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last update 30.Aug.11
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Days of Heaven
dir-scr Terrence Malick
prd Bert Schneider, Harold Schneider
with Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard, Linda Manz, Robert Wilke, Jackie Shultis, Stuart Margolin, Tim Scott, Gene Bell, Bob Wilson, Muriel Jolliffe, John Wilkinson
gere and adams release US 13.Sep.78,
UK 1.Jun.79
reissue UK 2.Sep.11
78/US Paramount 1h34

days of heaven This lyrically shot turn-of-the-century drama has been restored as a timely exploration of tough economic times. It's also a reminder of Malick's skills as a visceral storyteller, as powerful now as they were more than 30 years ago.

After his hot temper costs him a job in a noisy steel mill, Bill (Gere) leaves Chicago with his wife Abby (Adams) to look for work. They pretend to be brother and sister, riding the rails with Bill's young sister Linda (Manz). On a Texas Panhandle farm, the handsome young owner (Shepard) takes a shine to Abby, so when Bill finds out that the farmer only has a year to live, he convinces Abby to marry him to help secure their future. But of course this deception causes increasing tensions as relationship begin to shift.

Typical for Malick, the film's dialog is sparse and almost random. The story is mainly told through Linda's plain-spoken narration, as well as Nestor Almendros' stunning cinematography of the epic American landscapes and undulating rivers and wheat fields. The actors are also rather gorgeous, with Gere and Shepard even more strikingly beautiful than the earthy-sexy Adams. All of them beautifully underplay their characters while adding wry humour, full-on physicality and emotional depth we sympathise with.

Drenched in late-afternoon sun, the film's visual and audio textures are intensely evocative, combined with Ennio Morricone's punchy score. Each scene is assembled with an immaculate attention to detail that draws us deeper into the story, settings and relationships. From the playful wit to extremely dark emotions, these feel like complex, authentic people, and their situation is extremely involving. And the climactic firestorm devastates more than the landscape.

At its centre, this is a fairly simple story, but Malick tells it in such an expansive way that lets us see the much bigger picture, including a raw sense of the connection between people and the land, plus a vivid sense of a pivotal point in history. There's also a provocative exploration of poverty and desperation, with piercing moral shadings that perhaps feel even more frighteningly resonant today. As Laura observes after moving into the grand farmhouse with Abby, "I'm telling you, the rich have got it figured out!"

PG themes, language, violence
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Rock Hudson’s Home Movies  
dir-scr-prd Mark Rappaport
with Eric Farr, Rock Hudson, Doris Day, Tony Randall, Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Gary Cooper, Jan-Michael Vincent, Paul Lynde, Paula Prentiss
farr and hudson release UK 1.Aug.11 dvd
92/US 1h03

rock hudson's home movies With an amateurish, homemade style, this doc looks through Rock Hudson's life and films, playfully digging up hidden hints about his sexuality in his work. At least the clips are great, even if they are sometimes very poor quality and undermined by filmmaker Rappaport's often corny, snide script.

It's narrated in first-person with Farr as Hudson, often with Farr superimposed into movie scenes. The thesis is that Hudson expressed himself in his films, continually making subtle references to his sexuality. Farr's narration recounts Hudson's life story, including the repeat pairings with Doris Day and his publicity-stunt marriage to Phyllis Gates. And it continues to include on-screen references to diseases that foreshadowed his Aids-related illnesses.

The film clips vary widely in quality, as several seem to have been taken from well-worn VHS tapes. The editing is witty, creating a narrative by stringing together clips from a variety of films to tell Hudson's own story. Montages are linked around a range of topics, exploring different kinds of gay innuendo in Hudson's films. And the quantity proves that there was a lot of this going on. But more interesting is the almost subliminal look at society's views of heterosexuality.

Amusing sequences feature excuses why his characters aren't married, a series of interrupted kisses and textbook lessons on how to cruise men. Scenes between Hudson and his frequent foil Randall have a special knowing zing, but Hudson also demonstrates some hilariously suave flirtation with the likes of Kirk Douglas and John Wayne. And Hudson's iconic relationship with Day is also the subject of exploration, mainly for the way it is continually subverted on screen. As we see the clips, we wonder why anyone was surprised to learn the truth about him.

But while watching all of these clips is great fun, especially in the context of later revelations, the film's narration is painfully pretentious and delivered by Farr with no personality at all. Of course, the filmmakers knew that Hudson was gay, so the references often were a deliberate wink, as was his romantic-lead persona. None of this is really a surprise, although seeing the clips assembled this way is extremely enjoyable. It's just a pity that the quality isn't up to par.

