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, 29 September 2012

Antonioni - centenary

Michelangelo Antonioni centenary day: 29 September 1912 - 30 July 2007 - 94 years old (and of course 89 year old Ingmar Bergman died the same day ...).
The park, the studio, the photographs, the music .... we have done a lot on BLOW-UP (which I loved when I was 21 in 1967) here and on those early '60s Antonioni classics like his trilogy L'AVVENTURA, LA NOTTE, L'ECLISSE, and THE RED DESERT, plus my 1975 review of THE PASSENGER (when I was 30, see label).
1962 magazine, which I got when I was 16
The good thing now is all the features by Antonioni are available -  the Antonioni link here also has my reviews of his earlier films CHRONICLE OF A LOVE AFFAIR, THE LADY WITHOUT CAMELIAS - both of which I saw initially last year, as well as LE AMICHE and IL GRIDO, - and that I VINTI 1953 rarity, plus I TRE VOLTI, THE OBERWALD MYSTERY back with Monica Vitti in 1980, and BEYOND THE CLOUDS. I think that only leaves 1982's INENTIFICATION OF A WOMAN to re-see and that polarising film ZABRISKIE POINT.  It was marvellous seeing that amazing climax to to that on the big screen again several years ago at that last Antonioni retrospective in London - when we also could not see THE PASSENGER then - but at least that has been rectified now, and that documentary with the older, frailer director with that mesmerising statue of Michelangelo's Moses ....

Fellini, Moreau, Antonioni - Cannes 1960
Antonioni of course is with Fellini and Visconti one of that great Italian triumvirate who burst onto the international scene circa 1960, with their ground-breaking trio - L'AVVENTURA, LA DOLCE VITA and ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS - following on from Rossellini and De Sica. Then of course we had Bolognini and Monicelli and the rise of Pasolini and Bertolucci ... the new cinema world really began in 1960 with these new Italian classics at the same time as the French new wave and that new cinema in England, as Hollywood also re-discovered itself with those new directors from television, and of course Hitchcock also revolutionised cinema with PSYCHO ....

Now, as Hitchcock is more revered than ever (and VERTIGO is the new "Sight & Sound" number one - Antonioni's films too are available again, there is that plethora of books about them. I have also posted that 1961 article by Antonioni from "Films & Filming" magazine ....Antonioni remains the poet of landscapes and spaces - the endlessly fascinating Monica Vitti is also part of those films with that expressive face and voice, whether on that remote island in L'AVVENTURA or walking on the streets of Milan or Rome. Michelangelo, a native of Ferrara, certainly captures that new Italy in all its facets - just as Federico did with Rimini or Luchino in Milan, Right now though its back to that park in Woolwich, London and that perfect depiction of 1960s people ...

Thursday, 27 September 2012

The '80s - 2: some rarities

THE COMPETITION - a 1980 drama I had missed, despite my affection for Lee Remick. Its one of those movies that never surfaced since so I was pleased to finally get a copy. The movie centers on a piano competition whose winner is assured of success. It is Paul's last chance to compete, but newcomer Heidi may be a better pianist. Can romance be far away? Will she take a dive despite the pressure to win from her teacher, Greta, or will she condemn Paul to obscurity?
It began with my thinking that I could fast-forward a lot of this but it becomes totally compelling as we get to know the six contestants in a music competition in San Francisco - there is the Russian girl with a kidnap sub-plot, the good-looking Italian guy who thinks he can tap into the DeNiro-Pacino-Travolta market. We spent most time though with our two leads: Richard Dreyfuss as the cocky musician desperate to win, and Amy Irving, so it is all very 1980s with more big hair. Sam Wanamaker is good as the orchestra conductor, but the movie is totally stolen by Lee Remick, in the role of Amy's teacher. It is one of her best roles and she totally compelling here, as we await her next appearance. She is wise, witty, and more beautiful than ever as she sees her pupil Amy falling for Dreyfuss, and tries to advise her that he may be manipulating her to gain a competitive edge. 

