Monday, 31 August 2009
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 26th September, 2009
Now here’s a curious thing - a thoroughly British comedy... made by Americans! Having noticed the success of films like "The Full Monty" the MGM studio bosses grabbed a script based on a true story and hoped to make a fast buck on the back of a wave of British success. "Greenfingers" trades almost entirely on the laughable notion of hardened criminals delicately pruning their roses. But here's the rub - big muscular guys pruning roses is funny - and charming. Add a jolly performance from one of the UK’s toughest Dames, an unlikely love story and some pretty pictures of flowers and you have a recipe for commercial success... but then Americans never did understand the vagaries of the British. The film generated only a modest cashflow at the box office despite the effortlessly warm performances, especially from Clive Owen and David Kelly, two of the sweetest and unlikeliest jailbirds you could ever hope to meet doing time. This perhaps isn’t the greatest movie ever made but its American funded Britishness makes its gentle pace and whimsical humour not only cosily comfortable but positively heartwarming. Not every film has to be a blockbuster!
The most compelling reason for seeing this film is its cast - a set of MGM's most prized possessions: including Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Gene Raymond and Mary Astor. In their first major onscreen pairing, Harlow and Gable prove just how much fun lust can be. This red-blooded romance brings our stars together in the remote and steamy jungles of Africa, which allows them to be as wild and wanton as they wish.
"Red Dust" is a hot-blooded example of a lot of things that would soon be banned by the censors until the 1960s. Jean Harlow is a slut, Mary Astor an adulteress, Clark Gable a two-timing cad. No one suffers for the sins of the flesh, and nothing happens that is the least bit subtle or ambiguous. You are invited to create your own carnal images with each suggestive fade-out (go on - we dare you!).
The original play, by William Collison, closed after only eight performances on Broadway, but after this film the story was reused in 1939 as "Congo Maisie", and again in 1953 when it appeared as "Mogambo". Sadly Jean Harlow wasn’t so long lived. She died in 1937 - apparently poisoned by the platinum used to dye her hair.
Saturday, 15 August 2009
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on April 30th, 2005
It's time to relax into comforting black and white for a cosy tale set in post war England.., or is it England? The idea for the plot came from a news item spotted by writer Tibby Clarke which stated that during the war, in order that a rule be observed whereby members of the Dutch royal succession must be born on Netherlands soil, a room in Ottawa, where the family was in exile from the German occupation, officially became Dutch territory. So if that could happen in Ottowa why not.. Pimlico!
The cast reads like a Who's Who of British character actors - Stanley Holloway and Dame Margaret Rutherford lead the troops but sharp eyes (and memories) will spot Sir Michael Hordern, Sidney Taffler, Charles Hawtrey, Hermoine Baddeley, Sam Kydd and Sir Winston Churchill (it's true!) amongst many others. John Slater, later to be a Z Cars stalwart and a resident of Stratford-upon-Avon, plays one of his biggest big screen roles. It's a classic Ealing Studios product with classic British humour poking gentle fun at our own Britishness. There are those who regard the film as political satire but most just sit back and enjoy a glimpse through a window on a world and way of life many of us can't even remember.
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on April 30th, 2005
ONLY THE RAINBOW CAN DUPLICATE ITS BRILLIANCE!
To those who think of vintage movies in terms of flickery, scratched black and white this meticulously restored 1938 blockbuster will be a revelation. Technical standards were at an all time high and Warner Brothers' art department knew nothing of budgetary restraint - it's a riot of colour, action and spectacle. This may be a museum piece but who says you can't have fun in a museum!
In the most engaging performance of his career, Errol Flynn is jaunty, romantic, and larger than life, but also slyly funny as the Saxon knight who takes on the nasty Normans who have usurped the rule of England while King Richard has been out of town liberating the Holy Land from the "infidels." This is movie pageantry at its best, done in the grand manner of silent
spectacles, brimming over with the sort of primitive energy that drew people to the movies in the first place.
• Erich Korngold was invited by Warner Brothers to come from his native Austria to Hollywood to see the film with a view to scoring it. He initially turned down the chance as he felt that his musical style was ill-suited for adventure spectaculars. However, while in Hollywood, he learned that the Nazis were about to invade Austria and, feeling he had to secure a source of revenue in the United States. He accepted the assignment and scooped one of the film's 3 Oscars.
• 'heavily padded stunt players and actors were paid $150 per arrow for being shot by
professional archer Howard Hill, who also played the captain of the archers.
• The production used all 11 of the Technicolor cameras in existence in 1938 and they were all
returned to Technicolor at the end of each day's filming.
• Although shot on location in California, indigenous English plants were added and the grass was painted to give a greener, more English look.
Much was made at the time of this film's release about the fact that it was the first musical to receive the dubious honour of an X certificate. It is perhaps predictable that the popular press should get in a lather about a few strong words and lewd(ish) moments while ignoring the real and gut wrenching feeling of outrage provoked by the vivid and stark portrayal of the rise of the greatest obscenity of the 20th Century. Those of us who saw "Cabaret" back in the free wheeling seventies were brought up sharp by the awful realisation that the rise of the Nazis was all but unstoppable and that ordinary people had no way of intervening. As our own political system lurched to the right and skinheads took to the streets, those of us with vivid imaginations drew worrying parallels.... Whatever our personal political feelings, no-one could fail to be shocked by "Cabaret" - but sex had absolutely nothing to do with it.
The film is based on Christopher Isherwood's autobiographical book of anecdotes from the era, `Goodbye to Berlin'. The Sally Bowles character appeared in those stories and then appeared in the play and movie 'I Am a Camera' before returning to the stage in this musical, and then making it into the movies a second time...
That such a tale set in such a time can also give great joy is a tribute to it's Director and it's superb and spirited cast. It can be said to have been a "once in a lifetime" film for almost all the main participants. Although Bob Fosse made a couple more films (including the autobiographical "All that Jazz") and worked extensively on the Broadway stage he never again hit such a high as "Cabaret". He died before he could transfer his stage hit "Chicago" to the big screen. Lisa Minelli, who really made us believe that she was the reincarnation of her mother (Judy Garland), failed to keep up the momentum and bounced from one indifferent project to the next mediocre one. Joel Grey (Master of Ceremonies) who is perhaps the kingpin of "Cabaret" was really too good at the part - he was reckoned to be "difficult to cast" by Hollywood's money men who obviously could only see him in white face and tails (that's him in the picture). He's still working on US television. Helmutt Griem worked only in his native language after "Cabaret" (he died last year) and Marisa Berenson also stayed firmly in Europe - though she's soon to be seen in a film called "Colour me Kubrick". The exception is of course Michael York who has so far appeared in 111 feature films and is still working - "Cabaret" is his 14th movie role.
"Tomorrow Belongs to Me" was written by John Kander and Fred Ebb in the style of a traditional German song, sung by the Nazi youth in the movie, to stir tip patriotism for the "fatherland". It has often been mistaken for a genuine "Nazi anthem" and has led to the songwriters being accused of anti-Semitism. This would be most surprising, as they are, in fact, Jewish. It is also the only song sung outside of the cabaret setting to survive the transition from stage to film.
Friday, 14 August 2009
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 26th February, 2005
Live piano accompaniment by Peter Smith
Although late in the silent era (the all talking "Jazz Singer" was released in the same year), "Shooting Stars" is thought of as the movie that marked the coming of age of the British film industry. It's a fully fledged feature film with a strong story and excellent acting. It established Anthony Asquith as one of our most distinguished directors and it made the American studios realise that films could be made outside California. Despite its jolly start it's a real tearjerker - tissues available from the bar!
Brian Aherne, who plays Julian, was a local lad from Kings Norton. He survived the transition to the talkies and went to Hollywood in 1933, starred alongside such deities as Katherine Hepburn and married Joan Fontaine (briefly).
Little is known of the fate of co-star Annette Benson. She stayed in films until 1931 and, after the rather grim sounding "Deadlock" disappeared completely from the limelight.
The remarkably named Chili Bouchier (real name Dorothy Hill) worked continuously in films, on the stage and in television from 1927 until her death in 1999 at the age of 100. The name came from her theme song 'I Love My Chili Bom-Bom'. Billed as "Britain's IT Girl", she possessed a knack for self publicity and was seldom out of the public eye. In her later years she dined (and most definitely supped) out on her reputation as "The Last of The Silent Film Stars". Despite her fame (or perhaps notoriety) she died alone in her council flat off the Edgware Road
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on January 30th, 2005
Veteran director Joseph Losey realised a lifelong ambition with this project - he'd been dissatisfied with the Hollywood projects that came his way in the 70s so the chance to direct Mozart's greatest opera was grabbed with enormous enthusiasm. Losey's film is rightly regarded to be one of the finest opera films ever made. It's rarely shown - this screening is the only one planned in the UK during 2005.
