After all, it's just a ride….


Hibernation Mode Terminated…..

grizzWell fuck me it’s darn weird being back here again, after many, many months of neglect. I could barely remember my password let alone the functions of writing a blog post, so please bear with me as I reconnect with an old but terminal exercise. The good news (I guess) is that I’m going to commit to a few year closedown posts of timid length and analysis, the bad news (if anyone really cares) is that this will lead to a final execution of this ten year project once and for all as the day job has officially overtaken this now redundant blog. What have I been doing? Phase 2 of this. What am I involved in from January 2018? This. As such I need to be spectacularly careful of my digital footprint, wary of the press for reasons myriad and numerous, especially since I’m more than positive that some of the comments and jokes I have made on here could easily be located and exploited out of context with horrific consequences. Anyway, back to the matter at hand,  here is the usual December montage which isn’t particularly transcendent, and as such representative of a rather average year;

I have been relatively active over the axial orbit movie going wise, but due to project pressures I completely missed the LFF this year (didn’t see a single screening or event) as my schedule simply didn’t gel with other priorities. Ironically I am on target for seeing over 500 films this year on various eyeball assaulting formats, and have managed to cram in some mini seasons on Eric Rohmer, all of Soderbergh’s 21st century material, a revisit of Kieślowski’s Three Colours trilogy, all of the Jarmusch films on Amazon Prime, Ōkami’s Lone Wolf & Cub series and even a revisit of a John Cassavettes box-set. I still don’t chime with the love for him, as much as I can appreciate his ground-breaking achievements in championing independent American filmmaking before Sundance was a faltering glint in Robert Redford’s azure eyes. More montage mischievousness here;

So in order to temper expectations here are my films of the year thus far, presented without commentary or debate and in no particular order – make of this what you will ; Wind River, Personal Shopper, Get Out, Blade Runner 2049, Thor: Ragnarok, Moonlight, mother!, Lady Macbeth, The Death Of Stalin, Logan  and maybe Malick’s Song To Song and the eerily prescient Nocturama.  Alas I didn’t see The Florida Project, You Were Never Really HereBrawl In Cell Block 99, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Good Time, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer nor The Shape Of Water, some of which I’m sure could have arisen to the 2017 Menagerie pantheon if I’d seen them at the LFF. As it stands the ultimate event of 2017 was of course David Lynch’s spectacular bookend to his incredible career, maybe there more there will be more on that……later;

Valerian & The City Of A Thousand Planets (2017) Final Trailer

Bonjour Luc Besson. I grew up enjoying and deeply admiring the likes of Subway, The Last Battle and Nikita, but once he got into his American financed groove my interest waned. I dislike the Taken and Transporter films as evidently I’m a snob, but held out some interest in Lucy which were dashed on the rocks of stupidity. Now he’s back once more but the real interesting facet of this project is not the text itself, but something else…;

What has got the industry fascinated is the business model that underpins it, and how this may finally be mounting a full assault on the Hollywood behemoth through a canny mosaic of international pre-sales, an emphasis on foreign markets (particularly China of course) and the retention of artistic control which you have to admire. I think I’ll give this a chance as the eye candy looks pleasing if nothing else, and this reminds me to watch The Fifth Element again, as a SF nerd I never liked that film, so now is the perfect time for a reapprisal…

Five Came Back (2017) Trailer

Beyond happy that they have produced a documentary of this fantastic book which I read a couple of years ago. It’s an apt reminder of what cinema can do in difficult times, and the influence the experience had upon the five when they returned to the industry is fascinating as a historical and artistic document – their work and the world they operated in was never the same;

Wild Tales (2015)

wt1I want to talk. I want to talk about money. There has been something of a mini-scandal among the London film critic twitterati recently due to the arrival of a gleaming new art cinema in the capitals hinterlands, with the completed nine month facelift of the old Renoir cinema transformed into the newly anointed Curzon Bloomsbury. Naturally I’m no stranger to the old place having caught the likes of Tarkovsky’s Mirror and Herzog’s Encounters At The End Of The World there over the years, usually during discounted matinee weekend screenings. Like the recent Curzon Victoria the new site has raised eyebrows with its boutique interiors and state of the art cinema systems, enabling well heeled patrons to relax in plush splendor for the princely sum of £18 a ticket. No doubt about it that is rather steep for a movie, particularly since they’ve also axed cheaper costs for early screenings, causing real consternation  as it doesn’t exactly encourage punters to ‘take a chance’ on foreign or slightly offbeat non mainstream fare. I, however, am a slave to my obsessions so I couldn’t help myself but shell out the currency for a duo of screenings to celebrate the newly minted space, firstly taking in a sparsely attended screening of Argentina’s unsuccessful candidate for the 2015 Best Foreign Language Oscar – Wild Tales.

wt2If revenge is a dish best served cold then these furious Latin protagonists certainly don’t care for temperature, as this portmanteau series of tales angrily orbit a central conceit – venomous vengeance, vigorously executed. In one tale a waitress in a quiet restaurant recognizes an extremely rude patron as a loan shark gangster who drove her father to suicide, in another a road-rage incident screeches off the tracks like a Spanish language remake of Spielberg’s Duel. A group of seemingly unconnected aircraft passengers grow frantic when they discover they all know the same unhinged person, in another sequence a wealthy businessman persuades his gardener to take the rap for the hit-and-run killing of a pregnant woman by his substance abusing son. Cannily saving the best for last proves that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, particularly a bride on her wedding day when she discovers that her newly acquired husband has been playing hide the llama with an attractive, younger co-worker. These half-dozen vicious vignettes are endemic with rage and frustration, an anthology of anxiety, dripping with despair.

wt3Being something of a jaded, cynical, dark hearted soul this film was right up my alley, and although as always with episodic structured films some threads are stronger than others  this is a hysterically funny picture, a hellacious  hymn to our corrupt and hades natures. The camera placement and occasional storytelling flourish from director Damián Szifron add a delicious frisson to the blackly comic proceedings, with some ironies and twists while eminently guessable would have an onyx hearted prankster like Hitchcock gleaming with pride. The standout is probably the final wedding from hell with a hilariously frenzied turn from Érica Rivas, although like most of the other sections it does run out of steam in its final contortions, rather than closing with a definitive, grotesque gut-punch. Wiser souls than I could probably identify some specific social commentary on Argentina’s recent corruption revelations and her economic woes, particularly with Ricardo Darín’s struggling everyman turned furious  explosive insurgent due to endemic corruption in a Kafkaesque labyrinth of rules, regulations, and turgid civil servants.

