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, 31 August 2013

A glamorous weekend at the movies

Both PLEIN SOLEIL and BONJOUR TRISTESSE have been re-released and are back in selected specialist cinemas - seek them out if you are in London - and want to weekend in Italy or the South of France; alternatively, put the dvds on! (PLEIN SOLEIL - see THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY book, post below - is of course a perennial favourite of mine: it opened my eyes to art and beauty and Europe when I was 14 - will be out too on a restored Blu-Ray - different from the Criterion American one. I will have that next week ...).
Otto's BONJOUR TRISTESSE, from the Sagan best-seller, is also of course a marvellous treat and will look terrific on the big screen. Jean Seberg and Deborah Kerr are at their best here, and the movie still dazzles. See Bonjour Tristesse & Plein Soleil, Mr Ripley labels. One cinema in London, The Rio, is showing both of them, plus CLEOPATRA ! ...

Friday, 30 August 2013

Some books I like ... (1)

... and have to re-read every few years. This began as 6, but now its 10. I like to have a book on the go, and discover new writers (like Irish Donal Ryan and Kevin Barry), and keep up with established writers like Colm Toibin; currently I am browsing chunky short story collections by Willian Trevor and Tennessee Williams. Some books though stay with one, and one has to have them to hand. Of course writing about favourite books (or films or music) leaves one open to having one's taste criticised -  Here are the first 5:

THE BELL - Iris Murdoch. I must have been a precocious teenager, I remember reading those early Iris Murdoch novels on the beach in Ireland (it was that pre-internet world). THE BELL first published in 1958 is among her best, funniest and most liked. One can re-read it happily every few years. The misadventures of Dora Greenfield ("Dora hated pointless sacrifices" when she was going to offer up her seat on the crowded train, leads to an amusing sequence of events). 
Imber Abbey is home to an enclosed order of nuns. A new bell is being installed and then the old bell, legendary symbol of religion and magic, is rediscovered by teenager Toby, abetted by Dora the erring wife who returns to her husband. 
Michael Meade, leader of the community outside the convent, is confronted by Nick Fawley, with whom he had disastrous homosexual relations, while the wise old Abbess watches and prays and excercises discreet authority. Religion and sex are the motifs here - Michael also impulsively kisses Toby which sets off another series of events... . Iris Murdoch's funny and wise novel is about religion, the fight between good and evil and the terrible accidents of human frailty, but is also deliciously funny, leading to a hilariously tragic climax. A great introduction to Murdoch's novels like THE SEA THE SEA, THE UNICORN, THE RED AND THE GREEN and many others. BBC did a nice serial of THE BELL in 1982, with Ian Holm, Michael Maloney and others, it would be nice to see that again.

THE LEOPARD - Giuseppe Tomasi de Lampedusa. This chronicles the changes in Sicilian life and society during the Risorgimento. In the spring of 1860, Fabrizio, the charismatic Prince of Salina, still rules over thousands of acres and hundreds of people, including his own numerous family, in mingled splendour and squalor. Then comes Garibaldi's landing in Sicily and the Prince must decide whether to resist the forces of change or come to terms with them. 
Published posthumously in 1958, the book remains a marvellous read. Luchino Visconti of course made one of his best films based on it, released in 1963 (as per my comments at Visconti label). The characters are so vivid: Don Fabrizio the still virile Prince, his large family, Tancredi and Angelica, and that sumptous ball at the end, when the Prince realises that things have to change in order to stay the same. The novel too gives us flash-forwards to the characters, like Angelica, in their later years. I particularly like my early '60s edition, nicely hardbound and embossed. 

THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY - Patricia Highsmith. For a novel first published in the mid-'50s this is surprisingly explicit about Tom Ripley's desires and nature, and those of the crowd he hangs around with in New York. Tom is a small time embezzler but sees his opportunity when sent on a mission to Italy .... We know the story of course from the various films (particularly my favourite, Rene Clement's PLEIN SOLEIL capturing that 1960 era perfectly). The novel has been through many editions and reissues - I have had several - and is, like most Highsmiths, still in print.This led me to devouring all of Highsmith's other novels, including of course STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and EDITH'S DIARY. She was also a master of the short story, with several collections. The collection on animals is marvellous, I love and often re-read her MING'S BIGGEST PREY, about Ming, a very jealous cat in Acapulco - it really feels like the cat is narrating this and is brilliantly done. 

