Archive for Coral Browne

Disco Dracula

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on August 29, 2012 by dcairns

Highly recommended — Frank Langella’s Dropped Names, Famous Men and Women as I knew Them, A Memoir.

Langella writes elegantly, and emerges as a pleasingly mysterious figure, since each chapter is about a famous, generally deceased person he’s encountered during his career, so that the author himself is on the sidelines throughout.

Many of these encounters date from FL’s Disco Dracula period, when he was a smash as Bram Stoker’s Count on Broadway, then played the role in a somewhat kitschy 1979 rubber bat movie helmed by John Badham. A partial cast list of the book: Elsa Lanchester (explaining how Laughton would have seduced Langella: “Charles could be very persuasive”); Montgomery Clift; Noel Coward; James Mason; Richard Burton; Laurence Olivier; Robert Mitchum; Roddy McDowall; Oliver Reed; George C Scott; Roger Vadim; John Frankenheimer; Tony Curtis…

Not all of the encounters are professional: Marilyn Monroe is merely glimpsed emerging from a car. Relations with Bette Davis (“not quite phone sex”), Raul Julia and Elizabeth Taylor border on the romantic. A full-fledged affair with Rita Hayworth is detailed with melancholic tenderness. Langella can be heartbreakingly gentle.

When dealing with those who did not favourably impress him, he’s impressively curt. On Lee Strasberg ~

“The last time I was in his presence he sucked the air out of the elevator we were riding in and when we hit the ground floor he put out his hand in a “stand back, I’m departing” gesture that caused me to laugh out loud. He stopped, looked at me with pure hatred and exited in a low-hanging cloud of fury. It remains one of my fondest sense memories.”

He also twists a knife in pilfering agent turned studio boss David Begelman, talented shit Elia Kazan, and egomaniac Anthony Quinn. It’s rather splendid. In cases where there is serious talent to admire, however, he does find something nice to say (Kazan gets some praise), and while reporting the unkindness of Rex Harrison, he can’t quite bring himself to dish the full character assassination.

We also get his subjects’ impressions of other celebrities they’ve encountered, hence Coral Browne’s take on Donald Pleasence ~

“Oh, God. He’s a handkerchief actor. He’ll take out his bloody handkerchief and blow his nose whenever he gets a chance or worse eat a bag of Sweeties during your best scene. Whatever you do, don’t get in a two-shot with him.”

I think the first time I realized I loved Frank Langella was in THE NINTH GATE, where, as wealthy Satanist Boris Balkan, he punches in the three-digit entry code to his library of quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore: 6…6…(pause)…6.

Polanski himself didn’t expect that to get such a huge laugh when the film was screened. My favourite moment in the movie.

USA: Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women As I Knew Them

UK: Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women as I Knew Them

Dream Repairman

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 18, 2012 by dcairns

I’m a sucker for memoirs by cinematographers and editors — perhaps especially the latter. Sometimes these books can be frustrating because the authors are not experienced writers or may not understand what the reader would like to hear about — or maybe what I want to hear about is too arcane.

The best book by an editor I know is Ralph Rosenblum’s When the Shooting Stops… The Cutting Begins: A Film Editor’s Story, which covers work with Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, William Friedkin… all very interesting personalities, and a lot of films which required really inventive work in the cutting room.

So I was excited to find a copy of Jim Clark’s memoir (written with John H Myers), Dream Repairman, Adventures in Film Editing. Like Rosenblum’s book, this covers its author and subject’s entire career up until retirement, only Clark is a Brit who has worked in America and Europe, his career only ending relatively recently due to health troubles (he was to have cut Rob Marshall’s Nine).

By his own account, Clark is quite an outspoken man (at one point he describes meeting Sean Penn, who asks him what he thought of INTO THE WILD. “It’s too long,” says Clark) so the fact that I don’t like a lot of the films he cut isn’t a problem. He doesn’t like them either. But he did cut a slew of films for John Schlesinger, some of which I like a lot, plus a few for Stanley Donen and a couple for Jack Clayton. His portrait of Clayton’s temperament enhances my understanding of this complex and not always pleasant man, adding to the raging furies I already knew about (you can’t really resent a man for throwing a chair through Barry Diller’s office window) a prodigious appetite for brandy and sodas and a penchant for sadistic practical jokes perhaps inherited from his time with John Huston.

Schlesinger could be equally explosive, but emerges as a lot more lovable (and one waits in vain for thunderbolts to strike down Madonna and Rupert Everett for humiliating him and practically killing him while making the wretched THE NEXT BEST THING. It’s very silly, but I do like Schlesinger’s nickname for his over-budget comedy disaster HONKY TONK FREEWAY, which he only ever referred to as WANKY WANK BUMHOLE.

