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.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Movies I love: A Star Is Born (for Stanley and Gary)

The 1954 one of course!

Like JOHNNY GUITAR, A STAR IS BORN is another from my first year of movie-going, aged 8. It must have been one of the first films I saw,
(my parents must have taken me, my mother and I went to I COULD GO ON SINGING later) again I was fascinated by the widescreen images, that beach house with the sea reflected in the windows as the man goes into the sea, and that slap scene at the awards. Over the years it's richness and complexity have got to me, that lustrous rich Warnercolor, and George Hoyningen-Heune's color co-ordination (a Cukor regular). I do not see it as a musical as such, but as a drama with music. For a big film it is surprisingly intimate - there are really only 5 people in it: Esther/Vicki and Norman Maine, Charles Bickford as Oliver Niles the avuncular head of the studio, Jack Carson as Libby the vicious press agent, and Tommy Noonan as the bandleader who is also there for Judy. The Cinemascope images still dazzle, that movie premier, Norman being drunk, then when he takes the lipstick and makes the heart symbol on the wall, and later when he awakes and sits up in bed remembering .... that amusing scene where he is on the prowl in the nightclub and then busting in on "The Man That Got Away", and the lovely scene at the studio in the morning where Esther is getting ready for her screen test after being made over by the experts and he wipes away all the gunk off her face and a radiant lovely Estehr emerges. Later we have Judy's "I am discovered on a rather simple divan" for the "Somewhere there is a Someone" number, and of course during "Born in a Trunk" the drunk interrupting with "sing Melancholy Baby" and the agent going "Yes!" to Judy's "No!" as she does the rounds. Then at the studio "We can see your face" as she plays an extra, and "Go to L" when Esther signs on for her paycheck only to find she is now Vicki Lester! So, a film of great moments, from the Moss Hart screenplay, the Harold Arlen songs and that marvellous look of the film. Then those dramatic scenes later on, as Vicki begs Oliver to give Norman one more chance, and her appearance at his court hearing...

My best friend Stan had the soundtrack album which we played a lot, and then in 1970 my 1963 "Films and Filming" penfriend Gary from Brisbane arrived in London and took me to a screeing at the old Starlight Cinema at The Mayfair Hotel - it was marvellous seeing it on the big screen again, as back in that pre-video/dvd age one only saw movies at cinemas or on small black and white televisions!

So I relished the 2-disk dvd release with the restored scenes which make more sense of the story, and those 3 alternate versions of "The Man That Got Away" all as brilliant as the version in the film, with great Scope compositions and Judy being a powerhouse as ever. I was never a total Garland fan, but this and I COULD GO ON SINGING are two special films for me. It is actually Mason who is astounding here - it is a multi-layed marvellous performance, if it hadn't been Brando's year, James should surely have been best actor. That scene where he overhears Bickford and Garland talking about him is so brilliantly realised, the irony of course being that it was Garland who was the ravaged self-destructive star who was really all washed up in Hollywood by 1954. One only hopes all the early admirers of the film got to get the dvd restoration, as they will love it even more (particularly David McGillivray, author of "The Hollywood Musical"). Bob Willoughby's photographs [above] from the set are terrific too, as per his book "The Hollywood Special".

Of course I went to the Streisand version in 1976, and of course loathed it - that finished my Streisand fandom for a very long time, even Pauline Kael her great admirer was appalled. Suddenly it was A STAR IS BORING. Beyonce (going by her show at Glastonbury) could be marvellous with the right co-star if the new proposed version by Clint Eastwood goes ahead .... but we will always have Cukor's definitive version.
One can see now though why classy new girl Grace Kelly won the best actress Oscar that year (for looking dowdy in a cardigan) - Judy at 32 was considered an old-timer and difficult, it seems Jack Warner lost faith in the movie, which was a difficult shoot, and cut it to fit more screenings. Judy's weight and looks vary from scene to scene, but that slim look of hers in the award scene in the movie was something that I just found totally fascinating...

