Archive for the Politics Category

Fact-Checking Hollywood Babylon II

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 28, 2019 by dcairns

I picked up a second-hand copy of Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon II for 50p. Now I have the set.

Kevin Brownlow quoted to me Anger’s answer to the question, “How do you do your research?” “Mainly by mental telepathy.” And so it has become sadly fashionable to debunk Anger’s investigations speculations lies, as in the commendable You Must Remember This podcast. Well, I never saw a bandwagon I didn’t want to jump on, even at the risk of upsetting the applecart, so I thought I’d have a go at fact-checking Anger using his own methods. Tuning my mental aerial to UHF, I leafed through the sordid pages of the discounted scandal sheet, and attempted to pick up Corrections from Beyond. This is what I come up with:

Page 96: “Meanwhile, back on d’Este Drive, left with a lonely libido in his spacious hacienda, along with his python-mistress, Elsie, a half dozen bed-trained dobermans, a talking macaw named Copulate, zoo-keeper Lionel [Atwill] maintained a rigidly disciplined schedule as a cog in the factory-studio wheel during the week.”

THE TRUTH: Yeah, none of that happened.

Page 127: “During production of Rebel without a Cause, James Dean was host to a thriving colony of crabs.”

THE TRUTH: There is no such film as REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. The sentence should probably read, “During production of A THRIVING COLONY OF CRABS, Dean Jones was host to a raven without a caw.” Or maybe “During production of THE HOST, crabby Jim Dale was cause of a rebel colony, or craved a threnody.” Or maybe it shouldn’t be there at all.

Page 185: “After a three-year absence, [Bobby Driscoll] returned to the screen in 1958, in a B-programmer–Bernard Girard’s The Party Crashers. By a curious coincidence, his co-star was the lobotomized Frances Farmer, making her benumbed comeback after sixteen years away from the movies.

THE TRUTH: it’s hardly a “curious coincidence” that two actors happen to appear in the same film. Is it a curious coincidence that WHITE HOUSE DOWN co-stars Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx? In fact, my telepathy tells me that’s probably the film Anger was thinking of. Anyway, Frances Farmer never had a lobotomy, and by a curious coincidence, THE PARTY CRASHERS also stars Doris Dowling, Denver Pile and Onslow Stevens. Uncanny, isn’t it?

Page 235: “Shapely blond Carole Landis rose to stardom in Hal Roach’s One Million B.C. in which she played a primitive cavewoman. her 1948 Fourth-of-July suicide, provoked by unrequited love for Rex Harrison, caused a hullaballoo and a half for Mr. and Mrs. Moviegoer.”

THE TRUTH: Carole was a blonde, not a blond, and the cavewoman she portrayed for Roach, far from being primitive, was really a quite sophisticated troglodyte by the standards of the time (1940). Rex Harrison did not appear in the picture. Nor do George Moviegoer and his wife Ethel (nee Theatregoer). Landis’ tragic suicide cannot properly be called a “Fourth-of-July” affair since I doubt any festive tie-in was intended and anyway it occurred the following day.

Anger tastefully has a whole chapter on suicides. On the page opposite Landis, we get the following:

“A large quantity of sleeping pills had cured [Dorothy Dandridge] of her amnesia.”

THE TRUTH: Dorothy Dandridge did not suffer from amnesia, which cannot be treated with sleeping pills anyhow. I think the word Anger is groping for is “insomnia.” I think possibly it’s Anger who’s suffering from amnesia, or maybe aphasia.

Page 312: “[…] Claudette Colbert who was said to be among the first to advise the President to invade Grenada–she was far from delighted at the prospect of an island full of Reds so near to her palatial Barbados estate.

THE TRUTH: No such person as Claudette Cobert ever existed. Anger is evidently thinking of British actor Claude Hulbert (pictured). Though Hulbert never actually invaded Grenada, he was famous for his fussiness about being filmed from the correct side. Whole sets had to be rebuilt to avoid catching him from an unflattering angle. The most famous instance of this was on HEAVEN’S GATE (1980), where an entire western town had to be razed to the ground because it was facing the wrong way. This was all the more remarkable because Hulbert was not cast in the film, but perfectionist director Michael Cimino was taking no chance of offending the powerful star, who died in 1964.

