The Hill (1965)

David: When a military prison devoted to regimentation, correction and the rebuilding of wayward units fails to manage its own, the hierarchy of power turns upon itself. As those who covet power scramble to avoid responsibility the repercussions twist and twist again into a Rubic’s cube of blame and counter blame. We salute the departing Sean Connery with this not-quite-obscure-but-lesser-known anti-Bond vehicle directed by Sydney Lumet.

Jules: A rare pleasure for those interested in well-constructed plots and characters who are just complex enough to support the dramatic conceit. Adroit and affecting work from all, especially Connery.

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Byzantium (2012)

Jules: Is it possible to make a film about vampires that is not a vampire film? The genre is perennial, with familiar tropes that filmmakers endlessly adjust to achieve varied ends. Power, class struggle, sex, death, eternal life and eternal damnation; each theme intersects vividly across the genre. Neil Jordan seeks transcendence for his antiheronies, from their plight, and their genre within film, with some success.

David: At the heart of many a vampire story sits the dramatic tension between desire or love and the hunger to devour, and next to that the ultimate existential question – would immortality be a prize or a curse? Neil Jordan’s third foray into romantic horror and his second vampire-duo story (after Interview With The Vampire – 1994) this time with a gender flip, wanders among some interesting themes, though perhaps with more convolution and less art than it could have done.

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The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968)

David: A black satire perhaps running overlong with other ideas, The Charge of the Light Brigade presages a spate of dark, disillusioned and memorably bleak films from the following year 1969. What does this say about the realities of 1968? The swinging 60s was as dead as the Summer of Love and it appears the young boomers came out of it a cynical lot. This telling of the famous, doomed, British cavalry charge takes us through the production of cannon fodder, from street  urchins to gold-buttonned mounties of imperial glory and – with one blunder from overconfident under-experienced aristocrats of bought rank – riders into the valley of death. A reminder that war is most famous for its disasters. A stellar 60s British cast is present, featuring what must be Trevor Howard’s greatest role.

Jules: Is warfare a matter of duty, ambition, or efficient management? Tonal confusion meets tragicomedy in this anti-war epic.

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Spirits of the Dead-Toby Dammit (1968)

Fellini takes us to the finish in this Poe triptych.

Jules: Many films depict deals with the Devil at the time the deal is done. Fewer – like Fellini’s contribution to this anthology – depict the Devil arriving to collect. But does Fellini’s contribution satisfy?

David: Fellini, usually so generous, has rarely been so impenetrable. Is Toby Dammit’s flight to Rome hijacked and diverted to Hell? Or is he really in Rome and finds the experience sufficiently overpowering that he literally loses his head? What is the nature of his tryst with the Devil? Do we watch him getting more than he bargained for, or is this all a payment? And was the prize stardom? A Ferrari? Or just release?

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Spirits of the Dead-William Wilson (1968)

Part Two of the Vadim-Malle-Fellini moral ménage à trois.

Jules: One is accustomed to thinking of oneself as having a dark side; implying that one is essentially good. But what if one discovers that one is the shadow, repeatedly assailed by the light?

David: Does the shadow have its own shadow? Does a remorseless psychopath have a suppressed or intermittent conscience, or none at all? What if they were one day confronted by one?

Sound isn’t perfect. We skyped this one.

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Spirits of the Dead-Metzengerstein (1968)

Part one of a 3-in-1 Edgar Allen Poe anthology, baton passed between directors Vadim, Malle and Fellini.

Jules: Are soulmates real, even if one or more of the parties behave soullessly? What is the price to save one’s soul, once it is lost? Roger Vadim and his beautiful entourage seek answers beneath the surface of things.

David: A tragic ghost myth? A seminal precursor to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not? Or both, plus a costume repurposing opportunity from the immediately prior intramarital collaboration by Vadim and Fonda, Barbarella ?

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Matriculated (2003)

Jules: Whether or not machines can, should, or will become self-aware are perennial debates in the field of artificial intelligence. They are perfectly capable of performing any number of tasks without it, and it’s unclear how one might go about installing or eliciting it in a machine. Peter Chung of Aeon Flux fame engages in these questions by way of the interaction between human agents and a killer machine that has been trapped in a virtual world.

David: If a human can be shocked into awakening from the dream-seduction of the matrix, can a machine also be awoken? And if woken can it be turned? How to do that? Via a counter-seduction? Can the machine be lured from its role of anti-insurgent into a more agreeable motivation and agency to which it can choose allegiance? Is this an awakening from autonomic slumber or just a matriculation from one dream into another?

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The Parallax View (1974)


Jules: If politics is theatre, and the public are the audience, and the affairs of the day are the script, who are the writers, and where do the actors come from? Can the actors perceive the truth they are playing a role in a work they have mistaken to be their own lives? What if they should?

David: Considered part of Alan J. Pakula’s “paranoia trilogy”, along with Klute (1971) and All the President’s Men (1976), The Parallax View is a reporter cum detective story surveying the creation of homegrown chaos agents and fall guys of obscure origin, or what we refer to today as terrorists. This birthplace seems to be a rabbit hole so deep and tortuous that exploring it, you might find yourself turning into the perp without even realising. Can the great conspiratocracy  recruit even its enemies? Are we all in some way doomed to be recruited by a machine that no one is even driving?

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Baraka (1992)


Jules: What does spirituality mean if the only reality is physical? Does it connote anything more than aesthetics; the appropriate appreciation of a natural setting, or artistic conceit? Does it mean anything more than a type of experience that is unusual in some way, perhaps due to a drug? Baraka reaches for an answer to these questions, among others; but does a spiritual reality lie behind its images and sounds? And what would, or could, that mean, at the end of the second millennium?

David: In this second part of our survey of the human condition, we move from HG Wells’ s 1930s to a voice from the 1990s with no words. Rather than an obvious narrative, Baraka paints a canvas, bringing into focus piece by piece an image that turns more and more of its facets to the light but doesn’t really progress. As if it were less a film than a mandala, a shrine or a temple, it could serve it’s purpose equally well on an eternal loop with an audience free to come and go. Perhaps referencing its own form, Baraka queries the value of advancement over stillness and contemplation. But we’re not invited  to contemplate the void so much as observe ourselves within it. Do we value simply being? Or only uncertain notions of betterment?

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Things To Come (1936)


David: We embark on a two part examination of the human condition, beginning with the movie of H.G. Wells’s 1933 novel of imagined future history. This modernist manifesto posits that humanity is distinguished from the animals by little more than ambition and the march of progress. There seems to be no alternative for us but onward, onward to the stars. Wells begins his fable with war, disaster and rebirth, perhaps meaning to describe the arc of civilsation from a fresh beginning, but also expressing pessimism about progress as the early 20th century defined it – sandwiched as it was between two world wars. Though inspired by the promises of science, Wells is perhaps poignantly aware that a shark-like need for forward motion down a one way street may harbour the seeds of its own doom.

Jules: What distinguishes a desire to change one’s local world in some aspect – access new sources of fresh water, say – and a desire to transform it entirely? Is crisis always a requirement for such transformations? If the management of crisis is an essential part of statecraft, what rules out crisis-creation as a moral method of change?

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