Eraserhead (1977)

Where’s it on?  Blu-ray

null
Eraserhead (1977)

Eraserhead must be high up on any list of the most distinctive debut features ever made. ‘Made’ is perhaps the wrong word though for a film that feels like it bubbled up out of David Lynch’s id, a nightmarish palpitation that became a hit on the midnight movies circuit of the 1970s. Lynch had worked his way up to it through a series of off-the-map shorts (which are collected as extras on this new Criterion Blu-ray), yet arrived so fully-formed as a feature filmmaker that anyone going back to this from Twin Peaks or Mulholland Dr. will find many of his favourite motifs and obsessions already present and correct – the rumbling soundscapes, the flickering bulbs, the zigzag carpets. And it’s Jack Nance, an actor who crops up in nearly everything Lynch has done, who takes centre stage as Henry Spencer, the meek loner with electrocuted hair who fathers a wailing, mutant child. Shot in crepuscular black and white in a grindingly hellish industrial setting (inspired by Philadelphia), it remains a unique collision of horror and the avant-garde that comes closer to simulating the logic of bad dreams than almost anything else before or since. 

Apostasy (2017)

Where’s it on?  BBC2, Saturday, 10pm

The TV schedules haven’t always been friendly to contemporary UK cinema, so the newly announced run of 7 premieres of bang up-to-date British films on BBC2 between now and Christmas is refreshing news. Promising “fresh perspectives on UK life and experience”, each film – most of which come straight from release this year – is being shown with an introduction from a UK film critic and gets a primetime Saturday slot, in a Moviedrome-style approach that should work wonders to help bring these indie offerings to wider audiences. Each of the films in the season will be available for free on BFI Player and BBC iPlayer for a month after broadcast. First up is Apostasy, Daniel Kokotajlo’s piercing drama set amid a community of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Oldham that brought the debut director a BAFTA nomination back in 2018. It’s the oldest film in the season but fits the brief in offering a gripping glance into a pocket of British life that we don’t often see on our screens. Tackling faith, guilt and familial love with bruising immediacy, Apostasy’s focus is 2 sisters whose bond is tested when one of them becomes pregnant out of wedlock and is shunned by the community.

A Star Is Born (1954)

Where’s it on?  BBC2, Saturday, 13:20

null
A Star Is Born (1954)

BBC2 also offers a chance to wallow in this iridescent highlight from the golden age of movie musicals. The second of the four versions of A Star Is Born to date, this is the one with Judy Garland as the young ingénue in Hollywood whose career is given a leg-up by matinee idol Norman Maine (James Mason). The two fall in love, but as her star rises, his hits the doldrums. Very different from the giddily colourful MGM musicals of the time, this epic Warner Bros production is shot through with melancholy and a remarkably penetrating treatment of alcoholism, heartbreak, fading dreams and desperation. There are big numbers – Garland gets one for the ages in ‘The Man That Got Away’ – but it’s the drama that hits hardest, placing A Star Is Born in a run of early 1950s films (from In a Lonely Place to The Bad and the Beautiful) that cast a bitterly sceptical eye over the dream factory. Sadly, the Beeb is showing the truncated release version, which Warner chopped down from the version that premiered, meaning a couple of key scenes are missing. If you’ve only seen the Lady Gaga-Bradley Cooper update though, consider this essential viewing.

A Hole in Babylon (1979)

Where’s it on?  BBC iPlayer

null
A Hole in Babylon (1979)

There’s a line of thinking that goes that the smartest and most innovative British drama of the 1970s wasn’t happening in cinemas but on the small screen, in the long-running series Play for Today that aired on the BBC between 1970 and 1984. Excepting the slot’s most famous offspring – the early Mike Leigh films Nuts in May and Abigail’s Party among others – this run of TV plays has been difficult to see since, although that’s now changing with various 50th anniversary celebrations of the strand, including a new Blu-ray boxset and a cinema season. Out of nowhere this week, BBC4 also aired Horace Ové’s A Hole in Babylon for the first time in more than 40 years, apparently having forgiven the headaches that Ové’s film caused the broadcaster back in 1979. With 1975’s Pressure, Ové had been the first black Briton to direct a feature film, and his work on Play for Today found him continuing to explore the stark realities of black British life on screen. Yet the empathy with which he delves into the backgrounds of the 3 men who held up a Knightsbridge restaurant in the notorious Spaghetti House siege of 1975 caused uproar. Infamously, the BBC refused to sell on rights to the US, stating “we are not going to sell a film… about a group of black hooligans.”

Cinema Paradiso (1988)

Where’s it on?  Selected cinemas nationwide

It’s a poignant time to be seeing Cinema Paradiso back in theatres. Nothing else feels so certain to conjure immense affection for the cinemagoing experience like this juggernaut of what’s off-puttingly known as ‘foreign-language film’. Giuseppe Tornatore’s tearjerker about a young Sicilian boy’s friendship with a projectionist, scored to one of Ennio Morricone’s most affecting themes, is a love letter to the experience of picture-going that struck a chord around the globe on its original release, winning prizes at Cannes, the Academy Awards and the BAFTAs. Not all of us fell in love with movies while coming of age in an idyllic Mediterranean village, yet the film’s evocation of the potent magic that the medium can work on young minds proved difficult to resist – not least during that celebrated sequence in which all of the kissing scenes that were snipped by local Catholic censors are spliced together for an illicit showreel of passion.