Review- Hating Peter Tatchell (2021)

Review- Hating Peter Tatchell (2021)

A new addition to Netflix, this documentary chronicles the life and activism of Peter Tatchell who has campaigned for gay rights and indeed, human rights since his late teens.

Born in Australia, he campaigned for issues such as Aboriginal land rights whilst at college.

He moved to Britain where days after his arrival he learnt of the Gay Liberation Front, promptly joined and then within a month was a major player who wasn’t just participating in events but also helping to organise them.

The film details chronologically his campaigns including the time when he ran as a Labour candidate for the seat at Bermondsey in the by-election in 1983 after joining Labour in 1981. He was openly gay and the opposition’s campaigns against him were based on homophobia and smears with hatred directed against gay people being rife within wider society at the time.

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The leaflet used by Liberal Simon Hughes during the Bermondsey by-election. Notice the homophobia- ‘straight choice’ being one example. Hughes was later outed in the press when a newspaper claimed he had been using a gay chat service called Man Talk. Oh the irony.

Whilst you may think Hating Peter Tatchell is a congratulatory affair that does nothing but praise Tatchell and his actions, this isn’t the case with the campaigns staged by his group OutRage being explored and spoken about his the many people who contribute to this film. Such actions as outing several prominent people within the church as gay whilst they condemned homosexuality in the name of their faith and disrupting a prominent Easter service given by George Carey the then Archbishop of Canterbury made Tatchell as many detractors as supporters in the press.

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OutRage disrupts the Easter service given by The Archbishop of Canterbury

But it was Tatchell’s direct action that switched public opinion towards him. Seen as foolish by some (although no one can deny he has guts) to stage citizen’s arrests on such figures as Robert Mugabe, Mike Tyson and even Vladimir Putin, he suffered physical retaliations in some of these actions and has suffered semi permanent brain damage as a result. Tatchell saw this as being a small price to pay when fighting for the rights of others.

The contributors include such luminaries as Stephen Fry, Tom Robinson and Ian McKellan who interviews Tatchell. Even George Carey is interviewed about the incident regarding the disrupted Easter service.

The film shows that Tatchell had the tenacity, strength and conviction to openly oppose certain people and their views whilst fighting for the rights and dignities of often marginalised groups. He wants equality and this means fighting for all sides regarding this. An example of this was when he fought for heterosexuals to have the right to have civil partnerships as he could see that they provided some advantages to some rather than traditional marriages.

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We are also taken on one of his campaigns so that we can see how nerve wrecking such an event is, how much planning goes into it and how courageous Tatchell is. The event in question is Peter going to the Olympics being held in Russia to expose the country’s vile stance regarding gay people there.

From revolutionary agitator to national treasure but don’t let that fool you. Tatchell’s work isn’t over yet. This documentary shows just how valuable the Tatchells of this world really are and what REAL activism looks like.

4 out of 5 stars

Review- Daughters of Darkness (1971)

Review- Daughters of Darkness (1971)

A newly wed couple stay at a spawling and very beautiful old hotel in Ostend, Belgium. Stefan has married Valerie without telling his mother and so Valerie is keen for him to call to inform her of their union.

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Valerie and Stefan

A couple of women arrive at the hotel- the very glamorous Elizabeth and her younger companion Ilona. They seem beguiled and utterly captivated by Valerie and Stefan. And so the character’s paths meet in what turns out to be a fantastic updating of the vampire genre.

Lesbian chic was popular in vampire movies in the 70’s and Daughters of Darkness is a worthy example of this. It’s quickly established that Elizabeth and her companion are more than just friends but this point isn’t laboured and is still somewhat shrouded in mystery. In fact, there are plenty of narrative strands within the film that are just as enigmatic and not needlessly over-explained. This is something that I love as it grants the audience with a modicum of intelligence and forces viewers to make up their own minds regarding backstory and context. As we have seen from newer horror films, especially the prequels made for classic horror films, over-explanation kills mystery and the horror element of these films. What made Leatherface the way he is? Who cares especially if the film sucks!

