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.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Showpeople: visiting colleagues ...

Never seen this shot before: Montgomery Clift with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon - presumably Monty was visiting the set of SOME LIKE IT HOT, shot in 1958, released early 1959. - and below, Tony Perkins dropping in on John Wayne and Sophia Loren on LEGEND OF THE LOST, Tony and Sophia were going to do DESIRE UNDER THE ELMS next ...
and that famous shot of Brando visiting EAST OF EDEN with a rapt Julie Harris and little boy lost James Dean ... 

Thursday, 29 May 2014

A Hard Day's Night, 50 years on ... + SLIH

London's British Film Institute is celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Beatles first film A HARD DAY'S NIGHT, with an extended run of 34 screenings. I have the dvd but it would be nice to pop along and see it on the big screen again. It is very special to me. Prior to then, movies with pop stars were lame efforts like those early 60s Billy Fury and Cliff Richard vehicles (see music label), even the Elvis films were starting to look tired - then Richard Lester came along with Alun Owen's witty script and turned it all upside down. It was like a French New Wave zany comedy and not just to expoit the worldwide success of the Fab Four. It is both comedy and almost documentary showing the boys as prisoners of their success, and also some of those songs are staged and filmed like the first pop promos. 

It chronicles a few days in the life of the band, on trains, in the studio, trying to get some space for themselves as they are pursued by hysterical fans, clueless reporters, a fretful manager and Paul's grand-dad (Steptoe's Wilfrid Brambell) the essence of a "dirty old man" though they keep saying how clean he is here! The moptops are all individuals - we all had our favourites - and are all great here. The great Victor Spinetti (see label) is a scream as the neurotic tv studio director driven to distraction by the Boys. Add in that dry Scouse humour as the four lads ooze charisma and charm, and of course those songs!. Lester too keeps it all flying - it revolutionised screen musicals at a time when Hollywood was still churning out moribund embalmed versions of stage shows like MY FAIR LADY. Jacques Demy in France though was doing something similar with his UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG - and the later LES DEMOISELLES DE ROCHEFORT. 1965 saw Lester with The Beatles again and more pop promos but in colour this time, with HELP! I love that one even more ...

A HARD DAY'S NIGHT covers a very special moment for me, being 18 and new in London, and loving the Beatles and their music. That summer I had to stay out in London all night, as I went to see a late night French movie (at the old Academy in Oxford Street) and could not get home to the suburbs - no late night transport then! - so as dawn broke I was walking down Regent Street (where I would later spend over 20 years working) as the sun was rising over the old London Pavilion cinema where A HARD DAY'S NIGHT was playing, so the posters and pictures were everywhere. It suddenly felt good to be 18 and new in London as dawn was breaking .... its one of those moments that stay with one!  Richard Lester is introducing a screening on the 3rd July.
The BFI are also doing an extended run (34 more screenings) of "the best comedy ever made" SOME LIKE IT HOT - and I can only agree with that. Again, no matter how many times one has seen it - and I have a lot since its release in 1959 - it is always marvellous to see it on a cinema screen with an audience, as that impeccable well-constructed script plays out as played by that cast. SOME LIKE IT HOT will always be in my Top Ten. I will be going again ...

Good too to see the BFI screening that rarity I found a while ago - THE SQUEEZE, that terrific 1972 British thriller capturing the grubby, sleazy gangland in 1972 London with Hemmings and Boyd in great late roles.  
As they say: "If THE SQUEEZE plays like an amped-up, sexed-up feature length 70s TV crime show, its probably down to screenwriter Leon Griffiths ...... director Michael Apted makes maximum use of the London locations, and directs the proceedings with commendable energy by embracing the sleaze and grubbiness of the story. "

Monday, 26 May 2014

Death and the lake ...

"The lake is a calming place, and at the same time it can swallow you up forever". So starts the blurb  for this French thriller.
Summer time. A cruising spot for gay men seeking nameless sexual encounters is tucked away on the shores of a picturesque secluded lake in rural France. Franck is an attractive young male who falls for Michel, a striking, extremely potent but lethally dangerous man. Franck has witnessed this first hand, but his desire for Michel knows no bounds, this a relationship he must have - at any cost.
STRANGER BY THE LAKE is a tense thriller set against the secluded backdrop of what inevitably becomes the most dangerous lake in France. 
A provocative and accomplished effort by France's bad boy auteur, STRANGER BY THE LAKE is Alain Guiraudie's steamy mix of the comic and the tragic, winning Cannes Best Director and becoming one of the year's breakout successes. 

