Last Dozen Films I Saw …

  1. Graduation : Cristian Mungiu (2016)
  2. I Am Not Your Negro : Raoul Peck (2016)
  3. A Quiet Passion : Terence Davies (2017)
  4. Clash : Mohamed Diab (2016)
  5. Bunch of Kunst : Christine Frantz (2016)
  6. You Have No Idea How Much I Love You : Pawel Lozinski (2017)
  7. Their Finest : Lone Sherfig (2016)
  8. The Levelling : Hope Dickson Leach (2016)
  9. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold : Martin Ritt (1965)
  10. A Place in the Sun : George Stevens (1951)
  11. The Other Side of Hope : Aki Kaurismaki (2017)
  12. Beyond the Hills : Cristian Mungiu (2012)

 

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Last Dozen Films I Saw

 

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Blood on the Moon : Robert Wise (1948)
To Have & Have Not : Howard Hawks (1944)
Manchester by the Sea : Kenneth Lonergan (2016)
Red Road : Andrea Arnold (2006)
Parisienne (Peur de Rien): Danielle Arbid (2016)
Cinema Paradiso : Giuseppe Tornatore (1988)
Jackie : Pablo Larrain (2016)
Toni Erdmann : Maren Ade (2016)
Thumbsucker : Mike Mills (2005)
Portrait : Sergei Loznitsa (2002)
Twentieth Century Woman : Mike Mills (2016)
Old Joy : Kelly Reichardt (2006)

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Film 2016

Is there something, I wonder, that happens as you get older which leaves you feeling more and more difficult to please; that means you are more likely to appreciate things from the past, possibly but not necessarily encountered before, over what is new? It seems, if 2016 is to be trusted, to be increasingly so.

No doubt, the two most original and exciting films I’ve seen this year were made in the 1920s: Eisenstein’s Strike from 1925 and Murnau’s Sunrise from 1927. The Eisenstein, which I hadn’t seen before, was showing as part of a season of his work at the small and independent Close Up Film Centre in Shoreditch; the Murnau I had seen several times but never as gloriously as at this screening, with magnificent live organ accompaniment, at the Regent Street Cinema.

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That I saw these and other classics in the repertoire was due in no small part to my daughter Molly’s growing interest in film and film history – hence a terrific noir double bill of Tourneur’s Out of the Past and Wilder’s Double Indemnity; Preston Sturges’ The Lady Eve and The Palm Beach Story, and, more up to date, Kieslowski’s Three Colours Blue and Three Colours Red.

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Against those, little holds up. American Honey had a terrific performance by Sasha Lane and Andrea Arnold is a really interesting director, but it’s about 30 minutes too long; Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake had most people falling over themselves in its praise, but, while its heart is 100% in the right place, its function as parable drains it – until the final third – of any real tension or complexity – this despite  a compelling performance from Hayley Squires; Arrival simply didn’t, as far as I was concerned, and there’s a whopping cheat, surely, two-thirds of the way into the plot? Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson were charming, both celebrating innocence in quite different ways, but I have to say I found the deliberately repetitive and low-key movement of Jarmusch’s narrative, following Adam Driver’s bus driver through his fairly boring daily routine, pretty, well, boring, and, as for the poems he writes en route (the work, apparently, of Ron Padgett), all I can say is don’t give up the day job too soon. The new Dardenne Brothers film, The Unknown Girl, is ponderous and pretty unbelievable; the latest Woody Allen, Café Society, a strong contender for the worst of his career – until the next one comes along, that is.

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Two films stood out most strongly for me, both, in differing ways and different contexts, taking as their subject girls and women suffering from and struggling to overcome male domination, violence and abuse. Deniz Gamze Erguven’s Mustang centres around a family of five girls growing up amidst the claustrophobia and abuse of a rural Turkish family; Anne Fontaine’s The Innocents takes place immediately after WW2, in and around a Catholic convent in Warsaw in which some of the nuns are pregnant as a result of rape by Russian soldiers. Sympathetically directed and convincingly acted, both films are moving, deeply disturbing, and, against the odds, ultimately uplifting.

