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This film is a masterpiece of adaptation of a novel, UN CIRQUE PASSE, by Patrick Modiano, who won the 2014 Novel Prize for Literature. The mood, atmosphere, menace, and mystery of Modiano's work is conveyed impeccably on screen. The director, Alain Nahum, is a noted photographer, author, and film director. He has entered into the spirit of Modiano's work completely. In Modiano stories, nothing is ever fully resolved, mysteries remain, the searching for people, for one's own past and one's own identity, is an endless process. Modiano often writes about the Nazi Occupation of Paris, but this film is set in the Paris of 1961, just as General Raoul Salan has returned to Algeria to launch his putsch which threatened the French Government and only failed in 1962. An atmosphere of eerie menace and indefinable threats suffuses the story. At every turn, some strange connection with the distant Algerian events is hinted at, but never specified. The main character is a 20 year-old boy named Jean, whose father and mother have both fled the country and abandoned him, and he never expects to see either of them again. He is played by the young actor Théo Frilet, who is perfect for the part. Jean is living in a huge Paris flat where he had once lived with his family, and he has to get out in three weeks. He sells valuables from the flat for small sums to an antique dealer to get enough money to eat. He shares the flat temporarily with his father's business partner, Grabley (played by Hippolyte Girardot), who spends most of his time in the abandoned office burning incriminating papers and files. Neither we nor Jean ever learn what the crimes were or what any of this is about. Jean is called in for an interview at the Paris police headquarters at Quai des Orfèvres and the police ask him if he knew certain people. But their names are unfamiliar to him, so they let him go. A beautiful girl named Marie, aged about 30, is interviewed after him, and he is intrigued, so he waits for her to leave and befriends her. She is played by the alluring Laura Smet, who combines the qualities of childlike innocence with hard-boiled bitterness and a despairing, pessimistic practicality. She has seen a few things, things she would not want to admit to the young Jean, who takes her at face value. She never does answer Jean's questions as to why the police interviewed her, and whether it had any connection with his own interview. They become involved and fall in love. But meanwhile, all sorts of sinister people who surround them are carrying on their wicked designs of which we know nothing, based upon motives which are never explained. Jean likes to show Marie home movies of his childhood, and one of the women about whom the police interrogated him appears in them as a close associate of his father, but because he never knew her name, he does not know that she is the same woman. We know it only because we have seen a scene where Grabley meets with her in the father's deserted office. Everything becomes more and more obscure, and increasingly threatening. Marie pretends to everyone that Jean is her brother, and she calls him Patrick. This is presumably Patrick Modiano's reference to some aspect of himself, not so much one of his inside jokes, but a mysterious inside hint. One never knows with Modiano what the real truth is, and he himself seems not to know it either, for he is always searching for it and never finding it. Perhaps calling Jean by the name of Patrick is Modiano's way of exploring something he has half-forgotten and never fully known. Maybe he writes these stories in order to try to remember things he never knew. Events spiral increasingly out of control. Jean and Marie become involved in a kidnapping, and they also find Grabley lying dead on the floor of the father's office. Did he shoot himself or is the apparent suicide faked by his murderers? Threats are made to Jean by a man who is said to be a police informer but may be a political plotter or may be a gangster, or may be a hired killer. Jean and Marie decide that they too must flee Paris. But things keep coming up which delay their departure. They are driving around in a car loaned to them by a man who seems to be a very dangerous gangster. The plot thickens, and thickens, and still we are not at all clear of the source of the indefinable menace, or what the dangers are, and from where they are coming. All of this is wrapped in the mysterious things of which Jean is in total ignorance, as all the events happen around him. Someone tells him that Marie is really a circus performer, and he sees a photo of her as a star of the Cirque d'Hiver. Marie insists that it is a photo of her sister, whose husband is very violent, jealous and dangerous. There are suggestions that she has been a prostitute. She appears to have no money but wears a stunning fur coat. She then admits to Jean that she has 20,000 francs stashed which she says she has 'saved up' and wants to use for their flight to Rome. Throughout the film, the tension builds continuously in a masterful tour de force by the director and his excellent actors. The mood is impeccable from beginning to end. We are drawn into this mysterious story and wonder if we, or the characters, will ever emerge intact, or even alive. One wonders whether Modiano himself is composed of endless, ill-fitting pieces of some supernatural jigsaw puzzle, bearing an image which he can only vaguely discern, and which can never come into full focus or be wholly comprehended.
