Recently I read a very good article in the FT by Jason Solomons which starts by asking the question, ‘When was the last new movement in British Cinema… heralding a flurry of new directors and new styles?’ In part this question is posed because one of the films showing currently at the London Film Festival is David Batty’s My Generation Narrated by Michael Caine, the film pays homage to the swinging sixties, the same decade that probably was the last time Britain did actually have a ‘New Wave’. Of course, we Brits were not alone in having a period of remarkable talent creating a distinctive style and content then; the French were hard at it too.
Solomons was searching for signs of life in any New Wave at the festival which showcased some 37 new British Films. Despite his best efforts at identifying a school or trend the best he could come up with was that the current crop illustrate an ‘adaptability and universality in their ability to tell stories from around the world that work globally and in the US to win Oscars’. A cop out on the author’s part I fear as the Brits have been consistently good at doing this for decades. Hardly a New Wave, more a predictable swell?
But the article also coincided with the release of a new offering by one of Britain’s most established and interesting film-makers, Sally Potter. I had a production company in St. Petersburg in the early nineties at the time that she was making the hugely enjoyable Orlando, starring one of my favourite actors, Tilda Swinton. My company provided production support during the Russian shoot. Since then I have always been sure to see anything Potter has created and her latest offering, which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year, The Party, shot in black and white by the same cinematographer who made Orland, Alexei Rodionov is finely constructed and darkly entertaining. She has only made a handful of feature length films. At seventy one minutes The Party feels more like a long short than a short feature, but The Tango Lesson, made in 1997 which was much hated by the critics, is I think a compelling and searingly honest exploration of desire. Potter has the temerity to put herself at the centre of the film and demonstrates her nimbleness on the dance floor and her sexual self as a mature woman. Brilliant.
The Man Who Cried, released in 2000 is another passionate exploration of female empowerment. Johnny Depp was never my favourite actor and he is pretty shocking in this film, but Cate Blanchett is pure class. Weird and rather wonderful all round. She followed this hugely individual work with Yes in 2004. The script is in iambic pentameter. This is bold and fearless writing and another hugely individual film about life, love and sex. In 2011 her next movie, Rage was again received with mixed reviews. However, if for no other reason than to see Jude Law in drag as a super model, this film is worth getting out on DVD. Maybe more video art than a regular movie, Rage was simultaneously released online and in the cinema. Quite a landmark in 2011. Yet again Potter gives us something refreshingly original and challenging.
We’ve had to wait five long years for Potters latest offering. It was in 2012 that she made Ginger and Rosa; significantly maybe set in the 60’s when British New Wave cinema was coming of age. The Cuban missile crisis is a backdrop to a film I simply adore about teenage female sexual awakening and the power of friendship.
So, keeping the maritime analogies afloat I declare that those of us who admire Potter’s brilliance as a film-maker have been surfing her wave for decades. Maybe it is old waves that beget new ones?