Sunday, 31 August 2008


Jean Cocteau gets the point

Well, this turned out to be a delight. Jean Cocteau is still up to his old surrealist tricks but now, thirty years after SANG D'UN POETE, he is much more playful and tongue in cheek about it. There is a sort of plot, thankfully, which starts with Cocteau himself wearing the costume of an 18th Century nobleman wandering through time trying to find the scientist who will kill him so that he can be resurrected as himself (er...this is Cocteau, remember) to explore his own life as a poet/film-maker. Old friends (Yul Brynner, Charles Aznavour etc) wander in at odd moments as do characters from his classic ORPHEE (Cegeste, Death, the Chauffer) and being JC there is the usual selection of pretty young men. It seems obvious to me that Cocteau doesn't mean any of this to be taken seriously and there is a definite twinkle in his eye. The film is, perhaps, summed up for me by the scene where Cocteau is walking down a mountain road and suddenly hears the sound of two motorbikes. "Ah, it is death's messengers from my film Orphee!" he says and stands in the middle of the road, eyes closed and arms outspread to meet his own end - only to find himself being questioned by to Motorcycle cops who wonder why this crazy old man is standing in the middle of the road! All in all this is Cocteau being as playful with his chosen medium as Orson Welles was with F FOR FAKE and enjoying it immensely - acting out scenes backwards and projecting them forward, reuiniting with old lovers and friends....that is really what this film is about, a final visit with old friends for Cocteau and for us. I wondered where Cocteau's most famous star and real-life lover, Jean Marais was. Then, near the end of his wanderings, Cocteau passes the blinded Oedipus played by an uncredited Marais (being led by Annette Stroyberg - the Carmilla of Roger Vadim's BLOOD AND ROSES). You really can't help but love the old Queen. Rating : ****

Saturday, 30 August 2008

HAKUCHI/The Idiot (1951)

Kurosawa turned this film in at 260 minutes and the studio cut it by 100 minutes. Most of the cuts come in the first half of the movie. It is a tribute to Akira Kurosawa that the film is still very watchable and, indeed, still makes sense. In his introduction to the film Alex Cox tells the rather sad story that towards the end of his life Kurosawa returned to the same studio to make another film and spent much of his spare time in the studio film vaults opening unlabeled cans of film, trying to find the cut footage from THE IDIOT. I've never really been into Dostoevsky and have not read the novel on which the film is based. In this case it is probably an advantage. It is not my favourite Kurosawa but it's not my least favourite either (I've never been over fond of his THE BAD SLEEP WELL) and there is much to admire in this story of a traumatised man who finds that he cannot lie. Performances are top notch as usual with lead actress Setsuko Hara outstanding as the femme fatale loved by the idiot of the title (brilliantly played by Masayuki Mori) and his cynical friend played by Toshiro Mifune. The great Takashi Shimura has a supporting role. Beautifully shot in the snowy north of Japan the film looks almost gothic at times (particularly Mifune's decaying mansion). Not a masterpiece (although maybe that is not Kurosawa's fault) but obviously very personal to the director and, as such, a must for his admirers. Rating ***

Friday, 29 August 2008

LE SANG D'UN POETE/Blood of a Poet (1930)

Well you've got to be honest haven't you? If any any artistic movement gets me yawning it's the Surrealists. Don't get me wrong I certainly admire an artist like Salvador Dali for the quality of his draughtsmanship but, oh dear, all those wonky melting clocks and crutches don't do a lot for me. I am told I am not supposed to understand surrealism, just react to it. Well, I react unfavourably most of the time. I can't help it, I like plot. I bow to no one in my admiration of Jean Cocteau's LA BELLE ET LA BETE and ORPHEE and I appreciate that both those films have strong elements of surrealism - but they had plot, they were using the surrealism for a purpose. It seems that the whole point of LE SANG D'UN POETE is that it has no plot and because of that it really bored me stiff. Being a Cocteau film there are lots of bare chested guys and even a well-oiled semi-naked black man and some chiffon. You can see the ideas that later were incorporated into his classics - among them the artist going through a mirror used in ORPHEE and the deadly snowball from LES ENFANTS TERRIBLES. But this doesn't save it for me. Yes, I know it is historically of great interest (just on the strength of LA BELLE and ORPHEE anything remotely connected to Cocteau is of interest) and it's good that Eureka have made it available but I'm really going to have to steel myself to watch TESTAMENT D'ORPHEE. Rating : **


1915 - 1982
One of the very greatest of screen beauties,
a wonderful actress.
Intermezzo (1939)
Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde (1941)
Casablanca (1942)
For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943)
Gaslight (1943)
Spellbound (1945)
Saratoga Trunk (1945)
Notorious (1946)
Under Capricorn (1949)
Stromboli (1950)
Europa (51)
Journey to Italy (54)
Anastasia (56)
Autumn Sonata (78)