CAST in order of singing
Leporello Jose Van Dam
Donna Anna Edda Moser
Don Giovanni Ruggero Raimondi
The Comendatore John Macurdy
Don Otavio Kenneth Riegel
Donna Elvira Kiri Te Kanawa
Zerlina Teresa Berganza
Masetto Malcolm King
The Orchestra and Chorus of The Paris Opera
Conducted by Lorin Maazel
Sung in Italian with English Subtitles
ACT 1: After one of Mozart's most powerful overtures, the action begins in a square outside the palace of the Commendatore, the aging local commander of forces. It is night, and Leporello is grumbling about his duties as servant to Don Giovanni, a dissolute nobleman. Soon the masked Don appears, pursued by Donna Anna, the Commendatore's daughter, whom he has tried to seduce. When the Commendatore himself answers Anna's cries, he is killed in a duel by Giovanni, who escapes. Anna now returns with her fiance, Don Ottavio. Finding her father dead, she makes Ottavio swear vengeance on the assassin.
At dawn, Giovanni unwittingly flirts with Donna Elvira, a woman he once raped. Realising his mistake he escapes while Leporello distracts Elvira by reciting his master's long catalog of conquests. Peasants arrive, celebrating the nuptials of their friends Zerlina and Masetto; when Giovanni joins in, he pursues the bride, angering the groom. Alone with Zerlina, the Don applies his charm, but Elvira interrupts and protectively whisks the girl away. Outside the palace, Zerlina begs Masetto to forgive her apparent infidelity, Masetto hides when the Don appears, emerging from the shadows as Giovanni comers Zerlina. Elvira, Anna and Ottavio arrive disguised in costume and masks and are invited to the feast by Leporello. During the festivities, Leporello entices Masetto into the dance as Giovanni draws Zerlina out of the room. When the girl's cries for help put him on the spot, Giovanni tries to blame Leporello. But no one is convinced; at the end of the Act Elvira, Anna and Ottavio unmask and confront Giovanni.
Act 2: Under Elvira's balcony, Leporello exchanges cloaks with Giovanni to woo the lady in his master's stead. Leporello leads Elvira off, leaving the Don free to serenade Elvira's maid. When Masetto passes with a band of armed peasants bent on punishing Giovanni, the disguised rake gives them false directions, then beats up Masetto. In a passageway, Elvira and Leporello are surprised by Anna, Ottavio, Zerlina and Masetto, who, mistaking s,trrvant for master, threaten Leporello. He reveals his identity and escapes. When Anna departs, Ottavio affirms his confidence in their love.
Leporello catches up with his master in a cemetery, where a voice warns Giovanni of his doom. This is the statue of the Commendatore, which the Don proposes Leporello invite to dinner. In her home, Anna, still in mourning puts off Ottavio's offer of marriage until her father is avenged. Leporello is serving Giovanni's dinner when Elvira rushes in, begging the Don, whom she still loves, to reform. But he waves her out contemptuously. At the door, her screams announce the arrival of the Gommendatore's statue. Giovanni boldly refuses warnings to repent, even in the face of death. Flames engulf his house, and the sinner is dragged to hell. The mood changes, and the survivors join in a sextet in which they plan their future and recite themoral: such is the fate of a wrongdoer.
AN APOLOGY: Mozart's genius has endured for hundreds of years. We only wish that film was as future proof! Unfortunately this, the only available print of "Don Giovanni", has not passed the test of time and has faded badly. The fires of Hell are not so much flaming red as flickering pink and everthing else is turning sepia. We do hope your enjoyment of the drama and, above all, the music is not completely spoiled by this sad deterioration.
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 29th January, 2005
Just, for a moment, imagine that the powers that be had planted a great big satellite tracking dish on the outskirts of Feckenham - in the middle of the cricket field for instance. No, forget about the planning row - it's there. It's a fact - And it's about to be the single most important cog in the machine that's about to bring pictures to the world of the most spectacular event in the history of mankind... The Parish Council is swelling with civic pride, the pubs have ordered extra beer and everything is set and then one of Feckenham's legendary power cuts strikes. Transpose this scenario to the little town of Parkes in Australia and you have the story of "The Dish". In 1969 Parkes tracking station was the only one in the southern hemisphere capable of picking up the feeble signals from the Lunar Module at the time man first set foot on the Moon. Like many of the modern films we've shown at The FeckenOdeon "The Dish" looks at a big event through the eyes of ordinary people. The crew at Parkes made it possible for Neil Armstrong's "one small step for man" to be seen by six hundred million people, or one fifth of the world's population at the time. While "The Dish" may not be a "giant leap for mankind", it's a quietly moving film that delights in small things.
The film is set in the town of Parkes, in New South Wales, Australia, but was actually filmed in Forbes, which is a neighbouring town a few miles down the road. Parkes has changed over the last 30 years, but Forbes hasn't changed as much - Forbes still looked like a 1960s town, like Parkes did 30 years before.
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 29th January, 2005
Many remember "Genevieve" as the best Ealing comedy that never was. Given its storyline and pedigree it is very easy to understand why. Its director Henry Cornelius had in fact joined the studio in 1944 as a producer and in 1949 directed their classic comedy "Passport to Pimlico" before leaving to become an independent. In addition the screenplay is by William Rose, who would later pen such classic Ealing comedies as "The Ladykillers". Cornelius even offered the project to Ealing Studios, but Michael Balcon turned it down. The film was eventually produced by Rank, but with a budget so meagre that most of the shooting was accomplished in and around their Pinewood studios in Buckinghamshire, with just a few days of location filming.
Larry Adler's score for harmonica and small orchestra also contributed to the film's distinctive quality, although his name was removed from American prints of the film as at that time he was a victim of the McCarthy blacklist; the credit went instead to Muir Mathieson.
• Genevieve is a twin-cylinder 10/12 hp Darracq built in Paris in 1904. After the film she was sold and shipped to New Zealand and later to Australia. In 1993 she was acquired by the Louwman National Motor Museum at Ramsdonkyveer, Holland - where she still resides.
• Alexander Darracq was a man who didn't like driving cars or being driven in them. Darracq preferred making bicycles. But in 1896, he felt compelled to develop an electric car, which he later dismissed as being "worthless." After running into financial problems, his company was reformed with British capital, ultimately merging with Talbot and then Sunbeam before expiring in 1939.
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on December 27th, 2004
The story, as you'll discover, is incidental to the music and dance - not many films could survive on such a minuscule plot, but somehow "Top Hat" is one that excels because of it. No one really cares how and why Fred and Ginger get together, just that they do.
Practically the entire cast of the 1934 hit "The Gay Divorcee" reunites for this frothy confection, along with director Mark Sandrich, designer Van Nest Polglase, and choreographer Hermes Pan. Irving Berlin provides a tuneful score, including "Cheek to Cheek," which provides a classic duet for Astaire and Rogers, and "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails," which remains one of Astaire's finest solo numbers. Polglase outdoes himself with sets both elegant and outrageous and Hermes Pan's choreography is as smooth as ever, but ultimately it's the grace and chemistry of the leads that makes "Top Hat" top entertainment.
It's worth remembering that the world was still in the grip of the Great Depression in 1935 - this kind of film was popular with the poorest audiences and allowed a temporary escape into into a world of luxury and excess. There's hardly a second of realism allowed to intrude - even the waters of the (studio) Venetian lagoon were dyed black to provide a greater contrast with the shimmering white buildings.... and swimming in the canals? Even today that'd be taking a risk!
Incidentally Eric Rhodes, who plays Bedinni and who specialised in funny Italians ("For zee woman, zee kiss; for zee man, zee sword!") was a native of Oklahoma - not many people know that.
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on November 27th, 2004
It's perhaps inevitable that the FeckenOdeon found it hard to resist showing this film in the Hall that has hosted literally thousands of Women's institute meetings - and continues to do so on the second Thursday of every month..... Feckenham WI have so far declined to give a practical demonstration - though members of the real life Calendar Girls from Highgyll W.I. make cameo appearances in the film.
This is the kind of good-humoured comedy that used to feature Margaret Rutherford, although Helen Mirren and Julie Waiters, its daring stars, would have curled Dame Margaret's eyebrows! Tim Firth and Juliette Towhidi infuse the script with a gentle, warm sense of humour. The British talent for self mockery saves us (and the ladies) from any embarrassment and we laugh along with the "Girls" rather than at them. The participant's sheer spirit makes them seem much younger than they appear, and their sheer fun is infectious. Modesty is mostly preserved - thank God for the flower arrangements! Like last season's "Waking Ned" this is a little celebration of maturity... and of a second childhood that is often much more fun than the first! It also proves that, given the chance, we can still make very fine films this side of the Atlantic.