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The Spielberg Transition #2

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 23, 2019 by dcairns
Bana hulks out.

MUNICH is one Spielberg I hadn’t seen until recently. I still haven’t managed to steel myself to run THE TERMINAL or THE BFG, but I guess I will at some point. They’re sitting on the shelf opposite as I type this, looking at me with their big puppy-dog eyes.

But MUNICH seemed like it was at least an attempt to do something interesting and different, so I felt vaguely ashamed of not giving it a shot. And I recall an interview from the time of production where Spielberg was talking about how the movie was going to make EVERYBODY angry. The great crowd-pleaser, going out of his way to be unpopular. This seemed worthy of attention.

Well, in a way the film’s refusal to firmly endorse or condemn the Israeli assassination programme depicted (targeting those responsible for the Munich Olympics atrocity) is standard Hollywood hedging, but Spielberg is right too, in that the film isn’t going to satisfy anyone with an entrenching position on the Palestine question. You can probably position Spielberg, based on this film and his other work (notably the penultimate scene of SCHINDLER’S) as a Zionist with qualms.

Fine, I’m a Zionist with qualms too. In that Israel exists and is here to stay, and you can question whether its creation was a good thing, but that’s wholly academic because what acceptable action would dissolve the state at this late stage? You can’t be genuinely anti-Zionist without being anti-Semitic, because what’s your non-genocidal solution to Israel’s existence?

On the other hand, I’m opposed to practically everything Israel is doing in the name of self-defense. It’s apartheid, it’s a slow-motion genocide, it’s not even in any sane conception of Israel’s own best interests.

My problem with MUNICH started with my inability to accept the arguments Golda Meir, or the film’s version of her, puts forward in favour of the assassinations (or “executions,” as Kevin Macdonald’s ONE DAY IN SEPTEMBER disgustingly calls them). So, although the film tries to take you on a journey from accepting the mission to questioning it (without ever arriving at a definite position), I was never on board to begin with. So, although I found the film “interesting,” I wasn’t INTERESTED, apart from when Matthieu Amalric and Michael Lonsdale showed up (“Things always get better when the good actors show up,” said a distinguished produced friend once, talking about Bob Hoskins as a dwarf, but the point stands).

Spielberg described his influences as European thrillers, and one thinks Costa-Gavras, or Melville, but Lonsdale suggests a more Hollywood influence: DAY OF THE JACKAL. And it’s all very loud and impactful and bloody and explicit. It has the first, I think, full-frontal nudity in a Spielberg joint, both male and female, but predictably the straight male audience wins out with a voluptuous enemy honeytrap (Marie-Josée Croze) while everyone else has to content themselves with Ciaran Hinds’ small dead cock.

The image up top is Bana, near the end of the film, having sex with his wife but seeing images of terrorist massacres, and the machine gun fire from his fantasy (a flashback to events he didn’t witness?) illuminates his face in the present tense reality — I found this ludicrous, but I’m actually going to semi-allow it because it’s certainly BOLD.

But earlier in the film, while travelling by plane, Bana has another flashback to events he didn’t see, the Munich massacre itself, and that has two fantastically horrible transitions. First, we move into the aeroplane window as Bana gazes at it, and the terror attack becomes progressively more visible. I’m reminded of the supremely eggy moment in Polanski’s BITTER MOON where Emmanuelle Seigner’s face appears in the plane window as a Romantic Vision. I think that film is a grotesque comedy (Polanski’s funniest film?) so the moment kind of works, even as it makes me cringe. And I guess both filmmakers were thinking of a kind of in-flight reverie and trying to evoke that sort of boredom-distraction-fantasising. But, you know, it doesn’t WORK.

But the really bad one is the end of the fake flashback (he wasn’t THERE!), when automatic rifle fire rakes a poor Israeli athlete and Spielberg shows bullets tearing up a blood-spattered wall, then dissolves/morphs to little pink puffy clouds seen through that aeroplane window.

I have no words. Except these ones: What. The. Hell?

