- David Parkinson
Parky At the Pictures (28/10/2022)
(Reviews of Hilma; Hounded; and Sound For the Future)
Anyone seeking to compile a Top 10 of films about women artists should have no problem selecting the first eight. Dating from the last century, Bruno Nuytten's Camille Claudel (1988), Christopher Hampton's Carrington (1995), and Agnès Merlet's Artemisia (1997) have been joined over the last two decades by Julie Taymor's Frida (2002), Martin Provost's Séraphine (2008), Caroline Champetier's Berthe Morisot (2012), Tim Burton's Big Eyes (2014), and Aisling Walsh's Maudie (2016).
In order to complete the list, however, you'd need to choose from either Bob Balaban's teleplay, Georgia O'Keeffe (2009), or from two biopics about children's author-illustrators, Chris Noonan's Miss Potter (2006) and Zaida Bergroth's Tove (2020). The task has been made a little easier by the release of Lasse Hallström's Hilma. However, this account of the life and loves of Sweden's pre-eminent female abstract painter lacks the substance and insight of Halina Dyrschka's documentary, Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint (2020).
In Stockholm in 1944, Hilma af Klint (Lena Olin) is still haunted by the loss of her young sister, Hermina (Emmi Tjernström), on the island of Adelsö in 1880. The daughter of a sea captain, she has a passion for botany and mathematics and applies to the Technical School hoping to complete the `map of everything' she had planned to make with Hermina.
Rising above the chauvinism of the tutors and students, Hilma (Tora Hallström) befriends Anna Cassel (Catherine Chalk) and develops an interest in spiritism after meeting Cornelia Cederberg (Rebecca Calder), Sigrid Hedman (Maeve Dermody), and Mathilda Nilsson (Lily Cole) and forming a group called `The Five'. They are mocked by many for their meetings and beliefs. But this drives Hilma and Anna closer and they become lovers (seemingly at her father's wake).
While lunching after an anatomy drawing class, Hilma and Anna are invited to the opening of an exhibition by Edvard Munch (Paulius Markevicius) and Hilma is deeply moved by a painting of his sister. At a session with The Five, she is inspired by a vision telling her to pain the unseen world and her friends agree to make this their mission.
Refraining from meat and other heavy foods, the women dedicate themselves to their beliefs. although conveying messages from the spirit world exhausts Sigrid and she wishes to spend more time with her children. Anna and Hilma are inseparable, however, and they begin blueprints for a temple to showcase their art and glorify God. Hilma also starts allowing the spirits to guide her brushes and she creates a number of vast abstract works that reflect her inner musings.
Anna struggles to understand the canvases or how they fit together into Hilma's map. She also wonders why she is so reluctant to exhibit her work and isn't convinced by the assertion that Hilma is conducting a kind of experiment and can't reveal her findings until it's complete.
When her mother goes blind, Hilma hires a nurse, Thomasine Andersson (Jazzy De Lisser), and she translates when Rudolf Steiner (Tom Wlaschiha), the founder of the Anthroposophical Society, comes to Stockholm in 1908. He agrees to look at her Temple paintings and she is crushed when he declares that the guidance of the spirits she is so proud of precludes personal input and, therefore, she has failed to produce meaningful art.
As she had always considered Steiner to be her soulmate, Hilma cancels the proposed exhibition. Her friends are crestfallen, as they viewed the pictures as part of a collaborative project. Moreover, Anna is hurt by Hilma's growing closeness to Thomasine and she withdraws her financial support shortly after Hilma is devastated to discover that Wassily Kandinsky has arrived at a style similar to her own (although the film makes no reference to Steiner's connection to the Russian artist).
She stops painting for four years and moves to the island of Munsö, with Thomasine and her mother. Letters are exchanged with Anna, who urges her to live her own life. When she begins work again, Hilma produces portraits to pay the bills. But she also returns to abstract designs that she paints after consulting the spirits rather than under their bidding. She also has visions of Hermina and hangs her works in an atelier paid for by the other members of The Five.
Steiner spurs Hilma on his next trip to Stockholm, but she remains strong and is delighted when Anna comes to see the atelier. During the visit, however. Hilma's mother dies and she has a blazing row with Anna over Thomasine, in which Hilma accuses Anna of being a sceptic who claimed a belief in the spirits to get to her.
