BFI Launches The Film Subscription Service For Lovers of Film

bfi1BFI PLAYER+

BFI LAUNCHES THE FILM SUBSCRIPTION SERVICE FOR LOVERS OF FILMS

Hand-picked, expertly-selected film collections bring 100s of cinematic greats to subscribers.
Mark Kermode picks his BFI Player+ ‘film of the week’, each with exclusive filmed introductions.
All this for less than a bucket of popcorn: £4.99 per month, no contract, and with a 30-day free trial for all.

The BFI, the UK’s lead organisation for film, today launches its brand new subscription service, BFI Player+ [BFI Player Plus] – http://player.bfi.org.uk/bfi-player-plus/

Costing just £4.99 a month, with a 30-day free trial for all users, BFI Player+ offers audiences some of the best classic and critically-acclaimed films.

Subscribers can dive into collections of hand-selected films curated by the BFI’s world-leading experts, enjoying must-see British films alongside the best of world cinema. In short: BFI Player+ is a subscription service like no other. Now, it’s easy for audiences to discover and enjoy the essential classics, all without the need for a contract.

User-feedback helped shape BFI Player+, and as a result it complements the mainstream services in the UK to meet the demand for a service celebrating the best of a century of cinema.

bfi2Edward Humphrey, Digital Director at the BFI said: “We are passionate about bringing great cinema to audiences – it’s at the core of everything the BFI does – and BFI Player+ does exactly that. We bring a unique approach to subscription services: expertly curated cinema that takes audiences on a journey through the very best of film, from its early masterpieces through to contemporary greats. It’s brilliant that leading critic, Mark Kermode is as passionate about BFI Player+ as we are, and will be introducing a key film each week to help our subscribers discover outstanding cinematic gems.”

From launch, BFI Player+ will have in the region of 300 carefully selected titles available to stream, with films grouped to make browsing around genres, collections and directors an enjoyable, informative and intuitive experience for subscribers. Launch collections include British Classics, Horror, Indie, Documentaries, Family, plus films that were the toast of the red carpets in Award-Winning, those that are near-impossible to see anywhere else in Unavailable on DVD, and extraordinary examples of artist’s film and video work in Experimenta.

BFI Player+ is also focused on reflecting the cultural output of the BFI, the UK’s lead organisation for film, with collections also grouped around BFI festivals such as the UK’s largest film festival, the BFI London Film Festival, and also BFI Flare LGBT film festival, as well as major projects such as 2014’s SCI-FI or 2015’s LOVE blockbuster seasons. The collections, which will expand and grow with new titles added on an ongoing basis, are designed to have a broad appeal for anyone who loves film.

As part of its unique approach to curated cinema, every Friday BFI Player+ will feature an exclusive weekly video recommendation from one of the UK’s most respected film critics, Mark Kermode. Each week Mark will select a key title from the BFI Player+ collections and show why it’s a film not to be missed. The series commences on Friday 30 October, with Mark’s introduction to Alfred Hitchcock’s classic The Lodger, which features a specially-created score composed by acclaimed musician, producer and composer, Nitin Sawhney in 2012.

bfi3The new BFI Player+ service will sit within the existing BFI Player – home of the go-to VoD service for new pay-per-view independent film releases and the BFI’s hugely popular Britain on Film archive collection. Britain on Film has received over 4 million views since launching in July.

BFI Player+ is available however people choose to view, be that via computer or, with the presence of the BFI Player app, across tablets and smartphones and with a fantastic roster of titles to come. A significant number of new titles – all hand-picked – will be added in coming months.

BFI Player+ is available now here: http://player.bfi.org.uk/bfi-player-plus/

Around 300 titles are available right now, examples of which include:
Sergei M. Eisenstein – Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Alfred Hitchcock – The Lodger (1927)
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger – The Red Shoes (1948)
Akira Kurosawa – Seven Samurai (1954)
Ishirô Honda – Godzilla (1954)
Sidney J. Furie – The Ipcress File (1965)
David Cronenberg – Dead Ringers (1988)
Joanna Hogg – Unrelated (2007)
Abbas Kiarostami – Shirin (2008)
Alexei Popogrebsky – How I Ended this Summer (2010)
Sergei Loznitsa – In the Fog (2012)

Collections available include:

British Classics
Japanese classics
Silent classics
French Classics
Unavailable on DVD
Horror
Indie
Documentaries +
Family +
Shorts +
Award-winning
Experimenta
Love +
LFF +
Flare – LGBT+
Flipside – Cult British Cinema
Sci-Fi+
Akira Kurosawa
Werner Herzog
John Cassavettes
David Lean
Early Hitchcock
Powell and Pressburger

Classic Ghost Stories by M R James (1986) BFI DVD review

mrjamesbfi1Classic Ghost Stories by M R James (1986)

DVD Release Date:* 28 Oct 2013

UK distribution – BFI   – 100 minutes

Featuring: Robert Powell, Michael Bryant.

