Film in Detail
A deeper look at the films that matter - and more fantastic movies you might enjoy too.
Film-maker Gary Hustwit's first documentary, Helvetica, was an in-depth exploration of graphic design although it might not sound like the stuff of a smash hit, his celebration of the Helvetica font you can find on any word processing programme quickly became a cult sensation.
His second, Objectified, is about industrial design. Who makes the hundreds of objects we use each day (from an iPod to a toothbrush to a shower)? How much thought has gone into each object? And how much happier are we to be surrounded by visually-pleasing things? Huswit doesn't pretend to be an expert in the field of design but he does confess to an enduring love of both new technology and classic design which means that he always has his eye on the next Apple gadget but also appreciates the lasting beauty of a mid-century modern chair.
Huswit points out that the term "objectified" has two basic meanings. One is "to be treated with the status of a mere object" and the other is "something abstract expressed in a concrete form". The latter is what a designer does on a daily basis have an idea and bring it to life by creating a three-dimensional object. Huswit's great skill is in bringing inanimate objects to life actually making us care about the handle on a vegetable peeler!
We see consultants brainstorming about a toothbrush with replaceable bristles. We meet an engineer who compares cars to classical sculptures and another who thinks the cars we drive reflect our vision of ourselves. There is also a serious nod to the environment how to design in a world where recycling and effective disposal of old models are vital? At one point there's a depressing image of a street in New Jersey, America which is littered with discarded appliances half-covered in snow. The problem is clear. How do we feed our insatiable appetite for new objects without replacing existing ones that are in perfectly good condition?
Objectified is not, of course, the only documentary to ask such questions. While Hurwitz's film is pretty much a celebration of our love of nice things, earlier documentaries such as Manufactured Landscapes show a more challenging vision of our industrialised world. Here we see artist Edward Burtons as he photographs the lasting effects of the endless cycle of industrial revolutions on the planet. Manufactured Landscapes is simultaneously beautiful and shocking: Burtons travels to China to capture images of the Three Gorges Dam, a useful industrial site maybe but one that displaced over a million people. There is clearly a price to pay for our love of nice things...
A lost Jacques Tati classic is brought back to life.
There have been many filmmakers who have overstepped the mark – who have shot for the moon only to find themselves plummeting spectacularly to earth.
American director Michael Cimino once bankrupted an entire studio with Heaven's Gate, his follow-up to the multiple-Oscar winning epic The Deer Hunter, while Terry Gilliam (Time Bandits, Twelve Monkeys has made a career of crashing-and-burning (yet somehow still often manages to talk the Hollywood bigwigs into putting up the cash for his next project).
But it's hard to imagine any of these obsessive creative geniuses bowing out in a televised Swedish circus, clowning to camera as jugglers juggle, yodellers yodel and fat men fall all on their faces. But that's the strange tale of Jacques Tati's Parade...
Tati was a visionary. If you've seen Mr Bean's Holiday, then imagine its star Rowan Atkinson not only acting, but writing, directing and scrabbling around for the money to produce it, and then you begin to get an idea of how talented he was.
Bean can be seen as a direct descendent of the legendary Frenchman. Over the course of 25 years, usually employing his largely silent, bumbling character Monsieur Hulot, Tati became one of the most popular French comedians in his own country, and maybe the world - his Mon Oncle won the Best Foreign Language Film in 1959.
But over those 25 years, Tati only made six features. This was down to an obsessive perfectionism that in the end scuppered his career. Playtime, his amazing satire on technology, took three years to make. He sank much of his own money into the huge, dazzling sets, and the film is said to have broken him financially as well as making it almost impossible for him to get future projects off the ground.
Beset by money problems, Tati went on to make only two more films – the last of which was Parade. Filmed on a low budget for a Swedish TV company as repayment for money loaned for Trafic, the final movie he made before this one, it is in effect a recording of a circus performance with the great man himself the master of ceremonies and, of course, chief clown.
Rarely seen except on the odd scratchy video, this “lost film” has now been fully restored and re-released. The human dynamo postman of Tati's first film Jour de Fête is now an older man, but Tati still seems full of energy - revisiting his origins as a mime and stage comedian in the 1930s, which was where Mr Hulot came from in the first place.
Jacques Tati never made another film – making Parade a poignant end to the career of a hugely influential filmmaker who, rather than crash to earth, had quietly returned home.
Find out about the weird, witty and wonderful French classic from the 60s, which has just been re-issued on the big screen.
The French film-maker Jean-Luc Godard is one of the most influential directors in the history of cinema. But his films have a reputation for being "difficult" - they disregard the rules of storytelling, combine documentary-style footage with flights of fancy and surrealism, they're politically confrontational, and they make lengthy references to films and novels, many of which we won't be familiar with.
His 1965 film Pierrot le Pierrot Le Fou does all these things. It is bracingly experimental, and it will challenge your idea of what a movie is and should be. But stay with it. Because Pierrot le Fou is one of the great films of the past 50 years, and it has a style that is infectious and a melancholy view of romantic relationships that will leave only the hardest of folk untouched.
The story is simple enough. Married to a rich Italian, TV executive Ferdinand (Jean-Paul Belmondo) runs off with former lover Marianne (Anna Karina), and two hit the road for the South of France, where they plan to live out a life of romantic happy-ever-after. But Marianne may also have committed a murder, and once in the South, she is tracked down by her criminal associates. All the while, the relationship between Ferdinand and Marianne is breaking down, and it seems their time together is doomed to end badly.
Godard tells this straightforward story with incredible daring. A former movie critic, he directs a little like a DJ mixing music, sampling existing movies to form something entirely new. Instead of acting "naturally", Belmondo and Karina will, for instance, re-enact a Laurel and Hardy routine when they rob a garage a scene as charming as it is ridiculous. Other movies are "quoted", as are art history, comic-strips, and political events, while characters will break into song or directly address the audience. Meanwhile dialogue will be totally made up of advertising slogans. It's a magpie approach that encourages us to think about the make-believe at the heart of all films, even the most "realistic" ones. And yet there's nothing preachy about Pierrrot le Fou. Godard and his cast improvised much of the later scenes, and this sense of spontaneity is evident in the film's giddy, playful fun..
But for all its wit and sophistication, it is also pierced with sorrow for Ferdinand and Marianne's failing love (Karina, incidentally, was Godard's lover at the time, and they were in the middle of breaking up). The movie's dazzling and hip style will stimulate your brain, but the film packs an emotional punch too.
The American director Sam Fuller, who Godard greatly admired, makes a famous cameo early on in the movie. Asked to explain what cinema is, he comes up with a definition that applies to Pierrot le Fou: "It's love, hate, action, violence, death. In one word - emotions."
How much do you care about Pop Idol? While you might shout the odds about who should be kicked off, or marvel at Simon Cowell's ego, even the most committed fans would be unlikely to consider it a matter of life and death. Unless, that is, they live in Afghanistan, where, in 2007, the local incarnation of the show Afghan Star became one of the first symbols of freedom for a nation ground down by the restraints of religious fundamentalism and war.
Afghan Star: The Documentary, directed by British filmmaker Havana Marking, chronicles the three months of the show's run. While the programme was embraced by both young Afghanis 60 per cent of the population is under twenty and old, with 11 million viewers tuning in, the contestants soon came to feel the backlash of oppressive fundamentalist ideas.
Bono's fundraising efforts aside, pop music rarely gets a stab at being truly political, but during the rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan (from 1996 2001), both music and dancing were illegal on the grounds that they were sinful. Furthermore, in this troubled country that became the central battleground of the "War on Terror", and is plagued by tribal fighting, women are not allowed to vote. Indeed, until 10 years ago, no matter what your age or status within your family, if you were female you were not allowed to go outside without being accompanied by a male relative.
Imagine, then, just how radical it is to have a television programme in which women not only perform publicly expressing themselves to millions but also get to vote from home, using their cellphones. For the two female finalists Lima and Setara appearing on the show is an extraordinary act of bravery. Hailing from one of the most traditional areas of the country, Lima is only able to practise with the help of her music teacher, who smuggles instruments into her home.
But it is 21-year-old underdog Setara who, in casting off traditional dress and wearing make-up, becomes the most significant role model for young female viewers, whilst being loathed by older generations. Singing makes Setara so happy she even feels like dancing, she says. As the documentary reveals, in Afghanistan singing is one thing, dancing quite another and when she finally busts a few humble moves on stage, the resulting controversy takes a very dark turn. Death threats flood in, and Setara must go into hiding. Afghan Star is a compelling portrait of a country of young people desperate to be heard, but with a very long journey ahead of them.
Special People is a fantastic new British movie that will make you laugh and make you think at the same time. It's also one that has a director as its hero although hero may not be quite the right word! The director in question is Jasper, a struggling film-maker whose last success came ten years ago and when he's hired to teach a group of young people with disabilities about making movies, he decides to use the job as an excuse to make a clichéd "feelgood" documentary about his students. But the young people themselves are normal independent-minded kids and they're not going to pretend otherwise just to fit in with Jasper's plans!
The movie's director Justin Edgar is a young film-maker from the Midlands who's always been interested in making films about modern Britain that are both gritty and hilarious and he was kind enough to take time out to answer some questions from FILMCLUB.
Which were the films that first blew you away when you were growing up?
I remember seeing King Kong (the 1976 version) and that really got me into films. Then when I was 13 I saw Ghostbusters and was hooked. And at 18 I watched Taxi Driver and got more into film as an art form rather than a cinema-going experience. I think there are great films being made all the time - the best film I saw recently was Hunger, which is amazing.
At what stage did you know you weren't just a film fan, but that you wanted to make movies yourself? And how did that (long!) process get started?
1991 was my favourite year for films - the year of Edward Scissorhands, Toto the Hero, The Long Day Closes and Terminator 2. I think that was when I decided I wanted to make films rather than watch them. I started a media course at my local college and it was then I realised just how much I knew about films compared to everyone else in Birmingham and that I might be able to make a career out of this.
Where did the first germ of an idea for Special People come from?
I like improvising to get the ideas for scripts and Special People came from a community project I was asked to do with a group of young people. They'd made a film before and when asked what they wanted the new film to be about they said making a film. I brought in an actor friend to play a film-maker and they just insulted him for about three days of workshops - I filmed it and at the end we had some very funny tapes which I whittled down into a script.
Making a movie about a young director is a brave decision do people think you must have based at least part of Jasper's character on yourself? (And did you?)
I don't personally think I'm like Jasper but inevitably people will draw comparisons - although that is exactly the sort of thing Jasper would say. I have met people like him making community films. They are out there! Dominic, who plays Jasper, borrowed these blue gloves I always wear on set and I think those gloves helped guide his performance. I have this thing when my jaw tenses up and he does that quite well.
How did you go about casting the people with disabilities who star in the film?
It took about two years to find all the actors and thats not because they're not out there, its because they're hard to find because casting directors don't know about them! Hopefully this film will help to change that. As we found the different actors we began to shape the roles around their abilities. I found David Proud (Scott) through a really good casting director at the BBC called Rowland Beckley when I was working on another TV drama there. I found Sasha because my Mum saw a photo of her in the Big Issue. Robyn and the actors in smaller roles all came from previous community projects we'd done.
What do you want people to come away from Special People thinking about - or do you just want them to have been entertained?
I'd like them to think about truth and the lies they all tell one another - that's the theme of the film, how we all have a our own sense of reality and truth. I'd also like them to think how good the disabled actors in it are and why we don't see more disabled people on screen. It's ultimately a very human film and it would nice to think that they went away entertained and hopefully with a warm feeling. Maybe they'll go home and hug their wife or husband or granny or dog and feel better about life.
What film(s) would you recommend watching to a young movie fan who was just getting into cinema?
Watch British Films! We have a great tradition here and its not celebrated enough: Made In Britain, Nuts in May, The Long Day Closes, The Cook The Thief His Wife and her Lover, Hunger, Get Carter, Lawrence of Arabia, Kes. All classics!
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