Winstanley

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MichaelB
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Winstanley

#1 Post by MichaelB » Tue Apr 21, 2009 11:54 am

Full specs announced:
The BFI have announced the UK DVD and Blu-ray Disc release of Winstanley on 27th April 2009. Directed by Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo in 1975, it is an account of England’s first commune which was established in 1649 by the social reformer and writer Gerrard Winstanley.

Brownlow & Mollo's second film, after It Happened Here, sees them recreating the story of Winstanley, who, along with a small band of followers known as the Diggers, tried to establish a self-sufficient farming community on the common land of St. George's Hill near Cobham in Surrey.

With meticulous attention to detail (armour was borrowed from the Tower of London, for example) and nods in the direction of filmmakers such as Abel Gance and Carl Theodor Dreyer in its style, this is a unique British film, and it is a great loss to British cinema that Brownlow and Mollo never made another.

Extras include:
- It Happened Here Again (Eric Mival, 1976) a making-of documentary filmed during the production of Winstanley
- New 39 minute interview with Brownlow and Mollo
- Booklet written by Marina Lewycka (the film's script consultant, who later achieved fame with the novel A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian)
- Kevin Brownlow's short film about the last Glasgow Tram.

Priced at £19.99 RRP on DVD and £24.99 RRP on Blu-ray Disc.

Winstanley is available to buy exclusively from MovieMail until 3rd August.
I'm happy to confirm that the Blu-ray is region-free.

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Dr Amicus
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Re: Winstanley

#2 Post by Dr Amicus » Thu Apr 23, 2009 12:12 pm

This arrived the other day - I've only had a chance to glance at it, but the picture quality looks fine, and the extras look interesting. The 'making of' is almost 50 mins.

The booklet looks very good as well - however, despite the advertising, it is NOT written by Marina Lewycka. She contributes one (I think) article (3 or 5 pages IIRC) in the booklet which also includes contemporary reviews, pieces about Brownlow and Mollo, and what appears to be a brief introduction to the Diggers. In other words, a typically high standard booklet that we have come to expect from the BFI - just not all written by Marina Lewycka!

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foggy eyes
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Re: Winstanley

#3 Post by foggy eyes » Fri Apr 24, 2009 1:05 pm

Rosenbaum's 1999 review.
There’s really not much to be said for Winstanley, except that it’s the most mysteriously beautiful English film since the best of Michael Powell (which it resembles in no other respect) and the best pre-twentieth-century historical film I can recall since The Rise of Louis XIV [Rossellini] or Straub-Huillet’s Bach film [Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach]. I know that sounds like hyperbole, but I can’t help it. Mysteriously beautiful films which tell one something about the past are rare commodities, and one certainly doesn’t expect to find anything as idiosyncratic as this one in the English cinema.
I think I raved about this film elsewhere, so agree wholeheartedly with JR's "hyperbole". I kept thinking of it whilst watching Comrades earlier this week, and wish that Douglas' film (as solid as it is) could now feel even nearly as remarkable...

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domino harvey
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Re: Winstanley

#4 Post by domino harvey » Fri Apr 24, 2009 1:11 pm

I didn't even know Brownlow made non-documentary films (though this sounds like a hybrid?)

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Gregory
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Re: Winstanley

#5 Post by Gregory » Fri Apr 24, 2009 4:09 pm

I had the opportunity to see this film in Portland about five years back. The film had an interesting production history. For example, preparations took a long time, and production itself lasted two years, whereas the shooting phase was only two weeks. It's not a hybrid documentary and it does not have a doc-like style, but it is an extremely well researched and authentic historical film (in the sense of "authenticity" that is possible with a dramatic recreation, of course). It's also steeped in a long tradition of film technique, as one would reasonably expect from Brownlow. It's a lovely, affecting film.

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Re: Winstanley

#6 Post by MichaelB » Fri May 08, 2009 12:21 pm

Dr Amicus wrote:The booklet looks very good as well - however, despite the advertising, it is NOT written by Marina Lewycka. She contributes one (I think) article (3 or 5 pages IIRC) in the booklet which also includes contemporary reviews, pieces about Brownlow and Mollo, and what appears to be a brief introduction to the Diggers. In other words, a typically high standard booklet that we have come to expect from the BFI - just not all written by Marina Lewycka!
To be fair, the back of the actual box says: "Fully illustrated 36-page booklet with contributions by Marina Lewycka (author of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian), Eric Mival, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Tom Milne and David Robinson, plus biographies and credits".

