Archive for Performance

Film Directors Lying in the Fireplace #1

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on February 18, 2015 by dcairns


Number one in an occasional series: Ray Austen in CLASH BY NIGHT (1964).

This fairly silly suspenser from Dublin-born B-movie plodder Montgomery Tully (auteur of some of my favourite silly scenes, and I still haven’t even watched BATTLE BENEATH THE EARTH) is a hostage drama set during a jailbreak by prisoners being transported in a bus. Sort of like CON AIR meets SPEED, only earlier and a lot cheaper than either. Standout performance is by Stanley Meadows, later in PERFORMANCE, a really compelling and menacing actor who should have had a much bigger career. He’s dead now. You’re too late.

Hamilton turns up, bizarrely, in a flashback. Just as in CON AIR, the filmmakers feel the need to have a sympathetic criminal who got banged up for defending his wife. And the bloke he’s defended her from is Ray Austen, who turned up at the house and tried to rape her. Just like that — the nerve of some people. It’s kind of bizarre, like that’s the sort of thing that’s always happening, in the filmmakers’ minds at least. And maybe it is, but I doubt that reflects conditions in the wider world.

How Austen, soon to become a prolific TV director and the man responsible for VIRGIN WITCH (so don’t blame me), found himself playing this visiting district assailant is a mystery — did he mention it in a memoir of interview? I feel almost sure he wouldn’t. Anyhow, he gets punched out and dies in the fireplace. End of.

If any readers are in possession of more images of film directors lying in the fireplace, please send them to me, because otherwise I don’t know how I’m going to continue this thing.



The Mysterious Mr If, Part the Th*rt**nth

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on August 22, 2011 by dcairns

This week’s truly exciting episode of my unexplainably unproduced screenplay is the most British thing ever — we have a high speed pursuit featuring characters named after leads in PERFORMANCE and THE WICKER MAN, and an exciting rooftop chase, without which no British thriller, be it THEY MADE ME A FUGITIVE or HELL IS A CITY, can be considered complete.

And I was pleased to morph a reference  from MARY POPPINS into a William Blake quote. Apart from the Disney JUNGLE BOOK bit I think it’s all as Brit as can be.

This was also the point where I discovered Howie’s true comedic function, which is not as romantic interest during the “boring, sub-Bill Forsyth bits,” but as someone to annoy Inspector Turner. And, thematically, as a sort of Everyman for Mr. If to oppose.

But what impresses me, if I do say so myself, is just how damned gripping it all is!

Now read on…


Sheena watches TV news with Edward Woodward in her lap.


The headlines today. A wild west-style schoolmarm has been tormented by scallops in Muirhouse. A nun has been fired out of a toilet. And Scotland’s oldest fireman has given birth to a stone desk.

Sheena boggles. The work of Mr. If is everywhere.

There is an innocent-sounding knock at the door.


Sheena comes through and approaches the door.


Doctors are baffled by a giant leg found on a small man.

Sheena looks through the spy hole. Howie.


And scientists at NASA have discovered what they are calling a “joke planet”.

Sheena considers.

Starts to walk away.

Then changes her mind and undoes the latch.


The man outside is not Howie. A black-gloved hand holds a photo of Howie up to the spy hole.

The door opens…


Swing doors BASH open.

Doctor lectures Nurse while pushing Howie on a gurney.


Brain damage, as medical science pretends to understand it, is simply injury to the meat radio entrusted with receiving the consciousness signal. A mechanical brain, correctly tuned to the ineffable transmission, would serve just as well as our fleshy transponders.

Howie looks somewhat mauled. In the gurney behind him, a stunned fox.

Turner runs alongside Howie.


A fox, inspector, can you believe it? In the reptile house. The last thing I would have expected in a reptile house. It’s a bloody mammal. A rodent or something. They don’t even keep them in the zoo. They’re too boring. Anyway, this one wasn’t, it was positively frisky. It was going for my throat when I managed to knock it unconscious with this…

He holds up his tattered and bloodstained hardback.


The Unbearable Lightness of Being. An ironic title for a hefty hardback.

They pass a smoke-blackened NUN in a tattered habit, walking with the aid of crutches.


Anyway, it’s not me you should be worried about, it’s your own people. There’s been some pretty weird shit going down at Sheena’s place.

They pass an incubator being wheeled by MEN in surgical scrubs. WAILING BABY sound. Inside the incubator – a trout.


You mean Miss McQueen?


A lot of this nonsense seems to be focussed on her. Like she’s the epicentre or something.

They pass an OLD TESTAMENT PROPHET carrying a stone slab.


Epicentre! Epicentre!

He turns the slab to face them. The word COCK is carved on it. Then he raises his robe and shows them his wrinkly arse before scampering away, tittering like a big jerk.


Did she tell you she took the If File?

Turner’s face darkens ominously.


Stay here and heal. I’m going to check on Miss McQueen.

He hurries off.

Howie cranes his neck after the departing cop.



He tries to dismount the moving gurney. The doctor shoving it won’t slow down and Howie’s bandages hamper him.

He falls.

The doctor disappears around a corner, ignoring him.

In a nearby room, dogs bark.

A tramp with flowers for hair shuffles past sadly.


…and so, Nurse Sheep, what you call telepathy is merely a crossed wire, a case of one brain receiving a signal intended for another. We are all hooked up to the great universal mind, but some of us have bigger satellite dishes.


Sheena flees into her flat and throws a dirty plate at the caped, top-hatted man pursuing her.


I am If! If I am! Am I if?

She grabs her gun and shoots If’s hat off.

The next two bullets hit him in the chest.

He staggers. Then rights himself.

He steps in front of the window. Daylight shines through the little round holes in his body.


Gosh durn it, I likes a wumman with spirit.

If holds out his hand to her.


Join me, and rule at my side in the domain of nothingness.

Sheena shoots him again.


You sadden me.

He produces a banana and begins to peel it.

Sheena backs away in alarm.


Turner’s car SKIDS round a bend.


Step on it, man! You drive like a lemur. If lemurs could drive.

Howie sits up in the back of the car. Turner is startled, then irate.


You’re supposed to be convalescing. Go and convalesce. I’m a policeman. You’re just some nob-end from the zoo.


I’m an interested party and you still drive like a twat. Where’s your blue flashing light?


Some bastard’s nicked it and left me this egg timer instead.

They SCREECH round another bend and Howie falls over.


Sheena wakes up tied to a rocking chair by what looks like hair. She’s clad only in a grass skirt and a pair of coconut shells.

A rope hangman’s noose hangs from the ceiling above her.

If strides into view. Under his cape he wears Sheena’s clothes. He strokes Edward Woodward in a sinister, master-criminal-type way.


Is it safe?

Sheena struggles with her bonds.


What the f-?


Wigs, Miss McQueen, wigs! Nature’s baldness defamed, and now – a young minx restrained in their silky fronds! Ironic, is it not?


Let me go and give me back my cat, you mad bastard. And take my clothes off!


(gesturing at her near nudity)

I already have. And now, you will tell me where I can find what I seek, Miss McQueen – or should I say – HECTOR BABENCO?

He waves at her with Edward Woodward’s paw.


What the hell do you want, you great weirdo?


A touching display of innocence and nudity, but it will avail you nothing. I shall have my druthers or die trying, and so I reiterate: where? Answer swiftly or pay with your pussy!

He waves the cat at her.


The car speeds on. Sand cascades through the egg-timer.


If moves gracefully towards the noose in the room’s centre, carrying Sheena’s cat.


Maybe if you’d tell me what it is you’re looking for –

If stuffs Edward Woodward through the noose and secures the rope around the animal’s waist. Then he picks up a carpet beater.


Where? Where? WHERE?

WHACK! He wallops the cat’s arse and sends it arcing round the room on its rope, yowling.


