Return to Port Arthur

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Tasmania dangles at the bottom of the world and for that reason is usually overlooked, even by its snooty neighbours on the Australian mainland. It took a disaster to make the obscure place newsworthy: in 1996, a mentally unbalanced misfit randomly murdered thirty-five people and left twenty-three others injured during a shooting spree in the […]

Calcutta Chronicle

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Madhabi Mukherjee, remembering the director Satyajit Ray long after he gave her the central role in The Big City, said that he was as ‘magnanimous as the sky, and as serious as a mountain’. She likened him to a landscape because he began his career with an almost pantheistic account of childhood in rural West […]

Seventy Years On

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Elizabeth: A Portrait in Part(s) portrays the Queen by supercutting her into parts or particles, then reassembling the fragments into a jerky blitz of images and overlapping soundbites. The result is hyper-kinetic: seventy years of history are compressed into ninety minutes that hurtle by frenetically, even though this royal life has proceeded at a slow, […]

It’s a Long Way to Hokkaido

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

For me, the primal attraction of the movies is that they move, taking us on a ride through the world. A single word can instantly capture my attention: for instance, Drive, in which Ryan Gosling executes screeching getaways and equally violent moral U-turns, or The Driver, Walter Hill’s almost abstract thriller. Imagine my vexation when […]

Come, Thick Night

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘Do not bid me speak,’ says Macduff in Macbeth as he stumbles out of the room where he has discovered Duncan’s butchered body. ‘See,’ he commands instead, although Shakespeare does not let us do so. The words spoken by the play’s characters replace the evidence of our eyes and alter what we might see, as […]

Short Stories & Tall Tales

Posted on by David Gelber

Ken Burns makes immensely long documentary films about immensely large American phenomena – the Statue of Liberty or the Brooklyn Bridge, the gloriously empty expanses of such national parks as Yosemite and Yellowstone or the yawning abyss of the Vietnam War. Ernest Hemingway, seen from a distance, would seem to belong in that outsize company. Boozy and belligerent, he embodied the American ego at its most hyper-masculine and hyperbolic, as if modelling for his own chunky bust on Mount

Easy Writer

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Lady Boss, Laura Fairrie’s lush-looking but rather desolate documentary about Jackie Collins and her shag-happy fiction, suggests a sexual position in its title: this is to be about a woman on top, bestraddling men who are little more than anthropomorphised dildos. As though to confirm this suspicion, we are treated to a scene from the […]

Welcome to the Big Aubergine

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

America universalised itself through the movies, prompting people everywhere to fantasise about a richer life in the country that had exported such alluring images. In Visconti’s Bellissima, Anna Magnani exults in the sight of a cattle drive as Howard Hawks’s western Red River is projected onto the wall of a Roman tenement, and in Godard’s […]

The Long & Winding Road

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

One way or another, all movies are road movies: what attracts us to the cinema is the chance to sit still and watch the world go by. So in Nomadland, when an ageing woman motivelessly quits her settled life, loads her truck with kitchenware, a bunk bed and a bucket for her bowel movements, then […]

Thinking Inside the Box

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Recorder is about a machine, a woman and their creepy symbiosis. The machine in Matt Wolf’s documentary is the VCR, the clunky, now happily obsolete box that, when fed with reels of tape, made it possible for the first time to preserve the unmemorable ephemera that flickered through our television sets; the woman is Marion […]

Ripples in the Pond

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Akira Kurosawa and Yasujirō Ozu, Japan’s two greatest film directors, divide their contradictory country between them. In belligerent epics like Seven Samurai or Yojimbo, Kurosawa deals with Japan’s history of ritualised violence; the domestic dramas of Ozu examine the intimate stresses of modernity. Kurosawa’s sense of cosmic disruption led him to adapt Shakespeare, transforming Macbeth […]

Let’s Get This Show on the Road

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

As his long documentary about cinema’s past begins, Mark Cousins flatly asserts that ‘women have directed some of the best films ever made’; after that, he wastes no time lamenting blighted careers or episodes of patriarchal abuse. All the clips that Cousins has collaged or montaged into a sequence derive from films directed by women, […]

Dead Men’s Shoes

Posted on by David Gelber

The more absolute power is, the more it depends on projecting illusions. The thuggery that sustains any dictatorial regime goes to work out of sight; what the intimidated populace sees is parades and circuses, the appurtenances of totalitarian showbiz. During his time as president of the Philippines from 1965 to 1986, Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial […]

Generation Ex

Posted on by Tom Fleming

When it began, cinema boasted of having left the fuddy-duddy art of literature behind. Silent films dispensed with language and let bodies do the talking; later, the director Luis Buñuel declared himself to be ‘agraphic’, allergic to writing. Non-Fiction, nimbly written and a little staidly directed by Olivier Assayas, catches up with the debate between […]

California Dreamin’

Posted on by David Gelber

The ellipsis in the title of Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood says it all. It confides a doubt or hesitation, or introduces a rupture that we have to wishfully leap across. Yes, Quentin Tarantino’s glorious and warmly generous film is a fairy tale – or at least it ends like one, with a confected […]

Tenor of the Age

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Towards the end of Ron Howard’s documentary Pavarotti, the grandiloquent tenor’s first wife – who supported him before his career began, bore him three daughters in four years and was then left at home to answer his fan mail as he toured the world in the company of more nubile groupies – sadly takes stock […]

Silvio Screen

Posted on by David Gelber

Obsessed as we are with blaming Donald Trump for merging demagoguery and celebrity and thus putting paid to liberal democracy, there’s a certain sad comfort in being reminded that he is not entirely a novelty. The orange ogre has a forerunner, though – given his vainglorious egomania – he would probably deny it. As Paolo […]

Don’t Call Him Ingrid

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Jane Magnusson’s documentary Bergman: A Year in a Life begins in the pit of Ingmar Bergman’s dyspeptic tummy. A fuzzy black-and-white image shows him waking up around 4am, ‘the hour of the wolf’ as it is called in one of his most haunted films. Then, as he says, he waits for his ulcerated stomach to […]

Crimes of the Past

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

J M Coetzee’s 1999 Booker Prize-winning novel takes its title from not one, but two instances of disgrace. In the first, David Lurie, a 52-year-old ‘adjunct professor of communications’ at a university in Cape Town (before the ‘great rationalization’ of higher education that followed the end of apartheid, he’d been a professor of modern languages), […]

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