Archive for Margaret Rutherford

The Sunday Intertitle: Quite Wrong

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , , on December 5, 2021 by dcairns

I always misremember the start of BLITHE SPIRIT — I always imagine that the opening preamble is delivered as title cards, or as VO. In fact, it’s both. Which is a great idea. The title cards are replied to by the author himself, Noel Coward, who had one of the most distinctive voices in Britain. It’s like Cocteau’s handwriting, perfect for introducing one of his works.

“We are quite, QUITE wrong.”

Coward’s father was an unsuccessful piano salesman, so his fantastic posh voice, coming from somewhere behind his nose, was a concoction of his own.

I must find an excuse to introduce my students to him. The younger generation don’t generally know about him, and I’m pretty sure my nine Chinese students won’t have come across the works, let alone the persona.

Impressive that CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? managed to build a plot around his correspondence without having to shoehorn in unnecessary explanations of who he was, exactly. The Americans are good at smooth exposition, a lost art in Britain.

I wonder how Brits processed the Coward persona back in his day. He seems “obviously gay,” and I think this was probably recognized, but we just didn’t speak of it. You could be flamboyant yet discreet and it was sort of accepted. The acceptance was conditional on nobody being forced to acknowledge what they all knew. You can’t quite call it “tolerance.” Well, maybe tolerance of the unstated. As Wilde discovered to his cost — though he already knew it, too — if the love that dared not speak its name were forced to account for itself, the lover quickly found himself beyond the pale. “The don’t ask don’t tell” brigade demand to live in a state of low-key cognitive dissonance, and if their compartments break down they get very irate.

Noel’s skill at navigating these murky depths is evident in BLITHE SPIRIT’s script, which constantly escapes truly facing the scandalous implications of its concept. If there’s an afterlife, then widowers remarrying becomes bigamy. Sure, this movie is a fantasy, but pick at it and Heaven comes crashing down under the weight of its own contradictions. Or at any rate, we’re forced to revise our expectations of it to include the menage-a-trois and more. Or, I suppose, taking into account the “till death us do part” escape clause, we assume all vows are null up there, and a twice-widowed spouse could choose which, if any, of their former partners to remarry. Design for dying.

Interesting to see David Lean when he apparently had no interest in landscape. Madame Arcati (Margaret Rutherford, sublime) stands at the window and rhapsodises about the evening, but our director isn’t tempted to provide even a single illustrative cutaway.

Shopping

Posted in Comics, FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 8, 2021 by dcairns

The non-essential shops and businesses are open in the UK — bizarrely, the pandemic is less rampant here than on the European mainland right now — so I got my first haircut in a year and hit the charity shops. Amazing what you can find.

My sister, who works in a lab, says now is the best time to go out and do stuff if you’re going to. Later will be more dangerous, probably.

I’ve never see S*P*I*E*S, the failed attempt to reunite the leads of M*A*S*H and I don’t expect it to be any damn good but I bought it for £2 because I’m curious what fresh new flavour of awful it may provide. I think C*I*A would have been a better title — calling up the asterisks of the earlier film but actually making sense. And if your satirical purpose was to do for the intelligence community what you did for the Korean War, you have at least the beginnings of a satirical line of attack, something I doubt this movie possesses. This is directed by Irvin Kershner, specialist in following up other people’s movies. But I’m a Vladek Sheybal completist, as you know.

I’ve seen RED ANGEL, Yasuzo Masumura’s own answer to M*A*S*H, kinda — well, it does deal with medicine in wartime. I found it incredible as cinema and deeply problematic in its attitudes to what it’s showing. The overheated and desperate atmosphere of it was so impressive I’m willing to see it again, and I wanted to own it because I am on some level horribly acquisitive.

Fiona liked Matteo Garrone’s TALE OF TALES more than I did, but it was certainly great-looking.

CEX, the dopily-named second-hand store was open too, but they know how to price the things I want high enough for me not to want them anymore. But I bought THE ‘BURBS on Blu-ray because I couldn’t resist all those extras and I wanted to see the original cut. And A CLOCKWORK ORANGE was actually pretty cheap.

Back to the charity shops — I hit the main clusters, in Leith, Morningside and Stockbridge. My favourite, the St Columba’s Bookshop, is kind of in the middle of nowhere but that’s on the walk between here and Stockbridge so I picked up some comics — The Steel Claw! — and books — The Genius of the System! — and DVDs.

