The first of Jacques Tati’s feature films as director lacks the sense of obsessive control that escalates through his next pictures – Holiday, Mon Oncle (1958) and Playtime (1967) – but the gags are nonetheless highly organised, and it is perfectly charming from start to finish. In The Big Day (Jour de fÃªte) he plays FranÃ§ois the postman, bumbling through his round in the northern French countryside while the small local town prepares for its annual fÃªte. There’s little story, but a series of charming encounters and splendidly silly gags (often involving his bicycle) and gradually running jokes as the day progresses. Alongside the black and white version, Tati filmed with the new Thomsoncolor process and it is this version, splendidly restored to its lovely gentle tones, that’s showing here.
Holiday marks the first appearance of Monsieur Hulot, the role that fit Tati like a glove, with which he was ever associated by the public, and which he would come to find a burden. The business on screen grows more complicated – though no less funny – and the film is a gentle succession of physical and visual gags centred around (bumbling) Hulot’s vacation to a traditional resort town and Tati’s phenomenal gift of being able to turn his body to any expression he wished (Colette rhapsodised his centaur). Always fascinated by the potential of the soundtrack, this manages to do away with most of the few words Jour de fÃªte has, in the first step towards the “speech”-less Playtime, a hubub of conversation, background noise and half-heard lines, to the accompaniment of rather jolly French cocktail music. Tati aesthetic and vision was unique, and he was definitely a genius of a sort.
- Wed 9 at 8.00: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
As a whole, this Howard Hawks musical comedy is slightly off-kilter, but with Marylin Monroe and Jane Russell, particularly, on fine unfettered form, it definitely has its moments (my favorite being Russell’s number in the gym, surrounded by the men’s Olympic gymnastics team in short shorts). The plot is pretty nonsensical, revolving around Monroe’s efforts to snag a wealthy husband (to which end she breathily delivers “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend”), stolen jewelery and mistaken identity, but the pace keeps up and led by male fantasy Monroe and the magnificent, Amazonian Russell, it sizzles with sex appeal.
- Thu 3 at 8.00: The Wrecking Crew (2008)
Brian Wilson hired the Wrecking Crew, a group of LA session musicians, to record his seminal Pet Sounds because they were the musicians routinely used by his perceived nemesis Phil Spector, churning out hits with his Wall of Sound. They also played for goodness knows how many other hitmakers of the ’60s and this documentary tells their terrific story. Glen Campbell was one of them, Dr John tinkled the ivories for a while and Jack Neitszche was the arranger/conductor; the rest have pretty much avoided the spotlight but are no less interesting (bassist Carol Kaye is particularly cool). Made by the son of one of the guitarists, this promises full access, as well as contributions from numerous of the aforementioned hitmakers.
- Sun 6 at 8: Kuchar in NYC (1966-68)
George Kuchar, and twin Mike, made a whole load of mini 8mm epics from age 12 onwards, inspired by Hollywood melodrama – they had seen Sirk’s Written on the Wind 11 times when it came out – and featuring friends and family in no-budget productions with bizarre nonsensical stories. In the process they created a trash/camp aesthetic with affinities to Anger and Warhol but entirely their own, much imitated since (Waters, Maddin). This programme concentrates on the stuff George made after the brothers stopped working together and includes the hysterical Hold Me While I’m Naked (1966), now the epitome of the New York School of Underground Cinema. George could do nothing but make movies and the enthusiasm is infectious. They are also hilariously funny, often on purpose.
- Tue 8 at 8: Sunrise: a Song of Two Humans (1927)
Winner of the gong for “unique and artistic production” at the first academy awards in 1929 (as well as best actress and best cinematography – the latter is awesome) Sunrise was the first American feature by the wonderful F.W. Murnau and his frequent scenarist collaborator Carl Mayer., brought over from Germany to weave their poetic-expressionist magic for Fox. The characters are “the man”, “the wife” and “the woman from the city” and the tale is simple, archetypal; the man, bewitched by the woman from the city, is tempted into murdering his unsuspecting wife. Reducing the narrative to its most elemental, Murnau can concentrate in conjuring poetry from light and shadow, art direction and the very form of cinema itself: highlights are a winding moonlit track through a swamp to find the woman from the city awaiting her rendez-vous, the same appearing in the man’s daydreams (through double exposure), a long uninterrupted tram-ride into the city, and the pell-mell of the city itself, contrasted with the idyllic countryside, but in which the lovers are aware of nothing but themselves. Few film-makers are capable of laying bare human emotions so eloquently on screen, but Murnau seemed incapable of doing anything else.
- Sat 5 at 9.00 (doors 7.30): Easy Rider (1969)
It’s a classic. Watching it in a cemetery and getting high seems only appropriate. But stay away from the brown acid – remember New Orleans..
- Sun 6 at 9.00 (doors 7.30): Blue Velvet (1986)
Or, be scared out of your wits by David Lynch’s creepy classic, featuring a terrifying Dennis Hopper, weird and sinister Dean Stockwell, smacked-out Isabella Rosselini getting naked (resolutely unsexy in the hands of Lynch, of course) and Kyle MachLachlan, as plastic a hero as the robin that marks the “happy” ending. No matter that the plot is as illogical as a nightmare, or that the close-ups of flaring matches have no obvious meaning; it’s easier to follow than later mysteries like Lost Highway or Inland Empire and in many ways rather better for that.
- Fri 4 at 7.30, Sat 5 at 3.10, 7.30: The Blue Angel (1930)
Marlene Dietrich’c iconic role was as the nightclub singer Lola Lola in this, her first collaboration with mentor/svengali Josef von Sternberg. Sternberg was an incredible cameraman, conjuring exoticism, eroticism and mystique out of a couple of lights, a few shadows, and judicious diffusion; his natural milieu was the silent film and once the movies started to rely on dialogue, his narrative skills went a bit haywire with expressionism. Based on a novel by Heinrich Mann (Thomas’s older brother) this holds together well, the bitter story of a professor’s infatuation for and ruin by Lola Lola, with the great Emil Jannings as the sap. The film is virtually flawless, and from her first entrance, resplendent in fishnets and top hat, Deitrich is a thoroughbred star.
- Fri 4 at 9.35, Sat 5 at 5.15, 9.35: Lola (1981)
The story of the Blue Angel has enjoyed enduring resonance in Germany, and so in his never-ending quest to hold a mirror up to German society and its history in the twentieth century, Fassbinder chose the story as the vehicle for what would be his third-to-last film. Suddenly graced with an international profile and offers of increased budgets, Fassbinder’s cinema seemed to lose its way and recycle itself a little towards the end of his career, bogged down in an explosion of stylization (see: Querelle). So where the following feature Veronika Voss would be a grand success, Lola was something of a misfire, but a Fassbinder misfire is still worth watching, and Barbara Sukowa gives her all in the lead, playing off a disconsolate Armin Mueller-Stahl against a background of – and allegorizing – the post-war economic miracle. What’s more, partly due to the entangling legal ramifications of his having tossed off 40-odd films in fifteen years, Fassbinder’s work doesn’t pop up on the big screen all that often, so grab the chance while you can.
- Tue 8 at 1.30: She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1949) free!
A beautiful elegiac John Ford western (centrepiece of his cavalry trilogy) with Wayne as the retiring officer of a cavalry outpost. As ever, room is given for an extended cast of amiable characters to express themselves, through gentle comedy or basic conflicts, but the subject of the film, as Wayne (at his very best) reflects on a long career in an army that became his only family, is how the great nation of America was built from such dedication and sacrifice. Like most of Ford’s eulogies to the past it could go either way, but he gets it just right with this one, and the result is moving and wonderful.