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21.-26. Another batch of reviews

21. The Love Witch (2016), dir. Anna Biller

This was the first film I saw with [profile] ladylugosi_1313 after I got back from Australia, and we were both baffled by its apparent critical reputation. According to its Wikipedia page, the director "Anna Biller is a feminist filmmaker whose take on cinema is influenced by feminist film theory" and the consensus on Rotten Tomatoes is that "The Love Witch offers an absorbing visual homage to a bygone era, arranged subtly in service of a thought-provoking meditation on the battle of the sexes." We just couldn't see the intelligent, nuanced film these quotations seemed to be speaking of for the life of us – and it's not like we were a hostile audience, because everything on paper said that we should have liked it. It is pitched as a homage to the very horror films we most love from the late '60s and early '70s, after all.

Half the problem, perhaps, was that although it appears initially to be set in the late '60s / early '70s, it transpires not to be. After a bit of scene-setting, characters start driving up in obviously-later cars or whipping out mobile phones, and we are gradually invited to realise that we are actually seeing a community in which everyone dresses and behaves as though it were the late '60s / early '70s, even though it is in fact the present day. If I wanted to be generous about this, and to see how feminist film-theory had informed it, I might suggest that perhaps it is supposed to prompt the audience into an uncomfortable realisation about present-day sexism. All those blatantly-sexist views we hear characters espousing in the film are not actually relics of another age, but – ta-daaa! – happening all around us right now. The problem is that they are such a caricature that they don't ring true even for c. 1970 in the first place, and are also fatally undermined by none of the characters having any obvious warmth, depth or plausibility to them anyway. I didn't have this comparator available to me at the time I saw the film, of course, but in retrospect it felt a lot like the characterisation of the poor old First Doctor as a cartoonish chauvinist in Twice Upon A Time for the sake of a few jokes about embarrassing sexist old uncles, when he wasn't actually at all like that in the first place.

It didn't help, either, that the main character (Elaine) experiences no obvious character growth, despite having gone through a set of experiences which really should have made her consider her life choices by the end of the film, and nor are we ever offered any convincing sense of the allure which that lifestyle held for her in the first place. In short, it just all felt rather pointless, and I won't be bothering to watch this film again. There are plenty of actual late '60s / early '70s horror films I could watch instead, with fully-developed characters in them and satisfying narrative arcs. Speaking of which…


22. Witchfinder General (1968), dir. Michael Reeves

I watched this one with my old chum hollyione when she came to visit me in late August. I have seen it plenty of times before, and reviewed it at least once in these pages (LJ / DW), but it is of course always wonderful to revisit, especially with a friend who appreciates the genre as much as me. Our main query on this viewing was: when Sarah sees Matthew Hopkins torturing and burning women as witches in Lavenham, knowing all that she already knows about him by that time, why on earth doesn't she hide in a cupboard until he's gone, rather than going out and about the place shopping as though she were perfectly safe? Anyway, it doesn't really get in the way of one of the all-time horror greats. They wouldn't be as enjoyable as they are without their occasional plot-holes (a rather different matter from the pervasive implausibility affecting the entirety of The Love Witch).


23. The Sorcerors (1967), dir. Michael Reeves

hollyione and I watched this one together too. She hadn't seen it before, but was interested when I explained that it is one of only a handful of full-length feature films which Michael Reeves completed before his untimely death, and agreed that while quite different from Witchfinder General, it is also very good. Again, I've reviewed it before (LJ / DW), so needn't repeat what I've already said about it. hollyione did comment that the film would probably benefit from a little more time spent on the establishment of Ian Ogilvy's character (Mike) before he goes home with Boris Karloff, and I think she's right. We know that he is bored and directionless, but it would be helpful to have some sense of how much the potential to commit the crimes we see the old couple telepathically commanding him to commit was already within him - i.e. to what extent are they able to do this so easily because he is partially complicit? Some nods to this would have added a little to the moral and pscyhological complexity – but regardless, it remains a very clever story about the temptations of power.


25. Dark Prince: The True Story of Dracula (2000), dir. Joe Chappelle

Not to be confused with Dracula: The Dark Prince (which I reviewed a couple of days ago), this is sort of like an earlier shot at Dracula Untold (LJ / DW), in that it largely tells the story of the historical Vlad III Dracula, but also attempts to explain how he became a vampire. The vampire thread is much lower in the mix here, though, coming into play only at the end of the film, and explaining it as a consequence of Vlad's excommunication by the Orthodox Church after converting to Catholicism in order to secure an alliance with Hungary. So, for the most part, it presents itself as a non-fantastical historical drama. Unfortunately, though, it isn't very good on that level. A lot of the history is over-simplified or just plain made up – so, for example, Janos Hunyadi and Matthias Corvinus are merged into one generic Hungarian king (played, rather inexplicably, by Roger Daltrey) and there's a whole invented plot-line about Vlad's wife being driven mad by his atrocities. More seriously, it isn't very good as drama either. The actor playing Vlad (Rudolf Martin) appears to have been chosen more for his dark, Gothic good looks than any ability to express passion or emotional range, and indeed the whole production is much as you would expect it to be given what it is – a made-for-TV movie. The best thing it has to offer is some nice location footage of actual castles and monasteries in Romania. But Vlad Tepes (1979) (LJ / DW) is better history, despite its pro-Ceaușescu leanings, and Dracula Untold is better fantasy.


26. Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt ('Berlin: Symphony of a Great City', 1927), dir. Walter Ruttmann

Finally, for a total change of tone, I saw this with [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 at the Hyde Park Picture House, complete with a very interesting introductory talk by the lovely [twitter.com profile] IngridESharp. Basically it is a day in the life of Berlin in its many aspects, covering industry, street-life, transport, office work, leisure pursuits and night-life. Much of it is clearly unstaged, with the cameras simply capturing contemporary real life, but we could see that some elements must have been set up – for example, a fracas in the street which the cameras were just too neatly-set-up to capture in the first place, and during which they cut between different angles. Ingrid's introduction pointed out that some critics have found the film to approach some of Berlin's problems in this period, and especially its massive wealth inequalities, with too much moral neutrality, simply capturing them side by side as though that were just the natural scheme of things. But we felt this wasn't quite fair – at least one scene of a little match-boy having a car-door slammed unceremoniously in his face and being left alone on the pavement as the car sped off seemed to us to have been designed quite deliberately to show up his situation as an unhappy one. Anyway, the footage was enthralling throughout and very beautiful, and certainly prompted much engaged discussion in the car on the way home. It was a pleasure to be able to see it in such detail on the big screen.


Once again, that's it for today, and probably for a few days now as we are off to my sister's for Family Christmas tomorrow. I've still got another ten of these buggers to do before I'm actually up to date, and that's just the films (never mind books). But at least I have made some progress...


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