philip-davies31

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Reviews

The Big Trail
(1930)

This great film has for too long languished in undeserved obscurity, and richly deserves the status of a classic.
The bulk of reviews here consistently marvel at the achievement of this little-known masterpiece of the early sound cinema.

I have nothing to add that has not already been said of praise and wonder at this astounding film of director Raoul Walsh and the technicians at Fox studios: I have just viewed a good copy of the widescreen version, and the film is a masterpiece in every department - even the acting is a cut above it's era for Hollywood.

One reviewer sees it as the sort of artistic reconstruction of reality that Robert Flaherty so movingly employed. I concur. I'd even go further and say that the detail Walsh packs into his wide screen builds up the sort of action-in-depth, teeming with vibrant community life, that Robert Altman mastered much later - and the true epic scale of American history that only Michael Cimino's 'Heaven's Gate' of 50 years in the future aspires to encompass with this degree of ambition.

Yet nothing comes close to the power with which Walsh wields his futuristic widescreen medium - technically far ahead of its time - to transport us back to the living epic of of the Oregon Trail. The much-vaunted Cinerama 'How the West Was Won' of 1962 does not come close in artistic terms, and indeed that 3-camera medium is a crude and unwieldy behemoth compared to Fox's marvellously unobtrusive yet gloriously panoramic medium.

Scene after scene of 'The Big Trail' overwhelms us with a sense of a harsh and challenging lived experience, achieved with extraordinary and even at times documentary realism. This film is one of the very finest examples of cinematic Americana, and an authentic monument to the vision of those ordinary folk who struggled across a continent and in so doing created a great nation.

Most impressively, here we are given true heroism and a real epic vision presented with unaffected simplicity, and abiding power: The colossal technical demands made of the cast and crew are met without any vulgar show, and the conception of 'grandeur' which inspired the naming of Fox's widescreen system is not belied or belittled by the fine artistic intelligence shown on the screen.

Here Walsh shows himself the worthy successor of his seminal mentor D.W. Griffith - and with this production possibly even surpasses his master in mise-en-scene. Most of his set, after all, was not built in a studio, but was actually the New World as created by God himself.

Indeed, an almost Biblical progress towards a 'promised land' unfolds before the viewer's wondering gaze. And a young but already charismatic John Wayne is a far more human guide on this journey of the human spirit than the overblown histrionics of Charlton Heston, as he appeared in that much later Hollywood epic of the spiritual journey of a people, 'The Ten Commandments.'

The earthly trinity of Wayne, Walsh and widescreen have certainly blessed the cinema with one of its greatest manifestations.

This great film has for too long languished in undeserved obscurity, and richly deserves the status of a classic.

That Uncertain Feeling
(1941)

'Keeks!' 'Phooey!' 'Egészségedre!'
Clever updating of Victorien Sardou's comic masterpiece 'Cyprienne' of 1880 and a reworking of the director's own silent-era adaptation of 1925, 'Kiss Me Again' (now lost). Lubitsch touches abound, despite generally churlish criticism of 'That Uncertain Feeling' since it's release in 1941. It seems that audiences have not appreciated the broader, farcical elements, reflecting the style and tone of the original play, that are an integral part of this neglected Lubitsch gem.

Even the numerous detractors of this delightful film - who feel that it somehow misses the fabled 'touch' - do still feel obliged to enumerate the many happy contrivances which the great director elegantly accomplishes here. I won't spoil the film for those who have not yet enjoyed the treat, but any honest viewing will confirm that the stylish acting and delicious wit displayed in TUF do put to shame most contemporary comedy.

There is an abundance of talent on show here to make us glad: Only a character as impossible as Alexander Sebastian, with his determination to be impressed by nothing and nobody but himself, could possibly dismiss this highly amusing film with the casually contemptuous 'Phooey!' that is so typical of that ridiculous fellow.

Amidst the humour, this marital farce can really needle, as witness the husband's annoying treatment of his wife by habitually poking her in the ribs with an index finger and the accompanying would-be-droll vocalisation of 'Keeks!'

The Freudian finger tends to provoke attacks of the hiccups in Mrs Baker, which psychosomatic complaint takes her to the psychiatrist, and a surprisingly therapeutic waiting-room confrontation with the aforementioned eccentric pianist Alexander Sebastian. A fling then ensues more beneficial to Mrs Baker than her one and only plodding analysis session.

We are now launched into some deliciously Mozartian mischief, by means of which the Baker's marriage is saved.

Some strange words are uttered during the course of events, like comic incantations.

For instance, a marvellous conversational riot of Hungarian bonhomie is unleashed at the Baker's dinner-table, when the magic word 'Egészségedre!' - pronounced Egg-e-sheg-e-dra and meaning 'Cheers!' - is employed by the host's wife to ingratiate his prospective business partners, Hungarian mattress manufacturers and furniture salesmen whom the Bakers are entertaining along with their wives: The precise meaning of the unleashed flood of Hungarian words doesn't matter, and remains incomprehensible except insofar as it so obviously celebrates simple human good-fellowship.The scene magically conjures up just the domestic bliss missing from the Baker menage - now unhappily a trois.

Then there is the 'Keeks!' which as a punning intertitle announces ' - - - has gone out of the marriage.'

Mr Baker has deliberately and with enthusiasm acceded to a divorce, realising that the piano-player will not like to find himself conforming to the role of husband, nor the wife to suffer the spectacle of hubby's renewed bachelor affairs. To become the 'named individual' in resolving the love-triangle by initiating divorce proceedings Mr Baker must contrive to slap his estranged wife's face before a witness at the solicitor's office: He finds it so difficult to accomplish this faked outrage that Mrs Baker is immediately reconciled: The smart slap is transfigured into the committed loving gesture that expunges and heals the injury of the inconsiderate and unfeeling light drollery of 'Keeks!' - that Mrs Baker found so depressing that it was the cause of the separation: 'He had to get drunk to do it' she says, happily recognising his renewed committment.

Additionally, the sly insinuation of the husband's reprehended dig-in-the-ribs - always more suitable for all-male locker-room joshing - into the amatory repertoire of the precious and annoying Alexander Sebastian absolutely clinches the marital deal for Mr Baker, as well as the resolution of the comic drama: As Mr Freud might say, in the person of the ineffective psychiatrist at the outset of the marital crisis, a transference has taken place, the latest and most significant, whereby an unconscious redirection of feelings has taken place from one person to another - that is to say, in this case, of Mrs Baker's feelings from the fellow whom she now perceives to be her intolerably selfish piano-playing fling and back towards her redeemed and grateful husband.

Such witty and life-affirming prestidigitation with language and action is pretty brilliant wit, it seems to me, and as eminently worthy of admiration as the rest of Lubitch's delightful quicksilver touch.

A true comedy, this, then, being a joyous celebration of the more hopeful side of life: 'Egészségedre!' indeed.

Les fantômes du chapelier
(1982)

A very great film, i.m.h.o.
I agree with the French critics: 'Les fantômes du chapelier' is typical Chabrol, in it's immersion in the seedy side of small-town bourgeoisie; and also I agree with the general French view that this is one of the director's finest, in it's stifling and utterly convincing accumulation of horror, and in his precise and unshowy command of all aspects of the film's development.

I also agree with the French view that Michel Serrault's disturbingly haunted strangler is a miracle of the highest theatrical achievement, as that great actor develops a portrayal of the inner turmoil beneath the dapper and respectable exterior of a monster: The spectacle of the abnormal psychological disturbance M. Labbé is unable to quite conceal under a stiff and formal manner is a sustained tour-de-force by Serrault. Anglo-Saxon critics have done him little justice for this astonishing, riveting performance.

The performance of Monique Chaumette as the difficult but ultimately unhappy and tragic Mme Labbé - in a flasback to the Labbé's dangerously dysfunctional marriage - is also a dramatic high point, and every bit as perfectly judged a murder scene as anything in Hitchcock.

Nor should we ignore the horror shown in the face of Kachoudas, the sad little Jewish tailor, who sees the abyss of evil in Labbé before anyone else, and is hypnotised by it as by a threatening ghost from his own racial past, until eventually the wounded soul of Kachoudas succumbs to the fearful proximity of the seemingly unstoppable mass-murderer, and the return of this refugee's existential and radical insecurity, already burdened with the inescapable psychological damage of a surviving victim, prove overwhelming - indeed, Labbé's dark warnings to keep quiet are sufficient to crush the tailor's spirit, already weakened from pneumonia brought on by the chill he caught following the hatter one wet night, when he witnessed the latest murder.

Some have objected that the story is merely 'unpleasant,' but I would have to say that there are here many cameos of decent, ordinary folk to provide a humane context that makes the disgusting spectacle as pitiable as it is horrific: The silent observers of the final murder/guilt tableaux at the conclusion,when Labbé is found asleep next to the corpse of his last victim, is a scene almost out of Greek tragedy, except that the Chorus is a largely still and silent one, evincing on our behalf, as the audience, the mute horror of all outraged normal sensibility.

