1.00pm: The Son's Room
Well, that's what it said on the ticket. In fact, the film doesn't start until 1.45pm, thanks to a holdup in getting the print ready. A slightly botched announcement of this delay nearly results in a group of enraged pensioners forming a lynch mob, though the Odeon staff manage to calm everybody down in time for the actual screening. Wonder if that was the manager of the Odeon West End who got up on stage there? Rumour has it he's a fan of this website. (Honestly.) Well handled, anyway, whoever it was.
I've been keen to see this film since director Nanni Moretti talked about it in Saturday's Guardian Interview, and it doesn't disappoint. As promised, it's darker in tone than the earlier Morettis we've seen here, though it starts pleasantly enough. Giovanni (Moretti) is a psychiatrist, happily balancing the needs of his patients and his family: wife Paola (Laura Morante), daughter Irene (Jasmine Trinca) and son Andrea (Giuseppe Sanfelice). But when tragedy strikes out of the blue, both his work and his relationship start to suffer, particularly when he (unfairly) considers one of his patients to be partially responsible.
Moretti stated on Saturday that he wanted to make a movie about emotional subject matter without battering the audience with sentimentality. I think he's pulled it off. The typical Moretti humour may be toned down in this film, but his eye for telling human detail is still as strong as ever. He's particularly good on the non-melodramatic things that people do to get through the grieving process: obsessively replaying events in their heads, or fussing over tiny details in an attempt to avoid the big picture.
Moretti's ultimate achievement comes in the closing scenes, where (as you'd expect from this humanist filmmaker) he tries to impart some sense of healing to the proceedings. As with the rest of the film, his solution is low-key, realistic and beautifully played by all concerned. A Hollywood film on this subject would end with a tearful group hug and several hundred violins simultaneously ejaculating on the soundtrack: Moretti ends with a shot of three people aimlessly wandering round a beach to an old Brian Eno tune. And it has a terrific impact, because it acknowledges that the emotions at work here are much more complex than the Hollywood approach would have you believe. Momentum Pictures are giving this a well-deserved UK release, so catch it when you can.
7.00pm: Apocalypse Now Redux
I haven't got the exact text to hand, but I've always liked the review that Time Out gave Once Upon A Time In The West for its 1980s re-release. It went something like this: "after eleven viewings, objectivity is out: we're talking favourite films here, so only superlatives will do." The same applies for me and Apocalypse Now: it's my favourite film ever, so don't expect reasoned analysis for the next few paragraphs.
I first saw Apocalypse Now back in 1981, thanks to the good people at Manchester University Film Society. That's a significant detail, as I've always believed that your response to a film is irrevocably coloured by the circumstances in which you see it. I saw Francis Ford Coppola's film during my first month at uni, which may explain why I was in an emotionally vulnerable state at the time, and prepared to be blown away by a movie that covered big issues with stunning cinematic flair.
The film's never disappointed me since, no matter what format I've seen it in: from panned-and-scanned on a small telly, to a 70mm print at the National Film Theatre. But there were always rumours that longer versions of the movie existed. In particular, the making-of documentary Hearts Of Darkness showed clips from a number of scenes cut from the finished version for reasons of length, notably a long sequence set in a French-owned plantation still hanging on in the middle of the war. Apparently it was this sequence that inspired Canal Plus to throw money at Coppola until he was persuaded to re-edit the film to put back this and other previously removed sequences. Hence Apocalypse Now Redux, a new version of the film that lasts fifty minutes or so longer than the version released in 1979.
For a long-term fan of the film, the new scenes are curious to watch: you're initially thrown by their sudden appearance, but you come to accept them to greater or lesser degrees. For my money, the French Plantation scene is the one that's the most intrusive in comparison with the original footage, although that's probably for the same reason why people have been desperate to see it put back: because it's the only sequence in the whole film in which the American presence in Vietnam is explicitly debated. (I've always insisted that of all the things Apocalypse Now is about, the Vietnam war comes fairly low down the list.)
