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.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

1960s Italy continued - Claudia as Sandra ...

Another summer reprint .... Claudia and Jean Sorel stupendous in Visconti's operatic drama ...
A return to Visconti's operatic melodrama from 1965, VAGHE STELLE D'ORSA (its from a poem) or OF A THOUSAND DELIGHTS or simply SANDRA - which I have written about here before [Visconti, Cardinale, Sorel, Craig labels]. 
It is a small film in the Visconti canon, overshadowed by those big operatic productions like THE LEOPARD, THE DAMNED, DEATH IN VENICE or LUDWIG. I first saw it when I was 19 in 1965 and then it became unobtainable for a long time. It was great to catch up with it again last year, and it was as powerful as I remembered. The stunning black and white photography by Armando Nannuzzi show Claudia Cardinale at her zenith, along with Jean Sorel as her brother and English actor Michael Craig as her husband.

Sandra and her husband return to the family home, one of those sprawling Italian mansions, in the Etruscan city of Volterra, where family secrets are slowly uncovered, as Sandra has to confront her brother who wants to resume their once-incestous relationship, her mentally ill monther and the crumbling estate and the secret about their father and the war ... Visconti builds it to a powerful climax,and the images still resonate... thanks to Daryl for this new batch of stills. Good to see this back in circulation again, more on it at Claudia, Visconti, Sorel, Craig, Italian labels.

Visconti, Claudia, Jean Sorel at the premiere.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Claude Sautet and muse Romy Schneider ...

During my summer lay-off, I am re-printing a few of my previous posts, which newcomers may have missed. 
As our London BFI is running a Claude Sautet retrospective in September, here is my Sautet piece from 2011 - featuring his films with Romy Schneider. They did 5 together, I still have 2 to track down: MADO and UN HISTOIRE SIMPLE - still, I can see them on screen in Sept...
French label has items on those other French directors we like: Ozon, Techine, Demy, Malle, Chabrol, Melville, Clement, Truffaut etc. 

I have only now caught up with the films of Claude Sautet (who died in 2000). His 1969 LES CHOSES DE LA VIE (THE THINGS OF LIFE) was a big hit in London in 1970 but has not been available for years, but now it is going to be a movie I will return to, as I will to CESAR & ROSALIE from '72, and I have now just seen the 1971 cop thriller MAX AND THE JUNKMEN. Sautet in all did 5 films with Romy Schneider in the '70s, her great era in France - it is fascinating seeing how she blooms in his films, she just looks so radiant, beautiful and relaxed as obviously star and director have such rapport - so along with Dietrich with Von Sternberg, Sophia with De Sica, Monica Vitti with Antonioni, Anna Karina with Godard, we have Romy with Sautet.

The films too are fascinating - I will have to catch up with his other 2 with Romy: MADO and A SIMPLE STORY [and his other films like UN COEUR EN HIVER]. I was reminded of Claude Lelouch at times, as there are lots of cars and driving, and that good life where the characters' milieu is that comfortable bourgeois life taking place in desirable mansions and seaside homes.

LES CHOSES DE LA VIE is all driving in fact, as Michel Piccoli is having a fatal crash as he remembers moments of his life. The crash itself is amazing with terrific editing and Piccoli slowly comes to and realises he is lying in a field. We see how he left his happy marriage to Lea Massari and his son whom he had just re-connected with when he visited the family home for some papers, and indeed had agreed to go on holiday with his son which meant postponing going away with Romy, whom he loves but she senses he cannot commit or sign the papers that need completing. Lots of middle-aged angst then on the choices one makes and has one done the right thing, but it is freshly handled here. That score is Phillipe Sarde is perfect too.
40 years later what stands out now is how they smoke all the time - Piccoli lights up one cigarette after another, "I smoke too much" he says at one stage; one feels that the cigarettes will get him if the crash doesn't! One can see why it was such a hit, and, cigarettes apart, it still works now.