Another example of this mystery occurs when we see Stefan finally call his mother. ‘Mother’ turns out to be a very effeminate homosexual man not unlike a more sinister version of Quentin Crisp. ‘Mother’ isn’t happy about the marriage and lets Stefan know this. In fact, this episode in the film makes us ponder who Mother really is, his relationship to Stefan, Stefan’s true sexuality and in fact, why Stefan has married Valerie in the first place. Did the shifty and malignant character of Stefan have his own agenda and intentions in his recent marriage, just as Elizabeth and Ilona have their own agenda?

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‘Mother’

Stefan’s call to his ‘Mother’ instantly triggers a violent and angry reaction from his as he starts to beat his new wife with a belt in a shocking outburst of violence. We see that he is capable of these outbursts as he is of lying and other underhand behaviour (we witness the note he passes to the concierge regarding an earlier phone call to his mother which he doesn’t want to make yet).

The vampiric murders occurring in Ostend lend a chilling backdrop to the proceedings in the hotel. This reminds me of the murders that take place in Venice that are secondary to the main narrative in the film Don’t Look Now. This device works so well within the horror genre.

The use of the colour red in Daughters of Darkness also reminds me of the use of the same colour in Don’t Look Now, in particular the little girl’s coat. In Kumel’s film the blood looks like aesthetically pleasing red paint and is redder than red just like in the pop art masterpiece that would come later, Dawn of the Dead. The lips of both Elizabeth and Ilona are also both painted the same shade of red.

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The detective who is constantly on the edge of proceedings reminds me of Kinderman in The Exorcist and brings out the detective element which was so prevalent in Giallo films. The ‘whodunnit’ element was a key element of the original crime novels with yellow pages of which the Giallo film genre is primarily based on.

The film features stunning direction by Harry Kumel, haunting photography and uniformly stunning performances.

But theres one performance that deserves special recognition and that is of Elizabeth by Delphine Seyrig. I don’t think I’ve seen such a well rounded, bewitching and captivating turn in any other horror movie. She is utterly believeable as Bathory- alluring, seductive and every other divine quality that the character would need to entice in her prey.

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As if that wasn’t enough she has a wardrobe that is three parts Marlene Dietrich and one part Siouxsie Sioux (Kumel has mentioned that he modelled the character on Dietrich and Ilona on Louise Brooks, a perfect pair of influences). Seyrig is one of the most divine creatures to have ever graced the screen.

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When I first saw Daughters of Darkness in the 80’s on Channel 4 here in the UK, I couldn’t believe how perfect the film was. On revisiting it I’m left with the same feeling. Impeccable.

5 out of 5 stars

Review- Nico Icon (1996)

Review- Nico Icon (1996)

Note- Nico Icon can be found here on YouTube. Please make sure you switch on the English subtitles before watching as some sequences are in French and German.

I first became aware of the singer Nico in 1988, ironically the year the singer passed away. I was becoming a huge fan of Siouxsie and the Banshees and a new book had been published about the band. The first few pages went through the early lives of the band members and the bands they were listening to as they were growing up. Of course one of them was The Velvet Underground and Nico. The picture published to illustrate this however wasn’t one of the iconic monochromatic shots of the band wearing shades, black clothing and looking absolutely cool with it. Instead, the image was of Nico but after see had dyed her hair and wasn’t the glacially beautiful blonde chanteuse anymore. The pic was from 1970 and she was dressed in a cape. ‘What Goth could have become if more people had taken Nico to their hearts’, I thought.

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Shortly after this I started listening to and loving The Velvet Underground starting with their iconic first album. Nico’s voice was a revelation. Her teutonic vocals with her own sense of phrasing and meter were mindblowingly original. In fact, after hearing this album I bought The Marble Index and my love for Nico and her career was born.

