SPANK GOLD: Edinburgh Festival 1990
Simian Substitute Site for March 2009: Monkey March

SPANK GOLD: London Film Festival 1990

'For goodness sakes, take a look at those Blakes.' Detail from Peter Blake's poster design for LFF 1990I'll have to try and be tasteful about this. By now, you've read the introduction to the Spank Gold series, and seen how in 1989 I put in motion several schemes to make myself more socially active. You've probably jumped to certain conclusions based on the evidence, and yes, you'd be right: I wasn't getting any at the time, since you ask.

And then, suddenly, in the autumn of 1990, I was. I'd like to be able to say that my diary fizzled out from that point into an unreadable scrawl, but that wouldn't be true. It would, however, be true to say that I'd abandoned the diary by December of that year, because I had better things to do.

But here's the thing: I had so many better things to do, that it ate into the number of films I saw that year. The article below tells the story: a mere 22 events, roughly half the quantity that I catch most years. I can tell you're shocked. Anyhoo, I was still keeping the diary back in November, so let's see what I had to say about this lot.

Friday November 9th
6.20pm: A-Ge-Man
8.45pm: Metropolitan
11.15pm: Pump Up The Volume

Hur hur hur. "A Gay Man." Actually, this was the latest one by Juzo Itami, who'd been Japanese flavour of the month in the UK since his earlier comedies Tampopo and A Taxing Woman. This, sadly, was about the time that Brits fell out with him: as fun as this tale was of a geisha bringing luck to her clients, it never got a theatrical release in this country, and Itami remained undistributed here until his untimely death. It's a shame, really: his charming but vicious attack on the Yakuza, Minbo No Onna, was only shown once in this country as a Channel 4 late nighter, and on a recent rewatch held up very nicely indeed. Whit Stillman's Metropolitan was also a delight at the time, although God knows how dated his New York UHBs (Urban Haute Bourgeoisie) look now. At the time I said it was "like an Eric Rohmer film, except you didn't have to pretend it was funny." Me-ow. Pump Up The Volume was the one with Christian Slater - sitting in the audience of the Warner West End like a regular punter, no less! - as a teenage pirate radio DJ, thinking that playing Leonard Cohen was an act of youthful rebellion. I dunno, perhaps in the late eighties it genuinely was.

Saturday November 10th
11.00am: To Forget Palermo
3.00pm: The Schoolmaster
6.30pm: Raw Nerve

Speaking of people tackling organised crime in films - yes we were, look up there - Francesco Rosi's To Forget Palermo was a thriller pitting an Italian-American politician against the Palermo mob. Some smart dialogue courtesy of co-writer Gore Vidal, but hamstrung by a somewhat stiff performance from James Belushi in the lead. The rest of the day was rather forgettable by comparison. The Schoolmaster was a melodramatic South African story (it's the only sort they did there back then), set around the start of the apartheid era: while Raw Nerve was a reasonable Australian two-people-and-a-nutter-in-a-confined-space thriller.

Sunday November 11th
11.00am: Life Is Sweet
4.50pm: The Edge Of The World
6.50pm: No Fear No Die
8.45pm: The Nasty Girl

These days, we get to see Mike Leigh in the audience at the LFF so often, it's easy to forget he frequently has films shown there as well. Life Is Sweet shows Leigh in a lighter register than we've come to expect from him these days, with undeniable Spallness but a pair of career-launching performances from Jane Horrocks and Claire Skinner as twin sisters. "Aubrey's in a coma, love. He doesn't want any chips." Why can't he write lines that good any more? (I know he doesn't strictly write them, but I can't be bothered reworking that sentence to take account of his sixteen week rehearsal and development process.) Edge Of The World was a restored 1937 film by Michael Powell, who'd died earlier that year and had the whole Festival dedicated to him as a result. All I can remember is how terrifyingly young John Laurie looks in it if you've only ever seen him in Dad's Army. No Fear No Die - a cockfighting drama that never made it past the BBFC after this screening because, you know, it's about cockfighting - was the start of my anti-love affair with the work of Clare Denis. It was dull enough as it was, but the bored headphone commentary used in lieu of subtitles didn't really help. (Although there's something curiously arousing about hearing a posh girl reading the line 'you guys, all you ever think about is your cocks' in a totally disinterested voice.) The Nasty Girl was much more entertaining: Michael Verhoeven's cheeky telling of the true story of a young girl, Sonja (Lena Stolze), whose school essay My Home Town And The Third Reich stirred up a national scandal. The real Sonja even turned up for a post-film Q&A.

