This is a collection of thoughts on screeners I’ve received that I’ve not been able to talk about on the main show due to us being on hiatus. Enjoy NF.
(Dir. Alexandre O. Philippe, Dogwoof)
Cinemas: 30/8, On Demand/DVD: 2/9
I’m not a fan of director Ridley Scott, I feel like he is a filmmaker who has wasted his talent and privilege on a slew of middling and often downright bad movies during a long career with only 2 genuine masterpieces and some really good efforts to show. There’s no denying, for me, that Alien (Scott, 1979) is one of them and there’s no denying also the place it holds in the contemporary cinema consciousness. I watched this documentary that uses the screenwriter and creator Dan O’Bannon as its anchor point with interest. Part curiosity, part wanting to have a bit of a sneer/hate watch.
It mostly fulfils the first desire, while thankfully never kick-starting the latter. When it doesn’t work for me, and that’s quite a lot, it’s more to do with the filmmakers elevating elements of its critique and the filmmakers and authors’ supposed meaning to untenable levels that come off more like the doc about The Shining (Kubrick, 1980), Room 237 (Ascher, 2012) than I think the filmmaker here would like - wasps is all I say for now.. The other way it doesn’t quite land is that it’s not sure whether to go whole hog and be a film about Dan O’Bannon or Alien and so falls somewhere between the two. However, because the film is so good and the stories behind its making are so good, there’s enough to sustain it. Memory creates a triangle between Alien and John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), and Dark Star (1974) in a clever way that allows all three to retain their individual power but also makes the connections between them undeniable. It also highlights how Lovecraftian the film is (a hoot, because of my current involvement in the world of Lovecraft through my short film adaptation) and the influence of Francis Bacon and Robert Altman among others. It punctures the idea of Scott as an original filmmaker through its construction of the film as a series of responses to other texts but also reminds of Scott’s talent for taking so many disparate ideas and influences and making something new. It shows again what a singular talent he had for seeing things that would ‘work’. Just a shame he deployed that skill so rarely.
(Dir. Larry Peerce, Eureka Classics )
Dual Format: 12/8
This is a grimy movie. It opens in a dim pool hall and it’s not just that element that makes me think of Mean Streets (Scorsese, 1973). There’s an electric edge to the two young hoodlums that kick off proceedings with a sickening pre-credit mugging that is genuinely unsettling in its nastiness. The tone is set. The film is set on a subway train hurtling downtown in the middle of the night where are a group of disparate couples and pairs are about to endure a nightmare night at the hands of the hoodlums (a young Martin Sheen and Tony Musante). The subway car is a theatrical set for a deep, moral drama to play out. Familiar faces such as Thelma Ritter and Jack Gilford, Ruby Dee and Brock Peters, and Beau Bridges are among those provoked and bullied for the young hoods’ amusement. It’s incredibly shot and edited, creating a really dark cinematic flavour that elevates the film from mere stage-play on screen levels. If the narrative gets a bit baggy and convoluted and on-the-nose the storytelling never does. It’s thrillingly imaginative. Well worth seeking out.
(Dir. Fred Schepisi, Masters of Cinema)
Dual Format: 19/8
Gotta admit, found this a slog. I think this is largely due to still having the sublime Sweet Country (Thornton, 2017) seared into my brain having covered it for the previous season finale back in Spring. This is a much more classical film, one that I didn’t think had aged well. It has an intended matter of fact approach to laying out the litany of wrongs and abuses suffered by the mixed-race protagonist of the title in an important film about a key moment of Australian history. However, once the pot boils over (and before in some cases) and Jimmie breaks, lashing out viciously and going on the run the film’s, mostly unconscious if being kind, biases and true feelings come to the fore and it makes for a simplistic rendering of what is clearly a complicated story. There are some great scenes and director Fred Schepisi (Roxanne, 1987, Six Degrees of Separation, 1993 and Last Orders, 2001) knows mostly how to string it all together. Earnest and Classical. Not bad, just, of it’s time maybe
(Dir. Fred Zinnemann, Masters of Cinema)
Limited Edition Blu-ray: 16/9.
So, so, so good. It’s strange to think of a film as well known, as iconic and embedded in filmic consciousness, as High Noon as underrated but rewatching this gorgeous new transfer it certainly felt that way. Or, at the very least, taken for granted. It’s a masterpiece of screenwriting and incidental design. Clocks, obviously, and you don’t need Christian Marclay to make that clear. Also though, the declaration of war framed on the wall, using the back of a wanted poster to write a ‘back in 5 minutes sign’. The details in every frame and every moment of this movie are exquisite. The performances to a person are bang on. Every screenwriter, emergent or established, should watch and rewatch to see how tension is built, how plot is delivered, how theme is layered and how the murkiness and messiness of morality can wrap themselves around story beats to create something truly profound. It’s lean, tight, masterful. At the time it was considered a mouthpiece lambasting the McCarthy witch hunts, and in 2019 it shouts loudly at other similarly draconian targets and Gary Cooper’s Marshal Will Kane still stands tall as one of cinema’s brightest beacons of hope and light. Devastatingly good and a film that should be in every cinephile’s collection.
I don’t often say things like that last line and I don’t really believe it. But, High Noon caught me off guard with its greatness and made my hyperbolic. It’s been a fascinating summer of film watching as you can see. A broad array of releases I had the privilege of seeing and engaging with. Thank you to Debbie at AIM Publicity and Steve at Eureka for furnishing me with access. I just wanted to write about them. It’s nice having this outlet to do so, I’m very privileged. Speak to you all soon when The Cinematologists resumes later this month.