Thursday 29 November 2018

Vale David Young - Serious Cinephile and friend

My friend David Young died early this morning. 

His recently diagnosed cancer took him away with alarming suddenness. 

David worked in the Science faculty at the University of Sydney before his retirement, not that many years ago. Even before he retired he was a longtime, possibly foundation attender at David Stratton's film history class and at the WEA Film Group. Both before and,  even more, after his retirement he was a regular at the screenings presented by the Art Gallery of NSW, the Sydney Film Festival and many of the other capital city festivals. He was an enthusiast for cinema with a lot of insight into film history.

I'll miss him at next year's Cinema Reborn. He was one of our foundation subscribers and I suspect was at every one of the sixteen sessions we put on earlier this year.

I'll miss our conversations, his always gentlemanly bearing and his very enquiring mind.

Tuesday 27 November 2018

On Blu-ray - David Hare looks over early Cecil B De Mille, Ray Milland as director, MAN'S FAVOURITE SPORT, SOME LIKE IT HOT and AGE OF CONSENT

Here's a roundup of recent Blu-rays which I am still trying to get through since our return from a Sydney visit.
De Mille's very camp Sign of the Cross (1932) in which the lions are still winning their fight against the Christians. The picture is far from the most interesting or formally dynamic exercise. Static pictorialism, heroic gestural acting and declamatory line readings were used to convey Victorian High Historical painting mode. But Sign of the Cross takes the prize for De Millian absurdity, with ample help from Mitchell Leisen, in the presentation of censor baiting "depravity". 

The three screens (above) here are Laughton as Nero, playing the role as a psychopathic infant, Colbert in the bath of Asses Milk, with peekaboo titties, and the "Lesbian Kiss" in which the demure "Mercia" (Alissa Landi) is unsuccessfully tempted by the wicked "Ancaria" (Joyzelle Joyner, an exotic dancer of the period who gives a far more enthusiastic performance than Landi) in a Lesbian hoochy cooch routine to titillate the orgying dinner guests during the sequence. 
The movie-going public have presumably never personally put together at home such perversions as wine-guzzling and eating grapes while rolling on the floor, and generally fiddling with long haired hookers' tumbling locks while watching a live lesbian dance number in their living room. Thank the metaphorical god for De Mille who makes such things possible in the movies to simple folks like you and I. This is, surely, one of the roles of cinema art. 
The movie is one of three De Milles recently released in France on the redoubtable Elephant Blu-ray label. The others are the 1934 Cleopatra (already out on Masters of Cinema) and a nice Technicolor transfer of Reap the Wild Wind (1942). 
Also new from Universal, Hawks' last comedy, Man's Favorite Sport. Screen (above) here has Rock showing Paula Prentiss how well he can throw a line. Color and definition are good in 1080p but I do not care for the scrubbed appearance, devoid of film grain, something which had previously been a most unwelcome characteristic of older Universal upgrades from its deep catalogue. 
The worst of these was their atrocious Blu of Hitchcock's Marnie which seems to have been dust busted and then as an afterthought regraded with a ceaseless rain of digital noise/faux grain on the image. I had thought these days of misguided grading and mastering were over at Universal and maybe this unsatisfactory transfer of the 1963 Hawks is from a (much) earlier time. They need to do a lot of these titles again with the current tech team there. 
Next, two fascinating movies directed by Ray Milland before he went on to direct the fine Panic in Year Zero (1960). Both are released by Kino Lorber. His first film as director, A Man Alone (1955, above) a sombre and very credible western with MIlland himself, Ward Bond, Lee van Cleef and others. And his next picture from 1956, a colorful travelogue thriller in Scope, Lisbon (below) (long before the tourist invasion) with Maureen O'Hara, Claude Rains and Yvonne Furneaux. 

Both movies were made for Republic in their Trucolor system, a dye transfer three strip process like Technicolor which was still being shot with their modified cameras into the mid-fifties, after Tech had gone to monopack Eastman neg filming. The transfers are impeccable and the movies worth your consideration, if you like Panic in Year Zero as much as I do. 
Criterion's new BD release of Wilder's great Some like it Hot ) two screens above) is from a new 4K and the only thing I have to say is, along with the new 4K of The Apartment, you will not see anywhere a better and more flawless transfer of late 50s black and white American film-making. The only disappointment from these two new 4K sourced Blu discs is that they are not released in 4K UHD discs or 4K streaming format. Some Like it Hot is eye watering and its audacity and classical comedy balance never abates for me. 
Finally, my least favorite Michael Powell film, Age of Consent from 1969, with the first movie appearance of Helen Mirren. God knows how or why but this is another one of those slightly outré movies with an unexpected full frontal female nude shot of Mirren (her first, more later for Ken Russell et al) but with no visible "bush" as they used to say which blithely passed the pre 1971 "R" certificate Oz Censorship Board to get an "NRC". I saw this on its first day at the Rapallo in March 1969 and to say the audience drew breath at the sight of Helen posing nude for Mason is an understatement. 
I had and still have big problems with the movie. For all the goodwill I can muster I cannot abide some of the secondary performers, in particular the awful Jack MacGowran (with whom Powell had always wanted to work) and a teeth grinding Neva Carr Glynn as Cora’s gin-soaked “guardian". 
The master seems to be from the same encode Sony did in 2009 from the Aussie 35mm restoration prior to that. As it was with the DVD, I am not crazy about color and grading here. It seems to me black level is pushed a bit too high and this has thrown color values up to slightly oversaturated, with a dark undertone which occasionally affects flesh tones, especially Mason's, whose natural tan sometimes goes gray. I am guessing the 35mm may have been reprinted and color timed like this and that any further transfer and grading/disc mastering has had to work with that. Certainly my viewing back then recalls a very bright image with unpushed shading and natural vibrant color. 
Anyway, it will probably satisfy most viewers, especially folks who are more fond of the movie than me. The new Indicator BD comes with a plethora of extras, every one of them wonderful history and recollection some from 2009 and others new, like Ian Christie's superb analysis of Powell and Islands. And to a sceptic like me these easily outweigh the movie's own shortcomings to make for a worthwhile purchase. 
Screens here are the very lovely Harold Hopkins (above) airing his basket for Cora on the boat over to Dunk Island, and the famous nude scene in reverse shot (to appease the FB censors.)

Bertolucci and his confreres circa 1966

Bernardo Bertolucci
In checking just what year it was that Bernardo Bertolucci’s Before the Revolution  went on at the Melbourne Film Festival I ran down the list. 

Just about 40 features and near a hundred shorts were screened including a retrospective of the films of Damien Parer, on loan from the Australian National Library. 

The festival website notes that Alain Resnais's remarkable short film Night and Fog was screened, as was Fires on the Plain (Kon Ichikawa).

Other films screened included Raven’s End (Bo Widerberg), Walkover, (Jerzy Skolimowski), Loves of a Blonde, (Milos Forman), Sandra, (Luchino Visconti), Charulata (Satyajit Ray), Cumbite (Tomas Gutierrez Alea), Diamonds of the Night (Jan Nemec), Heat (Larissa Shepitko), Let’s Have a Party (Paul Verhoeven), Man is not a Bird (Dusan Makavejev), Ordet (Carl Th Dreyer), Tarahumara (Luis Alcoriza), The Adventures of Werner Holt (Joachim Kunert), Age of Daydreaming (Isvan Szabo),  The Merry World of Leopold Z (Gilles Carle), The Moontrap (Perrault, Brault & Carriere), The Shameless Old Lady (Rene Allio) and Thomas the Imposter (Georges Franju).
Georges Franju

Which some people might calculate as a masterpiece or near-masterpiece strike rate of close to 50%. 

Makes you think. Long before Sundance and not an American indy in the mix.

Monday 26 November 2018

Vale Bernardo Bertolucci - A bit of memoir

Bernardo and I 

I never met Bernardo Bertolucci but there was a gawking moment in a London restaurant. Let me hasten to add, it did not cause me to go over and assault him in the manner I am unreliably reported to have dealt with Richie Benaud in a restaurant in the South of France.

