Film

Easy Rider: Peter Fonda

Monday, 19 August, 2019

This photo by Susan Wood, titled “Easy Rider 1968”, captures not just the coolness of Peter Fonda, the star, co-writer and producer of 1969 Hollywood cult classic Easy Rider, who died at the age of 79 on Saturday; it reflects the luminosity of era of change, hedonism, adventure, possibilities and dreams.

Peter Fonda


DA Pennebaker (15 July 1925 – 1 August 2019)

Wednesday, 7 August, 2019

A bit late with this. The American documentary filmmak DA Pennebaker was one of the most important chronicler of Sixties counterculture. The performing arts and politics were his primary subjects and in 2013, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognized his body of work with an Academy Honorary Award or “lifetime Oscar”.

Bob Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman, approached Pennebaker about filming Dylan while he was touring in England in 1965. The resulting work, Dont Look Back (there is no apostrophe in the title) became a landmark of both film and rock history, “evoking the ’60s like few other documents”, according to film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum. The opening sequence alone (set to Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” with Dylan standing in an alleyway, dropping cardboard flash cards) became the role model for modern music videos.


Roger Ebert: media coverage of mass shootings

Sunday, 4 August, 2019

On 7 November 2003, the late, great film critic Roger Ebert reviewed Gus Van Sant’s Elephant. Said Ebert, the film is “a record of a day at a high school like Columbine, on the day of a massacre much like the one that left 13 dead. It offers no explanation for the tragedy, no insights into the psyches of the killers, no theories about teenagers or society or guns or psychopathic behavior. It simply looks at the day as it unfolds, and that is a brave and radical act; it refuses to supply reasons and assign cures, so that we can close the case and move on.”

And then Ebert recalled the following:

“Let me tell you a story. The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. ‘Wouldn’t you say,’ she asked, ‘that killings like this are influenced by violent movies?” No, I said, I wouldn’t say that. ‘But what about Basketball Diaries?’ she asked. ‘Doesn’t that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machine gun?’ The obscure 1995 Leonardo Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office (it grossed only $2.5 million), and it’s unlikely the Columbine killers saw it.

The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. ‘Events like this,’ I said, ‘if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn’t have messed with me. I’ll go out in a blaze of glory.’

In short, I said, events like Columbine are influenced far less by violent movies than by CNN, the NBC Nightly News and all the other news media, who glorify the killers in the guise of ‘explaining” them. I commended the policy at the Sun-Times, where our editor said the paper would no longer feature school killings on Page 1. The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course the interview was never used. They found plenty of talking heads to condemn violent movies, and everybody was happy.”


Like tears in rain

Wednesday, 24 July, 2019

Near the end of Blade Runner (the original, not the remake), the leader of the rebel replicants faces death, having failed to find a way to extend his artificial life. In the film, Roy Batty, played by the late Rutger Hauer, is the bad guy who needs to be stopped by Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford. So they pursue each other through a bleak, rain-sodden cityscape. When cornered, the dying AI android, utters five sentences that speak to the possibilities of the future. He helps us imagine a scenario where humans will live among the stars, where new wonders are waiting to be experienced.

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”


Film of the Year 2018

Saturday, 29 December, 2018

The award goes to L’Apparition, Xavier Giannoli’s story of a journalist (Vincent Lindon) investigating a young woman (Galatea Bellugi) who claims to have seen the Virgin Mary. The film is divided into several chapters, which follow the war-worn hack Jacques as he travels back to France from the Middle East, where a a combat photographer friend died at his side, leaving Jacques with a constant pain in his ears. Out of the blue, he’s summoned to the Vatican and in a beautifully-shot sequence set in its archives, Jacques learns that an 18-year-old girl named Anna claims to have seen an apparition outside her village in the mountains of southern France. Since then, the place has become a pilgrimage destination where believers travel from around the world to witness the visionary that is Anna. The Vatican wants Jacques to find out whether the apparition occurred, or whether she made it all up.

