How the 90s changed cin­e­ma forever

The BFI Southbank’s season is a chance to see The Matrix, La Haine, Trainspotting and some Tarantino classics, all on the big screen.

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.

Queer as Folk

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 the​face​.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.

La Haine

Nineties at the BFI South­bank, sup­port­ed by The Face, 5th July to 26th August, South Bank, Lon­don SE1 8XT. More info here.

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