Lady Summerisle (strange_complex) wrote,
Lady Summerisle

Starburst international film festival: Saturday

So! Film festival, day two. Here is the overall schedule for the day:

Saturday schedule.jpg

And here's what I did:

21. The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973), dir. Gordon Hessler / interview with Caroline Munro / Ray Harryhausen's Lost Treasures

I've seen most of this before, including with swisstone and the_lady_lily on the evening before a conference on Classics and Ray Harryhausen which I helped to organise a few years ago, and indeed which has now been published as a free-access online collection. However, I hadn't actually sat down and watched the whole thing properly, despite the conference and the fact that it is the film which led to Tom Baker being cast as my favourite Doctor. It contains some racist tropes (particularly the 'savages' who worship Kali), and it's very noticeable indeed that Caroline Munro plays the only female character in the film. But on the whole I am of the view that making stories from other cultures accessible to western viewers is better for international and inter-race relations than living in cultural bubbles, so I will let it go.

Caroline Munro's character, Margiana, is mainly there to look sexy, be feminine and vulnerable, and get captured and need rescuing. But, in line with what she and Martine Beswick had said about how they played their characters the previous day, she does give Margiana rather more than that. In particular, as the story goes on, Margiana increasingly shows a real sense of adventure in the face of danger, which makes a lot of sense given that she started the story as a slave-girl with no control over her own life or destiny. Once freed and taken off on a voyage with Sinbad, her attitude seems to be that she has nothing to lose (since she never had anything in the first place) and a lot to gain from exploring the exotic locations in which she now finds herself, so off she goes quite cheerfully alongside all the hardened sailors.

Tom Baker's performance is also great, and although the link to his Doctor isn't immediately obvious, since his character here is an evil magician, you can see the sort of things which must have caught producer Barry Letts' eye: mainly being different from everyone else as the only magician amongst all the humans, and doing a good line in both enigma and suffering. And then of course there are Ray Harryhausen's creatures, with Kali being the absolute star of this film for me. In fact, since she is a goddess, it is another epiphanic encounter - device which Harryhausen clearly liked, since he did it with Hera in Jason and the Argonauts and Thetis in Clash of the Titans too. But Kali is so much more mobile than Harryhausen's Greek goddesses, with her dance of death at once monstrous, spectacular and terrifying. With her six swords slicing through the air she is like a deadly synchronised swimming team, and she must have been a right nightmare to animate, let alone match up to the motions of human actors. The results are really worth it, though!

After the film, Caroline answered some questions about what it was like to make, while staff from the Ray Harryhausen foundation brought in his original models of the centaur and a miniature Margiana (used when the centaur carries her off) so that we could see them up-close for ourselves. She talked about how green balls on sticks or fishing-rods were used to create eye-lines for the actors, and how hot it was shooting on location, before then moving seamlessly on to the related Lost Treasures of Ray Harryhausen session in a different room. Here, Martine Beswick, who has also worked with Harryhausen in One Million Years B.C., joined us, and along with staff from the Harryhausen foundation they discussed how he had worked, what he was like and what the foundation is doing now to preserve his legacy.

This is a photo of Caroline on stage between two of the foundation staff, and next to the centaur and her own character from Golden Voyage on the table:

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Interview with Katy Manning (aka Jo Grant from Doctor Who)

This was actually preceded by a screening of the Sarah Jane Adventures episode Death of the Doctor, in which Jo Grant teams up with Sarah Jane Smith and the Eleventh Doctor, but I confess I skipped that in favour of some lunch! The interview afterwards was just great, though. Here's a picture from early on:

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She's sitting down there, but Katy is hugely vivacious, and her killer red heels and advancing years did not stop her repeatedly leaping up to act out points which she was making - e.g. lying face-down to show how she had had to lie on top of Liz Sladen inside a coffin in 'Death of the Doctor', or sitting on the edge of the stage to get closer to the audience. She is physically pretty tiny, but has enough personality for about ten people, and was absolutely captivating to watch. Most of what she said related to the episode they had just screened, so we heard about how pleased she had been that when Jo Grant came back, the character felt absolutely in line with the way she had played her in the '70s; how she had hit the right balance for a very emotional scene with the Eleventh Doctor; and how fond she had been of Liz Sladen and sad about her death. I think the sweetest thing she said was that she had cut her own hair with pinking shears for the return of her character, right in front of Liz Sladen in a dressing room they were sharing, because Jo Grant was supposed to spend all her time in jungles etc saving the environment, so she figured the character would never have time to get to a hairdresser. That is putting your all into a role!

Met Caroline Munro and got her autograph

This was obviously extremely exciting, and I admit to feeling quite nervous as I approached the table where she and Martine Beswick were sitting. It was actually the first time I've spoken directly to any Hammer star, but they were both really lovely and welcoming, and as I soon as I said I was a big Hammer Dracula fan, Caroline gladly took me on. She had all sorts of very lovely high-quality photographic prints on the table, including several of her in Dracula A.D. 1972, but I had brought something of my own for her to sign: the gate-fold sleeve from the recently re-issued vinyl LP of the film's sound-track.

I explained how much I love the music from the film, and straight away she was reminiscing about the scenes set at a party early on in the story, where the Stoneground were playing live as they filmed, and all the characters and half the film-crew were dancing. She told me that the tasselled top which she wears in that scene was actually Victorian, and was found for her by the costume department, but that the thigh-high boots were hers! Actually, she, her agent and Martine Beswick were all quite fascinated with the gate-fold sleeve, to the extent that her agent took a couple of pictures of it. They knew it had been re-issued with an orange vinyl pressing, but I don't think they had seen it IRL before. Anyway, she signed it for me very nicely, just next to the picture of her character inside:

Caroline Munro autograph crop.jpg

Then I told her how much I think the character does for the film, for all that she'd said in the Scream Queens interview the night before that it was only a tiny role, and thanked her for doing it, and her and Martine Beswick both for all their awesome roles. Whereupon she gave me a lovely smile and reached out and shook my hand, which means I've now shaken hands with someone who was bitten by Christopher Lee. Awesome!

Doctor Who season 22 show-makers' interview

After I'd calmed down sufficiently, I joined Andrew for about the last ten minutes of a live interview with some of the team from Season 22 of classic Doctor Who. As shown from left to right in my picture below they are Eric Saward (writer, holding microphone), Philip Martin (writer) and Graeme Harper (director).

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Pace newandrewhickey and miss_s_b, I'm afraid this just isn't really my era of Who, although I have seen all of this season (my thoughts about it will be on my six tag, if anyone cares). Still, it's always worth spending time in the same room as anyone who has been deeply involved with Doctor Who, and it was interesting to hear them talk for a few minutes about the production team's difficult relationship with the BBC at this time, and some of what they had felt did and didn't work well in this season.

Afterwards, I joined newandrewhickey, minnesattva and innerbrat for the first 45 minutes or so of The Rocketeer (1991), a sort of larger-than-life SF comedy about a US stunt pilot in the 1940s who finds a jet-pack, with Jennifer Connelly as his under-impressed girlfriend. I could see it was good and would have stayed to watch the whole thing if there weren't competing features on the schedule, but there were: two live commentaries from the Tenth Doctor era, marking the fact that his first full season screened ten years ago now. Ten is much more my thing than Six, so off I slipped...

Live commentary on New Who 2.3 School Reunion

The live commentary format also turned out to be great. Basically, it involved screening the episode on the same big screen we had seen Dracula A.D. 1972 on the night before but with the volume set low, while the guests sat in front of it with an interviewer and talked about it as it played. In other words, it's like a DVD commentary, but much more engaging for taking place directly in front of you, unscripted and unedited. The team for the first commentary is shown here, with Toby Whithouse (writer) in the middle and Phil Collinson (producer) on the right:

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Again, obviously, a lot of the discussion was about Liz Sladen - how great she was and how sorely she is missed. But there was also lots about how the setting was chosen (Toby Whithouse had initially envisaged an army camp, but Russell T. Davies prescribed a school), the challenges of working with CGI monsters (which of course throw up the same sight-line issues for the actors as the split-screen technique used for Ray Harryhausen's models), and how David Tennant basically didn't need to act during the Doctor's first encounter with Sarah Jane Smith, because he was just that much in awe of Liz Sladen anyway. A really great way to watch the episode, and a good trailer for a fuller one-to-one interview with Toby Whithouse scheduled for the following day as well.

Live commentary on New Who 2.13 Doomsday

Same deal, basically, but with the season finale this time, and a slight change of personnel to bring in Graeme Harper, who directed the episode (middle). He is, of course, also part of the Season 22 team seen in my photo above, as he holds the distinction of being the only person who has directed episodes for both Classic and New Who.

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Things I learnt from this commentary included how they had made ten Daleks and six Cybermen look like thousands, the fact that the white walls of the Torchwood headquarters are not a set but actually the studio walls, so that they could create the greatest possible sense of space, and the fact that Phil Collinson thinks the transporters the characters use to cross the Void look like something from the pound shop in retrospect! They also talked about some of the little references and shout-outs which they put in, including one which I got to see for myself the next day: Rose hanging from the magnetic clamp by the crook of her arm trying not to get sucked into the breach is quite deliberately meant to look like Ripley hanging on to a ladder to try to stop herself getting sucked down the air-lock in Aliens.

All this time, Galaxy Quest had been playing in another room, which is a pity, because once the Doctor Who stuff was over and I went to join innerbrat, minnesattva and newandrewhickey in the screening, I realised what bloody good fun it was to watch at an actual con. But then again I have seen it multiple times before, and those live Doctor Who commentaries really were great, so I think I made the right choice.

After the film had finished, we went for food at a seriously good pizza / pasta place just down the road. It was nominally just a take-away / sit-in at fixed tables place, but the quality of the food was way better than you'd normally expect for a place like that, and along with the cute student room I was staying in and the well-appointed Co-op just below it, this was one of a number of things that really made me fall for the area where we were staying. Like, on one level, it was just edge-of-city-centre ring-roadish urban redevelopment, with a lot of medium-rise new-builds, but on another it did actually feel somehow quite modern and dynamic and nice to be in. In fact, hell, let's have a picture of it which fails to do justice to the intensity of the sunset on the Friday evening:

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22. Blood of the Tribades (2016), dir. Sophia Cacciola and Michael J. Epstein

Finally, it was time for the last film of the day: an ultra-low-budget homage to the legions of lesbian vampire films released with a few years of one another during the early seventies. When I say ultra-low-budget, I mean that the co-directors (who had come to the festival to promote their film) told us while chatting before the film began that it had been shot on a total budget of about $20,000. They'd done pretty much everything themselves, shooting in locations near where they lived in New England, and using their money to pay for the filming equipment, costumes, a few special effects and some small payments to their actors. Given all that, what they had achieved was SUPER impressive, both in its own right and as a tribute to the films which inspired it.

The official website lists the sorts of films at stake (*boom-tish*), of which it was definitely leaning in particular towards the European ones. Of those, I've seen Vampyros Lesbos (but well before I started reviewing films on LJ) and Daughters of Darkness, aka Le Rouge aux lèvres since. Blood of the Tribades shared their atmosphere of surrealism and ennui, including a lot of characters floating around woods, sitting in cemeteries or standing around on sea-shores in long floaty night-dresses or hooded cloaks. But it was by no means a pastiche, either, with a vampire mythos that was very much its own, including warring factions that felt quite Underworld or True Blood-ish.

It was also very strong on issues of gender, race and religious fundamentalism. The warring factions are basically male vampires vs. female vampires, with the men literally hunting down and killing the women, driven by a belief that they have somehow transgressed the word of their mythical founder, Lord Bathor. Initially, the leaders of the female vampires fail to rise to the challenge, insisting that their people should just sit tight and stick to their traditional ways, but gradually we learn both that the two transgressive female members of the group who won't toe the wait-it-out line are right - the men really are that psycho, and they need to wise up and fight back. Eventually, when barely any female vampires are left, Lord Bathor returns to lay down the line, whereupon we learn that their founder is actually a black woman who never left any 'word', and is furious to find out how the men have twisted her memory. So basically the white male religious fundies get their asses kicked by a black woman (and her two also-ethnic-minority sidekicks), while the two transgressive women are utterly vindicated and get to float off into some kind of exulted, cosmic lesbian bliss. Excellent!

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Tags: doctor who, films watched 2016, friends, gender, hammer films, horror films, manchester, photos, race, ray harryhausen, reviews, sexuality, six, starburstff, ten, tom baker, vampires

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