Posts Tagged With: BFI

Try Eine Kleine Tenderness… MÄDCHEN IN UNIFORM Reviewed.

BD / DVD. BFI. Regions B/2. PG.

“You may forget but let me tell you this, someone in some future time will think of us… ” Sappho (620-570 bc), from The Art Of Loving Women.

Mädchen in Uniform could easily have been dreamed up by The Poetess herself, on the original Love Island of Lesbos and its themes would fit comfortably into a movie released in 2021 (though one doubts that any such picture could be anything like as compelling). In fact it dates back 90 years to the fertile flux of the Weimar Republic, when Germany was teaching Hitchcock, Hollywood and everybody else how to make films…

Having recently lost her mother, 14 year old Manuela von Meinhardis (Hertah Thiele) is deposited by her Aunt in a strict girls’ boarding school, an establishment dedicated to grinding out compliant wives for Prussia’s ruling military caste. She gets a pretty friendly welcome from her new dormitory mates, who warn her against a) climbing the imposing central staircase and b) falling in love with Frau von Bernburg (Dorothea Wieck), the beautiful, kindly teacher on whom they’ve developed a massive collective crush. Troubled Manuela thrives under the nurturing care of von Bernburg (whose goodnight kisses seem to suggest a particular fondness for her) and she’s ecstatic when the teacher gifts her one of her undergarments. After a successful school production of Schiller’s Don Carlos, plenty of punch having been consumed, Manuela tipsily and loudly declares her great love and her belief that it’s reciprocated. Unfortunately this is overheard by one of the crusty old staff members, who relays news of it to the formidable Principal (Emilia Unda). She carpets von Bernberg, who accepts the inevitability of resignation but protests: “What you call Sin, I call the great spirit of Love, which takes a thousand forms”. Devastated, Manuela climbs that staircase with the intention of jumping from the top…

This enchanting film was adapted from Christa Winslow’s autobiographical stage play Gestern Und Heute (“Yesterday And Today”), its cast mostly made up of actors (notably Thiele) who had already trodden the boards performing it. With audition and rehearsal time thus minimised, it was (astonishingly) shot over a period scarcely exceeding three weeks and co-operatively funded. Predictably, most of its participants / investors went empty handed as the film’s popularity took off around the world. You’ll scour the (all female) cast in vain for a bad performance but undoubtedly much of that international success was down to the onscreen chemistry between Wieck (for whom Hitler himself reportedly had the hots) and Thiele. Offscreen, these actresses (who were actually both 23 when the film was shot) didn’t get on so well. The appeal of Thiele’s performance, all soulful eyes and heart convincingly worn on her sleeve, is patently obvious but it’s Wieck’s von Bernburg who becomes the cynosure of our fascinated attention. In a milieu of suppressed (to the point of hysteria) homoeroticism, we can only speculate on where she personally draws the demarcation lines between duty, compassion and passion. Although the film never descends into exploitive prurience, vB’s attempts to discourage her young admirers are so weedy, they’re tantamount to encouraging an itch that can never legitimately be scratched and (as Sappho also said): “What cannot be said will be wept”.

Dorothea Wieck

Mädchen in Uniform takes the commonplace Sturm und Drang of unfulfilled romantic yearning and inserts it into a pivotal historical moment, when Germany had a choice (much like the one facing us today) between renewed nationalism and militarism and a more humane, open and inclusive society… and took a wrong turn. The arch humanist Schiller seems to be an odd choice for a performance in Emilia Unda’s authoritarian establishment, which in real life was the Potsdam Military Orphanage, founded by Frederick The Great (and came with oodles of inbuilt atmosphere, plus the requisite staircase) but how better to illustrate the conflicting tendencies nestling cheek by jowl in the German psyche? The symbolism of the stern old headmistress slinking away into the shadows is clear enough (“a better world is possible”) but we we all know how things actually turned out and the girls stripy uniforms would be given an unfortunate unintended retrospective resonance within a decade. In reality the makers of this film had no more chance of influencing the catastrophic events that were about to unfold than Sappho and her students had of averting the rise of the Tyrants, the Persian incursions or the Peloponnesian War…

… ah yes, the makers of this film. Here lies the rub for those who have championed Mädchen In Uniform as a clarion call for inclusivity and acceptance while cheerfully writing its co-director Carl Froelich (and his male assistants) out of the story. Bibi Berki’s podcast series, pointedly entitled The Kiss – The Women Who Made A Movie Masterpiece (several episodes of which are included among the bonus materials here) does mention Froelich but wastes no time demoting him from co-director to producer (contradicting Thiele’s own reminiscences) and seeming to suggest that he wanted to turn the film into something a bit saucier (as though there’s some kind of link between it and Wolf C. Hartwig’s titillating Schulmädchen-Report series from the 1970s). While this might fit Berki’s feminist take on MIU, there’s little in Froelich’s subsequent filmography to lend the notion any credence. Similarly, when we peruse the further screen-directing credits of the other credited (and Berki’s favoured) director, Leontine Sagan, we find that she made just two more films and on each she worked with a co-director (each of whom happened to be a man). However this gels or fails to gel with Berki’s grand theory, the weight of the evidence suggests that Sagan and Froelich directed the film together, that she predominantly directed the players and he was mostly concerned with the film’s technical aspects… a collaboration which worked splendidly. Is Froelich dismissed because of his gender or did he become infra dig because he later threw in his film making lot with Goebbels? Worth remembering that Sagan herself wasn’t exactly beyond reproach in this context, concluding her theatrical career in Apartheid-era South Africa.

Lest we forget…

I’ve no room or inclination here to pursue arguments about Exceptionalism and “separating the Art from The Artist”. Suffice to say, if you can manage that separation, Mädchen In Uniform emerges as, obviously, “a milestone in Queer Cinema” but more than that, as an exquisitely beautiful film. There are times when the jaded hack has to lay aside their trusty critical tools and the only possible reaction to the film he (or she) is watching is to swoon! Does that make me sound like a big girl’s blouse? If you don’t get it, then I take it you’ve never enjoyed / endured the raptures / miseries attendant on remotely adoring another human being… for which you have my sincerest commiserations / congratulations.

Other supplementary materials include an audio commentary by film historian Jenni Olson, Chrystel Oloukoï’s video essay Women and Sexuality in Weimar Cinema and “a selection of treasures from the BFI National Archive to charm and delight”, a nifty collection of shorts comprising Tilly And The Fire Engines (1911), Hints And Hobbies No.11: Hints To The Ladies On Jiu-Jitsu (1926), Day At St. Christopher’s College And School (c. 1920s) and 4 And 20 Fit Girls (1940)… anyone who forks out for Mädchen In Uniform in the misguided hope of onanistic accompaniment will find the latter as bemusing as he finds the main feature. The first pressing only comes with an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by So Mayer, Chrystel Oloukoï, Bibi Berki, Henry K Miller and Sarah Wood.

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“Inhuman & Indecent”… The Ongoing Enigma Of DEMENTIA.

BD / DVD. BFI. Region B. 12.

The first time you watched Eraserhead (1977) or maybe Carnival Of Souls (1962), did you think to yourself: “I’ve never seen anything quite like that before?” If you did, you probably hadn’t seen Dementia (made in 1953, finally released in 1955) though I’d be prepared to wager that David Lynch and Herk Hervey did, before taking up their cameras. This singular cinematic oddity has exerted an unacknowledged influence over countless films, arguably encompassing Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) and offerings as recent as David Slade’s contribution (This Way To Egress) to the 2018 portmanteau effort Nightmare Cinema (2018)… and you know what? I’m even starting to wonder about the opening shots of Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960)…

Of course the most maddening thing about this visual record of one psychotic woman (Adrienne Barrett) and her long day’s journey into night is how very little we know (doodly squat, to be precise) about Dementia’s elusive writer / director John Parker. He isn’t even granted either of those credits on any print (“a John Parker production” is as far as it goes) and although Parker family money apparently underwrote the picture, some commentators detect the veiled auteurial hand of associate producer Bruno VeSota, who lent his imposing (Orson Welles-like) physical presence to the casts of such exploitation classics as Tell-Tale Heart (his 1947 screen debut), The Wild One (1953), The Fast And The Furious (1954), The Undead and Rock All Night (both 1957), War Of The Satellites, The Cry Baby Killer and Hot Car Girl (all 1958) and the crucial 1959 quartet of I Mobster, The Wasp Woman, A Bucket Of Blood and Attack Of The Giant Leeches. Then there was Invasion Of The Star Creatures and The Violent And The Damned (both 1962), Attack Of The Mayan Mummy (1964), Curse Of The Stone Hand and Creature Of The Walking Dead (both 1965), The Wild World Of Batwoman aka She Was A Hippy Vampire (1966) and Hell’s Angels On Wheels (1967). Yeah, Bruno got around…

Here he plays “Rich Man”, the sugar daddy who picks up “The Gamin” (Barrett), with the pandering assistance of Richard Barron’s “Evil One”… I think the word “pimp” was probably banned by the Hays Code or something (God knows what Pastor Hays and his office made of the Bunuelian severed hand that scuttles through several scenes of Dementia). As it is, the New York Censorship Board rejected the film for two years on the grounds of its “inhumanity and indecency” (!)

Rescuing “The Gamin” from skid row street hassles and pursuit by a cop who recalls her abusive father (both played by Ben Roseman), “Rich Man” takes her on a date from Hell, culminating in a beatnik jazz club session that describes a queasy crescendo recalling the climax to the mother of all portmanteau horror movies, 1945’s Dead Of Night, resolving itself (or failing to so so) in similarly unsettling fashion.

While Curtis Harrington’s Night Tide (another film in which VeSota appeared) renders similar Venice Beach locations as vaguely menacing, this one goes the whole Nightmare Noir bit with distorted Expressionist shots and compositions courtesy of William C. Thompson (raising the barely credible possibility that Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space might not even qualify as the most offbeat item on this one eyed cinematographer’s CV). Special mention for the after dark, Dickensian restaging of the protagonist’s abuse / neglectful upbringing in a cemetery.

In retrospect, despite the glowing testimonial of Preston Sturges (yes, the Preston Sturges, who declared Dementia “a Film To Purge Your Libido & Permeate Your Idioplasm!”) it’s hardly surprising that such an avant garde (and dialogue free) effort struggled to find mainstream distribution. The widest (fragmentary) exposure it’s received up till now undoubtedly came via its inclusion as the film-within-a-film in The Blob! (1958), though that movie’s producer Jack H. Harris also released Dementia in an alternative cut retitled Daughter Of Horror (available among the extras here) in 1957.

Harris also tacked on a truly hysterical voice over track, delivered by the young Ed McMahon, whose most impactful contribution on popular culture has been with the infinitely pithier and punchier “Heeeere’s Johnny!” introduction to Johnny Carson’s long running American chat show. Hey, I wonder if that could be worked into a film about somebody slowly losing their marbles…

Other extras, aside from the expected image gallery and trailers (plus Joe Dante’s trailer micro-appraisal) include a short compare compare-and-contrast exercise underlining the extraordinary care the Cohen Film Collection applied in its restoration of such a niche property and (stop me if you’ve heard these words before) a newly recorded audio commentary by Kat Ellinger. There’s also Alone With The Monsters, a kindred spirit, sixteen minute short in which Nazli Nour explores the dying thoughts of a demented woman. In the first pressing only, you’ll also discover a fully illustrated collectors’ booklet with new essays by Ian Schultz and the BFI’s William Fowler and Vic Pratt.

Sit down, make yourself uncomfortable and “enjoy” Dementia…

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Two Moreaus Never Know… EVE and MADEMOISELLE Reviewed.

EVE. BD. Indicator. Region B. 15. Released 28/09/20.
MADEMOISELLE. BD / DVD. BFI. Region B. 15. Released 21/09/20.

“The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer: What do women want?” Sigmund Freud.

More pertinently for our present purpose, what did Jeanne Moreau want? The Queen of 1960s European Arthouse Cinema drew a flotilla of moths to her flame… Tony Richardson left his wife (a certain Vanessa Redgrave) for Moreau (whom he directed in Mademoiselle, 1966) and Joseph Losey might or might not have consummated his crush on her (his son Gavrik is undecided) though he got his wings badly singed during the postproduction of Eve (1962). What, exactly, did he expect, tackling the story of Man’s fall from grace at the hands of Woman?

In Losey’s film Tyvian Jones (Stanley Baker) is your basic angry young boyo, a hard living Dylan Thomas type who’s graduated from the Pits of his homeland to La Dolce Vita in Italy, where his novel Stranger In Hell has been adapted into a film that’s taking the Venice Film Festival by storm. Tyvian and the film’s director Sergio Branco (Giorgio Albertazzi) pound the publicity treadmill together, barely concealing their loathing for each other. Branco’s in love with his personal assistant Francesca (Virna Lisi), but she’s besotted with Tyvian, who strings her along while pursuing his own fascination with the manipulative playgirl Eve Olivier (Moreau), a conniving fortune chaser who spends the rare moments she’s not gold digging listening to Billie Holiday and reading her autobiography Lady Sings The Blues (a consummate Artist, Holliday presents, perhaps, not the greatest role model in life… ask Amy Winehouse). “Do you know how much this weekend will cost me?” Tyvian asks Eve one point. “Do you know how much it will cost you?” comes the pointed response.

As well as believing the author to be a cad, Branco has his suspicions about Tyvian’s back story. Indeed, the latter confesses to Moreau that he’s not actually an ex miner, also that, for A Dylan Thomas wannabe, he doesn’t drink very much. It is, however, during a particularly epic session of soaking it up that he makes his really big confession to her: the reason he’s finding it difficult to come up with the follow up script Branco’s bugging him for is that he’s not actually much of a writer, either, having copped the manuscript of Stranger In Hell from his dead brother! Shades of Udo Kier’s character in James Kenelm Clarke’s Exposé (1976). The resolution here is nothing like as lurid as that to Clarke’s “video nasty” but certainly makes for high octane dramatic stuff.

Losey, who was never shy about ‘fessing up to his misfires, believed his original 155 minute cut of Eve (which producers Robert and Raymond Hakim pulled, ironically enough, from the Venice Film Festival and which is now irretrievably lost) to be not just his best film, but one the greatest films ever made. We’ll never know, the longest of the four (!) versions curated here clocking in a good half an hour shorter than the director’s preferred cut. We can thrill to the committed performances of the principals, admire the beautiful black and white photography of Gianni Di Venanzo and (the uncredited) Henri Decaë, ditto Michel Legrand’s cool jazzy score (Losey had wanted Miles Davis) but Eve, as originally envisaged by its director, remains as tantalisingly elusive as Moreau’s character herself, to paraphrase the great Hoagy Carmichael: “the stardust of yesterday / the celluloid of years gone by”.

By one account the Hakims had been hoping for some kind of two-fisted Noir effort (Eve is an adaptation of a James Hadley Chase novel, after all) and their attempts to salvage something remotely approximating such a thing led to the film’s death by a thousand cuts. Alternatively, we hear that they were going for Arthouse from the get go and originally lined up Jean Luc Godard to direct Richard Burton in the Jones role, settling for Baker when that fell through and accepting the actor’s recommendation of his peripatetic mate Losey to direct. You pays your money and you takes your choice…

Liar, thief, braggart, big head, waster of life and love, Jonesy probably had it coming but what did the population of a small French village ever do to deserve the full force malignity of Moreau’s crackers character in Richardson’s film? It was adapted from a story by Jean Genet, so there’s a clue…

Mademoiselle (brilliantly shot, again in black and white, by the great David Watkin) opens with a Catholic rite which is at root no more than an attempt to propitiate the random violence of nature. Meanwhile the local schoolteacher / town secretary (Moreau) is opening the sluice gates that will flood the local farms. She’s already perpetrated several arson attacks and will continue to do so. She also does her best to stoke the fires of suspicion, already smouldering away, against itinerant Italian logger Manou (Ettore Manni) who doesn’t exactly do himself any PR favours by bedding most of the villager’s wives. Mademoiselle makes a point of singling out Manou’s son Bruno (Keith Skinner) for punishment and ridicule in the classroom, when she can bring herself to take time out from teaching the kids about Gilles de Rais. In her spare time she visits petty cruelty upon animals.

So what’s her problem? Flashbacks reveal that the frustrated spinster set her first haystack alight when stalking Manou. He looked so hunky helping to put the fire out that she’s had to restage the experience. Meanwhile her bitterness festers as she watches him bonking his way through half the female population. She ultimately enjoys her own (protracted) session in the fields with him, encouraging the viewer to believe that she might be capable of some kind of redemption… but nah, this is Genet, remember and the proceedings climax and close on a note of unalloyed nihilism, with chumps barely evolved from chimps revering their palpably evil “social superiors” and scapegoating “outsiders”. The comment on Vichy France is clear enough but it’s an observation that still rings depressingly true, as a cursory glance at todays News headlines will readily confirm.

Neither of these films is likely to increase your optimism about the prospects for the human race, in the unlikely event that you still entertained any after the events of the last few years.

Eve bonus features. Aside from the four (count ’em) cuts of the film on Indicator’s limited edition BD world premiere (including a new 2K scan of EYE Filmmuseum’s photochemical restoration of the longest variant), you also get archival interviews with Losey and Moreau and a new one in which Gavrick Losey speculates about his fathers’ mental orientation while making the picture. Neil Sinyard (rapidly emerging as a supplementaries superstar) details Eve’s troubled (nay, tormented) post production and attempts manfully to fill in some of the gaps. In a BEHP audio interview, Reginald Beck talks of the films he edited for Losey. The expected trailers and image galleries are present and correct and if you buy one of the first 3,000 units you’ll enjoy a 36-page collectors’ booklet including Losey on Eve, new essays, an assessment of James Hadley Chase’s source novel, full film credits and contemporary critical responses, plus an account of the EYE Filmmuseum restoration.

The BFI’s beautiful HD presentation of Mademoiselle is complimented by an optional commentary track from Adrian Martin… in a recent interview (so very recent that he refers to “the late Alan Parker”) former child actor Keith Skinner (he was also in Zeffirelli’s Romeo And Juliet, two years after Mademoiselle) recalls his experiences on the shoot and relates how he reinvented himself as a respected Ripperologist… among the bonus materials on this release we also find Jan Worth’s ultra-rare 1982 feature Doll’s Eye (1982), a film commissioned by the BFI but never released, which focusses on three different women trying to make their way in a world dominated by male attitudes. Two of the three are played by Bernice Stegers (from Xtro and Lamberto Bava’s masterly Macabro) and the late Sandy Ratcliff (from Eastenders). There’s the expected trailer and image gallery, while the first pressing will also include an illustrated collectors’ booklet with Jon Dear’s take on Mademoiselle, Neil Young on Richardson’s production company Woodfall, Jan Worth’s remembrance of Doll’s Eye, full credits for both that and the main feature, plus Scala legend Jane Giles on cinematic adaptations of Genet.

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JD Sports… COSH BOY Reviewed.

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“Boys like you are bad, through and through…”

BD / DVD Dual Format. Regions B / 2. BFI. 12.

Starting Big School is a challenge at the best of times, but I remember my first few weeks of Secondary Education (circa 1970) being haunted by spectres considerably more troubling than such run-of-the-mill anxieties as making new friends and keeping on the right side of teachers given to doling out beatings as readily as snarky put downs. Playground gossip played up the constant threat we were under from… The Green Jackets! The desperadoes in question were a gang of disaffected black youths (though I imagine they were referred to by a more politically incorrect collective noun back in those days) who would swoop on random unsuspecting schools (especially those considered a bit posh) and form a double line outside the gates at kicking out time. One by one, hapless school kids were forced to run a gauntlet of blows and insults from green jacketed assailants until they reached the end of the line, where a leading proponent of verdant violence would ask them… if their Mum could sew. When a kid replied in the affirmative he’d be dismissed, his face carved with a Stanley knife, to ask her to “sew that up, then!” Those who denied any such needle and thread expertise on the part of their maternal relatives fared no better… they too got slashed up a treat and advised to “get her to practise on that, then!” History doesn’t record whether those who professed ignorance of their Mum’s tailoring skills escaped, or what fate befell anyone sassy enough to question The Green Jackets’ right to pry into their family’s domestic arrangements. Probably just as well…

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You’d better believe we were paralysed by fear of them Green Jackets, despite the complete absence of any corroborative reportage in local TV, radio or print news. Nor did we stop to ask ourselves why no staff members at any of these educational establishments had ever intervened or why the police were so tardy in arriving to break up the alleged gauntlets and subsequent Q&A sessions, allowing the culprits to repair back to whatever urban sink hole they hailed from and plot new outrages. Clearly The Green Jackets were a particularly colourful urban legend, an especially f*cked up figment of somebody’s fevered imagination and you’re probably thinking my peers and I were dopes to fall for it. C’mon, we were 11 years old! Furthermore successive, allegedly more savvy generations have continued to fall for this kind of baloney and social media, in supplanting playground chit-chat, has only made matters worse. It’s not so long, I seem to recall, since we endured a mass panic about killer clowns planning school yard massacres… The extent to which such grass roots memes influence or are influenced by mass media is an argument that will go on long after we’re all dead (slashed to ribbons by Green Jackets or massacred by Killer Clowns, only time will tell). Suffice to say, cinematic exploitation of juvenile delinquency (the JD genre) has never let any sense of perspective hamper the depiction of yoof running wild as box office bait.

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Groovy Juvies have regularly wrecked havoc in Hollywood, ever since the first zoot-suited reefer addict flipped out, daddyo. Marlin Brando rebelled against anything you got, James Dean tore himself apart and bikers rioted on Sunset Strip, anticipating more recent offenders such as the perpetrators of the Purge phenom.

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Here in Blighty, ill informed moral panic over youth cults has been reflected and indeed festered in, e.g. the bizarre depiction of Teddy Boys in Joe Losey’s (These Are) The Damned (1962) and Nicky Henson‘s plastic Angels, dabbling with the occult in Don Sharp’s Psychomania (1973, above). The depiction of edgy youth in Michael Reeves’ (otherwise excellent) The Sorcerers (1967) has to be seen to be believed. Franc Roddam’s Quadrophenia (1979) celebrated the spiritually uplifitng aspect of Mods and Rockers kicking the shit out of each other on Brighton beach. More recently, the prospect of machete mayhem at screenings of Andrew Onwubolu’s gang saga Blue Story have had tabloid editors drooling, while the intolerable TV twaddle of Peaky Blinders continues to exercise its mystifying grip on the nation’s imagination.

