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, Jorge in Sao Paulo, Martin in Derry & Colin, and Donal.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Jack's Tribute, Lee drops in

TRIBUTE, 1980. What to make of Jack Lemmon’s long and varied career? He did a lot of stage work too, including playing TRIBUTE over 200 times before the 1980 film, so the role must have appealed to him.  

A shallow Broadway press agent learns he is dying just as his son by his ex-wife arrives for a visit.
His character here, Scottie Templeton, is the kind of showbiz veteran to drive one screaming from the room, as Scottie has to be ‘on’ all the time, even when being told he has a terminal illness.
 Lemmon though whether dropping his pants or dressed in a chicken suit, is so annoying and unfunny. His ex-wife is Lee Remick who drops in for a few scenes, like visiting royalty, and is so wonderful and charistmatic as usual here (she said she took the small role to work again with Jack after their 1962 hit DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES – and they do have great rapport;  ironically, it was Lee who got the fatal illness, and died aged 55 in 1991, a decade before Jack in 2001). 

Second billed is Robbie Benson, who on this showing is a charisma-free zone, as the son who feels neglected and its all about Scottie trying to re-connect with his son. This is all glutinously sentimental, then there is Colleen Dewhurst as the doctor, and John Marley as Scottie’s old friend – and that scene at Joe Allen’s of which the less said the better. 
There is also a montage of Scottie back in hospital enduring his treatment which feels like the end, but no – there is more, as he gets that tribute from his peers and friends which goes on and on, as Scottie, wearing that silly hat, wears out his welcome. Kim Cattrall is also there, looking different from her later SEX AND THE CITY persona …. I loved Scottie’s palatial New York townhouse, but as an IMDB reviewer put it:  its a 'tribute' to phony emotions, bad acting, and a rotten script. Directed by Bob Clark. Lee did much better also in 1980 with that other small role in THE COMPETITION (as per review, Remick label.).

Ok, I only saw this for Lee Remick. Getting back to Jack, I liked his early ‘50s movies  (COWBOY, MY SISTER EILEEN, BELL BOOK & CANDLE) and his films with all those blondes (Marilyn, Doris, Kim, Janet, Judy) and I never tire of him in SOME LIKE IT HOT - the performance of the year - or THE APARTMENT
Jack & Romy
but after DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES not so much, though GOOD NEIGHBOUR SAM with Romy, THE ODD COUPLE with Mattheau, and THE OUT OF TOWNERS with Sandy Dennis were tolerably amusing, but wild horses couldn’t drag me to IRMA LA DOUCE, UNDER THE YUM YUM TREE or SAVE THE TIGER, and for every MISSING or CHINA SYNDROME or GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS there’s a glutinously schmaltzy  TRIBUTE or THAT’S LIFE or those GRUMPY OLD MEN …. Ugh ! while Billy’s 1972 AVANTI! is still polarizing – some love it, others hate it (as do I). Bizarre too seeing him turn up as Marcellus in the Branagh HAMLET ! How did he fit in those stage roles as well (like the demanding LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT)… despite some of those grating later roles we have a lot of affection for Jack's earlier work (and we will always have SOME LIKE IT HOT in our Top Ten) and he did become a beloved American institution like James Stewart or Henry Fonda.  Below: They are not long the DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Record Store Day

Saturday 19 April was 'Record Store Day' here in the UK, a celebration of all things vinyl. Did we ever think vinyl would be trendy again when we threw out our old records as we embraced the CD technology? More than 200 record shops are participating in this annual celebration of independent music stores. Rare and limited edition discs will be released exclusively through these shops by artists including Pet Shop Boys, Nirvana, David Bowie.

The day was full of quirky events, welcoming music lovers into a lively local community one cannot find on-line. The blurb says "bands will plug in their amps by the cash registers while managers dispense bacon sandwiches, alongside invaluable musical wisdom. There's a 12-hour tribute to the late Frankie Knuckles (RIP label) in Liverpool and Paul Weller plays live at Rough Trade in London.

