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, 30 November 2011

Young Cassidy - a John Ford film directed by Jack Cardiff

YOUNG CASSIDY Or: SEAN O'CASEY IN LOVE ? One of 1965's under-rated gems is this biopic of Irish writer Sean O'Casey, a perfect example of American film-making in England in the '60s. It was a project dear to John Ford, but he only spent a few weeks on the film due to illness, so esteemed photographer Jack Cardiff took over, having directed the successful D.H. Lawrence adaptation SONS AND LOVERS himself in 1960.

Ford may only have directed a couple of scenes - the pub fight and meeting Daisy Battles (the radiant young Julie Christie) and the death of Sean's mother, the noble Flora Robson. The cast here is the thing: Rod Taylor is an agreeable presence, ideal in THE BIRDS etc, and certainly makes for a brawling playright! Maggie Smith is Nora, the bookshop girl he loves, but she cannot deal with his growing success and the world he wants to live in. Julie (just before DARLING and DR ZHIVAGO that year) is the happy prostitute he meets a few times, Dame Flora is perfect as the ailing mother, Sian Phillips his poverty-stricken sister - and then theres Edith Evans as Lady Gregory who runs the Abbey Theatre, and Michael Redgrave as W.B.Yeats - heavyweights indeed. Add in Pauline Delaney as the randy landlady, Donal Donnelly, Joe Lynch, Jack McGowran and other assorted Irish characters.

Ford and Cardiff on set, above right.

The Easter Rebellion of 1916 plays out in the background as O'Casey steals books from Maggie's shop and gets his first play written and staged, but he cannot cash his first cheque to pay for his mother's funeral! Finally, he leaves for England and the successes waiting for him. The Dublin backgrounds are nicely staged along with the poverty of the time and its all a breezy romp touching certainly on events in the early O'Casey's life. O'Casey's plays are still being revived, I am off to a National Theatre revivial of JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK in the new year.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Life upon the wicked stage . . .

SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE was one of those polarising movies back in 1998/1999 - did you prefer it or SAVING PRIVATE RYAN ? (just like in 1994 were you a PULP FICTION or FORREST GUMP kind of person? - It was definitely PULP for me, I have never wanted to see GUMP!). While I enjoyed SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE at the time, it was a great evening at the cinema, I have hardly thought about it since, and now that we have Shakespeare debunked in ANONYMOUS, a television showing of SIL made me relish it all over again.

A friend of mine, Leon, over at IMDB puts it perfectly in his review:

Given the little information available on Shakespeare the Man a movie, either full of gravitas or, as here, a tongue-in-cheek entry, was a brilliant idea waiting to happen and the only mystery is what took so long. The two writers have contrived to cater for just about everyone from the Shakespeare scholar to those with a reasonably nodding acquaintance - i.e. someone who can name say ten of the plays off the top of their head and are aware of Marlowe as the author of The Jew Of Malta, Tamburlaine and Dr. Faustus but wouldn't necessarily associate 'Kit' with CM - to those who wouldn't know Shakespeare from Pete Doherty but have a thing about Gwynneth Paltrow, Joe Fiennes or both and provided humor for all from the 'in' jokes such as the bloodthirsty young boy who identifies himself as John Webster, to the conceit of Shakespeare seeing a shrink to say nothing of the Victor Victoria spin on girls playing boys playing girls and the wry twist on Romeo and Juliet. This movie has just about everything, spectacle, social history, satire, romance, glamor and top quality thesping all round. Definitely one to own on DVD and replay annually.

The cast certainly dazzles: Joseph Fiennes is ideal as is Gwynneth - will they ever be as iconic again? - and they are surrounded by Colin Firth amusing as the obnoxious beau, Judi Dench makes an unforgettable Elizabeth I in her few minutes, then there is Simon Callow, Anthony Sher, Tom Wilkinson, Geoffrey Rush, Imelda Staunton perfect as usual, Rupert Everett, Ben Affleck, Jim Carter, Martin Clunes and the rest. [Fiennes was also in Tudorbethan mode the same year as the Earl of Leicester to Cate Blanchett's Virgin Queen in ELIZABETH]. Tom Stoppard's script amuses too as writer and actor Shakespeare strugges with his new play "Romeo and Ethel the pirate's daughter" and then he spies the lady Viola who loves the theatre but women cannot appear on stage, and there is that arranged marriage ... It ends on a satisfying note though with Will getting his inspiration, Viola going to the New World and the Queen demanding "a comedy next time for Twelfth Night".

