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, 31 July 2011

Guess who's coming out at dinner ?

LOOSE CANNONS. Ferzan Ozpetek’s 2010 Italian comedy of manners and sexual mores is a very pleasant movie as we follow Tommaso (Riccardo Scamarcio) returning to his Italian town Lecce where his parents have a pasta factory. Tomasso wants to come out as gay so he can return to Rome and continue trying to be a writer. He confides his intentions to his older brother, Antonio (Alessandro Preziosi) who helps their father at the factory, but at the dinner Antonio gets in first and makes his own coming out speech to the assembled gathering. The homophobic father of course has a seizure, which puts paid to Tommaso’s plans as he now has to stay at the factory in place of the banished Antonio.

LOOSE CANNONS carries itself with the sort of casual grace we’ve come to expect from the best of European gay cinema: it is aesthetically a close relative of the less punky Almodóvar films, and in its shifting tone and large cast of characters it is not unlike François Ozon’s 8 WOMEN.

This is an amusing satire on small town life and the parents’ fear of what the neighbours will think. The extended family include their sister who already knew their secret, the wise grand-mother, Ilaria Occhini – the best performance – and their oddball aunt. Then there is Alba (Nicole Grimaudo) the daughter of their proposed business mere who has feelings of her own. It all reminded me of I AM LOVE at the start with the wealthy family and their servants coming together for the family meal at their luxurious home. More amusing incidents follow when Tommaso’s three friends arrive with his partner Marco – and they have to tone down their camp mannerisms to fit in with the family. Things all work out to a nice conclusion, as the family get together again at a funeral, so it’s a rather feel-good movie. It also features perhaps the most fabulous suicide in all of cinema. The parents' homophobia (the mother wants him to be "cured") is treated for laughs, but it would be a problem for a family business if the sons are not going to have children and heirs ?

Saturday, 30 July 2011

A rarity: King Queen Knave, 1972

I did a piece some months ago on Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski, and the impossibility of seeing his earlier films now.

Since then DEEP END from 1970 has been rescued by the BFI and there is now a 3 disk dvd (as per previous post on it), and I have finally got my hands on a copy of his 1972 KING QUEEN KNAVE, another quirky oddity. Given that it stars David Niven and Gina Lollobrigida with again John Moulder-Brown, its surprising that it was shown so little at the time and hardly since then. It is a very black comedy from the Nabokov novel and features Brown as the orphaned teenager who has to go and stay with his uncle and his attractive wife Martha (Lollo). Before too long of course the teenager has erotic fantasies about his glamorous aunt, there is that hilarious seduction scene and it seems the aunt has a plan of her own to get rid of her husband ....

Brown as the clumsy, short-sighted teen, wearing thick spectacles, is very funny here and Gina is as ever, sensational. Good to finally catch it, now where is THE ADVENTURES OF GERARD? Jerzy's new one ESSENTIAL KILLING is just out on dvd too, one to investigate.

Next rarity: Visconti's THE STRANGER, from the Camus novel, from 1967 with Marcello Mastroianni and Anna Karina.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Guilty Pleasures: Justine

I see that JUSTINE gets a couple of rare screenings as part of the Dirk Bogarde retrospective (only his post-1960 career) at the London National Film Theatre - I shall have to amble along and savour it on the widescreen again. It has been unseen for decades but it was a treat to get a copy recently, an enjoyable 20th Century Fox version of the Durrell books set in Alexandria and rather a botched movie. It was began in Tunisia in '68 with director Philip Strick, but the project was then recalled to the Fox lot in California, with George Cukor taking over. Cukor and Aimee had one of THE famous feuds, as they did not get on AT ALL. The fascinating international cast though has Dirk Bogarde giving another terrific performance as Pursewarden, young Michael York as Darnley the narrator who falls in love with the mysterious Justine, also Anna Karina, John Vernon, Robert Forster, Philippe Noiret and Cliff Gorman as one of those dancing girls.

