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Alexandra's Project (Rolf de Heer, Australia, 2003, 100 minutes)

This film is having its cable premiere with this screening so it's going to be around for some time. It's not easy to like and occasionally not easy to watch. Grimly fascinating perhaps. The story goes that the director's own marriage breakdown preceded the making of the film and that may account for some of the bitterness that it focuses on. I reviewed the film for Muse and I said then that Rolf de Heer's take on humanity is very unusual and after a dozen feature films he has established a place for himself as a student of oddities and extremes. His best films feature romantic cripples and solitary geniuses. Amazingly, somehow he manages to set so much of this oddly intriguing work squarely in the suburbs of Adelaide. If he has a theme it must be that lurking out there amidst all our seeming normalcy is a bizarre group of people who, when the covers come off, are able to reveal some splendidly eccentric, perverse and bizarre behavior. Alexandra's Project is a rather perfect example of his film practice. After a near half hour of mounting tension, revealing with a clinical exactitude a mature marriage in disarray, the experiment begins. Alexandra (Helen Buday) has videotaped her farewell to her smugly self-satisfied husband (Gary Sweet) and she traps him into watching it – pain, violence and cataclysmic revelations are all brought to bear. The movie begins a long cross-cut between she on videotape and he in his recliner chair. The effect is engrossing and impossible to look away from. Rolf de Heer is about the only current Australian film director whose work is guaranteed, or nearly, a place at one of the European A festivals. He's done that largely on his own. He seems prepared to do things on low-budgets, with European co-producers, that just a lot more snap crackle and pop. It's been years since any of his films won an AFI Award in their own right but he still presses on. It would be nice to think that he might have the opportunity to keep filming without the bureaucrats getting in his way but just allowing him to do what he wants.

All This and Heaven Too (Anatole Litvak, USA, 1940, 143 minutes)

Luscious romance and the sort of film that helps to regenerate Litvak's reputation. Charles Boyer is the rich nobleman who hires Davis to be nanny for his children. His harridan wife suspects their relationship from the start and sets out to do her worst to end Davis's tenure. Pure Hollywood hokum but played by Davis and Boyer with total and absolute conviction and directed by Litvak with the utmost seriousness. The inordinate length only serves to throw the characters around and around the same maelstrom. Boyer really was one of the great leading men. That voice and accent had a gravitas about them that might still have women melting.

Always Leave Them Laughing (Roy Del Ruth, USA, 1949, 116 minutes)

This is one of those guilty pleasure movies with a bit of history. More than a couple of you on this list will recall the antics of Alan Finney, now head of Disney in Australia, in university theatre and at La Mama in the 60s. He could do comedy routines to dream of, had endless lines of patter that he could deliver with machine gun accuracy and verbal brilliance. It was only when I saw this film starring Milton Berle, many years later, that I realised where he'd got it all from, what he'd modelled his act on and who his real guiding star was, far beyond Jerry Lewis. Berle was a master comedian best suited to sketch comedy and variety on TV. He could deliver one liners all night, could ham things up and nothing was too tasteless. In the early days of TV he was its greatest star. This film contains a compendium of some of his funniest material and it was to Berle's credit that in between the manic comic bursts he was prepared to play a mean-minded, stop at nothing, lying, conniving, nasty piece of work. Of course it goes sentimental at the end but that's hardly the point. And the end is 116 minutes from the start, a very long time for Hollywood pictures of its type. See it if you've never had first hand, up-close experience of one of the great comic masters of the twentieth century. As a near documentary record of Berle at his peak it cant be faulted.

Gianni Amelio

Which brings me to the case of Gianni Amelio whose new film Le Chiavi a Casa/The Keys to the House is one of those films screening in the current Italian film season in Sydney and Melbourne with other cities later. Amelio has now made a couple of dozen films over the last twenty years including a number of documentaries. Only two, Open Doors and The Stolen Children, have had theatrical release and its possible a few others have been to festivals. Thus for all the massive numbers of films that turn up in our theatres in some limited way, there are still swathes of work that remain unknown. A paradox.

 I was first made aware of Amelio's work by Scott Murray who mentioned Open Doors and mentioned that it was adapted from a novel by the Sicilian writer Leonardo Sciascia. I was opened up to both the director and the writer and have since read most of the Sciascia work that has been translated. It is quite extraordinary, returning constantly to the themes of power and its subtle exercise over the people of Sicily by sinister political and criminal forces operating overtly and covertly. Sciascia wrote fables, narratives, reportage and essays.

Amelio's film was set in the 30s and was about the need for a murderer to be hung in order that the state could encourage people to feel safe in their houses, that they could live with open doors. The issue of capital punishment was central but what Amelio did best was, in the tradition of Italian realism, present society and its power structures and the cynicism and disempowerment inherent there with exactitude.

Le Chiavi a Casa premiered at Venice in 2004. I thought it was quite remarkable. Two men meet in a bar. One is handing over care of a child to its father. The father has never seen the boy who turns out to be severely handicapped and deeply disturbed. It's suggested that the boy's psychosis at least may be assisted if he bonds with his father and thus they embark together on a trip to Munich where the boy has been booked in for specialist medical treatment. The relationship isn't easy. The boy is cunning and irascible. The father is reluctant to even admit paternity to others he meets, most notably a woman in the hospital caring for a daughter with even greater physical and mental disability. It's a story about adjustment and facing up to the truth. In the Italian manner it's about families rebonding and love emerging and while it has an emotional kick to it, and you keep discovering things about both father and son, its not a story to reduce you to tears.

Amelio's work is part of that European sector which seems to find audiences in the home territory but nowhere else. It's too low key and unflashy and his stories aren't manipulative or emotionally overwrought. I think he has made several masterpieces, most notably Lamerica which World Movies used to screen and I assume has been on SBS at some stage. How you make his work known to a wider audience here remains one of the mysteries. 

Angel Face (Otto Preminger, USA, 1953, 92 minutes)

Angel Face creeps up on you and I'm not recommending it because its lead is another of those lustrous Brit actresses who make movies worth getting a bit obsessive about. But Jean Simmons does give one of her best performances as the femme fatale who stirs up Robert Mitchum, has him, I was about to say twitching, but not even a decadent and malevolent Jean Simmons manages to make the great somnambulist that active. This was Preminger at his very best. When he chose to make small scale films with quite some psychological complexity to the characters he was brilliant, a Hollywood master. When he abandoned such studio projects to be his own independent producer he felt the need to be an entrepreneur and never made such worthy work again. One matter of interest. What most see as the intriguing ÒFreudianÓ elements of the film are seen by the authors of The RKO Story as Ó a load of heavy-breathing Freudian bunkum.Ó It takes all kinds.

Bachelor Mother (Garson Kanin, USA, 1939, 81 minutes)

I don't know how rare this screening is but I haven't seen this film and hadn't noticed it on the schedules in any time I can remember. It comes with quite a pedigree. Garson Kanin gradually went from directing to almost exclusively concentrating on writing. This early effort was made at a time when he was already known as a maker of very smart comedies.Its script by Norman Krasna has a certain risqué tone to it. Ginger Rogers plays a single girl who gets landed with someone else's abandoned baby. The complications are said to be hilarious. It was an A-Team production at RKO. Produced by Buddy Da Sylva, Ginger only went in the film reluctantly, being ordered to do so by the studio head Pandro Berman. It features the young David Niven, on loan from Sam Goldwyn. The film was a huge success and apparently gave Ginger's career a giant boost.

Barking Dogs Never Bite (Bong Joon-ho, Korea, 2000, 104 minutes)

The ingredients of this very sad/funny little story, Bong's debut feature, are a lethargic would be university teacher, the neighbourhood dogs that drive him mad, his pregnant wife, a young woman responsible for authorising people to put up lost dog notices, a building janitor with a liking for cooked dog flesh, a ghost story and much more. Satirical yet slightly alarming, the story weaves the elements together and skewers more than a few social shibboleths, not least the method of getting ahead as a Korean academic. Tony Rayns program notes for the Brisbane Film Festival screening included the information that the crude title is an English invention and concludes by saying that within the film there Òlurks a social analysis as savage as anything Pasolini did. But I don't recall Pasolini ever being as droll as this.Ó I couldn't agree more. Bong's next feature, an enthralling police procedural titled Memories of Murder was recently a deserved hit at this year's Sydney Film Festival. Bong is only 35 so expect more and bigger things from him.

Between Wars (Michael Thornhill, Australia, 1974, 100 minutes)

I thought Between Wars had slipped between the cracks. At the time it was made, it was treated with the same attention as the new films by Weir, Noyce, Armstrong, Schepisi and Beresford but Thornhill's career never took off in the same way as those guys, all of whom had pretty high international recognition by the end of the decade. Perhaps it was the film's politics which counted against it. Australians and the rest of the world may not have been interested in the story of a man who spends his time in opposition to the establishment through the bleak years between the two world wars. Frank Moorhouse wrote the script and Corin Redgrave contributed a really good performance as the near hapless doctor who struggles against the forces of fear, conservatism and moralism. Its anarchist viewpoint put it way out of even the safe confines of left-wing thinking. It was as close as Mike Thornhill got to making a masterpiece and it stands up in the memory rather better than the often shallow costume dramas and literary adaptations that were the funding flavour of the time. The film has not been released on DVD and I'm not aware that the National Film Archive has made any effort to make a new print for re-screening at festivals here and overseas. That's a pity but its day will come and Thornhill's work on this and his next film The FJ Holden will be recognised for the great contribution they made in our recent film history.

Big Mama (Kon Ichikawa, Japan, 2001, 100 minutes)

Ichikawa was born in 1915 and started directing immediately after World War 2. His output has been prodigious and the fact that he has continued to make films right up to the present would seem astonishing. Then again not so much when you consider that Bresson, De Oliveira, Dreyer and plenty of American directors seem to have pulled off the same trick of simply never retiring. Only a couple of years ago Ichikawa filmed a script that he and Kurosawa had worked on a couple of decades before. Big Mama is even more recent, a comedy set in the Japanese Edo period. Doug Anderson in the Sydney Morning Herald TV Guide has clearly seen a preview tape and has given the film a sort of enthusiastic welcome. I'm not sure though what it means when the reviewer says something will Òbecome apparent only to viewers who manage to see this droll comedy through to its conclusion.Ó The SMH Guide promises that the film will be shown widescreen. We shall see. Remember I am keeping of list where such promises are broken!

Blowup (Michelangelo Antonioni, UK, 1966, 111 minutes)

Thirty years ago this film first disturbed Australian censors, who cut out the obvious if fleetingly glimpsed nipples of Jane Birkin and Gillian Hills as they rolled around in the coloured paper with David Hemmings. (The censor missed those of Vanessa Redgrave because the projectionist had Òracked downÓ the image.) Blowup is being screened on TCM in what is promised to be widescreen. I have just watched a beautiful (uncut) DVD copy, a tribute to the studio or producer's care in looking after the negative, and I found the film to be as enigmatically brilliant as ever. It always had one or two longueurs, the moment when Hemmings insists that Redgrave listen to a piece of music and tries to explain it, is one of them, the goings on at the party when everyone is stoned and walking and talking in near slow motion is another, but otherwise this film remains the masterpiece it was instantly proclaimed to be. For his first film in English, Antonioni relied on the crutch of adapting a Julio Cortazar short story rather than shooting an original script as he had, I think, up to then in Italy. No matter, the detective story elements only add to the melancholy mystery and the director employs all the elements of his enigmatic method. Mysterious sounds and objects abound, characters don't have names, relationships, like that between Hemmings and Sarah Miles aren't Ôexplained', the geography of London is playfully toyed with. If you have seen Blowup in the past you may be surprised how easily you remember the rather small number of lines of dialogue, how simple the narrative is and how effortlessly it flows. If you haven't, get ready for a film that was the emblem of the sixties.

Blue Collar (Paul Schrader, USA, 1978, 114 minutes)

This was the first film to be directed by Paul Schrader. He made it after writing the scripts of The Yakuza, Taxi Driver and Obsession. When I saw it it struck me as a right wing rant about useless factory workers. They get involved with an undercover FBI agent trying to expose union corruption. (That bit reminded me of On the Waterfront). I was told immediately after forming that view that actually the analysis was more Marxist than anything else and its real subject was worker alienation and the tedium of capitalist exploitation. Hmm. I haven't seen it since so this might be the moment to have another look at the debut film of one of the most important figures in American cinema over the last thirty years. Now, years later, Schrader has a cv which includes American Gigolo (a masterpiece) Mishima, Light Sleeper, Affliction and, as a writer, Raging Bull, The Mosquito Coast, The Last Temptation of Christ and Bringing Out the Dead.

The Blue Room (Walter Doehner Pecanins, Mexico, 2002, 100 minutes approx)

I have no idea about this film but the SBS program guide says that it is based on the novel by Georges Simenon. If that's the case then it is taken from one of the best of Simenon that I've read. (I admit that in terms of his entire output of hundreds of novels that's very few.) The novel itself has a most intricate structure, cutting back and forth between a man who is being tried and the events that led to his situation. As always with non-Maigret Simenon stories, the weaknesses of the flesh are crucial to the man's downfall. I know nothing of the film or its director. I can only hope that it does justice to what was, still is, a great novel. A year or so ago the Cinematheque Francaise honoured Simenon's contribution to the cinema by assembling a retrospective of dozens of films based on his work. I think there have been more than a hundred adaptations. He's attracted many of the greatest and his work is still being plundered. The recent Red Lights directed by Cedric Kahn was just the latest. I wrote about the Simenon phenomenon in a piece on cinephilia in Paris which you can find on my website at http://www.members.optusnet.com.au/prgardner/geoffweb/geoff.htm if you want to know (just a little) more

Born to be Bad (Nicholas Ray, USA, 1950, 94 minutes)

Robert Ryan, one of the great actors of Hollywood, pops up again in this early film by Nicholas Ray, made between two of his masterpieces In a Lonely Place and On Dangerous Ground. Unfortunately it's nowhere near as good as either of those films. The central character, played by normally goody two shoes Joan Fontaine, is a scheming bitch and, playing against type, it's hard to get used to all that sweet facial expression being employed in a calculating money-grubbing way. Ray's early work, even on such lesser material which he apparently wasn't happy with, is still quite striking and he doesn't attempt to put any gloss on the scheming, manipulative central female. He remains the great studio poet, the man who transformed more dumb-ass projects into worthwhile films, suffered for it by constantly fighting the studios and eventually paid the price that too many pay, sliding into directing ever more worthless films for mediocre producers. Even then, in his last films like Savage Innocents, King of Kings and 55 Days at Peking he turned in films which still warrant viewing no matter how crass their production intent.

Boudu Saved From Drowning (Jean Renoir, France 1932, 80 minutes)

Here's one of the reasons why Renoir is and probably always will be the director who invokes the greatest sighs of contented pleasure. In a career lasting almost fifty years he made at least a dozen masterpieces and nothing that isn't worth endless examinations. When he made films in the early thirties he did so against a background of poor technical conditions thus things like the sound on his films of this time are a bit dodgy and the dialogue indistinct. But no matter. There has never been a more anarchic triumph than this story of a tramp rescued from a river and brought home to wreak havoc on middle-class manners and morals. He becomes, in the succinct words of Tony Rayns in the Time Out Film Guide, Òthe most morally, socially, sexually and philosophically disruptive houseguest of all timeÓ. Michel Simon who plays Boudu had been in several of Renoir's films prior to this but never to such effect. His performance is still discussed and it seems to have caused people to speculate for generations since as to where Michel Simon's character stopped and Boudu's started. He did a variation on it in Jean Vigo' sublime L'Atalante which only added to the wild man mystique. As he grew older Simon's face, never pretty or handsome, degenerated further into a mass of flabby jowls, endless expressive and ultimately a little sad. His mouth always seemed to have a slight droop and overhang as well that assisted the idea/image of a man whose visage showed all of the life it had lived. His voice had a gravelly charm all its own. I was once looking at a postcard of a grotesque caricature of Simon and the young Frenchman next to me, without knowing who it was, said simply ÒHmm. An old-fashioned FrenchmanÓ. If World Movies had to choose a Renoir to include in its 25 movies to see before you die then this is close to the best. I would have chosen La Crime de M. Lange but you can't have everything. As Kerry Packer once famously said to a journalist complaining about the football coverage on his channel 9: ÒDo you own a television station? No? Well I do!Ó

Broken Lance (Edward Dmytryk, USA, 1954, 96 minutes)

Of all the films made by Dmytryk after his return to America, this movie seems to be the one, perhaps along with The Caine Mutiny, that his supporters cite as his best work. It came under notice a while back when correspondents to this note were asked to report on any sightings of films introduced by Bill Collins in which he claimed to be showing a Ôscope' copy and then didn't. This was one of them and who knows whether on this occasion Bill will introduce it thus. Maybe by now he's learned that the channel's copy is full frame. Or maybe they've got the correct one. Tune in to see. The film itself has Spencer Tracy as a King Lear-like figure, a patriarch presiding over family strife with his sons as he tends his cattle baron Ôs domain. Spencer is brilliant and the rest of the cast (Richard Widmark, Robert Wagner, Jean Peters among them) were typically excellent. But I'm still in the school that says Dmytryk was a rather dull and over-earnest director who somehow got to make a lot of second-rate movies. I've quoted the line before but I cant go past David Thomson's summation of him as a director who Òpolished meanings until they were bluntÓ.

Burn/Queimada! (Gillo Pontecorvo, France/Italy, 1968, 132 minutes)

If Gillo Pontecorvo had only ever made The Battle of Algiers in 1965 his name would still be eternally preserved in film history. That film, the classic rendering of anti-colonial themes, remains one of the most influential works of the cinema, a film whose passion changed the minds of millions. French colonialism had had its day and the film drove the nails into the coffin constructed of national arrogance and brutality. Pontecorvo's next film was made with American money, a product of that period when even the major film studios, populated by executives who wanted to be hip as well as make a profit, gave the green light to a quite extraordinary range of radical European film-making. Columbia backed Jean-Luc Godard. Paramount backed Bernardo Bertolucci and Jerzy Skolimowski. United Artists, the most radical of all, backed Francois Truffaut, Louis Malle, Alain Resnais and, once only, Gillo Pontecorvo for Burn. Set on some mythical Caribbean island, Burn tells, ferociously, the story of a slaves uprising masterminded by a mysterious stranger (Marlon Brando) which is first provoked and then brutally suppressed. The slave owners are left to exploit their power and the mysterious stranger casually mentions that he has further work to do in Vietnam. The narrative is thrilling. Pontecorvo's revolutionary fervour and his icy dissection of American imperialism is as relevant today as it was thirty years ago when the US was again wallowing in zealotry and self-righteousness.

Butterfield 8 (Delbert Mann, USA, 1960, 109 minutes)

Elizabeth Taylor is a good time girl and Laurence Harvey is the rich but inconsiderate bastard who is besotted with her and finally literally drives her to destruction. In most of the Hollywood junk he appeared in Harvey used his one acting trick, a narrowing of the eyes, to convey whatever profundity he imagined he was supposed to be displaying. Very spicy for its time and Liz was just at the point of mature majestic beauty before the years of drink and pills and idiot serial marriage took over and she became a parody of a film star appearing in ever more ludicrous rubbish. Eddie Fisher, her then husband, has a minor role and if it reflects anything about Eddie then what a wimp he was. The film probably seems very camp and melodramatic to most these days but remember that Hollywood was trying to fight the reach of television by giving us ever more Ôdaring' subject matter. The last time I saw this film on TCM it screened in Cinemascope so one hopes they will do that again.

Cabin in the Sky (Vincente Minnelli, USA, 1943, 100 minutes) & Summer Holiday (Rouben Mamoulian, USA, 1948, 92 minutes)

Two MGM musicals are still worth seeing if you can first get over the somewhat racist attitudes of the first (Minnelli's first feature) and second the fact that Summer Holiday is derived from Eugene O'Neill's "Ah! Wilderness" but is a very soft-centred version of one of O'Neill's takes on the American family. In the former the all-black cast includes such luminaries as Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Eddie "Rochester" Anderson. Minnelli got into movies because he had directed the original Broadway show on which the film is based. Summer Holiday starts out with the cast doing the dialogue in sung verse. When this trope trails off, the film loses a bit of oomph. It does however have some great songs and the Technicolor was once brilliant. The print that TCM shows is a bit pale. Perhaps a major restoration would be in order.

Cape Fear (J. Lee Thompson, USA, 1962, 100 minutes)

If you have never seen this movie then you are in for a gut-wrenchingly, violent treat. The Australian censor chopped it up mercilessly when it first appeared. Tender souls such as he would have found its unrelenting revenge plot more than a tad tasteless. J. Lee Thompson was pretty much a hack director but he had a couple of giant box office hits. The Guns of Navarone, was made immediately before Cape Fear and later McKenna's Gold hit big as well. But when you look at a list of his forty-odd films only this one really stands out. When he got the chance to make something downright nasty, as David Thomson calls it, he grabbed it and his lasting reputation was made. Robert Mitchum plays a convict whom Gregory Peck put behind bars. He gets out and carefully plots his revenge. Peck tries to escape by taking his family to his houseboat. Mitchum comes after him. Boy oh boy. The build-up to the climax just works its way in. Rarely does the audience dread what is going to happen as much as they do in this one. See it and appreciate just how good standard Hollywood fare from the sixties could be when all the right ingredients (script, actors, black and white photography, locations, budget and a director happy to be 'downright nasty') were in place. The Scorsese remake starring De Niro and Nolte, with Peck and Mitchum in cameos, doesn't measure up.

Carmen Jones (Otto Preminger, USA, 1954, 105 minutes)

Preminger's musical version is absolutely luscious and it has an enormous amount of sex-filled carnality, great dancing, brilliant colour, energy to burn as befitting its Bizet source. Its cast of black actors and singers became instant stars. When Bill Collins started showing the film about a year or so ago it was shown in a brilliant cinemascope copy. I can only hope that Fox Classics has continued to show it in this form, which is the only way it can be appreciated. One of the great, and probably the most overlooked, Hollywood musicals.

Cat People (Jacques Tourneur, USA, 1942, 75 minutes) & Curse of the Cat People (Gunter von Fritsch & Robert Wise, USA, 1944, 70 minutes)

I am sure that most of you have seen Tourneur's Cat People, a remarkable 40s horror story but maybe fewer have seen the follow-up to it which took off into an altogether different locale, a fantasy about childhood innocence and a secret world where ghosts watch over the living. Its a better film and was probably named thus only to try and rub off the box office success of the first film. Somebody at the ABC has done a nice thing in programming the two films together so that all you have to do is set your recorders to have both films in good copies on the one tape.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (George Clooney, USA, 2002, 100 minutes)

Chuck Barris lowered the bar on television taste. For a while he had hit after game show hit – all of them plumbing new lows. The Gong Show, his piece de resistance, subjected amateurs to ritual humiliation and made him a fortune. But by 1984 it was all over and he wrote his biography. To some surprise but rather little public interest he claimed that he had used his TV career as deep cover for a secret life as a CIA hitman. Wow. George Clooney, that modern Clark Gable, asks us to take Barris's claims straight up in his dazzling debut as a director. Or at least he asks us to believe in Charlie Kaufman's script of Barris's life. If Barris were a modern Charles Foster Kane and not some near idiotic TV executive we would be seeing profundity all over this movie and probably comparing George Clooney to Orson Welles. Clooney, whose acting has the art of deadpan, self-assured handsomeness down pat, may have translated that skill into just about the best switch from acting to directing since Clint Eastwood, some thirty years ago.

Confessions of a Nazi Spy (Anatole Litvak, USA, 1939, 102 minutes)

Roger Westcombe of the Bighouse Film Group ("putting criminals where they belong - up on the screen") has been making a study of the anti-Nazi films made in Hollywood prior to America's entry into WWII. He may offer more than these few words to his list but in the meantime be alerted that this is one of the key films of the period.  When he made it Anatole Litvak was one of the most interesting directors working at Warner Brothers.  Some of the French critics now have a rather high opinion of Litvak's work at the time and regret that among the many veterans who were interviewed for the prestigious French monthlies in the 60s and 70s nobody thought to track Litvak down. This despite the fact that he spent a comfortable retirement in Paris before he died in 1974. He worked in Russia, Germany, England and France before going to Hollywood where he was married, briefly, to Miriam Hopkins. Confessions features Edward G. Robinson as an FBI man hunting down a giant Nazi conspiracy. It was one of a number of films seeking to warn America of the danger ahead and the narrative rips right along.

Cornered (Edward Dmytryk, USA, 1945, 102 minutes)

If this little note has done anything for any director then the ghost of Edward Dmytryk should be stirring. His films for RKO, his films made in England when he was exiled as a result of the blacklist and the films made on his return to the States (Ôpolishing meanings until they were blunt' David Thomson) have all been the subject of more than a little discussion and indeed some reader comment. The early American films seem to stand up best and a couple of them, re-viewed recently, (Hitler's Children in particular) are indeed exceptional. Cornered is among those of the early films which have the highest reputations. Its story of an airman tracking down his bride's killer in post World War II Buenos Aires has a high excitement level and Dick Powell was relishing the taciturn tough guy character he had transformed himself into after years spent warbling away in Warner Bros musicals. The studio system of the day seemed to impose a discipline on Dmytryk that he later lost.

Crimson Gold (Jafer Panahi, Iran, 2003, 100 minutes)

Panahi is best known for The Circle (2000), the astonishing film which goes to the heart of the oppression of women in today's Iran. But this film is a further quantum leap. The central character is a pizza delivery man with serious mental problems. The film opens with his suicide and then flashes back to tell us how he got himself to that state. The narrative allows Panahi to digress through various levels of modern Tehran society - small business people, the indulgently and flamboyantly wealthy and the life of the streets. It's just a brilliant construction and the lead character, initially simple, gross and seemingly lacking in much affect gradually mesmerises. Panahi's Iranian cinema is much easier to absorb than some of his counterparts. It is more closely attuned to western narrative than the oblique story telling of Kiarostami and the Makmahlbaf family.

