Archive for Scrooge

Scroogeathon

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 24, 2013 by dcairns

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We were round at our friends Nicola and Donald’s place, along with Marvelous Mary, eating, drinking and watching Scrooges. The weather outside was frightful — rain and sleet gusting in multiple directions as umbrellas turned inside out like kinetic sculptures. Inside, all was warm and festive, though there was a brief crisis when Nicola’s beloved DVD of THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL could not be located. But I found it, to great relief.

Nicola: “When you blog about this — and you will — be kind!”

We also watched smatterings of other Scrooges, and all of the Albert Finney musical xmastravaganza, a post-OLIVER! flop which is actually really good, except for the songs. So the purpose of this post is to consider the varied approaches of directors, screenwriters and actors when tackling Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Fiona and I agree that the gold standard is Alistair Sim, both in SCROOGE, the 1951 feature directed by Brian Desmond Hurst, and twenty years later in Richard Williams’ animated TV special, which captures the feeling of Victorian pen-and-ink illustrations and evokes a nightmarish quality that marked the young Fiona for life.  We like our Christmas Carols scary, and we deduct points from any version which leaves out the starving children under Christmas Present’s robe.

Extra points are awarded whenever it looks like Scrooge might have a point, actually — Finney does well here — and notes are taken when the performance post-reformation suggests that the old miser’s mind has snapped under the strain. Sim seems genuinely unhinged, and Bill Murray in SCROOGED is probably going to go on a killing spree right after the credits roll, laughing maniacally the while.

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Williams film has to move over — we have a new champion for visual splendour and creepiness — Ronald Neame’s musical may not have the tunes, apart from “Thank You Very Much” (and it gets a few points just for having a number called “I Hate People” which should be a Christmas standard), and it’s hampered by Finney’s inability to really put over a song, but the production design by Terence Marsh (art director on OLIVER!), costumes by Margaret Furse (Lean’s OLIVER TWIST) and photography by Oswald Morris (OLIVER!) are all stunning — Scrooge’s home is a wreck, with every crevice lovingly blow-torched so the cracked-paintwork forms a texture you could reach out and stroke — and Leslie Bricusse departs from the source text outrageously by sending Scrooge to Hell, a gorgeous scarlet inferno with Kryptonite trimmings. The night sky full of wraiths is MUCH too frightening for kids, and generally speaking the film misses few opportunities to freak us out with the scary stuff. No Hunger and Want though.

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Finney’s Ebenezer doesn’t seem that old, which is an interesting departure, but the film gains from having an actor who can convincingly play the young Scrooge and the middle-aged one. He treats the character stuff as an opportunity to trot out his Wilfred Lawson impersonation, which also forms part of his acclaimed perf in THE DRESSER. It’s a very good impersonation, but may cause bafflement to those who don’t know the original. Finney also scores well on the emotional side, helped by Neame’s willingness to give him lingering, painful close-ups at key moments — and the make-up, more middle-aged decay than old-age, bears up remarkably well in these giant face-shots.

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We also looked at a couple of thirties Scrooges. Reginald Owen at MGM waggles his head too much and has to work hard to dispel his inherent gentleness, but whose paunchy frame and high britches give him a suitably unpleasant arachnid quality. The makeup isn’t up to Finney standard though — it looks like cracking plaster on his face. Over in the UK, Seymour Hicks took the role in 1935, having already done it in a short silent. Hicks was famous for the role on stage, and may be the fastest Scrooge on record — he bangs out his dialogue like a Vickers Machine Gun, creating a whole different rhythm for the scenes. It works! As does his appearance, which is Yoda meets Grinch. I’d read Hicks described as incandescent with anger, but he’s more nasty than angry, stabbing each sentence into his interlocuters’ underbellies. Unfortunately, Hicks is only good at being nasty, and his reformation results in a slowing of tempo to that deadly pace associated with the worst of the stiff, British, theatrical tradition.

The George C. Scott tele-movie takes a wholly different approach. It’s stately, as a “literary classic” (really just a potboiler by Dickens’ standards) is supposed to be, but takes its pace from Scott’s performance, which is frosty, glacial, monumental on the surface but animated by those eye movements, all fire within. Clive Donner’s best approach might have been to devote the entire movie to closeups of his star…

Fiona regretted that Michael Caine couldn’t have done a straight version of the story, since his Scrooge is quite good enough — positively Satanic at the start, before crumbling most effectively. The singing once more lets him down, though Paul Williams’ numbers for A MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL are much better than Leslie Bricusse’s efforts for the Neame-Finney. Director Brian Henson has good comic timing and can compose genuinely funny shots (though he should lay off the focus-pulls), but is this a good way to tell the story?

