Anchoress

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MichaelB
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Anchoress

#1 Post by MichaelB » Thu Apr 23, 2009 4:54 am

Full specs announced:
Anchoress
A film by Chris Newby

Festival International du Film Cannes 1993 'Un Certain Regard' Official Selection

Christopher Eccleston, Pete Postlethwaite and Toyah Wilcox star in this sensual tale of religious conflict, in which a young girl's transcendental vision threatens to upset the foundations of her community.

Inspired by records of the real Anchoress of Shere (near Guildford, Surrey), who was voluntarily walled up in a tiny cell adjoining a church, Anchoress vividly evokes life in a remote medieval village and explores the gulf between patriarchal power and female rebellion.

After claiming to be in direct contact with the Virgin Mary, 14-year-old Christine (Natalie Morse) takes the advice of her local priest (Christopher Eccleston) and becomes an anchoress.

Over the protestations of her parents, she devotes her life to prayer, surviving on charitable food donations while dispensing advice to pilgrims. Becoming an anchoress was a form of voluntary martyrdom, the sealing-up ceremony having a deliberately funereal feel, as though the subject had already died – which, in a sense, she had, at least from the outside world’s perspective.

Featuring exquisite cinematography by Michel Baudour, the film has been re-mastered for this release from the original negative under the supervision of its director, Chris Newby (Madagascar Skin).

Special features
• The Old Man of the Sea (1989, 21 mins) - Newby's short film on the ancient relationship between man, nature and the supernatural.
• Flicker (2001, 4 mins) - Newby's study of the Guy Fawkes Night celebrations at Lewes
• Stromboli (1998, 11 mins) - Newby's portrait of the Aeolian island known for its violent volcanic eruptions
• Illustrated booklet

Release date: 22 June 2009
RRP: £19.99 / cat. no. BFIVD788 / cert 12
UK / 1993 / black and white / English / optional hard-of-hearing subtitles /
104 mins + 36 mins extra material / DVD-9 / Ratio 16:9


Sadly, this is a DVD-only release - I was one of the very few people who caught (in my case premiered) the 35mm version back in 1993, and it's got some of the most ravishingly fine-grained black-and-white cinematography of any film made in the last few decades. But it's a niche-market title with a vengeance, so I can understand why a Blu-ray was ruled out of consideration.

This one should be a really fascinating rediscovery (or discovery as far as most people are concerned) - a recognisably British film whose aesthetic sensibility is far closer to someone like Walerian Borowczyk (especially Blanche) than any of Newby's fellow countrymen. Here's my Screenonline piece to give some more background.
Last edited by MichaelB on Wed May 27, 2009 9:42 am, edited 3 times in total.

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Ovader
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Re: Anchoress

#2 Post by Ovader » Thu Apr 23, 2009 10:10 am

Agreed on all points Michael! I first read about this film from a 1998 Pacific Cinematheque program and wanted to see it immediately so I bought the Vanguard DVD as a blind buy and was not disappointed.

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MichaelB
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Re: Anchoress

#3 Post by MichaelB » Wed May 20, 2009 6:38 am

I've just had a sneak preview of the booklet, which contains:

1-3: Essay on Anchoress by me;
4: Director's statement;
5: Writers' statement;
6-7: Historical background to the film;
8-11: Three medieval documents from 1329 and 1332, concerning Christine Carpenter's real-life incarceration;
14-16: Full credits;
19: Short autobiography by Chris Newby;
20-23: Credits and notes on The Old Man and the Sea, Stromboli and Flicker by me;
24: Notes on the transfer.

...plus quite a few stills, in both black and white and colour.

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closelyobserved
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Re: Anchoress

#4 Post by closelyobserved » Tue May 26, 2009 6:42 am

Great to see this emerging in the UK. Saw it many moons ago at the Edinburgh Film Festival. Amazon has this advertised with the Vanguard label does that mean the same elements have been used as the BFI version? Also surprised the extras do not include Newby's Relax which is a BFI board short, which I also saw at the same festival.

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Re: Anchoress

#5 Post by MichaelB » Tue May 26, 2009 11:04 am

closelyobserved wrote:Great to see this emerging in the UK. Saw it many moons ago at the Edinburgh Film Festival. Amazon has this advertised with the Vanguard label does that mean the same elements have been used as the BFI version?
Amazon seems to have got its cover art mixed up - thanks for flagging that up: I've passed it on. (UPDATE: It's been fixed.)

In the meantime, I'm very happy to confirm that this is a brand new anamorphic transfer from original elements under the personal supervision of Chris Newby. The BFI produced the film in the first place, so you can rest assured that it's sourced from the best possible materials. I was sent a timecoded copy for reference when writing the booklet, and it looks breathtaking - as I said above, my only regret is that it isn't a Blu-ray, but I can understand why that was considered a commercial risk too far.
Also surprised the extras do not include Newby's Relax which is a BFI board short, which I also saw at the same festival.
I believe there are plans to feature Relax as an extra on a different and more appropriate future release. Despite being a Chris Newby film, it's tonally quite different from Anchoress and the three other shorts, which are dialogue-free non-narrative pieces.

Incidentally, my (Newby-approved) pieces on The Old Man of the Sea, Stromboli and Flicker were published on Screenonline last week.

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closelyobserved
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Re: Anchoress

#6 Post by closelyobserved » Fri May 29, 2009 4:52 am

Thanks for the info. Certainly looks like the BFI edition will wipe the floor with the Vanguard. I knew very little about this director so the Screenonline biog is very welcome.

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MichaelB
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Re: Anchoress

#7 Post by MichaelB » Fri May 29, 2009 3:40 pm

Despite the rather blatant lack of actual biographical information!

He's an elusive man, Chris Newby, and I think he likes it that way.

And the BFI edition definitely wipes the floor with the Vanguard, which is an ancient barebones release that I don't think is even anamorphically enhanced - which is the minimum you'd want with a film whose overwhelming merits are visual.

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Re: Anchoress

#8 Post by MichaelB » Mon Jun 29, 2009 8:51 am


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MichaelB
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Re: Anchoress

#9 Post by MichaelB » Sat Jan 30, 2010 6:35 pm

Beaver - with some terrific framegrabs that really highlight Newby's eye at work.

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triodelover
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Re: Anchoress

#10 Post by triodelover » Wed Feb 10, 2010 10:17 pm

... it's got some of the most ravishingly fine-grained black-and-white cinematography of any film made in the last few decades. But it's a niche-market title with a vengeance, so I can understand why a Blu-ray was ruled out of consideration.
Saw this tonight. I can only second Michael's comment on the B&W cinematography and lament the lack of a Blu-ray release. It's a film that is both achingly beautiful and, in spots, wonderfully ribald. Christopher Eccleston's priest is as good an argument for atheism as I've come across in awhile. Grateful for this forum and Gary's review for convincing me to to a blind buy on this one.

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Re: Anchoress

#11 Post by bamwc2 » Thu Feb 11, 2010 10:44 am

triodelover wrote:
... it's got some of the most ravishingly fine-grained black-and-white cinematography of any film made in the last few decades. But it's a niche-market title with a vengeance, so I can understand why a Blu-ray was ruled out of consideration.
Saw this tonight. I can only second Michael's comment on the B&W cinematography and lament the lack of a Blu-ray release. It's a film that is both achingly beautiful and, in spots, wonderfully ribald. Christopher Eccleston's priest is as good an argument for atheism as I've come across in awhile. Grateful for this forum and Gary's review for convincing me to to a blind buy on this one.
I'm assuming that you didn't mean Gary, but rather Beaver reviewer and loyal forum member, bamwc2. I'm glad to hear that my review convinced you to take the plunge on this one. It's such a visually lush film that it really deserves more attention than its gotten.

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triodelover
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Re: Anchoress

#12 Post by triodelover » Thu Feb 11, 2010 1:00 pm

I'm assuming that you didn't mean Gary, but rather Beaver reviewer and loyal forum member, bamwc2. I'm glad to hear that my review convinced you to take the plunge on this one. It's such a visually lush film that it really deserves more attention than its gotten.
Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa :oops:

Yes, it was your review and I thank you. I can only offer in mitigation that it was late (for me) when I posted.

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closelyobserved
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Re: Anchoress

#13 Post by closelyobserved » Thu Feb 18, 2010 4:01 pm

I wonder what the criteria is for what is put out as blu-ray or standard dvd. 'The Other Side of Underneath' and the other Jack Bond titles, having seen all three now, seem to me, to come under the "niche title with a vengeance" description. Sally Potters 'The Gold Diggers' which also had fine photography was no more difficult than 'Anticlock' and yet also came out as standard dvd only. Many of the Flipside Labels are pretty niche and yet came out as bluray and standard dvd.

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zedz
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Re: Anchoress

#14 Post by zedz » Sun Feb 21, 2010 5:14 pm

I'm sure MichaelB will have the more definitive answer, but given the BFI's extraordinary commitment to the format (which has seen an awful lot of extremely niche titles come out in Blu - thank God!), I would assume that the decision was much more likely to have been made according to the quality of the available elements / transfer (in the event this wasn't the BFI's own) than on commercial grounds.

