Parky At the Pictures (7/8/2020)
Updated: Aug 10, 2020
(Reviews of The Mark Jenkin Short Film Collection; Make Up; Life With Music; In Her Hands; Perfect 10; A White, White Day; Spy Intervention; and Elvis: That's the Way It Is)
Cinemas may be closed during these dismal days. But there are still ways to connect with some of the films on general release over the next few weeks and months. In addition to Curzon Home Cinema. MUBI and the BFI Player, it should also be possible to access the titles under discussion via iTunes, Apple TV, Amazon, Sky Store, Virgin, Microsoft, Vimeo, Google Play, Rakuten, BT and Playstation.
THE MARK JENKIN SHORT FILM COLLECTION.
Having made only a modest impression with such early outings as Golden Burn (2002), The Rabbit (2004), The Midnight Drives (2007) and Happy Christmas (2011), Mark Jenkin experienced something of an early epiphany on Christmas Day 2012. Based at the School of Film and Television at Falmouth University, Jenkin started operating according to the tenets of a manifesto he has dubbed `Silent Landscape Dancing Grain 13', which imposes a series of Dogme-like rules upon each production.
Under the terms of SLDG 13, all films must be shot on small gauge film; be presented in black and white; be shot silently and post-synchronised; contain voice over; contain no non-diegetic music; be shot with a shooting ratio no greater than 3:1; be no longer than 80 minutes; feature a protagonist; be shot utilising no extraneous grip equipment other than a tripod; be shot utilising only available or practical lighting; be realised while subverting or ignoring genre constraints; be realised with a minimum of fuss; and break one of the thirteen SLDG 13 Film Manifesto rules.
To date, Jenkin has tested out the rubric on a number of documentaries and shorts, including The Essential Cornishman, Dear Marianne (both 2016) and The Road to Zennor (2017). Momentously, he followed them with Bait (2019), a study of gentrification and the trivialisation of cultural legacy that seeks to revive the proud social realist tradition whose stagnation in recent times has allowed it to hijacked by film-makers with both feet firmly in the Momentum camp.
Filmed on 16mm Kodak stock with a 1976 wind-up Bolex camera that allows takes to run for a maximum of 26 seconds and hand-processed using a self-concocted mix containing coffee, washing soda and Vitamin C powder, this may not be particularly sophisticated in dramatic terms. But its fearless audiovisual audacity made this the most innovative British picture since Clio Barnard's The Arbor (2010).
Now, the BFI Player offers audiences the chance to compare Jenkin's work before and after this landmark production, as it presents a collection of four distinctive shorts: Bronco's House (2015), Enough to Fill Up an Eggcup (2016), David Bowie Is Dead (2018) and Hard, Cracked the Wind (2019).
Filmed in Mousehole, Paul, Newlyn, Bosillack and Boscean, Bronco's House centres on the fact that Bronco (Henry Darke) and his pregnant girlfriend (Mae Voogd) have been evicted by their landlord (Colin Hart), who used to date Bronco's sister (Mary Woodvine). With Bronco and his partner forced to live in a hayloft belonging to a farmer (Richard Ballinger), the sister takes the landlord to task for showing the property to a stranger (Jesse Leroy Smith), who does a bit of fishing after looking around the cottage.
The farmer offers to lend Bronco money to buy a plot of land so that he can build his own house. But they are refused planning permission and the lovers fall out when Bronco refuses to sleep inside the farmer's house. His sister changes the lock on the cottage so they can squat there. But her scheme to sleep with the landlord in the hope of getting him to help her brother backfires as badly as the girlfriend's efforts to use sex to cajole the stranger into backing out. However, he is keen to start again in the hope of bringing his family together again and, so, as his partner goes into labour, Bronco resorts to desperate measures to tilt the odds in his favour.
In the hands of a less remarkable film-maker, this study of the impact that interlopers have on idyllic Cornish fishing villages in which locals can no longer afford to live would be the stuff of melodrama. By applying the rules of SLDG 13, however, Jenkin and editor Nick Wills are able to produce an edgily dynamic kitchen sink saga that deserves the epithet more than most, as the dregs of Jenkin's Caffenol developing solution literally go down the plughole.
Admirers of Andrei Tarkovsky may note the similarity between the moving glasses in Stalker (1979) and the way the fish on a plate glides across the table under the girlfriend's gaze. But there's also a feel of Carl Theodor Dreyer and Robert Bresson about the austerity of the visuals and the functionality of the performances. Nevertheless, the moodily photogenic Henry Darke and Mae Voogd manage to convey a good deal with a meaningful look against the atmospheric seafront settings.
The anger felt at the Cornish coast becoming a playground for the rich is more palpable in Enough to Fill Up an Eggcup, as veteran fishermen Richard 'Taffy' Matthews from Penberth discusses the problems posed by the Atlantic Ocean. The warming of the water has driven away the mackerel stocks that used to provide him with a good living, while rising tides have started to imperil dwellings close to the seashore. He also complains, with full justification, about the fact that so many houses have been snapped up for holiday accommodation. But he can joke that he won't be around when the real eco-calamities start to occur.
With the lyrical monochrome compositions and studied editing recalling the pastoral masterpieces of Humphrey Jennings and Kay Mander, as well as the postwar British genius for travelogues, this edgy elegy has a sensitivity to the landscape that's worthy of a Patrick Keiller. Moreover, with its blend of snippets from weather and shipping forecasts, as well as interviews with politicians defending their inactivity and indifference to problems affecting people miles away from the Westminster bubble, the sound mix and score composed by Newlyn musician Rick Williams brings to mind the audiovisual ingenuity and incisiveness of Andrew Kötting.
Somewhere online, David Bowie Is Dead is described as `a relentless dream of ektachromatic consciousness, spanning two decades of black and white "progress" in a single urgent synaptic utterance'. Who could argue with that? One has to presume that Jenkin provides the motormouthed voiceover that spits out a punkish prose rap about the perennial Bowie theme of change. Over monochrome (and the occasional colour) images of London, the beat-backed diatribe laments the loss of beloved buildings and the spirit they imbued, while also reminiscing about the rite-of-passage moments that opened the eyes of a Cornish greenhorn in the Smoke. There isn't much to disagree with in this dispirited, dispiriting tirade. And that's what makes it so potent and sad. RIP David Jones.
Voltaire said that the present is pregnant with the future. But it's also contaminated by the past and this notion informs Hard, Cracked the Wind, in which aspiring poet Esme Gemma Stafford (Tamla Kari) finds an old briefcase in a Cornish antique shop bearing her own ESG initials. Inside, she finds an unfinished poem and flashbacks show 19th-century poet Edward (Edward Franklin) being urged to finish the same verse by Eulalia (Mae Voogd).
