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.

Monday, 16 January 2017

The Neon Demon

What to say about Nicolas Winding Refn's latest THE NEON DEMON? Do I even want to say anything about it? We had been anticipating it, as we liked his DRIVE a lot, seen it several times, and I totally got and loved ONLY GOD FORGIVES, which alienated a lot, but it hypnotic hallucinogenic Tarantino-on-acid revenge tale with that amazing performance from Kristen Scott Thomas totally wowed me. (Reviews at Ryan Gosling label). 

THE NEON DEMON though seems to be all style and no substance, it starts great - super visuals and soundtrack. But whatever the "thing" that teen model Jesse has and which the other models want, somehow eludes me. She just seems passive and bland, and if she is the next big thing why is she staying in a seedy, rundown motel, run by a scuzzy Keanu Reeves? Then what do we make of that large animal in her room .... 

The sixteen year-old aspiring model Jesse arrives in Los Angeles expecting to be a successful model. Photographer Dean takes photos for her portfolio and dates her. Jesse befriends the lesbian makeup artist Ruby and then the envious models Gigi and Sarah at a party. Meanwhile the agency considers Jesse beautiful with a "thing" that makes her different and she is sent to the professional photographer Jack. Jesse attracts he attention of the industry and has a successful beginning of career. But Ruby, Gigi and Sarah are capable of doing anything to get her "thing". 

There are points to be made about the fashion industry and how it devours (literally here) new talent ... but we also get long pauses as that climax unfolds. I can't say any more about that, but one is left at the end thinking is that it?  Despite the grand guignol climaxes and that morgue scene, it is all rather forgettable. It is certainly though a polarising movie - some love it for the visuals and style, while others hate the story and the characters and those eye-popping scenes! 

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Absolute Beginners, 1986

ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS was not quite a success in 1986, but Julien Temple's film is a fizzing delight now, perhaps a proto music-video film. It looks fantastic with all those day-glo colours and is quite impressive with those recreations of Old Compton Street in London's Soho, and the seedy tenements of Notting Hill and Portobello Road. It is 1958, so racial tensions are simmering as the new teenagers discover all that new music .....

A musical adaptation of Colin MacInnes' novel about life in late 1950s London. Nineteen-year-old photographer Colin is hopelessly in love with model Crepe Suzette, but her relationships are strictly connected with her progress in the fashion world. So Colin gets involved with a pop promoter and tries to crack the big time. Meanwhile, racial tension is brewing in Colin's Notting Hill housing estate...

Temple (I loved his documentary LONDON THE MODERN BABYLON a few years ago, and his pop videos include Bowie's JAZZIN' FOR BLUE JEAN and Culture Club's DO YOU REALLY WANT TO HURT ME?) has a great eye for staging numbers, brings in an eclectic cast to support his leads: Eddie O'Connell as the young photographer hero and young Patsy Kensit - a perfect Bardot type here - as the aspiring designer. There's Ray Davies of The Kinks doing a terrific number and none other than Mandy Rice-Davies as his wife. James Fox is the reptilian fashion designer. And then there is David Bowie as the slick ad man. One watches entranced, THEN Sade comes on to deliver that slinky number "Killer Blow". So, whats not to love?  One to re-watch again soon. 

Be My Guest, 1965

I was a teenager in 1965, seeing all the movies, but never came across this one, Perhaps it played for a week as a supporting feature at the local Odeon or ABC and then vanished for ever. Even its star David Hemmings barely mentions it in his entertaining memoirs.

A family inherits a seaside hotel and has trouble filling it up until their son's rock group begins packing 'em in. This film was one of several British films from the mid-sixties which offered the added inducement of a guest appearance by Jerry Lee Lewis.

This is one of those 'happy-young-people-making-music' movies popular then - though its the mid-60s with Beatlemania at its peak, its like A HARD DAY'S NIGHT, THE KNACK or BILLY LIAR never happened. It harks back to 1962's SOME PEOPLE and TWO LEFT FEET, both also featuring the young Hemmings,   He is the lead here, just a year before being cast by Antonioni as the face of Swinging London in  BLOW-UP in 1966, and he cheerfully goes through the motions. This one is directed by one Lance Comfort. 

