Of all the great films in all the world, here's one of the greatest
JOHN GORE, founder of StokeScreen Film Club, with his pick of the films coming to TV (from Saturday, June 26).
It has always been a challenge, making programmes that will engage people in the thick of elite sports coverage, fine weather, inviting gardens, fine wines and good company. Frankly, I get reluctant to shuffle into a cinema at such times, although air conditioning can be a major incentive. As a film programmer, my policy was to recap on things you may have missed (this is your last chance to see...) or go for the classics (I bet you’ve never seen this on the big screen before/since you had your own hair). It worked, at times.
There is a whiff of this in the TV scheduling during Euros/Wimbledon/doubtless also the Olympics. Film4 are running a Star Trek-a-thon on Friday 2 July, the first four features, nose to tail. Meanwhile, C5 is doing the Bridget Jones trilogy. My eye, however, was caught by a trinity of the Hollywood perfection from the 1940s, models to watch and learn by.
I have harped on, at length and recently about Howard Hawks’ His Girl Friday 1939 (Film4 11.00 Mon 28 June). Cary Grant flexes his muscles as the charming and raffish journalist paired with his ex, also a reporter, Rosalind Russell, following the story of an escaped prisoner. The dialogue crackles and races, as is often the case with Grant’s movies, but in Russell he encounters a female co-star who gives as good as she gets, not in the cool, imperious Katherine Hepburn fashion of Bringing Up Baby, but as an equal. It never fails to make me laugh.
Casablanca 1942 (BBC2 16.50 Sat 26 June) pictured above, is the most iconic Hollywood film of its era. This is a film which gets dissected, frame by frame, to teach the art of plotting and screen writing. The balance of romance and melancholy tension and cynicism, the gathering of a microcosm of the heroic and displaced in Morocco, waiting to go somewhere else remains current to this day. Bogart and Bergman are the archetypal romantic couple for wartime. The struggle between self interest and commitment to a cause still resonates. So much so that when Aki Kaurismaki made Le Havre, a film that delighted the StokeScreen audience in our first season, he chose Casablanca as the framework to tell, somewhat ironically, the story of an African boy evading the authorities to escape to England.
Casablanca was one of the first films I saw in digital format. After years of seeing it in fifth or sixth generation, increasingly muddy prints. Here was a print taken directly from the original negative. It shimmers and is radiant. If you can’t see this on the big screen (and I intend to do something about that), then see the digital remastering on the small screen. You will find yourself more familiar with the dialogue than you might imagine – and sing along with Dooley Wilson’s rendition of As Time Goes By.
The next Hollywood classic I saw in digital form was All About Eve 1950 (Talking Pictures TV 20.35 Sat 26 June) in which Bette Davis plays the doyenne of New York theatre at an awards ceremony, finding herself under threat from the next big thing, Ann Baxter. The script is one of the most beautifully crafted exercises in bitchery I have ever heard. Like Davis’ character, Margo, the film heralds the end of an era of classic glamorous Hollywood. With very conscious irony and prescience, in one of her first screen appearances, we find Marilyn Monroe as the ingénue at her first awards events, implying that the cycle of renewal will continue and that the days of Ann Baxter’s pretender to the throne are also numbered. Stunningly lit, it looks beautiful with a galaxy of fabulous frocks. Such films are the embodiment of those they don’t make them like anymore!
They may not make ‘em like that anymore; they make them just as well but differently. I love Almost Famous 2000 (Great Movies (Sony) 21.00 Sat 26 June). Cameron Crowe’s possibly autobiographical tale of a high school kid commissioned by Rolling Stone magazine to go on tour with up-and-coming rock band, Still Water, in the 1970s. This is a portrait of a band on tour at the height of decadence and excess, the roadies, the groupies, drugs and alcohol, but it's also a coming of age story for our oh-so young hero. Patrick Fugit is a suitably wide-eyed innocent who would not be out of place in an 18th century novel, amid a cast of characters played by Frances McDormand, Philip Seymour Hoffmann, Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, and Anna Paquin - a generation of emerging artists revelling in this seductive rock’n’roll carnival.
Captain Fantastic 2016 (BBC2 00.00 Sun 27 June) finds Viggo Mortensen (Lord of the Rings, Green Book) as pater familias of a non-conformist family living outside society. When society comes knocking and insisting that the children go to school and be placed in the charge of his much more conventional
father, the Captain goes to great lengths to remain true to his principles.
Steve Jobs 2015 (5 Select 22.00 Sun 27 June) is an unconventional biopic of the Apple founder by Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) from a script by Aaron Sorkin , writer of The West Wing. This is a life in three product launches between 1984 and 1998. Michael Fassbender plays Jobs, supported by Kate Winslett as his partner and Seth Rogan as Steve Wozniak. It is an ambitious film which draws on human frailties to animate the digital life of a highly creative mind.
Moon 2008 (Great Movies 21.00 Thu 1 July) is an extraordinary post-2001 space movie by Duncan Jones (originally Zowie Bowie). Sam Rockwell is the sole occupant of a lab on the moon, pondering his impending return to Earth and society. With only the computer, GERTY for company, he contemplates how he will adjust. It is haunting and unsettling stuff.
Not a million miles away, is Gravity 2013 (BBC1 20.30 Fri 2 July) Alfonso Cuaron’s incredibly tense tale of a space mission that encounters problems, and the courage and sacrifice made to survive against the odds. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star in what is, possibly, the only 3D movie I have seen that justified the use of the technology. It also works in 2D.
The Western underwent a radical transformation in the 1970s so that those made by Clint Eastwood and Walter Hill et al have a very different perspective and look. Films like Dances with Wolves and Unforgiven pointed in a different direction to the myths of nation building and the taming of the wild/unorthodox/threatening. The world, like the movies, was no longer in black and white. Two of the more interesting examples of recent years are to be seen this week. Tombstone 1993 (Paramount 21.00 Wed 30 June) explores the later years of Wyatt Earp, his brothers and Doc Holliday; Kevin Costner returned to the genre after Dances with Wolves to direct and star in Open Range 2003 (Paramount 15.00 Sat 26 June) which depicts events in the Range Wars and the closing of the wild frontier. If your taste is for something more traditional, then Jean Seberg (A Bout de Souffle) is joined by Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin under a wanderin’ star, in Paint Your Wagon 1969 (BBC2 13.15 Sun 27 June). Not to be confused with the Paul Daniels biopic, Paint Your Wig On.
As Brits of the week, I would recommend Anita and Me 2002 (BBC2 01.00 Mon 28 June) Meera Syall’s autobiographical account of growing up in Wolverhampton in the 1960s and Disobedience 2017 (Film4 23.40 Thu 1 July) in which Rachel Weisz plays the ostracised daughter of an orthodox Jewish family who returns to her North London home to find that feelings have not calmed in the intervening years. It is written and directed by Sebastién Lelio, the Chilean director who made A Fantastic Woman and Gloria, among the best films about love and gender in recent years.
Not for the fainthearted, but there is another chance to see Park Chan-Wook’s The Handmaiden 2016 (Film4 23.10 Wed 30 June), an adaptation of Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, transposed to Japanese-occupied Korea. It is a story of a servant in a powerful family who is engaged in a plot to defraud them. As with much Korean cinema, it is lushly photographed and not afraid to venture graphically into controversial territory.
Misjudgement of the week: Borg v McEnroe 2017 (BBC2 23.05 Fri 2 July). Why would you programme the re-enactment of a classic Wimbledon encounter in the thick of current, contemporary Wimbledon matches and highlights? Preview the tournament, by all means, but why set yourself up in competition with more of the same only fresher?! Whoever programmed this was not one of MY students (I hope!)
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