SEAT AT THE BACK

SEAT AT THE BACK - SCRIBBLES! ~ Films on the Seat at the Back playlist right now: KIDS IN LOVE; JUNE; CURVE; WILD, BARELY LETHAL; GODDESS OF LOVE; THE VATICAN TAPES .. What a night in!

Friday, 26 July 2013

'HU-MAN' (1975) ~ Terence Stamp/ BFI 'SHORT VERSION' SCREENING: MAY 2013 ~ The Film That Time Should Never Forget. . .

 
HU-MAN comes with no plot spoiler warning as, to be honest, there's hardly one to be found. Not in the BFI's recently screened 'Short Version' lasting around 25 minutes for a film normally clocking in at around 105 minutes. I'm not sure how cohesive the film's plot structure in the full length version may or may not be and I don't think it matters all that much. This is a film 'experience' and a meditation on us humans and the world we live in. It tries to make some sense of the human experience and our easily swayed frailties.

HU-MAN is a meditation on the past, the present and the future. More than that, it reflects the basic fact that we are essentially 'nothings' with insignificantly short lives stuck and exposed in the middle of some bigger creation experience; in the grip of a threatening world that can crush us with one freak of nature, or blot out our lives with one corporate decision (or  - if we are lucky, we may just get away with being lynched in public; hung up and dangled by the neck in the name of entertainment by a bloodthirsty public looking for escape and a corporate media desperate for higher ratings).


BFI TERENCE STAMP EXHIBITION/ 2013

 
The 'Short Version' of Hu-Man, lovingly and beautifully remastered in strong vibrant colours, 70's vinyl sheens and shades and velvet necktie cool, starts off with Terence Stamp (playing Terence Stamp) alone on a single area of shore, surrounded by the tide. As the water creeps closer, Stamp is clearly stranded, and tries to escape - to swim for shore as (in a striking piece of direction) the sand he stands upon dwindles to the size of a shoe, then becomes no more.

A couple of TV executives (it seems) watch proceedings from their production room, and viewers watch too; seemingly influencing the action on-screen through thought or votes  (some kind of response, it's unclear exactly what) - alone. This power of thought enables Stamp to be allowed to imagine he has a boat in which he can escape the fast-rising tide and this he attempts. In reality of course, he is as good as drowning. A young, beautiful girl watches in horror as Stamp's life looks set to end. She also swims into the water, drowns, her face smothered by waves, willingly. Stamp's life is saved - the production crew send him an actual rescue boat. But the young girl with blonde hair (is this a friend or a relative of Stamp's - or his wife even?) has had her life snuffed out by sadness.

Back in the city, Stamp walks with booted and suited business types discussing ratings - the show has been a huge hit, but there have been casualties. One girl has committed suicide. Blame is pointless, but Stamp's face rushes with anger and crumples with pain when he finds out the name of the person who has died.

BFI TERENCE STAMP EXHIBITION/ 2013
 
 
The opening sequence of HU-MAN reminds of many similar films, perhaps of more modern movie references there's THE RUNNING MAN (1987) especially. But for me it comes closest to an especially violent episode of Doctor Who that featured Colin Baker in the main role - VENGEANCE ON VAROS (1985). In this controversial adventure that as good as ensured the show was cancelled for over a year by the BBC Director General at the time Michael Grade, violent scenes are played out before viewers at home who have the opportunity to vote for more violence and death or to save lives. They nearly always vote for pain and more suffering.


VENGEANCE ON VAROS/ BBC




I was also reminded of the BBC's screening of the Halloween drama GHOSTWATCH (1992) written by Stephen Volk, that was billed as a drama, but was taken by many to be shot as a live broadcast. When the cast and crew, including family favourite presenters as safe and reliable as Michael Parkinson and Mike Smith were menaced on screen by a realistic poltergeist called 'Pipes' and the broadcast ended abruptly in chaos, there were reports of real life tragic consequences among a viewing public who had been traumatised by the screening. Consequences mirrored at the start of HU-MAN.

 
GHOSTWATCH/ ©BBC

 
The rest of the film shows a couple of dangerous-looking scenarios in which Stamp finds himself stuck in. First, a wintry landscape. Surrounded by jagged cliffs covered in snow and ice, and then an avalanche that collapses around him. Stamp is stuck in the middle of all this emptiness and hidden power - an insignificant surrounded by real force of nature, so never really alone. It's an eerie, oppressive scene and Stamp at times looks in some real danger from being crushed in that avalanche, standing alone in the middle of a circle of cliffs, with no way of escape. A surreal encounter involves the arrival of a goggle-wearing man known as 'the bird man' who appears to be coming to Stamp's rescue, arriving in a helicopter ready to whisk Stamp away to safety.


HU-MAN's CLOSING MOMENTS
 
The final sequence of the film sees Stamp in even more danger as he perches perilously close to a bubbling active volcano, lost and in search of some meaning to his life - or some inner peace. As the high winds flick molten lava across the landscape and the camera lingers on (again - amazing colours vibrant in this restored version) that bubbling lava like some kind of visual mantra, Stamp perches ever closer to the edge, lies down, seemingly drifting off to sleep - a man at one with the beauty and risk of nature. It seems almost like a rebirth; certainly a rush towards death. Maybe these events are one and the same.

Despite the oppressive environment Stamp finds himself in, the anger that was apparent at the start of the film seems to have long faded. There is only calm and serenity on Stamp's undeniably startlingly attractive face. The lava continues to bubble and spit alongside him. The actor looks in real and present danger (again!) - a brave man indeed. The film - this glimpse of greatness - ends.


JEROME LAPERROUSAZ
 
Directed by the elusive Jérôme Laperrousaz who has made only a handful of other movies, mostly documentaries: music and motor racing most notably in the films AMOUGIES (MUSIC POWER - EUROPEAN MUSIC REVOLUTION) from 1970 and CONTINENTAL CIRCUS from 1972. There was also a Bob Marley-starring musical called THIRD WORLD (1980).


CONTINENTAL CIRCUS


HU-MAN stars Terence Stamp and Jeanne Moreau but other cast members, including Agnès Stevenin and Gabriella Rysted, have only this one movie to their credit. Yannis Thomas who plays the Birdman seems to be still going strong in many a Greek movie out there. Frederik van Pallandt who plays Frederick had previously enjoyed a short film career but Hu-Man was the last of the few and 20 years later he would be murdered by robbers aboard his luxury yacht.  

HU-MAN exists in no other format we know of. It's a truly rare and elusive movie. I was told by film writer and distributor Marc Morris (of Nuclear Films) that he considered a release of this film but was held up by rights issues. The BFI's remastering of some footage alongside the film's director promises hope that one day there may well be a release of this long lost and much sought after movie. The BFI's Head of Film Programme Geoff Andrew commented, when I suggested it was a shame we could only see a 25 minute version of HU-MAN at the Stamp season, even though this was still an incredible surprise and deserving of celebration (and thanks!): "The existing print is very faded. Terence and Jerome the director and BFI worked together to present a short version for our retro. It would be prohibitively expensive to restore the entire film, which was never a big hit anyway. We all just wanted to offer a sample of something rare, rich, strange and special."
 
It may only have been 25 minutes of footage, but it's among the best 25 minutes of footage I've seen at the cinema. Full of striking visuals that carry true weight and risk and with a sublime, menacing, broody performance from Stamp that ends with true redemption and serenity - it's my favourite performance from the actor, even on just this evidence alone. Stamp is an absolute mesmerising, hypnotic, spiritual delight and it's little wonder that during this time in his life Stamp was taking some time out on a spiritual sabbatical in India, before returning to the US in the late 70s for a revival of his career as the ultimate comic book villain - General Zod briefly in SUPERMAN (1978) and unforgettably in SUPERMAN II a few years later.



GENERAL ZOD ON THE MOON!
 
THE BFI screening of HU-MAN was premiered alongside Stamp's contribution to the 1968 Italian anthology film based of the works of Poe - 'SPIRITS OF THE DEAD' in which he featured in the Federico Fellini segment 'TOBY DAMMIT' as the title role of a lusty, decadent, drug-crazed British actor being led astray by a malevolent spirit after a night of rampant excess at a surreal and nightmarish awards ceremony. It's another stunning and riveting Stamp performance that captures everything decadent and exciting about British hellraisers of the 70s and their dominance of the movie set, but for Toby Dammit - time has run out and a bloody fate may await him on the other side of a lonely road. Or does Toby have one last trick up his sleeve? A great short from an outstanding anthology that also features stories directed by Roger Vadim and Louis Malle.


TOBY DAMMIT
 

The BFI's upper halls for the two screenings were also adorned with an exhibition of all things Terence Stamp, including annotated scripts, iconic outfits, diary notes, original movie posters and a pair of magnificent brogues once worn by this most stylish of actors and donated from his own personal collection.

 






 

 

 

I feel honoured to have seen what was only a 25 minute version of Stamp's legendary HU-MAN - and many scenes have stayed in my head over the days since. Many lost films once rediscovered seem an inevitable letdown. HU-MAN was everything I hoped for - and beyond. It would be something of a crime if this film doesn't get a remastered home video release soon. Stamp risked his life for you to make this film. It's time we - the watching public - get to decide and vote on whether this film is forgotten forever. Or allowed to live on. Don't do anything you may regret. No diving into lakes or jumping off cliffs. Just use the power of the mind to bring the film home...

Words: Mark Gordon Palmer
markgordonpalmer@aol.com
 




3 comments:

  1. My name is Robert Gemmell, and I am a filmmaking graduate from Port Glasgow, Scotland. Inspired by Palmer's review for the 'short version' of ''Hu-Man'', I created a petition on Change.org, aimed at the BFI for a Dual Format Edition (Blu-ray + DVD) release of the complete film. If anyone is interested in seeing a home video release of this lost classic then please sign the petition on this link: https://www.change.org/petitions/bfi-video-publishing-release-a-dual-format-edition-blu-ray-dvd-of-the-french-science-fiction-film-hu-man-1975#share.

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  2. Sorry my english is not so good... I saw Hu Man. The long version. It was in 1975. A friend of mine which worked on the project invited me to see it. Some months later he explained to me that Haroun Tazieff began to create hudge problems. Hazoun Tazieff was a french vulcanologist. He was advisor for the sequences shot with Terence Stamp close by Erta Ale volcano. Haroun Tazieff took the decision he was the owner of all these sequences...-> legal proceedings... That's why the film disapeared and even with a petition I'm afraid we will not see it again soon...

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  3. GREAT NEWS !!!
    You will for sure be more than pleased to read that an amateur VHS version was recorded in 1977 when the film was broadcasted on French TV, and that his tape has just been transferred digitally. It is available on t411 [dot] io
    The quality is medium, but the film is totally watchable.
    Enjoy this nugget, unseen for 40 years !

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