Another marvellous item on the restored dvds is the premiere footage, including that one in LA when everyone came out for Judy, one realises what a big event the film was and they all wanted Judy to be a hit. There's Doris Day, Peggy Lee waiting to be recognised, Debbie and Eddie, Tony and Janet, Liz and Wilding, Joan Crawford joshing with her old MILDRED PIERCE co-star Jack Carson, who was the MC, and all hollywood's hot shots, including Lauren Bacall [the woman who knew everyone] lighting up a cigarette next to Judy and Jack Warner - oh, and a bashful Raymond Burr "just back from Korea" with a cute young marine in tow!. Fascinating stuff ... I want to see it all again now. A STAR IS BORN will always be in my top 10.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Westerns I love: Johnny Guitar / North to Alaska

A western double bill!

was the very first film I saw, aged 8 - what a vivid introduction to cinema, I was mesmerised by the woman in white about to be hanged, and that other woman in black shooting down the lamps and setting the place on fire. Then of course later when I knew which film it was repeated viewings made it more delirious and desirable than ever. I just simply love it. Nice now to have good dvd showing that odd Republic Technicolor, with an introduction by Marty Scorsese, no less (as good as his one for EL CID).

Then there are those tales of the feud between Joan and Mercedes on set, it is all though oddly poetic as directed by Nick Ray. Joan is perfect as Vienna "sitting at her piano in her own home" waiting for the railroad to come so she can sell out. McCambridge is Emma Small the vicious town boss who is oddly drawn to the Dancing Kid, or perhaps it is Vienna she is drawn to and cannot act on it? The men - even Ward Bond - are just stooges here, as Emma and Vienna dominate. Events move at a pace as the two women face up to the climax. Sterling Hayden is sterling again as the quiet Johnny - his scenes with Vienna as they try to recapture their lost love are just so perfect. Then the lynch mob arrive ... For a child of 8 it was a marvellous experience and led to my being taken to other westerns that year: THE COMMAND, DRUM BEAT, SITTING BULL and other movies like A STAR IS BORN. Looking at it again now the architecture is fascinating: Vienna's large casino, the waterfall hiding the way to the mountain cabin - and what a perfect cabin it is... one almost wants to live there.

Moving on to 1960, that perennial comedy western NORTH TO ALASKA is thankfully a tv staple - one simply never tires of it. Henry Hathaway directs and 20th Century Fox producton values ensure it looks good - that early sequence with the tree loggers at their picnic is not really necessary at all but all part of the lazy rambling structure of the film. Wayne here, after those iconic roles in THE QUIET MAN, THE SEARCHERS and RIO BRAVO the previous year (and those perfect 50s programmers like THE SEA CHASE and LEGEND OF THE LOST), is having fun as is Stewart Granger - good to see them together, Fabian is the younger brother (he was cute then after HOUND DOG MAN in '59) and there is the running joke of him continually being manhandled by exasperated Wayne, especially when Capucine arrives as the replacement girlfriend. Cap is delightful here and holds her own well with Wayne and joins in the knockabout.

That muddly climax at the end has them all fighting in the mud - with Ernie Kovacs as the shady operator and lots of fun all round. It shows frontier life then almost as well as in McCABE & MRS MILLER! So, a fun film with people I like! Wayne and Granger are as adroit as ever at this late stage of their careers but they were not winding down yet - while Capucine and Fabian show comedy skills and provide the eye candy. What's not to like?

Edit: It won't let me reply to the Comment, so here is what I wanted to add:

Indeed - Johnny Guitar is so vivid it plays almost like a cartoon - very accessible for a child seeing his first movie!
Capucine is indeed a very independent woman in Alaska, holding her own with the men, even if she is playing a haughty "saloon girl" but she is not a pathetic one like Lee Remick was in the '59 western "These Thousand Hills".