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Dickens’ original provides some model cinematic scenes and scene-changes, with Scrooge whisked through time by the three ghosts in a manner which seems to anticipate movie editing. With Scrooge as audience-surrogate to moments from the past, present and future, it’s redundant to add in the Great Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat as narrator and foil — they become an audience of an audience of the action, with little room left for the audience watching the scene — some effectively spooky stuff is spoiled by their badinage.

As much as one admires the decision to give Jacob Marley a brother called Robert (a joint reference to the reggae singer and to Robert Morley, star of THE GHOSTS OF BERKELEY SQUARE?) and cast Waldorf and Statler, Alec Guinness is a definitive Marley, owing largely to his decision to play the role as if underwater. Dickens provides the fascinating detail that Marley’s coat tails and pig-tail and the tassels on his boots bristle — Guinness deduces that this is because the Ghost, a spirit, is suspended in our material world as if in water. The effect is uncanny and wonderful, and might even have influenced the drowned child in THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE.

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Though he sports the bandaged head, Guinness never unwraps himself to let his jaw drop down to his chest (although given the film’s sumptuous production values, such a special effect seems achievable) — that’s left to the animated wraith voiced by Michael Hordern in the Williams toon, and to Frank Finlay in Clive Donner’s TV movie with George C. Scott as the miser. Finlay does it entirely with acting. (Hordern may be the only actor to have played Marley AND Scrooge, essaying the latter in a 1977 TV version. That version, which today looks retro-stylish with its early video effects, has a Marlowe played by comic actor John LeMesurier, who drops his jaw and gargles to no horrific effect at all — rendering Hordern’s cowering surreally inexplicable.)

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Despite all that scary lighting can do, Hordern proves, as Fiona predicted, too avuncular and sweet an actor to be taken seriously as a meanie.

Other ghosts — Williams’ multifaceted Christmas Past is definitive, but Fiona was impressed by Anne Rutherford as a SEXY Christmas Past in the Reginald Owen attempt. Given that the role has also been taken by Joel Grey, Robbie Coltraine, Gary Coleman, Paul Frees,  Roscoe Lee Browne, Patricia Quinn and Steve Lawrence, I think we can agree this is the most heterogenous ghost of the lot.

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Christmas Present is always the same, and Kenneth More fits the bill fairly perfectly — off-puttingly matey and hearty. With your open dressing gown, chest hair and splayed legs, I fear thee most of all. It did come as a shock to see that Brian Blessed has never played the role. I mean, he’s ALWAYS playing it. To actually cast him in the role would be an economy, really. Can we make that happen?

In the same way, Nigel Havers is always Nephew Fred, isn’t he?

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Christmas Yet to Come is also comfortably consistent, and I must admit I admire the muppet design, with his eerie poor proportions — long arms and apparently no legs, making him the only honest muppet, since the others always pretend to be ambulatory but we all know there are men down there.

It’s regrettable that so many of the adaptations seem determined to prove their classiness by bloating the whole affair up and emphasizing respectability over drama — the MGM film plays its credits over a reclining studio lion, while the Brit flick opts for the inevitable turning pages of a leather-bound volume. Surely we don’t need to be TOLD Dickens’ moral tale is good for us? At least the Muppets are devoted to fun.

seasonally yours,

Haig P. McScroogian.

Versions not watched:

THE PASSIONS OF CAROL (’70s porno-Scrooge)

That Robert Zemeckis abomination.

Any good ones I missed?

STOP PRESS: We got limericks! Link.

Primal Screens

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 8, 2012 by dcairns

After realizing that I remember, dimly, a bit of the first film I was ever taken to see, I asked to hear about your first cinema experiences, via Facebook. Anybody who didn’t get in on that, feel free to add them in comments. I’m sure we can prove SOMETHING.

THEORY: no matter how traumatic or dull the first cinema experience — we tend to go back.

Moby Longinotto star wars couldn’t read the words at the beginning so my little girlfriend read it for me, I was 5 I think.

Brian Robinson A double bill of The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie and The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. My dad gave me the choice of that or Grizzly Adams: The Movie. There was no contest. It was weird seeing cartoons on the big screen like that, with the sound so big and booming but I loved it. And the Cyclops chasing chasing Torin Thatcher on the island, “Help me! Help me!” was seared into my mind forever.

