Soylent Green

Richard Fleischer, 1973

Beginning in 1969 with Planet of the Apes Charlton Heston would go on to form an unofficial trilogy of films dealing with the collapse of human civilisation, the second of these was the adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel I am Legend as The Omega Man and the final being Soylent Green. The film is set in the year 2022 in a New York with a population of 40,000,000. As a result of this overcrowding, food is in short supply and everyone lives off a ration of food substitutes supplied by the Soylent corporation, the latest and most popular being Soylent Green. After the death of one of the company’s senior executives, a detective named Thorn (Charlton Heston) begins to investigate, uncovering more than he anticipated in the origins of this new super food.

 
Along with the aforementioned Heston films, Soylent Green stands as one of the first dystopian science fiction films to emerge. Although it could be considered the norm for films set in the future to feature post apocalyptic wastelands and totalitarian governments, these were some of the of earliest appearances in film. Although dystopian science fiction had existed in literature for some time, in novels such as The Death of Grass (which like Soylent Green also focused on society collapsing from starvation) and most famously Orwell’s 1984, film with it’s more populist and optimistic approach had been slower to embrace the idea of a bleak future. In the 1950s focus science fiction film had largely been about space exploration and the possibility of making contact with alien life, seen in films such as Forbidden Planet and The Day the Earth Stood Still. In the 1960s French directors Truffaut and Godard would touch on the idea of Dystopia with their respective films Fahrenheit 451 and Alphavillebut it wasn’t until Planet of the Apes that mainstream film would take this shift in tone.
 
The reason for this change can be seen in the events of the time, the same year as Planet of the Apes was also the year of the moon landings, with mans first steps onto a foreign body space suddenly became less mysterious, and the futuristic setting began to be used as a way in which to approach the issues of the day. It was at this time that there began the emergence of environmentalism, 1970 saw the first Earth Day and 1971 would see the formation of Greenpeace, wanting to reflect the concerns of its audience, Hollywood was keen to cash in. The problem in Soylent Green Centres around overpopulation, the entire planet having been transformed into a giant metropolis as a result. To deal with this problem euthanasia is encouraged, people who feel their life has ran its course can voluntarily attend centres were their life is terminated. Held in secret, they are thanked for choosing death by being allowed to view footage of an earth that exists no more, a montage of forest and animals all now obliterated by man’s recklessness. It’s very literal message is of where things could go if man continues with his current rate of consumption, it is however no more heavy handed than predecssor The Omega Man with it’s polemic against nuclear weapons.


This trend for ecological science fiction would continue throughout the next decade resulting in some of it’s best films, most notably Silent Running. With it’s detective story is also one of the earliest neo-noir films to emerge, predating the most famous addition to the genre, Blade Runner, by a decade. More coherent and better acted than The Omega Man and every bit the equal of Planet of the ApesSoylent Green stands as one of the high points of this age of meditative science fiction, an age that lasted until the release of Star Wars at which point the genre would steadily return to it’s more infantile fantasy roots. Alongside Planet of the Apes Heston also gets to deliver the second most renowned closing line of his career, an ending that achieved an iconic status and like Planet of the Apes, numerous references in The Simpsons.
words by pete bond.

Dead Man

Jim Jarmusch, 1995


After becoming a major advocate of American independent filmmaking during the late 80's/early 90's, and joining the ranks alongside such other directors as Spike Lee, The Coen brothers, Richard Linklater and Quentin Tarantino as non-conformist filmmakers who's movies often evade the mainstream spotlight, Jim Jarmusch followed his succession of minimalist features by experimenting with colour filmmaking for a brief period with his two films Mystery Train and Night On Earth, both linked by their triptych formats (a style later revisited in 2003's Coffee and Cigarettes). 


After a nine year period, Jarmusch revisited black-and-white cinema with his 1995 film Dead Man, an existential Western set in late-19th Century America, starring Johnny Depp as 'William Blake', a greenhorn from the East who's journey to the West via. train represents a transition from one life, into the next. With his destination being the frontier town of 'Machine', his arrival is met sorely, and his shooting of the wealthy town-owner's son causes him to flee injured into the wilderness, where he encounters American-Indian 'Nobody' attempting to dislodge a bullet from his heart, unable to do so, and believed by 'Nobody' to be a reincarnation of the English poet William Blake, Blake is informed that he is the walking dead, starting his journey into unfamiliar territory with the guide of his unconscious mind 'Nobody'. 




