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BFI Cult Film Releases

by Ian Johnston Rating: Release Date:

Two more unjustly overlooked cult British movies from the 1960s, both of which in their own fashion reflect the changing attitudes towards sex and masculine and feminine parity in the UK during that turbulent decade, finally receive DVD/Blu-ray release this month: Lunch Hour (1962) and Joanna (1968), both on the BFI Flipside label. Both DVDs are released on April 25 2011. BFI's DVD issue of The Valley (Obscured by Clouds) is out now.

Lunch Hour

Director James Hill's self-contained drama Lunch Hour (1962), stars Shirley Anne Field and Robert Stephens as a couple beginning an affair. Shirley Anne Field (Beat Girl, Peeping Tom, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, The Entertainer) gives a highly memorable, fierce performance as a young artist/designer on the brink of an affair with an amiable yet weak-willed married male executive (Robert Stephens) at the company where she works. The short (the picture is only 63 minutes long), black and white film, based on the play by John Mortimer, surprisingly supports the aspirations for autonomy - freedom from an unsuitable male companion, domestic drudgery and other people's visions of how she should live/behave - harboured by Shirley Anne Field's nameless Girl. It was perhaps John Mortimer's guilt over his turbulent relationship with his first wife, author Penelope, a marriage shattered by his numerous adulteries and her writer's block, that shaped such a 'feminist' work, With a tightly focused narrative telling the story of an illicit lunch-hour assignation in 'real-time', this is an elegant and highly charged story of deception, seething anxiety and sexual discord. On just the evidence of Lunch Hour alone, the wonderful Shirley Anne Field should have definitely enjoyed an even more successful career than the one she actually attained. The great British poet Philip Larkin famously wrote, "sexual intercourse began in 1963…. Between the end of the Chatterley ban and The Beatles first LP", but in Hill's 1962 film, sharply influenced by the French New Wave, we see the early stirring of female discontent and rebellion that shaped the course of the 'sexual revolution' during that decade and beyond.

Also included on the disc are director James Hill's charming colour British Petroleum shorts, which were first shown in cinemas, then with the advent of colour television in the UK in the late 1960s, enjoyed a second life as trade test colour films on TV. These BP pictures include Skyhook, about a helicopter and its crew working in the harsh jungle of Papua New Guinea searching for oil and the 1959 Oscar-winning short Giuseppina, about a young Italian girl who observes various characters who pass her father's petrol station. Giuseppina was the last trade test colour film to be broadcast in August 1973. Much-loved by viewers, these vibrant, likeable films from a bygone age have found appreciation amongst aficionados of so-called 'Trade Test Transmissions', and have never been previously released in any format.

Joanna

Arguably, and most surprisingly, Mike Sarne's 1968 debut feature film Joanna is perhaps the best current Flipside reissue release. Seventeen-year-old Joanna (energetically played by the Genevieve Waite) is cool, stylish, and single-minded in her goal to begin a new life as an art student in swinging 60s London. Played with gusto by the squeaky mouthed Waite, Joanna enjoys the pleasures of casual sexual encounters, wistful, colourful daydreams and an impromptu trip to Morocco with the shrewd and suave Lord Peter Sanderson (delightfully played by Donald Sutherland, despite the fact that his plumy 'upper class' accent wavers around the mid-Atlantic). But when Joanna falls in love with Gordon (Calvin Lockhart), from Sierra Leone, her life begins to get very complicated. Featuring Scott Walker's evergreen rendition of Tony Bennett's bittersweet 'When Joanna Loved Me', a breezy score and songs by Rod McKuen and numerous fabulous 60s fashions, Joanna is like a time capsule of the period, frozen in time for future generations to look at in awe. That the sardonically humorous film also contains, for the time, pertinent comments upon mixed-race sexual relations (the film was banned in South Africa upon its release), racism, police harassment and some observations on the consequences and inherent sexism of 'the permissive society' is remarkable.

Director Mike Sarne began acting in the early 1960s and achieved a certain level of celebrity when his 1962 debut single, 'Come Outside' with the late Wendy Eastenders Richards, went to number one in the UK charts. Sarne turned to writing and directing in 1966 basing Joanna upon the lifestyle and recollections of a former art student girlfriend. After Joanna, Sarne went on to direct the controversial and underrated sex change drama Myra Breckinridge (1970), based upon the satirical novel by Gore Vidal. The Flipside DVD release also includes Sarne's rarely-seen Road to Saint Tropez (1966), the amusing short 'ant- travelogue' that earned him a million dollar budget to make Joanna from Richard Zanuck of Fox, featuring the great Udo Kier - of Paul Morrissey's/Andy Warhol's Flesh for Frankenstein (1973) and Blood for Dracula (1974) infamy - in his first screen role, and the little-known Death May Be Your Santa Claus (1968) directed by Frankie Dymon Junior, who appeared as a Black Power militant in Godard's Sympathy for the Devil, and went on to release the ultra-rare psychedelic album 'Let It Out' in 1971.

The next BFI Flipside titles are to be released in July: Deep End (1971), starring Jane Asher, 1971) and featuring the magnificent Can soundtrack composition 'Mother Sky', and Requiem for a Village (1975) by David Gladwell, editor of If…. and O Lucky Man!

The Valley (Obscured by Clouds)

Also recently released by the BFI is the arresting 1972-second feature film by director Barbet Schroeder, whose other pictures include Barfly (1987), Reversal of Fortune (1990), Single White Female (1992) and the documentaries Idi Amin Dada (1974) and The Devil's Advocate.

Viviane (an excellent Bulle Ogier), a bourgeois diplomat's wife, encounters a captivating traveller (Michael Gothard) and his hippie companions in the depths of the Papua New Guinea jungle. The group, lead by the unfathomable seer Gaetan (Jean-Pierre Kalfon), persuade Viviane to become part of their expedition, searching for a strange uncharted valley deep in the heart of the interior of the country. During their journey into the exotic unknown, during which the hippies encounter the indigenous Mapupa tribe, Viviane becomes increasingly detached from her previous safe, chic lifestyle and becomes even more obsessed than her companions with reaching the very limits of experience. Schroeder just about manages to mix his keen eye for detail as a documentary filmmaker with his Paul Bowles influenced drama, producing an offbeat study of cultural difference and obsession.

As in his previous feature More (1969), Schroeder, the son of a German geologist, raised in Iran and educated in France at the Sorbonne, Paris, where he was awarded a degree in philosophy, utilised the talents of Pink Floyd to provide a soundtrack to the film. The Floyd score is undeniably magnificent (eventually released as the album Obscured by Clouds). Suitably soaring, awe inspiring and ominous, Pink Floyd's soundtrack is the perfect accompaniment for Schroeder's symbolic depiction of the very end of the hippie dream to return to nature and the sheer impossibility of that reverie. The score is also highly significant for the band, as it marked the end of their own questing, experimental period before their monumental crossover success with the multi million selling Dark Side of the Moon album.

The disc has numerous extras, including digitally restored optional ending of the picture, three Schroeder documentaries about the Mapupa tribe, featuring an examination of their striking ceremonial make up and the preparation of the feast of pigs with sweet potatoes. Vegetarians should look away now. The lavish 26-page booklet contains an essay, Childhood's End by Rob Young, which gives a detailed account of the making of the legendary Pink Floyd score.

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