It's a bit disappointing that after a couple of festival screenings this film has gone straight to World Movies and hence in a year or so to SBS. It deserved rather more critical and box office attention than that.

A Damsel in Distress (George Stevens, USA, 1937, mins)

This, one of the string of black and white musicals made by Fred Astaire at RKO, was done minus the luminous Ginger Rogers. Its story is taken from P G Wodehouse. Its about a philandering dancer and the English rose, Joan Fontaine, he sets his sights upon. But that aint all. The Gershwins did the songs, including ÔNice Work if you can get it' and ÔA Foggy Day' and Hermes Pan did the dances. To make up for Ginger's absence, thus no hard, brittle wisecracks, the script inserts George Burns and Gracie Allen as Fred's agents. (George ÒYou're late. You should have been here 20 minutes agoÓ. Gracie: ÒWhy what happenedÓ. George: If you can't get here on time I'm going to have to get another secretaryÓ. Gracie: ÒGee. Do you think there's enough work here for two of usÓ!)

George Stevens made wonderful comedies in the 30s but took himself very seriously. He ended up making long ponderous films, worthy in some cases like Giant but absolute rubbish in others like The Greatest Story Ever Told. But this one was splendid - witty, fast, brilliantly done in every respect. Assigning the job to Stevens, RKO obviously had the intention of repeating the success of the best Astaire Rogers movie, Swingtime, which Stevens also made. It didn't but it's still a terrific movie. The Gershwin contribution can hardly be over-rated.

I once suggested to one of our festival directors that it would be wonderful to program a retrospective of the Gershwin film oeuvre (I had in mind An American in Paris, Funny Face, Girl Crazy, Strike up the Band, Porgy and Bess, Rhapsody in Blue and one I've never seen, the first film they worked on, Delicious directed by David Butler in 1931 and starring Janet Gaynor.) The look of frozen incomprehension I got has seared itself into my memory.

Dangerous Mission (Louis King, USA, 1954, 90 minutes)

A quick check of ÔThe RKO Story' gives one no cause to think this is any good. ButÉthe script is by Horace McCoy, W R Burnett and Charles Bennett. Any film with those names on the credits surely deserves a sneaking glance. It stars Victor Mature, Piper Laurie and Vincent Price and was originally shot in 3-D. Look out for lots of objects being hurled directly at the camera.

DANNY KAYE

Like many comics from the stage or standup, the movies always had a lot of trouble dealing with Danny Kaye. His career wasn't helped by the fact that like many clowns there was this ever so serious person struggling to get out and have his profundities noticed. He spent a lot of his later years as an UN Ambasssador. The last time I mentioned him was in the context of a note about his role in that ersatz bio-pic-cum-musical-cum secret paean to pedophilia, Hans Christian Andersen. I said then that he was a wonderfully talented actor. He paid his dues on Broadway, including playing in Kurt Weill's "Lady in the Dark". If you ever got hold of the CD of the Broadway production you should find some extras on it including Kaye singing that song which mentions the names of all the Russian composers. The verbal dexterity is breathtaking. Unfortunately his comic skills were rarely on full display. The person who appreciated his talent most was his wife Sylvia Fine who wrote the songs that showed off his talent most effectively. In my mind only The Court Jester did that talent full justice. Samuel Goldwyn condemned him to a lifetime's underachievement by signing him to a contract that required him to conform to Goldwyn's production methods - big budgets, expensive look, beautiful colour, glamorous chorus girls. They bloated Kaye and constricted his talent. He could have made a lot more great films but he didn't. His films for Goldwyn had their moments but they weren't funny enough and too often the songs weren't good enough either, Sylvia Fine notwithstanding.  They had too much production and too little spontaneity. That one comic masterpiece was made when freed of the Goldwyn yoke, but there should have been more many more. Like a lot of comedians Kaye seemed to want to play Hamlet or some variation and these ambitions caused him to wallow in the sentimentality that was too often sent in his direction. Hans Christian Andersen pandered to this instinct and in his last film he played a concentration camp survivor. There is an eerie parallel in that with Jerry Lewis, who towards the end of his career made a film, which I haven't seen in which he plays a clown in a concentration camp. Lewis however had far more control over his output for at least the best years of his career. To see a little of the best and a lot of the less interesting of Kaye's work you can see three of his films over a weekend with intros by Bill Collins. No doubt Bill will sing Danny's praises.

The Decameron (Pier Paolo Pasolini, Italy, 1971)

The first of Pasolini's Trilogy of Life, Decameron was quite a shock in its time. We had been used to MGM and BBC versions of the literary classics but nothing less like those was to be found here. Filmed in his inimitable fashion, using raw, directly lit images, unglamorous actors, an editing style that worried little about classical methods of telling stories, Pasolini made the three films to let us know something of our bawdy past. Frank and direct and rejoicing in all forms of human sex, Decameron really did turn things on their ear. And it was very funny as well. Pasolini himself played Giotto whose labours on a set of frescoes are interpolated into the narrative, along with lots of shots of cheeky young male assistants all with an eye for a quick sexual adventure.

Deep End (Jerzy Skolimowski, US-Germany, 1970, 88 minutes)

Skolimowski bolted from Poland after the Russians decided that its Eastern European satellites were getting too bolshy, what with all these films obliquely, even overtly, criticising the authoritarian state. The authorities had banned his anti-Stalinist Hands Up (1968). Some others who fled Eastern Europe included Milos Forman and Ivan Passer, both of whom went to Hollywood. Skolimowski trawled around Europe for work and United Artists lavished money on him to make The Adventures of Gerard (1970) which I've never seen. It was a giant big budget flop and has almost sunk without trace. Leonard Maltin lists it (ÔBOMB') which assumes it must pop up on US TV every now and then. Skolimowski ended up in Germany where a Paramount subsidiary gave him the money to make this far more modest effort. He turned in a masterpiece and it's taken a long time to resurface since its success here in the early 70s. John-Moulder Brown plays an early teenager who gets a job in a seedy bath house/swimming pool and who falls into an obsession with the stunning young female pool attendant (Jane Asher). To tell you more risks giving away the film's wonderful plot, its surprises, its twists, and the dangerous ends to which some will go in pursuit of their dream. One sequence, the recovery of the ear-ring is a signature of the Skolimowski theme – improvised and very funny intelligence brought to bear on a problem of total importance only to the moment. Diana Dors produces an absolutely brilliant cameo as a customer. It stands fresh in the memory after thirty years or so. The director has worked sporadically, always in Europe, since that time, even returning to Poland to ÒfinishÓ or ÒremodelÓ Hands Up. While he has made some good films (Moonlighting in particular) nothing he has done surpasses, indeed comes near, Deep End.

Desperate (Anthony Mann, US, 1947, 73 minutes)

Somebody at the ABC seems to have had the very bright idea of programming RKO film noir at around 11.00 pm on Thursday nights. Last week it was Edward Dmytryk's Cornered and this week it's this early effort by Anthony Mann, made before he hit his straps with T-Men and Raw Deal. I can't confess to having seen Desperate so it will be quite something to catch up with. I imagine Roger Westcombe might be sending out his own note to his band of noir followers which may have some more detail. In the meantime whomever is doing the programming for this slot is to be devoutly encouraged.

The Devil's Playground (Fred Schepisi, Australia, 1976, 107 minutes)

Schepisi's first feature was quite a revelation in its day. Apparently autobiographical it told of a Catholic boys school where the students were already being groomed for a future in the priesthood. It runs through all the familiar crises revolving round religion and male puberty and it shows some interesting sides to the life of the Brothers who teach, their sexual fear and repression, their inglorious hypocrisy. The film almost drifts through the story and in those circumstances you do become aware of the Ôcraftsmanship' going into it. The studied acting performances, the beautiful compositions. Schepisi's subject matter, in the three feature films he made in Australia was always marked by some strong subjects and its always been a disappointment that he should have chosen to labour away in the states on rather too many films with nothing much to say.

The Devil Strikes at Night (Robert Siodmak, Germany, 1957, 100 minutes)

Robert Siodmak's return to Germany has generally been dismissed as producing little of any account but there are stirrings which suggest that this part of his career might warrant some more attention. This film may well be the best that he made outside Hollywood, the one in which he brought to bear all the skills he displayed in making such noir classics as Phantom Lady, Criss Cross and The Killers. He applied it to the subject of a serial killer loose in a society where such things are not to be admitted by those with Nazi Party membership. The hero is a cop/war hero who starts peeling away the veneer of rectitude and uncovering evil and corruption. Maybe it's a little too schematic for some tastes but Sidmak's post-Hollywood career contains so much unseen material that any glimpse is worth noting and it begs for more to be screened somewhere.

Distance (Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan, 2000, 132 minutes)

Well miracles do happen. Somehow, somebody at SBS has been convinced to buy this little film by Hirokazu Kore-eda just when I had despaired of it ever being seen here in any public forum. A month ago I managed to obtain a video copy of Distance and thought that might be just about it. It was made in 2000 and screened in competition at Cannes that year. Its life after that was somewhat chequered partly as a result of its sales being controlled by a French company which wanted to charge festivals an arm and a leg for the privilege of screening it. As a result it fell right off the radar and remained elusive. Its story feeds off the national trauma and introspection caused by the Sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway in 1995 by members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult. The narrative is simplicity itself. Relatives of the survivors, or maybe they are other, innocent members of the cult, gather to mourn the deaths of those responsible for the terrorist attack. They spend several nights alone in the cult's former mountain headquarters. The mystery, at least for most of the film is how we are led to wonder whether they are going to emulate the others and commit some other terrorist act or some mass suicide. They don't. They quietly go their way though there is an enigma at the end which makes you wonder. There is no music to accompany the almost dream-like pace. It is however by no means as gripping as the masterpiece After Life which preceded it. In all his films Kore-eda, like his films, is self-effacing, modest, quiet, reserved and highly skilled in slowly drawing you into the intrigues he wants to present. All of his films spring from some form of near-documentary interest in a subject and, in fact, are often preceded by documentaries or recorded conversations about the subjects. Distance is a lesser, but still quite engrossing work by a young director who, after only four features has carved out a very special niche in Japanese and world cinema. If you want to read more about Kore-eda you can find a couple of interesting pieces in the recent edition of the on-line film journal Bright Lights, Big City which you can find here http://www.brightlightsfilm.com.

Dolls (Kitano Takeshi, Japan, 2002, 111 minutes)

Kitano's reputation rests on his yakuza and cop movies. He has been making films since 1989 but it took a while for any Australian audiences to see such work as Boiling Point, Violent Cop and Sonatine. Those violent blood-soaked gangster revenge pictures didn't automatically leap onto the agendas of festival directors or SBS-TV. As his reputation enlarged it was realised that he had made a series of variations contemplating the Japanese gangster milieu and, more interestingly, the aesthetics of Japanese gangster movies. He had interspersed these with some enigmatically contemplative films, like Scene at the Sea, that festival directors couldn't resist. In his gangster pictures Kitano himself usually plays a role, billing himself as Beat Kitano to distinguish this contribution from that of the director, whether it be hard-bitten cop or hard-bitten gangster. His film personas are usually inarticulate, slightly dumb and very, very violent. In Kikujiro he even parodied this persona when he inserted this standard character into a moppet flick involving a kid trying to find his mother. His last gangster movie Brother was set in Los Angeles and took his mobster out of the Tokyo comfort zone and into racially-charged, Mafia-riddled suburbs. Dolls is quite a variant turn for the director. Using Japan's Bunraku puppet theatre as his source, he gives us three classically Japanese tales of unrequited or frustrated love. Each is a little doom-laden tragedy. It is exquisitely filmed and reminds us that Kitano is the major film director working in Asia today. For all of Zhang Yimou's flamboyant show, all carefully calculated to thrill na•ve western audiences, its Kitano who has constantly managed the trick of getting classical Japanese cinema onto western screens without frills or gimmicks

Don't Make Waves (Alexander Mackendrick, USA, 1967, 97 minutes)

Three films after Sweet Smell of Success, Alexander Mackendrick's film-making career was over. Whether he decided he'd had enough after making this film or whether there was a whole host of circumstances I don't know. But this flat comedy about life in Southern California would not have been a movie to make you think there was much future in dancing to Hollywood's tune. Mackendrick exited and went on to set up the film-making program at the California Institute of the Arts. Tony Curtis plays a variation on his slippery Sidney Falco character from Sweet Smell but the goings on are just not funny enough to sustain interest. Another curiosity for the completists.

Dreams (Ingmar Bergman, Sweden, 1955)

Bergman made this film immediately before Smiles of a Summer Night, the film which started his golden run at the world's art house box offices. It was known in Britain as Journey Into Autumn (meaningless). I don't recall it ever receiving a release here so its screenings on SBS may be the first occasion that Australian audiences have had the opportunity to see it. I recently watched a French-subtitled DVD, a beautiful black and white transfer but with subtitles that left large slabs of dialogue untranslated. It's the story of a fashion editor Susanne (Eva Dahlbeck) and a young model Doris (Harriett Andersson) who go off to a provincial city for a photo shoot. Both are in the throes of personal crises The editor is trying to re-establish a relationship with a now married lover who lives in the town. The model has had a spat with her boyfriend and is easy prey for an aging elegant rich man who buys her presents and plies her with champagne. It's a very serious subject, done in a straightforward manner and it hasn't any of the playful sexy comedy of the film that followed. It does have one stunning sequence – the wordless, almost silent-film like seduction scene between the old man (Gunnar Bjornstand) and Doris, all done to a ditzy piece of band music. Harriett Andersson became a Bergman star. You can see why. She just radiates herself through the movie.

Duel of the Titans (Duccio Tessari, Italy, 1961, 100 minutes)

Duccio Tessari was no Sergio Leone but decades ago he laboured away making whatever genre flicks were occupying the attention of Italian (and Spanish and German) producers. From the late fifties it was sword and sandal peplum then gradually westerns took over and the former group, perhaps the most despised of genres, fell into deserved obscurity. Why watch this one now? Not because I think some buyer at SBS has hit upon the best of them and wants them revived and shown in their original Italian language so that we can discover their poetry. I seem to recall they ran a spate of these things when Des Mangan was screening populist rubbish  every Saturday and I assume this one occupied one of those spots. And yet.... Tessari was quite an interesting director who did all the genres quite efficiently. And then, wait for it, this one is advertised as starring the gorgeous Antonella Lualdi, the lady whose body was spied upon at the beginning of Claude Chabrol's unforgettable A Double Tour  or Leda as it was known here. It was a moment that turned into an image that appeared in the advertising for the film and even the serious magazines couldn't resisit running it in the photos that accompanied their reviews. Whatever happened to her. Well, here's part of the answer.

Dynamite (Cecil B De Mille, USA, 1929, 129 minutes) & Kongo (William Cowen, USA, 1932, 85 minutes)

I haven't seen either of these films. TCM has programmed them as a tribute to the star of both, Conrad Nagel. I don't know who he is either. Then again I didn't know who Ricardo Cortez was until recently so it's obvious I'm not the full bottle on late silent and early sound stars. What attracts me on this occasion is the first film in particular, Dynamite, an early sound film directed by Cecil B De Mille. If De Mille is known at all today it's for his cameo in Sunset Boulevard and Gloria Swanson's immortal ÒI'm ready for my close-up Mr De MilleÓ. His career, which stretched into the late fifties, became ever more bloated and pretentious as he made films like The Ten Commandments and The Greatest Show on Earth. But in the silent and early sound era he did make some quite spectacular things for MGM which pop up every so often on cable. In his book on the American cinema Andrew Sarris includes De Mille in the category below the Pantheon directors and noted: ÓIronically his films look much better today than their reputations would indicate.Ó I'm sufficiently intrigued by the prospect of this rare screening of one of his films to suggest that you watch it with an open mind. I have seen the film that he made immediately after it, Madame Satan, a delirious tale of sin and adultery, the climax of which takes place in some gigantic casino cum brothel situated inside a blimp, which explodes and burns to the ground. That was grandiose in the extreme but you couldn't take your eyes off it. ÉAnd if you watch both you'll find out why TCM thinks Conrad Nagel deserves his own birthday tribute.

8 Men Out (John Sayles, US, 1988)

It's been a while since I saw it, but this is probably the best baseball movie ever made, a fact which may not do much for you. Sayles movie is the story of the notorious 1919 season in which gamblers fixed the result of the World Series. The fabulous Chicago White Sox, the greatest team of its era threw the championship matches in disgust at the paltry pay bonuses offered by the team owner. From then on that team was referred to as the Chicago Black Sox. (There is a discussion of the events in Phil Alden Robinson's Field of Dreams (US, 1989) in particular as to whether Shoeless Joe Jackson, the team's key batter, actually participated in the fraudÉbut that's another story.) As it is, Sayles puts it together with great attention to the details of the events, the involvement of gamblers, the actions of the racist Baseball Commissioner, the players themselves and films the play with very concise detail. Sayles himself plays Ring Lardner and the great Americana chronicler Studs Terkel also makes an appearance.

El Bonaerense (Pablo Trapero, Argentina, 2002, 110 minutes)

As far as I am aware the only theatrical screening of this film was almost entirely without fanfare at the Canberra International Film Festival. Its non-selection by the others seems a rather remarkable oversight. Now it's being screened on Foxtel's World Movies and no doubt will pop up on SBS-TV in the next year or so. It's worth searching out because it is very brave film-making which confronts some nasty features of Argentinian society and lays them very bare.

El Bonaerense is the story of a cunning but not too bright locksmith whose generous but ill-timed assistance to a couple of crooked cops causes him to leave his provincial town quick smart. He joins the police force and the film takes us on a whirlwind trip through the lower reaches of the Buenos Aires police corruption, a cesspit of petty crime, violence, down at heel incompetence and a lot of sheer stupidity. Trapero has chosen to film it with bleached out visuals and apparently unrehearsed dialogue. These reinforce the sense of a lazy institution only half aware that it has any social responsibility at all.

The protagonist Zapa (Jorge Roman) is the perfect entry point into the cabal of petty insiders. The poverty of the institution is a breeding ground for sharp practice even if languidness seems to be the most acceptable code for dealing with the events of the day. The training scenes even have a sense of ridiculous fun. The recruits spend their time learning to explain away the inevitable mistakes by lies and deceit. It comes in handy. Men with guns and temptation, sexual and financial, are always going to turn foolish and Trapero doesn't pull any punches in showing just how venal they can be.

The Embalmer (Matteo Garrone, Italy, 2002, 98 minutes)

The Embalmer is a genuine oddity. The story is the sort of everyday thing that you are always coming across. A taxidermist dwarf somehow convinces a handsome but rather dull-witted young man to forsake all and join him in his business. He has an idea that the young man, despite his girl friend, is seducible. Well, you come across it if you are David Lynch overdosing on Patricia Highsmith. This is one of the more bizarre narratives made in Europe in recent times and I think its Garrone's first film but don't hold me to it. It was quite a success in its home market. We saw it in Paris when it opened there last year. Not content with exploring these nether worlds Garrone has followed this with a film whose Ôheroine' is bulimic. That really shook up the Italians and doesn't seem to have travelled very far at all. I think he may be a quite startling new talent and that The Embalmer may be one of the debut films of the decade.

The Entertainer (Tony Richardson, UK, 1960, 96 minutes)

Woodfall Films led the so-called British New Wave as both a vehicle for the production of founder Tony Richardson's films and as a conduit for the early work of major directors from Karel Reisz on to Ken Loach a decade or more later. But Richardson was the star talentÉsort of. After Look Back in Anger in 1959, Richardson's second film was also an adaptation of another play by John Osborne (another founder of the company). Osborne's play was a sign he was already leaving behind the so-called kitchen sink dramas. Laurence Olivier had played the part of Archie Rice on stage and clearly revelled in it. Archie is a devious, lecherous music hall comedian. His routines for the stage and with younger women are about as equally tired. His family are sick of him, but loyal. But his routines, played out before narcoleptic audiences at seaside resorts, while pathetic in one sense are fascinating for their exactitude. Osborne, Richardson and Olivier are bidding a less than fond farewell to a whole world of British entertainment. There's no nostalgia here. Archie's family, including the very young Alan Bates in a small role as his son, want to move on. But where do you go when the only skill you have is to dance a few steps and tell very old jokes with a leer. In a way it told you more about change in Britain than did the predecessor film.

EverynightÉEverynight (Alkinis Tsilimidos, Australia, 1994, 85 minutes)

Alkinis Tsilimidos still seems to be under everyone's radar. Silent Partner, which I liked a lot, got very little attention and Tom White, which I also liked, doesn't seem to have changed that but it should have. Anyway, the latter was entirely overlooked in this year's AFI awards and Alkinis is ignored in The Oxford Companion to Australian Film. That shouldn't have been. This early film is based on Ray Mooney's play and the credits tell us the film is in memory of notorious thug and hit man Christopher Dale Flannery. I'm told Flannery attended Moreland High School a few years behind me so I can't for the life of me think how he could have become a contract killer as was alleged. One of life's mysteries. The film is brutal and deeply shocking. The violence is unrestrained and the sadism on show is very ugly. The central role, Dale (David Field) is an utterly stupid petty criminal whom the prison system turns into a man of extreme violence and rat cunning. A telling combination. Made on video in black and white it only seems to screen very late at night no doubt to help the channel fill out its required quota of Australian product. No matter. It's a film that has to be seen if only once and it's a pointer to how good Tom White would be when it was made. Then again, I seem to be the only person who thinks that. I also think a better future for the Australian cinema lies more with Alkinis Tsilimidos than it does with other more highly touted names, especially names associated with the alleged comedies produced with large dollops of taxpayers' funds by Macquarie Bank.

Faithless, (Liv Ullman, Sweden, 2000, 85 minutes)

Liv Ullman's collaboration with Ingmar Bergman goes back for close to forty years. She was a major part of his life and he hers. She starred in a number of his most personal and intense films, most notably the trilogy of Persona, Shame and Hour of the Wolf, a group of films which re-asserted the director's pre-eminence in the cinema of the day after a period when his films and his reputation were sinking ever lower. Ullman has directed a number of films but few are likely to be as personal as this one, filmed from a script by Bergman and forensically taking apart an affair, the succeeding divorce and the bad end that comes from it. It was made as a mini-series for Swedish TV but was screened in its entirety at festivals, released theatrically in some countries and has been released on DVD in the States. I watched the DVD only recently and it jammed at the start of Chapter 10 with about half an hour to go so I only know the chapter headings for the narrative from then on. It's very, very intense and I fear the worst. I presume the conclusion will screen on the following Saturday night. This is the sort of high quality world cinema that SBS should be showing but it makes you wonder whether SBS even knows what it's got when the SMH TV guide doesn't mention either Ullman or Bergman and there is not even the smallest review of it on the highlights page opposite.

Fallen Angels (Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong, 1995, 90 minutes) & Last Life in the Universe (Pen-ak Ratanaruang, Thailand, 2003, 105 minutes)

Somebody at World Movies has had the idea to run these two films together as a double-bill called "Through Chris Doyle's Eyes", In the early 90s Tony Rayns described Doyle as the man "who would be considered Australia's greatest ever cinematographer if he'd ever shot anything other than Chinese movies.Ó  Doyle is an irascible talent and he has indeed shot some Australian movies now, the two recent features made by Philip Noyce The Quiet American and Rabbit-Proof Fence, albeit in a quite conventional manner. He's also been to Hollywood and was the photographer on Gus Van Sant's remake of Psycho. But his key partnership, one which survives maybe even thrives on, Doyle's boorish egotism, has been the work he has done on most of Wong Kar-wai's features. For this he has come to be regarded as some sort of local saint and all manner of bad behaviour tolerated because of his ability to light smart and shoot fast. Fallen Angels  seems to be regarded as among the least of Wong's films and it has been showing on World Movies ever since the channel started. It has also screened on SBS. If you haven't seen it then you should.. So there.

Last Life in the Universe  is much newer and it's further proof of just how good the Thais are at making films these days. I would suspect that over the last couple of years there have been anything up to half a dozen new Thai features selected for competition at the three major festivals in Europe, a record that Australia doesn't come near. Pen-ak's film is sad love story, a triad crime story and a quiet contemplation of the ways that chance comes into things and plays with our feelings. Tony Rayns summed it up perfectly when he called it "this uneventful but gripping tale of the strangeness of our emotional bonds". It stars heart throb Asano Tadanobu as the Japanese librarian with a yakuza past and there is a great cameo by director Miike Takashi.

First A Girl (Victor Saville, UK, 1935, 94 minutes)

When Blake Edwards made Victor/Victoria he took as his source an obscure 30s German musical with a score provided by the great Frederick Hollander. Edwards may or may not have taken much notice of this version of the film, the last of a series of British remakes of German originals. The Brit version has the virtue of the presence of the wondrous Jessie Mathews, a star of the first dimension who could sing and dance with the best of them. Nowadays she's so far under the radar that David Thomson doesn't even devote an entry to her in his Biographical Dictionary while such alleged luminaries as Madonna and Demi Moore (after only consulting the letter ÒMÓ) are included. The market demands it I suppose but that's a pity. Mathews is mentioned in the entry on the film's director, Victor Saville who is credited with bringing out her Òlight prettinessÓ. WellÉ no. First a Girl is indeed light but it's also quite brilliant, not the least for Mathews in the role of the singer who can only get a job by pretending she's a female impersonator. The narrative contains all the complications you may expect, or indeed be aware of, but nevertheless it's a still a very heady piece of nonsense which you can watch over and over again in continuing delight.

The French Line (Lloyd Bacon, USA, 1953, 102 minutes)

All the encyclopaedias make jokes about this film being shown ÒflatÓ although it was made in 3-D and the camera angles pointedly emphasised Jane Russell's breasts. Ms Russell was asked to wear one costume which even she thought a little risqué and Howard Hughes had one of his fights with the censors before it was released. None of the songs have become standards and the general view is that the film is all a bit ho hum. David Thomson calls it Òa dull, garish film, but with two startlingly direct songsÓ. A woman billed as Marilyn Novak appears for a brief moment. She later transmogrified into Kim Novak. All this is out of the books. I haven't any recollection of it at all but it has a near-legendary reputation.

Flying Leathernecks (Nicholas Ray, USA, 1951, 102 minutes)

Following the screening of three of Nick Ray's better films in a week only a short time ago, another one pops up, one which didn't add much to his standing or career. I bought the DVD of it in France but haven't watched it yet and in fact haven't seen it for years, possibly before color TV arrived in 1975. Maybe a viewing of it will provide revelations similar to those I felt when I saw Billy Wilder's Spirit of St Louis recently. After only having memories of something on a black and white TV, a 35 mm print in colour and Cinemascope was just sensational. But in the case of Flying Leathernecks it probably wouldn't do much. The compilers of "The RKO Story" which provides notes on every film made by the studio, are quite scathing. "The running gag in Flying Leathernecks involved Jay C Flippen as an army sergeant who steals anything and everything from other companies to make sure his own outfit is well-supplied. The character must have been close to the hearts of story author Kenneth Gamet and screenwriter james Edward Grant who plundered scores of old war films to flesh out their saga with every cliche and stereotype in the military manual" Hmm...nasty. Makes you want to defend it.

Fudoh: The New Generation (Miike Takashi, Japan 1996, 100 minutes)

This is one of the films that established Miike's reputation as the modern master of the yakuza thriller. When he made it, the director specialised in films that were made to go straight to the cable and video market in Japan. The budgets were low and invention was at a premium. Comparisons have been made with Miike's affinity with the so called graphic novel, the Japanese manga with extreme violence a feature but done in set pieces that have you gasping at the intricate nature and the sense of the hectic moment produced by the shooting and editing. Its story is pretty simple. One generation is replacing another as the dominant criminal force. Its enough to allow a pattern of mayhem and imaginatively staged violent encounters. I know Miike isn't everyone's cup of tea. His gangster pictures don't bother explaining too much and they are not a place where the law is allowed to intrude itself. The yakuza code settles it all on the spot between the tattooed boys. Women hardly play a part though there is a female assassin in this one. Miike has used the manga as his inspiration and, in the case of his notorious Ichi the Killer, as his source material. He doesn't go for parody or send-up but there is a humour to be found in the ways of doing someone in. Not for the squeamish but an excellent example of the high-quality low budget film-making territory that Miike staked out as his very own. Among the literally dozens of films he has made over the last decade, this is where his talent for thrilling action cinema is shown off best.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (Richard Lester, UK, 1966, 98 minutes)

I know that this isn't one of the most admired musicals ever but I still love it. First of all its got half a dozen Sondheim songs that you never got tired of, most notably ÔComedy TonightÓ second it has one of the greatest of all comedians Phil Silvers playing the key part of the slave dealer. Silvers had a one method approach to everything he did, brilliant dazzling verbal dexterity, and he found a perfect place for it on TV as Sergeant Bilko, to my mind the best TV comedy ever produced in America though don't ask me to compare it to Friends or Seinfeld and those other things because I haven't seen them. Lester made the two Beatles movies and discovered that helter skelter comedy and rapid fire editing was his forte. It suited this piece of brilliant Broadway nonsense to a T.

The Gambler (Karel Reisz, USA, 1974, 95 minutes)

Reisz has always occupied a slightly odd position among the quality film-makers of both Britain and America. His first feature Saturday Night and Sunday Morning struck quite a chord and was a hit. His subsequent British films produced two duds and, in Morgan a Suitable Case for Treatment, an art house hit which propelled Vanessa Redgrave into the first rank. The Gambler was his first film in America and he got hold of a James Toback script, cast the young James Caan and made a rather portentous movie about a college professor with a gambling addiction. No matter how successful the film finally is there is considerable grip in the story and the violent narrative is very strong. This is not a boring picture.  David Thomson says that "Reisz neither caught nor tamed the pretentious but authentic existentialism of James Toback's script" Thomson lists Toback as one of his close friends in the Acknowledgements page of the latest edition of his tome so its hard to know whether there might be some blame shifting going on in that entry.

Give a Girl a Break (Stanley Donen, USA, 1953, 82 minutes)

This musical doesn't feature in too many people's minds as one of the best of the MGM output. The words used by the list-makers and encyclopaedists damn it with faint praise if any praise is extended at all. It doesn't seem to come round on TCM rotation with anything like the frequency of the studio's big names but I've always loved it and this screening is a welcome return. The story itself is, well, light, ok trivial - just three girls auditioning for a Broadway show. Perhaps one of the reasons why it's deemed to be somewhat lesser is that it doesn't have a ÒbigÓ male star to carry it. No Kelly. No Astaire. Not even a Howard Keel. Marge and Gower Champion stand in for the top names. They could sing and dance with the best but were usually relegated to the supporting cast. There are other incidental pleasures as well. Bob Fosse is in the cast and dances brilliantly. The music and lyrics, which few say much for, are by Ira Gershwin and Burton Lane.

The Good Girl (Miguel Arteta, USA, 2001, 90 minutes)

I probably don't need to tell you about The Good Girl. It can hardly be said to be slipping past unseen. But it is so damn good and my enthusiasm for it remains undiminished since its theatrical release that I can't resist. A couple of years ago I called it one of the most involving comic surprises of the year, a desperate and very funny comedy of sexual manners. Justine (Jennifer Aniston) lives in a Texan small town of limitless lack of opportunity. She has a sort of life which totters between the home she shares with her house painter husband Phil (and, too often, his mate Bubba) and her work at the Retail Rodeo store where she endlessly stares out from the cosmetics counter. Justine is a put upon thirty year old faced with a life dominated by slobs, who leave paint on the furniture, who smoke endless joints and, in Phil's case, cant get her pregnant. Justine's walk, a rapid paced, high tensile waddle mostly through car parks seems to sum up all her frustrations. Her eyes settle on Holden, a wayward check out clerk and soon her domestic disaffections have been requited by Holden's overwhelming, indeed manic, attention. But she's smart and when she sees catastrophe ahead she has a quick inventive mind. It is brilliantly served by the performances of Aniston, Jake Gyllenhaal (Holden), John C. Reilly (Phil) and Tim Blake Nelson (Bubba).

La Habanera (Detlief Sierck/Douglas Sirk, Germany, 1937, 115 minutes)

Douglas Sirk started making films when the Nazi era was in full swing. His early history was so mysterious that at one time it was thought he had made a film in Australia. Historians encountered a title on his filmography called in some versions ÒFemale Prisoners of ParramattaÓ. It turned out that the Australian settings were created right on the stage of the UFA studios in Berlin. The star of that film, the singer Zarah Leander, also appeared in La Habanera which followed in the same year. It was gain set in an exotic location, this time South America. It was apparently his last German film and he moved on to America after making films in Switzerland and Holland. His first film in the States was Hitler's Madman (1943) which would seem to indicate his view of the political masters of his former homeland. La Habanera is a curiosity. I have seen it, many years ago at an NFTA season I think but I don't have any particular memory of it so I'm not proposing to inform you of the plot or narrative. It is however, regarded as already employing Sirk's classical narrative strategies, melodramatic and sophisticated. Jon Halliday, who has written extensively on Sirk places the film clearly in the Sirkian tradition by which the Òmelodrama is itself the form which best allows a director to express his criticism of society.Ó Sirk's reputation has grown over the years, not least because Rainer Werner Fassbinder explicitly adopted Sirk's methods of social critique. More recently Todd Haynes renewed interest by making Far From Heaven, an explicit reworking of and homage to Sirk's late masterpiece All That Heaven Allows.

Hans Christian Andersen (Charles Vidor, USA, 1952, 120 minutes)

Danny Kaye was a wonderfully talented actor. He paid his dues on Broadway, including playing in Kurt Weill's "Lady in the Dark" before Samuel Goldwyn condemned him to a lifetime's underachievement by signing him to a contract that required him to conform to Goldwyn's production methods - big budgets, expensive look, beautiful colour, glamourous chorus girls. They bloated Kaye and constricted his talent. He could have made a lot more great films but he didn't. He made one comic masterpiece The Court Jester, when freed of the Goldwyn yoke, but there should have been more many more. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Wonder Man had their moments but they weren't funny enough and the songs weren't good enough.  They had too much production and too little spontaneity. Like a lot of comedians Kaye seemed to want to play Hamlet or some variation and these ambitions caused him to wallow in the sentimentality that was too often sent in his direction. Hans Christian Andersen pandered to this instinct. I think it may have been Kaye's last film for Goldwyn, a musical with songs by Frank Loesser about the Danish writer/teller of children's fairy tales. I dont know anything about Andersen's life except what I've seen in this film, twice but fifty years apart. What I missed on the first occasion was the story of a man who, at the beginning of the film is sharing his house and business with a young boy whom he has 'rescued' from an orphanage. Then Andersen is in trouble with the authorities. He sits near the school gate and delays the kids from attending school by telling them stories. This drives the local burghers to distraction. Andersen is politely asked to leave town and does, heading for Copenhagen with his young companion. He has an argument with this young protege that resembles a serious relationship breakdown....and on it goes.  Maybe I'm reading too much into this but I doubt if you could make this film today.

The Happiness of the Katakuris (Miike Takashi, Japan, 2001, 110 minutes)

My admiration for Miike Takashi goes back to a couple of  visits to the Vancouver Film Festival in the 90s when Tony Rayns was first bringing the director's films out of  the ghetto of Japanese video production and introducing them to audiences who were utterly agog at such brash talent. At one festival I saw Blues Harp, Rainy Dog and The Bird People in China and I was hooked. Here was raw visceral, adventurous film-making. The next year, I think, was the year of Audition, an absolutely shocking piece of horror that starts like an Ozu picture until its invaded by someone who can do it better than John Carpenter at his best. Miike is perhaps the most prolific director working today and I think his output of features in less than a dozen years is probably racing towards the hundred mark. Most of them are cheaply made and for a long time went straight to video and cable in Japan. That never stopped Miike from making them with a skill and enthusiasm for busting up genres that has rarely been seen let alone equalled. Given the speed and the nature of the commissions there are the occasional misfires, pictures which dont work or which try a little too hard to bend the genre. Its a bit unfortunate that one of the few Miike pictures we can see falls into the less than successful group. Never mind. its not dull and it has hints of a dark humour that reflects the directors own personality. Still, with Audition, which also shows on World Movies, its a start on catching up with the backlog of work by one of the major talents of Japanese indeed world cinema. But boy there is a long way to go. More please.

Harry He's Here to Help (Dominik Moll, France, 2000, 115 minutes)

I loved this film when it came out because I thought it was the best example of a Patricia Highsmith movie made in years. The fact that it's not based on one of her books is not the point. Dominik Moll's very creepy thriller uses all the Highsmithian elements - strangers whose paths cross, the strong manipulating the weak, the weak man's capacity to fall under the strong man's spell, the effect on those around you of this almost homo-erotic affection and exploitation. It was the first time that I saw Sergi Lopez the wonderful Spanish actor who has since gone on to play some wonderful roles, most recently in Stephen Frears Dirty Pretty Things (as the hotel night manager organising the operations). Lopez is brilliantly creepy. So is the film.

Hell Drivers (Cy Endfield, UK, 1957, 91 minutes)

A quick check suggests that, at least in the stuff I've archived, I've never mentioned Cy Enfield. He had an interesting career indeed. In America he directed The Sound of Fury, a brilliant film about a lynch mob, and then, after a Tarzan picture, bolted for England as the McCarthyites closed in. There he made some quite remarkable films and a few lesser works. I watched the DVD of The Limping Man which has quite a bit of narrative oomph for its first 70 or so minutes. (Then it all turns out to be some dream, a shaggy dog story and everyone marches off happily to their anointed lovers. Gimme a break.) But Hell Drivers is the real thing, Endfield's best British film and as a taut and gripping a narrative as you'll find. David Thomson summarises perfectly when he calls it an Òunexpectedly raw look into the lives of English lorry drivers with much of the flavour and violence of an American thriller.Ó

The Hellfire Club (Robert S Baker & Monty Berman, UK, 1960, 93 minutes)

Now here is something quite unique. I suppose it's been on TV before somewhere, sometime but this is the first time I've noticed it. In its dayÉwell it didn't have a day. Our censor banned it and I had thought it had stayed banned until the hereafter. I wonder if anyone at Channel 9 knows anything of this. On reflectionÉof course not. The TV stations do their own classifying and so it would just sail into the library and out onto the airwaves. No doubt it's now all quite refined and there probably isn't any nudity or sex. It was made in 1960 after all and the censor probably banned it using his catch-all Ôlow moral tone' justification. Come to think of it the censor didn't have to give any justification nor submit to any appeal process. He just sent a letter to the distributors. They lived in fear of the likes of Chief Censor Richard Prowse, ÒOne-armed DickÓ as I think he was nicknamed, and just copped it sweet. The film has only a passing acquaintance with the goings on at the famous 18th century bondage club of the same name. The Time Out Film Guide sums up with ÒSurprisingly light on debauchery and occasionally perhaps too jocular for its own good, this costume melodrama occasionally skips out of the rutÓ. A mix of curiosity and nostalgia compels you to set the recorder.

Henry Fonda

Henry is everywhere on Monday 16 May as three channels put on movies to celebrate his birthday. All up there are seven movies screening ranging from Jezebel (1938) to There Was a Crooked Man (1970), a tranche cut from a career which ranged in fact from 1935 to 1981, the year before his death. I recently saw him in Fritz Lang's You Only Live Once (1937) at a Chauvel Cinematheque screening and before that in I Dream Too Much (1935) a late night ABC transmission from its stockpile of RKO product. The latter would have to be one of the more embarrassing moments in a phenomenally rich and varied career in which, in the 30s and 40s alone, he worked brilliantly for, among many, Lang, John Ford, Julian Duvivier, William Wellman, Otto Preminger and, as proof of his versatility, Preston Sturges in what just might be the greatest comedy ever made The Lady Eve (1941). As is usual with these things, none of his great films for any of those directors, nor his magnificent performance in Hitchcock's The Wrong Man is on display. The only film from his most productive period on show here is Jezebel in which he plays a subordinate role to a scenery chewing Bette Davis. Its one of her great star vehicles but not something to remember Henry Fonda by. Still there is 12 Angry Men, ever tense and edgy today and the two films he made for Burt Kennedy, Welcome to Hard Times and The Rounders. The former ruins the E L Doctorow novel it's based on, but the latter is a really nice movie about a couple of no hoper cowboys trying to adjust to modern hard times. Both those films were shot in Ôscope but don't expect TCM to show them that way. There Was a Crooked man, is a bloated Joseph L Mankiewicz western and Fail Safe is the ultra-serious movie about the bomb that was made at the same time as Dr Stangelove and went missing at the box office in the wake of Kubrick's hi jinx. Fonda was an actor of gravitas, with soulful eyes and a deportment that suggested that he was always very serious. He could veer towards being a martinet as he did in Ford's Fort Apache or invoke enormous sympathy as he did for the same director in The Grapes of Wrath or My Darling Clementine. For close to fifty years his acting epitomised the American cinema in all its glory.

12 Angry Men Movie Greats at 8.30 pm

The Battle of the Bulge TCM at 8.30 pm

There was a Crooked Man Movie Greats at 10.10 pm

Fail Safe Fox Classics at 10.15 pm

The Rounders TCM at 11.10 pm

Welcome to Hard Times TCM at 12.45 am Tuesday 17 May

Jezebel TCM at 2.35 am Tuesday 17 May

Heroes Shed No Tears (John Woo, Hong Kong, 1986, 81 minutes)

Unless you have been a decades long denizen of the Chinatown cinemas there are going to be a lot of quite remarkable films that you have missed. I'm someone who has missed most of them. SBS didn't, or couldn't, help for a long time because the Chinese distributors and producers had a natural fear of piracy arising from any foreign TV screenings and wouldn't sell the rights. But, spasmodically and unsystematically there are titles cropping up. There doesn't seem to be any method to the selections, so you get films like this while other and better titles remain unseen. In his invaluably encyclopaedic book ÔThe Hong Kong Filmography, 1977-1997', John Charles lists 1,100 films with full credits and synopses. This one might be a John Woo film made when he was at the top of the tree with his A Better Tmorrow series but does not rate highly with Charles. Woo disowned this film. It Ôwas taken out of his hands and spiced up with sex and violence inserts'. Charles goes on to say Ôaside from its ferocious violence and Woo's familiar theme of the strong bond and intense loyalty between friends, there is little to distinguish this from any number of other jungle combat thrillers that followed in the wake of Rambo II'. A curiosity and not to be watched with high expectations.

Hi, Dharma (South Korea, 2001, 95 minutes)

My friend and adviser on this one informs me that he rather likes Hi Dharma. I haven't seen it and I haven't even been able to ascertain the directors's name  but I'm told "its the one about scuzzy gangsters hiding out in a Buddhist temple and being outwitted by the wily monks. I guess you could think of it as PERFORMANCE meets CARRY ON". Well you have been warned. Curiosity makes me watch anything South Korean these days.

The Hill (Sidney Lumet, UK, 1965, 122 minutes)

I've written before how Sidney Lumet mixed some fine, aggravating and memorable films which really got under the skinÉ. and a fair amount of rubbish. The Hill is in the former group, a superb study of military discipline gone berserk. Inmates of a British prison stuck somewhere out in the African desert are broken by making them go up and over Ôthe hill' endlessly until their spirit is gone. The usual run of venal officers and rebellious men make up the camp population but Lumet films it with such intensity, such unrelenting lack of humour or relief that it's a traumatic experience to watch. Anti-military in its intent and effect, it has some great performances from Sean Connery, Ossie Davis, Harry Andrews and others from the roster of Brit acting talent. Nothing is held back.

Holidays on the River Yarra (Leo Berkeley, Australia, 1991, 84 minutes)

What has this film in common with the following Australian films –Snapshot, Harlequin, Twelfth Night and Breaker Morant? All of them currently screen about once a week at ungodly hours of the morning on  Foxtel's repository of the mostly mediocre, Showtime Greats. Philip Brophy's droll gorefest Body Melt also used to screen at these hours in recent months but it appears its run is over. (Maybe the producers of Body Melt have withdrawn it and are re-doing the titles and the artwork to move William McInnes and Lisa McCune up the billing, preparatory to a DVD launch).  No matter, despite the timeslots and its company, both of which I assume relate to the need for the channel to have some Australian content somewhere, Holidays on the River Yarra is a film which should be seen. I loved it when it came out. It's the sort of modest, droll and acutely observed film-making we dont encourage nearly enough. A couple of dumb bastards from the west Melbourne suburbs get mixed up in some idiotic idea to get on a boat and go and invade some island republic and get lots of treasure. Dumb is not the word but the social canvas is drawn with complete accuracy and the two boys are terrific. We get the suburbs, we get the dog races and the pubs and the TABs. I think it may have been the first screen appearance, at least the first I noticed of the absolutely delectable teenage Claudia Karvan as well. Leo Berkeley never got to make another feature as far as I know and that's a pity. Self-effacement and modesty have only ever had a toe hold in our industry and he was another who was probably discouraged at being spat out. The title? Say it quickly and you get a whole new (double) meaning.

The Horse Soldiers (John Ford, USA, 1959, 115 minutes)

Ford returns, with Wayne, to the Union Cavalry, in a stirring tale of a raid during the Civil War. I've always loved The Horse Soldiers even though it's rather more Boys Own adventure than the trilogy of cavalry films he made in the forties. But if you want to see a master at work, making a relaxed, discursive but ultimately quite involving story then this is one to see. The relationships don't have the prickle that exists in Rio Grande or Fort Apache and the setting of the occupied South is a million miles from the grit of the desert and Monument Valley. Still there is the absolutely exquisite sequence when the military school boys stand and fight the might of Wayne's cavalry. That in itself makes it worth watching over again. As a matter of interest the DVD I have says that the copy reproduces the original 1:1.78 ratio. I wasn't aware that films were ever made thus. You can however bet that Foxtel will show it full frame.

The Hound of the Baskervilles (Paul Morrissey, UK, 1978, 84 minutes)

Yes indeed the same Morrissey who made Trash, Heat and other Andy Warhol related pictures was wheeled in to make this picture. Peter Cook wrote the script and the acting roster includes Cook (as Sherlock Holmes), Dudley Moore (as Watson), Denholm Elliott, Joan Greenwood, Spike Milligan, Roy Kinnear and Jessie Mathews. It is reputedly an absolute turkey. I've never managed to catch it but here it is again so this might be the moment. Maltin says there is a US version which runs 78 minutes and has the sequences out of order - which is making me more curious than ever.

Home From the Hill (Vincente Minnelli, USA, 1960, 150 minutes)

The listing for this on TCM indicates it's a first time viewing which may just mean that the film is going to be screened in Cinemascope. If that's the case then dont miss it. If its not, wait for the DVD because 'scope was simply essential to this film and to Minnelli. The director had a talent for what David Thomson calls "brilliantly regulated melodrama" and this was one of his finest films, a glossy MGM package set in the deep South and starring Robert Mitchum at the top of his career and his form as a Southern patriarch. It's followed on TCM by Sam Peckinpah's second film Ride The High Country with Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea. That's another film only worth watching in 'scope so if by chance it is then settle down for the double bill of the month.

The House by the Canal/La Maison du Canal (Alain Berliner, France, 2003, 100 minutes)

I've noted this film before but it appears the note has gone missing so here's another reminder of the continuing contribution being made to film by Georges Simenon. So far this year there have been two other adaptations released, Cedric Kahn's Feux Rouges/Red Lights and Walter Doehner Pecanins' The Blue Room. If the adaptations keep coming at this rate producers will exhaust the source material in about one hundred and fifty years or so. Alain Berliner gets the mood right for this film, a dark drama about a young orphaned girl sent to stay with relatives in the Flemish countryside and arousing the male population's lust and the female population's envy and resentment. But she's a knowing thing and she can understand the havoc she's causing and often goes out of her way to inflame passions. The two brothers are interested in her. One is the macho type who goes off whoring in the town bordello, the other is sweet natured. She's not interested in him though, despite showing some affection. It comes to a somewhat nasty end as befits the master psychologist's work when he ruminates about passion and its unpredictable consequences. The young star Isild Le Besco has a quite striking presence. By no means conventionally beautiful, all teeth, a thin face but with extraordinary high cheekbones, she's astonishingly good. The character is lazy, slovenly, yet touching. It's a difficult trick to pull off. This is a very good Simenon adaptation and can stand comparison with the best of the hundred or so that have already been made. Many of course were Maigret stories attracting such luminaries as Jean Renoir, Charles Laughton and Jean Gabin. The others have provided material for film-makers around the world, though, for that matter, so has Maigret. A couple of years ago the Cinematheque Francaise programmed a mammoth selection of Simenon adaptations. That would have been nice to see.

House of Bamboo (Samuel Fuller, USA, 1955)

Sam Fuller was on his hot streak when he made House of Bamboo though it doesn't usually get mentioned among his best films. By the sixties he was the lion of American movies, interviewed throughout Europe and appearing/pontificating in Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le Fou. Gavin Millar ignores House of Bamboo completely in his entry on Fuller in Richard Roud's ÒCritical DictionaryÓ. (Roud lists himself as one of Fuller's Ôpassionate detractors'. Never mind.) Fuller's films featured violent mixtures of crime, race, guilt and sex, toppling into each other with undisguised ferocity. Until recently I hadn't seen House of Bamboo since a screening on black and white TV in the mid-sixties. It was made in colour and Cinemascope and stars Robert Ryan and Robert Stack and, among the Japanese actors, the great Sessue Hayakawa, star of Japanese silent films and later a fixture in Hollywood. The last screening I saw on Fox Classics used a splendid Cinemascope copy. The Technicolour was sensational. It starts brilliantly, the early shots of Mt Fuji and peasants working in the snow clearly modelled on Hokusai and Hiroshige ukiyo-e prints. Its early subject is the tension between the defeated and subjugated Japanese and the all-conquering Americans, here represented, not by the Occupation Army but a criminal demi-monde led by master thief, strong man and manipulator Robert Ryan. After lapsing into some ersatz Japonaiserie, with dancers practising in costume on a rooftop, the film then goes downhill down into a common or garden gangster flick. Fuller's films seem to have near-disappeared even from the great maw that is cable TV. Along with Budd Boetticher and Don Siegel, he seems to be a key, if minor, auteur whose films are either tied up in odd copyright situations or simply ignored. SoÉtake any opportunity.

