THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTINE

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This was an Inside Number 9 (Series 2: Episode 2) that we watched as a supporting feature to Wake Wood.

Christine (Sheridan Smith), dressed as a saucy nun, brings a fireman called Adam (Tom Riley) home from a New Year’s Eve party to the flat she shares with uptight Fung (Stacy Liu). Then the DNA helix of her life starts to inexplicably unravel, the connections become tangled and she transits from one perfectly pitched vignette to the next.

Before long Adam the fireman is asking where to put his CDs when he moves in? Then a baby is born. Then it’s her 30th birthday party and her dad is there along with other family members, but Alzheimer’s has left him inert. Then Adam leaves her. Then Dad turns up again to offer her solace, but this time he can speak coherently. Then…

‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me Mum, I’m getting everything jumbled up’.

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We can’t fathom how these things connect and why we’re rushing headlong through this disarranged life. All the time in the background, turning up at incongruous moments and infiltrating the story is a weird stranger in a plastic rain mac (Reece Shearsmith).

Again the twist at the end is a collision of all that’s gone before and Christine’s destiny is revealed.

Worth watching twice. Firstly to enjoy the story as it stands. Secondly to fit each piece together and tie them into the end.

The 12 Days of Christine on the BBC iPlayer

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WAKE WOOD

28:03:17

How appropriate that Hammer‘s first theatrical release for 30 years should be a story based around rebirth. A couple who lost their young daughter to a savage dog attack are granted her back for three days, but three days only. Enough time to say their goodbyes, then they must relinquish her back to the grave.

Vet Patrick (Aidan Gillan) and pharmacist Louise (Eva Birthistle) set out to begin a new life in Wakewood (it’s all one word on the road sign), but they stumble into a patriarchal society with a secret knowledge of resurrection. The Lord Summerisle of the piece is Timothy Spall, all tweeded up and softly spoken as Arthur, the leader of the community.

The rebirthing ritual is suitably convoluted and gory and it visually mirrors Patrick’s work as a vet delivering calves.  It requires a dead body, and luckily a man gets crushed by an unruly bull on cue, so that’s that sorted. It also requires a relic from the person to be resurrected, so it gives Patrick and Louise the chance to go to their daughter’s grave at night and  exhume her. In classic Hammer style it’s pouring with rain as Patrick shovels out the earth and splits the coffin lid with Louise looking on.

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Sure enough, via lots of goo, ritual spine cutting and fire, nine year old Alice (Ella Connolly) is given another three days alive with her parents. There are strict rules to keep to and the stipulations need to be exact. Unfortunately Mum and Dad were a little lax with one of the key elements and things go slightly awry.

Wake Wood tries so hard to be a folk horror film, but it is way too physical and modern looking. There isn’t a grounding in deep time. We don’t get the history of the place and the background of the characters is scant. I would have liked to have got to know them better and cared for them more.

The editing is at times overdone. Long, lingering, haunting shots are largely absent, and I think this harms the build up of atmosphere. I don’t think the film’s problems are budget related. Sure, it was made without spending millions, but wouldn’t it be cheaper to film fewer shots and edit them more thoughtfully? It has the look of a TV movie in parts. Contrast this with another low budget British folk horror movie, The Borderlands (2013) to observe how creepiness can be created via stasis.

The supernatural element isn’t brought forward often enough, and the gore is unpleasant to look at, but not scary. There are nice touches, for example a small wind farm delineates the outer perimeter of the town, the huge white windmills marking a boundary between old and new.

The ending is extremely clever. The more I think about it, the more it seems a really creepy idea. Could a Wake Wood 2 develop from it?

The film was directed by David Keating. He hired Chris Maris as cinematographer after seeing his work on the Swedish horror flick Frostbite (2006). Despite its extremely Irish look, much of Wake Wood was filmed in Sweden. Judging by other reviews lots of people rate this picture highly, and at the core it has heart and guts and deserves to be seen. Hammer are always welcome at Film Night.

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IMAGES OF THE MAKING OF WAKEWOOD

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DIDDLE DIDDLE DUMPLING

14:03:17

This was an Inside Number 9 episode that we watched as a supporting feature to Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.

There was a lot to like here. The suburban setting for example, kid’s pictures on fridges and meticulously polished floors. Professional people home from work living their domestic half-lives. Spacious rooms and perfectly placed furniture. Perfectly cooked meals on a glass table top with large glasses of wine. A smooth surface with no ripples, until…

David (Reece Shearsmith) finds a single size 9 shoe on a grass verge near his house on the way home from a jog. From then on his life becomes devoted to finding the owner. In a life where symmetry is the central motif like it’s directed by Peter Greenaway, this odd asymmetrical spanner in the works knocks David and Louise’s (Keely Hawes) world off its axis.

