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2015, the best of the year

On balance, 2015 wasn’t a bad year for me. Things improved in $dayjob, goodish things happened in my little corner of genre, and I read a number of excellent books and watched lots of excellent films. Music-wise, it was both successful and not so successful: I discovered some more new bands on Bandcamp, and this year we went VIP for Bloodstock and it really was worth the extra money; but I saw fewer bands live than in previous years, and none of my favourite ones toured the UK – and if they did, it was only in the big cities, like London, Birmingham or Glasgow. But, like I said, some excellent books and films – so much so, I had trouble picking my top five in each. But I did finally manage it.

Oh, and I got a new cat. Oscar. He’s two years old, and I’d forgotten how much of a pain young cats can be.

books
A strange year of reading, on reflection, and I’m not entirely sure why. I read some books as research for All That Outer Space Allows (which was published this year), I read some other non-fiction books (on space and aircraft and submersibles, mostly), I read some sf novels for SF Mistressworks and some more recent genre works… And I decided to widen my reading to include more classic literature. While I like to think of myself primarily as a science fiction fan, of late I’ve found it hard to generate much enthusiasm for recent sf. In part, that’s due to the way fandom is changing as a result of social media and online promotion, but also because a lot of current sf seems to me more interested in style rather than content. I like sf ideas and sense of wonder, but I also like good writing, sophisticated themes and a willingness to experiment with form and structure. While some works which meet those criteria were indeed published in 2015, those I came across didn’t feel especially progressive. Which is why you’ll notice a few notable titles missing from my top five below (and I have only one, in fact, that was actually published in 2015).

loving1 Loving, Henry Green (1945).
An author new to me in 2015, and despite being about a subject – life belowstairs in the Irish country house of an English nob during WWII – that doesn’t interest me in the slightest, Green’s writing was wonderful and his narrative technique amazing. I will be reading more by him – hell, I plan to read everything he ever wrote.

wolves2 Wolves, Simon Ings (2014).
There was some small fuss when this appeared in early 2014, but by the time awards came around it had been forgotten. Which was a shame. And I wished I’d read it in time to nominate it last year – because this is plainly one of the best sf novels of 2014. The focus of his novel tends to drift a little as the story progresses, but Ings has still managed to produce one of the smartest works of sf – if not the smartest work of sf – of the last few years.

grasshopperschild3 The Grasshopper’s Child, Gwyneth Jones (2014).
A new Gwyneth Jones novel is cause for celebration, even if it’s a YA addendum to the non-YA Bold as Love quintet. But there’s a reason Jones is my favourite science fiction writer, and they’re all evident in this short novel. On the one hand, this is a smart YA novel and I’m no fan of YA fiction; on the other, it’s Gwyneth Jones and her Bold as Love world. But it’s also self-published, so it needs to be on as many best-of lists as possible so that Jones keeps on writing. (And why was it self-published? Do the major UK genre imprints not want to publish new work by the country’s best sf writer?)

darkoribt4 Dark Orbit, Carolyn Ives Gilman (2015).
I’ve been saying for years that Gilman is a name to watch, and she has at last been given the opportunity to demonstrate it to a wider audience. (She amply demonstrated it with her fantasy diptych from ChiZine Publications back in 2011/2012, but genre commentators can only apparently see what appears from major imprints – which is, if you’ll forgive me, fucking short-sighted). Anyway, Dark Orbit deservedly received a lot of positive reviews, and though to me it didn’t quite feel like Gilman firing on all cylinders, it showed great promise. More from her, please.

bone_clocks5 The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell (2014).
Friends have been singing the praises of Mitchell for years, but I’ve never really understood why. I mean, I enjoyed Cloud Atlas, and I thought it was clever… but it did seem a little over-praised. But The Bone Clocks is the novel that all the praise had led me to believe Cloud Atlas was. It’s his most insightful yet – and also his most genre.