At the time it was considered by some with disdain as the perfect Miramax/Harvey Weinstein production designed and marketed to win all those awards, but here is one instance when they were deserved. Costumes, scenery, lighting, and sound - all the technical and design elements are incredibly well researched and well executed as love, life and the theatre are conjured up in the Elizabethan era. I never wanted to see director John Madden's follow-up CAPTAIN CORELLI'S MANDOLIN which by all accounts was a filleted version of a book I loved, rendering it just a Greek travelogue with some very questionable casting ...

My friend Daryl adds that SAVING PRIVATE RYAN seemed too self-important at the time when it was really an updated version of those World War II war movies like THE STORY OF G.I JOE, whereas audiences actually enjoyed the verbal wit, romance, comedy and great period detail of SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Ken Russell, R.I.P.

It has just been announced that veteran English director Ken Russell ("the wild man of British cinema" as lazy journalists called him) has died, aged 84. More or less forgotten for the last couple of decades, though he kept working, he of course came into his own in the 60s with the films he made for the BBC (his film on Dante Gabriel Rossetti, DANTE'S INFERNO in 1967, with Oliver Reed exhuming his wife's coffin to retrieve some poems was unforgettable, in stunning black and white images) and his other television films on Delius, Elgar etc were innovative at the time and led to his career in cinema; there was also a highly regarded one on ISADORA DUNCAN, THE BIGGEST DANCER IN THE WORLD, with Vivien Pickles.

WOMEN IN LOVE, THE MUSIC LOVERS, THE DEVILS were all notorious in their time as Ken pushed the boundaries... later films on Liszt and Mahler certainly went over the top, and then there was TOMMY !, as well as THE BOYFRIEND, the long unseen SAVAGE MESSIAH and that interesting addition to the Harry Palmer films, BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN in '67 also with some stunning imagery (and Francoise Dorleac in her last film). THE BOYFRIEND is still a pleasure now, as a cast of Ken regulars [Christopher Gable, Max Adrian, Georgina Hale, Antonia Ellis, Murray Melvin, Vladek Sheybal] headed by the gauche Twiggy, Tommy Tune, and Glenda in a hilarious cameo, re-enact the 20s musical in a provincial theatre (in Portsmouth). That and THE DEVILS both in 1971 made it quite a year!

I recently got a new issue of THE MUSIC LOVERS, so it will be interesting to revisit it ... His later films like ALTERED STATES, CRIMES OF PASSION and THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM have their devotees too.

I loathed his VALENTINO in 1977 though, which trashed both Rudolfs - Valentino himself and Nureyev - and the rest of the cast. One would have thought Ken would have relished the excesses of '20s Hollywood but its mean-spirited view of Valentino, his wife Natacha, Nazimova (Leslie Caron) left a nasty taste, for me anyway - and Pauline Kael also loathed it! Perhaps we had enough of Ken's excesses by then .... I have been meaning to catch his first cinema feature FRENCH DRESSING in 1964 about a small town putting on a film festival which could be interesting now.

Ken was certainly a colorful character - I saw that famous interview on television when he hit critic Alexander Walker over the head with a rolled-up copy of the newspaper "The Evening Standard" containing Walker's dismissive review of his latest opus.
His early BBC work though is certainly worth investigating if one missed them first time round - like that imagery of the young Elgar riding his pony over the Malvern hills as the music blares out ...

