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.