Archive for Oliver Twist

Crime Jazz

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 19, 2019 by dcairns

JAZZ BOAT, seen and enjoyed and wondered at thanks to Talking Pictures TV. Ken Hughes directed this boggling jazz musical crime comedy thriller, a star vehicle for Anthony Newley, who pretends he’s a master thief knows as The Cat, and gets mixed up with a criminal biker gang led by James Booth. Every scene depending on the anticipation of violence between these two “toughs” cracked me up.

Booth’s gang also features David Lodge in a beard and specs that make him resemble Nick Frost — his character, Holy Mike, is a kind of ironic religious maniac in black. Added muscle is provided by Al Muloch from the openings of THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY and ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, as a real gone thug, maybe the most substantial part of his tragically shortened career. And then they’ve got Bernie Winters as back-up, and busty Anne Aubrey as “the Doll,” whose going with Booth but somehow can’t keep her hands off Newley. He must have had something, I suppose.

“He was quite good as the Artful Dodger,” admits Fiona.

“With a walnut up his nose,” I remark.

“What?”

“A walnut.”

“WHAT?”

“He played the part of the Artful Dodger with a walnut up his nose.”

“WHAT?”

“Anthony Newley. Played the Artful Dodger. With a-“

“Whose idea was that?”

“David Lean’s, I suppose.”

“But that’s child abuse!”

“No it isn’t. Kids love shoving things up their noses.”

“But it might have gotten lodged, and gone deeper…”

“Well they could just have got… Mark Lester to go in after it.”

“Why Mark Lester???”

“Well, he was little…”

“But he was in a different film. He was in OLIVER!”

“Oh yeah… Well, that’s ideal. He’d have been REALLY little…”

Shoving aside the thought of an unborn Mark Lester being injected up Anthony Newley’s nostril in some grotesque nasal parody of FANTASTIC VOYAGE, we return to JAZZ BOAT. Lionel Jeffries plays a tough police inspector, and this oddball casting works great, because he’s a really good actor. All the oddball casting is defensible except that Newley and Booth are the same type, and Newley can’t suggest his character’s innocence.

The film opens in Chislehurst Caves where Ted Heath and his Band are playing and we meet all the characters, and a fight breaks out.

Then there is some quite decent storytelling where we see how Newley gets mistaken for the Cat, and how he’s honest, really, and then gets roped into doing a crime with Spider’s gang.

There is, eventually, a jazz boat, but it has little to do with the plot. Within minutes, it seems, the film is showing us Newley in drag trying to escape the gang’s revenge, then showing Booth and poor Aubrey slashing each other with razors. Then the boat docks at Margate and we may remember the Archers’ bit of doggerel about that town, and there’s a chase through Dreamland, the funfair immortalised by Lindsay Anderson in his free cinema documentary — a film which now looks a bit worrisome in its aghast depiction of working-class entertainment.

We never find out who the real Cat is, which seems like a big loose end. But then, this whole film, handsomely shot by Ted Moore with Nic Roeg operating, is a giant, marvelous blunder, a skull-throbbing offense against taste and tone and logic and genre — put together by professionals, so the bits don’t quite fall apart even though they might do better if they did.

I really want to see IN THE NICK now, made the same year of our Lord 1960 by mostly the same culprits, many with the same character names, but it doesn’t seem to be available anywhere.

JAZZ BOAT stars Heironymous Merkin; Prof. Joseph Cavor; Pvt. Henry Hook; Jelly Knight; Knuckles; and Clang.

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.

You are in the village

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology, weather with tags , , , , , , on December 23, 2014 by dcairns

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These two young go-getters are writing their names in the snow, which isn’t easy in Japanese. It takes years of calligraphic tuition.

The movie is Shohei Imamura’s THE BALLAD OF NARAYAMA (it’s not like any ballad I ever heard) and I thought I’d enjoy the snow scenes, since Mother Nature hasn’t provided us with any good ones in Edinburgh so far this winter.

In fact, the movie is resplendent with nature footage from every season, though the human drama inclines to the grim. Though not without humour, also grim. All I knew going in was the premise than in this mountain village, when people get to be seventy they go up into the mountains in winter to perish, this relieving their relatives of the burden of supporting them. It’s like a sclerotic LOGAN’S RUN (which also has some nice snow scenes, including AN ICE CAVE with A ROBOT! The most Christmassy thing ever!)

A dead baby turns up in a muddy field; one oldster has brought shame on his family by apparently running off rather than doing his duty to the mountain gods; his wife is so keen to make up for this that she’s stoically chipping away at her teeth trying to make herself decrepit sooner; one family are caught pilfering from the others and meet a terrible fate; a chubby virgin with appalling halitosis tries to seduce the neighbours’ dog. Much of this is observed with a slightly wry detachment, making it less unbearable to watch than you’d think. And it’s all rendered perversely beautiful by the photography and music.

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Imamura intercuts his shots of animals copulating, giving birth and killing one another with less documentary material of his human characters doing likewise. The effect is NOT AT ALL like the love scene in RYAN’S DAUGHTER, for reasons which may be illuminating to examine. Dispensing with the fact that David Lean built hs forest in a studio space, an incredible feat in itself, there’s the deeper meaning of the juxtaposition of man and nature in each filmmaker. In Lean’s work, weather and nature are either a crucible to test human character, as is largely the case in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and a bit in DOCTOR ZHIVAGO and maybe even the caves in A PASSAGE TO INDIA have mutated from their more mysterious purpose in E.M. Forster’s book to assume this role, albeit in a somewhat perverse and enigmatic way; or else they are anthropomorphic, mirroring the emotions of human characters. We see this in particular with the thorns which entwine together to suggest the mother’s birth pains in OLIVER TWIST, and we see it in the aforementioned arboreal love scene in RYAN’S. In this sense, Lean is Shakespearian, with weather serving as an emotional barometer.

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Imamura’s point is at once more blunt and simple, and more definitely true — he shows that humans and animals are in many ways similar, driven by lusts and appetites but also by the need to fit into their surroundings. Cutting from a love scene to copulating frogs may seem obvious, and certainly unpoetic, but it’s also an honest observation, and not one that lends itself to a more subtle approach.

And then Imamura climaxes the film with the ascent of the mountain by mother and son, in almost total silence (as decreed by mountain law), for forty-five minutes, an astonishing bit of epic drama, ending amid the vast open-air ossuary in a parting that’s genuinely moving. Neither character has been entirely endearing — both are, in fact, effectively murderers — but the unspoken farewell is extraordinarily powerful. And then there’s the most impressive bit of bird-wrangling since Hitchcock.

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The movie was a gift from my pals at Masters of Cinema, and is available on Dual Format Blu-ray and DVD here ~
The Ballad of Narayama (1983) (Masters of Cinema) [Dual Format Blu-ray & DVD]