Henry And June. Not pictured: Anais Nin, the third person in the love triangle, amusingly referred to by Miller as 'Anis' throughout. Monday November 12th
8.30pm: Henry And June

I think by the time of this screening, Philip Kaufman's Henry And June was already somewhat notorious: the recipient of one of the first NC-17 ratings, it appeared that American audiences were horrified by the European-style filth on display. Here in the UK, of course, we just gave it an 18 and carried on living our lives. Given my situation at the time, I was always going to be open to something as brazenly erotic as this, but I'm not sure how it'd look these days. I have a horrible feeling Kaufman's work doesn't really hold up to repeat viewings (exhibit A: Quills).

Tuesday November 13th
8.15pm: A Terra-Cotta Warrior

There was a big Hong Kong focus at LFF '90: a Guardian Interview with Jackie Chan (sadly cancelled late in the day), and ten of the latest films from the country. I obviously hadn't entered my John Woo fanboy phase just yet, or else I'd have picked up on the screening of Wild Search, Ringo Lam's shameless Witness ripoff starring Chow Yun-Fat: and I certainly didn't notice that the lead actor in A Terra-Cotta Warrior was Zhang Yimou, himself a director of fine Chinese cinema and other spectacles. (Go on then, you try looking for video of the 2008 Olympics opening ceremony and see how far you get.) Directed by Ching Siu-Tung, the man responsible for countless HK martial arts and fantasy films with more wirework than Gerry Anderson, it tells the story of a Chinese soldier punished for his lustfulness by being encased inside one of the Emperor's terracotta warriors. Cut to several hundred years later - people actually walked out when they saw "The 1930s" come up on screen, the twats - and a team of archeologists find him alive and perfectly preserved. Culture clash gags ensue. How could you not love that as a premise, really?

Wednesday November 14th
6.30pm: Creative Process: Norman McLaren

This appears to have been the year when my interest in animation really took off. I'd seen a few of the lunchtime programmes at Edinburgh in 1989 and 1990, but I suspect I mainly did that because they filled a lunchtime slot. LFF 1990 was the first time I started to get a feel for what the medium was really capable of, though: starting with this documentary, a useful crash course in the work of Canada's finest animator (who, of course, gave his name to an Edinburgh International Film Festival award). More animation will follow, as you'll see.

Thursday November 15th
6.15pm: Cyrano De Bergerac

Jean-Paul Rappeneau's Cyrano, with Gerard Depardieu as old big-nose, is an established classic now: not much to be said about it here. However, I should note that I embarrassed Rappeneau personally in the post-film Q&A, by pointing out that the music playing while Cyrano fights 100 men is a complete ripoff of Danny Elfman's Batman theme. He blamed the composer. Pah.

Friday November 16th
11.15pm: Vampire's Kiss

Not a good day. Unlike last year, you'll notice that I've been avoiding afternoon matinees, and spending all day at work (apart from one day off planned for next week). Which was fine when work was going well: but less so when they announced during the day that several of your mates (including the guy who recruited you) had been made redundant. A lousy afternoon at the office, an evening in the pub drowning sorrows with people: not the best run-up to a late night screening of Vampire's Kiss. "Terribly silly" is all I could manage in my diary on the day: but this is the one where Nicolas Cage eats a cockroach on camera, so you probably didn't need to be told that. Was it really written by the same guy as After Hours? Lordy.

