Archive for Charlotte Rampling

Forbidden Divas: The Eyes Have It

Posted in Fashion, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 21, 2020 by dcairns

David Melville Wingrove returns with another entirely guiltless pleasure:

FORBIDDEN DIVAS

The Eyes Have It

“It can get pretty dangerous to look your lover straight in the ass.”

  • An anonymous opera-goer, Mascara

It starts with a view of the sea. An expanse of pale blue water, flat and eerily serene. A white Art Nouveau monstrosity stands atop a cliff and looks out upon it. A lone figure comes out of the building, dressed in an all-white ensemble that suggests a sort of 80s designer space suit, complete with shoulder pads. She climbs into a compact but elegant silver-grey car and drives off. As night draws on, the lights of passing cars play across her face. We see in, a sudden close-up, that she is Charlotte Rampling. She looks quite rapturously beautiful, her hair cropped short so she resembles some exquisite androgynous boy. A white and geometrical earring, which looks weirdly akin to a Giacometti sculpture, dangles from one ear. Her mood is abstracted, so much so that she all but runs over a strange man crossing the road. She winds down her window and warns the stranger to be careful. He is a handsome man with a face of angular if slightly overripe beauty and an unruly mop of black and tousled hair. It is clear at once that he is not the careful type.

Our lady pays him no heed and drives on. Her car stops outside a solidly bourgeois apartment block in the heart of the city. She goes inside and comes face to face with a man who is looking, not at her, but at his own reflection (and hers) in a massive antique mirror framed in gilt. He is tall and distinguished and dressed immaculately in evening dress, adorned with a long and flowing white silk scarf. He is played by Michael Sarrazin, an actor best remembered as that most fetching of all Monsters in Frankenstein – The True Story (1973). We realise, with a quick double take, that this man and this woman look almost exactly identical. Their prominent cheekbones, sensual lips and cool blue eyes mean that each one is the other in an only very slightly modified form. Moving and speaking in the mirror, their images are at once their own and one another’s. “Your smile looks more and more like your mother’s,” the man says. “What does that mean?” the woman asks with cool provocation. “It means your mother had a beautiful smile.” We may or may not have guessed they are brother and sister. What we do know is they are two sides of a single self.

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A bizarre and hallucinatory psychosexual thriller, Mascara (1987) is a Belgian-French-Dutch coproduction and one of only two features directed by the poet and visual artist Patrick Conrad. It was dumped into cinemas by Cannon Films and sank almost without a trace. I can still remember sitting, enraptured, through a matinee in a cavernous West End movie house – empty apart from me and three other spectators, at least one of whom got up and walked out before the end. Mascara is that most curious and forlorn of objets d’art, a cult movie that has never found its cult. (To this day, it is unavailable on Blu-Ray or DVD.) To that vast majority of the human race who have not seen it, I can say only to imagine a film by Joe Eszterhas (Jagged Edge, Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct) that has been that has been consummately rewritten and restaged by Jean Cocteau. Or better still, a Pedro Almodóvar movie that is played lyrically, poetically and with barely a hint of camp. It is the archetypal Charlotte Rampling movie, the celluloid epitome of Divine Decadence and sulphurous yet seductive doom.

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That unnaturally intimate brother and sister are on their way to an evening at the opera. The sister, Gaby, tells an acquaintance that her brother, Bert, imbibed his love of opera with their mother’s milk. At that night’s performance of Orpheus and Eurydice by Gluck, they are enthralled in particular by a long and rippling white gown that is worn by Eurydice in Hell. It comes equipped with an enormous headpiece of white feathers and is ornamented at the bosom with a glowing red neon heart. The brother and the sister act on their obsession in differing yet strangely complementary ways. She starts a romance with Chris the designer (Derek de Lint) who just happens to be that handsome stranger she narrowly avoided running over. Her brother, on the other hand, wheedles the designer into letting him borrow the dress. Or rather, to bring it in person to his oh-so-very-secret hangout, a place of which his sister knows nothing. This is an underground S&M club with the suitably operatic name of Mister Butterfly. It is a place where drag queens in chain mail masks pass raw oysters from mouth to mouth, where a man performs fellatio on a glistening black leather crotch bursting with lurid red orchids.

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Technically speaking, the gown is not for him. It is a birthday gift for a beautiful androgynous showgirl named Pepper, who is played by the real-life Italian transsexual Eva Robins. (She had a similar role in 1982 in the Dario Argento film Tenebrae.) Pepper, as expected, wears the haunted gown as if she had been born to it and lip-synchs a scene from Orpheus and Eurydice to the delight of the assembled guests. But back in her dressing room after the show, she unwisely declares her love to Bert. She has slipped off the gown and stands behind him naked, with most of her lithe body plunged into shadow. Yet we see, as she moves slowly into the light, that she has both breasts and a penis. This moment of shock revelation was pillaged more or less wholesale by Neil Jordan in his absurdly overrated The Crying Game (1992). To watch it in both movies is to see it staged, first, by a director with an authentically erotic sensibility and, later, by a director who is largely without one. (Jordan’s one truly erotic film Interview with the Vampire (1994) involves copious and extended bouts of man-on-man action, a thing Conrad shows us only in brief but tantalising glimpses.) It is scarcely a surprise when Bert turns round and strangles Pepper. Sexual confusion has been known to exact a frightful toll.

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The rest of Mascara hinges on Bert’s nefarious scheme to pin the murder on his sister’s hapless lover. The fact he is the chief of the city’s police gives him distinct advantage here. But very wisely, Conrad avoids shifting his movie into full-on policier mode. This is first and foremost a mood piece, dedicated to the purveyance of rarefied if distinctly kinky aesthetic and erotic frissons. He leaves ample time for Rampling to stare at her own exquisite form in the mirror, or out her giant picture window at that vast and seemingly tideless sea. Her wardrobe by Claude Montana appears to be more sculpted than sewn. It is undeniably opulent, but confining and constricting at the same time. Glimpsed above the fireplace in her sitting room is a huge Symbolist canvas of a naked woman with her hands bound by chains. Dare we hope that Chris can set her free of her brother and his clinging, incestuous love? (Among the many novel ideas in Mascara is the one that a man who designs gowns for the opera can be solidly and unimpeachably heterosexual.) Or will those sleazy and sinister denizens of Mister Butterfly get the better of Bert and Chris and Gaby and – who knows – possibly the entire known world?

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There is only one way you will ever know the answer to these and a multitude of other questions. That is to track down and snap up any surviving VHS copy of Mascara you can lay your hands on. It takes only a handful of hardcore obsessives to make a cult. The cult for this movie is many years overdue.

David Melville

Forbidden Divas: It’s a Magic Number

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on June 23, 2017 by dcairns

Just as I jet off to Bologna, David Melville Wingrove slides into my place to offer up another Forbidden Diva close to his heart ~FORBIDDEN DIVAS

IT’S A MAGIC NUMBER

“My mother always said I’d marry two men.”

“Only two?”

