30 July, 2010

Ken Russell: Love Or Hate But Can't Ignore

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

There a few film directors whose appeal splits people right down the middle. Some hate the work and some are devoted groupies. However, if the response to a director bridges the entire spectrum, then they clearly are a talented artist whose sensibility that cannot be ignored. For myself, always a sucker for the sweeping operatic gesture in film, I find myself to be a disciple of the British director Ken Russell.

Russell did not think small in his films.......making him a bit of an outsider in the cinema of the 1960s and 1970s that favored more naturalism and realism. However, the director was never afraid to flirt with the outrageous, the subversive or the downright crazy...and that gave him a great cache with the counterculture of those years. Russell developed a reputation for being fearlessly uninterested in the mass appeal of his films and who invited you into his harrowing and often difficult to interpret worlds as a dare to your own sense of humanity. If you connected with the many damaged characters he excelled in portraying, then the theater became a kind of cathartic cathedral for the release of one's own fears, desires and even nightmares.

Such a film artist is open to renewed interpretation and that is one of the goals of New York's Film Society of Lincoln Center, which is presenting a selective retrospective of his work. There is an exceptional bonus as well....the esteemed director himself will be present at all of the screenings!!! What a fantastic opportunity to hear from a visionary filmmaker whose reputation as a stylist overshadows his gifts as a storyteller. The 9-film series, which opens which opens today and runs through August 5, will be screened at the Walter Reade Theater, the flagship of the Film Society of Lincoln Center (which will open two more screens in 2011).

Russell became an international superstar for his 1969 screen adaptation of the controversial DH Lawrence novel WOMEN IN LOVE. The films starred Glenda Jackson (who won her first Oscar), Alan Bates and Oliver Reed. The nude wrestling match between the two was a milestone of suggestive sexuality in the then rapidly expanding commercial cinema of the late 1960s. For some strange reason, the film is rarely revived, so this is a rare opportunity to appreciate it in its big screen glory.

Russell tried his hand at many genres, but was most adept in his handling of the psychobio, a mixture of historical epic drama with dark psychological overtones. In THE MUSIC LOVERS, Richard Chamberlain (Doctor Kildare himself) had the role of his career as the psychologically unstable Russian composer Tchaikovsky, whose repressed homosexuality put him out of step with his life and times. In the psychedelic LISZTOMANIA, Roger Daltrey, the lead singer of The Who, played the pianist/composer Franz Liszt as an 19th century rock star. British actor Robert Powell portrayed Gustav Mahler in MAHLER, the director's irreverent biopic of the great composer.

And let's not forget Russell's own fore into the musical world, directing the only film version of the 1920s sex farce musical THE BOYFRIEND (with the model-turned-actress Twiggy in an iconic role) and TOMMY, the impossibly creative adaptation of the famed rock opera by The Who, featuring an all-star cast of musicians including Elton John, Eric Clapton and Tina Turner, and one of the pull-out-all-the-stops camp performance by Ann-Margaret.

Two films that never show up on repertory cinema schedules (and maybe not even available on dvd) are two exotic films of very different style and vintage. THE DEVILS is a brilliantly macabre hothouse of nerves, sexual longings and religious extremism set in a convent in 16th century France, with powerful dueling performances between leads Vanessa Redgrave and Oliver Reed. The silent film era of 1920s Hollywood is recreated, with all its demented licentiousness, in VALENTINO, with the divinely beautiful dancer Rudolph Nureyev starring as the silent film icon Rudolph Valentino......the dashing "latin lover" who women wanted and men wanted to be.

Russell was drawn to real historical figures, many of them tortured artists, that reflected his own ambivalence about creative expression and the demands of a life in the arts. Through his unique artistry, he was able to combine the then fashionable contempt for authority with a lush sense of the order that these artists upended with their hungry ambition and their encyclopedia of emotions. For more information on this and other series, visit:

28 July, 2010

Daniel Craig Gets Star Billing

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Hollywood has been buzzing about it all summer. Who would star as the male lead in the tinseltown version of the incredibly popular novel trilogy by Swedish writer Stieg Larsson. Brad Pitt was considered the front runner and Tom Cruise was said to be interested. But word comes out from the Hills of Beverly that English actor Daniel Craig has closed his deal to star in Sony’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO plus the two potential follow-ups that will be based on author Stieg Larsson’s best-selling trilogy. David Fincher is on board to direct the adaptation, which Steve Zaillian is writing and Scott Rudin is producing.

Craig was thought not to be available due to prior commitments to reprise his role as James Bond in the latest film in the successful series. However, all development and production on the film was recently halted in the midst of distributor MGM's endless financial restructuring. Craig became available and was snatched up. English actress Keri Mulligan (nominated this year for her role as the ingenue in AN EDUCATION) will also star.

The film trilogy should become a major franchise if the success in the USA of the original Swedish films based on the books are any indication. Fledgling specialty distributor Music Box Films has made a name for itself with its successful handling of the films. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO has grossed an impressive (for a sub-titled film) $9.6 million in the U.S. and $92 million internationally. The second film, THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, was released last month and has so far has taken in $3 million and counting in the USA. The final film THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST is scheduled to be released later this year.

13 July, 2010

US Studio Invests in Hollywood On The Danube

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Raleigh Studios, one of the largest independent film studios in the United States, has opened a sprawling 40-acre complex on the outskirts of Budapest. The $75 million facility contains a 40,000 square foot soundstage that is among the biggest in Europe. It is all part of efforts to make the picturesque capital city of Budapest a kind of Hollywood on the Danube.

The studio is attracting some major productions. The back lot is being used to replicated the opulent Hotel de Paris in Monaco for the film MONTE CARLO, co-produced by Nicole Kidman that is set for release next year. In the film, three Texas teenagers are throwin into the life of the fabulously wealthy when one of them is mistaken for a British heiress on vacation in Paris. The producers have said that by not actually shooting in France, they are saving millions of dollars. "Hungary has crews who have the same expertise as HOllywood, but it is much cheaper to shoot here", said Denise Di Novi, one of the film's producers.

Another big budget production has been attracted to the new studios. BEL AMI, a historical romantic film starring Kristin Scott Thomas and Robert Pattinson, was shot in the city this past Spring and will be released next year. In addition, a cable television series called THE BORGIAS, about the infamous Italian renaissance family, will be shot in Budapest, with an all-star cast including Jeremy Irons. Renaissance Rome is being rebuilt on the studio lot but it is still less expensive than shooting in Rome itself. The collapse of the Hungarian construction industry brought on by the shaky local economy, meant that the production could afford to employ a small army of builders, whose wage demands were lower than in Western Europe.

Hungary has been able to attract outside productions not only because of the cheaper wage, but because it is offering a very attractive tax rebate. A foreign film production receives a 20 per cent discount by partnering with a local Hungarian production unit. The local production company receives the rebate and can deduct the contribution from its income taxes while charging less for work costs. The Czech Republic and Romania have recently enacted similar tax rebate schemes.

This is good news for the financially hard-hit former Eastern bloc, including Hungary, which recently had to appeal to the International Monetary Fund and the European Union for $25 billion in emergency financing. However, since introducing its financial incentive programs, Hungary has been able to attract bigger productions and keep local technicians and craftsmen working, while also promoting itself as Europe's sexiest production center.

07 July, 2010

Pasolini At Cinematheque Ontario

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

A little controversy in mid summer is a good thing....or so thinks the Cinematheque Ontario in Toronto, which is presenting a comprehensive survey of the poet/anarchist Pier Paolo Pasolini all summer.

Pasolini has been called poet, playwright, screenwriter, filmmaker, Communist, Christian, moralist, pornographer, populist, artist. Thirty two years after he was murdered by a teenage hustler, he remains, above all, a subject for furious argument. In an era when Italy produced a bumper crop of difficult, passionate cinema artists,he may have been the most difficult of all, and arguably the most prodigiously talented.

The Cinematheque Ontario is presenting a summer-long survey of the controversial artist, one of the most important and controversial figures in the intellectual life of postwar Europe. The first comprehensive series in North America in many years, the retrospective was the very first program ever presented by Cinematheque Ontario and now, two decades later, it again pays tribute to this exemplary artist.

Presenting his greatest films, a mix of expressionism, religion, politics and social criticism, this is a rare opportunity to savor the extraordinary career of a unique artist whose influence is still being felt in both Italian and world cinema.

The film program includes such classics as ACCATTONE, MAMMA ROMA, OEDIPUS REX

For more information, visit:

06 July, 2010

Cannes Prize Winner Coming to USA

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Sometimes even a Palme d'Or from the Cannes Film Festival is NOT enough to guarantee US theatrical distribution. The Thai film UNCLE BOONMEE has been distributor-less for 2 months since winning the Festival's top prize. But word now comes out of Los Angeles that veteran distribution company Strand Releasing has acquired all US rights to Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES.

Strand has released three of Weerasethakul’s previous films including BLISSFULLY YOURS, TROPICAL MALADY and SYNDROMES OF A CENTURY. The current film is a humanistic story that follows a man spending his final days surrounding by loved ones in the countryside. The film was a major sensation at a mainly slack Cannes this year.

The film, which will certainly up the recognition value of its director to the major leagues of the international film world, has been sold to more than 40 territories so far by German sales agent The Match Factory. Strand plans for a spring 2011 release for the United States, with festival dates in Toronto, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles expected this fall.