Esme works in a chip shop to pay the bills, but she still steals money from the wallet of Simon (Ben Norris), the preening poet she had met at an open mic Cornish-language slam and who had offered to cast an eye over her writing. Daunted by the burden she feels (despite being unaware that Edward keeps walking behind her on the breakwater like a frogman), Esme returns the cursed case to the shop, where it's found by Enys (Steve Jacobs), who shares the same initials, but is scolded against buying it by his wife.
Eerily anticipating the expectorating effects of coronavirus, Jenkin and writer Adrian Bailey explore the themes of creativity, capitalism, language, location and gender in a striking vignette that will leave many with the indelible image of gobs of tubercular discharge being cross-cut with splashes of chip shop vinegar. Indeed, Mae Voogd's production design and Will Pugh's monochrome photography are eye-searing throughout. There's almost too much to take in on a single viewing, but it's intriguing to compare the Jenkin's lyrical approach to evoking the haunting presence of the past with that of Claire Oakley in Make Up (see below), which also has a connection with Falmouth University.
There's no fixed way to becoming a film-maker. At the age of 10, Claire Oakley planned a shot-for-shot remake of Kevin Reynold's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), with herself as director, cinematographer and costume designer. She also planned to take the title role opposite her sister as the Sheriff of Nottingham. A camera malfunction put paid to the project, however, and Oakley put aside childish things to study English at Edinburgh University.
While there, she started making films at weekends with her friends and taught herself film history on the side. Drawn into the industry, she worked as an assistant on John Crowley's Boy A (2007) and Is Anybody There? (2008), Charles and Thomas Guard's The Uninvited (2009) and Bernard Rose's Mr Nice (2010). She also formed the Cinesisters support group for women directors and made the shorts Beautiful Enough (2011), Physics (2012), Tracks and James (both 2014). Now, having completed the documentary short, Pumeza Matshikiza: Tuning In (2016), and contributed the informercials to Simon Pummell's Brand New-U (2015), Oakley has made her feature bow with Make Up.
Arriving late at night by taxi at a remote Cornish caravan park, 18 year-old Ruth (Molly Windsor) has come to see her boyfriend, Tom (Joseph Quinn), who is down from Derby for a summer job. Shirley the manager (Lisa Palfrey) and Tom's fellow odd job bod Kai (Theo Barklem-Biggs) tease Ruth that she's as much an outsider as the tourists enjoying the tail-end of the season. But she soon comes to feel alone, as her initial delight at being able to sleep with Tom is dissipated by the discovery of a make-up smudge on his mirror and some long red hairs on his blankets.
Despite having washed the bedding, Ruth still feels uncomfortable and reluctantly dances around the caravan with Tom to `Rose Marie', after he puts down his tinned spaghetti sandwich to waylay her suspicions. They have sex that night after Ruth lingers in the bathroom to steel herself. But she is unnerved by the cries of unseen foxes and her misgivings resurface the next morning when she spots Tom chatting to a redhead and she scours the camp to find her.
Having asked Shirley if it's okay to stay on over the winter and help Tom with the maintenance work, Ruth heads down to the beach to watch him surf. Once again, there's no sign of him and, when he returns after dark to claim he'd been working, Ruth doesn't bother to tell him that Kai had been rude to her when she had been cornered by his watchdog.
While the tourist caravans are being fumigated, Ruth helps out with the cutlery and linen with Jade (Stefani Martini), who has been working on the site for a year, and young Kippa (Elodie Wilton), whose grandparents have one of the residential caravans. She offers to do Ruth's nails and shows her the wigs she makes for the local hospital. Although she allows her to give her a manicure, Ruth feels like a rag doll in make-up and tries to scrape off the acrylic nails after Tom fails to respond to her oral advances. However, a noise above the storm outside and the sight of the elderly April (Maureen Wild) standing in a pool of light cause her to dig the knife blade into her nail and she has to rip it off.
The next day, Tom warns Ruth about Jade's reputation and she hears moaning from a neighbouring shower cubicle after she gets soaked in the sea with Kippa. She goes in search of Tom, who admonishes her for messing in the sea with an 11 year-old and storms off after Kai accuses him of slacking. Ruth notices the cheesecake pin-ups on the workshop wall and feels more out of her depth than ever. Jade invites her over for a drink and a smoke and Ruth throws up, as she isn't used to partying. However, Jade gets her dancing while wearing a wavy blonde wig and they almost have a moment before Ruth panics and makes her excuses to leave.
Spooked by the sheet plastic covering the vans up for fumigation, Ruth thinks she sees someone through a window. She tries to spoon Tom, but he pushes her away and is barely sympathetic when she wakes from a nightmare in which tall green Marram grass turns red as she stares at it. When she tells Shirley that she thought she saw someone in a caravan, her claim is dismissed. But Ruth is the one to find April when she goes missing in the middle of a windswept night, albeit after she had revisited the shower block in which she had snooped on two women having sex and followed what she thought was the red-haired girl into the dunes. Kai looks on as Jade tries to apologise to Ruth for making a play for her and she declines her invitation to go back to her caravan for a drink.
After Ruth walks into the sea and is knocked off her feet by the waves, Jade tries to warm her up by wrapping a coat around her. However, Kai taunts Tom about having a lesbian girlfriend and they fight before Tom stomps back to the caravan to pack Ruth's case. He tells her he loves, her but she fails to respond and can't get thoughts out of her head of the night Jade had painted her nails. Smashing a window after Tom locks her in, Ruth goes to Jade's caravan. Pouring a drink, she borrows some make-up, a red dress and the red wig and turns heads when she arrives at a bonfire party on the beach. She dances with abandon before taking Jade by the hand and leading her into the dunes, where they make love. Waking the next morning in her lover's arms, Ruth feels she can do anything and walks into the sea with a smile on her face.
While promoting her film, Oakley has frequently alluded to an encounter at a screenwriting workshop in Croatia, when a delegate had identified her as a lesbian from a story outline that had been inspired by a dream about following an unknown woman. As she was a heterosexual wife at the time, Oakley dismissed the remark. Gradually, however, she came to realise that the man had probably been right, as she is now married to a female journalist and has made one of the most revealingly enlightening coming out films in recent British LGBTQ+ screen history.
