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No Man's Land (1978 TV Movie)
10/10
Best thing I've ever seen
31 August 2006
I recently saw a tape of this from a BBC4 transmission and was completely transfixed from start to finish. I can't begin to offer any explanation of what it's about exactly, or talk with any self assurance about the work of Harold Pinter, but can honestly say that this is like nothing else I've seen. Certainly, for me, the best thing Pinter's written. Even the Homecoming struggles to compete for sheer relentlessness malevolence and florid verbiage. Gielgud and Richardson are pure magic, with great support from Michael Kitchen (a far cry from Foyle) and Terence Rigby. The script is surreal, unsettling and hilarious. Tangental is possibly the best word I can come up with, for Pinter generally in fact, with the characters and context continually shooting off in new directions, so the mind is constantly readjusting itself to what it's being asked to understand. It's often said that Pinter is heir to Beckett (and Joyce even) but this is more real than Beckett and possibly has greater emotional depth. Nowadays people would probably say "multi layered" but "multi dimensional" is possibly more accurate. The exact relationship between the characters remains ambiguous to end, although some clarity does emerge in the last few scenes. To use a much used analogy, it's like listening to an hour and a half of free jazz. An acquired taste, therefore, but for some seeing this will be a truly momentous epiphany.
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9/10
A Solid Snore?
29 August 2006
I think that's what my Time Out guide says about this film. I can only assume that this review was made by someone they normally send to see Jim Carrey films as it's inconceivable to me that anyone who appreciates intelligent cinema of this era would not be impressed by this totally neglected film. Following the similarly excellent "Play Dirty" of two years earlier, Caine and Davenport combine again in war time (this time the 30 Years War instead of WW2) to produce an ethereal yet at the same time disturbing impression of civil war in early 17th century Europe.

Caine and his band of soldiers arrive in a secluded valley that appears untouched by the surrounding war, miraculously so in fact. The inhabitants attribute this blessing to a shrine of the Virgin Mary at the top of the valley, which the protestant element in Caine's troop want removed. This in turn inflames religious tensions within the troop as, interestingly, the soldiers come from both sides of the religious divide around which the war initially started, and internecine warfare ensues. Thrown in with this are the peasants who, though apparently Catholic, appear to have no great allegiance to any side and merely want to be left alone. As a background to this Omar Shariff provides the quasi mystical presence of the "philosopher", who like Caine is haunted by the destruction of his home city, though for different reasons to Caine who was part of the army responsible. Regardless, Shariff's character remains loyal to the Captain with transcendental grace.

My first impression was that the director had just seen "The Devils" but in fact this film was made before that. Having said this, if you take away the period and religious content, the feel is perhaps closer to something like "Once Upon a Time in the West", in terms of music and cinematography, with the latter serving to enhance the heavenly quality the valley is clearly meant to possess. I also thought of "Aguirre Wrath of God", but again I believe that was later. All in all then, a much neglected effort.
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The History Man (1981– )
9/10
Good advert for the 1970's?
14 July 2006
I saw this for the first time just recently (by virtue of BBC4) and was massively impressed. I am a sucker for 70's and early 80's television generally but found the standard of acting exceptional even for those days.

If anything, the feel of the programme came across as closer to 1981 when it was made than its early 1970's setting, but that makes little difference. The biting satire of the novel - ruthlessly executed here by Anthony Sher with marvellous support, most notably, from Michael Hordern and Paul Brooke - is against a culture that existed in both eras. Having been born at the start of the 70's, I remember with hazy fondness the post 60's pseudo hippie types exemplified by Sher's principal character, Howard Kirk. Kirk's profound hypocrisy and, in the words of the text itself, "moral turpitude" provide the subtext for the piece, and are conveyed by Sher with sublime subtlety. The character is, most of all, cunning, not least with regard to his attempted manipulation of the various young women lured into his sphere of operation. The word predatory is perhaps overused nowadays, but is applicable here nonetheless.

The novel, I firmly believe, was based on Sussex University and Brighton. Sadly, the student radicalism and "crusty" protest culture of the 70's and 80's, which clung on in Brighton longer than most places, is pretty much dead there also. Perhaps this digresses from the subject but the History Man reminded me of a time before the bland apathy of New Labour's Britain had set in and politics mattered. Students were students rather than just consumers with bigger overdrafts.

However, nostalgia aside, the History Man is superb production and will hopefully be out on DVD in the near future (for consumers like myself to buy).
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