PG themes, innuendo
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The Silver Screen: Color Me Lavender
dir-scr-prd Mark Rappaport
with Dan Butler, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Clifton Webb, Walter Brennan, Jerry Lewis, Red Skelton, Cary Grant, Randolph Scott, Alain Delon, Yves Montand
the silver screen release US Nov.97 cglff,
UK 1.Aug.11 dvd
97/US 1h41
the silver screen This extensive and somewhat indulgent collection of movie clips explores gay overtones in cinema through the repressive golden age of Hollywood. As a doc, it's as academic as a doctoral thesis, but the scenes are often hilariously funny both on their own and in what they suggest.

Before the end of the Hayes Code, Hollywood movies couldn't mention homosexuality, let alone depict it. And yet references have always been there. Filmmaker Rappaport assembles an enormous range of clips that are packed with hilarious insinuation and more blatantly camp comedy from the heyday of the American film industry. Besides the long history of cross-dressing, Rappaport finds a wide range of clear references to the love that dare not speak its name.

The clips start with 1930s bit players, queeny character actors who often got the best lines as hen-pecked husbands, gigolos, waiters and lifelong bachelors. In the 40s, the Hope-Crosby buddy romps were packed with gay innuendo and racy sight-gags (not only did they share a few on-screen kisses, but they got married in Bali). Then there were Kaye's and Webb's many portrayals of effeminate men who were not the marrying kind. In the 50s there was plenty of man-love in the Wild West. While in Europe, Cocteau and Visconti took more a balanced and overt approach to sexuality.

Butler's narration is witty and observant. Although sometimes placing him inside still images is a bit corny, what he's saying is extremely telling about 20th century American views of sexuality, masculinity and gender roles. In many ways, the script feels like an academic thesis, right up to an intriguing look at the parallel between the 1950s "conceal and deny" policy and the more-recent "don't ask, don't tell".

What's most intriguing is how open the actors and filmmakers were with their gay references, including letting actors explore their feminine sides on-screen. Today there's a more paranoid machismo at work, either sticking to stereotypes or using lonely gay men as serial killers. And yet, the truth then and now is that homosexuality is a fascinating topic, whether depicted realistically or not. And while this gives the doc some important central themes, it's actually the great movie clips that make it worth seeing.

12 themes, innuendo,language
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Untitled: Ken Loach and Save the Children
dir Ken Loach
release UK 1.Sep.11 (world premiere)
69/UK 53m
ken loach Made for LWT in 1969, this documentary about the work of Save the Children was banished to the British Film Institute vault after a legal injunction. But officials from the charity have now let it be screened to launch a major retrospective of Loach's work at the BFI. And watching this never-seen film is quite an experience, mainly because it's still so darkly relevant.

Shot on 16mm in black and white, the documentary punches contradictions, jumping from a procession of the great and good at St Paul's Cathedral to the grim streets of depressed, industrial Manchester, where children "run wild". Save the Children workers talk about the summer camp they run for these kids, "many of whom can't use a knife or fork", and their condescending attitudes are shocking, especially when juxtaposed with scenes of the lively, cheeky kids. Films aren't supposed to show these things, and there's added interest now, as we rarely see anything beyond bland media-trained commentary.

From here the film jumps again to Save the Children's work with villagers in Kenya, including children attending a colonial school that turns kids into marching soldiers, stripping them of their tribal identities. And Loach goes further, showing how big business is destroying local life, as advertising encourages poor people to buy fizzy soda rather than nourishing food. These big corporations claim to be helping the economy by providing jobs, but the profits leave the country while poverty actually grows in the shadow of their outrageous wealth.

No, there's nothing subtle about this film, which is sharply filmed and edited. Loach playfully mixes contrasting images and sounds, interviewing a wide range of people while showing us the truth behind their words. Much of this is deeply shocking, such as the glaring snobbery of British tourists by a Nairobi pool or the bald-faced cut from a cute, emaciated black baby to a puffy, overweight white man.

And Loach's conclusions are both timely and controversial: "solutions don't exist in the framework of capitalism", an unjust system that needs to give way to compassionate socialism if there's going to be any hope for children. The "fire brigade approach" simply isn't working; we must get rid of slumlords, greedy employers and corporations that ignore local culture to make a profit. Hindsight adds both force and a weary hopelessness to this message. But as Loach forces us to examine accepted "morality" and "ideals", we can't help but wonder why so few filmmakers have the nerve to speak the truth anymore.

12 themes, disturbing images, some language
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