Saturday November 17th
4.15pm: Seven Minutes

After a week of working days and only catching one movie per evening, you'd imagine that the weekend would be the cue for a good old eight-movie binge. However, you'd be wrong. Remember during LFF 1989, when I received the surprising news that my sister was pregnant? Well, my first nephew was born in July, and this weekend was when they finally got around to his christening. I managed to squeeze in one movie before getting the train up north for the festivities. Directed by and starring Klaus Maria Brandauer, Seven Minutes was the story of the watchmaker who tried to assassinate Adolf Hitler in 1939. Like The Day Of The Jackal, it pulls off the neat trick of generating a fair amount of suspense even though you know how it's (not) going to end.

Creature Comforts: think of it as a less violent and Semitic version of Waltz With Bashir if you like Tuesday November 20th
2.00pm: British Animation
4.00pm: International Animation

Only one day's worth of weekday matinees in 1990, but that day turned out to be a bit of a landmark. Over the last 18 months I'd seen a reasonable number of historical animation programmes at Edinburgh, almost exclusively compilations of the work of major league directors. But these were the first programmes of animation I'd ever caught that were specifically intended as best-of compilations for the preceding year. I think I can say with some certainty that my habit of regularly attending the animation programmes in London and Edinburgh started right here. It helped that this was a bumper year for British animation, of course, with a programme that climaxed with Aardman's Oscar-winning Creature Comforts, but also included two other shorts of theirs that continued the theme of re-visualised vox pop interviews. There was also sterling work from names I'd be hearing a lot more of in future years: Candy Guard, Phil Mulloy, the Brothers Quay and Joanna Quinn. Meanwhile, the International Animation programme had a couple of instant classics from the likes of John Lasseter and Jan Svankmajer, along with plenty of other fine material in between.

Saturday November 24th
4.45pm: I Hired A Contract Killer

A day that was notable not just for the film I saw, but the film I didn't see. Aki Kaurismaki made himself a lot of friends in London when he turned up pissed with Leningrad Cowboys Go America at LFF 1989: so when he came again this year with a film shot in London and dedicated to Michael Powell, his success was pretty much guaranteed. Contract Killer is more like the hilariously downbeat comedy we've come to expect from him, rather than the broader gags of Leningrad Cowboys: the scene where Jean-Pierre Leaud leaves a note for his assassin helpfully saying 'I have gone to the pub' made me laugh so hard I banged my head on the railing behind my seat. Straight after the film, two of Spank's Pals (John and Bill) joined me in the NFT's returns queue to see if we could get into the surprise film that evening. We queued for 90 minutes, only to see the very last ticket being sold to the person in front of us. We scuttled off home in disgust, only to discover a couple of days later that the surprise film was Arachnophobia, and that if we'd stayed by the doors of the NFT we could have blagged tickets from the 20 or so people who ran screaming for the exits as soon as the title came up.

Sunday November 25th
11.00am: Miller's Crossing
2.30pm: Made In Brief
4.00pm: Caesar And Cleopatra

At least I managed a three film day to finish off the year. And the first one, Miller's Crossing, turned out to be my favourite Coen Brothers movie for at least a decade after that, so that made for a very nice start. Made In Brief was actually a programme of new British shorts, which I described in my diary as 'an interesting mixture of pretension and fun'. Looking at the programme, it turns out that the only one I can even vaguely remember, Dear Rosie, was the directorial debut of Peter "Full Monty" Catteneo and one of the first scripts by Peter "Frost/Nixon" Morgan. Finally, a shiny restoration of a British film of a more traditional nature: Gabriel Pascal's 1946 witty retelling of Caesar And Cleopatra, with George Bernard Shaw adapting his own stage play for the screen, no less. And then, because I didn't fancy the closing gala of The Sheltering Sky, I went to see the Happy Mondays at Wembley. Like I said: 1990.

So yes, just 22 films at LFF 1990. But here's the curious thing: the reason why I saw so few films in 1990 was no longer an issue twelve months later, if you know what I mean. And yet, according to my diary, I only saw 20 films at LFF 1991. Why the drop-off? I genuinely have no idea right now: I guess I've got a month or so to try and remember. Being a monkey, and all. 


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