EFA Awards Potemkin Stairs in Odessa ‘Treasures of European Film Culture’

1(2)On the occasion of the Odessa International Film Festival, taking place from 10-18 July, the European Film Academy will award the Potemkin Stairs in Odessa the title Treasure of European Film Culture.
Sergei Eisenstein shot his masterpiece Battleship Potemkin (1925) 90 years ago at the Black Sea port. The Potemkin Stairs are undoubtedly one of the world’s most famous historical film locations. During a ceremony, a special Treasure of European Film Culture emblem will be inaugurated next to the Potemkin Stairs.
With this title, the European Film Academy wishes to raise public awareness for places of a symbolic nature for European cinema, places of historical value that need to be maintained and protected not just now but also for generations to come. The Potemkin Stairs are the fifth location to be awarded by the European Film Academy. The first four institutions that were adopted to be part of the Treasures of European Film Culture list were:

•     The Eisenstein Memorial Centre in Moscow
•     The house of the brothers Lumière in Lyon
•     The Bergman Center in Faro
•     The World of Tonino Guerra in Pennabilli

The list of Treasures of European Film Culture will be added to over the years and contain places that can be visited, including memorable film locations such as the Potemkin stairs. Since its foundation in 1910, every year the Odessa Film Festival invites the public to open air screenings of international film classics accompanied by live music. This year, British composer Michael Nyman will conduct his live score for Dziga Vertov’s documentary A Man with a Movie Camera (1929).

DVD Movie Review: Into the Abyss (2011)

into-the-abyss-movie-image-02A tale of death, a tale of life

“Some people just don’t deserve to live,” utters the daughter and sister of a murdered mother and brother. Thus, legendary German film maker Werner Herzog takes his camera and idiosyncratic style to the United States of America to explore capital punishment and death row with Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, a Tale of Life (2011).

Focusing on three capital murders in Texas in 2001, bizarre and unusual interviewees are encountered, from a pastor regaling an encounter with a squirrel, the artificial insemination of a prison wife “groupie” and a young man on death row managing to keep an ultimately forlorn smile on his face throughout the entire film’s duration.

A camera shot eerily advancing down the hallway between the cells and walls leading to the chamber of death provides one of the most Herzogian moments in the film. Empty cells and tables replete with bibles, and thus the presence of God (one of many religious overtones), are just a precursor to the room where death will take place. The haunting music and sight of the gurney itself makes this small but pivotal moment even more poignant when we are introduced to the person who will be killed there.

Death row inmate Michael Perry was sentenced at the age of 18 for the capital murders of Sandra Stotler, her son Adam and his friend Jeremy Richardson, merely to acquire her red Camero car. He is eight days away from death. Still convinced of his innocence, despite highly probative evidence to the contrary, he believes that as a Christian a right will be wronged and he is either “going home or home”.

Herzog lays his cards out from the offset, informing Perry that he does not believe in the death penalty and expresses his sympathy. Yet from here on in Werner does little to actively construct an argument for his own point of view. He is very fair to all sides.

A frustration to some, maybe, but Herzog will do things his way – this is not a Michael Moore film. We are presented with a sequence showing the very shocking and senseless nature of the crimes committed by Perry and his cohort Jason Burkett. Real crime scene footage of blood stains. The lifeless legs of a victim. Empty shot-gun cartridges. Detailed analysis by a local cop who informs us of the very specific nature of the heinous crimes committed. It is hard to not to feel the most utmost sympathy towards the victims and their families.

The impact on the victims families is important. Stotler’s daughter Lisa conveys the emptiness of her life losing her family. Jeremy Richardson’s brother is almost inconsolable over the death of his best friend, the “golden child”. Herzog is a master at inducing emotional responses from people by merely talking to them.

It’s his simple but curious follow-up questions that do the damage. Keeping the camera rolling when the talking is done gets the best emotional responses. Tearful eyes and discomfort conveys plenty.

Burkett was spared the death sentence due to an emotional plea from his father at his trial. Also a long-term prison detainee, his assertion that he was a terrible father was enough to convince two members of a jury to save his son’s life.

Killing another person wouldn’t correct what happened or bring the victims back. We see the tale of death, tale of life in action. The fine line between a man who died and a man who did not. Burkett went on to marry a member of his defence team and is expecting his first child (“contraband” smuggled out of prison to allow this provides one of the film’s most amusing and uplifting moments). Is the process therefore merely arbitrary as to who lives and dies?

As for the actual protocol of death, Reverend Richard Lopez, the death house chaplain, portrays the proceedings as very godly. This is Texas, after all.

It’s as if his role is to act on God’s behalf to give his blessing and make sure God’s work is done. His emotion at being unable to stop the process, although he wishes he could, is captured in one of Herzog’s frequent trademark lingering camera shots which dwell on the characters face after the talking has been done. His squirrel to human being analogy is truly bizarre. Herzog himself says he found the preacher to be phony, like something from a television commercial.

This contrasts sharply with Fred Allen, the former death house captain and state executioner. The man with life and liberty in his hands. For him, the tiresome stench of 125 deaths forced him to relinquish his duty. Recalling the story of Texas’ first execution of a woman since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976 (Karla Faye Tucker) and how it changed him, is utterly moving.Witnessing the emotion of a man’s defences breaking down palpably is as damning evidence against the death penalty as could have been sought. It is easy to seek death. It is harder to perpetrate it.

The film does meander. However, a Herzog ramble is always a valuable exercise. For a centered view, it provides compelling viewing. It is not a polemical view of the death penalty. It will most likely not change America’s stance on capital punishment like Krzysztof Kieslowski’s A Short Film About Killing (1988) did in Poland, but as an exploration of the human spirit a better film will be hard to find.Were this a boxing contest, the pro death-penalty lobby lands significant punches. But for some the anti will have landed the significant blow. Make up your own mind. But with 100,000 British citizens signing a petition for capital punishment to be reinstated, the right-wing tabloids banging the drum and the legal obligation for it to be debated in Parliament, it is a timely reminder of the impact it has on all its protagonists.

107 mins.

DVD Movie Review: The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)

rexfeatures_409088doSuch was my recent enjoyment in writing a review for Roy Ward Baker‘s seminal Quatermass and the Pit (1967), I felt it was only fair to go back to the character’s beginnings with director Val Guest‘s film adaptation of the original BBC series, which became famous on its release for clearing the streets and bars, such was its popularity in the UK.

So, how does Hammer’s The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) (so called to cash in on its ‘X’ certificate, which was new in those days) compare? Well, first up, it unfortunately has American actor Brian Donlevy in the title role – Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale expressed his enormous displeasure at this casting, with Donlevy delivering a performance that was brusque, uncaring and automaton-like, which is not at all in keeping with Professor Quatermass as originally created by Kneale – his scientist was a driven, focused but caring, moral and compassionate man (much more like Andrew Kier, who played him in …Pit, or Sir John Mills, who played him in Quatermass (1979)).

No matter, however – the film has many strengths that have endured outside its lead performance, not least of which is the utterly creepy locked-room mystery at its core. Quatermass, the founder and head of the British Rocket Group, has launched the first manned rocket into space. Shortly after, all contact is lost with the rocket and the three crew: Carroon (Richard Wordsworth), Reichenheim, and Green. The rocket later returns to Earth, crashing into an English field.

Quatermass arrives at the scene, along with the emergency services. Opening the rocket’s access hatch, they find only Carroon inside; there is no sign of the other two crew members. Carroon appears to be in shock, only able to mouth the words ‘Help me’. He is taken to hospital while Quatermass investigates what happened to the rocket and its two missing crew – and it quickly becomes evident that Carroon has been altered by something he encountered in space; he can absorb any living thing with which he comes in contact…Quatermass realizes that the rapidly mutating Carroon creature is on the verge of sporing, which will threaten all of humanity. The clock is ticking…

The screenplay, written by Richard Landau and Guest, presents a heavily compressed version of the events of the original television serial. It was the first Hammer production to attract the attention of a major distributor in the US, in this case United Artists, which distributed the film under the title The Creeping Unknown.

It is a remarkably successful adaptation – Wordsworth is excellent as the plague astronaut, desperate to save himself from what is consuming him. And look out for a performance from a very young Jane Asher, as the little girl who falls into Carroon’s path.

Scary, genuinely creepy and thrilling – so long as you can get past Donlevy.

82 mins.

DVD Movie Review: Quatermass and the Pit (1967)

large_quatermass_and_the_pit_blu-ray_8With this review, it’s time for a tribute – Thomas Nigel Kneale (18 April 1922–29 October 2006, commonly referred to as Nigel Kneale) was one of the very best science fiction and horror writers of the 20th century and, while he was responsible for a huge amount of other great stuff, such as The Year of the Sex Olympics (1968) and The Stone Tape (1972), his singular creation, that of the intelligent, highly moral, courageous but also somewhat ruthless British man of science, Professor Bernard Quatermass, is what guarantees his place in posterity.

And so it should be – in just four stories (The Quatermass Experiment (first as a BBC series in 1953, remade as Hammer film The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)), Quatermass II (again a BBC series in the first instance, again remade by Hammer in 1957), Quatermass and the Pit (1959) (BBC first, then the film I am shortly about to bang on about) then Quatermass (1979) (an ITV series that was the first big programme for the channel after its strike of that year)).

Now, as you will see from my review of Quatermass if you give our link a cheeky little click, I wrote at the time that I thought the final series was the best of the entire canon. I no longer think so – it’s going to have to be Quatermass and the Pit (1967) for me from now on.

And why? Because Kneale knew, perhaps better than anyone, how to blend sci-fi and horror, and this is demonstrated amazingly well in …Pit.

Workers on site at an extension to the Hobbs End London Underground station first dig up a fossil skull – but then are amazed and horrified to discover a number of seemingly human skeletons deep within the earth. Work is halted immediately, and palaeontologist Dr Matthew Roney (James Donald) is called in – he deduces that the finds are the remnants of a group of apemen aged more than five million years, which is far more ancient than any previous finds of mankind’s ancestors.

