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Curzon Goldsmiths Recommends...
Curzon Goldsmiths Recommends...

Good evening from Curzon Goldsmiths! 

I binged Ryan Murphy’s new Netflix series Hollywood over the weekend. The show imagines a Hollywood in which the stories of the marginalised can be told; an America in which big screen representation can change hearts and minds. At the heart of the narrative is the production of a new film reimagining the real-life tragedy of Peg Entwistle, star of the silent film era, who met her end when she jumped from the Hollywood sign. It’s not quite a straightforward biopic, though: “Peg” makes way for “Meg” and a black female lead, the first ever in the history of Hollywood. 

It’s an alluring concept, no doubt, and what better to have now than a tale of triumph over adversity? I mean, what a tantilisingly optimistic world the show imagines – one in which racial parity is achieved twenty years in advance of the civil rights movement. And all through the power of The Movies! 

Yet reviews have been tepid, to say the least. As well-intended the show is, it awkwardly curtails political context (has Murphy heard of the Hays Code?) and the success of Meg serves as the sole catalyst for a new, utopian America in which the marginalised flourish... but is that even true today, mere years after #OscarsSoWhite? It all feels a bit off. I think Sam Adam put it well for Slate: “[Hollywood is] an inadvertent but stinging rebuke to the trailblazers who struggled and sacrificed to win partial victories against almost impossible odds, even if the compromises they reached might now seem unacceptable.” 

As divisive as the show might be, it’s worth a watch. It might’ve been a dud for me, too, but it’s certainly led me to rediscover an appetite for the classics.  

From Sunset Boulevard, to 12 Angry Men, to The Apartment (more below), has Hollywood experienced a more dazzling, exciting and fascinating period than with the Classical Era? Here’re our picks of the best of the bunch now streaming.

- Jack King, Cinema Programme Curator at Curzon Goldsmiths 

We recommend: City Lights
Curzon Home CinemaCharlie Chaplin | 1931

City Lights is the last film of the Silent era (“Talkies? They’ll never take off!”), where Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp makes his final appearance as ..erm.. a tramp, who falls in love with a blind flower seller. Chaplin produced, directed, starred in, distributed and wrote the theme tune - his score synchronises with the film; a kazoo is used to imitate the speech of the officials unveiling the city monument in the opening scene.

This film inspired the greatest of directors: Kubrick, Welles, Tarkovsky Scorsese, Fellini… (And it also inspired Woody Allen). Part social critique covering prejudice, disability and class, it has a massive heart and teaches empathy, selflessness and kindness. But with enough visual humour, slapstick and that tiny moustache to appeal to my Teutonic sensibilities.

 - Lydia Penke, Programmer at Curzon Cinemas

We recommend: Guess Who's Coming To Dinner

Amazon Prime VideoStanley Kramer | 1967

Produced and released just before the Classical Era made way for the brats of New Hollywood, Stanley Kramer’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner sees Joanna (Katharine Houghton) bring her new black boyfriend John (Sidney Poitier) home to meet her liberal parents. Joanna was raised without prejudice, but in a twist which seems an obvious inspiration for Jordan Peele’s Get Out, her parents balk at the idea of them getting married. 

The film serves as a fascinating time capsule, serving as something of a microcosm for an American society changed forever by the civil rights movement. That’s not to say that the film’s politics don’t feel dated – it's very much a relic in the way it treats women, and the presence of Joanna’s parents’ black maid, Tillie, is never critically assessed – but it stands as an interesting, oft entertaining watch. And Sidney Poitier!

- JK

We recommend: Rope

Amazon Prime VideoAlfred Hitchcock | 1948

I recall the discomfort I felt as a pre-teen watching Alfred Hitchcock’s crime thriller Rope, anxious that the intense dialogue between the leading men Brandon Shaw (John Dall) and Philip Morgan (Farley Granger) might be overheard out of context: ‘You’re not frightened any more, are you Phillip?’ ‘No.’ ‘Not even of me?’ … ‘Brandon, how did you feel?’ ‘When?’ ‘During it.’ The film excavates the motivations, thought processes and relationship of two men who kill a former classmate to prove they can commit the perfect crime.  

While the US Hays Code prohibited almost any discussion of homosexuality in cinema, this subtext to their relationship remains clear with carefully plotted tension between the two queer actors: Dall has long been suspected of being gay and Granger came out later in life. Under-appreciated on its release, the film has become a queer favourite.

- Justin Bengry, Course Convenor for MA Queer History at Goldsmiths 

We recommend: The Apartment

Youtube | Billy Wilder | 1960 

Few did it as well as Wilder. Just look at that filmography: Some Like it Hot, Sunset Boulevard, Double IndemnityThe Long Weekend. He directed fourteen different actors in Oscar-nominated performances. He worked with more genres than Baumbach has had hits. (And Baumbach is great!) It might not be his best, but I think The Apartment, his office-set sex satire, is one of my favourites: a hilarious dressing-down of macho archetypes as much as it is a critique of the American workplace.  

It all revolves around a key. Desperate to curry favour with his bosses, C. C. “Bud” Baxter (Jack Lemmon) periodically gives them access to his rented apartment (with a separate living room, bedroom, kitchen and bathroom, at 25% of his wage, in Central Park – those were the days!) for their drunken trysts. Eventually he gets the executive office he’s been fawning over. But when Bud and his boss fall for the same woman... well, you can imagine how that goes. A certified classic. 

- JK 

We recommend: To Kill A Mockingbird

Amazon Prime Video | Robert Mulligan | 1962

To Kill a Mockingbird presents a sobering account of judicial racism in 20th century America. Set in Maycomb, Alabama, 1932, the film is centred around the trial of Tom Robinson, a young black man accused of raping a white girl. A liberal perspective on the racist injustices of the Deep South, the film follows Atticus Finch, an earnest lawyer and widowed father of two children: older son Jem and daughter Jean Louise ("Scout"), the films narrator. 

Highly regarded for its educational value and an academy hit, this tale of civil maturity was determined to expose its young characters to the dark reality of racial discrimination and societal inequality. It’s listed in the BFI's '50 Films You Should See By Age 14,' and there's no time like the present to explore a piece of cinema history. 

- Nathan Brown, Front of House at Curzon Goldsmiths 

Now streaming on Curzon Home Cinema
Now streaming on Curzon Home Cinema: The Whistlers

Curzon Home Cinema | Corneliu Porumboiu | 2020

Cristi, a police inspector in Bucharest, is drawn into a high stakes heist that takes him to a Spanish island where he has to learn the local dialect - a secret whistling language - to pull off the biggest deal of his life. 

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