Archive for Peter Cook

Party Down

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2019 by dcairns

Why didn’t I find THE PARTY funny as a kid? It’s weird, as I was a big Peter Sellers fan, a big PINK PANTHER movie fan. I laughed once — the flying shoe caught me by surprise.

Of course, I was watching the film on TV, pan-and-scanned. But I was used to that. In fact, an early occasion when I became aware of film style was when I noted the strange mechanical movements in RETURN OF THE PINK PANTHER — faced with Edwards’ audacious use of the widescreen, the hapless clod charged with having the film “adapted to fit your screen” was forced to pan, with grinding slowness, from one side of the 1:2.35 frame to the other, creating the exact effect of HAL’s lip-reading in 2001. As a tiny tot, I didn’t know what was behind this, but I thought it an interesting directorial choice.

Since a lot of THE PARTY is about social embarrassment, maybe that just didn’t speak to me as a kid. In fact, a lot of it’s about feeling lost at a party, something I’ve experienced a lot more in the interim. God, it’s agonizing, and that’s where the funniness comes from, as usual with Edwards. Sellers’ character, Indian actor Hrundi V. Bakshi, is cinema’s great lonely man. I mean, he has it way worse than Travis Bickle, who at least was a native English speaker. Bakshi wanders the big crazy LA house, humiliating himself in every imaginable way, clumsy, unlucky, unable to read social cues, not knowing anyone… it’s just terrible. I laughed quite a lot, and I was always on his side.

And yes, it’s slightly racist. The idea of a white man impersonating an Indian for comic effect is uncomfortable today, but if we accept that this was not abnormal at the time, we can admire the sympathy and skill of Sellers’ performance. As David Wingrove pointed out in a recent conversation, he’s not Mickey Rooney in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S — who I found myself shamefacedly guffawing at when they screened the first reel on 35mm in Bologna last year. The sheer energy of the burlesque, you know. But BAT treats Mr. Yunioshi as a clown because of his race — he’s unworthy of being taken seriously. Whereas THE PARTY, I think, takes Bakshi VERY seriously. That strange, sad little coda…

The most troublesome bit is the opening. The plot requires Bakshi to make Hollywood enemies — the prologue explains how he came to be brought out to Tinseltown to appear in some kind of Raj epic. And the joke seems to more or less explicitly be, “If an Indian actor were brought to Hollywood, it would be a disaster because he would be an idiot.” Bakshi takes an outrageous amount of time to die (so he’s a bad actor), he wears a waterproof wristwatch in a Victorian period movie (actually it’s someone else’s job to prevent that) and he steps on a detonator and blows up a whole building before the cameras are rolling (could happen to any of us).

Each of these gags is moderately amusing, but they don’t add up to a coherent character sketch, and although the sequence is necessary to the plot, it still feels like the movie really starts as Bakshi arrives at the party, at which it becomes funnier and more sympathetic.

One day after admiring Peter Cook’s red socks in BEDAZZLED (a fashion choice also favoured by Michael Powell) I was charmed by Bakshi’s footwear. He wears white shoes, so that when he steps in mud it’s as bad as it could possibly be. And red socks, so that when he loses is a shoe, it’s as bad as THAT could possibly be.

Comedy, it seems, needs to be both cruel and kind.

The Sunday “That’s not an intertitle.”

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on October 6, 2019 by dcairns

We watched BEDAZZLED again last night because our dinner guest, Marvelous Mary, had never seen it. Filling in gaps in our friends’ cinematic experience is all part of the service.

Anyhow, the leaping nuns (you probably have to see it yourself) are sworn to a vow of silence which is a hurdle for screenwriter Peter Cook, who is all about the words. He solves this with tape recorded messages, internal monologues/telepathy (internal dialogue?) and signposts, a bit like those produced as required from behind the backs of Looney Tunes characters.

BEDAZZLED was the late Stanley Donen’s favourite directing experience. He doesn’t get in the way of the comedy, he just records it in a succession of gorgeous shots. His experience with dance may be of help here.

