Sunday, 19 June 2022

A house is not a home... Miss Lulu Bett (1921), BFI



The family beast of burden, whose timid soul has failed to break the bonds of family servitude…

 

This film is an almost perfect exemplar of a Hollywood studio film of this period featuring a superb performance from Lois Wilson in the lead and smoothly satisfying direction from everyone’s third-favourite de Mille… William ranking behind his brother Cecil and then his daughter Agnes a hugely successful dancer who was not “pretty enough” for films but became a huge star on stage and then choreographed a dozen stage musicals revolutionising the genre over a long career.

 

Clearly, she was given the kind of encouragement from father William that is solely lacking in the Master of the Deacon house, Dentist and Justice of the Peace, Dwight (Theodore Roberts), who seems to treat his family as slaves, especially his sister-in-law Lulu. In its own quite gently comic way Miss Lulu Bett is as powerful as many more serious dramas with a story of a family drudge, run down not just by the domineering but also everyone else; a modern-day Cinderella five years before Colleen Moore’s Ella Cinders, but of a genre and a general situation many endured.

 

Ethel Wales, Lois Wilson and Milton Sills

Based on Zona Gale’s Pulitzer-prize winning play and bestselling novel with a screenplay by Clara Beranger, the film reflected Gale’s activism and concern with suffrage and women’s right to choose their own destiny. It was still commonplace for family hierarchies to leave the unmarried supporting their parents, I have this in my own story with a great grandmother looked after by her eldest daughter, Mabel. When my Nain married in the mid-1920s, Mabs, the elder sister, objected on the grounds that she should be wed first but her elder brother stepped in on our Jenny’s behalf. So, thank you Uncle Alec, without whom I wouldn’t be here.

 

As a member of the National Women’s Party, Gale lobbied for the 1921 Wisconsin Equal Rights Law and she was also an Executive Member of the Lucy Stone League which concerned itself with opportunities for women beyond the right to vote. A century on it’s hard to understand some social attitudes although perhaps a lot less difficult after the last five years…

 

Theodore Roberts is shocked, shocked I tell you!

Back to the film…. everyone has written Lulu off – destined for spinsterhood and chained to the household chores. Lois Wilson is a revelation, emoting in an understated way and carrying a lot of subtle meaning. This is the only film I’ve seen her in and watching it for the second time – the first at an excellent Kennington Bioscope weekender in the before times – you appreciate more of the seamless directorial skill and Wilson’s ability to hold not only the narrative but our belief together. She gives her character strength and the willingness to repay her light-hearted and inconsiderate oppressors the benefit of the doubt. Driven by duty and her own sense of honour she’s also just waiting for an opportunity to re-join the World outside the kitchen.

 

Dwight sets the tone but Lulu’s half-sister Ina (Mabel Van Buren) does nothing to help her, not so much a wicked stepsister as a lazy one. Their mother, Grandma Bett (Ethel Wales) is no better, dodging her duties as easily as she deflects Dwight’s supposed dominance, usually by stomping off out of range. The Brett’s two daughters also have their own techniques for avoiding the bully’s blasts, youngest Monona (Mae Giraci) is far too quick for the old man, feigning deafness and fading from view when it suits whilst Di (Helen Ferguson) is the apple of his eye, being, unlike her spinsterish aunt Lulu, eminently marriable. The only problem is that Dad has eyes on more socially advanced suitors than Di’s boyfriend Bobby Larkin (Taylor Graves).

 

Lulu listens intently to tall tales

Lulu has to suffer a thousand unkind cuts from Dwight, she’s both relied upon to cook and clean whilst at the same time blamed for being too useless to get married. It’s no joke but never say never… Lulu’s chance comes in the unlikely form of Dwight’s likeable blow-hard of a brother Ninian (Clarence Burton) who returns from a supposedly action-packed World tour and regales the family and their friends with stories of daring do. Lulu is by this stage transfixed after Ninian shows her just the slightest kindness yet even this is inspired by the family friend, teacher Neil Cornish (Milton Sills) who is the one to ask where she is and looks on in despair when Lulu swallows the big fat fibs.

 

Ninian takes Lulu, Dwight and Ina for a meal and makes a joke of asking her to marry him by slipping a cigar band around her figure as she jokingly promises to honour and obey. Only trouble is, Dwight’s a JP and, therefore, they had accidentally had a proper ceremony and are now man and wife. Ninian’s up for giving it a go and Lulu takes the chance too, feeling there’ll be no other.

