Living the high life

GFF diary days 1&2: Hail Caesar!, Ben Wheatley and Con Air as you’ve never seen it before.

by Jennie Kermode

Partying in Golden Age style
Partying in Golden Age style Photo: Glasgow Film Festival

The twelfth Glasgow Film Festival has the strongest line-up yet and the city has been buzzing about it since January, so it came as no surprise that people were queuing down Rose Street on Wednesday night in eager anticipation of the opening gala. The UK première of the Coen Brothers’ ]Hail Caesar!, taking place just 24 hours after its European première at the Berlinale, took up all three of the historic cinema’s screens before getting a second screening in each of them later the same night. The red carpet was out for celebrities like Kelly MacDonald and ushers dressed as centurions guarded the doors with spears before showing people to their seats.

Hail Caesar! red carpet
Hail Caesar! red carpet Photo: Glasgow Film Festival

The film was very popular. Some viewers found it patchy but everybody loved Channing Tatum’s dancing and there was a lot of praise for Scarlett Johansson, who has been a favourite in Glasgow ever since she drove around the city talking to strangers to make Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin. After the film was there was a VIP party with fabulous Golden Age of Hollywood costumes, jive dancing and champagne, which went on late into the night.

The following morning saw the first of the festival’s screenings of old classics, in this case Libeled Lady with William Powell and Myrna Loy alongside Jean Harlow and Spencer Tracy. A screwball comedy whose evisceration of dodgy newspaper stings seems strikingly contemporary, it attracted a mixed crowd of nostalgic older viewers and curious younger ones. All of these morning classic screenings are free to attend so if you’re in the city, it’s well worth taking a look. The sound quality isn’t always great but there’s still a lot to enjoy.

Ben Wheatley presents High Rise
Ben Wheatley presents High Rise Photo: Glasgow Film Festival

Later in the morning, Pablo Larrain’s poetic but troubling The Club took on the issue of child abuse in the Catholic Church, providing interesting contrasts with the recently released Spotlight, and late the similarly beautiful Land And Shade told the story of a family acing ruin because of pollution caused by the burning of sugar crop leftovers in Colombia. This year the festival has a big focus on Argentine cinema but there’s a healthy amount of South American film more generally.

The evening saw the première of Hyena Road, a film based on the true stories of Canadian soldiers charged with keeping the peace in Afghanistan, whilst Labyrinth Of Lies looked back at the legacy of World War Two and at the challenges that faced those trying to hunt down former Nazi officers in society that still protected them. We recent interviewed director Giulio Ricciarelli about it. The highest profile première of the night, however, was Ben Wheatley’s eagerly awaited adaptation of JG Ballard’s cult novel High Rise. Ben arrived on the red carpet well wrapped up in a padded coat, proof against a chill Glasgow day, and was thrilled by the audience’s reaction to the film, which some said made them feel queasy in all the right ways and others likened to Kubrick masterpiece A Clockwork Orange. They, in turn, were thrilled by his entertaining and engaging talk, during which he professed his love of Abba, whose music appears prominently in the film’s soundtrack. It doubtless helped that he was also giving away t-shirts to people who asked questions. Some attendees left saying that they couldn’t wait to see the film again.

Festival prisoners preparing for flight
Festival prisoners preparing for flight

With such an enthusiastic response, you might think that was the biggest event of the night but you’d be wrong. That honour went to Nineties Nicolas Cage actioner Con Air. it might not be the man’s greatest movie but he has leagues of fans happy to watch him in just about anything, and on this occasion they’d been promised something special. So they got to the GFT and climbed aboard the buses they’d been promised would take them to a secret location, and only then did they find the welcome packs on their seats, containing Guantanamo Bay-style orange jumpsuits and handcuffs. After a stern talking-to from festival director and temporary prison transport director Allison Gardner, they suited up and were taken to The Experience in Hillington, a former Rolls Royce factory with an actual plane sticking out of the side of it. As you might imagine, this created an amazing atmosphere even before the film began and everybody came out of it happy, praising the festival team for giving them a night out that had exceeded their wildest expectations. They even got to enjoy a temporary prison break out and run amok with Laserquest weapons.

The challenge that the GFF team faces now is that these first two days have given them a lot to live up to, but with ten days still to go and some great films in store, they may well have more treats up their sleeves.

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