Years pass and, in 1922, Hilma visits the Anthroposophical Temple in the Swiss town of Dornach. The director rejects her work, however, and she informs him that he lacks the intellectual capacity to understand it. But Thomasine (Clare Holman) opts not to translate. Fifteen years later, Hilma arranges to meet with Anna, but she dies queuing for the train and Hilma hears her calling from the other side.
Back 1944, Hilma asks her sailor nephew, Erik (Martin Wallström) to burn the paintings after she fails to raise the funding for the Temple. In a panic on a tram, she realises what she has says and suffers a fatal fall trying to disembark. However, she lingers long enough to tell Erik to hang on to her work for 20 years, as it will be appreciated. The paintings are unveiled in 1967, but it's not until they hang in the Guggenheim Museum in 2019 that they find the space she had envisaged. A Stockholm tram pulls up outside and the younger and older versions of Hilma peer hopefully through the window.
Casting his daughter and wife as Hilma makes this something of a family affair for Lasse Hallström, who also wrote the screenplay and co-produced. He's well served by his leads, who convey something of Hilma's artistic and spiritual intensity. Catherine Chalk also leaves her mark, as the wealthy, devoted, but not entirely convinced landscapist. But what possessed Hallström to let Chalk and Lily Cole speak in broad English north country accents?
Their delivery makes the scenes involving De Fem faintly ridiculous, when they are supposed to be delineating the concepts that inspired af Klint. However, in seeking to make them comprehensible to a general viewership, Hallström reduces them to New Agey soundbites. Indeed, Olivier Assayas explores them with more gravitas in Personal Shopper (2016). Hallström also fails to clarify why Rudolf Steiner's theories are so important to Hilma and why his callous dismissal would be so injurious. Furthermore, outside a handful of captions, he seems disinterested in timelining events, with the result that there's no sense of elapsing years in key periods in Hilma's artistic development and personal relationships.
Catharina Nyqvist Ehrnrooth's production design and Flore Vauville's costumes are splendid, while Ragna Jornning's photography deftly approximates Hilma's perspective in viewing the world from a different angle. The animated sequences are also effective, but the misty reveries feel more contrived. A nice touch, however, is the way in which the street scenes appear to digitally drop the characters into colorised contemporary footage.
Richard Connell's 1924 story, `The Most Dangeous Game', has been filmed many times. Alongside the duo using the source title - directed by Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack in 1932 and Justin Lee in 2022 - there are such variations as Robert Wise's A Game of Death (1945), Roy Boulting's Run For the Sun (1956), Ralph Brooke's Bloodlust (1961), Eddie Romero's The Woman Hunt (1972), Brian Trenchard-Smith's Turkey Shoot (1982), David A. Prior's Deadly Prey (1987), John Woo's Hard Target (1993), Ernest Dickerson's Surviving the Game (1994), Paul Miller's The Post (1997), Ken Barbet's The Eliminator (2004), Jean-Baptiste Léonetti's Beyond the Reach (2014), Steven LaMorte's Never Leave Alive (2017), Craig Dobel's The Hunt, Don Michael Paul's Tremors; Shrieker Island (both 2020), Edward John Drake's Apex (2021).
If that's not enough for you, in addition to the
three sexploitation outings - Herb Stanley's Confessions of a Psycho Cat (1968), Arthur Byrd's The Suckers (1972), and Ken Dixon's Slave Girls From Beyond Infinity (1987) - there have also been countless small-screen reworkings, including cartoon incarnations on The Simpsons and American Dad. So, Dean Lines and Ray Bogdanovich can hardly be said to have stumbled on to an original conceit in scripting editor-turned-director Tommy Boulding's Hunted. But they have also imbibed inspiration from such other class chillers as Ninian Doff's Get Duked! (2019) and Julius Berg's The Owners (2020). In so doing, however, they have evidently failed to derive much satirical or sadistic finesse to leaven their smugly cumbersome swipe at post-Brexit Britain.
Eager to pull off a big job to help younger brother Chaz (Malachi Pullar-Latchman) pay his university fees, Leon (Nobuse Junior) enlists the help of abuse survivor Vix (Hannah Traylen) and Polish migrant Tod (Ross Coles) to steal a painting for shady antique dealer, Gregory (Larry Lamb). Tempted to lift a ceremonial knife from the vast Redwick Estate that they've been assured is empty because the family has gone skiing, the quartet gets tasered and trussed by Mallory the gamekeeper (Nick Moran).
