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.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

That Cat

I can never resist another look at BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S whenever it screens, and so it was again yesterday. One can look at it for so many reasons: Audrey, the wit, romance, Capote, Blake Edwards' sure direction, its a great New York Movie etc. This time I focused on the cat - who gets quite a bit to do in it. I wonder what this cat who lived 50 years ago made of it? He (or she) is put out in the rain, thrown around, and sits and observes. It is a great feline performance. Who can resist that climax when Cat miouws and Holly picks him up and Cat is crushed between them as they kiss in the rain and the heavenly choir soars .... TIFFANY'S remains one of the imperishable hits of 1961 along with THE MISFITS, TWO WOMEN, ONE EYED JACKS, COME SEPTEMBER ... Cats of course are notoriously difficult, if not impossible, to train - there is that nice moment in Truffaut's DAY FOR NIGHT when they try to get the cat to come in on cue to investigate the breakfast tray - based on a scene from his earlier LE PEAU DEUCE.

What other great cats are there in the movies? Kim's Pyewacket in BELL BOOK AND CANDLE (review at cat label) who leaves when she is no longer a witch, that cat prowling the credits of WALK ON THE WILD SIDE, Walt's THE THREE LIVES OF THOMASINA a delightful cat movie, and of course the bunch of lethal cats in EYE OF THE CAT (reviewed here last year, cat label).

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

6 very good-looking films

Six of the best colour films ever? certainly 6 of my favourites ...

I have written plenty on here on the above favourites of mine, as per labels, but here is a toast to some great photography: BLACK NARCISSUS and PANDORA AND THE FLYING DUTCHMAN by Jack Cardiff, PLEIN SOLEIL by Henri Decae, THE LEOPARD by Guiseppe Rotunno, MODESTY BLAISE by Jack Hildyard, BLOW-UP by Carlo Di Palma - all 40 or 50 years ago!

Monday, 29 August 2011

Loving, 1970

LOVING. Finally I get to see Irvin Kershner’s 1970 drama with terrific performances from George Segal and Eva Marie Saint. This is a very typical 1969/1970 American film, featuring another dissatisfied middle-aged man, unfaithful to his wife, and unsure of the quality of his work. He was usually either Segal, Jack Lemmon or Elliot Gould (Donald Sutherland delving into more quirky roles). Kirk Douglas did it in Kazan’s THE ARRANGEMENT, Jean Simmons showed us a female version in THE HAPPY ENDING.

Other “little films” of the era include THE STERILE CUCKOO and LAST SUMMER, while the big hitters were Antonioni blowing up America, Fellini going back to Ancient Rome, Visconti high-living with those decadent Nazis and mooning around Venice in search of beauty, while Ken Russell wrestled with D G Lawrence, Tchaikovsky and those demented nuns. LOVING though was, here in the UK, relegated to the lower half of a double bill and promptly forgotten. One can speculate why – Segal had some big hits (with Streisand in THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT, the engaging NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY with Lee Remick, and FUN WITH DICK AND JANE with Jane Fonda) but had done several smaller films – BYE BYE BRAVERMAN, WHERE’S POPPA? – that sank without trace.

LOVING is one of Segal’s better roles as his illustrator has a very trying day, we see him initially having a row with his mistress, harried about work, and at business meetings with sidekick Roy Scheider – one client Sterling Hayden does not see why illustrations for his trucks have to include scantily clad girls. Drink takes its toll too, as he gets sauced and makes a fool of himself at a private members club. Back home his wife Selma , Saint, is keeping everything together, including the two daughters and the cat whose tail he steps on. Worse is to come, as they view a larger house which they could afford if he gets the new project he is after, but it turns out it is being sold by a grim divorcing couple dividing up their possessions. Selma is keen to move but Brooks (Segal) sees it as a “30 year trap” so a row ensues with Selma saying she does not want to be regarded as a trap and he is free to leave if he wants – just how much does she know or suspect? There is also another woman, a neighbour’s wife, who makes it clear she is interested … so, a witty dissection of middle-class life? and a man in mid-life crisis willing to to strike up an affair with any attractive woman who makes eyes at him.

