Archive for Peter Cook

Breathing Life Into A Turd.

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 22, 2015 by dcairns

Fiona went to see FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. Here is her report, which contains language. From the outset.

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As I staggered, stupefied, out of a screening of Fifty Shades Of Grey, accompanied by the ‘monstrous regiment of women’ a friend of mine had organized into this group activity , which I’d convinced myself was an anthropological experiment, the slightly confused words falling from my lips were, “Dakota Johnson really breathed life into that turd.” Pausing to think about that statement, I realized I was mixing my metaphors like crazy, except only the first part of the sentence was a metaphor and the second part was…a word. A strange coincidence, bearing in mind the fact that EL Wisty James can barely construct a sentence at the best of times. And, is breathing life into a turd something you really want to achieve? According to attendance figures and box office for this fecal behemoth lumbering through the world’s multiplexes, it’s well worth it, but this reanimated jobby is very different from South Park‘s happy little bowl-lurker, Mr Hankey The Christmas Poo.

Mrhankey

Mr. Hankey in his red room of pain

I’m usually cheered to see Mr Hankey, with his toothsome smile, inviting wave and cry of “Hi-Di-Ho!” This example of human waste, excreted from the mind of EL James/Erica Mitchell on to a Blackberry, and hence, into the homes of most people around the world, instead fills me with a creeping dread much like that experienced by characters in an HP Lovecraft story.

Writing erotic fiction. A guide.

“But what of the film adaptation you started talking about at the beginning of the opening paragraph?” I hear you mewl. Well, it’s glossy. Very glossy. Many years ago I used to regularly purchase a magazine called, hilariously, Living etc, centering on interior design. That’s exactly what this film is like, with the ‘etc’ meaning, watered down, misunderstood, vanilla BDSM for people who don’t read books. I’d like to amend John Waters’ advice about not fucking people who don’t read books. Don’t fuck people who read EL James. I’m deadly serious here, because her message is not sexy, it’s toxic. Back to the film.

Sam Taylor-Johnson directs this tosh extremely well, with a self-awareness of its inherent ridiculousness that it doesn’t deserve. She regularly dips a toe into parody with a tv commercial style of shooting and grabs the comedic moments to her bosom. And there ARE deliberately funny moments. Notably the contract negotiation scene, (props to cinematographer Seamus McGarvey for the sumptuous look of the whole thing) but even that can’t be saved from Mitchell’s tiresome insistence on her dreadful dialogue being included as much as possible. When Ana expresses an interest in winding up the meeting, Christian tells her that her body is saying something different. “There is a blush on your cheek.” But how can he tell when everything’s orange?

grey2

Taylor-Johnson apparently wanted to approach this as a dark fairy tale, while Mitchell saw it as an epic bonk-buster. Taylor-Johnson and adaptor Kelly Marcel’s sensibility creeps in with the inclusion of a scene with a hung over Ana waking up at Christian’s place with a painkiller, a glass of water, and a note that reads. ‘Eat Me. Drink Me.’ I don’t believe Mitchell has the imagination to write that, so I’m assuming it’s down to Marcel. Not exactly subtle, but it’s there. (Correct me if I’m wrong and it is in the book, but I’d bet my eye teeth it isn’t.) They try to take the curse off it in other areas too. “Laters baby,” has been turned into a recurring joke, a phrase first uttered by Christian’s brother, which he then uses ironically. There is no Inner Goddess and there are no “Holy craps!” although there is a breathy “Holy shit,” as Ana exits Christian’s office building in a downpour, holding her face up into the rain, bowled over by his money charisma. Why do we keep coming back to excrement? Don’t answer that.

fifty-shades-grey

To paraphrase Sarah Miles in White Mischief, “Not another fucking beautifully composed and lit shot.”

The screening itself had the odd atmosphere of a Hen Night. And beforehand I’d mused that this film might be a first. A commercial piece of cinema about sexuality, written by women, directed by a woman and appealing to a core audience of women. I was assured by the other attendees that there were plenty of people lapping this stuff up, talking excitedly amongst themselves and generally having a great time. We weren’t among them. When Dornan does his tedious, sad, nude piano playing schtick I muttered, “For god’s sake. He’s like The Phantom Of The fucking Opera without the organ.”

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Jamie Dornan

(Thanks to Kim for pointing out this connection.)

He really is organless, because although wide-eyed, lip-biting ingenue Dakota Johnson gets everything out,  Jamie Dornan is restricted to a naked, cigarette-burned chest and buttocks.  Now, it’s not like I want the screen to be awash with cocks (Or do I? A question for another day) but I would like some parity. At one point there’s an utterly bizarre flash frame of ‘someone’s’ pubic area (not Dornan’s, because he signed a ‘no complete nudity’ clause) reminding me of the insert of a nob (“Ooh err!”) in Fight Club.