Turner and Howie arrive. Respectively bounding and hobbling from the car they find the Nurse from the hospital wearing a blindfold and an usherette’s tray full of oranges standing with her feet in a basin of water by the door.


This is a bad sign.

He barges on.

Howie stares at the immobile Nurse.



She gives a little theatrical jump. Howie hurries on.


Turner dashes upstairs only to be faced with Sheena’s neighbour, Miss Hing. What she lacks in depth she makes up for in width.

Turner steps aside to let her by. She side-steps in the same direction to let him by. He steps the other way. She does too.

Howie appears behind Turner, snarls savagely, Miss Hing collapses against the railing in terror, and the two men hurry past.


Edward Woodward continues to orbit the room.



She frees an arm, and a coconut falls off, exposing a breast. She shrieks and covers herself. If prepares to wallop Edward Woodward again.


Your womanliness cannot save you now, Mr. Babenco. The file, please.

He swats Edward Woodward’s backside again.


The file? It was on the back of the sofa –

A hammering at the door.



I like you, you’re a nice lady.

He looks at the sofa. Bare-backed. If is indignant.


Trifle with me and you’ll get your desserts!


Turner shoulders the door open. They burst in.


– and then the two men are staggering, dazed. Something has happened, but what?

The only sound is the TV news:


A dentist in Queensferry has become a small sun. Spokesmen said they didn’t like it, it was a bad colour.


Too late. Sheena and If are gone.

Edward Woodward is wearing a sombrero, poncho and Zapata moustache. Meow.

Scrawled on the wall in red paint, the word cat.

Another moustache is pasted to the TV screen, decorating the newscaster.

A Polaroid camera sits atop the set.


Two Scottish Members of Parliament have been dressed in plate armour and fellated by blacksmiths –

Turner switches off the TV, picks up the camera. An undeveloped snap depends from its undercarriage.

An image emerges. Howie and Turner, posing merrily with Sheena and If in the hall – thumbs up. Howie strumming a ukulele. Hawaiian flower garlands all round.


Who took this? And why don’t I remember it?

Edward Woodward pads out the door, full of purpose. Howie and Turner look at each other, then follow.


Edward Woodward stops and sits at the top floor landing. A ladder leads up to a hatch into the attic.


I don’t like heights.

Turner starts up the ladder.


I’m not wild about them myself.

Howie follows a few steps, then freezes in fear.


Turner emerges from a skylight.

Mr. If stands on the summit of the roof, a large burlap sack slung over one shoulder.

A moan that could be Sheena’s.


Howie slowly nears the top of the ladder, but finds it very difficult to transfer himself into the attic.


Turner edges up the steep slant of the roof towards the pinnacle. If nonchalantly saunters away from him.


Howie makes it into the attic space. A musty rocking horse in a dunce’s cap nods at him rhythmically. A cardboard sign hung round its neck advises STAND UP OR GIVE UP.

Through a skylight he sees blue sky. He closes his eyes and jumps up –


Howie hauls himself through the hatch and immediately rolls down the roof. He opens his eyes and screams like a woman.

Turner, balancing on the tip of the roof, loses concentration and stumbles. He does the splits over the crest of the building.

If reaches the edge of infinity. Below him, the street.

Howie’s legs dangle over the drainpipe as he scrambles to get back onto a solid surface. With scrabbles back up the roof-slope.

Turner takes out a pair of handcuffs.


Now. Now.

If turns, grins and throws his big sack over the side.



The sack explodes on Turner’s car, caving in the roof. The sack is full of potatoes.

If strides towards Turner. A brief scuffle and Turner falls, his hands cuffed together. He rolls helplessly down the roof towards an imminent death.


Oh bollocks.

Howie has just reached the tip of the roof and backs away fast as If bears down on him.


Take me home, Daddy!

Turner catches the gutter and dangles.

Howie backs into a chimney. He grabs a TV aerial and swings himself round so that the chimney is between him and If.