I just like the look of the film, those mysterious locations and Aimee being very enigmatic, looking alluring with that little girl voice, she seems incommunicative though, as though she does not want to be there – it was silly though to use the nude body double seen in long shot for the beach scene with the horses. Leon Shamroy makes it all look terrific and there is a nice score by Jerry Goldsmith. It really has the look and texture almost of a Von Sternberg picture, and remains one of the great good bad movies. I used to have a photo of Anouk as Justine on my wall back in the late '60s everything Moroccan and Tunisian were suddenly part of the new hippie chic, as movies like DUFFY, MAROC 7 and PERFORMANCE showed.

It just looks terrific with those Tunisian locations, Vernon and Forster are the warring brothers Nessim and Narouz, and there are masked balls, belly dancers and lots of intrigue among the expats in Alexandria where everyone seems to be hiding guilty secrets. Bogarde is ideal as Pursewarden - by this time Anouk had become a very big star indeed, having been in movies since the late 40s, those Fellinis and UN HOMME ET UNE FEMME had added to her allure, but by the time JUSTINE she just wanted to be away with her new love Albert Finney, so it seems she had no real interest in the film and didn't film again until 1976 by which time her marriage to Finney was over.

York is the young narrator describing in the voiceover how Justine seemed to move in a golden glow..."blood-sister to a thousand tyrant queens". Everyone is in thrall to the fascinating Justine, the seemingly amoral wife of a wealthy Egyptian, biding her time in 1930s Alexandria with a slew of lovers, who spends her time looking for a lost child in the brothels of Alexandria, Anna Karina is the less fortunate prostitute who innocently lets slip Justine's real political interests to Pursewarden, after her romance with York has finished.

It is a condensed version of Lawrence Durrell's brilliant literary classic "Alexandria Quartet", about the sophisticated game of international intrigue and espionage in Alexandria between the first and second world wars with subtle character portraits from a range of British and European actors at the top of their game; it is just a perfect film of its time and place, late 60s, Europe and Hollywood combining. I can't wait to see it again .....

Thursday, 28 July 2011


A fabulours 1934 shot of Loretta Young - one of the most prolific stars of the '30s and '40s. She did 9 films in 1933 alone, and began as a teenager in the '20s. Her career was really over by the time I began cinemagoing,(her last film was in 1953), but she also had a major career in television with her popular tv series.

Loretta became an iron butterfly later on - there are several amusing jokes about her religious side and her swear box, but back in the '30s she was incredibly lovely in films like MIDNIGHT MARY, LADIES IN LOVE, the typical depression waif in Borzage's MAN'S CASTLE with Spencer Tracy (they had a romance but as both were Catholic could not divorce and re-marry), ZOO IN BUDAPEST, De Mille's THE CRUSADES in '35 and CALL OF THE WILD with Clark Gable, they had a location affair which resulted in a daughter which Loretta adopted. There were also seveal with Tyrone Power, and THE BISHOP'S WIFE in '48 with Cary Grant and David Niven, and her Oscar-winning role in THE FARMER'S DAUGHTER in '47. More at Loretta label. One of the most fascinating stars then.

John Kobal's 1985 book "People Will Talk" contains a lengthy interview with her which is quite fascinating as Loretta looks back over her career and life: On the studio system: "I have no regrets, but I regret its passing for those working today, because it is virtually impossible to become a lasting star. In what we call the good old days, there were never less than 20 or 30 fabulously important stars in the business at any one time. Well you can't name that many today. And those stars worked all the time. Now they tell me two thirds of the theatres are closed all over the country. In those days they were all jammed full. I think television also has a great deal to do with it because it's so easy to turn it on at home and it's free. But still to me the calibre of the motion picture, when you get a picture that is good, it does make money. Of course now they say its just coining money. Yes, it is, at a little theatre that holds 300 people. But not at the Music Hall or at the Roxy, where you had to fill it five times a day with 3,000 people."

A 30s classic: Love Me Tonight

LOVE ME TONIGHT. I just had to order this 1932 musical as I kept hearing such good reports on it. Maurice Chevalier is the Parisian tailor who sets out to visit a chateau to collect unpaid bills from aristocrat Charlie Ruggles. He meets and falls for lonely princess Jeanette McDonald who trills several numbers, and there is the young Myrna Loy as a man-mad countess (who has a great line when asked if she would go for a doctor). This fluff is inventively directed by Rouben Mamoulian and the great score is by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. It is obviously creaky but it is almost 80 years old and talkies were only 4 years old.