The queasy mix of black humour and moral horror is created by a director who was a master of his craft and art: Talk of this being somehow 'lesser' Chabrol is simply ridiculous. This is supremely well-judged cinema by a film-maker still at the top of his game.

It is all more metaphysical than it is mere ''policier.' A very great film, i.m.h.o.

That Uncertain Feeling
(1941)

'Keeks!' 'Phooey!' 'Egészségedre!'
Clever updating of Victorien Sardou's comic masterpiece 'Cyprienne' of 1880 and a reworking of the director's own silent-era adaptation of 1925, 'Kiss Me Again' (now lost). Lubitsch touches abound, despite generally churlish criticism of 'That Uncertain Feeling' since it's release in 1941. It seems that audiences have not appreciated the broader, farcical elements, reflecting the style and tone of the original play, that are an integral part of this neglected Lubitsch gem.

Even the numerous detractors of this delightful film - who feel that it somehow misses the fabled 'touch' - do still feel obliged to enumerate the many happy contrivances which the great director elegantly accomplishes here. I won't spoil the film for those who have not yet enjoyed the treat, but any honest viewing will confirm that the stylish acting and delicious wit displayed in TUF do put to shame most contemporary comedy.

There is an abundance of talent on show here to make us glad: Only a character as impossible as Alexander Sebastian, with his determination to be impressed by nothing and nobody but himself, could possibly dismiss this highly amusing film with the casually contemptuous 'Phooey!' that is so typical of that ridiculous fellow.

Amidst the humour, this marital farce can really needle, as witness the husband's annoying treatment of his wife by habitually poking her in the ribs with an index finger and the accompanying would-be-droll vocalisation of 'Keeks!'

The Freudian finger tends to provoke attacks of the hiccups in Mrs Baker, which psychosomatic complaint takes her to the psychiatrist, and a surprisingly therapeutic waiting-room confrontation with the aforementioned eccentric pianist Alexander Sebastian. A fling then ensues more beneficial to Mrs Baker than her one and only plodding analysis session.

We are now launched into some deliciously Mozartian mischief, by means of which the Baker's marriage is saved.

Some strange words are uttered during the course of events, like comic incantations.

For instance, a marvellous conversational riot of Hungarian bonhomie is unleashed at the Baker's dinner-table, when the magic word 'Egészségedre!' - pronounced Egg-e-sheg-e-dra and meaning 'Cheers!' - is employed by the host's wife to ingratiate his prospective business partners, Hungarian mattress manufacturers and furniture salesmen whom the Bakers are entertaining along with their wives: The precise meaning of the unleashed flood of Hungarian words doesn't matter, and remains incomprehensible except insofar as it so obviously celebrates simple human good-fellowship.The scene magically conjures up just the domestic bliss missing from the Baker menage - now unhappily a trois.

Then there is the 'Keeks!' which as a punning intertitle announces ' - - - has gone out of the marriage.'

Mr Baker has deliberately and with enthusiasm acceded to a divorce, realising that the piano-player will not like to find himself conforming to the role of husband, nor the wife to suffer the spectacle of hubby's renewed bachelor affairs. To become the 'named individual' in resolving the love-triangle by initiating divorce proceedings Mr Baker must contrive to slap his estranged wife's face before a witness at the solicitor's office: He finds it so difficult to accomplish this faked outrage that Mrs Baker is immediately reconciled: The smart slap is transfigured into the committed loving gesture that expunges and heals the injury of the inconsiderate and unfeeling light drollery of 'Keeks!' - that Mrs Baker found so depressing that it was the cause of the separation: 'He had to get drunk to do it' she says, happily recognising his renewed committment.

Additionally, the sly insinuation of the husband's reprehended dig-in-the-ribs - always more suitable for all-male locker-room joshing - into the amatory repertoire of the precious and annoying Alexander Sebastian absolutely clinches the marital deal for Mr Baker, as well as the resolution of the comic drama: As Mr Freud might say, in the person of the ineffective psychiatrist at the outset of the marital crisis, a transference has taken place, the latest and most significant, whereby an unconscious redirection of feelings has taken place from one person to another - that is to say, in this case, of Mrs Baker's feelings from the fellow whom she now perceives to be her intolerably selfish piano-playing fling and back towards her redeemed and grateful husband.

Such witty and life-affirming prestidigitation with language and action is pretty brilliant wit, it seems to me, and as eminently worthy of admiration as the rest of Lubitch's delightful quicksilver touch.

A true comedy, this, then, being a joyous celebration of the more hopeful side of life: 'Egészségedre!' indeed.

That Uncertain Feeling
(1941)

'Keeks!' 'Phooey!' 'Egészségedre!'
Clever updating of Victorien Sardou's comic masterpiece 'Cyprienne' of 1880 and a reworking of the director's own silent-era adaptation of 1925, 'Kiss Me Again' (now lost). Lubitsch touches abound, despite generally churlish criticism of 'That Uncertain Feeling' since it's release in 1941. It seems that audiences have not appreciated the broader, farcical elements, reflecting the style and tone of the original play, that are an integral part of this neglected Lubitsch gem.

Even the numerous detractors of this delightful film - who feel that it somehow misses the fabled 'touch' - do still feel obliged to enumerate the many happy contrivances which the great director elegantly accomplishes here. I won't spoil the film for those who have not yet enjoyed the treat, but any honest viewing will confirm that the stylish acting and delicious wit displayed in TUF do put to shame most contemporary comedy.

There is an abundance of talent on show here to make us glad: Only a character as impossible as Alexander Sebastian, with his determination to be impressed by nothing and nobody but himself, could possibly dismiss this highly amusing film with the casually contemptuous 'Phooey!' that is so typical of that ridiculous fellow.

Amidst the humour, this marital farce can really needle, as witness the husband's annoying treatment of his wife by habitually poking her in the ribs with an index finger and the accompanying would-be-droll vocalisation of 'Keeks!'

The Freudian finger tends to provoke attacks of the hiccups in Mrs Baker, which psychosomatic complaint takes her to the psychiatrist, and a surprisingly therapeutic waiting-room confrontation with the aforementioned eccentric pianist Alexander Sebastian. A fling then ensues more beneficial to Mrs Baker than her one and only plodding analysis session.

We are now launched into some deliciously Mozartian mischief, by means of which the Baker's marriage is saved.

Some strange words are uttered during the course of events, like comic incantations.

For instance, a marvellous conversational riot of Hungarian bonhomie is unleashed at the Baker's dinner-table, when the magic word 'Egészségedre!' - pronounced Egg-e-sheg-e-dra and meaning 'Cheers!' - is employed by the host's wife to ingratiate his prospective business partners, Hungarian mattress manufacturers and furniture salesmen whom the Bakers are entertaining along with their wives: The precise meaning of the unleashed flood of Hungarian words doesn't matter, and remains incomprehensible except insofar as it so obviously celebrates simple human good-fellowship.The scene magically conjures up just the domestic bliss missing from the Baker menage - now unhappily a trois.

Then there is the 'Keeks!' which as a punning intertitle announces ' - - - has gone out of the marriage.'

Mr Baker has deliberately and with enthusiasm acceded to a divorce, realising that the piano-player will not like to find himself conforming to the role of husband, nor the wife to suffer the spectacle of hubby's renewed bachelor affairs. To become the 'named individual' in resolving the love-triangle by initiating divorce proceedings Mr Baker must contrive to slap his estranged wife's face before a witness at the solicitor's office: He finds it so difficult to accomplish this faked outrage that Mrs Baker is immediately reconciled: The smart slap is transfigured into the committed loving gesture that expunges and heals the injury of the inconsiderate and unfeeling light drollery of 'Keeks!' - that Mrs Baker found so depressing that it was the cause of the separation: 'He had to get drunk to do it' she says, happily recognising his renewed committment.

Additionally, the sly insinuation of the husband's reprehended dig-in-the-ribs - always more suitable for all-male locker-room joshing - into the amatory repertoire of the precious and annoying Alexander Sebastian absolutely clinches the marital deal for Mr Baker, as well as the resolution of the comic drama: As Mr Freud might say, in the person of the ineffective psychiatrist at the outset of the marital crisis, a transference has taken place, the latest and most significant, whereby an unconscious redirection of feelings has taken place from one person to another - that is to say, in this case, of Mrs Baker's feelings from the fellow whom she now perceives to be her intolerably selfish piano-playing fling and back towards her redeemed and grateful husband.

Such witty and life-affirming prestidigitation with language and action is pretty brilliant wit, it seems to me, and as eminently worthy of admiration as the rest of Lubitch's delightful quicksilver touch.

A true comedy, this, then, being a joyous celebration of the more hopeful side of life: 'Egészségedre!' indeed.