Its of interest now only for him and co-star one Stephen Marriott, who went on to become Steve Marriott of The Small Faces group. We liked them a lot, he had started as an actor, and was an Artful Dodger in OLIVER on stage. 
Also interesting for me is that long opening tracking shot along the Brighton coastline showing the whole city front then. I lived there for several years. It was also the time of those old trains where one could sit in the guard's van, along with deliveries, just like they do in A HARD DAY'S NIGHT. What on earth though is Jerry Lee Lewis doing here? - perhaps he was touring the UK at the time.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

A Star Is Born premiere, 1954 + East Of Eden

That fascinating premiere footage of A STAR IS BORN in Hollywood in 1954, a dvd extra on the restored film, is also on YouTube. Its a time capsule now, as Hollywood - old and new - turned out for one of the biggest premieres of the era. It seems they all wanted Judy (rather overweight here) to do well in her comeback film ..... there's Doris Day, Peggy Lee, Debbie and Eddie, Liz and Michael Wilding, Tony and Janet, Jack Carson is the MC and Joan Crawford has fun joshing with her MILDRED PIERCE co-star. Raymond Burr "back from Korea" turns up with a cute marine (a Mr Frank Vitti, who it seems spent several years with Burr) - and plenty more: Mitzi, Bacall, Shelley Winters - the furs, the costumes! 
We love A STAR IS BORN here, one of the first movies I saw as a kid, its still marvellous now. What did they think they were doing by cutting it drastically? It made no sense for Norman Maine to say to a nervous Esther Blodgett before her screen test "to think of a man eating a nutburger", as the scene of her working in the burger bar had been cut!
EAST OF EDEN in 1955 was the business too, another big Warner Bros spectacular event. Marilyn and Brando were ushers at this one, handing out the programmes. Somehow, today's premieres are not quite the same ....

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Some interesting careers ....

Hope Lange / Tom Tryon / Keir Dullea / Lola Albright. 

We are fascinated here at The Projector as to how some acting careers pan out, who gets the breaks and who keeps working into old age.  Here are some interesting ones .... maybe more later. 

If you were asked who co-starred with Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Montgomery Clift, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, would you come up with the answer? And if told it was Hope Lange would you be any the wiser?
Hope Lange (1933-2003) was one of 20th Century Fox’s players who came to prominence in the mid-50s and had a good career into the 1960s, maybe not individual enough to be a top line star, but a pleasing presence (rather like Vera Miles) in several hits of the time. She studied dance with Martha Graham, and was the young ingĂ©nue in BUS STOP in 1956, having scenes with Monroe, and then was Selina Cross in the Fox hit PEYTON PLACE in 1957, when she was also in the western THE TRUE STORY OF JESSE JAMES, with Robert Wagner and Jeff Hunter,  and in IN LOVE AND WAR, and then Montgomery Clift’s love interest in THE YOUNG LIONS in 1958. She was the lead and top-billed in a favourite of ours, THE BEST OF EVERYTHING in 1959, teamed with Stephen Boyd, with Joan Crawford in the supporting cameo role as her boss. 
She was the main lead opposite Elvis in the Fox meller WILD IN THE COUNTRY. Her scenes were cut out though from HOW THE WEST WAS WON in '62. Then Bette Davis had a supporting role in the 1961 A POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES  where Lange starred with her then amour Glenn Ford, after her marriage to BUS STOP star Don Murray. She then married directed Alan J. Pakula, and had a successful TV series from the film of THE GHOST AND MRS MUIR, among other television roles. Later films included the 1974 DEATH WISH and BLUE VELVET.

Keir Dullea, born in 1936, now 80, was a very individual young actor with those striking looks and eyes, and in interesting films like DAVID AND LISA in 1962 (for which he won the Golden Globe as “Most Promising Male Newcomer”), THE HOODLUM PRIEST, the comedy western WEST OF MONTANA and the lead in Preminger’s BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING in 1965 (where co-star Noel Coward famously said "Keir Dullea, gone tomorrow"), plus the Lana Turner classic MADAME X in 1966, and THE FOX in 1967. He is immortalised for posterity as Dave Bowman, the surviving astronaut in Kubrick’s 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY (and certainly looks better now than his co-star Gary Lockwood – see below). 
The 1969 DE SADE (see review – Dullea label) is a hoot now,
Dullea also did several stage roles and we saw him on stage in London in 1976, as that annoying cowboy in a revival of BUS STOP, with Lee Remick as a world-weary Cherie. - right.
He has kept busy with 84 credits and is still working now. Like Michael York, Terence Stamp and others he shows how actors can keep working as they get older, and the next crop of actors take over.