Or: Pretty poster, very dark film. Well, this was not what I was expecting at all. I like a good thriller with dark elements, shades of Highsmith or Hitchcock, and there are a couple of good frissons here as Franck out swimming in the lake suddenly sees Michel swimming towards him and is apprehensive - as he has earlier seen Michel drown his previous sex partner, and then that police inspector starts all those questions ... These men only meet in the woods and by the lake in daylight - nobody seems to meet later for drinks or meals or even sleep together all night - though they often talk about it. Michel and Franck seem to be loners, and so too is poor maybe-straight Henri also there every day and who sees what is going on, and fatally taunts Michel - but as the dying Henri says to Franck, he got what he wanted - did he want to die to end his own loneliness? 
SPOILERS, MAYBE: The leads, Pierre Deladonchamps as Franck and Christophe Paou as Michel, leave nothing to the imagination, but those lean French bodies may not be everybody's cup of tea .... director Alain Guiraudie certainly captures the mood of the lake and the woods and the heavy cruising, reminding me of places in England .... it all captures the loneliness of the lifestyle and the characters who may be having sex together but are not really connecting or connected. The inserts of graphic moments, whether done by the actors or stunt doubles, hardly seem necessary. There is no real character development though and we never see their lives away from the cruising area - Michel remains a one-note psycho-killer, while Franck knows but does not seem to care ... 
Casual sex can leave one very empty and some of these are not even using condoms - maybe another metaphor for dicing with death? Franck is addicted to sex and has no regard at all for the risks  The inspector (no Chabrol detective, he) is taking risks too interviewing suspects on his own. So far so  interesting, but not a barrel of laughs, you may need something to cheer you up afterwards, as it leaves one quite unsettled. And that ending - after 2 more murders, it takes place in total darkness so one has to decide how it ends.  The alternative ending and deleted scenes do not help ... I like a mystery as much as the next man, but one needs to know how the story ends ... one ends up being fearful for Franck and wondering what happens to him ...the openness of the ending suggests that he is safe in the dark but not if he responds to Michel's calls ... 
That other recent French gay must-see BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR is much more engrossing and enthralling, as per my review, French label, they certainly are a pair of films to see and ponder on. But a French gay interest title not by Francois Ozon or Andre Techine ... ! An amusing IMDB description: "A bleak thriller that puts the cock back in Hitchcock"! while others saw it as an art-house porn/slasher movie. They may be right. Anyway, I have passed it on to a friend, as I did not want to keep it as I would not want to see it again.

Sophia: Talking Pictures

BBC television here continues with their weekly series "Talking Pictures" 40-minute or so programmes where they show old interviews from their archives featuring various stars, followed by a film or two of the star in question. I have written about these before - the Dirk Bogarde one was particularly interesting with lots of interviews I had not seen before, and the Bette Davis and James Mason ones featured extracts from their National Film Theatre appearances in the '70s which had me in the audience, recorded over 40 years ago, I had not seen the recordings and had no idea I was in them. - as per NFT label.
This week's slot featured Paul Newman, with Robert Mitchum coming up next - but last Saturday it was Sophia Loren - particularly interesting after her making a splash at Cannes, see post below, Loren label - with that new film directed by her son, which led to lots of coverage in the papers of 79 year old Loren, 80 in September, as is Brigitte Bardot.
These interviews too were fascinating, dating back from 1958 - and including 1960s, 1979 (when I saw her in London), '80s and '90s, and I had not seen any of them before, showing the star's progress through the following decades, showing her poise and steely reserve when deflecting awkward questions, with that marvellous voice and humour. It included newsreel footage too, of her charity work, and that other Cannes Festival in 1962 where Sophia, Alain and Romy were the stars on show, below and as per other photos here. We now need to see her new film in London, with perhaps another Loren spectacular appearance. Come on, BFI!

EL CID followed, and this time I saw most of it with the sound off. It is after all one of my favourite films which I grew up with, and have seen many times, and have that special issue dvd with Scorsese's appreciation. Watching it without the sound or that great score, it played out like a great silent film - the images and emotions coming off the screen covering the story perfectly, with Heston as magisterial as ever and Sophia matching him and being his equal, and Anthony Mann's great visuals.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Julie hits town

Like Sophia Loren at Cannes, below, another living legend has been doing the rounds. We have been following Dame Julie Andrews as she progressed from one talk show to another on her current visit to London - three shows so far. 
Pharrall, Julie, Jonah and Channing
She was amusing on both Graham Norton's show and Paul O'Grady's and she and Sir Ian McKellen made a great double act on the BBC flagship The One Show. Julie (a mere 78) has been here to promote her tour, where she talks about her career.

Back in the '70s we used to go almost every Sunday afternoon to our BFI's National Film Theatre where all the then great names were doing these personal appearances and Q&A's as a one-off and for no more than the price of the usual ticket - where we got to hear and meet the likes of Dirk Bogarde, Lee Remick, Angela Lansbury, Ingrid Bergman, Bette Davis, Olivia De Havilland, Rex Harrison, James Mason, David Niven, Charlton Heston, John Huston, Spielberg, Terence Rattigan and more. This was the first time Bette had done this and that was so popular - as per my post, NFT label - that she began touring with it. Recently Joan Collins had the same idea. Now its Dame Julie ... 
"In the Ritz elevator one just goes up and down"

Of course all the tv hosts wanted to talk about MARY POPPINS and THE SOUND OF MUSIC - cue obligatory clips from 50 years ago, and the whole BBC studio took part in a singalong to "Do Ray Me". Well I never thought POPPINS that wonderful, and resisted seeing SOM until the 1st of January 1996, when I quite liked it. In a way they must  have been millstones as nothing else could equal those early successes. The Julies I like are THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE and most of VICTOR/VICTORIA

Incidentally, Sir Ian disclosed that he and Julie could have worked together back in the Sixties - he spent a day testing for the role of Noel Coward in Julie's STAR! but the part went to Daniel Massey, who was Coward's godson. Its all made me realise I need to see Millie Dillmount and her pals again ....

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Sophia back at Cannes, 2 ...

Top: Marcello and Sophia in the delightful TOO BAD SHE'S BAD in 1954, their first pairing, and with Vittorio De Sica acting as Loren's father. That was Sophia's break-out year, after toiling in Italian films since 1951 - in 1954 she was in WOMAN OF THE RIVER, TOO BAD SHE'S BAD, ATTILA, TWO NIGHTS WITH CLEOPATRA and De Sica's GOLD OF NAPLES among several others - giving Gina and Silvana a run for their money, while not yet 20, while 1955 saw her in LUCKY TO BE A WOMAN (which I have in Italian to watch, and SCANDAL IN SORRENTO which does not seem available at all now, all before the American studios came calling.
Now in 2014, 60 years later, Marcello (1924-1996) in an iconic shot from Fellini's 8 1/2 is featured on this year's giant poster, and Sophia is back in town.
According to "The Daily Telegraph" Sophia's latest role, in LA VOX UMANA , tells the story of an older woman who has a final telephone conversation with the man she loves.
She received a standing ovation in Cannes for her masterclass, after being interviewed on stage.

"My life has not been easy," she said. "But I'm surrounded by people who like me, who love me, and I have to be very proud of my 80 years.
"I'm starting to count the hours, count the seconds; everything is important when you reach my age. Every so often you have to explode back into life." 
Left: My Sophia autograph from 1979 when she did a book signing in London at a packed Selfridges department store - it was a very crowded event but I managed to get my book signed and see Sophia up close. She of course looked amazing. 
Its actually September 20th when she turns 80, along with Brigitte Bardot also in September. Its good to see her back at Cannes, where she has been so many times, as per my last post on her, below, Sophia label, particularly as the main poster this year is her old pal and frequent co-star Marcello Mastroianni. Their 1964 De Sica classsic MARRIAGE ITALIAN STYLE has been restored and revived too. I love it. 
Left: a 1956 magazine with Sophia's SCANDAL IN SORRENTO on the cover; right: Sophia back at Cannes, aged 79 - 2014.
Sophia and Marcello with Fellini. - 1963 perhaps.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Indie romcom time: Martha meets the boys ...

