Archive for Bette Davis

Artistic Licentiousness

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , , , , on November 22, 2022 by dcairns

I should be watching Damiano Damiani’s films in sequence, shouldn’t I? They all seem to be good, or interesting, or excellent, though the tail end of his career seems like a too-common tapering-off. So why not assess his development as I go?

This thought it prompted by LA NOIA — THE EMPTY CANVAS, or BOREDOM in English — which relates strongly to A VERY COMPLICATED GIRL, a later film which I’d already seen. Both feature painters, both feature male-model ridiculously good-looking guys and Catherine Spaak, both are based on tales by Alberto Moravia. But the second film is far crazier — Spaak plays the artist, not the muse, it feels like a misremembered nightmare version of its predecessor, with everything jumbled up confusingly and character motivation lost in a fog of insanity. So it would probably have been better to watch the films in order, but they still work independently and as distorting mirrors of one another.

LA NOIA has Horst Buccholtz as lead character, a frustrated, blocked painter who falls for model Spaak and is driven out of his senses by her free-spirited approach. HB is good at playing spoiled brats, or else tends to play them whether asked to or not, depending on your interpretation. He very nearly alienated us completely but then we kept watching to see him suffer.

His mom is Bette Davis, a rather overwhelming figure — with great fashion sense. One could sympathize with her son’s desire to rebel, except he’s still dipping into her wall safe to subsidize his “artistic” lifestyle.

I only recently learned that Damiani was a painter and sculptor (and comic book artist and fotoromanzi writer) — the paintings Horst’s neighbour has done of Spaak are very recognizable as DD’s style.

The more Horst suffers, the less appealing his character becomes. To a modern viewer it’s striking that he never asks Spaak if she wants an exclusive relationship, so his increasingly violent jealousy can’t be excused even as a regrettable uncontrolled response. It might have played differently at the time, when such assumptions dominated. As young audiences struggle to understand cheque readers, switchboards, rotary phones and references to Walter Kronkite, are they/we also struggling to interpret the social mores that were almost unquestioned back in the day?

Finally, Horst is redeemed, after nearly killing himself, slamming his sports car into a concrete abutment. He reconciles with his mother and cuts the apron/purse strings. He’s not sure what will happen when he meet Spaak again. In a fascinating bit of writing/performance, she’s revealed as a shallow, not very bright, not very interesting figure with no deep feelings. Her enticing libertinism loses all appeal. What’s impressive is the subtlety with which is achieved — we don’t sense that the character is being written or played inconsistently — it just feels like she’s viewed through a new lens.

LA NOIA stars Baby Jane Hudson; Otto Ludwig Piffl; Anna Terzi; Marina di Malombra; La Reine Catherine de Médicis; Arizona Roy; M. Treville; and Caroline Bonaparte.

Page Seventeen IV: Ernest Goes to Jail

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 16, 2022 by dcairns

In my earliest baby-boy memories, the man’s either looming and glum–not drunk enough–or bug-eyed and stubbly after a three-day bender, so liquored up he tilts when he leans down to snatch me off the burlap rags my brothers and sisters piled on the floor of our Kansas shack and called our “sleepy blankets.” I’d blink awake in the air, shaking cold, my face so close to Daddy’s the rye fumes burned my eyeballs. He’d rattle me till my teeth clacked, then start ranting in that high, Hoosier whine he only got when he was blotto and wanted to hurt something.

Pig had moved aside two dozen beer glasses and seated himself on a ledge behind the bar. In times of crisis he preferred to sit in as voyeur. He gazed eagerly as his shipmates grappled shoatlike after th seven geysers below him. Beer had soaked down most of the sawdust behind the bar: skirmishes and amateur footwork were now scribbling it into alien hieroglyphics.

That’s how my character was born.

Joe never tired of finding new ways to identify his Buster as an altogether unique personality in American show business. He liked to experiment with teasing tag lines to get people’s attention. One such line appeared in hundred of papers all over the country in 1909: KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE KID KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE KID KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE KID. He tried to interest the females in the audience with the announcement that Buster was “the cutest little bundle of jollity that ever wriggled into the hearts of audiences.”

3780009 Little Red Riding Hood, engraving by Gustave Doré. by Dore, Gustave (1832-83); (add.info.: Charles Perrault \’s, Little Red Riding Hood: Little Red Riding Hood with the wolf, engraving by Gustave Doré. Little Red Riding Hood sits in the bed next to the wolf, disguised in her grandmother \’s night-cap. Drawn by Gustave Doré, French artist, b January 6, 1832 – January 23, 1883. Engraved by Pannemaker. From Charles Perrault \’s Les Contes de Perrault / Perrault \’s Fairy Tales; CP: French writer, b January 12,1628 – May 16, 1703. From Cassell \’s \’Doré \’s Gallery\’ by Edmund Ollier, published Cassell & Company, Ltd., p. 106.); Lebrecht History.