Most of the other additions give us more of the stuff we already know and love. Most pleasingly, Robert Duvall's crazed air cavalry leader Kilgore gets a few minutes more screen time, including some goofy slapstick at the expense of his surfing obsession. Lawrence Fishburne - a totally unknown 14-year-old actor at the time of shooting, now considered sufficiently big to be given fourth billing on the Redux posters - is given a couple more scenes where you can marvel at what an incredibly mature talent he was even back then. There's a curious interlude featuring the Bunny girls, as they meet up with the guys from the boat after their gig. And there's a bit more Brando thrown in simply for the sake of having a bit more Brando.
Fans of Apocalypse Now will find it fascinating to see this new footage for the first time: none of it really hurts the structure of the film, and a couple of the additions really enhance it. It's difficult to say what people coming to the film for the first time will make of them. But the main attraction of Redux is that this movie can now be seen again on the big screen where it belongs. The sound mix - in five channels of surround sound with a subwoofer, created years before this became the standard sound format for every movie - transfers beautifully to Dolby Digital, and is still unsurpassed as a piece of creative sound design. And a dye transfer print (from the original Technicolor three-strip negatives) results in Apocalypse Now looking more beautiful than it ever has before. The colour in this film glows like a Powell & Pressburger movie, and praise doesn't come higher than that. Only superlatives will, indeed, do.
11.30pm: The Battle Of Orgreave
Yes, 11.30pm. And the Odeon West End 2 has most of its 900 seats filled, even at this time on a weekday night. It's a satisfyingly large crowd for a screening of a documentary that'll be on Channel 4 eventually. Although 'documentary' is too small a word to describe what's going on here.
At the height of the 1984 miners' strike, there was a confrontation between police and miners that quite literally changed the face of labour relations in the UK. What started as a peaceful picket at the Orgreave coalfield in Yorkshire turned into a full-scale riot, giving the government the excuse to clamp down hard on industrial disputes in general, and our coal industry in particular.
Earlier this year, artist Jeremy Deller of the Artangel collective came up with the idea of holding a re-enactment of the Battle Of Orgreave: it would use a combination of members of those societies like The Sealed Knot who re-enact historical battles on a regular basis, and striking miners who were actually there when it happened. This film is primarily a document of the event, directed by Mike Figgis.
You can't deny that Deller's heart is in the right place: as he says in an interview, the miners' strike is one of those bits of recent history that had an incredible impact on the entire country, and yet everyone seems reluctant to talk about it now. But the idea of using it as the basis for a piece of performance art... well, it's all a bit Nathan Barley, isn't it? It's rather amusing to see a more nervous Deller interviewed on the day of the rehearsal, when he's starting to realise that the event he's created could potentially spiral out of control: after all, many of the people here were involved in the original events. Memories start to flood back, emotions run high. People have been told "this is a re-enactment, not a re-fight", and that they won't get paid if genuine violence breaks out: but you can see the point of the miner who yells at one stage "fuck the fifty quid lads, let's go for it..."
Figgis' film works on a large number of levels. He interviews a number of the participating miners (as well as a retired policeman) who were actually at Orgreave on June 18th 1984. They give valuable insights into what it was like at the time, and include some of the more disturbing details that didn't make it into the public domain until several years later. Notably, these include the re-editing of BBC news footage to make it appear that the police charge was a response to stone throwing by miners, when in fact it was the other way round. They also discuss the use of soldiers in unnumbered uniforms to bolster the number of police on site, and the suspicion that Orgreave ended up being used as a distraction to draw public attention away from more important events taking place at the Nottingham coalfields.
But aside from redressing the balance of the original reporting of the event, The Battle Of Orgreave is also a celebration of the striking miners, whose interviews are emotional and good-humoured (the guy who's already got two days holiday booked to celebrate Thatcher's death got a warm reception at this screening). It's a fascinating insight into the amount of preparation that goes into historical re-enactments in general. It gives you an analysis of the barbaric tactics that were being used by the police. And of course, there's the actual footage of the re-enactment itself, which will definitely stir up emotions in anyone who remembers the original battle: it's dynamically shot by Mike Figgis and five assistants running around in the thick of it with digicams, with no apparent concern for their own safety.
