Tag Archives: Art

#107 – Engineer Species

(2006, GB, 88 min) Dir Alice Werkherser. Cast Anthony Beckett.

“If the world had’ve paid attention to us forty, fifty years ago then we wouldn’t be in the fix we are now,” is the opinion of the infamous Anthony Beckett. Once the head of the Anti-Life Brigade prior to its disbanding in 1975 he is recorded here, at the age of 82, as the head of a newer incarnation of the same idea in PopCon, the Population Control lobbying group. “Pollution, global warming, habitat loss, the massive extinctions we’re witnessing, food shortages, greater war and resource scarcity,” runs his argument, “The one thing that’s causing all of this is us, the engineer species of every Earth environment, and the only way that we could stop it is to reduce the stress we’re placing on those environments. That means at the least some form of population control and, at the extreme end, the liquidation of some of the population. It seems foolish to try and face down the world’s problems without acknowledging this.” The centrepiece of the film is his attendance at the World Population Forum where you get a chance to appreciate how much vitriol he and those of like mind are subject to, both from those who oppose his philosophy and those, like the scary Death for Life organisation, who don’t think he goes far enough. A dark and serious film about a man with very deep convictions that is leavened only by clips of Beckett’s own contribution to film, 1974’s unintentionally hilarious Is Your Life Worth Living?

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#106 – Coeur, Le (Heart, The)

(1975, Sen/Fr, 136 min) Dir Mohammad Bamba. Cast Ousmane Faye, Ismaila Faye, Jimi Faye.

The kind of bizarre, hallucinatory travelogue through African history that one would expect from Mohammad Bamba. From the distant horizon on an unnamed plain come three tribesmen, a grandfather, father and son (played by real life grandfather, father and son Ousamane, Ismalia and Jimi) telling each other stories, whether of myth and legend or of their tribe and their life. As they travel they meet people from every era of African history – including Arab traders, the retinue from a mediaeval kingdom, a broken-down jeep of WW2 soldiers, Victorian prospectors and modern-day revolutionaries – but seem unfazed by this, even when they meet an elephant which claims to be a hunter trapped in that form or a star that has fallen to earth. The film ends as it began, the camera watching the three figures dissolve back into the horizon. An eerie trip which treats its fantasy with a straight face, its closest cinematic relative perhaps being the holy pilgrims of Bunuel’s The Milky Way. The blank landscape feels like a void and there is no music throughout save the sounds of the wind and the grass.

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#103 – Dark Watch, The

(1996, GB/Ire, 105 min) Dir Fintan O’Driscoll. Cast Bob Hoskins, Stephen Rea, Bronagh Gallagher.

Belfast, 1974. Joe Wilson is the head of the Dark Watch in Northern Ireland – a secret regiment deployed into warzones on behalf of the British army to spread superstitious fear. He’s an older man now, a veteran of service against the Mau Mau in Nigeria and various unspecified deployments in South East Asia. Now he’s using the popularity and the scandal of the recent films like The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby and so on to leave evidence of black magic and witchcraft in the bombed out buildings of Belfast and Derry, to instil fear into the population and make them think twice about going out at night. Unfortunately for him this means that Wilson himself is out at night with three decades worth of ghosts in his head. Is this why he’s seeing the devil in the shadows of burned out buildings? Is that why he hears the sound of hooves following him down the empty streets? A fantastically atmospheric chiller with a cracking performance from Hoskins that has the advantage of being filmed on the streets of a Belfast still divided by conflict and marked out O’Driscoll, following the also excellent The Peat Cutters, as a director worth watching. While dismissed by many a critic at the time for the absurdness of it’s premise it has been found, in recent years, to have had a greater basis in fact that might have been supposed.

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#101 – Fusil Rose, Le (Pink Musket, The)

(1976, Fr, 98 min) Dir Catherine Dominique. Cast Adrianna Belle, Jean Fillet, Hans.

Riding the crest of the wave started with Emmanuel, Catherine Dominique traded in art house experimentation for feminist sexploitation with Le Fusil Rose. “Emmanuel, we all hated,” she said in 2010 at a retrospective in Berlin, “I wanted to make a film where the woman make the choice, you understand? Like me, in life.” A discussion of Dominique’s life is better left for a review of Madame D, the documentary about her, but it’s hard to miss the parallels between this and it, even though Le Fusil Rose centres around a female highwayman character and not a twentieth-century film director. Like Dominique, the Pink Musket is in reality the sweet and mild daughter of a landowner. The both of them dressed up to go out at night and take what they wanted  from men – Dominique using the power of her body over them and the Pink Musket her weapon. Both also had the law on their tails but for Dominique it was for the provocations of her art and unlike the Pink Musket it never came in the form of Jean Fillet and his swimmer’s physique. At the end of the film he and the Pink Musket come face to face in a battle of physical strength that is far removed from the kind that you would expect at the end of a Clint Eastwood movie for example. Brazenly erotic and unashamedly political it’s great to see Dominique enjoying a resurgence of interest in recent years.

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#100 – One Hundred Years From Now

(1914, GB, 104 min, b/w) Dir Albert Adlington. Cast Herbert Baum, Eleanor Tatchell, Simon Fisk.

A large budget production for the time – partly funded by entrepreneur and utopian Sir Robert Sockton-Mogg – detailing the glorious future that lay ahead for the British Empire. As ever with these kinds of films it’s as entertaining to see what they got wrong as they did right. In the former camp there are the fashions which have remained curiously immobile from the Edwardian era and the biplanes that everyone has in their driveway. More poignant is the idea the film predicts that in 2014 that the British Empire would be celebrating one hundred years of peace and stability around the world but of course how could they have then predicted the First and Second World Wars, the dissolution of the Empire and all that followed. What they got right is interesting with a ‘Cinematograph’ is on the wall in every home like a flat screen TV, for example, or submarines travelling the oceans. Besides this and some ahead of their time special effects the film isn’t great, as stodgy to sit through as 1933’s similar Things to Come. It remains a valuable cultural artefact however and the mostly complete silver nitrate print in the BFI’s library is a wonder to behold. Maybe not perfect but a historical moment for sure.

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#99 – 99 Red Balloons

(1993, GB, 101 min) Dir Adrian Fisher. Cast Alan Paul, Peter Capaldi, Susan Trevlyn.

The threat of nuclear annihilation had only just dissipated when, ever the contrarian, Adrian Fisher produced this, a strange kind of love story to the spectre of mutually assured destruction. It’s 1984 and Harvey’s parents are building a bomb shelter in the back yard. He’s doesn’t see this as some dire portent of doom however – on the contrary he finds the prospect of nuclear war very exciting, dreaming of a bright and beautiful mushroom cloud filling the skies over his hometown and telling his teacher that his classes don’t matter because he and all the other children will be dead before they’re grown up. When a teacher finds his notebook filled with drawings of atomic explosions, crumbling buildings and irradiated corpses with their skin melting off they naturally call in his parents who it turns out are just as pessimistic as their son. Of course this being a Fisher film the fantastical is never far away with their neighbour across the road being, as Harvey sees it, a Soviet communist spy who, again as Harvey sees it, must be encouraged to endanger everyone’s life and trigger the inevitable apocalypse. This was produced on the back of the surprise success of By the Light of the Blood Moon and the bigger budget is certainly visible. The titular song gets a good workout too, embodying Harvey’s ideal of happiness in destruction.

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#98 – Grandfather Clock

(1976, US, 73 min) Dir Dean Wold.

An altogether more down to earth follow-up from Dean Wold after his unintentionally trippy Walking on a Moonbeam and intentionally so: “I never approved of the attention I received from the so-called hippy community,” said Wold in his last pre-seclusion interview in 1978, “They couldn’t conceive of the process of producing an animated film or how difficult it would be to make on mind altering substances – of which I have never tried, I hasten to add. The fact that Moonbeam was quite obviously indebted to Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo was completely lost on them too.” In addition to this Moonbeam, despite its popularity, didn’t make Wold a whole lot of money and this seems to have been a conscious attempt at a more mainstream kind of film, as unsuccessful and misguided as that attempt turned out to be. Based on the Danish folk tale ‘The Knowledgeable Birch’, Grandfather Clock finds young Harris and Daisy mourning the death of their Grandfather Pip only to hit on the idea that his spirit has taken residence in the titular timepiece that their parents have just bought. The two children, behind the backs of their parents, start reading the clock stories, leaving food in it and even take it out in their sled – basically behaving as though it were another family member. Of course this can’t go unnoticed from their parents for long… A fantastically evocative soundtrack from renowned flautist Avlar Biskint complements the deliberate pace and earthy, melancholy palette of this sweet and sad little film which broke the heart of a whole generation while on heavy public television rotation in the eighties.

