National Cinema(s)

I recently finished a six week course on National Cinema(s), which was hosted by 20th Century Flicks: Bristol’s last remaining video rental shop (it also has a cinema room that can be hired and is home to two adorable cats – what more could you want from life?) The big question, going into this course, was, ‘What is National Cinema?’ and over the next six weeks my fellow classmates and I attempted to answer this through film screenings and discussions, each one organised around a particular national focus (British, Australian, Swedish, Venezuelan, Kenyan, European/Borderless).

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While the economics of a film’s production and distribution is arguably the biggest factor in determining which ‘national cinema’ it falls into, I was very much fascinated by the discussions around the filmic content and the idea of ‘national genres’, or to put it more crudely, what type of films do we associate with certain countries? For example, when asked what Swedish films we had seen, the majority of those cited, particularly those that had been the most commercially successful, could be considered to fit the description ‘Scandi-noir’. This made me wonder how much this ‘national genre’ really represents Swedish interests and how much it is influenced by its exportability to international audiences, i.e. Swedish film-makers may be more inclined to work within this genre because it is more likely to sell well abroad. This is because it seems to be much easier to market a foreign film when a nation is predominately linked with a particular style of film-making. Further examples might include French Arthouse, Japanese Anime and Indian Bollywood.

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Additionally, ‘Scandi-noir’ raises further questions regarding the geography of national cinema(s) and the grouping of films from several countries (Denmark, Norway, Sweden – perhaps because this is easier to market internationally). What then might be the exported British ‘national genre’ (grouping England, Scotland and Wales)? This is difficult to judge since I am living in Britain and exposed to the wider range of its film productions but literature on this subject indicates that heritage cinema seems to enjoy particular international success: the Merchant Ivory productions of the 1980s and more recently The King’s Speech (Dir. Tom Hooper, 2010) and The Imitation Game (Dir. Morten Tyldum, 2014). The wider socio-political implications for these exported ‘national genres’ is something that really fascinates me and I hope to explore this as I take up research in this area.

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With this in mind, the National Cinema(s) course was a wonderful opportunity to watch films that we may not normally have seen due to their lower visibility in the international film market. Putting Australia’s hugely successful Mad Max franchise to one side, I watched two lesser known films: Charlie’s Country (Dir. Rolf de Heer, 2013), a depiction of an Indigenous Australian dealing with the loss of his land, and The Boys (Dir. Rowan Woods, 1998), a disturbing drama about violence, hate and crime within a suburban Australian family.

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As part of our focus on Swedish cinema the featured screening was not a ‘Scandi-noir’ but a sensitive, sweet account of two teenage girls falling in love in a small town: Show Me Love (Dir. Lukas Moodysson, 1998). This screening was quite a nostalgic experience for me, proving that questionable fashion choices, bubblegum pop and ‘hanging in the park’ are late 1990s teenage experiences that transcend national borders.

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The course also exposed me to some films from countries that I must shamefully confess I knew very little about in terms of their cinema: Pelo Malo (Dir. Mariana Rondon, 2013) explores issues of racism, homophobia and poverty through the tense relationship between a mother and her son living in Caracas, Venezuela; Nairobi Half Life (Dir. David ‘Tosh’ Gitonga, 2012) is a hard-hitting insight into gang culture in Nairobi, Kenya.

Many thanks to Peter, Tara, Lorena and Elizabeth for selecting an array of truly fascinating films and for leading such insightful discussions.

Written by Sarah Kelley for 20th Century Flicks.

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Film courses in the Kino

Before running our first film course in the Kino (an idea I’d been sitting on for the better part of two years before launching), I considered the contemporary challenge of the video shop thus: if rentals are steadily decreasing year on year (oh how they are), and if the most financially viable aspect of our business in post-Clifton years is the Kino (oh how it is), what else could we use this magic Twin Peaks-inspired space for? And so, even if it was an entirely mad endeavour for a video shop, we decided to trial informal adult education classes in our 11-seater cinema. Much to my joy, folks turned up to the first one so we’ve continued doing it.

Starting somewhere in the vicinity of where it all began, we kicked off with silent cinema (my eternal hat off to Dr Peter Walsh for taking up the reigns on that one, solo). Then we ventured into documentary discourse and so began our line of questioning the legitimacy and so-called ‘truth’ of everything we see. Next came a focus on national cinema(s) – a kind of misleading theme given it’s a largely dismissed approach, contemporarily, even if it is useful for trying to understand the obfuscating aims of national funding bodies. But it brought up so many more questions about politics, history, social inequity, economics and cultural resonance / dissonance.

