Friday, 14 September 2012

CREAM IN MY COFFEE (Gavin Millar) [1980]

Here's a delightful film I've been meaning to review for a while but never got round to. I watched this a few months ago alone on a rainy night on a laptop in my bed. It's not how I usually watch films but I was freezing cold. Normally I try to make the experience of watching a film at home as cinematic as possible but for this strange little film, it really didn't matter.

Cream In My Coffee stars Lionel Jeffries and Peggy Ashcroft as an elderly couple visiting a hotel in Eastbourne - the same hotel they visited as a flighty young couple in the 1930s, in secret from their disapproving parents. The film switches between the young couple and the old, highlighting the changes that have occurred since they were there first. The waiters are condescending, the music is terrible, and they don't seem to be enjoying it as much. Maybe that's because they're constantly at each other's throats - Ashcroft's fussing only inflates Jeffries' cantankerous disposition towards everything. He has good reason to be obstreperous and moody, and Ashcroft has even more reason to be fussy, and it's not until later we realise why she has put up with this difficult man for so many years, for her sins - something I won't reveal here.

The film is set almost entirely in the Grand Hotel in Eastbourne. Hotels are wonderful places to set films - they always exist as a sort of dreamy, watchful womb to contain the characters, and more often than not, hotels are portrayed as foreboding, and usually contain ghosts from ages past. Stanley Kubrick's The Shining has probably sprung to mind. These two films were released the same year and would make a great double bill sometime; the similarities, particularly in the denouement of each, are striking.

That's not to say this is a horror film. In fact, neither film is really a horror film. But where The Shining plays to the subconcious and makes you feel uncomfortable, Cream In My Coffee is dreamy, nostalgic and mysterious - the sequences from the 1930s are filmed in pastel hues with a very soft focus, as seen below. The hotel is not quite so stylised as Kubrick's classic, particularly in the latter years, but that's very much the point. At times you almost feel as if the hotel is about to close down - there are rarely more than five or six people in the frame until the end.

Throughout the film are a series of seemingly banal encounters, which ultimately mean something to the audience and Jeffries' character in the final moments. There's also a shady nightclub singer - a Dennis Potter archetype - who has a major effect on the outcome of the story, played by Martin Shaw.

It's a dreamy little Sunday evening film which I highly recommend, particularly if you're a fan of Dennis Potter's more well-known fare. It's available on a DVD from LWT and was originally aired on the 2nd November 1980. A bargain with two other great TV plays on it!

Saturday, 28 January 2012

VOICE OVER (Christopher Monger) [1981]

Here's an interesting little 'lost' independent gem from Welsh director Christopher Monger available from BFI Flipside. This is an early 80s low budget picture about a radio play writer and broadcaster with a cult following of people who like to laugh and tease him about his Romanticised fantasies. After a reporter cruelly reveals this fact his life changes completely. It's a dark, unsettling, rough-around-the-edges deal which could quite frankly have only been made in a former industrial town in the early 1980s.

At around the same time, a little further up North, Joy Division were making music which could be viewed as the musical counterpart to a film like this. Dark and grimly realistic, full of awkward catharsis and fear.

Fats Bannerman is no Ian Curtis though. His fears are different from Curtis'. His Jane Austen styled radio show is for him an escape into a simpler, more graceful era. Women are coy and frightened creatures, and men are all Captain Suchandsuch and Lord Somebody. When the time comes for some real women to enter his wife, his reaction is a mixture of naive, incongruous, shy and ultimately psychotic. The film was criticised upon its limited original festival release for being a misogynist film. I'm not going into that. Everyone has different opinions on what misogyny is, which parts of the movie apparently convey this notion and whether or not it is deliberate. If it is deliberate then that's fine - it is a film about misogyny - with a character pretending to be a misogynist. I can see however that it could be difficult to defend as McNeice's character is a truly sad and pitiful one. There was something vaguely moving about watching this overweight divorcee move about his shabby flat in his pyjamas that is endearing. We do care for this character.

The sudden presence of a female in his life is not an orthodox one. It gives him a mannequin on which to lay all his Romantic projections. He wants her to be his Elizabeth Bennett. Of course, she's not too keen on this. His descent into a strangely patriarchal, borderline sexual ownership or the unnamed woman is unsettling but still somehow pitiful. He barely ever touches the woman and never has a conversation with her - a breakdown in communication which affects him so badly it leads him to sabotage his own radio play in an unusual and frenzied 'showdown/meltdown'. It's halfway between William Burroughs and Nicolas Roeg. In fact the film reminds me very much of films by the likes of Nic Roeg and Jerzy Skolimowski. The photography is of course not on the same scale, due to the 16mm camera and limited lighting and mobility, but you get what the DP was trying to do.

It's a great little film. And it's now available from BFI Flipside on a great dual format edition, replete with extras. The screenshots above are from the Standard Definition DVD but the blu-ray makes the best of an old scratchy 16mm print.