Archive for the literature Category

Grim Tales

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , on July 18, 2016 by dcairns

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I had heard Matteo Garrone’s GOMORRAH was great, but with my usual untimeliness had never gotten around to seeing it, but TALE OF TALES proved impossible to resist. I just liked the sound of it — it felt like he’d made a film for me.

And my response is weird — most of what I have to say about the film would be nitpicking criticisms —

It’s based on three separate stories, intercut, intersecting at start and finish — it would have been easy to make them interrelate more — none of the stories is full satisfying — the dialogue is ugly, neither fairy-tale archaic nor naturalistic, and it’s full of awkward modernisms like “disrespect” used as a verb — intercutting the stories means it takes forever for any of them to develop —

But oh! this film is GORGEOUS.

Also nicely acted, with a fascinating multinational cast. The director, admirably, doesn’t care that Salma Hayek is Mexican. So what? Vincent Cassel is French.

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But it’s the gorgeousness that carries it. The fairy tales all develop in intriguing ways and throw out many opportunities for surreal, visceral imagery (a giant flea; an ogre’s cave; a sea monster’s heart served on a platter; an old woman glueing her skin back in flaps to give herself a medieval body-lift (an interesting audience reaction here: the women all laughed, we gentlemen maintained a reticent silence).

“[Producer] Jeremy Thomas has such great taste in films,” said Fiona.

“And filmmakers,” I added.

Rogue Male

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , on July 15, 2016 by dcairns

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Not the Geoffrey Household novel (highly recommended) which became the Fritz Lang movie MAN HUNT and was later filmed under its own name with Peter O’Toole (more on him in a moment). This Rogue Male, which I found in the Edinburgh Book Fair and snapped up on a whim, is the memoir of Geoffrey Gordon-Creed, a commando in Greece in WWII, leading resistance fighters behind enemy lines and blowing up an important viaduct. It’s a rollicking, amoral yarn and Gordon-Creed is a humorous, ruthless, scurrilous narrator.

There are a couple of movie anecdotes when we get to the author’s post-war life in Africa — one involves a bit of kis-and-tell told by John Loder about Ginger Rogers, which I would feel kind of grubby repeating.

The one about Ava Gardner is just about OK though, I think. Just this week I read about her three-in=a=bed romp with O’Toole (told you) and Richard Burton. The lusty Geoff bedded her shortly after she’d finished shooting MOGAMBO ~

My current love at the time was working on the film so I had occasion to visit her on location once or twice. Everyone on the set adored Ava — in fact the world appeared to be in love with her and some even reckoned her the most beautiful woman on this planet.

Anyhow, once filming was through many of the cast came up to Nairobi for some fun. I happened to be there and met Ava again, and the chemistry was mutual and compelling. She laid it on the line. If I so wished she would be my woman, and only mine, for one week. After that I would never hear from her again, nor would she expect to hear from me. No calls, no whining, no nothing. Finito!

‘You want? No?’

‘I want.’

She was the perfect lover and courtesan. Not another man even existed in the universe while I was in the saddle. I was privileged. In the end I had eight days.

But it did bother me a bit to think that I was related, ‘by injection’ as it were, to that cretin actor Mickey Rooney and that wop Frank Sinatra and certainly scores of others. But enough! She was memorable.

 

In the ruins of Berlin

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , on July 11, 2016 by dcairns

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TAKING SIDES (2001) seemed like it would be an interesting thing — scripted by Ronald Harwood (THE DRESSER, THE PIANIST) from his play, directed by Istvan Szabo, and starring Harvey Keitel and Stellan Skarsgård, based on a fascinating historical situation: the “denazification” by American investigators of acclaimed German conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler.

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And indeed, the film is pretty compelling, even if it never quite finds a style. Aided by the great production designer Ken Adam, Szabo stages some truly impressive large-scale exteriors, opening out the play with repurposed spaces (a market under a bridge, a library in a former synagogue). But this leaves the bulk of the drama — everything from the original text, in fact — to be staged in a single interior, and it has to be as cinematically interesting and finally more climactic.

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Adam does something quite odd with this set. It’s very grand, but the view out the window is a b&w photograph.

In the useful making-of doc, we get to see this view in more detail, and it’s actually a very impressive cyclorama. But still, b&w. There’s one brief scene where the window view is overexposed, and it looks convincing. And at night, with snowfall, it looks convincing. But for most of the movie it just sits there, a stylised element in theatrical adaptation that’s trying to be realistic. Adam was a genius, so I’m sure he had a plan here. Something didn’t quite come together, maybe?

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Keitel is a bit too shouty for my taste — but in the excellent interview book Ronald Harwood’s Adaptations, the author is able to justify this choice: “…the American occupation forces were deeply, deeply aggressive towards the Germans. They were shown the Nazi archive films, they had seen the evidence of the concentration camps, and they were angry.” Still, he feels rather broadly written and played, whereas the more contained Skarsgård is really excellent, embodying the mysterious star power Furtwangler was said to possess.

There are two things in the interview I wish Harwood had managed to work into his screenplay, actually.

  1. There are many stories, he tells us, of Furtwangler walking into rehearsals where someone else is conducting, and the orchestra would just start to play better, due to his very presence.
  2. Though Furtwangler played for Hitler’s birthday and just before the Nuremberg rallies, he also protected Jewish musicians. But what Harwood says in the book that isn’t in the film is that he only protected the best musicians. Like he saw the Holocaust as an opportunity to winnow down the field. I mean, Oskar Schindler didn’t just rescue the most skilled machinists, did he?

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The book could do with more rigorous proofing (there’s stuff like “Carol Reid”) but it’s a small-press product and what counts is the illuminating content — it’s an encounter with a master craftsman and it makes me want to check out THE DRESSER (both versions) and THE PIANIST and OLIVER TWIST again.

You can check out Furtwangler’s talents  right here ~

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