Things comes to a climax at a neighbour’s party at a full house as Brooks gets more and more drunk, and sneaks off with the neighbour’s wife (he even goes back to the house without his pants looking for more booze) but there is an early type of camera link to the rooms and soon the whole assembly is watching their drunk coupling. The film ends or just stops just as it is getting interesting (it’s a brief 89 minutes) with Selma hitting him in a rage. What happens now? Will they also be another divorcing couple selling up? Is he determined to lose everything? Brooks here is that new anti-hero of the era fed up with the hell his life is in suburbia – but 40 years later I bet a lot of people, women particularly, will see him as a prize jerk, tossing everything away and unable to resist other women. Sherry Lansing is another beauty in the background. The advertising world of these heavy drinkers is pitilessly exposed and Gordon Willis’s photography – lots of dark interiors – is exemplary (he went on to shoot KLUTE). Kershner directed several oddball little films: A FINE MADNESS, THE LUCK OF GINGER COFFEY, UP THE SANDBOX, EYES OF LAURA MARS, before joining the Star Wars and James Bond bandwagons. LOVING is a fascinating little oddity then, with Segal and Saint (a decade after her sleek, mesmerising Eve Kendall for Hitchcock) outstanding. I would think Kershner was influenced too by Antonioni’s LA NOTTE with it’s own long party sequence…. [I now remember Kershner's A FINE MADNESS had a similar scene: wild man writer Sean Connery is in the bath with mistress Jean Seberg, when they are discovered by wife Joanne Woodward - not seen it though since 1965!).

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Movies I Love: Klute

Some movies (KLUTE, THE MISFITS, THE LION IN WINTER, CHARADE) I never need to see again, as I saw them so many times that every moment of them is imprinted on my brain. This 1971 Alan Pakula film made an enormous impression on me at the time, and I returned to it several times. Everything about it worked so perfectly: the creepy atmosphere, New York in the early '70s, Jane Fonda's best ever performance as Bree Daniels the call-girl who thinks she is in control of her 'Johns' - and Donald Sutherland in another of his best roles as the withdrawn detective John Klute being drawn into her web as he becomes fascinated by her. Those scenes of Jane as Bree totally in character out on the crowded streets, or visiting clients like Mr Goldfarb while Klute watches, or alone in her apartment, as Michael Small's score ramps up the feeling she is being watched and then there is Gordon Willis' stunning photography.

Alan Pakula, who used to produce those Robert Mulligan films like TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER, BABY THE RAIN MUST FALL, had a great eye for detail and certainly knew how to get the best out of his actresses: Liza Minnelli in THE STERILE CUCKOO (POOKIE), Maggie Smith in LOVE AND PAIN AND THE WHOLE DAMN THING, and Jane Fonda here. I liked Jane in BARABARELLA and those other frothy confections of hers and her Gloria was totally compelling in 1969's THEY SHOOT HORSES DON'T THEY for Sidney Pollack. Here as Bree she is the bit-part actress who turns tricks (checking her watch midway), visits her analyst as she discusses her reasons for wanting to be in control. Then slowly she and the visiting detective get to know each other, he sees her at her worst when she is drugged and out of it, and he puts her back together. There is that lovely moment when they are out shopping and she impulsively tugs his clothes as she realises they are a couple, only to find her apartment has been violated when they return ... then the creepy climax as she ascends in the lift to the empty factory where the killer is waiting, and he pours out his hate for her and the girls like her who leech off him, which is why he killed the other girls.