The Hundred Steps (I Cento Passi) (Marco Tullio Giordana, Italy, 2000, 110 minutes)

When we stayed in Paris, oh so long ago now, one of the big hits in the art cinemas was an Italian two part six hour TV series called Our BestYears  directed by Marco Tullio Giordana. It focussed on two brothers whose politics deviated towards right and left. One joined the police force and became an upholder of law and order, the other became a lawyer who married a member of the Red Brigade. Complications and contrivances ensued sufficient to have you enthralled over the film's length as basically it played out a view of modern Italian political history. It has been a huge theatrical success in France and was a knockout ratings winner on Italian TV. You can get the DVD if you want to take my word for it. The same techniques of political history are on display in I Cento Passi, based on a true story of a young political activist, played by Luigi Lo Cascio, (who played the lawyer in Our Best Years), who takes on the mafia's influence in his Sicilian town and who is assassinated as a result. The young man's example had a seminal influence on the resolve of Sicilian communities to stand up to those seeking to perpetrate evil influence over the lives of the people. Giordana's technique is rather friendly. You don't get the same cold hard look at human weakness and political manipulation that Francesco Rosi's films displayed. He wants to bring things to warm-hearted conclusions which is probably at some odds with reality and may make his (Italian) audiences feel better than they ought. But you can't deny that a fascinating story is told with quite some melodramatic grip.

I Dream Too Much (John Cromwell, USA, 1935, 95 minutes)

In my weekly alert when I noticed this title I mentioned that it was from deep in the RKO vaults, another film by John Cromwell I've never seen. The RKO Story informs us that the film was used as the debut for singing star Lily Pons who does a couple of operatic arias. Henry Fonda plays a composer she falls for. The original music was done by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields. (It's getting better all the time. Eric Blore, one of my favourite character actors, wonderful in the Astaire/Rogers Swingtime, is also in the cast). It doesn't have a high reputation but curiosity compels you to set the recorder to see Cromwell's films no matter how little he may have influenced proceedings. Well that was then. Having seen the film boy it's not surprising that Lily Pons never made it to stardom. Horse-faced and largely expressionless she played utterly without conviction and drowned the entire enterprise. Poor old Henry Fonda had to endure this loan-out from Walter Wanger, Fonda had already played for Fritz Lang and must have thought this stuff beneath contempt. Or should have. As for Eric Blore he plays some idiotic part as a circus performer with a performing seal, which dies, off-screen, during the course of the film. The seal's death and the film's occurred near simultaneously.

If É.(Lindsay Anderson, UK, 1968, 95 minutes)

I haven't seen If since it first came out so it's several decades now but the memory remains of some of its moments - Malcolm McDowell's black caped arrival, the canings by prefects, the line where the junior boy is ordered to warm the senior's toilet seat, and then the rebellion itself. It seemed to sum up an era of revolution and a hope for a better, classless world. Lindsay Anderson's one big subject was the British class system and the quality of his films varied according to how directly he engaged with that little matter. In If, while allegorical, it was direct and Anderson probably never made a better film. By now there's a lot of nostalgia around for the time and for Anderson and for the British cinema of the day (vide Privilege and Morgan A Suitable Case for Treatment, which came out around the same time). Then of course there was Malcolm McDowell who blitzed his way into our consciousness and followed it up, a couple of years and films later, with the astonishing role of Alex in Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. He was never so good, or was it so lucky, again.

As a matter of interest If was cut by the Australian censor on its first release. I assume the tape now playing on Foxtel is mercifully free of that piece of unwarranted intervention.

If You Were Me (six episodes directed by different directors, Korea, 2003, 110 minutes)

South Korea recently established a National Human Rights Commission and one of the Commission's first initiatives was the financing of this film, comprising six short films by some of the country's best directors. Each focusses on a story where individuals are in some way harassed, oppressed, bullied or discriminated against. For western audiences the most shocking is the episode titled "Tongue-tied" directed by Park Jin-pyo. This one goes into, very simply, the new Korean fashion for an operation to be performed on a child's tongue in order to assist the child to speak English more easily. What makes it shocking is that you actually see, in some detailed close-up, the crucial moments of the operation. The screaming of the child, sitting there seemingly without any anaesthetic is harrowing. Nothing else quite compares with it. Other episodes, most notably the story of the disabled man staging his own protest and that of the Nepalese migrant held in a mental hospital for six years after forgetting her purse, are moving in the extreme.

I Know Where I'm Going (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, UK, 1945, 92 minutes)

Those who delay reading this note will miss out on the "premiere" screening of this, perhaps the greatest of the many great films made by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. It screens later this afternoon. Its the story of a woman (Wendy Hiller) who has planned her life and her path to wealth down to the most meticulous detail. That planning is leading to her to head to a Scottish Isle where she will marry a fabulously wealthy but utterly colourless man and live in some sort of happiness ever after. But the trip is fraught with incidents which turn her head and rattle her composure Simple, timeworn, straightforward. You see it coming but you dont care. One of the most delicious romantic love story ever filmed and the setting, the local colour and characters just take your breath away at times Some of the credit must go to Erwin Hillier the cinematographer. In his autobiography Michael Powell acknowledges this when he writes that he thinks Hillier's camerawork "is a high-water mark of black and white photography in the 30s and 40s. Its so delicate and emotional, and he has complete control of every inch of the screen". If you've never seen it, sign up now or import the DVD.

Insomnia (Erik Skoldbjaerg, Norway, 1997, 97 minutes) & The Third Wave (Anders Nilsson, Sweden, 2003, 115 minutes)

Thrillers from Scandinavia in what World Movies calls an action double. Easy to see why Hollywood would want to remake Insomnia, a very smart picture. Easy to see how once it got into the hands of scriptwriters and producers nervous about paedophiles and actors wanting to show how smart they can be, that the thing would head towards dull self-indulgence. So if you get World Movies see the original and see a really fearless performance from Stellan Skarsgard as the cop on the verge of a nervous breakdown, with a guilty secret to boot, sent to the Arctic Circle in summer. Hence he can't sleep. He's there to look into some very unsavoury goings on. The Third Wave is more conventional. Dastardly deeds by international bankers precipitate a crisis of conscience and a chase around Europe. There is much second-guessing and a myriad of hi-tech security and surveillance equipment on show. It's supposed to make you scared of the future when international commerce runs uncontrollably rampant, the police are ineffectual, evil bastards with pots of money will stop at nothing, and no one seems to have a shred of conscience except one good ex-cop who takes them all on and wins, of course. Hardly giving anything away to tell you that. But it's done with pace and panache and the display of surveillance techniques is mightily impressive. Very neat and very cool and abetted by some smart plotting, even if it does rely on a couple of large coincidences.

Inspector Montalbano:The Shape of Water (Alberto Sironi, Italy, 2000, 115 minutes)

Curiosity compels me to mention this film largely because it is based on a wonderful series of detective novels by Andrea Camilleri, translations of which are starting to appear now. Inspector Montalbano's approach seems to have been filtered a little at least through the "detective" fiction of Leonardo Sciascia - a little mysterious, political, indeterminate, messy. I cant make any claims for the movie (actually a telemovie) but you never know about these things and a good cop (story) is always hard to find

Intacto (Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, Spain, 2001, 109 minutes)

I listed this film as one of my guilty pleasures when it had a brief commercial release a couple of years ago. It is of course an utterly fanciful story about luck, lucky people and the existence of a mysterious casino where luck is played out to its ultimate in games of Russian roulette. If you are going to make a movie like this you have to suck the audience in and make them believe in a vaguely surreal existence, do it with such an attention to detail and don't bother trying to explain it or relate it to the real world. Fresnadillo's film had the courage of its convictions and certainly got to me. If, like the Time Out Film Guide, you are going to get all superior to the subject and say things like Ôa can of worms underlies the film's concept of blessed survivors' then go back to watching The Bicycle Thief. Max Von Sydow provides his usual gravitas in the role of the casino operator who never loses.

In the Mood For Love (Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong, 2000, 97 minutes)

Nat King Cole sings ÒQue SasÓ at the drop of a hat on the soundtrack of Wong's study of lovers who can't quite bring themselves to let go of their repressions. The film plays out as a melancholy contemplation on all those affairs that might have been, all those relationships overhung with guilt and fear of feeling a betrayer. It's a simple film but one which carries quite an emotional punch and its made with such extraordinary skill that everything seems artificial yet everything is exactly right. The colors, the costumes, the settings, the food and, sublimely, that song, repeated endlessly. Somewhat amazingly Pedro Almodovar has used another version of the same song, this time by Sarita Montiel in his new film A Bad Education. Is that homage or one of the greatest fluke coincidences in the history of the cinema?

Irreversible (Gaspar Noe, France, 2002, 95 minutes)

You have to have considerable stomach for Gaspar Noe's cinema. I haven't seen his first film Seul Contre Tous (I Stand Alone). I'm not sure that anyone here, not even SBS, nor any festival had the stomach for it. The star of the film was Phillipe Nahon who played, in the words of the Time Out Film Guide Ô a racist, misanthropic, unemployed horsemeat butcher who dumps his pregnant fiancée, gets a gun and trawls the gutter'. The words Ôvile', Ôgruelling', Ôalarmist' and Ôbristling hatred' also figure in the note. It's this character who introduces Irreversible and who chortles about the goings on at the gay bar operating beneath his squalid apartment. It prepares you for another Noe visit to a milieu of disgust and violence filmed with a pathological desire to ensure that no seedy detail is left to the imagination. It tells the story backwards but no matter what the starting point he centre piece is a rape in a tunnel of ferocious and quite sickening intensity. The point of the film? I'm not sure. The impact and the capacity to linger in the memory is extreme.

I See a Dark Stranger (Frank Launder, UK, 1946, 112 minutes)

This one pops up on free to air occasionally as well as serving as late night/early morning program fodder on a Foxtel channel which seems to have rights to a bundle of J. Arthur Rank's treasures. Would I like it as much if it didn't have Deborah Kerr in it. Hard to say. She is just wonderful as the young Irish girl marching off to join the IRA. She's planning to rid Ireland of the English only she's duped into working for the Nazis. YesÉ well it's not intended to be a copy of Rome Open City. But it is utterly charming and the chase through the Irish countryside is so picturesque it almost defines the kind of utterly, utterly British films made at the time. And there is Kerr. Luminous, lovely beguiling. Her voice sings to you. She was 24 when she made this one and she had already made eight films prior to this, including Powell & Pressburger's Colonel Blimp. After one more film, Black Narcissus, she was whisked off to Hollywood where she deservedly became a star of the first magnitude and never lost an ounce of radiance.

I Walk Alone (Byron Haskin, USA, 1947, 98 minutes)

When Bill Collins started showing this film in May I assumed it would have the usual monthly rotation but that doesn't seem to have been the case. So I've mentioned it on the couple of occasions its popped up since then. The lack of screenings may have something to do with Bill's declining number of appearances on Fox Classics. Whether he's easing himself out or being eased out I don't know but I can say that the standard of presentation on the channel has gone backwards at an even faster rate than Bill's spots. Nowadays the channel shows all sorts of crappy Ôseasons' dedicated to male heroes like Bronson, Eastwood and Redford. Hardly any of its once great noir, musicals and melodramas now bob up. And, adding insult to injury, while Bill may manage to get a film screened in its proper scope ratio, as he did when he introduced Boy on a Dolphin recently, as soon as the film goes into the general mix its back to full frame presentation. You have to wonder at the IQ's of some of the people who make decisions about how to put this stuff to air. Whatever..I Walk Alone was made pre-cinemascope and in black and white so it cant be fiddled with. It was directed by Byron Haskin, making a comeback to directing after twenty years or so from the days when he directed silent films. Burt Lancaster plays a crim who took the rap for a bungled robbery of bootleg booze. Kirk Douglas plays the guy who betrayed him but has used Burt's time in prison to put the proceeds into a legit business. Burt gets out and wants his cut. He also wants Lizbeth Scott, all feline sexuality, but so does everyone else including Kirk who thinks he owns her. It leads to betrayal and mayhem of course but its quite brilliantly handled by Haskin. Lancaster, one of the icons of masculine American cinema, is riveting in yet another of those doomed dumb/heroic parts that, at the time, he made his own.

Jan Dara (Nonzee Nimibutr, Thailand, 2001, 120 minutes)

Most countries seem to have a famous erotic novel locked away in their closet and this is Thailand's version of it. Nonzee's third film, after the Buddhist ghost story Nang Nak and the coming of age story Dang Bireley and the Young Gangsters both of which have already been screened on SBS, is beautifully if a little reticently filmed. There is much soft-focus and smart camera angles. It's not a soft-core version of the book, the Ôlove' scenes being quite discreetly filmed. Set in 30s Bangkok it charts the erotic life of the son of a wealthy family, a life characterised by indolence and patronising attitudes. Nonzee is the leading figure in Thai cinema both as a director and as a producer of many of the other films by young directors which are currently the source of much attention at the world's festivals.

John Ford

John Ford made more than a dozen pictures at RKO in the 30s and 40s and someone at the ABC has scooped up three of the most interesting, not to say of the highest standard, and has programmed them for consecutive nights. He was a master, a natural film maker, a director who could ring out emotion, who could be agonisingly sentimental and yet could induce quite telling pathos out of the most ordinary material. When allowed his freest reign he made some of the greatest works of the American cinema. Many of them have the status of official masterpieces, though there has always been discussion about whether Ford was best when working with rollicking low rent easy material, like the simple but affecting Wagonmaster than in the films where he tackled big themes and wanted to make grand statements. The Informer and The Long Voyage Home fall into that group. There's not a lot I ought to say. There are a dozen books on him, none of which I've read. I have a particular fondness for the later westerns The Horse Soldiers, Two Rode Together, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Sergeant Rutledge. I think there is quite an edge to them and Ford gets into racial questions in a way that no other commercial director was approaching at the time. There are still plenty of his very early films I haven't seen and unless DVD distribution really heats up I guess I never will. But here's a chance to see three in a row and appreciate how he could make great and not so good movies. But when you make a hundred or so, including a half a dozen a year in the late teens and the early twenties, not all are bound to be terrific.

The Jokers (Michael Winner, UK, 1967, 94 minutes)

This was the starting film of the career of the amazing Michael Winner, a director who doesn't warrant an entry in Thomson's magnum opus. Justifiedly. He became , as soon as he could , an absolutely horrid film-maker. More than once he degenerated into such drivel as a Death Wish movie. The interesting thing as I recall that his early films actually attracted a little critical attention and he was seen as a bright young thing who might just be one of a few to breathe some life into a moribund Brit industry. I haven't seen The Jokers but curiosity compels me to glance at it.

JOSEPH CONRAD'S THE SECRET AGENT (Christopher Hampton, UK, 1996, 90 minutes)

Until a recent viewing, I'd never heard of this film which some would say is no doubt appropriate, given that it sank without trace on its release and has no reputation to speak of. Hampton however has a high reputation as a writer having written a lot of largely literary material, adaptations and the like, for directors as renowned as Joseph Losey, Henning Carlsen, Mike Newell, Stephen Frears and Phil Noyce. As a director he has also made Carrington the year before this film. He's made nothing since that I know of. Any viewing of this film for me is filtered through any number of viewings of Hitchcock's Sabotage which is based on the same novel by Conrad. That film contains one of the most memorable sequences in Hitchcock's entire oeuvre, the young boy's trip across London with a bomb in his bag. This film no doubt hews more closely to the source material, especially given its title though I haven't read the novel and can't tell. But it's directed with a sort of nervous up-close, wide-angle approach to the filming, full of heads shot from near-navel level. It's also full of the sort of well crafted attention to the background, the costumes and the light that the Brits do very well. It hasn't an ounce of conviction or genuine suspense. It's not assisted by some hopeless casting not least Patricia Arquette mangling her accents and Christian Bale as the young brother, here quite mentally retarded. You know he's going to get blown up because Hitchcock did it seventy years ago. Maybe Hampton wanted to do something with the material but what it was remains mysterious. Robin Williams has a key part but gets no credit either at the start or in the cast list at the end. He may have been the smartest person involved in the venture.

Judy Garland

Judy Garland's birthday is something worth remembering, especially when TCM bowls up this selection to celebrate it. Three come from her golden period when she sang like a dream, danced with aplomb and had the most extraordinary presence. She was never a classic beauty and MGM's efforts to work on her looks and shape no doubt contributed to the later downward spiral into drugs and drink that eventually saw her dead at the age of 47. There is a film from her 'childhood' (Wizard), one from her late teenage years (For me..) and one of her best big budget musicals, the brilliant The Pirate directed by her then husband Minnelli. Then there is Summer Stock, her last completed film for MGM, in which the ravages were starting to affect her. She appeared in only four more films including one masterpiece A Star is Born (1954). Garland's allure for me lay in her ability to be the slightly breathless naif, the young girl on the cusp of womanhood and eager to explore its mysteries.  I saw The Pirate last year in a beautiful new 35mm print and it makes you weep at how effortless these films seemed, how the scripts had plots that you knew in advance but always revelled in anyway. The sense of humour of those who wrote them and the timing of all concerned was just breathtaking. Minnelli was her best director and she showed her considerable range, without leaving the naif behind, in the black and white drama The Clock which the two made in 1945. A day revelling in Garland's magic is a day well spent.

The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, USA, 1939, 101 minutes)

The Pirate (Vincente Minnelli, USA, 1948, 102 minutes)

Summer Stock (Charles Walters, USA, 1950, 109 minutes)

For Me and My Gal (Busby Berkeley, USA, 1942, 104 minutes)

Kandahar (Mohsin Makmahlbaf, Iran, 2001, 85 minutes)

Makmahlbaf is one of the titans of Iranian cinema and this film demonstrates all his virtues. It had a successful commercial season in the art houses and its appearance on World Movies presumably prior to screenings on SBS hardly warrant any alarm bells being rung. But it is a magnificent story of a woman seeking to get to Kandahar and encountering all manner of barriers, physical and moral. Forgive me if I'm wrong but I think it was made pre-September 11 and its target is the Taliban and the demeaning of decent society that those forces represented. We saw it after September 11 and the whole context changes. From being about the corruption of Islam into narrow-minded intolerance, history has meant that it now resonates as a film about a society of villainous mass-murderers.

Kapo (Gillo Pontecorvo, Italy/France, 1960, 115 minutes)

I recently watched the Italian DVD of this film and it is quite remarkable notwithstanding some of the elements that might mitigate against it. At the time it came out, much was made of the casting of the somewhat blank Susan Strasberg as the 15 y o French Jew girl who hides her identity when rounded up and manages to ingratiate herself into the good books of the German guards, first by giving sexual favours and then by scheming to become a Kapo - one of the inmates given responsibility for keeping the others in order. She is allowed to use violence and threats of violence to achieve this but then falls for a handsome Russian officer, played by the French actor Laurent Terzieff. On the DVD Pontecorvo talked about the background to making the film and refers to Primo Levi's classic tale of Italian Jewish incarceration ÔIf This is a Man' a book which had a profound effect on Italians, particularly for its description of people prepared to do anything to stay alive. Given this background the story of Kapo is very much of the 50s when invaded nations and people were examining their consciences about the complicity shown to the Germans. Pontecorvo doesn't know how to make a dull film and he pares the melodrama down but not so far as he achieved later in Battle of Algiers, Burn and Ogro. This screening is a very rare opportunity to see a major work by a film-maker who really made far too few films.

Kes (Ken Loach, UK, 1969, 113 minutes)

I am more than happy to admit that Ken Loach dawned on me a lot later than on some others. I think the esteem I now hold him in is reinforced virtually every day in one way or another. Only recently I heard Rowan Woods the director of Little Fish, proclaiming his admiration for Loach and for film noir and suggesting that his film was an amalgam of these elements. Sad I thought because Loach just doesn't make films like Little Fish, nothing like them in fact. Loach makes films which politically engage, which don't shirk issues, which don't contrive, which don't pander to stars and most importantly render their society with an exactitude that often floors you. You never come out of a Loach film saying that a character would never have behaved that way, the situation would never have occurred and so on. His films are drawn from living experience, not the experience of sitting down and watching TV soaps and constructing a variant melodrama. Kes  was an early work and its heart wrenching in its portrait of a neglected boy whose life begins to soar when he nurses a wounded kestrel back to life. But it's a story about hope and the possibility that everyone has something within that will enable them to find the their best. Hugely emotional and drawn out of unrelenting grimness it's a masterpiece as I see it now. One of many the director has made. We should be given a look at the whole Loach oeuvre some day, including the things that have virtually disappeared like the costume drama Black Jack and the work he did for TV like the series about the 30s miners' strike ÔDays of Hope'. It would be wonderfully enlightening and might show something to some of those who think that merely setting their camera down in a working class area is Loachian.

Kikujiro (Kitano Takeshi, Japan, 1999, 121 minutes)

This one has been a regular on World Movies for as long as I've been sending this note out so I guess it's time to note its presence. Kitano claims that The Wizard of Oz was an inspiration for this tale of a kid looking for his mother and the dumb yakuza who gets lumbered with the task of taking him off to see her. They do so after he has blown his expenses betting on bike races at some track he visits and it's the kid who manages to cadge lifts to get there. There's lots of affecting moments and plenty of opportunity for Kitano, who plays the dopey adult, tom go through his often ribald comic shtick. Actually ribaldry is often a part of Kitano's repertoire of routines. Anybody who has managed to see his only out and out comedy, the utterly filthy Getting Any? would know what lengths he'll go to. It's a road movie with a lot of class, beautifully filmed, and confirmation that Kitano is Japan's major film-maker. A pity that his recent films seem to have made little impact at the box office and he seems to have slid back into the status of an exotic Asian director whose work is relegated to festivals and SBS.

The Killers (Robert Siodmak, USA, 1946, 105 minutes) & The Killing (Stanley Kubrick, USA, 1956, 83 minutes)

If you want an emblem of film noir The Killers might just be it. Everything about it - its photography, its music, its subject - reeks of, almost defines, the term. It has the additional advantage of a stellar cast headed by Burt Lancaster (his first film), all singleted muscles and rock hard jaw, and Ava Gardner as the femme fatale. The story is pieced together via flashbacks as an insurance investigator (Edmund O'Brien) burrows into a robbery gone wrong. What distinguishes it is the fact that the Lancaster character knows his time is up when the mob come looking for him. This sort of fatalism was a revelation. Movies weren't supposed to have heroes who accepted they were going to die. One of my favourite film books is the collection of essays by Barry Gifford titled ÔOut of the PastÓ. Gifford loves film noir and he loves this film. He starts his note by calling it probably the best movie version of a Hemingway story and finishes by saying that Ôthe entire movie is one big, low blow' I can't put it better. Bill Collins will doing the intro.

You have to wonder whether Kubrick's film would exist without Siodmak's. There's hardly a major American director who began in the fifties who didn't pay their dues to and through the classic film noir of the forties. This one is another robbery, another big plan gone wrong but this time it isn't until the end that it all unravels. But you just know that these guys aren't going to pull it off. Fate has been a bastard to them all their lives and it isn't going to change now. However it's a Stanley Kubrick film and even this early in his career he could put them together like clockwork constructions. Mechanical and meticulous, but a little humanity comes through because Sterling Hayden, one of the great actors of American cinema, invests Johnny Clay the ring-leader, with such gravitas you feel like you're inside his doomed skull.

Kitty Foyle (Sam Wood, USA, 1940, 107 minutes)

Ginger Rogers won an Oscar for her performance in Kitty Foyle and it's not hard to see why. Her Ôordinary working girl' goes through a lot of trials and tribulations but clearly she got it right and the movie has tugged at the heart strings of millions ever since. Someone at the ABC seems to have a Ginger fetish because her films turn up with astonishing regularity on the midnight to dawn shift that rotates through the RKO and J Arthur Rank product. Only a couple of weeks ago there was Star of Midnight in which she played a late teenager trying to, and eventually succeeding in, seducing an aging William Powell during the course of a very funny crime comedy. Next week the she's back in Romance in Manhattan. These latter two films were both directed by Stephen Roberts, not a name that's widely known but, whatever, he seemed to be someone who could bring out Ginger's provocative side. I'm digressing. Kitty Foyle was a major production for RKO and Ginger delivered the goods.

The Lady and the Duke (Eric Rohmer, France, 2001, 120 minutes)

The enthusiasm for Rohmer's films ebbs and flows and this one didn't set any pulses racing as it went straight from the French Film Week to a regular monthly screening on World Movies. Now it's on SBS at an ungodly hour on Christmas Day, actually Boxing day to be totally precise. Now in his eighties, Rohmer spends much of his time studying history and this film, and the one which followed it, Triple Agent, are both based on minor matters of historical moment. In this case it's the life of an aristocratic Englishwoman mixed up in the events of the French revolution. Its taken from her memoirs and the French title of the film  (L'anglaise et le duc) makes this explicit. Some of the film's reputation rests on Rohmer's use of a digital video camera and digital technology to sketch in the settings and backgrounds of the film. The technology employs paintings of the day as its models and it is extraordinarily effective. The story itself is complicated and the the need for the characters to talk with a formal eighteenth century politeness makes it quite a different experience from the sense of casually improvised dialogue that Rohmer's modern fables and stories convey. I dont believe much was improvised but he searches for that sense of the spontaneous. I know I say it quite regularly but the fact is that French film culture is unique in allowing such film making practices to exist. The masters who emerged as the "New Wave" in the 60s have continued to make films, continued to experiment, continued to attract finance and continued to have their films open around the world. The reverence with which any new Rohmer film is met in the French press is quite awe-inspiring. During our time in Paris this year Triple Agent opened (and closed). Several pages of both "Le Monde" and "Liberation" were devoted to it, the Cinematheque devoted weeks to a full retrospective and both Cahiers and Positif interviewed him. (He used the interview in the latter to pay out about the way he was shafted as editor of the former). The publicity left little room for any attention to the other new films that opened that week, one of which was the Australian film Japanese Story. The absence of reviews may have contributed to that film's very quick box-office demise

lancelot of the Lake (Robert Bresson, France 1974, 84 minutes)

This is interesting. Bresson at 2.30 am, a most ungodly hour. Those of you who may have seen this film at its few festival or film society screenings in the 70s will have seen something quite different. Back then the copy of the film that circulated, with Bresson's approval, was printed so darkly that you tended to peer into some of the most mysteriously gloomy images ever put on the screen. When SBS acquired the rights they bought a tape which was no doubt made from the original print or negative but which is printed in what might be described as Ônormal' colour. Which means that it's quite brightly lit and the darkness and gloom are missing. It is of course a quite different film than that which Bresson intended his public to see. That matter aside, Lancelot is a film of astonishing brutality with many sequences where limbs are sliced off and blood gushes in literal torrents. In this film Bresson turned away from the actor's faces for much of the time. We get shots of horses, arms, legs, hooves, weapons to tell a story of human pride and cruelty. Bresson is unique and hardly made anything that wasn't a masterpiece.

