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The Forbidden Photos of a Woman Above Suspicion (18.)
Directed by Luciano Ercoli. 1970
Starring Dagmar Lassander, Pier Paolo Capponi, Susan Scott, Simon Andreu and Osvaldo Genazzani. In Italian with subtitles. Out on Blu-ray January 14th from Arrow Video.
I believe that if you ever meet Ennio Morricone, he only answers to maestro. And I wouldn't want to address him in any other way. I'm not sure cinema is a form that has yet to be graced by genius but if you had to pick a genius of cinema his contribution surely outstrips that of any director, producer, writer or actor. Since 1960 he's banged out over 500 soundtracks and, though I'm sure there are a few duffers and half-arsed efforts in that little lot, the majority are exceptional. And the great thing about him is that he has spread his gifts far and wide, without pretension or airs and graces. He's provided scores for great directors and classic films but also for horror, pornos and exploitation. And he doesn't just save the good stuff for the classy, prestigious productions. Any old hack or chancer had a shot at immortality if the Maestro chose to devote a few of his precious notes to their little production.
Directed by Orson Welles. 1952 (European version)/ 1955 (US/UK version.)
Starring Orson Welles, Michael MacLiammoir, Suzanne Cloutier, Michael Coote, Dors Dowling and Michael Laurence. Black and White. Out on two-disc Blu-ray edition from the Criterion Collection
The traditional line taken by any dramatic piece that seeks to expose the horrors of racism is that we are all the same deep down, and colour is only skin deep. This is certainly illustrated in Orson Welles' interpretation of the Moor which is black only on the outside, and even then not consistently so. His face may be daubed in varying layers of black paint but this is pure, classic Orson, a classical actor delighting in performing the verse with no concession to ethnicity. You may choose to view his blackface as a piece of hideous racial insensitivity but it does lend support to those of us that suspect that the work of the bard is peopled not so much by carefully drawn characters but a selection of declamatory windbags who are largely interchangeable.
Bob & Carol & Ted & Carol. (15.)
Directed by Paul Mazursky. 1969
Starring Robert Culp, Natalie Wood, Elliot Gould and Dyan Cannon. 105 mins. Released on Blu-ray and DVD by Arrow Academy. 101 mins
I'm not sure I have anything much to say about Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice; but then I'm not sure the film has much to say about them either. It does though have a lot to show you about them but it doesn't really want to pass comment. With era-defining satires you generally expect some kind of value judgement to be delivered but Mazursky's debut is very opened minded about these two affluent Los Angeles couples who want to dabble in the sexual freedoms allowed them by the sixties. Their attitudes and affectations are mildly ribbed, but the film doesn't have any great issue with them.
De Niro & De Palma. (15.)
Directed by Brian De Palma. (obviously)
Available as a two disc Blu-ray box set from Arrow Video.
“Greeting, Greetings, Greetings, would you like to go away?” Now that's a lyric. After the nine films he's done with Scorsese, the director De Niro has worked with most is Brian De Palma. Prior to The Untouchables, they teamed up three times in the 60s before either of them were famous. Grim experience has taught us that the early, pre-success artistic expressions of directors are generally best avoided but both Greetings and its sequel Hi Mom are both vastly entertaining as well as being a great record of late 60s counter culture. The Wedding Party is definitely the weak link, but even that is pleasant enough without being very interesting. Hi, Mom though is one of my favourite De Palma films and it contains the first great De Niro performance.
The Wedding Party
Tree of Life . (12A.)
Directed by Terence Malick. 2011.
Starring Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Hunter McCracken, Laramie Eppler, Tye Sheridan, Fiona Shaw and Sean Penn. Theatrical version.139 mins. Extended version 188 mins. Released on a two-disc Blu-ray edition by the Criterion Collection.
Tree of Life tries to give you the whole damn thing, the universe and all its wonders, from the formation of the planets, to microscopic organisms, to Sean Penn poncing around on some rocks. It's a cinematic miracle but unsatisfying; deeply profound and fundamentally banal. But is a flaw with the film, or with the universe?
