States of Danger and Deceit: European Political Thrillers in the 1970s

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970), dir Elio Petri, starring Gian Maria Volontè as a fascistic police chief

‘States of Danger and Deceit: European Political Thrillers in the 1970s’ is the major season at HOME in Manchester starting on Saturday November 4th and running through to Tuesday 12th December. The season has been planned to coincide with the national British Film Institute THRILLER tour organised with the ICO (Independent Cinema Office. The HOME season comprises eighteen selected titles, eleven of which are also available to screen at other venues. (See the information on the HOME website.)

The HOME Season is curated by Andy Willis, Reader in Film at Salford University, with Rachel Hayward (Programme Manager, Film) and Jessie Gibbs (Film Festivals co-ordinator). An enormous amount of effort has gone into finding the best possible viewing prints for films of this vintage and also acquiring screening rights. Given all the difficulties of finding prints, there is an amazing array of film titles in the season. One or two titles are showing twice and many of the screenings are supported by introductions, post-screening discussions and other events.

Angela Winkler in The Lost Honour of Katherina Blum (West Germany 1975) dirs Margarethe von Trotta and Volker Schlöndorff

So, why this season at this point? I guess we’ll all have to wait for Andy’s ‘One-hour Intro’ on 8th November for a full explanation, but I suspect that he’s going to focus on two points. The first recognises the political turmoil that existed across Europe in the 1970s. Radical groups prepared to literally fight the authorities on the street emerged in Italy (The Red Brigade) and West Germany (The Baader-Meinhof Gang). These were taken to be ‘leftist’ groups and their violence was matched by attacks from the right in Spain and elsewhere. (The two Spanish films in the season were screened earlier this year as part of HOME’s Viva! Festival.) Though Italy and Germany provide many of the narratives, others are set in France, Spain, UK, Greece, Sweden and East Germany. The second point is that popular genres can often be the vehicle for quite complex investigations into politics and public policy.

I’m offering two ‘events’ in the programme. One is a ‘One Hour Intro’ before the screening of Bo Widerberg’s Man on the Roof (Sweden 1976). For this I’m attempting to read all ten of the original Martin Beck novels by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. The ten novels comprise a single extended essay on the failures of Swedish democracy entitled ‘The Story of a Crime’. Committed Marxists, the authors set out to expose the contradictions of the welfare state and Swedish public policy. That’s one kind of ‘political thriller’ and another is the classic Day of the Jackal (France-UK 1973) about the attempted assassination of Charles de Gaulle in 1963. I watched this again recently and it’s another riveting procedural drama that I’m looking forward to discussing in the context of the season after the screening.

I’m hoping to get to several more of the films on offer and reports will feature on this blog. Several titles are also screening during the Leeds International Film Festival which opens on November 1st and at other venues over the next couple of months. The season offers a great chance to discover some of the best films of the 1970s and amidst all the nonsense of Brexit it’s great to be focusing on European cinema.

3 comments

  1. keith1942

    It is an interesting programme. However I checked quite a lot of the titles at HOME and the only one that came up on 35mm was ‘Illustrious Corpses’ / ‘Cadaveri eccellenti’, 1976. One title not on film but which should be available in a 35mm print is ‘Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion’/’Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto’ (1970).Some of the titles are indeed at the Leeds Festival, but most of the ones there are on digital.
    I have seen about a 100 titles this year that originated on photo-chemical film, and nearly half were transfers to digital. What was apparent was the variation in quality. Friends and colleagues at festivals have made similar comments. 35mm prints vary but I think not to this degree.
    Before I go and see a film transferred to digital I want to get a quality control check – very difficult. It would help if critics essayed this. I know Roy usually does, but we need more providing such information.

    • Roy Stafford

      I hope we all want to see the best possible prints of any film, whether digital or 35mm. I do want to point out though that because a film exists in a (possibly new) 35mm print, doesn’t mean it is straightforward to programme it for a festival or a season at a cinema like HOME. Physical prints have to be shipped and many of them for a season like the above may be held overseas. European companies holding prints have been known to ask up to €1,000 for a single showing. That’s one of the reasons why sometimes there appear to be missing film titles in a programme or projection from a less than perfect print. It’s fine if the screening is subsidised or sponsored with a guaranteed audience – but otherwise it may simply be too expensive.

  2. keith1942

    I an aware of the constraints on Exhibitors because I have spoken to a few regarding this issue. However, to be honest my sympathy has rather run out. In the case of the Thriller programme I was referring to 35mm prints held at the BFI National Archive. And there are other examples where there are prints in Britain but the screening is from digital.
    Moreover, the digital usage is a lottery. Hardly any screenings relying on DCP offer 4K versions. But I know from experience that there is a closer [though not complete] equivalence between digital and photo-chemical film at this quality.
    In addition we are not just discussing 35mm film versus theatrical standard digital. There seems to be an increasing reliance on screening from video, either DVD or Blu-Ray or the rather sneaky practice of uploading video onto a DCP.
    One title I referred to, ‘Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion’/’Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto’ (1970), is screening from a Blu-Ray in Leeds. So what are HOME screening from.
    I should add that HOME do at least specify which titles are on 35mm film whilst some other exhibitors do not; hence having to telephone to find out. But HOME do not specify what type of digital, theatrical standard or video, and the only examples I know of in Britain that do are Festivals; one star to |Leeds who do.

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