Land and Freedom (Ken Loach, UK, 1996, 103 minutes)

My enthusiasm for Ken Loach took a dive awhile ago and I had to be dragged very reluctantly to his films. They seemed to be too downbeat, too much in a groove about the exploited and a little too depressingly predictable. Land and Freedom was the film that changed my mind and started me looking at his films again with renewed enthusiasm. He ventured into a more distant historical subject for the first time in many films and his treatment of it was terrific. He made no effort to gloss of the failures of the left in his portrait of the Spanish Civil War and that in itself was a more than surprising to some. I dont find it didactic at all. It reminded me of other Loach efforts that I thought reflected his best work, notably the TV series he did about the strikes in Britain in the 30s and the Restoration set Black Jack (1979). Somebody somewhere is going to put together a ripping retrospective of Loach's work, including his TV stuff please, and we'll see again why he is regarded in Europe at least as Britain's finest director, one who like Rivette, Rohmer, Tarkovsky, Rolf de Heer and Moretti (to name a few) sticks rigidly to his task and has never been distracted by fashion or by the temptations of current film industry practices to give in to easy subjects and methods. He is a lion of the left and the Australian cinema has never produced anyone approaching his skill or commitment.

The Last Waltz (Martin Scorsese, USA, 1978, 115 minutes)

The only reason to watch this film on cable is to whet your appetite for the DVD which has been out for a couple of years now. Concert films were never as planned as this one so that every moment of it produces a musical and visual thrill. Among the extras on the DVD is one of the great 'making of' docos. It explains in quite extraordinary detail, including with Scorsese's own drawings of his lighting set-ups, just how the director first planned and then achieved his seemingly spontaneous effects. As well of course the DVD delivers sound to dream about.

Lilith (Robert Rossen, USA, 1964, 114 minutes)

Slashed about by the odious film censors of the day when first screened in Australia, Lilith wasn't ever one of those minor cause celebres of censorship that caused us all to get so infuriated by the Menzies Government and its ever more weedy successors. É.É..

Lilith came and went too fast and didn't have the marquee name of Bunuel, Godard or even Vadim to attract attention to the butchery that had taken place. As well, the American distributors were always ready to quietly allow cuts rather than make a stand and have the film banned. I think Lilith's first uncut screening in Australia was nearly 20 years after its premiere when David Stratton included it in his swansong Sydney Film Festival amongst a collection of films designed to show some gems as well as demonstrate the idiocy of film censorship in Australia over the decades. All of David's selection had originally suffered grievously at the hands of those paid to stop us seeing things.

Lilith has a very delicate story. Reworking a legend, Rossen tells the tale of a new young psychiatric nurse who comes to a hospital and slowly becomes infatuated with one of the patients, the mysterious, enigmatic and utterly beautiful Lilith, incarnated by the ethereal Jean Seberg in her greatest role. Warren Beatty played the young man, one of a series of very smart/brave roles he took early in his career. (Splendour in the Grass, All Fall Down, The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone and Mickey One were also done between 1959 and 1965)
Lilith
was Robert Rossen's last film. He died shortly after it was finished. It was his most ambitious project and I can't disagree with David Thomson who describes it as Òthe only one of his films that seems passionate, mysterious and truly personalÓ. Rossen also made The Hustler and, much earlier, All the King's Men and Body and Soul, his only other films that remotely approached what he achieved in Lilith.

Lies (Jang Sun-woo, Korea, 1999, 122 minutes)

Jang goes where others dare not and this utterly transgressive tale of two lovers who meet and hurtle headlong toward a situation where first one then the other submits to whippings and beatings is very bold indeed. It's done with a degree of directness rivaled only by other fabled works of amour fou, Last Tango in Paris and In the Realm of the Senses. For the married fortyish school teacher and the high school girl there is nothing that they allow to stand between them and their passion. Until its all over and the punchline tells you the meaning of the title. The key to such work is the intensity and the Ôtruthfulness' that the actors can bring and Jang's two leads are completely authentic and totally convincing. I don't want to say too much about just how Ôreal' it all seems but it packs quite a punch.

Little Murders (Alan Arkin, USA, 1971, 110 minutes)

It's been a long time between drinks since this film showed up. It was the first of only a handful of films directed by Alan Arkin, who played a lead role as well. It had quite a cult following largely because it was the first film to be based on a Jules Feiffer script. Feiffer was a cartoonist who started with The Village Voice and was eventually syndicated in dozens of left-wing papers (I think Nation Review published him here) and became a hero of the anti-establishment, anti-war groups of the time. Arkin plays a cop convinced there is some conspiratorial connection between the hundreds of murders that occur each year in New York. Elliott Gould plays a photographer so disgusted with the human race that he chooses to photograph only dog shit and allows himself to be beaten up and generally mistreated. It consists of a series of monologues and manic conversations which allowed Feiffer to poke vicious fun at a whole host of idiots in authority and the idiocies they produce. I suspect that a re-viewing will prove it to be still durable and its lacerating humour will still cut to the quick. Nothing much will have changed to diminish its lesson.

Loulou (Maurice Pialat, France, 1980, 110 minutes)

Loulou is Scott Murray's pick of the week in The Age Green Guide and I cant argue with that choice. Our acquaintance with Maurice Pialat's work is haphazard. Rather like Jacques Rivette, he could only flourish, if that is appropriate given the difficulty even he had in making films in France where individual talents such as his are tolerated and supported to a degree unknown elsewhere. Pialat made very tough movies uncompromising perhaps, about subjects that were unfashionable. Even his film about Van Gogh was so intense in conveying the great painter's life that audiences found it difficult. He shied away from conventional narrative, preferring a heightened realism and an intense concentration on the work of his actors in conveying powerful emotions. The set-up of Loulou is a contrivance. A thuggish lout (Gerard Depardieu) enounters a middle-class woman (Isablle Huppert) seeking an out from an unsatisfactory relationship in a cheap bar. A mix of lust, desire and affection overwhelm the two of them.

Pialat made only a dozen or so films. He died recently, far too young, and now would be the time, as is happening in Europe and America, for someone to gather up his movies and show them all at once. That would provide the opportunity to catch up with the career of perhaps the most revered name in French cinema certainly over the last three decades.

Lover Boy (Geoffrey Wright, Australia, 1988, 58 minutes)

Showtime Greats seems to have the rights to any number of the most interesting lesser light Australian films of the last few decades and no doubt shows them, in a largely random fashion, to meet its Oz content quotas. So, buried away, usually late at night, are some of the real treasures of our national cinema. Lover Boy is very much one of those. It's not quite feature length and it was made on a shoestring but that doesn't affect its quality. It's a very bold story. Noah Taylor plays a sexually precocious adolescent who gets involved with a near middle-aged neighbour (Gillian Jones). It's a taboo subject, increasingly so if you read today's headlines about school teachers being called to account for past perfidies with teenagers. It was the first film made by Geoffrey Wright and he has gone on to a fitful career chronicling a few other outlaw sides of society. Most notoriously of course he made Romper Stomper, which set Russell Crowe's career going but caused a storm of critical dismay for its alleged sympathy for nazi-like skinhead culture. Wright got pretty emotional about the critical reception and hardly covered himself in glory when he emptied a glass of wine over one critic who had made clear his distaste.

Mademoiselle Fifi (Robert Wise, USA, 1944, 69 minutes)

After cutting, among others, Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons Robert Wise made his first three films under the tutelage and control of Val Lewton at RKO. Some (David Thomson for one) say they were his best work. I wont bother having that arguement again but  Mademoiselle Fifi is the middle film of the three and is based on Guy de Maupassant. Its set in the time of the Franco-Prussian War and its female lead is played by Simone Simon, she of Cat People fame but who blazed across the screen in a supercharge of eroticism in Jean Renoir's La Chienne. Wise also directed The Set-Up a boxing picture with Robert Ryan which has its admirers and which is screening on Wednesday evening on the ABC at 11.55 pm.

Madigan (Don Siegel, USA, 1968, 101 minutes)

Don Siegel was a film buff idol in the 60s. "Siegel, Mon Amour" wrote one over-excited and callow youth about of all things The Hanged Man (1964). But he made low-budget films that were taut and unpretentious and filled with tough violent characters. After Hell is for Heroes (1962), one of the early standouts for Steve McQueen, his career went into a trough and he worked for Universal salvaging TV movie junk. Madigan was a step up even if the production values were a bit thin with flat, over-lit photography and very cheap sets. It had some name actors (Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, Inger Stevens, James Whitmore) and a good story about the police force from the top to the bottom with some corruption thrown in. Very involving indeed and when Siegel took the film into the streets it had a raw authenticity that still comes through. Siegel really had a knack for telling a tough story economically. Its hard to say whether it was the turning point. Siegel's next film Coogan's Bluff, was the first of a series he made with Clint Eastwood. They proved to be big box office and allowed Siegel to go beyond his low budgets and make his one genuine masterpiece, the blackly ironic and very droll crime/caper film Charley Varrick (1972). Eastwood was grateful for the lessons Siegel taught him. He cast him as a barman in his first self-directed film Play Misty for Me (1971) and his best low-key film-making seems to have been heavily modelled on Siegel's approach to telling a story.

Magic Town (William Wellman, USA, 1947, 103 minutes)

Wellman was a director condemned to be disregarded for ever after Andrew Sarris included him in his ÒLess Than Meets the EyeÓ section of his book on American directors. That group, which included John Huston, Elia Kazan, David Lean, Rouben Mamoulian, Joseph L Mankiewicz, Lewis Milestone, Carol Reed, Billy Wilder, William Wyler and Fred Zinnemann should have sued. (Sarris said of Wellman: ÒWhat is at issue here is not the large number of bad films he has made, but a fundamental deficiency in his direction of good projectsÓ. Take that.) But Wellman has his stout defenders and the director of Roxie Hart, Nothing Sacred, Public Enemy, Wild Boys of the Road and Beau Geste can't be completely ignored. I haven't seen Magic Town but it's written by Robert Riskin and stars James Stewart and Jane Wyman. Set the recorder out of curiosity if nothing else.

The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, USA, 1942, 88 minutes)

I dont expect that I really have to tell you about Ambersons. If you have never seen it then here's another chance to watch an indisputable masterpiece - even one that had its ending cruelly changed, from that envisaged by Welles to one filmed and edited by the ubiquitous Robert Wise. That piece of studio savagery has been debated at length for decades. Those of you who have seen it may be interested to know that the only place thus far that the film has been released on DVD is in France where it's been issued as a sumptuous Cahiers du Cinema boxed edition which includes as extras an interview with Bill Krohn, a long (51 minutes) interview of Welles by Peter Bogdanovich, a discussion with Jean Douchet and the original trailer. Its quite a production.and if you want to purchase it try www.editionsmontparnasse.fr or www.cahiersducinema.com

The Major and the Minor (Billy Wilder, USA, 1942, 100 minutes)

Billy Wilder's first American film set the tone for the best films of his career even if he did detour through the occasional noir and the odd blowhard piece that just went too far in its big budget bombast. The Major and the Minor is so cunningly constructed that its sub-text creeps up. Ginger Rogers pretends to be younger than she is in order to get a half fare on a train. She has to continue the masquerade and endure the attention of a lot of cadet soldiers. But then the base major takes an interest and while we know she's older than she seems he doesn't but still pursues her. Mmmmmm.. Very risqué, especially these days. Another Bill Collins intro.

The Man from Laramie (Anthony Mann, USA, 1955, 104 minutes)

I have already expressed my admiration for the cycle of westerns made by Anthony Mann with James Stewart in the lead role when I sent round some notes on The Naked Spur. The Man from Laramie would make a strong claim to be the best of the group. It's an intricately structured revenge saga which uses as background the feuding between the big open range herders and the newly arriving farmers. It also has a an almost Shakespearean sub-plot involving the rivalry between the domineering land holder father, his weak but viciously violent son and the long-suffering and faithful employee who expects an inheritance for his loyalty. Stewart just settled into this series of grizzly disgruntled characters, timeworn, cynical men of action, prepared to be violent when necessary, as if born to it. His performances in these films, while virtually alternating or interspersing them with more characteristic parts for Hitchcock in Rear Window, Vertigo and The Man Who Knew Too Much only serve to indicate what an extraordinary actor he was.

The Man From Laramie (Anthony Mann, USA, 1955, 104 minutes)

With some reluctance I mention this because I feel certain that Bill Collins won't be showing a Cinemascope copy of the film, no matter what he might say in his introduction. (Early readers may recall that I once asked people to supply details of films which Bill introduces where he assures us it will be in Ôscope and then we get full frame pan and scan after the credits. Interest petered out, especially as Bill's rostered hours were reduced a few months ago to weekend work only.) This is one of Anthony Mann's best films and the relationship he had with James Stewart in the series they made together was extremely fruitful for both. David Thomson sums up this best element of Mann's haphazard career when he says that Mann Ôis one of those directors who has to be seen – on a big screen – before understanding can begin'. In the films they made together Stewart played against his historic type by being grizzly, nasty and vengeful even if finally settling a matter of honour. The films were made outdoors and Mann was happy enough to photograph the dust and the rocks as well as the vistas. Stewart was prepared to play unhappy, taciturn and old. The Man from Laramie is, with The Naked Spur and The Far Country, one of Mann's best and one of the best westerns ever made. Even panned and scanned you'll get some of its greatness.

The Man Without a Past (Aki Kaurasmaki, Finland, 2002)

This film is only a couple of years old and I reviewed it for Muse when it came out. So here's what I said then. On re-reading it, I don't think I'd change a word.

For more than 20 years Aki Kaurasmaki has been the international face of Finnish cinema, winning prizes and accolades everywhere. But few of his films have reached our distant shores and we are left to survive on the occasional memory images from his Leningrad Cowboys Go America or the manic drunken taxi ride from Night on Earth. The Man Without a Past remedies the absence somewhat. It is one of his best films, securely placed in that vein described by David Thomson as Ònot quite black humour, but a droll fatalism that marks the Finns as eternal spectators for the silliness of the world.Ó

The story is simple enough. A man (wonderfully played by Marrku Peltola) arrives in a new city, is brutally mugged and loses his memory. Taken in by the city's poor he rebuilds his life and finds love untilÉ. You have to see Kaurasmaki's films to appreciate his drollery and you may just find them entrancing. Here the balance between innocence, naivety and deadpan irony is just right. With a touch of reserve Kaurasmaki peels back the layers of the city to find its sentimental heart. Her even the most lovelorn find happiness, even the most flint-hearted can be moved.

The gentle story, and the denouement which subverts a potential chill, are just right. The film produces its twists of fate, not as some pieces of scripting designed to deceive and fool but as signs that life's tapestry just does ebb and flow and surprising things happen.

The Man Without a Past is, in the grand tradition of cinema humanism, a film that's as genuinely warm and unaffected as its eponymous lead.

Metropolis (Fritz Lang, Germany, 1927, 120 minutes)

The programmers seem to have allowed sufficient time to screen the longest available, fully restored version of Lang's classic, a film which has been screened in more versions, with more soundtracks, than you can poke a stick at. Why has it attracted that attention. The answer is simply that it remains an entirely brilliant piece of work of its time and for all ages. Sure it has a nice tidy moral about hand and heart but it's the images themselves that continue to keep you enthralled. Lang's city state of the future, with a frivolous ruling class and an oppressed working class still resonates. Societies still gravitate in these directions and Lang piles on the visual ironies. Factory workers massing and marching in downtrodden step while the wealthy skylark. The images of the robots and the sense of decadent wealth are palpably brilliant. Metropolis still resonates and its screening here as part of Andrew Urban's Tuesday night series of 25 films to see before you die is further proof of its appeal to the ages.

Mickey One (Arthur Penn, USA, 1965, 93 minutes)

Back in the 60s Arthur Penn was the great white hope for a new American commercial cinema. He absolutely floored us with his debut film, The Left-Handed Gun, in 1958 and then marked time but won Oscars with his second The Miracle Worker in 1962. That was another Broadway adaptation but splendidly rethought for the movies. It relaunched the languishing career of Anne Bancroft and its success apparently gave Penn the right to do whatever he liked next. Three years later he came back with this very strange movie about a low rent comedian Mickey One (Warren Beatty) being hunted by the mob. But around the periphery of this character swirled a host of obsessions and observations about the new America. Hurd Hatfield peels an apple and talks about what is ÒorganicÓ. Then there is Mickey and his entourage of women and a panoply of fantasies. It seemed heavily influenced by Fellini if not by the French New Wave and it was a resounding flop. Penn never went near this sort of personal material ever again but the meeting with Beatty did lead to their collaboration on Bonnie and Clyde (1967). A true curiosity.

Modern Times (Charles Chaplin, USA, 1936, 89 minutes)

Chaplin laboured mightily over his films as the cinema entered the sound era. Here he was in 1936 still making silent films, possibly terrified that his silent film tramp couldn't make the transition. It wasn't until four years later that he made his first talking picture. They were two of the eleven feature length films he made between 1925 and 1967. He worried a lot and of course was harassed for all sorts of reasons, not the least being his predilection for very young girls. I can still remember being taken to a revival screening of Modern Times as a child and being enthralled by it. I wondered why no one spoke aloud and was told that was how Charlie did it. The sequence in the factory still remains as vivid today. By the time he made it he was truly in thrall to the idea that he was a great artist and truly in thrall to the notion of extracting tears from audiences who succumbed to the almost grotesque sentimentality that he was pouring on. The fact that we're still watching it and all the dozens of other masterpieces short and long (mostly short) that he made is a testament to his art. He was the greatest clown of the twentieth century and stands like a colossus still. For the record, for me his best film was A Dog's Life, some 50 minutes long and made in 1918. It has a secure spot in my top ten of all time.

Monday (Sabu, Japan, 1999, 95 minutes)

A guy wakes up in a hotel room looking and acting like he has just endured a train wreck and then the film shows you exactly what happens to a nondescript Japanese office worker over the weekend which causes him to get into this situation. This is a very droll movie indeed and quite unexpected in its narrative and plotting. It screened at the Brisbane Film Festival in 2000 and has already been on SBS but if you haven't seen it then its time to catch up with a film by one of the more interesting commercial directors in modern Japanese cinema.

Mondays in the Sun (Fernando Leon de Aranoa, Spain, 2002 13 minutes)

Produced by Elias Querejeta, the wonderful producer who supervised the best films of Carlos Saura's career, (the series Saura made, often with his then love Geraldine Chaplin, from the late sixties to the early 80s and dubbed by some as his ÔBergman period') this film stars the magnificent Javier Bardem who gives what the Time Out Film Guide calls Ôa great bear-like performance'. It's a story about dock workers and was Spain's entry in the foreign language Oscar ª section a couple of years ago. I've only just noticed it on the World Movies schedule but curiosity and the Guide compel me to suggest you take a squiz

Morning Glory (Lowell Sherman, USA, 1933, 74 minutes)

I have probably had countless opportunities to see Morning Glory a Katherine Hepburn picture directed by one of the most interesting second line directors in Hollywood. Andrew Sarris includes Lowell Sherman in his ÔAmerican Cinema' as Expressive Esoterica and talks about the Òbehavioural glories of Katherine Hepburn in Morning Glory. Sarris sums up the director by saying Òhis civilised sensibility was ahead of its time and the sophistication of his sexual humour singularly lacking in maliceÓ. So there

The Mortal Storm (Frank Borzage, USA, 1940, 100 minutes)

This remains one of the films that, for his admirers at least, are the key to Borzage's reputation as one of the great romantic directors of Hollywood. Andrew Sarris lists it, along with another eight films as works that Ôreverberate with privileged moments of extraordinary intimacy and vulnerability.' It is an anti-Nazi film made before America entered the Second World War. The romance between James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan is truly touching. But waitÉTom Milne in the Time Out Film Guide is much more circumspect, dismissive even and claims, shock, horror, that Ôalmost the entire film was directed, uncredited, by Victor Saville.' What are we to make of that?

The Murderers Are Among Us (Wolfgang Staudte, Germany, 1946, 85 minutes)

In the year following the end of World War II, there were only four films made in Germany. The best known of them is Wolfgang Staudte's The Murderers Are Among Us  and it is a true curiosity piece. Few people have much time for the early post-Nazi era films though if you read Enno Patalas's entry on "German Cinema since 1945" in Richard Roud's Critical Dictionary you wonder how any films were made at all in East Germany given the vicissitudes of its totalitarian control. Staudte had made films during the Nazi period but Lotte Eisner is dismissive of the director ("fundamentally mediocre") in his post-war efforts. Patalas places this film amongst what he calls the predominant genre of those years "films indulging in the mood of resignation and self-pity experienced by a defeated people. The individual in these films is portrayed as an innocent victim of an evil fate which is embodied by Nazism and warÓ. The setting in Berlin's bombed landscape is, says Patalas, "a symbolic backcloth to the hero's mental anguish". Without giving the plot away, the central character who seems so good has, naturally, a dark secret. At some time in the past SBS has screened what is generally regarded as the best of this genre Peter Lorre's Der Verlorene. it was the only film Lorre directed and in it the influence of the luminaries of the American cinema with whom Lorre worked (Lang, Hitchcock, Huston etc) is clearly evident. I doubt whether SBS still owns the rights to the film but in the meantime watch this earlier film by a lesser director to catch up with something that was very much of a special and very difficult time in cinema history.

My Mother's Smile (Marco Bellocchio, Italy, 2002, 102 minutes)

We waited a long time for this film to come along. Marco Bellocchio was amongst the hottest directors of all the burgeoning Ôyoung' Italian film-makers of the 60s. With Pasolini as godfather, Bellocchio and Bertolucci, De Seta, Baldi, De Bosio and others constituted a movement that renewed the Italian cinema and brought it back to the forefront of world attention. Bellocchio skewered the Italian family in Fists in the Pocket and then made a mockery of Italian Marxism in China is Near. And thenÉhe trailed off into nothing, though David Thomson does express the view that The Eyes, the Mouth, made in 1982, and which I haven't seen, is Òone of the great films of the 80sÓ. The story goes that Bellocchio got into deep psychoanalysis and most of his films have been made from scripts written in collaboration with his shrink. He did make a minor splash when he made a version of Radiguet's Devil in the Flesh which went on at Cannes the same year that Scott Murray made an Australian version of that story. So, we've been waiting for a Bellocchio return to the highest form for twenty or perhaps close to thirty years and counting. Finally he delivers and does so by going back to the source of his first success - family dysfunction in modern Italy with all the swirling contradictions of breakdown and sexual perversity, overlaid with an almighty anti-clerical swipe that should have had the Vatican very annoyed indeed. The great Italian actor of his generation, Sergio Castellito, plays an architect, separated from his wife and alienated from his family, whose cooperation is needed in order to pursue the beatification of his mother, a matter for delicate clerical negotiation. The machinations are compelling. Bellocchio has controversially followed this film by making a film about the Red Brigade kidnappers of Aldo Moro. That too has caused much controversy and surely should appear here soon somewhere.

My Son the Fanatic (Udayan Prasad, UK, 1997, 89 minutes)

This is the film for which I'm breaking my rule about not recommending films on commercial TV. The SMH guide says that its year of production was 1994 though I believe, if its the film I'm thinking of, that it was made in 1997.  Although it was acquired for distribution here, the film did not have any commercial or theatrical screenings and I've never noticed it in the listings before though the guide says its a repeat viewing. My reason for warily recommending it to you is that it is written by Hanif Kureishi and is adapted from a couple of his marvellous short stories. Its about the phenomenon of young men of Asian descent brought up in middle class circumstances in Britain who reject the trappings of agnostic bourgeois society, take up with Muslim extremist groups and begin first to harass and then act more violently towards all those they perceive to be living decadent and unworthy lives. Hanif Kureishi identified the phenomena and his story is based on first hand contact with some of the young men who have taken this radical step. Its weaved around the father, a tolerant benign taxi driver at a complet e loss to understand what has happened. When Hanif Kureishi came to Australia a few years ago I discussed the story and the film with him in a public forum which subsequently was transcribed and was published in Senses of Cinema. The film presents the subject with a lot of insight and a lack of any didacticism. It's a fascinating subject made even more relevant by subsequent events.  Unfortunately its on at the same time as Rocco and his Brothers. You choose.

My Voyage to Italy (Martin Scorsese, USA, 1999, 240 minutes)

Taking its cue from the contribution Scorsese made for the centenary history of film sponsored by the BFI, the director embarked on this personal retelling of his relationship with Italian cinema. Critics of the film claim that the extracts are too long and that viewers will think that by getting through it they will ever need to further acquaint themselves with The Bicyle Thief, I vitelloni, Rome Open City, La Strada, L'Avventurra and so on. A risk to be run I suppose given that the film is in this form and that's what we have to deal with. It would be nastier if TV programmers decided that they didn't need to show the classics anymore just this Scorsese abridgement of them but, well, another risk to be run. What we instantly gain is a wonderful personal memoir and some of the most insightful observations of those films from a director who demonstrates yet again that the best of today's American directors have often steeped themselves in cinema history. Scorsese is perhaps the highest achiever in this regard maintaining a large personal collection of films and even employing his own archivist to manage the collection. All of this cinephilia pays handsome reward in this history of post-war Italian cinema. Its been seen quite frequently and I think its available on DVD but if by chance you've missed it then this is a chance worth grabbing.