I can't believe now I threw out my vinyl albums during a house move some 5 years ago, when we got into a fit of getting rid of stuff. I may not have played them anymore, but those vinyl records had been with me since my teenage years - those Beatles albums, Stones, those early Streisands, Joan Armatradings, those Joni Mitchell gatefold albums, and all the rest - 
those early compliations like CBS's THE ROCK MACHINE TURNS YOU ON, those Tamla Motown collections, the Atlantic Aretha's, those French Vogue Francoise Hardy EPs, those early Elton and Rod Stewarts, and Clapton and Jeff Beck, Talking Heads, Supertramp, Neil Young and so on ..... and all those late 60s, early 70s groups I liked, those Doors albums and The Band, Pink Floyd, soundtracks .....  (I did a piece on this a while back, music label - When Albums Ruled The World, inspired by a BBC programme). HMV may be gone, but vinyl is still around. How we loved the touch and feel of vinyl then .... dropping the needle on the record and waiting for the sound to kick in actual vinyl records may be gone, but the sounds are still with me on CD and iPod.

On another front, the giant Matisse exhibition at Tate Modern has opened and will be a hot ticket, even at £20. Best wait a while till the crowds go down so one can pause to enjoy these astonishing pictures. 

And good to see a new cinema is opening, part of the enterprising Curzon chain (where I saw THE SERVANT last year, at their Curzon Mayfair), this is Curzon Victoria - near Victoria Station, so very convenient. Victoriais a mess at the moment, with all the new construction works going on, but nice that a new cinema will be included in the mix.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Favourite places: Mont St Michel

I was looking back at photos of friends and I at Mont St Michel in France earlier - 40 years ago this October! It has been one of my favourite places since - along with Corfu also in the '70s, and later Rhodes and Lindos. 

Mont St Michel is one of the most visited and recognisable historic sites in France, and the most magical place along the Normandy and Brittany coastline. It is actually a little island in Normandy, cut off when the tides rise. It is overrun with tourists all year now, like London and any main tourist attraction, but 40 years ago in that wintery October, four of us had it practically all to ourselves as we stayed overnight in a hotel and explored the monastery the next morning. I loved the cloisters at the very top, steeped in history and those views ..... It was magical too walking around the town that rainy night and finding an ideal restaurant. 

It was a strategic fortification since ancient times and one can imagine life there during the dark ages and in medieval times, with monks and pilgrims to its abbey. Mont St Michel and its bay are now part of UNESCO's world heritage sites and well worth a visit, even in these crowded times as millions visit it each year. 

My 1974 postcard packs
1974 was actually a great travel year for me: to Milan for a week in April, and also several trips to France, where my oldest friend was now married and living in Paris, we took a motor-caravan there and I remember making tea as we parked outside the Louvre, and then on to those marvellous places in Northern France: Chartres Cathedral, the perfect town of Honfleur, St Malo, Dinard, and on to the Mont, stopping off for delicious meals at traditional auberges, and shopping at charcuteries, boulangeries and patissieries, and also detouring to see the Bayeux Tapestry and the Normandy beaches of WWII. Another of my oldest friends, Les - now in Hastings - was on that trip, we will have to talk about when meeting up over the weekend, and Mike, my Parisian friend, is now in San Francisco, whom I am emailing later .... There was also a terrific weekend, or two, at that delightful town Le Touquet - I remember a particuarly fantastic restaurant meal there with those langoustines and an unforgettable strawberry flan, and a late night walk on the beach, and that balcony view ....

In Corfu, I particularly liked the Achilleon, now the island's Casino, but it was a holiday home for Sissi, Empress Elizabeth of Austria, and one could visit her private chapel and state rooms, and those splendid statutes of Achilles in the lush grounds. I have covered Rhodes and Lindos here before, travel label, we are planning to return there this year ...
There is a wonderful early '60s French film AMEILIE, OU LE TEMPS D'AIMER by Michel Drach, which I saw in 1964 and it seems unavailable now, a brooding Victorian romance set around the Mont and Normandy, where visiting Jean Sorel sets the local girls a flutter - Marie-Jose Nat, Sophie Daumier, Clothilde Joano.  It might turn up again sometime ...

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Sexplosion !

"Sexplosion: From Andy Warhol to A Clockwork Orange - how a generation of pop rebels broke all the taboos" - this fascinating tome by Robert Hofler is an easy read, particularly for those of us who lived through those heady years. Let's see: "Rich, funny, and comprehensive SEXPLOSION takes you inside the tumultous, energizing years of 1968 to 1973, when artists, film-makers, and writers defied authority and challenged every taboo to create a sexual revolution that reverbates to this day. This is a superb evocation of an era" Patricia Bosworth says. or "Hofler pays tribute to the trailblazing artists who paved the way for the freedom on screen that we take for granted today", according to Jeffrey Schwarz.

It is a different world now looking back to those late 60s when censorship was still in full force - how much society can change over 40 years! Gay liberation and Women's Lib were still in their infancy - equality seemed a long way off then; unlike now, the newspapers were virulently anti-gay - in England the tabloids hounded closeted gay celebrities like Kenny Everett and Russell Harty to their deathbeds, and then the Aids crisis began .... Back in the '60s in America homosexuals were routinely called 'fags' or 'faggots' (it was 'poofs' here in England) even by the likes of liberals like Billy Wilder or John Huston (and in films like VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, THE LOVE MACHINE) - lots of straight men hated women whom they saw as castrating, dominating tyrants. 
Philip Roth certainly felt so - he refused to complete his manuscript for PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT as his hated ex-wife was getting half of what he earned, after tricking him into marriage with a fake pregnancy, as she had bought the urine sample from a pregnant woman, so he was not going to hand her another fortune - then, conveniently for him, not so for her, she was killed in a car crash, so heigh ho, and off to the printers !!! and that very funny book became one of the defining texts of the era, along with John Updike's COUPLES and Gore Vidal's MYRA BRECKINRIDGE, which we loved with a passion. Even the trash-but-fun movie did not dent our affection for it. How we howled at Mae West's line as she arrived at her office crowded with studs: "one of those guys will have to go..!"and poor Rusty gets it in the end, we had seen nothing like it !
Hofler goes into the genesis of all these, and in the theatre the problems with getting Mart Crowley's BOYS IN THE BAND, Tynan's OH! CALCUTTA! and Rado & Ragni's HAIR on stage with their nudity and depiction of gay life and those new freedoms. It seems critic Kenneth Tynan was more an unmitigated shit than one had relealised. We knew about his S&M fetishes and caning women, but he was also rabidly anti-fag, and wanted nothing gay in his revue, and even wanted to hire only heterosexual actors! 

Also in the cinema, John Schlesinger was pushing boundaries with MIDNIGHT COWBOY, which featured some of the Warhol crowd, like Viva, also busy in Warhol products like LONESOME COWBOYS. Warhol's own films, as created by Paul Morrisey - FLESH, HEAT, TRASH - also raked in the money, though they would not pay for Holly Woodlawn to get bail from prison to attend her film opening!  Ken Russell meanwhile was getting the British film censor John Trevelyan (who was a regular on tv and in discussions on censorship I attended at the BFI), to pass his WOMEN IN LOVE (Olly and Alan had their own problems with that nude wrestling scene...) and the even more notorious THE DEVILS, while Visconti ran into problems with Warner Bros over his Nazi orgy in THE DAMNED and DEATH IN VENICE .....  which to the Warner Bros executives was about a middle-aged man chasing but never quite getting his hands on a knowing thirteen year old boy who seems to be leading him on. No wonder they wanted Tadzio changed to a girl called Tadzia !
Hofler though does not mention Fellini's SATYRICON or Antonioni's ZABRISKIE POINT, two other hits of the counterculture era, as we zoon on to BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE (which earned Natalie Wood more than any other film she made, as she had a percentage deal) and CARNAL KNOWLEDGE, DEEP THROAT and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (right). Amusing story about that - arch-manipulator Kubrick stayed at home in England but persuased Malcolm McDowell and Anthony Burgess, the book's author, to go to America and handle the interviews for ORANGE. Then Burgess realised he was not making anything from the film's success as he had earlier sold the rights for a few hundred dollars ....

Schlesinger ran into more trouble with his next one, SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY, but was now an Oscar-winning director, so got his way, having to replace his initial choices Ian Bannen and Hiram Keller which was not working out, with the more laid back Peter Finch and Murray Head. Princess Margaret though hated the film with its depiction of "men in bed kissing" - surely she knew enough gays! The kinky sex and violence of PERFORMANCE (left) also frazzled Warner Brothers who did not know what to do with it. STRAW DOGS with its brutal rape was also causing lots of problems. Then there was the notorious making of LAST TANGO IN PARIS ....

A fascinating era in all, as the new freedoms slowly became commonplace- as covered by "Films & Filming" and other magazines.  Another discussion I attended in 1970, when 24, at the BFI was on the topic of 'Actors & Nudity' - a hot topic then with more and more actresses and actors too, having to get their kit off. 
I remember Billie Whitelaw being vocal at this, and Zeffirelli's naked Romeo, Leonard Whiting, in a crushed velvet blue suit. He was standing next to us afterwards in the gents, waiting his turn ... 
Censorship still raged in Ireland then, a look at WOMEN IN LOVE at the local cinema I grew up in, in 1970 or so reduced us to helpless laughter - the wrestling scene had been reduced to a few shots of them panting on the carpet, making it even more suggestive. They were running MIDNIGHT COWBOY the following week - I wondered how much of that was left ...
How times change: Finland is now issuing quite explicit Tom of Finland stamps! 

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Roman empire falls again ....

Easter week and the big guns are being wheeled out once again. Nice to catch up with Anthony Mann's 1964 epic THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE once again (BEN HUR and SPARTACUS will be coming along too and the very lush CLEOPATRA). EMPIRE just looks better year after year (as does Mann's EL CID), and a nice movie to spend a couple of hours with as one copes with a head cold. First of all, it still looks great, with those real sets and its perfectly cast with that first hour or so focusing on those frozen wastes in the German forests in the snow at that outpost of the Roman Empire as Marcus Aurelius mediates on his impending mortality (aided by a poisoned apple) as his son Commodus plots to take over the Empire. Alec Guinness is perfect here as the ailing emperor with his friend Timonides who is James Mason. The two of them bring such depth and dignity to their roles.  

Sophia Loren as the emperor's daughter Lucilla - framed by Mann in lots of fascinating shots swathed in furs and against imposing backgrounds. Stephen Boyd fills out the hero role (it wouldn't have been quite right for Heston) and Christopher Plummer makes for a devious rather insane imposter to the throne, as it turns out he is not the son of Aurelius at all! Mel Ferrer, John Ireland, Omar Sharif and Anthony Quayle fill out the other leading roles as the empire is lost as Rome is conquered from within. 
It is interestingly done and is probably the last of the big epics of the early '60s, following SPARTACUS and CLEOPATRA. Anthony Mann also directed EL CID and this is more of the same, also from producer Samuel Bronston. Further "epics" like 55 DAYS AT PEKING or the rather tatty GENGHIS KHAN were just not in the same league. 
So, the last of the big ones then - and the starting point for the later GLADIATOR, though CGI spectacles are just not the same (see TROY for instance!). It must have been an important movie for Loren - she had started off 14 years earlier as an extra in QUO VADIS in 1950, and now here she was headlining her own roadshow epic! Alec Guinness is very interesting in his autobiography on taking Loren out to dinner during the shoot - 20 years earlier she may well have been one of the hungry children in Naples whom he was giving food to when in the English army during WWII!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Handy for the Heath ?

SCENES OF A SEXUAL NATURE, 2006. How could a sunny  afternoon on Hampstead Heath (in North London) be so crushingly dull? I used to be up there during the 70s and 80s, and it seemed a lot more fun than shown here. I also had this recorded on my Sky hard drive for about a year or so, before finally deciding to view it – despite that interesting cast. We drop in and out of observing 7 couples in various stages of relationship issues. 

Old-timers Eileen Atkins and Benjanim Whitrow get talking on a park bench and discover they have an unusual connection – as they were prospective dates about 50 years ago but went off and married other people instead (sounds like the start of hit series LAST TANGO IN HALIFAX). Catherine Tate and Adrian Lester are a divorcing couple, Tom Hardy fools around with Sophie Okonedo and drops his trousers – that makes the audience sit up!, Mark Strong and  Polly Walker  are another couple, while Hugh Bonneville and Gina McKee have an uneasy picnic. The only gay couple we listen in on (gays are usually plentiful on the Heath) are Ewan McGregor and Douglas Hodge (who was brilliant in LE CAGE AU FOLLES a few years ago) and Andrew Lincoln (forever Egg in THIS LIFE) is caught gazing at an attractive girl’s underwear …. Ewan has an eye for passing trade but wants to have children as well, while partner Douglas is not so keen, as Ewan heads into the bushes with a new friend …. 
This though plays like a tedious collection of hit and miss sketches, directed by one Ed Blum, and one ends up fast-forwarding some of the more boring episodes. 
Moi on the Heath in the early '70s
If this was meant to be another LOVE ACTUALLY it fails miserably, but is an interesting addition to those indie gay British movies (like LAWLESS HEART or BEDROOMS AND HALLWAYS - reviewed at Gay Interest label, both infinitely more multi-layered and entertaining than this forgettable piffle. And where was Tom Hollander ? - surely they could have squeezed him in somewhere! 
This was made in 2006 - if being filmed now, a whole new raft of performers familiar to us would have to be cast: David Tennant, Olivia Colman, Nicola Walker, Elisabeth Berrington, Miranda Hart, Martin Hutson et al ... and perhaps the sculptured cheekbones of Douglas Booth and the pouting Rupert Penry-Jones (who does not like kissing blokes) as that gay couple ! 

