Monday, 31 October 2016

Blu-ray Review: Assault On Precinct 13 (Second Sight)

My first encounter with John Carpenter's "Assault On Precinct 13" occurred during a golden age of cinema double bills in the 1970s.
In those days, film buffs had the opportunity to catch the likes of Lucio Fulci's "The Beyond" / "House By The Cemetery", "The Exorcist" / "Exorcist II" and "Jason And The Argonauts" / "Chariots Of The Gods". Assault turned up on a double header with "Halloween" and quickly convinced me that Carpenter was a director who merited special attention from that point on.
Certainly, Assault still comes over today as a job well done, being an intoxicating old school mix of "Rio Bravo" and "Night Of The Living Dead" as heroes and heroines emerge from a retired police station under siege from a LA gang.

After a bloody shootout between police and gang members, we join Lieutenant Bishop (Austin Stoker) who is on the way to oversee the closure of the Anderson precinct police station. Here, the cells are empty and the electricity supply is due to be bumped before the 4.00am shutdown as Leigh (Laurie Zimmer) and Julie (Nancy Loomis) carry on winding down their duties. On the other side of town, shackled prisoner 'Napoleon' Wilson (Darwin Joston) is heading for Death Row under armed supervision while members of the LA Thunder - still smarting from the deaths of 6 members - commit an unbelievable atrocity which culminates in a shell-shocked man stumbling into Anderson station having killed the gang's leader.
Wilson also ends up at the station , but it's really the grieving stranger who is the subject of the gang's attention, prompting the delivery of a chilling blood oath declaring they are willing to lose more gang members until revenge is taken.
So begins a long, dark night of the soul with the hoodlums silencers greatly adding to the eerie atmosphere and ensuring no-one can hear their shots.

Carpenter's taut direction and entirely memorable score - one of his very best - creates a nightmarish scenario which the cast respond to admirably. We have Julie, desperate to turn over a man whose world (unknown to them) has already ended, while Bishop and Wilson gradually build mutual respect in the fight to stay alive. Best of all may be the gorgeous Laurie Zimmer, who comes over as an enormously resourceful woman in the face of true adversity.
2016 marks the 40th anniversary of this film, which remains the crowd-pleasing gem it was all those years ago. The infamous scene that drew gasps of disbelief at the screening I attended has retained its power to shock to the core, and there are many other scenes that stay with you long after the credits have rolled: witness the scene where stray bullets disturb a wall clock from its previously serene resting place, demonstrating time no longer has any meaning in this night without end.

Second Sight's Blu-ray presentation adds fine detail, solid colours and even a greater sense of purpose to this classic, and goes on to deliver some meaty extras for those of us who love to really step inside a film.
First up is a John Carpenter commentary track where the director talks about the challenges he faced with a $100,000 budget. John discusses the critical reception; admits there are a few scenes he wouldn't have got away with today; chats about cast and crew and pronounces that Assault was unique for its time.

Art director and sound effects designer Tommy Lee Wallace is joined by Michael Felsher for a second commentary track which takes in Tommy's high school days with JC; the panavision filmmaking process; that shocking murder scene and his own work as a director.

Return To Precinct 13: An Interview With Austin Stoker (9m 20s)
Austin recalls his early movie-going experiences; how he first met JC, and the big responsibility of being the main character.

Filmmaking With John: An Interview With Tommy Lee Wallace (21m 41s)
Tommy recalls his high school band days with JC; talks about the magic of 35mm film and of his relationship with John, calling him extremely well prepared and motivated.

Producing Precinct 13: Interview With Executive Producer Joseph Kaufman (15m 39s)
Here, Joseph brushes aside the $100,000 budget claims; chats about John's time at USC and digs into Assault's production history.

Captain Voyeur (8m 27s)
Made in 1969 at Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts, "Captain Voyeur" is a John Carpenter student film, recently re-discovered by school archivist Dino Everett in 2011. This creepy little number could be loosely referenced to Carpenter's "Halloween", employing a masked figure on the loose in back gardens and alleyways where a light in a window is the signal for our peeping tom to strike.

Do You Remember Laurie Zimmer? (53m 41s

In 1977, Charlotte Szlovak wanted to make a film that would really translate the city of LA, with a woman at the centre of the story.
Charlotte chose Laurie Zimmer who played an actress driving round the city in search of a indefinable something to spark her life.
After filming was completed, Charlotte lost touch with her newfound friend, and this compelling short tells the story of her journey to find Laurie. It's a haunting tale for sure, as Charlotte delivers poetic narration while negotiating blond alleys and dead ends during her search for the actress. It's an uplifting story, demosntarting that a strong bond can never truly be broken.

Interview With John Carpenter and Austin Stoker (23m 8s)
This was filmed before an appreciative audience at the Egyptian Theatre in 2002, where JC and Austin discuss how Austin got the role of Bishop and other cast choices. "They Live" and "Dark Star" are just two of the films that come up during a lively Q&A with the audience.

The Sassy One With Actor Nancy Loomis (12m 44s)
Nancy recalls her formative years at high school and USC; tells how she handled nerves during her first couple of features; talks about "Halloween" and "The Fog" and touches on her opinion of fan conventions.
The extras conclude with a 2m 3s theatrical trailer and 1m 4s worth of radio spots. Fans will also be delighted by the inclusion of a bonus CD soundtrack disc exclusive to the box set and 5 exclusive art cards.
"Assault On Precinct 13" will be released on 28th November in the UK, and is an essential purchase for all fans of John Carpenter.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Blu-ray Review: Paris Blues (BFI)

Set in an Autumnal Paris, Martin Ritt's 1961 film throws together a quartet of Americans. Two of them - Ram Bowen (Paul Newman) and Eddie Cook (Sidney Poitier) - are jazz musicians drunk on the artistic spirit of the city, and also the freedom it provides.
Lillian (Joanne Woodward) and Connie (Diahann Carroll) are tourists, arriving for a two week stay with the aim of taking in all the popular haunts in this city of lovers.