• Contrary to the film's storyline, the head office of the Women's Institute supported and encouraged the publication of the calendar.
• The real women of Rylstone and District Women's Institute (all names and places have been changed in the film) raised over £600,000 for medical research.
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on November 27th, 2004
Every so often the far fringes of animation cough up something so amazing that it's almost beyond criticism. It is safe to say you have never seen an animated film remotely like "Belleville Rendez-vous". With traditional pen-and-ink cartoons increasingly giving way to the popularity of computer animation, you may never have a chance to see another one quite like it again.
With contributions from teams of animators based in France, Belgium and Latvia, "Belleville Rendez-vous" (known to the rest of the world as "Les Triplettes de Belleville") is clearly the product of a single controlling imagination, that of the French comic-strip artist and filmmaker Sylvain Chomet, whose first feature this is. It's funny, bizarre and ultimately quite moving. With a bit of Tintin and Tati, Charlie Chaplin and Wallace and Gromit echoing in the pacing and comic sensibility, "Belleville Rendez-vous" conjures up a world that's totally surprising and sublime. Chomet and his animation crew have come up with a gem. It really is a dream come true.... though if you're having dreams like this perhaps you should seek help!
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on October 30th
What can one write without giving the game away?! This is perhaps the strangest and most frightening film we've ever shown at the FeckenOdeon with dark and disturbing undercurrents running beneath the seemingly straighforward plot. James Stewart, at his very best, brilliantly portrays a man at his most obsessed - not unlike the director? "Vertigo" came close to disappearing altogether but a painstaking restoration by Universal Pictures in 1996 gave us new prints with vibrant colours and a crystal clear soundtrack... but the tale of Stewart's heights-fearing detective who gets caught up with the woman he's investigating makes the restored spectacle almost irrelevant. If you're looking for jokes they're in short supply - but the thrills and tension are here... as is a dark and inescapable nightmarish compulsion. You don't want to look... but you simply have to.
The film is based upon "D'Entre les Morts" (From Among the Dead) which was written specifically for Hitchcock by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac after they heard that he had tried to buy the rights to their previous novel.
• San Juan Batiste, the Spanish mission which features in key scenes in the movie doesn't actually have a bell tower - it was added using trick photography.
• Uncredited second-unit cameraman Irmin Roberts invented the famous "forward zoom and reverse tracking" shot (now sometimes called "contra-zoom" or "trombone shot") to convey the sense of vertigo to the audience. The view down the mission stairwell cost $19,000 for just a couple of seconds of screen time.
In accordance with the instructions of Mr Hitchcock NO-ONE WILL BE ALLOWED TO ENTER ORLEAVE THE AUDITORIUM DURING THE FIRST 15 MINUTES OF "VERTIGO"
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on Spetember 24th, 2004
Another escapist treat - this time the horrors were those of war - not a mention of the conflict in a film that had them flocking to the cinemas in the closing months of WW2. In the same year as they produced the heart rending "Brief Encounter" Noel Coward and David Lean collaborated on this much lighter confection based on Coward's smash hit stage play. Coward's script and Lean's direction must have some influence on proceedings but all their efforts (and those of the rest of the cast) are swept aside by the charging juggernaut that is Margaret Rutherford's Madame Arcate. Dame Margaret, who made her first screen appearance in 1936 at the age of 41, played dotty old dears throughout her long film career but this one was something special. Coward wrote the role specifically for her to play on the stage and then further adapted it to suit her screen persona. In real life Dame Margaret was the daughter of William Benn but her father murdered her grandfather just before she was born, and she was christened with her mother's last name of Christie.
Shown at The Feckenodeon on 25th September, 2004
The Marx Brothers phenomenon is a perfect illustration of the function of the Picture Palace in the great depression and immediately afterwards. Audiences flocked to escape the harshness of everyday life into the comfort of gilt and red plush for a glimpse of the high life - tempered with a bit of pure streetwise vaudeville. For such an audience the idea of the Brothers having a crack at the grandest of artforms must have worked on two levels. The most obvious is the pricking of the bubbles of pomposity and social climbing which so often surrounded opera. Less obvious is the appeal of the music itself. America was still a young country with millions of first and second generation immigrants who brought a genuine love of truly popular opera as part of their contribution to the culture of their new nation. The immigration sub plot must also have struck a chord. The usual Marx machine gun technique of rapid fire gags is employed but the big budget of this film allowed the boys to enjoy high production values and some of the musical numbers rival the best of Hollywood's "straight" musicals. Not a film made for sophisticates - so leave your sensitivities outside and wallow in the sheer daftness of it all...
"And now, on with the opera. Let joy be unconfined. Let there be dancing in the streets, drinking in the saloons, and necking in the parlor."
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on April 24th, 2004
The last film in our third season is the last Ealing Comedy ever made at Ealing Studios. Fittingly "The Ladykillers" was directed by Alexander Mackendrick - who also directed "Whisky Galore" which opened the season way back in September 2003. This was Mackendrick's last film for Ealing, and when it was completed he left for America. Subversive, hilarious and more English than Elgar this is a classic Ealing confection of charm and whimsy coating a black comic core. Seventy eight year old Katie Johnson plays the deliciously dithery Mrs Wilberforce who totally innocently potters her way through all manner of hideous villainy and dodgy dealings... and never once suspects what's going on. Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers, and Herbert Lom lead a superb cast - even so they're totally upstaged by Mrs Wilberforce and her elderly cronies... It's a case of little old ladies rule, and an explanation for the triumph of Victorian Great Britain and the Empire. The film is strangely immensely popular in America, and is given frequent television airings. Its bizarre, almost surreal approach now makes it seem a decade ahead of its time. This is a film that proves how great the British film industry used to be. It's little wonder Hollywood has spent the best part of a decade trying to remake "The Ladykillers" - they'll never succeed!!!
• The producers originally refused to cast Katie Johnson fearing that she was too frail to withstand the rigours of filming. The younger actress who was given the part died just before filming began - Miss Johnson, who began her film career in 1932 playing a glamorous secretary in "After Office Hours", was recalled and went on to complete two more pictures before she died in 1957.
• It is widely believed that the voice of the parrot was supplied by Peter Sellers.
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on April 24th, 2004
To open the show we present what is surely the greatest tearjerker of them all. "Brief Encounter" is an outstanding piece of film making which stands the test of time. It may well be that this tale of doomed love born out of fear and loneliness was made just at the right time to exploit the feelings of the many thousands of people who's lives had been shaken by the forced separations of the war years.
To many, "Brief Encounter" may seem like a relic of more proper times when the pressures of marital decorum and fidelity were perhaps more keenly felt. In truth, David Lean's fourth film remains a timeless study of true love (or, rather, the promise of it), and the aching desire for intimacy that is often subdued by the obligations of marriage. Ordinary Londoners Alec (Trevor Howard), a married doctor, and contented housewife Laura (Celia Johnson) meet by chance one day in a railway station buffet, when he volunteers to remove a fleck of ash from her eye. The outcome of this affair - both agonising and rapturous - is subtle and yet powerful enough to draw tears from the numbest of souls.
NB: The FeckenOdeon's operators are used to patching up old copies of vintage films - but this one has taken more patching than most. We hope that all will be well and that you won't find the sound of the projectionist praying too much of a distraction. (In the event all was well on screen... though there was drama in the projection room when a vital bobbin dropped off. The operator spent most of the film kneeling beside the machinery as his little finger stood in for the missing part)
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on March 27th, 2004
More than anything else, "Doctor Zhivago" is a love story. In fact, as a critic of the day once commented, it may be the biggest, grandest soap opera ever produced, a criticism that at the time distressed the director no end. But it is a soap with the exalted breadth of a "Gone With the Wind." It too tells an intimate story of love and conflict set against the backdrop of a country in the throes of civil war. What raises it above the level of a mere romance is its expansive visual structure, its incredible and meticulous set design and the totally stunning cinematography by Freddie Young - all of which have yet to be equalled. David Lean was a wonderfully visual filmmaker with a great understanding of how to tell a story with the camera - and this film is a terrific example of his mastery of the craft.
The film is based on the lengthy novel of the same name by Boris Pasternak. English screenwriter Robert Bolt condensed the 700 pages of the original into a coherent script and was rewarded with an Oscar for best screenplay. The story doesn't illuminate "Zhivago's" vision of history the way the psychological portrait of T.E. Lawrence in "Lawrence of Arabia" makes sense of the historical events that film records. In "Zhivago," history is presented not as a subject for curious inquiry, but as an implacable, impersonal force that keeps mucking up the private lives of the protagonists.
The book had been banned in the Soviet Union for daring to contradict the "official" view of the formation of that super state. Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for the work in 1958 but was forced by the authorities to turn the honour down. The book was not published in Russia until 1987 - nearly twenty years after this film had broken box office records world wide and twenty seven years after the author's own death.
