Archive for the ‘Allan’s 80s Countdown’ Category

hotel 1

(France 1988 267m) not on DVD

Aka. Hôtel Terminus: Klaus Barbie, sa vie et son temps

We are part of the continent

p  Marcel Ophuls  d/w  Marcel Ophuls  ph  Michael Davis, Pierre Boffety, Ruben Aaronson, Wilhelm Rosing, Lionel Legros, Daniel Chabert, Paul Gonon  ed  Albert Jurgenson, Catherine Zins  narrator  Jeanne Moreau

A problematic film in many ways, Hotel Terminus was the last of the three canonical documentaries about World War II made by Marcel Ophuls in the space of twenty crusading years, following trail-blazing resistance documentary The Sorrow and the Pity and its successor The Memory of Justice.  At the third time of asking, Ophuls won his Oscar, and if the award itself is irrelevant to true film scholars, it was long overdue.  Without Ophuls, it’s difficult to imagine the terrain of modern documentary film-making; would Shoah and Gulag, two kindred spirit works also in this selection, have been made but for Ophuls’ success?  Would debate about his subjects have intensified to such a degree without them?  The answer to both questions is surely no.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1981 640m) DVD1/2

Vanitas vanitatum et omnia vanitas

p  Derek Granger  d  Charles Sturridge, Michael Lindsay-Hogg  w  John Mortimer  novel  Evelyn Waugh  ph  various  ed  Anthony Ham  m  Geoffrey Burgon  art  Peter Phillips 

Jeremy Irons (Charles Ryder), Anthony Andrews (Sebastian Flyte), Diana Quick (Julia Flyte-Mottram), Laurence Olivier (Lord Alex Marchmain), Claire Bloom (Lady Teresa Marchmain), Stéphane Audran (Cara), John Gielgud (Edward Ryder), Phoebe Nicholls (Cordelia Flyte), Simon Jones (Bridey Flyte), Nickolas Grace (Anthony Blanche), Jane Asher (Celia Mulcaster-Ryder), John Grillo (Mr Samgrass), Mona Washbourne (Nanny Hawkins), Bill Owen (Lunt), Charles Keating (Rex Mottram), Jenny Runacre (Brenda Champion), John le Mesurier (Father Mowbray), Stephen Moore (Jasper Ryder), Michael Gough (Dr Grant), Kenneth Cranham (Sgt.Block), Jeremy Sinden (Boy Mulcaster),

It’s difficult now, over 25 years on, to judge the impact of Brideshead on not just British television, but prestige drama in general.  It had long been, as Leslie Halliwell observed, an albatross round the neck of Granada, described as an incredible folly in the long months leading up to its transmission.  The strain of classic TV drama serials had reached both its zenith and its end in the mid seventies with Jennie, Edward the Seventh and I, Claudius.  Yet however superb in terms of their acting and writing those productions may be, there’s nothing cinematic about them.  They look like BBC Shakespeare productions or series shot on left over sets from Upstairs, DownstairsBrideshead changed everyone’s conceptions; virtually entirely shot on location, punctiliously adapted from the original source to the extent that any faults it may have had were those of the original.  As with Jesus of Nazareth, two lead actors had changed roles (then Robert Powell and Ian McShane, here Anthony Andrews and Jeremy Irons), and thank God they did.  For it is no more imaginable that anyone other than Andrews could play the faintly homosexual, hard-drinking and doomed Sebastian than it is for any other tones than Jeremy Irons could provide the soulful commentary provided by Charles Ryder.  Here were actors to their parts born, perfect in every way.  It is a great credit to the other cast members that they don’t get lost, but there are gems everywhere, from Grace’s definitive old queen Anthony Blanche to Bloom’s suffocating Lady Marchmain, Queen Henrietta Maria reincarnated in the 20th century.  Not to forget one time Arthur Dent Simon Jones as the blissfully boring Bridey, John Gielgud as a deliciously supercilious and witty Mr Ryder and Diana Quick as the tortured Julia.  And we haven’t even mentioned Geoffrey Burgon’s truly hauntingly fitting score, at once a theme tune for stately houses nationwide.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1983 108m) DVD1/2

King for a night

p  Arnon Milchan  d  Martin Scorsese  w  Paul D.Zimmermann  ph  Fred Shuler  ed  Thelma Schoonmaker  md  Robbie Robertson  art  Boris Leven  cos  Richard Bruno

Robert DeNiro (Rupert Pupkin), Jerry Lewis (Jerry Langford), Sandra Bernhard (Masha), Diahnne Abbott (Rita Keane), Shelley Hack (Cathy Long), Catherine Scorsese (Rupert’s mum), Tony Randall (himself), Martin Scorsese (TV director), Victor Borge (himself),

How many characters in movie history become a noun?  It’s certain that Rupert Pupkin has, a byword for any gate-crashing, talentless wannabe who manages to make good.  At the time of its release The King of Comedy was a pretty resounding dud financially speaking.  People going along to cinemas in 1983 saw Scorsese and De Niro on the poster, recalled Mean Streets, Taxi Driver and Raging Bull and expected something gritty, in your face, violent, and wholly adult in tone.  What they instead got was a film with no violence, no bad language, no sexuality, no peering into the gutter of life, but a film that, in retrospect, may be the most disturbing of the bunch.

