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Forrest Stanley and Marion Davies in a clinch

100 Years of… When Knighthood Was in Flower

When Knighthood Was in Flower answers the question posed by Citizen Kane – just how much of a chump was media magnate William Randolph Hearst over actress Marion Davies? Here is how much – a massive movie conceived on the grandest scale, produced by a company Hearst set up expressly to make Davies a star, with her name above the title, opening credits making great claims to the film’s historical accuracy, an opening scene with a grand entrance by Davies’s character in a royal barge, exteriors shot in Windsor, UK, even though much of the rest of the film was shot in New York and Connecticut, followed by an advertising campaign on the … Read more
Sabrina Ferilli and Toni Servillo in The Great Beauty

The Films of Paolo Sorrentino

Paolo Sorrentino’s latest film, La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty) is a portrait of Rome through the eyes of a world weary writer. It’s being hailed as Sorrentino’s La Dolce Vita and stars Sorrentino’s Marcello Mastroianni, Toni Servillo. It’s close to a masterpiece in other words, making this a good time to take a look at the career of Italy’s best film-maker right now. Firmly in the tradition of the 1960s generation of Fellini and Visconti, yet clearly his own man too, Sorrentino’s films are intelligent, engaged, stylish, beautifully made and intriguing – they’ve got the lot, in short. One Man Up (2001) Sorrentino’s debut feature also saw him team up with Toni … Read more
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Norman McLaren: The Art of Motion

 Who? Those who have no idea who Norman McLaren is won’t be so nonplussed after the briefest glimpse of his work. Frequently working by drawing directly onto the film stock itself (as in Boogie Doodle), this Scottish-born wizard experimenter is the creator of an instantly recognisable style of animation, frequently set to jazz or electronic music, which now seems to define the meeting point between high and popular arts in the 1940s and 50s. Blobs splash and explode, red against pulsating yellow. Lines oscillate, coalesce, fly apart. An orange hen rotates as it vibrates against a green background, a fluid expression both of chicken-ness and of the possibilities of the line itself – … Read more
Mike Meyers and Jessica Alba in 2010's The Love Guru

The Razzies – Winners Who Showed Up

One supposedly represents the best of the best and the other the worst of the worst. In theory the Oscars and the Razzies are polar opposites, yet they have something in common. Each loves a pile-on. Every year as awards season comes around again, a fog seems to descend on the members of the voting academies, groupthink sets in and some perfectly OK but largely unremarkable movies start mysteriously migrating – up to become Academy Award contenders, or down to where the Razzies await. If a bona fide celebrity is involved, the movement can be quite dramatic. Was Driving Miss Daisy really the best picture of 1990? Against, say, Do the Right Thing? Did … Read more
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Roll Out the Barrel: Pubs Never Looked So Good

A collection of documentary shorts on the British pub paints a warm, comforting picture of one of the country’s most cherished institutions. But is it a true one? “There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man,” intones a voice theatrically, “by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.” The quote is from Samuel Johnson and it kicks off The Story of English Inns, the first of 20 collected documentary shorts from the archive released in June 2012 by the British Film Institute. Alas, anyone who’s ever been to a British pub will tell you that this adage conveys only half the truth. For every charming hostelry … Read more
Andrea Riseborough as young Margaret Thatcher in The Long Walk to Finchley

Five Films about Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher, Mrs T, The Iron Lady, is dead. 31 years ago she was the most unpopular UK Prime Minister in history. Then, after winning the Falklands War she was re-elected in 1983. She was elected again in 1987 before being defenestrated by her party in 1990, a defeat she never quite came to terms with. Politically she was deeply divisive but on one point everyone is agreed – she recast British politics, and to a certain extent global politics, with her doctrine of open markets, privatisation, financial deregulation and tax cuts. Thatcher made the world we live in now. To some she was the greatest prime minister who ever lived, to others … Read more
Sonny in shrunken suit being laughed at

100 Years of… Grandma’s Boy

A prime slice of Harold Lloyd, Grandma’s Boy isn’t as famous as Safety Last! (the one where he dangles from a clock), but it is just as good as an example of his skills. Like the other two members of the Big Three of silent funnymen, Lloyd, like Chaplin and Keaton, often found himself tangling with men much manlier than himself. But whereas Chaplin’s Tramp and Keaton’s Stoneface had a steely puckishness and an aggressive intelligence, Lloyd’s “Glasses” character (as he called the guy in the specs) did not. He was generally speaking more the have-a-go Ordinary Joe. In Grandma’s Boy, “Glasses” is also a weakling and a coward, a Mummy’s Boy squared, … Read more
Jean Reno and Natalie Portman in Léon

Jean Reno: The Bulletproof Star

In a long career that’s seen him starring in films good, bad and spectacularly terrible, the public’s affection for French icon Jean Reno has never wavered. How does he do it? Big guy. Woolly hat. Stubble. Shades. Round shades. Dark round shades. Doesn’t say much. Kills people. Sensitively. Ask a roomful of people to come up with a word or two about Jean Reno and that’s pretty much what you’d get. You might also get French. Likes his dinner. And cool. Very cool. But what about versatile? Best known for playing loners, hitmen, tough guys, individuals who don’t say much because they don’t have to, to most people Reno is that French guy … Read more
Salomé dances for Herod

100 Years of… Salomé

Salomé, a notorious enterprise for the Russian-born, now-forgotten Hollywood great Alla Nazimova, its star, co-writer, co-director and producer, is the film that ruined her financially and brought an end to her time as a Hollywood player. It needs to be bad to justify the damage it caused to such a glittering career. It is. The original story is from the Bible, as retold by Oscar Wilde, then retold again by adapter Nazimova and co-writer Natacha Rambova (Rudolph Valentino’s wife and possibly Nazimova’s lover). But in spite of the reworkings it’s still the story we all know, of the young and beautiful Salomé demanding that Herod bring her the head of John the Baptist. … Read more
All That Heaven Allows original poster

The Curious Return of Douglas Sirk

What is it about a film-maker who died around 25 years ago in obscurity that fascinates a new generation of directors? The director Douglas Sirk died in 1987 aged 90. Born in Hamburg as Detlef Sierck, he became well known for his string of lush melodramas made in Hollywood in the 1950s. Magnificent Obsession (1954), All That Heaven Allows (1955), Written on the Wind (1956), The Tarnished Angels (1957), A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1958) and Imitation of Life (1959) are considered his key works. The French “auteurists” were the first to start the re-assessment of Sirk in the late 1950s – the distinctive look of his films marking them out as … Read more
Pope Benedict in Brasil in his red loafers

Popes on Film

News that Pope Benedict XVI has decided to hang up the red papal slippers sets the mind a-wandering. Who are the great popes of cinema? Oddly, this is a harder question to answer than you might think. For starters, there are many films that feature a pope at the edge of the action but very very few are actually about a pope. Also, the pope, though held in contempt in some quarters, gets a rather easy ride in the movies, possibly because so many Hollywood films were made by Jewish emigres with first hand experience of what can happen when religion is dragged into the foreground. Either way, popes and knuckle-whitening drama don’t … Read more
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Build Your Own Bond

Tired of waiting for the next 007 movie to open? Here’s a solution that even Q would find fiendishly ingenious His name might be Bond, James Bond but at the beginning of 2011 the studio responsible for the most successful franchise in spy movie history found itself in dire straits. It was broke, dead broke. It looked like the mighty roar of the MGM lion was about to be silenced forever. In the event last minute refinancing bailed the studio out and, to the joy of fans everywhere, Bond 23 returned from an enforced layover and went back into production. But for diehards who’d been expecting Daniel Craig back in 2011, the news … Read more

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