Archive for Gillian Hills

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

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655321

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Painting, Politics, Science, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 20, 2015 by dcairns

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Malcolm McDowall’s character in CLOCKWORK ORANGE is known during the film’s middle act as Prisoner 655321, but as he enters prison he gives his name as Alexander De Large, same as in Anthony Burgess’ novel. But when he’s released from the stripy hole, the papers give his name as Alex Burgess. I was just remarking on this evidence of Kubrick’s perfectionism having marked (and strange) limits, when the film cuts to his dad, played by Philip Stone, who suffered a similar gnomic nomenclature in THE SHINING (he’s either Charles or Delbert Grady, depending on who’s talking).

Such peculiar slips aside, this is probably the most seventies sci-fi film of them all, its look playing like a kind of caricature of the fabulous ugliness of British hair, fashion, architecture, interior design and speech in that dark decade. The BLADE RUNNER idea of “retro-fitting” had not been invented yet, so movie visions of the future tended to work on the assumption that our dystopias will consist of all-new clothes and architecture and furniture. Ridley Scott’s team visualised the truth: the future will have all of our crap, only older and more broken-down and badly repaired. (The big exception to old stuff not surviving into movie futures is the Statue of Liberty at the end of PLANET OF THE APES).

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Speaking of apes, Fiona pointed out how this image recalls the primordial tribes of 2001. And then the soundtrack album of 2001 turns up in the record store Alex attends to pick up Gillian Hills and friend for a threesome (having presumably seen Hills’ threesome in BLOW-UP.) “Kubrick didn’t go in for in-jokes, did he?” Oh, but he did! Fiona has never seen EYES WIDE SHUT…

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I first saw CLOCKWORK ORANGE during the period when Kubrick had withdrawn it in the UK, on a fourth generation VHS dupe, with attendant fuzziness and flaring colours that bled off their subjects in shimmering auras. Then, on a college trip to Paris, I saw it in the cinema that played it non-stop, and it looked a lot better, although a splice robbed it of its final line, which was a real pain. (Terry Southern’s idea, floated in his novel Blue Movie, of a site-specific movie, made by a Kubrick-like master filmmaker, which you would have to travel to see, making it a kind of tourist attraction, had come true, at least for me — my main motivation in visiting Paris was to see this film.)

The film did not inspire me to any acts of criminal behaviour, though I may have tried to talk like Patrick Magee afterwards (“Trrry the WIIIINE.”

Random thoughts —

The novel is short and seems to me FAST, though I guess that depends on your reading speed. Having to look up the nadsat dialect words, or else strain to remember the last time they were used, does slow you down, but I always felt the prose demanded a certain celerity. Kubrick’s pacing is… well, deliberate would be a polite word. It seems to loosen up in the final stretch, somehow — McDowell even seems to be improvising in the scene where he’s psychologically tested with a caption contest, which had Fiona in hysterics. She’d forgotten what a funny film it is, if you can take it.

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“Cabbages… knickers… it hasn’t got a… a beak!”

SHOULD you take it? There are multiple issues at stake. Firstly, the written word becomes something quite different when visualised. Even Ken Russell said that the word must be censored by the artist when he films it. Mad Ken was mooted to direct CLOCKWORK ORANGE with Terry Southern on script and the Rolling Stones as stars — if he had, it would probably still be banned. Everywhere.

It’s pretty clear from John Baxter’s flawed but informative Kubrick bio that the director was treating the movie as an opportunity to ogle naked girls. The sexual violence has a role in the story, but is obviously important to the filmmaker for other reasons. Adrienne Corri initially declined the role of Mrs. Alexander because Kubrick was getting applicants to de-bra in his office while he trained a video camera on them. She made it clear that wasn’t on. “But Adrienne, suppose we don’t like the tits?” “Tough.”

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(The two became quite friendly. She gave him red socks as a present, her costume when last seen in the film.)

Kubrick also got Cheryl Grunwald to mime being raped as her audition, a fairly pointless exercise that seems more like power-play than legitimate creative process (auditioning for DEATH WISH, Jeff Goldblum had to rape a chair. He got the part). Oh, and the scene Kubrick gave his rapees was very much like the encounter between the girl and the soldiers in FEAR AND DESIRE, suggesting that his violent fantasies were of a long-standing nature and informed earlier work.

If the director’s intentions aren’t pure, does it matter? Pauline Kael thought so. She pointed out that the relatively few alterations to the novel all had the effect of making Alex a more appealing character. She was right, but the matter bears further consideration. Kubrick could clearly have gone further — Alex is, by any reasonable estimation, a monster. But his crimes are photogenic — he beats up ugly people and rapes attractive, nubile women, not the other way around. Kubrick admitted that the character’s frankness with the reader/viewer made him appealing, in the same way that Richard III is appealing — a scheming dissimulator who flatters us by taking us into his confidence.

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Let’s look at the changes. Firstly, all the underage girls are now older — the “weepy young devotchka” in the casino is a spectacularly buxom adult, and the girls Alex picks up in the record store may not have been assigned a specific, clearly-identifiable age, but if Kubrick had wanted us to accept them as schoolies he needn’t have cast Gillian Hills, who we might remember from another threesome in BLOW UP, or even further back in BEAT GIRL. Kubrick was probably bit concerned about what he could legally show, a little concerned about getting typecast after LOLITA, keen to avoid making the viewer reflect on how old Malcolm McDowell is supposed to be, and he wanted to photograph spectacularly buxom adults.

I believe Kubrick when he says he cut the prison murder for reasons of length. I think the prison scenes drag a little — the story loses forward momentum until Alex can get into the Ludovico Institute, and the scenes are played very slow indeed — arguably to emphasize the stultifying environment and as a dramatic gear shift after the savage opening. I think Kael is wrong to suggest this omission softens Alex, who has already killed a woman in furtherance of theft on top of all his other crimes. As I recall from reading the book, the additional killing didn’t make me like Alex less — I already despised him on a moral level and enjoyed his voice on an aesthetic one.

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Kael gets into the fine detail of it when she points out that Kubes breaks his own rules, departing from the first-person narrative to show the casino devotchka getting stripped by the rival gang BEFORE Alex has arrived on the scene. Kubrick is filming something because he wants to film it, not because it’s a legitimate part of the story. But a defense is quite possible here (although yes, I think Kubrick is salacious). The scene is shot from the vantage point Alex will have when we see him. He introduces the action with voice-over setting the scene. And then he is revealed, stepping from the shadows, having apparently been watching for at least a few seconds.

(Kael doesn’t mention a scene Kubrick invented, showing the Cat Lady phoning the police, another moment not shared by Alex, who isn’t in the building and very importantly does not know the millicents are on their way. This seems to indicate that for all his obcomp meticulousness, Kubes wasn’t that bothered about the purity of the first-person or “closed” narrative.)

I always felt the opening of the casino scene was problematic, though. Or “evil,” might be a better word. The ensuing gang fight is incredibly dynamic in a western brawl way, snazzily cut to Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie, but the opening, a scene of sexual sadism, interacts with the music in a teasing, smirking way — it’s quite justifiable as a rendering of Alex’s view of this kind of cruelty, but I can’t bring myself to admire it. The music, the voyeurism, the sexually mature victim, can all be explained, but in combination they add up to something exploitative.

The highly fetishized assault on Adrienne Corri is another thing, simultaneously a stunning coup de cinema, an assault on the audience in fact, and a fairly indefensible piece of art-porn/rape-porn. Worth pointing out, though, that just as Burgess identifies himself with the male victim (both are authors of a book called A Clockwork Orange), Kubrick seems to put himself in the place of Alex’s prey. I’m sure Patrick Magee is typing on one of Kubrick’s favourite typewriters. And the cat lady, like Kubrick, lives in a big house full of pets with paintings by Christiane Kubrick on the walls, just like the great Stanley K. Whether the film encourages this kind of reflection isn’t certain: Kubrick deleted the novel’s explanation of the title, which means viewers must accept the phrase as an abstract concept, meaningful for whatever sensations it arouses rather than as a sensible bit of language, and in some ways we may be meant to do the same for the film itself. Kubrick seems divided as to whether the movie is a pure sensory onslaught or a film of ideas, and the tension shows. Which is not to say the tension is a bad thing.

