TEN-IN-ONE: A YEAR IN DARKNESS 2017

It’s the last day of the year. Looking back on 12 months spent huddling together in the darkness, here’s our roundup of the top 10 routes we have followed to find wild and astonishing screens in 2017.

DEMON LOVER DIARY (1980) Donald G. Jackson
DEMON LOVER DIARY (1980) screened at BFI (26 SEP).

We started RADIANT CIRCUS to hunt for adventurous moving pictures in London, heading away from the multiplex into less familiar territory. Since starting up, we’ve been helping more people expand their screen journeys through weekly SCREEN GUIDES, screen QUESTS and occasional writeups.

We are an audience for cinematic oddities of all shapes and sizes. We pay for (almost all) of what we see, spending our year in box office queues and early release feeding frenzies so that we can prioritise what we (really) like the look of. This means there are limits to how much we cover first-hand but it means each and every recommendation is based on where our own (real) money is going.

Here’s our top 10 recommended routes into the wilderness this year.


#1: RED HOT INDIES

NOW BOOKING: SANTA CLAUS screens at The Institute Of Light (11 DEC).
SANTA CLAUS screened at The Institute Of Light (11 DEC).

We have loved following London’s incredible array of independent programmers and promoters, (often) unsung heroes peddling their wares on screens, festivals and pop-ups across the city. Notable heroes include Cigarette Burns Cinema, enjoying an amazing year with, amongst others, UK premieres of LE ACCELERATOR and THE EVIL WITHIN, a pristine archive print of THE LOST BOYS, a sold-out short season at Barbican, an Halloween all-nighter at Regent Street and a SANTA CLAUS fundraiser. Given our love of the seedier side of life, we’ve also greatly enjoyed Billy Chainsaw’s exceptional NOVA NIGHTS at The Horse Hospital, with guests Graham Humphreys and Nicholas Vince generously giving us NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR and HELLBENT.

Staying with fantastical fictions, we’ve also enjoyed much of Science Fiction Theatre’s excellent value-adding film nights, particularly MIRACLE MILE and NO BLADE OF GRASS complete with superb introductory talks from experts Mark J. Blackman and Abi Aspen Glencross. Their year ended with the crowning glory of QUATERMASS AND THE PIT, Nigel Kneale’s film ably supported by expert Andy Murray and back up on the big screen for its 50th anniversary where it looked absolutely stunning.

We’ve also been proud to list this year: The Badlands Collective, Brand New Blinkers, Celluloid Sorceress, CinemaItalia, Ciné-Real, Comm•une, Club Des Femmes, Cult Cinema Collective, Deeper Into Movies, Dirty Movies, Exploding Cinema, Film School, The Final Girls, Folk Horror Cinema Club, Heavenly Films, Kennington Bioscope, No Bollocks Film Club, Otherfield Film, purge.xxx, Shorts On Tap, and supakino. Apologies if we’ve missed anyone – they very nature of your work means you can be hard to pin down, but we look forward to celebrating more of what you do in 2018.


#2: AUTEUR AMOUR

NOW SHOWING: LA MADRE BUENA screens at Underwire Festival (22 NOV).
LA MADRE BUENA screened at Underwire Festival (22 NOV).

London’s venue and festival programmers continued their various love affairs with film directors this year, giving exceptional seasons (of varying length) to some of the following: Horace Ové, Marlon Riggs, Ousmane Sembène and Asghar Farhadi at Bernie Grant; R.W. Fassbinder, Martine Scorsese, Kelly Reichardt and Jean-Pierre Melville at BFI; Yasujirô Ozu, Abbas Kiarostami, Werner Herzog, Rather Beckermann and John Cassavetes at Close-Up; Agnes Varda, Andrzej Zulawski and Theo Angelopoulos at Deptford; Andrei Tarkovsky at The Prince Charles; and David Lynch at Genesis.

Not wanting to irritate film theorists, we’ve also enjoyed (too rare?) opportunities to shift from this monogamous relationship with directing. Looking down the lens from a different direction, Barbican’s THE CRAFT OF FILM gave us an excellent range of talks from very different screen talents. We particularly enjoyed DOGTOOTH with editor Yorgos Mavropsaridis, which was both insightful and served as a rallying call for THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER (which we didn’t entirely love, but never mind…). Underwire Festival deserves special commendation for celebrating the talents of women across the filmmaking crafts: it’s a perspective we’d like to see (much) more of in 2018.


#3: A FEAST OF FESTIVALS

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL: LITTLE CRUSADER (aka Krizácek) screened at Empire Haymarket (09 OCT).
LITTLE CRUSADER (aka Krizácek) screened at London Film Festival (09 OCT).

Carrying on from Number 2, we have been totally overjoyed and overwhelmed by the more than 56 film festivals we have listed during the year (see our prototype A-Z list HERE for an overview). We’ve enjoyed events at BFI Flare, Sci-Fi London, Origins Festival of First Nations, London Korean Film Festival, and Fringe!, but prioritised our attention in October on the London Film Festival (feeling somewhat duty-bound as relatively new arrivals in the city).

We’ve added new discoveries to our listings each and every screen week, and have looked longingly at programmes from as varied a range of perspectives as Doc’n Roll, East End, Raindance, London International Animation, Open City, Russian Film Week, Shubbak, UK Jewish International Film Festival amongst many others. We plan to try harder to give good coverage of festivals in 2018, scheduling more dedicated GUIDES and QUESTS for London’s eclectic feast of a festival programme.


#4: SORTING THE STRANDS FROM THE SEASONS

BESOURO screened at BFI (15 JUL).

London’s screen programmers continued to weave spellbinding strands and seasons across the year, giving us many concrete pathways to follow through the darkness. We particularly loved MARTIN SCORSESE CURATES as part of BFI’s compressive season of his films, and STEPHEN KING PICKS for similar reasons. At the same venue, seasons including INDIA ON FILM, FOR AN IMPOSSIBLE CINEMA: CUBAN DOCUMENTARIES, TEARS & LAUGHTER: WOMEN IN JAPANESE MELODRAMA, GLORIA GRAHAME: GOOD AT BEING BAD and regular strands like AFRICAN ODYSSEYS, CULT, and EXPERIMENTA have scorched our eyeballs with some amazing moving pictures. At Barbican, CINEMA MATTERS, BEING RUBY RICH, THE GRIME & THE GLAMOUR and SCI-FI SUNDAYS (part of INTO THE UNKNOWN) have given us more content for our listings, as have excellent shorter seasons chosen by their exhibiting artists (THREE LOOKS WITH TRAJAL HARRELL and JOHN AKOMFRAH PRESENTS…).

Smaller venues have delivered the goods with #DIRECTEDBYWOMEN at Genesis Cinema and too many to mention at Deptford Cinema, whilst more mainstream venues have featured with CULTURE SHOCK and DISCOVER TUESDAYS at the Picturehouse chain and regular late night marvels at Everyman Screen On The Green. Special mention should go to Close-Up for routinely offering exceptional seasons both familiar and, to us, horizon-expandingly new.

Our natural tendency is to look down-list, picking out the one-offs, over-looked and underappreciated events rather than the headline acts. This approach has served us in good stead and we will continue to hunt for the oyster underneath the chicken carcass in 2018 (alternative vegan metaphors available).


#5: F-RATED ATTRACTIONS

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL: SPOOR screened at Ciné Lumière (07 OCT).
SPOOR screened at Ciné Lumière (07 OCT).

One of our rules of the hunt (#9 if you will) is to find voices and stories that are different to our own, believing that bursting our cinematic bubble requires affirmative action on our part. This has allowed us to focus on, amongst others, a key theme for 2017; the voices of women in the global film industry. Denoting appropriate screen quests F-Rated, we have seen some real treasures this year.

We appreciate BFI dedicating a down-list Discovery Pass to female filmmakers at this year’s London Film Festival (allowing us to see Agnieszka Holland’s SPOOR, Anne Fontaine’s REINVENTING MARVIN and Bornila Chatterjee’s THE HUNGRY for a bargain price) and Genesis Cinema’s yearlong commitment to screening 52 films #DIRECTEDBYWOMEN which culminated in an inspiring CLASS OF 2017 weekender (and a rare chance to adopt a superhero movie as our Featured Attraction of the week).

Through deliberate selection of the films we wanted to see (there are far too few women directing in horror and other genres), we ended up falling in love with GOOD MANNERS. Both a fairytale with a sharp bite and an exposé of class and racial inequalities in Brazil with real teeth, GOOD MANNERS has one of those endings that had us grinning like idiots. Or maybe we were just following our nose for a content warning…


#6: EXPERIMENTAL BEVAHIOUR

DONKEY RIDING by Simon Liu screened at Close-Up (30 OCT).

Over the course of the year, we became more experimental, mixing our diet of narrative fiction and non-fiction films with more abstract and experimental fusions. We started the year with the brilliant BRUCE AND NORMAN YONEMOTO retrospective at Tate Modern – GARAGE SALE nocked our socks off whilst KAPPA was possibly our favourite – loving the interplay of cutting edge video art, Norman’s moonlighting in LA’s porn industry and serial mainstream influences including [SPOILER ALERT!] GARAGE SALE’s entire cast being stomped by a very DIY kaiju.

Over the course of the year, we added JORDAN BELSON at BFI (getting into a spot of bother with the CVM in the process…), LUCY RAVEN at Serpentine, KEVIN JEROME EVERSON at Tate, and the entire roster of artists programmed within THE INCREDIBLE SIMULTANEITY CONSOLE at Close-Up.

Highlights for us included the JARMAN AWARD WEEKEND at The Whitechapel – Melanie Manchot’s spacey snowscapes completely blew us away in OUT OF BOUNDS – Simon Liou’s I DECIDED TO TURN LEFT – for his incredible hand-manipulated 16mm projections – and purge’s IN MEMORIAM: FRANS ZWARTJES – for a heartfelt tribute to the late pioneer (both of these latter at Close-Up). We also learned to be much better organised, missing out on tickets for screenings of TRINH T. MINH-HA’s film works at Tate/ICA and failing to see anything of note behind long queues at ART NIGHT.

With the largest ever exhibition of performance and video pioneer JOAN JOANS opening at Tate Modern in 2018 (14 MAR to 05 AUG), the year ahead looks set to be another experimental one.


#7: NON-FICTION & FACTUAL FILMS

NOW SHOWING: WEST OF THE JORDAN RIVER screened at ICA (23 NOV).
WEST OF THE JORDAN RIVER screened at ICA (23 NOV).

Much of our year was spent listing exceptional documentary cinema across the breath of the programme at Bertha DocHouse, at ICA for some notable exclusives and at Picturehouse for their excellent DOCS strand. Our featured attractions across the year included: SHOAH (Close-Up); P.S. JERUSALEM and SEED (DocHouse); RAT FILM and THE ETERNALS (ICA); DISPOSSESSION: THE GREAT SOCIAL HOUSING SWINDLE (Arthouse Crouch End); BASQUIAT: RAGE TO RICHES (Barbican/Picturehouse Central); LOS SURES (Barbican); and, #SUGARWATER (Genesis). There have been strong festivals dedicated to the form – DOC’N ROLL, OPEN CITY, ESSAY FILM and FRAMES OF REPRESENTATION – and strong seasons on specialist screens – including DOCFEST and HOTDOCS at Bertha DocHouse and GIANFRANCO ROSI at ICA.

Possibly the least artful and melodramatic of the excellent docs we saw all year, was the unsensationalist approach taken by Amos Gitai to a very sensitive subject. Yes, the director could give good argument to politicians when required, but it was his restrained focus on everyday human beings getting on with the quiet revolution of living with each other that lifted the soul in WEST OF THE JORDAN RIVER. The same venue also gave us another of our favourites, Anna Zamecka’s claustrophobic tale of a Polish family placing too much adult responsibility on its barely coping children, COMMUNION.

Documentary – both factual and non-fiction – will continue to be a form we favour in 2018.


#8: SOMETHING OLD, NEW, BORROWED AND BLUE

NOW SHOWING: THE APU TRILOGY screens at BFI (10 DEC).
THE APU TRILOGY screened at BFI (10 DEC).

London’s adventurous film fans continued to benefit from a vast array of restorations, rediscoveries and brand new peculiarities in a host of formats this year. We have been delighted to list spangly new restorations of, amongst many others, ON THE SILVER GLOBE, all three episodes of Satyajit Ray’s THE APU TRILOGY, PHANTASM, THE BIG HEAT, THE FABULOUS BARON MUNCHAUSEN, DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST, LES DIABOLIQUES and 7hrs of live piano accompanied LES MISERABLES.

We’ve also loved it when promoters have plunged into the seedier end of the celluloid gene pool, listing nights in the dark with BLOODY MUSCLE BODY BUILDER IN HELL, NO BLADE OF GRASS, DISTRICT NURSE, WHO CAN KILL A CHILD?, NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR and HELLBENT (thanks again to Billy Chainsaw and guests for those last two).

There have also been memorable low budget premieres of new works shot on various formats including ELLIOT at Deptford Cinema (VHS), #STARVECROW at ICA (iPhone), LE ACCELERATOR at The Institute of Light (Super8mm), not to mention the herculean struggles of cinema projectionists dealing with portmanteau screenings of experimental and artists’ film (a true thanks for keeping these various shows on the road). One of our biggest disappointments in the year was not being able to Ciné-Real’s 16mm screening of Wes Craven’s seminal THE HILLS HAVE EYES at Moth Club.

Exploding Cinema continued their exploration of the myriad of ways that films can be made in the modern age whilst THUNDERCRACK! at ICA gave us a truly pornographic Halloween to remember. This eclectic mix of moving pictures demonstrates the breath and potential of London’s alternative screen culture and we will continue to follow it with our hungry mouths drooling in 2018.


#9: QUEER IS NOT JUST FOR CHRISTMAS

NOW SHOWING: THE UNTAMED screens at Whirled Cinema (from 03 DEC).
THE UNTAMED screened at BFI Flare (21 MAR).

2017 was the year that the UK celebrated the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality and this social shift encouraged lots of venues to embrace queer-themed films in a way that felt quite unusual. There have been commendable programmes at, amongst many others, BFI, The Horse Hospital, Prince Charles and Lux Moving Image. Elsewhere, queer shaman Kenneth Anger got several outings at BFI, Moth Club, Picturehouse and Curzon whilst Deptford screened perenial queer fantasy, PINK NARCISSUS and regular festivals BFI Flare, Fringe! and GFEST strutted their gorgeous stuff.

We enjoyed queer content in a wide variety of settings, including: BRUCE & NORMON YONEMOTO and DEREK JARMAN’S BLUE (Tate); BEACH RATS, GOOD MANNERS and REINVENTING MARVIN (LFF); HEARTSTONE and TOM OF FINLAND (ICA); TORREY PINES + I LOVE YOU BOTH (BFI Flare); and, IN BETWEEN SEASONS (LKFF at ICA). Given our love of genre-bending oddities, our favourite was possibly THE UNTAMED (BFI Flare): something about those tentacles and the sense that human sexuality was spiralling off the spectrum. We are queer creatures after all.

Let’s hope this commitment to difference continues in 2018.


#10: BIG CAN BE BEAUTIFUL

KONG: SKULL ISLAND screened in March.
KONG: SKULL ISLAND screened (everywhere) in March.

Some folk take the point of view that if you favour odd and challenging cinema you have to be an insufferable snob when it comes to the mainstream. We popped our cinematic cherries with the Star Wars franchise and don’t take that view. As we have seen time and time again, there are fascinating hookups between the bizarre and the bountiful (e.g. Jordan Belson providing visual effects for mainstream Hollywood) but sometimes we just want to slacken our brain and gurn like idiots in the dark. That happened two or three times this year.

The first was for a ridiculously loud and near abstract attraction that we found to be arousing and entertaining in equal measure: KONG: SKULL ISLAND. Similar things happened with STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII – THE LAST JEDI and, to a lesser extent, WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (we just didn’t quite get the same spine-tingle as we did from RISE and DAWN). We might hunt for the adventurous moving pictures in darker corners, but sometimes mainstream movie magic is what’s required for the full hair-parting thrill of the fairground.


