All posts by Josephine Grahl

Mostly Frocks – the Mostly Film Academy Awards 2012 liveblog

Tonight Mostly Film goes live-action, and our all-women team will be commenting on the red carpet action and the Oscars ceremony.

The red carpet coverage will start from 11.30pm GMT and the Oscars ceremony from 1.30am GMT.

The MostlyFilm Oscars livebloggers are Laura Morgan, Concetta Sidoti and Tindara Sidoti-McNary. Editing, updating, and making virtual cups of tea (or, since the ceremony starts at one-thirty London time, maybe something stronger) is Josephine Grahl.

Before our live coverage starts, you can check out the MostlyFilm Oscar predictions here, or Laura’s predictions (both the pre-BAFTAS  and post-BAFTAS versions.) Continue reading Mostly Frocks – the Mostly Film Academy Awards 2012 liveblog

Birdsong

BY JOSEPHINE GRAHL

It’s now almost twenty years since Sebastian Faulks’s novel Birdsong was first published and it comes as something of a surprise to realise that it has never yet been brought to the screen. It seems like a tale that’s ripe for adaptation, with its potent combination of passionate sex, the horror of the trenches, and book sales in the millions. Several versions have been proposed but none had come to fruition until so-hot-right-now writer Abi Morgan (who has two films, The Iron Lady and Shame, out this month in addition to Birdsong) and director Philip Martin adapted the book into two ninety-minute television episodes, beginning this Sunday, filling what is already described as the ‘Sherlock’ spot.

Stephen (played by Eddie Redmayne) is a young man visiting factory owner René Azaire to advise him on his textile mills in Amiens, northern France. He falls in love with Azaire’s wife Isabelle (a luminous Clémence Poésy) and they have an affair. Six years later, Stephen is a lieutenant in the trenches of the Western front in charge of a company of tunnelers responsible for mining underneath German trenches. The film flips back and forth between 1910 and 1916, contrasting the beauty and serenity of bourgeois Amiens with life in the trenches.

Continue reading Birdsong

Life is but a dream: Les Enfants du Paradis

By Josephine Grahl

I dreamed of impossible things… ‘but how could they be impossible, since I was dreaming them?’ asks the mime Baptiste. It’s a line which captures the essence of Les Enfants du Paradis, a film which circles around the opposition between dreaming and life, illusion and reality.

The idea of making the film may have originally seemed an impossible dream: a film involving a cast of thousands of extras, a mile-long set representing nineteenth century Paris, with various cast and crew members who were Jewish or fighting in the Résistance, to be made in German-occupied France in 1943. Film stock was rationed, and shooting was repeatedly delayed – Carné later claimed this was so that the film would not be released until after France had been liberated. The deceptions, self-deceptions and betrayals of life under occupation are reflected in the uncertainties and shifting loyalties of the characters in the film.

The film begins with an extended shot of a closed theatre curtain, over which the credits play; finally the curtain rises, but it is a deception: a velvet curtain painted on to a canvas. It rises to reveal not a stage, but the Boulevard du Temple,  itself a space for performance: acrobats, jugglers and performing monkeys vie for trade along the street packed with theatres and sideshows and filled with bustling, vigorous, raucous crowds.

Continue reading Life is but a dream: Les Enfants du Paradis

A mole at the heart of the Circus

Josephine Grahl finds a little too much unspoken in Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

'Your mission, Benedict Cumberbatch, is to impersonate as many literary characters as possible over your career.'

Reviewing a cinema adaptation of a book you know and love is hard. Am I judging the film fairly as a work of art in itself; or am I criticising it, unfairly, for failing to live up to my own imagining of the characters and settings? You can’t divorce the film from its inspiration. Once a reinterpretation departs too far from the source material, you start to wonder why it still lays claim to the original material; why not just write something new instead?

“There is a mole at the heart of the Circus” – a Soviet double agent at the centre of the British secret service. George Smiley’s predecessor, Control, has worn himself out searching for the traitor and retired in disgrace. When a terrified agent suddenly turns up on the run from Russian assassins, with a story which confirms the existence but not the identity of the mole, Smiley is called from his own retirement to track down the traitor. Control has narrowed the field to five men, the tinker, tailor of the title; Smiley must finish the job. Continue reading A mole at the heart of the Circus

The land of the Bolsheviks: early Soviet cinema at the BFI

BY JOSEPHINE GRAHL

Eisenstein's Fantasia: a scene from Ivan The Terrible Part I

How would you go about making film propaganda in support of a new, revolutionary state? The Russian revolution coincided with the rise of the cinema as mass entertainment, a cultural development which didn’t escape the attention of Lenin or the Soviet bureaucracy. In the 1920s, the Soviet film industry was state-sponsored and subject to state interference, its propaganda function for the new Soviet state accepted as a matter of course. But surprisingly, most of the films in the BFI’s Kino season of early Soviet films transcend the sort of didactic political preaching you might expect from that set-up. Continue reading The land of the Bolsheviks: early Soviet cinema at the BFI

Country Music and the Movies

by Josephine Grahl

In Country Strong, which opened two weeks ago in the UK, Gwyneth Paltrow plays a self-destructive country music star struggling with alcoholism, who is pulled out of rehab by her manager-husband and forced to tour. So far, so clichéd. Country music films abound in scenes of alcoholism, breakdown and emotional dysfunction: from Robert Duvall’s alcoholic former star in Tender Mercies to Joaquin Phoenix’s Johnny Cash impersonation in Walk the Line. When, in Country Strong, Gwyneth Paltrow breaks down on stage, babbling about the stars and crying, it brings to mind Sissy Spacek as Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner’s Daughter and, Ronee Blakley as Barbara Jean in Nashville. But both Spacek and Blakley manage to convince as troubled stars: Gwyneth Paltrow is not remotely convincing as a country singer, let alone as a suicidal alcoholic.

Continue reading Country Music and the Movies