Directed by Peter Greenaway and released on French TV as part of the series L’encyclopédie audio-visuelle on July 16th 1993.
Peter Greenaway gives us a quite different biographical film about one of the most influential figures in modern history: Charles Darwin.
Told in 18 tableaus, Greenaway directs the film and presents us what looks like a play. Mainly shown in Darwin’s study, a fantastic set is conceived of the ship which Darwin sailed around the world in, and we’re even subjected to a vast family feast. Debates are hinted at, but ultimately the story is told by the narrator (voiced by Jacques Bonnaffé) who eloquently recites Peter Greenaway’s grandiose script.
The narration we are provided in this script is very fair and balanced with regards to the topics at hand, and at times we are told that such and such a scene was contrived specifically for that scene and that it is the job of the costume designers or the work of a group of actors; which is what the narrator tells us when we see an asylum of lunatics acted out on screen. This is a very interesting way to give us the story and I found it to be a very refreshing way to tell a biographical story.
In typical style Greenaway gives us sweeping camera movements and rarely do you see a cut take place save for in between the tableaus. This gives us even more reason to make us feel like we are watching a play on the stage at the local theater. While the narration is very fair as mentioned, it does feels like at times that it just needs to let the characters speak and for a scene to play out: for example in the scene where all the different philosophers, naturalists, scientists, etc. were gathered for the debates and the camera just follows them all and they each stare at the camera with an unsure eye as the narrator tells us about how Darwin opposed them with his theories – but I guess Greenaway would rather let the narration tell the story and not the actors. Either way, it falls short for me due to this lack of drama and ends up feeling like a reconstruction documentary.
Even though this is how it feels by the end of the film, it does not take away from the sheer brilliance of the work itself. At times it reminded me of two period pieces: Derek Jarman’s Caravaggio (which you can find a review for here on my blog) or Leslie Megahey’s Schalcken The Painter. Both give very realistic recreations of the periods in which they were set, while actually being dramatic narrative films: that of course is where they differ with Greenaway’s Darwin. That alone is something which you can commend him for, and when you compare it with some of his other works you see the reasons why he chose to do this film in this way.
Directed by Derek Jarman and released in its home country of England in 1987.
Very interesting stuff this one.
An art film consisting mostly of home videos shot on 8mm film interspersed with an at times subtle but mostly hectic score which left me at times clutching at my laptop to turn the volume down.
As many have said elsewhere it is quite a gruelling film to get through, they have also mentioned quite rightly that it definitely requires some reading prior to viewing just to get an idea of exactly what one is looking at. Once you have a general idea, then it lets you in on the theme which is hinted at throughout the film especially helped along with small samples(?) of Thatcher and others at crucial points in the piece.
As I say it’s as gruelling as it is interesting, and while I much prefer the film Derek Jarman did prior to this – the fantastic Caravaggio – the wonder of his contribution to the art of cinema ultimately shines through in the piece as a whole; a jilted letter of angst to the British culture long-gone and replaced with complete anarchy.
Directed by Alan Clarke and broadcast on February 10th 1981 for the BBC, in England, as part of the Play For Today series.
Another of Alan Clarke’s work for television. This one was produced at the beginning of the 1980s during the period where Clarke began to be recognised internationally for his work.
The teleplay itself tells the story of a corporation who decide to outsource one of their contracts to the U.S.S.R. during the Cold War. As they work with politicians on both sides of the table to keep the story out of the press, they also try to keep the contract amid the negotiations.
It plays out through a barrage of gruelling meetings between the two companies on both sides of the table, and unfortunately it becomes a bit tiresome to get through after a while.
The story that’s being told is being done so quite well by both Clarke through his direction and the list of actors who all play their parts quite well. And while the story is quite interesting I didn’t really feel engaged as I have with much of Clarke’s other works. I think this was in part due to the rigidity of the meetings which make up the entirety of the film.
Having said that, it is a very interesting tale about how greedy capitalist chairpersons of corporations do their best to keep politicians in line in order to secure contracts which will make them lots of money. Doing so even at the expense of a) their workers, and b) the people of countries which their actions ultimately end up effecting. These themes of nuclear obliteration and the capitalist/socialist divide are quite strong throughout the film. Many of the characters profess their capitalist ideas while those on the Russian side try to keep their socialist ideologies intact throughout the negotiations. There’s even a reference to Albert Einstein near the end, quoting that there may be a winner of a third ‘World War’, but there most certainly will not be a fourth.
As the credits suggest the film is based on a book by Canadian author Charles Levinson entitled Vodka-Cola. After a bit of digging, it turns out that Levinson was a trade unionist and spent much of his life fighting against multi-national corporations. Other books he wrote include works on inflation, the pharmaceutical industry, the relation between plastics and cancer, as well as chemical warfare. Fascinating stuff and it doesn’t leave much room to wonder why Clarke chose to work with this particular piece for one of his films.
