Archive for Andy Warhol

Forbidden Divas: Jungle Red

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 2, 2020 by dcairns

David Melville Wingrove returns with a Forbidden Divas piece about one of my favourites…

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FORBIDDEN DIVAS

JUNGLE RED

“I do not need wine to set my blood on fire.”

  • Paulette Goddard, Sins of Jezebel

Fans of bad movies cherish Bible epics for being the one entirely disreputable movie genre. To make the Best Bible Epic of All Time may not be an act of any special distinction. To put it bluntly, how much competition could there be? But to make the Worst Bible Epic of All Time is a truly spectacular achievement. The field is crowded and fiercely competitive and movies like The Prodigal (1955) and The Silver Chalice (1954) and Solomon and Sheba (1959) all have their fanatical adherents. But criticising these movies for their wooden acting, risible dialogue or lack of dramatic coherence is a bit like criticising a KFC Bargain Bucket for its lack of nutritional value. No product is a disaster simply because it does not do something it has never set out to do. To achieve a Platonic ideal of sheer and unadulterated awfulness, a Bible epic needs to be quite a lot worse than that.

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Sins of Jezebel (1953) is the work of one Reginald Le Borg, an auteur who made his name in the 40s with classics like Jungle Woman (1944) and The Mummy’s Ghost (1945). It stars the irresistible Paulette Goddard as the infamously wicked pagan queen who tried to turn Israel away from the One True God and supplant Him with the blood-soaked worship of Baal. There is something less than terrifying about Baal in this movie. His effigies resemble very early models for ET (1982) and his followers show their devotion by lifting their arms to heaven and indulging in some truly excruciating bouts of interpretive dance. It is hard to believe in depravity when we never see anything that looks the tiniest bit depraved. We hear a rumour early on that the queen “paints her nails with the blood of sacrificial victims.” We never do find out if she does that or not. But one must admit her nails are a commendably bright shade of red.

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Paulette Goddard was a movie star for the best part of two decades, but not even her closest friends ever pretended she could act. She was famous for her slightly hard-boiled glamour and her ineffably colourful off-screen love life. A fun-loving Jewish girl from Great Neck, Long Island (her real name was Marion Levy) she started off in the chorus line of the Ziegfeld Follies. In the 30s, she made her way to Hollywood and wound up marrying Charlie Chaplin and co-starring in Modern Times (1936) and The Great Dictator (1940). Her neighbour David O Selznick came perilously close to casting her as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939) – but only briefly, when he despaired of finding anyone better. Divorced from Chaplin, she went on to marry such showbiz intellectuals as Burgess Meredith and Erich Maria Remarque. Her alleged motto in life was never to sleep with a man until he gave her diamonds. She was said to carry a suitcase packed with diamonds on all her travels, to remind herself and others just how well this system worked.

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In short, Paulette Goddard embodied the kind of fragile and artificial movie glamour that made Lana Turner look like Meryl Streep. She got by in her better roles – as an 18th century adventuress in Kitty (1945) or a Gay 90s adventuress in An Ideal Husband (1947) – on a sort of wry and ironical amusement. She looked, as Oscar Wilde wrote, like “an édition de luxe of a wicked French novel.” It was no surprise that she became Andy Warhol’s favourite escort at parties in the 60s. She was, in essence, a Warhol Superstar before that term was even coined. But it was a very great surprise indeed that she gave a realistic, touching and genuinely heartfelt performance as an ageing beauty in an Italian film, The Time of Indifference (1964), just before she bowed out of movies for good.

So what of Paulette as the evil Queen Jezebel? Her Majesty has barely arrived in Judaea when she is cheating on her fiancé King Ahab with a hunky Hebrew general (George Nader). Her bridegroom passes out drunk on the wedding night, but not before she has made him promise to build a temple to the heathen god Baal. This lady is a hybrid of all the sinister dictator’s wives who have wielded a malevolent power from behind the throne. Eva Perón, Imelda Marcos, Elena Ceauşescu – only with deeper villainy and sharper fashion sense thrown in.  “What are you, a man or a piece of dirt?” she sneers when Ahab hesitates to massacre his recalcitrant subjects who refuse to worship Baal. Not even her favoured boy-toy escapes from her tyranny unscathed. He wrestles with his conscience when he is forced to put believers in the True God to death. “In peace or in battle, people get hurt,” he explains to his fellow Israelites. You can’t make an omelette, etc…