This film was made in a studio, as it would have been impossible to shoot it in the real Soho due to the necessity to dig up a whole street, which is the basis for the story. But the greatest attention to authenticity has resulted in accurate shop fronts, signs, polyglot names (the baker is Czech, called Svoboda, which means 'freedom' for those unversed in Czech), products (such as pub ads for Mackeson stout and Cinzano apertitif, which were such firm favourites of that time), and period atmosphere which was then, of course, not 'period' but contemporary. This film records a time when people of all nations speaking many languages lived in Soho and could lift up their sash windows and shout at one another either in other windows or down in the street. In other words, it portrays the genuine street life which existed before television caused everyone to grow taproots which affixed their bottoms firmly to their chairs and sofas (or as the American say, couches). The lead female role is played by the glamorous young actress Belinda Lee, who made 33 films and then met a tragic end in a car crash in America when she was only 25 years old. This long-forgotten film has been rediscovered for DVD release. The film is based upon a novel by Emeric Pressburger, who also produced the film. The director was Julian Amyes, whose career was mostly spent directing for British television. The story is set in a fictional street called St. Anthony's Lane. One day, a team of road workers arrives to dig up the entire street, which will take weeks. One of the road diggers is a ladies' man played by John Gregson. He is very convincing and good for the part. Naturally he and Belinda Lee fall for each other, but not until after a great deal of hesitation and difficulty. At the beginning of the film, Gregson heartlessly dismisses a young girl who has chased him since his last job in another neighbourhood, professing her love for him. She is played by a young Billie Whitelaw, later to become so famous with British audiences, long after Gregson had been forgotten by them. Cyril Cusack plays the whimsical local postman who is also an officer in the Salvation Army. He goes round trying to calm everybody down and offers gentle advice on every conceivable subject. Can Gregson overcome his 'love 'em and leave 'em' attitudes and realize what a prize Belinda Lee is? Or will he break her heart too? Will she and her Italian immigrant family realize their dream of getting visas to emigrate on to Canada? Will Belinda go or stay? The film is a romantic tale and an affectionate portrait of a neighbourhood, and has much to offer concerning its genuine period insight into those now-vanished times.
This long-forgotten film has fortunately been resurrected on DVD and is very amusing to see now, giving us so many glimpses of what things used to be like in that faraway age when people tried to throw what was then considered a wild party. It stars Nancy Kwan, wearing dresses specifically designed for her by Mary Quant and with a hair cut personally invented for her by Vidal Sassoon. Nancy Kwan was a pretty and vivacious half-Chinese Hong Kong girl who had caused a big stir amongst audiences not long before by being 'discovered' and starring in two big hit films, THE WORLD OF SUZIE WONG (1960) and FLOWER DRUM SONG (1961). She was particularly popular in America in the sixties, where she was enthusiastically regarded as a breath of fresh air with an alluringly exotic tang. People thought then that she looked very Chinese, but in retrospect, we can see that she looks only vaguely Chinese, as we have seen so many more of them by now. Three years into her new career, she starred in this film in order to show that she could be an excellent comedienne. She carries it off very well, and readily dominates the screen with her personality. Apart from Kwan, the finest performance in the film is by Betty Marsden, as Mavis, who is spectacularly effective in her supporting role. Marsden was one of the best British character actresses of her time, and she died in 1998. The famous Bessie Love plays Kwan's mother. Love appeared in 246 films during her career, commencing in 1915, and continuing for the next 68 years. She was a true veteran of the silent screen from its very beginnings and she knew and worked with all the legendary creative figures who created the American movie industry. One particularly interesting appearance in the film is by Frank Thornton, an assiduous wine salesmen looking younger but playing exactly the same character as he was later to appear in the TV series ARE YOU BEING SERVED? (1972-1985), which was one of the most hilarious and best loved TV comedy series ever made in Britain. It is fascinating to see Thornton honing that same punctilious persona nine years previously, and doing an excellent job of it too. (Those interested in the origins and history of ARE YOU BEING SERVED?, please note.) I wanted to obtain this DVD because I am interested in the films of director John Krish, and this was one of his early works which no one had seen for decades. I used to know him slightly in the late sixties when he lived in the Vale of Health in Hampstead. I attended the premiere of his film DECLINE AND FALL (1968, from the Waugh novel, see my forthcoming review) at that big cinema in Lower Regent Street which used to be called the Paramount, or perhaps then it had even an earlier name. John was a very nice bloke, and highly talented. I never understood why he did not become a famous director, and remained semi-obscure. He does a good job of directing this 'comic romp', as it would have been called in those days. Terry Thomas has a supporting role, but got star billing because of his fame at that time. He gurns and grimaces but has little else to do. He helped draw the punters into the cinema though. Victor Spinetti has a good part and does well, and Frank Finlay excels as an obstinate drunk who invades a phone booth and accosts someone else who is making a call, and tries to get him to join him for a drink. He does this completely straight, which makes it even funnier. The excellent cinematography was by Arthur Ibbetson, assisted by his trusty operator Paul Wilson. They had a considerable challenge filming most of the story in a very cramped studio set, and I don't know how they managed to squeeze in with their camera sometimes, especially in the scenes where people have passed out on top of one another in heaps at the party, so that even the actors were tripping over them. John Krish wrote the screenplay, from a novel by William Sanson called THE LAST HOURS OF SANDRA LEE. Sanson was a very prolific writer, who died in 1976, and who does not appear to be much remembered today. One of his novels was called PROUST, though whether it was about Marcel Proust or not I cannot say. An article about Sanson appeared in the London INDEPENDENT in 2008 informing us that 'William Sanson was once described as London's closest equivalent to Franz Kafka. He wrote in hallucinatory detail it made his stories hauntingly memorable.' This story is however a comedy, though a satirical one. It might not appeal much to contemporary tastes, but this film met the temper of its time and is very funny when seen in temporal perspective. So much in it which seems unbelievable today was perfectly accurate to what things were like then. Many of the film's characters, now extinct as species, were exactly like that at the time. Yes, such people really existed, though you can hardly believe it now. The film is a real time warp for the manners and mores of 1963 London, shot just months before it became 'Swinging London' (that happened in the autumn of 1963), and released in December, not long after a group of youngsters called the Beatles blew traditional England right out of the water.
This is a superb espionage film set early in the Cold War. Tyrone Power makes the perfect lead, because he always had that quality of looking innocent and puzzled in the trickiest of situations, inevitably summoning plenty of noble resolution while never looking worldly wise about it. In this story, he is a diplomatic courier working for the American State Department. It is his job to carry important diplomatic communications by hand from country to country. He carries them in a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist. He wears two watches at once, one for the time at home and one for the time of his destination. However, Power becomes embroiled in a fantastically complicated espionage affair and ends up being used as a pawn in a complex game of intrigue which few can understand. He become involved with two mysterious women, who may or may not be femmes fatale. One is Patricia Neal, who plays a wealthy American widow on the make. She comes across as too good to be true, and for a while we suspect her of overacting. But then her true nature comes out, and we discover how evil she really is. When she starts playing her character's true self, she is terrifying. The other mysterious woman is played by the German actress Hildegard Neff, a mysterious beauty who was at the peak of her American popularity at this time. The film also features Karl Malden in a supporting role, where he is particularly good and shows the promise of his career which was to come. Much of the film is shot in Trieste, which one of the characters describes as being a hotbed of spies of all kinds, like Lisbon during the War. This film has a great deal of postwar atmosphere and suspense and is only one notch down from the more brilliant works of Hitchcock and Carroll Reed. The director was Henry Hathaway, an old pro who could make the telephone book look interesting, The film is full of double agents, betrayal, duplicity, baffling situations, and murder. The film moves at quite a pace and is never dull for a moment. The availability of this classic now on DVD is a welcome addition to the finer cinematic portrayals of early Cold War paranoia and deception. It is interesting historically as well as cinematically, and we get to see a lot of location shots which evoke the era.
