Friday, 27 November 2009

politics and film

I was bewildered today (Friday 27th Nov) to hear several mentions on Radio 4 and the World Service of "the Israeli-led blockade [sic] of Gaza".  Dare one ask precisely who is 'following' where the Israelis lead? Seems like it's the BBC!

But enough on corrupt politics, dodgy reporting and rhetoric, and the manifest abuses of power: let's have far more political honesty, humanism and cinematic artistry. In these last three areas a couple of previously rare, quite brilliant screen gems by Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo are now available in painstakingly restored copies on DVD, along with some witty and revealing interviews. The two films in question are It Happened Here (1956-64, not released till 1966)) and Winstanley (1975) With beautiful black and white cinematography, and movingly acted, for the most part by non-professionals, both films reflect the idealism, energy and youthful enthusiasm of their makers. Yet it's amazing that either was made at all: what with minuscule budgets, low or no salaries, and meticulous, authentic period-design (for the 1940s and 1640s respectively), and filming always on location and generally part-time! Indeed, it's clear that their making involved a quasi-fanatical commitment and obsessive determination against the odds. As to the dramatic subject matter of these films, whose own production histories are as extraordinary and fascinating as the violent eras of upheaval they deal with, I'll say no more here except to urge everyone to make the effort to see them. They surely rank with the best and most poetic British cinema of the past 50 years, alongside the work of such creative, independent spirits as Bill Douglas and Terence Davies.

Also recommended are Kevin Brownlow's memoir, How It Happened Here (1968), recently reissued, and his masterly personal chronicle of the silent screen, The Parade's Gone By (1968). The former relates how the 18 year old Brownlow came to make his highly original first feature and what happened to it. The latter book, a monumental and impeccably researched work containing unique stills and interviews with all sorts of stalwarts of the silent movies, from stars to stand-ins and technicians, belongs in every filmlover's library. I remember reading the MS. for a publisher in the late 1960s: despite my most enthusiastic recommendation, I couldn't persuade that particular firm to publish Kevin's manuscript. No, it was 'uncommercial', 'too long', 'too limited in appeal', etc… Luckily a rival firm soon snapped up this wonderful book, which has remained in print ever since and taken its rightful place as one of a handful of indispensable accounts of the pioneers of cinema.

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