Nang Nak (Nonzee Nimibutr, Thailand, 1999, 100 minutes)

Nonzee's second feature is a beautiful Buddhist ghost/love story based on a Thai folk legend. A man returns home from the war to find his wife and newborn child waiting for him. But she died in childbirthÉ

One of the landmark films of South-East Asia's film resurgence, this was Nonzee's second feature and it did gigantic home box-office numbers in its year of release in that country. It played a couple of the Australian festivals and Nonzee came out to Brisbane a year (?) later with his next film, a version of the Thai erotica classic Jan Dara. In recent years he has had considerable success as well as a producer.

I saw this film at the Vancouver Film Festival and I agreed then with Tony Rayns description of it as Òan almost psychedelically intense evocation of the rural environment and (the) framing (of) it as a Buddhist rite of passage. Tony also noted the acting with of the two leads as having Òabsolute physical convictionÓ a factor which warrants its TV MA rating.

Needing You (Johnny To, Hong Kong, 2000, 115 minutes)

I haven't seen Needing You a fairly recent film by the prolific and admired Hong Kong commercial director Johnny To so this is a recommendation based on curiosity. The film stars Andy Lau who I think is the same star from the Infernal Affairs series. Don't expect the film to rival something by Wong Kar-wai or Stanley Kwan. He's not that sort of a director but he is being recognised as one of the canniest guys making films in the Territory and the festivals are starting to take some notice. His latest film had a special screening at Cannes this year and I think was grabbed by James Hewitson for Melbourne straight after.

Never Let Go ((John Guillermin, UK 1960, 90 minutes)

The last time this one came round was late night on the ABC just a few months ago and I confessed then that I hadn't seen it but had recently had drawn to my attention that it had been banned in Australia when its first release was planned. I've now seen it and it is indeed a horrid piece of work. Chief among its mysteries is why Peter Sellers should have chosen to make the film, between two successful comedies Two Way Stretch and The Millionairess. Sellers plays an unctuously revolting spiv, a repulsive character. He runs an operation re-birthing stolen cars. He rules his gang members with a violent hand. He keeps as a mistress a seventeen year old who has fled from a girls' reformatory and can't escape his clutches. (She's played by Carol White who went on to fame in Ken Loach's Poor Cow.) Sellers happens to steal Richard Todd's new car and spends most of the film inflicting ever more grievous bodily harm on Todd to dissuade him from pursuing repossession of the vehicle. It's badly directed without any feel for the nightmare noir characteristics of the plot and it's badly photographed, or at least so hurriedly photographed that you get little sense that the whole thing isn't being thrown together in some studio. But by God it is a vicious piece of work and you can see why our fuddy duddy censorship authorities of the day would have blanched at its Ôlow moral tone'.

Night and The City (Jules Dassin, UK, 1950, 101 minutes)

OK, its confession time this week and I'm confessing more. Somehow or other this one has also always got away from me and its time to make amends. Actually I was never very excited about Jules Dassin's films. They always seemed to be, as the economists say, sub-optimal. Maybe it was because I saw Phaedra and 10.30 PM Summer early in my film-going life and decided that anyone who made such pretentious claptrap didn't warrant much attention. David Thomson is very charitable towards those films when he describes them as Òsome of the most entertainingly bad films of the sixties and seventies: pictures that outstrip their own deficiencies and end up being riotously enjoyableÉÓ Well maybe. They never enjoyed the cult status of Mommie Dearest or Puzzle of a Downfall Child. Dassin was another blacklistee who headed for England and made Night and the City his first film outside the US. It's regarded as one of his best if not his best and certainly is among his least pretentious films. It's story of a bunch of London low lifes uses the lessons he had learnt making crisp noirs in the late 40s in the US, most notably Brute Force (1947), an exceptional prison story with Burt Lancaster being harassed by evil jailer Hume Cronyn, Naked City (1948), notable then for its location shooting and Thieves Highway (1949). His next film after Night and the City was Rififi (1956) an international art house success that propelled him into the rest of his career, about which most are dismissive, even though there were prizes and accolades along the way. Bill Collins does the intro on this occasion.

No Blade of Grass (Cornel Wilde, UK, 1970, 97 minutes)

There is a bit of remembered guilty pleasure about this movie, largely because I still have vivid memories of the John Christopher book on which it was based, ÒThe Death of GrassÓ (I think). It made a huge impression on the teenage me. Christopher and other Brit sci-fi writers like John Wyndham were the bees knees of schoolboy reading. Needless to say the film didn't get close to Christopher's edge of excitement. Cornel Wilde, was an actor who got very pretentious in parts of his career and took to directing whenever the opportunity arose, some eight films in all between 1956 and 1974. David Thomson characterises him as childlike, primitive and na•ve but professes quite some admiration for this film and for The Naked Prey, made five years earlier. No Blade of Grass is set in an apocalyptic future when the supply of grain is running out because humans have poisoned the earth. As a result, humanity is reduced to tribes defending their tiny patches of unsullied soil. The film was shot in Panavision and I suppose it would be too much to expect TCM to screen it in its correct ratio and format.

Nostalghia (Andrei Tarkovsky, Italy, 1983, 120 minutes)

Tarkovsky died at the age of 54. Having made Stalker, his last film in the then USSR, in 1979, he made two more films in exile, one in Italy the other, his most-loved film The Sacrifice, in Sweden. Nostalghia follows a Russian poet (Oleg Yankovsky) on a visit to Italy for some vague research purpose. Naturally there is a beautiful translator and the local dispenser of wisdom. You can see why David Thomson was so bold as to call it close to parody. He also called it "lustrous deliquescent... almost brimming with pain". In one sense it is Tarkovsky making a European art movie with all the drawbacks that entails, particularly for someone who could be so sombre at the best of times and whose natural predilection is for slow, artfully composed tracking shots. But you can hardly complain at the opportunity to see a film by one of the handful of great artists who worked in the cinema in the second half of the twentieth century, the same man who made Ivan's Childhood, Andrei Rublev, Mirror, Stalker, Solaris and The Sacrifice. His career spanned a mere twenty three years. He spent huge amounts of time fighting the bureaucratic masters of the Soviet era who basically hated what he did yet he left a legacy of a half dozen of the greatest works of his era. Few have equalled him.

(2)Nostalghia (Andrei Tarkovsky, Italy, 1983, 126 minutes)

I don't know how often this film has screened on SBS but given its time slot this may well be the last occasion. In which case, if you haven't got the DVD then set your video because there wont be many more chances. Ever I mean. Maybe at some time one of the festivals will get round to assembling the entire Tarkovsky oeuvre but don't bank on it. Nostalghia was made outside Russia. The director went into self-imposed exile for his final two films and produced two quite profound meditations on the life of the artist. Here his hero is a Russian academic (Oleg Yankovsky) researching the life of a composer. His only real contacts are with his interpreter and a a local recluse (Erland Josephson). It's the meeting of minds between the two men that forms the core of the film and it has enough enigma and mystery to defy almost any attempt at interpretation. But Tarkovsky is Tarkovsky and now, nearly twenty years after his death, his cinema of philosophical contemplation about the mysteries of the earth, indeed the mysteries of the universe in the earlier Solaris, are as mesmerising as ever. Every viewing reminds you of details forgotten or ignored that add another key or clue to the thinking of one of the cinema's greatest but most enigmatic creators

Not on the Lips (Pas Sur Le Bouche) (Alain Resnais, France, 2003, 110 minutes)

Another grand old man of cinema returns with this absolutely feather light operetta, made when he was past 80 years old but fashioned with a panache that you can only envy. Resnais has kept himself busy now for over a decade and a half making modest films, often adapted from his own favourite pieces of theatre recalled from long ago. This is one of those and naturally without looking up the IMDB and copying out the credits I cant tell you the original authors of this musical farce, reminiscent of Feydeau, with its characters all going in and out of doors with impeccably timing. I mentioned something of Resnais in my little memoir about some time spent on Rue des Ecoles which you can find at http://www.netspace.net.au/~pgardner/geoffweb/geoff.htm so I dont have to repeat here my admiration for a director who has remained true to his task for over forty years. The modern Resnais stock company of Sabine Azema, whom I was told is his current life partner as they say, Pierre Arditi, Lambert Wilson and others is here added to by Audrey Tautou. You would not know any of this if you rely on the Foxtel program guide which neglects to mention any of the actors or the name of the director. Perhaps they think that mystery is what creates viewer curiosity. Correct me if I missed noticing, but this film seems to have escaped the attention of every festival director and commercial distributor in the country. Astonishing, especially as the film was a modest hit in France, drew more than 500,000 admissions in its Paris run and has been taken for theatrical distribution in plenty of other territories.

Nowhere to Go (Seth Holt, UK, 1958, 97 minutes)

Just at the time when the so-called British new wave was emerging, and kitchen sink dramas became the rage, one young director, aged 35 made one of the smartest little thrillers of its time. He died at the age of 48 from, according to David Thomson, heart disease and exhaustion. Nowhere to Go was Seth Holt's first film. He scripted it with Kenneth Tynan and it was produced by Michael Balcon. Tynan was the critic who did much to put Osborne, Pinter, Wesker and others on the map. The American second-rater George Nader was wheeled in to play the lead but the casting triumph was that of Maggie Smith, in her film debut, as the taxi driver who succumbs to his story. It's a gripping entertainment. Holt only made five films. Thomson is an enthusiast for his blighted career and he says:ÓDespite the fact that Holt seemed unable to escape flawed, unfinished work, the creator of marvellous sequences within melodramas, he was the most gifted British director working in Britain.Ó Holt's five films were made over thirteen years and fashion passed him by. Still somebody, someday, will dig up Station Six Sahara and we'll again see what made us all more than a little sad at his passing.

The Nutty Professor (Jerry Lewis, USA, 1963, 107 minutes) and Cinderfella (Frank Tashlin, USA, 1960, 91 minutes)

I'm going to admit that I'm in the school, still, that thinks Jerry Lewis is an American comic master and that the films he made at his peak, first with Frank Tashlin and later directing himself, between 1955 (Artists and Models) and The Big Mouth (1967) constitute a sequence of some of the bravest, most individual comic outpourings that the cinema has seen. I freely admit the quality is uneven, the early presence of Dean Martin unhelpful and, even in the years covered, he worked with some other ordinary directors and mediocre material.

I haven't seen Cinderfella for decades but recall it as very funny indeed. A consultation of the encyclopedias tells me to get ready for disappointment. The Nutty Professor on the other hand seems to be generally regarded as his masterpiece, not the least because Lewis used the Jekyll and Hyde plot to put on display his years of simmering rage and hatred for Dean Martin. The Buddy Love character contains all that Martin represented to Lewis – smoothness, blandness, high egotism and almost no talent beyond the capacity to seduce women.

You do have to accept that Lewis sought to make grotesquery funny and his screen persona resorted to physical helplessness for laughs very frequently. But he was an experimenter and capable of many moments of individual brilliance even in his lesser films. When you see something like the balletic tennis sequence in The Big Mouth everything about his career merges into a huge and fabulous comic effect.

Lewis's films have stood the test of time. He was basically finished in Hollywood by the end of the 60s and went back to working in nightclubs and taking the occasional dramatic role most notably in Scorsese's The King of Comedy (1983). In America he still does his annual telethon for charity but here generations of kids kept his name alive by watching his Ôclassics' on Saturday mornings. Now they are all coming back on cable and DVD. They are very welcome.

Oasis (Lee Chang-dong, South Korea, 2002, 135 minutes)

Lee has made three features Green Fish, Peppermint Candy and now Oasis. He is currently the Minister for Culture in the most recently appointed South Korean Government which may somewhat curtail his own film-making activity but is no doubt a huge encouragement to what is perhaps the most vibrant and adventurous national cinema anywhere in the world at the moment. Oasis tells of the story of a young man who is not quite as aware as he should be of society's mores. He's always misunderstood and gets into scrapes with the police. His family make him take unwarranted blame as well. His curiosity often gets the better of him. One day he notices an open apartment door and goes in. He discovers that a family is using it as a place to keep a young retarded woman, leaving her largely to her own devices. A relationship, first emotional and then physical, starts up between the two, its course charted with unflinching honesty. As the truth comes out the quick, inevitable spiral to incomprehension and tragedy follows. I thought Oasis one of the two top films I saw last year (full list below). It flattened me that a film could take such a subject and avoid every tendency to preach. The cold eye cast on a society which treats the disabled and the unconforming in the way seen here is as frank and open as you'll find. Lee is clearly one of the masters of contemporary cinema and one can only hope that his current taks dont prevent him from expressing a film-making taent of quite some magnitude.

On Dangerous Ground (Nicholas Ray, USA, 1951, 82 minutes)

The Lusty Men (Nicholas Ray, USA, 1952, 113 minutes)

The Savage Innocents (Nicholas Ray, UK, 1960, 110 minutes)

Three films by Nicholas Ray in a week makes it quite a viewing week. The first two are from his golden streak in the early 50s which probably hit its popular if not its creative height with Rebel Without a Cause in 1955. The third was made in England and Ray was already battling alcoholism and the despondency that came from a career in which his brilliance was unrewarded by seemingly any satisfying relationship with Hollywood in general or indeed with any single studio. On Dangerous Ground  features one of Ray's most telling characters, the driven and obsessive cop played by Robert Ryan, a man at odds with the world, deeply suspicious of human kindness. This was something that Ray could recognise in himself. It produced personal tension and that was conveyed onto the screen. Actors responded to him and they gave hom their best work. Robert Mitchum was among that group in The Lusty Men, the only time he worked with the director. One wonders what might have been made if Ray and Mitchum had worked more frequently. Mitchum's quiet gravitas might have found some exquisite expression in other films and circumstances. As it is, I cant go past David Thomson's description of Mitchum's performance as the aging rodeo rider in this one film: "a beautiful study in independence brought to a realisation of loneliness without a trace of sentimentality, never far from humour and never separating manliness from intelligence". In Lightning Over Water, the film Wim Wenders made with and about Ray at the time of his death, there is a sequence where Wenders is watching The Lusty Men and calls it the best film ever about coming home. The Savage Innocents was made in Super Technirama 70 so firstly who knows how much or how little of it appears on the TV screen. Its a classic Ray subject, "civilisation" impacting on the lives of the Eskimo. But it has to have images to fill that big screen and that didn't quite fit with the intimate sentiments that Ray best expressed. In getting this little note together I re-read David Thomson's essay on Ray in his Critical Dictionary. Its one of the best in the book, acute, sympathetic and very wise about the strengths and weaknesses of the director's career. Its particularly good about the contribution made by the actors. When you look back Ray worked with the pantheon of acting talent as well as a few lesser lights. The contributons of Ryan, Mitchum, James Mason, Humphrey Bogart, James Dean, Joan Crawford, Susan Hayward and Gloria Grahame cant be underestimated.

On the Town (Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly, USA, 1949, 98 minutes) & Showboat (George Sidney, USA, 1951, 108 minutes)

TCM is using the run-up to the Oscars ª to show off some the former Warners and MGM winners. This night is a veritable feast with four splendid musicals on show, or partly on show, for 24 hours. These two were made before Cinemascope and will be shown in their correct ratios. The other two wont, and in one case at least, a film about three army buddies meeting up in New York, its screening on TV is always utterly ludicrous because only two of the three buddies are ever on show at any time. Showboat is a big old fashioned, star laden Hollywood musical, based on a Broadway classic that is still revived today. (Quite recently Harold Prince did a sensational new production which was reproduced in Australia.) The film only mucks around with the story a little bit and all of the songs are still there. (Retaining the original songs is not as frequent an occurrence as you might think. Quite often when a film of a Broadway hit was made some genius head of the studio or senior underling would insist on a key number coming out because he didn't like it or his wife didn't like it or some such. The film version of Kurt Weill's Lady in the Dark suffers grievously from this particular stupidity). Showboat is a brilliant piece – sentimental but still cutting through to that age old burr beneath the veneer of polite American society, race and caste. It features as the central male character a husband (Howard Keel) who prefers gambling to his family and who ruins his life. Quite strong stuff really. Still, you can always exalt at its Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein songs. After frequent viewings, whenever it launches into ÔCant Help Lovin' that Man o' Mine', I tend to start sobbing there and then. On the Town was another Broadway hit. It had music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Bernstein, Adolph Green and Betty Comden. Based only on watching a televised concert version of the stage original, with Comden and Green themselves singing a couple of numbers, I suspect it may have been even better on stage than it is on film. The film knocked the dark edges off the story and substituted a lot of happy stuff with the irrepressible Kelly lightening it all up and Frank Sinatra giving us a performance clearly affected by his then heart throb status. But it's still magic and the three couples dance, sing and become romantically entwined in a story that warms every bit of your bone marrow. Probably the best way to watch these two films and avoid the other panned and scanned ones in between is to set the recorder at 2.35 am or 10.35 am and just let it run. Of course TCM may surprise us all and run Ôscope copies though there is no sign to say so in the Foxtel Guide. (Then again why would the most uninformative publication in at least the southern hemisphere bother with such trivial detail).

One final thought. If anyone knows anybody at a cable channel which holds the rights to the black and white 1936 version of Showboat made by James Whale at Universal (with Irene Dunne, Alan Jones, Helen Morgan and a magnificent Paul Robeson), then please don't hesitate to encourage them to put it to air!

The Orphan of Anyang (Wang Chao, China, 2001, 84 minutes)

I saw this film twice at festivals, in Vancouver and again in Brisbane, in 2001 and 2002. It's Wang Chao's debut feature and it's near faultless in setting down the vicissitudes of life for the poor in China. It also has a remarkably clever story to tell. Set in the provinces, it's about a factory worker, Yu Dagang, who loses his job and by chance takes in a baby left behind by a prostitute. She pays him to look after it and eventually starts plying her trade out of his apartment. Meanwhile he sets up a bicycle repair business and quietly seethes about her clientele. The complication is that the child's father is a dying gangster who wants to reclaim his heir. It has a droll touch to it. You aren't asked to weep about the unpleasantness of it all. You are asked to note that in modern China you get on by being sharp and as dishonest as you can be within whatever limits apply. Cool and rather brave film-making.

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (Albert Lewin, UK, 1951, 123 minutes)

Checking the running time in Maltin, I'm hit with the words Òa big Technicolor boreÓ. That's not a view shared by David Thomson who calls it Ògaudily, ridiculous, impressive in a romantic, thundery way.Ó And Richard Rayner in the Time Out Film Guide is unstinting in his praise. That's more my memory of it from long ago. Extravagant, no holds barred, over the top, lush romance. The legend is updated to the 30s and Ava Gardner plays the beautiful young American tempting James Mason as the mysterious yachtsman. I don't think you have find camp humour in it or feel that the thing is so absurd as to be ludicrous. You don't have to find excuses to enjoy it I guess I'm saying. The version screened here in the past has lost a lot of Technicolor brilliance. Probably this copy is the same so don't expect the glowing colour the film was known for on its first release.

The Passionate Friends (David Lean, UK, 1949, 95 minutes) & Madeleine (David Lean, UK, 1949, 114 minutes)

The late, and should have been great, Brian Davies once described his film Pudding Thieves as like one of those fish that lives in the mouth of another, bigger fish. The bigger fish in his case was Truffaut's Jules and Jim, not a film that sets today's pulses racing. This weekly note tends to adopt a similar posture with David Thomson's ÒNew Biographical Dictionary of FilmÓ a publication which through all its iterations has served as a source of much information and even more pleasure. That's a long-winded preface to a recommendation to watch these early films by David Lean. When I come to make a suggestion of something from vintage Britain or Hollywood, I usually check to see what Thomson thinks. Near the end of his essay on Lean, a generally not very favourable note, he describes The Passionate Friends as Ôthe film most deserving recovery'. Thomson divides Lean's career into the Òearly films which have pace flourish and a modesty of scaleÓ. The later films get a right good, acerbic Brit going over. And yes, for me at least, part of the attraction of The Passionate Friends, as with the Lean film which followed, Madeleine, is the presence of the inscrutably luscious Ann Todd, then Mrs Lean, a china doll beauty to die for. Which Lean didn't. He shortly thereafter tossed her over for the next in the long line of wives and mistresses that gave him quite another reputation. It was quite a year in Lean's long career. Maybe the best of them. Set the recorder for two Brit classics.

Persona (Ingmar Bergman, Sweden, 1963, 81 minutes)

Another masterpiece. Obscure, enigmatic, disturbing, distressing. Bergman at his most bleak but the film that heralded the major comeback of his career, the first of a string of masterpieces that stretched on into the seventies. Hopefully it will be followed in the next two weeks by the two subsequent films in what has become known as his Òsecond trilogyÓ, Hour of the Wolf and Shame. But this is the new SBS and even though they seem to be programming cinema classics in David Stratton's old slot late on Sunday evenings you can take nothing for granted.

Pinocchio (Roberto Benigni, Italy, 2003, 100 minutes)

I might have let this one go by but for the fact of noting that one of the reviewers in the Sydney Morning Herald recently lavished some praise on the most misbegotten movie of recent memory. Think of Italy's Waterworld or Hudson Hawk or 1941 and you might get some idea of the dimensions of its artistic and financial failure. It was allegedly the most expensive film ever made in Italy. Benigni, a loud opponent of Berlusconi and all his works, had no compunction in placing the film with Berlusconi's film distribution company to obtain the maximum exposure needed to recover the massive personal investment he, Benigni, had made. Alas the film was instantly despised and lost virtually every penny invested in it. And rightly so. It is an abomination of a dimension that only Benigni could conjure up. He spends his entire time on screen substituting screaming, and hurling himself wildly around the set, for acting. His demeanor produces one of the ugliest, most repulsive performances ever committed to the screen. The film seems to go interminably but in fact it's only Benigni so doing. See it if you must just to appreciate one of those moments in film when ego and self-adoration, no doubt created in part by all those awards given for his rollicking hamster show in Life is Beautiful, serve to destroy a work of art from within. The fact that no one on the film might have been telling Benigni that he was even just a little over the top may be explained in part at least by the fact that his wife Nicoletta Braschi, who also plays the Blue Fairy, gets the sole credit as the film's producer.

Pride and Prejudice (Robert Z Leonard, USA, 1940, 118 minutes)

Brian Macfarlane once gave a lecture at Melbourne's old State Film Theatre at which he read the first couple of pages of Jane Austen's novel and then showed the opening scenes of the film. The fidelity to the text is extraordinary. This is a literary adaptation, by Aldous Huxley no less, but it is one of the most splendid of MGM's achievements, a product of that time when (the already dead) Irving Thalberg had created a production house in which astonishing attention to detail and infinite care were the orders of the day. Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson were perfect as the eponymous characters of the title, though after reading one Andrew Sarris piece long ago I think every time I see Garson I can never forget his question about some actress or other; to whit ÒIs she the new Greer Garson, or can she act?Ó!

Privilege (Peter Watkins, UK, 1967)

I noticed Scott Murray's Green Guide recommendation for Privilege (Peter Watkins, UK, 1967) and decided I should give it another chance. After all, 37 years is a long time between drinks and as they say, things change. Surprise. What I had remembered as a film of pompous pretension, with the usual Watkins paranoia quotient, came up rather better than I expected. Even if it is a paranoid's movie it doesn't mean that the forces of the state aren't getting ever better at manipulating you and this one clearly had some premonitory grip. 

When it first came out, Privilege seemed very bizarre. Watkins proposed that the British (Coalition) Government of the future would only be interested in creating ÒhappinessÓ at all costs and doing it via a succession of ever more Nazi-like bread and circus events. How did he figure what Tony Blair would be up to. Of course, this provides ripe opportunities for slick agents of banking and commerce to make pots of money. Where have we seen that. The money market guys should have tried to have this film suppressed. Then there was the delectable, doll-like Jean Shrimpton, reading her lines in almost lifeless fashion as a painter commissioned to paint Steve Shorter, the god-like figure used by the Government to manipulate everything from apple sales to mass happiness. It doesn't seem so grating or grotesque today. After all Joe Cocker sold us a new tax.

When it came out Universal made a big deal of it and even flew in Paul Jones, the lead actor and the then front man for Manfred Mann. Jones was one of those impossibly handsome young men who fronted some of the lesser Brit bands. Our dearly loved Melbourne Film Bulletin of the day sent Dominic Costa along to interview Jones and Dominic ranted at him so much that the editor of that issue, Alan Finney, headed up the piece as ÒPaul Jones interviews our correspondent Dominic CostaÓ. The last time I saw Dominic was at a screening of Jean-Luc Godard's Sauve Qui Peut at the London Film Festival where following the film Dominic proceeded to harangue the great man himself much to the discomfort of Colin McCabe who was chairing the Q&A. Not sure what he's up to nowÉDominic I mean.

Watkins Ôcommercial' career never really took off and after this film he made a couple of features in Scandinavia and the US before returning to near underground work and anti-nuclear political activity.

The last film of his I saw was a long video piece shown at the Brisbane International Film Festival a few years ago about the Paris Commune done in a fashion not dis-similar to, but made before, Lars von Trier's Dogville.