Waking in the back of a Land Rover, the four are turfed on to the ground and addressed by the manor's owner, Katherine Redwick (Samantha Bond). She laments the ineffective nature of the justice system and the impudence of the working-class before cutting them loose and wishing them good luck. Mallory squirts them with urine from a bottle before driving away and they wonder what on earth is going on. Wandering through fields in search of a road, the Peckham Four are approached by a fox hunt and suddenly realise that they are the quarry for the red-coated Katherine, father Remington (James Faulkner), brother Hugo (James Lance), and twittish nephew, Miles (Louis Walwyn).
Realising that Gregory has set them up because Katherine is one of his customers, the fugitives wade across a river and arm themselves with pointed sticks. Coming across some bear traps in a field, they flee into a copse at the sound of a hunting horn and try to clamber up a wall. Tod falls back, however, and lands in a trap and Leon and Chaz have to jump down to rescue him. But the former gets dragged back by the hounds, who maul him ravenously, with his screaming brother looking on. Katherine finishes him off with a blade across his throat and she bloods Miles on the cheeks to remind him of his birthright.
Vix plays possum in the road to ambush Mallory, but he keeps hold of the Land Rover keys, despite taking a kicking. Katherine is pleased with him and ride off in pursuit. However, the bleeding Tod has veered off to detour the hounds, while Chaz and Vix search for help at a nearby farmhouse. It proves deserted, but they find food. Moreover, when Hugo shows up and starts doing a Big Bad Wolf impression, they blow up the microwave when Miles ventures inside.
Rejoined by Tod, the trio beats a retreat with Mallory's stolen walkie-talkie and an aerosol to cover their scent. However, Katherine goads them into a conversation that allows the hunters to pinpoint their position. Chazz wants to stand and fight and Vix is all for it, but the limping Tod gets cornered by Hugo. He's stabbed during a brawl before a shot rings out.
Insisting on hunting alone, Katherine finds Tod's corpse and chides Hugo for breaking the code before seeing him keel over with a knife in his back. As darkness falls, Chaz and Vix have no difficulty in creeping up on Remington as he picnics beside a campfire. Having blasted him with the farm blunderbuss, Vix calls on Chaz to unleash the hounds on Mallory.
Recklessly speeding through the woods in the Land Rover, the pair crash into a tree in order to avoid a fox and Chaz has to reverse to de-impale Vix from the branch that had pierced the windscreen. She forces Chaz to go on alone and Katherine shares her hip flask, as Vix expires. He reaches the local pub and quickly gets the feeling he's still in enemy territory. As he bolts, he runs into a police car that promptly delivers him back to Redwick. Katherine is prepared to reward his tenacity, in the spirit of fair play. But, while he takes the bag of cash she proffers, he isn't so ready to forgive Gregory.
Despite adding little to the 98 year-old formula and struggling to land a single socio-political punch, this is still a solidly made survival thriller that benefits from some spirited playing. Samantha Bond revels in her hauteur, while Malachi Pullar-Latchman and Hannah Traylen fight valiantly against some tin-eared street-speak. However, sporting sideburns that recall Paul Whitehouse's Ted from The Fast Show (1994-97), Nick Moran proves exasperatingly unfluent in Mummerset, while poor James Lance fails entirely to summon his inner Jack Torrance during the excruciating `Little Piggies' sequence.
The characterisation is also skimpy, with the toffs being essentially braying caricatures. Moreover, it's difficult to unsettle viewers when they have no inkling of the lie of the land. Cinematographer Martyna Knitter makes decent use of the fields and woodland to show how variously exposed and trapped the fugitives are, while also highlighting their vulnerability and insignificance. But they never seem particularly imperilled, especially as their pursuers and their animals are every bit at risk from the bear traps foolishly concealed in the long grass. The ending's first twist is neat enough, but the second lacks conviction.
SOUND FOR THE FUTURE.
Matt Hulse was 11 when he formed The Hippies with his brother, Toby (12), and sister, Polly (8). He played drums in the youngest punk band in Britain and he relives the experience in Sound For the Future, a blend of dramatic recreation, archive footage, interview, animation, and performance art that veers between inventive installation, painfully public act of cine-catharsis, and delirious display of narcissistic indulgence. It's infinitely superior on every level, therefore, to Nigel Askew's resistibly smug and shamelessly mythologising Joe Corré profile, Wake Up Punk.