The arrival of jazz legend Wild Man Moore (Louis Armstrong) sends the local community into a frenzy; many of whom hang out a Marie Seoul's jazz cave where Ram and Eddie play.
After a false start which suggested Ram and Connie could well develop a certain chemistry, Ram takes up with Lillian, leaving Eddie to fall for Connie.
As jealousy and the plight of a talented musician and friend simmer and pop in the background, both men are forced to choose between their potentially rewarding careers and the chance to find real love with adoring partners.

"Paris Blues" is beautifully paced throughout, moving from the exhilarating jam sessions and backroom bust-ups to quiet, reflective moments which involve the most painful soul -
We have Ram showing his drug-addicted buddy a mirror image of what he'll become if he doesn't quit the coke; Eddie, fearful of exposing himself to the racism back home, and there's a fateful encounter between Ram and a music promoter who must decide whether Ram's compositions represent a seriously accomplished piece of work.
Add to this the two smitten females who are convinced their partners are a once-in-a-lifetime find, and you'll see there's a multitude of emotions to take in, all of them conveyed by a first rate cast while the superb soundtrack plays on.
Wild Man's comment to Ram that "They tell me I have to blow real hard to put you down" is entirely correct, and both men participate in an almighty session, blowin' fit to burst, with not a hint of one upmanship. Just the joy of playing, and being a part of great things.The venue, too, is a delight as jazz aficionado's sit at tables with candles perched in wine bottles, living every note as the music flies up the stairs and out into the magical Parisian night air.
"Paris Blues" captures the atmosphere of these venues, but also explores the fallout from musical infatuation and genuine fears about the specter of racism that haunts many who left their countries for something better. It's an absorbing study of how lives can change so quickly and why we sometimes do things for the wrong reasons.

This BFI release is part of their Black Star season, dedicated to the power and versatility of black actors.
"Paris Blues" certainly looks splendid in HD, with exquisite detail. Duke Ellington's Oscar-nominated score can be enjoyed to the full on an isolated music and effects track.

Adrian Martin is fast becoming my favourite when it comes to the audio commentary department, so I was pleased to discover he takes the microphone here to deliver an informative talk.
Adrian goes into the wealth of information and detail in various scenes; talks about method actors and character psychology; brings "One Eyed Jacks", Brando and John Cassavetes into the equation, and discusses the mixture of studio and location shots. Adrian acknowledges "Paris Blues" was not a highly regarded film at the time, but makes a solid case as to why it offers real value.

The BFI also includes a stills gallery, comprising of b/w and colour stills, plus film posters and there's also a 2m 49s trailer.
You'll also find a booklet in this dual format release, which includes essays from Nicolas Pillai and Rashida K. Braggs, together with Philip Kemp's look at the career of
Martin Ritt.

"Paris Blues" will be available to buy from 24th October. Highly recommended!

Sunday, 28 August 2016

A Warm Welcome to Indicator: An Exciting New British Label

Indicator is a new British Blu-ray and DVD label, owned and operated by Powerhouse Films, London.
Indicator promise a comprehensive range of classic films, expertly encoded and supported by a generous range of supplementary material.
These dual format releases will be accompanied by booklets featuring newly commissioned essays, together with contemporary articles, features and reviews.
New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing will also be a feature of Indicator releases.

Launching on 24th October, the first titles will be John Carpenter's "Christine" and Brian De Palma's "Body Double".

• Original stereo audio
• Alternative 5.1 surround sound track
• Audio commentary with director John Carpenter and actor Keith Gordon
• Christine: Ignition, Fast and Furious & Finish Line (2003, 48 mins): three-part ‘making of’ documentary, featuring interviews with cast and crew, including John Carpenter and Keith Gordon
• Deleted scenes (26 mins): twenty-one sequences which never made the final cut
• Isolated score: experience John Carpenter’s original soundtrack music
• Image gallery: on-set and promotional photography
• Original theatrical trailer
• New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
• Limited edition exclusive 24-page booklet with a new essay by Jeff Billington and a 1996 article on Carpenter’s cinematic ‘guilty pleasures’
• Limited Dual Format Edition of 5,000 copies
• UK Blu-ray premiere

• Original stereo audio
• Alternative 5.1 surround sound track
• Craig Wasson Interview (1984, 10 mins): archival NBC interview conducted by Bobbie Wygant
• Pure Cinema (38 mins): extensive interview with first assistant director Joe Napolitano
• The Seduction (17 mins): De Palma discusses the first treatment of the script
• The Setup (17 mins): an examination of the plot
• The Mystery (12 mins): Melanie Griffith discusses her nude scenes and De Palma's shyness
• The Controversy (6 mins): cast and crew discuss the film's critical reception
• Isolated score: experience Pino Donaggio’s original soundtrack music
• Image gallery: on-set and promotional photography
• Original theatrical trailer
• New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
• Limited edition exclusive 40-page booklet with a new essay by Ashley Clark and archival reprints, including a lengthy 1985 interview with De Palma
• Limited Dual Format Edition of 5,000 copies
• UK Blu-ray premiere

Here's a rundown of the first batch of releases:

001 - CHRISTINE (John Carpenter, 1983)
002 - BODY DOUBLE (Brian De Palma, 1984)
003 - GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER (Stanley Kramer, 1967)
004 - TO SIR, WITH LOVE (James Clavell, 1967)
005 - 10 RILLINGTON PLACE (Richard Fleischer, 1971)
006 - HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (J. Lee Thompson, 1981)
007 - THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (Orson Welles, 1947)
008 - BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING (Otto Preminger, 1965)
009 - FAT CITY (John Huston, 1972)
010 - THE LAST DETAIL (Hal Ashby, 1973)
011 - EXPERIMENT IN TERROR (Blake Edwards, 1962)
012 - THE ANDERSON TAPES (Sidney Lumet, 1971)