On seeing the documentary Nico Icon on YouTube I decided to investigate further.

And I’m so glad I did. The film fully explores Nico’s legacy and metamorphosis brilliantly from her time as a model (a profession she hated as she saw herself as a blonde smiling object and nothing more), her introduction to movies with her turn in La Dolce Vita no less, her introduction to singing and then becoming a staple of Warhol’s Factory crowd (Andy famously described her singing style as like that of an IBM computer with a Greta Garbo accent) after being introduced to Warhol by Bob Dylan. Her stint as chanteuse on The Velvet Underground’s iconic first album (not to mention her relationship with The Velvet’s lead singer Lou Reed) followed shortly after this with her solo career as a result.

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From model…
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…to Warhol endorsed recording artiste

I wasn’t prepared for the emotional pull that the documentary has. The scene in which Nico’s aunt is listening to I’ll Be Your Mirror and starts crying because of the beauty of the music and her late niece’s vocals is incredibly moving. The fact that Lou Reed’s lyrics are displayed on the screen via the film’s subtitles show just how gorgeous they are.

The melancholic and reflective aspect of Nico’s music is also explored with songs as achingly stirring as You Are Beautiful and You Are Alone acting as a reflection of Nico’s life. She was evidently her own mirror for the world to see.

The transformation of Nico from blonde bombshell to Angel of Death is also examined. With this metamorphosis people who said to her that the change was too drastic and made her look ugly were met with joyous proclamations from the woman herself. She loved the fact that she wasn’t a blonde object of beauty anymore for others to ogle, an object.

She seemed to hate life and to be looking forward to death. She infamously became a junkie with her addiction to heroine (what else for the guest singer with The Velvets) which meant she toured constantly to supplement her habit. James Young is on hand to tell tales of what it was like to be in her band during this period with one incident involving her deliberately handing him a tour’s worth of used needles for him to dispose of when they were approaching border control whilst in their tour bus. ‘She was the Queen of the Bad Girls’, Young states. She also loved the track marks, rotting teeth and bad skin that the drug had bestowed on her body. ‘That was her aesthetic’, Young opines.

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Nico in the 70’s. Nothing scary about this pic at all…

Nico’s son Ari from her relationship with French actor Alain Delon (one of Nico’s other former lovers expresses that Delon was descended from sausage makers and even though he became a famous actor there was no getting away from his true family vocation in life) is also interviewed. We hear the shocking revelation that it was her who introduced him to heroine and that whilst he was once in a coma, she came to the hospital to record the noises his life support machine made to utilise on her next album.

But throughout the documentary one thing truly shines through and that is the music itself. There has never been any other artist like Nico in terms of music and image. She was a true individual with a back catalogue that is alarmingly and consistently brilliant. Whilst her first album Chelsea Girl was material written by others for her, her second album and every subsequent album after this starting with The Marble Index, showed that Nico wasn’t just an amazing singer and frontperson but also an astonishing writer. Her imagery and obsessions are just as idiosyncratic as her persona and are utterly intoxicating. Fortunately this is captured in the documentary with all phases of her music career being given an airing. And that’s one of the greatest aspects of the film- it encourages the viewer to investigate further and fall full-on into the disturbing, beautiful and esoteric rabbit-hole that is Nico’s oeuvre. And it’s an amazing place to vacate.

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Her transition from the blonde Ice Queen to the Angel of Death is extraordinary enough and reminds me of the transition that Scott Walker made from pop star pin-up to serious artist who made the kind of music that music critics can’t salivate over more. Nico was even more exemplary as when she started writing her own material we were suddenly plunged headlong into her own world with it’s own meanings and rules. It was a sphere of frozen borderlines, friar hermits and janitors of lunacy. What does it all mean? Who knows. But it works beautifully. We were invited into the mindscape of an island, a question mark, a true maverick and, dare I say, a genius.

