Sunday, 13 January 2013

Film Highlights of 2012

A resolution to catch at least one film a week at the cinema meant that I managed to see far more new releases in 2012 than I have done in previous years. It also left me more out of pocket than ever before. While I’m happy to have succeeded at this resolution it proved to be costly and often frustrating. Cinema tickets have been overpriced for a while now but it is probably the first time I’ve become fully aware of just how time consuming and expensive a hobby filmgoing has become. As a result the duds hurt just that little bit more than they used to. Still there was certainly plenty of rewarding activity going on in the world of cinema to make it all seem worthwhile. Here are my personal highlights of the year:

- Leeds International Film Festival (01/11/12 - 18/11/12). My film festival pass was great value. It allowed me to see several classics on the big screen (Persona, The Shining, 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Passion of Joan of Arc), UK premieres, retrospectives, plenty of oddities and curios and more than half of the films that made up my top 10 of the year. I shall post my top 10 on here at some point in the next week or so.

- The Centenary of Cottage Road Cinema (1912-2012)

- 'Torn Music' by Gergely Hubai - an excellent book on rejected film scores.

- Film Discovery of the Year: A Nest of Gentlefolk (1969, Andrei Konchalovsky)
This beautiful Ivan Turgenev adaptation was my personal favourite of a mini-season of Konchalovsky's early Soviet films in November. Also screened were his debut The First Teacher, Asya's Happiness (introduced by the director), Uncle Vanya and Siberiade. I hope BFI at some point do a DVD release of this, as it really deserves to be more widely seen.

- Sight and Sound's once-a-decade 'Greatest Films of All Time' poll was published in August. It always provokes some lively discussion and this was no exception with Citizen Kane finally being knocked off the top spot by Vertigo. Although Vertigo is not one of my favourite Hitchcock films I've always admired it and find it gets better with every viewing. As much as I love Citizen Kane it's nice for there to be a change in first place. If nothing else it could prevent Kane seeming like too much of a dull museum piece for scholars.

- A new expanded 2 CD edition of The Fog soundtrack by John Carpenter from Silva Screen Records. Disc one contains the 2000 remixed soundtrack album and disc two has the original 1980 score cues. I hope they have something similar planned for Escape from New York.

- Two highly rare early films by Tobe Hooper - The Heisters (1963) and Eggshells (1969) - got shown online on

- John Kenneth Muir's in-depth review of Prometheus in June.  

- UK DVD releases of two superb and underappreciated Rainer Werner Fassbinder films - I Only Want You to Love Me and Despair - both courtesy of Park Circus.

- I stand corrected: In last year's round-up I guessed that, after all its troubles, 2011's compromised theatrical cut of Kenneth Lonergan's Margaret would be the final version. Thankfully a longer 3 hour cut did surface on DVD in July.

- Best filmgoing experience: Roll Out the Barrel: The British Pub on Film at Hyde Park Picturehouse, with a pint of Kirkstall Pale Ale to accompany the screening (14/08/12).

- Re-release of the year: Lawrence of Arabia (50th anniversary)

- Screening of Tod Browning's Dracula at Birmingham Symphony Hall with Philip Glass and the Kronos Quartet performing the live score (29/05/12).
On a related note, the Non-Event of the Year was a screening of Dark Star...with a live musical accompaniment? I've never had much luck seeing John Carpenter's films on the big screen. Despite being one of my favourite filmmakers I've only managed to see The Ward at the cinema, and I keep trying to forget that one exists in his filmography. This year I managed to miss late night showings of Halloween, The Thing and They Live. I was enthusiastic about seeing a screening of his debut feature in August until I learned that Carpenter's early synth score and the country tune 'Benson, Arizona' would be removed from the film to be replaced by a live score from Animat. Heresy. I've also heard of similar kinds of screenings for The Last Man on Earth and Carnival of Souls (removing Gene Moore's eerie organ score, which is integral to the film!). I think this kind of thing works very well for silent pictures but films from the sound era with perfectly good scores are perhaps best left alone in this context.
As for Dracula, a primitive and at times stagy early sound picture, it was arguably a more worthwhile undertaking than those mentioned above. I'm not a fan of the Glass score as I feel it detracts from the power of Bela Lugosi's performance and the incredible imagery. Many of the film's most effective moments are nearly silent in the original version anyway, but seeing Lugosi in his career defining role on the big screen, in a symphony hall no less, is really quite something.