Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Roman Holiday (William Wyler, 1953)

"It's always open season on Princesses"


George is born. Mere days after his birth, he was thrust into the public eye. A celebrity before even uttering his first syllable. How apt that William Wyler's Roman Holiday (his first comedy in decades) is given re-issue at this particular moment in time. "Introducing" Audrey Hepburn, Roman Holiday inspired many movies and particularly Notting Hill whereby the monarch role of Princess Anne is replaced by Hollywood Star Julia Roberts. Baby George, as he slowly opens his eyes to the world, may seek to escape his role in royalty. Audrey Hepburn, in 1953, was unaware of how iconic she would become following this choice of role - and George is blissfully ignorant to the celebrity world he is now a part of. Roman Holiday is the ideal royalty-escape film, created at a time whereby 'celebrity' was nowhere near as malicious as it is now. Surely, most monarchs are keen to escape the limelight from time to time ...

Trapped in Treasures

Princess Anne is raised in luxury. She is royalty and she is trapped. From the moment we meet her, greeting guests and struggling to secure her fitted shoe, Hepburn is mesmerising. Holding elegance and wonderment, she lustfully looks to the parties outside the palace and with a repetition we believe she has practised her entire life, she is read-through the to-do list for the following day before shouting her hysterical hatred of her current tour.

We are looking behind closed doors and the idea that a monarch could be angry and upset is alien to us - imagine the Duchess of Cambridge when 'those' photos were taken and published in the French press. But Audrey Hepburn manages to carry her innocence exquisitely as we fall for her. Her charming naivety erases any assumed sense of privilege that is part and parcel of her heritage.

When in Rome

Apart from the opening few moments of news reel footage from abroad, the film was shot exclusively within Rome. The stunning scale of the Colloseum and the majestic Spanish Steps is great to see within the playful adventures of 'Smitty' - Princess Anne's identity as she attempts to outwit journalist Mr Bradley (Gregory Peck) who, separately, has to keep his own identity a secret as he hopes to gain exclusive coverage of Princess Anne's first moments of true freedom. Originally, the role of Mr Bradley was offered to Cary Grant and one cannot help but fantasize Grant in the role. Initially Gregory Peck comes across as sinister and calculating as he plans his methods to con Princess Anne into an interview (whereas Cary Grant manages to balance unlikeable traits with a charming and playful side in films such as His Girl Friday)

Suffice to say, Roman Holiday is a glorious summer film to watch. In the comfort of the air-conditioned BFI cinemas, you could even follow the viewing with an ice-cream on the South Bank as Hepburn does. Though we could all wax-lyrical about the purposes, necessity and relevance of The Royal Family, when you watch Roman Holiday, much of that fades away. A fantasy film whereby Hollywood claimed her as royalty themselves after 1953, we can see why America celebrate our monarch's almost as much as we do. The ideal martyr role of a Princess as she denies her own preferences although human who is almost ashamed of her role as she begs Joe Bradley to "promise not to watch me go beyond the corner". She places her family and country before herself and takes her role with pride - ever the sincere, respectable woman.

In the final moments, photographer Irving (Eddie Albert) claims "its always open season on Princesses" with regards to the exclusive story both Irving and Joe captured. They hold back and the romance that can never be, remains secret. This is a fairytale and a story that could never be - but this is precisely why Roman Holiday is such a wonderful story, Hepburn is what places this film amongst the very best.

Originally written/published for Flickering Myth on 25th July 2013

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Tooting Arts Club Presents ... Lido Cinema!

Prior to attending the Lido Cinema, many may define sitting outside and watching films a difficult ordeal. Two well placed trees could hold a carefully balanced sheet whereby a film is projected upon it. The sound quality could dip and struggle to reach you as subtitles are selected by the hosts knowing that you won't hear the audio clearly. This is not the case at Tooting Bec Lido this summer.

Theatre group, Tooting Arts Club, hold an annual 'Lido Cinema' to raise funds for future performances (This year, A Midsummer Night's Dream). Rather than a shoddy big-screen and a tray to pass around, the "lido Cinema" is a thoroughly enjoyable, unique experience whereby the grassy area behind the pool itself is transformed into a cinematic paradise. Framed by arching branches, the screen is clear and well-located - and as the double-bill begins at 9pm you can be sure that no seating position is affected by the sunlight setting. High-quality amps mean that the sound is perfect and the train-line that runs by is never a problem and, in fact, simply reminds you of the cinema-experience you are taking part in. As a bonus, Richard E. Grant shouting "I feel like a pig has shat in my head" is that-much more glorious when the space is outside. Could an evening stroller walk by the common and hear a stray c-word uttered in drunken stuppor and clarified in Grant's exquisite tongue? I hope so.

