Tuesday, 29 June 2010

10 Rillington Place

Last night I re-watched Richard Fleischer's 10 Rillington Place, a film which I first saw in the late 70s at the then called Hull Library Theatre. It is one of those films that, when seen, remains ingrained in the mind, at least it did so in mine. Fortunately, it was shown on TV many years ago and had the foresight of videotaping it. Unfortunately, the video tape is now finished, broken.

For those of you who haven't seen it, it follows a real life serial murder case in London during the 40s and 50s, which resulted in the wrong man having been convicted and hanged. Richard Attenborough, what a fine actor he is, was absolutely brilliant as the sinister John Reginald Christie, the serial killer, who we first see in action one dark night in 1944, during the last stages of the war, sweet talking to a young woman for then to proceed to murder her by gas and strangulation. Rape is not shown, but it effect is even more devastating by having been left out. We presume that the young woman may have gone to him after the sweet Mr Christie offered her to get rid of the unwanted child she was carrying, a common occurrence during the war. We see another woman foot sticking out of the ground in his back yard when Christie is burying her body.

The action then moves forward to 1949, during post war austerity, when a young couple, Timothy Evans and his wife Beryl rent the flat on the top of his house in 10 Rillington Place.Timothy Evans, who is unable to read and write and who is, apparently, mentally deficient, young John Hurt's performance conveying the nuances of the character with deep conviction, is involved in constant rows with Beryl, a young and charming Judy Geeson playing the part,  after she discloses that she is expecting another baby. Money is short, we know that they had to move downwards from a river front flat, so row after row ensue.

Sweet talking John Christie convinces Beryl that he can help her to get rid of the baby. Murder and rape follows. Timothy is talked over by Christie, and runs away as he believed that Beryl's death, which he believed was caused by an abortion gone wrong, will be pinned on him. Geraldine, the older baby, is left behind as he also believed that a couple known to Christie was going to take care of her. Of course, that couple did not exist, and the child is also strangulated

To cut the story short, Timothy Evans, his conscience bugging him, gives himself up in Cardiff. Christie manipulated the facts and his testimony during the trial in such a way that Evans is found guilty of the murders, and he is executed. Many years later, as Christie, after murdering his own wife as she knows too much, is forced to sell the house as money dried up - no one wants to rent a flat in a house where murders happened, is caught as the new West Indian owners of 10 Rillington Place discovered the bodies of some of his murder victims behind a panel.

Christie is finally arrested and hanged. We know little of what made him to commit those murders, one after the other, apart from hints of repressed sexuality behind that smooth talk and sweet face of a gentleman. The film is even more blood curling because of that, because of us knowing very little of his background, apart from the disclosure during the trial that he had several convictions for petty crimes and violence. We also know that, as a soldier, he was gassed during WWI.

It made me for years to look with suspicion at people in the street, including my own neighbours.

10 Rillington Place is based on a book by Ludovic Kennedy.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Rebecca Hall and Mary Wesley's The Camomile Lawn

This morning I finished re-reading Mary Wesley's The Camomile Lawn, originally published in 1984. Mary Wesley knew how to tell a  story, a story of unfulfilled love and loss, a story of hope, and the glory of life. This is a story about a funeral in Cornwall of a Jewish violinist, a refugee from Nazi Germany. Funerals mean reminiscences. About the break of the war, the blitz, the loss of innocence, the need to have another human body next to yours, whoever that body was, because tomorrow could evaporate in the dust and fire of the next bomb.

Mary Wesley have told me more about the daily life during the blitz in London than all the other books and news footage from that time.

A 9 year old Rebecca Hall, who is currently in the cinemas in Please Give, played the part of Sophie, the beautiful Eurasian child with the slanted eyes and the enigmatic face, in the 1992 TV series of the book, directed by Rebecca's father, Sir Peter Hall.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Israeli film Lebanon reviewed

Lebanon is an extraordinary film. It is about war, it is not a war film. It produced intense and conflicting emotions in me when I was watching it. If that was the intention of its director, Samuel Maoz, he certainly succeeded.

I will take this occasion to rebuke all those reviewers who criticized it for not expanding onto the wider landscape of the endless conflicts that have afflicted the Middle East. First of all, to have done so would have resulted in an extremely long and practically unwatchable film, its central and powerful narrative would have been diluted. Secondly, and more important, Lebanon fixes its gaze on the inner mechanisms and psychology of war, not on dry theorizing, by focusing on the daily lives of a bunch of complete strangers which constitutes the crew of an Israeli tank during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, one of the many endless wars that the Israeli political classes have embarked in their quest for a Greater Israel, a concept that is now as much a myth as El Dorado was in the 16th century. Wars carried out regardless of the blood spilled by their own soldiers, without counting the huge civilian body count on the other side, whichever it may be. The consequences? An ever expanding circle of fire, an endlessly enemy making machine which has made not only Israel more insecure, but also the West.

Lebanon begins with a wide angle shot of a sunflower field, withered sunflowers, which are soon disturbed by a strong gust of wind, an indication of what is to come. The final scene is shot in the same field, the sunflowers being disturbed this time by the presence of a tank. One of the first impressions I had was to notice that this tank was a wreck, before going into battle, as the soldiers getting into it down the hatch step into a mix of water, machine oil and rubbish laying at the bottom of the cabin. This adds credibility to those military strategists who have argued that wars are not won by the most competent army, but by the least incompetent one.

To have put four young and inexperienced conscripts, complete strangers, poorly trained, an expect them to perform like a well oiled team in the madness, chaos and brutality of armed conflict was plain stupidity, the tank commander being barely able to establish any sign of authority and military discipline to his subordinates. Add to this volatile mix the fact that the tank was already a wreck before it was commissioned into this mission; it was a miracle that it managed to stumble to safety with the loss of just one member of its crew after a frantic run to end up on that field of withered sunflowers. Jalim, the commander of the platoon of paratroopers to which the tank had been assigned, leads his men into an area controlled by a Syrian army unit either by having faulty intelligence, or having misread it. This war is no longer a walk in the park.

The myth of Israeli military infallibility is over. By sign posting that reality, Lebanon may well be indicating to the Israeli society that the road for peace, stability and security lays elsewhere.

In between, we follow the lives of these four young men trapped in this oil stained urine smelling steel coffin that some people call a tank. We see how in a matter of hours gunners who had shot only blanks before are confronted with life and death decisions, the results of those decisions are not pretty. Not pretty at all: simply and plainly, they are war crimes. We also see the euphemisms employed by the Israeli army to circumvent international legislation, so phosphorous shells are no longer called so. If the whole of the IDF have conducted their wars as depicted in this film, then the whole of the IDF, soldiers and officers, should be indicted of war crimes.

Yet, the counter argument is that when young and inexperienced soldiers are put into situations such as this, where their options are severely curtailed if they want to get out alive, where their ways out are shrouded in darkness, they cannot behave in any other manner that they way they did, war crimes or not. The buck has entirely been passed onto the hands of the political classes, and it should stay there.

As I said at the beginning, this is an extraordinary psychologically gripping drama in all its aspects,: story line, acting, cinematography, music; a film that kept me at the edge of my seat muttering to myself throughout its duration like a madman. Not recommended for those people who have a faint heart.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010


Four Lions is a comedy, it is not a political film.  It does not try to be controversial for the sake of it, although its subject may be considered as such by many, as some of the press it has received indicates. On the other hand, Chris Morris was aware of the controversial nature of the script, and trod a careful path in its realization.

Four Lions is not defending, or attacking, terrorism. At least, not directly. It is much more effective than that, as it makes fun out of them, out of the whole war on terror farce. In doing so, it exposes the utter ridiculousness , ignorance and stupidity of not only so many would be bombers, but also of the security and political establishment  - one of its hilarious scenes is set in the charade of a meeting to fight terrorism, an incongruous well bred politician, probably Tory, utterly scared in the midst of his Muslim constituents.

The film tells the story of four lions, our heroes, are four young clueless British Muslin men, including a white convert, who decide to take action in defence of the Ummah, the community of brothers and sisters of Islam, to become soldiers of their faith. The problem, and the laughs, come from the fact that our cubs (rather than lions) are as bright as two planks. We just follow their misadventures rolling one after the other as they attempt to carry out a suicide bombing. If lions are like these lost souls, no wonder that they are near extinction.

The film is also a parody of recent American studio produced blockbusters treading on a similar line, with its beautifully produced shots of charismatic heroes flying unscathed in the air whilst exploding cars miraculously do not touch a single hair out of place, the baddies portrayed as possessing sophisticated weaponry while the forces of law and order excel in their duties. None of this is found in Four Lions: what we got here is a would be terrorist crow being blown by the bomb strapped to it, whilst one of the would be mumbling bombers had to be picked up in bits in a black bin liner after blowing himself up, and a sheep, as he lost his way in a field, his head falling later from a tree onto the path of an unsuspecting man walking his dog. We witness the absurd situation of the imam who refuses to walk into a room because there is a woman in it, even more, a woman who answers back. The utter predictability and boredom of suburbia and terrorism has indeed comic potential.

We are indeed into a home grown version of the territory exposed by films, and books, such as The Men Who Stare at Goats, although I would call it in this case as The Jihadist Crows. We see the presumably MI5 agent pretending that the container  where both him and his prisoner are is Egyptian territory, a container located in the middle of an industrial warehouse somewhere in an industrial estate as he interrogates, and threatens, his Muslim suspect, who actually opposes violence, with the horrors of the tortures waiting for him in the hands of the barbarian Egyptian hordes waiting outside. A suspect brought in after a bungled raid carried out by a clueless police in a suspected house, when the actual would be bombers where to be found next door.

Hopefully, if all Islamic extremists are as inept as our four lions are, the possibilities of an effective terrorist attack in Britain are not as great as politicians have made us to believe. However, these hopes are dashed if the police is as inept as depicted in this film. I am sure that some readers will raise an eyebrow on the wisdom of such a statement. Well, let them be, although I would just remind them that we are inhabiting a land populated by people who stare at goats, or those who train crows to be bombers.  Not mentioning the soldier of Islam who accidentally blows up Osama Bin Laden in a training camp in mountainous Pakistan as he is not able to distinguish his arse from his elbow, or the back from the front of a RPG, as he tries to shoot down an American drone plane, or the police markman who cannot distinguish a bear.

In fact, no one comes out well in this film, not even us, the audience, as we laugh our heads off as we see completely incompetent terrorists blowing themselves up, or totally clueless police officers shooting at the wrong man. To those people who object to suicide bombers becoming the subject of a comedy, I say that this is precisely the kind of issue that we need to make fun of, to expose the ridiculousness and stupidity of their actions.

Four Lions is not a flawless film, its rhythm tends to plod on between the gags, and the rawness of a limited resourced home grown production is very much in evidence. The actors are brilliant in conveying the earthiness, language and nuances of working class British Muslim lives in suburbia, down to the depiction of a rapping terrorist.

Friday, 11 June 2010


A kind of review

I was facing a film maker who does not only know how to tell a story, but also who knows how to tell that story beautifully. From the first scene of Port of Call: New Orleans I knew I was viewing something special: a cinematic jewel.

Herzog moves with complete fluidity and mastery of his medium from the darkest of dark film noir, exploring not only the inner recesses of human consciousness, but also the underbelly of an American Dream where broken glass lays underneath the streets paved with gold, to comedy and parody. A parody of the main character, the bad cop, the bad lieutenant, a deeply hero stumbling from shot to shot of whatever he can get, some times farcically. This film is also a parody of its genre, of noir thrillers: telling is not only the language of its characters, but also the scene where the bad cop asks to shoot again at a baddy already dead because he can see his soul dancing.

Post Katrina New Orleans is portrayed in all its luscious rusting decadence and dereliction, the cinematography being superb in conveying a feeling of impending doom, the film being a visual feast, pure and playful visual poetry. I can tell that not only Werner Herzog but also Nicolas Cage had loads of fun crafting Bad Lieutenant, regardless of the opinions of reviewers and the dons of film studies. Nicolas Cage’s performance as the bad cop is just magnificent in his portrayal of not only an obsessed man, a walking receptacle of drugs coming out of his eyeballs, but also in the mannerisms of a character played by Harvey Keitel in the original Abel Ferrara’s  movie.

And I have done it, I have done what Herzog thought what we would do, refer his take on the character to that of the earlier film. The word has spoken, damnation on me!

Thursday, 10 June 2010


When I saw The Railway Children the film a long time ago, I could not forget Jenny Agutter’s portrayal of Bobbie, or Roberta. Reading the E. Nesbit’s book on which the movie was based, the characterization of goody goody Roberta was such that provoked an irresistible desire to put my hands on her tender 12 year old neck and wring and wring and wring  it until she stopped flapping her wings. I have to say that, not being born or raised in Britain, I only read the novel this week. I found it extremely exasperating, if I had been a kid reading it, most probably I would have chucked it straight away into the dust bin.

Yes, it was written in a different era, depicted so much like a fairy tale that reminded me of David Cameron’s take on the Big Society, a society of goody goody children rather than greedy greedy bankers and environmentally and socially abusive oil corporations.

Lionel Jeffries’ film, fortunately, concentrated on, for what I remember, the depiction of the human story rather than the depiction of a socially contented society, if you allow me the repetition of words, which it was not. The General Strike was not that far away, and the Great War was lurking just around the corner of history.