She's less successful in turning a coastal caravan park into an alien landscape in which Ruth feels exposed and confused, as the odd bit of Cornish slang is nowhere near as effective in isolating the interloper as the foreign language that was envisaged in the original script before budgetary considerations necessitated a shoot on home soil. The disorientating visions of the girl with the red hair (played by Emilia Copeland) and the dementia-suggested demeanour of the lonely old neighbour also have a MacGuffiny feel, while the threat posed by the lowering Kai feels as unpersuasive as scenes in which Ruth wades out into the sea.
Without such dislocatory devices, however, this would feel closer in tone to Coz Greenop's Dark Beacon (2017) than, say, Roman Polanski's Repulsion (1965). Nevertheless, Oakley, production designer Sofia Stocco and cinematographer Nick Cooke make evocative use of the location, with the lighting of the nocturnal sequences being particularly effective. Editor Sacha Szwarc's deft switches between realism, flashback and hallucination and the sound mix designed by Ania Przygoda and supplemented by Ben Salisbury's ethereal waterphone licks prove equally immersive and unsettling, as the excellent Molly Windsor builds on the reputation forged in such TV items as The Unloved (2009) and Three Girls (2017) and Richard Heap's touching road movie, The Runaways (2019).
Oakley opts against giving the enigmatic and taciturn Ruth much backstory and, as a consequence, her three-year romance with Tom feels as inauthentic as the speed with which she bonds with Jade. Indeed, neither Joseph Quinn nor Stefanie Martini is given much to work with in terms of character depth, but the latter makes the greater impression, as Jade's acceptance of Ruth for who she is allows her to connect with her unconscious desires.
The plastic-wrapped caravans provide a visually striking metaphor for Ruth's suppressed sexuality and this sense of stumbling towards self-awareness is very much the film's strong point, as the sensory psychological thriller elements exploit Ruth's fears about who she is at the very moment she is feeling paranoid and vulnerable in what seems like a hostile environment. Emerging from the knot of generic clichés that increasingly come to stifle the narrative, the denouement feels a tad anti-climactic. But this is an involving and insightful bow that marks Oakley as a talent to watch.
LIFE WITH MUSIC.
Mere mention of a pianist with a grim prognosis and thoughts turn to Margaret Lockwood tickling the ivories at the Minack Theatre in Cornwall during Leslie Arliss's wartime weepie, Love Story (1944). Despite the best efforts of Patricia Roc's long-devoted actress, there was never a doubt that the ailing Lockwood would win the heart of Stewart Granger's sight-fading former RAF pilot. There's no romantic subplot to complicate matters in Life With Music, but director Claude Lalonde and screenwriter Louis Godbout are not averse to a bit of good old-fashioned melodrama.
Returning to the concert stage for the first time since the death of his wife, Sir Henry Cole (Patrick Stewart) suffers an anxiety attack while playing Robert Schumann's `Fantasie in C' and has to dash into a back alley to smoke a cigarette with a bemused security guard. Agent Paul (Giancarlo Esposito) is concerned about him, but he insists he's fine and bluffs his way through a press conference. He finds it harder to shake New Yorker writer Helen Morrison (Katie Holmes), who comes to his dressing-room with a story about how he had helped rebuild her confidence after she had under-performed at a piano competition.
Henry refuses her a retrospective interview, but he feels indebted when she rescues him by duetting on Georges Bizet's `La Habanera' from Carmen when he freezes during an appearance at the Steinway shop in Manhattan. They meet at the zoo in front of the gorilla enclosure and go cycling through Central Park, as Henry explains how German composers have been his constant companions since youth and how they have stayed with him, unlike the wife who died while making plans for their semi-retirement during a trip to Prague.
Having frozen on stage in Boston, Henry is worried that he won't be able to play his grand homecoming concert at the Royal Albert Hall. But he is buoyed by a backstage chat with 12 year-old fan, Daniel (Drew Davis), and his mother, Maya (Letitia Brookes). Moreover, Paul flies Helen in to keep Henry company and they spend hours walking and talking about his parents and his career. Feeling more assured with Helen around, Henry talks her into coming to Europe and she teases Paul when he opines at a drinks party that 98% of all art is rubbish. She also tells Henry that she loves him after she learns that his wife had used his sleeping pills to kill herself.
Despite informing her that he will be able to play his next concert without her support, Henry disappears to an Alpine hotel, while dodging an attention-seeking child and Paul's Skype efforts to get him to return in time for his London swan song. He visits the Nietzsche-Haus in Sils Maria, reads Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's poem. 'Über allen Gipfeln', and stands beside Ludwig van Beethoven (Beat Marti) to gaze at the mist-covered mountains. He plays chess with Felix the night porter (Christoph Gaugler), touches the pyramidal rock near Lake Silvaplana, where Nietzsche had the inspiration for Also Sprach Zarathustra and listens to a Ukrainian friend of Helen's play the 2nd movement of Beethoven's Sonata Op. 111. Realising the need to make use of his gift to give people pleasure, Henry returns to play, with the words of Helen's glowing paean to his genius and humanity ringing in his ears
Also known as Coda, this sombre drama flits across the surface of the big ideas it namechecks without exploring any of them in any depth. First timers, Lalonde and Godbout are determined that we realise how cultured they are, as they bandy names like Bach, Beethoven, Goethe and Nietzsche with the insouciance of a dinner guest striving overly hard to make a good impression. Indeed, they seem to have written themselves into the part of the irksome small boy at the pension who finally goads Henry into saluting him. Yet, for all the faux displays of sophistication and significance, their story about a disillusioned maestro being rejuvenated by the love of a younger muse is trite, twee and more than a little patronisingly chauvinist.
This is a shame, as Patrick Stewart is eminently believable as both an artist facing a crisis of confidence and a widower struggling to deal with the guilt he feels over his wife's suicide. There's even an intriguing ambiguity about the relationship between Giancarlo Esposito and Katie Holmes, who always seems to know the right thing to say and even has a copy of the pianist's slim volume of verses. Yet an air of preciousness envelopes proceedings until it's blown away by the Alpine breeze. Cinematographer Guy Dufaux makes the most of the spectacular scenery, which is frequently accompanied by Ukrainian-Canadian pianist Serhiy Salov, whose fleet fingers Stewart works credibly hard to match. But, while it exercises a commendable discretion, this rarely feels anything more than a made-up tale.
IN HER HANDS.