Who wins? who loses? It is interestingly worked out, Joel Oliansky directs with a sure hand. Dreyfuss was very lucky indeed to be in 2 of the '70s biggest hits - he worked well with Spielberg in both JAWS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS (my review is at '70s label), and of course AMERICAN GRAFFITI and also had that enormous success (and Best Actor Oscar) for THE GOODBYE GIRL (so very 1970s) when his mannerisms were becoming apparant. I found both him and his character (with that cap glued to his head) deeply unlikeable here, but it does not spoil the movie. The best I can say about him is that he plays an egocentric jerk to perfection ....

The music scenes are well handled too -  the actors must have rehearsed so that they could actually mimic the hand movements of a pianist. The overall score is by the splendid Lalo Schifrin. There is a theme song as well sung by Randy Crawford. Good as Irving and Dreyfuss are, it is Remick who scores here as the hard-nosed, totally serious, single-minded taskmaster who demands, and brings forth, the best from her pupil. Dreyfuss is driven and desperate but, while gifted, has never been able to break through as a serious musician, and who will be washed up if he does not win. He and Amy become romantically involved, much to Remick's dismay, only to find themselves competing head to head for the most coveted prize in their field. Can they work it out knowing that only one of them can win? A solid, well-crafted romantic drama then.  

Can't say the same for HIGH SEASON - which I was really looking forward to, due to good comments on it over at IMDB. This is a supposed comedy from 1987 about a disparate group on holiday and mixing with the natives in Rhodes, Greece. It is though an absolute snoozefest, which I could not bear. Top-lining are those '60s people Jacqueline Bissett and James Fox, we also have young Kenneth Branagh and Leslie Manville, both very annoying here (she was wonderful though in Mike Leigh's ANOTHER YEAR recently, as per my review, 2000s label). The great Greek actress Irene Papas is also present, and again has too little to do.
Now I know Rhodes well, but writers Clare and Mark Peploe make nothing much of it here - the stunning village of Lindos (see my comments at Greece label) is not even well served here, it could be any old Greek village, we barely see the temple - and we don't even see the great medieval Rhodes Old Town! The plot too is too dreary to go into. So, not one I liked at all. Clare Peploe directs (she is married to Bernando Bertolucci) and her brother Mark has associations with Antonioni, having scripted THE PASSENGER - so art-house associations then, but no wonder this one sank without trace.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The '80s - 1: Those mini-series

Its rather jolly to settle down on a wet afternoon with an '80s mini-series, full of glitz and artificial glamour, those hairstyles and costumes, ageing stars camping it up, clunky wooden dialogue, "exotic" locations and a cliff-hanger every 10 minutes in time for the commercial break. Some of these series were very successful in their time and in endless repeats: THE THORN BIRDS, RICH MAN POOR MAN etc. as well as those DYNASTY and DALLAS serials. We would not have looked at them much at the time, being sniffy about such popular entertainment (ok I confess to enjoying my weekly dose of DYNASTY!) - but they are fun now. Here's some of the more exotically lurid Trash-with-a-Capital-T ones:
HAREM - a 1986 farrago as follows:  Jessica, a young British girl, goes off to Arabia with her father to be with her fiancĂ© when he's called there suddenly on diplomatic duty. On a tourist journey she's kidnapped by what appears to be a Beduion tribe and sold into the harem of the Sultan. The man that took her captive is not actually a Beduion but an Oxford educated revolutionary who traded Jessica for the release of his friends from the Sultan's prison. As her fiancĂ© struggles to free her from the harem he inadvertently hires the very man who put her there to get her out. Meanwhile, Jessica is fending of the Sultan's advances and coming to know a new way of life. Romance, political intrigue, and the jealousies of the harem all threaten Jessica's narrow view of the world. If she escapes will she actually be able to return to life in Victorian England?