This documentary is so good that not even the very pretentious device of snippets of dialogue appearing on the screen as text just as a subject is saying them can even ruin or tarnish proceedings. Thankfully this isn’t employed too often but why it was used at all is beyond me.

Proceedings are rounded off with a rendition of Frozen Warnings from the album The Marble Index sung by John Cale at the piano. It’s an apt tribute to a singer who Cale saw as someone truly exceptional even if the world is still catching up on Nico’s genius. But with a new biography coming out soon it appears that the wheels are in motion regarding this. This documentary is a great starting point for the uninitiated and familiar alike.

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Essential and one of the best documentaries about one of the best and beguiling subjects ever to grace the arts. Even Siskel and Ebert gave the film two thumbs up. But don’t let that put you off.

5 stars out of 5

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Review- Southern Comfort (1981)

Review- Southern Comfort (1981)

A team of Louisiana Army National Guards venture into a local bayou. After getting lost they take three small boats belonging to local Cajuns. When they fire blank bullets at the men the Cajuns return this gesture with real bullets, killing one of the soldiers. From here on in things get worse and worse for the soldiers as they must fight for their own survival.

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Look at this ultra rare V2000 edition of Southern Comfort! Video 2000 lost out to Betamax which in turn lost out to VHS as a video format.

I remember seeing the last act of this film on late night TV in the 80’s and it was one of the most paranoid and chilling sequences I think I had ever seen in a film. Seeing the full film, this sequence remains taut and utterly unnerving.

In fact the film as a whole is yet another gem from director Walter Hill (The Warriors, 48 Hours, The Driver) with amazing cinematography from Andrew Laszlo.

This film reminds me of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in that we have a slow tension-filled buildup until a massively violent incident comes out of the blue and shows us that the film means business. I’m certainly not going to disclose this genuinely shocking moment but it’s a gritty, uncompromising incident in a gritty and uncompromising film.

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A fine all-male ensemble reminds me of the same dynamic as John Carpenter’s The Thing which can’t be bad. In fact, it reminded me of The Warriors also, but minus another Mercy type character. Again, this comparison is no bad thing.

On it’s release the movie drew inevitable comparisons to Deliverance but this feels rawer, leaner and more suspenseful. This has the sensibilities of an edgier independent film. And there are no cringy scenes involving banjos.

A cracking film.

4 and a half out of 5

Review- Christmas Evil (1980)

Review- Christmas Evil (1980)

I first heard of this Yuletide horror flick as John Waters spoke about it as being his favourite seasonal cinematic shocker. With such high praise from The Prince of Puke I later heard it was being shown at a local cinema in Sydney, Australia where I lived for a year (it was actually shown as part of a double bill with Black Christmas which is possibly the greatest duo of films I’ve ever seen on the big screen).

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This film was also seized during the raids on video shops that happened in the UK during the video nasties furore. After it was seized it was then banned by the BBFC. Hence, why I wasn’t allowed by the powers that be to see this masterpiece in the 80’s.

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The film centres around Harry Stadling who we see first as a child as he sees Santa pleasuring his mother. After seeing Old Nick being so naughty he goes upstairs and self harms with a broken ornament from a Christmas tree.

The film then flashes forward to Harry as an adult working in a local toy factory. He seems to be completely obsessed by Santa Claus and even dresses like him, sleeps in his outfit and orientates his whole being towards becoming him. We even see him applying way too much shaving foam to his face so that it resembles a white beard to make the likeness even more apparent. He has also starts to make notes regarding the neighbourhood children as to who has been ‘good’ or ‘bad’ whilst jotting down examples of why he has arrived at his decision.

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Harry is told by his boss that the factory will donate toys to children at a local hospital but only if production at the factory increases and employees chip in with their own money. This angers Harry who sees this as an indication that his boss only cares about production rather than genuinely caring for the local unfortunate kids.

