Monday 30 July 2018

On Blu-ray - David Hare reports on the latest restoration, published so far only by Criterion, of A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, UK, 1946)

Kim Hunter
Kim Hunter as June (above top two screens), David Niven as Peter Carter (below), Marius Goring as Conductor 71 with far too much pancake and lippy (further below), muttering in this shot "one is starved for Technicolor up there". And Roger Livesey as Doctor Frank (lowest) in the new Criterion Blu-ray of Powell & Pressburger's first post-war movie, A Matter of Life and Death from 1946. 
David Niven
This gorgeous new transfer is taken from a brand new 4K restoration, taken itself from Sony's 2004 photochemical film restoration which itself was, in every video incarnation terribly weak and thin in that encode of the original elements. The new disc, so far only released in Region A stateside by Criterion with licencing from Sony and Park Circus is the first and only Blu so far. The disc is what can barely adequately be called a total killer. 
Marius Goring
The movie is held in huge regard by many P&P enthusiasts, although I have never cared for it nearly as much as several other works from their canon. The top of my own Powell pile sees I Know Where I'm Going and The Red Shoes, with Blimp and Peeping Tom close behind. But I won't bang on about that, although I do feel the sheer emotional weight of post-war drama and recovery, and the need for encouragement for Britain in the face of a forthcoming decade of austerity is what grounds, but also overwhelms AMOLAD's screenplay. 
Roger Livesey
One of the most interesting conceits in the film is, in fact, Powell and Presssburger's tactic of portraying the war torn here and now in near-delirious three-strip Technicolor, and the imaginary "after life" or " heaven" to which Niven as Peter Carter is being pulled back to as relatively Public Service black and white, furnished nonetheless with pre chromatic white telephone style art deco design. 
It's rarely mentioned, even in the context of this movie but Powell has been described politically, even by himself as a Tory in Labour clothing. God knows why after how many run-ins with Churchill during the war, not least the cuts Churchill demanded and got of "German-friendly" material from The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. 
And thus does Powell accommodate his split social personality in AMOLAD, with a luscious present tense set in the domain of the high chromatic color movie, and a near future social order from incoming Labour socialist Clement Atlee, drawn in HG Wellsian Black and White for the new Prime Minister, who would take Britain beyond and away from both Churchill and the war. Along with Atlee of course came the beginnings of Welfare State Britain - one of the greatest of all social passages in modern history as it turns out, including the establishment of the NHS.
For the rest Pressburger's screenplay for AMOLAD feels to me unduly speechifying, and this tendency creates a very leaden last act with the dramatically porridgy Heavenly "courtroom" sequence in which Peter's fate is decided by a quasi-United Nations of figures, all long gone, in various layers of historical drag. Passages like this sit like dead weight when compared to so many other genuinely felicitous, even sublime passages written by Pressbuger over the years, such as the long single take with Anton Walbrook in Blimp during which he is interrogated by the immigration officials and explains what it is to be a "refugee". That five minutes of screen time never leaves a dry eye in the house, for very good reason. 
But for AMOLAD fans, and they are legion, this is a completely flawless new restoration of a very much adored movie that is going to make for very, very happy viewers.

Scandinavian Film Festival - Barrie Pattison reviews THELMA (Joachim Trier, Norway, 2017)

In the Scandinavian Film Festival, Thelma turns out to be a Carrie ripoff which features distant snow country pastor-doctor Henrik Rafaelsen and his wheel chair bound wife sending their teenage daughter Eili Harboe to Oslo University. There a number of disturbing occurrences call for phone calls home when prayer doesn’t seem to be cutting it.  

Harboe starts getting involved with fellow student Kaya Wilkins making a fetching first impression in her one piece at the indoor pool. Mean students make fun of the sheltered Harboe. Well, they should never have invited Thelma to the party. 

Strange events accumulate. Crows smash against the library windows. An erotically inclined serpent enters the girls’ bodies. Harboe finds herself trapped at the bottom of the pool (that one is scary - pity the air bubbles undermine it ) Wilkins vanishes in a shower of glass shards leaving only strands of hair on the window.  These scenes (unsatisfactorily) may be Harboe’s fantasies or manifestations of her telekinetic power. They at least generate images for the trailer. 

Playing the fantasy against the realistically shown campus setting does bring some impact. 