This is all deliriously entertaining. Nancy Travis, our Victorian heroine Jessica, is  a Barbie Doll to the life, with that sculptured poodle 80s hairstyle and nothing seems to phase or change her, whether fending off kidnappers, getting used to life in the harem, or joining the revolutionaries! Laugh out loud as she is put into a sack and tossed from the castle into the sea ... as she swims free.The fun here is the rather good cast: Sarah Miles is a treat as Lady Ashley, being wickedly camp and maybe sending the whole thing up, and Ava Gardner in one of her last roles is the Sultan's discarded first wife who will brook no replacement - Cheri Lunghi is another harem girl who takes a shine to our heroine and ends up drinking a fatal cup of coffee Ava had prepared for Jessica (Cheri later starred in coffee commericals here!).
Omar Sharif goes through the motions as the Sultan (Ava was his mother in MAYERLING!), Julian Sands is the stuffy fiance and the young Art Malik is the rebel who initially kidnaps Jessica but then saves her .... the ending is sheer kitsch as he rides out of the desert to carry her off - I imagine its pure Vilma Banky or Agnes Ayres being taken off by Valentino in those 20's silents. It is supposed to be set in the Ottoman Empire, but the locations are all over the place from desert scenes to moorish and moroccan interiors. A feast of fun then as directed by William Hale. Its quite an expensive production with large cast of soldiers, revolutionaries, harem girls, whirling dervishes, the stuffy British expats etc.

QUEENIE, a 1987 series is even more delirious:  A half-caste beauty emigrates from India to Great Britain, pursues fame and fortune at the cost of personal happiness, and becomes a Hollywood movie star while suppressing the truth of her heritage. This is based on the true story of Merle Oberon, that rather forgotten '30s star - Anne Boleyn in THE PRIVATE LIFE OF HENRY VIII, THESE THREE, the unfinished I CLAUDIUS, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, etc. Merle always claimed she was from Tasmania, but it seems she was Eurasian. It is one of the great success stories - she married mogul Alexander Korda who starred her in his films, and later became a great society hostess. The tele-movie by Larry Peerce trowels it on - Sarah Miles again is Lady Sybil here, Kirk Douglas is David Konig the Korda surrogate, Mia Sara is Queenie our Merle to be (called Dawn Avalon here) and best of all Claire Bloom is her Indian mother, whom Queenie passes off as her maid!  
Merle Oberon
I suppose in that pre-internet age it was not too difficult to cover up one's past .... the cast also includes Joss Ackland, Martin Balsam, Joel Gray, with a score by George Delarue. In all a treat for those who love a weepie melodramatic love story, with a box of chocolates by their side. Based on Michael Korda's book about his aunt it has lavish sets and costumes and is hilariously amusing. Sarah Miles and Joss Ackland also did the equally stupendous WHITE MISCHIEF in Africa that year (Trash label).

MALIBU - here is a lulu from 1983, I have only just got the disk, but will file a report in a day or two. Its got everyone: Kim Novak, Chad Everett, Troy Donahue, James Coburn, George Hamilton as William Atherton and Susan Dey move to the Malibu colony from the mid-west. Should be a lot of fun!

THE TWO MRS GRENVILLES, another 1987 lurid melodrama: Ann, a former chorus girl marries above herself into a rich society family, but her mother-in-law regards her with great suspicion and disdain from the start. When Ann shoots her husband dead, claiming she thought he was a prowler, the older Mrs. Grenville decides to back the woman she despises, to protect the family image.  
This is another delicious treat now with Ann-Margret sensational as usual, and sterling support from Claudette Colbert as the family matriarch who despises Ann, but does what she has to, to maintain the family image. Ann suffers in diamonds and furs as she tries to clear her name and sinks into a sea of booze, losing her son on the way, But did she intend to kill her wealthy husband (Stephen Collins) when he intends to divorce her?   The  1930s period detail is a lot of fun, as is the wonderful Sian Phillips doing a turn as the Duchess of Windsor!  It is a very opulent series, directed by John Erman, and it certainly ramps up the melodrama, from a novel by Dominic Dunne. Anne-Margret of course is terrific as the chorus girl who marries above her station, while Claudette coming out of retirement, delivers one last great role.

LORD MOUNTBATTEN: THE LAST VICEROY is another one, from 1986, again opulently set in India during the last days of the British Raj, with intriguing casting of Ian Richardson as Nehru, Nicol Williamson as Mountbatten and Janet Suzman as his wife Edwina - great actors all and they certainly deliver. Of course there is a lot more to the Mountbatten story than his role in the partition of India, but this is intriguing enough for now and its interesting seeing quality actors dressing up pretending to be historical figures in this kind of tosh and presumably earning big pay-cheques.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Cream & Sunshine of your Love ...