With American-Indian 'Nobody's' passion of the poetry of William Blake bearing similarities in it's juxtaposition of culture to Jarmusch's 1999 feature Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, in which a black hit-man expresses a complete devotion to the 18th century philosophical and spiritual warrior code of the Hagakure, the hallmarks of Jarmusch's films are as apparent in Dead Man, as in any of his various other directorial works, with themes of estrangement from a character's native land and alienation becoming recurrent topics throughout his career. Dead Man's black-and-white imagery is a conscious effort by Jarmusch to abandon the dusty aesthetic of the Western genre and an attempt to gain a historical distance from the familiarity of colour, drawing influence from directors such as Akira Kurosawa, Kenji Mizoguchi and Ingmar Bergman, using very strong blacks and whites and placing emphasis on lighting and placement. 




Neil Young's instrumental score lifts the movie to an entirely different level, using a pump organ, a detuned piano, and most notably electric guitar tracks and feedback to create a strong unsettling and deeply emotional soundtrack that fits perfectly with the themes of the film. Jarmusch's output as a director is inconsistent to say the least, and criminally so, producing only ten feature length movies in a career spanning over thirty years, forgivable, considering his almost flawless oeuvre, in which he has managed to maintain his originality, and creative spirit in an industry rife with studio meddling and compromise.
words by danny walker.

The Bad Sleep Well

Akira Kurosawa, 1960

Kurosawa would adapt the work of Shakespeare to the screen three times over the course of his career resulting in three of his best works. The two that would receive more attention would be the first, Throne of Blood an adaptation of Macbeth, and his take on King Lear, 1985’s Ran. With their historical setting these were obvious choices to make the transposition to the feudal Japan that Kurosawa would bring to the screen through his most famous works. Lesser known, and much more loosely adapted than those previously mentioned, is his take on HamletThe Bad Sleep Well.
 
It is a loose adaptation firstly as a result of Kurosawa’s choice to set it in contemporary Japan, and for the replacement of kings and queens with their modern equivalent, the rich chairmen of giant corporations. The film follows the story of Nishi (played by Kurosawa regular Toshiro Mifune) as he marries the daughter of wealthy industrialist Iwabuchi in an attempt to avenge the death of his father, of which he believes Iwabuchi and his corporation are to blame. It’s primarily in the driving motive of the main character that the plot similarities are found, however there are flourishes reminiscent of the play to be found elsewhere, for example the brilliant opening sequence. Whereas in Hamlet
 the protagonist stages a play referencing his fathers murder, watching for the kings reaction to the scene to ascertain whether he did commit the crime, here Nishi has a cake delivered to Iwabuchi at Nishi’s own wedding reception, it is shaped like the company headquarters with a rose marking the window from which his father met his death. Upon it’s arrival the reactions of the senior executives lead anyone watching, including the paparazzi who linger around this scandal ridden company, to the realisation that they are most definitely implicated.




This opening sequence highlights one of Kurosawa’s real strengths as a director, his ability to balance so much of a film around a single locale. As one of the paparazzi at the wedding observes it’s like watching ‘a one act play’ and with Kurosawa’s ability to condense such a large amount of story into one scene, along with his penchant for framing all his characters within the one shot, it does have its grounds in theatre, somewhere from his choice of source material he clearly takes inspiration. This on screen theatre is seen throughout various works of Kurosawa, examples being the apartment sequence that takes up a large part of High and Low or the extensive wake sequence in Ikiru. Large amounts of story and character exposition occur purely through the dialogue, the performances, and the fantastic use of the score managing to build the tension.
 

Kurosawa had tackled corruption before, most notably in Ikiru although that was on a much smaller scale simply regarding one council office. Here he takes it right to the top with top boss Iwabuchi receiving anonymous instruction over the phone, with it only hinted at in the mildest way that this caller is some political figure and that the whole system is corrupt through to the top (a controversial suggestion Kurosawa was only able to make through financing the film by establishing his own production company). Between every high budget epic like Seven Samurai or The Hidden Fortress Kurosawa would punctuate with these smaller more personal ‘message’ films such as The Bad Sleep Well or his anti nuclear film I Live in Fear. It’s a great approach and it’s influence is apparent in the careers of directors such as Spielberg and Scorsese with their ‘one for them, one for me’ philosophy. Despite being less grandiose these films stand as some of Kurosawa’s best, the performances from his usual collaborators such as Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura never fall short of greatness, and the widescreen cinematography, taking its cues from film noir with its use of light and shadow, give the film as epic a feel as ever.

words by pete bond.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie


Luis Buñuel, 1972

Having given birth to surrealist film with his debut, the silent short Un Chien Andalou, co directed by his close friend Salvador Dali, Buñuel would continue to make ever more comic and absurd films satirising the middle classes and the church for over another 40 years. Not losing any of his edge toward the end of his career 1972 would see the release of what is arguably his best work, and the film for which he won an Oscar, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.
 

The premise of the film is simple, a group of friends representing various middle class establishments attempt to eat dinner together only to be interrupted in ever more bizarre ways. The first night they attempt to have their dinner party the guests simply arrive on the wrong night, however as the film progresses intrusions from everyone including the military and the police continue to make their simple goal impossible. The tone of the film is Kafkaesque, filmed and acted in a realist manner with ever more absurd obstacles holding the characters back without them ever questioning the validity of the challenges they have to face.



For Buñuel the middle class and it’s prejudices and hypocrisies have often been a target of his work and the dinner party, being the archetypal form of bourgeois entertainment is the perfect setting for him to attack. Most prominently there was The Exterminating Angel with its story of guests who attend a dinner party and are totally unable to leave, his best use however remains in the sequence from The Phantom of Liberty where the guest sit around the dining table on toilets, excusing themselves and retiring to a bathroom stall to eat their food. It’s an idea other directors have examined too with films such as Marco Ferreri’s La Grande Bouffe
 in which a group of rich men retire to a country manor with the intention of eating themselves to death.
 

The significance of the dinner party for Buñuel is that it is a time when manners and decorum are at the absolute forefront, the characters in the film are all trying their best to appear socially acceptable meanwhile they are all secretly involved in everything from adultery to drug smuggling. It’s all about exposing the hypocrisy of it all, that these people devoid of morals feel superior simply due to their understanding of social etiquette. For example in one scene whilst the guests chastise their chauffer for not sipping his Martini correctly the hosts have vacated their own party via a window to have sex in the bushes outside their home. The interruptions they face throughout their meal frequently reflect the true nature of the characters, as though despite their best attempts the elements of their personality they are attempting to repress simply cannot be restrained from entering the scene.


 
Tonally it rests in between Buñuel’s other great films- the significantly more incomprehensible Un Chien Andalou and the more realist Belle de Jour, finding the perfect balance between the two approaches. With surrealist film analysis of the underlying message all too often becomes the focus, in doing this it is easy to neglect discussing the film simply on an enjoyment level. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie 
is a very accessible film, and although it is obviously never aiming for belly laughs is still very much a comedy, a brilliant comic satire from one of the all time greats of European cinema.

words by pete bond.

American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince

Martin Scorsese, 1978


Within his filmography, which spans just under half a century, a substantial part of Martin Scorsese's work encompasses certain reoccurring themes such as guilt, redemption and identity, and often features sociopathic, 'antihero' protagonists within such films as Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. Between these two feature-lengths, and following the critical and commercial failure of New York, New York during a period of his life which was strewn with cocaine addiction and depression, he released American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince a 55 minute documentary, the subject of which being the title character Steven Prince, a twenty-something Jewish gay man and close friend and roommate of Scorsese's, as he recounts memories from his time spent as road manager for Niel Diamond, and recites anecdotes of his experience with guns and drugs.




What differs American Boy from any of Scorsese's various other features, is it's notable absence of stylish camera-work or visuals, with Marty opting to act as more of an observer than a director, capturing Prince's stories on a truly basic level, and interweaving his anecdotes with home-movie footage of the Prince family. Whilst the documentary may lack the notable style that has become the hallmark of Scorsese films today, what relation it does have with the director's other feature-lengths is his concern for violent and destructive men during the 1970's and early 80's in such films as Raging Bull and Taxi Driver, the latter of which Prince cameoed in as 'Easy Andy', a fast-talking hand-gun salesman and drug dealer, a character not to far removed from his own persona.




Amongst the assortment of stories Prince shares with his on-screen friends and the viewer, what becomes abundantly clear is the influence this hard to obtain movie has had on various film-makers since it's release, most famously of which being Quentin Tarantino's re-enactment of Prince's anecdote  in Pulp Fiction, of when he was forced to inject adrenaline into the heart of an overdosing women, with the help of a medical dictionary and a magic marker. Less notable is Richard Linklater's adaptation of Prince's story, in which he shot dead a man he caught stealing tyres from a gas station he was working at, in his 2001 animated feature Waking Life (which also featured a small cameo from Prince himself). Aside from influencing a generation of self-taught filmmakers, who's education in film was not learned in school, but by watching obscure features such as this one, American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince remains as being an influential feature, from the one of the greatest living directors in the world.
words by danny walker.