Honourable mentions: a few titles got bumped from best of the half-year top five, although they were excellent books and probably didn’t deserve to be demoted – namely, The Leopard, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (1958), a classic of Italian twentieth-century literature (a bloody good film too); A Division Of The Spoils, Paul Scott (1975), the final book of the Raj Quartet and as beautifully written as the other three; and What the Doctor Ordered, Michael Blumlein (2013), wich showcases why he remains one of my favourite genre short story writers. Also read and noteworthy were: Strange Bodies, Marcel Theroux (2013), a literate mystery based on an interestingly odd premise; Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov (1962), my first by him and, though perhaps overly prissy, excellent; One Thousand and One Nights, Hanan Al-Shaykh (2011), a bawdy, and multiply-nested retelling of some of its title’s stories; Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson (1981), her beautifully-written debut novel; and Galactic Suburbia, Lisa Yaszek (2008), used for research and a fascinating read.

films
I went all-out on the 1001 Movies you Must See Before You Die list in 2015. So much so, in fact, that I signed up with a second DVD rental service, Cinema Paradiso, because they had some films from the list that weren’t available on Amazon’s Lovefilm by Post. And I bought an Amazon Fire TV Stick too, which gave me access to even more movies. Meanwhile, I purged my DVD collection of all the superhero films (why did I buy them in the first place?) and the shit sf movies (why did I buy them in the first place?), not to mention lots of other films I’d bought over the years. My collection is now looking very different, much more of cineaste’s collection (even though I say so myself), with lots of works by Sokurov, Dreyer, Murnau and Benning – and from earlier years, Bergman, Tarkovsky, Kieslowski and Haneke, among many others.

The 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die challenge has been… interesting. It introduced me to the works of James Benning. I’ve also seen a lot of not very good films that really didn’t belong on the list (mostly from Hollywood, it has to be said). And I’ve seen a lot of early cinema, most of which proved quite interesting. Only one of the five films in my top five was not a “discovery” from the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list.

playtime1 Playtime, Jacques Tati (1967)
How could this not be my number one choice? It certainly was halfway back in June, and it remains so now at the end of the year. I loved its Brutalist production design, its situational humour, its wit… it is a work of cinematic genius. I’d watched a rental DVD but I loved it so much I bought a Blu-ray copy for myself… and then bought a boxed set of Blu-rays of Tati’s entire oeuvre. A film that went straight into my personal top ten best films of all time.

deseret2 Deseret, James Benning (1995)
Ever loved a film so much you went out and bought every DVD you could find by that director? Oh wait, I did that for Tati. But I also did it for Benning. Fortunately, Östereichesichen Filmmuseum have been releasing Benning’s films on DVDs the last couple of years, so there were a few for me to get. And yet… Deseret is static shots of Utah landscape, and later cityscape, while a voice reads out stories from the New York Times from 1895 to the present day. It is cinema as art installation. And I loved it. I am now a huge Benning fan. And I have all of the DVDs that Östereichesichen Filmmuseum have released. And am eagerly awaiting more.

shepitko3 Wings, Larisa Shepitko (1966)
Shepitko’s Ascent is on 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list, but the only copy of it I could find was a Criterion double with Wings. I bought it. I watched Ascent. It was good. But then I watched Wings. And it was so much better. A female fighter pilot of the Great Patriotic War, and Hero of the Soviet Union, is now the principal of a school. It’s an artful juxtaposition, more so because the protagonist is female. And it was Shepitko’s debut film. War films, like Ascent, strike me as too easy as choices for assorted lists, but the social drama versus war of Wings is much more interesting. This film should have been on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list. I’d also like to see more by Shepitko.

elegy_voyage4 Elegy of a Voyage, Aleksandr Sokurov (2001)
Come on, you didn’t expect me not to have a Sokurov film on this list, did you? I’m being nice by not putting five on it. Well, okay, five maybe could have made it, but one was a rewatch from previous years and so didn’t count. But four could have done. (Yes, the other three are in my honourable mentions below.) Elegy of a Voyage is one of Sokurov’s documentaries, but it’s more of a meditation than an informational film, in which Sokurov muses on journeys and art, particularly ‘The Tower of Babel’ by Bruegel.

cleo5 Cleo from 5 to 7, Agnès Varda (1962). I have found the Nouvelle Vague to be something of a mixed bag – in fact, I’ve found the oeuvres of Nouvelle Vague directors to be something of a mixed bag. But the only Varda I’d seen prior to Cleo from 5 to 7 was a documentary from 2000. Cleo from 5 to 7 may have covered similar ground to some of Godard’s 1960s films, but it does it so much better. Loved it.