            Rupert Pupkin is a thirty-something nobody who lives in the basement of his unseen mother’s house.  He dreams of being a stand-up comedian and idolises chat show king Jerry Langford, to the extent he imagines himself as a guest on Jerry’s show, placing himself on an easy chair between cardboard cut-outs of Jerry and Liza Minnelli.  His attempts to crash into fame run aground at every embarrassing turn until he hooks up with fellow manic obsessive Masha, with whom he kidnaps Jerry and ransoms him for a ten minute spot on his talk show. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Taiwan 1985 138m) DVD3 (Hong Kong only)

Aka. Tong nien wang shi

Road back to the mainland

p  Zhang Huakun, Yue Wanli  d  Hou Hsiao-Hsien  w  Chou T’ien-wen, Hou Hsiao-Hsien  ph  Pin Bing Lee  ed  Wang Qiyang  m  Wu Chuchu  art  Lin Chongwen

You Anshun (Ah-Ha-Gu), Mei-Feng (Fen-Ming), Tang Yu-Yuen (Grandmother), Tien Fang, Xin Shufen, Yiu Ann-Shuin, Xiao Ai,

Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s magnum opus – indeed his entire output – is admittedly an acquired taste, but the reader must excuse me when I paraphrase the late Alexander Walker when I say, as he did about another Asian classic Farewell, My Concubine, that this taste is not only acquired, it is required.  Many of Hou’s films are based upon incidents in his own life, but it’s fair to say he never made a more personal film than this 1985 gem and, along with Truffaut’s Les Quatre Cents Coups, it’s probably the greatest autobiographical film in cinema history.  Sadly, however, it is not as easy to see as Truffaut’s film, and one shares the exasperation of David Thomson, who bemoaned the lack of opportunities to see Hou’s early masterworks in any form (even the Hong Kong DVD is only available as part of a pricey box set). 

            It follows Hou’s childhood in Hualien following his father’s migration to Taiwan in 1948.  Hou (or Ah-Ha-Gu) grows up with his family, including his consumptive father and old grandmother.  Seen through to his young adulthood, Ah-Ha-Gu experiences familial loss while trying to find his place in the streets in fifties Taiwan, struggling to reconcile his familial duties with his melon knife wielding, delinquent associates.  (more…)

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L’Argent (no 24)


by Allan Fish

(France 1983 84m) DVD1/2

Aka. Money

Pour cinq-cent francs

p  Jean-Marc Henchoz  d/w  Robert Bresson  story  “The False Note” by Leo Tolstoy  ph  Pasqualino de Santis, Emmanuel Machuel  ed  Jean-François Noudon  m  Johann S.Bach  art  Pierre Guffroy 

Christian Patey (Yvon Targe), Sylvie van den Elsen (grey-haired woman), Michel Briguet (her father), Caroline Lang (Elise), Vincent Risterucci (Lucien), Beatrice Tabourin (shop owner’s wife), Didier Baussy (shop owner), Marc Ernest Fourneau (Norbert),

It would turn out to be Robert Bresson’s final film, made when he was 81 years old, but still with over 15 years life left ahead of him.  It’s a tantalising thought, of a man who lived so long, till he was 98, making only 12 films.  Each of them has been claimed by various critical groups as a masterpiece, but how many more could he have made?  It’s a nagging doubt one has about so many master directors who one might have perceived to have wasted time – Kubrick, Malick, even Buñuel who did nothing for the best part of two decades when he should have been in his prime.  Of course quality counts more than quantity, and Bresson, like Dreyer, Eisenstein, Tarkovsky, Cocteau, Von Stroheim and Vigo, should be remembered for what he did rather than for what he didn’t.  His is arguably the most epiphanal career in film.

            L’Argent recalls Marcel l’Herbier’s identically titled but thematically antipodean silent from 1928.  Thematically it recalls his own Pickpocket and also, paradoxically, the causality-themed work of Max Ophuls.  It starts with a schoolboy in debt.  For what, we’re not sure, but when his parsimonious father refuses to give him the money he needs, he accepts the help of a classmate who tells him to pass off a forged 500FF note at a store.  They go to a photo shop and pass it off to the storekeeper’s wife, and their troubles are seemingly over.  From there, rather than report the matter, as it’s happened several times, the store owner tries to pass off all the dodgy notes himself to a delivery driver, who is then caught trying to pay with one of the said notes in a restaurant.  The restaurant manager has him arrested and the driver, Yvon, tells them where he got the notes from.  The shop owner persuades their assistant to lie for them under oath in court, which helps them get away with it but sees Yvon’s name cast in the mud.  Having lost his job, he reluctantly accepts a job as a driver on a robbery, only for it to go pear-shaped and him get sent down for three years.  In this time, he makes plans to escape, but finds a criminal rage building up in him that flowers monstrously in the final act. (more…)

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Nostalgia (no 25)


by Allan Fish

(Italy/USSR 1983 126m) DVD1/2

Aka. Nostalghia

Keeping the candle burning

p  Francesco Casati  d  Andrei Tarkovsky  w  Tonino Guerra, Andrei Tarkovsky  ph  Giuseppe Lanci  ed  Erminia Marani, Amadeo Salfa  m  Ludwig Van Beethoven (“9th Symphony”), Giuseppe Verdi (“Requiem”)  art  Andrea Crisanti

Oleg Jankovsky (Andrei Gorchakov), Erland Josephson (Domenico), Domiziana Giordano (Eugenia), Patrizia Torreno (Andrei’s wife), Delia Boccardo (Domenico’s wife), Milena Vukotic (civil servant), Laura de Marchi (chambermaid),

Nostalgia was the last of the Tarkovskys to make the cut; indeed, it was very nearly the only one not to make it.  Seven features, if you exclude his student film The Steamroller and the Violin, and each one makes the grade.  Of the seven, three are what a beloved but  hyperbolic, platitude-dropping friend of mine might call ‘staggering masterpieces’ (Andrei Rublev, Mirror, Stalker), while the other four if not quite so perfect are too beautiful – nay, stunning is the word, for Tarkovsky’s films always speak to the mind as much as the aesthetic senses – to ignore. 

            Essentially, its story is a simple one, and like many Tarkovsky films it’s a journey, for both protagonist and audience.  Andrei Gorchakov has travelled to Italy to make a documentary about an obscure Russian composer, accompanied by Eugenia, his Italian translator whose statuesque and seemingly available features he seems intent on ignoring.  Instead he gets more and more fascinated by local madman Domenico. (more…)

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Comrades (no 26)

comrades 1

(UK 1986 180m) DVD2

We raise the watchword ‘liberty’

p  Simon Relph  d/w  Bill Douglas  ph  Gale Tattersall  ed  Mick Audsley  m  Hans Werner Henze, David Graham  art  Michael Pickwoad

Robin Soans (George Loveless), William Gammara (James Loveless), Stephen Bateman (Old Tom Stanfield), Phil Davis (Young Stanfield), Jeremy Flynn (Brine), Keith Allen (James Hammett), Alex Norton (Lanternist/Sgt. Bell/Diorama showman/Laughing Cavalier, etc), Michael Clark (sailor), Arthur Dignam (Fop), James Fox (Norfolk), John Hargreaves (convict), Vanessa Redgrave (Mrs Carlyle), Robert Stephens (Frampton), Barbara Windsor (Mrs Wetham), Imelda Staunton (Betsy Loveless), Murray Melvin (clerk), Michael Hordern (Mr Pitt), Freddie Jones (vicar), Katy Behean (Sarah Loveless), Sandra Voe (Diana Stanfield), Joanna David (Mrs Frampton),

If ever there was a forgotten figure in British cinema, it’s Bill Douglas.  He’s virtually ignored even in the UK, let alone in the US, where even the most confident of cineastes will look at you with a blank expression upon hearing his name.  He only made four feature films, the first three of which – My Childhood, My Ain Folk and My Way Home – became known as his ‘trilogy’, and were based on his own childhood in a dilapidated Scottish mining village.  They were certainly amongst the bleakest films in existence, and also among the most truthful, and while they were undoubtedly a milestone in British cinema, their successor, Comrades, was arguably better still.  Yet it, unlike the trilogy, it was virtually impossible to see prior to the belated DVD release in July 2009, even ignored by its Film Four makers for many years.

            The film relates the famous tale of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the six farm labourers from a Dorset village in the 1830s who tried to start up a primitive union to look after their interests in response to the bosses’ refusals to pay them a decent wage.  In response, the bosses arranged to have them arrested and transported to Australia.  While their families and a few noble members of the ruling class fought against the injustice, they were packed off to a different life in Botany Bay. (more…)

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au revoir 1

(France 1987 107m) DVD1/2

Is it Kippelstein or Kippelstein?

p/d/w  Louis Malle  ph  Renato Berta  ed  Emmanuelle Castro  m  Franz Schubert, Camille Saint-Saëns  art  Willy Holt

Gaspard Manesse (Julien Quentin), Raphaël Fejtö (Jean Bonnet), Françine Rocette (Mme.Quentin), Stanislas Carre de Malberg (François Quentin), Philippe Morier-Genoud (Father Jean), François Borleand (Father Michel), François Negret (Joseph), Irène Jacob (M’elle. Davenne),

It seems strange to look back on the career of a director, commonly regarded as an accepted master, and to say it’s with a degree of regret.  Louis Malle was an undoubted master, a director of great subtlety and style, and yet why is it that I struggle to pick out great films from his resume?  Think of his roll call post 1960 – Zazie dans le Métro, Le Feu Follet, La Souffle au Coeur, Lacombe Lucien, Pretty Baby, Milou en Mai and Vanya on 92nd Street.  Excellent films all, but not really a truly great one among them.  Like various others, it’s the cumulative effect of his career that impresses more than the individual films, which all have faults.  He was every bit as talented as those other masters of his generation, Resnais, Rivette, Godard and Truffaut, but didn’t make as many great films.  Neither of the Malles films I have selected (Les Amants, Lacombe, Lucien and Atlantic City were the others) were sure entries.  Indeed, Pauline Kael made one of her most telling observations when she said that she “felt as if I were watching a faded French classic, something I dimly recalled.”

            Sometime during the Vichy occupation, pupils gather at the small school of St John of the Cross, a private establishment run by monks.  A new pupil, Jean Bonnet, arrives into the class of Julien Quentin, and they strike up an uneasy friendship.  Things are put to the test, however, when Julien finds out that Bonnet’s real name is Kippelstein and he is a Jew, hidden at great risk by the principal, Father Jean.  Sadly, one January morning, the Gestapo get a tip off and they come to collect various Jewish pupils and workers at the school, from whence they are shipped to you know where. (more…)

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amadeus 1

(USA 1984/2002 180m) DVD1/2

Champion of Mediocrities

p  Saul Zaentz  d  Milos Forman  w  Peter Shaffer  play  Peter Shaffer  ph  Miroslav Ondricek  ed  Nena Danevic, Michael Chandler  m  W.A.Mozart  md  Neville Marriner  art  Patrizia Von Brandenstein  cos  Theodor Pistek

F.Murray Abraham (Antonio Salieri), Tom Hulce (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart), Elizabeth Berridge (Constanze), Simon Callow (Emanuel Shikaneder), Roy Dotrice (Leopold Mozart), Jeffrey Jones (Emperor Joseph II), Christine Ebersole (Katerina Cavalieri), Charles Kay (Count Orsini-Rosenberg), Lisabeth Bartlett (Papagena), Kenny Baker (Parody Commendatore), Cassie Stewart, Vincent Schiavelli,

There have been many films made about composers that rank amongst the most kitsch and frankly risible in movie history, yet Amadeus is so far above these efforts as to be insulting it to make comparisons.  Yes, it’s a musical biopic, but it’s also a mystery, a spellbinding tale of paternal peer pressure, acceptance and conformity and the very essence of talent and genius.       

            It traces the story of Italian composer Antonio Salieri, who comes to Vienna and works his way up to be court composer, only to realise his time could be limited as a new wunderkind prodigy, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, an inherently rude and immature young man, has arrived in Vienna.  Disgusted that he is so uncouth and jealous that he has sexually deflowered the object of his affections, Salieri decides to do everything in his power to destroy the career of a man whose music he believes comes from God, and who only he is cursed to appreciate and be envious of. (more…)

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Shoah (no 29)


(France 1985 565m) DVD1/2

I will give them an everlasting name

p/d  Walter Lanzmann  ph  William Lubtchansky, Dominique Chapuis, Jimmy Glasberg  ed  Ziva Postec, Anna Ruiz 

Shoah is a problematic film in many ways.  Not just for its subject, but in its very essence.  It troubles you in ways few other films could dream of.  That in itself is part of its power, both to appal and shock.  The very word means annihilation, and that’s in many ways what Lanzmann does to cinematic convention.  Compare it, say, to the stark and poetic simplicity of Alain Resnais’ Nuit et Brouillard.  It has been argued that Resnais’ gets over the disturbing truth about the Holocaust with more clarity than Lanzmann.  Certainly he did so with more succinctness.  Shoah can be a painful film to watch, again not just for its content, but for its technique.  Parts of it are excruciating, and yet one remains immersed; it literally has all the fascination of a public execution.  (more…)

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