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.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Army of Shadows / Le Cercle Rouge

A double helping of existential doom via Jean-Pierre Melville

Melville's most personal film, rooted in his wartime experience in the French Resistance, ARMY OF SHADOWS (1969) is a hard, tense drama, depicting man's capacity for both bravery and evil. In the winter of 1942-1943 as France exists under German occupation, an underground cell operates in the shadows. In the clandestine world of the Resistance the freedom fighters work against their enemies under the constant risk of betrayal, ordinary men and women in an extraordinary situation. Suffused throughout with a mood of foreboding the suspense, heightened with directorial mastery, reaches its peak as the Resistance attempt to free a prisoner from the Gestapo headquarters in one of Melville's trademark moments of iconic action.
Death by tea-towel
Was Melville the coolest director on the planet? As laconic as Hawks or grimly ironic as Billy Wilder. Julien Duvivier was another of these French directors I am discovering now (French label). I have already reviewed Melville's LEON MORIN PRETE (with Belmondo) here, and recently Delon in 1967's cooler than cool LE SAMURAI. 1969's ARMY OF SHADOWS may well be his ultimate and most personal masterpiece. It is a slow film one sinks into with no wish to hurry things along as these '40s cars drive around the French countryside and the tensions increase with no obvious set-pieces. It also looks like the 1940s as they really were...

Signoret as a nurse on a daring raid 
The cast is headed by Lino Ventura whom we see placed in a drab concentration camp and he eventually escapes. The first major problem our fighters encounter is when they catch an informer who has to be eliminated immediately - they take him to a house but cannot shoot him due to the thinness of the walls, a knife is not how they want to do it - so he has to be strangled with a tea-towel (above). Then there is the marvellous Mathilde, as good as any man, who plots to rescue one of their own from the Gestapo and also rescues Ventura. She though makes a fatal mistake in keeping a photograph of her daughter in her handbag ... Simone Signoret is of course simply marvellous here. Cast also includes Jean-Pierre Cassel (who makes an astonishing sacrifice of himself to the Gestapo), Claude Mann, Paul Meurisse. We also join Ventura in that airplane making his parachute drop, and a visit to wartime London. The colours throughout are muted. Perfect in every way then.

LE CERCLE ROUGE - I remember this playing in London in 1970 -this may be even cooler than LE SAMURAI and must have been an infuence on directors like Michael Mann and Tarantino. We have three thieves planning a heist and also focus on the policeman determined to catch them. As the blurb has it:

A thief, a fugitive and an alcoholic ex-cop are caught together in the thrall of destiny as the plan to carry out the ultimate robbery in one of the greatest heist movies of all time. Alain Delon, Gian-Maria Volonte and Yves Montand star as the elegant mis-matched trio, locked in an elaborate and dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with the inscrutable police inspector Andre Bourvil, who is determined to foil their attempts to pull off the perfect crime. As the day of the heist dawns the story unfolds with all four players determined to cheat fate, in this masterpiece of fatalistic crime cinema.

Like ARMY OF SHADOWS this is a slow, leisurely film that takes its time - 135 minutes - to present this abstract dream-world, where men live by their own code, a gangster code with the values of the outside world conspicuously absent.  Melville claimed he wanted to shoot a film noir in colour and in many ways he succeeded. The two primary influences for this film were John Huston's 1950 heist movie THE ASPHALT JUNGLE and Jules Dassin's RIFIFI (1955). But unlike these films, Melville tells us almost nothing about his criminals. Why was Corey (Delon) in jail? Why was his associate, Vogel (Volonté) arrested in the first place? Or why the ex-police marksman Jansen (Montand) left the force, was it his alcoholism?
We never learn the motivations behind their actions and never find out what drives these men. Women are even more absent than in his earlier films, with the "emotional" ties exclusively between men. They don't even seem to have personal lives - the police inspector also lives a solitary life devoted to his cats.

Melville in his usual cowboy hat avec Delon
It starts off with Bourvil escorting prisoner Volante on a train - he makes his escape and flees across country ending up in the boot of Delon's car. Delon knows he is there as they approach a roadblock ... and they defeat the gunmen sent to eliminate them... meanwhile Montand has the DTs as he sees giant spiders, rats and iguanas climbing all over him in bed. Then there is the heist itself carried out in silence as usual and another grim aftermath ... 2 more from the Melville box set then, with a few more more to catch up with: I saw LE FLIC (Delon & Deneuve) dubbed on release in '72, it may work better now in French, there is also Belondo in LE DOULOS, and BOB LE FLAMBEUR.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Hit and miss

Ladies in Lavender (plus chums) go East - and once again the gay gay gets it. Reactions I was not expecting to THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL and Kevin Spacey's BEYOND THE SEA.

THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL seems a big hit here in the UK, probably coasting on the success of THE KING'S SPEECH that other rather pedestrian film which brought older movie-goers back to the mulitplex.

Here, our motley crue of British thespians, all with their own backstories, move to the titular hotel in Jaipur, Rajasthan (which of course looks great) to 'outsource' their retirements to cheap and cheerful India. The hotel is not as expected from the brochure, as run by the manic Dev Patel, who is trying to sort out his romantic problems.. Dependable Bill Nighy and raging snob Penelope Wilton have to downsize after losing their retirement money in their daughter's failed internet company; recent widow Judi Dench also has to economise, Maggie Smith plays against type as a working class racist looking for a cheap hip replacement operation, Celia Imrie and Ronald Pickup are both looking for romance or at least sex, while retired judge Tom Wilkinson is looking for the man he loved all those years ago .... can they be happy and find their heart's desire as they get used to this strange now exotic location? Maggie won't eat anything she can't pronounce ...but turns out to be a dab hand with accounting and sorts out the hotel's finances, while Judi gets a job teaching the local call centre staff how to deal with customers like her! How did the Indians manage without them? Penelope Wilton gets to do her nagging bitch again .... so the formula of putting a respected cast in an exotic location and you have a movie that practically writes and directs itself, if only they had a bit more imagination with the stories though.
SPOILER AHEAD ... (if you have not seen it)

Most annoying of all is Tom Wilkinson as the gay (as he tells everyone) judge trying to trace his long lost friend. He does, and then promptly dies of a heart attack - clearly signposted as we ominously focus on that bird flying away - is his spirit flying away with it? How twee. Couldn't he be allowed a happy old age too? His character was not even in the book by Deborah Moggach so its just a script invention, it seems a dreadful lack of imagination if they can't include the gay guy in everyone else's stories at the end,  as though they can't think what else to do with him .... So the rest of the cast get a nice reflective scene at his open air cremation; its as though he doesn't deserve the happiness or resolution they get. (One can see their lazy thinking - he has had his moment of epiphany, so his story arc is over - now they have no more use for him or can see no other future for him apart from dropping happily dead...).He though was the only one to have had a relationship with a native - so why couldn't he have lived and have another one? Just asking ...

I wasn't sufficiently interested in John Madden's MRS BROWNE to catch it's initial release, but loved SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (which I reviewed again here a while ago - costume drama label) but that may have been due to the witty script by Tom Stoppard and the great cast and it was all vey colourful - but I did not want to see his film of CAPTAIN CORRELLI'S MANDOLIN as I loved the book and was horrified at the changes I read about - again eliminating the great gay character Carlo, and changing so much that it was just a greek travelogue, with miscast leads. This new one is riding on the coat-tails of THE KING'S SPEECH as a movie for older people but it is just the same tired formula. Moviemaking by numbers. Good though to see Nighy and Dench team up again - they were in a wonderful BBC play ABSOLUTE HELL 20 years ago.

Finally, Kevin Spacey's 2004 film about Bobby Darin: BEYOND THE SEA, I had imagined this would be terrible with the too old Spacey as our hip singer but it turned out to be much more engrossing than I imagined, as Spacey - obviously influenced by Fosse's ALL THAT JAZZ with our near death hero conversing with his younger self. A footnote at the end says it is not a linear biography of Darin (1936-1973), and again lots of liberties have been taken. It seems there was a second marriage that is not included here, we get the usual rags to riches story as Bobby somehow becomes an overnight sensation but is stranded as musical tastes change in the '60s, then he finds out who his real mother is .... lots of Darin's other movies are ignored too (TOO LATE BLUES was particularly good, by John Cassavetes)

Spacey's Darin is volatile, driven by the love of performing, ambition, perfectionism, and belief that he's living on borrowed time - a fatherless lad learning music and dance from his mom (Brenda Blethyn). He is then on top of the charts and on "American Bandstand." He wants to be an entertainer, not a pop star, so he aims for the Copacabana; then it's on to the movies, where he meets and marries Sandra Dee - I remember the huge hit COME SEPTEMBER was in 1961. Kate Bosworth makes a pretty if vapid Dee, with Greta Scacchi as her pushy mother. Bob Hoskins is solid as usual as Bobby's devoted brother and John Goodman his agent. We get lots of singing and dancing and angst as Kevin's Bobby dances around a lot in a yellow suit. It is an obvious labour of love (maybe Spacey's CITIZEN KANE), which seems to go on a bit too long towards the end as our hero's health declines ... Spacey in his '40s would seem too old for the 20s Darin, but after a while it does not matter as one gets used to that wig and false nose too ..... but he certainly loves the material and the songs, as we get "Dream Lover", "Mack The Knife" and yes "Beyond The Sea" among others.