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Re: Anchoress

#15 Post by MichaelB » Sun Feb 21, 2010 5:22 pm

No, I think it was commercial grounds. The materials should have been absolutely fine, not least because the BFI made the film in the first place (and isn't completely clueless when it comes to film preservation), and nothing about the transfer suggests otherwise.

I wasn't privy to the decision-making process, but I'd guess it's got something to do with Anchoress being a one-off - whereas the Flipside titles and even the Jane Arden/Jack Bonds had the advantage of being packaged into more straightforwardly marketable/collectable groups.

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zedz
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Re: Anchoress

#16 Post by zedz » Sun Feb 21, 2010 6:28 pm

(Actually, I was speculating more on The Gold Diggers - I didn't even realise I was posting in an Anchoress thread! - but I would have assumed the same thing for this title, though the Potter seems a more obvious commercial prospect to me. This is, of course, all extremely relative.)

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Tommaso
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Re: Anchoress

#17 Post by Tommaso » Thu Jul 01, 2010 5:51 am

Occasionally I'm really thankful for amazon.uk's sales, because they are invitations to try out a film that might be interesting, but which you probably would have passed by at the full price because you never heard about the director before (and after all, you can't watch everything). Such was the case with this currently super-cheapo disc for me, and well, I am extremely happy to have taken the plunge.

Actually, this film has rather blown me away, it's one of the most beautiful newer films I've seen in quite a while. It felt like a most unlikely combination of Carl Dreyer and Derek Jarman to me. Probably Dreyer came to my mind because of the story and the very careful staging of a medieval world, and Jarman because of the amazing landscape photography (I think of some of his early shorts here)and of a certain earthy and heathen tone here, despite of the 'Christian' story, and of course the film rather opposes the two belief systems and seems not exactly to be in favour of the latter. The film is serious and irreverent at the same time, but has a completely non-oppressive meditative quality. Many images here would carry a 'transcendent' character if they were in another film, but Newby always stresses the beauty of the here and now.
Fantastic acting by Natalie Morse, but also by Toyah Willcox (whom I would have never recognized if I hadn't read her name in the credits).

And it may come as a surprise, but I equally liked the three shorts on the disc. "The Old Man of the Sea" seems to be a bit indebted to the sort of 50s experimental films that can be found in abundance on the three Kino Avant-Garde sets, but the careful observation of 'matter', of earth, stones, water etc. gives it a tone of its own and makes it clearly a study for "Anchoress", which expands on these images and motives. "Flicker" is entirely hypnotic with its extremely fast cuts and splashing surges of fire. Again, I was reminded of some of Jarman's 'alchemical' work, but perhaps even more of Kenneth Anger. Same goes for "Stromboli", perhaps the least impressive of the three shorts (but a very good one,too).

So yes, Newby is a major discovery for me judging from the four films presented here. And I'm a bit surprised to see that he only made one further feature after "Anchoress" until now, "Madagascar Skin". From the description, this seems to be entirely different, or am I wrong? Good to learn from the booklet that Newby is apparently currently working on two new projects, and I hope that the BFI will also take care of these once they are finished. There are so few truly interesting new filmmakers around these days, so I guess the work of Newby and probably also Ben Hopkins should be supported.

And MichaelB, thanks for your highly illuminating texts in the booklet!

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Re: Anchoress

#18 Post by antnield » Thu Jul 01, 2010 7:27 am

Tommaso wrote:And I'm a bit surprised to see that he only made one further feature after "Anchoress" until now, "Madagascar Skin". From the description, this seems to be entirely different, or am I wrong? Good to learn from the booklet that Newby is apparently currently working on two new projects, and I hope that the BFI will also take care of these once they are finished
Imagine a blend of Cul-de-Sac, Samuel Beckett and Andrew Kotting, with a terrific performance from Bernard Hill and some cracking dialogue. It's not quite as good as Anchoress, but nevertheless once again demonstrates Newby as a neglected talent. The UK disc from a few years ago is still available but came with a perfunctory extras that add nothing and a non-anamorphic transfer; I've no idea if it ever got released in other regions. Being a BFI co-production, though, I wonder if they'll get around to their own disc at some point...

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closelyobserved
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Re: Anchoress

#19 Post by closelyobserved » Tue Nov 23, 2010 6:34 am

Are there plans for a BfI disc of "Madagascar Skin" in the offing ,or further shorts by Newby? The previous releases don't seem to have much extras.

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L.A.
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Re: Anchoress

#20 Post by L.A. » Tue Jan 12, 2021 4:31 pm

Shortly put if I may: please release this on Blu. [-o<

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