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Wille and Virginia

100 Years of… Our Hospitality

1923 is the year when Buster Keaton’s run of classic feature-length comedies gets out of the blocks with Our Hospitality, which signals its intention to be different even in its opening credits, which linger on the screen far longer than those of most films of the era. Here, they say, is something to be savoured. The story is William Shakespeare via rural 19th-century America via the mind of Buster Keaton, a re-working of Romeo and Juliet crossed with the Hatfield and McCoys feud, with Buster playing Willie McKay, a guy who falls in love with a young woman he meets on the train journey back to his Appalachian homeland where he’s inherited a … 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
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The Brooding Intensity of Michael Fassbender

Passion, power and emotional ferocity are all hallmarks of aMichael Fassbender performance. But is he just a kitten in real life? Here’s a funny thing. I’m in the audience at the New York Film Festival. On stage director Steve McQueen and actor Michael Fassbender are answering questions about the disturbing, brilliant film that’s just been shown. Shame, McQueen and Fassbender’s follow-up collaboration to the gruelling Hunger has Fassbender delivering a volcanic performance as a sex addict who’s either dialling rent-a-hooker, beating off at work or devouring porn at home. Intense, dark stuff. Someone from the floor asks Fassbender a question about the relationship between the two damaged lead characters, a brother and sister … Read more
Richard Burton in The Spy Who Came In from the Cold

John Le Carré Movie Adaptations Ranked, 2021

There is a lot of John Le Carré out there. The author wrote prodigiously, starting while he was still working as a spy for MI5 and MI6 in the late 1950s and only really stopped when he died, in December 2020. There are nine novels featuring his most famous creation, the retired master spy George Smiley, and another 17 or so (depending on how you count) other novels, plus short stories, essays, memoirs, articles written for newspapers (denouncing the war in Iraq, for instance) and screenplays (always adaptations of his own novels). But there’s no getting round it, if you want a John Le Carré experience, the movies are probably the worst way … Read more
Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins

Dick Van Dyke on DVD

What a great thing Dick Van Dyke has been. First there’s that improbable name. Even more improbable, it’s his real name. Then there’s his legs, long and lean and made for comedy dancing and comedy pratfalls. And his smile – as wide as the screen and surely the biggest on TV, if we’re not counting that of Mary Tyler Moore, who played his screen wife. We tend to think of him as a TV performer – no less than three TV series have been named after him, including the seminal Dick Van Dyke Show of the 1960s, the direct descendants of which (via Mary Tyler Moore and James Burrows) are Friends and The Big … Read more
The Avengers

All the Marvel Cinematic Universe Movies Ranked

The good, the bad and the ugly, from the very first one to the most recent, here’s the what and the why of Marvel’s web-spinning, hammer-throwing, shield-tossing, Groot-uttering heroes and superheroes in one handy chunk Who’d have thought, when Iron Man gave birth to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in 2008, that more than two decades on it would still be flying and still pulling in enthusiastic audiences? Even Kevin Feige, who has produced every single one of them, cannot have expected a run of so many successful films – pushing $30 billion at the box office and counting. As I write, in September 2022, Marvel are planning releases as far as ten years … 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
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
The Count and Princess Vera

100 Years of… Foolish Wives

When Foolish Wives debuted in 1922, its writer/director/star Erich von Stroheim was at the peak of his popularity, having exploited anti-German sentiment during the First World War by playing a despicable Hun doing despicable things in a series of films. “The man you love to hate,” was his moniker, one gained in 1918 in the film The Heart of Humanity, where he plays a ruthless German officer who throws a baby out of the window so he can better get on with raping a Red Cross nurse. That’ll do it. Foolish Wives works the same seam, though, the war over and the Russian revolution grabbing more headlines, von Stroheim is now playing a … Read more
Robert De Niro

Cape Fear

It’s compare and contrast time. Max Cady, a psychopath recently out of stir after a long stretch for rape, sets out to terrorise lawyer Sam Bowden who he believes withheld information about his case at the trial which resulted in him going down. The original, directed by cult British director J. Lee Thompson in 1962, starred Robert Mitchum as the avenging psycho (a role he’d perfected in 1955’s Night Of The Hunter) and Gregory Peck as the apparently decent lawyer. Both turn up again in cameos in Martin Scorsese’s remake, in which things aren’t quite so clear cut. This time around Bowden (now played by Nick Nolte) is a lousy lawyer, and a … 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
Ruth Weyher as the "Woman"

100 Years of… Warning Shadows

The remarkable Warning Shadows (Schatten: Eine nächtliche Halluzination) is often lumped together with other German movies of the 1920s as expressionist but it’s only tangentially an expressionist movie. It’s too strange to fit in that box, too individualistic. As silent movies go it’s strange too. Once it’s done its introductions – the characters’ names materialise as the actors appear on stage in front of a white screen which will take on significance later – there are no intertitles, not one. The American born but Germany-raised director/writer Arthur Robison does it all with images and his actors, no further explanation necessary. The story is weird as well – like a sexed-up fairy tale – … Read more

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