Archive for Boom!

Objet D’Art

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 8, 2020 by dcairns

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Webp.net-resizeimage4These two frames from THESE ARE THE DAMNED and THE SERVANT made me chuckle.

You see it a little in Losey’s filming of the Bradbury building in his M, and the use of song in THE BIG NIGHT, but it’s in his British work that he starts to craft films, usually with designer Richard MacDonald, that work as beautiful objets d’art, or as audio-visual compilations of sculpture, interior design and music.

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The house in THE SERVANT is both character and battleground — Wendy Craig tries to stuff it full of flowers and spice racks, and Dirk Bogarde quietly moves, removes or bins them. Losey said the house is a spiral, circling round and round — each room has an entrance and exit so you can ascend through every room until you come to a dead stop in the maid’s room. He also said he recycled the cyclic style of EVE’s camera movements, knowing that nobody would spot it since so few people had seen or liked that film.

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A couple of times they choose to turn Bogarde into a stained-glass saint.

MacDonald does a terrific job of building an interior you really believe could be a real house. I knew it COULDN’T be real, but he made me accept it. Partly it’s because everything is gorgeous but nothing is ideal — the living room is this weird corridor. Everything is either very narrow or very tall.  It must have been hell to film in, especially with all those mirrors, mirrors reflecting mirrors, and that convex one that virtually shows the whole space. Yet the crew and the lights have to be somewhere. Losey said he was satisfied with EVE and it was hell to shoot, so that gave him the confidence to ask for the impossible from DoP Douglas Slocombe.

MacDonald’s designs even include the views out front and back, where James Fox’s Tony has installed a lump of abstract sculpture, and where a snow fall can be viewed at night.

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EVE had about twenty Billie Holliday songs in Losey’s cut, but the producers didn’t want to pay for them, so they were reduced to just a few. Here, there’s ONE song, music by Johnny Dankworth, lyrics by Harold Pinter, such by Cleo Laine (Dankworth’s partner — it’s a very close-knit film). One song, but treated in multiple ways, so it gets more distorted and atonal and creepy.

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Dankworth did great work for Losey, here and in MODESTY BLAISE. He also scored BOOM!, but when that film looked like being a disaster, it was decided to replace the score — blame the composer, it’s the cheapest option even if it’s wrong. So John Barry, who had ex-wives to support and carved out a niche for himself rescoring movies deemed to be in trouble, wrote quite a good score for it. I wish we could see the Dankworth version, though, I bet it’s even more of a hothouse/madhouse.

And, since Losey was starting another film, he asked his friend Richard Lester to supervise the dub. I guess he’d finished THE BED SITTING ROOM at this point and was at a loose end, but he took the gig expecting it to be a quick one. Thanks to Dick & Liz’s unpunctuality, it took MONTHS. He still sounds cross about it. He respected Burton’s talent but had no time for Liz, but was forced to have quite a lot of time for her.

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It’s impossible to imagine THE SERVANT or MODESTY BLAISE without Dankworth’s music, and so the fact that we have to watch a BOOM! that is robbed of that component is a drag.

Cleopatter

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 27, 2018 by dcairns

YES! The Cleopatra Papers is every bit as good as David Ehrenstein has suggested. Basically, two Twentieth Century Fox publicity men preserved and edited their correspondence accumulated during the production of Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s epic gabfest, CLEOPATRA, and the result is a unique window into the life of that embattled studio and production. Along the way, the authors, who are profoundly sympathetic to Mank’s approach and genuinely seem to think he’s making a masterpiece (we’ll agree to differ), get in pot-shots at the (other) turkeys on the Fox roster, including obscurities I’ve written about there.

LISA aka THE INSPECTOR is dismissed as a bunch of shots of people getting on and off barges on Dutch canals, which is a brisker dismissal than the one i managed HERE and hilariously accurate. Reductive in a way, yes, but as I look back on the film I can’t seem to remember much else. “What can I say? You won’t believe me if I tell you. All right, I’ll tell you. Dolores Hart and Stephen Boyd getting on and off barges in Amsterdam canals. Philip Dunne, on whom we can always rely, has directed one of Fox’s all-time stiffs. Charlie is readying an all-out sex campaign for the picture though, and if it doesn’t save the picture at least it’ll probably get him investigated by some congressional committee.”

Leo McCarey’s SATAN NEVER SLEEPS is viewed with appropriate through-the-fingers dismay. McCarey himself hated the film, and its true that William Holden’s (uncharacteristic) refusal to die onscreen harms it, but the whole thing is a disaster, a burning hay-cart of a film trundling ever so slowly and wretchedly forwards while torching the credibility of everyone involved and the entire medium of cinema itself. “I just saw the ad in the Sunday Times on SATAN NEVER SLEEPS, and it needs no comment. A Chinese girl raped in front of a priest and Fox is trying to tell the world it’s another GOING MY WAY!” And “The reviews are enough to begin bankruptcy hearings here.”

“It never stops. Yesterday we saw CALIGARI. Not the CALIGARI but the Bob Lippert reproduction. Charlie, deadpan, told the meeting that the picture was better than PSYCHO — which Martin Moskowitz thought it only as good as — and Charlie said the picture is baffling and therefore will be all the rage, just like LA DOLCE VITA and L’AVVENTURA. SPS said, ‘You’re right, Charlie. We’re better than all those Europeans and I don’t know why people talk so much about them.'”

Other movies I haven’t seen: “Saw THE COMANCHEROS last night. We may not make it to Christmas.” “We haven’t seen TENDER IS THE NIGHT as yet […] but saw the trailer today and it’s not to be believed — this middle-aged, twitching woman (a serious Alice Pearce) rolling on floors, on beds, on beaches, in clinch after clinch with world-weary, grat, lined and creased Jason Robards jr. (JUNIOR!) It’s going to hurt this company, I tell you!” Later: “It is so awful. Can Henry King have read the book? Don’t they know this in’t Fannie Hunt, man, this is Scott Fitzgerald?”On CLEOPATRA, the writers are of interest less for their middlebrow enthusiasm than for the gossip and observations about the central players. Rex Harrison gets off lightly, apart from a nasty jab he made at Roddy McDowall (how could ANYONE be nasty to Roddy?) — RM asked him to take his picture and Sexy Rexy is reported as replying, “I’m terribly sorry and everything but I just don’t like you.” Seems typical of Rex that he would be gratuitously offensive in an apologetic, polite way.

 

Of course it’s Burton and Taylor who come in for close analysis. It’s observed that Taylor has grown up in movies and so in a way hasn’t grown up at all, has a very strange, distant, starry view of reality. We learn that, when offered a script, she only ever looks at her part, which might help explain some of her later career choices. Though nothing can really explain the Losey films. I guess she doesn’t play her character as dying in BOOM! because the scenes where her illness is established are scenes where other characters are discussing her in her absence, and so she simply never knew that was the intention.

Burton confuses them a bit because he’s clearly both smitten with her and hitching a ride cynically on her fame. For a while it’s expected he’ll go back to his wife because he always has in the past. At some point, his career move became an amour fou, and maybe it always was.

ANYWAY — highly recommended. I got it for cheap in a reprint with a blank green cover and maybe you can too?

Forbidden Divas: All That Glitters

Posted in Dance, Fashion, FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2017 by dcairns

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David Melville (Wingrove) returns to our pages for the first of, hopefully, many posts this year ~

FORBIDDEN DIVAS

All That Glitters

In 1975, the veteran Hollywood director George Cukor flew to St Petersburg (or Leningrad, as it was then called) to start work on the first-ever coproduction between the United States of America and the Soviet Union. The Blue Bird (1976) was planned as a star-studded musical epic, adapted from Maurice Maeterlinck’s classic Symbolist fantasy of 1908. The cast included a roster of Hollywood legends (Elizabeth Taylor, Jane Fonda, Ava Gardner) as well as star performers from the Bolshoi Ballet. The aim was to usher in a bold new era of bilateral cooperation and cinematic détente. As he toured the Lenfilm studio, Cukor said how proud he was to be filming on the same spot where Sergei Eisenstein had shot The Battleship Potemkin in 1925. “Indeed, Mr. Cukor,” his interpreter replied, “and with the same equipment too!”

From that moment, The Blue Bird was set to be one of the most fabled fiascos in the history of world cinema. The schedule overran, the budget overflowed, the Soviet and Western crews fell out and Elizabeth Taylor shut the whole production down for two weeks – as she suffered one of her legendary illnesses and flew to London for treatment in a private clinic. On its premiere, The Blue Bird was slated by critics and shunned by the public. Shunned, at least, in the relatively few places where the public had a chance to see it. In fact, it was barely released in the UK and most other Western countries. Its reception worldwide was less a liberal 70s vision of détente than a Reagan 80s wet dream of Mutual Assured Destruction. In its own glitzy way, The Blue Bird helped to usher in a new and very nasty era in world politics.