I should add I was almost 6 and I think it was the Odeon, Clerk St.

Stevie Hannan Hi David,remember vividly(and I was only four) being taken to see Mary Poppins by my mum at the old ‘Strand’ cinema in Alexandria.I though it was wonderful. So much so that I pleaded with my gran to take me the following evening.She gave in, and a lifelong love affair with films (and Julie Andrews!)had begun.

Diane Henderson Gone With the Wind, but I was very, very young and fell asleep. My first wide- awake cinema experience was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I was so small I had to be sat on the arm of my chair to see over the head of the bloke in front.

Nigel R. Smith ‎7 years old as a birthday (not mine) party ‘treat’, we were shoo-ed into Tommy Steele appallathon Half A Sixpence at the Caley cinema. Really put me off ever going to a cinema again – until the following year my dad insisted we see Where Eagles Dare in the same place.

Niall Greig Fulton Mine was Norman McLaren’s 1952 short Neighbours, in an afternoon screening at the Calton Studios.

Chuck Zigman I was four years old, and it was a double feature of the feature animation “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” (1969) and “Scrooge” (1970) with Albert Finney. In the graveyard, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come removes his hood, revealing a skull. I had nightmares for three years after that!

Samuel John Dale When I was two or three my parents took me to see Condorman at the Odeon Chelmsford. As we left the cinema, they realised I was developing conjunctivitis. Condorman will do that to your eyes.

Dan Sallitt I remember going to the drive-in with my father (my mother came along sometimes, but I think my father was choosing the films) when I was four or five to see HERCULES and HERCULES UNCHAINED, and international monster films GORGO (directed by Renoir’s art director Lourié, I just learned) and REPTILICUS. Funny – I just saw HERCULES leading lady Sylva Koscina two days ago in Sautet’s excellent L’ARME À GAUCHE, but I totally forgot that she and I had so much history.

Ali Catterall Aged five, to see the Sound of Music – can’t remember where. I do recall a tremendous mounting excitement in the days leading up to the screening, mainly concerning Julie Andrews. Was she American? (For five year-olds in 1975, Americans were completely exotic and alluring, so much so that we used to claim American parentage in the school playground, for instant credibility.) Was she a New Zealander, like mum? Really, just who was this amazing Julie Andrews we were about to see? But in the dark of the cinema, it wasn’t Andrews I fell for, but Charmian Carr. “Mummy” I gravely whispered, as a rain-soaked Liesl snuck in through the window, “she is more beautiful than Snow White…”

Marvellous Mary Quite alarming going to see Disney’s Snow White in downtown Johannesburg . I lived in a small village in South Africa. So the expereince is all wrapped up with being alarmed at being in such a large auditorium (something the size of the Odeon on Clerk St) and seeing skyscrapers at the same time.

Nicola Balkind I remember Beethoven with my grandma when I was probably about 5. She snored the whole way through it.

Larry Frascella My parents were movie-mad so I’m sure I was one of those crying babies in the theater. But as far as reachable memory goes, from a very early age, way back there in the Italian section of the Bronx, my father would take me to the movies on school nights, which was pretty much unheard of. (Made me very cool at school.) I can’t recall the very first film but it was probably THE MYSTERIANS.

Randall William Cook My mom took me when I was two years old to LILI, in 1953. I have a strong memory of sitting in a dark room, looking up at a window where a puppet show was going on: I thought I was experiencing something real. I remembered nothing else, or so I thought. It was shown in a L.A. revival theatre (the Tiffany?) when I was thirty, and I checked it out. One after another, the film’s images brought back a succession of long buried emotional impressions. That two-year-old had been paying attention, after all. And the damn title song has always given me an emotional working-over.

Chris Dooks Aged six or seven, I was taken to see Jaws at The Regent Cinema, Redcar – I think I was snuck in. It scared the shit out of me, but also because The Regent is literally over the beach and you can hear the water crashing underneath the seats. It is also very damp. Other memories were going to see Convoy there with my dad and brother at an equally young age and I remember having my eyes covered up over a sex scene. In the same cinema now aged 18 I went to see the Exorcist at a re-run late night showing and fell asleep during the first ten minutes as I had six pints of beer in me.

