We caught up with our August House Guest A.L. Kennedy, one of Scotland's most wonderful contemporary authors, before her introduction to Elem Klimov's Come and See on Wednesday 15 August at Filmhouse.
In the first instance, these are all films I genuinely like, but it turns out they all have a fairly similar theme. Unfortuantely it's also fairly relevant theme right now.
I definitely wanted to put Come and See if I ever had the chance to do something like this, so it probably started from there – mainly because people haven’t seen it, and there’s an idea of what a “war film” is – normally from the perpetrators point of view, there are good guys and bad guys and good always is triumphant.This film isn't like that. It’s the only war film that’s actually like being in a war. It takes the point of view of people who are running like hell, which is the majority of people’s role in war. It comes out of a different tradition in Eastern Europe – they regard our idea of the war film as quite childish.
It’s very important to see now in a climate where we seem to be saying “hipster nazis are ok". It shows you how it always ends up – they were hipsters then, wearing Hugo Boss uniforms. Their trousers were always great. But they always wanted to kill women and children. This is a REAL film about that. Nobody says “ I want to be with Mickey Mouse in America” – there are none of those Western clichés, no happy endings.
I watched it last week for the first time in 15 years – I think once every 15 years is probably about right! It’s so beautiful – it’s utterly gobsmackingly gorgeous - and it would be easier to pick out frames that wouldn’t make a beautiful photograph than the ones that would.The other European film I've picked is Docteur Petiot – it’s an astonishing performance from Michel Serrault, and, I don’t think, that well known a bit of history. It’s an incredible response to that history. At the end, when you look at a pile of suitcases of people who thought they were going somewhere of recalls other collections of suitcases of people who thought they were going somewhere.
I grew up with cinema – primarily James Bond films – but I've always especially loved French cinema. My German translator tells me I write French novels! I taught myself French by watching French films – I would slowly obliterate all of the subtitles, watch films over and over again. It was great, because you get swearing!There are three American films, from a period in American cinema when all the brilliant creators and production staff were Jewish European – they really understood what cinema was for. The period in which American cinema made itself was not governed by Americans.
The Great Dictator, the greatest film of the great British Émigré Charie Chaplin. In order to give you the wonderful speech at the end of the film, Chaplin has to give you a comedy – but it's a speech could be played every half hour NOW.Then there's Duck Soup by the brilliant German-French-Jewish-American Marx Brothers. I mean, you’ve got to have the Marx brothers, and this is the only film that’s as clever and funny as they were, full of pomp and ceremony, and the amazingly funny idea of crooks being in charge of a country…
On the surface, It Happened One Night is a little bit of an outlier here, politically – it’s just a fantastic film. But it’s the type of film they stopped making as soon as McCarthy kicked in. Everybody in that movie is somebody. It’s a screwball comedy with a male lead AND a female lead, and they’ll both be huge, they’ll both be great – after McCarthy, all these incredible female characters just disappeared.In some ways, 'Pimpernel' Smith is kind of hilarious – they must have had a better idea of what a concentration camp was by 1941! But again, the movie’s final speech is a strong statement against fascism. It’s about cleverness, peace, tenderness, and intellectual activity being a good thing – it’s a very un-British British film.I don’t get to the cinema enough these days – I’m so busy – but I loved Berberian Sound Studio – and I never want to see it again! There are 5 minutes after it ends when you realise what it all means – it’s horrifying. I unfortunately don’t see a lot. I tend to sit alone in my basement and project these screwball comedies that I’ve never heard of, that I'm furious I've never heard of, that are amazing. Things like Bachelor Mother, A Touch of Larceny – again with all of these amazing female characters, played by women that nobody’s ever heard of like Jean Arthur, a brilliant actress.