Archive for Ringo Starr

Woodery Pokery*

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 10, 2014 by dcairns

HELP!

*Woodery pokery = John Gielgud’s term for playwright Charles Wood’s verbal gymnastics.

HELP! had an unusual genesis. The Beatles had contracted to make three films, and the roaring success of A HARD DAY’S NIGHT made it inevitable that United Artists would take them up on the option.  Director Richard Lester has described how the film was defined by what it couldn’t be – it couldn’t revisit the Beatles working lives, because that had been done, and it couldn’t tackle their off-duty lives because those were x-rated. As it is, it’s surprising that we get to see the boys smoke (tobacco) and order (but not drink) “two lagers and lime and two lagers and lime.”

And also Lester felt the band were not ready to play anything other than themselves (D’Artagnan and the Three Musketeers were mooted, but would have to wait until Lester was ready himself). There was not only the question of acting skill, there was the fact that these four men were famous AS THEMSELVES, and any Beatles movie was going to have them playing their hits, so how convincing would any impersonation of fictional characters be?

So the solution was unavoidable – the Beatles, playing cartoon versions of themselves, deposited in a fantasy plot in which they can be buffeted about. French writer Marc Behm sold the team on a storyline where Ringo, established in the first film as the most vulnerable Beatle, can’t take the pressure of fame and hires a stranger to kill him. He regrets it the next day, but teere’s no way to call the hitman off. This was agreed as the storyline, and then Jean-Paul Belmondo starred in LES TRIBULATIONS D’UN CHINOI EN CHINE with exactly the same story. Lester didn’t know until I told him that the plot stems from Jules Verne, and that Behm was thus offering them stolen goods.

Nevertheless, Behm got the job of coming up with a fresh plot, and the one he created, in which Ringo is pursued by an Indian death cult who want his ring, in perfectly serviceable. Since Behm couldn’t write scouse, Charles Wood, who had just adapted THE KNACK with Lester, got the job of taking the story to screenplay form.

“It was just an assignment,” Wood is quoted as saying in Andrew Yule’s patchy Lester bio, The Man Who “Framed” the Beatles, “I don’t think I did a particularly good job.”

I beg to differ: a very good job, and a very odd job too. One could wish it had a bit more resolution – even with almost nothing to resolve, it needs some comeuppance for baddies Leo McKern and Victor Spinetti, I feel. The “character arc” bit, in which Ringo is required to show courage, is slightly underdone – it reads fine in the published script, but doesn’t quite catch fire onscreen. Maybe because the Beatles made the film under the influence of wacky baccy, and so their performances aren’t quite as enthusiastic as before. Lester resorted to saying their lines ahead of them and getting them to copy his phrasing, just to get them through a take. Lennon claimed the best bits were all on the cutting room floor, with him and his mates falling about in hysterics.

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Ringo is kind of a great bad actor, or non-actor, or un-actor, entertaining in his failure to seem like he’s mentally present in a scene, but one of my fave exchanges in the script is utterly nailed by him. The team are speculating about how the unwanted ring can be detached from Ringo’s pinkie.

“The fire brigade got my head out of some railings once.”

“Did you want them to?”

“No. I used to leave it there when I wasn’t using it for school. You can see a lot of the world from railings.”

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The last sentence is delivered with just the perfect sort of faraway wisdom, with Richard Starkey OBE staring into the middle distance. I think Ringo succeeds so well here because he has the attractive quality of a child, unaware of saying something funny.

The script is full of abstract non-jokes – either Lester and Wood trusted the young audience to get them – to laugh at a non-joke you have to be smart enough to process the material and instantly realize that there’s nothing hidden there that you’re not getting – or they didn’t care, knowing that the audience would turn up for the Beatles alone and be happy as long as they got to look at them and hear them play, so why not just entertain yourself and the smartest person in the room? At any rate, it’s a wonderfully nonsensical thing, more Reeves & Mortimer than Monty Python, exulting in language. The weakest bits are the straight puns (“It’s the brain drain. His brain’s draining.) which aren’t in the original script anyway, or not in the form they wound up in. I prefer the odd constructions like “Jeweller, you’ve failed, jeweller.”

Anyway, Lester’s visuals are dazzling, but the words deserve appreciation too.

My latest film is a video essay for the Criterion Blu-Ray of A HARD DAY’S NIGHT. Pre-order it here: A Hard Day’s Night (Criterion Collection) (Blu-ray + DVD)

 

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Dracula Schmacula

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 25, 2012 by dcairns

SON OF DRACULA, “starring” Harry Nilsson, “directed” by Freddie Francis and “produced” by Ringo Starr, seems to have been brought into being solely to disabuse me, decades after its creation, of several of my most long-cherished beliefs. These are ~

(1) The 1970s were cool (THE GODFATHER and PULP can be seen advertised in the background of a couple of shots, but they can’t compete with the awful guff going on in the foreground).