The Rules of Attraction

Roger Avary, 2002


Attempts to bring the world of Bret Easton Ellis to the screen have seen mixed results. Adaptations such as Less than Zero lacked the humour of it’s source as well as feeling the need to heavily imbue it with a ‘message’ (and a contrived and simple message at that- drugs are bad). Most recently The Informers also lacked the teeth of it’s novel, omitting the various surreal sequences that punctuate Ellis text and toning down the violence that plays so heavily in his work. American Psycho was one of the only successes, delivering the more graphic elements of the novel whilst remembering that Ellis writes satire, and that it is all meant to be comic in its own dark way.American Psycho is a lengthy book with no real plot structure however, so the film acts as ‘greatest hits’ of the book, combining and condensing scenes down whilst trying to make narrative sense of it all. The most accurate adaptation of Ellis work, and allegedly his personal favourite, is one of the most underrated films of the past decade The Rules of Attraction.



The film follows three different students at the prestigious Camden College, an arts school for the over privileged, Paul Denton, Lauren Hynde and Sean Bateman (as in the younger brother of Patrick Bateman) played by Shannyn Sossamon, Ian Somerhalder and James Van Der Beek respectively, as they attend various parties and have various confused relationships with one another and a whole array of other students. All three are superb in their individual roles, it can only be due to the film being poorly received on it’s initial release that it failed to propel any of them to greater heights, it surely should have at least marked Van Der Beek’s transition from TV to film star.
 
The best feature in the film is the experimental approach director Roger Avary takes with his camerawork. There is for example, the opening sequence where the three main characters are introduced. The camera follows one to the conclusion of their introductory scene, before playing the footage in reverse, continuing to do so until it has past the point where the scene began whereupon it will revert back to playing forwards but begin following a different character. Difficult to construct but impressive to watch. This continues throughout the film, with two characters being followed in split screen until they meet, with both halves of the screen converging into one shot. Best known for sharing the writing credit for Pulp Fiction it is a shame that this, only his second film as director, would be the last Avary would choose to helm, opting to revert back to his previous role as screenwriter.
The most impressive combination of Avary’s directing with the acting ability of his cast comes in the introduction of Victor Ward, played by Kip Pardue, a frenetically paced account of a summer he spent travelling around Europe condensed into four minutes. For this Avary and Pardue embarked on a two week trip throughout the continent, with Pardue remaining in character for the duration, sightseeing, taking drugs, and sleeping with numerous women. Enough footage was shot for this brief sequence that Avary constructed an entirely separate movie from it, titled Glitterati. Avary claims however that due to the unethical nature of the film, with all the people and events in it being real, in it will never be released.




During the section of the sequence where Victor is in Italy he mentions the sound of a bomb going off, an allusion to Ellis masterpiece Glamorama in which Victor is the main character, a naïve model who becomes involved in a terrorist plot throughout Europe. Avary holds the rights to this book and has stated he intends to direct it. As the years pass the likelihood of this happening seem more and more remote, hopefully the delay is due to Avary struggling to adapt such abstract material, and to find funding for what we will be such an ambitious feature, as opposed to simply a diminished interest. Based on The Rules of Attraction if he does take on the film, it will be one to look forward too.

words by pete bond.

Even Dwarfs Started Small

Werner Herzog, 1970


One director whose vast spectrum of work has been criminally overlooked by a mainstream audience, but whose reputation as an outlandish filmmaker and wide output of feature-lengths has gained him a devoted cult audience is German director Werner Herzog. With notorious tales of his unconventional methods in filmmaking often matching the actual features themselves, from the famously chaotic production of Fitzcarraldo, to his legendary tumultuous working relationship with actor Klaus Kinski, these stories act almost as counterparts to the features. Following his debut film Signs of Life in 1968 and encompassed in commercial and critical acclaim, Herzog's next feature was released in 1970 to a largely disfavorable audience, branding him a 'fascist' due to themes within his film. Even Dwarfs Started Small follows a group of dwarfs, isolated in a desolate institution, as they rebel against their enforcers and cause considerable mayhem and violence.



Whilst some may choose to view the use of an all-dwarf cast as somewhat of a novelty, Herzog himself claims that the use of little-people in the film is a satire on society, using the dwarfs to illustrate the overshadowing of people by the worlds of commerce and consumer goods, with the dwarfs riotous behavior against their confinement reflecting Herzog's views on the German student movement of 1968. Something that has become noticeably frequent within the films of Werner Herzog, is his use of animals, often acting as a metaphor, such as the famous image of a dancing chicken in Stroszek, to Nicholas Cage's hallucinatory visions of iguanas in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans. Although Herzog has expressed his love of nature, often choosing to document it on numerous occasions, in films such as Grizzly Man or Encounters at the End of the World, in Even Dwarfs his self-proclaimed fondness for animals becomes somewhat altered, with Herzog choosing to contrast various images of animals in and around the institution, with themes of death or execution throughout the movie, creating an almost haunting quality, most notable of which are scenes in which piglets suckle the teats of their dead mother, a long uninterrupted shot in which a crippled dromedary camel tries to stand, and a strangely surreal sequence, in which a live monkey is crucified and paraded around the courtyard. 



