That’s it for another year; the BFI London Festival has rolled up its red carpets and vacated Leicester Square. The shorter festival has flown by quickly and provided much to see. Here are a few highlights of the festival from Lisa Balderson.
Beware of Mr Baker, USA-South Africa 2012
Dir. Jay Bulger 92min
For those of you who have never heard of the drumming legend that is Ginger Baker, think of him as a complex mixture of the following parts; two parts genius percussive talent, one part Keith Richards and one part Animal from the Muppets, top with a splash of Ron Weasley and you just about get the perfect Ginger Baker cocktail. For those of you that have heard of him, he certainly needs no introduction. Baker started his drumming career in London jazz clubs as a teenager. He went on to achieve notable, but short lived success with the band Cream and was further involved in projects with everyone from African music legend Fela Kuti, to collaborations with bands such as Public Image Ltd. Director Jay Bulger has been brave in selecting the subject for his documentary. Baker is not an easy person to get along with and as the film delves into his past relationships, it’s surprising that any of those that have agreed to provide talking heads, have done so at all. But part of the beauty of this intimate documentary is the fact that it’s Director and subject seem to antagonise each other so completely that it fuels the story of this ageing rocker all the more, you get to see Ginger Baker in his natural state, however dislikable that may be and however painful for the Director that may become (and I do mean painful!). A fascinating insight into the world of a dislikable man, with a phenomenal talent
Starlet, USA 2012
Dir. Sean Baker |Starring Besedka Johnson, Dree Hemingway 104min
It’s hard to believe that 85 year old Besedka Johnson (who plays Sadie) hasn’t appeared on screen before. She floats through the film effortlessly, as if she has done this all a hundred times before and is simply adding the role of another tough old broad to her CV. But first time role it is and not just for Johnson, but also for her twenty-something co-star Dree Hemingway (who plays Jane), who is equally impressive. The chemistry between these two women is remarkable; their characters are polar opposites, randomly brought into each other’s lives at a yard sale. Jane is a young, seemingly vacuous, wannabee porn star and Sadie, an old, worldly wise widow who has seen it all before, yet retains a wonderful air of innocence about California lifestyle that surrounds her. It’s an unlikely friendship that is tested to the limits throughout the film. Jane is clearly looking for a deeper connection than the one that involves getting high and playing video games with her housemates whilst Sadie, though suspicious of Jane at first, comes to rely on the company of Jane and her tiny dog Starlet. This is a wonderfully understated film, focusing very intently on the relationship between these two women and the roles that they come to play in each other’s lives; a distinct contrast between the world of adult films and the world of the relationships of adults.
Caesar Must Die, Italy 2012
Dir. Paolo & Vittorio Taviani |Starring Cosimo Rega, Salvatore Striano, Giovanni Arcuri 76min
Admittedly, I am not a fan of Shakespeare. I find his plays quite lengthy and fussy and so wouldn’t often go out of my way to watch a film based on one of his plays, but with Caesar Must Die the viewer is offered something a little bit different. The renowned Taviani brothers have taken a group of long term prisoners in a maximum security jail, just outside of Rome, and asked them to rehearse and perform Julius Caesar for a public audience. We follow the process from the auditions, where we meet the prisoners; we are introduced to their crimes (which range from drug trafficking to murder) and learn of the resulting sentences. Some of these men have been imprisoned for more than twenty years. Switching from colour (for the public performances) to black and white (for the rehearsals) the filmmakers have staged the prisoners rehearsal scenes everywhere from cells, corridors and the prison library, to the outdoor exercise yard where prison officers watch over the inmates as they act out the famous scenes and even let the tightly scheduled yard time run over, so that the scenes can be completed. It’s a documentary that is somewhat staged, the prisoners being put through their paces is perfectly set, lines are not forgotten, nobody misses their cue, but there might be the occasional punch up between cast members or an emotional moment when the script reflects, too closely, a prisoners real life. These men are vulnerable and emotional, despite being hardened by their time inside. The film is a clever experiment and it’s easy to forget that the men involved are imprisoned for such serious crimes. The resulting public performance, applauded with standing ovation, rewards their efforts before they are walked back to their cells.