London Film Festival 2014

Posted on: 17 Oct 2014 by Philip Wyn Jones

Our intrepid film writer, Philip Wyn Jones, fills us in on what's caught his eye at the London Film Festival, with some other cultural treats thrown in for good measure.

Day 1

The main purpose of my visit is to sample this year’s London Film Festival but I first headed to the fascinating new exhibition at the British Library; TERROR AND WONDER: The Gothic Imagination. Beginning with Horace Walpole’s 1764 novel, The Castle of Otranto, it traces the development of Gothic literature right up to the present day and also devotes space to paintings, fashion and, I’m glad to say, films.  Did you know, for example, that the animated short based on Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart was the first such film to be awarded a British X Certificate, that Daphne Du Maurier despised Hitchcock’s version of her story, The Birds, and that Stanley Kubrick filmed and then deleted a key sequence in The Shining which went a long way towards explaining the central character’s madness?

CUB (Jonas Govaerts/Belgium/85 minutes). My first film was an out and out horror movie with no holds barred. A scout expedition has booked a site to set up camp. After a hostile encounter with the locals they go into the nearby woods. When will they ever learn?  One of the scoutmasters is a thug and he and the lads bully the quietest and most troubled member of the pack. Another bad mistake. Has Sam, the quiet one, really seen something sinister in the woods. What’s on top of that tree? This is good bloodthirsty fun for people who like that kind of thing and who enjoy spotting references to famous horror films from the past.

Day 2

London’s Hayward Gallery has a typically esoteric exhibition, with the title MIRROR CITY: London artists on fiction and reality. Two adjoining exhibits grabbed my attention. In one, publicity stills from late 1940s films have white spaces superimposed on them. The actors, like visitors to the gallery, appear to be staring at the spaces and wondering what is hidden there. In the other exhibit, part of one photograph is superimposed on another, so that the person in the main photograph appears to be peering into the added scene.

London’s National Portrait Gallery was previewing its new William Morris exhibition. This talented and industrious Victorian was a poet, novelist, designer, instructor and political activist. His interests included the Icelandic language, the Arthurian legends and the creation of New Towns and Garden Cities. His printing press produced a superb edition of the works of Geoffrey Chaucer. His influence was immense and is seen clearly in the aims and achievements of the 1951 Festival of Britain.

BETIBU (Miguel Cohan/Argentina/100 minutes). ‘Betibu’ is the nickname of a crime novelist and journalist. She and her journalist colleagues decide to investigate a series of murders which may or may not be connected. The victims are establishment figures. Do they have anything in common? Gradually the truth is revealed - but will it be published? Tension mounts and sinister forces are at work as the film reaches its nerve-racking conclusion. The superb music score adds to the suspense.

Day 3

The British Museum’s exhibition, The Ming Dynasty 1400-1450, was much more interesting than I’d anticipated. I’d expected endless glass cases filled with exotic porcelain. Instead there was a wealth of information on display. The Ming emperors incorporated many aspects of the Mongol world and encouraged such activities as hunting, archery and military skills. The latter featured bows and arrows, guns and rockets and China boasted one million professional soldiers. Cultural pursuits flourished and there was religious and linguistic tolerance. Buddhism and Islam existed side by side with other faiths, and official documents were published in several languages. Printing and other central government preoccupations were overseen by teams of eunuchs who also held exalted military positions and were considered to be particularly effective in the art of espionage.

PHOENIX (pictured - Christian Petzold/Germany/98 minutes). Nelly is a concentration camp survivor. In the period soon after the war is over she returns to Berlin to search for her husband and finds him working in a club called Phoenix. What happens next displays some brilliant writing, acting and directing. Any theories the audience might have are swept aside and the ending is absolutely perfect, featuring as it does the pre-war talents of husband and wife. He was a pianist, she a singer.

THE LOST AVIATOR (Andrew Lancaster/Australia/90 minutes ). In this uninvolving documentary, director-writer-producer Lancaster attempts to eke out the truth about his great-uncle and pioneering aviator, Bill Lancaster. He was found not guilty of murder but doubts remain to this day. The details, which involve adultery and a two-timing girl-friend are boringly sordid and both the violence and Lancaster’s ultimate demise are excessively graphic on screen.

(to be continued)

Philip Wyn Jones. Editor and reviewer.

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