Ludovic Bernard spent two decades as an assistant director, during which time he worked on classics like Mathieu Kassovitz's La Haine (1994), Guillaume Canet's Tell No One (2006) and François Richet's Mesrine diptych (2008) and such crowdpleasers as Olivier Megaton's Taken 2 (2012) and Taken 3, and Luc Besson's Lucy (both 2014). Given the grounding in action fare that bolstered his directorial debut, The Climb (2017), it seems somewhat surprising that he has chosen to follow that mountaineering adventure with a romcom, Mission Pays Basque (2017), and a musical melodrama, In Her Hands (2018), which is closer in tone to Meryl Streep's Wes Craven's Music of the Heart (1999) vehicle than Isabelle Huppert's collaboration with Michael Haneke on The Piano Teacher (2001).
As Conservatoire national de Paris director Pierre Geithner (Lambert Wilson) watches banlieue teenager Mathieu Malinski (Jules Benchetrit) play Bach on an upright piano at the Gare du Nord, he is chased through the station by the police. Responsible for minding siblings Krista (Vanessa David) and David (Milo Mazé) when mother Marion (Louise Labeque) is out, Mathieu is a decent kid, who has been obsessed with the piano since the age of seven (Julian Maire), when he was mentored by Monsieur Jacques (Michel Jonasz). But he hangs with a bad crowd and only escapes prison after a house break-in when Pierre gets him a community service job as a cleaner at the Conservatory.
Under pressure from boss André Ressigeac (André Ressigeac) to raise the profile of the department, Pierre orders Mathieu to start studying music theory and harmony under Elizabeth Buckingham, known as The Countess (Kristin Scott Thomas). She's a martinet who stands no nonsense and Mathieu wants nothing to do with her. But Pierre threatens to terminate his contract and forces him to play Franz Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 to convince him that he has a need to express himself through music.
The Countess is appalled by the idea of a lazy, arrogant scruff representing the Conservatory at the prestigious Grand Prix d'Excellence piano competition. But, with trendy rival Elsa Lepoivre (Alexandre Brik breathing down his neck, Pierre insists, even though his colleagues want the more presentable Sébastien Michelet (Gaspard Meier-Chaurand) to try and break the three-year drought. Mathieu refuses to be his puppet, however, and is only talked into taking the event seriously by rollerskating cellist, Anna (Karidja Touré).
In order to prepare Mathieu for the First Movement of Sergei Rachmaninoff's 2nd Concerto, Op.18, Pierre places two grand pianos on the Conservatory's main stage so that the Countess can give him the full benefit of her expertise. Discovering that the Russian wrote the piece after the failure of his first symphony, Mathieu feels a connection with the music and begins to respond to the Countess's more sympathetic tuition. He also starts sleeping with Anna after Pierre lends him the family's garret flat. But wife Mathilde (Elsa Lepoivre) is dismayed because this was bought for their son, Thomas, who died of leukaemia aged 15.
All is going well until Mathieu gets acute tendonitis and Ressigeac suggests Michelet takes his place. But Pierre and the Countess retain their faith and she urges him not to make the mistake she made in 1981 in playing without passion. However, he's thrown into a loop when banlieue buddies Driss (Samen Télesphore Teunou) and Kevin (Xavier Guelfi) tell Anna he's doing community service and isn't a legitimate student. But she is more disappointed by the fact he hasn't told his mother, who regards classical music as a waste of time pursued only by those in the upper bracket.
Having lost a button on his shirt, Mathieu asks Mathilde to repair it. She tells him that Pierre is using him as a surrogate son and urges him to withdraw from the competition to prevent them both from making fools of themselves. He returns home and, on the night of the gala, has to rush brother David to hospital after he's involved in a motorcycle accident in front of their flats. As they wait in a corridor, mother Marion tells Mathieu to win the Grand Prix for his sibling and he is whizzed across Paris by his mates to arrive at the venue just as Michelet is about to play the first note.
Wearing Pierre's borrowed tuxedo, Mathieu gives the performance of his life. Six months later, with Pierre looking on (as the new director of a New York concert hall and possibly in a new relationship with the Countess), Mathieu takes the stage for his debut, with Anna beaming at him from the string section of the orchestra. The screen fades to black before he starts to play.
Given the speciousness of the premise and the implausibility of every single plot development, it's very much to Ludovic Bernard's credit that this edifice of contrivance doesn't come toppling down. It may be overly callous to call this `a better class of tosh', but it wouldn't be getting a UK streaming release if it had been about rap or rock rather than that great legitimiser of middlebrow melodrama, classical music.
Conceived by Ludovic and Johanne Bernard, the plot pieces slot predictably into place with a proficiency that would be more irksome were it not for the well-tuned performances of Lambert Wilson and Kristin Scott Thomas, as the midlife rebels with a cause, and Jules Benchetrit, as the prodigy from the wrong side of the tracks. That said, these are the only characters who escape the fate of being wholly one-dimensional, with Karidja Touré being particularly wasted as the middle-class black girl with doting musician parents and her grandfather's beloved cello.
She has the dual misfortune of featuring in the film's tackiest scene, as Anna and Mathieu gambol through the nocturnal Parisian streets to the strain of Etta James's `At Last'. They also get to kiss in front of a floodlit Notre Dame, while out rollerblading. But, at least their subplot actually goes somewhere, unlike those involving Pierre's hip rival and calcified marriage and Mathieu's mother, mates and miraculously curable tendonitis.
Bernard's use of Les Hommes Terribles's mock punk anthem `Whatever I Want' for the police pursuit through the Métro system and `Where Is My Mind?' by The Pixies to illustrate Mathieu's mental anguish is equally cackhanded. But he and cinematographer Thomas Hardmeier make a better job of photographing the piano sequences proving that Mathieu's genius lies in his passion with the customarily gliding camera, while editor Romain Rioult capably convinces us that the fingers on the keys belong to the actors on the stool rather than a more accomplished stand-in.
In fact, Benchetrit (who is the 20 year-old son of director Samuel Benchetrit and the late actress, Marie Trintignant) pulls off the tricky assignment of making a surly street tough look soulful. However, the appearance of M. Jacques at his shoulder as he is about to play his competition piece reinforces the contention that there's little going on here beneath the grand piano's surface polish.
It always seems baffling that so many aspiring film-makers hide away their short films when streaming them online would bring them some much-needed exposure. They don't have to offer free access, but a couple of quid to see back catalogues that would otherwise fester on the shelves doesn't seem a bad deal for anyone concerned. Given the potency of Scot Eva Riley's debut, Perfect 10, it would be certainly intriguing to trace the evolution of the National Film and Television School graduate from Sweetheart (2011) through Joyride (2013), The Agreement, Video (both 2014) and Patriot (2015) to the arresting Diagnosis (2016), which is available to view in its entirety on Vimeo. Maybe one or two will make it as extras on the DVD release.