Five years after making his delightful first feature film, THE UNBELIEVABLE TRUTH (1989), Hal Hartley wrote and directed this rather inferior film, his fifth feature. This film certainly has excellent acting by Martin Donovan, Elina Löwensohn, and Isabelle Huppert. (Donovan is still working with Hartley, and has just appeared in Hartley's latest film NED RIFLE (2014).) But Hartley does not pull off the extremely unpleasant story about some pretty unpleasant people. He goes for comedic effects including holding shots for long enough for us to laugh (hopefully), but he overdoes it and the whole thing does not work. Nor would one necessarily want to know what happens to those people anyway. And I for one certainly did not want to laugh about it, because they are all so disgusting that it simply is not funny. The film starts off with Martin Donovan lying in an alley in New York City, apparently dead. Elina Löwensohn is scampering around his body anxiously and then runs off in fear. Donovan then wakes up and can remember nothing, not even who he is. So far, so good, a promising start to an amnesia story. But then Hartley has ludicrously created a character played by Huppert who is an ex-nun who has left her convent and engages in sex fantasies, claiming to Donovan (whom she befriends) that she is a nymphomaniac who is also a virgin. So far not so good. It is too silly, and Huppert's gloomy expressions and attempts to make her character convincing by means of enigmatic frowns are not successful. Then we discover that the unknown persona of Donovan is not Mr. Nice Guy suffering from memory loss, as we have been led to believe, but instead a Mr. Extremely Nasty who murders and maims people and is involved in prostitution rackets. Charming! So we have a violent nutter who is mixed up with a pious nutter and also with a pornography star who is also a nutter, played by the always-intriguing and alluring Löwensohn whose talents are utterly wasted here. And it is all such a waste of time. Hartley should have torn up the hopeless script and written something worthwhile, but instead he went ahead and shot the damned thing. If we are meant to see anything profound in the resulting mess, I have yet to detect it. Time to move on.
This is no classic, but it is amusing and has a period interest. It is also interesting because of two of the performances in it. Bill Travers is seen here in an early role as an unpleasant heavy, completely opposite to the Bill Travers we were later to know on screen. There is a wonderful supporting part for Hermione Baddeley, which needs to be seen by anyone interested in her, as she pulls it off with such professional aplomb and style. She was a very amusing woman. I knew her only slightly. And along with very large numbers of people indeed, I also knew her brother, the charming Reverend William ('Bill') Baddeley, who as Rector of St. James Piccadilly, was prominent in artistic, literary,and social work circles, though many people did not know he was Hermione's brother. Hermione Gingold told me that she and Hermione Baddeley used to do a lot of comedy double acts together and call themselves 'The Two Hermiones'. Apart from having the same first name, they were both as outrageous as each other and were like two comic twins. I wish I had seen them perform together on stage, as it must have been truly hilarious, but that was long before my time. This film has a story about an accountant who gets mixed up in an espionage operation, and it is sufficiently amusing for a rainy afternoon. It has been released on DVD under its alternative title of COUNTERSPY.
This film is certainly the opposite of the usual detective film. Instead of the detective catching the bad guys as a result of being logical, analytical, and clever, the lead character in this film solves crimes by psychic and irrational means. That in itself is a fascinating premise, and if this film had not gone so over the top in places, and had been more subtle, it could have been a very profound film which explored all sorts of interesting implications for the detection of crime. However, the psychic cop is just too bonkers, and extremely annoying. The intention seems to have been to portray him as disturbingly autistic, and to go for some laughs as well. I absolutely hated the Swedish TV series THE BRIDGE (2011) because the lead detective was a woman who was so extremely autistic that the series was intensely annoying and watching it became pointless. This film suffers from the same syndrome, though to a lesser extent. I also think of A BEAUTIFUL MIND (2001) in which a genius is portrayed as an annoying autistic person. Why is it that today so many movies can only portray people who are more intelligent than others by grovelling with apology to the audience for daring to show the mental superiority of character by saying: 'but don't worry, everyone, they are really crazy, and their genius is a pathological aberration, so you don't need to feel inferior.' We certainly do live in an age which could well be called The Triumph of the Lowest Common Denominator. (I say that despite the fact that, education having long since collapsed, there are probably few people left alive apart from professional mathematicians who even know what a denominator is.) In a moronic age, the only genius which is permissible is truly that which is apologetically portrayed as being outrageously insane. Then we can all feel better, can't we? Relaxing in a hot bath of ignorance can be blissful, as we drift into decline as a civilization.