Well, all really impressively bad ideas have something good going on in them. As with the eros + massacre up top, the idea of something attractive being infected by a vision of something murderous isn’t a terrible one. Nic Roeg would probably have made a hard cut here, and left the audience the option of seeing a connection between the bloody, perforated plasterboard and the sunrise sky, or of seeing the things as merely contrasting. Spielberg is more controlling, so he can’t bring himself to leave that to chance.

Or, as Fred Schepisi advised Spielberg when he heard about SCHINDLER’S, “Don’t do it, Steve. You’ll fuck it up: you’re too good with the camera.”

I think SCHINDLER’S LIST works, or works well enough overall. But I think there’s a transition in there that might be worth talking about…

The Strange Affair of Uncle Joe

Posted in Comics, FILM, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 4, 2019 by dcairns

I should have gone to see THE DEATH OF STALIN when it came out, as I really admire Armando Iannucci’s work — maybe I didn’t because I don’t think he’s entirely cinematic. Maybe he’ll get there. This one only becomes really satisfying visually during the end credits, which repurpose the USSR’s revisionist airbrushing to witty effect, in a way that’s funny and uncomfortable, as is the film.

I remember getting into a weird discussion on Twitter with a Russian who was offended by the film, hampered by the fact that I hadn’t seen it and he had. He was disgusted that the film gets laughs out of Stalin having pissed himself. While I suppose laughing at a sick man isn’t nice, it’s still Stalin, and if that’s the thing you single out in this movie as being unsuitable for comic treatment, as opposed to Beria’s mass murders and vicious sexual opportunism, you have a problem with your priorities and are fonder of the late dictator than you are to admit.

Beale was ROBBED of the role of Dick Cheney. Or else Beria ought to have played it.

This is certainly very black comedy indeed — the characters are all totally lost to any sense of decency or compassion or compassion. The various political animals in Iannucci’s The Thick of It and IN THE LOOP were similarly bereft, and one interesting comparison between his various works (I haven’t seen enough of Veep but it looked good, but maybe lighter?) would be that the politburo bastards here aren’t necessarily worse, at a fundamental human level, that the New Labour and Tory scum of his previous outings — it’s merely that the structures of a dictatorship deform them differently than those of a democracy. Malcolm Tucker probably can’t have you killed, directly. But if he was working for Stalin he would surely have to, and might find he got a kick out of it.

A great many striking performances to enjoy here. The mingling of British and American actors and comics doesn’t always work — maybe in the past it’s been evidence of productions too eager to turn a profit, losing track of how to achieve a unified style. IN THE LOOP of course, by its very story, had to mix the two, and did so very sensibly and effectively. Here, it’s simply a question of ignoring the accents — which you can’t totally do with Stalin being played as a bluff northerner by Adrian McLoughlin (actually a southerner). But the Americans and Brits are equally strong. Fiona observed that casting Michael Palin as a ruthless state official works just as well here as it did in BRAZIL, casting “the nicest man in the world” (as Gilliam called him) as far against type as possible. Palin and Paul Whitehouse have to grab a few moments here and there, as does Paul Chahidi, who’s REALLY good at that, but Steve Buscemi and the amazing Simon Russell Beale and Jeffrey Tambor have centre stage. Then Jason Isaacs walks in (in slow motion, as do some of the others, but he really owns it) and practically blasts all opposition aside. Remarkable — the performances and dynamics just keep getting better as the thing goes on.

Nicky Smith, who features so prominently and entertainingly in our latest podcast, was telling me about Iannucci’s forthcoming THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD, which has innovative racially-blind casting, with Dev Patel in the lead and a white actor as his mother, and appearances by greats like Benedict Wong. Of course, Victorian London was full of people of different races, but Dickens largely neglected to write about them. This is something different — casting people because they’re good, not because they’re racially “appropriate.” It’ll be amusing to see conservative critics tiptoeing around this. Anyway, I wonder if Iannucci noticed how white the cast of TDOS was, and asked why, if we can sit Jeffrey Tambor and Michael Palin round the same table, both playing Russians, then why not Delroy Lindo or Thandie Newton?