Capital Celluloid 2023 — Day 354: Thu Dec 21

Meet Me in St Louis (Minnelli, 1944): BFI Southbank, NFT1, 6.10pm

This classic Christmas film is also being screened, on December 20th and 23rd at BFI Southbank. You can find all the details here.

There are numerous articles and features on this film, including an excellent one by Richard Dyer in the January 2012 edition of Sight & Sound. Dyer refers to work by Andrew Britton on the film which has been reproduced in the recent publication of his complete film criticism and by Robin Wood in his collection Personal Views. Both are well worth seeking out.

And here is an excellent piece by the Guardian's John Patterson on Minnelli to coincide with a previous re-release of today's film. 

Time Out review: 

In 1939, rosy-cheeked chanteuse Judy Garland trumpeted the cosy, all-American proverb that ‘there’s no place like home’ in ‘The Wizard of Oz’. She returned five years later to reaffirm those beliefs in Vincente Minnelli’s musical masterpiece, ‘Meet Me in St Louis’, a Technicolor ode to the joys and tensions of living side-by-side with your fellow man. In a snow globe rendering of St Louis, Missouri circa 1903, the affluent Smith clan must face the prospect of ripping up their ancestral roots to chase future fortunes. The film has only a whisper of a plot, preferring to amass the simple pleasures of life (flirting with neighbours, riding the trolley, Christmas with the folks) into a single romantic vision of a perfect society. Framed as a sepia-tinted postcard come to life, Minnelli’s panoramic city symphony examines the meanings of nostalgia and memory while offering a sweetly ironic depiction of Middle American conservatism where sex is taboo, dinner is at six, money is evil and father knows best. A heavenly slice of brassy Hollywood romanticism that’ll still have you swooning all the way to the trolley stop.
David Jenkins

Here (and above) is the trailer.

Capital Celluloid 2023 — Day 353: Wed Dec 20

Lazybones (Powell, 1935) + Her Last Affaire (Powell, 1936):
BFI Southbank, Studio, 5.50pm

This presentation is part of the Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger season at BFI Southbank. There is a further screenings of this double-bill on December 2nd. You can find the details here.

BFI introduction to Lazybones:
The lazybones of Powell’s amiable comedy is idle, penniless aristocrat Sir ‘Reggie’ Ford, who is shaken into a more productive existence when a criminal plot forces him to prove his worth to his American heiress wife. Shot after-hours with a cast hot-footing it from the West End, it betrays its stage origins, but Powell sprinkles it all with flashes of invention.


BFI introduction to Her Last Affaire:
Powell’s adaptation of Walter Ellis’s successful West End play S.O.S. was the most prestigious production he had made to date. A ‘society drama’ involving suspicion, clandestine romance and presumed murder, its cast of accomplished stage actors are nonetheless entirely upstaged by the glorious comic double-act of Googie Withers as mischievous maid Effie, and John Laurie as her pious, disapproving employer.

Capital Celluloid 2023 — Day 352: Tue Dec 19

Distant Thunder (Ray, 1973): BFI Southbank, NFT1, 6pm

This 4K presentation is part of the Restored strand at BFI Southbank (details here).

BFI review:
Satyajit Ray had been planning to make a film about the Bengal famine of 1943 to 1944 for some years when he finally returned to the village landscapes he’d left behind with Three Daughters. A man-made catastrophe exacerbated by war and natural disasters, the famine decimated rural agriculture, leading to the death of some five million people. Adapted by Ray from the contemporaneous novel by Bibhutibhusan Banerjee, Distant Thunder examines the causes of the cataclysm. Shooting in vibrant colour, Ray fielded accusations that he’d glamourised or aestheticised the famine, and while it’s true that cinematographer Soumendu Roy captures the lushness of the natural world in vibrant detail, its disharmony with man speaks to the film’s bitter critical ironies. Although Distant Thunder took the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, otherwise it seems Ray couldn’t win. Local critics found it insufficiently anguished, while western writers saw only unsubtle melodrama. It’s a powerful examination of human failure, but charges of universality do Ray – and his subject – a disservice. “From the first moment of any Ray film,” read The Times review, “the spectator forgets the racial and cultural difference of the characters and sees only human beings.” As biographer Andrew Robinson has noted, however, that’s a misleading charge, however well-intentioned, for such an explicit – and specific – examination of caste tensions.
Matthew Thrift

Here (and above) is the trailer.