Meanwhile, Professor Bernard Quatermass is furious to learn that his planned colonization of the moon, with his British Experimental Rocket Group, is to be turned over to the military, in order to ‘police’ the Earth with thermonuclear missiles. He is further enraged when the abrasive, hawk-like Colonel Breen (Julian Glover) is assigned to join his group (“I’ll fight this right at top level!” – “I shouldn’t, it came from there”), but then Breen is called to the Hobbs End dig, as it would appear that Roney’s researchers may have uncovered a World War II V-weapon, a subject on which the colonel is expert. Curious, Quatermass accompanies him, and finds that the as-yet unidentified artefact is clearly not of this Earth, whatever Breen might think…

And so begins one of the very best combinations of science fiction, mystery and, ultimately, horror, ever committed to film – there will be no further spoilers from me, apart from to say that Kneale, as he did in The Stone Tape and Quatermass, expertly touches on the idea that ‘supernatural’ occurences, ghosts, may well be, in Quatermass’s words “phenomena that were badly observed and wrongly explained”.

But a science-based rationale does not mean an end to the terror – just check out the finale. The devil, you say?

This is horror from a time when the genre was still taken very seriously, hence the inclusion of actors of the calibre of Donald, Glover and, most of all, Kier – the latter was Kneale’s personal favourite Quatermass, and he was even allowed to return to the role in 1996, when Kneale wrote an excellent radio series that dances wonderfully around all four stories, The Quatermass Memoirs.

So, why not join the good professor on his journey into mankind’s origins? Enjoy Quatermass and the Pit here.

DVD Movie Review: Etz Limon (Lemon Tree) (2008)

Lemon+TreeLemon tree, ‘green line’?

Once, when we lived in Oman on the Arabian Peninsula, writes Gerald Loftus, we visited a village perched in the rocky hills of the interior. We were there to see a falaj, one of the ancient irrigation canals cut into the stony hillsides, carrying precious water to small gardens and orchards. An Omani farmer took a liking to our small children, and offered us lemons plucked from one of his dozen or so trees. In hot, arid climates, these bright beautiful yellow fruit, standing out against the dark green leaves, are things of beauty.

And so it is in the West Bank – or more precisely, on the ‘Green Line’ that on paper separates Israel from the Occupied Territories – where Eran Riklis’s Lemon Tree (2008) is filmed. Never has a glass of fresh lemonade looked so inviting. That’s what visitors to the home of lead character Salma are offered, from her father’s orchard that she has inherited. From trees that she must protect when politics intrude into her simple life.

Riklis has visited this human terrain before, notably in his 2004 masterpiece, The Syrian Bride. Watching Lemon Tree, you have to remind yourself that this is an Israeli film, or rather, a film made by an Israeli director. But, as Riklis said in a Tikkun interview apropos of The Syrian Bride, when asked if it was a ‘political film’.

First and foremost, this is a humane film. It deals with people who are caught inside politics, inside a political world. It’s a pro-people film. On the other hand, of course it contains political elements. In the Middle East in particular, almost everything that you do and refer to is political. Everything has consequences.

The same could be said of Lemon Tree, though it is political to a much greater degree. When you have the ‘Separation Barrier’, the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, and an Israeli cabinet minister as backdrops or characters in a film, it is political. Everything is political in Israeli-Palestinian relations.

Just as Riklis is sensitive to the nuances of the complex relationship between occupier and occupied, he is a particularly talented observer of the relationships between men and women, in both Israeli and Arab cultures. Nazareth-born Hiam Abbass, who has already appeared in Riklis’ films, plays Salma with innate grace and intelligence. Not only does she have to confront Israeli neighbors bent on separating her from her lemon trees, but also has to navigate a male-dominated Palestinian society. Palestinian officialdom is shown as more troubled over matters of propriety than demonstrating any concern for this defiant widow’s attempts to protect her property.

On the Israeli side of the fence (literally), there is tension in the Minister’s household, where wife Mira (played by revelation Rona Lipaz-Michael) begins to see for herself the human costs of occupation. Eventually they must face the question: is it better to look out onto a luscious orchard (owned, admittedly by Palestinians of unknown security credentials) or to enjoy’ the security offered by watchtowers and the Separation Barrier?

At the time, my viewing of Lemon Tree was sponsored by the women of Brussels film club Cinefemme (whose website has an insightful interview with Riklis), and whose members have been invited by the film’s distributor to provide commentary for a DVD ‘bonus’ segment. They will have much to discuss.

Awards: Click here for details.


Gerald Loftus

106 mins. In Arabic, Hebrew, French and English.

European Film Academy: The Invisible Boy Wins Young Audience Award 2015

YAA2015Winner

In a truly European vote, 12-14-year-olds in:

  • Aalborg/Denmark
  • Amsterdam/the Netherlands
  • Athens/Greece
  • Barcelona/Spain
  • Belgrade/Serbia
  • Bratislava/Slovakia
  • Budapest/Hungary
  • Cluj/Romania
  • Erfurt/Germany
  • Istanbul/Turkey
  • Izola/Slovenia
  • Kiev/Ukraine
  • London/UK
  • Malmö/Sweden
  • Prizren/Kosovo
  • Riga/Latvia
  • Skopje/FYR Macedonia
  • Sofia/Bulgaria
  • Tallinn/Estonia
  • Tbilisi/Georgia
  • Tel Aviv/Israel
  • Turin/Italy
  • Valletta/Malta
  • Wroclaw/Poland
  • Zagreb/Croatia

have elected The Invisible Boy by Gabriele Salvatores (Italy) as the winner of the European Film Academy (EFA) Young Audience Award 2015.

Having watched the three nominated films on today’s Young Audience Film Day, the young cinema-lovers across Europe had the opportunity to discuss the films before electing their favourite. The results were then reported live via video conference to Erfurt (Germany) where German TV host, author and director Thomas Hermanns moderated the awards ceremony transmitted online as a live stream.

EFA Director Marion Döring presented the award to screenwriter Stefano Sardo who said: “Thank you so much, this was unexpected! We made a film for kids and we’re *so* happy that they like it!”

This year’s fourth edition of the EFA Young Audience Award with a record 25 participating countries was realized with the following partners: Art Fest (Bulgaria), BFI British Film Institute, BUFF (Sweden), Children KinoFest (Ukraine), Cinematheque Tel Aviv (Israel), Creative Europe Desk Malta&  Culture Directorate Ministry for Justice, Culture and Local Government (Malta), DokuFest (Kosovo), EducaTIFF (Romania), Estonian Film Institute, EYE Film Institute Netherlands, Film Center Serbia, Filmoteca de Catalunya (Spain), German Children’s Media Foundation GOLDEN SPARROW, Hellenic Film Academy (Greece), Hungarian National Film Fund, Macedonian Film Agency, Museo Nazionale del Cinema & Film Commission Torino Piemonte (Italy), National Film Centre of Latvia, New Horizons Association (Poland), NNLE Noosfera Foundation (Georgia), Otok – Institute for the Development of Film Culture (Slovenia), University College Northern Jutland, The Centre for Educational Resources (Denmark), Visegrad Film Forum (Slovakia), Yapimlab & Edge (Turkey) and Zagreb Film Festival (Croatia).

The European Film Academy Young Audience Award is organised and presented by the European Film Academy and EFA Productions with the support of the Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung (MDM). The DCP production is supported by dcinex, Ymagis Group. Media partner was FRED FM Film Radio.

DVD Movie Review: Godzilla (2014)

***SUNDAY CALENDAR  STORY FOR MAY 11, 2014. DO NOT USE PRIOR TO PUBLICATION********** A scene from Warner Bros. Pictures' and Legendary Pictures' sci-fi action adventure movie "GODZILLA," a Warner Bros. Pictures release. _Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

After witnessing what appeared to be nothing short of a cracking trailer, promoting an exhilarating action/disaster movie, I finally got time to watch Godzilla (2014) this weekend. What was previewed to be a major Hollywood blockbuster, actually turns out to be a Godzilla-sized waste of time.

Godzilla wasn’t designed with an all-star cast in mind. Emmerich had kind of made that mistake, with his 1998 flop of the same name. Even a star-studded line-up wouldn’t have saved this picture, though. Englishman Aaron Taylor-Johnson does a rather unconvincing job as Ford Brody, a Lieutenant in the US military, and the central human star of the film. The usually solid Ken Watanabe performed his role well, though, he wasn’t given enough screen time to really shine. Even if Watanabe’s role was reduced, it still lasted longer than Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston’s, who gives a mediocre performance as Brody’s father, a conspiracy-obsessed, former nuclear plant engineer who has lost it all.

After a fairly adrenaline pumping introduction, the movie falls into something of a lull as it tries to catch up with events taking place 15 years after the opening scenes. There’s some woeful, cheap dialogue concerning bones exploding from the inside (referencing the Space Jockey scene in Alien (1979)) to boot. From there on out, Godzilla simply falls apart.

The plot was designed to be simple – it ends up flat. It is designed to be realistic, but it falls very short of the mark. It does ask questions, but then answers them almost simultaneously, leaving you wondering a great deal about how everything in the plot came to be.

In short, Godzilla wishes to help the human race rid themselves of a pesky species of electro-magnetic pulse firing insects, known as the MUTOS. Don’t laugh, I’m being serious. I’m not sure Max Borenstein was, when he wrote the script. Anyhow, we are told by Dr Ishiro Serizawa (Watanabe) that Godzilla has been around since before the dinosaurs, and so have the MUTOS (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms), who feed on radiation. Okay, sure. As usual, the humans don’t know what to do, so they attempt to blow both species to Hell, only for Godzilla to save the day, and just in the nick of time. It’s a good thing, too, otherwise an overly predictable nuke would have wiped out San Francisco. Yes, that old chestnut.

Like the plot, the characters are also poorly developed. Nobody has any clue what role Dr Serizawa plays in Operation Monarch, how he knows what he knows about Godzilla. More mysterious is his partner, Dr Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins). All in all, they both have a good day at the office, but it’s pretty hard to cock up in what amounts to 30 minutes on the screen, n’est-ce pas? After 45 minutes of main character intros, you kind of feel short-changed that nobody really has anything more than a bit-part role in this film, some even less. The first 45 minutes – as it turns out – is way too long for a meet and greet, especially for characters who have names you don’t (and won’t) need to remember. Godzilla has a way of introducing characters, cutting them out of the film in the second act, then bringing them back for the obligatory hugs and cuddles when the coast is clear at the end.

On the plus side, Gareth Edwards’ direction is good, Alexandre Desplat’s score is below-par but fitting, and the special effects are superb. They’d have to be, though, wouldn’t they? These things are Godzilla’s only saving grace, really.

When the baddies are defeated, and all the smoke and rubble is cleared, what you are left with is a half-arsed, more expensive version of Cloverfield. I felt as though I was watching a very costly Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers episode, and that’s not what you want from Godzilla. I expected so much more. I want my money back.

The most surprising aspect of Godzilla is that it has received critical acclaim. I can’t imagine how. Having pocketed up more than $500 million at the box office, sequels are being planned. Perhaps the critics watched a different film from me?

As bad as Emmerich’s Godzilla (1998) was, that cringe-worthy flick and this film have a lot in common. They both excel in smashing up buildings, they both see the army fire off countless rounds of ammo to no avail, they both emphasize the dangers of nuclear testing, and they both fail spectacularly to deliver anything that I would consider a positive waste of two hours’ worth of celluloid.

Neither film does Godzilla justice on the big screen. But, if you’re going to be settling down to watch a monster film, then to be perfectly honest – and I can’t believe I’m going to say this – you’d be better off watching Emmerich’s again.

123 mins.

DVD Movie Review: The King of Comedy (1983)

Film Tribeca Closing NightJohnny Carson. David Letterman. Jay Leno. Larry Sanders. Rupert Pupkin. Famous, household name comedians who went onto achieve superstardom as late-night TV show hosts.

Legends of the small screen…hang on, Rupert who? Do you remember him? Of course not. Neither do I. Other than being the leading antagonistic protagonist in a brilliantly dark, fictitious meditation on the vain, soulless search for fame, he lives in a world of make-believe. He is the fly at a picnic who cannot be swatted. He is the spot that cannot be removed prior to a date. He is the friend who tags along at parties uninvited.

Mark Kermode opined, in his damning indictment of Seth Rogen’s 2009 lame effort Observe and Report, that Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro had already remade their seminal 1976 nocturnal netherworld nightmare Taxi Driver as a comedy, an achievement that Rogen had laid claim to.

Instead, they had, in the good doctor’s opinion, merely rehashed the already unremarkable Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009) Scorsese and De Niro, on the other hand, had made a comedy as dark as the ace of spades, a London Taxi or the finest Columbian/Ethiopian coffee.

If De Niro’s Travis Bickle began Taxi Driver somewhat unhinged but with good intentions before descending into full-on psychosis (I’ve seen Travis diagnosed with many psychiatric disorders over the years in books/articles/magazines being one of the most famous/iconic/analysed characters in film history) then his Rupert Pupkin is Travis Bickle turned up to eleven in a full Spinal Tap sense, and he never regresses.

The irony is that he is never a visible threat or appears as such. Robert De Niro has become an icon of cinema from playing some very loud, threatening, abusive, verbally and physically violent characters in between some great very sweet and tender performances. His Oscar-winning performance as real-life prize fighter Jake La Motta in 1980s Raging Bull, the hand book for modern method acting, is as despicable a character that has ever been depicted in cinema.

Rupert, however, is mild mannered, never swears – note the films parental guidance certification – He rarely gets noticeably angry, except at his psycho-like mother, who always hollers at him off camera in a Norma Bates-esque way, and his crazy friend Masha who’ll be dissected later. When he does, he acts with such little threat you’d be more intimidated by a little rabbit with boo scribbled on its face. If anything, in terms of voice tone, De Niro is as close to his real middle class, son of artists, Greenwich Village comfortable upbringing voice as he has ever been. The heavy New York of 1973’s Mean Streets and Raging Bull is eschewed in favour of a more softly spoken approach.

Incidentally, many mistake Travis Bickle as a New Yorker. He is actually mid-western, a nuance that goes unnoticed in the overwhelming praise of his famous cabbie performance. This performance has largely gone unnoticed. Although deservedly nominated for a BAFTA, the academy shunned the film in favour of best picture winner tear-jerker Terms of Endearment and three other forgettable nominees – The Right Stuff is alright – and De Niro’s performance in favour of five others, won by Robert Duvall for Tender Mercies. Edward Norton cites De Niro’s performance as his favourite of all time. Kermode and Scorsese called it his greatest. High praise indeed.

Nowadays, a De Niro greatest performance list would be laughed out of the room, something Rupert frequently has done to him, if Pupkin is not included. An aspiring stand-up comedian, Rupert idolises and studies Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis – Frank Sinatra turned the role down), stand-up comic turned successful late-night TV show host. Lewis plays Langford as the total antithesis of his earlier on screen zany, wacky, nutty professor persona. He is a consummate professional at work but a weary eyed, cynical, burned-out celebrity outside of office hours who values his privacy. Rupert seizes his moment and weasels his way into a private meeting with Jerry in his limousine after frankly scary tactics from Masha.

He states his intention that he wants to be just like Jerry and that he wants a spot on his show despite his opposition to actually performing live in comedy clubs. He practices alone in his room and the audience in his head always laughs. He creepily waxes lyrical with cardboard cut outs of Langford and Liza Minnelli (De Niro’s co-star in Scorsese disaster New York, New York – it has its moments), in his bedroom, which is designed like a talk show set.

It is a precursor to the Kramer-led Seinfeld episode where he reassembles the Merv Griffin set in his living room conducting interviews with all and sundry. Will he eventually seek to become more than Jerry and to supersede him? Unwilling at 34 years of age – too old, apparently – to start at the bottom, he wants his shot now. Charles Bukowski lived his life, somewhat seedily, but earned his stripes and didn’t have a career until in his 50s. Ricky Gervais’ breakthrough came at 40. This is an anathema to Rupert yet he reluctantly accepts Jerry’s advice, given under virtual duress, “you have to start at the bottom…the bottom is the perfect place to start”. A pearl of wisdom is offered, “you don’t say ‘hey folks, here’s the punch-line’, you just do the punch-line”. Rupert fails to empathise and sense the fear of his virtual detainee in such a strange encounter. A mediocre joke from Rupert is followed by an offer of a business card. This is a clear swat from Jerry but an opportunity for Rupert.

