Lindsay Anderson‘s masterpiece, If…., is finally given a DVD release in the UK in June. Anderson’s film—the dramatic resistance to authority by three boys at an unnamed British school—was made in 1968 but I didn’t get to see it until (as I recall) 1977. I was 15 at the time and feeling increasingly desperate and hidebound by school-life so this film was explosive in its psychological impact as well as its story (that grenade on the poster was very apt). Given my age and the year, I’m supposed to have cult yearnings toward the wretched Star Wars but it was If…. that made the lasting impression.


Poster for the 2002 re-release.

If…. was important for a number of reasons, not all of them obvious during that first viewing. I didn’t go to an all-boys public school (note for Americans: “public school” in Britain actually means an expensive, private establishment) but my grammar school had been an all-boys place a few years before I arrived. Some teachers wore gowns at assembly and many of the older teachers there were of a rigid, brutalist mindset exactly like the ones in Anderson’s film. Bullying was endemic, uniform rules were enforced to a degree that would make an army colonel proud and you stood out from the crowd at your peril; I had friends there but I hated every minute. So here comes young Malcolm McDowell on the television screen, effortlessly charismatic and insouciant in his first film role, portraying the ultimate Luciferan rebel, one who (as Anderson writes in the screenplay preface below) says “No” in the face of overwhelming odds. Reader, I identified so very much…. The famous ending (borrowed from Jean Vigo’s Zéro de Conduite) where Mick and the other “Crusaders” fire guns and throw grenades at the rest of the school was headily wish-fulfilling. (And given recent events, you’ll also see below that Anderson and screenwriter David Sherwin regarded that ending as metaphorical, not literal.)

Continue reading “If….”

The Angelic Conversation


Title by John Dee, words by William Shakespeare, narration by Judi Dench and music by Coil; Derek Jarman’s oneiric film/poem is released on DVD, along with two other works.

The BFI releases three Derek Jarman films together—Caravaggio (1986), Wittgenstein (1993) and The Angelic Conversation (1985)—all digitally restored and re-mastered for DVD and each with extensive and illuminating extra features.

The films were made with the BFI Production Board, whose aim was to foster innovation in British filmmaking, thus providing a natural home for Jarman’s artistic sensibility. These three films represent highpoints in his career and are perhaps the most enduring in their appeal and relevance to contemporary audiences.

Intense, dreamlike, and poetic, The Angelic Conversation is one of the most artistic of Derek Jarman’s films. With his painter’s eye, Jarman conjured, in a beautiful palette of light, colour and texture, an evocative and radical visualisation of Shakespeare’s love poems.

Of the 154 sonnets written by Shakespeare, most were written to an unnamed young man, commonly referred to as the Fair Youth. Here, Judi Dench’s emotive readings of 14 sonnets are coupled with ethereal sequences; figures on seashores, by streams and in colourful gardens. The disruption of these magical scenes with images of barren and threatening landscapes echoes perfectly the celebration and torment of love explored in the sonnets.

Shot on Super-8 before being transferred to 35mm film, the unique technical approach results in a striking aesthetic, with Coil’s languorous soundtrack completing the intoxicating effect.

Previously on { feuilleton }
James Bidgood
Kenneth Anger on DVD…finally
Un Chant d’Amour by Jean Genet

The Brothers Quay on DVD


A very welcome release, these are some of my favourite films (I reviewed Street of Crocodiles for Horror: the Definitive Guide to the Cinema of Fear earlier this year). Most of the early ones can be found on the Region 1 release from Kino International but that collection is poorly transferred and the interface has a fault that renders it almost unusable on a computer. The supplementary material on this new collection seems especially good.

Quay Brothers – The Short Films 1979-2003
UK 1979-2003. Dir Quay Brothers. Colour and b&w. cert 12
Disc 1: 134 mins + 60 mins commentary Disc 2: 121 mins. Ratio 1.33:1
Buy now on DVD (£24.99)

The BFI has collaborated with the inimitable Quay Brothers to release a truly comprehensive compilation of their short films on DVD; a world first. The Quays were extensively involved with the preparation of the DVD, personally supervising the transfers, recording commentaries on selected titles, and contributing an exclusive 20-minute illustrated video interview.

This two-disc set, in deluxe packaging, collects 13 of the Quay Brothers’ short films, spanning 24 years, in brand new restored and re-mastered editions (six of them with new Quay commentaries), plus a collection of ‘footnotes’ including interviews, alternative versions, unrealised pilot projects and more. An accompanying illustrated colour booklet features an encyclopaedic guide to the Quays’ universe, plus the original illustrated treatment for their best-known film Street of Crocodiles.

Born in Philadelphia and based in London, but with a creative sensibility derived from the remoter corners of Eastern Europe, identical twin animators the Quay Brothers have produced a unique body of work, and have also made a major contribution towards establishing the puppet film as a serious adult art form.

Filtering a huge range of literary, musical, cinematic and philosophical influences through their own utterly distinctive sensibility, each Quay film is a dialogue-free and usually non-narrative experience, riveting the attention through hypnotic control of décor, music and movement. With a grasp of the uncanny that rivals Luis Buñuel and Lewis Carroll, their films evoke half-remembered dreams and long-suppressed childhood memories, fascinating and deeply unsettling by turns.

The collection ranges from their very first puppet film Nocturna Artificialia (1979) to the recent The Phantom Museum (2003). In between there are all the classics: The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer (1984), a tribute to their great Czech counterpart; This Unnameable Little Broom (1985), a reduction of the Epic of Gilgamesh into a ten-minute frenzy; their acknowledged masterpiece Street of Crocodiles (1986), a visualisation of the labyrinthine world of Polish author Bruno Schulz; the tantalisingly suggestive Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies (1987) and The Comb (1990); the playful documentary Anamorphosis (1991), uncovering hidden meanings in outwardly conventional paintings; the Stille Nacht quartet (1988-94) of twisted music videos, and In Absentia (2000), their acclaimed collaboration with composer Karlheinz Stockhausen.

The second disc, ‘Footnotes’, contains numerous extras including a newly commissioned filmed interview, distinctive idents for the BFI and BBC2, the satirical short The Summit (1995) and a rare ‘acting’ appearance (albeit in stills) in a clip from Peter Greenaway’s The Falls.

The DVD has been produced by the BFI’s Michael Brooke, Content Developer for Screenonline, the BFI’s extensive online resource dedicated to the history of British film and television. To tie in with the release, Screenonline will be providing extensive background material for each individual title, together with a biography and filmography of the Quays.

Disc 1 – The Films

The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer (1984)
*This Unnameable Little Broom (1985)
*Street of Crocodiles (1986)
Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies (1987)
*Stille Nacht I – Dramolet (1988)
The Comb (1990)
Anamorphosis (1991)
*Stille Nacht II – Are We Still Married? (1992)
*Stille Nacht III – Tales From Vienna Woods (1993)
Stille Nacht IV – Can’t Go Wrong Without You (1994)
*In Absentia (2000)
The Phantom Museum (2003)

Disc 2 – Footnotes

Filmed introduction by the Quays
Nocturna Artificialia (1979)
The Calligrapher (1991)
The Summit (1995)
Archive Interview (2000)
The Falls (1980)
BFI ident
Alternative versions
*With new commentary by the Quay Brothers recorded for this DVD.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The Quay Brothers archive


cockfighter.jpgCockfighter is a film by Monte Hellman from American cinema’s great decade (the Seventies) that we’re not allowed to see in this country because it contains cruelty to chickens. This week the Edinburgh International Film Festival halted a planned screening after being informed it contravened a 1937 law:

Change to Programmed Performance: Cockfighter

Mon 21 Aug 2006

Due to interesting circumstances we are unable to screen COCKFIGHTER (70’s retrospective) on TUESDAY 22 August.

This will be replaced by Monte Hellman’s TWO LANE BLACKTOP (1971) in a spanking new preservation print. Huge thanks to Universal for giving us this and to the BFI for help in sourcing it.

COCKFIGHTER contains scenes which contravene the CINEMATOGRAPHIC FILMS(Animals) ACT 1937 whereby it is a criminal offence to screen the film to the public (whether they pay or not).

We apologise for the disappointment this may cause. The film was never certificated in the UK because it was impossible to deliver a cut that would not contravene the Act.

We were unaware of this combination of circumstances when we programmed the film.

We’re not chicken; it’s the cinema license holder who would prosecuted and as that isn’t me, I’d prefer to take the prudent route.

Ginnie Atkinson, Managing Director, EIFF

Monte Hellman is a serious director and the film has been lauded by other directors and critics such as Alex Cox who praise Hellman’s direction and Warren Oates’ performance. The screenplay was by Charles Willeford based on his novel and the film also features Harry Dean Stanton who was in Hellman’s earlier Two Lane Blacktop.

While I’m not desperate to see chickens pecking and clawing themselves to death, I’d prefer to be allowed a choice of whether I can or not. For some reason odd films like this get singled out yet other films of the period that contain images of violence to animals get by. Offhand I can think of the shooting and slaughter of a buffalo in Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout, chickens having their heads shot off in Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, and the slow-motion slaughter of a caribou in Apocalypse Now. The Guardian says:

A BBFC spokesman said that The [Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act 1937] made it illegal to show any scene which was organised or directed for the purpose of the film involving cruelty to animals. The Act was originally introduced following complaints that horses were deliberately made to fall in Hollywood westerns.

This seems inconsistent given that the Peckinpah film certainly had chickens killed for the purposes of that scene. Maybe it’s not counted as cruelty if you blow off their heads rather than let them attack each other? I wonder how many of the people who’ve enforced this rule over the years have been chicken eaters? Anyway, this nonsense aside, Anchor Bay has had the film available on DVD for a while and Willeford’s novel is also in print.



Poster design by Albin Grau.

Friedrich Murnau’s Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror (1922) isn’t the first horror film but it’s certainly the first truly effective one which is why it’s been so influential over the years, inspiring a remake by Werner Herzog (1979), the vampire’s appearance in Salem’s Lot (1979), Coppola’s Dracula (1992), and a fictionalised account of its creation in Shadow of the Vampire (2000).

The Internet Archive have a copy available as a free download. If you’ve never seen it then this is your chance since silent films rarely turn up on TV. Many early films exist in multiple versions due to the vagaries of film storage (different cuts, decaying prints, etc). Nosferatu was nearly destroyed altogether after a successful lawsuit by Bram Stoker’s widow, Florence, which means that all the prints are in a less than satisfactory condition. My own favourite is the BFI edition (which DVD now seems to be deleted), taken from the definitive “Bologna” restoration, with scenes tinted throughout (as silent films often were) and with a tremendous new score by Hammer composer James Bernard.

Murnau went on to make better films but Nosferatu retains an uncanny power owing to the rare combination of the director’s technical brilliance and Albin Grau’s fabulous vampire design, worlds away from Stoker’s sinister aristocrat. This is the place where cinema showed it could fully compete with horror fiction by summoning its own archetypes from the recesses of the imagination.