Category Archives: At home

Why Werner Herzog’s Invincible Deserves A Comeback

Buried deep in Werner Herzog’s rich and varied curriculum vitae, winking at the millennium celebrations behind it and trailing his remarkable lone air crash survivor documentary Wings of Hope, his unhinged turn in Harmony Korine’s Julian Donkey Boy and periods directing opera in Genoa and Houston lies the neglected and significant biographical drama Invincible.

Ostensibly about Polish Jewish blacksmith turned variety act strongman Siegmund Breitbart (Jouko Ahola) whose swift rise and fall predated the dangerous march of Hitler and the National Socialists by only a matter of weeks, Invincible is a film about the mania of hatred, dissatisfaction and blame that heralds any genocide. Invincible was released in cinemas in 2001 and garnered good reviews but slipped from screens all too quickly and remains little seen, and yet what Invincible can tell us about the direction of both Germany in the early 1930s and Herzog’s career in general is fascinating.

DVD Cover of Invincible

As with Fitzcarraldo before it, Herzog was determined to bring the opera to bear on this tale of mysticism and eccentricity. By its very nature Breitbart’s sorry tale lends itself to Wagnerian analogy and yet at its heart there is something more intricate and intriguing about this disarming film. With it’s pared down sensibility, raw acting and skewed morality the film Invincible can most easily be compared to is Louis Malle’s queasy tale of collaboration and oppression in wartime France – Lacombe Lucien. Yet Malle’s film, as good as it is, is about the seduction of power, Invincible is about the survival of power’s universal essence.

Real life celebrity Erik Jan Hanussen – the Austrian-Jewish clairvoyant, publicist, hypnotist, mentalist, occultist and owner of the occult cabaret where Breitbart finds employment and fame, represents that essence. As played by Tim Roth, Hanussen is equal parts Caligari and Rasputin. Having been immortalized on screen already by Klaus Maria Brandauer in István Szabó’s underrated biopic Hanussen in 1988, Roth keeps the villainy light and the delusion heavy. Hanussen’s role as Hitler’s spiritual advisor and later possible victim is well documented but it is the existence of this eccentric that gives Breitbart’s trajectory its heart and moral equivalence.

The story of Hanussen and Breitbart has long since fascinated those obsessed with the occultist ley lines that cut through time and culture. Indeed in 2001 Mike Mignola’s brilliant Hellboy graphic novel series was finally getting the recognition it deserved thanks to a sustained assault of soft back reprints, and Breitbart and Hanussen’s influence haunt Hellboy like a stinking green undead mist. Squint and it is easy to see Breitbart resurrected as a demonic investigator for the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defence, Hanussen’s influence is there in both the Nazi occultists Hellboy frequently fights and even in the passing kindness of Hellboy’s surrogate father Professor Bruttenholm.

Aesthetically Invincible’s most noticeable influence however is the pre-World War II Yiddish cinema, the best known of which – Michael Waszynski’s The Dybbuk and Joseph Green’s Yiddle with a Fiddle tread that fine line between melodrama and empathy with a rootsy base charm that asks little of the audience but patience and understanding. Visually simple and sonically charged by composer Hans Zimmer, Invincible is an all too modern paean to these wonderful films. The rise of the Nazis and the subsequent Holocaust put an end to this cinematic tradition much as it did to the careers of Breitbart and Hanussen and all those involved in occult cabaret but Invincible survives.

Like Aguirre, The Wrath of God, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, Fitzcarraldo and even Rescue Dawn, Invincible is about that place where madness, talent and the human spirit leads us all when everything is going to hell around us.

Invincible is available to buy now on DVD.

Leave a comment

Filed under At home

Hotel Splendide: The Island Resort Of No Return

Daniel Craig in Hotel Splendide

How odd is Terence Gross’ solo directorial effort Hotel Splendide? It’s about as eccentric as modern British cinema gets. Imagine Michael Powell’s marvelous St Kilda drama The Edge of The World had been bred with Peter Greenaway’s Drowning By Numbers and then hand- reared by Bill Forsyth on a diet of Laurel and Hardy and the Three Stooges. The resulting offspring would possibly resemble this scatological tale of family, isolation, romance, decay and digestion.

As Daniel Craig gears up for his third outing as James Bond in Skyfall, it’s good to remind oneself of where he came from. Hotel Splendide boasts one of his earliest screen performances of note as the frustrated, eternally angry, lovelorn chef of remote resort The Hotel Splendide. The film also features one of the last major performances from the great British actress Katrin Cartlidge, who died two years later, as his phobia-beset sister.

Turning on a theme of the returning avenger, albeit a beautiful elfin one in the shape of Toni Collette as Kath, Hotel Splendide is about the undoing of tradition, the cutting of the ties that bind and the chaos of old sewerage systems. Engagingly played by a young cast that includes Stephen Tompkinson, Toby Jones and Hugh O’Conor alongside Craig and Cartlidge, Hotel Splendide really is an ensemble one-off.  Deliberately paced and prone to outbursts of slapstick, action and other general weirdness, it’s hard to think of another British film from the last decade more surprising or deserving of investigation.  One of its many charms is Hungarian cinematographer and director Gyula Pados’ richly satisfying use and lighting of the hotel set, a style he would go on to hone in Fateless and The Duchess.

This dark, surreal and comic independent film was made by Film Four under a Tory government soon to be usurped by a New Labour one. The film itself feels like a redress of old school, regressive values in pursuit of something more freeing. Wherever the journey away from that desolate resort took the main characters, it may be worth a visit one last time.

You can buy Hotel Splendide here.

Leave a comment

Filed under At home

Charlotte Rampling on The Look at BFI

The Look

Peter Lindbergh and Charlotte Rampling – Role Reversal

On 27 April this year Charlotte Rampling attended the BFI in London to give a Q&A with journalist Mark Lawson. Angelina Maccarone’s film The Look was the screening, a film on Charlotte Rampling that has the alternative title, A Self Portrait Through Others.

The Look screened as part of Cannes Classics, at the French Film Festival UK and was recently released on DVD by Park Circus. An intriguing and insightful work, The Look is divided into a series of chapters chosen by Rampling and discussed with friends and colleagues across locations such as New York and Paris.

The Look has already been discussed on our blog but here we provide the Q&A session with Charlotte Rampling at the BFI. Let us know your thoughts in our comment section below and enjoy!

The Look is available on DVD now (Park Circus).

Leave a comment

Filed under At home, Interview

The Look – A Self-Portrait Through Others

Charlotte Rampling in The Look

Charlotte Rampling in The Look

One of the greatest film critics of all time, André Bazin, posed the question in the title of one of his books, ‘Qu’est-ce que le cinéma ?’ – ‘What is cinema?’ I believe that this question can be furthered in relation to an evergreen star of cinema; ‘What is cinema without actors like Charlotte Rampling?’

The actress in question may not be the greatest or most recognised over her period yet cinema would be a far less interesting place without her presence and uniqueness.

With that in mind, it brings great excitement to see the upcoming DVD release of Angelina Maccarone’s biopic, The Look. This is an extraordinary work which was warmly received at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and will be out on DVD release in the UK on Monday 30 April.

It centres on the aforementioned Charlotte Rampling, an actress the French label as La Légende. Now 65, this Essex-born actress remains an intriguing and fascinating on-screen presence, the most recent example being in Lars von Trier’s Melancholia. It is Rampling’s evocative facial expression that has influenced the documentary’s title; The Look – a term originally coined in reference to Rampling by two-time co-star, Dirk Bogarde.

Bogarde was once quoted as saying, “I have seen the Look under many different circumstances…the glowing emerald eyes turn to steel within a second, [and] fade gently to the softest, tenderist, most doe-eyed bracken-brown”. The duality of Rampling’s gaze, seen over several decades now, has been one of the great cinematic looks to appear on-screen.

The Look is not the most conventional of biographical documentaries, in part mainly due to Rampling’s influence and final say over all aspects of the project. The structure of the work is separated by eight themes chosen by the director and subject (Rampling): Exposure, Age, Resonance, Taboo, Desire, Demons, Death and Love.

Each section sees Rampling discuss an individual theme with people such as photographer Peter Lindbergh and author Paul Auster. Rampling travels the globe in search of friends and colleagues, going from London to New York to Paris, stopping off in cafés, hotel rooms and a houseboat.

She has clearly led an interesting life, much of which stems from her father’s decision (an army colonel who worked abroad) to place his two daughters in a French school when Rampling was only nine years old. The obvious language barrier made this experience a lonely one where it took her nine months before she could communicate with her fellow pupils.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under At home, Now Showing

How Boudu Can Save Us All From Drowning

Poster Artwork for Boudu Saved From Drowning

Whatever you’ve heard about the French cinema’s New Wave, the truth is that the real Golden Age of French cinema was a period between 1929 and 1939. It was bookended by the advent of sound at the cinema and the outbreak of World War II. The men (for they were always men) who heralded this age were Jean Vigo, Marcel Carné and Jean Renoir whose magnificent 1937 war satire La Grande Illusion is out this year for its 75th anniversary (one month before ITV/Park Circus’ timely rerelease of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, its closest British equivalent). But for every pompous general there should always be an anarchic tramp and for Renoir, this benighted incarnation came years before in his remarkable 1932 class war comedy Boudu Saved From Drowning.

Set in and around Paris, Boudu Saved From Drowning tells the story of a Parisian tramp Boudu (played by the physically gifted Michel Simon), who is pulled out of the Seine by a bourgeois bookseller Edouard Lestingois (Charles Granval) after a suicidal plunge. Boudu is brought into Lestingois’ home, a rambling maze-like Left Bank apartment, which overlooks the river. Lestingois, his wife and maid/mistress (Séverine) adopt Boudu as their underprivileged pet in an attempt to reform him from his scruffiness and social ineptitude. However, his gratitude for this sees him shake the household to its foundations, challenging their meaningless principles from conventional society and then seducing both women with his anarchic charm.

Boudu is a defiant farce, one driven by the ferocity of Simon’s characterisation and Renoir’s mise-en-scène. Simon was given free reign for his character’s portrayal and the result is pure chaos. Boudu is someone who does not belong in the city, especially not within the confines of a book-filled apartment (one scene portrays Boudu spitting into a book by legendary French novelist Balzac, epitomising the difference between his values and those of the bourgeois Lestingois – this was also a previously lost scene restored in Park Circus’ DVD and Blu-ray issue). Renoir’s skills lie best in his eye for detail and depth of field when using the camera. There are scenes within scenes here and a layering that engrosses you as a spectator and in this case, brilliantly demonstrates Boudu’s claustrophobia as someone who should be out in the open.

There is a great contrast in the way Renoir films his central character in Lestingois’ narrow apartment or in the bustling streets of Paris to when Boudu traipses around parks and the countryside seemingly freer and more content. Similarly to the recently praised Le Quattro Volte (2010), this is a spiritual film about a man more at ease surrounded by water, pastures and animals, not humans and an ironically disruptive city atmosphere.

There can be little doubt that Renoir was influenced by his impressionist painter father Pierre-Auguste in creating films where actors and objects were placed with precision. In a film with such a vivacious actor as Michel Simon, the blend of this measured approach to one that is unpredictable marries fantastically well.

Much copied but never bettered Boudu Saved From Drowning remains an early gem from Renoir’s esteemed oeuvre and offers light relief to his other more dramatic works from the period (Renoir did though always maintain a tone of optimism in his films). On its 80th anniversary, this is one title worth storing in your collection or one to watch out for in cinemas near you this year.

Boudu Saved From Drowning is now available to download from iTunes and is available on both DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.

Leave a comment

Filed under At home, Back in Cinemas

Jean Vigo – A Passion for Life Undimmed

“Jean Vigo opened my eyes to the cinema. In telling my version of his story, I hope in some way to repay my debt to him, and encourage others to find inspiration in his films.” – Julian Temple

James Frain as Jean Vigo

Cinema’s current climate is undoubtedly at the mercy of new and exciting technologies, yet the international success of The Artist and Hugo bears witness to a dynamic nostalgia in audiences and filmmakers. Fascination with the magic found in early cinema is nothing new and there is no one more magical than Jean Vigo. His 1934 masterwork L’Atalante has just been re-released by the British Film Institute. Having made a grand total of four films, any self- respecting cineaste knows that Vigo is still, and always will be, one of greatest filmmakers of all time, with both L’Atalante and Zéro de conduite, in particular, standing out as exceptional examples of the craft. It wasn’t for nothing that legendary film preservationist and archivist Henri Langlois went on record to state: ‘Vigo is cinema incarnate in one man.’

It is with this in mind that Park Circus wishes to reintroduce you to Julien Temple’s 1998 biopic Vigo – Passion for Life. What makes Vigo’s frustratingly limited filmography intriguing is the tragic backdrop of his life. Temple’s passion for Vigo the man and his art shine through.

The film begins in a tuberculosis sanatorium surrounded by a beautiful mountainous landscape in the south of France. The son of a neglectful mother and a Catalan anarchist father (named Almereyda, an anagram of ‘y’a la merde’, literally meaning ‘there is shit’) Vigo’s lonely childhood is laid bare in Temple’s film as we witness the early stages of an illness that will become a fatal condition that ultimately affected his filmmaking. What follows is an intense, romantic and energetic account of Vigo and of those around him. From his brittle yet passionate relationship and marriage with the wonderfully named Lydu (pronounced lee-doo) to his collaborators Boris Kaufman (cinematographer who later won an Oscar for On the Waterfront and who is the brother of Dziga Vertov who made the influential Man with a Movie Camera) and composer Maurice Jaubert, the film’s evocation of the bohemian existence is both romantic, nostalgic and immensely fitting.

The magic behind the camera

Vigo’s life was fraught with the difficulties of containing and treating his disease yet during this film and his life there was an unerring passion that can only inspire cinephiles and filmmakers alike. Lindsay Anderson, Bernardo Bertolucci, François Truffaut and Jean Renoir (whose work Boudu Saved From Drowning (1932) stars the anarchic and effervescent Michel Simon that later starred in Vigo’s L’Atalante) have all been influenced by Jean Vigo. More precisely, Vigo was the main precursor to poetic realism and had a posthumous influence on France’s New Wave cinema, as themes of rebellion and youth were picked up again.

