Archive for Claudia Cardinale

After the Phantom

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 29, 2020 by dcairns

Well, in a fit of madness I viewed and wrote about all three of Blake Edwards’ post-Sellers PINK PANTHER films — TRAIL, CURSE and SON — so it seems appropriate to write about the early, funny ones, too. Only took me five years to get around to it.

THE PINK PANTHER is the first one which disappointed me as a kid — because I saw them out of sequence on TV, it was a shock to find Sellers as Clouseau as only joint lead, arguably below David Niven in narrative importance and just above Claudia Cardinale, Robert Wagner and Capucine. Plus, no Herbert Lom and no Burt Kwouk.

Of course, watching through more mature, informed eyes — which might seem like the last things you want to cram into your eyesockets before attempting to view a Blake Edwards slapstick farce — these “flaws” are nothing of the kind, and the one and only truly original PINK PANTHER emerges as the most carefully put-together film of the series by a country mile.Sellers stepped into the role of Clouseau three days before the shoot began to replace a departing Peter Ustinov (his wife, Welles’s Desdemona Suzanne Clouthier talked him out of it). Whether Ustinov was foolish enough to regret missing out on the most successful comedy series of the 20th Century is questionable — surely he knew that Sellers brought an entirely different genius to the film, and a Ustinov Clouseau might have been terrific but could not have been guaranteed to hit the mark commercially in the same way. Besides, success drove Sellers round the bend, in part because he felt it was given to him for the wrong films (newsflash: it usually is). Edwards fully agreed that Sellers’ work with Kubrick was more deserving, but there wasn’t much he could do about that.

We begin with ONCE UPON A TIME, an invitation for us to check any expectations of social realism at the door, I guess. Maybe we can find some more fairytale resonances later. Well, here’s a king and a palace and a princess, and the titular MacGuffin. The IMDb doesn’t know who any of these surprisingly credible “Lugashians” are, except for James Lanphier, an Edwards regular who is the only one who looks blatantly wrong ethnically and so naturally is the only one who will appear in the rest of the film.

The theme tune: “Can you IMAGINE being in the audience in 1963 and hearing this for the first time?” asked Fiona. Animated credits by DePatie-Freleng. For the only time, the cartoon panther has a feline body, not just a lanky man’s body with a feline head and tail. Edwards demanded that the Panther be patterned on him. And by the time the credits were made up (and did fifties-sixties audiences ever tire of these Saul Bass type pastel boxes? I never do), it was evidently clear that the film belonged to Clouseau, because here he is as the only other character to get a cartoon. And an antipathy between Edwards/Panther and Sellers/Clouseau is already established.

“When the picture was finished, I got the first sense of these unpredictable
crazy kind of actions when Sellers – after we had this wonderful time and
the picture was run – went crazy and sent word to the Mirisches that it was
a disaster, which was very typical of him on the films be would do.”

I realise I’m guilty of ignoring Edwards’ co-writer, Maurice Richlin (PILLOW TALK). Well, everyone else has: he didn’t receive a co-creator credit on any of the sequels until the very last one, SON OF (a film one might well sue to AVOID being associated with). I assume this robbed him of a fortune in residuals… Oh, he’s named on INSPECTOR CLOUSEAU, it seems. Must have had some special dispensation that only allowed him to be credited for shit.

The first frame after the titles is also the last frame of the film, further indicating how well worked-out it all is. A series of MEANWHILES take us around Europe and America, establishing a globetrotting scheme which isn’t really kept up in the movie itself, which plays mainly in Cortina d’Ampezzo, with a climax in Rome and a coda back in Paris.This might be Robert Wagner’s best thing. He’s quite deft. Of course, it’s a strain to even notice him with Sellers and the others doing so well, but my point is, he’s not boring in this. Capucine is very funny. Niven is fine, and I like that he has his good-luck charm, Michael Trubshaw, along for the ride. In later films, Sellers is the one who has an entourage of chums in minor roles. Claudia Cardinale is, as Fiona remarked, adorable. She seems to be dubbed — except for her lovely drunk scene, where suddenly her Italian accent emerges and her already husky, smoky voice suddenly gets even throatier. Well, who’s to say that Lugashians don’t have Italian accents?The fact is, probably Clouseau does make more sense as a supporting figure who adds slapstick to a sophisticated, or mock-sophisticated farce-caper, than as a hero. He’s incapable of real change, it seems, so you can’t give him a character arc. But on the other hand, it’s all but impossible to surround Sellers with subplots as entertaining and brilliant as him. All you can hope for, which Edwards achieves very well here, is that the surroundings will be charming so you don’t mind the genius being diluted. Although the supporting cast of the Clouseauverse are not in place yet, the man himself is fully formed. The appearance came from a matchbook image of channel-swimmer Matthew Webb. Sellers liked the moustache: “Very masculine.” He and/or Edwards conceived the character as an idiot who, unlike Laurel & Hardy, KNOWS he’s an idiot. But he’s determined not to let anyone else find out. He’s also too dense to realise the jig is up. So he’s under tremendous strain, maintaining this pretense of being a brilliant detective. You can feel for him. The Dunning-Kruger effect has collapsed under him.