Minder: Not a Bad Lad, Dad
(1980)
Episode 5, Season 2

A sad and perfect mini-masterpiece.
Superbly written slice-of-life which features Terry almost entirely, with Arthur kept in the background. A tender but never maudlin portrayal of a little lad from 'oop north' who is dumped with the unattached Terry on the strength of his long-forgotten dalliance with young Peter's mum, who is fleeing an abusive husband.

With the help of his current posh girlfriend (Terry has a weakness for 'posh birds'), one of Cockney London's 'wide boys' and the surprisingly well-brought-up child of a dysfunctional Warrington marriage, briefly bond into a movingly surrogate family, as Terry comes to the sad realisation of all the possibilities of family joy he has missed because of his freewheeling and irregular life.

There is a gem of a scene on the Thames, when young Peter teaches Terry the history of his own City's landmarks as they sail past them, and the grown man realises with shame that education is another thing he has missed out on.

The bullying father finds his way to London but is taught a lesson he won't forget by Terry, when threatening to storm into his wife's London bolthole, where she's staying with relatives, intending to carry on where he left off. Peter's Mum then gratefully confesses to Terry that he's not the lad's dad after all, as she just wanted to trick him into helping her. Terry asks - rather pathetically - if he can maybe come up North and see the lad, sometime? The mother says she'd like that, and so would Peter.

But the episode ends with an home-movie-like compilation of Terry playing football with the kid in the park, and we realise that this is a stereotypical illusion of family life that will never come to pass for him. And possibly not for little Peter, either (a wonderfully touching portrayal by the young actor in this role).

A sad and perfect little masterpiece.

Le nouveau locataire
(2013)

Better by far than Polanski's 'The Tenant' of 1976
This fine short film shows up the serious deficiencies in Polanski's version of Roland Topor's wonderful story.

It keeps closer to the original, and does not dissipate it with pointless elaborations, nor injure it with Polanski's inexplicable omissions. Neither is the atmosphere of this French version spoiled by the tasteless intrusion of inappropriate black humour, nor the badly judged indulgence in ridiculous melodrama which Polanski's version suffers at the end. It is also infinitely improved by being in French, and not the jarring Yankee voices of the actors Polanski uses.

But certainly the greatest improvement on the 1976 version is the wonderfully androgynous presence of François De Brauer in the crucially ambiguous role of the new tenant: Polanski unwisely cast himself in this role, and made it ridiculous.

Marek Nurzynski, the otherwise unknown director of this film, is to be congratulated on his altogether more delicate handling of the persistent enigma of the dead girl. Where Polanski concentrates on the gross horror of the broken body, and Trelkovsky's violent paranoia, at the expense of any lingering sadness of the suicide, Nurzynski gently conjures her pitiful presence like a haunting boudoir scent.

In Nurzynski's poetic version, as people begin to mistake Trelkovsky for the dead Simone we feel the chill of a passing ghost - the chill which is entirely missing from Polanski's overlong portrait of an inadequate and unlikeable man going mad.

Nurzynski is closer to the original story, whose title is 'Le Locataire chimérique' - a notion which Polanski and his writers have chosen to interpret in only it's monstrous aspect, and not in the more moving sense of a forlorn hope, an unfulfilled desire. The resultant personal tragedy that so headily drenches the atmosphere of the bereaved room, makes this incomparably the better film.

Crooks Anonymous
(1962)

Poor Julie Christie!
Comedy misfire whose only remnant of any entertainment value is spotting old stalwarts of British cinema and TV - but especially pleasurable is the sight of a very young and gorgeous Julie Christie in her very first appearance: A 'One' for that box-tick.

The poor girl looks far too classy and intelligent throughout to be involved in these direly daft and unfunny proceedings. I suppose she had to accept any old rubbish to get on the ladder that led to super-stardom..

Spellbound
(1945)

Love's Labyrinthine Realm.
Never having seen this Hitchcock film in a decent print before, but only in the dreadfully worn-out prints that distributors have been content to release to the public, I had never appreciated it.

However, the recent Talking Pictures TV showing of the scintillatingly pristine Criterion restoration, with the original hand-tinted blood-red splash of the point-of-view suicide, has remedied that: This astonishing movie drew me deep into the disturbing labyrinth that lurks just on the other side of our brittle, but complacently smooth, veneer of consciousness.

This vertiginous plunge down the slippery slope of our frail human illusion into an horrific trance of frozen terror, as the piercing lights of Hitchcock's camera and projector bear down on us and sweep away our complacent psychological defences against the reality we strive to keep at bay, is the work of an artist of irresistible hypnotic power.

Such mastery of cinematic means to produce precise effects in the viewer is the equal of psychological analysis. The levels of mental disturbance displayed in this film put the viewer into a region of the mind beyond surrealism, where the hyper-realism of raw psychic disturbance makes ordinary reality fade into a pale and unconvincing ghostly parody of the truth.

Hitch must have intuited that the whole art of cinema is based on the powerful illusion known as Pepper's Ghost - an illusion which depends for its effect upon the readiness of the viewer to believe it. Hitch was a magician, and the High Priest of an ancient craft who employed the most modern technology of the moving picture to seduce his acolytes into the consciousness of the mysteries hiding within all of us, that both terrify and fascinate.

Many have sought to unpack the utterly brilliant matching of cinematic form to purpose in this film, and have properly extolled the excellence of Hitchcock's sheer technical craft. Yet among these generally positive critics there is always one reservation: The alleged technical incompetence of the backward- racing backgrounds to the close-ups of the downhill-skiing couple's rush towards the psychological crisis.

At this moment, it has been thought, Hitchcock's genius abandoned him, and allowed him to insert a carelessly shoddy and unconvincing studio backdrop, which is in stark and disturbing contrast to the documentary long-shots taken on the actual ski slopes, and into which the studio shots are amateurishly inserted.

Apart from the improbability of a perfectionist and directorial disciplinarian like Alfred Hitchcock fudging a scene, the fact is that his detractors, in this instance, have chosen to see as a flaw the jarring contrast, which seems obviously intended as the means whereby we are enabled to feel the disembodied nature of the psychological reality, that is removing the two chief characters from their false, surface consciousness, as they plunge towards the literal cliffhanger denouement of either destruction or deliverance.

In other words, the studied artificiality of the intimate close-ups is absolutely essential to the successful impact of this allegedly defective scene! The characters seem suspended in an airless region of their own intimate crisis, oblivious of the rushing world that would sweep them away from themselves - and as they are out of their mind, they come to their senses, and the vertiginous self-abandonment instantly ceases.

Hitchcock's deployment of precise yet mysterious symbolism to imprint our minds without our really appreciating what we are seeing until it is allowed to become clear at this necessary crisis, with the disturbingly irrational appearance of parallel lines, fields of stark white, and toboggans or skis on snowy slopes, puts us in the same unstable mental state as his protagonists: We become as intent on their salvation from their personal psychic predicament as if we were their analyst - or indeed shared their own tormented and doomed psychological state.

Orson Welles' 'Rosebud' was the toboggan symbolising the psychological disturbance of the protagonist in his 'Citizen Kane' of three years before 'Spellbound,' and i.m.h.o. Hitchcock's symbolism is not forced like Welles's, and is much more closely and meaningfully integrated into the film it appears in. Welles' symbol is cynically cast into the fire, whereas Hitchcock's is triumphant and redemptive.

I think the location of the psychic denouement of 'Spellbound' in a place called 'Gabriel Valley' is Hitch's Catholic upbringing haunting him, this time in a positive sense; and (for me at least) this imbues his drama with a humanising spirituality that is magnificently at odds with both scientific psychiatry and unforgiving morality - and far beyond the somewhat mechanical and cynical contrivance of Welles, whom I increasingly find cold and shallow and pretentious.

But this breathtakingly brilliant film-making by Hitchcock produces an unsettling sense of perfection, like having stared too long at an intensely bright light: One reels out of the cinema - or out of one's hallucination - into the common light of day, stumbling as one tries to come to terms with this dull, unmeaning gleam that passes for ordinary consciousness.

I cannot believe that this film should not be considered one of the finest ever made, or that it is considered one of the Master's lesser achievements!

And nor can I forgive the littleness of the age we presently live in, that forces the entirely admirable 'Talking Pictures TV' to place before this superb study of the agonies and glories of heterosexual desire - among other complex traits of our suffering humanity - the shallow and insulting warning that, 'This film may contain scenes which some viewers may find distressing.'

It seems to me that our entire era requires psychoanalysing, before we can again be permitted to embark on that dark and dangerous pursuit of passion, that may as easily be hopelessly lost in the labyrinth of the mind, as it might lead us into redemption.

Hitch was full of such very human complexes: In this film he gives to those miseries and glories a poetic power that transfixes and transforms our sensibility.

Wartime Portraits
(2014)

An appalling, inescapable, unforgettable and essential historical spectacle
The first film essay of this series revolves around Bronislaw Hellwig, one of the young resistance fighters in Nazi-occupied Warsaw.

Daring use of sharp-edged impressionistic monochrome animation to dramatise personal memoirs and stunning archive of surviving film and photographs to bring home to us a haunting shadow-play of the incredible courage and sacrifice of the young people of the Polish Resistance during WW2, achieves real nobility without any false heroics.

This was a shattering experience, an utterly terrible disaster, unimaginable even to those in London who suffered the Blitz - which was still in their own, free country after all. The agony of Poland's capital city, systematically smashed and depopulated by the Germans, became a monumental ruin within which the tortured heart of Poland beat on, bleeding, so that their nation could have some pride in the death and defeat of a country systematically ravaged and crushed..

Really, this short essay is beyond criticism, in showing how humanity was crucified by an evil beyond comprehension: The viewer's stunned sensibility reels at this appalling, inescapable, unforgettable spectacle.of youth haunted by the certainty of agonising death and a future of unborn children - yet still so full of life and dreams that they dared to love - - -

Modern Poland owes its lost youth everything. This painful memorial is beautifully evocative of their pain and the outrage of their end, fighting unequally against overwhelmingly powerful evil.

I have no doubt the other films in this Polish TV series - made available in Britain thanks to Netflix, and that I will certainly be viewing - are equally powerful testaments to the martyrdom of Poland under a degenerate German onslaught.

Five unsung heroes emerge from the shadows in these five short films, leaving us with an indelible impression of the human spirit prevailing over impossible odds. Perhaps only Andrez Wajda, in his 'Ashes and Diamonds' Trilogy, or in the terrifying portrait of Poland's Hellish fate in his film 'Katyn,' has ever shown this horrific agony of his country as effectively.

Essential viewing for all of us so fortunate as to live in peace: We must bear in mind that such horrors do not invariably occur in other times. or in distant places. Civilisation is a fragile creation..

Barnacle Bill
(1957)

A neglected Ealing gem - a satire that can still get under the skin of bossy authority!
Seldom seen, unlike the other Ealing Comedies, 'Talking PicturesTV' here in Britain have just given 'Barnacle Bill' a long-overdue primetime outing.

This film continues that wonderful channel's welcome service to viewers, from whom this sort of sterling British fare has been withheld, for far too long, by ignorant, narrow-minded and culturally impoverished TV executives.

'Barnacle Bill' was made at the same period Guinness was involved in David Lean's pretentious and lamentably inauthentic 'Bridge On the River Kwai,' and is, in it's unassuming and jolly way, much the superior film IMHO.

It is one of Ealing's best exponents of that deliciously subversive whimsical wit only the English can create: Huge delight is to be enjoyed in seeing pettifogging and venal petty bureaucrats bested by a retired officer of the Royal Navy - who has seldom set to sea owing to crippling lifelong sea-sickness! - in his epically comic battle with hostile authorities, determined to prevent him from making a success of restoring the fortunes of their seaside town's decayed and neglected pier, so they can all profit from their own crooked and unsympathetic developments for the town.

The jokes are very good - and certainly would be unforgiveably ruined by being baldly described out of context! - and they never stop!! At the same time, in that wonderfully poised English manner, everything is developed and played absolutely straight - which leads us, all-unsuspecting, through the many happy contrivances, which are made believable by dint of taking a recognisably ordinary world for their embarkation-point. We are more than ready to suspend disbelief: We are willing accomplices in this subversion of the stuffy values which unfriendly officialdom would inflict upon us.

Indeed, this film is especially welcome at a time, such as the present, when authority has become increasingly inconsiderate of the decent feelings of ordinary folk, and impervious to our formal appeals, which are contemptuously dismissed as a matter of routine: How glorious it is, then, to see these misguided buffoons, who presume to dictate to us, reduced to helpless laughing-stocks!

How necessary this laughter is today, we can see in the classification warning note with which 'Talking Pictures TV' is obliged to preface each presentation: The blameless - if gently subversive - 'Barnacle Bill' has been given a 'PG' rating, with the earnest explanation that it 'contains outdated racial references that may offend some viewers'!!! Yet the one and only example of such allegedly 'racist' usage is when Capt. William Horatio Ambrose drolly remarks, of the possible annoyance that some holidaymakers fear may be occasioned by a trader in trinkets, who has put out from shore in a small boat in order to exploit the captive market 'on board' the pier (which has been registered as a 'ship ashore' and advertised for virtual 'sea voyages'!), as follows:

'I'm sure the natives are friendly.'

That this gloriously funny, throwaway line - conjuring from a ramshackle pier, standing just yards from an ordinary English seaside resort, deliriously extravagant visions of voyages aboard a liner to faraway and exotic locations - should be the subject of our own ridiculous modern moral arbiters, provides such an apt comparison with the efforts of authority in this film from the fifties to suppress all good cheer, that I find it hard to believe that someone at 'Talking Pictures TV' has not been a little mischievous, and failed to resist the temptation to emulate the satirical spirit of Ealing!

And please, no complaints from my fellow-Brits for giving the English sole credit for this inimitable kind of humour, which really is an uniquely English inheritance - as one says who is himself a proud Welshman, and whose compliment cannot therefore be reasonably arraigned for racist motives!

Laughter - as the British have known for ages - is the encouraging sound of freedom, and humanity. A simple yet priceless commodity.

Le nouveau locataire
(2013)

Better by far than Polanski's 'The Tenant' of 1976
This fine short film shows up the serious deficiencies in Polanski's version of Roland Topor's wonderful story.

It keeps closer to the original, and does not dissipate it with pointless elaborations, nor injure it with Polanski's inexplicable omissions. Neither is the atmosphere of this French version spoiled by the tasteless intrusion of inappropriate black humour, nor the badly judged indulgence in ridiculous melodrama which Polanski's version suffers at the end. It is also infinitely improved by being in French, and not the jarring Yankee voices of the actors Polanski uses.

But certainly the greatest improvement on the 1976 version is the wonderfully androgynous presence of François De Brauer in the crucially ambiguous role of the new tenant: Polanski unwisely cast himself in this role, and made it ridiculous.

Marek Nurzynski, the otherwise unknown director of this film, is to be congratulated on his altogether more delicate handling of the persistent enigma of the dead girl. Where Polanski concentrates on the gross horror of the broken body, and Trelkovsky's violent paranoia, at the expense of any lingering sadness of the suicide, Nurzynski gently conjures her pitiful presence like a haunting boudoir scent.

In Nurzynski's poetic version, as people begin to mistake Trelkovsky for the dead Simone we feel the chill of a passing ghost - the chill which is entirely missing from Polanski's overlong portrait of an inadequate and unlikeable man going mad.

Nurzynski is closer to the original story, whose title is 'Le Locataire chimérique' - a notion which Polanski and his writers have chosen to interpret in only it's monstrous aspect, and not in the more moving sense of a forlorn hope, an unfulfilled desire. The resultant personal tragedy that so headily drenches the atmosphere of the bereaved room, makes this incomparably the better film.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
(2018)

An instant classic: I cannot praise this magnificent film too highly.
I agree with all of the '10 out of 10' reviews here. This is a superb piece of authentic Americana, and a beautiful meditation on the history of the old West.

There is so much in this magnificent film, and all of it i.m.h.o. perfect. It stands far above most contemporary films.

I particularly admire the elegiac tone, which the comically surreal first episode sets up by parodying all the popular dime novel tropes. Once the nonsensical hyperbole of this cheap tradition of stereotypical tall tales is amusingly disposed of, we can proceed with the sheer cinematic poetry that follows.

In so many ways, this film is the definitive Western epic, and the truest and greatest tribute to the heart and soul of that vast American experience that I have yet seen. It captures the grand simplicity of all great things. Yet it is in small, precisely observed details that this Homeric telling of tales channels the immortality of the American West - such details lodging like Indian arrows in the stunned mind.

These recollections are now intimately my own, fixed for all time. At random I see again the hard men, made dangerously irritable by the boredom of sobriety in a ramshackle tavern under the prohibition of their dry County - - - then the burrows of small prairie dogs felling the charging horses of an Indian war-band and thus helping to save a white man's life - - - then the smiling-through-tears of a man condemned by ill-luck to hang for the second time, attempting awkwardly to make conversation with one of his fellows awaiting their fate on the town gallows, who is weeping openly, by asking him, 'This your first time?' - and who in the next moment observes a young woman in the watching crowd who smiles sweetly up at him, as he thinks, 'That's a pretty gal' as if his imminent death were an impossibly distant prospect, whereupon oblivion immediately supervenes - - - then I am amazed and profoundly moved by the spectacle of the performing quadriplegic child-prodigy exploited by a travelling showman, who begins his every performance of literary classics, before unlettered hicks in obscure towns, with Shelley's portrait of total ruin, 'Ozymandias, King of Kings,' until finally this so-styled 'Wingless Thrush' is murderously supplanted when the money-grubbing showman on whom he must absolutely rely for all necessities, owing to his radical handicap, invests in a rival's more profitable attraction, a 'Pythagorean Pecker' of a novelty chicken, who can by trickery be made to seem able to solve mathematical problems - - - then the film takes off Sergio Leone's Italian style of epic Western in an eccentrically contrived bank robbery scene where the bandit is foiled by a cashier armoured by pots and pans hung around his person, as if with the progress of civilisation the domestic use of metals is overcoming the casting of bullets - - - then there is the edible golden yolk of an eagle-owl's egg frying on a pan like that which an ancient prospector in a remote region also uses to pan for crumbs of the mineral that is so much less enriching than the sustenance freely provided by unspoilt nature - - - and then I see that the sole survivor of a tragic household, consisting also of a young brother and sister, who were travelling hopefully West through the savage hazards of the Oregon Trail, is a nervous and unloved little terrier - incongruously named 'President Pierce' after the President who's pro-slavery policies set the stage for Southern secession and the savage bloodletting of the American Civil War - - - and on and on we are conducted along the lost tracks of a America's painful birth, lined with the anonymous and unvisited graves that compose the very soil of it's growth - conveyed, as in a trance, from one breathtaking scene to the next.

The last episode - and they are all linked by Death, as another reviewer here rightly observes - is definitely in it's correct place to sum up, in it's sophisticated and witty dialogue of characters who are trapped aboard an increasingly disturbing stagecoach journey, the sublime tone of our now concluding journey through tragedy, dark comedy and patient endurance, leavened by fugitive glimpses of happiness and hope, glimpsed throughout our progress towards that undiscovered land, indifferently a land of glory and damnation as it is sensed alike by the religious and the profane. This recalls not only Ford's seminal Western, 'Stagecoach,' but even more the European cinema of Victor Sjöström's haunting 'The Phantom Carriage.'

(There is perhaps also something chillingly Kubrickian in the revelation that the hotel at journey's end is an abode of Death, like the 'Overlook' of 'The Shining.' The shooting location for the Overlook Hotel's exterior was in fact Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood in Oregon - Oregon being of course the destination of the pioneer wagon trains.)

The native Americans are here, as well, of course, in their old, unapologetic guise as efficient terrorists dedicated to the starkly simple and inarguable cause of the survival of their people against the unstoppable destiny of the White Man.

Here is the sad and simple truth of the American experience: It does the troubled dream of America credit, and enriches a wondering world with a deeply humane experience.

I cannot praise this magnificent film too highly.

The Other Side of the Wind
(2018)

A magnificent, haunted ruin.
Welles recalled his career in film-making as having become a nightmare obsession "All the magic is destroyed."

A member of the audience watching the film-within-the-film points out to the projectionist that he is playing the wrong reel. The projectionist replies,

"Does it matter?"

This is Welles surrendering to the void: Any reel of film is a measure of the outward-spiralling, unravelling fabric of existence - like the captured ripples of time fixed forever in the cross-section of the huge sequoia log, in Hitchcock's 'Vertigo,' like the fingerprint of God captured in the scrutinising lens. The endless dizzying force of time continues where our lost reel of flickering shadows, cast through the cellulose grown from branching nerve-ends, disappears.

On the other side of Welles's Autumn storm, there lies the litter of sere and fading filmy ghosts of his Spring and high-flying Summer, to be kicked through in the exhilaration of light's brittle ruin, sunshine shifted towards the red end of the spectrum - - - His final Golden Hour.

As Welles's last film went through the gate of his immortality, it stuck, and it's volatile constituents caught light, at last, in a bonfire of his vanity.

The Great Projectionist in the Sky has had it's sport with Orson Welles, and the shadows on the Platonic cave wall he spent his life staring at is revealed at last as just appearance: He finally realises that the reality has eluded him all his life, just when the fascinating illusion flares up most brightly, in it's own final conflagration.

We love the tormenting dreams of our obsession with all we can grasp of life, which is it's flickering illusion. We exist no longer than the glimpse caught between the opening and the shutting of an eye - or the metaphor of an eye created by this cinematic cave, where primaeval impressions prowl - and pounce with jaws wide as an abyss black with our seething blood, all sense finally drowning in the only reality: INCOMMUNICABLE, INCOMPREHENSIBLE DEATH.

This film is the sweeping-away of the accumulated detritus of a life. It represents the epic ruin which Welles himself thought he had made of everything. It is a magnificent ruin - the Ozymandian kind of ruin, which marks the passing of a giant, the lone remembrancer of a lost world, a bulky gnomon whose huge shadow still sweeps round the desert of pulverized dreams - mortar and pestle of an ancient alchemy of all-conquering ILLUSION.

The intoxication of self-abandonment in this wild party of a film is an orgiastic immolation of ordinary consciousness that is an escape from the ever-narrowing constriction of approaching Death. It is Welles's final conjuring trick: The raising of the great and mysterious, cruel and beloved Spirit of his lifelong secret worship. Oja Kodar is the Goddess of this cult, and his inscrutable Muse.

There is a genie in this box of tricks-with-light, that either eclipses, or reveals it's favoured children in glory. Someone remarks of an androgynous film actor that 'the Box' likes him. Oja Kodar pursues him, the dominatrix of this camera oscura, this darkened chamber of mystery. Here the seance of the hypnotic stream of filmed consciousness calls up the souls it has seduced: Moth-like, their powdery wings smear suggestive images across the slide of glancing light. Ghosts are caught. This is evidence.

As Welles said of the actor Jimmy Cagney, whom he greatly admired, 'No one was more unreal and stylized, yet there is no moment when he was not true.' This could equally be said of the conjuring trick that was Welles's own life: As in his previous film, the mockumentary 'F for Fake,' the difference between real spiritual powers and charlatanry's style and swagger are blurred to the point of irrelevance - in the most profound assessment, these are one and the same essence, that sustains us in this impossible conundrum and contradiction of illusory existence. This is after all the old, sustaining magic Welles feared his life had lost.

We can't help loving the old charlatan - and didn't he know it? Why else would we sit, transfixed, like Plato's prisoners unable to look away from the shadow-play, except for the fact we have no alternative but to believe the spectacle is real?

Charlatan and immortal, he has succeeded in directing a film long after his own demise - from the other side of the wind that sweeps away all our dust. What more positive ending could his life on Earth have achieved?

Errementari
(2017)

This wonderful film calls up the mediaeval soul that still harrows the depths of post-Christian consciousness
Errementari (2017) -IMDB review

This is a parable, in the form of an extended mystery play, that returns us to the mediaeval world-view, where, according to the theology of that period, Christ was believed to have harrowed Hell, and wrested souls still capable of redemption from the grasp of the Devil. The atmosphere and symbolism of the film is steeped in ancient traditions of Christian belief, and the blacksmith is revealed here as a Christ-figure, in a very muscular avatar of Jesus.

There is a dream-like, or visionary merging of appearance and reality, of imagination and Truth. The little girl Usue with her simple acceptance of a mythical narrative, that to her is just as real as the little scenes she creates while playing with her doll, cannot make these distinctions: When the doll has her head torn off by a cruel lad, it is as real to the child as the mother who hanged herself - and the pursuit to restore the doll's head, and thus the 'life' of this childish idol, mirrors the blacksmith's symbolic imagined struggle in Hell, on Usue's behalf, for the suicide's soul to be returned, so resurrecting the body of the mother. An additional dramatic and spiritual bond between Usue and the smith, it turns out, is a guilty paternity.

The innocence of children is often a way into other worlds, not accessible to the cynical, but employed by writers and filmmakers as guides to wonderlands - many creative people as various as the Spanish filmmaker del Toro, and the surreally imaginative Englishman Lewis Carroll. The creators of this film follow the wide-eyed yet very matter-of-fact little Usue to Hell and back, in a most extraordinary descent into the secret soul of tormented humanity, in search of the salvation only a return to child-like innocence can confer, as Christ has told us.

Like the seemingly naive, yet profound and beautifully realised religious art of the Christian mysteries during the middle ages, the onlooker's gaze - as we watch this beautifully crafted film - is held, transfixed between wonder and horror at the spectacle of our own tormented and elevated human soul.

There is in this mix also a heady whiff of blasphemy, which gives us an appropriately moral frisson as the dizzying spectacle of the damned rushing to their eternal punishment dramatises the predicament of those who have lost the consolation of the Church: For an instant we are caught out in our modern cynicism, naked and defenceless against our own death.

The setting of the drama during the early nineteenth century struggles of the Basque people, in the first Carlist War, to retain their political, cultural and religious independence gives a further depth to this film, which has already been adopted by Basque critics as an important statement of their racial identity - and indeed of the ancient soul of their mysterious Nation. This narrative is tellingly merged with devilish doings when the Agent of the oppressive Spanish government, who is pursuing the blacksmith for the theft of Carlist gold, is revealed to be in fact a senior Demonic emissary!