Was that the way B.D. and my son, Michael, felt when they visited me after the stroke? Did I look so different and act so different that this is the mother they would remember, and not the mother they had always known. Since leaving the hospital Kathryn has told me many times about the way I looked. One of my oldest friends said, “The first time I saw you after the stroke, Bette Davis wasn’t in that bed. She was gone.” He was crying.

‘I’ll try the pills. I like that Xanax is spelled the same backwards and forwards,’ She didn’t want to have the suicide/fate discussion right now. For weeks she’d been feeling as if someone or something was fucking with her norepinephrine levels. She was exhausted from the effort to stay alive when she wasn’t motivated. Like an involuntary reflex, Kate’s face flipped onto the vid-screen she carried at all times in her head. It used to be a movie screen, but that was in the seventies.

She had been having trouble with her voice. It was never strong, and the slightest cold brought on laryngitis which lasted for weeks; but she was obliged to keep working, so that her voice grew progressively worse. She could not rely on it. In the middle of singing it would crack or suddenly disappear into a whisper, and the audience would laugh and start booing. The worry of it impaired her health and made her a nervous wreck. As a consequence, her theatrical engagements fell off until they were practically nil.

Seven paragraphs from seven page seventeens from seven books recently acquired or else rediscovered on forgotten shelves in the Shadowplayhouse.

I, Fatty by Jerry Stahl; V by Thomas Pynchon; Some Like It Hot: Me, Marilyn and the Movie by Tony Curtis with Mark A. Vieira; Keaton: The Man Who Wouldn’t Lie Down by Tom Dardis; This ‘n That by Bette Davis with Michael Herskowitz; You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again by Julia Phillips; My Autobiography by Charles Chaplin,

Route of all evil

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2022 by dcairns

Following Danger Man back to the native land of Bond, we discover Richard Johnson, who would play Bulldog Drummond in a couple of passable spy romps, working in a much more sombre and hard-edged thriller, DANGER ROUTE. Forgettable, generic title, and nearly a forgettable film, but it has moments.

It has a proper filmmaker in the director’s chair, too, though one in decline. Seth Holt would die during the shooting of his next production, BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB — an amusingly persistent case of hiccups turned out to presage a massive coronary. He’s on intermittently good form here — the inconsistent MUMMY movie is more persistently engaging, but he brings his talent fully to bear on the movie’s bitter climax.

The film is pitched somewhere between the brutality of Bond and the morose Le Carre worldview. Not so seedy, but grey and downbeat. Our anti-hero is a government assassin, and the first scene depicts two spymasters planning his final mission in a cinema (on the screen is the director’s previous film, STATION SIX SAHARA, an amusing in-joke though not as pointedly meta as the moment in CAPRICE where Doris Day hides from enemy agents in a cinema showing… CAPRICE), and the make it clear that if agent “Jonas Wilde” survives the job, a female agent has been put in position to destroy him afterwards.

There’s a distinct lack of glamorous locations — the Channel Islands are the height of escapism in this film, and the production values, courtesy of Amicus, are on the thin side, with unconvincing dioramas ob view through every window. Harry THE THIRD MAN Waxman is cinematographer, and the shots are sometimes expressive in a subtle way, but it’s no thrill-ride. A single Deutsch tilt, on a cross-channel ferry. The plot moves forward with some bold elisions, which helps a bit.

“A mountain of evil,” was Bette Davis’ summation of Holt on THE NANNY (probably his best film), which seems to have baffled his friends on the crew. There’s an intriguing comment also from his widow, who said that when Holt worked as producer on THE LADYKILLERS, rather than calming one another down, which is what both needed, they would tend to hype each other into a frenzy. Possibly that was good for the film?

A better script would help this one: good actors make a limited impression with thick eared, hackneyed dialogue. It’s not overtly clumsy but nobody comes to life. Johnson seems at home being glum and angry, but hits that same note too hard and often; Carol Lynley is seductive and sweet; Barbara Bouchet effective when mysterious, but when the mask comes off, what’s underneath is unconvincing; Sylvia Sims, Diana Dors, are as professional as ever, same for Harry Andrews, Maurice Denham and Gordon Jackson.

MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT

The final betrayal comes with a slick reversal — Johnson, a creature of habit, has fixed himself a Bacardi. He’s told by his girlfriend, Carol Lynley, that the ice cubes were poisoned — he’ll start to notice the creeping paralysis now.

He replies that the ice cubes are in the goldfish tank — he’s anticipated the betrayal.

His assassin looks to the tank, where the fish are floating lifeless — a school of substitute Johnsons. And Holt shows the next action — Johnson slaying his lover with one mighty chop — only in the shadow on the glass.

DANGER ROUTE stars Dr. John Markway; Ann Lake; Moneypenny; the Queen Mother; Frau Poppendick; Lord Lucan; Filipenko; MacDonald ‘Intelligence’; Professor Henry Harrington; Mime; and Kreacher.