Capital Celluloid 2023 — Day 351: Mon Dec 18

The Great Escape (Sturges, 1963): Prince Charles Cinema, 8.15pm

This film, part of the Christmas season at the Prince Charles Cinema, is also being screened on December 12th. You can fiund the full details here.

Time Out review:
Uneven but entertaining World War II escape drama, which even when it first appeared seemed very old-fashioned. Based on Paul Brickhill's factual account of the efforts of Allied prisoners to break out of Stalag Luft North, it contains memorable sequences and a sea of well-known faces. Steve McQueen comes off best as 'The Cooler King'; Charles Bronson and James Garner (perhaps surprisingly) give good support; James Coburn is totally miscast as an Australian, yet turns in an amusing performance. Worth seeing the last half hour, if nothing else, for one of the best stunt sequences in years: McQueen's motor-cycle bid for freedom.
Chris Peachment

Here (and above) is the trailer.

Capital Celluloid 2023 — Day 350: Sun Dec 17

Cash on Demand (Lawrence, 1961) & The Silent Partner (Duke, 1978): Cinema Museum, 6pm

Cinema Museum introduction:
Lost Reels continues its series of celluloid double bills with the pairing of two very different, but strangely similar, Christmas bank robbery thrillers. Christmas Crackers continues Lost Reels’ series of celluloid classics, curios and forgotten gems with two Christmas bank heist thrillers. Quentin Lawrence’s Cash on Demand (1961) is at once a nail-biting suspense drama, a sly take on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and one of the best British ‘B’ movies ever made; The Silent Partner (1978) is a clever, dark, and sometimes brutal cat-and-mouse thriller scripted by Curtis Hansen; a modern-day noir delivering a bottomless Santa’s sack of surprises.

Here (and above) is the trailer.

Capital Celluloid 2023 — Day 349: Sat Dec 16

They're a Weird Mob (Powell, 1966): BFI Southbank, NFT3, 5.45pm

This 35mm presentation is part of the Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger season at BFI Southbank. There is a further screenings of the movie on December 29th. You can find the details here.

Time Out review:
The first of Michael Powell's Australian ventures, a very bizarre comedy about the prejudicial problems that face a young Italian who emigrates to Sydney. There are many delightful moments of almost Hitchcockian humour centred around social embarrassment (how to eat a meringue without making a mess), and pleasing parodies of movie styles (epic Eisensteinian expressionism at a building site). Hardly a great film, but an exhilarating and playful demolition of nationalist stereotypes.

Here (and above) is the trailer.

Capital Celluloid 2023 — Day 348: Fri Dec 15

Bluebeard's Castle (Powell, 1963): BFI Southbank, NFT3, 6.10pm

This film is part of the Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger season at BFI Southbank and features an introduction by writer Lillian Crawford. There are further screenings of the movie on December 8th and 23rd. You can find full details here.

Chicago Reader review:
After the hostile reception to his 1960 masterpiece Peeping Tom, Michael Powell was virtually banished from English cinema, and most of his remaining oeuvre is a scattered assortment of TV commissions and Australian features. Made in 1963 for West German TV, this rarely seen one-hour adaptation of Béla Bartók’s only opera, based on a libretto by Béla Balázs (later known as a film theorist and as screenwriter of Leni Riefenstahl’s first feature), is a particular standout, especially for its vivid colors and semiabstract, neoprimitive decor (by Hein Heckroth, who also designed the sets for The Red Shoes and The Tales of Hoffman). The two performers are producer Norman Foster (not to be confused with the Hollywood actor and director) in the title role and Anna Raquel Satre as Bluebeard’s doomed wife, Judith. In accordance with Powell’s wishes, the English subtitles briefly describe and clarify the action but don’t translate the text.
Jonathan Rosenbaum

Here (and above) is an extract.

