Robert’s blog

Welcome to my blog

Lewes Community Screen Chair of Trustees Robert Senior has held a lifelong passion for film, which he shares here in his blog. Robert will be reviewing some of the films we have coming up at Depot.

Dune

Published 23 November 2021

THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY

The Lord of the Rings trilogy took the world by storm when the first film, The Fellowship of the Ring, was released in 2001. These hugely ambitious movies were the work of the New Zealand director Peter Jackson who juxtaposed the capabilities of a state of the art special effects studio with breathtaking vistas of the New Zealand landscape. It takes a while for these elements to fuse but when they do the result is a stunning cinematic vision.

Based on the famous novel by J R R Tolkien the films are classic storytelling in the fantasy genre, with a rich collection of characters and wonderful set pieces. Jackson’s use of scale, the superb artistic visuals, the haunting music score and the rousing battle scenes are all simply out of this world. Together the three films were nominated for 30 Oscars, with the final film, Return of the King winning 11. All three films are regarded by the IMDB poll as among the top 15 movies ever made and set the bar so high that few films like this have been made since. It is impossible to imagine Game of Thrones without its inspiration.

The Lord of the Rings

Depot is presenting the extended versions of the three films, which have rarely been shown in British cinemas. They have many additional scenes, with the final film, Return of the King, now running at over 4 hours. Depot will present 4K versions of the films with intermissions.   The trilogy starts on December 27th with two further screenings on Sundays in January.

WEST SIDE STORY

West Side Story originated as a highly successful Broadway musical which opened in 1957. It re-imagined Romeo and Juliet as a story of warring gangs in Manhattan’s Upper West Side in the 1950s. The score by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim is widely regarded as the best ever written for a Hollywood musical. The play was directed by the American choreographer Jerome Robbins, who also directed the masterful dance sequences in the movie.

The 1961 movie was filmed largely in sound stages to create a theatrical look and went on to win a slew of Oscars. Now Steven Spielberg has made a new version which looks to widen out the scope into actual film locations. He has also brought in his long term artistic partner Tony Kushner, who wrote Lincoln and the acclaimed play Angels in America, to write a new screenplay.

The presence of Spielberg and Kushner perpetuates the Jewish/gay angle on the production (Kushner is a prominent gay activist). Bernstein, Sondheim and Robbins (along with Arthur Laurents, who wrote the stage play) were all Jewish immigrants and closeted gays at a time when homosexuality was still illegal in the United States.

But the story also explores street tensions and violence among the young, especially between whites and Hispanics. It’s the big Christmas film and should be a terrific holiday movie.

West Side Story (2021)

Earlier blogs

Click a post title to read one of Robert’s past blog entries.

Dune - 8 November 2021
DUNE (DENIS VILLENEUVE, 2021)

The French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve has emerged as a leading director of Hollywood movies, and in recent years has focused on large-scale science-fiction films such as the critically acclaimed Arrival (2016) and the flawed but technically accomplished sequel, Blade Runner 2049 (2017). Like Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan and, of course, Stanley Kubrick, he brings a rare intelligence to the science-fiction genre.

But my favourite Villeneuve movies are in fact the nihilistic and exciting drugs thriller Sicario (2015) and his earlier French language film from 2010, Incendies, a complex mystery set in the Middle East with a powerful and disturbing denouement. His arthouse credentials set the director up nicely to approach blockbusters in a different way and he would seem the obvious choice to take on a new film version of Dune.

Regarded as one of the best science-fiction novels ever written Frank Herbert’s Dune was published in 1965. Like Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia film makers have the challenge of imagining and condensing complex narratives laced with fantasy elements : they have to create a believable visual world.

Dune, of course, has a history. A film version was planned in the early 1970s by the surrealist Mexican director Alejandro Jodorowsky, with H.R. Giger (of Alien fame), Dan O’ Bannon, Pink Floyd, Salvador Dali, Mick Jagger and Orson Welles all signed up before the studio got cold feet and pulled the plug (a fascinating documentary, Jodorowsky’s Dune was release in 2013).

It was eventually made into a movie in 1982 by the highly admired director David Lynch but it flopped both critically and commercially. I think Lynch, who specialised in psychologically complex neo-noir, was out of his depth in this type of movie.

But now we have Villeneuve’s Dune, and this new version will appeal instantly to people who love the book, as it is a highly faithful adaptation. The rest of us might struggle a bit with the story telling, with flashbacks and forwards and dream sequences which become tiresome and confusing, but not the filmmaking which is literally out of this world. One would expect a slew of Oscars for the brilliant soundscape, stunning visuals and breathtaking production design. I think a new franchise has been born, there were after all five sequels to the book.

NO TIME TO DIE (Cary Joji Fukunaga, 2021) - 13 October 2021

 

It was probably Alfred Hitchcock who invented the escapist thriller with the Thirty Nine Steps in 1935, and he successfully repeated the formula with North by North West, made only three years  before the first Bond movie, Dr No, released in 1962. I saw it when I was ten and it blew me away. The books were launched in the 1950s with the first, Casino Royale, published in 1953. Casino Royale and From Russia With Love are considered the best and were made into two of the best movies.

I approach a new Bond film with a certain trepidation. Will it be any good ? The franchise has lost its way in the past, as it did in the Roger Moore years. The Pierce Brosnan series were sort of okay, but it took Casino Royale (Martin Campbell, 2006) to return to the quality of the originals, which featured the great Sean Connery, wonderful Ken Adam sets, and that powerful John Barry music, a devil may care flamboyance.

For a long time my favourite Bond was Goldfinger, the third in the franchise and released in 1964. It had all the classic ingredients – good villains, loads of camp, the Aston Martin, a great heroine (Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore), classic fight scenes. It was all outrageously sexist, which makes it difficult viewing now, although recent Bonds have not completely abandoned the sexual seductions and sadistic violence.

Amazing now to think that there were such a hue and cry about the casting of Daniel Craig, who has probably come closest to the original character in the books, snobbish and difficult, often dour.

Of the Daniel Craig era the first film, Casino Royale, may well be the best. But I have a particular liking for the underrated Quantum of Solace (Marc Foster, 2008), which has a tightly edited narrative and some great set pieces, including some wonderful visual juxtaposition. I thought Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012) was a bit overblown, digging too far into a character who is at his best when distant and enigmatic. Spectre (2015, the second by Sam Mendes) seemed under ambitious and formulaic.

Now we have No Time to Die, and its troubled production history, which began when Danny Boyle was kicked off as director and replaced by Cary Joji Fukunaga, best known for Beasts of No Nation  (2015) and the admired television series True Detective. He got the film in The can by early 2020 but then Covid happened and it has waited almost two years for a cinema release.

It is worth the wait. Fukunaga has made one of the best of the franchise. It is wonderfully realised, thrilling, clever, knowing and an ultimately audacious movie. Yes, one could clip it down a bit, but it’s so enjoyable there seems no need. And what I really like is that it digs deeply into the history of Bond, referencing locations, incidents, memorabilia, and past characters and actors. But film fans will also spot links to Operation Crossbow (Michael Anderson, 1965) and Aliens (Ridley Scott, 1986), two major productions also filmed at Pinewood Studios where technical expertise has always been world class.

The most direct reference is to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the film made in 1969 after Connery left the series and bringing emotional heft to several important relationships in Bond’s life. The strangely prescient plot is Bond escapism at its best and Daniel Craig has finally thrown off the shackles of Sean Connery wita towering performance.

Kiss Me Deadly & Touch of Evil - 13 September 2021

KISS ME DEADLY (Robert Aldrich, 1955)

Kiss Me Deadly is based on a novel by the American writer Mickey Spillane, who led a colourful life and served as a fighter pilot in the second world war.  His hardboiled thrillers sold millions of copies but unlike say Raymond Chandler he was never considered a great writer. Most of his novels featured the private investigator Mike Hammer and his secretary, and part time love interest, Velda.

Robert Aldrich was a successful Hollywood director in the 1950s. His trademark approach was to take established film genres such as war movies, westerns and thrillers and do something different with them, often bringing in more realism and brutality. This is evident in his two famous war films Attack! made in 1956 with Jack Palance and in The Dirty Dozen, made in 1967 with an all star cast. Both films broke with typical conventions.

Aldrich was commissioned to make a film version of Kiss Me Deadly and handed the screenplay to Albert Bezzarides, who was a leftist, maverick and ultimately blacklisted Hollywood writer. This infuriated Spillane who was a right wing reactionary self-professed tough guy. Bezzarides turned the Mike Hammer character into a louche, slow witted, unreliable and sometimes sadistic anti-hero, caught up in a series of events which are out of his control. Although he has the trappings of a successful man, with his sports cars, adoring women and cool apartment, he has no moral compass or even detective skills.

The narrative is a bleak and strange experience, almost dreamlike in nature, as Hammer encounters a series of nasty villains and a plot that references the 1950s fears about the Cold War and the threat of atomic weapons.

Film noirs in the 1950s were generally different to the earlier films made in the 1940s. They used location shooting rather than studio sets, and were often procedural thrillers built around heists and police enquiries. The classic use of light and shade, tilted camera angles and rain streaked night scenes had given way to grainy textured cinematography and outdoor scenes in day time and outdoor locations.

Kiss Me Deadly is a fusion of both these strands, infusing each scene with a sense of dread and foreboding. From the terrific opening night scene, and the bizarre inverted credits, you know this is going to be a blast. It is arguably the darkest film noir ever made and certainly one of the best.

Kiss Me Deadly emerged as one of the most unusual and challenging thrillers ever made. The film had a huge influence on the French New Wave in the 1960s, with both Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard acknowledging its influence. It remains a stone cold classic of the era.

TOUCH OF EVIL (Orson Welles, 1958)

Orson Welles’ masterpiece Citizen Kane, which was released in 1941, can be cited as a major influence on the evolution of the film noir genre, with its fragmented narrative, voice-overs, harsh black and white lighting and complex camera techniques. And Welles went on to make two film noirs in the 1940s, The Stranger in 1946, about a Nazi hiding out in a small town in America, and The Lady from Shanghai in 1947 in which he starred with his then wife Rita Hayworth. But by the 1950s Welles had tired of the struggles of making Hollywood films and had largely turned to acting.

Things changed when Universal decided to make a film version of a bestselling thriller called Badge of Evil, written by Whit Masterson and published in 1956. They signed up Charlton Heston as an American cop, with a Mexican wife, battling hoodlums in San Diego. After Welles was cast as the corrupt cop Hank Quinlan Heston suggested he could direct the film saying (quote) : “he’s pretty good”.

Welles completely rewrote the lacklustre screenplay in ten days, turning Heston into a Mexican cop called Mike Vargas with a blonde American wife played by Janet Leigh. He moved the action to the American border, then and perhaps even more now, a place of corruption and tension.

Welles liked Mexico but wanted to dig into the paranoid American view of it being lawless, a place of danger populated by thugs and drug dealers. The film engaged with drugs, street violence and the threat of sexual abuse in a way that few 1950s films had done. One can well imagine Welles chuckling at how all that would go down in complacent 50s America.

By that time Welles had grown corpulent on fine food and drink and was well cast as Hank Quinlan, a sort of version of himself, embittered and disillusioned with his work in film. He also dragged friend actors into the picture in cameos, including Joseph Cotton but most significantly Marlene Dietrich, whose last line famously sums him up.

Touch of Evil is considered the last great film noir from the classic era which ended in the late 50s, predating the noirs that emerged during the European new wave. But it is not a typical film noir narrative. The hero is a solid dependable guy,  for Chuck Heston would not have played him any other way. His wife is a victim not a femme fatale, the narrative is linear although elliptical.

But what roots it into film noir territory is the brilliant camerawork and mise-en-scene, with Welles working with the great cinematographer Russell Metty to create a stunning series of images and short powerful set pieces.

Welles yet again fell out with the studio, which disliked his final cut and sacked him, filming extra scenes and re-editing the film. The final version is still pretty damn good but in 1998 a restored version was released based on notes left by Welles himself. This added in some lost footage but most significantly changed the famous opening long take, which had featured a brooding score by Henry Mancini. It is about 13 minutes longer than the original. It is generally an improvement although I quite liked the original opening.

It Always Rains on Sunday & Night and the City - 9 September 2021

 

Hollywood film noir in the 1940s were noted for glamorous sets, sophisticated decor and high fashion. The narratives were largely based on hardboiled detective novels but even shabby stories of low life characters and murky crimes carried the noir style.

By comparison British noir was born out of the brutal traditions of popular entertainment and was rude and raw. The narratives were down to earth and downbeat in tone, reflecting a strong influence of social realism. They drew on the poetic realism movement in France in the late 30s. but also dealt with key social issues in post war Britain – poverty and crime, disruptions to relationships, rationing and the aftermath of bombings and destruction.

It Always Rains on Sunday (Robert Hamer, 1947)

Robert Hamer began his career under Hitchcock and then made a series of films for Ealing Studios including the famous 1949 comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets. But he is also remembered for two powerful crime films starring the actress Googie Withers, Pink String and Sealing Wax (1945) and It Always Rains on Sunday. Although far less well known than Hitchcock or Carol Reed he is widely regarded as one of the best directors that Britain has produced, but his career was blighted by alcoholism and his homosexuality, which was illegal at the time.

Googie Withers was a famous dancer, singer and entertainer whose career began at the age of 12. She appeared in Powell and Pressburger’s One of Our Aircraft is Missing in 1942 but her starring role in It Always Rains on Sunday brought her wide acclaim.

Since its release the film has been significantly re-evaluated and is now considered one of the greatest British films ever made. Although it has all the hallmarks of a noir thriller it is also rooted in Britain’s postwar environment. It has an existential tone of bleakness but also a powerful mix of mundanity and eroticism. It remains a vivid depiction of East End working class life, with Douglas Slocombe’s documentary style cinematography perfectly capturing the mood of the times.

Night and the City (Jules Dassin, 1950)
Night and the City is an Anglo-American production set in London in the late 1940s, and featuring extensive location work, but directed by the American Jules Dassin and featuring a number of American actors. This often fails to work, but Night and the City emerged as one of the best British noirs ever made.

The film is based on a crime novel by the flamboyant British writer Gerald Kersh whose larger than life experiences often informed his novels. He spent some time as a wrestler and the wrestling scenes in the movie are especially authentic and powerful.

Jules Dassin was a successful Hollywood director whose noirs included The Naked City, completed in 1948 to great acclaim. But Dassin fell foul of the McCarthy witch-hunt and was blacklisted. He made Night and the City to remove himself from the USA and work in Britain, and went on to work in France on such films as Rififi (1955), which helped shift the noir style into Europe.

The film stars Richard Widmark as Harry Fabian, a streetwise hustler whose attempts to make money take a series of fatalistic turns. He is a classic noir character, not very bright, chiselling away, but ultimately doomed. Googie Withers also features, along with Gene Tierney, who had starred in the classic Otto Preminger noir Laura in 1944, and the Czech born British actor Herbert Lom, in striking form as a young gangster.

Night and the City, like The Naked City, reflected the transition from the early studio based noirs of the 1940s to the more location-based films of the 50s. The street scenes around London are strikingly filmed by the German born cinematographer Max Greene. The films lacks any sympathetic characters and its bleak tone is infused with pessimism and hate, perhaps reflecting Dassin’s own mood at the time.

Gilda - 6 September 2021

GILDA (CHARLES VIDOR, 1946)

Movies such as Double Indemnity, Murder My Sweet and The Maltese Falcon established the conventions of the film noir genre in the early 1940s, with their tough guy action, cynical characters and femme fatales. And there are elements of all of these in Charles Vidor’s 1946 movie Gilda, an iconic role for the flamboyant actress, Rita Hayworth.

But Gilda also moved the genre in new directions. Typical noir characters such as the casino boss Ballin Mundsen (George Macready) and the chiselling gambler Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford, returning after from wartime combat) are upstaged by Rita Hayworth’s Gilda, who appears to have been parachuted in from a musical romance.

Gilda is no femme fatale, and yet although both men have had physical relationships they are unable to dominate her spirit or soul or really understand her. In fact the strongest relationship, with a significant gay subtext, is between the two men. The ongoing references to Mundsen’s sword stick are especially bizarre.

The film exudes a striking sense of style, partly through the classic noir techniques of sophisticated décor and attire (Rita Hayworth wears several outfits that were to become famous), and partly through the customary technique of light and shade, ravishingly captured by the great American cinematographer Rudolph Mate. The film has a tough lowlife opening and sets up all the hallmarks of a classic noir thriller, including the voice-over narration. But then it becomes increasingly polished, as Glenn Ford is seduced into the lifestyle he is offered. It also includes Hayworth’s iconic rendering of Put the Blame on Mame (despite the virtuoso performance her singing was dubbed) and strong elements of the women’s pictures of the 1940s.

Hayworth, who had married Orson Welles between 1943 and 1947 (during which their troubled relationship was evident in Welles’ offbeat thriller, The Lady From Shanghai) and had been the top “pin-up girl” during the second world war. She was famous enough to bring an extra-cinematic dimension to the film, and the first iconic shot of her in the film says it all. Humphrey Bogart turned down the role of Johnny Farrell on the basis that everyone would be looking at Hayworth, as indeed they were. A few macguffin plot devices around tungsten and nazis (the film is set in Buenos Aires) do not in any way detract from her star power or the central three character narrative.

Gilda remains a seminal film noir. It has the cynicism of the genre, the losers, the strong female lead and a certain perversity. It has been described as “sumptuously sordid”. It was a huge box office smash and even today, 75 years later, packs quite a punch.

The next screening will be a British noir double bill on Sunday, September 12th. Robert Hamer’s It Always Rains on Sunday (1947) is at 4pm followed by Night and the City (Jules Dassin, 1950) at 8pm. There will be a special menu served at 6pm.

Double Indemnity - 31 August 2021

Welcome to our new Film Noir course. Due to personal circumstances the course will now commence on Tuesday, September 28 th and continue through new dates in October. Please discuss with Box Office if you have any questions.

As cinemas opened in post war France a group of French filmmakers and critics were able to watch Hollywood movies again and were struck by a series of stylish dark movies that had emerged in the early 40s. These drew on German expressionist film techniques and often made by European emigrees. They were influenced in style by Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941) but drew on the “hardboiled” fiction of such writers as Raymond Chandler and James M Cain.

The films, which the French labelled “film noirs” were mainly crime movies featuring flawed detectives, blue collar drifters, glamorous “femme fatales”and plots involving murder, racketeering and heists. Often told usingflashbacks and twisted narratives they were infused with dark violent themesat odds with the superficial values of prosperous post-war America.

Post 1950s neo-noirs embraced colour cinematography and new film techniques but retained the essence of the genre, with private detectives out of their depth and powerful female characters.

DOUBLE INDEMNITY (BILLY WILDER, 1944)

Double Indemnity was one of the six original movies to screen in Paris after the war, and is still considered one of the greatest and most representative of all film noirs. It has a classic narrative, in which a down at heel insurance agent Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) is persuaded into a scheme to murder the husband of Phyliss Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck), a classic noir femme fatale.

Like The Postman Also Rings Twice, which has a similar theme, the film was adapted from a hardboiled thriller by James M Cain, with a terrific screenplay by Raymond Chandler, who wrote The Big Sleep. Chandler struggled with film screenplays (he fell out with Alfred Hitchcock) but here gets everything right here – clever snappy dialogue with real pace and sexual tension.

The film was co-written by Billy Wilder, who also found working with Chandler a challenge. Wilder started out as a screenwriter based in Berlin, but moved to the USA in 1933 due to the rise of the Nazi party. He brought to Hollywood filmmaking techniques which had emerged in the period of German expressionism but combined that with a brilliant flair for storytelling. He also wrote and directed The Lost Weekend which is one of the great early film noirs not to contain a crime plot.

In the manner of classic film noirs Double Indemnity uses a flashback technique to recount the events, creating a mood of fatalism. The events are recounted to Walter Neff’s boss, Barton Keys, a standout turn by the great Edward G Robinson. Wilder was to repeat the formula with Sunset Boulevard in 1950 in which a writer recounts events from a watery grave.

The film is full of touches which employ full use of chiaroscuro lighting, with dramatic contrasts in light and shadow. The film reeks of style, using venetian blinds to great effect alongside other décor, fashion choices and sets which were meticulously designed to look real and lived in.

The film set a new standard in Hollywood which challenged the status quo of safe subjects and happy endings. The principal characters are hard characters obsessed with sex and greed, and they are fatally drawn into events. Neff seems seduced, but it is more complex than that, he is cold and detached. Dietrichson may be a classic femme fatale but there is something deeper and more emotional about her. Double Indemnity was nominated for seven Oscars, including best actress for Barbara Stanwyck. It has long been considered her finest performance and one of Billy Wilder’s greatest films.

The next film noir screening is Gilda (Charles Vidor, 1946) on Tuesday, September 7 th at 8.15pm.

Wong Kar Wai - 11 August 2021

The Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai was actually born in Shanghai in 1958 but emigrated to Hong Kong (then under British rule) in early childhood. For many years the Hong Kong film industry was most famous for Kung-fu movies starring Bruce Lee and Jacky Chan.

Wong Kar-wai was 30 when he made his first movie As Tears Go By (1988), a crime drama intended to line up alongside typical thrillers of the era. But his next film was a more personal drama (Days of Being Wild, 1990) which despite being a box-office flop garnered international critical acclaim.

His popularity continued through Chungking Express (1994) to Happy Together (1997) which won him Best Director at Cannes. This was followed in 2000 by his most famous film, In the Mood for Love, one of the most stylish films ever made, and then 2046 (2007) which is a sequel.

I mentioned In the Mood for Love in the context of last year’s melodrama course as being an example of a refashioning of the films of Douglas Sirk. Wong Kar-wai’s films have elliptical narratives and use stylish music and rich colour to build atmosphere. Now the good news.  Commencing on Sunday, August 22nd Depot is showing Wong kar-Wai’s five most famous films in new 4K restorations. Catching any one of these films in a UK cinema would normally be a rare opportunity, but five is a real treat. See you there.

Film Noir

I am putting the final finishes to my next genre film club on Film Noir. The four Tuesday night sessions starting  September 7th, then September 14th, 28th and October 5th. They are live events held in the Studio 7pm-8pm with discussion and film clips. Alongside we are screening eight Noir and Neo-Noir classics and there will be two double bills with a supper club in the interval.

Do come along. The course is only £25 and there is plenty of space in the Studio to spread out. You can book online.

Movies About Booze - 7 July 2021

There have been very few “serious” films about drinking. Perhaps the most famous is Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend (1945), essentially an early film noir about an alcoholic writer. Equally impressive was Mike Figgis’ 1995 Leaving Las Vegas, with a powerful Oscar-winning turn by Nicolas Cage.

Since then plenty of comedies and romcoms have engaged with the subject. Vegas featured again in The Hangover (Todd Philips, 2009), which set the formula – a wild stag party which gets out of control but with likeable characters to which we can to some extent relate. The female equivalent was Bridesmaids (Paul Feig, 2011). Both amusing and enjoyable films but they didn’t get under the skin of what alcohol is all about.

Nine out of ten film fans will probably mention Sideways (Alexander Payne 2004) as the best film about the pleasures of alcohol (in this case wine) as characters played very well by Paul Giametti and Thomas Haden Church find that a wine tour is an opportunity to re-examine aspects of their lives.

Another Round (Thomas Vinterberg, 2020), which is now playing, takes that a step further in that characters damaged by personal and work challenges find solace but eventual destruction in engaging with different levels of alcoholism. I couldn’t quite relate to them but it is well executed and acted, not least by the increasingly impressive Mads Mikkelsen, whose previous work with Vintenberg included the powerful and disturbing The Hunt (2012).

Marvel is Back

During lockdown I ran a couple of film genre courses online including one on the Fantasy genre. It was almost a “dare” taking on a subject in which I have rarely had any interest beyond Ray Harryhausen and Conan the Barbarian.  But it led me to watch many Marvel films I had never seen, and try and absorb their meanings, relevance and subtexts. I would not say that I emerged as a complete convert but the focus was interesting. These films are the most financially successful ever, they offer state of the art special effects, they engage leading Hollywood stars, and the talents of thousands of skilled moviemakers. They are a 21st century phenomenon.

And now we have Black Widow (Cate Shortland, 2021) in which Scarlet Johannson (who has come a long way from sparring with Bill Murray in Lost in Translation) plays the eponymous heroine and kicks the customary ass. Marvel like to choose directors of smaller independent movies to give each film a different style (sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t) and this time it is the Australian film director Cate Shortland, who made the impressive Lore in 2013. Don’t dismiss Marvel out of hand, you might just find you like it.

Dementia - a new sub-genre? - 28 June 2021

With The Father and Supernova currently screening it seems like a good time to reflect on the portrayal of Alzheimer’s and dementia in movies. It is quite a recent thing. For many years mad aunts and uncles were the stuff of comedy, I recall “Teddy Roosevelt” Brewster in Frank Capra’s farce Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) rushing up and downstairs with a trumpet thus evidencing madness in the family. And so it went for many years. It was only in the noughties that the subject was covered more seriously.  In Iris (Richard Eyre, 2001) Judy Dench played Iris Murdoch with dementia and it is a key theme in the romantic drama The Notebook (Nick Cassavetes, 2004). 

Actors were no doubt aware that many had won Oscars and Baftas for playing mentally challenged characters. Julie Christie was nominated for playing a character with Alzheimer’s in Away From Her (Sarah Polley, 2007) as was Julianne Moore, more recently, in the highly regarded Still Alice (Richard Glatzer, 2014). Clearly unless an actual person is dramatized (as was Margaret Thatcher in Phyllida Lloyd’s 2011 The Iron Lady) early onset Alzheimers carries a stronger emotional heft. 

More recently the cult actor Lance Henriksen turned in a powerful performance in Viggo Mortensen’s Falling (2020) as his increasingly confused father and was far more dislikable than Anthony Hopkins in The Father although Hopkins’ sheer brilliance as an actor and its visual trickery make for  a very fine film. And we are now back in early onset territory with Supernova, in which two of our finest actors (Colin Firth, Stanley Tucci) reinterpret aspects of their most famous roles in a moving new drama. 

Films about dementia and Alzheimer’s may not be what we need right now but an increasingly ageing population of baby boomers (and their sons and daughters) are finding it in some way in their lives. It can be uplifting to engage with these themes objectively on the cinema screen, and mine such difficult situations for humour and pathos.

Sweat is playing to small audiences at the moment. That’s a shame because this Swedish/Polish drama is well made and examines a timely subject – the impact of a social influencer (this time a gym guru) on their many followers and on themselves. It develops into a slow burn thriller with unexpected ironical turns and Magdalena Kolesnik is simply stunning in the lead role, especially with her non-verbal and ambiguous longeurs.

Given the almost virtual absence of live music at the moment, Depot has put together Summer of Music, a season of music films to take you through the summer. Among more recent and intriguing offerings we have Wattstax, a 1973 documentary about a concert in memory of the Watts riots in 1965. A great mix of music, politics and social history. And we are screening one of the best concert movies of all time, Martin Scorsese’s 2008 Shine A Light with Mick and Keef on tremendous form.

Robert considers the latest releases - 7 June 2021

A very busy and successful opening last month with a flurry of Oscar-winning movies. The standout in terms of popularity was Nomadland, an existential drama which may have aroused local interest when Chloe Zhao announced that she attended Brighton College, (she boarded when she was 15). I like the film, but for me her best was The Rider (2017), a powerful and moving modern western in which all the parts were played by non-actors in versions of themselves. She has now moved full circle, directing an all star cast in Marvel’s soon-to-be-released The Eternals. Why, you may ponder. Well, apart from the pay check, the fun of taking on something like that and making it interesting and different must be a filmmaker’s dream.  Let’s see how it goes.

We are currently in feel-good territory with Disney’s Cruella. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but Emma Stone and Emma Thompson chew quite a bit of furniture and the costumes (by the ten times Oscar nominee, Jenny Beavan – she finally won for Mad Max Fury Road) are worth the price of the ticket. And that’s alongside the amusing and occasionally uplifting Dream Horse, one of those British Full Monty/Brassed Off outings (but this one very Welsh). With not a mask in sight, I wonder whether the film industry will simply sidestep Covid, although Borat did sport one on his genitalia.

The feel-good phase will shortly be cast aside in favour of The Father, with Anthony Hopkins in striking form as a proud independent man lapsing into dementia. In fact although the film sounds glum, it isn’t at all. It’s visually brilliant and very funny, with Olivia Colman yet again in strong form as his long suffering daughter. Do come and watch that.

Finally, last time I mentioned that we have redesigned the small bar next to Screen 3, Robert’s Bar. We have turned it into an intimate American style cocktail bar adorned with signed film posters. It’s a slightly tongue in cheek nod to those cocktail bars in film noir movies.

While the weather is good, we’re serving cocktails on the terrace but Robert’s Bar is still available for special events and private hire – contact Bonnie ([email protected]) and book a fabulous night out.

Now where was I? - 30 April 2021

Now where was I ? Well it was December and I was discussing our Christmas programme. Then Bruce Willis failed in his mission and Armageddon arrived again. So we closed on Boxing Day and will not open until 17 May (tbc). The good news is that 17 May is not too far away.

During that period we have had the awards season and the best film awards all went to Nomadland  the powerfully understated drama by Chloe Zhao. We have that as our opening film and other new releases are stacked up ready to go. We managed to squeeze in a couple of the Netflix award winners (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and my favourite, Mank) before lockdown but that leaves The Father, Minari, Sound of Metal and Judas and the Messiah, all coming to a cinema near you. And a lot besides including the touching Colin Firth/Stanley Tucci drama Supernova.

Avid readers of this blog will be aware that I have devised a new course on the War genre. Having run two courses (Melodrama, Fantasy) online, I want future ones to be back in the Depot alongside film screenings; but the War season will probably now be January 2022. In the meantime I have been working on a Film Noir season. Film noir refers to a series of mainly American movies made in the 1940s and 1950s, predominantly crime films, with hard-boiled detectives, strong female leads, and murderous plots, all shot using atmospheric chiaroscuro lighting and many employing complex flashback narratives. In addition to a course of four Tuesday night sessions, we will be screening a major season of eight classic film noirs; ranging from Billy Wilder’s iconic Double Indemnity (1944) and the sumptuous Gilda (1946) to such hard hat later classics as the off-the-wall Kiss Me Deadly (Robert Aldrich, 1955) and Orson Welles’s dark masterpiece Touch of Evil (1958). There will also be a British noir double bill with Robert Hamer’s It Always Rains on Sunday (1947) and the stunning crime drama Night and the City (Jules Dassin, 1950). Full programme to come.

Those of you with long memories may recall that I started an extensive season of Hitchcock films back in 2017 which has been rudely interrupted. We plan six more films which are among his best. The next three are widely considered among his masterworks, including Rear Window (1954), the disturbing Vertigo (1958) and probably his most purely entertaining movie North by North West (1959). These films saw Hitch at the height of his powers and are among the best films ever made.

Great to see our terrace and garden has been so popular since we re-opened on 12 April and we are grateful for all the support. We now have a new menu which is going down a treat and we have kept all our prices as reasonable as possible. Cinema tickets will also be the same, having remained unchanged since we opened in May 2017.

Finally we have redesigned the small bar next to Screen 3 which was called, as it happens, Robert’s Bar. We have turned it into an intimate American style cocktail bar adorned with signed film posters. It’s a slightly tongue in cheek nod to those cocktail bars in film noir movies and it will available for special events but mainly for private hire. So do contact Bonnie ([email protected]) and book a fabulous night out. Oh, and we decided to keep the name as Robert’s Bar…

The name's Bond. James Bond - 22 December 2020

I remember when I was ten going to the Odeon cinema in Morecambe to watch a film called The Lion, starring William Holden. In fact I only went to see it in order to see the trailer (trailers were only shown in cinemas in those days) for the film showing the following week. It was Dr No.

Strange to think I was only ten, so the film must have been classified as a “U” despite the sexual content, a very scary tarantula and lashings of sadistic violence. In one scene Bond shoots and kills a man in cold blood “that’s a Smith & Wesson and you’ve had your six”. I had never seen anything like it.

Sean Connery was not the first choice as Bond. It was offered to Patrick McGoohan, who would have been rather good, and to Roger Moore who picked it up later and made a mess of it. Connery was superb, of course. But he was also very good in The Hill (Sidney Lumet, 1965) as a bullied squaddie, and playing alongside Michael Caine in the 1975 imperial romp The Man Who Would be King directed by John Huston (it was Connery’s favourite role). And he won an Oscar for his stubborn Irish cop in Brian de Palma’s classy gangster movie The Untouchables in 1987.

After Dr No Connery appeared in From Russia With Love, a more routine thriller but with a great villain (Robert Shaw in strong form) and a terrific climactic fight on a train. The third in the series was Goldfinger in 1964.

Goldfinger is widely regarded as the best of all the Bond films. It has all the iconic ingredients associated with the series: a sadistic villain (Gert Fröbe as Auric Goldfinger), Shirley Eaton painted gold, the undefeatable henchman Odd Job, a ridiculous plot (stealing all the gold in Fort Knox), Q’s gadgetry, the Aston Martin with guns, and a heroine unfortunately called Pussy Galore but reclaimed by Honor Blackman’s feisty turn (she lived in Lewes and also died in 2020).

And the music. John Barry took Monty Norman’s twelve bar riff and arranged it with brass and strings to evoke both the exotic locations and the sheer excitement of the action scenes (check out the opening shot where the camera closes in on Goldfinger at the Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach). And perhaps the best Bond song, Shirley Bassey belting out Newley/Bricasse’s great lyrics “for a golden girl knows when he’s kissed her, it’s the kiss of death from Mister…Goldfinger”.

After a couple more good Bond movies Connery left the franchise and a succession of actors replaced him. None of them were particularly good (Pierce Brosnan was sort of okay) until, against much opposition, Daniel Craig took the role in Casino Royale in 2006. It was a strong return to form and he helped to rebuild the franchise into a global phenomenon.

Goldfinger is screening at the Depot from Boxing Day. Have a great Christmas

Mank and my new war movies course - 15 December 2020

Writing about Mank last week I mentioned that it might win a “slew” of Oscars. That it might but there is some stiff competition out there from a range of films coming up at Depot soon. You have probably read about Nomadland, a new film directed by the Chinese-American director Chloe Zhao (she made the excellent The Rider in 2017 and has just completed a Marvel film called The Eternals). Frances McDormand stars and it is widely tipped for the top awards.

Quite a few films have been produced by Netflix, who had great success with Roma a couple of years ago. They include Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which is currently screening, The Trial of the Chicago 7, which went straight to home viewing and of course Mank itself. Alongside those look out for the racial drama One Night in Miami and The Father with Anthony Hopkins. On the BAFTA front I would expect Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci to feature for Supernova but I am unclear as to whether Steve McQueen’s riveting and powerful Mangrove will qualify.

These awards ceremonies are being delayed next year because of Covid, with the Golden Globes on February 28th, the BAFTA awards on April 11th and the Oscars on April 25th, but we will be screening most of these films over the next few weeks. The remaining films that will get nominated will be mainly screening in January and February.

War Movies – a new course

I am also working on a new genre film course, this time on War Films. It has been rather daunting to get my head around over 100 years of movies across many conflicts and films about the second world war are particularly numerous and diverse. It strikes me that the best war films are actually anti-war films, which may reflect moments of courage and comradeship but largely depict war as the horror that it is. My films selections will be equally diverse; including Lewis Milestone’s seminal 1930 movie All Quiet on the Western Front, the powerful Russian film Come and See (Elem Klimov, 1985) and David Lean’s intelligent war drama The Bridge Over the River Kwai (1957).

We ran a Vietnam series last year but it would be hard to exclude a reshowing of Oliver Stone’s visceral Platoon (1986) and this might be the opportunity to screen Gillo Pontecorvo’s masterpiece The Battle of Algiers (1966). The course will start at Depot as soon as restrictions allow.

And finally…

We have now refurbished and renovated Robert’s Bar (the little one at the back by Screen 3) which has been reimagined as a classic cocktail bar with a film theme. We will be holding food/drink/film events there when conditions allow and it is available for private hire.

Enjoy the Christmas films and come and support us, if you have a cinema ticket you can also enjoy a drink shortly before or after the screening, quite a rare treat right now.

Robert Senior

From Citizen Kane to Mank - 10 December 2020

In 1967 as a fresher at Sheffield University I sat alone in a small room (“television lounge”) in my hall of residence on a plastic chair and watched a film that changed my life. The film was Citizen Kane. I had seen many films before then but this was on a completely different level and made me realise that movies, like art, theatre, and literature, have the ability to invigorate the soul.

Citizen Kane was the work of a 24 year old wunderkind called Orson Welles but such was the critical success of the movie that both the producer John Houseman and the screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz claimed credit for making the film as good as it was. Those debates have gone on ever since and there is no question that Mankiewicz wrote a terrific script. But I have little doubt either that this was Welles’ film.

