All those Moments once lost in time…

momentsMoments, 1974, 93 mins, Blu-ray

Final film of the excellent Pemini Organisation boxset from Indicator is their swansong, the strange and dreamlike Moments– and again, another rather bleak piece. Maybe it was Britain in the 1970s, but its curious how Hunted was pretty grim (depressed middle-aged man threatens woman with shotgun in order to force the police kill him), Assassin was even grimmer (depressed middle-aged man weary of killing for money suffers midlife crisis) and now we have Moments, in which Peter Samuelson (Keith Michell), a depressed middle-aged man revisits a coastal town of happy childhood memories before intending to commit suicide. Pemini weren’t doing comedies, were they? Its rather odd that they thought there would be a market for such stuff, although I gather from the supplements included that they were making films they wanted to make rather than considering how commercial their projects might be. On the one hand, that’s a rather endearing approach, I think all film enthusiasts would wish it were like that with all films, but its obviously not the reality of film-making today, and probably hardly the case even back then.

The funny thing is though, that quite often its the uncommercial films that stand the test of time, long after the trendy stuff has become largely forgotten and these three Pemini films in this boxset likewise have something a little ‘off’ about them that fosters some interest, and I’ve spent the last few days mulling over them endlessly: these films stay with you. 

Moments is a strange one though, and one has to stick with it. Initially some plot developments seem terribly contrived but subsequent reveals and twists actually explain themselves, while a final revelation proves so disorientating it could almost be described as Lynchian in how it pulls the rug from under viewers. I’m not entirely certain that last one entirely works, it endangers frustrating viewers as they are rendered confused, reconsidering everything they have just seen even as the titles start to roll. Intellectually it works but I’m not certain its actually fulfilling in any way, which rather counters a film being entertaining. Maybe its little wonder the simple life-affirming pleasures of Star Wars so shook cinema up in 1977.

Moments went on release in 1974 alongside Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, a curiously fitting double-bill and I’ve been considering how THAT double-whammy might have been digested on a cold Autumn evening in my local ABC cinema. Not that many took the opportunity of that curious experience, as IRA bombings in Birmingham during the same week in November that the films opened ensured that few people risked public spaces, and cinema takings for weeks fell through the floor (another nail in the Pemini coffin). Well, someday I’ll have to try recreate that pairing of Moments and The Conversation at home, and see what kind of sleep I get afterwards. 

So anyway, as regards what Moments is about- its tricky to get into it very much without slipping into spoiler territory, which I’m loathe to do especially with such slow-burn films as this that are possibly defined by the first-time viewing experience. Suffice to say that Peter Samuelson, for reasons that eventually become clear, has returned to The Grand Hotel at Eastbourne, location of pleasant childhood holidays, to reflect on happier times before shooting himself in the head (were guns easier to obtain in 1970s Britain, they appear in each of the three Pemini films?). Just as Peter is about to squeeze the trigger, he is interrupted by another of the few other hotel guests, Chrissy (Angharad Rees) a beautiful and vivaciously energetic young woman who proceeds to latch onto Peter. They strike up an unlikely friendship and bond over the next day or so, the film slipping into a pleasant character/relationship piece that films just did so much better back then.

Rees is marvellous, I was really taken by her bubbly, energetic performance as Chrissy which counters the deliberately stiff, understated Peter so well; she’s as uninhibited as he is inhibited, and while it feels a little ‘off’ how she seems attracted to a strange older man, subsequent reveals as I have noted tend to reassure and nullify most any disbelief. I thought she was marvellous, frankly- the heart and soul of the film and likely one of the reasons this film will get future watches. It strikes me as particularly sad that a film as lost as this one has become contains such a lovely performance – I’m used to writing about film immortality, performances frozen in time to be savoured and enjoyed by everyone for decades, but some films really do fall into obscurity, and many are lost. Moments only survives in a 35mm distribution print held at the BFI National Archive (from which this restoration has been made) and SD tape copies owned by Peter Crane and Michael Sloan which were used to substitute badly damaged frames in the 35mm print. To consider nobody has seen this film in decades? 

peminiWhich might be the enduring legacy of this Indicator boxset, that it returns to public viewing three lost British films which so richly deserve attention. I’ve really enjoyed this set; the 80-page book is a very good read, and as I work my way through the commentaries and featurettes/interviews my appreciation only gets greater. Indicator has achieved something really special here; I guess I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff but all the same, I’m sure most who take a punt on it will find it satisfying. This might be one of the very best boutique releases of the year; sure, there are bigger names, more popular films getting luxury home video releases this year, but this one does feel special, particularly as we move further into a diminishing physical media market.  Not for the first (or surely last) time I have to say, bravo Indicator.

