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, 30 April 2014

Blow-Up goes to Vienna ...

No film captures Sixties London as perfectly as BLOW-UP. A new exhibition pays tribute to the hellraising fashion photographers who inspired it, begins Tim Burrows in a weekend supplement feature (above) on the enduring classic....
Is there another film that seems to crystalise a moment in time as perfectly as Antonioni's BLOW-UP? Viewed today, it seems like a "greatest hits" compilation of London's swinging era: the buoyant Herbie Hancock soundtrack; (which I have loved in vinyl, CD and iPod), the Yardbirds gig, complete with a cameo from Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck; Jane Birkin's blink and you'll miss it full-frontal moment that ushered in more lenient censorship in cinema.

A new book and exhibition at Vienna's Albertina Gallery (April - August) seeks to delve deeper into the context of the 1966 film, which really gained momentum in 1967, with a mix of photographs from the film and those photographs taken by veteran photographer Don McCullin (now 79) which Antonioni wanted for 'the murder in the park' sequence - those grainy images which turn out to show a man with a gun. McCullin says the reason Antonioni came to London was that "he saw it as an uptight country that was suddenly breaking open like a paper bag".  There was an exhibition in London which I attended, maybe 5 or 6 years ago now, on the film also showing those McCullin photos, so the Vienna exhibition may be more or less similar.
Antonioni was fascinated by London's fashion photographers after a significant feature about them in The Sunday Times on David Bailey, Terence Donovan and Brian Duffy who were immortalised in Francis Wyndham's 1964 article. The film became a process of art imitation pop life. Bailey declined to appear in the project, Terence Stamp was lined up to play Thomas the photographer, but lost out after Antonioni saw the relatively unknown David Hemmings in a play at Hampstead Theatre. 

I did not know that the model dancing on the roof over the opening credits was American supermodel Donyale Luna (whom my Australian friend Garry knew). Verushka of course is the other super-model in that stunning scene with Hemmings, while Jill Kennington and Peggy Moffitt are among the models waiting to be captured on film, and Janet Street-Porter is the girl dancing in the club!. We love that studio (John Cowan's) too, which was once an abbatoir. Landscapes and interiors are so mesmerising here, as is usual with Antonioni films, and not only that green park but the streets and city landscrape our hero drives around in, talking on his two way radio ! 
There have been several books on the meaning of BLOW-UP over the years and I think I have seen most of them. That recent coffee-table tome is terrific, great photos and essays. I was 21 when I first saw BLOW-UP that great year 1967 - it and The Beatles' SGT PEPPER album defined our cultural landscape that year. The film also highlights the political and social ambiguities that resonated during that '60s boom. 

The Vienna gallery says: There is hardly another feature film that has shown the diverse areas of photography in such a differentiated fashion, and which attempts to fathom them in such a detailed and timeless manner.
The protagonist believes that he has "documented" a murder; however, the photos turn out to provide only ambivalent evidence, because even enlargements or blow-ups of these photos don't reveal the presumed corpse. This cinematic study of the representation of images and their ambivalence demonstrates that Blow-Up has retained its cultural relevance since its creation in 1966.

I saw Sarah Miles at that THE SERVANT screening last year, it would have been interesting to have been able to talk to her about BLOW-UP but we already know it was not a happy shoot for her ... 
The film still looks marvellous now, London looks fresh and clean, but is it a British, Italian or American film?, seeing as it was created and produced by Italians, shot in England, for MGM ... whatever, it remains an essential '60s classic.
One hilarious BLOW-UP artefact for me is Professor Peter Brunette's commentary on the DVD which is very po-faced as it states the obvious and tells us what we are about to see, and comes across like he is trying to explain the film's milieu to a classroom of American teenagers who know nothing about the Sixties or who these people like Vanessa Redgrave are. Maybe that's what teaching teenagers is like .... ?
See BLOW-UP label for more on the film, ditto Antonioni, Hemmings, Redgrave, Miles labels

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Faye, Faye, Faye ....

We love Faye a lot here and have discussed her several times. Like Julie Christie her impossible glamour and talent and those looks dominated the 1960s and 1970s. I feel CHINATOWN is as much her film as Nicholson's; because Polanski pulled a hair from her head it has led to stories of her impossible behaviour. But we can always spend another evening watching Evelyn Mulwray ....
I love her movie star goddess image in the late 60s onward: her Vicki Anderson in THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR is still mesmerising, as is her fearless work in Kazan's THE ARRANGEMENT, and of course BONNIE AND CLYDE and PUZZLE OF A DOWNFALL CHILD (a must re-see soon) and her wicked Milady in the MUSKETEERS films, and she looks amazing in that chiffon number in THE TOWERING INFERNO. De Sica's A PLACE FOR LOVERS may have been a flop at the time (1968) but she and Marcello demonstrate star power, see Faye/Marcelllo labels for review - I had a still from it on my bedroom wall then, showing that profile. One of the cinema's great blondes, she had an interesting brunette phase too, with EYES OF LAURA MARS, Clement's thriller THE DEADLY TRAP, 1971, INFERNO of course, and THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR. I loved MOMMIE DEAREST at the time, its a great bad sit-com movie but her portrayal of Crawford is nothing less than mesmerising, as she was in NETWORK.
I saw her on stage in London in the mid-80s when she was doing a play CIRCE AND BRAVO. I wish now I had gone to the stage door afterwards to meet her, but my autograph days were behind me then. 