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Occasioning even more outrage and unease among the habitually concerned than John Clowes’ universally reviled No Orchids For Miss Blandish (1948), Lewis Gilbert’s Cosh Boy (1953)  was one of the first British productions deemed worthy an ‘X’ Certificate, a device first introduced something like two years previously. Adapted from Bruce Walker’s orginal stage play Master Crook (which had enjoyed a successful run in the West End), Gilbert’s film reaped the bonus publicity / censorship hassles attendant on its release coinciding with the notorious real life Christopher Craig and Derek Bentley murder case. In response and underlining the film’s moralistic (and arguably cop out conclusion), producer Daniel M.Angel appended a rolling prologue caption deploring  “the post war tragedy of juvenile delinquency”, expressing the pious hope that Cosh Boy could do its little bit to help stamp out “this social evil”. Unimpressed, several local authorities ignored the BBFC’s ‘X’ and banned screenings of the film in their bailiwicks.

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“Roy Walsh” and “Alfie Collins” (played respectively by James Kenney and Ian Whittaker, the only cast holdovers from the story’s stage incarnation) do indeed present eerie parallels with (respectively) Craig and the doomed Bentley. The latter in each coupling is a mentally underdeveloped loser, easily manipulated by his sawn-off psychopathic “mate”. The film opens with Walshy slipping a cosh to Alfie and sending him to beat some money out of an unfortunate old biddy, staggering home, blind drunk from the pub.

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Anticipating the way Malcolm McDowell controls his “droogs” in Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange (1971), this guy likes to load the bullets for others to fire (literally, by the time his petty crime spree has escalated to armed robbery). It’s easy to see how he could control the half-witted Alfie, but what about the rest of his gang (at least one of whom seems conspicuously too old for this JD lark)? Walshy’s about as charismatic as a piece of plasticine, nevertheless he manages to lure the succulent Rene (Joan Collins, on loan from Rank) away from her goody two shoes boyfriend, knock her up and abandon her. Will she go for a risky back street abortion or is she doomed to continue the cycle of delinquent degeneracy with yet another latch key kid?

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Throughout the film, authority figures are presented as powerless to curb Roy’s amoral roving, relying on the improving effects of youth clubs and credulously swallowing his vows to mend his ways. The police struggle to pin anything on him and when he is nabbed, magistrates hand out laughable sanctions. HIs weak, well-meaning mother Elsie (Betty Ann Davies) buries her head in the sand and there’s no moderating paternal influence (perhaps Dad was lost in the War). When the rozzers finally finally arrive to collar Walsh for murder, his new stepfather Bob Stevens (Robert Ayres) pleads for time out to whip off his belt and give the kid a good leathering (a gag revived in Robert A. Endelson’s 1977 “video nasty”, Fight For Your Life)… and no matter how Woke you consider yourself, it’s hard to begrudge Roy this long postponed reckoning.

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“Beat him step-daddy, eight to the bar!”

The expected compliment of interesting extras on this BFI Flipside release includes Johnny On The Run, a 68 minute Children’s Film Foundation production that Gilbert directed in the same year as Cosh Boy. In this charming effort, orphaned Polish refugee Janek (Eugeniusz Chylek) gets up to all sorts of adventures in the Scottish Highlands after finding himself not welcome in Edinburgh. Speaking of which, I wonder if – in the absence of those ludicrous Brexit bongs – the Tories will dig up Gilbert’s Harmony Lane (also on this set) for their sad assed Festival Of Brexit. Originally filmed in 3D and screened at the Festival Of Britain in 1951, this 24 minutes (it seems longer) collision of variety acts includes the Beverley Sisters, assorted hoofers, trick skaters, fire-eaters and a performing dog, alongside the comedy stylings of Max Bygraves (don’t worry, Deck Of Cards is conspicuous by its absence). Anybody mourning the death of Variety should be forced to sit down and actually watch this thing. Gilbert’s illustrious career kicked off even earlier and more obscurely than this, with the likes of The Ten Year Plan (1945), a Public Information Film announcing postwar plans to end homelessness, which are even less convincing than ace reporter Charles Hawtrey’s asides about trying to get some lovin’ out of his girlfriend. Sure thing, Charlie! Stranger in the City (1961) is Robert Hartford-Davis’s 22 minute guided tour through the tawdry glamour of 1960s Soho… could that be a young Paul Gadd (= “Gary Glitter”) caught loitering at one point? Looks horribly like him… Teddy Boys is a short excerpt from a 1956 episode of ITV’s current affairs strand This Week (from a time when ITV involved itself with more elevated material than glorified talent shows and relentless ropey “reality” programming) that actually manages to elicits a little pathos from its gormless subject. Speaking of gormless, There’s a brief 2019 interview with Ian “Alfie” Whittaker, reflecting on his participation in the film (no mention of his subsequent success as a set-dresser on films as varied Alien and Under A Cherry Moon… four times Oscar-nominated, he actually won one for Howard’s End in 1992). You also get the US opening sequence (as “The Slasher”), with a more explicit rendering of the baboochka’s coshing and, in the first pressing only, a fully illustrated glossy booklet stuffed with new writing about the film, its troubled time at the BBFC, Teddy Boy fashion, the contemporary Soho jazz scene and full film credits.

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Dunno about you, but I’m bricking it…

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A Squirt Of Grease From The Nether Regions… Paul Verhoeven’s Scandalous SPETTERS Reviewed.

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BD / DVD Dual Format. Regions B / 2. BFI. 18. 

Like many of our antisocial media pals, I imagine, we at The House Of Freudstein held the obligatory November 2019 rewatch of Blade Runner and played the definitive game of “spotting all the onscreen stuff that didn’t actually make it to November 2019″… a list which now includes Rutger Hauer. That was a sad one… I well remember (how could I possibly forget?) the current Mrs Freudstein and I enjoying our very first snog to distract ourselves from a particularly rancid Rutger vehicle, David Peoples’ Salute Of The Jugger (1989). A much better film (albeit one in which Hauer plays a secondary, if not exactly minor, role) is Spetters, directed in 1980  by Paul Verhoeven.

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Verhoeven is a director whose career has paralleled that of Brian De Palma, both in the way that it has oscillated between auteurhood and the budgetary luxury / artistic compromises of big studio properties and the controversy it has often generated on account of its unabashedly sexual, violent and generally non-PC content (though, as with De Palma, history has tended to vindicate Verhoeven). PV’s previous hit, the Dutch resistance epic Soldier Of Orange (1977) had premiered in the presence of Holland’s Royal family but God only knows what Queen Juliana and co made of Spetters, a film which seemed to unite gays, women, the disabled, the religiously inclined and just about everybody else in a chorus of condemnation on its domestic release (one contemporary review even suggested that you could contract an eye disease from watching it), making the subsequent hoohah over Verhoeven’s Showgirls (1995) look like a comparative storm in a D cup. Maybe Her Majesty was sufficiently steeped in Dutch culture to recognise the parallels between Spetters’ vulgar vitality and the  more picaresque canvases of Pieter Bruegel the elder. Did this cautionary tale of ambition (never mind hubris) punished by nemesis remind her of Breugel’s masterpiece The Fall Of Icarus (below)? Perhaps she reacted favourably to the film’s update of the “three questing princes” theme? Perhaps not…

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… especially as the behaviour of Rien (Hans van Tongeren), Eef (Toon Agterberg) and (Hans (Maarten Spanjer) is anything but princely in the traditionally accepted meaning of that term (though I gather the concept has been subject to a major recent recalibration). “There are also heroes in blue collars” insists Verhoeven and the (anti)heroic attempts of these guys to escape grinding routine (and in one case, stifling religious fundamentalism) centre on motocross and the desire to emulate their dirt bike hero Gerrit Witkamp (Hauer), with plenty of partying thrown in. It would be fair to say that their sexual antics in this Satyricon by the Zuidersee are, er, frankly presented.

