Conversation Piece (1974)

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Aka Gruppo di famiglia in un inferno. There’s no sex life in the grave. Retired and lonely American University professor (Burt Lancaster) living in Rome rents out rooms in his palazzo to Bianca Brumonti (Silvana Mangano) a rather pushy marchesa, her teenage daughter Lietta (Claudia Marsani) and her boyfriend Stefano (Stefano Patrizi) and her own lover Konrad (Helmut Berger)…  He was too young to have learned this final nasty fact: grief is as precarious as anything else. Dreamed up by Luchino Visconti as a kind of updated La Dolce Vita, critiquing decadent society, this was co-written with regular collaborators Enrico Medioli and Suso Cecchi D’Amico.  It reunited him with his protegé Berger, and his avatar from Il Gattopardo, Lancaster, an iteration of literary critic Mario Praz (a specialist in romantic morbidity), who collects the titular paintings. Resplendent in furs from Fendi and ostentatious beauty, these unwelcome tenants turn the Professor’s life upside down against a backdrop of political chaos as this quasi-home invasion by the jet set takes a nasty turn while he is momentarily besotted by Konrad. This is a story of nostalgia and sorrow, a paean to lost love and beauty and art, a tone poem about modernity and death, the flailing of the elegant intellectual in a world losing to vulgarity. It’s a chamber piece likely due to the director’s recent stroke but still boasts opulence and telling detail with the dazzling Berger another incarnation of Tadzio, the angel of death from Death in Venice and Mangano revealed as a grotesqueVisconti at his most vulnerable and perhaps most charming. The way of progress is destruction

 

Lured (1947)

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Would it be against Anglo-American tradition to tell a girl when the next audition is?Sandra Carpenter (Lucille Ball) is a London-based dancer who is distraught to learn that her friend Lucy Barnard (Tanis Chandler) from the nightclub where she’s working has disappeared. She’s approached by Harley Temple (Charles Coburn), a Scotland Yard investigator who believes her friend has been murdered by a serial killer who uses personal ads to find his victims. The lure is poetry along the lines of Charles Baudelaire. Temple hatches a plan to catch the killer using Sandra as bait, and Sandra agrees to help. But complications arise when the mystery appears to be solved and Sandra becomes engaged to a nightclub owner and man about town Robert Fleming (George Sanders) with whom she’s already become acquainted and who shares his home with his business and legal partner Julian Wilde (Sir Cedric Harwicke) …  I’m not interested in references as much as character/I can see that for myself. Director Douglas Sirk commands this gamy mystery with verve, making a total entertainment from Leo Rosten’s screenplay, peopled with performers right in their characterful element delivering edgy lines with great wit. From the opening titles – a torch shining on the names – the mystery is driven with pace and style with running jokes (including a crossword filled in by H.R. Barrett, played by George Zucco) and enormous style.  Boris Karloff has a great supporting role as a formerly successful fashion designer living in a fantasy world while Sanders is suave as you like and Ball is … ballsy! Annette Warren, who dubs blonde club singer Ethelreda Leopold here, would also provides Ball’s singing voice in Fancy Pants and Sorrowful Jones. Gorgeously shot by Billy Daniels, this is a remake of a 1939 French film (Pieges) directed by Robert Siodmak. She’s won her spurs, she deserves to be happy

The Fallen Idol (1948)

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It’s things like that give secrets away. The young Anglo-French son of a diplomat, Philippe (Bobby Henrey), often finds himself alone at his house. To entertain him the butler Baines (Ralph Richardson) creates adventurous stories of his past. As a result, Phillipe sees the man as a hero.  He follows him one afternoon and unwittingly disturbs Baines’ extra-marital romance with Julie (Michèle Morgan). When Baines’ unpleasant wife (Sonia Dresdel) falls to her death, the police believe Baines was behind it. Philippe, who witnessed the event, will do anything to protect the butler but he only makes things worse by doing so… Where there’s life there’s hope. Director Carol Reed may have fallen out of fashion in the Sixties when the Movie auteurist critics were on the prowl but he had a remarkable way with actors and the performances he elicits here are touching. It’s an adaptation by William Templeton and Lesley of Graham Greene’s story The Basement Room.  It’s a startling evocation of the difference between a child and an adult’s perception of the world and how a young person can crucially misunderstand the games people play. Reed would return to the Belgravia location twenty years later for another story of a seven-year old boy, Oliver! Wonderfully staged and played with a creeping suspense as the police close in on Baines, this has an outstanding score by William Alwyn. We’ve got to think of lies and tell them all the time. And then they won’t find out the truth

Junior Bonner (1972)

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Rodeo time, I gotta get it on down the road/What road? I mean, I’m workin’ on my first million, and you’re still workin’ on eight seconds. Middle-aged rodeo rider Junior Bonner (Steve McQueen) returns to his Arizona hometown where he reunites with his family, which includes his charming, troublemaker of a father, Ace (Robert Preston), and his ambitious real estate-developer brother Curly (Joe Don Baker). Mom Elvira (Ida Lupino) is estranged from her husband. So while Ace dreams of finding his fortune in Australia, Junior is determined to conquer a tough bull named Sunshine by riding it for eight seconds. Can Junior claim victory over Sunshine and stay in the rodeo business?… Junior, you’re my brother, and I guess I love you. Well, we’re family. I don’t care what you do. You can sell one lot or a hundred lots. I’m just tryin’ to keep us together. Directed by Sam Peckinpah from a script by Jeb Rosebrook, this is a wonderful, warm, sympathetic portrait of a man having issues with ageing, returning home to a scrappy if welcoming family in a changing West and finally figuring out who he is. This is another Peckinpah film about the coming of modernity to the frontier and when we see The Wild Bunch embroidered on a suited-and-booted rider’s saddle blanket it’s just one thread of symbolic commentary in the bountiful narrative. There’s a great use of split-screen for the Prescott rodeo and the performances are memorable in an affecting, compelling film, probably Peckinpah’s most gentle outing with an undertow of violence beneath the gentility and quest for honour. McQueen is brilliant as the cowboy staking his claim. There’s one of him, and one of me

Up With the Lark (1943)

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Don’t be so effeminate. Call me Bill.  Ethel (Ethel Revnell) and Gracie (Gracie West) lose their jobs as telephone operators when the hotel where they work is burgled. They are persuaded by the police to pose as Land Girls in the countryside where the gang of black marketeers is headquartered… This is no ordinary gaol. We take pride in making people feel at home. In which the radio comedy stars play intrepid dimwits caught up in something bigger than they are and inadvertently help catch criminals.  A true relic of its time, this B flick is done on the cheap with some very strange performances albeit Ivor Barnard’s multiple roles should be seen. Directed by Phil Brandon from a story by Val Valentine and a screenplay by James Seymour. If you can’t go cuckoo go cock-a-doodle-doo!

Suspiria (1977)

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You’re going to meet death now… the LIVING DEAD! Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) transfers to Germany to attend the Freiburg Tanzakademie, a prestigious ballet school. When she arrives, late on a stormy night, no one lets her in, and she sees Pat Hingle (Eva Axén), another student, fleeing from the school. When Pat reaches her apartment, she is murdered. The next day, Suzy arrives at her new school, where Miss Tanner (Alida Valli) introduces her to everyone, including the imperious Madame Blanc (Joan Bennett, in her final role) but has a difficult time settling in. She hears noises, and often feels ill, put on a special diet. As more people die, Suzy uncovers the terrifying secret history of the place and has to save herself from a witches’ coven …  I can see that once you make up your mind about something, nothing will change it for you. My compliments. Co-written by director Dario Argento with Daria Nicolodi (and vaguely based on the Thomas de Quincey essay Suspiria de Profundis), this is one of the classic giallos, a colourful, suspenseful exercise in paranoid conspiracy Gothic supernatural horror, with witches instead of politicians and a gutsy heroine who reigns supreme. There are several gorgeous set pieces, incredible cinematography (Luciano Tovoli) and production design (Giuseppe Bassan) and one of the all-time great scores by Goblin and Argento. And it wouldn’t be a Seventies Euro horror without Udo Kier! A delicious delirious dream of a film, every frame bearing the imprint of a master filmmaker. Crazy, sensational and utterly fabulous, this is peak Argento. Suzy, do you know anything about… witches?

The Loves of Joanna Godden (1947)

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I’d like to meet the men who won’t take orders from me.  In Edwardian Britain, a young woman has three suitors who seek her hand in marriage.  When Joanna Godden’s (Googie Withers) father dies, he bequeathed her a farm on the Romney Marsh in Kent. Joanna is determined to run the place herself. Her neighbour Arthur Alce (John McCallum) laughs at her ambitions, but loves her. Choosing a new shepherd, Collard (Chips Rafferty), she allows physical attraction to a man to overcome her judgment as a farmer and her scheme for cross-breeding sheep is unsuccessful after it’s met with mirth. Her wealth gone, she turns to Arthur Alce for help – but not love. That she accepts from Martin Trevor (Derek Bond), a visitor from the world beyond the Marsh. But on the eve of their marriage Martin dies in a drowning accident. When her sister Ellen (Jean Kent) returns from boarding school they clash about everything – and then Arthur asks for Ellen’s hand in marriage …  Things look very different when you’ve someone to share them with.  Isn’t Googie Withers just fabulous? That name. That face! So open and yet complex, a mask veiled with hidden depths, filled with pleasing astringency. She can say absolutely anything and you believe her – absolutely. Here she’s the feminist farmer, a character somewhat out of Thomas Hardy but actually from Sheila Kaye-Smith’s novel Joanna Godden adapted by H.E. Bates and Angus MacPhail, a woman whose story is told through her inheritance of a farm in Romney Marsh and via the rather nasty sisterly rivalry enjoyed opposite the brilliant Kent. The swirling, sonorous score conjuring up the location’s mysteries is by Ralph Vaughan-Williams and the slinky cinematography is by Ealing’s house expert, Douglas Slocombe. Perhaps what’s best about this after the atmospheric landscape which is so vividly enlivened is that Withers and McCallum married. This also features the marvellous Chips Rafferty a year after The Overlanders as – what else – a sheep farmer!  Directed by Charles Frend who had an uncredited assist by Robert Hamer when he fell ill. We hear a lot but we aren’t told much

