Archive for Peter Sellers

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.

Alpha-Omega

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 2, 2019 by dcairns

The opening and closing shot of every Kubrick feature film.

Observations:

Some of these films seem to be talking to each other.

KILLER’S KISS, which in Kubrick’s own revised filmography stands as his first feature (he suppressed FEAR AND DESIRE, top) is the only film ending with anything so conventional as a clinch, but way down at the end EYES WIDE SHUT ends with Nicole’s four-letter suggestion, thus closing a circle of a kind.

The forested hillsides of FEAR AND DESIRE seem to echo those of THE SHINING but if you’re looking at what the shot’s DOING, the real rhyme is between DR. STRANGELOVE and THE SHINING.

STRANGELOVE to CLOCKWORK ORANGE is the sequence I really stand by.

It’s sometimes hard to know what IS the last shot. BARRY LYNDON earns two images, the last live image and the Epilogue card which is clearly part of the film and makes a nice connection with LOLITA and THE SHINING. Likewise LOLITA gets the last shot of Mason, which loops back to the first scene (Peter Sellers is about to emerge and say “I’m Spartacus” just as we hastily fade out), and its final super-title. THE SHINING’s closing shot I’ve represented with two images because it’s a rostrum move.

SPARTACUS is an outlier — I chose to use the first shot of Saul Bass’s title sequence, because the first shot of the film proper, I believe, is by Anthony Mann before he was fired. And the hand makes a nice rhyme with LOLITA…

The Tragically Hip

Posted in Fashion, FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2018 by dcairns

I only quasi-remembered I LOVE YOU, ALICE B. TOKLAS — which was to have been Paul Mazursky’s first film as director until Peter Sellers became paranoid-jealous about Mazursky and his wife Britt Ekland. This makes for a funny and eye-popping chapter in the Mazursky memoirs. Mazursky never makes the obvious point that in no universe known to man would a humble screenwriter who looked like Paul Mazursky have much of a chance with Britt Ekland. Maybe that never occurred to him as a defence. But he’s eloquent on the weird guilt feelings that accompany honest denials of something one genuinely didn’t do. Funny running gag of all his associates asking him, perfectly seriously, “WHY DID YOU DO IT, PAUL?”

Sellers’ demented antipathy dimmed enough for PM to be allowed on set and so he was able to contribute his thoughts and help Hy Averback, a TV director acting as traffic cop on this. Mazursky and Averback only got their shots after Sellers’ first choices, Federico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman, turned it down.

The movie depicts Harold Fine, a Jewish lawyer due to marry a rather annoying woman he doesn’t love out of sheer inertia, who is seduced into the counterculture by hippy chick Leigh Taylor-Young (Mazursky for some strange reason displaces her hyphen to between Leigh and Taylor, but apparently that’s not where she likes it). Fiona expressed revulsion at this doe-eyed moron character, and started to feel sorry for the shrewish fiancée, played by Joyce Van Patten with a lot of grating verve. Surprisingly, the film is shrewd enough to anticipate this so that when Sellers ditches her at the altar, he says that although this is unforgivable, going through with it and ruining her life would be far worse. “Okay, that’s fair enough,” said Fiona.

As in WHAT’S NEW PUSSYCAT, Sellers’ hippy wig seems to be making minimal effort to convince.

Then we get the film’s funniest business — Sellers attempts to drop out be a successful hippy., opening his apartment to anyone who wants a place to crash. Mazursky had to step in and advise the star that he was playing it too sweetly — influenced by the huge crush he’d developed on “Leigh-Taylor.” Sellers blew up and banished Mazursky from the set, but he DID adjust his performance and it’s very amusing indeed to see him lose his cool and become unhip again. The oppressive nightmare of the house full of hippies, like Groucho’s stateroom only with a palpable reek of patchouli and weed, is really funny-but-horrible, and does indeed turn out to be a nightmare —

Sellers awakens back at the altar — it’s all been THE LAST TEMPTATION OF HAROLD. But he runs out again, searching for the elusive Third Way between middle-class self-abnegation and irresponsible self-indulgence.

It’s ALMOST a satisfying ending, and surprisingly the harsh view of hippiedom is kind of refreshing now, but since the film never looks at issues like Vietnam, its swipes at straight society are pretty toothless and the choice between sides comes down to castrating Jewish mother & wife, consumer goods, and booze on the one side, and flakey dimwit girlfriend, poverty and hash on the other. The wit of much of the writing and acting stops this from ringing hollow until the end, at which point there’s suddenly a delayed crashing chime that drowns out Elmer Bernstein’s infuriating earworm of a theme tune.