Film review – Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed / The Adventures of Prince Achmed (Lotte Reiniger, 1926)

The uniquely-animated ‘Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed’, Lotte Reiniger’s 1926 film, is a hugely important film. Work started on it in 1923, and it is the earliest-surviving animated feature film – it clocks in at 65 minutes.

The animation technique used involved cutting out cardboard silhouettes of the characters and manipulating them frame by frame. Some 93,000 frames were created for the film.

Reiniger’s attention to detail was matched by that of the restoration team at the Deutsches Filmmuseum, who in 1999 returned it to its former glory and allowed new generations to enjoy it.

Today’s screening, which was at the Tilda Swindon-curated Pilton Palais at Glastonbury Festival, was accompanied by a unique re-score by the Guildhall Electronic Music Studio.

It’s easy to create a modern score for a classic piece that simply doesn’t fit – Air’s ‘The Journey to the Moon’ is certainly guilty of that – but the mix of classical piano and basic sound effects works perfectly. Mike Oliver oversaw the project and acted as a mentor to those involved. The piano accompaniment from Barbara De Biasi is reminiscent of the Joe Hisaishi scores for Ghibli Studio. As a fan of Hisaishi’s work this was very much welcome. This was augmented by Eric Fabrizi with paper-based sound effects and live narration from Mike Oliver and his daughter Molly.

It all came together wonderfully and felt respectful of the original work whilst breathing a new life into it for a new, younger audience.

It was well attended by an early-afternoon festival crowd. Anyone appearing early for the Frozen sing-a-long would have been entirely confused. For everyone else, the film was a triumph. Congratulations to all involved.

BAFTA Awards 2017 – Full list of winners

Winner – LA LA LAND Fred Berger, Jordan Horowitz, Marc Platt
ARRIVAL Dan Levine, Shawn Levy, David Linde, Aaron Ryder
I, DANIEL BLAKE Rebecca O’Brien
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA Lauren Beck, Matt Damon, Chris Moore, Kimberly Steward, Kevin J. Walsh
MOONLIGHT Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Adele Romanski

Winner – LA LA LAND Damien Chazelle
ARRIVAL Denis Villeneuve

Winner – CASEY AFFLECK Manchester by the Sea
JAKE GYLLENHAAL Nocturnal Animals
VIGGO MORTENSEN Captain Fantastic

Winner – EMMA STONE La La Land
EMILY BLUNT The Girl on the Train
MERYL STREEP Florence Foster Jenkins

Winner – DEV PATEL Lion
HUGH GRANT Florence Foster Jenkins
JEFF BRIDGES Hell or High Water

Winner – VIOLA DAVIS Fences
MICHELLE WILLIAMS Manchester by the Sea

Winner – MANCHESTER BY THE SEA Kenneth Lonergan
HELL OR HIGH WATER Taylor Sheridan
I, DANIEL BLAKE Paul Laverty
LA LA LAND Damien Chazelle
MOONLIGHT Barry Jenkins

Winner – LION Luke Davies
ARRIVAL Eric Heisserer
HACKSAW RIDGE Andrew Knight, Robert Schenkkan
HIDDEN FIGURES Theodore Melfi, Allison Schroeder

Winner – I, DANIEL BLAKE Ken Loach, Rebecca O’Brien, Paul Laverty
AMERICAN HONEY Andrea Arnold, Lars Knudsen, Pouya Shahbazian, Jay Van Hoy
DENIAL Mick Jackson, Gary Foster, Russ Krasnoff, David Hare
FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM David Yates, David Heyman, Steve Kloves, J.K. Rowling, Lionel Wigram
NOTES ON BLINDNESS Peter Middleton, James Spinney, Mike Brett, Jo-Jo Ellison, Steve Jamison
UNDER THE SHADOW Babak Anvari, Emily Leo, Oliver Roskill, Lucan Toh

Winner – Under the Shadow: BABAK ANVARI (Writer/Director), EMILY LEO, OLIVER ROSKILL, LUCAN TOH (Producers)
The Girl With All the Gifts: MIKE CAREY (Writer), CAMILLE GATIN (Producer)
The Hard Stop: GEORGE AMPONSAH (Writer/Director/Producer), DIONNE WALKER (Writer/Producer)
Notes on Blindness: PETER MIDDLETON (Writer/Director/Producer), JAMES SPINNEY (Writer/Director/Producer), JO-JO ELLISON (Producer)
The Pass: JOHN DONNELLY (Writer), BEN A. WILLIAMS (Director)