“Yes, but at the same time.” ~ Charlotte Rampling, Three

The only film by the novelist and occasional screen-writer James Salter, Three (1969) is a queer triangular love story involving two boys and one car. One morning in the wilds of France, a door of corrugated grey metal grinds slowly and laboriously open. Two young Americans – Taylor (Sam Waterston) and Burt (Robie Porter) – wheel out an old and battered Peugeot, caked with dust. The car at first looks as every bit as grey and dreary as the garage door. Once they wipe away the dust, it turns out to be sombre hearse black. Its wheels and interior are an intense, almost iridescent blood red. The boys drive off on that weird and quintessentially 60s quest for something called freedom. But what exactly is freedom? How will they find it? Will they recognise it when they see it? And what might they do with it when they do?Lying side by side in a sun-baked field of dry grass, they converse in the weird non sequiturs that long-term travelling companions tend to fall into. “Did you ever grow a beard?” “No, but I fell out of a tree once.” They are, of course, looking for girls. But they seem a lot more comfortable with one another. One consciously poetic shot shows Burt – a corn-fed blonde Adonis – naked in bed in some Italian hotel. His creamy torso emerges from beneath the blanket. His arm, wrapped about his head, reveals a delicately sculpted armpit, dusted with light gold hair. Taylor, dark and soulful and sad-eyed, is the one observer there to see. Once in Rome, they pick up two girls (Gillian Hills and Edina Ronay) but that encounter predictably goes nowhere. That is precisely where most things in Three seem to go. On one scorching afternoon, an Italian waiter offers the boys a spremuta di limone. He then remembers, at the last moment, that they are out of lemons.It all changes once the boys get to Florence. They wander through the Uffizi Gallery, as the camera glides lovingly over Verrocchio’s painting of the martyred Saint Sebastian, his body naked and pierced by arrows. Suddenly and barely for a second, Taylor catches sight of Charlotte Rampling – who was, in 1969, the sexy Swinging London chick du jour. She too is a tourist at the Uffizi and it is hard to think of a more dazzlingly appropriate setting for her. She looks, in equal parts, like a perverse Botticelli Venus and an androgynous, pouting youth by Leonardo da Vinci. It turns out she has a boy’s name (Marty) and slouches about, for most of the film, in a wardrobe of jeans and boy’s shirts. She is, beyond a doubt, an object of heterosexual desire. Yet she also seems to embody the covert homoerotic tensions between the two men. If Three were a film from the 30s, she could only be Marlene Dietrich.In fact, the film is based on a short story by Irwin Shaw. Its central trio have remarkably little in common with the Flower Power folk. Their behaviour and attitudes seem more redolent of the gilded Lost Generation of the 20s, familiar from the novels or Ernest Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald – and, invariably, bungled very badly by Hollywood. This means that Three was not a massive counter-cultural hit like other road movies of that time, such as Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper, 1969) or Five Easy Pieces (Bob Rafelson, 1970). James Salter’s film sank very quickly into obscurity and has been notoriously difficult to see ever since. Rampling herself has said in interviews how she had a hankering to see it years later. She rang up Salter and asked him – but even he was unable to locate a copy. Yet the film’s very lack of modishness means that it has dated barely at all; Easy Rider, in context, looks embarrassingly like a time capsule. It is in the nature of a road movie to transcend the limits of place, but very rare for one to transcend the confines of time the way Three does. Three evokes a world where – as Taylor remarks wryly – “Everyone lives somewhere else.”

Rampling agrees, all too readily, to travel with the two boys. It is obvious, from the outset, that she is attracted to Taylor and subtly dislikes Burt. Yet the three make a pact that she will never “choose between” them. In other words, should she engage in sex with either one, the deal is off. She takes them to villa in the hills above Florence, where the aristocrats are so world-weary and soigné that they seem barely alive. She leads them, on a beach, in a three-sided game of tag. Her bikini is a hideous shade of near-fluorescent orange; she manages to look coolly glamorous even in that. Driving with them back into France, she dons a clinging silver lamé mini-dress and entices them to a casino. Here she effortlessly wins a fortune at roulette and showers her two escorts deliriously with money. Her role seems to be morphing from Jeanne Moreau as a ménage a trois temptress in Jules and Jim (François Truffaut, 1961) into Jeanne Moreau as a compulsive gambler in La Baie des Anges (Jacques Demy, 1962).Elsewhere, the film is a litany of events that do not happen, of climaxes that do not take place. The three drive to the Southern French town of Dax for a bullfight – but they find the bullring deserted. They have misread the poster and come on the wrong day. By the sea, they see a sailboat capsized and a man in the water calling for help. Taylor strips naked and swims out to save him. Yet his attempt to be a hero is pointless. Before he can get to the drowning man, a rescue boat comes along and saves him first. His relationship with Marty seems to be similarly inconclusive. One night when Burt is out wooing an available French woman (Pascale Roberts), Marty turns the full force of her lynx-eyed, silver-ice gaze onto Taylor. It is one of the earliest and most dazzling examples of that unique Rampling phenomenon known as The Look. “I’ve forgotten what American kisses taste like,” she purrs. But can he ever reconcile his attraction to her with his attachment to Burt?Three is a film about sexuality rather than sex (another reason, perhaps, for its box-office failure) so answers to this and other questions will not be easy to find. The triangle of tension between Marty, Taylor and Burt is fluid and enigmatic, amorphous and ever-shifting. There are long stretches in which nothing whatsoever seems to happen. Rightly, because people are seldom at their most active when all their energies are focused on finding what direction – if any – their lives will take. The absurdly scenic French and Italian roads down which they travel may seem to wind on forever, but their erotic and emotional cul-de-sac offers little if any hope of an escape. Yet we know, by the same token, that it cannot possibly last. This trio is doomed to break up and one vital question is bound to emerge. Who gets to keep the car?