But, arriving in London and with an afternoon off from the onerous duties I was then undertaking on behalf of the Australian Government, I went off for lunch with Tony Rayns. We had not long settled down, this was back in 1984 BTW. Tony was shortly tapped on the shoulder by someone unknown to me. This turned out to be Jeremy Thomas the famous film producer. “Er, do you think you could come over to our table? Bernardo has a few questions about making films in China.” Tony went off as I swivelled round to gawk at the great man at a nearby table. Tony came back after a while and conversation resumed. Nothing was offered nor asked about what it was Bernardo wanted to know, at least as I recall.

Bertolucci’s two previous films had been La Luna  and Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man. The former was made in 1979 and screened at the 1980 Melbourne Film Festival. I had to trek up to Sydney to speak to Arthur Griffin, the then head of Columbia Pictures in Australia. Arthur said it would be OK to screen it but held out no hope for the film’s success. He told me he thought it would be a film which would do immeasurable damage to star Jill Clayburgh’s till then burgeoning reputation and not do much for Bertolucci’s. For a moment or two there was a suggestion that Bertolucci might come out for the Melbourne and Sydney festivals that year but it never happened.

Not having seen La Luna I was hardly in a position to comment but It was a film by the director of Before the Revolution, Partner, The Spider’s Strategy, The Conformist, Last Tango in Paris  and 1900. At the time as far as I was concerned he could do no wrong. With Pasolini, the Tavianis, Bellocchio and Bertolucci in the lead, the Italian cinema was at the head of the international production pack. 

Still Australia was in fact one of the few countries where some cinemas screened 1900 in its uncut  version.  In 2005 the same full version came out on DVD. Both times the Australian censor either waved through the full length uncut version without watching it or waved it through notwithstanding that it had a couple of moments at least that should have raised eyebrows. Whatever, for a while that Australian DVD release, the first in the world, became a target for collectors. Visitors to the Sydney and Melbourne film festivals were buying multiple copies to take back to friends in Europe and America. 

In the films mentioned above there were more than a few masterpieces. Wikipedia lists 24 titles as being made by Bertolucci. At least six, all documentaries as far as I can see, have never been screened in Australia though it’s possible they went out on SBS without us, or at least a lot of us, knowing.

After his triumph with The Last Emperor I think it’s fair to say his reputation waned. There are scattered champions for just about everything he did from then on but no consensus that anything he made through the nineties and noughties had the oomph of The Conformist  and The Spider’s Strategy. 

Finally, a last Bertolucci moment. Following Bologna one year, Ken Wallin and I spent half a day in the wonderful Brera gallery in Milan. It has a remarkable Mantegna and a Caravaggio but the biggest shock I got was to come across Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo’s painting “Fiumana” painted in 1895/96 (below). The shock of seeing the painting and realising that this was the inspiration for the opening title sequence of 1900,  and the final image that the sequence freezes into, was quite stunning. Maybe I should have known all that but I didn’t at the time.
For a most insightful view of Bertolucci's work click on this piece by Terrence Rafferty in the New York Times  

Talkie Talk #39 - Adam Bowen mentions the new movies and unearths treasures on TV by Alfred Hitchcock (two) and Tod Browning among others


Cine Latino Film Festival finishes on Wednesday


Sorry to Bother You – Lakeith Stanfield discovers he can succeed as a telemarketer if he sounds white.

Second Act – working in a lowly Z-Mart, Jennifer Lopez, is passed over for promotion, so she punches a hole in the glass/class/ageist ceiling.

Anna and the Apocalypse (2017) – Christmas fun in a small town invaded by zombies.

Lean on Pete (2017) – homeless teen (Charlie Plummer) finds purpose, thanks to a has-been racehorse and a crusty father-figure (Steve Buscemi). A Film Alert favourite. Reviews here,here, and here.   

Normandy Nude/Normandie Nue– a farming community considers reviving its fortunes via a dak-dropping initiative.

Creed II– Boxer, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) fights again - with help from Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), again.

The Grinch– animated Christmas fun.

Louis Theroux: Love Without Limits– doco about polyamorous pursuits in Portland (the bohemian capital of Oregon).


Wednesday 10.30pm & Thursday 2.30pm Fox ClassicsDial M For Murder(1954) – not one of Hitchcock’s best; but a stagey, suspenseful “perfect murder” yarn. Ex tennis pro, (a thoroughly nasty) Ray Milland, plots to kill his missus, the ludicrously beautiful Grace Kelly.

Friday 12.00pm 9Gem:Hue and Cry (1946) – cleverly plotted Ealing comedy about a bunch of young East End lads, who discover that their favourite comic (weekly) is being used by villains to pass coded informationAlistair Sim stars, Charles Crichton directs a script by T.E.B. Clarke; it’s photographed by Douglas Slocombe, and the score is by Georges Auric. A bargain!

Saturday 10am 9Gem: Early, minor Hitchcock talkie, Number Seventeen(1932), about a jewel thief (Anne Grey), who reforms, and helps the cops hunt down her former gang. Of interest to die-hard Hitchcock fans.

Irving Pichel as the servant Sandor, Dracula
Saturday 1.45pm 9GemDracula (1931) - the original talkie, which kick-started the Universal Studios horror cycle. Hungarian, Bela Lugosi, was the talkies’ first Drac; he's chilling as the depraved, sepulchral parasite.  Karl Freund’s photography is disconcerting. Director Tod Browning nails the first 20 minutes, but can’t disguise the scenario’s stage origins.

Saturday 5.15pm 9GemAgainst All Flags (1952) – Average pirate hokum, but shot in Technicolor (by Russell Metty) with a great cast: Errol Flynn, Maureen O’Hara (as Prudence “Spitfire” Stevens), Anthony Quinn and Mildred Natwick.


Sunday 25 November 2018

Russian Resurrection Film Festival - Barrie Pattison takes a small sample - SUMMER (Krill Serebrennikov) and MARRIAGE (Vitaly Melnikov)

I only dipped into this one when the couple I did see at eighteen bucks a throw proved unremarkable. It is of course possible that the ones I missed were sensational but the indicators were not good.

Krill Serebrennikov’s Leto/Summer (above) was a fictionalised account of Soviet rock star Victor Tsoi, an overlong and thinly characterised account of the 1980s Brezhnev era Russian rock scene. It focusses on the Leningrad Rock Club where well-dressed young people sit in orderly rows patrolled by security who dive in to take down the heart shape in the card that young Irina Starshenbaum and her girlfriend hold up to the musicians. The girls had to be snuck in from the Fire Escape by the musos. Despairing attempts of the venue manager to find them hiding in a men’s loo stall he was about to search are frustrated by a band member stepping into it.

All is not well with the cultural commissar’s attempt to show that they can lift Rock music out of the gutter.

The scene is enlivened by the arrival of Teo Yoo’s Tsoy  who’s talent they determine to showcase despite the frustratingly poor recording techniques available. Yoo takes an interest in Starshenbaum, which her rocker husband has to wear, along with looking after their baby

They hammer the idea of their idolization of American rockers (represented by a wall of LP covers) which is an interesting comparison with the Iranian 
Sperm Whale 2.

This is all filmed in B&W scope with the odd colour moments - vertical triptych panels and the red of the apple or the rain soaked woman’s dress - very Schindler’s List. The realistic coverage is broken by would-be Dick Lester diversions, the numbers covered in white hand-drawn animated graffiti or Aleksandr Kuznetsov’s “sceptic” character coming on at the end of sequences like the fight with the abusive local on the train, saying “That never happened.”  His leaping out of the aftermath of the night of drunken excess into the projection screen is the film’s best effect and it would do better ending at that point.

Teo Yu is making a career out of his range of languages but here he’s dubbed by Denis Klyaver. Yu covered some of this ground in Seoul Searching and he and Starshenbaum are the only performers to make any impression.

Vitaly Melnikov
The event also ran to a Lenfilm retrospective (the Kozintzev Hamletand Heifitz’ Lady With the Little Dog) which fielded two films by Vitaliy Melnikov whose work I wasn’t familiar with though Geoff Gardner assures me that his 1990 Tsarskaya okhota/The Royal Hunt is good. The details of Melnikov's career seem to defeat both the season booklet’s author and IMDB. I passed on his The Coach and saw Zhenitba/Marriage of 1978.

This one turned out to be a poor relation of Russian literary costume dramas like the 1969 Kirill Lavrov & Ivan Pyryev Bratya Karamazovy/The Brothers Karamazov or Aleksandr Zarkhi’s 1980 Dvadtsat shest dney iz zhizni/Twenty Six Days from the Life of Dostoyevsky, at its most interesting in the historical setting, probably using props and costumes out of the same warehouse as those.

Marriage, Russian DVD cover
Plot has Oleg Borisov (in Gherman’s 1986 Proverka na dorogakh/Trial on the Road) whose horse drawn sled is first seen pursuing a bonneted girl through the snow covered streets into the menacing courtyard. He acts as marriage broker putting forward a ragged selection of prospects for Svetlana Kryuchkova. Selected match Aleksey Petrenko (who has played Rasputin & Stalin in Russian films) wavers. However, Borisov proposes for him, setting up an immediate ceremony but, while Kryuchkova prepares by donning successive petticoats, her potential groom makes an undignified exit through the window. The house is left full of women who reproach Borisov. He has his carriage drive off into the night presumably headed for the whorehouse.

It’s a Gogol adaptation already filmed in 1936 by Erast Garin & Khesya Lokshina. The Russian speakers were falling about but I found the mix of realism and unfunny comedy tacky, not helped by the murky Russian colour of the day, the grain and lack of shadow detail defeating the transfer engineers. Being condemned to struggle with East German Agfacolor (Sovcolor), which they could never manage as well as its Nazi inventors, plagued Russian film makers.

The most interesting element in Zhenitba is the presence of long lived People's Artist of Russia (comparable to having a star on Hollywood Boulevard) Kryuchkova - not pretty but still appealing and dominating her scenes early in her career. Rather than this selection, it would probably be interesting to see more of her films or those of Zarkhi, Eldar Ryazanov, Gleb Panfilov and the rest whose work we suspect is superior but under-shown.

Saturday 24 November 2018

The Current Cinema - The release of WIDOWS prompts John Snadden to recall a Hong Kong derivative

A new release this week at the cinemas is WIDOWS (above), a big screen remake of a small screen UK mini-series from the early 1980s. The latter was written by Lynda La Plante (PRIME SUSPECT, TRIAL AND RETRIBUTION) and produced by Euston Films (creators of THE SWEENEY and MINDER TV series). This latest version is helmed by art-house fave Steve McQueen (12 YEARS A SLAVE), and has been transplanted from the East End of London to the Windy City, Chicago.
Widow Warriors poster
The original TV series was popular and the inspiration for a number of similar themed programmes and film projects. In 1990, the booming film industry in Hong Kong saw the premiere of WIDOW WARRIORS, with a larger-than-life bevy of Canto screen femme fatales seeking revenge for the murders of their husbands by a rival triad gang.
Widow Warriors
The widows calling the shots are played by HK stars Kara Hui (8 DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER, WUXIA), Michiko Nishawaki (IN THE LINE OF DUTY 3, ANGEL TERMINATORS) and Elizabeth Lee (LONG ARM OF THE LAW 3, TOUCH OF EVIL). Ex-Shaw Brothers actor turned director Johnny Wang Lung-Wei, was renowned for his violent and tough-as-nails Hong Kong crime dramas such as BLOODY BROTHERHOOD and HONG KONG GODFATHER.
Widow Warriors
Many HK movie aficionados consider WIDOW WARRIORS to be Lung Wei's best film, it's definitely his best looking pic and comes with a well-structured story-line. The action content is front and centre and the location work has all the grit and sleaze of the best Cantonese crime dramas. 

It's a hard film to find but worth searching for...maybe even a download?

Thursday 22 November 2018

At the Inner West Film Forum (at the Petersham Bowling Club) - A rare screening of Nigel Buesst's BONJOUR BALWYN (Melbourne, Victoria, 1971)

John Duigan, Bonjour Balwyn
I'm sure I've written about Nigel Buesst's wonderful low-budget comedy BONJOUR BALWYN sometime somewhere but can't for the life of me recall just where.

Never mind, it has a very rare screening next Monday 26th November at the Petersham Bowling Club  starting at 7.30 pm sponsored by the Inner West Film Forum. If you've never seen this little gem of a movie then head out to to the Petersham Bowling Club for what will be a treat.

A little background. Bonjour Balwyn was an early recipient of the modest largesse of the Experimental Film Fund established by the Gorton Government on the back of the recommendations of Phillip Adams, Barry Jones and the now forgotten Peter Coleman. Oops, nostalgia.

