Film 2019: Sleeping Beauty

I’m as close to certain as can be, after sixty years, that Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty was the very first film I saw in a cinema, taken one night by my parents, whilst aged 4 or thereabouts. I have vague memories of the onscreen spectacle, and of a journey home by bus, coming to the T-junction with Ashton Old Road, on the 169/170 route. That would make it a visit to the old Essoldo cinema at Gorton, our nearest cinema, and my only visit there: indeed, it was long closed by the time I began passing it regularly.

The film gave me nightmares, or one specific one at least. She burst through my window in a blaze of black and yellow light, one night in my little bedroom at the back of 41 Brigham Street, terrifying me. My only recourse was to pretend I was asleep, and I lay there, awake but completely unmoving for hours, drenched in fear-sweat, my pajamas soaked through, not looking for fear she was still there and would act if I showed I was awake.

There was a Three Good Fairies series in one of my very young comics, probably Robin, in which Maleficent was a recurring villain. I was so scared, I couldn’t look at her in the comic, yet I knew I had to keep this from my parents, not let them know how afraid I was. I believed it was real, you see.

Almost sixty years later, Sleeping Beauty is one of only two classic Disney films I have on DVD. Long ago, I outgrew my fears of the Evil Witch, and she doesn’t scare me now. It’s a short film, only 72 minutes in length, and I originally bought it because I had a high opinion of it in comparison to the other Disney animations, but watching it again, I’m very far from sure now.

Sleeping Beauty, which had been planned since 1951 but not completed until 1958, was not a success, commercially or otherwise, and its failure put the Disney studios off fairy-tales for thirty years. Even many of the animators found it cold and unappealing, and it’s not too difficult to see why.

For all its dynamism in the climactic fight scene, during which Maleficent transforms herself into a towering dragon, until she gets a sword through the heart, this is a film of limited animation. A tiny handful of characters move across an ornate but static background. Though it was softened during production, the backgrounds stand out as being detailed and gothic in appearance, whereas the characters are heavily-stylised. Even the Princess Aurora, or the peasant girl Briar-Rose as she is, and her swain, Prince Philip (a rare instance of a Disney Prince actually having a name), who are drawn as realistic characters and whose movements are drawn as rotoscoping of live actors, are themselves highly-stylised human beings.

So far as the adaptation goes, Disney decided that the Princess’s awakening after one hundred years asleep may have made for a climax but didn’t offer enough for the story in terms of build-up. Instead of the Prince being a complete stranger who comes across this timelost thorn-choked castle of eery sleepers, and deciding to snatch a snog off this hot Princess (there have been several versions where he does more than kiss her, including one by Anne Rice that turns the story into rather lurid S&M porn), he’s the slightly older son of King Stefan and Queen No-Name-Given fellow King, who’s betrothed to Aurora at her birth.

After a decently impressive curse administered by Maleficent (superbly voiced by Eleanor Audley), the Three Good Fairies, Flora, Fauna and Merryweather, take the baby off to live in the forest with them as a peasant girl and they as mortals, until her sixteenth birthday. On that day, she bumps into Philip in the forest, neither having any idea who the other is, and of course they fall in love.

This contrivance means that when Aurora pricks her finger, under Maleficent’s malevolent spell, and falls asleep, the Good Fairies put everyone else to sleep to share her slumber, only to learn by accident that this handsome stranger in the wood that Briar-Rose plans to marry is her actual betrothed and spell-breaking kisser.

Except that Maleficent has kidnapped Philip and imprsoned him at the Forbidden Mountain where she intends to keep him for 100 years, by which time his kiss will have dried up. But the Fairies, despite having not nearly enough power to combat the Evil Witch, free the Prince and help him escape. Maleficent then throws up the thorns round the castle only for Philip to chop his way through these as if they were as obstructive as daffodils, kiss Aurora awake after not even the equivalent of a good night’s sleep and dance into the clouds with her (symbollically).

I dunno.

The film’s music is all taken or adapted from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty Ballet, the main theme of which is adapted for the song Once Upon a Dream, probably one of the best songs ever to be created for a Disney film, but overall my response today is pretty much that of the filmgoers and critics of 1958 and after, that it doesn’t really work on all sorts of levels. I’m not four years old any more, and I’m considerably more critical of everything I experience.

Nevertheless, I doubt I’ll sell the DVD. There’s a piece of me in it and such things arerare.


Film 2019: Elle

Last year, with my birthday as an excuse and the availability of several highly rated films at cheap prices on eBay, I treated myself to another tranche of Isabelle Huppert films. With the Film 2018 season to complete, I reserved watching these until the new year, which gives me a new twist in the form of the first Sunday morning film that I am seeing for the first time.

Elle (adapted from the novel “Oh…” by Philip Djian) is a 2016 film directed by the infamous Paul Verhoeven. I was going to say that this is the first film by Verhoeven that I’ve seen but, on checking his credits, these include Basic Instincts, to which I took a long-term girlfriend many years back. He’s famous, or notorious, for exploring sex and violence in his films, to an intense degree (Basic Instincts is not a healthy film), and the presence of his name did make me wonder in advance.

But we’re here for the presence of another name, Isabelle Huppert. Her role as Michele Leblanc has been acclaimed as the greatest of her career, and whilst you will never shake my attachment to Pomme in La Dentelliere, she is incredible here as a successful woman in her fifties, who begins the film by being raped in her own home by a ski-masked assailant, who cleans things up implacably and returns to her life.

The film is a psychological study of Michele, who is fascinating, but also something herself of a monster. In format, and it seems in the original novel, it is a rape-eveenge film, and had Verhoeven been able to achieve his original intention of filming it in America, I’ve no doubt whatsoever that that is what it would have been, and only that, and pretty much worthless.

But the controversial subject matter seems to have prevented Verhoeven getting the kind of name actress to play the central part, for which thank the filmic gods for taking him to France and the marvellous Huppert.

Michele’s life is tightly wound. She’s the joint owner/controller of a successful company making violent video games, her writer ex-husband is seeing a much younger woman, her slacker son is involved with a volatile girl who’s pregnant by another man, and there’s a very dark shadow across her path that everyone knows about except the viewer, who has to learn. It’s public nature is vividly demonstrated when Michele takes lunch in a small cafe: a woman tirns to look at her and then walks past her, tips her very full tray into Michele’s lap and hisses “Scum!” at her.

It involves her father, Georges Leblanc. It is the source of the extremely difficult relationship Michele has with her elderly mother. Michele is cold, critical, cutting. She refuses to reconcile to her father in any way (and we’ll soon learn why) and is openly contemptuous of her mother’s messing around with toyboys, the current of which, Ralf, she is considering marrying.

In a conversation with her best friend and partner, Anna (Anne Consigny), Michele is forthright: if she does, she’ll kill her. When Irene announces her engagement at a Xmas party organised by Michele, her daughters berates her in front of everyone. Irene collapses with a stroke that Michele questions as being real. Sjhe eqiually berates her comatose mother in hospital, during which Irene has a heart attack and dies. Michele is not a nice woman.

Indeed she’s not: she’s been fucking Robert for 6-8 months, just wanted to get laid, that’s all. Robert is Anna’s husband.

One very good thing Verhoeven does is not to link things together. Michele’s responses are unpredictable, she never does quite what you expect of her. I’m inclined to call her a sociopath, unheeding of the needs and wants of those around her, concerned only with herself, and once we learn about Georges Leblanc, there’s a golden opportunity to say that, a-ha, that’s clearly why.

Because Georges Leblanc is a serial killer, a man who murdered 27 people, parents and children. No wonder his wife and ten year old daughter turned out the way they are, we say, when we learn this from a recemtly repeated doocumentary that has sparked the lap-tipping. In America, I guess it would have gone no further. But in Elle there is a scene where, at the Xmas party, Michele talks about it openly, to her over-the-road neighbour Patrick, who she has already masturbated over, and everything takes on other dimensions.

Georges used to thumb cross onto the foreheads of children on their way to school in the morning, until some parents asked him to stop doing it. That night, in one night, he killed all the people, in one night, and their dogs and cats too, though he spared one hamster, an incongruous note that bent the moment even further by its absurdity. He came home to Michele, Irene being on duty as a nurse, and together they started burning everything. Curtains, cushions, furniture, even clothes, until the Police came.

Suddenly, you can’t draw simple, straight-line connections, make easy assumptions.

Not that Huppert has ever allowed you to. Everything, every word and action, complicates the picture more, until you lose any sense of what you ought to think, if there is such a thing.

No wonder Michele won’t report the rape to the Police, she will never have anything to do with them. Almost unemotionally, but this is Huppert so that almost is in there, she does all the sweeping under the carpet things: throws the broken crockery in the bin, along with the blue dress she was wearing, has a hot sudsy soak (a heart shape of blood forms in the bubbles, just above her groin, a dissturbing visual), has her locks channged, visits the Doctor. She tells Richard (the ex-), Anna and Robert at a dinner that night, where, in order to park her car, she has already wrecked the fender of the car behind, belonging to Richard. She goes about her life with its demands, to which she responds acidly, never failing to be brutal.

But she’s also being stalked.

The rapist seems to be able to get to her: e-mails, texts, semen on her bed and a screenshot on her laptop. A parody of the in-development videogame in which a character is tentacularly raped, with Michel’s head superimposed on her, turns out to be a red herring. The pressure is horrendous.

The original rape takes place in darkness, sound only, sight being added when it is over. A flashback brought on by Michele’s cat meowing gives us the attack in daylight, in horrific clarity, but a second flashback catches us out by turning into Michele’s re-ordering of events so that when her hand pulls the tablecloth down, she grabs a heavy metal ashtray and uses it to, prophetically, bash his head into a pulp. Then she’s attacked again, in her home, raped again. She manages to pull the ski-mask off, and it is Patrick.

Late on, Michele, being driven home by Patrick from the very successful launch party for the game, a launch that cements better relations with chief designer Kurt, helps son Vincent to grow by having him successfully organise it, gives struggling Richard, his girlfriend gone and at which she’s admitted to Anna that she’s been theone fucking Robert, Michele says to Patrick, “It’s twisted.”

That’s a very Verhoeven state of filming, and indeed it is, and only Huppert has saved the film from turning into an exploitive mess. Because Mihele hsn’t reported Patrick to the Police. She hasn’t told his sweet, innocent, devoutly Catholic wife, Rebecca. She hasn’t told anyone.

Her mother’s death prompts her to decide to see her father for the first time in 36 years.  Michele arrives at the prison tp find him dead, a suicide overnight. He was told of her visit just before lights out at 7.00pm. She takes pleasure in how she has killed him. But driving back, distracted by an intrusive Press call, her car crashes and she is trapped. Richard and Anna’s numbers go to voicemail: it is Patrick who manhandles her out, fixes her leg wound.

They begin a micro-affair. It’s twisted, that she should do that to begin with, that she evinces a hitherto unadverted masochist tendency, wants to be hit. That ruins it for Patrick: it has to be real. To achieve orgasm – for him but maybe not for her – she assaults him to provoke him to hit her.

This is edging, no shouldering its way, into areas of macho, see-she-likes-it territory, but this might not be what we think. The launch is a success, Michele leaves Vincent behind, gets Patrick to drive her home, tells him it’s twisted, and asks him if he really thought he would get away with what he did? She’s going to tell the Police.

He says nothing, just lets her out of the car. She dawdles over going into her house, leaves the gate unlocked, a bit Tony Martin. With ski-mask on, he attacks her inside, throws her about, beats her, caresses her throat gently where he will after he’s had her again, strangle her. Someone weaves into the room from behind, with a log from the firebasket, crushes his skull: Vincent, who was supposed to have been left behind at the party and whose excuse for leaving his triumph and being there is never given, although you, like I, may well have thoughts about that.

Patrick dies confused. Michele is collected at first, but in shock for the Police. Rebecca sells up but, just before moving, thanks Michele for helping, for a brief time, to ease Patrick’s torment. Anna’s thrown Robert out, is selling the house, and plans to move in with Michele.

What have we been watching anyway? If there had been an American version, I wouldn’t have touched it with a barge pole, and Verhoeven himself has said it would have been banal and not worth doing (presumably because he’s already done it with Basic Instincts). I an deeply suspicious about Michele, about who she is and what she’s capable, and that’s entirely down to Isabelle Huppert, firstly for being so unbelievably good as to make this into a film of innumerable angles that draw your toughts in so many directions, and secondly for being so unbelievably good as to send both Director and writer into deeper waters than the otherwise crass concept would usually emcompass.

The film is Huppert’s. There isn’t a single scene without her in it, but she’s supported by a cast good enough to frame her at every turn. Anne Consigny’s part as best friend is small but beautifully judged, and Laurent Lafitte as Patrick is the only other part of any genuine size and he is vital to allowing the sexual role in the film to stay within the realms of the believable, close run thing though it is at times.

So, the first sight-unseen Film 2019 production is an undoubted success. There will be two more Isabelle Huppert performances in the next couple of months.

Film 2019: Dog Day Afternoon

I’ve always been pretty clear in my recollection that my first cinema visit for an adult film (as in grown-up) was in 1973 when my mate Alan and I went to see George Segal and Glenda Jackson in A Touch of Class. But a few months ago, browsing a rack of cheap DVDs in a charity shop in a part of Stockport I hadn’t visited in years, I came across the Sydney Lumet-directed, Al Pacino starring Dog Day Afternoon, and immediately got a flash on that being my first grown-up movie.

It can’t have been, so the only question is why I thought that in the first place: the film was released in 1975, and whilst I did see it at the local Odeon in Burnage, it couldn’t possibly have been a first.

I enjoyed it then, and hadn’t seen it since, but for 50p (I bought four DVDs at the same price) it was irresistible, and it heralds the new/ongoing Sunday film season, renamed in the best Barry Norman fashion.

Dog Day Afternoon must be pretty near unique in being an adaptation not of a book but a magazine article. It’s about a New York Bank robbery in 1972 that turned into a farcical disaster, and the film is supposed to be very close to actual fact, in the way that even the most absurd murders from Homicide: Life on the Street were taken directly from David Simon’s non-fction book. The real-life robber, John Wojtowicz claimed it was only 30% true, but the consensus appears to be that it was mostly taen from the real-life event. Al Pacino plays the Wojtowicz role (renamed Sonny Wortzik) with John Cazale as his partner Sal Naturale (the true name of the other robber) despite both robbers being in their late teens instead of being in their thirties.

The robbery is supposed to take ten minutes. Right from the start, things go wrong. The third robber, Stevie, bottles it after about thirty seconds. The cash run has been a pick-up, not a delivery, so there’s only about $1,100 in the place, so Sonny grabs the travellers cheques to compensate. To make these untraceable, he burns the register, the smoke escapes, someone calls the Police and suddenly there’s a seige: two amateur robbers, eight hostages.

If you’re like me, you’re already seeing this as a Donald E Westlake Dortmunder Gang novel translated to film, and far more successfully than any of the official adaptations. It’s not really that, though it is very very funny in places, with a wholly natural absurdity reinforced by Lumet’s insistence on a very naturalistic approach. The film is funny because the reality is funny.

But the skill in Westlake’s books is in how he merges orthodox crime fiction with the inconvenience of real-life, and how people don’t always fit in with complex plans. Dog Day Afternoon moves a stage further: Sonny doesn’t have a plan, not a real one, nothing complex, just go in with three men, three guns. From the moment Stevie runs, the plan is gone and despite his efforts to convince himself that he’s in charge, that he can get them out of it, Sonny’s had it.

The thing about the Dortmunder Gang books is that there’s always a way out of it, some ultimate plot that allows Dortmunder and Co to escape with at least their freedom. Right from the start, with its New York street scenes, its sidewalks of ordinary joes and jills, the gritty film stock, the near-television style of narrowness, there’saworkaday blue collar aspectto the film that tells you that nothing clever will happen and Sonny and Sal will not get away with it. Some of the film’s most effective comedy is the neverending scenes of more Police arriving, cars and busloads, task forces, snipers, helicopters, complete overkill for two schlubs in a tiny Bank branch. We know there’ll be no fairytale endings, it’s only about how it will end.

In the meantime, the film picks up on the heat of the times. The seige becomes a rolling news sensation. The crowd outside multiplies. Sonny makes increasing forays outside, to talk to the cops (Detective Moretti – Clay Durning – and FBI Agent Sheldon – James Broderick). He denounces the Police as just wanting to kill them all, chants ‘Attica! Attica!’ referencing the then-recemt and inffamous Prison riot, gets the crowd on his side.

He gets another element on his side when he demands the Police fetch his wife, only his wife is Leon (Chris Sarandon), who Sonny has married desppite being married to Amgie, with whom he has had two children. It turns out Sonny was robbing he Bank to pay for Leon to have a sex-change operation, which has the television describing the robbery as being by ‘two homosexuals’, getting Sal’s back up because he isn’t, but bringing the gay community out to cheer the robbers along.

Inside the Bank, it’s Stockholm Syndrome in a very short space of time. Both the Chief Teller, Sylvia (Penelope Allen) and the Manager, Mr Mulvaney (Sully Boyar) refuse chances to leave rather than abandon the girls. The Brooklyn-to-the-core gum-chewing Jenny (Carol Kane) even plays with Sonny’s rifle, trying to learn drill from him.

The absurdities pile up. Calls come into the Bank; one twisted bastard tells Sonny to kill them, kill thm all. Another wants to know what he’s doing to molest the women: he passes that call to Jenny, who obliges with some heavy panting.

It’s very much Pacino’s film. He is the story’s prime mover, he’s a volatile character, anda trapped one with delusions of power through having the hostages, even as he’s acknowledging that they’re the only thing keeping him alive. But as the film rolls on, unhurriedly, his energy starts to wane. He’s demanded a helicopter and a jet to fly to Algeria, though it’s a limo bus not a chopper. He’s trying to speak to Leon, who is a completely up-himself narcissist, concerned only with his depression, his suicide attempt, his drug habits. And Angie’s no better, frustrating his attempt at a goodbye call by overspilling her fears, her concerns, his crazy behaviour towards her, she can’t come down there, how can she get a babysitter this late? You start to understand why Sonny is so clearly fucked up.

There’s even his mother, brought in by the FBI (never happened according to Wojtowicz, though it’s perfectly in line with the real stuff), and she’s full of unrealistic promises and ideas, down to suggesting that, on a Brooklyn street, at night, surrounded by 500 plus cops, press and TV and a thickly clustered crowd, her son could run for it and get away…

Eventually the bus arrives. Sonny plays clever over the driver, a cheery jive black, who he suspects of being an undercover cop. He takes FBI Agent Murphy as driver instead, the original suggestion. Murphy wants Sal to have his gun pointed up, they hit a bump, it goes off, don’t want any accidental shooting. Immediately, I saw it, equal measures a late recollection and an intelligent expectation. At the airport, ready to debark onto the jet, guards down, Sheldon neutralises Sonny by forcing his rifle barrel down onto the dashboard, Murphy withdraws a gun from an armrest and Sal’s gone pointed up, swivels and shoots him through the middle of the forehead.

And its over. Sonny is held, frisked, handcuffed. The hostages are removed. Sonny says nothing, turning only to see Sal’s corpse carried past on a gurney. There are brief credits about the aftermoth: Sonny serving twenty years in federal prison, Angie bringing up their kids on welfare, Leon now living as a woman, post-op.

In real life, John Wojtowicz served six years and lived with his ‘Leon’, Elizabeth Eden until her death twenty years after the film: he died of cancer in 2004. John Cazale, silent, glum, a figure of depression, could play Sal Naturale because Sal was killed and you can always use a dead person’s name.

The whole film is absurd, farcical and funny because the real thing was. But it’s also a very serious film and Lumet works to keep it utterly grounded. The performances are natural, the actors look real: Pacino is the only one with Hollywood looks and he’s playing average joe schlub. The whole film is like a social document of early 1970s New York, and it looks horribly dated in a was-it-really-like-this? fashion and yes, I was there (not in New York, mind you) and it was like that and it shocks me to see it again. Ultimately, it’s a story of two losers who did something completely stupid that bloomed into a short-lived circus, and a man was killed because he was carrying a gun that he didn’t know if he could bring himself to use.

It’s not a film I’ll want to re-watch again any time soon, and maybe I’ll end up not keeping it. But it’s like a TARDIS in the mind, almost as much as The Lovers!, crossing time and space to pull me back to 1975 and a Monday night at the Odeon, a mile walk there, a mile walk back, in flared jeans and a night out for, what was it, 5p? Only one-tenth of what it cost to strt a new year of Sunday morning viewings.

This Time Next Year

I originally devised Film 2018 as an inducement to watch all my single film DVDs again, nothing else. But Sunday morning has been such a perfect time to watch a film and then expound upon it that, a long time ago, I decided there would be a Film 2019 to follow it.

At first, this was just going to be a progression to my Box Sets, but I haven’t stopped acquiring DVDs through eBay this year, and I now have fifteen of them, several of which I’ve never played, which I’ve held back to enjoy.

So for the first three or so months of 2019, we’ll be following the old format (and if I buy any more DVDs in that time, we’ll extend the process). But once I’m done with these, I’ll be turning to the box sets in accordance with the original plan. Given that these include three Lord of the Rings and three Hobbit films, an eleven disc box-set of Powell & Pressburger, four Humphrey Bogarts, and two linked French films, and that’s just the ones I can remember off the top of my head, that should get me through deep into the autumn. Although I may try to wriggle out of the third and fourth films in the Superman box-set because there are minimal standards of taste and decency. And then we’ll see.

Besides, in the week that the BBC have cancelled their long-running Film review programme, the one I stoll the title from, it seems more pertinent than ever.

So next Sunday, we start the new season. I’m looking forward to it. Are you?

Film 2018: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

Fittingly or otherwise, the film I left myself for the final Film 2018 session was David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, the controversial sequel to the enigmatic TV series that wasted what seemed then to be the only opportunity to complete the story that had left Special Agent Dale Cooper trapped in the Black Lodge of the series, and instead set an evil doppelganger loose to take his place.

Instead, Lynch (without co-creator Mark Frost, with whom relations had become strained) chose to do a prequel, billed as the last seven days of Laura Palmer’s life. In many ways, I still resent this decision, even now a third series has appeared: everyone was there and alive and young, and most of them were available, and this could have been a real ‘Twin Peaks’ film.

As it is, most of the cast played a part in this film, though for many their parts were limited, and for even more they were excluded to bring the film down to a mere 129 minutes. A handful of major players were unavailable due to scheduling conflicts with other projects (though Sherilyn Fenn later indicated that she had not wanted to be involved, after the vagaries of season 2). One of these was Lara Flynn Boyle, who had played Donna Hayward, Laura Palmer’s best friend: Donna’s part was integral to the story so she was recast, with Moira Kelly, a much less striking actress, taking the role.

The film, and its prospects, were distorted from the outset by Kyle MacLachlan’s fear of becoming typecast as Dale Cooper. Initially, he refused to consider the film, but ended up agreeing to a greatly diminished role, requiring the entire first half hour of the film to be rewritten, to the detriment of the film’s cohesion.

In the ansence of Coop, Lynch and his co-writer, Robert Engels, had to introduce Special Agent Chester ‘Chet’ Desmond to investigate the murder of drifter, waitress and prostitute Theresa Banks. Banks was the first killing, a year before Laura Palmer. Desmond was played, laconically but a bit stiffly, by singer Chris Isaak, already of ‘Wicked Game’ fame, and his sidekick, the awkward, bow-tied forensic expert, Sam Stanley, by a young Kiefer Sutherland.

Over insular opposition from local law enforcement, the Agents determine Banks was killed by multiple blows to the back of the skull and that a large green ring featuring a weird design that is familiar to those of us who watched the series, has been stolen from her finger. Stanley takes the body back to Portland, Desmond returns to the trailer park where Banks lives, finds her ring under a lit-up trailer, and is sucked into another dimension, populated by the mysterious characters who hang around the Black Lodge. He is never seen again.

Put like that, this lengthy opening sequence, which takes up the film’s first twenty-five minutes, seems like a straightforward setting in place of the Theresa Banks murder, not a million miles from a certain town in Washington State. If not for Kyle MacLachlan’s reluctance, it would have been Agent Cooper investigating, in which case this section would have seemed better integrated into the story, and I bet he wouldn’t have vanished inexplicably on finding the ring.

But then I haven’t mentioned any of the details, and the details always matter in a David Lynch film, and I haven’t mentioned any of the seriously loopy stuff that makes you wonder just what the hell is going on. And, in the case of the dancing woman in the red wig and dress, wearing a blue rose, whose dance is a ludicrously coded set of instructions to Agent Desmond (a briefing sheet would have worked even better but would not have been so self-consciously strange), we wouldn’t get an explanation of that until 2017.

And Lynch then prolongs the strangeness by switching to Philadelphia, FBI HQ, Gordon Cole (Lynch), Albert (Miguel Ferrer) and Coop. Coop’s being weird, checking the corridor security cam then dashing into the surveillance room to look at the feed of an empty corridor. He does this two or three times until, on the last occasion, he’s in the surveillance room, and he’s still on the security cam. Enter the long-missing Agent Philip Jeffries, played by David Bowie in a Hawaiian shirt and white linen suit, with a deep tan and a bouncy walk.

Jeffries is talking nonsense. He’s not talking about Judy. He’s aware of his colleagues but he isn’t on the same planet as them. Coop goes to check the security feed and Jeffries disappears. He was never there. But he was there.

As the late, great Spike put it, “It’s all rather confusing really”, and deliberately so. There’s a temptation to write off all the film up to this point, nearly thirty-five minutes in, as rubbish, and it certainly doesn’t seem to have any true, organic coonnection to the rest. For now comes the moment of comfort, of recognition and an instant relaxation for the audience, as we jump One Year Later and it’s the oh-so familar Welcome to Twin Peaks road sign and that instantly soothing twin note music by Angelo Badalamenti.

From this point onwards, the film is set in Twin Peaks, and it is Twin Peaks, and we are locked into watching the last seven days of Laura Palmer’s life.

Fire Walk With Me is billed as starring Sheryl Lee as Laura and Ray Wise as Leland Palmer, her father. Wise has a lot of screen time but isn’t required to do much more than look quasi-satanical. If we didn’t already know that he is the one who kills Laura, after years of incestuous rape, starting when she was 12, we would finger him anyway for his off-kilter performance, his obvious obsession with hi daughter, his volatile mood-swings and the way he just looks.

But from here on in, the film belongs to Sheryl Lee. In the series, she only got to play Laura alive in flashbacks, short and usually sweet. Here she gets to play the living person and she is astounding. Laura Palmer, blonde, beautiful, intelligent, Homecoming Queen, volunteer Meals on Wheels helper. Laura Palmer, fucking her ‘official’ boyfriend, jock Bobby Briggs, her unofficial boyfriend, James Hurley, the agrophobic recluse, Harold Smith, big, fat Jaques Renault from the Bang Bang Bar, not to mention being pimped out by him. Laura Palmer, High School smoker, drinker, cocaine addict. Laura Palmer, with the scary, horrifying, greasy, stubbly, assailant, BOB, who climbs in through her bedroom window at night, who has been ‘having’ her since she was twelve.

Lee is all these people, in turn and at once, flickering between faces. Everything is ever so slightly OTT, but the intensity that she brings to every emotion grips you and drags you along, whilst simultaneously conveying to you that this beautiful young girl, with everything going for her, is already dead, inside.

Even if we did not know that we are leading up to the opening of Twin Peaks, the discovery of Laua Palmer’s body, wrapped in plastic, floating in the lake, we would know, simply by watching Sheryl Lee, that she is sliding towards an end that will be neither commonplace nor easeful. As everything locks into place around her, as the pieces move that send her along the course that finally leads to her father’s insane and murderous attack, we understand that we are not watching fate step in to shut down all avenues of escape. All of Laura’s last chances were lost long before we got to the Welcome to Twin Peaks road sign. It’s too late, it’s far too late. We are condemned to watch the inevitable.

And it is horrible. There’s violence and degradation, but it’s not there for its own sake. It’s just part of the road, and Lynch doesn’t thrust it in our face or dwell on it. Lee lives it, simultaneously numbed and with every nerve in her affected. The two most awful moments are both sexual: Laura is terrified in her own home by the presence of BOB in the daytime, runs, crying and fearful, for cover outside, then sees her father leave the house. For the first time, she realises that her abuse has come from her own father: the blackness, the despair, the nausea. We and she understand the sickness in Leland’s ‘ordinary’ behaviour to her, the confirmation of her utter solitude.

And later, very much later, just before he will batter hs own daughter to death, Leland brandishes at her the two pages torn from her secret diary, and screams at her, in his own anguish, “I thought you knew it was me!”

The last half of this film, as the end closes in on Laura and we see her in all her phases and moods, fills in all the details we learned, retrospectively, in season 1, unpicked and assembled by Dale Cooper. It twists us at every turn, the horror of inevitability, of being forced to watch – because we cannot turn our face away – the sight of death spreading from within and bringing itself down upon this beautiful girl.

There are so many more pieces to this puzzle. What Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me really needed was Twin Peaks: The Return. It is now no longer the falling off, the unwanted beginning instead of the desired end. But it is still the beginning, even as it’s the ending of Film 2018. I’ve enjoyed this year of Sunday morning films very much. I hope some of you who have read these commentaries have enjoyed them as well.

Film 2018: His Girl Friday

A working Sunday, a simple film, another of those classic black & whites that graced Sunday afternoons a world ago, Cary Grant at his best.

His Girl Friday, filmed in 1939, directed by Howard Hawks and co-starring Grant with Rosalind Russell, is a classic screwball comedy, a fast-talking, furiously-paced gem. It’s based on the hit Broadway play ‘TheFront Page’ and is the second of three versions to be filmed, firstly in 1931 and then again in 1974, starring the brilliant pairing of Walther Matthau and Jack Lemmon. Both the other versions use the play’s title and stick to the original in one vital aspect: both the leads are male. His Girl Friday pulls a pefect switch by having the Hildy Johnson part played by a woman.

The play and film is set in the newspaper business (charmingly claimed to be in the ‘bad old days’, before the Press became the models of probity they were in 1939, which gives us our first laugh). Walter Burns (Grant) is the editor of the ‘Morning Post’, Hildy Johnson his top reporter, who’s leaving the business to get married. The twist in His Girl Friday is that this Hildy is also his recently-divorced wife, who’s dreaming of being a human being instead of a newspaper man.

Burns isn’t prepared to lt Hildy go. He’s a monster, an unrepentent, shameless manipulator, not above any level of dirty tricks, including gettinginconvenient people locked up for crimes they haven’t committed, lying outrageously, passing forged currency and kidnappingan elderly woman. All for what? Not letting Hildy go.

And Hildy is wanted to cover a story. Earl Williams, a little man who’s killed a cop, is awaiting execution in the morning after two reprieves. The Post has backed Williams, arguing he was insane, not culpable, that the Mayor and Sherriff have themselves manipulated the system to procure an execution only three days before a re-Election campaign in which they’re running on a Law & Order ticket.

This much is true: the Sheriff’s plainly an incompetent, the Mayor has hired a couple of hundred relatives on the City’s payroll, and when a further reprieve arrives from the Governor, the pair attempt to suppress it, and bribe the man who delivers it, to enable the execution to go through.

But by then, Williams has broken free and is on the run, having used the Sheriff’s own gun to break out. He only gets as far as the Prison’s Press Room, where Hildy is alone.

Yes, Hildy is working the story. She’s doing it for $2,500, being the commission on an insurance policy. You see, Hildy’s turned up at the paper to tell her editor that she’s quitting, and her ex-husband that she’s getting re-married. Tomorrow. Burns has to get his skates on to comprehensively destroy Hildy’s happiness – for her own good, naturally. And Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy) sells insurance (and still lives with his mother), so Hildy agrees to do an interview with Williams only because Burns takes out a $100,000 policy.

Needless to say, Burns intends to lie, cheat, connive and generally bugger things up for his own benefit. But it’s noticeable how, despite her determination to get away, Hildy, once she is in the middle of a story, reverts entirely to type as a newspaper man. We’ve already seen she’s as cynical as the rest, talking Williams into an ‘admission’ in their brief interview that’s entirely of her own devising. She’s in a throng of pressmen whose cynicism and callousness is pretty bloody revolting, and sickeningly identical to modern day press treatments: their monstrous inflation of one brief meeting between Williams and the girl, Molly Malloy, his only sympathiser, into a grand, illicit passion has crucified her even more than him, and for a film of this era, their wisecracking is extraordinarily vicious and sickening.

But Hildy’s difference from theircynicism is only by a matter of degree, and in the end she is overtaken by the story in a frenetic ending that sees all the good guys win, if, that is, you count Walter Burns as a good guy. Hildy ends up agreeing to remarry him, but it takes about five seconds for her agreed two weeks honeymoon at Niagara Falls to turn into covering a strike in Albany. Burns doesn’t change one bit, and I guess you can say that neither does Hildy.

Despite all that, this is still a very funny film. Like Hawks’ other screwball comedies, the dialogue is fast, and deliberately so. Hawks set out to produce the fastest talking film in Hollywood history and achieved it, snatching the record from, of all things, the original The Front Page. Grant is a cheerful monster, relishing his part to the hilt, Russell an admirable foil with her throaty voice. As the main supporting actor, Bellamy is bland and weak, but that’s what he’s meant to be playing. You can see him appealling to Hildy for the contrast, but you can easily anticipate the contrast growing dull in a foreseeable length of time (one of the Pressmen keeps giving the marriage six months. Until Hildy gets into her job again, and he amends it to three months).

And whilst it demands concentration, the film’s overwhelming use of overlapping dialogue, which required a fantastic degree of mike-switching to record, not to mention multiple re-takes, not only boosts the speed but makes a film in which the artificiality of its stage origins are always visible into an oddly naturalistic performance.

A fun film, a light film with dark corners. A Sunday afternoon film for Sunday morning.

Film 2018: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

The last animated film of 2018.

I missed A Grand Day Out, Wallace and Gromit’s debut. A year later, you couldn’t move for trailers for The Wrong Trousers and we watched it together at Xmas and everybody howled with laughter. It was perfect in every respect, the sort of thing that happens when you let a genius do his thing, and surround him with the perfect support. I’d decades, literally, of Peter Sallis in Last of the Summer Wine, but ever since then, he was Wallace, to a T (not to mention a U, V, W, X, Y and Z).

There were the three Xmas shorts and then there was Curse of the Were Rabbit, the only full-length feature, and with Sallis gone there can be no more. Nothing comes close to the perfection of The Wrong Trousers, but the film is a wonderful creation, 78 minutes of 14 carat, industrial strength silliness, full of enough ingenuity, inspiration and plain British whimsy to make a film twice its length feel exhustingly funny.

The Curse of the Were-Rabbit was the third and last to be made under Ardman’s link with Dreamworks. Nick Park has spoken about the problems during the film’s making with production notes from Dreamworks all trying to get him to alter the film to make it more attuned to the expectations of American children, and whilst I can easily understand their concerns, Wallace and Gromit is British to its core, and Northern British at that.

That is the film’s genius, to place Wallace, Gromit and their absurd concerns firmly in the context of a late Forties/early Fifties British northern working classs milieu, the very height – or is that depth? – of placid, uneventful inertia. Wallace’s madcap inventions may be as bang-up-to-date and about five-minutes-into-the-future, but they’re constructed from the most ramshackle, ordinary and ridiculous components, borrowing heavily from Heath Robinson in their unnecessary complexity (the Anti-Pesto alarm is a gem) that combines implausible contrast with the uttermost fidelity to the times.

Ardman agreed to clean up the soundtrack to make the dialect much less concentratedly British, but I can’t say that I noticed any softening on my DVD, unlike the Edinburgh version of last week’s That Sinking Feeling. There’s certainly no let-up on the humour, be it visual (Wallace reading a celebrity magazine called Ay-Up) or verbal, which in a lot of cases is put together in a way that suggests the story being contrived to put a silly, and often rude line in place by building a cenarion around its punch-line being a completely reasonable comment. The enormously large rabbit dropping is made trebly funny by being completely accurate.

What’s the film about, for those so unenlightened as to not have seen this? Wallace, our gloriously daft inventor, and Gronit, his pragmatic and sensible dog, have become pest-controllers, much in demand as the annual Vegetable Prize Show at Tottington Hall draw nears. They are humane pest-controllers, meaning that after they capture the vegetable-eating rabbits, they keep them safe and feed them sliced carrots.

The plasticene bunnies are miracles of hilarity in themselves. They look ridiculous, with the chubby cheeks and the two front teeth, and there is this scene where dozens of them are whirling around in anti-gravity, placid and serene, which is goofy to the power of a million. Clive James once praised the high-speed editing of a video on The Kenny Everett Show by suggesting the editor must have the patience to pick up spilled mercury but whoever put that bit together makes the Everett editor look like a fumble-fingered slowpoke.

Wallace then uses one of his inventions to brainwash the bunnies into rejecting vegetables. Unfortunately, (I love that word), something goes wrong, there’s a blowback and Wallace gets his brain merged with a rabbit that they name Hutch. Hutch now hates carrots. He goes on to develop a fixation for horrible sleeveless knitwear, carpet slippers and cheese, whilst Wallace turns into a giant Were-Rabbit at the full of the moon (complete with extended change sequence that parodies the one from An American Werewolf in London).

Throw in the Aristocratic Lady Tottington (‘call me Totty’), voiced wonderfully by Helena Bonham-Carter, her would-be husband and fortune-hunter, hunter Lord Victor Quartermaine, an equally perfectly judged OTT performance from Ralph Fiennes, and familiar British voices like Peter Kay, Liz Smith and Nicholas Smith, ex-of Are You Being Served?, and the whole thing is a parcel of eccentricity. There’s even a small role for one Pete Atkin, former carpenter, former BBC producer and of course majorly overlooked singer and songwriter (honest admission: I can’t tell which villager he is).

The Curse of the Were-Rabbit contains, I think, more plain laugh-out-loud moments than any other film I’ve seen this year, and I’m counting Chicken Run in that. And yet it’s still no The Wrong Trousers. Imagine that…