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, 8 July 2012

Dorian Gray: just a gigolo ?

Helmut Berger is DORIAN GRAY!    David Bowie is JUST A GIGOLO!

Here is a nice helping of juicy '70s  Eurotrash after all those highbrow items. I had not seen the 1970 DORIAN GRAY since maybe the '70s and its a delightfully kitsch period piece now as we see the petulant Dorian among the Kings Road swinging set of the time. 
I was around the Kings Road myself at that time but thankfully our paths didn't cross (though Roman Polanski passed me in the street once, near the Post Office, and I did meet Joni Mitchell and Elton John there, but those are different tales).   
This DORIAN is billed as "a modern allegory based on Oscar Wilde's work", and in fact Oscar is name-checked in the film. 
Helmut, Todd & that portrait
There's no point of giving a brief synopsis of the story as we all know it's about a man who remains perpetually young while a painting of himself ages in the attic. Dorian, as played by Helmut Berger (or Helmet as he is named on the dvd, above), hot after his sensational debut in Visconti's THE DAMNED in 1969, and the same year as his role in De Sica's FINZI CONTINI film (below) holds all in his sway including painter Basil (Richard Todd) and that witty Lord Henry (Herbert Lom - still with us now in his mid-90s).  A polyglot Euro cast is assembled: Marie Lidjedahl as Sybil Vane, Maria Rohm, Margaret Lee and best of all Isa Miranda and Eleonora Rossi Drago.

Dorian's groovy pad
It follows the usual plot with some screamingly awful 1970 interiors (like Dorian's pad with those zebra pattern curtains) or his zebra coat as he dawdles along Kings Road - and that drag pub at the start is surely the Union Tavern. Some decadent parties are involved and hi-jinks on Lord Henry's boat, where Dorian loses the soap and Lord Henry makes his move. Soon, Dorian is cruising the harbourfront in his fabulous red sports car looking for some action with hunky sailors ... and of course Sybil Vane's brother re-appears but Dorian has remained the same age ... The portrait ages nicely too. (I remember Playboy magazine at the time having some raunchy photos from this, which did not make the cut here, and the dubbing is off-kilter too at times, all part of the eurotrash soft-porn fun... if it had been filmed later in the '70s it may have had that hardcore CALIGULA or Helmut's own SALON KITTY extras ...)
Helmut & Herbert in the sauna
That outfit is groovy for the Kings Road

Dorian's source of income remains a puzzle, but more than a few grateful dowagers write him cheques ... Isa Miranda is deliciously funny here - what is Dorian doing to her in the stables?; quite a bit of money has been spent on this but it still looks deliciously seedy and sleazy. Directed by one  Massimo Dallimano and produced by Harry Allen Towers. It is all luridly decadent and the transposition to the sixties suits the material perfectly.Visconti though showcased Berger perfectly - in other hands he often appears merely petulant.

Helmut & Isa
As Dorians go though its quite nicely raunchy as the era allows for a frank portrayal of Dorian's bisexuality, promiscuity and drug addiction - hinted at so strongly in the novel, but barely glimpsed in Albert Lewin's 1945 film classic with Hurt Hatfield and George Sanders as a splendid Lord Henry. There was also that BBC "play of the month" in the mid-70s with young Peter Firth as a very petulant Dorian with sterling support from Jeremy Brett as Basil and Sir Gielgud as Lord Henry. I did not care for the recent 2009 CGI DORIAN GRAY at all with the blank Ben Barnes and Colin Firth as Wooton, complete with a daughter for Dorian to fall for!

More gigolos - a regiment of them - over at JUST A GIGOLO, the fascinatingly awful film David Hemmings directed in 1978, another polyglot Euro-pudding that wastes the likes of Maria Schell and Curt Jurgens, as well as Kim Novak and Sydne Rome. 

After World War I, a war hero returns to Berlin to find that there's no place for him--he has no skills other than what he learned in the army, and can only find menial, low-paying jobs. He decides to become a gigolo to lonely rich women.

It attracted a lot of attention at the time though (like that magazine cover, top, which I still have) as it featured the return of Marlene Dietrich, in her late '70s as the Baroness who recruits David to her regiment of gigolos. David Bowie may have been a perfect alien for Nick Roeg in THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH in '75, and ideal as a vampire with Catherine Deneuve in THE HUNGER, '83,  but he is all wrong here (as he was in MERRY CHRISTMAS MR LAWRENCE) - returning to Berlin after WWI with a pig under his arm to his impoverished mother (Schell) and trying to find work (as he hardly seems to be acting). David Hemmings is on hand too with his sinister army .... and David finally meets the Baroness Von Semering, with her army of gigolos.

This is a fantastic scene to observe now:
David and the gigolos are in Berlin - Marlene and the same gigolos are in a replica set in Paris where she lived; she spent 2 days filming this and also where she sings that title song - I remember buying it as a single. It is fascinating seeing how Hemmings cuts it all together as of course Bowie and Dietrich are never in the same shot. They never even met. Marlene (whom I saw on stage in '73, theatre label) is as magnetic as ever here for her final screen appearance. I prefer David though in his pop videos like "Lets Dance", "Fashion", "Blue Jean" or "Hello Spaceboy".

David & David
This should be fascinating with all that talent involved but somehow it is a fatally dreary mess, ticking every cliche in the book - veering into CABARET territory at the end with the emergence of that sinister new force.... Hemmings does his best but is defeated by the material. But the moments with Marlene are priceless. I love her vocal here: "when the end comes I know, they will say just a gigolo, and life goes on without me..."

1 comment:

  1. Mike, I must, must must see Just a Gigolo again, especially now that Bowie has passed on to that Velvet Goldmine in the sky!!
    And I too ADORE the Helmut Berger version of Dorian.
    We definitely have the same taste in films...my blog covers many of your favorites...
    Best to you in 2016!
    -Chris

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