Friday June 3 8pm
ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD
(UK Tom Soppard 1989)
So asks Rosencrantz of Guildenstern during the closing moments of this film. Or was it Guildenstern of Rosencrantz? Not even they are quite sure.
They are not sure of much at all which is why their dialogue is made up of questions. Summoned to spy on the crown prince of Denmark, the pair find themselves both bystanders and intriguers in a royal court gone mad. With nothing but their talent for rhetoric, they must find their way out of there, mission or no mission. Not easy when you're up against a philosopher prince (theatre's smartest) but well nigh impossible when reality itself seems to be fleeing at a rate of knots.
Tom Stoppard's exercise in crawling out of writer's block earned him his career's biggest hit to date. Why? Because for all its intellectual rigour (and there's plenty) Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is bloody funny. Whether it's the dizzying commentary on a series of coin flips, the incidental discoveries of aerodynamics and steam power, the rhetorical tennis match, or whenever the play of Hamlet itself interrupts the story the comedy goes from Pythonesque absurdity to straight out slapstick. We're talking money's worth, here.
But for all its tricksiness this might have fallen on its own big smug smile if it weren't for the cast. The leads are taken by two of the cinema's hottest properties from the time: Tim Roth and Gary Oldman. Not only do they relish these roles but are clearly delighted to be performing in their own London accents (which their famous roles forbade). The Player King, guide, tormentor and judge to the duo, is cooked to a flavoursome overperfection by Richard Dreyfus, obviously loving the fact that his role cannot be made too theatrical.
This might have been a play but here the film's the thing....
Friday June 10 8pm
TAXI DRIVER (USA Martin Scorsese 1976)
Betsy seems to walk on air through this Babylon, through streets thick with sleaze to her desk at the office of local liberal presidential hopeful Charles Palatine. Returning to life, he approaches her and, for a brief glorious moment, everything works and then it doesn't. She floats back up to her cloud and he's back down in the sewer. So, Travis gets his gun. Actually he gets a few and a lot more besides, and he realises that to get anything done properly he must aim low.
Martin Scorsese had already made a few powerful films but this one was for real money and he could pick his cast. Robert "you talkin' to me?" De Niro provided the world with the performance he is still judged by, God's Lonely Man, from awkward faux pas to the coal black sheen of a vigilante he delivers everything he has and then some. Narration had grown old by the mid 70s but De Niro's voice of Travis contained no kitsch and reintroduced it to the cinema as pure cool. Appropriate praise for the cast of this film would exceed readable column length but mention of Jodie Foster is mandatory. Foster came to the underage hooker role from a short life that had led from advertising and television to full stardom as Disney's poster girl. As Iris, she is unnervingly worldly but when the child's fear and anger shine through her exterior she owns a screen that includes Robert De Niro at his strongest. That's something.
What to say about this one? Do I continue by going on about influence (on Scorsese and everyone who sees this film)? No, I continue by commanding your presence in front of it so you can see it for yourself. First or millionth viewing will have the same impact. Guaranteed.
Friday June 17 8pm
The trio live in big gleaming luxury, a huge house full of sunlight, Edenic garden with a swimming pool. The grounds are of aristocratic proportions and surrounded by a fence three metres tall.
This is the least of the barriers between the children and the outside world. The title refers to more parental misinformation: they can only leave the home when their canine teeth fall out. Until then it's more of the fable and less of the able. This would be forgivable if the kids were toddlers but they are all approaching adulthood with no sign that the coddling and lies have an end. Oh, on the adulthood business. The father, accepting his powers of retarding the childrens' development cannot change the physical reality of adolescence hires a female security guard from the factory he manages to come by and see to the boy's needs. This she does but also cannot unsee the situation she has walked into and attempts to nurture the seedlings of change. You will not believe how she does this.
This troubling fable of over protection and the futility of closed (a nominee at the last oscars for best foreign film) has been compared to Michael Hanneke. I'd add French filmmaker Bruno Dumont. There is sudden slight violence and bad violence (the worst is implied rather than shown) and hefty servings of unappetising sex. But neither of those filmmakers have ever gone this far into allegory as this film does and does defiantly. If such an unforgiving satirist as Jonathon Swift were alive today to see the European Community and its treatment of the junior partners, the revival of looney tunes religion, the olympian leap widening between have and have not or, more simply, the state of society in this tale's native Greece, he might have made this film exactly the same way. Be bold. Watch.
Friday June 24 8pm
(USA Alan Arkin 1971)
Alfred (Elliot Gould), an "apathist" photographer, allows his subjects to beat him up figuring that they'll just get tired of it and stop. He's saved from them by the high-powered Patsy who is so troubled by his philosophy that she can't let go of him. Hauling him to dinner at the family apartment brings him into close proximity with dad ("Don't call me Carrol!"), mum (who has so completely made her home that she can scarcely understand anything beyond it ) and little brother Kenny (seemingly too late to join the casting call for Spider Baby).
Patsy proposes to Alfred who accepts because he might as well. Hippy priest (Donald Sutherland) delivers one of the most gleefully anti marriage broadsides at the wedding, causing a riot in the church. Add to this Patsy's disastrous attempts to draw the feeling/living human out of Alfred, the mounting figures for random homicides, and a police force on the verge of hysteria and you have some concentrated satire that can thrill when it doesn't create laughter.
Angry cartoonist Jules Feiffer's play was too strong even for off-Broadway. His picture of a modern urban America is a scene of continual breakdown. The twin responses of surrender or struggle seem equally valid but placed side by side the mix is by turns creepy and hilarious. Mighty comic character actor Alan Arkin(see Catch 22 in the Autumn Part 2 program) is at the helm and also plays the desperate cop Lieutenant Practice at breaking pitch.
They don't make 'em as tough as this anymore but they should.
Friday July 1 8pm
(UK Sidney Lumet 1972)
Detective Sergeant Johnson has been worn skinless by his job and at the end of a gruelling investigation into recent missing girl cases he has been brought to nervous combustion. His own examination reveals things about himself that only lead further into darkness as he comes to understand how completely he has come to identify with the criminals who have increasingly disgusted him.
Sean Connery at the beginning of the 70s found himself in a seller's market and bargained with Universal to allow him some projects that interested him in exchange for another Bond movie. They got Diamonds Are Forever but anyone who saw the real actor under the glitz got The Offence.
This hard as nails psychological thriller was directed by the late great Sidney Lumet. Fresh from helming Serpico, and soon to bring Dog Day Afternoon and the mighty Network to the big screen, Lumet was firing on all cylinders and here rolls back what little Hollywood remained in that kind of work and acclimatises himself perfectly in the cold and damp of the British setting. And Connery is rolling his own star power back to find strength among such UK greats as Vivien Merchant and Trevor Howard. Anyone else brought up on the power of Brit TV in the 70s will recognise most of the cast. It feels like home, it feels like hell. It's also brilliant. Come and see.
Friday July 8 8pm
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Remember His Past Lives
(Thailand Apichatpong Weerasethakul 2010)
But death is not such a conversation killer here. Boonmee is deeply Buddhist and thinks of himself less as dying than about to leave his present body.
Talk at the dinner table is about the future, life after Boonmee and it's practical, unsentimental. So matter of fact, in fact, that we hardly notice the ghost of his wife slowly materialising on one of the chairs at the table. Once established, though, they variously take it in their stride or witness it as their worry slowly gives way to acceptance. They then converse as though she's just dropped in for a visit.
That's the kind of film this is. If Dogtooth pits hyperrealism against fable Uncle Boonmee mixes mysticism with a folky documentary style. This is a story of mortality and its acceptance but, further, suggests approaches to reconcilation with the idea. Lest you should think that this sounds grim I'll chuck in mentions of Boonmee's son who, in pursuit of a mythical ape figure caught only in a blurred photo, has become a hybrid man ape figure with glowing red eyes. And what might well be one of the past lives promised in the title, a disfigured princess is courted and seduced by a river carp. Add to this a constant strain of day to day humour and you have a film that stands by itself.
There are passages which do not announce their intention and Weerasethakul's eye can often linger on a given body or object, inviting his audience to share his fascination. There is no pretense to being anything else. There is mysticism aplenty, surrealism, abundant natural beauty and hints at local political history but the surface is so rich that unfamiliarity with these will not detract from viewing. This film is only as difficult as you want to make it.
Winner of the Palme D'or at Canne last year.