Klute is investigating the disappearance of a colleague in their small town who has vanished after a trip to New York. Charles Cioffi is the concerned friend who is paying for Klute to find out what happened. We see the underbelly of the big city then, as Bree takes Klute to visit her haunts, her old pimp Roy Scheider, and friends like Rita Gam, a chic lesbian, and Shirley Stoler. Then there is that desperate addicted prostitute Arlyn Page (Dorothy Tristan) whom the murderer also visits as she is supposed to have kept a diary .... Bree listening to the tape playback of Arlyn's murder as the killer has her cornered is part of the stunning climax - it is one of the best ever female performances. The aftermath is nice too with them leaving the city, but maybe she will be back ... I just loved everything about this, including the great widescreen vistas and the quiet intimate moments. It looks a little dated now with those early '70s fashions and hair-do's but that does not matter. Jane in that black sequin backdress dress is as glamorous as Dietrich in the '30s ...

Pakula did it again with THE PARALLAX VIEW in 1974, that other stunning conspiracy thriller capturing the paranoia of the times, as Warren Beatty sets out to discover what exactly is happening to all the witnesses of a politican assassination. It is another riveting experience and a key '70s film like KLUTE, CHINATOWN, THE STEPFORD WIVES and Pakula's huge success ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN. Pakula (1928-1998, he was killed in a freak accident while driving) also directed hits like SOPHIE'S CHOICE and PRESUMED INNOCENT, where Harrison Ford scores in this Scott Turow thriller.

Coming up: more People We Like: Peter Finch, Alan Bates, David Warner, Malcolm McDowell, and a brace of new European titles: 6 Catherine Deneuve films, 3 more Romy Schneiders, 2 more Anouk Aimees, 4 Gerard Philipe discoveries including Vadim's LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES with Jeanne Moreau! and Antonioni's rare OBERWALD MYSTERY with Monica Vitti, and his segment in I TRI VINTI.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Fassbinder & Fox and his friends, 1975

This powerful and harrowing melodrama from 1974 is one of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's most accessible movies, and is a must-see for all those interested in intelligent film making.

The tragic story of Fox is masterfully and poignantly handled by Fassbinder, while never slipping into sloppy sentimentality, but unfolds with grim inevitability. Fassbinder was inexhaustible. In his 15 year career he made 40 feature-length films, 3 shorts, directed 24 stage plays, wrote 33 screenplays collaborating on 13 more, developed 2 series for television and took on 36 acting roles in not only his, but the films of his contemporaries as well. He remains a key figure as the Enfant Terrible in the New German Cinema of the 70s, along with Wim Wenders and Herzog. It was his ability to work quickly on a shoestring budget that allowed him to take advantage of government grants that enabled him to continue working at breakneck pace, often taking on the roles of producer, editor, composer, production designer and cinematographer in order to ensure the quality of his work.
FEAR EATS THE SOUL and THE BITTER TEARS OF PETRA VON KANT were big hits one had to have an opinion on at the time, and then came FOX AND HIS Polanski playing the lead in DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES it is odd seeing Fassbinder himself playing the lead as the lumpy fairground worker who is convinced he is going to win the lottery [the woman who sells him the ticket is Brigetta Mira, the heroine of FEAR EATS THE SOUL - and other Fassbinder regulars pop up too]. Add in Carl Boehm (from the SISSI films and PEEPING TOM etc) as the wealthy gay Fox initially hooks up with, and Peter Chatel as the object of his affections and we get a rapacious gay milieu which Fassbinder presents before us.


Fassbinder’s fatalistic outlook was reflected in the extreme brutality and sorrow that permeate his films. That quality, combined with his gritty, naked in your face drama often left film critics and viewers speechless, while utilising melodrama like Douglas Sirk, a big influence on him. His first film LOVE IS COLDER THAN DEATH in 1969 was poorly received and died a slow painful death. THE BITTER TEARS OF PETRA VON KANT was an art-house success in 1972 and concerns the idea that power is the ultimate goal in all human relationships. MARTHA in 1974, explores cruelty of traditional marriage; FEAR EATS THE SOUL brilliantly re-works Sirk's ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS in a working class milieu as the cleaning woman's marriage to the Moroccan immigrant outrages her family and friends, until they get used to the idea and need her for work and baby-sitting duties, and FOX AND HIS FRIENDS the same year showcases the cruel side of homosexuality. This story centers around a good-natured young adult who wins half a million in a lottery, then naively hooks up with a lecherous man who, aided by his family, drains him of all his money and love, leaving him to die alone on the floor of a train station. These movies (plus a period drama EFFI BRIEST) were staples of London's indie revival houses (like the "Screen on the Green" where I used to hang out all the time), and the BFI also did a major retrospective.

He capped his career with a trilogy of films, the highly regarded THE MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRAUN in 1978, LOLA in 1981 and VERONIKA VOSS in 1982 all centered around women (usually Hanna Schygulla) in post-fascist Germany; and DESPAIR with Dirk Bogarde, which according to Dirk, the by then drug-addled Fassbinder ruined in the editing just before its screening at the Cannes film festival.

Fassbinder lived hard and partied hard. One of his relationships with men included El Hedi ben Salem, the male lead in FEAR EATS THE SOUL and Fassbinder’s longtime lover, who hanged himself while in jail. Fassbinder did not live to see his last film QUERELLE in 1982, a lurid success about a good-looking sailor, a thief and hustler (featuring Franco Nero, Brad Davis and Jeanne Moreau), because he died from a lethal combination of sleeping pills and cocaine, a few days after his 37th birthday. His short remarkable career influenced some of today’s most imaginative directors like Pedro Almoldovar, Richard Linklater, John Waters, Todd Haynes and Gus Van Sant.

The ending though to FOX is a tragedy beyond description - Love is colder than Death indeed ... fascinating though the look of that early '70s: the clothes, the interiors, and the characters fascinate: Boehm as the wealthy gay who observes, the alcoholic sister wanting her money back, Chatel as the venal boyfriend with his own boyfriend poised to return once Fox has been cleaned out, the purchasing of the antiques and the trip to Morocco, and the money invested in the parents' failing company, and that ending at the railway station ... what a bleak universe. Interesting now to compare with the newly restored TAXI ZUM KLO, Frank Ripploh's vivid diary of his gay life in Berlin circa 1980. FOX though can be exasperating: does he not realise what is going on, is he complicit in his own destruction, if he is looking for love does he not realise he will not find it here? Is he so unloved?

A personal memory here: I worked for a London university bookshop in the late 70s, imagine my surprise one day when a guy came into my office and sat on my desk, waiting for my colleague, Monica, a German friend, to return. It was Peter Chatel - who died in 1986. Fassbinder's main films though will endure and continue to fascinate.

Next: Mexico's joyous DONA HERLINDA AND HER SON by Jaime Hermosillo.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

R.I.P. - Jerry Leiber

I posted a few days ago on the passing of Nick Ashford (of Ashford & Simpson) who died on Aug 22 - on the same day another giant of American music also departed: Jerry Leiber [right, in the photo with Stoller and Elvis] of Leiber and Stoller, who only produced some of the 20th Century's biggest popular music hits, argueably inventing rock and roll.
Leiber wrote the lyrics, and with Mike Stoller created a vast catalogue of songs that defined the genre, including LOVE ME TENDER, JAILHOUSE ROCK (and the film's soundtrack), STAND BY ME, ON BROADWAY (a favourite of mine), SPANISH HARLEM, the sensational SAVED for Laverne Baker, IS THAT ALL THERE IS? for Peggy Lee (who did an album of their songs). Their golden touch endured for 2 decades, from HOUND DOG which they wrote in 1953 to STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOU. Quite a feat for 2 Jewish boys who found they had their fingers on the pulse of the new music scene ... they became independent producers in 1957 operating from the famous Brill Building in New York. Later, shows like SMOKEY JOE'S CAFE, YAKETY YAK and ONLY IN AMERICA were developed using their songs, success indeed.

R.I.P. - Nick Ashford

Any compliation [or mixtape - remember those?] of '80s classics would have to include Ashford & Simpson's "Solid (as a rock)" - a bit of a chiche now, but looking at the video again the other day it is still joyous, uplifting and rocking and a great memory of that time - mid-'80s funk and disco.