I hope you will join me in supporting this enterprising new label. A mouth-watering selection of titles for sure.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

The Passion Of Joan of Arc: A Very Special Night

27th August, 1995. The second collaboration between London's National Film Theatre and New Musical Express magazine presented a series of films linking music with the moving image. 'Screenage Kicks' featured some of the best music-related films, and notable performers and broadcasters were invited to introduce movies that had inspired them. John Peel, Jarvis Cocker (Pulp), Andrew Oldham and Martin Carr (The Boo Radleys) were just a few of the celebrities involved as "Withnail And I", "Kes","Sweet Smell of Success", and "Midnight Run"rubbed shoulders with classic footage from the likes of Bob Dylan, Neil Young and The Who.

As far as I was concerned, the most intriguing event looked to be a one-off screening of Karl Dreyer's "The Passion of Joan of Arc", with live musical backing from Nick Cave And The Dirty Three. So, the evening of August 27th saw me arrive at the NFT with high expectations. I wasn't in the least surprised to discover that NFT1 was completely sold out, and the large number of folks vying for a handful of returned tickets contributed to an indefinable ambiance; the like of which I'd rarely encountered at the cinema. After spending half an hour in the NFT bar, it was time to take my seat for this most special event, which was introduced by Gavin Martin, editor of the NME film section. Martin explained that Nick Cave had suggested composing a score for Dreyer's silent classic; a project which had taken several months of rehearsals and careful planning. With that, Cave strode onto the stage, accompanied by Warren Ellis (violin), Mick Turner (guitar) and Jim White (drums).

"The Passion of Joan of Arc" is certainly Dreyer's finest hour, and Cave's heartfelt tribute turned it into a truly extraordinary experience; quite simply the most emotional and physically draining experience I've witnessed at the cinema. Dreyer's film is based on two novels by Joseph Delteil on the original transcript of this infamous trial. Delteil assisted Dreyer with the screenplay, but there's little doubt that the court records set the tone for this harrowing film. THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC is composed almost entirely of close-ups, and the final stages of the trial - along with Joan's execution - are dominated by the face of Renee ('Marie') Falconetti. The plight of the woman who claimed she was sent by God to save France is indelibly printed on Falconetti's tortured visage; indeed her performance is so intense, it seems as though she was actually possessed by the spirit of this revered Saint. As Joan is tortured and humiliated by the 'devil's agents' en route to her eventual confession, Falconetti cries what are so obviously real tears. This has to be a real contender for the most courageous performance ever given by an actress, and I was astonished to learn that this was her first and last film. Reports indicate she received help and advice from her director along every step of the way but, ultimately, Renee Falconetti must have felt more alone than any woman in silver screen history. Her overwhelming presence makes this a painful viewing experience, and Dreyer's obsessive approach to his subject matter is still guaranteed to disturb, even in an age where we think we've seen everything. Falconetti's inner strength, her unparalleled suffering and eventual despair manage to cross that often impenetrable barrier between screen and audience, forcing us to feel her pain and, occasionally recoil in horror. The scene where Joan is 'bled' so that she may live to deny her faith is extremely graphic, drawing gasps from an incredulous audience and when her execution takes place, the band stop playing and become as one with the packed auditorium who are stunned by this tragic history lesson.
Cave has gone on record as saying this is his all-time favourite film and it showed, Nick! Here, The Dirty Three offered mostly understated background support, with smoldering violin and guitar anchored down by Jim White's steady beat. Occasionally, the boys really put their feet on the pedals, responding to Dreyer's disturbing visuals with all the brutality of prime-time Bad Seeds. However, it was the quieter moments that really left a scar: Cave's beautifully fragile piano, his wordless vocals which often mutate into a haunting 'This is my desire' refrain, and his unerring ability to correctly call when the music should stop. A prime example of this came near the end of the film, when Joan is burnt at the stake. As the flames rise, a deathly silence envelopes the NFT, as we watch the crowd who gathered to witness the execution suddenly realise the enormity of this obscene act and openly revolt. It's then that Cave chooses to deliver his only song of the evening; a plaintive vocal which addresses "God's non-intervention".

All at once, the film is over, and a shell-shocked audience rise to give a standing ovation to Cave and his fellow performers. As we made our way to the exits, I noticed that some people were weeping, others were discussing the film in hushed tones, but most were just too overwhelmed to react. I think we all realised that we had witnessed something extremely special as a passion that has endured for almost 90 years reached new heights.

Monday, 30 May 2016

The Firm (Alan Clarke) BFI Dual Format Release

Back in the 1970s, football violence in England often consisted of one thousand per side battles between rival fans, either inside the ground or on the way back to the railway station or coach parks.
Bloody confrontations were a weekly occurrence, with police struggling to keep these large groups apart.
As time went by, the police began to tighten their grip on proceedings, becoming wise to when and where these fights would take place. This resulted in the hooligans employing different methods to stay one step ahead of the authorities.
Club colours were discarded; smaller groups set up fights with their rivals miles away from the stadiums and weapons such as stanley knives were used to inflict maximum damage in minimum time.