Now David Fincher has made Mank, a new film about the writing of Citizen Kane. But it is much more than that – a terrific evocation of the heyday of Hollywood filmmaking grounded in an equally fine script, and illuminated with superb black and white visuals, a terrific production design and knockout performances by Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried.

For Fincher this is a personal project because his father, the writer Jack Fincher, never made it in Hollywood and his script for Scorsese’s The Aviator was rejected. It was a sad loss because this is such a great piece of scriptwriting packed with cracking wit and energy.

David Fincher started out as a prolific director of music videos (in the 1990s he made such great movies as Seven and Flight Club) and here collaborating with cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt has created a palette of sumptuous visuals linked with stylish and evocative camerawork. Visually and thematically it evokes the brilliance of Citizen Kane but never descends into pastiche. Expect a slew of Oscars at next year’s ceremony and go and see it.

Talking of Oscars a much more modest production is also doing the rounds. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom started life as a stage play written in 1988 by August Wilson and was staged at the NT a few years back with John Boyega. Here that character is played by the late Chadwick Bosman and his haunting performance is a sad reminder of how good he could have been. But it is Viola Davis, as the eponymous real life Ma Rainey that steals the show with a magisterial performance that must surely be another Oscar contender. Don’t dismiss this as jazz age froth. It’s a handsomely crafted film with a powerful message about racism still relevant today.

Enjoy the movies and come and support Depot !

Thoughts on Hope Gap - 30 November 2020

I have to say it is exciting to be opening again on 4 December and we have a great line-up of films – including a few Oscar favourites. The big movie right now is Mank by David Fincher (Social Network, Seven) with Gary Oldman chasing his second Oscar after Darkest Hour. But equally interesting looks Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, based on an award winning play staged at the NT a few years ago. It has the late Chadwick Bosman in his final role. Then there is Viggo Mortensen’s Falling. Remember the great Lance Henriksen? (He was Bishop the android in Aliens and the leader of the vampire gang in Near Dark). Well now he’s back, in Falling, as a difficult old man in what has been called a career defining role.

Quite a few movies nowadays are on Netflix; partly because of lockdown and partly because the platform and production company is pumping a lot of money into movies. I think that’s fine. It wasn’t fine that Depot couldn’t show the visually stunning Roma but, since then, most of the bigger Netflix films have been getting a theatrical release. I know I’m not alone in wanting to watch these films at the cinema wherever possible.

When I was a kid growing up in Morecambe, every summer we had a ‘season picture’ which ran for several months, aimed at tourists (mainly from Yorkshire) who would change weekly. It was always a big film like Fall of the Roman Empire, or The Guns of Navarone, and we had a 70mm screen in one of the cinemas (there were six) with a huge picture and fabulous sound.

Bill Nicholson’s Hope Gap feels a bit like that, as we have been running it at Depot for several months! I went to the UK première and wrote a review (below) which I sent to him.

(Next week I’ll write about Mank, and my new course on war films which is coming up in 2021).

William Nicholson’s Hope Gap portrays the dissection of an English middle class marriage which collapses after three decades. It is only the second film to be directed by the award winning scriptwriter after the Victorian drama Firelight in 1997. Apart from a string of acclaimed screenplays, Nicholson is best known for his 1989 play Shadowlands – about the author C S Lewis and his autumn romance with a cancer stricken American poet – successfully brought to the screen in 1993 by Richard Attenborough.

Themes around spirituality, self-doubt and the power of poetry also emerge in Hope Gap which is also based on a play by Nicholson, The Retreat from Moscow, first performed in Chichester in 1999. In the new film Edward, a quietly spoken teacher typically underplayed by Bill Nighy, is fascinated by the cruelty and suffering endured during that conflict, but the film alludes to how we now hurt each other with small often self-inflicted wounds.

In the film Edward is constantly heckled in his relationship with the vibrant but often irritating wife, Grace, a nuanced and at times challenging performance by American actress Annette Bening, recently seen in Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (perhaps not, but she is back filming in England). Many people in long standing marriages will relate to the tensions in the relationship between a demanding woman and a man who seeks a quiet life. Normally such bickering lies on the surface of a fundamentally loving marriage which adheres to its religious significance, and here much play is made of Grace’s spiritual convictions. Bening perfectly captures the moment of stunned disbelief when Edward announces he is leaving her and the growing realisation that their life together, for all its faults, is finally over.

Now close to 70, Nighy is elderly to play a man embarking on an affair, but here he reflects his early theatrical work with David Hare rather than the more larkish turns with Richard Curtis. Sex is never mentioned and the affair seems less about carnal pleasures than about escaping to a quiet untroubled oasis.

Adaptations of plays are often difficult to expand out into films but here Nicholson makes strong use of locations around the eponymous Hope Gap, a local beach spot along the Sussex coast. The small seaside town of Seaford is attractively filmed and there are some stunning aerial shots (courtesy of ‘the helicopter girls’). They include the train visits by the son Jamie (a fine performance by Josh O’Connor), although locals would argue there should have been at least one train cancellation.

Less successful at times are the interior scenes which focus on closely intercut head shots. Presumably intended to reflect the growing tension, they are sometimes slightly jarring.

Nicholson’s intelligent writing breathes new life into familiar material, often humorous, understanding and at times highly moving. Above all the film emerges as a recognition of the power of poetry to uplift ordinary people from their first world problems.

Robert Senior