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.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Back to the BLOW-UP ...

No film captures Sixties London as perfectly as BLOW-UPThanks to Daryl for sending me details of a new exhibition in Switzerland (there was one, maybe the same, in Vienna recently, for which I wrote the piece below...). The Swiss one says: "The cult film "Blow-Up" by Michelangelo Antonioni (1966) occupies a central position in the history of film as well as that of art and photography. No other film has shown and sounded out the diverse areas of photography in such a differentiated way. The photographic range of ’Blow-Up’ is highly diversified and ranges from fashion photography and social reportage to abstract photography.. For the first time in Switzerland the exhibition at the Fotomuseum Winterthur presents in several chapters the diverse and differentiated connections between film and photography, thus allowing a trenchant profile of the photographic trends of the 1960s."

From a previous BLOW-UP post:
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 (whose "Box of Pin-Ups" was a big hit at the time) 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 (Miles label), 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

Monday, 24 November 2014

Rainy sunday with Joni's new album & interview

Just in time before I head off to Ireland for a week, that new 4-CD collection of Joni Mitchell songs arrives, its packaged like a book, with a lot of text by Joni and an interesting collection of her songs, a lot of favourites here all remastered - it certainly brightened up a dull incessantly raining day. Its coming with me on the plane today! 

There is also a new interview with her and a cover on our "Sunday Times" where the recently 71 year old now says she cannot sing or tour any more, but is still smoking away. Of course it is 42 years since I met her in Kings Road in London's Chelsea back in that heady year 1972, when we were all in our twenties .... as per my other posts on her, at label.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

The blue dress and the red shoes

Just one marvellous costume from Michael Powell's THE RED SHOES that 1948 delirious movie - no wonder its a Scorsese favourite - from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger.

This particular costume was designed by Jacques Fath, a completely self-taught designer, learning his craft from studying museum exhibitions and books about fashion. He presented his first collection in 1937, and became - together with Christian Dior and Pierre Balmain - one of the three dominant influencers of postwar haute couture. 
In 1954, he died of leukemia. Thankfully he got to design some costumes for movies, He dressed Kay Kendall in GENEVIEVE and ABDULLAH THE GREAT.  She would have been ideal for his fashions (and she too died of leukemia in 1959 - as per my posts on her, Kendall label.). 
He also created this lovely outfit, in a wonderful shade of blue/sea green, for ballerina Moira Shearer. I love that dreamy scene where she wears it ascending those stairs to meet the ruthless but charismatic impressario Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) who will offer her that dream role in "The Red Shoes" ballet .... see Michael Powell/Jack Cardiff labels for more on this fantastic film, its a 1940s dreamworld where Jack Cardiff's Technicolor seems positively psychedelic - as in BLACK NARCISSUS. Moira Shearer is perfect here too - though she was later a victim of Powell's PEEPING TOM!  (right: Kay in GENEVIEVE).
Walbrook is a Person We Like here; he died in 1967 and is buried opposite Kay Kendall in that charming Hampstead cemetry I have written about here before - Walbrook label.

Jimmy's videos

Finally, the double CD and DVD of singer Jimmy Somerville's singles and pop promos with Bronski Beat and The Communards - the groups he fronted in the 80s and 90s, and also his solo work. I loved his versin of "Hurts So Good" in 1995 and had both CD singles, including the Sly & Robbie mixes, funky or what! The UK video (below) has him in muscle mary mode. Then there is the original "Smalltown Boy" which we related to back in 1985 - and that 2014 stripped down new version, where the older Jimmy, still with that piercing voice, gets one all over again. He is still here !  I must dig out that album of his "Dare to Love". Good too to see him and Boy George working together this year, as per previous post- music label.

