Archive for Anthony Harvey

The Easter Monday Intertitle: A Semple Plan

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Radio, Television with tags , , , on April 21, 2014 by dcairns


Intertitle from ’70s teleplay The Disappearance of Aimee. I was excited to learn of the existence of a show where Faye Dunaway plays evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, Bette Davis plays her old mum, and James Woods and Severn Darden fill out the cast. And that Anthony Harvey, implacable devotee of aging Hollywood divas, directed. And that it dealt with ASM’s mysterious 1926 disappearance.

Sadly, the piece is a stodgy courtroom drama, probably the dullest (but cheapest) approach to this story, and the mouthwatering cast spend all their time testifying in either a legal or religious sense. One is starved of scenes where actors actually converse, one to the other.

I was looking at the film as part of my latest SCHEME — a week dedicated to period movies from the 1970s New Hollywood. I’ve already had plenty of suggestions via Facebook, but I will readily accept MORE — I am probably excluding westerns, which are their own thing, and am more interested in stuff by the young directors of the period but would consider the likes of Elia Kazan’s THE LAST TYCOON as a possibility. Obviously I have a tendency to swing towards obscurities rather than celebrated jobs like CHINATOWN, but I make no rules up front…

Queen Christina Rides Again

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , on October 6, 2012 by dcairns

Kathleen Byron (Sister Ruth!), left.

Anthony Harvey is best known for his James Goldman adaptations, THE LION IN WINTER and THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS. Both are strong texts with excellent casts, but never felt very filmic to me. Harvey, a former editor, achieved some neat cutting effects but the feeling of “filmed play”, or even “televized play”, hung over the proceedings. I still like them, though.

DUTCHMAN, his first movie, is eminently theatrical but incredibly, electrifyingly powerful in what has to be called a “cinematic” way at the same time, despite being confined entirely to a single subway train carriage. More on that here.

THE ABDICATION, lavishly staged in Italy and shot by Geoffrey Unsworth (2001, CABARET, TESS) takes a play by Ruth Wolff that’s virtually a two-hander, and explodes it with grandiose settings, expressive, almost flashy editing, flashbacks, and a lush Nino Rota score. It could have been overpowering, but I think it achieves a kind of balance.

It’s the story of Queen Christina (“the great Svenska dyke,” as Peter O’Toole put it) after her abdication, as she attempts to convince a cardinal (Peter Finch) that her conversion to Catholicism is sincere. This turns into a sort of psychotherapy session during which she falls in love with her interrogator, tipping her hand with the gift of an inappropriate porn goblet ~

Liv actually seems to be having fun with the material, and the literate script delivers both snappy, rhythmic exchanges of the kind that can feel too artificial onscreen if you’re not careful, and more languid speeches that let things breathe. When Liv has a breakdown in flashback, pressing herself against a wall in terror, we’re close to Bergman terrain, but the style, all widescreen, fog filters, golden lens flare and surging montage, is the very opposite.

Here, Unsworth’s vaseline smears convert the sun’s rays to a weird gold slash, rather unlike anything found in nature — a striking effect, for sure. The movie is almost TOO beautiful, and anybody who has a resistance to David Lean type grandeur would probably find it hard to take. We rather loved it.


Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , on September 8, 2012 by dcairns

A very strange thing.

It’s set on the New York subway. Based on a play. Filmed in England in a studio set with a few cutaways of the real subway. Actually the sense of place is really convincing, and butts up against the theatricality in a way that’s quite nice. Shouldn’t work but does.

DUTCHMAN, the first film directed by editor Anthony Harvey, who went on to adapt THE LION IN WINTER and THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS. It’s written by LeRoi Jones, who later became as Amiri Baraka. The subject is race and sex and power. Is that more than one subject? Not according to this film. It stars Al Freeman Jnr and Shirley Knight, and it’s terrifying. I shoved it in the DVD player as a diversion as we were almost but not quite ready to sleep and the thing is an odd length, 55 minutes. It’s a miracle we were able to sleep afterwards.

Knight is electrifying. She’s beautiful, but one doesn’t particularly think of her as a sexy actress, more just a really good one (PETULIA, THE GROUP) who really should be more celebrated. Here, she plays an overheated sexuality that’s quite worrying (Fiona found it very scary indeed) because it’s so inappropriate and demented. “Is she a killer?” Fiona immediately asked. I mean, based on Knight’s very first LOOK.

Maybe partly because Knight isn’t normally associated with faux-sexy acting, the effect of her overheated writhing is disturbing rather than erotic (or maybe a little erotic, in a sickly and confusing way). She’s a little like a Fellini nympho in one of his childhood memory scenes: a cartoon of a burlesque of a dream of a memory of a misconception. Or she’s a little like if you met someone who really acted like Marilyn Monroe in her prime: unbelievable, alarming, demented.

Freeman has a more slow-burn naturalistic role at first, but is also amazing: discomfort at the social violation represented by, well, everything Knight says and does, vying with a male instinct to say What The Hell, She Wants Me. And I really don’t know what the play/film is about, what it’s saying, but the conviction and commitment of the actors is so awesome that there can be no doubt they know exactly what it’s all about.

It’s a very strange thing, and completely hypnotic. Now please go and view the whole thing at Shadow and Act.