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, 17 April 2016

Burtons go Boom!

More Tennessee Williams mayhem, sorry - arthouse classic, or if you want, a Trash Masterpiece .... whatever, its certainly a cult movie now. (see THE ROMAN SPRING OF MRS STONE - below).
It must have seemed a good idea at the time for arty culty director Joseph Losey to team up with The Burtons in 1968, after the relative failure of his 1966 Bond spoof MODESTY BLAISE (perhaps MY cult movie...) and then ACCIDENT in '67 - the last of his with frequent players Dirk Bogarde and Stanley Baker.

BOOM! is now regarded as a camp Trash Classic in some quarters, and maybe it started that era of Burton and Taylor's decline at the box office - after their mid-60s artistic hits WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? and THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, after those popular items like THE VIPS. THE SANDPIPER IS a Trash Classic even if Minnelli gave it some surface style and gloss and Taylor looked marvellous, if a little dumpy. They must have thought they were being artistic doing another Tennessee Williams (but "What were they thinking?" - even though they were drinking a lot at the time...) - even if it was a failed play of his "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore" which the ageing Tallulah Bankhead had done on stage with Tab Hunter as her younger Angel of Death - that would have been something to see! 
Here are some choice comments from various websites on this fascinating misfire ..... 
As serious art, BOOM! is a bomb. Yet, as a testimony, a very camp testimony, to the lives of Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Noel Coward, and Tennessee Williams, it is literally hysterical in its preoccupation with the emptiness of wealth, sex, and luxury.
 It is the incredible Miss Taylor who grounds this late 60's arthouse flop, and manages to transcend it's failing qualities, to make it a screen orgy of bad taste and over the top drama!
Taylor's role (like Vivien Leigh’s MRS STONE) is really that of an aging rich gay man who is trying to hang on to youth and the beauties that money attract. Burton's role is that of the hustler who is all that is left for the old queen to attract. But as with so many Williams works it all must be encrypted and coded so that the America of the late 50's and early 60's could handle his true intentions. 

Taylor plays ageing hedonist Flora “Sissy” Goforth, the much-married, drug-addicted, richest (and it’s been argued, the most irritating) woman in the world. From the windswept high solitude of her all-white villa on the edge of a cliff in Sardinia, the terminally ill Goforth is in denial about her imminent death, distracting herself by dictating her memoirs into a tape recorder, as she coughs up blood, and directing her diva’s wrath at her long-suffering servants in fractured Italian. She is visited by the enigmatic Christopher Flanders (played by Burton), a failed poet turned gigolo notorious on the international jet set as an ambiguous and parasitic Angel of Death who materialises whenever a wealthy woman is about to die. 
Burton is too old for the role that was written for a man in his twenties and Taylor is too young and too healthy looking to be the dying Sissy. As an elite high society gigolo Flanders surely should be a bronzed adonis, someone like Terence Stamp in Pasolini's TEOREMA, also 1968. Clad throughout in a samurai warrior's robe (complete with ceremonal sword) Burton look haggard and faded. It's he who looks like he is dying, instead of Taylor.
In theory BOOM! initially may have seemed promising. Taylor and Burton were show business royalty and the public was still entranced by their glitzy soap opera lifestyle. Taylor had triumphed in earlier film adaptations of Tennessee Williams plays like CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (1958) and SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER (1959). Joseph Losey was a hip, art-y director of the moment, critically acclaimed for films like THE SERVANT (1963).

Taylor plays in full-throttle imperious, overripe, scenery-chewing diva mode, and shrieking like a harridan, Her Sissy Goforth is self-parodic, unhinged and drag queeny - maybe that was the only way to play it - no wonder John Waters says Taylor’s appearance and abrasive performance in this film were a beloved source of inspiration for Divine.
BOOM! is incredibly beautiful to look at, weirdly enjoyable and frequently mesmerising in a way only a truly trashy bad movie can be. Losey’s prowling camera and elegantly composed shots ensure it’s never dull to watch - especially when Noel Coward arrives as The Witch of Capri ! and Taylor wears that kabuki outfit with that spectacular head-dress ...

Like in SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER or NIGHT OF THE IGUANA or SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH that weird Williams poetry comes through the bizarre situations. The set must have been expensive too. Taylor and Losey went on the equally bizarre and culty SECRET CEREMONY, also filmed in 1968 in London. This too  was a notorious flop at the time - and this is where I  come in, as I saw Burton and Taylor with Losey and "The Sunday Times" esteemed film critic Dilys Powell discussing the film on stage at the 1970 CINEMA CITY exhibition at The Roundhouse in Chalk Farm in London. SECRET CEREMONY had been badly received, cut, and sold to television and they were outraged at its treatment. I can still picture Elizabeth, looking great in a patchwork gypsy-style dress and flashing that diamond ring. Burton and Losey seemed hangdog about it all ... 
Our affection for Elizabeth grew in her later years: all those diamonds, perfumes, her AIDS charity work, her varying weight and looks ... for me though her great era was that decade from 1954 (THE LAST TIME I SAW PARISGIANT, RAINTREE COUNTY, CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER and, yes, CLEOPATRA) when she and Marilyn were the twin deities of the era, as Sophia and Brigitte came to the fore.

The Burton era though was passing, were the public getting tired of their ritzy lifestyle and antics as they were forced to make more and worse films to maintain their lifestyle? - people were just not going to see them, together or separately, any more - and who could blame them with items like HAMMERSMITH IS OUT, BLUEBEARD, THE DRIVER'S SEAT, ASH WEDNESDAY .... ZEE & CO though was another genuine Trash Classic we will have to re-visit it soon.
Losey had another success, artistic and popular, with THE GO-BETWEEN in 1971 and was then mainly filming in Europe. He directed Burton again in his 1972 THE ASSASSINATION OF TROTSKY, which a lot of people, including me, didn't bother with at the time - despite it also featuring Alain Delon and Romy Schneider - or maybe it did not hang around long enough for us to see it. It was though deadly dull when I finally got the dvd a while back. 


  1. I enjoy your blog a great deal and had to comment on one of my favorite guilty pleasures, Boom!

    I've never bought the generalization that the Burtons walked through this or did it strictly for the money. As a freelance star, Taylor was always attracted to baroque material, starting with "Cat" and "Suddenly, Last Summer."

    Taylor and Burton are indeed miscast, and I always thought the ideal team would have been Vivien Leigh and a blonde Terence Stamp. Sadly, though, Leigh had passed away about the time this movie was being made.

    Though not prime Williams, there are some heartfelt lines that came from the playwright's own midlife crisis after his long time partner had died and he was now facing middle age alone.

    What I really love about Boom! is John Barry's soundtrack. It's truly haunting and I now own it!

    I actually prefer some of Taylor's later performances, where she's taking some chances: "Reflections in a Golden Eye," "Secret Ceremony," and "X, Y & Zee."

    And I look forward to a write-up from you about "X, Y & Z," which contains one of Elizabeth's latter day best performances...she and Michael Caine are hilarious together.

    Cheers, Rick

  2. Lovely comments, Ta Rick. We will dig out "X, Y & ZEE" later this week ....