Fight-Club-Hidden-Frames1

And so to the actors. Dakota Johnson has been on the receiving end of universal praise for her expressive naturalness and I’m in agreement. She brings believability to the unbelievable. Not conventionally beautiful, she has adorable little bags under her eyes, a slightly wonky nose and a sensual mouth. The camera loves her. The camera’s a bit unsure about Jamie Dornan but it might give him a call next weekend if it doesn’t have anything on.  Now, I’m aware that Dornan is the Psycho Du Jour due to The Fall, but not having seen that, or indeed, anything he’s been in, I was completely bemused by his flat, lifeless performance. To be fair, the script is mainly atrocious. Who is Christian Grey? According to this film he’s a super-rich fetus in a suit with a flying license and a predilection for kinky sex. Not much to base a performance on. BUT, and now we get to the important stuff. He has a ‘back story’, it’s what’s made him into the cypher he is today, and it’s not pretty. “I’m fifty shades of fucked up.” he complains. But do you really have to be fucked up to be into BDSM? The truth is you don’t. It’s a desire, probably hard wired into the brain and reinforced by environment, and when practiced by consenting adults, is not a mental illness to be cured by having a ‘normal’ romantic relationship, and the insinuation by Mitchell that it is, is downright insulting. In fact everything she does is insulting. Her utter contempt for her readership. Her congratulatory self-aggrandizement and her complete absence of self-awareness. No wonder Taylor-Johnson doesn’t want to work with her again. The news yesterday that she will be adapting her own work for the sequels must have the execs at Universal and Focus shitting their little panties, because she can’t write a sentence let alone a screenplay and she’s never had an original thought in her life.

Fifty Shades Of Grey started life as Twilight fan fiction, but there’s an even earlier film it draws upon heavily, Steven Shainberg’s Secretary (2002), based on a short story by Mary Gaitskill and adapted by Erin Cressida Wilson.

spader

The original Mr Grey

Secretary is also the story of a BDSM relationship but unlike Fifty Shades, our female protagonist, Lee, genuinely ENJOYS the games she plays with Mr Grey/Spader, while Ana seems to put up with Christian’s ‘singular tastes’ in order to keep her man. When she reaches her limit, she storms out of his house in tears. This should be the end of the story, but there are a further two books/films in which she partially ‘cures’ him and they live happily ever after in a socially sanctioned marriage with children. Pardon me while I have a strange interlude in which I imagine Mitchell drowning in a vat of Nutella, her favorite snack. Now Lee and Mr Grey also get married, but the wonderfully unconventional coda (SPOILER ALERT) finds her tied to a tree in her wedding dress being rogered senseless by Grey and loving every second of it! This is true consent. Ana doesn’t consent to Christian selling her car behind her back or having him stalk her, turning up at places and events he hasn’t been invited to. This is obsessive nonsense. In fact it’s abuse. Mitchell, even when she knew her witterings were turning into a money-making concern, wasn’t the least bit interested in properly researching the BDSM lifestyle. What she peddles is Harlequin Blaze like romantic fiction with rough sex, pop psychology and a writing style that makes Dan Brown look like Dostoyevsky. These are quite simply the worst books ever published, in any medium, aside from possibly, the Cum For Bigfoot series, (Yes. They’re exactly what they sound like) which also makes a bloody fortune, but film studios didn’t engage in a bidding war for them. She’s the kind of woman who makes me ashamed to be female. I’m all for women making successful careers. I have a lot of respect for Taylor-Johnson. She has talent and she’s worked for her now elevated position, all while navigating extreme illness and personal crises. Mitchell on the other hand, wrote a load of old rubbish on her phone on the underground on her way to and from work and has created an empire. An empire of ‘holy crap’.

And now, something for the ladies.

Gasp!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 12, 2010 by dcairns

Really gorgeous art-nouveau intertitle from THE WRONG BOX, directed by Bryan Forbes.

Fiona always says, when BF’s name comes up, that when he dies the British will suddenly appreciate that a major film talent had been in their midst. Perhaps the problem has been that Forbes, a spiky personality with a strong sense of his own worth, has appreciated himself too much and not left room for anyone else. He was the only filmmaker polled by Sight & Sound magazine who chose one of his own works for his personal Top Ten Movies of All Time. Forbes selected WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND, which at least shows he has good taste.

THE WRONG BOX is certainly an uneven piece, with some narrative slackness and muddle slightly spoiling the effect of the loving period recreation (John Barry score, Julie Harris costumes, Ray Simm art direction) and astonishing all-star cast. It’s particularly impressive to a British viewer, since every single face in the movie is somebody known from TV or movies. Major roles for Peter Cook & Dudley Moore, Ralph Richardson, Wilfred Lawson and Peter Sellers (to name only those who give career-high accounts of themselves) are supplemented by walk-ons by the likes of Leonard Rossiter, Graham Stark, Hilton Edwards, Thorley Walters, Irene Handl and the Temperance Seven. And of course there’s the inevitable Nanette Newman (criticism of Forbes’ tendency to cast his wife in everything is a sore point with him, understandably. But I find I’m coming around to Nanette.)

