Enquirer’s Film Reviewer, Henry Scott Irvine, will be taking a look at a cross section of movies each month, ranging from brand new American blockbusters to Art House specials, Cult Classics and Genre rediscoveries. This month we feature a Spaghetti Western, an overlooked Horror film and a Pop Art classic. Be sure to revisit the page next issue, as we’ll be featuring a full page review on the August reissue of the Michael Caine gangster movie, Get Carter.
Il Grande Silenzio aka The Great Silence is an overlooked 1968 ‘Spaghetti Western’ directed by Sergio Corbucci. The term ‘Spaghetti Western’ was originally coined by the Spanish journalist Alfonso Sánchez in his description of Italian low-budget films shot in the Tabernas Desert in Almeria, Spain. The Great Silence is grittier and more violent than its American TV contemporaries The Virginian and Bonanza where clean-shaven backslapping characters ‘Trampass’ and ‘Hoss’ became mainstays.
Set in a town called Snow Hill in the mountains of Utah during the great blizzard of 1899, the film was actually mainly shot in Italy’s Dolomites.
Deemed to be ‘Outlaws’, the town’s occupants were driven-out by a corrupt land grabbing Banker and Justice of The Peace. Here a bloody depiction of America’s Bounty Hunter culture showed the death of the old West, one year before Peckinpah’s epic The Wild Bunch.
After killing a woman’s son, ‘Loco’ (Klaus Kinki) said, ‘I’m sorry, but it’s our bread and butter!’ His opposite number, a mute called ‘Silence’ (Jean Louis Trintignant) silently battles on in defence of the town’s evicted ‘Outlaws’. It’s here that the film’s contemporary parallels are seen most sharply. Funded by corrupt land developers, greed becomes the main motivation for ‘Loco’s’ Bounty Hunters and ‘Silence’s’ paid defence of those ‘Outlaws’ being killed.
In 2022 – with US school shootings, loose gun laws, The NRA, and money driven culture – little has changed in America. The allegory is vindicated. A society that was founded upon vengeful violence still thrives upon it. Originally shot in the wake of the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Dr Martin Luther King, the film’s distributors demanded two alternative endings. Instead it was withdrawn stateside until 2001. It wasn’t seen in the UK until 1990 when director Alex Cox screened it on BBC2’s Moviedrome. This year the author Chris Salewicz described Corbucci’s movie as, “A snowbound masterpiece; the inspiration for Tarantino’s Hateful 8”. Newly available in 4K digital on Eureka Entertainment’s Blu-ray.
Les Parapluies de Cherbourg aka The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a 1964 Cannes Film Festival ‘Palme D’Or’ winner. This film’s deftly sung conversations carry the narrative. It’s neither a Musical nor an Operetta, but more of a Pop Art gem from the French ‘Nouvelle Vague’, without one word of actual dialogue. The metered speech is subtly sung, paying heed to the rhythms of speech. Even the postman sings. Planned with precision by the composer Michel Legrand and Director Jacques Demy, it initially catches you by surprise, before utterly seducing you.
A tale of a first love lost. Catherine Deneuve is hypnotic in her performance. Her eyes say what the songs do not. Where teenage love becomes a broken heart. It is all the more poignant when felt by the single child bearing young Deneuve. Rain drenched cobblestone streets reflect Cherbourg’s night time lights as a poetic metaphor. All accompanied by Michel Legrand’s epic score, the film’s very motif.
A blaze of primary coloured interiors captivates us in lush settings. French bars with vermillion red walls, and chic candy striped Parisian-styled apartments, while vivid black and red modernity offsets the items sold in Deneuve’s Mother’s Boutique-going-bust.
The tracking shot of Deneuve’s boyfriend departing on the train for National Service, is masterfully directed. Almost reducing David Lean’s equivalent in Brief Encounter, to Alan Parker’s 1970’s pastiche in his TV commercial, “Birds Eye. Dinner-For-One”. By contrast Demy has choreographed a clichéd scene into an unequalled one.
Set in 1957 the film now exists within a ‘lost time’. Just like Lucas’s American Graffiti and Coppola’s One From The Heart.
A vibrant colour restoration with a mono audio score is now fully multi-track mixed-down into stereo. The director’s son oversaw this process with the dialogue now perfectly lip-synchronised and translated into subtitled sequences by film Director Agnes Varda (RIP). Now available on BFI Player and Blu-ray.
Vampyr. Carl Dreyer’s film was issued in 1932. It’s no standard Dracula movie, nor derived from Nosferatu. Instead we have a Gothic surrealist’s supernatural nightmare. A monochrome silent movie, which had the dialogue sections post synchronised for sound, in the wake of the early Talkies. Originally made available in three languages, with an epic Wolfgang Zeller score, it remains a wholly cinematic experience, taking you into the realms of your deepest fears. Where waking within a dream leads one into a state of abject uncertainty, begging the question, ‘is this a dream, or am I really living-out this nightmare?’
A door key silently turns. A spook enters your bedroom. Beware. He could be real?
This schizoid state, between reality and dream-like sub consciousness, was explored in Ambrose Bierce’s 1913 novel The Spook House. Here Dreyer’s film sources the19th century writer J Sheridan Le Fanu’s collection of Ghost stories in Through a Glass Darkly. Dreyer and his co-screenwriter Christen Jul drew upon two Le Fanu stories, Carmilla and The Room in the Dragon Volant.
Released in the wake of stage productions of Dracula, the two-year delay in the film’s issue of 1932 backfired. Made in1930. before the 1931 Hollywood version of Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi, the late release deemed Vampyr to be a ‘bandwagon jumper’ savaged by the critics. Their judgement was wholly misplaced. Vampyr is nothing short of a masterpiece.
It’s shot inside a fully furnished yet ruined French Chateau, with the nearby creaking Flour Mill, used to great effect to incite an air of apprehension. No Hammer Horror ever came this close to realising the spirit of the supernatural. This is aided by shadow play, cobweb filled rooms, mist-covered lakes, and moonlit clouds filmed in a painterly El Greco-like homage, and accompanied by eerie sounds.