Thursday, 30 April 2009

Accounting for taste (or ‘You like what??!’)

We were getting on famously, this girl and I. Our tastes in music, books, comedians, pet peeves – all were lining up nicely. We got on to classic musicals.

‘Easter Parade?’ I ventured.

‘Crikey yes,’ she returned. ‘Singin’ in the Rain?’

‘Absolutely,’ I murmured appreciatively. ‘Singin’ in the Rain. Still, if push came to shove, I’d have to go with Astaire rather than Kelly.’

The lengthening pause told me that something was awry.

‘No,’ she said finally. ‘Mine would be Gene.’ She sighed, crestfallen. This wasn’t going to work out.

Everyone loves a good barney about movie favourites. But we can't help finding significance in people’s cultural preferences; we scan each other's bookshelves and DVD collections for clues to their character. The complete works of Leni Riefenstahl? Yikes. Especially if the CD shelf includes Wagner's Ring Cycle.

I always preferred Astaire’s gangly introspection to Kelly’s compact, muscular eagerness. The climax of the ‘Broadway Melody’ sequence in Singin’ in the Rain always makes me tense up – we seem to be about to collide with Kelly’s gleaming all-American gnashers. And don’t even get me started on that 'aw shucks' thing he does when he pushes his hat askew mid-routine. But can you divide the world into Astaire fans and Kelly fans, like some Myers-Briggs personality test? Are those in the Fred camp more prone to dark fits of brooding? Do the Gene contingent show more of a tendency to break out in twinkly grins? Unlikely - they're not sufficiently different to polarise opinion.

The Chaplin-Keaton dichotomy, on the other hand, can divide a room pretty neatly: do you go for the ambitious all-rounder obsessed with his own legend or the melancholy underdog with a self-destructive streak? Buster is easier to love, probably because he went easier on the sentiment and because his own life was fairly crammed with pathos and misfortune; Chaplin's plucky little guy always on his uppers seems a little too self-serving for a man who became immensely wealthy by playing a tramp. Who in their right minds would prefer Chaplin? Who am I to pass judgement on their judgement?

Sean Connery’s 007 v Roger Moore’s 007 is less contentious, although there are doubtless a few individuals who disdain Connery's ever-so-slightly feral charisma in favour of Roger Moore’s smirky Yacht Club lothario. How narrow-minded of me to consider this an indication of some kind of dysfunctional personality. But surely, you'd have to be round the bend...

By the same token, people unfortunate enough to have witnessed me ranting about the crass stupidity of Kevin Smith's Dogma, or the appallingly misjudged mawkishness of Life is Beautiful, have most likely come to their own conclusions about the ranter. We should all, of course, exercise some latitude in judging the taste of others, and overlook the odd penchant for - let's say - Cheech and Chong or Adam Sandler. Then again, spying a box set of Fassbinder in someone's collection should still give one pause. I mean, you have to draw the line somewhere.

Nick Riddle

Monday, 27 April 2009

The modern Bank Holiday movie: ‘move along please, nothing to see here’

Oh the agony of choice! When faced these days with the dozens of viewing options on movie channels, online or on the walls of rental shops I start to experience a throbbing tension around the temples, a mild blurring of vision and a distinct inability to make up my mind what to watch.

The condition is always at its worst around Christmas, Easter and bank holidays. I think I know why. Back in the 1970s, in the days of three-TV-channels-and-that’s-yer-lot, I felt, somewhat ironically, spoiled. Boxing Days were a seamless watch of chocolate factories and mad, mad, mad, mad worlds and great escapes and airport 75s. Bank Holiday Mondays promised Sinbad and Argonauts and lands that time forgot. I’d sit there, soaking it all up, my face growing as hot and red with excitement as those of the cast of The Towering Inferno or The Poseidon Adventure. This was my movie nursery; I suckled at the teet of Irwin Allen, played soldiers with Lee Marvin and learned to ride a bicycle with Newman and Redford.

All I had to do to gain this education was turn the television on. The relative lack of choice meant I was forced to watch only quality movies. I have genuine pity for today’s youngsters, able as they are to tap into hours and hours, days and days, of indistinguishable pre-digested movies with all the character and depth of baby food/shit, falling off the end of the Hollywood turd factory’s conveyor belt, onto a small screen and into their small heads.

However, let’s discuss that word quality. I wouldn’t want to suggest that all of the films that ticked my boxes as a lad were uniformly quality productions. They certainly weren’t. I’ve seen most of them again in adult life and on more than one occasion the total lack of quality, when the readings of grown-up critique are taken, is painfully evident. I’ve even gathered friends together for screenings of some of them, only to suffer from audible toe-curling when the non-toxic-crayoned memories of youth viewing are embarrassingly laid bare.

I think I’ve learned my lesson though. When the urge to blurt out ‘you really must see Monte Carlo Or Bust’ to a co-worker comes over me I tend to bite me lip nowadays (although I do reckon the whole 1960s Edwardian-Jallopy-Racing sub-genre deserves another look) and pull back from opening out what would probably be a very one-sided discussion about Bank Holiday movies on TV. With one exception.

I must have been about six the first time I saw 633 Squadron. Released in 1964, it depicts the exploits of a fictional RAF Mosquito squadron as it attempts to destroy a German V-2 rocket fuel plant secreted at the end of a Norwegian fjord. When you’re six you don’t question the fact that the very Mediterranean-looking George Chakiris is meant to be Norwegian. You don’t quarrel with the logic that led the Germans to conveniently build their fuel plant directly below an enormous precipice just big enough to crush it if the bombs were dropped on the right spot. And you certainly don’t mind that the effects team sourced plane models from their nearest Airfix retail outlet.

Somehow at that tender age you get caught up in the whole brio of the picture, and at the end you feel almost like you’re sat there next to Cliff Robertson and Angus Lennie in the cockpit, not stopping to question the lousy back projection behind you, not worrying about being cropped as a result of some lamentable 70s pan-and-scan. That’s your thumb on the release button as the kite heroically disgorges its payload onto the craggy Norwegian rock (played by a craggy Scottish rock filmed at Glen Coe).

Several years passed. The Ron Goodwin theme tune with its ‘da-da-da-da-da-da-daaar-daaar-daaar’ six/three time signature provided the soundtrack in my head for many a stiff-armed sortie in the back garden as I dive-bombed my tortoises with assorted pieces of Lego.*
Then I went to the pictures to see Star Wars and that was when it got interesting.

The main reason why I still extol the virtues of 633 Squadron to this day is because I came out of the cinema that warm afternoon in June 1977 telling everyone that George Lucas had, almost shot for shot, ripped off 633’s ending for his assault on the Death Star. See, I was a movie bore even at the age of 11. Nevertheless whenever Star Wars comes into the conversation I still question the originality of its denouement and point people to 633 Squadron for proof.

So if you’re stuck for something to watch over either of the upcoming Bank Holiday Mondays you could do worse than seek out this flawed masterpiece, with its acting and sets chiselled from the same piece of balsa wood and its plot and planes suspended from the same nylon threads.

Jez Conolly

* No tortoises were injured in the writing of this piece.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Death of the Cut: The changing face of film censorship

Although Zombie Flesh Eaters was granted an X-certificate cinema release in 1980, the BBFC sliced out a hefty 106 seconds of footage before passing it. This included the infamous shot where a woman’s head is forced into a wooden splinter, bursting her eyeball - nicely disgusting, although it lacks the sheer bewilderment of the ‘zombie vs. tiger shark’ fight.

Thanks to such hefty cuts, the BBFC was often accused of being over-zealous in its censorship between the 1950’s and 1990’s. The cuts weren’t just limited to violent titles such as Straw Dogs and Last House on the Left either. Even Rebel Without a Cause was meddled with, for fear it would encourage ‘teenage rebellion’. Of course, films containing graphic sex or violence were always the ones dealt with the most harshly. Banned scenes were the subject of great excitement amongst horror fans, especially those lucky enough to find a ‘hardcore’ uncut version on video.

There was no legal requirement for videos to be classified up until the early 80’s, but concern grew that these titles would fall into the hands of impressionable young children, who would undoubtedly grow up to be cross-dressing serial killers. This resulted in the Video Recordings Act of 1984. From then on, all commercial videos for sale or hire in the UK had to be classified according to their suitability for ‘home viewing’. However, through the passing of the Video Recordings Act, the BBFC had already begun to evolve away from their censorship past. This was reflected in a title change, from the British Board of Film Censors to the British Board of Film Classification.

The term ‘video nasty’ soon became a media buzzword, one which was bandied about with glee by the likes of the Daily Mail. This attitude sadly continued well into the 90’s, but despite media pressure, the BBFC had become cautious about unnecessarily cutting any so-called controversial titles. Larry Clark’s Kids was swiftly labelled ‘child pornography’ by the press, but the BBFC passed the film with only minor cuts after investigating the actual age of the main actors. Crash was another movie thrust into the spotlight, thanks to several graphic sex scenes featuring car crash victims - including a memorable shot of James Spader getting it on with a vulva-like scar. The BBFC screened the film to a group of disabled people before passing its verdict, eventually releasing it uncut.

At the turn of the new millennium, the BBFC decided to poll the UK public for its opinions on film classification. The results showed that people weren’t quite as bothered about violence and bad language in movies as previously thought. For parents the main concern was drug use, as well as violence in the lower classification categories that could be easily imitated by their sprogs. Not amazingly shocking - even the likes of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had been vilified in the past, for encouraging kids to construct katanas or nunchucks out of bits of wood.

Sex scenes, however, appeared to get a big thumbs-up from most of those polled. The result was that real sex became acceptable in 18-rated films, as proved by the likes of Intimacy and 9 Songs. Sexual Violence was still a grey area, especially in the case of Baise-Moi, a 2001 film featuring an explicit rape scene. The film inspired much debate over whether the sexual content was actually pornographic - Director Coralie Trinh Thi suggested not, because it was “not for masturbation.” The BBFC limited their cuts to a 10-second penetration shot, which they claimed eroticised sexual assault, then passed it with an 18 certificate.

Recently, the BBFC has taken to providing detailed consumer advice about every UK release on both the film posters and its own website. Jurassic Park 2 was the first to get this treatment back in 1997, with a warning to parents about ‘scary scenes of violence’. Since then we’ve been treated to cautions such as ‘contains scenes of criminal activity’ for Pickpocket, and ‘contains sexualised posing’ for the recent Fast & Furious (surely ‘contains Vin Diesel’ is all you really need to know). Perhaps the most legendary advice so far is ‘contains mild peril’, already notorious for being almost completely meaningless.

Still, at least the BBFC are now clear in their role as a classification board. Instead of slicing out huge chunks of films to ‘protect the general public’, they’re instead letting us make our own minds up. As the board itself has stated: “Who’s to decide what adults can or can’t watch?” And for the Zombie Flesh Eater fans out there, the movie was finally released fully uncut with an 18 certificate in 2005, as part of the ‘Box of the Banned’ set. Time to settle down for some good splinter action, horror chums.

Chris Barraclough

Brilliant Failures #1: The Fall (Tarsem, 2008)

Released last month on DVD, The Fall is the visionary fantasy from the Indian director Tarsem Singh (known simply as ‘Tarsem'). Normally one should be wary of directors with singular nomenclature (e.g. the anti-brand that is ‘McG' - director of the revamped Terminator franchise) but I encourage you to put your prejudices aside for this stunning slice of fabulation, in the spirit of The Princess Bride.

Like Reiner/Goldman's film it uses a similar meta-narrative. Alexandria, a young girl with a broken arm (astonishingly played by Catinca Untaru) befriends/besieges a crippled stuntman, Roy Walker (Lee Pace), who spins a far-fetched yarn about five heroes from the four corners of the world who set out to avenge the various evils inflicted by the nefarious Governor Odious.

Contrasting vividly with the muted tones and realism of the hospital in a 1915 Los Angeles (‘long, long, ago) - the Surrealist story the stuntman weaves (the ‘fall' guy of the title) provides at first an amusing distraction and then a consoling fiction from the pain of existence (Roy has lost his heart's desire to the leading man and wishes to kill himself), before becoming an acceptance of death - that pain is part of life. That to live life is to ‘fall'. The near-death of the little girl, caused by her attempt to steal some morphine for the stuntman (or perhaps herself after she wakes up in the night and witnesses a nurse and doctor having sex), provides Tarsem an opportunity to dazzle the already visually saturated audience with a wonderfully bizarre stream-of-consciousness section (nightmarishly in the style of Czech animator Jan Svankmajer). This accident shocks the stuntman out of his suicidal wallowings, and he now completes his narrative for both of them - the mask of his thinly disguised analogue for his own frustrated line of desire slips completely, as figures from his own narrative (the leading man; his trophy girlfriend) appear in the tale. As with The Wizard of Oz, characters from the framing narrative double-up in disguise in the special world of the story - hospital orderlies, fellow film crew become the larger-than-life band of buccaneers - and Alexandria becomes ‘Dorothy', popping up in the stuntman's story as a mini-version of Roy's ‘blue bandit' alter-ego, a surrogate daughter to his surrogate father. Her presence starts to affect the narrative - a virus from the real world, infecting it with fatality.