The score and the direction is the thing – that opening of Paris coming alive in the morning (all on the back lot), and songs like “Isn’t It Romantic” which is taken up by person after person (including soldiers on a train) until it reaches the castle where Jeanette is pining on her balcony, and there’s “Lover”, “Mimi” and Maurice’s Apache number. After seeing the older Chevalier a lot lately, interesting to see him in his young prime here, Jeanette though seems far too dated for today’s tastes. With C Aubrey Smith and Ethel Griffies.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Fran Landesman R.I.P.

One has to mark the passing of a true original: Fran Landesman, songwriter, poet and performer [1927-2011], was born in New York and after success in America (where she was part of the beat scene) moved to London in the '60s with her husband Jay Landesman, where they became part of the bohemian set. I have several little volumes of her poems, and those wonderful lyrics like "Ballad of the Sad Young Men" (which Roberta Flack covered on her first album, and has also been recorded by Shirley Bassey), which like Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life" is an anthem to the louche gay life, one of the well-known songs she wrote for jazz artists.

Other witty poems include well known items like "Is The Common Man Too Common?", "Invade My Privacy", "The Decline of the West" ["All the good tunes have been written, all the good songs have been sung..."], "After We've Gone" ["Who will live in our house, after we've gone..."], and that lovely poem about "Bogie" ["With his five o'clock shadow and his heart of pure gold he will always be Bogie and he will never grow old. She's a girl whose in trouble, all her nights are like years, she wears dresses of satin, and a necklace of tears. She was Ida or Ingrid until along came Bacall but he's always been Bogie and he's the king of them all"].

Like Dory Previn, Fran has been described as the poet laureate of the desperate and decadent! No one can convey the bitter-sweet joys of melancholy or the exhilaration of living on the edge quite like her. She took to performing in her later years and, like Mose Allison and George Melly, was an established artist on the jazz circuit. On "Desert Island Discs" she famously requested cannabis seeds as her essential luxury! - yes, one can grow old disgracefully ... Her husband died earlier this year; their son Cosmo is film reviewer for The Sunday Times.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Movies I Love: All That Heaven Allows

ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS is probably my favourite Douglas Sirk movie, this 1955 melodrama is just as good if not better than IMITATION OF LIFE or WRITTEN ON THE WIND, camp classics both. I also like Sirk's INTERLUDE with June Allyson, reviewed a while back here (Allyson label), and his 1958 A TIME TO LOVE AND A TIME TO DIE. ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS though is the perfect commentary/critique on small town America in the affluent '50s. I somehow find his MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION a little too schmalzy, and THE TARNISHED ANGELS (also with Hudson and Malone) has not been seen in years.

Here, Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson are re-united - she is Cary, the recent widow (we sense her husband was older) at a loose end, with her son and daughter away most of the time; he is the gardener fixing her garden, the son of the old gardener. She offers him lunch, they talk - he seems impossibly good-looking and attentive. They slowly get to know each other ... her friend Sara (Agnes Moorehead) warns Cary about small-town gossip, in particular Mona Plash (Jacqueline DeWit), stalking the town in her fur coat, and being the terror of the country club. Rock takes Jane to his secret place - the old mill outside town which he has plans to do up and move into, and he even repairs that broken Wedgewood coffee pot.

Then it is time to introduce him to the children - the jealous incredulous son, furious that his father's trophy and picture have been put in storage (and as the daughter says, resentful that his mother is still attractive to other men), and the know-it-all daughter (Gloria Talbot). There is that interesting exchage of dialogue between them where the daughter comments on the old Egyptian custom of burying the widow with the deceased's other possessions and saying that does not happen any more. "well, perhaps not in Egypt" says Cary dryly. Then, at the country club all hell breaks loose when an old admirer taunts Cary about her new young man, the snooty locals look down on the gardener who trims their trees and Mona is in her element as a fight breaks out: "Why, Cary, isn't one man enough for you?" - Ron (Rock) has also taken Cary away to meet his more down to earth friends who overcome her resistance to the idea of her marrying Ron. She changes her mind though after all the disapproval, but soon find it was a pointless sacrifice as her headaches get worse, but her doctor can find nothing wrong and urges her to do what is right for her - it turns out the son has plans to spend a year abroad and the daughter is marrying, so poor Cary is left with the new television she did not want - the comfort of every lonely housewife and widow. There is of course the old family friend who wants to marry her, but makes it clear it is for companionship. Will fate intervene and bring the lovers together again, will Ron recover from that fall?