Made in 1988, Alan Clarke's "The Firm" remains probably the best film on football violence, highlighting that this disreputable profession was not solely populated by the disenfranchised but often organised by men in respectable, well-paid positions.
The film follows the activities of The ICC - Inter City Crew - a London firm modelled on West Ham's fearsome ICF and led by Clive 'Bex' Bissell (Gary Oldman).
Bex - a 30 year old real estate agent - leads his mob with a rod of iron, and has ambitions to ply his trade on the international circuit.
The forthcoming European Championship tournament is firmly in Bex's sights, with a national firm consisting of England's finest in need of a leader. The ICC make their way to a swish hotel where their rivals top boys are waiting to stake their own claims. The Buccaneers - led by Yeti (Phil Davis) - and a Birmingham firm fronted by Oboe (Andrew Wilde) fail to agree on a leader, resulting in two organised '0ffs' where last man standing gets the gig.
Clarke - a lifelong Everton fan - hated football violence, and shows this bloodsport at its most damaging.
The BFI disc contains the original BBC broadcast which was cut to run at 1 hr 7 mins.
The director's cut is also included, running for 1 hr 8 mins 6 secs.
The additional footage, deemed to controversial to be screened, further amplifies the extreme damage to life and limb, with the revenge attack on Oboe being a strong case in point.
One of the film's sharpest observations is the contrasting effects of football violence on the family unit.
Bex's wife Sue (Lesley Manville) constantly tells her husband that his involvement has to end, fearing for his well being, and there's a particularly upsetting scene when Bex's young son picks up a stanley knife that's lying around like a discarded toy.
Even parents have a role to play here, with a proud dad reminiscing about having it with Millwall back in the day.

On the casting side, there are some very strong performances. Lesley Manville as the long-suffering wife who reveals her liking for rough sex at the culmination of a disturbing scene that began as something entirely different, while Davis and Wilde are both excellent as contenders for the crown. Best of all has to be Gary Oldman who turns in a frighteningly intense performance, keeping his troops toeing the party line by adopting a rule-by-fear persona and accepting casualties as a small price to pay en route to the coveted number one spot.
For my money, "The Firm" remains the father of football violence films, and is every bit as savagely realistic as the day it came out. The activities portrayed may be offensive in the extreme to many, but it also captures the undoubted buzz experienced by members of football's very own fight club.

This BFI dual format release includes two commentary tracks. The first features Gary Oldman flying solo: a difficult task, but he acquits himself admirably. He talks about working for the late director; Clarke's methods; John Ward's photography; acting with Lesley Manville (his wife at the time) and throws in some golden anecdotes, including why cast and crew had to receive a police escort when things got a bit hot during filming.
The second track features Lesley Manville, Phil Davis, author Dave Robinson and TV archivist Dick Fiddy.
Lesley talks about Clarke's censorship battles with the BBC; how they shot the scene with the toddler and the knife and why she elected not to inform Clarke before or during the shoot that she was pregnant.
Al Hunter's research for the film is covered - including a meeting with two members of West Ham's ICF - together with much admiration for Clarke who gave his actors room to breathe. Alternative endings for "The Firm" are also discussed.

Next up is "Elephant" (37m 39s)
This controversial short film was screened by BBC2 on 25th January 1989, and turned the spotlight on chilling executions carried out by the IRA.
Almost completely bereft of dialogue, "Elephant" comprises of a series of murders where one, sometimes two hitmen turn up at petrol stations, swimming pools, football fields and houses to kill those who have incurred the wrath of the Irish Republican Army.
Sometimes there is recognition shown by the victims who seem to know the man with the gun, while others stare blankly at the intruder, but the end result is always the same.
Ward's camera lingers on the various death poses, driving home the obscenity of these acts that take place in a world of emptiness where there are no cars, passers-by or shoppers to witness the slaughter.
It's a tough watch to be sure, but it did educate the public over here in England and make them aware of what was happening in Northern Ireland on a daily basis.
Mark Kermode and producer Danny Boyle offer a thought provoking commentary track where Boyle begins by explaining how he came to work with Alan Clarke. He talks of a man who treated everyone the same; explains why Clarke chose to tackle the subject of civilian murders in Northern Ireland and his reasons for not wanting the film to be shown over there.
Kermode makes some excellent points during the conversation, regarding the settings; the fact that those who got away were not witnesses and declares the murders were un-cinematic.

Open Air Discussion of Elephant BBC1 (21 min)
Screnned on the evening after Elephant's BBC2 airing, Susan Rae presents a phone-in with Alan Clarke taking calls from a largely critical audience. The director was in LA at the time, but close enough to feel the heat from aggrieved callers; some of whom felt his film to be an insult to the people of Northern Ireland.
Clarke defends his work admirably, as does Danny Boyle who appears in the studio for the second half of the programme to take more calls.

Alan Clarke: Out Of His Own Light part 12 (36m 20s)
A fascinating documentary segment, covering "Elephant" and "The Firm", with valuable input from Brian Cox, Stephen Frears, Paul Greengrass, Clarke's daughter Molly, John Ward and other key figures in this story.
Itr's frequently moving to witness the love and respect they had for this much-missed director and a nice way to end one of the finest releases of 2016 thus far.

"The Firm" Blu-ray/DVD combo is available now as a separate release, or as part of the BFI boxset:
"Dissent & Disruption Alan Clarke at the BBC 1969-1989".
Take a look at the contents listed below

lthough probably best remembered for the controversial and groundbreaking dramas Scum, Made in Britain and The Firm, the breadth of Alan Clarke’s radical, political, innovative, inspirational work, along with his influence on generations of filmmakers, such as Gus Van Sant, Paul Greengrass, Andrea Arnold, Harmony Korine, Clio Barnard, Shane Meadows, should see him rightly regarded as one of Britain’s greatest ever filmmaking talents.

This long-overdue collection finally brings together all twenty-three of the surviving stand-alone BBC TV dramas that Alan Clarke directed between 1969 and 1989, including such neglected classics as To Encourage the Others, Horace, Penda’s Fen, Diane, Contact, Christine and Elephant, and also includes Scum and the first ever presentation of Clarke’s original Director’s Cut of The Firm, assembled from his personal answer print, discovered in 2015.