Nobody remembers his name. Rupert who? Rupert Pipkin? Pumpkin? Are Jerry’s production team capable of rebuffing Pumpkins, sorry, I mean Pupkin’s right to a TV gig? There is a hilarious slapstick sequence that wouldn’t look out of place in a silent comedy film whereby Rupert is chased down a corridor by security guards only to reappear again running in the opposite direction with security still in pursuit. Viewed from a camera inside a room looking out into the corridor, it has me in stitches. Eventually caught, he is told in no uncertain terms to never return again without an appointment or the authorities will be called.

He is aided largely by his partner in crime Masha. Their relationship is a very odd love-hate dichotomy. Neediness binds them. The need being Langford. Masha stalks Jerry like a great giant stalking thing. Portrayed by Sandra Bernhard, not everybody’s cup of tea – I find her repellent mostly – she is cast perfectly by Scorsese, who utilizes all the worst annoying elements of her persona to great effect here. Meryl Streep, double Oscar winner by that point, and with previous great on screen chemistry with De Niro in The Deer Hunter, couldn’t have bettered her performance. She should have got an Oscar nod. In a hilarious scene, they clash in a busy New York City street and quibble and bicker over who has a greater right of access to their property Jerry. Look out for a split second cameo from the great 1970’s/80’s band The Clash, credited as ‘street trash’.

Scorsese again really gets under the skin of New York City. The vast size and crowdedness is portrayed well. The image of Rupert desperately clutching onto a public telephone (his office number) in anticipation of an extremely important phone call whilst a long queue berates him is hilarious. It is a different side to the sleaze and mirth of Taxi Driver and the street energy of Mean Streets. Surrealism abounds.

Undeterred, Rupert drags his reluctant girlfriend to Langford’s holiday home, his hideaway, uninvited. The promise is that Jerry is his friend and collaborator. This delusion is enough to convince his former high-school fantasy to accompany him after she rejected him at school. In truth, in one of the films rare weaknesses, it is a thankless role played without vigour by De Niro’s wife (now ex) at the time, Dianne Abbott.

The role serves little purpose other than to fill the empty trophy cabinet in Rupert’s love life thus satisfying his teenage wet dream of dating a cheerleader, the most beautiful girl in school, now working late night shifts as a bartender. The point is made sharply but acted meekly. Pam Grier would have burned the screen down even with such little to do, but she wasn’t rediscovered until 1997 by Quentin Tarantino in the similarly unappreciated Jackie Brown, now slowly getting the recognition it deserves. The encounter at Jerry’s hideaway is awkward and tense to say the least. De Niro used anti-semitic epithets on set, not included in the film, to truly rile Lewis.

Alas, the show goes on. The darkness increases. You’ll never laugh at a plastic toy, chewing gum, sentence prompts, a knitted sweater and sellotape in quite the same way ever again. Will you get the chance to see if Rupert lives up to his own hype…

Upon its release, and following on from De Niro’s Oscar success for best actor in Raging Bull, Scorsese was shamefully shunned in favour of the capable but steady Robert Redford for his direction of family drama Ordinary PeopleThe King of Comedy was an expensive flop. To my knowledge, Scorsese’s vision was largely untouched yet sank like a box of tea being thrown into the Boston harbour. Despite the hatchet job done to many films released in the 1980’s, butchered by hacks, then later restored – Blade Runner, Once Upon A Time In America and Heaven’s Gate (debatable) are perfect examples – Scorsese making what appeared to be merely a wacky, zany comedy was deemed unacceptable by critics. True filmmakers indulge themselves as they like within certain limits. Paul Thomas Anderson slipped seamlessly from long, multi-layered/multi-character drama Magnolia to the darkly wacky Punch Drunk Love onto the truly epic There Will Be Blood without vilification.

Obviously expecting a brutal left jab followed by a knockout right hook of a movie like ‘Raging Bull’ or a gunshot film of .44 Magnum proportions that would be used in Africa for killing elephants like Taxi Driver, The King Of Comedy was heckled off the stage like a misunderstood comedian in front of an ignorant, unappreciative audience and was ranked one of the worst films of the year by many respected critics. Over 30 years later it has been reappraised as more than mere wacky high jinks, but as a dark comedy as black as cup of Joe that wouldn’t be out of place on agent Dale Cooper’s table in Twin Peaks.

Way ahead of its time, it pre-empted The X-Factor, American Idol and Britain’s Got Talent (even Cambodia has ‘…Talent’), whereby wannabees, whether talented or not, life’s winners or losers, attempt to make it to the top of the tree with little work or no effort. The 2000/2010’s may have reappraised the band Oasis as overrated, of their time, Beatles rip-offs, Britpop rubbish etc but Oasis earned their stripes in pubs and clubs for years before their 1995 – 1997 zenith. As did many, many others.