First seen hanging upside down with a skewed view of the world, 14 year-old Leigh (Frankie Box) is a promising gymnast at a club in a rougher part of Brighton. As she lives on the wrong estate, the other girls are mean to her and accuse her of being a charity case for coach Gemma (Sharlene Whyte). Struggling to cope with the loss of her mother, Leigh has nothing in common with her widowed father, Rob (William Ash), and is appalled to discover that she has a half-brother, Joe (Alfie Deegan), who seems to have been the result of an extramarital fling.
Taking over the house with his mates, Joe teases Leigh about the videos she has recorded of her floor routines and she wants nothing to do with the boorish lads who have invaded her life. Climbing through a window at the gymnastics club, she tries out some of the apparatus before dozing off in foam landing pit. She's caught sneaking out next morning by Gemma, who notices the cut on her hand and encourages Leigh to commit to her routine while applying some tlc and a plaster.
Arriving home to find Joe cooking breakfast, Leigh eavesdrops with a guilty smile when Rob recalls how she used to parade around the house naked as a toddler. However, he takes offence when Joe jokes about him being an absentee father and Leigh realises that her half-sibling is every bit as alone as she is. She asks if she can chill with his friends on their motorbikes and tentatively hangs on to him as they ride (without helmets, tsk) to the waterfront.
Feeling out of place, Leigh asks to go home. But Reece (Billy Mogford) has sent Joe on a mission to steal petrol and Leigh has to use her hoodie to clean his eye after he gets squirted while drilling a hole in the fuel tank. As he recovers, Joe confides that he gives people two chances and that Rob has already blown his. However, he's prepared to cut Leigh some slack because she's been stuck with a loser like Rob for so long.
He's even more indebted to her when Reece sends him to steal a bike from a barn in the countryside and Leigh knows the way. She enjoys running through the field on a hot afternoon and tosses Joe an apple from her bag to celebrate a successful theft. As they eat, she tells him about gym club and how her mother had been so supportive that she had been ashamed of her. But, now, she misses her sitting in the viewing gallery and feels as though Gemma has put her into the team out of pity.
Unused to being a brother, Joe offers no words of consolation. But he lets Leigh borrow his t-shirt and she tags along when he delivers the bike to Reece, who is so impressed that he lets her hang with the gang that night. Jealous of Joe dancing with a pretty blonde, Leigh shows Reece some of her tumbles and feels good when the others start to applaud and film her on their phones.
Much to Joe's annoyance, Reece asks Leigh to accompany him on his next job, as the only way to reach a bike kept at the back of a house is over the roof. Leigh is feeling cocky after breaking into the house, but realises she's being watched by a girl on the stairs and they have to make a quick getaway. When Joe drops her at the gym, Leigh tells the mean girls that he's her boyfriend and she uses the reward money he gives her to buy a new leotard. However, no sooner has Gemma complimented her on looking sharp, than Leigh reacts to teasing about her underwear showing under her leotard by performing a vault without permission and gets sent home.
On discovering that Rob has thrown Joe out because he feels guilty about letting him stay in the family home, Leigh tries to chat with her father. He apologises for his guilty secret and starts to cry, but he's too macho to accept his daughter's affection. Rather than feel sorry for herself, Leigh puts on her glad rags and some slap and walks miles to hook up with the bikers. Joe tells her to sling her hook, but Reece asks her to do some jobs for him and they get into a fight. Furious at being humiliated in front of his pals, Joe speeds off on his bike and Leigh crashes when she tries to follow him.
Fortunately, she comes to no harm, but the bike is a write-off. Joe gives her a lift home and, with Rob sparked out on the sofa, she persuades him to stay until she falls asleep. She asks why he is so nice to her and he tells her that her gymastic moves are cool. When he ponders how they are going to pay for the trashed bike, Leigh offers to steal the cash box from the club and he urges her to keep training for her mum's memory. Feeling close when she wakes to find Joe lying beside her next morning, Leigh can't resist the temptation to kiss the boy who has shown such faith in her. However, he's appalled by her actions and, when he demands to know what she was thinking, Leigh turns on him and orders him to leave because he's not family, but an accidental consequence of her dad sleeping around.
A knock on the door later, Joe has told Reece about the cash box and he has pulled Leigh's hair in ordering her to steal it to repay her debt. He meets her at the gym and they arrange for her to give him a signal when the office staff are away from their desks. But he becomes so engrossed in her floor routine and she focuses so hard to impress him that they miss their chance. Sitting outside, Joe breaks the news that he's moving to London to work in a mate's chop shop and tells Leigh to give his bike to Reece. She fights back tears, but Joe promises to keep in touch and, as they go for a last spin along a country lane (again without helmets), Leigh leans her head on her half-brother's shoulder and wishes the moment could last forever.
Quite where the police are in this part of Brighton is anyone's guess, but their absence is makes it easier for Leigh and Joe to bond without having the odds stacked too heavily against them. Exceptionally played by ex-gynmast Frankie Box and trainee joiner Alfie Deegan, the vulnerable, but spiky siblings quickly recognise that each has found a piece that has been missing from their lives and their rapport crackles with cautious excitement.
Happy to have somewhere to hang his hat after his mum's new boyfriend takes exception, Joe is a bit of a cookie-cutter scally whose soft centre is a bit to readily evident beneath his surface bravado. Similarly starved of affection since the death of her adoring mum, Leigh accepts the existence of a complete stranger with the kind of alacrity that only exists on screen. But, for all the contrivances in Riley's screenplay (and there are almost as many as there are moments of melodramatic implausibility), Box and Deegan make an affecting twosome, who prove easy to root for, even when they take the unlikeliest decisions.
As is often the case with the brand of soapcial realism that has been in vogue over the last decade, the narrative owes more to writerly box ticking than everyday life. But the scripting of the awkwardly sweet sibling banter is particularly impressive. Moreover, Riley commits to her scenario and uses Steven Cameron Ferguson's restless handheld camera and Abolfazl Talooni's unfussily kinetic editing to draw the viewer into the heart of Leigh and Joe's mileu. Consequently, we get less of a sense of place than a feeling that this tale could take place anywhere in the UK, although it's wholly divorced from the political realities that would have shaped the teenagers' plights.
Quibbles apart (and these must include the strained gymnastic symbolism), this is a solid example of the compassionate, if sentimental style of post-millennial realism that has been perfected by Ken Loach and Andrea Arnold. But its tender immediacy will only acquire added significance if both Riley and Box build on what are undoubtedly hugely promising starts to their feature careers.