Among the extensive extras, which include David Leland introductions, extracts from BBC discussion shows Open Air and Tonight and newly-produced documentaries and audio commentaries, this Limited Edition 13-Disc Box Set also includes a bonus DVD of Clarke’s Half Hour Story episodes, made for Associated Rediffusion during the late-60s.

The Last Train through Harecastle Tunnel (1969)
Sovereign’s Company (1970)
The Hallelujah Handshake (1970)
To Encourage the Others (1972)
Under the Age (1972)
Horace (1972)
The Love Girl and the Innocent (1973)
Penda’s Fen (1974)
A Follower for Emily (1974)
Diane (1975)
Funny Farm (1975)
Scum (1977)
Nina (1978)
Danton’s Death (1978)
Beloved Enemy (1981)
Psy-Warriors (1981)
Baal (1982)
Stars of the Roller State Disco (1984)
Contact (1985)
Christine (1987)
Road (1987)
The Firm: Director’s Cut (1989, previously unreleased)
The Firm: Broadcast Version (1989)
Elephant (1989)
Bonus Disc (DVD only)
The Gentleman Caller (1967)
Goodnight Albert (1968)
Stella (1968)
The Fifty-Seventh Saturday (1968)
Thief (1968)

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Blu-ray Review: Beat Girl (BFI)

Newly weds Paul and Nichole Linden (David Farrar, Noelle Adam) arrive at their Kensington home to encounter a resentful teen still troubled by her parents breakup.
Jennifer (Gillian Hills) is hostile towards her stepmother from the word go, while her relationship with father Paul is a classic case of parental neglect as his City 2000 project holds centre stage: a revolutionary housing plan which fails to understand the people who will dwell there.
Jennifer is part of a rebellious group who congregate in clubs, coffee bars and, at one memorable rave, Chislehurst Caves,and adopt an anti-authority stance which their elders can never understand.
Her friends - who include the coolest of Beatniks Dave (Adam Faith), gorgeous singer Dodo (Shirley-Ann Field) and Peter McEnery's Tony who constantly brings up his military father, "weighed down by medals."

A Soho cafe called 'The Off Beat' is their haven and also marks the spot where Nichole's troubles multiply when she bumps into an old friend named Greta (Delphi Lawrence), known as 'The Duchess' at 'Les Girls' strip club.
Jennifer discovers her stepmother and Greta go back to a life in Paris where "it's not easy to stay respectable on an empty stomach", and decides to build on this knowledge to wreck a marriage.
Events take a sinister turn when Jennifer, under age, meets 'Les Girls' owner Kenny King (Christopher Lee) who immediately senses another conquest may be on the horizon.
Of course, Lee had appeared as Count Dracula two years earlier, and here, his character in Terrence Fisher's film possesses him in a chilling scene.
Witness King grooming his prey, offering her an exciting alternative to her current situation, into a life as one of the 'undead' who enjoy brief riches before losing their position as the next victim rolls up.
Here, there's no glamour, save for a quick honeymoon period, just as the vampire brides promise of immortality is a hollow one.
Rebellion and her juvenile delinquent persona evaporate in the face of true evil.

Jennifer and her crew were survivors: war babies who emerged from the rubble after The Blitz.It was a perilous situation brought home when Dave recalls his first home was a London underground station.
In "Beat Girl", attitudes and memories of these experiences fuelled a swinging generation, and director Edmond T Grenville's direction guides the impressive cast through a moment in time where squares did not fit into their circle.
Hills, Faith, Field, Lee and co all make their mark a memorable one, and watch out for Oliver Reed - Plaid Shirt in the credits - who moves, grooves and smoulders with the best of them as The John Barry Seven kick up a storm, amalgamating Swing and Jazz to great effect.

This BFI Blu-ray presentation was newly remastered in 2K, with a glossy monochrome look beautifully rendered.
The disc includes 3 versions of the film, with the main cut running for 1 Hr 27M 42s.
The alternative version was released to certain countries overseas and runs for 1Hr 32M 9s.
An additional scene with Paul And Nichole on a London-bound train; Jennifer showing a book on jazz to Nichole and a softer version of a striptease make up the extra minutes.
The extended version runs for 1Hr 32M 38s and is basically the same as the alternative cut. According to the booklet accompanying this release, it's a hybrid version, assembled from different elements.

The extras begin with an interview with Gillian Hills, running for 25m 26s.
Gillian - who looks stunning - talks about "Beat Girl" being a Godsend for her, and displays excellent recall as she talks about her director and a cast that contained some extraordinary talent.
It must have been quite an experience to appear in this film at such a tender age, and Gillian's fine performance has lost none of its vitality down the years.
This interview is a valuable account of a film where everything came together, a time Gillian recounts with real warmth.

Next up is "Cross-Roads"; a 1955 supernatural short which runs for 19m 17s.
Christopher Lee headlines as Benson, who is on his way to the London offices of Bernard J Maskell (Ferdy Mayne); an unscrupulous impresario soon to meet his match.
This is a wonderfully engrossing 'quickie', directed by John Fitchen, and boasting one scene in particular that will strike a chord with Hammer buffs, as the camera settles on Lee's eyes which display every ounce of the rage and savagery of a Dracula that was still 3 years away.

"Beauty In Brief" (3m 50s)
A 1955 striptease short, where full-on nudity is avoided as a young woman anticipates her wedding with attire that her intended would surely approve of.