Juliet of the Spirits (15.)
Directed by Federico Fellini. 1965
Starring Giulietta Masina, Sandra Milo, Mario Pisu,Valentina Cortese, Lou Gilbert, Sylva Koscina. 132 mins. Italian with subtitles. Released on dual format Blu-ray/ DVD by Cult Films
I remember reading an article about Tony Hancock many decades ago where the writer said how strange it was that a comedian with such a remarkably expressive face, who could do so much without words, became a star on the radio. Watching Juliet of the Spirits, Fellini's first full-length colour film, it's hard to believe that this man could ever have made films in black and white. Indeed, made some pretty good films in black and white. He's like a boxer who became a champion fighting with one arm behind his back.
The Producers (PG.)
Directed by Mel Brooks. 1968.
Starring Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Kenneth Mars, Dick Shawn, Lee Meredith, Estelle Winwood. 85 mins.
It's a story about two fraudsters, one a gigolo and the other obsessive-compulsive, who try to con an array of pensioners out of their life savings by producing a play that makes light of fascism and the Holocaust; it's a compendium of greed, mindless consumerism, licentiousness, selfishness and callous disregard for others, that gloriously encapsulates everything that is best in humanity. Mel Brooks' first film may or may not be the funniest film ever made but must surely be among the most joyous, especially for a film that is technically a black comedy. The film that was supposed to be called Springtime For Hitler doesn't need any special reason to be celebrated but its 50th-anniversary release is a good enough reason for wheeling it out again. The Producers is a special, special achievement because it cemented the triumph of showbusiness over fascism, and now that that victory is under threat, it deserves to be honoured and reflected upon because it was quite a thing.
Texas, Adios (12.)
Directed by Ferdinando Baldi. 1966
Starring Franco Nero, Cole Kitosch, Jose Suarez, Elisa Montes, Livio Lorenzon, Jose Guardiola. 93 mins. Out now on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.
That this early Franco Nero Spaghetti western is being reviewed here is down to the influence of a fine friend of mine named Phil. He's a western fanatic. You go to his home and there is a whole wall of shelves covered in cowboy blueys and divvies and books about westerns. Well, it's a hobby and as good as any other I guess, but the last time I saw him he told me he had just ordered a box set of the complete Little House on the Praire. Not even second hand, but brand new off Amazon. He said it was a good deal because it worked out at just over £1 a disc. I said: "It's the Little House on the Prairie: you're never ever going to sit down and watch them." I'm wondering if its time for an intervention.
They Shall Not Grow Old. (15.)
Directed by Peter Jackson. 99 mins. Available now on Digital Download, Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Bros.
When classic black and white films were first colourized there was outrage. Adding colour to Laurel and Hardy or Casablanca was, quite rightly, seen as a piece of cultural vandalism. But when Lord of The Rings director Peter Jackson did it to some First World War footage the Imperial War Museum had stashed away in its archives, everybody fell over themselves to shower it with praise. When it premiered at the London Film Festival it was treated with sombre reverence and was shipped out to schools and shown on the BBC in November as part of the commemoration of the hundred years since the armistice. World War I, and in particular the trench warfare of the Western Front, has become a fixed point in culture, the default expression of the futility and ugliness of war. The sanctity of the remembrance of the Great War will never grow old.
Escape From New York. (15.)
Directed by John Carpenter. 1980.
Starring Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau and Isaac Hayes. 95 mins. New 4K restoration. Back in Cinemas for one day November 22nd. Out on Blu-ray and Dvd October 26th.
Optimism is in short supply these days so let's draw comfort from John Carpenter's 1980 sci-fi action romp Escape From New York. Just imagine, less than four decades ago the island of Manhattan, that 23 square miles of prime real estate, was such a lawless, crime-ridden hellhole that the idea of just throwing up some walls around it and turning it into one great big prison could be put forward as a premise for a vaguely satirical entertainment. That such an idea wouldn't play these days is a sign that however bad things seem, things do sometimes get better.
The Prince Of Darkness. (18.)
Directed By John Carpenter. 1987.