Winner – SON OF SAUL László Nemes, Gábor Sipos
DHEEPAN Jacques Audiard, Pascal Caucheteux
JULIETA Pedro Almodóvar, Agustín Almodóvar
MUSTANG Deniz Gamze Ergüven, Charles Gillibert
TONI ERDMANN Maren Ade, Janine Jackowski

Winner – 13th Ava DuVernay, Spencer Averick, Howard Barish
THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK- THE TOURING YEARS Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Scott Pascucci, Nigel Sinclair
THE EAGLE HUNTRESS Otto Bell, Stacey Reiss
NOTES ON BLINDNESS Peter Middleton, James Spinney
WEINER Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg

Winner – KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS Travis Knight
FINDING DORY Andrew Stanton
MOANA Ron Clements, John Musker
ZOOTROPOLIS Byron Howard, Rich Moore

Winner – LA LA LAND Justin Hurwitz
ARRIVAL Jóhann Jóhannsson
JACKIE Mica Levi
LION Dustin O’Halloran, Hauschka

Winner – LA LA LAND Linus Sandgren
ARRIVAL Bradford Young
LION Greig Fraser

Winner – HACKSAW RIDGE John Gilbert
ARRIVAL Joe Walker
LA LA LAND Tom Cross

DOCTOR STRANGE Charles Wood, John Bush
HAIL, CAESAR! Jess Gonchor, Nancy Haigh
LA LA LAND David Wasco, Sandy Reynolds-Wasco
NOCTURNAL ANIMALS Shane Valentino, Meg Everist

Winner – JACKIE Madeline Fontaine
ALLIED Joanna Johnston
LA LA LAND Mary Zophres

Winner – FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS J. Roy Helland, Daniel Phillips
DOCTOR STRANGE Jeremy Woodhead
NOCTURNAL ANIMALS Donald Mowat, Yolanda Toussieng
ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY Amanda Knight, Neal Scanlan, Lisa Tomblin

Winner – ARRIVAL Sylvain Bellemare, Claude La Haye, Bernard Gariépy Strobl
DEEPWATER HORIZON Dror Mohar, Mike Prestwood Smith, Wylie Stateman, Renee Tondelli, David Wyman
FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM Niv Adiri, Glenn Freemantle, Simon Hayes, Andy Nelson, Ian Tapp
HACKSAW RIDGE Peter Grace, Robert Mackenzie, Kevin O’Connell, Andy Wright
LA LA LAND Mildred Iatrou Morgan, Ai-Ling Lee, Steve A. Morrow, Andy Nelson

Winner – THE JUNGLE BOOK Robert Legato, Dan Lemmon, Andrew R. Jones, Adam Valdez
ARRIVAL Louis Morin
DOCTOR STRANGE Richard Bluff, Stephane Ceretti, Paul Corbould, Jonathan Fawkner
FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM Tim Burke, Pablo Grillo, Christian Manz, David Watkins
ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY Neil Corbould, Hal Hickel, Mohen Leo, John Knoll, Nigel Sumner

Winner – A LOVE STORY Khaled Gad, Anushka
THE ALAN DIMENSION Jac Clinch, Jonathan Harbottle, Millie Marsh
Kishani Naanayakkara, Elena Ruscombe-King
TOUGH Jennifer Zheng

Winner – HOME Shpat Deda, Afolabi Kuti, Daniel Mulloy, Scott O’Donnell
CONSUMED Richard John Seymour
MOUTH OF HELL Bart Gavigan, Samir Mehanovic, Ailie Smith, Michael Wilson
THE PARTY Farah Abushwesha, Emmet Fleming, Andrea Harkin, Conor MacNeill
STANDBY Jack Hannon, Charlotte Regan



Winner – CURZON

Film review – La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016)

WARNING: This review is effusively positive. If you’re a misery-guts then please look away now.

Every once in a while you will go into a film knowing almost nothing about what you’re going to see and get absolutely blown away by a surprisingly perfect masterpiece. As you get further into your film-watching life, enjoying these moments becomes increasingly rare, so when a film like ‘La La Land’ comes along, you can’t help but be overcome by giddy excitement.

Damien Chazelle shot to fame in 2014 with his critically acclaimed and rather special jazz-bully drama ‘Whiplash’. ‘La La Land’ shares very few similarities with it, bar an affinity to jazz that also featured prominently in his debut feature ‘Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench’. It does expand on a topic explored in ‘Whiplash’: the ongoing internal conflict of artists pursuing their dream at the expense of every other aspect of their life.

If you enjoyed his first two feature films but thought he couldn’t “do” mainstream, then prepare to be proven absolutely wrong seconds into the start. It opens with an over-the-top musical song and dance number set amidst a traffic jam. It’s an explosive one-shot (though there may have been some clever linking between extended shots) that received a round of applause at the end from an appreciative audience. Rightly so – it was jaw-dropping.

‘La La Land’ is, at heart, a homage to traditional musicals, with a joyful soundtrack matched by a couple of mesmerising performances from the lead performers Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Gosling stars as Sebastian, a struggling jazz pianist going from poor gig to poor gig in LA, with dreams of owning his own jazz club to fend off the death of jazz. Stone is Mia, a young actress moonlighting as a barista at the Warner Brothers Studio sets who can’t get a break she deserves in the film industry. After a number of serendipitous meets, Seb and Mia start to fall for each other and, with both a figurative and a literal song and a dance, their romance explodes.

With Seb being a jazz expert/enthusiast/nerd and them both being performers, Chazelle has given himself the platform on which to produce a naturalistic musical that will doubtless make it more acceptable to those who don’t normally class themselves as musical fans. There is also evidence of a significant amount of effort put in by Gosling to perfect the piano shots, which were impressively all performed by him.

It’s a film so visually stunning it’s hard to take your eyes away from it. There is, however, never a risk that it was simply a platform to reference more familiar films of old. In a breathtaking final segment, we take a walk through memory lane with nods to a number of classic musicals, but they are simply nods in what amounts to one of the most perfectly-balanced final sequences I’ve seen in cinema. Gasps were audible around the auditorium.

The soundtrack is destined to stick around for years to come. Gosling/Stone duets “City of Stars” and “A Lovely Night” are both standouts, but it will be “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” that will be vying for an Oscar early next year. A beautiful number written by Justin Harwitz, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, it is left to Emma Stone to deliver an emotionally raw live performance.

The only downside for me is that I have to wait for another two months to see it again. A must see.

Burnley v Manchester United (Unknown director, 1902)

This is a truly historic film artefact, badly damaged though it is: the very earliest footage of Manchester United, shot months after they changed their name from Newton Heath. The frenetic action shows United (in dark tops) apparently on the back foot against near-neighbours Burnley, although the home team ultimately lost 2-0. The result helps explain why the film was never advertised in Burnley. [1]

Watch Burnley v Manchester United from 6th December 1902

This is really interesting for me. I have been a Manchester United fan for as long as I remember, though I grew up in neighbouring Burnley where this film was recorded. I class Burnley as my second team, which generally means I want them to win in all but two weekends of the season.

The ground still stands in the same spot to this day at Turf Moor on Harry Potts Way, though it has obviously undergone a lot of developments. In this video you can see the single-tiered Brunshaw Road end (now the Bob Lord stand), to which a second tier was added a few years later. The ground looks fairly sparse, and a bit of research reveals that the attendance that day was around 4000.

There’s clearly a huge difference between the way the game is played today and how it was 113 years ago. Immediately the attire is completely different, with most wearing their shorts way higher up than their bellies. The pace of the game is much slower, probably due to the thicker clothing, longer grass, heavier ball and general lack of fitness of the players (note Bulldog cigarettes advertised above one of the stands). On the plus side, there are no free-kicks given for soft fouls, no diving, nobody shouting at the referees and no shirt advertising.

So what does it show? Is the game better or worse today? Well, it is certainly different. This is a fantastic early artefact of the game. There is earlier footage available – the earliest of which is thought to be Blackburn Rovers v West Bromwich Albion from 1898. It’s also only 1 minute and 35 seconds long, so you might as well watch it.

[1] From the BFI Player page for the video.

Film review – Tiger Orange (Wade Gasque, 2014)

I saw Tiger Orange earlier this week when it was screened as part of the BFI Flare Festival, a two-week festival at the BFI Southbank in London that screens films with LGBT topics at their heart. It’s an effective piece of cinema that makes the most of its limited setting and low budget.

The premise is quite straightforward: openly gay Todd (Frankie Valenti) returns to his small Californian hometown following the death of his homophobic father (Vincent Duvall) and is reunited with his older brother Chet (Mark Strano). Seeking to hide his sexuality whilst running the family hardware store, Chet struggles to accept how open Todd is about something he has spent his life trying to hide from the local community.

Strano (centre) and Valenti (right) bring their characters to life with some really effective performances.

This storyline is a good platform for the exploration of the characters, who are well-developed in a relatively short period of screen time (76 minutes). I think the fact it is such a small community and they are living in an isolated cabin house – and sleeping in their childhood bunk-beds – means that their fast development is also quite believable. Indeed, it’s debatable whether the childhood flashbacks are absolutely necessary, serving only to underline how homophobic their father was. Other than this, it’s a tight story and there’s absolutely no wastage in present-day screen time.

I was impressed by the acting performances too, with both leads actors clearly at ease in their characters, probably drawing on some levels from their own experiences. Strano does well to hold his own in a more understated role, when lesser actors would have allowed Valenti to steal the show with a more immediate and attention-craving character. I was surprised to read that Valenti used to be a pornographic film actor, such was his performance in this film. I’m not convinced the sort of depth of character was necessary in his previous line of work.

Gasque has made the most of what was likely a relatively low budget and created something special. I doubt this will reach a wide audience globally, but those that do seek it out will be rewarded.

Tiger Orange is not currently scheduled for a wide UK release. It was recently picked up for global distribution with Wolfe Releasing.

BFI Flare Film Festival

I’ll be heading down to the BFI Flare LGBT Film Festival later this month. I’ve tried to pick a couple of films that look really interesting and no set wide release date in the UK, as follows:

– Tiger Orange
– Dear White People

Both look fantastic and I’m looking forward to soaking up the atmosphere at the hub of British Film on London’s Southbank. See you there!!

The Party’s Over (Guy Hamilton, 1963)

The BFI Flipside series is, according to the back of the Blu-ray box, dedicated to “rescuing weird and wonderful British films from obscurity and presenting them in new high-quality editions.” I picked up a few of them when my local Zavvi finally closed down a couple of years ago (yes, there really did used to be Zavvi shops that you could walk into), meaning a lot of Masters of Cinema and BFI releases were reduced to about £7-8. One that I picked up and put at the bottom of my “to watch” list was The Party’s Over, Guy Hamilton’s 1963 controversial release.

Opening with a drunken Chelsea party, we’re immediately introduced to Oliver Reed’s pack leader Moise (pronounced “Mo-Eece”). He’s a handsome and popular guy, not afraid of being the centre of attention but equally happy to slip into the background. He shows off a bit and everyone looks on in admiration. This is then juxtaposed by a painfully cool opening sequence as Melina (Luoise Sorel) walks towards the camera, brilliantly soundtracked by Annie Ross and John Barry.

A shot from the cool opening sequence

A shot from the painfully cool opening sequence

It’s obviously a film that isn’t afraid to glamorise its subject matter and candidly display every part of their lives, and I suspect that was one of the reasons it was withheld from release subject to several cuts and changes. This was 1963 after all, and censor John Trevelyan perhaps thought an audience besotted by a young new group called The Beatles were unnerved enough without this kind of film further rotting their brain. In short, the world wasn’t quite ready for the subject matter [1].

Despite a decent range of characters, it is Oliver Reed who steals the show throughout. His is a character that snaps his fingers and gets what he wants immediately, such is the influence he has over his beatnik and largely non-descript gang members. As the plot develops through some shocking developments – including sexual assault and suicide – it is Reed that maintains his position as the driving force of the narrative, much as Moise is the driving force of the gang.

It is a shame that there are several lacklustre performances. The supporting cast look like they’re straight out of acting school and don’t look overly comfortable in front of the camera. Several of the leading cast either overact or lack conviction, which is quite an achievement in itself when you think about it. Carson (Clifford David), Meilna’s fiancé, provides a solid performance and rescues the film from being a poor one-man-show.

BFI Flipside has been responsible for a number of excellent releases, with as much care given to their release as any famous film. Whilst the audience is undoubtedly more niche, it’s great that we are able to watch a film like The Party’s Over without any edits as the production team originally intended [2]. It’s not a film that has changed my life, but it might have had a much greater impact on the landscape of cinema had the censors not got involved some 50 years ago [3].

The Party’s Over is out now on BFI dual-format Blu-Ray and DVD.

[1] This release contains extensive words on both the censoring of the film and the director’s recollection of making and editing the film in line with the increasing pressure from Trevelyan.

[2] According to the booklet, one edit was made at the request of the director, with the removal of the credits over the opening sequence. It is unnoticeable unless, I suspect, you vividly remember to original.

[3] The Wikipedia page suggests the film was made in 1965. It was eventually released in 1965, but I’ve decided to list the film as a 1963 release. This was done because the version presented is as close as we’ve ever got to a version director Guy Hamilton’s pre-censor vision. The film was completed in 1963 and this is the version I have reviewed. For completionists, the 1965 version is also included on the Blu-Ray disc.