(The book abounds in nicknames: we learn that Zeffirelli called C. Thomas Howell “Tea Towel” and Liz Taylor “thee beetch,” [which is, in fact, his name for all women], while the labs referred to Martha Fienne’s ONEGIN as “ONE GIN,” and Schlesinger’s affectionate/elitist name for the general public: “the sillies.”)

There’s not a huge amount about the craft of editing, which is admittedly difficult to illustrate on the page, though we do learn a lot about how at least a few of Robert DeNiro’s performances have been hewn together out of miles of wildly uneven material, since the actor often doesn’t learn his lines and feels his way through his scenes trying a wide variety of approaches, so that the editor makes most of the choices for him.

But Clark is an amiable host, and fabulously indiscrete: he prints a full-frontal picture of Marty Feldman, something I didn’t expect to see as I turned the page, lists the guests at a Hollywood party and then remarks that he was the only straight man present (the company included at least one major producer who has been known to get shirty when his personal life comes under the spotlight), and carelessly tosses off the following –

“It was known that Jimmy Woolf was homosexual, though just how active he was I never knew. He had a long liason with Laurence Harvey, now married, and was currently escorting Terence Stamp who was also in TERM OF TRIAL.”

I *think* the story is that Woolf liked nothing more than a handsome young man who would treat him very badly, so I don’t think this necessarily means what it seems to mean. But who knows? the charm of Clark’s book is that he’s out of that world now so he can more or less say anything he likes. Though increasingly tetchy about the levels of productorial interference in modern filmmaking, made possible by digital editing, he’s generally fair and affectionate to nearly all his collaborators, even when he’s mercilessly rubbishing the end product of some of these jobs.

Clark’s short stint as director is also covered — he did well to concentrate on editing, as these include the lamentable RENTADICK, which he still thinks is funny, and MADHOUSE, which was butchered by Milton Subotsky but is actually a bit better than he gives it credit for. It did result in a lifelong friendship with star Vincent Price, and through him to Coral Browne, who provides some good vulgar fun. I’ve long admired the anecdote about her rehearsing a play wearing a huge fur hat. When the director asked her if she was uncomfortable, she said “Yes, I feel as though I’m looking out of a yak’s arsehole.”

But Clark provides a story that’s positively heroic in its use of bawdiness in the face of death. Browne is dying of cancer and on a morphine drip. She’s asked if she’s hungry.

“Yes.”

“What would you like to eat.”

“A big cock.”

It’s not witty, exactly. But it somehow strikes me as encapsulating humanity at its finest.

Dream Repairman: Adventures in Film Editing

Crippen Yarns

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 29, 2008 by dcairns

Lots of interesting thoughts spring to mind while watching Robert Lynn’s DR CRIPPEN, photographed by “Nick” Roeg, though not many of them have little to do with the film at hand –

1) Good to see Inspector Walter Dew in a movie! Not only did this real-life copper arrest Dr. C. (Donald Pleasance) for the murder of Mrs. C. (Coral Browne), but he was in reality one of the first officers on the scene when Mary Kelly, last of Jack the Ripper’s victims, was found dead in her flat. Dew actually seems to have slipped in the blood.

2) Striking how much of the Crippen story finds its way into REAR WINDOW. Like Crippen, murderer Lars Thorwald is a henpecked husband with a young mistress who murders and dismembered his wife and attempt to abscond with his mistress. The voyeurism angle in Hitchcock’s film is so strong that it actually helps for the murder to be simple, archetypal and rather familiar.

3) Poor Coral ends up buried beneath the fuel in the coal bunker, which reminded me that “Coral” is only one letter away from “coal”.

My friend Lawrie told me a Coral story. She was rehearsing a play, and was wearing a rather strange and voluminous fur hat. Distracted by this, the director asked her if she was quite comfortable in it. “No,” she replied, in that cultured and tremulous, yet formidable voice, “to be quite honest, I feel as if I’m looking out of a yak’s arsehole.”

4) The most interesting moment is when Browne suddenly becomes sympathetic, pleading for her husband’s affection. The film switches track and she reverts to full-on castrating nastiness soon after, but the change deepens everything, and stops the movie becoming a sort of misogynist tragedy of a downtrodden male.

5) “Why is (young, glamorous) Samantha Eggar attracted to (bald, eerie) Donald Pleasance?” I wondered, before a rather striking moment when he slides down out of shot while kissing her and the camera holds on her ecstatic face. A Nicholas Roeg moment? The suggestion seems to be that Donald has powers of eroticism unknown to the typical Edwardian male. As a doctor, his familiarity with ladyparts allows him to pleasure his mistress in a manner not normally possible in British historical drama…

6) Eggar looks funny in drag. Like a prehensile Edward Fox.

7) Beautiful shot:

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