The Big Trail (1930)
Where’s it on? Saturday 7.30pm, Talking Pictures TV
A 23-year-old John Wayne landed his first credited role as trapper Breck Coleman in Raoul Walsh’s epic, The Big Trail. One of the first sound westerns, it tells of a caravan’s journey from Mississippi out west. Shot by the pioneering cinematographer Arthur Edeson (Frankenstein, Casablanca) in both 35mm and 70mm as an early experiment in widescreen filmmaking, it’s a lavishly textured spectacle, brimming with life. The sheer size of the cameras forced Walsh’s stylistic hand, emphasising the vast landscapes in extraordinary long takes that feel quietly radical. What the episodic structure lacks in narrative drive it more than makes up for in the inhabited textures of trail life, with background players seemingly ripped from the photographic chronicles of Carleton Watkins.
The Proposition (2005)
Where’s it on? BFI Player
Captured in the opening minutes, Irish criminal Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) is given a proposition to save himself and his younger brother from the noose of Ray Winstone’s Morris Stanley, an army captain hell-bent on ‘civilising’ his arid corner of the Australian outback. He’s to bring his older brother (Danny Huston) in, a mad-dog killer hiding out in the hills. The screenplay by Nick Cave tips its wide-brimmed hat to Apocalypse Now (1979) early, as Winstone’s Stanley stares out across the red dust. “Australia. What fresh hell is this?” he mutters to himself, before sending Pearce out on his own Kurtz-like mission. Director John Hillcoat follows the modish aesthetic template for western revisionism, piling on the grotesquerie and moral degeneracy. It’s at its best when critiquing the violent colonial mindset through its images, and whenever John Hurt’s on screen.
Where’s it on? Sunday 11.15am, Talking Pictures TV
While we wait for the British weather to finish its extended period of procrastination, we can leech some vitamin D from a viewing of David Lean’s minor key marvel, Summertime. A favourite of the director’s among his own films, this mid-50s beaut, shot on location in Venice, is leagues away from the vast canvases of his later epics or the Victorian chills of his earlier Dickens pictures. Cinematographer Jack Hildyard captures the floating city with an achingly romantic eye, all the better to counterpoint the underlying sense of yearning and loneliness felt by Katherine Hepburn’s solo traveller. A film of urgent, halting connections and dismayed expectations.
Where’s it on? Netflix
If you’re looking for a horror film set in a boarding school run by a cabal of satanists that isn’t the rubbish remake of Suspiria (2018), head to Netflix for February (aka The Blackcoat’s Daughter), the directorial debut of Osgood Perkins (son of Psycho star, Anthony), which belatedly hits the streaming platform this week. Perkins evinces a less-is-more approach to his scares, favouring atmosphere and a keen sense of space over easy jumps in a manner that ought to appeal to fans of Ti West (The Innkeepers, 2011). From narrative chronology to location and performance, everything is just that little bit off, contributing to an uncanny sense of dread and unease. His second feature, I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (2016), has been on Netflix for some time and makes for a great double-bill from a filmmaker well worth keeping an eye on.
Where’s it on? Eureka Blu-ray
The words ‘singular’ and ‘visionary’ get bandied about a lot these days, but if ever a recent release were worthy of such description it’s Rainer Sarnet’s November. Shot in silvery black and white, and set in a mud-caked Estonian village, it’s a potent, phantasmagoric brew of pagan and Christian superstitions. Chief among them are the kratts, evil spirits forged from bladed tools and animal bones in a feat of lo-fi FX, summoned by the locals to serve the corrupt whims of their respective masters. Throw in a werewolf, some black magic and wood-dwelling demons, and you’re still not even half way there. November is no postmodern genre lark, but it is wickedly funny. Imagine a shared fever dream between Béla Tarr and Aleksey German, for starters. Singular? Visionary? Just see it.