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From here, there were any number of places we might like to go, and though I do continue to threaten to run a feminist film course some time in the future (that’s assuming my other mad idea about running a monthly feminist salon in the shop doesn’t win out first!), we decided on a ‘Page to Screen’ focus.

Walsh and I both studied literature as well as film, even if we work more exclusively now with the latter, and especially of interest is the way in which cinema realises and reimagines literary themes, tone and narrative.

We plan to look at a number of texts over the summer and there’s plenty of time between classes (it’s fortnightly for this one) for people to read and view widely based on what’s thrown up in each of the sessions. We’re keen to find out how some filmmakers show description, or how they visualise internal narrative, assign and reassign narrative voice and how a form that is already visual, in part, begins to move before our eyes; there will be plenty to chew over in that red-curtained room, where time and space evaporate and ideas take charge.

From Page to Screen is the fourth in our new series of film courses in the Kino. Spaces are limited but if you are keen to find out more about this or future courses please do email Tara to register your interest: tarajudah[@]hotmail[dot]com

Good Friday, Chapter 2: A short, chilling story from Poppy, the video shop cat

She didn’t scream.

There was a low rumple, a muffled guffaw and a metallic squink. She backed away from the body and took solace behind the counter.

I’d started to sweat, through my paws (that’s where cats sweat, in case you didn’t know) so I went back to licking them. It kept my mind busy and that meant that I didn’t have to think about what the human would do to us now that she’d found the body. Meanwhile, she paced back and forth behind the counter, tap-tap-tapping on the small rectangular thing she carries around. She tapped furiously, as if her life depended on it. Maybe it did? All the while, I sat atop the fridge and I licked my paws.

Alf – that’s my brother – he didn’t hide, almost as if he was proud of what he’d done. He sat less than a foot away from the body, like he wanted to get caught, like his actions would somehow please the human. I was disgusted with him. Not only did I have to put up with the headless body in our home that night but it was also causing me much anxiety. The humans aren’t like us; they’re strange and unpredictable. More time passed and the suspense became too much, I had to know, what was she doing out there?

I let a low growl out and Alf hissed back – the human was still tapping on that rectangular object, pacing back and forth.

She paced back and forth. Back and forth; back and forth…

This went on for what might have been days. And you know what? I thought, ‘Forget this, I don’t care about the hideous dismembered corpse on the rug! It’s midday and I’m HUNGRY.’ My paws were salty, which left a dry, sandbox taste in my mouth. Not even a quick lick of my deliciously greasy fur could make it go away. That’s when I decided to speak up.

I knew I had to be careful about what I said and I’ve been studying the humans for a long time now. The most important detail I’ve noticed is that they communicate with their mouths. I think, especially when they want something, they open their mouths wide and release a series of noises – not clear hisses or growls, more like a sequence of up and down varied frequencies. It’s effective because the other humans respond. I see it first thing in the morning when they put the coffee on: one sets up the pot, opens its mouth wide and squeaks at the other, then, the other one squeaks back and the first one brings out a hot, disgusting cup of the stuff. I’ve also noticed that the mouth has to open wide – for example, there was a time when someone from the outside came in (many outsides come in of a day) and they didn’t open their mouth very wide at all. As such, the noises didn’t vary much and the whole thing was very lackluster, kind of like a mumble. My human seemed unimpressed with the mumble and instead of responding with a cup of hot stuff, mumbled back.

So, having deduced that I needed to speak, loudly and with varied timbre, I drew a large breath and cried out with everything I had, hoping I’d get food and not a cup of that hot stuff.

AND IT WORKED. She turned to me and replied with the same noise! She must have understood that I was just an innocent bystander. ‘Success!’, I thought, ‘Soon, soon I will get the puzzle ball with the food.’

Tune in again next week for the next installment of Pops’ story.

A short, chilling story from Poppy, the video shop cat

Ed’s note: Obviously Poppy can’t type, or speak English. As such, this blog post comes from a ghost writer.

