Psycho (1960)

Where’s it on?  Blu-ray

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Psycho (1960)

We’ve got an all black-and-white selection this week in honour of two big modern monochrome releases at the cinema – more on those below. Let’s start though with a round of ‘Happy Birthday’ for one of the most famous and influential films ever made. It’s 60 years this week since the first release of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and – not ones to miss out on a major anniversary – Universal Pictures have issued a new 4K Blu-ray edition, including the extended uncut version originally seen in cinemas back in 1960. Ground zero for the slasher movie, Psycho was a knight’s move for Hitchcock after the lush Technicolor thrills of Vertigo (1958) and North by Northwest (1959). Energised by the fleet-footed possibilities of TV while working on his series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Hitch shot Psycho quickly and on a far lower budget than he was used to, also opting to film it in newspapery black and white. Next to his svelte 1950s classics, the aesthetic is more like a grim x-ray. Audiences queued around the block back in 1960, and there’s still nothing to beat it.

La Haine (1995)

Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide

Hitchcock had a small and unremarked upon influence on La Haine too, with debut director Mathieu Kassovitz borrowing Vertigo’s discombobulating dolly-zoom effect for a shot that frames his 3 protagonists against an optically shifting Paris backdrop. La Haine is Kassovitz’s explosive drama of the Paris banlieues (suburbs), following Vinz (Vincent Cassel), Hubert (Hubert Koundé) and Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui) over a 20-hour period in the aftermath of a night of rioting and violent police crackdown. Hitch might have inspired a shot, but it’s Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989) that provided the template for depicting a day of escalating inner-city unrest. Reissued to cinemas this week for its 25th anniversary, Kassovitz’s film still thrills in its livewire depiction of life in the projects, and its themes of racial tensions, police brutality and tinderbox urban discontent slot dispiritingly well into 2020.

The Painted Bird (2019)

Where’s it on?  Cinemas nationwide and BFI Player

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The Painted Bird (2019)

The week’s other big-screen black-and-white experience is Václav Marhoul’s The Painted Bird. Not for the faint-hearted, this 3-hour epic follows the episodic and gruelling travails of a young Jewish boy trying to return home to his parents through the forests of war-torn eastern Europe. Adapted from Jerzy Kosinski’s 1965 novel, it’s an infernal vision of war comparable to Come and See (1985) or a medieval depiction of hell, though shot in often startlingly beautiful images that offset the sombre heaviness in the manner of Tarkovsky or Béla Tarr. Stellan Skarsgard, Harvey Keitel and Udo Kier are among the more familiar faces who pop up in cameo roles in a film that has the scale befitting an international co-production. Its brutality has been causing walk-outs since its Venice premiere last autumn, and it arrives on these shores (delayed from its planned spring release) with an already notorious reputation as an endurance test of cruelty. Those images though…

Men in War (1957)

Where’s it on?  Talking Pictures TV, Sunday, 1.40pm

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Men in War (1957)

The Korean war inspired a handful of tough, essential Hollywood war movies in the 1950s and Anthony Mann’s Men in War is one of the toughest. Mann is best remembered for his cycle of westerns with James Stewart, but brings the same keen eye for the topography of a landscape to this tense tale of a patrol that’s left isolated in enemy territory after the rest of their division is forced to retreat. Robert Ryan plays the beleaguered lieutenant, doggedly intent on leading his men to safety. He brings proceedings a hard-bitten sense of desperation, while a lack of resources behind the scenes – the Pentagon condemned the film’s depiction of an unruly platoon, so military equipment wasn’t forthcoming – inspired the usual resourcefulness in Mann, who creates an oppressive feeling of isolation with minimal means. The gravelly black-and-white photography is by Ernest Heller, who once shot Gone with the Wind (1939) and many more besides.

Thursday (1961)

Where’s it on?  BFI Player

The wild card in this week’s selection is this very early 8mm work by Nobuhiko Obayashi. Long before he made his entry into feature films with the loopy haunted house classic Hausu (1977), Obayashi spent the 1960s rubbing shoulders with Tokyo’s experimental underground, finding his filmmaking feet with a run of itchily inventive 8mm and 16mm films. Thursday is a 19-minute short about two young lovers picnicking in a forest that plays like Obayashi trying to remake Jean Renoir’s pastoral classic Partie de campagne (1936) in the pop-art manner of Jean-Luc Godard’s then-hot-off-the-press Breathless (1960) – jump cuts and all. His career-long fascination with the aching emotions of youth is already in evidence here; likewise his taste for disruptive camera effects. It’s a mute film that flickers past like a daydream, before ending gnomically with the epilogue: “And so although that incident may have or may not have happened, Thursdays recur for eternity and the days that are tedious for the youth endlessly repeat themselves.”

Originally published: 11 September 2020