Tagged: Picturehouse at National Media Museum

Screenings in Bradford, West Yorkshire

The current arrangement whereby Picturehouse operate the screenings at Bradford’s Media Museum [now Science + Media Museum] will be changing in 2019. I only discovered this from a friend who has a Picturehouse membership due to expire. He was advised he could only renew for six months as Picturehouse would not be renewing the contract with the Museum when it expires in October 2019. I have now done a little investigation and there are notices on both the Museum and Picturehouse webpages but I do not think you would notice them if you did not know where to look or what to look for.

The statement by Picturehouse, similar to that of the Museum, is as follows:

“Following four successful years, Picturehouse and the National Science and Media Museum have agreed to conclude our partnership when the current contract comes to an end on October 31, 2019. The National Science and Media Museum will continue to operate three screens, maintaining its commitment to a full and exciting cinema programme, including unique special events.

Picturehouse will remain dedicated to delivering Bradford’s high standard of cinema programming until October 2019 and will be focusing on our exciting nationwide expansion after the contract concludes.

No job roles have been put at risk and Picturehouse staff in Bradford have all been communicated with. The museum, which last year enjoyed a seven-year high in visitor numbers, will continue to provide a welcoming home to great cinema for regulars and new audiences alike.

We wish Bradford National Science and Media Museum the very best for the future and we thank them for the last four years of a successful partnership.”

For people with Picturehouse membership they have the option of renewal when due for six months. Unlikely to be an exact fit except for a fortunate few. The change by Picturehouse follows on from their ‘downsizing’ of projection teams in their venues.

This seems to be another example of the Media Industries unwillingness to inform or consult with ordinary people with an interest in matters. The Museum failed to have any discussions when they decided to contract out the cinema programme four years ago. One Manager at the time claimed there had been consultation. It turned out someone had spoken at one of the popular Senior Citizen Screenings on a Thursday morning. I am reminded of the recurring line by Lone Watie (Chief Dan George) in The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976).

Importantly, what will this mean for film fans in the area? The Picturehouse programming is close to the mainstream and certainly less varied that that operated by the Museum prior to the changeover. However, it is also true that Picturehouse have programmed in films not screened elsewhere in the vicinity. And they do still offer screening using the 35mm and 70mm projection equipment in Pictureville and Cubby Broccoli.

The film programme was contracted out because of the financial deficits at the Museum. It seems that it is now managed or certainly overseen closely by the Management at the main venue, The National Science Museum in London. This management do not display a great interest in either film or photography. The change of the Museum’s title [to Science + Media Museum] has, to my mind, been accompanied by a reduced focus on these popular media. There was the outrageous purloining by the Victoria and Albert Museum of a major photographic collection. And recent cinematic exhibitions have been small-scale affairs on the wall opposite the IMAX entrance. The Insight Collection has much reduced access: the staff still offer interesting material but their number is clearly reduced.

If the Museum returns to operating the film programme I doubt that it will resemble the impressive variety of former days. Likely alternatives to Picturehouse as a contractor are not obvious; the Odeon chain apparently turned down the opportunity four years ago. The Museum does still operate the Widescreen Weekend, but this is predominately a mainstream programme. European widescreen films are a rarity. And the other Festivals once offered have fallen by the wayside. What would be good, but seems unlikely with the present style of management, would be a discussion with local people and regular patrons of the cinemas.

Jane Eyre (US 1943)

Peggy-Ann-Garner-in-Jane-Eyre-1943

This is one of the most powerful and popular of C19th English novels. The author, Charlotte Brontë, published two other novels but it is this work which has made her famous. I read it in my teens, twelve times as I remember. I was immediately taken with the manner in which Jane challenged authority, especially male authority. And besides this there was the potent Gothic aspect which suffused much of the novel. This is not a novel that can be transferred in all its complexity and power to the screen: but the melodramatic plot does work well on film.

