Archive for Mickey Rooney

Party Down

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2019 by dcairns

Why didn’t I find THE PARTY funny as a kid? It’s weird, as I was a big Peter Sellers fan, a big PINK PANTHER movie fan. I laughed once — the flying shoe caught me by surprise.

Of course, I was watching the film on TV, pan-and-scanned. But I was used to that. In fact, an early occasion when I became aware of film style was when I noted the strange mechanical movements in RETURN OF THE PINK PANTHER — faced with Edwards’ audacious use of the widescreen, the hapless clod charged with having the film “adapted to fit your screen” was forced to pan, with grinding slowness, from one side of the 1:2.35 frame to the other, creating the exact effect of HAL’s lip-reading in 2001. As a tiny tot, I didn’t know what was behind this, but I thought it an interesting directorial choice.

Since a lot of THE PARTY is about social embarrassment, maybe that just didn’t speak to me as a kid. In fact, a lot of it’s about feeling lost at a party, something I’ve experienced a lot more in the interim. God, it’s agonizing, and that’s where the funniness comes from, as usual with Edwards. Sellers’ character, Indian actor Hrundi V. Bakshi, is cinema’s great lonely man. I mean, he has it way worse than Travis Bickle, who at least was a native English speaker. Bakshi wanders the big crazy LA house, humiliating himself in every imaginable way, clumsy, unlucky, unable to read social cues, not knowing anyone… it’s just terrible. I laughed quite a lot, and I was always on his side.

And yes, it’s slightly racist. The idea of a white man impersonating an Indian for comic effect is uncomfortable today, but if we accept that this was not abnormal at the time, we can admire the sympathy and skill of Sellers’ performance. As David Wingrove pointed out in a recent conversation, he’s not Mickey Rooney in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S — who I found myself shamefacedly guffawing at when they screened the first reel on 35mm in Bologna last year. The sheer energy of the burlesque, you know. But BAT treats Mr. Yunioshi as a clown because of his race — he’s unworthy of being taken seriously. Whereas THE PARTY, I think, takes Bakshi VERY seriously. That strange, sad little coda…

The most troublesome bit is the opening. The plot requires Bakshi to make Hollywood enemies — the prologue explains how he came to be brought out to Tinseltown to appear in some kind of Raj epic. And the joke seems to more or less explicitly be, “If an Indian actor were brought to Hollywood, it would be a disaster because he would be an idiot.” Bakshi takes an outrageous amount of time to die (so he’s a bad actor), he wears a waterproof wristwatch in a Victorian period movie (actually it’s someone else’s job to prevent that) and he steps on a detonator and blows up a whole building before the cameras are rolling (could happen to any of us).

Each of these gags is moderately amusing, but they don’t add up to a coherent character sketch, and although the sequence is necessary to the plot, it still feels like the movie really starts as Bakshi arrives at the party, at which it becomes funnier and more sympathetic.

One day after admiring Peter Cook’s red socks in BEDAZZLED (a fashion choice also favoured by Michael Powell) I was charmed by Bakshi’s footwear. He wears white shoes, so that when he steps in mud it’s as bad as it could possibly be. And red socks, so that when he loses is a shoe, it’s as bad as THAT could possibly be.

Comedy, it seems, needs to be both cruel and kind.

Versus

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on December 11, 2017 by dcairns

 

                                  

Whew! That was a struggle.

The Lone Gunman

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on December 17, 2012 by dcairns

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Been meaning to look at Stanley Kramer’s THE DOMINO PRINCIPLE for at least a year — I had only seen the credit sequence, as a kid, on the little b&w portable TV in my bedroom. I probably retuned to THE VAMPIRE LOVERS or something rather than watch the rest, but the opening stuck with me.

That’s some sequence! The great Wayne Fitzgerald did the credits themselves, and possibly the photomontage pre-creds too. I like the super-serious VO (Why is he English?) and the fact that his paranoid rant is sometimes a bit nonsensical or awkward.

Domino from David Cairns on Vimeo.

The movie is rather fine — it just missed being included in the Late Movies Blogathon but it’s actually an exemplary case study in late career blossoming. Rather than being time-warped (which is a quality I sometimes enjoy in older filmmakers’ work) it’s very of its moment, featuring a post-JFK shadowy conspiracy that attains almost supernatural levels of omnipotence. “Let me put it this way: if THEY decided to kill both of us, right here on this bus in front of everybody, it wouldn’t be on the news tonight.”

The film moves gracefully, taking full use of 70s cinema’s expressive range, but never straining for trendiness. Kramer simply seems to have effortlessly moved with the times. His helicopter shots and zooms are fresh and inventive rather than evincing the desperation or the default-mode filmmaking one often finds in 70s genre stuff.

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Gene Hackman anchors it with his big potato face, and there’s a nice grotty support from Mickey Rooney (why does Hackman tolerate the guy’s presence?), and some vintage sneering from Richard Widmark. And there’s Eli Wallach and young Edward Albert as co-conspirators. Candice Bergen has a rather nothing role: one keeps waiting for her character to become more active: she doesn’t, and the love story doesn’t carry the wait it ought to. My favourite stuff was the crisp unfolding of the prison sequences at the start, where the plot is at its most mysterious and the characters at their least sympathetic.