If Dan Brown were in charge of the script, Jacques would quickly uncover a conspiracy involving Satan, the Illuminati, Donald Trump, demons and an evil Latin-speaking cardinal. Xavier Giannoli, however, takes a different path, but he tips his hat to fans of Catholic corruption with the role of Father Borrodine (Patrick d’Assumcao), whose parish has benefitted from Anna’s “vision”, and Anton (Anatole Taubman), a networked Christian guru who hopes to turn the apparition into global marketing gold. Giannoli should have made L’Apparition into a statement about religion in our era, but he opted for a thriller that ends being resolved like a whodunnit. That’s disappointing, but in a year that offered an excess of cinematic rubbish, L’Apparition was a winner.


Paris is Burning

Monday, 3 December, 2018

We’ll deal with the oleaginous Monsieur Macron tomorrow, but today’s post is given over to the film that inspired a thousand headlines this weekend. Paris Is Burning is a documentary directed by Jennie Livingston that chronicled the “voguing” culture of late 1980s New York City and how gay, transgender, African-American and Latino artists lived out their glamour fantasies in a world that had its own vocabulary: house, category, mother, shade, legendary, walk


They shall grow not old

Saturday, 10 November, 2018

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”

Laurence Binyon (1869 – 1943)

For the centenary of the First World War, Academy Award-winner Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings) reveals the conflict as people have never seen it. Using state-of-the-art technology to transform audio and film archive footage that dates back more than a century, They Shall Not Grow Old brings to life the people who can best tell this story: the men who were there.

Each frame was hand-colourised by Jackson’s team and the footage 3D-digitised and transformed with modern post-production techniques, enabling the soldiers to walk and talk among us. Using only the voices of those involved, the film explores the Great War on the front lines. The veterans who survived tell their stories and recall the humility and humanity of those who represented a generation forever changed.


Un Chien Catalogne

Tuesday, 8 May, 2018 0 Comments

Classic reference in the headline there to Un Chien Andalou, a silent surrealist short film made in Paris in 1929 by the Spanish artists Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí.

The Catalan Dog


Pope Francis – A Man Of His Word

Monday, 16 April, 2018 0 Comments

German director Wim Wenders will be back at the Festival de Cannes (8 to 19 May) with a new documentary titled Pope Francis – A Man Of His Word. According to Wenders, it’s “a personal journey with Pope Francis rather than a traditional biographical film about him. A rare co-production with the Vatican, the pope’s ideas and his message are central to this documentary, which sets out to present his work of reform and his answers to today’s global questions from death, social justice, immigration, ecology, wealth inequality, materialism, and the role of the family.”

Note: Today is the 91st birthday of retired Pope Benedict XVI. Felix dies Natalis tibi!


Bob Dylan: Trouble No More

Monday, 26 March, 2018 0 Comments

Back in 1979, Bob Dylan announced to the world that he had converted to Christianity. He then became a man of The Word, touring inexorably, performing concerts only of songs that expressed his born-again message. One of the concerts was filmed but the material was never released. There was talk in recent times that it might form basis for a documentary, but Dylan intervened and demanded the commissioning of a series of “sermons” to be preached between the songs before the film could be screened. The writer Luc Sante was contracted to compose the sermons and Oscar-nominated actor Michael Shannon was cast as the Preacher. Jennifer LeBeau was tasked, as they say, with directing the “gospel service.” The result, Bob Dylan: Trouble No More, will be shown on Good Friday night on BBC Four. Praise the Lord!

“She said, ‘This man, this man, He must be a prophet’
She said, ‘This man, this man, He must be a prophet’
She said, ‘This man, this man, He must be a prophet’
‘He done told me everything I’ve ever done'”


Learning with English Prime

Thursday, 25 January, 2018 0 Comments

Sam H. Buchanan describes himself as a “UK based filmmaker. Interested in making good stuff.” His short, THE LION, shows what happens at a corporate recording session when an experienced voice-over artist is pushed over the edge. Neil McCaul, the much put-upon speaker, is superb. The scenario depicted here is not autobiographical, btw.