Category Archives: BFI

The First Born at Edinburgh Filmhouse

Premiered at the BFI London Film Festival in 2011, Miles Mander’s 1928 silent melodrama The First Born finally arrived in Edinburgh tonight at the Filmhouse.

Introduced and accompanied by composer Stephen Horne, whose new score debuted with this newly restored version of the film back in October, The First Born tells of the sex lives of the rich and famous, with philandering MPs and their wives getting up to mischief behind closed doors. Nothing’s changed there then.

Written by Mrs Alfred Hitchcock, Alma Reville, Horne explained that the BFI Bryony Dixon stumbled upon the film a decade ago while researching Reville’s work, only to discover a forgotten classic.

Now spruced up and returned to the big screen, the film sees Mander, who also stars as the caddish Hugo Boycott, wringing every ounce of drama from the script. The stunning Madeleine Carroll co-stars as Boycott’s equally scheming wife.

It’s relatively fast-paced and there’s some terrific direction from Mander, who gets up close with the camera and tries out some innovative angles throughout, including an impressive point of view shot that was partly the reason Dixon went ahead with the restoration.

Although the event seemed to go somewhat unheralded by the Filmhouse’s PR team – the screening was moved from the large Screen One into the smaller Screen Three – it was nevertheless a success with the near-capacity audience and I’d recommend seeing The First Born if it comes to a cinema near you.

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DVD Round-up, 16 December 2010

In recent years we’ve been deluged with horror films from the East, Japan producing it’s fair share of shockers which then end up being remade and sanitised by American film makers looking to cash in on their success.

One film which has somehow avoided the craze is 1977’s House (Masters of Cinema) from director Nobuhiko Obayashi which was possibly given up on by Hollywood executives when somebody tried to explain the plot to them.

This psychedelic frenzy of a film comes across as a mashup between Scooby Doo and Hammer Horror, a story of young schoolgirls going to the countryside and staying at an old house, only to find their accommodation brings their nightmares to life and leads to a series of deaths that are both gory and inspired.

Director Obayashi is keen on visual tricks, one recurring image, that of a blue sky behind our heroines, constantly turning out to be a painting on a wall or billboard. Along with garish colours and wild camera angles, mere description can’t possibly do justice to the spectacle on offer here.

With a soundtrack from Godiego, the band behind that other 70s oddity Monkey!, this is a crazed and wonderful little film that might not make much sense but does demand repeated viewing, either under the influence of alcohol or stone cold sober.

Interviews with the film’s creators, a trailer and booklet complete the set.

Taking a breather from the madness, the BFI open the vaults to bring us two discs worth of films from the Central Office of Information (COI), the organisation set-up after the Second World War to promote the culture and concerns of a nation reeling from the dismantling of the British Empire by the Atlee government.

After the war there was a worry among the populace regarding the state of the nation’s youth, the results of rationing and economic hardship putting a strain on Britain’s youth culture. The films on these discs represent the cream of the crop from hundreds made in the 1940s and beyond.

With the set subtitled Police and Thieves, disc one concerns itself with the reform of children caught up in crime, their reform of paramount importance to both parents and worried friends and neighbours.

Starting with 1946’s Children on Trial, an odd little story about teenage boys sent to an institution for a few years only to be returned to their parents as well regarded young men, we’re taken on a tour of the various methods employed in the reformation of naughty boys and girls around the country.

Not to be left out, Edinburgh is showcased in 1944’s Children of the City while films such as Probation Officer, Youth Club and A Chance for Brian show that the methods used to tame the kiddoes of the past weren’t as tough as we might have expected from productions such as Alan Clarke’s Scum.

Disc two moves onto a series of police recruitment films from through the years, again mixing scripted stories and documentary to depict a profession which always seems to be changing. Most films go to great lengths to portray the bobby as a friend of everyone in the neighbourhood, even going so far as to help one old dear with her tax return forms.

While occasionally quaint, these films are also important glimpses into our cultural heritage and it would be interesting to see how a modern day director would approach such material when the life of the British copper has changed so much over the decades.

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).