Honourable mentions: two films were dropped from my best of the half year list, one a Sokurov, one a documentary: Jodorowskys Dune (2013) is a fascinating look at a major sf film that never happened, but still left its fingerprints all over sf cinema; Stone (1992) is a typically enigmatic drama from Sokurov… but I could just as easily mention Whispering Pages (1994; which he knocked together after his financing fell apart, but it still manages to hit all those Sokurovian notes), or Spiritual Voices (1995; a documentary about Russian soldiers on the Afghanistan border whose first 40 minutes are a static shot of a Siberian wood). But there’s also Tati’s Mon oncle (1958), nearly as good as Playtime; James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenge (2014), an excellent documentary on his visit to Challenger Deep, only the third person to do so; American Dreams (lost and found) (1984), another Benning piece with an unconventional narrative; Salt of the Earth, Herbert J Biberman (1954), an astonishing piece of social realism drama that deserves to be better known; Sleeping Beauty, Clyde Geronimi (1959), easily the best of the Disney feature films. Day Of Wrath (1943) was another excellent film from Dreyer, Effi Briest (1974) was I thought the best of the Rainer Werner Fassbinder box set I watched, and 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (1967) was a Jean-Luc Godard that I was surprised to find I liked very much.

albums
I spent much of the year further exploring Bandcamp, and so stumbled across yet more excellent music. I did not, however, see much music live this year – Sólstafir were excellent back in February, Voices and Winterfylleth were very good in September, and highlights of this year’s Bloodstock included Ne Obliviscaris, Sumer, Opeth and Agalloch.

1 Sidereus Nuncius, Apocynthion (2013)
Spanish progressive death metal, not unlike NahemaH (also Spanish, and a favourite band… although they disbanded last year). It seems a little unfair to describe a group’s sound by how much like another band’s it is, but metal these days is such a wide and diverse genre labels are often next to useless. Apocynthion play prgressive metal with clean and growl vocals, some death metal song structures, sound effects and samples, a heavy post-metal influence and a great deal of technical ability.

panopticon2 Autumn Eternal, Panopticon (2015)
Panopticon’s Kentucky from 2013, with its mix of black metal and bluegrass, is an astonishing album… but I picked it for my best of last year. Their new album (I say “their” but it’s a one-man show) mixes folky acoustic parts with intense black metal, and it works really well.

3 Ghostwood, Navigator (2013)
This is polished progressive rock with a little bit of djent thrown into the mix, with solid riffs and some catchy hooks. They described themselves as “for fans of Porcupine Tree”, although I think this album is better than most of that band’s albums.

grorr4 Anthill, Grorr (2012)
A relatively recent discovery this one, Grorr play progressive death metal, but more like Gojira than, say, Opeth. There’s all sorts in here – bagpipes, sitar, various types of drums. It’s a wonderfully varied album, but still coherent.

5 An Act of Name Giving, Butterfly Trajectory (2015)
Anothe rrecent discovery. Butterfly Trajectory also play progressive death metal – there seems to be a common theme to this top five… They’re from Poland, and while their sound is quite Opeth-ish, they’re a good deal better than fellow countrymen Gwynbleidd who play similar material. Butterfly Trajectory seem to like their progressive bits a tad more than their death metal bits, which works really well.

Honourable mentions: Worst Case Scenario, Synesthesia (2015), French progessive death metal with plenty of other musical styles thrown in, excellent stuff; Kyrr, Kontinuum (2015), Icelandic post-metal, a little more commercial than fellow countrymen Sólstafir… whose Ótta (2015) and Svartir Sandar (2011) are excellent heavy post-metal albums; Cold and the Silence, Martriden (2015), yet more shredding from excellent medlodic death metal group, who seem to have gone a bit funkily progressive with this new album, and it works really well; and finally, RAMA, RAMA (2015), which is a weird mix of doom, stoner, psychedelic and desert rock all in a three-song EP.

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Moving pictures, #35

Your usual selection of classics and obscurities. I’m going to have to find something new to post about when I’ve finished these– oh wait, I’m supposed to be a science fiction writer, I can always post about that, you know, science fiction and writing and, er, books…

camilleCamille*, George Cukor (1936, USA). This is the film in which Garbo apparently laughs– no, wait, that one was another one. This is the one in which she plays the consumptive mistress of a wealthy aristocrat, but falls in love with a younger, better-looking and poorer man, and so has to choose between love and security. Set in mid-nineteenth century France. She chooses the older man, but there’s that consumption, you see, so she dies. This is one of those films that proved entertaining enough, and despite its age made a good fist of its period, but it’s hard to see why it made the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list. Meh.

two_laneTwo-Lane Blacktop*, Monte Hellman (1971, USA). I had low expectations for this – an alleged cult classic, starring musician James Taylor and the drummer from the Beach Boys, about a pair of beatniks who race across the US in their souped-up ’57 Chevy. But you know what? It was actually pretty damn good. The main characters’ taciturnity worked well, as did rival Warren Oates’ constant line in bullshit. Despite containing mostly footage of cars driving along empty roads, with the occasional moment of drama and/or action… and despite the characters being little more than ciphers, with no appreciable arcs… and despite being very much a film of its time (with a pretty good, and thankfully not intrusive, soundtrack)… I really enjoyed this. I’d even consider buying my own copy. Definitely a film that belongs on the 1001 Movies you Must See Before You Die list.

angels_dirtyAngels with Dirty Faces*, Michael Curtiz (1938, USA). The title of this film may well be iconic but the movie itself was a big disappointment. Cagney plays a gangster (yawn), who returns to the old neighbourhood after a stretch and meets up with his old childhood friend, who is now the parish priest. There’s a gang of youths the priest is trying to keep on the straight and narrow, but Cagney gets them involved in all sorts of illegal shenanigans. There’s something to do with corrupt city officials, and a couple of shootouts, and then Cagney is on Death Row and his friend asks him to set an example to the youths and kick and scream on his way to the electric chair (so that the youths will no longer idolise him). So Cagney does just that. There are a lot of noir films on the 1001 Movies you Must See Before You Die list, far more, I think, than the genre merits. And there are way more Hollywood movies on the list than are warranted. It could stand to lose a few of both… and Angels with Dirty Faces would be a good candidate.

ruhrRuhr / Natural History, James Benning (2009/2014, Germany/Austria). These are the last two Benning films available on DVD (at least until the Österreicheschen Filmmuseum release some more), and one of them was a special commissions by the Natural History Museum of Vienna. Ruhr is a series of six static shots of industrial landscape in the Ruhr district:a road tunnel, a steelworks, an airport, a mosque, a street, and the chimney from a coking plant. In fact, that last shot, the chimney, accounts for 60 minutes of the film’s 122 minutes running time. Apparently, Ruhr caused something of a stir – it was one of Benning’s first films using a digital camera, and he was accused of “digital manipulation”. All that actually happens is he gradually darkens the image of the chimney as the film progresses, so that by the end of the hour-long shot, it’s almost entirely black. That’s all. Natural History, on the other hand, is a series of static shots of rooms and corridors in Vienna’s Natural History Museum, mostly behind-the-scenes places. While the chimney shot in Ruhr is weirdly compelling (nothing actually happens, just steam billowing out of it at intervals), and although Natural History does feature the occasional person wandering past (and voices on the ambient sound soundtrack), the latter film is more a chore to watch. Benning has made some twenty-five feature-length films, but only eleven of them are currently available on DVD. I hope more appear soon.

little_bigLittle Big Man*, Arthur Penn (1970, USA). This film is chiefly notable for Dustin Hoffman playing a centenarian under layers of prosthetic make-up (not especially convincing make-up either, by current standards) and apparently screaming for an hour before each take in order to speak with a hoarse voice like a really old person. Hoffman’s titular character starts out as a young boy adopted by the Cheyenne after the members of his wagon train are killed by Pawnee. Then when the Cheyenne are attacked by the US Cavalry, he reveals he’s really white and is taken in by the soldiers. He then bounces around among the settlers, along the way selling snake-oil, getting married, running a trading post… before signing on with Custer (who is portrayed as a moronic oaf) as a scout… only to end up living once again with the Cheyenne. Where he gets married again… only for Custer to attack the village and kill almost everyone. It all ends with the Battle of the Little Bighorn, which Hoffman’s character witnesses. The novel on which the film is based was by Thomas Berger (whose Regiment of Women, by the way, is fucking dreadful), and if it’s anything like the movie I’ve no desire to read it. I have no idea why this film is considered suitable for the 1001 Movies you Must See Before You Die list – when it wasn’t patronising, it was annoying; and when it was trying to be funny, it, well, it just wasn’t. Avoid.

