The 56th BFI London Film Festival opens today with Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie, a film for which we’ve already got an entry rolling, and in a way, the LFF is a bit like Toronto, harvesting the best (or at least the most newsworthy) films of the year so far, reviving treasures from the world’s archives, and highlighting new experimental work for a lineup totaling 225 features and nine programs of shorts. It’s not that there aren’t any premieres, of course. The Independent notes that Brett Morgen’s Rolling Stones documentary, Crossfire Hurricane, will see its world premiere, and the Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin singles out “the European premiere of The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, a documentary in which Slavoj Žižek, the Incredible Hulk of the cultural theory circuit, tears apart such diverse films as Jaws and The Sound of Music to reveal their commonalities.”
LFF director Clare Stewart tells Collin that she’s been studying “reports on what makes people choose to see movies” and has discovered that “what a film is about and its genre are more important than its stars, word of mouth and, dare I say it, reviews.” So, as Collin explains, the “old, geographical categories such as French Revolutions and Cinema Europa have been swapped for snappier, conceptual ones: Love, Debate, Dare, Laugh, Thrill, Cult, Journey, Sonic and Family. This may smack of dumbing down, but it’s actually the opposite: world cinema is listed alongside unsubtitled fare, and a quick browse of the program for something you have heard of can easily lead to the discovery of 10 wonderful-sounding things that you haven’t.”
There’s also a new emphasis on awards. The new competitive sections include the Official Competition, the Sutherland Award for the Best First Feature, the Grierson for the Best Documentary, and the Best British Newcomer Award. And today, the BFI‘s announced that “Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton will each be presented with the BFI’s highest honor, the BFI Fellowship.” HBC, by the way, plays Miss Havisham in Mike Newell’s Great Expectations, which closes the LFF on October 21.
As notable reviews appear, we’ll be making note of them here, but for now, note that the BFI’s Sight & Sound has listed 30 recommendations, and Time Out has a robust special section going on. Keep an eye, too, on Little White Lies, the Telegraph, and Tony Paley‘s daily recommendations. Blogging for the Guardian today, Paley plugs the new restoration of Otto Preminger’s Bonjour Tristesse (1957), featuring Jean Seberg and “now widely regarded as a prime example of Hollywood’s golden age, and both its star and its famously tyrannical director are ripe for rediscovery.”
London’s had quite the year so far, beginning with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and segueing straight into Danny Boyle’s delightfully bonkers opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics. The fall literary season has been all but dominated by British authors whose latest novels are set in London: Martin Amis’s Lionel Asbo: State of England, Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth, Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, and Zadie Smith’s NW (impressive site for that last one, by the way).
This year also gave us Julien Temple’s London: The Modern Babylon, a “sprawling documentary [that] attempts the ambitious feat of telling the story of London from the dawn of the 20th century to today,” as Stephen Dalton‘s described it in the Hollywood Reporter. The doc met with terrific reviews in the British papers—Peter Bradshaw (Guardian, 4/5), Adam Lee Davies (Little White Lies), Philip French (Observer), and Demetrios Matheou (Arts Desk). Writing for Cinema Scope, Michael Sicinski will grant that Temple’s The Filth and the Fury (2000) is “one of the most sociologically insightful rock-docs ever. But this made-for-BBC program is less a portrait of a bustling metropolis than a slam-bang montage of crass YouTubish idiocy, clocking in at an exhausting two hours and change. Temple has a thesis of sorts: that London and its culture are ever in flux due to ongoing waves of immigration. But whatever insights or concrete historical data might have actually been provided by the film are rendered incoherent, as news clips, interviews, music videos, file footage, and all manner of detritus go racing through Temple’s stupidity-blender.”
Just to be clear: London: The Modern Babylon is not showing at this year’s LFF; I just couldn’t resist the impulse to work it in here. What’s more, I’ve got more bonus clicks: Sample Reuel Golden’s London. Portrait of a City, George Reid‘s photos snapped between 1920 and 1933, and James Blackford‘s review of London on the Move, the tenth volume in the BFI’s ongoing series of DVD editions presenting films made by the British Transport Films production unit.
Update, 10/11: Viewing (21’20”). The Guardian Film Show previews the highlights.
Update, 10/12: Sight & Sound‘s Sam Wigley talks with Bence Fliegauf about Just the Wind.
“The title couldn’t be more resonant,” writes Nick Hasted, reviewing Dead Europe at the Arts Desk. “But in Tony Krawitz’s adaptation of Christos Tsolkias’s novel, the meaning is also literal: this is a bloody continent of unquiet ghosts.”
Update, 10/14: Andrey Gryazev’s documentary Tomorrow “captures the intensely personal lives of his anarcho-libertarian subjects as they roam the streets of Moscow shoplifting, gleaning from trashcans, and attempting to overturn parked cars,” writes Ajay Hothi at the House Next Door. “This small group of civic revolutionaries reject money, ownership of property, the established governmental regime, and the hypocrisies of law enforcement…. Gryazev’s intimate approach only allows viewers access to one side of the story, but it’s presented with pin-sharp clarity and is utterly humanizing.”
Update, 10/16: The Telegraph‘s Tim Robey on Quartet, which features Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly and Pauline Collins: “Adapted by Ronald Harwood from his 1999 play, it’s a chamber exercise for a veteran cast which Dustin Hoffman has made with evident, bordering on gushing, love. The end credits are especially affecting, with their photographs of all the actors in their youth, including background players who’ve been treading the London stage for decades. It’s a genuinely touching hall of fame for a vanishing world of performing arts, and you’d have to have a heart of stone to walk out before the tribute’s over…. I’m a few decades shy of the ideal demographic, but for several reasons it’s an improvement (I’m sorry, this is eminently possible) on The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” Reviews from Toronto: Eric Kohn (Indiewire) and Catherine Shoard (Guardian).
Update, 10/17: The festival’s announced its awards, and the BFI has statements from the juries, but in brief:
“Experimenta 2012 is, it seems, much possessed by death,” writes Sophie Mayer for the BFI. “Ghosts hungry for the entrails of the living, suicide chat-rooms, dialysis, comas, ancient artefacts and other mementoes mori glow on screen with a vividness and intensity. These are serious films that ask their a lot of their audience: Maria Saakyan asked the audience to watch I’m Going to Change My Name with their hearts; Jem Cohen warned documentary fans that Museum Hours was fiction, and fiction viewers that it was documentary; and Tony Rayns cautioned viewers that Vorakorn Ruetaivanichkul’s Mother was a raw portrait of illness, and reminded us that Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Mekong Hotel was both a work in progress and a record of process. And yet the experience of immersion in these pains-taking films was far from pain-giving. There is a joy and even release in the stripped-back visions of filmmakers working with micro-budgets, shooting over long periods of time, snatching opportunities to capture the light in the sky, letting performers find their own rhythm in scenes, and re-imagining the moving image in the age of digital media.”
“Crossfire Hurricane, the official documentary celebration of the Stones’ 50th anniversary, [has] two problems,” suggests Michael Hann in the Guardian. “How do you retell a story that’s been told so many times before? And how do you compete with the already extant films about the group—Gimme Shelter, the Maysles brothers’ account of the 1969 US tour that ended with the disastrous Altamont concert; Cocksucker Blues, the rarely seen Robert Frank film that captured their 1972 tour, warts, needles, pills and all; and especially the peerless 25×5, the career-spanning biography first shown on BBC2 in 1989?”
To that list, by the way, Geoffrey Macnab adds in the Independent: “Jean-Luc Godard‘s Sympathy for the Devil (1968), Jagger acting in Performance (1968) and a recent documentary about the making of Exile on Main Street.” At any rate, back to Mann: “Director Brett Morgen’s answer is to try to show what it was like being a Stone, using the voices of the group—including those who have departed—as an unseen offstage chorus, commenting on the archive footage we are watching…. In its own way, Crossfire Hurricane is just like one of those Stones albums of the last three decades: it’s fun, it has terrific moments, but in the end it pales in comparison with earlier triumphs.”
More from Joe Cunningham (Playlist, C-), Daniel Green (CineVue, 4/5), Neil McCormick (Telegraph, 4/5), and Adam Sweeting (Arts Desk).
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