Archive for Harold Pinter

Page Seventeen III: The Last Stand

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 7, 2022 by dcairns

It was to this city, drunk radiant with contradictions — ‘Chicago, the jazz-baby — the reeking, cinder-ridden, joyous baptist stronghold, Chicago, the chewing gum centre of the world, the bleating, slant-headed rendezvous of half-witted newspapers, sociopaths and pants makers,’ to quote one of its more restrained self-descriptions — that Beatrice Welles brought her family. It was certainly she who brought them: her husband, though enamoured of the stage and its citizens, and partial to fine wine and good food and concomitant fleshly pleasures, showed no sign of needing to move to the source of these things, and Dr Bernstein, according to Orson, only left Kenosha to be near Beatrice. He spoke of it as ‘a paradise he’d lost … my mother used to make HEARTLESS fun of that.’ As for the boys — cosy and comfortable as they’d surely been in Kenosha, this huge and thrilling city was the biggest playground a child could imagine. This is where Orson Welles grew up, this swaggering, boastful place, which sneered at New York as a provincial cousin. Here was anything and everything they could want — provided they had the money. And, thanks to Richard Welles’ golden handshake, they did. Had they not, it might have been a harsh life; they would have shared the squalor and deprivation of a large portion of the city’s population, the immigrants in their northern ghettoes, the blacks in theirs on the South Side. For these people, undernourished, brutalised, cold, Chicago was hell. ‘For God’s sake,’ cried Margaret Anderson at the end of her first editorial for The Little Review, one of Chicago’s many little magazines, ‘why doesn’t somebody start the revolution?’ All the conditions were present, enough to make a Marxist despair at its reluctance to occur. But Chicago was still too high on itself. Even the poor were swept up in its undeniable confidence, which last till the Big Crash — ten years away, in 1929. After that, nothing would ever be quite the same again for Chicago. In Alston J. Smith’s phrase, ‘there was the manic phase. Then came the depression.’

…I was born in Chicago, Illinois, so damned long ago that I wish I had never told anybody when. Both my parents were of Quaker descent. Neither was a practising Quaker. My mother was born in Waterford, Ireland, where there was a very famous Quaker school and perhaps still is. My father came of a Pennsylvania farming family, probably one of the batch that settled with William Penn. At the age of seven I had scarlet fever in a hotel, and I understand this is a very rare accomplishment. I remember principally the ice-cream and the pleasure of pulling the loose skin off during convalescence …

Ben Hecht was always falling in love–though he never tumbled harder and faster into that ecstatic state than he did when he met Chicago. “The city of my first manhood,” he called it. The place enthralled him with its blur of rooftops and chimneys, its signage and streetcars, its windows, its water, its sky, an especially its crowds. Its crowds! Dashing through downtown, he’d stop suddenly, transfixed, as all those strangers rushed by him on the sidewalk. “I sometimes felt shy,” he’d later write of his teenage infatuation with the fact of this great human swirl, “as I stood against a building watching people pass. What if some bright pedestrian saw what I was doing–having a love affair with the faces of the city! It would be hard to explain.”

Both Hecht and Minnelli, in different ways, were keenly aware of the new sensibility — though, like most other artists in their generation, they inherited certain attitudes from the era of l’art pour l’art, which they brought into modern times. Hecht, for example, never lost his taste for the epigrammatic wit and iconoclasm of the 1890s; his early novels, Fantasius Mallare and Count Bruga, are saturated with Yellow Book affectations, and even The Front Page has a vaguely Baudelarian nostalgie de la boue. For his part, Minnelli became a more engaging blend of the aesthete and the modern entertainer, working not in words but in clothing and decor. In 1937, Esquire described him as “the incarnation of our preconceived notion of a ‘Village type’ — flat black hat with a wide brim, loose collar and no tie around his thin neck.” In publicity releases, Radio City Music Hall emphasised his vanguard taste: “Young and, confessedly, a modernist, Minnelli revels in … torch songs, music from the heart of Harlem and picturesque angular furniture.”

Ten minutes off for a tea-break in the middle of the night in that place and I couldn’t find a seat, not one. All them Greeks had it, Poles, Greeks, Blacks, the lot of them, all them aliens had it. And they had me working there… they had me working…

Henry did that counterpoint business that you’re not supposed to be able to do unless you have two right arms and four extra fingers, and he got that boiler puffing, and he got it shaking, and he screamed his Henry Walker “WoooooOOOOO!” and–he finished. I came in on the tubs and beat them up till I couldn’t see for the sweat, hit the cymbal and waited.

