Spring 2024 viewing, part three

Violent J (Joseph Bruce) is perplexed that the government would designate him and his fans as a criminal gang in Tom Putnam & Brenna Sanchez’s The United States of Insanity (2021)

Yet more recent viewing, ranging from several documentaries about the intertwining of personal identity and the cultural products we attach ourselves to and consume to unsettling explorations of sex, violence and misogyny and an ambitious, though not entirely successful, work of folk horror from Switzerland.

Recent releases from the BFI, part two

Mary (Natasha Richardson) dreams herself into Henry Fuseli's 1781 painting The Nightmare in Ken Russell's Gothic (1987)

A wildly varied selection of recent releases from the BFI, with Pat Jackson’s Western Approaches (1944) transforming propaganda into art via Jack Cardiff’s Technicolor photography; Roddy McDowall’s The Ballad of Tam Lin (1970) infusing folk horror with the Hollywood glamour of Ava Gardner; and Ken Russell turning the famous 1816 house party presided over by Lord Byron on the shores of Lake Geneva into a fever dream of the Romantics’ fascination with love and death in Gothic (1987)

Recent releases from the BFI

Heroin addict Alex (Dexter Fletcher) retreats to a seedy hotel in Nichola Bruce & Michael Coulson's Wings of Death (1985)

Recent BFI releases offer a selection of amateur and professional short films from the 1950s to the ’80s in volume 3 of Flipside’s Short Sharp Shocks series, as well as a provocative documentary lecture from filmmaker Nina Menkes which asserts that the apparatus of cinema itself is gendered and weighted against women.

Sophie Compton & Reuben Hamlyn’s Another Body (2023): deep-fake porn and stolen identity

It's impossible to trust the reality of what you see on-line in Sophie Compton & Reuben Hamlyn's Another Body (2023)

Sophie Compton & Reuben Hamlyn’s Another Body (2023) is an unsettling documentary which is also a horror movie and a detective story; when a college student discovers that she’s a victim of deep-fake revenge porn and that the legal authorities can’t/won’t do anything about it, she sets about tracking down the identity of her victimizer – which takes her to really disturbing corners of the Internet – and regains some control over her own identity.

Winter 2024 viewing, part three: Other labels

You don't have to be crazy to do this job, but it helps: Grant Page in Brian Trenchard-Smith's Stunt Rock (1978)

More recent viewing, with excellent restorations of classic fantasies by Arrow – Roger Vadim’s Barbarella (1968) and John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian (1982); a pair of impressive German film school projects – Tilman Singer’s Luz (2018) and Lukas Feigelfeld’s Hagazussa (2017); a couple of entertaining Australian features which mix fiction and documentary in interesting ways – Brian Trenchard-Smith’s Stunt Rock (1978) and Aaron McCann and Dominic Pearce’s Top Knot Detective (2017): and Shredder Orpheus (1990), a low-budget indie version of the Orpheus myth made by Seattle musicians and skateboarders.

Lost films and alternative histories

A cultured ape (Zain Rahnat) teaches life lessons in Donn Greer's The Rare Blue Apes of Cannibal Isle (1975)

Film restoration is usually seen as an effort to preserve the canon, but there are vast areas of film history which may be less reputable, but still represent significant aspects of the past century’s most popular art form. In their recent six-disk, ten-movie set Lost Picture Show, Vinegar Syndrome highlight their own efforts to unearth and give new life to cheap, obscure, frequently disreputable examples of movies made far from the mainstream – sex. violence, politics and an occasional talking animal are on display in this ragged, sometimes enlightening, sometimes frustrating collection.

Movies and reality intersect in two recent releases

The sociologist (Flavio Bucci) grasps the metaphysical mystery in Giuliano Montaldo's Closed Circuit (1978)

Our relationship to movies is complex; we know that we’re watching illusions, yet the intellectual and emotional responses we experience are very real. Movies give us access to a seemingly infinite range of experiences which take us out of out immediate lives. Two recent releases delve into this phenomenon in visceral ways — Giuliano Montaldo’s Closed Circuit (1978) addresses the metaphysics of movie watching with humour and suspense, while Charlie Victor Romeo (2013) provides disturbing access to an aspect of real life we might prefer not to think about: the moments during which flight crews try to deal with catastrophic technical failures immediately preceding air crashes.

Fall 2023 viewing, part one

Detective Luigi Mackeroni (Udo Samel) and his cross-dressing partner Babette (Leonard Lansink) face an unusual foe in Martin Walz's Killer Condom (1996)

As always, writing falls behind viewing and I’ve missed mentioning some disks that deserved at least a comment – so here are some quick notes on recent releases from Arrow, Vinegar Syndrome and some smaller labels covering a wide range of genres from spaghetti westerns to East European animation, from low-budget sci-fi to documentary, from comedy to horror to exploitation.

Steve McQueen’s Small Axe (2020): Criterion Blu-ray review

Martha (Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn) loses herself to the music in Steve McQueen's Lovers Rock (2020)

Small Axe (2020), Steve McQueen’s five-part film series for the BBC, corrects a glaring omission in British film and television’s treatment of the post-war history of social and political struggle and change; while the lives of the working class became increasingly visible in the ’60s and ’70s, issues of race remained largely unaddressed until this belated project created something like a parallel history to go alongside the classic work of filmmakers like Ken Loach and Alan Clarke. Criterion’s three-disk Blu-ray set also includes Uprising (2021), McQueen’s powerful three-part documentary (co-directed by James Rogan) about the New Cross fire and the subsequent Brixton Riots, which gives added context to the stories told in Small Axe.

Blasts from the past

The second coming of Cauldron

Acting Up a Storm

An evening with Jonathan Rosenbaum

Recent Viewing 2

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