Just as in the mediaeval telling of these infernal horrors, there is a leavening of sardonic humour, as well as a more knockabout comedy redolent of the old fairground entertainments which, as well as being religious spectacles, the original mystery plays were.

This perfectly realised vision is unfortunately not the sort of film to appeal to the generality of modern Anglo-Saxon audiences, whose own race memories have been all but cast out by the tawdry imaginings of Yanqui showmen and hucksters, and the meretricious politics of a cynical liberal elite that sees no value in tradition.

But the film will be much more accessible to those whose blood and bone still feels a living connection with what lies beneath appearances. The Basque folklore which inspires this wonderful film is authentic, and rooted in that ancient culture. Such a folkloric ethos is permeated with beings at once fabulous and familiar, whose presence is never questioned.

It is a privilege to be able to share that experience. Regrettably, it also reminds one how impoverished our inner life is today - we are as poor of spirit as we are rich in unsatisfying material indulgence. And too many of our films are mere sensations, full of sound and fury, and an experience leaving no more trace behind than the stale, discarded box of last night's pavement gluttony.

Whereas this treasury of a poor and oppressed people is an everlasting feast.

The Miracle of Morgan's Creek
(1943)

The least funny American film I've ever seen
A deeply unpleasant and oafish film by a director deservedly more well-known for a handful of smart and witty comedies like 'The Lady Eve,' 'Sullivan's Travels' and the film that launched him in Hollywood, 'The Great McGinty.'

In my view 'The Miracle of Morgan's Creek' is a film that misfires on every count. How this moronic' comedy' about the tragic social disaster of wartime promiscuity in 1940's USA has garnered admiration is honestly beyond me,

It's as emetic as the ultimate effect of a night out with the rackety characters portrayed here in such broad yet loathsome detail - so at least Sturges strikes ONE authentic note in his portrait of the Yankee lower classes of the time.

Quite the least funny American film I've ever seen, with the possible dishonourable exception of the films of Jerry Lewis or Jim Carrey.

Last Holiday
(1950)

High Priestley
A dark, death-haunted tragi-comic masterpiece by J.B. Priestley, realised in a cinematic production so sublime that Mozart could have set it to music. Attaining inspired heights breathtakingly and untouchably greater than any modern films ever even attempt. Haunting, uplifting and stunningly realised. An endlessly fascinating film that exists amidst those rare and brilliant gems of the silver screen that demand to be turned over again and again. Perfection to be treasured.

The Terror
(2018)

An insult to those who suffered a terrible tragedy
Imagine if some misguided fool were to re-make the film of Britain's other great early Polar adventure, that was titled 'Scott of the Antarctic,' but this time as a sort of Hammer Horror with supernatural monsters killing off the expedition members.

Well that - God help us - is pretty much what we have here: A tasteless parody of the nightmare experience of the crews of the official British Arctic expedition to discover a navigable route via a North-West passage through the ice aboard the Royal Navy ships 'Erebus' and 'Terror' in 1845, commanded by Sir John Franklin. The ships were technically advanced for the time, and the naval personnel selected for the expedition were the finest of their age. But the alien world of the Arctic claimed them. These heroes suffered the saddest and most awful of deaths.

Long after their disappearance, Victorian England sent out voyages to find some trace of them. But until recent discoveries were made, they seemed to have vanished without trace - though a camp with obvious signs of cannibalism was found, the evidence being summarily repudiated in contemporary journalism by Charles Dickens: The age could not contemplate this degradation of heroic Englishmen.

Sir John's loyal wife never gave up hope of finding him, and pressured the government and stirred the conscience of the nation into searching. She even resorted to spiritualism, but to no avail. This aspect of the actual history, along with the alien and spectral atmosphere of the polar regions, and indeed the superstitions of the native Inuit and the haunting glimpses their ancestors recall of skeletal white men who were the walking dead, should have been enough and to spare for any decent screenplay-writer.

But this sober tragedy is not enough for the writers and producers of 'The Terror,' whose source is not history or biography, but an American fantasy-writer's turbo-charged sensationalist farrago. This novel of the same title by Dan Simmons, though highly praised, reveals an author not content with actual manifestations of horror and the numinous, in the epic confrontation of Victorian technological and moral hubris and the ancient life-skills of the Inuit, or in the contrast between Lady Franklin's spiritual search for her beloved, and the grotesque idol her dead husband already presented, upright and grinning in the cabin of his abandoned ship, to the superstitious Inuit.

No: In the approved American manner of noisy excess, the drama is reduced to the lumbering symbolism of pursuit by a monster bear! This, like the pantomimic stage direction 'Exit, pursued by a bear' at an otherwise tragic juncture in Shakespeare's 'The Winter's Tale,' is bathetically ill-matched to the seriousness of the real tragedy, which overtook these historical persons. A fancy-dress ball - of all things! - is imagined as taking place in 1848, at which time the men would have been physically and mentally at a very low ebb: And a character is made to dress up in white as a polar bear!! This ludicrously overdone symbolism is very much to the modern taste, it seems, judging by reviews.

The author and the hacks who have slavishly followed - even outdone in grand guignol indulgence - the source-novel's author, appear to have wanted to channel Mary Shelley's Arctic apocalypse at the conclusion of her Gothic romance 'Frankenstein.' It may be said that the television version of the Franklin Expedition's tragedy has pieced together the abused old bones to enact a dark pantomime in which horror tips over into black farce. Such degenerate lack of taste would have revolted previous, more civilised ages.

(Dan Simmons specialises in extravagant fantasy-parodies of classic literature, which explains a lot.)

But as if all this were not enough to insult the memory of these brave but doomed men, a reference to a scene from the science-fiction-horror-movie 'Alien,' the director of which was their chief producer at Scott Free Productions, is stirred into the queasy brew!

Add to the whole offensive mess completely gratuitous anal sex and a supposed survivor who goes off to live happily ever after with an Inuit shaman woman and you will be sufficiently warned to have nothing to do with such dizzyingly abysmal nonsense.

Good production values though - which merits one star, if you can somehow anaesthetise your brain to withstand the script's relentless assault against reason and good taste.

Rooney
(1958)

A charming film, and now also a time-capsule of a fondly-remembered Dublin
As all agree, this is an utterly charming, unpretentious film. It is helped by the acting talent of the famous Abbey Theatre, Dublin. And although the lead character of 'the Rooney' himself is played by an Englishman, John Gregson fairly inhabits his working-class Dublin character, with an accent that never jars in comparison to the real Irish actors - except perhaps he finds the test of acting tipsy while keeping the brogue a bit much for him. Of course today an English film about Irish life might seem patronising, but they did a creditably sympathetic job in 1958, perhaps helped by an Irish scriptwriter's fleshing out of Catherine Cookson's story and the wonderfully atmospheric filming of Dublin city.

A curiosity of the film is that Barry Fitzgerald's voice-over to the establishing shots of the Dublin of 1957 - the year when the filming was done - speaks complacently of the unchanging face of the old city, and references what was then a favourite landmark of all Dubliners, Nelson's Pillar, saying:

' - - - the dawn broke over the old city and everything was pretty much as it was the night before - and Nelson's statue still stood in O'Connell Street - - - .'

In retrospect, this observation has been made to seem ironical, since we know that the IRA blew the statue of Nelson atop his Pillar to smithereens shortly after 1:30 on the morning of 8 March 1966.

So the film is a nostalgic reminder of more innocent times. The official version of the reaction of Dubliners, to the destruction of this much-loved and familiar landmark, is that general gaiety broke out in the city. Certainly the Irish have an attractive penchant to make the best of anything - even a funeral. But some elderly people of that town I once spoke to were adamant that, on the whole, Dublin folk had rather 'the boyos' had left old Nelson where he was. And, when the remaining stump was blown up by the army, after the Corporation declared it 'a dangerous structure,' the good people of the Irish Capital sorely missed being able to take friends and relatives from the country up the spiral staircase, inside the Pillar, to share Nelson's unparallelled crow's-nest view of Dublin!

Part of the charm of old films is that they have become time-capsules, trapping the past as it flits through the lens, to preserve it's fluttering motion more perfectly than flies in amber!

And for lovers of unfamiliar sports, the filmed spectacle of an actual game of hurley, in which our fictional hero is presented as the star player, conveys all the ferocity of a game with ancient origins in the wild and often violent training of Irishmen for hand-to-hand combat in war - and since helmets and face-guards were still shunned at this time as badges of cowardice, one must admire the rugged ruins of many a battered face. Old Nelson's head, still lying in the Dublin City Library and Archive, is hardly the worse for wear.

Babylon 5: Endgame
(1997)
Episode 20, Season 4

An enduring classic and a towering achievement that provides the benchmark for broadcast science fiction.
The high standards achieved by 'Babylon 5' are well exemplified in this truly exceptional concluding episode of Series 4. Writing, production and acting at this level are a standing reproach to the expensive drivel of the new 'Star Trek: Discovery.' The difference is fundamentally one of maturity: The earlier sci-fi epic is grown-up drama, while the current one has regressed the genre on TV to the level of excitable adolescents, infatuated with shiny toys, and carelessly killing off or giving out-of-character words and deeds to un-formed, unreal persons as unstable and undecided as themselves. 'Star Trek Discovery' is a parody of science fiction, and of drama. 'Babylon 5' is an enduring classic of the genre, and one of the finest - possibly THE finest - of all long-form dramas. I doubt that even the magnificent reboot of 'Battlestar Galactica' can quite match it for sheer heroic grandeur.

I know there will be those who place the cult that is the 'Star Wars' franchise above all of these in the sci-fi firmament. I cannot criticise these films myself, since I early developed an instinctive aversion to that saga. But I suspect that if I did bother to expose myself to the entire length of 'Star Wars' I would only end up arriving at the very same negative judgement on the subject as that made by a senior member of 'sciforums.com', writing under the very apt moniker 'Killjoy' in 2005.

I hope this person does not mind my quoting their view, as follows:

' - - - my vote goes to Babylon 5 for it's dealing with moral dilemmas more intricate than the nigh-infantile level of Star Wars, better character development, (and) a better plotline - - -'

The dire 'Star Trek: Discovery' has already widely been derided as closer to this juvenile 'Star Wars' universe, than to the far deeper and more interesting constellation it has both radically departed from, and parodied.

There have been many fine sci-fi sagas on TV, such as 'Farscape' (startlingly inventive, with fully-characterised alien beings), 'The Invaders' (producing some of the same paranoia as cinema's 'The Body Snatchers,' but developing a fascinating underground politics of resistance), 'Earth, Final Conflict' (with its aliens often more sympathetic than the humans, and portrayed as more tragic than diabolically evil, as well as having an interesting 'ancient aliens' back-story rooted in Celtic mythology), and 'Star Gate 1' (which, unlike the camp original series of 'Battlestar Galactica,' managed the imaginative feat of making spacefaring Ancient Egyptians seem believable, through sheer good writing!). And all of the 'Star Trek' family - before the misbegotten 'Discovery' - had episodes of real distinction (though they became rather too cosy, which may be what tempted the makers of 'Discovery' to go for edgy, the only drawback being it turns out they couldn't write to save their lives!).

Charles Chilton's original radio sci-fi for the BBC, his 'Journey Into Space' serials, and their sequel, 'Space Force.' are quaintly dated and therefore cannot be expected to compete with the more modern speculative imaginings for visual media, although they are nevertheless very effective adventures in the genre, and can still be appreciated as a well crafted 'alternative reality' for the medium of radio. They certainly annoy me less than the too-often whimsical 'Lost In Space' type of surreal 'science-fantasy' seen in the 'Doctor Who' canon , but I wouldn't want to deny that this long-lived BBC children's series did produce a number of fine dramas over the years, but mostly it was a sort of cosmic fairy-tale with little dramatic heft.

The great Nigel Kneale's work for TV, The 'Quatermass' Trilogy, and the truly Lovecraftian Horror-Sci-Fi story 'The Stone Tapes', is of legendary reputation, and is, in terms of consistent excellence, probably unmatched. Kneale was lucky to find his home at the BBC, a public service broadcaster that tended, once any writer had an idea green lit for production, to keep faith with their creative talents. By contrast, Straczynski, writing 'Babylon 5' for Warner, suffered the production interference typical of financially nervous big American studios. However, to their credit Warner did not cancel the slow-burn first series, and also later relented on cancellation after the fourth to allow a final series. But when unhindered by such restrictions, and also working at peak inspiration in the later series, Straczinsky is at his best and creates scene after scene as magnificently realised, as full of convincing characters and as compelling and memorable as anything in Nigel Kneale's opus. Probably, though, Straczynski has the edge because of his deep, abiding commitment to a moral universe: 'Babylon 5' seems at times almost like a re-imagined version of Milton's metaphysical literary epic-in-outer-space, 'Paradise Lost.'

To my mind, none of the actual science-fiction discussed comes close to the sublime operatic grandeur envisaged in 'Babylon 5' - of which, as I say, this episode is a towering example. We are lucky indeed that the entire saga is available now on DVD.

El ministerio del tiempo: Una negociación a tiempo
(2015)
Episode 4, Season 1

A promising and clever scenario starts to fall apart
My enjoyment of the witty exploitation of the dramatic possibilities that the many doors of the Ministry of Time opened up, in the earlier episodes, was spoiled by the shocking amateurishness of this story.

This was an incompetent, unamusing and entirely undramatic attempt to create a 'Groundhog Day' scenario around the Spanish Inquisition. Dark, dismal and merely repetitive, the action founders in the historical obscurantism which is creeping into this series. There is an unfortunate schoolmasterly respect for Spanish history that prevents very much creative 'mucking around' with events. They even tried a Monty Python reference to liven things up, with the agents - instead of the unexpected Spanish Inquisition - repeatedly bursting through the doors to surprise the Inquisition's trial of a Jew - but this fell flat because of the uncomfortable atmosphere of deference to the religious dignity of the fanatical Torquemada.

This respectful reserve when dealing with history had already made for a queasily ambiguous portrayal of Generalissimo Franco in the otherwise good previous episode. It strikes me that the tweedy pipe-smoking Minister of Time looks like a schoolteacher because that is how time-travel has been conceived: As a history lesson with dressing-up as visual aids.

The following episode - an interminably rambling and incomprehensible farrago about the possession of a lost receipt for Picasso's 'Guernica' during the Civil War - is largely a lecture on art history, with a few flashes of interesting dramatic possibilities that are unerringly stifled in acres of po-faced exposition and half-baked, puerile humour.

Also, letting loose a trio of ill-assorted refugees from random ages of history in another time seems increasingly to run the extremely rash risk of chronoclasm; besides which, one or two characters seem always to spend many scenes relegated to redundant observer status, or going home to mum. Bad writing.

The very worst failure of the Inquisition scenario, however, is the unforgivable marginalisation of the learned Jew, the supposed object of this rescue drama, in favour of the pitifully inadequate scenes of the trial and auto-da-fé. The Jew, moreover, is the author of the (fictional) 'Book of Doors' upon which the whole Spanish secret of access to portals into the past depends, and thus we expectantly await exotic revelations of the ancient mysticism of Spanish Jewry - only to be utterly disappointed.

What cries out to be the whole dramatic centre of this episode has been displaced by some inexplicably respectful fascination of the writers and producers for the collective Iberian nightmare of the Catholic Inquisition.

What started out so well is falling apart in the hands of creators fatally averse to the historical freedom promised by their own scenario: Is it a Spanish thing, this stifling reverence for history? Does the burden of such a terrible history still crush the soul of modern Spain? If the writers take such scant pleasure in their own creation, it is no wonder Spanish audiences failed to appreciate it. They'd had enough in the schoolroom, already.

Amnesia
(2015)

Aloe Vera for the soul
The sublime Marthe Keller - as Martha - quietly invokes the conscience of Germany with a therapeutic balm, even as she draws the old agony from the lost youth of War. She applies aloe vera, stinging but healing her new young neighbour Jo's gashed hand. The national wound is drawn together at last, as a beautiful relationship mends the two sides of history with a platonic Spring and Autumn romance, even as East and West Germany are falling into each other's arms through the Berlin Wall.

Bruno Ganz gets to show us and Jo how his character is still possessed by Hitler's ghost, and how, as that demon is exorcised from Jo's dear grandad, all childhood illusions vanish. The old man's daughter, Jo's mother, is the defiant survivor of the ruins her father's generation left for her generation, with their defeat. However, scarred emotionally, she has inwardly shuddered for years at hearing her father obsessively tell over and over the one anecdote of the war whose unstable narrative has endlessly turned and twisted in the telling, as if to shake off the living nightmare of the truth.

The holiday visit to their son turns chilly when, in the presence of Martha's implacable revulsion from all things German, the post-war period of structural and economic restoration suddenly looks like a time of shattered spirits. This collapse is written in the daughter's brittle expression, and in the inconsolable despair of her father.

Jo's family leave for Germany, but, recoiling from the Hellish glimpse into the abyss of Hitler's Germany he for the first time sees in their souls, he remains on Martha's enchanted island of Ibiza, eventually putting these lingering horrors of Germany behind him as he builds a successful music career at the famous Ibizan dance club, 'Amnesia', and starts a family with a young girlfriend.

It is hinted that the young couple do eventually go to live in Germany, where probably their new baby has been born, and that at some time Martha also returns, though briefly, possibly to sell her late father's house, to be able at last to buy her home in Ibiza and avoid her impending eviction. Martha then grows old as their friend, reconciled at last to all the best of Germany, the love of which had been destroyed during the experiences of her own youth.

The final scene seems to suggest that the young family later returned to Martha's old house. Martha by this time may have become just the friendly spirit of the place, with the passage of time, as is perhaps evoked by a strange shot of her translucent image walking across the patio, with the aid of a stick, before the young family gathers round the presence - possibly imaginatively and lovingly recalled - of Martha's spirit, now at peace.

Recovery from amnesia was effected by facing the cleansing pain in the soul. Only what is recalled can be truly forgiven, since forgetting - as Martha finally learns - is the antithesis of forgiveness. In old age, she is reunited with her true identity, redeemed by pity for the tortured survivors of her own country's catastrophe. At last, perhaps all the German exiles were able to go home.

A tender, evocative and subtly rendered drama of troubled spirits being put to rest.

Most critics trampled all over this delicately delineated life as intrusively and uncomprehendingly as the couples who came to view Martha's home, when it was about to be sold from under her by a new landlord, and whose insensitive attempts, as prospective buyers, to invite themselves in to poke around, she rightly rebuffed as an unfeeling intrusion.

But at least these interlopers did appreciate the charm of the location. Most professional critics however are like brash tourists, who rush around with a lot of noise, noticing nothing, and complaining loudly. They should never be allowed into the secrets of such a wonderful film as this. They only ruin everything with their inane yet self-important chatter!

A visit to the enchanted island of this lovely, delicate and yet powerful drama is wasted on such typically pretentious boors. They invariably 'break a butterfly upon a wheel' in the course of their hostile inquisitions.

El ministerio del tiempo
(2015)

Best TV series since the BBC 'Life On Mars.'
Like the sublime 'Life On Mars' this superb Spanish time-travelling adventure weaves out of chronoclasm a wise, witty and altogether wonderful drama about the Quixotic healing process of nostalgia. Riding various hobby-horses of Spanish history, our three dashing agents of the Ministry of Time, like a benign Adjustment Bureau, set forth to right Spanish history whenever it threatens to go wrong. Spain's only great secret - as the Minister of Time himself confides - is this vividly present access to her own stirring history.

Apart from TV's 'Life On Mars,' I haven't enjoyed a drama series as much as this since I listened to the time-travelling adventures of 'Pha, the Phoenician' on the radio, all of sixty years ago: I experienced the same child-like wonder, watching time being played with. This is a tribute to the sheer magic woven by a series deeply in love with the history of it's own land, Spain. How wonderful to see a fantasy that dares to imagine the past as salvation, in preference to damnation - which implies that the future will be as carefully curated to build a world we can be glad to be alive in. I'm tired of gloomy and hideous dystopias that make you want to stop time: This drama makes time go with all the swing and swagger of a Spaniard's sweeping soul.

Of course, the personal tragedy of the Agent from our own time could possibly hint at the sad 'Life On Mars' type threat, from which the time-adventure proves to be only the psychic escape of a ruined mind - - - If so, how piquant if it should transpire that Spain's ownership of this underground warren of the Past is but that romantic country's national dream of another vast Empire, where Ministers of the Spanish Crown may still hold sway - and also one ordinary protagonist's mental fugue from his own tragic reality? After all, it is intimated to this new recruit by the Minister himself, at the outset, in the establishing episode, that our Quixotically heroic paramedic has the choice either to serve the Ministry of Time, or to be reconciled to incarceration for life in a mental institution, as a danger to himself and others.

I cannot praise this witty, stylish series too much. I shall be relishing every episode on Netflix (to whom thanks are due for making it available).

The Chase
(1966)

A lurid pavement-oyster of a film
John Barry's music and Maurice Binder's credits sequence belong in a far better film than this overripe and putrid melodrama. The less said about anyone else's contribution - which all must have been embarrassed to acknowledge was the lowest point in their respective careers - the better. "All those people are crazy" as the Sheriff says (the only meaningful line of dialogue in the entire farrago). And, really, who wants to spend over two hours in the lunatic asylum of this cheap and pointless Hollywood degradation?

Nowhere in this sprawling mess is there the slightest whiff of real human pain - except probably burned into the memory of the original audience, who had to sit squirming in endless torment beneath this over-the-top torrent of technicolor naffness.

This is no morality - this is a ludicrous caricature of humanity. Cheap and offensive sensationalism. Reductive voyeurism, posturing as cinematic exposure. And worst of all NO PERCEPTIBLE DRAMATIC TENSION OR MORAL CATHARSIS WHATSOEVER.

If only there had been any actual alcohol vapours to light up the screen at the fiery end, in an auto-da-fé of the wild unreality of that shambling mass of bad actors who even lacked the taste to avoid being stone cold sober while making themselves ridiculous, as their hopelessly pretend drunks spewed out across the Panavision expanse - - -

Then, this rubbish could at last have ended in the blaze of recognition that normally consigns such an awful screenplay to the consuming fire of embarrassed self-knowledge BEFORE wasting time and money in unwisely perpetrating the abomination on the exhibitionist scale of a Panavision epic!

A lurid pavement-oyster of a film. Definitely a night-out NOT to remember.

(I saw this on Netflix UK - increasingly the purveyors of the most boring catalogue of films and TV programmes available anywhere. Its the sort of cheap date they are picking up too often these days.)

The Neon Demon
(2016)

'A diamond in a sea of broken glass'
The one cinematic influence on 'The Neon Demon' that is never mentioned - perhaps never generally observed before - is the uncanny way that Elle Fanning, as Jesse, is often shot as an evanescent but hypnotic creation conjured out of elaborate coloured lighting, make-up, setting and other lensed optical artefacts, in the manner of Clouzot's wildly kinetic portraiture of Romy Schneider in his abortive 'Inferno.'

Clouzot gave himself a nervous breakdown and a heart attack trying to perfect this experimental cinematic device, and neither he nor his career recovered. There is a very good and detailed documentary about this unfinished film. I am sure 'Inferno''s evocation of predatory lust and its dangerous perversions is a major influence on the ferally prowling gaze and motion of this film by Refn, and that the intensely caressing yet lubricious, even droolingly all-consuming, radically transforming, obsessively superficial and disturbingly shifting gaze is channeling the extraordinary surviving snippets of Schneider turned into a puppet or an abstracted icon of totally objectified, possessed and possessive, stalking, sinisterly beautiful light.

Refn has bolstered Clouzot's unstable and imperfectly-realised visions with Argento's robustly exploitative distortions of reality, and Kubrick's chilly and cynical humour, to produce a stylish Grand Guignol vision of the inhumanity and feral lusts literally prowling the catwalk, with ruthless ambition as the driving hunger. Everything possesses a dangerous sharpness that lacerates itself - the final partly-off-screen murderously lustful orgy having the power of Greek and of Senecan tragedy, as rival huntresses stalk the Goddess-like perfection of the new girl with knives, and their own nails and teeth, to appropriate her power in a kind of cannibalistic magic, doing plastic surgery by using one dismembered body to donate the Goddess's flesh in a primitive communion, savagely expropriating Jessy's Beauty.

The horror and beauty go hand-in-hand, just as the make-up artist who befriends the perfect new model consoles herself, after her lesbian advances are rebuffed, with one of the female corpses in the morgue where she also works making the dead presentable for their last journey. Just as big cats, both savagely prowling a seedy motel, as well as stuffed and mounted as decor, can be dangerous life and pathetic, parodic trophy.

Refn is very conscious how the coldly observing lens of a camera dissects the image, consumes it, spits it out again. The abstract image of a newly-rejected model in the crazed washroom glass of her violent symbolic self-harm is a cruelly angular Picasso rearrangement of the features - and a stray shard painfully penetrates the young innocent who has come to sympathise. It eventually settles in her heart, making her worship herself and look down on other mortal beauties. The shattered older model pounces upon the bloodied hand and, vampire-like, imbibes from the living icon of perfection and success. This is the first intimation that this 'Diamond in a sea of broken glass,' as the Svengali-like fashion-house impresario calls her, will fall, and break.

As she finally poises aloft, at the extreme end of the slender diving board, high above the empty deep end of this impresario's private pool, it is like the deus ex machina of Greek tragedy, as she seems to defy mortal constraints. A perverse, Euripidean conclusion is inevitable.

Though I have not researched his family background, it appears that the former husband of Refn's mother (or another close relative of his?) may well be the same Andréas Winding who was responsible for many of the innovative and practical lighting techniques created for Clouzot's ill-fated 'L'Enfer.' Thus Refn may have had privileged, private access to the surviving test-footage of these techniques. In some shots of 'The Neon Demon,' Elle Fanning is even made to look uncannily reminiscent of Romy Schneider!

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