Archive for Marianne Faithfull

Desperate Dane

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , on May 18, 2019 by dcairns

I was always sort of curious about Tony Richardson’s HAMLET. And maybe the end result is more sort-of-interesting than truly compelling, but those kind of films are very attractive to blog about, I find…

Richardson made the film cheaply by shooting at the Roundhouse Theatre in London, using the backstage spaces, a lot of bare brick corridors, making for a dour and oppressive Elsinore… also, shooting practically the whole film in tight medium shots and close-up, so as to take the strain off the art department and put the emphasis on face and voice. But here’s where the artistry comes in, because while a film of HAMLET made up of close-ups sounds like a televisual thing, Richardson keeps his cast, and Gerry Fisher’s camera, in motion, continually cramming new faces into the frame in new compositions. It’s very, very inventive, and turns a budgetary consideration into a compelling artistic one. The way figures fall off into soft blurs as they recede; the way the ghost never appears on camera but impresses merely by his voice (uncredited — who?) and by a bright light on the astonished features of the onlookers; the way everyone is always just UP IN YOUR FACE…

The cast is pretty interesting: Nicol Williamson’s puffy, pallid face does not suggest that of a student, but name me a Hamlet who does. What he does have is the ability to speak his speeches like a normal human having a conversation (without trampling the pentameters), so that he’s at his very best in the more conversational scenes. Williamson is one of those actors who can get overexcited, so I’m slightly less enamoured of his Big Scenes, but once you get over the shock of a Hamlet who’s so physically unappealing (maybe this is my self-loathing Scots side talking) I think you’ll find him impressive.

Marianne Faithfull as Ophelia seems less naturalistic, but maybe because Marianne Faithfull does not have a naturalistic face, body or voice. She’s not like someone you’d expect to meet, though I warrant you’d count yourself lucky if you did. A bit like Fenella Fielding, her mouth assumes expressions impossible on a normal skull, but I don’t think it’s mere whimsy that compels her to do so. Her face just goes that way. It’s like she’s continually being called upon to say the words “stewed prunes.” So she’s more miraculous than credible, through no fault of her own. Unable to overcome her natural advantages. And I kind of question what she sees in the jowly Scotchman, but there it is.

Antony Hopkins and Judy Parfitt are both within a year of Williamson’s age, which makes their casting as his uncle and mother… questionable. But that’s practically a tradition too. Boost the Oedipal aspect by giving H a MILF of a mom. Of course, in terms of box office, and possibly in terms of artistic success, Richardson ought to have swapped his Hamlet with his Claudius, because a movie starring Hopkins as The Dane would still be shifting units today if he’d done so. But in fact, both Hopkins and Parfitt have been rendered less effective than they might be by some very odd direction. It’s clearly a decision Richardson made, something he wanted. They’re both amused by Hamlet’s grief and unconcerned when he goes mad. It’s quite hard to work out why they embark on subterfuges with Polonius to learn the cause of his derangement, because they really don’t seem bothered about it. Most peculiar.

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The ’68 Comeback Special: Girl on a Motorcycle

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on November 7, 2013 by dcairns

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I’m old enough to remember a day when the British newspapers annually bemoaned the lack of UK product selected for Cannes. Nowadays, the post-CHARIOTS OF FIRE jingoism is dead and there’s less broadsheet interest in Cannes, cinema, and art in general. In 1968, however, something different was going on. British cinema had exploded brilliantly, artistically and commercially. Accordingly, the Cannes jury, had the festival gone ahead, would have been asked to consider no fewer than five British entries, as well as PETULIA, an American production from a substantially British creative team.

Unfortunately for my inner jingoist, the selection was, shall we say, patchy. I admired Peter Collinson and Charles Wood’s THE LONG DAY’S DYING a good deal, I’m moderately looking forward to seeing CHARLIE BUBBLES, the one film directed by actor Albert Finney. But I can’t rouse much enthusiasm for actor Mike Sarne’s JOANNA, and both Scout Tafoya and I consider HERE WE GO ROUND THE MULBERRY BUSH so abhorrent we may be forced to fight a duel to see who has the task of writing about it.

THE GIRL ON A MOTORCYCLE isn’t directed by an actor and doesn’t star Barry Evans, so there ought to be something to be said for it. Indeed, the director is Jack Cardiff, adored by all right-thinking people — as a cinematographer. And in fact no less a person than Martin Scorsese has praise for some of Cardiff’s directorial work, particularly DARK OF THE SUN. But I think this movie is… not so great. It’s guilty of something probably all the British entries could be accused of — it’s fashionable.

The word sounds like a condemnation, and of course it needn’t be. Richard Lester was often accused of trendiness (cf the excellently titled Manny Farber essay Day of the Lesteroid) and in PETULIA he certainly situated himself at the heart of the particular moment, in San Francisco in the late summer of 1967. But Lester fans like me always see past the glittering surfaces and consider what the filmmaker is actually saying as well as how he’s saying it, and generally find a clever as well as striking match-up between the two.

THE GIRL ON A MOTORCYCLE — also known, salaciously and foolishly, as NAKED UNDER LEATHER — is fashionable in less defensible ways. The solarised images, where Cardiff runs amok with colour like an action painter high on horse tranquilisers, don’t seem suited to their purpose, whatever it might be, and the film’s basic attitude to what it’s showing us strikes me as confused. The film certainly has merits however, and though they may be incidental they are eye-catching.

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The cast — particularly Marianne Faithfull and Alain Delon — are photogenic and charismatic.

The leather cat-suit is — under the right circumstances (applied to Marianne Faithfull rather than Eugene Pallette) — a good look. The film helped establish it as suitable motorcycling gear. It beats the bomber jacket.

Cardiff should have received the Irving Thalberg Humanitarian Award or the Gandhi Peace Prize or something for the nude scenes. Nobody looks that good forever and if there isn’t a camera around it will all be lost.

Photographed as well as directed (and “adapted” too, since Cardiff apparently felt he needed a screenplay credit to be appreciated properly) by Cardiff, the movie looks lovely, even if you find the visual hi-jinks disruptive. The misty locations and rich colours are romantic and charming.

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Buuuuuuuut… in the course of the first five minutes, Cardiff gives us dutch tilts, dream sequence, wacky solarisation, soft focus, multiple exposures, tinting, repeated crash zooms (on what look like illustrations from a book of circus posters), superimposed birds, starburst filter, drunken hand-held, internal monologue — it’s a stylistic mash-up or smash-up that’s not so much bold as reckless, as if Cardiff was determined to outdo Michael Powell AND show how up-to-the-moment and pop-savvy he was. It’s mostly in aid of a dream sequence, and you never saw anything less like a dream.

And once Faithfull’s voice-over begins, I remember the reason I could never get on with this film — the character is such a dire, annoying bitch. I pretty much want her to crash and explode eight minutes in. Maybe Faithfull’s plummy tones interact with the character’s more entitled, youth-centric attitudes to make her more abrasive than she should be. Maybe Faithfull’s comparative inexperience as an actor causes her to hit the meaning of each line full-on in a way that emphasises unduly the character’s brattiness. Maybe… maybe…

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Ahh! The world’s most relaxing bedroom!

And maybe the whole Joycean stream-of-consciousness thing, always a doubtful device in movies, is fatally compromised by virtue of the character being a Swiss teacher’s wife played by an English pop star and written by a middle-aged male French novelist adapted by a middle-aged male South African screenwriter and a middle-aged male English cinematographer? At any rate, her rambling pontification does not endear her, or make her seem real.

God, I hate looking at an actor’s face as they strenuously shunt various thoughts across it and a VO tells us what the thoughts are. It’s probably the worst combination of sound and image ever invented. You might protest that a series of glistening product shots of a bountiful banquet, when coupled with the sound effects of unhealthy people going to the toilet, would be worse, but I say NO IT WOULD BE THE SAME THING.

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MADAME BOVARY ON A MOTORCYCLE? Or maybe ANNA KARENINA. It is, surely. Except that I always felt we were supposed to find Emma B and Anna K a bit sympathetic. Ditching her weak schoolteacher husband (the unfortunately-named Roger Mutton) at the start, Faithfull’s voice-over evinces such dominatrixian contempt for him, she kind of chills the blood. I guess the point could be that in the swinging sixties, such a character would no longer be tormented by guilt over her infidelity — in which case, there’s no suicide and no point.

Stories that end with a random car accident to illustrate life’s fickle unpredictability rarely work for me. The point seems trite, and the introduction of a random element like an oncoming truck too arbitrary to be compatible with good art. Life may be like that, but so what?

And so what is how I feel about TGOAM, despite what could be sympathetically viewed as artistic daring and defiance of convention. Is the spectacular death of the heroine a punishment for her modern, free-living ways? It certainly makes a vivid argument against indulging in orgasmic flashback montages on the autobahn. The horrible deaths of the other people in the accident — at least one person must be burned alive in that mini — make the implied condemnation all the more savage. But what makes this more than a road safety film with better-looking people?

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Cardiff stood by the film and, in his autobiography Magic Hour, still bristles with indignation at the British press reaction. Even though I don’t care for the film, I can see why he was proud of it — it’s bold, wild and different. Even the snotty central character becomes a bit more appealing once we start exploring her life via flashback, and one thing the film does illuminate is the difficulty of being an attractive woman in 1968 — there’s some pretty creepy behaviour from the bit players, though Cardiff’s camera does a fair bit of leering too. In a sense, the movie embodies Cardiff’s strengths as cameraman and his weaknesses as director — however stylishly he presents something, he doesn’t seem clear about why he’s showing it.

Magic Hour: A Life in Movies

Anger…and Other Deadly Sins

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 26, 2008 by dcairns

Shadowplay guest blogger and part-time benshi film describer David Wingrove, who writes as David Melville, reports on Kenneth Anger’s appearance — or should one say MANIFESTATION? — at Dundee Contemporary Arts. Read it up!

On a grey and rainy August afternoon (in Scotland, that is not a contradiction) two friends and I took a train to Dundee to meet Kenneth Anger. He is a…well, I could say ‘living legend’ but that hardly seems to do him justice.

David Wingrove on his way back from Dundee, photographed by Fiona, who had just managed to get her camera to work.
For 60 years or so, Anger has been the uncrowned king of gay/experimental/avant-garde/underground cinema. (Just watch Fireworks (1947) or Scorpio Rising (1963) and slot in whatever adjectives fit best.) He is the notorious author of Hollywood Babylon and Hollywood Babylon II, still the most scabrous books of movie gossip. His long-promised Hollywood Babylon III lies buried under a heap of threatened lawsuits. An alleged Satanist and avowed disciple of Aleister Crowley, he was unwillingly linked (through his ex-boyfriend Bobby Beausoleil) to the grisly Charles Manson killings.

At four years of age, Anger played the Changeling Prince in Max Reinhardt’s 1935 film of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, still Hollywood’s most purely intoxicating blend of Art and Kitsch. He is one of several distinguished survivors from that film – others include Mickey Rooney and Olivia de Havilland – and Warner Brothers’ failure to recruit one (if not all three) of them to do a commentary on last year’s DVD must count as a Crime Against Celluloid Memory. More than 70 years on, Rooney and Anger remain pals. Olivia may still be fuming at that snapshot of her in black lace lingerie (!) that Anger slipped into Hollywood Babylon II.

 

Either Dundee Contemporary Arts, or David Cairns Associates.

No wonder we felt a tad nervous, trudging through a downpour towards Dundee Contemporary Arts. (If the Great Beast didn’t come and get us, the wrath of Miss Melanie very well might.) So it’s a pleasure to say that, in person, Kenneth Anger is a joy. Gentle, soft-spoken, immaculately tanned, he looks a good two decades younger than his 78 years. In the bar after the show, he shared his enduring love of Shakespeare, commedia dell’arte and Marcel Carné’s Les Enfants du Paradis. “Not long ago, I went to Paris for a showing. My God, have you seen the state of the print? It was so horrible I hid my eyes and ran out of the theatre.”

 

Kenneth Anger, in Dundee.

Judging from that night in Dundee, Anger’s own work has been strikingly well preserved. Lucifer Rising (1981) gave us Marianne Faithfull as Lilith, Mother of All the Demons – looking eerily beautiful with her face painted blue. Invocation of My Demon Brother (1968) had a soundtrack by Lilith’s old flame, Mick Jagger. Cheekily, Anger cuts in a few near-subliminal shots of the Rolling Stones and their court, in between the all-male orgies and the Black Mass. Rabbit’s Moon (1950), with its lovelorn Pierrot lost in a moonlit wood, is an achingly gorgeous evocation of both Shakespeare and Carné. It has the wistful and fragile beauty of a Verlaine poem.

 

Mouse Heaven (1992) is Anger’s celebration of the original Mickey Mouse drawn by Ub Iwerks – a subversive, anarchic little imp – before Walt Disney turned him into an icon of all-American cuteness. One of the most purely joyous pieces of cinema I have seen, Mouse Heaven sparked a ferocious copyright row with Disney. The wounds, for Anger, are still raw. He confided his long-cherished ambition to blow up Disneyland. “If it really is ‘the happiest place on earth’ as the ads say, why do so many children come out looking disappointed? Just look at their faces! Kids know when they’ve been cheated.”

 

Anger’s more recent films, shot on digital video, bear witness to his enduring love of the male form. My Surfing Lucifer (2007) shows a gold-haired beach boy riding the sort of waves that, in Southern California parlance, are called ‘tubular’. Foreplay (2007) spies on a soccer-team as they stretch and limber up before a game. The sight is numbingly normal to the players themselves, yet richly homoerotic to Anger and his camera. Once the official programme was through, Anger invited the whole audience up to the gallery for a ‘private’ showing of I’ll Be Watching You (2007) – a piece of hardcore gay erotica. Two cute French boys make love atop a parked car, while a third cute boy watches on CCTV and…er, enjoys it too. This may be the sexiest film ever made by a man old enough to be your granddad.

 

But the highlight of the late work was the not-yet-officially-premiered Ich Will (2008). A chilling yet weirdly erotic montage of documentary footage of the Hitler Youth. (The title translates from German as “I want!”) Starting with idyllic Sound of Music-style gambolling amid the lakes and mountains of Bavaria, it builds up to a full-scale Nazi rally that evokes the nightmare world of Leni Riefenstahl and Triumph of the Will. Its menace is underlined, brilliantly, by the ominous tones of Anton Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony.

 

Invocation of my Demon Brother?

It’s not often one can go from Disney to Riefenstahl – from the Magic Kingdom to the Third Reich – with barely a hiccup in between. That is perhaps Anger’s unique gift. It was only on the dark, wet train ride back to Edinburgh that I got to pondering how similar these three artists really are. Walt Disney, Leni Riefenstahl, Kenneth Anger. All three create images that bypass our conscious mind and enter, direct and perhaps unbidden, into the depths of the id. We are aware, with other filmmakers, of a voice and a vision beyond our own. Disney, Riefenstahl, Anger…they speak from within.

 

The official premiere of Ich Will is set for the Imperial War Museum in London on 29 October. (All Souls Night, as Anger points out gleefully.) One shudders to think what the invited audience of elderly war veterans will make of it. Still, as Anger freely admits: “I’ve always enjoyed being a bit controversial.” That may or may not go down as the greatest understatement of the 21st century. But it will do very nicely for the first decade.

 

David Melville

 

Thanks to the Amazing Dr. Anger, to Yvonne Baginsky and Fiona Watson – who shared the experience – and to the fabulous staff at Dundee Contemporary Arts.

Special thanks to David for being there and writing it down.