The booklets are usually the last things to be completed, often after the initial press release has gone out. Which seems to have been the case here.

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Re: Winstanley

#7 Post by Nothing » Fri May 08, 2009 9:37 pm

Any idea why this isn't listing on Amazon.co.uk? They only seem to carry the US import... weird.

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foggy eyes
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Re: Winstanley

#8 Post by foggy eyes » Fri May 08, 2009 10:08 pm

Nothing wrote:Any idea why this isn't listing on Amazon.co.uk? They only seem to carry the US import... weird.
It's a MovieMail exclusive until 03/08, unfortunately.

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Re: Winstanley

#9 Post by Nothing » Sat May 09, 2009 5:14 am

That's a bit of weird decision from the BFI, isn't it? What's that all about? The price on MovieMail is extortionate too, £15 even though it's shipping from Guernsey (ie. no VAT), this would be at least £3-4 cheaper on Amazon. Sigh.

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Re: Winstanley

#10 Post by MichaelB » Sat May 09, 2009 5:40 am

Nothing wrote:That's a bit of weird decision from the BFI, isn't it? What's that all about? The price on MovieMail is extortionate too, £15 even though it's shipping from Guernsey (ie. no VAT), this would be at least £3-4 cheaper on Amazon. Sigh.
I wasn't privy to the decision-making process, but I'm guessing it's because MovieMail has frequently gone out of its way to support BFI releases in both its print catalogue and website - I remember they devoted something like four pages of the catalogue (including a full-colour cover) to the first GPO set, which was well beyond the call of duty. So giving them a temporary exclusive deal was presumably seen as a good way of returning the favour.

Second Run did the same thing with Partition, presumably for much the same reason, and I'm sure there have been other similar deals - it seems to be a regular MovieMail thing.

But as Foggy Eyes pointed out, Winstanley will be available through the usual channels in about three months' time, just as Partition was.

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Re: Winstanley

#11 Post by Nothing » Sat May 09, 2009 10:57 am

And/or I guess the BFI want to help keep competition alive after Bensons and others collapsed.

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peerpee
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Re: Winstanley

#12 Post by peerpee » Tue May 12, 2009 8:20 pm

FWIW, Bensonsworld decided to call it a day and focus on their other business, Eureka Entertainment Ltd, instead. It hardly "collapsed", like, say - ChoicesUK / Zavvi / Silverscreen / Filmnight / EntertainmentUK / Woolworths / MVC / old Fopp / Music Zone...

back on subject. I saw the WINSTANLEY Blu-ray and it's gorgeous-looking. Beautifully shot, and brilliantly rendered in HD. Really interesting interview and a great, vintage documentary on there too (in HD!)

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Ann Harding
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Re: Winstanley

#13 Post by Ann Harding » Thu May 14, 2009 7:53 am

UKA Press is publishing soon a new book by Kevin Brownlow about the production and shooting of Winstanley entitled: Winstanley: Warts and All. It's on a par with his previous volume How It Happened Here. An excellent supplement to the film on DVD.

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foggy eyes
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Re: Winstanley

#14 Post by foggy eyes » Fri May 15, 2009 11:41 am

Ann Harding wrote:UKA Press is publishing soon a new book by Kevin Brownlow about the production and shooting of Winstanley entitled: Winstanley: Warts and All. It's on a par with his previous volume How It Happened Here. An excellent supplement to the film on DVD.
Thanks for the heads up - I'll definitely be ordering this.

Any interested parties MUST check out this film when it becomes more widely available/cheaper!

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Re: Winstanley

#15 Post by Nothing » Sat May 16, 2009 1:24 am

Oh, I will. I've been wanting to see this for a while, having an ongoing interest in Christopher Hill and the revolutionary groups of the interregnum period. A bonus if the film is good.

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Re: Winstanley

#16 Post by David_Gardiner » Fri May 22, 2009 8:05 pm

Hello folks. I have just registered in order to let you know: We've been waiting for it to appear on the Amazon websites and it just has. Kevin Brownlow's book Winstanley Warts and All is now available from British Amazon and from American Amazon, as well as most of the other on-line bookstores. If anybody has problems getting a copy please let me know.

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Re: Winstanley

#17 Post by MichaelB » Thu May 28, 2009 5:28 pm

I've just watched the short 9 Dalmuir West, a wonderfully evocative and atmospheric portrait of Glasgow's last tram - and a superb HD transfer, too. I'm starting to find 16mm-sourced Blu-ray surprisingly addictive...

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Re: Winstanley

#18 Post by Nothing » Fri May 29, 2009 10:38 am

Hey Michael, can they not at least list this on Amazon..? I'd like to place a pre-order, I can then tie it in with the delayed (sigh) Lola Montes disc.

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Re: Winstanley

#19 Post by MichaelB » Fri May 29, 2009 10:45 am


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bigP
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Re: Winstanley

#20 Post by bigP » Fri May 29, 2009 11:33 am

I watched this last night and absolutely fell in love. It is surely one of the most beautiful and other-worldly British films to have ever been produced on these shores, and BFI should certainly be congratulated for bringing to light another British masterpiece.

Miles Halliwell, with his softly-spoken, humble glee was something of a revelation, treading, it would seem, deep into the footprints of Winstanley's own tracks, and David Bramley as Parson Platt was also of the highest order, as the bitter emblem of British hubris. Much has been made about the authenticity of dwellings, costumes, weapons and even animals and it certainly created an illusion of documentary throughout (which I hadn't previously seen bettered by Pasolini's The Gospel According to Matthew or Herzog's Aguirre...) but the film was elevated higher with the beautifully stark black and white photography of Ernest Vincze that felt both technically invigorating and strangely appropriate for the time the film was set - capturing the silhouetted figures tilling the land or riding on horseback against the overbearing skies (reminiscent of the Romantic work of Constable or more appropriately, Caspar David Friedrich's The Monk By the Sea) that brought visual understanding of the natural elements on top of humanist quarrels that Winstanley and his band of Diggers uncombatively faced (noting the scene where the Diggers took refuge in their huts from the bitter rain, and lifted their put-upon spirits with song).

I have only watched the Mollo / Brownlow interview which was well worth investing time in as they are both very frank and informative about production and casting (I loved the story that they cast some of the extras from hanging out and approaching random people in the London Subways), but am looking forward to watching the 9 Dalmuir West and It Happened Here Again tonight.

Superb work BFI.

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Re: Winstanley

#21 Post by Nothing » Fri May 29, 2009 12:43 pm

bigP wrote:BFI should certainly be congratulated for bringing to light another British masterpiece.
I'm not sure about that. Why didn't the BFI (and the rest of the British film industry) support Brownlow/Morrow back when they were making films? Was it because they weren't members of the old boy network? Because their outlook was too left wing? These are genuine questions.

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bigP
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Re: Winstanley

#22 Post by bigP » Fri May 29, 2009 1:30 pm

Nothing wrote:
bigP wrote:BFI should certainly be congratulated for bringing to light another British masterpiece.
I'm not sure about that. Why didn't the BFI (and the rest of the British film industry) support Brownlow/Morrow back when they were making films? Was it because they weren't members of the old boy network? Because their outlook was too left wing? These are genuine questions.
I'm not sure if this is of any real relevence (as this only relates to Winstanley), but, during the interview, I believe Kevin Brownlow (or perhaps Mamoun Hassan) mentions that at that time, BFI were struggling quite significantly to stay afloat and were hesitant to take on "risky" features. I'm assuming by risky, they imply the lack of commercial sales, the planned length of production (they were reliant on the changing of the season's to look authentic on film), the fact that professional actors such as Eric Porter turned them down because they were not willing to take on minimum payment for the role (with the exception of the fabulous Jerome Willis who played General Fairfax) so they would be solely having to rely on unprofessionals in all of the key roles, I guess the BFI could also perhaps have been concerned about how far Mollo took authenticity and how problematic that may be. This is all speculation around why it was seen as a "risk" film, though, from what I gather, if it hadn't been for the BFI and specifically Mamoun Hassan who is cited as executive producer [BFI] and was present for some, maybe much of the filming, Brownlow notes that they probably wouldn't have been able to make the film exactly on their terms (with obvious sacrifices such as no member of cast or crew it seems received any money for their role) in that they were given free reign with said authenticity, a year to shoot so they could capture the seasonal moods and were, I believe, given full position over editing and final cut. Brownlow makes the point that he couldn't imagine anyone else letting them shoot for a whole year.