Harry’s Santaphilia reaches new heights on Christmas Evil when he seems to truly believe that he is Father Christmas. He starts to travel around in his equivalent of a reindeer led sleigh- a van with a picture of a sleigh on the side of it. He creeps into his brother’s house and leaves bags of presents for his nephews and then leaves a bag of dirt to one of the other neighbourhood children he has noted down as being ‘bad’.

After he is mocked by three men who are leaving church, he stabs one of the men in the eye with a sharpened Christmas ornament and then kills all three with an axe. After then entertaining people at a local Christmas party who mistake for just some harmless Santa impersonator and after telling the kids present that they should be good, he breaks into his co-worker Frank’s house (who we saw earlier in the film after he asked to swap shifts with Harry so he could be with his family only to be then spotted by Harry in a local bar drinking with his pals much to Harry’s chagrin) and murders him but not before leaving toys for his kids.

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To tell you much more would ruin the film for everyone and disclose some genuinely unexpected and quite brilliant twists. Without giving too much away I love the fact that even though he’s a murderous Santa, the neighbourhood’s kids protect him from an angry mob who have formed to capture or even kill him. The kids will save Santa even he is to Christmas what Michael Myers is to Halloween.

The final scene will fully ignite the magic of the Yuletide season in your soul. Seriously! Did Steven Spielberg steal it for possibly the most iconic scene of E.T? Quite possibly. I’ll take this movie over Spielberg’s saccharine family favourite any day though.

A genuine oddity and a film unlike any other, Christmas Evil was worth the wait for me and John Waters is completely justified to have taken this to his heart. Perfectly acted, beautifully photographed and with some fantastic insights regarding ‘this most wonderful time of the year’. These include those who are permitted to buy into the whole illusion of Christmas whilst others aren’t, the vileness of capitalism masquerading as being caring and charitable (but only if production is increased) and how in-crowds and groups judge others as ‘one of us’ or not.

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Waters said that if he had kids (and that would be quite something) he would sit down and watch this seasonal shocker with them every year. And if they didn’t like it they would be PUNISHED! That’s fair enough in my book.

***** out of *****

Review- Wonder Woman 1984

Review- Wonder Woman 1984

The sequel to Wonder Woman was rescheduled time and time again because of the emergence of COVID-19 and cinemas being off limits. It’s finally been released however but can also be streamed on HBO Max which has made some to say that cinemas may be a thing of the past.

So is this sequel as good as it’s amazing first film?

The film opens with Diana reminiscing to when she was a child and taking part in an Olympics style event in which she excels until she is felled by a tree branch which makes her fall from the horse that carries her but then decides to cheat to try and take the lead. She is found out to have cheated however and whilst she is heartbroken at not having won she is told that her time will come. This opening is in keeping with the first film and is fantastic.

But as the film then flashes forward into 1984 it starts to come seriously unstuck. It’s easy for films to fall into a kind of exaggerated, unrealistic and truly irritating parody of a decade especially one that is larger than life like the 1980’s. The film falls headlong into this trap and so the 80’s we see is wall to wall bad fashions, people eating fatty foods in abundance and littering. It feels fake and manufactured. If there was a hashtag that could be used here for the Twitterati it would be #notmy80s. ‘Ah but this is the vision of the 80’s that is individual to this film and Patty Jenkins’ I hear the comic fanboys screaming. Then in that case it just plain sucks.

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There then comes an action sequence in a shopping mall in which WW foils a robbery. It’s so pointless and pathetic that I actually shouted out in the cinema ‘This is awful!’ I even for a nanosecond thought of walking out. This would have set a new record for the fastest time I’ve walked out of a film, having lasted only ten minutes watching Freddy Vs Jason.

Fortunately the film calms down on the over the top 80’s schtick as we see the main narrative for the film- an artefact known as the dreamstone which can fulfil the wish of those who touch it but with a catch. For every wish, the person loses something else dear to them. When I heard of this premise for the film it seemed fine. But as is stated by characters within the film, this is actually based on the urban legend of the ‘Monkey’s Paw’. When I found this out (and by characters in the actual film!) the premise disintegrated right before my eyes. I felt robbed and the whole premise for the film felt lazy. In fact, very quickly in the film I found myself thinking ‘I really don’t care what happens to ANY character in this film’. Nothing in the film’s runtime swayed me from this.