Quitting (Zhang Yang, China, 2001, 118 minutes)

This is a genuine oddity and how SBS came to acquire such an esoteric movie is just one of those mysteries of film distribution that beguile us every single day. Zhang is best known for Shower which screened at the festivals and on SBS. But this film was made for all sorts of reasons other than putting a well rounded drama up on the screen. Its subject is an actor the director met when they did a theatre production of ÔKiss of the SpiderwomanÓ together. Then the actor, Jia Hongsheng, got on heroin. He spent six years as a junkie obsessed with the Beatles, lost all his friends and ended up in psychiatric institution. In the film Jia plays himself and reconstructs his life. It doesn't shy away from the worst parts either. When the film was screened at the Vancouver Film Festival Tony Rayns noted:ÓNever flinching from Jia's worst excesses, it tells his story with enough detachment to see him in the round: a talented, screwed-up actor, a gentle fallible manÓ.

The Red Shoes (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, UK, 1948, 133 minutes)

A masterpiece. If you have never seen it then here's another opportunity to see one of the greatest films of the 40s, indeed of all time, then go out and buy the Criterion DVD to enjoy it even more.

Resurrection (Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, Italy, 2001, 115 minutes)

This is part one of a two part mini-series adapted by the brothers from Tolstoy. It's not their first Tolstoy adaptation. In the late 80s they made a version of ÒFather SergiusÓ, transposed to Italy and starring Julian Sands called Night Sun. It was a wonderful film but a box-office flop everywhere. Their last hit was their adaptation of Pirandello stories Kaos made in the mid-80s. A few years ago they did a second Pirandello piece Tu Ridi (You Laughed) which created no ripples even though it was a small masterpiece. You can get it on DVD from Facets in the US or from France with French subtitles. That's all a bit long-winded I know but I'm trying to tell you how much I admire their work. I once invented a parlour game where you could be the director of a film festival and you could invite twelve current film-makers to make a new film. The Tavianis were the top of my list. (Anyone who'd like to submit such a list to me is welcome to do so). In the meantime, this week we have the opportunity to see their latest film, the first part of a two-part mini-series made for Italian television. I have no doubt it will be the highlight of the week and can only look forward to its screening and its concluding part. Without the Tavianis the cinema would be a lot poorer. In case you need reminding, they have also made among others Under the Sign of the Scorpion, St Michael Had a Rooster, Padre Padrone, Allonsanfan, The Meadow, The Night of the Shooting Stars, Good Morning Babylon, Fiorile and a number of others. Barely half of their films have had any sort of screenings in Australia and it's about time somebody did something about it.

Resurrection Part 2 (Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, Italy, 2002, 100 minutes) I could not recommend Pt 1 more highly last week. The prospect of seeing anything by the brothers was really something to look forward to. AlasÉ its clumsy and stiff and largely just another literary adaptation of a classic Russian novel done almost as the BBC would so earnestly do it. I must confess that I had expected the brothers to rework the material into something coming from the soul of Italy, something that brought a caustic view to bear on Italian mores as much as it did on the Russian text. This was one of the pleasures of their earlier Tostoy adaptation Night Sun. But no. Its made in Italy and looks it but the film and the characters intend to convey a picture of Russian people and Russian issues. By a strange coincidence after seeing the first part I had the pleasure of being at a screening of Robert Bresson's L'Argent an adaptation to contemporary Paris of Tolstoy's ÒThe Fake NoteÓ. I didn't expect the Tavianis to make a film like Bresson but I did expect them to do what Bresson did and embed the plight of the put upon girl and her guilty aristocrat lover into the manners and fabric of their own society.

Robbery Under Arms (Jack Lee, UK, 1957, 104 minutes)

I have to confess that I haven't seen this the second of three versions of this story that have been made in Australia. The Brit director Jack Lee eventually settled in Australia and though he never made another feature he did become Chairman of the South Australian Film Corporation during its most productive phase. Earlier he had made A Town Like Alice and The Wooden Horse among others.

The film has no champions as a masterpiece but there is usually high praise for Peter Finch's performance as Captain Starlight. The young Jill Ireland and David McCallum both have parts. The producer Joseph Janni went on to make some very successful pictures and had a most productive partnership with John Schlesinger (A Kind of Loving, Darling, Far From the Madding Crowd).

Rocco and His Brothers (Luchino Visconti, Italy, 1960, 180 minutes)

First a warning. My SMH TV guide advertises that this film starts at 1.05 am and that the station temporarily closes down at 2.20 am. A mistake we hope. Assuming it is, if you have never seen Rocco then set your recorder for one of the great films of Italian cinema made by a director whose ambition was to tell the great stories of his nation. Rocco is the tale of the epic internal migration that took place in Italy from the south to the north in the fifties and on into the sixties and beyond. The factories of Milan and Turin summoned the poor of Palermo and Messina and Cagliari to work, providing dreams of wealth and comfort in the same way as did migration to the new worlds of America and Australia. One son has already gone ahead. Then the rest of his family arrive, four more brothers each of whom has a chapter defining their part in the new prosperity. Two turn to boxing though one has no stamina and drifts into crime. Rocco, the brick of the family and the son with the greatest emotional ties to land and family, fights his way up to championship level. Played by Alain Delon, (I know I always describe him as 'impossibly handsome') in a fashion so charismatic as to cement his place as Europe's greatest star of his era, Rocco's course through this saga is the narrative lynchpin and its emotional core. I think I sob quite uncontrollably at some moments in the film, the power of cumluative viewings being such that even though your know what's coming the emotional pitch just rises. Its a masterpiece and maybe Visconti's greatest achievement. If you have never seen it then dont set your recorder.Get out of bed to make sure you start the recording yourself. Its that important. This may be the last opportunity at least on SBS. (Its also out on DVD here. I bought it at Christmas but haven't yet checked out the quality of the transfer.) 

The Rules of the Game (Jean Renoir, France, 1939, 115 minutes) I've already primed you about this one. It's the second of the twenty-five films you should see before you die being presented by Andrew Urban on World Movies. Then again a person must be very old if there are only these 25 movies left to track down and what have they been watching. The last time I saw Renoir's masterpiece was on the beautifully restored French DVD, with English subtitles, that came out several years ago now. I reviewed the DVD for Senses of Cinema and if you want to look up the review you can find it here

http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/00/11/past.html

This is a film which had an extraordinarily troubled history before it came to be accepted as the masterpiece it is. The first audience reactions caused Renoir to cut the film, quite savagely in fact, and then it simply disappeared from view. The cutting was done in the face of what Renoir called "a kind of loathing.. the public as a whole regarded (the film) as a personal insult" Renoir goes on to record how:

".at every session I attended I could feel the unanimous disapproval of the audience. I tried to save the film by shortening it, and to start with I cut the scenes in which I myself played too large a part, as though I were ashamed, after this rebuff, of showing myself on the screen. But it was useless. The film was dropped, having become 'too demoralizing'"

So began the journey of La Règle du Jeu into obscurity. It lay there for more than twenty years - an inert work known to few. All along it had its champions. Prior to his death in 1958, André Bazin in his book on Renoir, published only posthumously in 1971, called it the director's "masterpiece" and "a work that should be seen again and again.because it is a work that reveals itself only gradually to the spectator" By 1962 it featured high up Sight and Sound's poll of the Ten Best Films of all time.

If you have never seen it then here's a chance to enjoy a film in which many hearts are broken, many worlds are shattered and a society is put under the microscope by a director whose love for his fellow men and their foibles was deeply ingrained. But that didn't stop him casting a cool eye on that society of wealth, privilege and self-gratification. Events proved that it was to be a society that would shortly disappear. That makes the film even more poignant today. If you get a chance to watch the DVD don't neglect to watch the wonderful critical appreciation of by Jean Douchet which is on the disk as an extra.

One interesting thing about the film is that it is still discussed and written about at great length. Its contemporaneity knows no bounds. During our trip to Paris last year the wonderful writer Louis Skorecki, who contributes a brilliant column to ÒLiberationÓ about films on TV, reported how only recently the contemporary director Jean-Claude Brisseau had sat him down and demonstrated how Renoir, and the film, were anti-semitic! Amazing. Don't miss it.

Sabotage (Alfred Hitchcock, UK, 1936, 76 minutes)

Sabotage pops up quite regularly on both cable and free to air so there's not that much point in alerting you but for the fact that I just watched it again on one of those low-price DVDs you buy from a dump bin at the newsagents at the beach. The transfer is pretty ordinary and the tone quite dark. I was surpprised however by how grim the film itself is. Oscar Homolka plays a German who is running a movie house in London. His wife (Sylvia Sidney) sells tickets. Oscar is mixed up with a terrorist group which commits random acts of sabotage and he does it for money. He is called upon to put a bomb in an underground railway station but the police are on to him and he cant get away. He sends his wife's young brother across London with the bomb... What is interesting, (beyond the grimness of the theme, there are no last minute rescues here and no jokey cliff-hanging narrative), is the realtionship between Oscar and his wife. How did they marry. Why did they marry. What is their relationship about. Its not violent or fearful but there is something unknown about how this couple exist together. Maybe I'm seeking profundity in contrivance. After all Sylvia Sidney was a star and it was no doubt a casting coup to get her. But her presence throws an enormous amount of ambiguity into the mix. Then there is the special agent undercover policeman who falls for her and wants to abandon everything if she'll flee with him. Finally the brother is played by Desmond Tester, who arrived on these shores in the 50s and then made a name for himself on Sydney children's TV

Safe (Todd Haynes, USA, 1995, 119 minutes)

Safe is one of the oddest movies I've ever seen. It's so off-centre and defies so many thoughts as to what it's about that it baffles you for most of its near two hour length. It played the film festivals and then disappeared. I think it probably came out on video and maybe it has been on cable before. Whatever this is the first I've noticed it since that first festival screening. It's quite disconcerting because the initial sense is that Haynes is satirising a bourgeois fetish for absolute cleanliness. Then the housewife lead (Julianne Moore) retreats further and further into a cocoon of sterility. Satire seems to turn, with some consternation, into the pathology of one person who can't handle the modern world. Weird but of a piece with the rest of Todd Haynes eccentric career as a very independent film-maker.

Satyricon (Federico Fellini, Italy, 1969, 125 minutes)

This was the first 'major' film Fellini made after he crashed into giant international success with La Dolce Vita (1959), 8 1/2 (1963) and Juliet of the Spirits  (1965). By this time he was getting international finance from a major studio and was producing international versions of his films. Satyricon threw everything at us - an adaptation of an ancient ribald text, shocking images with plenty of sexual content and a vision of hell that allowed full rein to the director's penchant for the exquisitely and decadently extravagant. They were to some people, ridiculous freak shows, full of high energy nonsense. For Fellini himself I'm sure they were intended to be biting satires of our modern foibles put together with all the panache that the director could so easily muster. Anyone who made  8 1/2 has a place in the pantheon and even his most minor films and misfires are worth seeing.

I dont recall having the seen the film since it first came out but will try to do so this time just out of curiosity to see something whose first acquaintance I made, in part, back in 1970 when Don Chipp the then Customs Minister showed the slavering press gallery and others some highlights from cut sequences of films. Chipp was campaigning to bring in the R Certificate and this was part of his way of saying that unless he got agreement to do that, principally from the whackers who ran the local distribution companies, he was going to cut more and more out of the modern masterpieces that came before him!. The evening was highlighted early when Chipp tried to illustrate how standards change by showing a cut scene from some sword and sandal epic of the fifties. A centurion is standing over a man strapped to a bench and he says "Will you talk or shall I pull your fingernails out first? "Pull his fingernails out first" bellowed the late, great journo legend Jack Darmody from the front stalls of the National Library Theatre. The jolly mood thus created lasted through to drinks.

Sawdust and Tinsel (Ingmar Bergman, Sweden, 1953, 96 minutes)

The second of two Bergmans screened by SBS in its Cinema Classics timeslot on Sundays. Made just before the golden period of world wide art house success, Sawdust and Tinsel is a very bleak portrait using a circus as background for an expose of the vicious relationships that can exist between men and women. As with last week's Dreams the leading lady is the exquisite Harriett Andersson, here playing the young mistress of the very seedy old circus proprietor. In the Time Out Film Guide Tom Milne (there's an old critical name to conjure with) describes Bergman's setting of the circus as Òa metaphor for the humiliating hoops through which men and women are put by their sexual dreams and desiresÓ. Which is no doubt true enough but what remains in the memory from those screenings long ago is the seediness and corruption of it all. Bergman at his bleakest, or at least the bleakest part of his early career. Unmissable really, especially as films like this one are possibly not going to come around ever again on a channel which has now adopted program policies which don't really fit with arcanae.

The Sea Chase (John Farrow, USA 1955) & Back From Eternity (John Farrow, USA, 1956)

There is a strong case to be made that John Farrow is Australia's greatest expatriate filmmaker/director. Born in Sydney in 1904 and educated here and in England he started as a writer and by 1927 was in Hollywood writing scripts for luminaries like William Wellman and Victor Fleming. He won an Oscar for his script of the first version of Around the World in 80 days (Michael Anderson, 1956). He directed a couple of dozen films and his work has been chronicled extensively by Scott Murray in Cinema Papers. For mine his best film is The Big Clock (1948) but plenty of others lay claim. These two films came very late in his career. He died in 1963 having fathered Mia in his marriage to Maureen O'Sullivan. I remember The Sea Chase as being rather good but that's not a view backed up by any of the encyclopaedias. I've never seen Back From Eternity but will watch with special attention on Anita Ekberg, a major Swedish object of desire for many a healthy twelve year old.

Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa. Japan, 1954, 210 minutes)

This screening inaugurates a weekly screening of a series called Ò25 Films you must see before you dieÓ and who could disagree with the notion. In the following weeks, many of the usual suspects will be rounded up and you will be regaled by Lang, Renoir, Bergman and on into the modern masters. Strangely though, despite listing nine Truffaut films in the World Movies catalogue, none appear in this season. But who could dispute that the season should be lead off by this seminal film, one which opened the eyes of the West to the film industries of the East and started the resolute pursuit of Ozu, Mizoguchi, Ichikawa, Naruse and on into Oshima, Shimizu and so on. The West pillaged the film first in a crude Hollywood remake. More interestingly, Peckinpah seemed to take his early cues from Kurosawa and Sergio Leone ripped off Yojimbo to start his western cycle. None of this tells you how good the film is, how its pace slowly goes from gentle through to chaotic, how the final attack in the rain may well be the most flamboyantly brilliant action sequence in the cinema's history, how each character is drawn and delineated with such clarity, even if some of the baddies are egregious to the point of caricature. The programming of the season makes me wonder once again about World Movies. No doubt it has its followers who keep an eye out for its occasional classics. Probably many of its subscribers also like the fact that it seems to screen lots of films with lots of T & A. Maybe the channel should be split into two. World Movies Classics would show a continuous rotation of the Kurosawas, Bergmans, Renoirs, Truffauts etc (a list of which is available on the channel website). World Movies Lite, could cater for others with a taste for films of a specialist or relief nature.

The Seventh Veil (Compton Bennett, UK 1945, 95 minutes)

One of the great British films of the 40s, starring one of those truly extraordinary Brit actresses of the time, Ann Todd. Todd was one of a number of Mrs David Leans and she starred for him in Madeleine in 1949. Yet like many of her contemporaries she seems to be under the radar today. Thomson's Biographical Dictionary (the latest edition at least) leaves her out while other lesser talents get a mention.  This story of a famous pianist under the spell of her neurotic cousin (James Mason) The Seventh Veil  is absolutely compulsive. Muriel and Sydney Box who wrote the script won an Oscar for their work.

Shanghai Triad (Zhang Yimou, China, 1995, 109 minutes)

Zhang Yimou has assumed the mantle of China's official voice to the cinema world. He has trod this narrow path since his debut feature Red Sorghum in the mid-80s and it is now paying off big time. You may expect him, and China, to win the best foreign film Oscar (trade mark) in 2005 for House of Flying Daggers which opens around Australia on 16 February just in time to get a head of box office steam up before the boost from the big event. Many of you will have seen Zhang Yimou's Hero when it screened round Australia's art houses recently. Hero and House of Flying Daggers have created quite a stir in some circles. Bluntly, the view is being put that Zhang has sold his soul to the Chinese Communist Party, that he is now making films glorifying the almighty state and the individual's need to subordinate himself to its demands. Among those recently participating in the discussion as to whether Zhang has sold out completely to the the totalitarian rulers of the Chinese Communist Party is the very fine New York Times film critic Manola Dargis. Her piece on current Chinese cinema is circulating around via email lists and others and if you are lucky you might find it if you click on this link.

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/05/movies/05darg.html?adxnnl=1&oref=login&adxnnlx=1102528475-3mM9kD7bfxJEQvm3hs2fCQ 

(You can get the New York Times online if you register and get yourself a password. Its free. You just then have to put up with emails from people who want to sell you holidays and the like.)

It's a fascinating debate....in the meantime you can watch Shanghai Triad one of Zhang's lesser pieces, an attempt bordering on unwitting parody to make a tough gangstar movie. The glorious Gong Li is the star as she was for almost all his films for his first decade. She has now been completely overthrown, not just in Zhang's affections but also his casting. More's the pity but you may see her again soon when someone gets around to screening Wong Kar-wai's new film 2046. All is not lost.

The Shooting (Monte Hellman, USA 1966, 81 minutes)

In 1966, Monte Hellman and Jack Nicholson, both still near absolute nonentities, went out into the Utah desert and came back with two movies. ÔAdrien Joyce' (a pseudonuym for Carole Eastman) scripted The Shooting and Nicholson the other, Ride in the Whirlwind. Both also starred Millie Perkins. Since then they have been, The Shooting especially, the cornerstone of Hellman's reputation as a brilliant man of the fringe, an idealistic figure whose films were not what the studios and distributors wanted. He added to that reputation with Two Lane Blacktop but nothing among the handful of very hard to see titles he made after that enhanced his career. He has, however, remained a cult figure of quite some dimension. In fact, someone should put together the whole kit and caboodle of his work, a mere ten pictures, and get them and him on a plane out here before he dies. The Shooting is still regarded with awe by all concerned. Its story of a bounty hunter on a quest that grows ever more mysterious, draws the pursuers into what the Time Out Film Guide calls ÔKafkaesque drama'. David Thomson decrees that it Ôturned the uncompromising bones of a quickie western into a movie about mythic identity and violent fate without too much strain or pretentiousness'. There have been bad bootleg copies of the film around in video and DVD shop dump bins for years. It will be interesting to see just what the quality of the images are like when it screens here.

The Shop Around the Corner (Ernst Lubitsch, USA, 1940, 97 minutes)

Was there ever a sweeter romance than this? I don't think so anyway. It has an eternal fascination and not just for the progress of the lovers themselves (James Stewart and Margaret Sullivan) but for the quite extraordinary depth of the cast populating the little department store in downtown Budapest. A dozen or so range from the cuckolded store owner through to the smart as paint delivery boy. For it all to be done in a racy 97 minutes is just pure magic. You can watch weep endlessly at this picture. It was probably the most sentimental Lubitsch got but every line of dialogue still crackles. That was no doubt due to the inspiration of the writer Samson Raphelson one of the true men of greatness to work in Hollywood. Being a mere writer his reputation is now eclipsed by those whose reputations he helped make.

Silence ÉWe're Rolling (Youssef Chahine, Egypt, 2001, 115 minutes)

We hardly know Chahine at all in Australia yet he has single-handedly been the face of Egyptian cinema for half a century. He won a Lifetime Achievement Award at Cannes in 1997 and has been the subject of a major showcase event at Lincoln Centre in New York. He's now nearly eighty years old but still seems to be working. His output is quite prodigious. When the Film Society of Lincoln Centre paid tribute to him it noted that, in an article in Film Comment, Dave Kehr lists rural dramas, screwball comedies, costume pictures, musicals, film noir, political thrillers, widescreen epics, Bergmanesque psychodrama, social protest films and autobiography among the forms Chahine has worked and transfigured. He is a major director and the fact that he is so little known here is another of those minor disappointments we have to put up with. But the material is around for somebody to do a good retrospective. Vancouver did one in 1999 as have others. In the meantime, here's one film, about film-making, made when Chahine was 75 to whet the appetite.

The Sleeping Tiger (Joseph Losey, UK, 1954, 89 minutes)

Plenty of you will know that I hold Joseph Losey in the very highest regard. I've always been fascinated by the series of films he made under very trying circumstances in Italy and then in Britain after he had been blacklisted and fled to Europe. This was Losey's first British film and was based, in his words, on Òa lousy, cheap storyÉa sort of bedtime reading for senile stags.Ó But it led to Losey's first work with Dirk Bogarde, one of the most fruitful collaborations between an actor and director in modern cinema. I wrote some notes on the film when it screened at the Brisbane Film Festival as part of a Losey retrospective a few years ago. In part I said then: ÒLosey himself admits that the film's improbabilities were part of the reason for its lack of critical success. Despite that there are already some features of Losey's work apparent: the simmering sexual tension between the psychiatrist and his wife and the wife and the young criminal, the casual violence and the fascination with decadent lifestyles.Ó

Solaris (Andrei Tarkovsky, USSR, 1972, ? minutes)

Now what has World Movies got hold of here? Memory and the guides all list Solaris at 165 minutes yet the channel is advertising this at about 120. Something may be amiss so be warned. Meanwhile let's mention the full length, full strength Tarkovsky movie that has intrigued everybody for several decades now. Some, like Tony Rayns in the Time Out Film Guide, find its enigma less than compelling (Ôa genuinely brain freezing experience') others, like me, never cease to be fascinated by its story of another intelligence out there which operates on a completely different level, something non-physical which can disturb the psyche and repel the invader by other forces. The picture of a space vehicle in a state of decay with all its inhabitants rendered near comatose is especially intriguing and a long way from what the Russian mindset of the time about technological advance and its benefits for society. The hero's journey brings him back to his past and the recurring ghost of his wife. It unfolds at a snail's pace but I don't think that there isn't a moment in it when I'm not completely absorbed by its mysteries. But what are we seeing when the channel shows it as part of its Ô25 movies to see before you die' series? Actually the series really has a subtext of being examples of the work of 25 directors whose complete works you should see before you die. Tarkovsky is certainly in that category

Spicy Love Soup (Zhang Yang, China, 1998, 115 minutes)

There are five very simple episodes, stories of love and loss all associated in some way with food, in this terrific little film from China. The one I remember most concerns an aging widow and her search for a new mate, encouraged by a middle-aged daughter and the three men she interviews/auditions. Each in their own way offers something she needs so the conclusion is logical if impossibly unconventional. It's heart-warming and the stories themselves are filmed with a naturalness the Australian cinema ought to go a thousand miles to try and replicate.

Stranger on the Third Floor (Boris Ingster, USA, 1940, 64 minutes)

This film screened recently at one of the Chauvel's Cinematheque screenings. It's short and I hardly think it's the beginning, the very source, of film noir as the theatre's program notes boldly claimed. But it has a fascination not least because it seems to burrow all the way back into German expressionism, not least via the enigmatically evil presence of Peter Lorre, doing variations on his character from Lang's M, who plays a pivotal part in the nightmare that unfolds after a reporter identifies the wrong man as a killer. Ingster hardly seem so to have made a mark on Hollywood. Bertrand Tavernier passes straight from H(uston) to J(ewison) in his seemingly comprehensive epic Ô50 Ans de Cinema Americain'. Andrew Sarris's lists Ibsen, Ince, Inglis, Iturbi and Ives (Burl) in the index of his latest tome. But set your recorder for this little movie. Ingster directed at least one other movie at RKO and also wrote other films. He has a credit on Fritz Lang's Cloak and Dagger. Without checking the IMDB or getting some advice from noir buffs among you I cant say for sure just how much else in his career warrants attention.

Strayed/Les Egares (Andre Techine, France, 2003 95 minutes)

I set out all the reasons why this film should be watched prior to its premiere screenings in August. Techine is one of those French directors whose exposure here seems to have been mostly restricted to festivals, film weeks and SBS. Wild Reeds made in 1994 was probably the last of his films to get into the art houses and he's made half a dozen since. Sadly, after viewing the film, Strayed doesn't in fact help Techine's reputation much despite some good moments, most notably a quite surprising bit of sexual perversity which occurs between Emmanuelle Beart and the escaped reformatory boy who sullenly protects her. I checked the Time Out Film Guide again after seeing this and its enthusiasm for the film as Ôan authentically gripping thriller' isn't shared. In another sense it's a discouraging sign that commercial French cinema is now too staid by far, too inward looking and too willing to spend large amounts making films set in the past which show off lots of production values but not much else. If you want to see another example of these overblown commercial tendencies you can see them on show in spades in The Mystery of the Yellow Chamber. Its a recent addition to the World Movies roster, an extremely expensive film with a star cast which takes an interminable time to tell its very trivial story. However, the latter was such a success at the domestic box office that a sequel is on the way.

Sweethearts (W S Van Dyke II, USA, 1938, 114 minutes)

OK so I'm recommending that Foxtel denizens watch a Nelson Eddy and Jeannette MacDonald musical. I know. It took me a long time to bring myself to sit down and watch their pictures but when I did, usually after a Bill Collins intro that had me gasping at the gush, I found I quite liked them. And this one is my favorite because it's not a tearjerker and Nelson isn't quite as stony as a greek statue. Which he often was. If ever an actor got by on looks and voice it was Nelson. Jeannette carried him for quite lot of the eight pictures they made together and if you see him in something like Balalaika, in which she's replaced by some other soprano with a foreign accent, he looks quite ridiculous. Sweehearts was the most acerbic of the films they made. MGM took the sugary Victor Herbert operetta and used it as the shell to fashion a very witty story about a husband and wife theatre team who break up for publicity reasons. As well, the parody continues in the numbers themselves. Extravagance is piled upon extravagance and visual wit abounds. The production and design departments spared nothing. The real genius behind it lies in a very modern script written by, among others, Dorothy Parker. I'm sure it's her wit that makes this the treat that it is.

