Archive | November, 2012

The Devils (director’s cut) (1971) or livewithfilm feels historic amid the debauchery…

21 Nov

A suppressed masterpiece, Ken Russell’s own cut of his legendarily controversial film The Devils remains difficult to track down. So when livewithfilm saw that the BFI was screening it – potentially for the third time in the film’s history – this blogger jumped at the chance to revel in the madness.

With a plot oddly pertinent to the stringent cuts and bans the film endured, The Devils perfectly realises and confronts systems of repressive power, namely the state and religion. In an unparalleled performance of both force and subtly, Oliver Reed’s Grandier is the priest that garners the malice of scheming French royals. With the state keen to tear down the walls of his city, Grandier is accused of being in league with Satan – having supposedly possessed the local nunnery and its lusty superior Sister Jeanne.

Creating an awe inspiringly wide vision, the film at once recalls the scope of Cecil B. Demille and the hedonistic excesses that remained Russell’s own hallmark. The fate of Grandier positions religious orders as puppets of state control. Manipulated to rid the French king of this turbulent priest, the Christian order’s swift descent upon its wayward brethren only serves to prove its own hollowness.

Yet Russell intriguingly doesn’t position such claims as the simple answer. Grandier retains a form of faith, creating the implication that individual belief remains untainted in the face of an established religion at the beck and call of political figures.

Russell is in complete control of his grand vision, consistently managing to instil the feeling of complete disorder while retaining form and momentum. Matching exquisitely composed visuals with unsurpassable performances from both Reed and Redgrave as Sister Jeanne, The Devils is essential cinema.

The time has come Warner Brothers, release this unedited – and crucial – cut.

Skyfall (2012) or livewithfilm takes notes from Bond’s talent for queue jumping…

13 Nov

After what seems like the whole of the UK caught Bond’s latest bust-up on its opening week, livewithfilm thought it should probably catch up and headed to the BFI IMAX. Such a trip dealt this blogger an odd hand as – with the favoured son of MI6 careering his way around London – Bond at one point decided to drive past the very cinema livewithfilm was sitting in. Perhaps his Aston Martin DB5 was an elaborate ruse to beat the nationwide rush for tickets…

With Judi Dench frostily glaring across the screen as MI6 chief M and muscular Daniel Craig set to save his country from the evil clutches of malevolent super-crim Javier Bardem, the stage seemed set for a by-the-numbers return for Bond. Yet Skyfall is not the spy as we know him. Steered into unknown territory by the acclaimed talents of director Sam Mendes and director of photography Roger Deakins, Skyfall sets a magnificent new dawn for Bond who remains at once nostalgic for his fifty preceding years and bold enough to hold his own for the next half century. After crashing out of a heart racing opening chase that rivals the Russian dam bust of Goldeneye (1995) and mirrors Brosnan’s final bungee dive, Bond is left to drink his sorrows away presumed dead. Yet as Bardem’s Silva wages a very personal war against a particularly matriarchal M, Bond is drawn back to protect his old boss.

Forcing Britain’s beloved spy to encounter a range of homoerotic and oedipal themes, Bardem subversively dominates Skyfall. A giggling hybrid of Andy Warhol and Hannibal Lector with an entrance to rival Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Silva is a furious reflection of Bond. In this landmark year for the secret agent, it is fitting that Bond – relentlessly criticised for his archaic and sexist spy lifestyle – is forced to confront himself in this manner. Deconstructing entrenched expectations in an approach akin to Nolan’s recent Batman reinventions, Skyfall takes Bond to new heights through a timely ‘self-aware’ reinvention. Craig once again deftly fills the tux alongside franchise stalwart Dench, new addition Ben Whishaw’s Q suitably matching up to the oft-credited pair. Most crucial of all though, Deakins and Mendes inject originality into Skyfall that almost erases all memory of Quantum of Solace (2008) to reinvigorate Bond for future duties.

Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) or livewithfilm goes back to what it knows best…

8 Nov

Yes livewithfilm has returned to its roots: an 80s horror sequel. Could the third coming of Freddy Krueger compare favourably to the recurring wonders of the It’s Alive series or the ever diminishing rubber-toothed returns of Jaws II or IV: The Revenge? Whatever happened, livewithfilm could be safe in the knowledge that Michael Caine thankfully wouldn’t turn up sporting a floppy afro.

Chuck Russell’s sub-par entry into the Elm Street franchise amps up the gore yet unwittingly sheds it horrific origins, resulting in an imaginative yet ridiculous film. Relying heavily on earlier instalments for narrative clarity, Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors wavers between clunky exposition and unexplained madness as a host of new teens come to a sticky end thanks to dream-bound Freddy Kreuger. No explanation is given as children in a psychiatric hospital begin to fall prey to the knife gloved maniac, Dream Warriors happily expecting audiences to be clued up to the Nightmare formula. That is until Heather Langenkamp arrives, reprising her role as the original Nightmare’sNancy and shoehorning explanation in at every opportunity. Now a dream specialist, Nancy works with the children to battle Kreuger and manipulate their dreams.

Following Wes Craven’s supreme original, the Nightmare series relies upon its lucid concept to churn out ingenious murder sequences. Thankfully omitting a return to the shower set death-by-towel-whipping witnessed in Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, Dream Warriors pushes new boundaries to slaughter its young cast. Yet while relentlessly inventive and disgusting (death by puppet veins?!), the kills disappointingly provoke few scares. Nevertheless, Russell’s intriguing attempts to maintain Craven’s original theme of American youngsters paying for the crimes of their forebears suggests deeper thinking at play. Similar to the ramifications of Vietnam alluded to in the first Nightmare, Dream Warriors now blames the youngsters’ dreams on the drug taking decadence of their parents. At points entertaining, Dream Warriors struggles to maintain the original excitement of Nightmare. Memorable for brief glimpses of imagination, the film remains a scare-free and decidedly non-nightmarish return for Kreuger.

Outskirts (1933) or livewithfilm rises up for the Motherland!…

4 Nov

Boris Barnet’s 1933 film Outskirts remains revolutionary in both form and content, an intriguing artwork with a beating political heart. Constantly surprising as only the earliest exponents of sound films could be, Outskirts uses all its means to express the destructive absurdity of the twentieth century. Giving a moving portrayal of the impact of both the First World War and the Russian Revolution on everyday life, Barnet focuses on the inhabitants of a small village on the Russo-German border. The onset of war forces factory workers to ditch their rebellion and volunteer ‘for the Motherland’. Brothers Nikolai (Nikolai Bogolyubov) and Seneka Kadkin (Nikolai Kryuchkov) march to the trenches, leaving their father Pyotr (Aleksandr Chistyakov) to lament their departure. With aggressive nationalism being provoked across the town, a young girl (Yelena Kuzmina) riles the masses by falling in love with a German prisoner of war.

Barnet’s control of Outskirts is formidable with both sound and vision coming to signify greater social ills. In his most subversive association, Barnet uses the sounds of machine gun fire over the driving machinery of the shoe factory. An image regularly returned to throughout Outskirts, here the individual is positioned as the victim of the twentieth century’s driving political change. As patriotic Russians cheer departing soldiers, their cries become the train’s jets of steam driving the young men to their violent destination. Similarly mocking the grand associations of conflict, the falling bombs of the Russian Front as introduced through a comical swanee whistle’s swoop. Even a horse sighs at the laziness of his sleeping master, with a mournful ‘oh my god’. At times surreal, Barnet’s manipulation of medium forces the viewer to see familiar historic events in a new light and reassess the impact and legitimacy of such acts.

Allowing Barnet to damn the early twentieth century with greater vehemence, the film’s naturalistic performances remain relentlessly moving. Akin to the Italian neorealist films Bicycle Thieves and Rome, Open City that would tread similarly revolutionary ground a decade later, Outskirts frequently remains interested in portraying ordinary characters caught in everyday life. Kuzmina’s performance as lovelorn Marika creates an image of heartbreaking naivety amidst worldwide violence. Similarly, early cross-nation friendships between her father Alexander and their German lodger recall the humanistic vision of Renoir’s La Grande Illusion. This comparison is also particularly relevant once Outskirts begins to dwell on the horrors of trench warfare. Constantly emphasising that the conflicting armies are both equally disgusted with the conflict and share a common humanity, Barnet tends to hammer home a point that subsequently loses some of its power. While this remains an uplifting theme, Outskirts smashes its steam train straight into it with little nuance.

Nevertheless, Outskirts remains as politically relevant and innovative as it did on its release. That we still haven’t got Barnet’s forcefully put message about the lunacy of warfare perhaps validates Outskirts’fury.

Outskirts is released on DVD on 12 November