Archive for Lynn Redgrave

George Melly’s Trip to the Moon

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 21, 2014 by dcairns

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Vicious-but-fair title art by actor-writer-cartoonist Willie Rushton — not that those actresses look like that, you understand, but they both make those faces in this film.

For reasons to be divulged later, I felt like seeing some sixties nonsense, and Fiona suggested SMASHING TIME — she’d seen it first as a teenager, on TV one afternoon, and had been seduced by the whole idea of the 1960s. I’d seen bits of it and been sceptical — I like the ’60s and I like nonsense but there are certain combinations of the two that can be nausea-inducing (cf JOANNA, HERE WE GO ROUND THE MULBERRY BUSH, GIRL ON A MOTORCYCLE) — but I was game and so we tried it.

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It’s not the best-directed film in the world, former cameraman Desmond Davis can be oddly maladroit at framing a shot, even when there’s a heap of mod clobber and pop design on display, and he’s equally gauche at staging slapstick, which is a shame because the script does set up some good gags. Said script is by the late George Melly, an bulbous jazz eccentric who saw THE KNACK, loved it, and set out to up the ante with cartoonishness, character names out of Lewis Carroll (Bobby Mome-Rath, Charlotte Brillig, Tom Wabe), a gaudy palette and bawdy slapstick that’s nearly bodily — a joke involving Ian Carmichael being fed laxatives and forced to defecate in a bathroom in which every cubic inch is packed with foaming bubbles hints at the hidden meaning behind the pie fights, paint fights, food fights and general muck-throwing elsewhere in the film. A bit of a surrealist, Melly had obviously glommed onto the Freudian underpinnings of all that goop, and wanted to snort about it.

NEVER MIND, I say, because there’s more to enjoy. Rita Tushingham plays a hyperbolic caricature of her KNACK role, northern rube in the big smoke, dragged into the action by best mate Lynn Redgrave, who’s inanely set on becoming a star by going to Carnaby Street and waiting to be discovered. Of course that takes less than half an hour.

The song is listed as “I’m So Young” but Lynn/Yvonne refers to it elsewhere by its brilliant alternative title, “I Can’t Sing.” Fiona and I can’t get the damn thing out of our heads now.

Fiona pointed out that female picaresques are very rare, do not, in fact exist outside of this movie and I suppose things like CANDY — has there even BEEN a picaresque movie in the last thirty years? Female clowns are likewise rare, but maybe producer Carlo Ponti saw GEORGY GIRL and THE KNACK, considered NIGHTS OF CABIRIA, couldn’t get Richard Lester, and concocted this concept? The Italians do love clowns. Lynn R. is a natural at it, to the point of maybe indulging in it a tiny bit in films where it didn’t belong, but she leads here and The Tushingham gamely follows, proving able at mugging — those beautiful eyes go ping-pong at a moment’s notice.

Kurt Vonnegut called slapstick “grotesque situational poetry,” and that’s a good description of these antics — occasionally a little too grotesque, as with an ECU of a bare foot stepping on a drawing pin — an involuntary hiss of pain from the audience isn’t really the emotion you want, is it? — and as with the paint fight where Rita is turned an unfashionable streaky brown and looks, with her screwed-up expression, like some kind of filthy witch. I like it better when it’s just on the cusp of awful — later, lovely Rita takes a cream pie to the side of the head and a great mass hangs in her hair… horrible, but hilarious. Kudos to Melly for actually coming up with sixties-specific fresh gags for a pie fight — most big custard battles just vary a few basic tropes (and are none the worse for it) but this one is seriously inventive.

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If Davis is visually a touch uneven, he does assemble a veritable Who’s-Bloomin’-Who of fab gear talent, with Bruce Lacey and his kinetic sculpture assemblage automatons (one kissing machine threatens to go full DEMON SEED on poor Rita but settles for pounding Michael York with a giant boxing glove); Anna Quayle and Jeremy Lloyd and David Lodge (all from Lester’s films) and more comedy homosexuals than you can waggle a stick at (oops, careful, you’ll have someone’s eye out with that!)

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It shouldn’t really hang together at all, but it does because Melly has put together a genuinely nice comic dynamic, with Tushingham trying vainly to keep her idiot friend out of trouble, and Redgrave oblivious to all this and clodhoppingly insensitive and unappreciative of her best mate. It’s a different dynamic from Laurel & Hardy altogether, but equally touching because you feel these two lady-schmucks really need each other, and that their friendship is worth more than anything Swinging London or Michael York with his Action Man hair and moustache can offer.

When the Levee Broke

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on November 10, 2008 by dcairns

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BLOOD KIN (AKA LAST OF THE MOBILE HOTSHOTS, a horrible title! Sounds like some kind Burt Reynolds movie) is Sidney Lumet’s film of Tennessee Williams’ play The Seven Descents of Myrtle, scripted by Gore Vidal. It was the rarest thing screening in Edinburgh Filmhouse’s recent Williams season, so I felt I couldn’t pass it up. Vidal, of course, is a past master of distorting Williams to suit his own intentions. Here at least he’s less restrained by the censor than he was with SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER.

Lynn Redgrave is loud showgirl  Myrtle, James Coburn is sickly landowner Jeb, Robert Hooks is his half-brother, whose dark skin the script is hilariously mealy-mouthed about. Nobody’s quite sure how to refer to his obvious blackness. “Dark-complected” is as explicit as they can get. Performancewise, Coburn is himself, only dying and impotent instead of lusty and strutting. Hooks is zestful and impudent, and Redgrave gloriously loud and theatrical. David Wingrove, also present, described the effect as being like a Little Britain parody of a Tennessee Williams play. He meant it as a compliment, mind you.

A prologue sets up Coburn’s meeting with Redgrave, with them getting married on a cheesy game show and winning a carload of white goods. A great moment at a rancid fast food restaurant, the long-lens frame heaped with trashy Americana, a giant effigy of a cow trundling past on the road. Then the main event:

Maybe the wettest film I ever saw. It may rain more or less constantly in SE7EN and BLADE RUNNER, but it doesn’t soak into you half as much as in this movie. Once the rain begins, we learn that the levee is apt to break, and the whole movie could end up sub-aqueous. The tactile discomfort of all that downpour, and Coburn’s damp, stained white linen suit, has a powerful, exhausting effect.

Hooks, we discover, has a history of surviving floods by taking to the rooftop of the crumbling southern property where the film transpires. Ironically, the whole plot hinges around LAND, land which may shortly become water. Coburn wants to prevent his half-brother from inheriting, by either producing an heir via Redgrave, or getting her to steal the agreement which promises him the property upon Coburn’s (imminent) demise.

I’m skeptical about Quincey Jones’ score: I don’t think he’s a natural film composer, and his music sometimes seems to go off on its own, abandoning the movie. I feel this about most Jones scores, but then he’ll do something brilliant like THE ITALIAN JOB, and I think the problem must be with me. 

The bits where the set fades to red and Coburn has a strange interlude, with slo-mo flashbacks of laborious running around with sexy chicks, seem to stop the film dead (nearly all attempts to add “cinematic” values to filmed plays seem to do more harm than good). But I like the chamber piece part of the film, dependant solely on performance, photographed by James Wong Howe in a beautifully crisp fashion. It looks nothing like this still:

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And then the ending! Hooks wins the land — just as the flood comes and — united with Redgrave — he flees to the rooftop — as the little three-hander suddenly turns into THE MOST EXPENSIVE FILM EVER. After a miniature shot of floodwater that has a distinct, and humorous, ’70s disaster movie vibe, we see the water crashing through the windows of the house — first floor, second, THIRD! — as the game thespians clamber upwards. It’s preposterously huge and epic and dynamic. Jones’ music suddenly becomes so-wrong-it’s-right, with a blaxploitation exuberance one does not expect to find in Tennessee Williams. After the claustrophobic interiority and long dialogue scenes, this is an eruption of energy that’s truly cathartic.

The black man inherits the land, just as it vanishes beneath the waves. I felt a smidgin of political subtext there, which seemed all the stronger after the election. I don’t see how anybody could have planned it that way, but it was a nice film to see at this moment.

What does Gore think?

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