Before I begin the review of the content of the next DVD sent to me by the BFI, I have something of a confession to make about the actor appearing in it (Yes, once again I unashamedly talk about my personal past… and yes, it involves a relationship). My first true love type individual (who of course shall remain nameless) was very much into me too  – which is always a good thing in regard to relationships, otherwise the Judge tends to take a rather negative view of things…. Anyhoo,  She was also well and truly into a certain actor called Robert Powell whom it is safe to say that she doted upon – so much so that once I could swear that she uttered his name while we were, well, you know. Though I know that she cared for me deeply, if the end of the world had wiped out the rest of humanity except for the three of us she and Mr Powell would have walked off into the sunset together fast than I could have said ‘Jesus of Nazareth’

Of course I am well and truly past the raging paranoia and slight discomfort that I used to feel whenever old Bob happened to be on screen, and she-who-will-remain-nameless and I have long gone our separate ways. So I can now be completely impartial when considering any works featuring………..him.

The tradition of storytelling by one individual to an enthralled audience is probably as old as humanity itself. The ability to create an exciting and living imaginary universe out of nothing but ones own words and making people WANT to listen is something of a gift that I don’t think that I have – it takes a special person to hold and enthral an intimate audience. The ghost stories of M R James were often performed by James himself to his students at Cambridge during the Christmas holidays and by all accounts he was a gifted orator within this intimate atmosphere.

mrjamesbfi2It was television (arguably more successfully than radio) that managed to convey authentically this intimacy of James’ own readings when the much sought-after seasonal slot was given over to a his works in *Classic Ghost Stories *in Christmas 1986.

The presentation for the story is cunningly simple, featuring Robert Powell (him) as the storyteller, resplendent in a master’s robe within his college study. The storytelling is predominantly direct to camera with only the briefest of dramatisation and artwork to break up the prose. It is in this cosy setting that the ‘Professor’ tells his five terrifying tales, all clearly inspired by M R James’ legendary readings of his own works.

In *The Mezzotint *a haunted picture slowly reveals the terrors of what has gone before but only while there is no around looking at it, whilst *The Ash-Tree* tells of the execution of a witch and the dreadful curse she places on the Fell family – but beware all arachnophobics of this particular episode! *Wailing Well* involves a troop of scouts who find that curiosity can be fatal, and *Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad* concerns itself with an academic who gets more than he bargained for after he finds an enchanted whistle. Finally, in *The Rose Garden*, disturbing visions upset Mrs Ansthruthers’ gardening plans.

mrjamesbfi3To a modern day audience, the notion of an actor speaking direct to camera for approximately 15 minutes per story may sound dry and simplistic – but this would be a mistake of huge proportions. Powell is a consummate storyteller with his distinctive and soothing voice perfectly embodying a feel for the phrasing and tone of James’s Writing.
If possessing a hypnotising voice wasn’t enough, his delivery is often accompanied a subtle wry grin or noticeable glint in the eye when appropriate. I know I’m not the first person to say this, but the man can act.

Each of the stories may be just 15 minutes or so in length, but they feel much longer than that – and I mean that in a positive way. There is no convoluted introductions or padded out explanations – we are simply thrust headlong into the story, I say ‘we’, because the skill of Powell reading the stories just as James would have done in the halls of Cambridge, means that we feel he is talking to us, and only us. The nature of this type of storytelling on television when performed as skilfully as this means that we are carried along the tidal waves of each story’s building tension.

mrjamesbfi4If that wasn’t enough, the DVD also features three episodes of  the series *Spine Chiller (1980).

The series was described at the time as ‘storytelling for older children’, its origins being found as an off-shoot of the children’s programme, *Jackanory*. Spine chillers features Michael Bryant reading three more James stories (Including another version of *The Mezzotint*) for our delectation.

Once again the power of the episodes rely heavily on the the ability of the actor to tell a story  – perhaps more so in this series as the use of any dramatisation or illustration has been completely stripped away. However like Robert Powell, Bryant’s delivery is note and pitch perfect perfectly conveying the complexities of emotion an tension for each of the stories.

There have been numerous adaptations of M R James’s ghost stories but both series here perfectly show that even in this 21st century multi-digital world, there is a place straightforward and intimate storytelling. Watching this DVD, essentially experiencing someone talk through the camera to me, has been one of the most enjoyable horror experiences I’ve had for some time.

9/10

*DVD information and Special Features*

   – The video master information for the *Classic Ghost Stories* were
   made available by the BBC to the BFI and are presented in their 1.33:1
   aspect ratio, in accordance with their original broadcast.
   –
   – The episodes from the *Spine Chillers* were transferred from the
   original 16mm archive element by BBC studios and post production. Standard
   Definition video masters were made available to the BFI by the BBC. All
   episodes are presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
   –
   – Spine Chillers: *The Mezzotint*, *A School Story* and *The Diary of Mr
   Poynter* (1980, 36 min in total): acclaimed actor Michael Bryant reads
   three of M R James’ stories adapted for the BBC’s Spine Chillers series –
   produced by Classic Ghost Stories producer Anglea Beeching and the team
   behind the BBC children’s series Jackanory.
   –
   – Fully illustrated booklet with a newly commissioned essay by BFI TV
   Curator Lisa Kerrigan.

Dead of Night (1972) BFI DVD Review

deadofnightDEAD OF NIGHT (1972)

DVD Release Date: 28 Oct 2013

Featuring: Anna Cropper, Clive Swift, Edward Petherbridge, Peter
Barkworth, Anna Massey, Sylvia Kay, Jaqueline Pearce, Julian Holloway and
Katya Wyeth.

Directed by: Don Taylor, Rodney Bennett and Paul Ciappessoni.

After bathing in the rather splendid Gothic waters of Robin Redbreast (see my previous blog entry of peril) it was time to for me move onto the 2nd preview delicacy that the marvellous people at the BFI had forwarded my way as part of their magnificent *Gothic:The Dark Heart of Film* season. Once again my not so onerous task was to sit through another highly sought after classic of television and British Horror from the 1970’s. It’s a dirty job, but someone has got to do it – and I’m just the man for a dirty job.

Ahh, the 1970’s, a much maligned and much celebrated decade in equal measures. I was a child of the seventies and therefore many of my personal memories are seen through my own personal (& much used) pair of rose-tinted glasses. As a consequence, my recollections of being a very young kid growing up through those years are mostly positive. The seventies was a decade of contractions here in the UK- on the debit side it was a time of political and social upheaval, the weekly strikes, power cuts, terrible fashions and IRA bombings. Oh yes, there was also Margaret bloody Thatcher coming to power…..maybe my rose-tinted glasses need cleaning. However, on the plus side the seventies also gave us David Bowie, Punk Rock, Star Wars and space hoppers….so it wasn’t all bad.

bfigothicWhat certainly cannot be denied about the 1970’s was the quality of television production. It was a different world than the controlled and often insipid programming that was to come afterwards. The Seventies were a true golden period for dark and sinister drama, with the Christmas periods benefiting greatly with an abundance of horror fare. *A Ghost Story for Christmas* which ran through most of the decade, *The Stone Tape (1972)* An atmospheric modern ghost story, and *Count Dracula (1977)* all telling well crafted tales of horror and dread. More importantly, there was no dumbing down of the material to meet the lowest common audience denominator, nor was there much practice of exaggerating the horror genre into becoming cliched and predictable.

The 1972 series* Dead of Night *is a legendary horror anthology series released in November of that year. The bad news is that four out of the five episodes have not survived their dispatch to the BBC archives after the cost-cutting wiping of used tapes to record new programmes.

The good news is that the three episodes that do survive are perfect examples of the quality and themes that heightened the reputation of the series, both when it was first broadcast and subsequently in the years afterwards. Apart from the quality of the chills and thrills that the series offered, what resonates with the collection of episodes was the ability to adapt traditional Gothic themes such as emotional repression, supernatural visitations and voluptuous bosoms heaving in the midst of stressful romantic obsessions. The skill of the programme makers was the ability to transfer these traditional Gothic elements to a contemporary middle-class suburban setting with all it’s political and social complexities.

Remember, this is a time when the audience were often treated with genuine respect and rarely bared witness to any dumbed-down horror during prime time. The *Dead of Night* series is no different, with a number of episodes containing clever critiques and examinations of the modern suburban lifestyles of middle class families. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean a concerted left-wing diatribe against the excesses of the ‘me generation’. There is a genuine sympathy for the predicament for many of the people (particularly the women) in theses dramas – though that doesn’t mean that their destinies are any less deadly.

don1*The Exorcism*- A film by Don Taylor, is arguably the episode which has gained the highest reputation for being the most frightening and memorable of the entire series. First broadcast on the 5th of November (how very apt) the story examines the clash between modern-day social beliefs and the injustices of the past – all dressed up in a covering of a delicious Gothic horror. It features a sophisticated and wealthy middle-class couple, Edmund and Rachel( Edward Petherbridge and the magnificent Anna Cropper) who have invited their equally sophisticated friends Dan and Margaret (Clive Swift and Sylvia Kay) to their newly refurbished country cottage retreat. This gathering of friends for Christmas dinner begins innocently enough with agreeable conversation around their privileged status and how they can reconcile this to their (long-gone) socialist principles. It is clear which of these considerations are winning out as both couples are the epitome of the new ‘habitat generation’ as they talk and play their party games.

However it soon becomes clear that the house they have renovated and it’s previous owners may have other more horrific frightening prospects in store for the four friends. For soon things begin to take an ever more supernatural tone as Rachel finds herself playing a melody on the piano that she has no recollection of ever knowing, the phone becomes disconnected (oh those days before wi-fi, god love it), and the food and drink starts to have the most interesting of effects.

Once again the acting and writing is of the highest order with all four players in the ensemble convincingly portraying the conflicting pride and guilt they feel about their lives. Anna Cropper, as she was in *Robin Redbreast*, is especially excellent in the scene where the apparent connection that she has felt with the dead previous occupants sees her become possessed by the said owner, who’s lifestyle was far, far less opulent than our present-day foursome. Hers in particular is a truly mesmerising performance.

Yes, The Exorcism may deal in part with commentary on wealth, privilege and political guilt – but do not let that put you off because it is an exemplary example of a wonderful supernatural story of chilling proportions. I don’t want to give the ending away, except to say that that it as unsettling and effective as any I can remember.

don2In *Return Flight* – A film by Rodney Bennett, we are introduced to Captain
Hamish Rolph, (played by the always excellent Peter Barkworth) an experienced airline pilot who has recently returned to his job not long after the death of his wife. The problem is that his professionalism is placed under scrutiny by the airline authorities after he declares a near-miss with another aircraft, however nobody else witnessed this event at the time. His employers and friends are both concerned that outwardly, he seems to have lost his normal sense of focus and discipline. However, we soon discover that inwardly the problems are far more sinister and complex as his bereavement and secret long held feelings of inferiority have resulted in a far more dangerous effect on on his psyche. The Phantoms of his mind, both real and unreal, are playing tricks on his personal view of reality, for which the consequences are that he is flying ‘blind’.

