Category: Film culture

Reel Spokes – Bikes on Film

Le tour races through itpworld‘s home town on July 6 so it seems appropriate to celebrate a glimpse of the Yellow Jersey with a favourite collection of images of bikes on film. Pride of place should go in this case to one of my favourite Jean-Luc Godard films, Une femme est une femme (France 1961) in which Anna Karina is the partner of Jean-Claude Brialy who follows sport with a passion, listening to football on the radio and cycling around the tiny apartment as he thinks about cycle races:

Anna Karina and Jean-Claude Brialy in UNE FEMME EST UNE FEMME

Anna Karina and Jean-Claude Brialy in UNE FEMME EST UNE FEMME

I’ve scoured the internet for interesting images and discovered several ‘bikes in the movies’ blogs. I’ve listed some of the best at the end of the post. Apologies to all concerned from whom I’ve borrowed images – I hope you feel that it’s a good cause.

Who could resist the idea of Stan and Ollie running a bike shop?



Five entries for the sexiest cyclist:

Emily Lloyd in WISHING YOU WERE HERE (d. David Leland, UK 1987)

Emily Lloyd in WISH YOU WERE HERE (d. David Leland, UK 1987)

Bernadettle Lafont in LES MISTONS (d. Francois Truffaut 1957)

Bernadette Lafont in LES MISTONS (d. Francois Truffaut 1957)

Jeanne Moreau with Oskar Werner and ? in JULES ET JIM (d. François Truffaut 1961)

Jeanne Moreau in JULES ET JIM (d. François Truffaut 1961)

Paul Newman in BUTCH CASSIDY & the SUNDANCE KID (d. George Roy Hill, 1969)

Paul Newman in BUTCH CASSIDY & the SUNDANCE KID (d. George Roy Hill, 1969)

Paul Newman and Katherine Ross in BUTCH CASSIDY & the SUNDANCE KID

Paul Newman and Katherine Ross in BUTCH CASSIDY & the SUNDANCE KID

Bikes can be sexy I think you’ll agree. Part of the appeal is the sense of freedom, the ‘go anywhere’ possibilities of the bike. But I have to confess those loose dresses and flashes of suntanned legs pumping the pedals are very alluring. As for Paul Newman on a bike, I’m not best equipped to explain why it works but it does. Here’s another trio:

Anna Karina gets help from Sami Frey and Claude Brasseur in Godard's A BANDE A PART (France 1964)

Anna Karina gets help from Sami Frey and Claude Brasseur in Godard’s A BANDE A PART (France 1964)

Nina Hoss in BARBARA (Germany 2012 dir. Christian Petzold)

Nina Hoss in BARBARA (Germany 2012 dir. Christian Petzold)

Cécile De France and Thomas Doret in LE GAMIN AU VÉLO (dirs Jean-Pierre et Luc Dardenne France-Belgium 2011)

Cécile De France and Thomas Doret in LE GAMIN AU VÉLO (dirs Jean-Pierre et Luc Dardenne France-Belgium 2011)

Our local cycling connection from film history is A Boy, A Girl and a Bike (dir. Ralph Smart, UK 1949) filmed in some of the locations visited by the Le tour this weekend. It’s remembered now partly because the British 1950s sex symbol Diana Dors has a minor role, but there is much more to it than that.

Honor Blackman looks back

Honor Blackman looks back

Miss Dors in the Dales

Miss Dors in the Dales

Sam (Patrick Holt) and Sue (Honor Blackman) out riding with the Wakeford Wheelers.

Sam (Patrick Holt) and Sue (Honor Blackman) out riding with the Wakeford Wheelers.

Bicycles feature in several well-known British films, here are a few more:

Maggie Smith in THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE (dir. Ronald Neame, UK 1969)

Maggie Smith in THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE (dir. Ronald Neame, UK 1969)

Cycling was once essential for workers and here’s a famous example of riding home from work. It’s appropriate that Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (dir Karel Reisz, UK 1960) was set in Nottingham, home to the UK’s most famous manufacturer of bicycles, Raleigh.

Besides the practicalities of cycling, bicycles are an important part of the neo-realist tradition – an important plot device in those societies where ownership of a bike, or even just the chance to ride one, can change people’s lives. Bicycle Thieves (dir Vittorio De Sica, Italy 1948) is perhaps the most influential film on new filmmakers across the world:

Antonio and Bruno ask their friends to help them look for the stolen bike in BICYCLE THIEVES

Antonio and Bruno ask their friends to help them look for the stolen bike in BICYCLE THIEVES

Two images from Beijing Bicycle (dir Wang Xiaoshuai, China 2001):

The bike is first leased to the courier . . .

