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, 30 November 2013

Audrey: Sabrina's black dress ...

Audrey and the class of '54: it was that great year for girls in the movies, and I was 8 and just starting to watch them all .....Audrey and Grace were the two classy girls then - it was a busy year for Kelly: REAR WINDOW and THE COUNTRY GIRL, the programmer GREEN FIRE where she looks elegant in the jungle, THE BRIDGES AT TOKO-RI, DIAL M FOR MURDER ... while Audrey was Billy Wilder's SABRINA
Elizabeth Taylor was busy too, with ELEPHANT WALK, BEAU BRUMMELL, RHAPSODY and THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS, before GIANT slowed her down to a film a year for the rest of the '50s. Ava Gardner was Mankiewicz's THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA; Jean Simmons was DESIREE (with Brando as Napoleon) and in THE EGYPTIAN; while Marilyn after her 1953 hits starred in two Fox movies, in Canada for RIVER OF NO RETURN, and also THERE'S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW-BUSINESS. Add in the gals in WOMAN'S WORLD: Lauren Bacall, June Allyson, Arlene Dahl; while Susan Hayward was also busy at Fox, and Ingrid Bergman was still on her Voyage to Italy before returning to the fold; Lana and Rita, Olivia and sister Joan were also filming, while Julie Harris was filming EAST OF EDEN with James Dean - while over in Italy Alida Valli was dynamic in Visconti's SENSO and teenage Sophia Loren was becoming the top Italian star, overtaking Gina and Silvana, with films like WOMAN OF THE RIVER and TOO BAD SHE'S BAD. In a year or so she would be in American movies .... while England's Kay Kendall was rising through the ranks with films like FAST AND LOOSE and DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE and Diana Dors and Belinda Lee were raising the UK glamour stakes. Doris Day was  YOUNG AT HEART, and those second-tier girls like Vera Miles, Martha Hyer, Dorothy Malone, Virginia Mayo, Shelley Winters were all busy; Joan Crawford and Barbara Stanwyck were out west: Joan in JOHNNY GUITAR - the first film I saw, aged 8; Barbara as THE CATTLE QUEEN OF MONTANA. Judy of course was back with A STAR IS BORN (the film of the year), Cyd Charisse was dancing with Gene Kelly, Silvana Mangano was terrific in MAMBO, as was Linda Darnell in THIS IS MY LOVE. (By 1957 the next lot had arrived: Lee Remick, Shirley McLaine, Joanne Woodward, Carroll Baker, the grown-up Natalie Wood - and Grace had retired to Monaco, as those other blondes like Kim and Janet and Eva Marie Saint took centre stage). Back to Audrey ....
Audrey soared to prominence with Wyler's ROMAN HOLIDAY (left) in 1953, in Billy Wilder's SABRINA she is even more adorable, looking at it again now she seems the most beautiful creature ever put before a camera - like Julie Christie a decade later she totally captivates. She has some great looks in SABRINA, whether at the start up in that tree watching the Larabee's party, or on her return from Paris when David Larrabee (William Holden) zooms up to the station to drive her home with her new French chic, or that dress she wears to the Larrabee party, or that black dress with the little hat, against the New York slyline. Is there anything more chic, even after 60 years practically - well of course there is Audrey's look in FUNNY FACE, the whole BREAKFAST AT TIFFANYS thing, the various Sixties looks she adopted for CHARADE, TWO FOR THE ROAD, HOW TO STEAL A MILLION, as Givenchy and Edith Head gowned her for those movies, which are still adored today.

