Tuesday, 14 November 2017
Dead of Night: Hull Horror Film Festival (27-31 October 2017)
30th Anniversary Restoration
|Matt Ryan Tobin's new 30th Anniversary Hellraiser poster.|
UK: 1987/ 94 mins/ Cert. 18
Director: Clive Barker
Cast: Doug Bradley, Sean Chapman, Clare Higgins, Andrew Robinson, Ashley Laurence.
Thirty years after Clive Barker’s Hellraiser was premiered at the Prince Charles Cinema in London’s West End, the Cenobites are back on the big-screen to tear our souls apart again. The cult horror classic’s anniversary has been marked by a restoration for the cinema and accompanied by the release of a range of merchandise including a limited-edition Blu-ray steelbook, re-issue of Christopher Young’s soundtrack and a newly designed poster designed by artist Matt Ryan Tobin. Three decades on and Hellraiser’s extreme depiction of ‘pleasure and pain indivisible’ is as delightfully perverted and repulsive as ever.
When Larry (Andrew Robinson) and Julia (Clare Higgins) move into Larry’s mother’s old home, Julia discovers that Larry’s missing brother, Frank (Sean Chapman), is in one of the spare rooms. In a flashback sequence, we discover that Frank and Julia had an illicit affair a few years previously and that Frank has a taste for transgressive sex. This desire to experience the extreme limits of gratification drove Frank to purchase an antique puzzle box from a Chinese merchant in Morocco. The box- a kind of demonic Rubik’s Cube- opens a portal into another dimension and after solving the puzzle in an occult-style ritual, the Cenobites are summoned. Frank is transported to the Cenobites’ domain where he is tortured, hooks agonisingly piercing his skin and tearing the flesh from his body in graphic, excruciating detail.
|50 shades of torture and pain.|
Having escaped the clutches of the Cenobites, the skinless, zombie-like Frank requires a regular supply of blood to regenerate his body. Julia, bored with her relationship with her husband, agrees to help Frank and run away with him, luring victims back to the house and murdering them for Frank to drain their blood. Later, Larry’s daughter, Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), comes into possession of the box and opens the portal. She makes a pact with the Cenobites to release her from their sadomasochistic torments in return for leading them to Frank.
|The Cenobites: Sadomasochistics From Beyond the Grave.|
The four surgically mutilated Cenobites in their leather fetish gear and self-inflicted gaping wounds, are an incredible achievement; a collection of grotesques seemingly conjured from Dante’s Inferno and reimagined by Robert Mapplethorpe that have entered horror iconography. The Cenobites’ leader, Pinhead (Doug Bradley), describes them as ‘explorers in the further regions of experience’, explaining to Kirsty that they are ‘demons to some, angels to others’. According to Barker, the Cenobites’ look was inspired by ‘punk, Catholicism and by the visits I would take to S and M clubs in New York and Amsterdam’. Considering the modest budget, Cliff Wallace’s special effects, Joanna Johnston’s costume design and the make-up on the film are outstanding. Hellraiser cost only $900,000 to make, half the amount that it took Wes Craven to make A Nightmare on Elm Street, released just three years earlier.
Barker was motivated to make his debut as a director, adapting his novella The Hellbound Heart for the screen after being disappointed in a couple of adaptations of his stories directed by George Pavlou: Underworld (1985) and Rawhead Rex (1987). He admits he knew nothing about filmmaking when he started the project, which was originally titled Sadomasochistics From Beyond the Grave, an unwieldy but rather wonderful title which pretty much sums up Hellraiser’s transgressive themes. What Barker ultimately achieved with no experience and little money is quite remarkable. Hellraiser took over $14 million at the box office, instigating a series of sequels and there is currently talk doing the rounds of Barker writing a reboot of the original. The film, which required a few minor cuts in the US before its release and was originally banned in Ontario, made the Time Out list of 100 greatest Horror films. It is also probably the only film in cinema history to feature both a maggot and a roach wrangler in its production.
|"Chattering Cenobite" captures Kirsty.|
Hellraiser broke the mould as it was one of the earliest examples of torture horror and went against the grain of most other films of the period when the slasher genre and horror with camp and comedic elements were predominant. There are touches of humour present in the film, but it’s a humour that emerges from the darkest recesses of the imagination and, with its sickening imagery, decidedly not played for laughs. A portrayal of extreme carnality, like Pasolini’s Salò being dragged on a dog chain through the bowels of hell, rarely has deviancy been presented in such a vicious manner. Hellraiser is fifty shades of torture and pain and then some. A nasty, visceral and excessive modern gothic horror.