It strikes me that Cook’s only weakness as scenarist, apart from his verbal emphasis, which is more of an inclination than a true weakness, is that he tries too hard to pack everything with wit, jokes, epigrams and paradoxes. Whereas film comedy maybe works better if you just play a funny situation, investing in its warped reality. But actually, he does this for long stretches with Dud’s scenes. It’s only with his own stuff as Arthur Spigott, the devil incarnate, that he has to make himself a fount of bon mots. And do a funny voice. And look impossibly cool.

Behind Cook’s obvious genius and all-too-obvious, supreme self-confidence, as Barry Humphries analyses in a compelling DVD extra, is a strange LACK of self-confidence.

Make a Faustian pact Wimpy Bar double feature of this with Michael Reeves THE SORCERERS for Halloween?

Positively the same plastic tomato.

Going to the Movies

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 8, 2018 by dcairns

Tim Concannon on the late acting roles of Peter Cook provides us with a piece that’s erudite, wide-ranging, funny and melancholic — all the qualities we cherish. Here. This is a really wonderful illustration of what blogging can do — because you’d NEVER get a thing like this published anywhere else. Fantastic.

Fiona was surprised, in Pete Walker’s FRIGHTMARE. to see Graham The Psychiatrist take his date to see BLOW OUT. Not catching the name above the title, she wondered how the lovely couple could be enjoying a Brian De Palma movie that hadn’t been made yet in 1974.

Realizing that this was Marco Ferreri’s LA GRANDE BOUFFE, she marvelled at Graham The Psychiatrist’s taste. She would have been impressed by a date choosing such a movie, though in 1974 she would have been a bit young to see it, or indeed to go on a date.

I marvelled at Pete Walker’s sense of humour.

This is by way of being a gallery to accompany our latest podcast, which you should really download.

We speak approvingly of this transition in TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER, a slow dissolve from Christopher Lee’s beneficent visage to a landscape view, causing his eyes to bore out of the evening sky like dark moons.

This is an example of the crazy film stock cinematographer David Watkin deployed for the climax of TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER. I’m wondering if he might have used a bit of it in THE BED SITTING ROOM, which has some wild colour experiments, but most of them SEEM to have been achieved with filters and/or big plates of coloured glass (i.e. GIANT filters).

 

And we’re very enthusiastic about this gradual zoom-out in THE MONSTER CLUB, incorporating stylish reflections, Simon Ward’s cheekbones, and a theatrical lighting change. Suggestion for a scholarly dissertation: The Influence of Death of a Salesman on Amicus Films.

And we talk about (and quote) the sequence composed entirely of elaborate and spooky illustrations, apparently by acclaimed cartoonist John Bolton. Only right to provide a visual sample. Via Twitter, another fine cartoonist, regular Shadowplayer Douglas Noble informs me that Bolton had been doing promotional comic strips for Amicus and this led to him being hired to create the visuals for this sequence. Bolton’s work is so fine that the montage in no sense feels like a cheap solution to production limitations: it actually RAISES the production values of the film.

FRIGHTMARE stars Miss Brabazon, Chief Inspector Maigret, Manoel and Starbuck.

TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER stars Tommy Udo, the Duc De Richelieu, Tess Durbeyfield, Pussy Galore, Toby Meres, Marcus Brody, Don Jarvis, Rand Hobart, Wackford Squeers, Madame Nadedja von Meck, Professor Pomona Sprout and Madame Olympe Maxime.

THE MONSTER CLUB stars Matthew Hopkins, Major Cassius Starbuckle, Kit Kelly, Mr. Grout, the White Witch, the Duke of Buckingham, Catweazel, Detective-Inspector Boney, Dr. Crippen, Dr. John Markway, Mary Goodnight, Toby Meres again, Paul Regret, Nurse Nora and the Marquis de Sade.

Once again, you can grab The Shadowcast #3: The Fall of the House of Horror here.