Archive for Blake Edwards

Party Down

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2019 by dcairns

Why didn’t I find THE PARTY funny as a kid? It’s weird, as I was a big Peter Sellers fan, a big PINK PANTHER movie fan. I laughed once — the flying shoe caught me by surprise.

Of course, I was watching the film on TV, pan-and-scanned. But I was used to that. In fact, an early occasion when I became aware of film style was when I noted the strange mechanical movements in RETURN OF THE PINK PANTHER — faced with Edwards’ audacious use of the widescreen, the hapless clod charged with having the film “adapted to fit your screen” was forced to pan, with grinding slowness, from one side of the 1:2.35 frame to the other, creating the exact effect of HAL’s lip-reading in 2001. As a tiny tot, I didn’t know what was behind this, but I thought it an interesting directorial choice.

Since a lot of THE PARTY is about social embarrassment, maybe that just didn’t speak to me as a kid. In fact, a lot of it’s about feeling lost at a party, something I’ve experienced a lot more in the interim. God, it’s agonizing, and that’s where the funniness comes from, as usual with Edwards. Sellers’ character, Indian actor Hrundi V. Bakshi, is cinema’s great lonely man. I mean, he has it way worse than Travis Bickle, who at least was a native English speaker. Bakshi wanders the big crazy LA house, humiliating himself in every imaginable way, clumsy, unlucky, unable to read social cues, not knowing anyone… it’s just terrible. I laughed quite a lot, and I was always on his side.

And yes, it’s slightly racist. The idea of a white man impersonating an Indian for comic effect is uncomfortable today, but if we accept that this was not abnormal at the time, we can admire the sympathy and skill of Sellers’ performance. As David Wingrove pointed out in a recent conversation, he’s not Mickey Rooney in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S — who I found myself shamefacedly guffawing at when they screened the first reel on 35mm in Bologna last year. The sheer energy of the burlesque, you know. But BAT treats Mr. Yunioshi as a clown because of his race — he’s unworthy of being taken seriously. Whereas THE PARTY, I think, takes Bakshi VERY seriously. That strange, sad little coda…

The most troublesome bit is the opening. The plot requires Bakshi to make Hollywood enemies — the prologue explains how he came to be brought out to Tinseltown to appear in some kind of Raj epic. And the joke seems to more or less explicitly be, “If an Indian actor were brought to Hollywood, it would be a disaster because he would be an idiot.” Bakshi takes an outrageous amount of time to die (so he’s a bad actor), he wears a waterproof wristwatch in a Victorian period movie (actually it’s someone else’s job to prevent that) and he steps on a detonator and blows up a whole building before the cameras are rolling (could happen to any of us).

Each of these gags is moderately amusing, but they don’t add up to a coherent character sketch, and although the sequence is necessary to the plot, it still feels like the movie really starts as Bakshi arrives at the party, at which it becomes funnier and more sympathetic.

One day after admiring Peter Cook’s red socks in BEDAZZLED (a fashion choice also favoured by Michael Powell) I was charmed by Bakshi’s footwear. He wears white shoes, so that when he steps in mud it’s as bad as it could possibly be. And red socks, so that when he loses is a shoe, it’s as bad as THAT could possibly be.

Comedy, it seems, needs to be both cruel and kind.

The Luminous Dong

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 25, 2019 by dcairns

SKIN DEEP is a weird one. It felt consistently not good enough to me, but at the same time it has lots of proper laughs and is definitely about something. Casting may be the problem. Blake Edwards never found anyone as suitable as Dudley Moore again. In THE MAN WHO LOVED WOMEN, the late Burt Reynolds, a good light comedian who had major ambitions in that direction — he wanted Cary Grant’s career, not his own — comes across as creepy, which is exactly what that character needs to not be. Truffaut’s original didn’t have that problem, and he cast a guy who’d literally played Bluebeard.

John Ritter in SKIN DEEP is hampered by a beard that is sometimes real and sometimes not. Obviously he finished the picture, shaved, then got called back for reshoots. Big problem. When a minor continuity problem comes up on set, the director will sometimes say “Well, if the audience is looking at that, there’s something wrong.” But you can’t really use that argument when the problem is on your leading man’s face. The beard is a problem anyway, because it says “yuppie creep” to me, and since a lot of this movie is Ritter letching after women, and he’s supposed to be flawed but charming, the very thing one’s skin ought not to be doing is crawling. I caught mine writhing towards the nearest exit on several occasions, which took me out of the movie, or part of me.

BUT — there’s a scene where he’s overdosed with electric shocks, on an unconvincing pretext, and he does some terrific physical comedy, spasming down the street. Jerry Lewis would approve. Frame grabs just don’t do it justice so I won’t bother.

AND ALSO BUT — everything Nina Foch does and says, as Ritter’s surly ex-mother-in-law, is really funny. Michael Kidd proves to be excellent surprise casting as a glowering therapist. In fact, the characters who disapprove of the hero are the most welcome. The tsunami gag — taken from Edwards’ real-life experience of being hit by a killer wave while meditating, suicidally depressed, upon the failure of DALING LILI, is pretty astonishing. Though the conclusion, “God is a gag writer!” is something Blake Edwards would think and say but not necessarily something Ritter’s character would say as he’s supposed to be a novelist, not a comedy director.

Even at the time, aged twenty-one, I thought the glow-in-the-dark condom scene sounded like it was trying too hard, but it does allow Edwards to stage a bedroom farce with the action reduced to sort-of abstract shapes. Abstract enough to pass the censor, anyway. He’d frequently used lights going off, or characters leaving the room where the action takes place, being reduced to sound effects without physical presence, so this idea of reducing his surrogate to a glowing prick wagging in the void seems a natural development.

Whereas this doesn’t make any sense to me:

The Blake Edwards Void

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on October 23, 2019 by dcairns

Blake Edwards understood the graphic value of the pitch-black background, let’s leave it at that. No need to get all psychological and dwell on the spiritual emptiness aspect of things.

But it is quite pleasing to observe the visual rhyme between SKIN DEEP’s “celebrated” luminous condom scene, and the unpleasant protagonist’s experience of Limbo in SWITCH. Well, he is a total dick.