wt4As for the cinema facilities I test drove two screens during my duo of viewings (we have a bona-fide cult classic on the way specifically for you 1970’s petrolheads), catching Wild Tales in the splendor of the primary Renoir screen, and I have to say it is a terrific space with an appropriately mammoth screen, blessed with 4K projection capacity and the sound quality was simply fantastic – Dolby Atmos all the way. The facilities have expanded from two to six screens which is quite an achievement for the cluttered geography of the original footprint, with a promise of more bespoke film seasons alongside the high visibility art-house fare which should keep the tills twanging – they’ve commenced proceedings with a week-long auteur themed series. Maybe Curzon’s recent excursion into premium costs for a high-end experience is a metaphor for the wider 21st century divide between the rich and poor in terms of services, housing, travel and the generally frenzied cost of living in London, but there was one incident that perhaps says it all – Bloomsbury charged me £3 quid for a modest glass of coke. It’s enough to drive you mad;

CitizenFour (2014)

snow1One of the surprise entries on Sight & Sound’s 2014 films of the year was the inclusion of Citizenfour, Laura Poitra’s extraordinary behind the scenes expose on NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s initial contact with renegade journalist  Glenn Greenwald and The Guardian’s Ewan MacGaskill. Poitras is no stranger to the authorities having been clandestinely surveiled, frequently detained and questioned for having the temerity to criticize the government for their opaque prosecution of the ‘War’ on terror in previous works such as My Country My Country, and The Oath, two pieces which evidently got her registered on a number of Orwellian watch-lists. She has continued to expose the shredding of civil liberties, spot-lit the deployment of powers to repress genuine free speech rights to assemble and demonstrate, bravely engaged in a dangerous struggle with the implacable and illegitimate government edifice that cites every rape of the truth as being necessary in the name of ‘national security‘. To a paranoid Snowden then she must have seemed like an ideal candidate to approach in order to leak his insights and information from behind the veil, the revelation of a top-secret, undemocratic and out of control programme of electronic interventions which effectively gave the government the power to harvest, persue and interrogate every electronic correspondence by every citizen without a nanosecond of oversight from either legally mandated search warrant or indeed any arm of the legislature. In a quite extraordinary fashion Citizenfour walks us through the initial electronic contact between Snowden and Poritas, the initial subterfuge and mystery, before the first meetings and interviews occurred with Snowden in his Hong Kong bolt-hole as the enormous scandal slowly enveloped the globe.

snow2This is absolutely essential viewing, a historical archive of one of the most pertinent civil rights and digital culture issues of our time, an expose of our alleged democracy and the continual threat from unobserved, unscrupulous, undemocratic and unelected officials. CitizenFour is very consciously and ominously paced and maintained, there’s no exciting crash montages of neon drenched cityscapes harmonized with pulsing techno-beats to indicate that this is the exciting cyberspace future, in fact it is a rather more chilly, mysterious urban noir as the screen scrolls with genuine cautious correspondence between Snowden and Poitras. Once he was satisfied he’d found the ideologically aligned collaborators the action shifts to the initial fly on the wall Hong Kong suite discussions, and this is where Snowden fully disclosed the breathtaking scope and illegality of programmes such as PRISM and Tempora. Poitras skillfully  splices this with contextual footage of court proceedings and cultural seminars to provide the necessary context, treating its viewers as intelligent adults as it moves swiftly through the nature of civil liberties in the age of the globalized internet, of the wider remit of the NSA and explosion in private security apparatus since 9/11. Some of the footage is should make you incandescently angry, including testimony from NSA directors absolutely, 100% lying to senate oversight committees (Senator: ‘Do you harvest electronic surveillance information from US citizens in the aggregate?’ NSA Director: ‘No sir we do not’), a brave new world where from the inalienable rights of freedom of speech, right of assembly, due process and everything else we prize are under significant risk. Further glimpses of  he Occupy movement whose hounding and persecution seen in the film is nausea-inducing, before the scale of the scandal irises out to include every European government as complicit in the crimes.

snow3Like every other country on the planet I think the United States has its problems and hypocrisies but I cannot imagine many places where the citizens of one city grouping together like San Francisco does in this film, to sue the government for the illegal intrusion into their lives and forcing the authorities to expose their transgressions,  a case defended by one particularly odious proto-Goebbels government lawyer who continually bleats the defense of ‘national security’ for each and every charge.When the further revelations that not only were US authorities conducting this rape of their specific constitution but also all the major European powers were indulging in identical activity, hacking democratic elected world leaders phones and correspondence of so-called allies, the impression is of an utterly paranoid shadow world, completely out of control and making a mockery of civil rights. To the ignorant and uneducated who make the claim that ‘if you have nothing to hide then why are you worried?’ the film makes the consequences of that belief system clear. It’s not just a question of private intrusion, of the holistic capture and interrogation data by current (and crucially) future governments to surveil without judicial oversight and responsibility, without legislative oversight to effectively kick in your door, rifle through all your private correspondence with your wife, husband, family, friends, mistress; to plunder your medical records and bank statements, to see what porn you jack off to, to record your political affiliations and voting history, to  observe and exploit every aspect of our lives in this increasingly electronic and globalized world . And it gets worse, not only is this power granted to your government, but it is also granted to foreign governments across the Western world, so I ask how happy would you be for the United Kingdom, Canadian, American, New Zealand and Australian governments to break into your home and rape your civil rights every single minute of every day? It’s such a fundamental corruption of one of the states primary duties to its citizens liberty and security that it just beggars belief.

snow4Amongst the political and electronic chattering  Poitras mainframes a human dimension to the dossier, the simple vérité recording of Snowden as the events and scandal unfolds awards the piece with a tangible and compelling level of emotional drama. The whistleblower comes across as an intelligent, committed and slightly idealistic young man who perhaps has not fully anticipated the obliterating force of the state apparatus zeroing in on his friends, family and partner. Witnessing the incremental pressure build as the leak slowly gains traction and its effect on his speech, body language and general demeanor is quite affecting, as the realization of the irreversible sacrifices he has made slowly begin to crystalize. An Oliver Stone adaption of this crucial scandal is in the works which I’m sure will be as bombastic and nuanced as a laser guided 200lbs daisy cutter, for now this is unquestionably one of the crucial documentaries of its time, brilliantly assembled and intellectually robust, a primer for our times and a warning for the future;