And finally, it's a regretful look back at a historical event, still in living memory, that tore the country in two. To quote the retired policeman at the end, "I joined the police to do something for my community: and thanks to Thatcher, I did. I helped destroy it." Scheduled for a TV screening in 2002, this simply must not be missed.
Notes From Spank's Pals
The Cineaste - The one write-up I’d seen about this film described it as “compellingly horrible... disturbed... sinister”. I think that’s rather a misleading understatement. The film unfurled as a staggeringly gripping scrutiny of the banality and the bizarre of “ordinary” people’s lives in urban Austria. The sweltering heat of a record-breaking heatwave cranks up the tensions and frayed tempers until recriminations have to happen. Never itself banal or bizarre in the slightest, this film was mesmerisingly engrossing.
The particular storylines, loosely intertwined, look at six or so characters. One young boy-racer has a very short fuse, always arguing with his girl-friend, paranoic if any other bloke should so much as look at her. An elderly man, in his garden, gets wound up his neighbours continually arguing, so he switches on his noisy lawn-mower, leaves it right by their fence, and retreats inside. An early-middle-aged man and his wife are “separated”, although continue to live under the same roof. She takes in a lover for the night, whilst he continuously bounces a tennis ball (in frustration? – the next morning he shares an early-morning beer with her lover). All the time the oppressive heat, and the rather bleak concrete locations, create a real sense of mood and atmosphere.
Humour comes by way of one young, simple woman, an obsessive, a compulsive hitch-hiker. She seeks out lifts just for the hell of it, then talks and asks questions incessantly; she keeps spouting “top ten” statistics – the top ten illnesses, the top ten supermarkets, the top ten cars sold etc. A businessman picks her up for the second time, and locks her in his riverside holiday bungalow.
The interest level was high throughout. Occasionally the atmosphere was rather grim, almost macabre, but that didn’t detract from the film. The lack of unspecified dialogue, only outline scripts for this film, give these scenes a fascinating realism. This was a very very worthy effort. Star rating: four.
The Cineaste - This film is a bit like those adverts for the new Mini: “Man cuts wood: the end”. There was a bit more to this, but not much. The main character (a wood-cutter), prepares a meal on a fire outside his shack; he makes a phone-call from a public phone booth and leaves a message for his mother; and he sells the wood he’s cut. And that really is just about it. Oh, and there are some fine shots of nature and scenery, and always lots of sun to drench them in. Star rating: two-and-a-half.
Sex and Lucia
The Cineaste - To borrow Spank’s phrase, “Wa-hey!” You didn’t think I’d miss a film with a title like this?! An opportunity perhaps to finally put behind me my disappointment at missing out on The Pornographer.
Director Julio Medem has already more than proved his worth with some striking and deliciously enigmatic films (The Red Squirrel, The Earth), and Sex and Lucia continues in this rich vein. As for the title, don’t let this put you off – this is not some dumbed-down shag-fest, although a number of tastefully done bedroom scenes do come into it, but an eloquent and fine thriller with some very cleverly-presented strands.
Lucia, waitressing in her restaurant, receives a rather unsettling phone-call from her boy-friend Lorenzo, a novelist. Concerned, she rushes back to their flat and discovers the worst – the flat has all the signs, with the window thrown open, that he has jumped over the balcony and committed suicide. And indeed, whilst she’s still taking in this scene of horror, the phone rings – it’s the local police department to inform her of her boy-friend’s tragedy. She seeks solace by withdrawing to an unspecified island, a favourite haunt of the two of them. Here the colours are strangely subdued, but the light is extra bright. Anyone familiar with Medem’s films would realise that nothing is straightforward, and there are a few ghosts rattling around in everyone’s cupboard.
On the island Lucia starts finding out things about Lorenzo before she knew him, conveniently for the audience by virtue of flashbacks to six years ago. She befriends another woman – what does this other woman have in connection with Lorenzo? Lucia finds out that the island was special to Lorenzo before they knew each other. What was the significance of the novel that he was trying to write?
Medem reveals these different factors very cleverly and draws them together skilfully. The characterisation is vague, although perhaps this is intentional (I don’t know). There was plenty of originality and intrigue in this impressive film. Star rating: four.
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