John Duigan has the lead in Bonjour Balwyn.  He plays Kevin Agar a young man publishing a struggling magazine, beset by creditors including one played by moi (wearing glasses) in a scene shot at the Melbourne trots one Saturday night.

Kevin's struggles to raise money lead him to take a job as an offsider to a repossession agent played by the great man Peter Cummins. The scenes of the two at work are, IMHO, hilarious.

Its a terrific little movie played with a lot of heart and soul and it, along with Brian Davies Brake Fluid not merely kicked along Nigel's career but also introduced John Duigan, till then an unknown would be actor/writer/novelist hanging around the University of Melbourne.

I can just hope that more than a few with either long memories or abundant curiosity turn up for the show.

The evening is completed by a screening of another of Nigel's medium length movies, the boxing drama Come Out Fighting. 

Quite a Night!

Tuesday 20 November 2018

On disc (in France) and streaming - Rod Bishop uncovers an adaptation of Marguerite Duras LA DOULEUR (Emmanuel Finkiel, France, 2017)

Translated into English as Pain or Memoir of War, Emmanuel Finkiel has adapted Marguerite Duras’s harrowing account of the French Resistance in Paris during the last days of the Second World War. 
This cinematic version of Duras’s search for her captured husband Robert Atelme and his eventual return, near death and in a drastically emaciated state from the Dachau concentration camp, is France’s official entry into the Best Foreign Film category for the 2019 Academy Awards.
Completed in 2017 and released in France in January 2018 (where 350,000 attended), La Douleur has so far only managed further exhibition in Greece (box office $US41,000), Spain ($US101,000) and the USA ($US102,000).
Finkiel wisely re-orders the first two of Duras’s stories and starts with her relationship to the traitor Rabier, who collaborates with the Germans to assist in the deportation of French Jews to the concentration camps. Here,
Mélanie Thierry (Duras) and BenoÎt Magimel (Rabier) are magnificent - she dancing around his attentions, trying to extract news about Robert and he, coyly romancing, hoping she will betray the Resistance leader Francois Mitterrand (here called Francois Morland). Magimel’s performance is so impressive, it’s a better portrayal than Duras managed in her book.
In the second hour, Finkiel concentrates on the agony of Robert’s continued disappearance (as the search moves from Buchenwald to Dachau), and on Duras’s love affair with her Resistance comrade Dionys (Benjamin Biolay). The voice-over encapsulates Duras’s clear literary style conveying all the suffering, desire and anger of her emotions; her eyes simultaneously flaring with resilience and despondency. 
She often watches herself, Finkiel placing two of her in the same frame, to show, in Télérama’s words “the reality of her emotions and their representation”. Thierry’s mesmerizing performance is a tour-de-force.
Mélanie Thierry as Marguerite Duras, La Douleur "a tour-de-force"
Along the way, wartime Paris is impressively rendered as we come to intimately know Duras’s apartment and visit cafes full of collaborators; train stations packed with gaunt prisoners returning from the camps; the Resistance fighters in situ; and the energized celebrations at Liberation.
There’s even a cinema screening Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, five years after it was first released.

Sunday 18 November 2018

Russian Resurrection and Cine Latino Film Festivals - Peter Hourigan unearths SUMMER (Kirill Serebrennikov, Russia) and A TRANSLATOR (Rodrigo & Sebastián Barriuso, Cuba)