Whether you appreciate him or not, Bill Hicks had to die to gain true recognition, whereas instant fame, contracts, wealth and adulation is hoisted upon winners of glorified talent contests that should be reserved for Matthew Kelly’s Stars In Their Eyes or Butlins holiday camp. Truly a nadir for modern culture. With a few notable exceptions, the general system exists to provide instant gratification then the back door to obscurity. Step forward…Joe McElderry! Singing sensation X-Factor winner. Remember him? Nope, me neither really. Although those present at Rage Against The Machine’s free 2010 Finsbury Park gig will always remember him with fondness. in 2011 ITV had a stand up comedy X-Factor. It was not a success. Nevertheless, even the most talentless in society can become Z-list celebrities, get book deals, front covers of magazines, This Morning/Loose Women interviews. God bless Jade Goody’s racist little soul.

Is Rupert Pupkin a king? Or a schmuck? Whether or not, irrespective of circumstances, he always sticks to his motto: “It’s better to be king for a day than a schmuck for a lifetime.”

109 mins.

Record 25 Countries Participate in EFA’s Young Audience Award 2015

2-Aidan-Gillen-and-Lauren-Kinsella_Will-and-StaceThe European Film Academy proudly announces and congratulates the three nominees for the EFA Young Audience Award 2015.

MY SKINNY SISTER
MIN LILLA SYSTER
WRITTEN & DIRECTED BY: Sanna Lenken
PRODUCED BY: Annika Rogell
Sweden/Germany
THE INVISIBLE BOY
IL RAGAZZO INVISIBILE

DIRECTED BY: Gabriele Salvatores
WRITTEN BY: Alessandro Fabbri, Ludovica Rampoldi & Stefano Sardo
PRODUCED BY: Nicola Giuliano, Francesca Cima & Carlotta Calori
Italy
YOU’RE UGLY TOO 
WRITTEN & DIRECTED BY: Mark Noonan
PRODUCED BY: John Keville & Conor Barry
Ireland 

The nominations were chosen by an international committee consisting of Per Eriksson, Swedish Film Institute, Beata Marciniak, New Horizons Association (Poland) and Paola Traversi, Museo Nazionale del Cinema (Italy).

On Young Audience Film Day on 3 May, the three nominated films will be screened to audiences of 12-14-year-olds in the following 25 cities across Europe:

•Aalborg/Denmark
•Amsterdam/the Netherlands
•Athens/Greece
•Barcelona/Spain
•Belgrade/Serbia
•Bratislava/Slovakia
•Budapest/Hungary
•Cluj/Romania
•Erfurt/Germany
•Istanbul/Turkey
•Izola/Slovenia
•Kiev/Ukraine
•London/UK
•Malmö/Sweden
•Prizren/Kosovo
•Riga/Latvia
•Skopje/FYR Macedonia
•Sofia/Bulgaria
•Tallinn/Estonia
•Tbilisi/Georgia
•Tel Aviv/Israel
•Turin/Italy
•Valletta/Malta
•Wroclaw/Poland
•Zagreb/Croatia

And it is the young audience that will act as a jury and vote for the winner right after the screenings. In a truly European vote, jury speakers will then transmit the national results live via video conference to Erfurt (Germany) where the winner will be announced in an award ceremony streamed live here, a special website that offers further information about the nominated films and the participating cities.

This year’s fourth edition of the EFA Young Audience Award with a record 25 participating countries is realised with the following partners: Art Fest (Bulgaria), BFI British Film Institute, BUFF (Sweden), Children KinoFest (Ukraine), Cinematheque Tel Aviv (Israel), Creative Europe Desk Malta&  Culture Directorate Ministry for Justice, Culture and Local Government (Malta), DokuFest (Kosovo), EducaTIFF (Romania), Estonian Film Institute, EYE Film Institute Netherlands, Film Center Serbia, Filmoteca de Catalunya (Spain), German Children’s Media Foundation GOLDEN SPARROW, Hellenic Film Academy (Greece), Hungarian National Film Fund, Macedonian Film Agency, Museo Nazionale del Cinema & Film Commission Torino Piemonte (Italy), National Film Centre of Latvia, New Horizons Association (Poland), NNLE Noosfera Foundation (Georgia), Otok – Institute for the Development of Film Culture (Slovenia), University College Northern Jutland, The Centre for Educational Resources (Denmark), Visegrad Film Forum (Slovakia), Yapimlab & Edge (Turkey) and Zagreb Film Festival (Croatia).

The European Film Academy Young Audience Award is organised and presented by the European Film Academy and EFA Productions with the support of the Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung (MDM). The national Young Audience Film Day events will be organised with the support of the respective national partners.

The DCP production is supported by dcinex, Ymagis Group.

A Trio of Lions for Dance Music and Theatre Sectors of Biennale di Venezia

a36408ffa48de31b1109505e78da83b62b6f589cThe Golden Lions for Lifetime Achievement have been awarded to Belgian dancer and choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker (Dance), to French-Greek composer Georges Aperghis (Music) and to Swiss director Christoph Marthaler (Theatre). The acknowledgments for the three artists were recommended respectively by director Virgilio Sieni for Dance, Ivan Fedele for Music and Alex Rigola for Theatre, and approved by the Board of Directors of the Biennale di Venezia chaired by Paolo Baratta.