Saturday, 4 November 2017
Dead of Night: Hull Horror Film Festival (27 – 31 October 2017)
Tragedy Girls: Tyler MacIntyre’s Dark and Twisted High School Slasher Comedy.
US: 2017/ 90 min/ Cert. 18
Director: Tyler MacIntyre
Cast: Alexandra Shipp, Brianna Hildebrand, Timothy Murphy, Jack Quaid, Kevin Durand, Nicky Whelan.
Tyler MacIntyre’s second directorial feature, Tragedy Girls, which opened Hull’s Dead of Night horror festival, is a riotous slasher-comedy for the internet era. With a serial killer on the loose in the small mid-western town of Rosedale, two students at Rosedale High, McKayla Hooper (Alexandra Shipp) and Sadie Cunningham (Brianna Hildebrand) seize the opportunity to increase the popularity of their online video blog, the titular Tragedy Girls, which focuses on real-life tragedies. The girls capture the killer, Lowell (Kevin Durand), attempting to coerce him to join forces by keeping him hostage, feeding him cat food and giving him electric shocks from a taser. When the snarling captive rejects the girls’ demands, they hatch a different plan, embarking upon some extra-curricular murder, intending to frame Lowell with these additional killings and thereby claim the credit for his eventual capture. The more kills the girls make, the more hits the blog receives and soon Rosedale High is trending. With Rosedale gripped in an escalating sense of panic, eroding the town’s confidence in the forces of law and order, McKayla and Sadie’s popularity and social-media status increases at the expense of the hapless Sheriff Blane Welch (Timothy V. Murphy).
Tragedy Girls has all the cool ironic detachment of the Scream or Scary Movie franchises with their slyly knowing postmodern intertextuality. The script is razor-sharp and the film as smart and cunning as the protagonists themselves. McKayla and Sadie come across like the girls from Amy Heckerling’s Clueless possessed by the spirits of Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees with the film resembling Michael Lehmann’s Heathers being gleefully put through the meatgrinder by Wes Craven. The generic and stylistic nods to John Carpenter’s Halloween, the Friday the 13th series of films and even Brian De Palma’s Carrie are there for all to see. But in its depiction of two girls who are prepared to go to any lengths in order to achieve fame, I found myself thinking of Gus Van Sant’s To Die For and Nicola Kidman’s equally devious, wicked and fame-obsessed weather-girl, Suzanne, who adopts murder as a tactic to help ascend the TV hierarchy.
Both Shipp and Hildebrand are terrific in the leading roles. The girls are sassy, funny and incredibly watchable and their relationship in the film is convincing and works exceptionally well. On the surface, McKayla and Sadie appear like any other regular teenage girls with the same interests and problems. But as their desire to escape the mundanity of Rosedale High and their pursuit of fame and popularity leads them to extreme violence, there is a perverse frisson to be found in the film ‘s generic twist which involves two young women doing the butchering rather than reverting to the worn out trope of scream queen as victim role.
Tragedy Girls pitches the balance between comedy and horror perfectly. As you marvel at the girls’ inventiveness and commitment, you can’t help but root for them despite the mayhem they inflict upon Rosedale. The murders are cartoonishly grotesque, like a vicious Warner Brothers animation and the film successfully manages to navigate the tricky terrain between laughter and revulsion as well as any other films in the slasher horror sub-genre.
Tragedy Girls carves up the high-school slasher movie for the social-media era. Facebook and Twitter posts are superimposed upon the action and the ubiquitous likes and love icons float across the screen. The two students’ lives are dominated by how many likes or retweets they receive with Sadie at one point complaining to McKayla that their twitter page ‘only got one retweet today - from your mom. Sad’. For all its anarchic outrageousness, pitch-black humour and absurdity, there is a serious core to Tragedy Girls as the film stabs a knife into the heart of today’s shallow and narcissistic celebrity-obsessed media culture.
Tragedy Girls was premiered at Frightfest in August and goes on general release in the UK later in the year.
Dead of Night, Hull’s annual horror film festival, is held in October. Now in its second year, it is curated by Hull Independent Cinema. Details of this year’s programme can be found at http://deadofnightfest.co.uk/ For Hull Independent Cinema news and screenings go to http://hullindependentcinema.com/
Sunday, 15 October 2017
Blade Runner 2049: Denis Villeneuve’s spellbinding sequel more than a match for Ridley Scott’s original.
US, 2017/ 163 mins/ Cert. 15
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Jared Leto, Robin Wright, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Dave Bautista, Carla Juri, Sean Young.
With the original Blade Runner (1982) now acknowledged as a groundbreaking masterpiece that created an aesthetic touchstone for a certain trope of dystopian sci-fi, it is easy to forget that it received mixed reviews on its release and flopped at the US box office. Hampered by a crass voiceover (deliberately performed by Harrison Ford in such a poor manner in the hope it would be rejected by the producers) and an incongruous happy ending, added after Ridley Scott lost the final editing rights, Blade Runner’s entry into the pantheon was only assured after the release of two different cuts of the film. With both The Director’s Cut (1992) and Final Cut (2007), Scott maintained Blade Runner’s central ambiguity, ensuring countless narrative interpretations from enthusiasts to flourish most of which focused on the central question whether Ford’s bounty hunter Deckard is a replicant? (Spoiler alert: He is… Probably). Denis Villeneuve’s sequel retains the enigmatic qualities of the original, remaining loyal to both Scott’s vision and Philip K Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? upon which the first film was based. As Villeneuve has asserted that he would not be responsible for any alternative versions of the film once it was released, it is equally gratifying to know that Blade Runner 2049 is the finished article. Fans of Scott’s Blade Runner can breathe a sigh of relief as Villeneuve’s update is as near-perfect an example of the genre as anyone could have hoped to expect. It is a spellbinding work of visual poetry and is more than an equal to the original.
In 2049, a climate ravaged world is redeveloping replicants to ensure humanities survival. K (Ryan Gosling) is a new model replicant made by the Wallace Corporation which, unlike those earlier models made for the now defunct Tyrell Corporation, are programmed for total subservience to their human masters. Like Deckard in the original, K works for the LAPD as a blade runner, whose job it is to hunt down and execute older model replicants. After “retiring” a farmer, Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista), K finds a box buried beneath a tree on the farm. The box contains human remains and forensic tests expose a miraculous revelation that if disclosed could threaten the existence of society. He is ordered by his boss, the uncompromising Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), to destroy all evidence pertaining to the discovery. In his investigation, K begins to question his own origins with the film, like its predecessor, interrogating the role of memory in constructing identity. K is pursued by the Wallace corporation whose owner- Jared Leto’s blind and ruthless Niander Wallace, a combination of Nietzschean Ubermensch and Mephistophelean malevolence- orders his replicant assistant, the equally formidable Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) to track down the bounty hunter. When the Hunter becomes hunted, K’s search for the truth leads him to the ruins of Las Vegas and to Deckard.
