Archive for Noel Coward

Film directors with their shirts and trousers off: Joseph Losey

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on August 20, 2022 by dcairns

Because YOU demanded it! Joseph Losey in upsetting shorts. A man entirely composed of babies’ bottoms. And other Mystery Science Theater 3000 quips.

From the filming of BOOM! As attested to by the presence of Richard Burton and Noel Coward on the right of frame.

Losey is gesturing downwards, out of shot, possibly towards his broken toe, fractured when he became overexcited during one of his elaborate camera moves and the dolly ran over his foot.

Richard Lester told me that he agreed to supervise the dub of BOOM! because Losey had another film starting immediately (I guess that would be SECRET CEREMONY — both came out in ’68). He thought it would be a few days’ work and it turned into weeks and weeks because of the Burtons’ incessant tardiness. He’s still cross about it. I imagine the decision to throw out Johnny Dakworth’s (doubtless excellent) score and substitute John Barry’s also dragged out the process.

On a somewhat related note: I picked up Richard Condon’s 1967 novel The Ecstasy Business, in which Tynan Bryson, “the sexiest, the most famous, the richest Welsh superstar in the American film industry” embarks on a super-production with his two-times ex-wife, Caterina Largo, “the sexiest, the most famous, the richest screen queen,” and somebody is trying to kill him. It looks fairly amusing, with the Burton substitute also given some of Brando’s more demented attributes, and the obvious roman a clef satirical angle also includes a master of suspense, Albert McCobb. A Scottish master of suspense.

Page Seventeen III: The Search for Spock

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 6, 2021 by dcairns

Seven passages from seven page seventeens from seven books purchased from Edinburgh’s second-hand bookshops, most of them from the all-you-can-eat bookshop on Ferry Road. For the best effect, I suggest reading them all in Noel Coward’s voice.

Some Little Girls lived nearby, and I forced them to act in a tragedy I that I had written, but they were very silly and during the performance forgot their lines and sniggered, so I hit the eldest one on the head with a wooden spade, the whole affair thus ending in tears and a furious quarrel between the mothers involved.

As a result of this unusual posture of my legs, I seemed shorter and my gait was quite changed. For some reason my whole body was slightly inclined to the right side. All I needed was a cane. One was lying near-by so I picked it up although it did not exactly fit the picture of what I had in my mind. Now all I lacked was a quill pen to stick behind my ear or hold in my teeth. I sent a call boy for one and while waiting for his return paced up and down the room, feeling how all the parts of my body, features, facial lines, fell into their proper places and established themselves. After walking around the room two or three times, with an uncertain, uneven gait I glanced in the mirror and did not recognize myself. Since I had looked in it the last time a fresh transformation had taken place in me.

‘I’m pleased to hear it.’ Jerry’s voice was sardonic as he entered the room rather theatrically and closed the door behind him.

‘That is what we call Forced Acting,’ defined the Director.

‘And how would you know,’ inquired the actress, ‘ with false teeth?’

The Archbishop then enters, and in a speech of paradoxical and somewhat abstract imagery, makes a difficult pronouncement about the human will and its place in the divine pattern of being, what it must suffer and how act ‘that the pattern may subsist’: what Becket says to the Chorus, as their instructor, is said to Becket at the end of the Act by the Fourth Tempter, with a fine dramatic irony; for Becket is to act and suffer, willing both, that the pattern may subsist, yet cannot see (until later when light breaks upon his understanding) how he can do either ‘without perdition’; the advice he has given is turned against him, and both paths before him–acting and suffering–seem to ‘lead to damnation and pride.’ Because the speech is difficult, it seems to need explanation, word by word; and yet, as Dr. Johnson has said, ‘ the easiest word, whatever it be, can never be translated into one more easy.’ It is a difficult thought:

“Well in film you play the theme, and then you play the theme again and then you play the theme and then you play a variation of the theme and then you play the theme . . . “

…said the Actress to the Archbishop.

Present Imperfect by Noel Coward; Building a Character by Constantin Stanislavski; The Final Programme by Michael Moorcock; An Actor Prepares by Constantin Stanislavski; Acid Drops by Kenneth Williams; by Nevill Coghill’s introduction to Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot; Michael Kamen quoting Carl Prager in Knowing the Score by David Morgan.

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.