COLLECTED POEMS by C.P. CAVAFY. I cherish my Hogarth Press edition of Cafavy Poems (and also that paperback, a different translation, with the David Hockney illustrations, below). I have now seen this new edition BEFORE TIME COULD CHANGE THEM, 'The complete poems, with an introduction by Gore Vidal' - and just had to have it, so it is on its way to me.
"In the dull village"
Constantine P. Cavafy (1863-1933) of course was the poet of Alexandria, in Egypt, and has come to be recognized as one of the greatest poets of modern times. Elegiac, deeply sensual, and able to plumb the heart with language of immense richness, Cavafy evokes the great lost classical world of the Mediterranean with unparalleled beauty. Much of his poetry - written about 100 years ago, deals with love, specifically homosexual. It speaks of human desire, the experience common to all mankind of love offered, sought, and lost. His verse is beautiful and embracing, and remains as alive and sensuous as it was when he wrote it.
There are so many of his poems I like and return to: "The City", "Candles", "In The 25th Year of His Life", "He Swears", "Before Time Altered Them", "Two Young Men 23 to 24 Years Old", "Days of 1909, '10 and '11", "Kleitos' Illness" as well as specific Greek themes like "Waiting For The Barbarians", "Ithaka", "Nero's Deadline", which splendidly evoke the Ancient World. If you do not know Cavafy, do try to discover his works. 

YEVTUSHENKO: SELECTED POEMS - This Penguin Paperback was an early '60s favourite of mine, it was interesting finding it again the other day. The blurb says: "Yevgeny Yevtushenko is the fearless spokesman of his generation in Russia. In verse that is young, fresh, and outspoken, he frets at restraint and injustice, as in his now famous protest over the Jewish pogrom at Kiev. But he can write lyrically too, of the simple things of all humanity - love, a birthday, a holiday in Georgia. And in "Zima Junction" he brilliant records his impressions on a visit to his home in Siberia". Yevtushenko is now much older, but was the Rudolph Nureyev of poetry then. Even now looking at those titles like "Lies", "Waiting", "Colours", "Encounter", "People", "Babi Yar" and that long marvellous poem "Zima Junction" brings it all back, being 18 or 19 again. 

Part 2 soon (Jane Austen, Muriel Spark, Edna O'Brien, Mary Renault, James Joyce).

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Forgotten '30s movies: Viktor Und Viktoria, 1933

Back in 1990 the London BFI ran a season on "Cross-Dressing in the Cinema" (cover, left, with Louise Brooks in BEGGARS OF LIFE, 1928). Looking at the booklet now, they ran the usual suspects (QUEEN CHRISTINA, SYLVIA SCARLETT, Old Mother Riley) as well as a lot of rarities including those two earlier versions of VICTOR/VICTORIA: the 1935 British FIRST A GIRL with Jessie Matthews (reviewed here recently, 1930s, gay interest labels), and the rare 1933 German VIKTOR UND VIKTORIA.

This is the original version of the thrice-filmed story about a woman who pretends to be a man who pretends to be a woman, with Renate Muller in the role later assumed by Matthews and Julie Andrews. She plays an aspiring (if rather chubby by today's standards) actress who meets a cabaret performer (Hermann Thimig) who does a comedy drag act (as he cannot succeed playing Shakespeare roles) and then substitutes for him when he falls ill, only to be discovered by an eminent producer, and made a star. 
The usual plot complications follow, but its interesting to compare with the later versions. Nobody here is starving (to force them into drag) or having to put cockroaches in their restaurant meals! There is also nothing homosexual or gay going on - doing a drag act seems a perfectly reasonable trade for someone in showbusiness; female and male impersonation were simply accepted theatrical forms and the drag is played for comedy - not glamour. The British 1935 version followed this 1933 one fairly closely. It must have been only in the '80s they decided the material had to be 'gayed up' to make sense, with Victoria's mentor now a full-time gay (as marvellously played by Robert Preston) and 'Victoria' so hungry she had to play along.

This early German production,directed by Reinhold Schunzel, is a fascinating curio now (there is even an atuomat, and the musical numbers are the height of kitsch) - from the Weimar Republic, just as Germany was turning Nazi ... It is totally square of course but fun, as Renate falls for a young Anton Walbrook (yet to make his mark) while Hermann is dizzy about an annoyingly brassy chorus girl! Go figure ... As for cross-dressing in the cinema, I will stick with SOME LIKE IT HOT thanks very much. Now there's a classic.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Forgotten '70s movies: Newman! Remick! Fonda! Sarrazin!

The dawn of the Seventies had some big outdoor movies: Altman's M A S H and that stunning western McCABE & MRS MILLER. SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION (called for some reason NEVER GIVE AN INCH here in the UK, maybe the original title was too clunky - though not as clunky as the film...) could have been a contender, but quickly got lost and never seen again here. Looking at it now, easy to see why ...