Hands of the Ripper (1971)

HANDS-OF-THE-RIPPER-landscapeA sobering thing about watching these old Hammer films (or any old movie, but I mention Hammer in particular as I’ve been watching Hammer films lately on the Horror channel) – it is easy to look the film up on the internet whilst watching it,  look up the cast. You read someone’s whole career in a simple filmography list, or their whole life summed up in a concise paragraph or two, even as they perform in the movie before you. Perhaps they had a long and glittering career ahead of them, or maybe this was as good as it got and only obscurity awaited them afterwards. It adds a poignant weight to the film when you realise that Angharad Rees, so young and beautiful in this film, died  aged just 68 in July last year. Or Eric Porter died in 1995 aged just 67, or Derek Godfrey in 1983 aged just 59. You realise you are watching dead people on the tv screen, that they exist only on those timeless images locked into the film being watched, that strange cinematic brand of immortality graced upon all actors and film-makers. For Hands of the Ripper the unseen world beyond that film set is 1970/1; I probably well know the events in that world beyond the film set, the music being played on radios, the television shows popular at the time. It is 1970/1; Angharad Rees here is 27 forever, a life and career unknown to her still ahead of her, summed up on the tablet screen before me: two marriages, two children, a career chiefly successful in television, a later career as a shop-owner and jewellery designer. Yet on the tv screen in this film, forever a young unfortunate character haunted by the deeds of her father, Jack the Ripper (the French title of the film literally translates as ‘The Rippers Daughter”, probably a better title).

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Hands of the Ripper may be a minor footnote in the long list of Hammer films, originally released as part of a double-bill with the far more successful (notorious?) Twins of Evil, but it is certainly worthy of examination and reappraisal.  The performances are universally excellent, turn-of-the-century London is brought to life with excellent production quality, and the script has a sophistication that belies the rather fantastic (albeit original) plot. Historical horror of the real Ripper murders is coupled with psychological theories, a sympathetic character and sudden, quite shocking violence featuring strong gore for the time (one of the nastiest Hammer’s of the time, I’m sure). Its a heady mix indeed.

Angharad Rees plays Anna, who as an infant witnessed the brutal death of her mother at the hands of her deranged father, the infamous Jack the Ripper.  Now a troubled young woman who has blocked-out her traumatic memories, flashbacks triggered by objects such as glittering jewellery catching the light cause her to fall into a trance-like state during which she acts as if possessed by the Ripper himself, killing anyone near her.  Dr. John Pritchard (Eric Porter) believes she is not truly guilty, and protecting her from the police takes Anna into his house hoping to cure her disturbed behavior by using hypnotic therapy. Of course, he doesn’t bargain on Anna’s murderous rages resulting in a steadily-increasing headcount.

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The weird thing about this film, is that although its one of the later Hammer films which are generally  ill-thought of, and indeed may not be a title familiar to horror fans, its actually really quite good. Not as richly gothic as Hammer’s earlier output, or as sexy/camp as other Hammer films of its period (The Vampire Lovers, Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde), its successful for what it aims to be, and the cast is earnest and effective. Angharad Rees is particularly good as Anna; she is doomed from the start and shares a similar pathos to that of Frankenstein’s monster, we feel sympathy for her even though she is the instrument of all the death and gore. She is an unwitting innocent caught up in a horror she cannot escape from, the madness of her father. The Ripper himself is a presence unseen other than in the violent prologue, a nameless mystery that hangs like a phantom over the proceedings.  Indeed,  part of Dr Pritchard’s fascination with Anna is of discovering the identity of the Ripper, whose mystery and infamy still haunts London. Pritchard’s over-confidence in his ‘radical’ psychological theories, influenced by Sigmund Freud, blinds him  to the true cost of what he is doing by protecting Anna from the authorities.

Perhaps the only miss-step for the film is with the rather oddly understated climax set in the whispering gallery at St Paul’s Cathedral, but it is well-staged and has an eerily-effective score that amplifies the tragedy that unfolds. As far as the rest of the film is concerned, the screenplay is tight and well-paced,  and our feelings for Anna remain after her  date with Destiny. Was she ever truly guilty, and does Dr Pritchard ultimately fail her? Is the Ripper triumphant? As is frequently the case with Hammer’s best films, there is a sophistication and thoughtfulness here that belies the general reputation that the films are held in. Certainly, this is a better horror film than I expected it to be.