I have just read that Nick Ashford, one-half of the legendary Motown songwriting duo Ashford & Simpson that penned elegant, soulful classics for the likes of Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye and funk hits for Chaka Khan and others, died Monday at age 70.
Ashford, who along with wife Valerie Simpson wrote some of Motown's biggest hits, He had been suffering from throat cancer.
Though they had some of their greatest success at Motown with classics like "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and "Reach Out And Touch Somebody's Hand" by Ross and "You're All I Need To Get By" by Gaye and Tammi Terrell, Ashford & Simpson also created classics for others, like the anthem "I'm Every Woman" by Khan (and later remade by Whitney Houston). They also had success writing for themselves: Perhaps the biggest known hit sung by them was the 1980s hit "Solid As A Rock." Their first major success occurred when they came up with "Let's Go Get Stoned" for Ray Charles. That song became a huge hit, and soon, they came to the attention of Motown Records and began penning hits for their artists. The duo, who were married for 38 years, helped sell millions of records for several artists.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Tony on the upside ...

MISTER CORY. I remember seeing this in 1957 as we young lads all saw Tony Curtis films then. This must have been the one (apart from TRAPEZE) which got him into more serious fare with the likes of Lancaster and Douglas, like SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS. He is another ambitious young guy on the make here, with all that Universal-International gloss, as directed and co-scripted by Blake Edwards. Cory gets a busboy job at a swanky lakeside resort and sets his cap at Martha Hyer, perfecting her country club girl persona. Her younger sister is Kathryn Grant, who has an agenda of her own, and shows once again she was one of the nicer ingénues of the time (before giving it up to marry some crooner). Cory rises and opens his own gambling casino, but finds that while Martha romances him she has no intention of marrying beneath her. Whats great about this now is seeing two old timers having roles to sink their teeth into: Charles Bickford as the (as suggested elsewhere, possibly gay) gambling man taking the young kid under his wing, and Henry Daniell as the very snobbish manager of the resort whom Cory recruits to manage his own joint. Henry rises to the occasion splendidly.

Sidney Falco in SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS and that killer lead in Wilder's perennial SOME LIKE IT HOT (only the best comedy ever written) are direct follow-ons from the ambitious young Mister Cory, cementing Tony's great decade. Another good Blake Edwards one, which I remember liking a lot then but never seen since, is 1958's comedy THE PERFECT FURLOUGH - with his wife Janet Leigh. He is another shyster army guy on the make here - it was called STRICTLY FOR PLEASURE here in the UK, Furlough being a word we do not use here.

Ladies in lavender (or lilac)

PAL JOEY is a so-so musical I had not seen since I was about 12 - but I was transfixed by it seeing it again over the weekend - its a diluted version (for 1957) of the show, but Kim Novak looks incredible in that lilac or lavender clinging dress with matching gloves. Rita looks good too as the reformed stripper whom Frank sings "The Lady Is A Tramp" to, and of course that cute doggie ... Kim's finest hour perhaps? - though I also like her lavender hair look in 1958's BELL BOOK AND CANDLE (and then there is VERTIGO...). A report on her other 1957 starrer JEANNE EAGLES coming up soon ...

A delicious anecdote by Dame Eileen Atkins in the weekend papers, on when she and Judi Dench and that great cast (Julia McKenzie, Imelda Staunton, Francesca Annis etc) were making the hit series CRANFORD a few years ago. The dames were got up in their period dresses and bonnets and while waiting for their cue to go on Judi turned to Eileen and asked "come on, tell me - what have you had done? there must be something...", Eileen retorted "If I had something done, do you think I would look like this" looking her most severe as the Victorian spinster. Collapse of both ladies laughing. Eileen (the original Childie in THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE) also spills the beans on the night Colin Farrell tried to get her into bed .... Judi of course was also marvellous in LADIES IN LAVENDER with her pal Dame Maggie - and probably had the best number in the otherwise forgettable NINE ! Dames !