Archive for Michael Crawford

The Knack: Cut Scenes

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , on February 12, 2019 by dcairns

When I was a young movie buff, I was very excited to learn that Channel 4 was showing THE KNACK. The night before it aired, I dreamt about it. But my dream did not notably resemble the film I was expecting to see — it all took place in a papier-mache labyrinth.

Reading through the various drafts of THE KNACK…. AND HOW TO GET IT (1965) in the Charles Wood Archive was like being in that labyrinth. It was also like playing one of those giant video games where every bit of a landscape has been rendered for you to explore, and every character you meet has their own dialogue and storyline. I think officially Wood wrote five radically different drafts, but there were also lots of incomplete bits. So it’s like the RED DEAD REDEMPTION of Swinging London.

I transcribed some bits. The first draft opens with a censorable scene that probably wouldn’t have suited Richard Lester’s taste — but something about this draft clearly convinced him that Wood was the man for the job.

1 DREAM SEQUENCE

An interesting and stimulating presentation of a breast in repose, spread and doubled to form a bosom, followed by a swinging succession of coarse grained famous CLOSE SHOTS of all time and every known source, cinematic, acrobatic, and Rubens.

Clutching fingers echo the passion of thrusting loins, moan, moan, brut, brut. Deep into at least two inches of coarse grained well fleshed lady they grummel and grab – such a high moaning and a tossing and a rolling ecstasy has seldom been seen on the English screen, moan moan, brut brut.

It gets really frantic, this rolling and tossing and might even get too frantic for the prurient but lethargic. It’s got to stop. Before the whirling sickness is induced, brut brut.

INT. COLIN’S BEDROOM  EARLY MORNING

COLIN falls out of bed. And brings an end to this highly romantic tossing. The brut brut noises we took for foreign film expressions of lust in the general ecstasy before COLIN fell out of his much too narrow for such cinematic antics, very narrow bed, don’t stop just because the bare backed lady has vanished and the ride is over.

COLIN hunts for the brut brut noises in his bedclothes. He is still half asleep.

EXT. STREET OUTSIDE COLIN’S HOUSE

TOLEN on his motor bike, makes the brut brut noises.

The early iterations of the script play almost as if the whole film is a dream sequence, and something of that does survive in the surrealism of the finished movie.

A nice line —

It would fall off, his head, if it wasn’t held by his hands and to a lesser extent his neck.

At what point did they start thinking of Michael Crawford for the role? Because this seems like it’s him.

A good bit of the dialogue in the film is from Ann Jellicoe’s play — the bulk of the exchanges between the four leads. But for a couple of drafts, Wood was writing everything himself — probably a useful exercise if you don’t mind the hard work, to get into their heads so that he could write in a voice that ultimately matches Jellicoe’s seamlessly.

Look at the size of his bloody bed. What a pit! That’s all it is, to what do you attribute your sexual prowess? The enormity of my dirty great bouncing pit. That’s all. The quilted musical enormity of it! It’s just hard neck to have a bigger bed than your landlord and a more successful bed than your landlord and more women than your landlord.

Early version of the sexy schoolgirls bit:

SCHOOL PLAYGROUND

Full of young girls bursting out of their gym slips with growing, and leaping about so that they bounce before our very eyes. They play netball but COLIN knows they are aware of their growing.

Does not yet have the scene’s creepy and amusing end note, where Colin looks at the dirty old men in raincoats watching the schoolgirls from behind the fence, and sees himself among their number. As Soderbergh put it, approximately: “The expression on his face! Hilarious!”The film introduces Colin’s class of boys learning by rote, droning repeated bits of maths after him, and then, brilliantly, uses them as a cutaway repeating other lines of dialogue later in the film. It only does this a couple of times, though. One draft of the script at least tries multiples:

TOLEN: Rory McBride was doing things at thirteen.

CHORUS OF BOYS: Rory McBride was doing things at thirteen.

TOLEN: That you haven’t ever done Col.

CHORUS OF BOYS: Sir.

TOLEN: Rory McBride was doing things at thirteen the likes of which you’ve never thought of.

COLIN: I’ve thought.

CHORUS OF BOYS: Thought.

COLIN: I’m not ambitious – really I’m not, what sort of things?

Bits of Jellicoe are creeping back there, but all chipped up in the Woodchipper.

The scripts, for some reason, keep changing format and are also printed on all sizes and thicknesses of paper, which does not quite keep the various incomplete drafts from getting mixed up.

THE BIG WIDE MAIN DRAG IS SUDDENLY AND BEAUTIFUL CLEAR LIKE EARLY MORNING WOULD BE AS THEY ARE TOGETHER ALMOST AND PERHAPS WOULD HOLD HANDS IF NANCY’S MAGAZINE HAD NOT GONE FLYING BLOWN BY A GUST OF WIND INTO THE EMPTY SPACE OF EARLY MORNING ROAD SEEN FROM WAY UP ON HIGH LIKE THEY ARE THE ONLY PEOPLE IN LONDON.