Monday, 14 April 2014

Wild in the country / you ain't nothing but a hound dog! - more teen heart-throbs ...

HOUND DOG MAN in ’59 may not be a western at all but is an amiable, pleasing backwoods comedy drama by Don Siegel set in rural America showcasing Fox’s new talent: singer Fabian as the confused teen, Stuart Whitman as his ne’er-do-well pal who takes the kids on a weekend of hunting with their hound-dogs, Carol Lynley and Dodie Stevens are the girls - Carol wants to tame Whitman, while Dodie and Fabian seem fated to be mated, after that barn-dance. 

Arthur O’Connell and Betty Field are the nice understanding parents, and there are old timers like Jane Darwell and Royal Dano, and its all perfectly delightful. Siegel also scored next year in 1960 putting Elvis out west in the stirring FLAMING STAR. HOUND DOG MAN is the kind of thing 20th Century Fox did well, their charming version of rural Americana ... usually those Jerry Wald productions like the pretty but vapid HEMINGWAY'S ADVENTURES OF A YOUNG MAN in 1962.

Teen heart-throbs:
Fabian was the ideal idol for a while then - an Italian-American teenager discovered and made a singer, he looked the part and filled a pair of jeans nicely. Good too with comic timing in NORTH TO ALASKA (rave for this favourite 1960 western at Fabian label) and other Fox movies like HIGH TIME, FIVE WEEKS IN A BALOON, and MR HOBBS TAKES A VACATION, amother other acting roles. 
He posed (tastefully) for "Playgirl" and aged quite well.  Pat Boone and Ricky Nelson (and even Tommy Sands) all went into the movies too, scoring while Elvis was away in the army - Ricky being a delight in Hawks' RIO BRAVO - and of course Bobby Darin in COME SEPTEMBER, not to mention the Elvis films - his big hit G I BLUES after his return from Germany, and those Fox dramas WILD IN THE COUNTRY and FLAMING STAR before all those lesser-quality items ... while serious actors like Tab Hunter and Tony Perkins tried their hand at singing - successfully too ! Then came the blondes: Troy Donahue, Tab Hunter, James Franciscus, and another striking brunette: Kerwin Matthews ... as per labels. Soon: more Guy Madison ! Kerwin Matthews ! George Maharis ! and those new 60s boys Warren Beatty, Christopher Jones ("the new James Dean"), Georges Peppard and Hamilton, Jean Sorel and some French guys ...

Blue jean baby ...

BLUE DENIM (BLUE JEANS). A rarity from 1959, this drama from a play by James Leo Herlihy (ALL FALL DOWN, MIDNIGHT COWBOY) plays out in an idealised suburban American home, complete with picket fence and bench swinging on the porch as ideal teens Brandon De Wilde and Carol Lynley confront their unwanted pregnancy. They are such a vanilla couple that the idea of heavy petting seems a bit much let alone going all the way …. 

Macdonald Carey is the army father who has the family dog put to sleep while the son is at school, to spare him saying goodbye to the pet. Mother is pert and busy Marsha Hunt, busy with their daughter’s wedding. No one seems to listen to Brandon when he wants to finally tell them his problem. Carol’s father Professor Williard is that busy character actor Vaughn Taylor. 

These are no rebels without a cause though, but nice normal teens. Warren Berlinger is good as their friend, and Roberta Shore sings up a storm at that ideal hop. When they need a “doctor” they have to go to the “other side of town” (cue sleazy sax) …. Will they go through with the operation or will the parents come to the rescue? It is all nicely worked out, and Herlihy again captures that suburban life perfectly. Director Philip Dunne also captures small town life, as he did in HILDA CRANE (Jean Simmons label) and others. Perfectly late '50s too - another 1959 treat then. De Wilde was of course already a veteran child actor (SHANE and the others as per my profile on him - De Wilde label) and Lynley that charming new ingenue, a rival to Sandra Dee - in favourites like HOUND DOG MAN or RETURN TO PEYTON PLACE.  Her later hits included BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING and THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, De Wilde was killed in a road accident in 1972 when he was 30 - but had good roles in ALL FALL DOWN and HUD, and we like him in NIGHT PASSAGE and others. If he had lived he would be 70 this year ...