Monday, 17 July 2017

Julie Christie in Billy Liar

I recently watched Billy Liar, and whilst I loved the whole film, I was most taken with Julie Christie and the character she played, Liz.
Billy Liar was the film that made Christie and star, and despite her short amount of screen time, she is both captivating and important to the overall plot.
Liz is the first of the 1960s free spirits. Billy loves her but he also wants to be like her. The audience feels much the same, Liz is similar to Billy, but she is able to break away from her home something that Billy ultimately fails to do.

The scene in which Liz first appears is a breath of fresh air. The music becomes more upbeat as we watch her stroll through the streets, enjoying what she sees, her emotions perfectly expressed on her face.
Importantly Liz is completely different from Billy’s other girlfriends. Superficially her hair-do is more natural, more playful. She truly loves Billy because she understands him, she understands the need to escape, she accepts his dream world and she knows he is a liar. But she is able to bring the truth out of him, she is the only person Billy is able to be himself with. Even at the end when he doesn’t get on the train, Liz’s expression tells us that she knew-she expected that outcome, even if she is disappointed (perhaps because it has happened before-earlier we learn that Liz wanted Billy to go to France with her).

Free spirited Liz was one of the first of her kind in British cinema. She paved the way for young woman, showing them that they didn’t have to be miniature versions of their mothers. They could be young, girlish, and adventurous. Liz wants to marry Billy but she isn’t overly concerned if they don’t, she simply wants to live life, unlike Billy’s other girls, Barbara and Rita.

Here is Liz's first appearance in the film. I love Christies naturalness, especially the part when she's crossing the road.  

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

There is so much to say about the epic, Lawrence of Arabia, but I really wanted to talk about the stunning cinematography. Shot by famed cinematographer, Freddie Young (who also shot Dr Zhivago), it comes as no surprise that he won the academy award for his work on Lawrence. 

The film is a beautiful, yet harsh look at the desert. Watching it is exhausting, as if the heat has entered your living room, the piercing sun, the endless sea of sand and the harsh brilliance of the sky shimmer before you on the screen. Young's shots are sweeping, they encompass the enormity of the landscape and make the people below minuscule beneath the desert's might. In many way's the film is about Lawrence's battle with the desert, his desire to be a conquerer of an unconquerable landscape. The horizon plays an important part in this vision, it is endless, and Young makes ample use of light and darkness. Shadows are important as Young frequently silhouettes the characters against the sun, giving them a supernatural glow, most fitting for Lawrence who comes to see himself as a god. It is a thought provoking, visually beautiful film.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

King Kong (1933)

An over ambitious film maker, Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong), takes a crew of sailors and a young woman, Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) to a dangerous uncharted island in order to make a movie. Whilst there they encounter a legendary prehistoric gorilla-Kong.

King Kong holds an important place in the history of film-making. It spawned a genre of 'monster movies', used spectacular visual effects and earned actress Fay Wray a place in cinema immortality. It was the brain child of director, Merian C. Cooper, who had a life long fascination with gorillas. His initial ideas for the film centred around King Kong battling a giant lizard (an idea later reused in the dinosaur sequence).
Fay Wray had largely starred in bit parts until her casting in the 1928 film The Wedding March. When cast in King Kong she wore a blonde wig so her hair would contrast against the gorilla's dark fur.
The films visual effects were ground breaking for the time. They involved stop animation, matte paintings, miniatures and rear projection. Aside from Kong there were several dinosaurs used in the film. During the scene in which Kong fights the T-Rex Wray was forced to sit in a tree reacting to the stop motion images played before her over a twenty-two hour period.

During post-production some scenes of the film were cut including the infamous 'Spider Pit' sequence. The scene involved some of the sailors falling into a giant pit where they were eaten by various insects. Cooper stated the scene was cut as it slowed the pace of the film, but it has been suggested that the scene terrified viewers during preview screenings to the point that they ran out of the cinema!
King Kong was also the first American 'talkie' to have its own film score, rather than reused background music. Consequently films that followed began developing their own thematic music.
Advertised as a 'Beauty and the Beast' story Kong also highlighted racial tensions prevalent during the thirties. Some suggested that Kong's 'otherness' hinted at inter-racial romance. At its heart though is man's fear of the animal unknown, recent events today show how frightened people remain of jungle animals, gorilla's in particular.

