Monthly Archives: January 2012

Life Abroad Film Series

Gloria (1980)
Our latest season of film screenings is on the theme of Life Abroad: films about discoveries of the foreign; carnivals and holidays; exile and diaspora; and time out of mind. 

Every Friday until the end of March we will be showing films in Birkbeck Cinema. If you haven’t been able to attend before, this is a wonderful custom-built auditorium. We will also be showing short features to complement (or clash with) each film. The screenings are all free, and anyone is welcome to attend. 

Every Friday 20th January – 3rd March
Screenings start at 6:30 
Birkbeck Cinema, 43 Gordon Square, WC1H 0PD

20th January – Gloria (John Cassavetes/1980/USA/123 minutes)
27th January – Unrelated (Joanna Hogg/2008/UK/110 minutes)

3rd February – Touch of Evil (Orson Welles/1958/USA/112 minutes)
10th February – The Green Ray (Eric Rohmer/1986/France/98 minutes)
17th February – Nuts in May (Mike Leigh/1976/UK/90 minutes)
24th February – Beau Travail (Claire Denis/1999/France/90 minutes)
2nd March – Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania (Jonas Mekas/1972/United Kingdom and West Germany/88 minutes)
9th March – Special Screening in association with The Coelacanth Journal: The Secret Life of Edward James (George Melly/1975/UK/54 minutes)
16th March – TO BE DECIDED
23rd March – TO BE DECIDED
We have left two slots open at the end of the season. We have ideas for these slots, but also welcome suggestions from people that attend. If you make a suggestion we’ll make every effort to view it and see if it will fit for the final two slots of the season. Don’t feel constrained by availability of DVDs. If it’s out there, we will try and find it.
PLEASE NOTE: THESE SCREENINGS ARE FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY.
Gloria (1980)
Part of the brilliant late-70s cinematic record of a New York (think Sidney Lumet’s The Verdict or Dog Day Afternoon, Walter Hill’s The Warriors or any early Martin Scorsese) enriched by dirt, fetid sexuality, sprawl and anger, Gloria is Cassavetes’ most enjoyable film, sacrificing none of the superior improvisational acting and camera work but placing it upon the high concept mismatch road movie. It’s energetic, amusing and has the genuinely incomparable Gena Rowlands in spades. Come and see Gloria and Bill travel across country escaping the mob.

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Magnificent Obsessions Series No. 9: Marwencol + Vernon, Florida

Although Vernon, Florida and Marwencol share obsessive subjects, their creator’s pursuit of the topic parallels their fixation. Throughout this series, obsessives mark themselves by following what could be a chance encounter as far down the rabbit hole as they can. Jeff Malmberg, after seeing his subject Mark Hogancamp’s dioramas in ESOPUS magazine, decided to film a documentary short about the man and his miniature world. Four years and numerous continent-crossing trips later, the final feature was complete. The yarn about Vernon, Florida runs that Errol Morris had heard rumours about a group of in the Florida panhandle who were deliberately maiming themselves in order to retire on the insurance money. Unsurprisingly, the inhabitants did not take kindly to Morris’ attempt to document this practice. The proposed feature, ‘Nub City’, never happened, but Morris discovered a more quietly peculiar collection of individuals about whom he could continue to make his film.

Both Malmberg and Morris both know how to do their job most effectively by getting out of their subjects’ way, or at least providing a finished product that gives a sense that they have. Marwencol is even credited as a film ‘About Mark Hogancamp’ rather than ‘A film by Jeff Malmberg’. Despite this, it is hard to shake off the notion of the directors’ sensitivity towards their subjects. Their openness is all the more surprising because they are both are in retreat: in Hogancamp’s case it is self-imposed; in the case of Vernon, it is closer to criminal hideout. Morris’ initiation into the ‘den of thieves’ is clear though: the glee of the anecdotes has a demimonde camaraderie and prideful one-up-manship to it, with his editing adding to the stories deadpan appeal.