When a logging town in Oregon, goes on strike against a large lumber conglomerate, the non-union Stamper family, headed by Paul Newman and his father Henry Fonda, keep working and quickly become the enemy of every now-out-of-work family in town. Shot on location along the Oregon coast, the film’s characters are dwarfed by the monolithic landscape and the buzzing of chainsaws, resulting in a leafy green palette that’s simultaneously scary and overwhelmingly beautiful. Based on Ken Kesey’s follow-up novel to ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST Paul Newman’s second film as a director (after directed his wife in the highly-regarded RACHEL, RACHEL in '68) mixes hard-luck violence with genuine sympathy. But maybe being director as well as star, orchestrating the large family get-togethers and the logging sequences, meant there was no room for the central  story of husband and wife. The men are the focus here with the women firmly in the background, serving big breakfasts and washing .... Newman was in his prime here but his rather unlikeable character does not play for sympathy.
Henry Fonda as the clan's stubborn father is second billed and we see a lot of him, at the expense of Lee Remick, rather sidelined as the wife. Eventually she packs her suitcase and leaves about three-quarters through. It would have been nice to see Newman and Remick as a great romantic/dramatic team - like she was with Lemmon or Clift. But they don't have that many scenes together with no central focus. They were of course both in Ritt's THE LONG HOT SUMMER in 1958, each partnered with someone else (Woodward, Tony Franciosa). It seems Newman's character does not even miss her, as he is busy with Hank Fonda's injury and death, and the stunning central sequence of his brother Richard Jaeckel slowly drowning as he is trapped under a log, as Newman tries to free him .... 

It all looks marvellous, with some appropriate country style music, and the green and leafy Oregon countryside and that marvellous house all look correct. Michael Sarrazin also scores as the long-hair hippie son who returns home and rejoins the family business, and he has a few nice scenes with Lee's neglected wife, whom he understands more than her husband does.

This film was actually on release when I saw and met Lee Remick at London's BFI National Film Theatre in 1970, I remember a clip being shown, before we moved on to Remick's other roles. Report on that at NFT label,

and this is my tribute from 2010 to the marvellous Lee Remick - for me up there with Julie Harris and Geraldine Page ... 

Soon - Remick and Claire Bloom in the film of Iris Murdoch's A SEVERED HEAD (also 1970), and one of her later tv movies EMMA'S WAR

Sunday, 25 August 2013

RIP - Julie Harris

It was to be expected at 87 and she had been in ill-health, but this is one celebrity death that I am truly sad about. I always loved Julie Harris (1925-2013), ever since her wonderful Abra in EAST OF EDEN (where she was just 5 years older than Dean). Her Sally Bowles is tremendous too in I AM A CAMERA, and of course her 12 year old (when she was 26) in THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING.

She excelled in so many things. In 1977 she brought her Emily Dickinson show to London, THE BELLE OF AMHERST, and a friend and I had booked, but I felt unwell on the night with a bad cold and did not think I was up to it, but he persuaded me. Of course I loved it and her as Emily, and without thinking anything more about it, I wrote her a note to tell her so, posted to the theatre. It must have been towards the year's end but some days later I received a lovely handwritten note from her, thanking me and wishing me all the best for 1978, as shown at link below. 
RIP to one of the great ladies of the American theatre and a much-loved iconic film actress and star.
It was enjoyable seeing her in recent re-runs of HARPER, REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE, YOU'RE A BIG BOY NOW, THE HAUNTING. I never saw her later tv work such as KNOT'S LANDING, but its good it provided a retirement fund for her later years.
As said on IMDb: She was one of a kind and, like Kim Stanley, Geraldine Page, and Marlon Brando, was an actor's actor. She will be missed and remembered. What a gift she was to the art she loved. 

She was one of my 'People We Like' profiles here, back in 2010:
Brando visits Kazan, Harris & Dean on EAST OF EDEN.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Forgotten '60s movies: The 10th Victim

Where has THE TENTH VICTIM been all my life? This 1965 sci-fi fantasy has it all: glamour, pop art, great 60s soundtrack, camp to the ultimate, with great roles for Marcello, Ursula and Elsa Martinelli. Its directed by Elio Petri (who also helmed that 1969 trash classic A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY, with Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero - as per my previous posts on that, Trash label, and INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION). This one is a Carlo Ponti production, scripted by Antonioni regular Tonino Guerra, among others, and its a delirious treat from start to finish - if only for watching Ursula (in that great year for her, with SHE, WHATS NEW PUSSYCAT?) in that delicious pink pantsuit or the silver bacofoil bikini with that bra that shoots bullets ... or Elsa in that pop art confection in black and white stripes. They must have had a field day making this and creating those futuristic sets and costumes. Mastroianni looks even cooler than usual with that blond hair and sunglasses ...
THE 1OTH VICTIM (La Decima Vittima):
It is the 21st Century and society's lust for violence is satisfied by The Big Hunt, an international game of legalised murder. But when the sport's top two assassins are pitted against each other, they find love is the most dangerous game of all  As the world watches, the hunt is on. Who will become the tenth victim?
THE 10TH VICTIM is the international cult classic whose wild action and sexy style has influenced a generation of movies, from THE RUNNING MAN to the AUSTIN POWERS series. It is an outrageous satire which critic Pauline Kael called "an inventive, witty sci-fi extravaganza". 
This is marvellously witty, with some stunning moments as people are hunted and eliminated, and should be up there with other 60s fantasy films like MODESTY BLAISE or DANGER DIABOLIK or the '70s' LOGAN'S RUN. Ursula is the American who is set to hunt and kill Marcello, in various great locations in New York (the World Trade Centre construction site!) and Rome - loved the helicopter ride over The Colosseum, caught perfectly by Gianni Di Venanzo's stunning photography, and the Piero Piccioni jazz score still dazzles. The Big Hunt rules as outlined during the exciting opening chase are fascinating, as we find out what hunters and hunted can and cannot do. Its like an early version of those reality shows of today and how far they will go. Will Marcello and Ursula fall in love or will they enact out the rules of the game .... 
This IMDb review (by sinistre 1111) captures it perfectly:
To judge this film by "today's standards" misses the point--what are we comparing it to? Armageddon? Scream 3? This was the European 60s vision of the 'future'-- and why didn't it turn out that way? An odd, cheeky little plot mixing romance, light sci-fi and gunplay is underscored by dazzling visuals in a similar style to The Prisoner series, or Alphaville (if it were in color). Piero Piccioni's score is pure 'Jazz 2001', and is available as an import reissue. Mastroianni is charming and Ursula Andress is at her sexiest, in an array of groovy ensembles. It all depends on what you're after, but personally I wish the WORLD LOOKED like this movie and that men's and women's fashion reflected this film's 'in the future, people will dress like this' style. Anchor Bay's DVD is a great addition to the collection of any 60s/European film fan. 

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Aretha: a playlist

Playing Aretha Franklin tracks on shuffle on the iPod has made me realise how much of her output I have and like, ever since those late '60s. I may have been 13 in 1959 (subject of my last post below), but 10 years later I was 23, sharing that large maisonette with 2 friends in South London. Stan introduced me to Aretha in 1967, and I introduced him and Joe to that young Joni Mitchell in '69 .. We had seen Aretha live in London in 1968, and then again in 1970 - when she must have been at her considerable peak, before she stopped flying to Europe. (Stan was agog at her '68 show as he was sitting behind her brother, and was able to eavesdrop on the family). This then, for Stan, is a random selection of my favourites - 20 or more. 

Thats Why I Sing The Blues
Good to me As I Am To You - with Eric Clapton on guitar, from LADY SOUL.
Ain't No Way
A Deeper Love - all those remixes 
Night Time Is The Right Time
Dr Feelgood
Do Right Woman Do Right Man
Drown In My Own Tears
Today I Sing The Blues
Running Out Of Fools
Spirit in the Dark
A Natural Woman
I Never Loved A Man (the way I love you)
Chain of Fools
Don't Play That Song
Border Song - She makes Elton's song sound even better, as she did with The Band's The Weight and The Beatles' Let It Be.
See Saw
Until You Come Back To Me
Share Your Love With Me
Pledging My Love/The Clock
Dark End Of The Street
Sit Down and Cry
The Thrill is Gone
Sweet Bitter Love

That LIVE AT THE FILLIMORE album with Ray Charles is a terrific sample of her at her best. 
It was fun too seeing Aretha back with a bang in the disco 80s, with those hits produced by Michael Narada Walden: 

Who's Zooming Who?
Freeway of Love

and those later albums. It would be terrific if, after those health scares and weight problems, she stunned us all with some more terrific songs and vocals. Looking at her discography and album covers there is so much out there, various compilations from those Columbia, Atlantic, Arista years. Those Atlantic recordings at Muscle Shoals, Alabama may be her peak recordings, but those early Captiol years had nuggets as well, even when she was recording showtunes and standards, with songs like "Won't Be Long", "Soulville" and "Until You Were Gone".
There is not that much Aretha on film availabile, apart from those '80s hit videos with Annie Lennox and George Michael; luckily I recorded that 1993 tv show where Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman introduced her, and where Elton, Rod and Smokey played her back-up group "The Aretha-aires" (as per previous post, see Aretha label), and that Divas concert on VH1 which was spine-tingling when Aretha and Carole King sang King's "Natural Woman" with Mariah, Celine, Shania and Gloria Estefan on backing vocals ...her 2 gospel albums are essential as well. 