MARTHA, MEET FRANK, DANIEL & LAURENCE (1998)  (with thanks to Colin for this one).
 Laurence recounts to his neighbour how his life long friendship with Frank and Daniel has been overturned in just three days by their each independently meeting, and falling for, Martha, who has no idea of their connection. Slowly the tale unfolds, the narrative moving backwards and forwards gradually filling in the gaps until we see the whole picture. Or, as the blurb says:
Meet Martha. She's single, sexy and sick of her life. With her last $99 she buys a plane ticket to London - one way! Meet Daniel. He's single, successful and thinks he's sexy. When he bumps into Martha at the airport in America, its love at first sight - well at least Daniel thinks so!  Meet Frank and Laurence, Daniel's best friends, although it doesn't always look that way. Frank is constantly engaged in a game of one-upmanship with Daniel, while Laurence always appears to be stuck in the middle. They have not met Martha yet but they will - and when they do you'll discover that two is company, three is a crowd and four is definitely a catastrophe!
Ok then, a clunky title for an amusing romcom - its a quirky, off the wall one where zany people do quirky, off the wall things like hop on a plane to London with their last $99, as you do - they would not be allowed into the UK with no money for a start! and Martha and Laurence would not be in the same queue at the airport either! 
And where you spend $5,000 to get a total stranger you just suddenly fall in love with, put in the first class next plane seat to you - though she is booked on a different flight! and set her up in a good hotel. (She at least sells the ticket on for $2,0000). But we must not carp about things like that. Its a quite sweet little comedy with all the comings and goings of the cast, as Laurence narrates his version to neighbour psychiatrist Ray Winstone (very subdued here). Its a nice look at London too back then, at the end of the nineties, before it became the crowded, expensive city it is now, as we take in nice hotel rooms and Laurence's ideal flat, and art galleries and restaurants. The various strands eventually come together as all three guys eventually confront Martha - though why these 3 smart London guys fall for this very ordinary American girl is never satisfactorily understandable. 

The three actors are caught nicely here early in their careers, all are still busy now. Fiennes (just before ELIZABETH and SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE)  seems the main guy, Hollander is a delight as usual and is pretty as a picture here, before his indie hits like LAWLESS HEART or BEDROOMS AND HALLWAYS - he was actually on television here last night, bulked up by two stone, to play Welsh poet Dylan Thomas in A POET IN NEW YORK, a new BBC drama (which I have yet to watch)  following his very successful REV comedy series (1998 would have been the year I saw him on stage as the petulant Bosie to Liam Neeson's Oscar Wilde in the first production of THE JUDAS KISS). Rufus scored as that very sharp Italian detective ZEN - well his suits were sharp at any rate! and he was in a recent production of Pinter's OLD TIMES - as well as that Dublin bus driver that Albert Finney fell for in A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE in 1994 (gay interest label). The unknown quantity here for me is Monica Potter, I do not know her at all - she has been busy too, recently with PARENTHOOD tv series. Scripted by Peter Morgan (THE QUEEN, FROST/NIXON etc) and directed by Nick Hamm.  Its a pleasing romcom and time capsule to those heady late '90s.  

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Highsmith on a roll ....

Patricia Highsmith, one of my favourite writers ever since reading THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY as a teenager, and loving the Rene Clement film PLEIN SOLEIL in 1960 - now burnished like new on Blu-ray - seems to be on a roll at the moment, with three new films from her novels.

Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett is filming CAROL with Rooney Mara for FAR FROM HEAVEN director Todd Haynes (who also did that re-boot of MILDRED PIERCE recently), for release next year. This is a lesbian drama (following on from BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR?) based on an early Highsmith novel "The Price of Salt" and is set in the early '50s with Banchett as the affluent married woman who gets involved with a shop girl. It will at least look marvellous ... Below: Blanchett filming CAROL.
Just about to open here is the highly regarded THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY, from Hossein Amini, with Viggo Mortenson, Kirsten Dunst, Oscar Isaac and Daisy Bevan (Joely Richardson's daughter), this is from a novel I liked a lot. and THE BLUNDERER is another very Highsmith tale in production with Toby Jones. 

Highsmith (1921-1995) of course has been in vogue since Hitchcock and Raymond Chandler adopted her first novel STRANGERS ON A TRAIN in 1951, then Rene Clement and Anthony Mingella gave us their versions of THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY. There were also French films on THIS SWEET SICKNESS (by Claude Miller with Depardieu), and Liliana Cavani's RIPLEY'S GAME, not to mention Wim Wenders' 1977 classic THE AMERICAN FRIEND ... Below: a studio pose for Robert Walker, Ruth Roman and Farley Granger for STRANGERS ON A TRAIN.
Above: Dennis Hopper and Bruno Ganz in Wenders' chilly THE AMERICAN FRIEND, and Delon and Maurice Ronet realising he is in danger in PLEIN SOLEIL. - more on those at labels.

If film-makers are looking for more Highsmith, I recommend her 1977 novel EDITH'S DIARY. Her final novel SMALL g: A SUMMER IDYLL could be an interesting film too with its open gay themes. Then there's all her short stories, and of course her own mysterious life, as per those biographies on her, as she went from America to England to France and deepest Europe, with her passion for cats and snails ...she was strikingly attractive in her youth (there are some nudes) and gave lots of interesting interviews, as well as that incredible backlist of novels and stories.