CESAR & ROSALIE is a total joy, you may be laughing and also have a tear in your eye by the end. [They smoke too on the poster...]. One does not want to reveal too much of the plot, as it is best to see it unfold for yourself. Yves Montand is Cesar, the self-made man, a wealthy scrap dealer, jovial on the outside but wants things his own way and will not be beaten, even if a car overtakes him. Rosalie is the divorcee he is happily living with, then another man she loved David (Sami Frey) now a successful cartoonist returns from America and quietly tries to win Rosalie back. Cesar realises what is happening and tells David to back off and invents stories that Rosalie is pregant and going to marry him, which only succeeds in driving Rosalie and David together. In a rage, Cesar wrecks David's apartment and art works, Rosalie relatiates by taking David to Cesar's office and taking money from the safe and they move away to a seaside town with her little daughter. Some time passes, and then Cesar turns up, he has bought her childhood seaside home and they all spend the summer there with her parents and extended family. It seems they are going to be a threesome but Rosalie is an independent woman and one day she moves away (to Grenoble) leaving Cesar and David who become good friends ..... and then one day Rosalie returns. What is going to happen now? Montand is marvellous here, Schneider never looked more beautiful or animated, it is just so engrossing. It is essentially a frivolous romantic movie with twists and turns, as scripted by Sautet regular Jean-Loup Dabadie, and scored again by Philippe Sarde. Isabelle Huppert has a small role.

A change of pace with MAX AND THE JUNKMEN (Max et les Ferrailleurs) as we are in Chabrol or Duvivier or Melville territory. Michel Piccoli is Max, a Paris detective who used to be a judge but got tired of letting guilty criminals go free for lack of evidence and he is independently wealthy. The film takes it time, Romy does not appear until half an hour in as the prostitute girlfriend of a scrapyard dealer who is an old acquaintance of Max. Romy skillfully captures Lily, this German streetwalker whom Max becomes fascinated by. He buys her time but does not want her body (yet) and begins to hatch a plan to catch some criminals in the act. He sets himself up as a banker in a new apartment where he meets Lily, who is dissatisfield with her own life and that her junkyard lover Abel. Abel and his cronies are soon hatching the plan to rob the bank, which Max has told Lily about, so all they need is the day when the big money is in, while the police surround the area waiting to pounce. And so it happens - the robbery takes place .... fascinating stuff then, but who has trapped who.

Romy was very prolific around this time and I have seen some others of hers from this era recently, ranging from dreadful (MY LOVER MY SON, BLOOMFIELD) to ok (QUI?) [as per reviews at Romy label] but the Sautet films are in a class of their own.

2013: I now have about 12 Romys to watch - we did GARDE A VUE recently, leaving 4 with Trintignant, her last PASSANTE DE SANS SOUCI, INFERNAL TRIO, CHRISTINE, AN ANGEL ON EARTH, THE LADY BANKER, WOMAN AT HER WINDOW, THE LAST TRAIN, LOVE IN THE RAIN and that Italian language only one with Mastroianni FANTASA D'AMORE ... reviews of these during the autumn then.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Summer holidays

Its high summer and we are going to take a break of maybe 2 weeks here at The Projector. Its time to enjoy the fine weather, catch up with a backlog of movies, see some friends, and there are some visitors arriving ... back before too long for the new season, starting with some more cult missing '60s movies like THE 10TH VICTIM, I COULD GO ON SINGING, MICHAEL KOHLHAAS and more ... See you soon.
Two for the Road

Dick plus Mark, Daria, Rex and Mel ... 1970

What an incredible non-interview ... almost painful to watch. Dick Cavett in 1970 interviewing Mark Frechette and Daria Halprin (who barely speaks), the two non-actors cast by Antonioni in ZABRISKIE POINT. Mel Brooks and Rex Reed are also on the show, Rex at least wanted to know what working with Antonioni was like ... (We did not get the Dick Cavett show here in the UK, fascinating now catching up with them, like his interviews with Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis et al).
Thanks to my IMDB pal Melvelvit for unearthing such a rare clip .... my pal Colin also recently sent me some postcards he found of Michelangelo's BLOW-UP, so here are an assortment of BLOW-UP posters for him.  We will always love BLOW-UP here (we have the books, the soundtrack, as per label), ZABRISKIE POINT is much more problematic - great soundtrack though.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Why gay marriage counts ....

I have to quote a nice item, by Oliver Wright, from today's INDEPENDENT newspaper, from an interview with MP Ed Fordham, on his forthcoming marriage to his partner of 15 years, Russell:

"I'm a family historian and I want our marriage recognised in records.
I don't want family members to say that was Uncle Ed and that bloke who lived with him.
I want them to say that that was Uncle Ed and Uncle Russell."

