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.

Monday, 31 December 2012

End of year miscellaney .... a rag tag of photos

 Marianne Faithfull at the famous gay Salisbury pub in London in 1964 (thanks Colin) - I liked Marianne a lot then, and had all her early records. I knew the pub too later in the 80s .... / David Hockney yawning, in the 70s / a stunning shot of Garbo, 46 in 1951, by George Hoyningen-Heune / a great Dirk Bogarde pose by Cornel Lucas (RIPs, this year) / Lancaster, Romy Schneider & Alain Delon on set for Visconti's THE LEOPARD, 1963 / Loren & Marcello's first teaming in the delightful TOO BAD SHE'S BAD in 1954 ...

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Amour + hits & misses of the year ...

It seems a bit silly to do a Films of the Year when I have yet to see a lot of recent releases: SKYFALL or THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (I have the dvd though...), then there's ARGO to see, plus RUST AND BONE, THE MASTER does not interest me, as yet, though my pal Martin raves about it - so lots to catch up with then, but my Film Of The Year is:
AMOUR, the second Michael Heneke film in a row to win the Palme d'Or at Cannes is a chamber-piece about love but also mostly about impending death ... a devastating, but humane memento mori, for those - like me - who have been witness to the decline and deaths of our parents .... I fear London is becoming provincial in regard to European films. The buzz about AMOUR started back in May when it won at Cannes (see French label) - but we have had to wait till November for it to open here. 
In a pair of heartbreaking performances Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva play Georges and Anne, retired married music teachers enjoying a comfortable old age, (in their 80s so things cannot continue indefinitely). They are happy in their Paris apartment with their books and music and occasional concerts, and are devoted to each other after a long marriage. The films opens with an unsettling flash-forward which renders all that follows a foregone conclusion: one morning at breakfast Anne suffers a small stroke. We are shown her deterioration in all its horror as she gradually loses control ...... Georges tends to her with devotion as she makes him promise she will not be put into hospital ...... then there is his final act of devotion, and the aftermath.

Haneke here gives us a love story, compassionate and intelligent, there is also a ghost story element. The two stars are superlative, as is Isabelle Huppert as their daughter. I only know Riva best from Melville's LEON MORIN PRETE (French label), while Trintignant is one of France's leading men ever since Vadim's AND GOD CREATED WOMAN, and an attractive presence in films like LE JEU DE LA VERITE and ATLANTIS CITY UNDER THE DESERT, as well as those hits we still like, like Lelouch's UN HOMME ET UNE FEMME, Bertolucci's THE CONFORMIST, Costa-Garvas' Z, Rohmer's MY NIGHT WITH MAUD, Chabrol's LES BICHES , and I have recently acquired several of his with Romy Schneider (at least 3) to see and review soon. This is my first Haneke film, but I am now curious to see the others like THE WHITE RIBBON and HIDDEN. It would be perfect to see Trintignant and Riva (now in their 80s) nominated for awards .... if only for their courage here in showing what age does to  us. We are aware too of what use are their books and music and possessions to them as they decline ... AMOUR isn't for everyone, but for those who have first-hand experience of parental decline, it will be a profound and moving experience, not depressing but cathartic. Love, indeed.

This year I also liked KILLER JOE, ALBERT NOBBS, THE GUARD, SHAME, DRIVE, CRAZY STUPID LOVE, THE DEVIL'S DOUBLE, THE EAGLE (as at 2000s label).  As regards gay related titles, the British WEEKEND was rather a disappointment, but Peru's UNDERTOW more than compensated ...

Most over-rated:  THE ARTIST - nuff said, as per review at 2000s/French/Comedy labels.

Stinkers Of The Year: MAGIC MIKE - the least erotic film about stripping imaginable - and from earlier in 2012 that EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL, (reviews at 2000s label) if only for its lack of imagination in killing off the gay character once his story arc is completed - the others can stay on living in India but the gay gay has to drop dead ?  If thats 'cinema for old people' count me out - even Dames Maggie and Judi couldn't save this one; still, they got a trip to India. I wonder if Dustin's QUARTET will be more of the same ? 2013 shall reveal all ... 
Discoveries Of The Year: Three early '60s black and white Italian films by Mauro Bolognini: LA NOTTE BRAVA - 1960, SENILITA from 1962 and LA CORRUZIONE, 1963 - reviews at Italian label. Therse were only available at the time on YouTube with English subtitles. I have now though got a Spanish version of NOTTE BRAVA: LA NOCHE BRAVA, it should be just as marvellous with Spanish sub-titles, and a sub-titled disk of CORRUPTION where young Jacques Perrin is once again corrupted by his father's mistress and big business - only SENILITA (where Claudia Cardinale is ideal) remains unavailable, but I have got the novel by Italo Svevo, and 2 more Bolognini films:  GIOVANI MARITI from 1958 with another attractive young cast and co-scripted again by Pasolini, and the 1970 costume drama METELLO - reviews in January! His GRAN BOLLITO was a terrific discovery too a year or two ago.... Bolognini is now on the radar as much as say Antonioni, Fellini or Visconti ...
Also, another 'lost' Italian: Vancini's THE LONG NIGHT OF '43, not seen since I saw it at the National Film Theatre maybe in 1967 with a pal Guy Tremlett - where Belinda Lee and Gabriele Ferzetti are terrific in this 1960 war-time drama (Italian label)
Two good re-discoveries: at last English versions of 2 favourites: the 1958 THE SEA WALL (THIS ANGRY AGE) that first version by Rene Clement of Marguerite Duras' BARRAGE CONTRE LA PACIFIQUE with Silvana Mangano, Tony Perkins and Jo Van Fleet, which I had not seen since being a kid in 1958 - a friend and I got the Italian only version, then a sub-titled print in black and white, and now finally the English language colour and scope version but with French subtitles (and introduced by Alain Delon no less, as recorded from French television! - Sea Wall label), and also finally the English language version of Clements' 1954 KNAVE OF HEARTS (MR RIPOIS) - as commented on here previously at French/Philipe/Greenwood labels).  

Also the BFI restored British 1947 noir IT ALWAYS RAINS ON SUNDAY, as per recent review below ....

Hilarity of the year: was provided by those two 1970 Trash classics GOODBYE GEMINI and the Helmut Berger DORIAN GRAY, where in both opuses they visited the same tatty drag pub (it was The Elephant & Castle) and saw the same drag performer .... maybe they were there the same night ? BITTER HARVEST from 1963 was another wonderfully trashy British item from 1963. (See reviews at Trash label).

And, finally, HAPPY NEW YEAR - and lots more old and new movies ! 

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Hitch and The Girl

THE GIRL - one of those two new films on Alfred Hitchcock. How to describe the tedium, its not as much fun as MOMMIE DEAREST, but seems the same kind of biopic, cheaply made on minimal sets. Toby Jones initally seems all wrong for the jovial (according to his appearances on tv and interviews) director, but one soon get used to the voice and manner, though this Hitch seems a very gloomy depressed man full of malicious intent towards his latest discovery. After all those independent Hollywood stars like Ingrid and Grace, Doris, Janet, Eva Marie and Vera Miles who went off and got pregnant, and by Tarzan no less, he now had a new discovery under contract whom he was looking forward to molding and directing. Was he really though the creepy, cruel, sadistic control freak who treated everybody appallingly - as depicted here?, and was able to get away with it due to his powerful position ....

Sienna Miller is quite right actually as Tippi Hedren, and looks the part.  The film re-creates those screen tests which Hitch did with the tv model and hired Martin Balsam to play opposite her (the real tests are included in THE BIRDS dvd extras) and shooting begins on THE BIRDS with Hitch getting more and more malevolent towards his pliable leading lady, soon those real birds will be thrown at her, a punishment for her refusing to bend to his will? Dependables Imelda Staunton and Penelope Wilton play Hitch's wife Alma, and his assistant Peggy Robertson, one wishes they had more to do. It will certainly be interesting seeing how Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren play the Hitchcocks in that other Hitch movie, and of course Scarlett Johannson as Janet Leigh and James D'Arcy as Tony Perkins ....

Sienna or Tippi ?
This BBC telefilm though, written by Gwyneth Hughes and directed by Julian Jarrold, from the Donald Spoto book SPELLBOUND BY BEAUTY and with the co-operation of Tippi herself, just seems like a mean-spirited mish-mash. Surely THE BIRDS and MARNIE had more cheerful sets than that depicted here? We only really see Tippi and that attic scene - but for large parts of the picture she is groomed and poised, whether dialling the telephone with a pencil at the pet shop or sparring with Mitch....
Are we meant to feel that Hitch feels so unloved and unattractive that he becomes a monster, a sex pest, that the only woman he ever had sex with was his wife and that apparantly stopped a long time ago. His daughter Patricia is not mentioned ...There were many abusive directors in Hollywood from Erich Von Stroheim or Von Sternberg ? to Otto Preminger. Hitch seems to have been generally liked by his frequent stars like Bergman, Grant, Stewart, Kelly .... one can hardly believe he was such a monster on set as the one depicted here. We get it that he became obsessed by Hedren and kept her under contract and would not let her work for other directors. It is well documented - I do not though see THE GIRL as a major contribution to the Hitchcock canon - people instead will be looking at NORTH BY NORTHWEST, REAR WINDOW, REBECCA, etc for generations to come. I myself am returning to NOTORIOUS on again this afternoon and yet another look at, yes THE BIRDS, which was on again last night, its a film I never tire of and yes Tippi is marvellous in it - and I really will have to dig out that dvd of MARNIE which I have not seen since its general release .... an interesting end to to this Hitchcock year here, with all the films revived by the BFI and those classic hits endlessly seen and analysed again as VERTIGO became the "Sight & Sound" new number one, as documented at Hitchcock label, with reviews of PSYCHO, TOPAZ etc.
Sienna or Tippi ?

R.I.P.s - maybe the last of the year ?

Jack Klugman (1922-2012), aged 90, the veteran actor (Juror Nr 5 in 12 ANGRY MEN) and star of tv's QUINCY and THE ODD COUPLE. Also striking in several movie roles, as the AA man in DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES, and, right, Judy Garland's manager in I COULD GO SINGING in 1963 - he has a great scene when Judy turns up late for her London Palladium concert ...

Charles Durning (1923-2012), another veteran actor and WWII veteran (having landed at Omaha beach) who did not take up acting until his 40s and became a leading character player, best known perhaps for his roles in TOOTSIE and THE STING.

Gerry Anderson: Generations of British children grew up on Gerry's puppet shows: THUNDERBIRDS, STINGRAY etc. and those characters like Lady Penelope, Parker and Brains. "Thunderbirds are Go".

William Rees-Mogg, at 84 - the last of the gentlemen newspaper editors. He was editor of "The Times" from 1967 to 1981, and wrote that influential editorial on the Rolling Stones' drug trial in 1967. It was always a pleasure reading his later columns.

2 more musical talents:

Sir Richard Rodney Bennett - one of Britain's most versatile and talented composers and performers, died on Christmas Eve, aged 76. Over the course of a distinguished career he has been equally at home writing music for the concert hall and performing cabaret at the Algonquin Hotel; as enthusiastic about Cole Porter as Pierre Boulez. To a broad audience he is perhaps best known as a prolific writer of scores for film and television, including for MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL and FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD. He also accompanied jazz singers like Claire Martin and Mary Clere Haran and Cleo Laine.

Fontella Bass - aged 72, US soul and gospel singer whose biggest hit was "Rescue Me", which I remember buying back in 1965 when I was 19. Another of the great vocalists who departed this year.

Seasonal treats

Last Christmas it was macaroons from Paris, this year they (a 'tree' of 36) were from Marks & Spencer, more prosaic perhaps but they tasted just as good. We have not even got to the stollen, panettone or christmas pudding yet. Rich pickings too on television. One of those new movies about Hitchcock THE GIRL, subject of a separate review shortly, proved an odd experience.

It is no surprise that the big epics are trunded out again - BEN HUR, CLEOPATRA and THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD this time - more suitable for Easter perhaps, but here they are again.
I had not seen George Stevens's mammoth biblical since its release  in 1965 - one can see the reasons for criticism, but it looks marvellous, shot in Utah and Arizona (I think there is even the Grand Canyon) which conjure up biblical vistas. Max Von Sydow is perfect in this retelling of biblical tales and there is an amazing cast, some of them risible (Wayne, Winters, Pat Boone) but others like Jose Ferrer and Claude Rains in his final role as Herod (above, his eyes glittering in the dark was an abiding memory from 1965) and Dorothy McGuire, Gary Raymond, Michael Anderson Jr, Sal Mineo, Van Heflin, Charlton Heston, and Donald Pleasance as a very devious satan.

What I particularly liked was another screening of HOUSEBOAT, a particular pleasure from 1958 when I was 12. Perhaps the best of Sophia's early American films it remains a real charmer, as directed by Melville Shavelson. I love the creaky old houseboat particularly when re-decorated, the 3 children are ideal and Cary has a great scene with his son which explains our place in the universe - the children's mother has died so runaway heiress Sophia is the new maid, hence complications as Martha Hyer perfects her country club girl routine. This is really a movie one could see every year ... as per my previous reviews on it here.

Old timers Holden & Hayward in '72
THE REVENGERS - interesting to look at this late western from 1972, in fact Susan Hayward's last feature film, apart from those 2 final tv movies she made. A brutal post-WILD BUNCH revenge western by Daniel Mann with an ageing Holden and Borgnine, Susan is only in it for about 10 minutes but impresses as an Irish unmarried doctor who nurses Holden back to health, and to whom he presumably returns at the end .... 

MR STINK and DOWNTON ABBEY were homegrown holiday treats, the first from David Walliams' book for children with Hugh Bonneville as the titular tramp Mr Stink and how he changes lives .... his adorable dog is Pudsey, the famous dancing dog from BRITAIN'S GOT TALENT. We can see this being an annual treat like THE SNOWMAN 
DOWNTON trundles on, but difficult to discuss as may not have aired elsewhere. The latest Christmas Special takes place during the family's summer holiday to a Scottish castle presided over by Peter Egan and Phoebe Nicholls (good to see her again, playing nasty once more), while the staff stay behind at Downton to clean the silver and visit the local fair. Mrs Patmore has a lucky escape from the village store-keeper who wanted her for her cooking skills, while poor Thomas the unlucky in love gay footman rescues the object of his desire from a beating by the village roughs and gets beaten up himself, but at the least the footman he saved deigns to become friends with him .... Just one comment to add: Dan Stevens definitely won't be returning in Series 4 - one only has to see him driving his car after the birth of his son to realise what is going to happen next ....

ARENA: SCREEN GODDESSES was a delicious box of chocolates from the BBC, a collection of clips on movie goddesses: As the BBC plugged it:
“There just aren’t any faces like that any more,” lamented Gloria Swanson in Sunset Blvd — a movie made as long ago as 1950. Of course, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor were yet to enjoy their heyday, but the point still stands. From saintly Lillian Gish to sassy Mae West, exotic Marlene Dietrich to enigmatic Greta Garbo, via tough cookies Bette Davis and Joan Crawford and viperish Barbara Stanwyck, Hollywood produced a pantheon of divine women, whose “immortality” is only confirmed by the passage of time.
If you’re a film buff, none of the clips will be a surprise, and I could have done with detail on the luminous cinematography, but this glorious doc will have you reaching for DVDs.  Music from Vertigo and narration by Downton’s Elizabeth McGovern will also keep you hypnotised.
The documentary focuses on the female stars of the Hollywood studio era, from its beginnings around 1910 through to its collapse in the early 1960s. Screen icons chronologically recalled include Theda Bara, Lillian Gish, Clara Bow, Louise Brooks, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe, plus a nod to European goddesses like Bardot and Loren, and Julie Christie. Great to see Marilyn splashing in that pool in SOMETING'S GOTTA GIVE, Garbo at her most seductive in MATA HARI and FLESH AND THE DEVIL and Marlene on that SHANGHAI EXPRESS with Anna May Wong. 

Sunday, 23 December 2012

A very 1968 christmas - its only 44 years ago

My last year's Christmas post was about that new version of Dickens' GREAT EXPECTATIONS, there has since been a newer version, but we always return to Lean's classic .....
Back in 1968 when I was 22 [it was my hippie summer of love, left - in my hipster jeans and bell and beads, taking acid with my hippie friends at 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY, seeing The Doors and Jefferson Airplane at The Roundhouse, along with The Who, Traffic, Aretha Franklin etc], Carol Reed's film of Lionel Bart's musical OLIVER seemed a curiously old fashioned film then in the year of 2001 and those hip movies of the time, but it has grown in stature over the years and is a genuine Christmas classic too now. There is so much to like in it, it looks terrific of course, marvellous cast, those well-drilled dancing kids and again some terrific musical sequences. Oliver Reed too is a very fearsome Bill Sykes, as directed by his uncle Carol Reed.
THE LION IN WINTER, also 1968, was a marvellous treat then, it cemented Katharine Hepburn's return to movies, great period detail with all those dark ages castles. Its a witty script of course from the play, and very well directed by Anthony Harvey. I liked the faux medieval score too by John Barry. O'Toole is in his element and the young cast excel: Jane Merrow whom I liked and had met, Timothy Dalton (I had seen him up close in a stage play at London's Royal Court, where he was one of the most magnetic actors I had seen, plus Hopkins and John Castle.  It was magical seeing it on the big screen at the Odeon Haymarket, particularly when Kate's boat sails down the river and her later in-fighting with husband O'Toole and those unruly sons. If Eleanor of Aquitaine was not really like this then she should have been.
Kate of course is in her element - Pauline Kael though did not like her at all here, as per her caustic review in "Going Steady", where she said Hepburn had become "sweet and lovable ... like Helen Hayes". It remains a great Christmas movie though. 

After Christmas: films of the year, headed by AMOUR. Maggie Smith back in cinemas in QUARTET and on television in the latest DOWNTON ABBEY Christmas Special, but I have 2 other Maggies to review: her other QUARTET for James Ivory in 1981 with Alan Bates and Isabelle Adjani; and a BBC production of MEMENTO MORI directed by Jack Clayton in 1992, which like MISS BRODIE, is from a tale by Muriel Spark. Happy Holidays! 

That dance, that song, that show
Britain's dance contest STRICTLY COME DANCING has finished for another year, with a terrific win by Louis Smith and professional dancer Flavia Cacace.  He is the Olympic silver medal winner but did not look particuarly happy or bothered dancing, but finally got into it as the competition progressed.  Flavia is a goddess and a terrific professional dancer, her argentine tango is amazing, as she is currently showing in MIDNIGHT TANGO on show in London, as per previous posts, here (Dance label). All their dances are great but this one is delightful. After being lumbered with the amusing Russell Grant last year, she finally got a young guy she was able to mold into a great dancer. Kimberley Walsh of Girls Aloud and her partner Pasha were also sensational. YouTube has all the clips. Last year's winner Harry Judd was also terrific.
Its that time when seasonal shows abound, probably all shot in the summer. We recently saw not one but 2 Michael Buble ones: Home for Christmas, and Home For the Holidays. We also got Rod Stewart's christmas show, recorded at a castle in Scotland, Buble was in that one too - and there is a Chris Isaak one one later today, which should be interesting, and yes, Buble turns up there too ...
Thanks to modern technology Buble was able to join Bing in a rendition of THAT song that always gets one a wee bit emotional. Perhaps its because my father liked Bing so much .... but it certainly conjures up that mythical christmas of "sleighbells in the snow" as much as ITS A WONDERFUL LIFE ... Buble and Crosby look a better team though than Bing and Bowie back in 1972 ...
Those seasonal saccharine christmas shows were all of a muchness with Michael Buble making almost as many appearances as actress Sheridan Smith who was everywhere - in PANTO, in MR STINK, on the Jonathan Ross Show, she is even in the new QUARTET with Dame Maggie ..... nobody though could top Sir Stephen of Fry, whom the papers gleefully pointed out would be on television 181 times between Christmas and new year - in endless re-runs of his quiz shows, and various other programmes and movies he had been in. Thankfully I avoided them all apart from the trailer for a new crime thriller he somehow fitted in.
Best of the music shows for me was Chris Isaak's, maybe from 2008? - he still looks (and sounds) terrific - particularly in that green flashy suit. Michael Buble and Stevie Nicks helped out and "Rudolph The Red Nose Raindeer" never sounded better!

Friday, 21 December 2012

History is made at night

Lubitsch's 1940 THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER was a terrific Christmas discovery a few years ago, this year its HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT, 1937, which is often considered the most romantic movie of all, and I can quite see why. It may be a dated melodrama which begins like a screwball comedy and then veers into dramatic situations while ending up like another TITANIC (just 25 years after that ship sank) with the appearance of an iceberg and a foggy transatlantic crossing, but Jean Arthur and Charles Boyer show an amazing chemistry in this appealing romance set among ritzy socialites in both Paris and New York.
I was surprised to read that Charles Boyer and Jean Arthur never made another film together as they seem so right here. Frank Borzage specialised in romantic dramas and here he blends romantic drama, comedy and even tragedy into a perfect film. The first Borzage I saw was a television screening decades ago of THE MORTAL STORM and it was one of those films that remained with me, like the first time I saw HOLIDAY or ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS or LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN on tv. His MAN'S CASTLE in 1934 is also a perfect romance, with Spencer Tracy and Loretta Young, and I still have his THREE COMRADES from 1938 to watch, another Margaret Sullavan starrer. And I now realise I have Boyer and Irene Dunne in LOVE AFFAIR to watch, as well as Boyer with Dietrich in GARDEN OF ALLAH, as well as Marlene in DESIRE and ANGEL .... some delicious 1930s treats coming up after Christmas then ...  Back to HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT:

An expensive production by producer Walter Wanger, the cast also includes Baron Frankenstein Colin Clive (his last role, he died that year, 1937) as the demented husband Bruce Vail who will stop at nothing to get back his wife (Jean Arthur in a Carole Lombard type role) who has divorced him (we are not supposed to ask why she married him...).
A plot to catch her in a compromising position before her divorce is final goes wrong, but he kills his henchman and frames Boyer, who had posed as a jewel thief to rescue our heroine. He is of course no jewel thief but a celebrated head waiter, so cue lots of amusing comedy with Leo Carrillo his best friend, the famous chef Cesare. We get lots of mistaken identities as romantic confusions abound, until the final sequences on the stricken ship which Vail had urged to travel at speed through the fog .... there was also talk of flying on the Hindenberg ... I can now too see why my mother liked Boyer so much!  Jean Arthur whom I liked so much in Hawks' ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS is equally marvellous here. Must also have another look at her and Dietrich in Wilder's A FOREIGN AFFAIR in '48.

The print quality is variable, this surely should be restored and seen as a key 1930s film, If McCarey's MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW which I did not like at all (see 1930s label) can be, then so should this Borzage classic, which also may have inspired a scene in that other great romance CASABLANCA