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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
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Kiss Me Deadly

Critics continue to argue over whether this is the best film noir ever made but all seem united on one point – Kiss Me Deadly is the best adaptation of one of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer novels. Now 50 years old, the film opens with a scene that still packs a punch – cynical private eye Mike Hammer picks up a girl hitchhiker who is wearing only a mac. Within minutes his car has been run off the road and a brutal gang is torturing the girl before killing her. The stage is set for Hammer, one of cinema’s great anti-heroes, to become avenging angel, visiting bad men in places high and low … Read more
Gael Garcia Bernal in Amores Perros

Amores Perros

The film which announced the rebirth of Mexican cinema in 2000, Amores Perros was adored not just by cinephiles but also those who “don’t do subtitles”. The reasons are many and continue to make it a film worth seeing, or seeing again. Shot on film which has been deliberately processed in the “wrong” chemical to produce distorted colours and bleached out highlights, it’s got a look which suddenly was everywhere – from hip adverts to films by old-schoolers such as Steven Spielberg (see 2005’s terrorist thriller Munich, for example). The multi-stranded plot which zips backwards and forwards from a pivotal moment – in this case a car crash – is now a Hollywood … Read more
Orson Welles in Confidential Report aka Mr Arkadin

Confidential Report

The prevailing wisdom on Orson Welles has changed in recent years. It used to be: “Poor Orson, his masterpieces (such as The Magnificent Ambersons, It’s All True, The Lady from Shanghai ) butchered by the studios”. Now it’s: “Lazy Orson, got most of the way through a film and then lost interest”. Certainly Welles subscribed to the former view, and broadcast it widely wherever he went in Europe during his exile (or extended flake-out, take your pick). Confidential Report fuels the debate. A shadow of both his masterpiece, Citizen Kane, and Carol Reed’s The Third Man (in which Welles played the similarly gnomic Harry Lime), the film jumps around the world excavating the … Read more
Emil Jannings as Mephisto in Faust

Faust

It says a lot about the continuing differences between the Old World and the New that not one of the many stabs at a straightforward cinematic version of Faust is American. The tale of the old man who sells his soul to have his youth back and then uses his new vigour to ruin a beautiful young girl’s life is a European staple, but probably not the sort of thing Tom Hanks’s agent is going to beat down Meg Ryan’s door with – in the New World you can have it all; in the Old it comes at a cost. No matter, the German F.W. Murnau made this version in 1926, in the days … Read more
Terry Jones in Life of Brian

Life of Brian

It’s no surprise that this film was hotly controversial on its initial release, since it tells the story of Brian, a hapless Messiah of sorts, condemned to live in the shadow of the Other Guy from Galilee. Its debut saw the first stirrings in popular culture of the phenomenon of synthetic outrage – then only practised by the more conservative elements of society; now everyone is at it – with most of the complaints about the film coming from people who hadn’t even seen it. In fact the Monty Python team were nonplussed by the media hoo-hah – true, they had set out to make a film lambasting Christianity but had hit a … Read more
Jim Broadbent and Allan Corduner in Topsy-Turvy

Topsy-Turvy

Lovers of costume drama and light operetta are in for a treat. And so are people who can’t stand either, thanks to Mike Leigh, more usually known as a purveyor of working-class drama to the realm. Taking as its starting point the creative roadblock reached by the librettist WS Gilbert and his writing partner, the composer Arthur Sullivan, after the relative failure of their Princess Ida in 1884, Leigh’s film follows the duo as they struggle towards the rejuvenating success of The Mikado. Leigh’s masterstroke is to weave the composer/librettist’s full antler stand-off – Gilbert wanted to write an opera called The Magic Lozenge; Sullivan most definitely didn’t – with an oblique commentary on … Read more
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Ben Dover: The Sultan of Schwing

Britain’s pornographer-in-chief on the toughest thing about his job, changing attitudes to sex and why all politicians are bastards  “M’lud, one of the pornographic tapes in question involved a young lady and a German sausage, a Brat… (leans back) – or was it a Bock…? It was, I believe, a Bockwurst. The lady was in the process, your honour, of committing an unnatural act with a meat appendage.” Ben Dover, real name Simon (though he tells me it’s Lyndsay) Honey, hits the Soho bar we’re meeting in with his motormouth at full throttle and full volume. Now sitting opposite, he’s telling me about his court appearance for supplying porn to some Belgian bloke … Read more

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