Arts & Culture Film, Theatre & TV

Our Feature Presentation…

  • September 21, 2022
  • 5 min read
Our Feature Presentation…

The opening scenes of Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis led to these questions echoing in my ears “Is there too much self-conscious visual style over content here? Are we hearing too many unnecessary soundtrack genre crossovers? For example, is mixed-in Rap music acceptable in the context of 1956? Does it add contemporary edginess? Are certain aspects of historical inaccuracy serving as constructs to enable untrue end-of-scene outcomes? If so, can these contrivances be deemed justifiable in terms of ‘poetic licence’ from Australian auteur Luhrmann?”

 You decide!

One thing is for sure; you believe you are actually watching Elvis (Austin Butler) in this biopic, which is ultimately the story of the Dutchman conman ‘Colonel Tom Parker’, Elvis’s fat manager with a fake American passport, a fake name, and a dubious past. All played to incredible effect by Tom Hanks in this his performance of a lifetime.

Lost in an actual hall of mirrors Colonel Tom tells Elvis that he can help him find ‘direction’. The Colonel ultimately saw his contracted star as a piece of merchandise, but he is not demonised. Instead we are left to draw our own natural conclusions.

1950’s period recreations of Memphis and New Orleans beggar belief, containing dynamic segues into sound-alike look-alike performances from actor-singers playing Little Richard, Big Mama Thornton, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, in this no expense spared epic rock ‘n’ roll rollercoaster. A vivid cinematic odyssey from Luhrmann who’d previously opted not to direct the historically inaccurate Elton John biopic Rocket Man. Elvis is certainly wholly better than ‘that’ contrived vanity project.

Possibly ‘the’ most indulgent cinematic experience of 2022, Elvis is profoundly moving. It’s wholly endorsed by Elvis’s daughter Lisa-Marie Presley whose children claim to have wept at a screening. In conclusion a ‘real ending’ combines both the essence of Elvis ‘the performer’ and ‘Elvis the tragic icon’ who died on August 16th 1977 aged 42.

Hit the Road is described by the Hollywood Reporter as a “Persian version of Little Miss Sunshine”, winner of the Best Film’ at the 2021 BFI London Film Festival, Wendy Ide at Screen Daily described it as being “infused with warmth and humanity.” Others have praised this Road Movie for-our-times as a tragic-comedy of cinematic poetry.

Four people in a SUV are helping their eldest son to escape from their country, having sacrificed their home, job, car, and future to enable his safe passage out of the country via a paid smuggler who eventually appears out of mist-covered hills, masked.

The child, however, is the key to joy in this film. The journey’s purpose is not revealed to him. Instead, for the boy, it’s an adventure like no other; a comic book story of wonder fulfilled. The hyperactive boy’s witty father, who  wrestles with a broken leg, is married to a compassionate wife who is wracked with self-doubt, yet she remains positive amid the tears, in this a journey against the odds.

The absurdity of the film’s humour can, in a blink of an eye, also lead us to tears. This sudden scene shift is some trick to pull. Meanwhile, the sick pet dog – brought along because the family hadn’t the heart to put him down – also serves as a comedic foil.

In a scene where the family stops for a break, a view from a roadside café’s window shows a surreal shot of what appears to be a red chair moving of its own accord through a field of wheat. We see this, but the family remains oblivious. In a later scene where the mother is alone by a roadside, a distant clattering noise shows the tail-wagging pet they’d tried to lose running towards her while tied to the said red plastic chair.

This is the debut feature from 20-something director Panah Panahi whose father is the banned Iranian filmmaker Jafar. It was shot without state interference due to the isolation of the locations; and is released by Picture House. A resolutely salient film for our times, it’s a must see.

Satyajit Ray’s Big City (Mahanagar, 1963) was shot in monochrome. Based on a short story by Narendranath Mitra, it has been fully 4K restored with a showcase at BFI Southbank.

Pulitzer Prize winning film critic the late Roger Ebert described the film as “one of the most rewarding screen experiences of our time”. It remains so. Thematically it has a contemporary cousin in the 2019 Oscar winner Roma. The BFI astutely described the film as “having the scope and density of a richly absorbing novel, set in mid-50s Calcutta (with) a society still adjusting to Independence”.

Opening scenes reveal a crammed lower middle class household and a debt-ridden family struggling to support ageing live-in in-laws of poor health. Here Ray lures us in to this closeted world. Cleverly he keeps the central character Arati (Madhabi Mukerjee) in sharp focus while the secondary characters talk in out-of-focus backgrounds as she speaks, so ‘our’ attention is focused upon her.

With a bank teller husband whose old fashioned values have him declare “a woman’s place is in the home”, Arati’s decision to become a door-to-door saleswoman hurts his pride, leading to his suspecting her of having “affairs”.

A key scene is a cinematic stroke of genius. A lingering shot reveals Arati’s husband hidden in the corner of a café, having spotted her arrival with a potential sales client. She doesn’t see her husband, but proceeds to praise him to the businessman, pretending she’s only doing the sales job as a “hobby”. The camera pans past her to show three glass panes. One reveals her reflection, another the room, the third her husband realising his doubts were without foundation; all done with facial gestures. This is filmmaking and performance par excellence. Underplayed throughout, Arati’s character remains one of the strongest female roles in the history of cinema.  

About Author

Henry Scott Irvine

The published author of Procol Harum's hardback Omnibus Press biography, Henry Scott-Irvine's writing began in the script departments of the British film industry. He continued as a Film & TV 'Music & Arts' researcher. He has a long background in published journalism. A radio producer-presenter since 2009 as well as a producer of the award winning documentary film Tales From Tin Pan Alley. He's a successful campaigner for securing listings and preservation for London's music & film heritage sites.

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