I’ve noted from several film festival experiences that the ‘Opening Night film’ is often prestigious but not always very good. Tiempo después was the opening film of ¡Viva! 25. It had the largest audience of the three films I saw on Saturday, but I rated it the least interesting/enjoyable of the three. That doesn’t mean that it is a ‘bad film’ and it may well be my failure as an audience rather than an issue with the film itself. I note that the writer-director José Luis Cuerda was the director of La Lengua de las mariposas (Spain 1999) which Nick raved about on this blog. I also note that the array of excellent actors on screen in this recent film includes several who have worked with Pedro Almodóvar, including one, Carlos Areces, who was one of the camp air stewards on I’m So Excited (Spain 2013) – the most poorly-received of Almodóvar’s films in the UK. This may be significant. Is this an issue about Spanish comedy? Perhaps it is – but I really liked I’m So Excited and La Lengua de las mariposas. I think the problem here might be defined as ‘political satire’, which is very hard to pull off, especially for international audiences. (Cuerda also produced the first three films by Alejandro Amenábar, Tesis (1996), Abre los ojos (1997) and The Others (2001) – which is another reason to make him an important figure.) His last film as director before this one was the well-received The Blind Sunflowers (Los girasoles ciegos) in 2008. The new film has been widely seen as a form of development/updating of Cuerda’s comedy Amanece, que no es poco (1989) with his comedy style described as ‘surrealist rural comedy’.
The idea for the film is to present a future world (‘9177, give or take a thousand years’) in which civilisation on earth has been reduced to one imposing building plonked down in a landscape that evokes Monument Valley, Utah, aka ‘John Ford’s American West’. Outside this building which houses the rich and powerful is a rural trailer park in a woodland clearing where the ‘ordinary people’ live. The simple narrative involves one of those from ‘below’ attempting to enter the ‘palace’ above (which operates more like an office block or a conference hotel) and to sell fresh lemon juice door-to-door. This is not allowed since the King alone licenses traders, of which there must be three (no more, no less) for each service or commodity. Eventually our frustrated hero will lead an insurrection and fall in love. I won’t disclose how this works out.
The script is full of interesting ideas, perhaps too many interesting ideas, which can’t all be carried through. Everything you know about the history of Spanish culture, history and politics and probably quite a lot more that most of us non-Hispanics may miss, is referenced here. It is essentially a political satire about Spain’s past and possible future. There are many enjoyable characters and devices. I particularly enjoyed the small group of men who have learned how to fly simply by flapping their arms at different speeds. These characters are all dressed in flight overalls, goggles and helmets like extras in a Miyazaki anime about the 1930s Italian airforce. The King appears to be speaking Spanish in an English accent and, of course, there is an evil fascist priest in the palace. You know it is only a matter of time before somebody ‘below’ begins to speak about Don Quixote. Cuerda had originally written a novel using the same material and perhaps he might have invited someone else to do the adaptation?
I’m not sure I laughed out loud but sometimes I definitely smiled. I also confess to closing my eyes and then trying not to drift off into a mid-afternoon snooze. So, I wasn’t the best critical reviewer. I think, perhaps, that if you come to this film with less political baggage than I carry around, you might enjoy it more than I did. It seems to have been reasonably well received in Spain and if you are in the mood to spot the references you could have a good time. Here’s a trailer (without English subs, I’m afraid.) I note it is distributed in Spain by the Canadian multinational eOne, so it must have had a reasonable release in Spain last December.
The film is showing again at HOME on April 5th at 16.05.
So a real treat for fans of ‘reel’ film in West Yorkshire courtesy of The Celluloid Sorceress; The three earliest [the best] of the ‘Alien’ franchise from 70mm prints in the fine Pictureville auditorium at Bradford’s Media Museum. The event starts at 1300 with an introduction by the ‘Sorceress’ followed by the three films in chronological order.
Alien (1979) is undoubtedly a seminal movie. Ridley Scott, the space ship Nostromo and the star-studded crew offered a new downbeat style for science fiction. H. R. Giger’s designs for the monster crossed numerous mediums and spawned numerous copies. The shock value of one particular scene has diminished over the years but the film remains fascinating and exciting.
In 2002, Alien was deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.