We get into the back story with the alarming footage of the baby trapped under the ice, the single bare foot on the iron bridge and the girl’s witchcraft granny on excessive downers prescribed by dad. The parents bring Harboe home and the piece becomes progressively more shaky with her as the life force (and gay rights advocate) put up in opposition to the restrictive patriarchal figure. No suspense here. We know he’s going to get his.

Joachim Trier
Director Joachim Trier is established in Scandinavia and his film craft is assured. He probably sees himself as heir to the tradition of Carl Dreyer but, once you get to the contradictory ending, the film’s wavering vision sinks it, even if the comparisons it invites with the Brian de Palma film haven't already demolished it.

Sunday 29 July 2018

The Current Cinema - Peter Hourigan reviews HERSTORY (Min Kyu-Dong, South Korea) ...and comments on Hoyts new prices

HERSTORY – Korean Comfort Women.
Sixty years after the end of World War II, Japan is avoiding most responsibility for the experiences of the women it forced into sexual slavery.  Most of the women, and perpetrators would now be dead, or at best very old. But the sores from World War II on this issue persist, certainly between Korea and Japan.
In the 1990s a small group of Korean Comfort Women took legal action against Japan, in Japan.  In all, they were put through 23 different trials between 1992 and 1998. These trials are the dramatic focus of a new Korean film Herstory having a somewhat underexposed release.  It is directed by Min Kyu-Dong, a quite prolific director with a mixed bag of titles to his name, but several which have been solid achievements. (Memento Mori,1999, for example.)
Herstory is certainly a solid achievement, fitting comfortably into the pattern of films dramatizing real events.  In this the character we follow through these events is not one of the comfort women but the confident, almost arrogant owner of a Travel Agency, who gets into trouble at the start when her agency is accused of organized sex tours.  But Moon Jeong-Sook becomes involved in the issue when she sees a comfort woman opening up about her experiences on television. And at home, she is having trouble with her own school-aged daughter.  Jeong- sook is even proud of the way she neglects her, claiming it is character building.
Jeong-sook starts soliciting support for the women, and offers her Tourist agency offices as a call-centre when it has been temporarily closed by the authorities for the Sex tours scandal. I assume that she is a fictitious character, but as such, she works well to provide the viewer with a passage into and through the story.  Her character arc is in itself involving, and expands the relevance of the issue beyond just the lives of the Comfort Women themselves.
 The film is punctuated with scenes of street demonstrations in both Korea and Japan, both supporting the women and condemning them for the shame theyare bringing on the community.
Dramatically, the small group of Comfort Women is made up of very interesting and strongly drawn characters. I don’t know if these are the real biographies of the women who launched this legal case. But it doesn’t matter – as well as each one being a strong individual person, through their experiences the film touches on many of the lingering impacts of their wartime fate, not just on them but on their own families and the whole community at large.  For example, one woman has been living her life with a violent adult son. His violence comes from syphilitic damage inherited from a Japanese soldier who raped his mother.
Courtroom scenes always make for good drama, and this has some very effective ones. The testimony of the women carries even greater impact because of their hesitancy and the clear stress given it brings on them.  Perhaps some of the courtroom opposition is painted a little too simplistically black, but in the overall context this is forgivable. 
Herstory is not perhaps a great cinematic masterpiece, but it is a rare film tackling this still explosive issue with tact, and humanity.  It is worth seeing.
In Melbourne, this is showing in very limited sessions at several Hoyts cinemas.  
....and another, related, matter...It seems that Hoyts has introduced a new pricing policy, which abolishes all concessions (e.g. student, senior) and has variables for some sessions.  On a quick skate around their site I saw session prices from $10 (one film, that’s been on a long time down to one early daytime session) up to $24 for a regular evening session of a ‘big’ film (plus more of course for 3D and Lux sessions.  Herstory at a Friday 4pm session cost me $20, with no concessions available.

