“Different countries, different customs.”

Fun and moving evening at the historic Festival Theatre, newly set up as a Film Festival venue for the big galas. Sean Connery celebrated his eightieth birthday with a screening of the restored THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING, one of his finest movies. Festival producer Ginnie Atkinson is leaving us, and Connery, having retired from acting, will probably be winding down his involvement in the fest too, so it was kind of a goodbye to both of them.

A friend had asked me to report back on the condition of Connery’s co-star Saeed Jaffrey (Billy Fish in the movie), who had enjoyed himself so much at the previous night’s party, he had to be carried out. And indeed, as Connery was talking to the audience and Jaffrey waited his turn, they had to get him a chair. (Celebrities have been enjoying themselves at Edinburgh this year: Patrick Stewart was seen dancing at the ceilidh — well, he is known as “Party Hard Picard”.)

My zoom lens is busted. The spec at stage centre is Connery. The spec being propped up on the left is Saeed Jaffrey. Interestingly, while Connery’s voice is now somewhat cracked, he seems in very good shape otherwise. And while Jaffrey had to be helped to the microphone, his voice boomed out to all 1,500 seats as if it needed no such assistance.

Of course Ossie Morris’s widescreen photography looked magnificent on the big screen. Connery, Caine, Jaffrey and Christopher Plummer impressed as ever. (Plummer avoids obvious showboating in this one and underplays to form a nice bassline beneath the big star personae — although Fiona spotted him very deliberately not blinking for long periods of time during a classic “A” composition where he was stood between the two big guys.) And the film, perhaps because of the occasion, was more moving than I’d previously found it, I can’t say why.

It’s interesting to me that Huston celebrates such a disreputable pair of heroes — my take on Huston is that he was similarly amoral and out for a good time. These soldiers of fortune set out to loot what is basically Afghanistan, and come to grief due to a lack of exit strategy. (All the ’70s films here seem incredibly timely in a way that few of the modern ones do.) And the other great Huston moment is the laughter, where Connery and Caine face certain death in the icy mountains of the  Hundu Kush, and their laughter in the face of this causes an avalanche which enables them to proceed. The fatalistic laugh can be traced through THE MALTESE FALCON, TREASURE OF THE SIERRE MADRE and BEAT THE DEVIL, and Huston experienced it first hand in real life. It’s the vast, echoing laughter of the universe, and it’s highly infectious: once you get in tune with it, you may find it hard to stop.

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8 Responses to ““Different countries, different customs.””

  1. A shame Caine couldn’t have been there, but unlike Connery I’m guessing he has yet to retire from The Business, so perhaps he was on location somewhere. “Huston… similarly amoral”, oh no doubt. All one has to do is cast their eyes back over most of the most celebrated characters from his most celebrated films, from THE MALTESE FALCON to UNDER THE VOLCANO and it’s all there. Nice to think that perhaps his spirit was there hovering over the proceedings.

  2. Huston is certainly depicted as a hedonist in the classy tome “Black Dahlia Avenger”.

  3. Caine sent birthday greetings.

    Experimento, if you guys are at the fest it would be great to meet up!

  4. Sean Connery at the centre of the stage(in your photo) with the scarlet curtains behind him recalls Anna Magnani at the end of Renoir’s ”The Golden Coach”.

    I basically saw ”The Man Who Would Be King” as an adventure movie that follows the fantasies of imperialism to the empty, hollow core at its centre. It cites Alexander(called Sikander as per his name in Indian chronicles) as the noble predecessor to the two charming crooks at the centre. But at the same time it sees something heroic in these crooks for dreaming and pursuing and living these fantasies just as Alexander could be considered heroic(even if he was a murdering pillager) and tragic in their defeat when the fantasy destroys them. And for Huston that of course represents the human condition and it’s also personal since Huston was full of the macho bustle whose hollowness he was perfectly aware of.

  5. Afraid we’re not, David. If you’re ever in Granitania…

  6. “I basically saw ”The Man Who Would Be King” as an adventure movie that follows the fantasies of imperialism to the empty, hollow core at its centre. ”

    Thats it precisely. Huston being Huston, he peers into the abyss and chuckles at the folly of it all. Caine and Connery are magnificent as fictional characters who confront their creator Kipling — and transcend him.

  7. Huston is more Conradian in his ideas of adventure. Kipling saw a moral order and structure whereas Conrad, in his pessimistic irony, saw an emptiness to all human endeavour. I wonder why Huston never considered adapting Conrad? He tackled Hammett, Melville, Crane, McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, Lowry and Joyce, writers who are quite different in style and sensibility.

    Initially Huston planned to make it with Bogart and Gable but that project never took off and then the two of them were getting old and eventually passed away but I must saw casting Caine and Connery was even better than what he originally planned. Both are brilliant and have an amazing chemistry between them, able to carry both the charm and brutality of the characters without jarring with the change of registers.

    Plummer as Kipling is brilliant casting of course.

  8. Saeed Jaffrey talked about how Gable and Bogart would have done it, with “some Mexican playing a ghurka. There is a Persian saying which says, ‘It is better that it be late, for then it shall be correct.'”

    Conrad would have seemed a good match for Huston, who did like his unfilmables.

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