Those words at the start of a movie often give me some trepidation.  Often it’s an explanation as to why the movie to follow lacks credibility, or as an excuse to throw any and everything into the action. So, when it does apply to a film and it does not claim that at the start, an end reveal can actually have an impact.
Two films I saw a couple of days apart made me think about how we relate to a movie ‘based on a true story.’  Both were screened in the current batch of film festivals, one the Russian Resurrection Festival, the other the Palace Cinemas Cine Latino Film Festival.  And both were roughly contemporaneous in their period. 
I saw the Russian film, Summer (poster, left) first. This is directed by Kirill Serebrennikov.  The director has a Jewish father, a Ukrainian mother and since last year has been under house arrest, allowed no internet access and with other restrictions. Even so, he has kept working, and is currently trying to direct a new Mozart production for the Zurich Opera, by using USBs. 
He also directed the excellent film, The Student (2016) about a high school student who feels the world has surrendered to evil, and starts challenging his teachers and all around him. 
Summer, which was screened in Cannes this year, is set in the late 1980s in the Leningrad pop/rock/ would-be punk music scene, Mostly filmed in black and white scope, the main character is Victor Tsoi who becomes the protégé of an older musician Mike Naumenko. A triangle develops with Mike’s wife Natalia. This is not an unusual story – the fascination is the depiction of the music underground scene at this time in the Soviet Union when serious cracks were becoming visible in the culture, particularly with young people who were only too aware of a world outside.
Their prized possessions are LPs of Bob Dylan or the Rolling Stones or the Sex Pistols. There is one scene that so embodies the oldies attempts to repress young culture.  We see an officially approved rock concert – of course the lyrics have been officially checked beforehand.  The band is on stage, the audience – largely young girls in their nice twin sets – sits demurely in their seats. Big-bosomed babushkas prowl the aisles ready to eject anyone who dares to stand up or scream or in any way break decent behavior. 
Until one of the musicians basically says, “Fuck this” and lets fly with a heavy thumping riff and mayhem breaks out. At last the girls in the audience are clearly enjoying themselves. Our visuals become scribbled over, graffiti fashion, madly adding another level of animated excitement, for the heavy rock number. (The film’s poster hints at the style which punctuates other exhilarating moments in the film.)  Until a new title cuts us back to size, “This never happened.”  We’re back in the reality of repressed rock.
This picture of Russian society at this moment is fascinating, and though it’s not my music scene I was intrigued by this story set against this important historical time. Then at the end, a coda has stills of both Victor and Mike, with their birth dates and dates for their deaths that are only a few year ahead of our film. We have in fact been watching a bio-pic of two people who did exist.
Now, a few articles have certainly cast doubt on how accurate it is, with one music critic calling it a lie from beginning to end.  But this was not important to me, and perhaps as a result we have a more satisfying dramatic film, certainly a film with a lot of interesting things to say about this period near the end of the Communist regime.  Would I have been as receptive if I’d thought I was seeing a rock music bio-pic?
The Cuban film, A Translator  (poster left) takes place at much the same time.  We meet our main protagonist taking his small son to see Gorbachev when he visited Cuba in 1989.  Malin is a professor of Russian literature, until one day he and his colleagues arrive at the university to find notices on their offices saying that Russian classes have been cancelled until further notice.  Malin is told to report to a large hospital, where he finds he has been assigned to be a translator for a large number of Russian children.
These are in fact children who have been affected by the explosion at the Chernobyl reactor in 1986. Malin is resentful of this assignment. Moreover, the hours he now has to work impose strains in his domestic life where his wife has her own life curating a potentially important art show while also in the early stages of a potentially difficult pregnancy.  Gradually, however, Malin sinks into his new role and discovers a sense of involvement and commitment with these children, encouraging them to write about their experiences.  Or draw if they can’t write.
 But outside the hospital the world is changing.  The political and economic world is not the subject of this film, but it is there and its representation is one of the interesting things in A Translator.  After Gorbachev’s visit, we hear reports of a change to arrangements where Cuba got Russian oil in exchange for its sugar. Now, who will buy Cuba’s sugar?  Early on, we’d seen Malin and his small boy in a supermarket, well stocked with essentials and all those little extras like kids’ lollies or cakes.  Next time he goes, shelves have about two or three cans of perhaps five or six different items.  Petrol rationing soon stops completely – there is no petrol to ration. 
This was not a great film, but one I enjoyed.  The story of cold-hearted professor won over by the fates of sick children is not new, and perhaps not treated in any madly original way.  And I couldn’t keep wondering why, if he was there to be a translator for children, wouldn’t he be more needed during the day than the night? Or was he given the night shift so there could be dramatic situations such as a conflict with his wife over picking up their son?
And then we get some screens at the end with extra information.  After 1990, Cuba treated over 26,000 victims of Chernobyl, including about 1,000 annually between 1990 and 1995.  I never knew that. Then we’re given some details about our protagonist in the period after movie’s end.  Oh, yes. The marriage did break up.  He went to Italy.  She stayed in art curation.
Then the real surprise. Their two boys - Rodrigo and Sebastián Barriuso – grew up and directed this film about their father! Of course, I’d read this in the Festival blurb but forgotten it. And coming like this it was rather a bombshell. It probably doesn’t make the film a better piece of drama, but I certainly found myself in a different relationship with its story.