I don't know if any of that answers your questions, and perhaps Mamoun Hassan should be thanked over and above the BFI's role, but I guess it all had bearing. I suppose the left-wing argument may not even come into play as Brownlow pointed out that after the Cannes screening of It Happened Here, the reaction was quite the opposite, and they were actually accused, in some quarters, of carrying fascist propoganda. Perhaps, in that sense, this is another reason production houses were wary of financing another film, and Mollo and Brownlow themselves expected great things from It Happened Here, only to be lumbered with Assistant Director work on a film i've forgotten the name of. Finally, It Happened Here was filmed when Brownlow was only 18. Producing some rushes, he showed a 16 year old Andrew Mollo, who set about telling him it was all wrong, and the production pretty much began again from scratch with the newly recruited Mollo as assistant director / art director. I'd assume, even by todays standard - where Brownlow states it has become extremely easy for any director to get his first job with a significant amout of money behind it - being that young and in charge of a production would be a risk most production houses would run away from.

EDIT: I've just found this PDF with much information (some of which replicates what Brownlow, Mollo and Hassan mention in the BFI interview) on the production of Winstanley, from the Milestone website.

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Re: Winstanley

#23 Post by MichaelB » Fri May 29, 2009 3:25 pm

Nothing wrote:I'm not sure about that. Why didn't the BFI (and the rest of the British film industry) support Brownlow/Morrow back when they were making films? Was it because they weren't members of the old boy network? Because their outlook was too left wing? These are genuine questions.
I'd be more impressed with the genuineness of your questions if you'd bothered to spell Andrew Mollo's name correctly...

Anyway, to add to BigP's excellent account, I think it's worth putting into perspective just how limited the BFI's funds were during Brownlow and Mollo's first decade and a bit. Between 1952 and 1964, the BFI's Experimental Film Fund amounted to a grand total of £22,500, plus just over £7k in sales. And by "grand total" I mean precisely that - just under £30K to service the full twelve years of its existence. Which is why the most that aspiring filmmakers could hope for was a few hundred quid - which I believe is what Brownlow did indeed receive when making his 1962 short Nine Dalmuir West. But there was no question of the BFI backing features at the time It Happened Here was in production.

In fact, with one decidedly freakish exception (Don Levy's Herostratus), the BFI didn't back features at all until the early 1970s. Three things triggered this development: a significant increase in the BFI's overall grant, the availability of Eady subsidy to BFI productions (hitherto restricted to the mainstream industry) and, most crucially, the agreement of ACTT, the film technicians' union, to allow BFI productions to pay staff at lower than usual industry minimum rates. (This last point rather puts the "too left wing" suggestion into perspective!).

And what was the very first feature that the BFI Production Board backed? Winstanley - which was clearly a very considerable commercial risk even without Brownlow and Mollo's demands for authenticity and seasonal shooting. And why didn't the BFI back any subsequent features by Brownlow and Mollo? Well, they didn't back follow-up features by anyone until Channel Four came on the scene (I think Peter Greenaway was the first filmmaker to get a second BFI-backed feature off the ground with The Draughtsman's Contract in 1982), so it's hardly a case of BFI bias against them - the simple fact is that there just wasn't enough money to go round.

As for why the mainstream film industry didn't back Brownlow, BigP pretty much hit the nail on the head as far as the early 1960s were concerned, and by the late 1960s/70s Brownlow and Mollo's brand of obsessively detailed but resoundingly uncommercial cinema was anathema to an industry that was reeling from regular financial blows. So it's not a huge surprise.

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Re: Winstanley

#24 Post by closelyobserved » Fri May 29, 2009 5:40 pm

Wasn't Winstanley distributed by the BFI in the first place, pre DVD. The problem is the industry in general.

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Re: Winstanley

#25 Post by MichaelB » Fri May 29, 2009 6:01 pm

closelyobserved wrote:Wasn't Winstanley distributed by the BFI in the first place, pre dvd.
Not just distributed, funded.

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