A Farewell To Tartan Films
To mourn the loss of the great Tartan Films, Time Out remembers a few of the best films to emerge from their impressive canon
Wild Strawberries (1957)Something of a crash course in received Bergmanisms – with its themes of mortality, remembrance, loss and the inherent nostalgia factor in forest fruits – 'Wild Strawberries' is every bit the masterpiece its reputation suggests. Nearing the end of a cold and loveless existence, doctor Isak Borg travels to receive a lifetime achievement prize and is confronted with the ghosts, dreams and shattered relationships of his past. Finding beauty and tragedy both in intimate details – the strawberries themselves – and in the wider landscape of a man's existence, this is a heartfelt and justifiably feted work of quiet genius.
Ohayo (Good Morning) (1959)Not only did Tartan manage to bag most of the output of Ingmar Bergman, they were also able to fill three DVD box sets with the awe-inspiring films of Japanese master of masters, Yasujiro Ozu. With undisputed classics like ‘Diary of a Tenement Gentleman’, ‘The Flavour of Green Tea Over Rice' and (of course) ‘Tokyo Story’ all present and correct, on this occasion we’re going to doff our floppy sunhat to the lesser-known masterpiece, ‘Good Morning’, which was an update of his equally amazing, Keatonesque rites-of-passage comedy from 1932, ‘I Was Born, But…’. The brilliantly simple premise sees two boys decide to send their parents to Coventry for refusing to buy them a TV. Oh, and it also contains some of the greatest fart gags ever committed to film. Adam Sandler eat your heart out.
El Topo (1970)For sheer maddening thrills, you can’t do much better than Alejandro Jodorowsky’s strung out riff on Western genre conventions, with the director himself playing the titular black-clad gunslinger. As the film develops through scenes of sickening violence and woolly-headed whimsy, it finally transforms into a Herzogian parable where Jodorowsky attempts to build a tunnel in the side of a mountain to release the captive freaks who live a sour existence inside. Mad, mad, mad.
The Fourth Man (1983)Paul Verhoeven's homegrown dry run for 'Basic Instinct' effortlessly tops that film in its depiction of a conflicted bisexual writer who comes face to face with Beelzebub in the form of a leggy bleached-blonde beauty specialist. Structured around a series of dream sequences, hallucinations and graphic fatal accidents (or are they?), 'The Fourth Man' showcases the work of a master filmmaker and provocateur freed of all restrictions, particularly those of taste, decorum or narrative comprehension. Glorious.
Society (1989)'And now... let's get to the bottom of this...' Brian Yuzna's astonishing pseudo-Marxist horror romp was one of the last gasps for the Corman-inspired American B-movie of ideas, scratching the surface of sub-'Beverly Hills 90210' California teen studs and uncovering a race of perverse, orgiastic, aristocratic alien monsters. Drawing in elements of paranoid fantasy, lowbrow soap, sitcom slapstick and straight gore, the final 20 minutes of 'Society' contains some of the most extreme and nauseating images in American cinema, hammering its politics home with relentless, exhilarating energy.
Europa (1991)There was a time when, to Lars Von Trier, filmmaking involved such fanciful accoutrements as dollies, cranes, scripts, sets, actors and celluloid. That time was in 1991, when the Danish enfant terrible produced one of his greatest works, a sumptuous, hyper-expressionist neo-noir post-WW2 thriller in which Jean-Marc Barr plays an idealistic American GI who gets a job as a sleeping car conductor on a German railroad and becomes embroiled in a neo-Nazi terrorist conspiracy. With its moody lighting, rear projections and surreal image constructs, seeing it again you half hope that Von Trier will toss his computer-operated mini-DV camera onto the slag heap and shoot another lavish, minutely crafted pic like this one.
Man Bites Dog (1992)Perhaps the most famous (and certainly the most violent) film to ever come out of Belgium, Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel and Benoît Poelvoorde’s shocking antecedent to the currently en vogue faux-documentary sub-genre is a bristling and brutal exercise in voyeurism and media complicity. Poelvoorde oozes a dangerous charm as the blasé serial killer Ben, committing murder on an impulsive whim and taking great joy in trying to explain the meaning behind his crimes to the ever-watchful camera.
L.I.E. (2001)Brian Cox delivers his finest performance to date in Michael Cuesta's astonishing debut feature: his Big John Harrigan – businessman, father figure, paedophile – is simply one of the most rounded, complex portraits of ambiguous, seductive villainy ever presented onscreen. But what's truly astounding is that he is matched scene-for-scene by his 16-year-old co-stars Billy Kay and especially 'There Will Be Blood''s Paul Dano as Howie, the fractured centre of this shocking, contemplative and painfully human drama.
Mysterious Skin (2004)Gregg Araki took a sharp turn away from the controversy-baiting rough and tumble of his early features by adapting Scott Heim's novel into this purposeful, emotive and utterly devastating study of abuse and its ramifications. No other American film has dared to confront such painful issues head-on, and it's thanks to a magical central cast – including Joseph Gordon-Levitt in his first truly grown-up role – and some fearless writing that the story retains such intensity and power. Perhaps the best American movie of the decade so far.
Silent Light (2006)‘Silent Light’ was another open-heart study of male repression and spiritual transcendence from gifted, cine-literate Mexican helmer Carlos Reygadas (Tartan also released his previous, divisive ‘Battle in Heaven’), and was one of 2007’s most remarkable films. Ideas and motifs from Bergman, Bresson, Tarkovsky and Dreyer are all delicately kneaded into this near-agonising mix of catatonic Mennonite farming families forced to address matters of the heart which go against the strict moral codes they live by. The opening scene of a morning sunrise was filmed with such otherworldly radiance (not to mention technical virtuosity), it’ll tap the tear ducts of even the most hardened brute.
Author: Tom Huddleston, David Jenkins
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