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.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

How we live now

I have just been reading an interesting newspaper article on the decline of the independent bookshop here in the UK. It seems they are closing all over the place, at the rate of 3 a week. I can well believe it and am probably just as guilty as anyone else in seeking out titles I want online or looking for the discounts available by shopping around. Add in the recession and rent increases... and its not only the small independants. I was dismayed to see the big Borders store in Oxford Street (my local bookshop when I was working in Central London then) closed recently - it was actually a very comprehensive bookstore with a terrific cinema section and every magazine you would ever want, and there are hardly any bookshops left in Charing Cross Road which used to be that mecca for book lovers. Likewise with independent cinemas - there are only a few outlets now in London, apart from the BFI National Film Theatre, to see new or old movies away from the multiplex. Thankfully we have a nice little art-house here near where I live: The David Lean Cinema [he was a local boy].

It has all changed completely in the last 10 years. Ten years ago I began using the internet at work, but being on the computer all day at the office - the thinking then was that I had no interest in having one at home, and we had just began using emails, and I gave in and got a mobile phone. At that time I was the only person in the company doing presentations and graphics so I was in considerable demand!

Now I sit at my new laptop [with another computer upstairs], with my iPod which can hold twenty [or is it forty?] thousand songs - I have only managed to put 6,144 on it, plus videos. How my late friend Stanley [the first of us to have a Sony Walkman back in the '80s] would be amazed that one can now have one's entire music collection on one gadget, and that one need no longer buy an album for just a few tracks... I certainly loved my big clunky yellow plastic Sports Walkman!

10 years ago we were still using and buying movies on video-cassette - how clunky they seem now! I only went over to DVD in 2002, and must now have well over 1,000 disks ... I spent a lot of time (and money) tracking down rare titles, as - like when CDs came in - the new format makes for a lot of rare items to become available, with the advent of the dvd-r disk. Now of course it seems DVD is also being phased out.... I am not looking at Blu-Ray yet no matter how good it is!

IMDb though has been terrific for movie buffs, with all those message boards - I have made several important friendships on it, including one or two I meet regularly for drinks, chat, gossip and swopping disks. I have though decided to let Facebook go from my life, well for now anyway. It is indeed a "tsunami of trivia" as I saw it described yesterday, but I may feel the urge again ... I can see though its use and importance to movie buffs to share and recommend views. I am though re-organising my time so that I can fit in playing a CD and a DVD a day, as well as time for writing, reading and other chores. Where is the time for it all ? - how did I even have time to go to an office every day when I was working?

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Mapp and Lucia

British television has produced some great series over the recent decades like I CLAUDIUS, ELIZABETH I, BRIDESHEAD REVISISTED, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, PERSUASION, CRANFORD etc, but up there with the very best, and - unlike the others - still endlessly rewatchable is the ITV series MAPP AND LUCIA, made in '85 and '86. There are 2 series (10 episodes in all - like FAWLTY TOWERS it didn't outstay its welcome) adopted from the "Mapp and Lucia" novels by E.F. Benson, depicting life in the genteel town of Tilling in the 1920s and 1930s. Here social life (where the well to do have domestic servants) revolves around marketing (daily shopping), afternoon tea parties, bridge games, evening dinners and general one-up-manship as practised by the two leading lights of Tilling society: wealthy widow Mrs Emmaline (Lucia) Lucas and Miss Mapp whose territory is threatened by newcomer Lucia, aided by her devoted cohort (and later husband) Georgie Pillson. Add in Lucia's Mozart recitals and Mapp's Art Committee and the stage is set for deadly rivalry...

The series perfectly captures the flavour of the books [6 in all], which are endlessly re-readable in themselves, with perfect period decor and settings, but the cast is a dream. Geraldine McEwan is the perfect Lucia, always seeking to put one over on Mapp - another of Prunella Scales' definitive roles (like her Sybil to Basil Fawlty), she perfectly captures Mapp's endless "carping and criticizing" as Lucia thwarts her yet again. Nigel Hawthorne is of course ideal as the camp, fussy Georgie. The other roles are played to perfection too, capturing the essence of Diva Plaistow, Quaint Irene, the Wyses with the Rolls Royce, the Padre with his fake Scottish accent, and blustering Major Flint who gives in and marries Mapp.