Diana wishes for Steve Trevor to come back and hence this is how we get Chris Pine back in the sequel. However, with this wish coming true we see WW start to lose her powers. The scene where we see him reappear should have had a massive emotional pull for the audience. There was nothing. This film is just like it’s depiction of the decade it takes place in- all surface, no depth.

We are introduced to the socially awkward Barbara Minerva who wishes to be just like Diana. She gains her wish. She later wishes to be an ‘apex predator’. Again, she gets her wish and transforms into supervillianess Cheetah. The first glimpse of Cheetah was so naff I actually burst out laughing.

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We also get another baddie in the form of ‘orange man bad’ Max Lord who is based on Donald Trump. Theres even a border wall in the film. Hmmm. The President of the United States in the film is obviously based on Ronald Reagan. There are even allusions to his Alzheimers with him saying that felt completely disorientated and ‘somewhere else’ during one scene. Or maybe with such as admission he’s based on Joe Biden instead.

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A Trump pastiche. Edgy and original.

The real problem for me throughout the film are the scenes that involve Wonder Woman which is massively problematic based around her character. The action scenes contain the worst examples of CGI I’ve seen in a long long time. There are times when Wonder Woman feels more like an action figure in a really badly conceived computer game from the early 00’s.

There is also a scene in which we are introduced to a new power that Diana unveils. She can turn objects invisible by simply touching them. This made me roll my eyes when I had already rolled them far too many times already. ‘Maybe she can also make this film half it’s running time’ I found myself thinking.

Another scene that had me rolling my eyes was when Barbara decides to go to the gym when she discovers she has superstrength and decides to lift weights. There is also another cringy scene when she bumps into the creepy guy who harassed her earlier in the film.

But there are scenes that work. When Diana finds out she can fly it’s through a statement Steve has made earlier in the film about his love of flying. These scenes are beautiful to behold and don’t involve dodgy CGI. This scene works amazingly well. If only the care and attention that had gone into this scene could have been applied to the rest of the film the whole movie would be more of a rewarding experience.

I enjoyed the scenes of Max’s health getting worse with every wish he bestows. This could have been exploited more with him disintegrating more radically throughout the film a la the undead character in An American Werewolf In London. But I appreciate that that might not have been appropriate in a film aimed primarily at children.

When Diana has to say goodbye to Steve so that she can get her powers back, again, there should have been more emotional resonance for the audience. Again, there wasn’t any.

In fact when I heard that Diana was to lose her powers to get Steve back I instantly thought of Superman 2 with Superman willingly renouncing his superpowers so he can enter a relationship with Lois. But whilst I was hoping for a sequel as good as Superman 2 for Wonder Woman instead we got Superman 4: The Quest For Peace resplendent with a naff call for world peace in a nuclear free world.

After the first film I would have wished for a sequel. After seeing Wonder Woman 84, I renounce my wish.

* and a half out of *****

Review- The Black Panther (1977)

Review- The Black Panther (1977)

I remember one summer when my family was on holiday at my aunt’s house in Stoke on Trent my father took us to what appeared to be a disused reservoir within a park. He explained that under the grate he showed us a young woman was once held for ransom. Her name was Lesley Whittle and Donald Neilson, her abductor had left her tied up in this underground hell completely naked except for a hood over her head and a noose made of wire around her neck which would kill her if she tried to escape. She wasn’t found in time and so died after Neilson didn’t get the ransom he demanded. Yes, this was just an average day out for my family.

The criminal who carried out this was nicknamed in the press ‘The Black Panther’. After carrying out a series of armed robberies at post offices, he set about the abduction of Whittle so that he could demand a hefty ransom and reap more lucrative rewards.