With Herzog's famous claims about his inability to dream, Even Dwarfs acts almost as a substitute for this, creating an ulterior reality, strewn with illogical patterns and surreal and often nightmarish imagery that is somewhat reminiscent of Tod Browning's Freaks, a movie Herzog considers to be one of the greatest films ever made, though what is similar in aesthetic, is entirely different in theme, whilst Freaks portrays the 'monsters' with real delicacy, the complete polar is depicted in the characters of Even Dwarfs. Whether the film was intended to be viewed in a dream-like fashion or as a satirical commentary on 1960's politics is open to interpretation by the audience, but as it remains, Even Dwarfs Started Small is an unregarded classic, and a notable second feature for one of the most important and original filmmakers working today.
words by danny walker.

Performance

Donald Cammell and Nicholas Roeg, 1970


The casting of musicians in acting roles has been a varied affair, often capitalizing on the success of the artist, and exploiting the target audience; fans of the musician's work. For the artist the transition from sound to vision could be a method of reinvention (Bjork in Dancer in the Dark) or a platform by which the performer can promote their music (Eminem in 8 Mile). With Performance, the alteration of Mick Jagger's career from lead singer of The Rolling Stones, to his first serious acting role, after appearing in Jean-Luc Godard's documentary Sympathy for the Devil, seems to be a genuine attempt at change, funneling Jagger's on-stage persona and renouncing that image throughout the course of the movie. 




Originally completed in 1968, but released two years later after controversies surrounding the film's content (one executive's wife infamously vomited during a test screening), Performance takes place on the back-end of the 60's, following Chas (James Fox) a 'Performer': a violent member of an East-London gang. After finding himself overpowered and tortured in his own flat by order of his boss, Chas is forced to abandon his life of crime, and go on-the-run, finding refuge in a house owned by Turner (Mick Jagger), a reclusive hermit and former rock star. Although the pair clearly come from polar worlds, Chas deriving from a male-run heterosexual background, and Turner's indulgences into a hidden world of sex, in the form of a bi-sexual ménage à trois, and recreational drug use, their influence upon each other culminates towards the end of the film, with each character gaining qualities of the other, Turner abandoning his feminine appearance during a David Lynch-style dream sequence, in which he becomes the boss of Chas' gang, and performs an impromptu version of Memo from Turner, and Chas' transformation from virility to androgyny after consuming hallucinogenic substances.


Whilst Performance may run parallels to certain other British crime movies of the day, such as Get Carter or Brighton Rock in terms of theme, what places the film miles apart from it's gangster movie counterparts, aside from it's study of gender identity, is Donald Cammell and Nicholas Roeg's prominent directorial work, which blends various different styles and techniques together, from jump cuts to crash zooms, often with the camera focusing on inanimate objects and rapidly panning out to reveal the subject. Most notable of all, is Performance's use of the cut-up technique, a style often used in literature, most famously by William S. Burroughs, in which text is literally cut up and rearranged to create an altogether new text. This style works in the films favor, giving the impression that the character of Chas may be losing his mind, or perhaps exposing the audience to his and Turner's perspectives with the character's consumption of mind-altering drugs. 




Whilst Mick Jagger's acting career has been somewhat diverse, appearing in Tony Richardson's poorly received Ned Kelly as the title character, and even being briefly cast alongside Jason Robards in an early production of Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo before the film was entirely re-shot (footage of which can be found in either Herzog's own documentary My Best Fiend, or in the Fitzcarraldo documentary Burden Of Dreams) Performance remains as Jagger's greatest feat in the world of acting. Whilst the demographic for Performance is arguably fans of The Rolling Stones (the poster for the movie boasts 'Mick Jagger and Mick Jagger') and released under a year after the huge success of Let It Bleed, the film is far more than a method of reinvention or a promotional platform for Jagger, it remains nonpareil, perfectly capturing the essence of the 'swinging sixties' along with the seedy underbelly of London, whilst the execution of the film is as experimental as the period it captures.
words by danny walker.

F for Fake

Orson Welles, 1973


As Welles himself points out during the course of the film, his career began with a fake. This would be when he launched his infamous radio version of War of the Worlds, broadcasting it as though it were a genuine news report of Martians invading Earth, allegedly sending panic across America as people believed what they heard to be real (although whether this hysteria is true or simply a construction to give Welles and his show publicity remains unknown). It therefore seems fitting that his final feature would bring things full circle, with a documentary on the nature of forgery- F for Fake.


