The crown jewel in the archive selection this year is the BFI’s pristine restoration of J.B.L. Noel’s overwhelming 1924 documentary, The Epic of Everest. It’s one of those films where the sheer audacity of what’s being filmed, as opposed to any technical prowess, is what really impresses. And when the intertitles (it’s silent, of course, though outfitted with a gorgeously minimalist new score from Simon Fisher Turner) announce that a particular shot is brought to you using a revolutionary telephoto lens, that’s quite an achievement. Though no words are spoken, and faces barely seen, it’s hard not to become enthralled in Noel’s recounting of their journey through Tibet and up the mountain, with breathtaking long takes of some passages of the mountain gripping in the simplicity of distant figures precarious movements. Andrew Irvine and George Mallory died in the attempt, a tragedy captured in a climax that combines painful distance – the camera could only be taken so far up the mountain – with melancholic intertitles that seem to reach out through time. The BFI restoration is released in the UK this weekend, with a detailed DVD and Blu-Ray release sure to follow – in any format, it’s an awesome experience of an extraordinary expedition.
Charlie Cox (remember him?) in Hello Carter plus two more new films after the jump...
The title of Hello Carter instantly recalls the Michael Caine-starrer Get Carter, but the contemporary sheen here introducing an altogether more fluffy object, one that kind of accidentally happens on being streetwise as opposed to consistently matching the wild bass of SBTRKT, who feature throughout. Still, it’s a score choice that instantly got me on board, matched intricately with the gorgeous London skylines. If nothing else, Hello Carter ‘gets’ London - gets the awkward frisson of the tube and the dissipate layout of the bars. If unemployed hero Carter (Charlie Cox) impractically takes a cab to perform an apparently simple errand, we have to forgive it for the presence of the classical music-loving cabbie. Hello Carter melds realistic locale and fanciful moments of coincidence, leading to a quietly pleasing little film bound to excite precisely no one. That isn’t really a criticism; Hello Carter is the sort of genial entertainment it’s hard not to like, but that welcoming spread also means it can’t really stimulate anything enough to provoke love or hate. The romance, between Carter and Jenny (Jodie Whittaker, softly enigmatic as ever), is decidedly low-key; the stakes, where Carter accidentally kidnaps the baby son his ex-girlfriend’s brother Aaron (Paul Schneider) has never actually met, are almost comically redundant. It’s hardly a surprise to learn that the film’s been expanded from a short, although for the most part, lengthening it hasn’t removed the swiftness of the piece. It’s a zippy, light piece of entertainment that’s worth joining for a quick drink after work.
"Have you thought about where you’re gonna live?" Purposeful words playfully kick off Blackwood, and naturally, the rather sinister title matches the new home: a large, aging mansion with an enormous forest behind it. This is a haunted house chiller as you’ve seen many times before. It obviously wants it that way for a while, establishing a staccato regime of shocks as family man Ben Marshall (Ed Stoppard) becomes more obsessive and erratic. Blackwood positions itself somewhere between chilly horror and psychological thriller, relying on Ben’s apparent history of mental illness to escalate things more quickly. Sadly, Stoppard’s performance is entirely too overwrought to involve the audience in his delirious quest for the truth, and, perhaps more disappointingly, the shocks are almost uniformly weak. The looping and repetition is part of the narrative drive, but when they’re as straightforward and telegraphed as these (booms on the soundtrack are like instructional flashcards in this genre), vainly reaching for creepy with some carved owls, the shocks wear out their welcome as soon as they arrive. There’s absolutely no invention here bar the admittedly intriguing twist, but even that ends up bungled by a psychological leap so abrupt you’ll be spinning faster than the saucepan lid on the kitchen floor. Even if it’s selling itself as a generic ghostly horror, the scares are unusually timid ones.
A house of a different sort is at the centre of Joanna Hogg’s latest, Exhibition, previously covered by Glenn right here, which comes with a title both misleading and opaquely fitting. It closes with a dedication to architect James Melvin, who both lived in and designed the intricate modernist house that forms the centre of this chilly, oddly enthralling film. D (Viv Albertine), a performance artist, communicates with artist husband H (Liam Gillick) mostly through intercom, shunning his bedtime interests and nervously fretting when he leaves the house. They’re selling up, and the idea of leaving the place that’s become such a huge part of her artistic development seems to put D on edge. When she feints a collapse to escape dinner with the neighbours, you sense it’s mostly so she can return to the house. Yet there’s a perpetual sense of menace to the film, too, and whether it’s from the noises of London outside or from D’s peculiar devotion to the house (she wraps herself around its corners and under its tables), Hogg’s mastery of mood is as precise as ever. Albertine and Gillick’s freshness as actors gives D and H’s marriage an extra sense of fragility, as if neither quite understands the other. As with her previous films, Unrelated and Archipelago, Hogg may displease those in search of something more concrete, but the pleasure here is in the constant promise of action, the intensity of scenes without payoff.