"Goodnight With Sabrina" (3m50s)
Sabrina (Norma Sykes) entertains us from her own apartment, swapping evening gown for bath and bed, before bidding us goodnight.
As Arthur Askey would have said, "I Thank You".
The BFI have also included a 20 page booklet which includes Gillian remembering "Beat Girl"; Vic Pratt's essay on the film; Johnny Trunk's essay on John Barry's score, and Jo Botting's look at Edmond T Greville's work.
It all makes for required reading.
As an historical document of times gone by and a hugely enteraining film to boot, "Beat Girl" thoroughly deserves its chance to take another bow. A jewel in the BFI 'Flipside' crown, no less.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

DVD Review: Symptoms (BFI)

A good number of you may be familiar with Jose Larraz via his ex and blood romp "Vampyres", which featured Marianne Morris and Anulka as creatures of the night roaming the countryside in search of their prey.
"Symptoms" is a different story, being largely unseen in the UK during the four plus decades since its release.
Now, the British Film Institute has made this Euro Horror gem available for home viewing after finding the original negatives.
Larraz's film was chosen as the British entry for the Palme d'or for the 1974 Cannes Film Festival, ruffling a few feathers along the way, due to popular support for Ken Russell's "Mahler".
The reception in Cannes was largely positive, but "Symptoms" sank without trace, becoming a sleeping giant waiting to be re-born.

The film is set on an English country estate where Helen Ramsey (Angela Pleasence) has returned following a period of convalescence in Switzerland. Helen invites her friend Anne (Lorna Heilbron) to stay; the latter hoping for a peaceful holiday amidst beautiful surroundings.
Anne's first night is largely undisturbed, save for the sound of laughter which Helen claims not to have heard.
A photograph of a dark haired beauty who Helen identifies as Cora, and the sinister presence of odd job man Brady (Peter Vaughan)combine with a past tragedy and a future where "something is about to happen".
As a fierce storm and driving rain take hold, "Symptoms" becomes ever more disturbing, with apparitions appearing in mirrors and footsteps patrolling the attic, setting nerves on edge in fearful expectation.
As an exercise in psychological terror, "Symptoms" scores highly, charting a descent into madness and beyond to a most disconcerting degree.

There's much to enthuse over here, from both sides of the camera: a trio of fine central performances, with Pleasence and Heilbron playing well off each others chalk-and-cheese characters, while Vaughan recalls the lecherous locals of Peckinpah's "Straw Dogs" with eyes that strip the very souls of his neighbours.
John Scott's eerie score is perfectly in tune with on-screen events, intensifying when the numerous slayings occur, with Herrmann-esque flourishes, while DOP Trevor Wrenn's photography - presided over by Larraz himself - captures haunted woods and gloomy interiors while showing the countryside in all its autumnal glory.
It's a team effort that pays rich dividends, taking up the baton from Roman Polanski's "Repulsion", to fashion a compelling account of what can happen when the red signs of madness take an icy grip.
"Symptoms" is fully deserving of the reverential treatment bestowed by this BFI release.

Image quality on my DVD screener will be a revelation to those who discovered the film via beat-up home video incarnations, while newcomers will be pleased by this restoration which delivers deliberately muted colours and strong detail.
The supplementary material begins with the 70s 37s documentary, "On Vampyres and Other Symptoms".
Recorded in 2011, this absorbing documentary looks at the director's formative years - his father told him the best lessons are learnt on the street - his talent for drawing comic books, and his late start in the world of filmmaking, which began after a meeting with Josef von Sternberg.
Larraz talks about his literary influences; his thoughts on life, death and life after death and gives his forthright opinion on the Cannes festival.
There's also a lovely scene where Marianne Morris and Anulka take to the stage to present Larraz with an award at a festival screening.

"From Barcelona To Tumbridge Wells: The Films of Jose Larraz".
A 24m 11s episode from the essential 'Eurotika' series.
Here, Larraz talks about his fascination with ancient legends; Thomas Owen's books and some of his own previous work.
Marianne Morris remembers her work in "Vampyres" and her initial reaction to the film, while Brian Smedley-Aston chats about his relationship with Larraz and some of the films they made together.
Some very strong clips from "Vampyres" are included, which should see you reaching for your own copy, or palcing an order.

An Interview with Angela Pleasence (9m 11s)
Angela recalls how she got the lead role in "Symptoms", going on to describe Larraz as a remarkable talent but someone she didn't always agree with.
We hear about an accident which occurred on the set; 19 hour shoots and her opinion on "Symptoms" which she saw just 3 days before doing this interview earlier in 2016.

An Interview with Lorna Heilbron (17m 11s)
Lorna talks about her time at drama school; her memories of Larraz (an intense and also charming man), and how she had to develop an inner stillness for her role.
Peter Cushing, "The Creeping Flesh" and her life after acting also figure in this interview.

An Interview with Brian Smedley-Aston (16m 20s)
Brian's early career in the cutting room; his contribution to Cammell and Roeg's "Performance"; his work with David Greene and his recollection of the 1974 Cannes Festival with its strong line-up round off this fascinating trio of interviews.
There's also an illustrated booklet with this dual format release, which features a beautifully written essay by Vanity Celis who delivers a persuasive overview of this film.
"Symptoms" is available to buy now, and destined to be on many best of 2016 home video lists.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Blu-Ray Review: The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant

Based on Fassbinder's own play, "The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant" is set entirely in the bedroom of a Bremen apartment where Petra (Margit Carstensen) busies herself with a successful career as a fashion designer.
We see the cruel side of Petra early on with her callous treatment of servant Marlene (Irm Hermann), and go on to witness a draining downwards spiral as friends, family and a new lover are introduced to us via the all-female cast.
Petra's previous relationships are discussed with Sidonie (Katrin Schaake) while Marlene stands in the background, listening intently as silent witness to stories which contain fabrications, judging by the servant's facial expressions.
Another visitor to Petra's centre of her universe is Karin Thimm (Hanna Schygulla); a 23 year-old beauty who casts a spell over her host, and becomes her lover following Petra's promise to help turn her into a top model.
Before long, their relationship turns sour, with Karin's treatment of Petra becoming similar to the verbal abuse suffered by Marlene, and the introduction of Petra's mother (Gisela Fackeldey) and daughter Gabriele (Eva Mattes) further increases the harsh words and actions that pour out of Petra.