It was ‘Good’ Friday and one of the humans would arrive soon. I didn’t know which one would turn up – I never know, they don’t have an identifiable routine. I think they do it deliberately to keep us in the dark, on our toes, always just slightly on edge. I don’t know how to be sure of exactly when they’ll arrive, either, but I do know I’m always very hungry when they do. And wherever they go at night – they leave every day a little after dark – it keeps them for different stretches of time; sometimes one night, sometimes many…

There wasn’t anything ‘Good’ about that Friday; it was soured by the coagulated, bloody stench of death. I wanted to walk out the door, find a nearby human to scoop me up and keep me safe. But my brother – he hissed at me – and besides, I was hungry, so even the headless corpse on the rug couldn’t stop me waiting for the human to arrive. The human would still feed me, even after they’d discovered the body, right?

It was difficult to reassure myself as more and more time passed – I don’t know how long. So I was decided to keep myself busy, cleaning. I just kept cleaning my paws. Maybe, just maybe, I thought, if I can get my paws clean, everything will be alright. But my nerves were shot and each time a DVD flew through the letterbox in the door, thwacking onto the hard, cold, concrete floor, I drew in a short, sharp breath. These moments must have been quick but time seemed to have slowed down. All I knew was that I wanted it to be over; I really wanted my paw to be clean.

A familiar jangle caught my attention, and then the door creaked ajar, stopped in its tracks by the now large pile of DVDs on the shop floor. The human slid through the opening and bent down to pick up the loud, nerve-wracking culprits. As she did – it was the female human today – she chirruped sweetly, “Morning Kitts! How are my darling kitties, today?” I know I should have faced her and said something, explained it wasn’t me, but the female human never listens, she just chirrups back at me, no matter what I say, no matter how urgent or unpleasant something is. I was frightened, I don’t mind to admit it.

I ran. I stole one last glimpse of my brother out of the corner of my eye, and then I ran.

By now I was sat atop the warm white thing in the kitchen – I think the humans call it a fridge and sometimes they manage to pry it apart, producing food we’re not allowed to eat. Neither my brother nor I have learned how to get it open but I’m confident that one day we will. Anyway, back to today – today, the human was approaching the kitchen, ready to start her cycle of strange behaviours; first she makes my litter tray smell weird, then she makes the rest of the place smell weird and it isn’t until after the strange smell changes everything that she finally gives us our food. Well, not food like it used to be, but a puzzle ball that has our food inside. We have to concentrate and follow it around, you see. Then, if we keep our focus well enough, the food comes out of the ball. It wasn’t always like this but the female human, especially, seems to enjoy making us concentrate on the puzzle balls.

It was clear she hadn’t noticed the body, yet. She went about her routine, turning on lights, one bright spell after another, until finally, she saw it. Headless, motionless, and forever staining her brand new carpet, there it lay, dead upon the floor.

To be continued…

Is it conceptual?

I am used to people being baffled by the existence of a video shop in 2017 (2016, 2015, etc, back to Y2K), but last week I was faced with a question about the ontology of the thing…

“It’s conceptual?” she asked…

Flicks is not (intentionally, at least) an installation / work of art. It is, I reply, a 20th century video shop: we rent movies to people for money. But, if I reflect on the question (as I have been forced to do ever since I was asked) I can’t really insist that my reply rings true.

If we understand the “video shop” as a company or business (which is Ltd) then it’s a concept, which means that we want to understand it as a physical thing. It is not, however, the sum of its many tangible parts; the films on DVD or VHS are objects within it, but not actually “it” at all.  Nor is it 19 Christmas Steps – that’s just where it is; it was somewhere else before and something else was in its place and will no doubt be here/there in future. It is also not any one, two, three or more specific people; the change in ownership some four or five years ago and the advent of cats continues to challenge the notion that even people are a persistent imperative.

It is, then, the renting of movies – but isn’t that just a theoretical thing, anyway? I mean, we make up and change the rules on rental all the time (prices, duration, subscription model, loyalty programmes, etc), and haven’t we absolutely messed with the original model by introducing a private hire space and a selection of local records for sale?

Surely, then, the “video shop” is only conceptual.

But it can’t  just be the idea of renting movies, either, because iTunes and other online platforms, from which you can rent movies, aren’t a video shop – are they?

Is it, then, the idea of renting movies from people in a physical place?

But that can’t be  it, either, because you can do that at the library and what we do is different… isn’t it?

Well, i suppose, then, we could say that what’s unique to the “video shop”, which seems now to be as marked by its scarcity as anything else, is that it is born of an historical moment and that the link or persistence of its historical imperative is paramount to its present ontology. The 20th Century part of its and our title means everything.