Kristin Thompson On my third birthday my parents gave me a party and took the group to PETER PAN, my first film. The only thing I remember about it is the duel between Peter and Hook at the end. But far more interesting is my mother’s earliest cinema memory. She told me she had been taken at the age of five to a film that impressed her very much. She didn’t remember the title. All she could remember was a woman floating on a lake, supported by reeds. Imagine your earliest memory being SUNRISE on its first run!

Dan Sallitt Randall: in his entry on Charles Walters in THE AMERICAN CINEMA, Andrew Sarris wrote, “The late H. L. Mencken used to boast that he had never seen a movie, but toward the end of his life, this irascible cynic was induced to see LILI, and he loved it!”

Guy Budziak Television. In the late Fifties/early Sixties Universal allowed their classic horror films to be shown on TV late Friday nights as SHOCK THEATER. I was five, and my parents let me stay up past my bedtime to watch THE MUMMY with Karloff. The flashback in the pool of water, where you go back in time and see him buried alive, and the slaves are speared and buried with him. That was the scene that captivated me. I was hooked.

Dan MacRae Probably about 4 years old – taken to the Classic Cinema at the bottom of Renfield Street in Glasgow to see Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Screamed and cried for a while at the arrival of the dinosaurs and felt a horrific sense of desolation when (spoiler alert!) the villain killed the duckling at the end.

Fiona Watson I have two. One is being taken to the Regal Cinema in Broughty Ferry to see Pinochio in a group as part of someone elses Birthday treat, and thinking that the ice-cream woman was GIVING AWAY the frozen goodies. I became quite irritable when I discovered this wasn’t the case. The first, and probably earliest (I think, aged 4 or 5) was being hauled out of The Jungle Book at some now long defunct cinema in Dundee after being traumatised by the appearance of King Louis the orangutan. I started sobbing in terror, loudly. “His arms are too long!” I shrieked as I was dragged intothe lobby. Ironic given my present fascination with primates.

I think it was the ‘skipping with his arms’ thing that did it.

Randall William Cook ‎@Fiona: King Louis arms too long=childhood trauma. King Louis singing like Louis Prima= no big deal.

Fiona Watson I ADORE that sequence now. It’s brilliant!

Chris Schneider My memory, none-too-detailed, is of being taken to a a downtown fancy-schmancy showing of the Disney SLEEPING BEAUTY … and of having some young male malcontents drop a water balloon on my mother and me.

Fiona Watson That’s horrible Chris! I hope they were duly admonished and thrown off the premises.

Chris Schneider Thanks for your sympathy. Perhaps they were sedated and surrounded by a forest’s worth of nettles.

Travis Reeves Mine is very much like Marvellous Mary’s: also Disney’s Snow White at age 5, in downtown Melbourne. Living in sprawling suburbia some ten miles away, Melbourne was a distant hazy Emerald City to us. To actually be there, and in the grandeur of an old cinema was amazing. My twin, Helen, cried at Snow White in her glass coffin. I didn’t, but remember being very sad.

Later, aged about 10, we would be taken to see Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday and Mon Oncle on successive Saturdays at a tiny independent cinema in Melbourne by our father. As I remember it, the cinema was downstairs, or under the road, and sat maybe 50. I can’t help thinking, years later, that it must have been a porno theatre at some point in its history.

Marvellous Mary I think I too would be aged about 5 or possibly 6 – on the other hand we did have an great uncle who was a real life Willy Wonka who did own the sweetie factory! Other memories include going to Filmhouse from the pend at the backwhen there was ONLY cinema 2 and watching Coalminers Daugher aged 11 or so!

Jim Hickey I was six years old when I saw The Robe on its initial release. So my first film was in Cinemascope with sound that seemed really loud. I loved the rich colours and the costumes and it felt like things were happening for real. We had no television then, of course. I have fond memories of Jay Robinson’s performance as Caligula. And it was a thrill to encounter him soon afterwards in the film’s sequel, Demetrius and the Gladiators. Seeing the films again some years later I think it was probably Robinson who made me believe I could be an actor. And then I discovered Laurence Olivier.

Simon Fraser I believe that my first film was “Blackbeard’s Ghost” starring Peter Ustinov ( a favourite of my mother’s ) It’s dated 1968 but I’m sure I saw it in 1974 in Halifax Canada. My second movie at the cinema was more interesting, again Halifax but this time it was Moustapha Akkad’s ‘The Message’ about the life of the prophet Mohammed. I believe that there were serious protests about this at the time , people died. It made an impression on me, though I remember little of the film itself.