Despite the actors occasional wooden acting, and incessant screaming, King Kong still holds up to this day. The black and white cinematography adds a foreboding tension and creepiness to many of the scenes and Kong remains a terrifying monster, his jerky movements and glinting smile, add a terror that is lost in movie monsters of today. It is the fact that technology was so new and untested at the time  that creates a terror that is still felt upon watching the film to this day.

King Kong's success was huge, it spawned several sequels, remakes and direct ripoffs,  yet it is the grainy black and white image of Kong fighting planes on top of The Empire State Building that remains the indelible image of King Kong.


Thursday, 19 January 2017

Up the Junction (1968)

Polly (Suzy Kendall) is a young upperclass woman who moves from Chelsea to the working class  suburb of Battersea. She takes a job at a factory and befriends two of the girls there, sisters, Sylvie (Maureen Lipman) and Rube (Adrienne Posta). She also falls in love with Peter (Dennis Waterman). However whilst Polly disdains her wealthy heritage, Peter dreams of being rich.

Up the Junction was based on a collection of short stories by Nell Dunn and in 1965 was made into a 'Wednesday Play' by Ken Loach. Loach's television version caused great controversy at the time for its frank portrayal of abortions, sex and the lives of the working class. It was filmed in a documentary style and was episodic in nature.
Directed by Peter Collinson (The Italian Job) and with a soundtrack by Manfred Mann, the 1968 film followed a similar story line but failed to make such an impact as it predecessor. Still the film dealt with abortion and the often violent, gritty nature of the people who lived in Battersea. The films main subject however is class. Polly and Peter ultimately fail to understand each other because they both want what the other has. Polly's almost naive desire to live a 'normal' life is impossible for Peter to grasp. He has grown up with nothing and envies her wealth. Polly looks upon life in Battersea through rose tinted glasses, even after witnessing violence against her friends, abortion, death and the eventually imprisonment of Peter.

Despite it's gritty subject matter, Up the Junction, has some surprisingly tender moments, particularly between Polly and Peter. Even today Polly's desire for freedom away from the constrains of money is understandable. Kendall and Waterman give great performances. Kendall reminiscent of Julie Christie, she presents Polly as a gentle, caring, dreamer, whilst Waterman is frustrated and desperate to escape his Battersea life. It's fascinating to watch how their respective dreams and desires remain opposite to each other despite their love. Lipman and Posta also give good performances as the brassy sisters, Sylvie more sensitive than Rube, but both out to have a good time whatever the cost.
The film is a time capsule of an era about to end and it is a bittersweet portrayal of how not everyone was able to achieve their dreams despite promises of a better future.


Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Carrie Fisher

"Who do you think you would've turned out to be if you weren't an intergalactic princess?"

I'd be me

You know, Carrie

Just me

-Carrie Fisher

Since my awkward teenage years I have always wanted to be Princess Leia. She was the first film character I adored beyond reason, the first character I aspired to be. Leia was feisty, smart, witty, beautiful and could save herself. For generations of young women she was a role model, so different from the more traditional Princesses who were always waiting to be rescued. 

And Leia was brought to life by Carrie Fisher, Hollywood Royalty herself. Nineteen in the first Star Wars she too was feisty and intelligent, humorous, warm and honest, and I am incredibly sad to hear of her passing. 
Carrie's life was not always easy but she was a strong woman, a talented actresses, author and screenwriter, Carrie used her experiences to comfort and make people laugh. 
Following her own battles Carrie was passionate about mental health issues, and she strove tirelessly to end the stigma surrounding them. She wrote eight books and several screenplays. 

But thank you Carrie for being you, for showing us it didn't matter if you were a girl, didn't matter if you battled depression, didn't matter how you looked, you could still be a brave rebel Princess. 