 

She moves in with her “husband” but a few days later he reveals that he’s already married to a woman who left him years ago and whilst he’s not sure is still alive, there’s a big chance she will be. That’s big of Ninian and it’s also big of Lulu that she puts principle first and reluctantly returns “home”.


Milton Sills ain't fooled

Now things really kick off as she discovers the house in a mess and the family bickering over chores… you’d think they’d be pleased to see her but no, she’s putting Dwight’s reputation at risk and has to accept the blame and the ignominy of being rejected by her husband after just one week. Yet Lulu discovers new depths: “The only thing I’ve got left is my pride and you’ve got to let me keep that…” and she works upwards from there.

 

There are superb performances not least from Theodore Roberts who would have been a shoo-in for Best Cigar-Chomping, Blood-Vessel-Busting Oscar had they been invented at this point, whilst Milton Sills is a steadfast lead with future salvation written all over him. But it’s Lois Wilson who wins out and she’s great value for a story that makes it’s point without getting too improbable of tiresome… we’re all for Lulu and, as the poet said, you’ve got to hope for the best and that’s the best you can hope for and Lulu Betts does not disappoint with an uplifting ending that blows the roof off!!

 

The film is available on Blu-ray from Grapevine and is online too if you peruse YouTube. Great to see it getting this screening in London though.



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, 18 June 2022

Mad love… A Santanotte (1922) with John Sweeney at Ciné Lumière


This was a rare screening as part of the Ciné Lumière’s The Wave: Italian Women Filmmakers season and it was a short, sharp shock of Neapolitan drama that, as accompanist John Sweeney pointed out, was reminiscent of Francesca Bertini’s Assunta Spina (1915) one of the major works of the classic Diva period of Italian film. Whereas the earlier film was ground-breaking, using edgy, improvised scenes against a backdrop of the Bay of Naples, A Santanotte (The Holy Night ) could be accused of being a little dated by this time but it is a powerful film none-the-less with much to admire including, of course, the ferocious poise and stark beauty of Rosè Angione as Nanninella.

 

The film is one of the few surviving examples of director Elvira Notari’s work and she certainly picked up the torch from Bertini and Gustavo Serena in terms of presenting Naples red in tooth and claw and very frequently in the background. There’s a real sense of place as well as authenticity and even though the story is based on a popular Neapolitan song, it certainly puts the opera into the soap. There may be an entire film PhD in the influence of national song on early cinematic narrative but this film is of the streets as well as on them with a heroine having to chose between rich comforts/poor love and being forced into a corner by the entitlement of her posh paramour, Gennariello (the director’s son, Eduardo Notari) who will stop at very little to have the one he shouldn’t have.

 

Rosè Angione, Alberto Danza and Naples

Another sidebar: why do we lap up songs and stories about the value of pure, unconditional love and end up allowing ourselves to be ruled by man like Gennariello? Just a thought especially in a hundred-year-old film made just as Il Dulce came to power in Italy, the ultimate loser narcissist who based part of his “act” on Italy’s superman, Maciste, a fictional character…

 

Anyway… our hero here is a young waitress who supports her wastrel of a father by working all the hours to keep in the stupor he has become accustomed to. Nominally a professional shoe-shine man, Daddy (Antonio Palmieri) drinks as he earns and spends most of his daytime sleeping off the night before.

 

Into their lives come two friends, Tore Spina (Alberto Danza) and Gennariello who both go to Nanninella’s window in an attempt to woo her. Tore is the more decisive and instantly connects with the young woman with his deep dark intensity and his winning words of song. Gennariello hangs back, he is not ennobled by love, only reduced, and can only watch as romantic alchemy happens in front of his very eyes and the two begin courting.

 

Rosè Angione, Alberto Danza and Eduardo Notari


What is a rich boy to do? Well, cheating is the first thing that comes to mind and spotting Drunken Dad, he soon hatches a plan that will rely on the lowest aspects of human motivation and we expect nothing less. Gennariello begins to buy the man drinks and to build his support for his candidature whilst undermining his friend Tore.

 

Meanwhile things are moving fast between Nanninella and Tore and she has soon impressed his mother (Elisa Cava, with a face like finely carved granite). She approaches Drunken Dad for his daughter’s hand but, having been thoroughly prepped by his generous wine merchant, he rebuffs her and ignores his daughter’s pleading as per normal.