Whether its Mapp trying to get the recipe for Lucia's "Lobster A La Riseholme" and the ladies being swept out to sea and presumed lost, Lucia's garden fete, Mapp having to sell her beloved home 'Mallards' to Lucia or the Tilling ladies swopping residences for the summer (with crafty Mapp earning the most) and then the battle to become The Mayor of Tilling, endless amusement is guaranteed. Their servants too are ideally realised: Lucia's Grosvenor and Cadman, Georgie's Foljambe and Mapp's Withers. Also on hand are Rosalind Knight as the Wyse's Italian Contessa whom Lucia and Georgie must avoid (or they will be unmaksed as not speaking perfect Italian!), Anna Quayle as opera singer Olga Braceley and the wonderful Irene Handl as Poppy, the Duchess of Sheffied. It was filmed in the Kent seaside town of Rye (well worth a visit, where Henry James resided, as well as E.F. Benson). Series scripted by Gerald Savory and directed by Donald McWhinnie.

I had the series as two brick-sized double VHS packs, but its now a much slimmer dvd edition and should be an essential in every home. Au reservoir!

Friday, 26 March 2010

Some Antonioni items...

My 1962 pressbook release for L'ECLISSE in London (I had that cover framed), where Antonioni describes Vitti as a combination of Kay Kendall and Anna Magnani! (Click images twice to enlarge)
THE PASSENGER - My 1976 article, written when I was 30, for now defunct film magazine FILMS ILLUSTRATED. (click twice to enlarge) and the paperback edition.
Programmes for Antonioni retrospectives at London's National Film Theatre: 1990 and 2005, and Barbican 1993.
Some Antonioni titles including screenplays: - there is one 1962 Antonioni magazine that must be packed away in a box in the garage somewhere...its proving elusive to find!
My first Antonioni magazine back in 1962 when I was 16...

There is also my 'appreciation' on Monica on a separate post ....

More Sophia !

A few stunning shots of Sophia Loren - above in 1979. Bottom, by Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair, and, left, during production of NINE. There is a fuller post on Sophia further along here, linked to my appreciation on her on IMDb. There can be few more glamorous stars in their 70s around, but then we have been smitten with Sophia for the last 50 years or more.
Despite the recent books on her, a major tv interview would be nice with Sophia looking back at that amazing career...

People We Like: Joan Greenwood

English actress Joan Greenwood [1921 – 1987], one of those ladies for whom superlatives are not enough. She is “a rather dotty, genteel sexpot” according to David Thomson in his invaluable A Biographical Dictionary of Film, whereas David Shipman in his equally indispensable The Great Movie Stars comments on her “sex appeal, style and striking individuality”, and Variety once described her voice as “one of the wonders of the modern world”. Exquisite is the word that sums up Joan’s allure both vocally and personally. No wonder she voiced the Evil Queen in Vadim's BARBARELLA!

In movies since the early 40s, early roles included THE GENTLE SEX (43), THE OCTOBER MAN (47), SARABAND FOR DEAD LOVERS (48), those Ealing classics WHISKEY GALORE and her naughty, seductive, adorable minx Sybilla in KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS, 1949. She was also Lady Caroline Lamb in the dreadfully enjoyable THE BAD LORD BYRON.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST in 1952 by Anthony Asquith remains the definitive film of Oscar Wilde’s play, a wonderful staging preserving the great performances of Edith Evans, Margaret Rutherford, Michael Redgrave and Joan’s considerable star turn as Gwendolyn. Her every appearance is a joy here, full of vocal inflections and marvellous readings of lines like, when asking for bread and butter with her tea “as cake is never seen in the best houses these days”. Above: MOONFLEET with Stewart Granger.