Malmberg’s approach removes Mark’s creations from the threat of classification as ‘outsider’ art. While adding new names to the canon, there’s a danger that outsider artists will become not only diminished (and somehow patronised) in the institution, but perhaps more dangerously, legitimised. It’s a credit to the sympathy Malmberg has with his subject that the film only becomes entangled in these kinds of distinctions in its final third. As critic Elvis Mitchell points out, there is a parallel between the first time director’s anecdotal and unglamorous approach to his material and Hogancamp’s process: Marwencol is ‘about a man who goes through a life-changing event and becomes an artist as a result.’[1] This goes for Mark and Jeff.

While the film does not especially probe Mark about the analogues of his fantasy, the candour with which he presents his world (at times unsettling in its unvarnished appeal for love, lust, certainty and fulfilment) require no interviewer’s gloss. Although it can be queasy to see Hogancamp retreat to the ‘simpler’ time of World War II guts and glory, with all of its lurid bombshells, we accept them as products of the unconcealed escapism of a man with a legitimate need to retreat.

Throughout this series, obsession has most often been cast in a negative light, yet here it becomes the source of transformation. Many films sprang to mind within the framework of the professional obsession that could offer a more balanced view of fixation (artists, musicians, scientists, sportsmen – any high flyer whose story creates narrative pull between achievement and the more terrestrial world of human connection). Mark’s obsession, essentially a retreat from the uncontrolled outside world, never enters into the isolating mode we have seen in almost all of the other films in this series. Unlike Camera Buff’s hero’s alienating fixation on his art, its purpose is that it eventually leads him back into the world at large – not just of the final art show (where he struggles), but also of the film itself.

But it is not a simple case of Hogancamp returning to our world. The message of the film necessitates that we take his world seriously. Erased of his character, Mark’s quest sheds light on all artistic impulses: to provide a utopian aesthetic environment, but also create a balanced (if slippery) connection to ‘real’ life.


[1] In a charming moment on the DVD, Mark receives an improptu phonecall from his mother directly after watching the film for the first time. ‘He told it exactly as I would have told it, if I knew how,’ he says with relief and excitement.

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Cute Animals in Film 2011

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957) d: F. Tashlin

‘Look into the eyes of a chicken and you will see real stupidity. It is a kind of bottomless stupidity, a fiendish stupidity. They are the most horrifying, cannibalistic and nightmarish creatures in the world.’ Werner Herzog

Welcome once again to the annual roundup of all things that combine the cute and the cinematic. If you’ve ever stopped yourself mid-ennui in a Truffaut film to remark, ‘Look at the little piglet!, this one is for you. From Puce Moment‘s beautiful borzoi, to Zazie‘s squirted pussy cat this is my selection of the best of fluff on film. (Incidentally, it seems the spaniel is the predominate film dog. Who knew?)

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970) d: J. Jireš

The Cremator (1969) d: Juraj Herz

Queen of Spades (1946) d: T. Dickinson

The Killing (1956) d: S. Kubrick

The Company of Wolves (1984) d: N. Jordan

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) 'd': M. Bay

Kiss Me Deadly (1955) d: R. Aldrich

All that Heaven Allows (1955) d: D. Sirk

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) d: M. Powell & E. Pressburger

Eyes Without a Face (1960) d: G. Franju

Puce Moment (1949) d: K. Anger

Rita, Sue and Bob Too (1986) d: A. Clarke

Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo (2011) d: J. Oreck

Zazie Dans Le Métro (1960) d. Louis Malle

Apocalypse Now (1979) d: F.F. Coppola

 

Pride of place this year goes to Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?’s Shamroy. This poodle is a running gag, but also something of a style icon. Shamroy, you brightened my year and here’s a showcase for you, long departed though you are.

BONUS:

Here’s one I find very cute but have no recollection of the source of. Answers on a postcard. This year, I promise to be more comprehensive about cataloguing this stuff. For the historical record you understand.

Look at his goldfish head!

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