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What is truly fascinating about Sins of Jezebel is the fact it is an epic made on a ridiculously small budget. The soldiers wear helmets that look like kitchen pots spray-painted gold. The vases that adorn the royal chambers seem to have been stolen from somebody’s back garden in the San Fernando Valley. At every state banquet (there is not even the faintest hope of an orgy) the tables are laden with identical bowls of wax fruit. One might imagine these came from the studio’s front office – but the independent producers who made this movie were unlikely to have an office of any sort. To his credit, the resourceful Le Borg circumvents the lack of art direction through a strategic deployment of draperies. Every time Queen Jezebel seduces someone, the camera cuts away from the clinch to a swatch of brightly coloured fabric, rippling away. This effect reminds us eerily of the Kenneth Anger film Puce Moment (1949) and the whole production is redolent of one of those underground movies that drag queens in the 60s used to make in memory of Maria Montez.

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Yet however drastically its producers may have skimped, Sins of Jezebel still seems to run out of money well before the end. Long stretches of it are not seen, but narrated by a sententious middle-aged Sunday school teacher in a badly fitting suit. The more the war between Good and Evil heats up – and the number of warriors needed rises above a dozen – the more this narrator tends to take over. Watching him light the seven candles on a menorah – and put them out again, a scene or so later – is dramatically thrilling, I grant you. But the fall of Babylon in Intolerance (1916) or the parting of the Red Sea in The Ten Commandments (1956) it most definitely ain’t. It is the sheer lavish folly of Bible epics that audiences across the world respond to. So a Bible epic that fails even at that is a rare and precious object indeed.

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If this Queen Jezebel really does paint her nails with blood…that can only be because blood was cheaper than varnish.

David Melville

A Woolrich Gallery #1

Posted in FILM, literature, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 17, 2010 by dcairns

I once got into a silly argument with my friend Nicola about whether THE WINDOW was in colour or b&w. I clearly remembered the colours — proof, in fact, that sometimes the eye paints in what the film omits to record. I think also the all-American boy in a stripy top had formed a connection in my mind between Bobby Driscoll in THE WINDOW and little Tommy Rettig in THE 5000 FINGERS OF DR T, enabling me to “see” the colours of Bobby Dee’s shirt.

Maybe also the palpable sense of summer heat evoked by former DoP Ted Tetzlaff’s film (based on Woolrich’s juvenile Rear Window retread, The Boy Who Cried Wolf) added a wash of orange and red over my memories — although in fact, monochrome movies are often the best for making you feel a choking sense of humidity — see TOUCH OF EVIL for confirmation.

To threaten the life of a child, said Francois Truffaut (who filmed two Woolrich novels), is almost an abuse of cinematic power. THE WINDOW depends entirely for suspense on placing its miniature protagonist in peril, but we are reassured slightly by the fact that he’s the hero of the film, and he’s a star, so he’s probably going to make it through OK. Nevertheless, it’s disconcerting to find him playing in the ruins of a crumbling tenement in scene one, something modern American parents probably would tolerate, and which the city would take steps to render impossible. And when bad guy Paul Stewart punches the little mite unconscious later on, there’s a genuine sense of SHOCK.

Because the film is rooted in a fairly happy family, and the threat comes from entirely outside, and things are cleared up cosily by the end, perhaps we can’t call this true noir, but the visuals certainly fit. And Bobby looking up at the stars enables me to quote Woolrich’s memoirs. As an eleven-year-old boy, he looked up at the stars, and ~

“I had that trapped feeling, like some sort of a poor insect that you’ve put inside a downturned glass, and it tries to climb up the sides, and it can’t, and it can’t, and it can’t.”*

The other thing that haunts this film and gives it a darker edge is the melancholy fate of Bobby Driscoll. After his movie career did a slow fade in adolescence, he drifted into drug abuse. Apparently a talented artist, he hung out with Andy Warhol’s Factory crowd (he was apparently a promising visual artist), then vanished from view. An unidentified body found in an abandoned tenement was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave on Hart Island. A year and a half later, his mother approached the police, wanting Bobby to see his father, who was close to death. A fingerprint search matched Bobby’s name to his corpse.

Bobby Driscoll, RIP.

*Excepted from Francis M Nevins’ introduction to Night & Fear.

The Window [DVD]

The Mr “A” Messages

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 31, 2009 by dcairns

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So, back in December I stuck a clip on YouTube of the title sequence of Tony Richardson’s Marguerite Duras adaptation THE SAILOR FROM GIBRALTAR. I’d had the film on tape for about eight years without ever watching the film (that’s me, I’m afraid), but had looked at the titles and found them awesome, and I wanted to share.

Well, one of the people out there in YouTubeLand whom I was sharing them with, it turned out, was seminal sixties illustrator Alan Aldridge, designer of said sequence, who left a comment for me at my YouTube account ~

AA: “hi I designed these titles way back in 1965……..ive spent the last 35 years trying to get a copy……….then today voila I at least get to see small version…….Id really be grateful if you would get in touch and maybe I can make copy of your rusting vhs……..I live in LA……….e-mail your phone number and I’ll give you a call all the best , alan”

I was very delighted. And, being a mercenary type, I immediately proposed an interview in exchange for a DVD-R of the mouldering tape. Success!

I already knew a bit about Mr. Aldridge’s career, and boned up on him by reading other interviews. At the time of SAILOR, he had revolitionised the design of Penguin paperbacks with his stylish and punchy collage art and illustrations.

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Me: “How did you get the job on SAILOR FROM GIBRALTAR? Who did you meet from the movie? I see Tony Richardson actually appears in the sequence, how was he to deal with? What kind of discussions did you have? Did you work with Raoul Coutard, the cinematographer?”

AA: “Tony Richardson rang me and asked me to meet him at the Woodfall Films office in Mayfair.I also met ~Neil Hartley with him – they talked about me doing the titles for Sailor and briefly explained what the film was about.I also got a tape of the music which i thought was very beautiful. Tony Richardson is not in the title sequence…….I went off and did a storyboard and got it approved by Tony- then went to Bob Brookes a film director and he shot the sequences…..which took a lot of time. for instance for the last shot of a mans profile as an island they had to biuld a pool in studio. get a model to lay down in the water then the model boat was pulled by on rails.”

The chap at the end, appearing under the director’s credit, does look a little like Tony Richardson, or am I deluded? Oh well, it’s not him…

Me: “Obvious standard question: what were your influences for this sequence? Or, what was the brief?”

AA: “I had no influence…..just did series of interesting visuals”

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Reading stories about Alan’s beginnings as an artist, this really does seem to be the case: his talent blossomed, seemingly from nowhere, and without conscious influence, although he must have been soaking up something that was in the air, in order to so effectively capture the zeitgeist of the sixties.

Me: “The internet isn’t very informative about title sequences (according to the IMDb, Richard Williams has only done about four, which we KNOW isn’t right). So I’m wondering if there are any other Aldridge titles out there?”

AA: “Never did any other titles.”

A great shame!

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Me: “The other big movie connection I have for you is the CHELSEA GIRLS poster. How did that come about?”

AA: “Chelsea Girls was done for the Arts Lab in London – they were premiering ChelseaGirls and Warhol had asked them if they could get me to do the design..he would later say- he wished the film was as good as the poster.”

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Me: “It would be great to hear something about your current plans, the exhibition, movies, etc.”

AA: “I’m working on two film projects- one about Edgar Allan Poe the other John Lennon.”

Looking at Alan’s art, I think the prospect of either of those projects coming to fruition is mouthwatering. Hope they both do.

To finish, I asked about this Pink Floyd music video — my late friend Lawrie Knight, who was involved in its production, had told me that he invited Aldridge to design it.

AA: “Yeah I think I did some storyboards..not sure they were ever used – they were thought to be too expensive to do and too difficult.”

 I sent him the link so he could look at it and see whether the finished work had his influence.

AA: “well the ballet dancers are definately not mine…maybe some of the trippy backgrounds.alan”

So now we know, and by now Alan hopefully has his complimentary copy of THE SAILOR FROM GIBRALTAR — at last!

 

Alan’s just had an exhibition at the Design Museum, and his new book The Man with Kaleidoscope Eyes, is available.