"Doctor Zhivago" deservedly won a host of awards for Freddie Francis' breathtaking photography and John Box's amazing production design and costumes. The score by Maurice Jarre is film music on a symphonic scale - but will be perpetually remembered for the haunting "Lara's Theme". The film is regarded by many as the last truly great David Lean film and by some as the last truly great epic scale film. Such claims are probably somewhat exaggerated but "Dr Zhivago" is film making of a scale and depth rarely attempted since.
• The film was torn apart by critics when first released. Newsweek, in particular, made comments about 'hack-job sets' and 'pallid photography'. 'David Lean' was so deeply affected by these criticisms that he swore he would never make another film - though he soon retreated from this position when the box office returns proved that the critics were spectacularly out of tune with popular taste.
• Producer Carlo Ponti had bought the rights to the story years before with the intention of casting his wife Sophia Loren in the role of Lara. David Lean refused to use her because she was "too tall".
• The film was shot in Spain during the regime of General Franco. While a scene involving a crowd chanting Marxist slogans was being filmed (at Sam in the morning), police showed up at the set thinking that a real revolution was taking place and insisted on staying until the scene was finished. Apparently, people who lived near where filming was taking place had awoken to the sound of revolutionary singing and had mistakenly believed that Franco had been overthrown.
• The "ice house" was built amid the snows of Finland but was actually made out of wax.
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 28th February, 2004
and to an open air audience on 26th June, 2007 at The Square, Feckenham
Both performances accompanied on the piano by Ian Room
"The General" was made in 1927, the year before the talkies transformed the cinema world. Filled with hilarious sight gags and perfectly timed stunt work, this Civil War chase comedy was written and directed by Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman, and filmed with a huge budget for its time ($400,000). The scale and direction of the movie was revolutionary, and those who haven't seen it before will be surprised at the skilful choreography of the action. The superb cinematography compliments the pace of the direction as Keaton cleverly builds up the scale of the stunts. These culminate in increasingly impressive train-based acrobatics as he dodges the fiendish attempts by the Union men to derail him. As with any good blockbuster, Keaton saves the best for last with a climax involving a spectacular train crash over a burning bridge. Staged for real, the reputed $42,000 cost of that single shot was unheard of in those days, and it's just as impressive today as it was then. It is in fact reckoned to be the single most expensive shot of the entire silent movie era. The locomotive itself remained in the river until WWII, when it was salvaged for scrap iron.
Born in 1897, the same year as the cinema, Buster Keaton grew up in a vaudeville family. He started in films with Fatty Arbuckle in 1917 and directed his first shorts in 1920. In less than a decade, from 1920 to 1928, he created a body of work that stands beside Chaplin's (some would say above it), and he did it with fewer resources because he was never as popular or well-funded as the Little Tramp. When the talkies came in, he made an ill-advised deal with MGM that ended his artistic independence. Largely forgotten by the 1940s, he was reduced to doing a live half-hour TV show in Los Angeles. He reappeared on the big screen in Samuel Beckett's "Film" (1965), and this brought him back into the public eye. A retrospective at Venice shortly before his death in 1966 confirmed his "rehabilitation" and acknowledged his enormous contribution to the technique and art of the cinema.
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 31st January, 2004
Our main feature harks back almost to the Ealing style of whimsical comedy which "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning" blasted into history. It's set in an Irish village much the same size as Feckenham - and with the same liking for a good bit of gossip and fun. So you can imagine the excitement when it's reported that the winning ticket in the national lottery, worth nearly seven million punts, was bought in the village. The plot is simple, but provides a framework for excellent character acting - turning Hollywood on its youth obsessed head, and proving that a movie focusing on older folks can be deliciously entertaining.
Ian Bannen and David Kelly lead the band of mischief makers and Kirk Jones directs with a lightness of touch rarely seen in modern movie making. The beauty of this film is its simplicity - It's just good old-fashioned story-telling. A wealth of charm, clever acting and the beauty of the Irish countryside make "Waking Ned" a heart warming proposition for a late January night out - except that the "Irish" countryside is actually the Isle of Man countryside. The IoM government had been able to offer a better financial deal to the film makers and we defy anyone to tell the difference!
While made to the finest current technical standards, the film does not pretend for one moment to be anything more than it is - a peopled by some gently zany folks who give us gleams of recognition of ordinary foibles. It is the lack of pretence and Jones' light touch that allows this confection to float successfully. (The film was released in the USA under the title "Waking Ned Devine" for reasons only American logic can explain).
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 31st January, 2004
The rebellious energy of post-war theatre's 'angry young man' erupted on screen in 1960 with Karel Reisz's radical drama "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning". Alan Sillitoe wrote the script based on his novel and an authentic working-class hero swaggered into the spotlight of British cinema for the first time. Arthur Seaton, first seen amid the noise of a Nottingham factory, is a young labourer who just wants to get through the week and raise hell at the weekend: "All I want is a good time. The rest is propaganda".
More recently seen flexing his charisma as Churchill in the BBC drama 'The Gathering Storm', Albert Finney's bravura performance as the embittered anti-hero was universally acclaimed. Crackling with fresh content and style, set to a jazz soundtrack by Johnny Dankworth, Reisz's film was an international success. It brought prestige to the British film industry and the profit enabled producer Harry Saltzman to buy the rights of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels.
"Don't let the bastards grind you down," is the message in this belligerent portrait of working class manhood - the film's gritty realism and honesty in its portrayal of ordinary young people's sexuality sent shock waves through the establishment. Before this film, the proletariat, especially "up north", was shown as poor and oppressed, poor and shiftless, or just poor and shameless. "Saturday Night" changed all that - the working man was allowed to be depicted not as an empty representative of his class and age, but a fully-fleshed person in his own right.
The great and the good clamoured to condemn this film almost as loudly as the public clamoured for tickets. An `X' certificate was reluctantly granted but our neighbours in Warwickshire were unable to see it because the County Council demanded substantial cuts. As far as we are aware the Warwickshire ban still stands!
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 27th December, 2003
You could take just about any movie storyline, set it to George Gershwin's music and end up with a film that sounds and feels like a big success. That's what Gershwin's music does for a movie. The tragically short-lived composer (only 39 when he died) did as good a job as anyone ever has of bridging `serious' and popular music - remarkably able to sound majestic and jazzy at the same time. And what better place to show this off than in a Hollywood musical starring Gene Kelly? It's a winning combination, and when you toss in the deft direction of Vincente Minnelli, the charming screen debut of Leslie Caron and a capable supporting cast, the result is elevated from a merely successful movie to a truly memorable classic.
Gershwin had been dead for 14 years when the film was made - the tone poem upon which the score is based was written in 1928 but it is undoubtedly the key to the movie's enduring appeal.The Gershwin score may be the big star of the show, but Gene Kelly's performance is certainly the glue that holds it together. Kelly's remarkable ability to be both strong and subtle on the dance floor works to great effect here. Caron, who was added to the cast at the last minute, when Cyd Charisse found herself pregnant and unable to play the role, is sweet and appealing. She was a dancer at the Paris Opera when Kelly spotted her and, despite opposition from the studio, persuaded the Director to take the huge risk of casting a totally inexperienced unknown in a major role. The gamble paid off, the movie was a huge success and Caron, at 19, found herself feted as one of Hollywood's biggest stars.
The main body of the picture was shot in six weeks... but then the ballet finale took two months to perfect. This tour of Paris through the eyes of that country's greatest painters is one of the cinema's greatest spectacles. Gene Kelly choreographed it himself and demanded an astounding $400,000 for doing so. MGM, not renowned for its generosity to performers, must have reckoned they were on to a winner and gave Kelly and Minelli a free hand.
'An American in Paris' garnered six other Oscars, including an honorary award to Gene Kelly 'in appreciation of his versatility as an actor, singer, director, and dancer, and specially for his brilliant achievement in the art of choreography on film.'
Maurice Chevalier was offered the part played by Georges Guetary but turned it down because he didn't get the girl in the last reel. The Newsvendor is played by the appropriately named Marie-Antoinette Andrews.
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on November 29th, 2003
The enormous success of Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau in the first "Pink Panther" movie in 1964 prompted its producers to rush another one ("A Shot in the Dark") out the same year but it would be over ten years before Sellers made this third film. In the meantime, Alan Arkin undertook the part in a forgettable 1968 film called, appropriately enough, "Inspector Clouseau." But Sellers' return was a triumph, so much so that the actor would complete two more "Panther" films before his untimely death. "The Return of the Pink Panther" is sillier than its predecessors, with Sellers more the buffoon than ever and starting to mangle his comic pronunciations at an ever-increasing rate. This film demonstrates how Clouseau became such a signature role for Sellers. As many friends testified, he would come alive only when playing absurd characters, even at private dinners. Clouseau was not only an absurd character, he was one who got more absurd with each disguise - an oversized Mafioso, a Quasimodo with an inflatable hump, a Toulouse Lautrec with shoes on his knees. "I'm sorry," he tells a delivery boy vainly expecting a tip, "I'm a little short."
