Archive for On the Waterfront

Me and Marlon

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 3, 2015 by dcairns

It continues! At Kaput, Already, Renlau Outil considers Antonioni’s swan-song, BEYOND THE CLOUDS. Do check it out.

And here at Shadowplay, regular Shadowplayer Judy Dean addresses the career of Marlon Brando, recently summed up by a posthumous appearance in LISTEN TO ME, MARLON.

vlcsnap-2015-12-03-11h00m32s53

ME AND MARLON

It’s hard to explain why Marlon Brando took so long to enter my consciousness.  I’m at primary school when that magnificent run of early films comes to a halt with Desiree. By the time I’m 15 I know that he once made a film so dangerous we’re not allowed to see it, but that doesn’t stop all the bad boys in town from dressing like him and wanting a Triumph like the one he rode. A couple of years later, when I join a group who spend every Sunday afternoon in the front row of the local ABC, regardless of what’s on, he’s become just another actor.  We are vaguely aware that he is troublesome, that he caused a lot of problems on Mutiny on The Bounty and wasted a lot of money on a western.  Did I see him during this period of indiscriminate filmgoing?  Bedtime StoryThe ChaseA Countess from Hong Kong?  I must have done, but I have no memory of it.

Come the seventies and life has taken a serious turn.  I’m married, working, and cinema has become an occasional indulgence but, like almost everybody of my generation, I see his great trilogy.

The Godfather is a major, much anticipated event. We drive home afterwards talking excitedly about the restaurant shootings and the horse’s head but I don’t remember our discussing Brando’s performance.

vlcsnap-2015-12-03-11h01m50s109

Then Last Tango In Paris becomes a cause celebre.  We see it in London’s West End soon after it opens and find the cinema picketed by supporters of Mary Whitehouse, which only adds to the sense of occasion.  The film makes me feel queasy.  What exactly is it we are witnessing here?   But I am astonished by Brando’s physical appearance.  The Godfather has made me think of him as old, but here is this beautiful man in his forties with a blonde ponytail who can do a backflip.

Move on a few more years and we’re in the West End again for Apocalypse Now, a special journey made with friends in order to see it in 70mm and stereo.  A collective sigh of pleasure is heard as the sound of helicopter blades travels from one side of the auditorium to the other. There’s more than a whiff of pot in the air. Again, there is little talk afterwards of Brando; we think him weird.  It’s spectacle we’re after and we emerge high on images of air raids and napalm.

Now we’re into the eighties and everything goes quiet. Brando disappears from the screen and parenthood kicks our social life into touch.

vlcsnap-2015-12-03-11h00m42s193

Move on another decade and I find myself, thanks largely to the arrival of Blockbuster video, starting to explore cinema’s back catalogue. Something in a Brando performance captures my imagination, some small gesture, some tiny detail.  What was it?  Putting on Eva Marie Saint’s glove in On the Waterfront?  Sliding a letter between his wife’s toes in The Ugly American?  Sharing a carrot with his horse in The Missouri Breaks?  I honestly can’t remember, but I know that I have never seen an actor do something like this before and I am entranced by it. Why this coup de foudre hasn’t happened sooner I’m not sure, but it leads me to start seeking out his films in a systematic kind of way and in so doing I discover Burn!  I am bowled over by this tale of colonialist meddling in the West Indian sugar trade, and ecstatic when I later discover that it’s his favourite role.

Overnight I become a Brando completist.   I watch every film, buy every biography and every coffee table book, hunt down every article and every review, correspond with every webmaster.  I am obsessed.  Eventually my passion is exhausted, the fever subsides and I return to the normality of just another fan. (That is, until the same thing happens with Buster Keaton; but that’s another story.)

1brando

Jump to November 2015.  I decide to write about The Score for David’s blogathon.  Surely, with a cast like that, it can’t be as uninspiring as I remember it?  I buy the DVD to refresh my memory and find that it is.  I am depressed.  What a note to end a career on.  And what can I find to say about such a film?

Then a miracle occurs with the perfectly timed UK release of Listen to Me, MarlonThe Score proves not to be his final film after all.  Brando himself has the last word on his life and career.  And this moving documentary brings it all flooding back to me – his beauty, the damage caused by his unhappy childhood, the courage he showed in his political involvement, his failings as a husband and father, the blame for problems on set that were not of his making and, above all, the originality of his performances.  Forget all his feigned indifference to the art of acting.  Here he is talking about what lay behind the small gesture (whatever it was) that opened my eyes to his genius.

vlcsnap-2015-12-03-11h01m33s192

“When an actor takes a little too long as he’s walking to the door, you know he’s going to stop and turn around and say ‘Quite frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn’. Never let the audience know how it’s going to come out.  Get them on your time. And when that time comes and everything is right, you just fly.  Hit ‘em!  Knock ‘em over!  With an attitude, with a word, with a look.  Be surprising.  Figure out a way to do it that has never been done before.  You want to stop that movement from the popcorn to the mouth.  Get people to stop chewing.  The truth will do that.  Damn!  Damn!  Damn!  Damn! When it’s right, it’s right.  You can feel it in your bones. Then you feel whole.  Then you feel good.”

Let’s finish with a song.  Over to Dory Previn.

Judy Dean

Of course I’m liberated now

I see life as it is.

I call my soul my very own

and I no longer covet his.

 

No one else can get you through

I’ve learned with some regret.

I’ve outgrown all my heroes

I am cured of kings and yet…

 

And yet the other night

By chance, I saw him

There on the TV screen

Overbearing, arrogant

Marvellous, marvellous

And oh, so mean.

 

And that old addiction gripped me

You know how women get

I’ll bet I could have handled him

If only we had met.

 

Phantom Electric Theatres of Leith

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Theatre, weather with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 3, 2013 by dcairns

casselcentral

The Central, interior detail.

Ghost cinemas surround us. Normally, as we go about our business in whichever modern metropolis we inhabit, we have no way of knowing that innocent-seeming supermarkets, pubs or parking lots were once cinema palaces, long demolished or redesigned out of all recognition.

My Dad handed me a copy of Brendon Thomas’ book, The Last Picture Shows: Edinburgh, which started falling apart as soon as I opened it. Attempting to scan pictures for this post completed the disintegration of the binding, and the book is now essentially a loose folder. BUT it’s also an essential guide to the buried skeletons of Edinburgh’s cinemas. Fiona and I went walking around our own neighbourhood, Leith (actually a small town conurbated by the expanding capital) and explored the phantasmal relics of a city which once boasted more cinema screens than any other city in Europe (and now boasts more ghosts).

cine 022

The Raj, our local Indian restaurant, just two minutes down the street, was once The Cinema House. According to Thomas, it opened in 1913, and its foyer of potted plants earned it the nickname “The Cosy House.” The auditorium sat 600, which was considered quite small for the day, and the first séance consisted of A TALE OF TWO CITIES (presumably this version, featuring Maurice Costello [father of Dolores], Florence “the Vitagraph Girl” Turner, John Bunny, Norma Talmadge, Ralph Ince and, surprisingly, Mabel Normand) double-billed with FOR THE KING, about which I can discover nothing.

In 1917 the cinema became the Empire Picture Palace, screening TILLIE’S PUNCTURED ROMANCE with Charlie Chaplin, Marie Dressler and Mabel Normand again (she had now risen to stardom).

As recently as ten or so years ago, the Raj kept a back room cinema which you could hire for party screenings, and billed itself as Edinburgh’s oldest surviving cinema. The screen had never been converted for sound and the cinema obviously stood vacant for many years before the (splendid) restaurant moved in.

Just a short distance from the Raj is Parliament Street, which was home to a tent show run by William Codona of Portobello. This was upgraded to an iron shed in 1912, seating 200, and became known as The Magnet. No trace of it remains.

Our local modern shopping centre, the New Kirkgate, a dismal concrete hole, was once the old Kirkgate, though the people of those times, in their ignorance, did not think of it as old. And it had a cinema, The Gaiety, now long vanished. Once a church, damaged by fire, converted to a 1,000-seat theatre, and then to a cinematograph. How many times, while buying my frozen ready-meals, have I been lightly dusted by photons once attached to Peter Lorre? I’m no physicist, but I think I’m right in asserting that’s what happens when you walk through a space once occupied by a cinema.

cine 084

The Foot of the Walk is an enormous pub where Fiona and I have upon occasion dined — the only argument against the establishment is the dimness of the lighting, which rather makes a cavern of it. What we didn’t realize at the time was that the place was once The Palace, opening in 1913 with A RACE FOR INHERITANCE (this one?). The cinema had its own cafe and smoking rooms. In 1955, the local branch of Woolworths bought the site, and the last film screened was Ida Lupino’s THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS.