It is a perfect realisation of small town middle-class America; the women going to meet the train in the snow, the station wagons and estate cars, large roomy comfy houses (as in A LETTER TO THREE WIVES, another Movie I Love soon), and of course the mill and the snow falling, and the deer looking in the window. Delirious! Wyman isn't a particularly compelling actress, but (like Allyson) she kept busy through the '50s, and she is just right here as the hesitant Cary. Sirk also directed some interesting costumers: CAPTAIN LIGHTFOOT with Hudson, in Ireland in 1954, and SIGN OF THE PAGAN with Jack Palance as Attila and Jeff Chandler as a Roman centurion - its one of the better costumers of its era.

I Vitelloni

I VITELLONI. Fellini’s classic from 1953 is 58 years old, but emotionally is still as fresh as paint. Small towns are the same now, this is a universal story which I could see happening my own small Irish town, which I left at 18. Our 5 Vitelloni (‘Young Calves’, ‘Young Bucks’ or ‘Adolescent Slobs’) are all in their early 20s (though may look older) as they mooch around their seaside town (probably Rimini, Fellini’s hometown). Moraldo (Franco Interlenghi), Alberto (Alberto Sordi), Fausto (Franco Fabrizi), Leopoldo (Leopoldo Trieste) and Riccardo (Riccardo Fellini) form a group of idle friends that spend their time together doing nothing but drinking, flirting and going to parties. When Fausto's girlfriend Sandra (Eleonora Ruffo) gets pregnant, he is pressed to marry her. The unlikeable Fausto cheats on her at every opportunity, even when with her at the cinema, and loses his job in the religious shop – the stealing the statute incident is amusing, as is the lengthy carnival.

It is perfect early Fellini – as accessible as AMARCORD – and the ending is affecting as Moraldo, the one we identify with most, is the only one to leave town. Sordi is ideal too for once, and the detail and incidents keep one happily absorbed. I didn’t look at my watch once. Now for that other early Federico trio: THE WHITE SHEIK, LA STRADA and CABIRIA. Nino Rota’s score is ideal too of course.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Amy Winehouse R.I.P.

Famine in Somalia continues .... massacre in Norway .... and poor Amy [1983-2011] departs. Sometimes words are just superfluous.
Why is it great talents have their fingers firmly on the self-destruct button? - from Jimmy Dean in the '50s, Jim Morrison [towering over me at the Roundhouse in London in 1968 - Doors label], Judy in 1969, Janis in 1970, Elvis in '77 ... and now Amy, almost a death foretold.
It is always the same when a celebrity self-annihilates, stalked by the paparazzi - then the sob sisters take over raking over the tragic wasted life .... but we still have the legacy of their talent.

Blogger won't allow me to reply to comments on my own blog, though I can on others!
Here is my reply:
"Love Is A Losing Game and of course Rehab, all the Back to Black album - I should also check out her first album. There are several downloads on my ipod too ["Fu*k Me Pumps, There is no greater love]"

Friday, 22 July 2011

Back to DEEP END, 1970

I wrote here a while back on Skolimowski's DEEP END and the impossibility of seeing his other films. We now have a new BFI release of DEEP END, on their Flipside label (featuring British rarities of the 60s and 70s) and are now spoiled for choice: its a 3-disk issue with the ordindary film, the Blu-Ray and an extra disk of extras including a new interview with Jane Asher and John Moulder-Brown - both of whom obviously have mouldering (!) portraits in their attics.

I have admired Jane for decades ever since THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH and others, whereas the more mysterious Moulder-Brown (his IMDB page does not have very much on him) seems to have been low key since those films like Visconti's LUDWIG or Schell's FIRST LOVE. Here they are looking terrific, as is the film in a sparking new print. Jane's apricot hair and that yellow mac are such an ideal colour combination with that dolly bird dress and boots are perfect for the period in that run-down baths ... Nice to see two artists being proud of their work which they did back then, and it getting a new lease of life now.