Sisters with Transistors (2020)
Where’s it on? Digital platforms including BFI Player
That’s a great title for an engrossing documentary showcasing female pioneers of electronic music. Lisa Rovner’s film tackles a series of giants in roughly chronological turn, telling an under-recognised history of women who’ve been at the forefront in innovations in synthesised sound. Sisters with Transistors takes in those British legends of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram. There’s Bebe Barron, the avant-gardist whose work went overground when she co-wrote Hollywood’s first electronic score, for the 1956 sci-fi Forbidden Planet. By the time we reach later figures like Suzanne Ciani, Eliane Radigue and Pauline Oliveros, a trend is self-evident: these women were all united in their curiosity, sense of adventure and belief in the liberating potential of electronic sound. All despite a backdrop of aesthetic conservatism in which, often, their creations were not even deemed to be music. For just short of 90 minutes, we dip into their inspiring stories, awash in a soundtrack of blips, drones and sine waves.
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Straight Shooting (1917) / Hell Bent (1918)
Where’s it on? Blu-ray
Anyone exploring the prolific work of John Ford might watch 50 of his films before coming to his feature debut – 1917’s Straight Shooting. It’s not just that it’s been hard to see, but that debuts in those antique days were more likely to be apprentice works than the you’ve-got-one-shot-at-this attention grabbers they are today. But watching this century-old film on Eureka’s pinprick-sharp new Blu-ray proves a revelation. All of Ford’s trademark eye for the big landscapes of the American west is there for the taking in the stunning opening shots alone. In the story of a gunman (early Ford regular Harry Carey) who switches allegiances to help a family of farmers fight off aggressive ranchers, there’s also an intriguing 40-years-ahead foreshadowing of shots and themes from Ford’s most famous film, The Searchers (1956). The Eureka set teams Straight Shooting with his similarly rare and no less enjoyable Hell Bent from the following year. Astonishingly, Ford finished more than half a dozen features (many now lost) in-between the two.
Where’s it on? Film4, Sunday, 11.25pm
His later digital films like Miami Vice (2006) and Public Enemies (2009) have their evangelists (hi!), but in the general order of things this three-hour crime epic from the mid-1990s may end up being the benchmark Michael Mann movie. At the time of release, there was much ballyhoo about Heat being the film that finally brought acting giants Al Pacino and Robert De Niro on screen together – albeit only for a short but now legendary café encounter. Pacino was the cop, De Niro was the robber – there’s always been something perfect about it. But Mann’s film is much more than its method showdown. It’s a cat-and-mouse chase elevated to almost classical proportions; a weighty crime saga in which the portentous themes are grounded in novelistic detail and Mann’s extraordinary feel for action unfolding in real spaces. Witness that broad-daylight bank heist that spills out onto the streets of downtown Los Angeles with an electrifyingly present-tense sense of danger. Film4 is showing it on Sunday.
Drifting Clouds (1996)
Where’s it on? BFI Player
Here’s a rather more lugubrious treat from the mid-90s. Drifting Clouds is the first film in Finnish auteur’s Aki Kaurismaki’s wonderful Finland trilogy – it was later joined by The Man without a Past (2002) and Lights in the Dusk (2006). They’re not narratively linked, but actors recur and a sad-sack tone and style runs through. Drifting Clouds centres on a married couple – a waitress and a tram driver – who both lose their jobs in quick succession. Too proud to take welfare payments, they set about finding new work, but nothing goes their way. Misfortune follows misfortune. It’s a bleak set-up for a movie, all unravelling against a backdrop of recession. But the odd resilience of individuals amid the cruel ironies meted out by an unbending universe is what Kaurismaki is all about. His situations are dour and depressing, but you often come out of a Kaurismaki film with your cockles somehow warmed regardless. Drifting Clouds is a great place to get a taste for them.
I Start Counting (1970)
Where’s it on? Blu-ray
School girls are being bumped off by a serial killer stalking the Bracknell burbs in this dawn-of-the-70s thriller. Jenny Agutter’s nervy 14-year-old begins to think the perpetrator might be her older adoptive brother. She’s seen scratches on his back and a pullover with blood stains on it. David Greene’s film is as much a portrait of the mysteries of adolescence as it is a whodunnit. Agutter made this in between her career-making turns in The Railway Children (1970) and Walkabout (1971). She expertly captures the sense of a girl on the cusp of adulthood, grappling with co-existing fear and desire for a man who may be a killer. The woozy title song and score by cult musician Basil Kirchin key us into her dreamy, naive perspective, while the film’s clash of old and new architectural styles suggests the subtextual theme of violent transformation. I Start Counting is another valuable rediscovery in the Flipside series.