The bike is first leased to the courier . . .

. . . and is then stolen by the schoolboy to impress his girlfriend

. . . and is then stolen by the schoolboy to impress his girlfriend

Bicycles have given women freedom at certain times and here in Late Spring (dir Ozu Yasujiro, Japan 1949) Hara Setsuko is able to go out for a ride inan unusual sequence from an Ozu film:


In some societies, the bicycle is a potent symbol of gender difference and cultural/religious conflict as in Wadjda (dir. Haifaa Al Mansour, Saudi Arabia-Germany 2012):

Tribeca Wadjda

and in The Day I Became a Woman (dir. Marziyeh Meshkini, Iran 2000)

Ahoo takes part in a bicycle race in THE DAY I BECAME a WOMAN

Ahoo takes part in a bicycle race in THE DAY I BECAME a WOMAN

And to round off our tribute to the peleton, a reminder of one of the most enjoyable bike films, Breaking Away (dir Peter Yates, US 1979)


Here’s that list of useful sites:

Happy pedalling!

Where have all the foreign language movies gone?

In the last few years, January has become a desert as far as diversity in UK cinemas is concerned. The US/UK ‘awards films’ fill all the specialised cinema screens that would usually take a major foreign language film release. Distributors are discouraged from competition with Hollywood and mainstream independent distributors. So, currently, 12 Years a Slave (eOne), American Hustle (Columbia/Entertainment) and Gravity (Warner Bros) are still in cinemas alongside The Wolf of Wall Street (Universal). Dallas Buyers’ Club (Universal) and Her (Warner Bros/Entertainment) are to open soon. We did get The Missing Picture the Cambodian entry for Foreign Language film (in French) a couple of weeks ago but only in a very small number of cinemas and the Palestinian entry Omar has not yet been released in the UK.

I’ve complained about this before but it is getting worse and as Charles Gant reported in Sight and Sound (February), 2013 was the worst year for foreign language films at the UK box office since he started monitoring data in 2007. I genuinely fear that we are going to lose the audience for these films. The two most dynamic film industries in the world in terms of production and domestic success in 2013 are China and South Korea. When was the last time you saw a Chinese or Korean film at the cinema? I should point out that both exhibitors and distributors are part of the problem, but both are likely to rely on perceptions of what audiences want. Where do these perceptions come from? If younger audiences have never had the chance to see foreign language films how can they form a view about them?

It’s very important to support any foreign language films you can find on release. We do get regular South Asian films in our multiplexes but they remain ghettoised. Please, please go and see what is on offer. I’m hoping to catch a Pakistani film today and a Chinese film on Tuesday (a special screening at Cornerhouse by the indispensable Chinese Film Forum UK). I’m also looking forward to tonight’s last two episodes of The Bridge on BBC4. The popularity of foreign language drama on UK TV is one of the few pluses at the moment.

February should bring the new Claire Denis film Bastards and Lukas Moodysson’s We Are the Best – while the former is most likely to attract devotees, the latter sounds like a return to more accessible filmmaking. I’m sure both will feature on the blog and I hope they find their audiences in cinemas.

The BFI Board of Governors


The British Film Institute is overseen by a Board of Governors. The Board can have up to 15 members [including a chairman) and most of them seem to be distinguished members of the Establishment. Their functions are set out in the Royal Charter of the Institute. Their appointment is proposed by a sub-committee of the Board: it has in the past advertised such vacancies. The Chairman has to be approved by the Secretary of State for Media, Culture and Sport. It was the case that Governors had to be approved by the UK Film Council but since its demise it is not clear if there is requirement for any approval beyond that of the Board.

There are also two member Governors, elected for a period of three years. The member Governors date from an earlier time when there was a large, angry meeting of members at the National Film Theatre: and expression of serious discontent with the running and organisation of the BFI. These Member Governors are elected by a combination of paid-up members of the BFI and subscribers to the Institute’s journal Sight & Sound. The latter is necessary as these days BFI membership is only worthwhile if one is resident in London or visits it regularly.

For the last few elections the Board has introduced a quota requirement on these elections: 10% of the electorate.  The only other area of British elections where I can think of quota requirements are the Trade Unions: which speaks volumes about the values of the Board members. The recent elections for Police Commissioners, for example, had no minimum requirement regarding the proportion of people voting. The BFI, like the Commissioners, administer public funds, so this would seem the relevant parallel.

The most recent election of a Member Governor was in the autumn of 2013. The result was as follows:

Dear Candidates,

As you are aware, voting for the election of a new Member Governor recently closed. The number of votes cast was commutated as follows as follows:









Gerald FOX




Jason WOOD




Stephen KLOPPE




















Total Number of Votes Cast


Percentage of Electorate


Article 13 of the rules for electing a BFI Member to the Board of Governors requires 10% of the electorate to participate in the election. In circumstances where this is not the case, as in this instance, the election will be null and void. The Board of Governors will then determine how to fill the resulting vacancy.

I will contact you in due course to advise you of the determination of the Board.

Kind Regards     Iain Thomson  Board Secretary.

I have not seen any other communication on this topic, even as a voter. However, the minutes of the Board do contain further information. Following on from this at the October Meeting the Board members considered the election result and decided as follows:

a. Not to appoint the winning candidate in the BFI Member Governor Election 2013 owing to insufficient participation of the electorate and lack of a representative mandate;

b. To withdraw one of the two positions reserved for Member Governors on the BFI Board;

c. That the Nominations and Appointments Committee recommends a candidate to

the Board to fill the subsequent vacancy.

The above is recorded in the Minutes of the Meeting. The minutes are available online. However, the most recent minutes of those of the October Meeting though meetings are usually monthly. I should add that the only circular or reported information that I have seen from the BFI only records item a.: there appears to be no mention of items b. and c. anywhere.

A friend who is a member checked the Members’ pages online – and found a notice that I have not seen. It reported on the Election and ended with the following.

At a recent Board meeting it was determined that the vacant position of a second Member Governor will now be filled through the normal appointments process. A further vacancy will arise next year and the Board will decide on a course of action at that point.

It is likely that most readers of this will not realise that the ‘normal appointment process’ means what is actually recorded in the minutes.

In fact there is an information deficit on the Board. The minutes regularly exclude items on the grounds of confidentiality, though it is not clear what such items might be.  There is sometimes information available on the Notice Board at the National Film Theatre. There are occasional Press releases, mainly about additions to the Board. I have not found any Press release about the withdrawal of one of the Member Governors.

The information on meetings is fairly brief. The meetings are attended by the Chief Executive, the Deputy Chief Executive, the Director of Finance & Resources, the Board Secretary and occasionally by other managers for particular items. Voting, if it occurs, is not recorded: neither is any individual comments or indeed if there are disagreements. So it is not possible to tell if the decisions on the Member Governor post were unanimous or not.

This raises a question for the remaining Member Governor, Peter Kominsky, who was in attendance at the October meeting. Did he question these proposals on behalf of the voters? Certainly there appears to have been little or no reporting back on the issue by him. There may be something on the Members section of the BFI website, but this is not accessible to Subscriber voters like myself.

In fact, there appears to have been little interaction by most Member Governors with their electorate in recent years. Apparently there is, or was, the notice board for this purpose outside NFT 3. At one point there was an opportunity for report back and comments at the National Film Theatre, but this was on a Tuesday evening so of limited access. I have also on a couple of occasions written to the Member Governor about issues. On one occasion I copied these to the Board Secretary and he confirmed these had been passed to the Member Governors. However, I never received a response. The honourable exception to this was the Member Governor who term ended last year, Cy Young. He was the most active representative in my experience with the Board. He told me that he had questioned the 10% quote rule at the Board Meetings. It seems that he received little support, even from his fellow Member Governor.

It is worth noting that in 2013 the Board approved five new members. These included three described in this Press release:

The BFI announced the appointment of three new members to its governing board on Friday (3 May).

Pat Butler, Charles Cecil and Oona King attended their first BFI board meeting the previous week (25 April) together with the eight existing governors, BFI chair Greg Dyke and the institute’s CEO Amanda Nevill.

In a statement Dyke said: “We are very pleased to have three such talented individuals join our board. They each bring a wealth of experience, from finance and management, politics and broadcasting, to the video games industry.

“With such a team the board is well equipped to face the significant opportunities and challenges in the years to come in supporting the BFI’s growth agenda and international strategy for film.”

