Sunday, 27 September 2009

London, Capital of Film

Right now feels like a great time to be a film fan living in London. October is always an exciting time due to the London Film Festival, which seems to be going from strength-to-strength (and this year is no exception). But in addition to the looming 53rd LFF there are also a number of other great film events currently going on in the capital. Take, for instance, The National Gallery's Paradise Lost film season, which started on Saturday with Jerzy Kawalerowicz's 1961 masterpiece Mother Joan of the Angels, and which continues over the next couple of months with two classic Bergman's (Through a Glass Darkly and Winter Light), Bresson's masterful Procès de Jeanne d'Arc and my favourite Buñuel (Simon of the Desert), amongst several others. Meanwhile, over at the Tate Modern there's the UK's first retrospective of the acclaimed Portuguese filmmaker Pedro Costa. According to Sight & Sound's recent article on Costa, DVDs of his work are going to start trickling their way into the UK market (his debut, O Sangue is now available courtesy of Second Run), but this retrospective offers a great opportunity to discover these hard-to-see films on the big screen. I find it interesting that these two great seasons are happening in art galleries and not in cinemas, and I wonder what it says about the cinema scene in the UK – but that's a topic for another day.

So, what else there to be excited about? Well (in a facetious way) how about the new monthly
networking and screening night that I'm running? No? Okay, well, on a more serious note, how about a Barbican 'Directorspective' on Wojciech Has? In my opinion, Has is one of the most cruelly overlooked directors of all time. In recent years, his work seems to have been undergoing something of a 'rediscovery' thanks to Martin Scorsese's and Francis Ford Coppola's restoration of The Saragossa Manuscript which was first released in 2001, and which enjoyed an extended run at the BFI at the end of 2007, swiftly followed by Mr Bongo's DVD release. Featured in none of the many film books in my collection, it seems like Has has been largely and unfairly sidelined in the history of cinema when, based on the four films I've seen by him, he really deserves to be right up there in the 'canon' of master filmmakers. Split between psychological realism and more surrealist work, his oeuvre seems to be crying out for a true reappraisal and adoption into the ranks of the 'canon'. Hopefully this retrospective (which is also touring to other cities the UK) will help others to discover the work of a filmmaker who has provided acknowledged inspiration for directors like Luis Buñuel, David Lynch, Lars von Trier and Martin Scorsese (all of whom have, at times, described The Saragossa Manuscript as their favorite film). A work of poetic beauty and magical realism, I'd easily also recommend it to fans of writers such as Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges.

The events that I'm mentioning here are, of course, not the only things happening in London film-wise, but with all this going on how can anyone have time to do anything else? Before finishing I'll return (briefly) to where I came in...

The LFF line-up does seem very strong this year. I've managed to get a press pass for the festival and intend to write about everything I see in one way or another, so I'll be posting articles, capsule reviews or links up here as and when I can/want to. A few of the films I'm especially excited about and therefore very much hoping to see are (in no particular order):
The Portuguese Nun (because of Kieron Corless' comments in the latest Sight & Sound), Father of My Children (because it's based loosely on the life of producer Humbert Balsan), Alexander the Last and Beeswax (because I like these kinds of films), Laila (because it's directed by George Schnéevoigt, who shot four of Dreyer's silent films), The Informant! (okay, so the trailer is terrible, but Soderbergh is still yet to make a bad film, so I have faith...), The Men Who Stare at Goats (because Grant Heslov did great work on Good Night, and Good Luck and Unscripted), The Road (because The Proposition was a masterpiece), and The Touch (because it's Bergman).

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