How reporters' scoops brought down a president
JOHN GORE, founder of StokeScreen Film Club, with his latest pick of the movies coming to TV (from Jan 17).
It is presidential inauguration week where we wave goodbye to Trumpolini and welcome a new and uncertain future. To mark the occasion, the BBC have dusted off All the President’s Men 1976 (BBC1
00.05 Sun 17 Jan & BBC4 21.00 Thu 21 Jan) to remind us of a time when a free press could unmask serious breaches in ethics and political practise and the public would be shocked, not stoical. Alan J Pakula’s 1976 award winner caught the mood of the time in expressing the general disgust of Americans at the dirty tricks of President Nixon and the Watergate Hotel burglars. Screenwriter, William Goldman (Butch Cassidy, Misery, The Princess Bride) stepped away from the fantastic to expound on real events, which seemed just as unbelievable as his previous screenplays. It also confirmed Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman (pictured above) as guarantee of box office gold for several years to come.
Echoing this mood of political change, there are a couple of other, less obvious critiques of American society. George A Romero began his zombie cycle in 1969 with Night of the Living Dead, which used the horror metaphor to comment on racism. His Land of the Dead 2005 (Horror 21.00 Sat 17 Jan), which is the one that I have not yet seen, takes, as its departure point, the country overrun by the walking dead and the living besieged in one city. He has a macabre satirical wit, plays with the conventions of the genre and succeeds in balancing social comment with audience expectations for a zombie movie.
On a more everyday level, Andrew Garfield (lately Spiderman) and the wonderful Michael Shannon, star in 99 Homes 2014 (BBC2 22.20 Sun 17 Jan). Garfield plays David Nash, unemployed single parent who seeks to save his home from repossession by working for the bailiffs in sunny Florida, until the worm turns. This would be Ken Loach territory in the UK. It makes a fascinating comparison to see the American context, although the outcome is not too different.
My film of the week is A Hard Day’s Night 1964 (BBC2 02.05 Sun 17 Jan and BBC4 22.00 Mon 18 Jan). This was the first live action film I ever saw in the cinema. It changed my life. I went because it was all about the Beatles. (My mum went because she drew the short straw and someone had to accompany me). Little did I realise, until considerably later, that we had been pitched into a British version of the French New Wave: a freewheeling script, non-professional actors (albeit performers), shooting on location and a sense of youthful rebellion. It was also a notable precursor to the pop video. What I knew, as I walked out of the cinema, is that I did not want this energy and joie de vivre to stop. It will not have the same impact on TV unless you use your imagination but there are plenty of classic hits and moptop Scouse banter.
Interestingly, around the time that Richard Lester made this movie, pioneers of American Cinéma Verité, the Maysles Brothers, were also working on a film capturing the phenomenon of Beatlemania. Mysteriously, at the time, the Maysles film never materialised but when you see clips from it, which have been used in subsequent documentaries, it bears an extraordinary similarity to scenes that appear in this film. Can’t buy me love, but you might be able to buy my silence!
Ahead of the screening on Monday night is the next episode of Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema series (BBC4 21.00 Mon 18 Jan). Mark is lucid, knowledgeable, and very entertaining, and knows his music almost as well as he knows his films, so this is another opportunity to learn more about the workings of cinema.
A Bigger Splash 2015 (Channel4 00.55 Mon 18 Jan) moves the clock forward 50 years to study a rock star and her partner, holidaying in Italy, being joined by her ex, a strung-out record producer and his daughter. This is a film by Luca Guadagnino (We Are Who We Are, Call Me By Your Name) who has a distinct look to his films. The action unfolds gradually in glorious, sun drenched Italian landscapes, Tilda Swinton plays a suitably androgynous rock star, Ralph Fiennes, a plausibly wasted ex, Dakota Johnson, before the 50 Shades series as the brattish daughter. It all feels quite operatic.
Musical of the week, however, is Sing Street 2016 (Film4 00.50 Tue 19 Jan), a delightful tale of first love and rock’n’roll in Dublin in the 1980s; get the band together to win the girl. The things we do for love!
Comedy of the week – and just about any week, is His Girl Friday 1940 (Film4 16.50 Wed 20 Jan), adapted from the stage play The Front Page by the incomparable Howard Hawks. Being Hawks, he changes one of the male lead’s gender to female and pitches Cary Grant, master of the quickfire repartee with Rosalind Russell, who gives as good as she gets. It is consistently funny and delights in the chemistry of its two leads fencing verbally with one another.
A couple of other classic comedies to enjoy or revisit are the Ealing evergreen, The Ladykillers 1955 (Film4 15.10 Mon 18 Jan) where Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers are among the unlikely quintet of bank robbers masquerading as musicians to fox their landlady. Our Man in Havana 1959 (Sony Classics 21.00 Thu 21 Jan) finds Alec Guinness, this time as a vacuum cleaner salesman working for British intelligence, embroidering the truth to gain the standard of living that his wife and daughter expect of him. Graham Greene adapted his own novel for the movie.
Benjamin 2018 (Film4 23.05 Mon 18 Jan) is Simon Amstell’s second feature in which an aspiring film maker has just completed his second feature and finds himself in turmoil at the possibility of a new romance. Any similarity between the characters depicted in this film and real persons is purely accidental, of course! Colin Morgan (Merlin) plays Benjamin.
Heartwarmer of the week would be David Lynch’s (yes, really!) The Straight Story 1999 (Film4 11.00 Mon 18 Jan) in which an elderly man, Richard Farnsworth, makes the long journey across the States by lawnmower to make peace with his long estranged brother.
As for the forin muck, there is some, at last, this week. Timbuktu 2014 (BBC2 01.50 Sat 23 Jan) is an eye-opening account of a farmer and his family tending the herd whose lives are disrupted by the arrival of jihadists in their region. Without political agenda or prejudice, this film puts flesh on the bones of an all too familiar story of ordinary folk who would prefer to be left alone and rely on common sense over ideology.
As ever, it is always good to hear back from you, so please put your thoughts down and send them to us at Stokescreenfilmclub@aol.com Favebook: StokeScreen at CNWSC and www.StokeScreen.uk