This film was printed in Eastmancolor. Like many prints of a similar vintage the dyes had faded making the predominant colour... pink.
The Two Towers
2001/2 - Dir.:Peter Jackson
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 15th November, 2003
When J. R. R.Tolkien wrote his amazing "Lord of the Rings" trilogy in the 1930s and 40s he could hardly of dared to dream that one day the fantastic world he created in the imaginations of his readers could ever be successfully re-created on the cinema screen. It took a terrific leap forward in special effects technology and the determination of the fledgling film industry of New Zealand to bring to vivid life the Hobbits, Goblins, Orcs, Elves and Ents hitherto only glimpsed as sketches. Many people have carried round their own treasured mental images of Middle Earth since reading the books as young people. Some have been reluctant to see the films for fear of spoiling their personal memories of a very special story. They need not have worried. Director Peter Jackson and his team have been meticulously faithful to the text and, using the very latest techniques (some invented specifically for these films), have produced what many consider to be the greatest fantasy films ever made. They are thrilling, beautiful, moving, frightening and totally breathtaking.
The Story so far
This film picks up the story from the end of Tolkein's "try out" book "The Hobbit". Even at this early stage the plot is a little entangled so we're deeply indebted to The Tolkien Society for writing this neat summary and for including a link to our website on their own excellent site at www.tokiensociety.org):-"In ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, the Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-Earth still it remained lost to him. After many ages it fell, by chance, into the hands of the Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins. On his eleventy-first birthday, Bilbo disappeared, bequeathing to his young nephew, Frodo, the Ruling Ring, and a perilous quest: to journey across Middle-Earth, deep into the shadow of the Dark Lord and destroy the Ring by casting it into the Cracks of Doom."
These two films were shown on the eve of the release of the third film in the trilogy to allow people to refresh their memories before plunging into "The Return of the King". Hobbiton suppers were served at The Rose & Crown between the films.
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 25th October, 2003
This saga of a stranger in a strange land was still playing when Nikita Khrushchev became the first Soviet leader to tour the U.S. (His trip included several of the movie's spectacular locations). It is sometimes regarded as a forerunner to the later James Bond films but this is more sophisticated fare - there are thrills and spills galore and a good deal of humour but the Master keeps a sinister undercurrent of unease bubbling along throughout.
Hitchcock collaborators composer Bernard Herrmann and cinematographer Robert Burks are in top form in "North by Northwest". Burks lights the stage sets of Mount Rushmore with a fantastic glow and Herrmann's signature strident passages emphasize the danger and menace.
As screenwriter Ernest Lehman recalls, Hitchcock said to him, "We're not making a movie, we're constructing an organ". The movie was born from two key scenes that Hitchcock was desperate to realise. One was to be set at the United Nations, and the other was to be a chase across the presidential faces carved into the Mount Rushmore National Monument. It was Lehman's job to construct a film around these two visions, and out of them emerges a thriller so improbable that it becomes quite brilliant in evading even the most fantastic of audience guesses. Hitch delivers a series emotional highs and lows with perfect timing, allowing moments of relief to break out before mounting another crescendo of excitement. The effect is like a grand musical work, conducted with bravura audience manipulation.
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 25th October, 2003
"Night Mail" had modest origins: a film to explain to Post Office employees how the postal special travelling between London and Scotland worked. John Grierson asked several writers to make the journey and give him their observations about the trip from Edinburgh to Euston. Grierson insisted that in the film the train journey be made in the opposite direction from south to north. Harry Watt was given the film to direct, with Chick Fowle and Jonah Jones as cameramen and Pat Jackson and, later, W.H. Auden as assistants. When the shooting was finished and the first rough assembly was shown, Grierson was conscious of something missing. The film showed only the machinery of getting letters from one point to another, there was nothing about the people who're going to get the letters or about the people who write them. W.H. Auden wrote the verse on a trial and error basis. It had to be cut to fit the visuals, edited by R.Q. McNaughton, working with Alberto Cavalcanti and Basil Wright. Many lines were discarded, ending as crumpled fragments in the wastepaper basket. Some of Auden's verbal images - the rounded Scottish hills 'heaped like slaughtered horses' were too strong for the film; but what was retained made Night Mail as much a film about loneliness and companionship as about the collection and delivery of letters. It was that difference that made it a work of art.
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 27th September, 2003
The first film to be shown using the Society's newly installed 35mm projector
"Whisky Galore" was filmed on the island of Barra in the Outer Hebrides, as far from Ealing yet still in the British Isles as possible. That it was made on location at all was entirely due to the fact that the studios were fully booked at the time of shooting. It was the first movie Monja Danischewsky produced and the first Alexander Mackendrick had directed. Mackendrick, a strict Presbyterian, fell out with the producer over the latter's romantic vision of a remote community fighting foreign interference, but Danischewsky got his way and the film is light and whimsical. The production went heavily over budget (by some £20,000, a fleabite by today's standards, but virtually a hanging matter at Ealing). The main reason was not the inexperience of the production team but the weather, the summer of 1948 being one of the legendarily awful ones.
The story was adapted from the novel by Compton Mackenzie, a prolific and imaginative Scottish novelist, and a well-known figure in the islands, where he had a home. It was based on a true incident, when a cargo ship (the S.S.Politician) had foundered off the Isle of Eriskay. Some 50,000 cases of Scotch destined for the United States were aboard. The author himself wrote the screenplay in association with Angus MacPhail, and even played a small part in the film. We are told in the film's epilogue that the whisky did not last long and that the islanders of Todday lived unhappily ever after - a concession to the strictly applied morality code enforced on films shown in America. Even the title was unacceptable in America and so it became "Tight Little Island". In France the film was called "Whisky, a Go-Go", and enjoyed such success that a night club was opened bearing the name.
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 27th September, 2003
Many fine actors have had a crack at Miss Marple - notably, and most recently, Joan Hickson - but few have achieved such popular success as Margaret Rutherford. Although Christie admired and eventually became friends with the redoubtable Margaret (even dedicating one of her Miss Marple novels, "The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side", to the actress) she apparently did not like the MGM films at all. This was the third in the hugely popular series. "Murder, She Said" (1962) set the humorous tone that would follow in the subsequent films: "Murder at the Gallop" (1963), "Murder Most Foul" (1964), and "Murder Ahoy!" (1964). This film was based on Christie's 1952 novel "Mrs. McGinty's Dead" which featured Hercule Poirot as the sleuth. Christie described the title as "rotten" - it seems that the cinema going public did not agree!
Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on April 26th, 2003
"Forget it, Louis. No Civil war film ever made a nickel!" (Irving Thalberg, 1936). This giant of a film made plenty of nickels - it topped the earnings poll for many generations and by 1974 had made $150m. That it was made at all was largely down to the determination of David O. Selznick who bought the rights from author Margaret Mitchell for a paltry $50,000 (he later had a pang of conscience and slipped the lady another $50,000).
Selznick drove the project with iron determination and, when the thing threatened to swallow up his own studio, swallowed his pride and went cap in hand to his old employer Louis B. Mayer. Although almost half of the film was directed by Victor Fleming (45%) - who received the screen credit, four other directors contributed various parts of the film: Sam Wood (15%), William Cameron Menzies (15%), George Cukor (5%) - the first director, B. Reeves ("Breezy") Eason (2%), and the remaining from various second unit directors (18%). Fleming had a nervous breakdown ten weeks after he replaced George Cukor and the turnover of writers was no less frenetic. Sidney Howard is reckoned to have contributed most (he died before the film was complete). Ben Hecht and Scott Fitzgerald also had a crack at it (Selznick sacked Fitzgerald after only three weeks). The great Burning of Atlanta scene was shot weeks before the lead roles were even cast. Seven cameras rolled as enormous sets on the MGM backlot were torched - it is thought that D.W.Griffiths' set for "Intolerance" was amongst them.
The casting of the main roles was a matter of intense public and industry debate - in particular that of Scarlett O'Hara. Fourteen hundred tests were shot and every Hollywood name was in the frame at some time or other. Norma Shearer was chosen and turned it down. Paulette Godard and Joan Fontaine were likely contenders and then, shock of shocks, an English actress got the part. Vivien Leigh hadn't even been screen tested but had been spotted by Selznick in "A Yank in Oxford". She was paid $25,000 for 125 days work while co-star Clark Gable got $121,000 for his 71 days. The film took ten Oscars including one for the marvellous Hattie McDaniel - the first ever for a black actor. Sadly Selznick soured her achievement by suggesting that it would be too embarrassing if she were to attend the premier in Atlanta.
"Gone with the Wind" opened in London with a simultaneous premier in three theatres - The Empire, the Ritz and The Palace. It was rapturously received and disorderly scenes were witnessed as the public scrambled for tickets. There was disorder behind the scenes too - MGM asked British cinemas to pay 70% of their takings for the privilege of showing the film - and to raise their ticket prices. The large circuits and the Cinema Exhibitors Association rebelled. Questions were asked in in parliament and it was left to smaller operators, notably the Granada circuit, to bring the film to the provinces - and to make a handsome profit.
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on March 29th, 2003
Tati's eccentric creation M.Hulot charmed us last year in "M.Hulot's Holiday". For those of us who have loved Tati's humour for many years, it was a delight to see that this truly international comic genius could still work his magic.This time he's tangling with the latest (1950s) technology in "Mon Oncle". Hulot's young nephew is being brought up in a high tech apartment. As you might imagine Hulot and technology really don't mix and chaos results. The boy's parents try to reform the errant uncle by giving him a job in their ultra modern plastics factory - a big mistake. If Hulot can practically destroy a kitchen with a food mixer just imagine what he can do with an extruding machine. Tati is one of the cinema's great treasures, and this movie (his first in colour) is unforgettable. It took a host of awards culminating with an Oscar for Best Foreign Film of 1956.
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on Febrary 22nd, 2003
The Gold Rush is the quintessential Chaplin/Little Tramp film, with a balance of slapstick comedy and pantomime, social satire and emotional and dramatic moments of tenderness. It was Chaplin's own personal favourite and the first movie he made for United Artists (the company he co-founded with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W.Griffith).
Classic scenes include the starvation scene of two cabin-marooned prospectors boiling and eating a shoe, the teetering cabin on the edge of a cliff, and Chaplin's lonely New Year's Eve party (with the dancing dinner rolls routine). Early working titles for the film included Lucky Strike and The Northern Story. Chaplin dreamed up this story after reading a book about the infamous Donner party tragedy. The Donner party was travelling to California by wagon train in the last century and got caught by a blizzard in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Soon they ran out of food and their desperation led them to consume clothing, including leather boots, and eventually the bodies of their friends who had frozen to death. Chaplin even chose to do his exterior shooting in Truckee, Nevada, close to the site of this catastrophe. The first scene of the film, with several hundred prospectors slogging up a mountain towards the gold fields, and in which the Little Tramp is followed by a bear, is the most memorable of these location shots. It's perhaps a sobering thought that the 2,500 men playing prospectors were all genuine vagrants. The famous boot eating scene took three days and 63 takes. The boot was made of liquorice, and Chaplin was later rushed to hospital suffering insulin shock.
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on February 22nd, 2003
Intrepid Buster Keaton faces danger on land, on water & in the air - generally because of his disastrous attempts to impress lovely young women. When at six months he tumbled down a flight of stairs unharmed the young Keaton was given the name "Buster" by 'Harry Houdini' who. along with W.C.Fields, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Eddie Cantor and Al Jolson shared vaudeville bills with The Three Keatons: Buster, his father Joe and mother Myra. Their act, one of the most dangerous in vaudeville, was about how to discipline a prankster child. Buster was thrown all over the stage and even into the audience. No matter what the stunt, he was poker-faced. By age 21 his father was so alcoholic the stunts became too dangerous to perform and the act dissolved. An association with Fatty Arbuckle led to a series of highly imaginative short subjects and classic, silent feature-length films - all from 1920 to 1928. Writer, director, star & stuntman - Buster could do it all. More akin to Fairbanks than Chaplin, Buster's films were full of splendid adventure, exciting derring-do and the most dangerous physical stunts imaginable.
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on January 25th, 2003
Set in Yorkshire in 1992 at the time of mass pit closures, this film offers a humorous and moving insight into the lives of ordinary people at a time of great social change. Grimley Colliery Brass band is as old as the mine - it has been in existence for a hundred years. But the miners are now deciding whether to fight to keep the pit open, and the future for town and band looks bleak. They believe they have no hope until Gloria (Tania Fitzgerald) appears carrying her Flugelhorn. The film is notable as an early outing for Ewan McGregor - currently one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood - and for a remarkable performance from Pete Poslethwaite, one of our most able character actors.
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on January 25th, 2003
Alfred Hitchcock's "The Lady Vanishes" takes us off to the fictional country of Bandrika (which seems to be a thinly disguised stand-in for nazi-controlled Austria, so recently annexed by Hitler's Germany) aboard a train during the uncertain years which lead to the second world war. Dame May Whitty plays a charming elderly lady travelling back to England and who, quite inexplicably, vanishes -just like that! Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave take it upon themselves to investigate - and, just when you think that this is going to be a rather ordinary melodrama, Hitchcock cranks up the suspense and it's edge of the seat time!
Like many of the best films this is a bit of an accident. It was originally to be called "Lost Lady" and was all set to roll when the original director fell ill. Hitch stepped in with cast and crew already chosen and the result was a meticulously crafted classic. The script is by Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat who worked together throughout a writing career which spanned over forty years and included "Oh Mr Porter" and this season's opening film "The Happiest Days of Your Life". The redoubtable Dame May Whitty first appeared on screen in 1914 and made her final appearance just before her death in 1948
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 28th December, 2002There can be few people who haven't seen and enjoyed this movie on TV but its true home is on the big screen. The colour, spectacle and immaculate production values practically leap out of the frame and it is hard to believe that such technical brilliance was possible over fifty years ago. The film lover's bible "Halliwell's Film Guide" says it all when it notes that the film has "the catchiest tunes, the liveliest choreography, the most engaging performances and the most hilarious jokes of any musical".
"Singin' in the Rain" tells of the uncomfortable transition from silent to sound films in the 1920s. Many stars of the silent screen were revealed to have inadequate speaking voices and some could break glass with a single syllable. Jean Hagen plays one such - Lina Lamont is a big star and she means to remain one despite having a slender grasp of the English language ("You think I'm dumb or summink?"). She ruthlessly uses her co-star Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly), his girlfriend Kathy Seldon (Debbie Reynolds) and musician Cosmo Brown (Donald O'Connor) in an attempt to remain "everybody's number one - bar none!" It's a story with a grain of truth in it - Hollywood lawyers made fat fees out of hapless actors desperate to cling to stardom despite having voices like bronchitic goats.
The songs are so well known - "Make `em Laugh", "Good Morning", "You were Made for Me" - that joining in will be excused and perhaps expected. The orchestrations are confident and on occasions almost symphonic. The highlight for many is the balletic "Broadway Melody" sequence in which Cyd Charise uses her very longest scarf and her even longer legs to devastating effect. Perhaps Fred and Ginger did more technically proficient dancing in "Top Hat" or "Swing Time". Maybe the Busby Berkeley extravaganzas, like "Footlight Parade", had more spectacular set pieces. But Singin' in the Rain is quite simply the greatest musical of all time. The film shines with the joy of performance - everyone involved is obviously having enormous fun - and it's infectious. Gene Kelly's universally celebrated "Singin' in the Rain" scene is justly regarded as one of the greatest moments in the history of film, and easily the most memorable dance number of all time. Yet Donald O'Connor gives Kelly a real run for his money with the astonishingly acrobatic antics of "Make 'em Laugh" and takes the lead in the inspired nuttiness of the "Moses Supposes" sequence.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about "Singin' in the Rain", apart from the fact that Hollywood never tried to duplicate it, is that it wasn't originally made with the intention of creating a timeless classic. As with "Casablanca" and other great films, the greatness of "Singin' in the Rain" happened by accident. Most of the music had been sitting around unused for some twenty years, and screenwriters Adolph Green and Betty Comden were given the responsibility of coming up with a story for it. During an all night brainstorming session, they hit upon the inspired idea of setting the story during Hollywood's transition from the silent era to the age of sound, the period the songs actually date from. Songwriter Arthur Freed combines his own work from the 20s and 30s with new material; the film lunges between narrative continuity and song and dance fantasy; choreography was virtually improvised due to the pressures of the production schedule - the film arises from an unruly batch of elements. But its songs are winners, its sets elaborate, its Technicolor glorious and its dance routines inventive. For humour and sheer energy, no musical betters "Singin' In The Rain".
Shown at the FeckenOdeon on 30th November, 2002
"NEVER GIVE A SAGA AN EVEN BREAK!"
Perhaps the greatest of all cowboy parodies. Mel Brookes takes a sledgehammer to crack a million gags and the pace is frenetic. The plot, for as much as it matters, concerns the appointment of a new sheriff in the wild, untamed town of Rockridge. When the new appointee turns out to be black there's a bit of a problem - until the races unite against a common enemy. To sensitive souls this may seem to be a crass and crude movie but it is also very, very funny - even if some of the gags get lost in the mayhem. It's also a very brave film - made barely a decade after the American race riots of the '60s it tackles bigotry and intolerance head on and some of the points even hit the mark. The result may not seem very PC by today's standards but at least it calls a spade a sp....