The Menagerie Films Of The Year 2014

leviIt’s been a tough year, hasn’t it? Massacres of children in Gaza and Pakistan, CIA torture apologists and racial unrest across America as the civil rights dream falters and fumbles, Ukraine and UKIP more closer to home – and I’m not sure which one of the last duo is more terrifying. Normally a critic would make some spurious attempt to link these wider events into the cultural narrative of the cinema, cherry-picking examples of ‘dark’ movies to make the claim of art reflecting life, but I’m not gonna fall down that rabbit hole as for every troubling piece that seems to have touched a cultural nerve (Nightcrawler, Gone GirlThe Rover, LeviathanUnder The Skin, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, Nymphomaniac) there is an equal volume of joyous, optimistic and brightly colored triumphant adventures (Guardians Of The Galaxy, FrankThe Lego Movie, Lucy, X-Men Days Of Future Past, Interstellar and the usual glut of animated incidentals) to balance out the light with the dark. My overall impression is of a rather average year with some odd pearls glittering among the swine, my biggest regret the unconscious emphasis on American fare as you will see from the compilations. Now it’s not as if I deliberately attempt to be a pretentious film critic (that just comes naturally) and actively seek out only European art house fare or an obscure directors most avant-garde offering or anything, but in putting this together the heavy bias of North American material is glaring this year, a symptom of my lack of international film festival coverage perhaps. I do deeply regret not seeing Leviathan or Force Majeure yet but by the same token I find the works of, say, Nuri Bilge Ceylon (Winter Sleep has topped numerous polls) rather tedious,  and other celebrated fare such as the new  Godard and Ida  were admirable but a little self-consciously art-house and obtuse, almost working to a formula as well defined and enshrined as any cookie-cutter Hollywood product.

trueStill we managed to power through Sundance London and the LFF as usual but I was hoping for some foreign viewing, but as always the rather chaotic day job presented the usual scheduling difficulties. We also made an intergalactic effort with the BFI’s SF season which enabled me to meet some key Kubrick collaborators, and as usual we gunned down a few older classics, including The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, Paths Of Glory, An Autumn Afternoon  as well as Night of The Hunter and Belle Et La Bete under the waning winter slush of the Gothic season. I didn’t devote as much time to my Fritz Lang series as I’d liked but we did consider some classic material, from The Big Heat to the indigenous expressionism of Metropolis, this will continue in 2015 as there are a few more noirs I’m desperate to cover. I’m deeply disappointed that Snowpiercer never got a cinema release here and will pick up the Blu-Ray now it has thawed to a reasonable price, TV wise I’ve also covered enormous ground, finally finishing the long trek through Buffy Seasons 3 to 6 consequentially alongside all five seasons of Angel – that was quite a feat. Then there was season 2 of the amusingly schlocky Bates Motel, Fargo was freezing fun (I particularly enjoyed the expansive time period that the season meandered through) while Menagerie favorite Boardwalk Empire faltered a little before pulling it out of the bag with a season closer that saw a beloved character bow out in appropriate grace. The most genre fun was probably Penny Dreadful and the increasingly bonkers American Horror Story, the last season of which has more dutch angles than a Flemish cubist convention. Finally though the highlight was the Mammon that was True Detective, sure some of the final plot contortions were a little ridiculous but overall this was the small screens greatest capture, and yes I will once again reference that astounding sequence. But we’re here for the movies aren’t we, so as always here are the guys and gals top picks over at Sound On Sight (my meek contribution is at No.12), as usual my top ten is in no specific order and are my personal favorites as opposed to the most acclaimed, evolutionary or envelope-pushing works, so let’s kick off with what was surprisingly the updated Sight & Sound top film of the year as well;

 The Menagerie Films Of 2014

Boyhood  (Richard Linklater, USA, 2014) – Whilst we all know the premise of the film isn’t entirely original with both the Truffaut Antoine Doniel cycle and the UK documentary series 7 Up utilizing the same device Richard Linklater’s wonderful, affectionate ode to growth and maturation is brilliant on an emotional and character level, and that’s why critics and passing civilians have taken the film to heart. Here’s a nice long appreciation of the films patient production model, quite how Linklater made such an affecting film with so little of narrative nourishment is a testament to his laid back skill, in this film made of little moments which aggregate into a soliloquy  on aging and the fleeting transparency of time.

The Wolf Of Wall Street  (Martin Scorsese, USA, 2013) – There’s always one isn’t there, one film released so far back in the dimly conceived mists of time that we can barely conceive it was released in the same lunar cycle. Scorsese coaxed (or is that coked?) in the year with this exuberant, unapologetic lancing of the American dream, a savage sermon against the perils and pernicious plague of excess of the past thirty years. The DNA chain through his greatest films reveals men wallowing in a labyrinthine moral and psychic abyss, from Travis Bickle to Jake La Motta, from Rupert Pupkin to Henry Hill, now Jordan Belfort joins the tribe of testosterone tussled anti-heroes who achieve some redemption when they confront the error of their ways. The film has the energy and chutzpah of a man half Scorsese’s age, proof positive that as that great generation of Movie Brats slowly creep toward retirement (as I write this in November Marty’s just turned 72) they have a savage bite in them yet.

Guardians Of The Galaxy  (James Gunn, USA, 2014) – It’s been a reasonable year on the blockbuster front, despite gargantuan reservations I still rather enjoyed Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, Godzilla and Edge Of Tomorrow AKA Live, Die, Repeat AKA The Cruiser Carks It, but the most entertaining time I had under the tent-pole tarpaulin was the Marvelous Guardians Of The Galaxy. It’s fun to see a superstar in the making and I think Chris Pratt will go out of this world, I loved the Howard Hawksian motley camaraderie of characters on a desperate mission translated through Jack Kirby storyboards, and James Gunn’s loose CGI sprinkling of subversive humor and staging gave the film a refreshing little bite. Sheer, state of the art formulaic franchise entertainment, ideal escapism to evade your woes for a couple of hours.

The Tribe  (Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, Ukraine, 2014) – It doesn’t happen often but every few years a film comes along and turns a supposedly stale and degraded art form upside down, leading the very language of the form into fresh waters, bruising a lasting legacy in the mind. I still shudder a little when recalling The Tribe, its shattering trio of outré scenes aside it is a remarkable testament to the fluidity of screen communication and artistic economics. The visual aesthetic of distancing, static long takes are intimately married to its aural audacity – no score, no dialogue, just simple and searing diagetic dread. I loved the commentators who have likened it to silent cinema, the emotions and drama blazing across the screen despite the absence of dialogue, subtitles, or overt language, as scandalous as Scum and as brutal as Kubrick’s stylised droogs, The Tribe must be this years mute masterpiece.

Blue Ruin  (Jeremy Saulnier, USA, 2013) – The absolute highlight of a reasonable quality Sundance London Film Festival Blue Ruin exceeded my azure expectations, a taut and tense neo-noir with it’s crosshairs on one of America’s less attractive obsessions  – firearms and fury.The sense of mystery that is preserved is superb as you wonder what could have driven this itinerant Radaghast to such desperate measures, with the gallows black humor oozing from every sweaty pore. I expect we’ll be seeing more of debut director Saulnier and his moon eyed leading man, with a final Coenesque perfect payoff coda this film is vengeance laced perfection.