 

Nothing can come between the lovers though and soon they are inseparable once again forcing Gennariello into framing his “pal” for the murder of Nanninella’s now dead, dead-beat Dad. She doesn’t believe it but the authorities do and the only way to clear her love’s name is to make the ultimate sacrifice and to force her selfish suitor to reveal all. It’s a long shot and… well, you know what Italian silents are like.


Caring for an abusive father.

There’s an interesting cameo from a young actor – an un-named acting student – playing Carluccio a shoe-shine boy who tries to help Nanninella and Tore. The lad does a grand job and pulls together the strands of what would otherwise be a slightly confused narrative: Gennariello takes advantage of a drunken slip and names the wrong guilty party but still the only way of getting the truth is the hard way.

 

Rosè Angione gives good Diva and has the most intense curls to go with her excellent arm-ography and physicality. As with all films of the classic Diva era, there’s no holding back and whilst she no Borelli or Bertini she is very watchable as are all the cast.


John Sweeney is, of course, the man for this tragi-comic dance and he treated us to a rich blend of poignant lines that blended perfectly with the performances and floated with seeming ease of conviction across the Bay of Naples and across the impressively cool lofty ceilings of the Ciné Lumière. Turns out Hot Media is the coolest thing to watch during a heat wave and John was on hot form too!


Arrested!

This “popular drama of passion” was one of Dora Film’s biggest hits and you can see why Elvira Notari became Italy's earliest and most prolific female filmmaker with over sixty feature films and about a hundred shorts and documentaries. She was a real renaissance woman with a degree in literature and a passion for dance too, she also married a cinematographer, Nicola Notari with whom she founded Dora Films before growing her own cast, well one of them at least. It’s a shame there not more of her work to see but what there is I look forward to watching.

 

Brava Ciné Lumière for screening this and John Sweeney for his accompaniment.




Saturday, 11 June 2022

Don’t stop believing… Lawrence of Belgravia (2011), BFI Blu-ray, out now

 

I am completely obsessed with being famous, you know, forget these Big Brother people, I am an original I crave it more than anything else…

 

Released on Blu-ray for the first time, and previously unavailable on home media, one on the extras on this set includes the Q&A after the film’s screening at the London Film Festival in 2011 and shows Lawrence being more moved than he expected by Paul Kelly’s documentary of his life at that point. Kelly was sincere and treats his subject with the upmost respect whilst also highlighting a personality and approach that might well have contributed to his long wait for commercial success. All this said, Lawrence is a one off and someone we should celebrate, a man with a vision and who really means it (man) in a world of phoneys, sell outs and sycophants.

 

Only Lawrence could write to John Peel to ask him to return two copies of Felt’s Index single which the Liverpool-supporting legend was less than impressed with. Years later Peel told Pete Astor (ex-Weather Prophet) that he still remembered Lawrence’s response, “I’ve never had a letter as vitriolic and nasty….”  JP returned one of the singles but couldn’t find the other and so offered to cover the cost… Lawrence still has the note. He maintains that Peel’s not liking Felt was a major part in their downfall… although he kept the returned single and note. You feel the two should have got on very well given the chance but Peelie described their first album as having one of the worst titles in history and Lawrence never forgets.

 

In the indie eighties though, any listener to Peel or reader of the NME was well aware of Felt and their string of highly distinctive releases that laid the path for the post-post-punk style that wore its influence on velvet sleeves dominating the domestic underground through the C86 era. That NME compilation tape featured acts that went on to success such as Primal Scream, Wedding Present and We've Got a Fuzzbox and We're Gonna Use It and others who were talented but stayed below the line, Bogshed, Stump and Glasgow’s legendary, The Pastels. Many still play but like most musicians, have relied on portfolio careers, often as “civilians,” to make ends meet but what is remarkable about Lawrence is that he’s still hanging in there expecting to be like his pal Bobby Gillespie who, he notes, has always avoided introducing him to Kate Moss…


Go-Kart Mozart on stage


Artistically I think we achieved what we wanted to achieve but commercially it was a disaster…


