Archive for Mark Lester

The Sunday Intertitle: A Twist in the Tale

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 8, 2015 by dcairns

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I’d never seen the 1922 OLIVER TWIST, directed by Glasgow’s own Frank Lloyd (why don’t we do a retrospective on his amazing career, which includes MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY?) despite owning it in T-shirt form. It’s billed as an “all-star” version, but Time has anonymized the cast to the point where only Jackie Coogan as Oliver, Lon Chaney as Fagin, and, rather dimly, Esther Ralston as Rose have any vestigial fame left. Ralston should have chosen to play Nancy if she was looking to be memorable, but she had a good-girl image to protect (she protested when Dorothy Arzner tried to sex her up in undies) — Gladys Brockwell is rather good in the role, with her strong features, aspiring to the condition of a symbolist painting.

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Audiences today are likely to come for Chaney’s sake, and he rewards with a fascinating makeup and physical performance. This is Fagin as grotesque, with the more sympathetic aspects added by Lionel Bart and Ron Moody in the musical quite some way off, but it’s not the icky ethnic stereotype of Alec Guinness either — Chaney avoids the crude beak effect, extending his nose DOWN towards his lips rather than hooking it. The straggly beard adds character, and he essays a marvelous hunch, just by stooping — no vast plaster hump required here. Despite his simpering villainy, the last shot of Fagin in prison still inspires pathos.

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Good though Chaney is, the miracle of Jackie Coogan still holds the film together. Still hanging onto his infant cutes, Coogan delights with Chaplinesque business which makes Oliver far pluckier and scrappier than any other rendition of the character. In a sound film, Coogan’s accent would have killed it, but he has an edge over most filmed versions prior to the Polanski. For some reason, despite being raised in a workhouse, Oliver is always played posh. As if his mother being a respectable woman means that young Ollie would be genetically superior and would be born speaking like a BBC presenter. John Howard Davies and the eerie Mark Lester both cemented this idea so firmly that when we imagine the phrase “Please sir, I want some more,” most of us probably still hear it in a plummy soprano.

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Coogan’s pantomime performance includes great details like Oliver swiping finger-smudges of gruel off the ladle even as he’s being lambasted for his temerity in requesting seconds. Details like this make the character a feisty hero, not a passive victim, and make us care MORE, even if he suffers less than most of his successors in the role.

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Life in the Twenty-First Century

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on December 27, 2013 by dcairns

Amazing trailer for movie by Bernard Knowles, who was a cinematographer for Hitchcock and ended his career “co-directing” with the Beatles on their Magical Mystery Tour TV movie. More on him soon.

Crazy rhythm, freeze-frames, effulgent acting (Wee John Cairney goes CHOP!) and Bill Williams as the ludicrously named “Captain Mead Ralston.” The kind of name Brits think all Americans have. Also, there’s a tiny Mark Lester in there, even before his FAHRENHEIT 451 walk-on. But mostly I love the harebrained way this moves.

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“Take a letter.”

Please note — it is set just over a year from now. Aren’t you excited?

Night Hair Alley

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 20, 2008 by dcairns

Possibly THE GREATEST MOMENT EVER CAPTURED ON CELLULOID.

12-year-old Mark “OLIVER!” Lester throwing rocks at a dead dog in a swimming pool.

It doesn’t get much better than this, people!

“Corrupt voyeuristic weirdie which has to be seen to be believed.” ~ Halliwell’s Film Guide.

It’s called NIGHT HAIR CHILD (wtf?) A.K.A. NIGHT CHILD (better, but still weird) A.K.A. CHILD OF THE NIGHT (this is starting to make sense) A.K.A. DIABOLICA MALICIA (nice!) A.K.A. DIABOLISCH (too much like DIABOLIK) A.K.A. LA TUA PRESENZA NUDA (sounds kinda smutty) A.K.A. WHAT THE PEEPER SAW (rather declassé, don’t you think?) A.K.A. DER ZEUGE HINTER DER WAND (don’t know). Whew!

I’m calling it NIGHT HAIR CHILD because that’s the (inscrutable) title I always heard, and it’s the name of the novelisation by Mai Zetterling (!) I once saw in a second-hand bookshop. It maybe “has to be seen to be believed” but it’s quite hard to see, mainly due, I suspect, to the skin-crawlingly uncomfortable pedophile leanings of the script.

A moment Britt probably doesn’t talk about much these days.

This is not, I should stress, actual child porn. Really, it’s not. But this movie would certainly not be made in any English-speaking country today, not for reasons of legality but for reasons of taste. The tale of a perverted 12-year-old and his decidedly off-kilter family relations, it’s the kind of thing that could only happen in the ’70s, when the questioning of society’s traditional morals and mores had gone about as far as it was going to…

“Now, you’re going to be hearing a lot of talk about panties.”

Mark Lester, aged about twelve in real life and now no longer cute at all (“I always found Mark Lester creepy,” says my friend David Wingrove, and it’s like the scales have been lifted from my eyes) plays, ineptly, an eerie rich kid called Marcus who may have killed his mum and may be planning on killing his new stepmum, Britt Ekland, after he’s finished watching her bedroom “acrobatics” with Dad, Hardy Kruger. Britt finds her new charge somewhat alarming, especially when he grabs her britts as she’s on the phone to hubby. Investigating, she finds evidence of (1) his pathological lying (2) his thieving (3) his truancy (4) his peeping (5) his animal mutilation. To get him to tell her about his mother’s death, she agrees to strip for him. One has to question her parenting skills at this point.

The filmmakers appear to have stepped in here to protect their star’s innocence and replaced Mark Lester with either an older stand-in (a dwarf? Kenny Baker in a fright wig?) or possibly a mannequin.

This is all (1) strange (2) creepy, in a BAD way (3) somewhat badly put together, in a GOOD way. Since the dialogue is weak, and poor Britt is acting in a vacuum (Hardy is oddly disconnected, perhaps trying to mentally disassociate himself from the sleaze around him, Lester is simultaneously wooden and repellent, like a mahogany pustule), bizarre narrative leaps and ellipses and baffling unmotivated behaviour actually make it a lot more interesting to watch. At one point, the camera tilts up from Britt in bed and simply looks at the ceiling. Why? Cut to Britt going upstairs to the attic. “Ah, the camera was following her thoughts,” explained Fiona. “That seems a risky strategy, following Britt Ekland’s thoughts,” I mused. “I wonder how many cameras they lost.”

(But this is unfair as Britt is good in this film, with her odd Swedish line readings working quite well in the name of naturalism. For her more intimate scenes with Little Markie, she either deserves a medal for bravery or a short prison sentence.)

Even after it’s over, it’s not 100% clear what was going on some of the time, or why. The ending, a double-twist in the LES DIABOLIQUES tradition, is very nice, but that’s the only generic bit that works.

The other stuff is at its most effective when totally confusing, like the long psychiatric hospital sequence where Britt is trundled about in a wheelchair by a nurse who’s trying very hard not to look at the camera (Fiona says: “Yeah, she needs a wheelchair because when you’re mental you can’t walk, apparently.”) having visions — flashbacks? fantasies? delusions? — of attempted murder, attempted pedophilia, and attempted something-or-other involving a dog. I really wasn’t sure what I was seeing by now. She’s sent there, incidentally, by a very assured and well-preserved Lilli Palmer, one of those movie shrinks with an office full of primitive art. Or at least, I think that’s what the weird crash-test dummy in the corner must be. It’s giving a livelier performance than Mark Lester.

But one has to feel sorry for the lad. This is one disturbing film. Either it destroyed his career, or he made it because his career was already destroyed. Either way, what a horrible way to make a living. No wonder he’s now befriended Michael Jackson…

I suppose there’s nothing in this film as questionable as the child sexuality in THE TIN DRUM (which I doubt you could make nowadays, without changing a few scenes) but this seems much more upsetting and sleazy. It’s just a big, brimming flagon of wrong. While the filmmakers undoubtedly know that this stuff is taboo, and that it’ll make the audience uncomfortable, it’s not clear whether they’re aware HOW taboo it is, or why they’re even doing it. Just when things are getting TOO WEIRD TO LIVE, there’ll be some new piece of terrifying ’70s leisurewear modelled by Mr. Kruger, or some new lounge version of the (great) theme tune by Stelvio Cipriani, or Britt will disrobe again in a new and ever more uncomfortable scenario (she’s at her skinniest here, yet looking impossibly sexy when clothed) or there’ll be an abrupt scene change before we’ve worked out what the last scene was about, and somebody will be doing something unexplained.

Ah, the ’70s! Age of loud shirts and kiddie-fiddling.

Just about worth seeing, but be warned, there may be moments when your eyeballs start singing “La la la, I’m not looking!” and your brain tries to shut itself down by scraping itself raw against the inside of your skull. Other than that, it’s quite diverting.

Make it a Fever Dream Double Feature with: BABY LOVE, in which a fifteen-year-old Linda Hayden infiltrates and then shags her way through Keith Barron’s entire family.