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A couple of years after this kidnapping happened a film was made of these events. It was felt in the media that this was too soon and certain censorious channels sought to prevent the film being shown at cinemas throughout the UK. How this was achieved was by pressure being placed on local authorities who in those days had a lot of power regarding films being shown. The BBFC could make a decision on a film and whether it should be left uncut, censored and banned outright but then the film was at the mercy of local authorities and councils as to whether the film would be aired in their respective boroughs.

This is what happened with The Black Panther and why it was as good as suppressed in the UK. The TV show Tonight were part of this campaign to prevent the film playing with the show’s host Sue Lawley dubbing it a ‘sick film’ even though she hadn’t seen it.

The film resurfaced in the 80’s on VHS but aside from that remained buried as it were (pun not intended). That’s until the BFI restored the film a few years ago and issued it on Blu ray.

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So is this film really some kind of hidden gem worthy of rediscovery? In a word- YES! It’s a bleak account of a psychopathic man embarking a life using his lack of conscience to try to get rich quick after leaving the forces. In fact his time in the army is looked back on by Neilson through rose tinted spectacles as he reminisces about it but also brings that past into his present as he struts around in his attic in his old uniform reliving his glory days. He even lives in the wild as if on an army retreat for days at a time whilst he plans his crimes- firstly, the robbery of the post office substations and then the kidnapping of Whittle. We see him use his training at home also again in his attic/office to plan these projects with military precision.

The Black Panther is just like it’s main character in that it’s completely cold, emotionless and detached. This may sound like some kind of criticism but it works brilliantly well. This is the film equivalent of the objective and fact based kind of crime reportage used with no editorialising whatsoever. Even the screen captions to denote dates and places is done so by utilising the font of a typewriter to denote the fact-based reporting of facts. In fact the film brings to mind the reconstructions that were part of the true crime TV show Crimewatch UK, especially the ones featured in the earlier series that were shot on film.

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It’s also interesting to see an emotionless character like Neilson operating in the real world and with other people who possess the empathy chip even though he doesn’t. The scenes of him at home with his wife and family are darkly entertaining and sometimes downright shocking. He expects his wife to be little more than a hausfrau who serves him and him alone. He barks his disapproval at every turn and over the most mundane things that can’t be controlled (we see throughout the film that Neilson wants control over everything in his life but life doesn’t work like that. Each of his robberies are besieged and altered from running smoothly by factors that are beyond his control). One example is when he doesn’t even look at his wife but raises his tea mug to let her now that he wants it to be filled again. After she dutifully does this he then takes a sip and screams that the tea is ‘too hot!’

There also another very perceptive insight into his home life as we see his teenaged daughter ask if she can go out to see friends. He says no and explains that she will spend money whilst she’s out and that it’s better to save instead for a rainy day. His daughter then whispers to her mother that her father has said no and they both look dejected. This doesn’t last long through. Neilson announces that he will be away for two weeks on another job (he says he’s going away to work on projects like house renovations when he is in fact embarking on his army style manoeuvres). We see a sly smile spread across his daughter’s face at the news as she exchanges very knowing glances with her mother as if to say ‘Hooray! He’s out of our hair for a while!’

The film also acts as a snapshot of what life was really like in 1977. The red phone boxes the killer uses, the thoroughly ugly headboards and brown pyjama sets worn by the sub postmasters when they are rudely awoken in the middle of the night by Neilson robbing their business. The film also shows how terrifying it must have been to be woken up by a man in a blood hood brandishing a sown off shotgun in your face.

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The BFI have done a great job with the Blu ray for the film as it looks and sounds amazing. There are also exhaustive liner notes from director Ian Merrick as to the curious history of the film, it’s unwarranted suppression and it’s re-emergence on Blu ray. There are also a wealth of extras such as short films and raw footage shot when locations were being sought for the film.

The Black Panther can now be seen for what it always was- an outstanding true crime film that was ahead of it’s time.