Like me, Paul Kelly first heard Felt on another classic compilation, Cherry Red’s Pillows and Prayers from 1983 which included Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt (Everything but the Girl), Thomas Leer and The Monochrome Set. Felt were quirky and atmospheric, standing out for Lawrence’s lyrics and plaintive delivery along with superb guitar from classically trained Maurice Deebank to which they added keyboards from Martin Duffy (now with Primal Scream). The band split in 1989 and Lawrence’s next project, Denim, should have been his commercial breakthrough with the excellent debut, Back in Denim a celebration of Glam Rock featuring contributions from The Glitter Band’s Pete Phipps and Gerry Shephard, and filled with wit, great hooks and a sampling of Chirpy Cheep Cheep. The critics loved them but they were swept away by far less worthy and ironic competitors of the Brit Pop explosion… many of whom also loved Felt and Denim.


This film is all about the life that Lawrence was leading though and not a history of Felt and Denim which Kelly neatly summarises with a compilation of cuttings showing gigs and reviews. It’s also something of a meditation on the craft of documentary with filming taking place over eight years to follow the debut album of Lawrence’s new project, Go-Kart Mozart (now Mozart Estate), and its launch. During that period Lawrence gets evicted from his flat in Belgravia and moves into a tower block overlooking tremendous views from Old Street across London and indeed to Paul Kelly’s flat in Shoreditch (?). There were various court cases and Lawrence was constantly harassed by the police during the period, with a single shot of medication hinting at the issue BUT the glory of this film is in the resilience, focus and ambition of its central character who would just love to be the first pensioner pop star.


The view from Old Street

I want people to like a group that you can put on the back of your jacket with pride…


Lawrence designs Go-kart Mozart to be the first B-Side band in the World but can’t help himself in producing a set of potential A-sides covering his eternal concern with bringing the past and future together. But he’s very principled and won’t use his old music, he refuses to play any Denim songs at a warm-up gig for Go-Kart in Paris and, no matter how much money might be offered, he’s adamant that You’ll never, ever, see a Felt reunion.


In Paris Lawrence was expecting a series of press interviews, Nick Kent was mentioned, but in the end it was mainly students and bloggers (bless us!) but, as Kelly says on the commentary, these  came out better for it as he was more relaxed and gives fulsome, honest, answers giving out more to help structure the discussions than he would have done under Kent’s more probing questioning.


Lawrence is asked about his relationship with Nick Gilbert who left Felt as he thought it would spoil their friendship, Lawrence doesn’t get that, and success is more important to him than friends even though, he was the only best friend I’ve ever had in my life, so it was quite a big deal… but he would do the same thing now, my friend is the band.



It’s possibly the same with romantic relationships with Lawrence saying that whilst men fall in love in a second, it’s all downhill after the opening amazement, as the everyday reality dissipates the desire. Lawrence is very self-contained and maybe choses to be the island just as he dipped in and out of Kelly’s film; he reaches out when he needs to. There’s a dignity in his discipline and a feeling that he’s being true to himself, a success on his own terms which may not have the chart placings and wealth but is still some achievement for any of us.


What we get is a series of vignettes all of which help to build up this bigger picture. Lawrence buying a new hat, giving very specific instructions to his cover designer and recording elements of the album in painstaking almost Martin Rushent style (“that’ll be one drum beat at a time, Stephen…”) – he knows what he wants which is also a triumph. We also see him in the old Haggle Records in Essex Road and there was a yelp of recognition when he points out the irony that you could never haggle on any of the stock!


No haggling vinyl paradise

When I play a record, I sit there transfixed, mesmerised… and if it’s got a lyric sheet, I’m in heaven… it’s another world you’re entering into.


We see Lawrence presenting a radio show with his list of favourites very telling, supporting St Etienne – Bob and Sarah only briefly glimpsed - and then discussing The Felt Book – a Felt fanzine Foxtrot Echo Lima Tango. Lawrence talks about the introduction from Kevin Pearce, who was helping Lawrence to do a book on the band but decided that didn’t want to delve too deep and loose the myths, or as the singer says spoil the beauty of things… Pearce remembered the band’s gig with The Smiths and Go-Betweens at the Venue, where he was impressed with their wonderful short set played in atmospheric darkness, Lawrence told him it was down to a problem with the lighting and not design. Still, that’s the band rising through adversity, impressive even if not perfect… maybe it’s hard to collaborate when someone only insists on perfection or complete control?