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on October 30th, 2002
A Grade A classic western with James Stewart dominating the screen as he seeks revenge on those who killed his brother. Director Anthony Mann injects a toughness into the proceedings and this, combined with Stewart's totally committed performance, makes the film strong meat when compared to the standard horse opera of the period. The giant 'Scope screen is used to great effect and, even if westerns aren't really your thing, you can sit back and admire the gloriously photographed New Mexico landscape.
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 26th October, 2002
In gorious Technicolor®, "Little Shop Of Horrors" is aptly described as "the funniest musical every made about a man eating plant". The fact that it is the only musical ever made about a man eating plant shouldn't be allowed to detract from the facts that it is very funny and very musical. Ten stone weakling Seymour (Rick Moranis) takes an unusual plant into the flower shop where he works. Seymour has a crush on the blond dumbshell cashier (Ellen Greene) and seeks to woo her away from her sadistic dentist boyfriend (Steve Martin). The plant? Well... it's hungry. Based on the stage show which ran in London and on Broadway for several years, the film has a lively musical score with truly inventive comic lyrics by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman who were later to be responsible for the Oscar winning scores to "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Little Mermaid" (you can't win `em all!). There are visually amusing touches throughout - not surprising considering that the director was responsible for much of the Muppet phenomenon and provided the voice of Miss Piggy.
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 26th October, 2002
"TO HAVE SEEN IT IS TO WEAR A BADGE OF COURAGE!" "Son of Frankenstein" was made in 1939 and is the final film in the classic trio that James Whale started in 1931 with the first talking "Frankenstein" and which continued in 1935 with "Bride of Frankenstein". That this could have been regarded as a most terrifying experience and only for the brave hearted seems strange in these post "Exorcist" days but there is a certain unworldly tension despite the almost total lack of any real horror. The crew at Universal had really got the hang of the gothic business by the time this one was made and the sets and effects are stupendous. Look out for fun and games in the sulphur pit. Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Basil Rathbone ham it up for all it's worth and the film is reckoned to be one of the finest examples of its type ever produced.
Monday, 10 August 2009
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 28th September, 2002
Nutbourne College, an old established boys' boarding school is told that another school is to be billeted in the same building due to wartime restrictions. The shock is that it's a girls' school that has been sent. The two head teachers are soon battling for the upper hand with each other and the Ministry. But a crisis (or two) forces them to work together. This fifty year old comedy wears incredibly well. The pace is frantic, like a French farce with doors opening and closing and much dashing along corridors with split second timing as the two groups try to avoid each other. Margaret Rutherford and Alistair Sim ham it up superbly and there are many familiar faces in the supporting cast - including "Mr Margaret Rutherford" (Stringer Davis).
The script is adapted from a play by John Dighton, who was responsible for much of the dialogue for "Kind Hearts and Coronets", a number of Will Hay and George Formby vehicles and who co-wrote "The Man in the White Suit". There are fine performances throughout and although the film spawned the "St Trinians" series - it is considerably more stylish, light hearted and literate than the ensuing efforts.
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 28th September 2002
"Two-Way Stretch" combines all the elements of classic British comedy: great comic actors, tight story line, fast pace, and not over broad slapstick. Sellers, Cribbins, and Jeffries come close to replaying their roles in "Wrong Arm of the Law," with Sellers and Cribbins the crooks and Jeffries representing the Law. But this time Jeffries is a delightfully wicked "screw," out to get the two lay-about inmates in any way he can. Wilfred Hyde-White, masterminds the whole thing from his vantage point as a venal vicar! The zany Liz Fraser plays Sellers' girlfriend, Ethel, and the incomparable Irene Handl charms as Cribbins' mum. A delight all round! If you haven't seen this movie you're in for a treat, Forget Inspector Clousseau, this is the definitive Peter Sellers. Director Robert Day was responsible for much of the "Tarzan" series of films and, later in a long career, directed mainly for television - including episodes of "Emergency Ward 10" and "Dallas".
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 22nd June, 2002
The Man in the White Suit appeared in August 1951, just two months after The Lavender Hill Mob (also starring Alec Guinness) opened. Telling the story of a scientist who is undone by the seeming perfection of his own invention, Alexander Mackendrick's astute film is the only Ealing comedy truly to bare its teeth. Capitalist greed, professional jealousy, the spectre of unemployment and a fear of progress are just some of the provocative themes explored in this razor-sharp satire that spurns the studio's customary whimsy (with the possible exception of Edie Martin's charming performance as the landlady). Alec Guinness is wonderfully unworldly as the boffin whose indestructible cloth unites the textile industry against him, while Joan Greenwood is perhaps even more impressive as the spirited daughter of mill owner Cecil Parker. Ernest Thesiger, playing the baddest of the baddies, draws on experience gained while working with James Whale on Bride of Frankenstein (1935) to add a gothic touch . Veteran Coronation Street watchers might like to keep an eye out for Jack Howarth (later to play Arbert Tatlock) in the role of a receptionist.
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 27th April, 2002
Kind Hearts and Coronets is a black comedy, presented in a coolly elegant style with the most articulate and literate of all Ealing screenplays. The title was taken from a Tennysonian couplet quoted by one of the characters: 'Kind hearts are more than coronets, And simple faith than Norman blood'; in France the film was called Noblesse Oblige. lt was based on a novel by Roy Horniman published early in the century called Israel Rank, but the film credits do not betray the title - perhaps because another Rank (J.Arthur) had provided the major part of the film's finance as well as its British distribution. Dennis Price's cool headed murderer carries the narrative but Alec Guinness steals the show playing no less than eight members of the same family. Look out for Arthur Lowe - it was to be twenty five years before Captain Mainwaring made him a household name.
The ending is ambiguous but leaves us under the impression that Louis might just get away with it. Such a possibility offended the Johnston Office in America which administered the production code, one of the strictest rules of which was that crime must not be seen to pay. So an additional and aesthetically displeasing scene was appended to the American print in which the incriminating article is seen in the hands of the authorities.
Sunday, 9 August 2009
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 27th April, 2002
and on 28th December, 2013
Local direct action is the theme of this sometimes underrated Ealing picture. A group of villagers defy the faceless bureaucrats bent on closing down their local railway line. It was filmed only a few years before the Beeching revolution wiped out almost all such branch lines - in fact, the line on which filming took place, near the village of Limpley Stoke, a few miles from Bath did disappear as a result of British Rail's rationalisation programme. Douglas Slocombe's photography was evocative of the West Country of the time and used Technicolor for the first time for an Ealing comedy. Hugh Samson in Picturegoer reported during shooting: "The odd thing about this railway film is that not a single railway enthusiast is to be found in the whole crew. T.E.B. 'Tibby' Clarke, writer of the script, loathes trains. Producer Michael Truman can't get out of them quick enough. And director Crichton - well, you won't find him taking engine numbers at Paddington" - must've been hell for them but the result is great fun for us!
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on March 23rd, 2002
Programme notes are almost superfluous for this month's top of the bill. The following quote from an American critic says it all:
"If you love movies, it's impossible not to appreciate "Cinema Paradiso", Giuseppe Tornatore's heart-warming, nostalgic look at one man's love affair with film, and the story of a very special friendship. Affecting (but not cloying) and sentimental (but not sappy), "Cinema Paradiso" is the kind of motion picture that can brighten up a gloomy day and bring a smile to the lips of the most taciturn individual. Light and romantic, this fantasy is tinged with just enough realism to make us believe in its magic, even as we are enraptured by its spell. This film is sometimes funny, sometimes joyful, and sometimes poignant, but it's always warm, wonderful, and satisfying."
The film was made in the director's home village of Bagheria on the island of Sicily, many of the locals appear as extras and bit part players and the story is thought to be part autobiographical. The distributors are issuing a "Director's Cut"* version this summer (2002) - with 45 minutes of unseen material added. It's hard to see how this will improve what many consider to be an almost perfect film. The music is by Ennio Moriconne - taking a break from spaghetti westerns and epics to prove that he capable of a more lyrical approach.