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But forty years later – now that the nuclear fall-out has settled – perhaps it is time to sit down and watch the film itself. To the amazement of anyone who knows their film history, The Blue Bird is a delight. Less a conventional musical than a balletic fantasy in the style of late Michael Powell – Tales of Hoffman (1951), Oh… Rosalinda!! (1955) and Honeymoon (1959) all spring to mind – it stands poised precariously but irresistibly en pointe, in that limbo between High Camp and High Art. Its trio of Hollywood leading ladies – disarmingly but quite wisely, it turns out – make not the slightest effort to act. Instead, they parade about like Pantomime Dames in an array of sumptuous monstrosities designed by the legendary Edith Head. It was written on many a toilet cubicle wall that “Edith Head Gives Good Wardrobe.” I am still unsure how that would translate into Russian.

The story, if there is one, concerns two rather obnoxious children (Todd Lookinland and Patsy Kensit) on a quest of the mystical Blue Bird of Happiness. Given that they live in a remote hut in the depths of the Siberian taiga, one assumes that any place they look will be an improvement. Their guide on their journey is Light, embodied by Elizabeth Taylor in a series of sparkly chiffon gowns that seem to be borrowed from Billie Burke as Glinda, the Good Witch of the North in The Wizard of Oz (1939). Sadly, the role lacks the dramatic complexity of Glinda. It seems to consist of beaming angelically through as many layers of gauze as cameraman Freddie (Doctor Zhivago) Young chose to put over his lens, as well as warbling one or two less-than-memorable songs. Did you know that Liz Taylor could sing? No? Well, that is because she could not.

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Eager to stretch her thespian talents to the full, the enterprising Liz takes on three additional roles. The first is the children’s loving but sharp-tongued Mother, whom she plays a lot like Martha from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) – only with a strictly sanitised vocabulary. Next and by far the liveliest is a terrifying Witch; in truth, Liz is barely recognisable and seems to be having the time of her life. Apart, perhaps, from the day she spent off-screen touring the Imperial Jewellery Collection at the Hermitage Museum. (“They say that if you admire something, the Russians give it to you,” recalled the star. “Well, I admired and admired the Crown Jewels and nothing happened!”) The last role, Maternal Love, is basically Mother with a better dress and more make-up. Indeed, Liz allegedly spent $8000 of her own money on bringing her costumes for The Blue Bird up to scratch.

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Of the magic realms where the children seek the Blue Bird, the most ominous is the Castle of Night. This is presided over by Jane Fonda as Night herself – draped from head to foot in black satin, sporting a cartwheel hat that is the size of a small galaxy. Luckily, she does not sing but is content to purr menacingly, much in the manner of Anita Pallenberg as the Black Queen in Barbarella (1967) – the film that remains, to my mind, Jane’s greatest and most iconic role. (She went on, alas, to win two Oscars. This was proof that her great days of stardom were behind her.) Guiding the children through her castle, she opens multiple doors, behind one of which we glimpse the horrors of War. Cue for a cavalcade of Teutonic Knights, Napoleonic grenadiers, Nazi storm-troopers and all those who have mistakenly attempted to invade Mother Russia. One can only wonder if Cukor and his beleaguered Anglo-American crew took this warning to heart.

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Yet in the trinity of Hollywood divas, the briefest and most satisfying appearance comes from Ava Gardner. Her role is Luxury – an earthy but majestic good-time gal, seated on a white stallion and swathed in vibrant red. She takes an instant shine to the young boy and whisks him off to her palace, where a perpetual orgy is in full swing. Her guests include flamboyantly camp gay men, in suits of lilac and fuchsia silk. (In the dubbed Russian version, do they possibly translate her name as Western Decadence?) Once she gets home, Ava slips into a gown of scarlet and gold swirls, topped off with a spiky jewelled tiara. It bears an eerie resemblance to one of co-star Liz Taylor’s costumes from Boom! (1968). The boy gazes at her in rapt fascination and asks: “Which one of the luxuries are you?” With a splendidly lewd twinkle in her eye, Ava tells him: “That you’ll know once you grow a little bit older.” I take this as proof that he is destined to become a drag queen.

What an actual child might make of The Blue Bird is hard to say. It is by far the most outré piece of ‘family entertainment’ since The Wizard of Oz – but that film has been warping children’s minds for 75 years, until it has assumed the status of a classic. Is it not time we gave The Blue Bird a chance to do the same? It might even be advertised with an appropriate revolutionary slogan: “Camp film buffs of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your taste!”

David Melville