Sweet Sixteen (Ken Loach, UK, 2002, 106 minutes)

I think that Ken Loach's work has got better as the director has aged. Even his blackest characters are now seen in a fashion which puts some human edges to them. Much of his success of course lies in how good the writing is. This was one of his best and owes much to Paul Laverty's script. I have said a few words before about the film in ÔMuse' and what follows are some slightly changed notes of what I said then.

Liam (Martin Compston) the fifteen year old would be drug dealing tycoon is placed firmly within the new British underclass. Crime is a simple career choice when the only other option is training to work in a call centre. Liam has prosaic desires, centering almost entirely around the idea of reuniting his family once his junkie mother gets out of jail. This fantasy propels him forward from small time black marketer to drug dealing entrepreneur. Even gangland murder is not out of his contemplation. Liam is smart, tough and loyal to friends but he's defeated when he fails to understand the cynicism, recidivism and addiction that characterizes the adulthood around him. The milieu of Sweet Sixteen is an underclass way below society's radar screen. The police and the authorities have near to nothing to do this with these people, except as inept figures of fun. Even the English language has almost died out. Conversation consists of strings of expletives spoken in a dialect that requires subtitles. Crime, family violence, drug dealing, defeated ambitions and cruel betrayal bring Liam to an impasse on his sixteenth birthday. ÒMy batteries are running downÓ he says as he steps away to face the sea. It's an image that pays homage to the famous freeze-frame ending of Francois Truffaut's 1959 masterpiece The 400 Blows. In both, the young protagonists face bleak and uncertain futures. Loach's film stands also to become an enduring work, catching one of 21st century society's young and damned at that crucial moment when his adult life may be beginning just as his hopes are ending.

Swimming Pool (Francois Ozon, France, 2003,100 minutes)

Hardly necessary to point out something so recent and popular as this film by Francois Ozon but its started to screen on cable and is already out on DVD everywhere. See it that way because waiting for commercial TV will wreck its flow as surely as just about anything except Lord of the Rings. When it came out I wrote a short review for Canberra's Muse and said that Ozon's films are chamber pieces where vicious mind games are played to violent conclusions. A confined space, a few characters and a narrative where the strong manipulate and control the weak are common features. As he progressed from obscure provocateur to international art house favourite the subject matter has softened and, in his recent films, gravitated towards playful genre variations. As well, Ozon has an increased tendency to present his images in the most luscious terms. Nakedness is replaced by nudity. In Swimming Pool that lushness manifests itself in the constant relishing of the young Julie (Ludivine Sagnier), casually bare and unceremoniously liberal in her sex life. The creation of this relationship is meticulous. The buttoned up and repressed English writer Sarah (Charlotte Rampling) slowly becomes fascinated by the vulgarity and directness of Julie. Her mystery writer's psyche seems to force her into spying on her. There is a touch of envy of her sexual prowess. But, we learn rather late in the piece, it's a game and it's with the spectator rather than between the two women who are contrived into the same beautiful house in a glorious summery south of France. (That glorious light is contrasted rather satirically with the greyness of the early scenes in London.) The swimming pool of the title becomes ambiguous. Is it the place where dark events occur or is its blank blue flatness merely the inspiration for the unblocking of Sarah's imagination? As played by the still ravishing Charlotte Rampling, the enigmatic Sarah's games, which are really Ozon's, first lull us and then, in the most pleasurable way, conclude with a very satisfying jolt.

Swordsman of Double Flag Town (He Ping, China, 1991, 95 minutes) I have to confess that Chinese martial arts movies aren't my cup of char but Doug Anderson's rave about this one, without mentioning the director's name, in today's Sydney Morning Herald piqued my curiosity so I had a squiz at the Time Out Film Guide and I see that this is indeed supposed to be quite something. The director is better known for his 1994 Red Firecracker Green Firecracker which had a modest commercial release followed by video, DVD and then SBS. His subsequent film Sun Valley has also screened on SBS and is a rather nice eastern variation on classic western themes. So without saying any more let me just quote Tony Rayns final sentences in the Time Out review: ÒWhether you take He Ping's film as a sardonic commentary on American westerns or as a new approach (in the vein of Red Sorghum) to Chinese folk myth, it's a show stopper. Leone himself would have cheered.Ó You have been told.

Tears of the Black Tiger (Wisit Sasanatieng, Thailand, 2000, 101 minutes

Can there have been anything so affectionately camp as this utterly charming eastern western. The ingredients are straight out of Hollywod. Boy and girl separated by circumstances, twice, each time because he tries to protect her from the same rapacious men from a higher class. He becomes an outlaw, the Black Tiger, the fastest gun in Thailand, dresses in black with just a light azure scarf to lighten the colour scheme, and joins a band of outlaws who use guns, and rocket propelled grenades, to prey on the evildoers, corrupt officials and the like...and make a little money on the side. She goes off to live a life in pink, the house, the dress, the lipstick, matched by the lips and hatband of her policeman suitor. All pink. The music echoes everything from Roy Rogers to Ennio Morricone and there's a dollop of Sergio Leone in there as well. It all ends in (Greek) tragedy not before the most amazing shoot out in living memory. The trajectory of the vital bullet has to be seen to be believed so Sasanatieng shows us the shot in slow motion, a trick he repeats from the jokey opening. Show me another debut film that has as much courage of its extravagant convictions as this. It won the Dragons and Tigers award at Vancouver in 2000, a harbinger of talent if ever there is one

That Man From Rio (Phillipe De Broca, France 1964, 115 minutes)

Nostalgia can be a wonderful thing but this movie has one single enduring pleasure, the presence on screen of Francoise Dorleac, a real star of the French cinema, tragically killed in a car accident not long after this film was made.

In the early sixties, the vagaries of distribution here meant that we had a very imperfect view of what and who constituted the French New Wave. De Broca was first an assistant to Claude Chabrol and then made, very quickly and cheaply, three charming little comedies about sex, The Love Game, The Joker and The Five Day Lover. All three starred Jean-Pierre Cassel. They were treated with due deference, even reverently, as key products of the sprightly, young, talented and risqué film-makers from France, works to be considered and written about and re-seen like those of Truffaut, Chabrol and Alain Resnais. Godard was a later arrival, Breathless being banned by the imbeciles of the day appointed to the Film Censorship Board.

But when De Broca made his breakthrough, with funding from United Artists, he quickly abandoned quirk and went for ever more lavish comic adventure films. Maybe Cartouche, which I've never seen, was the director at this particular peak. Then the films and the stars got bigger and fatter and longer and less funny and moreÉwell commercial. That Man from Rio was the transition movie and we went to see it expecting something smart and sassy and stylish and instead mostly got just the first of the director's slick commercial products.

Then again there was the gorgeous Dorleac playing opposite a spirited Jean-Paul Belmondo. She almost made it worthwhile. If you've seen her opposite her sister Catherine Deneuve in Jacques Demy's sublime Young Girls of Rochefort you'll know what I mean

They Were Sisters (Arthur Crabtree, UK, 1945, 85 minutes)

This fruity melodrama pops up on the ABC late at night but they have started screening it on the misnamed Movie Greats channel on Foxtel so here's a chance to mention it. The film has a curious mixture of English reserve in the face of massive family dysfunction and wild plotting centering around the personality and antics of James Mason, a possessive cad with a way with a women. Mason latches on to the youngest and plainest of three sisters (after the most beautiful rebuffs him), whisks her off her feet and takes her for his bride. At the wedding he's drunk and uninterested in her. Cut to a decade or so later and Mason has made pots of money and hates his wife and kids. He has turned their lives into miserable existences but of course, this being the thirties wont relinquish them. Propriety still counts. One flighty sister constantly lets the others down and takes up with unsuitable men. Her husband acts bemused. The third, the soul of love and devotion tries to hold the whole catastrophe together. But she cant produce a child and that causes longings and tension and she envies her sisters their fecundity. Then the plot becomes really melodramatic! The harassed sister tries to leave and Mason gets very aggravating and violent. In a way it's a first , of many, step towards Mason's role in Bigger than Life. Along the way he made an art form of playing bitter, twisted, manipulative, humourless men with no morals and no qualms about resorting to violence. Played out within an English middle-class milieu where everyone speaks in BBC accents, the houses are enormous, every family has a bunch of servants and seem to have little or no active work. Fascinating entertainment. Set the recorder.

Three Godfathers (John Ford, USA, 1949, 105 minutes)

Not one of Ford's best known or admired works and noticed always for its sentimentality and religiosity. David Thomson has one word for it –ÒshamelessÓ. It's the story of three bandits who find a baby in the desert and head for safety to the town of New Jerusalem. Now you get the picture. He made it the same year as She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and where that film is regarded as among the director's greatest, Three Godfathers doesn't attract anywhere near that support. But for the completists it's important not just for being directed by Ford but as a film where all that Irish blarney was given full play on a low budget, when the director did not feel constrained to pull any punches, to resist any impulse to lay it on with a trowel. The film plays as one of five in a row starring John Wayne to celebrate his birthday! Among the five are Haunted Gold (1932) and The Big Stampede (1932) both very early examples of Wayne's westerns. Rare screenings butÉ

Time Out/L'Emploi du Temps (Laurent Cantet, France, 2001, 134 minutes)

Cantet's second film, after the brilliant Human Resources, establishes him as the best new talent from France in maybe a decade. He is utterly serious. He tackles the big subject of work and society. It could be dull but it isn't. Vincent is an executive. He loses his job. His interior life crumbles into a fiction. He pretends to his family that he has a new job which requires him to travel to Switzerland. He spends his days driving around, sitting in foyers and eventually trying to insert himself into something like an international Non-Government Organisation. We define ourselves by our work. Vincent's perilous grip on reality, his attempt to integrate this new fantasy into his calm domestic life, is riveting. Cantet is aided by Aurelien Recoing's performance in the lead role but mostly he convinces us by the complete studied sobriety with which he films a man twisting himself in the wind. It's hard to think of a more profound narrative in recent times, one which goes to the heart of middle-class self-esteem and personal satisfaction. A masterpiece.

Tom, Dick and Harry (Garson Kanin, USA, 1941, 86 minutes)

The ABC's Ginger Rogers fetish, or fetishist, strikes again. She made this one for Garson Kanin in the course of the quality streak from 1939 to 1944 that took her through Bachelor Mother, Fifth Avenue Girl, Primrose Path (q.v) Lucky Partners, Kitty Foyle (Oscar!), Roxie Hart, The Major and the Minor (q.v), Once Upon a Honeymoon, Tender Comrade, Lady in the Dark and I'll Be Seeing You. Somebody could run that lot as an homage and not be ashamed, even though there's only one musical among them, the sadly overblown effort to film Kurt Weill's stage masterpiece. Garson Kanin had a golden streak himself as a director but his career gravitated towards work as a writer on a lot more films right through into the 60s and occasionally beyond. He was one of those smart sophisticates and this story of Ginger having to choose from three suitors is cute enough if not his best.

Tomorrow is Forever (Irving Pichel, USA, 1946)

I've never seen this film. It may have been screening on Fox Classics for some time while we were away. But I can say that Bill Collins advised that with this screening he will be presenting it for the last time. Bill gave it his usual rave, as ever making it irresistible in its way. And its leading players incite curiosity - Claudette Colbert, Orson Welles and George Brent. Welles plays a man listed as dead returning home. The young Natalie Wood plays Welles adopted daughter.

Up to His Neck (John Paddy Carstairs, UK, 1954, 85 minutes)

Spare a moment to allow me to explain. A couple of weeks or months ago I happened to record a movie called The Seekers in which Jack Hawkins and Glynis Johns played upright citizens who were  victims of cruel fate and decided to make a new life in nineteenth century New Zealand. Jack becomes a leader of the group and they have an uneasy relationship with the local Maori. This relationship is made even more fraught when Jack succumbs to the gloriously ample charms of the chief's young daughter. They end up hurling themselves at each other and its quite a spectacle, especially as the young daughter has to dance a very lubricious dance and then seduces Jack after diving naked into the sea before him. I have no idea whether the censors of the day allowed us the sight now available of Laya Raki, allegedly a part-Javanese princess, momentarily baring herself before Jack's astonished eyes. The scene is so memorable that, even fifty years later, there are websites devoted to it. Now someone who knows, told me they met Laya once, she was married to the Aussie actor Ron Randell. She was Ôa bit obvious' according to this impeccable source but nevertheless she carved out a career for herself playing Ôobvious femmes fatales' for a decade or so. Now she's also in Up to his Neck,  playing along side Ronald Shiner, a Brit comedian who had his own brief flirtation with fame in a series of Rank comedies. I cant wait to see what she gets up to!

29 Palms (Bruno Dumont, France, 2002, 90 minutes)

Bruno Dumont is one of those bold, shocking, audacious new French directors. Gaspar Noe and the early Francois Ozon were also in the category. Dumont's first two films The Life of Jesus (1997) and L'Humanite (1999) were both shocking and at certain moments quite difficult to watch. But the latter is a masterpiece, no matter how harrowing the experience of watching it. For his third film he took off to make a road movie in America. That became 29 Palms (2003) and I think it showed only at the Melbourne Film Festival before it disappeared. It's now started screening on Foxtel and this is my first opportunity to see it. The program guide says, informatively, ÒThriller. Chris O'Donnell. MA vÓ which is all very helpful. The fact it is screening in the early hours of the morning suggests that it's not a ratings winner but out of curiosity you would have to set the recorder just to keep up with the work of someone who is a major talent at the forefront of the quality end of modern French cinema.

Va Savoir (Jacques Rivette, France, 2001, 155 minutes)

We've seen only a small part of Rivette's output over the more than forty years that he has been making films. Only two have been released commercially Celine and Julie Go Boating and La Belle Noiseuse. Some others have been shown at the festivals but by no means all of them. This year I think the Melbourne festival screened his latest The Story of Marie and Julien. They are trickling out on DVD in the States and the UK so hopefully the opportunity to see them all will eventuate. In the meantime, there is a chance to see Va Savoir one of his lighter and more playful efforts and one which returns yet again to the life of actors and the theatre. The basic premise is pretty simple. A woman (Jeanne Balibar) is returning to Paris playing the lead for an Italian theatre company. Her lover/director (Sergio Castellito) is using the time to seek out a rare manuscript. Love and mystery begin to slowly develop. Rivette's themes of secrets, conspiracies and betrayals start to play out. It's shorter than some of his films but still runs at a very leisurely pace. Only in France is such film-making even contemplated let alone encouraged, funded and produced.

Vodka Lemon (Armenia, 2003, 85 minutes)

I haven't seen Vodka Lemon but David Stratton has recommended I watch it when I get the chance. It may have played last year's or the year before's film festivals as well so there may be others among you who know of it. The Foxtel program guide, (which has stopped listing the names of the directors of films on the World Movies Channel no doubt on the basis that they dont think any one would be interested in having that sort of advance information), describes it as "a journey of laughter in a post-Communist world". So there, now you know. In the meantime take a punt when it screens this month if you have World Movies or await its arrival on SBS sometime in the next year.

What's New, Pussycat? (Clive Donner, UK, 1965)

As far as I know this is the only Woody Allen movie, of any substance at least, not available on DVD. Correct me if I'm wrong. I think its Woody's first film credit as actor and writer. It's set in Paris and, from those many years ago when last seen, one joke sticks in the memory - the one where Woody talks about his job helping the girls get dressed at the Folies Bergere and the amount of money involved. Peter Sellers plays a lunatic long-haired psychiatrist living in a splendid art nouveau mansion, endlessly pursuing women. Peter O'Toole, priapism personified, is endlessly pursued by women. O'Toole goes to the doctor for help. ÒIs there any sex in it?Ó the psychiatrist asks.

Andrew Sarris immediately compared Woody to Preston Sturges on the basis of this film. At his greatest (Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanours, Manhattan to name my favourite three) it was praise that was warranted. Sadly his films have fallen away and it may be that Woody was at his best when his libido was at its strongest and he didn't mind more than a bit of vulgarity. In those films he was able to make us laugh by a continuous narrative of seriously funny jokes about sex.

Of course, What's New Pussycat also starred Ursula Andress, she whose silken form hardly needed airbrushing. She was the most gorgeous woman of her era and in an interview in ÒMovieÓ, Clive Donner remarked, in a very knowing way, how much he'd enjoyed working with her.

What Time is it There? (Tsai Ming-Liang, Taiwan, 2001 116 minutes)

Tsai is an acquired taste. Maybe he's also a test. If you like his films you leap to a level of cinephilia not often reached. It's a test with historic roots. The Von Sternberg/Dietrich films, Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Godard post-68, Pasolini's Salo would be the sort of precedent films. He's oblique, off-centre, filled with cinephiliac points of reference and often his drama reaches quite absurd and disorienting levels. This one is a case in point. A young man obsesses about a girl to whom he sold a wristwatch just before she was due to fly to Paris. He then turns his world upside down, including setting every clock he can find to Paris time. Jean-Pierre Leaud appears both in his early incarnation as Antoine Doinel and in the present as an aging roué. Maybe not the best film to start any consideration of Tsai's career but still SBS is the only place, apart from the festivals, where you'll ever see his films and you have to take them as they come.

White Heat (Raoul Walsh, USA, 1949, 114 minutes))

Gentleman Jim (Raoul Walsh, USA, 1942, 104 minutes)

Manpower (Raul Walsh, USA, 1941, 102 minutes)

The Roaring Twenties (Raoul Walsh, USA, 1939, 104 minutes)

It's the anniversary of Walsh's birthday so the TCM program column tells us. He lived to the ripe old age of 94 and would be 118 if he were still alive today. His work is going the distance. He made his last film A Distant Trumpet at 76. Even dead he could probably direct films with more robust energy and more feeling than some of the hotshots working now. But Walsh spent most of his career and his life in near oblivion as a hardworking journeyman at Warners, overlooked by all including the Academy. David Thomson makes the telling point that in 1949 William Wellman's Battleground was nominated for Best Picture and Richard Todd nominated for Best Actor. Yet that was the year of White Heat starring James Cagney. The French rescued him and Thomson quotes Jean Douchet to make clear the awe in which the director was held: ÒA force of nature directs the forces of nature and suddenly the world lives on – whirlwind and passion. It is time to consider Walsh as rather more than a tough guy, a fellow who likes to laugh, a primitive with rough sentiments. This passionate Shakespearean is a physical film-maker only because he depicts a world of spiritual turmoil. His characters are projected on the world by their own energy and committed to a space that exists only for their actions, fury, spirit, craft, ambition and unbridled dreams.Ó Who could put it better. Whomever decided to pay homage to the director knows their stuff. The four films chosen are very definitely four of his best. Considering his prolific output, the arguments would be interminable as to his four best films but those chosen show some of his range and, as well, show how he could get the best out of the Warner contract players. Cagney, Bogart, Flynn and Edward G Robinson were rarely better than in the films on display here. Sit yourself down to a marathon evening.

Whisky (Juan Pablo Rebella & Pablo Stell, Uruguay, 2004, 94 minutes)

I can't recall but I think I alerted people to this when it was having its first screening on World Movies. When I did so I hadn't seen it but it came with some high quality recommendations following its screening at the Brisbane Film Festival and an international reputation developed from prize-winning screenings at Cannes, Pusan and Chicago. (It makes you wonder why it is that Uruguay can produce films of this calibre and we cant but that's a story for another day.) I've now seen the film and it truly is something special. From the simplest story, a factory owner asks his main female employee if she will pretend to be his wife when his brother, now a successful business man living in Brazil, visits him for a funeral service. The woman of course, an almost saintly figure then changes herself and the men in ways that they could never have contemplated. Its sad/funny, especially in the moments where the lugubrious pretend husband has to affect enjoyment, and there is enigma and mystery abounding right through to the end that tantalise you. Where does she go? What was in the letter. In years gone by a film like this might have made a modest impact in the art houses but now it seems its restricted to screenings at our most adventurous film festival before it heads for TV. That way nobody gets to review it. In a year or so it will pass on to SBS probably to be ignored all over again. Oh woe..what's happening out there.

The White Tower (Ted Tetzlaff, USA, 1950, 98 minutes)

I had not taken much notice of Ted Tetzlaff until I recently saw The Window again at one of the Chauvel's cinematheque screenings. My goodness that film packs a narrative punch and indicates a director who knows how to build and sustain tension. I haven't seen The White Tower an alpine rescue drama with Glenn Ford, Alida Valli, Claude Rains, Lloyd Bridges, Oscar Homolka and Cedric Hardwicke. Quite a cast, suggesting a major A-list title, at least in its ambition. According to The RKO Story it was originally intended to be directed by Edward Dmytryk but the HUAC hearings intervened and Dmytryk and producer Adrian Scott were yanked off the project.

Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself (Lone Scherfig, Denmark, 2002, 110 minutes)

When this film had a commercial season a couple of years ago I was absolutely knocked over by it. I wrote some notes about it for Canberra's Muse and I don't think I have changed my mind from thinking that, as I said then, there are occasions when you come across film-making that is a world apart from the mindlessness of most of today's new films. Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself is one such. It is the story of a young single mother who marries a man for warmth and security and falls in love with his brother – a suicidal wreck of a man with such a winning demeanour that even his counsellor hurls herself at him. Each relationship is tinged with a gnawing sense that there is something missing, a sense that no matter how much love one person might offer there is just the prospect that something more profound is lurking out there. Lone Scherfig sets up this ménage in the common suburbs of Glasgow, not the most romantic place in the world. The drabness is part of the attraction. Apart from Wilbur, none of the characters find much to laugh about either, though that's not the same for the audience who watch these characters writhe about in their searches with some amusement.

A Woman¹s Secret (Nicholas Ray, USA 1949 85 minutes)

This is one of Nicholas Ray's most under-rated films. It's based on a script by Herman Mankiewicz and as it progresses it becomes increasingly odd and very witty ineed. Maureen O'hara kills Gloria Grahame in the first minute and the flashbacks tell you what happened. Jealousy plays a big part as O'Hara tried to mould Grahame into the star she could never be. But who is the woman with the secret. Aha. Grahame sings a couple of very nice songs though I suspect it wasn't her voice. Ray always made the best of this sort of melodramatic material. It wasn't to be his forte but this was only his second film (his first They Live By Night is much better) and in those days you made whatever the studio sent over. Gloria Grahame was a revelation and she went on to become a very striking talent who never quite made it to star level.

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Pedro Almodovar, Spain, 1988, 89 minutes) & All About My Mother (Pedro Almodovar, Spain, 1999, 106 minutes)

This is a wonderful double-bill, lead off by a rare screening of Women on the Verge introduced by Andrew Urban as part of the channel's 25 films to see before you die. Actually you should see all of Almodovar's films before you die and, unlike many directors, he's getting better the older and wiser he gets. I haven't seen Women on the Verge since its first release but it was his breakthrough film, the one that the big international distributors grabbed and released far beyond the single art house screens that up to then were his lot. It was funny, playful and feminist, a marked change from the previous attempts to shock and a move away from the explicit gay themes of some (most?) of his earlier films. All About My Mother is on a higher plane. Almodovar's recent work has used melodrama, and its associated elements of contrivance and coincidence, to produce rich tales. This one is about loss and recovery, the loss being that of a mother whose son is killed in an accident and who sets out to try and reconnect with some key parts of her life. With this film, Talk to Her and Bad Education Almodovar is clearly on a very hot streak. He is one of the handful of directors working today who never ceases to amaze and surprise.

Yellow Sky (William Wellman, USA, 1951, 98 minutes) & The Oxbow Incident (William Wellman, USA, 1943, 75 minutes)

Wellman's movies are coming at us in a rush. Then again he did make close to a hundred or so in a career that stretched from 1923 to 1958. Only a couple of weeks ago I mentioned that it might be an idea to catch Magic Town his 1947 effort that on viewing came across as a sort of sub-Frank Capra effort. It was in fact written and produced by Robert Riskin who wrote a couple of Capra's great pictures. These two films are at the centre of Wellman's reputation whether it be for good or ill. The Oxbow Incident in particular is regarded by many as a short terse masterpiece about the evil of mob rule. Others like Andrew Sarris, who relegated Wellman to ÒLess than Meets the EyeÓ status in his book on the American cinema, are more dismissive. Sarris singles out the film for particular condemnation saying it Òlooks grotesque today with its painted backdrops treated like the natural vistas in a Ford WesternÓ. Yellow Sky is a more conventional good guys and bad guys western with an absolutely stellar cast. Gregory Peck, Anne Baxter, Richard Widmark feature among others. The script is by Lamar Trotti and it's adapted from a story by W R Burnett who wrote the novels on which The Asphalt Jungle, Little Caesar and Dark Command were based, as well as the scripts of a couple of dozen other films

Youth Runs Wild (Mark Robson, USA, 1944, 67 minutes)/The Ghost Ship (Mark Robson, USA, 1943, 69 minutes)

Youth Runs Wild  is a genuine oddity, a non-horror or non/fantasy from producer Val Lewton and a distinct change from his greatest works. Its about parents leaving children to their own devices (because they're working for the war effort) and it goes into the usual stuff about kids headed for delinquency. Or does it. There's some dispute. For the completists interested in Lewton's career at RKO, where he made his best films, its interesting for that alone. David Thomson pays it some attention in his note on Lewton, one of the few producers to get an entry in his Biographical Dictionary, calling it Ôan adventurous departure in subject about teenage reaction to the war'. The film is followed by another, though lesser, Lewton production, again directed by Mark Robson, about a sea captain going mad and terrorizing his crew. I looked up the RKO Story on both films and discovered an interesting fact. When that tome was published The Ghost Ship had not been able to be screened, legally at least, for years because of a plagiarism suit brought against RKO. I guess  its been resolved since though the book says that RKO lost the case.

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