There are many reasons to fall in love with the cinema of Jean Vigo and ultimately it is his slim oeuvre that stands as his true testaments. Where Temple’s work succeeds is in his warm portrayal of the director and his life’s story and in his representation of the magic Vigo created behind the camera, and in the editing suite. Take one scene from Zéro de conduite, a film set in a boarding school where authority is challenged and youthful playfulness is wonderfully personified by children Vigo hand-picked from the streets of Paris. The scene has the boys start a pillow fight in their dormitory. Kaufman then plays back the film in order to create a dream-like sequence that stays with you forever. Composer Jaubert accentuates the trance-like scene by playing the music backwards at the same time. This fun, innovative and influential scene in cinema history is wisely represented by Temple in the film.

Jean Vigo died from rheumatic septicemia at the age of just 29 on 5 October 1934. He leaves a legacy of films that reflect a young imagination full of ideas and innovation. There are not many who managed to bring so much magic to the screen and through such a personal yet immediately relatable message. Vigo – Passion for Life stands as an excellent reminder of a very individual talent whose passion for the magic of cinema is what we at Park Circus remain dedicated to.

Vigo – Passion for Life is available to book theatrically and is available on DVD from Amazon.

The links in this article relate to titles available for theatrical booking through Park Circus.

Leave a comment

Filed under At home

Scottish Opera’s Derek Clark on Der Rosenkavalier

Inspired by the recent DVD and Blu-ray release of Paul Czinner’s 1962 adaptation of Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier, Derek Clark, Head of Music at Scottish Opera, looks at how the filmmakers went about adapting stage performances for the big screen.

This is an absolute treat; a live performance of Strauss’ best-loved opera from the Salzburg Festival conducted by Herbert von Karajan and featuring some of the finest singers of the day, in a production (by Rudolph Hartmann) faithful to the spirit of the piece with sumptuous sets and costumes which match the opulence of the score, played with great elan and polish by an orchestra at the peak of its form.

Sung in the original German, the film is subtitled and the recorded sound is very good, considering the age of the film, with plenty of orchestral detail, though the singers are never overwhelmed.

Sometimes, though, the recording levels seem to have been evened out, resulting in a certain similarity of volume, but this is a small price to pay in view of the quality of the overall performance. In particular it is good to see Elisabeth Schwarzkopf performing the Marschallin, her singing more natural and less mannered than in the famous studio recording she made with Karajan in the late 1950’s.

The Ochs from that recording, Otto Edelmann, also sings here, and his larger than life portrayal of the role is a real tour de force, complete with thick Viennese accent, which only rarely interferes with his singing.

The Octavian is Sena Jurinac, who made the role very much her own in the 1950s and it is good to have her interpretation preserved, even though she looks very feminine throughout. Her vocal partnership with the Sophie of Anneliese Rothenberger, another artist experienced in her role, is one of the musical highlights of the performance.

One of the impressive sets from Der Rosenkavalier

One of the impressive sets from Der Rosenkavalier

With all the subsidiary roles well-sung (particularly the Italian tenor in Act 1) there are no weak links in the casting and the whole performance makes light of the immense difficulty of much of the music. The production is ‘traditional’ in the best sense of that word.

Some of the more intimate scenes seem a little lost on the vast expanses of the Festspielhaus stage, and present-day audiences may find it a little static and superficial. The Marschallin’s lovemaking with Octavian, for example, so graphically depicted in the music, is extremely demure, but this is a matter of changing tastes, and it certainly never gets in the way of the music.

More modern productions tend to get closer to the characters’ emotional cores, but production values nowadays are different. Although the humour of the piece is not neglected (Strauss called it ‘a comedy for music’ after all) there is a marked lack of audience reaction throughout, though they applaud generously enough at the end of each act, and maybe for repeated listening and viewing, it’s not a bad idea that you can concentrate on the music without any distracting laughter.

Perhaps Karajan’s unsmiling demeanour as he enters to conduct each act put a damper on the audience’s natural enthusiasm, but though nowadays we might expect a more unbending and ‘human’, not to say humorous, approach to this opera, there is no denying his mastery and understanding of the score.

The film is above all a testament to him and the standards he was able to achieve, and should be seen by every lover of this fascinating opera.

Der Rosenkavalier is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.co.uk.

Derek Clark was born in Glasgow and studied at the RSAMD and Durham University. He began his career at Welsh National Opera, but since 1997 has been Head of Music at Scottish Opera where he has conducted a wide variety of repertoire from Handel to James MacMillan. He is also active as a coach, accompanist and composer/arranger, and was Assistant Conductor on David McVicar’s production of ‘Der Rosenkavalier’ for Scottish Opera. He is currently conducting Rory Bremner’s new version of ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’.

Leave a comment

Filed under At home, Guest post