Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Friday, 24 February 2017

A new Dreamgirls

Wow - what a show: non-stop singing, dancing and more costume changes than one can count, plus a diva in the making, as  the 1981 musical DREAMGIRLS finally gets a London production, with a show-stopping turn by Amber Riley (Mercedes in GLEE) as Effie, the lead singer of the girl group who is side-lined and finally ousted in favour of the prettier and slimmer Deena, as that girlgroup becomes famous in the late sixties and early seventies. The period is caught nicely here, as soul and r'n'b cross over from black music to mainstream, that era when Tamla, Stax, Atlantic etc hit their golden era.

The musical follows the career of The Dreamettes, a black girl trio from Chicago, loosely based on The Supremes, who rise to fame and fortune during the 1960s. But not before their ambitious manager, Curtis Taylor Jr – a Detroit used car salesman turned Svengali – has renamed them The Dreams and replaced the ferociously talented and feisty Effie White as both lead singer and the lover in his bed with her backup colleague and childhood chum, Deena Jones. She’s a more svelte and malleable proposition, whose prettiness and smoother sound Curtis reckons is likelier to appeal to the cross-over audience and television-viewing record-buyers he’s determined to conquer. It’s a powerful story of how music can sell its soul to avarice and about the artistic compromises forced on black composers and performers if they wanted to swim in the mainstream.

This show has it all. Amber is sensational and of course her huge number "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" raises the roof - standing ovation of course. Having seen Aretha and Barbra in their young prime (Aretha in 1968 and '70, Barbra in the London FUNNY GIRL in 1966) I can confirm Amber is the real deal. The whole team work non-stop and the other numbers like "Steppin' to the bad side" get them all moving, as well as the different versions of  "One Night Only".

Michael Bennett of course created the original show which featured Jennifer Holiday (whose albums I liked a lot), Jennifer Hudson and Beyonce did the film, and now Amber and Joe Aaron Reid (as manager Curtis) and Adam J Bernard as the James Brown like singer, now lead the London cast 35 years after it first opened on Broadway, and ten years after the movie, which I have now lined up to see this week. 

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Star power

Interesting news that Warren Beatty. 79, and Faye Dunaway, 76, will present the Best Film Award at the upcoming Oscars, 50 years after BONNIE AND CLYDE. I was 21 when Faye and Warren bowled us over in Penn's extraordindary film back in that glorious year 1967 - are we all 50 years older? 
Here's another example of star power: Paul Newman, 67, and Elizabeth Taylor, 60, presenting the Best Film Award in 1992, decades after their CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Still of the day: The Misfits

Sky Movies are running lots of Marilyn movies just now, but never THE MISFITS. I used to be obsessed about this 1961 John Huston film when I was younger, and saw it lots of times in that pre-video world - I had to go to any screening of it. Its one I need to see again now, before too long. Lots on it at MM labels. 
And here's Thelma .....

Monday, 20 February 2017

12 Spectacular films

I had this large format spiral bound book "SPECTACULAR! The Story of Epic Films" by John Cary and John Kobal, in 1974, but somehow lost it over the years, so I was pleased to find one cheap online. This would be expensive to produce now, with all those fold-out double page scenes from epic films. It covers it all from the silent days up to the glory Fifties and Sixties era, with special chapters like Robert Wise discussing the making of HELEN OF TROY. Fascinating stuff - it got me list my own dozen Top Spectaculars.
  • THE SIGN OF THE CROSS - Cecil B De Mille, 1932
  • QUO VADIS? - Mervyn Le Roy, 1951
  • HELEN OF TROY - Robert Wise, 1955 
  • ALEXANDER THE GREAT - Robert Rossen, 1956
  • THE TEN COMMANDMENTS - Cecil B De Mille, 1956
  • THE VIKINGS - Richard Fleischer, 1958
  • BEN HUR - William Wyler, 1959 (with stunt help from Andrew Morton and Yakima Canutt)
  • SPARTACUS - Stanley Kubrick, 1960
  • EL CID - Anthony Mann, 1961
  • CLEOPATRA - Joseph L Mankiewicz, 1963
  • THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE - Anthony Mann, 1964
  • ALEXANDER - Oliver Stone, 2004.
Special mention to: THE EGYPTIAN, THE PRODIGAL, THE SILVER CHALICE, LAND OF THE PHAROAHS, SIGN OF THE PAGAN, ATTILA, DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS55 DAYS AT PEKING, KING OF KINGS, BARABBAS, GENGHIS KHAN, THE COLOSSUS OF RHODES, ATLANTIS THE LOST CONTINENT, FABIOLA, THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII, THE GIANT OF MARATHON, APHRODITE and all those other Steve Reeve and Belinda Lee peplums, and Visconti's THE LEOPARD,
Lots on all these at Epics, Peplums labels. 

Coming up: 12 Bad Movies We Love; 12 European 1960s films. 

RIP, continued ...

Dick Bruna (1927-2017), aged 89. The Dutch artist and illustrator was the creator of the white rabbit Miffy who featured in all those popular childrens' books, which he wrote and illustrated. Miffy was a very simple design and much loved. I even had a cat I named Miffy.

Alec McCowen (1925-2017), aged 91. Another of England's premier actors, with a long a career on stage with lots of television and cinema roles - he actually clocked up 87 screen credits. I saw him on stage in EQUUS. Early roles included in Losey's TIME WITHOUT PITY in 1957, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER, the hilarious THE WITCHES in 1966, Cukor's TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT, Hitchcock's FRENZY, STEVIE, PERSONAL SERVICES, Scorsese's THE AGE OF INNOCENCE and THE GANGS OF NEW YORK and more. An out gay actor, he insisted his late partner was mentioned in his "This Is Your Life" TV programme.

Al Jarreau (1940-2017), aged 76. The smooth jazz singer won 7 grammy awards, and is perhaps best known for the MOONLIGHTING theme song. I loved his hit "We Are In This Love Together" and his 1981 album BREAKIN' AWAY.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

A new Boys In The Band

A new touring production of THE BOYS IN THE BAND turns out to be the first major revival in decades of Mart Crowley's 1968 play, a landmark production and a certified gay classic.
I remember the original production being on in London then, but being in my early twenties, I had no interest in seeing it. The original cast did the film too in 1970., directed by William Friedkin, which I saw at the time but had no real memory of, so really I was coming to this new production without any pre-conceived ideas.  A friend saw it last October in its initial theatre run, and it is today finishing a two week run in London's west end.
I had a great seat in the front row, so it almost felt I was on stage with them. It turned out to be another great gay revival like those of THE JUDAS KISS and MY NIGHT WITH REG in recent years (see Theatre. Gay Interest labels).
It is also a 60s landmark play, like Albee's WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (also getting a major revival in London this spring), and like that play it also descends into booze hell and 'get the guest' games as the drama unfolds.
I loved the set here, with all those movie star pictures, and that 60s soundtrack. The cast of 9 do it justice too. Mark Gatiss (SHERLOCK, DR WHO) and his real life husband Ian Hallard are the leads as Harold and Michael - host of the birthday party for Harold. Daniel Boys scores as the nice guy Donald, and Jack Derges is an eye-catching midnight cowboy - he may be a trick but he is also a treat in a lively performance. Michael's is the lead role with lots of lines and business - it must be exhausting playing it twice a day on matinee days. 

It is the first major revival of this iconic play in two decades, and it still works as an engrossing drama, capturing that late sixties moment in 1968 before Stonewall and gay liberation in the 1970s and the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. So we get lots of Bette Davis and Judy Garland impressions as Emory and the others camp it up, as Michael's straight college buddy unexpectedly drops in ....

It is 1968 and nine men gather in a New York apartment for a birthday celebration. Harold receives a surprise gift from his friend Emory in the form of a beautiful male hustler. Meanwhile party host Michael gets an unwanted surprise of his own, As the booze is drank and the dope smoked, the mood swings from hilarity to heartbreak. 

It is a busy play to stage, with all those props and food and drink - the cast have to eat salad and lasagne, as well as drink whatever is in those bottles, as well as emote. To my surprise, I liked it a lot, and have now ordered the film dvd to see how it was staged then, and that original cast (above, right), several of whom did not survive the Aids era. 
"Its the Downbeat club at three in the morning, you are singing just for yourself and the boys in the band" - Norman Maine to Esther in A STAR IS BORN, 1954 

This post has now got over 200 views, and my pal Colin tweeted it to the boys:

Friday, 17 February 2017

Glenda in Yanks ???

Idly watching John Schlesinger's 1979 wartime romance YANKS again on television, I was suddenly caught by this one shot from that emotional climax at the railway station as the GIs pull out and all the womenfolk are crowding the station to say goodbye. The female stars of the film are Vanessa Redgrave and Lisa Eichorn and Rachel Roberts, but surely this is Glenda Jackson, among the crowded extras, she had starred in Schlesinger's SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY in 1971. Does anyone else think its our Glenda ?

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Joni, out and about again ...

Adele and Beyonce may have been the headline-grabbers at the Grammys this year, but it was good to see our Nr 1 favourite Joni Mitchell at Clive Davis's pre-Grammy party, after her major illness in 2015. Thanks to Mike in San Francisco for the photo. Lots on Joni at label ....

Her website says:
Joni made a rare public appearance last night, attending Clive Davis' annual Pre-Grammy Gala at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles, where she was escorted by writer and filmmaker Cameron Crowe and author Daniel Levitin (pictured with Joni).
Joni was honored as one of the greatest songwriters whose work has touched everyone in the music industry.
She had a good time and was particularly moved by Chance the Rapper and Mary J. Blige’s performances. Herbie Hancock came by and said an extended hello, as did many other well-wishers, including Stephen Stills and Clive Davis.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Weekend treat: a Thelma classic ...

When you have a spare two hours watch this delicious 1951 Paramount comedy THE MATING SEASON, directed by (gay) Mitchell Leisen (whom we have blogged about here before: reviews of MIDNIGHT, HOLD BACK THE DAWN, FRENCHMAN'S CREEK etc) with a great role for the great Thelma Ritter, one of our favourites here. Gene Tierney and Miriam Hopkins also score. Thelma is the all-wise owner of a hamburger joint whose diplomat son marries rich Gene, and gets snarky Miriam as his mother-in-law, but the rich man she has her eyes on falls for down-to-earth Thelma, whom the rich folk think is the son's cook, not his mother. The scene is set ...
Thanks to the boys over at Datalounge for pointing out it is on YouTube, as it has not been available for a long time, though I caught it once on television years ago. It was made just after ALL ABOUT EVE so Thelma is flying here.

We love Thelma (1902-1969) as Clancy, Susan Hayward's companion/nurse in WITH A SONG IN MY HEART in 1952, and as Doris's tipsy maid in PILLOW TALK, and the older Themla back with Marilyn (from ALL ABOUT EVE) as her Reno landlady in THE MISFITS, and ..... out west with Debbie in HOW THE WEST WAS WON and THE SECOND TIME AROUND, as James Stewart's masseuse in Hitch's REAR WINDOW, and her great early roles in A LETTER TO THREE WIVES and PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET and more (Cukor's THE ,MODEL AND THE MARRIAGE-BROKER. DADDY LONG LEGS, A HOLE IN THE HEAD) among her 44 credits. 

Monday, 6 February 2017

A new BLOW-UP

Finally, its on Blu-ray and dvd in a new Criterion edition released on 28 March. For far too long there has only been a standard dvd, with a terrible commentary track by a professor presumably discussing the film with a class of American teenagers who knew nothing about the Swinging Sixties or cast members like Vanessa Redgrave .... it is hilarious for all the wrong reasons.
I have written about Antonioni's BLOW-UP so many times already, so this is just a summary of the new edition. I was going to watch the dvd as part of my new year re-views, but we will be waiting till March now. Here is the Criterion blurb and contents:

In 1966, Michelangelo Antonioni transplanted his existentialist ennui to the streets of swinging London for this international sensation, the Italian filmmaker’s first English-language feature. A countercultural masterpiece about the act of seeing and the art of image making, Blow-Up takes the form of a psychological mystery, starring David Hemmings as a fashion photographer who unknowingly captures a death on film after following two lovers in a park. Antonioni’s meticulous aesthetic control and intoxicating color palette breathe life into every frame, and the jazzy sounds of Herbie Hancock, a beautifully evasive performance by Vanessa Redgrave, and a cameo by the Yardbirds make the film a transporting time capsule from a bygone era. Blow-Up is a seductive immersion into creative passion, and a brilliant film by one of cinema’s greatest artists.
New, restored 4K digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
New pieces about director Michelangelo Antonioni’s artistic approach, featuring photography curators Walter Moser and Philippe Garner and art historian David Alan Mellor
Blow Up of “Blow Up,” a 2016 documentary on the making of the film
Conversation from 2016 between Garner and actor Vanessa Redgrave
Archival interviews with Antonioni and actors David Hemmings and Jane Birkin
Trailers
PLUS: A book featuring an essay by film scholar David Forgacs, an updated 1966 account of the film’s shooting by Stig Björkman, the questionnaires the director distributed to photographers and painters while developing the film, and the 1959 Julio Cortázar short story on which the film is loosely based.
Of course the plot does not bear too much examining. How for instance, in that pre-internet world,  does the mystery woman Vanessa Redgrave turn up at the photographer's studio just as he arrives back, when she does not seem to know who he is in the park, let alone where he lives or works. They must have followed him from the park, via that detour to the Chelsea restaurant (which I used to know, as I lived near it in '72/'73). 
There was supposed to be more about someone rifling through his car there, but producer Ponti nixed the rest of that sequence. The whole murder in the park and leaving the body undiscovered there seems all a bit far-fetched, but one is swept up in the mystery of it all, and that perfect London 1966 ambience. 
I was 20 and part of it all then. It was of course the film to see and have an opinion on when it opened in London early in 1967 before going to the Cannes Festival. Terence Stamp too is on record about it, as he had been promised the part, and is still annoyed about it .... David Hemmings though delivers a major performance as the typical disillusioned Antonioni male - he had been fairly nondescript up till then,  but was soon the icon of the era. 
We just love the images and the spaces - that park, that studio, London changing as it was then, and that perfect Herbie Hancock soundtrack, which has stayed with me, on vinyl, CD, and ipod. Now for the Blu-ray ...
If you’ve never seen Blowup before, prepare yourself for one of the cinema’s most unique experiences. If you have seen it before, prepare as well for rediscovering—much like the film’s hero—something you only thought you knew.

New year re-views 5: Les Demoiselles de Rochefort

LA LA LAND got me in the mood for those Jacques Demy musicals once again - we love THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG, but even more, his 1967 THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT, which is sheer endless delight, as per my previous items on it, here's a reprise:
This was bliss to see again recently, to see it in colour and widescreen is magical. It is another all singing musical with great colour and sets – the whole town of Rochefort seems to be dancing at one stage. The sisters Catherine Deneuve and Francoise Dorleac star, with hoofers an older Gene Kelly, George Chakiris in tight pants, and a blonde Jacques Perrin as a lovelorn sailor. It all works perfectly now and I urge anyone who has not seen it to seek it out on dvd, as it is not as well known as the more famous Cherbourg film, it is in fact a perfect 60s film, which I have written about here several times already. We also get Danielle Darrieux as the girls' mother, and Michel Piccoli as her admirer.
The BFI dvd includes Agnes Varda's documentary on the film's 25 year anniversary party held at Rochefort, which sadly Francoise Dorleac was a major absentee ...

New year re-views 4: The Chapman Report, 1962

I have written about it several times here already, but simply have to again - that favourite lost movie of ours, THE CHAPMAN REPORT from 1962 is finally on dvd – a Warner Archive no-frills issue, but I went for a Spanish edition (CONFIDENCIAS DE MUJER) which has the trailer and chapters, and a lurid painting of Claire Bloom on the cover, in full nympho mode. Cukor’s 1962 film of that sensational best-seller (I read it when I was a teenager) still looks good, with that early ‘60s look in spades, 
with different backgrounds and colours for the 4 ladies – costumes by Orry Kelly, colour co-ordinanation by Cukor regular Hoyningen-Heune, with costumes by Orry-Kelly, all very 1962, Veteran Henry Daniell was another Cukor regular, he gets a scene here, advising Efrem Zimbalist Jr on the dangers posed by his sex survey in suburbia. The credits are amusing too, styled like early computer cards for a electronic filing system. 
 
Claire Bloom steals the show here with her magnetic portrayal of the self-loathing nympho (she said in a recent interview Cukor was the best director she ever worked with), as we see her like a vampire in the shadows watching the water delivery boy (Chad Everett in tight trousers), before her encounter with those sleazy jazz musicians led by Corey Allen.
Meanwhile arty Glynis Johns gets an eyeful of Ty Hardin in those spray-on shorts at the beach and wants him to pose (and more) for her; while bored housewife Shelley Winters is having an affair with no-good theatre director Ray Danton – her boring husband Harold Stone just wants to  watch tv. young Jane Fonda is the fourth wife and makes the least impression here, as the frigid widow whom Efrem gets to comfort. Soap opera then, but a superior one, and a Trash Classic finally available again. 

C for Chabrol ....


My movie buff pal Martin has covered Chabrol's 1968 LA FEMME INFIDELE in his Facebook "Auteurist History of Cinema" feature, under 'C' - which makes me want to see it again, Here is my own 2012 review:
Also to be seen now, goodness knows when, are two Claude Chabrol box sets, 14 films in all!, along with his LA CEREMONIE. We saw a lot of Chabrols back in the late '60s and into the '70s, when he was doing that brilliant series of thrillers with his then wife, the marvellous Stephane Audran, particularly LE BOUCHER and LA FEMME INFIDELE and the brilliant THE BEAST MUST DIE etc. I liked that comic thriller in bright Greek sunlight LE ROUTE DE CORINTH (with Seberg and Ronet), Romy Schneider and Steiger in INNOCENTS WITH DIRTY HANDS (a valentine to Romy really), and that good Canadian one with Donald Sutherland BLOOD RELATIVES, so I really must find time to go back and see all those ones I missed like those with Isabelle Huppert (VIOLETTE NOZIEREMADAME BOVARY). Chabrol was nothing if not prolific, good though to see how highly regarded he is now. It was also fun getting his throwaway 1960s comedies like LES GODELUREAUX and the delicious 1965 romp MARIE CHANTEL V DR KHA, and also new editions of his first successes LE BEAU SERGE and LES COUSINS - as per reviews, Chabrol label. 

It is an absolute pleasure seeing LA FEMME INFIDELE again, that perfect late '60s setting, as the loving jealous husband Michel Bouquet begins to suspect the wife he loves so much is having an affair during her frequent trips to Paris. He soon discovers the truth and calls on the lover, Maurice Ronet. It is a brilliant scene as the men talk, the lover feeling awkward and guilty, the husband not knowing what to do - but a casual remark of the lover suddenly leads to blind anger ... as in PLEIN SOLEIL and LE PISCINE there is that sudden murderous attack, with Ronet once again the victim. The husband thinks he has covered his tracks, and the ideal domestic life with their son resumes - but of course, being Chabrol, those police and detectives keep calling and finding out more details. It is all impeccably done with those lovely circular camera movements as we circle the husband and wife as they both realise the trap they are in. She finds the evidence and cooly destroys it as she is now back in love with her husband. Stephane Audran is of course so divinely cool and poised and attractive here. Classic French cinema then.
What will Martin do next? D for Demy perhaps ?

London,spring 2017

London is gearing up for spring, bad weather and transport problems getting sorted, it will be quite a season for theatre and art folk.
The big new David Hockney exhbition opens at the Tate, and runs till May. Expect the crowds back, as they were at his Royal Academy exhibitions in recent years.
Few British artists have made a bigger splash than Hockney, so, after six decades keeping the art market (all those posters and books) afloat, the 79-year old enjoys a major retrospective of his work at The Tate, iconic swimming pools and all. 9 Feb to 29 May.
Lots of theatre revivals: we will be booking for the new BOYS IN THE BAND, led by Mark Gatiss, coming into town this month. 
I am seeing DREAMGIRLS on 22 February, Amber Riley is the latest Effie and she has been getting rave reviews.

Imelda Staunton returns (after her GYPSY success) in a major revival of Albee's WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? - Albee died last year, and it will be interesting to see another actress as Martha - most people now only know the Elizabeth Taylor version in Mike Nichols' 1966 film.

The latest HAMLET is that fascinating actor Andrew Scott (Moriarty to Benedict's SHERLOCK), but it seems the Almeida Theatre production is completely sold out already - but it should have live screenings to cinemas, as they did last year with Ralph Fiennes' RICHARD III.

The National are also doing a major new revival of ANGELS IN AMERICA, with an interesting cast led by Russell Tovey, Andrew Garfield, Nathan Lane etc. and the National are also tacking a new Sondheim FOLLIES later this year, Imelda will also be headlining that ....

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Hockney style

As per other reports here, we first discovered David Hockney in the 1960s - that new age of the colour supplements, which featured him a lot. Not only the art, but we liked the look too - he actually looked like the work he produced. It was a very individual look for 1966, of course he had dyed his hair blonde and those round black glasses - as I saw myself then (as mentioned before, Hockney label). 
I was 20 in 1966 and had moved to central London, Bayswater - a short walk to trendy Notting Hill Gate, where I ventured into my first gay pub, in or near Pembridge Villas. A man with that look was there, it could only have been Hockney, maybe visiting from LA. I recognised him right away, but just had a drink and left. Perhaps if I had lingered, I may have been a pool boy myself?  Right: I have had this French poster framed, since 1974.
Jack Hazan's film A BIGGER SPLASH, daring at the time,  continued our fascination with David and his 1970s coterie. He later said he had not realised how much he had been filmed, but surely he must have realised there was a man with a camera in the shower with him ..... 
David of course is now 80 this year and has become the grand old man of British art, still painting and still smoking. The latest huge exhibition at the Tate Gallery opens this week and runs to May, we will be going of course. 
The Look continues: those blocks of colour, wearing odd socks, striped knitted ties, yellow flat caps, and lots of fancy rugger shirts in pastel hues, with baggy cargo trousers and tennis shoes, and cardigans.
London will be gearing up for Hockney fever again, as this latest exhibition gets underway.