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They literally measure their dicks to establish who gets first crack at greasy spoon Aphrodite / Venus on the taco shell Fientje (Renée Soutendijk) but she has her own ideas. Like it says on the American poster, “Three men with dreams… one woman with a plan”. In other words, behind every great man there’s a great woman (because that’s the best poisition from which to stab him in the back, right?) Fientje works her way through Rien (until his dreams of sports stardom are shattered, along with his spine in a traffic accident) then Eef (until he discovers – under rather extreme circumstances – his true sexual orientation) and finally settles for the plodding but devoted Hans, with whom she calculates she can build a life a few degrees more comfortable than the one to which she has been accustomed. Perhaps her expectations have undergone adjustment (albeit along significantly less drastic lines than those of the male principals)… perhaps, like the true Sadean woman she is, she’ll abandon Hans as soon as somebody more promising comes along.

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Director Verhoeven ends his commentary track reflecting on the final shots of Fientje’s brother Jaap (Peter Tuinman), “the only character who has not changed in any way and disappears in the anonymity of the freeway… and the cars… and the landscape… and nature… life goes on”. Is that the sound of Icarus hitting the water… or somebody discarding a glob of deep fried dog food?

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In terms of Life imitating Art, Renée Soutendijk (most recently seen in Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria remake) made a big impression in Spetters (and was also great in Verhoeven’s The Fourth Man, 1983) but never fulfilled her international potential in quite the same way as Hauer, co-star Jeroen Krabbé (who plays unscrupulous sporting mister fixit Franz Henkhof) or indeed Verhoeven himself. Hans van Tongeren was similarly tipped for great things but soon after finishing Spetters emulated his character Rien by taking his own life.

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The main feature has been scanned in 4k for this handsome Hi-def UK debut, on which it’s accompanied by a string of supplementary materials spanning Blu-ray and bonus DVD discs. In his interview Verhoeven talks about his own brief period of religiosity and how it influenced some of the imagery in Robocop (1987). Writer Gerard Soeteman discusses the “slice of life” philosophy under which Spetters was conceived, wondering why people need to fabricate stories when everyday existence is so compelling. He recounts as an example the exploits of his family members in the Dutch resistance (“That’s not a small cup of tea!”) A Dutch TV documentary from 2002 includes interviews with many of the principals and also those who originally opposed the film (one guy still detests it but the lady who fronted up one of the “anti-Spetters” action committees now finds the film “touching”) before concluding with the observation that its mercenary, self interested characters were a timely anticipation of the marketised society to come. There’s also a lengthy interview with DP Jost Vocano. Nederbeat fans already thrilled by Kayak’s main theme will be doubly delighted to glimpse former Focus bassist Bert Ruiter (then a member of Earth And Fire) turning up at Spetters’ Rotterdam premiere.

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Amy Simmons presents a sympathetic audio visual essay but perpetuates the notion that  Eef’s gang rape and his reaction to it are somehow “problematic”, seemingly unable to grasp that without these scenes, the film would degenerate from a critique of the gay-bashing mentality into an endorsement of it. She does point out that among the newer crop of directors, few can hold a candle to Paul Verhoeven’s habitual use of sex and violence to make important social points rather than as an end in itself. Indeed, Gaspar Noé would probably give his right arm to be Verhoeven… not to attain the same level of regard (because in this fucked-up world he’s probably at least as well regarded as the Dutchman in trendier circles) but to have a fraction of his integrity, talent and brains.

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When Dow Chemicals Steered The Stars … Milos Forman’s HAIR Reviewed.

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Dance, you fucking hippies, dance!

BD / DVD Dual Format. Regions B / 2. BFI. 15.

Naive Okie Claude (John Savage) is invited to Vietnam by Uncle Sam and before reporting to his draft board in NYC (maybe I’m… er, nit-picking but didn’t they have any draft boards in Oklahoma?) he decides to take in a few of The Big Apple’s sights. In Central Park he is confronted by various designer hippies doing elaborate dance routines, drawn into the picaresque antics of Berger (Treat Williams) and his drop out mates, but most distracted of all by rebellious deb Sheila (Beverly D’Angelo)’s impressive booty as it bounces imperiously up and down on horseback. An acid-fuelled, production number enhanced odyssey through late ’60s America’s class / racial / sexual / political / cultural divides ensues, en route to a bittersweet, allegedly uplifting and highly improbable conclusion…

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Combing through this 40th Anniversary edition of Milos Forman’s 1979 film adaptation of “The American Tribal Love Rock Musical” unfolds a kaleidoscope of interrelated  questions, over and above its own intrinsic worth as a piece of entertainment or Art. Notably, how faithful (in the era of My Sharona and Reaganomics) was it to the original stage vision of Gerome Ragni / James Rado (book and lyrics, pictured above) and Galt MacDermot (music), as brought to the New York stage 12 years earlier? How well did that original reflect the turbulent times on which it aspired to comment? And how much progress has subsequently been made in the social issues addressed by Hair?

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Ragni and Ragno themselves decried the film’s radical narrative departures but something had to give in the transposition of their freewheeling storyline from stage to screen, somebody had to do it and  screenwriter Michael Weller manages an acceptable job of it. Czech emigré Forman (directing his cast in Central Park, above) had established his countercultural credentials with his landmark 1975 adaptation of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and would continue to embellish them in the likes of The People Vs. Larry Flynt (1996). He’s comfortable here (with significant assists from choreographer Twyla Tharp) extracting an eminently watchable movie from a musical that’s always gotten by on one sublime number (you know the one I mean), a couple of OK tunes and several disposable duds. Personally, I’d always continue to hold Milos Forman in high esteem if the only stuff he’d ever committed to celluloid had been Elizabeth McGovern’s nude scenes in Ragtime (1981)…

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… I know, how very sexist of me, but completely in keeping with this cinematic incarnation of Hair. D’Angelo’s character is subjected to various unsolicited fumblings and sexual humiliations throughout the course of the film, all of which she accepts without protest. This is by no means the full extent of the political incorrectness here. Apparent attempts at Civil Rights statements invariably degenerate into wince-inducing racial stereotypes (I mean: “Black boys are delicious… chocolate flavoured love”? Puleeze!) Most jarringly of all, there’s a line in one song earnestly enquiring why “pederasty” is considered “nasty”! They don’t write ’em like that in 2019 and it’s probably just as well. What of the stage play’s commentary on the industrial degradation of our environment (a subject which now seem more pertinent than ever)? Well, all of that has gone conspicuously AWOL from the film, in which Dow Chemicals was allegedly a prominent investor. You don’t need a degree in Chemistry to work out that equation…

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The BFI’s characteristically generous compliment of bonus materials include a brace of psychedelic amalgamations of animation and music, reminiscent of the stuff that used to appear on early ’70s editions of The Old Grey Whistle Test, Anthony Stern’s award-winning 1968 impressionistic documentary short San Francisco (whose seizure-inducing visuals are accompanied by a very early version of The Pink Floyd’s Interstellar Overdrive which makes explicit the debt owed by Barrett and co to Love’s reading of the Bacharach – David standard My Little Red Book) and an NFT audio interview with legendary director Nicholas Ray, who appears as a General in Forman’s film. If you shell out for the first pressing of this release you’ll also be getting a fully illustrated booklet with new essays on the film and its director and an interview with screenwriter Michael Weller. My favourite extra on this set though has to be Oscar Riesel’s 1979 short (i.e. 24 minute) Disco mania, a succession of disco footage in (vain) search of a plot, showcasing the terpsichorean and thespian talents of the dynamic former world disco dancing champion Grant Santino. Hope you enjoy Grant’s performance of disco classic Dance Reaction (below) as much as I do…

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Copping A Third Eyeful… LEGEND OF THE WITCHES & SECRET RITES, Reviewed.

