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Parky at the Pictures (In Cinemas 14/6/2012)
It all seems to be going right for Mads Mikkelsen at the moment. Shortly after being named Best Actor at Cannes for his performance in Thomas Vinterberg's The Hunt, he landed the role of Hannibal Lecter opposite Hugh Dancy's Will Graham in a new American TV series based on Thomas Harris's flesh-fancying serial killer. Yet, while he is best known to international audiences for his portrayal of the villainous Le Chiffre in Daniel Craig's James Bond debut, Casino Royale (2008), Mikkelsen is an established star in his native Denmark and was, therefore, the natural choice to headline Nikolaj Arcel's A Royal Affair as German physician Johann Friedrich Struensee, who exploited his position treating mentally unstable 18th-century monarch Christian VII to seduce his dispirited British spouse, Queen Caroline Mathilde.
Opening in 1775, as Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander) writes to her estranged children, Frederick and Louise Auguste, from her exile in Celle Castle in her brother George III's Hanoverian territories, the action flashes back nine years to the teenage princess's arrival from London to discover that not only is her suitor, Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard), completely disinterested in her, but he is also psychologically fragile and utterly under the control of his manipulative stepmother, Dowager Queen Juliana Maria of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel (Trine Dyrholm), and his scheming tutor Ove Høegh-Guldberg.(David Dencik). Nevertheless, Caroline succeeds in producing an heir and tolerates the king's childish outbursts and the cold indifference of a court populated by self-seeking aristocrats who compete for favours while paying little heed to the plight of the serfs on their neglected estates.
In 1768, Christian embarks upon a year-long grand tour of Europe and progressive nobles Count Schack Carl Rantzau (Thomas Gabrielsson) and Enevold Brandt (Cyron Melville) dupe him into becoming reliant on Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mikkelsen), a doctor from the Danish-controlled town of Altona who has the medical skills to moderate Christian's moods and the personal charm to gain his confidence. Moreover, he also has an overweening ambition to put into practice the Rousseauian ideas that he has published in a series of anonymous tracts. Thus, he accompanies the entourage to Copenhagen, where he quickly makes an impression on the lonely Caroline, with whom he conspires to coax Christian into playing an acting game that involves him presenting reforms to his intransigent legislative council in the form of a prepared script.
Arcel and co-scenarist Rasmus Heisterberg exaggerate Caroline's role in the emancipation of the peasantry, the introduction of freedom of speech, the building of public hospitals, the abolition of censorship, torture and capital punishment for theft and the overhauling of the taxation system to ensure that both the nobility and the clergy became liable. Yet the sequences depicting this 10-month period when 1069 cabinet orders were issued (as the rate of three per day) are among the most exhilarating in the film, as Mikkelsen claims a seat on the council and becomes increasingly dictatorial in his attitude towards a monarch who, himself, may not have been quite the shill that history has suggested.
Somewhat inevitably, this unconventional triumvirate soon finds its enemies massing and Juliana and Guldberg make cynical use of the new powers of free expression to spread rumours about the nature of Struensee's relationship with the queen. Consequently, when she gives birth to a daughter, it is widely assumed that Christian is not the father and the reactionaries move quickly to secure a divorce and bypass the king to topple the now isolated Struensee, who was executed with Brandt for the usurpation of royal power on 28 April 1772.
Although it was the subject of Victor Saville's The Dictator (1935) - which starred such British stalwarts as Clive Brook as Struensee, Madeleine Carroll as Caroline, Emlyn Williams as Christian VII and Helen Haye as the Queen Mother - this seismic period had never previously been filmed in Denmark. Executive produced by Lars von Trier, it inspires an epic tale of infatuation, ideology, intrigue and vested interest that benefits from exceptional production design and costumes by Niels Sejer and Manon Rasmussen and lavish visuals by Rasmus Videnaek that are always more controlled than Gabriel Yared and Cyrille Aufort's sonorous score.
Arcel also directs steadily, without departing too far from the conventions of the heritage picture. His screenplay is occasionally declamatory and the bookending epistolary device emphasises too early for those unfamiliar with the saga the doomed nature of Caroline's Danish sojourn (she would die soon afterwards at the age of just 23). Nonetheless, the performances are admirable, with Vikander ably conveying the queen's trusting naiveté and Mikkelsen exuding a dynamic blend of Enlightenment decorum and megalomaniac zeal. However, the romantic spark isn't always evident, with the result that both Mikkel Boe Følsgaard (who won the Best Actor prize at the Berlin Film Festival) and Trine Dyrholm are frequently able to steal focus as the unpredictable king and his ferocious guardian.
An enigmatic stranger also proves key to Reha Erdem's Kosmos. Few got to see My Only Sunshine (2009), the Turkish auteur's follow-up to the arthouse hit, Times and Winds (2006). But this magic realist drama has more in common with the former's poetic and provocative, but overly elliptical and enigmatic study of a free-spirited teenager than with the latter's more acclaimed Taviani-like memoir of growing up in a remote rural village.
Opening on a vast snowscape, the action centres on Sermet Yesil, as he flees unseen pursuers and earns the undying gratitude of teenager Türkü Turan by not only fetching her younger brother out of a raging river, but also resurrecting him with a firm embrace. News quickly spreads of the newcomer's miraculous powers and Turan's indebted father, Hakan Altuntas, is so impressed by his earnest utterances that he finds him somewhere to stay and a job at the local café.
However, even though he cures ageing tailor Sencer Sagdiç's asthma, Yesil is easily distracted and when he's not stealing sugar, he goes wandering among the ruined buildings of the border town of Kars that are being used for a military exercise that provides an incessantly thunderous backdrop to the proceedings. He also strikes up an unconventional friendship with Turan that involves them howling like birds whenever they meet and occasionally soaring up to the ceiling of his meagre squat.
His liaisons with newly arrived schoolteacher Sabahat Doganyilmaz and the disabled Korel Kubilay (for whom he purloins withheld medical supplies when not licking her paralysed leg) are no less bizarre. But his decision to help timid Murat Deniz escape from the three older brothers who have accused him of murdering their father in order to inherit his estate and to restore a mute boy's power of speech tragically backfire when Deniz is arrested on a train out of town and the child suddenly dies and Yesil is no longer regarded as a healer, but a demon.
With subplots involving a campaign to amend Ankara's trade policy with the neighbouring Armenia and the crash-landing of a communications satellite adding a little political spice to the discussion of Islam's role in a secular state, this makes few concessions to non-Turkish viewers. But even though Erdem often opts for impenetrability, Florent Herry's agile camerawork is as impressive as Hervé Guyader and Utku Insel's sound design, while Yesil's holy fool is as fascinating as he's frustrating.
Ultimately, Kosmos just about manages to convince as a latterday fairytale. But Dana Lustig's A Thousand Kisses Deep struggles to sell its more fanciful aspects. Taking its title from a Leonard Cohen lyric, this is a curious mix of melodrama, science fiction thriller that the Israeli-born director describes as `A Kafkaesque story of a woman who travels back in time to undo a romantic relationship and avoid its tragic finale.'
Jodie Whittaker is in love with jazz trumpeter Dougray Scott even though she knows he is unreliable and bad for her self-esteem. However, soon after they break up, she returns home to witness her elderly neighbour jump from an upper storey of their West London apartment block. She is even more distressed to discover a torn-up photograph of Scott beside the body and consults all-knowing caretaker David Warner, who allows her access into the dead woman's flat.
Much to her surprise, Whittaker recognises all of the possessions as her own and Warner suggests that the answers to her questions can be found by boarding a creaky Victorian elevator that doesn't appear to have been used in years. In a flash, Whittaker finds herself travelling backwards in time, where she encounters her younger self (Eloise Barnes) and her uncaring mother (Emilia Fox). However, it is only when she returns that she realises that she has to intervene in her own past to prevent Scott from ruining her future.
Feeling rather like a reworking of The Terminator by Doris Lessing, this is a curio stuffed with Freudian portents and penny dreadful clichés and caricatures. The cast works hard, with Scott particularly revelling in his lounge-lizard caddishness. Moreover, Alison Riva's production design is accomplished and splendidly accompanied by Ross Cullum and Sandy McLelland's melancholic score. But Alex Kustanovich and Vadim Moldovan's screenplay lacks ingenuity, while Lustig's direction is short on the conviction that might have made this unnerving rather than unbelievable.
A credibility problem also besets Jon Sanders's Late September, as too few of the supporting players seem comfortable with the gambit of improvising the dialogue, while the bid to couch a Yasujiro Ozu-style domestic drama in a very English idiom comes closer to reproducing the kind of rarefied dissection of bourgeois mores favoured by Joanna Hogg. Yet Sanders is to be commended for his rigorous adherence to the mise-en-scène technique of filming in long takes and for managing to raise the £10,000 budget for a 32-shot feature that will doubtless enhance a reputation forged with Painted Angels (2000) and Low Tide (2007).
Kent couple Anna Mottram and Richard Vanstone have been married for some four decades, but the strain is starting to show as the guests begin arriving for his 65th birthday party. They bicker over a shopping list in front of Charlotte Palmer, who is feeling a little fragile after just breaking up with her long-term boyfriend, and the mood scarcely lightens after a testy exchange about the positioning of garden lanterns when widowed friend Jan Chappell pitches up.
Following an awkward encounter with Mottram in the spare room, Chappell enters into a rambling discussion downstairs with Palmer and their hostess about embarking upon a new romance. Mottram is clearly unsettled by the topic and is still feeling tense when neighbour Emma Garden pops up to see her before the party to reassure her that she will always be there for her if she needs a shoulder to cry on. Meanwhile, Vanstone is sharing a glass of wine in the garden with twentysomething son Sam Woodward, who claims to be unconcerned about recently splitting up with his girlfriend.
As the festivities move indoors, old pal Bob Goody presents Vanstone with a tabernacle for his sailing boat. However, their whisky-laced banter is interrupted by the tetchy Mottram and it comes as something of a relief when Woodward and his friends Seonaid Goody and Douglas Finch put on a musical puppet show based on the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. This rather stilted entertainment is followed by Goody making a gushing speech about what a perfect team Mottram and Vanstone make. However, she can no longer brook the hypocrisy and rushes into the garden where she demands a divorce, as she would rather be lonely on her own than with a man who no longer appreciates her or shows her the slightest token of affection.
Vanstone reacts furiously and orders her to leave him alone and attend to her guests. Distraught at having provoked the row, Goody invites Palmer to look at his boat and they have a moment on the riverbank that she instantly regrets. Having made it clear she wants nothing more to do with Goody, she returns to the house and is chastised for her folly by Mottram. Elsewhere, Vanstone and Chappell doze in chairs, while Finch and Garden fool around at the piano. But nobody seems concerned about Goody, as he drifts off in his boat as the dawn breaks and the revelation that he has drowned barely registers on Garden, Chappell and Mottram, as Vanstone potters into the garden to take the decorative lanterns out of the tree.
Lacking the bite of one of Mike Leigh's workshopped pictures and the assurance that has come to characterise Joanna Hogg's work, this always feels more like an exercise in acting and camera technique than a slice of life. The cast lacks the agility to summon the requisite naturalism, while cinematographer Jeff Bayne's slow pans frequently feel unmotivated and distracting. Yet, in concocting their scenario, Sanders and Mottram teasingly withhold vital background information that forces the viewer to concentrate on the exchanges in order to elicit clues. Unfortunately, though, the fact that none of the characters is fully fleshed out makes it difficult to empathise with their emotional or marital problems and, for all its ingenuity and intensity, this rarely matches up to the chamber dramas of Chekhov, Strindberg and Bergman to which it so obviously aspires.
By contrast, Billy Wilder provides a masterclass in marrying social observation with sympathetic acting and slick technique in The Apartment (1960), the Oscar-winning romantic comedy that is one of five oldies being reissued this week. Reuniting with Jack Lemmon for the first time since Some Like It Hot (1959), Wilder hoped to have found the perfect partner for him in Shirley MacLaine and he teamed them again in Irma la Douce (1963). Three years later, however, he found an even better foil when he cast Lemmon opposite Walter Matthau in The Fortune Cookie. They went on to make seven more movies, while Lemmon and MacLaine never worked together again.
In a desperate bid to lever himself out of a dead-end job, pen-pusher Jack Lemmon allows superiors David Lewis, Ray Walston, David White and Willard Waterman at his New York insurance company to use his apartment on the Upper West Side for their extramarital assignations. The ploy works and Lemmon is recommended for promotion. However, personnel manager Fred MacMurray is curious why so many high-flying executives are so enthusiastic about the office drone. He quickly discovers the secret of his success and offers Lemmon two tickets to see The Music Man on Broadway if he can have a loan of his love nest.
Having bumped into so many attractive women, Lemmon's doctor neighbour Jack Kruschen and his wife Naomi Stevens are convinced he is a shameless lothario. Yet he is too bashful even to speak to lift operator Shirley MacLaine, let alone reveal his feelings for her. However, he sees the show as the ideal opportunity to ask her on a date and he is beside himself when she accepts. Unfortunately, she is forced to stand him up because she is MacMurray's paramour and it is only during the staff Christmas party that Lemmon learns the truth.
Powerless to intervene, Lemmon makes a clumsy play for bar girl Hope Holiday and take her back to his pad. However, he finds MacLaine comatose in his bed after taking an overdose of pills having confronted MacMurray about his intentions on learning from secretary Edie Adams that she is just the latest in a long line of casual flings. Kruschen revives MacLaine and agrees not to report the incident, while MacMurray extends his gratitude to Lemmon for being so discreet, but protests that he cannot get away from his family in order to see her.
Intent on distracting MacLaine, Lemmon plays endless hands of gin rummy. However, she is still clearly besotted with MacMurray and not even an Italian dinner (with the spaghetti expertly strained using a tennis racket) can console her. They are interrupted when MacLaine's thuggish, taxi-driving brother-in-law Johnny Seven comes to collect her and punches Lemmon under the impression that he has compromised her honour. Meanwhile, MacMurray fires Adams for putting ideas into MacLaine's head and she exacts her revenge by informing Mrs MacMurray about her husband's dalliances. But, rather than seeking forgiveness, MacMurray consents to a divorce and looks set to declare his intentions to MacLaine until fate finally decides to take a hand on New Year's Eve.
Largely intended as a tribute to Ernst Lubitsch's The Shop Around the Corner (1940) and inspired by a throwaway reference in David Lean's Brief Encounter (1945), this was the last monochrome winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture for 33 years (until Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List). In addition, it also earned Wilder the Oscars for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, which he shared with longtime collaborator IAL Diamond. Moroever, it confirmed Wilder as the sharpest and most acerbic commentator on contemporary American manners, as he demonstrated that working relationships within the corporate system were based on exploitation and prostitution rather than moral integrity and the old Protestant Work Ethic.
His handling of the cast is also first rate, with each character role being pitched to a perfection that is matched by Lemmon and MacLaine, as the idealist resigned to playing the game in order to survive and the vulnerable victim only just learning its ruthless rules. Their byplay during the rummy and spaghetti sequences is particularly charming. But the most surprising performance came from Fred MacMurray, who had been a charming romantic lead in his 1940s heyday and had since become the epitome of all-American fatherliness in a string of Disney family romps and the newly launched sitcom My Three Sons. However, he had displayed a darker side before, when he conspired with Barbara Stanwyck to murder her husband in Double Indemnity, which had, of course, been directed by Billy Wilder.
Released six years later, John Gilling's The Plague of the Zombies showed Hammer venturing into new territory in order to sustain its dwindling horror audience. Showing alongside Nicolas Roeg's The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) as part of the same British Film Season being curated throughout the summer by Studio Canal, this may look pretty tame to modern audiences used to the flesh-ripping chillers of George A. Romero and Sam Raimi and such postmodern zomcoms as Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Zombieland (2009). But the 19th-century atmosphere is neatly established and the performances are typically wholehearted.
Intrigued by a letter from ex-student Brook Williams, medic André Morell travels to Cornwall with his daughter, Diane Clare, who is an old friend of Williams's wife, Jacqueline Pearce. They arrive as a funeral procession passes through the village and some huntsmen attack the cortège and the corpse tumbles onto the road. At the local inn, Morell finds Williams arguing with the victim's brother, Marcus Hammond, about the nature of the plague that killed him and is curious as to why Squire John Carson has forbidden any autopsies on the victims.
Determined to learn more, Morell and Williams disinter Hammond's sibling and are about to be arrested for grave-robbing by police sergeant Michael Ripper when they discover that the coffin is empty. Meanwhile, Pearce has lapsed into a trance and follows the sound of some drums to an abandoned tin mine. However, in trying to follow her, Clare is abducted by the huntsmen and taken to Carson's manor, where they plan to gang rape her before the squire intervenes.