Add to the screening itself hot dogs, nachos and alcohol with optional cushions, chairs and rugs (though you are welcome to bring your own) and you can be as comfortable as you need to be when viewing. Furthermore, I understand the back-up umbrellas-and-chairs plan is successful too if the heavens do open up. An easy set-up in a prime location is effortless and watching the sun go down on Tooting Bec Common before firing up Withnail & I alongside This is Spinal Tap is the perfect start to the summer - or even the ideal activity after a tough week.

These evenings can be booked in advance or bought on the day; you can finish the evening at 11pm and enjoy only one film - or be hardcore and watch the well-placed double-bill. Coming up are 80's favourite Ghostbusters and An American Werewolf in London on Saturday 28th July with comedy classics Duck Soup and Annie Hall on Sunday 29th July.

For further information, directions and tickets click here for Tooting Arts Club

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Lumière d’Été (Jean Grémillon, 1943)

"The inevitable falling stones from a built civilisation? The decline and madness from a corrupt empire?"


Jean Grémillon worked alongside the very best - Jean Renoir, Marcel Carne and Jacques Feyder to name a few. Lumière d’Été additionally, released only four years after La Règle de Jeu (Renoir's highly acclaimed masterpiece that has remained in the Sight & Sound's Top 10 Greatest Films of All-Time since 1952), means it is suprising that Jean Grémillon fails to even make the index pages of Mark Cousins definitive The Story of Film. We wonder whether Jean Grémillon is an integral part of cinema-history - He absolutely is; vastly underrated and clearly a filmmaker who shrewdly created art pieces that remain much more than mere entertainment, Jean Grémillon deserves a re-appreciation - and it is only through the BFI that this was made possible.

A Rich Man, An Artist. A Worker. One Woman

Lumière d’Été is an exploration of society and class through the eyes of a small number of characters - a topic that censored Renoir's La Règle de Jeu and earnt the ire of the Nazi's censors. Akin to La Règle de Jeu, it remained unseen for many years as the film depicted blood-thirsty and dangerous aristocats alongside proud working-class labourers - something that seemed a little bit too close to the truth. Central to the film is Michèle (Madeline Robinson), arriving at The Guardian Angel hotel, she awaits her husband, Roland (Pierre Brasseur). While waiting, she meetings Patrice (Paul Bernard), owner of the hotel, and Cricri (Madeline Renaud), hotel manager. Patrice falls for Michèle; Cricri loves Patrice; the waiter - similar to Manuel of Fawlty Towers - provides comedic moments.

But this is a tragic story whereby the return of Roland in his drunken, argumentative state gives Patrice the impression Michèle could fall for him (the arrogance of aristocrats) - and the jealousy of Cricri changes her attitudes towards everyone. Crucially, Michèle falls for humble stone-worker Julien (Georges Marachal) - something Roland and Patrice, when they find out, find truly unbelievable. With a similar, sleazy manner to Pete Campbell in Mad Men, Patrice is a truly detestable man - slowly changing from a conflicted romantic and into an offensive, cruel and - eventually - homicidal character (something Mad Men hasn't touched upon).

The Light Shines Through

Considering the differences and the roles in society these people represent, alongside the tragedy form of the story, it is clear that Grémillon owes much of this story to Renoir and La Règle de Jeu but the structure of Lumière d’Été is far more playful - opposed to the contained context of Renoir's masterpiece. Lumière d’Été breaks the film down into four acts. Starting in The Guardian Angel, the story moves to Patrice's Castle and the extravagant party he holds, until the final act on the rocky cliffs and cable-cars within the French hills. This change of scene does offer an alternative outlook and progression that could represent a world whereby it is initially within a borrowed society, through to a controlled and false-celebratory system until a final act that reduces the characters actions and emotions to animalistic within the natural landscape. In that regard, the symbolic and representational themes within La Règle de Jeu becomes the foundations that Grémillon has built upon to great effect.

Rolling Rocks

Throughout the film, a recurring moment appears on screen - the shot of rocks, rolling and crumbling towards us. The inevitable falling stones from a built civilisation? The decline and madness from a corrupt empire? The party held by Patrice in his home is fancy dress and Roland - ever dramatic - is Hamlet. The parrallels are clear enough - the nationalism; the shocking depicition of an elite monarchy; the decline and madness from a corrupt family. Even the working-man, with silhouetted figures and nameless workers within mines hints to the industrialism depicted in Lowry's paintings of the same time period. These rocks are used sparingly - and our final view of them truly forces Grémillon's point home.

Grémillon has created a multi-layered, deeply poetic film that is, on the one hand as intelligently intertwined as Renoir's La Règle de Jeu but on the other hand could be considered convoluted and unclear in its social commentary.

