seen 9-15 Sep : A Canterbury Tale (1944) [10/10]; Disturbia [5/10]; Withnail and I (1987) [7/10]
A CANTERBURY TALE : [10/10] : UK 44 : Michael POWELL & Emeric PRESSBURGER : 119 mins (approx)
seen on VHS in Sunderland : 9th/10th September
Kent, 1943. In addition to the usual privations and hardships of wartime, the sleepy village of Chillingbourne – not far from Canterbury – finds itself plagued by a more unusual menace: a nocturnal marauder known as the "glue man". His M.O. is to pour solvent into the hair of young women who happen to be on the streets after dark – and his latest victim is Alison Smith (Sheila Sim), attacked only minutes after her arrival off the London train. A feisty representative of the Women's Land Army (aka the "land girls"), Alison makes it her business to unmask the glue man – aided by her new soldier pals, former cinema-organist Peter Gibbs (Dennis Price) and Bob Johnson (John Sweet), an American GI.
As with many great films, A Canterbury Tale resists easy synopsis – and summarising the "plot" can make the picture rather ludicrous. But this waywardly unorthodox eccentricity is all part of the film's charm – part of what makes it perhaps the most 'English' of all pictures, as well as being one of the first real masterpieces of British cinema. Writer-directors Powell and Pressburger combine numerous genres – war movie, Ealing-style comedy, romance, who-dunnit mystery, even the odd touch of horror – in a radical and nimble way that transcends genre altogether. Poetic and literary, but also intricate and striking on the visual level, A Canterbury Tale retains every ounce of its energy, mystery and character six decades on. There's still never been anything quite like it. 17.9.07
DISTURBIA : [5/10] : US 07 : D.J.CARUSO : 104 mins (BBFC)
seen at Empire, Newcastle : 10th September : press show
A youth-oriented, unofficial semi-remake of Hitchcock's Rear Window, Disturbia is a so-so thriller let down by a fundamental lack of suspense. This means that – despite the presence of Hollywood's engaging boy-next-door-du-jour Shia LaBoeuf, plus dependably classy "veterans" David Morse and Carrie-Anne Moss – the picture never matches Red Eye (2005), the sole previous feature by co-scriptwriter Carl Ellsworth (brought in at a late stage here to rewrite Christopher B Landon's initial drafts.) Then again, it represents a distinct step up from director Caruso's dopey serial-killer misfire Taking Lives (2004) – and is certainly much better than its clumsy title would suggest.
In the prologue, high-schooler Kale Brecht (LaBoeuf) accidentally causes his father's death through careless driving. A year later, the lad is still dealing with the tragedy – and has become a sullenly surly teen. After assaulting a teacher, he's sentenced to house-arrest under the stern glare of his mother (Moss) and fills his days by spying on his neighbours – soon suspecting that one of them, Robert Turner (Morse), may be a homicidal psychopath…
Caruso's uninspired approach favours repetitive "boo"-type shocks (people suddenly appearing behind fridge-doors and the like) over the trickier option of creating and maintaining genuine tension. This leaves us plenty of time to ponder the script's oedipal subtexts (the only real source of spice in what's an otherwise blandly over-processed affair) which remain largely unspoken but, given the presence of Moss, seem pretty much inescapable: "she's hot!", as Kale's best friend lasciviously pants. 11.9.07
WITHNAIL AND I : [7/10] : aka Withnail & I : UK 87 (copyright-dated 1986) : Bruce ROBINSON : 107 mins (BBFC)
seen at CineWorld, Boldon : 11th September : public show ( £2.50)
London, 1969. A pair of perpetually-drunken, "resting" actors – flamboyant, verbose, dissolute Withnail (Richard E Grant) and his younger, more down-to-earth, fashion-conscious friend Marwood* (Paul McGann) – impulsively decide to flee the city's stiflingly grim confines. They (haphazardly) drive north to rural, faraway Cumbria, to stay in the dilapidated farmhouse owned by Withnail's affluent uncle Monty (Richard Griffiths). But bucolic bliss proves an elusive ideal.
Withnail and I has always been a proper 'cult' movie, its ever-so-English atmosphere of Stygian-Bohemian debauch, dazzlingly quotable dialogue, and prodigious on-screen drink/drug consumption inspiring passionate devotion among would-be-Withnails worldwide. Two decades on, Grant (a spectacular screen-debut) remains terrific value and Griffiths – in an even broader 'turn' – repellently amusing, the pair of them mining Robinson's apercu-studded script for maximum effect.
But the picture, for all its appeal, is hardly the classic its reputation might suggest. McGann – all tousle-haired, virile charm – is surprisingly tentative as the writer-director's surrogate: Robinson himself was a noted "pretty-boy" actor, in a branch of showbiz where heterosexuality has never been exactly the norm.
And the film ultimately comes across as a belated, elaborate yelp of homosexual panic, with the straight-arrow Marwood frantically eluding the clutches of the porcine Monty – and neither willing nor able to even address the actual nature of his relationship with Withnail. This coyness leaves a slight void at the picture's heart, one which gives its end-of-an-era wistfulness – as one decade crumbles into another – an air of strangely selective, self-serving nostalgia. 17.9.07
1. all films seen in the UK, and all timings approximate, unless stated otherwise
2. timings taken from the BBFC website are rounded to the nearest minute (i.e. 100min 29sec = 100min, but 100min 30sec = 101min)
3. an asterisk [*] in the rating indicates that film is not a feature (i.e. 0-39m = short; 40m-63m = medium-length; 64m+ = feature)
* Marwood's name is – famously – never mentioned in the film, and in the end credits the character is identified as "… & I". But the name appears on an envelope, very briefly glimpsed, and is 'formally' revealed in Robinson's published screenplay,