I Miss The NFT

I Miss The NFT

You may recall me talking about the NFT (National Film Theatre) in a piece I wrote recently about going to see Friday the 13th Part 3 in 3D there.

It got me to thinking about when I went to see films there and the fact that there were critical analyses handed out for each film being shown so that the serious film connoisseur could peruse it before the film started. I wondered if I had kept any of the ones that I received. I have kept most of my ticket stubs, did I save these handouts also?

I just got notified on Facebook of what I was doing in years gone by. A few years ago I had scanned ticket stubs and keepsakes and dated them appropriately after putting them on my FB timeline. And one of these handouts came up!

This is one such handout from when I went to see Klute as part of a 1960/70’s film season reflecting New American Film. The handout even has discolorisation on it from where it was in my pocket!

I saw The French Connection, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and The Warriors amongst other gems as part of this season.

I miss the NFT. But the world doesn’t revolve around London anymore (unless you’re stinking rich and woke) and I have plenty of great film establishments here in Leeds to more than satisfy my film needs.

Still, the memories come flooding back.

Day 28- 31 Days of Halloween- Repulsion (1965)

Day 28- 31 Days of Halloween- Repulsion (1965)

This 1965 Roman Polanski film centres on the character of Carol, a beautiful woman who works at a beauty parlour whilst living with her sister Helen in South Kensington, London. Shes very childlike and seems to be not only sexually repressed but actually repulsed by men. Matters aren’t helped by a persistent young man called Colin who tries to woo her. The fact that she is aloof and standoffish only seems to make him work harder on trying to melt this Belgian ice queen. Carol is also perturbed by her sister’s relationship with Michael who has started to stay overnight in their flat. Helen and Michael go to Italy for a holiday leaving Carol all alone in the flat.

Repulsion is anything but plot driven and is more a psychological study of Carol’s ever disintegrating mental state. And a genius representation at that!

RepulsionPoster

The scenes up until Helen going on holiday provide constant signifiers of Carol’s instability and mental decay- the cracks she seems to be obsessed with in the pavement and those she actually sees appear in the walls of the apartment, the frantic scratching and wiping away of imaginary ticks, her tendency to lapse into mental abandonment (a sign of past trauma in psychological terms, often as the result of sexual abuse), the sounds she hears on the other sides of the walls. There are plenty of signs of her sexual repression and abhorrence of men also. Colin tries to kiss her which prompts her to run home, brush her teeth and then vomit. She sees Michael’s razor and toothbrush on a shelf in the bathroom and clears them away frantically as if her personal sphere has been invaded and contaminated by them.

But it’s when Helen goes on holiday and Carol is left alone that things accelerate at a dizzying speed and her mental decline worsens at a dramatically faster pace. The image of the skinned rabbit on a plate is extremely potent as it is left out to decompose throughout the film. Carol’s work colleague later notices it’s head in her handbag later in the film. The domestic space of the flat that should be a sanctuary from the outside world is turned into a sinister and thoroughly nightmarish place to contend with by Polanski. There are shadows that appear in the light under door jambs as if an intruder is outside which develops into Carol having visions that men come in to rape her in her bed. There aren’t just cracks that appear in the walls now but hands that unexpectedly shoot out of them to indecently grope her body.

RepulsionHands

It’s ironic that during this part of the film she staggers around her flat wearing a Baby Doll nightie that traditionally signifies innocence but because of this has conversely become a potent fetishised image exactly because of it’s traditional iconography. Innocence is to be sexualised and sullied in the eyes of male gratification.

Carol starts to descent deeper into madness at a rate of knots as we see her embroidering on her sofa as she alternately hums and weeps to herself, frantically ironing whilst we see that the iron isn’t even plugged in (a knowing comment on gender roles?) and manically writing on window panes.

But the film also depicts what belies those who dare to penetrate (pun not intended) Carol’s domestic sphere even if it is nightmarish and dysfunctional for her psyche. Firstly Colin literally breaks the door down to get to her but is then clubbed to death with a heavy candleholder. The landlord who is collecting his overdue rent is slashed to death with Michael’s straight razor.

RepulsionRazor

What does all of this mean? Is it a commentary on the burgeoning permissiveness that was becoming evident in British society? Is Repulsion a comment on the encroaching Women’s Liberation movement and feminism in general? It could even be a comment on Gay Rights and Gay Liberation with Carol being so repulsed by men because she is in fact gay.

I actually think the film is a disturbing portrayal of the consequences of child abuse. Notice the family photograph that depicts Carol as a child. Even here she is aloof, distant and looks disturbed. The final frame of the film is of this photograph but shadows obscure everyone in the picture bar Carol and a male family member before it focuses on just Carol herself. It’s obvious that this is the implication which gives the film a sad lilt, echoed by Chico Hamilton’s oddly melancholic end musical suite. Add to this the earlier instances of disassociation and the signs and signifiers of childhood sexual abuse are omnipresent.

RepulsionPhotograph

This film is a masterpiece and one of Polanski’s best. The cast is perfect with the gorgeous Catherine Deneuve turning in one of her finest and most nuanced performances. It takes a special kind of actor to convincingly conjure insanity and mental instability and Deneuve knocks it out of park. Her performance evokes sympathy, shock and fear from the audience.

The film is also a beautiful time capsule of Sixties London. Check out the scenes of South Kensington and the attention to detail and how glorious it all is.

A bona fide classic. If you haven’t seen this you need to see it NOW!

5 out of 5 stars

 

 

 

 

Review- The Servant (1963)

Review- The Servant (1963)

After he has come back from travelling, a wealthy young man named Tony (James Fox) decides to employ a house servant. Hugo Barrett (Dirk Bogarde) successfully applies for the position. The relationship works well but this soon changes when Tony’s girlfriend Susan starts to spend time at Tony’s abode. She seems not to treat Barrett as human and takes the role of ‘master’ to his ‘servant’ to almost cruel lengths. Things get even more surreal with the introduction of Barrett’s ‘sister’ who comes to work under Tony in the same subservient role.

I’m surprised I’ve only just seen this film for the first time. It was worth the wait. This is brilliant on every level. There are universally fantastic performances especially from Fox and Bogarde who throw themselves into the descent into madness which Harold Pinter’s adaptation of Robin Maugham’s book portrays.

In fact, Pinter has a cameo role in the scene in the restaurant which epitomises the convention-breaking nature of the material at hand. We are shown an excerpt from the conversation from each table in the venue. We’re privileged enough to become privy to multiple different narratives and stories from many different characters, not just Tony and his girlfriend. One of these pairings is Pinter as a socialite and his date.

THE SERVANT - UK Poster 1

Check out director Joseph Losey’s use of mirrors to portray the action but also to distort it’s view to the audience just as the film’s events are being shaped and distorted. Also, check out Douglas Slocombe’s cinematography which is breathtaking.

The film also reverses, subverts and delightfully fiddles around with the power dynamic of the ‘master’ and ‘servant’- who is serving who? Do the truly subservient characters even realise?

In fact, things get so surreal that I would have sworn that Pinter had written this story himself rather than just adapting it. This would make a great triple-bill with William Friedkin’s The Birthday Party (also written by Pinter) and Polanski’s Repulsion.

stai servant

On The Servant’s release it won a raft of awards and rightfully so. It also resides on The BFI’s Top 100 British Film’s list.

4 out of 5 stars

 

Day 6- 31 Days of Halloween- The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971)

Day 6- 31 Days of Halloween- The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971)

Vincent Price’s Dr Phibes avenges the death of his wife by bumping off the culprits with each murder having a biblical connection.

Very camp, very funny and very unsettling- this is one of Price’s best just like Witchfinder General and the Poe films he also made with Roger Corman.

the-abominable-dr-phibes-phibes-and-the-frog-mask

Check out Phibes’ clockwork band- one of the eeriest things committed to celluloid.

drphibes859_copy

Also check out the classic art deco decors and groovier surroundings that capture the early 70s so fantastically.

Caroline Munro appears but only as photos of Phibes’ tragic dead wife.

4.5 out of 5

Death Line (1972) – Day 20 – 31 Days of Halloween

Death Line (1972) – Day 20 – 31 Days of Halloween

A film set in London Underground. A cannibal is the last of a generation of cannibals who live in the tunnels of Russell Square tube station. He hunts for food ie passengers as the late night trains are running.

Death Line was renamed ‘Raw Meat’ in America

This film is obviously based on the supposedly true story of Sawney Beane and his family- a cannibal who lived in a cave in 19th century Glasgow.


This film depicts 70s London beautifully. Theres a gorgeous opening sequence of a supposedly respectable gentleman frequenting the swinging seedy strip shows of Soho.