Saturday 28 July 2018

On French Blu-ray - David Hare is enthralled by a new edition of Max Ophuls DE MAYERLING A SARAJEVO

Yes folks, it's John Lodge (above) just four years after playing "Alexei" for Josef von Sternberg in The Scarlet Empress, now promoted to Archduke Ferdinand, with commoner "Sophie", played by the great French diva, Edwige Feuillère in Max Ophuls' last movie made in France from 1939 (released May 1940,) before he took his family and fled certain death under the Nazis, to arrive in Hollywood in 1941. 
'...the great French diva, Edwige Feuillère...'
The screens come from a gorgeous new 2K restoration for Gaumont and CNC finished in 2016, of Max's De Mayerling a Sarajevo, set in the late Hapsburg era ca.1906. It's one of three new Gaumont Blu-rays of late 30s Ophuls released on their Découverte ("Uncovered") line. Which sadly means there are no English subtitles, but they do carry Francais HOH for those who can cope with this. 
The other two pictures are the sublime Sans Lendemain made earlier in 1939, and from 1937, Max's Butterfly adapatation,Yoshiwara, with Pierre Richard-Willm in the PInkerton part, Tanaka Michiko in the titular role, an actress who worked entirely in Europe, and Sessue Hayakawa as the third point of the triangle. 
The other two titles are still on their way, but having seen the glorious 2K restoration of Sans Lendemain earlier this year at Sydney's CINEMA REBORN, I can only add the visual glories of this restoration for Mayerling are equally revelatory and completely stunning. Where Lendemain and Yoshiwara were both shot by the great Eugene Schufftan, Mayerling was photographed by Curt Courant plus a second unit, and like Lendemain the deeply layered studio lighting and Max's orgasmic travellings, in this breathtaking new restoration are on show for the very first time in a state good enough to display the beauty of his mise-en-scène.
This movie and this resurrection of it in fact seems to be emblematic of an ongoing problem within the world of cinephilia. Max's prewar films were a group of virtually secret, unseen and unknown holy grail for so many of us for decades. Découverte indeed. Going back literally 40 plus years it was only the first big rediscovery (in a mint 35mm print) of Max's sole Italian film, La Signora di Tutti (1935) which was, once again championed in its first New York and European re-issue by Andrew Sarris in deservedly masterpiece terms. 
But the rest of this incredibly fine body of work remained stubbornly out of reach. Then, slowly, with TV and the prehistoric video age, post-1982, some, usually very bad, prints started playing for instance on Stratton's now legendary SBS schedule in Oz, as they also did in both the UK and French TV. Among them Max's single Dutch movie, Comedy in Gold, and his 1932 German masterpiece, Liebelei, although Strat could only track down the French language co- shoot version of that, Une Histoire d'Amour. 
Since then other, perfectly dreadful copies from antique provenance surfaced occasionally of one or two things, but the version doing the rounds for two decades of De Mayerling was so visually weak and hard to watch I don't think any of us have ever been able to evaluate it properly from that source. 
Certainly not me, in fact as I started to watch this new 2K I basically had to keep picking myself off the floor. 
It's a new movie discovered for the first time. And it's another outright masterpiece, without reservation, and it joins with the rest of Max's prewar French work as all at that level of masterpiece, with the sole exception of the 1938 Werther, his apaptation from Goethe. But even that now has to go into a queue of "subjects for further research". 
I can't say how disappointed I am Gaumont didn't release these three in its general Blu line which always includes English subs. But the invitation is there, I guess, pregnantly one might say, for someone like Criterion to collect the six French pictures into a curated boxset, like the recent Dietrich-Sternbergs. 
Now that Criterion are about to get the weight of the complete fucking Bergman off their chests (not a fan) they can perhaps turn their attention again to something less arthouse middlebrow, and infinitely more rewarding. Or if you love both Ophuls and Bergman, keep their balance. These would surely be more welcome than another 90s mumblecore.

Editor’s Note: For some fascinating additional commentary go to David’s  Facebook page where this post first appeared and scroll down to the comments below. 
BTW the Bergman Criterion set remains devoid of his 1950 ‘thriller’ This Cant Happen Here, recently restored to show off especially Gunnar Fischer’s remarkable B&W photography. That restoration was screened at Bologna with much introductory chuckling about how the Great Man Ingmar reacted to a screening at the Swedish Cinematheque

Friday 27 July 2018

New in print - John Turner's mammoth THE HISTORY OF AUSTRALIAN FILM SOCIETIES

John Turner, historian, dedicated cinephile and long time worker for the film society movement writes: I don't know whether you know that I finally completed The History of Australian Film Societies. It only took 15 years!!!!. 

Below is the brochure which will enable anyone interested to order a copy. 

Hopefully there will be a review to follow soon. Thanks to Bill Kerr for the image of the book cover.

This book has been written by John Turner and produced by ACOFS.
It is a very detailed tribute to all those who have participated in the Film Society movement over seventy years. It includes over 50 personalities, 40 societies, all state Federations and Australia-wide organisations.