This is a production that could have easily have found it’s existence in an episode of The Twilight zone, and certainly the some of the issues here such as a man being haunted by the spectres from his own mind and past are familiar to those of us who love the work of Rod Sterling’s eponymous series. *Return Flight *is an excellent character study of a middle-aged man trying to come to terms with both his personal and professional failings. He is someone who up to now who may have had at worse, an inaccurate perception of his life – his marriage for example, which may not been quite as happy as he seems to recollect, His resistance ultimately fragments and lets his mind carry him well and truly away to a place where perception and reality fade away.

Barkworth once again exemplifies the solid acting that you would expect from this series, with the critically acclaimed actor portraying a restrained sorrow and nobleness to his character’s existence.

don3The third and final instalment is perhaps my personal favourite of the three, possibly because it is a clever modern-day development of a classic Gothic tale of potentially doomed heroine. It is a theme that has been explored in numerous stories by since folk tales began and in numerous film adaptations, noticeably by such luminaries as Alfred Hitchcock.

In *A Woman Sobbing* – A film by Paul Clappessoni, Jane a middle-class wife (Anna Massey) and her husband Frank have moved out to the country for the benefit of their children’s upbringing. The couple’s marriage has clearly reached a point of boredom and frustration for them both as they openly fantasise about relationships with younger partners. Soon  Jane starts to become increasingly paranoid and unstable when her nights are interrupted by the unsettling and unaccountable sound of a woman crying in
one of the upstairs rooms of her new house. This sobbing noise is always accompanied by the smell of gas fumes. If that wasn’t enough to force the woman into falling further over the edge into loneliness and depression, nobody else can hear the sounds or smell the gas, but her. Is Jane’s husband really trying to drive her insane, or even kill her? Are the forces
at work supernatural or simply the result of the fragmentation of her mind and sanity?

This episode has some deep and dark undertones in the exploration of the gender roles and mental illness. There are distinct Freudian elements as to whether the voice that Jane hears is actually real, or whether it is actually some long forgotten repressed memory or experience from deep within her unconscious. Both Jane and her husband are clearly unhappy in their respective marriage roles, but it is interesting that even in the more so- called liberated 1970’s it is the woman who has no ‘vent’ for her frustrations having been worn down by her domestic existence. Her growing resentment of her children, her husband and the family Au pair threatens to overwhelm her completely.

The episode is deeply unsettling in its portrayal of Jane’s psychological turmoil possibly manifesting itself either into supernatural consequences or deeper mental illness. The representation of the treatment that Jane’s husband arranges for Jane is convincing and unsettling, with her treatment of Electro Convulsive Therapy looking clinically authentic.

don4Again this is an intelligent and thoughtful approach to examining the human condition without losing the sight of the fact that it is supposed to be chilling and creepy enough to satisfy the horror enthusiasts within us.
Because IT IS genuinely claustrophobic and frightening in it’s climactic scenes as Jane becomes more and more unbalanced. This is helped in no small measure by the performance of Anna Massey, whose previous roles in Hitchcock’s Frenzy and Michael Powell’s stunning Peeping Tom receiving much deserved praise from critics and public alike. The increasing desperation and descent into into her own disturbed thoughts is beautifully portrayed by an actress at the height of her powers.

There are some people for whom the ending is annoyingly ambiguous, the neatly packaged let the ending explain all doesn’t happen here – and I love that. I love the fact that I’m asked to think about it and make my own mind up as to the things that have taken place.

10/10  

*DVD information and Special Features** *

– The video master information were made available by the BBC to the BFI
and are presented in their 1.33:1 aspect ratio, in accordance with their
original broadcast.
– Gallery of stills from missing episodes
– Downloadable PDF scripts from missing episodes
– Fully illustrated booklet with essays and biographies by Lisa
Kerrigan, Oliver Wake, Derek Johnston and Alex Davidson

Gothic: The Dark Heart Of Film – Tales of classic Gothic Horror from the BFI (Part 1) – Robin Redbreast (1970)

robinredbreast1Gothic: The Dark Heart Of Film – Tales of classic Gothic Horror from the
BFI (Part 1)

*Robin Redbreast*

Directed by James McTaggart

Produced in 1970 as part of BBC’s Play for Today season

*Cast*

Andy Bradford, Bernard Hepton, Anna Cropper , Amanda Walker, Julian Holloway.

There are certain things Horror related that make me happy, very happy.
Those horror-related predilections will often include such terms as: classic, British, rare, long-forgotten and legendary (there are other terms, such as Maddie Smith, Ingrid Pitt and Barbara Steele – but that’s a whole different level of happy).

If the terms classic, British and Gothic are mentioned all in the same sentence then I’m as happy as a pig in the proverbial you-know-what. It’s been a source of joy to know that since beginning the scribblings on this blog a year ago that I’m not alone in my classic Gothic horror obsessions.
Indeed, a happy by-product of starting my blog has also been the opportunity provided to write for other websites such as the excellent  UKHorrorScene  It’s been a pleasure to find that there is a whole legion of fellow British horror enthusiasts and supporters out there who not only love the more established horror fare, but who also share the desire to keep in the wider public consciousness the lesser known, under-rated and sometimes criminally forgotten gems of British horror production.

Take the British Film Institute (BFI) for example. When the BFI announced earlier this year its most substantial project to date for the *Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film *four month-long event, the reaction of many of us was of deliciously delirious anticipation. The ambitious programme was to include the release of 150 titles and around 1,000 screenings across the UK from August 2013 to January 2014  – and every single one of them was to be Gothic related. Not only was the size of the programme seductively enticing, so was the range of the titles that were going to be made available. So apart from the expected and more established offerings going to be made such as the world premiere of the digital re-mastering of *Night Of The Demon (1957)* and iconic Gothic releases such as Hammer
Horror’s *Dracula (1958)*starring a certain Christopher Lee – In addition there would be
cinematic and DVD releases of rare and long forgotten Gothic related productions. Many of these releases were not only being re-mastered, but there would be some titles that would not have seen the light of day in some cases since their original showing in the cinema or transmission on television.

It was quite simply, the most exciting announcement of the year – well that is if you don’t count the news of the new supermarket opening on the edge of the nearest town a few miles away (I live in the sticks, you see), and THAT was big news!

bfigothicAs part of the BFI’s *Gothic:The Dark Art of Film,*the 28th October sees the release of a number of rare and long-thought lost examples of British Gothic televisual splendour. Two long-unseen archive TV titles, both of which are guaranteed to scare and delight in equal measure are the *1970 Play for Today entry Robin Redbreast *and the few surviving, terrifying episodes of *1972’s Dead of Night *television series.

In addition to those two offerings there is also a release of *M R James’ Classic Ghost Stories (1986)**,* narrated by Robert Powell, which include*The Mezzotint*, *The Ash-Tree*, *Wailing Well*, *The Rose Garden* and *O, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad.*

If that wasn’t enough to wet the Gothic juices any any self-respecting British horror buff then there is also a highly anticipated release of the BBC TV adaptation of Sheridan Le Fanu’s *Schalcken the Painter (1979)*.

Now, like many people, I’m a very busy person with annoyances such as a day-time job, family matters and various other factors that life can invariably throw at me. Thereby impacting on what I love to do most of all i.e. immerse myself in a world of sci-fi, fantasy and horror. So when I received not one, not two, not three, but in fact all four of the preview discs (together with a veritable wealth of accompanying materials) for the
titles that I’ve just mentioned previously, I was in a quandary of sorts.
My options were two-fold: Firstly, I could say that I wouldn’t have time to watch them all and subsequently review each title to my usual high standard of Pseudo – P.G.Wodehouse levels of genius. Secondly, I could forego such luxuries as sleep and bugger the consequences, thereby immersing myself in a genuine wealth of British televisual Gothic delight.

Of course, there was never a real consideration of the first option.

*Robin Redbreast (1970)*

It was the spring of 1984, me and my girlfriend of the time were travelling through an area of the New Forest in Dorset. It was an especially warm afternoon and feeling in need of some liquid refreshment we decided to stop off at the first cafe (or preferably) pub that we came across. After a short while we chanced upon a village, it was pretty, quiet and
unremarkable in any way. In fact It was your perfectly normal Southern English country village – except for two things. Firstly, we tried two places to find something to eat and drink, a quiet little pub and a (very) small post office/cafe type of establishment. In both cases we both walked in and immediately the talking or whatever had been going on inside,
stopped. The people turned to us and stared…….there was no malice or threat, they just silently stared. One shambolic attempt at small talk as we ordered our drink later resulted in a rather quick consumption of said beverage and we high-tailed it out of there. The Post office experience was also identical, having not learnt our lesson the task to get a postcard for our family met with the same silent (almost suspicious) response.

rr1The second thing that happened was our subsequent attempt to get out of the village. It may be the hot sunny day, the all too quickly downed beer or a combination of both – but we couldn’t find our way out of the village. There were roadworks and diversions everywhere it seemed, and for every road we travelled down there was a dead end, or another diversion. For 20 minutes we wandered around and around, until we finally found a way back onto the main A-road and for every one of those 20 minutes, each person we
passed simply stride at us as if were something from another planet. I don’t recall us ever being worried, though I do remember my ill-considered attempts at humour with my girlfriend, likening our experience to something from The Village of The Damned. or The Wicker Man. She failed to see the funny side – which I could tell from the silent reaction from her to me for the next 30 miles or so.

The experience I had (albeit rather tame) of the rather eccentric reactions from a remote country village to outsiders had a somewhat interesting effect on me. The experience that we had in the village (that may have been more in our heads at the time than anything) that could be examples of more extreme cases of a community separated both geographically and socially (and spiritually) has stayed with me for many years. I’m not the only one to have pondered on what consequences could take place when the old world
of tradition and folklore collides with the new modern world and it’s fancy ideas, as the aforementioned classics of horror will testify.