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I’ll also confess to liking David O. Russell’s Joy a whole lot more than perhaps I should, but any movie that can have me so desperately wanting someone to succeed in selling her self-designed mop on the shopping channel must have something going for it. Probably Jennifer Lawrence.

Otherwise, the films that have held my attention most strongly have all been documentaries: Marcie Begleiter’s Eva Hesse – probably the best film about an artist I’ve seen – Laura Israel’s Don’t Blink – Robert Frank; Sara Fishko’s The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith, and Gianfranco Rosi’s excellent Fire at Sea, contrasting the traditional lives of the families living on the Italian island of Lampedusa with the hopes and desperation of refugees fleeing there from Africa – two different, barely compatible worlds.

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Resnick on Radio, Stage & TV

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David Fleeshman as Charlie Resnick & Simone Saunders as Catherine Njoroge in the Nottingham Playhouse/New Perspectives production of “Darkness, Darkness”

DARKNESS, DARKNESS
Act 2, Scene 15

CREMATORIUM. FADE DOWN ORGAN MUSIC AS RESNICK WALKS AWAY FROM THE CHAPEL INTO THE GARDEN, CATHERINE, PATCH OVER ONE EYE, COMING TO JOIN HIM.

CATHERINE: God, Charlie! I hate funerals. Hate them more and more.

RESNICK: You’ll come to mine, all the same?

CATHERINE: You, Charlie? You’ll be here forever.

RESNICK: I doubt that.

THEY WALK ON.

I don’t know about forever, but the old boy does keeping popping up, this week especially.

First there was the realisation [they never let you know in advance!] that my three-part dramatisation for radio of the third Resnick novel, Cutting Edge, was being repeated on BBC Radio 4 Extra.

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Originally broadcast on Radio 4 in 1996, Cutting Edge features Tom Georgeson as Resnick. Tom Wilkinson had played him on radio the preceding year, in my adaptation of Wasted Years, which, like Cutting Edge and, in fact, all of the radio Resnicks, was produced and directed by  David Hunter. In doing so, Wilkinson, of course, was reprising the role he’d earlier played on television, in the versions of the first two novels in the series, Lonely Hearts and Rough Treatment, both produced by Colin Rogers for Deco Films & Television and the BBC.

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Come the time to record Cutting Edge, he was otherwise engaged, so Georgeson, who had appeared on the other side of the law as a burglar in Rough Treatment, stepped into the Inspector’s shoes, bringing the residue of a Scouse lilt with him as he did so.

Resnick’s most recent incarnation, in the stage version of Darkness, Darkness directed by Jack McNamara for Nottingham Playhouse and New Perspectives, saw him being tellingly brought to life by David Fleeshman.

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David Fleeshman getting in some Resnick Research in Nottingham

Now, Claudia Ferlisi of New Perspectives has assembled an absorbing “storify”, in which the history of the production is traced through a selection of photographs, video, blog extracts, tweets and so on. You can – and should – look at it here …

Delving further back, Colin Rogers  alerted me to a review on the Letterboxd site of the 1992 television adaptation of Lonely Hearts, starring, as has been said, Tom Wilkinson, and directed by Bruce MacDonald. Quite why the review, by Mark C., has appeared now, when no official DVD of the programme is available, I’m not sure. A DVD was advertised as forthcoming on Amazon.com some time ago, but since then there has been no news as to when – indeed, if – it might actually become available. What’s holding things up, I have no idea. Nor do I know which copy Mark is reviewing … but what he has to say, is, I thought, really interesting. Here’s a sample …

It helps of course that the author himself, John Harvey, adapted the novels for TV. But crucially the director of Lonely Hearts, Bruce MacDonald, understands the material beautifully and gives us something unique that still stands out as a distinctive piece of drama some twenty-four years later. Crucially MacDonald’s style, combined with his knowledge and understanding of Harvey occasionally somewhat fragmentary writing style, works in close harmony to deliver an deeply atmospheric piece. Like the jazz beloved of our central character, Harvey’s writing often strays from the narrative through line to provide quirky and unusual flourishes or glimpses of other themes. This is best exemplified in the way that we see the team at Nottingham CID (which includes a youngish David Neilsen before he headed to the cobbles of Coronation Street, looking rather different with short hair and a military moustache, and actor/writer William Ivory as a scene-stealing leery, neanderthal cop who despite his blunt methods gets the job done in a way we cannot help but admire) involve themselves in other secondary cases or how we catch references to their home lives. All of these instances help lend a sense of multi-dimensionality and authenticity to the proceedings.

