Tag Archives: Drama

#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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#91 – Peat Cutters, The

(1992, Ire, 91 min) Dir Fintan O’Driscoll. Cast Stephen Rea, Colm Meaney.

Bluff, bolshie Pat (Rea) and quiet, thoughtful Michael (Meaney) are peat cutters in the West of Ireland beginning another day’s shift in the bleak midwinter morning, the uniformity of the grey sky overhead mirrored by the open vastness of the bog around them. Their day is only just begun when Michael turns over a sod to find the leathered face of a long dead bog person within. As there’s nothing they can do with the body until they’re picked up at the end of their shift they leave it in the ground where they found it and go back to their work. Pat laughs off their find but Michael seems shaken by it and takes to speculating about it. Then he starts to talk about a figure, just on the horizon, that Pat can’t see and Pat can’t laugh that off. A spooky little number that gives away little and uses its location, which is like a blasted void or like limbo, to its fullest with director O’Driscoll – who is best known in the theatre – showing a knack for image making alongside his expected strengths with the actors. It’s refreshing to see both leads playing against type too, apparently as a result of a last-minute switch the week before shoot started.

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#90 – Duke of St Elizabeth’s, The

(1998, US, 119 min) Dir John Falco. Cast Peter Fonda, Edward Furlong, Steve Buscemi, Elliott Gould.

For about five minutes there at the tail end of the nineties John Falco was the Happy, Texas of film directors – much feted but little seen. Much like Happy, Texas he failed to live up to the hype but how could he have when The Duke of St Elizabeth’s was to be his introduction to the film world? It’s not a bad film, not by any stretch, but it’s a gentle, ambling comedy drama completely devoid of conflict and edge – it’s no Reservoir Dogs or Pi to be sure. Along with the previous year’s Ulee’s Gold (which was also much praised and little seen) this was supposed to seal the deal for Peter Fonda’s return to mainstream filmmaking but for a comeback the man seems curiously disengaged as burnt out rock legend Bob Stranger who has been in residence in St Elizabeth’s Rehabilitation Centre since 1983. It’s possible this alienation is intentional but I can’t say it works, especially as he’s supposed to be bonding with young speed freak Eddie (Furlong). The rest of the cast contribute well enough with Buscemi’s recovering coke addict and Gould’s tired psychiatrist coming out the best of a good bunch. Poor Falco though – he wasn’t even big enough in those fifteen minutes to warrant inclusion in the occasional ‘Where Are They Now?’ articles but seems to be doing well enough these days in the world of television.

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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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#76 – One Huge Beach

(1955, Aust, 95 min, b/w) Dir Ralph Robinson. Cast Rod Taylor, Diane Cilento.

Max (Taylor) lives alone on the beach in his shack overlooking the tide. Every morning he goes out to fish for food and see what’s been tossed up by the surf. One day finds a metal pod of some kind and through the glass portal on the front he can see that there is someone inside. He drags it back up to his shack and eventually breaks it open to reveal the young woman (Cilento) inside who wakes once the seal is broken. He nurses her back to health and returns from his beachcombing one morning to find her awake and sitting up. She is Valeria Pross and as she tells it she was put into what she calls her “lifeboat” back in 1975 when the war started. Max is confused – he doesn’t know of any war. “What year is it now?” she asks him but he doesn’t know. “But how did you get here?” she tries but incurious Max just shrugs. “My parents had me,” he says, “But they’re dead now.” She convinces him to join her in setting off from the beach in search of civilisation but, as they find, the whole world has been laid to waste by the nuclear war they have survived, turning it into an unending landscape of impassive irradiated sand – sand that is slowly killing her but that Max has grown up immune to. “You mean,” says Max, sifting a handful and furrowing his brow, “You mean the whole world has been turned into one huge beach?” But of course for him there is no loss – he’s never known it any other way.