Monday, 27 June 2011

Movies I Love: Modesty Blaise [again]

Starting a week of 'Movies I Love' with that all-time favourite of mine, once again it's MODESTY BLAISE! - (Modesty Blaise, Vitti, Bogarde, Losey labels for more!). After previous posts on Dirk at war and Vitti in LA NOTTE, here they are together in 1966 [they didn't get on very well though....]
Just a selection of stills then - so many of my favourite people in one movie [Michael Craig and Harry Andrews are in there too], even Eurobabe Scilla Gabel - I must get around to writing about her soon too! I was 20 when it came out and went to the premiere hoping to see Monica Vitti, but she was not there - but I saw Dirk with Rosella Falk (Mrs Fothergill) on his arm! [I got to meet him a few years later in 1970]. Vitti and Antonioni took over London in the mid-60s what with this and BLOW-UP... even now that Op Art Mediterranean island is still a delight, and Dirk as Gabriel agonising over lobsters and blowing up that plane as he listens to the pilots' inane chat and of course crying out for "champagne champagne" as he is staked out in the desert .... but some people just didn't get Losey's spoof of the Bonds and spies of the time, this though was the glamour movie of 1966 for 20 year old me!


Sunday, 26 June 2011

Dirk Bogarde double bill: those '50s British war movies...

Life during wartime back in the '50s - including a brace of early Bogardes.

THE SEA SHALL NOT HAVE THEM. I saw this 1954 war drama as a kid, and it still involves now as it almost plays like a documentary on the wartime air rescue service, who went out in their boats in all weathers to rescue crews from downed planes. Here a plane ditches in the North Sea as Michael Redgrave (carrying a briefcase of military secrets), Dirk Bogarde, Bonar Colleano and Jack Watling spend the film in a dinghy in the Shepperton tank. The rescue boat 2561 is headed by Nigel Patrick and Anthony Steel (in regulation duffel coats and polo neck sweaters) and the lower orders below deck include all the familiar faces: Sidney Tafler, Victor Maddern, Michael Ripper. The men in the dinghy start to deteriorate in adverse weather, a rescue plane also has to ditch and picks up a German, (Anton Diffring of course), while back on land posh wife (Rachel Kempson, Mrs Redgrave) and working class one (young Joan Sims) get a scene each, and there is also a middle-class girlfriend waiting, so class distinctions are as rigid as in IN WHICH WE SERVE. It is all directed at a brisk pace by Lewis Gilbert. Certainly one of the best war movies of the ‘50s.

APPOINTMENT IN LONDON. A marvellous early Dirk Bogarde film I had not seen before, this 1953 film, sensitively directed by Philip Leacock, is one of the better war films of the ‘50s. It seems to be a realistic depiction of Bomber Command, flying their Lancasters on those nightly bombing raids. Bogarde is the Wing Commander who has done more than his share of night flights but wants to continue, he is grounded though by his superiors who feel that fatigue has set in. Bryan Forbes is the young flyer who disobeys orders by letting his girl (secretly his wife) know he is safe after flights, much to Bogarde’s annoyance. Later Dirk has to confront the wife, Anne Leon. Lots of regulars are among the ranks: Richard Wattis, Sam Kydd, Terence Longdon, William Slyvester. Dinah Sheridan is perfect again as the naval officer and her romance with Bogarde, who gets his opportunity to fly again, nicely depicted. As it THE WAY TO THE STARS there is also that bar and hotel next to the airfield. In all, a pleasant surprise. Leacock directed some interesting little films like this, THE SPANISH GARDENER and REACH FOR GLORY (both reviewed here , Bodarde, war labels) before going over to American television directing series like “The Waltons”, “Dynasty” and “Falcon Crest”.

SEA OF SAND. One of those British war movies they turned out a lot in the ‘50s, this 1958 one is rather a companion piece to ICE COLD IN ALEX. Here our motley crew are behind enemy lines tasked to destroy a German petrol dump as part of the North Africa campaign, in 1942. Guy Green keeps it moving nicely and the desert is like an ocean of sand with that crisp black and white photography. John Gregson and Michael Craig lead our men, with Richard Attenborough as one of the squaddies. The usual conflicts arise and sacrifices are made; surprisingly the young 21 year old who confides that his wife had a son a week earlier manages to survive – I had him down as a goner! It is an under-rated, well-made example of the war genre with some splendid moments, and a nice coda at the end.

Back in the '40s during the war those films like IN WHICH WE SERVE, THE WAY TO THE STARS, THE GENTLE SEX, 2000 WOMEN and THE DAY WILL DAWN are still very affecting and were just the ticket then - then came those expensive '60s re-creations like BATTLE OF BRITAIN, OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR and no end of stuff like OPERATION CROSSBOW or WHERE EAGLES DARE!

