Morning Muse: La salle de cinéma est mort?

Big-screen HD televisions, piracy, on-demand streaming services, poorly-behaved audiences, high ticket prices, etcetera, etcetera.

At one point or another over the last decade or so, each of these factors (often in concert with one another) have supposedly conspired to bring about the death of cinema-going. And yet – in London at least – that same period has seen something of a minor boom in cinema-building, conversion and renovation.

It’s something I’ve pondered in the past, but this morning I came across a week-old RT of a relatively standard marketing message from the Empire chain’s Twitter account:

My first thought was to wonder where that leaves the fortunes of the Save Walthamstow Cinema campaign, who have been busily fighting to save the glorious old EMD/Granada building in E17 (a long overdue visit to their website reveals the great news that they’re working with Soho Theatre in the hope of creating a first class multi-use entertainment venue).

My second thought, however, was to marvel at just how many new cinemas had established in London (particularly the north-east areas), and how many older ones had been revitalised or expanded:

I’m sure there are plenty of others I overlooked this morning – the Arthouse in Crouch End has since sprung to mind, as has the Vue housed within Westfield Stratford, if you want to count such things – but this expansion of cinemagoing opportunity, in all its guises, is surely a thing to be celebrated. Isn’t it?

On a somewhat related note (as it’s more about the death of cinema as physical object, although it does touch on the decline of the cinematic experience), I will take this opportunity to very strongly recommend archivist/curator/theorist Paolo Cherchi Usai’s rather brilliant collection of aphoristic provocations and philosophical musings, The Death of Cinema: History, Cultural Memory and the Digital Dark-Age (BFI, 2001). Whilst studying for a Masters in Film Archiving at the University of East Anglia a while back, I found his free-thinking approach so revelatory that I stuck a bunch of photocopied pages up in my room.

And since I ended up writing my MA dissertation on three Australian silent films – two of which are deemed very much lost – I’ll leave you with one of PCU’s little nuggets on the objective impossibility of ‘film history’ (from page 131 of the book):

PCU's The Death of Cinema (p 131)

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London Film Festival Diary (vol. 1)

When the lineup for the BFI London Film Festival was announced a while back – replete with an array of Australian films that I’ve highlighted over at The Far Paradise – I was left despairing that a lack of funds (and, lets face it, some rather extravagant ticket prices) meant that I wouldn’t be able to see much (if any) at this year’s festival. Thankfully, I managed to swing a student delegate pass and rustle up some spare razoos, allowing me to catch all the Aussie features (which I’ll skip here in anticipation of a forthcoming festival report for The Far Paradise) and a whole heap besides. Here’s the first of two entries in something approximating a festival diary, essentially just a round-up of what I caught (and ruminations on what I missed), as I endeavoured to squeeze in as many screenings as possible in between parenting, PhDing and, you know, having a life.
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Screen Addict 2: Back in the Habit

Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (Bill Duke, 1993)

Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (Bill Duke, 1993)


Okay, so despite rejigging things on here a while back (in a vague attempt to make it look slightly more ‘professional’), I haven’t actually added any new blog posts in approximately forever. But hark! That’s all about to change!

I’m now a fair way into my PhD, and what little energy outside of that (and other bits and bobs of offline writing) is spent on my Australian cinema blog The Far Paradise. Much as I love Aussie films, however, I’ve also realised that it’s also nice to write about films from other climes, or even maybe about things other than films. In that spirit (and not at all because a Twitter friend I recently met in the flesh for the first time tentatively asked ‘you don’t only watch Australian films, right?’), I hearby declare this blog reactivated.

Let’s see how long this lasts, shall we?


At The Drive-In @ Brixton Academy (28/08/12)

Let it be said from the outset that At The Drive-In are not really a band that should have ever reformed. It was good – I enjoyed it, but it was mostly a nostalgia trip – getting to sing along to songs I never got to sing along to live. Like most people my age, I got into them when One Armed Scissor blasted out of the radio speakers and blew my head clean off. After that, I tracked down everything they ever did – even the crazy side projects – they were, without doubt, my favourite band. New found fame brought them to Australia, once, as part of the Big Day Out but, as many bands do, they skipped the Adelaide leg. I was gutted, but I figured they were on the up and I’d get to see them next time. And then they split. Anyway, The Stool Pigeon have just posted a review that is more or less spot-on, but I felt like I needed to share a few things about the time I finally got to see one of my favourite bands. Ever.

For starters, the usually ebullient Omar looked bored out of his wits and the typically cryptic or reticent banter of Cedric (at least the Mars Volta model I’ve seen live) was replaced with some of the worst between song banter I’ve heard in some time – all Facebook and Coronation Street. Who knows, maybe he was being ‘ironic’? And then Jim did a strange speech towards the end of the encore talking about how much he ‘loves these guys’ and (half-jokingly) how he saw the show as the final gig of the Relationship of Command tour. It actually felt a little like Dave Grohl’s recent spiel at Reading, to be honest, and did make me wonder if I was witnessing their last show ever.

Aside from all that weirdness on stage, the sound mix was muddy at best, which didn’t help. And most of the crowd had very clearly only ever really listened to Relationship of Command, which meant that when you got into the real stompers from In/Casino/Out (which I think is a far superior album in some ways, with Napoleon Solo a clear highlight of the show) much of the crowd just stood rigid. It was quite strange, almost like a festival gig where the majority only want to ‘mosh’ to the songs they already know.

It was an odd gig. I enjoyed it, but mostly because I got to go nuts to some of my all-time favourite songs, not because it was actually a good performance. Put it this way, I spent a good minute or so thinking, at one point, how I much preferred seeing Unsane a while back. A band I similarly had always wanted to see, playing a tiny room (Camden Underworld) to a wildly appreciative, non-capacity crowd. Instead, I was stood in the cavernous Brixton Academy, watching a band I used to love with all my heart, standing amidst a sold out crowd for many of whom ATDI were seemingly just a band it was cool to like when they were younger.


Oh, and I know, I know – this has nothing to do with films. I just needed to get it off my chest.


Two or Three Short Films About Killing

With The Hunger Games causing global box office mayhem and the attendant squeals from fanboys and film nerds about how it’s ‘not as good as Battle Royale‘, I started to think about some other films – most of which have hardly rated a mention – that feature individuals partaking in homicide as a form of sport and/or survival. Most are hardly suitable for the kind of crowds flocking to see The Hunger Games, but here’s something of a primer nonetheless…

The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

The Most Dangerous Game posterAs far back as the 1930s, commercial filmmakers have liked a good bit of sporting homicide. This Joel McCrea starring pre-coder was the first film adaptation of Richard Connell’s much anthologized short story, and features a big-game hunter who finds himself shipwrecked and marooned on a mysterious island, the owner of which has taken trophy hunting to its ultimate ends. Cheap production costs were achieved by sharing sets with another project by the same team – the classic 1933 version of King Kong – and a healthy box office meant a substantial profit for the RKO studio. Two further adaptations of the Connell story have also appeared: Robert Wise’s post-WWII set remake A Game of Death (1945), which utilized footage recycled from the original, and Roy Boulting’s Superscope version for United Artists, Run for the Sun (1956).
[ Watch Online ]

Bloodlust! (1961)

One of the many unofficial adaptations of Richard Connell’s short story was this schlocker, released in the US by Crown International and later reissued on a double-bill with Robert Vincent O’Neil’s Blood Mania (1970). It relates the tale of two couples who stumble across an uncharted island where they are captured by a sadistic, homicidal hunter and forced to hunt each other.
[ Trailer ]

Turkey Shoot (1982)

Turkey Shoot posterBrian Trenchard-Smith’s queasy Ozploitation romp is an underrated gore classic, and was reviewed on this very blog many moons ago. In a parallel dystopia, social deviants are sent to behaviour modification camps, the most notorious of which is run by the maniacal Camp Master Charles Thatcher. (Crafted, no doubt, with one eye on the British market – already in the midst of a ‘video nasty’ panic and ruled by the Conservatives under Maggie Thatcher – where the film was cunningly released as Blood Camp Thatcher.) In the hope of spicing things up, Thatcher offers some of his inmates a chance for freedom, should they ‘choose’ to participate in a game of ‘turkey shoot’, in which they face certain death unless they can evade capture until sundown.
[ Trailer ]

The Running Man (1987)

A true classic of the ‘kill or be killed’ genre, The Running Man features Arnold Schwarzenegger as a convicted criminal in the midst of a 2019 dystopia, where he joins a group of ‘runners’ forced to outwit contract killers for the pleasure of TV audiences. Directed by Paul Michael Glaser – that’s right folks, TV’s Starsky – and based loosely on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, this is pure cult cinema cheese heaven. Don’t walk…RUN…to your local video store/torrent site and rent/steal it now!
[ Trailer ]

Hard Target (1993) / Surviving the Game (1994)

In a typical case of Hollywood idio-synchronicity – the latest being 2012’s glut of Snow White features – these two films each featured a homeless man drawn into a deadly game of cat and mouse for the amusement of wealthy businessmen out for a bit of fun. Hong Kong action legend John Woo’s first Hollywood feature, Hard Target features the inimitable Jean-Claude Van Damme – best known these days for frozen jeans and talking nipples – as an out-of-work merchant sailor who helps a girl search for her homeless father, who has been inveigled into becoming the subject of a human death-hunt. In Surviving the Game, rapper-cum-actor Ice-T portrays a homeless man pulled from the brink of suicide and offered employment as a hunt guide, only to find himself as the object of similar human hunt.
[ Hard Target trailer ] [ Surviving the Game trailer ]

Battle Royale (2000)

Battle Royale logoKinji Fukasaku’s adaptation of Koushun Takami’s novel caused a real stir on its release at the turn of the millennium, sparking equal parts praise and revulsion for a film that pits teen against teen in a fight to the death, all at the behest of a crazed government intent on punishing unruly teens for disobeying authority and disrespecting their elders. As briefly covered elsewhere on these pages, subtext is rife throughout, but not at the expense of fun: the film’s bleak humour rivaled only by the remarkable ingenuity of each successive kill.
[ Trailer ]

Series 7: The Contenders (2001)

Marketed with the (no doubt apocryphal) backstory that writer-director Daniel Minahan had originally pitched the idea as a real life reality TV show (only to be met with executive requests to make it ‘more sexy and less violent’), Series 7: The Contenders is an ultraviolent mockumentary spoof in which citizens are selected for a deathmatch via a random lottery. Almost universally slated on release, it’s pitch-black satirical take on reality television does have a peculiarly enthralling charm, if you’re into that kind of thing.
[ Trailer ]

So there you have it, plenty of recommended viewing to keep your sadistic urges at bay…

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