A WHITE, WHITE DAY.
In A White, White Day, Icelandic director Hlynur Pálmason revisits the theme of pent-up male emotion that he had explored in his debut feature, Winter Brothers (2017). Showing on BFI Player and other platforms after featuring in last autumn's London Film Festival, this notable addition to the ranks of so-called Slow Cinema takes its title from the proverb, `On such days when everything is white and there is no longer any difference between the Earth and the sky, then the dead can talk to us who are still living.'
A car speeding through the mist on a slick mountain road plummets through a gap in the security barrier. As time passes, the seasons change over a house that Icelandic cop Ingimundur (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson) had built for his lamented teacher wife (Sara Dögg Ásgeirsdóttir). When not having counselling sessions with Georg (Þór Hrafnsson Tulinius), he spends all of his time with his eight year-old granddaughter, Salka (Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir), who delights in clubbing to death the salmon they caught together on his boat. When she gets a stain on her dress, Ingimundur drops into the police station to ask colleagues Bjössi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) and Hrafn (Arnmundur Ernst Björnsson) for advice on how to remove it.
At a party he throws at the new house, Ingimundur is given a box of his wife's belongings by daughter Elin (Elma Stefania Agustsdottir) and her husband, Stefan (Haraldur Stefansson). Delving next morning, he finds notes and photographs that suggest his wife had been having an affair with Olgeir (Hilmir Snær Guðnason). Tracking him down, Ingimundur joins Olgeir's football team to get an insight into him. He also finds a small video camera and can barely bring himself to watch the footage of his spouse flirting coquettishly with the stranger.
Elin asks her father to keep an eye on Salka after she's sick in the night and he tells her a ghost story about his father digging up a corpse to provide liver for supper. She isn't amused when he grabs her under the duvet, but cheerfully watches a noisy TV show about an hysterical astronaut. Salka has been practicing a piece on her electronic keyboard and she plays it when Ingimundur's brother, Transti (Björn Ingi Hilmarsson), pays a visit. They animatedly discuss the triangle between Robert and Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms. But Ingimundur sits in sullen silence, having just confided in his sibling his suspicions about being cuckolded and learned that Transti has occasionally cheated on his own wife, Ingibjörg (Laufey Elíasdóttir).
While out driving, Ingimundur hits a stone in the road and he rolls it over the precipice and it bounces down a long way through the rocky greenery before plunging into the sea. Having smashed up a computer when Georg asks if he has cried for his loss during a Skype consultation, the increasingly erratic Ingimundur loses his temper when Bjössi and Hrafn tell him he has to go to Reykjavik for evaluation and order him to surrender his keys to the police station. Leaving them in the cells after pepper spraying them, he upsets Salka by yelling at her when he drops her off at home because he can't have her with him when he goes to confront Olgeir.
As he drives, we see his car some CCTV screens, as well as static shots of all of the main characters, including the actor from the television. In the darkness, Ingimundur takes Olgeir to a freshly dug grave and forces him to sit and explain why he felt the need to have an affair with his wife. Olgeir wants to spare his feelings, but is goaded into describing how exciting the sex was and the screen goes black, as Ingimundur reaches for his shotgun. When the image returns, Olgeir is seen running for his life along the remote country road.
Ingimundur lets his colleagues out of the cells and goes to collect Salka. She's still cross with him and sits in the backseat and refuses his hand when he reaches back to her. They are forced to pull over when Olgeir speeds past and blocks the road. He pulls a knife on Ingimundur in fury at the ordeal that had aroused the suspicions of his wife. Terrified, Salka starts to scream and sob and jumps into the front seat to defend her grandfather.
Despite a gash on his bicep, Ingimundur manages to push Olgeir away and they drive away. He applies a tourniquet to the wound and extends his bloody hand for Salka to clutch. Arriving at a tunnel, he stops abruptly and insists on listening to the sound of the river rushing towards the shore. Hoisting Salka on to his back, he staggers through the tunnel and she asks if he's crying. Ingimundur swears he's merely tired and lets out a bellow of suppressed anguish. His granddaughter does the same and they laugh, as the lumber along howling.
Getting home with his arm in a sling, Ingimundur sits down and smiles as his wife come into the lounge wearing nothing but a bath towel. She puts Leonard Cohen's `Memories' on the CD player and performs a slinky striptease, which her husband watches with quiet satisfaction, as the camera closes in for a close-up of his face.
A tough guy creates too much chaos to hear the voices urging him to forgive, forget and start again in this enticing, but never quite engrossing saga. Gruff, bluff and greybearded, Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson throws himself into completing the retreat that he seems to have been building for his retirement. The glorious opening montage showing the property from the same viewpoint across several seasons stands for Ingimundur himself, as gives the impression that all is well when it evidently isn't. Too afraid of what he might say if he lets down his guard in front of Georg the psychiatrist, he is doing a decent job of stonewalling until Pandora's box is left on his table and he finally has somebody to blame for what had appeared an inexplicable accident.
In fact, Ingimundur's macho pursuit of Olgeir is the weakest part of the film, as Pálmason and editor Julius Krebs Damsbo jettison the measured rhythms achieved by Maria von Hausswolff's lengthy static takes and allow what are not always entirely plausible events to start tumbling in on one another with what feels like indecent haste. However, he does retain the satisfyingly teasing sense of ambiguity that ensures we never discover why the local teacher's car veered out of control, who is watching the CCTV screens and how Ingimundur seems to get away with any number of misdemeanours.
Ably supported by the debuting Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir, Sigurðsson brings to mind the squabbling siblings played by Sigurður Sigurjónsson and Theódór Júlíusson in Grímur Hákonarson's Rams (2015), whose stark visuals are reflected in Von Hausswolff's shots of the misty roads and the rather ugly edifice that Ingimundur has plonked down on picturesque land inherited from his parents. That said, Hulda Helgadóttir's production design is as atmospherically sparse as the disconcertingly shrill strings in Edmund Finnis's score and the unnervingly natural noises in Lars Halvorsen's sound design. The house also contributes to the film's loveliest scene when Salka and her grandfather find a horse mooching around the lounge having entered through a hole in the plastic sheeting covering the window. Yet their laughter can't disguise the fact that the incident feels intrusively ominous.
