With "Hitchcock" now in theaters giving us a (not very accurate) portrait of the Master of Suspense, one of history's greatest directors is once again in the conversation. Additionally, the National Film Preservation is currently streaming a partial copy of "The White Shadow," a 1924 silent by Graham Cutts, one of Hitchcock’s early mentors and collaborators. In honor of Cutts and Hitchcock, this week’s column highlights our neighbors across the Atlantic, with five great classics of British cinema that have yet to grace us with discs of their own here.
What’s Going On: Based on Terrence Davies' own life, a tone poem focusing on the births, deaths, and marriages of a family led by a stern patriarch (Pete Postlethwaite) in 1940s Liverpool.
Why You Need To See It: Davies’ films have been few and far between during the last two decades, though he gave us a hauntingly emotional work with "The Deep Blue Sea" this year. But his debut feature remains his best—flowing through memory between its two halves with provocative beauty but never romantic nostalgia. The repeated gestures of pub visits, familial celebrations, and occasional violence marks a distant era of a post-war Manchester that speaks volumes about the world we can and can’t live without.
Why You Can’t Get a Disc: It’s unclear who exactly owns the rights to 'Distant Voices.' IFC seems to own the TV rights, as it played earlier this year at the not-so-convenient time of 6 AM. The Film Desk owns the rights to Davies’ second feature, "The Long Day Closes," which is also in need of a proper DVD release. Perhaps they can work something out?
How You Can See It: Thankfully, Davies is a national treasure in his home country, and the BFI has a decent R2 DVD release. It is also available on VHS.
What’s Going On: Another portrait of a dysfunctional family, this one made up of a quirky dad (Jim Broadbent), a sentimental mother (Alison Steadman), and their twin 22-year-old daughters, one an over achiever (Claire Skinner) and the other a social pariah (Jane Horrocks).
Why You Need To See It: What is happiness? This is probably the overarching question of Mike Leigh’s career. "Life is Sweet" is of course an ironic title for a film that is certainly a comedy, but has a lot of emotion buried underneath as these four characters struggle through the hardships of life, notably Horrocks’s character and her attempts to define herself in a family she can’t exactly fit into. This is certainly one of Leigh’s funniest films in many ways, and the dialogue is certainly catchy, but Leigh leaves you in a state of melancholy hope as each character slowly reveals their desperate interiors.
Why You Can’t Get A Disc: Technically you can order a disc from the Film4 Library, but the transfer is questionable at best (almost a sub-standard VHS transfer). A film that is so essential in Leigh’s career—especially because of its mix of broad comedy and pathos—deserves a release of Criterion standards.
How You Can See It: Film4 has a sub-standard DVD release, but they have a wonderful UK Blu-Ray worth checking out if you can.