Video City Staff A-Z of Film: C is For…(pt.1)


C is for A Canterbury Tale

This is Powell & Pressburger’s modern riff on Chaucer’s medieval stories. In one brilliant cut we’re transported from a time of men in skirts on horseback to present day men in uniform driving tanks. Meanwhile women do their jobs amongst the blackouts and boredom of a country at war.

The plot is pure hokum of the Ealing variety. A man in a soldier’s uniform has been terrorising a small village by pouring glue into the hair of local young ladies. Our three leads Alison (Sheila Sim), Peter (Dennis Price), and Bob (John Sweet) set out to solve the mystery. The real story here is the deep sorrow buried within these three and the hope that their wishes may come true in a modern-day pilgrimage to Canterbury. It’s a great film about life during wartime, about the beauty of the English countryside and rural existence. Above all it shows Powell & Pressburger’s deep love for their characters. This may be a propaganda film but there is a genuine sweetness devoid of any Hollywood cheese.

You come to expect wit and invention from Powell & Pressburger but here you also get a large dollop of unusual poetic romance and a very English cheery resilience against adversity.

See also: A Matter of Life and Death, Life and Death of Colonel Blimp


C is for Coach Carter – (2005) directed by Thomas Carter

This film is based on a story about a High School basketball coach that tries to teach his players that there is more to life then being “ghetto hoop stars”!

Despite most of the parents, other teachers and all the players thinking his methods are a bit extreme, coach Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson) continues to employ his teaching methods and the players soon learn that it’s the coaches way or they’re off the team!
A combination of sports, a true life story with a powerful message and a good cast, enough to make this one of my top choices!

C is for Come and See
Elem Klimov’s 1985 Come and See tells the story of a young mans coming of age in the midst of Nazi-occupied Belarus. From the outset, the film displaces its audience mixing almost farcical scenes of partisan recruitment officers with a scene of the protagonist, Florya and his friend (who sounds like he’s talking with the aid of an electrolarynx) sifting through a sandy beach searching for a discarded rifle.

As the film progresses, this initial displacement acts to unsettle us, and as we continue, and the subject matter intensifies the difficulty we’ve had in placing the film’s genre or position only unsettles us further. Coupled with the film’s intense and intricate aural and visual design – which is constantly pulling itself apart and re-intertwining – drags the audience with Florya into the madness and disorientation that enshrouds him.

Although not a graphically violent film by todays standards (only rated 15), Come and See is certainly not for the faint-hearted (for example, there’s an extremely difficult scene, where Florya and a girl he has met wade through a swamp, whilst the soundtrack bears down on us oppressively. Seemingly pushing downwards from above). This said, I have watched the film numerous times, and maybe it’s just the masochist in me, but I’ll certainly be watching it again and sharing it with all my loved ones.

Interesting review here:

Paint Me Brutal

Not unlike his paintings, this portrait of the celebrated artist Lucian Freud – constructed through interviews with those whose portraits he himself captured – is bold, beautiful and disturbing. Love him or not, the documentary makes for fascinating viewing as those who sat for him reflect on the artist and attempt to dispel some of the myths and inaccuracies that have crept up around him.


Video City A-Z of Film – Staff Picks: A is for… (Pt.3)


A is for Amadeus (1984) – Directed by Milos Forman

 Mozart, but not as you’d expect.


The film centres on a retelling of Mozart’s time in Vienna by his contemporary Antonio Salieri. An accomplished yet restricted composer, the film investigates (a highly fictionalised version of) his struggle with glaring exposure to Mozart’s genius in all its fantastic and boorish reality.

Highly entertaining, the film does for Mozart what Baz Luhrman’s Romeo & Juliet  did for Shakespeare, without being so irritatingly wet. Having said that, Tom Hulce’s laugh will be ringing in your ears for days.


A is for The African Queen (1951) – Directed by John Huston

The African Queen has everything. Directed by cinema-behemoth John Huston (Asphalt Jungle, The Misfits) it stars the perfectly matched odd couple, rough and ready Humphrey Bogart and the potently prissy Katharine Hepburn. The plot revolves around Rose Sayer (Hepburn), a christian missionary, having to make a difficult river journey through German occupied east Africa with only small boat captain Charlie Allnut (Bogart) for company. This film has laughs, tears, romance, high adventure, and some of the most brilliant cast chemistry you could hope to see in film.

An interview with Anjelica Huston, talking about the shooting of The African Queen:




A is for The Apple (1998) – Directed by Samira Makhmalbaf

This semi-documentary – Samira Makhmalbaf’s first film, made when she was only 17 – tells the true story of a pair of 11 year-old twin sisters who have been kept imprisoned for years by their impoverished father and blind mother.

When concerned neighbours write-up a petition and send it to social services, the family are summoned and the girls examined; whilst the twins are physically healthy, they are severely mentally impaired due, it would seem, to their totally lack of social interaction. The father is ordered to release the girls, to which he protests that he keeps them locked up for their own good: whilst he is away at work, local boys climb over his walls – he is trying to protect the honour of his girls.

As the girls are set free, in turn imprisoning their father in the cell in which they were once kept, they roam the city, encountering strangers and making friends for the first time.

The apple, a symbol of consciousness and social knowledge, is a motif that crops up throughout the film, whether it be as the girls’ most favoured treat, which at one point, having dropped, one of them grasps to reach from between the bars, or as in the last scene when, her husband locked away and her daughters who knows where, the blind mother leaves the home herself, perhaps for the first time in years, and encounters a schoolboy’s prank – an apple that he is dangled out of a window by a string. At first she merely bumps into it, unsure what it is, she grasps for it and eventually catches it, clasping the apple in her hand.

It is hard not to read the film as a clever  metaphor for the position of women in Iranian society (clever, because, such public dissent must be formed cautiously), a metaphor in which women are prisoners of the socio-political order that is the Islamic republic. The film indicates (as does Makhmalbaf’s later film, At Five in the Afternoon) that only through the liberation of their consciousness will women be able to stand up against the beatings inflicted to their bodies and minds by the iron arm of tradition.

The Apple, like Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-Up, weaves a poetic story in which it is unclear which parts are fact and which fiction. In both cases, this bittersweet disorientation is heighten by the use, not only of non-professional actors, but of the actual people involved in the true story playing themselves. Their lives are, quite literally, being played out before our eyes, giving the viewer not only an extraordinary sense of privilege, but also of discomfort in the face of the conflict between the consciousness of our privilege, our guilt in the face of this privilege and of the poignancy of the story which, ultimately, moves us to enjoyment.

Interview with Samira Makhmalbaf on her film At Five in the Afternoon:


Interview on her film Blackboards: