Archive for Dennis Potter

The Late Show Round-Up

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 12, 2010 by dcairns

THE LATE SHOW: THE LATE FILMS BLOGATHON is here. I’ll keep this post at the top of the page, presenting all the participants’ work, while my own entries will appear immediately below it.

Links!

Arthur S., over at This Pig’s Alley, files a confidential report on Eric Rohmer’s TRIPLE AGENT.

The latest Shadowplay post, on Cukor’s RICH AND FAMOUS, is right below this one.

Brandon keeps it coming with an illuminating scan through Orson Welles’ ONE-MAN BAND.

Eric at Sporadic Scintillation plays THE MUSIC, curtain call of the great Yasuzo Masumura.

WARM WATER UNDER A RED BRIDGE, the last film from Shohei Immamura, which provoked mainly perplexity upon release, is sympathetically showcased at Serene Velocity.

Flickhead makes a very welcome contribution, bringing a documentary flavour to the proceedings with a look at Varick Frissell’s THE VIKING.

More from Andreas at Pussy Goes Grrr, exploring the tragedy and hope of Mizoguchi’s final opus, STREET OF SHAME.

Gareth’s Movie Diary rides with THE COMANCHEROS, the last movie from golden age giant Michael Curtiz. And a handsome piece it looks, too!

55 DAYS AT PEKING, arguably the final completed feature from (in part) Nicholas Ray, is under the microscope at Mr. K’s Geel Cornucopia. And it takes us into quite a lovely place!

My own new entry is right below this one. NOT an appreciation of LOLA MONTES, merely a sidelong observation or two.

Arch-Shadowplayer David Ehrenstein, over at the Fablog, presents Pasolini’s 1966 anthology piece CHE COSA SONA LE NUVOLE?, in which giant puppets enact Othello… in a Late Show first, you can not only read about the film over at his place, but watch it too.

Brandon again (don’t stop, Brandon!) at Brandon’s Movie Memory explores Jimmy Stewart’s last theatrical feature, an odder-than-odd Japanese nature film shot in Africa.

Ed Howard at Only the Cinema takes on RIO LOBO, a sad note for Howard Hawks to end on, but certainly a recognizable variation on his usual themes and characters. Beautiful screen-shots, making me regret seeing it on an old VHS. A revisit might be in order: I remember enjoying Sherry Lansing’s unlikely turn as a vengeful Mexican.

C. Jerry Kutner writes for Bright Lights Film about James Whale’s difficult-to-see final project, HELLO OUT THERE. Anybody got a copy of that movie?

There’s a new post by yours truly, right below this one.

John McElwee’s Greenbriar Picture Shows examines THE LEFT HAND OF GOD, a late Bogart movie directed by Edward Dmytryk.

Pierre Fournier at Frankensteinia revisits FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL, the last film from Terence Fisher, the last Hammer Frankenstein, the last Peter Cushing appearance as the Baron, and one of the last Hammer releases altogether.

Brandon’s Movie Memory absorbs late works by Lindsay Anderson, Charlie Bowers, Buster Keaton, Osamu Tezuka (yay!), Norman McLaren and Joseph Barbera. Wouldn’t they make a houseful?

At Pussy Goes Grrr, an excellent analysis and appreciation of Eric Rohmer’s THE ROMANCE OF ASTREA AND CELADON can be found. A new discovery for me, this blog promises riches!

Jaime Grijalba looks at the last films of Bunuel and Ozu in a Spanish-language entry at Exodus 8:2. Thrilled to have something non-English-language here, even if I can’t read it myself!

At Deeper Into Movies, Brandon’s Movie Memory connects with COLD LAZARUS, the last teleplay of Dennis Potter, starring the frozen, severed head of Albert Finney, and executed “under the strictest writing deadline: to finish the story before his imminent death.” A terrific piece which exemplifies the virtues of this fun, intelligent blog — a sympathetic account which acknowledges the flaws in a film even while seeing beyond them to possibly hidden virtues.

At Boiling Sand, Doug Bonner delves into Herbert Wilcox’s THE LADY IS A SQUARE, exploring how a somewhat stilted film can nevertheless serve as a touching farewell to a star and director. A really beautiful piece.

Another Shadowplay entry by guest blogger and regular Shadowplayer Judy Dean can be found below ~

Right city, wrong time

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , on June 30, 2008 by dcairns

One of my larger incompetencies during the festival was missing the screening of OF TIME AND THE CITY, Terence Davies’ new documentary, which is serving to remind everybody what a great filmmaker, and personality, he is. But, despite missing the screening and Mr. Davies himself, nevertheless, gentle ShadowplayersI did not fail you.

A Videotheque is a special room designed for watching films under whatever the opposite of “optimum viewing conditions” is. Despite the cool name, there’s usually no dancing. You have a TV and a DVD player and a set of headphones and you’re surrounded by other people similarly equipped. It’s like being at home, only uncomfortable. Actually, home isn’t always comfortable either, especially last night when Fiona, suffering from a killer migraine, accidentally threw a live cat into my face. But there was something strangely appropriate about watching PRIMITIVE LONDON with blood tricking down my chin.

The E.I.F.F. videotheque is located in the shiny bowels of The Point Conference Centre, which looks like an office building out of Tati’s PLAYTIME, all metallic sheen and inhumanity. Adding a welcome note of the organic was regular Shadowplayer Kristin Loeer, who was running the place. Kris and her team sorted me out with various movies I’d been too slack or drowsy to catch on the big screen.

(This is part of why you should never trust professional film reviewers, who won’t tell you if they saw the stuff projected as it should be, or on a poxy monitor inside a strange metal box administered by Germans. And I can’t recall the last time Armond White admitted his viewing of, say, the latest Dardennes brothers opus had been marred by a flying cat gashing his lip.)

THINGS I READ OFF THE SCREEN IN “OF TIME AND THE CITY”

PLAY STREET: ALL VEHICLES PROHIBITED

PURITY

JOYTIME

FUNLAND

PALACE AMUSEMENTS

THIS IS ROUGHWOOD NO GO AREA ENTER AT OWN RISK

GOD BLESS OUR POPE

PNEUMATIC ELEVATOR NO 12

The movie, a portrait of Liverpool mainly through archive material, is very attentive to signs and graffiti. Narrated by Davies himself, whose sonorous, rich voice I’ve always admired (it’s how I remember my childhood G.P. Dr. Robertson sounding) this is a moving, passionate, sometimes angry and always poetic vision of a city I normally don’t care anything about, but which is brought to life like a richly textured yet unbelievably screwed-up movie character — perhaps a cross between Auntie Mame and the bad lieutenant.

The use of found footage, and its relationship to the V.O., is often startlingly beautiful. As Davies muses on the vacuum of the great British Sunday afternoon, in which children of both our generations were bored to distraction by a complete lack of anything to do, he shows a little girl skipping across a patch of waste ground, then abruptly stopping as if she’s just realised she’s surrounded by the bleakest stretch of nothingness in Britain.

The movie’s also often funny, with Davies leavening his aching nostalgia with cynicism re the coronation of Elizabeth II (“Street parties were held to celebrate the start of The Betty Windsor Show”) and the Catholic church, whose influence dominated Davies’ youth (“Pope Clitoris the Umpteenth”). There’s also highly emotive music, both popular and operatic, and many many quotations. CARRY ON fans will be pleased to hear Kenneth Williams on the soundtrack (the camp “Julian and Sandy as lawyers” bit from radio’s Round the Horne: “We’ve got a criminal practice that takes up most of out time.”)

The quotes are probably the riskiest strategy, because unlike Godard, Davies is very fond of rather familiar lines, like Ozymandias, and that stuff about the “blue remembered hills”. But it’s such a uniquely personal documentary that this seems fine — Davies “blue remembered hills” are his own, not Dennis Potter’s. And Davies has always been a populist without a popular audience. The sheer misfortune of coming along during a weird bit of British film history has bracketed him amid the artsy, when he desperately wants to address regular folks, to whom he has much to say.

OF TIME AND THE CITY will undoubtedly play many festivals and do well on British T.V. (which should be throwing money at Davies to make dramas — socially accurate, non-aspirational, poetic work has always formed the bulk of quality British television), but the real hope is that it will allow him to make another cinema film.

In its own right, it’s a marvellous example of just that, and hopefully an appetizer for what comes next.

Sing Out

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 22, 2008 by dcairns

THE WARBLING GUMSHOE

THE CROONING SHAMUS

THE DESCANTING FLATFOOT

THE ULULATING DICK

Yes, all synonyms for THE SINGING DETECTIVE, but which one?

Songdick

This one. I had a mixture of high hopes and mild trepidation regarding Keith Gordon’s film of Dennis Potter’s adaptation of his own BBC series. The movie sort of fulfilled both.

Gordon is somebody who should really be in demand. He’s bright, gifted, and his films do things that other people’s don’t. Instead, he’s working in TV. Of his films, MOTHER NIGHT is a terrific piece, I’d say the best film adaptation of a Kurt Vonnegut novel — and a relatively dull Vonnegut novel at that. Personally, I’d like to make THE SIRENS OF TITAN.

Somewhere in the flat is a copy of his highly-rated war movie, A MIDNIGHT CLEAR, which I must watch. Just added his 1999 noir WAKING THE DEAD to my rental list. So I guess I must have been impressed.

Why was I anxious? In part, because Potter’s series didn’t really follow a clear narrative path, not because it mingled fantasy, reality, memory and fiction, but because the reality part didn’t really round itself off in a satisfactory fashion. What made the series special was the quality of the protagonist’s dialogue, the authenticity of his plight, and the performances of everybody but especially Michael Gambon.

Bob Down

The plot — a crime writer crippled by severe psoriasis (a disease attacking the skin and joints) tries to work through his tormented feelings about life, love and sex. Though he is largely confined to his hospital bed, his mind roves freely through his memories, his pulp fiction, and his fantasies, until all these separate worlds cathartically collide.

Apart from the sheer difficulty of the job of adaptation, there was the fact that Dennis Potter is no longer with us. This gives the adapters a relatively free hand to mess about with his creation, safe from attack from the irascible author. It’s a bit like how, after decades in development hell, A HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY was suddenly in production, a relatively short time after Douglas Adams had passed away. While that film isn’t a complete disgrace, there are clearly things in there that Adams wouldn’t have tolerated, and for all everybody’s burbling on about how this was the film Adams had dreamed of, it notably has another writer’s name on it, and some of Adams’ time-honoured gags have been messed about with until they no longer work.

In absolute fairness, I think some of the filmmaking is very good, some of the off-the-wall casting really works, and some of the new gags and story elements are decent enough. But only SOME.

The Dark Corner

Gordon’S THE SINGING DETECTIVE is largely successful. It has Robert Downey Jnr instead of Michael Gambon, which is quite a big change, but obviously Downey is a superb actor so it totally works. One odd thing: since Downey is younger than Gambon, and the movie is being made decades after the TV show, they can no longer flashback to a ’40s world of childhood for the hero (and connect it to a ’40s world of noir fiction and cinema). So the movie is set in the ’80s, with flashbacks to the ’50s, leading to a completely different soundtrack. Some of these new songs are undoubtedly great, but I prefer the original. But I don’t actually mind. It actually took us about 45 minutes to realise this WAS the ’80s, since the music is all ’50s and the film takes place in a hospital environment with few obvious signifiers of period.

Gordon’s direction, along with Tom Richmond’s super-saturated cinematography, is stylish and stimulating, without intruding on the talk, which is the point of the thing. We get cartoony turns from Adrien Brody and Jon Polito as gangster/FBI men, adrift from Downey’s pulp potboiler and wandering through his memories and his reality like Vladimir and Estragon in snap-brim fedoras, with side-arms. The idea is funnier than the writing, maybe, but the “spirited playing” boosts it back up again. We particularly enjoyed the noir characters’ instinctive fear of sunlight and open space:

Bright Light!

Bright Light!

And there’s Robin Wright Penn, whose performance is, in its way, as detailed and compelling as Downey’s.

AND there’s an almost unrecognisable appearance by tiny racist Mel Gibson, who’s shaved his head and donned coke-bottle glasses to play Downey’s shrink. I guess he thinks he’s way too handsome normally to play a humdrum psychiatrist, so he has to disfigure himself. But the result is quite funny, and the performance is genuinely amusing. It might be the best bit of acting Mad Mel’s ever done.

(My friend and fellow director Morag McKinnon served him a burger at the BRAVEHEART launch party. “He’s a wee wrinkly man,” she reported.)

The Passion of the Dick

AND and AND there’s Jeremy Northam, one of the most versatile and unusual players working today. Here, Jeremy performs some intricate and filthy SEX ACTING, for our delectation.

Fiona: “That’s some of the best sex acting I’ve ever seen!”

Me: “I taught him everything he knows.”

Jeremy cher ami

We cut from the shag-shot to Downey’s face, strained in angst-ridden concentration as he imagines his enthusiastic cuckolding by the thrusting dirty Northam and then, doubtless because they’re playing Downey the tape on-set in order to show him what he’s supposed to be thinking about, Downey laughs uproariously. It’s great.

The Laughing Policeman

The original series featured a prominent supporting role for Patrick Malahide’s heaving buttocks, which are pale, wobbly things like unhappy jellyfish. I felt Northam was an improvement in purely aesthetic terms.

The biggest change from Potter’s original is the bit that was probably essential to get the film made, and which I’m still uncertain about. As I intimated, the TV series doesn’t really wrap up into a neat ball. The character’s contradictions and agonies don’t resolve, he recovers from his physical illness and appears to make peace with his wife and, perhaps, himself, but it’s not absolutely clear how he’s solved his psychological problems.

The movie has everything wrap up neatly — a new detail in Downey’s past dovetails with the plot of his book, and he’s able to achieve a Freudian breakthrough with his shrink which is absent, as I recall, from the series. It makes things neater and clearer, but it also turns the story into an ad for Freudian psychoanalysis, which the original was not. It’s the kind of story turn that would have been at home in a ’40s psychological drama like POSSESSED or THE SEVENTH VEIL. This new development arguably works better than the TV show, but I couldn’t altogether love it — it smacks of propaganda.

But this is a quibble, as is the fact that some of the new dialogue is not QUITE a sharp as some of the old dialogue. As memory serves, Gambon’s internal monologue of boring things, frantically called up to stave off sexual excitement as nurse Joanne Whalley applies cold cream to his aching body, was funnier and more un-PC than the version in the feature: for one thing, Gambon named names: John and Yoko were in there, as I recall. Downey doesn’t, and while his nurse, Katy Holmes, is pulchritudinous enough, she lacks Whalley’s down-to-earth reality: you don’t really believe Holmes should be entrusted with anything as challenging as smearing cream around a patient’s penis.

Asides from these nagging little insect-points, I think the film is actually DAMN GOOD.

Am I right?

“Am I not wrong, or am I not wrong?”

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