Not John Turner,
Diary of a Country Priest, Robert Bresson, France
(An early importation by the film society movement)
There are 554 packed pages, including many photos!
Read all about-

  •   The contribution made to the social and cultural life of Australia by the film society movement.
  •   What was, and when was, the first film society formed?
  •   Why were state Federations created?
  •   Are national film society bodies necessary?
  •   Who were the movers and shakers making the film movement
    so important?
  •   Creation of the AFI and the major Film Festivals, and why
    ultimately, these organisations had to go it alone.
  •   The popularity of film weekends.
  •   The influence on censorship laws and other government
  •   Relationships between Film Societies and the major non-
    theatrical film bodies, especially the National Lending
    Collection and the National Film and Sound Archive.
  •   The early involvement with State Film Centres and the
    National Film Theatre of Australia.
  •   A chronological account of the major events at state and
    national levels.
  •   An examination of publications from film society newsletters
    to country wide catalogues and magazines, often widely
    circulated outside the movement.
  •   Which films were important to societies over the past seventy
  •   Appendices listing all significant dates, office bearers of
    Federations and ACOFS.
ACOFS has made copies available to State Film Society Federations at a discounted rate of $50. All societies affiliated with ACOFS through their State Federation are being offered one copy of the book subsided by their Federation. Contact your Federation to determine the actual purchase price for you, for this first copy.. Additional copies will be charged at $50 for purchases made through member societies or Federations, or $75 to others purchased directly from ACOFS.

For copies of THE HISTORY OF AUSTRALIAN FILM SOCIETIES Ordered through ........................................(Film Federation) Quantity --------------at $50 each ..............$..........
Post and handling $15 per book (if posted)..$...........

Total due..........................................$ ........ An invoice will be sent to you if requested.
Name ..........................................................................................
Address .......................................................................................
Email ....................................................
Payment was made through cheque/cash/EFT/other......... (Please circle your choice)
Cheques to be made payable to “Australian Council of Film Societies” and sent with this order form to John Turner, 20 Craithie Avenue, Park Orchards,Vic 3114.
Or pay by EFT to Australian Council of Film Societies, NAB Melbourne,
BSB: 083 004, A/c 5617 98446, and quote your surname and HISTORY.
If you pay by EFT, please send your order form to the above postal address or email to
For copies of THE HISTORY OF AUSTRALIAN FILM SOCIETIES Quantity --------------at $75 each ..............$..........
Post and handling $15 per book (if posted)..$...........
Total due..........................................$ ........ An invoice will be sent to you if requested.
Name ..........................................................................................
Address .......................................................................................
Email ....................................................
Payment was made through cheque/cash/EFT/other......... (Please circle your choice)
Cheques to be made payable to “Australian Council of Film Societies” and sent with this order form to John Turner, 20 Craithie Avenue, Park Orchards,Vic 3114.
Or pay by EFT to Australian Council of Film Societies, NAB Melbourne,
BSB: 083 004, A/c 5617 98446, and quote your surname and HISTORY.
If you pay by EFT, please send your order form to the above postal address or email to

Coming Soon - SHOPLIFTERS (Hirokazu Koreeda, Japan) and an exquisite poster

Reminding us of Koreeda's sources in Japanese tradition - a poster bringing back Hokusai and Hiroshige

Thursday 26 July 2018

On Blu-ray - John Snadden uncovers two major films from the 70s with Burt Lancaster - GO TELL THE SPARTANS (Ted Post) & ULZANA'S RAID (Robert Aldrich)

Two recent arrivals courtesy of Oz Post.
ULZANA'S RAID and GO TELL THE SPARTANS showcase some of the best American film-making of the 1970s. Both are tough, intelligent and uncompromising films, also qualities which they share with their star. 
Burt Lancaster, Ulzana's Raid
Burt Lancaster, Go Tell the Spartans
Burt Lancaster shows just how much of a great character actor he had become by this favoured decade.
The BR transfers are excellent and each title sports a selection of worthwhile extras, in particular ULZANA'S RAID which is a 2 disc German special edition that features the European cut of this terrific western (which is only slightly different from the US version). 
The current issue of Cinema Retro Magazine  has one of the best and most perceptive reviews I've ever read of this gritty and violent frontier film.
If you want to find out how good 1970s studio film-making was then these titles are highly recommended.

