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Phillip Bergson

Writing about Films and Festivals.


Film Critic, UK,Invited Member  of  The UK Critics' Circle

FIPRESCI abd the European Film Academy.

Visiting Lecturer, Prague Film School.


Winner of the  "Student Journalist of the Year" competition in the UK weekly New Statesman, as a Classics Scholar Phillip Bergson then founded the Oxford Film Festival and, on graduating, was selected by "The Sunday Times" as a 'New Critic' and in the same week began broadcasting on film for many BBC Radio programmes. A contributor to the "Times Literary Supplement", "TES",The Spectator,film critic on "The Sunday Standard", "Screen International",Variety, "Film Bulletin", "Film a Doba" inter alia, and on the FilmFestJOURNAL in Berlin and Screen Dailies at Cannes,he also worked for the "European Script Fund", has scripted shorts and features (that have been produced and released) and, fluent in eight-and-a-half languages, currently programmes and advises several international film festivals and is.Casting Consultant on several international features. At the National  Museum of Photography, Film and Television, in his native Yorkshire, he created the "Eurovisions" project, to promote classic and contemporary European cinema,which was inaugurated at the Cine Lumiere in London by His Excellency the President of Iceland.

Presenter and Programmer,London Turkish Film Week, December 2018

Co=programmer, 2nd London Turkish Film Week, April 2019

Artistic Director, 3rd London Turkish Film Week, planned for 1-7 June 2020.

As a FIPRESCI Jury Member

and a member of  International Juries at

Thessaloniki, Europa Cinema (Rimini), Munich Documentary, Manaki Brothers,Cine Jove (Valencia),Chicago, TIFF-ODA


A Night at the Opera

I go back quite a way with Gaius Caligula....having studied his crazed life and inevitable death when I was  a Classics Scholar at Balliol, and read his first 'biog'in Latin, what more natural  than that ,during  my third excursion to cover Cannes (for BBC radio and other media), I should have been invited by Andre Previn's movie-exec brother to attend the   very secret and first presentation in the world of the full-length, unexpurgated  film version of Caligula.It was an off-Market screening, in one of those discreet private cinemas,dotted about the Festival, hosted by the producer Bob Guccione, who had wrestled the work away from the director Tinto Brass. It was nasty ,brutal and long, quite shocking, with a suitable climax- that brothel on the galleon- with people coming and going and coming all over the screen, with sundry dwarves, as well as some -by now-very famous actors and actresses.I felt it was as accurate a recreation of Roman scandals as the texts suggested,and should be screened intact to provoke a discussion on the decadence of film, and I promptly agreed to invite it for its public world premiere in competition  as the film surprise at the 5th Oxford Film Festival later that summer.Subsequently ,UK authorities advised that when the print would arrive at Heathrow airport from New York,  they would be obliged to burn it, as some 9 minutes 20 seconds could be considered obscene according to the meaning of the act, and the film was eventually withdrawn, much to the fury of jurors Walerian Borowczyk and Lina Wertmuller (who had seen the film privately in Rome and were determined to award it a prize even if the Oxford Film Festival was not  to be permitted to screen it)-- the details of this gory story I shall save for a later publication, but that is how I later became the only critic in the world who received a free ticket to see the film on its  subsequent (but heavily cut) release in New York.

We flash forward a few years and  this is why I feel justified in reporting for you here and now  on the UK premiere of the new German opera Caligula, which had a rousing first night in our superb Coliseum, one of the largest theatres in London, imperiously designed by Frank Matcham in somewhat Roman style over a century ago, and which for some years was the home of Cinerama in the UK, as it functioned as a cinema for a decade or more, having housed many famous stage musicals before that.

It has more recently been the home of English National Opera (the UK equivalent of a Volksoper, where productions of classic and  newer operas and operettas are always performed in English, and usually in a more lively, visually striking or original way than those mounted  round the more expensive corner at Covent Garden, where seat prices are usually at least double those charged at ENO).A number of film directors have been responsible for highly acclaimed mise-en-scenes here (such as Jonathan Miller,Terry Gilliam, or the late Anthony Minghella whose production of Madame Butterfly is still in the repertory as I write).

Based on Albert Camus's  wartime play, Caligula,was first staged in Frankfurt, in 2006. The composer is Detlev Glanert, and Hans-Ulrich Treichel's libretto has been elegantly and eloquently translated by Amanda Holden. Although most of the singing rang out with clarity, surtitles on a discreet screen above the huge stage usefully corrected anyone attempting to improvise the lyrics. The music is atmospheric, rather than melodic, occasionally redolent of Strauss (Richard of course, not any of the Viennese ones) in its sensuality, and from time to time chords evoke sonorus, ominous  heart-beats --or the rushing of blood to the head.The orchestra under the dashing young Ryan Wigglesworth was much applauded.

The cast, too, performed heroically, especially Peter Coleman-Wright as a somewhat hairier(-and rather older-looking)  titular maniac in a light business-suit.Christopher Ainslie excelled as his counter-tenor PA and slave, Helicon, and Yvonne Howard perhaps made the strongest impression, helped by some soignee  evening-dress as Caesonia, the unlucky, unloved wife of the depraved despot. The four acts are separated by danced intermezzi, and the silent figure of the deceased Drusilla, in a very tight body-stocking, dominates much of the stage, as well as her brother's deranged mind.

The concept,and stage-look, of the Australian director Benedict Andrews, could not be further, alas, from the Felliniesque follies of Danilo Donati and the Penthouse-financed neo-porn movie. For the entire opera is set within a football stadium, its plastic seating raking up into the flies, but offering Piscatorian(or do I mean Brechtian? ) levels for acting, poisoning and the occasional strangulation. Costumes- where worn- are contemporary; the Praetorian guards are sinister modern soldiers, who carry corpses on and off the stage in hygienic plastic body-bags evocative of Costa-Gavras's Missing ,or any number of films about South American or Arabic murderous dictators. The black humour-- Caligula was nothing if not entirely aware of his insanity and oscillating ironies- is emphasised in the lines and music, but the whole affair manages to stay this side of the tone of a dubious spoof such as sensed in the new film  The Dictator. The chorus in various odd garbs (I think I spied a Mickey Mouse and a pair of Pinocchios, though there were some welcome show-girls that seem to have wandered in from the Folies-Bergere and who  parade around statuesquely in high style) is large and in fine voice.It makes for a fascinating evening, very different (one hopes) from the home life of our own dear Queen, and one worth braving by anyone who admits to owning the now-available-on-DVD uncensored version of the big screen Caligula.

Further performances in repertory, 29th,31st May, 7th, 9th, 14th June

Performance times, ticket detaila on

Phillip Bergson


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