Category Archives: History

A VERY BRITISH ACTOR

Need a solid, British character who can display authority with a hint of vulnerability in a changing post-war landscape? Viv Wilby recommends Trevor Howard.

From criterioncollection.blogspot.com
Major Calloway wondered if this was a good time to take up aromatherapy…

Were he still alive, Trevor Howard would have turned 100 yesterday. One of the striking things about the DVD boxset released to mark his centenary is the extent to which it confirms his own observation that he spent most of his career playing ‘number two’.

Five films are collected here, and only in two does he really have anything like a clear claim to the leading role. Supporting actor, co-star on occasion, but rarely is he asked to carry a film. Even where he arguably gets the main part — The Heart of the Matter and Outcast of the Islands in this collection — there’s a meaty supporting cast buoying him up and it’s still no guarantee of top billing. Yes, Brief Encounter is here, of course, but Brief Encounter is really all about Celia Johnson. She is where the emotional heft of the film resides. Trevor’s just there to look good and give her someone to play off. He’s a consort, a co-lead.

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A Science Fiction of the Past

Federico Fellini’s Satyricon gets a rare public screening in London next week. Niall Anderson welcomes it back.

Lights! Minotaur! Action!
Lights! Minotaur! Action!

Little dates faster than cinematic representations of the future; except perhaps cinematic representations of the past. Federico Fellini’s Satyricon (or, to use its pettifogging official title, Fellini-Satyricon) is ostensibly set in and around Nero’s Rome, but it couldn’t be more 1969 if it quoted Shelley while opening a big hamper of dying butterflies in Hyde Park.

A rarefied episodic adventure involving witches, cannibalism, mutilation and at least one character becoming a god, Satyricon is so committed to modish 60s estrangement techniques that the viewer is sometimes distracted from what’s really strange about it. Not the nudity, the gore, the jump-cuts, the spikily intrusive score, or the scenes that end mid-sentence; rather the bizarre calmness of the cinematography and a casual scenic beauty that constantly upstages the actual drama. Satyricon doesn’t play these aspects off against each other so much as it keeps piling them on, layer after layer. For all the deliberate dreamlike elaboration of its technique, Satyricon comes across as a very different dream to what Fellini may have intended. Continue reading A Science Fiction of the Past

Out of my cold, dead hands

In the last part of Extremists Week, our fearless correspondent Kiwizoidberg looks at the favourite films of the gun lobby

“I am COMPLETELY out of ammo. That's never happened to me before.” Michael Gross in Tremors
“I am COMPLETELY out of ammo. That’s never happened to me before.” Michael Gross in Tremors

Amat victoria curam: victory favours the prepared. When SHTF and it’s TEOTWAWKI, will you be ready? Will you grab your bug-out bag and head for the hills, or retreat to your fortified bunker? And how are you going to defend yourself from everyone else who ignored your warnings and thought you were crazy?

Welcome to the world of the Doomsday preppers. This group of people is made up of individuals, families or even communities who are preparing for the end of the world as we know it (TEOTWAWKI). They may be crazy, but their paranoia has driven them to take action. They have stocked up on water and tinned food and developed skills that they believe will help them survive whatever the world may throw at them when the shit hits the fan (SHTF). How they think the end comes about varies, but preppers are planning to survive and are willing to defend themselves by any means necessary. When this includes firearms, we have the makings of a gun-nut. The term can be interpreted as pejorative or affectionate, depending on your point of view.

When I see or hear the term ‘gun nut’, I imagine someone like Burt Gummer in Tremors (1990). Burt and his wife have a respectable arsenal in their cellar which comes in handy when the graboids invade their town. Back when the film was released, Burt seemed a likeable enough kind of crazy. Nowadays, you are unlikely to find any charming gun-nuts in film. Instead, you get characters like Harlan Ogilvy (Tim Robbins) in the basement scene from the War of the Worlds (2005), someone out of touch with reality; unstable and highly dangerous.

What is this fear that drives the preppers, and what role has film or TV played?Disaster movies are almost as old as cinema. When the genre hit its absolute peak in the 40s and 50s, it did so when WWII was a fresh memory, and when fear of nuclear weapons and Soviet infiltration were at their height. The Roswell Incident of 1947 led to sightings of UFOs everywhere – not least on celluloid. Pretty soon the latent paranoia of Hollywood B-movies was reflected on TV through shows like The Twilight Zone. Prepper lists of favourite films tend to include ‘Panic in the Year Zero’ from 1962, which tells you something about the longevity of this particular cultural crisis, and maybe why we’ve seen so many disaster movies recently. Continue reading Out of my cold, dead hands

Appy Days

by Gareth Negus

The Bristol Odeon in the 1930s, as featured in the Lost Cinemas of Castle Park app
The Bristol Odeon in the 1930s, as featured in the Lost Cinemas of Castle Park app

Unless your first trip to the cinema was post-1990, it’s a reasonable bet that some of the buildings where your formative moviegoing experiences took place no longer exist, at least in their original form.  That’s certainly true of me.  The local three screen Cannon where I spent many Friday evenings in my late teens long ago became a Wetherspoons; the Manchester Odeon, where I saw Pulp Fiction among others, is derelict. The ABC in Hull, which I frequented as a student, is also consigned to history.  And those buildings were arguably well past their prime when I was visiting them, soon to be crushed by the rise of the multiplexes.