Overall, this is an emotionally draining film, driven by beautifully tuned performances and Michael Ballhaus' photography and lighting.
The bedroom features a reproduction of a painting - 'Midas and Bacchus' by Nicolas Poussin - which, along with Petra's bed, becomes another character in the film, sometimes dominating and always acting as a jury, deliberating on the events with eyes that watch from hundreds of years ago.
Towards the end of the film, life really does imitate art as the occupants of Petra's bedroom practically mirroring the imposing artwork.
The room itself is, by turn, claustrophobic, and sometimes really opens up to characters and their audience, while remaining within the wing of Fassbinder's theatrical direction.
The performances, too, are sympathetic to the story, conveying a multitude of emotions as real despair kicks in.
While Carstensen and Schygulla both excel in their roles, Irm Hermann deserves much praise for her portrayal of Marlene, who sometimes takes the guise of one of Petra's paintings, adopting still-life poses as real life turmoil surrounds her.Whether it's sketching designs for Petra, acting as nurse or simply through the clickety-clack of her typewriter keys, she's always there, right up to the finale which sheds some light on her tolerance of Petra's behaviour.

This is top-tier Fassbinder, and ripe for the kind of re-appraisal found in Diane Charleson's excellent commentary track found on Arrow Aacadmey's Blu-ray.
Diane looks at Fassbinder's turbulent family life; influences drawn from American melodrama and Bergman's "Persona"; points out the triangular relationships reflected in the framing; discusses the absence of men in the film and also praises Michael Ballhaus for the fluidity he brought to this production.
It's a stimulating, highly informative track and one that you should return to.

Next up is 'Life Stories: A Conversation With R.W. Fassbinder'. Made for German television in 1978 and moderated by Peter W. Jensen, the interview runs for 48m 29s.
Fassbinder talks about his childhood, his marriage; the reduction of freedom in Germany at the time and of his second home in Paris, declaring he felt more at home there.
"Berlin Alexanderplatz" is also mentioned, and he addresses why his films were not widely known at the time.
It's an enlightening piece, tinged with sadness that Fassbinder died at such a young age.

'Role-Play" Women On Fassbinder' (58m 41s)
Here, Carstensen, Schygulla, Hermann and Rosel Zech paint a picture of what is was like working with a genius who tore of the masks of those he was with.
Hermann talks about their marriage, and why she broke up with him while Schgulla declares his actresses were like "figures on a chess board".
A temperamental, highly focused individual was was a real genius emerges from the memories of some of the ladies who knew him best.
A valuable disc extra indeed.

Once again, this 4K restoration from original camera negatives yields impressive results with a beautiful film-like presentation.
"The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant is available to buy now. Another great addition to Arrow Academy's catalogue.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Blu-ray Review: The Merchant Of Four Seasons/Beware Of A Holy Whore (Arrow Academy)

Arrow Academy has just released a boxset devoted to the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, containing 7 Blu-ray discs which cover 10 of his films.

Limited edition box set (1,000 copies) containing Love is Colder Than Death, Katzelmacher, Beware of a Holy Whore, The Merchant of Four Seasons, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, Fear Eats the Soul, Effi Briest, Fox and His Friends, Chinese Roulette and The Marriage of Maria Braun
Brand new 4K restorations of the films from original camera negatives
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentations
Original uncompressed PCM mono audio
Optional English subtitles on all films
Six audio commentaries: Adrian Martin on Beware of a Holy Whore, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Christian McCrea on The Merchant of Four Seasons, Diane Charleson on The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, Mark Freeman on Fear Eats the Soul, Ken Moulden on Effi Briest and Hamish Ford on Fox and His Friends
Two early short films by Rainer Werner Fassbinder from 1966, The Little Chaos and The City Tramp
My Name is Not Ali, Viola Shafik’s 2011 feature-length documentary on the life and death of El Hedi ben Salem, star of Fear Eats the Soul
Newly-filmed interview with actor Lou Castel on Beware of a Holy Whore
Newly-filmed interviews with actor Ulli Lommel on Love is Colder Than Death, Effi Briest and Chinese Roulette
Newly-filmed interviews with director of photography Jürgen Jürges on Fear Eats the Soul and Effi Briest
The Rainer Werner Fassbinder Family, an all-new featurette detailing the actors who worked with Fassbinder time and again throughout his career
Life Stories: A Conversation with R.W. Fassbinder, a 50-minute interview with the director conducted for German television in 1978
End of the Commune, Joachim von Mengershausen’s 1970 documentary portrait of Fassbinder and his troupe including rare footage of his actors rehearsing and Love is Colder Than Death’s premiere at the 1969 Berlin Film Festival
Role-Play: Women on Fassbinder, a 1992 documentary containing interviews with four of the director’s leading ladies, Margit Carstensen, Irm Hermann, Hanna Schygulla and Rosel Zech
Life, Love & Celluloid, a 1998 feature-length documentary on Fassbinder, written and directed by his regular editor, Juliane Lorenz
Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1977, a candid 30-minute interview with the director
Original theatrical trailers for Katzelmacher, Beware of a Holy Whore, Fear Eats the Soul, Fox and His Friends and Chinese Roulette
200-page hardback book, exclusive to this limited edition box set, containing all-new writing by Tony Rayns, Gertrud Koch, Michael Pattison, Nick Pinkerton, Ashley Clark, Erica Carter, Alex Davidson, Glenn Kenny and Margaret Deriaz

The films are also being released individually throughout 2016.

