Here's to looking at you, kid, and other movie classics
I was all set to remind you of the resumption of Smokescreen performances on 24 September when restrictions on social gatherings were announced earlier this week. That’s put the tin hat on that, for now. Much weeping, wailing and wringing of hands. We shall be back, just not quite yet. Watch this space.
Anyway, what do you mean, you’ve never seen Casablanca? (BBC2 20.00 Sun 13 Sep). This is your chance. A story of refugees holed up in Morocco, waiting for their chance to sail to America/the Promised Land, welcoming refugees from all over the world. It is a story of love, loss, loyalty and standing up for what is right. It has the classic Hollywood script, casting of alchemical mastery and one of the greatest screen songs, sung by Dooley Wilson, As Time Goes By. Why is this not more of a standard? Because he played it to perfection.
This is one of the first films I saw projected digitally. After years of seeing muddy fourth or fifth generation prints on 16mm or television, I was overwhelmed by the quality of the lighting and the textures of lustrous black and white. There have been many attempts to recreate the magic conjured by this film in later productions but this is the genuine article. You have this to look forward to, you lucky people!
On a wartime theme, there are two impressive documentaries on offer. Spitfire (BBC4 21.00 Mon 14 Sep) is the biography of one of the greatest fighter planes of the era whose appeal stretches beyond anoraked enthusiasts. I Was a Fireman (TPTV 12.25 Mon 14 Sep) aka Fires Were Started is an homage to the fire service that dealt with the consequences of the Blitz in London. It is directed by Humphrey Jennings, the father of British documentary. The film pioneers many of the techniques we now take for granted as well as bringing reality and human interest to its subjects where other, lesser contemporaries would have slid into propaganda.
Contemporary with Jennings was Michael Powell, whose films have been screening over the last couple of weeks. This week, it is the turn of one of the great dance movies, The Red Shoes (BBC2 11.00 Sat 12 Sep) with Moira Shearer twinkling her toes for Anton Walbrook, her tyrannical ballet master. Later that same day, is Powell and Pressburger’s The Battle Tof the River Plate (BBC2 16.35 Sat 12 Sep), a re-enactment of the first major engagement of WW2, as the Royal Navy (including a young Anthony Quayle) seeks to sink the German battleship, the Graf Spee.
Back in the time that life is lived in full colour, Christopher Nolan’s Memento (BBC2 21.45 Sat 12 Sep) finds him stretching his wings exploring memory through a protagonist in a murder scenario who is suffering from amnesia. Guy Pearce (LA Confidential, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) and Carrie Ann Moss (Matrix) explore the maze of memory and allow Nolan to begin on his path to constructing the convoluted narratives of Inception and Tenet. This is a bit more straightforward, unfolding backwards and really rather good.
Another maverick director, Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast) left a deep impression on me with Under the Skin (Film4 00.55 Sun 13 Sep), a sci-fi thriller of a predatory seductress (Scarlett Johansson) laying waste to the innocent male youth of Glasgow. This is a film which transcends genre by giving its ‘monster’ a journey of self realisation as well as moments of minimal but dazzlingly original cinema. I hope he gets to make more movies.
Do you want to have a laugh? Galaxy Quest (5Star 21.00 Fri 18 Sep) is a delicious send up of Star Trek and others of its ilk. Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman lead a motley crew of actors in a TV series which is intercepted by aliens, who mistake it as a documentary and send out desperate pleas for help in their hour of greatest need. Do they respond to this beseeching? Yes, but only by accident. You don’t have to love sci-fi to enjoy this film but it will make you laugh all the harder if you do.
In contrast, Hideko Kore Edo is one of my favourite film makers of the moment. He is reason enough to watch a movie. He has a profound understanding of families and human nature. After the Storm (BBC2 00.35 Sun 13 Sep) is, on the face of it, the story of a private detective but one whose family have effectively given up on him. This is the story of his efforts to reconnect with his wife and son. The problems and emotions are universal.
Ingrid Goes West (5Star 21.00 Wed 16 Sep) is a tale for our times where an internet influencer Elizabeth Olsen (Wind River) is stalked by a less than adequately hinged stalker. Not all approbation is healthy and things take a turn for the scary and unsettling. This is comedy with an edge.
The Drop (Channel4 00.05 Sat 19 Sep) is an underrated drama, a study of a barman (Tom Hardy) who gets himself caught up in local gangster activities as his bar is used as the site for deliveries of cash from protection rackets. Uncle, James Gandolfini (The Sopranos) may not be the upright citizen he thinks and a web of complex relationships entangle our hero. This is a thoughtful view of escaping the past and surviving in a ‘challenging’ neighbourhood.
Bait (Film4 23.20 Thur 17 Sep) has been the buzz at the BFI this year. Shot in black and white out of choice, it is a gritty realist tale of two brothers in a Cornish fishing village, one of whom is a fisherman without a boat, the other has the boat which he uses to take tourists out. Here are two ways of life in conflict with one another. I have yet to see this but it promises to take us somewhere new within our own country.
I have been working on a portrait of veteran actor, Earl Cameron, who lived in Kenilworth, for the Kenilworth Arts Festival (18 – 26 September 2020) www.kenilworthartsfestival.co.uk. Earl died in July at the age of 102 leaving a legacy of films and TV over seven decades. His breakthrough movie, Pool of London screens on Talking Pictures TV 18.45 Fri 18 Sep. It is an early exploration of race relations in post war Britain.
I know nothing of Captain Boycott (TPTV 11.25 Sun 13 Sep) from the revered British production team of Launder and Gilliat but it is set in Ireland in the 1880s, revolves around rebellious workers and stars Stewart Granger. I know little more of The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (Film4 13.05 Fri 15 Sep) except that it is by Preston Sturges, who made the wonderful Sullivan’s Travels and has a lovely line in irony. This is a wartime story of the mysterious pregnancy of a young woman after attending a party for GIs. These were, clearly, more innocent times.
What do you mean, you’ve never seen Trainspotting? (Film4 22.55 Sun 12 Sep). Now’s your chance. Bangin’ choons on the soundtrack including Born Slippy by Underground ‘singin’ lagerlagerlagerlager. Four young Edinburghers seeking the Promised Land in chemical form...
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