Film Club

Decadent Film Club

Goldsmiths, University of London

RHB Cinema (formerly the Curzon Cinema), 18.30 - 21.30 GMT

Please watch this space for the list of screenings for 2024-2025


Goldsmiths is located in New Cross, South East London.

It is a short walk from both New Cross Gate and New Cross stations (Zone 2) on the main rail network and London overground; about a 7 minute journey from London Bridge and 30 minutes from London Victoria. It is on bus routes 21, 36, 53, 136, 171, 172, 177, 225, 321, 343, 436, 453.

The screening will be in the cinema in the Richard Hoggart Building. A map can be found .

For exact directions to Goldsmiths please see the  page on the Goldsmiths website.

SCREENINGS (2023-2024)

Screening 1: Le Temps Retrouv茅 (1999), introduced by Adam Feinstein

Is it possible to make a film from a novel by Marcel Proust? Well, many people agree that Le temps retrouv茅 (Time Regained, 1999), directed by Ra煤l Ruiz 鈥 the remarkable Chilean director who went into exile in France 鈥 is as close as any movie has come to a Proustian novel on celluloid. Exquisitely shot by Ricardo Aronovich and beautifully performed by Catherine Deneuve, Emmanuelle B茅art, John Malkovich, Vincent P茅rez, Marie-France Pisier, and Chiara Mastroianni, among others, the film dazzlingly and intelligently captures the mood and themes of the seventh and final volume of Proust鈥檚 epic, 脌 la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time, 1913-1927).

The film was introduced by Adam Feinstein, Pablo Neruda鈥檚 biographer and translator, who is a specialist in both French and Latin American cinema and is a friend of the film鈥檚 cinematographer, Ricardo Aronovich.

Screening 2: The Time Machine (1960), introduced by Graham Henderson

When H. G Wells first published his short story, later entitled 鈥楾he Time Machine鈥, in 1895 it was an immediate popular success, and launched him on a period of 15 years in which he created some of the world鈥檚 most popular books, and almost single-handedly launched the new genre of Science Fiction. Our second screening is of the celebrated Hollywood movie version of the book, directed by George Pal and starring Rod Taylor, released in 1960. This film is a ground-breaking work in its own right, now recognised as one of the most popular and influential Sci-Fi films ever made.

But what connection can there be between the story of 鈥楾he Time Machine鈥 and decadence? As it turns out, quite a strong one. H.G. Wells wrote the story at the height of the decadent 鈥榤oment鈥 in the 1890s, and his story echoes some key decadent and Symbolist themes. Although written at the high point of Victorian prosperity and optimism, the story shocks its readers by positing a future marked by the collapse of civilisation and by cosmic entropy. Like many decadent stories of the period, it also conjures up the evil and the monstrous in humankind, contradicting simplistic notions of progress and moral improvement. What is more, the first future human encountered by Wells鈥檚 time traveller, a member of a people known as the Eloi, is probably modelled on the androgynous and consumptive figure of the artist Aubrey Beardsley.

As for the 1960 movie, it well-represents a marvellous era of Hollywood technicolour melodrama, complete with a measure of schlock horror, an exciting fast-moving scenario, a handsome lead actor, and a romantic love interest. The scary Morlocks, a monstrous race of troglodytes which our hero also encounters in the future, may now appear somewhat comical, but many of the time lapse film techniques were ground-breaking at the time, and still work well. And the story remains compelling and involving. Made in an era of nuclear anxieties, the movie version also embodies more contemporary fears of apocalypse and the imminent failure of human civilisation and, as such, feels as topical as ever.

Screening 3: Nothing But the Best  (1964),  introduced by its screenwriter, Frederic Raphael

In his 2020 book, The Decadent Society, Russ Douthat set out to show how the combination of wealth and technological proficiency with economic stagnation, political stalemate, cultural exhaustion and demographic decline in the United States created a peculiar form of 鈥榮ustainable decadence鈥. It could be argued that the superb black comedy, Nothing But the Best (1964), depicts a similar kind of civilisational malaise in 1960s Britain.  Indeed, it can be seen today as one of the seminal films of the decade. The movie stars Alan Bates as a man 鈥榦n the make鈥 鈥  but one who needs the assistance of Denholm Elliott, a dissolute but fully paid-up member of the upper class, to 'make good'. Its central contrast between Bates and Elliott was virtually a metaphor for what was happening in political life in the UK at the time, with the Conservative Party's popularity crumbling under the impact of the Profumo Affair and the party鈥檚 new leader, the fourteenth Earl of Home, proving less than a match for Labour's confident, image-conscious Harold Wilson.

Nothing But the Best was directed by Clive Donner (who had earlier made Some People and The Caretaker, an adaptation of the Pinter play, and after a spell in Hollywood, returned to the UK to direct Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush).  It was photographed by Nicolas Roeg, who would go on, just a few years later, to shoot Fran莽ois Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451 and John Schlesinger's Far From the Madding Crowd, before launching himself as a director with celebrated movies like Don't Look Now and The Man Who Fell to Earth.

The brilliant screenplay is by Frederic Raphael (who also scripted Darling - for which he won an Oscar - Far from the Madding Crowd and Eyes Wide Shut). We were delighted that he was able to be with us on 18 January to introduce our special screening of Nothing But the Best.

Screening 4: Female (1933) and Mandalay (1934), introduced by Adam Feinstein

Adam Feinstein - a leading authority on the life and work of Michael Curtiz (director of Casablanca,The Adventures of Robin Hood, and Mildred Pierce) - presents this double-bill of two of Curtiz鈥檚 fascinating, rarely seen early movies luxuriating in pre-Hays Code decadence. Both are notable for the delightful performances of their female leads.

In Female (1933), Ruth Chatterton is superb as Alison Drake, the head of Drake Motors, who shows she can be as professionally ruthless and sexually carnivorous as any male executive. (At one point, she exclaims: 鈥業 treat men the exact way they鈥檝e always treated women.鈥) Feinstein argues that the film鈥檚 ending may be more ambivalent than it is usually depicted. Chatterton was best-known for the types of roles which came to an end with the implementation of the infamous Production Code in July 1934, although she would go on to co-star in William Wyler鈥檚 Dodsworth in 1936. Chatterton also became one of the few female aviators in the US at the time. Female itself would fall foul of the censors and remained banned in the US for many years.

Mandalay (1934) packs a vast amount of entertainment into its 65-minute running time. It was made before the Production Code was officially enforced but released after the fact. It stars Kay Francis, perhaps best-remembered today for Ernst Lubitsch鈥檚 Trouble in Paradise (1932). She was Warner Brothers鈥 first major female star (until she was dethroned by Bette Davis in 1936). In Mandalay, Francis is magnificent as a Russian refugee who works as the reluctant hostess of a club in Rangoon before managing to escape on a boat heading for Mandalay. That鈥檚 when things really heat up. The censors certainly thought so: they prohibited the screening of the movie for decades to come.

Screening 5: Dangerous Liaisons (1988)

The screenplay for Dangerous Liaisons is based on Christoper Hampton鈥檚 1985 play Les liaisons dangereuses, a production for the Royal Shakespeare Company, itself adapted from the French epistolary novel of the same name by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, first published in 1782.

The movie was released by Warner Bros. Pictures in Dec 1988. Although it was shot entirely on location in France, it was the first English-language film adaptation of Laclos's novel. The acting skills of Glenn Close and Michelle Pfeiffer received particular praise. The score by the composer George Fenton re-works music by Vivaldi, J.S. Bach, Handel and Gluck. The movie earned US $34.7 million at the box office against its US $14 million budget, so was regarded as a modest commercial success. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture, and won three Oscars (for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Costume Design, and Best Production Design).

The story is that of morally corrupt French aristocrats on the eve of the French Revolution. The novel was scandalous in its own day and was later seen as an attack on the depravity of the French Ancien R茅gime. However, it was not regarded as a work of social and political criticism until after the Revolution had occurred. It seems more likely that the author鈥檚 original intention was to use a story of cruelty, sexual manipulation and revenge to explore libertinism, morality and sin.  