You can read the review in its entirety here …

Robert Frank & The Americans

It was nothing more than happenstance that I saw documentary films about two renowned American photographers on successive days: Laura Israel’s Don’t Blink – Robert Frank in its run at the ICA and Sara Fishko’s Jazz Loft Project – According to W. Eugene Smith which was showing at Barbican as part of the London jazz Festival.

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Frank is probably still best known for his photo book, The Americans, which resulted from a Guggenheim-funded road trip he made around the United States in 1955/56. Initially published in France, it didn’t come out in America until 1959, when Grove  Press published it with an introduction by Jack Kerouac.

That crazy feeling in America when the sun is hot on the streets and the music comes out of the jukebox or from a nearby funeral, that’s what Robert Frank has captured in tremendous photographs taken as he travelled on the road around practically forty-eight states in an old used car (on Guggenheim Fellowship) and with the agility, mystery, genius, sadness and strange secrecy of a shadow photographed scenes that have never been seen before on film. For this he will definitely be hailed as a great artist in his field.

Well, he was. But not straight off. The reviewer in Popular Photography characterised the work thus: meaningless blur, grain, muddy exposure, drunken horizons and general sloppiness. Elsewhere he was taken to task for the picture of American and Americans the book presented: this is not the real America and whoever thinks so must hate America, this is not the way we live. Kerouac, not surprisingly, disagreed.

As American a picture – the faces don’t editorialise or criticise or say anything but “This is the way we are in real life and if you don’t like it I don’t know anything about it ’cause I’m living my own life my way and may God bless us all, mebbe” … “if we deserve it” …

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Robert Frank : Bute,Montana

There’s a clear relationship in the photographs, I think, to some of the images that Dorothea Lange and others shot during the Depression, except that they were more studied – more consciously ‘artistic’, I suppose, and, as we now know, some of them were less spontaneous than they were made to appear – whereas, as Israel’s film makes clear, Frank was more likely to seize the moment, shoot on the fly. Look at them now, and aside from thinking, yes, how great they are, it’s hard to reach back and see what the negative fuss was about – that’s how used we’ve become, through street photography and the rest, to the kind of photography of which Robert Frank was one of the pioneers.

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Robert Frank: Car Accident – U.S. 66, between Winslow and Flagstaff, Arizona

It’s not clear from what Frank has to say in the film if it was the negative reaction to The Americans that caused him to move away from photography into film making, or if he thought, okay, that’s it, that’s my statement, that’s my work, now I need to get on to something new. [He had previously taken two series of photographs in the UK, not published until the 1970s, one in the City of London and the other – quite superb, these – in a mining village in South Wales.]

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Robert Frank: Three Welsh Miners

The first film in which he was involved, which also involved Kerouac, was Pull My Daisy, a movie about the Beats that he co-directed with Alfred Leslie. He has carried on with film and video ever since – he’s now 92 and not showing much sign of lying down – most famously Cocksucker Blues, a documentary about the Rolling Stones on tour, of which Mick Jagger said: It’s a fucking good film, Robert, but if it shows in America we’ll never be allowed into the country again.

Much of Israel’s film was shot in and around the converted fisherman’s shack on the coast of Mabou, on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, to which Frank moved with his second wife, the sculptor, June Leaf, in the early 70s. The reclusive life seems to suit him, though he does also spend some time in a loft on Bleecker Street in Manhattan, and although he has gone back to photography alongside film and video, it’s a long way from The Americans. These images are manipulated, collaged, yoked together, written on, the negatives scratched and scumbled, highly personalised. As if he’s saying that was then – those people – and this is now, my life, mine and June’s, me.

For more details of Don’t Blink – Robert Frank, including screenings, check out …

It’s showing at the ICA, just off Trafalgar Square, for the rest of this week

I’ll turn my attentions to W. Eugene Smith and the Jazz Loft Project in a few days’ time.