Looking at a 'Classic Albums' programme on supergroup Cream has made me feel sorry I more or less missed them at the time in those heady years for music 1966-1968 through to 1970. I discovered them later through and play them a lot now - Jack Bruce's is one of the great spine-tingling  rock voices, along with Steve Winwood - Clapton's voice has a pleasant timbre too, we loved him then though for that guitar, like on the Aretha track "Good To Me As I Am To You" (on her "Lady Soul" album) - and then there's Ginger Baker on those drums!.

It is prime nostalgia now looking back to 1969 and 1970 when pals Stan, Joe and I were sharing a large maisonette in South London, in our early twenties. Joe was the Clapton, Cream, Blind Faith guy, while Stan was the Tamla and Atlantic and Stax fanatic and I also went for the Atlantic sound of Aretha as well as those first albums by Joni Mitchell and Tom Rush, Leon Russell, Tim Hardin, Tim Buckley, as well as The Beatles and the Stones and The Doors (whom I had seen the previous year at The Roundhouse, as per my posts on that).- - so we covered most of the bases, including classical too. What a great time we had then with great music every week - also Traffic, The Moody Blues, The Band - and I also liked Streisand, Peggy Lee, Nancy Wilson, that bossa nova sound and so much more (Miles Davis, jazz and opera came later). Now though for '60s sounds  its Cream and The Yardbirds that I turn to most - they are that era personfied. The Yardbirds are immortalised in Antonioni's BLOW-UP with Jeff Beck and Keith Relf (another great vocalist too - killed in an electrical accident as was Steve Marriott of The Small Faces) - their singles like "Heart Full of Soul" were essential, as was the BLOW-UP album by the young Herbie Hancock. All of course on vinyl - the era of gatefold albums and 45rmp singles, long before CDs and also in that pre-video age, soundtracks. We had no idea then of the technological changes ahead ...

One of my current favourites is "Ultimate Cream" a great double cd of live and studio tracks culled from their 4 albums. Cream only existed really from 1966 to 1968 - when they did that great farewell concert at the Albert Hall - I should have been there but instead went to The Doors at the Roundhouse! Well, they were both great 1968 concerts, wonder why my hippie gang and I didn't do both? Tickets for both must have been like gold-dust ... we also saw Aretha live that great year, and also in 1970 when she was at her zenith. (The Cream farewell concert looks amazing now with those psychedelic light patterns and Clapton, Baker and Bruce at their peak. Jack Bruce too had a very individual later career).

During that era though rock music was evolving and mutating at a dizzying speed as psychedelia took hold, Cream though attained staggering levels of creativity and influence that lingered for a long time, even after they have splintered into Blind Faith and other groups. That sound - like Pink Floyd's in the '70s (how we loved "Dark Side of the Moon" and "Wish You Were Here") - is so distinctive and so evocative for me now. The riff on "Sunshine of Your Love", those lyrics and mysterious songs like "White Room", "Badge", "Born Under A Bad Sign", "Spoonful", "Crossroads" etc. - white boys singing and playing the blues! I loved those zany singles like "N S U", "I Feel Free", "Rollin and Tumblin", "I'm So Glad", "Sleepy Time Time", "Wrapping Paper", "Strange Brew" etc.  Its wonderful watching them too in those old video clips or that Albert Hall concert - even the 2005 reunion had its merits, though we were all older then!  Clapton's first solo albums (like Rod Stewart's "Every Picture Tells A  Story" and Elton John's "Tumbleweed Connection"), were marvellous too until he as well sank into MOR territory ... he did though have a "Rock and Roll Heart".
Yardbirds' Keith Relf in BLOW-UP

Funny, I had no interest in heavy metel as such or groups like Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple - that was not me at all, but this Cream and Traffic and Yardbird sound defines the '60s for me as much as if not more that those Beatles or Stones. The Blues ruled then - artists like Howling Wolf came to London to make (still listenable) albums with Clapton, Winwood and all the blues boys, and I remember going to see B B King, and Jeff Beck. What an era - and its all there on the iPod!

Next musical detour: Clubland classics in the '80s and '90s ...

Friday, 21 September 2012

60 years a star: Sophia at 78

We have to wish Happy Birthday to Sophia Loren, 78 on 20th September - a star for about 60 years. We have done many posts on her here, as per label. 

I now find her early Italian films before she went into American films fascinating. It was an amazing rise to stardom from being an extra in QUO VADIS at 16 (she is one of the slave girls apparantly) in 1950 to headlining her own epics a decade later. She was merely in the background in Silvana Mangano's ANNA in 1951 but was a top Italian star by 1954 when she was barely 20, in titles like WOMAN OF THE RIVER, TOO BAD SHE'S BAD (the first with Mastroianni and De Sica), TWO NIGHTS WITH CLEOPATRA, ATTILA (the first of three with Quinn), GOLD OF NAPLES (of course she had producer and later husband Carlo Ponti managing her career, as Mangano had Dino De Laurentiis). It was fun to see LUCKY TO BE A WOMAN with Boyer and Marcello from 1955 recently, then there was SCANDAL IN SORRENTO before the Americans came calling. She was about 23 when co-starring with the much older Ladd, Webb, Wayne, Grant, Sinatra etc. Gable in IT STARTED IN NAPLES in 1960 was over 30 years older than her!

Her delicious sense of comedy and that attractive voice are showcased in that record album she made with Peter Sellers where they do several amusing numbers together. I wonder what happened to my vinyl copy of it?

Alec Guinness has a delightful story in his book "Blessings in Disguise" about taking her out to dinner, when they were making FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE. She was probably one of the Naples kids he and the other British army personnal were giving food to back in 1944 during the war, when she would have been about 10. Now here they were making a movie 20 years later! 
Charlton Heston was not quite so amused though that the initial billing for EL CID (which had only him above the title) had to be changed as her contract stipulated equal billing. I remember reading about it in the papers when I was a kid at the time - there was a court case about it.

She certainly worked non-stop throughout the '50s and '60s ...that great era for international cinema. That delirious "Americano" number in IT STARTED IN NAPLES - right. 
It would be nice if there would be a good final role for her, she was not well served by NINE where she had little to do. 
HOUSEBOAT, 1958, she was maybe 23 or 24
Sophia and son Carlo, 2012 - she hardly seems to age

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Wilde at heart

  • Oscar goes touring: As per the report below, the Wilde play is now going on tour after its sell-out run in London. It should prove popular in Oscar's hometown Dublin, at the Gaiety Theatre for a week in October, followed by a week each at Bath, Brighton, Cambridge, Richmond - pity its not heading north - a friend in Liverpool would have liked to have caught it.... 

To the perfectly situated and sized Hampstead Theatre at Swiss Cottage, in London, for the new production of David Hare's play about Oscar Wilde THE JUDAS KISS - a matinee performance for this sold-out revival. Going to the theatre in the afternoon is rather nice, particularly when the modern theatre has cafe and bar facilities and pleasant outdoor seating areas, and is not so big that one is way back in the stalls - plus one is home by teatime without having to give up an evening and getting back late! Ideal. 

I was intrigued to see this production as I also saw the original 1998 one with Liam Neeson as Oscar and Tom Hollander as Lord Alfred Douglas, or Bosie - ably played here by Freddie Fox, actor son of Edward. Rupert Everett commands the stage as Oscar and captures that florid quality perfectly from the moment he sweeps in in Act One to spending most of Act Two sitting in a chair. The rest of the cast are perfect too, and are kept quite busy on stage as well as dressing and undressing - in fact Tom Colley (below, left) as Bosie's Italian friend is naked practically throughout.
Ben Hardy, that other young actor (now in EASTENDERS) is also naked at the start, as the young waiter, which certainly makes the audience sit up! Rupert, so amusing the other week in a re-run of MY BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING captures Wilde at these 2 key moments dealt with in the play. We first see him holed up at the Cadogan Hotel in 1895 before being arrested, as everyone tries to persuase him to flee to Europe, and the thoroughly unpleasant Bosie goes into drama queen mode.  Act 2 is 2 years later in Italy in 1897 as the ruined - both his health and financially, after 2 years hard labour in jail - Wilde contemplates his downfall and realises how Bosie has betrayed him, as he will not give up his family allowance and prepares to leave Wilde once again. Oscar achieves pure pathos here. Below: Freddie as Bosie with Tom Colley as the Italian.
Wilde of course lived on to November 1900 when he died aged 46 - his major works (apart from "De Profundis" were completed by the time he was 40). Bosie lived on to be 74 and died in 1945 - a bitter Narcissus indeed. If only Oscar too could have lived to his seventies, he would have been a star of radio and film and been rehabilitated as the wit and commentator he was and he would have been earning royalties again. His great tomb with its "Modernist Angel” sculpture (right) by Jacob Epstein has been cleaned and restored to its former glory at Pere Lechaise cemetry in Paris (I have been to it twice) and is that famous cemetry's most visited resting place, along with Jim Morrison's... 

Liam & Tom in 1998
The roles of Wilde and Douglas here are hugh with lots of dialogue - I felt for the actors having to do it all again that evening ... it is an engrossing thought-provoking play. Oscar was so much more than the grandiloquent poseur he is often remembered as. His ideas and philosophy resonate today as strongly as they ever did and his work has stood the test of time, living on as so much more than mere entertainment. Over a century after his death he remains one of the great Irish writers, a playwright of genius as well as a thinker and proponent of ideas who transformed his age. Hare's play shows him as a man in the grip of a passion he could not resist, who could not see the amoral and unworthy wastrel that was his nemesis, and so he brings disaster on himself. One can see too that Oscar could not be discreet as others (Robbie, the hotel staff here including that enterprising young waiter played by Ben Hardy) but had to immolate himself on the alter of his grand passion. Hare's rounded portrait of Wilde captures all this expertly.

The story of his wife Constance too is utterly tragic (as shown in that excellent well-received recent biography on her); she died 2 years before Oscar - I remember reading in one of the Wilde books how he visited her grave (in Genoa) and pondered at the sadness and waste of it all. He was then that haunted impoverished (but hopefully happy) outcast in Paris in 1900 as the new century (which would surely have embraced him) began. Instead he, as the legend goes, turned to the wall of that Paris hotel room with the hideous wall-paper and said "one of us has to go". Of his two sons - he was a devoted father too - one of them died in the First World War. We will always though have the plays, the novel, the fairy tales, the aphorisms, the wit that so entranced his audiences and friends like Lily Langtry, Sarah Bernhardt and the rest. The story of Oscar: the talent, the rise and fall - as per the plethora of books about him and that era [the reckless "feasting with panthers", his indiscretions at London hotels and assignations with youths like Alfonso Conway in Worthing, which didn't go down well in court] will continue to fascinate - and what great actress doesn't want to have a go at Lady Bracknell or Miss Prism or Mrs Cheveley?

Other Wildes: I like Peter Finch's in the 1960 film - which I will be returning to before too long. The Robert Morley one, also 1960, was just not in the same league. The 1997 Stephen Fry one was also screened again recently and was of course more explicit than they could have been in 1960, with Fry rather lightweight I thought, but Jude Law a perfect Bosie and a great supporting cast. Peter Egan was an amusing Oscar too in the '70s series on Lily Langtry. The BBC boxset on Wilde productions is well worth discovering too with perfect 1970s productions of the plays (casts include Gielguld, Margaret Leighton, Jeremy Brett) and a documentary on the man himself. Rupert Everett is a great Oscar too and deserves to be remembered come theatre awards season..