She is very touching in the French KNAVE OF HEARTS (MONSIEUR RIPOIS) opposite Gerard Philipe in 1954 (left), and with Guinness again in FATHER BROWN. Joan then went to Hollywood in 1955 to appear in Fritz Lang’s MOONFLEET – one of the high points of mid-50s costume dramas. Other roles were in STAGE STRUCK (57), MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (61), and as the very demanding Lady Bellaston in Richardson’s TOM JONES, the big hit of 1963.
Other roles included Disney's THE MOONSPINNERS where she was rather wasted, in '64. I saw her on the stage in 1971 in a revival of THE CHALK GARDEN as Miss Madrigal [above] opposite Gladys Cooper’s Mrs St Maugham. (programme page at left, click image to enlarge text, detailing Joan's extensive theatre career).

Joan by all accounts was a very unaffected leading lady, quietly married to reliable supporting actor Andre Morrell (who died in 1978) with whom she had a son.

She is also the subject of a fascinating website: which feature her and Margaret Lockwood, with great galleries of photos, stills and much more on their films. Joan Greenwood, like Kay Kendall, will always be a leading light of the English cinema.

My full appreciation on Joan is on IMDb at:

Wednesday, 24 March 2010


Good to see a new paperback issue of Colm Toibin's marvellous novel BROOKLYN, which I feel like reading all over again - I gave my hardback to a girl pal who is from Enniscorthy, the town it is set in, and she loved it. Perhaps Colm's most accessible (and highly praised) work, it is set in the Ireland of the '50s when smart local girl Eilis works in a shop but gets an opportunity to move to Brooklyn and study and improve herself. Small town life of the time is nicely captured and Eilis finds life in Brooklyn much the same among the Irish community there, but before too long she finds her feet - and an Italian boyfriend, also seeking to improve his lot. Then a death calls her back to Ireland where she has to make some hard choices about what to do next. Its engrossingly plotted and a very satisfying read, like Toibin's THE STORY OF THE NIGHT or his collection of short stories MOTHERS AND SONS, and like them is infused with gay sensibility and Colm's precise detail. Highly recommended.

Places: Kerry

Listowel in County Kerry in the West of Ireland which I left when 18 is now a place I love returning to, not only to see family but also I really enjoy being there. Its the most westerly part of Europe, with that great quality to the light, and I really like the social life of small towns where everyone knows everyone and the bar life. Of course it was a different story back in the '60s when I was a teenager and couldn't wait to get away to where it was all at, and Ireland was a grim place back then, economically and culturally. Things have gone full circle now of course and the economy is bad again, but the quality of life remains the same. Here's to my next trip.
Above: the wild Atlantic at Ballybunion beach. Next stop over the water is New England.
Places of interest for me: County Kerry, Cork, Clare. Listowel is a very colourful, literary town whose residents included Bryan McMahon, John B Keane, Maurice Walsh (author of THE QUIET MAN, there is a garden commemorating him nearby), they have an annual Writers Week, as well as the annual horse races. I love doing the bars now with my brothers, and enjoying the live music played. I used to be fascinated as a child, that America was just on the other side of that wild Atlantic, as we looked out from the cliffs above Ballybunion and Ballyduff. Now Clare and Galway are full of marvellous sights and places, as one's North Kerry heritage calls one back again and again. Fenit Harbour with its lighthouse and tribute to the early sailor Saint Brendan is also a new favourite of mine.

Below: Lobster pots and boat at a fishing village where my mother grew up, opposite the seaside resort of Ballybunion, a well known golf course. Of course re-discovering one's Irish roots is quite frequent as one gets older, after leaving there as a teenager! It used to be quite a journey to Listowel from London, via ferry from Wales, but now with Kerry Airport its just an hour's flight away, and with recent internet and multi-channel cable connections, one does not feel its too remote any more.
Local artist Olive Stack has produced a very nice book on the area with great illustrations (top).

Places: Rhodes

Rhodes is the perfect Greek island. Well I have not done Crete or Mykonos or Santorini yet .... but knew Corfu, Poros and Hydra quite well 30 years ago, but Rhodes now seems a perfect destination. Our hotel was at the top tip of the island (above) with views of the beach on both sides from our balcony, and those Greek sunsets! It was just across the road to the beach, with Mandraki Harbour a short walk away - as seen above - where the large ships berth. Rhodes new town is nearby as is the heritage site of the medieval walled city, dating back to the 12th century. Shops and restaurants are in abundance.

