Tuesday, 22 August 2017 10:24
strange_complex: (Dracula Risen hearse smile)
I am communing with the ur-text at the moment (i.e. reading Dracula), and was tickled to notice last night that it contains a reference to Leeds - though not a very complimentary one! It's no great surprise, of course, given that a substantial chunk of the novel is set in Whitby, and indeed it is in the mouth of old Whitby fisherman Mr Swales that the reference comes. He is complaining about people being altogether too credulous about legends of bells ringing out at sea and White Ladies and such like:
Them feet-folks from York and Leeds that be always eatin' cured herrin's and drinkin' tea an' lookin' out to buy cheap jet would creed aught. I wonder masel' who'd be bothered tellin' lies to them, even the newspapers, which is full of fool-talk.
I'm not terribly sure what 'feet' means in this context, and Google isn't helping, even when I put the phrase in quotation marks to rule out ordinary references to feet. Maybe it just means foot-passengers who have come to Whitby on the train? Or might it be Bram's attempt at spelling a local pronunciation of 'fit', and perhaps means something more like 'fine folk' (in a sort of 'fit to be Queen' kind of sense)? If any genuine Yorkshire-born chums have a clue, let me know. If it's a proper dialect word, it will have been something Bram got out of a book on Whitby dialect which we know he used in his research.

[ETA: apparently I wasn't Googling very effectively before. I've found the answer now and my first guess was right: feet-folks are foot-passengers.]

Anyway, I will be going to Whitby myself in just over a fortnight, along with the lovely [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313, to join a long weekend event marking the 40th anniversary of the Dracula Society's first official trip to that location. I don't have any particular plans to eat cured herring or drink tea (which I hate), but I won't turn down any nice cheap jet, and I will make a particular point of believing any and all legends of the macabre and supernatural which anyone tells me for the entire weekend - just to annoy Mr Swales.
strange_complex: (Fred Astaire flying)
My first film of 2017, seen this afternoon with [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan and [livejournal.com profile] planet_andy at the Hyde Park Picture House. They were, of course, showing it in tribute to the late Debbie Reynolds, and I'm pleased to say that she got a healthy audience and a round of applause at the end.

Ironically, having made a point of clearing my review backlog so that I could start my 2017 film reviewing with a blank slate, I find I don't have a huge amount to say about the actual film which I didn't already say four years ago when we saw it at the Cottage Road cinema. I can certainly say that I came out of the second viewing feeling just as enthusiastic about it as after the first, though. It is a bit bare-faced about crow-barring the song and dance numbers into the plot, but you forgive it anyway for doing so with a nod and a wink, and for being so consistently funny and beautiful the whole way through. And I think it's probably humanly impossible not to be just a little bit in love with Gene Kelly by the end of it all.

One thing I see I didn't mention in my last review (but [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan did in a comment!), and which deserves due tribute, is this wonderful Silent Movie Vamp Lady in her spider-web dress:

Singin spider web dress.png

Singin spider web dress 2.JPG Singin spider web dress 3.JPG

Simply, wow!

One more thing which should be noted here, and which I've only just realised while filling in the tags for this entry: I have now been reviewing all the films I see here on LJ consistently for ten whole years. Here's where it all began, with Metropolis in January of 2007. I have sometimes got behind on my reviews, and felt burdened-down as a result, but overall I am heartily glad that I have done it. It has definitely helped me to get an enormous amount more out of what I see, both at the time of viewing and while writing about it afterwards. I think it has also enabled me to home in more efficiently on films I will actually like. Whether I will keep it up for another ten years from now remains to be seen, but I certainly don't intend to stop any time soon.

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strange_complex: (Vampira)
This I saw on Friday, in company with the lovely [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan and [livejournal.com profile] planet_andy. It takes its cue from the 1922 film Nosferatu, but it certainly isn't a straightforward adaptation of it. Rather, it is set entirely on board the ship carrying Count Orlok from Varna to Whitby, and follows the experiences of three surviving ship-mates (one fervently religious, one superstitious, one harshly rationalistic) as they are driven to terrible thoughts and deeds by their dread cargo in a single dark hour before the coming of the dawn.

Those ship-board scenes, of course, are also in Stoker's novel, not to mention many other versions of Dracula. Indeed, this stage play began with the captain scribbling furiously in his log, narrating entries in a broadly Stokerish style (and a beautiful Irish accent, no less!) as he brought it up to date. But what ties it specifically to Nosferatu (1922) is the visual style - partly the set and props, but above all Count Orlok himself. This is in spite of the fact that we never actually see him. Rather, the story is driven by his terrible presence down below in the hold, and after the captain of the ship finally climbs down to investigate what is there, and we hear a scream and see the slap of a single bloody hand on the (translucent) cabin door, he begins to take on the mannerisms and clothing of the count. Even then, it's slightly too simple to say that he becomes possessed by Orlok's evil. There is something much more complex going on about the effects of fear and isolation on the human mind. But his hands increasingly become Orlok's clawed hands, and he abandons the long duster-coat he had been wearing to reveal that Orlok's buttoned jacket had been there all along, just underneath.

This is a perfectly solid set-up, and there are plenty of things about the play I enjoyed. I particularly liked the lady who sat throughout the performance on one side of the stage with a cello and a microphone, providing siren-like singing and eerie music when required. There was also some clever trickery which allowed ship-mates who had just died to be discovered already wrapped up inside tarpaulin body-bags that had been lying on the side of the stage since the story began. But fundamentally, this was the kind of play in which people move around in slow-motion through a series of mannered poses, and one character will say something portentous and rather meaningless like "time is an ocean", after which the other characters pick up and echo the same refrain: "time..." "time is an ocean". I'm afraid I am instantly turned off by that. It is just too difficult to pull it off without sounding like a parody of utterly pretentious avant-garde theatre. In this case, they also made it worse by frequently shifting into song as well - and not always very melodically, or even entirely in tune.

So although I really liked the idea of the absent-yet-present Count, driving everyone mad without ever needing to appear in person, in the end this play was just trying rather too hard for my taste. I don't actually regret the evening spent watching it, but I won't be rushing to see another play by this theatre company again.

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strange_complex: (ITV digital Monkey popcorn)
I saw both of these with [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan as a New Year's Eve double-bill at the Hyde Park Picture House yesterday, from our favourite seats on the left-hand side of the balcony.

45. Some Like It Hot (1959), dir. Billy Wilder

First of all, it does have to be acknowledged that this one particular film probably bears about 90% of the responsibility for the transphobic myth that trans women are really just straight dudes who want to infiltrate women-only spaces and ogle cis women. It didn't invent that idea, and nor is it now necessarily the direct cause of most people absorbing it, but it is a major theme of the film, and must surely have given it a very big cultural boost. So I think it's important to say that whenever talking about this film, as a small way of helping to chip away at the real-world potency of that very damaging myth. On a similar note, I also found the scenes in which Tony Curtis' character, in persona as Shell Oil Junior, coerces Sugar into sex by pretending to be sexually unresponsive and in need of 'help' to fix him pretty gross as well. I get that disguise and deceit are ancient staples of romantic comedies, and never more so than in this one, but she was totally into his Shell Oil Junior character anyway. She would very obviously have willingly and enthusiastically have had sex with him without that extra layer of lies and manipulation, so to me they broke through the romantic comedy genre conventions and out into some distinctly rapey territory.

But I am perfectly capable of separating out those things from the rest of the film in my mind, and seeing it for the of-its-time romantic musical comedy it is meant to be. As a star vehicle for Monroe it is magnificent, with her performance of "I Wanna Be Loved By You" capturing her appeal perfectly. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are perfectly paired as the two protagonists, the Chicago gangsters are brilliant, the music is great, the physical farce fantastic and the witty dialogue to die for. Plus, for all my reservations above, I also think that by showing male characters experiencing male treatment of women at first hand, and by including scenes with strong homosexual overtones (both lesbian ones between Sugar and Curtis-as-Josephine and the famous "Well, nobody's perfect" ending between Osgood and Lemmon-as-Jerry), it probably helped to achieve some social steps forwards as well as backwards. So, if the movie isn't perfect either, that doesn't mean it isn't still a great watch.

46. The Apartment (1960), dir. Billy Wilder

Part two of the double-bill was the next year's follow-up movie from the same production team, which brought back Jack Lemmon as the leading man. It's still a comedy, and starts out looking for all the world like a farce, but it has a dark undertone from the beginning, because of the way it portrays sleazy executives laughing it up together as they coldly conduct affairs in Lemmon's character's apartment, and him conniving in it for the sake of material promotion, while at the same time being very obviously strung along and exploited himself. Then, half-way through, the darkness bursts violently to the surface when one executive's to-him-casual (but to her serious) fling attempts suicide in the apartment. The overall arc is actually very moralistic - Lemmon discovers his moral compass and is rewarded with True Love, the chief sleazy executive gets his come-uppance, and the young lady (Miss Kubelik) rediscovers her sense of self-worth. But gosh, you do get put through the wringer along the way.

This made it a good second film for the double-bill, though. It felt a little more 'cerebral' than Some Like It Hot (if that's quite the right word), which worked well for its early evening slot once you'd been warmed up by the comedy first. It was certainly more moving, anyway - I found myself sniffing back tears as the end credits rolled, which you just wouldn't get from Some Like It Hot (unless, of course, Chicago mobsters had killed your grandmother, you insensitive clod). But it has in common with the other film all those classic qualities of slick pacing, seemingly effortless photography and of course a brilliant cast. Though his character isn't very nice, I actually thought Fred MacMurray was absolutely brilliant as Sleazy Executive Mr. Sheldrake, hitting that perfect note between oiliness and plausible charm which seems to be so characteristic of American Presidents (Nixon and Regan particularly spring to mind). It is essential to the whole plot that we should be able to believe Miss Kubelik might attempt suicide over him while simultaneously being able to see that he's a schmuck, so MacMurray had an important job to do there, and did it really well. I'd like to see more stuff with him in now on that basis. I also loved both the characterisation and the performances for the two Jewish neighbours, Dr. and Mrs. Dreyfuss - relatively small roles (especially hers), but ones which felt very human and three-dimensional al the same.

While Some Like It Hot has fun playing up the glamour of the 1920s jazz age, The Apartment is now just as fascinating for being set in its contemporary present day. I particularly enjoyed seeing how large-scale corporate office culture might have operated in 1960s America, complete with lobbies, elevators, desk diaries, rotary card index files, calculating machines and telephone exchanges. And I liked the insights into Lemmon's bachelor life-style as well, which was so close to and yet not quite the same as its equivalent today - frozen meals for heating up in the oven rather than microwave meals, a TV remote-control unit with a dial on it fixed to his table, and of course the time-honoured pokey apartment for one. In less cheery news from the 1960s, though, I was disquieted to realise that Miss Kubelik is obviously at risk of getting into trouble with the law for having attempted suicide, so that the whole thing has to be hushed up. We have moved beyond that, suicide-wise, in both the US and UK since, but that is still exactly where we are with drugs, leaving addicts unable to seek help for fear of punishment (not to mention at risk from unregulated products), and it's about damned time we sorted that out.

Back to The Apartment(!), it also turned out to be a Christmas / New Year film, which I guess was yet another reason (on top of release-date chronology and the tonal move from pure comedy to black comedy) why it needed to be the second half of the double bill. Miss Kubelik makes her suicide attempt on Christmas Eve, spends a few days recovering at Jack Lemmon's apartment, and then finally dumps her Sleazy Executive in favour of him on New Year's Eve. Not quite the Christmas-to-New-Year experience I would wish on anyone in reality, but still in its own way something to get us in the mood for our own NYE celebrations which followed.

Films watched 2014 round-up )

And now I believe it is time to get started on my films watched in 2015. :-)

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strange_complex: (Saturnalian Santa)
Rewinding a few days here to the pre-Christmas period, I went to see this at Leeds Town Hall with [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan, [livejournal.com profile] planet_andy, [livejournal.com profile] nalsa and Mrs. [livejournal.com profile] nalsa in honour of [livejournal.com profile] planet_andy's birthday. I've never been to a film screening at Leeds Town Hall before, so that was fun in itself, and nor had I seen Die Hard in spite of its classic status. It is an action film after all, which is hardly my genre, but going to see it in its reinvented pomo guise as a 'Christmas film' - now that, I could handle.

It is, of course, masses of fun. Indeed, I might well have gone to see it earlier if I'd cottoned on to the fact that it has Alan Rickman in it being deliciously villainous. His character even got in a Classical reference, too:
"And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer." Benefits of a classical education. [Source: IMDb]
Obviously, that actually boils down to your standard use of Classics to denote morally-bankrupt posh people, and is thus exactly the sort of thing which puts people off the subject, but never mind! It's still good to hear Alex getting a name-check, and it's not like it was a mainstay of the plot. Other things I particularly liked included McClane's message on the first terrorist victim's shirt: "Now I have a machine gun - ho ho ho!", Johnson & Johnson the ineffective FBI agents and Argyle happily living it up in his limousine while blithely unaware of the major terrorist incident going on in the building above him. I assumed for ages that he would spend literally the entire film like this, and just drive out the next morning wondering what was going on, but it was also cool that he got to play his part in overcoming the bad guys too.

I do realise that this bit is going to make me sound like Noam Chomsky on his day off, but gosh - you really couldn't present a more fully-developed fantasy of hyper-masculinity as a response to male anxieties about successful career-women than this film, could you? That is literally how McClane wins his wife back after their marriage has been broken apart by her promotion to Director of Corporate Affairs at the Nakatomi Corporation. But anyway! Helicopters and explosions and cool one-liners and stuff! Yay.

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What fun!

Friday, 26 December 2014 23:52
strange_complex: (Claudia Cardinale car)
What fun it is when you're driving along the motorway, and you can't tell whether or not you are properly in a lane because you can't see the white lines under all the snow!

What fun to discover that when you try to correct your position, the car starts skidding!

And to realise that all of the other drivers around you have no more control over their cars than you do!

And to gradually see the illuminated signs which are telling you that there are hazardous driving conditions and that a temporary speed limit of 40mph is in force disappearing behind a coating of snow!

And when what would normally be a 2h15m journey takes closer to 4 hours because even 40mph is in fact way too fast in weather like that, so that you have to do most of it at more like 20-30 miles an hour.

And seeing at least 15 vehicles at the side of the road with their hazard flashers on during that time, only one of which was being attended to by a repair van, and three of which were in actively dangerous positions.

And driving past an articulated lorry which had jack-knifed across all four lanes of the opposite carriage-way, complete with a van and a car smashed into the side of it.

What fun!

I'm glad to say I am safely back home in Leeds now, but that was easily the worst drive I have ever done. I very definitely wouldn't have set off if I'd had the faintest idea it would get that bad, but Birmingham was merely slushy, with the snow that had fallen earlier in the evening actively melting; and weather reports had told me the same was true in Leeds, which was perfectly accurate. It was just everything in between that was the problem - and by the time I discovered that, it was way too late...

Update: obviously I couldn't take a picture, as I was driving, but this person did:

They were clearly heading in the opposite direction to me, and didn't know yet about the jack-knifed lorry causing the jam. Just horrible, all round.

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strange_complex: (Lord S not unenlightened)
I had a pretty epic day yesterday, going down to London for a second crack at the British Library's utterly excellent exhibition, Terror and Wonder: the Gothic imagination, followed by giving a talk on Augustus in the medieval period to a 200+ audience at the British Museum as part of a joint Roman Society / Association for Roman Archaeology conference. Both of those deserve posts in their own right, really, but between them they left me knackered to the extent that I didn't wake up until almost noon today, and meanwhile what I actually want to do with the tiny fragment of the weekend which remains to me is write about this interactive film screening which I attended with the lovely Andrew Hickey and magister on Thursday. So there it is.

Obviously, I have seen this film a few times before (previous LJ reviews are collected in the 1970s section of my Christopher Lee film list), including four times on the big screen. But it's one I will never knowingly miss in any format, still less an interactive sing-along version. So it was with high excitement (and only moderate transport-related shenanigans) that I made my way to the Holbeck Urban Ballroom with two equally enthusiastic friends - and we were not disappointed.

The full experience actually involves quite a lot more than merely singing along. On entrance, we each received not only a pagan 'hymn book' containing all of the lyrics for the film's famous songs, but also a goodie bag containing a special selection of items for later use. The point of these was to eat or do appropriate things mirroring what was going on screen at various stages during the film, and as it happened I was accidentally given two of the bags as I went in. Although I declared this fact very honestly, the chap giving them out advised me to keep quiet about it and waved me through, so I was able to bring my second goodie bag home at the end of the evening and photograph its contents. In the order in which were instructed to use them (left-right, top-bottom), these were as follows:

Sing-along-a-Wicker-Man goodies

And their purposes were:
  • Smartie - communion wafer from Howie's scene in church on the mainland
  • Shoe-lace - the poor wee lass's navel string
  • Lollipop sticks - for re-consecrating the abandoned church adjoining the graveyard
  • Frog - for curing our / Myrtle's sore throat
  • Crispy bacon - one of the foreskins from the chemist (yum!)
  • Foam banana - the closest available approximation to the apple which Howie munches while Lord Summerisle is showing him around his gardens
  • Smiley sticker - for anointing each other ready for sacrifice in the Wicker Man
I think you can already see from the list alone a) how much fun that was but also b) how it actually really did work to blur the distinction between audience and characters, making us feel on some level like we were participating in the action of the film. The singing, of course, did the same - and that, too, was more than just singing. In a warm-up session beforehand our hosts, David Bramwell and Eliza Skelton (daughter of Roy), talked a bit about the film and some of its lore, and got us laughing along at some of the stories about it - like how Lindsay Kemp (who played the landlord, Alder McGregor), stormed off down to London part-way through the production, and had to be sweet-talked back by Robin Hardy and Anthony Shaffer. We then collectively learnt the right actions for the Maypole dance, and got our singing voices in gear by singing 'Gently Johnny' to their live accompaniment (on the grounds that it wouldn't be in the film itself, as we were going to watch the short version). Then, as the film played, David and Eliza held up signs telling us when to sing each 'hymn', when to eat our goodies, and when to hold up our hand-bags in tribute to Lindsay Kemp's flounce, as well as commenting on some of the film's incongruities (like the bizarre rock guitar music used during the cave chase scene), and prompting us to join in with some of its big iconic lines - like Howie's screams of "Oh God! Oh Jesus Christ!" as he perceives his fate, or the islanders' communal prayers as the sacrifice is prepared. Also, every time Howie got his photos of Rowan Morrison out to show to people and ask if they had seen her, Eliza and David came up to the audience with copies of the same image, asking us to pass them around. You might think on a casual viewing that Howie only does that a couple of times during the film, but actually when you get passed the picture yourself too on each and every single occasion, it turns out to be six - by the last of which the thing itself had of course turned into a running joke.

Basically, it was all about a collective celebration of a film which (nearly) everyone there knew incredibly well and loved dearly. Just being part of such a cheerful love-in, surrounded by people who greeted all the best lines with the same enthusiasm as me, was fantastic fun, but the immersive experience of participating in so much of the action really did offer a new way of engaging with the world of the film that went beyond the surface tongue-in-cheek tone of the evening. You feel something more of Howie's helpless isolation in the closing scenes when, like him, you have just had your neighbour stick a yellow circle in the middle of your forehead, and a disturbing complicity with the villagers as you are belting out 'Sumer is i-cumen in' while he burns to death. And coming still relatively fresh from my Wicker Man holiday in 2013, so that I have recent memories of having actually stood at more or less every location used in the entire film, the two experiences together combined to make it all seem very, very real indeed.

Me walking along the sea-break at Plockton
Me walking along the sea-break at Plockton
Photo by [livejournal.com profile] thanatos_kalos

Sing-along-a-Wicker-Man tours the country regularly and widely, and I thoroughly recommend looking out for it if you are a fan. It would probably be better to catch it in spring or summer than autumn or winter if you can - though cold days and dark nights are generally very conducive to the watching of horror films, this viewing did drive home to me that The Wicker Man really isn't a winter film, and works best when the sap is rising. But any time is very definitely better than none.

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strange_complex: (Dracula 1958 cloak)
I saw this on Tuesday evening with notorious Dracula-enabler [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan, and it was absolutely captivating. I'm not a big ballet-goer - in fact, I think the last live ballet I went to was a performance of The Nutcracker at the Birmingham Hippodrome with my mother during my mid- to late-teens. But when [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan pointed out that this was on, recommended it highly based on having seen it previously, and suggested that we go along, I didn't take much persuading. Well, let's be honest, I'll find time for pretty much anything with 'Dracula' in the title right now. But I could see straight away how a ballet version of the story would have the potential to really bring out its fantasy, romance and visual spectacle - and I was not disappointed.

Ballet dancers, of course, can move in ways which most human beings cannot, and this is a great boon when playing supernatural characters. You can take for granted incredible feats of strength and agility and suitably animalistic movements on the part of all the vampire characters - Dracula, his three brides, and a transformed Lucy. More deliberately supernatural, and different from the human characters in this ballet or the supernatural ones in other dramatic performances, were two particular feats performed by Dracula himself - gliding side-ways, almost as though floating, and literally crawling out of a window head-first, exactly as described in the book. The latter can briefly be seen in this trailer video (at 0:25), which indeed is worth watching in full (it's only 1m15s long) for a good sense of the general splendour of the performance:

It was perfectly clear how both were done - the former by using the tight scuttling movement that ballet-dancers do (I don't know the technical term) while his feet were hidden below the length of his cloak, and the latter by supporting himself with powerful arm-muscles on two vertical bars running down either side of the 'window', while hooking onto the horizontal dividers of the frame with his feet. But still! I couldn't dream of doing either, and seeing another human being right in front of my eyes deploying what (to me) were effectively supernatural powers was an amazing experience. In these days of CGI special effects, it's easy to become blasé about seeing human beings doing apparently-impossible things, so that it becomes hard to relate to the combined fascination and repulsion which Stoker's characters experience on encounters with vampires. But seeing such physical feats being performed live gave a much more powerful sense of the strangeness of difference than I think any screen-trickery could ever quite manage.

Those weren't the only places where the strengths of ballet as a medium for story-telling were well-deployed, either. Other simple yet clever examples included the scenes where Dracula physically manipulated human characters like marionettes to represent hypnotically bending them to his will, or where Renfield's mental torment was conveyed through powerful contortions - not a case of supernatural movement this time, but another good use of a ballet dancer's exceptional physical capabilities to convey difference. And in a context where all of the characters were flowing and floating around the stage in a rather surreal fashion all the time anyway, and there was no dialogue, it also seemed very natural to convey one character's thoughts about another by having them appear at a slight distance. This was how we first met Mina, for example - as a 'vision' in a white dress dancing lightly across a corner of the stage, prompted by Jonathan's longing for her while he is imprisoned in Dracula's castle.

And oh, how well ballet conveys longing and yearning of all kinds! The absolute high-light of the piece was a love-duet between Dracula and Mina in the second half, which seemed to go on for ever, yet which I still wanted never to stop at all. But the early scenes in Dracula's castle of course offer lots of scope for homoerotic longing, too - "This man belongs to me!" and so on. There was some great business between Dracula and Jonathan Harker, where Jonathan would be sitting at a desk studying legal documents, with Dracula hanging over his shoulder on the brink of succumbing to the urge to bite him - but then Jonathan would notice and Dracula would shift smoothly into pointing out something on the page in front of him. Indeed, they had a proper male-male duet too, with Dracula guiding and steering Jonathan's movements in one of his mind-control sequences. That's something which ballet as a format, with all those finely-toned male bodies, has the potential to do incredibly well, and yet of course isn't common in classical ballet AT ALL because of the prevalent social mores at the time when most of it was developed. And much the same could be said for the vampire brides, where the strength of the dancers was used to show them as casually powerful, in complete command of their own bodies, and enjoying the hell out of playing around with a helpless Jonathan Harker. Sure, OK, so Dracula was always going to turn up at the end and tell them to quit it, but they got an extended scene of potent, jubilant femininity before that - a world away from the fragile characters female ballet-dancers are usually asked to play, and quite the most exuberant vampire brides I think I've ever seen.

As for how this ballet related to other tellings of the Dracula story, it largely follows the contours of the book, although it is inevitably impressionistic given the relatively short running-time (c. 1h 45m of stage time), emphasis on character moments and dramatic confrontations, and absence of dialogue. The perpetual dilemmas about where Lucy, Mina, Seward, Holmwood etc all live in relation to Dracula's castle become largely irrelevant when no-one in the story is speaking words like 'Whitby', 'London', 'Carlstadt' or whatever. Possibly Dracula travels to wherever-it-is by ship - but equally, the lashing wind and water which we hear may just be a storm outside Lucy's drawing-room window. It doesn't really matter. On this impressionistic level, the only identifiable 'departure' from the book was a party held to celebrate Lucy's engagement to Arthur Holmwood (at which she shockingly turns up on Dracula's arm!), but since that allowed for some very nice formal dancing scenes which gave roles to members of the company who otherwise wouldn't have been in the production at all, it seemed like a good inclusion.

The sets were probably closest to the 1931 Universal Dracula, in that they were neither realistic nor entirely abstract, so matched its expressionistic spirit. They were certainly really good, anyway - lots of broken castles and abbeys, but also lavish ballrooms and bedrooms, and an excellent carriage pulled through clouds of dry ice by burning-eyed horses. There are quite a few traceable footprints of Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) here too - e.g. in Dracula's shoulder-length hair, the very Elizabethan-looking collar worn by Lucy after her transformation, the fact that Dracula and Mina's story is cast as a romance (though thankfully without any hints at reincarnation), and the portrayal of Seward as morphine addict ([livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan - I checked that one, and this is indeed where it comes from). But there was a touch of the rattish Nosferatu to Dracula's look as well, and of course the absence of spoken dialogue inevitably recalls the format of the 1922 movie.

Because nothing is perfect, I do have to note here that after the highlight which was Dracula and Mina's love-duet, the dancing did seem to fall into a bit of an anti-climax, especially as the team of vampire hunters dashed around the stage in search of Dracula with no obvious sense of purpose to their movements. And while the costumes were generally amazing (especially a long beaded frock-coat worn by Dracula to Lucy's engagement party), his standard attire of a long high-collared crushed-velvet cloak unfortunately looked very much like it had come from a cheap fancy-dress shop. But all in all, this really was a fantastic performance and a great night out. If you ever get the chance to see it, grab it with both hands.

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strange_complex: (Dracula 1958 cloak)
I went to see this ten days ago with [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan at Seven Arts in Chapel Allerton. Thinking back, I believe it is the fourth stage adaptation of Dracula which I have seen in my lifetime, with the previous three being as follows:
This was a different adaptation again - this one by John Godber and Jane Thornton, to be precise - and it was by far the truest to Stoker's novel which I have ever seen in any medium. Most of the dialogue was taken directly from the book, with the only real deviations occurring where actions and speech which are reported 'off-stage' (as it were) in the novel were translated into direct speech and action on the stage. Even then, the epistolary format of the original was preserved where possible, for example by showing people receiving and reading out letters from one another.

Obviously, a 1.5-hour stage adaptation couldn't hope to convey the entirety of the novel, though. Quincey Morris was omitted, as he often is, and so were Renfield and two of Draculas' three brides, while Dracula's journey on the Demeter was reported only from the point of view of Whitby residents after he had arrived. But other than that, both the language and the spirit of the novel were really well preserved, mainly thanks to a clever impressionistic approach used for some of the wider sweeps of the narrative. For example, the opening scenes in which Jonathan Harker travels to Dracula's castle were not played out in full, but instead conveyed by a sort of montage of key words and phrases spoken by cast members standing in a line on the stage - "Welcome to Transylvania"; "Please - for your mother's sake"; "For the dead travel fast"; and so on. All instantly recognisable and highly evocative, yet sketched out lightly and efficiently so that we could get on to the more detailed scenes set in the castle. On the whole, I think you would struggle to find a better translation of novel to stage than this one, although I had one small regret about it, which was that some of Mina's stronger scenes (e.g. where she takes the lead in gathering and sorting through all the records for the group of vampire-hunters) had dropped out, so that she lost some of her agency as a result.

The production itself was an amateur one, and we saw it on its opening night, but it was pretty good when judged on those terms. We were particularly impressed by the people playing Dr. Seward and the sole vampire bride (who also doubled-up as the maid who removes the garlic flowers from Lucy's room, thus creating nice extra layers to the narrative, since of course the maid would be helping Dracula if she is also his consort in disguise!). The rest of the cast were all perfectly solid, though we weren't so convinced by the decision to cast the same person as both Jonathan Harker and Arthur Holmwood, since it meant he was both Mina's husband and Lucy's fiancé, which had unintended resonances, and besides his chemistry as Arthur with Lucy was completely non-existent, so that when Van Helsing instructed him to kiss her it seemed more like a reluctant school-boy kissing his aunt than the impassioned kiss of a concerned lover. As for Dracula - well, it's a difficult role to play without slipping into pantomime, especially on stage where you cannot be as subtle as on film; he could have been better served by both the costume and the make-up departments; and we weren't sure the decision to have him speaking in a mock-Eastern European accent, or laughing maniacally from time to time was well-advised. But at least it looked like he was enjoying his evil machinations, and he definitely came across well when he got the chance to confront the band of vampire-hunters directly, and hurl some proper scorn and disdain in their general direction.

I think [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan was probably right to observe that £10 is a bit steep for amateur theatre, even in this inflated day and age, and on such a hot summer night I could have done with an interval and a long cool drink half-way through. But then again, they pulled in a good audience, filling about 80% of the seats I think, so I guess they had judged their price point about right. Anyway, a good bit of Draculising is always worth leaving the house for, and I would definitely show up for a performance of this particular adaptation again.

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strange_complex: (Twiggy)
Some time in my early teens (I think), I watched this film with my Dad, who is rather partial to Julie Christie, but my memory had obviously got very distorted in the intervening period, as I had somehow come to believe that it is set in London. In fact, it's set in a fictional Yorkshire city, constructed mainly out of Bradford, although it is true that London does get frequent mentions as a symbol of the better, more exciting and more fulfilling life which Billy would like to escape to. Billy Liar's tragedy, though, is that his imagination is rather too good. He may dream of a job as a script-writer for a famous comedian, a free-spirited girlfriend and a house containing a special room where the two of them can go and play Imaginary Countries, but the problem is that his dreams are basically satisfying enough on their own, so that he lacks the drive or the courage to make (the more realistic parts of) them a reality. Inevitably, the climactic scene in which he and the dream girlfriend meet at the station to get the overnight train to London to start their new life together ends with her face, wry but unsurprised, looking back at him through the glass as the train pulls out without him.

Anyway, the film was screened last night as part of the Leeds Back in the Day series at the Cottage Road Cinema, and I went along with the usual crowd ([livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan, [livejournal.com profile] planet_andy and [livejournal.com profile] big_daz) to rediscover it. It was a great evening, complete with the usual vintage ads and tasty ice-creams-from-a-tray during the intermission, and this time the organisers had even gone to the trouble of contacting some of the stars of the film in advance to let them know it was getting a big-screen showing Oop North. Messages from Tom Courtenay (Billy) and Julie Christie (Liz, the dream girlfriend) were read out before the screening, saying how pleased they were to hear about it, while Julie Christie said she felt this one had stood the test of time much better than many of the films she had made. I think she is right. I loved the way it balanced its comedy and its tragedy so adeptly, and the way it captured the fast-changing world of the early '60s - for example in its portrayal of the generation gap between its older and younger characters, or the way so much of the action took place with scenes of old buildings being demolished and new ones being constructed in the background.

As [livejournal.com profile] big_daz has been pointing out on Another Social Network, it is of course also ripe for those of us who live Oop North to indulge in a bit of location-spotting - for all that the very demolition and construction work documented in the film means that some of them have changed a great deal since it was made. I managed to recognise Leeds Town Hall, and the war memorial plus various of the general street scenes in Bradford, while there's a pretty good page here about the locations used, which allows you to compare stills from the film with more recent views. They do seem to have completely overlooked the scenes set in the wonderfully-gothic Undercliffe Cemetery, though, which [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan has been sending me lovely photos of today.

Perhaps the saddest thing about Billy Liar is the occasional evidence that he does actually have real talent, for all that he doesn't usually manage to apply it very effectively. About two thirds of the way through the film, Billy finds himself in a local night-club steering a precarious path between three different girlfriends, when the band on the stage suddenly starts playing a song he's written with his friend Arthur. This comes rather out of the blue, since we've only previously heard about him wanting to be a script-writer, and Billy himself doesn't even seem to know that the band were planning to play his number. In any other film (e.g. The Glenn Miller Story; Back to the Future) this would be the main focus of the story - the budding songwriter's struggle to win musical recognition. But here it seems like a casual thing which Billy has stumbled into (perhaps led mainly by Arthur?) while hardly even noticing that anything is happening. To my ear, though, the song captures the pop sound of the day absolutely perfectly, and could clearly be the basis of a glittering career if Billy felt so inclined. I've been humming it all day, and will close with the relevant Youtube clip so that you can enjoy it too:

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strange_complex: (Lee as M.R. James)
It seems an awfully long time ago now since the Hammer horror / M.R. James weekend which I began writing up in this post, but I do still want to record the rest of it, as it really was spectacularly awesome.