The setting of the underground of London is also very evocative. I know all too well how scary a deserted underground station can be when waiting for the last tube home. Thank God for the 24 hour tube.

Donald Pleasence stars as a hard bitten police detective. But hes too lovable to be truly nasty. Hes like a more affable version of Jack Regan from The Sweeney.

Jack Regan Lite

The character of the cannibal actually evokes a great deal of sympathy from the audience. Yes he hunts people for food but you get the feeling hes just trying to survive like everyone else in the Big Smoke. He can’t speak except for the words ‘Mind The Doors.’ Oh, bless.

This is a quirky 70s British horror gem that captures a time in London history which makes it an amazing time capsule. Its story needed fleshing out a bit more though (pun not intended).

3 out of 5

The Legend of Leigh Bowery (2002)

The Legend of Leigh Bowery (2002)

I first saw Leigh Bowery in the late 80s. I was at the cinema when a commercial for Pepe Jeans was played featuring Leigh. This advert which only lasted about 2 minutes left such an indelible impression.

I first saw the documentary The Legend of Leigh Bowery about five years ago and again was gobsmacked. This is amazingly made with a multitude of interviews with collaborators, family and friends. The breadth of the source material of footage and audio featuring Bowery is breathtaking- this project was obviously a labour of love and the director Charles Atlas throws himself into the making of this documentary with gusto and passion. And it shows.

pymca_00015594
Polaroid of Leigh Bowery, Taboo, London 1986

Who was Leigh Bowery? He is hard to categorise. Artist, fashion designer, pop star, musician, nightclub proprietor/superstar… But most importantly he was Leigh Bowery the personality. He defies all labels. And this is one of the most brilliant things about him and the multitude of ways that the documentary conveys this.

The film shows how Leigh became recognised firstly by his outlandish patronage of carefully chosen nightclubs. Because of this the film becomes so much more. It depicts the underground gay clubbing scene of the 80s in London- a world that spawned the New Romantics (in an interview we hear Leigh say that he always preferred this movement to any other) and was built around the idea of transforming oneself into a legendary entity and the whole ritual of ‘getting ready’ to go out (brilliantly articulated by Michael Bracewell in the film) and all that that entails. From a dingy bedsit in the suburbs arty loners could metamorphosise into larger than life characters and create new personae for their chosen nocturnal wonderlands in the neon soaked big city.

tumblr_msw0ko6SBb1rnbjt8o1_500
‘We could be heroes…’

London in the 70s and 80s was unparalleled for this- after glam rock and punk, the New Romantic scene had exploded in a mushroom cloud of Elnett and Boots No 5 make up. And that was just the boys. It attracted brilliant creations such as Marilyn, Philip Sallon and Steve Strange.

Whilst this scene and its main stalwarts were brilliant and revolutionary for their time, Leigh was so much more. He was a one man subculture who was still several hundred years ahead of his time. He liked to subvert- gender, the body, sexuality. This documentary depicts this amazingly. Leigh liked to use his body as a canvas and this film is like a catwalk for him to show the world the diversity of his alien visions.

Leigh-Bowery-02

Leigh’s personality and quirks are also evident through the wide range of sources and interviews used for the film- his love of embarrassing people, his love of cottaging (also a key part of 80s gay life), his love of getting a reaction from people but through using his brain rather than just using shock tactics for the sake of it.

There is also a feeling that whatever he turned his hand to he mastered brilliantly. His pop groups Raw Sewage and Minty have to be heard (and seen) to be believed. Here is his genius cover version of Run DMC’s Walk This Way-

And heres how it came about-

Another amazing thing about this film is the music used on the soundtrack- its just as avant garde and original as Bowery. Its a shame that a soundtrack was never released.

In these times of RuPaul’s Drag Race and its imitation of all that was genius that has gone before I can’t help but cherish Bowery’s work and this film even more. He was authentic and that authenticity is even more astounding when watered down versions by more mediocre and conventional drag artistes are foisted upon us. Imitation isn’t the sincerest form of flattery. Its just really shit.

I’ve now seen this documentary several times and think of it as a film I could watch at any time and thoroughly enjoy. I honestly think this is one of the best examples of the genre and one of the best films I’ve ever seen. I urge others to discover this gem and experience the genius of Bowery for themselves. And here it is-