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.
Killers of the Flower Moon, Glenda Jackson, and Ken Loach
Published 22 September 2023
Things are settling down a bit after the Barbenheimer phenomenon. The films were a significant boost to cinema revenues (Barbie has taken $1.4 billion worldwide the highest ever by a woman director) although a fair chunk of that goes to the studios and distributors. We had a blazing few weeks, now settling down into a more customary rhythm with a strong range of world cinema releases (do come and see the Celine Song’s remarkable debut movie Past Lives).
I have mentioned Killers of the Flower Moon before in this blog. It looks like a significant movie from Martin Scorsese which will feature strongly at the Oscars, as of course will Oppenheimer. I’ve been looking at the Native American in movies with a view to a talk in early 2024. The false narrative about the white settlers in America triumphing over savage “Red Indians” was largely created by early westerns including those by John Ford, the reality being that under the banner of “manifest destiny” widespread genocide took place. Scorsese has always been a brave director and his movie, based on true events in the 1920s will ruffle feathers.
The distinguished stage and screen actress Glenda Jackson died in June at the age of 87. She won Oscars for Women in Love (Ken Russell, 1971) and A Touch of Class (Melvin Frank, 1974) but after a successful career became a well respected and outspoken Labour MP.
Women in Love (1969)
She left one film in the can, a comedy drama (called amusingly The Great Escaper) about Bernard Jordan, a world war II veteran who disappears from his care home to attend the 70th celebration of the D-day landings. The director Oliver Parker usually finds the right balance between humour and pathos and Bernard is played by Michael Caine – enough magic still there, I suspect, from two of our greatest stars.
And another tribute – Ken Loach, astonishingly also 87 but still making important movies. The Old Oak is a film waiting to be made (think Northern pub regulars and Syrian refugees) but Loach is the guy to get it right. And however good it is (it was well received in Venice), Ken has played his cards out to the end as one of the most socially committed and politically driven British directors of all time.
The Old Oak (2023)
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Oh No - A Strike! - 9 August 2023
Just when I was banging on about a significant revival in global cinemagoing news emerges of a Hollywood strike led by the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild. This has been associated with the emergence of AI, but that will never be able compete with creative writing and certainly not replace actors. No, this is about the same thing as the other strikes around the world – money and living standards.
One might be tempted to assume that these are well paid Hollywood contributors sulking over recognition but in fact according to one union representative 86% of their members earn around $25,000 dollars basic income, making things up with overtime and second jobs. So that does sit a bit uneasily with the $12.5 million paid to Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling for Barbie (in fact Robbie’s production company, LuckyChap Entertainment co-funded the film with Mattel and Sony so will be laughing all the way to the plastic piggybank).
Interestingly, lower pay rates have emerged because of the way the industry has evolved, with the significant rise in streaming services. Basically writers and actors are paid less for these productions than they are for cinema only releases. Ironic because it is the cinemas that will be hit if it goes on much longer, with a likely disruption to films still in post production, or still being filmed. But right now there is a lot coming up.
BLACK AND WHITE ALL OVER
As part of this year’s Artwave Depot is presenting an art competition and exhibition around the theme of black and white, a great opportunity to showcase three terrific silent movies. Everyone of a certain age is familiar with the famous sequence where Harold Lloyd hangs perilously on a large clock and it’s from the 1923 movie Safety Last, one of the best comedies of the silent era.
Then we have the epic documentary The Epic of Everest, about George Mallory and Andrew Irvine’s ill-fated attempt to climb Everest in 1924, made by the accompanying filmmaker, John Noel. It’s a remarkable film which stands comparison with Frank Hurley’s Shackleton film, South (1919).
Finally we are screening Erich Von Stroheim’s masterpiece Greed (1924), an epic story about the destructive lust for money and wealth in early 20th century California. The film pioneered many new cinema techniques and was shot almost entirely on location. We have a live accompaniment to the film by Matthew Bourne contributor, Terry Davies and the violinist Anna Cooper. A very special event.
As it does to all men, death has come to one of my favourite directors, William Friedkin, who passed away on August 7th aged 87. He was best known for one of the greatest horror movies of all time, The Exorcist (1971) and one of the best thrillers, The French Connection (1972). Friedkin was a tough, demanding filmmaker who pushed his cast and crew to the limit and injected both movies with hard hitting action and raw realism. But my personal favourite is the little seen and commercial flop Sorcerer (1977), a remake of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear (1953), an existential thriller with some of the most suspenseful scenes ever filmed. Friedkin’s career declined after that, although To Live and Die in LA (1985) was a strong return to form. RIP Bill.
Proving the Doubters Wrong - 14 July 2023
With the demise of Empire Cinemas, a small UK chain, and the ongoing challenges facing Cineworld, newspapers continue to carry stories about the permanent decline of the cinema industry, with increasing numbers of people watching films at home on subscription services. These are cheap to access, and present the option to watch alone or with family (including the odd cup of tea, loo break and a quick scan of text messages). I have read a number of journalists writing about the terminal decline of the cinema experience. One said that subscription was now the way most people wanted to watch films apart from “a small group of hard core film fans”.
Nonsense. For one thing the growth in Netflix, Apple and Amazon is partly about the fragmentation of home viewing, which is cannibalizing terrestrial television. Certainly the Netflix subscription base alone is huge at 232 million (there was a big increase when they recently clamped down on password sharing) but many of those subscribers are not in the catchment of a cinema and many of those people never did go out to watch a movie.
In the earlier days of cinema (up to the mid 1950s) cinema attendances in the UK were huge, around 1.5 billion a year, but with the advent of television there was a steady decline. In 1984 UK admissions had fallen to a mere 54 million as a second technological change – the video player – led to a huge surge in video rental. The industry responded (as it had with epic features in the 1950s) with big budget spectacular movies. And it worked : cinema audiences built year by year to 177 million by 2018. Then Covid struck. But the cinema industry has always shown an ability to bounce back. And that is about to happen again.
Adverse factors have always hit cinema attendances –periods at war, inflation hitting discretionary income, and now a new one – the pandemic. Since early 2020 there has been a perfect storm for a significant collapse in cinema going, not least because cinemas worldwide were actually closed. Even coming out of Covid a wary public has faced a war in Ukraine which has depressed spirits and a cost of living crisis. We’re not out of the woods yet. But we can see the clearing.
The global film industry makes an enormous contribution to culture and entertainment around the world. It is a low cost option which is also a window into other forms of entertainment – theatre, opera, art. It is uniquely placed to explore issues of the day – climate change, gender, migration but also local and regional issues. And it can draw on a rich canon of classic movies that many people want to revisit or watch for the first time.
What we are about to see, starting this summer, is a significant reboot in cinema going. All the major studios are investing heavily in major new films. Box office sales are about to rocket. And these are not cineplex fodder; these are good movies.
Here at Depot we show a wide selection of movies including what might be termed “arthouse” but I prefer to think of them as independent world cinema releases. They head into distribution off the film festival circuit where many win awards. The challenge is to rebuild audiences for these types of movies and that might take a little longer, as currently only BAFTA and Oscar winners and nominees tend to attract decent audiences. As Martin Scorsese said recently independent films are the future of the industry. Come and support them.
Summer at Depot - 16 June 2023
We are anticipating a fun-filled and busy summer at Depot this year. Firstly there are a slew of big movies coming up as post-Covid production delays catch up and distributors line up some sure fire winners. I won’t list them all but certainly the Greta Gerwig/ Noah Baumbach Barbie will be a romp, as will Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, the last of a franchise which started with Spielberg’s movie in 1981, one clearly influenced by his favorite movie, Lawrence of Arabia, along with a lot of Saturday kids club stuff. It is one of two films that established Harrison Ford as a major star, but given that he is now 80 he shares the screen with the writer and star of Fleabag, Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Another major release is Christopher Nolan’s much anticipated Oppenheimer, about the man who invented the atomic bomb. After a lot of Hollywood dross these films are to be celebrated.
But we’re also running lots of festivals and events, with the Climate Action! Festival presented late June. Environmental issues have always been at the forefront of what we do and Carmen and Natasha Padbury have talked about this at European events. Most cinemas, especially in the USA, don’t have a clue. I was recently at Cinemacon in Las Vegas (the premier conference for cinemas) and literally thousands of bottles of plastic water were handed out before every presentation.
Then we have our season of classic music films, details of which are now on the website. At short notice we have added in David Lean’s wonderful Brief Encounter (1945), which we have never screened. It’s a perfect melodrama in which the music of Rachmaninov is integrated into the story of an illicit affair emerging from the mundane and reserved lives of middle class Englanders in the 1930s. It was written by Noel Coward, for whom it was almost certainly symbolic of a gay relationship and rarely has romantic love been so beautifully presented on the screen.
If I mentioned “peplum movies” you would be entitled to look baffled. A more widely used term would be “sword and sandal” but that actually incorporates broader range of films than the 300 (yes 300) Italian peplum films made between 1957 and 1965. These were notable for featuring a number of acting bodybuilders (Steve Reeves being the most famous) along with evil tyrants, sea monsters, trials of strength, damsels in distress and evil queens, all badly acted and dubbed and cheaply made. Understanding the popularity of these movies is not easy, so I have put together a 40 minute talk to run in August. The accompanying film is still to be determined.
So we beat on, boats against the current. Our Saturday night Dalliance events continue to be as popular as ever, and we have growing enthusiasm for our wonderful cocktail evening, prepared in Robert’s Bar (you have my permission to enter) or on the terrace. We are also planning to bring back our Supper Clubs, where we mix a lovely supper and a great film together,. And we have a few other tricks up our sleeve of a gastronomic variety in order for Depot to remain popular and busy. But do come along as often as you can.
Coming Up - 22 May 2023
After something of a dearth in popular movies, presumably a result of Covid production delays, this year’s slate is now looking quite strong. Some of these movies are being screened, and going down very well, in Cannes, including Martin Scorsese’s long awaited Killers of the Flower Moon, which like The Irishman (2019) runs at considerable length.
I thought the latter was flabby and over-extended and the use of rejuvenation technology a distraction. But this movie seems to have got things right, a latter day western exploring one of many injustices directed at the Native American community. Expect a slew of Oscar nominations and an odds on win for Lily Gladstone, herself a Native American.
Wes Anderson is famous for his striking use of colour and design, so he might be peeved that his colour saturated (all pinks and yellows) new movie Asteroid City, in which every actor appears, clashes with Barbie, Noel Baumbach and Greta Gerwig’s cheeky movie about the eponymous doll. The latter is lensed by the respected Mexican cinematographer Rodrigo Pietro who also worked on Killers of the Flower Moon. All these movies will be well worth checking out.
Sad to see Martin Amis go at a relatively young age, ironically in the week that saw a version of his 2014 The Zone of Interest premiere at Cannes. One wonders whether we need another movie about Auschwitz, but this has received rave reviews. It’s from the accomplished British director Jonathan Glazer, who made the seminal British gangster movie Sexy Beast back in 2000 (and that famous Guinness commercial with the horses coming out of the sea).
My short gangster season will be presented on July 3rd and 9th with two classics of the genre (the 1932 version of Scarface and Sergio Leone’s majestic One Upon a Time in the America, made in 1984. I’m doing a talk before Scarface on July 3rd.
I’ve also been looking into the career of Greta Garbo, a significant actress from the 1930s who constantly said “I want to be alone” in her movies and then went and did exactly that, retiring at the age of 34. With her powerful presence and ambiguous sexuality, Garbo defined a generation of movie going and we will be hoping to screen three of her best movies.
I will be off to the Bologna Film Festival later in the month with Carmen Slijpen. It looks like a great week with some 400 films and talks including many restorations of classics. In fact they are screening Rouben Mamoulian’s great 1933 movie Queen Christina which starred Garbo in one of her greatest roles.
Sub-Genres and more… - 18 April 2023
I seem to have acquired an interest in out of fashion sub-genres, perhaps not ideal when I am involved to a modest extent in the Depot’s programming. But forgotten films revived to be of interest to a new postmodern audience are often the definition of cult.
This isn’t really the case with Douglas Sirk, who has been in vogue since the 1970s with his timeless and purposefully confected melodramas. Do join me for my talk on Monday, April 17th and the screening of one of his best movies, Written on the Wind (1956) a hugely influential melodrama.
Stop motion brilliance
And then…Ray Harryhausen. You have to be getting on a bit to remember his arguably creaky special effects in a whole range of genre fantasy films in the 1950s through to the early 1980s.
But I say arguably because although the perceived view is that computer generated images took over, a lot of renowned film directors (Peter Jackson, James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, John Landis et al) stuck with a mix of animatronic, stop motion and other traditional techniques alongside CGI, and all acknowledge a huge debt to Harryhausen’s work.
I’m doing a talk on Harryhausen on Bank Holiday Monday, May 29th, followed by a screening of his most famous film, Jason and the Argonauts (Don Chaffey, 1963). Early enough to bring along your kids.
An offer…and so on
Gangster films have never been uncool, partly because they occupy a strong territory of high drama and are always topical, and partly because some of the greatest movies ever made are about gangsters, from the tough Cagney/Bogart/Edward G Robinson prohibition flics of the 1930s through, after a significant pause, to the grand operatic masterpieces of the 1970s and 80s – The Godfather Trilogy, the Stunning Brian de Palma remake of Scarface (1980) and Scorsese’s seminal Goodfellas and Casino.
But my personal favourite is Sergio Leone’s 1984 masterpiece, Once Upon a Time in America. Despite some unsavoury sexual content this is one of the greatest movies ever made and is now available in an epic four hour version. When I have enough energy I will put together a talk to accompany some of those films.
Buckle your swashes…
Moving on, I have also become intrigued by swashbucklers, which had their heyday in two eras. Firstly, because of their visual panache and heroics they were popular in the silent era (notably featuring Douglas Fairbanks) but later experienced a post war revival featuring the great (if troublesome) Errol Flynn. We are hoping to show the best movie of that era, Michael Curtiz’ The Sea Hawk alongside a more recent reimagining, Peter Weir’s 2003 excellent Master and Commander : Far Side of the World.
We also have some great one -off screenings coming up, including Martin Scorsese’s powerful exploration of toxic, and tragic, masculinity Raging Bull (1980) now re-released in a new 4K restoration. And a rare chance to see Thorold Dickenson’s off the wall Queen of Spades (1949), a reworking of Faust by way of a Pushkin novella fashioned into a dark brooding masterpiece.
Of course all this will be sneaked into the main programme which continues to be more diverse than any in the UK outside the BFI. Keep coming.
What's Coming Up? - 10 March 2023
Post Awards season tends to be a quiet period in cinemas and that’s reflected in the smaller number of major releases. So it’s a good time to explore some of our world cinema offerings.
People tell me they don’t like subtitled films, but caption Mondays are popular as have been films such as Parasite (Bong Joon-ho, 2019) through to All Quiet on the Western Front (Edward Berger, 2022) which are subtitled. Ah it’s about Awards? Then many of the world cinema films we show have won awards around the world. “But I want escapism”. Well not much of that to be had in All Quiet in the Western Front.
A good example of a film to check out is Full Time (Eric Gravel, 2021) with Laure Calamy (fresh out of Call My Agent) as a single mother battling work and childcare challenges during a train strike in Paris. It plays as a terrific (and highly relevant) thriller, and will leave your pulse racing. But if you want something closer to home then Richard Eyre’s decent film adaptation of Alan Bennett’s play Allelujah will do the trick. It has a Covid style epilogue and some great twists.
Our Martial Arts season continues apace and I am pleased to be introducing the two Raid films (2011, 2014) on consecutive nights (March 28th, 29th). These are Indonesian films made by the Welsh director Gareth Evans in which elite cops battle vicious drug cartels In Manila. They feature pencak silat to devastating effect, a form of Indonesian martial arts in which all parts of the body are used. Those astonishing fight scenes (one in a moving car) are embedded in a tight narrative of non-stop action and great characterization.
I recently spoke at the Catalyst Club (David Bramwell’s quirky talks events) about the Peplum, and there was huge interest. Peplum movies represent a body of Italian films made between 1957 and 1965 many of which featured leading body builders of the day in cheaply made but entertaining sword and sandal sagas – heroic heroes, damsels in distress, nasty villains in mythological or fantasy narratives. I hope to run an extended version of the talk in a few months’ time along with a couple of screenings.
In April I am also involved in the screening of two of the most famous films by the German born director, Douglas Sirk, who defined the classic Hollywood melodrama of the 1950s while also subverting it with ironic narratives and visual panache. My talk (which is free) precedes a screening of Sirk’s Written on the Wind (1956) a powerful oil saga which laid the grounds for popular television series such as Dynasty and Dallas. The second screening is of Imitation of Life (1959) which deals with issues of social inequality and racism. Astonishingly the film still holds up and will leave you in shreds.
THE AWARDS SEASON…and some KUNG-FU - 30 January 2023
The Awards season is now upon us again with the BAFTAs on Sunday, February 19th and the Oscars on Sunday, March 12th.
The nominations reflect the recent winners and nominees of the Golden Globes, notably The Banshees of Inisherin which is Martin McDonagh’s second big hit after Three Billboards in Outside Ebbing, Missouri, released in 2017. McDonagh is a fine writer but a journeyman director and for me the new movie was an extended version of a small black comedy that might have worked better on stage. I also think it was inferior to McDonagh’s hilarious and Pinteresque In Bruges, released in 2008 with the same lead actors.
Cinema awards are now different to a few years ago because of the added element of home subscription releases through Netflix, Amazon and Disney Plus. These are now major film distributors but the films are released for only a short time in cinemas and can easily be overlooked. After the debacle over Roma (Alfonso Cuaron, 2018) an outstanding film that the Depot was unable to show (and which won 3 Oscars ) Netflix are permitting short cinema windows, although The Good Nurse (Tobias Lindholm) which has a standout performance by Eddie Redmayne and the German remake of All Quiet on the Western Front (Edward Berger) were barely screened. The latter has 14 BAFTA nominations.
There are also the usual nominations for stalwart British thesps such as Bill Nighy in Living (Oliver Hermanus), a solid movie rescued from mawkishness by Kazuo Ishiguro’s Japanese influenced screenplay. Olivia Colman is back as an emotionally troubled cinema usher in Sam Mendes’ uneven but popular Empire of Light and Cate Blanchett delivers a typically feisty turn in Tár (Todd Field)
Other films well in contention include Everything Everywhere All At Once, Elvis (a great movie, Austin Butler is sensational) and Spielberg’s homage to himself, The Fabelmans. But we show a very diverse range of movies at the Depot and I’m not sure these are the best films of the year, more the most promoted and talked about. And female and non-binary directors don’t get much of a look in this year although I suspect Aftersun (Charlotte Wells) will play well at the BAFTAS, which are likely to go to gender-neutral acting awards in 2024. Not a good year for diversity either.
My favourite film of the year is Babylon, Damien Chazelle’s outrageous follow-up to La La Land. It is an audacious mainstream film at a time when cautious standards, actor protections and moral values are heavily influencing movie-making. Chazelle’s homage to pre-code movies and the excesses of early movie-making bowled me over and reminded me of Fellini, Kubrick, Scorsese, and Tarantino (even Ken Russell, bless him) at their most creative.
The less said about Top Gun the better.
Martial Arts Season
Martial arts movies, more commonly known as Kung-fu, started in Hong Kong in the 1960s as kick ass thrillers, advancing the Hong Kong film industry (think Shaw Brothers) and bringing the great Bruce Lee to international fame (he sadly died at the age of 33 and was in fact American). Enter the Dragon (1973) was the seminal movie and the advantage of kickboxing, and its various variations, is that it sinks well into a good if cheesy thriller format, unlike say golf or ten pin bowling.
Lee was followed by other famous actors – Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Michelle Yeoh – to expand the format both in terms of genre and geographical range, and inspirational directors such as Ang Lee and Yimou Zhang.
So don’t miss Depot’s Martial Arts season kicks off (literally) with Enter the Dragon but includes the comedic Drunken Master (1978, Jackie Chan’s finest moment) and Ang Lee’s tribute to the genre Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon a big hit in 2000 and an example of the “wuxia” sub-genre involving superhuman balletic action. We are also showing Jet Li’s visually stunning 2005 movie Hero (just book it) and the Welsh director Gareth Evans’ astonishingly good Raid movies, made in Indonesia in 2011 and 2014. They are probably the best action thrillers ever made.
All films run through March – what a treat – with intros by Depot staff.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR CINEMAS? - 11 January 2023
Now two new films have been made superficially along similar lines, reminders of the impact of cinema on the young and the nostalgia of those picture palaces of yesterday. I grew up in Morecambe, which used to have six cinemas including one that showed seasonal epics (an early memory was The Guns of Navarone which I saw when I was nine) and another (called The Empire) which installed a massive 70 mm screen to show John Huston’s rambling but visually spectacular The Bible: In the Beginning (1966).
Now we have Sam Mendes’ Empire of Light, a period drama set in a South Coast town (it was filmed in Margate) which examines issues of racism and mental illness within the context of a nostalgic look at cinema going in the early 1980s. One would think that Mendes’ first love was theatre as he firmly established his name in theatre direction some time before his first movie, American Beauty was released in 1999, winning 5 Oscars. Mendes went on to further acclaim with, inter alia, Skyfall (2012) and 1917 (2019).
We also have the long anticipated The Fabelmans, an autobiographical account of the early years of Steven Spielberg. The film engages not only with cinemas (although this is presented as his inspiration) but also his early attempts at film making. Spielberg playfully hints at some of the techniques for which he became justly famous, including an amusing reference to Saving Private Ryan. Interesting, Spielberg’s film also deals with racism (in this case anti-semitism) and the mental issues affecting his mother.
Both directors have said they felt this was an appropriate time to remind audiences why movie-going is such a powerful experience in a post-Covid environment. Concerns remain that a lot of people have adjusted to home viewing; that cinemas are an expensive night out at a time of financial pressures (although that isn’t true, certainly not at the Depot), and that there are not enough big movies being made to get people out to see them.
The last point is an interesting one, because it may well be true if viewed from a single perspective. The entire industry, led by Hollywood, have placed intense emphasis on “tent pole” movies in terms of marketing and publicity and rely on them for box office takings. As a result many people simply don’t think about going to see the rich and diverse range of films that are made all over the world every year. Far more people did in the 60s and 70s.
This is most evident from the saga around Cineworld, which filed for bankruptcy in the USA but will basically have to be sold off. They are the second largest chain in the world, so a deal with the largest (AMC, which owns the Odeon chain) seems unlikely on monopoly grounds. That leaves the prospect of bargain hunting by private equity but cinemas are going to close for sure, in fact it is already happening.
Boutique chains like Everyman and Curzon and independents (like Depot) are better protected through more diverse programming. The bigger chains need to take note and also show a wider range of movies which will encourage audiences to try them out. That also allows these films to be shown far more widely. It’s a win – win and obvious really.
JAMES CAMERON and AVATAR : THE WAY OF WATER
James Cameron is a Canadian filmmaker, born in 1954, who trained as an engineer and a physicist but dropped out of education to follow a career in cinema. It has proved to be one of the most successful careers, both critically and commercially, in movie history.
It would be those early scientific and technical interests that placed Cameron at the forefront of advancements in movie special effects. His breakthrough film, The Terminator, was made in 1984 on a low budget but the effects, which were based on stop motion and miniaturization were highly advanced for the era. More importantly the film demonstrated Cameron’s skills as a superb story teller.
Around the same time Cameron began work on a sequel to Ridley Scott’s hugely successful Alien (1979) to be called Aliens. Released in 1986 it also featured state of the art special effects, but those were integrated into an immensely powerful and exciting narrative with a terrific bunch of characters headed up by Sigourney Weaver as the iconic Ellen Ripley. After a slight misfire with The Abyss in 1989 Cameron came storming back with Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), which fully utilized the potential of computer-generated imagery and the star talents of Arnold Schwarzenneger.
Unexpectedly Cameron then changed tack and brought all his skills as a storyteller and technical wizard to an old fashioned epic melodrama called Titanic. There is little doubt that it was the technical aspects of creating the ship (and sinking it) that aroused his interest, but he also created one of the most popular romances of all time. The film won 11 Oscars, made a star of Leonardo DiCaprio, and became the biggest box office film at the time.
Working on Titanic further developed Cameron’s parallel interest in oceanography, and he has throughout his career made documentaries about underwater life, especially deep sea exploration. But he also started working on a new 3-dimensional special effects technique which became known as the Fusion Camera System, along with advances in performance capture technology and a system called MASSIVE, which had been used in Lord of the Rings. His dream of making a fully immersive 3D movie sat in the pipeline for many years as the technology developed, but finally emerged in his groundbreaking movie Avatar, released in 2008. The film was another box office smash and remains the biggest box office movie of all time.
After the film was released Cameron became increasingly absorbed with his deep sea filming interests and probably also wanted to wait around ten years before launching a sequel. In fact due to Covid the sequel Avatar 2: The Way of Water will be finally released next month, one of several sequels in the pipeline. There are of course dangers of over-familiarity with the concept and a broad dislike of 3D glasses, but given the marine context there is little doubt that Cameron, still sitting with two of the only three $2 billion movies in history will blow us away again. Let’s hope so.
As part of our Horror film season I am presenting a talk on Zombie Movies on Halloween night. One suspects that in Lewes thoughts are more focused on Bonfire than that annoying US imported stuff. But you might be wrong : many kids have great fun on Halloween collecting Haribo on doorsteps and enjoying a frisson of excitement.
Halloween is largely an American tradition but it did not originate there. It has Celtic and Gaelic origins and in Christian religion and paganism. A contraction of “All Hallows Eve” it probably got shipped over to the States by immigrants in the 19th century where it got separated from any potential religious roots and eventually ended up as pageant with its now familiar games, tricks and treats and scary (but not too scary) appeal among the young.
In film the seminal work is John Carpenter’s masterpiece Halloween (1978) which is not only the best Halloween movie but a horror film that defined generations of slasher movies and created the now familiar tropes (the killer that may be supernatural, that cannot be killed, the jump cut, the female/child jeopardy). There have been many sequels but Curtis reprised her role for a 40 year reboot also called Halloween (2018) at the age of 60, and has appeared in two sequels. The latest Halloween Ends (which I doubt) is released this month.
In addition there have been a range of bad horror films, often comedies, set on Halloween night. Better efforts have included Pet Sematary, based on the book by Stephen King, which was released in 1989 and remade in 2019, and House of 1,000 Corpses (Rob Zombie, 2003), an enjoyable splatterfest. But the reality is that the Halloween films dominate and invariably get screened extensively on Halloween Night.
Depot has passed on that more obvious option (although we have of course screened the original Halloween of course) in favour of George A Romero’s seminal zombie classic, Night of the Living Dead (1968). In fact the term “zombie” is never used, nor was this the first film about zombies (the best is Jacques Tourneur’s very stylish voodoo noir I Walked With A Zombie, made in 1943). But it established the conventions and tropes of the modern zombie movie and is a stunningly bleak and nihilistic film. The talk on zombie movies is in the Studio at 7.30pm (free entry but please book) before our screening of the movie on Halloween night at 8.30pm.
THE COMING AUTUMN. SOME OFFERS, AND A FEW GRIPES - 16 September 2022
We have as you could expect a cracking season coming up this Autumn, including such major new releases as Wakanda Forever (sadly without the great Chadwick Boseman), a film version of Matilda the Musical directed by the theatre director Matthew Warchus, and the long awaited Avatar : The Way of Water. Big budget films around water tend to flop (most famously Kevin Costner’s Waterworld (1995) because water is an expensive budget shredder. But director James Cameron made two of the most commercially successful films of all time, the first Avatar (2009) at number 1, and Titanic (1997) at number 3 (and that was on water). He probably knows what he’s doing.
In October we have our Black History Month with several important movies. I am especially interested in The Hate U Give (George Tillman Jr, 2018) about the challenges faced by young people in America, with a storyline which anticipates the murder of George Floyd. And we also have the 1972 Jamaican crime classic The Harder They Come with Jimmy Cliff and a stonking reggae soundtrack.
Also starting in October, and in conjunction with the BFI, we are kicking off a major horror season. I am a huge enthusiast of horror films (which are often the most fascinating to analyse) but it is often difficult to root out the fans, who tend to be a younger and edgier crowd than the average viewer.
This will be a season of eight films which are in many ways secondary choices (for example John Carpenter’s The Fog (1980), rather than The Thing (1982) and Neil Marshall’s Dog Soldiers (2002) rather than The Descent (2005). This should mean that most of these films will not have been widely seen – certainly not the bizarre The Bloodettes (2005) made by the Cameroon director Jean-Pierre Bekolo. We are also throwing in a double bill of fabulous older classics including Carl Dreyer’s 1932 Vampyr (overshadowed by Murnau’s Nosferatu but a better movie) and the weird and cultish Haxan (Benjamin Christensen, 1922). What a treat.
Here at Depot we remain committed to supporting our customers who have supported us post Covid and through the recent heat issues in the screens (we have a plan and things are working better as I write). Although none of that excuses the small minority who have been angry with our staff. This has been beyond their control and they have all been trying to do the best they can.
Born to be Blue, Bowie and Cineworld Blues - 23 August 2022
Sadly his youthful exuberance and cool looks gave way to a heroin addiction which dogged the rest of his career, and after spells in prison and a violent attack which knocked out his teeth, he seemed all washed up. But he recovered in the late 1970s and embarked on a second career, finding fame playing a trumpet solo on the Elvis Costello song, “Shipbuilding”.
The 2015 movie Born to be Blue was directed by jazz enthusiast Robert Budreau. Budreau wanted to avoid a traditional biopic and instead created a semi-fictional account largely set in the mid 60s. It contains all the key themes of his life, but focuses on his relationship with his partner, an amalgam of several of the women in his later life. It features fine performances by Ethan Hawke as Baker and Carmen Ejogo as Jane / Elaine.
A few people have asked about screening jazz documentaries such as Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1959) and The Girls in the Band (2011). We will line that up, but first we have Brett Morgen’s great looking documentary about David Bowie, Moonage Daydream. Morgen was given exclusive access by Bowie’s family to rarely seen footage and this looks like a definitive account of his career. I have seen an extended excerpt and it looks stunning.
Cineworld are in the news announcing that they may file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy shortly due to struggles in paying down $5 billion in debt. It is run by the brothers “Mooky” and Israel Greidinger and they have only themselves to blame, building up the world’s second largest cinema chain (9,500 screens, 28,000 staff, of which 4,600 in the UK) on credit. In recent years they have faced a perfect storm of Covid closures, legal action in Canada, and staff strikes around low pay, but they have also paid themselves very well. They blame subscription services (which are actually in decline) and a shortage of “tent pole” movies. Cineworld own Picturehouse and have three cinemas in Brighton, but so far there is no indication of closure because this type of US bankruptcy allows companies to continue trading. Cinema is an important low cost social and cultural asset and should not be hijacked by big business, not should their staff be affected in this way.
JAZZ ON FILM : BIRD (Clint Eastwood, 1988) - 5 August 2022
In the early 1980s the actor and director Clint Eastwood began to tire of the westerns and thrillers in which he had both acted and directed. It was the start of a major series of important movies, often true life stories and frequently dealing with complex moral issues.
Commercially it was less successful. Eastwood was identified in a certain way, and this change disillusioned many of his fans. But he eventually found success with such films as Mystic River (2003) Million Dollar Baby (2004) and Gran Torino (2008).
His first venture into new territory was an extended biopic on the life of Charlie Parker, the American alto saxophonist, band leader and composer. Born in 1920 Parker, nicknamed “Bird” was a leading figure in the development of bebop, a free flowing form of jazz which largely replaced swing as the major form of jazz composition and inspired the careers of such legendary performers as Bud Powell, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. Bebop was characterized by avant garde techniques and improvisation. Tempos would vary from upbeat riffs through to mellow ballads but all focused on instrumental virtuosity.
Charlie Parker faced considerable challenges in his personal life. An accident in his youth left him dependent on drugs, and he had mental health issues. He was an erratic performer on stage and had difficult personal relationships, especially with his common law wife Chan, who Eastwood had met and on whose memories the film is largely based. She also gave Eastwood access to many original recordings, which were isolated from the original backing and re-recorded with new musicians.
It was a rich seam for Clint Eastwood to explore, and he found the perfect actor to play Parker in the then 25 year old actor Forest Whitaker, launching a successful career which included a best actor Oscar for The Last King of Scotland, playing Idi Amin.
Bird is considered one of the greatest jazz biopics ever made, which unlike the traditional biopics before fully explores the dark side of the character. It is full of great music, but like Round Midnight also demonstrates the challenges of growing up as a black musician in 1940s America.
CASABLANCA 80 YEARS ON, JAZZ SEASON, CINEMA COOLING !- 28 July 2022
As some of you know I am interested in film genre. One film, possibly the only one, covers a number of genres. It’s a melodrama, and a romance. Made in 1942 it’s also a war film made during the second world war and of its time a classic film noir. The script is one of the best ever written for a movie and it’s very witty, so it’s also almost a comedy and at times plays like a musical.
Of this film the Italian philosopher and writer Umberto Eco said “it is not one movie – it’s movies”. Many others have said it might not be the greatest film ever made but it is the most loved. I’m talking of course about Casablanca.
Before America entered the war Hollywood studios were looking at ways of cashing in. At the time Casablanca formed part of Vichy France, the area controlled and occupied by Germany. But following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, in December 1941, things moved very quickly, and by the time this film was released, in November 1942, George S Patton, otherwise known as George C Scott, had recaptured the city for the Allies.
The film was a classic Hollywood production, and made almost entirely at Warner Brothers studios at Burbank, California. It features a number of prominent actors
The disillusioned and hard bitten bar owner Rick Blanes is played by Humphrey Bogart, who had made a major impact as Sam Spade in John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon a year earlier. Other male roles included Claude Rains as the wily Louis Renault, a camp performance at odds with all his talk of seducing beautiful women. In fact at one point he says “if I was a woman I would be in love with Rick” and he quite clearly is.
Then we have the wonderful double act of Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet, who were also in The Maltese Falcon and made seven movies together. And there is Paul Henreid as the somewhat emotionally stunted resistance leader, Victor Lazlo, fresh from a similarly restrained role in Now Voyager, with Bette Davis.
But at the centre of the film is the beautiful and charismatic Ingrid Bergman in her best screen role as Ilsa Lund. It was the start of a major Hollywood career which included several films with Hitchcock. 1970s feminist film theorists have argued that most Hollywood films up to that time contained what they called “the male gaze”, films made for a male audience featuring white male actors driving the action. There is of course much truth in this, and you can interpret this film as being a classic example.
But many leading actresses of their time, Lauren Bacall, Joan Crawford, Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Monroe and so forth, dominated the films in which they appeared and were not of course simply admired by men. In Casablanca Ilsa Lund may appear to be dominated by two men, but in fact she is the one that allows it to happen.
The director is clearly besotted with Bergman, often using soft focus to capture her look. I particularly like the pivotal scene where she confronts Rick with a gun and then turns slowly into the window.
While the film is of its time, it has a wonderful role for the black American musician Dooley Wilson, as the eternally famous Sam. Rick never looks down on Sam as just a piano player, they clearly have a strong friendship. Wilson was actually a drummer and had to learn to sing while the piano playing was dubbed. The theme song As Time Goes By, which is worked throughout the score, is one of the most famous ever written for the movies
The great screenplay was based on an unperformed play called Everybody Comes to Ricks and adapted by three screenwriters. It contains more famous lines than any movie in history although nobody actually says “play it again, Sam”.
The direction is so seamless it can easily be forgotten, but is a superlative example of studio film making. The director, Michael Curtiz, was at the time immersed in the film noir style, positioning actors in contrasting light and shade, and using cigarette smoke, curtains and screens to lend atmosphere. Props such as lamps feature prominently and check out those suits, hats and raincoats.
In a stand out scene now called The Duel of the Anthems, note how the actors are positioned. It’s a scene without dialogue but which is immensely revealing, driven to an emotional high by the presence of many European émigrés cast as extras and in small roles. Most of them were in tears when the scene had been shot.
That scene also features the French actress Madeleine Lebeau as Yvonne, who was the last actor in the film to die, in 2016, aged 92. Her character is tainted with betrayal, and she herself had fled to the USA using transit visas through Lisbon, along with her husband Marcel Dalio, who plays Emil the croupier. The image of her singing became one of the symbols of the French resistance.
In 1942 Hollywood was still engaging Americans in the war, and when Rick talks about people sleeping all over America he may not only have been reflecting on his own turbulent state but also the reluctance of many in the US to accept the need to fight. There is no doubt that this film helped to galvanise public opinion. On so many levels it is, without question, one of the greatest films ever made.
All that jazz…
There is an introduction to this season on our website so all I will add is that we are screening four classic movies on Wednesdays through August, which are selling quite well. I will introduce the season on August 3rd, followed by a screening of Bertrand Tavernier’s Round Midnight, starring the real life saxophonist Dexter Gordon. I will post intros to the other three movies (Bird, Mo Better Blues, Born to be Blue) on this blog each week.
Our cooling system!
This has been a challenging year for Depot, not only because of Covid and the slow return to cinema viewing but also staff shortages and the problems with our cooling system. This briefly affected us last summer but came thudding down during the recent spate of very hot weather. The air circulation is actually fine, with fresh air running through the screens, but it is not being cooled effectively. We are hoping to have this resolved by the start of August. Apologies from all of us and many thanks for bearing with us.
A Cornucopia of Movies - 6 June 2022
With summer almost upon us it is great to see that so many people have shaken off their post-covid blues and are returning to the cinema. We have been popular on our terrace throughout the spring but we are now busy in our restaurant and increasingly in the screens themselves. In terms of larger audiences Top Gun: Maverick (Joseph Kosinsky) is definitely the film that most people want to see, boosted by massive publicity and good reviews.
Between Two Worlds
But at the Depot we go a bit further than that, screening around a dozen films each week. Our re-runs of five of the most popular films we have shown continue (see website), but there are also some great new independent movies on this month. Between Two Worlds (Emmanuel Carrere) is a poignant exploration of what it’s like to be a lowly paid ferry cleaner, as observed by a writer (the ever watchable Juliette Binoche) keen to share their story. We screened it last year as a supper club and I heartily recommend it.
All Quiet on The Western Front
The first of the war/anti-war films are also coming up, commencing with Lewis Milestone’s masterly All Quiet on the Western Front. Made in 1930 it was the probably the first movie to merge the striking aesthetics of 1920s European silent movies with an actual soundtrack, and it remains a stunning indictment of the folly of human conflict. Then we have Gille Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers (1966) which plays like a thriller and has the look of a documentary even through no actual footage was used. It was the first, and one of the few, films to examine terrorism and the war on terrorism in balanced way and it is convincing, tense and moving with a great score by Ennio Morricone.
Most people will never have heard of Robert Bresson whose minimalist, pared down directorial style was a major influence on such varied directors as Christopher Nolan, Wes Anderson, Andrei Tarkovsky and Martin Scorsese. On June 16th we have two of his best films in a double bill, Pickpocket (1959) and L’Argent (1983). They are small beautifully crafted movies spanning the great director’s career.
I have been trying to get the fabulous opera singer and television presenter Danielle de Niese to the Depot for years but she has been very busy with her professional career and her new family. But I will be interviewing her on stage on June 28th after a screening of her solo movie La Voix Humane (James Kent). Based on a play by Jean Cocteau it was scored as an opera by Francis Poulenc and has much relevance to the covid era.
Danielle de Niese
Finally we are screening a season of great jazz movies on Wednesdays through August. The films are dramas not concerts, but shot through with terrific jazz scores. Check our website pages for the full run down and enjoy some smooth summer jazz.
CINEMACON, ANNIVERSARY, THE NORTHMAN - 6 May 2022
I am now going to boast that I’ve just been in Vegas at Cinemacon 2022. It’s where thousands of mainly American cinema owners congregate to hear what new films are emerging from the big studios through the coming months. Unfortunately they seem to have lost their way right now, with an overwhelming focus on mainstream sequels and special effects movies. As the major sponsor, Coca Cola think that a huge Coke and a vast bucket of popcorn complete a perfect evening. Scorsese was pilloried for saying that the American film industry is turning into a theme park, and some of these movies can be very good, but it’s obviously a long way from what we try and do at Depot, not least the humongous amounts of packaging, waste and unhealthy food that courses through a typical American cinema.
Robert de Niro was in town winning some sort of lifetime award which even he didn’t understand. This was after Olivia Wilde was served child custody papers on stage – only in America. De Niro talked about the movies he loved when he was young – Ben Hur, Spartacus, Lawrence of Arabia and The Bridge Over The River Kwai, the last being the opener for our forthcoming War/Anti-War season. I think he was questioning why movies of that sort of epic scale and complexity were not made any more, and he is not alone.
