Film: Ring in the old, ring in the new

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Even if you had made a studious effort to avoid every new film released in 1997, you still wouldn't be able to deny that it's been a rich year for cinema - old cinema that is, dusted off and smartened up. The new prints of old films which have surfaced this year have provided the chance to savour classic pictures without having to wade through a snowstorm of scratches, or those jumps that can make a Renoir look like a hip-hop video; they also provide a choice in the matter of when and where you see a film - no longer is a perfect date movie like His Girl Friday consigned to Saturday afternoon on BBC2. For the film critic for whom Charlie Sheen and Chris O'Donnell appear to be taking over the world, the appearance of a Spiral Staircase or a Plein Soleil on the release schedules provides a refreshing oasis. This year has seen some of the finest films ever made returning to the cinema screen - The Battle of Algiers, Vertigo, Citizen Kane, along with glittering treasures like The Honeymoon Killers and Mamma Roma. Anyone who questions the absence of the Star Wars trilogy from this list should consult their GP immediately.

The trend for classic revivals continues in January, with the re-release of Douglas Sirk's stormy melodrama Written on the Wind, the 209 minute director's cut of Das Boot and Eisenstein's explosive Battleship Potemkin. But rounding off 1997 is a new print of Orson Welles's 1942 near masterpiece The Magnificent Ambersons, about the pride and cruelty of a wealthy American family. It isn't the film Welles intended - RKO hacked the 141-minute original version down to just 88 minutes, imposing a happy ending that might have blunted Welles's purpose, but could not smother the film's glory. The studio took the pieces of Welles's jigsaw and reassembled them in a different order, though the performances are so ferociously human that they have survived the interference of the editor's scissors; in particular, Tim Holt as brattish George and Agnes Moorehead as his conniving Aunt Fanny, both driven by a ruthless self-interest which finally engulfs them. As if the film were not compulsive enough on its own, it is accompanied by Hearts of Age, a seven-minute short which was Welles's first work on celluloid. It's a crumb of playful gothic weirdness, with extracts from the radio series "The Shadow" read by Welles over the soundtrack. Minor it may be, but it demands your attention, like most things that Welles was involved in (excluding The Muppet Movie of course).

Another antidote to the seasonal excess arrives on Boxing Day in the shape of the Japanese film Kitchen. The director Yim Ho previously made The Day the Sun Turned Cold, which was released here last year and displayed a promising grasp of visual poetry; but it looks like television soap opera beside Kitchen, the story of a young Chinese girl named Aggie (Yasuko Tomita) who moves in with an eccentric boy hairdresser (Jordan Chan) following the death of her grandmother. I like the way that Yim Ho plunges the camera into his characters - he loves faces, and he takes his time rooting out their secrets. There are surface similarities to the recent British feature Under the Skin, but this is a cooler more contemplative work; it's like swimming around in someone else's subconscious.

Ryan Gilbey

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