Talking Pictures

Just another WordPress.com weblog

The Man in the Barn, M-G-M 1937

Posted by keith1942 on September 30, 2019

By coincidence I watched this film on 16mm shortly after I finished my post on The Lincoln Cycle/ The Son of Democracy (USA 1918). The latter is a series of short films which dramatise Lincoln as president but also his earlier life as a motivation for his actions and values. The cycle as unfinished so it never reached the assassination of Lincoln, just as the celebrations started for the defeat of the Confederacy.  The ‘man in the barn’ connects as it is John Wilkes Booth, the assassin. Twelve days after the killing he was cornered by Union troops in a barn in Maryland and, as the barn burned, refused to surrender and was shot, dying three hours later.

This one-reel film comes from a series , ‘An Historical Mystery’. The plot picks up on theories circulating in the early 1900s that the person killed at the barn was a Wilkes Booth look-a-like and that the assassin lived on for years. In the film in 1903 a man on his deathbed  in an Oklahoma town claims to  be John Wilkes Booth but expires before he can explain further.

In the film a series of brief flashbacks dramatise Wilkes escape and the finale at the barn. Then. with a series of close-ups and a comentative voice, question the identification of the man in the barn and the claimant thirty years later. These focus on his physiognomy and scars on his body.

The film does not offer a full explanation as to how Wilkes might have escaped. But three scenes with voice-over comment propose that Wilkes evaded capture because an unseen hand covered his escape route. So here we have a implied conspiracy theory that Wilkes escaped justice because of co-operation by characters who, presumably, exercised power over state actions. And it is true that some factions celebrated Lincoln’s murder, even in Washington. A sign of the enmity that he motivated in many supporters of the Confederate cause.

It reminded me of the conspiracy theories around the murder of John F. Kennedy. In his case we have had several full-length film features on the subject.  In fact a book on Lincoln and Booth, ‘The Lincoln Conspiracy’  was filmed in 1977 but I have never seen this.

I was moved to check out the follow-on from the one other Presidential assassination, William McKinley in 1901. But there does not appear to be conspiracy theories about this event, the President being shot by  a man with associations to Anarchists. Presumably the furores around the actions of both Lincoln and Kennedy are the reason why people suspect the official verdict.

This short black and white film is just a footnote in the cinema of US Presidents. However, it is crisply filmed and works through the subject with economy.  It did not, however, convince me that Wilkes was not the man who was shot ‘in the Barn’.

The film was scripted by Morgan Cox who had a lot of credits in this period: and another writer, Charles Whittaker, is credited with ‘Historical Compilations’, which i think probably refers to the series. The director Jacques Tourneur was an experienced director noted for both horror and film noir; both relevant to this short. I did not catch the cinematographer but the film, as the story would suggest, is a combination of light and shadow. The editing is very well done, covering quite an amount of plot in the running time of eleven minutes.

Advertisements

Posted in Hollywood stars, Short films | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

The Radical Film Network

Posted by keith1942 on September 10, 2019

Formed in 2013 in London this association is now fairly widespread across several continents. The objects are to further ‘radical film’ and participants are involved in production, exhibition and associated activities. Radical is defined as

“… first and foremost a political affiliation to progressive politics and struggles for social justice –  from workers’ rights and environmental sustainability to gender, racial and sexual equality.”

There are regular circulars/emails with information and comment. One that caught my interest was by a filmmaker, Duncan Reekie circulated as a tape/slide presentation:

‘What Actually is Radical Cinema’ [available on line running six minutes with 20 slides] PechaKucha 20×20 – What Actually Is Radical Cinema?

Duncan Reekie explains that the idea of ‘radical cinema’ can be confusing  and certainly there are numerous definitions. he takes the line of listing a series of categories or ‘trajectories’ with brief comments.

‘Mainstreaming’ which hopes to catch a mass [and working class] audience. The illustrative still is from ‘Cathy Come Home’ {BBC, Ken Loach 1966). I suspect that Ken Loach would take issue with the use of ‘mainstream’; more accurately this involves attempting to distribute and  exhibit in commercial cinema.

‘Independence’ rather than ‘Independent’. Aiming to be autonomous and often avoid capitalism. The latter is impossible; even Soviet cinema was affected by the market of commodities. The illustrative still shows  a small group tracking in a hand-cart among high-rise flats; suggesting low-budget and addressing the situation of ordinary lives.

‘Agit-prop’, protest and direct action. Illustrated by a group of demonstrators surrounded by British police. But this should also include the ‘agitational’ which Soviet cinema saw as addressing a mass audience.

‘Collective’ which is outside the industrial hierarchy. This also stresses the involvement of the many rather than ‘auteur’. The latter developed as a critical tool and is now usually an industry marketing tool.

‘Cultural Democracy’, participant cinema, ‘the dream that anyone can make a film’. Is it realised today? It depends how you define film and even so the mass audience remains focused on the mainstream; so much produced by by participants replicates the values and tropes of the mainstream.

‘The avant-garde’ emphasizing artists and artistry. This is a different meaning from the many and early avant-garde groups and Manifestos.  There is no film still’; why not Jan Švankmajer.

‘Subjectivity’ is the work of individuals. But it should be noted that this covers a wide range of subjects, styles and attitudes.

‘Ant-art’ is the ‘sublation’  [deny, contradict, negate] of Art; avoiding that fetishism. The illustration is a dadaist urinal, not a film; perhaps a still from a film by Kenneth Anger?

‘Demystification’ addresses the hypnotism of the masses. The illustrative diagram seems to be a variation on the metaphor of the ‘cave’ in Plato. This could use the still from ‘The Conformist’ which also quotes Plato. I think terms like ‘hypnotism’, or indeed ‘false consciousness’ overstate reality. And Plato’s hypothesis was elitist as well as being anti-realist.

‘The Occult’ is about magic and film-makers who believe in magic. I did not really get  handle on this.

‘The Underground’ is a hybrid of other categories plus drugs and rock music.  But there is a division between those that have overt politics and those that do not.

‘Third Cinema’ is anti-colonial and anti-imperialist and here is referenced by Latin-American cinema and a still from Antonio das Mortes / O Dragão da Maldade contra o Santo Guerreiro (1969). But the cinema and the Manifestos aimed beyond one continent to the global conflict.

‘cybertopia’ sees the Web as solving capitalism, globalism and copy right. There is an interesting question here about ‘utopian’ cinemas: read Jemma Desai’s review of the ‘Flaherty Seminar’, ‘A week in Utopia’, in Sight & Sound October 2019.

