Monthly Archives: August 2009

DVD Reviews: Herostratus, All the Right Noises and Man of Violence

Once more reaching down between the metaphorical cracks in the floorboards of UK film history, those bastions of our celluloid heritage the British Film Institute (BFI) have pulled out and dusted down three more examples of films which there’s little chance you’ve seen but of which everyone should at least have heard of.

Taking place at the BFI on London’s Southbank each month, Flipside is a series of screenings of movies forgotten about by the masses, and even by many of the experts.

Releasing some of the best (weirdest?) examples on DVD and Blu-ray, the rest of us can finally get our hands on little pieces of our culture previously hidden in the vaults.

First up is Herostratus from 1967 (15, ***), a suitably flower-power infused slice of oddness centring on young poet Max (Michael Gothard), a troubled soul who starts the film going all moody in his bedsit as the camera lingers on him in a series of close-ups.

Soon we discover that Max has decided to commit suicide, but not your common-or-garden suicide: with the help of a city marketing company. Max wants his death to become a media event, with as many people as possible to know about his demise.

Herostratus is often an uncomfortable watch, its lack of linear storytelling and use of abstract images and scenes giving an often disjointed feeling. There’s nothing straightforward about the film, one sequence of a girl dancing spliced with a butcher hacking a piece of raw meat dropped into the film seemingly randomly.

Still, there’s no denying the energy of the film, Gothard quite mesmerising as Max: the energy bubbling away beneath his exterior is quite captivating. It’s a performance made all the more poignant when you consider that the actor would go on to commit suicide in real life in 1992.

Extras on this two disc set include an audio interview with director Don Levy and three other short films made in the 1960’s.

All the Right Noises (12, ****) is the story of a married man, Len (Tom Bell), who unwittingly falls in love (or is that lust?) with 15-year-old schoolgirl Val (Olivia Hussey) and begins an affair with her under the nose of his wife, family and friends.

Hailing from 1969, when social realism was a hot topic for British filmmakers, All the Right Noises refuses to titillate in its depiction of the central love story.

Len and Val’s meetings are shown matter-of-factly, their visits to Len’s council estate, the beach and the streets of London showing us that they’re nothing particularly special, just two mixed up people trying to get by.

The film doesn’t judge Len, at least not in the way a modern day film would be forced to. The fact that he hasn’t done much with his life and likely never will is probably punishment enough, his brief romance with Val a passing phase that will soon see him return to his status quo.

Bell is up there with those other 60’s leading men such as Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay, this film perhaps just not showy enough to lodge in cinema-goers or critics memories after release.

This is a shame as out of the three releases this bears the most re-watching and is a nice curio for those looking to discover more from the era that brought kitchen sink dramas to such prominence.

Extras include an interview with Hussey and short film The Spy’s Wife, also starring Bell.

The final release is the almost uncategorisable Man of Violence (15, ***), a spy/detective/action/romance/thriller-type affair which bundles guns and girls into one film with little thought for the actual plot.

Directed by master of exploitation Pete Walker, whose work was both loved and loathed in equal measure by critics and audiences, Michael Latimer is Moon, a private detective hired to investigate problems with a property investment.

Things start to go wrong for Moon when double dealings and gorgeous girls (in particular the stunning Luan Peters) threaten to derail his investigations.

The story then spins-off into confusing territory with kidnappings, spaced out hippy chicks, gun fights, a trip to Morocco, more girls and a suitably 60s soundtrack combining to create a muddled adventure which becomes a series of set-pieces and worried glances.

London looks suitably gritty throughout, the Dockland locations that would a few years later become so vital a part of The Long Good Friday, acting as backdrop to the dodgy meetings and morals, prominent here.

The transfer looks bright and crisp, as with all of these releases, the colours of the still barely-swinging sixties appearing gaudy and brash.

Also on this disc is another Walker feature, 1968’s pulp thriller The Big Switch, the plot of which is even less important than that of Man of Violence, comprised of more scantily clad women and a smattering of intrigue.

In conclusion

Complementing each of the films are comprehensive liner notes, helping to set the scene for these stories of death, violence, love and, above all, an energy lacking from many present day British movies.

Very much of their era, these films are all great fun in their own way and all credit is due to the BFI for going to the effort of restoring them to their former glory.

Herostratus, All the Right Noises and Man of Violence are all available now from the BFI on DVD (£17.99) and Blu-ray (22.99).

Bill Douglas Trilogy on the big screen

A few weeks back I discussed the merits of Newcraighall-born director Bill Douglas, whose trilogy of films based on his own upbringing – My Childhood (1972), My Ain Folk (1973) and My Way Home (1978) – paved the way for many of today’s independent filmmakers.

Well, in case I didn’t quite convince you to rush out and buy your own copy of the newly-released Blu-ray’s, Edinburgh’s Filmhouse will be screening the films next week as part of their Made in Edinburgh season.

These are not only important films in Britain’s cinematic history but also in Scotland’s and I’d urge everyone to give them a chance.

Visit the Filmhouse website for more information on the screening, taking place on 19 August at 5.45pm.

DVD Review: Hot Enough for June

007 is dead. The British Secret Service needs a replacement in the shape of Whistler, Nicholas Whistler (Dirk Bogarde), a young writer currently on the dole whose only qualification is that he can speak Czech.

Sent on a mission behind the Iron Curtain, Whistler will encounter foreign spies, intrigue and codewords while all the while trying to work out exactly what it is he’s meant to be doing.

Made in 1964, just a few years after Sean Connery’s debut as James Bond, Hot Enough for June is an early example of a film jumping on the spy Bondwagon.

Director Ralph Thomas (who had worked with Bogarde on the series of Doctor comedies) does well to replicate the look of the Connery films, the stuffy interiors of Colonel Cunliffe’s (Robert Morley) office a close match to M’s base of operations.

The film moves along at a steady enough pace, Yugoslav actress Sylvia Koscina providing the glamour and Leo McKern doing well as the bad guy.

Bogarde himself is as dependable as ever as Whistler, a man conned into helping his country and unsure about what’s happening to him. Unfortunately he’s not given much to work with, his character more of a cypher than a superspy.

With no plot to rival that of Commander Bond, no attempt to create an equal to SMERSH, Blofeld or any of Bond’s enemies and little effort to challenge the viewer, the film succeeds as a light drama but, while 007 fans will smile at the opening sequence, it sadly fails as a classic espionage film.

Hot Enough for June (PG) is out now on DVD (£9.99).