Tufnell Park, London

Sunday 29 September 2013

 

Dear Winona

You don’t know me but I’d like to thank you for not only starring in Heathers and Beetlejuice but also for being the catalyst that broadened my cinematic and musical horizons.

On Tuesday evening I’m introducing Night on Earth at the film club I run with a friend in North London. I first saw Jim Jarmusch’s film at the Phoenix Cinema in Oxford when it came out in 1992 purely because you were in it. I was 15 at the time and pretty well obsessed with you. That picture at the top of this page? That was on my wall.

I was a committed teenage film geek back then. Little has changed. I first heard about Night on Earth because I saw you on the cover of Sight & Sound magazine. It was like no film I’d seen before: quirky, arty and with subtitles in three languages.  

More importantly it was like no film I’d heard before. As a voracious reader of the music press I knew who Tom Waits was and had heard a few of his songs before. But Night on Earth was the first time I’d been exposed to a sustained blast of his weird percussion, accordions, harmoniums and pump organs and I loved every second. As soon as the film finished I walked to Our Price to buy the soundtrack. It cost more than £13! On tape! Instead I bought another Waits album I’d heard was meant to be good - Rain Dogs.

From that moment I became a devotee of both Tom Waits and Jim Jarmusch. It was only later that I learnt that Jim Jarmusch had used the music from Rain Dogs in the first film he made with Tom Waits, Down By Law.

I’m sure I’ve read that you’re a big Tom Waits fan. You’ve probably met him, after all you were both in Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula. When I saw Tom Waits play at Hammersmith Apollo in 2004 your old boyfriend Johnny Depp was in the front row! So many connections!

The connections from Night on Earth that sent me down a variety of cultural rabbit holes. Into Jim Jarmusch’s previous films, which in turn introduced me to John Lurie and Screamin' Jay Hawkins; towards more of Spike Lee and Aki Kaurismaki’s movies after seeing their regular actors in Night on Earth, and most significantly for me, to Tom Waits’ incredible back catalogue.

Without you, would I ever have travelled to Berlin and Paris (twice) to see Tom Waits? Would I have seen this clip of Tom putting a red snapper down his pants? Possibly not. So thank you once again for opening my eyes and ears.

Best wishes

Nigel

 

Posted
AuthorNigel Smith
On Tuesday 17 September we are showing Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil as part of the Scalarama Festival.
To quote their own website Scalarama “brings together all types of different cinemas, venues, film clubs, societies, pop-ups and festivals to encourage and champion repertory and community cinema, and be the UK’s widest and most inclusive film event”. 

It’s an idea that started three years ago with Scala Forever, a collaboration between various London venues and organisations that paid tribute to the legendary Kings Cross repertory cinema that Stephen Wooley started in 1979. 

Famous for its cult double bills, zombie all-nighters and the resurrection of Hollywood fare that seldom got a look-in at The NFT, the cinema’s projector bulbs were dimmed in 1993 after a legal battle with Warner Bros following an illicit screening of the then-banned A Clockwork Orange.

When I moved to London in 1999 The Scala had just reopened as a music venue but its days as a cinema where you could see John Waters films one day and John Wayne the next were still spoken about in reverential tones. While the BFI screens a wide array of old movies and cinemas like the magnificent Phoenix in East Finchley show the occasional oldie, the culture of repertory cinemas in London is dead. 

(If you do want to experience an exciting rep cinema culture then get the EuroStar to Paris. I’ll never forget seeing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with a sold-out audience on a Sunday afternoon some years ago.) 

The argument goes (and presumably the economics bear this out) that in a world of John Cassavetes box sets, stunning restorations of classics on Blu Ray and a decent smattering of foreign films on-demand on iTunes and LOVEFiLM there’s no market for cinemas to show old movies. 

In their absence, the big question when we all have so many options at our fingertips is who’s going to help us pick what’s worth watching? Who’ll draw our attention to the gem we’ve never heard of? Where can we watch that film we’ve vaguely heard of but that’s never on TV and is one of Netflix’s many blindspots?  

That’s what reps like the Scala did brilliantly and I think it’s one of the things people like about what me and Wayne Gooderham are doing at Tufnell Park Film Club. We’ve never tried to give anyone a film education or inflict anything too esoteric on members. Instead we attempt to adhere to Billy Wilder’s golden rule of “Thou shalt not bore” with films that are consistently entertaining and intelligent no matter when or where they were made. And our voting system allows members to influence the direction of programming.
 
Touch of Evil seemed like a perfect film to show as part of Scalarama. It’s a quintessential cult classic - directed by a Hollywood legend, butchered by the studio who funded it, featuring one of the most famous shots in cinema history and only ‘restored’ to Orson Welles specification 40 years after it was originally released and 13 years after the maestro had died.  

There’s so much to enjoy in Touch of Evil and I hope we’ll see you when we show the film on Tuesday 17 September and raise a glass to the continuing efforts to keep the The Scala’s vision alive.  
Posted
AuthorNigel Smith

The Films We Wish You'd Voted For This Year 

Thinking of three films on a single theme that also links to the film we’ve just shown is one of the great, geeky enjoyments of running the film club. It’s often surprising what does win the vote. 

Being overly pre-prepared we’ve actually bought DVDs of films one of us was sure would win only to see them get hardly any votes at all (Nigel was convinced you’d all want to watch Saturday Night Fever!). 

With the obvious exception of Brigadoon we’ve been pretty well pleased about how the voting’s gone but there are a few films that have been up for the vote that we dearly wish had triumphed.

To complement our Annual Report, these are our five picks each of the also-rans. If you haven't seen any of them, we humbly recommend that you rectify this at your earliest convenience.    


Wayne’s Picks

If Citizen Kane can be seen as a perfect representation of Welles’ (considerable) ego, Touch of Evil is where he let his (equally considerable) id run riot. The result is a film that, while not as perfect as Kane, is darker, funnier and – arguably – more entertaining. A brilliantly warped piece of Wellesian noir populated by a cast of grotesques David Lynch would give his fluffy white quiff for – encompassing police corruption, organised crime, recreational drugs, racial tension, prostitution, sexual perversion, a truly terrible wig, and erotically-charged conversations about chilli con carne. Not forgetting an opening shot that has justifiably gone down in cinematic history and a great score by Henry Mancini.   

Not the greatest film we’ve never shown – just one of the most underrated. A brilliantly throwaway comedy-thriller that fairly zips along, yet still packs a real emotional punch when the final credits roll. Charles Grodin’s mild-mannered accountant almost steals the film from Robert De Niro’s uptight bounty-hunter (a role that is just the right side of self-parody and undoubtedly De Niro’s finest comedic performance). Also, great support from Yaphet Kotto, Joe Pantoliano, and the recently deceased Dennis Farina – who puts in a genuinely chilling performance as a mob boss with a criminal taste in comfortable knitwear. Put simply: more people should see this film.

 
Yes, The Hustler is The Classic, but (whispers) I actually prefer the belated sequel. Paul Newman reprises his role of ‘Fast’ Eddie Felson and Tom Cruise is totally believable his cocky young protégé Vincent – an untutored talent who gives Felson back his hunger and reminds him that “money won is twice as sweet as money earned”. A film about losers and winners. (But mostly losers.)

Mike Leigh arguably produces his most interesting work when operating outside his comfort zone (see also Vera Drake and Topsy Turvy) and by this criteria Naked is his dark masterpiece. The London depicted here is one of loneliness and of physical and emotional brutality. Not an easy watch, admittedly, but an utterly gripping one. It is also very, very funny. And in the character of Johnny, David Thewlis has created an anti-hero as unsettling and unforgettably off-kilter as any of your Travis Bickles, Randle McMurphys or Alex the Droogs.

The Greatest Horror Film Ever Made? Very possibly. 1960s Uptown New York as a haven for cosmopolitan witches intent on bringing the child of Satan into the world. A classic of paranoia and creeping dread. Ruth ‘Harold & Maude’ Gordon rightly won Best-Supporting Actress Oscar for her unforgettably creepy performance. 




Nigel’s Picks

Werner Herzog is not only one of my favourite film directors but high on my list of all-time great cultural figures. The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, the only Herzog film we’ve shown, is probably not the best way to introduce potential new fans to the great man’s work. By contrast, Aguirre, Herzog’s crazed vision of a nutjob 16th-century conquistador in search of El Dorado is perfect newbie material. Aguirre is  played with deranged intensity by Herzog’s great sparring partner Klaus Kinksi. This is one of its many memorable moments. 

I’d known about this film for ages before finally seeing it early last year. It’s utterly unforgettable. Jan Svankmajer is a Czech filmmaker most famous for surreal stop-motion animation. If you’re a fan of Terry Gilliam or David Lynch then you’ve probably got the right sensibilities to enjoy his unique take on Alice in Wonderland. Had it won the vote, this would definitely have been the weirdest film we’ve shown. This clip gives a good impression of what to expect.

Films set in small-town America might well be my favourite genre and Breaking Away is one of the best. At the heart of this coming-of-age story is Dave Stohler, a recent High School graduate obsessed with cycling and Italy. He’s also a townie trying to win the heart of a college girl amid clear-cut town and gown factions. The tone of this film is unlike anything we’ve shown and its ‘they-don’t-make-em-like-this anymore’ quality simply adds to its charm. Also worth watching to see a young Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern and Jackie Earle Haley.

Fun fact: The film inspired The Hold Steady song One For The Cutters.

We haven't shown that many laugh-out-loud comedies and I’m convinced that had it won this would have been our greatest ever crowd pleaser. What’s not to love about Robert De Niro before he descended into self parody, cracking dialogue, top stunts and a supporting cast that includes Yaphet Kotto and the late, great Dennis Farina?  

I’ve not seen To Die For since the VHS era so was looking forward for an excuse to re-watch Nicole Kidman seducing Joaquin Phoenix. It’s another small-town America film and, as I recall, a pitch black satire. It would make a great double bill with The King of Comedy



So, those are picks. Let us know if there are any films you wish had won.
 
Posted
AuthorTufnell Park Film Club

Four musicals that are much better than Brigadoon


It’s too easy to point out that Brigadoon isn’t the greatest musical of all time, and even though it made a packet at the box office, it’s pretty unwatchable to a modern audience (especially to anyone who’s ever met a real live Scotch person).

The accents are Dick van Dyke- in- Mary- Poppins dreadful and the evocation of a Scottish community full of twinkly-eyed tam o’ shanter-wearing, bekilted Highland dancing gephyrophobiacs  is sentimental and laughably twee

Might I draw your attention to any one of these glorious musicals that are more fun, have better tunes and superb dancing?

Gold Diggers of 1933 (Mervyn Le Roy, 1933)

Busby Berkeley‘s crowning achievement. As with most of the films where Buzz choreographed the dance sequences, the plot is largely irrelevant and you stick with it for the dance sequences. This film includes the breath-taking Lullaby of Broadway sequence: hundreds of perfectly synchronised tap dancers, filmed to emphasise the geometry of their mass. And with a peculiarly gruesome ending.

Lullaby of Broadway

Top Hat (Mark Sandrich, 1935)

Ginger Rogers could do anything Fred Astaire could do, only backwards and in high heels. They had rehearsed and danced this sequence so many times that the beautiful dress she is wearing is beginning to disintegrate and tiny filaments of ostrich feather float in the light. It’s said that she was bleeding into her shoes by the final take and she performs three amazing back bends, lower each time, and always ridiculously graceful.

Cheek to Cheek

 

Singin' in the Rain (Stanley Doonen, 1955)

Debbie Reynolds is so perky and loveable throughout this film. She’s wholesome and cheery and vivacious and is a contrast to the inherent seriousness of Gene Kelly, he always struck me as someone who took themselves terribly seriously. It’s worth talking “the whole night through” just so you can sing this song. It’s a real “let’s put on the show right here” song.

Good Morning

Strictly Ballroom (Baz Lurhmann, 1992)

Okay, it’s not strictly a musical, but it is a film about dancing and music and this song pops up  several times throughout the soundtrack. At this point, we know that you can dance any steps you like, that Scott will fulfil his father’s thwarted dreams it’ll all end happily ever after  and that love is indeed in the air.

Love Is In The Air

Other superior musicals: High Society (What a Swell party) , Oliver! (Food Glorious Food), and Swingtime (Pick Yourself Up) – such apparently effortless elegance.

 

Posted
AuthorOliver Jones
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PsychoVertigoNorth By Northwest... everyone knows that these films are classics. But Alfred Hitchcock made more than 60 films in his career and others, like Rope, are less widely known.

These are my personal picks of five more of The Master's films that you might not have seen before but are certainly worth your time.

What?
Tippi Hedren is the serial thief whose problems stem from a horrific childhood incident. Sean Connery the wealthy man who uncovers her criminal ways, marries her and then tries to get to the root of the problem.
Why?
A strange, stylised and unsettling psychological drama that showcases Hedren's icy screen persona and Hitchcock's weird sexual obsessions. Connery twinkles as playboy Mark Rutland but none of the leading characters are truly likeable. Look out for the brilliantly suspenseful five-minute silent robbery sequence.

