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September at the NFT(1 Post)
This month is a busy month at the NFT where there has been a really wide-ranging and diverse program of films: the second half of the Almodóvar season (which runs until the end of the month); Stanley Kubrick: Cinephile ; The Kirk Douglas season; and screenings of both the (unfinished) 1983 Spanish-French film by Victor Erice , El Sur ; and the 4k digital restoration of Nicholas Roeg’s science fiction masterpiece starring the late David Bowie, The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976).
The second half of the Almodóvar season was heralded by the release of the Spanish master’s latest film Julieta , a beautiful and heartbreaking rumination on loss and regret which tells the story of one woman over three distinct periods of her life and her relationship with her estranged daughter. The film is based on three short short stories from Alice Munro’s 2004 book Runaway with the action transposed to Madrid.
The film amplifies Pedro Almodóvar’s signature use of expressionist colour, décor and costume and is among his most visually stunning works to date(It visual expressiveness bears contrast with the starkly designed, but equally stunning, The Skin I Live In , also showing in the second half of the season). There is one particular seamless cut in the film that left me breathless, as the younger Julieta becomes the older one (I won’t give it away): it reminded me very much of a similar condensation of time passing in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp , as the younger Clive Candy (Roger Livesey) dives into a swimming and emerges as an older man. Comparisons with Michael Powell are apposite, Powell was a director whose work embodied British post war magical realism and colour expressionism and combined it with sense of melodrama and whimsy. It’s hard not to see the influence Powell and Pressberger over Almodóvar’s work.
The second half of the season concentrates on the directors mature work with films including All About My Mother (1999), Talk To Her (2002), Bad Education (2004), Volver (2006), Broken Embraces (2009), The Skin I Live In (2011), I’m So Excited! (2013) and the season is complemented by a selection of Spanish made films selected by Almodóvar himself (including El Sur, Rapture (Zulueta, 1979) and Jamon Jamon, (Luna, 1992).
Almodóvar’s cinema has also been at the forefront of transgressive European art cinema as well as European queer cinema. These later more mature films also pay homage in many ways to the Hollywood and European melodramas ( what used to be known as ‘Women’s film’). Almodóvar is that rare thing: a male director who understands how to draw women characters and in particular mothers with theme of motherhood one which is explored across his canon of work.
The Skin I Live In is a film which maybe stands out from the rest as a quasi (and fairly queasy) horror movie which has shades of the scandalous and controversial French horror film The Eyes Without a Face (Georges Franju, 1960) and stars Antonio Banderas, one of the many Spanish stars whose career Almodóvar has helped create. Other Spanish actors from the Almodóvar stable who have gone on to have mainstream Hollywood appeal include Gael Garcia Bernal, Javier Bardem and of course Penelope Cruz .
The films in this half of the season offer a contrast to the earlier more anarchic work on display in the first half (although the sense of anti-conservatism and anti-establismentism right through his filmography).– The early films were defined by the anarchic, flamboyant and confrontational spirit of the Movida Madrileña , the anti-establishment countercultural youth movement that sprang up in the wake of the death of Franco in 1975 as Spain made the transition to a democracy. Early films like Pepi, Luci, Bom (1980); Labyrinth of Passion (1982) and the Nunsploitation film Dark Habits (1983) embody not only the spirit of this movement ( forming part of its cultural currency, informing and shaping the style of later works like Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown ) but also recall the work the celebrated Spanish surrealist director Luis Buñuel. The first half of the season segued very well also with the recent Punk season which came to an end at the end of August.
Stanley Kubrick: Cinephile
Also currently showing in September is the Kubrick: Cinephile season – an (almost) complete retrospective of Kubrick’s films alongside a selection of films which he was known to admire: The Godfather (Coppola, 1971), La Belle et La Bête (Cocteau, 1946), Wild Strawberries (Bergman, 1957), ^ Rashomon^ (Kurosawa, 1951), Metropolis (Lang, 1926), The Spirit of the Beehive (Erice, 1973) and Bridge on The River Kwai (Lean, 1957).
One of the things about Kubrick’s work is that no matter how many times you see the films, you see something different each time. Watching his body of work in parallel with this selection of films is a really fascinating way of opening out his work and seeing they inform his narrative, thematic, directorial and aesthetic decisions and how this body of work , do different from others is rooted within a broad range of global and European (art) cinema.
If you are unfamiliar with Kubrick’s work and its influences, this season provides an excellent introduction – I hope the BFI take this approach with other directors as well - a Ken Russell season along similar lines would be magnificent!!
Sitting nicely alongside the overlapping Kubrick season is the BFI’s Kirk Douglas retrospective. Douglas worked with Kubrick on two of the directors Hollywood films (before the move to England and the start of a new body of work that began with Lolita in 1962): Spartacus (1960) and Paths of Glory (1957). The latter could lay claim to being one of the profoundest anti-war statements ever put to film, and so inflammatory in its attack on the French military was it that it was banned in France. The screenplay for Spartacus was written by Dalton Trumbo, one of the original ‘Hollywood 10’ to be dragged up in front of HUAC and Douglas was insistent on Trumbo’s name being included in the opening titles. In fact Spartacus may well be read as an anti-McCarthy allegory, and Douglas famously clashed with Kubrick on several aspects of the production (Kubrick felt that the end product was not even handed enough it its presentation of the violence of both slaves and Romans).
Kirk Douglas (who is almost 100) could himself lay claim to being one of the last survivors of the golden age of Hollywood so a BFI retrospective of his work seems apposite and it includes some real classics including Minelli’s 1952 film about the rise and fall of a Hollywood producer The Bad and The Beautiful (for which Douglas won an Oscar nomination); Billy Wilder’s Ace In The Hole (1951) ; the biopic of Van Gogh, Lust For Life (1956) and David Miller’s tragic cold war Western Lonely Are The Brave (1962).
The season offers an overview of a remarkable, rich and enduring Hollywood career.
The Man Who Fell To Earth
Finally the BFI are currently showing a stunning 4k digital restoration of Nicholas Roeg’s 1976 science fiction classic The Man Who Fell To Earth starring the much missed David Bowie as the alien Thomas Jerome Newton, who comes to earth to solve the drought problem on his own planet but ends up stranded and trapped within a culture of anesthetizing media saturation and corporate greed.
I will be catching the restoration imminently and will soon be writing a full review.
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