Rembrandt_poster  1936 – Alexander Korda                                                                             

“Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.”  


In 1642, Rembrandt is at the height of his fame when his adored wife suddenly dies and his work takes a dark turn that offends his patrons. Devoting himself entirely to his painting, he faces both bankruptcy and the scorn of society when he takes up with a pretty maid.                                                                                .

cam_03 Biographical films can often be problematic – they may well capture the chronology and details of a subject, but rarely do they capture that essential quality that makes that subject a source of our fascination. Rarely too, can a film concerned with art become a work of art in itself. Alexander Korda‘s Rembrandt is the exception.

Focusing on the last 27 years of the master painter’s life, Rembrandt gives us not only a perspective into the life and times of the artist, but also a marvelous insight into the poetic mind of the man himself. Charles Laughton‘s portrayal of Rembrandt van Rijn avoids any need to glorify or mythologise, but rather deeply concentrates on the humanity of his character and the unyielding integrity of his art. Bearing an uncanny resemblance to the artist himself, Laughton lights up the screen with his soulful ruminations about the nature of life, women, social status, success, and his struggles between vision and reality. So complete is this immersion in character, by the time this beautiful and tender film ends, it is difficult to tell of any separation between the two great artists – Laughton and Rembrandt.

Under the masterful eye of Alexander Korda, Rembrandt’s world is brilliantly staged – Georges Périnal’s cinematography paints the artist’s struggles on the screen in such vivid black and white that it almost captures the luminosity of a canvas by Rembrandt himself. The costumes, locations and set design, though all executed through the limitations the studio system of the day, still contribute to a film of the rarest quality. The supporting cast too, including Elsa Lanchester as Hendrickje, Rembrandt’s maid who also became his lover and Roger Livesey as the beggar who was the model for Rembrandt’s painting of King Saul, are just perfection.                                                                                                   Rembrandt is so much more than a film about a famous artist, it brilliantly achieves an atmosphere of clarity and of soul that is worthy of the authentic nature of the man himself.











 devilsposterA  1971 – Ken Russell                                                                                                

“Hell holds no surprises for them.”  


In 17th-century France, Father Urbain Grandier seeks to protect the city of Loudun from the corrupt establishment of Cardinal Richelieu. Hysteria occurs within the city when he is accused of witchcraft by a sexually repressed nun.

cam_03  The film critic Pauline Kael once described British film-maker Ken Russell as “an appalling talent” – and there can be is no doubt that he has been responsible for some of the most tasteless, excessive and flatly ridiculous works in the history of cinema. Where most directors are ascetic, Russell is the consummate glutton – often gorging himself on every manner of cinematic overindulgence and cliche, occasionally to the point of producing a sense of abject nausea in the viewer.                                                                   And yet… looking beyond his trademark “baroque vulgarity”, Russell’s work is also notable for its intensity, ferocity, and imaginative boldness. A certain type of creative energy and verve that only comes from a deep and authentic personal expression that, if all the stars were aligned, just might produce something special. That masterpiece could be The Devils.

Based partially on the 1952 novel, in turn based on historical events, The Devils of Loudun by Aldous Huxley, Russell plunges headlong into a twisted world bursting at the seams with pernicious political intrigue, religious psychopathy, unbridled savagery, wanton psycho-sexual abandon, witchcraft and mass hysteria. The results of which is a heady brew of phantasmagoria, the likes of which had never been committed to film before. Immediately upon release it caused a storm of controversy, being banned in many countries and existing in many heavily censored versions, and everywhere attracting many scathing reviews. One critic called it a “grand fiesta for sadists and perverts”.

If only for this infamy, The Devils would probably still be remembered, but what really qualifies this film as a potential work of genius is Russell’s unique interpretation of the material. It starts with his anarchistic blending of elements of modernity into a historical drama – the astonishing set designs were designed by Derek Jarman, before he began directing his own movies. The huge set for the walled city and the stark white-tiled convent, cheekily modeled on public lavatories of the time, rank right up with 2001 A Space Odyssey as some of the most audacious production design ever. Complemented by Shirley Russell’s costumes, avant-garde composer Peter Maxwell Davies‘ powerful score and the brilliant cinematography of David Watkin – it all results in a electrifying fusion of the past, present… and the timeless.                                                                                       The bravura performances the two central characters are also stand outs! In the best role of his career, Oliver Reed as Father Grandier is the spirit made flesh! – aloof, ironic and brusque but also rampantly masculine, sensual and magnetic. And he even manages to under score his rock star charisma with an authentic sense of piety. Vanessa Redgrave too is transfixing as the crazed hunchback nun, Sister Jeanne – pitiful and hateful in equal parts, she gives a totally enthralling portrait of the human spirit torn apart by frustration and loneliness.

The Devils is almost guaranteed to polarise any audience – it can be most confronting, extreme and not a little unhinged. But love it or hate it, for film fans interested in a unique cinema experience, it simply can’t be dismissed.                                                                     















Get_Carter_poster 1971  –  Mike Hodges                                                                                                

“Jack’s Return Home” 


A London gangster returns to his home town for the funeral of his brother. Determined to learn the true circumstances of his death, he ruthlessly pursues his vengeance amongst the local underworld.

cam_03 This landmark British thriller has a hallowed reputation as one of the best crime films of all time.                                                                                                                         Hard-boiled, ice cold and gritty in such a certain way that only the British seem to understand – if Samuel Beckett wrote a gangster film, it might come out something like Get Carter. Here the “swinging 60s” is transposed over the slow-burning existential terror  of working class Newcastle, and exposed as a absolute dead end.                                    At the centre of this abject bleakness is the iconic performance by Michael Caine – Jack Carter is played with such chilly authority that he is the complete epitome of ironic cool. Capable of wry and darkly humourous observations, and ocassional moments of reflection that give us subtle hints of something deeper, Caine’s Carter is nonetheless as comforting as a shard of plate glass on a frosty night.                                                           Director Mike Hodges‘s stylish but naturalistic approach, aided by Roy Budd’s minimalist soundtrack, slowly builds a sure feel for the underbelly of society.                                   Get Carter is impossible to imitate or to under rate.  













Draughtsman_DVD 1982 – Peter Greenaway

“A landscape of lust and cunning.”


17th century England – A cocksure young artist is contracted by the wife of a wealthy landowner, to produce a set of twelve drawings of her husband’s estate – a contract which extends much further than either the purse or the sketchpad. The sketches themselves take on an even greater significance than supposed upon the discovery of the murdered body of the landowner.

cam_03 Masquerading as restoration comedy, The Draughtman’s Contract is a dark, elegant and multi-layered murder mystery. A comedy of manners that masks a primal face.                                                                                                                                     This was the debut feature of Peter Greenaway, and the one that saw him become internationally recognised for his provocative vision and intellectual aesthetics. Delighting in constructing dramatic “puzzles” that defy easy solutions, and drawing heavily on visual references from art history, Greenway weaves such rich and complex tapestries that his films are seen as unique amongst the history of cinema. The painterly atmosphere of The Draughtman’s Contract  refers directly to Baroque artists such as Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Vermeer and George de La Tour and the music of Henry Purcell was the inspiration for Michael Nyman‘s beautifully crafted score.                                                       Intertwined with the oddities of this murder mystery as seen from Greenaway’s deliberately cool perspective, is an investigation into such themes as class, sexuality and religious opposition at the end of the 17th century, as well as a philosophical study of the problem of artists’ perception of the world.                                                                                    Brilliantly staged and acted, full of extravagant visual and verbal wit, this is definitely isn’t your standard costume drama fare. The Draughtman’s Contract is an intriguingly intricate world where nothing is as it appears – a masterpiece that rewards repeated viewings.