Words by Melanie Xulu
With a lot of us stuck at home and with more spare time on our hands during these scary and uncertain times, I’ve compiled a list of films I always seem to find myself returning to, from Walkabout to Withnail & I. Hopefully there are a few things amongst this list that can make your self-isolation slightly more interesting. Stay safe lovely MOOF readers, we’ll see you very soon.
Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (Jaromil Jireš, 1970)
One of the last gems to come out of the Czechoslovakian new wave; based on the 1935 novel by Vítězslav Nezval, Valerie and Her Week Of Wonders is a haunting and surreal fairy tale with enchanting soundtrack by Luboš Fišer. A must see for lovers of Daisies (1966) or folk-horror such as Blood On Satan’s Claw (1971).
Arcadia (Paul Wright, 2017)
“Once upon a time in the heart of the British countryside…” A fast-paced trip through rural Britain using a mix of archival footage from the early 20th century to present day. Utterly striking, moving and even quite sinister in places. Arcadia is hugely relevant to our times, a must watch. Original music by Portishead’s Adrian Utley and Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory.
Tam Lin (Roddy Mcdowall, 1970)
A hidden gem, based on the Scottish fairy ballad ‘Tam Lin’, a wealthy older woman (Ava Gardner) uses witchcraft to toy with her young jet-set friends and lovers. A strange mix of folktale and black magic meets campish 60s mod and swinging sixties excess. Beautiful cinematography and a score composed by Stanley Myers and folk band Pentangle.
Lucifer Rising (Kenneth Anger, 1972/1980)
Anger’s legendary short film – which took 14 years to complete – depicts a series of ceremonies and rituals, summoning the angel Lucifer to usher in the new occult age. Filled to the brim with Egyptian mysticism and Thelemic philosophy, this experimental film is bewilderingly magical. Starring Marianne Faithful as Lilith, and a soundtrack by Manson Family member Bobby Beausoleil (original Jimmy Page soundtrack was released in 2012 on ‘Lucifer Rising and Other Sound Tracks’.)
Dante’s Inferno (Ken Russell, 1967)
Ken Russell’s depiction of the life of Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his troubled relationship with wife Lizzie Siddal, and his art. If you can get past some of the clumsy acting (Russell chose to use untrained actors), this dark and morbid documentary style biopic is a must watch for anyone with an interest in the Pre-Raphaelites.
Penda’s Fen (Alan Clarke, 1974)
Commissioned by the BBC as part of their Play for Today series, Penda’s Fen follows the story of a vicar’s son struggling with his identity, sexuality and religion – the troubled adolescent encounters composer Edward Elgar, angels, and King Penda himself. Set on the Malvern Hills, the TV play hones in on our pagan past while exploring delicate themes.
Space Is The Place (John Coney, 1974)
Afrofuturist sci-fi starring composer/poet/visionary Sun-Ra as himself, who winds up on a planet called the Arkestra, then returns back to Earth to encourage the young black community to return with him to Outer Space, where they can really exist, as “alter-destiny” posits, in “a zone where racism is inoperative, where blacks can make their own destinies”. This space age blaxploitation is as mad as it is political.
The Singing Ringing Tree (Francesco Stefani, 1957)
Made by the East German studio DEFA in 1957 as a film, and shown in the form of a television series by the BBC in the 1960s. The Singing Ringing Tree is based on a variation of ‘Hurleburlebutz’ by the Brothers Grimm. Lovely, whimsical and completely bonkers.
The Virgin Suicides (Sofia Coppola, 1999)
Sofia Coppola’s directorial debut based on the book by Jeffrey Eugenides. The film follows the lives of five young sisters in suburban Michigan. This teen flick explores adolescence, sexuality and suicide. A 90’s classic, not forgetting to mention the dreamy soundtrack by Air.
Walkabout (Nicolas Roeg, 1971)
Another cult classic. Walkabout is a film of adventure and survival, a teenage girl and her younger brother from the city find themselves stranded in the outback and meet an Aboriginal boy who shows them how to survive. Beautiful and moving, a very special film.
The Shout (Jerzy Skolimowski, 1978)
Underrated British horror starring a host of famous faces such as Tim Curry and John Hurt. Set in rural North Devon, musician Anthony (John Hurt) and his wife (Susannah York) have a strange guest to stay who has an obsession for dark Aboriginal magic and claims he can kill a person with a mystical shout. Scored by Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford of Genesis.
Withnail & I (Bruce Robinson,1987)
“We are indeed drifting into the arena of the unwell…” A British cult film, two unemployed actors go on holiday “by mistake” to the Lake District where they stay in the cottage of Withnail’s eccentric uncle Monty. Highly quotable, great music, brilliant script, who doesn’t love Withnail & I? In quarantined times, we could all do with a bit of black comedy.
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