 

Last Dozen Films I Saw …

Fire at Sea : Gianfranco Rosi (2016)
Maggie’s Plan : Rebecca Miller (2016)
Three Colours Blue : Kieslowski (1993)
Three Colours Red : Kieslowski (1994)
Late Spring : Ozu (1949)
Eva Hesse : Marcie Begleiter (2016)
Casablanca : Michael Curtiz (1942)
The Battle of Algiers : Gillo Pontecorvo (1966)
White Dog : Sam Fuller (1982)
Ingrid Bergman – In Her Own Words : Stig Bjorkman (2015)
Julieta : Pedro Almodovar (2016)
Goodbye, First Love : Mia Hansen-Love (2011)

An outstanding couple of months of cinema, I’d say, with four or five stone cold classics and a couple of excellent documentaries – Fire at Sea and Eva Hesse – the latter being just about the most interesting and well-assembled film about an artist I’ve seen. I hadn’t seen either The Battle of Algiers or White Dog for some years and neither has lost their power or, sadly, their relevance. Casablanca, of course, I had seen on a number of occasions, sometimes perhaps, lazily on television with other things going on around me, but watching it on the big screen at the BFI Southbank, I was struck both by how well-made and effective it is as an engaging story (those close-ups of Bergman!) and the degree to which elements of its underlying narrative – the plight of refugees fleeing from conflict in search of a better life – are still pertinent today.

Last Baker’s Dozen Films I Saw

Out of the Past : Jacques Tourneur (1947)
Double Indemnity : Billy Wilder (1944)
The Darjeeling Limited : Wes Anderson (2007)
Rams : Grímur Hákonarson (2015)
Hitchcock Truffaut : Kent Jones (2016)
Thelma & Louise : Ridley Scott (1991)
The Tall T : Budd Boetticher (1957)
The Constant Gardener : Fernando Meirelles (2005)
Bande a Part : Godard (1964)
A Flickering Truth : Pietra Brettkelly (2015)
Miles Ahead : Don Cheadle (2015)
Eye in the Sky : Gavin Hood (2015)
Pursued : Raoul Walsh (1947)

A list coincidentally framed by two movies from the same year, both starring Robert Mitchum and both bound up in the noir fatalism that ran through so much American cinema in the immediate post-War era. Out of the Past would equally well serve as the title of Pursued, one a crime drama, the other a western: in the former Mitchum is doing his impossible best to turn his back on a life of crime and betrayal, blinded until too late by the duplicitous beauty of a woman; in the latter, he is struggling to comprehend and come to terms with childhood trauma, family guilt, and a quasi-incestuous love affair. Over both, the shadow of Freud looms large.

The Constant Gardener, as I’ve suggested elsewhere, strikes me as a far better adaptation of a John LeCarré novel than the much-hyped The Night Manager, less intent on showing off its budget and more concerned with the anti-capitalist thrust of the original. And Fiennes, in the standard LeCarré role of the well-meaning innocent drawn into unfamiliar action, turns in a performance of greater depth than Hiddleston.

Don Cheadle’s movie is so clearly a label of love and his performance as Miles Davis so convincing, one’s heart goes out to him over the presumably commercial decisions necessary to get the film made, lumbering himself with vacuous Ewan McGregor worst of all.

A Flickering Truth is another fine documentary to come out of the sad turmoil that is Afghanistan. Showing the attempts to rescue and restore old film stock that had been escaped destruction by the Taliban, the closing scenes, in which some of the surviving footage is taken out into the villages, is deeply moving for the wonder on the faces of its audiences, young and old, many of whom have never seen film before.

Looking for Kurt …

Writing recently about Henning Mankel’s posthumously published book of essays, Quicksand, I mentioned interviewing him in the course of making a documentary about his crime fiction – Looking for Kurt Wallander – that was shown on BBC4 in 2008. Meeting Mankel aside, making the programme was a strange and slightly surreal experience, much of it involving me appearing suddenly in the middle of a field of ripening wheat and walking slowly towards the camera while trying desperately to remember what it had been agreed I was going to say.