Talkie Talk #38 - Adam Bowen tracks the new movies and the old including THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE and THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT


Cine Latino Film Festival continues. Visit the Festival website


Strange Colours (2017) - Young Milena (Kate Cheel) visits her ailing pa (Daniel P. Jones) in Lightning Ridge, and gets to know the local community of opal miners and other escapees from “normal” society. (Previously mentioned on Film Alert 101 if you click here and here and again here

The Children Act (2017) - Judge Emma Thompson wrestles with a crumbling marriage and a court case involving a teenager who’s refusing a blood transfusion on medical grounds. Based on a novel by Ian McEwan.

Robin Hood – Taron Egerton wears the green tights; Jamie Foxx is Little John; Eve Hewson is Marian, and Ben Mendelsohn is the Sheriff.

I Used to be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story – based on actual events, I think.

The Nutcracker and the 4 Realms  ­- a young girl (Mackenzie Foy) has an adventure in a world of mice and gingerbread soldiers. Not based on actual events.


Monday 10.15pm and Tuesday 1.45 pm on Fox ClassicsThe Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) – in Mexico, three gold prospectors (Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt and Walter Huston) form an uneasy alliance. Directed by John Huston.

Wednesday 12.15 pm 9GemThe Man in the White Suit (1951) - a brilliant, satirical Ealing comedy, about a single-minded scientist (Alec Guiness), who creates a fabric that never gets dirty or wears out. For once, both management and unions want to suppress it. Some of the finest British character actors are at the top of their form, (Joan Greenwood, Cecil Parker) as is co-writer/director Alexander Mackendrick.

Tuesday 13 November 2018

On Blu-ray - Universal's DRACULA - The Complete Legacy Collection

Last night’s viewing, from the handsome Universal Blu-ray box set of Dracula movies. The reason for going down this byway shall have to remain mysterious for the moment but the set contains what the cover calls the “Complete Legacy Collection – All Six films from 1931-48”. It was bought at Jb Hi-Fi for the princely sum of $32, me having taken advantage of JB offering 20% off every Blu-ray and DVD in the store last weekend.

I wanted first to have another look at the Tod Browning 1931 version, a seventy minute creaker which was a huge success in its day and introduced Bela Lugosi as Dracula. Browning, so one of the extras said, wanted Lon Chaney but the great impersonator and master of make-up was dying.

But when that version was over and a look at the extras was next up on the menu comes “The 1931 Spanish Version”. Now I knew this existed, Michael Jasper had mentioned it many years ago but I’d never seen it. (It’s also mentioned on the cover so they weren’t keeping it a secret.)

The Spanish version is a full 33 minutes longer and shot on the same sets. But it takes its time and every scene is just that bit more elaborate and the characters are placed in the scene with rather more skill, right from the first scene involving the bumpy carriage ride. 

Browning made his version by day and new producer Paul Kohner and director  George Melford assembled a Spanish cast and worked through the night. Melford also used a different cameraman, George Robinson, while Browning used the Weimar expat Karl Freund. It has to be said that Robinson’s lighting in the Seward household is a little brighter but otherwise, it’s better, more starkly light with points of light and dark more prominent.

The consensus on the net seems to say that the Spanish version is better, more nuanced, better acted by the ensemble. It’s also a tad racier. Lupita Tovar is a dark beauty and the costumer ensures we have glimpses of her via plunging necklines and diaphanous dresses that aren’t available to us when watching Anne Harding in Browning’s take.

All told quite a find and the restoration, with the exception of the lost reel three that had to be replaced by some dodgy third generation material, is even better than the Browning version. Crisper for starters which may again have something to do with Robinson’s work.

As for the rest of the pack well it slowly degenerates. The remaining five films run all the way through to Abbott and Costello Meet Frankensteinwhich I’m sure will have me in stitches if I ever get round to it.