A leading figure in Belgian and European dance since the Eighties, to which she brought an original synthesis between formal rigour and pathos embodied in her stunning debut and manifesto piece Rosas danst Rosas, Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, in director Virgilio Sieni’s words, represents “the interface between creation and the processes of transmission”. “Her poetic gesture expressed through the body,” writes Sieni in his motivation, “led to a significant transferral between western cultures towards an understanding of the body in theatre as a medium for experimentation with language. Electing space as the platform of the world, on it she positions the bodies in experimentations that allow us to perceive man as he opens up to new places.

“She has been mindful of the measure and duration of the sonorous body in the individual and the dancer to carry him to the threshold of the world.”

At the Dance Biennale, De Keermaeker had earlier presented Rain (2001), in which her dancers danced under a shower of silver strings immersed in the circular pulsating structure of Music for 18 Musicians by Steve Reich.

A milestone in musical theatre, a genre that he helped to revolutionize through his influence on many young artists, composer Georges Aperghis, according to director Ivan Fedele, “radically reshaped musical practice by bringing into it all the vocal, instrumental, gestural and stage ingredients, treated in an identical manner and transferred from one context into another. Emblematic in this sense are the theatre pieces Récitations and Machinations, based on an imaginary language consisting of virtuoso combinations of phonemes in a rapid-fire composition that is developed through processes of repetition and accumulation. This writing reveals Aperghis’ deep awareness of the social function of art, of how it is destined for an audience that can recognize effective elements within it to reconstruct its form and perceive its poetics through the mechanisms of memory. His works engage the creative participation of the performers who must invent an ambiguous and often amusing imaginary language, which evokes the very origins of language in a fury of enunciation that precedes ‘meaning’.” The Music Biennale has consistently borne witness to the progress of this atypical composer whom it has invited since 1972, the year in which he presented Ascoltare stanca, a piece that is emblematic of his poetics.

An eccentric figure on the European scene for his particular amalgamation of music and theatre, Swiss director Christoph Marthaler has been awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, in the words of director Àlex Rigola, “for his search for a personal language. For his musical accomplishments in productions in which music apparently does not appear. For his sense of humour. An unfailingly intelligent sense of humour that makes it possible to unite tragedy, drama and comedy in a single world. Because he leads us to daydream. For the fantastic creation of unique stage spaces created in collaboration with the ever-present Anna Viebrock, one of the finest set designers in the history of theatre. For his ability to place European society in front of a mirror and let it observe the misery and pettiness of the humanity that distinguishes us and which he narrates so well”.

In the past the acknowledgment for Lifetime Achievement for Dance has been awarded to Merce Cunningham (1995), Carolyn Carlson (2006), Pina Bausch (2007), Jirí Kylián (2008), William Forsythe (2010), Sylvie Guillem (2012), Steve Paxton (2014); the acknowledgment for Lifetime Achievement for Theatre has been awarded to Ferruccio Soleri (2006), Ariane Mnouschkine (2007), Roger Assaf (2008), Irene Papas (2009), Thomas Ostermeier (2011), Luca Ronconi (2012), Romeo Castellucci (2013), Jan Lauwers (2014); the acknowledgment for Lifetime Achievement for Music has been awarded to Goffredo Petrassi (1994), Luciano Berio (1995), Friedrich Cerha (2006), Giacomo Manzoni (2007), Helmut Lachenmann (2008), György Kurtág (2009), Wolfgang Rihm (2010), Peter Eötvös (2011), Pierre Boulez (2012), Sofia Gubaidulina (2013), Steve Reich (2014).

Offscreen 2015-Picturenose Reader Giveaway

texas_chainsaw_05The eighth edition of the Offscreen Film Festival will start on Wednesday 4 March in Brussels. This annual event for lovers of exceptional cinema and cult films is held at four locations in Brussels: Cinema Nova, Cinematek, Bozar and Cinema Rits. From 4 to 22 March, the festival offers three weeks of cinematic wonders, with a selection of the most exciting new films and a vast collection of cult classics, and the guest of honour of this year’s festival is the legendary director Tobe Hooper.

And, of course, Picturenose is in on the act – we haven’t let you down before, now have we? Thanks to our friends at Offscreen, we have 60 (count ’em) tickets (two pairs of tickets for each film) to give away, giving you the chance to see any of 15 films from the festival’s remarkable line-up.

All you have to do is choose your film from those listed below, and send an email with Offscreen Giveaway in the subject line to james@picturenose.com. Remember to include your name, choice of film, address and a daytime ‘phone number with your email – it’s first-come first-served, so good luck and enjoy the festival!

Thursday 05.03    20h    Cinema Nova    Honeymoon 
22:00    Cinema Nova    Cobra 
Friday 06.03   Midnight    Cinema Nova    Exterminator 2 
Sunday 08.03    20h    Cinema Nova    The Creeping Garden 
Thursday 12.03    21h30    Cinematek    Salem’s Lot 
Thursday 12.03    22h    Cinema Nova    The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) 
Friday 13.03    20h    Cinema Nova    Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films 
Saturday 14.03    18h    Cinema Nova    Death Wish III 
22h    Cinema Nova    Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 
Sunday 15.03    22h    Cinema Nova    Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) 
Wednesday 18.03    21h30    Cinematek    10 To Midnight 
Saturday 21.03    18h    Cinema Nova    Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People 
Sunday 22.03    14h    Cinema Nova    Matinee: King Solomon’s Mines 
17h    Cinema Nova    Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji 
17h    Cinematek    The Mangler