Further, we might surmise that the video shop is also an attitude as much as a concept:  the rules, service and space we continually decide to provide are a matter of attitude originating from three company Directors – myself and the two Daves.

It is definitely not, then, a number of other things people have tried to convince me that it is (especially over the past two or so years as it becomes oddly fetishized like the redundant format of VHS): not an archive, not a repository, not a library, not a community service. It can only exist (conceptually, even) because of the collectively understood and accepted existence of a specific concept in the past and, as such a time should ever occur that we should stop renting movies to people for money (the one immovable concept of its historical persistence), then it should cease to be a “video shop”.

So, while that still doesn’t qualify it as an art project or installation, it is true that the video shop is conceptual. Which makes my job far more difficult than just renting movies to people for money (which is hard enough). I must also tell people about 20th Century Flicks (a “video shop”) in order to garner their acknowledgement and endorsement of the ontology of the concept: only through collective cognizance can I hope to prove, and continue, its existence.

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Truth, authenticity, connections, nostalgia, time…

If you’re looking for a straight forward story with a beginning, middle and an-everything-tied-up ending, you might not find it here. The films of Richard Linklater are interested in meandering and the time that passes onscreen is often just a snapshot taken from a much fuller story.

"EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!":

Most mainstream cinema offers up a couple of hours of entertainment – stories that span days and sometimes years, but that fit succinctly into cinema schedules. Richard Linklater’s films don’t do that. His films begin, search for a form of truth or authenticity, find connections in companionship and then finish, happy and secure in the knowledge that more time is yet to pass and that nostalgia means the time spent will never go really away.

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Linklater says, “cinema is not an immediate art form.” His mentor is experimental filmmaker James Benning, who is interested in duration and believes in the slowness and stillness of real life. Benning’s film Nightfall (2012) is simply one shot of the woods, with the sun slowly setting, in real time, behind the trees. His film Natural History (2014) looks, very slowly, carefully and a little like the more well-known documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman’s work, at the corridors and items on display in Vienna’s Museum of Natural History. A journey through duration is what’s shown.

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In the early 1990s Richard Linklater was at the heart of the American Independent film explosion that took place across the world, and was praised critically but also adored by audiences, for his honest, humorous and endearing depictions of the waster generation, Gen X.

Slacker (1991) and Dazed and Confused (1993) gave an entire generation something to identify with. Suddenly the sprawling nature of mindless conversation and the intertwined concerns facing youth about the state of the world, their personal politics, the finite nature of their existence and the meaning – or lack of meaning -they derived from popular culture, could all be explored and understood without hierarchy. A container with Madonna’s pap smear inside it – including one of her pubic hairs – becomes every bit as important to that youth as a breaking news story about a man who drove along a freeway firing live ammunition.

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Slacker prefigures the American Indie subgenre Mumblecore and the more mainstream film and TV shows it’s since spawned such as Lena Dunham’s Girls, the web series Broad City, and Netflix exclusives Love and Togetherness. Dazed and Confused has only continued to build its cult following since release and liking it is now worn like a badge of honour when it comes to expressing a belief in personal freedom and the right to simply be – instead of doing. But Linklater’s films are not improvised – they are tightly scripted, they are well thought out explorations of meandering precisely because they were created by nostalgia.

Everybody Wants Some!! has been labelled a sequel to Dazed and Confused but Linklater also suggests that it is a sort of spiritual continuation of his 2014 hit film Boyhood. But labelling the connections between his films is unnecessary as they are all, in some way, connections and continuations of each other.

Just because Slacker finishes, it doesn’t mean that the chance encounters between its ensemble cast don’t continue. So, too, do the kids in Dazed and Confused continue to party, argue, learn, dream and be.

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Linklater had the idea for Everybody Wants Some!! around about the same time that he embarked upon creating his twelve-year odyssey Boyhood in the early 2000s. One is not necessarily, then, before the other. Rather, the stories are about characters who are still trying to learn, to ‘get some’ and to grow up. It’s about the journey rather than the destination. Boyhood may be 165 minutes in duration as a film but it is also twelve years from each of the lives of its cast and crew. And so much more than that.

Richard Linklater often works with the same actors and actresses; Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Matthew McConaughey and Jack Black have each appeared in more than one of his films. And, though their reappearance is not purely intertextual, there is a sense of fluidity between characters and performances.

