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A monthly focus on the profound impact of film. Independent art historian, writer and curator Dr. Ian Massey selects and writes about his three titles



Foreign Correspondent (1940) Alfred Hitchcock 

"One of a handful of films that made a strong impression on me as a youngster, Foreign Correspondent is a rousing call for solidarity in the face of escalating fascism in Europe. Predating America’s entry into WWII following the attack on Pearl Harbour, it is said that Goebbels considered the film: ‘a masterpiece of propaganda’. Its main protagonist, played by the endearingly handsome Joel McCrea, is crime reporter on a New York newspaper, suddenly reassigned as foreign correspondent to report on fast-developing events overseas. He travels to Amsterdam where, in one of the film’s most memorable scenes, he witnesses the assassination of Van Meer, the leader of the Universal Peace Party and: ‘the key figure in European politics’. It is teeming with rain as Van Meer alights from his car and starts to ascend the wide flight of steps of the Peace Palace, watched on either side by spectators sheltering under a sea of massed umbrellas. As he reaches the top a cameraman steps out to photograph him, immediately shooting him with a concealed handgun before then escaping in the ensuing melee, the intrepid McCrea in pursuit. It’s all brilliantly orchestrated, and constitutes one of several highly arresting and memorable scenes. Watching Foreign Correspondent again more recently I concluded that, at 120 minutes, it is in fact too long; nor can the film be classed amongst Hitchcock’s very best. But for all that, it is highly entertaining, and if you’ve yet to see it I would certainly recommend it for your consideration."

The Man who Fell to Earth (1976) Nicolas Roeg

I left school in 1972, during the summer of Ziggy Stardust, and played David Bowie’s album so many times that its vinyl came near to self-destruct. As applies to so many of my generation, Bowie was for me a crucial, inspirational figure: idolized as performer, songwriter, and bewitchingly enigmatic presence. His androgynous beauty, and the apparent ambiguity of his sexuality came as a bolt out of the blue in Seventies Britain. As for Roeg’s film, I saw it alone at a Stockport cinema soon after its release, and was enthralled by it. Bowie, whose skills as an actor have sometimes been debated, but which I personally rate rather highly, is here a piece of genius casting. Based on Walter Tevis’s novel (which surely sold in shiploads upon release of Roeg’s film), Bowie plays Thomas Jerome Newton, the eponymous man who fell – an alien who comes to earth seeking water for his drought-ridden home planet, and who it proves is never able to return. Shot in New Mexico, like its star The Man who Fell to Earth is a work of high artifice. It’s a film of unsettling juxtapositions, jump-cuts, screens within screens, mashed-up technologies, all of which enhance an underlying sense of disquiet and violence. And Bowie, here in his late twenties, was still very much in the imperial phase of a five-decade career that, following his far too early demise, continues to resonate so powerfully amongst those of us for whom he remains an unforgettable force.


Far From Heaven (2002) Todd Haynes

In lesser hands, this glorious film might have proven merely a pastiche of the Eisenhower era genre of so-called ‘women’s’ films’ to which it is both homage and critique. Specifically, Haynes’ film is based on the melodramas of director Douglas Sirk; films such as Magnificent Obsession (1954) and All That Heaven Allows (1955), both starring Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman; and Imitation of Life (1959) with Lana Turner and John Gavin. From its opening sequence onward, everything here is pitch perfect; Edward Lachman’s cinematography, Elmer Bernstein’s score, Sandy Powell’s costumes, etc. Set in 1950s suburban Connecticut, the film centres on an ostensibly happy and successful nuclear family. Julianne Moore is Cathy Whitaker, housewife and mother to a young boy and girl, and Dennis Quaid her advertising executive husband Frank. Quaid’s character is though gay, his turmoil leading him initially to seek aversion therapy. As the narrative develops, he meets and falls in love with another man, an event that leads to marital breakdown and then ultimately to divorce. Moore’s character meanwhile develops a friendship with her black former gardener’s son, resulting in her ostracism from the circle of fellow housewives for which she is an admired role model. What Haynes does here with such mastery, is to lift the lid on the social prejudices – of gender, race, class and sexuality – that simmered beneath the immaculate surfaces of the post-war American Dream. Such themes, certainly those around race and gender roles, were often played out in Sirk’s films too, though homosexuality was an unspoken bridge too far. Far From Heaven meanwhile is a masterpiece.

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