Michael Brooke

December 16, 2008

Screenonline in December

Filed under: Screenonline — Michael @ 12:35 pm

BFI Screenonline has just updated its homepage, the main feature showcasing the British short films of silhouette animator Lotte Reiniger. I wrote pieces on The Tocher (1938), The H.P.O. (1938), Aladdin and the Magic Lamp (1953) and The Frog Prince (1954).

I also wrote about a striking Topical Budget newsreel from 1923, poking fun at Germany’s declining economy (this was mere weeks before hyperinflation would devastate it).


December 11, 2008


Filed under: Viewfinder — Michael @ 10:07 am

The December 2008 issue of Viewfinder, the journal of the British Universities Film & Video Council, includes a cover feature (pages 6-9) in which I look at the 75-year history of the BFI’s educational activities.

December 1, 2008

Sight & Sound January 2009

Filed under: Sight & Sound — Michael @ 10:02 am

The January 2009 issue of Sight & Sound has been delivered, and includes the following pieces under my byline:

  • ‘The weight of the world’ – this month’s lead review, of Béla Tarr’s The Man From London (pages 54-55, and also online)

plus these individual DVD reviews:

  • Cinema 16: World Cinema Shorts (page 93)
  • Fighters/Real Money (pages 93-4)
  • Mad Detective (page 94)
  • Wim Wenders Documentaries (page 95)
  • Missing (page 97)
  • The Hourglass Sanatorium (page 98)

November 30, 2008


Filed under: Conferences — Michael @ 9:35 am

From Wednesday 26 to Saturday 29 November, I was in Warsaw attending the Common Heritage – Polish traces in international film archives (Wspólne dziedzictwo – polonica w archiwach światowych) conference. This was organised by the Filmoteka Narodowa – Poland’s national film archive – and involved bringing representatives from various international film archives together to present what the Filmoteka called ‘Polonica’: Polish elements (individuals, stories, subjects, locations, cultural sources) occurring in otherwise foreign films, the only stipulation being that they had to have been made before 1945. (The Filmoteka’s website has an overview in Polish, and a video of the opening day’s presentations – the one from 3:50 to the end is in English.)

The primary purpose of this exercise was to come up with an alternative moving-image history of Poland to replace the one that had been destroyed during World War II (although the tireless efforts of Polish film historians have retrieved some 75% of 1930s features, the bulk of the country’s silent, short, non-fiction and experimental output is believed lost for good), though there were inevitable drawbacks along the way. The most obvious was that the presentation of Polish elements was often dictated by the ideology of the film-producing country – so in early 1920s Soviet films they were evil bourgeois capitalist landowning oppressors of heroic Ukrainian peasants during the 1919-21 Polish-Bolshevik war, while in 1940s British films they were unimpeachably heroic and upstanding defenders of not just their nation but also Britain. While the second portrait may have been more palatable to the conference hosts, it was ultimately just as one-sided.

Seven archives took part, based in France, Germany, Israel, Russia and the UK. I represented the BFI National Archive, and screened three examples of the above-mentioned WWII propaganda (Picturesque Poland, 1941; The Poles Weigh Anchor and The Call of the Sea, 1942), along with a record of a famous 1934 Polish mountaineering expedition (Polska wyprawa na Andy) and a Gaumont Graphic newsreel of the actual Polish-Bolshevik War. The Imperial War Museum and its French counterpart ECPAD showed more war footage (some of it amateur), the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive showed inescapably haunting amateur films of Jewish communities in 1920s and 1930s Poland, and two whole days were given over to the German and Russian contributions, since there was so much relevant material lurking in the vaults of the Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv, the Deutsche Kinemathek Museum für Film und Fernsehen and Gosfilmofond, even if the portrait of Poles was often less than flattering. Significant exceptions: Paul Leni’s debut Dr Hart’s Diary (1916) and a fascinating 1914 Russian adaptation of Juliusz Słowacki’s novel Mazepa – the source of Walerian Borowczyk’s much better known Blanche (1970).

All in all, it was a fascinating experience, and I very much hope that it will become (as intended) an annual event. In the medium term, the Filmoteka is producing an official conference publication, for which I’ve agreed to write a chapter.

November 18, 2008

MovieMail in December

Filed under: MovieMail — Michael @ 12:38 pm

The December 2008 MovieMail catalogue arrive in today’s post, complete with three new pieces that they commissioned from me on the subject of Sergo Paradjanov’s last two features, Wojciech J. Has’s The Hourglass Sanatorium and Andrei Zvyagintsev’s The Banishment.

A facsimile of the print catalogue can be read here.

November 12, 2008

Screenonline in November

Filed under: Screenonline — Michael @ 10:21 am

BFI Screenonline has just updated its homepage. I had little to do with the main feature (a survey of British short films), though it recycles my piece on Ken Russell’s Amelia and the Angel.

On the other hand, I was entirely responsible for one of the main supporting features, a 30th-anniversary tribute to the BBC Television Shakespeare project, for which I wrote not only the introduction but entries on 29 individual plays (I’ve watched, and still plan to write up, all 37). Despite the cycle’s wobbly reputation, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of many of the productions – I suspect much of the ire it attracted stemmed from the fact that the better-known plays (As You Like It, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest) generally received the dullest productions, thus distorting the overall impression. Conversely, the less familiar plays (All’s Well That Ends Well, Cymbeline, the Henry VI cycle, Henry VIII King John and Measure For Measure) came across far more effectively, perhaps because there was less of an established theatrical tradition to respect. That said, not even Jonathans Miller and Pryce could do much with Timon of Athens, one of Shakespeare’s weakest efforts.

My other new work includes a quartet of British Transport Films – Berth 24 (1950, the unit’s debut), Journey Into History, Dodging the Column (both 1952), Geoffrey Jones’s Locomotion (1975) – and a couple of Topical Budget newsreels: Strassburg Monument (1914) and Burgomaster Max (1921).

October 31, 2008

Sight & Sound December 2008

Filed under: Sight & Sound — Michael @ 11:44 am

The December 2008 issue of Sight & Sound has just landed on my desk, and includes the following self-penned pieces:

  • ‘That loving feeling’ – this month’s lead review, of Djamshed Usmonov’s To Get To Heaven First You Have To Die (pages 48-49, and online)
  • Book review of Peter Hames’ (ed) The Cinema of Jan Svankmajer: Dark Alchemy (page 93)

plus these individual DVD reviews:

  • Eureka (page 85)
  • The GPO Film Unit Volume 1: Addressing the Nation (page 85)
  • The Living End (page 86)
  • Films by Max Ophuls: Caught and La Ronde (page 87)
  • Pleasures of the Flesh (page 87)
  • Red Desert (page 87)
  • Tigrero – A Film That Was Never Made (page 87)
  • J’Accuse (page 89)

October 22, 2008

Red Desert

Filed under: MovieMail — Michael @ 9:12 pm

A new MovieMail catalogue entry, for Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert. They also commissioned a piece on Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep, but that seems to have been delayed.

October 16, 2008

Night Train

Filed under: Kinoblog — Michael @ 11:33 pm

I’ve just published a review of Jerzy Kawalerowicz’ psychological suspense thriller Night Train (1959) on Kinoblog.

Screenonline in October

Filed under: Screenonline — Michael @ 6:00 pm

The new Screenonline homepage was launched earlier today, with yours truly responsible for two major features.

The first is a survey of the feature film output of the BFI Production Board, with an overview and individual entries on A Private Enterprise (1974) and Anchoress (1993).

The second is a look at the career of screenwriter-producer-director Sidney Gilliat, better known as one half of the longstanding Launder and Gilliat partnership. Geoff Brown wrote the career overview, but I wrote most of the individual entries, including Rome Express (1932), Seven Sinners (1936), Millions Like Us (1943), Waterloo Road (1944), The Rake’s Progress (1945), I See A Dark Stranger (1946), Captain Boycott (1947), London Belongs To Me (1948), The Happiest Days of Your Life (1950), The Story of Gilbert and Sullivan (1953), The Belles of St Trinian’s (1954) and The Green Man (1956).

My other new material this month is a piece on Norman McLaren’s dazzling hand-drawn animation Love on the Wing (1938).

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