Goodbye our Princess, you will be greatly missed & the Force will be with you always


Sunday, 20 November 2016

Five Branded Women (1960)

Five different women from a small Yugoslavian town in WW2 are humiliated and banished for having relations with a womanising German Officer. Forced to rely on themselves and their new found friendship the five women join the local partisan group and are forced to make decisions about life, love and death.

(An exploitive poster that really reflects nothing of the film!)

An American-Italian film, directed by Martin Ritt and featuring an all star, international cast including, Silvana Mangano, Jeanne Moreau, Vera Miles, Barbara Bel Geddes, Carla Gravina, and Van Heflin, Five Branded Women questions what war is about. Is it really a battle between good and evil or is it actually a battle between men and women? Is anyone really innocent during war time?
The film centres on five women, Jovanka (Mangano), Ljuba (Moreau), Daniza (Miles), Marja  (Bel Geddes) and Mira (Gravina).  The women are portrayed sympathetically despite their 'crime'. Each have a different reason for sleeping with the officer and these reasons further complicate the problems of occupation.
Daniza has one of the most haunting story lines, unlike the others she did not have a sexual relationship with the Nazi Officer, but is punished along with the rest. When she does fall in love, with Blanco, seemingly the 'right' choice, for he is on the 'right' side, she is shot because relationships are not allowed within the partisans. The double standard is obvious and confronting, and the strong willed Jovanka is vocal in her contempt. The German Officer's lust is no different to that of Blanco's and in both cases a woman suffers for a mans desire. The German Captain who is captured by Ljuba is shown to be both intellectual and kind, in stark contrast to the rough, violent partisans. Even Jovanka finds her personal beliefs threatened when she finds herself developing feelings for the partisan leader, Velko (Heflin). In each case what constitutes good and evil is questioned and threatened.

Perhaps ironically however the war also gives the women a certain amount of power. As the partisans are short on man power, the five outcasts are readily welcomed into their ranks, allowing them to fight alongside the men, something that would never have been allowed outside of war time. When their heads are shaved the women literally and metaphorically shed their femininity. The Nazi Officer on the other hand is mutilated and loses his masculinity. The film portrays, in a very literal way, an event that often took place during war time, the reversal of male and female roles.

(The haunting Jeanne Moreau in a publicity still for the film)

Shaving the heads of women believed to have had sexual relationships with Nazis was common practice, especially after the war ended. These women were subjected to horrific humiliation and abuse, and many of them had done no more than cook for a soldier in their home
There is no clear cut answer to the films questions, and the lines of good vs. evil are blurred, yet the film is a fascinating and often moving portrayal of female experience during a time of war.


Thursday, 3 November 2016

Quick Flicks

Holiday (1938): Starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. This is quite an enjoyable screwball comedy although it isn't the greatest film in the world. It has some genuine laugh out loud moments and a strong supporting cast however I felt there was a lack of character development, especially with the character of Julie. 3.5/5

All the Fine Young Cannibals (1960): Starring Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner. An interesting storyline but the script tends to become too melodramatic. Natalie gives her all, and is stunning, but I wish the script had allowed her to develop her character more. Despite its flaws the film would make an interesting study as Natalie's character suffers most of the blame during the film, whilst Wagner's (who was perhaps more at fault) is largely seen as an object of pity. 3.5/5

Signpost to Murder (1964): Starring Joanne Woodward and Stuart Whitman. An American film set in England, this film feels like a quintessential British murder mystery. Joanna is wonderful as a woman who is not all she seems. The atmosphere is eerie and the plot twist is both unexpected and chilling. 3.5/5

Winning (1969): Starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Wonderful performances from Paul and Joanne, (in fact I think this may be one of my favourite Paul roles!) The film is bittersweet, realistic and engrossing, don't be put off by the cars! And I loved Joanne's outfits and the quintessentially sixties theme. (The only flaw is that no one would cheat on Paul Newman with Robert Wagner!! Ha!) 4/5