Ethan Hawke, for example, could be the same man in multiple films; an awkward, slightly irresponsible grown up still aching for his youth in Boyhood; and the young, hopeful, charming but assuming young man who talked to the girl sat across from him on a train in Before Sunrise (1995); a man looking back at, discussing and confronting painful memories from high school in a motel room in the film Tape (2001). He brings the history of the Before trilogy to his role in Boyhood and the conversations in that motel room could also belong to that man.

Linklater already has plans to work with Ethan Hawke again – but not until he is 90 and Hawke is 80 years old – on a version of King Lear. No doubt there will be some glimmer of that young man, that middle aged man and the actor himself present in the eighty-year-old, tortured king.

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And Linklater himself is a part of that same journey; he appears in the back of a taxi as a character in Slacker, his daughter plays the role of the sister in Boyhood, his love of baseball crops up in Bad News Bears, Dazed and Confused and Everybody Wants Some!! and, here specifically, he takes a nostalgic look back at his own college experiences, basing his central character somewhat on himself.

There is part of him in each of his films just as there is growing up to be done in each of his films. Jack Black in School of Rock (2003) is an adult still yearning for youth and the freedom of childhood; still wanting to create and make music as if passion were the only thing that mattered and as if time were of no consequence.

In Waking Life (2001) and A Scanner Darkly (2006), the dream world, the waking world, what we think of as reality and we understand as imagination are blurred until they are almost indistinguishable. The characters in these films are looking for something – they are trying to find out what is true.

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Bernie (2011) is a strange entry into docu-drama that re-imagines true events where an affable mortician befriends a controlling, wealthy widow, whose hold over him ends with her death. The film is not a documentary, but it uses interviews with the townsfolk and actual people from the small town where the real events took place to re-enact the commentary on a real life murder. It simultaneously shows us how those events may have unfolded, re-enacted by famous performers Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey. The result is a constant questioning of what is true and how can we even approach presenting what is true through filmmaking.

Richard Linklater has worked with different modes of storytelling and yet there is a common thread. Though some of these films seem to stand out as more or less narrative than others they are allinterested in untangling the same themes, issues and fixations.

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Even Me and Orson Welles (2008) which stars Zac Efron and Claire Danes in a reimagining of what it was like to work with Orson Welles in his theatre days in the 1930s, is interested in history and the truth of that history – or perhaps the reincarnation of it from a contemporary, nostalgic perception. The same is true of The Newton Boys (1998), a film that takes narrative history – of the Newton gang, the most successful bank robbers in US history – and asks how they did it, who they were, and, most notably, how we remember them. So, too with Fast Food Nation (2006) which hopes to expose the exploitation, social injustices, horrors and evils of the fast food industry.

Time passes but the stories continue, a fundamental function of nostalgia. We make connections with each other as much as we do with the past. In this way, it is pleasing to see that Everybody Wants Some!! doesn’t feel like a filmmaker from the 1990s trying to re-create or resurrect his early filmmaking career. Instead, it feels like a filmmaker still making that same style of cinema, still searching for the answers to those same questions.

Everybody Wants Some!! is a snapshot of one weekend before college begins, but it’s also a very beautiful depiction of the way in which nostalgia allows us to enjoy something that now belongs to time.

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The magic of the movies is in its ability to create, or indeed recreate, something. To tell a story, sure, but also to just be. And, like his characters, constantly looking around, trying to get some from the people, time, and experiences around them, the film is searching for the truth; of an era, for the authenticity of the past but also for the authenticity of the memory of the past: the ability to enjoy and revisit a time and a place that has, out of necessity in its revision, changed, and is now tinged with nostalgia.

When Linklater first sat down to write this film, it was 180 pages long. That’s about 30 pages longer than James Cameron’s Avatar. It covered the whole freshman school year. But he cut it down and created a snapshot. So even though we only see three days before school starts, the story continues off screen – it continues in the mind and memory of its maker.

Everybody Wants Some!! is available to rent from 20th Century Flicks and it’s awesome.

South West Silents Speak Up! Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925)

“There will be no further reason for a future production of Ben-Hur for the screen… Ben-Hur is a picture for all times!” Variety, 1925

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It’s hard to think of the name Ben-Hur without thinking of the two accompanying names Charlton! and Heston! Even as Paramount Pictures and MGM are about to hurl another incarnation of Lew Wallace’s novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1880) at us (now the fifth adaptation of the book to be made into a feature film) it is still very hard not to think about that tall, blond haired, big jawed, gun loving American superstar.

But that gives you some idea of the importance Ben-Hur has had on the history of cinema and how much the 1950s’ version is burnt into our cultural consciousness. After all, every Bank Holiday we get the opportunity to see it on our television screens (that or The Great Escape (1963), The Sound of Music (1965),  or Zulu (1964) – it was always Zulu in my house to be honest.)

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But forget about those Bank Holiday TV schedules because when it comes to the history of film, Ben-Hur has always been there; Ben-Hur systematically appeared at every changing moment of cinema’s history, all the way back to the birth of cinema (the unofficial 1907 version,   At the height of the silent era there was the faithfully titled Ben-Hur a Tale of Christ (1925), and at the peak of the Hollywood Studio system there was William Wyler’s version (1959) – through the ages the words BEN HUR were always there.

This is why the new adaptation has been a long time coming; you would have thought that a new 21st Century Ben-Hur would have been announced straight after the success of Gladiator (1999). On the band wagon films like Troy (2004), Alexander (2004), King Arthur: Director’s Cut (2004) and even Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven (2005) went into rapid production, shortly after the release of Gladiator, and yet, Ben-Hur didn’t.

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Maybe the 2003 animated version of Ben-Hur (Heston’s final acting role; he voiced Judah) which was already in production stalled all possibility of making another live action version for quite some time. Whatever the story Ben-Hur is back on the big screen this August (2016) and from the look of the trailer it most certainly has the hint of a 21st Century adaptation; it’s loud, screaming-in-your-face and seems to have even more animation than the actual animated film from 2003.

And yet, when watching the trailer for Timur Bekmambetov’s all-screaming and all-chariot-racing Ben-Hur, you can almost hear that old saying in your head, “Well, they don’t make ’em like they used to!” But, to be honest, it’s more than likely people would have said the same thing about William Wyler’s 1959 version had they seen Fred Niblo’s earlier silent version from 1925.

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There are slight differences in both versions when it comes to the storytelling; the 1925 version gives far more screen time to the connections between Judah and Jesus than in the later Wyler version, which is understandable as Niblo very much stuck to Wallace’s book, unlike the later adaptations. But, alas, this particular element slows down the 1925 version at certain points, particularly in the scenes just after the sea battle – it has to be said that the sea battle and the infamous chariot race are extraordinary! Truly extraordinary in fact!

This is what I really want to flag when it comes to talking Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. Many have asked us over the years what makes the silent film era different from any other in the history of cinema? While obviously the classic quote from Gloria Swanson, “We didn’t need dialogue, we had faces!” from Sunset Boulevard (1950), springs to mind, but one other major factor makes the silent era different from any other era in cinema: they built everything for real!

Cabiria (1914), Intolerance (1916), Robin Hood (1922) and Napoleon (1927) are titles that secure the legend that when it came to money, they threw it in front of the camera. If anything, Ben Hur is another classic example of this. Nothing is left out.

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When watching the 1925 silent version of the sea battle it seems far more extensive than the later Wyler version, after all, the silent version has real boats to crash and burn! These real size Galleys and Roman Trireme were completely seaworthy and very capable of reacting to a full-on sea battle that would include plenty of local Italian extras armed to the teeth and all in suited up in armour. In the end, the filming that took place included smashing one of the galleys into the Roman Trireme and setting the Trireme alight (which is all in the book). But the action got out of hand on the shoot and the production lost control of the fire and lost the entire Trireme before they could finish shooting. All the extras had to throw themselves into the sea to escape being burned. The 1959 film can’t touch that – understandably, they ended up using model boats!

But what about Ben-Hur’s famous chariot race? Surely the 1959 film wins hands down. Well, possibly. It’s incredibly exciting but have you seen the 1925 version? What can I say? The 1925 production had already built one Circus Maximus in Rome, a set which was later abandoned due to spiraling production costs. The production then expanded on original plans and a bigger version of the Circus Maximus was built set just outside Hollywood. They prepared for one of the biggest shooting days in Hollywood’s history.

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A call out was made for (if studio publicity is correct) 7,000 extras for a single day’s filming. Almost all of Hollywood left the city on Saturday 7th October 1925 to see what all the fuss was about. They arrived at the Circus Maximus set (which had apparently cost the studio $500,000) and were given a full day’s entertainment of chariot racing. The likes of John and Lionel Barrymore, Harold Lloyd, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, John Gilbert, Colleen Moore, Marion Davies, Sam Goldwyn, and Lillian Gish were all noted being as in the crowds, as well as celebrated directors such as Henry King, Reginald Barker, Clarence Brown and George Fitzmaurice. They, like the rest of the crowds who had arrived to be part of the auction, were stunned by the sheer size of the set. Someone else stunned was  assistant director, William Wyler, who, 34 years later, would end up directing the 1959 version. In 1963 Wyler explain to film historian Kevin Brownlow,

“I was given a toga and a set of signals…. The signals were a sort of semaphore, and I got my section of the crowd to stand up and cheer to sit down again, or whatever was called for. There must have been thirty other assistant doing the same job.”  

At the end of the day, 42 camera operators had filmed roughly 53,000 feet of film. Filming continued on the Maximus set for another month, filming close-ups as well as stunt work. In the end, Editor Lloyd Nosler had to compete with 200,000 feet of film for the chariot sequence alone. But what a job Nosler did when it came to the completed sequence. In the end he did such a good job that it influenced framing and editing of the later adaptations for not only Wyler’s version but also for the animated 2003 version. Let’s see if it influenced this newest adaptation!

At a cost of $3.96 million the 1925 version of Ben-Hur claims to be the most expensive silent film ever made. If it is the most expensive film of the silent era, it most certainly shows it.

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So if you want to see the REAL Ben-Hur! Look no further than Fred Niblo’s 1925 Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ. You won’t be disappointed!

Recommended Reading:

The Parade’s Gone By: Kevin Brownlow

Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer: Scott Eyman

Written by James Harrison of South West Silents for 20th Century Flicks

Quizmas is Coming…

Quizmas is coming the quiz host is getting fat,

Please put a pound in the pint glass – not a hat

If you haven’t got a pound, then nothing else will do

If you haven’t got a nothing else then no quiz for you!

Which would be terribly, terribly sad because we have TOTALLY KICK-ASS PRIZES up for grabs! Like awesome Arrow Video movies, Klank beer wrapped in a limited edition Flicks’ t-shirt, random rental vouchers, and other, stuff.

PLUS, we’ve arranged for a very special visit from the Australian Feminist Santa to hand out said prizes. What the frack more could you want? (Don’t answer that, we can’t give you anything more).

So assemble your team – no more than six humans, please (replicants not allowed) – and get down The Steps on Monday night (December 7th). And remember, this is our last one until Feb as we’re taking a not very much needed but convenient hiatus!

What’s a ‘Klank’…?

Entry is £1 per person and rules are subject to the whim of your two quiz masters, Mr Bags and DJ WillSpinz, and the Australian Feminist Santa. 

Traditionally Good Film Quiz at The Christmas Steps

For genuinely quizzical times in very close proximity to a well stocked bar, 20th Century Flicks are proud to present a Traditionally Good Film Quiz.

Film Quiz Poster September

DJ WillSpinz returns from his adventures outside of Bristol and brings with him more entertaining, brain teasing movie trivia than ever before!

Also on the mic we have the inimitable Mr Bags. He’s also just about the loveliest man you’ll ever have the pleasure of meeting, so if you haven’t met him, there’s another top notch reason to come along!

There’s also prizes to be won, beer that wants drinking and questions that need answering. Assemble your teams, learn some movie trivia (the shop is as good a place as any to do that) and don’t let those pesky Bristol Silents** walk away with another win!

£1 per person, maximum of six per team.
Good times guaranteed*

*As always, this is not an actual guarantee

** We actually think the Bristol Silents are great people, it’s just that they’ve won too many quizzes already

Christmas Steps Movie Poster Competition Winner

We have had some STUNNING entries for the Christmas Steps Movie Poster competition. First up, congratulations to all who entered – at first I wasn’t sure that anyone would! – and, when you did, it was AH-MAY-ZING. Secondly, congratulations to RICH FOX who took out the grand prize of 10 free rentals. You can follow the very talented rich on his official tumblr. 

Here’s a pic of Rich holding his glorious, glorious poster. Ain’t it grand? IMG_3309

The tag lines read:

What he discovered was history around every corner

What he witnessed was a city in the shadows

Where he walked was absolutely treacherous in the ice

Runners up include Tim Popple, Duncan Craig and Aaron Boardley.

All posters will be displayed in the Flicks windows throughout May, make sure you check them out! Details of our month of May giveaway coming soon….