There is also of course the need to be seen as the partner and principal carer when health problems intrude, as friends of mine in Hastings are (happily) finding out now.

In memory of Rory Steele (1960-1996),  Brighton and Portsmouth, 1985-1996. 

Friday, 26 July 2013

Quartet - and some I don't want to see ...

Finally, the dvd of QUARTET gets an airing - this is the recent one with Maggie Smith and Tom Courtenay, directed by Dustin Hoffman (not Maggie's 1981 Merchant Ivory QUARTET with Alan Bates, as per review at  Bates/Smith labels).

At a home for retired musicians, the annual concert to celebrate Verdi's birthday is disrupted by the arrival of Jean, an eternal diva and the former wife of one of the residents.

How can I count the ways I hated this film? It is from a play by Ronald Harwood, who scripted, but it just makes for a very dull movie. Maggie Smith seems quite muted - she and Tom Courtenay (Miss Brodie and Billy Liar) just don't look right together. Billy Connolly is as annoying as I always find him, and Pauline Collins makes up the quartet as Cissie who seems to be losing her mind.

You will never see a more opulent retirement home than 'Beecham House' here - it almost rivals Downton Abbey. So these are a very fortunate group of retired musicians, living in what seems a stately home, giving lessons and teaching the less unfortunate. The scene where Courtenay discusses opera versus rap with some inner city street kids is EX-CRU-CIAT-ING.  
Oddest of all, this lavish retirement home seems to be managed and run by young Sheridan Smith on her own, with some assistance from The Help - we see a black woman hoovering, a black waiter, and nurse. The lavish grounds too seem to be in the middle of nowhere. There also seems to be nobody gay among these elderly artistic types, unless Michael Gambon is essaying another type of vicious old queen. The likes Andrew Sachs, Michael Byrne and singers like Gwyneth Jones make up the supporting cast. One presumes Hoffman was drawn to the material by the theme of these retired performers/musicians still wanting to strive and do their best ... pity the characters are so dreary/annnoying.
We expect fireworks when diva Jean (Dame Maggie) moves to the retirement home, as her ex-husband Courtenay is still resentful and wants nothing to do with her, but that soon peters out and they are all friends again - but Jean won't sing at their annual Verdi concert, as she feels her voice is not what it was. This too of course is all sorted out before the end. One nice touch is as the final credits roll, photos of each of the supporting cast members of retired musicians is shown beside a picture of them during their performing careers. It all though is another example of movies for oldies - that growing market of older folk who want civilised movies packed with thespians (usually led by Maggie Smith) - well I loathed the previous one THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL with a vengance - as per my review at 2000s label. QUARTET is more of the same, but at a much duller pace, thankfully it runs at just over 90 minutes - it is the complete antithesis of everything I want cinema to be: exciting, vivid, artistic. We usually try to find positive things to say about movies here at The Projector, but this one defeated us. It makes one wonder did Dustin Hoffman learn nothing about drama or pacing from all those directors he worked with ?

After QUARTET what a pleasure to turn to ROMAN HOLIDAY. Wyler's 1953 classic is back in cinemas for its 60th anniversary, but was also on tv. This is the pleasure of seeing a real film, with warmth and charm, and wonderfully shot and created - so what if its not in colour, Rome looks marvellous as usual. Peck (like William Holden) is the perfect post-war leading man (as he was with Audrey, Ava, Jean, Lauren, Sophia, Ingrid etc)  and Audrey is sheer bliss. No wonder this and Wilder's SABRINA made her the new '50s star who still enchants today. It is just a total blissful experience no matter now many times one has seen it - it would be great on a big screen, preferably an outdoor one in this warm weather. I had not seen it for some time so was fascinated again by the effortless class and charm of Hepburn in her first main role. Her sightseeing tour of Rome leaves journalist Peck with a dilemma, as he - along with us the audience - has fallen in love with her.

I mentioned that Smith and Courtenay did not seem quite right together to me in QUARTET. Neither do Vanessa Redgrave with Terence Stamp in SONG FOR MARION: two more '60s icons teamed at last - which now seems to have a new title for its American release - how odd! It is now UNFINISHED SONG ! Regulars readers will know how much I like Terence and Vanessa, see labels - but they just seem another mismatched pair here. He is the grumpy old husband while she sings in the choir and is dying. Naturally he too will be coaxed into the choir .... seeing the trailer of this was enough for me. More cloying sentiment for old folk then.  
I also thought I would want to see HITCHCOCK but it turns out I don't - this total fiction about the filming of PSYCHO is another I can do without. It may be amusing to catch on television at some other date, but its not one I need to spend money on - unlike the upcoming Ozon and Almodovar releases (IN THE HOUSE, I'M SO EXCITED). Theres quite a lot on the real Hitchcock at label after our Hitchcock summer last year.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Wildeblood & a very British sex scandal

A VERY BRITISH SEX SCANDAL, 2007. Life could be grim for homosexuals in '50s Britain and USA, where they were seen as security risks if in high office, blackmail was rife and if incriminating letters were found ... so they had to be very discreet. A holiday weekend at the estate of Lord Beaulieu in 1952 will have repercussions for four men, leading eventually to the Wolfenden Report and the 1967 changes in the law.

Putting this in context, being in my mid-teens around 1960 I came across the name of Peter Wildeblood and that sensational court case in 1954 where he and Lord Montagu of Beaulieu were tried for gross indecency in one of the British legal system's frequent attempts to clampdown on homosexuality, an almost unmentionable subject back then - trying to find out more about it was difficult. Other famous cases in the '50s  against gays were John Gielgud's arrest in '53 and Alan Turing's ....  while other notorious types like MP Tom Driberg and Lord Boothby were able to get away with it by their sheer chutzpah.

Then the Sixties began:  the 2 Oscar Wilde films appeared in 1960, Bogarde's VICTIM in 1961,  and the Profumo case would have us all engrossed, including teenage me, in 1963. A year later in 1964, I arrived aged 18 new in London, and already changes were in the air: signs like "No Blacks, No Irish" were being swept away; subtle gay contact ads were published in "Fiilms & Filming" magazine, Swinging London was about to happen, the Beatles made long hair and looking mod fashionable (not so gay looking anymore) and young gays went about their daily lives unbothered by the antiquated laws which were about to change, as they did in 1967 - when we were bopping to Tamla Motown in the new clubs like Le Deuce in Soho. I spent a weekend in Hastings with a friend, which  turned out to be the weekend Joe Orton was killed by his lover Kenneth Halliwell - it was in all the papers (I had seen his play LOOT a few months earlier).  Good to see that Wildeblood continued working as a campaigner until his death in 1999. His book "Against The Law" is still in print and available, I shall be reading it before too long ... he wrote some novels too.

Our enterprising Channel 4 ran a series on gay themes back in 2007 - to celebrate 40 years since that 1967 law decriminalising private gay behaviour. A VERY BRITISH SCANDAL was a fascinating docu-drama on the court case, mixing in reconstructions with talking heads of older gay men recalling their experiences at the time. I missed this programme at the time, but thanks to my good friend Colin, have now been able to catch up with it. Martin Hutson makes a fascinating Peter Wildeblood, and Orlando Wells (Susannah York's son) plays Lord Montagu, who always maintained his innocence. Karl Davies is also good here. Martin Hutson should surely be a lot better known, I see he has been busy in the theatre a lot, as actor and director.
Reading the two reviews on it over at IMDB, one of them is by my friend Martin Bradley, I think his comments sum it all up perfectly:

This docu-drama may err more on the side of docu than drama but it is nevertheless pertinent, beautifully made and ultimately very moving. Written and directed by Patrick Reams, it tells the story of the famous Lord Montagu trial in the early fifties when a peer of the realm and a well-known British journalist were arrested and tried for gross indecency. The high-profile nature of the trial in turn lead to the establishment of the Wolfenden Committee and ultimately to the decriminalization of homosexual acts between consenting adults in Britain.

Peter Wildeblood
Part history lesson, part polemic and part love story Reams' film shows just how terrible life could be for practicing homosexuals in the 1950's. It may all seem a lifetime away from today when gay role-models now seem to be ten-a-penny, (young gays may wonder what all the fuss is about), yet it is films like this that make us realize just who are heroes are and the debt we owe to men like Peter Wildeblood, the journalist in question who sealed his fate by admitting his homosexuality in court.

Alternating between a dramatization of events and a 'talking heads' approach in which elderly gay men who were either directly caught up in the events or simply remembered them talk directly to the camera, it is never less than engrossing. At times I found it deeply depressing but ultimately it is both uplifting and deeply moving and a credit to everyone involved.