Cinema is something everyone can enjoy – have you ever met anyone who doesn’t like trudging to catch a movie on a rainy day? But how many films do we really know of? Your everyday cinema is just scraping the surface; there’s a whole world out there waiting to be discovered and that’s exactly what Seventyseven are here to do. Forget your Hollywood movies. It’s time to get into the nitty-gritty world of alternative cinema and shorts. We caught up with Owen, Kris and Mark to find out what their world of cinematic entertainment is all about…
Hi guys, how’s it going?
OWEN MAYNARD: Rad
KRIS COWELL: Great, thanks! Yourself?
MARK PEARCE: Good, thanks.
What’s Seventyseven all about? When did it start? How did you come up with the idea?
OWEN: It started years ago as a few friends showing each other films round each others houses. After doing that for years we figured that many of the films we were watching would be great to share with others and we’ve been lucky enough that some venues are up for helping.
KRIS: We were originally based at the Southbank Club in Bedminster (hence our Twitter handle @77southbank). Our first screening was Carl Th. Dreyer’s ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc’ back in October 2013, followed a week later by a double bill of Peter Watkins films (‘Culloden’ & ‘The War Game’). We moved to Tuesday evenings at The Arts House in Stokes Croft just over a year ago. So we’ve been around for a while now.
What can people expect from your nights?
OWEN: Hopefully a film they enjoy.
MARK: Surprise. Hopefully provokes thought. Discussion. Debate. Disagreement.
KRIS: All film, no frills I suppose. We also like to keep the films stylistically varied from week to week – there should be something for most tastes. By and large we show films that may have fallen off most people’s radar – although this isn’t always the case – so it’s about discovering something new you may not have ever come across otherwise. It works both ways however as we’re also happy to take interesting requests. I doubt I’d have found out about films such as Poitín (1977) if one of regulars had not suggested it. We care passionately about the films we choose to show and I hope that this enthusiasm spills over at the screenings.
Would you say cinema has played a big part in your life? When did you first get involved in the movie-scene?
MARK: Cinema certainly dominated much of my formative years. I’ve had an interest in history all my life and much of the films I saw in my childhood were historical epics like Anthony Mann’s ‘The Fall of the Roman Empire’. I also recall being very struck by Watkins’ ‘Culloden’ and Kubrick’s ‘Barry Lyndon’. I was obsessed with Fraser C Heston’s adaptation of ‘Treasure Island’ and equally ‘Patton’. George C Scott remains a favourite actor of mine. Now as I have got older and my tastes have widened, cinema remains as important, if not more important than it ever was. To see a new release, for instance, is always stimulating and inspiring.
KRIS: It’s been a lifelong obsession, and now even more so. When I was, I don’t know, seven years old or something I remember telling someone that I was scared of snakes – even though I wasn’t – just because Indiana Jones was. I tried to get into karate lessons because of ‘Karate Kid’ but was too young so was forced to take up judo. After watching ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’ (1959), I convinced other kids in my street to start digging. When I was nine/ten my sister got a thoroughly justified bollocking for taking a pair of scissors to my taped copy of ‘Hellraiser’. I’d cry when Jaws died because I liked sharks, but I only liked sharks because I liked the film! I remember skiving off school to watch films by David Lean, Powell & Pressburger and Carol Reed on BBC2. I’m forever watching films only to realise I’ve seen them before in the distant past. Seventyseven is my first foray into public screening, however.
OWEN: Yeah, all of us watch loads of films. I got more into film after I watched some blockbuster years ago and realised I knew everything about it before it had even started. I wanted something new. I guess getting into the film scene in Bristol simply comes from realising that everyone has seen something you haven’t. People who are genuinely into films are always happy to share info on films they love and after a while you come together.
The films you show are very alternative and experimental. How do you go about finding new films to show?
OWEN: Internet and word of mouth … stealing overpriced books on cinema?
KRIS: Much like anyone interested in underground music knows, one thing generally leads to the discovery of another. If you find something you like there’s usually something else of similar interest connected to it somehow. Obviously things are easier now with the internet and growing specialist and boutique DVD labels. When I was a kid we just had to browse titles in rental shops or see it on late night TV etc. But there are plenty of avenues out there – books, magazines, Facebook groups, Youtube and other websites.
Have there been any films you’ve found that are a little bit too out there to show, or is it just anything goes?
KRIS: We’ve already screened an evening of Jeff Keen films, so there’s most definitely nothing too out there to show. We’re not out there enough if anything. The reverse is probably true. There are some films I like a lot but I see no purpose in showing them as they’re already well known. I’d rather a small but enthusiastic group turn up for their first viewing of films by the likes of Jiri Trnka or Larisa Shepitko than a sea of people mouthing along for umpteenth time with every line from yet another screening of ‘Withnail & I’. I love Die Hard but it’s on TV every Christmas so why bother. I see no joy in being conservative. Then again, we’re showing ‘Watership Down’ next month (in a Richard Adams adaptation double with ‘The Plague Dogs’) so we’re not so ruthlessly uncompromising or dogmatic about such things.
MARK: I have discussed with Kris about possibly screening the surprisingly graphic 1920s pornographic films compiled as ‘The Good Old Naughty Days’. It seems important to cater to so-called high art as much as trash. To show the Sacred and the Profane.
OWEN: The only criteria we want is that the film is really good.
On 17th March you are screening ‘The Tale of the Fox’ (1941) plus short films. What is this about?
KRIS: ‘The Tale of the Fox’ is a landmark of stop-motion puppet animation by pioneering Polish-Russian animator Władysław Starewicz (alternatively spelt Ladislas Starevich or Starewitch to overcome pronunciation problems on emigrating to France to flee the Revolution). He began making animation out of necessity: in 1910 in his role as a director of a natural history museum he wanted to film to stag beetles fighting but they’d die under stage lighting so he used dead ones replacing their legs with wire. And from there went on to produce cinema magic as an animator.
‘The Tale of the Fox’ was completed animation-wise by 1930 with his daughter Irene as a silent film but due to the arrival of sound it’s release was delayed until it could be turned into a talkie (1937 in German, 1941 in French). The film a follows the story of the fox Renard who is endlessly playing tricks on the other animals. Due to mounting complaints, the King (a lion) calls for him to come before the throne to face justice. But because of the fox’s wits this order turns out to be somewhat difficult to carry out. We will also be screening a few films from his late silent period in France. His films are utterly charming and reduce you to a state of childlike wonder much like those of stylistically very different German animator Lotte Reiniger. Yet they can at times carry a bite of political cynicism.
What’s been your favourite night so far from Seventyseven?
MARK: It’s always a delight watching old silent classics. I was in awe of Lev Kuleshov’s ‘By the Law’ (1926). Inspired by a Jack London story, it concerns frontier justice in the Yukon.
OWEN: I thought it was really funny when people applauded and cheered at the end of The King of Kong. I really dug Milos Forman’s ‘Taking Off’ and Herbert Ponting’s ‘The Great White Silence’.
KRIS: ‘Marquis’ (Henri Xhonneux, 1989) was a massive revelation for me as I doubt I’d have found out about it had Mark not suggested it. I’m still surprised that we got as big a crowd as we did for Jane Arden’s very uncompromising and difficult ‘The Other Side of Underneath’ – a couple of squares walked out for fear the film was designed to induce schizophrenia! Hosting the Bristol premiere of ‘Savage Witches’ (Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais, 2012) as part of Scalarama. That I have been able to introduce people to such films as ‘The Idea’ (Berthold Bartosch, 1932), ‘Happiness’ (Alexandr Medvedkin, 1934) and the cybersatanic video nasty ‘Evilspeak’ (Eric Weston, 1981) has been a real pleasure.
This might be a tricky one but do you have a personal favourite movie from all those you’ve discovered?
MARK: A film I would certainly say is one of my very favourites is Louis Malle’s ‘Le Feu Follet’ which we are screening on April 14th along with his ‘Black Moon’. It’s a beautifully grim and bleak meditation on suicide. Yet it’s also very sensitive and compassionate. The central performance from Maurice Ronet is extraordinary and the use of Erik Satie’s music Gymnopedies is something to behold.
OWEN: I mentioned ‘Taking Off’ earlier but also Punishment Park’ (Peter Watkins, 1971) and ‘Performance’ (Nicolas Roeg & Donald Cammell, 1970).
KRIS: Jeff Keen’s films are essential viewing. Previously mentioned ‘The Idea’, ‘Happiness’ and ‘Evilspeak’ are easily amongst my favourites. Hiroshi Shimizu’s 1936 masterpiece ‘Mr Thank You’ I intend to screen later in the year also. Fred & Ginger films, especially ‘Top Hat’. There are others that are certainly in my top ten but to call them “discoveries” would be a stretch to say the least and I wouldn’t show for reasons already stated such as the first two Terminator movies and ‘Blade Runner’. Having a broad taste means many favourites aren’t really comparable enough to weed out a winner.
Are there any other movie events in Bristol we should check out?
KRIS: Hellfire Video Club, Bristol Bad Film Club, Bristol Silents, 20th Century Flicks are all fantastic. Slapstick Festival, obviously. The University of Bristol Fine Film Society does great work. Various film nights and events at The Cube, Watershed, Curzon and Arnolfini. UWE Film Society. There’s a film club at the Golden Lion and a new cult film club at the Sugar Loaf which is set to start this month (sadly on Tuesdays). There’s a kids film club at the Southbank Club. Loads more no doubt.
MARK: There is also a great Sunday monthly classic film club at the Southbank Club, in Dean Lane, hosted by Norman Taylor. They screen films from 1930-60. Doors open at 5.30 for 6pm start.
OWEN: So all of them!
KRIS: I like the idea of creating a Bristol film fanzine to offer a listing of all the events happening – not just the obvious ones as usually is the case. Whether it’ll happen is another question.
With summer on the way, have you ever considered an open-air event?
KRIS: We’re certainly interested in upscaling our events at some point in the future, so who knows.
OWEN: Yes, but on an old TV at a bus stop.
When you’re not diving through the archives and watching films, where do you head to in Bristol? Any place you’d recommend?
OWEN: The Island, for mental music.
Anything you’d like to add?
KRIS: Firstly, I like to thank yourselves for assuming we were interesting enough to interview. I’d also want to thank Annabel and Jess at the Southbank Club and Antonia and everyone at The Arts House for giving us free reign to do these nights despite some low turn outs at times. Hellfire Video Club, Bristol Bad Film Club and Bristol Silents for their friendship and support. And I can’t forget our regulars, especially Richard and Aonghus, who display a borderline insane trust in our film judgement and anyone who has come along at any point.
‘The Tale of the Fox’ plus short films will be screened at 8.30pm Tuesday 17th March at The Arts House, Stokes Croft. £2 entry.