Glory days —

palace

Just down Constitution Street a short way was the Laurie Street Cinema, now gone. It opened in 1911, under the management of Willie Salvona. “Mr. Salvona came from a family of acrobats and this form of entertainment featured in the Christmas show at the new cinema.” The cinema closed in 1947 with THE SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS (John Wayne, directed by Henry Hathaway) and POWER DIVE with Richard Arlen and Jean Parker. Where this cinema stood is now the loading bay of a large charity shop. Nobody there knew of the former building.

Moving a short distance up Leith Walk, which leads eventually to the city centre, we come to Casselbank Street, home to the Destiny Church, an exotic-looking building which always intrigued me —

casselbank1

A church with minarets? Mr Thomas helpfully informs us that the building was originally a Turkish baths, run by J.W. Hodgson, “masseur and medical rubber.” In 1920, it became a cinema, The Central, opening with A MAN’S FIGHT AGAINST TREMENDOUS ODDS (of which the IMDb has never heard) and part one of BARABBAS (ditto). The building became a church in 1936, probably never having made the change-over to sound.

Thomas claims the interior still retains a plaster screen and some semblance of its original form, so we rang the doorbell. The people inside were very nice indeed, and allowed us to look around. They even switched on the stage lighting for us —

casselbankINT

The interior perches in a happy medium space between a cinema and a church!

One street up is Jane Street, home of Falconer’s Picture House, a tent erected in 1899. We saw no traces of it, but it began to rain quite heavily, so we stopped for coffee/hot chocolate at the Punjab’n de Rasoi, where you can also buy haggis pakoras. It’s true!

Across the road, more or less, is Manderston Street, site of Mecca Bingo. Bingo, a sport I have never cared for (too violent), must be credited with preserving many of our historic cinemas and dance halls. In this case, The Capitol, seen here receiving an elaborate front-of-house display — a set of missiles to advertise ROCKETS GALORE!, the belated and inferior sequel to the classic WHISKY GALORE!

capitol1

The Capitol was rather unusual, being situated directly under a railway line, which led from Leith Central Railway Station. (Correction: it was a freight line unconnected with the station, according to Shadowplayer Stuart Brown.) I explored this derelict site as a kid, finding it romantic and menacing, not realizing it was known to local junkies as “the shooting gallery” — it features prominently in Irvine Welsh’s novel Trainspotting, and gives the book its title. Patrons at The Capitol could hear the trains rumbling overhead above the sound of the twelve-man orchestra and organ. It opened in 1928 and closed in 1961, coming full circle with a screening of DAYS OF THRILLS AND LAUGHTER, a compendium film of silent comedies and adventures.

caoitolmecca

The Capitol today. No organ, no screen, no trains rumbling overhead. But the staff inside were friendly and knew all about the building’s history.

An intriguing item in Thomas’s book is The Imperial Picture House, Storries Alley, off Leith Walk. Not only has the Imperial disappeared, but so has Storries Alley itself. All that remains is the name, attached to a cake shop, Storries Home Baking, a sort of phantasmal reminder.

I’m going to look at the various cinemas further up Leith Walk another time — I need the exercise anyway — but for now I’ll stop at the Alhambra. This is also remembered in name only, since a pub opposite the old site still bears the name —

alhambrabar1

But the mighty cinema, formerly a theatre of varieties, is long vanished, a wine shop now standing on the site. A Mr. Alf Beckett managed the place for forty years, reluctantly closing in 1958, blaming the Entertainment Tax for causing a decline in attendance. FRONTIER SCOUT and DANCE WITH ME HENRY closed the cinema. “Permission to demolish,” writes Thomas, “was granted in 1960, but the demolition did not take place until 1974 — lasting a dramatic five weeks from January 9th to February 13th.” He doesn’t say why they were dramatic. Did the shades of Tom Mix and William S. Hart torment the demolition team with phantom ricochets? Thomas remains silent on the matter, so I assume they did.

eastway1

We didn’t mean to walk all the way up Easter Road — a dreary street, I must say — but we did, and it was kind of worth it. A sign dates the theatre to 1869, but it became the Picturedrome in 1912. 600 seats, electric fans, the works. In 1943 it was renamed The Eastway (above), opening with I MARRIED AN ANGEL starring the ever-popular Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. It closed in 1961 with an early evening of KONGA (newly released on DVD!) and THE HELLFIRE CLUB with Peter Cushing. That’s the last picture show I’d most like to travel back in time and see.