In order to satisfy a decade-long desire to make a film about his childhood, Hulse enlists members of the Scottish Youth Theatre to re-enact scenes that not only cover the history of The Hippies, but also the trauma of spending term-time in Reading with a father and his new wife and holidays with a mother and her Bohemian friends in Cambridge. Ruth Pendragon features, as does Polly Hulse. But there's no sign of Toby, whom Matt has clearly not forgiven for breaking up the combo that had committed to cassette such DIY classics as `Rabies', `Terra Nova', and `Dallas City Ghost'.
Ruth's lodger, Sean Baker, paints Hulse's nails black, as they discuss how `LGBTQ+' has turned gay people into alphabet people. Hulse shows one of the young actors playing himself how to roll a joint, while asking Ruth about her friend Heidi Krebs, who became a prostitute in order to fund her heroin addiction. We meet father Tim and stepmother Tricia and gatecrash a Sleaford Mods gig before we hear Hulse playing a song about narcissism on a toy accordion (which is intercut with shots of him being wrapped in maypole ribbons of brown paper). He performs some of the songs in a small venue, with Polly helping out on backing vocals and reading extracts from her diary.
Having taken some tap-dancing lessons, Hulse flies to Beijing to get a Malcolm McLaren suit made for Spoons, his beloved Snoopy toy. Ruth claims that he used it as a mouthpiece and likens it to a sinister ventriloquist doll. Back in Blighty, Hulse goes to Highgate Cemetary to clamber over McLaren's headstone and kiss its death mask and stick a finger up its nose. He also has numerous tattoos and films his young actors being made up and fitted for wigs to perform Hippies songs and replicate some late 1970s photographs.
Interviewed, the kids claim they would like to vandalise some stuff and daub graffiti, while wearing cool 70s clobber. Hulse dances on McLaren's grave and consults music psychologist Jane Oakland, who wonders whether McLaren had manipulated The Sex Pistols (perhaps in the same way that Hulse is using the tweenage Glaswegians to act out his past).
Ruth reads a letter (presumably from Matt) saying how much he misses her and she gets emotional. But Hulse gets Spoons to ask (during his live set) to ask why she left the family. She doesn't reply, but accepts that their versions of what happened may well differ. Hulse speaks to camera about his frustration that Toby refused to participate and his ongoing desire to be closer to his mother.
The kids are asked what they would write songs about and they come up with global warming, pollution, and body image in comparison to The Hippies singing about rabies, John F. Kennedy's assassination, existence within the universe. Hulse decides to form three of his cast into a new combo named Generation Riot. Amusingly, Shades (Elise Atkins), Toxic (Louis Cole), and Nails (Holly Stevenson) find themselves playing in a side studio at CamGlen Radio, while DJ Derek McCutcheon interviews Toby (Toby Cartwright), Matty (Jamie Haughey), and Polly (Sarah Cole) as though The Hippies had achieved more in their career than a clutch of taped songs and two gigs in their mother's living-room.
A climactic sequence rapidly intercuts clips from the film with footage of a wrap bonfire. Clad in his new suit, Spoons is plucked from the ashes by Emmanuel Ofori-Frimpong, who had also played Polly, along with Maurin Bruce and Monique Lynn. Rudi Jordan, Louie Munro, Owen Oliver, and Fawaz Raif took on Toby, while Matty was variously played by Rhys Barnes , Chloe Lynn, and Kenzii Stevens . They all do very well and enter into spirit of what must have been a chaotic and creatively challenging shoot.
Hulse bonds with them brilliantly and similarly can't be faulted for seeking a distinctive means of resolving past issues , while also cherishing wisps of juvenile bliss. However, there's no doubt that this is, at times, a maddening rattlebag that feels as though Peter Greenaway and Andrew Kötting had stumbled across Sam Firth's The Wolf Suit (2021) and felt compelled to prankishly punk it up. Anyone who has seen Follow the Master (2009) and Dummy Jim (2013) will know what to expect from a Hulse feature. But this goes way beyond, as Hulse and co-editor Nick Currey strive to cram as many ideas and impulses into the running time as possible.
Occasionally, it leaves the viewer feeling like an intrusive voyeur upon private grief. But which documentary revisiting family matters doesn't? Yet, despite the conceited conceit, it's difficult to lose patience with Hulse, if only because he resembles Alex Horn when he lets his beard grow. Let's just hope he finds a way to jam with his brother again. Life's too sodding short.