Hopefully she will one day finish this Callas film she has been working on, and maybe taking Z-grade roles to finance ... she shouldn't though have done that wretched WICKED LADY remake! She gave a fascinating interview to Jonathan Ross a few years ago, with no sign of diva temperament - though there is that telephone recording still out there, but one has to see it from Faye's point of view ... As I said before, like Julie Christie with AWAY FROM HER, it would be super if there was one more great role for Faye... I do have one of her later efforts, FLICK, to watch sometime soon. 
Odd to realise that Faye, like Julie Christie, Jane Fonda and Streisand, is in her 70s now, but hey Catherine Deneuve hits 70 this year, as did Joni Mitchell, while Brigitte and Sophia turn 80 in September Anouk is a glamorous 80s while Jeanne Moreau and Lollobridgida are in their mid-80s! Way to go ....

Monday, 28 April 2014

Decades of Joni .... "I've looked at life from both sides now"

I've just been reading about a 70th birthday celebration concert for Joni Mitchell which was held in Toronto in June last year, 2013, where the likes of Rufus Wainwright (I'd love to hear his version of Joni's  "All I Want" which he sang there) and others sang her songs, and Joni - who had not toured since 2000 - also took to the stage and sang three songs. 

Laurel Canyon Joni
She has been having health problems, as detailed in her interview with UNCUT magazine some months ago, see Joni label for details on that and my other posts on her, including that time I met her back in 1972 (all of 40 years ago!) in Kings Road, Chelsea, when we were both in our mid-20s. Well I am 68 now ... but Joni continues to rule the roost. I liked those 3 concerts of hers I saw in 1970, 1972 and that Jazzy new Joni in 1974 when I rushed back from Milan and Paris to catch her London Victoria concert .... I love too that recent box of her first 10 albums nicely reproduced as mini-gatefold albums. Good to see her back in the limelight again. 

Joni has been caustic about the music business in interviews over the last decade or so, as she stepped back from the limelight of touring and recording. Her 2000 album BOTH SIDES NOW is still stunning as she returns to her old hits and does some interesting covers,
and its still a thrill to return to those seminal albums like BLUE, COURT AND SPARK, THE HISSING OF SUMMER LAWNS, HEJIRA, DON JUAN'S RECKLESS DAUGHTER, WILD THINGS RUN FREE and all the others.... was anyone more effortlessly groovy moving from folk to jazz - no wonder the likes of Prince and Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter were fascinated, as she introduced us to Jaco Pastorius and Pat Metheny and others, as in that 1980 SHADOWS AND LIGHT concert tour, now on dvd - it too was a gatefold double album (I loved that version of "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat"). Joni toured so much in the '70s and '80s and '90s its no wonder her first live double album in 1974 (which I loved at the time) is titled MILES OF AISLES.

Below: here's the link to the interview !  This interview with Jian Ghomeshi is the one printed in UNCUT Magazine! 
Ritzy lady, still smoking!

On the road with Barbra ...

THE GUILT TRIP, 2012. My first Seth Rogen movie! Anne Fletcher directs a predictable comedy where Seth sets out on a cross-country trip and takes his mother along. The whole interest here is that mom is Barbra Streisand. I find these kind of comedies dispiriting, particularly when the likes of De Niro or Streisand are involved, its lazy take-the-money-and-run work for veterans who surely don’t need to end up in stuff like this. Seth is apparently funnier in his other roles – but hey, what do I know, he has about 6 movies in pre- and post-production according to IMDb! 
Streisand really comes across like Seth’s grand-mother, being about 40 years older than him (rather like Streep being too old for her mom role in MAMMA MIA!). The early dinner scene is amusing with Miriam Margolyes and Kathy Najimy, how could it not be with those two? - but they seem to have no interaction with Streisand .... 
This is a high-concept one-joke "comedy" as we observe mother and son bickering across America as she also traces the man she might have married and realises what might have been was not meant to be. Mom seems oblivious to her son’s needs and that he is now an adult capable of managing without her incessant interfering. The joke wears rather thin but thankfully the film is not too long. 