orphicThe Blood of a Poet, Jean Cocteau (1932, France). It took me a while, but I tracked down a copy of the Crtierion DVD release of Cocteau’s Orphic Trilogy, containing The Blood of a Poet, Orpheus (Orphée) and Testament of Orpheus. As is usually the case with these sorts of purchases, two weeks after I bought my copy, I saw another copy going for a fifth of the price I paid. Bah. Anyway, I really like Orpheus, and I wanted to see Testament of Orpheus, but I knew nothing about The Blood of a Poet and was not especially bothered about it. Nonetheless, I watched it and, oh dear, it’s another one of those 1930s French surrealist films. And I’m really not a fan of them. Mostly, it seems to be an excuse to display a bunch of cinema tricks, which ,to be fair, are actually pretty effective (one or two, I seem to recall, also make an appearance in Orpheus). Nevertheless, it’s worth tracking down a copy of the Criterion Orphic Trilogy set, although given it’s a) a US-only release, and b) deleted, it won’t be that easy to find (copies on Amazon marketplace start around £60). Don’t be fooled by the Studiocanal Jean Cocteau Collection, which contains only The Blood of a Poet and Testament of Orpheus, and not the best of the three, Orpheus.

shepitkoWings, Larisa Shepitko (1966, USSR). In order to see Shepitko’s Ascent, which appears on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list, I had to buy a two-film Criterion box set, which was the only DVD I could find of Ascent. The second film in the set was Wings. And having now seen both, I think Wings belongs on the list more than Ascent does. Nedezhda Petrukhina is a highly-decorated World War II (Great Patriotic War) fighter pilot, who now, twenty years later, is the principal of a school. While still something of a minor local celebrity for her wartime exploits, she is also seen as little more than her role at the school. She has to deal with unruly male students, apparatchiks, all the bureaucracy of her position, while dreaming of the freedom and excitement of her time during the war. There are perhaps elements of Wings which aren’t exactly subtle – contrasting a (mostly) domestic character study with aerial shots of Petrukhina flying through clouds, for example – but I think I much prefer the ordinariness, and its violence-free nature, of this film to Ascent.

I must admit, I thought I knew my taste in films before I started watching the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list. I like science fiction films, I even liked bad science fiction films. And I sort of liked superhero films. And I liked some world cinema. While the list I’ve been using is not especially diverse – more than half of the films on it are from the USA – it has introduced me to a much wider variety of movies, and I’ve found I much prefer films on the edge rather than typical mainstream cinema. In fact, I’ve purged my DVD collection several times since starting the list, dumping a lot of the recent Hollywood titles (I still like the old classics from the 1950s and 1960s) at local charity shops, but then also hunting around online for copies of DVDs by some of the more obscure directors I’ve been introduced to.

1001 Movies you Must See Before You Die count: 674


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Moving pictures, #28

More films. Just the one from the US, so a reasonable spread. And a few more from the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list, of course.

pressurePressure, Ron Scalpello (2015, UK). There are many deep sea films, but few of them are about saturation diving. And most of them are complete bollocks anyway. I watched Pioneer this time last year but that was more of land-based thriller than a diving film, although saturation diving did feature heavily in it (see here). But Pressure is very much a diving film. It’s set almost entirely in a diving bell 650 feet (that’s about 20 atmospheres) below the surface of the sea off the coast of Ethiopia. A severe storm strikes and sinks their support ship. So they’re stuck on the sea bed, with no way to decompress and only a limited supply of heliox. Rescue is almost undoubtedly on its way, but the storm may delay it and there’s no telling when it will arrive. Pressure gets most of the details right – it certainly looks like it’s using the right technology – although for obvious reasons it ignores the helium squeak. And toward the end it all gets a bit silly – one diver seems to explode while trying for the surface, but the same fate does not befall hero Danny Huston, even though he doesn’t apparently make any decompression stops en route. (And at that depth, decompression would be measured in days or weeks.) Still, it was good to see a film based on a topic that interests me, and I’ll take what it gets right and overlook what it gets wrong.

cleoCleo from 5 to 7*, Agnès Varda (1962, France). I am ambivalent about the Nouvelle Vague. Some of its films I love, some I simply don’t see the point of. I thought this might fall into the latter, given that it covers the titular hours of the, er, titular character, as she waits for the results of a medical test which she thinks will tell her she has cancer. The film opens, in colour, with Cleo at a tarot reading, but changes to black and white as she leaves and goes about the rest of the day. But, completely unexpectedly, I found myself really loving this film. It helps that Cleo, played by Corinne Marchant, is a likeable protagonist and centres the film; but more than that, there’s the final third in which Cleo meets soldier Antoine in a park and the two talk and mildly flirt – it works really well. The dialogue feels natural, though it covers topics totally in keeping with the film’s themes, and the two have a natural chemistry on screen that plays. It’s hard not to compare it to a pair of Godard films, both black and white – Masculin féminin and Une femme mariée (see here and here) – both of which chiefly comprise women and men in conversation (Godard, incidentally, appears in Cleo from 5 to 7, in a silent film-within-a-film shown to Cleo during the two hours). Neither, however, compares well to this film, which manages to make those conversations not sound like the pretentious twaddle you’d expect of Rive Gauche students but like the natural conversational topics two might people might accidentally fall into. I rather fancy getting a copy of this on DVD or Blu-ray…

shepitkoThe Ascent*, Larisa Shepitko (1976, Russia). Another director completely unknown to me, and one of her films is on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list – but none are available for rental in the UK, so I ended up buying a Criterion Collection DVD containing two of her films, and… The Ascent is set during the Great Patriotic War (WWII to me and thee) during the German invasion of Russia. It is, of course, cold and the ground is heavy with snow. A pair of Russian soldiers are sent to fetch food from a sympathetic farmer, but are captured by Germans. They are interrogated, and one agrees to join the local police – ie, become a collaborator. The film has a stark simplicity, helped by the snowy landscape, that plays to the story’s strengths; and while there’s not that much that’s subtle about the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the film’s verisimilitude gives its story a moral authority it might otherwise lack. To be honest, there’s not much about The Ascent that makes it stands out. It’s well-filmed, it treats its subject well, and it makes its points cleverly and with subtlety. It’s a good film, but I’m borderline on whether it belongs on 1001 Movies You Must SeeBefore You Die list, possibly because I suspect Shepitko made more interesting films or because “good” should not be sufficient reason for inclusion. Worth seeing, nonetheless.

warbirdsWarbirds, Kevin Gendreau (2008, USA). I knew this was trash just from the packaging alone, but it mentioned WASP (Women’s Airforce Service Pilots), the US equivalent to the UK’s ATA (which was not actually a female-only organisation but just comprised mostly women pilots), so I thought it worth a go. That was a mistake. The WASP crew of a B-29 are ordered to deliver their aircraft, with important passengers, to an island in the Pacific, but they are shot down en route. If the WASPs are anything like the ATA, then the aircraft they flew had no guns fitted, and generally a single pilot was sufficient for the trip. Anyway, the WASPs and secret Army brass end up stuck on an island occupied by the Japanese – except the Japanese have almost all been killed by… giant pterodactyls. Yes, it’s that silly. I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that this film had been made by the Global Asylum, but apparently not.

leni_riefenstahlOlympia, 2 Fest der Schönheit*, Leni Reifenstahl (1938, Germany). I watched this first half of this a few weeks ago, and though it covers the same subject – the 1936 Berlin Olympics – I suspect it was split into two films simply due to reasons of length. Like the first film, Fest der Volker (see here), it shows the various events. But it actually opens with some lovely shots of nature, followed by some naked men cavorting about – which would be less of a problem if you weren’t conscious of the fact the men in question were Nazis – before eventually returning to the Olympic Games. A variety of events are shown, including sailing, equestrian things and sprinting, but it’s the decathlon which proves the most interesting. There are fewer shots of the crowds, and none of Hitler, but many more of the athletes. The focus seems to be on the winners rather than the Germans, so even though it’s Americans who dominate the decathlon, we get to see them as they win each event. There’s a very real sense that what you’re seeing old, a true ddocument of the state of athletics in 1936, and so it’s easy to forget the political baggage. I happen to think that baggage is important, but neither should it detract from Riefenstahl’s achievement. Whether this holds true for her other movies remains to be seen.

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die count: 645