Her  (Spike Jonze, USA, 2013) – In keeping with this years theme of SF assimilating other genres – in this case the Rom-Com – this gently moving film starts with a warm heart of gold in the algorithm, before it severs the cerebellum in the single singularity. Quite how Jonze and his crew managed to take an absurd, almost comical premise and made you care for everyman Twombly (Phoenix in his quietest performance for years) romantic inclinations still scuppers my cynical CPU. With it’s pastel palette Hoyte van Hoytema is certainly building his reputation as one of the worlds leading cinematographers to watch after coming to international attention with Let The Right One In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and a small, modest Chris Nolan film which seems to have soared to success in cinemas. Like Interstellar the film is SF as speculation, holding a digitized mirror to current social experiences and developments, and musing in those areas of the place of our species interrelationships with technology, with economics, with love and loss. Oh, and this might be the oddest and funniest observation of the year.

Gone Girl  (David Fincher, USA, 2014) – It’s actually been quite a year for fans of the great American assimilated auteur, we’ve had new films from Scorsese, Jonze, Anderson, Aronofsky, Nolan and Fincher, and casting my eyes forward there is a potential bounty for the imminent year ahead. Any film which provokes such debate on the nature of current sexual politics is the mark of a period defining film, but I don’t think that should shadow just what a beautifully crafted and deliciously executed piece of pure, unadulterated cinema that Gone Girl represents. Being an apathetic pussy or limp dick I think you’ll bring your own thoughts to this movie, and forge your own beliefs on whom might be wright or wrong. Vaguely related but Richard Kelly almost atones for his mediocre cinematic output since Donnie Darko here, a reasonably argued comparison piece between Gone Girl and none other than Eyes Wide Shut. This comparison between Finch and the portly master of suspense is tasty, while The Dissolve makes a case for itself as one of the top dozen film sites here. Me? Well, upon further reflection the more I admire how the film manipulates structure, how it feints and parries the viewers expectations it demands a third revision, alongside another muted acknowledgement  of the mischievous perversion of the untrustworthy narrator, all echoed with Trent’s pulversing score.

Nightcrawler – (Dan Gilroy, USA, 2014) – I love it when something scuttles out of the depths of the dark and confronts you, as someone who quietly prides themselves on their horizon scanning for new great movies this nebulous little nasty took me completely by surprise – and I love that. Criticizing media ethics is a little like shooting fish in a barrel, but Dan Gilroy’s nocturnal odyssey heightens the stakes to an overarching screech at modern society, all in thrall to Gyllenhaal’s slithering performance as the next breed of Wall Street impresarios. Like Lou Bloom I’m also being a selfish bastard as I think this was my best review of the year thus the film has lingered in the Menagerie memory, it was a bastard to write but when the words suddenly fell into place I thought I came closest to straddling that gulf between the impression in the mind and the words on-screen. This is a nasty, immediate and ugly mirror of modern media society, with a conclusion that would have Australian oligarchs beaming with pride.

Interstellar  (Christopher Nolan, USA, 2014)-  Is it all a big metaphor for the collapse of film? What a surprise, the Nolan man-crush continues, cinematically speaking with his most ambitious and on occasion most frustrating film to date. That ecclesiastical soundtrack high in the mix has been on heavy rotation here at Menagerie towers, and certain moments – the messages playing out over McConaughey’s face during that scene, the fraught docking maneuver, the queries that arise during that stage of the odyssey – well,  yes it’s flawed but it unquestionably has some marvelous moments. A second viewing diminishes some of the problems with the picture, overall it’s a film that has generated debate and discussions (see some of the robot design evolution here), and it’s just goddamn inspiring to see a film maker genuinely attempting to wrestle and evolve the blockbuster form. Maybe it’s my advancing age but any film with such optimism and genuine celebration of progress emanating from our earthly plane is welcome around this quiet quadrant of alpha centuri, plot worm-holes and all. Anecdotally I’ve been charting the film’s trajectory and it really seems to have resonated with a younger generation (as opposed to my jaded peers who have trotted out the scientific snark and sneered at the sentimentality), virally spreading beyond its confines to inspire and influence viewers around science, physics and astronomy – how many films can genuinely boast that reaction?

Whiplash  (Damien Chazelle, USA, 2014) – If you that assume that jazz was all dark berets, moodily mouthed Gitanes and nocturnal turtleneck posturing then think again. This electric debut from the disgustingly talented debut writer-director Damien Chazelle  has it all – an involving storyline, immensely powerful performances, ecstatic sequences that revel in the joys of performance of motion in this detailed aria on the painful pursuit of perfection. The editing is phenomenal and it’s riveting to see Miles Teller hold his own against J.K Simmons ferocious Oscar-winning performance (yup, I’m calling it here), sure it might stretch credulity at one point which feels like a slight misstep, but then a thundering final act blasts over the screen with a stunning encore which leaves you pirouetting out into the night.

burgundyHonorable mentions to the Grand Budapest HotelCaptain America: The Winter Soldier, Fruitvale Station (fuck me was that a prescient film), White God, Foxcatcher, White Bird In A Blizzard, Only Lovers Left Alive, A Most Wanted Man, Black Coal, Thin Ice and for pure cinephile celebration Peter Strickland has once again made the most meta 2014 film with his sensuous The Duke Of Burgundy. In terms of genre fare moments John Dies At The End was hilariously bizarre, Sin City 2 was unfairly maligned and  The Raid 2 was bone-shatteringly brilliant, although I must admit that a small screen revisit does highlight some of the films more evident flaws – great set pieces, but too many longueurs between the lacerations. Ah I hear you scream, but where is Scarlett Johannson’s carnivorous cenopod? Well, while it has materialized on many ‘best of 2014’ lists and had its UK release this year  do remember that Under The Skin was acquired in Toronto, so it has already featured in last year’s extravaganza. I didn’t really embark on any small screen seasons other than a passing glimpse at some of the controversial Kim-Ki-Duk’s earlier pictures, and I’m quite surprised to see a lack of any truly memorable documentaries in my coverage this year, The Case Against Eight  was good but not great enough to make the cut, and although the Cannon Films autopsy was fun it didn’t warrant more than a passing fist-bump of appreciation.  I will however nominate Tim’s Vermeer, Particle Fever and Future Shock as non-fiction fields worth exploring.

Retrospective Films

As befitting a turbulent and ominous year the films which have sorely stuck in my cranium are similarly challenging and risqué fare,

Christiane F  (Ulrich Edel, Germany, 1981) – I was turned on to this film by the wonderful House Of Psychotic Women that I covered here, maybe it’s the preponderance of CGI saturated vision quests these days but the stark vérité of this rather harrowing little tale really stuck in my arm. Based on the real life memoirs of the titular character its a fascinating snapshot of 1970’s Berlin, all drab fashions and brick brutalist architecture, and a wonderful score by Bowie at his absolute peak as far as I’m concerned. Given that we sadly lost the street-poet Lou Reed this year I can’t imagine a more fitting tribute to a dangerous walk on the wild side.

The Visitor – (Giulio Paradisi, Italy, 1979)  So I have finally seen The Visitor, and that was what it is. That cryptic arrangement is my feeble attempt to ape the film under discussion, a long-lost cult curio which the Alamo Drafthouse recently resurrected with a Blu-Ray transfer, one of those insane coalitions of every popular film of the time that the Italians loved to throw into a celluloid stew and see what bubble to the surface. Lance Henrikson, Franco Nero, Glenn Ford, Shelly Winters and John Huston star in this Jodorowski styled melange of The Exorcist, Lifeforce, The Lady From Shanghai, The Omen, CE3K and Eraserhead, together it makes precisely zero sense but operates on a level of individual sequences, an aperitif of the era which yields a few distinctive flavors. I detected a  Moorcock influence from his Dancers At The End Of Time series, then the camera is seized by what one assumes is an epileptic toddler as the narrative bizarrely shifts to  footage of a basketball game, it veers wildly between tones and technique  and I enjoyed it throughly. It might be an ideal double bill / companion piece with Candy which has a similarly pharmaceutical enhanced feel, a crazy cast and nonsensical plotlines = glorious cult insanity.

Ne Te Retourne Pas  (Marina de Van, France, 2009) – The sacrifices I make for you people, and the thanks I get. Honestly, you think I haven’t got better things to do? Two hours of staring at Sophie Marceau and Monica Bellucci was a real chore let me tell you, in this dark French psychological thriller from the underappreciated Marina de Van of Dans Ma Peu body-horror fame. The doppelgänger plot is pure bourgeois dread, as a successful middle-aged professional & homemaker slowly begins to suffer strange interludes where objects appear to move around her families elegant Parisian apartment, before her cognitive condition degenerates with more disturbing alterations to her physical form. To say any more would be to venture into spoiler territory, but this is a discretely crafted little chiller which keeps you guessing of its internal or external malignant source,

Body Double  (Brian De Palma, USA, 1984) – If you’re surprised to see a De Palma film on my best list of the films of the year list then think just how surprised I was when ten minutes into the picture on a Film4 screening I slowly realised I’d never seen this film before. I think I’ve always conflated Body Double with De Palma’s similar Hitchcockian ‘homage’ Dressed To Kill, so from a purely academic standpoint this was quite an experience for the Menagerie as we don’t stumble across missing texts that often. Brian is a director distinguished with some great, dare I see it meta sequences in his films that refer and refract the very operation of cinema itself, his wider texts failing to gel into a coherent whole just like his protégé Tarantino. In this film there’s lots of prowling POV, gliding steadicam and feints of sexual jealousy, and some terrific period interiors and design which remind you of just how gorged and execrated the 1980’s were. I quite surprised myself as someone who usually has little time for De Palma and his tedious hysterics, but something about this pierced the spot as something new and a historic piece of a jigsaw puzzle finally being completed, plus it coincided with remembering some perfectly delightful trivia that it’s also Patrick Bateman’s favourite film in American Psycho. This film couldn’t be more eighties if our designer stubble, Ray-Ban aviator sporting anti-hero didn’t get into a brutal gunfight down at the docks with some Miami based Colombian coke-fiends after witnessing an impromptu breakdance battle down at the new Space Invaders Arcade (takes a breath……..), before Frankie Goes To Hollwood turn up for a musical interlude number – and then they fucking do. It’s hilariously, completely and blatantly derivative of Rear Window, Dial M For Murder and Vertigo which is fucking rich from De Palma given he’s already molested that ground with 1977’s Obsession, while the chain of events and indiscretions in the films last half hour is utterly ridiculous and absurd. I loved it.

Kiss Me Deadly  (Robert Aldritch, USA, 1955) – From its opening corrupted title sequence this is a seminal film of the 1950’s and one of the absolute key film noirs, I watched this on a double bill with a 1940’s Lang and the differences were as stark as the jagged chiaroscuro lighting. Aldritch unshackled his camera from the chains of the studio to provoke a nebulous reality to this dark drama, and the fluid visual work makes the film feel much more modern that a lot of its peers. I’ve seen it before a few times but the sheer craft was a revelation, with troubling little surreal inserts and cantilevered compositions marking a new evolution of this most murky of sub-genres. Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) isn’t quite the noble crushed Bogart or Dana Andrews of earlier noir, in fact he’s quite the brutal bastard anti-hero, while the women are all playing an angle and manipulating their marks, with a nuclear paranoia pulsing in the films radioactive core. Kiss Me Deadly creeps like a troubling claustrophobic dream, I’ll slug any cinephile who wouldn’t include this dark little dame in their top dozen noirs of all time list, not least for the influence on the likes of Lost Highway and Repo Man which honor the film in their own quiet way. Any film with the muted threat ‘Stay away from the windows Mike, someone might blow you a….kiss’ is aces in my book.

Films To See In 2015

Inherent Vice  (P.T. Anderson, USA, 2014) – No surprises here of course, except that PTA turned up to personally introduce the charity screening at the Prince Of Wales cinema back in November – why no, I’m not in the least absolutely furious that I missed that opportunity. After the very serious and sour tones of his last two movies it should be fascinating to see PTA groove back to Boogie Nights territory, and it’s  interesting to consider that this is the first time that any of Thomas Pynchon’s books have been adapted for the screen, large or small, by anyone, ever. Early word is exceptionally good so I reckon this could be an instant cult classic, with that The Big Lebowski meets The Long Goodbye Californian burned-out vibe another addition to PTA’s west coast fascination.

Black Hat – (Michael Mann, USA, 2015) – Yes, of I concede that this could go either way. Shudderingly ugly Chris Hemsworth as the worlds most talented superhacker? Hmm. A seventy-one year old director uploading his vision of modern cyber-crime in a realm of technological advance exponentially advancing to render any event ancient in six months? Ahh, just as an example I wrote that sentence a month ago and already there has been a rather significant cyber-crime hasn’t there? If however you are contingent of the exhaustive research and fidelity that Mann amasses during his perfectionist preproduction process then I’m certain he would have consulted the worlds leading futurists, scholars and think-tanks on the shady subject of cyber-espionage, and on a rather more testosterone flavored kick is there anyone better at crafting a shoot-out or action beat? Of course the film has taken on a whole new dimension in Tinsel Town every since the crippling Sony Hack, should be interesting to assess the films reaction in the shadow of terrified executives suddenly spending millions on IT defenses – more on that below. I’m an enormous Mann fan so any new film of his is an event around these parts, this hits in February so not long to wait.

Knight Of Cups (Terence Malick, USA, 2015) – After a traditionally slow gestation period Terence Malick’s Knight Of Cups was finally announced for a Berlin 2015 festival premiere, and maybe I’ll be there to see it – I’ve always wanted to visit Berlin. In his old age Terry is becoming positively prolific with two other films on the horizon, this trailer is quite odd I thought as it looks like a Malick film with a modern setting which is not his usual spiritual playground. Nevertheless it is a further hymn from the American alcehmist and is therefore unmissable, even if his last effort was slightly disappointing.

Midnight Special  (Jeff Nichols, USA, 2015) – ‘I really wanted to make a 1980’s John Carpenter film like Starman. I love the way those films look.’ said Mr. Nichols, and there was much rejoicing. Filming commenced in back in April but the movie isn’t scheduled until November of next year, I have absolutely no further details than that nor shall I be seeking any until a trailer ambles along. Alongside the likes of Sean Durkin and J.C. Chandor I consider Mr. Nichols as one of the most promising of American directors of that recent generation, and anyone who references obscure Carpenter and makes his own skillful and intelligent movies is obviously a friend of the Menagerie. The picture has a cast – presumably Adam Driver and Kirsten Dunst are the star crossed lovers fleeing another collaboration with Nichol’s frequent muse Michael Shannon, so maybe a more muted SF piece can fight back again the more feeble franchises.

followsRuling the roost for first viewing of 2015 is Birdman which opens on New Years day, fortunately the rest of the year has plenty of other treasures to explore. The American auteurs maintain their vice like grip on my cinema consciousness as  we have a new Scorsese, potentially his penultimate film before retirement which is a gloomy proposition as he continues his late career peak. There’s also a new Spielberg who is directing a Coen brothers script which could be quite the clandestine combination and I’m slightly terrified that Gasper Noe is back with a film called Love,  the subject matter of which promises more fluid dispersal than the most splatter heavy slasher. Closer to home there’s  High Rise as domestic favorite Ben Wheatley translates the brilliant J.G. Ballard’s better known urban nightmares, Tomorrowland  looks like a mystery worth solving (is it based on a book, a YA novel or comic or anything? I know nothing about this project and intend to keep it that way) while Del Toro gets back to his spooky roots with Crimson Peak. Speaking of genre not only is an absolutely incandescent Max back with an exciting looking film (and proof that the art of the movie trailer isn’t necessarily dead as everyone went fucking nuts about that teaser) but It Follows seems to be the sleeper horror hit before Ultron finally takes on The Avengers. I don’t care for the look of Jurassic World  but I’ll see go see it, who knows it might be tasty and Ahnoldt is back in what is shaping up to be the worst entry in an increasingly rusty franchise. Jupiter Ascending looks increasingly lame following some juvenile trailers and a mysteriously axed release date (usually a sign that something is significantly rotten in Denmark) and toward the end of the year some trifling space opera franchise gets a new iteration, with Mission Impossible 5  facing an impossible box office mission by opening a mere week later – that’s braver than any high-altitude heist.

hungerSo we finally cast our gaze to the future. As always a glut of sequels infested movie theaters in 2014, including A Haunted House 2, 300: Rise Of An Empire, Paranormal Activity 4, Captain America 2, The Expendables 3, X-Men: Days Of Future Past, Dolphin Tale 2, Rio 2, Sin City 2 and Dumb & Dumber 2, How To Train Your Dragon 2, The Hobbit 3, and the third The Hunger Games film which I simply couldn’t face. Milking franchise cows for three, four or more installments of product has been an established film business since the dawn of technology when the likes of Biograph, Pathe and Mack Sennet supplied a hungry audience with a constant tsunami of two-reelers. But mere repetition and formula isn’t the whole picture as illustrated in this article, the gulf between the two arcs of the industry is becoming more hideously apparent, as spineless executives seek to ‘cross-pollenate franchise possibilities’ or ‘fully exploit the cultural profile of  intellectual properties to vertically penetrate the four segment demographic’  – parts of this commentary from Universal’s CEO honestly made me want to retch. I didn’t take a genius to predict that both I, Frankenstein and Dracula Untold would  curdle at the box-office without a single molecule of horror in them, the latter just about breaking even with a $212 take on a $70 million budget when you factor in P&A and  the exhibitors cut of the gross. Wider issues aside there also wasn’t much sympathy around these parts for the Sony hacking scandal (even if the world continues to turn into a simulacra of a William Gibson novel) with the genius ideas of a Men In Black and 21 Jump Street fustercluck being brought to screens – is there a single original thought left in Hollywood? The powerpoints alone are the funniest thing the studio has produced in the 21st century.

matrixThe disintegration of the middle ground is unnerving and remind me of the 1950’s, when the studios desperately fought the new threat television with widescreen, 3-D and other theatre gimmicks. The difference in this decade is stubble but no less desperate , as maybe this proliferation of franchised programming is the  frantic industry reaction to the so called rise of  Serious Television© and the arc of long form seasons and character development to fully explore potent tales and themes. It’s only with TV that we seem to consume those  ‘water-cooler’ events such as that gory episode of Game Of Thrones or that intoxicating finale of Breaking Bad, but from a pure storytelling perspective did The Hobbit need to three movies? Does The Stand need to be four movies? Was the last Hunger Games novel deserving of being split into two films? It’s pure economics of plateauing theatre attendance and the new kids nipping at the dinosaur studio’s heels, Showcase, Netflix and Amazon seem much more likely to take risks and commission material that would have Time Warner or 20th Century Fox executives reaching for their psychiatrists emergency speed-dial. The way I look at it is that quality always seems to rise to the top, of course I cast my net wide but I never struggle to find ten pictures that are exemplars of the form, so these claims of TV ‘beating’ movies is rather absurd – it’s on a par with claiming an apple is a better fruit than a banana. In any case the film industry has always defied expectation and prediction as a recent article has just blown apart insiders predictions, as William Goldman said in Hollywood ‘nobody knows anything‘;

Films Of The Year Montage IV

When you are getting into Roman numerals I think you might be getting ugly, violent and anciently academic, but this final celebration of the year is worth celebrating, despite your choice of digital or physical delivery system;

I have two final BFI screening reviews to complete on their amazing SF season which are both quite challenging in their own political and historical ways – a 1970’s Cold War tussle if you will – but with the 21st century finally gaining some traction the Sony hack renders these films concerns as instantly  quaint – welcome to the increasingly alienating future. Now where is that The Interview Unabomber screening, regardless of the film’s dubious quest it’s an instant piece of film history….