Here it is today —

eastwayx

Apparently the former theatre has provided frozen foods specialist Iceland with its very own underground passageways, structurally unsound perhaps but conceivably useful in the event of zombie holocaust.

I’ve saved the best for last. The State was a super-cinema, built in the finest art deco style and opened in 1938. If I were going to own a cinema, this is the one I’d want. I shouldn’t imagine it’d cost more than a million quid, if that —

state

It opened, Thomas tells us, with BLOCKADE (the only American film on which its director is credited as Wilhelm Dieterle). It closed with WHERE EAGLES DARE in 1972, as if war were the perpetual state of civilisation, or something. It’s been a bingo hall and seen service as a church. I’ve never been inside it, but it must have been wonderful once —

“…the cinema even had a Scottish-produced sound system (Shearer-Horn), though the Holophane lighting system was an import. Part of a complex including four shops, two billiard saloons and a skittle alley, the State had a local architect, Sir James Miller, who put a variety of shapes into this cinema. The pillars are flattened ovals in cross-section, the splendid entrance hall (walnut panelled and once gold) looks as if it should have twelve sides, but five are taken up with the curve of the doorway. Stairs plunge and bend towards the auditorium, which the visitor should imagine in its original green, silver and ivory. The roof contains a kind of pagoda structure and the cinema’s dramatic position over the Water of Leith makes the kind of building the imagination hastens to find a use for. Solidly built, its stanchions go down twenty feet to get below the level of the river’s bed.”

statex

Thanks to Brendon Thomas for his lovely book, and to my Dad for giving it to me.

Euphoria #16

Posted in Comics, FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2008 by dcairns

New York cartoonist Dean Haspiel nominates this passionate clinch from ON THE WATERFRONT as the latest in our highly scientific study of the scenes that set your pulses pounding:

“Native New Yorker, Dean Haspiel is the author of super-psychedelic romances and semi-autobiographical comics and is a founding member of Brooklyn’s DEEP6 Studios.

His studio-mate Simon Fraser describes Dean’s scene thusly: “Dean’s suggestion is very Dean, it’s the Terry and Edie kiss from ‘On the Waterfront.’ It’s a “Kiss/Rape” but her performance makes it more complicated than that. She’s excited.”

Let’s all pray for Dean’s speedy apprehension.

But NO! For truly, one man’s meat is another’s poisson, judge not lest ye be judged, and remember the wise words of Professor Praetorius: “Science, like love, has her little surprises.”

We don’t judge other people’s euphoria here at Shadowplay, we merely celebrate the human capacity for ecstasy!

Just got my hands on Joseph McBride’s splendid Whatever Happened to Orson Welles, and upon reading the McCarthy-era political stuff, I was interested to read the account given of a 1982 discussion at the Cinematheque Francaise, where Welles was asked to comment on Elia Kazan.

Chere mademoiselle, you have chosen the wrong metteur en scene, because Elia Kazan is a traitor. He is a man who sold to McCarthy all his companions at a time when he could continue to work in New York [on Broadway] at high salary, and having sold all his people to McCarthy, he then made a film called ON THE WATERFRONT which was a celebration of the informer.”

Then: “In other respects, he’s one of our great directors.”

In a strange sense, what makes ON THE WATERFRONT acceptable is the way in which Kazan and Schulberg stack the decks in favour of Terry Malloy: he’s dealing with dangerous criminals who kill people, they’re not his true friends, and he stands only to lose out personally by informing on them. If his brother had been true to him, there would be a real moral quandary in his betrayal, but Steiger’s character has made a living from exploiting his sibling. Conversely, Kazan was betraying people who had been loyal, who had committed no crime, who wished him nothing but good, and Kazan benefitted materially from snitching.

I love the story of the biographer who asked searching questions of Kazan about contradictions in his story, and Kazan fell unconscious at his desk rather than answer them. A moral microchip blew inside.

*

Footnote: Eva Marie Saint is the whole show in this scene, top-notch work from an underrated actress. Her posture at the end is incredible.

Dean’s fellow cartoonist Simon Fraser informs me of the following:

“Dean was taught to swim by Shelly Winters. Who was his godmother. Dean was also babysat by a very young Bobby DeNiro. A family friend. There’s a lot more of that kind of thing from Deans family.”

Wow. And to think I was previously impressed by Simon having a cartoonist friend who’s descended from Johnny Weissmuller! Any connection to Shelley Winters is like a hotline to God.

Shelley / God