Dreams of Toyland (Arthur Melbourne-Cooper, 1908)

A young boy dreams that his toys come to life.

Watch here.

Another example of the fine curiosities available on the brilliant BFI Player. I recently discovered this was pre-loaded onto my TV (a Samsung) so I’ve been watching some pretty obscure silent films in my lounge in all their glory.*

This film is well worth watching as the director attempts a highly elaborate stop-motion sequence that lasts for well over half of the total running time. It must have taken hours to create and should be marvelled at given its age – 106 years old. You can imagine the painstaking attention to detail that has gone into it. There’s almost no chance he had a pre-written storyline for the characters and this free-spirited approach has lent itself to a lot of creativity, which in turn succeeds in reflecting a child’s dreams as inspired by a trip to the toy shop.

A must for fans of quirky silent cinema!

* I’ve also been suffering from insomnia recently but silent films are the perfect indulgence if you’re in bed and don’t want to disturb your wife whilst not wasting your time counting sheep!

Testament of Youth (James Kent, 2015)

Testament Of Youth is a dramatisation of the memoirs of famed pacifist Vera Brittain. Her story is a powerful and heartbreaking one to tell. It’s just a shame that first-time director James Kent fails to bring it to life.

Alicia Vikander portrays Brittain as she watches her fiancé Roland (Kit “You Know Nothing” Harington) leave France to fight in World War I, along with her brother Edward (Taron Egerton) and friends Geoffrey (Jonathan Bailey) and Victor (Colin Morgan). The story follows her as she joins the fight as a frontline nurse, giving up her studies at Oxford University to get closer to her loved ones in France.


Premiering at the BFI London Film Festival in the year of the centenary of the start of the war, giving the story additional poignancy, the underlying themes of the film are no less true today. We see Brittain in all her inspirational glory, fighting for her beliefs and showing resilience in the face of adversity.

But it is far from a perfect film. Perhaps one of the most distracting parts of the feature is Kit Harington. Known a little for his modelling work but quite a lot more for his role as Jon Snow in HBO’s episodic epic Game of Thrones, he failed to ignite anything but boredom in me as I watched him try to manage a deep gamut of emotions whilst just looking a bit lost and out of place.

The pacing of the film was another downside. I think the tendency with these wartime biopics is to draw them out and allow them space to breathe, but I’m sure this could have been cut slightly. Alternatively, if they wanted to give the story more time to develop, they could have opted for a more appropriate mini-series. Oh wait…

Vikander’s accent needed work. She is of Swedish origin and clearly hasn’t mastered the English nuances yet. You’d have thought that there were better options available, although director Kent has previously stated how thrilled he was that she signed up. Maybe I missed something.

My final bug-bear is the desire to build up sympathy in a character that seemingly has everything. We watch her in the opening scenes have a disagreement with her father because he bought her a grand piano instead of helping fund her to go to university. She storms off out of the room, whilst their maids look on in horror, up the stairs and into her oversized room, which I think was in the East Wing. You get the idea. I just don’t find this sort of thing entertaining as I have no connection to that sort of lifestyle.

The film has tough competition at the box office from Oscar tips Birdman, Foxcatcher, Cake, American Sniper, Whiplash, The Theory of Everything (the list goes on). There are still some huge blockbusters too in The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies, Into The Woods, Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One, Paddington and How To Train Your Dragon 2. And Dumb and Dumber To is still on. I’m sure this film won’t be overlooked when it hits home media releases later this year, but I can’t see why they’re releasing it in awards season. It needs more help than that.

Testament of Youth is released in UK cinemas on 16th January 2015.

Mayhem Presents The Created Woman (Broadway Cinema, Nottingham, 2014)


This weekend I’ll be heading over to Mayhem Presents The Created Woman at Broadway Cinema, Nottingham. The festival is “a three day journey into Sci-Fi with film screenings, events and discussions”. So far I’ve only got tickets to the Friday night screenings of Terence Fisher’s 1967 film Frankenstein Created Woman and John Hughes’s 1985 cult classic Weird Science. There’s also a free screening of Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde later on in the cafébar, which will be an interesting experience.

The events are on all weekend, including screenings of two different versions of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis on Saturday. I was lucky enough to see the original robot from Metropolis last month at le Musée de la Cinémathèque in Paris and it has reignited my interest in this picture, so I’ll be going to at least one of these screenings. The discussions and introductions look set to offer a lot of insight into the films.

At £5 a ticket, you can hardly go wrong!

Mayhem Presents The Created Woman runs at Broadway Cinema in Nottingham from 5th-7th December 2014.