(2) The presence of Dennis Price in a vampire film is always a good sign (VAMPYROS LESBOS).

(3) Ringo Starr is a fundamentally well-meaning man who wants me to have a good time (HELP!, CANDY).

(4) Rock musicals with Frankenstein elements are the key to human happiness  (ROCKY HORROR, LISZTOMANIA)

(5) Keith Moon was exclusively in very great films (TOMMY, SEXTETTE)

(6) T Rex had alchemical powers which transmuted everything they touched into gold.

(7) Jenny Runacre can make anything cool (THE FINAL PROGRAMME).

(8) Dracula films with motorbikes are cool (THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA).

(9) Freddie Jones is the kind of guy you can depend on to learn his lines.

(10)  Shakira Caine was only ever in THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING and never made any films where she turned into a housecat.

All of these self-evident truths, previously held to be inviolate, are thrown into question by this shambling travesty — how shall I go on in a world where NOTHING is certain?

Harry Nilsson is a new kind of Dracula — quiet, authoritative, ginger. He plays the whole thing straight, which might have worked if everybody had gone along with it. After all, the script, by actress Jennifer Jayne working under a pseudonym (wisely), doesn’t actually provide any gags — apart from Dracula Jnr being called Count Down, for no reason. Ringo, as Merlin (what’s Merlin doing in this???), is Ringo. The rest of the rock stars just play music, which is a bit of a waste. The way to redeem this farrago would have been to play it absolutely straight, cutting all the “comedy” which would have taken about three minutes of script revision, and casting inappropriate musicians in all roles. THEN it might have been funny. Freddie Jones as Baron Frankenstein tries, apart from the aforementioned difficulty with the lines (which are often unspeakable sci-fi gibberish, to be fair), but think what Keith Moon could have done! Seized the role by the throat and worried it to death, I should think. And Dennis Price as Van Helsing? Sure, he seems to have sobered up for the day’s work, and Francis shoots him as if he was actually there, in the scene with the other players, which must have been a bewildering change for Price, who was usually filmed to  look as much like stock footage as possible (see HORROR HOSPITAL if you don’t believe me), but this has the effect of depriving Peter Frampton of the opportunity to wear a goatee and operate lab equipment. It’s a terrible injustice.

I was slightly surprised that this seriously obscure film, lost in the mists of time and hard drugs, features songs I recognized — that echoing yelling number (Jump into the Fire) that plays during Ray Liotta’s last day as a goodfella in GOODFELLAS, and this

Extra points for recognizing the space footage swiped from A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH. At least Freddie Francis worked on AMOLAD. Did David Niven feel raped? Probably not — he was too busy making VAMPIRA.

Francis apparently had a horrible time on this film — not the world’s greatest director (but one of the greatest cinematographers, as THE INNOCENTS and THE ELEPHANT MAN testify), he found himself employed on a rock folly tax dodge, where the professionalism which was his main attribute as director was not respected or required. He says it led him to give up directing, although one notes that he had not hit bottom yet — he made CRAZE the same year, with Satanist Jack Palance trolling for sacrificial victims in the Raymond Revuebar. The following year’s THE GHOUL and LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF are shoddy, but mark a slight step up.

The Revuebar is glimpsed here too, in a Swinging London travelogue which actually contains the film’s only moments of visual felicity — a girl walks past and a neon light flicks on offscreen just as she catches the vampire’s eye, causing her to flare red — and the Coke sign’s red wave lights up from top to bottom EXACTLY like a pool of blood flowing downhill.

One odd thing among many — SON OF DRACULA is actually set in the future. An opening title gives the date of Dracula’s staking as “the 1880s” — which is strangely vague, as if the writer is unsure of her facts — and Count Down’s coronation, which takes up most of the plot, is set “a hundred years later” — also, he gets from Transylvania to London via the Channel Tunnel, which did not yet exist in 1974 (it’s represented by an underground car park — this is, after all, a film which boasts of being made “entirely on location”). Yet despite all this, Piccadilly Circus still boasts ads for THE GODFATHER.

Francis would show this blithe disregard for setting again in THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS, Dylan Thomas’ Burke and Hare script, belatedly filmed in 1985. Relocating the story to London would have been a perfectly reasonable action, since the characters are all re-named anyway, but Francis inexplicably keeps the Edinburgh locale (with a single location shot of Arthur’s Seat) but has everybody talk in cockney accents. I can understand him not wanting to give himself a migraine by reading the SON OF DRACULA script too closely, but when Dylan Thomas is involved, I think a little more care would be welcome.

I am indebted to Shadowplay informant Danny Carr for reminding me that S.O.D. (“an Apple Production”) existed, thus prompting me to obtain a copy. Remind me to stab him in the forehead next time I see him.

The Sunday Intertitle: Cave Art

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 18, 2009 by dcairns

vlcsnap-127789“In order to launch a product, a good enough publicity idea.”

From QUANDO LE DONNE PERSERO LA CODA — WHEN WOMEN LOST THEIR TAILS, a sequel to the popular, dumb, wildly unfunny Italian stone-age sex comedy QUANDO LE DONNE AVEVANO LA CODA, or WHEN WOMEN HAD TAILS.

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Both movies are spectacularly stupid, devoid of wit, and waste a vaguely promising comedy idea, done rather better by Buster Keaton in THREE AGES (which is one of his least interesting films). The fact that the films, directed by Pasquale Festa Campanile, use rock-carved intertitles, sets up a promising expectation that they might do without dialogue. Italian audiences love slapstick, and cavemen often communicate in grunts in the movies, so this seems like an interesting exercise for the filmmakers to undertake. But they don’t undertake it. All they undertake is curvaceous German import Senta Berger in a fur bikini, surrounded by a lot of hideous Italians in fright wigs, in a big ugly artificial Flintstones set, where the boulders actually cast shadows on the sky.

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CAVEMAN, which I was always perversely curious to see, is a lot more ambitious. The cavemen grunt in this one, using a primitive language created by Anthony Burgess farted out by writers Carl Gottlieb and Rudy De Luca, which should clear the way for visual gags to drive the plot. Unfortunately, there are (almost) no gags worthy of the name and (actually) no plot. Ringo Starr plays the hero, which would be funnier if he DID speak English. Ringo is only really funny when he attempts verbal acting. Future Mrs Starr and former Bond girl Barbara Bach plays the sex interest. A very cute young Shelley Long plays the love interest, Dennis Quaid is the best friend (so young!), and it’s all very wretched indeed, apart from the dinosaurs.

How wretched? A major “comedy” moment involves Ringo drugging Barbara with knock-out fruit so he can rape her in her sleep. And she’s meant to be the bad one (she gets dropped in dinosaur poo at the end). Of course, Ringo fails to get his drumstick in her, so we can all laugh, can’t we? Er, no.

(The Italian one has Senta Berger subjected to unsophisticated caveman mating techniques too, until a more sensitive, modern caveman turns up who teaches her the kama sutra, or something. Naturally, he becomes the enemy of the other troglodytes. Either way, both movies exude an authentically stone-age sensibility.)

But the dinosaurs! Jim Danforth  and Dave Allen, of EQUINOX fame, created some beautiful goofy monsters for this, which give by far the best performances and get all the laughs. And they actually manage to have charm, when surrounded by this putrid film. Actually, maybe the job of the movie is to make them look good. At the climax, Ringo rides atop a saurian, and the animated Ringo doll gives a much better perf than the real Richard Starkey. The best shots are the ones where the top half of the real Ringo has been matted onto the bottom half of the doll straddling the dino’s back. The stop-motion ass and legs are infinitely more nuanced and expressive than the live-action torso, arms and head.

EQUINOX is a movie so bad, with monster effects so good, that somebody has helpfully posted all the monstery bits on YouTube. Somebody should do the same with CAVEMAN.

The device of mixing live-action and stop-motion, with little animated people interacting with the big beasts, and match-cuts between miniature and real actors, all seems to date back to Keaton, who has brief but beautiful dino action in THREE AGES. His inspiration was Winsor McCay, who had interacted with a hand-drawn brontosaurus in GERTIE THE DINOSAUR way back in 1914. That seemed an impossibly long time ago even in 1923: Keaton’s collaborators told him he not only knew his film history, but his prehistory.

McCay, a brilliant cartoonist for the Hearst press, used to exhibit this film in the music halls, speaking to Gertie, anticipating the action in the cartoon so she would seem to obey his instructions. At the climax he would step behind the screen as Gertie lifts an animated McCay onto her back… all of which utterly trumps the seventies and eighties fantasy-farce of Campanile and Gottlieb, as far as I’m concerned.

Wait! Maybe I’m being unfair? Maybe these filmmakers, Campanile and Gottlieb both, are trying to make films the way actual neanderthals would? Such films would be concerned only with eating, fucking and shitting, and would avoid any kind of intelligence or originality in favour of wallowing in universally understood cultural effluent. Abandoning all efforts at aestheticism, they would crudely fashion their cro-magnon movies out of animal hides, bark, and bits of flint, projecting them by firelight on the cavern wall using a projector made of tusks and dung.

No, I can’t see it. Cave art is way more beautiful than these movies.

(Note: Gottlieb is co-writer of THE JERK, which is a funny film, in which he also plays the small part of Iron-Balls McGinty. De Luca worked on some lesser Mel Brooks flicks, including HIGH ANXIETY, which is a funny film. But any writing team needs to avoid self-satisfaction, with each writer spurring the other on to greater heights. My impression: that didn’t happen with  CAVEMAN.)