Although Ford’s Deckard does not appear until the final act, his brooding presence looms almost Kurtz-like over the entire film, forging a persuasive narrative link between Scott’s and Villeneuve’s separate takes on Dick’s novel. Despite Villeneuve’s adoption of the directorial role, Blade Runner 2049’s smooth transition from the original to the sequel is aided by Scott’s involvement in the project as producer and the fact that the story was written by Hampton Fancher who wrote the screenplay for Blade Runner. Here Fancher is joined by Michael Green on the script. What makes Blade Runner 2049 such a success is that, despite its unquestionable fidelity to the original, it is brave enough to expand upon the themes of Scott’s classic. This is no mere replicant but a thinking, feeling, living entity of its own. There are several remarkable echoes to sequences in Blade Runner, including a poignant and beautifully conveyed ‘tears in rain’ sequence when K’s virtual girlfriend, the hologram Joi (Ana de Armas), feels rain upon her skin for the first time. The deeply philosophical questions of what is it to be human? What role does memory play in an individual’s consciousness? And what does it mean to possess free will? are reprised in Blade Runner 2049. As in the first film, the existential theory of the state of the human condition which Martin Heidegger termed “thrownness” comes to mind, as the replicants are literally thrown into existence; their memories are predetermined and their function shaped by external forces. In addition to the questions of individual consciousness, social issues of environmental and nuclear catastrophe, the reactionary powers of unfettered corporations and the increasingly topical debate of increased automation are all are raised by the film.
What is so admirable about Blade Runner 2049 is that it is confident enough to trust the audience’s capacity to sit in a theatre for almost three hours and maintain their interest. The film is perfectly paced, asking you to completely immerse yourself in the experience to allow its narrative and themes room to breathe. When the action scenes arrive, they have the effect of jolting you from your reverie and subsequently their impact are much more powerful. This is an intelligent, artistic and hypnotic blockbuster; a spectacle that holds the attention through its quite breath-taking visuals. With stunning cinematography from Roger Deakin and equally impressive Production Design by Dennis Gassner, the film will need to be revisited for its hallucinatory imagery alone. The look of the film is complemented by a soundtrack composed by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch- a synthesised discordant industrial cacophony which suddenly soars orchestrally to riff electronically against Vangelis’ original score.
Blade Runner 2049 maintains the hard-boiled, Chandleresque noir of the novel like a futuristic dystopian Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974) with flying cars and added ontological complexities. Although the Los Angeles cityscape borrows from the original- it’s still heaving with rain and those impressive giant billboards are still advertising Atari, Pan Am and Coke- Blade Runner 2049 expands the world of the original, moving away from the city to include astonishing imagery of devastated industrial wastelands, one of several scenes which recall Andrei Tarkovsy’s existentialist sci fi Stalker (1979) Emotionally, the film also parallels Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972). Equally, the ravaged Vegas is wonderfully captured, its poisoned skyline glowing vivid orange with radiation. The film’s palette is jaw droppingly brilliant throughout and the desolate casino which K traces Deckard to, featuring a buffering hologram of Elvis performing ‘Suspicious Minds’, is an imaginative update of the derelict Bradbury Building, J.F Sebastian (William Sanderson) residence and the scene of the final confrontation between Deckard and Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty in the first film.
Like its predecessor, Blade Runner 2049 will come to be regarded as a canonical sci-fi film, watched repeatedly for its spellbinding beauty, rich philosophical textuality and narrative ambiguity. Having followed up last year’s terrific Arrival with a Blade Runner sequel that exceeds all expectations, Villeneuve is proving himself to be a master of the genre, perhaps the greatest sci-fi director currently working in Hollywood. Don’t miss the opportunity of seeing it on the big screen- where it truly belongs. An awe inspiring cinematic triumph.
Saturday, 7 October 2017
Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!: An outrageous and audacious shock -horror of biblical dimension.
US, 2017/ 121 mins/ Cert. 18
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ed Harris
Like Nicolas Winding Refn and Lars von Trier, Darren Aronofsky is a cinema provocateur whose work is deliberately confrontational and seemingly intent on dividing both critical opinion and the cinema-going public alike. Aronofsky’s second feature, Requiem for a Dream (2000), caused a rumpus with the film classification board in the US with its frank sex and drug content and his last film, Noah (2014), was banned in some Muslim countries for transgressing the teachings of Islam and condemned by some Christians for what they saw as Aronofsky’s manipulation of the biblical story to promote his own environmentalist agenda. Not content with the film grossing over $362 million worldwide, an unrepentant Aronofsky appeared to want to stir things up even more, with the self-professed atheist director claiming that he intended to make a secular film and that Noah was ‘the least biblical biblical film ever made’. With Mother! it appears that the enfant-terrible has some unfinished business with the Bible narrative as the film revisits some of the themes in Noah, subsequently provoking another backlash from some Christians and critics.
After its brief opening close-up of a hideously charred woman’s face and before it goes hyper-apocalyptic, Mother! begins conventionally enough. A married couple, referred to simply in the credits as ‘Mother’ (Jennifer Lawrence) and ‘Him’ (Javier Bardem), live in a ramshackle wooden mansion in the heart of an idyllic rural setting. He is a successful poet suffering from writer’s block and she is an attentive wife, content in looking after her husband whilst renovating the house. Apparent tensions within the relationship seem to emerge and these are exacerbated by the arrival of Ed Harris’ ‘Man’, who is asked to stay at the house by ‘Him’ to the obvious chagrin of his wife who resents the stranger’s intrusion into this serene Eden. When Harris’ wife, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, turns up later, the couple disrupt the peace of the house and the stability of the marriage. It is revealed that Harris’ character is dying and he visited the home because he wanted to meet the great poet. His wife is a loquacious busy-body and as the pair threaten to take over the household, Pfeiffer insensitively probes the minutia of their marriage, asking deeply personal questions and suggesting ways in which ‘Mother’ might spice up the couple’s sex life. When Pfeiffer askes Lawrence why she is doing the house up by herself, Lawrence replies that she ‘wants to build a paradise’ for them to share, the first oblique reference to the story of the Fall and the biblical references in the film develop as the story progresses.
Even before we are hurled violently into the deranged final act of the film, Mother! confounds the audience’s expectations. What starts out as a combination of marital drama and psychological study- Whose Afraid of Virginia Wolf as filtered through the febrile imagination of von Trier- becomes infused with the dread of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. As she decorates the home, Lawrence becomes aware of a strange foetal-like organism with a pulsing heart that seems to dwell within its walls, echoing Repulsion or even David Lynch’s Eraserhead. Throw in a Pinteresque character power struggle with the arrival of Harris and Pfeiffer and add the ingredients of a home invasion horror film before the generic terrain seismically shifts beneath your feet once more with the arrival of the warring sons of Harris and Pfeiffer (Domnhall and Brian Gleeson)
The brothers, in an obvious reference to the story of Cain and Abel, are in conflict over the terms of their father’s will and their disagreement erupts into violence as Mother! lurches from the psychological aspects of its opening and is transformed into a freakishly visceral, violent and increasingly excessive horror film. Eventually more strangers arrive at the house, trashing the place and disrespecting their hosts as Lawrence’s state of mind becomes progressively more disturbed. During a brief respite from the chaos imposed upon the house by Harris, Pfeiffer and their friends, Lawrence jokes to her husband that she is going to ‘clean up the apocalypse’ as the script gives us a heads-up to the mayhem that is to come.
The apocalypse duly arrives once ‘Him’ has successfully overcome his writers block and created a poetic masterpiece. Gangs of press and fans arrive to interview and meet the writer with these admirers become increasingly sycophantic and deranged. When the poet’s magnum-opus becomes a quasi-theological text, the source of a New Age religious cult, Bardem is elevated to the role of prophet, welcoming hordes of acolytes into the house and allowing them to share his possessions. These scenes in the film strangely reminded me of Monty Python’s Life of Brian and at one point I had to resist the urge to shut out that Javier Bardem’s ‘not the messiah he’s just a very naughty boy’. Despite its outlandish horror, there is a darkly comic subtext operating beneath the chaotic narrative surface of the film, as if Aronofsky is inviting you to laugh at the sheer audacity of it all.
The final act of the film unfolds with a dream- like illogicality. As events spiral surreally out of control, the house becomes a metaphor for the destructive impulse of humanity with scenes of crime, murder, riot and war all played out within its walls. At the centre of this maelstrom, Lawrence comes to symbolise Mother Earth, a voice of reason and sanity amidst the chaos as the political, ecological and religious allegory comes to the fore. Although the apocalyptic final third of the film is a breath-taking experience, it does spill over into silliness at times. You may have to suspend your disbelief on occasions.
Whenever its berserk narrative threatens to overwhelm, it is Lawrence’s extraordinary, physical and emotionally demanding performance that holds the piece together. The entire film hinges on her transformation from doting wife at the beginning to full-on scream-queen during the final third. As it has been revealed that Aronofsky and Lawrence began a relationship whilst shooting the picture, the fact that Lawrence is the constant source of the film’s focus, repeatedly captured in lingering close-ups and tracked adoringly by the camera in relatively long-takes, makes Mother! seem like a cinematic love letter from the director to his partner. Considering the torture Aronofsky puts her through during the movie, it may not be entirely unreasonable to wonder whether there is a sadomasochistic element to the relationship. Indeed, Lawrence has admitted that making the film was the toughest moment of her career so far.
Mother! could be read in a variety of ways: part allegory, part psychological thriller, part exploitational torture horror. It could also be a comment on the director’s creative process itself, a discourse on the god-like imaginative impulse of the auteur. It is not a flawless film but considering its scope and its grandiose ambition it is a fine achievement and hardly deserving of the opprobrium it has met from some quarters. The film’s flaws are the result of its sheer scale of ambition rather than any inherent problems in the film itself. Cinema, threatened with being rebooted to death and oversaturated with superhero franchises, needs directors like Aronofsky and Paramount should be credited for making Mother! and defending it amidst the flak.
Aronofsky’s bellicose scream of rage at the state of the world and the destruction of the environment is a full-on ravishment of the senses which comes across like an infernal meeting of an amphetamine-addled Luis Buñuel and Hieronymus Bosch. Go and see it. It is a two-hour, white knuckled, rollercoaster ride and if you forgive it its faults you should enjoy the pure shot of adrenaline it provides.
Sunday, 23 July 2017
Friday, 14 July 2017
Great Films of the 1960s
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (UK: Karel Reisz, 1960)
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning has a young Albert Finney as the boozing, brawling and shagging Arthur Seaton. Dissatisfied with his mundane factory job and guided by the motto ‘don’t let the bastards grind you down’, Arthur is ‘out for a good time’, living for the weekend and embarking upon a string of affairs which eventually come to threaten his hedonistic lifestyle. He may be a rogue but Arthur is determined to play by his own rules, rejecting the boring conformity of his parents and the limited opportunities that society offers him.
Alongside films such as Room at the Top, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner and This Sporting Life, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning remains one of the outstanding examples of the British New Wave. The New Wave shook up the nation’s cinema, revealing the working class in a brave new light and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning depicts its rebellious anti-hero with a brutal honesty rarely seen in the cinema until the 1960s.
This Sporting Life (UK: Lindsay Anderson, 1963)
Like Reisz, Lindsay Anderson emerged as one of the founders of the Free Cinema movement which attempted to merge documentary realist aesthetics with a more experimental, avante-garde and innovative style of filmmaking. This Sporting Life stars Richard Harris as an up-and-coming Rugby League star, Frank Machin, who, despite his physical prowess on the field, is prone to introspection and self-doubt and is tortured by his inner demons.
Filmed on location in the North of England and at Wakefield Trinity’s Belle Vue stadium - the Rugby League action is particularly impressive - This Sporting Life is arguably the greatest sport film ever made. For me, it is certainly the best film of the New Wave with a brooding, poetic and psychological intensity which hints at expressionism considerably more than most of the social realist films of the period.
A Raging Bull for the industrial north of England.
A Raging Bull for the industrial north of England.
Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (UK/US: Stanley Kubrick, 1964)
Kubrick’s apocalyptic comedy features Peter Sellers in multiple roles as British RAF Group Captain Mandrake, US President Merkin Muffley and the sinister Dr Strangelove himself. Despite Sellers being in great comic form, the outstanding performance in the film arguably belongs to Sterling Hayden as Brigadier General Ripper. Driven by the fear of Communist infiltration (he believes the fluoridisation of water to be a “commie plot”), Ripper evades the US military’s security systems to single-handedly instigate a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. In addition to Sellers and Hayden, George C. Scott is also superb as the brash patriot, General Buck Turgidson.
Released just two years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, Strangelove magnificently satirises the paranoia of the Cold War. When the US top brass gather to discuss the impending crisis, they invite the Soviet ambassador to the meeting. As the ambassador and Turgidson come to blows, they are ordered to stop by President Muffley: ‘Gentlemen. You can’t fight here. This is the war room’, barks the President, highlighting the reckless stupidity of US/Soviet relations during the 1960s.
Four years after Strangelove, Kubrick would make 2001: A Space Odyssey. Almost half a century
later, 2001 still remains the touchstone for a particular trope of cerebral sci-fi.
Carry on Cleo (UK: Gerald Thomas, 1964)
I had to include something from the Carry On team and Cleo- with the possible exception of Carry On Screaming- is their best. The Carry On films, in addition to those produced by Hammer studios, provided a refreshing antidote to British cinema’s earnest realism. Whereas Hammer offered blood and sex to counter middle-class decorum, Carry On delighted audiences with its saucy seaside postcard humour, as salty- and as British- as fish and chips.
You know what you are getting with the Carry On team and Cleo brings together the usual cheeky ensemble: Sid James, Joan Sims, Charles Hawtrey, Jim Dale and the two Kenneth’s- Williams and Connor. Collectively these actors are legends of British comedy and here they are joined by a young Amanda Barrie who plays Cleopatra. Barrie would later become a regular in ITV’s Coronation Street. The film also has Kenneth Williams, as Julius Caesar, delivering one of the finest moments in British cinema. When Caesar realises there is a plot to assassinate him, he flees his would-be assassin, shouting the immortal line: ‘Infamy. Infamy. They’ve all got it in for me.’ Pure comic genius.
Whereas Carry On Screaming parodied the Hammer horror films, Cleo is a spoof of 20th Century Fox’s Cleopatra, released a year before Cleo. When Fox shifted its shooting location from Britain to Italy, the props, costumes and sets were left at Pinewood studios to be raided by Carry On’s production company for use on the film.
Performance (UK: Donald Cammell/Nicolas Roeg, 1970)
Performance’s frank portrayal of sex, drugs and rock and roll and its explicit violence caused Warner Brothers to delay its release until 1970. Like a comedown from a particularly bad acid trip, the film depicts the swinging 60s counterculture's freakish descent into madness and despair.
James Fox is Chas, a brutal and narcissistic gangster hiding out from the mob with a fading and reclusive rock star, Turner, played by Mick Jagger as a warped fictional version of his own rock and roll persona. Under the influence of a cocktail of chemicals, including mind-bending hallucinogenic mushrooms, a weird merging of Chas and Turner’s characters begins.
Performance has exerted a huge influence on pop culture with bands such as The Happy Mondays and Big Audio Dynamite sampling the film. BAD’s ‘E=mc²’ is a celebration of the work of the director Nic Roeg and Happy Mondays’ second LP Bummed is littered with references to this cult classic. The film also features an early example of a music promo, ‘Memo from Turner’, performed by Jagger.
Roeg would go on to become one of the finest British filmmakers of all time and this, his co-directed debut, is one of the coolest and hippest British films of the 1960s. Performance is as trippy as a bucketful of LSD, totally unique and utterly brilliant.
Breathless/A bout de souffle (France: Jean-Luc Godard, 1960)
Peeping Tom (UK: Michael Powell, 1960)
Psycho (US: Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
The Great Race (US: Blake Edwards, 1965)
The Battle of Algiers/ La battaglia di Algeri (Italy/Algeria: Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966)
Bonnie and Clyde (US: Arthur Penn, 1967)
Planet of the Apes (US: Franklin J. Schaffner, 1968)
2001: A Space Odyssey (UK/US: Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
Easy Rider (US: Dennis Hopper, 1969)
Midnight Cowboy (US: John Schlesinger, 1969)
*This piece has been adapted from an article published in Hull's independent magazine Tenfootcity (Issue 45 Spring 2017)
*This piece has been adapted from an article published in Hull's independent magazine Tenfootcity (Issue 45 Spring 2017)