Archive for Lalla Ward

Ash to Ashes

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2016 by dcairns

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One of the best things about the BBC’s old Ghost Stories for Christmas is how they don’t all fit a pattern. MR James was the default choice, but The Signalman, from a Charles Dickens story, is one of the best. That one has a couple of beautiful eerie images but depends largely for effect upon Denholm Elliott’s magnificent performance of Dickens’ largely unedited dialogue. The finest James adaptation, on the other hand, Whistle and I’ll Come To You, by Jonathan Miller, almost dispenses with coherent dialogue entirely, in favour of vague mutterings by Michael Hordern which run under nearly every scene.

I was inspired to visit The Ash Tree when my friend Danny Carr commented on how unexpectedly Roegian it was. And this is true — in converting yet another James story to the screen, the series’ regular director, Lawrence Gordon Clark hewed closely to the text, necessitating some unconventional cinematic language — overlaid dialogue from unseen peasants, flashbacks, dreams, quite a bit of narrative fragmentation.

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Adding interest is the fact that the piece is set in a distant time period — two, in fact, and that it hinges upon witchcraft rather than ghosts. Plus the torture, nudity (only Leslie Megahey’s explicitly necrophile Schalken the Painter tops it) and the rather Cronenbergian monsters make it quite unlike anything else in the series. Plus it features Lalla Ward, which places it somewhere between VAMPIRE CIRCUS and Doctor Who, which seems about right — supernatural vengeance against sadistic puritans on the one hand, puppetshow monsters on the other. The elfin Lalla’s career was so unrelentingly psychotronic — no wonder she ran for comfort into the rational arms of Professor Richard Dawkins.

He’ll be in his trailer.

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 21, 2008 by dcairns

Those Lips! 

I wonder if Otto Preminger died, of Altzheimer’s and lung cancer, mouthing the word “Rosebud”? Unlikely, I guess. But ROSEBUD, his second-last film, is the one where his critical rep really bottomed out, and it must have stung. If the ailing Preminger could remember anything from recent years, that failure might be it.

The Human Stain

Although I’ve yet to experience ROSEBUD, I must admit I found his follow-up, THE HUMAN FACTOR, released four years later, pretty grim — Otto was reportedly already losing the plot, and it’s easy for me to believe. The volcanic Nicol Williamson seems miscast, and the model (and current Mrs. Bowie) Iman gives a performance of extraordinary awkwardness and painful self-consciousness (she’s rather good in STAR TREK VI, though, smoking a cheroot and battling Bill Shatner). Otto could still move the camera gracefully through the barren locations, though one wishes he wasn’t saddled with such an unconvincing studio Moscow for the film’s despairing conclusion. Graham Greene, who wrote the (rather unsatisfying) book, advised Preminger not to attempt the film, which he felt was too subtle for Otto’s temperament, or something. He also remarked afterwards that the film was plagued by budgetary difficulties.

(Despite all of the above, THF has an odd kind of pathos, mainly because it’s so thin-looking, so uncomfortable with its own shabbiness, like a terribly old person trying to cover their nakedness. You don’t want to look, but sorrow somehow forces you.)

No such issues seem to have beset the glossy multinational hostage drama ROSEBUD. The problem here may be more one of intrinsic naffnessin the plot: Palestinian terrorists hijack a yacht containing five naked young millionaires’ daughters, played by Debra Berger, Brigitte Ariel, Lalla Ward (future wife of Dr Who Tom Baker, and now of God-bashing evolutionary scientist Professor Richard Dawkins), Isabelle Huppert and Kim Cattrall.

Choke!

The Sheik

Peter O’Toole is clearly the man to rescue these damsels, and Lord Attenborough turns up also, as somebody called Edward Sloat, which is enough to make me want to see this film VERY BADLY. Naked millionaires’ daughters + Edward Sloat = Shadowplay Must-See.

Cattrall had a rough time with Otto and his ROSEBUD. “Rosedud , we called it,” she told the Guardian in 2002. “I was 17 [Preminger was 69], I hadn’t seen THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM, or LAURA, or any of those films, and I didn’t realise what an innovative, brilliant film-maker Preminger was. All I knew was that he was very, very important, and he seemed to be screaming and yelling all the time. There’s a film called GULAG 17 [actually STALAG 17], which he was in, playing a Nazi commandant – and I felt like we were really living it.” Cattrall provoked some of this screaming by laughing whenever Otto called “Action!”

“Well, I thought that was really funny. I thought they only ever said that in films made about films. I thought in real films, they said something like, ‘When you’re ready.'”

Preminger retaliated by telling Kim, “You remind me of Marilyn Monroe. Not in looks, of course. In lack of talent.”

I always think any actor confronted with this kind of backchat from a director should reply, “Well, you probably shouldn’t have hired me, then.”

Dear me. Is Otto really trying to sell the film based on its VARIETY OF LOCATIONS? And isn’t he rather an awkward presence as voice-over man? I think I even prefer the guy who, as Ewen MacGregor puts it, “must spend all his time driving from one recording studio to another, swigging whisky and smoking cigars and gargling broken glass.”

But still — gotta see ROSEBUD.

This is a much better Otto trailer — it’s alternately LUDICROUS and SOPORIFIC, but the good bits are amazing, starting with Otto’s hilarious first appearance (intentionally hilarious, yes, but why?) , and perhaps climaxing in his hyping of Barbara “Goo-goo” Bouchet, “a new face…und a new body.” Plus he sounds more and more like Arnie the longer he talks (and he seems to talk a looong time).

I might have to give IN HARM’S WAY another try sometime… I remember the Pearl Harbour stuff being really impressive, Preminger’s long-take aesthetic married to gigantic pyrotechnic effects— not much chance of a retake there. And the Saul Bass end titles are wonderful, of course, the Preminger credit immediately followed by a ‘tomic ‘splosion (I never said SUBTLE). But I didn’t get much out of the film otherwise. I find the older John Wayne a little hard to take, until THE SHOOTIST redeems everything.

Boom!

I love Jonathan Rosenbaum’s piece on late Preminger in Richard Roud’s Cinema: A Critical Dictionary. J-Ro might be more positive today, but he captures with some sympathy the sheer oddness of late Preminger: “Yet for all their hysterical indigestibility, they are candidly (and sometimes painfully) personal works: what is lost in craftsmanship is gained in lucidity, even if this lucidity is often the expression of an ambivalence that borders on the schizophrenic. … Thus the ambiguity beginning in LAURA ends in pure and simple contradiction: the blind viewer may say ‘comedy’, the deaf viewer may say ‘tragedy’, but the spectator will have to settle, like Preminger, for something else.”

That does go some way to describing the fascination of late Preminger, both the good films and the bad films (not that there’s universal agreement on which is which).