In my previous post, I wrote up individual reviews for the three Hammer films which we saw at the Media Museum, but I also wanted to note down a few thoughts on the experience of watching all three together over the course of a single weekend )

Anyway, the course did not end with the third film, but culminated instead with a trip down to the Media Museum's archives to see the most relevant items from their Hammer special effects make-up collection, acquired from the estate of Roy Ashton (but also including material used by his mentor and colleague, Phil Leakey). I saw some of this material in 2012 during a Fantastic Films Weekend, but on that occasion it was all on display in glass cases, and my mobile phone camera at the time was definitely not as good as the one I have now. So this time I was able to see the material at a much closer range, including getting to see inside the exciting tins with labels reading 'vampire bites', 'eye pouches' etc., rather than just seeing them from the outside, and I was also able to get rather better photos )

The importance of not touching any of the material was, of course, strongly impressed upon us, resulting in some of us having to carefully hold our hands behind our backs to stave off our all-too-natural urges - especially where Dracula's lovely shiny curving fangs were concerned. And then of course there was general banter around the fact that 56 years earlier those very fangs had been in Christopher Lee's mouth, and there was probably enough biological material left on them to clone him. And somehow on the bus back to Leeds and during our walk into deepest Holbeck in search of M.R. James stories, this turned into a film script entitled Touch the Teeth of Dracula, which would involve some poor innocent soul succumbing to the urge to reach out and touch the fangs, and pulling their finger away with a shock to find it bleeding profusely, and the Count himself taking over their body and being reincarnated in 21st-century Bradford.

miss_s_b and I would then start fighting over him, and somehow (presumably after a thrilling coach chase to the Carpathian mountains) it would all end up with a fight to the death on the battlements of his castle, by the end of which we would both be on fire, and one of us would do Christopher Lee Death Pose Number 1 (falling forward) while the other did Christopher Lee Death Pose Number 2 (falling backwards), so that we tumbled in opposite directions to our doom. It was one of those classically geeky conversations where everyone is madly chucking in ideas, and no-one is quite sure where any of it came from, and all of it is completely ridiculous but somehow the sum total of it adds up to a thing of genius. I love those conversations - and the people I have them with.

All the while, we were traversing a landscape of Victorian industrial chimneys rumoured to have inspired Tolkien's Two Towers, moving steadily further from the traffic and lights of Leeds city centre and penetrating deeper into a domain of crumbling warehouses, cobbled side-streets and eventually open urban scrub waste-land. Catching up with a huddle of people ahead of us wearing long coats and wide-brimmed hats, we confirmed that we were indeed on the right course for the Holbeck Underground Ballroom, which was frankly welcome news as we started to pass work-yards populated with barking dogs and burly-looking men stoking oil-drum braziers. But the journey was well worth it. Inside, we found cheerful people serving wine in chipped white mugs for £1 a pop, free hot water-bottles to make up for the lack of central heating, and a room furnished with tatty sofas, drapes and various antique nick-nacks to mill around in while we waited for the show.

Eventually, we were ushered into the main performance space to snuggle up together on creaking sofas veiled in fabric throws, and watch Robert Lloyd Parry bringing M.R. James to life )

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strange_complex: (Me Cornucopia)
Pre-Wendyhouse selfieI went out to Wendyhouse last night for the first time in about two years. The least appalling selfie which I took before going out is on the right, but it is physically quite difficult to press the right button on my phone-camera without dropping it or causing massive camera-shake, so I struggled to get one which showed what I was wearing without also capturing an annoyed and frustrated expression.

The Gentlemen of Leeds were obviously well-primed to make me feel good about myself once I reached the club, though, as I got several spontaneous and very charming compliments, all of which successfully steered well clear of Creepytown:
  • One made a special point of saying that he had liked my dancing. Always nice to hear.
  • Another told me that my outfit looked very expensive. In Yorkshire, this sort of comment can sometimes be code for "Well, you're a bit up yourself, aren't you?", so I quickly denied anything of the sort, but it turned out that he meant it in a very genuine "You look like a million dollars" sort of way.
  • And a third literally walked up to me, tapped me on the arm and said "Excuse me, would you like to dance?", which I didn't think was a phrase familiar to the Youth of Today. Furthermore, when I said that actually I had been just about to go and sit down for a while because my feet were killing me (which was true), he accepted that perfectly happily, pointed out the area of the dancefloor where I could find him if I changed my mind later, and walked away. Which shouldn't be a rare and noteworthy experience for a single woman in a nightclub, but sadly it very much is. If only all chaps would follow the same approach.
As for that bit about my feet killing me, I didn't understand why that was at the time. I thought the pair of boots I'd worn were trustworthy and comfortable, but by about half-way through the evening my toes and the balls of my feet were screaming in pain, and the dancing which I'd been complimented on earlier in the night had become more or less impossible to do. I wondered if maybe it was because I've just become even less used to wearing raised heels than I was last time I wore them, but when I got home into a properly-lit environment and took them off I discovered the truth:

Sad remnants Alas for the Shiny Boots of shininess They have danced their last

That mouldy-looking grey dust stuff on the floor all around them is the remains of whatever substance used once to fill the platform soles - some kind of synthetic foam-type material, I assume. I see how that would be a good filling for platform soles in the short term, as it would keep the boots relatively light compared to (say) wood, resin or plastic, in turn making them nicer to wear and move around in. But it has obviously degenerated with age since I bought the boots ten years ago, and last night was the night when it finally gave up the ghost, collapsed in on itself and began pouring out of the sides of the soles.

This means I spent half the night with the balls of my feet supported by the sorry remnants of an empty shell, rather than a nice solid platform. But because the heels remained solid and steadfast throughout, my feet were tipped forward much more than they were supposed to be, so it's no wonder that my toes hurt and the heels seemed so much higher than I'm used to than I was expecting. Today, the backs of my calves are aching rather for the same reason, and sadly the boots are clearly a total write-off.

Alas and alack for what were once a truly faithful pair of dance-floor companions. :-(

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strange_complex: (Vampira)
Here's another thing I saw recently with [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan and [livejournal.com profile] planet_andy: a theatrical production of Bram Stoker's Dracula put on by these people in the grounds of Kirkstall Abbey. It was a blissful summer's day at the height of the heatwave, and the show was staged in what must once have been the abbey cloisters, but is now a large square enclosure carpeted with grass and overlooked by ruined towers and flocks of birds. We took picnics and folding chairs, and settled down in the early evening sunshine, while members of the cast circulated doing a little in-character banter:

2013-07-18 18.53.29

The set-up was that they were the staff of an undertakers' company: Drakesmith and Graveston, services to the dead since 1822. They had been charged with conducting Jonathan Harker's funeral service, and were circulating around the mourners to enquire how we were connected with the deceased and sell us the following order of service for two florins:

Order of service

Two pounds were agreed to be an acceptable exchange rate for the florins, and of course the order of service was also the programme for the show. As the performance began, the undertakers explained that as part of the funeral service they would be reading out extracts from Jonathan Harker's diary at his family's request, and as they did so they switched into the roles of the characters from the story, acting it out pretty much as it unfolds within the book. The letters, telegrams, diary entries and newspaper articles written by other characters were explained as having been pasted into Harker's diary as a complete record of his experiences. And although I was a little unsure about the use of the undertakers as a sort of framing device for the main story, in fact it worked pretty well. In between scenes, they discussed the strange events which they had been reading about with one another, wondering what might come next and how they might feel in the same situation - basically acting much like the chorus in a Greek tragedy to help bridge the gap between the real life of the audience and the fantastical world of the story.

You can't, of course, have very much in the way of complicated stage machinery or even exits and entrances when you are staging an outdoor show, so the performance relied very much on simple devices and the use of the audience's imagination. Coffins doubled as beds, steps, benches on the cliff at Whitby and seats in a railway carriage, while their lids served as castle doors when required, and the performers swiftly cast aside the cloak of one character or donned the skirts of another as they changed roles. But it all worked very effectively to sweep the imagination from craggy Transylvania one moment to bustling Victorian London the next. Indeed, the cast consisted of only five actors, with most of them doubling up not only as undertakers, but also as at least two characters each within the story. But again, the constraints proved a virtue, adding extra layers to the story. I especially liked the casting of the same actor as both Van Helsing and Dracula, which of course prevented the two from ever meeting of course but did position them very nicely as matched adversaries who have more in common than they would like to admit.

I was busy eating my picnic and then sipping the summery rose cocktail which I had prepared for the first hour or so of the show, but after that I realised that an outdoor performance in the sunshine meant that I could easily take photos without disturbing anybody. So I got to work, tweeting the results and prompting a lot of people to tweet back in response saying how cool it looked and they wished that they were there. You'll have to imagine the scene which took place at Castle Dracula, in Whitby and on the good ship Demeter in the first half of the story while I was eating and drinking, but these are the high points of the rest of the show )

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strange_complex: (Me Art Deco)
I wrote up my overall experiences curating the [twitter.com profile] PeopleofLeeds Twitter account a couple of weeks ago, and followed that up with a post containing some of the pictures I had shared of local Headingley landmarks. But the real theme of my week on the account was Art Deco Leeds, so this post rounds off the story by recording some of the pictures I shared on that topic. I'm not including absolutely every picture I took or tweeted here, as that would get a bit much, but these are the highlights of my Art Deco week.

Art Deco Headingley )

The University and city centre )

But the grand climax of my week was the Sunday, when I armed myself with my SatNav and a list of every other Art Deco building I knew of in Leeds, and drove around the city visiting and photographing each one )

Meanwhile, outside the sun set on my day of Art Deco, and my week as the Twitter face of Leeds. As I said in my previous post, it had its pros and cons, but the prompt to finally get myself organised and visit all these buildings systematically was very definitely one of the pros.

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strange_complex: (Penny Lane)
I wrote about my experiences curating the [twitter.com profile] PeopleofLeeds Twitter account earlier today, and said at the end of that post that I would share here some of the pictures which I posted to that account during my week, so that I have a more permanent record of what I did with it. This post contains some (though not all) of the pictures I took of non-Art Deco landmarks in Headingley during my week, and the things I said about them.

The no-longer original oak )

5, Holly Bank, one-time home of J.R.R. Tolkien )

The Cottage Road and Hyde Park cinemas )

Remants of the Victorian-era Leeds Zoological and Botanical Gardens )

None of the above photos are that great, of course, because they were taken with my phone camera, and I didn't usually have the luxury to be able to wait around for good weather, good lighting, no cars, etc. before I took them. But that's the nature of Twitter, and I think they did convey a good sense of what I like about my area.

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strange_complex: (Vampira)
Seen with [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan and [livejournal.com profile] planet_andy at the Cottage Road Cinema last Wednesday.

I read the stage play version of this story (itself based on an earlier novel) about ten years ago, so had a broad sense of the plot before I went in, although I'd forgotten the details. Not that it makes a huge amount of difference - it is very much a standard Victorian gothic ghost story, and although the stage play version includes a meta-referential twist at the end, the film doesn't do anything much that a regular horror film-goer won't be able to predict.

That isn't to say it won't make you jump from time to time. Its horror relies quite heavily on 'stings' - i.e. sudden noises, movements or appearances designed to give the audience a shock of adrenaline. In fact, sometimes, this felt overdone. It was OK in cases where the 'sting' event would genuinely make a sudden noise - as for example when an old rusty water-pipe suddenly burst into noisy action. But in other places it seemed too contrived - as when our young hero (Kipps) is taken by surprise by the sudden appearance of the local cart-driver Keckwick on the causeway to the haunted house, accompanied by a loud *BOOM* on the soundtrack. Caused by what? People don't usually make a boom when they just turn around - at least in my experience.

Still, though, there was plenty of good creepy atmosphere in between the stings too, and indeed an impressive tick-list of all the elements you would expect from the most successful outing so far from the newly-revived Hammer Film Productions. A couple of years ago [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan and I came up with a list of Hammer film clichés after watching a couple of their 1960s oeuvres back-to-back, so just for a giggle I have nipped back to that to see which of them crop up in this latest offering. I made it seven out of a list of 23, as follows:

  • Fainting lady
  • Proper set-piece scream
  • Inn scene complete with check or gingham table-cloths1
  • Any peasants
  • Speeding carriage sequence
  • Close-up of the villain's eyes
  • Actor who has appeared in any other British film or TV that you can name

That doesn't seem like very many, but another eight items on our original list were to do with bad fake effects, and it would be a surprise to see seriously bad effects in any film made now, given general changes in movie culture since the 1960s. A further four were also based on Hammer's propensity to recycle props, scenery, music and actors during their heyday - and indeed to be fair they could well be doing the same thing here without me knowing, since I haven't seen any of their other revival films. So in fact that's seven out of a remaining eleven that it is really fair to apply to a film made in 2012. And meanwhile, there was plenty besides which essentially comprised what we had paid our money on the door to see - to whit:

  • Suspicious villagers
  • Scenes set on period transport (steam-trains, a vintage car and bonus horse-and-trap)
  • Spooky and decrepit haunted house
  • Ghostly children
  • Creepy mechanical toys
  • Characters foolishly chasing after ghostly apparitions, despite having been explicitly told not to

No complaints on the classic horror tropes front, then. But of course, for the same reason, it could never really have hoped to be a truly great horror film, because the basic story doesn't attempt to advance or subvert the genre - it just follows the genre very well. And I must confess to having become rather bored about half-way through with the character going into one room in the big, haunted house and being scared by something, and then going into another room and being scared by something else, and so on and so on, while he was actually supposed to be going through some family documents. After I while I wanted to say, "Oh, just quit procrastinating and get on with your work!" Which probably wasn't the intended reaction.

Also, [livejournal.com profile] lizw is entirely right in her excellent review of this film to point out that its female characters are all either demonised or idealised and exist entirely in relation to men, with the entirely unsurprising result that the film doesn't come anywhere near passing the Bechdel test. Again, this fits in with the story's faithful approach to classic horror, but I feel that given the original novel was written in 1983 (rather than 1883), we are entitled to ask better of it.

Overall, then, definitely a Hammer film - but I think that now they have caught the public's attention with this one, they need to do something a little less predictable next time.

1. I'm not completely sure about the patterning on the tablecloths.

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strange_complex: (Chrestomanci slacking in style)
This was the latest of the wonderful Cottage Classics film nights, which I attended along with the lovely [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan, [livejournal.com profile] planet_andy and [livejournal.com profile] big_daz. As usual, the evening opened with a selection of vintage adverts, including some fab numbers from the '80s. I particularly enjoyed witnessing the 're-launch' of the Ford Escort, hearing about the amazing capabilities of my childhood computer, the fabulous Acorn Electron, and being apprised of the delicious sophistication of Babycham. All of that, though, faded into insignificance next to this public information broadcast featuring the New Seekers lending their vocal talents to the Keep Britain Tidy campaign:

I'm not sure I have ever seen the essence of 1970s culture so successfully captured in a single three-minute film. And all that was before the main feature even started!

The film itself is justly famous, and seems to be spoken of most frequently for featuring Jean Simmons as the young Estella. She is certainly fantastic in the role, but then again the whole cast was a delight to watch. Dickens might as well have written all of his novels with the great tradition of British character acting directly in mind, and the people playing Jaggers the lawyer, his assistant Wemmick, Miss Havisham, Magwitch the convict, the scrawny young Herbert Pocket and the Aged P. in this film really did his comi-tragic characters proud. It was especially fun, though, to see a young Alec Guinness playing the older version of Pip's dandyish room-mate Herbert Pocket.

I read the novel in my late teens, and distinctly remember failing to give a terribly good answer to the question "Why could Pip never marry Estella?" in my interview at Bristol.1 The film slims down the plot a little, for example omitting a quite distressing sub-plot in which Pip's sister is attacked in the forge, and ends up bedridden and unable to speak, and also changes the ending so that the question asked of me in the interview is entirely begged. But on the whole the outline is fairly faithful to the novel, with I think a fair amount of Dickens' dialogue preserved.

That's not to say it is a ploddingly conventional film, though - far from it. It had quite a few features which I think must have been rather innovative for the time. For example, early on when Pip sneaks off across the marshes to take a stolen pie and file to Magwitch, he hears the voices of critical adults all around him as a projection of his guilt, including emanating from a group of cows who give him withering stares as he passes. It also features a training montage, as Pip learns to waltz and fence in his early days in London - a device which became famous with Rocky in the late '70s, but obviously goes back rather earlier if you know where to look. As [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan rightly says, it's also very rich in the fabulous use of light, contrast and composition that all the best films of this era do so well.

I saw parts of the new BBC adaptation over Christmas, and that had a lot to offer too. But this version will always remain a Classic, and I'm very glad I saw it.

1. I interviewed for a place to study English, and got it, but then switched to Ancient History in my first week. It remains one of the most obviously life-changing decisions I've ever taken.

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strange_complex: (Vampira)
I saw this last Sunday evening with [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan and a bonus unexpected [livejournal.com profile] maviscruet. It was put on in a venue I haven't been to before - the Left Bank on Cardigan Road, Leeds, which is a formerly-disused church, now taken over as a community arts venue and in the process of being restored. So far, the roof has been repaired and the place cleaned up, but the budget hasn't yet stretched as far as installing any heating. So the place was completely freezing!

But that was OK. We'd been warned as much on the tickets, so turned up bundled in nice thick coats and hats, purchased hot steaming cups of coffee from the bar in one corner, and sat huddled over our drinks and watching our breath turn to mist. Somehow, given the type of film we were watching, it was all part of the experience and part of the fun. Meanwhile, the seating had been arranged at round cabaret-style tables with tea-lights in stained-glass holders flickering on each one, and once the lights were turned down we were surrounded by ghostly Gothic arches stretching out emptily around us - and somehow the slight desire to shiver, combined with all of that, really added to the atmosphere.

The film itself was played in a silent format, although actually Wikipedia tells me that it originally also had some spoken dialogue, almost bridging the gulf between silent films and talkies. That would explain something which we found confusing on the night, which was why in some places there were modern on-screen English subtitles, but no sign of any intertitles or other means to help the original audience understand what was being said. It wasn't that intertitles had been removed (the best explanation we could come up with at the time), but that there had actually been audible dialogue there in the original film - which makes sense, really, given the release date.

In place of the original soundtrack, though, we were instead treated to a performance of an original live musical soundtrack composed for the film especially by Steven Severin, the original bassist from Siouxsie and the Banshees. His soundtrack was performed via an electronic toolkit - laptop, mixer, etc. - but included things like strings, bells and banjoes as well as synthesised sounds, as and when appropriate to the events unfolding on screen. Obviously, as a soundtrack its function was to support and enhance the film, rather than distract attention away from it, but I thought it did that very well, adding yet more appropriately-atmospheric spookiness on top of the experience of watching a vampire film in a dark, cavernous, wintry-cold church.

As for the film itself, I had seen about the first ten minutes of it once before, but not the whole thing - a shameful oversight, given how much I love and actively seek out vampire films wherever possible. So it was great to just have the chance to remedy that at long last. I could see lots of small, iconic touches in it which crop up in many a later vampire film, too - like the young man arriving at the door of the inn, finding it locked, and being greeted instead by a woman peering out of an upstairs dormer window (e.g. Scars of Dracula (1970)), or the older, wiser man dying, and passing on the task of protecting his young female charge from vampires to an inexperienced paramour (e.g. Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968)). It's nice to have a better sense now of where some of those first originated.

The story itself is surreal, including things like an extended dream-sequence, and indeed many other events which are generally dream-like in quality. In fact, it seems to bridge different worlds in a number of ways - the worlds of waking and dreaming, of silent and talking pictures (as I've said above), of the modern, urbane world represented by its dapper young hero and the simple rural village where he finds himself, and of the German-speaking and French-speaking communities who apparently inhabit the village where it is set side by side, so that written signs appear in both languages, and the characters have names from both cultures. It leaves a lot of questions unanswered, and indeed comes across more as a series of vignettes than a coherent story as such. But that, I would say, is its charm.

Talking of charm, [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan and I couldn't help but emerge afterwards swooning and sighing over the film's tall, dark, handsome and extremely smartly be-suited male star, Nicolas de Gunzburg (credited as Julian West). Sadly, this was the only film he ever made, so we are denied the chance of further dreamy gazing at his three-piece suit and slicked-back hair, but he certainly provides value for money in his sole cinematic outing. The young lady whom he (somewhat haphazardly) saves was amazingly balletic too, both in her costume and in her movements - a quality which I also remember noticing in near-contemporary silent film Metropolis. Again according to Wikipedia, the cast mainly consisted of non-professional actors (apparently including Einstein and the First Doctor!), but given that the atmosphere of the film called for quite mannered performances anyway, this wasn't something which particularly stood out to me while watching it.

All in all, a beautifully atmospheric film, seen in circumstances which really set it off to its best effect. Very glad to be able to tick off yet another entry in the 'Vampires' chapter of my favourite horror film encyclopedia. :-)

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strange_complex: (ITV digital Monkey popcorn)
I saw this with [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan at the Cottage Road cinema on a brilliantly sunny Sunday afternoon (see picture), and it was fab. Obviously I normally like to review the films I've seen in exhaustive detail, but that would rather spoil this one I think. It was just ace fun - really owning the naff songs and the campy nostalgia and rolling with it, and absolutely packed with self-referential humour and word-play. A lot of the celebrity cameos were lost on me, but I appreciated the ones I did recognise - especially Emily Blunt and Sarah Silverman. And as far as I could tell the children in the cinema enjoyed it as much as me and [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan, although we were definitely laughing at quite different bits. Highly recommended - but I'm sure you know that already.

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