This Hollywood version, directed by Robert Stevenson, was the third, though the 1910 film was only a reel in length. Kate Ellis and Ann Kaplan commented on both this film and the 1970 TV film version directed by Delbert Mann:

“[this] is a story of a woman who understands instinctively the inequities of patriarchal structures but who cannot, finally, move entirely beyond them. … Jane’s strength comes to the reader through the clear, strong voice of the first person narrative . . . Neither film version (1944, 1970) is ultimately able to retain the centrality of Jane’s point of view. (The English Novel and the Movies, 1981).

There have been more film and television versions since then. We now have had Charlotte Gainsborough working with Franco Zefferelli, Samantha Morton working with Robert Young and Mia Wasikowska with Cari Joji Fukunaga. Gainsborough and Morton make a better fist of the strong woman to my mind: whilst Fukunaga’s 2011 version gets stuck in odd variations from the plot.

One of the limitations of this 1943 version is the casting. Jane is played by Joan Fontaine, who was the wife in a film version of that lesser masterwork inspired by Jane Eyre, Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’ (1940). Fontaine’s performance is closer to the somewhat submissive heroine of  Du Maurier than to Brontë’s Jane. This point is accentuated by the casting of Orson Welles as Rochester. Referring to the finale of the novel and film Ellis and Kaplan ask,

“(could Welles ever appear chastened?) . . . “

Moreover, when could he resist directing as well, and the film bears many of his hallmarks.

However, in the rather different presentation from the novel both stars are very good. And they are supported by some excellent actors, including Agnes Moorehead and Henry Daniel and the young Peggy Ann Garner, Elizabeth Taylor and Margaret O’Brien.

The script of the film was (surprisingly) by Aldous Huxley with contributions from the director and John Houseman. The screenplay was in part an adaptation of a broadcast version by The Mercury Theatre on the Air. The film does provide a voice-over to present Jane’s point of view, but not all key parts of the film enjoy this. Moreover, two key characters are missing from the film version, Miss Temple from the Lowood school and St. John Rivers from Jane’s odyssey away from Thornfield. Both, in different ways, are important in the characterisation of our heroine.

Stylistically the film broadly follows the conventions of Hollywood studios, thus reinforcing the position of the men in the film. However, it does capture the Gothic atmosphere, especially at Thornfield. There is some excellent use of high and low key lighting by the cinematographer George Barnes. And an equally Gothic feel is imparted by the score from Bernard Herrmann.

This is a classic Hollywood adaptation of a great novel. The characters and plot are recognisable but I rather think Charlotte Bronte would have wanted quite a few rewrites if she had been involved. It does though score with the acting and the production. There are pleasures in the narration, style and performances, notably that of Welles. Happily when the Picturehouse at the National Media Museum screen the film this Saturday they will be relying on a 35mm print, which is apparently in excellent condition . This will certainly do full justice to the visual pleasures of the film.

The screening is preceded by a panel discussion chaired by Samira Ahmed. The panel plan to comment on the book, the film adaptations and the works’ popularity. It will be interesting to hear what they may say about the Brontë and the Stevenson versions. Lovers of either will also get a chance to pose questions about this.

The Numbers, UK 2015

Admittedly an event, but also a less familiar sight.

Admittedly an event, but also a less familiar sight.

Charles Gant provides a regular and interesting column in Sight & Sound on the UK / Eire box-office: the inclusion of Eire is one of those anomalies favoured by British capitalists. His latest piece in S&S February 2016 [another anomaly, published at the beginning of January 2016] provides information about the Box Office for 2015, up until December 13. It does however omit films labelled ‘Bollywood’: the best performing of the latter films were Diwale and Prem Ratan Dhan Payo. Both of which took over £1.5 million in the UK. The ‘good news’ is

“that admissions [which] dipped significantly [in 2014] bounced back, powered by major hits including SPECTRE (£41 million so far) . . . and Fifty Shades of Grey (over £13 million).”

To these could be added that

“home-grown titles aimed at the older demographic cleaned up at the box office. Maggie Smith featured in two of the year’s biggest – The Second Exotic Marigold Hotel (£16.01 million) and The Lady in the Van (£11.26 million).”

The bad news is that

“It’s in foreign-language film, however, that 2015 recorded the real crushing disappointment. Continuing and deepening the recent downward trend.”

Whereas The Great Beauty in 2013 took over a million pounds, with the exception of the two Hindi films, none did this in 2015. Gant provides a list of the Top-grossing Foreign-Language Films in 2015. Starting at just over £700,000 we have, Wild Tales, followed by Force Majeure, Timbuktu, The Salt of the Earth, The New Girlfriend, The Connection, Girlhood, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch, Marshland and at the end with just under £145,000 Mommy. He adds alongside a list of English-Language Indie/Crossover Titles. In front with over £21 million is The Theory of Everything followed by Legend, Suffragette, Far from the Madding Crowd, Birdman, Sicario, Amy, Brooklyn, Selma and at the end with nearly £3 million Ex Machina. There are so many depressing features here. That Suffragette, which has little notion of the actual movement, took nearly three times the box office of the highly intelligent Selma. That, in particular, the bland Brooklyn, the poorly scripted The Theory of Everything and the incoherent Birdman all took more than either Timbuktu or Girlhood (both in my top ten). The only salve is that the excellent documentary Amy did well. The Editor of S&S, Nick James, comments on this. However, his main thrust is directed towards critics, which I think is misdirected. Just look at IMDB’s numeration of reviews: much criticism is lost in the Tsunami of online reviews. More to the point Gant quotes Louisa Dent of Curzon Artificial Eye: Curzon is involved in both distribution and exhibition. She comments:

“For audiences, it has to be something special for them to go to the cinema.’

This parallels a comment made by a manager at Picturehouses. That appears to be the rationale for their programming. Our local Picturehouse [in Bradford at the National Media Museum] tends to show the sort of films in the foreign-language list once only: and along with what we call classics, these tend to be programmed on a Tuesday evening or on a Sunday afternoon. Though the cinema offers a wider range of programming with a greater number of special screenings and rare films like those of Vera Chtylova, there still seems to be a similar tendency at the Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds. The latter cinema obtains its films through Picturehouses and another problem is that the Hyde Park tends to the same days and sessions, Tuesdays and Sundays for these films. Single screenings of a particular film [unless it is had extras, like musicians or Q&As] seem to me to be an anachronism. And in parallel fashion the two proper independent exhibitors sited only twelve miles apart competing at the same time is unhelpful. Once upon a time there was an exhibitor’s forum for Yorkshire, though there were more independent outlets then. This apparent lack of cooperation leads to the films we miss: as Roy has noted Hard to be a God has yet to enjoy a screening in West Yorkshire. And that applies equally in a cinematic format to the BFI re-issue of the 1967 Far From the Madding Crowd. The latter could rely on at least one distinguished audience member, because it is much more faithful to Thomas Hardy’s own version. Roy, in his pick of the year, thought West Yorkshire did quite well. I disagree: Manchester’s Home and Sheffield’ Showroom both screened the two films we missed, and both tend to multiple screenings. Gant also notes that

“With all of Curzon’s titles now available on its Curzon Home Cinema platform the same day as theatrical release.”

The latter policy not only undermines the firm’s own exhibition chain but it ignores the future: as potential viewers switch to online downloading. There appears to be a lemming-like drive amongst the UK companies involved in film distribution and exhibition towards the ‘popular’. So we get extended runs of films like Carol and Joy. The former is excellent, the latter sounds so, But both are in multiplexes, who I bet will win out in the competition. Meanwhile Angela Jolie’s interesting By the Sea only turned up in Leeds at the Showcase multiplex: yet it looked exactly like an independent exhibitor film. Gant and James are right to be depressed. And Roy writes on another aspect of this downward spiral. Still, time will tell. I listened this afternoon to the excellent Ian Christie in a Radio 3 discussion that I taped. He remarked that: “The death of cinema has been forecast many times, but it is still alive’. Let us hope he can repeat that line in the future.