5 Fingers, 1952

Here's a civilised treat for a rainy afternoon .... Take some people we like - James Mason, Danielle Darrieux - and a writer/director at the top of his game: Joseph L. Mankiewicz (or Mank) and put them to film a true story, full of exciting twists and turns:
In neutral Turkey during WWII, the ambitious and extremely efficient valet for the British ambassador tires of being a servant and forms a plan to promote himself to rich gentleman of leisure. His employer has many secret documents; he will photograph them, and with the help of a refugee Countess, sell them to the Nazis. When he makes a lot of money, he will retire to South America with the Countess as his wife.

That busy actor Michael Rennie is fine as the intrepid British counter intelligence agent and John Weingraf as the German Ambassador to Turkey also score. Bernard Herrmann does the music score and script is by Michael Wilson. No wonder Hitch wanted Mason for NORTH BY NORTHWEST after seeing him here as Diello the suave perfect valet who is not what he seems. Danelle's mercenary Countess has a great line to a German underling:  "I wish you wouldn't look at me as if you had some source of income other than your salary." Mank had the Award-winning hits ALL ABOUT EVE and A LETTER TO THREE WIVES under his belt, with several more to come - I liked his 1950 rare race thriller NO WAY OUT a while back (Mank label) and must see his Cary Grant starrer PEOPLE WILL TALK from this early 50s era soon too. 

Coming up after my trip to Ireland - 4 Jane Fonda items, from IMDB pal Jerry last week: Not seen her first, TALL STORY, or that 1962 Tennessee Willliams comedy PERIOD OF ADJUSTMENT; and not seen Vadim's hilariously awful THE GAME IS OVER from 1966 since then - and then there's Godard's TOUT VA BIEN from 1972 when Jane was in revolutionary mode .... will I like all or any of them ?

Friday, 21 November 2014

My Night With Reg returns to the west end

The hit gay comedy/drama play MY NIGHT WITH REG revived this year at the Donmar Warehouse, which I saw back in August and reviewed then - gay interest/theatre labels - is now due back in town in January 2015, for 12 weeks at the Apollo Theatre, where 100 tickets for £25 will be available for each performance.
As I said at the time, its a moving comedy drama, and the Apollo puts it thus:
Following its critically-acclaimed sell-out season at the Donmar Warehouse, Kevin Elyot’s classic comedy My Night with Reg transfers to the Apollo Theatre for 12 weeks only from 17 January 2015.
At Guy’s London flat, old friends and new gather to party through the night. This is the summer of 1985, and for Guy and his circle the world is about to change forever. Deliciously funny and bittersweet, My Night with Reg perfectly captures the fragility of friendship, happiness and life itself.
On its premiere, Kevin Elyot’s comedy won both Olivier and Evening Standard Awards. Donmar Associate Director Robert Hastie’s 20th Anniversary revival was hailed by audiences and critics alike, confirming its status as a classic of modern British theatre.
The entire original Donmar cast of Matt Bardock, Jonathan Broadbent, Richard Cant, Julian Ovenden, Lewis Reeves and Geoffrey Streatfeild reprise their roles for this hotly anticipated West End transfer.

RIP, continued

Mike Nichols (1931-2014), aged 83. Nichols was one of the last great directors of "smart" films, movies that were intelligent but also artful, that dealt with serious issues in an ironic way, and had mass appeal. Maybe not as lauded as Scorsese, Spielberg or Coppola he was one of the great American directors of our time. 

His last movie was in 2007, but we will always rate and remember WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (the 3rd highest grossing film of 1966) and THE GRADUATE (the number one highest grossing of 1967) as well as WIT and the amusing THE BIRDCAGE, plus SILKWOOD, PRIMARY COLORS, POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE, WORKING GIRL, CARNAL KNOWLEDGE, CATCH 22 etc. 
Anne Bancroft (left) was 36 when she essayed the the very bored Mrs Robinson, trapped in a bottomless pit of ennui - while Hoffman was 30 (Benjamin was 20) - and while we are not big on Shirley McLaine here at The Projector, she certainly wowed us in POSTCARDS! (above) And then there is Emma Thompson outstanding in WIT,  and as for Robin Williams and all THE BIRDCAGE cast!
Obviously great with actors (Ann-Margret is merely stupendous in CARNAL KNOWLEDGE, not a movie though I would want to revisit)  Nichols was also well-regarded for his comic act with Elaine May. Here's a classic