A criticism would be that the film is a clear example of style over content. Tarsem seems more focused on creating stunning visuals than a meaningful narrative - and at times it resembles a pop video or expensive advertisement (both of which are in Tarsem's portfolio). Yet stunning visuals are what cinema is best at delivering, and the costumes (designed by Eiko Ishioka) and computer-enhanced sets and settings are spectacular. Tarsem made the film over several years in 18 locations around the world - and part of the fun of the film is trying to identify the locations. In its globe-trotting it's like a Bond film on acid, and indeed at least one of the locations overlaps both wildly different paradigms (the Lake Palace of Udaipur, used in Octopussy). The film is impossibly glamorous - and could be seen as nothing more than an expensive confection, but the performances of the stuntman and the girl provide solid human interest and anchor the narrative in something meaningful. There's echoes of Guillermo del Toro's baroque imagination as well - but the film is easier viewing than the disturbing violence of Pan's Labyrinth, if no less imaginative.

The film ends with a touching montage of early screen-stunts - made all the more astonishing as we realise how dangerous such stunts were. How many stuntmen lost their lives in the name of entertainment, of a more impressive thrill? The film acts on one level as a paean for all stuntmen and women, and for the sheer folly of cinema - which offers consoling fictions to this wounded world. As a post 9/11 fairy tale it perhaps attempts to provide a fabulist band-aid for us 21st Century Humpty Dumptys, and so perhaps the film isn't as trivial as it may appear. David Fincher and Spike Jonze should be applauded for backing such a bold experiment in cinema, with more imagination than a whole multiplex of CGI blockbusters.

Kevan Manwaring

The Fall is now available to rent on DVD

Friday, 17 April 2009

The ‘Golden Era’ of 3D

A popular urban legend has it that at the first ever public screening of L’arrivée du Train, the Lumière brothers’ 60-second film, the audience was so terrified that the approaching train would jump out of the screen that many of them leapt to their feet and promptly exited the building. This seems almost plausible, as the year was 1895 and the cinema experience was brand new. However, many cinema experts dismiss this tale, or at least in part. It’s actually far more plausible that audiences were scared witless by the 1934 remake, which Louis Lumière shot in full 3D - because the train actually was coming out of the screen at them.

In the first half of the 20th century, stereoscopy - the science behind 3D imaging - was still very much experimental. Film releases were restricted to short productions such as the Lumière brothers’ effort, which must go down in history as one of the most effective horror movies of all time. It wasn’t until 1952 that the first feature-length motion picture to use 3D was released. Bwana Devil was based on the real-life story of the Tsavo man-eaters that killed numerous Uganda Railway workers, and promised ‘a lion in your lap! A lover in your arms!’ Critics universally trashed it. One branding it ‘the worst movie in my rather faltering memory’, and claimed that the 3D effects gave him a hangover. Time magazine simply called it a ‘dog’. Despite this, the film sold a lot of seats and set up 3D’s ‘golden era’, which studios hoped would encourage people to turn off their televisions and get back in the theatres.

House of Wax, released in April 1953, was the first time American audiences enjoyed a film with stereophonic sound. The visual 3D aspects were largely gimmicky, and included well-known scenes such as a man playing with a bat and ball, and a host of can-can girls giving it their all. Amazingly, the film’s director, Andre De Toth, was blind in one eye and couldn’t perceive the extra dimension. As the film’s star Vincent Price recalled: “He really was the wrong director for 3D. He’d go to the rushes and say, ‘Why is everybody so excited about this?’ It didn’t mean anything to him.” Price went on to become known as the ‘King of 3D’ after featuring in several other 3D features such as The Mad Magician and Son of Sinbad.

Come the autumn of 1953, the theatrical 3D craze was already dying down. The main cause was the complex equipment required to exhibit 3D movies, as well as the awkward arrangements. Two projectionists were often required to keep prints in sync, and if the reels ever did fall out of line, the picture became virtually unwatchable and gave the audience headaches and eyestrain.

Despite this, 3D did make a comeback at the end of 1953 with the release of MGM’s musical Kiss Me, Kate, which was well received by cinemagoers. This prompted the release of the infamous The French Line, a 3D musical starring Jane Russell. The film was all about sex appeal, and the revealing costumes and risqué lyrics resulted in a release without an MPAA seal of approval. The tagline, ‘it’ll knock both of your eyes out!’, says all you need to know.

One of the last famous Golden Era 3D films was 1954’s Creature from the Black Lagoon, starring Ben Chapman as the rubber-suited Gill-man. This was the only 3D feature of the time that spawned a 3D sequel, Revenge of the Creature, released in February 1955. The sequel brought the ‘golden era’ to a close for good, as exhibitors were still uncomfortable with the expense and effort of showing 3D features and turned to other developments such as Cinemascope as alternatives.

3D films are once again popular in theatres, and their return has reopened the age-old argument, trashy gimmick or effective immersion technique? However, a more pertinent question might be, how long will the craze last this time? It’s impossible to say, but maybe longer than you think. Many esteemed directors such as Steven Spielberg and Tim Burton have already embraced 3D for their upcoming efforts, while James Cameron’s Avatar - his first film in almost 12 years - was filmed in 3D using custom cameras and special effects, and is already the most expensive movie ever made, with a budget breaking the $300 million mark. Advancement of technology has made shooting 3D films more cost-effective and distribution much simpler, as well as eliminating motion sickness and migraines, but technological advancements may also send 3D films to their graves as soon as the ‘next big thing’ in cinema comes along. Until then, be sure to keep a tight hold on your popcorn.

Chris Barraclough

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

How was it for you?

The audience was stirring uncomfortably. The opening titles had played out over a series of shadowy shapes writhing behind semi-opaque screens. Now we were in the movie proper, entering the first scene. The tone was being set; we were looking for clues as to what kind of a movie this was to be. And we were watching... oh good God... full-on shagging.

The cinematography was soft-focus, the score was all sultry strings, and the woman was astride the man. Nervous titters started breaking out in the cinema. Even in the dark, one could sense a collective blush. This was the Norwich Odeon after all, not some tacky dive in Soho. Something was wrong.

Then the woman reached for a scarf. The strings darkened. We hesitated, still squirming. The woman tied the man's hands to the bed. As they were reaching climax, out of nowhere she produced an icepick. We watched her stab the man again and again in a horrific, bloody frenzy. We all breathed a sigh of relief. This wasn't porn after all, it was a violent thriller. We could live with that. We settled down to enjoy the rest of Basic Instinct, now that order was restored.

Moviegoers can, with varying degrees of comfort, sit through explicit depictions of mutilation, dismemberment, decapitation, disembowelling, and take it in their stride. But show them a graphic sex scene and a whole different kind of queasiness can set in.

And it's not hard to figure out some of the reasons why. In mainstream movies, violence advances the plot; sex generally brings it shuddering to a standstill. Film has always had to strike a balance between narrative and spectacle - take the Alps at the beginning of The Sound of Music. The camera swoops and dives through gorgeous scenery, we drink it all in, then just at the right moment, the music swells and up pops Julie Andrews to kickstart the narrative. The sex at the beginning of Basic Instinct is like the Alps: it's an establishing shot, after which the music swells and up pops Sharon Stone. But ladle on the scenery too thick, and impatience sets in.

Then there's the voyeuristic nature of cinema itself. During the ascent of film studies to the status of academic subject, some joker hit on the idea of applying the theories of Sigmund Freud to the act of watching movies. And here's one of the ironies of 'adult' cinema: Freudian film theory argues that the pleasure of watching movies has a lot to do with our re-experiencing infantile urges while sitting in a dark auditorium. Essays have been written on how we as viewers re-enact 'the primal scene' - Freud's phrase for that symbolic moment when the child stumbles upon his/her parents having intercourse - and how all physical action in cinema is a metaphor for the sexual act (I'm condensing outrageously here). If this is true, and we experience all action scenes as sexual on some level, no wonder watching a literal depiction of the sexual act can make us uneasy. It's too much, too direct, especially in a social setting. It raises the spectre of a taboo. Maybe that's why sex and violence seem so inseparable; that troubling act of voyeurism must be cancelled out with violence. And ice-picks.

Arthouse movies have more licence to confront these things head-on; often they thrive on creating discomfort. And with the added bonus of a looser approach to plot, the arthouse gives sex more room for manoeuvre. Last Tango in Paris and In The Realm of the Senses achieved notoriety in the 1970s for their forthright approach to sex, but both plots ended in a murder; more recent films, like 9 Songs and Shortbus, try to move things on by doing away with the violent ending. Which is interesting. Except that it isn't. It's dull.

It's no coincidence that Hollywood slackened its plotlines around the same time that film censorship became more liberal, in the early 1960s. There were major pluses - more focus on character, less predictability - but it could be argued that thrillers, and especially film noir, of which Basic Instinct aspires to be a modern example, never quite recovered. Those plots will keep powering down while the protagonists indulge in a bit of athletic trysting.

Not that sex doesn't belong in movies - of course it does, and it can be entertaining and titillating. Hell, it can even advance the plot. But sometimes it's worth trying it with the lights off.

Nick Riddle

Saturday, 4 April 2009

The Day The Earth Cried ‘Please, No Remake!’

I’ve had it with CGI disaster movies. There, I’ve said it. I’m now officially on the ‘Paintbox Armageddon’ wagon. I shun the catastrophe tourism of The Day After Tomorrow. I eschew the Blair Witch 9/11-ness of Cloverfield. I’m not going to see any more pixelated apocalypses.

All those perfectly captured panoramas of destruction, every droplet of tidal wave water rendered in exacting digital detail, every particle of dust visible as it settles on the incredibly accurate ruins of the city. It’s a bit like running a magnifying glass over a corpse for two and half hours. Enough already. At the same time as taking the pledge I’m also saying a little prayer in the hope that during the current round of WETA-filtered carnage remakes Hollywood’s merchants of computer generated mayhem decide to continue overlooking a possible retread of Val Guest’s magnificent 1961 movie The Day The Earth Caught Fire.

It’s a slender hope; I can see the fat index finger of a studio exec running down a page of Ebert’s Movie Yearbook and at the appropriate point a thought bubble forming over his head like a three-day-old fart: ‘Boys, we got ourselves the basis for a sequel to The Day The Earth Stood Still!’ That’s the last thing we need, believe me. The head-cancer-inducingly awful 2008 remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still is out on DVD on April 7th. If you’re holing up with some viewing matter over Easter and are lucky enough to be a member of a rental shop that doesn’t smell of popcorn, only stock copies of the latest Jason Statham release by the hundred and employ monosyllabic mouth-breathers, then do yourself a favour. Stop short of the Keanu chaos-in-a-basket in the D section of the A-Z and grab yourself a copy of the one where we catch fire rather than stand still.
The Day the Earth Caught Fire charts the fate of the planet following simultaneous American and Soviet nuclear tests that set it spinning off its axis towards the Sun. The story is primarily told through the experiences of Peter Stenning, a hard-drinking Daily Express journalist, for whom the impending global catastrophe is backdrop and metaphor for a personal journey through the loss and partial retrieval of faith in the human race.

Made in the wake of the CND Aldermaston march in 1958 and shortly before the Cuban missile crisis, the inhabitants of London (and thereby Britain), along with their leaders, are shown to be powerless in the face of the impending apocalypse. Practically all of the main characters display a weary, resigned cynicism. There is a sense that people must continue to play out their lives against the background of mounting international tension and likely obliteration, simply because there is little else they can do. However, as fights break out in the water rationing queues, beatniks party riotously and nihilistically in the streets and the evacuation process falters, we witness the gradual collapse of order and the evaporation of the national sang-froid.

Placing much of the drama in the offices of the Daily Express helps to suggest that the country can only report and comment on the crisis from the sidelines and no longer participate in global governance. The sense of lack of influence and loss of power is clearly tied to the erosion of Britain’s imperial role since the Second World War and the difficulty for Britons of coming to terms with having a diminished role in a changing world.

The loss of faith in former national and social institutions is emphasised through the character of Stenning; a borderline alcoholic, his marriage over, his career under threat. Little wonder that he regards the descent into anarchy going on around him with a jaundiced eye. He is propped up by his colleague Bill Maguire, a pivotal, patriarchal character who, as chief science writer for the Daily Express, deals with the crisis with a wry, weary but informed professionalism. He effectively provides the film’s commentary and presents the audience with a way to deal with the crisis in the absence or observed failure of conventional leadership. In some respects his deadpan cajoling provides the closest thing to reassuring stability and continuity, both for Stenning and the audience, in the film.

All rather relevant in the wake of G20. It’s been said before in relation to the film’s foreshadowing of global warming, but it bears restating; with every passing crisis the potency of The Day the Earth Caught Fire continues to abide. So if you want to watch a movie that seriously and intelligently deals with the global consequences of humankind’s actions, with a script that crackles louder than a forest fire and homespun special effects that don’t have CGI’s obliterating effect of spreading so much smooth peanut butter on your eyeballs, you know what to do.

Jez Conolly