David Melville

Whoever Speaks the Truth Must Die

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 16, 2015 by dcairns

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GIORDANO BRUNO (1973) is by Giuliano Montaldo, whose CLOSED CIRCUIT I enjoyed, and wrote about for Sight & Sound (possibly the only article in that organ’s history to be written in the form of a police interrogation). I then ran GRAND SLAM, his 1967 Rio heist flick, which totally lacked the elaborate, hypnotic choreography of cast and camera which entranced me in the TV movie (about a spaghetti western that kills audience members!). Most of the filmmakers effort seemed to have gone on unconvincing special effects to convince us that ailing star Edward G. Robinson was on location.

But GB sees the return of the elaborate camera blocking, and a fantastic set of collaborators in DoP Vittorio Storaro, composer Ennio Morricone, and star Gian Maria Volonte as the lapsed priest persecuted by the Inquisition for preaching “heresy” (such as stating that the earth orbits the sun and that there are other worlds which may be inhabited.

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I get the strong impression that Montaldo and Storaro had seen THE DEVILS and been impressed, though their approach is less hysterical than Ken Russell’s, leaving out the camp and staying pretty sombre even during the hero’s debauches. Just as with Ollie Reed, though, Volonte undergoes a sharp transition from unsympathetic hedonist to Christ-like martyr at the hands of politicians and the church. Storaro even borrows lighting cameraman David Watkin’s trick of using out of focus and over exposed backgrounds where the light actually eats into characters’ profiles, an eye-catching effect indeed, turning people into frayed cut-outs.

All through the story, Volonte in his cell is associated with light (Storaro does love his symbolic effects), blasting in from narrow windows and given a sculptural shape by subtle application of smoke, whereas his papal persecutors inhabit realms of wealth and opulence and formal symmetry. Venice street scenes get a handheld, loose treatment to contract with the elegance of the wealthy.

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Morricone seems capable of far more nuanced work when the film is in Italian, and his score here is, of course, beautiful, but also cunning. Divine music accompanies the pontiff’s crisis on conscience as he ponders whether the man he’s having stretched on the rack may have more in common with the apostles than with common criminals. He seems a sincere, thoughtful and worried man, anxious to hold onto the reins of power but with the intention of using them to do good. But the church is, in fact, a power structure, and self-preservation is its only priority, and this essentially weak man must either ride this juggernaut the way it wants to go or be crushed by it. And so the apparently decent, cautious pope becomes quite easily the film’s biggest villain, and Morricone’s sacred accompaniment is revealed as an elaborate bluff and a black joke.

Volonte is a fascinating choice here as he’s rarely a very sympathetic actor, often cast as heavies by Leone, Petri, Lizzani, and the late Francesco Rosi. His vaguely disagreeable features and unsentimental scripting help stop Bruno becoming a plaster saint, so that by the end, when all vanity has fallen away and he has, in best Howard Beale fashion, “run out of bullshit,” he can attain a kind of secular sainthood by standing up to a vast power which can destroy him without the slightest trouble. An affecting portrait of intellectual heroism, particularly pertinent in the light of recent events (ALL this week’s posts seem pertinent in the light of recent events).

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Oh, and we also get a little role for my favourite floundering detective, Renato Scarpa, the sickly chubster from DON’T LOOK NOW… And a couple of sequences of Charlotte Rampling, including one weird one where she becomes sexually aroused by GB’s philosophy. Is there a perversion, known or unknown to human practice, that Rampling hasn’t yet ably embodied? I’m not sure this one even has a name.