Aretha, and Barbra and Joni must surely be the top female vocalists of the last 50 years or so, not ignoring Ella or Sarah or Nancy Wilson and of course Dusty Springfield or Joan Armatrading, thats a top 5 then ...

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

1959 - a very cool year

Mayniel, Brialy, Blain - LES COUSINS
Brialy, Lafont, Blain - LE BEAU SERGE
1959 continues to fascinate and reveal more riches - a pivotal year, being the end of the 1950s and just as the '60s dawned. This was really my era, being 13 then and totally into movies. 1957-1963 was that great time for cinema and happily co-incided with my teenage years and cinema-going, devouring magazines like "Films and Filming" and the various fan mags, before I arrived in London aged 18 in 1964.

We have written on 1959 quite a bit here, as per label, the big American films (from NORTH BY NORTHWEST to ANATOMY OF A MURDER, via BEN HUR, SOME LIKE IT HOT, A SUMMER PLACE, THE BEST OF EVERYTHING, THE NUN'S STORY etc), to European films like EYES WITHOUT A FACE and LA LOI (French label), and the fascinating British films of the time. Now though I have finally got those two early Chabrols LE BEAU SERGE and LES COUSINS, which I had not seen since my teenage years - I should find a lot more in them now. We have been on a Chabrol jag lately, with his early items like A DOUBLE TOUR and the stunning LES GODELUREAUX  and the delicious MARIE CHANTAL from 1965 (as below), and we have also seen a lot of his great era movies at the time (LE FEMME INFIDELE, LE BOUCHER etc) and have those 2 boxsets, including ROUTE TO CORINTH, INNOCENTS WITH DIRTY HANDS, and also his later LE CEREMONIE - a must see soon.

LE BEAU SERGE was Chabrol's first feature in 1958, with the duo of Jean-Claude Brialy and Gerard Blain, with Bernadette Lafont. LES COUSINS followed in 1959 which reverses the guys roles - and Juliette Mayniel is the girl, with those stunning eyes of hers (she also played one of the victims in EYES WITHOUT A FACE that year...). 

Francois comes back to his home village in France after more than a decade. He notices that the village hasn't changed much, but the people have, especially his old friend Serge who has become a drunkard. Francois now tries to find out what happened to him and tries to help him.

Charles is a young provincial coming up to Paris to study law. He shares his cousin Paul's flat. Paul is a kind of decadent boy, a disillusioned pleasure-seeker, always dragging along with other idlers, while Charles is a plodding, naive and honest guy. He fell in love with Florence, one of Paul's acquaintances. But how will Paul react to that attempt to build a real love relationship ? 
One of the major New Wave films. Its a variation on the fable by Fontaine on the town rat and the country mouse ... and the grassopper who flits between them ... its a great Paris film too.

We will return to these two in more detail, but for now they suggest how cool movies were becoming in 1959, leading up to those great years 1960, '61 and '62 ... when French and Italian and British cinema was leading the way, as the new American cinema was taking off too ...Also in 1959 Rene Clement was filming PLEIN SOLEIL (with that other trio of Deon, Laforet, Ronet), Bolognini was directing LA NOTTE BRAVA with Brialy again and that great cast (Terzieff, Martinelli, Milian) playing Pasolini's script of hoodlums and prostitutes (below); while Antonioni was on that island creating L'AVVENTURA ... while Fellini was going to stun us with LA DOLCE VITA ...I also liked Mocky's New Wavey LES DRAGUEURS, more Paris by night in 1959, where Truffaut was filming THE 400 BLOWS, after Malle's LIFT TO THE SCAFFOLD in '58 (as per French, Italian, Paris, Malle, Chabrol labels). Russia too was having its New Wave with hits like BALLAD OF A SOLDIER and THE LETTER THAT WAS SENT, while the Brazilian BLACK ORPHEUS was a revelation - more on that soon.

Ronet, Laforet, Delon - PLEIN SOLEIL
Brialy, Milian, Terzieff - LA NOTTE BRAVA