Thursday, 23 June 2011

La Notte, 1961

Reviews will be forthcoming on more 'Movies I Love' in due course: JOHNNY GUITAR, A STAR IS BORN, OBSESSION, ALONE ON THE PACIFIC, THE DEAD, LOVE ME TONIGHT, SON OF FURY, A LETTER TO 3 WIVES etc, in the meantime here are a selection of stills from Antonioni's LA NOTTE from 1961, his film after L'AVVENTURA, the second of that 'trilogy' with L'ECLISSE which followed in 1962.
I have written extensively about those other Antonioni's here already, but a second look at LA NOTTE after several decades shows what a rich, complex work it is, and it remains, like JULES ET JIM for instance, the very definition of an arthouse movie. I may have been too young to realise it fully back when I was 20!

Giovanni and Lydia [Marcello and Moreau] are the bored married couple in Milan, visiting their dying friend Tommaso in hospital (director Bernhard Wicki) with Marcello, a well-regarded intellectual whose new book is just out, being tempted by a female patient ..... meanwhile Moreau walks around Milan - her state of mind being conveyed just as vividly as it was when she was walking around Paris in LIFT TO THE SCAFFOLD. Milan here circa 1960 is in a state of flux with new impersonal buildings going up [just like in London in 1966 in BLOW-UP we are aware of the new evolving city around us]. Later, after some soul-less exotic dancing in a nightclub, there is that fashionable party by a rich industralist [who thinks he can buy an intellectual for his team], as again Marcello begins a flirtation with the owner's daughter Valentina, Monica Vitti - in black wig for a change. Valentina though realises this will not go anywhere ... Lydia (Moreau) also flirts with a flirtation but changes her mind. She also rings the hospital and is anguished to hear of Tommaso's death, as they all get wet in the rain by the pool. There is a nice scene between Lydia and Valentina as they dry out, as they understand each other. Later in one of those bleak Antonioni dawns, we follow the couple as she despairingly reads that letter he had written to her when their love was new and fresh - he does not remember writing it. It is an ending as saddening as that of LA DOLCE VITA - or indeed the ending of L'AVVENTURA or BLOW-UP where the photographer simply just vanishes. This slow-to-some film is of course a product of it's time and place, with usual Antonioni screenwriter Tonino Guerra among the collaborators. Hard to believe it is 50 years old - that marvellous photography by Gianni di Venanzo is as fresh and paint.

Moreau, Mastroianni and Vitti all look marvellous here in their early 60s prime. A 'Masters of Cinema' release well worth seeking out.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Those '60s magazines and that '60s look ...

I had this issue of Town magazine back in 1962 when I was 16 and living in Ireland - it seemed the most glamorous magazine ever, as Monica Vitti and L'ECLISSE was the hip new talking points. I also got the Marilyn Monroe cover issue [it was a few months after her death], and then those "Films and Filming" magazines (as per label). Suddenly there were a whole new raft of new magazines for the swinging new decade, as the tired old magazines of the '50s [like "Picture Show"] were phased out. My mother used to get magazines like "Illustrated" - but now, also in 1962, we had the first colour supplement in the "Sunday Times" newspaper. Their colour magazines were innovative and I looked forward to them each week - photospreads on Egypt and other foreign locations, the new stars and the new movies. It was a very exciting time. Soon all the papers had weekend colour supplements too - it was a big source of advertising revenue.

How we looked in the '60s

Looking at this new coffee table book on BLOW-UP (as per earlier post, below) it got me thinking about how we looked in the '60s and into the '70s. I loved my white jeans, so '60s - blue bell-bottom jeans was the '70s look. Back in that pre-internet age before digital cameras, ipods and ipads, cellphones, dvds and even video, one thing we did was photograph each other a lot, even though we had to pay for pictures to be developed sight unseen - no deleting of unsuitable ones then! Here's just a selection from my back pages - I was certainly working that Beatle/Rolling Stones look, but then we all did then! along with the bells, beads, caftans, hipster jeans. The '70s and '80s were a different story though as the disco age and the clubbing era took over ...