Warren Clarke (1947-2014), aged 67, the well-known English actor who had a long career on stage, film and television. He first came to my attention in the 1970 play David Storey's HOME, which I saw twice - Clarke shared the stage with John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson (Theatre label), then he was one of the Droogs gang in Kubrick's A CLOCKWORK ORANGE in 1971, and played the young Winston Churchill in the Lee Remick series JENNIE - which I re-saw and reviewed recently (Remick label). His main television success was in the series DALZIEL & PASCOE, which ran from 1996. He was also in THE BREAKING OF BUMBO, BLEAK HOUSE and, in a break from type-casting, played very gay in the hit series THE JEWEL IN THE CROWN in 1984. He died in his sleep after a short illness. 

Jimmy Ruffin (1936-2014) aged 78, Tamla Motown singer, whose biggest hit was "What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted" which charted several times, he was the older brother of  Temptations singer David Ruffin. 

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Princess of the Nile, and other exotic treats ...

A fun post today, as we go back to those heady Fifties sword-and-sandal costume movies, often referred to as Peplums, if set in the ancient world, but these I have selected are all Arabian fantasies -  not westerns then, but "easterns": bring on the harem pants and those scantily-clad dancing girls ..... how we loved the in those '50s sunday afternoon duible-bills ... a lot of them could be Trash Classics now.

Few dancing girls were as delectable as Debra Paget - best known now for her sensational numbers in Fritz Lang's 1959 German opus THE INDIAN TOMB (right) - but she also dances up a storm in PRINCESS OF THE NILE, in 1954 with Jeff Hunter - topless and wearing a turban.
Time: A.D. 1249. Shalimar, an Egyptian princess, striving to rid her country of its Bedouin conquerors, forms an alliance with Prince Haidi, son of the Caliph of Bagdad. She practices her intrigues both at the court and, disguised as a dancing girl, in the market place. Here she is:
This is delicious fun as Debra's princess also plays the dancing girl, as Jeff Hunter and evil Michael Rennie fight over her. It is all more Ali Baba and Baghdad than Egyptian.  Jeff and Debra are such a good-looking couple too. 
As an IMDB reviewer puts it: A pretty film with lead actors so beautiful, it almost hurts to look at them. Young Jeffrey Hunter and Debra Paget dazzle in this fun faux- Egyptian adventure/romance. Whether you are straight or gay, male or female, you should appreciate looking at them both.It has adventure, romance, a quick-moving plot, and some comic relief. Dancing girls! Evil henchmen! Scimitar fights! What's not to like?  Debra and Jeff were also in that good western from 1955: WHITE FEATHER, pictured here with Robert Wagner. 

SERPENT OF THE NILE falls into the just Trash or B-Movie category - not even amusing enough to be camp. This William Castle clunker from 1953 may be the cheapest, tattiest costumer ever, as Rhonda Fleming essays Cleo, and burly Raymond Burr walks through the role of Mark Anthony, William Lundigan looks so 50s with his brylcreemed hair!. There are few extras and crowd scenes and it all looks like it was shot over a weekend - or maybe I am being too cruel .... It does though have the stunning Julie Newmar (below) as a dancing girl, covered in gold - a decade before Shirley Eaton in GOLDFINGER! - in a terrific number.
Another early Cleopatra was the 19-year old Sophia Loren in TWO NIGHTS WITH CLEOPATRA (below) and she was also in ATTILA. Over at Universal, young Tony Curtis and Piper Laurie toiled more varied Arabian Nights fantasies like THE PRINCE WHO WAS A THIEF.
Dale Robertson , a western star (we liked him in SITTING BULL and THE GAMBLER FROM NATCHEZ) took to harem pants quite well too as SON OF SINBAD in 1956, where Vincent Price has a camp time as the poet Omar Khayyam. This one - from Howard Hughes - is full of dancing girls, in fact almost every burlesque queen in L.A. must have worked on it - as per:
which makes one wonder who the intended audience for these movies were: kids and adolescents or 'dirty old men' to leer at the lovelies ... 