If points into the street.

A struggling Sheena, dressed for some reason in a decorator’s paint-stained dungarees, flippers and a giant foam stetson, is being shoved into a car by four Ballerinas.SwanLakeplays on the car stereo.

Turner manages to drag a knee up onto the gutter.


It’s a pleasure to take your acquaintance. You must be the human element everybody’s talking about. You know, on a bright blue day like this it almost seems a pity to be ending the world.

Howie blinks at him.


You’re absolutely right, Miss Streisand. It’s a dirty job but somebody’s got to do it. Hoppla!


A chimney sweep’s brush ERUPTS from the chimney pot nearest Howie. He steps back in alarm and falls, bumping into Turner who has just climbed to his feet at the roof’s brink.

They teeter together.


A sweep is as mucky

As mucky can be,

And so I cry,

“Weep weep! Weep weep!”

The ballet dancer car putters off erratically.

Howie and Turner fall on their faces onto the roof tiles.

They gasp like landed fish for a moment, then look up.

If is gone. Only a yellow flag gesticulates in the wind.


Historically, the sign of quarantine. Plague!


A red X is painted on Sheena’s front door. Turner and Howie descend. Howie grips the banister and moves very slowly. They meet Miss Hing, quite recovered.


Hello, loves. He had a message for you. He said he would see you in Bolivia.

They look blank.


No, that wasn’t it. Not Bolivia — oblivion. That’s the one.

To Be Continued…

Hey Moondog

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2008 by dcairns

Secret Passage

SECRET CEREMONY is a film maudit if ever there was one. Even many hardcore Loseyites find it hard to defend.

“Anyway, to go back to SECRET CEREMONY, here is how it was finally set up. I was sitting in Rome; I had just been doing the dubbing of BOOM!, Burton was going off to do WHERE EAGLES DARE, or whatever they do — shit — WHERE EAGLES SHIT — and we were all in the Grand Hotel. Elizabeth said ‘Why don’t we do something again?’ I remembered this script and thought she would be ideal for it. I got her the script a few days later from London, and she said ‘I’ll do it’, and we did it, at once. Now, of course, I brought [writer George] Tabori back in and we did a great deal of re-working, mostly out of that particular house.”

~ from Conversations With Losey by Michel Ciment.

(I like Ciment, he has a particular enthusiasm for the mad and visionary strains of British cinema that are at least as big a part of our culture — the valuable part of it — as social observation and all that muck.)

Justify My Love

So, having finished Tennessee Williams’ BOOM! (which is John Waters’ favourite movie for reasons that are evident if you can manage to see it ), while Burton is off where the eagles shit, Liz Taylor is parading around in various Christian Dior outfits in this deeply weird art movie in this weird house in Addison Road, London. The house had been a rest home for the mentally ill, run by some kind of religious organisation who had fallen on hard times — Losey’s regular collaborator Richard MacDonald ran amok in it and created one of the very best London houses in cinema — it stands alongside Asshetton Gorton’s work in THE KNACK and BLOW-UP, and John Clark’s in PERFORMANCE. The great London house films of the period.

Sausage, M'lady?

Munch chomp gnosh

Early on Liz, grieving her lost child, is adopted as mother by orphaned loony Mia Farrow, who cooks her a splendid sausage breakfast. And the film slams on the brakes and simply observes, with Farrow, as Liz wolfs down the lot. A whole breakfast consumed, in silence… It seems like a dreadful mistake at screenplay stage: The script must have said, “She eats the sausages,” and nobody thought anything of it, but it’s one of those sentences, like “The Indians capture the fort,” that really entails much more than it seems to. Yet somehow the film knows we want this. We want to see Liz eat those sausages. All of them. It’s pornographic, but we can’t look away. The fact that Liz is carrying, shall we say, a few extra pounds and Farrow, who does not eat, still has the emaciated spidery limbs she sports in ROSEMARY’S BABY, adds to the pervasive and enticing wrongness of it all. This is a terrible thing we are witnessing.

Later, Liz will pat her jowls reflectively and complain, “Christ, I’m so f=a=t,” her voice rising to a hoarse beep on the final word.

My Last Breath

What’s going on? All the characters are insane, as Losey admitted. This makes things pretty alienating for any audience member with a grasp of reality. And while Losey announced that Farrow’s character was “in every detail thought out as a hysterical schizophrenic,” I get the impression that his sense of those words may be rather loose. Jean-Pierre Melville also described Delon’s character in LE SAMOURAI as schizophrenic, and I have no idea what he meant by that. Autistic might be closer in that case. I think Farrow’s schizophrenia, like protagonist George Harvey Bone’s in Hangover Square, may be a plot device as much as a condition.


(Damnit, I now have private information regarding Farrow’s mental state at the time, but I don’t think I can repeat it. Never mind, Losey loved her, and she’s very good in his film.)

I think that by making Liz’s character so nutty, the film kind of disables itself, since if she functioned as a vaguely reliable guide to the labyrinth, she could get away with being distraught, maybe a bit irrational, but not this totally random screwball she is.

Moon Age Day Dream

Screenwriter George Tabori, who is no Pinter, obviously has no shortage of ideas, but his organisation is lacking. David Caute’s Losey book criticises the dialogue for muddling American and British idioms, but I got the impression that’s Liz’s character — a yank who fakes a Brit accent when she’s pretending to be the mother. It’s just about the one thing I was clear on. But it’s a throw-away film full of throw-away notions, like Farrow’s fear of “Moondog”, the God figure in a William Blake illustration on the bedroom mantel. It probably relates to her incestuous stepfather, and maybe when Robert Mitchum turns up (“C’mon, you know I’m harmless before lunch!” with an Irish beard and a bunch of flowers, we’re meant to be reminded of the sinister figure. But why “Moondog”?

Calypso is... like so

ALTHOUGH — the environments of the film are beautiful and the various performers do fascinating things. Mia Farrow essays her note-perfect English accent, also displayed in Anthony Mann’s swan-song, A DANDY IN ASPIC, and her physical acting is likewise remarkable, all flailing arms and manic grin so wide it threatens to crack the outline of her face and break out on its own. Liz is just Liz, she stomps about, giving her all, seizing on anything she can emote at. Robert Mitchum turns up and shows his bravery again, playing loathsomeness without apology. Decorative eccentricity is provided by Peggy Ashcroft and Pamela Brown, who are always welcome round my place, but Losey’s use of the phrase “sort of comedy relief” in describing them is a clue to the fact that they’re not actually funny, just more neurotic whimsy.

Give it the grin

Richard Rodney Bennett did some fantastic music for Losey, and his stuff here is absolutely right for the film, a messed-up music box tinkle that helps make us feel as crazy as the characters. When Liz and Mia go to the seaside, a stunning resort filmed in Holland, the design and score lift us into a wonderful dream state. Then Mia Farrow shoves a stuffed frog up her dress and pretends she’s pregnant. Put this on a double bill with William Cameron Menzies’ THE MAZE, a 3D mystery in which the lord of a Scottish castle is secretly a giant frog, having never evolved out of the amphibian stage we all supposedly go through in the womb.

What makes you think I want a stain-proof dress?

Better yet, you know what this would make a great Fever Dream Double Featurewith? BOOM! is obviously a good choice, which might prove fatal if you didn’t have strong drink to hand, but try it with Giuseppe Patroni Griffi’s THE DRIVER’S SEAT, also known as IDENTIKIT, which has lots of equally barking mad Lizwork in it, and an even louder frock. Liz gets very irate at the suggestion that she might want a stain-proof dress, at one point: a fine Liz moment. It’s from a book by Muriel Spark, apparently reasonably faithful in its adaptation. Ian Bannen is around to supply, what? Himself, I suppose.