Jim Hickey The other films that I clearly remember seeing around that time were Danny Kaye in Hans Christian Andersen, Edmund Purdom in The Student Prince and Burt Lancaster in His Majesty O’Keefe – films no-one talks/writes about now, but from which some elements have stayed with me. But I don’t think I want to re-visit them as there are plenty of great films that I still have to see!

Roz Kidd Peter Pan at The old Calais on Lothian Road – was so awestruck that I hung out my window that evening and yelled for Peter Pan to come and teach me to fly!

David Fiore it was definitely Star Wars (during its original release), at the sadly-long gone York Theatre on Ste-Catherine Street in Montreal… I was 3. I remember freaking out a little bit during the trash compactor scene, but apparently I managed to keep my cool enough to prevent any ugly incidents with other patrons.

Gareth McFeely My first movie memory is going to see The Cat From Outer Space at the pictures in Fermoy (Ireland), probably in late 1978, when I was almost five. We were back there visiting friends after a move away, and I went off to the pictures with mostly older children. We sat in the front row upstairs in what seemed to me like a vast movie palace, which was of course almost certainly a fleapit (it closed years ago; I’ve no idea what it was called). We watched a film about park rangers and friendly bears (I think; it seemed like a kind of documentary to me), and then enjoyed the main feature. I recollect enjoying the experience but later had terrors at bedtime — something to do with that darned cat — and my hosts had to drive me 15 miles to where my parents were staying.

Then Fiona got in on it and invited her friends –

Kay Goodall My first film was Bambi but I don’t really remember it. The first one I remember was the first I chose to go to, which was The Last Snows Of Spring. It was with my best friend; going by the IMDB date we must have been in primary school; and I sobbed without stopping for the entire final hour. It was a very successful day out.

Fiona Watson I remember the trailer for The Last Snows Of Spring, because that film seemed to be on permanent trail throughout my childhood. Never saw it. Wasn’t up my street at all.

Kay Goodall Yes it mystifies me now.

Mishker McKay At age 4 or 5 it’s The Aristocats for me….I loved Thomas O’Malley. I remember having the 7″ record of the title tune and ‘O’Malley, the Alley Cat’.I also have a memory which may be earlier, of a movie scene where a monkey ends up stranded in a bathroom filling with bubbles; I was distraught! I remember bawling my eyes out as I was convinced it was going to die. It might have been a live action Disney film; any idea which?

Fiona Watson Is it THIS Cliff?

Mishker McKay OMG!!!!!!!! After all these years!!!!!!!!!!!! I was TERRIFIED and it’s all coming back to me now!!!!!!!

Thanks Fiona!!! x

Lorna Hewitt The Jungle book, must have been aged about 4 or 5 as well. Just mesmerised with the music and the jungle and the pretty girl. Was living in Brazil at the time so probably felt it was kinda my back yard. Hah. (Although it’s based in India). That’s earliest, but bestist and the rights of passage film for me was Grease aged 12. Didn’t know what half of it meant (‘wise to the rise in your levi’s’ and ‘bun in the oven’??), just knew I fancied John Travolta! Actually probably more Kenicky. Oh I don’t know, can’t make up my mind even now!…..Useless info but felt I had to get it off my chest! :-D

Roderick Ramsay Earliest – The Incredible Journey (1963). I was pre-school and had to be taken out because I was bawling my eyes out. That would be nigh on 40 years ago. Gosh. I hasten to add that I did not see it IN 1963. It must have been at one of the now sadly defunct Saturday shows they did for kids and was probably around 1973.Scariest? I was 6 and was being babysat by my 13yo aunt who woke me up to come and watch Hammer’s The Curse of Frankenstein. It was TV though. Scary cinema was Jaws in 1976. It was my first experience of queueing around the block to get into a movie and it was my first A-rated film. It was a huge step up from U-rated and when Richard Dreyfus was trying to find a shark tooth in a wreck my hands locked onto the chair arms in terror. It was a while before i could let go :-)

Most awesome? Being 8 and going to see Star Wars in 1977. Wee spaceship comes on the screen and I thought “Wow!”, then the prow of the Star Destroyer came in from the top of the screen and gradually filled it with huge spaceship awesomeness. One of those cinematic memories that stay forever. Unless you’re my Dad and you fall asleep.

Lorna Hewitt Oh God yeah, Jaws, most impact on my life, still can’t ‘get back into the water’ without a shiver and keeping an eye out!! Agh!

Mark Van-Daal Saturday morning – ABC Minors in Paisley – episodes of Flash Gordon with Larry (Buster) Crab followed by gawd knows what – Disney’s Return from Witch Mountain maybe? Also the Apple Dumpling Gang? I have a ‘hilarious’ story about trying to get in to the Odeon in Renfield St Glasgow to see Alien dressed as a ‘workman’ that my dad had pushed me in to doing. it involved padding my big parka with newspaper, balancing a corduroy Donovan cap with more newspaper perched on my head for extra height and a pair of my mums suede platform boots and my face smeared with brown water colour paint to look like stubble. The Odeon Renfield St weren’t buying it and my Dad had to take me home again. Also me and my tike pals used to sneak in the fire exit and hide under a stage in front of the big screen and watch thing and Burt Cort buddy movies that were a kind of shit Cheech N Chong. Also queuing for hours to see Star Wars but I suspect that’s standard fare for most people in this thread.

Mark Van-Daal Oh and at Primary School we were taken to rooms below the Art Galleries in Glasgow to watch a special screening of the Amazing Mr Blunden (it was a posh school -we did lots of stuff like that)

Lorna Hewitt That’s so weird Mark, I remember going to see Saturday Night Fever, aged 15(?) dressed as an ‘adult’, with the help of my mum’s props no less, so I wore her tweed hat and carried a long black umbrella which I swung in a jaunty fashion! Strange to think that that’s what I thought someone of 18 would wear! More 80! Me and my 3 pals somehow got in hiding behind my older sister who bought the tickets for us. Another give away I somehow think!

My first ‘X’ rated film…

Roderick Ramsay I never saw an ‘X’ at the cinema as they changed ratings when I was 14. There’s a long-ish story where I saw Conan The Barbarian at 13 – underage for a AA-rated film and then was denied entry for the same film 6 months later when I was finally 14 but they’d changed it to a 15-rating.

My first 18-rated movie was The Company Of Wolves. I was 15 or 16 but was accompanied by an alleged adult. I think we all probably remember the first time we broke new ground in ratings: Jaws, Monty Python’s Life of Brian and The Company of Wolves for me.

Fiona Watson I remember queueing all afternoon in Dundee to see Star Wars (dropped off by Mum, left there, then picked up again after the screening). There was a man with half an arm standing infront of me. I spent the best part of three hours staring at his stump. I also remember seeing Jaws at The Regal in Broughty Ferry, again I was on my own (I was ALWAYS going to the cinema on my own as a kid!) and made the mistake of sitting next to ‘bigger girls’. Just before the ‘head in the bottom of the boat’ reveal was about to happen, the ominous music and general set up cued me into knowing a scary bit was coming up. The ‘big girls’ had apparently seen it before, so I trustingly asked them to ‘tell me when it was all over’ and put my hands over my eyes. Seconds later I get a dig in the ribs and look. IT WAS THE F***IN HEAD! They all pissed themselves laughing as I shot vertically out of my seat. I couldn’t even move because it was a sell out. Bitches…

Mishker McKay Hilarious reading about Lorna’s 18 outfit; I worked in the Odeon a long time ago and received training on how to spot/ interrogate and trip up such types when I was on the ticket desk. Was a great job ruined by the ‘dark sales’ girl leaving; every 4 weeks it was my turn to don the tray of KiaOra and Cornettos. The effin stap was too short and leaning down to let others see my wares my change would cascade in among the choc-ices and Strawberry mivis. The last straw was facing the packed screen 1 on a Saturday night, Crocodile Dundee if you please. The jeers of ‘check the poof wi the ice cream’ was just too much to bear!

Fiona Watson (a different Fiona Watson, confusingly) Wow! I have loved reading these. I have vague memories of seeing Snow White at a drive in movie in Australia when I was 4 or 5 and not being able to see properly as we were in the back seat. My first proper memory is being taken to the Odeon in Derby, England by my Nana to see the Sound of Music. I was 7 and had never seen a musical before. I was spellbound by the hugeness of it all. I remember wondering about the ‘soldiers’ in it and why they wanted to catch the Von Trapps. It was a few years before I put the horrors of the Nazi’s into the film and realised the darker side that was present. To this day I still find new things on the odd occasion I watch this film. I think it was that outing that created the bond between myself and my Nana because we liked the same things and I have loved musicals ever since.