*Released in the USA at 170 minutes but never seen in the UK
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on February 23rd, 2002
"A charming adventure comedy of playful sex and violence" "An eye feast of virile action with colorful settings and glowing climaxes". "The very picture for which the world's wife, mother and daughter have been waiting" - The quotes are from contemporary reviews of the smash hit of 1926. The plot concerns the son of the Sheik of the title who is in love with a half French dancer.... but that trivial detail had little to do with the frenzy - this was the latest and greatest appearance of the first international male sex symbol in the form of Rudolph Valentino. Valentino plays both the Sheik and the Son. Born as Rodolfo Alfonzo Raffaelo Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d'Antonguolla in Castellaneta, Italy, the young Rudolph had worked as landscape gardener, dishwasher, waiter, gigolo and exotic dancer. He was spotted by screen writer June Mathis and shot to stardom in "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" in 1921. "The Sheik" (one of the five pictures he made in 1921) established his image as an erotic lover and this follow up, five years later, was the peak of a career that seemed to be set to run and run. Sadly, on 23rd August 1926 Valentino died of a perforated ulcer. He was as successful in death as he had been alive - 80,000 mourners caused a near riot at his New York funeral so a second funeral was staged in California.
Valentino's co-star was the Hungarian Vilma Banky. She had starred in a series of Hungarian and German films until Samuel Goldwyn brought her to Hollywood. Ms Banky spoke no English so Goldwyn taught her a phrase to use whenever she spoke to reporters - "Lamp chops and pineapple". We have no record of her reaction when she found out the deception but she was known as a "strong character". She made her last film in 1931 but continued to play a mean round of golf until her death at the age of 93 in 1991.
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on January 26th, 2002
You'll never be able to look a pork scratching in the same light after this piece of British whimsy. The world of Alan Bennett could hardly be further away from the highly charged atmosphere of a Hitchcock film - but there is tension here. "Will he or won't he?" is the question throughout the film. Magpie Smith powers her way through all obstacles, Michael Palin proves that he can act, Liz Smith charms us with yet another dotty old lady - BUT it's the pig that matters. "It's not just pork, it's power!!" Three porcine thespians were used to play "Betty" and, even on a good day, it took upwards of 15 takes to get the animals to do what was required of them. Human actors would rehearse with a stuffed pig and then hope that the real thing would be just as co-operative.
Bennett had written much for the small screen but this was his first effort for the movies. More recently he's adapted Joe Orton's biography "Prick up Your Ears" and his own stage play "The Madness of King George".
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 29th December, 2001
A tuneful, glittering and downright daft movie! Sandy Wilson's flapper musical "The Boy Friend" has long been a stalwart of the amateur operatic society circuit. Ken Russell gives it a kick and a shove and proves how very good the old war-horse can be. His version is colourful, lively, touching and hilarious - and owes a good deal to the spectacular ideas of Busby Berkeley. Casting Twiggy in the lead was bound to be a calculated risk but her inexperience in the acting field pays dividends and makes her portrayal of the nervous and naive Polly totally believable. Playing opposite her is Christopher Gable - his only big screen appearance - who went on to found the renowned Northern Ballet Theatre. The rest of the cast is made up of a galaxy of British character actors - Max Adrian, Georgina Hale, and Barbara Windsor among them. Glenda Jackson makes an uncredited appearance as the big star who can't go on because of a little accident involving a tram. A superb orchestration and gutsy performance of Wilson's music by Peter Maxwell-Davies makes this one of the few truly memorable British big screen musicals.
1953 - Dir: Jaques Tati
Shown at the FeckenOdeon on 24th November, 2001 and on 30th April, 2011
Jaques Tati (or Tatischeff to give him his real name) learnt his craft on the music-hall circuit in the 1930s. He was often seen this side of the channel with his famous tennis-player act (part of which is shown in tonight's film). Tati always insisted on being in full charge of his material and performance and, though his output is relatively modest (6 features and 10 shorts), he is regarded as one of the master craftsmen of the silver screen.
This film is Tati's second feature. It took over two years to make and stars almost the entire population of the seaside resort of Saint-Marc-sur-Mere. The director preferred using "real people" rather than actors for most of the supporting roles. The hotel was a real hotel - an artificial entrance was constructed for the filming and caused endless confusion amongst hotel guests and staff alike.
This is the first appearance of Tati's chaotic and bumbling Monsieur Hulot. Tati's acute observation and immaculate timing make him at once hilarious and sympathetic. The character enjoyed another three outings and earned his creator an Oscar in 1959.
Oddly for a film without words, there was great praise for the use of sound in "M.Hulot's Holiday" - one critic called it "the greatest event in the history of sound film"
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on October 20th, 2001
"Carry On Spying" is regarded as one of the funniest in the series. The music is intentionally reminiscent of the zither theme from "The Third Man" and there are many references made to this film - hardly surprising when you learn that director Gerald Thomas had been Assistant Editor on Reed's classic. The film also alludes to the sixties smash hit series of Bond films.
Barbara Windsor makes her Carry On debut as Daphne Honeybutt whose talents include a photographic memory, a complete imperviousness to pain... and a large chest. Barbara came direct from Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop and had appeared in TV's "The Rag Trade". Bernard Breslaw is reputed to have been struck by "plastic bullets" during the filming and vowed never to appear in another Carry On - a vow destined to be broken time and time again.
The usual Carry On crew (minus Hattie Jaques on this occasion) play with a freshness that is lacking in the later films (this was the ninth) and the film rattles through a catalogue of quick fire gags and clever visuals like a dose of salts (Ooh Matron!!).
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on October 20th, 2001.
It's unlikely that there has ever been a film where the music more perfectly suited the action than Carol Reeds "The Third Man". Anton Karas was discovered by Trevor Howard in a Vienna bar. The haunting chords of Karas' "Harry Lime Theme" draw us into the unreal, shattered world of post war Vienna. A city divided into French, Russian, American and British zones. Joseph Cotton as Holly Martin arrives in Vienna to meet his college friend Harry Lime - but Harry is dead.... or is he? "The Third Man" was made by men who knew the devastation of Europe at first hand. Carol Reed worked for the British Army's wartime documentary unit and the screenplay was by Graham Greene, who not only wrote about spies but occasionally acted as one. The film was shot entirely on location in Vienna amid the mountains of rubble and the gaping bomb craters. It's a world where even the truth is false and trust is a dream no-one dares hope for.
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 29th September, 2001 - our opening show.
When a young couple from the Home Counties (Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers) unexpectedly inherit a cinema in the north they assume it to be the town's new showpiece theatre. When they arrive to inspect their property they find that it is in fact the "Bijou" - a falling apart museum piece of a picture house with a few falling apart museum pieces working in it. Margaret Rutherford as Mrs.Fazackerly rules the box office, Peter Sellers' drunken projectionist clings desperately to his wobbly equipment while Bernard Miles (as Old Tom the doorman) pines for a proper uniform. Director Basil Dearden treats his subject with humour and respect and the result is a funny, bitter sweet tribute to a bygone age of film going. The Bijou was the model for the first "Night at the Pictures" in Feckenham "Seats in all parts"!
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on September 29th, 2001 - our opening film.
"Duck Soup" is a fast moving anarchic satire. It lampoons the posturing of blundering dictators, fascism and authoritarian government. It proved a hot political potato for Paramount in the nervous period before WW2 - Mussolini banned it outright in Italy. The plot sees Groucho as Rufus T. Firefly ingratiating himself with Margaret Dumont's bewildered Mrs Teasdale - and into the Presidency of Freedonia. Chico, Harpo and (in his last film) Zeppo do their best to make the wheels of diplomacy run erratically and Raquel Torres vamps it as a sultry Mata Hari. That governments could be provoked to fury by the later part of the film where the brothers point up the futility of war just goes to prove their point!
"I could dance with you 'til the cows come home....
On second thoughts, I could dance with the cows 'til you get home"
Saturday, 8 August 2009
When "A Hard Day’s Night" was released in 1964, The Beatles had just made it into the big time. After barely a year of national existence, they had become a phenomenon. The film begins with girls chasing them, ends with girls chasing them, and has many moments of, well, girls chasing them.
Director Dick Lester tried hard to avoid turning this into "Carry On Up The Beatles" despite pressure from the somewhat conservative British studio system. He managed to avoid the traditional soppy and contrived plot but he got stuck with some cliches - notably Victor Spinnetti’s camp TV director worrying that the mop tops won’t turn up on time - we all know that they will but everybody dutifully goes through the motions. Mr Lester, already an old hand on TV commercials, directs inventively, using documentary techniques, speeded-up action, jump editing, even occasional surrealism - so much so that the distributors sent the first print back because they thought there was something wrong with it. It was all received very enthusiastically and Mr Lester’s style became the norm for music movies - though it has to be noted that he’d had a big flop a year earlier using the same techniques in "It’s Trad Dad" which had been intended to propel Helen Shapiro into the Hollywood big league... oops!
London in the first half of the 1960s seems very different. So many policemen on the beat. Such smartly turned-out teenagers, the girls in neat skirts, the boys wearing ties. Keep your eyes peeled and you may even spot a young Phil Collins among the fans. This is also the film that gave the world the word 'grotty' and, if you don’t blink, you’ll see the first blatant big screen flash of the word "t*ts"