What?
A serial  killer is stalking the streets of 1970s London. An ex-RAF officer falls under suspicion but the real murderer is his close friend.
Why?
Hitchcock's penultimate film was also the first that he had made in Britain for over 20 years. The city he depicts is strangely anachronistic - full of cheery market porters and pubs with pre-war atmosphere. The murders are starkly portrayed and Barry Foster is genuinely disturbing as the psycho. Look out for a majestic long tracking shot taking us away from the scene of one of the killings.
What?
In a small Californian town a teenage girl's humdrum life is enlivened by the arrival of her uncle who is a serial killer called 'The Merry Widow Murderer'.
Why?
Joseph Cotten, one of cinema's finest and least-appreciated actors plays the killer with eerie charm and Teresa Wright is perfect as the teenager he draws into his web. This is Hitchcock's most American film and his personal favourite. It features a discomfiting score by the great Dimitri Tiomkin.
What?
Crazy goings on in a Vermont mental hospital when the incoming director of the institution is unveiled as an imposter by one of the doctors. But did he commit murder to get there?
Why?
Stilted, some would say wooden and definitely featuring one of Hitch's more preposterous plots. Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman struggle through the dialogue, but this curiosity is also full of guilty pleasures - not the least of which are the haunting dream landscapes designed by the Surrealist painter Salvador Dali.  
What?
From John Buchan's classic adventure novel - an innocent man goes on the run when he is implicated in a murder. To prove his innocence he must unmask the killers and their plan to steal military secrets.
Why?
Nearly 80 years after it was made this thriller is as fresh, sharp and funny as the day it was released. Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll have real sexual chemistry as the pair thrown together by fate and there are some outstanding sequences including the music hall scenes featuring Mr Memory (not in the original book). Look out for a young John Laurie from 'Dad's Army'  playing a suspicious Scottish crofter.

 

 

 

Posted
AuthorNick Jones
Categorieslists
In their Wener Herzog Primer, the AV Club website lists The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser under 'advanced studies'. As I said in my introduction it's probably the most challenging film we've screened so far.

That said, I hope Kaspar Hauser whet your appetite for more Herzog, and these are my five recommendations for what to watch next. All are suitable for beginners.

If you'd like to borrow a DVD of any of the films let me know via email or Twitter
What?
Tragic documentary about amateur grizzly bear expert Timothy Treadwell who repeatedly travelled to Alaska to live with and ‘protect’ his carnivorous “animal friends”.
Why?
The perfect combination of two of Herzog’s favourite themes: men with wildly psychotic egos and the  “overwhelming indifference of nature”. Also features a great score by beret-wearing British guitar virtuoso Richard Thompson
Trailer
What?
A trio of misfits leave their native Germany for a new life in America. Their destination - Wisconsin.
Why?
If you’ve seen The Enigma of Kapsar Hauser you already know what a compelling screen presence Bruno S is. Stroszek is Herzog’s only other collaboration with Bruno and in my opinion it’s an even better film. Like the earlier movie this also features a memorable scene with a chicken. Don’t let the fact that Ian Curtis was watching this on BBC2 immediately before his suicide put you off.
Trailer
 
What?
Klaus Kinski plays the deranged 16th-century conquistador who leads a band of men in search of El Dorado.
Why?
Kinski and Herzog are one of cinema’s great double acts, each bringing out the best (i.e. most excessive) traits in each other. This is their first film together and a down-river tale that’s possibly even more insane than Apocalypse Now.
Trailer (German: subtitles - zero, monkeys - plenty) 
What?
German-born Vietnam War veteran Dieter Dengler recounts his experiences as a POW in Laos. Herzog is on hand to tie Dengler up and recreate his traumatic capture.
Why?
The quintessential Herzog ‘documentary’ (a word the director dislikes) and introduction to his notion of ‘ecstatic truth’ which he claims is “the enemy of the merely factual”. Herzog later remade Little Dieter as the feature film Rescue Dawn starring Christian Bale.
Opening Sequence
What?
More Klaus Kinski. This time he’s a Caruso-obsessed rubber-baron in Peru who wants to build an opera house in the jungle. This involves hauling an enormous river boat across a small mountain with aid from the local Indians. Burden of Dreams is Les Blank’s brilliant ‘making-of’ documentary that features many truth-is-stranger than-fiction moments.
Why?
With Aguirre, this is the other great Herzog/Kinski double act. The ludicrous ambition of Fitzcarraldo is equal to Herzog’s own efforts making the film, as seen in Burden of Dreams. The two-disc set of these films is often £3 in Fopp.
Trailer

Have I got the right films on this list? Leave a comment if you agree or disagree. 
Posted
AuthorNigel Smith
In my introduction to Zelig I said I considered it a ‘Tier 2’ Woody Allen. For the record, here are the three TOP tiers - in my humble opinion, of course.

They should be viewed as Gold, Silver & Silvery, rather than Gold, Silver & Bronze. How would you rank Woody’s films?

1st Tier
 
 
2nd Tier
 
  
3rd Tier
 

 

Posted
AuthorWayne Gooderham