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, 30 April 2012

She's so young

Yvonne sings "I'm so Young"
1968's SMASHING TIME has long been a cult favourite of mine (see labels) and has that hilariously satirical sequence where the dim Yvonne (scene-stealing Lynn Redgrave) becomes a pop star, manipulated by her scheming manager and her awful song "I'm so Young" becomes a smash hit .... is history now repeating itself as our latest pop sensation here in the UK, Tulisa has released her new single called "Young" .... is this tongue in cheek or do they really think this is clever or original or even fun ? 

Tulisa sings "Young"
Tulisa (right) is now famous as judge on talent show THE X-FACTOR (they could not make that up back in 1968...) but also records with her band N-Dubz. But just maybe one of her managers caught SMASHING TIME and thought "hey, that would be a terrific new song for Tulisa - the kids will lap it up".  Well, who knows ... but seeing the video of this "brain-withering generic slab of Ibiza trance-pop" (with its lines like " forgive me for what I have done, 'cause I'm young") makes one wonder .... it takes the whole pop cynicism of these talent shows to a whole new level.(Tulisa by the way has had a sex tape released on the internet, so no doubt those apologetic lyrics are also a damage limitation exercise...)

SMASHING TIME ("Two girls go stark mod!") was written by the great and witty George Melly and directed by Desmond Davis who also directed my English 60s favourites like I WAS HAPPY HERE and THE GIRL WITH GREEN EYES, and its the funniest Swinging London film with not only Lynn and Rita (re-teamed from  THE GIRL WITH GREEN EYES) but also with Michael York as a fashion photographer, naturally, and great turns from comics like Irene Handl, Anna Quayle, Murray Melvin (at the Too Much Boutique) and Ian Carmichael, as well as Arthur Mullard and some camp queens at the pie restaurant, and of course at the Post Office Tower.

La Corruzione, 1963

Another Italian rarity - so rare there is no English sub-titled version available, but there it is on YouTube where the film is available in full to watch on your laptop, with optional English subtitles - so many thanks to my Sao Paulo pal Jorge for recommending this over at IMDB.  It shows though so that so many Italian films of the '60s never made it to London.  The big three then circa 1960 were of course Antonioni, Fellini and Visconti, with new boys Pasolini and Bertolucci, and old masters Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini. Then there were all those other directors like Mauro Bolognini and Monicelli and Comencini and Zurlini, Alberto Lattuada, Dino Risi, Rosi etc. LA DOLCE VITA, L'AVVENTURA and ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS set the template for the Italian renaissance ...

Monicelli had his segment (right) cut from BOCCACCIO 70 in 1962 (though it is now included on the dvd and is indeed a revelation, as per 1962 label), and directed Monica Vitti in her hilarious episode in FOUR KINDS OF LOVE (LA BAMBOLE) where Bolognini directed that hilarious episode which scandalised at the time featuring Gina Lollobrigida and Jean Sorel (Sorel label); they also directed episodes of SEX QUARTET (LE FATE, THE QUEENS) in 1966, and Bolognini also one of the episodes of I TRE VOLTI which I shall be seeing shortly, it also has Antonioni's segment with ex-Empress Soraya of Iran, whom De Laurentiis was trying to make into a movie star then. Bolognini later did some exemplary costume dramas like METELLO and GRAN BOLLITO (Shelley Winters label). Zurlini did those acclaimed films like GIRL WITH A SUITCASE with Claudia Cardinale and the young Jacques Perrin in 1961 who also featured strongly in FAMILY DIARY (CRONOCA FAMILIARE) with Marcello Mastroianni in '62...

So then, to LA CORRIZIONE (CORRUPTION) in 1963, Bolognini's study of idealistic young Jacques Perrin leaving college and deciding to become a priest, as he returns to his wealthy industrialist father Alain Cuny, who enjoys the power he wields and of course has other ideas for his son's future ... this is nicely played out in those stunning interiors and marvellous black and white photography as Bolognini orchestrates it all with a sure hand - there is that stunning scene where Cuny slaps Perrin hard across the face that certainly makes one sit up and take notice ... then we are on that luxurious yacht sailing around some remote islands, with the father's current girlfriend Rosanna Schiaffino in tow.
The tensions on the boat remind one of similar scenes in L'AVVENTURA just three years earlier, as the girl and boy explore each other's attitudes and the inevitable happens.  Has the father put her up to seducing the son ? - who then wants to leave the boat.   Isa Miranda has a scene as the ailing hypochondriac mother at the clinic and there is that brilliantly staged suicide of the employee the father has been bullying ...  

Cuny is terrific here - he was the intellectual Steiner in LA DOLCE VITA and Moreau's husband in Malle's LES AMANTS among other strong roles. The very prolific Perrin impresses as usual - he went on to Demy's LES DEMOISELLES DE ROCHEFORT as the blond sailor, and his involvement in Costa-Garvas' Z in 1970, (another one to revisit), Demy's LE PEAU D'ANE among others, and  his later acclaim in CINEMA PARADISO - like Jean Sorel he is older now but still working.  Rosanna Schiaffino (1939-2009) impressed me the least of those '60s Italian stars like Vitti and Cardinale, she was merely adequate in TWO WEEKS IN ANOTHER TOWN and THE VICTORS etc, but she is stupendous here, with that new hairstyle and the camera loves her in those lingering closeups.  The final sequence with the young people dancing to that score by Giovanni Fusco is sensational ... and captures everything the film is about.

A gripping drama then of the Italian high life, brilliantly directed by Bolognini, with that early 60s look in spades. I loved it.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Simone Signoret: the day and the hour

Another day, another legendary French Actress: Simone Signoret in Rene Clement's THE DAY AND THE HOUR, 1963.

It's the spring of 1944 and Therese is in a hurry to get back to Paris. The trains aren't running from the village where she has gone to visit her father's grave and to fill two suitcases with food. Some British and American planes have been shot down and the Germans want to know where the pilots are hiding. An acquaintance has clearance to drive to Paris with a truckload of goats. After she is in the truck Therese discovers that two British pilots and an American pilot are back there with the goats. She must get the men on a train to Paris and to a safe house there, where there is no room for the American. Can she leave him at the Metro station trying to figure out the map? 
So sets the scene for Rene Clements' 1963 war film, a sometimes tense thriller (there is that long sequence on the crowded train, shot mainly in tight closeups) as Simone Signoret helps the American airman Stuart Whitman escape from the nazis and head over the border into Spain. It is though a curiously unsatisfying film, shot in black-and-white by Henri Decae; there is no real connection or romance between the leads and it all ends rather arbitrarily. Genevieve Page is there too, but only in a scene or two as Signoret's sister, and stalwart Michel Piccoli also lends a hand. One feels too for Simone having to cycle up those hills ...

After her best actress win for 1959's ROOM AT THE TOP Simone Signoret [1921-1985] was busy during the 60s, with roles like this and in TERM OF TRIAL, SHIP OF FOOLS, THE SLEEPING CAR MURDER, THE DEADLY AFFAIR, GAMES (Signoret label) in 1967, THE SEAGULL and also popping up in Clements' star-studded IS PARIS BURNING?, 1966, with her husband Yves Montand. She also played opposite Alec Guinness in a badly-received HAMLET at the Royal Court in London in in 1966.
Clements had his biggest hit with PLEIN SOLEIL in 1960 and his next after THE DAY AND HOUR was LES FELINS, with Delon again, as per review at Delon/Clements labels, and I have reviewed those others of his I like such as THE SEA WALL in 1958, KNAVE OF HEARTS, LES MAUDITS and GERVAISE (all at Clements label). With THE DAY AND THE HOUR though one keeps wondering how much longer it is going to be ....
Some more Signorets to watch: Ophuls LA RONDE, Melville's ARMY OF SHADOWS and THE WIDOW COUDERC with Alain Delon.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Anouk Aimee, 80th birthday greetings

I don't usually bother with birthday greetings to our movie favourites but have to make an exception (even if a day late) for Anouk Aimee, 80 yesterday on 27 April.

Anouk remains one of the most mysterious, alluring, glamorous French stars, ever since she began as a teenager in the late 40s (THE LOVERS OF VERONA, THE GOLDEN SALAMANDER), she was friends with Dirk Bogarde too, since her early English movies, and was busy throughout the 50s (LOVERS OF MONTPARNASSE etc, as per reviews here) and then in those international hits like Fellini's LA DOLCE VITA (where she and Marcello driving in the car are surely the most perfectly glamorously couple ever) and 8 AND A HALF where they could not really de-glamorise her. She was perfect in Lelouch's UN HOMME ET UNE FEMME in 1966, an international hit and she was nominated for best actress, but of course that was Elizabeth Taylor's year.

She continued being very busy for lots of directors: a return to Jacques Demy for THE MODEL SHOP in 1969 (she was perfect too of course as his LOLA in 1961) and JUSTINE ['A Movie I Love' here] for Cukor - with whom she did not get along, as by then she was not interested in acting but being with her new husband, one Albert Finney. She returned to acting once that marriage finished in 1976 (including Altman's PRET A PORTER) and she is still working now - she is amusing and glamorous as ever in 2001's FESTIVAL AT CANNES, with that very individual voice. 

I remember going to see her in Vadim's LES GRAND CHEMINS when I was new in London in 1964,  ... lots more on Anouk at label. There are so many photographs of her it is hard to choose ...
 A special mention too for her slinky lesbian queen in Aldrich's deliriously trashy classic SODOM AND GOMORRAH in 1962 !

Friday, 27 April 2012

Rainy day flicks

Its been raining here all week, after a warm March, its now a very wet and windy April - ideal weather for afternoons watching favourite old movies .... and quite a good bunch are on this week, ones I can settle down in front of any time, (despite having the dvds!)

I regard Fritz Lang’s MOONFLEET [and Richard Thorpe’s QUENTIN DURWARD [reviewed at Kay Kendall label] as the high points of mid-50s MGM costume dramas. MOONFLEET in '55 is a marvellous re-telling of the childrens’ classic suitably changed for the cinema with great Scope compositions. Lang shot it in California but it just looks perfectly right. Stewart Granger is another dashing hero, Jon Whiteley is the little boy in search of his inheritance [he co-starred with Dirk Bogarde in THE SPANISH GARDENER (Bogarde label) the next year], George Sanders is the perfect scoundrel and Joan Greenwood only has two (but very memorable) scenes as the mocking villainess. It captures the 18th century saga of smuggling and country churchyards just right . It’s a treat I can watch anytime…. I like the book too but Lang's version is a suitably changed for the cinema version.

THE VIKINGS is a movie kids enjoyed hugely back then in 1958, and we still do now 50 years later. Its just a perfectly made period romp by Richard Fleischer, photographed by Jack Cardiff in Norway, great supporting cast, score by Nascimbene and narrated by Orson Welles. Douglas and Curtis are the warring half-brothers and Janet Leigh the Welsh princess they fight over. Janet is at her loveliest here – I have always liked the scene when Tony rips her bodice so she can row the boat as they escape, Eileen Way is great as Kitala the witch who saves Curtis from those crabs! Borgnine chews the scenery as Ragnar while Frank Thring essays another study in villainy as Ayella with the wolf pit. It all certainly brings the dark ages to life! - great castle seige too. and that final fight between Kirk and Tony as the waves crash against the rocks below -  and it remains a television staple. James Donald, Maxine Audley and Alexander Knox are all sterling support. Its always a laugh now when Kirk manhandles Janet's maid who is "silly moo" Dandy Nichols!

THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK - another television staple but this is a better than average telemovie, with a sterling cast playing out the Dumas warhorse, as directed by Mike Newell in 1977 and lensed by the great Freddie Young in those real French locations. It is the oft-told tale of Louis XIV of France and his attempts to keep his identical twin brother Philippe imprisoned away from sight and knowledge of the public, and Philippe's rescue by the aging Musketeers, led by D'Artagnan (Louis Jourdan, a dab hand at this kind of thing). Richard Chamberlain is both the man in the mask and Louis XIV. A glowering Patrick McGoohan is our prime villain Fouquet and Jenny Agutter is lovely as usual. For me the movie is made by Ralph Richardson in his element as Colbert, also with Ian Holm, and the marvellous Vivien Merchant as Maria Theresa - who soon spots the duplicate King but realises she is better off with him than the real king who ignores her, also Brenda Bruce as Anne of Austria. Great derring-do then played out by a splendid cast.

Other perfect rainy afternoon movies would be sitting back again with ALL ABOUT EVE or A LETTER TO 3 WIVES or Wyler's THE HEIRESS, or indeed THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT or some '50s epics like LAND OF THE PHAROAHS or THE PRODIGAL, Sophia's BOY ON A DOLPHIN or LEGEND OF THE LOST, Janet Leigh's musical MY SISTER EILEEN with Bob Fosse, Joan Crawford's JOHNNY GUITAR or of course Kay Kendall in Cukor's LES GIRLS or Minnelli's THE RELUCTANT DEBUTANTE, which I am seeing again on the big screen at the London British Film Institute's National Film Theatre in a few weeks with my IMDB pal Timshelboy, so more on that then ...
Saturday is rainy too, and HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE is scheduled, but much as I like hanging out with Pola, Loco and Schatze, I think I will go with another Negulesco I have written about quite a bit here: WOMAN'S WORLD, that great 1954 Fox charmer with Clifton Webb leading that cast ... and fighting off the attentions of go-getting Arlene Dahl! - poured into that slinky green number with the little fur-trimmed bolero she very knowingly removes ...

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Cool blue

Jean-Pierre Melville's LE SAMOURAI, 1967, is the cinematic embodiment of cool. This film is unlike any Hollywood action treatment of a hitman as we start with Delon's Jef Costello smoking in his dismal run-down room, with only a canary in a cage for company. Does the canary have another function, one wonders - perhaps it warns him when there is an intruder or when the police have been in and wired his room for sound? Paris here is all metallic greys and cool blues, there are hardly any other colours, it is always raining when driving those cars. Costello seems like a throwback to the 1940s with that hat and trenchcoat - fashionably short as it is for the 60s, it should really be a longer 40s version ...

Melville's classic is about a lone gun-for-hire who is hired to eliminate a nightclub owner. He does so, but is witnessed leaving the scene of the crime by the club's piano player (Cathy Rosier). Later that night, during the police round-up, he's taken in as one of 400 or more potential suspects. The cops can't make it stick to Costello, but the superintendent (Francois Perier) isn't fooled by Costello or his airtight alibi supplied by girl of the night Nathalie Delon.. And thus Costello finds himself under police surveillance, and meanwhile, his criminal bosses want him eliminated. In other words, the actual story is simplicity itself and is a French twist on those '40s noirs with the likes of Lake and Ladd on the lam from the cops and the underworld.

Few movies are as spare, dialogue is minimal with long stretches of silence, like during that first 10 minutes or the tense chase on the metro. Finally Costello confonts his destiny, like the Samourai. As the Bushido quote at the start puts it: no-one is as alone as a Samourai, unless perhaps a tiger in the jungle ...  Costello hardly ever says anything, but we're totally compelled by him, thanks to Delon's tight control. There are some exciting chases, and the nightclub girl is nicely depicted (Cathy Rosier, 1945-2004, below, her smiling face a nice contrast to the icy hit-man). I may have to see it again to totally understand the ending: Is she the one he is hired to kill at the end as she is the only witness to the first killing, or is he just saying that (I like that moment when she says "why, Jef?" when she sees him with the gun) - he must be on a final suicide or hara-kiri mission at the end, knowing the emptiness of his life, as he can hardly expect to get away with another shooing in the crowded nightclub, so maybe like the Samourai of old he resigns himself to his fate ...
It is all part of the stark originality of the movie. It is a key Delon role, as iconic as his Tom Ripley in PLEIN SOLEIL in 1960 or those leads for Visconti and Antonioni in ROCCO, THE LEOPARD and L'ECLISSE and the later BORSALINO [Delon, Mr Ripley labels] and those two for Losey and his other tough French flicks like Melville's LE FLIC or LE CIRCLE ROUGE. (I really must get around to watching Delon with Signoret in THE WIDOW COUDERC on that box set of his, which has LE PISCINE and others). The Melville boxset too  has several others I must watch like ARMY OF SHADOWS, LE DOULOS and that Belmondo I liked LEON MORIN PRIEST (French, Belmondo labels).  The movie was released in 1967 -- the start of the hippie era-- but here's Delon anachronistically dressed in a single-breasted suit and a fedora, and getting away with it. A movie to cherish then and absorb oneself back into ... those images as lensed by Henri Decae and that almost Miles Davis-like cool abstract jazz sound (as in Malle's LIFT TO THE SCAFFOLD - Ronet label). I thought at the end we would return to that room, with the canary - and the other hit-guy tied to the chair ....

More French soon: those Melville, Delon, Belmondo, Chabrol, Ozon boxsets to continue exploring, Chabrol's LE CEREMONIE, braces of Deneuve and Romy Schneider titles, and more Demy, Malle, Varda - and I just got those 2 other Jean Dujardin 0SS 117 comedies by Hazanavicius - I wonder if the LOST IN RIO one is as fabulous as my favourite Belmondo THAT MAN FROM RIO ? (and also seen some clips from the forthcoming THE PLAYERS)...
Plus those 3 Russian films I have heard so much about for so long: BALLAD OF A SOLIDER, THE CRANES ARE FLYING, THE LETTER THAT WAS NOT SENT, and a trio of Ozu titles too, as well as some Antonioni rarities and those recent Almodovars. There are also some tatty sword-and-sandals movies, another Jean Sorel giallo, Joan's camp classics (HARRIET CRAIG, QUEEN BEE, TORCH SONG etc), and lots more gay interest!

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

F W B -v- Crazy Stupid ...

I love that moment when a film surprises you, when you put on a film you expect nothing much from and you absolutely love it and get really involved with it. So it was with FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS, one of last year's romcoms which I have now lent to a friend, and will want to see it again when I get it back. Paradoxically, the movie I thought I would enjoy CRAZY STUPID LOVE did not engage me at all and I found a lot to dislike in it.

Justin and Woody
FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS has an engaging couple: Justin Timberlake who is now proving himself as an actor and leading man - is it really 10 years since I was watching him in those pop videos like for his hit "Cry Me A River" and "Rock Your Body" and I loved that one with Nelly "Work It" which was on MTV all the time, they are hilarious together, and Justin's albums then were very playable too - and Mila Kunis, so good in BLACK SWAN. He is the LA guy whom she headhunts for GQ magazine in New York, where he is taken in hand by Woody Harrelson, the gay best friend with a difference. It is all amusingly depicted, great soundtrack too, as our cute couple decide to be friends with benefits - sex without emotion - but as he says later he is now getting the emotion without the sex.  Add in her kookie mother (Patricia Clarkson) and his dad (Richard Jenkins) in the early stages of Alzheimers ... it all resolves nicely and takes one to places one did not expect to go, as ably directed by Will Gluck and written by Keith Merryman and others.