I love how in SABRINA (of course Bogart is too old for her, as Linus - but it doesn't matter, just like it doesn't that Fred Astaire could practically be her grand-father in FUNNY FACE) Mrs Larrabee tries to put the chauffeur's daughter in her place at the party by telling her that she must come up to the house to cook something special for them to show them what she has learned in Paris. The way Sabrina says "Oh, I've learned a lot" says it all ... SABRINA is a perfect black and white film too, and remains a Billy Wilder perennial. Oddly enough, I hate his other one with Audrey: 1957's LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON, another Audrey in Paris movie and a supposed tribute to Lubitsch, but a collapsed souffle for me, much as I love Gary Cooper he is simply to old with Audrey here and the film is just a damp squib. Billy regained his touch though with his next one - the funniest comedy ever made: SOME LIKE IT HOT. Indeed. More Audrey at label ...

Astrud Gilberto: she's a carioca

The 1960s and Bossa Nova ... was anything cooler than the voice of Astrud Gilberto? I have 37 of her songs on my iPod, they are ideal summer sounds, but hey, I can listen to Asturd (born 1940) any day, like Sade she is timeless, and a contrast to those big soul singers. 
We dig hits like her original vocal on "The Girl From Ipanema" on that Getz/Gilberto album which started the Bossa Nova and Samba crazes back in the '60s - she was suddenly the voice of Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, and Brazil. She also recorded a lot of Antonio Carlos Jobim titles. "She's a Carioca", "Felicidade", "Beach Samba", "How Insensitive", "Bim Bom", "Dindi", "The Shadow of your Smile", "Quiet Nights" and others are all laid-back treats as Astrud delivers in that very individual voice of hers. Lots of her albums are still available and there are several good compilations. Treat yourself to some summer sounds in mid-winter. 

Next music:  The Yardbirds !

Friday, 29 November 2013

The Anouk look

There is hardly a more glamorous couple in movies than Anouk Aimee and Marcello Mastroianni in LA DOLCE VITA - did Anouk pioneer that sunglasses at night look ? 
This is a favourite movie sequence of mine: the "Samba Saravah" (below) from LeLouch's 1966 UN HOMME ET UNE FEMME, I love how the film is cut to the music .... this is that mid-60s high life in aspic. I used to play that soundtrack all the time.
I also like Anouk as JUSTINE, a troubled production and now a trash classic, released in 1969. She and Michael York (above) make another perfect pair. 
Anouk is still going strong at 80, and looks as marvellous as ever, and remains one of the most mysterious French actresses. I like her early movies too like THE GOLDEN SALAMANDER when she was a teenager, THE LOVERS OF VERONA, MONTPARNASSE 19, Demy's LOLA, and we can't forget her slinky lesbian queen in SODOM AND GOMORRAH, or Fellini's 8 1/2, or Altman's PRET-A-PORTER, and have several of hers yet to see, like UN SOIR, UN TRAIN avec Montand. 
It would surely have been interesting if she and Albert Finney had worked together during their marriage.
Here she is in New York earlier this year, introducing new prints of Demy's LOLA  and JUSTINE ... More Anouk at label.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Yes, war is hell ....

THE VICTORS. Good to see this 1963 anti-war film getting a rare airing on our TCM in the UK. It does not look 50 years old - written, produced and directed by Carl Foreman it is a very mixed bag now, but has a sensational cast acting out various episodes showing how war corrupts everyone, victors as well as losers and victims, as it follows the fortunes of a squad who arrive in Southern Italy and move up to occupied Berlin at the climax, intermixed with newsreels of war coverage at the time. Maybe Foreman (who produced THE GUNS OF NAVARONE) meant it to be a riposte to the gung-ho 1962 Zanuck all-star THE LONGEST DAY, but they must both have been in production about the same time ...
There are lots of strong sequences, some a bit over the top such as the execution of a deserter in the winter snow to the accompaniment of a Sinatra christmas song, and the shooting of the dog one soldier had befriended, as the squadron moves on and the dog runs after them ... there was also a now-deteted sequence showing a boy who sleeps with soldiers for money or food. The two main leads are Georges Peppard and Hamilton, one forgets what interesting young actors they were before excess and the perma-tanned life took over. There are also Vince Edwards, Eli Wallach, Maurice Ronet, Michael Callan, Peter Fonda, Robert Mitchum's son and, for a minute or two, a young Albert Finney for that grim climax in Germany. Wallach has a good episode with Jeanne Moreau ... (below).
The film was sold on its joblot of prestige European actresses at that interesting time when there was that growing interest in international cinema (The only female in THE LONGEST DAY was Zanuck's mistress Irina Demick) - so here we have Romy Schneider (below) as the young musician corrupted into being a prostitute, shell-shocked French widow Jeanne Moreau, war profiteer Melina Mercouri, lonely Italian wife Rosanno Schiaffino and Elke Sommer and Senta Berger as two sisters enjoying wartime benefits in wartorn Berlin. Something for everyone then! 

1963 - it was 50 years ago today ...

1963 is surely a pivotal year of the 1960s in terms of popular culture, politics and the shift in attitudes that would define the decade. It was also a key year in world events: the assassination of President Kennedy – I was 17 and playing my new Beatles records on my record player in the bedroom in Ireland, when my mother burst in to announce the news on the radio.
It was also the year of the Profumo scandal in England, which also filled the newspapers, and the start of Beatlemania with their first number one and that first album which we played all the time. It was also that year of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, the opening of England’s National Theatre, and the debut of DOCTOR WHO ! as well as the hit TV series THAT WAS THE WEEK THAT WAS ensuring that satire was firmly on the map. 
And the movies – yes, there were some ground-breaking movies too, that we are still seeing and experiencing 50 years later – like Losey’s THE SERVANT, which I saw back on the big screen this year, with co-stars James Fox, Sarah Miles and Wendy Craig present to discuss it, after a gap of 50 years – how often does that happen? Hitch’s THE BIRDS continues to fascinate too, and is aired all the time – and the rare THE VICTORS had a tv outing last week ….

It was a transition year for me from my teenage years in Ireland to arriving in London in April 1964 when I was 18 and began catching up with all those movies (like LA DOLCE VITA which I could not see in Ireland). In 1963 though I was still, at 17, a “small town boy” – like Billy Liar I suppose.  Here is a dozen from 1963, all 50 years old now! – a key year in that transition from old Hollywood to new, and that developing British and European cinema. [Below: Tippi's Mattel Barbie BIRDS doll, complete with the green suit and pecking birds!]
1963's key movies now include Hitch and Tippi and the ever-fascinating THE BIRDS, Visconti’s sumptuous THE LEOPARD, above, Losey’s breakthrough with THE SERVANT – Bogarde’s best role to then too; the film of BILLY LIAR (it was a also a book I loved, and a play) introducing us to Tom Courtenay and Julie Christie – the swinging 60s arrived with her walking around those Northern streets! And I love its affectionate portrait of suburban life.  THE LEOPARD, THE SERVANT and BILLY LIAR now have a new lease of life as are out on Blu-Ray, as per previous posts on them - see Christie, Bogarde, Losey, Visconti labels.

Glossy enduring entertainment too with Audrey dressed by Givenchy in CHARADE and Capucine by Balmain in THE PINK PANTHER delirious fashion treats as well as fabulous movies, art cinema favourites LE FEU FOLLET and BAY OF ANGELS showing Malle and Demy at their best; THE VICTORS that grim anti-war tract with its raft of rising European actresses (Schneider, Moreau, Mercouri etc), and Neame’s I COULD GO ON SINGING – Judy almost playing herself, with Bogarde again – I had the soundtrack album, as I did for CLEOPATRA and that stunning entry into Rome. (I actually did not see that until its general release in 1964 and it certainly was worth the wait). LAWRENCE OF ARABIA was also packing them in during its initial run. In that pre-video world one had to see it on the biggest screen possible.

Back to THE BIRDS and that lovely interplay between Mitch Brenner and Melanie Daniels, as the tension slowly builds; and she looking so soigne in the birdshop, dialling the telephone with her pencil. Hitch makes sure here that she has all the right accessories: the suit, the hair, the gloves, the handbag, the lovebirds... and then there is Annie Hayworth (Pleshette) at Bodega Bay, and that very complicated mother Lydia (Tandy), and then that first gull attacks ....

Other 1963 classics that live on: THE GREAT ESCAPE, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, Julie Harris and Claire Bloom excelled in THE HAUNTING, LORD OF THE FLIES, HUD, TOM JONES (film of the year), Rattigan ran up a little treat for the Burtons and Co in THE V.I.P.s, another Bronston spectacular 55 DAYS AT PEKING, and that amusing Doris comedy THE THRILL OF IT ALL!. Another one I did not catch until London in ’64 was Bergman’s controversial THE SILENCE… and BYE BYE BIRDIE, a recent discovery as per recent post on that!

A vintage year then for a movie-mad teenager with those "Films & Filming" magazines (where I would work for a year in the '70s) and as related before - see label, I had my own personal ad ["boy 17 seeks penfriends male or female under 21...!"] in its May 63 issue [this was before the internet and Facebook] and had replies from all over the world, and I am still in touch with one of them, who is now in San Francisco !
Then there were my first records: that first Beatles album, Francoise Hardy, Peggy Lee, soundtracks of WEST SIDE STORY, SOUTH PACIFIC and the Broadway cast MY FAIR LADY.
Actors of the year: Dirk Bogarde / Maurice Ronet. Actress: Jeanne Moreau / Julie Christie.
Directors: Joseph Losey, Luchino Visconti, Louis Malle, Jacques Demy.
See labels for more on all of these mentioned and those key films ..

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Peeping Tom, 1960

Another visionary director: Michael Powell. I was surprised to see Michael Powell’s notorious shocker PEEPING TOM get an outing on British television, even if on a minor horror channel, bet it was a surprise for regular views of its usually tepid fare. 
Though I have the dvd it was marvellous to watch it again, starting with that lurid opening with Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm) following that prostitute (“It will be two quid”) into that alleyway off Oxford Street, London, as he films her with his camera with its spike and mirror so she can watch her own death …. This of course outraged people at the time, and supposedly finished Powell’s career. Like PSYCHO, also 1960, it re-defined the horror film and remains stunning cinema. Likewise that sequence with dancer Moira Shearer, from Powell's THE RED SHOES, followed by the amusing scenes at the film studio where Mark works, as we wait for the body to be discovered ...Like Hitch with PSYCHO Powell plays with our expectations of fear and dread, laced with humour.
Boehm is terrific and the others – Anna Massey, Maxine Audley, Moira Shearer, Shirley Ann Field, and Brenda Bruce – are perfectly cast too. The plot is too well known to mention much here: loner Mark is obsessed with the effects of fear which dates from when his scientist father experimented with him when he was a child, now he has to kill and record his actions, as he gets to know that nice girl who lives below him, but her blind mother is suspicious as she hears him pacing around upstairs. The glamour photo industry of the time is nicely caught too, as a friend says, producing a glamour shot “You don’t get that in “Sight & Sound”! It captures that 1959 era nicely, what with the newsagent shop secretly selling porn, and the 'glamour' photography industry.

Monday, 25 November 2013

The Phantom of Liberty

After Fellini and Herzog - see below - another visionary director, the old Surrealist Luis Bunuel and his 1974 puzzler THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY. Bunuel of course made his name in the '30s and made several films in Mexico, I like his 1954 ADVENTURES OF ROBINSON CRUSOE; then his 1961 VIRIDIANA was as provocative and influential as L'AVVENTURA or LA DOLCE VITA. He continued pleasing the critics and having occasional hits - famously BELLE DE JOUR in 1967, followed by TRISTANA and that big hit in 1972, THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE, which in turn was followed by THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY, and then his last film THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE.
One of Luis Bunuel's most free-form and purely Surrealist films, consisting of a series of only vaguely related episodes - most famously, the dinner party scene where people sit on lavatories round a dinner table on, occasionally retiring to a little room to eat.

Then there is the sequence of the little girl showing her parents the photos she was given by a man in the park. The parents - Monica Vitti and Jean-Claude Brialy - are shocked and then aroused by the photos which turn out to be pictures of famous landmarks. This level of absurdity continues through the various sketches, as Bunuel makes fun of religion, bourgeoise society and the norms of society, throughout the ages with some sketches set in the past, those flagellating monks, that final odd sequence at the zoo. Some are more amusing than others, but thats surrealism for you. It must have surely influenced the MONTY PYTHON team too - they began around this time.  

The toilet sequence though is jaw-dropping as everyone sits around the table and then furtively sneak off to the small room and hurriedly eat their food. Through many episodes with some linking points since 1808 in Toledo (Spain) to the present days in France, Bunuel presents a delicious surrealistic satire to the morals and hypocrisy of society, family values and the church, as each segment is open to whatever interpretation the audience want to put on it. Below: Bunuel with Brialy and Vitti.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Nosferatu, 1979

Werner Herzog's 1979 version of the silent classic NOSFERATU is visually (and aurally) impressive and still has the power to unsettle, with Euro-favourites Bruno Ganz and Isabelle Adjani pitted against the vampire of Klaus Kinski - a dead ringer for Max Schreck in the 1922 silent Murnau classic - as the pitiful vampire bringing death and plague in his wake ...
Jonathan Harker is sent away to Count Dracula's castle to sell him a house in Varna, where Jonathan lives. But Count Dracula is a vampire, an undead ghoul living off of men's blood. Inspired by a photograph of Lucy Harker, Jonathan's wife, Dracula moves to Varna, bringing with him death and plague... An unusually contemplative version of Dracula, in which the vampire bears the curse of not being able to get old and die. 

Like Coppola's version in 1992 the visuals keep one mesmerised - starting with those close-ups of mummified bodies, then Harker's journey through that desolate countryside and mountains to that grim castle to meet the cadaverous Count. We have "The children of the night make their music" as the wolves howl, and that comment of the undead Count: "Time is an abyss... profound as a thousand nights... Centuries come and go... To be unable to grow old is terrible... Death is not the worst... Can you imagine enduring centuries, experiencing each day the same futilities..."
Ganz is effective as Harker, but Adjani, usually so magnetic, plays Lucy as though she is in a coma but presumably that pallid Victorian heroine what Herzog wanted. Kinski certainly conveys the loneliness and sadness of the vampire who longs to be human. Its certainly effective as that ghost ship arrives in at the port, bringing rats and plague, as the Count has killed off the crew, and the city succumbs to plague mania  ..... will Jonathan get to save Lucy in time? The ending is not what one expects, as Lucy keeps Nosferatu with her till dawn - but then a new vamprie arises to take his place. Maybe Herzog's most effective film since AGUIRRE: THE WRATH OF GOD? For another OTT Kinski performance see 1981's snake-on-the-loose thriller VENOM (Horror label), he is also good as the slum landlord in 1965's THE PLEASURE GIRLS (London label)
Herzog's NOSFERATU is one of the centrepieces of the current BFI 3-month "Gothic" season, with an extended run of 46 screenings in London, as does Clayton's brilliant THE INNOCENTS (also reviewed at Horror, Deborah Kerr labels).

I read Bram Stoker's novel when I was 17 and it was profoundly scary, most of the vampire movies have been fun - I particuarly like ther 1960 Hammer BRIDES OF DRACULA (Horror label) and the effectively chiller DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS with Christopher Lee and Barbara Shelley is maybe the best of the other Hammer Draculas, apart from Polanski's deliciously comic DANCEOF THE VAMPIRES or THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS - also at Horror label.