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last update 7.Aug.07
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Blue   4/5
blue Derek Jarman's final feature is a plain blue screen accompanied by voices and sound effects. Perhaps no other filmmaker could get away with this, but Jarman makes it something truly remarkable.

It's like a surreal radio play, with a series of comments, stories and observations spoken with heightened emotion--witty and engaging, sharp and observant, with constant references to blue as a colour, mood or attitude. There are diary entries, poems and anecdotes, and everything relates to Jarman comint to terms with his Aids-related blindness, complete with medical diagnoses and memories of friends who have died.

The plain blue screen isn't just a computer-generated colour; it's a proper film transfer, so it pulsates slightly, and shows the flaws in the film stock. But that's all we see. It's the audio track that paints pictures on this canvas with words, sounds and music. Yes, this is raw experimental filmmaking, but it's also bold and daring, and surprisingly engaging and emotional. Not to mention deeply human in its vivid expressionism. There's also an extremely eerie premonition of 9/11 at one point.

It helps to have the variety of voices, a script that's packed with visual language and plenty of earthy black humour. "Hell on earth is a hospital waiting room," the voice sighs. "A bullet in the back of the head might be easier." You really need to clear your head, relax and experience this dreamlike collage of a film. And don't watch it if you're sleepy.

dir Derek Jarman • 94/UK 53m 4/5
This rather lengthy short is a gorgeous kaleidoscopic assembly of home movies from Jarman's life--private glimpses, holiday films, personal clips, wedding movies, even behind-the-scenes tomfoolery from the sets of his movies. Images of his friends and artistic collaborators combine to paint a picture of the arts scene in the 1970s and 1980s, without bothering to fix any of the scenes into a specific time or place. It shows us these events and people from Jarman's distinct perspective, without narration--just images and scenes cleverly assembled and deeply revealing. And with Brian Eno's evocative score, it's thoroughly magical, a fascinating glimpse at the filmmaker's life and his personal obsessions.
dir-scr Derek Jarman
voices John Quentin, Tilda Swinton, Nigel Terry, Derek Jarman
blue reissue 30.Jul.07 dvd
93/UK C4 1h15


15 themes, language, nudity
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The Fruit Machine   3/5
The Fruit Machine This ground-breaking 1988 TV movie gets a long-awaited video release. While it does feel rather dated, it's also a strong, involving story. And besides, it's great to see the real '80s on screen rather than yet another retro re-creation.

In Liverpool, Eddie (Charles) has a close relationship with his diva-like mother (Christie), but his father (Emerick) is so brutally critical of his sensitivity that he packs a bag and runs away with his rent-boy buddy Michael (Forsyth). They're hanging out at the lively Fruit Machine nightclub with their drag queen friend Annabelle (Coltrane) when they witness a mob hit by the brutal thug Echo (Payne). Suddenly they're on the run to Brighton with an opera star (Stephens) and his agent (Higgins), who both demand payment in kind from Michael. And Echo's on his way.

Director Saville develops an elegant and stylish tone from the start, accompanied by a grand Hans Zimmer score. A running motif about dolphins is intriguingly telling and ultimately integral to the plot, while the film is packed with references to old movies, from Brief Encounter clips to the plot of Some Like It Hot.

Essentially this is a story about two very different young men taking a difficult journey to discover who they are and where they belong. Both of them feel huge pressures to be something they're not, and both Charles and Forsyth give raw, sensitive performances that connect the tough, earthy tension with some truly lovely sequences, such as when Eddie swims naked with the dolphins.

Despite the vintage corniness, which includes a strange fantasy dolphin-man (Norgaard), the film takes a tough-minded approach to the themes of homophobia and child abuse, and develops a looming sense of tragedy. These two boys are in as much danger from their adult minders as they are from the vicious goons chasing them. For 1988, this film is far ahead of its time, and has a remarkable emphasis on its characters rather than the thriller-style plot. Even when these kids are indulging in dangerous grown-up behaviour, they're still the victims here.

dir Philip Saville
scr Frank Clarke
with Emile Charles, Tony Forsyth, Robert Stephens, Clare Higgins, Bruce Payne, Robbie Coltrane, Julie Graham, Carsten Norgaard, Kim Christie, Louis Emerick, Joseph Carrington, Paula Ann Bland
charles, graham and forsyth
release US 28.Apr.89,
UK 16.Jul.07 dvd
88/UK Granada 1h43
15 themes, language, sexuality
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I Love You, I Don’t   4.5/5   Je T’Aime Moi Non Plus
Je T'Aime Moi Non Plus This masterpiece of erotic tension finally makes its way to DVD after being banned in Britain for 30 years. It's a brilliantly well-made film that will thoroughly entertain fans of arthouse cinema. Although it's not for the faint-hearted.

Chucklehead tough guys Krassky and Padovan (Dallesandro and Quester) drive into a desert village and immediately create conflict. No one can figure them out--are they a gay couple or dangerous thugs? Blurring lines further, Krassky falls for the boyish waitress Johnny (Birkin) in the local cafe, creating issues with her boss (Kolldehoff). Their bedroom antics get them in even more trouble, and make Padovan so jealous that he turns to the local stud (Depardieu) for help. But even more problems are on their way. Will Krassky and Johnny's offbeat love be enough to get them through?

Writer-director Gainsbourg creates an outrageous Dukes of Hazzard vibe with this lively, often hilariously over-the-top rural melodrama about two interlopers who stir the waters in a quiet, repressed community. The fact that Krassky can't sleep with Johnny unless he pretends she's a boy adds to the film's homoerotic tone--to say nothing of the furtive glances, the masculine teasing everywhere they go, the way Krassky and Padovan are so physically at ease with each other.

Yet even as the film maintains its raucous tone, there's a sense of impending tragedy from the very beginning. And indeed, it's very strong stuff right from the start, examining the fringes of human sexuality with unflinching honesty and courage. While Dallesandro and Birkin are an iconic, endearing couple.

The film is extremely well shot, with fluid camera work and insinuating, sexy direction. There's a fascinating dynamic between all of the characters, and it's more than a little creepy that Gainsbourg directed his then-partner through such a sexually explicit performance. But he also maintains a breezy sense of wit and sharp social commentary, with lots of wacky touches that make it an unforgettable classic. Including that unforgettable title track. Yes, it's seriously twisted. But it's also surprisingly sweet.

dir-scr Serge Gainsbourg
with Jane Birkin, Joe Dallesandro, Hugues Quester, Gérard Depardieu, René Kolldehoff, Jimmy Davis, Maïté Nahyr, Liliane Rovère, Gillian Gill, Josiane Lévêque, Doris Thomas, Michel Blanc
dallesandro and birkin release Fr 10 March 1976,
UK 25.Jun.07 dvd
76/France 1h24
18 themes, language, violence, strong sexuality
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Pink Narcissus   5/5
This landmark art film has been lovingly restored for DVD, plus a short run in cinemas where it belongs. As a work of art, it intriguingly bridges the gap from Genet and Cocteau to Pierre et Gilles and David LaChapelle. Not to mention the clear fact that it inspired everyone from Pedro Almodovar to Michel Gondry. And even the Village People.

The narrative rolls as a surreal dreamlike odyssey with mythical proportions, drenched in pinks and blues. Our central hero (Kendall) is a beautiful young man. And he adores himself, lovingly gazing into mirrors and flirting with the people around him, blurring the grimy realities of his life with ethereal woodland fantasies. He imagines himself as a biker, a matador, a belly dancer. And as his indulgent life spirals out of control he's forced to confront the seedy underside.

Photographer Bidgood (credited as "Anonymous" after a feud with his backers) shot the entire movie in his New York apartment over the course of seven years, and it's a riot of lurid colours and unforgettable imagery, like a live-action Fantasia. He deploys inventive, stylised effects that include stop motion, miniatures, trick lighting and a teasing sound mix (there's no dialog). And all of this is used to create an almost overwhelmingly sensuous atmosphere. The extreme close-up of this young man stroking himself with a single blade of grass is almost unbearably sexual; other scenes are much more graphic.

The film is at once completely of its time, reminiscent of the trippy work of Kenneth Anger and Andy Warhol, and far ahead of itself. There's even a frightening foreshadowing of Aids in the freak-show sex-market sequence, as things turn genuinely stormy and sinister. Bidgood also refuses to shy away from real sensuality, not to mention in-your-face comments on the commercialisation of sex, and how repression and moralising have demeaned sexuality and unjustly marginalised so many people.

It's a bracing, gorgeous combination of beefcake images, artworld photography and experimental cinema that's essential for any true film fan. It makes Hollywood's current attempts to be masculine or sexy look deeply naive and superficial. But with extensive, explicit nudity and intensely homoerotic overtones, it's not for the faint of heart. Or anyone with a closed mind.

dir-scr James Bidgood
with Bobby Kendall, Don Brooks, Charles Ludlam
release US 24.May.71
reissue UK 26.Mar.07 dvd
71/US 1h05
18 nudity, strong sexuality
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© 2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall