Enter the Dragon

Joseph Losey Week spills out of itself and out of Shadowplay, over into BritMovie, where I drunkenly sing the praises of BOOM (A.K.A. BOOM!), thusly. I’d like to add that, since writing the piece, my enthusiasm for the film has grown, perhaps as my memory of it dims or perhaps as aspects of its high camp art-movie miasma have taken on fresh resonance through bouncing around inside my reverberant skull. Whatever the truth behind that, I feel I can supplement the article by adding a clip from the film itself. This should confirm, for all enthusiasts of Edgar Ulmer’s THE BLACK CAT, the influence of the 1934 horror movie upon the 1968 art-trash mash-up. Specifically the floating camera as Burton rumbles through the opening stanzas of Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, or a Vision in a Dream (Like an IDIOT, I refer to the poem as “Coleridge’s Xanadu” in the piece, ample proof that I’m overly obsessed with Gene Kelly and Olivia Newton John’s musical disasterpiece).

ALTHOUGH — there is another possibility, now that I think of it. Although Losey expressed tremulous reservations about Resnais and Robbe-Grillet’s LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD, worrying if it would communicate anything to the general public, he was clearly much affected by it. The flashbacks and sound-image disconnections of ACCIDENT show an obvious desire to emulate Resnais’ fragmented mirror-maze montage, and Losey even abducts Delphine Seyrig from the cast of MARIENBAD and casts her, rather nonsensically, as Alexander Knox’s daughter.

But in that case, it’s clear that MARIENBAD is in thrall to THE BLACK CAT, which now that I think of it is obvious and has probably been remarked upon before.

See Douglas Slocombe’s camera, operated by the great Chic Waterson, drift like a phantom through Richard MacDonald’s insanely opulent sets, in the spectral footsteps of Ulmer and Resnais. And now here’s John Waters to put everything in perspective:

22 Responses to “Xanadu”

  1. Well now you’re really cookin’ with gas. Taking on a piece of cinematic esoterica so imposing and yet so obscure is not small thing, and you’re greatly aided by the Waters clip. I happne to have seen the first production of The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore with Hermione Baddely as Sissy Goforth and Mildred Dunnock as the With of Capri. A very pretty young man — Paul somebodyorother played the Angel of Death. The contrast between such a cast and what we see here is more than merely startling. Burton is nobody’s idea of a european gigolo. Noel Coward is right on the mark. As for Taylor, you must rememebr her poor health over the course of her long career. She actually died and was brought back to life during the first Cleopatra shoot. That’s where that grea trachiotopy scar came from. She and Losey were clearly expecting that her closeness to Death would “play.” And in many ways it does. But too subtly for ordinary cinematic purposes. As for the set-up, it’s purest Losey: A protagonist trapped in a fortres/prison of his/her own devise. Gabriel’s island in Modesty Blaise is a twin brother (or is it sister ?) to these digs. And then there’ s These Are the Damned. All three feature an Elizabeth Frick scupture on the porch. And don’t forget Burton bedevilled by Alain Delon’s Angel of Death in The Assassination of Trotsky. Waters is of course right about Boom being a dream role for drag queens. Maybe next time Dame Edna should try it, with Louis Garrel as the Angel of Death, Tilda Swinton as the Witch of Capri and Christophe Honore directing.

  2. Having seen Tilda S in her husband’s TV “comedy” Your Cheatin’ Heart, I’m not sure if she has the lightness of touch, although maybe she’s developed it. And it’s hard to imagine anybody else in a role once played by Noel.
    (I was told an actor’s FOF story about a young and sensitive gay actor who visited Noel. At dinner, the Great Man asked him frankly, “TELL me… do you take-it-up-the-arse?” The young man stuttered an affirmative answer. Noel: “OH. I don’t. Filthy business.” Not particularly funny until you imagine it with Noel’s delivery.)
    If I was making BOOM right now I’d go for Gore Vidal. Barry Humphries/Dame Edna is a great choice, although I also admire Lily Savage, the Birkenhead Bombshell, but she seems to have retired, leaving her counterpart Paul O’Grady to collect a gong in this years Honours List in her stead. Jonathan Rhys Myers as Christopher Flanders? And let Blackie be played by a dwarf this time (it’s not a SENSIBLE choice for head of security) so Goforth can be dictating memoirs to him, just like Barbara Darling in You’re A Big Boy Now.

  3. Barbara Windsor would make a great Blackie. Stephen Fry would be Sissy Goforth in this version (and direct as well) with Barbara Steele as the Witch of Capri and Jude Law as the Angel of Death.

    Tilda is a lot funnier in person than she’s been given a chance to demonstrate on film. Did you see her ribbing Clooney at the Oscars?

  4. The entire concept of the “Failed art film” is fascinating. Bergman made two: The Serpent’s Egg and The Touch. A friend of mine used to do a great impression of Elliot Gould in The Touch: “Alright, Karen Go Back to you BOOSHWHAAA HUSBAND!”

  5. Oh, I SO want to see The Touch.

    One could argue that Bergman made SEVERAL failed art films. I’m not sure how successful Through a Glass Darkly is. But I guess it succeeded in being accepted as an art film, which Boom didn’t.

    Boorman is a master of that genre, as is Guiseppe Patroni Griffi. Maybe Zurlini?

    Boom, had it been made by an Italian, with Italians in it, would have stood a much better chance of acceptance. British art cinema is supposed to be about poor people, or neurotic middle class people at a push, but NOT rich people. I think that’s an absolute law of the land and you break it at your peril.

  6. I missed the Oscars this year, and was just told that Tilda was “strange”.

    Babs Windsor as Sissy, Kenneth Williams as the Witch, umm… I don’t think the Carry On series offers a convincing toyboy anywhere amongst its regulars. Although I’d like to see Charles Hawtrey as an angel of death, he would look great in a kimono.

  7. Jim Dale might do as Chris for Carry On Sissy (now there’s a Carry On title if there ever was one!)

    As for Patroni Griffi, his insane The Driver’s Seat makes for an ideal double feature with Boom.

  8. Jim Dale could have fun tripping on his kimono, I guess. Richard Burton in the Losey version is much closer to Sid James.

  9. Hattie Jacques would make a great Blackie.

  10. I love Hattie. Particularly effective in sympathetic roles, which she didn’t get often enough. She had a kind of elegance, produced mainly I think by her wonderful voice.

  11. Chris B Says:

    A friend of mine is going to send the official Dutch DVD release of BOOM! I’ve been sold (without buying, huzzah!).

    It’s not as if Hepburn and Taylor hadn’t met prior in a Williams’ adaptation with MonkeyBitch’s SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER (with Taylor looking smokin’ hot and “realistically” (haha) playing someone who’s “not with us”).
    It seems if you have T. Williams’ name on your work you can get away with practically ANYTHING in Horrywood! Everyone should do it!

  12. Quite true, but don’t expect a movie version of Camino Real anytime soon.

    Getting back to Losey, the fortress-invasion theme even figures in his truly superb rendition of M — in the scene where Martin Gabel uses a pyramid of shot glasses on a bar to stand as a visual metaphor for his criminal syndicate. Another sort of fortress figures in the apartment building where Karen Morley becomes dsitraight when she realizes her littler daughter hasn’t come home from school. Her run down an enormous stairwell and into the alleyway is overwhelming.

  13. Ah, so you got the disc? The missing daughter sequence is one of the closest to the Lang, but is still very good. I like the stuff that has nothing to do with Lang best, like the Bradbury Building and mannequin warehouse.

    Gabel is terrific in M (with an amazing rogue’s gallery in support). His single film as director, The Lost Moment, is a minor masterpiece.

    The TWilliams film I most enjoy is probably Night of the Iguana, the making of which sounds like a Williams melodrama in its own right: Burton, Taylor, Taylor’s ex/agent, Sue Lyon, her rather jealous boyfriend Hampton Fancher (future Blade Runner scribe) and Ava Gardner and her “beach boys” who Huston incorporated into the film. Huston began the shoot by buying a revolver and inscribing the names of his cast on a round of bullets. Just in case. The production built a hotel and a set. The hotel started collapsing almost immediately (Burton nearly plummeting from a collapsed balcony) while the set was still standing decades later. It’s probably still there.

    Lumet’s The Fugitive Kind also attains an impressive delirium.

  14. Failed art film: Lord knows that Pollack ain’t in the same league, but … “Castle Keep”?

    Can’t remember much of “Touch” beyond Andersson in the hospital and her later scene getting dressed for the Big Date.

    Given the thought demonstrated above, perhaps a good Blackie would be latter-day Shirley Knight. The “As Good As It Gets” one, that is, rather than the “Petulia” one.

    Elizabeth Ashley *has* played Flora, which kinda spurs the imagination. Another possible Flora, if the qualifications include gorgeous looks and an ability to shift between arch comedy and tragedy, might be … Julianne Moore?

  15. Oh The Fugitive Kind is marvelous! Brando and maganani are amazing to watch together, but the show is stolen by Joanne Woodward in a performance that my boyfriend adopted as his “role model” during his high school years.

    The Night of the Iguana is indeed great fun, on-screen and off. And Deborah Kerr is aces in it as the character closest to Tennesee’s heart.

    (re the disc: Fantastic to see Noroit again after far too many years. Much richer in the wake of the complete Out 1. Bernadette Laffont is one of the greatest actresses in the history of the cinema. Ruiz’s Dog’s Dialogue, which you also included, is great fun. But Caligari is Pee-Wee League Lynch. M, however, is a real revelation. Easily the most important L.A. movie next to Blade Runner. And it’s set in the same neighborhood. Hard to imagine that Losey shot The Prowler, M and The Big Night in the same year. High Noon was supposed to have been next. But he wisely elected to Get Out of Dodge. Even if he hadn’t been blacklisted, the Losey of 1951 wouldn’t have been able to continue in this country. )

  16. I find that Caligari a touch effortful, but it does achieve a unique look, and Sayadian’s been doing this kind of thing since 1982. And hardly anybody else has even attempted to do anything stylish with porn in America, since Russ Myer, so I award him points for that.

    The Blade Runner – M connection might be worth pursuing. Hardly likely that Scott knew Losey’s film, but maybe architecture has a memory. Scott’s fragmented ad-land montage is about as far from Losey’s fluid moves, even with the Langian influence, cutting monumental compositions together with contained aggression. Yet both films are about hunting biologically guilty men through corrupt societies. JF Sebastian’s mechanical doll’s house apartment is the equivalent to Losey’s mannequin warehouse, and both are in the (Ray?) Bradbury building (itself inspired by a dream). Los Angeles dreams itself?

  17. Both are set in downtown L.A. — thiugh Scott had his downtown built on the Burbank Studios lot (the set constructors called it “Ridleyville”) The mannequins in the warehouse have more in common with Kubrick’s Killer’s Kiss. As for The Bradbury building it’s a whole dream locale in and of itself — and a must-see for any visitor to L.A.

    Read Reyner Banham’s Los Angeles: The Achitecture of Four Ecologies.

  18. Asides from the B Building, Scott also films HFord driving trhu a long tunnel, which I assume is the same one seen in M.

    i like Scott’s approach, taking the “old New York” set and adding layer upon layer of futuristic additions — it’s the way cities DO grow. Most futuristic cities are nothing but sci-fi spires, whereas the city of Blade Runner has been screwed up by generations of planners, like a real burg.

  19. Yes! That’s the same tunnel.

  20. Good! Not sure why Harrison Ford is bothering to drive thru it when he has a FLYING CAR, but it’s a nice visual.

  21. That clip from the Losey is *so* gorgeous!

    I think that my favorite bit is when Burton does his recitation from Coleridge, only to be greeted by Taylor at “2:15” croaking out “…what?”

  22. Yes!
    The more I think about it, the more Marienbad’s influence seems to pervade later Losey, and early Losey just seems to be waiting for it to come along. I think this will form the basis for my next Losey piece.

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