At the end of the half hour we find out why.

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Beautifully made with a keen attention to detail, the series harks back to the programmes we watched as kids. Things like Tales of the Unexpected, where each episode carried a common theme and style all the way through, yet each was an entity in itself.

Written by Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton we loved this. Short and snappy, but riveting and intriguing at the same time. You know there’s always a twist at the end, but which way will it twist? They clearly watch the same sort of films as we do.

Anyone lost a shoe?

Diddle Diddle Dumpling on the BBC iPlayer

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SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING

14:03:17

Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not.

Looking smart in his shirt and tie, highly Brylcreemed and loudmouthed, Arthur Seaton (Albert Finney) is the archetypal Angry Young Man of the 50’s. Railing against everything but accomplishing nothing, he’s fuelled by beer and birds and a smouldering dread of being stuck in the same place for the rest of his life.

The place is Nottingham and the Raleigh bicycle factory in Radford is where he earns his beer money. Finney learned to work a lathe for the part. He’s knocking off Brenda (Rachel Roberts), the wife of Jack (Bryan Pringle), one of the foremen. He plays it close to the wire too, actually being in the house when Jack comes in and having to silently sneak out the back.

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With her husband away at the races, the scene where Arthur wakes up in Brenda’s double bed caused problems with the censors. They didn’t take kindly to this view of working class, extramarital shenanigans. The problem is Brenda gets pregnant and wants an abortion without anyone knowing. Termination of pregnancy was illegal at the time this film was made. Arthur agrees to pay for it, but by now he’s also involved with another girl, Doreen (Shirley Anne Field).

A night out with Doreen at Nottingham’s Goose Fair goes horribly wrong when the tangled truth of Arthur’s misdemeanours is exposed amongst the waltzers and hoop-la stalls. He gets comprehensively beaten by two squaddies who leave him bedridden.

Directed by Karel Reisz, it was based on the 1958 book by Alan Sillitoe, who also wrote the screenplay. The Seaton’s family house at 5 Beaconsfield Terrace  was actually owned by Sillitoe. Filmed mostly on location in Nottingham, The British Flag pub in Battersea was however used for some of the night scenes.

Arthur is portrayed as being some kind of working class superman. After a drinking contest he is so drunk that he attempts to stagger to the toilet, but falls down a flight of concrete stairs into the pub basement. However, once indoors a quick splash of water on his face and he’s right as rain again. Hard as nails is Arthur.

As the final futile gesture of defiance in the film, from a grassy bank Arthur launches a rock toward the new housing estate built on the edge of town, where he and Doreen will surely live, absorbed into the suburban void.

Cinematographer Freddie Francis gives the interiors a cramped claustrophobia, yet the inky blacks of the industrial nights, with their pubs, cinemas, girls and empty streets, seem like somewhere to escape to.Arthur and his mate go fishing in the canal, but their communion with nature is offset by the presence of a looming electricity pylon. They are forever in the city’s embrace.

A science fiction edge unexpectedly arose when, during the quieter bits, a thereminic, swooping tone was heard emanating from the ether. This added an interesting, unearthly tinge to some of the more intimate scenes. We eventually tracked it down to a game the kids had been playing on a phone that hadn’t been switched off properly.

Reputedly Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is the first time extra marital sex had been portrayed in this way. It is also the only film in which I have heard anyone call someone else a “swivel-eyed get”.

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WHIPLASH

28:02:17

The black hole at the centre of this films is Dr Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons). Everything and everyone else orbits around his dark gravity. He sucks all the pleasure and personality from his students leaving behind only slavish perfectionism and empty souls.

Director Damien Chazelle‘s Whiplash is primarily about the relationship between young, fresh faced, ambitious jazz drummer Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) and Fletcher, the abusive, monomaniacal music professor at Shaffer Conservatory, all bald head, popping eyes and bulging veins.

Fletcher’s technique is to push his students by degrading and humiliating them with full-on psychological warfare. The hope is to create a new Charlie Parker or Buddy Rich. It certainly takes its toll on Andrew’s hands, which bleed and blister after ferocious practicing, and also his love life, as he tells his girlfriend Nicole (Melissa Benoist) that she is standing between him and jazz greatness.

Between chairs being thrown across rehearsal rooms and the flying expletives, there are some interesting, quieter scenes. At a family meal, because he still has nothing concrete to show for all his hard work, Andrew’s cousins and uncle belittle his artistic nature. He bites back.

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Also well handled, if extremely briefly, is the sudden broadsiding of a hire car he is racing to a jazz competition in. It comes out of nowhere, and suddenly everything is thrown upside down.

New York always looks splendid in films, and there’s a nice little homage to Jules Dassin as Rififi is showing at the picture house Andrew and his father regularly attend. The whole story is told resolutely from Andrew’s point of view, so much so that he is in every single scene. We see him asking Nicole, who works at the cinema, out for the first time. Of course she is destined to be discarded eventually as Andrew strips away anything other than drumming from his life.

Later, when he calls her to come and see him play at a show, she is in another relationship.

Obviously there is a lot of music. The two standards Caravan (Juan Tizol and Duke Ellington) and of course Whiplash (Hank Levy) are visited extensively. When he feels Andrew is playing a little out of time, to tighten the tempo Fletcher resorts to slapping the lad across the face, and although in rehearsal this was simulated, apparently the take used in the film featured actual slaps. Whiplash!

It seems as though Fletcher, like Dr. Frankenstein before him, attempts to animate dead matter in his students by sending electrical jolts into their lifeless bodies. His electrical jolts are insults and degrading barbs that shoot right to the core, designed to open new channels, but often causing more dead tissue than revitalised flesh.

Of course the creature Frankenstein has created turns against him. It’s a common enough trope in cinema, but how and if Andrew will get revenge is what keeps the viewer engaged in this very well told story.

Highly recommended.

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DON’T TALK TO STRANGE MEN / DILEMMA

14:02:17

A double bill of films from 1962, each with its own peculiar feel and atmosphere. Both released by Bryanston Films and relatively short at a little over an hour each.

DON’T TALK TO STRANGE MEN runs like an elongated public information film about grooming. Jean (Christina Gregg) is a middle class girl who works as a babysitter at her uncle’s pub. At the end of her shift she catches the bus home from a stop near a telephone box somewhere in an idyllic part of England. One evening the phone rings. There’s no one else around to pick it up, so Jean does. From that point on the telephone box plays a central role in the story.

After several conversations with her unseen admirer, Jean becomes increasingly besotted. She rechristens herself Samantha and finally arranges to meet this chap who has made her feel so desirable and intriguing.

The cinematography is by Stephen Dade. The unwavering gaze of the camera on Jean as she enters into dialogue with this well spoken, initially charming fellow is quite chilling. The phone box becomes a world away from her doting, wittering parents and the rigid conformity of her everyday life. She becomes someone else when she’s speaking to him. She becomes Samantha.

The bus conductress Jean chats to on her journeys home is played by Dandy Nicholls, Alf Garnett’s wife in Till Death Us Do Part.

Jean and her feisty younger sister Ann (Janina Faye) devise a ruse to allow her to meet her suitor, but due to an unplanned chain of events Ann’s life is put in mortal danger.

Director Pat Jackson never shows us the villain’s face, although we are in no doubt that he’s capable of killing, as in the opening shots of the film a girl accepts a lift on a lonely street. Her body turns up later, discovered by children buried in hay in a farmer’s barn.

Transposed to the modern day, despite the quaint dialogue and cut glass accents, Don’t Talk to Strange Men says something about internet grooming, assumed identities and sexual naivety.

This was the support feature to The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner when it was first released.

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DILEMMA is equally idiosyncratic. What would you do if you returned home to find your wife away, a broken flowerpot in the driveway and a dead man on the bathroom floor?

Think about it for a minute.

Now if the answer is dig a massive hole in the living room floor and cement the corpse in it, this is the film for you.

Directed by Peter Maxwell and starring character actor Peter Halliday as Harry Barnes, Dilemma is set in a 60’s suburbia of manicured roses and wrought iron garden gates. A lot of it takes place in Harry Barnes’, house. The interiors are superb, all chequered floor tiles and glass fronted kitchen cabinets. The set up is replete with a spectacularly nosy neighbour who won’t give up until she knows exactly what’s going on. She’s played by Patricia Burke, looking not unlike the wonderful Daphne Oram.

Despite interruptions from nuns collecting for repairs to the abbey, his mother calling round and a blind piano tuner, Harry sticks to his task. Meanwhile his wife Jean (Ingrid Hafner) is up to no good. She’s just been to casualty with a cut hand, and now she’s trying to get the bank to open a safety deposit for her, you see she’s lost the key.

The main location used was Ormond Crescent in Hampton, Greater London. The cinematography was by Gerald Moss, whose work in TV included many episodes of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). Husband and wife team Pip and Jane Baker wrote the original story.

The unguessable twist at the end displays a darkness and greed beneath the surface of the suburban dream. It’s as if Blue Velvet was set in Middlesex.

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THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER

07:02:17

Running’s always been a big thing in our family, especially running away from the police.

Colin Smith (Tom Courteney) is a working class lad who, having robbed a bakery on impulse with his mate, ends up in borstal. The Governor (Michael Redgrave) notices Colin has a talent for running. With a cross-country competition against a local private school approaching, he sees the lad as a chance to gain kudos by beating the posh boys and bringing the cup home to Ruxton Towers Reform School.

It is based on a book by Alan Sillitoe, who also wrote the screenplay. Director Tony Richardson was associated with the Free Cinema Movement of the 1950s along with Karel Reisz and Linsay Anderson and their influence is evident in many films of the time. It was made by Woodfall Film Productions, which was set up in the late 50s by Richardson and the playwright John Osborne, originally to produce the cinema version of Osborne’s play Look Back in Anger (1959)Woodfall Films went on to make many other key British films, often tagged with the epithets British New Wave and Kitchen Sink Realism. These included Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), A Taste of Honey (1961) and Kes (1969).

It all takes place between the end of the war and the blossoming of the 60s. England seemed a drab, damp place then, steeped in coldness and beholden to the class system. When the Governor realises Colin can run, he is rewarded with privileges and trust. The gates are opened and he is allowed to run on his own down deserted country lanes flanked by leafless trees and vestiges of snow.

Being an awkward, angular chap, his style is gangly and asymmetrical. We thought he looked a bit like Paula Radcliffe. During these solitary training sessions, his mind is free to dwell on life before reform school.

Told in flashback, we see the robbery at the bakery with Colin’s pal Mike (James Bowlam), how they meet a couple of girls (played by Julia Foster and the fabulously named Topsy Jane) who they take to Skegness, and finally how they are caught by the long arm of the Nottinghamshire law.

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There are one or two incongruous moments. For example a couple of scenes are sped up, presumably for comic effect. Personally I found these distracted from the overall mood. There are also moments of great visual flair, for instance Colin silhouetted against an open sky as the sun sets. The black and white cinematography was by  Walter Lassally.

The contrast of the claustrophobic confinement and regimented life in borstal with the freedom of the open road and the countryside is a key element on which the picture hinges. Colin always returns dutifully back after his runs, repaying the trust shown in him by his superiors, however his final act of militant rebelliousness is a kick in the teeth to conformity and the class system.

It was distributed by Bryanston Films, a company linked to several other Film Night favourites of British cinema.

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NIGHT AND THE CITY (UK)

31:01:17

This is Part 2 of the Night and the City review. It’s best if you start with Part 1 really, which is here.

There are two versions of Jules Dassin‘s Night and the City. The British version contains about five minutes of extra material, making the American cut a bit leaner and snappier. For example, when we first see Harry and his girl Mary together in her flat, the scene is extended for British audiences, with more talk of how Harry will make her rich and happy.

Also later in the film, the UK version contains a scene where a man calls on Harry in his office at the gym because a hotel bill is outstanding. These extra bits don’t add to the story, but slow the pacing and render the UK film a slightly flabbier affair.

The ending of the British version has an upbeat turn for Mary too. A contrast to the bleaker conclusion for US audiences. Maybe they were considered more able to cope with darkness and despair than us delicate limeys.

However the main aspect that divides these two movies is the music. Both have completely different scores.

The US score is composed by Franz Waxman. Befitting of Widmark’s character, it is a jazzy, thrilling, edgy accompaniment to the greed, corruption and betrayal seeping out of the London night.

The UK score by Benjamin Frankel is far more European in feel, although still jazz influenced, but in a more classical, quaint way. There are fewer drums and horns and more banjos and accordions. The DVD we watched the US version on contained as one of the extras an illuminating comparison of the influence music has on the viewer’s experience.

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The city itself is filmed in luminous black and white by Mutz Greenbaum (credited as Max Green). Highlights are when Harry, fleeing for his life, heads into an industrial area, a wasteland of bricks, iron and rising steam. At one point he finds himself in a claustrophobic shot tower surrounded by a relentless, regular, metallic pounding. Great sound design.

The finest visual moments feature linear movement through the body of the city. The camera takes us into the dark, subterranean lairs of smugglers, forgers and tricksters. It looms over bomb damaged buildings, all the time with the capital’s famous landmarks in spitting distance, notably the dome of St. Paul’s. A car drive through the thronging streets at night, with brightly lit shops and a newspaper vendor on every corner is breathtaking.

Night and the City was remade in 1992 with Robert De Niro and Jessica Lange. The remake is set in New York (boo!) and the sport is changed to boxing. Can’t see it being as good as this film though, despite the fact that Dassin claims he never actually read the novel.

Did I mention the man upstairs and his spectacular spaghetti bolognese disaster?

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