I got Robert Wise’s HELEN OF TROY on a whim because it was only a pound — terrible film, but I don’t think I’ve ever see a good copy — maybe it’ll grown on me — Neil Jordan’s BYZANTIUM was equally cheap — don’t usually like his stuff but he has some ambition at least — MUDER AHOY with Margaret Rutherford was 50p so now I want all her Marple films — JSA: JOINT SECURITY AREA “from the director of OLDBOY” seemed worth a punt at 50p — and THE ROYAL HUNT OF THE SUN even though we just watched it, and SHORTBUS because we’ve never seen it. GHOSTBUSTERS I&II — I’ve only seen one of them. I’ll probably never watch the other.

Can you look forward to reading about these films on Shadowplay? Oh, probably not. I have too many films, and too many ways of getting more. But if there are any you really want to hear more about, tell me.

The Sunday Intertitle: Choccy Moloch

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2021 by dcairns

I’M ALL RIGHT JACK holds up better than the other Boulting Bros’ satires, I think. It’s unusual in that it’s a right-wing satire that’s actually funny. There is a slight attempt at even-handedness: when a worker explains that by having two unions, they can continually pressure the bosses to raise salaries, he adds that without this crafty approach, they wouldn’t get any raises at all. That’s a pretty minuscule sop.

So if the film, firing in all directions, is FOR anything, it’s for “compassionate capitalism.” If the workers are treated fairly by the employers, we can do away with unions altogether and peace will reign. Kind of weird that they use that title, shorthand for “Sod you, Jack, I’m all right” — intended to convey individual selfishness. Here, the different classes are united in opposition to one another, but there’s real group unity within each. They stick together.

Still, with the bosses played by Terry-Thomas (idiot) and Richard Attenborough (cad) and in bed with sleazy politico Dennis Price (crook) and sleazy foreigner Marne Maitland (seen stealing the cutlery), it’s fair to say nobody comes out of it well. But if you unpick where the film is heading with its argument, you find near-fascism at the end of the ellipsis.

My late friend Lawrie Knight found himself trapped between doors with Roy Boulting: the “filming” light was on so they couldn’t go forward and there was no point going back outside. So they waited. RB noticed Lawrie’s public school tie, and immediately became friendlier than he had been previously. Lawrie was a mere third assistant director. And he was appalled at RB’s sudden change of manner. “I mean, I’m a terrible snob, but this was too much!”

Peter Sellers’ magisterial performance as Fred Kite, union man, makes the film, though it’s crammed to the rafters with superb players in meaty comic roles. Dennis Price raises his game: sure, he’s always good, but he’s always THE SAME. He could have played this role with his eyes closed, but he wakes up for it and knocks it out of the park.

There’s a modest attempt to portray the women as the sensible parties, but this involves showing Mrs. Kite (Irene Handl, fabulous as always) cozying up to our hero’s posh Aunt Dolly with a forelock-tugging obsequiousness that’s portrayed as somehow instinctive and proper. Uncomfortable. Though seeing those two share a scene is a joy.

But I mainly want to talk about the chocolate factory. Our hero (Ian Carmichael, mousy drip to perfection) is taken on a tour of this joint, and if Willie Wonka’s plant is a gaudy death-trap, and that of Lord Scrumptious an expressionistic panopticon, then the Num-Yum factory’s METROPOLIS-inspired imagery, with the rhythmic soundtrack of burping and farting machinery (no doubt inspired by the jazzy chemistry sounds of THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT, a subtler, more compassionate and genuinely curious film than this) takes the film into a nauseating nightmare realm, just for this one scene. It’s a film full of disgust, moral or aesthetic, but it only assumes visceral form here. The boultings may have had the wrong slant on politics and society, but they got one thing right about satire: it’s motivated by nausea.

I’M ALL RIGHT JACK stars Bertie Wooster; Sir Hiss – A Snake; Chance; Kris Kringle; Jeeves; Madame Arcati; Mrs Gimble; Glad Trimble; Canon Chasuble; The Malay; Sgt. Wilson; Mr. Hoylake; Anxious O’Toole; Lenny the Dip; Archbishop Gilday; Orlando O’Connor; Lily Swann; and Sgt. Potty Chambers.