Consequently, I could barely contain my joy when the BFI let it be known that a television drama that not only dealt with those very issues, but had itself long since become part of entertainment folklore of mythic proportions, was going to be released. *Robin Redbreast *originally aired part as BBC’s long-running Play for today series on 10th December 1970 and originally gained fame, not just for it’s electrifying content, but for being the first of the series ever to be repeated on television a year later on 25th February 1971.

Ever since then, the television broadcast has never been seen – and I mean never. The aura that surrounds this sublime piece of folk-horror and the critical and audience reception it received at the time, together with it’s possible thematic influence on*The Wicker Man *means that perhaps of all the re-released classics this is the one that many of us Gothicheads have been anticipating the most.

rr2The plot of Robin Redbreast was inspired in part by a real case of a 1945 murder of a farmer in Warwickshire, who was discovered in a field with a cross carved onto his face and his body impaled into the soil by his pitchfork. Norah Palmer (Anna Cropper) is a successful television script editor who temporarily runs away to the perceived sanctuary of a remote English country village. The outwardly confident and liberated woman is
actually rather vulnerable and emotionally drained as she attempts to rebuild her life after breaking up from her long-term boyfriend.  At first, she finds that the villagers are friendly and plainly traditional in their beliefs, if a little eccentric. Soon after arriving in the community Norah strikes up a friendship of sorts with the good-looking young farmer, Edgar, who far some unknown reason, the villages call Rob. When she becomes pregnant to the handsome (but very naive and rather boring) Rob, she begins to suspect the locals of conspiring against her – particularly the strange self-taught village intellectual man called Fisher. Something, or someone in the village is attempting to stop her from leaving the community for her home in London – but what do they want with her?

One cannot escape the comparisons and possible influence on Robin Hardy’s truly sublime *The Wicker Man* which came three years after this production. I really don’t know whether *Robin Redbreast *directly influenced the story of the doomed Sgt Howie on the Hebridean island of Summerisle, so I don’t wish to assume either way. However the influence in some form, direct or indirect, is plain to see.

In both Robin Redbreast and The Wicker Man we witness, a true outsider travelling to remote community where life revolves around the all important bountiful crops and harvest that are seemingly essential for the community’s survival. While both characters are similar in some ways – both Norah and Sgt Howie are resolute in their beliefs (she is a liberated & modern woman, he a highly strung Christian ), both characters make the fundamental error of underestimating the locals and failing to see that actually us is not they are in control of their own destiny, until it proves too late. In addition, there is the presence in each community of a key figure who seem to be moving proceedings along, much to the incomprehension of the outsiders. Fisher and Lord Summerisle may be very
different personalities – Bernard Hepton may lack the genuine charisma of Christopher Lee but he more than makes up with his cunning and distinctly cold demeanour. Both leaders are at the very centre of the whole proceedings, carefully manoeuvring the outsiders around like human chess pieces.

rr3The writing and acting is without doubt of the class that you would associate with a BBC production from ‘the golden age of television’. John Bowen’s script is has some delicious passages of word play – particularly from the always excellent Bernard Hepton who is mesmerising and simply steals each scene he is in. Anna Cropper as Norah is a worthy lead who more than holds her own in a part especially written for her by Bowen. Her performance builds upon the  powerfully written character with subtle shifts in emotion ranging from the outward strength of a modern woman from the city to a vulnerable and confused outsider in the village.

In addition, Andrew Bradford provides in incredible performance of the naive and perplexing Rob who (despite of his disastrous attempts at what he naively regards as intelligent conversation) chases and entices Norah.

Robin Redbreast, with its emphasis on clever and subtle dialogue expertly brought to life by the cream of acting talent is a triumph of Folk-Horror. It simply has to be watched more than once to appreciate the layer upon layer of building tension.

For any of you who may be put-off by the nature of the production – the format of a wordy play taking place predominately in an interior setting – well don’t be. There me be little physical action taking pace on screen, but this is intelligent, thought provoking Gothic drama that is both skilfully written and acted. The clever build up of Psychological tension
keeps you guessing until the final and somewhat unexpected climax of the story. The final moments of *Robin Redbreast* are simply stunning. There is no other adjective that I could use.

*DVD information and Special Features *

– The production is presented in its original broadcast aspect ratio of
1.33:1. The original broadcast was in colour, however thanks to the cost of
new recording tape hundreds upon hundreds of productions between the 1950’s
and 1980’s were lost forever after the original broadcast reels were wiped
in order for them to be re-used. Consequently, all that remains of this
production is the black and white 16mm telerecording which was made
available especially to the BFI by the BBC. Despite the obvious effect is
has on the production, it does little to detract from the experience of
watching and enjoying such a legendary piece of work as this.

– *Interview with John Bowen* (2013) – The writer talks about the
origins and production of the piece and gives a brief insight into his
varied career.

bfilogo  – Short film about village life – *Around the Village Green* (1937,
Evelyn Spice and Marion Grierson). When first seeing the title and basic
description of this 11 minute film it seemed nothing more than a quaint,
nostalgic piece of what to many is a traditional evocation of traditional
English village life. Great pains are made in the film to get across the
message that even in fast changing technological and industrial Britain of
the early twentieth centre, some traditions remain regardless. On it’s own
*Around the Village Green* may serve perfectly as a vehicle to produce a
nostalgic picture of a traditional small community existence
bravely holding out against the fast encroaching influence of
the outside world. However, included in this collection alongside Robin
Redbreast it also serves to take on a whole new ominous and seditious
undertone in it’s message.

– Booklet with new essays, biographies and credits.

This production is almost perfect in every way – so it gets a 9.5 out of 10

Sleepwalker (1984) BluRay Review – BFI Flipside

slp3Sleepwalker (BFI Flipside) (Dual Format BluRay & DVD)

Dir. Saxon Logan

Starring – Joanna David, Bill Douglas, Fulton Mackay, Michael Medwin, Heather Page.

Released – 23rd September UK from BFI Flipside.

 

I like to think of myself as many things: intelligent, fearless, loyal.

A lover, a fighter, and a daredevil are all but a few of my many qualities. I firmly believe that when the inevitable Zombie apocalypse happens I will undoubtedly be the ‘Rick character’, fearlessly leading my trusty band of fellow survivors to evade the Zombie hordes. Of that I have little doubt.

With regards to being something of a love-god, I’m also certain in my own mind that one day Helena Bonham Carter will finally remove those pesky restraining orders, dump that director fella of hers and finally see the light that I’m the real love object of her dreams.

Now, for some reason that I cannot fathom, but there are some people in the world that that profess to know me who would actually regard the thoughts that I have about myself as near being near-delusional. The words cowardly, nerdy and sadly fixated would probably be more like the descriptions that they (my so called friends and family) would have of me. They may have a point. After all, the medication has yet to quite kick-in and those voices in my head are still chattering away.

So maybe I won’t survive the Zombie apocalypse – or if I do I’ll probably end up being that guy that goes insane and hides away in some top story apartment with his collection of firearms and a few department store mannequins for his conversational needs………And Helen may thank her lucky stars that I’ll never utter those words of romance that I long to say – “Get your Bellatrix Lestrange outfit on, m’dear”.

slp2What I *AM* sure about is my love and passion for many things science fiction, fantasy and horror. When it comes to horror, my love of the genre knows few bounds but when it comes to *British* Horror, especially obscure British horror, then I’m well and truly obsessed. There is a huge catalogue of lost and forgotten gems of UK films out there that we need to keep established in the public psyche. Thankfully I’m not alone in that endeavour.

The British Film Institute (BFI) Flipside series has one singular purpose – and that is to revisit and reassess British film releases, particularly those movies that may have become overlooked, brushed aside or simply misunderstood at the original time of release. I’m not talking about the established collection of British classics that may have suffered for whatever reason on their initial release but have since garnered a reputation of loving cult proportions – *The Wicker Man *is an obvious example. No, what we are talking about movies which still lurk outside the list of acknowledged classics.

The BFI Flipside titles are all remastered to High definition and are always accompanied by a veritable plethora of extra goodies, many of which are often previously unavailable short films, documentaries and interviews. If that wasn’t enough, each film title has it’s own individual numbered packaging together with illustrated booklets often with contributions from the actual filmmakers themselves – you can tell I’m a fan, eh?!

So when I received the preview copy sent from the BFI (via the fantastic UKHorrorScene ) of the latest release of a long-thought forgotten gem of British Horror – well put it this way, I almost choked on my mouthful of Red Wine when I saw the title.

The reason for my excitement is many fold, perhaps mostly because it’s a film that I’ve had high on my wish-list for many a year. I’ve wanted to see this for many reasons, not just for the film’s content, but also because the film’s initial critical reception, problematic release and eventual curtailing of a potentially great directing career could be a film plot of of it’s own. It’s an all-too familiar tale of the failure of the British film industry to recognise what talent it has on it’s hands.

*Sleepwalker (1984) *is the 27th title in the BFI Flipside series. Directed by Saxon Logan, it is a biting mix of horror and social satire.

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**THE PLOT*

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slp4*Not exactly the happiest of couples…..*

The story is a relatively simple one. It features a wealthy couple Richard and Angela Paradise who are driving on their way to visiting friends Marion and Alex Britain in their decomposing country family home, the interestingly named ‘Albion’. Tensions between the immediately obnoxious Richard (played by the always excellent Nicholas Grace) and his meek wife (Joanna David) are obvious – especially when Joanna has problems directing her husband in the ever-worsening rain storm to her friend’s home.

Meanwhile, intermixed between the scenes of the visitors marital disharmony we witness, back at Albion, snippets of some violent nightmares that the host Marion (played by the gorgeous Heather Page) is experiencing. Her mood isn’t improved when the on the evening that the visitors are due to arrive the violent storm has smashed one of the windows of the ever-decaying house and ruined the meal that she had been preparing – I hate it when that happens….

Marion has no forced to abandon plans for the cosy candlelit meal, much to the displeasure of her brother Alex, a ‘couple’ who also seem to be perpetually on the edge of argument and who seem to be harbouring more than the usual level of sibling rivalry.  The atmosphere, on the arrival of the wealthy couple, is immediately strained with the meeting for the first time between the two men resulting in obvious dislike. The  foursome head for a local restaurant where the conversation becomes ever more aggressive with comments on the state of the nation, greed and power. The contempt that the wealthy and obnoxious Richard has for the more socialist principled Richard is palpable – the dialogue here is deliciously aggressive.

When the foursome return back to the house the so far strained evening of drunkenness and the heady mixture of social and sexual rivalry soon turns to horror as the inhabitants become the victims of a violently disturbed attacker…………………..

slp5*How not to shave without a mirror*

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*Sleepwalkers *is part horror and cunning social commentary – it has real intelligence at it’s core. Logan’s film cleverly puts together two contrasting couples who’s social tension parallels the political and wider social tension of the time of filming. This was the 1980′s when Thatchers’ Britain was in full swing with all the new ideas of greed, ambition and uber-capitalism fighting headlong with the decaying socialist and perceived ideas of the traditional way of British life.

Indeed, the director clearly signposts his intentions with the surnames of the main characters – brother and sister “Britain’ who live in ‘Albion’ (the ancient name of Great Britian) representing the dwindling fortunes of a once great era who’s best years are clearly behind it. The surnames of the wealthy ‘Thatcherite’ couple –  Paradise – is a unmistakable reference to the new conservative ideal of a place where society no longer exists and where the world of socialism and it’s ‘life-sucking’ ideals have disintegrated into dust.

The dialogue, particularly between the Alex and Richard who clearly despise each others view of the world, is biting and snarling – the scene where Richard, seeing that Alex is little more than a pseudo-socialist, lets loose in this fabulous verbal broadside:

“You know what you are, don’t you? You’re the meat-eater that can’t bear the blood. And do you know what’s put all that flab on your conscience? Blood. Hundreds of years of it. It’s bought you your little nest to get squeamish in. You’re a pimp Alex, you’re a kept man.”*

This is no left-wing attack on the times, it looks at the absurdity of both extremes of the respected ideology. If that wasn’t enough the story also contains more than it’s fair share sexual undercurrent and tension – the feeling of frustrated lust and pent up violence is delicious. The scene where the previously aggressive Richard meekly shuns away from the overt sexual advances of Marion is genuine gold.

slp6*There’s a little something in your eye m’dear*

It would be pure hyperbole to suggest that *Sleepwalker* is a complete
masterpiece. Its is good, very good, though are are a couple of mementoes when the story falters slightly – but only very slightly. The atmospheric  and violent beginning and end of the movie is brilliantly filmed by lighting cameraman Nicholas Beeks-Sanders. The editing,  by Michael Crozier is simply stunning and is pivotal to the potency of the film with it’s images of violence and horror. The final scenes are as powerful as any I can remember.

So why did this particular film slip into the cracks of movie history, and apart from the rare appearance in selected cinemas rarely has rarely shown its face in nearly 30 years? Perhaps one reason is it’s short running time of just 49 minutes, making it neither a short film or a feature length film. In the newly booming world of VHS sales providing a sanctuary for even the most forgetful of movie productions, the running time provided a real problem of how to fill the rest of the tape.

Yet, upon initial completion of the film things had began so well. The initial screenings at the Berlin film festival were received with great enthusiasm, so much so that it received the prestigious Special Jury prize. Saxon Logan had fully expected the film to perform as the opener for another more bankable release, however the ever-increasing ’multiplex’ mentality of 1980′s movie distribution meant that the old headlining feature with supporting featurette had died. Quite simply, even though it had received critical acclaim, the British distributors completely failed to understand both what the film was about and what to do with it. Consequently, the film was stuck away in storage and largely forgot about….. forgotten that is, apart from a few in the industry and some of here in internet land.

Not only was a fine film ignored, a potential great direction career was damaged. Zimbabwe-born Logan had originally cut his teeth under the tutorship of the great Lynsey Anderson, acting as the great man’s assistant during the filming of the classic *O Lucky Man! *Indeed, the Anderson-esque feeling of* Sleepwalker *is clear for all to see.

However, so disillusioned was he with the movie process within the disintegration of the British film industry that films projects on such a scale of *Sleepwalker *failed to materialise again. It was only thanks to the director himself that actual proof of the existence of the film in fact existed.

It is my hope that not only now will the existence of an excellent piece of British Horror filming reach the audience it deserves but also the talent of Saxon Logan will be finally recognised. It is still not too late for him to flourish.

*The Extras included in this set are more than up to the BFI Flipside’s usual quality*

* Presented in both High Definition and Standard Definition

* The Insomniac (Rodney Giesler, 1971, 45 mins): a man experiences a night-time world that is part nightmare, part sexual fantasy

* Stepping Out (Saxon Logan , 1977, 10 mins): a couple’s untraditional early morning ritual is observed in a short drama which originally supported Polanski’s The Tenant in UK cinemas

* Working Surface: A Short Study (with Actors) in the ‘Ways’ of a Bourgeois Writer (Saxon Logan, 1979, 15 mins): Bill Douglas plays a writer struggling with a script about two women (Joanna David and Heather Page)

* O Lucky Man: Saxon Logan in Conversation (2013, 72 mins): exclusive feature-length interview with the director of Sleepwalker

* Extensive illustrated booklet with new essays on all films and complete credits

*Sleepwalker (1984) *is due for release on 23rd September 2013, it is remastered from the only surviving print and presented for the very first time on a home entertainment format. The title is available both on BluRay and DVD as a dual format edition.

I have no hesitation in giving this 9/10.