Happy Halloween

And to help celebrate the occasion, here is F. W. Murnau’s classic version of the Dracula story, Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror, made in 1922. A truly grotesque vampire.

Followed by Werner Herzog’s 1979 homage, Nosferatu the Vampyre, with Klaus Kinski in the title role. In German with English subtitles. YouTube won’t let me embed the video, so here’s the link.

Like Nosferatu, I have risen from the coffin, and I’m ready for some serious bloodletting blogging.

The Wicker Man Director’s Cut

the-wicker-man-the-directors-cutOne of the great British horror films, The Wicker Man, is finally being shown in its entirety today after Hollywood butchered it prior to release in 1973. According to Studio Briefing, a complete print of director Robin Hardy’s final version was discovered in the Harvard Film Archive.

I’ve seen The Wicker Man in incomplete versions a couple of times. It never fails to simultaneously evoke pity for Howie and huge exhilaration. Partly because life on Summerisle is an idyllic vision of people just getting along and enjoying life to the full. Unless, of course, your crops begin to fail and you have to turn to human sacrifice. Opposing their worldview is Constable Howie, a dour puritan, who would have burned pagans in another age. He achieves something his peculiar mindset might hold in high esteem – the chance to die as a martyr. I think that tension is what gives the film such resonance.

Unbelievably, or perhaps believably, the studio wanted a happy ending for Howie, with rain putting out the fire in the wicker man. A simplistic, Biblical Deus ex machina calculated to destroy the complex duality of the film. We must be thankful that Hardy refused to compromise its integrity.

There’s no doubt Howie is entrapped into investigating the disappearance of a young girl who never actually went missing, but the fool gets every chance to save himself. He only has to give in to Willow’s enchantment and lose his virginity. Here’s her song and it’s well-nigh irresistible.

As is Britt Ekland in the role of Willow, though she thought she had “an arse like a ski slope,” so they had to get her a bottom double for the nude scenes. This according to an illuminating article in the Guardian where Hardy and Gary Carpenter, musical director, talk about the making of the film.

I’m hoping our wee Picture House gets a copy for the First Monday program – good films that aren’t the usual Hollywood dreck, shown on the first Monday of every month. In the meantime, here’s the trailer. I’d take the 4 hour bus to journey to Glasgow, and 4 hours back, just to see this film again.

Campbeltown Picture House

Campbeltown Picture House celebrated its 100th birthday on May 26th, with a gala performance of The Great Gatsby, a pipe band, and fireworks over the harbour. See my prequel to the event – I didn’t blog about it at the time. Here’s a BBC news report to make amends, filmed some time after.

The Finishing Line

The Finishing Line is a British public information film, shown on television as a warning to children not to play on railway lines. Produced by British Transport Films in 1977, it’s a boy’s vision of what might happen if playing on the railway line were a school sports day, complete with teams, judges, and prizes. The predictable mayhem is amplified by the surreal spectacle of responsible adults orchestrating the events, while ambulance staff stretcher off the dead and wounded children. The change from excited competitiveness to stunned horror is reflected in the (surviving) children’s face.

This is a chilling film, so much so that it was replaced two years later by something less graphic, Robbie. Bear in mind that The Finishing Line was designed for children as a dreadful warning, so if your adult sensitivities flinch on seeing the film, then it was probably doing an effective job on the target audience. I thought the full film was not available online, but recently came across it on YouTube.

The Life of Pi

The Life of Pi Poster

It seems almost churlish to quibble over Ang Lee’s beautiful, big-hearted new film, The Life of Pi, based on the novel by Yann Martel, which I have not read. First impressions got off to a shaky start when I was charged £7.50 instead of the usual £5, because I hadn’t realised it was in 3D. My knee-jerk reaction to 3D is that it’s a gimmick, something no honest film needs. So I was a tad disgruntled as I sat down with the silly glasses and growled a bit, much like Richard Parker.

But The Life of Pi is stunning magical realism on 3D steroids, and I’m a sucker for magical realism. From Pi’s childhood in Pondicherry, as part of a family that owns a zoo, to his being washed up in Mexico, the birds, beasts, and fish erupt out of the screen. Not only that, the night sky is a velvet backdrop sown with stars, and the sea on which he floats sometimes disappears as a visual barrier, and we’re looking down into an ocean world. Eye candy of the highest order.

Pi is the thoroughly engaging narrator of this strange story, in which he survives a shipwreck while sharing a lifeboat with a splendid Bengal tiger called Richard Parker. Their relationship becomes almost symbiotic after some initial unpleasantness, imbued with a sort of Edenic innocence.

Pi is an enthusiastic religious bigamist, starting out as Hindu and adding the major world religions one by one. He’s looking for God and doesn’t think God would want him to be  stand-offish when something new shows up. Pi also sees God in the eyes of Richard Parker, who keeps him alive during his ordeal by keeping him alert, resourceful, and aware.

The Life of Pi is a beautiful, visceral allegory about keeping your eyes and mind open. But the Japanese shipwreck investigators find his story impossible to believe. Their skepticism is a shock after living in Pi’s mind for most of the film. He has to give them a realistic and tragic account of his survival. And this account could well be the truth, with the animals on the lifeboat as allegorical representations of the original group of survivors.

It ties in with Pi’s search for God, which can be seen as a search for a better story. The film is quite explicit. He asks the writer to whom he’s telling the story which version he prefers. I’m not sure if this film is brilliantly subversive, or loading the dice in favour of the comforting story. It reminds me of something John Bunyan said in The Pilgrim’s Progress: Dost thou love picking meat, or wouldst thou see a man in the clouds and hear him speak to thee?

I think the film presents a false dichotomy. The world is a complex, beautiful place when seen through the eyes of rationality and science, as represented by Pi’s father. Hence my quibble. I will have to read the book to see if it’s more nuanced than the film.

That said, I highly recommend The Life of Pi.