Archive for January 13, 2008

Euphoria #17: It’s showtime, folks.

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 13, 2008 by dcairns

Fiona’s got a nasty ‘flu’, so I’m attempting to restore her spirits with another of those movie scenes that infuses you with optimism, like steam inhalation for the soul. 

Pure frug-ing euphoria from Bob Fosse’s SWEET CHARITY, his remake of Fellini’s NIGHTS OF CABIRIA, book by Neil Simon. A modest floor-show in the Fellini, visible for just a few seconds, is here inflated into a gigantic number with Suzanne Charney (and Ben Vereen!) This is the second euphoric clip in two days where a woman makes remarkable shapes with her body. S.C. is utterly incredible. Women want to be her. Men want to be on her. 

Neil Simon and Bob Fosse were great friends and contemporaries: Fosse was only two days older than Simon. He used to say, “During those two days when I was on this earth and you weren’t… I had more girls than you will have in the entire rest of your life.”

Another writer friend was Paddy Chayefsky (NETWORK, ALTERED STATES). When Fosse was about to go in for open-heart surgery he asked Paddy to sign his will as a witness. Chayefksy asked to read it.

‘Well, that’s not really nec-’

‘I don’t sign anything I don’t read,’ snapped Chayefsky.

He scanned the document, then: ‘Well, this all seems — I say “SEEMS”, mind you — to be in order. But I don’t see my name anywhere.’

‘Well, that’s true. I mean, you know I love you like a brother and everything, Paddy, but you’re not actually a beneficiary.’

Chayefsky throws the will back at his sick friend. ‘Screw you then — LIVE!’

Hospital hallucination, take 1

Fosse’s surgery is gorily recreated in ALL THAT JAZZ, his penultimate film. He gives himself the best lines in that one. To first wife: ‘If I don’t make it, I’m sorry for all the things I did to you.’ To new girlfriend: ‘And if I DO make it, I’m sorry for all the things I’m GONNA do to YOU.’

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Style note: Fosse cuts rather a lot for a choreographer/director. His editing is very stylish and rhythmic, but sometimes it takes over from the dancers, makes it impossible for us to follow the WHOLE SCENE. True, it’s a cinematic effect instead of a theatrical one, but when the dancing is this good, sometimes simplicity might be better? My main reason for fretting over this is the horrible state of filmed dance in the mainstream media today.

In CHICAGO we get a modern director imitating Fosse’s approach, but with many more cuts, the MTV tradition. The dance becomes totally incoherent, and what people remember is the editing: “Wasn’t the editing great?” Well, no. It wasn’t.

Showtime

I still love Fosse though. Like a lot of theatre directors, he embraced the unique qualities of film with insane enthusiasm. His films are all about montage, juxtaposition, cross-cutting different kinds of fictional reality, performance and life clashing head-on.

If I ran a series of clips of Cinema That Makes You Want to Gnaw Your Own Brain Off, Fosse’s skin-crawling work with Eric Roberts in STAR 80 would have to be Clip One. Amazing stuff.

Footnote: just watched this again and don’t find it at all over-edited. Maybe there’s too much cutting in other sequences, but not here.

Not Of This Earth

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 13, 2008 by dcairns

Shadey 

So, my late friend Lawrie Knight was an A.D. on Powell and Pressburger’s THE RED SHOES. He had an odd set of duties, sometimes assisting Reggie Mills in the cutting room, (“I was the worst editing assistant –all my splices fell apart!”) sometimes helping co-ordinate crowd scenes. When the studio had a Royal Visitor, Lawrie was landed with the job of escorting the Princess around. “Why me?” he protested. “Because you’re the only GENTLEMAN in the unit,” he was told.

 An empty stage had been set aside for the dancers to practice on. As Lawrie showed the Princess in, a tiny figure started to pirouette towards them from the extreme distance. Robert Helpmann.

They watched as, like Omar Sharif in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, which had not yet been made, the minute figure slowly grew, until Helpmann spun to a halt right before them.

“What’s your date of  birth?” demanded the dancer.

“Umm, September 22nd,” stammered Lawrie.

“Oh, another lovely virgin for me!” exclaimed R.H., dancing off.

Lawrie also set up the camera for the official cast and crew photo, setting the timer and running to the back of the group to appear in it himself.

But my favourite story concerns Anton Walbrook. The day after filming the big argument scene where he smashes the mirror, Walbrook asked if he could be shown the rushes. Lawrie took him to the screening room and asked for the relevant takes to be shown.

The film came on, but there was no sound. Lawrie made to go and find out what the problem was, but Walbrook indicated that it didn’t matter. So they sat and watched the footage with only a faint whirrr from the projector.

And, in the dark, Lawrie could gradually hear a whisper. “Marvellous. Wonderful. Oh, I’m fantastic.”

Wonderful

Which he was.

This fits nicely with Moira Shearer’s recollections of Walbrook as an elegant, slightly distant figure, wafting about in sunglasses. Once, as she sat dining in the hotel restaurant in the South of France location, Walbrook strolled by. “Ah, it’s beautiful, but it’s not our world, is it?” he sighed, and wafted on.

Well, Walbrook was a refugee, after all. Even after his death, in Germany in 1967, he had no last resting place: for thirty years his ashes were kept in a jar, before finally being interred in the graveyard of St. Johns Church, Hampstead, as he had requested in his will.

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In his not-always-factual autobiographies, A Life in Pictures and Million Dollar Movie, Powell claims credit for casting Walbrook in a series of films. His colleague, Emeric Pressburger “didn’t like homosexuals,” — and yet Pressburger wrote some vividly autobiographical material for Walbrook: Pressburger’s experiences as an exile surely informed Walbrook’s unbearably moving speech in the immigration office in THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP. Powell obviously responded to Walbrook’s intensity and flexibility: who else could achieve the bitter melancholy of that monologue, the sly wit of his characterisation in OH…ROSALINDA!  and the strangulated angst of his last speech in THE RED SHOES?

nor any other night...

“Actors are a third sex,” ~ Orson Welles. Certainly some of the most amazing actors have an ALIEN quality. The Shock of Recognition is a powerful thing, that kind of dramatic deja vu, but jamais vu is pretty amazing too — the Shock of Seeing Something You Never Saw In Your LIFE. Walbrook combines the two.

Smash-Up

Cracked Actor

Maybe Walbrook’s most apt role isn’t in a P&P film at all — his otherworldly grace is perfectly suited to the “Ringmaster” character in Ophuls’ LA RONDE.

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