Wednesday 25 July 2018

A link to an excellent report on Bologna's 2018 edition of IL CINEMA RITROVATO and a special mention of Frank Borzage's 7th HEAVEN

Here's the link to a terrific report by David Cairns

The para that got my nostalgic juices flowing is this one about the screening of Frank Borage's 7th Heaven, transferred to the local Opera House after the planned outdoor screening in the Piazza Maggiore was cancelled when rain threatened.

In a bit of real-life drama, 7th Heaven, Frank Borzage's 1927 melodrama, was postponed owing to thunderstorms: the open-air performance with Timothy Brock's live orchestral score was rescheduled to the spectacular Teatro Communale opera house, and made for an overwhelming occasion. By really entering into the film's unashamed melodrama, Brock transported us back in time to meet Borzage's romantic vision on its own ground. Janet Gaynor, Charles Farrell, and Fox Films' rendition of Paris sparkled in a new MoMA restoration, the crowning jewel of a season which shone a fresh light on many more obscure, even minor works. Often, these films seemed to turn a beady eye on the modern audience and address as directly."

Janet Gaynor, Charles Farrell, 7th Heaven

Saturday 21 July 2018

On Italian DVD - Not DARLING, HOW COULD YOU! (Mitchell Leisen, USA, 1951) but WOMAN OBSESSED (Henry Hathaway, USA, 1959)

So, settle down for an evening's viewing.

An unseen Mitchell Leisen film Darling, How Could You! which the Wikipedia entry describes thus:

Darling, How Could You! (1951) is a comedy film directed by Mitchell Leisen and starring Joan Fontaine and John Lund. The script is based on the James Barrie play Alice Sit-by-the-Fire.

The copy was bought at the beloved Dischi Alberti on Borgo San Lorenzo in Florence and was published by the dreaded Golem Video, the company that puts out dozens of American titles each year and whose quality control does not run to putting the original English-language title anywhere on the cover or the disc itself. This one went by the title La Mia Donna E Un Angelo. 

There it was, unseen Leisen as  I said, with the extra added attraction of a music score by the Great Man Friedrich Hollaender, he of the inspirational "Falling in Love Again", "See What the Boys in the Back Room will Have" and those three magnificent songs in Billy Wilder's A Foreign Affair (1948), "Black Market", "Illusions" and "the Ruins of Berlin", all sung by Marlene Dietrich.

But not to be, the title that pops up when you pop the DVD in the player is Woman Obsessed, produced and written by Sydney Boehm and directed by Henry Hathaway in 1959, made the year after star Susan Hayward won an Oscar for I Want to Live. 

Now Woman Obsessed  is not entirely without interest. In the manner of the day Hayward plays a young wife who not long after the movie starts is widowed when her husband is killed fighting a forest fire. Notwithstanding her loss and the trials and tribulations of running a farm, or at least about an acre of it that we see, she never looks other than perfectly made up and doesn't have a hair out of place ever. Still the same trope was applied to Nicole Kidman in Cold Mountain forty five years or so later so some things are really ingrained in the Hollywood psyche. Actually the title on the movie is also a bit enigmatic. Has it simply left off the word "A" thus describing the Susan Hayward character or is it more descriptive of the male character Fred Carter's state of mind and thus is properly titled as "Woman Obsessed"  in which cases in some places there would be a hyphen between the two words. But I digress....

Cue the arrival of enigmatic, but occasionally violent, Fred, played as an Irish-accented farm hand by Stephen Boyd, fresh from his triumph in Ben-Hur. He shows up without notice and starts chopping wood and quickly makes himself indispensable around the place. They marry but her son isn't happy and then she's not happy and (Spoiler Alert) she loses a baby conceived in a marital rape. Oh, on and on it goes for 98 minutes until the (Spoiler Alert) happy ending.

I would have preferred to take my chances with Darling, How Could You!  and Mitchell Leisen, Friedrich Hollaender, John Fontaine, even John Lund. Bad one Golem Video.

Final NB. You have to read the fine print on the poster to realise that Susan Hayward did not win an Academy Award for this picture.