BFI London Film Festival 2014 – Day Four

Another one of the best things about a film festival screenings is the lack of extraneous nonsense when you actually get into the theatre, otherwise known as adverts and trailers. Now don’t get me wrong, I love a well constructed, enticing trailer as much as the next cine nerd, but they’re just so damn full of spoilers and outline the entire premise of a movie these days it’s really best to expose yourself to one viewing, and making up your mind to see the picture or not from there. At LFF screenings its straight into the action, which makes for a more continent experience. Today started with a little more international action;

This was a gentle and affecting little comedy drama, although I’m not so sure the ‘weight of one’s love’ metaphor managed to squeeze through the mild mannered artifice. The movie has been selected for Norway’s Best Foreign Language Oscar which should earn a well deserved wider audience. Speaking of a man with a wide audience, here’s John Stewart’s directorial debut;

I’m not quite sure what to make of this, I think I liked it even if was preaching to the choir of fellow left of centre communist agitating libruls such as yours truly. Here is Jon Stewart on the red carpet which provide more texture;

Red Hollywood (2014) Trailer

Seemingly in perfect tandem with this months Sight & Sound election of the greatest documentaries of all time comes this expose of one of the darkest stains in Hollywood history, the notorious HUAC hearings and the blacklist;

I very much like the idea of examining the films that the likes of Joseph Losey and Jules Dassin made in Europe after their quiet exile, that’s an angle which isn’t usually examined in relation to the directors and screenwriters ostracised experiences and politics, and the fact that the terrific Thom Anderson of Los Angeles Plays Itself is behind the viewfinder doesn’t hurt….

Fritz Lang Season – Die Nibelungen (1925)

dnlang1You can you stick your Game Of Thrones  up the perilous pit of Ungmar the Unameable, the real fans of high medieval fantasy know the real action is going down way back in Berlin’s UFA studios during the equidistant pre and post war year of 1925. The movie industry was a very different beast back then, when tyrannical movie directors would muster bloated, hugely expensive studio-bound epics which seemed to run for days rather than hours, where the cult of celebrity had establishing itself as the central marketing hook to spear the attention of the depression and austerity starved masses and give them a few hours respite from the economic terror of their day-to-day lives, of industrial technique and visual dazzle entrancing the senses at the sacrifice of emotional or political nuance, a cinema of sensation anxiously awaiting the new enrapture of an auditory sense which would become the industrial standard in just a few years – the coming of sound. So yes, the cinema of the 1920’s was completely different to current contemporary standards, and producers of all nationalities and geographic birth certainly didn’t have their avarice rich eyes on lucrative emerging markets beyond their borders as the Tinseltown executives are hypnotizing today. I offer this all as proof that the more things change the more they seem to stay the same, like developments and trends in any industry the market seems to ebb and flow in a cylindrical fashion, so although I am ostentatiously going to be looking at a German filmed and financed, silent  five-hour epic from 1925 in this piece I’ll try to weave in some present day echoes,  before we begin in earnest I have to say this review has been a long time coming, I purchased and first saw the film back in March of this year but the day job and new release priorities have interfered with this fitfully stuttering season. I must admit that the prospect of collecting my thoughts on a film of such density from a period I’m not  exactly and expert within (despite studying German Expressionist cinema back in my Academic hey-day) I do think it’s good to set yourself challenges and goals, so once more into the breach dear friends…..

dnlang2Over the years I have seen and even (briefly) academically studied some  of Lang’s expansive, technologically paradigm busting  and genre hopping optical oeuvre but this is the first time I’ve seen this particularly  lengthy ‘lost’ classic, whilst many of his other films of the period such as the Mabuse series and Metropolis have received a wealth of attention and discourse, mostly related to the former’s eerie pre-shadowing of the Third Reich and the German slide into genocidal fascism  and the latters long robotic shadow that is cast upon the then embryonic SF genre. At first glance Die Nibelungen  can be filed away with many of the other expansive cinema epics of the same relative period, Griffith’s Intolerance, Abel Gance’s Napoleon and the early biblical epics of Cecil DeMille immediately spring to mind, as certain visionary riding crop wielding tyrants struggled to elevate the medium into what was then regarded as ‘art’.  They all share common DNA in the studio-bound industrial production techniques which were at the apex of their time, this project being all the more mysteriously fascinating as it was not crafted on the glittering Western coast of America which was the pulsing global centre of film production of the era, whereas Germany was still a bruised and economically subdued empire looking internally to heal its wounds and embrace an uncertain and financially fractured future. Split over two disks and moving through two significant story arcs Die Nibelungen wails through various cantos rather than following a traditional scene juxtaposition, cleaving the heroic story of   Siegfried (Paul Richter,) the son of King Siegmund of Xanten, enticed to the kingdom of Burgundy and entranced by her beautiful princess Kriemhild. Through guile and enemy subterfuge Seigried is despatched to traverse the eerie  Wood of Woden, a trick that deflects him from reaching Burgundy and taking his beloved’s hand in marriage, trapping him in mortal combat with the magical creatures inhabiting the wood, including a powerful smoke belching dragon. This is just the first part of an odyssey which maps to  the epic poem Nibelungenlied whose genealogy has been traced to around 1200 AD, a battle-cry charge into Götterdämmerung rather than Dungeons & Dragons;

The Tolkien allusions are as clear as a Nargothrond stream in a Melian weaved moonlight, and indeed John Ronald Reuel drew heavy inspiration from the poem as he did from other medieval texts such as Beowulf. Film-wise one assume this is one of the first fantasy movies in the vein of the LOTR saga, or The Beastmaster, Krull or  Hawk The Slayer, it’s hearty companions being the Douglas Fairbanks derring-do of  The Thief of Bagdad  which was similarly born in the cradle of  Méliès phantasmorophs, a cinema of heroic scale and mythical landscapes and creatures, rendered by technological innovation, prosthetic designs and camera tricky. Partitioned around title cards and animation asides the film constructs a fantastical infrastructure of abstraction, reminiscent of early Disney and specifically Fantasia,with a much more adult themed musing on sacrifice and slaughter, a melding of the mythic with the metaphoric.

die4One of the strengths and specific merits of silent cinema is the devotion to the image, to the fusions in time and space between edits which infer relation and drive a story forward, a tale as localised as a dog rescuing a child ballooning out to a legendary mythos of fantastical beasts and titanic deeds communicated to a diverse collection of individuals sitting and watching in the dark.  When it comes to some of these venerable epics the sheer scope of the enterprise are genuinely majestic, of knowing that hundreds of extras were marshalled by furiously barking assistant directors through primitive communication techniques, that vertigo inducing edifices were precariously erected in the physical world and not in squeezed out of a computer, that one take was literally one take when all the complex components marshalled in one shot were subject to the forces of entropy and accidental destiny. Whilst Lang’s framing is rather static and theatrically toned (no different from his contemporaries, still haunted by the dimensions of the stage and its slow transition to screen with wide shots exposing all the action set back to where an approximate theatre goer would sit) he permits resources to enter into the frame from non-diagetic origin points, punctuating these staged-bound dimensions by plunging his camera into the space at key periods to build momentum and a sense of dramatic intensity. From a mere operative and technological perspective these effects were difficult to achieve back in the 1920’s, the camera rigs and lightning infrastructure being the equivalent of the boisterous industrial clanging of a Betamax player compared to the digital purr of a top-range Blu-Ray today, the technology of narrative method and mode moulded by the storytelling medium, a restriction  that was only shattered by Lang and the  likes of Murnau, Chaplin and Keaton at their innovative best.

