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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

This week at the SFC: Le Souffle au Coeur

Thursday April 27th, 2006

All our screenings are FREE ones.

Feature will commence at 8:15 pm. Doors open at 7:30 pm.

Le Souffle au Coeur (Murmur of the Heart)
(Louis Malle/France/1971/158')

We have it on no less an authority than Leo Tolstoy that all happy families are the same, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. I am not quite sure, however, that Count Tolstoy had in mind a family like the one we meet in Murmur of the Heart, Louis Malle's warm, human, very funny movie . You will agree that this family, at least, is happy in its own way.

It's an uncommon family, especially by the standards of Dijon, France, circa 1954. The father is a wealthy and successful physician. He is married to a girl 15 years younger than himself and, worse, the girl is Italian, which profoundly shocked his French bourgeois family at the time of the marriage. No matter. The union has been blessed with three sons, and at the time the movie opens the mother is closer to them (in age and temperament) than to the father.

The movie opens with a good-natured family tussle, and only after it's over do we discover that Lea Massari is the mother. She looks more like an older sister, and she is certainly more of a pal than a mother to her children. The family discipline is administered by a very round, very muscular maid.

The two older sons are pranksters and brats, but the youngest is bookish and thoughtful. To be sure, his taste in reading runs to Henry Miller, de Sade and The Story of O, and his thoughts are of a nature to be dialogue for the confessional. But he's a bright, quiet, likable boy. He is also at that sharp, poignant moment of midadolescence when it begins to seem that carnal knowledge is forever out of reach but just barely.

Malle gives us the family in a series of short, fairly self-contained scenes. There are fights and truces, and the boys learn to smoke cigars, drink brandy and forge paintings. The youngest son is taken by his brothers to a brothel (in order to be the victim of a cruel practical joke, as it turns out). The mother has an affair, not very discreetly. And then it turns out the young boy has a heart murmur. Summer at a resort is prescribed, and the mother goes along to keep her son company (and to continue her affair).

The boy is played by a nonactor, Benoit Ferreux, whose puzzlement about growing up, and whose admiration at the possibilities of life, remind us of young Jean-Pierre Leaud in Truffaut's The 400 Blows of a decade ago. The two movies deserve comparison in more ways than one. And yet Murmur of the Heart isn't really about the boy, but the mother. Lea Massari (the girl in L'Avventura) is so irrepressible, so irresponsible, so much a girl and not quite an adult, that her performance takes scenes that might have been embarrassing, and makes them simply magical.

Monday, April 17, 2006


Tuesday 18th, Thursday 20th and Friday 21st April

STUDIOFILMCLUB in conjunction with Ann Cross, curator of this January's CUBAN CINEMA at London's National Film Theatre, is very pleased to be presenting three evenings of Cuban Cinema. Whilst the screening of three feature length films could never represent a comprehensive selection of post-Revolution Cuban Cinema, what we are attempting to present is a selection designed to be a introduction to the history and feeling of a vital cinematic movement by one of our close Caribbean neighbours.
Authentic Cuban cinema evolved with the Revolution of 1959 and the founding of ICAIC (Cuban Film Institute). There was great activity amongst the new generation of film-makers. While US aggression threw Cuba into the arms of the Soviet Union, the film-makers steered clear of the communist orthodoxy of socialist realism, and instead took influence from the French New Wave, Eisenstein and Fellini, and Brazilian Cinema Novo. Our Friday night film SOY CUBA is not essentially a Cuban film (Filmed by great Russian director Mikhail Kalatozov The Cranes Are Flying) but is none the less an extraordinary piece of work and a true historical document. A unique collaboration between director Kalatozov, the poet Yevgeni Yevtushenko, and writer Enrique Pineda Barnet dramatizes the conditions that led to the 1959 Cuban revolution. Originally made in 1964 (and unpopular both in Russia and Cuba), it was re released in 1995 through the combined efforts of Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola.

We hope you will enjoy these choices and we will endeavour to screen more Cuban Cinema shortly...

Tuesday 18th April

LUCIA (Humberto Solas/ Cuba/ 1968/ 160')

An astonishing first feature by the 26 year old Humberto Solas, and one of the definitive Cuban films of the 1960's, this is a trilogy of tales about a women called Lucia at different moments in Cuba's history: 1895, 1933 and the 60's. Each is a love story – the first tragic, the second melodramatic, the third a social comedy – which together add up to a powerful allegory on Cuban history, where women's experience is seen as the node of social contradictions and changes.

Thursday 20th April

LA VIDA ES SILBAR (Life is to Whistle) (Fernando Perez/ Cuba-Spain/1999/110')

The tale of three characters in Havana who never meet, but share a common yearning for an elusive happiness. Allegorical, symbolic and rendered with unfailing lightness of touch, their stories are linked by the watery face of a narrator who observes their comings and goings in a sort of magical realist comedy of social criticism which confirms Fenando Perez as one the most original voices in contemporary Cuban cinema.

Omara (Fernando Perez/ Cuba / 1978/ 26')

Fernando Perez presents the life and career of Omara Portuando. Through dramatic sequences interwoven with interviews and performances we come to appreciate this legendary Cuban star.

Friday 21st April

SOY CUBA (I am Cuba) (Mikheil Kalatozishvili/Cuba/USSR/1964/140')

This Soviet-Cuban hymn from 1964 to the Castro revolution has more than its fair share of agitprop naivety - but for its sheer dazzling technique, and the glorious beauty of its monochrome cinematography, it deserves impregnable classic status. Director Mikhail Kalatozov follows the progress of the revolution from the poolside decadence of Batista's Havana, the pauperisation of the tenant farmers, through to the student agitation, and finally the arrival of Castro's troops from their mountain stronghold in the east.

To the accompaniment of narration co-scripted by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, the story is achieved in a series of superbly choreographed single-take sequences, with a drama-doc vérité effect. The first scene is a breathtaking hand-held travelling shot that moves sinuously through the partygoers and bikini-clad women by a penthouse hotel pool, winding up underwater with the swimmers. Did cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky have his camera readied in a tiny goldfish bowl? Later, in the epic funeral scene, his camera soars up past the Havana balconies, noses through a cigar factory and then appears to float over the rail looking down on the giant procession as if suspended from a cloud. And this decades before Steadicam technology arrived.
It is really miraculous work from Urusevsky. Why do film fanatics not jabber endlessly about these astonishing sequences? Why are they not endlessly quoted and pastiched in other movies? I Am Cuba is a gripping, if stylised, historical document. The drinking song of bullying US sailors has a strange modern resonance: "The gals here in old Guantanamo/They give us all we want and never say no." The corruption and prostitution of Batista's capital finds a grim echo in the Havana of 2002, which El Commandante has allowed to become the Bangkok of the Caribbean.
I Am Cuba combines the high-minded severity of Russian cinema with the exuberance of Vigo or Fellini, and even anticipates the conspiracy-fear of Oliver Stone.

NOW (Santiago Alvarez/Cuba/1965/8')

A song by Lena Horne, a montage by Santiago Alvarez, about racism in the USA. A real lesson for aspiring film makers : a "by any means necessary" approach to making powerful a statement in moving image and sound...

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Painting the Spectrum

Any SFC regulars planning to be in Guyana in June? SASOD (the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination) has announced Painting the Spectrum 2006, its second lesbian and gay film festival, to be hosted by the Sidewalk Cafe on Middle Street in Georgetown. (Read about last year's festival here.)

Monday, April 10, 2006

This week at the SFC: DiG!

Thursday 13 April, 2006

DiG! (Ondi Timone/2004/USA/107')

StudioFilmClub is pleased to be screening the winner of the Sundance Film Festival's Grand Jury Prize, DiG!

Seven years in the making and culled from over 200 hours of footage, DiG! plunges into the underbelly of rock 'n' roll, unearthing an incredible true story of success and self destruction. Anton A. Newcome of the Brian Jonestown Massacre and Courtney Taylor of the Dandy Warhols are star-crossed friends and bitter rivals--DiG! is the story of their loves and obsessions, gigs and recordings, arrests and death threats, uppers and downers, and the delicate balance between art and commerce.

"Heaven sent! If universities ever start graduate programs in rock stardom, DiG! will surely be a cornerstone of the curriculum!" -- The New York Times

Italian fabulist Italo Calvino observed that there are two kinds of artists--those who are prolific and successful, and the tortured geniuses, each glazing at the other in deep jealousy and admiration. The two rock bands chronicled in the documentary DiG! fall easily into this equation. On the side of the tortured geniuses is the Brian Jonestown Massacre, led by the psychedelic and volatile Anton Newcombe. Portland's the Dandy Warhols, fronted by Courtney Taylor, fulfill the role of the artists who, while unable to plumb the artistic depths of their friendly rivals, achieve a fair degree of popular acclaim (in Europe, anyway). Shot over seven years and containing some astonishingly intimate footage, the film represents a labor of love for director Ondi Timoner, who befriended, lived, and traveled with the bands. DiG! will likely be most remembered for a remarkable scene of rock and roll implosion--a show in LA's Viper Room after which the Brian Jonestown Massacre were expected to ink a record deal. Instead, the band erupted in a fist fight onstage. Among themselves.

Does it go uphill or downhill from here? Depends on your definition of the terms. While dooming their careers, the Brian Jonestown Massacre manage to crank out an insane number of self-distributed albums--including three records in a single year. Courtney Taylor and the Dandies regard the musical output of their peers worshipfully and find themselves virtually ignored stateside but huge stars across the pond. While tens of thousands of fans in Germany and the UK sing along to every word at sold-out festivals headlined by the Dandies, Newscombe leads his crew in a nine-hour set in a dingy club for an audience of ten. Throughout the film there are controlled substances imbibed, clothing shed, sitars broken, punches thrown, arrests made. Taylor performs double duty as narrator of the film, begging the question of whether to accept his assertion that he fronts "the most well-adjusted band in America" at face value. The destined-for-greater-things Joel Gion, BJM's tambourine player, is the thief of every scene in which he appears, playing Flavor Flav to Newscombe's Chuck D. Those responsible for the hilarious excesses of DiG! have made a movie worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as This Is Spinal Tap, as mixed an honor as that might be.

Monday, April 03, 2006

This week at the SFC: Capote

Thursday 6 April, 2006

CAPOTE (Bennett Miller/USA/2005/114')

Philip Seymour Hoffman turns in a stunning performance as the complex Truman Capote, hailed by some as the greatest writer of his generation, and by others as an exploitative fraud

In his memoir, A Sort of Life, Graham Greene recalls a period he spent in hospital early in his literary career. A 10-year-old boy died shortly after being brought in and while the other patients put on radio headphones in order not to intrude on the parents' grief, Greene watched and listened. There might be something he could store away for use in a novel. 'There is a splinter of ice in the heart of a writer,' he observed. Bennett Miller's Capote is about the splinter of ice in the heart of the author of In Cold Blood

This is not a biography of Capote but it creates a subtle portrait of a public figure by concentrating on a crucial moral crisis in his professional life and the ethical responsibilities it involved. It too begins in the 1950s, contrasting two American worlds a thousand miles apart. In November 1959, on the forlorn plains of west Kansas, their flatness stretching across the widescreen, a girl comes to an isolated farmhouse. She discovers its wealthy owner, George Clutter, a stalwart of the local church and the Republican party, has been brutally murdered along with his wife and two teenage children. Meanwhile in New York, the gregarious, openly gay Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is regaling a cocktail party with an outrageous story about a fellow homosexual writer, James Baldwin.
Right from the start, Hoffman's performance is astonishing. He's got to a T (or a Capote) those fluttering gestures, the rolling eyes and the voice simultaneously soft and high-pitched, the sense of egotism and defiant confidence. This is the man of whom Norman Mailer wrote in 1959: 'He is as tart as a grand aunt, but in his way he's a ballsy little guy, and he is the most perfect writer of my generation.'

The following day Capote sees a small item in the New York Times about the Clutter murders and immediately calls the editor of the New Yorker, suggesting he go out there to write a piece on the case. There was much debate at the time about the future of the novel and the contest between fact and fiction, and he'd been on the lookout for some such subject, having spent several years honing his skills as an interpretative reporter and perfecting his gifts of recall.

He sets off on his search for the real, authentic America, something different from the gothic Deep South of the fiction that made him famous and the brittle world of cafe society he adorns in New York and on the jet-set circuit. He's accompanied by his lifelong friend from Alabama, Nelle Harper Lee (Catherine Keener, excellent as always), who serves as his research assistant and conscience-keeper. She's herself about to become famous as the author of To Kill a Mockingbird. The journey begins hilariously with Capote bribing a Pullman porter to praise his books in front of Nelle, and continues in a comic vein as the exotic, camp Capote in his Bergdorf scarf and ankle-length camel-hair coat meets the prim local officials in their dark off-the-peg suits and macho styles. But gradually they come to accept his presence, to appreciate his seriousness, and he cleverly ingratiates himself with them as he gathers material for his book. Then the movie takes on a darker tone as the killers, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, a pair of psychopathic losers from the wrong side of the tracks, are arrested in Las Vegas and brought back to Kansas.

With his confident wheedling persistence, Capote gets access to the two murderers, and creates an intimate relationship with the vulnerable Perry, who becomes essential to this book about the confrontation between respectable Middle America and its violent dark underbelly. Capote speaks of having discovered a goldmine. When the two men are convicted, the seemingly solicitous author becomes involved in assisting their various appeals that continue over the next five years until they're executed in 1965. But how much of this is motivated by true compassion and how much from a ruthless artist's need to gather the information about Perry and what actually happened that fatal night in 1959? And is an artist justified in going to any lengths in pursuit of a masterpiece?

In writing In Cold Blood and styling it 'a non-fiction novel', Capote completely eliminated himself. The book has no footnotes, photographs or appendices, just a page of acknowledgements and an assurance that nothing has been invented. Very cleverly the film restores the scaffolding, so we can see how it was created and at what cost. The movie ends with a shattered Capote returning from witnessing the execution, and a statement that the book became an immense success, making Capote the country's most celebrated author. It is also pointed out that he never wrote anything of significance in the subsequent 20 years that ended in his death as an alcoholic at the age of 59.

One person who did not join in the general adulation was Kenneth Tynan, a good friend of Capote's. Privately he claimed that Capote had jumped up and down with joy when Hickock and Smith were hanged, saying: 'I'm beside myself with joy.' Publicly, his lengthy review in The Observer charged that Capote exploited the boys and could not have published the book in the form it took had they survived. 'No piece of prose, however deathless, is worth a human life,' he charged. Capote threatened to sue, but settled for equal space to reply, accusing Tynan of having 'the morals of a baboon and the guts of a butterfly'. Their friendship ended abruptly.