Anyhow, the above intertitle always cracks me up. Clearly influence by HELP!, made the previous year, although the influence really goes back to the cinematic playfulness of the nouvelle vague, it’s especially amusing by way of its utter redundancy: like the comic book sound effect captions in SCOTT PILGRIM, the intertitle describes something we can perfectly well hear for ourselves.

The strangled crier.

THE WRONG BOX is adapted so loosely from Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osborne’s novel that another version seems like a perfectly good idea — the book has some very funny bits of its own, with only the idea of a corpse in a trunk in common with Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart’s busy script. Osborne’s influence on Stevenson seems to be to rid him of his moralistic side, and the short novel is an exercise in infernal bad taste. I enjoyed it considerably.

The Near Future

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 21, 2010 by dcairns

My friend Niall Greig Fulton’s retrospective season at Edinburgh Film Festival has already produced some fascinating and little-seen works from Britain in and around the seventies. While Peter Watkins’ PRIVILEGE is often dismissed as a misfire, it’s a very interesting one, and I haven’t ever read anything which really pins down its virtues and vices in a way I recognise.

Paul Jones and Jean Shrimpton get a lot of stick for their flat, depressive delivery, but the non-actors actually work quite well with Watkins’ faux-documentary approach. It’s the more experienced cast members, playing in a slightly comedic manner, who clash with the verité trappings. And indeed, those stylistic choices seem a little unhelpful. This is meant to be a near future world where a pop star is used as a means of controlling and subduing dissent. But no BBC documentarist would ever be allowed to document such a process in a real totalitarian state, so the film might have been more convincing as fiction. Or, if Watkins was determined to employ the style he’d successfully used on CULLODEN and THE WAR GAME, he ought to have had the grotesque establishment figures played in a more subdued manner — inventing the low-key comedy of something like The Office, perhaps.

Watkins seems a reclusive sort, but Kevin Billington was on hand to introduce his 1970 film THE RISE AND RISE OF MICHAEL RIMMER, which he co-scripted with Peter Cook, John Cleese and Graham Chapman (who all appear). While PRIVILEGE is set in a sixties vision of the near future, the Billington is resolutely contemporary, yet seems far more prophetic. It was nice to learn that the drones of Watkins’ dystopia are watched over by a coalition government, “since there is no longer any difference in policy between Labour and Conservative,” but RIMMER’s idea that party politics are rendered redundant by the overwhelming power of the PR department is more sinister yet.

In PRIVILEGE, the church harnesses the power of a youth icon to make the masses conform — “By 1990 the only people going to church will be the clergy,” and to boost attendance (but the film is oddly tone deaf about pop culture, and we’re never convinced a move this bald-faced would work), but the bishop played by the great Graham Crowden in RIMMER has progressed beyond this. “We’ve tried everything, you know:  pop groups, bingo, hallucinogenic drugs in the wafers, son et lumiere in the graveyards…” Rimmer, played by Peter Cook with sinister smiling emptiness, a thin void in smart duds, tells him the problem is God, and they had best get rid of Him.

Like all the films so far, the movies are both thronging with familiar acting talent — the lovely James Cossins is in both. And Harold Pinter appears as a current affairs show host — I laughed at the name of his show, Steven Hench is Talking To You. Here’s Billington on meeting Pinter ~

Billington: “It all seemed to be I was in, as I discovered later, this Pinter world, when you were with him. […] Whenever you were alone with him, wherever you were, the world became the way he wrote. It’s the most extraordinary thing. With just one or two marvelous writers, in a funny way, this is how the world is with them.”

Billington very sweetly apologized to the ladies in the audience for the film’s prevalent sexism — a near-pornographic advert for sweeties produced by Rimmer is acceptable as satire (and anybody who’s seen a ’70s Cadbury’s Flake ad know how close to reality it is) but starlet Vanessa Howard is served up in a gratuitous nude scene which cheapens the movie. She doesn’t have much of a role, and it’s sad when you see how amazing she is in Freddie Francis’s nearly-lost weirdfest GIRLY.

Meanwhile, we have creeping dictatorship, covert invasion of a non-threatening country, bogus weapons of mass destruction, and the evidence of a generous budget from Warners, making this an unusually lavish and ambitious British comedy for any era (produced by David Frost of FROST/NIXON fame).

Me: “There must have been times in the last several years when you’d be watching the news and experience deja vu. Was there a particular moment when you thought, ‘This might not be satire anymore?'”

Billington: “Absolutely. I do have to say that the whole New Labour thing smacked so much… of how you ask the people… this whole thing is the people, they’re going to decide. Which has obviously strong links back to socialism in the early days. That’s not the way it’s used here. […] I could see the way politicians wanted to use television, and what they were actually thinking was ‘How do we come across?’ […] So when Blair suddenly was there, and his youth, ‘a New Tomorrow’ etc etc… I shouldn’t go on about Blair because at the moment we have a chap called Cameron who has a certain amount of PR about him. So I’m not being party political at all now, it just happened that that’s the way it came.”

It certainly did.

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