I recently saw the 1928 film Underground with a live musical score by HarmonieBand at HOME. The film explores a love triangle that forms on the London Underground when two men are attracted to the same woman. I really enjoyed this film with its live musical accompaniment, it was pretty impressive to see the band as 2 of the members were constantly switching instruments. The film itself was directed by Anthony Asquith and whilst telling a love story it documented the London Underground system in the late 1920s.
I absolutely loved Underground, It did the usual love triangle plot device of the rejected man framing the chosen man and making him look unfaithful but rather than doing what I expected and the chosen man trying to seek redemption and win back the protagonist she believed him, trusted him and took it upon herself to seek out what really happened. The cinematography of the escalators and underground trains was brilliant and very familiar despite being shot in 1929.
Earlier in the year there was a special screening of The Son of The Sheik (1926), as part of the season of films exploring sex and sexuality. Valentino, one of the first cinematic sex symbols stars in this film sequel about the son of a sheik and a dancing girl falling in love, he then seeks revenge due to believing she has betrayed him.
Now, The Son of The Sheik was a film I didn’t quite like as much as Underground. It was a massive cliche of the silent film era, dashing hero, helpless love interest, lots of riding around on horses, that kind of thing. I did enjoy it simply because it was such a cliche film meaning it was hilarious in places and was exactly what you would expect a film like this to be.
I think it’s brilliant that I have been able to see silent films at the cinema, especially with live musical accompaniment, it really brings the films to life and showcases work that isn’t always accessible. I know I for one would love to see more films from that era so I hope cinemas continue to do events like this!
Last night I attended a preview screening of Mr Turner that included a Q&A with director Mike Leigh (Nominee of 7 Oscars).
Mr Turner is a biopic of the famous British painter J.M.W Turner starring Timothy Spall. I went into the film knowing very little about Turner and his work, I knew who he was and some of his paintings but very little else. One of the things this film does well is show the very physical way in which Turner painted, spitting at his work, blowing powder at it and using powerful brush strokes. Full credit to the cinematographer Dick Pope for this film because visually it was stunning. Many of the scenes alluded to Turner’s work which was a great touch. Leigh explained that they had access to a lot of Turner’s work including his colour charts so they were really able to see how Turner approached colour and could incorporate it into the film’s cinematography which I found really interesting.
I did have a few issues with the film, during the Q&A an audience member praised the portrayal of the women in the film and Turner’s positive relationship with them. I definitely disagree with this opinion, in fact I saw the complete opposite. Turner in the film came accross as deeply misogynistic, sexually abusing his housekeeper and on the whole only interacting with women if he got something in return (usually sex). I also (partly because of this) found Turner’s character to be incredibly unlikable the majority of the time. The whole film takes the angle of empathising with him and portraying him as a gentle man who happened to be a painting genius and in some ways this was successful, for example I enjoyed his relationship with his father and the scenes at the art gallery. But a lot of the time I found myself really disliking Turner as a character, and I can get on board with unlikeable characters if that was their intended purpose but it was clear from the Q&A that this wasn’t how I was supposed to perceive him. There were a mix of funny and sad moments in the film, it was also clear that Turner was incredibly passionate and forward thinking showing him embracing the new technologies of steam trains and early photography and acknowledging how photography was going to change art. Which of course he was right about. Mike Leigh described Mr Turner as a modern Biopic as it does leave a lot up to your interpretation rather than being strictly factual.
I had the opportunity to meet Mike Leigh after the event, I asked him what his advice would be for aspiring filmmakers and he said “Never compromise” and encouraged me to keep filming lots.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the event but to be honest I wasn’t a big fan of the film.