Lindos is the perfect little Greek village, with 2 perfect beaches, and that amazing walled fortification at the top which also has a Greek temple dating back to the 3rd century. The view from the top over the Aegean is stupendous. There are donkeys (and taxis) available to transport people to the summit. Lindos can be approached by road - frequent coaches about 45 minutes from Rhodes town, but the best way is by boat from Mandraki harbour, this splendid outing takes almost 3 hours down the Rhodes coast past Fakiraki (where the holiday kids go) and 'Anthony Quinn beach' - THE GUNS OF NAVARONE was filmed here and its interesting seeing the locations used around the Harbour.
Rhodes is also near Turkey - one can do day trips to Marmaris - so there is that Turkish and Moorish influence in the architecture. Certainly a Greek island I would return to - perhaps based at Lindos.

Lindos Click to enlarge.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

People We Like: Kay Kendall

Kay Kendall remains as entrancing now as she did back in the '50 when she zoomed like a comet through British and then American films. She died in 1959 but left a lasting legacy of high comedy and elegant charm. The small parts throughout the early 50s are interesting: in DANCE HALL, IT STARTED IN PARADISE, THE SHADOW MAN, CURTAIN UP, FAST AND LOOSE etc, then that breakthrough role in GENEVIEVE as the elegant model and that trumpet-playing scene, a cameo followed in DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE with her chum Dirk Bogarde, then she co-starred with Rex Harrison in THE CONSTANT HUSBAND and their relationship began here, despite his long marriage to Lilli Palmer. SIMON AND LAURA is another delightful Rank Organisation comedy, teaming her with Peter Finch as a tempermental theatre couple appearing in a television soap opera. She then did that lovely period film QUENTIN DURWARD for MGM with Robert Taylor. When Rex went to New York with the stage show of "My Fair Lady" Kay went with him. Her only Hollywood film was Cukor's LES GIRLS in 1957 which she effortlessly stole from the other girls Mitzi Gaynor and Taina Elg, good as they are here.

The high comedy style of the Harrisons (she had married Rex in '57, after his divorce from Lilli) is captured in Minnelli's '58 version of the stage play THE RELUCTANT DEBUTANTE which is still a delight now. She wears those Balmain clothes and looks perfectly glamorous here. Perhaps only Carole Lombard was as gifted and glamorous a comedienne. 
Kay though had leukaemia, which it seems she did not know about. She looks frail in her last film, ONCE MORE WITH FEELING, in '59 for Stanley Donen, as wife to Yul Brynner's music maestro. She died in September 1959 before its 1960 release.
Another interesting early title of hers I tracked down recently was ABDULLA THE GREAT, made in '54 or '55 by Gregory Ratoff who plays the Farouk-like despot undone by his passion for a visiting model, Kay, co-starring with Sydney Chaplin, whom she was invovled with at the time. A fascinting oddity to see now, as per my first post on here! At least Cukor, Minnelli and Donen got to showcase her individual talents.

Though unwell, she also did a short-lived play "The Bright One" in 1958. Rex and Lilli Palmer both give their versions of the ending of their marriage in their respective autobiographies, both engrossing. Dirk Bogarde also writes movingly about her in his "Snakes and Ladders"
. Kay's sister Kim, with Eve Golden, has co-authored a fascinating book on Kay's life and career, her music hall background, and showgirl years in the London revues of the early '50s.

Kay remains a fascinating enigma who left us all too soon, aged 32. She has a lovely headstone and resting place in an 18th century churchyard in Hampstead, North London, in a theatrical quarter with Du Mauriers and Beerbohm Trees nearby and actor Anton Walbrook just across the path. Perfect.
My reviews of ABDULLA, QUENTIN DURWARD, LES GIRLS and RELUCTANT DEBUTANTE are on previous posts here.
My full appreciation on Kay is on IMDb at: