FILM / A cloudburst and a heatwave

Singin' in the Rain (U). . . . . . . .Stanley Donen (US)

Body Heat (18). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Lawrence Kasdan (US)

British Film Institute. . . . . . . . .New Directors (no cert) Various (UK)

The Cutting Edge (PG). . . . . . . . . .Paul Michael Glaser (US)

NOT MANY films these days go around shouting 'Hooray for Hollywood'. The American cinema's vulgarity has also proved to be its vitality, its means of survival, but its practitioners rarely grasp that nettle. Films-about-film-making, like S O B, Postcards from the Edge, The Big Picture or Sweet Liberty, reflect with varying degrees of indulgence on the crassness and decadence of the industry, and even if some, like The Player, concede a sneaking fondness for it all the same, they whisper 'Hooray for Hollywood' in a slightly grumpy and grudging manner.

That's one reason why Singin' in the Rain, which celebrates its fortieth birthday this week, is exhilarating. Set in the watershed years of the late Twenties, it shows how various Hollywood players adjust to the new order - the film-within-the-film is a silent swashbuckler upon which are hastily grafted some song 'n' dance numbers as a concession to the coming of sound. No one harbours any delusions about the artistic integrity of The Dancing Cavalier. But no one despises it either: in this Hollywood, the people behind the dream machine delight in their craft and take it with the utmost seriousness.

Compare and contrast the opening sequences of The Player and Singin' in the Rain, the one prowling around studio offices chronicling the flat, businesslike origins of America's popular fantasies, the other viewing the movies at the point of consumption, at a star-studded premiere. The fans mill and scream, the flash-bulbs pop; the gossip columnists gush; it is all very frivolous, but nothing is held up to ridicule. And the movie folk - Gene Kelly's matinee idol, Debbie Reynolds' chorine, Donald O'Connor's clowning musician, even the gruff-but- kindly studio mogul - are propelled by love, not concupiscence; one of the big numbers, 'Gotta Dance', sums up that inner compulsion. It is all filtered through nostalgia, since Singin' in the Rain was made in 1952; like the - much more cynical - Sunset Boulevard (1950), it's an evocation of a Golden Age, written as the advent of television was about to herald Hollywood's decline into self- doubt, and perhaps self-loathing.

In an outstandingly poor summer for new films, the only other piece worth seeing this week is another revival, Lawrence Kasdan's Body Heat (1981), a perfectly executed film noir pastiche. It's set in the present, an oppressively hot Florida summer, but fortunately nobody seems to have heard of air-conditioning and the omnipresent fans and venetian blinds give the movie a potent period feel. William Hurt, sporting an odd little moustache, plays a horny small-town attorney who falls under the thrall of Kathleen Turner's gold-digger - 'You're not too smart, are you?' she purrs. 'I like that in a man.' The dialogue crackles (Kasdan was a former ace screenwriter); the story is intricately and satisfying plotted, although there's a jolting gear change at the end when the Hurt character, not previously noted for his acumen, suddenly and rather improbably delivers a speech unravelling the mysteries.

The film is playing as part of retrospective devoted to Hurt, an uncommonly subtle and detailed actor, but hardly an exciting one. I enjoyed Turner much more, and her character: how nice to see an elegant, restrained femme fatale in place of the crazed psychos who pass for villainesses in more recent fare such as Fatal Attraction, The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, Basic Instinct and Single White Female. Turner's subsequent career shows how few good roles are now available for smart, bad-ass women - apart from her work with Michael Douglas, it's thin stuff and her best fatale performance since has been as the voice of Jessica Rabbit.

Now in its fifth year, The British Film Institute's New Directors programme is meant to be a crucible of new talent and, although none of its alumni has yet emerged as a really top-flight director, it has always yielded an interesting haul. So it's disappointing to report that this package is a truly feeble batch. Most of the six films have coped with budgetary restraints - a ceiling of about pounds 27,000 - by keeping their focus small; not bad in itself, but there's a definite tendency towards introspective, indeed navel-gazing, single-character pieces, in which aimless dream and fantasy sequences (Rosebud, Mad Bad Mortal Beings, Shakti) stand in for narrative energy and substance.

Added to this is the heavy hand of positive discrimination - the programme is dominated by Asian, black, gay and lesbian people, brooding over their race or sexuality. But the fact is, as some American gay film-makers are discovering, that political correctness is often plain boring; these scenarios seem to have been chosen more for their minority credentials than their intrinsic interest, let alone entertainment value.

In Rosebud, one of the thinnest, a female painter observes the lesbian couple living next door, then gets herself a girlfriend at a local club. Is she coming out for the first time? - the 14-minute film doesn't even find time to pass on that information. If this were a hetero story, it wouldn't be accepted as a Jackie photo-romance. In Public Enemy Private Friend, one of the few films to display a sense of humour, three brothers lose one of their tickets to a Public Enemy gig. Their search for it turns into a genial Cook's Tour of the Brixton community. There's a colour and spriteliness that faintly recalls Spike Lee, although the director, Danny Thompson, is no Lee - he doesn't have Lee's story-telling confidence, or (fortunately, perhaps) his bile.

The most ambitious film is Capoeira, a documentary exploring the history of the Brazilian martial arts / dance form, and its mutation (atrophy?) into the stately Latin steps of its British version, Come Dancing (there are two directors, one English, one Brazilian). It's a meaty, sometimes ironic piece that could have done with a little more guidance in organising its argument.

But all of these films, however inadequate, are a thousand times more compelling than The Cutting Edge, a film about a temperamental figure-skating star (Moira Kelly) and a rough-trade ice-hockey player (D B Sweeney) who, following an accident, has to quit the sport. They become reluctant skating partners but - surprise] - the sparring conceals an irresistible mutual attraction.

The only thing that would have made this palatable in a mildly camp sort of way would have been the skating sequences. But these, choreographed by Robin Cousins, have been filmed in a blurry, over-edited style, with rarely a close, full-length shot (or even a foot and a face in the same frame). And you can forget the cunning little costumes: Sweeney is much too blue-collar to wear any of those nancy-boy sequinned numbers. Best thing in the movie: Roy Dotrice grinding out gutturals as the couple's salty middle-European coach.

See facing page for details of 'The Cutting Edge', 'Body Heat' and the BFI New Directors programme. The screening of 'Singin' in the Rain' at the Royal Festival Hall includes dance lessons for the audience. The film is released on video by MGM on 21 September.

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tv 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there