 

The closing long-lens shots showing Lawrence looking out across from his balcony across London from Paul’s flat reflect his singularity, and that, even amongst the endless and confusing city he still has a vision that may yet make Lawrence a “pensioner popstar”!

 



The set comes with excellent special features:

·         Feature-length audio commentary with director Paul Kelly

·         A Q&A with Paul Kelly and Lawrence after a screening at the 55th London Film Festival in 2011

·         The original trailer, alternative title sequence, deleted scenes and poetry readings: Cat Meat on Slum Street (2009) and The Tortoise (2011)

 

There’s also an Illustrated booklet with new writing by Siân Pattenden, Michael Hayden and Tim Murray, poetry by Lawrence and song lyrics, notes on the special features and credits.

 

This is with the first pressing only, so you better be quick and order from the BFI Shop and you’ll also get a limited-edition postcard signed by Lawrence himself while stocks last!


There’s also a launch screening, Q&A and signing at Rough Trade East, London E1 on Wednesday 15 June with Lawrence and director Paul Kelly, hosted by Siân Pattenden. Still some tickets available…

 

If I’d have been born in the Sixteenth Century, I’d have been fine because I would have had a patron…

 

I hear you, Lawrence!


Lawrence with Vic Goddard



Sunday, 29 May 2022

Tough love... The Soft Skin (La Peau douce) (1964), BFI Blu-ray, out now!



Another gift from the BFI’s François Truffaut season and a film that only gradually attained the respect that a 91% Rotten Toms score might indicate. Maybe it suffered in comparison with The 400 Blows and Jules et Jim, maybe it was too subtle, a three-hander between a husband, his wife and his lover and maybe some felt the ending was too melodramatic. That conclusion was, however, based on a real event and in wanting to create a film about adultery, the director was looking to show how that moment could happen when three ordinary people are caught up in emotions beyond their control, or, at least, their willingness to control.

 

Another actuality had been Truffaut’s witnessing of a couple kissing so passionately in the back of a taxi that their teeth clashed, that’s not the kiss of a married couple he reasoned (parle pour toi mon ami) and he added it to his “moments” in a script written at speed holed up in one of the posher hotels in Cannes with Jean-Louis Richard. Richard is interviewed on the commentary and is great value in terms of the motivations for making the film, the process and the three remarkable performances. Truffaut was fascinated by Hitchcock, and the latter’s influence is felt in certain aspects of the film, with the Frenchman building up tension and almost freezing time as he does when literary critic Pierre Lachenay (Jean Desailly) meets air hostess Nicole (Françoise Dorléac) in the hotel lift… the tension is palpable, the desire almost too painfully obvious, Nicole almost hiding behind her shopping parcels, flattered by the attentions of the famous man.

 

Elevator discomfort: Françoise Dorléac and Jean Desailly

Richard is full of praise for the extraordinary Dorléac, someone he’d known since she was a teenager, she was only 21 now but so confident and assured as a performer, extrovert and daring in a way her sister, Catherine Denueve, wasn’t. Françoise had just made the action-comedy, That Man from Rio (1964) with Jean-Paul Belmondo, and easily inhabits the complexities of her role as someone who is still discovering themselves. It’s likely that Truffaut was as fascinated with the actor as his camera is and this adds to the portrayal of her attraction and Jean’s willingness to risk everything in pursuit.

 

According to Richard, Jean Desailly was unhappy with the film and felt it killed off his career as he was never again cast as a leading man. He was 43 at the time and perhaps, as Richard suggests, viewed his character too harshly especially as Truffault’s overall direction – especially the editing in the film – took his meaning beyond his performance. That said, we don’t entirely dislike any of the characters, it’s possible to feel sympathy for all three and that’s as intended. Yes, Pierre’s a cheat who “goofs” as Nicole says, but he’s also lost and in crisis before he even meets her and he, may, given time, get over his mid-life wandering eye and calm down to count his blessings.

 

Pierre watches as Nicole dances...


Pierre may feel that his is missing a teeth-clashing relationship with a beautiful young woman but he’s overlooking his successful career, his daughter Sabine (Sabine Haudepin), his apartment in the fashionable 16th arrondissement – Truffault’s own – and most especially his wife Franca played by Nelly Benedetti. Benedetti comes more and more to the fore as the story progresses and is a force to be reckoned with as her character at first suspects and then begins to find out the full extent of her husband’s betrayal. Benedetti, on a point of trivia, was also Elizabeth Taylor, Eva Marie Saint, Raquel Welch and a host of others, dubbing their films into French.

 

We find Pierre and Franca in a rush at the start of the film as the former is about to miss his plane for a conference in Lisbon at which he is to deliver a paper on Balzac and Money. Pierre comes through the door, down the hall and to their sunken living room as he will many times in the film, Truffaut’s home surprisingly perfect for illustrating the depth or family comforts, kitchen diner with a screen that can be pulled up as required, all mod cons.


Nelly Benedetti long-suffers

Pierre is driven by their friend to the airport with lots of those quick cuts setting the action in time and space. He makes it just as they’re about to close the gates and is the last person on the plane, welcomed by a very pretty stewardess as he breathlessly takes his seat. During the flight he notices the girl more and more, sneaking repeated peaks and fascinated by seeing her change from flat shoes to high heels behind the curtain. How much of this creepy male gazing was a reflection of the director’s own situation/his interest in Dorléac is open to conjecture but Pierre is a jowly middle-aged man desiring a woman half his age. There are two occasions in the film when women are harassed by men in the street, it’s unlikely Truffault was unaware of the power relationships.

 

In Lisbon Pierre keeps on seeing Nicole and they are staying at the same hotel. The meet in the lift and he helps her pick up her shopping… Once back in his room he gathers his courage and phones her on the pretext of apologising for not helping more, he tries to arrange a drink and, after calling back, she agrees. They meet the next evening and perhaps start struck, amused by his wealth of knowledge, Nicole allows him into her room.

 

As with Jules et Jim, darkness shrouds deep connections


So begins their affair, with slightly comic attempts by Pierre to spend time with Nicole as he introduces a screening of a documentary about André Gide at a conference in Reims. The locals try to wine and dine him as he tries to escape to join with Nicole. Finally, they escape to a rural guest house but he has spent too long away and on his return, Franca is not only suspicious but beside herself… This is too much emotion for Pierre to deal with and he needs to find out what he wants to do before it is too late.

 

It's a deceptive story with nuanced characters and a prosaic “reality” that hides the indecision of all three characters. It’s subtler than Jules at Jim as it lacks that film’s dynamic interactions, again based on actuality, but it still hits hard as each of us try and keep our eyes on the road driving on to the next appointment.

  

Pierre and Sabine in Truffault's sunken living room

The film is presented in High Definition from a new 2k restoration and comes with a full basket of extras including a 24-page booklet with two fascinating essays: Truffaut’s mirror by Catherine Wheatley and A certain tendency: Truffaut as film critic by Kieron McCormack, plus:

 

Feature commentary by La Peau douce co-writer Jean-Louis Richard, with contributions from film critic and journalist Serge Toubiana (2002)

 

Between Masters at War: Truffaut and the Lessons of Alfred Hitchcock and Roberto Rossellini (2022, 18 mins): film academic Pasquale Iannone considers how the work of Truffaut was influenced by two great directors

 

Paris Through the Lens (1900-1910, 9 mins): precious glimpses of the sprawling city Truffaut loved from the BFI National Archive

 

Old Portugal at the Ocean’s Edge (1896, 1 min): mesmerising early film fragments, shot near Lisbon long before it provided the setting for illicit love in La Peau douce

 

Original theatrical trailer



The Soft Skin is released on 30th May and you can order it now from the BFI Shop online or in person! 


Sunday, 22 May 2022

Jack’s back… Get Carter (1971), BFI 4k restoration re-release, Friday 27th May


I’ve always had your welfare at heart Eric…


Jack is indeed returning to our big screens with the BFI re-releasing a 4k restoration from a 35mm negative approved by director Mike Hodges whose films have been celebrated on the Southbank this month. Carter’s never really left our collective conscience though and the film has only grown in stature since it’s initial release, from cult classic to a major part of the British film canon, one of the best, retaining its impact, criminal cool and unsettling violence, with a majestic Michael Caine giving perhaps his greatest performance: pure instinct and experience.


As Jack Carter watches a pornographic film after yet another sexual conquest, his head drops, and tears begin to flow as he realises that his brother’s teenage daughter, possibly his, has been pulled into this degraded world. Carter is psychopathic, a killer with intelligence and ruthless purpose pursuing revenge for the killing of his brother and yet here he is mourning the loss of his’ Doreen’s innocence… it breaks his heart for long seconds and then the brutal retribution of the film’s breathless closing sequence begins.