 ‘Ladies and gentleman, by way of introduction, this is a film about trickery, fraud, about lies’ this is Welles introduction to a film that blurs the boundaries between what is truth and what is not at every possible opportunity. All documentary is a construction of the author, twisting the facts to put across their own particular viewpoint, rarely however does the filmmaker make the confession themselves that they are not being entirely truthful. Welles makes a promise during his introduction to tell the truth for the next hour, anyone paying the mildest of attention will notice the film overruns this initial hour and in turn progressively descends into fabrications, with Welles himself stating that throughout certain sections they were simply ‘lying their heads off’.


 


In a similar manner to a more recent film like Grizzly Man, large portions of the film were from a stock documentary that Welles discovered before reediting it with his own additional material. The initial focus of this documentary regards an art forger residing in Ibiza by the name of Elmeer de Hory, his villa here is paid for by an anonymous art dealer who he supplies with fakes to be sold on as the real thing, with many facts about himself, along with anecdotes about the sale of his work, supplied by his biographer Clifford Irving. Where Welles steps in and things become interesting, is that Irving himself was later jailed following the discovery that an official biography he had written on reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes was totally fraudulent (Irving himself claimed that he believed he really was working with Hughes on a biography, and that an impostor had in turn tricked him). This is the real focus of the film, if experts such as Irving and the art dealers who sell Elmeer’s work aren’t to be trusted as authorities, then who is?

 
Before Elmeer’s paintings are validated by an expert they are worthless, however once they receive their seal of approval they instantly become worth thousands. Similarly Irving was convicted on the grounds that a handwriting expert judged correspondence he had received from Hughes as being forged. If the experts can be mistaken in judging Elmeer’s fake’s as genuine, couldn’t they just as easily be wrong when they declare something genuine to be a fake?




Welles films is full of these sort of questions, and he cuts back and forward between them all at a frenetic pace helping to the create the confusion that is so clearly his goal. Stylistically it is in the editing that the film is at its most influential, with its fast pace created via frequent cuts and a very short length of shot. Self conscious as ever of what he is doing, the editing itself becomes one of the focuses of the film, often cutting back to Welles sat in an editing suite overseeing the footage and manipulating it to put across his point. As Godard once famously stated ‘every edit is a lie’, Welles knows this and ensures that it is every bit a feature of his film.

 In Elmeer, Welles has a kindred spirit. He only began with forgery as means to fund his own paintings which he could not sell, similarly Welles would find himself resorting to starring in any film that came his was in a bid to fund projects such as F for Fake that no studio ever would. After this films completion, Elmeer would commit suicide following the decision by Spanish authorities to extradite him to France for prosecution. Despite his best efforts, and despite earning the AFI lifetime achievement award in 1975, Welles would not complete another film in the decade leading to his death. As he declares within the film he ‘started at the top and has been working his way down ever since’, however far he felt he may have fallen, the quality of his films never did, with F for Fake showing the great director was at his best right until the end, continuing to break new ground and forever experimenting with film form.

words by pete bond.

Mystery Train

Jim Jarmusch, 1989

The recurring theme of estrangement, predominately from a character's native land, is considered a  hallmark in the films of Jim Jarmusch, with the audience often viewing the director's America through foreign eyes, with films such as Down by Law, and Night on Earth using an alienated protagonist to give an outsider's perspective towards events. Between the successes of the aforementioned features, Jarmusch directed Mystery Train, an anthology film set in Memphis, Tennessee, that follows three separate story lines, involving characters foreign to America, that are linked by a run-down hotel they each spend the night in, various locations throughout the city, several loose character links and most notably, Elvis Presley. Unlike other anthology films, such as New York Stories or Paris je t'aime, Mystery Train's triptych stories do all follow a consistent storyline, but are told parallel to one another, showing each characters experiences in, and perspectives of, Memphis, all amounting to the same eventual climax.


Far From Yokohama, the first story in the anthology, follows a young Japanese couple, Jun and Mitsuko, on an excursion to Memphis, with the prospect of visiting Graceland during their trip across America. For the feature segment, Far From Yokohama is an inviting story, acting as an almost precursor to Sophia Coppola's Lost in Translation, a film with similar themes of alienation, loneliness, boredom and culture shock, that also follows an out-of-place couple who find mutuality also in a hotel, and perfectly blends deadpan humor with elements of drama. The second story of the movie, A Ghost follows Italian widow Luisa, astray in Memphis after experiencing trouble escorting her husband's coffin home, after becoming conned out of money on two occasions, and being confronted by two men outside a diner, she finds solace in the Arcade Hotel. Whilst falling asleep, Luisa is visited by the ghost of Elvis Presley.


