Matchbox Cineclub #12: Spaceballs

Love Star Wars? Missed out on tickets for The Force Awakens on opening night? Or maybe you HATE Star Wars? Want to escape the onslaught? We’re excited to announce that Matchbox’s final screening of 2015, on the very day Episode VII arrives, will be Spaceballs (Mel Brooks, 1987).

Comedy legend Mel Brooks leads an all-star cast including John Candy, Rick Moranis and Bill Pullman in the original Star Wars spoof. Our Spaceballs screening takes place on Thursday 17/12, at The Old Hairdressers, Glasgow.


Matchbox Cineclub #12: Spaceballs poster by Valpuri Karinen

When the evil Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) attempts to steal all the air from planet Druidia, a determined Druish Princess (Daphne Zuniga), a clueless rogue (Bill Pullman) and a half-man/half-dog creature who’s his own best friend (John Candy) set out to stop him. But with the forces of darkness closing in on them at ludicrous speed, they’ll need the help of a wise imp named Yogurt (Mel Brooks) and the mystical power of “The Schwartz” to bring peace and merchandising rights to the entire galaxy!

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The screening is by arrangement with Park Circus Films.

Stay up-to-date via the Facebook event page, here.

Tickets available via Eventbrite, here.

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An Evening with Frederick Wiseman


Frederick Wiseman in conversation with MOMI chief curator David Schwartz.

Last week, I was lucky enough to attend An Evening with Frederick Wiseman at New York’s Museum of the Moving Image, hosted by MOMI’s chief curator, David Schwartz. Over a couple hours, the fleet and sharp-witted 85-year-old held forth on his practice and experience, focussing, in line with MOMI’s current season, on his New York-focussed films. In the process, he elucidated the deceptively benign assertion that seems to have driven his 40-film and almost 50-year career – that “human behaviour is strange and fascinating.”

Wiseman presented and discussed clips from five of his New York-focussed films, Hospital (1969), Welfare (1975), Model (1980), Central Park (1989) and his latest, In Jackson Heights (2015), although early on he made clear this geographical theme in his work was purely happenstance. The discussion, therefore, encompassed his entire career, even briefly touching upon his decision at 30 to abandon a career in law to explore filmmaking. Some of the more salacious gems gleaned in the two or so hours at MOMI:

  • Wiseman declined a request to send Stanley Kubrick a complimentary print of one of his films, making him pay to rent it. Later he found Kubrick had cribbed the first half of Full Metal Jacket (1987) “shot for shot” from his Basic Training (1971).
  • Wiseman then drily drew the audience’s attention to the similarities between Arthur Hiller’s drama The Hospital (1971), which won an Oscar for writer Paddy Chayefsky, and Wiseman’s own Hospital (1970).
  • He quipped dismissively that Errol Morris’ description of him as “the undisputed king of misanthropic cinema” (from a Paris Review article reprinted in MOMI’s hand-out) was “classic projection”.

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A question from the audience, however, drew perhaps the most interesting response of the evening. Wiseman was asked if, in his 40 year-career, he’d found his camera affected the behaviour of those he pointed it at. He described an instructive event from the filming of his 1969 documentary Law And Order, where cops were forced to chase a prostitute they’d been attempting to shake down. While the cameras rolled, one of the cops began to strangle the woman, though he eventually let her go. Would the woman have been killed but for the presence of Wiseman and his small crew? No, the director thought not, since he saw that the cop only intended to punish the woman for daring to buck the standard shakedown protocol. That he allowed the cameras to capture the moment was because, to him – to them – the action was perfectly acceptable, even mundane. “We all,” Wiseman concluded, “think our behaviour is normal.”

Sean Welsh

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Matchbox Cineclub #11: The World’s Greatest Sinner

Matchbox Cineclub‘s November screening will be the original punk rock movie – Timothy Carey’s The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962), a masterpiece of outsider art, DIY cinema and maverick midnight madness – and a sizzling tincture of sex-death-rocknroll, politics, religion and ssSIN!

Timothy Carey (1929-1994) was a Brooklyn-born character actor best known for his roles in a couple of early Stanley Kubrick films, The Killing (1956) and Paths of Glory (1957), and John Cassavetes’ The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976). Quentin Tarantino later dedicated his Reservoir Dogs script to Carey, and described him as “One of the great eccentric character actors of all time.”

Dedication to Timothy Carey in Reservoir Dogs script

Dedication to Timothy Carey in Reservoir Dogs script

Criminally less well-known is his directorial debut, The World’s Greatest Sinner, which Carey also wrote, produced and starred in. It’s the story of an insurance salesman (Carey) who finds rock ‘n’ roll, then religion, decides he’s God and runs for President before climactically challenging the “real” God to a fight. Carey sparked a riot at its world premiere when he fired a gun into the roof of the cinema.

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There are hundreds more incredible stories about Carey and this film, but for now just know it’s a perfect Matchbox film and we really can’t wait to show you it.

This screening is by arrangement with Absolute Films.

Stay up-to-date via the Facebook event page, here.

Tickets available via Eventbrite, here.

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9999 | Document Film Festival 2015


For me, Ellen Vermeulen’s 9999 (2014) is the key film of Document – International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival 2015. That’s perhaps a less grand claim than it seems, so let me explain why. This was my first year on the Document selection panel, the purpose of which is to shape the programme from a long and varied list of submissions and sourced films.

As I tentatively joined the conversation, I had a couple of nagging concerns both of which informed the other. First, I wondered how qualified I was to contribute at all and, second, how worthwhile the whole enterprise was to begin with. This isn’t to suggest I was fretting over the merits of universal human rights. Rather, as someone who has more commonly used cinema as an entertainment – a fitfully enlightening distraction – I was just a little preoccupied with how effective documentary film could really be to make real-world change.


I was thinking of Louis CK’s bit about how he often contemplates giving up his first class seat to soldiers flying coach on the same plane, though he never actually has. “I never really even seriously came close,” he says, “and here’s the worst part – I still just enjoyed the fantasy, for myself to enjoy. I was actually proud of myself for having thought of it.” And so, how easy it is for us to feel like we’re actually doing something worthwhile, simply by having sat ourselves down to watch a film and perhaps been horrified rather than thrilled.

And then, the films themselves, in the best of all possible worlds, what good are they? Aren’t we kidding ourselves that they can make a difference? Pondering this, of course, I’m not alone. Some of the most impressive, impactful documentaries of recent times, Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing (2012) and its companion piece, The Look of Silence (2014), generated a lot of publicity, a lot of attention, a lot of discussion and, really, not a lot of action.

9999, formally, is like Frederick Wiseman by way of Roy Andersson. Vermeulen’s tableaux confidently marry the patience of one with the pace and poise of the other. The minimal scene-setting evolves into an absence of hand-holding as the film plunges the viewer into the lives of five inmates – Joris, Ludo, Salem, Steven and Wilfried – of the Merksplas Prison in Belgium, with no narration, on-screen presentation or even identifying graphics.

By their own admission, these men could have murdered family members to escape the threat of internment, or simply set fire to a bicycle as a cry for help. Lack of places in psychiatric hospitals puts them in prison with no therapy for an interminable period. Actually, that’s not strictly true – their files require a release date set for 31/12/9999. Vermeulen gives us a brief window into each of their worlds within the prison, letting them tell their stories, air grievances and ruminate on their fates.


These inmates of Merksplas, rather than the froth-mouthed lost causes of popular imagination, retain enough self-composure, indignation and bitter humour to compare themselves to trapped animals. That’s when they’re not eloquently presenting a case for the mental health treatment they’re not receiving.

The film conjures the creeping dread of Gabriel García Márquez’s short story I Only Came To Use The Phone and the moral horror of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Except, of course, this isn’t a horror story or an allegory, but an ongoing, real-life failure of basic human rights in a country of the west still best known for its luxury chocolate.

Flanders Doc, a group of Belgian directors and producers, tweeted in July, “The documentary film “9999” was screened at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Docs change the world.” Whether their conclusion is justified or not is difficult to say. The same assertion could certainly be made for other films screening at Document, and I think its fair to say that while condemnation is vital, it often falls tragically short of a real solution.

It’s very easy to become disheartened, discouraged or depressed when you note how many of these documentaries conclude with bad people simply going about their lives while ordinary people – those who have kept their lives – suffer in their wake, while others are crushed under some invisible wheel both they and we can barely comprehend, much less steer.


However, the deceptively banal understanding I came to is that 9999 is…a document. Vermeulen’s unassuming approach persuaded the sceptic in me of the efficacy of such films, regardless of bolds claims of immediate or widespread social change. 9999 is worth our attention in the first case – as with so many of the films in our programme this year – so that any pressure brought to bear upon the authorities due to international exposure of the issue may improve the lives of these people and challenge an injustice.

In another, perhaps more measurable sense (reflected in Document’s teaming up with Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival to present it), 9999 shows what’s at stake in our treatment of all people suffering mental illness. It demonstrates that, every day, our individual humanity is in the balance, as much as theirs.

Sean Welsh

An edited version of this article was originally published at Common Space. Document Film Festival runs from 16th-18th October, 2015 at CCA Glasgow. 9999 screens on Saturday 17th October at 4pm.

9999 poster

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Hercules Returns | Grosvenor Cinema 26/09/2015


On Saturday 26th September, Physical Impossibility presented its first film screening, Hercules Returns (David Parker, 1993), at the Grosvenor Cinema, Glasgow. It was part of  the Scalarama 2015 programme, it was a lot of fun to put together and here are some photographs to prove it really happened. You can also read my history of Hercules Returns and the comedy troupe behind it here and my interview with Des Mangan, Hercules Returns writer and performer, here.

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INTERVIEW: Des Mangan (Hercules Returns)


Des Mangan is the man behind Double Take, the comedy troupe who gave us cult comedy Hercules Returns (David Parker, 1993), which Physical Impossibility is presenting at the Grosvenor Cinema, Glasgow, for one night only on Saturday 26/09 as part of Scalarama 2015. Read our history of Double Take and Hercules Returns, the funniest film you’ve never seen, here. Des was kind enough to take the time to answer some questions ahead of the screening, of which he says, “I am incredibly happy that you are having a screening of Hercules in Glasgow. I always knew the Scots had finely honed senses of humour and remarkably good taste.” Thanks, Des!

Do you recall Double Take performing at the Scala in London? What was that like and what are your memories of that whole UK run (Edinburgh, etc)? And are there any recordings, film or otherwise, of the live Double Take shows?

I had the best time at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. We played at the Cameo cinema and one thing I remember was that the cinema just up the road was the official venue for the Edinburgh Film Festival and they would close their bar at midnight – no extensions no matter what. Thankfully, the guys who were running the Cameo had no understanding of the term “last drinks” so they would bring a different select group every night down from that cinema to the bar at the Cameo and the drinking would go on to the wee hours. They would also bring down overseas guests and the film opening the festival that year was The Big Easy so I remember having drinks with the director Jim McBride and the star Ellen Barkin.

I also recall getting a reviewer pissed and trying to get him to write a review saying that our show was the “best film of the fringe festival” (because it was the ONLY film at the Fringe festival). It didn’t work, but I had fun trying. After Edinburgh we went to London and were there Oct-Nov 1987 and that definitely sticks in my memory. I’ll tell you why.

Oct 16th, 1987 was when the Great Storm hit London. At the time it was the worst storm to hit the south of England in 300 years – with winds of up to 94mph hitting London. We were staying near Ealing Common and the next morning everywhere you looked entire trees were uprooted. Then, a couple of days later came Oct 19th which is now referred to as Black Monday. It was the largest one-day stock market crash in history. I was seriously beginning to think we were just bad luck.

But the biggest one was yet to come. On the 18th November, Lisa Sweeney and I rushed to catch our nightly train from Ealing Common to Kings Cross. We missed our usual train and just caught the next one. When we got to Kings Cross an announcement came over the speakers saying the train wouldn’t be stopping and everyone would have to get off at the next station. So we got off and walked back to Kings Cross only to see a couple of dozen fire engines outside and smoke billowing from the station. Yep, by missing our train we had just missed walking into the 1987 Kings Cross Station fire that killed 31 people.

So, yes, you could say that our time there was eventful. As for working at the Scala, I absolutely loved it. It was my kind of cinema. It was the first time I got to see a Russ Meyer movie on the big screen. (It was UP!, in case you were wondering. And there were no old men or boy scouts in a house being lifted off into the air on a huge balloon… Mind you, there were huge balloons in it. Sorry, that’s the Benny Hill in me coming out.)

As for any recordings, sadly it wasn’t the digital age and there aren’t as many as there would have been if I was doing it now. The only recording I have is of Double Take In Outer Space. A bad video shot directly off the cinema screen but the sound was patched into our mixing desk so the audio is very good. So the good news is, just recently, the film we used for that show (Starcrash) came out on blu ray and I will soon be mixing the audio from the live show onto the vision from the blu ray and will have a great copy.

(L-R) Troy Nesmith, Sally Patience, Des Mangan (1989)

(L-R) Troy Nesmith, Sally Patience, Des Mangan (1989)

Did you keep track of how many people were in Double Take through the years? Were Sally Patience and yourself the dream team?

There have been just over a dozen different cast members but, yes, Sally was phenomenal. A truly gifted performer with character voices and is still doing lots of voice over work in Sydney.

Why did you choose to stay behind the mic for Hercules Returns, not behind or in front of the camera? Do you regret not directing?

Scheduling was the main reason. I was initially going to direct but things changed and it clashed with our tour dates which I was committed to. I don’t have any regrets. I think David Parker did a great job. He is an extremely funny guy and we got on really well together – still do, in fact.

Bruce Spence in Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)

Bruce Spence in Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (George Miller, 1981)

How involved were you once the script was delivered and production was under way? Were you involved in the casting?

I wasn’t really involved with casting. David would mention he wanted certain actors and I thought his choice was spot on. I was over the moon when we got Bruce Spence. How could you not be happy with the gyrocopter pilot from Mad Max 2? He is an Australian film icon. I hung around the set once I got back from touring. Remember, it wasn’t a long shoot. More time was utilised in the recording studio during post production recording the soundtrack (as that was the majority of the film) and I was there every day for that.

Hercules Returns

I’d absolutely have a Rocky Meets Rambo Meets Bambi Eats Bambi poster set on my wall. Was that in the script and did you get to keep that or any other souvenirs from the shoot?

That gag was always in the script and no, I didn’t get to keep any souvenirs. Speaking of props from films though, our production designer then went on to do Muriel’s Wedding with Toni Collette and if you look at the scene in the video store you will see a poster for Hercules Returns prominently displayed behind the counter.


It’s true! Hercules Returns in Muriel’s Wedding (PJ Hogan, 1994)

How was it watching Hercules Returns for the first time on the big screen?

You have to remember that I was never actually able to see a Double Take show because I was always in the bloody thing. So this was the first time I got to sit back and watch it from an audience’s point of view. The opening night in Sydney was great as we had muscle men in white togas outside the cinema handing out Hercules masks to the audience as they came in. We got a great photo of the entire audience holding up their masks. It was like 300 Herculeses sitting in an auditorium – the stuff that surreal nightmares are made of.

I’ve read that there were scripts ready to go for sequels, is that true? Would you have returned to the same characters for a framing device? Which of the shows would you have most liked to film? (Yep, that was again three questions for the price of one).

Because the film stiffed at the cinema (let’s be honest here) there was never any talk of a sequel to Hercules Returns. I continued doing the live show and many people would ask us to do another Hercules film live. I did find another Hercules film from the ’60s that starred Alan Steel (who played Herc in our version) but it wasn’t particularly good. Also we couldn’t bring back any other characters and the whole thing would have looked like a cheap cash-in.

Will Double Take ride again?

I don’t know the situation in the UK, but in Australia there just are no repertory cinemas here anymore like the Scala. And the art houses that have taken over from them are at the mercy of the distributors when it comes to session times for a film. So it would be almost impossible to find a cinema that could slot Double Take in just once a night, six shows a week. That leaves doing it in a theatre and that would just be cost prohibitive but, as Sean Connery’s wife said to him about James Bond – Never Say Never.

I still get interest from people wanting me to do another recorded film like Hercules so, who knows, there’s always a possibility. I still think about it and have a few ideas so let’s see what happens. If they can be up to Scary Movie 5 anything is bloody well possible.

Sean Welsh

Hercules Returns screens at Grosvenor Cinema, Glasgow, for one night only, on Saturday 26th September, 2015 as part of Scalarama 2015. Buy tickets here. Keep up-to-date with the Facebook event page here.


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Matchbox Cineclub #10: NIGHTBREED The Director’s Cut

Matchbox Cineclub‘s October screening is the director’s cut of Cliver Barker’s Nightbreed (1990).  Nightbreed was intended to be the Star Wars of horror movies. Directed by Barker (Hellraiser) from his novel Cabal, it’s a creature feature where the many, many monsters are the good guys, holed up in an enclave called Midian, under threat by fascistic cops and the machinations of a creepy psychotherapist played by David Cronenberg.

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The film was butchered by studio interference and much of Barker’s work left on the cutting room floor, where it languised for two decades. Nurtured and restored by the devotion of fans, an epic 159-minute cut was assembled from a VHS copy of an original workprint and other cut footage, then a 155-minute one dubbed the Cabal Cut, before original materials were found and Barker himself was able to recut his opus as originally intended, into this shorter Director’s Cut. Nightbreed is an orgiastic celebration of monstrous design and special effects, all lifted by a classic soundtrack from Danny Elfman, fresh from writing his seminal Batman score.

The screening takes place from 7pm on Thurday 15th October in the gallery area of The Old Hairdressers, Glasgow. Admission is £4 via Eventbrite. This month’s screening is by arrangement with Park Circus Films.

Keep up-to-date via the event’s Facebook page here.

Matchbox Cineclub #10: Nightbreed: The Director's Cut poster by Erin McGrath

Matchbox Cineclub #10: Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut poster by Erin McGrath

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