die5This being Lang the attention to production design is crucial and key, even in these medieval trappings an angular attention to detail is anvil hammers home the visual cues of the characters internal psychology, in a period where spendthrift producers would have balked at the cost of constructing  roofs in interiors which could be shot around to save money and still maintain the suspension to disbelief. By closing and framing characters in angular lines on a 2D canvas  Lang (a draftsman and architect by trade) instinctively grasped the importance of these subtle details and flourishes, understanding that the human relationship to its environment can be a rich seam of metaphorical and subconscious persuasion. On a more general level the sequence of the burning of Etzel castle is bombastically impressive, with tangible and physical sets genuinely torched and destroyed, again a concrete immediacy adding to the films’ aged sense of awe and danger. Cinephiles can also  wallow in the instructive primitive (or should that be lyrical?) forms of film grammar that were common for the period, most deliciously the iris valve instructing the audience what to contemplate in the frame before oscillating the image out to reveal the full panorama, a communication method which now seems to rest in the edit of the cut, breaking scenes and spaces into more digestible portions of information. When it comes to the auditory functions of the film a recent comment from the great film director and scholar Peter Bogdanovich rang a historical chord with me, his affirming that films were never ‘silent’ and were usually consumed with a rowdy, disruptive and raucous audience hurling commentary at the screen or engaging in rather excited discourse with their companions. As the art form evolved in-house and live performed musical accompaniment was added to the sensual mix, instructing the audience when to feel  trepidation, to swoon with romance or yelp in excited glee, so although the screen itself was silent the cosseted environment of the theatre was anything but. Now of course we have Dolby 5.1 earfucking Supra-ATMOS throbbing in the multiplexes, chorused with the charming cacophonous din of patrons chatting, of repetitive cell phones pings and associated light pollution – the more things change…..

dnlang3In a rather primitive form the film does remind one of Jackson, a big broad canvass and an affinity to legendary and mystical beasts, as you can’t help but think of Smaug when that German wyrm starts smoking and smouldering on-screen. Taken in context the scale and dimensions of the film are fairly impressive for its time, it’s also fairly violent with the mythic plucking of the eye of the beast provoking its discharge of acidic venom, it also in a curious non-denominational way brought Aronosky’s  Noah  to mind, if only for the grandiose pre-historic bombastic exuberance of the project. Lang loves his angular compositions, the foreground frame positioned carefully to juxtapose against various axis of arrangement, with carefully considered production design and lighting patterns embedded in the accruing fields, in that sense I’d argue he’s a pathfinder precursor to Ridley Scott and Chris Nolan who are amongst his most transparent heirs apparent, as their strengths also rest in a formulation of design and artistic technique rather than dialogue or finely honed screen performances. Some of the villains are somewhat problematic when viewed through the lens of history, any film, particular one made in Weimar Germany with hook nosed moneylenders will immediately read  as archaic and disgusting (although it didn’t stop Mel did it?), so its worth noting that Lang was part-Jewish but his screenwriter wife at the time Thea Von Harbeau embraced the National Socialist movement as it emerged in the coming years, and remained as a central figure in Goebbels propaganda machine after Lang has fled for Europe. Whilst we’re on the subject it has always amused me (if that’s the right word) that history’s most notorious dictators are enormous movie fans, from Stalin to Hitler to Kim Dong Un they all revelled in private regular screenings as one of their primary entertainment activities after a hard day at the office executing dissidents, signing genocide decrees, constructing  death camps and systematically starving their citizens. In cinemas defence one assumes that they’d be equally adoring of TV had they been born a generation later as a far more pervasive and insidious conduit of propaganda and (it lives in your house after all), and don’t get me started on the suppressive possibilities of the Internet…..

die6Films such as Die Nibelungin  breathe animated life into Orson Welles’ famous assertion that a movie set is ‘the biggest electric train set any boy ever had’, with almost unlimited stage bound resources at  their disposal the major directors of the day could indulge in every one of their most profligate whims – recruiting another thousand extras for a more densely populated wide-shot scene,  conjuring up elemental typhoons and tsunami’s to prod the audience into gasp induced wonder, the most exotic wildlife displaced from remote continents to suggest a seething, primordial physicality that seems to sexually lurk in the pre-code star system and swwon inducing content of the period. It’s worth stressing that the vast majority of films were studio bound in Europe during this period and it was only Hollywood that actually had the vision ti investigate shooting on location, one of the numerous attractions and coalescing factions of California as the birth of Hollywood was its distance (both physical and legal) from the early copyright cartels of the East Coast. As the restless vagabonds stumbled across the serene orange groves and hills they discovered brush and plainland that could easily stand-in for the mythical frontier for early cinema genre champion the Western, one of those amazing conflagrations of space, location, weather and production styles which birthed the golden age of Hollywood. Where does this film slot into the auteur evidence of Lang’s debonair career? Well apart from the steely Teutonic rigour of the design and vastly ambitious visual scope (like I said you can trace him to Jackson, Scott  and Nolan in numerous ways) there are the psychological attuned elements, a central protagonist directed by his  desires and dreams as opposed to more corporeal conerns or sense of muscular morality, a flagrant flaunting of the rule of law and the social restraints of civilisation, men mesmerisied by ambition and moral absolution.


The film transfer is stunningly rich and textured and the boffins have done a fine job with scrubbing clean the usual glitches and frame damage you’d normally endure from films of this vintage, with the tarnished tinted sickly gold providing an apt visual metaphor for the damaging desire for  wealth and prestige. As you’d expect from a label so dedicated to film connoisseur this is the fullest version of the film assembled since its debut almost a century ago, lovingly embroidered with extant scenes from the best surviving negatives across numerous foreign markets, so like the recently assembled  Metropolis it’s something of a Frankenstein monster which provides the most faithful recreation of Lang’s original vision. Speaking of that SF landmark I did also acquire the new Blu-Ray but I’m going to kick my review of that into the long grass as it’s screening as part of the BFI’s interstellar SF season at the end of the year, I’d much prefer finally catching the full restoration on the big screen to fully inform my commentary. Until then there’s plenty to keep us distracted so I think we’ll jump forward a decade or so to another challenging picture to get my teeth into – M. Lang’s first sound film is widely regarded as the first sound masterpiece, its international impact provided his calling card to Hollywood as he fled the Nazi scourge in the late 1930’s, but until we get our ears around that here’s a final look at an early example of Fritz’s fascination with dreams, the submerged unconscious and its divining power over our waking lives, still present in the distant purlieus of medieval mysticism;