Tom Tryon (1926-1991) aged 65, clocked up 39 acting credits before becoming a best-selling author. The tall dark and handsome actor was very individual in early roles like I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE in 1958, and in THE UNHOLY WIFE, THREE VIOLENT PEOPLE, THE STORY OF RUTH (see below), MARINES LETS GO, THE LONGEST DAY. 
He was the lead as THE CARDINAL for Otto Preminger in 1963, and also in Otto’s IN HARM’S WAY in 1965. There were lesser roles after that for the gay actor, who had been a marine in the South Pacific during the war, but his novels which were filmed including THE OTHER, HARVEST HOMECROWNED HEADS – a great read, which included the short story FEDORA (which became Billy Wilder’s last interesting film) brought him a lot more success and money than acting! He would have been the sailor marooned on a desert island with Marilyn Monroe in SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE, in 1962 – if the film had been completed.
Lola Albright, born 1925, now in her early 90s – Considered one of the most stylish, sultriest and beautiful actresses in Hollywood, with one of the throatiest, smokiest and most distinctive voices in the business, she starred with Kirk Douglas in the 1949 hit CHAMPION, after uncredited appearances in THE PIRATE and EASTER PARADE, and a bit part in THE TENDER TRAP in ‘55. From 1958 to 1961 she played nightclub singer Edie Hart in the popular TV series PETER GUNN. She also made TV guest appearances on ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS (1955) – he should have made her a Hitchcock blonde. She played Constance McKenzie in the TV series PEYTON PLACE (1964) after Dorothy Malone became ill. Lola received critical acclaim for her performances in A COLD WIND IN AUGUST in 1961, and was in Rene Clements’ LES FELINS with Alain Delon in 1964, and was terrific as Tuesday Weld’s mother in the hilarious LORD LOVE A DUCK in 1966. A great example of a stylish actress under-used by Hollywood, but who kept busy with lots of television work.

Next:  Richard Beymer? Don Murray ? Tuesday Weld? Carol Lynley? Ann-Margret? plus ..... ? 

A Place Called Winter

Marvellous to come across an unputdownable novel for the dog end days of the year. I was so engrossed in A PLACE CALLED WINTER by Patrick Gale, published in 2015, I could not stop reading it and did not want it to finish.  

Harry Kane has followed tradition at every step, until an illicit affair forces him to abandon the golden suburbs of Edwardian England and travel to the town of Winter in the newly colonised Canadian prairies.
There, isolated in a beautiful but harsh landscape, Harry embarks on an extraordinary journey, not only of physical hardship, but also of acute self-discovery
“Harry Cane is one of many, the disappeared who were not wanted by their families or their societies and whose stories were long shrouded with shame. This fascinating novel is their elegy” – The Guardian.
We meet Harry as a shy, stammering young man in Edwardian London, living a decent but rather idle life cushioned by his father’s fortune. He enters a somewhat platonic marriage and becomes a father, but his true feelings are unleashed when he falls in love with another man. However, his secret is discovered and Harry is given an ultimatum by his wife’s family. Under threat of disgrace and a sentence of hard labour, he finds himself en route to Canada to make a new life as a settler on a remote Saskatchewan prairie. He befriends his neighbours, a brother and sister who both go on to play important roles in his future, but as the threat of war reaches this remote outpost of the Empire, Harry’s life takes another dark turn.

It is really a western, complete with a terrifying unpredictable villain, and a hero forced to rely on his own resources in a wide open landscape, and it is also a bittersweet, passionate love story, and perfectly captures that Edwardian England (including Gaiety Girls including the young Gladys Cooper) before the Great War changed it all. The Great War also influences and changes the fortunes of our characters here, as we see the Canadian wild west being colonised and changed by the progress of the railways and the new settlers. A fascinating period brilliantly brought to life by Gale. Harry Cane was in fact a real person, Gale's great-grandfather and he pieces his story and invents where necessary to fill in the blanks, from materials left by his grandmother. 
Other characters like Paul and Petra, and Winnie, the wife he left behind, who loved another, are perfectly realised too, as is life in that harsh climate, we also get all-male dances in those early settlements with few women, and the fascinating Cree indians too. The real Harry returned briefly to England in the 1950s, before returning to Canada to die. But he found his happiness at least in that place called Winter.  Left; the real Harry Cane. 

