strange_complex: (Dracula Risen hearse smile)
[personal profile] strange_complex
The tl;dr version of this film festival is that the content was awesome, but the organisation was really pretty poor. It was a first-time event, so didn't have an established loyal customer base, and it hadn't been advertised anything like as effectively as it could have been, so that I know a lot of people who might have wanted to go to it didn't know about it until very late in the day, and in fact it is quite possible that the organisers and guests outnumbered the paying customers. The timing was also frequently off-schedule, leaving us either waiting up to an hour for something to start, or rushing from one thing to another without a chance to get the dinner we'd planned for in between. Thankfully, it was never quite so bad as to mean that I missed anything I'd been looking forward to as a result, but I really hope they get better at both advertising and timing if they run this festival again, as otherwise it is doomed to failure.

Anyway! I'm going to write it up day by day, to keep the entries manageable. This is the overall schedule for the Friday, which true to the organisational spirit mentioned above was released at around 8pm on the evening before the festival was due to begin, i.e. way too late for most people to make sensible arrival plans in advance.

Friday schedule.jpg

I was still working on my book when the festival took place - indeed, I'd really hoped to finish it beforehand, so that I could relax and enjoy the festival as my reward. So once the schedule was released and I realised there wasn't anything I particularly wanted to see before the opening ceremony at 6:30pm, I decided to time my arrival for about 5pm, so that I could get most of a day's work in on the book - hell, maybe even still finish it - before trundling across the Pennines, checking into my room and getting some food. As it turns out, I needed another two days after the festival to actually finish the book, but the extra time was still helpful. I would have had to submit it another day later if it hadn't been for that.

I'd booked accommodation along with my festival pass, and my room was modern student accommodation - i.e. much nicer than anything I lived in back in the mid-90s. A well-appointed room with a decent-sized bed and an ensuite bathroom, all kitted out to make the best possible use of every inch of space. Tick! I got myself unpacked and then headed over to the festival venue, which was the Students' Union building for Manchester Metropolitan University. Basically they had taken over the entire building for the weekend, using its various halls and meeting rooms for the screenings, which did mean somewhat uncomfortable seats and all films streamed from laptops onto projection screens, but also meant everything was self-contained and easy to navigate. I sat in the bar, tucked into a chicken burger and waited for the lovely [ profile] innerbrat and [ profile] newandrewhickey to arrive - which they duly did. :-)

We'd actually decided to skip the Opening Ceremony at 6:30pm in favour of enjoying our food, and go straight along to the Scream Queens interview at 7pm, but got our first taste of the festival's scheduling issues around 6:55, when a man came into the bar and announced that the Opening Ceremony was about to begin. Once we'd established that Scream Queens would be starting late too as a consequence, we figured we might as well go along to it, although it wasn't particularly exciting. Just the current and past editors of Starburst Magazine saying how great the festival was going to be, basically. Then, though, it was time for the proper business of the weekend to begin.

Scream Queens: Caroline Munro and Martine Beswick

This was super-exciting for me! These lovely ladies have a lot in common on their CVs: they were (late-era) Hammer stars, Bond girls, humans to Ray Harryhausen's creatures, and have both starred in numerous other genre films to boot. So I learnt a lot about this area of the film industry by hearing both of them being interviewed. Caroline Munro was the one I was really excited to hear from, though, as she is one of the stars of Dracula: AD 1972, which I completely love. I definitely felt quite squeeful and fangirlish when she walked in!

The most interesting insight from the interview came towards the end, when one audience member asked whether either of them had ever felt exploited while making genre films back in the '70s. The answer from both was very definitively 'no', and that rang true to me, both from what I have seen on the screen and from their own real-life manner and demeanour as they were talking about their careers. Clearly, their characters were routinely objectified on screen, but they always played them quite deliberately as three-dimensional people with spirit and resourcefulness - as did most of their female peers in the industry. And in person at the festival it was so obvious what confident and self-assured people they are, absolutely lighting up the room with their presence. It would indeed be hard to imagine even so obviously sexist an institution as the British film industry in the 1970s seriously managing to exploit them. That doesn't mean, of course, that the same industry didn't simultaneously burn up and spit out a thousand hopeful but vulnerable young women for every Caroline Munro and Martine Beswick. But I do believe those two when they say they don't feel they were exploited.

One down-side to this interview - it took place in near-total darkness, illuminated only by a video screen behind the guests, because apparently it wasn't possible to (I don't know) turn on the lights, or something? A single spot-light was brought to the front after a while, but because of where the plug socket was, it could only be set up way too near the guests, who put their hands up to their eyes and very reasonably asked for it to be switched off again. Mmm, professional!

19. Gothic (1986), dir. Ken Russell with intro by Stephen Volk

This film tells the story of the famous weekend at the Villa Diodati on Lake Geneva exactly 200 years ago when Lord Byron, John Polidori, Percy Shelley, Mary Godwin (they weren't technically married yet) and Claire Clairmont couldn't go out because of the frightful weather caused by the eruption of an Indonesian volcano, so they stayed in and wrote ghost stories instead. I actually went there in early June with the Dracula Society, but never wrote about it here because of Mum being so ill, so I'll have to link to a Facebook picture of us all instead. So obviously I was well primed to see this film, even though it does not have a very high critical reputation.

It's usually described as 'a Ken Russell film', but like so many films with similar descriptors, Russell was merely directing a script written by someone else - Stephen Volk, who was there for an interview before the screening. He explained that he wrote it in his spare time while working as an advertising copywriter, was thrilled when it got picked up for production, but then less thrilled when he learnt that it was to be directed by Ken Russell. But he also knew that the film which eventually appears on screen for any screen-play is never what the writer sees when he or she is creating it, and seemed to have a pretty healthy attitude to that fact. His vision had been to tell the story of that weekend as a Hammer-style horror film, which he felt he had achieved, but was probably also at the root of the critical panning - a lot of people went in expecting a literary costume drama, but that wasn't what they got.

The film itself was indeed Ken Russell-ish - lots of gore, surreality and symbolism. But I could see the connection to Hammer's oeuvre as well, in both the visuals and the characterisation. It is also well-grounded in the history of the Diodati summer, which everyone who was there recorded at length in letters and diaries. Having read up on it all recently in preparation for my own trip I recognised a lot of the details, and sometimes even some of the wording from those written records. The horror element comes in when the five main characters carry out a seance, which releases something horrible and unseen that comes into the villa and drives them all close to insanity until they repeat the ritual and banish it again. It's a pretty good device for unleashing the repressed fears, traumas and desires of characters who were awash with all three, and certainly makes for plenty of memorable scenes. I don't think it's going to become a much-loved favourite film of mine or anything like that, but I'm glad I saw it, and really warmed to Stephen Volk too.

20. Dracula A.D. 1972, dir. Alan Gibson

Finally, the number one reason I had come to this film festival: one of my favourite Hammer Dracula films (and the whole reason I am fangirlish about Caroline Munro in the first place) on the big screen! While I've been able to see the first of the Hammer Dracula films on the big screen four times now, this is the only other one in the series I've had the opportunity to see that way, so it was VERY EXCITING.

Unfortunately, due to knock-on schedule drift caused by starting the Opening Ceremony late (for no good reason), things were running pretty much an hour late in the main screening room by the time this was due to start, which was annoying. We had to sit through altogether too much of a slasher movie featuring criminals dressed as Santa Claus hacking people to death for the sake of it in a sealed-up court-house. And yeah, you can achieve some pretty good characterisation by trapping ordinary people in with total terror, but none of us are really into slasher movies, it was late, I'd been working hard all day and we really wanted to get on to see our movie. It even looked perilously for a moment or two like we might not, as the schedule had lined up both Dracula A.D. 1972 and Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde, and even the organisers realised they didn't have time to show both. So a vote was taken, and thankfully Dracula A.D. 1972 won out - not actually hard, because in the end only seven people stayed after the slasher movie anyway, and all three of us wanted Dracula, so it only needed one more vote to win.

Obviously I have seen the film many times before, so I don't have too much else to say about its content beyond what was covered in my previous reviews. But seeing it on a big screen was definitely worthwhile. The visuals weren't as good as they might have been, because a combination of ambient light from behind us and a non-cinema-quality screen meant everything looked a bit dark. But then again it sure was BIG, which meant I was able to pick out a few extra details of scene-dressing (especially pictures on the walls in Van Helsing's house and Johnny Alucard's flat) which I'd never quite been able to make out before. It also really added to the grandeur and realism of Dracula in particular, allowing him to loom and fill the audience's field of view in a way that a television in a living-room can't quite convey.

Meanwhile the quality of the sound was absolutely mint, thanks to a PA system which I'd guess was mainly designed for shows and gigs, to the extent that I even picked up one line of dialogue I'd never heard properly before. The absence had never bothered me, as it was just one line at the end of a little speech by Van Helsing to Inspector Murray about how there are evil things and dark horrors in this world: "There is a Satan". The meaning was already perfectly clear from what he'd said in the previous few sentences, so that I'd honestly never even really noticed that the last line was a mumble to me. But it was nice to hear it crisply and clearly all the same. Oh, and also the lovely squirty squelchy sound later on as Van Helsing used the edge of his shovel to thrust Dracula properly onto his stake as he died. *Splutch, schloop!* Very gruesome!

Thus our first day ended, and it was back off to my snuggly student nest-bed for a rather short night's sleep ahead of day two...

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