Funny Face

Starring Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire
Screenplay by Leonard Gershe
Music by Adolph Deutsch and George and Ira Gershwin
Directed by Stanley Donen
Production Year 1957
Running time 103 minutes

  Stanley Donen is one of the great musical directors from the golden age of Hollywood. His films include such classics as Singin’ in the Rain and On The Town - both starring the wonderfully athletic Gene Kelly.
 
  Funny Face features Fred Astaire whose dancing style was quite different to Kelly’s - gentler and less balletic - but nonetheless supremely skilful. Alongside Astaire is Audrey Hepburn - one of the most enchanting actresses ever to grace the silver screen. Hepburn was born in Belgium and grew up in the Netherlands where she learned to dance, using her craft to raise money to help fund the Dutch resistance during WW2.
 
  Her career continued in London and the United States until her breakthrough film Roman Holiday in which she starred opposite Gregory Peck. Career highlights include Breakfast At Tiffany’s, My Fair Lady and Robin and Marion. She ended her life as a working as a humanitarian ambassador until her untimely death at the age of 64. Funny Face has a wafer thin plot involving a famous fashion photographer (based on Richard Avedon), an ambitious magazine editor and a shy bookshop assistant who longs to study in Paris.

  The production is hugely stylish with ravishing costumes by Edith Head - Hitchcock’s designer of choice. The music and songs are a delight and the choreography first rate.

  A perfect way to end our screenings in 2013!

Ice Storm

Staring Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Joan Allen, Tobey Maguire and Christina Ricci

Screenplay by James Schamus

Based on the book by Rick Moody

Directed by Ang Lee

Production Year 1997

Running time 113 minutes

  Thanksgiving 1973. In New Canaan, a small town in Connecticut, two families are having  dinner together. The adults seated around the table discuss Watergate, wife swapping and Deep Throat. One by one we get to know the members of these families and discover the secrets they share.

  Ben and Janey are having an affair, Elena is bored and unsure of how to change her life so tries shoplifting, 14 year old Wendy is into sex games and fellow teenager Mikey plays along with her, Paul is experimenting with drugs.The lives of these wealthy dissatisfied people coming to terms with the end of the 1960s and looking for fulfilment reach a powerful and dramatic crossroads one night when a dangerous ice storm hits the town.

  The director is  Ang Lee whose extraordinary and  multi-faceted career includes Eat, Drink Man Woman, Sense And Sensibility, Crouching Tiger -Hidden Dragon, The Hulk, Brokeback Mountain and most recently Life Of Pi. He choreographs James Schamus' subtle and literate script beautifully in a film that is both a blackly comic period satire and a powerful family melodrama.

  The historical detail is perfect and the acting by a talented ensemble cast is  dazzling. The Ice Storm was a financial flop at the time of release but now looks like one of the finest American films of its time.

 

The Duellists

Starring Keith Carradine, Harvey Keitel, Jenny Runacre and Robert Stephens
Screenplay by Gerald Vaughan-Hughes 
Based on the story by Joseph Conrad
Directed by Ridley Scott
Production Year 1977
Running time 100 minutes

The Duellists is the debut feature of Ridley Scott - one of the most stylistically influential and successful directors working today. Scott was educated at the Royal College Of Art in London and had a highly successful career in TV and cinema commercials - his work included the iconic 1974 Hovis 'Bike Round' advertisement.

The Duellists is based on 'The Duel',  a short story by Joseph Conrad,  and tells of an obsessive series of personal battles fought between two French officers over a 30 year period.

Heavily influenced by Stanley Kubrick's 'Barry Lyndon', The Duellists is an astonishingly beautiful film - cinematographer Frank Tidy collaborated with Scott on hundreds of commercials leading up to this - and achieves a ravishing painterly look for the movie even though it was made on a comparative shoestring.
The producer of The Duellists was David Puttnam, who like Scott had started in advertising. After this film he went on to produce a series of highly successful movies including Midnight Express, Chariots Of Fire, Local Hero and The Killing Fields.


The two obsessive, duelling protagonists are played by Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel - with a host of fine British character actors in the supporting roles - including Tom Conti, Edward Fox, Diana Quick and Albert Finney . The dynamic fight choreography  is by the legendary William Hobbs and noted historian Richard Holmes advised on the period detail. The result is a highly convincing portrayal of the rules and rituals of the early 19th century.

The Duellists won Best Debut Film at the Cannes Film Festival. Within five years Scott had made 'Alien' and 'Blade Runner' and changed the look and style of modern cinema.

Babette's Feast

 

Starring Stephane Audran, Birgitte Federspiel and Bodil Kjer

Screenplay by Gabriel Axel from a story by Karen Blixen

Directed by Gabriel Axel

Production year 1987                             

Running time 102 minutes

  One of the biggest art house hits of the 1980s this delightful and uplifting period drama was the winner of both the BAFTA and the Oscar for best foreign language film.

  Set in a remote Danish village in the 19th century Babette's Feast tells the story of two ageing spinster sisters who preside over a dwindling congregation after the death of the father - the Pastor of a Christian sect. Babette Hersant,  a refugee from Paris arrives on their doorstep and becomes their housekeeper. After many years in service to the sisters she is accepted by the austere community and when she wins a 10,000 franc lottery prize Babette decides to show her thanks by preparing an extraordinary banquet for the village.

  Beautifully scripted and performed Babette's Feast perfectly captures the rhythms and tones of the narrow society it portrays. The original story was written by Karen Blixen, who was herself portrayed by Meryl Streep in the celebrated romantic drama Out Of Africa.

  The cinematography by Henning Kristiansen accentuates the dark interiors of the houses and artfully celebrates the culinary extravagance of the climatic meal. Babette was originally intended to be played by Catherine Deneuve but the role went to Stephane Audran - who gives perhaps the finest performance of her distinguished career.

  Babette's Feast was recently identified by Pope Francis as his favourite film so unusually we have Vatican approval for this screening.

Le Samourai

 

Starring Alain Delon, Francois Périer and Nathalie Delon
Screenplay by Jean-Pierre Melville and Georges Pellegrin
Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville                               
Production year 1967                             
Running time 102 minutes

  This super-cool existential crime thriller is the work of Jean-Pierre Melville - one of the greatest and most idiosyncratic of all post war French filmakers. Born Jean-Pierre Grumbach to an Alsatian Jewish family  the director changed his name to Melville whilst fighting in the Resistance during WW2 because of his admiration for the American author of Moby Dick. After the war he kept it as his nom de plume and began making movies operating out of his own mini-studio.

  He specialised in minimalist, stripped down crime dramas often heavily influenced by American gangster films of the 1930s and 40s but with their own highly distinctive visual style. He was one of the first French directors to use real locations and his reportage technique was a big influence on the French Nouvelle Vague movement that came to fore in the 1960s.

  Le Samouraï is perhaps his masterpiece - it tells the story of Jef Costello - a lone hit man whose murky, violent world of assassination and revenge is governed by his intricate set of rules and rigid honour code. The film stars Alain Delon whose extraordinary good looks, stylised costume and impassive expression make for an inscrutable and fascinating performance.


  The film has been highly influential on subsequent movies from 'The Driver' to 'Drive' and on such directors as John Woo and Quentin Tarantino. Jim Jarmusch paid tribute to the movie in his 1999 drama Ghost Dog and Madonna's 2012 song Beautiful Killer is a tribute both to Delon and his character in  Le Samouraï.

'You are a beautiful killer
I like your silhouette when you stand on the streets
Like a samurai you can handle the heat
Makes me wanna pray for a haunted man...'

Midnight Cowboy

Starring Dustin Hoffman, John Voight and Sylvia Miles
Screenplay by Waldo Salt based upon the novel by James Leo Herlihy
Directed by John Schlesinger
Production year 1969
Running time 113 minutes

Still the only X-rated film to have won the Academy Award for Best Picture this iconic tale of two drifters in late 60s New York was the American debut of British director John Schlesinger. Schlesinger made his name with two gritty Northern dramas in the early 1960s - a Kind Of Loving and Billy Liar. He followed these with Darling, set in 'Swinging London', and Far From The Madding Crowd, a lavish adaptation of Thomas Hardy. After Midnight Cowboy his cinema career was somewhat patchy and largely based in the US - with the outstanding thriller Marathon Man being a high point in 1976. He continued to work in Britain on  TV projects such as the 1983 Guy Burgess spy drama An Englishman Abroad as well as numerous theatre and opera productions.

The screenwriter of Midnight Cowboy was Waldo Salt - one of the writers notoriously
blacklisted by Hollywood in the 1950s during the Communist witch hunts. Salt's other pictures include the excellent 1970s police story Serpico and the Oscar-winning Vietnam veteran drama Coming Home.
Dustin Hoffman and John Voight both won BAFTAs for their work on this film. Voight is outstanding as the naive young Texan but never really hit these heights again while Hoffman's Ratso Rizzo is one of the greatest low life creations in all of cinema.


One interesting piece of trivia - Harry Nilsson's Everybody's Talkin' - the famous theme song of Midnight Cowboy, is now inextricably linked with the film and underscores the entire first act. However the ballad that was originally commissioned was Bob Dylan's Lay Lady Lay. When Dylan failed to deliver the finished recording in time Schlesinger picked out Everybody's Talkin' and the rest is history...

 

Mr Smith Goes to Washington

Starring James Stewart, Jean Arthur and Claude Rains
Written  by Sidney Buchman
Directed by Frank Capra
Production year 1939
Running time 124 minutes

  1939 is often called the greatest year in Hollywood's history - giving us an astonishing collection of movies including Gone With The Wind, The Wizard Of Oz, Stagecoach, Ninotchka, Dark Victory and Wuthering Heights. Among this extraordinary embarrassment of cinematic riches is Mr. Smith Goes To Washington - one of the finest of all comedies featuring one of cinema's most iconic stars - James Stewart.

  The film tells the story of a naive young man who is elected Senator and becomes embroiled in the plot surrounding a corrupt land deal. To try to prove his innocence he must endeavour to speak on the floor of the Senate for 24 hours straight... 

  Mr Smith's director Frank Capra is responsible for some of the funniest and most emotionally affecting films to come out of Hollywood  including Mr. Deeds Goes To Town, Arsenic And Old Lace and It's A Wonderful Life. In Capra's dramas all that is best and most genuine about America is championed whilst they show the dark and dangerous side of that culture too. Mr Smith Goes To Washington was considered controversial at the time for its frank depiction of the corruption in the US political system. 

  The eponymous Mr. Smith is played by James Stewart - an actor whose face and voice were instantly recognisable and almost universally loved. Stewart's career as an actor spanned 50 years - interrupted by a four year spell as a major in the US Air Force during WW2. Unlike many Hollywood stars his military service was genuine and  between 1942 and 1945 he flew dozens of dangerous missions over Germany. The war was to change him  and the roles he took after that time reflected a new darkness in his personality.

All About My Mother

Starring Cecilia Roth, Marisa Parides and Penelope Cruz
Written and directed by Pedro Almodovar
Production year 1999
Running time 104 minutes

  Pedro Almodovar is the foremost Spanish filmmaker alive and working today. Like Luis Bunuel before him his work is vivid, sometimes surreal, often vulgar and always intensely rooted in the culture of Spain.

  Growing up in a poor family under Franco's fascist regime he worked at a telephone company for 12 years before making his first feature Pepi, Luci, Bom aged 31. A series of provocative, mischievous and controversial films followed culminating with his first major hit Women On the Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown in 1988. This established him as a director of international renown and Almodovar went on to make a string of critical and box office hits  including Live Flesh, High Heels and Bad Education.

  All About My Mother tells the tangled and melodramatic  tale of Manuela, a nurse who goes on a journey of discovery following the death of her teenage son in a car accident. Her story is blackly comic, engaging and at times deeply moving with a cast of extraordinary characters whose lives interconnect in the most surprising ways. It was a career high point for Almodovar, demonstrating a depth and maturity lacking in his earlier films and winning a clutch of major awards including the BAFTA and the Oscar for best foreign language film.

  The distinguished critic Philip French, writing in The Observer, called All About My Mother the last great film of the 20th century, adding that it 'sees Almodovar at his best ingeniously intertwining the plots and themes of All About Eve and A Streetcar Named Desire.'

 

 

 

sex, lies and videotape

Starring James Spader, Andie MacDowell and Laura San Giacomo
Written and directed by Steven Soderbergh                               
Production year 1989                             
Running time 100 minutes


  sex, lies and videotape is perhaps the single most important American independent movie of the last 30 years. It put the Sundance Festival on the map, made a name for Miramax and Harvey Weinstein and significantly raised the profile of non-studio films in a similar way to Easy Rider in the late 1960s. The film was made for $1.2 million and took over $36 million worldwide.
 
  This is  the debut feature of director Steven Soderbergh, one of the most interesting and diverse directors working today. His work includes low budget dramas, documentaries and genre films alongside star vehicles such as the highly successful Erin Brockovich. He has collaborated with George Clooney on a number of occasions - most notably in the Oceans 11 series.
 
  sex, lies and videotape is set in Baton Rouge Louisiana and tells the story of Ann, her husband John and her sister  Cynthia and the impact on their lives of a drifter called Graham. Graham's practice of interviewing women about their sexual fantasies on camera sets off a chain of events that changes everything.
 
  The script, written by Soderbergh in 8 days during a cross country road trip, is intense and darkly comic and the performances - particularly James Spader as the mysterious Graham are finely nuanced.
Soderbergh was only 26 when he made sex, lies and videotape and became the youngest ever director to win the Palme d'or at Cannes. He recently declared that he is to give up film making in favour of painting full time - whether he will do so remains to be seen...

 

All That Jazz

Starring Roy Scheider, Jessica Lange and Anne Reinking
Written by Robert Alan Arthur and Bob Fosse
Directed by Bob Fosse
Production year 1979
Running time 123 minutes

  Bob Fosse was quite simply one of the most uniquely talented individuals ever to work in theatre and film. He was an actor, dancer, choreographer, screenwriter, film editor and director who won 8 Tony Awards and was nominated 4 times for an Academy Award - winning once for Cabaret. His stage productions include Sweet Charity and Chicago and he can be said to have re-invented choreography for the modern audience.

  All That Jazz is a semi-autobiographical work depicting the frenetic life and work of Joe Gideon; a chain-smoking, amphetamine- addicted and sex-obsessed director and choreographer who is simultaneously putting on a broadway show and editing a Hollywood movie. The script is based on Fosse's own experiences whilst launching Chicago on stage and completing Lenny, his 1974 biopic of Lenny Bruce starring Dustin Hoffman.

  All That Jazz is an intoxicating mixture of fantasy and reality with outstanding musical numbers and a turbo-charged performance by Roy Scheider. The production design and editing are dazzling and the cinematography, by Fellini's cameraman of choice Giuseppe Rotunno is breathtaking.

Zelig

Starring Woody Allen and Mia Farrow
Written and directed by Woody Allen
Production year 1983
Running time 79 minutes

 Perhaps Woody Allen's most unusual film and one that has to some extent been lost since its release 30 years ago.

  It tells the story of Leonard Zelig; a nondescript and enigmatic personality who, in order to be liked and accepted by those around him, takes on the characteristics of anyone he is close to. Brilliantly blending specially shot footage and interviews with genuine archive film Zelig is a 'documentary' about his life and celebrity during the 1920s and 30s.

  Allen plays Leonard Zelig and Mia Farrow is Eudora Fletcher - the doctor who treats him for his disorder. When she begins to fall in love with him things begin to go wrong...

  Made 10 years before the big-budget Oscar winner Forrest Gump used similar techniques to insert Tom Hanks into history this fascinating tragi-comedy is smart, funny and moving.

  Allen's co-stars include Adolf Hitler, Charlie Chaplin, Josephine Baker and Fanny Brice. The film boasts a marvellous soundtrack of music from the jazz age alongside specially composed songs including one performed by Mae Questel - the voice of Betty Boop.

Yella

Starring Nina Hoss, Devid Striesow and Hinnerk Schonemann
Written and directed by Christian Petzold
Production year 2007
Running time 89 minutes

This edgy,  ice-cold thriller is the work of Christian Petzold, a member of the Berlin School of  filmmakers. Petzold won a Silver Bear for his 2012 film Barbara (also starring Nina Hoss) and is one of the most interesting directors working in Germany today. 
  
  Yella tells the story of a woman who leaves her husband and her small town in the east to take a job in Hanover. However her husband Ben is a violent and possessive man and she is seemingly unable to shake him off in her new existence. Events take a stranger turn when her new job goes wrong and through a chance encounter she meets a man who draws her into the shadowy world of mergers and acquisitions.

  Nina Hoss gives a mesmerising performance as Yella and the film generates an increasingly disturbing and paranoid atmosphere as reality is  interrupted by weird sounds and echoes from her past. Just what is happening in Yella's world is only revealed at the last...

Chunking Express

Starring Brigitte Lin, Tony Leung and Fay Wong
Written and directed by Wong Kar-wai

Production year 1994
Running time 102 minutes

Wong Kar-wai is a Hong Kong filmaker whose movies are visually sumptuous and often highly stylised. He makes films in all genres from love stories to science fiction and crime melodramas to martial arts pictures. His characters are often in search of romantic love in the midst of their brief lives. Their stories are punctuated by intensely vivid scenes with colour in particular being exaggerated to great effect. In The Mood For Love, which he made in 2000, is perhaps his most successful and best known movie in the west - telling a 'Brief Encounter' type love story with beautiful costumes and long slow tracking shots to create a dreamlike tableau.
Chungking Express is shot by his regular cinematographer Christopher Doyle - an Australian based in Hong Kong - who has been awarded numerous times for his brilliant work including the technical prize from Cannes.
Chungking Express tells two separate stories set in Hong Kong - each featuring a policeman and his romantic attachments. A handsome and gifted cast play out their roles amidst the tenement blocks and food stalls of this bustling city, but their characters are more truly living inside their own interior worlds.

Winter's Bone

Starring Jennifer Lawrence  and John Hawkes
Written by Deborah Granik and Anne Rosellini
Directed by Deborah Granik
Production year 2010
Running time 100 minutes

  This grungy, gritty, dark detective story is set among the community of the Ozark mountains in the central United States, one of the poorest and bleakest regions in America and a side of that country we very rarely see on film.
  Winter's Bone is based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell - one of a number of crime stories that he has written in a genre he has himself dubbed 'country noir'. It tells the story of Ree Dolly, the seventeen year old daughter in a dysfunctional family and her search for her father who has disappeared after being bailed on a charge of manufacturing meth-amphetemine. To find what has happened to him she must risk her life among the deprived, addicted and violent members of the local community.
  Jennifer Lawrence, one of the brightest talents in film acting today, first came to prominence in this film. Her playing of Ree is understated and powerful as she portrays her character's quiet determination to save her family home in a very hostile world.
 This intelligent, involving and emotionally resonant movie is one of the best independent American pictures for a long time - echoing the spirit and uncompromising drama of some of the best films of the 1970s like Deliverance, Fat City and The King Of Marvin Gardens. Winter's Bone won major prizes at The Deauville and Sundance festivals.

The Virgin Suicides

Starring Kirsten Dunst, Josh Hartnett, Kathleen Turner and James Woods
Written by Sofia Coppola and Jeffrey Eugenides
Directed by Sofia Coppola
Production Year 1999
Running Time 97 Minutes


We are now in the fourth year of the film club and this first movie of 2013 is a milestone. We have screened many movies written by, edited by, produced by and of course starring women but none until now has been directed by one!
  The Virgin Suicides is the debut feature of Sofia Coppola, daughter of Francis Ford Coppola. Her body of work includes Lost In Translation and Marie Antoinette and she has a new film in production - The Bling Ring - for release in 2013.
  The Virgin Suicides is based on a best-selling novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, an academic whose novel Middlesex won the Pulitzer prize in 2003. The film tells the story of the five mysterious Lisbon sisters, daughters of strict parents in the town of Grosse Pointe Michigan. Their strange and haunting tale is told from the perspective of four neighbourhood boys who admire them from a distance.
  The cast is a fine one with Kathleen Turner and James Woods as the parents and Kirsten Dunst playing the rebellious daughter Lux.
  As screenwriter and director Sofia Coppola imbues the story with  a delicate and intriguing atmosphere, recognisable from her follow up film Lost In Translation. She has yet to equal the achievement of these two compelling and memorable early films in her subsequent work.