The third and final feature Lost in Space follows recently single, and unemployed Englishman 'Elvis' (Joe Strummer) as he drunkenly flaunts a gun at a bar, before leaving with his ex-girlfriend's brother Charlie (Steve Buscemi) and his friend (Rick Aviles) and commiting a robbery and possible murder at a local liquor store. In an attempt to hide out and lay-low, they too retire to the Arcade Hotel. This segment could been seen as polar to the themes of the previous two features, displacing the reoccurring ambient theme of isolation, with a fast-paced use of crime and violence, most notably towards the climax of the story. Mystery Train has been influential on many other filmmakers, most notably the work of Quentin Tarantino with the three-tiered, interwoven storylines and the Lost in Space segment being more than an obvious inspiration for Pulp Fiction, using the same culmination of intense, humorous and wild events as Jarmusch's film, that is far too often associated as being an original characteristic of Tarantino's work. 

With Mystery Train being Jarmusch's first venture into colour film making, briefly abandoning his signature black-and-white bergman-esque cinematography, which he would most notably revisit in Dead Man and Coffee & Cigarettes, his employment of European-film legend Robby Müller is greatly received, with Müller capturing the beauty of everything from a cityscape, to an empty run-down hotel room. What remains, is one of Jarmusch's finest and most original works. Whilst today he is considered one of the greatest independent, cult directors in the world, staying true to his art without compromise, Mystery Train is the film that brought him out of the art house, and in front of an audience.
words by danny walker.

Une Femme est une Femme

Jean-Luc Godard, 1961

How good a Godard film is tends to be inverse to how seriously it takes itself. During his initial years as a filmmaker Godard was at his most playful, approaching moviemaking in a care free manner that led to him being, almost by accident, responsible for countless stylistic innovations (most notably his use of jump cuts) that would influence generations of filmmakers to follow. What stands as one of Godard’s best works, is also one of his earliest, and most light hearted films Une Femme est une Femme.
 
Une Femme est une Femme follows Angela (played by Godard’s then wife Anna Karina) as she attempts to persuade her boyfriend 
Émile (Jean-Claude Brialy) to have a child with her. When he refuses she begins to flirt with the idea of having a baby with Émile’s best friend Alfred (Jean-Paul Belmondo). As always with Godard, the plot is secondary with Godard using it merely as a framework throughout which he can shoehorn in various nonsensical 
conversations and playful camerawork.


Whereas his previous feature À Bout de Souffle can be seen as Godard’s own take on the crime films of directors he admired such as Howard Hawks, Une Femme est une Femme is his take on the Hollywood musical (further imitating Hawks by choosing to make genre pictures) and also his earliest foray into colour filmmaking. Godard’s regular cinematographer Raoul Coutard doesn’t squander this opportunity putting the use of colour at the forefront, ensuring that the film is illuminated by lighting of bright blue and red, particularly during the scenes in which Angela sings at the club. This use of red and blue is extended to both the set design and to the costumes of the characters, meaning that despite the realist elements associated with the Nouvelle Vague such as location shooting the film still possesses the fantastical appearance of a 1930’s musical.


 Whenever Godard casts a male lead other than Belmondo in these earlier pictures you can’t help being disappointed that he isn’t there, always feeling as though his replacement is simply acting as his stand in, this is also true of any female lead being considered over Karina. As he manages to cast both in this film (a feat he would only manage on only one more occasion four years later with Pierrot le Fou) the performances are some of the best seen in Godard’s oeuvre with Belmondo displaying the effortless cool that would typify all of his future roles. Karina is at her best too, not lip synching but singing the musical numbers herself and giving a great comic performance as the fickle Angela. Having married shortly before the films production, Godard appears to be setting out to make Une Femme est une Femme a tribute to his new wife and her beauty affording her numerous close ups and direct-to-camera dialogue.


After 1967 Godard’s films would begin to change for the worst, his marriage to Karina would end and his films would begin to take an ever more serious approach to their subject matter. He would focus less on technical and stylistic innovation in favour of experimenting in ways such as rejecting the narrative form of cinema, regarding it as capitalist construction, and with his most recent film Socialism even refusing to grant it English subtitles at Cannes regarding it as the language of western imperialism. With this his influence has wavered, the New Hollywood directors of the 1970’s took inspiration in countless ways from his earlier films and in turn have replaced him as the directors who the current wave of independent filmmakers look to emulate. When you think how Godard has sidelined himself it seems a shame, films such as Une Femme est une FemmeÀ Bout de SouffleAlphaville and Vivre sa Vie are all still here though are all, and standing the test of time as some of the most enjoyable art house films to ever be contributed to cinema.
words by pete bond.

Electroma

Thomas Bangalter & Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo, 2007


Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo, the duo more popularly known as Daft Punk, have always had a long standing affair with film. Their first album Homework spawned numerous innovative music videos such as those for Around the World and Da Funk, giving visionary directors such as Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze some of their earliest exposure. With their follow on album Discovery they would collaborate with renowned manga creator Leiji Matsumoto on Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem a feature length animation set to the album, with the film divided up into it’s separate songs for release as music videos.