‘micro cinema’, where the author operates. Local but also [possibly] ‘convivial’, people interact during the screenings. In Britain the development of pop-up cinemas and ‘video lounges’ [i.e. Everyman] has expropriated this into a reflection of the mainstream.

He ends by seeing ‘Radical Cinema’ as still fractured with no coherent centre. This is possibly a virtue; like genre itself the notion is slippery. So the idea of a network is helpful. And discussions about what constitutes this – who should be in or out – is healthy.

The Radical Network proposes ‘progressive’ but in the proper sense of ‘radical’ one would have to include non-progressive films; I would suggest that Leni Riefenstahl’s films are radical and they are clearly reactionary. And as noted, some political standpoints would exclude others: films from the Chinese Cultural Revolution? I would argue that Breaking with Old Ideas / Jue lie (1976) is radical but I suspect I would encounter opposition.

In fact, the slide show includes a reference and a photograph of Jean-Luc Godard; where could one place his film work? An intriguing debate.

Posted in Movies with messages | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Seven Journeys / In Jenen Tagen, West Germany 1947.

Posted by keith1942 on August 2, 2019

Steffen and Sybille in 1933

This film was part of a programme at Il Cinema Ritrovato 2019, “We Are Natives of Trizonia” Inventing West German Cinema, 1945 – 1949. Trizone was the overall term for those parts of Germany occupied by the western Allies; Britain, France and the USA. The Catalogue refers to a popular song of the period, ‘We Are the natives of Trizonia’ / ‘Weir sind die ingeborenen von Trizonesien’. This was a song performed at the Cologne Carnival in 1948 by Karl Berbuer.

“It’s nothing short of a national anthem, a declaration of independence by an occupied people sensing that freedom and new statehood are near.” (Olaf Möller in the Festival Catalogue).

This was  a period when there was a short-lived genre of Trümmerfilme (‘Rubble Films’). The actual devastation, most notably in Berlin, remains an iconic visual image in both German and foreign films. Seven Journeys is not strictly speaking a ‘rubble film’ but the stark and massive ruins of Berlin are a recurring image in the film. The writer [with Ernst Schnabel) and director was Helmut Käutner. We enjoyed a programme of his films at the 2018 Festival. I was impressed with the 1940s and 1950s titles by Käutner, so I was keen not to miss this film.

The film opens in 1945, shortly after the end of the war. Amid the Berlin ruins and rubble we find two men working on an old car. This uses poetic license as the car is 1936 Opel Olympia though the plot goes back to 1933. One of the distinctive features of the film is that it is narrated by the car, [voiced by Käutner himself]. The story offers seven owners of the vehicle over a twelve-year period in flashbacks from the present. The little stories of the people’s experiences provide a commentary on the Third Reich.

The two men working on the car are Karl (Erich Schellow) and Willi (Erich Schellow). Their painstaking labour to make the car serviceable again mirror the parallel efforts of Berliners to salvage what they can among the ruins. As they work they find objects and mementos in the car; each triggering a flashback to one of the stories.

 

  1. The men notice a date carved into the glass of the windscreen. So we meet Sybille (Winnie Markus) who is loved by two men, both of whom propose to her. Steffen (Werner Hinz) is leaving by ship for a post in Mexico. In the evening she goes with Peter (Karl John) into Berlin where they witness a large demonstration. Peter writes the date on the car window with a diamond ring; 30th  January 1933; Hitler becomes Chancellor.

 

  1. The men find a comb in the car. We now meet the family of Wolfgang Buschhagen (Franz Schafheitlin), his wife Elizabeth (Alice Treff) and their daughter Angela (Gisela Tantau). Wolfgang works in a Museum. His friend Wolfgang Grunelius (Hans Nielsen) is a modernist composer. Different people drive in the car and then, Angela, finds her mother’s missing comb in the car. She suspects this is the sign of an affair between Elizabeth and Grunelius.

 

  1. The men notice a clip on the dashboard. We see that this used by Wilhelm Bienert (Willy Maertens) and his wife Sally (Ida Ehre) to hold papers. They own a small shop but the notice on the clip is the notification of the ‘Oath of Disclosure’ which prevents them now owning a business. After the ‘Brown shirts’ smash their shop and others owned by Jews the husband commits suicide.

 

  1. The men find an old horse shoe. We then see it fixed to the dashboard as Dorothea (Erica Balqué) drives round Berlin looking for friends. The man, Jochen (Hermann Schomberg), is leaving to seek safety as the war begins. Both Dorothea and her sister Ruth are involved with Jochen. Dorothea has to decide on her course of action. At one point she is stopped by a soldier. He recognizes the car, it is Peter from 1933, now in the army.

 

  1. The men now notice bullet holes in the chassis. We now see the car on the Soviet front where a driver, August (Hermann Speelmans) is collecting a new lieutenant (Fritz Wagner). Despite August’s fears of partisans the lieutenant insists on driving to the military station through the night. After some hours the moon appears, all is like daylight.

 

  1. The men find some old papers. Now we see the car, back in Berlin, in an underground garage. It is the later stages of the war. Erna (Isa Vermehre) borrows the car as she wants to drive an old friend from the city to the countryside, Her passenger is a Baroness (Margarete Haagen) whose husband has been arrested following the attempted assassination of Hitler. But the journey is interrupted when a policeman demands to see their papers, incriminating papers.

 

  1. When the men inspect the boot they find straw there. The straw is from a barn where the dilapidated cart is seen. A motor-bike dispatch rider takes shelter in the barn, as does a young women with a baby. Marie (Bettina Moissi) and Josef (Carl Raddatz) spends a couple of days sheltering in the barn. Refugees pass during the day and at night bombers pass overhead. Josef gets the car working and he makes a detour from his assignment to drop Marie near Hamburg. He now has to face questioning by roadside patrols.

The narrator, the car, now tries to remember what happened after that, but

“I don’t remember’.

A montage of spinning car wheels has the faces of the characters from the ‘Seven Journeys’ superimposed. And we leave the car and the two mechanics among the Berlin ruins, but flowers are growing in the rubble.

The stories work well and the characters are carefully drawn in relatively brief plot lines. The film makes good use of locations in these stories. This was also the case in an earlier film by Käutner, Under the Bridges / Unter den Brücken (1946). Here he was again working with several of the same crafts people. The cinematography, finely done, is by Igor Oberberg. And the editing, which cuts within and between stories and the film’s present, is by Wolfgang Wehrun.

This film was cut on release by about 20 minutes. What was cut is not clear to me but it seems likely that the censorship was done by the Occupying Powers who remained in control in West Germany; one key component of their policies was the ‘denazification’ campaign. It may be that the lack of conscious guilt in the film was a factor.

The film covers the twelve years of the Third Reich. The characters’ stories are spread across this period leading to the cataclysmic situation as Germany suffered defeat. The Catalogue points out that the stories presented do not offer representation across the population.

In Jenen Tagen is a among the very first productions ventured in the future Trizone. Käutner offers a historical panorama in seven anecdotes, detailing German sorrow, suffering and unexpected benevolence during the Nazi regime, ……. how could Germans not see themselves as the guilty party at that points in time?”

The writer goes on to comment the film

“never suggests that this terror regime functioned only because almost everybody made their compromise-laden peace with it …..”

but also makes the point that

“the good deeds he shows were the exceptions to the rule.”

The film has a little more than thus credits. Thus at the opening the car tells us that,

“when I was young [I thought that] I would last a thousand years … [but] it was only twelve.”

And in an interesting line of dialogue we learn from Peter in the 1933 story that the parade they pass are the Spartacists [Spartakusaufstand, by then The Communist Party of Germany / Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, KPD) And in several stories, as that of the Biernerts, one senses the a malignant and dominant force under which people quality or perish. Moreover, the German population had already had a ‘denazification’ programme enforced on them, which included being forced to watch some of the films of the now opening and horrific concentration camps. My sense is at this time that the occupation powers paid as little attention to German resistance as the German population paid to any national culpability. Films made under mainstream conventions are usually inadequate for such complex situations.

We had a 35mm print in German with English sub-titles. the image and sound were fine so we were able to appreciate the full original version of the film.

 

Posted in German film | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Kimuak – Basque Short Films

Posted by keith1942 on June 15, 2019

‘Above 592 meters’

This was a programme of short films at the Hyde Park Picture House with the support of the Cervantes Institute. The programme was organised by ‘cinemaattic’ and screened in a number of major cities. An annual event, the ‘Kimuak [Basque word for ‘sprout’] encourages film-makers to work in the shorter length format. We enjoyed seven films in a variety of forms and subjects from 2018. I have seen a few feature length Basque films in the past but this was an unusual and welcome opportunity.
Above 592 Meters (592 Metroz Goiti, director Maddi Barber). In colour and 1.85:1, with English sub-titles.
This is a documentary about the construction of a dam in the Pyrenees which flooded seven villages. The title is the level of the water in the dam. The film opens with footage of the landscape and wildlife around the completed dam. Then the film explores the impact of the construction on one family that was displaced. There is some fine cinematography included a night-time electric storm. And the family are articulate with a photograph record of the displacement. I think the screening ratio was different from the original footage as there seems to be some cropping in the frame.
Mother (Ama, director Josu Martinez). In colour and 1.85:1 with English subtitles.
This is a short drama set during World War I. A wife and mother waits for a letter from her husband fighting on the Western front. When the letter comes she has to ask a neighbour to read this for her. Finely done with the cinematography and design creating the sad world of the past.
Still Fireflies (Ancora Lucciole, director Maria Elorza. In colour and 1.85:1 with English subtitles.
The film opens with a reference to 1972 and Pier Paulo Pasolini lamenting the disappearance of fireflies. Then the title combines a voice-over addressing the possible extinction of fireflies whilst a child plays with an example in a jar. The ‘fireflies’ in the film are digitally produced and are vibrant against the varied settings, ranging from light to darkest shadows.
The Great Expedition (Espedizio Handia, director Iban del Campo). In colour and black and white and academy ratio.
This title combines images in a tapestry that contrasts heavenly images with more mundane human characters.


Kafenio Kastello (directed by Miguel Ángel Jiménez). In colour and 2.35:1 with English sub-titles.
The title is set in Athens and the background is one of the frequent demonstrations against ‘austerity’ with street conflicts between protesters and police. However the characters in focus are a small group in an urban quarter concerned with more mundane problems of their relationships. The characters and plot are treated in a somewhat surreal manner with references to [amongst] others Tarkovsky and his Andre Rublev(1966) .Do Not Wake Me Up (No me Despertéis, director Sara Fantova), In colour and 2.35:1 with English sub-titles.
Set in the Basque city of Bilbao in 2009 the story follows a school student caught between nationalist activism in her school and her father’s role in the regional Government. The title catches the teenage milieu and the emotional contradictions experienced by this young woman.
Waiting (Zain, director Pello Gutiérrez). In colour and 1.85:1 with English sub-titles.
This is a rather surreal presentation that reminded me most of the style and tone of the Swedish film-maker Roy Andersson. This title has the deadpan humour and ironic style found in his films. A singer with a deadpan delivery is seen first with a musical group and then a solo musician. Meanwhile the audience watching gradually grows smaller. An enjoyable tone portrait.
An entertaining and fascinating two hours with an introduction from people and film-makers involved in the programme.

Posted in European film, Short films | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

The Austrian Short Film Festival

Posted by keith1942 on May 27, 2019

The Hyde Park Picture House, supported by the University of Leeds and the Austrian Film Academy, hosted a selection of titles from this event (“Österreichische Kurzfilmschau”). This was the third annual visit. The films are all nominees for the film award. The programme screened in Leeds included:

Ars Moriendi Oder die Kunst des Lebens / The Art of Living Kristina (Austria / Germany 2018). Running 29 minutes, in colour and 2.35:1 with English sub-titles.

Rosemarie Achenbach is 93 years old. Time and again, she has found the strength to liberate herself: During World War II, she was trapped under rubble following an aerial bombardment, but survived. As a pastor’s wife, she was trapped by the expectations of patriarchal post-war society. After her husband’s death, she took her life into her own two hands. She completed her degree in philosophy and today she is writing her doctorate. She is writing about death, because “I am old enough for it”. This is both the portrait of a woman and the portrait of a century now past.

Kristina Schranz’s title is well done. The subject, Rosemarie, was an impressive character. She celebrated her 93rd birthday in the course of the film with her children and grandchild. The cutting between home [personal] and the university [institution] worked well. And the framing of characters and scenes was finely done.

When Time Moves Faster (Austria … 2016) 7 minutes, in colour and 1.85:1).

Amongst other things, the director’s, Anna Vasof, working method was influenced by pre-cinematic devices stemming from her fascination with the movement of photographic images. These only appear animated given our persistence of vision. Vasof cites the Zoetrope as an example of this phenomenon, a device that filled people of all ages with wonder at fairs of old. This work demonstrates Anna Vasof’s unbelievable pleasure in experimentation and simultaneously shares her delight in demonstrating the illusion enabled solely through the medium of cinema.

Entschildigung (Ich suche den Tishtennisraum und meine freundid / Excuse Me, I am looking for the table-tennis and my friend (Austria / Germany … 2018). Running 23 minutes, in colour and 1.85:1 with English sub-titles

A film Bernhard Wenger about a couple on a wellness trip, where one partner disappears and the other isn’t sure whether he’s looking for her or himself. Within the bizarre world of the Alpine wellness resort, Aron begins a new chapter in his life. This had a rather dry humour and recurring tropes. I did think the ending could have been stronger.

Kids n Cats – Frizzle Frizz (Austria 2017). Running time 4 minutes, in colour and academy ratio.

The world of vain and self-absorbed characters gets flooded by gigantic insect legs. The director Patryk Senwicki offered a combination of stop motion and live action techniques filled with surrealist imagery and objects accompanied by a song from a ménage à trois.

Der Sieg der Barmherzigkeit (Austria 2017), Running time 24 minutes, in colour, academy ratio and with English sub-titles.

Musicologist Mr. Szabo has dedicated himself to collecting archival material from the history of Austrian pop music. Due to an unfortunate coincidence, an original stage costume of a Viennese beat band from the 60s ended up in a charity clothing collection. To retrieve the rare piece, Szabo doesn’t shy away from a veritable break-in. His young, aspiring colleague Mr. Fitzthum helps him – not entirely voluntarily. Unlike Szabo he has a lot to lose: his job, his career and above all, his freedom.

Albert Meisl’s bizarre is tale full of dry humour. Szabo is a full blown eccentric. Fitzthum is a naïve victim of Szabo’s obsession. They are caught in a series of whimsical situations.

A good and varied selection of films. Previous years had more avant-garde examples but this year’s all fell into a recognisable genre.

Posted in European film, Short films | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Red Joan, Britain 2018

Posted by keith1942 on May 10, 2019

This is the story of a fictional character, Joan Stanley, who in the 1940s passed secret information to the Soviet Union. However, it, and the novel from which it is adapted, are based on the life of a actual historical character, Melita Norwood. Norwood was exposed publicly in 1999 when information from an ex-Soviet agent and now-defector revealed her past activities. These two fictional versions of a real-life heroine appears to have caused some confusion. The plot synopsis on IMDB relates to the real-life Norwood and not to the character in the film.
The film version presents the story in a fairly conventional-style narrative. The film opens with the arrest of Joan (Judi Dench) by Special Branch in 1999. Then we view a series of interrogations which are intercut with flashbacks by Joan to the 1930s and 1940s. The interrogations fill out the action in 1999 where information has led to the exposure of a senior Foreign Office official as well as Joan. The flashbacks presents Joan’s personal life and then her spy activities. At Cambridge ‘Young Joan’ (Sophie Cookson) meets glamorous European emigre Sonya Galich (Teresa Srbova) and cousin Leo Galich (Tom Hughes). Both are communist activists. They are also ex-lovers, something only revealed late in the flashbacks. Joan becomes involved with Leo. Come the 1940s Joan is recruited to the secret ‘Tube Alloys Project’ which is actually part of the war-time nuclear research. She is personal secretary to project leader Max Davis (Stephen Campbell Moor) and is privy to all of the secret papers to and from the project. Leo and Sonia both urge Joan to pass on secret information for Russia, as the war-time ally is excluded from the circulation of such research. The film hardly at all uses the correct definition of the Soviet Union. Joan resists, she is prejudiced against Russia. At a screening of The Battleship Potemkin she is clearly bored by the film .
Then the USA and Britain use the new nuclear device on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Joan is appalled and now starts to pass on secret information via Sonia to Soviet agents. Her justification is that the Soviet Union needs equal access to this new weapon. As the flashbacks develop Leo is killed, possibly by the NKVD; and Sonia flees to Europe. Joan begins an affair with Max. When the leaks become apparent Max is suspected of the espionage and arrested. Joan blackmails a fellow communist sympathiser and secret homosexual, William Mitchell (Freddie Gaminara), now based in the Foreign Office, to obtain Max’s release and new passports so the couple can emigrate to Australia. As they board the boat Joan confesses to Max that she was the spy.
In the present it appears that at some point Joan has returned to Britain, possibly after the death of her husband Max. Her son Nick (Ben Miles) is now a lawyer. He is appalled when he learn of his mother’s ‘treachery’. The film ends as Joan is arrested after the release of the story. At her front door she faces the press and declares that she did indeed pass secret information to the Russians. She justifies this by saying that equal access by the Allies and Russia prevented a nuclear war. Nick, now reconciled, joins her.
The film apparently follows the book fairly closely. The author, Jennie Rooney, studied at Cambridge University. Here she encountered the story of Melita Norwood. Her narrative is heavily fictionalised and one senses it is strongly influenced by the history and myths around the Cambridge spies. Some of the characters in the film seems thinly disguised versions of characters well-known in that history. This seems to have carried over into the film. And the politics of the latter are far removed from those of the actual Melita Norwood. Peter Bradshaw, in The Guardian, commented;
“The film gives its ‘Red Joan’ a conventionally glamorous Apostle-style career in Cambridge University that Norwood didn’t have, along with a less ideological, more-mainstream approach to cold war politics.”
I was trying to work out in what sense he was using ideological? Perhaps that there is not much political dialogue or discussion. The flashbacks focus on the romances between Joan and Leo, and then between Joan and Max. Stalin gets a mention several times, I think being labelled a ‘mass murderer’ at least twice. Leo talks about the Communist International but I do not recollect many members of the Communist Party of Great Britain. William Mitchell was member but lets it drop as he becomes involved in espionage. Hitler gets a few mentions but not Trotsky. The British imperial values are present. It is clear that the ‘Tube Alloy Project’ is about an independent nuclear weapon. In one scene Max stresses the importance of the British research and autonomy whilst the listening Atlee comments approvingly. This probably relates to the strand of values embraced by Joan; equal access for Russia.


The history of Melita Norwood is strikingly different. No Cambridge career. A member of the British Communist Party along with her husband. She actually worked as a secretary at the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association and the secrets she found passed through her office. A convinced communist, she apparently gained no material profit from her actions. When asked about her motives, she said:
“I did what I did, not to make money, but to help prevent the defeat of a new system which had, at great cost, given ordinary people food and fares which they could afford, a good education and a health service.” (Wikipedia – BBC interview in 1999).
Given the conformist politics in Britain that was thought to radical for audiences. The title is certainly mainstream in that sense. It is also mainstream and conventional in its form and style. The director, Trevor Nunn, found the story in the novel. But as well as seemingly following the book closely it relies on fairly standard tropes. Judi Dench, as one would expect, is excellent as the older Joan. The rest of the cast are good and the flashbacks work as drama. Visually and aurally the film has good techniques but does not generate great emotion or involvement. The plot is obviously geared towards the development and resolution of the narrative. Max and Joan’s escape seems fatuous even given the failings of British security later. Nick’s final support of his mother lacks conviction and motivation.
It is good to see the story told on film. The period detail is pretty good so it is fascinating [as always] to revisit this important period. But it does little serve to the heroine who inspired the story. Melita may have harboured illusions about the Soviet Union that many other had already overcome. But the still lasting effects of socialist construction meant that in many ways it still pipped an advanced capitalist and colonialist state like Britain. Melita Norwood saw herself as supporting the International Working Class and its own workers’ state. By contrast ‘Red Joan’ comes across as rather liberal and lacking in developed cinematic tastes.

Posted in British films, Literature on Film | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Seven Samurai / Shichinin no samurai (Japan 1954)

Posted by keith1942 on April 15, 2019

This is one of the undoubted classics of World Cinema. BBC Culture produced a list of 100 ‘Best foreign language films’ voted for by critics around the world and from over 40 different language backgrounds. It placed Seven Samurai at No 1. It is worth noting that the best viewing would be from the 1991 re-issue This version was almost as the original issue and runs for 190 minutes and can be found on 35mm. Note there seem to be at least nine other versions of different lengths. This is the sort of film that you can never see too many times; it always stands up to another revisiting.

The story is set in the C16th during the Momoyama Period of Japanese history [‘warring states’]. A band of rōnin (masterless samurai) are recruited to defend a village from marauding bandits. The prime focus of the film are the samurai warriors, each carefully delineated and offering a particular aspect of the code and skills of this warrior class. Just a few of the villagers are delineated in an equal fashion but the contrasts between these two usually very separate classes is presented with great skill and clarity.

“[Its] universal appeal is partly because of the humaneness of the film’s characters. Each of the seven samurai is a distinct individual but never a caricature, about whom we come to care a great deal. It is a period in which the samurai class is declining. The rōnin samurai roam the countryside looking for work, but some have also become bandits. Because working for farmers would be below them, they kick aside the villagers seeking their help. What makes these seven samurai honourable is their continued adherence to the spirit of the samurai’s code of Bushido which allows them to reach past the class consciousness that normally separates knights from peasants.” (Beverley Bare Buehrer, 1990).

The early stages of the film depict the setting and the recruitment of the band and then their preparations for the defence of the village. Then in a long and detailed and dramatic section we watch as the battle ensues. This is one of the great presentations of samurai action but equally it is one of the great representations of armed conflict.

The film contains innumerable famous sequences spread across the narrative. Early on we watch as the samurai leader Kambei (Shimura Takashi) rescues a kidnapped child and then a demonstration of Samurai swordsmanship by Kyūzō (Miyaguchi Seiji). This varied group includes characters who are not traditional samurai; notably Kikuchiyo (Mifune Toshiro ) who later in the film give voice to the conflicting values of peasants and samurai. The final battle, which takes place in torrential rain, is a marvel of design, staging, cinematography and editing. And there is traditional musical accompaniment, not always the case in Japanese films.

The whole film is one of the finest productions directed by the master Kurosawa Akira. This is an outstanding example of his use of landscape within which are to be found fascinating and very human protagonists. The use of the telephoto lens and multi-camera techniques for much of the action gives distinct and very effective visualisation.

Seven Samurai is as famous as a model for Hollywood. The most well-known copy is The Magnificent Seven (1960, itself remade in 2016). The recent version is not up to the 1960 original: the latter is a good western but no substitute for the Japanese original. For me, the three hours fly by.

Posted in Japanese film | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Agnès Varda 1928 to 2019

Posted by keith1942 on March 31, 2019

Mandatory Credit: Photo by NIVIERE/VILLARD/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock (8825150f)
Agnes Varda
‘Visages, Villages’ photocall, 70th Cannes Film Festival, France – 19 May 2017

So, aged ninety, the grand and lovable film-maker has left us. One always feels a sense of loss when an important film-makers leaves the industry and world of film. For me there was a particular personal feeling because Agnès was not only one of the outstanding film-makers in European cinema, she was a real character and humanist who radiated both sympathy and empathy for the ordinary people who so often took centre screen in her films.

My first film by Agnès Varda was Cleo from 5 to 7 (Clèo de 5 à 7, 1962) which I saw in a 16mm screening at a local film society. We were in a period when we enjoyed the trail-breaking features of the nouvelle vague, but even then Varda’s film offered a distinctive take on life and France. The later films that I enjoyed all offered both quality and her own individual take on life and cinema. One Sings, the Other Doesn’t / L’une chante l’autre pas (1977) dramatised her own commitment to the struggle to legalise women’s access to abortion. Most recently Faces Places / Visages villages (2017) showed her love of the idiosyncratic and her warm embrace of people and places.

In keeping with her renaissance standpoint and her recent habit of revisiting her life and work the final film, Varda by Agnès / Varda par Agnès – Causerie (2019) offers a testament to the rich and compelling variety of her work. This film was screened in the Berlinale (Out of Competition) at the Berlinale Palast. The Brochure commented,

“Agnes Varda takes a seat on a theatre stage. The professional photographer, installation artist and pioneer of the Nouvelle Vague is an institution of French cinema but a fierce opponent of any kind of institutional thinking.”

What is offered is a journey through Varda artistic career, primarily that of film. The approach is partly chronological, partly thematic. Taking account of the changes in the medium the first part treats

“’her analogue period’ from 1954 to 2000 in which the director is in the foreground…… In the second part, Agnes focusses on the years from 2000 to 2018, [it] shows how she uses digital technology to look at the world in her own unique way.”

She has included her work on installations, and an aside on her photographic work.

The film combines a series of illustrated talks by Varda. The opening one is in a palatial opera house remarked on by Varda. Another is a seminar for Higher Education students. In the latter Varda is reading from notes; I do not think this was the case in her talks for the general public. In either case she is articulate, informative, at time ironic, always charming and engaging. And her points are constantly illustrated by extracts from her films, extracts that are well chosen and make the point she is presenting. This is far better done than in some recent television programmes on cinema; and one intelligent head is better than a constant series of ‘talking heads’.

One film that receives attention is the first of her features to make a real mark, Cleo from 5 to 7 / Clèo de 5 à 7 (1962). She talks about the making of the film, its star Corinne Marchand and the way in which the film presents ‘real time’. She added an amusing comment, that Andy Warhol remarked that he would have carried on filming to 7 p.m.; [the film ends just after 6.30 p.m.). The film was innovative in a number of ways and it is worth noting that here Varda is really part of the Left Bank Group rather than the better-known film-makers of the Nouvelle Vague, In fact Alain Resnais was the editor for her first film La Pointe Courte (1955).

Another film is Vagabond / Sans toit ni loi, (1985). I think this is one of Varda’s finest films and has at its centre a marvellous performance by Sandrine Bonnaire. Her character’s, Mona, final weeks are reconstructed in the film in a collage of flashbacks and interviews. Varda talked about working with the actress and her contribution. She also talked about the style of the film where repeated tracking shots emphasize Mona’s travels across the countryside. This is a bleak film but one that demonstrates the humanist values that are embodied in all of Varda’s work.

In the digital works one discussed is The Gleaners & I / Les glaneurs et la glaneuse (2000). The original French title makes the point of the commonality between the film-maker and her subjects. Varda films and interviews many people who ‘glean’ their existence, both in urban areas such as Paris and in rural areas. Varda’s ability to pick up on fresh and unconventional subjects as well as her skill in constructing visual and aural tapestries is exemplified in this film. It is both a moving and fascinating set of portraits.

The Beaches of Agnès / Les plages d’Agnès (2008) presents recurring settings, images and motifs that appear across her work. Besides the beach we have innumerable mirrors, references and homages to visual art and, a favourite with Varda, cats. She also revisits her first film, La Pointe Courte. In one of those inspired and totally unconventional tropes we watch as people originally involved in the film revisit it as it is projected on a cart that they push through the village.

This was one of Varda’s homes in her younger years and autobiography runs through her talks and the film examples. This includes the films about her one-time partner and fellow film-maker Jacques Demy, as in Jacquot de Nantes (1991).

Towards the end of this film Varda talks about recent work on installations, including the now famous potato [referencing The Gleaners and I] at the Venice Film Festival. There is a section on her work as a photographer, which goes right back to her youth before she took up film. One can see in these examples her fine visual sense.

This is a fine two hour self-portrait full of humour, intelligence and revelations. Born in 1928 in Brussels, Varda was one of those long-lived European film-makers. She was also one of the most important. She had 54 credits as a director, plus those as writer, producer, editor and more. About a third of these are illustrated here. Her reputation has risen, fallen and risen again. Some of the films presented, such as Black Panthers (1968) have [unfortunately] not been successful. But Varda continued to work in her own idiosyncratic way. In the last years she became an established and revered artistic voice. One aspect of this means that this new film should certainly get a proper British release. I am sure, when it comes, that it will be one of the outstanding experiences in cinemas at that time and a worthy memorial of one of the most distinguished film careers in modern times.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Kino Zoo Palast, Berlin

Posted by keith1942 on March 28, 2019

online photograph – berlin-gaycities-com

This cinema is sited between the Zoologischer Garten Berlin, the Berlin Zoologischer Garten Station and close to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church at the top of the Kurfürstendamm. There is an U-Bahn station opposite, the S-Bahn serves the nearby Garten and a number of the excellent Berlin bus services pass by.

One of the main venues for the Berlinale, during the rest of the year this multi-screen runs as a mainly mainstream venue. It was built in 1957 and then it was distinctive in having two auditorium. The opening in 1957 was graced by Liselotte Pulver. One of her memorable performances seen outside Germany was as Elizabeth Kruse Graeber in A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1957) and she had a standout sequence in One, Two, Three (1961) as secretary Fräulein Ingeborg, entertaining East German officials whilst James Cagney’s C.R. MacNamara demonstrated the superiority of Machiavellian capitalism.

The cinema was extensively rebuilt in 2010 as part of a larger project in the area. The redesign was careful to prese4ve many of the features of the original and the impressive façade was restored as were parts of the entrance and the existing auditorium.

Now the cinema offers five auditorium and it includes the facility for both digital and ‘reel’ film. The exterior is eye catching with coloured lights playing over the façade. The night I went some celebrities appeared to be leaving after a screening and the small plaza outside was packed with onlookers.

Room 1 is the main auditorium and seats 780 people. It has 70mm projection, [installed in 2018], 4K digital projection with 3D and Atmos sound. The screen is 21 metres by 8.8 metres, There is wood panelling with red velvet.

the oval ceiling with light vaults, which looks like a starry sky through dot lights. With new LED lighting, you can set a wide variety of lighting moods in the hall. This opportunity is exhausted in the great new pre-show before every film, which is likely to be unique in Germany so far. Not only are there three curtains (a red, a yellow and a cloud curtain) but also a fourth curtain of water spraying from the ceiling!”

The manager I spoke to stated that they now have five 70mm screenings a year. These all seem to be, like the general programme, mainstream releases. Recently they have had The Hateful Eight and Dunkirk. They have not screened Roma [4K digital] so far; it seems it is not considered mainstream, but the Oscars may change that.

Room 2 was the original auditorium for 70mm and it also has 2K digital projection with 3D and Dolby 7.1.. The screen is 14.8 by 6.2 metres and the auditorium seats 270. The reel projector here [and in room 1] is a Philips DP75 which can also screen from 35mm prints. This was the auditorium I visited and it has a similar décor to room 1 but predominantly pink. The semi-circular auditorium has good seating and viewing. The proscenium has rich tapestries and has proper masking.

This auditorium, along with rooms 3 and 4 has it own entrance lounge. Room 3 seats 150 with 2K digital and Dolby 7.1,with a 11.8 by 5.8 metre screen. Room 4 seats 160 with 2K digital and 3D with Dolby 7.1 and a 14 by 5.9 screen. Room 5, tucked away at the back, seats 150 with 2k digital and Dolby 7.1 sound with a screen 12.1 by 5.1 metres.

There is a smalls screening area in the ‘blubkino’ bar and there are two other facilities offering coffees etc. and some meals. I thought this a really attractive venue. The cinemas were comfortable, the projection [[digital] and sound was fine and the presentation well done.

Cineastes should definitely put this venue on their list to visit and enjoy in Berlin.

I saw a Chinese film, Ye (The Night, 2014), part of the Panorama 40 programme. This was ‘cinema with a long-term memory’, celebrating 40 years at the Berlinale of the Panorama section. Dedicated to ‘convention-busting’ films, 2019 was revisiting of some of the titles from the earlier years.

The Night dealt with the ‘Lives of male and female prostitutes in China’ and was written, directed and stared Hao Zhou. This was a student film shot mainly on location in colour and black and white. The three main protagonists were played by Hao Zhou, Xiao Xiao Liu, Jin Kang Li. They are variously a male prostitute, a female prostitute and a tyro. The setting for the various sequences in the film is always a lit stairway in a red light area. Zhou character is a narcissistic pro and the other two circle round him like moths round a flame. The film is well done and has particular edgy camerawork. The sound track uses Chinese songs whose lyrics comment on the characters. But the constant revisiting of the same location and variation on a ménage a trois becomes repetitive. I found the 95 minutes over indulgent and the final resolution predictable.

Posted in Cinemas, Festivals | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Dawn, Britain 1928

Posted by keith1942 on March 19, 2019

bfi-Dawn

This is an early film about Edith Cavell, a British nurse shot by the Germans during World War I for spying. Her case became a cause celebre at the time and she has remained a fairly iconic figure since. This is the centenary of her death and Park Circus has re-issued a 1939 film, Nurse Edith Cavell. The Hyde Park Picture House has gone one better and recently screened the earlier film in a 35mm print and with a set of interesting introductions. The film previously has only been screened at the Imperial War Museum and the British Silent Film Festival.

The essential record. Cavell was a British Nurse working in Belgium when the war broke out. She became involved in a network helping escaped POW’s make their way home. The network was betrayed and 35 members captured by the Germans. 30 of the members were sentenced to hard labour, five, including Cavell, were sentenced to be executed. Three of these had their sentences commuted to hard labour, but Cavell and a colleague were shot. There were protests both by the Allied enemies and by ‘neutral’ nations, especially by the US Legation in Belgium.

Herbert Wilcox was one of the more successful producers and directors in British film in the 1920s. He specialised in historical dramas, and he also produced and directed the 1939 version, which starred Anna Eagle. There had been some short films about Cavell, in which the Germans were portrayed as brutes and Cavell as an innocent victim. But by the late 1920s the British Government was concerned to maintain good relations as Germany was shepherded back into the ‘democratic fold’. The German Government raised objections when Wilcox’s production got underway. The British Government evaded the issue with reference to the British Board of Film Censors [set up in 1912] as an independent censorship body: somewhat economical with the facts. Wilcox did in fact make changes to the film including the ending, but it does not seem that there is a record of these.

In fact when the film was completed the BBFC refused it a certificate. However, the BBFC’s remit was only partial in this period, as the Local Authorities actually held the legal right of licensing. Wilcox was successful in getting the film licensed by the London County Council and it received a general exhibition. It was also screened in Germany, without much apparent incidents.

The film was shot in black and white and is six reels – running about 85 minutes at 22fps. The original release was 7,300 feet: now it is 6,510 feet which suggests cuts due to wear and tear. The Writing Credits (in alphabetical order) Reginald Berkeley   … (story),  Robert Cullen   … (scenario) , Herbert Wilcox   … (adaptation). Cullen also directed and one of his films is Every Mother’s Son (1926) a wartime drama. It is possible that Wilcox’s adaptation is to do with the changes: what these all were is not clear, though it definitely included the ending. My thoughts on re-watching the film was that some of the title cards were likely the result of this change in approach.

The film opens with a series of title cards. They first laud Cavell’s ‘heroic life and death’. Then they offer a sort of generalised anti-war message, ‘Rulers of Europe, puppets of carnage ..enslaved by war.’

The film then moves into its story, and we see the Belgium Institute where Cavell worked. Inside we are presented with a children’s ward, the use of children is a recurring trope in the film. One boy puts on a Prussian style helmet, ‘I am an Uhlan’ [light cavalry in Poland, Russia, and Prussia]. Another boy puts on a different cap, ‘I am a chasseur’ [French light infantry’. The ‘Uhlan’ chases the ‘Chasseur’ who runs and shelters behind Cavell in her office. Briefly and directly the film sets up the drama’s plot and values.

The war arrives, Europe ‘blazed into flames’. Then we see a man on the run (Jacques – Mickey Brantford ) and Germans searching. His mother, Madame Rappard (Marie Ault) attempts to hide him and when Cavell arrives she arranges to take the man to the Institute. There she burns his uniform: right through the film, with one other exception, escaping soldiers are seen in civilian clothes. Later Cavell and Madame Rappard hide Jacques in a part of the basement and move a large wardrobe to hide the entrance.

So Cavell is drawn into helping escapees: a flashback shows Jacques telling her that there are ‘hundreds like me’. In most cases the men are taken through the streets at dark and secreted on a barge which travels along a canal across the frontier. The group appears to consists of Cavell, Rappard and two other women (Madame Ada Bodart – herself and Madame Pitou – Mary Brough) and a Bodart’s young son Philippe (Gordon Craig): rather different from the actual network. This is a woman’s group. One man, the bargee (Richard Worth) , hesitates to assist the prisoners and is roundly ordered to do so by his wife, Madame Pitou. Later it is a man who betrays the network. The only positive m male member is Philippe, a teenage boy and an unnamed man who guides the prisoners from the Institute..

The actions of the group are intercut regularly with the German military. At times this is quite stereotypical: the communication system is a post card mailed at the frontier. After a fruitless search one German soldier willingly agrees to post the card for the Madame Pitou. We also see the German high command, including the Military Governor, General von Zauberzweig (Frank Perfitt) . As they start to realise that there is an escape network investigations and searches are instigated. At one point it appears that escaped prisoners are being found among the allied dead after battles on the front line: clearly having rejoined the allies and their war effort.

The investigating officer is presented as quite intelligent. He remembers a conversation with Cavell which arouses his suspicions. His first search is fruitless, but after the betrayal he returns and discovers the hidden door behind the wardrobe. This is a moment of high drama in the film. Cavell is assisting a wounded and wanted RAF officer: the only other escapee seen in uniform. The search takes place as Cavell and an assistant attempt to smuggle him out of the Institute. This is done successfully: another rather conventional plot device. Meanwhile Cavell is incriminated by a discovered network document.

We then get Cavell’s trial and execution. ‘Trial between women and war machine’. Her women companions are also charged but the trial is predominately about Cavell. We do see the young Philippe who is a compulsory witness and who is committed for perjury. Cavell is found guilty and sentenced to be executed. A title tells us that the others are sentenced to hard labour: so unlike in actuality Cavell is to die alone.

Following the sentence the film includes the efforts of the US Ambassador to stop the execution. There are letters and visits by his aide, but the Commander cites ‘duty’. This section of the plot emphasises the ‘brutality’ of the sentence: the film does not raise the issue of spying by the actual network. It does provide sympathetic Germans who themselves sympathise with Cavell, undermining the German position. So an officer visits the Institute and sees the wounded airman, but ‘clicking’ his heels’ and saluting Cavell he leaves without reporting what he has seen.

Even more notably we see dissent among a member of the firing squad. This is Private Rambler, who demurs when he is selected for the squad. At the actual execution he hesitates when the order to ‘raise arms’ is given and then refuses. The officer commanding berates him. And there is an exchange of glances between Rambler and Cavell. This sequence is clearly cut, likely due to the changes made to placate the Germans. It would seem that there was originally more than one exchange of glances between Cavell and the soldier, and the suggestion of Cavell’s nod that he should ‘do his duty’. Note, ‘a legend long generally accepted’.

The execution took place at the Tire National, on the edge of a field behind the building. We see the preparations including an English Chaplain ministering to Cavell. She is them marched down stairs, through a basement to the yard. There is the business with Private Rambler but we do not see Cavell actually shot. What we do then get is a title showing the words that Cavell spoke to the Chaplin,

“Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.”

These are famous and off-quoted words.

The film has a very restrained feel. Partly this is down to the performance of Sybil Thorndike as Cavell: she is magisterial and even her emotional displays are restrained. There is some difference between her and other cast members’ performances: Madam Pitou and Rappard are quite a bit more expressive. This restraint is emphasised by the film’s direction. Wilcox is a fairly static director, his films concentrate on performance and mise ne scène. So the film is shot predominately in long and mid-shots. And even when there are close-ups they are not large, but almost themselves mid-shots. There is very little moving camera: though already Graham Cutts, Maurice Elvey and Alfred Hitchcock were using these techniques in their films. All I noted were several pans, especially during the court sequence.

The cinematography by Bernard Knowles is well done and there is some expressive lighting in certain sequences. The art direction is by Clifford Pember and would seem mainly to relate to interiors,. Much of the exteriors were shot in Belgium, frequently using actual locations from the events recorded. Note, the 35m print we watched was a composite, one could discern changes in lighting and definition within sequences. It appears this BFI print combines four reels from its own archive copy and two reels from a copy in New Zealand.

The film had a musical accompaniment by Darius Battiwalla on the piano. Darius gave a short explanation before the screening. His performance was partially prepared, partly improvised. He explained that in the 1920s there was a range of musical accompaniments: some using prepared musical sequences, some composed or arranged. The latter had at one extreme the Wagnerian romantic approach, The sort of music that Korngold bought to Hollywood in the 1930s. Some of it was closer to neo-classical, for example Kurt Weill. Darius’ accompaniment for this film was closer to the latter, re-enforcing the style of the film. Much of it was low-key and often with sparse notation, but he also bought in martial chords at certain points in the film,. I thought it set of the film exceptionally well. though it of course re-enforced the values the film offered.

Dawn poster 01

The pre-screening talks were also informative. Dr Emma Cavell was related to Edith Cavell through an Australian connection. She filled out some of the family history. But her project around Cavell also bought her into contact with the Cavell heritage events. It is worth noting that Cavell was given a state funeral in the UK and there is a statue to her in Trafalgar Square where there is an annual memorial event. She was also added to the Anglican Church listing of ‘saints’.

Professor E talked about the history of Cavell and the network in which she was involved. There is evidence that the network not only assisting escaping soldiers but that they also passed on information concerned with the war effort – i.e. spying. She also pointed out that Cavell was not tried alone, nor was she executed alone but along with Philippe Baucq who was a key member of the network.

The disparities between the film and the record made sense when Professor Claudia talked about the representations of Cavell , including on film. Early illustration showed Cavell with long, streaming hair, younger than her actual 49 years and in some suggestions of rape. One newspaper illustration depicted the Germans as pigs or ‘swine’. One film of 1915 was entitled Nurse Martyr. She also talked about the depiction of Cavell as a lone victim in illustrations of the execution and the use of nurse uniforms rather than civilian clothes. She went on to fill in the context of the Wilcox film  and suggested that this was a transitional work, with ‘civilian society’ portrayed as ‘subordinate to the military’.

The talks filled out the film and enabled a fuller appreciation of the representation and its relationship to the historical person and events. My main reservations were two-fold.

The suggestion was that the changes made by the film after the German objections gave the film a more general anti-war tone. I thought there was a discrepancy between the title cards and the visual representation in the film. The opening title cards in particular were quite strident and appeared to put together European powers on both sides of the conflict as war-mongers. However the actual narrative was much closer to conventional war films. Cavell and the network were portrayed sympathetically and shown as non-military. The fact that the key member were women seemed more about this type of discourse than any feminist rendering, though they did come across as strong characters. The Germans were portrayed through the film in conventional militaristic terms, re-enforced by the dissensions by individual Germans and the depiction of the US Legation. I incline to think that one of the ways that German objections were responded to was to change title cards rather than the actual imagery, a not uncommon way of ‘sanitising’ silent film.

The key changes to the visual imagery were the execution. Here there are clear cuts, at one point there is a shot of Cavell facing the squad and then a reverse shot, and we discover a field behind her. It is a disruptive moment. Presumably this cut was seen as diminishing the literal visual violence in the film, but all the business with the dissenting soldier remains.

I also had reservations about the idea of a transitional film. I can see that it has some of these aspects in terms of British film. But the anti-war tone had already appeared much earlier in the 1920s. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (USA 1921) has a powerful anti-war drive and in this film civil society is clearly subordinate to the military. And in British film the jingoistic support of the allied war effort continued, a good example being The W Plan from 1930. Here Brian Aherne plays an British Officer and spy who outwits the stereotypical Germans.

It also need to be pointed out that ‘anti-war’ has a limited connotation in such films as Dawn. As  pointed out by Andrew Britton such films rarely address the actual politics of an actual war. This is centrally true of World War I. This was an imperialist war between European colonial powers and ‘plucky little Belgium’ had one of the worse records for colonial atrocities in the Congo.

But a great opportunity, so felicitations to the Hyde Park Picture House and to the contributors to the event.

There is more material in Rachel Low’s the History of the British Film 1918 – 1929, Allen and Unwin 1971.

The Belgium archive also have a print which is being restored.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »