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, 28 September 2013

Deliciously scary: Arachnophobia

ARACHNOPHOBIA. The ideal American small town is terrorised by - spiders?! How deliciously 1990. I don’t like spiders, but I love ARACHNOPHOBIA, the best horror comic on celluloid - certainly as good as GREMLINS

This is a delicious treat as one shivers at the sight of all those deadly spiders invading Jeff Daniels’ house, and that climax in his cellar as he and the daddy spider slug it out. 
The killer spider arrived in town in a coffin from Venezuela and soon mates with a local specimen to create a new strain of killer foot-soldiers spreading out around town. It is one of Daniels’ best roles. Amusing moments too as the other victims meet their ends with deadly spiders in the popcorn, in a slipper, and on the sports field as well as in the shower and toilet, as Jeff realises the killer spiders are nesting in his barn. John Goodman is ace too as the exterminator, while Julian Sands was very silly as the know-all spider expert going exploring on his own … Small town America is nicely depicted too as Frank Marshall directs, with Steven Spielberg as an Executive Producer. This is one funny horror film one can return to happily. Jeff may have destroyed the spider nest, but there were still spiders in other houses ... 
This autumn weather is perfect for spiders. I caught a big one last week which was just there on the carpet, it was put out, as was one the next morning when I woke up and there it was on the bedroom ceiling! It must have come in the ajar window ... Just shake your slippers before you put them on, just in case ...

Pedro is so excited, Francois is in the house, and where is the paperboy ?

A roundup of 3 recent treats:
DANS LE MAISON (IN THE HOUSE), 2012: Starring Kristin Scott Thomas and Fabrice Luchini. and from acclaimed director Francois Ozon, IN THE HOUSE is an unforgettable, blackly comic thriller. A sixteen year old boy insinuates himself into the house of a fellow student from his literature class, and writes about it in essays for his teacher - "to be continued". Faced with his gifted and unusual pupil, the teacher rediscovers his enthusiasm for his work, and finds himself strangely compelled as the boy becomes more dangerously involved with his classmate's attractive but bored mother. However, as the line between reality and fiction become blurred, the boy's intrustion unleashes a series of uncontrollable events.

Thats the blurb in a nutshell, giving a flavour of this unusal comedy - as we start to be unsure of what is real or imagined. I had to stop the film about half way through and could not wait to get back to it later. What was about to happen next? Is Claude going to make a move on Esther, his pal Rapha's mother (Elizabeth Seigner), or maybe even the father? (they shower after sport) and then the son kisses him, as the duplicitious Claude (excellent Ernst Umhauer) pretends to be his only best friend. Does he in fact want to supplant the son and have them as his new family with him at the centre? - 
or is this another take on Pasolini's THEOREM as Germain the teacher speculates. We know Claude's own mother walked out on him and his ailing father some time ago, so naturally he wants this new family to be his - he has been watching them and their house for a long time, wondering how to get in to it. But how is is all going to end? - the teacher's wife (KST) is worried she is going to lose her Art Gallery job (the art on show is amusing too...), as do the ideal family coping with their Chinese clients ..... will the son realise what is going on between Claude and his mother? Will the teacher go too far in blurring teacher-pupil boundaries? Does Claude actually want Germain (the teacher) himself?- then he calls on Germain's wife, who is also making changes ...
This is all absolutely fascinating and plays out nicely. Do see the final moments, a neat nod to Hitch's REAR WINDOW with all those apartments and different things going on in them as our two protagonists - teacher and pupil - watch and speculate ... don't miss the son who comes in and shoots his parents!  I loved Ozon's last, the deliriously comic POTICHE (it was fun seeing it again too recently, I enjoyed its '70s parodies a lot more), this one is another change of pace after those intense dramas like TIME TO LEAVE or UNDER THE SAND. (see Ozon/French labels). Fabrice Luchini (Mr Nasty in POTICHE) scores again here too. It is all simply delicious.  Good extras too and deleted scenes. 

Pedro's new one I'M SO EXCITED has not attracted such good notices and did not hang around. It is a rather leaden farce, with some amusing moments though. We have to allow Almodovar the occasional misfire, there is a lot to amuse though in this satire on Spain's economic crisis as we take to the skies ...

The action takes place above the clouds as the pilots of a stricken airliner battle to make it to Mexico City. In the face of danger the crew decide to forget their own personal problems and await their fate with a smile. They devote themselves body and soul to the task of making the flight as enjoyable as possible for the passengers - in first class at any rate. The ones back in steerage are sedated and drugged and have no say in what is going on (a comment perhaps on the Spanish economic situation) . Life in the clouds is as complicated as it is at ground level, and for the same reasons: sex and death. 
A few familiar faces here: Banderas and Cruz at the start, and Cecilia Roth from ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER and Javier Camara from BAD EDUCATION as one of the camp (very) air stewards. It is a sendup of the AIPPORT and AIRPLANE type of movies set in Almodovar's particular universe where anything goes. The plane is in trouble, and in true Almodovar fashion, everyone tries to bare their soul, find some relief, and enjoy themselves - even the pilots - bring on the drink and drugs. It may be just a silly comedy - but hey, enjoy it, even if it falls rather flat in the middle - at over 80 minutes it is mercifully not too long. More serious Almodovar soon, as I go back to THE SKIN I LIVE IN
THE PAPERBOY.  Directed by Oscar nominee Lee Daniels, THE PAPERBOY  is the story of two brothers: Ward (McConaughey) a successful reporter, and Jack (Efron) a college dropout. Ward returns to his hometown to investigate the case of a wrongly convicted, but deeply unsavoury, man - who has been sentenced to death for murdering a sheriff. As the brothers dig deeper, it becomes clear that they are on a journey filled with lust and betrayal. THE PAPERBOY features an extraordindary performance from Nicole Kidman as the convict's wayward fiancee, and it also stars John Cusack, David Oyelowo and Macy Gray as the lovable maid Anita - yes, that Macy Gray who was a singing sensation a decade or so ago (I nearly wore out her first cd). 

So, a colourful ramble with some unsavoury characters through a Deep South swamp trash landscape - rather like KILLER JOE? Matthew McConaughey, on a roll after MAGIC MIKE and JOE (both reviewed at 2000s label), scores again here and Zac Efron is maturing nicely (I hadn't actually seen him in anything before) - and they get him down to his underwear frequently. Kidman - I had not wanted to see any of her recent films for ages - is terrific here, as the story is told by Macy. Ward has his own secret life too, as we discover when Jack has to rescue him from a pickup that has turned nasty ... It is good lurid fun with the cast challenging themselves in some staggering sequences - Zac shedding his boy next door image, Nicole pushing the limits .... The backwoods swamp milieu is fascinating too, as we get to that grisly ending. Daniels' THE BUTLER should be interesting too ...

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Alone On The Pacific

I can't call ALONE ON THE PACIFIC  a forgotten movie - I remember it vividly! This 1963 Japanese film played in at the prestigious Academy Cinema in London in 1964, I saw it then aged 18 and new in town, and it made a vivid impression on me, so it was interesting to see it again after 40+ years !

A powerful hymn to the human spirit, ALONE ON THE PACIFIC (or ACROSS the Pacific) by renowned Japanese director Kon Ichikawa (AN ACTOR'S REVENGE, THE BURMESE HARP) tells the extraordinary real-life story of one man's obsessive quest to break free from the strictures of society.
In 1962, Kenichi Horie (Yujiro Ishihara) embarks on a heroic attempt to sail single-handed across the Pacific Ocean. Leaving Osaka in Japan in an ill-prepared vessel, The Mermaid, the young adventurer must overcome the most savage of seas, the psychological torment of cabin fever, and his mental and physical breaking point, if he is ever to reach the fabled destination of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. 
Using Horie's best-selling book as his source, Ichikawa portrays the epic struggle of man against nature. 'Scope cinematography - with Horie isolated in the oceanic expanse of the frame - and a score by Toru Takemitsu, add to the drama of a film for whic Ichikawa received accolades. As the 'Masters of Cinema' dvd put it.
There are fearsome storms at sea, and longeurs of our sailor becalmed on the ocean in his tiny boat in the heat, when there is no wind, also encounters with ships at sea, and that moment when he almost encounters a shark! We also get flashbacks to his preparations, the items he takes with him, as he has to leave Japan in secret, as well as family scenes with his worried mother and sister. It is very emotional though when he finally sees land and finds himself outside San Francisco bay, after 94 days at sea - what a stunning achievement. The last scene has him fast asleep as his parents are on the phone from Japan.
Yujiro Ishihara (1934-1987) was a big star in Japan, but died aged 52 of liver cancer. His only non-Japanese role was as one of THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES in 1964. Kon Ichikawa went to to make that terrific film of the 1964 Olympic Games: TOKYO OLYMPIAD
I must also return to my Ozu boxset - TOKYO STORY (right) will always be a top 10 movie for me, but I must see the other 2 of the "Noriko Trilogy": EARLY SUMMER, LATE SPRING as well as his earlier THERE WAS A FATHER and THE ONLY SON. I also received as a gift 8 '60s Japanese films by Yoshishige Yoshida (AFFAIR IN THE SNOW, CONFESSIONS AMONG ACTRESSES, ESCAPE FROM JAPAN) so lots to investigate there too ...

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

More forgotten '60s/'70s British films: Bumbo & more

Well, THE BREAKING OF BUMBO has been re-discovered and is out in a new dvd release. Most people though will not have heard of it - they didn't get a chance to see it back in 1970 (though it was featured in all the film magazines) and it never showed up anywhere since. I got a copy last year though, and it is now available again. Can't see why they bothered though, its rather dreary and dull by any standards, but certainly a fascinating time capsule of that 1969-70 era of protest and demonstrations. It was a novel which I remember, by Andrew Sinclar - who also got to direct the movie, so it is his vision up there. Let's see what the blurb says:

Bumbo Bailey, a newly commissioned Ensign of the Household Brigade, becomes quickly bored with the social life this entails (there is lots of playing rugby in the mud). This boredome is rudely shattered when he falls in with the luscious Susie and her friend Jock, bourgeois revolutionaries whose principal occupation is organising anti-war demonstrations. Sensing Bumbo's general dissatisfaction with everything they manipulate him into a course of action which could have dire consequences for his future.
Richard Warwick and Joanna Lumley star in this sexy, exuberant social satire charting the travails of an angry young man reacting against his environment. Adapting his bestselling novel Andrew Sinclair draws on his own youthful experiences - THE BREAKING OF BUMBO is a time-capsule of Swinging Sixties London. Denied a theatrical release by EMI the film is finally available.

Joanna Lumley - now of course a National Treasure - but here with Very Big Hair must wince now at seeing herself as the posh hippie princess/revolutionary with her furs and chiffon dresses. Richard Warwick (he was one of the IF... boys for Lindsay Anderson in '68, along with Malcolm McDowell) is Bumbo. I knew Richard slightly in the '80s when we used to hang out at the same pub in Earls Court (he usually had his bicycle with him) - he died in 1997, aged 52. He also played in Zeffirelli's 1968 ROMEO & JULIET and his 1990 HAMLET, and Zeffirelli's JANE EYRE in '96; as well as a BBC production THE LOST LANGUAGE OF CRANES (which I have been meaning to review), and in Derek Jarman's TEMPEST and SEBASTIANE, among others. He was one of those new British actors (like Ian Charleson) who did not survive the Aids crisis.
BUMBO is all rather a tourist image of swinging London as it poked fun at the British Army Guards Regiments and rather improbably had Bumbo trying to convert the soldiers under his command to passivism and get them to lay down their arms while on parade. It does not come to a satisfactory ending but just stops. Among the cast are Edward Fox, Donald Pickering and John Bird.
Just one quibble: they say this dvd is the full complete version - it isn't as that marvellous 1993 BBC series HOLLYWOOD UK (see my full report at British or London labels) includes this scene (not on the dvd), showing the leads nude in that groovy '70s apartment.
When I began this blog back in 2010 there were a lot of British '60s movies I had not seen, but we have managed to catch up with and comment on most of them: WEST 11, TWO LEFT FEET, I WAS HAPPY HERE, GIRL WITH GREEN EYES, A PLACE TO GO, THE LEATHER BOYS, THE PLEASURE GIRLS, THE WORLD TEN TIMES OVER etc - as per British/London labels. TWO LEFT FEET is delicious fun too with a gormless (very) young Michael Crawford. And I like this recent 2001 one: LAST ORDERS with that marvellous ensemble: David Hemmings in one of his last roles, Tom Courtenay, Helen Mirren, Bob Hoskins, Michael Caine and Ray Winstone ! I must finally see Courtenay and Finney in THE DRESSER too, from '83 ...

Sunday, 22 September 2013

News round-up: Elton, Jacobi, Jasmine, bad reviews, Vanessa, Downton Tabby, A Single Man again ...

Sliding into mid-autumn already here, at least the 2 pigeons who live in the tree in the garden are still around ...

Sirs Elton and Jacobi: I did not think I would be buying any more Elton John albums. Like Rod Stewart (whom I also liked back in that 1970 era - over 40 years ago!) he seemed a spent force now - content to churn out concerts for the faithful who had not seem him yet. At least Dame Elton did not attempt The Great American Songbook or albums of Tamla covers or Christmas songs. His new album however THE IRONING BOARD - sorry, THE DIVING BOARD, has been getting universal raves - like that other '70s figure back with a stunning album this year - David Bowie's THE NEXT DAY.

THE DIVING BOARD is a treat with a host of new songs, some of which I am not too familiar with yet - but "Oscar Wilde Gets Out" is a stunner, with a simple lolloping piano background Bernie Taupin's lyric imagines Oscar's release from prison as he heads off to France and exile. Its going to be a grower, as no doubt will others on here. Recorded with a pared-down unit of piano, bass and drums, it is quite an achievement for an artist in his sixth decade. 
I suppose I could say that I used to 'hang out' with Elton back in the early 70s, that year 1972 when I moved to Chelsea and shared an apartment just off Kings Road, where we could congregate on Saturday afternoons, when Elton would drop in to D J Noel Edmunds' record shop where he would chat and sign albums - he signed my DON'T SHOOT ME I'M ONLY THE PIANO PLAYER gatefold - 
and I also remember chatting to him at Harrods, where he was sporting a pink suit, and with manager John Reid (and we saw 2 early concerts of his, one with Marc Bolan - at one of these I had a spare ticket which I sold to a visiting American or Canadian, who pulled out a large joint during the concert, which we smoked, to my initial "you can't do that here"  - how very rock'n'roll!). This was also the year I met Joni Mitchell, also in Kings Road - people must just have been more approachable back then, they didn't have entourages and were friendly, as both Joni and Elton were. I liked those first 3 albums of his - the ELTON JOHN album, TUMBLEWEED CONNECTION (you can hear Dusty on background vocals) and MADMAN ACROSS THE WATER - even now the opening chords of "Your Song" or "Tiny Dancer" bring it all back - like Rod's "Every Picture Tells A Story". By the time Elton has succumbed to showbiz glitz we had moved on, and also moved from Chelsea, down to South London .... good though to have Elton back, in good health again, and with a successful album, now lets hope its a popular success as well.

Sir Derek Jacobi's book is an engrossing read - a treasure trove of theatrical stories, featuring the likes of "Sir" (Laurence Olivier), Maggie Smith, Sarah Miles, Edith Evans, Ian McKellen and all the others Jacobi worked with, particularly during those great National Theatre days of the '60s. Young Michael York was also there, and it seems they were all besotted with him. He and Jacobi were friends and travelled around Europe, and there is a delicious story of them dropping in on Noel Coward in Switzerland - he had told Derek to drop in if ever passing. Jacobi was also York's best man at his wedding and has some interesting comments on dinner with the Yorks! As I said, a fascinating, easy read. It is though the standard price (£20) for a theatrical memoir but surely with a memoir like this one needs an Index and a full list of stage/film/tv credits (Jacobi keeps busy, with over 130 credits according to IMDB), but they haven't bothered .... It may be worth investing in his turn as Francis Bacon opposite Daniel Craig in LOVE IS THE DEVIL ?; and it looks like there will be a second series of that dreadful sitcom VICIOUS about the bickering old queens. The book is by Derek "as told to Garry O'Connor" (a reliable theatre biographer - he did a tome on Ralph Richardson, as I recall) - and indeed reads like Sir Derek is talking to us himself.  Just one howler: Veteran director Fred Zinnemann (Derek had a part in his DAY OF THE JACKAL is referred to as Fred Zimmermann 3 or 4 times!
Writer David Plante's book BECOMING A LONDONER will also be an engrossing read, covering as it does his arrival here in the '60s and being part of the Hockney/London literati set, due to his relationship with Nikos Stangos ... another fascinating '60s memoir then; also like Victor Spinetti in his delicious memoirs, Sir Derek has only good to say about Richard Burton with some nice tales of Burton's generosity, including to other actors. 

Its been an amusing week for reviews of current events. Two new films have encouraged the critics to heights of new adjectives. R.I.P.D. is DOA and TBA.
"Just when we assumed we'd seen the last of this year's wretched batch of summer blockbusters - many of them commercial and critical duds - one last contender arrives late, limping its way into release. Against stiff opposition R.I.P.D. may be the worst of the lot ... its laughs are almost non-existant, its action depends on seen-it-all-before CGI trickery and its plot defies comprehension" - seems such a waste of Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges - but surely they must have realised what a stinker they were making.

DIANA on the other hand has had them laughing out loud. "An utterly pointless, shoddily scripted biopic that does no honour to the memory of the Princess of Wales .... the film is likely to be best remembered (if at all) for its squirmingly embarassing dialogue and unintentionally comic moments" and "Connoisseurs of awful films will enjoy this fantasy of what famous people are like in private" - its a Rom-Trag (as opposed to rom-com) as the tragedy unfolds. Naomi Watts (so good in EASTERN PRIOMISES, 2000s label) is not even the same height as the real Diana who was very tall. An interesting comment of Camilla Paglia's is quoted - that Diana was the last great silent movie star.

Why though do well-known actresses continue these impersonations?, which can never match the well-known reality - we are also getting Nicole Kidman as GRACE OF MONACO. I think we can safely assume that neither of them will be competing with Cate Blanchett (BLUE JASMINE) or Judi Dench (PHILOMENA) come next award season - here they are in their NOTES ON A SCANDAL in 2006, below The new Woody - his best in years it seems - opens here this week. I loved MIDNIGHT IN PARIS as per my review (2000s label) but just did not want to see his laboured TO ROME WITH LOVE at all. Talk about busy: I just checked Blanchett's profile on IMDB, she has so many current projects in pre and post production, including a Patricia Highsmith: CAROL. Interesting interview with her today too - she has been reading Highsmith novels and showing VERTIGO to her 5-year-old, also saw 2 television interviews with her, so they are certainly promoting the new Allen film! She has also got the well-paid gig of being the face of that new Armani perfume 'Si'. Woody has already had another filmed since JASMINE! (and the ever busy Sir Jacobi pops up in GRACE OF MONACO, like he did in MY WEEK WITH MARILYN!).
Odd reviews too for David Walliams as Bottom in the new A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM - "The Daily Telegraph" hated him, while other reviews have been raves, and it seems the new MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING with Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones, at the Old Vic, has fallen rather flat, with the leads being rather too old. Mark Rylance's production has set the play in 1944 wartime England, hence Vanessa with her gun out shooting rabbits! - like an older version of her lady of the manor in YANKS ?!

Another eye-catching quote - by "Sunday Times" critic A.A. Gill: "Kate Moss's one-liner "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels" is the defining quote of our age". I like it.

Meanwhile, Benedict Cumberbatch looks just right as Alan Turing in that new film he is making with Keira Knightley. I trust it will be true to the Turing story ... (Sir Derek of course also played Turing in BREAKING THE CODE).

The London Film Festival is about to open, and DOWNTON ABBEY is back for its 4th season tonight -  bring on the Gin & Tonic ... yes, Autumn is certainly in full swing! and of course we have STRICTLY COME DANCING too: Keep dancing! and I must get to see that new Italian film THE GREAT BEAUTY in the cinema this week.  

Another look too at Tom Ford's A SINGLE MAN, on tv: I covered this in full in my review (A SINGLE MAN label) - it seems more annoying now: a classic novel turned into a high fashion shoot, with a house and clothes totally not right for 1962 when the story is set, there is no gun or suicide intent in the book where George and Charley (Julianne Moore) are ageing in their late fifties, in rundown homes - not the glamour here in the movie, making it more unlikely that the fit 40s George would suddenly keel over - Isherwood in the novel imagines the time when George's body would give out - not it literally happening there and then when the young student (who is soon got out of his white underwear) is still in the house ....  

How to view DOWNTON ABBEY: Today's papers report complaints about the number of ad breaks in the latest series (fourth) of DOWNTON ABBEY - same as the others then. It seems that of the 90 minute programme 67 were the programme with 23 minutes of adverts, almost at 10 minute intervals. Here's how I watch it:  Record it to your device (Sky+ box in my case), prepare a gin & tonic, and begin watching the recording half an hour or so later, with drink in hand - then you can zap out the commercial breaks as they occur without ruining your enjoyment of the programme! The dvd should be out for Christmas!

And finally: 20 more posts and I will have clocked up 1,000 (as per archive and labels, below, right hand side) - which I think is enough for me, I never imagined I would do that many when I began back in 2010. I think I will have covered all I wanted to by then during my 3 years here, and I do have other writing projects I want to get on with - maybe my own '60s memoir! It won't be farewell though, I shall still be looking in and adding comments and photos of interest - so keep watching! 

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Some books I like ... (2)

Another round of books we like ... and can return to several times.

I absolutely love Jane Austen's PERSUASION and have re-read it several times and no doubt will again. PRIDE & PREJUDICE is a witty comedy of manners (and there is that great BBC version of it), SENSE & SENSIBILITY was a nice discovery too as we follow the Dashwood girls in and out of love (and we have Ang Lee's perfect film as scripted by Emma Thompson, and the rather nice recent TV version) - I have not felt the urge though to bother with EMMA or NORTHANGER ABBEY, while MANSFIELD PARK was rather a chore. It is PERSUASION though that I want to read and re-read. For one thing it is perfectly romantic as the thwarted lovers slowly begin to rediscover each other, and Anne Elliott is the most charming and wise Austen heroine, compared to her family and the interfering Aunt, Lady Russell. Anne is only 28 but is practically an old maid as she missed her chance with the dashing Captain 8 years previously when she was persuaded to give him up as he had no fortune. Captain Wentworth too is the perfect hero, back from the navy, his fortune made - no wonder those silly Musgrove girls throw themselves at him, as we travel from Uppercross to Lyme Regis and its famous cobb, and high society in Bath. All the 3 adaptations create their own endings. Austen actually wrote two in her book, but neither is cinematic, so in the films we have Anne chasing all over Bath to catch up with the Captain, and the couple kissing! I prefer the 1995 BBC version which is a real film, but the recent one is fine too. The book though is a lasting pleasure. See Austen label for reviews of the films of her books.

THE TAKEOVER by Muriel Spark, 1979. As dazzling as her other gems like THE GIRLS OF SLENDER MEANS, THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE, MEMENTO MORI, THE ABBESS OF CREWE. The time is the late Seventies, the place is Italy, particularly the enchanted lake at Nemi, southeast of Rome, where the Temple of Diana once stood. The people form an extraordinary cast chasing love (or sex) and money, with the goddess-like American heiress Maggie at the center, justly famed for her beauty, her wealth, and the steeliness of her will - like her namesake, Maggie Thatcher. 
To many, as to her old confidant, Hubert Mallindaine, Maggie is ever-tempting target for takeover. Indeed he squats in one of Maggie's houses, selling off her paintings and furniture and seeking to set up the cult of the ancestress he claims, Diana herself, while Maggie plots to oust him. An assortment of jewel thieves, counterfeiters, art smugglers, adulterers, gay secretaries, spongers, and fanatics, plus the international confidence man Coco de Renault, after nothing less than her entire fortune, seek to exploit Maggie. There is also Lauro, the petulant Italian waiter/gigolo/general all-rounder who has slept with almost everyone in the book for his own gain .... It is a familiar Spark scenario - with riches, drinks, crooked servants, poetic quotations, domestic intrigue, and double-edged jokes about Catholicism. It is about being so wealthy that they can no longer afford to insure their possessions, and attempt to foil their predators - by hiding their jewels in hot water bottles, by making false floors to false kitchens, by burying their ill-gotten gains in their mothers' well-tended graves. Maggie though scores the last word.  It is all sheer delight. As witty as her other books! Like Iris Murdoch's THE BELL (or almost any Murdoch) it would make a perfect film or tv series. (To review soon: the film of Murdoch's A SEVERED HEAD).

THE COUNTRY GIRLS by Edna O'Brien. The first of Edna O'Brien's 24 novels, about Cait and Baba and their adventures in '50s Ireland, in the country and at school and the loneliness and excitement of  living and surviving on their wits and their charms in Dublin (as continued in THE LONELY GIRL). Caithleen is a bookish, introspective Catholic girl who falls for an older and married Protestant man. 
This formed the basis of the 1964 film THE GIRL WITH GREEN EYES, which I like a lot, as per other items on it here. We follow the doomed romance of Cait and Eugene, and it ends with the girls catching that ferry to London - a very nostalgic moment for those who have also done that journey. Edna has now published her own memoir COUNTRY GIRL, the fascinating real story of her life which she used for her fiction. More on the films of O'Brien books at O'Brien / Ireland labels.

FIRE FROM HEAVEN / THE PERSIAN BOY. Mary Renault's much admired novels about Alexander The Great repay several visits as she totally conjures up that ancient world of mysterious kingdoms and rites as the boy Alexander mesmerises everybody as he grows up to claim his inheritance and become the ruler of the known world. The first volume FIRE FROM HEAVEN is terrific on his childhood with his lifelong friend Hephaestion, and his mysterious mother Olympias and father Philip. THE PERSIAN BOY continues the story as Alexander's men follow him to the ends of the known world, when it all comes tumbling down in Babylon (where a third novel FUNERAL GAMES is set). 
The Boy is the Persian eunuch Bagoas who becomes another of Alexander's lovers and we see it all though his eyes. It is a stunning feat of imagination. There are other Alexander fictions but these are the ones for me. You do need though to be interested in Alexander and that ancient world to really enjoy these. I have other Alexander books like those by Plutarch and expert historian Robin Lane Fox, but Renault (1905-1983) too was highly acclaimed in her time for her historical novels set in Greece, like THE KING MUST DIE, THE CHARIOTEER, often with gay themes, a novelty back then in the '50s and '60s - Like Patricia Highsmith she was one of the first writers of her era perceived to be lesbian - Renault though had a lifelong partner. Her history of Alexander: THE NATURE OF ALEXANDER is a terrific coffee table book too, with great illustrations.

DUBLINERS - James Joyce.  Dubliners is a collection of 15 short stories by James Joyce, first published in 1914. They form a naturalistic depiction of Irish middle class life in and around Dublin in the early years of the 20th century, and again, repay re-reading. 
The most famous story of course is THE DEAD. The stories centre on Joyce's idea of an epiphany, the moment where a character experiences self-understanding or illumination. Gabriel Conroy has such a moment when he attends a new year party with his wife Gretta, about the nature of life and death. It is really more a novella than a short story, and was lovingly filmed by veteran John Huston in 1987, his last film and testament, as we too linger at that party where Gretta hears that lament which brings back all those memories of the boy who loved her and died - as the snow falls over the living and the dead ..... as beautifully captured by Joyce's prose and Huston's film. It is perfect - I have written about it in more detail in my review of the film, Huston / Ireland labels. .

Friday, 20 September 2013

Ingrid's Journey to Italy - and China ...

STROMBOLI, 1950. Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman’s first collaboration was overshadowed by the “scandal” of their real-life affair (and their first child born out of wedlock). But this is a strong and evocative drama full of submerged emotion. Bergman plays Karin, a refugee who marries an Italian fisherman (Mario Vitale) as a way out of an internment camp after the war, but finds herself equally isolated and restricted at his home on the volcanic barren island of Stromboli, where she is an outsider among the villagers. This was not a hit at the time and various versions exist. I have just seen an English version on television, though I have an Italian version on disk as well. I actually saw this as a child, well when maybe 12 – and also VOYAGE TO ITALY – of course I would have been too young to appreciate them then, but vividly remembered the still horrifying tuna catch, and Ingrid climbing up that volanco (and the unveiling of those plaster figures at Pompeii in VOYAGE TO ITALY), capturing her isolation and anguish. 
Of course these were not successful then, people may not have wanted to see them, and quite a lot didn’t get a chance to. We can see now of course that these Rossellini-Bergman films (EUROPA 51 too) paved the way for Antonioni and the others (as I remember Bergman telling us at the National Film Theatre back in the ‘70s). One keeps thinking of L’AVVENTURA while watching that barren island which Rossellini frames perfectly, as Karin finally finds redemption of sorts.
Monica Vitti in Antonioni's 'L'AVVENTURA, filmed in 1959, released 1960
THE INN OF THE 6TH HAPPINESS. This must have been one of Fox’s big hits in 1958. Ingrid was back in American movies, “forgiven” after her Rossellini years, and awarded an Oscar for ANASTASIA. This emotional drama ticks all the boxes and I defy anyone to remain dry-eyed when Ingrid as missionary Gladys Aylward leads the children to safety at the climax, after their journey over the mountains (Wales stands in for China) singing “This Old Man”, right to the very man who told her she was not suitable to be a missionary. Bergman is really wrong for the role – the real Aylward was called “The Small Woman” but her star power makes you believe her. It is all splendidly assembled by Mark Robson, with Ingrid as the London maid who wants to go to China, to help ageing missionary Athene Seyler, in the 1930s - Of course this was back when it was considered right for missionaries to go and convert those "heathens" ...
Robert Donat is affecting in his last performance as the Mandarin, and other involved are Richard Wattis and Burt Kwouk; affecting scenes include the unbinding of the women’s feet. Why though did they create a sort of love interest for Gladys with Curt Jurgens in odd make-up as the Eurasian captain who loves her? Simple stuff, then but how they must have lapped it up at the time – they did in Ireland anyway. 
Her 1958 INDISCREET was a popular hit too, by Donen and reunited with Cary Grant, in a very touristy London. More on Ingrid at label - we saw her in several plays, and at the National Film Theatre, where she was always very friendly. Dirk Bogarde wrote a fascinating chapter on her, when she was his house guest during the run of A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY, in his "Cleared For Taking Off" volume.

I really must watch her 1955 ELENA ET LES HOMMES which she did in France with Renoir, before returning to Hollywood; and of course her return to Sweden for AUTUMN SONATA with Ingmar Bergman, and her final role for tv as GOLDA Meir are both astonishing at Bergman label.