Arts and Entertainment Family values: 'It's a Wonderful Life'

The Independent's film critic selects the ten best festive flicks

director's cut; Larry Gelbart on W C Fields's `The Bank Dick'

There's a scene in The Bank Dick where W C Fields is waiting in line in a bank. He turns around, sees a black man behind him and does this horrendous, racist double-take. There'd have still been segregation at that time (1940), though even then it was pretty outrageous to react in such a bigoted fashion. But everything Fields did was like that. I still think it's funny - I don't like to be politically correct. I'd rather be apolitical and incorrect as often as possible.

CINEMA:More than a degree of chaos

A FILM about the death of the imagination was always likely to have a hard time finding an audience imaginative enough to want to watch it. That has been the ironic fate of Six Degrees of Separation (15), Fred Schepisi's adap- tation of John Guare's hit stage play, which opened (and closed) 18 months ago in America, and only now limps into release here, in time for June's black hole of cinema distribution. Even for those who get to see the film,there are grounds for being put off. As the early dialogue bows and scrapes before you, as if it was still on stage, you may wish to walk out. But stay - there is method in this mannerism. The movie is wordy, stagey and chaotic. But its subjects are words, staginess and chaos.

FILM REVIEW / Paper over the cracks: It's described as a comedy, but who's getting all the jokes? Adam Mars-Jones on The Hudsucker Proxy

The seed from which they germinated Miller's Crossing, according to the Coen Brothers, was the image of a hat in the woods, blown by the wind. The corresponding seed for The Hudsucker Proxy (PG), an infinitely superior movie, might well have been a piece of newspaper blown along the street, refusing to be abandoned by the man who has just thrown it away, wrapping itself doggedly round his leg. A piece of paper with a circle drawn on it, meaning everything and nothing.

FILM / The British are coming (home): You're a British director. You're a hit. You're invited to Hollywood. You're stitched up. You're not alone

Bill Forsyth and Mike Figgis have both vowed never to work in Hollywood again. They are the latest in a long line of British film-makers to be lured there by the promise of artistic freedom and big budgets only to find their creativity stifled by the studios' commercial imperatives. Forsyth has horror stories to tell about Being Human; Figgis about Mister Jones. Both have a familiar ring.

BOOK REIVEW / Mellow tunes and firing squads: 'Captain Corelli's Mandolin' - LOuis de Bernieres: Secker & Warburg, 15.99

LOUIS DE Bernieres' Latin- American trilogy of novels was a trail-blazing flare that took his name into the Granta pack of the Best of Young British Novelists of 1993. But what might be missed, blanked out by the dazzle, is that all three books - The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts (which he thinks is his best book, though now it's eclipsed), Senor Vivo & The Coca Lord, and The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman - are, in effect, a single stretch-limo novel, all ingenious versions, highly polished and purring, of each other.

BOOK REVIEW / Occupied by a bitter mystery of war: Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres: Secker pounds 14.99

IN THIS country we tend to remember the Second World War as a series of famous battles - Dunkirk, El Alamein, Salerno and Normandy: first the heroic retreat from the continent, then the triumphant return. Most war novels follow the same trajectory. It takes a Len Deighton in

Musical granted reprieve

THE acclaimed musical City of Angels has been granted a reprieve after an astonishing box-office turn-around. The pounds 2m show was due to close on 7 August after losing pounds 20,000 a week at the Prince of Wales Theatre, London.

'City of Angels' collapses with loss of pounds 2m

THE WEST END musical City of Angels, which won rave reviews since opening four months ago, is to close on 7 August with the loss of more than pounds 2m.

REVIEWS / Blood complicated

Red Rock West (15) John Dahl (US) The Assassin (18) John Badham (US) The Fencing Master (12) Pedro Olea (Sp)

THEATRE / Bright lights, big city: As City of Angels opens at the Prince of Wales, Rhoda Koenig casts an eye

THERE'S nothing wrong with musicals being mindless, so long as they're not heartless as well. Those who are bothered by the low intellectual level of most musical shows can certainly find solace in City of Angels, which takes us to Hollywood in the late Forties, a world of schemers, sycophants, sluts, and schmucks (the last, of course, a synonym for 'writers'). Not only is Larry Gelbart's brainy book funnier than most straight comedies: David Zippel's lyrics sparkle, Robin Wagner's scenery is stylish, even Paul Gallo's lighting is notable for its wit. Michael Blakemore's production also has plenty to appeal to the senses: the Chandler-esque story we watch being filmed has lavish sets, clever musical staging (by Walter Painter), and the kind of blonde for whom a bishop would kick a hole in a plate-glass window.

MUSIC / Uncertainty in the city of angels: David Patrick Stearns on Lutoslawski's Fourth and Peter Hall's Magic Flute in Los Angeles

Almost as an afterthought, Witold Lutoslawski changed his guest-conducting engagement with the Los Angeles Philharmonic last weekend to include the premiere of his Symphony No 4, perhaps as a gift to an orchestra that plays his music so well. It is less substantial than his Third (1983) or the Piano Concerto (1988) but still major Lutoslawski, and it has a distinctively tragic edge. How else could it be for any composer working in Eastern Europe?

THEATRE / The Rock Station - Cockpit, London NW8

In the 1942 film Thunder Rock Michael Redgrave played a disillusioned anti-fascist newspaperman who retreated to a lighthouse on Lake Michigan to sit out the war in self-imposed isolation. Naturally, by the end he'd realised that no man is an island, etc, and returned to combat the Nazi menace.

Obituary: Feodor Chaliapin Jr

Feodor Chaliapin Jr, actor, died Rome 17 September, aged 87. Best known for his role as the dog-walking grandfather in the 1987 film Moonstruck, in which he played alongside Cher and Nicolas Cage. His career suddenly blossomed in his eighties when, after years of playing bit parts, he was offered the role of the monk, Jorge of Brugos, in The Name of the Rose (1986). Other films followed, including Stanley and Iris (1990), in which he played Robert de Niro's father, and Inner Circle starring Tom Hulce. Son of the famous Russian bass singer Feodor Chaliapin, he emigrated to Paris in the Twenties, and thence to Hollywood.
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