Directed by Alan Clarke and aired in its home country of the UK on television on June 13th 1967.
A short half hour piece by Alan Clarke done for British television which tells the story of a visit by a man from the social (the welfare office, the dole, etc.) to a man with learning difficulties. The man who lives at home with his brother, has just quit his job the week prior. The film descends into chaos when the older of the two decides to give the man from the social a bit of a scare.
It gets even crazier which is something I most certainly wasn’t expecting but welcomed wholeheartedly especially as it allows the viewer to really look into how Clarke directed the three actors in the piece. All three actors give wonderful performances but the the way in which Clarke’s camera gets up close and personal with the characters and really lets us into the action is something I’m sure was looked at with great regard by Clarke’s peers at that time.
The highlight of the short half hour piece in my opinion is when the older brother heads out to buy a pack of cigarettes (presumably to mock the man from the social, i.e. the man spending the money he gets from the social on a pack of cigarettes – this would be frowned upon by anyone from the upper classes) leaving the younger and mentally-handicapped brother alone with the man from the social. The lack of music, which I’m beginning to think is a trademark for Clarke, really builds up the tension between the two characters and provides a welcomed break from the dialogue-heavy action.
Being one of Clarke’s earlier films, of which I haven’t yet seen that many, it’s interesting to see how his knack for directing still managed to shine through even so early on his career. Many of his other works are indeed much better and more thawed out than this one, but for any fan of Clarke’s it’s definitely a must see.
Directed by Michael Campus and released in its home country of the USA in 1973.
Being heavily into hip hop I’ve heard so many songs and albums that sample either the fantastic Willie Hutch soundtrack or lines of dialogue from this movie. Looking at the poster I always thought Richard Pryor was the main character and its his involvement that piqued my interest in this along with the aforementioned sampling through hip hop history. Fortunately upon viewing I found out that there was so much more to this than Richard Pryor and a few bad-ass one liners.
The film tells the story of a man who, after a shootout with a rival gang, ends up being imprisoned. He comes out after a five year stretch to find his brother is now preaching black nationalism ala Malcolm X or Huey Newton. Our titular character, who has always dreamed of providing for his aging mother, decides to take the militarism of his brothers activism and funnel it into another avenue: pimping. He gets to the top of the game, but not without a few enemies.
Now if that doesn’t spark your interest, I don’t know what will. Those involved in the film say its not a blaxploitation film, and I tend to agree with them. While it does have many of the same tropes, I actually found it to be a gritty and very well done film with a stellar screenplay that keeps you wondering whats around the corner.
I was surprised to find out that many of the speeches delivered by The Mack’s brother in the film were word for word taken from speeches given by Black Panther Huey P. Newton.
The film is also historically relevant as it really does give you an insight into what life was like in these areas of America for black people during the early 1970s. It highlights the corruption of the police departments as well as highlighting the pitfalls of entering into criminal organisations such as pimping. Even so, I just couldn’t stop thinking how damn badass The Mack was through the whole picture.
Really loved this one.
Directed by Roberto Faenza and, while filmed in 1981, it was released in Italy in 1983 and in the country in which it is set not long after in 1984.
Former lead singer of iconic punk rock band the Sex Pistols, Johnny Rotten, stars alongside Harvey Keitel in quite the strange film I must say. Whilst the director ended up trying to market the film to the arthouse crowd, it was filmed in 1981 and not released until 1983. The film has various titles, Copkiller, Order Of Death, Corrupt, as well as its Italian title L’Assassino dei Poliziotti, just to name a few.
It tells the story of a string of murders with the victims all being police officers. Rotten’s character, a rich bachelor with a history of confessing to crimes he supposedly hasn’t committed, turns up at one of two apartments’ belong to Harvey Keitel and one of his friends and professes that he is indeed the cop killer. The film is quite clever in that it leaves you guessing throughout the entire film who exactly the murderer is.
The film as a whole, at least for me, ends up quite all over the place and doesn’t really hold up very well over time. Having said that, the performance from the punk rock singer is quite the turn especially for those who know his music. I, myself, certainly didn’t expect him to pull in such a brilliant performance. The always brilliant Keitel offers a great performance too but as I mentioned before the film unfortunately does fall flat and while the atmosphere which pervades the film is quite eery and fits in with the theme of the film, I think – among other things – that the camera lingers on much too long for much of the film.
What’s also interesting to note is the score is done by the composing legend of spagehetti western fame Ennio Morricone. Not much to say on that really, beside the fact it helped build the creepy atmosphere which fitted well with the performances.
See it only if you’re interested in seeing how Rotten performs on film – you’ll be pleasantly surprised. He’s said himself he’s proud of the film and despite not particularly liking the finished film I can definitely see why.