Patrick Gale is a fascinating British author, gay and prolific. I like his collection of short stories DANGEROUS PLEASURES, which he signed for me when we had a very pleasant conversation at a book signing in the late 90s. Good to see he is still writing marvellous novels like A PLACE CALLED WINTER

Monday, 2 January 2017

Another Hard Day's Night

Thats a good way of starting the new year, with the joyous A HARD DAY'S NIGHT, reminding us oldies of what 1964 was like when the world was, as it seemed to us teenagers then, fresh and young. I was a Beatle fanatic so seeing them up close like this, and then in colour in HELP! in '65 was sheer bliss. Here is my 2014 review: (now for EIGHT DAYS A WEEK).
London's British Film Institute is celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Beatles first film A HARD DAY'S NIGHT, with an extended run of 34 screenings. I have the dvd but it would be nice to pop along and see it on the big screen again. It is very special to me. Prior to then, movies with pop stars were lame efforts like those early 60s Billy Fury and Cliff Richard vehicles (see music label), even the Elvis films were starting to look tired - then Richard Lester came along with Alun Owen's witty script and turned it all upside down. It was like a French New Wave zany comedy and not just to expoit the worldwide success of the Fab Four. It is both comedy and almost documentary showing the boys as prisoners of their success, and also some of those songs are staged and filmed like the first pop promos. Lester also included some veteran British players who play perfectly with The Boys. 

It chronicles a few days in the life of the band, on trains (Patti Boyd is one of the schoolgirls), in the studio, trying to get some space for themselves as they are pursued by hysterical fans, clueless reporters, a fretful manager and Paul's grand-dad (Steptoe's Wilfrid Brambell) the essence of a "dirty old man" though they keep saying how clean he is here! The moptops are all individuals - we all had our favourites - and are all great here. The great Victor Spinetti (see label) is a scream as the neurotic tv studio director driven to distraction by the Boys. Add in that dry Scouse humour as the four lads ooze charisma and charm, and of course those songs!. Lester too keeps it all flying - it revolutionised screen musicals at a time when Hollywood was still churning out moribund embalmed versions of stage shows like MY FAIR LADY. Jacques Demy in France though was doing something similar with his UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG - and the later LES DEMOISELLES DE ROCHEFORT. 1965 saw Lester with The Beatles again and more pop promos but in colour this time, with HELP! I love that one even more ...

A HARD DAY'S NIGHT covers a very special moment for me, being 18 and new in London, and loving the Beatles and their music. That summer I had to stay out in London all night, as I went to see a late night French movie (at the old Academy in Oxford Street) and could not get home to the suburbs - no late night transport then! - so as dawn broke I was walking down Regent Street (where I would later spend over 20 years working) as the sun was rising over the old London Pavilion cinema where A HARD DAY'S NIGHT was playing, so the posters and pictures were everywhere. It suddenly felt good to be 18 and new in London as dawn was breaking .... its one of those moments that stay with one! 

A movie buff friend of mine, not a pop lover, was "disappointed" with A HARD DAY'S NIGHT when he saw it recently, but as I said, you would not judge it as an ordinary film. Lester created a perfect defining 1960s moment, capturing the youth of 1964 with the very individual Beatles seen up close and surrounded them with some perfect British players like Anna Quayle, Norman Rossington and the marvellous Brambell and Spinetti. And then there are the songs - like early pop videos with that gleaming black and white photography. 

Early 60s 20th Century Fox double bill

THE STORY OF RUTH and FRANCIS OF ASSISI. I remember seeing these two back in 1960 and 1961 - when I would have been 14 and 15, we liked those lush 20th Century Fox cinemascope period movies then. I had never seen them since, so its been fun revisting them now.

Inspired by the tale from Hebrew scriptures and the Christian Bible, the Moabitess child Ruth is sold to the temple of Chemosh. Years pass and she serves as a priestess to the idol. While arranging a temple ritual, she encounters a Judean family of artisans: Elimelech, his wife Naomi, their sons Chilion and Mahlon, and daughter-in-law Orpah. Ruth is curious about their God, and begins to meet secretly with Mahlon. After tragedy strikes, Ruth follows Naomi and begins a new life in Bethlehem...

THE STORY OF RUTH is a perfect biblical - up there with THE PRODIGAL, SAMSON & DELILAH, and even THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, as we follow Ruth (Elana Eden) from being a child sold into being a priestess for a pagan cult (Viveca Lindfors is a very slinky high priestess) to her meeting and falling for Tom Tryon and the invisible god he believes in. As another virgin is sacrificed to that pagan idol Ruth rebels and escapes. 

Elana Eden is attractive and fascinating - its her only main credit. Israeli actresses were popular then, Haya Harareet in BEN HUR, and Daliah Lavi being others busy then. Tom Tryon and Stuart Whitman are the men in Ruth's life, and Peggy Wood is marvellous as the wise Naomi. Biblical life is nicely depicted too, Fox makes it look good and its all handled by veteran Henry Koster. A nice re-view now. Good dvd transfer too.
FRANCIS OF ASSISI. They went to Italy for this one, so it looks great at the real locations, and the costumes and sets look authentic. The cast is the problem. Fox players Bradford Dillman (a rather dull Francis) and Stuart Whitman are the leads. Dolores Hart is Clare (she is of course a real nun now), and the supporting cast features Finlay Currie and Athene Seyler. Old Timer Michael Curtiz directs, its one of his last movies. It follows the story of St Francis fairly faithfully if dully. I much preferred Zeffirelli's BROTHER SUN SISTER MOON in 1973, and of course Rossellini's 1950 film on St Francis. 

Festive cheer 4

A final Christmas movie choice is 2007's HOW ABOUT YOU? - I don't know if it even opened back then, but its a pleasing end of year amusement. If you are going to film a soapy Maeve Binchy story then the way to do it is to make it look good and get some venerable old thespians on board, and so it is here. There's a nice Irish country house, posing as a retirement home, and the main regulars are Vanessa Redgrave, Imelda Staunton, Brenda Fricker and veteran Joss Ackland (I saw him on stage with Ingrid Bergman 45 years ago.

The plot is about 4 tiresome residents who have upset everyone else and are left alone for Christmas, with young Hayley Atwell (one of the Keeley Hawes-Gemma Atherton school of young actresses) who is minding the place for her sister who has to leave to care for their ill mother. 
She soon gets tired of the antics of the residents and tells them they will have to leave as the home will be closed down if they do not behave. So old showgirl Vanessa, bickering sisters Imelda and Breda, and old curmudgeon Joss have to buckle down and enjoy Christmas.
Its an amusing hour and a half, filmed in nice Irish locations by Anthony Byrne, of course snooty movie buffs would not give it the time of day, but for us others it passed an evening pleasantly enough.

Veterans

A nice shot of Kirk and Olivia back when - both 100 now. 
Coming up behind though are Danielle Darrieux, 100 in May; Micheline Presle 94, Franco Zeffirelli 93 as is Italian actress Valentina Cortese, and Glynis Johns and Muriel Pavlow. 92 year olds include Doris Day and Eva Marie Saint; Angela Lansbury and Dorothy Malone are 91; Jerry Lewis and Roger Corman are 90, as are Mel Brooks, Cloris Leachman, Lina Wertmuller and Norman Jewison. Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte are 89 as are Emmanuelle Riva, Neil Simon, Rosemary Harris, Lee Grant and Estelle Parsons. 
88's include Burt Bacharach, Ennio Morricone, Stuart Whitman, James Ivory, Martin Landau, Nancy Olson, Ann Blyth, Jeanne Moreau, Gina Lollobrigida and Vera Miles. Andre Previn and Max Von Sydow are 87 as are Christopher Plummer and Joan Plowright. 86 year olds include Joanne Woodward, Gena Rowlands, Sean Connery, Clint Eastwood, Stephen Sondheim, Jean Luc Godard and Monica Vitti this year.
Leslie Caron is 85 as are Rita Moreno, Carroll Baker, Olympia Dukakis, Jan Troell, Frederic Raphael and Ian Holm. 84s include John Williams and Milos Forman.
Bubbling under in their early 80s are Anouk Aimee, Sophia Loren, Brigitte Bardot, Alain Delon, Jean Paul Belmondo, Jean Sorel, Robert Hossein, Elaine May, Slyvia Miles, Ellyn Burstyn, and Marisa Pavan - whose sister Pier Angeli died back in 1969.
Mere striplings include:
Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Julie Andrews, Quincy Jones, Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, George Chakiris, Shirley Maclaine, Alan Arkin, Albert Finney, Robert Redford, Mary Tyler Moore, Bruce Dern & Diane Ladd, Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty, Morgan Freeman, Anthony Hopkins, Ridley Scott, Michael Caine, Julie Christie, Faye Dunaway, Jane Fonda, Sarah Miles, Terence Stamp, Michael York. Phew!