Refusing his offer of a ride home, Clare sets off on foot and sees a zombie toss Pearce's body from the pithead. Morell and Williams recover the remains and are perplexed as to why rigor mortis has not yet set in. Carson comes to offer his condolences and contrives to cut Clare's hand to acquire a blood sample, which he uses to smear a voodoo doll that causes her to pass out during Pearce's requiem.
That night, she rises from the dead and Morell is forced to decapitate her with a cemetery spade and they open the other graves to find the plague victims have all vanished. Among them is Hammond, who kidnaps Clare and brings her to the mine for a black magic ritual. However, as Williams (who had been shaken by a chilling green-tinted nightmare) ventures forth to rescue her, Morell breaks into Carson's home and discovers the ghastly secret that will enable good to prevail over evil.
Transferring the living dead saga from the Caribbean to the South West, John Gilling stepped into the void left by Val Lewton and, in so doing, spotted the commercial potential of zombies a good two years before George A. Romero. He sticks closely to the Hammer house style, but manages to slip in a little backdoor socialism by exposing Carson as an exploitative boss reducing his workforce to slaves.
Photographed in trademark lurid colours by Arthur Grant and atmospherically designed by Bernard Robinson, this is one the studio's better 1960s outings, with Carson making a sneering villain and Morell almost Cushing-like in his grim determination to triumph. But special mention should also go to Roy Ashton, whose greying skin tones and blazing eyeballs make the undead seem disconcertingly credible. Gilling also stages the set-pieces with an emphasis on suspense rather than horror. Consequently, this could almost be a Sherlock Holmes case and it's a shame that Hammer didn't devise any further adventures for Sir James Forbes and Dr Thompson.
The mood is very different in Nicolas Roeg's The Man Who Fell to Earth, which offered an early acting role to pop star David Bowie, who had famously sung about a `Space Oddity' and a `Starman'. Adapted by Paul Meyersberg from a novel by Walter Tevis, this was Roeg's first American movie. Yet it retains the studied defiance of film-making convention that had characterised his earlier features. Moreover, it provides a tantalising glimpse of an alternative sci-fi cinema before the genre was corrupted forever the following year by such blockbusters as Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Leaving his family on his parched home planet, David Bowie splashes down on Earth and sells his wedding ring in the southern backwater of Haneyville. His plan is to become rich through selling the patents to seven futuristic devices and he hires lawyer Buck Henry to run his company, World Enterprises. Such is his overnight success that college professor Rip Torn becomes interested in his ingenuity and tries to track him down. But Bowie has become a recluse in New Mexico, where he is nursed through an illness by hotel maid Candy Clark, who introduces him to gin and television.
Moving in with Clark, Bowie becomes so obsessed with TV that he fills a room with multiple screens. But the programmes make him increasingly paranoid and his relationship with Clark breaks down just as Torn enters his life and discovers the spaceship with which he plans to transport water back to his people. However, the government is already aware of the scheme and agent Bernie Casey tries to entice Clark and Torn into helping sabotage the mission.
Essentially a study in loneliness and difference, this is a desperately sad story, with the predictable maltreatment of the alien and the cruel fate endured by his loved ones saying much about the cynicism of the United States in the wake of Vietnam and Watergate. Almost giving a non-performance, Bowie clearly channels aspects of his musical alter egos. But the vulnerability of his extraterrestiality is both strange and poignant, most notably in his doomed liaison with the exceptional Clark.
As in Walkabout (1970), Roeg (this time with the assistance of cinematographer Anthony Richmond) makes evocative use of the desert location and the contrast with the aridity of Bowie's home planet is made all the more dismaying because his family have not lost the ability to feel, unlike the majority of the people he encounters on an Earth that is psychologically shrivelled up. There may be too much graphic grappling and navel-gazing dialogue, while the villains may be a touch stereotypical. But Roeg always likes to push barriers and buttons and he should be commended for discussing global warming three decades ago and for his teasingly prescient references to gadgets like self-developing cameras.
Completing the fictional foursome on this week's reissue slate is Jaws (1975). Once considered the ultimate game changer in the history of Hollywood for unleashing the blockbuster culture that infantilised American cinema just as it was finally learning how to critique society after the 1968 abandonment of the restrictive Production Code, Steven Spielberg's adaptation of Peter Benchley's bestselling novel is now only the 108th most successful movie of all time. It's somehow fitting that this behemoth has been devoured by its own progeny. But seen again after 37 years, Jaws feels as complex as The Parallax View, The Conversation and Chinatown combined (all 1974) compared to the action fodder served up for the increasingly undiscriminating adolescent males (of all ages) who make up the bulk of today's big-screen audience.
Leaving her friends around the bonfire on the beach of New England's Amity Island, teenager Susan Backlinie goes skinny dipping in the Atlantic Ocean. However, she is dragged under and the waves and shredded by a giant white shark and her remains are discovered next morning by police chief Roy Schneider and his deputy, Jeffrey Kramer. Schneider wants to close the beach, but mayor Murray Hamilton fears that news of a shark attack will decimate the vital summer trade and convinces the medical examiner to list Backlinie's cause of death as a boating accident.
On 4 July, Schneider is trying to relax on the beach with wife Lorraine Gray. However, he is anxious that the crowds will attract the creature and, sure enough, young Jeffrey Voorhees drifts out to sea on an air-bed and is set upon while screaming mother Lee Fierro watches helplessly from the shore. The next day, she posts a $3000 bounty for anyone who can destroy the beast and shark hunter Robert Shaw and marine biologist Richard Dreyfuss rise to the challenge.
Local wiseacre Robert Chambers also takes a tilt and is lucky to escape with his life. But Hamilton is convinced that the curse has been lifted when a Tiger shark is landed by local fisherman Craig Kingsbury. Schneider is convinced by Dreyfuss's scepticism, however, and they not only examine the carcass under cover of darkness, but the scuba-diving Dreyfuss also spots Kingsbury's severed head through the porthole as it floats below the waterline of his abandoned boat.
Yet Hamilton still refuses to close the resort and large crowds turn up over the holiday weekend. Schneider and Gray urge son Chris Rebello to sail in a sheltered inlet, but his craft is overturned after the shark attacks oarsman Ted Grossman and bites off his leg. Finally left with no option, the mayor allows Schneider and Dreyfuss to hire Shaw and they put out to sea in his boat, Orca. While tossing chum bait into the water, Schneider comes face to face with his monstrous adversary and Shaw quips that they are going to need a bigger boat, as the Great White disappears into the depths, complete with the flotation barrel that Shaw had attached with a harpoon shot.
As night falls, the trio swap stories and Shaw recalls being adrift in the shark-infested Pacific for several days after his ship, USS Indianapolis, was torpedoed shortly after delivering the key components of the `Little Boy' atom bomb in the summer of 1945. But his current vessel is even more vulnerable and the shark damages the hull during its next sortie and it begins taking on water after it drags Orca along by the flotation lines impaled in its side. Unable to contact the Coast Guard because Shaw has smashed the radio in a fit of pique, Schneider agrees to let Dreyfuss descend in a cage and attempt to kill the beast with a strychnine-laced hypodermic spear. But it takes a more crudely ingenious device to end the titanic struggle.
The story of how a sophomore director got the better of a malfunctioning mechanical prop named Bruce to shatter box-office records is well known. But, by earning $100 million in six months, Jaws not only convinced Hollywood of the value of the blockbuster, but it also taught the new generation of studio executives how to turn high-concept marquee titles into `event movies' through mass marketing and saturation release strategies. Universal was also quick to cash in on ancillary sources of revenue, with merchandise including beach towels, t-shirts, fishing games, plastic fins, shark-shaped inflatables and tooth jewellery, as well as the album of the John Williams score that made such menacing repeated use of the E and F notes. The film was also one of the first non-Disney outings to inspire a theme-park ride, while it became the first picture issued on laser disc in 1978 and became one of the biggest selling videocassettes in 1980.
The inevitable sequels also followed, but Spielberg had moved on from the franchise and they were rightly dismissed as inferior. Clearly, the picture benefited from his exploitation of point-of-view imagery, the unnerving music and a couple of well-timed jolts. But it was less cinematically imposing than Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather (1972), less terrifying than William Friedkin's The Exorcist (1973) and less viscerally thrilling than George Lucas's Star Wars (1977). But its success also owed much to timing and the fact that it played on both universal fears and a very specific national sense of self-doubt and introspection, as Jaws was a Watergate allegory that posited that ordinary people had a duty to stand up and be counted in the face of corrupt and incompetent leadership.
The proceedings of the international tribunal formed to establish the guilt of the surviving members of the Nazi hierarchy are recalled in Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today, a restored and annotated edition of a 1948 account that was commissioned on behalf of Harry S. Truman's administration by the pioneering American documentarist Pare Lorentz and compiled by Stuart Schulberg from wartime newsreels and the available 25 hours of footage recorded during the 11-month hearing.
Narrated by Liev Schreiber, this is an invaluable historical document, as it was the first feature to confront German audiences with the vanquished men who had decimated Europe and exterminated six million Jews. Its purpose was to facilitate the nation's deNazification. But, while it proved its worth in this regard, the film was withheld from release in the United States and it's somewhat disappointing that this reconstruction by Sandra Schulberg and Josh Waletzky from the sole usable print fails to place it in a wider context.
In all, 22 high-ranking officers and officials were tried, including Martin Bormann, who was tried in absentia (although it has subsequently been discovered that he was already deceased). Those present in the dock were Hermann Göring (Commander of the Luftwaffe); Rudolf Hess (Deputy Führer); Karl Dönitz (Commander of the Kriegsmarine, 1943-45); Hans Frank (Governor-General of Poland); Wilhelm Frick (Reich Protector of Bohemia-Moravia, 1943-45); Hans Fritzsche (head of the Nazi Propaganda Ministry news division); Walther Funk (President of the Reichsbank, 1938-45); Alfred Jodl (Wehrmacht Generaloberst); Ernst Kaltenbrunner (senior SS official); Wilhelm Keitel (Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces); Konstantin von Neurath (Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, 1939-43); Franz von Papen (diplomat); Erich Raeder (Commander of the Kriegsmarine, 1928-43); Joachim von Ribbentrop (Foreign Minister); Alfred Rosenberg (Minister of the Eastern Occupied Territories); Fritz Sauckel (Gauleiter of Thuringia); Hjalmar Schacht (pre-war President of the Reichsbank); Baldur von Schirach (head of Hitler Youth); Arthur Seyss-Inquart (Reich Commissioner of the occupied Netherlands); Albert Speer (Minister of Armaments); and Julius Streicher (Gauleiter of Franconia).
Sat in the dock facing charges of waging wars of aggression and conspiring to commit war crimes and crimes against peace and humanity, the defendants refuse to look at one another. Some wear sunglasses, while all but Hess wear headphones to listen intently to the prosecution statements of American Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, British Attorney General Sir Hartley Shawcross, Soviet Lieutenant-General Roman Andreyevich Rudenko and French lawyer François de Menthon. While giving evidence, the majority claim to have been following orders and several insist that their ideals had been compromised by Hitler and his closest cohorts. Only a handful express remorse and only Fritzsche, Von Papen and Schacht were acquitted, with the remainder being sentenced to death by hanging or prison terms ranging from 10 years to life.
Chillingly compelling though the images from Colonel Sir Geoffrey Lawrence's courtroom may be, what makes this so powerful is the way in which Stuart Schulberg and his co-editor brother Budd use printed documents and clips from German propaganda films to back up the hideous accusations. Thus, while Göring's simple avowal of `Jawohl' when asked if he considered human life to be worthless is sickening, the sight of a primitive gas chamber in the Belarussian town of Mogilev in 1941 is even more harrowing, as it suggests the trialling of methods that would be used for industrial-scale slaughter later in the conflict.
Yet plenty of other incriminating footage was destroyed before the Schulbergs could find it and they became convinced that some of their German aides were tipping off their former masters. Such background stories would have greatly enhanced this restoration, as would the anecdote about Leni Riefenstahl - the director of the pernicious propaganda masterpiece Triumph of the Will (1935) - being certain that Budd Schulberg had come to arrest her as a war criminal when he travelled to Austria to request her help in searching through the Nazi archives.
Something on the presumed Cold War reasons for keeping the film from American audiences might also have been instructive, as would a reminder that Washington has never recognised the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court that continues to prosecute war criminals to this day. Nevertheless, this remains a film that demands to be seen, both as a summation of the events between 1933-39 that tipped the continent into war and as a warning that we should never forget these atrocities `because civilisation cannot tolerate their being repeated'.