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Burgess’s story seems to suggest that a criminal might be forcibly turned off violence by giving them drugs and showing them films (although it’s uncertain if he literally believed this or just used it as an allegorical device to explore free will). It seems to me the drug used is based on apomorphine, which William S. Burroughs took to help him kick his heroin habit, and which was also used in aversion therapy for homosexuals seeking (or being forced to seek) a “cure” for their orientation. Kubrick’s refusal to engage with the media left a disgruntled Burgess to appear on every TV discussion under the sun, arguing that audiences seeing films (and possibly taking drugs) could NOT be accidentally conditioned to become criminals.

(Burgess later admitted he disliked the film, and no wonder — he wrote the book after his wife was gang raped, and to see that turned into a pervy fantasy by the director must have been rather painful. I don’t know what catharsis he achieved by adopting an assailant’s viewpoint in his novel, but he made it enjoyable as a literary stunt, not as sado-smut.)

Kubrick’s suggestion to Michel Ciment that films MIGHT affect audiences, but only in the same way as a dream might, strikes me as sensible. A well-balanced person does not commit a violent act in response to a dream, though C.G Jung reportedly packed in sculpture as a profession and became an analyst after a dream about being in Liverpool. Whereas I have actually been in Liverpool, twice, and did NOT become an analyst — except of movies, I guess.

Things That Aren’t Films ~

Posted in Comics, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 5, 2012 by dcairns

I’ve been reading lately —

Donald Westlake’s work writing as Richard Stark — the Parker novels. I’ve resisted Point Blank, the first one, because the writing seems a little florid by his standards, although it’d be fascinating to compare it to the Boorman film. The later ones are like meaner versions of the Dortmunder books, with a ruthlessly efficient killer in the lead, and a slightly less fickle universe for him to struggle against. In their deadpan way, they’re nearly as funny. Parker is like Bugs Bunny to Dortmunder’s Daffy Duck. Ask the Parrot is good, Breakout is better.

Fredric Brown — short short science fiction stories, including Knock, billed as the world’s shortest horror story — and also noir thrillers. Night of the Jabberwock is a near-surreal comic nightmare about a news editor in a lifeless small town who suddenly finds himself at the end of fifty years of crime stories in a single night. Amid the chaos there’s a visit from a fat man called Yehudi Smith who claims that Lewis Carroll’s fantasies were really encrypted mathematical instructions for accessing alternative dimensions…

Marc Behm — a varied and peculiar author whose screen credits include both HELP! (original story) and EMMANUELLE, and whose works include Eye of the Beholder (filmed by both Stephan Elliott and, hauntingly, Claude Miller [as MORTELLE RANDONEE]). I’m reading The Ice Maiden, his vampire novel. His prose is abominable, clunky and littered with exclamation points: reading him is like trundling over the Martian landscape. But his focus on the financial and other mundane worries of vampiric life (or undeath) is quite fresh and interesting — and the novel is, perhaps uniquely, a vampire heist.

The pop stylings of Gillian Hills ~

Breaking Bad — finally yielded to peer pressure (Damn you, peers!) and started this, and it is as great as they say. We’re up to season 3. Nice seeing Giancarlo Esposito again, and interesting to catch familiar names like Peter Medak and Tim Hunter directing episodes. Everybody say it just keeps getting better, and that does indeed seem to be the case so far…

Batman Incorporated. Grant Morrison has been writing Batman comics for forever by now, an unlikely match in many ways — working class Scottish anarchist magician pacifist writes American billionaire vigilante. It’s furiously complicated, nasty, funny and clever stuff — what distinguishes it from the recent movie versions is the combining of Tim Burton’s carnivalesque grotesque, the cold, high-tech glitz of the Nolan films, and occasional touches of gleeful silliness recalling Adam West (but shot through with a much darker sensibility). Unlike all of the above, though, Morrison seems to love the character. His oft-repeated narrative trick, that whatever the outrageous scheme plotted against him, Batman will have prepared a defense and a counter-attack, should get old, the way the reversals in Soderbergh’s OCEAN’S films become tiresome. But to me, anyway, it doesn’t.

Batman’s son Damien, the new Robin, is a wonderful creation — the first time Bruce Wayne’s sidekick has been cool.