A rather dour documentary filmmaker called Brett Morgan turned up to talk passionately about a new Bowie documentary called Moonage Daydream, which will open at Cannes this summer. He has had five years of access to the Bowie family vaults and the extended documentary looks absolutely stunning. Also coming up is Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, and a creepy new David Cronenberg called Crimes of the Future (a return to his body horror roots).
A note on The Northman. Made by the visionary director Robert Eggers (The Witch, The Lighthouse) a Viking saga related to Hamlet sounded more than promising. But any historical epic is going to have to contend with film history – great epics made in the 50s and 60s (including Richard Fleischer’s The Vikings (1958) with Kirk Douglas in stonking form, the wonderfully executed television series Game of Thrones and, unfortunately, the debunking of such movies by Monty Python. Also Alexander Skarsgard’s bulked up body (he looks like a tank) reminded me of Schwarzenegger in Conan the Barbarian (John Milius, 1982) as did the many mystical elements.
Strangely there is little evidence of the $90 million budget on the screen. Most of the film is set on a small farmstead where hero’s duplicitous Uncle (a very good Claes Bang) has retreated. The film is a visual feast (one wonders whether any dialogue was actually needed ) and its an attempt to do something different, visceral, hallucinatory, primaeval and often downright bonkers. But it’s a complete blast, and perhaps a reminder to the Hollywood studios of the type of film they now seem largely incapable of making.
Mark Rylance - 12 April 2022
Mark Rylance has had two films at the Depot recently, the quirky British comedy Phantom of the Open (Craig Roberts) and the twisty David Mamet-style thriller The Outfit (Graham Moore). Both are worth a look.
It got me thinking about when we opened in May 2017 and Mark generously came to the second of two weekend launches. He spoke about the presence of steel and flint around the building and how we had perhaps created a spark and lit a fire in Lewes. Almost five years on that would indeed seem to be the case, even if we have had to endure Covid, water leaks and Cats.
Mark Rylance was born in Ashford, Kent in 1960 and grew up partly in the USA. His sister, the singer, novelist and theatre producer Susannah Waters is a long time resident of Lewes and theatre clearly runs in the blood. It became Mark’s passion and after a spell with the RSC he became Artistic Director of the Globe Theatre in 1995, where he showed unswerving commitment for a decade, appearing in many productions (he even popped up on the Shakespeare Globe Walks in Lincoln’s Inn).
He became famous as a stage actor due to his riveting performance as Rooster Byron in Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem for which he won an Olivier for Best Actor in 2011. Television fame followed when he appeared as Thomas Cromwell in the much lauded adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall (2015), for which he won an Emmy and a BAFTA, although the defining performance was probably that of Ben Miles in the subsequent stage version.
Wolf Hall revealed an understated and introspective style of acting, far removed from his barnstorming performances on stage, and he took that style of character acting into the cinema. He had appeared in a number of undistinguished films when younger and courted controversy for an unsimulated sex scene with Kerry Fox in Patrice Cheraux’s Intimacy (2001) which he deeply regretted. His major movie roles have all been recent.
One would assume it was his portrayal of Cromwell that caught the attention of Steven Spielberg, who cast him alongside Tom Hanks in Bridge of Spies in 2015, for which Mark won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. At the Depot launch party in 2017 he talked, without immodesty, about hanging out with Spielberg and Hanks over dinner parties and he was clearly drawn to this new level of fame, appearing subsequently in Spielberg’s Ready Player One in 2018.
Prior to that he was excellent as a small boat captain in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk (2017) where his restrained performance acutely captures the moments of personal tragedy. He was the Defence Counsellor, William Kunstler, in Aaron Sorkin’s admirable and important The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020) and appeared recently in Adam McKay’s star-studded satire Don’t Look Up (2021).
Mark’s often understated presence in these movies allows a deep interpretation of each character which allows the “stars” of the films to hold centre stage, and he is regarded as an honest and generous actor in the heady world of Hollywood movie-making. But the film world no longer has the same allure. He has recently said that theatre is “a thousand times more interesting than film” and he is returning to some of the roles that made him famous – Richard III at the Globe and a revival of Jerusalem which starts this month. Bizarrely one of his last film roles may well be in Terrence Malick’s forthcoming Christ film, The Way of the Wind – as Satan.
Ukraine, War and Hitchcock - 18 March 2022
The Awards Season - 16 February 2022
…is upon us with the BAFTAs announced on March 13th and the Oscars on March 27th. Although many nominated films have left the cinemas it’s a busy period and it’s great to see full houses again for Belfast (Kenneth Branagh) among others.
After the Golden Globe Awards hit rock bottom with accusations of cronyism and lack of diversity both the major award events are attempting to factor in diversity, anti-ageism and a focus on female talent. Many people think that is increasingly patronising and “the best man should win” but you can see the problem just from that simple phrasing.
The BAFTAs are a rather mixed bag, ranging from Denis Villeneuve’s brilliantly designed and visually stunning Dune (although for me lacking narrative coherence or real tension) to small British movies like Ali & Ava (Clio Barnard) and After Love (Aleem Khan). Those are up for best British film. The main players include The Power of the Dog, Jane Campion’s complex and masterly exploration of masculinity in the late western era. It has a commanding performance by Benedict Cumberbatch (who seems to be in everything these days, he is even coming to Charleston). It’s a slow burn movie which many have found gripping, but I personally preferred Campion’s masterpiece The Piano, which explored similar themes.
Despite a star cast Don’t Look Up failed to perform well at the box office. It’s a clever and funny satire that has been nominated as best film with Leonardo DiCaprio, always good these days, up for best actor. However, he will surely lose out to Will Smith, who after a string of bad films is very likely to win for his performance as Richard Williams in King Richard, a hugely enjoyable and involving drama (even if it is about tennis).
Also in the frame is Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza, which has a standout performance by Cooper Hoffman, son of the late (and great) Philip Seymour Hoffman. I found the film something of a mixed bag, but I loved the free spirit and evocative narrative, which evoked French new wave films from the 60s.
The Oscars cover similar ground but with, as one would expect, a greater focus on American movies. They now nominate ten movies as best film which is a wide remit and includes Steven Spielberg’s impressive remake of West Side Story, although for me it did not capture the brilliance of the semi-theatrical 1962 version. I am personally pleased to see Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley feature with four nominations, as that for me was probably the film of the year, at least from a US-UK perspective (no room here for a plethora of great foreign language movies).
It’s also good to see some recognition No Time to Die (Cary Joji Fukunaga) which has 3 Oscar nominations and 5 BAFTAs (the song, course, the rest mainly technical) but nothing for Daniel Craig’s majestic final performance. It is unlikely to be voted Best British Film, despite its standing as the film that brought audiences back to the movies after two very lean years.
NIGHTMARE ALLEY (Guillermo del Toro, 2021) - 24 January 2022
Nightmare Alley is a gripping novel written by William Lindsey Gresham and published in 1946. It charts the fortunes, mainly misfortunes, of a bunch of drifters and losers in the world of carnival and spiritualism in the depression era of the 1930s and presents a raw, nihilistic vision with a central character doomed from the outset. Ironically, given Gresham attacks on fake spiritualism, his first wife Joy Davidman married the poet CS Lewis. Their deeply religious relationship was the subject of the play and film Shadowlands.
One can see why Guillermo del Toro was interested in the adaptation. The Mexican director has always been drawn to the magic realism of such writers as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and his two most famous films, Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), and The Shape of Water (2017) use fantasy to explore deeper issues (Spanish Civil War, Cold War America). In fact Gresham picked up the themes of the novel from a former carnival worker when fighting for the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War.
This is the second version of the novel. The first, released in 1947, was directed by Edmund Goulding and handed the typecast screen idol Tyrone Power an opportunity to play a gritty character. It was not liked at the time because of its downbeat content, although the studio insisted on slapping on a happy ending which is not in the novel. The film has since become a cult classic from the era.
Here del Toro has no need for fantasy elements because the fantastic and the surreal are embedded in the narrative, which is hyper-realised but largely faithful to the book. It is an attempt to update the film noir style and technique, with classic characters (drifter, femme fatale, innocent girl, alcoholic, card sharp) and a high class production design (significant carnival motifs, splendid art deco sets).
The monochrome light and shade which featured in classic film noirs is here replaced by low key colour cinematography but all the iconic elements (light and spatial contrasts, glamorous fashion, lamps. mirrors, fancy machines, rain streaked windows, gloomy Edward Hopper settings) are superbly evoked without descending into cliché. Like Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974) there is no framing device or narration here, the directors preferring instead to inject a sense of doom laden dread into the storyline.
Early disquiet over a rush of well known actors soon dissipates with the quality of the performances, especially Toni Collette as a complicated Tarot reader and, later, Cate Blanchett as an ice cool blonde.
Deliverance : Fifty Years On - 10 January 2022
There are at least three good reasons to watch John Boorman’s Deliverance, released in 1972. It is 50 years old. Boorman, now 88, was knighted in the New Year honours. And it is still a stone cold classic – superficially an exciting survival thriller but subtextually it explores many social, ethical and psychological themes.
America was going through massive changes in the early 70s with the rise of a youth counter culture, anti-war protests and new levels of permissiveness. This translated into many great movies which challenged audiences and the censors.
On the surface Deliverance is a routine narrative about four middle aged guys, some macho, some vulnerable, all opinionated, who embark on a trip by canoe down the Chattooga river in North Georgia before it is dammed. It looked like a film about male bonding, ecology and the decline of rural landscapes as a result of urbanisation, logging and pollution. But this is no idyll about change, as everything goes terribly wrong and the men have to fight for their survival, their dignity and their morality.
Into this tense set up Boorman, working with the American poet and novelist James Dickey (who appears in a great cameo) thrusts the primal fears of middle class American males existing in a world of change, fears about sexuality, post-military courage, and the otherness of the “hillbilly” rural communities. But instead of assuaging these fears the British director confronts them head on. Of several iconic scenes one was considered infamous in its day and still retains its shock value, and the famous duelling banjos sequence is still a brilliant juxtaposition of celebration and portent.
In addition to the tight direction and script the film benefits from cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond, working with a predominantly green palette functions in mainly natural light and the stunning beauty of the scenery contrasts sharply with the disturbing incidents portrayed.
Lewis, the principal character in the film is a precursor to the action heroes of the 1980s and played superbly by a knowingly butch Burt Reynolds. But unlike those Rambo-esque movies the narrative brilliantly shifts audience identification to the weaker everyman Ed, played by Jon Voight, and we must confront the dangers through his eyes.
Hitchcock: The Final Movies
Our Hitchcock seasons, which started in 2017, will now conclude with three of his final films. Although his career continued to flourish in the 1960s only three films stand out; his masterpiece Psycho (1960), The Birds (1963) and the disturbing psychological thriller Marnie (1964). The Birds has been widely screened so we have opted to end the series with his celebrated horror film Frenzy, released in 1972. The films will be screening in February.
Macbeth on film - 23 December 2021
Macbeth is the probably the most cinematic of Shakespeare’s plays, being essentially one of the first thrillers. In fact Shakespeare more or less founded the conventions of film genre : Titus Andronicus is horror, Julius Caesar is epic, many romcoms, and so forth. Now Joel Coen, the older half of the Coen Brothers, has made a new version without collaborating with brother Ethan. Perhaps they felt it was a one man job given that the screenplay is one of the best ever written and already in the can.
Macbeth has been performed many times on stage with some of the world’s leading actors in the titular role, but after two forgotten silent films the first major production was the 1948 version starring Orson Welles, who also directed. It was not one of his best films, famously suffering from leaky plumbing, glass fibre sets and a stilted narrative. Better was Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood, made in 1957, transferring the action from Scotland to feudal Japan.
Both directors made several Shakespearean films and better ones. Welles’ masterpiece was Chimes at Midnight (1965) about the relationship between Prince Hal and Falstaff, which wonderfully captured the spirit of the two plays on which it is based. Kurosawa’s triumph was Ran (1985), a powerful reworking of King Lear.
After the Welles Macbeth the next significant version was Roman Polanski’s Macbeth in 1971, with the youthful casting of Jon Finch and Francesca Annis (they were in their late 20s). Being Polanski, Lady Macbeth asks the spot to leave in the nude, but despite some quirks it’s a strong film with excellent fight scenes. In 2015 the Australian film director Justin Kurzel, who went on to make The True History of the Kelly Gang, made an excellent version with Michael Fassbender in the leading role.
All these versions were good movies, mainly shot in black and white or muted colours to capture the dark, sombre mood of the story. Only the Polanski version attempted to widen out the scope of the narrative, the rest focusing in on a sure-fire tale of murder and deceit laced with supernatural omens.
The pared down black and while visual approach is firmly embraced in Coen’s new version, which features Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand. The challenge is to make a Shakespearean movie without abandoning the sense of theatrical staging.
Interestingly Macbeth has rarely been played by Scottish actors, although Jason Connery, whose father might have made a decent fist of it, was in a largely forgotten version made in 1997 (co-directed by Brian Blessed). Now we see two Americans in the key roles. My initial thought was that although they are damn fine actors they are too old, being in their mid 60s. In fact the real Macbeth was 52 when he died so things are not too awry, people aged much more in those days. And leaving that aside they are, as one would expect, very powerful in their roles. Definitely worth a look and Oscar potential.
NEW YEAR LOOMS
So we come to the end of another year at the Depot, a year in which we partly closed but enjoyed, through the summer and autumn, a great selection of movies and popular attendance. I do hope we can stay open after Christmas, as we have the Lord of the Rings trilogy coming up along with some leading Oscar contenders such as Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza, and Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast, among others. Also keep an eye out for our Burns Night offering Our Ladies, a hilarious Scottish teenage romp followed by a supper which will no doubt feature haggis and whisky.
Have a great Christmas and Happy New Year.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy - 23 November 2021
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.
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 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.
NO TIME TO DIE (Cary Joji Fukunaga, 2021) - 13 October 2021
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 with a towering performance.
Dune - 8 November 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.