The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971)
Where’s it on? Screenbound Pictures Blu-ray
If Hammer Studios ruled the roost when it came to British horror in the 1960s and 70s, and Amicus Productions were the anthology-loving pretenders to their throne, then Tigon were the ultra-low budget upstarts scrambling for a slice of the action. Needless to say, despite their budgetary deficiencies, Tigon were behind the best British horror film of the era in Michael Reeves’ Witchfinder General (1968), with a strong case to be made for them being behind the second best too. Piers Haggard’s The Blood on Satan’s Claw may not possess the earlier film’s brute force nihilism, but it does make for a tasty accompanying B-side to a 17th century genre double, another fine example of Tigon’s fiscal limitations being used to great advantage. Gorgeously restored from a new 4K master, it’s essential viewing for those who like their satanic rites served in all manner of cod West Country accents.
Where’s it on? Talking Pictures TV, Sunday
The reputation of Sam Peckinpah’s 1978 trucker comedy isn’t great. We’re a long way from The Wild Bunch (1969) or Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973), but there’s more than enough going on in this CB radio romp to justify its spot on our list. Any student of editing likely has the complete Peckinpah filmography memorised, but Garth Craven and John Wright’s work on Convoy is especially beautiful, even while lacking the thematic power present in the filmmaker’s best work. The plot isn’t worth paying much attention to (ditto its half-arsed take on commerce and individualism). Better to kick back and soak up the poetry of motion: the symbolic charge of those steel rigs slicing through the American landscape.
We the Animals (2018)
Where’s it on? In cinemas and on BFI Player
It didn’t take long for comparisons between Jeremiah Zagar’s fiction debut We the Animals and Best Picture winner Moonlight (2016) to emerge, surfacing shortly after the former’s Sundance premiere last year. It’s a comparison that Zagar’s film bears well, dealing with the emergent sexuality of his marginalised protagonist. Shot largely on Super 16mm by Zak Mulligan, it’s beautifully textured, sharing a visual poetry and magic-realist flourishes with Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life (2011), both films following three young brothers as they negotiate their parents’ turbulent marriage. Less ambitious than Malick’s masterpiece, perhaps, but with the unaffected performances he ekes from his cast and empathetic approach to his characters’ conflicts, Zagar remains a filmmaker well worth keeping an eye on.
Where’s it on? In cinemas
While films about artists are a dime a dozen, many collapse in their attempts to capture the artistic process itself – the actual making of a work of art – reverting instead to psychological, biographical turmoil as facile dramatic equation. Jacques Rivette’s La Belle Noiseuse (1991) and Victor Erice’s The Quince Tree Sun (1992) are a pair of notable exceptions that come to mind, to which slim pickings we can now add Charlie Paul’s quite remarkable documentary, Prophecy. Glaswegian artist Peter Howson takes us from blank canvas to New York gallery in less than 90 minutes; his is the only voice we hear for almost the entirety of the film. On the one hand a frank detailing of personal demons and how they inflect and infect the process, on the other a meticulous study of an artist at work, as rich in technical detail as it is in humanity.
Rolling Thunder Review: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese (2019)
Where’s it on? Netflix
While it may have begun as a sidebar to his career as a fiction filmmaker, the substantial body of documentary work that Martin Scorsese has since amassed proves more than an exercise in moonlighting. If nothing else, his latest makes a fierce argument for his fiction and non-fiction work to be considered inseparably. Scorsese had already tackled the career of Bob Dylan in his superlative 2005 doc No Direction Home. For his new film, which hit Netflix this week, he returns to a specific period in the icon’s life on the road. Charting Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue, a series of low-key gigs in small venues that Dylan shuttled between across 1975-76, the film soars in its stage performances, largely taken from the singer’s self-directed folie de grandeur, Renaldo and Clara (1978). On the surface, the doc appears to be a straightforward mix of concert footage, backstage shenanigans and talking head interviews, but Dylan proves a slippery custodian of his own history, mythology and essential unknowability – which Scorsese, like any good disciple, is more than happy to indulge. One of the best films of the year, half the fun comes from wondering how large a pinch of salt to take it all with.