Film Club 2010: Back in the Habit

Let’s get this Film Club thing back on track. I’ve a mind to tackle ROBIN AND MARIAN, purely because it’s a favourite I haven’t watched in years — disgracefully, I’ve lectured on Richard Lester with nothing more than my young self’s memories of the film to guide me. And I don’t know about you, but my young self was a right berk.

What’s in it for you? I’m assuming some of you will have seen it, so you’ll be able to jump in and join the heated debate. And those of you who haven’t, you have time to grab it, by rental or purchase of (shudder) illegal download. I highly recommend it, based on my youthful memories: for your money you get a screenplay by the bloke who wrote THE LION IN WINTER (witty, philosophical, with charming use of anachronism), one of Sean Connery’s best performances, Audrey Hepburn in her return to the screen after a nine-year absence, plus an intimidating array of drunken men — Richard Harris, Robert Shaw, Nicol Williamson, Denholm Elliott. Fortunately Lester gave himself a break from Oliver Reed on this one.

This is, for most people, more a pleasing oddity than an all-time masterpiece, but hey, maybe it’s both. Anyhow, I liked it.

I propose January 29th (a Friday) for this cyber-shindig. I will post a biggish reflection in the morning, and everyone is invited to weigh in with their responses and their own ruminations.

US buyers: Robin and Marian

UK buyers: Robin And Marian [DVD] [1976]

32 Responses to “Film Club 2010: Back in the Habit”

  1. Arthur S. Says:

    I’ve seen it. Not my favourite Lester but good performances…

  2. There are some issues with the film, some involving studio interference, which I might cover in a short post before the Big Day. But I think it’s rewarding and there’s a lot in it to talk about. Seems good to go more culty with Film Club, while still choosing a film most of us can access.

  3. This was on the telly last week in fact! I didn’t see it though…

    I wish your blog wasn’t wordpress think it would be a hit in China!

  4. …if there’s any internet left in China!

    Are you able to read the entries via Facebook? Or RSS or something? No idea how that works. Maybe I could just friend China?

  5. To be honest I’m glad it’s WordPress if only because you don’t have to jump through hoops in posting comments. You type it up, click, and bang, it’s there. Plus I must say from a graphic standpoint your blog looks good, works well, I’ve thought so from the get-go.

  6. david wingrove Says:

    Like you, I have only vague memories of this film. Gorgeous photography (by David Watkin) and lovely score (by John Barry). In her return to the screen after nearly a decade, Audrey Hepburn looked ravishing in her nun’s habit (a carry-over from THE NUN’S STORY?). Possibly the only actress in history who could make a hairshirt look like a Givenchy original!

  7. The music’s very nice but it’s actually not what Lester wanted at all — I’ll get into that more later. Not sure about Audrey’s hairstyle but she looks good in anything.

    There are lots of stories from this one so the danger is my post will turn into a long series of anecdotes, but they’re GOOD anecdotes at least.

  8. It’s OK. Nice score by Jane Birkin’s first husband.

  9. Considering how action-packed the Robin Hood story is it’s something of a shock to see Robin in retirement. It’s not an adventure or even a romance but rather the memory of a romance.

    Marian taking the veil looks forward to Rivette’s Don’t Touch the Axe

  10. It’s really a film about post-60s disillusionment. Robin Hood as a former leftist. That’s one reason I have a problem with it is that at its core is a fairly simple revisionism but the romance aspect is amazing. And it is beautiful visually.

  11. Even the romance is revisionist! Robin hardly remembers Marian, whereas he was always the only man for her. Hepburn is the film’s heart.

    Lester talked about how a lot of radicals move to the right in middle-age and there’s that going on in the film too.

    And the idea of Robin trying to live up to his myth, even as he knows it never really happened like the ballads say it did. He never retires though — he goes from banditry to soldiering and back to banditry. Lester claimed thirty pages of script took place under one tree though, so it could never be a romantic swashbuckler. Hence the box office failure, although producer Ray Stark tried to sell it with the tagline “For Robin and Marian, all life is bold adventure!” This for a movie that was supposed to be called The Death of Robin Hood…

  12. The radicals who moved the right were never radicals.

    This is especially true of Trotskyites (like the loathesome tosspot Hitchens)
    Their all fascist thugs waiting for their chance to bring out the rubber hoses and brass knuckes.

  13. Possibly it’s more the liberals who are prone to rightwards drift. Martin Amis, who always was very critical of his pal’s Stalinist tendencies, had an Islamophobe outburst a couple years ago which was sheer racism.

    More distressing is the rightward drift of our Labour party which has left us with an electoral choice between Tories and more Tories. A plague on both their single house.

  14. Well consider who Martin’s father is, for goodness sake. In “Lucky Jim”‘s version of the UK Oswald Mosley was a Liberal.

  15. i always enjoy reading this blog, not only because I believe in Hitchcock more than in God but also because i feel quite in line with all other posts.
    Robin and Marian is not The Lion in winter, John Barry ‘ score included, but Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn are magnificient in their part as well as all the others.

  16. I think it’s better directed than Lion… Lion has a wittier script, but R&M’s I find more convincing. Barry’s score is a big issue, because it was a replacement for the director’s first choice, Lalo Schiffrin, who wrote a much darker piece (not what you’d expect from him). More on this later.

    Nice to hear from you!

  17. What about The Wind and the Lion, also starring Sean Connery

  18. I think Hitchens turned against any “Stalinist tendencies” quickly and surely enough, then seemed to go a bit batshit when nobody on the left would get behind his attacks on Clinton (pretty solid, it has to be said, as the popular sod was a lot more blase about the bombing of dark-skinned civilians than his successor) a big shame as much of Hitchens’ career was spent trying to put villains in prison. He’s a dictionary-definition tosspot, David E, but loathsome I think only for his sexual politics (it was his smug proclamation that women can’t be funny that broke this particular fan’s heart: outright disenfranchisement in an environment where humorists have the lion’s share of a public voice). His big mistake seems to me setting his moral compass by the Spanish Civil War, without noticing the outcome of that noble struggle was the longest lived fascist government in history.
    Now most of these Merry Men must have been teenagers judging by their age in Robin and Marian. And Hepburn does look great in the wimpole and yes pretty shocking out of it. But I’m getting ahead of myself. This is a stunner. Can’t wait.

  19. Well what do you expect from a closet bisexual Simon?

    His loathing for Clinton began at Oxford when they found themselves dating the same woman. Not sure whether this was serial or if they were “pulling train.” But I suspect the latter as Hitchens’ loathing stongly suggests he had a peek at “Little Elvis” — and never got over it.

    The woman in question has since become a lesbian feminist.

    No surprise there.

    The Wind and the Lion is great fun, but it’s a shame Milius finked out and turned the kidnapped middle-aged U.S. ambassar into Candace Bergin.

    Todd Haynes should do the remake of that one as soon as he’s finished with Mildred Pierece

  20. Suggested casting for Todd’s remake: The lovely Tahir Ramin (who I met last week at the French embassy. Quite something.) and in the Candace Bergin part, Christopher Plummer.

  21. One of Hitchens’ more charming moments from the 90s was his attempt to turn informer on his friend Sidney Blumenthal. His revelations turned out to be too lame even for Ken Starr, but Hitchens so wanted to convince us that trying to help a lawless prosecutor ruin his friend’s life over nothing was the act of a moral exemplar.

    Clinton-hate was mostly about sex; the Insane Clown Posse of the day featured an array of closet-cases. Plus some old-time segregationists from Arkansas who couldn’t wait to have a real black president to get crazy about, so Clinton was the surrogate. The GOP is even more nihilistic now, but I don’t think those eight years can be topped for sheer creepiness. It was scary.

    But I digress. Robin Hood!

  22. I’m hearing great things about Ramin’s film A Prophet (even if the trailer tries to disguise the fact it’s foreign-language).

    As Simon Kane suggests, there were plenty of non-sexual reasons to object to Clinton from a leftist standpoint: his foreign interventions (bombing an aspirin factory etc) helped motivate 9:11 while Bush’s incompetence only made it possible. Bush, already an awful president, did not show any of Clinton’s interventionism until after the twin towers fell.

    I quite like the idea that Robin and his men’s first outlaw adventures happened in their teens, it makes Robin and Marian a sequel to this: with Connery as the grown-up Keith Chegwin.

  23. But what I’m referring to as “Clinton hate” was something pathological and pornographic and certainly had nothing to do with serious leftist policy critiques, although supposed leftists like Hitchens certainly took part in it and called it politics. Of course it served Clinton well personally in the end: one reason he was so popular was that his enemies were so awful.

    Clinton’s three biggest military “interventions” were Bosnia, the Kosovo/NATO war, and the return of Aristide to Haiti. I personally supported the use of American troops in all three cases, which makes me a bad leftist. Two were essentially undertaken on behalf of Muslim populations. But in any case I think it’s bad revisionism to unfavorably compare even Clintons’s worst moves to Bush’s starting a full-scale fucking invasion and war — one which was clearly in the pipeline before 9/11, BTW — on the basis of willful lies. But I digress….

  24. The Ken Starr thing was clearly a very strange pathological response to Clinton’s ability to get chicks, and nothing to do with politics of any kind. At the time I felt some kind of intervention in Bosnia was essential, but the fact that it was technically illegal disturbs me more now in the wake of Bush. So I don’t know what I think about that anymore.

    It was the isolated bombings in the Arab world, in countries America was not at war with, that were more damaging than the major interventions you speak of, which didn’t have major negative international effects.

    The Iraq invasion may well have been planned earlier, but it’s not certain they’d have gotten away with it if not for 9/11 — there was a certain amount of opposition to it even so.

  25. An excellent choice! Part of Connery’s golden troika–along with Wind and the Lion and The Man Who Would Be King–an excellent three-pronged club useful for clobbering anybody who says Connery can’t act. (And a consolation for Connery’s career ending so disappointingly.) You mention James Goldman’s involvement, and that seems to be what many of the best critics at the time objected most strongly against. An example is Dave Kehr’s capsule review:
    “Deep down inside, a very good film. Richard Lester does his best to make an intelligent and graceful romance of this story…But James Goldman’s script is even more lead footed than his Lion in Winter. The sentiments are deeply felt, even if the lines aren’t. The last shot, minus a few frames at the very end, is worthy of Frank Borzage.”
    I don’t think this sentiment exists as much anymore–Goldman’s brand of writing no longer exists, and one might actually regret that. Problematic as the brand was, it had intelligence.
    I had no idea Schiffrin had written a much darker original score. But I can’t help thinking that Barry’s lush, sweeping music is probably a better fit. A darker score might have tipped the film into excess mordancy, and overstressed the irony. Barry’s overripe score is something of a hysterical goodbye to the myth, but one that pays it its due, just as the film does.
    There are only a few Robin Hood films worth a damn (and let’s not get started on that awful BBC series)–in relation to them Lester’s film is an excellent chaser, a bittersweet way of dissolving the legend. I flash back to moments like the Sherriff of Nottingham hissing “For God’s sake Robin!” during the final sword fight, when you can’t tell apart his disgust from his compassion, and that sort of doubleness of mood makes the film so powerful.

  26. I think it was Kosovo rather than Bosnia that was technically illegal. (The NATO countries didn’t go through the UN because Russia, as the Serbs’ protector, would have blocked approval.) The Bosnia deployment implemented a settlement that had been agreed to.

    The missile strike in Sudan was aimed at what was probably erroneously thought to be an Al-Qaeda-linked facility. It occurred simultaneously with two strikes in Afghanistan aimed at bin Laden himself, which reportedly came without an hour of killing him. Why were they already going after Al-Qaeda and bin Laden? Because Al-Qaeda had bombed US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the administration had narrowly prevented two other attacks that would have been devastating. One, which would have brought down 7 or 8 planes simultaneously, was planned by Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, not much later of 9/11 and waterboarding fame.

    So although the Sudan missile attack and the bombing of Iraqi targets in the late 90s may well have increased anti-US feeling in the Muslim world at large, it’s ahistoric to say that they helped motivate 9/11. Several 9/11-magnitude attacks had already been attempted without specific
    incitements, and in fact one “incitement” was a response to just such Al-Qaeda attacks.

  27. But I digress.

  28. I’m completely wrong about Schiffrin (who did work for Lester on The Four Musketeers) — the fired composer was Michel Legrand, whose score I am listening to as I type. It’s starker, more elegiac, but by no means lacking in romance. I can’t play it in synch with the film with any precision but I think it would be a whole lot better. It’s heartbreaking.

    Thanks for the info Katya, I have a feeling you’re better informed than me. I’m still not sure it’s right to bomb countries you’re not at war with, no matter what genuine monsters you’re aiming at. That seems to be part of the reason we have international laws. There does seem to be a lot of feeling in the Arab world that the Americans (and Brits) are always doing this, and it feeds support for terrorism.

  29. Thanks for the most interesting info–is the Legrand score available anywhere? Your testimony has whetted my appetite. There’s yet another Legrand/Connery/Barry connection in NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN, when Connery brought in Legrand, thinking he’d be a good fit, and got a terribly dull score that lacked the cartoon pizazz Barry had brought to the “official” Bond films.

  30. There’s a giant Legrand box set with sample tracks from a huge number of his soundtracks, including a suite from R&M. You also get lots of Demy, Thomas Crown Affair, Godard, etc.

    Yeah, Legrand didn’t do a great jon on NSNA, maybe because the film itself didn’t inspire him. But he does kind of drag it down.

  31. chris schneider Says:

    I’m glad to see that someone finally got ’round to naming James Goldman. Not that I’m a fan, as a rule, but … he *is* a significant factor. (My usual line for dismissing the stage version of LION IN WINTER: “Shakespeare For People Who Don’t Like Shakespeare.”)

    One should probably mention another Goldman script that deals with characters and their memories: FOLLIES.

    In the meanwhile, I’ve got to do something about this problem that causes me, whenever I see the words “Ken Starr,” to read “Kay Starr” …

  32. That IS a problem!

    I read Goldman’s novel Myself as Witness years back, which is another take on King John, who appears in both Lion and Robin. And, rather pleasingly, he’s a completely different character in all three works.

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