SENSATIONAL SCREENS

We’ve reviewed our list of TOP TEN CINEMAS and, whilst much of what we have written still seems solid, we feel compelled to add four screens that have added considerably to our sense of adventure this year.

THE CINEMA MUSEUM: We didn’t it know well enough before we started RADIANT CIRCUS, but the imperilled Cinema Museum has become a regular feature in our listing for two main reasons. Kennington Bioscope’s programme of silent screenings is exemplary, projecting ample education and entertainment about cinema’s past with flair and expertise. Our second reason is the museum’s commitment to social values, hosting the VITO project – bringing generations of LGBT folk together – and numerous nights on significant social themes. Their fate will be known soon. A good outcome and a vibrant future is our biggest screen wish as we roll into 2018.

GENESIS CINEMA: A home to festivals, a brilliantly wide-ranging programme, keen pricing and many free events, it’s hard not to fall in love with the multi-screen Genesis. We have featured them for their yearlong commitment to showing 52 films #DIRECTEDBYWOMEN and splendid back-catalogue events with the Cult Cinema Collective and Folk Horror Cinema Club as well as special events around about HALLOWEEN. They have been first up for queer nights, socialist nights and a strong venue in the East End Film Festival amongst many others. They also gave tickets away for their 18th birthday to community groups and the unwaged. It’s always a pleasure to get there and they are always checked for more great places to shelter from the storm.

THE HORSE HOSPITAL: Whilst technically a gallery with a screen (we think), this unclassifiable underground space is one that seems the least well-known to our friends and followers and is one we would proudly recommend amongst the highest. We have loved entering the subterranean equine treatment centre for, amongst others, Billy Chainsaw’s excellent Nova Nights (relaxed, eclectic programme with insightful Q&As and handpicked movie choices), book and product launches (THE SEARCH FOR WENG WENG and WALERIAN BOROWCZYK) as well as regular programmes from the fabulous Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies (VIDEO DUNGEON).

THE INSTITUTE OF LIGHT: Tucked away under a Hackney railway arch lies another micro venue that is starting to punch beyond its seemingly meagre weight. As well as a single screen programme of independent and mainstream movies, the IOL is now home to an eclectic band of independent programmers conjuring their own cinematic magic. We have been delighted to list Science Fiction Theatre, Cigarette Burns Cinema, Film School and now Supakino, Otherfield and, occasionally, Dirty Movies as well as book launches and other one offs. We love indie programmers – the street food trucks of the film world – for bringing us otherworldly treasures and will keep an eye out for all that is new and wonderful in 2018.


ODDS & SODS

LIFT TO THE SCAFFOLD screened in lots of places.

And finally, some random things we noted as screen life carried on this year.

  • Travelling cinemas got at least two significant mentions in 2017 (in both India and Cuba). Having a nomadic bent ourselves, it’s a subject we’d like to learn a lot more about.
  • Louis Malle’s LIFT TO THE SCAFFOLD popped up in lots of places (for mostly Jazz-inflected reasons but also in tribute to the luminous Jeanne Moreau).
  • The eternal mystery of unfinished and unmade films continued to be a thing (as did the 1980s, but we – really – wish that one would stop…).
  • Little did we know when we started our screen guides with a warning about feline fatalities (GUMMO) that this would be a recurrent theme with, amongst others, [SPOILER ALERT!] GOOD MANNERS and THE SHAPE OF WATER contributing to the list of casualties. Cat lovers should tread carefully.

And that’s the meat of it…

Our next and final post of the year will be our RADIANT CIRCUS TOP TEN of things we have loved and loathed in 2017. THANK YOU to all our friends and followers for spending a year in the darkness together.


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*THE SMALL PRINT: As accurate as we could make it. Apologies for any mistakes. Updates & corrections will be made to the online version. We don’t filter by age/certification: all readers & subscribers should be 18+.

Featured image: THE LOST HONOUR OF KATHARINA BLUM (1975).

Radiant Circus