I mention this because a short trailer for the programme has turned up on YouTube, complete with Spanish subtitles, and it doesn’t look too bad at all. There’s an extract from one of the interviews with Mankel, a nice sound track, a glimpse of Kenneth Branagh as Wallander, and me in a dishevelled summer suit. No walking through wheat fields, but a clip from a rather nice night time scene in a bar, the filming of which I remember fondly as it necessitated me downing a fresh shot of Glenmorangie for each take.

If you like this, the whole thing – an hour in length – is now available as a video download from the BBC Store. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00fzbmt

 

Barry Hines: 1939 – 2016

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Barry Hines

In sad retrospect, I’m pleased that, talking about the Resnick novels at Bromley House Library in Nottingham this Saturday just past, and asked about influences on my work, I mentioned, alongside a small number of other social realist writers, the novelist and dramatist, Barry Hines, who, unbeknown to me, had died the previous day.

A teacher of English and Drama, I’d just moved  on after three years at Heanor-Aldercar Secondary School, in a small, principally mining town in South-East Derbyshire, to take on a similar post in less industrial Hampshire, when Hines’ first novel, A Kestrel for A Knave, was published in 1968. Set in South Yorkshire, the novel, and Ken Loach’s well-known and cherished film adaptation, Kes, released a year later, struck me forcefully their ability to render a world entire unto itself without ever being patronising or over-sentimental, but with hard-truth, understanding and compassion.

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As it happens, we’d watched a DVD of Kes at home only a few weeks before – a first time for our daughter – and despite familiarity on my part, it had still engendered tears (and laughter) and, most of all, anger. Exactly, I think, as Hines – and Loach – would have wanted.

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What I didn’t spell out at Bromley House, but should have, was the importance of Ken Loach’s two-part television drama from 1977, The Price of Coal, written by Barry Hines, to my preliminary research for Darkness, Darkness, the Resnick novel  partly set during the Miners’ Strike, which I’m in the process of dramatising for Nottingham Playhouse and New Perspectives Theatre.

Both Kes and The Price of Coal were produced by Tony Garnett, and there was a time, some few years ago now, when the Resnick novels were optioned for television by Garnett’s production company. We’ll do what we can to get your books to the screen as well as they deserve, Garnett said when we met. It never happened. (It rarely does.) But what if it had … ?

Last (Baker’s) Dozen Films I Saw

  • The Glenn Miller Story : Anthony Mann (1952)
  • Strike : Sergei Eisenstein (1925)
  • Alexander Nevsky : Sergei Eisenstein (1938)
  • Breathless : Jean Luc Godard  (1959)
  • The Parallax View : Alan J. Pakula (1974)
  • The Big Sleep : Howard Hawks (1946)
  • Peggy Guggenheim, Art Addict : Lisa Vreeland (2015)
  • Joy : David O. Russell (2015)
  • Love and Death : Woody Allen (1975)
  • Tubby Hayes, Man in a Hurry : Mark Baxter & Lee Cogswell (2o15)
  • Insomnia : Christopher Nolan (2002)
  • Spotlight : Tom McCarthy (2015)
  • The Miners’ Hymns : Bill Morrison (2011)

Briefly, Strike, Eisenstein’s first full-length movie, is astonishing from beginning to end; a jaw-dropping movie. So far from the birth of the nouvelle vague, the Godard, made, as someone pointed out, when he was in love with the United States, instead of hating them (a development many of us go through) now seems not a little archaic but charming. The Big Sleep is wonderful for its dialogue, for the scenes between Bogart & Bacall, and, perhaps almost most of all, for that delightful and sexy little scene in the bookshop between Bogart and Dorothy Malone. Joy mostly works, for me anyway, the first third especially – and any film that can have me weeping when it’s heroine finally succeeds in selling her self-designed mop on the shopping channel obviously knows what it’s doing.

Spotlight is a perfectly decent film on a still important subject, but finally too one-paced, and, despite Mark Ruffalo’s puppyish enthusiasm, too lacking in energy: ultimately it is carried by the strength of its subject matter rather than whatever might have made it more interestingly cinematic.

Bill Morrison’s documentary about the mining communities of Durham is beautifully evocative of times now past, cultures and communities that are being concreted over and consigned to memory. Visually glorious, it benefits enormously from a music score by the Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson.