Hammett
Hammett

Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs (BFI Flipside)

Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs (
Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs (

Developed from its popular monthly screening slot at the BFI Southbank, the BFI’s Flipside series is conceived to revisit and reappraise British films that have slipped through the cracks of cinema history ”“ films that were overlooked, marginalised, or undervalued at the original time of release, or which sit outside the established canon of recognised classics.
The Flipside’s latest release, Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs, definitely fits that definition. A compelling and infuriated performance from the great John Hurt as deluded activist Malcolm Scrawdyke underpins Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs, a disturbingly dark comedy from 1974 directed by Stuart Cooper (Overlord, The Disappearance). Rarely seen in almost 40 years, it is released by BFI Flipside on 24 October in a Dual Format Edition (DVD and Blu-ray discs) with thematically related short films preserved in the BFI National Archive (Francine Winhams’ amusing 1974 gender role reversal comedy Put Yourself In My Place and James Dearden’s 1977 exercise in gallows humour, The Contraption) an extensive booklet with essays and contributions from director Stuart Cooper, John Hurt and Mike Leigh. Expelled art student Scrawdyke leads his Party of Dynamic Erection ”“ with devoted followers Wick (John McEnery), Irwin (Raymond Platt) and Nipple (David Warner) ”“ in an incensed battle against unseen archenemy, art school head Phillip Allard. Rosalind Ayres is both perceptive and ferocious as Malcolm’s would-be girlfriend Ann. Based on the celebrated 1965 stage play by David Halliwell, Little Malcolm was filmed on location in dreary, wintry Oldham by Stuart Cooper with cinematographer John Alcott (A Clockwork Orange, The Shining). Financed by former Beatle George Harrison, who had enjoyed John Hurt’s lead performance in the play at the Garrick Theatre in 1965 (and preceding the launch of Harrison’s HandMade Films by five years), Little Malcolm was the winner of the Silver Bear at the 1974 Berlin Film Festival. Featuring music by Stanley Myers (The Deer Hunter) with incidental music by George Harrison, the film undeniably reveals its origins as a stage play and as a broad satire of the cruel logic of fascism, student ”Ëœradicalism’, male sexuality/violence and power.

Yet the power of Hurt’s performance, coupled with a fine supporting cast (in particular the magnificent David Warner as the duffle coat wearing Nipple who believes that he is an alluring sexual force) carries Stuart Cooper’s enjoyable and idiosyncratic satirical celluloid oddity.
On 24 October, the BFI is also reissuing the first nine of its classic Flipside titles in new Dual Format Editions (each containing DVD and Blu-ray versions), bringing them in line the rest of the collection. The new retail price for each title will be £19.99, and the previous stand-alone DVD and Blu-ray versions will be deleted. The re-issued titles are:
001: The Bed Sitting Room (Richard Lester, 1969)
002: London in the Raw (Arnold L. Miller, 1964)
003: Primitive London (Arnold L. Miller, 1965)
004: Herostratus (Don Levy, 1967)
005: All the Right Noises (Gerry O’Hara, 1969)
006: Man of Violence (Pete Walker, 1970)
007: Privilege (Peter Watkins, 1967)
008: That Kind of Girl (Gerry O’Hara, 1963)
009: Permissive (Lindsay Shonteff, 1970)

Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence (Optimum Classic, released 17th October 2012)

Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence
Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence

In 1942 British soldier Major Jack Celliers (David Bowie) is incarcerated in a Japanese prison camp in Java. The camp is run by Captain Yonoi (Ryûichi Sakamoto, formerly of the Yellow Magic Orchestra who also contributes the film’s memorable score), who has a firm belief in discipline, honour and glory. In Yonoi’s view, the allied prisoners are all cowards after choosing to surrender in the war instead of committing suicide by hara-kiri. When one of the prisoners, interpreter John Lawrence (Tom Conti), tries to explain and understand the Japanese way of thinking, he is considered a traitor. As Celliers’ own personal obdurate rebellion and Yonoi’s Samurai code inexorably come into conflict, Mr. Lawrence slowly becomes friends with the brutal but lonesome prison guard Hara (”ËœBeat’ Takeshi Kitano, in his feature film debut as an actor). Based upon the 1963 novel The Seed and The Sower by Laurens Van Der Post, Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence (1983) was uncompromising Japanese director Nagisa Ôshima’s first attempt at producing a film for an international audience (his 1970’s erotically charged classics In The Realm Of The Senses (Ai No Korida) and Empire Of Passion -Ai No Borei are also released on DVD/Blu-Ray Double Play on 18th October). A very rare Anglo/Japanese film co-production, blending professional western and Japanese actors with a non-professional cast, Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence does produce a suitable background for a psychological drama surrounding frustrated sexuality, the clash of different cultures and their mutual attraction. The film offers a very rare view of the Second World War from the Japanese perspective and Conti and Takeshi are particularly convincing, in that there is less of a clash in their acting styles than between other members of the cast. The problem is that Conti’s and Takeshi’s story detracts from the central drama of the Bowie/Sakamoto struggle of wills, due primarily to their weaker performances as less experienced actors. Also Jack Thompson’s Hicksley Ellis character resembles a type of clichéd British officer character from a far more conventional British 50’s war picture than the one Oshima and co-script writer Paul ”ËœThe Man Who Fell To Earth’ Mayersberg are trying to essay.

Overall, Nagisa Ôshima’s serious minded, ambitious and daring film fails to fully connect emotionally with the viewer.

The Extras on the Double Play disc set include The Oshima Gang, a Making of Featurette, an Interview with Jeremy Thomas and Ryûichi Sakamoto and the original theatrical trailer.

Francis Ford Coppola/ Zoetrope collection (Studiocanal)
The Conversation (Studiocanal)

The Conversation
The Conversation

Surveillance expert Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) values his personal privacy and anonymity above all else. When he and partner Stan (John Cazale) are hired by a mysterious client known only as ‘the director’ (Robert Duvall) to follow a young couple, Harry deduces that the woman, Mary, is the director’s wife, and the man an employee with whom she is conducting an affair. Harry becomes convinced that the director intends to murder the pair and, haunted by guilt from a previous assignment where the information he provided resulted in loss of human life, sets out to prevent the killing himself.

One of Coppola’s masterpieces, The Conversation (1974) is a dark and unsettling neo-noir conspiracy thriller that jettisons any direct stylistic homage to classic film noir to explore the single noir theme of paranoia. Hackman’s astonishing performance as the obsessive, haunted and sour Harry Caul is one of the very best of his illustrious career. In the original 1940’s film noir a male character would be forced from his supposedly ”Ëœsecure’ world by the actions of villains or a femme fatale. In The Conversation, Hackman’s Harry Caul is, from the moment the film begins, totally alienated, isolated and utterly paranoid. Released the same year that Richard Nixon resigned from Presidential office over the Watergate scandal, Coppola’s picture draws clear comparisons between the neurotic, self-destructive and driven Caul, whose profession is the collecting of intimate conversations, and the disgraced President who also operated by extensively collecting covertly taped discussion.

This landmark film from the second ”ËœGolden Age’ of Hollywood features suitably impressive DVD/Blu-Ray extras (released on 31st October): these include a commentary by Coppola, an addition commentary by sound designer/editor Walter Murch, location comparisons between 1974 and the present, an interview with Gene Hackman and a Close-Up On The Conversation documentary.

One From The Heart (Studiocanal, 7th November)

One From The Heart
One From The Heart

Hank (Frederic Forrest) and Frannie (Terri Garr) have been in a relationship for five years but their connection appears to be disappearing and all they seem to do is fight. On the evening of 4th July when the couple should be celebrating their anniversary, they start arguing again and Frannie walks out on Hank.

After the break up, the two both meet who they believe to be their perfect match – Frannie meets Ray (Raul Julia) a dark, handsome musician and Hank meets Leila (Nastassja Kinski), a nubile and beautiful circus performer. But are these passionate new bonds meant to be or will true love prevail?
Set on the Las Vegas Strip and in the desolate dessert (recreated almost entirely on soundstages) which mirrors their whirlwind relationship, One from the Heart was Francis Ford Coppola’s 1982 attempt at a romantic Broadway-style musical drama, to launch his totally independent Zoetrope film studios. The main strength of the film is that it boasts a highly emotive original soundtrack from Tom Waits (for which he was Oscar nominated for Best Musical Score) with vocal duets from Crystal Gail, but this alone could not save the picture. Originally intended as a small, intimate picture after the nightmare production saga of Apocalypse Now, One From The Heart’s budget quickly ballooned from $12 million to $27 million dollars. Coppola had believed that his pioneering use of video-editing techniques on the picture (used as standard practice today) would mean be could reduce the costs of making pictures and speed up the whole process by visualizing the movie and editing it before a frame was shot. What Coppola had not considered was his own megalomaniac tendencies, which ultimately brought his Zoetrope studio dream to a crashing end when he filed for bankruptcy and offered the studio for sale on 20th April 1982. One From The Heart had opened to aggressively downbeat reviews on Valentine’s Day 1982 and had made just $2.5 million. Coppola wanted to create a new, non-narrative type of American cinema and that is the major problem with One From The Heart; the story makes no logical emotional sense. For the picture to work artistically, it should have had a downbeat ending – like Scorsese’s brilliant but unsuccessful 1977 musical, New York New York. Nevertheless, this would have probably only added to the commercial woes of the film. Not nearly as bad as the reviews it garnered upon its initial release, One From The Heart has much to recommend it; sumptuous visuals and top performances form all the leads, including the redoubtable Harry Dean Stanton as Hank’s perm haired best friend. Yet is Waits’ world weary, bittersweet romantic score that really endures from the picture. If only Coppola had followed the internal reason of Waits’ music more, One From The Heart could have been a contender.

Hammett (Studiocanal, 7th November)

Hammett
Hammett

Based on the eponymous novel by Joe Gores, Hammett (1982) is the story of the original detective novel writer Dashiell Hammett played by Frederic Forrest (Apocalypse Now, The Conversation). Hammett, working as a Pinkerton detective while trying to make his mark as a writer, investigates the mysterious disappearance of a beautiful Chinese cabaret actress in San Francisco. As he is thrust into a seedy world of underage hookers, blackmail and murder, he finds inspiration for his tour de force novel, The Maltese Falcon. Written by Dennis O’Flaherty, Thomas Pope and Ross Thomas, Hammett is a forlorn attempt at a classic homage to noir films and pulp fiction produced by Francis Ford Coppola. It was Wim Wenders’ (The American Friend/ Paris, Texas) American directorial debut and remarkably received a Palme d’Or nomination at Cannes. Despite the presence of original noir stalwart actor Elisha Cook, Jr., legendary noir director Sam Fuller, a fine score by John Barry and dazzling set designs (like One From The Heart, Hammett is mostly shot on soundstages), the film is unfortunately a resounding failure. Forrest is miscast as Hammett and the more Wenders and Coppola (the studio was so dissatisfied with Wenders’ work that only 30 percent of his footage remained, and the rest was completely reshot by Coppola) try to recreate the original noir pictures, the more their own movie appears to be a mere pale imitation. Sadly, Hammett was another nail in the coffin of Coppola’s Zoetrope studio and the engrossing true story of Dashiell Hammett (which would focus upon the creation of his 1929 genre defining novel, Red Harvest) has yet to be filmed.

1 COMMENT

  1. Ian thank you so much for this. it would seem that for the first time in my life, i’ve found a film reviewer whose opinions i totally share! each time i read one of your reviews of a film i know, there’s a ‘yes but’ moment where your informative and impartial introductions make me think i’m about to disagree with your conclusions. it hasn’t happened yet! please keep up the sterling work sir! ade xxx

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