Archive for Robert Evans

Mata Hardly

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 16, 2019 by dcairns

Yes. Yes. DARLING LILI is very interesting. I didn’t feel any of the bits worked, exactly, but they were interesting bits.

It’s kind of fascinating that in 1968, when they were planning this film, they thought Julie Andrews would be good casting as a German spy. Or they thought that would be a good change of pace for her, anyway. And within her range. And it might be, but then you’d have to do something with the idea.

We don’t at any point in the film consider WHY Lili Smith is a spy — we’re told she’s half-German, and that’s it. She also has a devoted German spymaster, Jeremy Kemp (very good perf: obviously he’s in love with her). But there’s nothing else. As far as we can tell, she doesn’t ever question it.

Lance Percival rehearses Blake Edwards’ bit from his special Oscar acceptance.

(But what I viewed is the 2hr 16 min director’s cut available to me, not the 190 min roadshow version. The version I saw needs MORE shortening to move efficiently — but maybe if you added back at least some of the footage Edwards himself deleted, it would attain virtues more important than efficiency.)

It’s commonplace for these kind of stories, going back at least as far as DISHONORED, to feature characters throwing aside patriotism in the name of love, but we have no idea if Lili is patriotic about Germany while she’s going around singing patriotic songs about England as part of her cover. So does her apparent change of heart mean anything?

But the other side of the conflict, the love story, is equally undercooked. Rock Hudson shows up with a gypsy band to take Julie for a picnic at 3 a.m., which is quite dashing. But then we never hear them talk. What do they have in common? Can we watch this relationship develop and get a sense of when the lady spy’s performance of romance starts to shade into the real thing? Never happens. Instead there’s a long farce scene of her mercilessly prickteasing him and trying to provoke him into giving away military secrets. While, in a node to past Blake Edwards, not one but two Incompetent French Detectives bumble about on the roof in the pouring rain. Nice to see Jacques Marin, who seems to be turning up in everything I watch this year, and Andre Maranne (so good as Herbert Lom’s assistant in the later PANTHER films), but when you have TWO I.F.D.s as a team, maybe some of Clouseau’s desperate inner tension is lost (pace Sellers, he KNOWS he’s an idiot, but he’s trying all the time to stop everyone else noticing — and because he’s an idiot, he never gives up, even when it should be obvious that the gig is up).

The funny thing in this film is the perpetually squiffy Lance Percival as T.C. Carstairs. Rock Hudson at one point says his name is Twombly-Crouch, but then he never says it again and my dream of hearing Rock Hudson repeatedly say Twombly-Crouch is cruelly shattered. Percival gets the best dialogue — a perfect Wodehousian pastiche of blithering idiocy fighting its way through ferocious affability and a haze of alcohol. An entire film about Twombly-Crouch would be nice and now I have to see more Percival, I’ve neglected him. I don’t think I even noticed he’d died in 2015.

Remarkable how Edwards, at various points in his life an alcoholic, a pill-popper, a compulsive philanderer, is just as gleeful in his drunk jokes as his nervous breakdown jokes and his physical pain jokes.

I was a bit surprised to see Julie Andrews do a striptease here. I knew that S.O.B. was heavily inspired by this production but I still wasn’t expecting a flash frame of Mary Poppins’ left nipple. I put it to you that nobody expects that, ever. Except possible Blake Edwards, but even then I wouldn’t speak with certainty.

Maybe the edgier bit is Andrews WATCHING a striptease. Very intently.

Edwards certainly liked spending money! Although he didn’t want to film in Europe owing to weather considerations. But it seems like Ireland was the only place to shoot WWI planes, and not many places look like Paris. Although, owing to rioting French students, a lot of this was shot in Brussels. Doubtful if studio sets would have been cheaper.

Anyway, the massive scale of the production, with Edwards’ typically elegant filming style, results in every scene packing a lot of lustre. There are very good bits. But because the characters are basically puppets and nothing is at stake — the outcome of the war never felt urgent or important to me — this is another war where nobody gets hurt — no story momentum is built up. And whenever a problem appears — how can Julie spy on Rock for both sides at once? — it’s dropped while we get a song, an aviation sequence, and perhaps a reprise. (It’s not clear why the Incompetent French Detectives never consider that Julie might be the female enemy spy confidante of Rock they’re seeking. Well, they ARE I.F.D.s, I guess.)

Apart from being a German agent who betrays her lover to get secrets from him, Julie’s character also frames him and an entirely innocent stripper for treason, which you would expect would get them shot. To save them, when she has a change of heart, she flees to Switzerland, which it’s argued MIGHT save Rock, though this sounded ropey to me. Then there’s an action sequence involving planes and a train, which seemed wrong from the start, since again Rock and Julie are not free to interact — he’s up there and she’s down here. Well, I say “here,” I mean on the way to Swistzerland.

It’s not even a proper musical, in a way. The numbers are all performed on stage, when actually bursting into song in the middle of a scene might help this movie maintain its souffle-like attitude of floating above the mire of war. And might help bind the songs to the action. In CABARET, which makes the same exact approach seem brilliant and innovative, the songs seem to comment on the action and are perfectly placed in the story. Here, they always feel like interruptions, except for maybe the saucy song which makes a key character point and may be one of the rare instances on record of nudity being essential to the plot.

This film just missed being the perfect thing to have on a marquee in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD. Robert Evans was too busy messing about with it so it didn’t come out until the following year. But if you want to watch the death of Old Hollywood (“Even the way it died is beautiful” ~ David Lynch), here it is. Even though the talents involved were not old and would go on to do lots more — this KIND of film was finished.

Warren Beatty’s biscuits

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 23, 2016 by dcairns

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Warren Beatty’s biscuits are brought to you by MICKEY ONE, successfully bringing you Warren Beatty’s biscuits since 1965.

It’s a fascinating piece. The opening sequence, which unfold like a really great fashion spread of the sixties, only with moving parts, had me convinced this was going to be great before the director credit. And then I got progressively less convinced, but still impressed.

Mickey One titles from David Cairns on Vimeo.

Arthur Penn, fabulously squandering the goodwill generated by THE MIRACLE WORKER, goes all out to create an American art film, which is not a form native to America. I think the ultimate cargo cult art film may be Frankenheimer’s STORY OF A LOVE STORY, which dutifully assembles a bunch of talents with impeccable arthouse credentials and then sits back, well pleased with itself, while the already-sparse audience shuffle out. Penn likewise has a leading lady and a cinematographer with nouvelle vague references, and an actor from THE SEVEN SAMURAI (I was thinking I know that guy for the longest time, simply assuming he was Japanese-American, but NO, they imported him), but to his credit his film is also 100% American, with a particularly strong sense of time and place.

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The very young Warren Beatty plays a stand-up comedian on the run from the mob — in the third act he reverses his course and tries running TO the mob, which is the main bit of plot development. There’s intriguing support from Franchot Tone (looking like he’s been in another fight), Hurd Hatfield and Jeff Corey. Alexandra Stewart is the Cahiers-approved leading lady.

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On the minus side, Beatty’s material isn’t funny, and he isn’t funny doing it; the plot is paper-thin but not really meant to be otherwise; the film wants to be Felliniesque but only Fellini could pull that one off (is there any other great filmmaker whose influence on US film was so overwhelmingly negative? Fellini has an especial appeal for filmmakers who don’t want to do the work of telling a proper story — I think it’s significant that just as Picasso knew how to draw a credible realistic human figure, Fellini was a master storyteller who moved beyond storytelling); the attempts to do quirky, ludic filmmaking with undercranking and stuff are mainly a bit embarrassing.

On the plus side, fabulous imagery is thrown up all the time, working best when it arises naturally from the settings rather than being some kind of surreal conceit. And the movie has the most glorious dissolves: scenes melt into one another, frequently resulting in Beatty sharing the screen with himself (which I’m sure he loves). One time, driving a car, Beatty turns his head as if reacting to something, and a second landscape bleeds through in just the spot he’s looking at, followed by a second Beatty, peering uncertainly from the back of the first one’s head. The brilliant editor was Aram Avakian, later a fine director.

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Two Beattys #1: ethereal foreground Warren looks at background Warren seemingly walking through fire.

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Two Beattys #2: Warren 2 looks out the back of Warren 1’s head.

(In his autohagiography The Kid Stays in the Picture, Robert Evans says he fired Avakian from THE GODFATHER for manoeuvring against Coppola, trying to steal his job. It may be true, But Avakian had worked with Coppola before [YOU’RE A BIG BOY NOW], was Coppola’s guy. Evans, on the other hand, was manoeuvring against Coppola (it’s kind of what some producers see their job as — stop the film from being too individual a creative expression) and I suspect him of simply trying to weaken Coppola’s band of followers. He couldn’t easily fire the cinematographer, but editors are easy to snip out of the picture, privately.)

More acting with himself: it’s kind of hilarious the number of scenes Beatty plays with other actors who won’t talk to him. Little Kamitari Fujiwara never speaks at all, and Tone and Hatfield and the rest spend long scenes just staring balefully and refusing to answer Warren’s impassioned questions. “Why does nobody want to talk to Warren?” I asked.

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The ending is a would-be Fellini trope that rather irked me, but there’s a bit where Beatty tries to perform his act in the spotlight’s glare with the strong sense that he’s about to be killed — he performs to the light, as if meeting his maker, and it does achieve the existentialism the film is clutching for. The trouble is, it happens TWICE, at roughly the two-thirds mark and at the end, which rather dilutes the effect. But I could see the potential — Micky’s Kafkaesque contract, which may or not exist, makes him a man under obscure sentence of death, like the whole human race. Pompous and self-serious, maybe, but evocative, especially in black and white.

Charles Aznavour’s Sex Dungeon

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2013 by dcairns

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From THE ADVENTURERS (1969).

I’d read about this movie in two places — one was Robert Evans’ autohagiography The Kid Stays in the Picture, where he blames Paramount CEO Charlie Bluhdorn for choosing to make this bloated, old-fashioned Harold Robbins adaptation with untested star Bekim Fehmiu, much against his wishes. The movie tries to compensate for its dated approach by pouring in sex by the bucketload, with decorous nudity provided by the gorgeous Delia Boccardo and Leigh Taylor-Young, but to no avail. There’s a rather zany, zoomtastic sex scene with the former and Fehmiu which must have been startling stuff in ’69.

The other place I read of it is Lewis Gilbert’s autobio, All My Flashbacks, where he bitterly bemoans being removed from his dream picture, OLIVER! and forced to make this pile of tat. The fact that Carol Reed won the best directing Oscar for OLIVER! in his stead perhaps has something to do with the intensity of his regret: if Reed could win for the rather tired job of work he put in, surely an eager hack like Gilbert could do likewise.

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Gilbert seems to have put all he could into the turkey he was handed, stuffing it with orgies, battles, proto-disco fashion shows (with UV lighting and splitscreen) and star cameos. Claude Renoir shot it and Anne V. Coates cut it and it still sucks. “It was a bullshit story,” is Gilbert’s own, accurate, description.

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Also included — Charles Aznavour’s sex dungeon, a groovy, queasy palace of porn. Tony Masters, who had just designed 2001 (and would go on to DUNE), created the sets, and one feels Kubrick must surely have been watching. In fact, Masters creates an even more stylish, beautiful and sinister objectification parlour than John Barry (not the composer) would achieve for CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Both designers must surely have been influenced by the kinky sculptures of Allen Jones (in fact Kubrick admitted it and initially tried to buy Jones’ work) but Masters’ versions are BETTER — they throw in a Hans Bellmer influence, merging body parts and furniture together in a way HR Giger would approve of (the HR stands for Human Resources, in case you wondered).

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The groovy entrance hall gives way to a more dungeon-like stage, with soft screens hilariously distorted by mannequin breasts which press against them from behind, making pseudo-erotic bulges in the fabric. It’s a ludicrous and tragically mechanistic parody of sex, and fills one with pity and revulsion for Aznavour’s character — the thought of anyone going to all that trouble to so little effect. I have no idea if that was the emotion we are supposed to feel, but there it is. I don’t mean the red room with the white sculpture furniture, which would suit an erotomaniac Bond villain — we’d all like one of those. I mean the green-tinged dungeon stage set with the titty wall.

THE ADVENTURERS may be three hours of mainly tedium, and an embarrassment to everyone who worked on it (certainly to Evans and Gilbert), but you have to admire this one setting. Or maybe you don’t. I’m not you.

All My Flashbacks

The Kid Stays in the Picture: A Hollywood Life

The Adventurers