And we understand this instinctively in his FIRST SCENE. Everything else Sellers will do across five films will be basically mining this one idea. A man whose idiocy is perfectly, agonizingly balanced between awareness of his own inadequacy and lack of awareness that it’s obvious to pretty well everyone around him.

Very good musical number, by Mancini of course. Italian lyrics by Franco Migliacci & English lyrics by Johnny Mercer. Mancini is other key figure of the series, and perhaps the only one who wasn’t horribly tortured by it. I certainly hope he wasn’t, and I can’t see why he should have been… he would be protected from Sellers and evidently didn’t mind Edwards.(Typing those names over and over again, it seems just perfect that both men contain multitudes: you couldn’t have a Blake Edward and a Peter Seller.)

Very good costume party gags. Edwards is OBSESSED with parties, of course. Two separate gorillas — I beg your pardon, two separate thieves DRESSED as gorillas — attempt to rob the same safe.  I remember watching this as a kid with my sister and she was overwhelmed with sympathy when he inserts his sexy strangler gloves into two perfect baby bear bowls of prison porridge, just as he’s attempting to gloat at the felons he’s captured. “It was his big moment!” she cry-laughed. Sellers can do that, even when his character is kind of a monster. Fred Kite can break your heart. And he does it even when, as here and in I’M ALRIGHT, JACK (the only Sellers film Edwards had seen), the film doesn’t need or even want him to.

So this is a really well-tooled entertainment. Sellers is again pathetic in the witness box — the only moment in the series when everyone laughs at him, which is what he’s spent his life and enormous energy trying to avoid. When he says that his wife has bought a mink coat with money saved from the housekeeping, it’s like a thing out of your nightmares — something you’ve always taken on faith is revealed to be ridiculous to everyone else.Fortunately the film gives Clouseau a happy ending, since being a Raffles-type jewel thief apparently makes you irresistible to women. And then the sequel is along, in less than a year, and it turns out Clouseau was never convicted of diamond-robbery at all, and is still an inspector… The clouseauverse is terribly forgiving of its policemen, which will be one bit of good news for Chief Inspector Dreyfus…

THE PINK PANTHER stars Sir James Bond; Evelyn Tremble; Number Two; Princess Carolyne Wittgenstein; Jill McBain; Maggie Hobson; Sgt. Arthur Wilson; Lord Dowdy; Poldi – Blackie’s Flunky; Leonora Clyde; and Dr. Rosen.

Fitz and Starts

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 24, 2017 by dcairns

I got lucky and blundered upon a copy of Werner Herzog’s Conquest of the Useless in a charity shop. £2. Possibly £2 wasted, since I bought his earlier book Of Walking in Ice and never read it properly. In that one, Herzog walks from, I think Paris to Berlin, or something like that. curiously enough, he apparently doesn’t meet anyone along the way, so has plenty of time to think. Conquest of the Useless seems more interesting, though.

I didn’t know the book existed and yet I’d SEEN it. Let me explain, lest I be suspected of indulgence in symbolism. In MY BEST FIEND, the movie Herzog made about his (dysfunctional) working relationship with Klaus Kinski, he mentions a memoir he wrote while shooting FITZCARRALDO (or, as my film school tutor called it, MAD KLAUS GOES UP THE RIVER AGAIN). We are shown the book, and it’s tiny, with little crabbed runic writing injected into it, the kind of script used for writing the Lord’s Prayer on a grain of rice. “You had that published, didn’t you?” asks Claudia Cardinale. “No. Afterwards I was afraid to read it,” says Werner, mournfully.

 

But apparently a few years back, Werner got over his decades of fear and the book WAS published, and now I stood in a charity shop holding a far heftier version of it than the one I’d seen onscreen. I weigh the book, and my options. £2 isn’t very much, but it would be £2 wasted if I’m never going to read it. Which Herzog am I going to get?