Watching his world disolve

The film is about that revenge but also the pointlessness of the violence some might celebrate and Roy Budd’s hypnotic score reflects this as his harpsicord, piano and Hammond organ, coupled with Jeff Cline’s bass and Chris Karan’s tabla play out Carter’s relentless drive north as the train heads from Kings Cross to Newcastle. The theme returns, startlingly reworked on vibes as visceral vengeance approaches and then plays itself to a slow stop at the devastating conclusion. Carter’s heart beats in the music which is all the more remarkable given Budd and his trio played along direct to screen given budget constraints. As with everything else in the film, necessity was indeed the mother of superlative invention.


Budd’s music also accompanies what is almost a City Symphony for Newcastle, with the film capturing Victorian streets, vibrant pubs, cavernous bingo halls, docks and the three bridged riverside to his mix of jazzy hauntology and pop songs… Getting Nowhere in a Hurry. North-Eastern Soul reflected in the faces on the civilians in those pubs, bookies and streets. Cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky and Hodges both had a documentary background and it shows. I especially like the pub singer, Denea Wilde, performing the standard How About You? having worked in Butlins a decade later when the organ and drums were still the combination of choice.


Michael Caine

The film is crammed full of great moments and Hodges editing is also pretty much perfect… instinctive and free flowing he’s having an absolute blast in his first feature. He’s lucky and he knows it and we feel it in the film’s narrative quality, so many lines to savour, cameos from an incredible cast and a story that never doubts its purpose. Hodges screen wrote based on Ted Lewis’ novel, Jack’s Return Home, and he apparently took out elements explaining more of the back story to Jack’s relationship with his brother, streamlining what became a taught moral tale in which the anti-hero’s ambiguities are for the viewer to establish for themselves.


Censorship had been relaxed and there were a number of films of this period addressing gangland and the characters all too frequently making the headlines, the Krays, the Richardsons et al. Nicol Williamson was chilling in The Reckoning (1970), and dodgy accent aside, Richard Burton too in Villain (1971) whilst, predating all, Peter Walker’s Man of Violence (1969) with Michael Latimer and Luan Peters, offered a low-budget subversion of the genre. It was this film that Get Carter’s producer, Michael Klinger had seen and decided he could do better by optioning Lewis’ story and getting Hodges to make a more realistic and nuanced film.


Looking through Ian Hendry's eyes

Caine’s brilliance undoubtedly elevates the film but he has outstanding support all round from a febrile Ian Hendry as Eric, eyes like two piss-holes in the snow behind his shades, then John Osborne as his sinister boss Kinnaird, then Tony Beckley and George Sewell as Peter and Con, his London mates sent up to bring him home. Sewell is especially impressive with a confidence and humour behind his hardness that made his so good at playing in this field. As with Caine, Sewell knew “people” in London, and this certainly informed their portrayals as the film took the likeability of organised criminals away from the capers of the sixties in a more nihilistic and realistic direction.


There are a lot of tough performances but also a lot of very frightened ones too as the threat levels increases for those with and without Carter, the great Alun Armstrong as his brother’s mate Keith and Rosemarie Dunham as Edna, Carter's landlady and love interest. Jack’s love life is conflicted with his girlfriend in London, a sparingly used Britt Eckland, part of his plan to get away from it all in South America yet seemingly making herself available to his boss whilst he’s away. There are few certainties in his life and after being “rescued” by Kinnaird’s inebriated squeeze, Geraldine Moffat, he falls into her bed and then finds out more than he wants from watching the 16mm projector in her bedroom.


Brutalism

He's led to unlikely porn star Albert (Glynn Edwards) and then local businessman, Brumby (Bryan Mosely) who, is famously, a big man out of condition… The film touches on so many themes, from child abuse to corruption and the poisonous impact of crime on local communities. Everything is interconnected and depressingly self-perpetuating and if we truly get Carter, he’s not the solution but the problem.


Anyway, now’s your chance to work it out for yourself, to celebrate and re-evaluate in glorious clarity on the Southbank and across the country including, naturally, Tyneside. Details available on the BFI website.

 

There's also an article from Adam Scovell on the BFI site comparing the North Eastern locations now with then, fascinating how things change and how some things stay the same.