Tudorbethan ?

Is this really an Elizabethan sofa ? Bette Davis as THE VIRGIN QUEEN, 1955's 20th Century Fox costume drama with Richard Todd as Walter Raleigh and Joan Collins as Beth Throgmorton. Bette enlivens things in full drama mode as Elizabeth, but the period detail seems all wrong here. The Palace seems a dark gloomy house more mid-Victorian than Tudor, the coaches they ride in all seem terribly out of period.The sofa here seems like a Victorian or Edwardian one ... with those armrests on a rope, like you see in an old country house. 
I did an amusing piece on this before as Raleigh lays down his cloak for Queen Bette to step over the puddle .... Bette Davis label.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Once again, I Was Happy Here

Monday:  We have now found out that it was someone in Indonesia who was able to copy a huge chunk of my blog (complete with my own dates and labels) into this other new blog of theirs - for whatever reason. It seems it was done back in Feburary, they have not copied anything since, so maybe that was it. If they return here now they can see that we are on to them, as per post below.

I have waxed lyrical a few time here already on I WAS HAPPY HERE that 1965/1966 film by Desmond Davis from an Edna O'Brien story, set in London and County Clare, Ireland. I am pleased there is now an official (region 1) dvd - it hardly looks like Sarah Miles on the cover though.... The  only 3 reviews on it at IMDB are all from Australia and the copy I was able to get was recorded from Australian televsion, so it must be a popular title down under!

It has been long unseen here, I remember travelling across London to see it down in Tooting in 1966 (when I was 20) in a double bill with REACH FOR GLORY (war, gay interest label here), at the old Classic Cinema chain, but it had never popped up anywhere since apart from one screening at the BFI National Film Theatre last year, which I couldn't get to due to my knee operation. Here is the BFI blurb from that:

Edna O'Brien's affecting story tells of an Irish girl who flees her bullying husband and a grubby London to return to the tiny fishing port where she grew up - and where her childhood sweetheart still lives. The film, with a resounding John Addison score, is full of new-wave flourishes - flashbacks, frozen shots - and takes maximum advantage of the pictorial contrasts between London and Lahinch, but it's the romantic wistfulness that lingers in the mind.

It is actually a fascinating picture of London in that mid-'60s just as it started to swing.
Cass's bedsit overlooks the new Post Office tower (also used to good effect in Davis's SMASHING TIME). Davis also directed that other O'Brien tale GIRL WITH GREEN EYES where it's heroine ends up working at the W.H. Smith shop I used to know at Notting Hill Gate, just opposite the Classic cinema there. Ireland label has more on these ... but good to see I AM HAPPY HERE out and about again - Sarah of course went on to that unhappy stint on Antonioni's BLOW-UP and then back to Ireland for David Lean's protracted shoot on RYAN'S DAUGHTER.

There is a wistfulness about I WAS HAPPY HERE and its non-linear storyline with lots of flashbacks and good locations in Lahinch and Liscannor. I should be visiting there next year, wonder if it has changed much ... Cyril Cusack and Marie Kean are sterling support and newcomer Sean Caffrey is that elusive fisherman while Julian Glover captures that Wimbledon rugger playing doctor. Sarah has a great moment too with that "We were all nice girls" speech, which is also pure O'Brien.

Movies I have nothing to say about: the latest MISSION IMPOSSIBLE GHOST PROTOCOL - I like a good popcorn movie when I am in the mood (I relished every moment of CASINO ROYALE, THE DARK KNIGHT, AIR FORCE ONE, INDIANA JONES et al) but this latest one just washed over me, I am just not a fan of CGI movies - where is the depth, the "reality" ? - I saw most of this actually on fast forward and don't feel I missed a thing, a lot of it was like a Pixar cartoon -  but then I am not the target audience for this kind of movie; at the opposite end of the scale Ralph Fiennes' CORIOLANUS didn't really engage me either, one certainly gets the commitment but this version of Shakespeare updated to a Balkans type conflict becomes wearying, despite Vanessa Redgrave and Brian Cox at full throttle. Fiennes also directs but somehow doesn't engage us; methinks I will stick with HAMLET and MACBETH...

Coming up: BEYOND THE SEA (Kevin as Bobby Darin), that EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL (and I won't be praising it ...),  THE HOURS, Ingrid as GOLDA; back to High Art with some Russian and Ozu tales, AU HASARD BALTHAZAR, De Sica's BICYCLE THEIVES and UMBERTO D and GARDEN OF THE FINZI CONTINI; more Melvilles (ARMY OF SHADOWS, LE CIRCLE ROUGE)  and Chabrols,  and to High (or Low) Trash with Helmut Berger's DORIAN GRAY, JUST A GIGOLO, and those Warners sudsers like PARRISH and SUSAN SLADE and Vadim's 1959 LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES .... Julia Roberts, and a few Joan Crawford sagas - that should be enough for the present !

Friday, 22 June 2012

Copycat alert !

Imitation: its the sincerest form of flattery - or is it ?

Imagine my surprise, astonishment and bemusement at discovering a copy of my blog which has been set up by someone else!  I was googling images of the film I WAS HAPPY HERE when I saw my own images and text but in a different blog - someone had taken the majority of my posts and copied them into this blog: and taken the trouble to re-format the pictures to fit their template - it looks quite nice actually on their black background - but leaving my text as I had written it.  
My piece and pictures on Cary Grant & Randolph Scott
I don't even know what language this is - maybe Finnish or Indonesian? Perhaps they (he or she? ) doesn't understand English and just likes the pretty pictures - as some of these items are so personal to me - like my post on North Kerry where I grew up, or my Antonioni reviews and scans, so how could anybody else use them? There seems to be no way of finding out or contacting whoever has been doing this.
My musings on art
They seem to have stopped though in Feburary 2012 - so maybe they are not doing this any more. I have reported this to Blogger anyway, so lets see what happens next. This is the problem though with putting stuff (one's own images, scans or opinions) on the world wide web for anyone to see, as we don't know how others will view or use this material.   A star is born - moi ?  Here are some photos I took of some their pages of my originals - practically all of my blog since 2010 is on there - so everything I was doing was being diligently copied into this other blog !  Words for once fail me ....we live in a world of fakes of course, so now there are fake blogs too.
My Antonioni scans
My piece on North Kerry, Ireland where I grew up
My Dirk Bogarde rarities

On reflection I now feel like taking a break from all this - 620 posts may be enough, though I had several others planned, but if its all going to be plagarised, maybe I shouldn't bother. 
I should focus on other projects like a book I have been planning. 
I have enjoyed my 2+ years on here and the opportunity to wax lyrical about movies and people I like - 
Dirk, Sophia, Monica, Romy, Anouk, Lee, Susan, Delon, Sorel and all the others - Antonioni, Hockney, Joni, Marilyn, Kay Kendall, Belinda, Sarah, 
and that '50s, '60s, '70s era etc.
So thanks to my regular viewers and for the feedback. I may be back.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Victor Spinetti, Susan Tyrrell, R.I.P.

Two more fascinating people I liked have departed ....  Victor Spinetti [1933-2012], above with The Beatles in A HARD DAY'S NIGHT, where he is hilarious as the "camp, nervy, irritable" [according to The Daily Telegraph] tv director with that mohair sweater; he was also marvellous in their HELP! and THE MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR, and appeared in many others including TAMING OF THE SHREW in 1967 with The Burtons. Victor, half-Welsh, half-Italian, was wholly marvellous on stage and screen and knew just about everybody from Marlene to Coward and John Lennon, and had great stories to tell, he came across as a happier Kenneth Williams. His long career including lots of stage roles and directing, as well as working with Joan Littlewood in SPARRERS CANT SING and OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR, and the UK stage version of THE ODD COUPLE. You can just picture him in the Jack Lemmon role... RIP indeed. I must see if his biography is available. It is, plus a CD of his live show! I have ordered both.

Susan Tyrrell [1945-2012] an actress who gave one of the screen’s most convincing portraits of alcoholism as the young barfly in John Huston's 1972 boxing movie the very downbeat  FAT CITY, died June 16 in Austin. She was 67.
She appeared in more than 75 movies and television shows, and had used a wheelchair for the past 12 years after her legs were amputated below the knee as a result of complications from a blood clotting disorder.
She appeared in ANDY WARHOL'S BAD (1977), and was Johnny Depp’s biker grandmother in director John Waters’s comedy CRY BABY (1990). Other roles included parts in Lelouch's romantic western ANOTHER MAN ANOTHER CHANCE in '77 (review at westerns label) and FORBIDDEN ZONE. FAT CITY remains her best known role where she is totally mesmerising.

RIP also, the critic Andrew Sarris, aged 82, from THE VILLAGE VOICE. I am not familiar with his work here in the UK, where we got all those Pauline Kael books ...  but he was certainly one of the major 'names' in film culture.

Life - and love - during wartime

An interesting triple bill with a lot in common: YANKS and UNTIL THEY SAIL plus an English TV show.

Nice to see YANKS again, we liked John Schlesinger's 1979 film at the cinema and it still packs an emotional wallop now. Schlesinger's '60s/'70s output (A KIND OF LOVING, BILLY LIAR, DARLING, FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD, MIDNIGHT COWBOY, SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY) are all essential movies for me, and that thriller MARATHON MAN. YANKS is more of the same, a well-crafted tale by Colin Welland with a large cast of characters. It must have been a complex film to shoot, with all those soldiers and villagers of that Yorkshire town. Schlesinger orchestrates it all marvellously and for once the period detail seems just right without being trowelled on. It really looks like the 1940s here as G.I.s arrive in England, not knowing if they will survive the war or not ....

During WWII, the United States set up army bases in Great Britain as part of the war effort. Against their proper sensibilities, many of the Brits don't much like the brash Yanks (over a million of them), especially when it comes to the G.I.s making advances on the lonely British girls, some whose boyfriends are also away for the war. One Yank/Brit relationship that develops is between married John, an Army Captain, and the aristocratic Helen, whose naval husband is away at war. Another relationship develops between one of John's charges, Matt, a talented mess hall cook, and Jean. Jean is apprehensive at first about even seeing Matt, who is persistent in his pursuit of her.

We focus on 3 romances here, covering the social divide. Ordinary guy, Richard Gere (just before AMERICAN GIGOLO) is an army cook, along with his more working class buddy Chick Vennera who falls for working class girl Wendy Morgan a bus conductress. Richard has eyes for English rose type Jean (actually American Lisa Eichhorn - just right here) who works in her family's shop, as the village women wait outside for it to open ("one orange each"). Mother is ailing Rachel Roberts and father is perfect casting too in Tony Melody with that sad face. Her young brother and his friend are fascinatated by the Yanks and the chocolate they have to throw to them. The army base looks authentic too, with the men showering etc.. Then we have lady of the manor Vanessa Redgrave (luminous as ever) and U.S. officer William Devane consoling each other. Her husband is overseas (but returns by the end) while his wife wants a divorce. He and Vanessa know their romance is going nowhere but have some nice moments, including a nice interlude flying to Ireland.

Jean and Matt (Lisa and Gere) are drawn to each other despite her boyfriend overseas much to her parents disapproval - there is the scene where Gere is invited to tea with that cake he has baked. We also see the local cinema and the dance-hall where black G.I.s get into trouble for dancing with the local girls. There is an amusing scene too at the local hotel on New Year's Eve with Joan Hickson as the tipsy waitress ....

It all comes to a climax as the soldiers pull out and the whole town it seems rushes to the railway station to see them off,. Will Jean and Matt see each other before he has to go? It gets terribly emotional as the two girls (Wendy has married Vennera) get to wave them off, Jean's mother has died too. Anne Shelton singing "I'll Be Seeing You" is perfect over the closing credits. Its a great '70s movie with a knowing look back to the '40s. I like it a lot. Maybe Schlesinger's last major work ? and Lisa Eichhorn should surely have had a much bigger career ...

In the million G.I.s here during the war there must have been some gay ones too - this is nicely covered in an episode SOMETHING FOR THE BOYS by Drew Griffith in a 1981 Scottish tv series HOUSE ON THE HILL, 6 tales taking place in the same house in different eras; in the 1940s its cellar is a secret gay bar for servicemen presided over by house caretaker Rachel Davies (who was also in YANKS and A PRIVATE FUNCTION), where in 1944 an English and an American guy meet before going off to the conflict ... not seen since 1981 though, and I don't suppose it will ever surface again. - Its on YouTube at:

How come some films get totally forgotten or never revived? I never saw UNTIL THEY SAIL until recently (when a friend in America sent a copy taped from TCM) - it never turned when I was in Ireland or shown here in England during the last 40 years or so. I knew of its existance as it was Sandra Dee's first film ....

Its a 1957 MGM film directed by Robert Wise - who could turn his hand to anything it seems (as per my recent reviews of his HELEN OF TROY and Julie Andrews' STAR!) - in scope and nice black and white photography, from a James Michener (South Pacific) story about life in wartime New Zealand, focusing on 4 sisters - brunettes Jean Simmons and Piper Laurie, blondes Joan Fontaine and Sandra Dee - who dont really look like sisters at all; as the American fleet arrives en route to the war in the South Pacific, so relations form between local girls and the army boys; the local N Z men are away fighting the war in Europe.