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Ethel & Ernest

A late year treat was the BBC's 90 minute animated feature ETHEL & ERNEST, a lovingly crafted portrayal of the marriage and life of Raymond Briggs' parents covering their meeting in 1928 and married life through wartime Britain (its very THIS HAPPY BREED) and their inevitable getting older and decline through the 60s and 70s, as their son, young Raymond, grows up, goes to college and gets married.  One may need a tissue at the forlorn end. 

In 1928 London milk-man Ernest Briggs courts and marries house-maid Ethel, their son Raymond being born in 1934. When World War II breaks out Ethel tearfully allows him to be evacuated to aunts in Dorset whilst Ernest joins the fire service, shocked by the carnage he sees. As hostilities end they celebrate Raymond's return and entry to grammar school and the birth of the welfare state though Ethel is mistrustful of socialism and progress in general. Raymond himself progresses from National Service to art college and a teaching post, worrying his mother by marrying schizophrenic Jean. However father and son console each other as Ethel slips away but before long Raymond is mourning his father too though both Ethel and Ernest will forever be immortalized by Raymond's touching account of their lives. 

I have liked Briggs' style of drawing and those marvellous books, particularly FUNGUS THE BOGEYMAN and of course THE SNOWMAN, SANTA CLAUS, THE WAY THE WIND BLOWS etc. and this new one is equally inventive and touching. Ethel and Ernest are perfectly voiced by Brenda Blethyn and Jim Broadbent, and Luke Treadaway is young Raymond. Directed by Roger Mainwood. It is really the story of all our parents who grew up then, and endured World War II - my mother was in London during the Blitz and told us all those stories about the doodlebugs, rationing, bomb shelters etc. This film brings it all to life. I loved it. Ethel though seems a bit dim at times, but Ernest is a real salt of the earth chap. 

Friday, 30 December 2016

2016 RIP

Last post of year. Yesterday's papers featured this terrific montage by Chris Barker, a graphic artist, showing 2016's casualties in a brilliant pastiche of Peter Blake's SGT PEPPER's iconic album cover. I am sure they won't mind my posting it here so more can see it. Below, with additions Liz Smith, George Michael, Carrie Fisher ...

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

RIP, continued ...

2016 hasn't finished with us yet.

Debbie Reynolds (1932-2016), aged 84. A day after the passing of her daughter Carrie, it is sad indeed to hear that Debbie has died too. I shed a tear for the passing of this irrepressible Hollywood legend, who was screen-tested after being crowned Miss Burbank 1948.
She entertained us throughout our 1950s and '60s with items as choice as SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (when she was just 19), THE TENDER TRAP with Sinatra, TAMMY, IT STARTED WITH A KISS, HOW THE WEST WAS WON, THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN, the oddball GOODBYE CHARLIE, DIVORCE AMERICAN STYLE etc. and, er, THE SINGING NUN! She held her own against Bette Davis in THE CATERED AFFAIR in 1956, a nice dramatic role.  Then she found a whole new career as  a sassy grandma gay-icon, particularly as Grace's mother in WILL & GRACE and films like MOTHER and IN AND OUT., and practically unrecognisable as Liberace's mother in BEHIND THE CANDELABRA Then there was her work preserving Hollywood history and costumes, and she kept busy. She was fab too in the camp horror flick WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN?, acting up a storm with Shelley Winters,  in 71. (review at Debbie label). She was a wicked mimic too, as per her impression of Streisand at:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LXtXzmdLq0E   RIP to a game gal.

Carrie Fisher (1956-2016), aged 60.. Carrie Fisher was Hollywood royalty, her parents being Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher. Carrie was a teen in SHAMPOO in 1975 and then of course immortalised as the plucky Princess Leia with that hairstyle in the first STAR WARS films, and she returned to the latest one last year, STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS. She actually clocked up 90 acting credits, and was also that acerbic, funny writer, who wrote POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE and that campfest THESE OLD BROADS for her mother, Taylor, McLaine and Collins. Her colorful private life included a brief marriage to Paul Simon. She was her usual witty self on television here only a few weeks ago.


Liz Smith (1921-2016), aged 95. Veteran character actress Liz was much loved and so very individual, across British television, stage (I saw her in the original ONCE A CATHOLIC) and film - particularly A PRIVATE FUNCTION (she and Maggie Smith were a perfect double act) and WE THINK THE WORLD OF YOU. She only began acting at 50, after a hard early life. She stunned in those early Mike Leigh films like HARD LABOUR and BLEAK MOMENTS. Her most loved role though was as Nana (with some priceless one-liners, as scripted by Caroline Aherne, who also left us this year, in the long-running BBC hit THE ROYLE FAMILY, RIP to a favourite of ours. She also excelled in that TV SEPARATE TABLES in 1983, and the film APARTMENT ZERO.  

Richard Adams (1920-2016), aged 96. Best-selling author of WATERSHIP DOWN which became a worldwide success and that enjoyable film.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Love & Friendship

A delicious end of year treat is Whit Stillman's LOVE & FRIENDSHIP, a quite popular movie this year, and is on several end of year best lists. It is based on a rare Jane Austen novella "Lady Susan" and exceeds all expections of Austen costume dramas.
Set in the 1790s, Love and Friendship centers on beautiful widow Lady Susan Vernon, who has come to the estate of her in-laws to wait out colorful rumors about her dalliances circulating through polite society. Whilst there, she decides to secure a husband for herself and her rather reluctant debutante daughter.

Like in those other Austens smart women in those days had to secure a rich husband and a position in society. How Lady Susan manages it is deftly handled here and offers Kate Beckinsale her best role ever which she grabs with both hands, 
The film looks great, the supporting cast glitters (Chloe Sevigny, Stephen Fry, Tom Bennett), it was filmed in Ireland, and is a fun, briskly-paced romp through those country house settings. We are now looking forward to Stillman's earlier THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO, also with Beckinsale. 

Querelle & Fassbinder

One of the most bizarre movies is Rainer Werner Fassbinder's QUERELLE, a 1982 item from the novel by Genet - but in Fassbinder's vision it becomes a lurid if not sensational potboiler of repressed (and not so- ) homoerotic passions with all those matelots in those eye-catching outfits hanging out in waterfront dives in Brest in France, as our hero Querelle (Brad Davis) has the hots for his superior officer, a moody Franco Nero, right.. 
Add in Jeanne Moreau of all people, wearing those enormous ear-rings, intoning Oscar Wilde's "Each Man Kills The Thing He Loves" and Querelle submitting to her brutal husband, who likes getting off with those sailor boys.   It was all too much at the time, how would it fare now? It was actually released after Fassbinder's death in 1982. 
The Fassbinder we really like is his 1974 FOX AND HIS FRIENDS, reviewed here a while back, see Fassbinder label - where the director himself plays the loutish lottery winner taken to the cleaners by his smart new boyfriend (Peter Chatel, right) and his grasping family who need Fox's money to prop up ther ailing business. It ends on a very downbeat note as Fox's body is robbed by kids in a metro station.  

Other Fassbinders (once as prolific as Almodovar or Ozon) we liked then include FEAR EATS THE SOUL, his stylish hothouse lesbian drama THE BITTER TEARS OF PETRA VON KANT, EFFI BRIEST, THE MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRUAN, and the fascinating mess he made of Nabokov's DESPAIR with Dirk Bogarde, the director's last before his untimely drug-related death in 1982, aged 37. Still, he clocked up 44 credits ...  . 
A FOX memory - between 1976 and 1979 I was working at Dillons University Bookshop (now Waterstones) in London's University quarter, not in the bookshop but in an office upstairs, working with a German woman, Monica, who became a friend (we both loved Dietrich and Romy Schneider); one day she was expecting a guest for lunch and asked me to talk to him until she came back from a meeting. In walked this guy whom I recognised as Peter Chatel, the actor from FOX AND HIS FRIENDS, he sat on the edge of my desk and we talked about that until Monica returned, Chatel died aged 42 in 1986, another Aids casualty, 
Below: Andy Warhol visits the set, with Fassbinder and Brad Davis.