Thursday, 28 August 2008


I don't really remember a lot about THUNDER IN THE SUN(1959) which was written and directed by Russell Rouse from a story by James Hill (supposedly the very English Hill who scripted BORN FREE but if it was he was on drugs!). The wacky plot is a group of Basques who are travelling to California with their grape vines by wagon train. They are guided by Jeff Chandler the well known cross dresser. The Basques are played by various French actors who really should have known better and Susan Hayward who had previously played a red headed Mongol princess in John Wayne's THE CONQUEROR. Real Basques don't do Flamenco but that don't stop our Susie in this film and researching it on IMDb I discovered that the Basques are really pissed off with this film. So what have I chosen as my Movie Snapshot ? Well, I've chosen the bit that makes me remember this film. When the pesky redskins attack the Basques start leaping around among the rocks like frogs and yodelling! What makes this memorable (and believe me people who have seen this do remember it) is that the actors don't just jump - they are propelled into space by hidden trampolines! You don't see that too often in a Western!

Wednesday, 27 August 2008


What's with all this tagging that's going on ? Cerpts, over at the Land of Cerpts and Honey is not content with having named his top hundred films a while back but now he is naming his top ten! And he wants everybody else to to do it. At my former workplace a group of film fans were playing a similar game once and asked my friend John what his favourite film was. Innocently, John said "BORN FREE". Silence followed and slowly everybody moved away from him. This sort of thing can be deeply embarassing when non-film buffs are involved. I was having a fairly informed conversation with some friends about our love of movies and one of the group very kindly tried to include my partner's niece in the conversation by asking her what the best film she has ever seen was. She thought carefully for a minute and then said "COYOTE UGLY!" An embarassed silence followed as everybody tried to think how we could continue the conversation without seeming to rudely ignore what she'd just said.

Anyway, I'll play the game again, although I really do find it difficult to pick just ten titles and I certainly won't be putting them in order of preference as Cerpts did...and anyway, I'll change the list tomorrow. So, without further ado (I'm simply playing for time) here's the ten favourite films for today in no particular order.

1. THE GODFATHER (Francis Ford Coppola) See, I'm cheating already because by THE GODFATHER I really mean all three films in Coppola's mafia saga and I'm claiming all three as one choice. Wonderful intricate plotting, great performances and great direction.

2. VERTIGO (Alfred Hitchcock) My favourite Hitchcock without a doubt.

3. WINTER LIGHT (Ingmar Bergman) Powerful, chilling and above all personal masterpiece
from the director who reaches the places few others dare to venture.

4. PERSONA (Ingmar Bergman) Bergman's "vampire" movie - another indispensible masterpiece fro the master of angst.

5. MEAN SREETS (Martin Scorsese) Possibly not the very greatest of films by Scorsese but still my personal favourite, full of exciting ideas, terrific performances and a real sense of a director totally in love with his medium.

6. CITIZEN KANE (Orson Welles) What can I say that has not been said before ? Each time I see it I fall in love with films all over again and find that the excitement of watching it has not diminished.

7. THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP (Michael Powell) When it comes to Powell there is so much to choose from and I could have easily chosen A CANTERBURY TALE, PEEPING TOM, THE RED SHOES or A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH.

8. SEVEN SAMURAI (Akira Kurosawa) One of the greatest of adventure films.

9. RED BEARD (Akira Kurosawa) This was the wild card. I expected my second Kurosawa to be his other masterpiece IKIRU but RED BEARD jumped in at the last moment.

10. MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (John Ford) Iconic Western from America's great poet of the frontier.
Well, that's it. I can live with telling people that they are my favourite movies...but tomorrow the list might include Marcel Carne's ENFANTS DU PARADISE, Hawk's RIO BRAVO and...damn it!
I'll quit while I'm ahead.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008


Sorry about the lack of posts recently. My time has been taken up with a couple of new projects and movies have been put aside for a short period. Got some interesting titles coming up soon including Kurosawa's version of Dostoevsky's THE IDIOT, an early Bergman called SUMMER INTERLUDE and the restored version of Carl Dreyer's VAMPYR. I'll get these posted as soon as possible. But for now here is a little light diversion which I'm going to call MOVIE SNAPSHOTS. They are just that...little snapshots of lines of dialogue, images, scenes or performances that are burned into my memory when, often, the rest of the film has faded. My first movie snapshot comes from a routine 1950's crime thriller called HELL ON FRISCO BAY directed by Frank Tuttle and starring Alan Ladd, Edward G.Robinson and Joanne Dru. In one scene Alan Ladd goes into a bar to question a bar room gal played by Fay Wray. When Ladd leaves Fay is left alone at a table with her drink and a guy sidles up and sits down. "Can I drive you home?" says the guy. Fay looks at him "You gotta car?" The guy shakes his head, "No, a whip!"....years later I have forgotten the plot, I'd even forgotten that the film was in color but I've never forgotten that line.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

EL ESPINOZO DEL DIABLO/The Devil's Backbone (2001)

Is it just me ? When I saw Guillermo del Toro's PAN'S LABRINTH, I found myself completely engrossed by the "human" story and felt that the fantasy trappings were totally unnecessary. It was an interesting film to be sure but I really couldn't see what all the fuss was about. And here I go again with THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE! The whole concept of the children in the decaying orphanage being cared for by a struggling staff while the Spanish Civil War rages without and a murder has been commited within has the making of a gripping film but I found the supernatural element added to the story was completely superfluous (and believe me I love a good ghost story) and simply wasn't needed and actually detracted from the power of the story...and just what was that bomb all about ? Answers on a postcard please. I was never 100% convinced by CRONOS either - although, again, there is the heart of a very interesting film there and a pretty original one at that. But back to THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE : Taken out of context the ghost scenes work well enough but at no point did I feel that extra little frisson that comes with a truly top class ghost movie. Final trivia point : Did the wooden leg exist solely so the gold could be hidden in it (it seems to have no other reason for being in the story) or was it del Toro's personal homage to fellow Spanish director Luis Bunuel. Sorry Guillermo, for me the jury is still out. Which is not to say you are uninteresting and, hey, just loved HELLBOY. Rating : *** (go figure!)

Monday, 18 August 2008

Tagged down under!

OH DEAR, I'VE BEEN TAGGED! Skiffy Films has tagged me with this Science Fiction Meme: "where the assignment is to mark the instances where I have read the book related to a famous sf movie. In some cases it’s the novel/story the movie was based on, in others it’s a novel adapted from the movie. Here are the rules:
Copy the list below.
Mark in bold the movie titles for which you read the book.
Italicize the movie titles for which you started the book but didn’t finish it.
Tag 5 people to perpetuate the meme.

1. Jurassic Park
2. War of the Worlds
3. The Lost World: Jurassic Park
4. I, Robot
5. Contact
6. Congo
7. Cocoon
8. The Stepford Wives
9. The Time Machine
10. Starship Troopers
11. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
12. K-PAX
13. 2010
14. The Running Man
15. Sphere
16. The Mothman Prophecies
17. Dreamcatcher
18. Blade Runner(Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)
19. Dune
20. The Island of Dr. Moreau
21. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
22. The Iron Giant(The Iron Man)
23. Battlefield Earth
24. The Incredible Shrinking Woman
25. Fire in the Sky
26. Altered States
27. Timeline
28. The Postman
29. Freejack(Immortality, Inc.)
30. Solaris
31. Memoirs of an Invisible Man
32. The Thing(Who Goes There?)
33. The Thirteenth Floor
34. Lifeforce(Space Vampires)
35. Deadly Friend
36. The Puppet Masters
37. 1984
38. A Scanner Darkly
39. Creator
40. Monkey Shines
41. Solo(Weapon)
42. The Handmaid’s Tale
43. Communion
44. Carnosaur
45. From Beyond
46. Nightflyers
47. Watchers
48. Body Snatcher

I tag Dave's Blog, Serena Cairns, Choking the Alligator

Sunday, 10 August 2008


My initial reaction to this movie was diappointment. I really enjoyed much of the plot because it is set in the same milieu as the novel "Carter Beats the Devil" - the world of stage illusionists. When the film's twist was finally revealed I felt hugely let down that the story had moved into the world of science fiction. I spent the whole of the next day mentally deciding how I was going to express my disappointment on this blog. Finally, I sit at the keyboard and wham! I realise just how clever the film is...and how I really need to see it again and how it will become a different film. I'm not even sure that the film's ultimate twist is revealed to the audience if what one of the characters says is adhered to.....

So, I'm going to write absolutely nothing about the plot. If you've not seen it, do so. If you like it, watch it again and, more importantly, if you don't like it, still watch it again. Director is Chistopher Nolan and he's working with two of his Batman stars - Christian Bale and Michael Caine and Hugh Jackman is excellent as well. Look out for David Bowie in an important supporting role. Rating ***

