Archive for Don Murphy

A Critical Mauling

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 17, 2008 by dcairns

This is Willy Rozier defending an actress’s honour by fighting a duel with the critic who gave her a bad review in his film, 56, RUE PIGALLE.

Flash-forward decades, and schlockmeister Uwe Boll challenges an array of critics to a boxing match, and proceeds to WHALE ON THEIR ASSES, delivering an animalistic, fist-based drubbing that knocks each and every one of them for six. It looks as painful as watching one of Boll’s movies.

Inbetweentimes, we have a notorious confrontation between director Ken Russell and Evening Standard critic Alexander Walker, on live T.V. (the clip appears not to have been preserved). Walker, slamming Russell’s THE DEVILS, had listed all the violent and obscene moments in the film, charging “we see Oliver Reed’s testicles crushed.” “That must have been wishful thinking on his part,” says Russell, “because they certainly weren’t.”

Confess!

Viewing the film attentively, it is clear what actually goes down: Reed has his legs placed between slats and crushed by Michael Gothard, who drives wedges in between the slats with a big hammer. I’m sure Walker would have found that pretty offensive too, but it IS based on solid historical fact, and we never see the hammer connect. Also, Aldous Huxley’s description of the scene in his source book, The Devils of Loudun, is explicit, matter-of-fact, and just as appalling. The censor had actually made Russell cut the hammer blows down to ONE blow, then said, “Oh no, that makes it WORSE,” and made him put some back.

Oliver red

Russell raised the inaccuracy of the review in the television discussion, but Walker didn’t acknowledge any error. Understandably frustrated, Mad Ken proceeded to swear violently and strike Walker over the head with a rolled-up copy of his own review. “Should have had an iron bar inside it, but I didn’t have one to hand.”

Alexander Walker, curiously smackable

It’s pretty clear that the critics have invective sewn up. Artists can’t respond to criticism verbally without looking like buffoons. They stifle their hurt and grow ulcers. When James Cameron suggested that critic Kenneth Turan should be fired for not liking TITANIC — since this proved Turan was out of step with public opinion — he just looked like an arse.

But violence ALWAYS works! If Cameron had struck Turan in the face with a pie, like the Belgian “pastry terrorists” who creamed Godard and Bill Gates some years ago, a lot more people would have sympathised (though we knew in our hearts even then that TITANIC was basically manipulative piffle). This kind of thing satisfies our inner sensation-seeker, and makes us feel that a worm has turned, an underdog has had their day. A filmmaker writing to the papers feels like a worrying reversal of the natural order. A filmmaker throwing a ridiculous strop and shoving a dignified older gentleman into a fountain just seems right and proper.* Tony Richardson, once a critic himself, said that his former colleagues in that profession were “acidulated intellectual eunuchs hugging their prejudices like feather boas,” and certainly in these bracing physical encounters it’s the critics who tend to come out of it worst.

But it can’t be right, all this FIGHTING. Isn’t there an alternative?

The movie THEATRE OF BLOOD suggests one possibility. It’s a whimsical fantasy in which a ham actor (Vincent Price, arguably typecast) murders his way through the critics’ circle, appropriating his choice of weapons and methodology from the plays of Wm. Shakespeare. Much better to revel in IMAGINARY violence, which is, after all, what most filmmakers are used to doing. When director Quentin Tarantino and NATURAL BORN KILLERS producer Don Murphy got into a fight in a Hollywood restaurant, both claimed to have given the other a thorough thrashing, but a waiter who witnessed the scuffle observed, “It was obvious neither of these guys knew how to fight.” One pictures a hysterical BRIDGET JONES-style slappy fight, unbecoming of such maestros of cinematic mayhem.

THEATRE OF BLOOD upset me as a kid, when I saw it one Hogmanay night. It was a shock to see sitcom star Arthur Lowe getting his head sawn off in bed (and being murdered IN BED was particularly upsetting to a child). I’m still not even sure which Shakespeare play that was meant to be. A loose reading of Macbeth? Robert Morley being force-fed his own poodles in a pie, a reworking of Titus Andronicus, put one acquaintance off chicken pie for life. The appalling sadism savagery was inexplicable to a child, even one such as I who had been weaned on a diet of Hammer horror. Only with an adult’s experienced eye can we appreciate the satisfaction of slaying critics. It then becomes clear how the film was able to attract such an all-star cast: great names of British film, theatre and television were queuing up to be slaughtered wearing cravats: Jack Hawkins, Michael Hordern, Dennis Price, Harry Andrews, Robert Coote, with Diana Dors and Coral Browne providing female victims (Price seems to particularly relish electrcuting his real-life wife).

cook until Browne

As someone who both sits in the director’s chair, when asked, and sits in judgement, in this blog, I have divided loyalties on this issue, and naturally I don’t want to see anybody get hurt. I would be doubly at risk. So the idea of slaughtering critics through the medium of film strikes me as the most civilized and balanced option. Reviewers can continue to vivisect film-makers on the page, as long as the movie people can retaliate by hacking up the hacks on the screen. The public, who have always loved a Roman circus, are likely to be the winners.

*Nobody has actually done this to a critic yet but I’m hoping for a copycat crime to boost my circulation.