His assistants cluster about him. He is severe with them, demanding, punctilious, but this is for their own ultimate benefit. He devises hideously difficult problems, or complicates their work with sudden oblique comments that open up whole new areas of investigation–yawning chasms under their feet. It is as if he wishes to place them in situations where only failure is possible. But failure, too, is a part of mental life. “I will make you failure-proof,” he says, jokingly. His assistants pale.

Seven passages from seven page seventeens taken from my vast collection of page seventeens.

Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu by Simon Callow; Raymond Chandler Speaking edited by Dorothy Gardiner and Kathrine Sorley Walker; Ben Hecht: FIghting Words, Moving Pictures by Adina Hoffman; The Films of Vincente Minnelli by James Naremore; The Caretaker by Harold Pinter, from Harold Pinter Complete Works 2; Black Country by Charles Beaumont from The Playboy Book of Short Stories; The Genius from Forty Stories by Donald Barthelme.

Card for life

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on December 23, 2021 by dcairns

Christmas, for some reason, means limericks — here’s one of mine. Trying to do seasonal spins on famous monsters.

And here are a few Shadowplay Christmas cards to cut out and keep.

Of course, once you’ve cut them from your computer screen, it will have rectangular holes in it, which may be an inconvenience. I suggest scrolling until the holes are blocking your view of the advertisements.

Objet D’Art

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 8, 2020 by dcairns

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Webp.net-resizeimage4These two frames from THESE ARE THE DAMNED and THE SERVANT made me chuckle.

You see it a little in Losey’s filming of the Bradbury building in his M, and the use of song in THE BIG NIGHT, but it’s in his British work that he starts to craft films, usually with designer Richard MacDonald, that work as beautiful objets d’art, or as audio-visual compilations of sculpture, interior design and music.

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The house in THE SERVANT is both character and battleground — Wendy Craig tries to stuff it full of flowers and spice racks, and Dirk Bogarde quietly moves, removes or bins them. Losey said the house is a spiral, circling round and round — each room has an entrance and exit so you can ascend through every room until you come to a dead stop in the maid’s room. He also said he recycled the cyclic style of EVE’s camera movements, knowing that nobody would spot it since so few people had seen or liked that film.

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A couple of times they choose to turn Bogarde into a stained-glass saint.

MacDonald does a terrific job of building an interior you really believe could be a real house. I knew it COULDN’T be real, but he made me accept it. Partly it’s because everything is gorgeous but nothing is ideal — the living room is this weird corridor. Everything is either very narrow or very tall.  It must have been hell to film in, especially with all those mirrors, mirrors reflecting mirrors, and that convex one that virtually shows the whole space. Yet the crew and the lights have to be somewhere. Losey said he was satisfied with EVE and it was hell to shoot, so that gave him the confidence to ask for the impossible from DoP Douglas Slocombe.

MacDonald’s designs even include the views out front and back, where James Fox’s Tony has installed a lump of abstract sculpture, and where a snow fall can be viewed at night.

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EVE had about twenty Billie Holliday songs in Losey’s cut, but the producers didn’t want to pay for them, so they were reduced to just a few. Here, there’s ONE song, music by Johnny Dankworth, lyrics by Harold Pinter, such by Cleo Laine (Dankworth’s partner — it’s a very close-knit film). One song, but treated in multiple ways, so it gets more distorted and atonal and creepy.

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Dankworth did great work for Losey, here and in MODESTY BLAISE. He also scored BOOM!, but when that film looked like being a disaster, it was decided to replace the score — blame the composer, it’s the cheapest option even if it’s wrong. So John Barry, who had ex-wives to support and carved out a niche for himself rescoring movies deemed to be in trouble, wrote quite a good score for it. I wish we could see the Dankworth version, though, I bet it’s even more of a hothouse/madhouse.

And, since Losey was starting another film, he asked his friend Richard Lester to supervise the dub. I guess he’d finished THE BED SITTING ROOM at this point and was at a loose end, but he took the gig expecting it to be a quick one. Thanks to Dick & Liz’s unpunctuality, it took MONTHS. He still sounds cross about it. He respected Burton’s talent but had no time for Liz, but was forced to have quite a lot of time for her.

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It’s impossible to imagine THE SERVANT or MODESTY BLAISE without Dankworth’s music, and so the fact that we have to watch a BOOM! that is robbed of that component is a drag.