Ginette Vincendeau has introduced many films during the season and celebrates his work by noting his "lyrical camerawork" and "poetic realism" in its attitude toward modernity. Though many modern film historians may not celebrate Grémillon, it is worth noting how high Jean Luc Godard regarded him - and, as Grémillon was a musician and playfulled juxtaposed crumbling stones against horrific moments, it would be worth considering Godard and Vincendeau's opinion and seeking Grémillon out for yourself. This is a man who told more than stories; he was telling us what he believed.

Originally written/published for Flickering Myth on 16 July 2013

Monday, 8 July 2013

The Brood (David Cronenberg, 1979)

"We plant pumpkin seeds"


Jonathan Romney wrote in 2007 how David Cronenberg's "stories evoke worlds that are manifestly unlike ours". From the crazed-creation of The Fly through to the close-up gore within A History of Violence, these are worlds that very few are privy to. The Brood is set within an alien-world in many respects, as snow-suited creatures plucked from the Venetian streets of Nicholas Roeg's Don't Look Now are now multiplied and in Toronto, Canada. Within this surreal context, The Brood highlight's truths that we shy away from and forces us to see our fears through the hyper-real lens of a horror filmmaker. The Brood is much more than a horror film though as the danger is not just within the house - but is within us.

Child of Abuse

Child-abuse is the spine of the story. Candice (Cindy Hinds), a child of a broken family as her Mother undergoes psychiatrict treatment, has been abused. Does this happen when she visits her Mother Nola (Samantha Eggar) at the Somafree Institute? An Institute that hides dark demons within the halls, operated and led by Dr Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed) and his little-known "psychoplasmics" form of Psychiatry. Or is the abuse from Candice's Grandmother (Nuala Fitzgerald)? Grandma abused Nola; this is clear. But she appears detached - not the attacker we are led to believe left burises and cuts on Canidice's back. Her Father, Frank Carveth (Art Hindle), is concerned. He doesn't trust Dr Raglan and he is well-aware of the mental-difficulties his wife has as he tries to gain custody of his daughter.

These foundations are laid and, in a moment of terror, a small child-shaped creature attacks Grandma - using kitchen utensils to ceaselessly hit and murder her. Candice waits in the other room and finds the body laid across the floor and covered in blood. As we see the horror outside the Institute, we also see within as Dr Raglan acts conversations with Nola - as she explains the abuse she suffered. She is angry at her Mum and abuse that was inflicted upon her; she is angry at her Dad for failing to intervene. The first murder is her Mother and the second is her Father. It is clear a connection between her anger and the homicidal creatures that kill is the centre of the story - we know that this connection is the key to her condition.

Trust the Doctor

Cronenberg is critical of psychiatry throughout the film. The opening moments, almost a piece of theatre as it is, show Dr Raglan with a patient. Does he see the entire act of psycho-analysis as an act? A dangerous method to unleash hidden fears without taking responsibility - highlighting how we may be angry at our parents for our upbringing may be enlightening but it doesn't change our own responsibilities.

Frank Carveth is equally suspicious when psychologists interview Candice following the trauma of her Grandmother's death - and the similarity between 'The Brood' and Candice is purposeful, establishing a clear connection between the anger and rage the Mother feels and how this seeps into her children. During the first murder, Cronenberg holds back from showing us the faces of 'The Brood' alerting us to suspect Candice's involvement. As a child of Nola, she is a part of 'The Brood' - albeit a human and child of Frank's unlike the midget-killers.

Mother Knows Best

The low-budget exploitation genre that The Brood firmly resides within (alongside Rabid, Shivers and Scanners) is also a style of filmmaking that separated Cronenberg from the masses. The body-horror shown as we see a growth on the neck of a ex-patient of Somafree and the external-womb birthing 'the brood' are grotesque, Bosch creations that, in the case of the latter, may have influenced the development of the Alien series as James Cameron chose to introduce a "Queen Bee" xenomorph in the first sequel Aliens.

But Cronenberg managed to also weave fascinating conflicts between nature and nuture. The Brood tackles the idea of self-control and self-preservation. As Nola reveals in Gollum-like intonation her sordid, abusive history we see the ramifications in literal form - her fantasies of revenge enacted by those bred by her. The piercing strings of Howard Shores debut-score add tremendously to the atmosphere Cronenberg has created and the ambiguous motives behind the Somafree institute equally provide uneasy foundations within the world created. This is a world unlike our own - but it is a world that seems all too familiar. In the final moments, the future is set in stone for young Candice. It's not her fault but she has seen too much of this world to leave unscarred. "We plant pumpkin seeds..." indeed.