Archive for April 6, 2008

Press for Time

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 6, 2008 by dcairns

ancient wisdom

PRESS FOR TIME is the name of a Norman Wisdom comedy from 1966 in which he’s a journalist. “Press”, you see. I always remember that because the title has to be the lamest non-pun in the history of English-speaking cinema. The only comparably lousy title is the ’90s thriller OUT OF DEPTH, which vanished without a trace. While the Wisdom flick attempts to be a sort of innocent double entendre but doesn’t actually achieve a singly functioning entendre, the crime movie is only trying to mean one thing, and fails. Did nobody point out, “You know, that isn’t actually a phrase…“?

I mention all this irrelevance because I’m apparently getting a press pass to the Edinburgh Film Festival in its new June incarnation, so I will be live-blogging the fest like a man possessed, during the run-up, when they start the press shows, then all through the event proper, until I drop to the ground, exhausted, spasming and barking with pain. It’ll be great.

I did offer to be their Official Blogger, saying only nice things (integrity is my middle name — I never use it), but they’re quite happy to have me as a rogue element saying whatever the hell I feel like. Which is even better.


Back to Sir Norman. He was HUGE in the UK through the ’50s and ’60s. A sort of sub-Jerry Lewis gump-clown. His stuff hasn’t worn that well, I find, but he still has loyal fans. Animator Nick Park (WALLACE AND GROMMIT) loves those tatty movies. Norm made a stab at a Hollywood career, appearing in THE NIGHT THEY RAIDED MINSKY’S for William Friedkin (makes a great trivia question: what film has Jason Robards, Britt Ekland, Norman Wisdom and Bert Lahr?) and when that didn’t work out, came back to the UK and appeared in WHAT’S GOOD FOR THE GOOSE? a sex comedy that shows Norman romping naked with a rather young Sally Geeson (19). Directed by Z-list hack Menahem Golem, who became a serious movie mogul before falling from “grace” and winding up a Z-list hack again, produced by Tony Tenser’s Tigon pictures, a low point for everybody — even Golan, and that’s LOW. Actor Stevie McNicoll watched the film and was appalled. I asked if it was worse than NOT NOW DARLING, for me the low-water-mark in awful British sex farce. “It makes NOT NOW DARLING look like the fucking Mahabharata,” he replied.

19 kinds of wrongness

But Norman had a strange renaissance in the ’90s, when it emerged that old prints of his films were doing the rounds in Albania, and he was a major star there. I guess the Wisdom-Albania thing is equivalent to the Jerry Lewis-France paradigm, only this one is true, and it’s rather lovely. And anyway, those French critics who admire Lewis are RIGHT.

Our Norm is now 93 and afflicted with Altzheimer’s, which has had the rather strange effect of turning him into his own movie persona. He seems fantastically lively and fit, but with a childlike intellect and sense of mischief. In a recent TV profile, he turned to the documentary camera and attempted a greeting which seems to encapsulate the essence of all actors:

“Thanks… awfully… for looking at me.”

Charlton Heston, actor

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 6, 2008 by dcairns

Fiona came into the room early in the morning and told me that some famous Hollywood person had died.

Then she came into the room and told me that Charlton Heston had died and I realised the earlier incident was a dream. I’ve never had deja vu like that before. Weird.

Then, as Edinburgh was briefly swamped by snowflakes the size of nachos, I began to think I must commemorate the great Chuck’s passing.

My first, dark thought, was that Heston’s Altzheimer’s had in some way, tragic though it was, aided his reputation. At least with me — I no longer thought of him as a wingnut and a gun-nut, but as a victim of an illness. Reagan’s senility never affected me that way. In some way I always wanted to like Heston. I know his illness had nothing to do with his arch-Republican stance, which preceded it by decades, but in some unreasonable way the illness erased my image of Heston as spokesman for opinions I loathe. It helps that, despite his right-wing views he was a supporter of the civil rights movement and an eager collaborator with the liberal Orson Welles and the politically somewhat complex Peckinpah.

I thought of my favourite Heston performance, in Wyler’s THE BIG COUNTRY. Heston can really play arrogance and aggression. In the same director’s BEN-HUR he’s stuck with trying to play nobility, which can’t be acted at all, only embodied by the right actor in the right role. The impossible task turns Chuck in on himself and, always prone to self-consciousness, he becomes stiff and monumental (I still can’t picture anybody else in the role though).

Wyler pulled one of his nasty tricks in a scene where Heston struggles with Carroll Baker. Heston traps both her tiny wrists in one of his great bone-sculpture hands and she tries to pull away. WW privately instructed her to break free of Heston’s grasp, while taking Heston aside and telling him to on no account allow Baker to get away. After a couple of takes, her wrists were red-raw, and there’s a real tremor in Heston’s voice as he struggle with her — he’s not a happy actor, but it works for the character. It’s a rare moment of seeing a human being instead of an icon. It makes me like Heston that playing this scene upset him so much — but he also respected Wyler for getting the effect.

Oh, and I love his last scene in Lester’s THE FOUR MUSKETEERS, where he dismisses Michael York’s D’Artagnan with a little wave of his hand. One doesn’t normally think of Chuck as a WITTY actor, but he respected Richard Lester and maybe the gesture was scripted or suggested. Anyhow, he does it beautifully.

Go away, you small boys

A flick of the wrist.

I want to be alone.

“Charlton Heston” by Stump, from the album A Fierce Pancake.

The pyramids were in construction,
The pharoah glowed with satisfaction,
But then to his immense surprise,
His empire fell before his eyes.
A hundred thousand busy slaves,
Downed their tools and stood and stared.

The Red Sea walls stood like a canyon,
The pharoah pulled up in his wagon,
And saw within those walls of glass,
A herd of whales go racing past.
A hundred thousand fishy tales,
Crossed his mind about the day.

Then Charlton Heston put his vest on.

The broken tablets had been mended,
The golden calf had been up-ended,
And old folk sitting round the fire,
Would talk of voices from the sky;
Babies sailing down the Nile;
The recipe for locust pie;
A hundred thousand frogs per mile —
We’d always ask them to describe,

How Charlton Heston put his vest on.

Thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not steal;
Shalt not commit adultery.
Boils the size of fifty pee,
Lights! Camel! Action!

Bushes that refuse to burn.
See these sandals hardly worn.
Raining blood, raining bread,
The night we painted Egypt red.
Thou shalt not covet; shalt not lie;
Thou shalt not bonk your neighbour’s wife.
The recipe for egg fried lice;
A hundred ways to kill a fly;
Love your daddy, love your mummy;
Put your bread in milk and honey.
Loved his fish, he did, he did,
Never beat the wife and kids.
Slouch though desert, slouch through sand,
Until we reach the promised land.
Thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not steal;
Shalt not commit adultery.
Boils the size of fifty pee.
Lights! Camel! Action!

The Wrong-Eyed Jesus

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , on April 6, 2008 by dcairns

Don't look at his eyes!

“Look — it’s Jesus!”

That first subtitle in LA DOLCE VITA, as a giant Christ flies by, slung from a helicopter, causing bikini babes to rise from their sun loungers in mildly surprised recognition, always cracks me up.

What’s the occasion? Why, it’s Easter in Romania! Time for a seasonal caption competition. All suggestions must be lines from existing films, intended to compliment the shot above, depicting the Little Lamb Who Made Us All as he appears in Nicholas Ray’s KING OF KINGS.

My suggestions —

“He has his father’s eyes.” ~ ROSEMARY’S BABY.

“Don’t look at his eyes!” ~ THE DEVIL RIDES OUT.

“Let Jesus fuck you!” ~ THE EXORCIST.

You might surmise from the above that I have it in for Christ, but this is not so. A little good-natured joshing. While rejecting his claim to divinity (or the claims made for him) I don’t have anything against his parables and precepts. In the manner of Ralph Richardson (as in all things), I fill my glass with gin, raise it, and say ~ 

“To Jesus Christ! What an extraordinarily nice fellow!”

And drink it all down at once.