Mark Medin Mine is different than most since my dad hated going to movie houses from about the time Jeanette and Nelson quit being a team (I only wish I were joking about that). My first cinema experience was going to a matinee to watch a movie my brother wanted to see. We bought tickets and this place had only one bored ticket taker who didn’t even direct us, so we walked into the wrong theater (it was an early multiplex, I think it had three or five screens). So I got to watch The Long Goodbye almost in its entirety (it had already begun, we got there just when Gould was returning from the supermarket to feed his cat). I was 12, TLG was an R rated film, and I got away with it. I think many theaters in the ’70s were pretty lax in enforcing age restrictions. My friends never had trouble getting into R films at certain theaters.

I think I recounted this once already. Maybe twice.

Mädchen in Uniform.

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 15, 2007 by dcairns

gemma-arterton

With the new ST TRINIANS movie due in British cinemas on the 21st, and an article on British writer-producer-directors Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat due from me immanently, I decided to watch three of the original films last night. Having seen the original BELLES OF ST TRINIANS a few years back, I decided to jump straight into the sequels, omitting only the last, WILDCATS OF ST TRINIANS, because it is a dreadful thing and anyway I don’t have a copy.

British comedy series are an odd lot, often functioning on inertia and raw acting talent rather than anything resembling good material, and yet they inspire tremendous warmth and attachment in the public here. Take the CARRY ON films — arguably three of them are consistently entertaining, out of a total of twenty-nine. Twenty-nine.

Twenty-nine films on the theme of sexual frustration, filled with closeted gay men, hefty spinsters, and sex-obsessed nitwits apparently suffering from what Schrader and Scorsese (who, presumably, know all about it) call D.S.B. (Deadly Sperm Back-up, where the unused sperm backs up to the brain and induces idiocy).

Then there are the lesser-known DOCTOR films, which made a star of Dirk Bogarde and thus prepared the way for DEATH IN VENICE and THE NIGHT PORTER, and managed to carry on for several entries even after their star had graduated to working with Basil Dearden and Joseph Losey. That’s a common trait of these series, they outlive their stars, their creators, their reasons for existing in the first place…

Such as the CONFESSIONS movies, inaugurated by British film legend Val Guest, who had been working since the thirties and earlier brought us the excellent Hammer cop thriller HELL IS A CITY. Here he took the saucy comedy format into the seventies, where suddenly you could actually SHOW full nudity and intercourse, so he did. He complained later that if these films had been subtitled they’d have been acclaimed as arthouse smashes… but aside from Verhoeven’s TURKISH DELIGHT I can’t think of any “art film” they resemble. Actually, CONFESSIONS OF A WINDOW CLEANER is like the Verhoeven movie with all the serious bits removed, and yet it still manages to be more ugly and depressing.

The fact that that film’s star, Robin Askwith, was cast in BRITANNIA HOSPITAL (and he’s very good in it) probably accounts for a decent percentage of the rotten reviews BH garnered on release: sheer guilt-by-association.

Uncontrollable hellions -- excuse my French.

Anyhow, back to our rampaging schoolgirls. The first St Trins film is based on the cartoons of Ronald Searle, which are in turn derived from stories Searle heard about the real St Trinnean’s, a “progressive” boarding school right here in Edinburgh where the girls were allowed to run wild as nature intended. (Hey, listen, another Edinburgh girls’ school inspired the source material of William Wyler’s THESE THREE and THE CHILDREN’S HOUR!)

Edinburgh connection 2: that superb eccentric actor Alastair Sim stars in the first film and cameos in the second, dragging up to play Miss Fitton, the dithering, corruptible headmistress, as well as her ne’er-do-well brother. Here we see the British love of drag combined with that fondness for multiple role-playing later developed in DR. STRANGELOVE and O LUCKY MAN!

 (Sim’s very  best work for Launder and Gilliat is in the marvellous GREEN FOR DANGER, available now from Criterion).

Sim declined to be confined to a film series, and so the later films import a succession of star comedians in a vain attempt to replace him. First into the breach is Terry-Thomas, who obviously I’m a fan of, and if BLUE MURDER AT ST TRINIANS used him more thoroughly, things might have gone better. But all the sequels seem to divide their energies and plotlines to damaging effect, and the rot sets in right here. Although hearing T-T say things like “That’s a bit adjacent, isn’t it?” is never less that a pleasure, there isn’t enough rigour in integrating him into a storyline that needs  him.

Stars from the first film are back, notably Joyce Grenfell, whose entrance in the first film had established her as a brilliant film comedian and a sympathetic presence. Curiously, Launder and Gilliat seem to have fixed on the idea of mistreating her character, goody-two-shoes Police Constable Ruby Gates, as their main approach to her character. In the first film the abuse all comes from the rampaging schoolkids, which makes sense, but her two sequels tend to separate her off into unproductive sidetracks.

Better use is made of George Cole, a younger actor mentored by Sim, who appears in four of the films as Flash Harry, an archetypal fifties “spiv” character (basically, a Cockney black marketeer, a sort of Teddy Boy version of Harry Lime) who for some reason became the series’ only essential figure (he’s back in the new version, portrayed by comedian and sex god Russell Brand). Cole is very zestful, firing off malapropisms at speed (‘I don’t want to appear inhospital,’ and ‘Greek Archie-pelly-logo’) but the best thing about the character is his theme tune, a pub piano leitmotif  which strikes up with mechanical regularity whenever Harry takes more than a couple of steps, like a proletarian James Bond theme. This, and the jaunty St Trinians theme itself, are the work of Sir Malcolm Arnold, best-known for arranging the Colonel Bogey March for BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI.

BLUE MURDER takes the girls to Rome, where the sixth form all aim to marry an Italian prince, and the filmmakers blagged permission to shoot in the Forum and Colisseum on the grounds that they were making a “cultural documentary”.

PURE HELL AT ST TRINIANS does not take place at the school at all, it having been arsoned to oblivion, and again transports the riotous kids abroad, with the sixth form abducted into a Sheikh’s harem. One of the very strange things about the series, and about British culture generally, is the mainstream media’s use of school uniforms as fetishwear, while our moral guardians shriek about pedophiles hiding in the shrubbery. The St Trinians films mine this imagery while serving up slapstick comedy for little kids — it’s quite disturbing, or almost.

This movie includes Cecil Parker as guest star, but for some reason he’s insufficiently larger-than-life to really hold it all together. He’s perfectly good, but to see him really shine it’s  better to check out his work in Gilliat’s THE CONSTANT HUSBAND, where he’s a sports-obsessed psychiatrist treating an amnesiac bigamist… The other strongest element in PURE HELL is Irene Handl, an adored character actor who can be seen to great effect in MORGAN and THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. Here she’s a teacher with a background in lunatic asylums. “Soon I may be the only one around here with a certificate proving my sanity!”

With THE GREAT ST TRINIANS TRAIN ROBBERY in 1966 the series shunted into Technicolor and adopted comic Frankie Howerd as a hairdresser-turned-trainrobber. It’s a very very colourful film indeed, which proves to be a Bad Thing, and Howerd is again underused. Really Howerd isn’t a team player: he mugs and scene-steals atrociously, but the best response to this is to encourage it, since he’s so good, yet Launder seems determined to integrate Howerd into an unpromising ensemble.

Howerd’s best film scenes are usually his big public speeches: he got a great one at the start of CARRY ON DOCTOR, but there’s nothing like that here, so he mainly entertains just by presenting his impossibly large, pendulous face to the camera and squinting evilly.

TRAIN ROBBERY features a few half-hearted nods to sixties fashions, music, crime, and film-making: the speeded-up chase sequence maybe owes something to Richard Lester, but as it’s conducted back and forth over the same hundred feet of track about fifty times, it doesn’t really generate any pace and the gags are unimaginative. There’s no Joyce Grenfell in this one and the series still neglects to develop any of the schoolgirls themselves as proper characters, which is odd, really.

But there was worse to come. Described by my screenwriting friend Colin McLaren as the “you-can-see-it-going-in, hard porn version”, WILDCATS OF ST TRINIANS ups the raunch factor enough to make it a queasy experience, although Colin does exaggerate the penetrative aspect considerably. But there’s a line in the sand, or should be, between the mild seaside postcard comedy of the first films and the naked schoolgirls served up in this travesty, which actually came out in 1980, after British smut had basically rolled over and died at the box office anyway. It’s the equivalent of CARRY ON EMMANUELLE, a depressing extension of a fundamentally innocent series into more explicit territory.

I need to wash that memory away with some good old-fashioned British toilet humour:

The great Dudley Sutton (who was in my first short film).

Original Ronald Searle St Trins girls.

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