Although he passed away at the absurdly young age of 37, Fassbinder had an astonishingly prolific career and these releases are essential for followers of world cinema.
During the next few weeks, I'll be taking a look at five of these films.

The Merchant Of Four Seasons

"The good die young and people like you come back."

When Hans Epp (Hans Hirschmuller) returns from a year away in the Foreign Legion, his mother (Gusti Kreissi) with the hostility of a bitter woman whose son has fallen well short of expectations.
Hans peddles fruit through the streets of Munich, aided by his wife Irmgard (Irm Hermann) who is determined to make ends meet for their young daughter and also for their marriage.
Hans has an alcohol problem, and we first see his real devotion to the demon drink when Irmgard interrupts a heavy session with his cronies, only to have a chair thrown at her, followed by a beating when he eventually gets home.
One heart attack later, and Hans' drinking and heavy lifting at work are curtailed by a Doctor's warning that drink and physical exertion will be fatal.
So, Hans and his wife hire a labourer to work the rounds. Before long, the money is rolling in but further unhappiness lies just around the corner.

It's grim subject matter to be sure, but compulsive vewing thanks to the excellent cast who represent family and a band of outsiders who all have a part to play in this sad story.
Hirschmuller is very good as the ticking clock that is Hans, earning both sympathy and disgust for the choices he makes.
His family - Heide Simon as his married sister, brother-in-law Kurt played by Kurt Raab and sister Anna, the brutally honest one (Hanna Schygulla) - are dysfunctional in the extreme, while the hired help enter the picture with cold, calculating parts to play.
Top billing, for me, has to be Irm Hermann wo delivers a beautifully multi-layered performance, packing in all the emotions as she fights to keep the family unit together. Joy, pain, despair and a very real fear are all present and conveyed so very well.
Praise, too, for Ingrid Caven as Hans' great love. Her screen time may be limited but she leaves her mark like a stash of old letters that silently chronicle a love that could never be.
All of these actors are well served by the photography of Dietrich Lohmann whose exquisite framing helps make this a true work of art.
Highlights are many, but my own choice for the most affecting is the shot that follows a distraught Irmgard as she heads home through darkened streets past a variety of shops; one of which sells bridal gowns that should mark the beginning of a joyous union. Unbearably sad.
Those of you yet to experience a Fassbinder film, and who have perhaps been alerted by Arrow's deluxe treatment of other important director figures, may well find this a good place to begin.

"The Merchant Of Four Seasons" is accompanied by a commentary track from Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Christian McCrae.
The pair combine well to deliver a track that will stimulate and inform newcomers and seasoned Fassbinder buffs alike.
We hear about the core issues Fassbinder brought to the table; the discomfort created by certain scenes in this film;
a funny story concerning the director's 8 month hiatus prior to shooting Merchant and analysis of when the films moves from cinematic to theatrical.
There's also praise for Hermann's performance; exploration of Fassbinder's attitude towards women - the director's own words being quoted on several occasions which adds to the wealth of information complied - and critical reaction to the film, which is sometimes challenged.
This serves for a lively, informative track that manages to fit in cast and crew information, and director's Fassbinder inuluenced and was influenced by, including Michael Mann and Douglas Sirk. Listen out, too, for Alexandra's wonderful description "a parody of mourning". A job well done.

Beware Of A Holy Whore

Rainer Werner Fassbinder's tenth film - an engrossing study of a film shoot from hell - was set in Spain and shot in Italy, and that's a consideration when one studies the sense of dislocation that's prevalent in this picture.
Lou Castel plays Jeff, director of this film-within-a-film and one of the few people to have a identifiable role in proceedings.
Jeff arrives on the set to find a motley collection of cast and crew - some interchangeable - who congregate around of bar area of the hotel lobby where they consume copious quantities of alcohol, while lust, jealousy and violence hang heavy in the air.
We have Fassbinder himself playing what appears to be the producer; Hanna Schygulla as a Monroe-esque Goddess clad in white; Eddie Constantine playing himself, effortlessly conveying real star quality; Uli Lommel's wanna-be director and a cast of supporting players who mostly become infected by the creeping moral malaise which covers this film.
Jeff's project is pitched as being against a certain kind of brutality that's sanctioned by the state, and includes two brutal murders which involve Constantine who initially draws the line at performing his characters deadly work.

The first half of "Beware Of A Holy Whore" is composed of long takes, while the second half contains a multitude of shorter scenes that jump about to such an extent, it's often confusing to get a handle on what's happening and when it occurred. For all that, it's a stimulating piece of work that presents the madness of a film set where missing materials, bouncing cheques and various warring factions combine to push the director towards the edge.
Once again, Fassbinder moves between the cinematic and the theatrical with beautifully composed framing shots from the director and his DOP Michael Ballhaus.
In many ways, "Beware Of A Holy Whore" would make for a compelling double bill with Abel Ferrara's "Snake Eyes" (aka "Dangerous Game") with the human wreckage of an ugly shoot ready to explode at any moment.

The excellent Adrian Martin takes the microphone for a commentary track that begins by examining a story from Werner Schroeter at the beginning of the film, and Adrian also notes how many of the cast were already film directors (including Schroeter) or would eventually move into this field.
Adrian talks about Fassbinder's early career; the connection between Beware and "Whity"; the director's use of music in this film; points out the influence of Sirk, Ray, Godard and Warhol in a commentary that takes in everything from the fragmented approach of the second half Of Beware to individual performances.
Listen to this and you'll immediately want to watch the film again.

A 2m 41s theatrical trailer is followed by "Castel As Fassbinder". This 9m 53s interview includes the story of how Lou eventually got tthe role of Jeff; his thoughts on working with the late director and his verdict on the film.
It's a nice way to end a disc that provides beautiful 4K restorations of both films.