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Gore on Hollywood

I just have to share this delicious paragraph from Gore Vidal's 1976 collection of essays: MATTERS OF FACT AND OF FICTION (Essays 1973-1976) from the Heinemann hardback edition:

The bad movies we made twenty years ago (meaning the 1950s) are now regarded in altogether too many circles as important aspects of what the new illiterates want to believe is the only significant art form of the twentieth century. An entire generation has been brought up to admire the product of that era. Like so many dinosaur droppings, the old Hollywood films have petrified into something rich, strange, numinous - golden. For any survivor of the Writer's Table it is astonishing to find young directors like Bertolucci, Bogdanovich, Truffaut reverently repeating or echoing or paying homage to the sort of kitsch we created first time around with a good deal of "help" from our producers and practically none at all from the directors - if one may quickly set aside the myth of the director as auteur. Golden-age movies were the work of producer(s) and writer(s). The director was given a finished shooting script with each shot clearly marked, and woe to him if he changed MED CLOSE SHOT to MED SHOT without permission from the front office, which each evening, in serried ranks, watched the day's rushes with script in hand ("we got some good pages today" they would say, never good film). This applies to the movies of the thirties, forties and fifties.

Gore continues in this acerbic vein on the current best-sellers of the '70s - I dare say the above applies to the many journeyman directors each studio had in regular employment. Of course the visionary directors (like Max Ophuls, Nick Ray, Hawks, Huston, Cukor or Minnelli) imposed their own style on even the most routine material or studio assigment ....
Another task Gore undertook on the 1959 BEN HUR, apart from that work on the script, was advising the set decorator for Mrs Hur's kitchen that they did not have tomatoes back in the ancient world! Re-reading him again now is an unalloyed pleasure. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

F for fake: War of the Volcanoes

One of the items that interested me in the new bulky brochure for the forthcoming London Film Festival (LFF) is a new documentary WAR OF THE VOLANCOES, just 52 minutes, showing with a revival of Rossellini's VIAGGIO IN ITALIA. WAR OF THE VOLANCOES also plays in the NYFF. Here is how our BFI big it up:
A scintillating documentary: a delightfully gossipy combination of film history and romantic soap. Consisting of glorious film clips, black & white and colour archive footage and newsreel, WAR OF THE VOLCANOES plots the '50s scandal surrounding the legendary Italian director Roberto Rossellini's dumping of his star and lover Anna Magnani in favour of a new creative and emotional affair with Swedish-Hollywood icon Ingrid Bergman. The result was tabloid headlines galore, and - stoking them - two rival films in production at the same time on near-adjacent Aeolian islands: VOLCANO starring Magnani, and Rossellini's own STROMBOLI, featuring of course his new muse Bergman. A revealing treat.

Well, if I had paid to see this I would be rather cross, but thankfully it played on one of our Sky Arts tv channels yesterday (and is on several more times next week) ... it is in its way fascinating and rather amusing, but it is a total fake. It takes the well-known story of Bergman leaving the cossetted life of the 1940s Hollywood dream factory in search of realism, which she thought she had found with Rossellini and the film they were making on Stromboli.The director here Francesco Patierno assembles a mix of newsreel footage and clips from the Rossellini-Bergman films to canter through the familiar tale - we also get to see clips of Magnani in action, not only in her VOLCANO film but also others to highlight her distress at Rossellini leaving her. . Like for instance when Bergman's husband come to talk to her, we get a clip of Bergman and Alexander Knox who played her husband in EUROPA '51 - their arguement here is passed off as being relevant to Bergman and Lindstrom discussing their marriage!  All this fakery gets rather much, but thankfully it is quite short at 52 minutes. Talk about "structured reality" as I mentioned below, in A BIGGER SPLASH post! Hopefully this is not a new trend where events or relationships can be re-interpreted by judicious editing of newsreels or movie clips to satisfy the never-ending craving for celebrity gossip ...

Ingrid at the NFT
The good thing about it though is that it reminds us of the value of these Rossellini films. I can still picture Bergman at one of the National Film Theatre events I saw her at, maybe it was a screening of CASABLANCA, reminding us the audience about how these films were dismissed and badly received at the time, but are now genuine classics of the Italian cinema. I saw STROMBOLI as a child and also JOURNEY TO ITALY, which is now finally restored and available (and placed at number 41 in that recent "Sight & Sound" poll - and number 5 in its list of top ten Italian films).  Looking at the scenes in STROMBOLI of Bergman's alienated Karin  approaching the volanco, after witnessing that savage tuna hunt, one is reminded of how these films paved the way for Antonioni - L'AVVENTURA with it's scenes on that remote island, and the angst of Moreau and Vitti in LA NOTTE and L'ECLISSE and the others. I have already reviewed JOURNEY TO ITALY here, see Bergman/Italian labels, and I am now looking forward to getting to EUROPA '51 before too long. 

I have also been meaning to get back to re-see Ingrid's take on Golda Meir in A WOMAN CALLED GOLDA - her final work (when she was quite ill). Ingrid actually had a wonderful sense of humour, (MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, CACTUS FLOWER, INDISCREET, SARATOGA TRUNK)  there is a lot of sly humour in her portrayal of Golda, even the false nose, wig and makeup are quite funny.  And today has another showing of Hitch's UNDER CAPRICORN which I like a lot, with Cardiff's marvellous colour photography. 
(Reviews here too of Bergman's AUTUMN SONATA, and the Italian SIAMO DONNE, those segments with her, Magnani, Alida Valli and Isa Miranda, in 1952).

The man with the movie camera goes to Rome

I had never heard of MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA, a 1929 Russian silent movie by Dziga Vertov - but there it was at number 8 in the recent "Sight & Sound" list of the greatest films ever made (the list they do every 10 years, see Magazines label). Then luckily it was screened on television here over the weekend by the enterprising Sky Arts channel.

"Sight & Sound" say: Is Dziga Vertov’s cine-city symphony a film whose time has finally come? Ranked only no. 27 in our last critics’ poll, it now displaces Eisenstein’s erstwhile perennial Battleship Potemkin as the Constructivist Soviet silent of choice. Like Eisenstein’s warhorse, it’s an agit-experiment that sees montage as the means to a revolutionary consciousness; but rather than proceeding through fable and illusion, it’s explicitly engaged both with recording the modern urban everyday (which makes it the top documentary in our poll) and with its representation back to its participant-subjects (thus the top meta-movie.

Phew. It certainly shows how inventive silent cinema was, it is an astounding portrait of a city (it could be any city really, until one sees the picture of Lenin) over the course of a day, the trams, the people at work and at play - was life that different 83 years ago?, not really it seems - the astonishing editing and that pounding score ... which, as per end titles, was composed in 1996 by Michael Nyman! - I thought it perfectly of its period and so Russian. I had never heard of this film before the Sight & Sound poll - so thanks for that. It is absolutely fascinating to watch now - the rapid editing, the mix of music and image, factory production lines, all getting quicker and quicker until the fantastic climax. This is one to return to. It must have been stunning at the time (well, it still is now - viewers would have seen nothing like it, as that editing was so much quicker than usual).

Another man with a movie camera: Woody goes to Rome. We all loved MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, but it looks like a drubbing all round for his next one: TO ROME WITH LOVE - as per most of the reviews. While one has to applaud the director in his late 70s still making a film a year,  but it may be to diminishing results. One reviewer says: "TO ROME WITH LOVE isn't one of Woody Allen's worst films, it is four of them" (it being in 4 segments). It seems here that his vision of the Eternal City is about as authentic as ham and pineapple pizza. I loved his last London one YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER (mainly for the cast: Gemma Jones, Pauline Collins etc) and of course his last foray to Paris (his first being WHATS NEW PUSSYCAT all those years ago..) but I will wait for the dvd on this one. If though he is doing a valentine to Rome why not find a role for some of those Italian greats like Loren or Cardinale? - and why import a Spanish actress (even if she is Penelope Cruz) to play Italian? - and yes Roberto Benigni - one of those comedians in the Jerry Lewis/Danny Kaye mould (ie you either love or hate him). The best thing about the Barcelona film was the music, so presumably we will like the soundtrack here too. 
I keep meaning to re-visit the Woody of MANHATTAN, INTERIORS, STARDUST MEMORIES or those middle-period dramas like ANOTHER WOMAN or SEPTEMBER. BROADWAY DANNY ROSE is in the schedules again next week - that's a start!