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#75 – Rivers of Blood

(1970, UK, 48 min, b/w) Dir Ted Malcolm

Shot for the BBC and set in 1983 Malcolm’s film, as the title might suggest, takes as its starting point Enoch Powell’s infamous 1968 speech to hypothesise a right wing anti-immigration victory in British politics and what that would mean for Britain. This gritty docudrama crosscuts between footage of the Dover camps in 1983 as shot by a news crew of the time where West Indian and Pakistani deportees are interviewed and talking head sections where historians and politicians detail the mechanics of racialist policies both historically and contemporaneously. Notable by his absence, unsurprisingly, is Powell himself. Malcolm found himself following in his compatriot Peter Watkins’ docudrama footsteps in more ways than one with his film as it was not broadcast in the year of its making (an election year with a Tory win) but was instead “shelved indefinitely”. It has only been seen since as part of film festivals or retrospectives but, as of writing, has never screened nationally or been released on DVD or video. That could all change and were it to be belatedly released it would underline it’s continued relevance now that immigration has once again come to define British politics.

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#72 – Sadist, Der (Sadist, The)

(1978, WGer, 120 min) Dir Hans Berg. Cast Jean-Louis Trintignant, Jürgen Prochnow.

Named after the non-fiction book by psychiatrist Karl Berg (no relation to the director) about the life and crimes of notorious serial killer Peter Kürten who had previously been immortalised on the screen as the inspiration for the killer played by Peter Lorre in Fritz Lang’s M. The film begins as a two-hander between Kürten (Trintignant) and Berg (Prochnow) as the former details his life to that point. Trintignant is impeccable as Kürten, betraying no emotion on the surface, his excitement at recounting his terrible deeds manifest as nothing more than a dull glint in his eye. The only distraction to his performance is the imperfect dubbing which occasionally serves to flub the odd dramatic moment. The flashbacks are the model of restraint, with Kürten’s words painting the picture and not the camera which makes it all the more absurd that the film spent six months being banned in it’s home country before an outcry saw this decision overturned. This was the first film that showed the future promise of director Berg – he was previously known for two entires in the awful Dieter film series about a dictatorish child but would go on to have a distinguished career in the decade ahead.

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#70 – Dans le mur (In the Walls)

(1990, Fr, 129 min) Dir Roland Sacher. Cast Daniel Auteuil, Jean Rochefort, Emmanuelle Béart.

French thriller about famed neuroscientist Paul Mauchard (Auteuil) who has the unfortunate habit in his downtime of killing women and secreting their corpses in the space between the walls of his country house, all while his wife (Beart) and two children live there unknowing. Aging detective Fandeur (Rochefort), meanwhile, is trying to track down the missing Valerie Cassin who we have seen lured to Mauchard’s house and killed in the film’s extended opening. The two storylines play out side by side, converging and separating in nail-biting fashion as Fandeur picks up clues and finds the trail to his missing person, all the while not knowing that he’s on the trail of a serial killer. The whole thing is glacially paced and shot at the expected remove by Sacher, the camera coolly watching over the players without giving away a thing. This all means that when the expertly handled tension breaks out in the film’s latter half it will be an impossible watch for viewers without nerves of steel. An American remake has been mooted since the original was released but here’s hoping that if that comes to pass it’s not the slick, shallow interpretation that fans of the original have been dreading.

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#68 – Octember

(1992, Can, 90 min) Dir Ben Roy. Cast Bobby Rusk, E. Emmett Benn, Alison Shaker.

Young Alex finds himself trapped in the missing month of Octember, a twilight month that slipped between October and November many years ago and was never found again. Octember manifests itself as an empty world – the rest of its residents having gone straight to November – though he’s not the only one there. A host of lost souls are adrift with him in this phantom month, some there so long that they have become unhinged. His initial wanderings around his depopulated neighbourhood after waking in his empty house are eerie in the extreme with whole streets rendered very Marie Celeste, the evidence of people littering yards and kitchens and driveways but nobody is there. The perfect kind of kids movie – by virtue of its small-scale made for TV production it occupies the kinds of spaces familiar to children like the house and the street and so on which is perhaps why it’s left such an impression on those, like myself, who saw it at an impressionable age.

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