I have nothing against multiplexes as such; anyone who recalls the sorry state so many UK cinemas had reached by the early 80s will understand why they were welcomed by so many.  But there is a wealth of history to cinemagoing in this country that pre-dates their corporate approach, much of which is gone, if not forgotten.

Late last month, I attended the launch of a new heritage app for mobile phones called Lost Cinemas of Castle Park. The app was developed by a team headed by Dr Charlotte Crofts of the University of West of England, and is part of the Cinemapping project that draws on Bristol City Council’s Know Your Place.  The team previously created a heritage app specific to the Curzon Community Cinema, which celebrated its centenary last year.  The app mixed historical information with the stories and memories of those who knew the building, and The Lost Cinemas of Castle Park takes a similar approach.

Castle Park was once a major commercial centre of Bristol, before it was devastated during World War II. It included a remarkable 15 cinemas, of which only one, the Odeon, is still in existence, albeit in reduced circumstances (the ground floor is now a branch of H&M).  The idea is for the app to be used while wandering around the Castle Park area, though if you aren’t in the area, it can also be operated manually.

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Mad Cox: Beyond Moviedrome

Alex Cox's big loomy head - a late-night BBC 2 fixture
Alex Cox’s big loomy head – a late-night BBC 2 fixture

Moviedrome! You either remember it or you don’t, but if you do you’ll never forget it and if you never forget it, it will stay with you forever, which is how memory works. Late on BBC2, Alex Cox’s gnarled knuckle of a head would loom out at you and introduce a film so mind-blowingly obscure or spine-tinglingly brilliant it would impress itself into your unconscious brain and lodge there like a bit of popcorn in a tender gum. In later years it would be Mark Cousins on loomy head duty, but there’s little doubt that Cox is the classic loom-monger for most. It was fertile ground for our writers, and here we present some memories of both the films and their unique, treasurable presentation…

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A Long Way From There To Here

Niall Anderson looks at a new documentary about migrant experience in London

The Road runs 260 miles, from Holyhead in Wales to Marble Arch in London. We call it the A5, but the Saxons called it Watling Street and the Romans called it Iter II. It’s still the main westward approach to London, which gave filmmaker Mark Isaacs an idea: “Just to go along the road and meet people who’ve set up homes in this stretch that’s more associated with constant travel.”

Originally conceived as a series for the BBC, The Road was going to traverse the entire length of the A5, but that was, says Isaacs, “a difficult pitch”. It was the advent of the 2012 Olympics that eventually gave the film its final 76-minute shape: “The idea of all these different nationalities converging for a few weeks on London, set against London as a migrant city from day to day: the persistence of migration in London’s history.”
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Tanner 88

On the 25th anniversary of its debut  on HBO,  Phil Concannon looks back at Tanner 88.

While campaigning in New Hampshire ahead of the 1988 primary, Republican Presidential hopeful Bob Dole ran into an unfamiliar Democrat candidate. Dole did not immediately recognise this congressman and his daughter but he certainly was aware of the cameras surrounding them, and so the two men exchanged greetings like old pals, smiled, and wished each other well before going their separate ways. That might sound like a mundane incident, nothing more than a footnote to that year’s Presidential race, but there was something unusual about one of those two men. Jack Tanner was not a real politician. In fact, Jack Tanner was not even a real person.

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Bad dates.

Actually, this looks like a fucking awesome date.

I’m sure you’re aware that it is Valentine’s Day tomorrow, or maybe even today if you’re reading this on Valentine’s Day. It was, as I’m sure you’ll remember, Valentine’s Day at some unspecified point in the probably-recent past. All bases covered? Good. Let’s get on with it. I asked our writers about bad date movies – the movie might not be bad, just inappropriate. Or it might have been the perfect movie but somehow the evening went wrong. Well. Here are the answers I got…

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Character building – Hollywood costume at the V&A

By Josephine Grahl

Fashion and the movies have a mutually rewarding relationship. Historical movies, however authentically costumed, almost always have a little something of the period in which they are made – think of the poofy, quintessentially sixties hair in Doctor Zhivago, or the 1935 version of Anna Karenina, starring Greta Garbo as Anna, in which the female characters attend balls in sequinned strapless vamp dresses more suited to 1930s Hollywood than to late nineteenth century Petersburg. But it goes the other way too – Dr Zhivago sparked a brief craze for fur hats and long Russian coats, and Gone with the Wind inspired a short-lived fashion for romantic full-skirted evening dresses before the fabric restrictions of the Second World War put an end to such frivolous wastefulness.

Evidence for this symbiosis is sprinkled throughout the V&A’s new exhibition of Hollywood costume, five years in preparation, which assembles some of the most memorable and iconic costumes from the last century of Hollywood film. Witness the costume in which Claudette Colbert played Cleopatra in 1934, which to modern eyes looks like nothing so much as a particularly elegant 1930s evening gown. Next to it, one of Elizabeth Taylor’s outfits for her portrayal of the Egyptian queen is a reminder of the fashion for gilded embellishment and weighty jewellery which followed the success of the 1963 film. Since the exhibition is at the V&A, it’s an interesting exercise to visit the fashion galleries down the corridor and compare the authentic period clothing with the versions produced for film – how far do cinema versions stray from the authentic? How are the shapes and silhouettes exaggerated or minimised? When a costume is made to be filmed, what effect does that have on the detailing or on the colours used?

Continue reading Character building – Hollywood costume at the V&A