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Matchbox Cineclub #7: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

June 27, 2015

Our July screening at The Old Hairdressers will be WD Richter’s The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984), an inter-dimensional sci-fi-action-adventure-rock-n-roll-comedy-romance – pretty much the ultimate 1980s cult film. The screening takes place at 7pm on Thursday 16/07, upstairs in the gallery area of the bar.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984) stars Peter Weller as Buckaroo Banzai, a physicist-neurosurgeon-martial arts master-secret agent-test pilot-rock star. With The Hong Kong Cavaliers, a motley crue of scientists, engineers and special agents (including Clancy Brown and Jeff Goldblum) who double as his backing band, Buckaroo must battle to save the world from the alien Red Lectroids (led by Christopher Lloyd) and his human nemesis, the brain-fried Dr Lizardo (John Lithgow). Directed by WD Richter (writer of the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers and John Carpenter’s Big Trouble In Little China), Buckaroo Banzai is utterly unique, endlessly quotable, ridiculously enjoyable and just one of our absolute favourites.

The Facebook event page can be found here.

Buckaroo Banzai is the seventh screening in our monthly series at The Old Hairdressers, which takes place on the third Thursday of every month. Previous screenings there have been The Beaver Trilogy (dir. Trent Harris, 2001; 1979-85), Stunt Rock (dir. Brian Trenchard-Smith, 1980) in association with Glasgow Film Festival, Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? (dir. William Klein, 1966), Cecil B Demented (dir. John Waters, 2000), Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam (dir. Çetin Inanç, 1982) and Me And You And Everyone We Know (dir. Miranda July, 2005).


Going Clear Programme Note for GFT

June 25, 2015

going clear

Going Clear (Dir. Alex Gibney, 2014) is screening at GFT until Thursday 2nd July. My accompanying programme note will be available at screenings – you can download the physical version here and there’s an online version at GFT’s blog here. GFT archives all its programme notes online here.

Some bonus material that didn’t make the final cut:

Scientology today list 13 bases in the UK, including the Hubbard Academy of Personal Independence Scientology Edinburgh.

Scientology ministers were authorised to perform wedding ceremonies by the Scottish registrar general in 2007. In 2013, the UK Supreme Court then ruled that a London Church of Scientology chapel was a “place of meeting for religious worship” and that henceforth could be used for marriages, creating uncertainty as to the future legal (particularly tax) status of Scientology in the UK.

The 2011 census recorded 188 declared Scientologists in Scotland (just above 171 Satanists, below 245 Druids and by comparison to 11,746 Jedi Knights).

At more or less the same time as the Granada documentaries on Scientology (footage, on YouTube here and here, featured in Going Clear), and the publication, in Britain, of Paulette Cooper’s exposé, The Scandal of Scientology, author Neil Gaiman was refused entry to his local prep school because of his family’s association with the religion (his father was a spokesperson). In August 1968, Gaiman was interviewed for BBC Radio’s World at Weekend, when the 7-year-old explained to Keith Graves that Scientology is ‘an applied philosophy dealing with the study of knowledge.’

In the spring of 1968, William Burroughs spent a week at the Scottish Scientology Centre in Edinburgh.

World Gone Wild (dir Lee H Katzin, 1988), a post-apocalyptic B-movie, stars Adam Ant as Derek Abernathy, a murderous cult leader who preaches from a book entitled The Wit and Wisdom of Charles Manson. That book was retitled, in fact, after lawyers for Scientology got wind of the original choice – L Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics – and paid a visit to the producers (‘We have no idea how they heard about those scenes,’ a representative was quoted at the time).

Louis Theroux is also planning his first theatrical documentary, Stairway To Heaven, about Scientology, whose lawyers promptly informed Theroux that the church, not coincidentally, was producing one on him.

If you have any thoughts on Going Clear or my note, I’d love to hear them – post a comment here or on GFT’s blog (or you can even email me here).

3×3: Slow West (2015)

June 24, 2015


Preview [spoiler free]

1. Slow West‘s Scottish first-time director, John Maclean, cut his teeth making music videos for The Beta Band, for whom he played keyboards, samplers and decks. Forming in St Andrews, they famously benefited from the endorsement of John Cusack’s record store owner in High Fidelity (dir Stephen Frears, 2000) before splitting in 2004. Maclean made the most of  tiny to non-existent budgets to make their memorably inventive promos, including Assessment (2004, with Robin Jones), which had waves of warriors from the beginning of time to the present day charging along one long length of beach in a single tracking shot (and was later ripped off by Romain Gavras for a Samsung advert).