AND COLIN GOES TO GET IT AND IT BLOWS A BIT AND HE TURNS TO GRIN AND GOES SOME MORE AND WHOOPS AS HE GETS IT A DIRTY GREAT CAR COMES LIKE THE ARROGANT BASTARD CAR THAT IT IS DRIVEN BY A SLEEK AND HAIRY PRIME MINISTER.

After a few drafts, a Big Idea starts to form: writing VO dialogue for the citizenry of London, the film’s famous “Greek chorus” though as a narrative device they’re a lot weirder than that. They do comment on the action, but also divert off into their own private obsessions, and of course there’s a strain of nonsense to all of it. It’s meant to suggest vox pop interviews, and Wood captures and exaggerates the stream of consciousness way real people speak ~

Laugh the other side.

I mean there’s a time and a place for everything I always say and I always keep my place and that’s neither the time nor the place – mods and rockers.

I’m bound.

They play fast and loose with their own bodies and emotions – I’m not surprised when it lets them down.

Got the whole idea from television.

I’m very bound.

Giggling sex kudos.

Golliwogs.

That coverage of the Keeler case led them to look closely at their own possible and they experimented.

And there in my daughter’s own very own handbag I found this contracepticle I was hurt and amazed at the sight of this sordid piece of work and told him not to expect my daughter to come again – no.

A number of those lines do turn up in the movie, but cut and pasted into new positions (though cut and paste was not used — the digital kind didn’t exist and the physical kind was too messy, I guess. It was all done with typing.

Should all be tored down.

They’re tearing it all down. It used to be lovely when I was a lot younger than I’m young now, ‘cos of course I’m getting on now, you wouldn’t believe how old I am, how old do you think I am?

Filth.

That last word survived. Then there’s this scene, a sort of presentation by an entirely unknown character who doesn’t feature in the film at all. I can’t really swear that this ever was a scene from THe KNACK, except it appears in the KNACK box and is written in the same fragmented style ~

THROUGH THE OFFICE OF THE COMMANDING OFFICER OF HER MAJESTY’S CHRISTMAS CARDS

COMMANDING OFFICER

We’re glad to have you – no bull like an old bull which we won at Waterloo and we hope that more young people will follow your example and learn to do it the man’s way embracing the path of discipline – oh because it’s lovely.

The American’s haven’t got it – for all their jazz and ma tazz . . .

And we all wear lovely hats.

Which we were pleased to say all the best have worn from time imperial guard of dear old Napoleon who we trounced at Waterloo god rest his guard, old, young, and baby who ever they may be . . . do get your hairs cut.

Pretty great. I want a whole film about this guy and his Christmas cards. Then there’s ~

Handwritten: MORE AND MORE BED STUFF

I felt fulfilled – and yet just for a little while afterwards I felt sick the same way that I felt about all people I borrow from and throw away on things that can only bring ruin and frustration to myself – curiosity is the footnote.

I suppose he was just another of the glib talkers that seem ten a penny in London and I would like to give him a piece of my mind.

I was the silent wife who met horror and frustration in the beat palaces of the London King of the Beats.

He asked me the way to Wimbledon.

I am a writer and want to prove my philosophy of life and will never do it again if you can see your way clear to letting me go back to Bolton.

He said I had Chinese eyebrows – Please Toddy come back to your little Suzy.

Some of these are brilliant, but in a slightly different style to the vox pops in the film, because they’re all past tense. In the movie, only a couple are, e.g. “Workers’ playtime! She took off her wooden leg and put it on the mantelpiece next she took out her glass eye well I’ll never see the like again.”

The set-piece where Colin attempts to board up his front door to stop women getting in (see the parallel, distaff version in REPULSION, released the same year) exists in a very early form: Col’s two lines do make it into the final film.

DURING THIS TELLING SEQUENCE OF EVENTS AND OBSERVATIONS OF THE CROWD COLIN HAS ROUNDED OFF ALL THE ENDS OF THE BATTENS AND TAKEN UP HIS PLANE AND SMOOTHED DOWN THE ROUGH AND CHAMPERED WHERE HE CAN UNTIL IT IS INDEED A JOB.

COLIN: That is indeed a job.

PRIDEY HE STANDS AND TAKES A PAINTBRUSH. AN INSTANT LATER HE HAS PAINTED THE BATTENS AND IS PABBLING IT AND PRODDLING IT AND AT LAST HE MAKES A NON JERRY JOB OF IT WITH GREAT DELIGHT AND THEN HE CAN’T GET OUT:

COLIN: I can’t get out.

One last bit of early Greek vox chorus pop:

CANDID FACES OF THE AVERAGE GREENGROCER

They come here from the North and they expect the earth well they don’t get it do they and they deserve all they get.

I’ve no sympathy with them.

I blame their mums and dads – I mean I wouldn’t let my child across the street to London with all you read the way they have started this twilight world you read about.

Two years.

Flock in they do and of course what do you expect the inevitable takes place of course and then they scream of course and the usual happens and what happens then of course is proverbial and of course who gets the blame the poor bloody slop on the beat of course and how can he be held to ransom for the action of a minority – of course you can’t say that.

Did me a world of good.

