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, 11 August 2012

My summer trash read ...

Hot on the heels of Scotty Bowers' trash memoirs, we now have this tome on the Redgraves - its the one they tried to stop publication of, an offending paragraph has been removed, but it is not really about the Redgraves at all ... what we have here is a full-blown biography of director Tony Richardson (Vanessa's husband in the 60s) - interesting in its own right, but not what it says on the tin - so why is it being sold as a book on the Redgrave dynasty? Obviously to attract more sales ... We hardly see Michael Redgrave after a brief first chapter on his family .... there is no mention of his great film successes like THE WAY TO THE STARS, THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST or indeed THE BROWNING VERSION. No mention of the hit play he had in 1965 A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY with Ingrid Bergman, one of the first plays I saw, or the 2 plays I saw Vanessa in: DESIGN FOR LIVING and MADHOUSE IN GOA - Michael's decline and death is barely mentioned, no reason given why his ashes were left at the crematorium for 8 years. For a volume supposedly about the Redgraves it has no list of their stage or film credits, essential in a book like this. Lynn hardly gets a look in until her decline ...  I have always been interested in the Redgraves for their work - not scandal about their private lives - as per my earlier 'People We Like' post here on Michael (Michael Redgrave label) and my appreciations of Vanessa and Lynn.

It is certainly fascinating though for anyone interested in British theatre and cinema since the '50s, with the emergence of the Royal Court and those early John Osborne plays like LOOK BACK IN ANGER and THE ENTERTAINER and Richardson's first successful films of them and A TASTE OF HONEY in '61 (Rita Tushingham label) and THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER, so very 1962. As covered in my recent post on "Hollywood UK" tv series, the huge success of TOM JONES in 1963 gave his company Woodfall Films unlimited funds for Richardson to indulge himself with films that nobody saw at the time or simply were not well-released, we never got a chance to see SANCTUARY with Lee Remick in 1961, THE LOVED ONE in '65 or those 2 in France with Jeanne Moreau, MADEMOISELLE from Genet and THE SAILOR FROM GIBRALTAR by Marguerite Duras - both rare movies for a long time. Vanessa is brilliant in the latter, in a supporting role at that time her cinema career took off with MORGAN, BLOW-UP, CAMELOT, ISADORA etc. Her politics at this time are well covered too ... now that she is a revered elderly actress this may be a part of her past she does not want dwelled on now. But where are the Redgraves and their illustrious careers ? the author just wants to focus on the family's oddities and scandals, up to the deaths of Natasha, Lynn and Corin in 2009 and 2010.
The first howler is on the dust-jacket which says it was 1928 when Olivier announced the birth of a new actress when Vanessa was born, which of course was 1937. It would be useful too if a biographer acquainted himself with the works of those he writes about. This is how he describes Vanessa's role in BLOW-UP: "Vanessa played one of two dolly birds cavorting in his photographer's studio. Although she was only on screen for 10 minutes, romping topless with Jane Birkin, it was enough for Hollywood to sit up and take notice. Her agent began getting calls". Thats all he has to say about BLOW-UP !

Well this show he knows nothing about Antonioni's classic and has not seen it, a cursory look at the synopsis of this still available and influential film would show her role is very different, and she had already appeared in MORGAN before it was released. So how on earth can anything else he says be taken seriously? and it was David Hemmings - not John Osborne - who named his son Nolan after the character he played in the LIGHT BRIGADE film; and Vanessa and Lynn were both competing for the Best Actress Oscar in 1966 - he gets that wrong too. He also misses the irony of Richardson telling Vanessa in the early 60s that he wanted her to look like Monica Vitti - then she is chosen to star in Antonioni's London film, which must have been a surprise for him.

Richardson & Redgrave
I am now just regarding it as a trashy read, akin to a summer disposable book to amuse oneself with on holiday. As for the remaining Redgraves, I do not think they need worry about it too much. It is good though on Woodfall films and how Richardson (and Osborne) got through all that money, spent too on his badly-received THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE in 1968, while still living the champagne lifestyle in the South of France, so it covers that mad time in the 60s when the Americans were financing (for a while) these bizarre loss-making English movies; but its certainly not a book about the Redgraves and their theatrical legacy. Richardson emerges as a complex man, who after his early successes was able to keep making oddball films that did not attract audiences: A DELICATE BALANCE, DEAD CERT, LAUGHTER IN THE DARK, his hippie HAMLET at the Roundhouse (I used to go to concerts there) with Nicol Williamson and Marianne Faithfull is entertainingly dealt with here, this gave him access to Mick Jagger which led to NED KELLY in Australia and all the headlines that attracted due to Faithfull's collapse - nobody much saw the film though, Jagger only did it to have something to do and felt he should be in movies and just walked away from it. Richardson though had his estate 'La Nid du Duc' in the South of France, where Hockney painted and there was a constant stream of house-guests. Richardson was lucky though to have his daughters nursing him in his final illness. After his death the story turns to Natasha and Liam Neeson, and Vanessa re-unites with Franco Nero.

This is the kind of book though where every salacious rumour has to be dragged in. Adler goes into more detail than I have ever heard before of what Mick and Marianne were doing when the police raided - again supposed to be totally untrue, and not relevant here, nor is the story of one of Joely's boyfriends, Jamie Theakston, visiting a brothel. As for the offending deleted passage (which was printed in the 'Daily Mail'), words fail me! Utter trash then ... with lots of silly mistakes which should have been noticed. However, Richardson and Osborne come across as people you really would not want to to know no matter how brilliant their early work was before complacency set in.

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