Friday 20 July 2018

On Blu-ray - David Hare revels in one of the greatest films of "the greatest living film director" - SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (Stanley Donen)

"A man can't sleep when he sleep with sheep". Johnny Mercer’s lyrics, with Matt Mattox, Russ Tamblyn and Tommy Rall (screen below, click on the image to enlarge). The song is "Lonesome Polecat". One of the very greatest numbers in the American Movie Musical done, at Michael Kidd's insistence, in a single four-minute take. They don't get any better than this, the only thing to come close might be Chuck Walter's Dreyer-esque "Friendly Star" from Summer Stock with Judy and Gene Kelly shot in two long takes with a corkscrew crane to an invisible edit in the middle.

The screens above and below come from a great new Warner Archive Blu-ray two disc set of Stanley Donen's Seven Brides for Seven Brothers(1954.) The title had been a problematic one for decades, even past the point when Warner issued a DVD back in 2005 which added a scrubbed up print of the alternate 1.85:1 widescreen version. Earlier this year Warner finally found an original inter-positive (first generation) print with virtually no wear or damage and was able to recomposite image quality and stereo sound in what is probably the closest you’ll ever get to original Scope 2.55 and true stereo release prints in 1954. 
The picture was Metro’s first venture into Scope, along with Minnelli’s Brigadoon, which was filming in an adjacent soundstage. Unfortunately for Donen, Metro very much delegated the production budget for Seven Brides to “B” status, despite his pleading to keep the shooting outdoors (at greater expense.) So they enforced studio bound filming with painted backdrops in place of the glorious Montana mountains and landscape.
Brigadoon meanwhile was given the full “A” treatment, although Minnelli himself preferred and chose soundstage and painted backdrops over the great outdoors, to say nothing of his fascination with the new and incredibly strange Anscocolor process. I think history relegates Ansco to what must have been the most artificial, if not the most outright hideous looking color process in the history of cinema, on the evidence of these two pictures and George Sidney’s 3D Kiss Me Kate, which does have a fantastic color design that seems to suit Ansco's typical color schemes of purples, blues, oranges and kelly green.
This wonderful new Blu-ray edition imports the extras from the 2005 DVD, including a feature length commentary from Stanley Donen which Warner recorded with him back in 2004. I will now counsel all and every film student or undergrad in Film Studies to immediately throw out every text book and lecture note they’ve ever collected and patiently sit down to play back Donen’s commentary track. It’s a masterclass in film making, the greatest one could ever hear, and without either effort or self-aggrandisement, Donen’s passion for the musical form blows a searchlight through this glorious masterpiece. 
Donen took to Scope like a duck to water, like Cukor, Preminger, Ray and Fuller at the same time, if only for the simple reason, as he explains it: “I had up to 18 people on the screen at any one time – six brothers, six brides and six town boys, so I needed the widest screen to do it with.”
His incomparable, elegant, athletic and graceful mise-en-scène was already well established. It had perhaps peaked in the musical numbers for Singin’ in the Rain in 1952, which is co-credited to Donen and Kelly, but for which Donen must take the lion’s share of credit. He keeps his takes as long as fluidly possible, all for meaning and grace, and he only cuts on movement to movement, all the better to shine even more of the frame on the beauties of the choreography. 
Kidd’s choreography for Seven Brides is one of the outstanding masterworks of American dance. Donen shoots the Lonesome Polecat (screen above) number in Seven Bridesin a single take, just a day’s work as he calls it, and for the rest his cutting, like Cukor’s, remains invisible and seamless. It looks to me he has used a crab dolly for every musical number in the picture. One of his visual signatures is the lithe dolly in, swoop, dolly up, then swoop down and dolly back. It’s a gorgeous and incomparable formal structure he gives to Audrey’s “How long has this Been Going On” in Funny Face, and to Kelly and Charisse in the Broadway Rhythm ballet from Singin’ in the Rain, to cite just two numbers. His camera movements are even more gorgeous than Minnelli’s, which are generally concentrated on the spectacle of static composition, and movement within the decor, like the numbers from An American in Paris.
At this point I will stick my neck out and acknowledge Donen as the very greatest director of American Musicals, even greater than Minnelli. Even Donen’s stage to film adaptations, like Pajama Gamefor which Warners at least gave him a budget for more extensive location shooting, are perfect movies, because he had a flawless eye for talent, dancers, singers, actors, and for movement. The great French born cinephile Jean-Pierre Coursodon praises Donen to this level, and I salute that recognition. In half a dozen musicals from 1952 to 1960, and a string of other pictures Donen is unmatched in the cinema for form, grace, the presentation of dance and music in the American Cinema.
Donen turns 95 this year and should also be saluted today as the greatest living film director.

Wednesday 18 July 2018

On DVD - Barrie Pattison unearths a film by a major figure of the modern Turkish cinema THE THIRD PAGE ( Zeki Demirkubuz)

So my chum was learning to speak Turkish and I promised to send him a Turkish movie to practice on. I couldn’t find the old ones I was going to unload but there in the second hand shop stock was a copy of something called Üçüncü Sayfa/The Third Page which proved to be a piece from early in established director Zeki Demirkubuz’ career.
DVD Cover
It appears that Turkish auteurs come one at a time. The only occasion I’ve had real access to Turkish movies was when Yilmaz Güney became flavor of the month on the festival circuit, which curiously coincided with the period of the distribution of Turkish VHSs here, with belly dancers and secret agents blowing up cars and little Müjde Ar in her scanties speaking up for woman’s rights on SBS. 

Since the eighties the curtain closed again until Nuri Bilge Ceylan emerged in the twenty first century.

That made Üçüncü Sayfaa considerable surprise - an intense, innovative, small scale interior melo which his admirers say shows the director’s professed debt to Fyodor Dostoevsky as a version of “Crime & Punishment” though it ends up being yet another “Postman Always Rings Twice” rip off.

In a yellow-walled room, sheepish bit player actor Ruhi Sari is beaten, accused by gangster boss Emrah Elçiboga of stealing $50, with the threat of execution and male rape if he doesn’t come good. Back in the lead’s small flat decorated with Turkish movie posters, landlord Cengiz Sezici is equally aggressive about turning him out on the streets if he doesn’t come up with his month’s back rent (forget the electricity). His agent is unwilling to offer an advance.

Our hero can take no more and shoots the protesting landlord a couple of times. Next day the cops pile all the tenants into a mini-van and drive them off to the station for interrogation. “The man with the dog sees everything!” (what happens to him?). 

When he gets back, Sari is so exhausted that he slumps in his doorway and Basak Köklükaya, the woman with two small children from across the corridor, takes him in. A fellow lost soul she is alone while her migrant worker husband is away. A couple of gun-toting toughs show up to collect the debt and she pays them off at the current conversion rate, receiving change in Turkish Lira.

Meanwhile Sari gets to be a continuing character in a soap (people ask him about the stars when they spot him in it) where the script girl runs ahead of the moving camera shouting the actors’ lines which they repeat - presumably to be re-voiced. There is a montage of auditions including the lead’s - “Can you ride a horse? Will you appear naked?” 

Doomed passion, another murder and betrayal in the best film noir tradition follow.

What looks like a total lack of style (the pistol dropped on the table in close up is a shock departure among the undramatic images) proves to be misleading. The shared corridor with two the peep hole doors becomes a powerful motif and the music free track develops with the sound of TV programs including the ones with the hero as background. Even more striking is Köklükaya’s monologue beginning with her lips moving only to go still as her voice continues and we then cut to her speaking in the same position to repeat the device. Her removing her head scarf prefiguring the ending is disturbingly attention getting. The children are however just set decoration.

Zeki Demirkubuz
The cast often figure again in Zeki Demirkubuz‘ extensive later films trailered on the disk. Several of these are on YouTube. The quality is better there but, unlike the DVDs, they have no subtitles. Seen in isolation, this one is so good it leaves us wondering about the other products from the Turkish Yesilçam ("Green Pine") Hollywood.

... and no I have no idea what the three pages are.

Monday 16 July 2018

The Current Cinema - Supercinephile Barrie Pattison is underwhelmed by ANIMAL WORLD (Yan Han, China)

Yan Han’s manga movie Dongwu shijie/Dungmat saigaai/Animal World is an ambitious undertaking and a big earner (though apparently not as big as expected) on its home turf where it played originally in 3D. It is about to depart from our multiplexes where it’s being run flat.

Animal World, Poster
This one is an attempt to merge a big Hollywood caper flick, like the Ocean’s films, with the Asian gambler movies - think Masahiro Shinoda‘s Kawaita hana/Pale flower(1964) or Wong Jing’s best movie, with Chow Yun-fat as Dou san/The God of Gamblers (1989) both of which kicked off apparently endless successions of follow ups.

In the new film, young penny arcade clown Li Yifeng is doing it tough. He’s already having Men in Black fantasies induced by the hours he has to put in keeping his mother Li Yijuan in emergency care, despite some assistance from his nurse girlfriend Zhou Dongyu. Our hero’s prosperous old school chum, realtor Cao Bingkun offers to cut him in on a sure fire real estate deal that will solve all his problems, if he just gets his comatose mum’s finger print on the deeds to her flat as collateral.