For real dancing girls try out Anita Ekberg in Terence Young's ZARAK in 1956 - 
 cheesecake does not get much better - Anita of course has the obligatory jewel in her navel - as did Joan Collins, Gina Lollobrigida and others then. 
Anita was sensational then in films like INTERPOL and SCREAMING MIMI - as per other posts on her - Anita label, before heading to Italy and Fellini - LA DOLCE VITA and her giant billboard which comes to life in Federico's episode of BOCCACCIO 70 (where De Sica had Loren, and Visconti Romy Schneider in their episodes) in 1962. I have a Bob Hope comedy she did as well, PARIS HOLIDAY from '57, to see sometime soon. Over 80 now (like her fellow sirens Bardot and Loren) one hopes Anita is doing ok.

John Wayne's THE CONQUEROR in 1956, another Howard Hughes production, is often dismissed as being terrible - and it was certainly a mistake to shoot it near those atomic testing sites in Utah - but Wayne is fun as Genghis Khan with Susan Hayward as his Tartar love - Susie dances up a storm too and there's a terrific exotic dance scene
(We also like the 1965 GENGHIS KHAN, a rather tatty late epic, with a super cast including Stephen Boyd and Francoise Dorleac as the very '60s Bortai.) 

OMAR KHAYYAM was a treat in 1957 - more harem scenes and Debra Paget again. Debra wa also in Elvis's first film LOVE ME TENDER then and it seems Elvis was smitten..... and of course she was in Cecil's daddy-of-them-all, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, and also in DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS. She should have had a longer career, but she married well, and she too is over 80 now. Jeff Hunter of course died in 1969 - see label for more

Minnelli got into the act with his stagebound film of KISMET, another Arabian Nights fantasy musical, where Dolores Gray shines. 
Other costumers of the time which we like (see Epics/Peplums labels) include the hiliarious THE PRODIGAL, LAND OF THE PHAROAHS, THE EGYPTIAN, THE SILVER CHALICE, PRINCE VALIANT, BLACK SHIELD OF FALWORTH, SIGN OF THE PAGAN, and the stupendous THE VIKINGS, and of course those Steve Reeves movies, before the big epics like BEN HUR, SPARTACUS and EL CID took over. Then we got CLEOPATRA and FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE as the epic genre ran out of favour as the Swinging Sixties took off .... but they provided (and still do) lots of pleasure. Below: KISMET, 1955.
And we couldn't leave out Gina's torrid orgy scene in SOLOMON & SHEBA

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Hockney - that new documentary

Already shown at this year's London Film Festival, but opening in cinemas here on November 28 is HOCKNEY, this new documentary (by Randall Wright) on one of our favourites here, artist David Hockney. There is also a live Q & A from Los Angeles at selected venues, but I will be in Ireland that week so will have to rush to it on my return, and it is out on DVD on 15 December. 

I don't imagine it will be as graphic as Jack Hazan's 1974 A BIGGER SPLASH (see Hockney label), capturing the younger Hockney at his early Seventies peak, and his then group of friends. We liked that poster at the time, and that is also on Blu-ray now. The recent Hockney books - that two volume biograhy by Christopher Simon Sykes - and those recent successful exhibitions were covered here, see Hockney label. I like this Sixtes photo too ....... 
I remember being in a bar in Notting Hill, it must have been mid 1966 (when I was 20) - and saw him there, that blond hair and round glasses made him totally individual, as of course blondes have more fun!  Now he is the quite deaf Grand Old Man of Britsh Art in his seventies. ,,, as per my previous posts on him, at label.