The BFI also announced that Libby Savill – who has served on the board for two years – has agreed to become the BFI’s new deputy chair. According to Dyke, “Libby combines pragmatism with one of the best legal minds in the entertainment industries and she is a great asset to the board”.

Introducing the BFI’s new board members

New member Charles Cecil MBE has been a leading figure in interactive entertainment for over 30 years and has worked on some of the most critically acclaimed and bestselling games of recent years. He founded the company Revolution Software in 1990, whose Broken Sword is one of the world’s most successful adventure series, achieving multi-million sales. He is currently a visiting lecturer at both the University of York and the National Film and Television School.

Oona King, Baroness King of Bow, is a member of the House of Lords since 2011. She is a writer, broadcaster and political campaigner and has worked as a television presenter for Channel 4, BBC, Sky, Five and ITV. She has chaired the steering committee of the Cultural Diversity Network (an organisation representing all Britain’s major broadcasters) and is currently employed as diversity executive at Channel 4.

Pat Butler is the only appointment without a clear link to the TV, film or games industry. Butler is a former director of McKinsey &Co, international management consultants. He spent 25 years with the firm and has helped CEOs and boards of global companies in the UK, Europe, Middle East, North America and South Africa on issues of strategy, organisation and performance improvement.  He is a chartered accountant and also sits on the board of the Bank of Ireland.

The three new Board members appear to be typical establishment candidates, two of them graduates of the honours system. It is extremely discouraging that in the same year the Board both declined to replace an elected member and then proceeded to discontinue that post.

The modern era started with the ringing demand of the North American colonists in their conflict with the then British Establishment:

No Taxation without representation.

But it is difficult to see what representation on the Board there is for the ordinary British tax payer, from whence the majority of the Board’s funding comes. And the electorate for Member Governors is presumably overwhelmingly composed of just such taxpayers.

Given the Boards actions over the recent election one can have little confidence that they will reverse these decisions. Certainly not without substantial pressure. I have written a letter to the Board for the attention of all the Governors. My points are:

  1. They should rescind the withdrawal of the second Member Governor Post.
  2. They should either appoint the winning candidate in the recent election to the Board or proceed immediately to a fresh election.
  3. They should withdraw the requirement for 10% in the election.
  4. They should increase the representation of  Member Governors on the Board.
  5. And they should introduce an effective method of reporting back to members and electors.

The initial response was a suggestion that I write to the Deputy Chairman who supervises the Appointments sub-committee. However, I addressed my letter to all the Governors as these decisions were taken at a full meeting.

I would encourage any concerned members, subscribers or indeed users of the BFI to write in some similar fashion to the Board. Their next meeting is scheduled for January 23rd 2014. It would be good if by then they received a substantial number of complaints and demands to that or similar effect.

Note you can contact the Board by writing to the Board of Governors and also by email. The contact should be the Board Secretary Iain Thomson.

His Office is at the BFI main building, 21 Stephens Street, London W1T 1L

Can I add a note regarding Cy Young who died last autumn. In my experience he was the most effective Member Governor that there has been for years. He will be missed.

All in the Family – a film evening class

The classic tableau shot of the Edwards family at the beginning of The Searchers.

One of the classic tableau shots of the Edwards family in The Searchers.

This evening class at the National Media Museum in Bradford offers the chance to study three films currently on release and to explore how ideas about the family can be exploited to develop different kinds of film narrative and different genres. There are seven sessions on Wednesday evenings from 25 September, 18.15 – 20.15.

The three films are Looking for Hortense, Metro Manila and Like Father, Like Son – all screened in full in the museum’s cinemas with a short introduction.

The first of these films is a comedy drama set amongst the ‘creative/academic’ bourgeoisie of Paris in which family relationships constrain and ‘trip up’ the central character with comic effects. The second becomes a genre thriller when it tests what characters will do to keep the family together. The final film is a form of family melodrama/relationship drama. Since the films come from different filmmaking cultures (France, Philippines/UK and Japan) there will also be the opportunity to explore the extent to which genres and representations of the family are ‘universal’ or heavily skewed by ‘local’ cultural considerations. We’ll also consider a range of other films that use the family as an important driver of the narrative. The image at the head of this posting refers to the famous John Ford Western in which Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) searches obsessively for his two nieces who have been taken by a Comanche raiding party.

A course outline can be downloaded here: (pdf) FamilyCourseProg

We’ll try to post some of the handouts here over the next few weeks and also to discuss some of the issues that arise.