I’d spank their – can I say it – rear parts.

The first draft, I think it is, climaxes on the Forth Bridge. I am thrilled to think that the whole unit would have had to come to Edinburgh for this. But thought better of it. As Colin and Tolen are clinging to the girders way up high ~

THE WIND IS TERRIBLE LOUD UP HERE ON THE FORTH FIFTH OF ANY BRIDGE THAT IS GIGANTIC AND IS BEING BUILT OR PAINTED BY TOLEN AND A FEW THOUSAND OTHERS.

~ we get a handwritten note ~ “Tolen as one of crowd.” So even as he was writing his epic bridge climax, Wood (or Lester?) was hatching the idea of making Tolen get absorbed by the Greek chorus and lose his star status, become another anonymous, embittered voice.

Lester told me he temp-tracked the end of the film with the late Michel Legrand’s “I Will Wait for You” from THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG… which made it a very tall order to ask John Barry to come up with something that could take its place. But he did.

Talking Points

Posted in FILM, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , on August 7, 2015 by dcairns

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Richard Lester once said that the difference between A HARD DAY’S NIGHT and THE KNACK was the four protagonists of the former enjoy perfect communication without having to talk, while the four protagonists of the latter talk all the time without ever communicating. When this was quote back to him by Joseph Gelmis he described it as “Very glib, and very true.”

What do we talk about when we talk about THE KNACK?

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The anxiety of influence — it could be argued that the film had a negative effect, because the dumb copies proliferated to such a degree that the original came to seem less fresh — part of the reason it was neglected/despised in the eighties — and because those copies became THE style of the sixties, and the British sixties in particular. It could be argued that the movie demonstrates the danger of injecting a concentrated dose of originality into a formally staid and sclerotic industry.

How does a film go from winning the Palme D’Or and defining the style of a generation of cinema (far more so than A HARD DAY’S NIGHT, actually) to being considered old hat and sexist and embarrassing? It’s the same film, after all.

Is Michael Crawford annoying? Or brilliant? Or both?

Have you read or seen the play? What do you think of the changes? I think structurally, it’s one of the best adaptations ever — as Lester said, not so much “opening out” as EXPLODING the play. Also, they come up with an ending for Tolen, which the play lacks — I guess the point being that he’s an unchanging character. But I love what the film does with him. “We’re all of us more or less sexual failures.”

The Greek chorus. Why aren’t there more Greek choruses in movies?

When is a rape joke not a rape joke? Is the film unconscious of the offence it might give, is it deliberately courting offence, does it offend you? Or, radically, can I suggest that the discomfort it produces entirely intentional and part of its meaning? The play is feminist. Is the film? A bit?

Do you find Ray Brooks attractive? I find Rita Tushingham attractive.

Donal Donnelly is in WATERLOO, THE GODFATHER III, THE DEAD, and worked for John Ford three times. Why is he not an axiom of cinema?

Pauline Kael said “It’s a great technique, but what can you do with it?” How should we answer her, bearing in mind that she can’t talk back?

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Don’t rush to answer me now — think it over between now and Monday is when we will DO THIS THING. And of course don’t feel limited. I’m just interested in anybody’s responses, what bits strike them as interesting, what we can learn about film storytelling.

For now, here’s one question you CAN answer — can you think of KNACK-influenced films where the influence was positive? There are definitely some.

BTW, the whole film’s on YouTube (shouldn’t be, but is) so there are no excuses for not seeing it (except honesty).

Only Joking

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on June 18, 2010 by dcairns

Michael Winner’s THE JOKERS may be his best film — you can see the whole thing on YouTube and judge for yourself. And in fact Winner’s rep might be higher than it is (in the UK he’s known mainly as a restaurant critic and as presenter of commercials for car insurance) if a few of his 60s films — I’LL NEVER FORGET WHATSISNAME and this one especially — were more regularly screened.

Edinburgh Film Festival comes to the rescue with a season of near-forgotten British classics from the post-new-wave era, boldly opening with Winner’s 1967 crime romp.

To be sure, the movie is probably one of the more visually ugly films shot in swinging London — many of Winner’s visual tricks are rather random, and both the photography and the dolly birds are slightly sub-par (milky, overexposed night scenes and bad skin, respectively), but the thing has a terrific pace and stars Oliver Reed and Michael Crawford are obviously under strict instructions to enjoy themselves hugely at all times. Surrounding them is a cut-price plethora of trusty character players, including but not limited to Edward Fox, Michael Hordern, Harry Andrews, Brian Wilde, Frank Finlay… the list goes on.

TV comedy legends Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais contribute a nifty script in which rich kids Reed and Crawford abduct the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London for a lark, and things take a surprisingly dark turn in the second half. Crawford does some of his usual schtick but manages to turn it a bit psychopathic in places, and Reed is just scary, the more so when he’s being ebullient and jolly. For a film by sitcom scribes, there aren’t many brilliant lines, but the situations are all good, and when Reed’s char-lady expresses histrionic grief at the nation’s loss, his insincere condolences cracked me up: “Yes, well, it’s not the money, is it, it’s the sentimental value.”