Starring Donald Pleasence, Lisa Blount, Jameson Parker, Victor Wong, Dennis Dun, Alice Cooper. 101 mins. A 4K restoration out on EST, Blu-Ray, DVD, BD and 4K UHD on November 23rd.
Of all the big name Hollywood film directors - the ones that real people know, not just film bores - none are as ramshackle as John Carpenter. Outside of The Thing, which is a phenomenal technical achievement, most of his films, even the relatively big budget ones, have a DIY, make-do-and-mend feel; and Prince of Darkness is prime example. I can imagine the uninitiated sitting down to watch this and thinking, "This, this crappy little horror film is what the 'experts' think is great filmmaking." For them this is probably more PoS than PoD.
Directed by Hal Ashby. 1975.
Starring Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, Goldie Hawn, Lee Grant, Tony Bill, Carrie Fisher and Jack Warden. 112 mins. Released on Blu-ray on November 5th as part of the Criterion Collection.
Is Shampoo a shallow, narcissistic, self-portrait that gullible people take as a deep and penetrating look at America's spiritual and political rot setting in? Or, is it a shallow, narcissistic, self-portrait that gullible people can't see past to appreciate how it works as a deep and penetrating look at America's spiritual and political rot setting in. Damned if I know. Still Warren Beatty eh? He's so vain he thinks the spiritual and political decline is all about him.
Directed by John Landis. 1973.
Starring John Landis, Saul Kahan, Joseph Piantadosi, Eliza Garrett, Charles Villiers and Eric Allison. 79 mins. Out on Blu-ray from Arrow Video on 15th October.
In the late 70s/ early 80s John Landis was probably second only to Spielberg in the movie brat ratings, turning out The Kentucky Fried Movie, Animal House, The Blues Brothers, An American Werewolf in London and Trading Places, back to back and all before he was 35. KFM, the first script by Airplane writer Jim Abrahams, David and Jerry Zucker, is a film I remember as being hilarious but doubt it stands the test of time and Trading Places I turned off after about half an hour the last time I watched it. But those other three, magnificent.
Directed by Oliver Stone. 1986.
Starring James Woods, Jim Belushi, John Savage, Michael Murphy and Elpedia Carrillo. 123 mins. Out on Dual Format Blu-ray/ DVD from Eureka! Masters Of Cinema series
Stone's born-again debut directorial feature* is, as you'd would expect, a crusading vehicle exposing the immorality of US foreign policy and cheering on left-wing rebels. It would be released the same year as Platoon, the Oscar-winning Vietnam epic (or low budget, Full Metal Jacket pre-empter) and these two films set Stone in his role as Hollywood's most vociferous anti-government lefty. Prior to this though Stone's political allegiances were all over the place. As the scriptwriter of Midnight Express, Conan The Barbarian, Year of the Dragon and Scarface he was more likely to be labelled fascist or racist than liberal. In Salvador, the struggle between his boorish nature and his stated political ideals is still raging.
D.O.A : A Rite of Passage. (18.)
Directed by Lech Kowalski.
Featuring John Lydon, Sid Vicious, Nancy Spungen, Steve Jones, Paul Cook and Terry Sylvester. 90 mins. Released on Dual Format Blu-ray and DVD by Second Sight.
When I was a kid I had a friend who lived on a rough estate. In the house two doors down from him, there was a News Of The World front page stuck up in an upstairs window proclaiming Punk: the Shocking Truth. (I was never quite sure if that was a sign that the householder was a punk enthusiast or was trying to spread a warning to impressionable uvz.) Teddy boys; Mods and Rockers; Acid House: youth culture used to turn up these moral panics every decade or so but apart from Elvis's rotating hips, none sent the willies up the establishment quite like Punk. Now punk has been explained away and rationalised and deconstructed and assimilated and it's all la la la Vivienne Westwood in the V&A, and la la la Situationism and oh darling Malcolm McLaren and Glen Matlock doing corporate gigs advertised in City AM, but at the time it was nasty and scary and meaningful. Nobody would say that director Kowalski did a stellar job, but in its artless way, DOA captures that better than anything else.