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#97 – Walking on a Moonbeam

(1968, US/Fr, 80 min) Dir Dean Wold.

After a proposed Little Nemo feature fell through Dean Wold had to span the Atlantic for his first feature, the funds for an idiosyncratic non-Disney animation such as this not immediately forthcoming in his home country. Whether this contributed to his decision for the film to be entirely dialogue free is open to debate – the man himself has given contradictory accounts in his rare interviews. Either way the decision works and no doubt contributed, along with the stream of consciousness plotting, to the film being embraced by the counter-culture on its release. Not that this isn’t a children’s film because it most certainly is. A unnamed boy is woken in the night by a beam of moonlight under his bedroom window’s blind. He pulls up the blind to investigate further and sees, to his surprise, a cat outside the window frolicking on the beam as though it were a solid road leading to the moon. He lifts the sash window and tentatively steps out to follow the scampering kitten and ends up travelling all the way to the moon where it appears all manner of creatures live – men made of melting cheese, hot air balloon heads floating through the skies and, in a fit of virtuoso animation, a ball room made of shimmering glass populated by similarly glistening glass dancers. As this description might suggest the influence of Nemo is writ large here. These adventures end with the boy back in his bed, tucked in for his parents to find him in the morning, both of them baffled by the appearance of a new pet cat in his room. A charming and inventively made film that brought the unknown Wold to the world’s attention.

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#96 – Why We Hibernate!

(1963, US, 24 min) Dir Dean Wold

A nice little educational film made by the now famous but then not Dean Wold about the mechanics of a world in which people, along with animals, hibernate during the winter. Young Donny is excited about the upcoming Hibernation Day and goes with his Mom to the supermarket during the Hibernation Sales so that they can stock up for the big meal before sleeping and get Donnie his very first nesting bed. “You’re too big to be hibernating with your parents now Donnie!” says his Mom as she and the salesman fit him out for the bed (which is kind of like if an overstuffed sleeping bag and a dinghy had a child). Back home Dad is getting his and Mom’s nesting beds out of the attic. They all sit down for their last big meal and then Mom sends Donnie to his nest with a snack pack in case he wakes up hungry during the winter. Along the way various facts about hibernation are doled out as Donnie learns all about it – the biological reasons for it (such as they were understood), the different animals that do it and so on. The film ends with the reveal that this is just a day-dream by the real Donnie, sitting in his classroom with the bare trees and snowy ground outside the window. A bit rough around the edges but with enough of that playful, colourful Dean Wold touch.

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#89 – Dans la Vallée Ouverte avec le Soleil (In the Open Valley, with the Sun)

(1968, Fr, 97 min) Dir Jean Anno. Cast Patrice Melaud, Sandy.

A very of its time wigged-out hippy film, shot in France’s arid Biscot valley with a soundtrack of droney jams provided by Parisian proto proggers, Le Mog. Hunky young Patrice Melaud is, like, totally stifled by his bourgeois existence in the suburbs where every apartment block is like a cage, man. Into his life comes the free, keen and mononymous Sandy who, with frequent nudity and skills with the flute, leads him out to the totally amazing commune where she lives. From then on its dreamy montage a go-go as the beautiful young couple frolic in the countryside with their lovely hippy chums. Of course it’s ’68 and beyond the screen are the May riots and Vietnam so the film has to end, like Bonnie and Clyde the year before and Easy Rider the year after, in blood and fire with the Man and his fascist storm trooper policemen raiding the commune and, like, totally killing everyone to bits while Le Mog wail doomily in the background. In case you hadn’t already guessed this is a very sixties film and your ability to enjoy it will depend very much on your tolerance for the wishy-washiest kind of hippy nonsense and while there are salvageable aspects to the likes of Zabriskie Point, Jean Anno is no Antonioni.

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