What seems beyond doubt is that the story, and the 1988 film version of it, qualify as properly Decadent. The comic naughtiness of the original wager unleashes more serious and uncontrollable forces, and these in turn lead to a devastating reckoning. It is left to the viewer to form their own opinion of the characters and their trajectories. But there is no question but that the art of seduction is serious and potentially life-threatening.   

As well as the Christopher Hampton adaptions for stage and film, there also have been many other versions. Other movie adaptions include Valmont in 1989, directed by Milo拧 Forman, and Cruel intentions in 1999, starring Reese Witherspoon. The story has also formed the basis of theatrical shows, operas and ballets. It continues to be adapted into new and updated settings too, including novels where the original letters are replaced by emails, DMs and Tweets, and versions variously transposed to modern-day New York, 18th Century South Korea, 1930s China, and Afro-American Harlem in the 1940s. 

Screening 6: Robert Paul and the Alhambra in the 1890s

A presentation of early films by Robert Paul by Professor Ian Christie, Professor of Film & Media History, Birkbeck, University of London

1896 was the year that 鈥榓nimated photography鈥 reached London music halls, adding to the rich mix of dance, song and novelty acts that made these the great fin de si猫cle palaces of entertainment. For many, they represented the fleshpots of depravity, hell-bent on 鈥榙emoralising鈥 their audiences. In March, Robert Paul was hired by the Alhambra to compete with the Lumiere show at its nearby rival, the Empire, in Leicester Square. But while the Lumi猫re show could hardly have offended 鈥榩rudes on the prowl鈥, Paul鈥檚 Animatograph programme soon included a racy courtship comedy starring two of the theatre鈥檚 own famous ballet troupe. From this point Paul鈥檚 repertoire would expand rapidly to create a wide range of early genres over the next five years, especially after he established a studio in Muswell Hill, along with his wife, Ellen, an ex-Alhambra dancer. The majority of their films have been lost, but from what survives and has been restored, Ian Christie argues that this was where cinema really emerged as a popular entertainment form, drawing on the energy and sophistication of Decadent London鈥檚 music halls.

Screening 7: Suspiria (2018), introduced by Darcy Sullivan, 16 May 2024

It takes chutzpah to remake an iconic film. Luca Guadagnino had that in spades when he chose to reimagine Dario Argento鈥檚 1977 horror classic Suspiria, a pivotal film in Italian horror cinema鈥檚 transition from gialli [stylized slashers] to supernatural stories. Argento鈥檚 Suspiria has a fairy-tale plot but is renowned for its excess of colour, sound and glamourised violence. As Alexandra Heller-Nicholas put it in her monograph Devil鈥檚 Advocates: Suspiria:Suspiria is a carnival, a dance, a poem, and above all else, a glorious deathblow to the assumed supremacy of logic and reason.鈥

For his 2018 version, Guadagnino surely knew he couldn鈥檛 beat Argento鈥檚 psychedelic thrill ride on its own terms. Instead, he amplified themes lightly touched by Argento 鈥 female empowerment, the magical properties of dance 鈥 and grounded this tale of occult forces in a starkly realistic style reminiscent of 1970s conspiracy films. By drawing a comparison between the film鈥檚 coven and the Baader-Meinhof group, Guadagnino forces the viewer to see not just Suspiria but witchcraft and the idea of the femme fatale 鈥 a trope in decadent art and literature 鈥 through new eyes.

Darcy Sullivan is the press officer for the Oscar Wilde Society, and assistant editor of the society鈥檚 peer-edited journal, The Wildean. He has written for such diverse publications as Weird Fiction ReviewThe Chap, Fangoria and The Comics Journal. At the Aubrey Beardsley 150 conference in 2022, he presented a paper on 'The Suspiria Smile: Beardsley, Argento and the Evil Woman'. His paper on 'Decadence in Comics', delivered at the 2022 Neo-Victorian Decadence conference in Chieti, will be published in an upcoming issue of 痴辞濒耻辫迟茅, the publication of the 新澳开奖. He curates the Facebook page The Pictures of Dorian Gray, featuring 100 covers of the book, at . 

For more information about these screenings, please email drc@gold.ac.uk.