Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Film reviews posted on rental website

These brief reviews are available on the LoveFilm website but I thought I would gather them together here as they are now buried under many others. A version of the 'Yella' one also appeared in Fortean Times. There was no particular reason why I decided to write about these films rather than any of the others I rented.

One rather strange thing is worth mentioning. I liken Frank Randle to Count Arthur Strong. Unfortunately I managed to catch part of one of Count Arthur's shows on Radio 4 last year, and I swear that at one point he whispered "Frank Randle", apropos of nothing. For a spooky moment I thought he might be addressing me personally but dismissed the idea quickly on the grounds that if your radio starts talking to you, you really are in trouble.

1 The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1926)

What a poor way to treat a classic

Hitchcock has been poorly served by the distributors here. This is a fine film with tremendous atmosphere and a lingering sense of menace. The shots of Novello taken from underneath, walking on the floor above, and hanging from the railings at the end are both superb - this is probably Novello's best film work, including The Rat.

But the treatment is appalling! The London Fog is far foggier than it need be because of the inept transfer and the music is off the shelf and stuck on anyhow with no feeling for mood or rhythm. I can sympathise with those who couldn't watch it to the end because they have been poorly served.

Eureka can do wonders with a film like this,but even if there is no money for that kind of restoration (though I find that hard to believe) there should be a law against this kind of release. Pat Hitchcock should complain!

In the meantime, turn down the volume and try to ignore the fuzzy image, it's a great story, told with skills picked up by Hitchcock from the Expressionists in Germany, and containing a superb performanace by Novello, full of ambiguity.

Tom Ruffles from Cambridge
Posted 06 Sep 2006 13:52

2 Mouchette (1967)

Girl on the edge...

Mouchette is a loner, unloved at home where she is put upon by her family, nursing her ill mother and baby brother while her father and brother take her for granted, her father even taking the earnings from her part-time cafe job. And because she is slightly rebellious, poorly socialised or even just poor, she is despised and ostracised at school while pitied and patronised by the village's adults. The cinematography lovingly documents her world, its drudgery, the humiliations she endures, her father and brother's bootlegging, the rivalry between the gamekeeper and the poacher and Mouchette's fleeting pleasure at a funfair and the possibility of engagement with someone her own age that is rudely disrupted by her boorish father.

Portraying Mouchette as a victim of ignorance and poverty is legitimate, but I would query Bresson's treatment of her. There is an uncomfortable eroticism here that is voyeuristic and exploitative. In the rape scene she is shown to grip her assailant tightly, as if enjoying the experience, precisely the problem that Peckinpah ran into with Straw Dogs (though Mouchette is not nearly as graphic). Also there are a large number of shots of her thighs and stockings (typical legwear for young teenagers even in rural France in 1967?). Bresson in his misogyny becomes complicit in the ill-treatment meted out to her.

Mouchette herself shows sparks of rebellion, refusing to sing in class, throwing clods of soil at classmates and refusing to be patronised or censured. But it is hard to see what sort of future she would have in this community. A positive outcome would be to suggest that she would leave the village on one of the lorries that incessantly run past her front door, but instead it ends badly, if implausibly. The repressive patriarchal order is maintained at the expense of the individual, young and female. It reminded me of Renoir's La Regle du Jeu (probably the gamekeeper and the luminous depiction of the countryside) and it extended Renoir's points about the aristocracy to the marginalised lumpenproletariat and petit bourgeoisie. There is plenty of suffering here but no redemption on offer.

Tom Ruffles from Cambridge
Posted 02 Oct 2006 13:24

3 Most helpful member's review of It's a Grand Life (1953)

Dreary 'comedy'

This ranks high among the worst films I have ever seen. It seemed interminable, with the astonishingly unfunny Frank Randle mugging and gurning with his equally idiotic stooges. He was clearly the 1950s Count Arthur Strong, and just as dire. The only bright spots are Diana Dors, a class act who deserved better than this, and the wonderful Winifred Atwell, who comes on in the last few minutes to vamp her piano, but too late to retrieve the proceedings.

