on the outside.

Shuffling through freezing early dusk, passing the time that would have passed anyway, Davis is illuminated in the doorway of the Hackney Empire theatre, a welcome blaze of light in a feature lit for the best part by a single bulb on a wire. The back bar where some years earlier an out of work writer named Milligan had encountered a barely in work radio actor named Sellers and comedy history began a gestation.

The Caretaker formed in this crucible, penned by the master of the theatre of menace, part financed by a Goon, scored by the genius who could hear the sound of a TARDIS barrelling through time. Director Donner’s brief was to run with it. He didn’t go far. Balls Pond Road was the outer limit.

This glorious restoration reminds us that expansion need not be dilution. In the hands of an inventive creative (and there were enough involved as a stills photo of Noel Coward hemmed between lighting gaffers on the set sofa bed during production reminds us) a piece so static and rooted and constrained can soar with effortless flight well beyond the derelict geography. An early and brilliant example of thinking outside the box (room).

THE BFI DUAL FORMAT RELEASE
• Newly restored from the original camera negative by the BFI, and presented here in High Definition and Standard Definition
• Audio commentary by actor Alan Bates, director Clive Donner and producer Michael Birkett (2002)
• Introduction by critic and author Michael Billington (2002, 6 mins)
On Location with The Caretaker (1962, 4 mins): an extract from the TV series This Week in Britain
The Caretaker: From Play Into Film (2002, 17 mins):a video essay by Michael Billington, using materials donated by Clive Donner to the BFI National Archive
• US opening titles (1963, 2 mins): the opening title sequence from the US where the film was released as The Guest
• Last To Go (1969, 6 mins): the last of five animated shorts directed by Gerald Potterton for Pinter People, voiced by Harold Pinter and Donald Pleasence
Harold Pinter’s Play Discussed by Clive Donner (1973, 47 mins): the BAFTA-winning director discusses his adaptation of The Caretaker
Stills Gallery
• Ilustrated booklet with new essay by critic and author Amy Simmons, writing by Michael Billington and Clive Donner and full film credits (first pressing only)

David Bowie honoured in London with two 40th-anniversary screenings of The Man Who Fell to Earth

The Man Who Fell to Earth

To mark the 40th anniversary of the UK release of director Nicolas Roeg’s iconic sci-fi, The Man Who Fell to Earth, a new director’s approved 4k restoration is being released into London cinemas on 9 September, with a Collector’s Edition Blu-ray and DVD following on 24 October.

earth_5

Featuring a career defining lead performance from David Bowie and based on the cult novel by Walter Tevis, The Man Who Fell to Earth endures as, not only a bitingly caustic indictment of the modern world but, also, a poignant commentary on the loneliness of the outsider.

Friday 9 September has been declared a one-off David Bowie day by Curzon Soho as part of their campaign to save the cinema from demolition. After a special Save Curzon Soho edition of David Bowie Is Walking In Soho tour of the Thin White Duke’s locations, you can enjoy a special screening of The Man Who Fell to Earth introduced by its costume designer May Routh. Book tickets here.

Meanwhile, over in Hackney on the same night, Oscar-winning Director Danny Boyle introduces a special screening at Hackney Picturehouse. This is one of his favourite films and he has often sited Nicolas Roeg as a key influence on his career (he even referred to the film in the London Olympic opening ceremony). Book tickets here.

The Man Who Fell to Earth

For more on the Collector’s Edition release, check out: www.facebook.com/vintageclassicsfilm

And there’s more… The original soundtrack album will be released for first time on CD on 9 September and on vinyl on 28 October; while the musical Lazarus, inspired by Walter Tevis’ novel, debuts at the Kings Cross Theatre, London from 25 October. Check it out here: lazarusmusical.com. Plus, a book on the making of the film, limited to just 1000 copies, is available for pre-order from 27 August: www.themanwhofelltoearth.co.uk

White of the Eye (1987) | Donald Cammell’s rarely screened psycho drama is arthouse cinema sublime

White of the Eye cover

THE ONLY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A HUNTER AND A KILLER… IS HIS PREY
In the former copper-mining town of Globe, Arizona, a woman has been found brutally murdered in her home. Detective Charles Mendoza (Art Evans) travels from Tucson to investigate. High on his list of suspects is Paul White (David Keith), an opera-loving hi-fi repairman whose wife Joan (Cathy Moriarty) soon has good reason to fear her husband is not be all that he appears…

Donald Cammell's White of the Eye

ANOTHER ULTIMATE PERFORMANCE
With its über cool 1980s style magazine imagery, grainy flashbacks, rapid edits, sublime steadicam shots and other artistic flourishes, White of the Eye is certainly not you run-of-the-mill slasher, and greatly echoes director Donald Cammell’s best-known work, Performance, which he made alongside Nicolas Roeg – another maverick 1970s director with penchant for the bizarre.

Donald Cammell's White of the Eye

Heaped with symbolism drawing on Apache Indian lore and the black holes of astrophysics, the desert-set thriller speaks more about metaphysics than mystery, nevertheless it’s an accomplished, enthralling piece of arthouse cinema, and gives Cathy Moriarty and David Keith their career-best performances. Set to an eclectic score co-written by Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason, White of the Eye is a dazzling, hypnotic trip into mind of one of cinema’s true one-offs.

Donald Cammell's White of the Eye

THE UK ARROW VIDEO RELEASE
The UK dual format release of the restored print (taken directly from the original camera negative) is the first time that the film has been released on Blu-ray in the UK.

Arrow Video’s Francesco Simeoni said: ‘Donald Cammell was such an unfortunate filmmaker, side-lined by critics who thought Nicolas Roeg was the creative force behind Performance, projects which would never come to fruition, studio interference and personal problems, his life was arguably more famous than his films. White of the Eye is possibly his most problem free film, though even this film suffered cuts, which we have included, although sadly no sound could be found. Though the film was cut, Cammell never commented, at least publicly, about his dissatisfaction with this decision by distributor Cannon. With a gorgeous new restoration of the negative and a bevy of supplements, we are very proud to make this sensational film available to the UK once again.’

THE EXTRAS
Donald Cammell: The Ultimate Performance documentary (73min, 1998)
• Commentary by Donald Cammell’s biographer Sam Umland
The Argument (1972), Donald Cammell short with an optional commentary by Sam Umland
Into the White:  an interview with co-cinematographer Larry McConkey
• Deleted scenes, with an optional commentary by Sam Umland
• Flashback scenes before the bleach bypass process was applied
• Original opening credits featuring John Diehl, an actor cut from the final film
• Theatrical trailer
• Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork by Nathanael Marsh
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Brad Stevens and Sam Umland

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