This highly creative and individualistic documentary epic is one of the crowning achievements of its time. It was directed, photographed, edited, and in story segments staged and written, by the amazing Peter Whitehead. How he does it I do not know. In these documentaries of his, he gains the confidence of just about anybody and everybody, and they open up to him and let him film things no one else ever managed to film. The underlying theme of this film is the discontent in the late sixties in America. Although primarily it was the Vietnam War which was the object of protest, that was not the only issue, and there is much prominence given to Martin Luther King's and Robert Kennedy's assassinations, with highly revealing footage, especially of Kennedy (who recurs throughout the film as a continuous strand upon which Whitehead broods) and those assassinations and their aftermaths were certainly not about Viet Nam. The film was mostly made in New York City, but Whitehead shot also in Washington, DC, and at Newark, New Jersey. His footage of the destruction of much of Newark by fire as a result of the riots after King's assassination are astounding, and I do not believe any comparable film record of it exists. In the film it looks much like Aleppo does today. It is doubtful that the American public ever got to see the true extent of the Newark disaster. But the most fantastic part of this film, certainly ranking as one of the finest documentary portraits of its kind in cinema history, is the coverage from the inside of the besieged students at Columbia University. The sit-ins and protests there went on for a long time, initially led by a far-left group called Students for a Democratic Society (known by initials as SDS), led by Mark Rudd, who is seen in the film of course. While the standard coverage of these events was all done from the outside, Whitehead's revealing film is the only record of what took place from the inside. Never has a revolutionary movement been so intimately portrayed, with all its main personalities vividly shown as people. Whitehead is never judgemental, and he is just 'a seeing eye' impartially recording everything. It is incredible to think that he was allowed to do this by a group of frightened revolutionary students under siege, and who were eventually overrun and savagely beaten by the police. They then regrouped and started yet again, and Whitehead records that too. When Whitehead went to New York with the intention of making a documentary about the city, he naturally had no idea that these things were going to happen in the months ahead, and that he would unexpectedly become one of the greatest flies on the wall of documentary history. The film is quirky and highly personal in other linking portions, where Whitehead and his girl friend of the time, Alberta Tiburzi, feature prominently, including in bed kissing and necking. To say that the girl friend is a cheerful exhibitionist is an understatement. She does some of the wildest and most revealing dancing imaginable around their bedroom while Whitehead is trying to listen to broadcasts of dramatic public events on the radio or watch them on the grainy black and white televisions of those days. Intercut in a kind of surrealist manner with many of the documentary segments are also breath-taking shots of going up and down a service elevator on the side of a skyscraper under construction, and one expects to see Gary Cooper at the top, but he is not there. Whitehead staged a truly remarkable surrealistic scene on a New York subway train featuring the top model of the time, Penelope Tree, standing enigmatically and impassively in the train while an infatuated man literally dances around her in mad and fantastic undulations of homage. Whitehead was certainly influenced by the early surrealist films of Man Ray and his friends. He appears to have wanted to show us that the events outside in the real world (assuming the 'real' world is really real, that is) and the bizarre staged events in various inner spaces used by him share in a commensurate level of phantasmagoria. He evidently wishes us to question just how real 'real' things really are. The film is made at a high intellectual plane and much of its apparent incoherence at times is intentional. Of the many famous persons appearing in the film, I have met five: Penelope Tree (who is not credited on IMDb), Arthur Miller, Robert Lowell, Gloria Steinem, and Sammy Davis, Jr., though my conversations with Miller and Davis were cursory and insignificant. It was glorious to see the alluring Gloria Steinem again as she was then, about the time I met her. She was certainly the most glamorous of the feminist activists of those days, and I remember that all the men were chasing her. The film footage of the poet Robert Lowell is deeply touching and apparently unique. There is also revealing footage of Allen Ginsberg, whom Whitehead already knew, as he had filmed him in his earlier documentary, WHOLLY COMMUNION (1965). By no means all of Peter Whitehead's films are listed on IMDb, and of those which are, some have not been reviewed. All of his films are privately preserved, all or most on 35 mm, and let us hope that after half a century of not being seen, this great treasure trove will be released so that the public can marvel at it. His major works have not been publicly available since they were made, although this film THE FALL was prominently shown, though privately, by the 'Occupy' movement on Wall Street in our time, presumably because of the intimate portrait of the Columbia University sit-ins and protests which gave them heart in their own struggle in the same city. The film includes culture, such as conversation with pop artist Robert Rauschenburg.
This is a very fine British family film. Because it is British rather than American, it is not stuffed full of artificial and mawkish sentimentality, but is more effective for being 'straight up'. The central role is played by an excellent child actor named Matthew Beard (born 1989), who since then has appeared in many films and TV series, most recently playing Guy Bellingfield in the rather notorious recent film THE RIOT CLUB (2014), which parodies the Bullingdon Club at Oxford. The young girl who plays opposite Beard is played by Charlotte Wakefield (born 1990), who is also excellent. Since then she has appeared in four TV series. Angeline Ball does an excellent job of playing the highly nervy and objectionable mother of Beard and does some really good hysterical scenes. (Let's hope she does not take her work home with her.) Sturdy Tom Wilkinson is there, like an English oak, supporting the whole effort with his unflappable demeanour as a farmer who is the adoptive father of the girl. Anna Massey plays 'Rosie' and gives a marvellous professional polish to the proceedings, as she did to everything. Of all the actresses I have known, she was certainly one of the nicest and most intelligent. She was married to a delightful, gentle scientist named Uri Andres (who once astounded me by handing me a chunk of kimberlite containing diamonds), having earlier somehow survived marriage to Jeremy Brett, which was evidently not easy. (She also had sadly unsatisfactory relationships with her father and her brother, the actors Raymond Massey and Daniel Massey, so you could say she had a rough time with the male gender for much of her life.) She was a truly fascinating woman. The well-known character actress Dora Bryan has a bit part in this film, and it is a shame we see so little of her. Willard Carroll has done a very good job of directing this film. The story is a 'slip through time' one, where the little boy of today goes back to the days of World War Two and then returns much wiser. It is quite an adventure, and children will love it. The film was shot entirely on location in South Yorkshire, with much beautiful scenery. The film is entirely wholesome, and the coarsest thing in it is milking a cow.
One always wishes for sci fi films to be good, but one is usually disappointed. This Czech film was a brave and ambitious project which just did not deliver. Some of it is so dated and so corny that it is squirm-making. The scene where the cosmonauts are doing a futuristic dance in their spaceship is utterly appalling. If I were not a heroic viewer who rarely gives up, it would have been turned off then. How did I sit through it? Superhuman powers of endurance, I guess. The film is boring and uninspired. It concerns which is meant to be a journey in the future to the nearest star system of Alpha Centauri, where the scientists have convinced themselves that there are at least two planets which might have intelligent life. The space ship contains a crew of thirty people, male and female, and a woman even gives birth on board, with the camera lovingly dwelling on the baby, 'the first baby born outside the solar system'. There is a good moody interlude in the journey when a wrecked spaceship is encountered. Two of the cosmonauts explore the wreck and discover human bodies inside. It was a secret mission launched in 1987 which didn't make it. So that is a bit of action and gives an opportunity for some moody suspense. The rest of the film is set inside the boring spaceship of the main story, the design of which is singularly uninspired. The actors and the acting are boring, the story is boring, the direction is mediocre, and the whole film is a loser. It is interesting to have seen this curiosity, but I cannot say it was a pleasure. The original title is IKARIE XB-1 (Ikarie being Czech for Icarus), the name of the spaceship, and a later title of this film is VOYAGE TO THE END OF THE UNIVERSE. However, as the story does not claim to be a journey to the end of the Universe at all, but only a journey to the nearest star, that title is misleading, to say the least. As the cosmonauts near Alpha Centauri, they encounter a 'dark star' which emits a hitherto unknown radiation, which puts them all to sleep for 19 hours. But that is done in such a corny manner that it is not at all interesting, and one is not in the least concerned as to whether any of those boring actors will ever wake up or not. The people who will really go to sleep because of the dark star are the viewers of this film.
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