As for the rest, it was supposed to be a gentle burlesque on National Service life, with the nasty old lascivious sergeant-major as straight man getting his come-uppance, but was actually a parade of awful music-hall bits of business that must have felt dated before the start of the First World War. Only when the focus shifts from Frank and the boys to the Diana Dors subplot does the film pick up, but only because there’s less of Frank.

Thank goodness the Soviets didn’t see this film. If they had taken this as an indication of the strength of Her Majesty’s forces, we might all be speaking Russian now. The wonderful thing about DVD is that it resurrects forgotten gems for a new generation. But sometimes films are forgotten for a reason. Only bother with this if you did National Service and feel nostalgic, or are a film studies type that needs a comprehensive knowledge of British cinema of the period, and then be prepared to grit your teeth. Take it from me that this was not our finest hour.

TomRuffles from Cambridge
Posted 21 Feb 2008 12:33

4 Yella (2007)

Why accountancy is not boring

Starring: Nina Hoss, Devid Striesow, Hinnerk Schonemann
Director: Christian Petzold

Based loosely on Herk Hervey's acclaimed low-budget 1962 horror Carnival of Souls (even down to the moments of silence and apparent invisibility that so unnerve the heroine in each case), Yella is not as easily pegged as a genre piece.

Yella (Nina Hoss), emerging from a river into which her estranged husband has driven them from a bridge, leaves home in East Germany and falls in with a slick businessman. She agrees to participate in his scams despite nervousness caused by the sudden appearances - and just as sudden disappearances - of her husband.

More sophisticated, though less visceral, than its predecessor, Petzold eschews Hervey's blatant attempt to create an increasingly bizarre environment for his heroine. Instead he balances uncanny moments with the everyday world of corporate finance.

The occasional puncturing of the normal if depopulated world in which Yella passively moves gives the film a slow, oneiric feel. The payoff is easy to spot early on, but the eerie atmosphere and Hoss's ghostlike performance hold the attention until the watery denouement.

Posted 21 Feb 2008

5 Russian Ark (2002)

Beautiful but cold

Russian Ark is often billed (including in its trailer) as the first film shot as a single continuous take. I should think Mike Figgis gets fed up whenever he hears this, considering that he released Timecode a full two years earlier, another film recorded as a single take, except with four cameras and the added problem (superbly executed) of having to ensure that the cameras did not appear in each other's shots, and having to edit the sound so that it was not a cacophonous mess.

Admittedly Aleksandr Sokurov's effort is on a far bigger canvas (an expression appropriate to the stunning Hermitage location), but the cast of thousands exposes it for the technical exercise it is. There are times when the camera swings round so wildly to capture interchanges you wonder how the cinematographer didn't fall over, when a simple cut would have been much more effective. You have to admire the stamina necessary to carry the camera for that length of time, but stamina does not necessarily make it art.

Andre Bazin would have loved this film as an example of an unmediated slice of reality which the viewer is free to interpret, but Russian Ark demonstrates by its lack how cutting enables us to get closer to the characters, for example by its ability to isolate gestures that tell us something about the gesturer. Instead the characters parade through, including Catherine the Great and Nicholas and Alexandra, complete with family at dinner, but we never feel that we know them. They become bit-players in their own drama as the never-still camera caresses their surfaces before moving off to the next group of actors. There is so much bustle in the set pieces, caused by the conceit of collapsing three hundred years into less than two hours, that the film starts to take on the characteristics of a computer game, and the costumes upstage the actors in them.

The cleverest device is having the camera stand in for the narrator, circumventing the problem of actors looking at the camera, which happens frequently. The film is not quite the exercise in crowd control that the statistics would suggest, because for much of the time we follow our protagonist down endless corridors, where the paintings are more animated than the actors, some of whom are surprisingly amateurish. An impressive film certainly, but somewhat pointless.

TomRuffles from Cambridge
Posted 13 Aug 2009 10:39