2. Maclean’s little-seen first collaboration with Slow West star Michael Fassbender was Man on a Motorcycle (2009). Having met Fassbender through a mutual friend, Maclean’s music videos impressed the actor enough for him to offer just one day of work. Maclean maximised the brief window of opportunity by writing a script around a helmet-clad character, meaning he only needed to use Fassbender whenever the helmet came off, and a courier pal otherwise. Maclean shot Man on a Motorcycle entirely on a mobile phone, since he knew what it could and couldn’t do, and because he wouldn’t need to work with a crew.

3. Maclean’s next collaboration with Fassbender and his first ‘proper’ short, Pitch Black Heist, was just as inventive. The 14-minute short is built around a three-minute sequence of total darkness. Also starring Davos Seaworth Liam Cunningham, the story’s conceit is a light-activated alarm system requiring a couple of safe-breakers to prepare so that they can essentially do the job with their eyes closed. Maclean’s crew, a novelty in itself at that point, included Slow West cinematographer Robbie Ryan.

Review [spoiler free]

1. Set in 1870, Slow West tells the story of Jay (a perfectly cast Kodi Smit-McPhee), who travels “from the cold shoulder of Scotland to the baking heart of America,” aided by “brute” and “lonely, lonely man” Silas (Michael Fassbender). Jay, noble by birth, is on the lonely trail of his lost love, Rose (Caren Pistorius) who has fled their homeland with her father in as-yet-unexplained circumstances. It’s beautifully shot, by Robbie Ryan, on location in Wester Ross and an almost psychedelically vibrant New Zealand doubling for the US. Stripling Smit-McPhee (probably best known as the kid in The Road), pretty much nails his Scottish accent and generally conjours a spot-on David Balfour (on casting the Australian in a Scottish role, Maclean has explained, “I did look in Scotland a bit, but it’s actually tough to find 18 year olds that haven’t been to the gym.”) Ben Mendelsohn is effortlessly, casually malevolent in an extended cameo as bounty hunter Payne, while the South African-born Pistorius nails her small but pivotal role.

2. At a tight, concise 90 minutes, there’s no fat on Slow West at all. There’s a real, wicked humour to it and while it’s far too movie-movie to work as a historical drama, it’s wittier than it is laugh-out-loud funny. It’s fable-like, a kind of morality tale, but also constructed like a campfire tale, or a dark bedtime story. It’s anti-romantic, in a sense, so if it’s a fairy tale (and it does begin, “Once upon a time…”), it’s more like an original, Grimm-style one, where the kids all get eaten for being daft. Maclean’s careful visual construction allows for a series of subtle visual jokes that bring a tingle of excitement to even the bleakest moments (in particular, there’s a visual pun par excellence during the climactic gunfight). Maclean’s measured approach means these moments are peppered just carefully enough to keep you in the film, and still wrapped up in the travails of his characters.

3. The writing (also Maclean) and the performances are perfectly judged. Maclean has said the lead role was originally written for Fassbender, and it only became apparent as the writing progressed that he’d be too old (“I had to go round to Michael’s and say, ‘By the way, you’re not the lead any more.'” Maclean said, during a recent BAFTA Q&A in Glasgow). That Maclean ultimately wrote to Fassbender’s strengths (not least allowing him to use something close to his own accent), but also almost wrote him out, says something for the director’s integrity. And Slow West is everything a debut film should be – ambitious but not over-reaching, tightly scripted but not bare and parsed out so as to get the absolute most out the available resources. The film unfurls confidently but not audaciously and there’s a real, thrilling sense of a new, noteworthy filmmaker getting to grips with their one-ton pencil.

Silas (Michael Fassbender) and Jay (Kod Smit-McPhee)

Silas (Michael Fassbender) and Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee)

Post-mortem [spoilers]

1. The biggest spoiler (there’s that warning again) is the death of lead character Jay, shot accidentally by his “lost love” Rose as she defends her homestead against the bounty hunters he’s brought to her doorstep. It’s bold storytelling in some ways, though in retrospect completely inevitable. Of course, the exact circumstances of his end are prefigured very near the start, in a flashback to Scotland, and in another slightly later on. A little later, Silas and Jay stumble upon the skeleton of a man, still trapped under the tree he felled on top of himself. “That’s just a shame,” says Jay. “Is it?” says Silas, grinning. “No,” Jay smiles back. “No, it’s not. Charles Darwin talks of evolution by natural selection.” Silas concludes, “For our sake, let’s hope he’s wrong.” It registers as a humourous interlude on first viewing, but on reflection, it seems clear Rose’s bullet is the tree Jay brings down upon himself. Finally, around 2/3 of the way through, in a premonitory dream, Jay sees Silas and Rose shacked up with a baby, his namesake, and he himself nowhere to be seen. It couldn’t be clearer Jay’s not going to make it, but Maclean’s sleight of hand keeps the inevitable from seeming set. Jay and Silas are opposed in some senses, but I think it’d be a mistake to see Jay’s death as a vindication of pragmatism or pessimism, or droll punishment for his naiveté and sense of entitlement. He has an absurd death, just as his quest is absurd.

2. Having said that, at the BAFTA Q&A, Maclean discussed the humour of the film, with particularly reference to the man found crushed by the tree. “I had a backstory for that guy. He came all the way from Scotland. He survived the boat, which, like, 20% of people survive, and then he survived travelling all the way to that point and then he started building a house and got crushed by a tree.” Maclean explained, “I think a film like Fargo, which I really love for tone, would be a touchstone for this film, which is never ever doing jokes but doing tragic situations that happen to be ridiculous.” That could be the next film, he joked, “Slow West 2: The Life of the Tree Man.”

3. Speaking of the length of the film, particularly the relatively brisk ending, Maclean was adamant it was all deliberate. “Somebody said to me, ‘the ending was really abrupt,’ but when you watch a lot of ’50s noir cinema, which I love, the ending is, like, so quick. It’s kind of basically the baddie gets shot, there’s a kiss and then it ends, and the credits, and it’s all in 10 seconds. I do really love that. I hate the long, drawn-out endings… I definitely knew that I wanted to make a shorter film.” Some of the bigger cinemas, said Maclean, “Aren’t taking it cos it’s got ‘Slow’ in the title.” That’s certainly a shame, because it deserves to be seen, and especially on the big screen. Luckily, Slow West is still getting a decent release, from this Friday, in arthouse cinemas like GFT and the director’s old place of work, Edinburgh’s Cameo. What’s next for Maclean? “I’m starting to write again,” he told the BAFTA audience, “so I’m thinking something contemporary and something maybe in the noir-thriller-heist – the other genre I love – but it’s really early days.”

Sean Welsh

Bonus links:

Watch Pitch Black Heist (2011)

Indiewire interview with John Maclean

Video interview with Kodi-Smit McPhee and Ben Mendelsohn

What does VHS mean to you?

June 21, 2015
golden vhs

Remake, Remix, Rip-Off (dir Cem Kaya, 2015)

What does VHS mean to you? Three quite different but uniformly excellent documentaries at Edinburgh International Film FestivalRemake, Remix, Rip-off (Cem Kaya, 2014), Chuck Norris Vs Communism (Ilinca Calugareanu, 2015) and Stand by for Tape Back-Up (Ross Sutherland, 2015) – illustrate the unique appeal and value of VHS. Your answer to the question will of course be much different, depending on when and where you were born. To me, VHS means black market video nasties on sale in Ayr Indoor Market, hardware stores renting 15s to 10 year-olds because “our mum said it was OK” and racing home after school, day after day, to watch 30mins of a borrowed copy of the forbidden Pulp Fiction while the house was still empty.


Chuck Norris vs Communism (dir Ilinca Calugareanu, 2015)

Such illicit thrills were literal child’s play compared to life in Nicolae Ceaușescu’s Romania, as recounted in Chuck Norris Vs Communism. In 1985, the communist regime was in its 20th year, censorship and state surveillance were reaching a peak and the country was effectively shut off from western culture. With only two hours of approved television a day, there was a huge, as yet un-tapped market for western entertainment. Smuggled VHS tapes became enormously popular – facilitated by one enterprising man, Zamfir, who recruited a courageous state translator, Irina Margareta Nistor, to dub translation over the top of the films. For a generation, for an entire nation, her voice became the second most familiar, after Ceaușescu’s. Ilinca Calugareanu’s film makes a persuasive, not to say heart-warming case for the power of these films on VHS. “It’s because they were deemed trivial,” explains Zamfir, “that they had such a big impact.”

Those raised before the internet made everything so gloriously available at the click of a mouse may also recall how revolutionary VHS was in simply making films widely available and accessible to their original audience. Cem Kaya’s unexpectedly affecting documentary, Remake, Remix, Rip-off, tells the story of a vital period in Turkish cinema history, one which could have been all but wiped from history were it not for a secondary market on VHS in Germany. With very limited resources, only three writers and no copyright law, the Turkish film industry made the very best of what it had, producing countless hundreds of films that would later gain notoriety as Turkish Star Wars, Turkish Superman, Turkish Godfather, etc, etc. Kaya’s doc goes a long way to restoring dignity to the filmmakers whose talent was compromised and legacy almost obliterated by government censorship.


Stand by for Tape Back-Up (dir Ross Sutherland, 2015)

When I think of VHS, I also think of breaking plastic tabs to protect films recorded from TV, sellotaping over plastic tabs to record again and again over films recorded from TV. Part of the continuing charm of VHS is that it has characteristics that can only be replicated, simulated by superior technology, technology that struggles to emulate VHS’s almost accidental properties. Ross Sutherland’s film, Stand by for Tape Back-Up, deriving from a live show he performed at the Fringe in 2014, spins a wonderfully effective, autobiographical piece of art from these properties. Almost all of Sutherland’s film is derived from a videocassette he inherited from his grandfather, upon which they both would record, “slamming it in the machine” and pressing record, “no respect for the start and end of programmes.” Sutherland narrates, playing, pausing, rewinding, looping back and forth and extracting and projecting poetry on to the jittery images. Hiding on this tape, Sutherland compelling and movingly illustrates, is his whole life story. As one of Chuck Norris Vs Communism’s talking heads coincidentally explains, “There was a whole life in the video player.”

Sean Welsh

This article first appeared on Edinburgh International Film Festival’s blog.

EIFF 2015 runs from 17th-28th June. Read my picks of the documentaries here, my picks of the old films screening again at EIFF 2015 here and my picks of the features here. Check out EIFF’s 2015 brochure here.

EIFF REVIEW: The Legend of Barney Thomson (2015)

June 17, 2015


Pitchy is probably the best word for Robert Carlyle’s The Legend of Barney Thomson, the opening film of 2015’s Edinburgh International Film Festival. Having made the not unusual (nor unforgivable) choice to direct himself in the title role, Carlyle delivers a comedy jet black in tone, built around an inconsistent lead performance. Based on the first of Douglas Lindsay’s Barney Thomson series (which now runs to seven novels and four novellas), it’s the comic story of a diffident Glaswegian barber (Carlyle) who stumbles into a bloody murder spree, provoking the attention of a dogged, English policeman (Ray Winstone). It’s a sturdy foundation for Carlyle to construct what is ultimately an assured debut, countering cliché with wit, style and a strong script.

First of all, Carlye’s film looks lovely, establishing early on a warm palette of worn brown and late-in-the-day sunshine to complement an early ’60s mise-en-scene. Opening the story in a retro Bridgeton barber specialising in vintage seats, warm towels and razor cuts, belies the films modern day setting. In fact, it’s not until the dialogue starts giving clues (“Last time I had a bird, Shakin’ Stevens was at number one”; a fleeting reference to Angie and Brad) that the time period becomes clearer. Despite that, the creditable production design seems to deliberately muddy the waters, concealing smaller detail – such as a newspaper clipping with a conspicuously vintage advert on the back – in plain sight, while all the coppers all rock a style a good deal sharper than any of their real world counterparts ever could. The soundtrack favours 1960s music of the not-completely-overplayed variety and, similarly, Carlyle makes good use of an inventive local eye for underused Glasgow locations. Overall, there’s a welcome sense of place and Carlyle and his team also get the best of familiar landmarks, most notably the Barrowland Ballroom. Generally, The Legend of Barney Thomson suggests Carlyle has the confident, steady hand and keen eye for collaborators necessary to segue effortlessly to a career on the other side of the camera.

Which is good, because the film only really wobbles when, straddling the two positions, his performance seems to bear the strain. His characterisation of Barney reaches an overwrought panto pitch in an early scene, a moment awkwardly balanced later on when Carlyle calls on a familiar casual charm for a short, desperate and solitary monologue, the delivery of which doesn’t jibe at all with the character he’s set up. Barney’s problems stem from the fact he’s an short-fused oddball with “no chat”, and the transition to grinning “legend” isn’t completely earned. There’s a sense that while Richard Cowan and Colin McLaren’s script is perfectly solid, Carlyle on his best day would have conjured a more credible arc from it.

Presumably taking a lead, if not overt direction, from Carlyle, his cast’s performances range from reliably solid to full-blown panto and to all points in between. Tom Courtenay nearly steals the show in an extended cameo as the irascible Chief Superintendent McManaman, while Ashley Jensen is on the right side of overwrought, hilariously, as Winstone’s nemesis, DI June Robertson. Winstone himself could perform his role with his eyes closed, but on the other hand is a perfect fit for it. Emma Thompson, in heavy make-up as Barney’s elderly mother, is nothing if not game, but perhaps a little too luxuriant in her Glaswegian vowels to be completely convincing in an admittedly pretty broad role (compare and contrast how effortlessly Tilda Swinton seemed to disappear into her Yorkshire crone for Snowpiercer). The cast is filled out by a host of recognisable faces and though there’s a sense Carlyle could easily have pulled up in a white van by a crowd of itinerant Glaswegian actors (jobs today for Stephen McCole, Martin Compson, James Cosmo, Barbara Rafferty and Brian Pettifer), everyone acquits themselves ably.

The film’s climax does stretch credulity, even after a range of twists and turns, but the script is artful enough to address the strain in dialogue and just about scratches by on its wit. Squint and you may even perceive a bit of satire on Police Scotland’s recent rural trajectory, but ultimately the film is built more for laughs than verisimilitude or incisive commentary. Pitchy performances aside, though, the biggest criticism of The Legend of Barney Thomson is that it doesn’t really wring out either the comic potential or the plumb the absurd depths of its more risqué, grotesque or potentially bizarre elements. However, its poise, humour and general exuberance make it a worthwhile, not to say very promising, debut.

The Legend of Barney Thomson is on general release from 24th July, 2015.

EIFF 2015: Feature Picks

June 4, 2015

The selection of genre films in Edinburgh International Film Festival’s 2015 programme is pretty mouthwatering – there’s Maggie, One & Two, Parasyte: Part 1 and Redeemer to name but a few – so, just like the docs and the retro picks, this was a tricky selection. Anyway, you’ll be delighted to hear I managed to get it down to a relatively arbitrary in length but utterly bulletproof (give or take a Swung) top five. Here’s my picks of EIFF’s feature-length fictional films, presented here in order of their first screening:

1. Koza (dir Ivan Ostrochovský, 2015)

18/06, 18:15 at Odeon | 21/06, 13:55 at Filmhouse 3

This drama fronted by retired Romany boxer, Peter Baláž, nicknamed “Koza” (“Goat”), mixes real life with fiction. Baláž for-real represented Slovakia at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games and has since fallen on harder times. Ostrochovský, a documentarian grew up in the same town as Baláž, got to know him while making a short doc about him, then conceived Koza in part to help him out financially. By all accounts, it’s a beautifully shot, semi-autobio-tragicomic tale, described variously as bruising, melancholy and bleakly humorous (read: not coming to Cineworld anytime soon).

2. Cop Car (dir Jon Watts, 2014)

19/06, 20:35 at Cineworld | 24/06, 18:20 at Cineworld

This is director Jon Watts’ second feature after last year’s Clown (2014), which you might have caught as part of FrightFest at Glasgow Film Festival earlier this year. Without wishing to damn it with faint praise, Clown was a respectable rendering of a why-has-no-one-done-this-before idea. The genius of it, though, was in how Watts and cohort Christopher D Ford got it made off the back of a fake trailer, which they cheekily attributed to Eli Roth. Cop Car has an equally appealing premise – two 10-year-old kids stumble upon an abandoned cop car and take off with it – and reportedly delivers in ways that Clown didn’t quite. It also boasts a moustachioed Kevin Bacon, who has apparently resolved whatever visa issue left him trapped in London doing ads for EE. Bacon seems to be having much more fun here, as the corrupt sheriff who left something seemingly grim in the trunk, and Cop Car’s superior b-movie execution has drawn nothing but praise so far.

3. Swung (dir Colin Kennedy, 2015)

19/06, 20:45 at Cineworld | 21.06, 13:00 at Cineworld

Swung poster

This is the world premiere of Colin Kennedy’s adaptation of Ewan Morrison’s Glasgow-set novel about a middle class couple, struggling in the way that those do, who turn to swinging to turn their doomed lives around. Irvine Welsh described the novel as a “beautifully crafted, completely realised and often inspirational book,” one which announced Morrison “as one of the most interesting and exciting voices to emerge in Scottish fiction in recent years.” Is it perhaps the kind of “Scottish Woody Allen” film the director of Not Another Happy Ending (EIFF 2013) was attempting to evoke (“Young, I guess you would call them middle-class people, having complications in love and life in an urban environment”), but didn’t quite live up to? Optimistically, Swung could make prove that idea to be a good thing, though the filmmakers seem to be keeping such proclamations to themselves so far. There’s no trailer yet, but EIFF have a short clip, featuring the two leads and Elizabeth McGovern, on their site here.

4. Turbo Kid (dir Anouk Whissell, François Simard, Yoann-Karl Whissell, 2015)

21/06 23:00 at Filmhouse 1 | 23/06 20:40 at Cineworld

It’s difficult to find fault in Turbo Kid‘s premise. The trio of Quebec directors, known collectively as RKSS (Road Kill Super Stars), are paying tribute not to your mainstream post-apocalypse films (Mad Max, etc), but all their B-movie knock-offs, VHS favourites and a very particular strand of kid/teen flicks that reached their apotheosis in the 1980s – e.g. BMX BanditsPrayer of the Rollerboys, Gleaming The Cube, even The Wizard. /Film set it up pretty well: “Imagine what a movie might look like if it came from the mind of a ten-year old kid from the ’80s who is obsessed with Mega Man, and who just saw the Mad Max movies for the first time.” If none of that means anything to you, congratulations, the future belongs to you. But, in the meantime, this film is mine, all mine.

5. Liza, The Fox Fairy  (Liza, a Rókatündér, dir Károly Ujj Mészáros)

25/06, 18:00 at Odeon | 26/06, 20:45 at Cineworld

A big hit in its native Hungary, this supernatural comedy drama feature seems to splice Amélie, Wes Anderson and the lighter-hearted, more fantastical end of Takashi Miike’s oeuvre. By all accounts, it’s charming, funny and lives up to it’s odd synopsis – a 30-year-old nurse (Mónika Balsai) living in Csudapest, the capital of a fictionalised version of 1970s Hungary, becomes convinced she’s a demon from Japanese mythology who spells death to all suitors. She’s aided and abetted in this possible delusion by her only friend, the ghost of Tomy Tani, a Japanese singer from the 1950s. When her live-in patient dies and the body-count begins to escalate, she’s investigated by the police, one of whom becomes her flatmate and begins to fall ominously in love with her. If it manages to stay on the right side of knowing – which, again, by all accounts it does – Liza, The Fox Fairy looks like a wee gem.

Edinburgh International Film Festival 2015 runs from 17th-28th June. This is the third of three EIFF preview blogs. Read my picks of the documentaries here and my picks of the old films screening again at EIFF 2015 here. Check out EIFF’s 2015 brochure here.

EIFF 2015: Retro Picks

May 29, 2015

We’ve seen already how Edinburgh International Film Festival’s documentary strand this year is an embarrassment of riches, but turns out it’s a gala year for looking back too. Without further ado, here’s my picks from the old films screening again at EIFF 2015:

1. Walter Hill: The Early Years Retrospective 1975-84

18-28/06, various times at Filmhouse

One of my favourite EIFF memories is 2009’s Roger Corman retrospective. If memory serves, there was a Corman film every day, early afternoon in Filmhouse 1, and Corman himself even poked his head into The Trip to provide some impromptu director’s commentary from the rear (Joe Dante was there that year too, for an In Person, and provided his personal print for Corman’s The Intruder). All that’s to say that EIFF really know how to do retrospectives and this year’s focus on the early (best) years of Walter Hill seems set to be an instant classic. It’s hard to pick a highlight from an undeniably world-class run, including The Warriors, which should need no introduction, Southern Comfort, the thinking man’s Deliverance and The Driver, which was curiously, criminally ignored in favour of Michael Mann’s Thief when all the love was being poured on Drive a few years ago. But, if you can only see one, make it the underdog, the lost classic, the rock ‘n’ roll fable to end them all, Streets of mother-fucking Fire!

2. Santa Sangre (dir Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1989)

27/06, 23:10 at Filmhouse 2

Santa Sangre poster by Florian Bertmer

Santa Sangre poster by Florian Bertmer

Alejandro Jodorowsky made his name as the undisputed godhead of psychotronic cinema over 40 years ago, with El Topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973). However, before his recent resurgence, sparked by the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, the psycho-horror Santa Sangre (Holy Blood, 1989), represented a late flicker in a stop-start career that seemed to be burning out for good. The film broke an 11-year lull since the impersonal and compromised Tusk, and Jodorowsky immediately followed it with 1990’s The Rainbow Thief, another impersonal and compromised film which he immediately disowned. Jodorowsky then abandoned filmmaking altogether until his triumphant return with The Dance of Reality, some 23 years later. So Santa Sangre is an orphan among orphans – surreal, psychotic, bloody and magical – a masterly work that deserves to be seen on the big screen.

3. Roar (dir Noel Marshall, 1981)

18/06, 23:30 at Filmhouse 1

I don’t know how this film could have been out of circulation for so long, but then I’d never even heard of it until the US-based Drafthouse Films announced its re-release last year. Described as “the most dangerous film ever made”, it features Hitchcock star Tippi Hedren and then-husband Noel Marshall, who wrote, directed and starred in the frankly incredibly reckless project. Marshall’s thin narrative is based upon their living side-by-side with a range of wild animals – namely 150 lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars and elephants. Melanie Griffith, Hedren’s teenage daughter, quit the production for a time, saying she didn’t want to come out with “half a face”. The future Working Girl eventually returned to set, only to be mauled by a lion who left a wound requiring 50 stitches. Hedren is reportedly unimpressed with the re-release, but I think it sounds just grrreat.

4. The Night Stalker (dir John Llewllyn, 1972)

21/06, 20:45 at Filmhouse 3

night stalker

The Night Stalker is screening as part of EIFF’s Little Big Screen strand, celebrating the USA’s unusually cinematic televisual output of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The 1972 TV movie, adapted by author Richard Matheson from an unpublished novel by Jeffrey Grant Rice, was such a success it inspired a sequel, The Night Strangler and a short-lived series, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, which became one of the key inspirations for The X-Files. An investigative journalist (Darren McGavin) tracking a serial killer through Las Vegas struggles to persuade authorities of his increasingly out-there suspicions. It’ll be an exciting, not to say rare, experience to see something like this in a cinema, and a tough choice over Tobe Hooper’s Salem’s Lot, also screening. I mean, go and see them both if you can, moneybags.

5. Fritz the Cat (dir Ralph Bakshi, 1972)

26/06, 20:40 at Filmhouse 2

A counter-culture classic immune, unlike so many, from mainstream recuperation, Fritz the Cat was inspired by Robert Crumb’s 1960s comic strip and was the first animated feature to be given an X certificate. Despite that perceived handicap, renowned animator Ralph Bakshi’s debut film eventually earned $90 million worldwide. Bakshi, who will be joining the audience via Skype for a post-film chat, is also known for 1977’s cult classic, Wizards and his 1978 Lord of the Rings adaptation (both screening at EIFF) as well as the incendiary, often misunderstood Coonskin (1975). Also the live-action/animation hybrid Cool World (1992). Remember Cool World? Anyway, Bakshi is a bona fide living legend, so his (virtual) appearance alone is worth the price of admission.

Edinburgh International Film Festival 2015 runs from 17th-28th June. Check out the brochure here and peruse my picks of EIFF 2015’s documentaries here.


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