Introducing our dream-themed Film4 Summer Screen

David Cox

24 Jul 2018

We’re thrilled to bring Film4 Summer Screen at Somerset House back for a fourteenth year in August. For this edition, we’re acknowledging cinema’s unique position as a purveyor and repository of dreams. To surrender to a film on the big screen is like entering a dream state, allowing image and sound to take over your immediate surroundings and shape your thoughts and feelings. And of course what’s on the screen itself can also feel like a dream, or a nightmare depending on a filmmaker’s skill at creating a fully immersive experience.

Our line-up of films this year is an attempt to share this side of cinema in a number of ways, with a selection of fantasies, reveries, dreams and nocturnes – all the ways that a film can transport you into worlds of imagination and unexpected feelings that are already inside us. It just takes the right film to unlock them.

Probably the most famous contemporary creator of cinematic dreams is David Lynch. We’ve shown his films at Somerset House before, with Mulholland Drive, Wild at Heart and The Elephant Man all having appeared in previous years. But his 1986 film Blue Velvet probably provides us with the most direct route into his subconscious. If you’re not convinced, listen to the Roy Orbison song that’s so key to the film and pay attention to Laura Dern’s romantic monologue. Everything you need to know is right there. 

Another artists famous for his dreamlike creations is artist, writer, poet and filmmaker Jean Cocteau, whose masterpiece La belle et la bête (Beauty and the Beast) screens on Friday 17 August. Nobody casts a spell quite like Cocteau, whose creative imagination is virtually unparalleled in the 20th-century. His 1946 romantic fantasia La belle et la bête may be one of the most famous and influential films of its kind, a re-telling of the famous fairy tale about a young girl who sets out to rescue her father from a Gothic castle only to become enchanted by the prideful Beast who lives there. With its many magical moments, all created using camera tricks and hand-crafted special effects that still evoke awe and wonder today, Cocteau's film perfectly conjures the feel of being enmeshed in a waking dream. 

Cocteau’s film is coupled with another masterpiece of fantasy cinema – Bride of Frankenstein, the 1935 sequel to 1931’s Frankenstein. This time, Boris Karloff’s iconic Monster has a mate in the shape of Elsa Lanchester and the resulting film is widely considered one of the greatest sequels of all time. The story of Frankenstein, the scientist and his creation, came to author Mary Shelley in a dream and this year marks the 200th anniversary of her famous novel. The double-bill of La belle et la bête and Bride of Frankenstein is also a celebration of black and white cinema, a format that can transform a film into something delicate and otherworldly. These two films, seen together, offer a unique opportunity to escape to another time and another place and will end just as the clock strikes midnight! 

A popular feature of Summer Screen is the Saturday night double-bills. This  year, these take us as deep into dream and nightmare territory as it’s possible to go, keeping you up late at night and no doubt staying with you once you return home to bed. 

The first double on Saturday 11 August is lighter, though Labyrinth and The Wizard of Oz still have their creepy, unsettling moments. Up first is Labyrinth, the endlessly surprising and creature-filled fairy tale from the minds of Muppet maestro Jim Henson, Star Wars creator George Lucas, Monty Python’s Terry Jones and legendary designer Brian Froud. When teenager Sarah discovers that her baby brother Toby has disappeared, she must make her way through a fiendishly complex magical maze – in just thirteen hours - to win him back from Jareth, the Goblin King. David Bowie delivers a wonderfully mysterious and magical performance as the Goblin King (despite unfeasibly tight trousers) and provides the film with five memorable songs.

Following that, we’re off down the Yellow Brick road to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz! This 1939 classic is a film you can never grow tired of, and which you’re never too old to enjoy – and don’t forget the strangeness that still makes it a little scary (the Wicked Witch of the West, and those flying monkeys). With Judy Garland delivering songs such as Over the Rainbow that have stood the test of time, and with old friends the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion along for companionship, this is the perfect way to re-discover a classic. So put on those ruby slippers and join us for a dream of a double-bill.

The following Saturday finds us exploring the dark side of dreams with dystopian science-fiction and vivid nightmares in Total Recall and A Nightmare on Elm Street. More simply put, it's Arnold Schwarzenegger versus Freddy Krueger - the movie match-up that nobody expected!

Adapted from the short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale by legendary sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, 1990's Total Recall finds our hero Arnie having disturbing dreams about Mars. It doesn't take long before he learns that these dreams aren't everything they seem to be, sending him on a rampage through a future world full of double agents, robot taxi drivers and all manner of mutants in search of the truth. Director Paul Verhoeven, the man behind RoboCop and Starship Troopers, creates more mayhem with this colourful, violent, blackly comic and relentlessly enjoyable romp that doesn't pause for breath from first scene to last.

Then you'll need to be wide awake as we approach midnight because "one, two, Freddy's coming for you!" This subconscious slasher hit from director Wes Craven (who went on to create Scream) was a landmark of horror upon its release in 1984, preventing audiences from sleeping just like Jaws stopped everyone swimming. It's lost none of its power to haunt us today as killer Freddy Krueger, with his iconic razor-fingered glove, enters the minds of sleeping teens and finds increasingly inventive and surreal ways to murder them in their dreams. Featuring a very early performance from a fresh faced Johnny Depp, this is one film that demands you stay up late, stick together and spend your night with us, amongst friends, at Somerset House. Of course, both Total Recall and A Nightmare on Elm Street have been unhappily remade in recent years. The versions we’re showing are the originals and very much the best.

Flights of fantasy are one thing, but cinema’s dreamlike qualities are also perfectly suited to capturing the feeling of falling in love, and we have two transporting romantic reveries that do just that. Little more needs to be said about Call Me By Your Name, on Monday 20 August, a recent release which is still basking in the adulation of adoring audiences and smitten critics.

Just as moving is Carol, on Wednesday 15 August. This masterpiece about forbidden love and powerful yet unspoken feelings stars the magnificent Cate Blanchett in the title role and Rooney Mara as the younger woman who fatefully catches her eye. Adapted from Patricia Highsmith's once-controversial novel, this achingly poignant and visually ravishing romance has all the emotion of classic Hollywood melodrama and the suspicion and suspense of a film noir thriller. Despite being partly an examination of repression, Carol captures the feeling of mutual attraction with pin-sharp, heartbreaking accuracy; a love story that's not just about being in love but which seems to find a way to express that sentiment in virtually every frame and image. Credit director Todd Hayes, writer Phyllis Nagy and producers Elizabeth Karlsen Tessa Ross and Christine Vachon for bringing the book to the screen so brilliantly, with an unexpectedly propulsive narrative, its atmospheric backdrop of New York at Christmas and the always drop-dead gorgeous costumes of Sandy Powell. A film in which every moving part miraculously seems to fall perfectly into place, this really is a modern masterpiece.

If you want to continue the romantic theme, don’t miss our Behind the Screen event with producer Elizabeth Karlsen, who’ll be talking about the incredible story of how Carol made it to the screen, and director Francis Lee, who’ll guide us through the creation of one of cinema’s best recent love stories, God’s Own Country.

The dreams continue for a full fortnight at Summer Screen. There are Gothic mysteries (Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca), classic fairy tales (Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty), aspirational tales (20 Feet From Stardom), dreams of a better future (Selma), surreal and absurd comedy (Being John Malkovich) and a classic blockbuster which takes dreams and uses them to create something unique (Christopher Nolan’s Inception). So join us, make yourself comfortable, open your eyes and your mind, and escape into the dream world of Summer Screen.