Like Schlesinger, Losey, Lester and Roeg his best works are a testament to that innovative late '60s/early '70s era; I dare say the obits will now be referring to him as the grand old man of British Cinema. TOMMY was full of invention too, like Eric Clapton's Church of Saint Marilyn, not to mention Ann-Margret and those baked beans!. Oliver Reed, Glenda Jackson, Alan Bates, Vanessa Redgrave and her daughters all became part of his cast of players.
His first wife Shirley (who died in 2002) was a well regarded costume designer who did the costumes for Ken's major films as well as other prestige period movies like YANKS, REDS, HOPE AND GLORY etc.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

More R.I.P.'s

Maureen Swanson, The Countess of Dudley (1932-2011). Maureen was a glamorous Rank Organisation starlet in the 50s - Dirk Bogarde's Spanish girlfriend in THE SPANISH GARDENER in 1956, and opposite Peter Finch in ROBBERY UNDER ARMS in '57. Other films included Huston's MOULIN ROUGE, A TOWN LIKE ALICE and KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE. She gave up show business on her marriage into the aristocracy in 1961.

Jonathan Cecil (1939-2011) could trace his ancestry back to Tudor times. Although rarely the star, he had more than four decades of constant employment in theatre, film and television. He excelled in Chekhov and Shakespeare, and four times played Sir Andrew Aguecheek in TWELFTH NIGHT. Other theatre successes include Peter Ustinov's HALFWAY UP THE TREE, Peter Barnes's THE RULING CLASS (in 1969), a new adaptation of Frank Wedekind's LULU (1971) and a revue, COWARDY CUSTARD (1972).

On film, Jonathan had a long and distinguished career that included appearances in Kubrick's BARRY LYNDON (1975), Mel Brooks's HISTORY OF THE WORLD PART ONE (1981), Fellini's AND THE SHIP SAILS ON (1983) and LITTLE DORRIT (1988). He starred opposite Peter Ustinov's Hercule Poirot in three television films, as Hastings, the Belgian detective's baffled foil. Jonathan was in constant demand whenever a comic toff or a bumbling cleric was called for on TV. He appeared in several PG Wodehouse adaptations and became a master of the audio book, recording more than 40 of Wodehouse's novels and stories. A Man of The Theatre indeed.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

A Taste Of Honey - Shelagh Delaney, R.I.P.

I had been meaning to write about A TASTE OF HONEY, but the death of its writer Shelagh Delaney (1938-2011) has prompted this review. Delaney and Tony Richardson below:

The late '50s and early '60s saw the arrival of kitchen sink drama in England — gritty Northern industrial landscapes shot in moody black and white, which tied with the Nouvelle Vague in France and Italy's new wave too, those successful films, from plays and books, like Jack Clayton's ROOM AT THE TOP, Reisz's SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING, Tony Richardson's LOOK BACK IN ANGER. A TASTE OF HONEY too was a sensational play, both in London and Broadway (where Angela Lansbury played the feckless mother). The original play was written by 18-year-old Shelagh Delaney in 1958, as a riposte to the theate of the time, those plays by Terence Rattigan as she had seen some and thought she could do better, so A TASTE OF HONEY was like a breath of fresh air, and remains a much loved film.
The 1961 film was X-rated. Set in Salford, the tale of Jo(sephine), a lonely, neglected teenager, tackled teenage pregnancy, mixed-race relationships and feckless parenting (by Dora Bryan and her dodgy boyfriend Robert Stephens). The most sympathetic character is Jo’s gay friend, Geoff, at a time when homosexuality was criminal. Murray Melvin had worked his way up from tea boy at Joan Littlewood’s famous Theatre Workshop Company at London’s Stratford East Theatre to play the role of Geoff on stage, reprising it in the film. Similarly, Tushingham had joined the Liverpool Rep as a backstage odd job girl after writing many pestering letters.

Tushingham also starred in some cult favourites of mine like the Swinging London parody, SMASHING TIME, with her pal Lynn Redgrave (from THE GIRL WITH GREEN EYES), Richard Lester's THE KNACK and others and is still working as is Murray Melvin, who probably played the first smpathetic gay character most of us saw at the cinema. It is always a pleasure to see him in films like THE BOYFRIEND or BARRY LYNDON, below: he and Rita recently.

Tushingham (who has a great website covering her extensive career) says of the early ‘60s: ‘It was a welcoming time. There was an energy. We need to do more to encourage young people to discover what’s inside them. The consumerism is not the point… 50 years on we still have the same emotions as we did then, but we are being sold more.’

Dirk Bogarde's VICTIM was also a key movie that year of course, I particularly like A TASTE OF HONEY with its lyrical moments among the working class background of Salford - a vanished landscape now. Dora Bryan is marvellous as the mother with her constant moolight flits (leaving lodgings without paying rent) and who returns to look after Jo in her pregnancy because she has nowhere else to go, thus forcing out Geoff, the sad little gay boy who does not fit in. It is extremely touching. Richardson directs with a sure hand with that marvellous black and white photography by Walter Lassally, it is a perfect Woodfall film. John Schlesinger then provided two more Northern classics in A KIND OF LOVING in 1962 and BILLY LIAR in 1963 which really ushers in the new Swinging London era with Julie Christie heading off to London leaving dreamer Billy behind at the railway station .... I really want to re-see those again now too. Two Edna O'Brien adaptations by Desmond Davis continued the trend: Woodfall's THE GIRL WITH GREEN EYES, Tushingham with Peter Finch, in 1964 and I WAS HAPPY HERE with Sarah Miles in 1966, by which time Swinging London was all the rage.

Shelagh Delaney continued to write but never equalled her early success. She also scripted THE WHITE BUS for Lindsay Anderson, CHARLIE BUBBLES for Albert Finney among others.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Hockney - another biography

The latest biography on David Hockney (Part 1: 1937-1975) paints a totally contrasting picture to being gay in the 60s and 70s than in those grim war years and in the 1950s as suffered by Alan Turing - here we have the full story on David as art student in his gold jacket and becoming the media darling of the 60s art crowd, and then of course his move to California where he becomes the painter of L.A. with all those boys in pools. What impresses about Hockney is that he never stopped working, everywhere he went he was painting. I particularly like his early 70s period in Paris. I still have a framed poster from his 1974 Paris exhibition. I also liked the Hockney look of that era: the glasses, the pastel colour clothes, he was just so individual - he was his own creation, as well as doing those opera designs and so many different types of drawings and sketches; the paper pools, his dogs, all those friends etc. Jack Hazan's 1974 film A BIGGER SPLASH captures it all perfectly.

Peter getting out of Nick's pool; Contre Jour in the French Style.

Part two should be fascinating too, as Hockney returns to England and settles in Bridlington, where his parents lived, and showcasing all his later developments with photocpiers, polaroids, photo montages and now digital art on his iPad and iPhone, and his new large paintings of the landscapes in the North of England, as he becomes the grand old man of British art, as detailed in all those books on his changing art. He is still a ferocious smoker too! We had a big exhibition of his prime works a couple of years ago, and a new one will be unveiled here in January running through to April 2012.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Genius: Alan Turing

Alan Turing's genius ushered in the digital age. Britain could have been at its centre, had it not treated him so cruelly, according to a report by Michael Hanlon in today's "Sunday Times". Turing's story is of course too well known to go into detail here but briefly he was the breaker of the Enigma code and credited with shortening the second world war by two years - but life for a gay man in post-war Britain was a furtive affair, homosexuality was still illegal. I remember being a child in the early 50s and reading about that court case involving Peter Wildblood and Lord Montagu and trying to understand why what they had done was so bad. Turing had met a young man whose friend had burgled his house so the naive professor reported him to the police - as a result one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century was arrested and charged with gross indecency. He was given a choice between going to prison or having treatment for his condition - which turned out to be chemical castration. He chose the latter and never truly recovered, committing suicide in 1954 by eating a poisoned apple (he had seen SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARVES several times!). It wasn't until 2009 the the British government, after a petition, made a formal apology for the appalling way he had been treated.

It now seems evident that Turing, Britain's almost forgotten genius, may have been nearly single-handedly responsible for the shape of the modern world, as well as aiding the end of the last war. Had he lived he may have been able to have jump-started a new industrial revolution. Google now says "without Alan Turing we would never have had Google, we would never have had the whole IT revolution; all the principles of computing go back to Alan Turing". So all modern computing: internet, mobile phones, laptops, email, Facebook, YouTube etc are a result of ideas published in his 1936 paper which showed how the manipulation of binary code using a series of simple logical operations could be put to an infinite number of uses, from computing prime numbers to forecasting the weather! No other technology has enriched more people more quickly in less than a generation. Turing thought that one day computers would become common and small enough to be carried around.

Of course the development of computing would have happened without Turing, but it would have happened later and far more slowly. It is fascinating to ponder what might have happened if he had lived - and such a shame his own life was so wasted. Like Oscar Wilde dying in his 40s in 1900 - if he had lived to enjoy old age he would have been a media star on radio and film, so too one can imagine an older Turing a flamboyant, confident pundit on television and perhaps the founder of a British Google or Apple ? but this brilliant, charming, odd, driven workaholic had a different fate. At least he is now being celebrated.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Italian Vanity Fair celebrates Monica Vitti's 80th birthday

Belated birthday wishes to Monica Vitti - 80 years old on November 3 ! Nice to see that Italian "Vanity Fair" is celebrating her with a cover and feature, mentioning "the silence of a long illness" (which may be Alzheimers, which would explain why she has not been seen in public for some years, not even at Antonioni's funeral in 2007).

Click images to enlarge, no English translation though ! and thanks to Kraechnor II for link to this terrific YouTube montage:

Good to see renewed interest in one of the '60s great stars, as per all my posts on her here, the art-house goddess of the Antonioni films with the mesmerising face and voice, and all those delicious comedies she did later ..... others may hate it but I simply love MODESTY BLAISE. I wouldn't say she is one of the "largest" Italian stars though, as the blurb at the link puts it! One of Italy's biggest stars certainly, but not largest !

The Italian "Vanity Fair" may not be available here in the UK (unless in specialist shops in Soho) but I can at least print out and translate the relevant pages. Its a nice spread of 7 pages with lots of pictures - Monica always looks stunning, particularly in those '60s creations...

A gentleman of course does not dwell on a lady's age, but I see a lot of Italian films so all these Italian ladies seem ageless to me; hard to believe that Gina in her 80s, Monica now 80, Sophia 77 and Claudia a mere 73 ! Next Antonioni review: THE OBERWALD MYSTERY.

Monica as Celia ?

A nice feature on Celia Birtwell in the weekend papers - she is of course the textile designer known for her distinctive bold, romantic and feminine designs, which draw influences from Picasso, Matisse and from the classical world. Celia and her late husband Ossie Clark began in the 1960s when they dressed all the stylish stars of the day, Mick Jagger and the rest. After Ossie's death Celia continued with her shop in London and has now come into her own again, with a splendid new coffee-table book on her designs, and collections of fabrics and textiles in her distinctive style for stores like John Lewis. She is also of course well known as her friend David Hockney's muse, David has painted and drawn her so many times over the years, as shown in all those books on him. She also featured in Jack Hazan's fascinating 1974 film A BIGGER SPLASH following Hockney and his friends over the course of several years.

When asked who should play her in a film she said Monica Vitti - who looks rather like her and whom she liked in those 60s films with the likes of Alain Delon. Here's Celia and David in front of that large popular painting "Mr and Mrs Clarke with Percy" - Celia with Ossie and their cat Percy, one of the Tate's most popular works.

Peter Burton, R.I.P.

A moment here to mention the passing of one of England's gay writers and publisher - Peter Burton (1945-2011), whom I did not know but we seemed to have, as per the title of his autobiography, "Parallel Lives" - both born in 1945 and in London since the 1960s, and later I moved to Brighton too for some years. Peter was prominent in setting up the early gay titles like "Gay Times" and was its arts and book editor, and also published a book of his interviews with the likes of Patricia Highsmith, Gore Vidal, Joe Orton, Robert Maugham etc. In the 70s he was doing PR for Rod Stewart in America and wrote amusingly about that too. I trust my own memoir will be as readable! It is always sad to see the passing of one of those influential people from one's own era. He will be missed. That's him in the doorway of the west end Le Duce club in 1967, one of my earliest London haunts too.