As a great Streisand admirer back in the 60s and 70s (with all those early albums and who saw FUNNY GIRL on the stage in London in 1966 when I was 20) it seems odd seeing her old lady routine now in material like this. 
Streisand though was so controlling about every aspect of her movies, how come now she does films like this and those Fokker movies surrendering control to others. These sit-com movies are not even worth her while but presumably earn her lots more money as she tries to connect to a younger dumbed-down audience ?

See Streisand label for lots more Barbra ...

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Dirty Pretty Things

From Stephen Frears, the Oscar-nominated director of the stunning THE GRIFTERS and DANGEROUS LIAISONS, DIRTY PRETTY THINGS stars Chiwetel Ejiofor and Audrey Tautou in a harrowing tale of struggle and survival for two immigrants who learn that everything is for sale in London's secret underworld. Part of an invisible working class, Nigerian exile Okwe (Ejiofor) and Turkish chambermaid Seney (Tautou) toil at a west London hotel that teems with illigal activity, presided over by the repellent Sneaky (Sergi Lopez). Late one night Okwe makes a shocking discovery when unblocking a toilet, which creates an impossible dilemma and tests them to the limits. This gritty urban thriller is thoroughly engrossing and hard to forget. 

Ejiofor, Best Actor nominee this year for 12 YEARS A SLAVE (and who was a terrific tranny in KINKY BOOTS) again excels with quiet dignity as the doctor in his home country now having to hold down two jobs in London - driving cabs and working on the night desk of that hotel where he observes busy people like Sophie Okonedo as a hard-working, hard-living hooker. 
During the day he grabs some sleep on the sofa of fellow hotel worker, Seney. They share the apartment but not a romance though their feelings for each other develop, as events sprial out of control after he finds that human heart blocking the toilet. London is a dark city here with noctural creatures on the prowl. Okwe knew about the prostitution and drugs, but now it seems there is an industry in human body parts ....  the staggeringly villainous hotel manager, Sneaky, is played with oily precision by Sergi Lopez - as fascinating as he was in HARRY, HE'S HERE TO HELP (French label). It is a quite satisfying conclusion when the tables are turned on Sneaky - and how - by our trio. 
Will they get away with it? Seney wants to go to New York - but surely she would be just as much an outsider there? - while Okwe wants to return to Africa to see his daughter. There is a great airport scene as they confess their feelings for each other.  For a film set in London none of the main characters are English and in fact the natives are hardly seen, as we mingle with the taxi drivers and the morturary attendants Okwe had to deal with. His friend the night porter at the morgue is Chinese, and the hotel doorman is Russian. The city we see through their eyes is squalid, crowded, sleazy, perilous--not at all the gleaming promised land of immigrant fantasies. 
Frears of course had more successes with THE QUEEN and, recently, PHILOMENA but this 2002 title is up there with his best, like MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE or PRICK UP YOUR EARS and again shows how marvellous he is with actors and visuals. Written by Steven Knight and shot by veteran Chris Menges. Another great 'London in the movies' movie then!

Saturday, 26 April 2014

A is for Anita, B is for Belinda ....

Now for some good old-fashioned Glamour! We are indebted to that great site POSEIDON'S UNDERWORLD for unearthing this series of German movie star sketches, from presumably the early 60s. I don't know anything about them or even who created the drawings, but they are quite witty and well done. There is a huge collection, I have just selected a few favourites:

Anita looks like an iceberg emerging from maybe the Trevi fountain, Belinda walks the streets (as in her SHE WALKS BY NIGHT - Belinda label), Sophia has vesuvius in the background, Gina emerges from a bombshell, Lilli looks chic as usual, Romy carries the Austrian eidelweiss, Mylene Demongeot enchants as usual, and Garbo is just right !

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Actors want to act

A pleasant surprise watching the latest episde (5th of 6) of the superior BBC comedy series REV, this week, when a surprise guest star turned up - Liam Neeson, as God, no less (its already been transmitted, so hardly a spoiler) - to comfort our troubled vicar Adam when everything is going wrong for him, as this third series gets more sombre. 
I hope there will be an uplifting climax next week. Olivia Colman is also superlative of course, again playing Adam's wife who now has a busy career of her own and in fact we see less of her this time around .... It was good to see Liam and Tom together again - they were the original Oscar and Bosie in that play THE JUDAS KISS which was a successful revival last year, with Rupert Everett, as per my posts at the time - theatre label. Joseph Fiennes (right) too is effective in REV as the bishop. [I have been corrected, thanks Mark - its of course Ralph Fiennes!].

It all reminded me of how much actors want to act (Tom Hollander has just finished playing Welsh poet Dylan Thomas in a new drama) and of course Liam is now an action star, his last one set on the airplane seems a must see when on dvd. I was thinking about how even legendary actors like Jack Lemmon (post below), James Stewart, Henry Fonda et al kept working into old age, when they really didn't need to any more, on the stage as well as film. At least they didn't do too much material of lesser value to damage their reputations - unlike say Ray Milland or Joseph Cotten who ended up in all kinds of dreck, and we won't even mention Joan and TROGRight: the 1998 JUDAS KISS with Neeson and Hollander which I saw in London before it went to New York.

I am of the opinion that most fortunate actors who come along at the right time get "ten good years" (that delicious song Nancy Wilson sang in her live cabaret act), certainly the likes of Stephen Boyd and Laurence Harvey did - mid-'50s to mid-'60s, or Michael York (mid-'60s to mid-70s), York being one of the fortunate ones who was able to continue in lesser supporting roles, whereas Harvey's and Boyd's careers had died before they did. Fortunate indeed are the likes of Dirk Bogarde or Alain Delon or Jean Sorel who can go on for decades, whereas in the theatre actors like Jeremy Brett or John Stride can transcend their good looks as they get older. Is there the curse of the very good looking actor who starts out well but then fizzles out ? (Whatever did happen to Jeremy Spenser, Leonard Whiting, Graham Faulkner, Martin Potter et al...?). Left: the kind of period movie actors must like appearing in: Michael Redgrave, Richard Warwick, Martin Potter, Tom Baker in NICHOLAS & ALEXANDRA, 1971.

Sometimes one sees an actor who started out well and seems reduced to nothing parts some years later, like John Philip Law - so promising in the mid-60s as the angel in BARBARELLA, in HURRY SUNDOWN, DANGER DIABOLIK etc, having literally nothing to do in the all star CASSANDRA CROSSING in 1976, as an aide to Burt Lancaster, right, with Ingrid Thulin. Well I dare say JPL (who died aged 70 in 2008) had that 10 good years.

Ditto Barry Coe, left, who was a promising 20th Century Fox contract player in the '50s and early '60s - Rodney Harrington in the 1957 PEYTON PLACE, the hero in 300 SPARTANS (looking fetching in a mini toga) etc. 
but in 1966 he is an un-named "communications aide" repeating commands in FANTASTIC VOYAGE - an amusing watch last week. He was also Carroll Baker's boyfriend in the 1959 comedy BUT NOT FOR ME with Clark Gable and Lilli Palmer. Coe went into television in shows like GENERAL HOSPITAL and continued acting to 1978. Other tv actors like George Maharis or Gardner McKay fared less well in the movies.

Barry, centre, in FANTASTIC VOYAGE
Brett Halsey (left) was another of the Fox pretty boys (RETURN TO PEYTON PLACE, THE BEST OF EVERYTHING etc) as was future producer/tycoon Robert Evans (one of the cads in THE BEST OF EVERYTHING), though Robert Wagner and Jeff Hunter were the main Fox contract players, Joanne Woodward and Stuart Whitman too of course. Ditto Fabian - see HOUND DOG MAN post below.
A Fox film like NO DOWN PAYMENT (Jeff Hunter label) is stuffed with their contract players. Jeff Hunter unfortunately died too young too, in 1969, but found his imperishable role as Martin Pawley in THE SEARCHERS, which is always on view somewhere (as it was here yesterday). Robert Wagner was the most successful of all, with some good movies in Europe (THE PINK PANTHER) and successful in television. The Universal-International pretty boys like Rock and Tony Curtis worked hard through supporting parts to build careers and achieve A-list movie status, as before them did Guy Madison and Jeff Chandler and ...while Warners had those blondes Troy and Tab, and Tony Perkins (Tab and Tony tried singing too with some success - see labels), and Kerwin Matthews over at Columbia ... 
One has to feel sorry though for Richard Davalos, over at Warner Bros: the role of Aaron, the other brother in Kazan's EAST OF EDEN must have been a plum role, but with James Dean as Cal, Davalos was completely over-shadowed. At least the DVD contains those screen tests with Dean and Davalos and young Paul Newman who also tested, and was soon doing Dean roles. Davalos's other credit that year (apart from a bit part in a Jack Palance film) was a small part in Warners THE SEA CHASE, a John Wayne-Lana Turner starrer, where sailors Davalos and Tab Hunter go for a swim in shark-infested waters - guess which one the shark heads for.... ?  He contined acting until 2008 with small parts in films like Newman's COOL HAND LUKE, and lots of television. Right: Davalos, Dean & Julie Harris in EAST OF EDEN.

Heavyweight stuff coming up: Finney in Huston's UNDER THE VOLCANO, Frears' PRETTY DIRTY THINGS with this year's best actor nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor, LOVE IS THE DEVIL with Derek Jacobi as Francis Bacon and Daniel Craig as his criminal lover .... more impersonations with the Liberace film BEHIND THE CANDELABRA and Helena Bonham-Carter a surprisingly effective Elizabeth Taylor in BURTON AND TAYLOR ....  
Left: Jeffrey Hunter / right: Jean Sorel.