Once again I made a list of all the older films I saw on the big screen. (Does not include DVDs, streaming or television.) These are not so much coherent film reviews as notes on and impressions of the films I saw.
LES MALHEURS DE SOPHIE (1946)
Jacqueline Audry (1908-1977) worked as an assistant to Georg Wilhelm Pabst, Jean Delannoy and Max Ophüls before making her directing debut in 1943. In all, she directed sixteen feature films between 1946 and 1969, but is now pretty much forgotten. The Cinematek put on a week-long season; I managed to catch two of the films, but wish I’d seen more, particularly her adaptations of novels by Colette: Gigi, Minne, l’ingénue Libertine and Mitsou.
La Comtesse de Ségur’s Les Malheurs du Sophie, about a little girl who rails against her strict governess and gets up to all manner of naughtiness, was first published in 1858 and is a beloved children’s classic in France. Audry’s film version is less beloved, probably because the adaptation takes liberties with its source material – and how. After the hi-jinx of her childhood, grown-up Sophie turns her back on an arranged marriage and literally gallops off with her childhood sweetheart, who has been manning the barricades in Paris. It’s quite a startling change of tone and doesn’t really work, but it’s pretty subversive – probably intentionally so, since it was filmed during World War Two.
No doubt the Cahiers du Cinéma crowd dismissed Audry’s film as a typical Cinéma de Papa literary adaptation, of the sort they despised. Certainly François Truffaut makes no mention of her in his famous 1954 article Une certaine tendance du cinéma français. But I bet he and his colleaguses didn’t even watch it; quite honestly, I’d be surprised if they bothered to watch any of Audry’s films, since they dealt mainly with women and their lives, and the men of the Nouvelle Vague weren’t terribly interested in women, other than as muses, madonnas or femmes fatales.
Another version of Comtesse de Ségur’s classic, directed by Christophe Honoré, is due for release in France later in 2016.
My second Jacqueline Audry film was an adaptation of Dorothy Bussy’s novel, published in 1949 under the pen-name “Olivia” and dedicated “to the very dear memory of Virginia W”. It’s a great girls’ boarding school movie, worthy of being set alongside Mädchen in uniform. Pralines, Racine, Lamartine, feverish hand-kissing, furs, chantilly lace, lots of blubbing, a St Bernard, and snoods! Edwige Feuillère plays the glamorous headmistress Mlle Julie, who whispers to favoured pupils: “Je viendrai ce soir, je te porterai des bonbons,” and leaves a trail of broken hearts behind her.
It’s a simmering hotbed of repressed lesbian passion, which of course ends in tears. But very prettily.
GHOST IN THE SHELL 2: INNOCENCE (2004)
First time on the big screen. Still a mindfuck, and fabulous music too, with a final credits song based on Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. Lots of pervy Hans Bellmer imagery. Quotes from Milton and Descartes. Breathtaking cityscapes.
The year is 2032. The main character here is Ghost in the Shell‘s Batô, the world-weary semi-cyborg, who is investigating a series of killings by sex robots. He has a loveable Basset Hound (a recurring motif in Mamoru Oshii’s films). Major Kusanagi puts in an appearance, of sorts, and it’s all quite poignant and moving. I would love to see another film about these two. I think I might like this one even more than the original Ghost in the Shell.
Dubbed into French. First time on the big screen, and first time sober, but it didn’t make any difference – I still ended up feeling stoned. Great music by Shôji Yamashiro.
From Billson Film Database:
I thought Japanese anime were a waste of time until I belatedly caught up with Katsuhiro Otomo’s amazing sci-fi fantasy, the first film to show the west what anime could do. It’s so full of complicated subplots, inventive imagery and surreal violence that even the best Hollywood animation seems tame by comparison. The setting is a post-apocalyptic Tokyo, where a secret military project turns a biker gang member into a rampaging psionic blob, but that’s just the bare bones of a convoluted story that embraces spooky children with elderly faces and paranormal powers, menacing giant teddy-bears, and characters being crushed to death by other people’s internal organs. Weird doesn’t even begin to describe it. It might have helped that I was zonked out of my skull at the time.
WAKE IN FRIGHT (1971)
I always had a soft spot for Canadian director Ted Kotcheff, especially for his bizarre Euro-comedy-thriller Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? But this is unquestionably his masterpiece.
Need to stop drinking alcohol for a while because you’re on medication? This is the perfect film to put you off beer-drinking. (I’m told West End beer, the one they keep glugging in this, actually does exist. But is not very nice.) It’s like a feature-length hangover, and a horrific deconstruction of roistering masculinity as its protagonist, a clean-cut schoolteacher (Gary Bond), stops off in the boondocks on his way to Sydney and succumbs all too easily to the lures of booze, gambling and loose women. Donald Pleasence is the demented doctor who plays a key role in his downfall.
Disturbing, but unexpectedly funny too, albeit the humour is very dark. Nobody can be scary quite like the Australians, when they put their mind to it. Those poor, poor kangaroos.
THE MARK OF ZORRO (1920)
Douglas Fairbanks plays a fop who can’t stop yawning and doing tricks with hankies. But secretly he is Zorro! Fighting oppression in olde Hispanic California! This was my first Fairbanks film, and I was duly impressed; he’s no looker, but oozes charisma, energy and athleticism.I thoroughly enjoyed his foppish/dashing double-act, the same way I love Leslie Howard as Sir Percy Blakeney/The Scarlet Pimpernel. This was apparently a major change of direction for Fairbanks, who would henceforth become known for his swashbuckling.
I wrote (a little facetiously) on Twitter that he was “The Jackie Chan of his day”, which rubbed someone up the wrong way, but, like Chan, he does exhibit the sort of easy grace that is always such a pleasure to watch, even when the movement involved isn’t particularly flashy. The film moved at a zippy pace, the fight choreography was pleasing, it was a lot of fun.
UNA LUCERTOLA CON LE PELLE DI DONNA aka LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN (1971)
Bonkers giallo directed by Lucio Fulci, score by Ennio Morricone. Set in London. Opens with Florinda Bolkan in a fur coat, pushing her way through the passengers on a crowded train. Before you know it, they’re naked and it’s an orgy! It’s all a dream, or maybe a hallucination – she has lots of those. Bemused Stanley Baker plays the cop who investigates when Bolkan’s glam hippy neighbour is stabbed to death – exactly the same way as Bolkan dreamt it! Leo Genn (one of the doctors in Green for Danger) plays important politician “Edmond Brighton”, whose son is married to Bolkan.
I enjoyed the London topography. From the Old Bailey to the Albert Hall in a flash! From Lambeth to Belgravia via Tower Bridge! Plus a vivid pictorial record of Alexandra Palace. Bolkan is pursued through the gutted building, inadvertently leans against buttons marked “Do not touch” and the organ starts up. She also gets attacked by bats, and dreams about being chased by a giant goose. Bolkan gets knifed (not fatally) by a redhaired hippy; Baker tells his underlings to check on all the redheaded men in London.
There’s a memorably disturbing scene in which Bolkan stumbles across a laboratory filled with twitching dog carcasses; special effects man Carlo Rambaldi reportedly had to go to court to prove the animals weren’t real. There’s a lot of spurting blood in the film, but none of it looks real. (Fabulous screengrabs from this page.)
PRETTY POISON (1968)
Unjustly neglected 1960s gem set in a small New England town and starring Anthony Perkins in full twitchy mode as an a mentally unstable fantasist, on probation for arson, who gets more than he bargains for when he takes up with a high-school cheerleader called Sue Ann Stepanek, played by Tuesday Weld showing her knees in girly frocks. Of course, Sue Ann isn’t as sweet and innocent as she appears – in fact, she’s one of the screen’s great monsters, a raving psycho who could teach Norman Bates a thing or two about sex, manipulation and gleeful murder. Weld is a revelation – it’s one of cinema’s great tragedies that she was never given another role worthy of her talents. (Print not so great – so panned, scanned, and washed out I might as well have stayed at home and watched it on TV.)
GHOST IN THE SHELL (1995)
I’d already seen Mamoru Oshii’s groundbreaking anime several times on DVD, but at some point my brain always gives up and loses track of what’s going on (this happens in Akira too). This time I think I managed to follow it through to the end, but the plot isn’t really the point.
The cyborg Major Kusanagi is a fascinating character, and the relationship with her colleague Batô is genuinely affecting – professional rather than romantic, but deeply affectionate in a comrades-in-arms sort of way. (Their story is continued in the sequel, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence). The bit near the end where she tears her body apart trying to lift the hatch on a tank is upsetting, even though we’re aware her body is replaceable. Like many SF movies (Alien: Resurrection et al) it starts you thinking about the definition of a human being.
From Billson Film Database:
This Japanese anime was apparently a huge influence on The Matrix, though after seeing it twice I still can’t get a handle on the plot. It’s set in 2029, and I think it’s about a hot female cyborg called Major Motoko Kusanagi, who has a habit of leaping around in nude-look bodysuits. (I bet she plays a key role in the erotic fantasies of young male anime fans). She’s part of an elite squad called Section 9, which is on the track of someone called the Puppet Master, who keeps hacking into human minds. I think. But forget the story and get a load of those super-cool cyberpunk visuals set to Kenji Kawai’s brilliant score. All in all, pretty awesome.
LA PLUS LONGUE NUIT DU DIABLE (1971) aka THE DEVIL’S NIGHTMARE aka VAMPIRE PLAYGIRLS
A 1970s Belgian version of Se7en. Seven tourists are forced to spend the night in a creepy château (owned by Jean Servais, who played the main guy in Rififi) and get picked off by a succubus in Seven Deadly Sin-themed ways.Hotpants, a toad, a major death-by-snake scene (where I had to hide my eyes); a chess set which looks like David Cronenberg’s Instruments for Operating on Mutant Women. Daniel Emilfork (the weasel-faced man who was in La cité des enfants perdu) plays a sinister man who gives directions to the château. Great wallpaper.
Erika Blanc wears jumpsuit with cutaways, and a black crochet bra, and says, “Je suis succube.”. When she goes full-on succubus, her white-varnished fingernails turn black, her make-up turns greasy white and she makes a horrible face. This is far more unsettling than, for example, the sort of special effects that turned Alice Krige into a rotting corpse in Ghost Story.
It’s the sort of film where the characters find a horribly impaled cat in the attic (its blood has been dripping through the ceiling on to one of the girls) alongside an Iron Maiden. And “Oh look!” they say. “A guillotine!” And then they all go back to bed!
Deaths: 1) Guy who overeats, then collapses, dribbling Fairy Liquid. 2) Woman drowns in gold glitter. 3) Falls over on to guillotine and is decapitated. 4) Staggers backwards into Iron Maiden, which closes. 5) Falls off tower and is impaled on railings below. 6) Snake. It doesn’t do much except slither over someone. Just the fact that it’s a snake is assumed to be lethal. After The Two Faces of Doctor Jekyll, it’s the second film I’ve seen recently where someone has only to put a snake in a room and the occupant does a shockface and dies. (That’s probably what I’d do, actually.)
The director, Jean Brismée, is Belgian, but this is actually a Belgium-Italy co-production, with a great score by Alessandro Alessandroni, who is also credited as a “score whistler” on The Lego Movie.
LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH (1971)
Very pink-tinged print (I didn’t see any of the vivid blues and greens of these screengrabs). A great wallpaper movie. Fantastic performance by Zohra Lampert, who smiles and tries desperately to keep up the appearance of normality even while worrying she might be going mad. All the way home I wondered if I too were going mad.
BONNIE & CLYDE (1967)
Enjoyed this on the big screen – lots of great sexy close-ups, handsomely-shot landscapes, family picnic scene washed in soft-focus dusty nostalgia. Dunaway’s hair and make-up hopelessly anachronistic, as is the bluegrass banjo score (which I found disconcertingly light-hearted when I first heard it) but it doesn’t matter. It’s as much about the 1960s as about Depression-era America anyway.
Things I noted this time around: 1) Get one character (Clyde) to tell another character (Bonnie) everything about her life. He’s guessing, and doesn’t always get it right, but it’s far more interesting than if she were recounting her own history. 2) Just cut from one scene to another (Bonnie running away through the cornfield), without connection, explanation or build-up. 3) Mix of comedy and tragedy, though the ending is always a foregone conclusion. 4) Stage your major confrontations between characters when something else (ie a shootout or siege) is going on. 5) The banks are the bad guys.
Would have enjoyed this even more if UGC De Brouckère hadn’t turned up the house lights five minutes before the end.