According to his IMDB entry, Santa Cruz native Drew Mylrea has been making short films since he was 10. Among them was the quirky rite of passage, The Misadventures of Jonathan Birch and the Enchantment of Jennifer Snow, which he co-directed with Joaquin Pastor. While studying theatre direction at UCLA, he produced the splendidly off-centre Arnold and the Alps (2009), which went viral and prompted him to follow it up with Quarters (2010), Lisa (2012), The Interrogation (2013) and Next Door (2014). He has also turned his hand to making commercials and travel blogging. So, a groundswell of sorts has surrounded the release of his debut feature, Spy Intervention, which has been scripted by Mark Famiglietti and Lane Garrison. Designed to be a spoof on the espionage genre, this is so brashly slipshod and witlessly chauvinist that it's hard to believe it was made by the same director of the aforementioned and amiably accomplished shorts.
Working in tandem with Smuts (Blake Anderson), Corey Gage (Drew Van Acker) is a super-smooth special agent. But, from the moment he bumps into cosmetics shopgirl Pam Grayson (Poppy Delevigne) while pursuing Doyle Egan (Max Silvestri) through a shopping mall, all Corey can do is dream of settling down with the girl of his dreams. As he has told Pam he sells cardboard boxes, workmate Brianna Brown (Brittany Furlan) chides her for settling for James Bland instead of James Bond. However, Pam couldn't be happier, as she visits DIY stores and plans dinner parties without having the first clue that Corey is going out of his mind working for boss Rick Shively (Dave Sheridan) and bowling with fellow Cubed salesmen, Fred (Lane Garrison), Ted (Migs Govea) and Bob (Brian Sacca).
Smuts and the wheelchair-bound Dr Studebaker (Ruza Madarevic) stage an intervention to convince Corey that he won't be able to settle until he completes his botched mission. As Egan is in town trying to track down a new weapon, Corey agrees to pose as half of a honeymooning couple at the Pines Hotel with Alexandria Van Sant (Natasha Bassett), who claims to be a Method spy because she has to live a role to play it. However, when he comes home with a trendy haircut and designer clothes, Pam becomes convinced he's having an affair and takes Brianna's advice to spy on him.
He also has to juggle his day job and wins a stay at the Pines with Pam for becoming salesman of the year after Smuts places a huge order to stop Rick from pestering Corey about his frequent office-hours absences. Much to his embarrassment, Alexandria makes contact with Egan his bride, Claudia (Winslow Bright), by luring them into a remorselessly unfunny knockabout dance routine in the hotel dining-room. She suggests they keep up the masquerade by having noisy sex, but Corey has to go bowling and is forced to sleep on the couch after getting home tipsy after challenging his pals about settling for dull domesticity.
The next day, Pam spies on him poolside and, by bursting in to remonstrate with him, she scares off Egan. Moreover, Rick fires Corey for not being a team player. He arrives home to find Pam cooking for a dinner party with his colleagues and their wives. But they are interrupted by Brianna and Alexandria before Egan and Claudia show up with their henchmen. They want Corey to return a pen that he took from the pool boy at the hotel, but they get overpowered with ridiculous ease and taken away in a black van.
Pam refuses to listen to any of Corey's excuses and throws him out. She also quits her job and makes a fortune from her own Undercover fragrance. Corey and Smuts climb Everest (in a droll throwback to the last scene of Arnold and the Alps), with the latter's new sidekick, Remora (Akaash Yadav), tagging along. But he's still not happy and Smuts arranges another intervention to reveal that he's dating Brianna, Alexandria has hooked up with Rick and Bob, Fred and Ted are now a crack bowling team. Pam is also pleased with her new persona and she takes Corey back because he helped her realise her potential and who she really was.
Step forward production designer Rob Ebeltoft, who deserves to take a bow for stretching a modest budget to give this busily plotted, but rarely amusing True Lies wannabe such a distinctive look. Cinematographer Danny Grunes also does a decent job, while Mylrea directs and edits with gusto. Drew Van Acker just about hold things together in a Cary Elwes sort of way, while Poppy Delevingne does what she can with the thankless role of the emasculatingly shrewish wife that exposes the revolting misogyny of Famiglietti and Garrison's tin-eared, hamfisted writing.
Blake Anderson works hard as the spymaster trying to keep his ace in the game, while Brittany Furlan and Natasha Bassett strain every sinew to wring laughs out of the caricatured wiseacre best friend and scantily clad femme fatale. But it's impossible to get past a script that compounds its macho smugness with the voice-overed cutaways to museum exhibits showing how male/female relationships have evolved since prehistoric times. Fun idea, but what is supposed to pass for wit would have been outdated in pre-screwball days and, consequently, the gambit falls flat. It would be too harsh to award this 00.7 out of 10 and make cracks about mindwiping, as the effort and enthusiasm is so readily evident. It's just a shame after the promise shown in Mylrea's engaging shorts that been wasted on such a trashily supercillious screenplay.
ELVIS: THAT'S THE WAY IT IS.
Elvis Presley would have turned 85 in January of this year. He was 35 when he played Las Vegas in the summer of 1970 and the 50th anniversary of those momentous concerts is being celebrated by a one-off, cinemas only screening on 13 August of Denis Sanders's documentary, Elvis: That's the Way It Is. This is the second revival in recent times, as two years ago saw a new version of Steve Binder's legendary 1968 TV show that became known as `The Comeback Special'.
Looking lean, moody and magnificent in the white jump suit that would become his Vegas uniform, Elvis Presley gets things off to a rip-roaring start with `Mystery Train/Tiger Man', which sees him slip in an air guitar solo and lots of gyrations to get the screams going among the gasping female fans, many of whom have shed around 15 years in revisiting their bobbysoxed youth. But, before, the show continues, Sanders takes us back a few weeks to the MGM lot in Culver City (where Presley had made the 31 features that had largely killed his career as a rock star) to select tracks from his recent albums with band members James Burton (lead guitar), Ron Tutt (drums), Jerry Scheff (bass), Charlie Hodge (acoustic, harmonies), Glen Hardin (piano) and John Wilkinson (rhythm guitar)
A caption informs us that the three-day rehearsal period was filmed (now there's a project waiting for Peter Jackson when he finishes with the Twickenham and Savile Row footage of The Beatles shot by Michael Lindsday-Hogg for Let It Be, 1970). The run through of `That's All Right Mama' suggests the band is tighter than the screw holding the microphone in place, as it droops (much to Presley's amusement) during the last chorus. Speaking of The Fabs (whom Elvis never forgave for knocking him off his perch in February 1964), he slips a little `Get Back' into his rendition of `Little Sister', which is photographed in much the same way as the rehearsals at Twickenham Studios had been in January 1969.