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BD/DVD. Regions B/2. BFI. 18.

The disclosure of that which is occult (i.e. “hidden”) is an undertaking that’s always been contrary to mainstream culture and values (Mathew Hopkins, you’ll remember, held very definite views on such things during the Seventeenth Century) but the films under review here and their supporting extras examine that undertaking in the specific context of late ’60s / early ’70s counterculture (“Just a dream some of us had”, in the words of Joni Mitchell)… even more specifically, centred within the geographical parameters of pre-Julia Roberts Notting Hill. As such, these are quintessential titles within the remit of the BFI’s Flipside imprint.

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As the Age of Aquarius dawned over W11, the pretensions of significance claimed by films like Malcolm Leigh’s black and white Mondo effort Legend Of The Witches (1970) were indulged by the BBFC (give or take 2 minutes, 53 seconds of excised footage, thankfully restored in this release). Ostensibly an attempt to deepen understanding of The Craft, it’s not hard to work out the demographic at which this doc was actually aimed…

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“We saw naked people… huh huh huh huh huh”

Over moody nature shots, earnest narrator Guy Standeven relates the sustaining myths of Wicca and the influence that The Old Religion has continued to exert over British life and customs, in spite of relentless Christian attempts to expunge it. Along the way we learn that William The Conqueror was an adherent of Lucifer, that Robin Hood’s Merry Men constituted a coven (with Maid Marion as Hight Priestess) and what a chicken looks like after its been sliced open for the purposes of divination (put me right off my KFC, I can tell you).

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All of this serves, of course, as the hors d’oeuvre to the main course of nekkid sorcery, presided over by The King Of The Witches (nor was he any slouch in the self-promotion stakes) himself, Alex Sanders and his wife Maxine. There are diversions such as a visit to Boscastle’s impressive Museum Of Witchcraft And Magic (still going strong!) but the dirty mac brigade knew what they were coming for and no doubt, back in their local Jacey circa 1970, were reasonably satisfied with what they got. There’s an alarming lurch into “a scientific investigation” of “a haunted house” during the last third of the picture which one can only conclude was included to supply a bit more tit, bum and fluff justifying context and / or to pad the running time (which was already plodding) out to feature length, but director Leigh (who subsequently veered off into softcore sex comedy with, e.g. 1971’s Lady Chatterly Vs Fanny Hill before returning to documentaries of a rather more “respectable” bent) just about gets away with it.

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Derek Ford had no such qualms about his 1971 effort Secret Rites (a self destructing title, if ever there was one) which barely racks up 45 minutes (though in blushing colour, this time) while laying bare further rituals and rudeness, once again under the supervision of the never knowingly under-publicised Alex Sanders aka Orrell Alexander Carter aka Verbius. Various rumours concern heavy BBFC cuts or that there’s a  longer, stronger version of Secret Rites that was prepared for export markets but there has been much confusion with an identically entitled American Mondo effort and Ford was quite happy at the time to slot this short effort in as a supporting feature for the theatrical release of his Suburban Housewives (Italian Fotobusta below). The BBFC were cool with all of this, though curiously in the same year they refused certification to the palpably daft, decidedly entertaining but distinctly tame Virgin Witch (at least the Greater London Council got the joke and awarded Ray Austin’s sexploiter an ‘X’ for theatrical screenings in the capital).

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Secret Rites actually comes with the semblance of a plot, in which contemporary TV glamour puss Penny Beeching plays a hairdresser (though of course all of this is supposed to be fly-on-the-wall Reality) who decides that her life will be more meaningful if she gets into ritual magic (shades of Edwige Fenech in Sergio Martino’s All The Colours Of The Dark, 1972). We see her taking the tube to Notting Hill (passing a tasty Daughters Of Darkness poster on the way) for a drink in Alex and his acolytes’ local, where she convinces him of the seriousness of her intent (despite repeatedly mispronouncing his surname). Needless to say, plenty of naked rituals ensue (with a breathless, sportscasting like commentary ), notably an Ancient Egyptian one in a cellar decorated with multi-coloured tinfoil. Watch out for one of the celebrants trying to contain her giggles. Groovy sitar music from The Spindle… wall-to-wall early ’70s fashion statements… under and unclad chicks who all look like Stacia out of Hawkwind… and it’s over a lot earlier than you might have wished, with a “don’t try this at home, kids” sign off from Sanders.

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BFI releases always come packed with attractive supplementary stuff and here you get an audio commentary from Flipside curators Vic Pratt and William Fowler for Secret Rites… the 1924 short (i.e. 7 minute) The Witch’s Fiddle (it’s fair to say that film technology has advanced somewhat since 1924)… 26 minutes of visual collage cut to William Blake’s poetry in The Judgement Of Albion, directed in 1968 by Robert Wynne-Simmons, the writer of Blood On Satan’s Claw (1971)… Out Of Step: Witchcraft (1957), 14 minutes of Rediffusion TV filler in which roving reporter Dan Farson interviews “father of Wicca” Gerald Gardner, some old witch expert biddy and Aleister Crowley’s executor before winding things up with a spot of jitterbugging… and Getting It Straight In Notting Hill Gate, a 25 minute baby doc which delivers a time capsule portrait of NW11 when it must have seemed to alarmed Daily Mail readers that it was on the verge of mutating into Haight Ashbury. We get to see rather too much of house band local heroes Quintessence rehearsing, sashay past Oz’s editorial office and enter those of Release for a brief chat  with Caroline Coon. “We weren’t going to cut our hair just because The Fuzz were treating us like shit” she tells interviewer “Felix Scorpio” (is that Felix Dennis? Does anybody give a toss these days?) No director credited, probably because that would have been subscribing to hierarchical / patriarchal hegemony. Can you dig it? There’s an evocative image gallery, too.

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Let’s leave the last word to Quintessence…
“Things are great in Notting Hill Gate,
We like to sit and meditate.
But only you can know the reason why
They hide behind their own Third Eye”.

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“There goes the neighbourhood…”

… and if anybody out there does actually know why They are hiding behind their own Third Eye, or even what that means, I think we should all be told.

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Holding Out Against The End Of History… Pier Paolo Pasolini’s TRILOGY OF LIFE On BFI Blu-ray.

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BD. Region B. BFI. 18.

In 1992, shortly after Stormin’ Norman and co had kicked Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, cultural commentator Francis Fukuyama declared The End of History in a briefly voguish book of that title. Fukuyama’s thesis (into which subsequent global developments have poked several significant holes) was that The Washington Consensus / Neoliberal model had triumphed  over all other forms of economic, political and social organisation and would be the only game in town for the remainder of mankind’s tenure on planet Earth. Not everybody believed this when Fukuyama said it and among those who suspected he might be right, not everybody was wildly enthused about the prospect.

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Even before he got side tracked into film making in the early ’60s, Italy’s (then) foremost living poet Pier Paolo Pasolini, as well versed in the works of Antonio Gramsci as he was in those of Petrarch and Dante, had been decrying the degeneration of Italy’s Popular Culture into Mass Culture. “Italy’s post-War economic miracle”, as far as he was concerned, was turning out a generation of dead-eyed, dollar-chasing drones.

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After a decade of cinematic and personal provocations, Pasolini conceived and executed his Trilogy Of Life, here gathered in a new BFI Blu-ray set. By (rather freely) adapting classic story cycles from Boccaccio, Chaucer and the various compilers of The Thousand And One Nights he offered glimpses of lost worlds, uncorrupted by consumerism, where unalienated people, in all their crapulent, flatulent fleshiness, lived lives of innocent sensuality in defiance of their own poverty and contemporary restrictive social mores.

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The Decameron (1971) and Canterbury Tales (1972) are expressions of PPP’s contemporary faith in the common people (or his picaresque vision of same), in all their lustful, acquisitive and roguish “authenticity” (a quality which Pasolini, on account of his homosexuality and genteel antecedents, felt that he lacked)… the great unwashed, whose ribaldry and very zest for life could yet recapture the pre-capitalist, essentially pagan idyll for which Pasolini pined. This, however, was looking less and less likely. In 1973 Allende was overthrown in Chile and the country turned into a prison camp / lab for the development of the neo-liberal policies that were subsequently rolled out internationally and have been rolling over the backs of the 99% ever since.

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Arabian Nights (1974) unfolds with the kind of narrative complexity that Quentin Tarantino would give his right hand (or maybe his girlfriend’s right foot) to attain and showcases the ravishing natural beauty of Yemen, Iran, India, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Nepal. In this film (and e.g. his 1970 documentary Notes For An African Oresteia) Pasolini was pondering the possible beneficial cultural influences that these Third World countries could exert over The West. No doubt he would have wept if he’d lived to see the scars inflicted by the proxy wars of “more developed” nations on some of those landscapes and their unfortunate inhabitants.

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These are unalloyed gems of European Arthouse Cinema, guaranteed to significantly lift your spirits even if they don’t propel you to the nearest barricade. The fact that they didn’t was a big problem for Pasolini. Even worse, the box office success of his paeans to pagan innocence “inspired” an interminable cycle (“a circus” in the words of trash film producer and prolific participant, Gabriele Crisanti) of lowest common denominator, smutty “Decameronesque” imitators, examined and analysed in David Gregory and Alberto Farina’s  35 minute bonus featurette Pasolini And The Italian Genre Film. In that, PPP biographer Serafino Murro posits that the alacrity with  which the Italian public gobbled up this garbage (in addition to the political passivity of the Italian youth in whom he’s invested so much revolutionary hope) was Pasolini’s direct inspiration for a notorious banqueting scene in his next (and final) film. Read backwards, the fierce joy that characterises his Trilogy Of Life could be construed as softening us up for the sickening sucker punch of Salò (1975). Indeed, in a dialectical twist that the director, as a convinced Marxist, must surely have appreciated, the sheer scatology (which peaks in the gobsmacking vision of Hell at the conclusion of Canterbury Tales), duplicitousness in relationships and casual attitude towards life and limb evidenced by his unalienated, sensuous salt-of-the-Earth types are the germs of the outrages perpetrated by De Sade’s libertines. Just chew that one over for a minute…

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Extras include a collectors’ booklet (which, as usual, I haven’t seen yet) and trailers for all three films. You might well have seen some of the bonus stuff on previous editions. On the Decameron disc you get Notes For An African Oresteia, which would possibly have made more sense accompanying Arabian Nights, but there you go. The latter film is complimented by 21 minutes of footage that were excised after its award-laden screening at the Cannes Festival in 1974. The aforementioned Pasolini And The Italian Genre Film can be found on the Canterbury Tales disc, along with an all new (to me, anyway) interview with Robin Askwith. Boy, he’s aged well… barely looks any different from the way he did in his ’70s heyday and some of his distinctly non-PC asides suggest that his attitudes haven’t changed much since then, either. RA suggests that Pasolini cast him because of their mutual aversion to Franco Zeffirelli and his account of an audition, most of which the director spent mocking the appearance of Askwith’s penis, corroborate that given by one of his Canterbury Tales co-stars in the latter’s riotous autobiography, Who On Earth Is Tom Baker? Pity nobody thought to interview Adrian Street (assuming he’s still interviewable).

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The new transfers look and sound pretty good. Some grain is evident on The Decameron, somewhat less on Canterbury Tales and least of all on Arabian Nights, though I counted at least three subtitling howlers on that one (not sure if they’re being corrected for street copies). If you don’t own these films already, here’s the perfect opportunity to rectify a serious deficiency in your collection.

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Pro Boner Publico… Derek Jarman’s SEBASTIANE Reviewed.

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“One hundred and eighty!”

BD. BFI. Region B. 18.

Sebastiane (Leonardo Treviglio) is a senior officer in the Praetorian Guard, in fact you could say (if you’re one of those people who endlessly recite Monty Python routines) that he wanks as high as any in Wome. Unfortunately the Emperor Diocletian (Robert Medley), whom we see enjoying a bukkake dance performance from Lindsay Kemp in the company of an anachronistically clad Jordan (the punk rock one, not the “glamour model”) takes a dim view of Seb’s recent conversion to Christianity and exiles him to a remote desert outpost to serve under the aptly named Commander Severus (Barney James), alongside several resolutely gay squaddies and Max (Neil Kennedy), a homophobic brute with no nose. How (I hear you ask) does Max smell? “Terrible!” is the stock music hall answer but Max probably smells pretty good, spending as much time as he does in the bath house with his butch buddies. Severus develops a serious case of the hots for Sebastiane, who rejects his lustful pagan advances. Using Seb’s pacifism as a pretext, Severus subjects him to ongoing torments and humiliations, which seem to be equally enjoyed on each side of the SM equation. Ultimately Severus orders the guys to string Seb up and dispatch him with arrows, an order with which they eagerly comply… after all, you can’t beat a bit of Bully!

Unfortunately, Jarman chose not to depict the sequel to these sad events in which, according to hagiographical tradition, Sebastiane was miraculously revived by Saint Irene and returned to the court of Diocletian to plead with him to change his Christian-bashing ways. Instead, Diocletian had him cudgelled to death (for good this time) and chucked into Rome’s main sewer (depicted below in the 1612 painting by Lodovico Carracci). We also gather that Sebastian’s cranium turned up, silver coated, in Ebersberg, Germany during the tenth Century, and was used to dispense Communion wine to the faithful on the Saint’s birthday. His various relics are, moreover, reckoned proof against outbreaks of plague and pestilence.

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Aside from the reverence in which he is held in both the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, the figure of Sebastian has long been regarded as a gay icon if not, er, pin-up boy. In Richard A. Kaye’s words: “Contemporary gay men have seen in Sebastian at once a stunning advertisement for homosexual desire (indeed, a homoerotic ideal), and a prototypical portrait of tortured closet case.” Artists as diverse as Andrea Mantegna and Yukio Mishima have tapped into this myth…

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The BFI’s press blurb describes Sebastiane as “a glorious hymn to the very real, living and breathing male body”. Indeed, Jarman and Peter Middleton (responsible for this film’s truly ravishing cinematography) dwell lovingly on the body in question and its workings, to the point where I found myself shouting: “Careful mate, you’ll have somebody’s eye out with that!” at the screen several times (and I wasn’t always talking about the arrows!) As such, Jarman’s uncostumed drama, which grafts bits of Melville’s Billy Budd and Laurens van der Post’s The Seed And The Sower (filmed by Nagisa Oshima as Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence in 1983) onto Christian tradition, enjoyed a brief success de scandale before much of its Roman romp thunder was stolen by Bob Guccione’s Caligula (1979). By having the dialogue spoken in archaic Latin, Jarman was presumably deploying and / or lampooning the convention by which you can get away with more in “Art” films, though I gather that he was originally planning (before distributors put their collective foot down) to have Sebastiane screened without benefit of subtitles. You can take anti commercialism too far, you know…

The male body, however real, living or breathing (they left out “arse-winking”), has never held any erotic fascination for me (frankly, on the cusp of my sixth and seventh decades, even the female body agitates me significantly less than it used to) but I enjoyed this opportunity to see Sebastiane again for three reasons. 1) It’s not Jarman’s excruciating Jubliee (1978), whose “punk rock” pretensions date it more horribly than any of The third Century shenanigans depicted here. 2) House Of Freudstein Hall-Of-Famer David Warbeck once told me that he’d put up much of the film’s finance. 3) Having suffered a Catholic education myself, I’m always glad to see the iconography of repressive religion subverted to the ends of irrepressible Desire.

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The Ecstasy Of St Teresa. Gian Lorenzo Bernini. 1647-52.

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Sebastiane. Derek Jarman. 1976.

Extras wise, you get Jazz Calendar (1968), 36 minutes of the Royal Ballet in rehearsal with the scenery and costumes by Jarman that impressed Ken Russell sufficiently to appoint him production designer on The Devils (1971) and set designer on Savage Messiah (1972)… film maker John Scarlett-Davis remembering how he was roped into the proceedings and subsequently mortified to see himself and his boyfriend snogging away on the cover of Time Out… and 62 minutes of an incomplete, black and white, un-subtitled work-in-progress cut, featuring different music from Brian Eno’s ambient noddlings as heard in the released version.

One thing that neither this disc’s bonus materials nor its fully illustrated booklet (featuring liner notes by William Fowler) shed any light upon is the role of long forgotten one-shot co-director (and editor) Paul Humfress (who also co-wrote Leslie Magahey’s BBC 1979 adaptation of Sheridan Le Fanu’s Schalcken The Painter). It would be interesting to learn how he and Jarman divided the work between them.

The behind-the-scenes Super 8 short The Making of Sebastiane, shot by Jarman and  sound assistant Hugh Smith… or at least that part of its 25 minutes not taken up with footage of Sardinian mountain roads shot through the window of a moving car… capture a singular historical moment, in which a repressed minority were starting to flex their muscles, joyously. Who could have known that another pestilence was coming, one against which saintly skulls would afford scant protection?

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Here Comes The Mirror Man… Cocteau’s ORPHÉE On BFI Blu-ray.

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BD. BFI. Region B. PG.

Despite (or perhaps on account of) his celebrity status (really?) as a feted poet, Orphée (Jean Marais) is fated to a discontented and moody existence, devoting more time to his poetry than to his devoted wife Eurydice (Marie Déa). His eye is taken, though, by another young poet, the dissolute Jacques Cégeste (Edouard Dermithe) who has barely enough time to register his degenerate credentials before he’s run over by black clad bikers (archetypal emissaries of Death who will recur in films as diverse as those of Kenneth Anger, Freddie Francis’s Tales From The Crypt, Anthony Balch’s Horror Hospital, 1973 and Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy, among others).

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Orphée is roped into a phoney attempt to save Cégeste by the black presence of Death herself (Maria Casares) with whom, as a moody artist, he naturally develops an obsession (a mutually felt one, as it happens). Increasingly preoccupied with deciphering cryptic radio messages that are apparently broadcast from The Beyond, he neglects Eurydice even further, until she is felled by those bikers and carried off to Hades. Under the guidance of Death’s ambiguous chauffeur / PA Heurtebise (François Périer), Orpée passes through the looking-glass into The Underword (cue can-can music…)

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Stating his case to a tribunal of judges who appear to be Death’s employers, Orphée reclaims his bride, with the proviso that if he ever looks at her, he will lose her again. After some comic bits concerning the convoluted domestic arrangements entailed by this, the inevitable happens, but Heurtebise puts an additional spin on the original Greek legend (which might well have influenced Mario Puzo when coming up with the climax of Superman II, 1980). Heurtebise  and Death (compliant in this reversal of the ordained order of things) are led off to their punishment by the bikers and Orphée is permanently reunited and reconciled with Eurydice in marital bliss…

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Jean Cocteau was, among other things (many, many other things) a gay film maker. Having taken the opportunity afforded, by this characteristically lush BFI restoration, to re-watch his spell-binding Orphee (1950), I was left wondering about the distinction between a gay man directing a film and a man directing (if indeed there is such a thing) a gay film. In one of the supporting extras on this disc, John Maybury director of Love is the Devil and The Edge of Love argues that as homosexuals don’t have children (not necessarily true, these days), the works of artists such as Cocteau constitute part of the “Queer Family Tree”.  Cocteau, however, was working in an era whose prevailing mores obliged him to be more reticent about revealing his orientation than might be the case in present day France and as such the choice of Orpheus, a figure of multifarious mythic manifestations, was a particularly useful one from which to take an oblique tack…

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Orpheus doesn’t appear in Hesiod’s seminal Theogony but in Virgil’s classic telling of the tale, his poetic mastery of the lyre and the beauty of his singing voice wins over animals, plants and yes, inanimate objects. Simonides adds that he even managed to charm Charon, Cerberus and Pluto into surrendering Eurydice, back to the land of the living, though his regard for her does not extend to complying with the instructions that will prolong her revival. In Cocteau’s film, moreover, Orphée makes a similar journey through The Zone in search of the handsome young poet Jacques. Apollonius of Rhodes tells us that Orpheus played his lyre for Jason to neutralise the feminine lure of the Sirens’ song and one version of his death, as recounted by Ovid, is that he was torn apart by female celebrants of the Dionysian rites, enraged by his renunciation of the love of  women for that of young men. In Cocteau’s film Juliet Greco (below, with the director) plays Aglaonice (a name associated with witchcraft in Greek mythology), who stirs up the local rabble against Orphée under suspicion that he has plagiarised the work of Cégeste and might have something to do with his disappearance. Perhaps the implication is that he has in some other way “outraged” Cégeste?

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Developing the theme of his 1932 short Le Sang D’un Poète, Cocteau presents the otherness of The Poet / “Artistic Type” as virtually interchangeable with that of the homosexual, to the point where “poetical” becomes as much of a euphemism as “earnest” or, indeed, “gay”. As for that happy hetero ending… well, I’m not old enough to have any way of knowing how that went over at initial screenings of Orphée, but I do remember reports of riots breaking out in cinemas during screenings of Nancy Walker’s Can’t Stop The Music (1980) when allusions were made in it to The Village People having girlfriends!

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Apart from the aforementioned extra, you get an audio commentary, courtesy of Roland-François Lack and interviews with such Cocteau associates and collaborators as Jean Pierre Mocky, Pierre Bergé and Dominique Marny. Cocteau’s AD Claude Pinoteau discusses the director’s many ingenious, in-camera effects in the featurette Jean Cocteau And His Tricks, which deploys many of those itself. La Villa Santo-Sospir is a 1951 short directed by Cocteau, revealing the walls he “tattooed” for a friend’s villa on the Côte d’Azur. Plus original and re-release trailer, reversible sleeve with new artwork by Edward Kinsella and fully illustrated booklet containing an essay by Ginette Vincendeau, an interview with Jean Cocteau from 1950 and much else.

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Despite Cocteau’s up and down relationship with Andre Breton and co, this is sheer Surrealism (no doubt informed by the copious amounts of opium that JC was imbibing at the time) of the kind that David Lynch could never begin to approach with his meretricious wannabe outpourings (Peter Gabriel came considerably closer with his whole Lamb Lies Down On Broadway concept).

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As for that distinction between “film made by gay man” Vs “Gay Film”… well,  check out the rumble at the Café des Poètes, just before Cégeste gets run over and note the pale youth who keeps withdrawing from the fray to arrange his lank locks. Orphée is A Gay Film and gloriously so.

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