In 2008, it was ranked by the American Film Institute as the seventh-best film in the science fiction genre, and as the thirty-third greatest film of all time by Empire magazine.” (Wikipedia)
It also remains the best of the lengthy series.
Aliens (1986) has become a cult film. It also benefited the British film industry being shot mainly at the Pinewood studio. Typically for the director James Cameron this title is longer on action and pyrotechnics than it is on character. It does have a very ingenious climatic battle.
The oddball variant of the trio. David Fincher’s film marries science fiction, religion and myth in a distinct manner. It transposes in its fullest form a motif [seen in Alien] of serial killer films to sci-fi, the labyrinth. It is also [literally and metaphorically] the darkest of the film series.
All three films screen in blow-ups from 35mm to 70mm, though Alien³ used 65mm film stock for the special effects. 70mm prints are really rare these days and here are three all together
The American title for this low budget SF film was Blood Beast from Outer Space which, while making its exploitation credentials clearer, is more than misleading. Spoiler alert: the beast is kidnapping young women, who aspire to be models, for procreation purposes on Ganymede (a moon of Jupiter). As Steve Chibnall points out in ‘Alien women: The politics of sexual difference in British sf pulp cinema’ (in ed. IQ Hunter British Science Fiction Cinema), the British at the time were worried about young women, not aliens.
Although the beginning of The Night Caller suggests Cold War paranoia, Patricia Haynes’ blonde scientist is soon portrayed as rebuffing John Saxon’s advances. No doubt at the time his double entendre (about beds) would be seen as flirting; now, hopefully, we realise that this behaviour isn’t appropriate in a work situation. So she is characterised, despite being blonde, as somewhat frigid. On the other hand, female scientists are thin on the ground in film (and life) and she is a particularly dynamic character and takes it on herself to act as a bait by replying to the ‘beast’s’ advert, to be a model, in Bikini Times. During this confrontation the beast explains:
‘I fear what I cannot control, and I cannot control an intelligence which is almost equal to mine. A mind such as your searches and destroys’.
Clearly young ’60s women were giving men some problems and, of course, she is punished for her ‘uppityness’.
As you may have gathered, The Night Caller is more interesting as symptom of the mores of the time than drama. It has the production values of early Doctor Who though cheapie specialist John Gilling does direct with some vigour. The best scene is when a victim’s parents explain their bewilderment about their young daughter: Warren Mitchell and Marianne Stone are hilariously deadpan culminating in the moment when the former produces a requested copy of Bikini Times from beneath a sofa cushion.
Likely Corman’s final film as director, this is adapted from Brian Aldiss’s novel,
“a meditation on the wilful independence of the Frankenstein myth.”
Shot on the then standard format of 35mm it can be enjoyed [if Bradford’s Media Museum is accessible] this coming Wednesday in the quality auditorium of Pictureville.
The film’s story involves a time-travelling scientist, Dr. Joseph Buchanan (John Hurt) travelling back in time to meet, not just Mary Shelley (Bridget Fonda) and her story-telling circle, but her creation Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Raul Julia) and his own creation the ‘Monster’ (Nick Brimble). The film works weird variations with the historical characters and with the fictional ones. And Corman fans will find references from Corman’s large and long cinematic output. The continuity is variable and at times the plotting requires careful attention. However there are bravura sequences filmed with elan and a sense of fun, including laboratory work, a trial and an execution. There are some fine examples of special effects from the period. And the film finally transports us to an arctic winterland that transforms the final chapter of Shelley’s novel.
The film has it share of violence, with severed limbs, mutilated bodies and much blood. It gained an 18 certificate from the BBFC in 1991. The film is in standard widescreen and DeLuxe colour, running only 85 minutes. The locations were in Italy, standing in for Switzerland, and the production crew involved a number of craftspeople from the Italian industry.
It is a rare pleasure now to see classic films in their original format and happily the Museum are using their best screening venue. The print is from the Museum archive and is apparently in good condition. And John Hurt’s voice is always worth the price of admission. The film also ties in with a new event at the Science & Media Museum;
“Introduced by Pippa Oldfield, Head of Programme at Impressions Gallery, to celebrate the launch of the exhibition ‘In Search Of Frankenstein’.”
Frankenstein is one of my favourite stories, as a novel or in the endless retelling on film. The many variations on the creation of the monster are a continuing pleasure in mise en scène.