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last update 1.Apr.12
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A Bigger Splash
dir Jack Hazan
scr Jack Hazan, David Mingay
prd Jack Hazan, Mike Kaplan
with David Hockney, Peter Schlesinger, Celia Birtwell, Henry Geldzahler, Mo McDermott, Kasmin, Mike Sida, Ossie Clark, Susan Brustman, Patrick Proktor, Betty Freeman, Nick Wilder
hockney and schlesinger release US 5.Oct.74
remastered UK 30.Jan.12
74/UK 1h45
A Bigger Splash In the early 1970s, filmmaker Hazan was given astonishing access to David Hockney, following him and his friends to create a portrait of an artist at the peak of his fame. The film is like a work of art itself, moving very slowly and leaving most of the details for the viewer to discover along the way.

Set from 1971 to 1973, after Hockney's breakup with his model Schlesinger, this film follows him through his daily routine in London. When he decides to go back to California to cure his feelings of being adrift, his friends and colleagues have their doubts. "When love goes wrong, more than two people suffer," one observes. So while Hockney reminisces about the time he previously spent painting in Los Angeles, he finishes up one of his most iconic paintings, revising and adjusting it until he gets it right.

The film is an intriguing blend of documentary and drama, full of intimate conversations and interaction. The people are never identified, which makes the film rather challenging to keep up with, but it's awash with emotions that we vividly understand, from the zing of lust to the pain of breaking up. And it's also an invaluable look at Hockney at work, weaving his private life into his painting and showing us his creative process.

Hazan shoots this with an artist's eye, using clever camera angles and Patrick Gowers' moody score to add layers of meaning. Several sequences recreate Hockney's famous images, from the artist taking a shower to naked young men splashing in his Beverly Hills pool, presented as haunting dreams that inspire his work. We also meet fellow artists like Birtwell and Clark, as well as his friend McDermott, who seems perpetually annoyed (or maybe jealous).

When released in 1974, the film was shocking for its frank depiction of male sexuality. This seems oddly innocent viewed nearly 40 years later, because we're unlikely to see something so tender and honest on-screen now. Hazan cleverly avoids politics to tell a deeply personal story about love and loss as expressed through art. But with no real plot development or structure, the film feels much longer than its running time, and will demand patience even from fans of Hockney's work. But it's worth the effort.

15 themes,language, sexuality
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The Devils  
4/5   MUST must see SEE
dir-scr Ken Russell
prd Ken Russell, Robert H Solo
with Vanessa Redgrave, Oliver Reed, Dudley Sutton, Max Adrian, Gemma Jones, Murray Melvin, Michael Gothard, Georgina Hale, Brian Murphy, Christopher Logue, Graham Armitage, John Woodvine
reed and redgrave release UK/US 16.Jul.71
remastered 19.Mar.12
71/UK Warner 1h47
The Devils Based on a true story (as told in Aldous Huxley's book The Devils of Loudun and John Whiting's play), this is iconic filmmaker Russell's masterwork. Relentless and full-on, the film confronts the lust for power in the name of religion. And what it says about our society right now is rather unsettling.

As war between Catholics and Protestants rages in 17th-century France, Father Grandier (Reed) keeps the city of Loudun outside the conflict, his god-like position inspiring ecstatic devotion in Mother Jeanne (Redgrave). Then the manipulative Cardinal Richelieu (Logue) sends Baron De Laubardemont (Sutton) to demolish the city's walls. Thwarted, the baron calls a witch-hunter (Gothard) who declares that Grandier is a devil who has possessed all of the nuns. And Grandier's secret marriage to the innocent Madeleine (Jones) doesn't help his case.

The film is a profane riot of subtext-laden performances, with a broadly farcical tone that jars with the gruesome political plot. Derek Jarman's set designs look like something from a science fiction movie, with swarms of minion-like nuns led by Redgrave's cackling, hunch-backed mother, whose fevered visions mix faith with sexual longing. Russell packs the screen with hysterical religious fury, grotesque sacrilege and even the pustulant symptoms of the plague.

Every crazed element is played for all it's worth, using blood and sex to grapple with questions of faith, devotion and political manoeuvring. Even within this heightened atmosphere, the actors give disarmingly naturalistic performances (today, Reed would be an Oscar contender for this shattering performance). Within the colourful, rapid-fire plot, each person emerges as an compelling player in the overall story of clashing obsessions for sex, love and power. Indeed, the accused heretic is actually the only man of true faith, and the vilest urges prove to be human rather than demonic.

Through heavily stylistic flourishes and some wildly overwrought scenes, Russell never loses sight of the humanity in each increasingly crazed character. As a result, the film has a strongly moving political kick as it explores this struggle for power. We may giggle at the film's excesses, but we can't help but understand that this story is about the primal urges that are at work within all of us.

18 themes, strong violence, nudity, grisliness
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Grand Illusion
5/5   MUST must see SEE   La Grande Illusion
dir Jean Renoir
scr Charles Spaak, Jean Renoir
prd Albert Pinkovitch, Frank Rollmer
with Jean Gabin, Pierre Fresnay, Eric von Stroheim, Marcel Dalio, Dita Parlo, Julien Carette, Werner Florian, Sylvain Itkine, Georges Peclet, Jean Daste, Gaston Modot, Little Peters
gabin and dalio release Fr 4.Jun.37,
US 12.Sep.38
restored Fr 15.Feb.12,
UK 6.Apr.12
37/France RAC 1h54

La Grande Illusion Renoir's timeless 1937 classic has been restored so pristinely that it looks brand new. And its exploration of the artificial barriers we create between us is just as potent today, perhaps even more so.

During the Great War, French pilot Marechal (Bagin) and Captain Boeldieu (Fresnay) are shot down over Germany. Their first captor is von Rauffenstein (von Stroheim), who treats them with respect and sends them to an officer's prison camp. After a series of escape attempts, they are moved with their pal Rosenthal (Dalio) to a castle prison deep in Germany, where they meet von Rauffenstein again. And their next escape attempt is a lot more daring, resulting in a cross-country trek during which they hide out in a farmhouse with lonely widow Elsa (Parlo).

The central premise of the film is that these men have had borders inflicted on them: politically, racially, religiously and militarily. These divisions, as well as the idea of war in general, are the grand illusion of the title, because these men all find ways to respect each other even within adversarial situations. This includes soldiers fighting for the same cause, men on opposite sides and, most powerfully, the complex emotional interaction with Elsa and her daughter (Peters).

Renoir's filmmaking is so skilfully off-handed that we are drawn right into situations that are just as involving whether they're light-hearted or urgent. These are snappy characters who pepper their words with hilariously barbed comments. The prisoners' escape attempts are played with good humour and a recognition of the fact that this is simply what prisoners must do. By comparison, today's overwrought style of action filmmaking looks aggressively artificial and, frankly, stupid.

Indeed, this pacey film is so packed with honest humanity that it feels groundbreaking even 75 years later. It's also packed with classic sequences, including an epic snowball fight and escape attempts that are genuinely thrilling because they're inventive, funny and tragic. And most impressive is how Renoir never demonises anyone: each character is worthy of our attention and sympathy. And by helping us see ourselves in such disparate people, Renoir can still help undo decades of Hollywood bombast.

U themes, violence, some language
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dir-scr Pier Paolo Pasolini
prd Franco Rossellini
with Maria Callas, Massimo Girotti, Laurent Terzieff, Giuseppe Gentile, Margareth Clementi, Paul Jabara, Gerard Weiss, Sergio Tramonti, Luigi Barbini, Gianpaolo Duregon, Luigi Masironi, Michelangelo Masironi
release It 27.Dec.69,
US 28.Oct.71
restored UK 5.Dec.12
69/Italy 1h51
Medea Euripides' ancient play gives Pasolini a chance to explore his usual themes in vivid, colourful ways. It also gives us a chance to see the iconic Callas storm the screen in her only dramatic role. And now her real voice has been restored to the film.

Raised by a centaur (Terzieff), the cocky Jason (Gentile) returns to his ancestral land to claim his rightful crown from the uncle (Jabara) who stole it. He tells Jason that he can restore his birthright by recovering the Golden Fleece, which was stolen by neighbours across the sea. There he meets Medea (Callas), who betrays her people to help Jason. They marry and have two sons, but Jason leaves her for a young princess (Clementi), daughter of the King of Corinth (Girotti). And Medea vows to get revenge against him in extremely nasty ways.

Pasolini shoots this in his naturalistic style, capturing the epic beauty of the locations while bringing the characters to vivid life. It feels more like a contemporary drama despite the ancient setting, with moments of comical relief and Robin Hood-style banditry as Jason and his frisky colleagues run around the countryside taking anything they want. In addition to the Greek gods premise, the film is packed with imagery, chants and music from religions all over the world, while Dante Ferretti's marvellously earthy production design suggests a more humanistic worldview.

Indeed, the whole film can be read as a comment on the dangers of religion, as Medea's fervour drives her to unspeakable acts of vengeance that also prove to be her own undoing. Callas plays this tragic figure with towering dignity, as Pasolini often lets the camera linger on her still, magnetic face. The moment when she's first confronted by Jason's tanned-muscled charms is priceless. Wisely, Pasolini never asks much more of Olympic champ Gentile.

Even if the story lurches unevenly through some rather perplexing events, the spectacular landscapes of Turkey and Syria, a massive cast and incredibly ornate costumes make this worth seeing. Long stretches of the film have no dialog, leaving us to figure out what's happening and why. But there's no denying the film's visceral kick. And this pristine remastered edition lets us see Callas in all her diva glory.

12 themes, grisly violence, nudity
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