Further British invasion fare follows, as Presley trots through a version of The Bee Gees hit, `Words', without investing it with a shred of the emotion that Barry Gibb had brought to the original. Satisfied with this cabaret arrangement, Elvis boards a tandem for a tour of the lot with confidant Joe Esposito. He returns for some stage-managed goofing around, as he nearly swallows the microphone and falls off his chair (after an earlier tumble from a piano stool) and everyone chortles.
Meanwhile, the backing vocalists in Vegas, Millie Kirkham and The Sweet Inspirations and The Imperials, have to make do with rehearsing from Elvis LPs with producer Felton Jarvis. By the miracle of the movies, however, editor Henry Berman is able to cross-cut Lucien Ballard's imagery so that it appears they are backing him on `Twenty Days and Twenty Nights'. On 4 August, everyone meets up at the ballroom of the International Hotel and we see them working out arrangements for `Bridge Over Troubled Water' and `Merry Christmas Baby' (an odd choice for the time of year).
Three days later, they move on to the main showroom stage for `Words', which sounds even more like something a glorified club singer might croon at the Wheeltappers and Shunters Social. He then fools around with some members of the `Elvis Mafia' on the front row, as he launches into the supposedly sensitive ballad, `Mary in the Morning'. He jokes their bad language will be edited out because you can't say `big ass' on screen.
As everyone laughs at The King's gags backstage, Xavier Cugat meets and greets the VIP guests and the camera picks out the likes of Cary Grant, George Hamilton, Sammy Davis Jr. and Juliet Prowse in the audience. A caption explains that the concert footage was filmed over six nights, as we get the ball rolling with `That's All Right Mama'. With his acoustic still slung around his neck, Presley negotiates a frog in his throat before ripping through `I Got a Woman'. Next, he charges through `Hound Dog' as though he can't wait to get it finished and even flubs the words to amuse himself. He had fooled around in much the same way during the Comeback Special, but these feel like the antics of someone who has recognised that his musical relevance has long passed and has settled for a cosy gig as a peacock entertainer.
As if to prove the point, Presley follows a disinterested rendition of `Heartbreak Hotel' with a version of the beautiful `Love Me Tender' that basically becomes an instrumental, as he kisses women at the edge of the stage before disappearing to glad hand the punters at the expensive tables. Everyone in the audience seems delighted, but five decades on, it looks tacky and reeks of the kind of glib slickness that informed many a Rat Pack performance in the same city.
The reference to `dreams of yesterday' hits home hard during `I Can't Stop Loving You'. But he still has a phenomenal voice and the crowd erupts at the end of this number because he's put his back into it and evoked memories of the trucker from Tupelo, Mississippi who shook Eisenhower's America out of its smug suburban lethargy. He retains his focus during the Country inflected `Just Pretend' and (now wearing a maroon-edged suit) remains in good voice for measured renditions of `I Just Can't Help Believing' and `In the Ghetto', although the latter rings more than a little hollowly, considering the location and the affluence of listeners whose collective conscience won't have felt a pin prick during the performance.
Clearly invigorated by his newer material, Elvis makes plentiful use of the famous winding arm movement during `Patch It Up' before he elicits beams and screams for a version of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" that doesn't come close to the emotion achieved by Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield as The Righteous Brothers. He's more interested in thrusting and pumping his arms during `Polk Salad Annie', but rips into `One Night' with gusto (between gulps of orange squash).
Having turned `Don't Be Cruel' into another kiss me kwik number, Presley jaunts through `Blue Suede Shoes', which contains a reedy guitar solo that emphasises how skewed the shows were towards the vocals and that nothing was to distract from the man in the spotlight. As a consequence, for all the proficiency of the accompaniment, it lack personality and further distances Elvis from the more musically adventurous acts standing on his shoulders. How different it might have been if Colonel Tom Parker had said no to Leo the Lion and found his prodigy a producer of the calibre of George Martin. Phil Spector or Lamont Dozier and the Holland brothers.
Following a cursory trot through `All Shook Up', we get an emotionless rendition of `You Don't Have to Say You Love Me' before he threatens to spoil the musical highlight of the show, `Suspicious Minds', by sidling over towards the backing vocalists and going `boo!' This is a shame, as the orchestra horn section kicks in to the arrangement some depth and drive and Presley's pugnacious `Luck Be a Lady' dice roll action spurs everyone on. He has everyone in the palm of his hand, but he's the only one in the room not in awe of Elvis Presley. Consequently, he's only able to give his fans a glitzy experience rather than share his music with them, as he had during the sit-and-strum segment of the Comeback Special.
One of the loveliest songs in the entire Presley repertoire, `Can't Help Falling in Love', is tossed away at the curtain, which he can't resist twitching to give the fans a last glimpse. There doesn't appear to be an encore, but we see clips of him meeting Grant, Davis and other notables at the after party, to which he wears his famous black leather jump suit. It's all smiles and backslaps, as the showbiz elite congratulates itself on another landmark event. But it ain't rock`n'roll and it's easy to see why Presley would be content to let the people come to him rather than hit the road and present such an anodyne show to folks who would demand some heart and soul for the hard-earned price of their ticket. They're also missing from the audiences in Robert Abel and Pierre Adidge's Elvis on Tour (1972).
While competing in a talent show, the priests of Craggy Island did a spot-on mickey take entitled `The Three Ages of Elvis', with a Father Jack playing the Vegas version with a fag dangling out of the corner of his mouth and a multi-stacked burger in his hand. He's far from that stage yet, but only seven short years separates this gig and 16 August 1977, when Elvis left the building for good. Consequently, it's impossible to watch the 1970 cut of this documentary without a tinge of sadness, as the die had been cast. The 2001 version removes some of the audience interaction and includes a few more songs, a fitting case of `Elvis Loses His Excess', as it were. But the album of the same name is superior to either variation of the film.
There's a cruel irony in taking Presley back to MGM to rehearse, as his raw talent had been pared down while making the mostly mediocre movies that kept him away from direct comparison with the guitar bands and soul combos that had dominated the Swinging Sixties. Some say he was never the same after he was called up by the US Army. but it was his readiness to conform in a way that fellow pioneers Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and Little Richard refused to do that transformed Elvis from a dangerously subversive swivel-hipped purveyor of the devil's music into a family friendly entertainer. He kept his wonderful voice to the end, but Elvis lost sight of what made it and him so special and it's beginning to show in this fitfully thrilling, but mostly dispiriting record of a country boy being subsumed by his myth.