It was the decade of Trainspotting and Reservoir Dogs, of La Haine and Tetsuo: The Iron Man, The Blair Witch Project and My Own Private Idaho. It started with the righteous blast of Do The Right Thing, and it ended with the bullet-time innovation of The Matrix. And in between, a wave of exciting young filmmakers broke through, changing cinema forever.
This was the Nineties. As celebrated at the BFI Southbank in London’s summer season of screenings, panels and events, it was a riotous, revolutionary decade, on both big and small screen. As bracketed in this two-month celebration, it began with that cult Spike Lee joint in 1989 and climaxed with the Wachowskis’ groundbreaking sci-fi epic, the first in a trilogy.
“I didn’t think the story had been told about how explosive and dynamic and transgressive that decade was,” says Anna Bogutskaya, film and events programmer for BFI, programmer for Woman with a Movie Camera, and co-host of BFi podcast The Bigger Picture.
Nineties cinema, she explains, is not just Titanic and The Mummy, “and things that get put on TV on Saturday afternoons. There are so many interesting peaks and moments, and so many new voices and interesting young voices breaking through.
“So that’s what I decided to focus on: the voices of the filmmakers who were breaking through in that decade. Not just a best of the Nineties, but focusing on that youthful, creative energy. So, people making their first film, or their breakthrough.”
Hence the journey through modern cinema that Bogutskaya has programmed, beginning with Do The Right Thing and ending ten years later with The Matrix.
“That’s a really interesting arc, in terms of what’s on screen – representation and types of story – and also formally: these were films challenging the convention of what we were used to seeing.”
Hence the work of trailblazers like Danny Boyle and Quentin Tarantino, and also “the challenges to genre conventions – The Blair Witch Project has had such a monumental effect on horror, but it’s rarely seen in cinemas.”
The BFI’s Nineties season also celebrates the decade’s key television moments. There are panel discussions on era-defining British TV dramas This Life and Queer As Folk, and a Q+A session with Katie Puckrik and Terry Christian, hosts of game-changing late-night youth show The Word.
Look out, too, for other highlights, including the 90s Teen Film Quiz; the Black Cinema of the 1990s panel discussion with the founding editors of seminal BFI publication The Black Film Bulletin; and, Grrrls to the Front: An Evening of Riot Grrrl Films.
Then, on theface.com, dive into select clippings from The Face’s own archive. The magazine was there on the set of Trainspotting; ran contemporary cover interviews with Nineties princes River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves; and broke down the cutting-edge visual effects of The Matrix before it was in cinemas.
Asked to nominate her personal highlights, Bogutskaya shoots back with a top three. In no particular order:
Gregg Araki’s The Doom Generation: “I like how in-your-face it is. It’s an apocalyptic teen road movie. It’s not just the visuals, it’s the dialogue – it’s very tongue-in-cheek and funny, but it almost feels alien… In many ways it’s similar to Heathers. The dialogue is so out-there, it doesn’t feel like it exists in any particular year, only in the movie universe.”
Allison Anders’ Gas Food Lodging: “She’s one of the most underrated filmmakers of that time; she broke through the same time as Tarantino. Such a beautiful film and she doesn’t get spoken about enough.”
Rose Troche’s Go Fish: “A rediscovery for people, I hope. A film which made a big splash at the Sundance Film Festival in 1994. It’s a very rare image and story of women falling in love with each other. A lesbian story told buy a queer female director.”
The BFI’s Nineties season: a chance to revisit a Tarantino classic… or see for the first time on the big screen the searing French cult classic La Haine… or to follow Renton down that disgusting toilet one more time… or to discover that film from 30-odd years ago that feels like a blast from tomorrow.
Nineties at the BFI Southbank, supported by The Face, 5th July to 26th August, South Bank, London SE1 8XT. More info here.