- Thursday, 01 December 2011
FRENCH CANCAN (BFI). The 1954 Jean Renoir French film. Young woman (Francoise Arnoul) has to choose between working in a laundry and marrying a young baker or becoming the mistress of a womanising impresario (Jean Gabin) and dancing the cancan at the Moulin Rouge. Decisions, decisions! It’s all very pretty, very bright, very cheerful and very, very studio-bound. The memorable climax (great fun and well worth the wait), lasts 20 non-stop dazzling minutes and is an exuberant, exhilarating cancan, with whirling lifted skirts, black-stockings, garters and endless splits.
THE ROCKING HORSE WINNER (Spirit). A watchable adaptation of a D H Lawrence’s cruel short fairy story: a little boy has a gift for picking out race-winners when he rides his rocking-horse. He wants to pay off his mother’s debts. John Howard Davies (who played Oliver Twist in the David Lean film) is the unloved boy, Valerie Hobson is his stony-hearted mother, John Mills is his confidant and the splendid Ronald Squire is his uncle.
KING LEAR (Mr Bongo). Shakespeare in Russian: this 1970 film version is infinitely superior to the Peter Brook‑Paul Scofield film, which was merely a filmed stage version. What director Grigori Kozintsev, does is to actually show the nation’s poor naked wretches, thus giving even greater force to Lear's prayer in the storm. Yuri Jarvet, a memorable Lear, may look but a shadow of his former self, but he is undeniably still a king, intellectually and charismatically. The photography has a dark, somber power.
HAMLET (Mr Bongo). More Shakespeare in Russian. Innokenty Smoktunovsky is the Prince. The most striking thing about Grigori Kozintsev’s 1964 film is that it really is a film. The photography and the production are in every way superior to the performances. This must in fact be the first Hamlet I’ve seen where I have been much more interested in the setting than in the hero. The action is played out against an unfamiliar and glittering Elsinore. Michael Nazwanov’s Claudius is one of the best.
LITTLE MALCOLM (BFI). 1974 low-budget film version of David Halliwell’s play, a surreal satire on grubby students and their grubby student protests, which begins by being amusing but gets nastier and nastier as it goes on. There is an extraordinary performance by the young John Hurt as an expelled art student who fantasizes about being a fascist dictator. You wonder why Hurt has never played Hitler.
VOICE OVER (BFI). Psychological breakdown: author of radio serial can no longer distinguish between reality and fiction and spirals downwards. Chris Monger’s very low-budget, very self-indulgent, over-long and extremely off-putting film outraged feminists on its release in 1981. I cannot think of anybody I would want to recommend it to.
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