100 Years of… Die Nibelungen: Siegfried

Siegfried checks his sword before setting out

Long before techno or Kraftwerk there was Richard Wagner, and in 1924 director Fritz Lang and his writer wife Thea von Harbou decided to put a story the German headbanger had popularised onto the screen. Die Nibelungen: Siegfried is the first of a two-part phantasmagorical medieval epic “dedicated to the German People”, a Tolkien-before-Tolkien, Game of Thrones before Game of Thrones tale of hair, helmets and hunting horns. Plus invisibility, dragons, fair damsels, derring-do, treachery and death. George Lucas clearly watched this first film (at least) before making Star Wars and the debt owed visually by Game of Thrones is also obvious here and there. What’s remarkable is that given the crudity of … Read more

Love Lies Bleeding

Jackie and Lou

The spirit of Jim Thompson takes Thelma and Louise for a ride in Love Lies Bleeding, Rose Glass’s follow-up to her feature debut, Saint Maud. That was a tortured, angst-ridden tale about the overlap between mental illness and religious belief – with a helluva twist. This is a dark and gruesome story tale about sex, death and bodybuilding with such a small sprinkling of comedy that you might not notice it. But also a twist you won’t see coming. The above-the-line star is Kristen Stewart, in another of her Joan Jett-style feather-cut-n-jeans roles as the bozo black sheep of a crime family who we meet literally arm deep in turds as she unblocks … Read more

Dodsworth

Mr and Mrs Dodsworth embrace

Dodsworth is a reminder what a great actor Walter Huston was. The father of John, grandfather of Danny, great-grandfather of Jack trumps them all with a superbly relaxed and natural performance as an America car magnate being given the runaround by his silly wife. Ruth Chatterton in the thankless role as wife Fran is pretty good too. It’s a tale of solid, reliable, self-made Americans being led astray by workshy, corrupt old-money Europeans and it opens with scenes of Sam Dodsworth (Huston), an American motor manufacturing magnate much loved by his workforce selling up his business and departing for Europe with his wife for the holiday of a lifetime. Sam doesn’t really understand … Read more

The Girl without Hands aka La Jeune Fille sans Mains

The girl examines her stumps

A miller down on his luck meets a man in the woods. The man is the Devil, though the miller doesn’t know it, and after a bit of smalltalk he’s soon offered the miller a deal. Give me what you have behind your mill and I’ll make you rich, offers the Devil. Behind the mill, thinks the man, that’s an apple tree. An apple tree for a crock of gold sounds fair enough to me, he reasons. Obviously never having read any fairy tales, he agrees to the bargain. It turns out that the miller’s daughter was also behind the mill and the miller has now signed her over to the Devil himself. … Read more

A Place in the Sun

Elizabeth Taylor

Based on the appropriately named novel An American Tragedy, A Place in the Sun is a noirish and properly tragic melodrama hailed as a nigh-on perfect movie when it came out in 1951. Since then its stock has fallen somewhat, though the first two thirds still work beautifully, thanks in no small part to the performance of Shelley Winters, though Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor’s scenes together also exert a mesmeric pull. Its tragic hero is George (Clift), the poor relation of the wealthy manufacturing family the Eastmans, who, having tapped his uncle for a job, catches the eye of Alice (Winters), a demure sweetie who works alongside him on his uncle’s production … Read more

Showing Up

Lizzy at work in her studio

After the success of 2019’s First Cow, you might have expected Kelly Reichardt’s 2022 follow-up, Showing Up, to be a bigger hit than it was. Critics liked it; audiences not so much. It seems that Reichardt most hits the target with paying punters when she delivers westerns. See also Meek’s Cutoff. But all her films are engaging, and she’s always up to something, often in the background, as she is with Showing Up, which is the story of an artist who struggles through the distractions of everyday life to produce her work. But what Reichardt is she actually up to, that’s the question. Is this a slice of life? Or the story of … Read more

That Most Important Thing: Love aka L’important c’est d’aimer

Fabio Testi and Romy Schneider

Mad, anguished romantic drama on an exaggerated scale from Andrzej Żuławski, warming up with That Most Important Thing: Love (a clumsy translation of L’important c’est d’aimer) for his maddest romance of them all, Possession, which would follow six years later, in 1981. In the meantime audiences were more than happy with a tortured tale of twisted troilism – the actress, her husband and the hot photographer who comes between the two of them. Unusually, for a film from the 1970s, it takes the side of fidelity, more or less, of higher ideals over a quick bunk-up. In a bohemian, but not particularly boho-chic Paris, actress Nadine Chevalier (Romy Schneider) is all too aware … Read more

The Lesson

Liam has a swim

If Saltburn left you craving more class envy and death in a grand country house then pile your plate high with The Lesson. You also get another helping of Richard E Grant at his most brutally awful. At his best, in other words. Like Saltburn it’s the story of an outsider invited to spend some time with a very la-di-dah family. Liam (Daryl McCormack) is a very smart would-be writer taken on to act as the tutor (the film’s original title) to the son of the nation’s favourite novelist, JM Sinclair (Grant). The job: get son Bertie (Stephen McMillan), a shoegazey heap of attitude and entitlement, into Oxford. Also in residence, as Liam … Read more

The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist

Murizio Merli as Leonardo Tanzi

A good place to start if you’ve never seen one of the “poliziotteschi” films popular in Italy in the 1970s, The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist (Il Cinico, l’Infame, il Violento) is one of a series of movies actor Maurizio Merli made with director Umberto Lenzi, both leading lights of the genre that took over when spaghetti westerns lost their box-office allure. The action is set during the so-called “years of lead” of political turmoil in taly and centres on Inspector Leonardo Tanzi (Merli), a decent cop who handed in his badge in the previous outing for Merli and Lenzi, The Tough Ones. But his life as an everyday freelance sword of … Read more

MK Ultra

Anson Mount as Dr Strauss

If the title MK Ultra means something to you already, you’ll know what this movie is about – the CIA’s MKUltra program, mind-control experiments on unwilling, ignorant or forced volunteers (soldiers, prisoners, prostitutes) using LSD and other drugs, often psychotics or psychedelics. There were various aims but one of them was the creation of the perfect soldier, one who would obey orders without thinking. What’s odd and bold about writer/director Joseph Sorrentino’s fictionalised retelling of the story is how unsensational he makes it considering the historical facts – the experiments were entirely illegal and secret and only came to light in the 1970s. Sorrentino’s preamble tells us the program got up and running … Read more