It is this point in their chronology that Electroma comes along, originally intended to simply be a music video for the title track off of their third recording Human After All, the concept soon snowballed into a feature length production with Daft Punk choosing to co-direct. Shot over the course of 11 days in the desert of Barstow, Electroma follows the robotic alter egos of Daft Punk as they pass through a world populated by robots, as they attempt to be transformed back into humans (people familiar with Daft Punk‘s mythology will be aware they were born human and only became robots when infected with the 909 virus). When this fails they head out into the desert, walking aimlessly to their certain death.
 



The film is sparse in every way, most notably in that their isn’t a single line of dialogue spoken throughout. Regardless of this the motives of the robots and their emotions are always clear, their disappointment at their failure to make the transition and their despair as they flee into the desert. The cinematography consists of extended tracking shots (with steadicam operated by none other than Chris Cunningham) with harshly lit white corridors reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Whilst it’s minimal and steady approach may leave some viewers cold, it is fans of meditative science fiction such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Silent Running that will understand and appreciate it’s approach.
 
Perhaps the most unusual stylistic choice made by a duo primarily known as musicians is the restricted use of music. A mere nine songs feature on the soundtrack, none of which are performed by Daft Punk themselves instead choosing to use tracks by the likes of Brian Eno and Curtis Mayfield instead, it’s a curious choice given that the film was envisaged specifically to accompany the song Human After All. This would seem to be to avoid Electroma being viewed as Daft Punk repeating themselves, having already made one film scored by their previous album their was no need in repeating the task.




Although no further plans to continue their directorial career have been discussed, the duo have continued a close relationship with film. They provided both a cameo and the score for Tron: Legacy (the films only saving grace) and Bangalter continued his collaboration with Gaspar Noe providing the opening theme for Enter the Void, having previously contributed the score to his 2002 film Irreversible. Making electronic music, sampling the work of other people is a large part of what Daft Punk do. With Electroma they appear to have applied the same approach to filmmaking, drawing on their influences to combine the visuals of Kubrick with a story reminiscent of Gus Van Sant’s Gerry with their own personal touch, making a film that stands alongside the likes of Duncan Jones’ Moon as one of the more mature and interesting science fiction works of the decade.

words by pete bond.

Twenty Four Seven

Shane Meadows, 1997

With the decision late last year towards the abolishment of the UK Film Council,  a non-departmental body, that's purpose was to directly fund the production and development of British-based films, and to sustain an active and successful film industry and culture, the future of the UK's output has been brought into question. One director who's work has greatly benefited from funding by the UKFC is Shane Meadows, who's films Somers Town and This Is England have broken the Independent market, and into the mainstream, with the latter even enjoying a spin-off television series last year. Arguably the highest point of Meadow's career so far is the vastly overlooked 1997 drama Twenty Four Seven.




The film, set in a Thatcheresque, working-class town, follows Alan Darcy (Bob Hoskins) as he recruits the local youths into his boxing club, in an attempt to steer them away from criminal behavior, and engage them in something they can be passionate about. This in turn merges the rival gangs together, injecting self-respect into their empty lives, but as the day of the tournament quickly approaches, the stress of home-life, drug abuse and other such realities, come to an almighty climax. Twenty Four Seven seemingly lends alot to Tony Richardson's 1962 British classic The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, not only in it's subject matter which merges a grim view of working-class England, and it's class consciousness, with youth rebellion and escapism, but in it's bold black and white imagery, that became popular in the late 50's/early 60's during the British New Wave trend.


Twenty Four Seven is often paralleled to Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull, with it's similar black and white aesthetic, and dramatic content, but whereas Scorsese's picture deals more with the contrast of life in and out of the ring, Twenty Four Seven's use of boxing as a driving force behind the plot is more expendable, choosing to focus upon character development and interaction, more so than any scenes of fighting. A scene in particular, in which Hoskins Waltz's with his aunt to The Blue Danube in a social club is easily comparable to a Raging Bull fight sequence, with it's use of classical music, and razor-sharp editing.




As most director's careers develop, the output of their films tend to lose the originality of their first several features, whether that be due to studio interference or any other means, Shane Meadows is one director who's releases have  retained a unique style and voice throughout his career, and whilst the allure of Hollywood and a mainstream audience may not appeal to him unlike some British directors (Micheal Winterbottom, Danny Boyle, Guy Ritchie to name a few) Meadows joins the ranks of Mike Leigh, Andrea Arnold and Ken Loach, as one of the most exciting and original UK directors working today.
words by danny walker.