Simmons is the lead, with Fontaine taking 2nd billing to her. Paul Newman (before CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF) is widow Jean's love interest and they are very appealing together - she certainly worked with them all in the 50s. He is the army officer investigating the backgrounds of girls who wish to marry G.I.s. Fontaine surprisingly for the time is having a baby before marriage but her beau Charles Drake is killed so she brings up the baby herself. Piper is the bad sister who sleeps around and gets murdered so there is a court case. Its nicely absorbing - I dont suppose they went to New Zealand, its probably a backlot job. Perhaps if it was in colour it be revived more. Like YANKS it shows the effect of soldiers arriving among the locals .... Wise does not sensationalise the material so its rather low-key unlike those other more sensational dramas of the time like PEYTON PLACE. Fascinating to see now though, Jean Simmons with her nicely understated performance shows once again why we like her so much, and Joan (Fontaine) does not overwork that raised eyebrow of hers ... its all looks more '50s than '40s though.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Bedrooms, hallways ...

1999's BEDROOMS AND HALLWAYS is an amusing Indie rom-com about the diversity of human sexuality which particularly pokes fun at New Agers and estate agents and those love-lorn confused 30 year olds. The lead character Leo (Kevin McKidd) is just 30, and rather colourless, but sees himself as gay but has no-one special in his life, as he shares house with flamboyant Darren (Tom Hollander) and air stewardess Julie Graham, who both get plenty. But at Simon Callow's New Age New Man group, while handling "the stone of truth" he decides to declare that he finds fellow man Brendan attractive. Irish cafe owner Brendan (James Purefoy) would seem to be straight and is just out of a long relationship with Jennifer Ehle - who turns out to be an old friend of Leo's. Hugo Weaving (the one with the kid in PRISCILLA) plays a sex-obsessed real estate agent who uses his clients' houses for his trysts with the flaming Darren. Simon Callow (playing straight for once) and wife Harriet Walter both run their own groups (she is the author of a book called "The Obsolete Penis") and observe the foibles of the others .... The film does not attempt to mirror the predominant attitudes toward homosexuality and bisexuality, as most of the characters are quite accepting of each other's sexual diversity.

Leo soon finds Brendan is quite receptive to his attentions, to the jealously of the other guys, but does not yet realise old pal Jennifer is Brendan's ex... Are you getting all this? Do try to keep up .... There is also Leo's amusing dream, a send-up of a sexed up Jane Austen type tale where Purefoy in tight britches strides around whipping stable boys ....(several of the cast - Ehle, Purefoy, Walter - had of course appeared in Austen adaptations...).

Much hilarity ensues at the Men's away-weekend out in the woods, as Simon does not bring any food and they have to forage for berries and end up ordering a Chinese take-away... Meanwhile the estate agent handcuffs the up-for-it Darren to the bed at one of the houses he has the keys for, but the owner returns as Hugo flees and Darren has to pretend to be a S&M strippogram! Tom Hollander is deliciously funny here... surprisingly though the owner who returns turns out to be Jennifer.  Things get a bit more complicated but are nicely worked out as Leo discovers his hetero side with Jennifer, while Brendan makes a new conquest at the group ... Its one of those amusing gay-ish comedies rather like LAWLESS HEART (Hollander label), nicely directed by Rose Troche, of GO FISH.
You may not want to leave your house keys with an estate agent in future though ...

Monday, 18 June 2012

My first colour television ....

Things we take for granted: Watching the Trooping of the Colour on television over the weekend, with all those scarlets and vivid colours, got me thinking, after some nostalgic discussions with a new friend on here - hi Colin - of what life was like before we were used to flatscreen widescreen HD.  My first colour television was in 1972.

I did not really see much television in the black and white '60s until about 1967 - colour tv did not really happen in England until about 1969 and most people did not have it until the early '70s. We mostly rented televisions then - can you imagine?, from that Radio Rentals chain (just like most people did not have washing machines, but went to the laundrette to do the weekly wash). What a difference 40 years make, but of course this was also the pre-internet world with no computers or cellphones. ... AND there were only 3 television channels which closed down early - no wonder we were out a lot making things happen!  There was a lot of good television drama then though, unlike now with all those so-called reality and talent shows and acres of cable channels to fill with any old tat. Now a good drama series (like SHERLOCK or DOWNTON ABBEY) that get people talking is a rare event ...

Anyway in 1972 I was renting a large apartment in Chelsea (Draycott Place, just behind the Peter Jones store in Kings Road - I walked past there last year, those houses cost fortunes now...) with my best friend Stan, and 2 girls Sally and Mary - and we were watching the black and white television one evening, the film BECKET was on which I was half-watching and half-way I popped down the road to the off-licence (probably for a cheap bottle of wine or some cider, which we drank a lot then ....) and there was a Radio Rentals store on the way, so I stopped and looked .... Back at the flat I was going "there's reds and blues, and gold and greens.." describing the colour in the film we were watching. There was nothing for it but to join the colour revolution - next day it was down to Radio Rentals to sign up for a colour tv - thats me with it, left. We paid every week for renting tv but never owned it, but at least got upgrades [televisions were ugly bulky things then, with wood veneer, and if you had an indoor aerial fuzzy pictures ....] (an aside about that era: my pal Stan had not seen BLOW-UP so I took him to a revival at the Chelsea Classic cinema in Kings Road - when we realised we were living in a location from the film - as we had to pass that restaurant used in the film).

But how quick things change: By 1979 (about the time of the photo right) I was sharing another apartment in South London and settled into a 10 year relationship (Stan and Sally had married and Mary returned to Australia) - we were used to colour television by then, and that December I got my first - rented again - vhs video recorder, so one spent the early '80s recording everything, and instead of just watching films passively one could now own a favourite film by recording it from tv or - with particular favourites - buying the offical vhs cassette to replay any time.   We did not realise then that those clunky cassettes would be in turn replaced by bright shiny disks and one would have to re-buy everything all over again (just like we did when CDs replaced vinyl..). I am not upgrading to Blu-Ray just yet though!

Hemmings on Blow-Up

Vanessa Redgrave, Hemmings, Antonioni and Natalie Wood at an early BLOW-UP screening
I got David Hemmings' biography a few years ago, and it was interesting picking it up again yesterday.... particularly as I had seen him and Richard Harris in the 1974 actioner JUGGERNAUT recently (review below, Hemmings label). He and Harris had indeed discussed their working days with Michelangelo Antonioni - according to David, Harris when making THE RED DESERT in 1964 got into a brawl and punched Antonioni in the mouth, so he was thrown off the picture and Antonioni finished it with a stand-in and back-shots of Harris's head!  The book is a great read on that '60s era when Hemmings, after being that boy soprano for Benjamin Britten in THE TURN OF THE SCREW, had some bit parts and then was chosen by the maestro for BLOW-UP. What a fascinating career. I never met David, but did have a pleasant meeting with his then girlfriend Jane Merrow in '66.
David though loved the whole BLOW-UP experience, it began filming in April 1966 and according to him the first showings were in December 1966 in America; it did not open in Europe until Feburary 1967 and then of course it was a Cannes Festival prize-winner, so it is really a 1967 film for us Europeans. I remember its London opening then and how we all had to have a view on it - the boundaries between art and commerce were much more blurred then.... I loved his Hussar costume too in Tony Richardson's 1968 THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE, and had a poster of it on my wall.

David with Oliver Reed in my 1964 favourite THE SYSTEM - (two years before he defined the '60s) and both in 1999 for Ridley Scott's GLADIATOR - time has a habit of catching up with hell-raisers. (They were also in that last version of THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER in 1977). Oliver died during GLADIATOR and David in 2003, also on set - but he had a good career resurgence with parts in Scorsese's GANGS OF NEW YORK, and others like LAST ORDERS in 2000 with that great British line-up: Hemmings, Tom Courtenay, Bob Hoskins, Caine and Ray Winstone, not to mention Helen Mirren. (Ray mentioned him that time I saw him promoting 44 INCH CHEST in 2010, David is certainly not forgotten). I must re-visit his 1978 JUST A GIGOLO which he directed and appeared in with that fascinating combination of Bowie and Dietrich - his book is very informative on that too. More at Hemmings label.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Billy Wilder's Fedora

What becomes a legend most?

The curious case of Billy Wilder [he was big, its the pictures that got small] - he created at least 4 classics we all love and I regard as essential, while others of his I never want to see at all! I am passionate about DOUBLE INDEMNITY, SUNSET BOULEVARD, SOME LIKE IT HOT (still the best comedy ever written and played), and THE APARTMENT - which I only saw finally last year (it is currently revived in London by the British Film Institute). I loved the frantic speed and zaniness of ONE TWO THREE back in 1961 when I was 15 but I never wanted to see IRMA LA DOUCE (as I found Lemmon and McLaine highly resistable from then on), KISS ME STUPID regarded as 'vulgar' at the time was fun on release - I wasn't overly impressed by THE FORTUNE COOKIE, we didn't bother with AVANTI! at the time, 1972 and catching it later it was grim seeing Lemmon & Juliet Mills getting naked with the new cinema freedoms; I also never wanted to see Wilder's version of THE FRONT PAGE in '74, then came that labour of love FEDORA in 1978, and again we had no interest in his last film BUDDY BUDDY in '81- perhaps I just found that Matthau-Lemmon combination highly resistable?

The earlier Wilder is something else - that fascinating life, losing family members including his mother in Auschwitz, those early scripts like NINOTCHKA for Lubitsch and BALL OF FIRE for Hawks, and his early films in Hollywood in the '40s, hits like THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR, THE LOST WEEKEND (another I didn't need to see), A FOREIGN AFFAIR has the usual acerbic Wilder touches and its a good role for Dietrich; after SUNSET BOULEVARD came ACE IN THE HOLE, one of the sourest comments on human nature, STALAG 17 of course brilliant too, getting Holden his Oscar. We like SABRINA a lot, a perfect 1954 film with Audrey at her loveliest. THE SPIRIT OF ST LOUIS with Jimmy Stewart didn't make much impact on me, I never saw the '57 LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON (Billy back in Paris with Audrey, the older Cooper, Chevalier- but when I saw it a few years ago this souffle (Wilder's word) in homage to Lubitsch fell very flat for me - no wonder this one is never revived now. WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION remains one of his hits, as of course does that first with Monroe, THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH in 1955. Wilder, like that other great writer-director Joe Mankiewicz in '49 and '50 (with his A LETTER TO 3 WIVES and ALL ABOUT EVE) hit his stride in 1959 and 1960 - SOME LIKE IT HOT is for me the best constructed comedy ever - but that was BEN HUR's year so Billy getting the awards for THE APARTMENT in 1960 was a course a shoo-in for not getting them in 1959. His THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES in 1970 has its admirers but may have been too whimsical for popular success....

The '40s and '50s though were Wilder's peak period with his usual writers Charles Brackett and I.A.L. Diamond - there are so many moments we relish in those classics: Stanwyck's "theres a speed limit in this state" comment and that whole scene with McMurrary in DOUBLE INDEMNITY as her suburban Medusa Phyllis Dietrichson ensnares patsy Walter Neff; and that brilliant script for SUNSET BOULEVARD and so many perfect lines in SOME LIKE IT HOT. But like Hitchcock (1966's TORN CURTAIN was the only one of his I didn't want to see) Wilder seemed to lose the impetus that made his great works so great as he got older. He remained a great conversationalist, became immensely wealthy with his art collection, books were written about him, he was photographed in restaurants with David Hockney and the like ... but the run of great films were over. He died aged 95 in 2002 (as did Hildegarde Knef, his FEDORA).

Wilder with Keller and York
His second last film FEDORA made with German money, was a moderate hit in 1978 on the indie circuit and is a fascinating oddity now - is it a mess? the work of an old man, or a comic take on the world of SUNSET BOULEVARD and old movie stars tucked away in retirement? William Holden, re-united with Wilder, is the less than successful producer arriving in Corfu to peddle a script to the great star Fedora ( a mix of Garbo and Dietrich) who has not been seen in public for years, but still remains astonishingly youthful (as played by Marthe Keller) when Holden gets to meet her. I was in Corfu  myself in 1977 and 1978 and it is nicely caught here. Hildegarde Knef is the crippled bitter Countess Sobryanski at the villa with that sinister doctor (Jose Ferrer) and assistant Miss Balfour (Frances Sternhagen). Mario Adorf is amusing too as the hotel owner. We soon discover in flashbacks the secret of Fedora - as the young Holden, nick-named Dutch (Stephen Collins) meets her in a studio pool in 1947. Wilder gets in his disdain for "faggots, queers, fairys" - Fedora's words as she accuses him of picking up sailors at the bus station (as he yawned at seeing her naked body!). They have a night at the beach ... as Fedora returns to being a great star.  Holden's meddling in Corfu results in Fedora's entourage fleeing to Paris where she throws herself under a train [his script is a new version of "Anna Karenina"] obliterating that famous face - why would she do that? whose face is it?

Spoilers: It turns out of course that the old Countess in the wheelchair stage-managing Fedora's lying-in-state is the real Fedora (who is only meant to be 67!), whose face and health was ruined by an operation to keep her young going wrong, the younger Fedora is her daughter trapped into being her and continuing the myth of the ageless Fedora but she falls for actor Michael York on a film, but cannot reveal her real self. There are some good lines along the way to the final bitter denoument. If only Wilder could have persuaded Dietrich and Faye Dunaway to play both Fedoras.... Its a must though for devotees of Wilder's caustic, cynical wit and an amusing take on Hollywood, from actor Tom Tryon's book of stories "Crowned Heads" (another story of his was based on silent star Ramon Novarro, and Clifton Webb's devotion to to his mother). 

Marthe Keller is one of those European actresses taken up by Hollywood for a while - she and Knef (a contemporary and friend of Dietrich's) share the role of Fedora; Holden rails at the new generation of directors "the young guys with beards" taking over Hollywood... Henry Fonda and Michael York play themselves. In all, fascinating to see again - now I want to go back to those real Wilder classics...