Missing movies!

empty-cinema-and-white-screen

This has not been a great week. I feel rather like Walter on the receiving end from Steve Jobs (2015).

First I looked in the Picture House PH magazine. On December 8th their screening was to be All About Them / À trois on y va (2015) in their Discover Tuesdays slot. Then I checked the individual brochure for Picture House at the National Media Museum and found ‘Discover Tuesdays takes a break’. This film got a warm reception at the Leeds International Film Festival and is an enjoyable French comedy: French films do well in the art film market in the UK?

Worst was to follow.

I am waiting to see Hard to be a God / Trudno byt bogom (2013) which was voted joint number 14 in the annual Sight & Sound Poll. It was screened at the Sheffield Showroom in late August. I thought I could catch it in Leeds later. As a famous Julia Robert’s characterisation opined, ‘Big Mistake!’ To date there is not one exhibitor in West Yorkshire with the film listed for a screening. It is in PH for December 22nd, but again the local brochure has ‘Discover Tuesdays takes a break’. Are the cinemas all hired out by Kit-Kat?

The film is screening at the PH City Screen in York. However, it only starts after 8 p.m., and this is a three hour film. Problematic for train or bus, and even for car as the city Park and Ride closes down at 10 p.m.

Finally we have the re-issue of Doctor Zhivago (1965), admittedly on DCP. However when I checked with BFI Information [who responded promptly), they advised ‘It’s 4K as long as it’s in a cinema that has a 4K projector, otherwise it will be 2K’. So PH at the National Media Museum have 4K projection in Pictureville and 2K Projection in Cubby Broccoli. The single screening of this release is in Cubby! Added to this the screen in Cubby is about half the size of the one in Pictureville and Zhivago is definitely a large screen film.

Apparently all this is due to ‘live transmissions’ being accommodated in the programme. Roy has written at length about the problems this is causing. I tend to think that this sort of programming is here to stay, it is an important economic stream for exhibitors. But does it need to have such a disastrous impact on film programming?

PH has this Discover Tuesday and tend to place ‘art films’ in this slot. And they have Vintage Cinema on Sundays. Whilst some of their cinemas do have additional screening, for example City Screen in York, the tendency is for single screenings. Something  similar happens at the Hyde Park Picture House, whose booking is done by PH: but the HPPH is more flexible. I have seen vintage films on Thursday and Saturdays there. This assumption that the whole audience can be accommodated at one screening is clearly ludicrous.

Meanwhile inexorable films like Steve Jobs, bland films like Brooklyn (2015), or accomplished films like Carol (2015), occupy screens for a whole week or longer. Roy refers to the 700 or so films that manage a UK release: there are many other which do not pass this hurdle. When these cinemas programmed on a repertory basis there were opportunities to see such films over several screenings and the variety of films was superior.

Part of the problem is that many film fans are content to see films at home on DVD or Blu-Ray. When I looked up Hard to be a God on the Internet I found a bevy of adverts/reviews for Blu-Ray. I rather hope that readers of this blog are convinced that cinematic viewings are superior. However, if you go along to the Everyman chain that will be debatable. And whilst the Vue chain is more like a cinema their irritating custom of leaving houselights partly on does not help. I know there will be disagreements, but DCP is in effect a high quality video projection: hence cinemas often get away with running DVDs and Blu-Rays rather than theatrical DCPs. Moreover I have yet to find a source that consistently provides the information as to whether a release is in 2K or 4K DCP. If enough film buffs actually made their views known to the distributors and exhibitors we might stem the tide to a degree.

A Taste of Honey (UK 1961)

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Murray Melvin and Rita Tushingham in A Taste of Honey

This was one of my memorable screenings from the 1960s. However, I see on revisiting that it received an X Certificate at the time: a sign of the times but even then anachronistic. It is one of the best directorial outings by Tony Richardson, who also worked with Shelagh Delaney to adapt her original play to the screen. The film offers that authentic sense of time and place which was so notable feature of many films in the period. Walter Lassally, filming on location in Manchester, Salford and Blackpool, deserves much of the credit for this, as does the sound recording and editing of Charles Poulton, Don Challis and Roy Hyde. Plus a fine score by John Addison. What also stands out is the cast. Newcomer Rita Tushingham is marvellously convincing as the young Jo. And Dora Bryan, Murray Melvin and [briefly] Paul Danquah play finely alongside her. The film softens the original play slightly but has the same sense of freshness and adventure. Both were daring for the time, though it is difficult to remember clearly how restrictive were social codes around sexuality, sexual orientation and ethnicity/colour. I have revisited the film several times and it is one of the 1960s ‘kitchen sink’ dramas’ that stands up well. So it is a welcome treat that Picturehouse at the National Media Museum are re-screening the film on September 23rd and in the film’s original and proper format – 35mm.

Note, Roy advises that the screening is part of a “Research Project on ‘Cinemagoing in the 1960s’ and that the film will be introduced by Dr Melvyn Stokes.”

Otto e mezzo (, Italy / France 1963)

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This classic film is going round on a reasonably good DCP. However, the opportunities are limited. Picturehouse at the National Media Museum and the Hyde Park Picture House both restricted their programme to one screening. This is becoming something of the norm for art and foreign language films, as it is also for classics and silent films. The last group, of course, often involve live music which explains that. But I do find single showings problematic. Presumably, like myself on occasions, there are a group of prospective viewers who cannot make that particular time or day. I can understand the policy to a degree. Both Picturehouse and the Hyde Park, (who book through Picturehouse], have a particular ‘discover’ or ‘wonder’ on Tuesdays. And they have regular Sunday slots for ‘Vintage’ films. I heard an interview on Radio 4 with the manager of the ‘Little Bit Ritzy, (a Picturehouse venue), who explained that they tried to make each film an event: modern marketing. This appears to work. At the Hyde Park recently an Italian documentary drew 120 people on a Tuesday evening.

However, this tactic also undermines word-of-mouth for individual films: important in the art and foreign language areas. And in the case of Tuesdays, one is often faced with a horrible choice, at least here in Leeds and Bradford. I went along to the Hyde Park for . There were about 90 in the audience. However I know that several friends missed this screening. And I was not able to make the screening at the National Media Museum.

Otto e mezzo is not just a film praised by critics and audiences. It is one of the seminal films in World Cinema. The publicity for the film has frequently pointed to it being among the Top Ten films chosen in the 2012 Critics Poll. More significantly, it was chosen fourth in the parallel Poll by Film Directors. The latter speaks volumes. Federico’ Fellini’s masterpiece defies simple description, as do other great movies. Stephen L. Hanson in The International Dictionary of Film writes:

. . . this study of a filmmaker’s creative and personal crises is now recognised as  masterpiece, and one of the very small number of cinematic efforts to utter a clear statement on the intricate nature of artistic inspiration

I suspect many film fans would want to see the film more than once. I certainly wished to see the film both at the National Media Museum and the Hyde Park. At least I saw the trailer four times, and that is great fun. So my felicitations to the Hebden Bridge Picture House who are showing the film twice: on the evening of Sunday June 21st and then on the evening of Tuesday June 23rd. Of course, this cinema is not accessible for all – too far for me I am afraid. However, if you can – go – and take friends. After the screening of the film at the Hyde Park there were people discussing it in the auditorium, in the foyer, and outside the cinema. That is the sign of a great movie.

NB The Showroom in Sheffield is unfortunately following the single screening practice for this film.