Capital Celluloid 2023 — Day 347: Thu Dec 14

Odds Against Tomorrow (Wise, 1959): BFI Southbank, NFT1, 8.45pm

This 35mm presentation, also screening on December 2nd, is part of the Harry Belafonte season at BFI Southbank. Full details here.

BFI introduction:
Harry Belafonte shines as a mercurial gambler uncertain of bourgeois respectability, indebted to loan-sharks, who threaten his job as a nightclub singer. From the streets of Manhattan to a tense climax in small-town Pennsylvania, this is a neglected noir masterpiece. Belafonte and Robert Wise both claimed this film was the most enjoyable of their storied careers. This story is grounded in its commentary on Jim Crow racism and the trauma of veterans from the Second World War and the possibility of nuclear annihilation. The pulsating score is by jazz doyen John Lewis and performed by the Modern Jazz Quartet.

Here (and above) is the trailer.

Capital Celluloid 2023 — Day 346: Wed Dec 13

Dial Code Santa Claus [aka Deadly Games] (Manzor, 1989): Prince Charles Cinema, 6pm

This is a Movies are Dead presentation.

Filmhounds review:
3615 code Père Noël
, aka Deadly Games, aka Dial Code Santa Claus, aka Hide and Freak, aka Game Over. The many named horror thriller about a boy genius vs a psychotic Santa Claus who play cat and mouse in a mansion gained cult status after its brief 1990 release in France. Seeing is believing in this case. You need to see it to understand the sheer insanity and absurdity of the entire film, let alone what was the Santa's actual motive. Plus, when you hear the husky tones of Bonnie Tyler singing ‘Merry Christmas' repeatedly, you know you're in for a very bizarre film indeed. The film follows Thomas, child prodigy, confined to his home on Christmas Eve with his invalid Grandpa and his beloved dog while his mother manages a local department store on. While trying to contact Santa Claus with his high-tech equipment his messages are intercepted by a deranged vagrant who then claims to be the real Santa Claus. He manages to find out where the boy lives and proceeds to terrorise the boy, while Thomas sets traps to try and capture the man, he believes is the real Santa Claus sent to punish him.
Katie Hogan

Here (and above) is the trailer.

Capital Celluloid 2023 — Day 345: Tue Dec 12

20,000 Years in Sing Sing (Curtiz, 1932) & Manhattan Melodrama (WS Dyke, 1934):
ICA Cinema, 6.45pm

This is the second night in the exciting 'Last Movies' season at the ICA Cinema. Full details of all the screenings in the five-month long repertoire can be found here.

Last Movies remaps the first century of cinema according to what a selection of its key cultural icons saw just before dying. Conceived and created by Stanley Schtinter to enable an audience ‘to see what those who see no longer saw last,’ the ICA hosts a five-month programme to coincide with the publication of his book of the same title, described by Alan Moore as ‘Profound and riveting . . . a remarkable achievement,’ and by Laura Mulvey as ‘deeply thought-provoking.’

According to Erika Balsom, Last Movies ‘abandons all those calcified criteria most frequently used to organise cinema programmes ... period, nation, genre, director, star, theme: nothing internal to these films motivates their inclusion, their ‘quality’ least of all ... Last Movies embraces chance.’

In this second event in the series, Schtinter is joined in conversation by filmmaker and novelist Chris Petit to discuss the themes of liberty and decline, following a double-bill screening of the pre-Code Hollywood films, 20,000 Years in Sing Sing and Manhattan Melodrama.

American career-criminal John Dillinger was murdered in a panic of police bullets as he left the Biograph Theater in Chicago, having just watched his favourite actor Clark Gable (Fassbinder’s favourite actor too), in Manhattan Melodrama. Fassbinder was found lifeless by his editor Juliane Lorenz, having just watched 20,000 Years in Sing Sing in bed. Though officially unconnected, both films celebrate protagonists bound by the same fate: the electric chair at Sing Sing prison.

Time Out review of 20,000 Years in Sing Sing:
James Cagney was Warners' first choice for Tommy Connors, the 'tough bird' who eventually goes to the electric chair with a touch of cool resignation. Spencer Tracy, however, is suitably gritty in this taut but somewhat implausible moral drama which puts its protagonist through riots, solitary confinement and an escape before he realises that the warden (Arthur Byron) is a 'swell guy' deserving his trust. Connors' girl Bette Davis rather overdoes the acid tongue, but the quasi-documentary scenes of prison life are compelling. Based on a book by Sing Sing's liberal warden Lewis E Lawes who believed in rewarding good behaviour and facilitated location shooting inside the walls of the New York prison.
Trevor Johnston

Time Out review of Manhattan Melodrama:
The last movie John Dillinger ever saw (he was fingered by the lady in red and shot as he left the cinema), this is an archetypal gangster movie of the period, a product of the moral backlash instigated by Hoover and the Hays Office in response to the dangerous ambivalence of Little Caesar and its ilk. Clark Gable (who was said to resemble Dillinger) is a thoroughly affable kind of gangster - not averse to a little wager, but essentially a good type who stumbled on to the wrong track when he was a lad (played by Mickey Rooney). William Powell is his old pal from those bygone days, now a district attorney. Clark doesn't think twice about putting his life on the line if it will help Bill get elected governor. This Oscar-winning scenario inspired a hail of imitators over the next five years, and was thoughtfully resurrected by John Gregory Dunne in his novel True Confessions.
Tom Charity

Here (and above) is the trailer for 20,000 Years in Sing Sing.

Capital Celluloid 2023 — Day 344: Mon Dec 11

Master and Commander (Weir, 2003): Prince Charles Cinema, 8.45pm

This 35mm presentation from Animus magazine will feature an introduction by Elena Lazic. The film also screens on December 8th and 21st. Details here.

Time Out review:
'Off tacks and main sheet!' commands Russell Crowe's pony-tailed, gimlet-eyed Royal Navy captain, 'Lucky' Jack Aubrey, in Peter Weir's rousing 1805 adventure, adapted from two of Patrick O'Brian's much-admired seafaring novels. Aubrey's three-masted frigate HMS Surprise, cruising the coast of Brazil on the lookout for Napoleon's allies, comes under splintering fire from the fleeter French privateer Acheron and lifts off in the fog. The sailing master (Robert Pugh) counsels caution, but the standfast Aubrey, who fought with Nelson on the Nile, will have his man, whatever the odds, come hell or high water. Thanks in no small measure to Perfect Storm designer William Sandell, this handsomely mounted actioner exudes the authentic tang of salt, sweat and gunpowder. Cameraman Russell Boyd gives painterly expression to the ship's 'little world' and, as in Gallipoli, Weir shows his adroitness at action and the psychology of men at war, helped by a string of sterling performances, notably Bettany's Darwin-esque doctor (Aubrey's friend, cello partner and obverse) and young Pirkis as a heroic aristocratic midshipman. Nice too to hear English accents in a major US production, especially Crowe's clipped tones, and a well used classically oriented score stripped of bombast. If there's a problem, it's the insistence on the warrior/man-of-science dichotomy, which has the film meander off on a naturalist jaunt through the Galapagos to tension-slackening effect. But in the main, a fine old-fashioned Boy's Own yarn.
Wally Hammond

Here (and above) is the trailer.

Capital Celluloid 2023 — Day 343: Sun Dec 10

The Small Back Room (Powell, 1949): BFI Southbank, NFT2, 6.30pm

This film, on an extended run at BFI Southbank, is a new BFI National Archive restoration for the most underrated film in the Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger canon. It runs as part of the film makers' season at the cinema - full details here

Chicago Reader review:
Cut to ribbons by its original American distributor, this 1949 film remains the most elusive of Michael Powell's mature works. David Farrar stars as a crippled, alcoholic bomb expert who tries to solve the secret of a new Nazi device—small bombs made to look like toys that explode when children pick them up. With Kathleen Byron, memorable as the mad nun of Powell's Black Narcissus, and Jack Hawkins, Anthony Bushell, and Michael Gough.
Dave Kehr

Here (and above) is the trailer.

Capital Celluloid 2023 — Day 342: Sat Dec 9

Intimacies (Hamaguchi, 2012): ICA Cinema, 12.10pm

This is part of the Stage Projections season (details here) at the ICA Cinema. Stage Projections presents a programme of films about the creation of theatre, celebrating the art of performance and communal creative practices. Each screening focuses on a different aspect of theatre creation, and will be accompanied by introductions, essays and a workshop.

Ryusuke Hamaguchi's rarely screened Intimacies was conceived while the director was teaching at ENBU Seminar. This little seen work is presented in a three-parts combining elements of fiction and documentary. Observational techniques detail the pitfalls and tensions that arise during a production then, the play is shown in its entirety. The screening will be accompanied by a commissioned essay by Iana Murray on the role of theatre in Hamaguchi’s films.

Harvard Film Archive review:
Hamaguchi’s first exploration of extreme duration is a fascinating three-part epic following the difficult production and realization of a stage play. Conceived while Hamaguchi was teaching at the ENBU film and theater school, and featuring an ensemble cast of ENBU students and colleagues, 
Intimacies blends fiction and documentary, the cinematic and theatrical, in its observational chronicle of the challenging tensions that animate yet also threaten to upend the production.

Here (and above) is the trailer.

Capital Celluloid 2023 — Day 341: Fri Dec 8

You, The Living (Andersson, 2007): Cinema Museum, 7.30pm

This 35mm presentation, as part of the Painted Skies season, includes an introduction by season curator Bruno Savill De Jong

Painted Skies is a film season celebrating fake backgrounds, spotlighting films with innovative set design that reminds us of their artificiality. This season was curated by Bruno Savill De Jong as part of the National Film and Television School (NFTS). Find more info at their website for Painted Skies and follow them on Instagram (@paintedsky_films) and Twitter (@paintedskyfilm).

Chicago Reader:
“Keaton-esque” hardly begins to describe this brutally deadpan comedy by Swedish director Roy Andersson (Songs From the Second Floor), who seems to have translated the entire range of human misery into a loosely connected series of slapstick gags. His black humor is impressively layered, each layer darker than the last: when a joker at a family banquet insists on performing that old parlor trick of yanking the tablecloth out from under the dishes, he not only shatters a huge collection of crystal and china but also exposes a vintage dining table inlaid with swastikas. Andersson’s building block is a static long shot so solidly composed it suggests a panel in a comic strip; the central figure is often encased in his own suffering, and sometimes additional laughs come from a background figure surveying his despair in openmouthed bewilderment. I laughed so hard I hurt—or was it the other way around.
JR Jones

Here (and above) is the trailer.

Capital Celluloid 2023 — Day 340: Thu Dec 7

Peeping Tom (Powell, 1960: BFI Southbank, NFT1, 8.45p

This brilliant and disturbing film, which will feature an introduction, is part of the Powell & Pressburger season. Full details here.

Chicago Reader review:
Michael Powell's suppressed masterpiece, made in 1960 but sparsely shown in the U.S. with its ferocity and compassion intact. The German actor Carl Boehm plays a shy, sensitive British boy (Powell doesn't try to cover his accent, which is typical of the film's deliberate sacrifice of realism for effect) who loves movies with all his heart and soul because he knows what they're really about—sex and death. This seductive, brightly colored thriller isn't about the “problem” of voyeurism as much as the sub-rosa fascinations of the cinema. It's an understanding and at times even celebratory film—attitudes that scandalized critics years ago and are still pretty potent today. The uniformly excellent cast includes Anna Massey, Moira Shearer (the ballerina of Powell’s The Red Shoes), and Maxine Audley.
Dave Kehr

Here (and above) is this brilliant trailer.

Capital Celluloid 2023 — Day 339: Wed Dec 6

The Phantom Light (Powell, 1935): BFI Southbank, NFT2, 8.30pm

This film, part of the Powell and Pressburger season at BFI Southbank, also screens on December 17th. Full details can be found here.

Time Out review:
A creaky stage play is transformed by Powell into a cheap but splendidly atmospheric comedy thriller. Gordon Harker stars as a Cockney lighthouse-keeper who, with the aid of an insurance investigator (Binnie Hale) and a naval officer (Ian Hunter), sees off a gang of wreckers intent on no good. The leader of the wreckers is one 'Dr Carey', the setting is Wales, and the climactic confrontation is intercut with a ship heading for the rocks. Any party, even the Welsh Nationalists, could interpret this allegory to their own ends.
Tom Charity

Here (and above) is an extract.

Capital Celluloid 2023 — Day 338: Tue Dec 5

The End of the River (Twist, 1947): BFI Southbank, NFT3, 6.20pm

This is a 35mm screening in trhe Projecting the Archive strand with an introduction by film scholar Dr Kulraj Phullar.

BFI introduction:
‘Who is guilty, the twig or the current?’ asks a courtroom lawyer, making a plea for clemency for a native Brazilian (played by Indian star Sabu) who fate has led from his jungle village to a murder trial. Produced by Powell and Pressburger, and directed by Powell’s one-time editor Derek Twist, the presented-in-flashback drama was released soon after Black Narcissus, but replaces its studio-created exoticism with black and white location footage shot by Archers-regular Christopher Challis.
James Bell

Here (and above) is an extract.

Capital Celluloid 2023 — Day 337: Mon Dec 4

Wanted for Murder (Huntington, 1946): BFI Southbank, NFT3, 8.40pm

A serial killer stalks post-war London in this underseen noir, co-written by Emeric Pressburger. The nfilm will be introduced by Simon McCallum.

BFI introduction:
London, 1945: a strangler is on the loose, roaming the hot summer nights from Hampstead Heath to Regent’s Park. Eric Portman is on frighteningly icy form as a businessman ‘possessed’ by the evil spirit of his father, a notorious Victorian hangman immortalised in Madame Tussauds. Co-written by Emeric Pressburger in 1938 and belatedly shot at Welwyn Studios, with vibrant location scenes offering glimpses of a capital resuming normal life, this post-war British psycho-noir is executed with considerable panache.

Here (and above) is the trailer.

Capital Celluloid 2023 — Day 336: Sun Dec 3

Park Row (Fuller, 1982): Cinema Museum, 7.30pm

This is a 35m presentation from the Badlands Collective.

Chicago Reader review: This neglected Samuel Fuller feature from 1952, a giddy look at New York journalism in the 1880s, was his personal favorite—he financed it himself and lost every penny. A principled cigar smoker (Gene Evans) becomes the hard-hitting editor of a new Manhattan daily, where he competes with his former employer (Mary Welch) in a grudge match loaded with sexual undertones; meanwhile a man jumps off the Brooklyn Bridge trying to become famous, the Statue of Liberty is given to the U.S. by France, and a newspaper drive raises money for its pedestal. Enthusiasm flows into every nook and cranny of this cozy movie: when violence breaks out in the cramped-looking set of the title street, the camera weaves in and out of the buildings as through they were a sports arena, in a single take. “Park Row” is repeated incessantly like a crazy mantra, and the overall fervor of this vest-pocket Citizen Kane makes journalism sound like the most exciting activity in the world. Jonathan Rosenbaum

Here (and above) is the trailer.