***** out of *****

Review- Despair (1978)

Review- Despair (1978)

Dirk Bogarde stars in this 1978 Fassbinder film as Hermann, a chocolate factory owner living in Berlin during the Weimar Republic who suffers from dissociation. He dreams of escape. On his travels he meets a homeless man who he thinks can imitate him in a scam. This will involve his faked murder so that he can escape his life. His wife will then receive a substantial insurance pay out because of his supposed death. In reality Hermann will vanish to Switzerland, live below the radar and start a new life. Will Hermann’s plan go without a hitch?

I love the mystery of this film. It really is a puzzle of a film and sweeps us along on it’s gorgeous journey. Twist follows turn and back again. 

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The whole cast are perfect with Dirk Bogarde being perfect as Hermann. The screenplay is brilliantly adopted from a Nabokov novel by Tom Stoppard with snappy and wicked dialogue that positively crackles.

The look of the film is muted and also beautiful because of it. It lends massively to why the film works so well as it’s visually and uniformly a treat for the eyes. Enjoy the ride which will keep you guessing until the final frame.

**** out of *****

 

 

 

 

Review- The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978)

Review- The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978)

This 1978 Fassbinder movie starts with the film’s eponymous hero Maria getting married to her husband Hermann in Germany during World War II just as a bomb being dropped threatens to curtail proceedings. Thankfully the couple’s union is officially sealed and Hermann then goes off to fight in the war himself.

After learning later that her new husband has been tragically killed Maria starts to go to a local bar frequented by American soldiers to work as a waitress. She meets a black US soldier called Bill who she then starts a relationship with. They are just getting it on one day when…to tell you anymore would be to reveal a huge plot detail that I’m not going to spoil for you!

I first heard about this film when at university studying Film Studies as one of my tutors had the poster for the movie on her office wall.

MarriageOfMariaBraunPoster

Whilst it’s interesting to see a character doing what needs to be done to survive and indeed prosper within challenging circumstances, I found this film to be a bit, erm, flat. I’ve read great reviews regarding it with many critics and casual viewers stating the opinion that this is one of Fassbinder’s best movies. When it was originally released it not only wowed the critics but also performed very well at the box office. But I think that this is maybe because many of the more radical and idiosyncratic aspects of Fassbinder’s films aren’t present here hence making it more palatable for cinemagoers used to more mainstream and linear films.

I think that if you have a lead character who can become so detached and cold as to exploit those around her for her own gain even if it’s done in exceptionally destitute circumstances, you don’t have an especially likeable character who audiences can engage with. At least that’s what I felt. Plenty of critics and moviegoing audiences disagree though.

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Not a complete disaster by any stretch of the imagination with great acting and fantastic cinematography as ever by Michael Ballhaus who would go on to work with Scorsese after his tenure with Fassbinder was over.

**and a half out of *****

Review- Beware of a Holy Whore (1971)

Review- Beware of a Holy Whore (1971)

Fassbinder’s 1971 film concerns a German film crew waiting for a production to start whilst on set in a Spanish hotel lobby.

The film starts with the verbal recanting of a Goofy cartoon. This is possibly the most linear and conventional part of the entire film’s narrative but that’s not an insult. The rest of the film shows fragments of how the characters interact with each other on many different levels. The movie also shows the power relations and how these shift throughout the film’s duration.

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The film crew resemble a Germanic version of the trope of superstars Warhol used to use. With waiting comes emotions ranging from an utter lack of enthusiasm through to explosive rage about proceedings not starting when they should or crew members not doing what they should when filming does actually begin.

This film was based on Fassbinder’s experiences of making the film Whity. It must have been hell for him judging by the events depicted here.

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If you’re looking for a film with a linear narrative, a ‘start, middle and end’, if you will, this isn’t for you. But if you’re looking to be swept away by Fassbinder into a film that is more of an experience, then you’ll love this.