The Herzog we meet in BURDEN OF DREAMS, the FITZCARRALDO making-of doc by the late Les Blank, is a man I don’t care for too much. Told that the mechanism for dragging a boat up a hill is prone to failure, and if it fails it might kill a lot of workers, he proceeds anyway. His laments about the jungle, “Even the birds, I don’t think they sing, I think they shriek in terror,” strike me as adolescent. This man, I feel, might have saved himself the trouble of towing a ship up a hill, at risk of human life, and merely painted his bedroom black.

To be fair, the guy does look like he’s suffering whatever they call Post-Traumatic Stress when the trauma’s not actually over yet.

But the Herzog we meet in MY BEST FIEND is a revelation — the film is hilarious. It’s not obvious whether Werner is in on the joke, but that’s a film I can quote long stretches from, in my shaky but recognisable Herzog imitation (go sibilant, extend your Fs and Ss, and do weird things with vowels: if in doubt, use the OW sound anywhere you like). This film is like my SPINAL TAP. “He screamed and ranted in the bathroom for six hours straight. The sink and toilet were smashed up so fine you could strain them through a tennis racket. The police came… but they left him in peace.”

Then Herzog appeared in Zack Penn’s INCIDENT AT LOCH NESS, a mockumentary, and a good one (also the only good Loch Ness Monster unless you count THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES) and it seemed he did indeed know he was being funny. He had discovered his comic persona, the way Harold Lloyd did when he put on glasses or Chaplin did when he assembled the tramp costume or Ricky Gervaise did when some helpful fellow told him he was a c*nt.

I open Conquest of the Useless at Random and read ~

Across from the wretched Pucallpa airport is a bar with a beautiful monkey, black, with limbs that go on forever. He looks very intelligent and would make the ideal companion for Fitz. A drunk spat at the monkey and almost hit him from behind. The monkey inspected and sniffed with great interest at this globule from the depths of an unhealthy lung, as it lay on the ground, greenish-yellow and steaming. It looked as though the monkey wanted to eat the spit, or at least taste it. I said silently to him, Leave it, leave it alone, and he let it be.

The police came, but they left him in peace. Laughing delightedly, I buy the book, though I remain worried about that monkey, remembering the poor little chap from the end of AGUIRRE (and the poor little Indians nearly killed hauling that ship up an incline).

Monkey has typical reaction to co-starring with Mad Klaus.

Watching and Waiting: Desert of the Tartars

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 3, 2014 by dcairns

A regular contributor to the blogathon, Judy Dean, tackles a true late masterpiece for us this year.

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“I have made eight films, and these have a common theme, which is that life has no aim other than to watch itself go by. Force of illusion cannot sustain us, for there’s no idealism strong enough… But we’re not talking about a tragedy, merely a sadness… “ (Valerio Zurlini, 1926 – 1982)

Nothing illustrates this statement more effectively than Zurlini’s last film, Desert of the Tartars, made in 1976.  Adapted from the 1940 novel by Dino Buzzati (published in English under the title The Tartar Steppe), it is set in the late 19th century and tells the story of Giovanni Drogo, an idealistic young army officer setting out for his first posting to an isolated frontier fort.

He explains on arrival that he has been assigned to the fort by mistake and wishes to apply for a transfer but is persuaded, in the interests of his career, to stay for two months.  Caught up in a web of surreal Catch 22–like bureaucracy, and clinging to the vain hope that one day there will be an attack on the fort and his dreams of military action will be realised, Drogo’s two months turn into twenty years.

Buzzati, an Italian journalist, said that “the idea of the novel came out of the monotonous night shift I was working on at Corriere della Sera in those days.  It often occurred to me that that routine would never end and so would eat up my whole life quite pointlessly.  It’s a common enough feeling, I think, for most people.”

Indeed it is.  You may not be a soldier, you may not be young, or male, but if you have ever begun a job with high hopes only to find yourself sometime later trapped by inertia, by familiar routine, aware your life is slipping away but apparently powerless to prevent it, then you will find Drogo’s situation all too familiar.

The novel, described as a surrealist masterpiece and most often compared to Kafka and Orwell, became an international best seller and several major directors, including Visconti, Lean and Antonioni, expressed an interest in adapting it for the screen.  However, the film rights were held by Jacques Perrin, the young French actor who had appeared in two of Zurlini’s early features – Girl with a Suitcase (1961) and Family Portrait (1962) – and when, in the seventies, he got together the financial backing, Perrin turned to the man he regarded as his mentor.  Perrin took the lead role as well as co-producing while Zurlini directed and is also credited with the Italian dialogue.

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To play Drogo’s fellow officers an extraordinary international and multi-lingual cast was assembled. The characters portrayed by Max von Sydow, Fernando Rey, Philippe Noiret, Vittorio Gassman and Jean-Louis Trintignant depict different responses – ennui, stoicism, delusion, fanaticism – to the tedium of a military routine that is punctuated only by false alarms and dashed hopes.  How the casting was achieved is not entirely clear.  Was Zurlini’s reputation among actors riding high at the time?  Perrin’s character has much of the screen time and this illustrious group is given little to work with, but does so supremely well.  Trintignant, for example, playing the garrison doctor, has about four lines of dialogue and Fernando Rey, an ageing Colonel, none at all.  Did some end up on the cutting room floor?  Who knows?  If only we had a director’s cut.

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Two lesser known actors make striking contributions.  Laurent Terzieff, primarily a stage actor, plays Count von Amerling, a sickly Lieutenant, whose treatment at the hands of the sadistic Major Matti results in his death. Terzieff has as few lines as other cast members, but his face alone ought to ensure his place in the annals of cinema.

Major Matti is played by Giuliano Gemma, a former stunt man and better known at the time for sword and sandals epics, but whose performance here was to earn him a Donatello Award.

But it is not the performances, excellent though they are, for which this film is remembered, but its setting, one of the most dramatic – and ultimately tragic – in film history.

Drogo’s nationality is never made explicit, and the uniforms give nothing away.  Some commentators have assumed the fort to be located on the edges of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but that is surely too literal an interpretation.  The film starts conventionally enough with Drogo leaving his small-town home, having bid farewell to his mother and fiancée, and setting out on horseback across green meadows.  He says to his companion, a fellow cadet who has come to see him off, that he doesn’t know what the fort looks like, only that it is distant.  In the next shot he is traversing a featureless, rock-strewn desert of a kind unknown in Europe to the accompaniment of an eerie Morricone score.  Clearly, this will not be the standard military adventure the title sequence leads us to expect.

Zurlini, a passionate art collector and student of art history, is reported to have been inspired, in his search for the right location for the fort, by this painting of Giorgio Chirico entitled La Torre Rosso.

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But elsewhere, the choice is said to have been determined by incentives offered to filmmakers at the time by the pre-revolutionary government of Iran.  As one of Perrin’s co-producers is Bahman Farmanara, who went on the following year to produce Kiarostami’s first feature, this may well be the case.  Whatever lay behind it, the final choice was stunningly effective.  The film was shot in the magnificent citadel of Bam in South-East Iran, close to the Afghan border.  A Silk Road fortress, dating to the 5th century BC, Bam was the largest adobe complex in the world, covering an area of more that 180,000 square metres and surrounded by seven-metre high walls.

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It’s necessary to use the past tense because in 2003 the citadel was destroyed by an earthquake in which many thousands in the city lost their lives.  The film has therefore become a poignant reminder of its former glory.  Bam is classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and the current regime in Iran, with international aid, is undertaking restoration work but its long-term future is far from secured.

The film achieved some commercial and critical success in Europe, especially in Italy where in 1977 it won Donatello awards for Best Film and Best Director (as well as Giuliano Gemma’s aforementioned acting prize), but it was never released in the USA.

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Zurlini committed suicide in 1982 at the age of 56, possibly as a result of financial and alcohol problems.  Here’s what Claudia Cardinale who appeared in Girl with a Suitcase said of him in an NFT interview in 2003.  “He was a wonderful director and a man of great refinement.  His apartment in Rome was full of wonderful paintings.  We became close friends; he gave me one of his paintings after that film.  Then one day in 1981, he invited me to his apartment in Rome.  When I got there the place was bare.  Everything sold.  There were only packing cases.  He ordered in a gourmet meal and we ate it off packing cases.  Then he went to his home in Venice (sic) and killed himself.”  (Other sources give his place of death as Verona.)

Never as well known outside of Italy as he deserved, Zurlini’s reputation went into a decline following his death, but despite something of a revival in the past decade, thanks to DVD releases and retrospectives, there is still a dearth of information about him (at least in English) and you will search in vain for his name in the reference books.  A re-evaluation is long overdue.

My thanks go to Rolland Man of the University of Edinburgh on whose recommendation I first saw this superb film.