120 BPM (2017)

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Les membres du groupe de sensibilisation ACT UP Paris demandent au gouvernement et aux sociétés pharmaceutiques de prendre des mesures pour lutter contre l’épidémie de sida au début des années 90. Nathan (Arnaud Valois), nouveau venu dans le groupe, voit son monde bouleversé par Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), militant radical et cofondateur de ACT UP, qui jette ses dernières forces dans la lutte alors qu’il fait face à Le diagnostic de ‘poz’ ayant été infecté par son professeur de maths marié quand il était au lycée lors de sa première rencontre sexuelle … À première vue, ce n’est pas une prémisse attrayante pour un film. Mais ce qui suit est un travail passionnant, impliquant un travail mêlant intimité et conscience sexuelle et action politique, interprété avec un réalisme de type naturalisme et documentaire qui dépeint avec vérité les problèmes de la participation d’activistes et la question de Big Pharma, contrastant tragédies personnelles et action Dans la rue, la poussière disco se mue en images du virus du SIDA dans le sang, réalisme magique rencontrant une honnêteté sans faille. Les réunions du groupe sont entrecoupées de marches, de visites non sollicitées à Melton Pharm, dont les produits sont toxiques et causent la mort, et de danses dans les clubs. Sean et Nathan partagent leurs histoires alors qu’ils s’impliquent dans l’amour et que leurs amis meurent. Le déclin de Nathan est dépeint avec sympathie et la présence sur son corps suscite une révérence et une humanité qui ont rarement été capturées au cinéma: littéralement, il s’agit du corps politique. Passionnant, enthousiasmant, émouvant, c’est une œuvre profonde du cinéma politique et de la réalisation de films de bravoure. Brillamment réalisé par Robin Campillo qui l’a co-écrit avec Philippe Mangeot. La photo aérienne de Paris la nuit divisée par une rivière qui coule du sang (teintée en rouge pour la Journée internationale du sida) n’est pas oubliée. Essentiel.

 

The Reptile (1966)

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Half woman – half snake! England in the early twentieth century. Harry Spalding (Ray Barrett) inherits his brother Charles’s cottage in Clagmoor Heath following the man’s mysterious death. He moves in with his new wife Valerie (Jennifer Daniel). They are not welcomed by any of the locals save for the publican Tom Bailey (Michael Ripper) who tells him Charles died of the Black Death. The local crazy Mad Peter (John Laurie) may be the only person who knows what’s going on:  a Malayan curse has turned the daughter Anna (Jacqueline Pearce) of Dr Franklyn (Noel Willman) into a snake woman… You’re like your brother – obstinate! With a screenplay by Anthony Hinds (as John Elder), this was filmed by director John Gilling back-to-back with The Plague of the Zombies for Hammer and it shares its elegance and controlled atmosphere (and some of its major cast and sets) but let’s face it, it’s fairly silly. The actors are splendid – particularly Pearce as Cobra Girl and Laurie as Mad Peter, with Ripper great as ever – and there’s a flavourful score by Don Banks, making this a most enjoyable excursion into mind control with some terrific set pieces. This was cut to avoid an ‘X’ rating and was then passed in full in 1994.  If you take my advice you won’t live there

 

Bernardo Bertolucci 16th March 1941-26th November 2018

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The film world has lost a poet. Bernardo Bertolucci has died. Equal parts sensualist, political animal and historian, his films frequently courted controversy but he was a true man of the twentieth century – engaged and enraged since his earliest days as Pasolini’s assistant, a romantic visionary in his own right, a Marxist, a dramatist making the cinematic link between eroticism and fascism. If The Conformist is the perfect statement about modern man’s detached disposition, it is an extraordinary analysis of abstract style made by a filmmaker of grave passions.  While Last Tango in Paris is a sorrowful inquisition into the behaviour of a grieving misogynist, The Last Emperor brought people to the cinema who only go once a decade:  a work of staggering beauty, made with regular collaborator, cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, with unprecedented footage of The Forbidden City telling the compelling story of a simple man adrift in a world of complexity.  1900 is a sympathetic portrait of Italy reawakening from its slumbers; while The Dreamers is a bittersweet account of the 1968 generation and the sexual awakening of adolescents discovering their political place in a world of tumult. Farewell to one of the greats. Addio a un maestro.

I left the ending ambiguous, because that is the way life is.
I don’t film messages. I let the post office take care of those.
I think that I used to love Hollywood movies. I remember great phases and moments. But, unfortunately, now is not the moment.
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