Monday, 4 August 2008


You couldn't make it up if you tried....a comedy directed in by comedian Woody Allen about a psychopathic strangler featuring not only Woody himself but Mia Farrow, John Malkovich, Madonna, Donald Pleasence, William H. Macy, Fred Gwynne, Kate Nelligan, John C.Reilley, John Cusack, Cathy Bates, Lilly Tomlin and Jodie Foster! As if that isn't enough the whole thing is filmed in black and white in the style of a German Expressionist film of the 1920's. I've spoken to admirers of Woody Allen who have never heard of this film. Woody plays Kleinmann (ie. little man) who is roped in by a group of vigilantes who are searching for the mad strangler who is terrorizing a fogbound European city. What Woody doesn't know is that he is the bait. While wandering the dark streets he meets Mia Farrow who has run away from the circus......All this gives Woody a chance to explore some pretty heavy stuff about love, happiness, pain and the whole damn thing. For me this film is Woody at his very peak bringing together all the things that really matter to him and damn the audience if they don't like it. Like so many great films the ending is controversial inasmuch as you either get it or you don't (or if you don't perhaps you love it so much you don't care either way) and is right up there with WINTER LIGHT, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA and ZATOICHI as one of the endings that haunt my dreams. Rating : ****

Saturday, 2 August 2008


Over on the sidebar you will see a quote from Harlan Ellison which I stole from my pal Cerpts over at The Land of Cerpts and Honey. I don't know where Cerpts got it from but I thought it was important enough to have on my blog as well. I've not read anything by Harlan Ellison for years and years but after I saw that quote I went on YouTube an caught up with some Ellison clips. It was good to see that Harlan has lost none of his bite. Two of the most enjoyable books I read by the writer were THE GLASS TEAT and THE OTHER GLASS TEAT which were collections of Harlan's TV criticism and I've often thought back to those volumes (sadly no longer in my possession) and thought how accurate were Harlan's predictions about the way popular television was heading. Harlan saw it twenty-five years ago. But sadly, the decline is spreading out from TV into the wide world. Good to see you are still out there fighting the fuckers HE.

Friday, 1 August 2008

SHADOWS (1959)

This film is very special to me for several reasons. I saw it when I was still at school and it was one of the first "grown up" films I chose for myself. I remember that when my friend Brian and I came outof the cinema we couldn't stop talking about it. We found the whole style of the film exciting and fresh - so different from the, mainly, Hollywood product we had been exposed to. We were both just beginning to explore the wide world of cinema thanks to the Holloway School Film Society and seeing the film again after all these years made me re-live some of the excitement of those days. On a more personal level I was captivated by the actress Lelia Goldoni, not only for her beautiful eyes and engaging smile but because I was going out with a girl who looked just like her (oh, Elaine Weston, where are you now?).

John Cassavetes occupies a niche all of his own in American film history. Like Orson Welles before him Cassavetes was an actor as well and over the years continued to act to finance his own films. Like Welles he tended to work with people who were his friends - Peter Falk, Ben Gazzara, Seymour Cassell, his wife Gena Rowlands and others. Cassavetes was famously loyal to these friends and if John was working there was a good chance that he'd rope in a few buddies, even on other peoples films. When Cassavetes got to star in the excellent TV series JOHNNY STACCATO his SHADOWS cast all got guest spots - Lelia, Ben Carruthers, Tom Reese. When John was cast as one of THE DIRTY DOZEN he suggested Ben Carruthers for a role.

Sadly, today SHADOWS is a shadow of itself. It almost became a lost film. This restoration is made up of "selected sequences" and instead of the original 89 minutes we have a mere 70 odd minutes. Whether the rest of the film can ever be restored from the extremely bad condition original negative is doubtful. SHADOWS is not the greatest film ever made, it is sometimes crudely amatuerish but it is, I feel, an enormously important film. It's influence on later directors is obvious from the opening shots (Scorcese particularly - see WHOSE THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR, MEAN STREETS and even GOODFELLAS). The film was improvised and it is fascinating to see how the actors cope with this - some like Lelia and Hugh Hurd seem perfectly comfortable while others like Anthony Ray are obviously less so. But this all adds to the extraordinary feel of realism. Lelia Goldoni gives a brilliant performance as the black girl who can pass for white and Hugh Hurd is totally convincing as her older brother, a crooner whose career is on the skids. Ben Carruthers as the younger brother is all anger and James Dean moodiness in a performance that is rather too mannered but quite captivating at the same time.

SHADOWS is part racial drama (Goldoni is seduced by asshole Antony Ray who is shocked to discover her racial background) and it is part I VITTELONI as Carruthers and his two buddies hang out, aimlessly, on the mean streets of New York.

I'm more an admirer of Cassavettes than a real fan. My problem with his films such as FACES and HUSBANDS is that I can't stand Ben Gazzara and when Cassavetes was letting his actors improvise scenes often go on far to long. His mainstream films are all worth a look and he was, perhaps, for me, at his best when combining the two styles in films like GLORIA. He was a true maverick as a director and often a fascinating actor. America should treasure his memory..

Trvia : Near the start of the film Carruthers goes to see his brother in a rehearsal room. As he enters a guy in dark glasses bounces past the camera in time with a practising chorus line - it's Bobby Darin who would later star in Cassavettes TOO LATE BLUES. Rating ****