Our hero ought to get out of the arcade and see some movies if he swallows that, which of course he does. Turns out Cao’s been fired and is in the hole to the sharks and he immediately blows the sale of the flat at the Macao Casino. Not only that but the debt collector heavies expect our hero to settle his friend’s outstandings. 

Turns out there is one hope. Suave impresario Michael Douglas tells him the kid has the privilege of participating in the elaborate Rock, Paper, Scissors card game conducted on the wallowing black digital ship “Destiny” for the delight of high rollers tucked away behind the upper deck mirror windows while a digital tiger prowls a cage on the gaming floor. Losers are destined for sinister surgical experiments on the lower levels.

I could explain the rules and the scams the unsavory fellow players use to defeat them but that would imply I understood what was happening or indeed cared. The handling is flashy, effects heavy and derivative. The film soon loses both conviction and attention.

Douglas joins the inventory of Hollywood notables who have rolled dice in Chinese movies. Include Henry Silva in Woo fook/Fox Bat(1977), John Phillip Law in Yao-Chi Chen‘s Yuan (1980), Donald Sutherland in an early Xiaogang Feng, Da wan/Big Shot’s Funeral(2001) or Steve Buscemi in Florian Gallenberger’s John Rabe: Der Gute Deutsche von Nanking(2008). Douglas doesn’t do any better than they did.

On Blu-ray - David Hare blisses out over Istanbul and the cats of KEDI (Ceyda Torun, Turkey)

Two of the feline superheroes (below) of Kedi, a film about the cats of Istanbul by Ceyda Torun. The film was released mid-last year and even this US Oscilloscope Blu-ray which we have only just caught up with came out Stateside in November 2017. 

Quite apart from the compulsive nature of its subject, Torun's movie is very much a hymn to Istanbul. Indeed, it had us drooling and wishing we could simply get the next flight back to Turkey tomorrow. When we were last there two and a bit years ago we stayed in an Airbnb in the Beyoglu district hosted by a charming young woman who also cared for her own 'Stanbuli cat, a feisty long haired black girl called Psik whom we cared for while our hostess took off for an extended photo shoot in Antulya. 
We quickly discovered Psik herself was not at all a stay at home type but effectively cruised and held court on the small balcony with a glimpse of the Bosphorus with a tribe of neighborhood cats just outside the kitchen window. One of them was one eyed, another was three legged and all of them even feistier than Psik. We quickly picked up on the vibe, rather than discouraging them by not feeding them, that the opposite was true. 
By the end of our stay I initially sensed this attitude of serene benevolence towards these creatures reflected one of the most sublime aspects of Islamic culture, in fact, charity. As they keep saying in the movie, “Dogs think we're god, but we're the middlemen, and the cats know this." 
Indeed, it was spoken on the rare occasions we heard locals even willing to talk about daily life there under the Government of Erdogan over the last five years which had largely handed over a great deal of formerly state-based welfare and support agencies to the hands of the faithful, sparing the self-aggrandising Erdogan government the expense. I heard this story over and over, and as is always possible when travelling, one had to review many, many preconceptions one held about the many glues and social cohesions that attach to Islamic culture. 
One of the very great beauties of this wonderful little film, after the cats themselves, is the portrait of the city (below), the world's most magical to me, and its denizens. Torun's film manages to unfold without a trace of documentary determinism, or intrusive commentary. One sequence shows several people conversing around an old, now vanished market area up the hill somewhat from the tourist safety of Taksim Square. 
These old timers reflect sadly on the encroaching road and skyscraper development which is replacing the market gardens. While this is true of every global city these days, not least a mega burg like Istanbul with 25 million people, the reality dangerously also predicts the probable demise of the cats, who seem to have prevailed as a kind of physical manifestation of supernatural deity, as gatekeepers themselves of this immense city composed of such immense history, and the whole amazing ongoing confilct that was the twentieth century.
What do the cats foresee? If anything? What do they know? 
Don't miss the picture. It was one of the first titles produced by YouTube Red (their premium service) in a step to the fore on other streaming services like Amazon.
Editor's Note: For further enthusiasm for Kedi click on the link for Fiona Mackie's earlier review on Film Alert