I reviewed the previous film by Glenn Ficcara and John Requa I LOVE YOU PHILIP MORRIS (gay interest label) a while ago and while I found it engaging enough (their script for BAD SANTA is also very amusing) I just did not respond to STUPID CRAZY LOVE as much. The problem for me, as with the recent BRIDESMAIDS, is that these "Saturday Night Live" people are just not known here in England as SNL does not play here, so I had never seen Kristen Wiig before, nor Steve Carell here (well I had no interest in seeing THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN!).  Here he is the dull decent guy whose wife Julianne Moore suddenly asks for a divorce after 25 years of marriage.

Womaniser around town Ryan Gosling takes our hapless guy under his wing and smartens him up and gets him on the dating circuit so he starts to meet all those other women - Marisa Tomei scores again here - and there are various plot complications and some yucky moments too. Again, there is a plot development I did not see coming ....
Are we though meant to find the 13 year old son obsessed about the 17 year old babysitter amusing ? - he won't take no for an answer and is practically abusing her by ignoring her wishes, while she of course secretly loves his father. Fairly amusing then but not as involving as F W B

Monday, 23 April 2012

"... but here I am"

James Stewart, in an interview with Peter Bogdanovich, referred to those special movie moments as "pieces of time" - the little moments that impress and stay with one: a look, a gesture, a line reading, a particular moment that one likes. I got such a one in ANONYMOUS when Vanessa Redgrave's Elizabeth I lists all the people who wanted her dead - "Philip of Spain, Mary Queen of Scots ... and 8 popes" and then adds "but HERE I am" as she has survived them all ... for me it was the best moment of the film.    I would not be surprised if it was filmed on blank stages as all the Elizabethan stuff looks like it was added in afterwards by the CGI boys. It is a fascinating premise that Shakespeare (a buffoonish drunken actor, here played by Rafe Spall) did not actually write the plays, but it was Edward De Vere, The Earl of Oxford, who did so but who due to the political intrigues of the time, could not put his name to them. Shakespeare after all did not have the required education then. The intrigues at court are as usual interesting even if here they take place in very gloomy interiors.

This project attracted quite a cast - Derek Jacobi sets the scene (presumably for those not familiar with the Elizabethan court), Mark Rylance also features, Rhys Ifans is quite good as Oxford, and the main point of interest is the casting of Redgrave and her daughter Joely Richardson as Elizabeth I - no virgin queen here! - thats all I can say without giving away too much of what follows ... It is good to see Vanessa, who was also MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS, (Vanessa Redgrave label), adding Elizabeth I to her gallery, she also gets to reprise that moment that Glenda Jackson so effectively did in her magisterial series ELIZABETH R, where when she was dying she stands with her finger in her mouth ... Vanessa's raddled old queen is certainly a different interpretation. Roland Emmerich directs - quite a change from 2012 and THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW (which we quite liked) and the whole crazy thing was written by John Orloff.   

I am not a Shakespeare scholar per se but certainly like the works that I know: all those HAMLETs that I saw (Peter McEnery, Michael York, Alan Bates, Jonathan Pryce, Stephen Dillane, David Tennant...), THE MERCHANT OF VENICE that I acted in at college, the wild poetry of MACBETH - Orson Welles' and the McKellen-Dench version; Paul Schofield's Prospero in THE TEMPEST, Olivier's tour de force as OTHELLO and of course Orson's perfect Falstaff in his labour of love CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, and that magisterial Russian HAMLET in 1964 by Kozintsev (not to mention Olivier and Branagh's versions), and Zeffirelli's lush adaptations. ANONYMOUS is no SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (costume drama label) alas and quickly gets tedious as the plot gets more and more far-fetched until one is laughing out loud at its ridiculousness.  But if it gets more people interested in the plays - ultimately it does not matter who wrote them or  that we know nothing much about the real Shakespeare,  but that the works exist and will continue to fascinate us for evermore. The CGI is rather good at suggesting the Queen's funeral - was it really on the frozen Thames? Now I can go back to Simon Callow and his great performance in BEING SHAKESPEARE which was televised last week ... that's Shakespeare!

The tree in the garden ...

I love this tree which is in the garden of the new house I moved to a month ago. It sways in the breeze - or gales we are having at the moment, and now that the leaves are out on it it looks so much better. After a warm March April is proving cool and wet and windy .... but then we need all that rain.

The new house is in the '60s style, with a huge two-room lounge, part of a 1960s estate - in fact its like living in a 1960s movie!


The Doors at the Roundhouse again ...

I am back on television again this week, as the UK Sky Arts 1 channel is doing a few screenings (on Thur 26) of that 1968 documentary THE DOORS IN EUROPE (which is also on dvd) which I posted about here a year or two ago ... Doors link. I was 22 at the time and my hippie friends and I were sitting on the floor in front of the stage - at one point Morrison was towering over me in that white shirt and leather trousers, and he was covered in sweat.   We were all bombed at the time of course - the night was shared with Jefferson Airplane who did two gigs, as did The Doors, but only the Doors one was recorded for television, pity not in colour. Perfectly 60s then ... thats me in the lower right corner. The Roundhouse in Camden was a great venue then for concerts, we also saw The Who and Traffic there among others.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Fantasy Holiday

Let's head off to St Paul De Vence in the South of France and have lunch at The Colombe D'Or restaurant, its still the chic fashionable place to go (though some say its an over-priced tourist trap now). Just like back in 1966 in the lush romantic thriller MOMENT TO MOMENT when Jean Seberg in that fabulous Yves St Laurent wardrobe, drives her little red car to it and strolls around the town with her love interest, Sean Garrison - as per reviews at Jean Seberg label. Its a "Movie I Love". At the restaurant they watch the doves flying into sun "saying farewell to the day", as Henry Mancini's great score swells.

I have just been reading about St Paul De Vence as a great South of France destination, its been years since I have been around that way, and it whets my appetite. It is an exquisite fortified village up in the hills near those other towns like Nice, Menton, Juan-Les-Pins, and it has medieval stone cottages and also a great art gallery, not to mention that restaurant...I wonder whats on today's menu ...

Friday, 20 April 2012

Levon Helm, R.I.P.

Sad indeed to record the passing of a true American rock legend, Levon Helm of The Band (1940-2012) from a long battle with throat cancer.  After those years of being Bob Dylan's band, their first album MUSIC FROM BIG PINK was such a revelation in 1969 - my hippie friends and I played it all the time, and we really dug that Americana sound here in Europe: songs like "The Weight" (which Levon sang lead on), "Tears of Rage", "Caledonia Mission" "Long Black Veil" etc and subsequent albums like THE BAND and STAGE FRIGHT capturing that rural American period with more classic songs like "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", "Up on Cripple Creek" and  favouries like "Rag Mama Rag", "Unfaithful Servant", "The Shape I'm In", "Whispering Pines", "Look Out Cleveland", The Band fused rock, blues, folk and gospel to create a sound that seemed as authentically American - Levon was actually the only American as the others were Canadian: Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko (who died in 1999), Garth Hudson and Richard Manual (who committed suicide in 1986). (The Eagles of course continued this country-rock vein, as did Elton with his "Tumbleweed Connection").

The Band were musical virtuosos who returned to the roots of American music in the late 1960s as other rockers veered into psychedelia and heavy metal.  After their successful albums and tours (I saw them at The Albert Hall in London in 1970), they bid farewell to live shows with a bang with THE LAST WALTZ concert in 1976. Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Dylan were among the stars who played the show in San Francisco, filmed by Martin Scorsese for a movie of the same name, released in 1978. This is regarded by many as the greatest of concert films (and is certainly worth a re-look - I used to have the 3 album vinyl package). but it also helped lead to a bitter split between Robertson and Helm, as Robertson seemed to be taking over the band (or The Band). Robertson became close to Scorsese during the production, and Helm believed the movie was structured to make Robertson look the leader (with the others as his backing group) to advance his own movie career. They rarely spoke after.

Helm, ironically, was the more successful actor, with acclaimed roles in COAL MINER'S DAUGHTERTHE RIGHT STUFF and other films. And no one who watched THE LAST WALTZ could forget Helm's performance of "Dixie Down," shot mostly in closeup, his face squeezed with emotion. Helm continued with own solo career, a Band reunion (without Robertson) and his various other projects like his "Midnight Rambler" shows. RIP indeed.

Also: Dick Clark (1929-2012). I never saw AMERICAN BANDSTAND but back in 1959 in Ireland I knew how important it was from reading all those American movie and music magazines when I was a pre-teen.
Bert Weedon too, who died aged 91 - the great guitarist who seems to have influenced every guitarist who followed his footsteps and books.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Perfectly '70s

As the disaster movie genre gained momentum in the seventies, with those hilarious choices like AIRPORT 75 and THE SWARM and the very entertaining EARTHQUAKE, a rather overlooked one (I never got to see it at the time, but it must have played at my local cinema) this British film JUGGERNAUT depicted a grittier, more realistic and suspenseful alternative, and is also quite humourous with those subsersive Richard Lester touches (mainly provided by Roy Kinnear). This was an early example of a plot that sidestepped natural disasters in favour of man-made terrors - as in THE CASSANDRA CROSSING, BLACK SUNDAY etc.
David and Richard discuss filming with Antonioni
JUGGERNAUT with an entire ocean liner held hostage, matched Hollywood for tension and accurately portrayed the stressfulness of the hostage situation. There’s a taut parallel race against time as the police desperately try to track down the identity of the bomber, while disposal experts tackle the seven booby-trapped drums of explosives - if any three explode, the ship will sink. The blackmailer calls himself ’Juggernaut’ and detonates warning blasts to prove that he’s not bluffing. Either pay up, or lose the ship and all onboard. The tension racks up as it all comes down to which wire to cut: the blue wire or the red wire.

Another gripping sequence is the bomb squad’s parachute jump to get to the liner. Rough seas prevent the passengers from abandoning ship, they also make getting onboard a lethal and hazardous task. It seems the "Brittanic" ship is cruising in the middle of winter in a storm in the North sea.

What is interesting about it now is the great cast: it stars Richard Harris and David Hemmings, who engagingly represent the best of the bomb squad. Omar Sharif is the increasingly desperate captain. They all look so young: Anthony Hopkins, Ian Holm, John Stride, and there are pop-ups by Cyril Cusack and Michael Hordern. A young Simon McCorkindale is also on the crew, but I did not spot him, and there's that guy who was on tv a lot then: Tom Chadbon. That 70s technology is a hoot now too.
Shirley Knight shows again what a brilliant actress she is, as - rather slimmer here - she does wonders with the non-existant role of the captain's lady friend; she is saddled though with a hideous 70s white dress with round holes in it and a silly feather boa.

Director Richard Lester, in between the brilliant THREE and FOUR MUSKETEERS films adds to the wry sense of gallows humour among the doomed passengers, in particular the attempts of the entertainment officer (the fantastic Roy Kinnear) to lift their spirits. Once again, Lester adds snippets of dialogue to almost every character onscreen, no matter how incidental, and makes it all riveting entertainment.
I presume too Harris and Hemmings got to talk about their Antonioni films - David enjoyed the whole BLOW-UP experience, as detailed in his autobiography while Harris it seems hated working with Antonioni in Italy on THE RED DESERT (above with Vitti) and more or less walked out of the film. I like Lester's 1975 ROYAL FLASH too, another great humourous costume drama, (as per review here - Lester label), with another great cast (McDowell, Bates, Reed, Bolkan and even Alastair Sim in his last role).