Archive for Steaming

It’s Turkey Time

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 8, 2013 by dcairns

The Late Show Blogathon is, and is not, over! We’re in extra time, where I run late-filmed-posts I couldn’t cram into the official week, and maybe a few guest blogs will still turn up. It’s the after-party, and it doesn’t stop until we say so!

The Blogathon master-post is no longer pinned to the top of the blog (using science), but it’s here. It links to every single post, here and elsewhere, that appeared in the blogathon. Or you can use the Late Show tag on the right of the main page to see all the posts from all four years of the blogathon. Some good stuff there! I’ll attempt to take stock and say something summative about this year’s jamboree soon.

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REINDEER GAMES was called DECEPTION in the UK because they’d figured out that their original title confused people. It always sounded like a thriller to me, but Fiona reckons that name only would work for a comedy. But it kind of IS a comedy. Anyway, I was browsing a charity shop and saw a Polish DVD of this going for £1 so of course I bought it…

John Frankenheimer’s last theatrical feature stars Ben Affleck and was made for Dimension Films — there are a few hints of the kind of obsessive quest to hammer plot points home that distinguishes the Weinstein aesthetic — “Did you get it? DID YOU?” Frankenheimer’s late career renaissance — I think he saw it in those terms — is an odd beast. You have THE ISLAND OF DR MOREAU which is fabulously terrible in ever-changing ways, like looking into a kaleidoscope of shit. I love it dearly. Then you have RONIN which allows Frankenheimer to exercise his action movie chops in a film literally about nothing — chasing a suitcase, the most abstract MacGuffin imaginable. Then somebody decided to make it literal and boring and dub on a radio voice saying it was all about state secrets vital to the Northern Ireland peace process, which struck me as ridiculous and offensive, as if any cause could make all the cold-blooded mayhem we’ve just enjoyed in any way justifiable.

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And then REINDEER GAMES, a Christmas-set wrong man heist movie tarnished by a clever-clever ending that’s really stupid-stupid, but which is a pretty agreeable time-waster and a summation of Frankenheimer’s cynical, empty, hardbitten and hardboiled worldview. There’s even a great Frankenheimer substitute in it, Dennis Farina’s blunt, world-weary casino manager, a washed-up pro with no patience for politicking, last seen riddled with bullets in the ruins of his trashed gambling den. “I can’t go back to Vegas,” is his recurrent lament. There’s a melancholy under Frankenheimer’s post-sixties nihilism, and however happily the stories turn out, what you remember is a dying fall.

Lots of Christmas imagery, starting with a bunch of dead Santas reddening the snow. This preps one for a bracing, nasty take on the festive season, but there’s a big mushy ending being cued up by Bob Weinstein somewhere in a back room at Dimension, so watch out! It’s a horrible betrayal of the film’s noir attitude. The movie works better when it’s contrasting the tough thriller angle with corny Xmas pop songs, and has Affleck singing The Little Drummer Boy to himself. I think he should have his own lyrics.

I have no gift to bring

Parump-a-pum-pum

Can barely lift this chin

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Fun bad guys, less-skeezy variants on the gang in 52 PICK-UP — here we have Gary Sinise and Danny Trejo, who has “become a serious pain in the ass” since he “went to night school.” Charlize Theron sporting one of her early-career bad hairdos (see also THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE) — maybe it’s necessary to make us believe she might be the kind of woman who writes romantic letters to convicts.

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Here’s the plot set-up — Affleck and James Frain are due for release from prison. Frain can’t wait to meet his sexy penpal, but he gets shivved before the big day. Affleck comes out and recognizes Charlize from Frain’s photos and kind of feels sorry for her, waiting in the snow for the convict who’s never going to come. And also, she’s rather attractive (she has a hat on so he can’t see the hairdo). So he pretends he’s the deceased Frain…

I would submit that, for all the film’s flaws, anybody who likes stories would kind of have to stick around after this point to see what’s going to happen…

Here’s one of Frankenheimer’s even-later works — an eight minute car commercial from the screenwriter of SE7EN, Andrew Kevin Walker. It’s rather fine.

Wait, there’s a director’s cut? Now I’ll have to see that — maybe next year.  Reindeer Games (The Director’s Cut) [Blu-ray]

More Blogathon!

Chandler Swain revisits Losey’s STEAMING. Here.

Scout Tafoya’s second blogathon post explored the last film to end them all, PP Pasolini’s positively final SALO, as well as taking in the last essay films of Lindsay Anderson and Dusan Makavejev. It’s quite a feast, if you can get past Signor Pasolini’s unappetizing entreesHere.

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Steam Heat

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 13, 2010 by dcairns

Special Guest Shadowplayer Judy Dean offers this entry to THE LATE SHOW: THE LATE FILMS BLOGATHON —

Steaming is notable for being the last film made by three of its collaborators; Joe Losey, Diana Dors and cinematographer Christopher Challis.  I’m happy to report that Challis is still alive at 91, but Losey and Dors, who were both in poor health at the time of the shoot in early 1984, died shortly afterwards, she in May of that year aged only 52 and he a month later at 75.  It’s sad therefore that this talented team should have produced a work of such disappointing quality and that their careers ended on what must be regarded as a low note.

The project was beset with difficulties from the start.  Casting problems, wrangles over nudity, crew changes and an inflexible set all played their part but the root of the film’s failure seems to lie in its unsatisfactory script, adapted from Nell Dunn’s stage play by Losey’s wife, Patricia.  She and Losey had seen the play together and his biographer reports her as saying “I was so enthusiastic and certain about it that I asked Joe that night to let me do the adaptation.” Losey was apparently anxious to launch her screenwriting career so she would have a means of support after his death and, although others had a hand in it, the script is mostly her work and the inexperience shows.

Even an unrepentant second wave feminist like me finds it hard to watch films from the period such as Agnes Varda’s L’Une Chante, L’autre Pas and  Paul Mazursky’s An Unmarried Woman without a slight wince of embarrassment but Steaming had me groaning aloud with my head buried in my hands.

Set in a women’s bath house in East London and with an all-female cast that includes Vanessa Redgrave and Sarah Miles, it’s crudely put together, full of puzzling non sequiturs and riddled with stereotypes.  They’re all here – the abandoned upper class wife and mother regretting her years of domesticity, the successful career woman longing for a child, and the working class victim of domestic violence who goes back for more.    Why two wealthy women should meet regularly at a shabby east end baths with threadbare towels and cracked tiles instead of an upmarket spa is inexplicable, except for the purposes of a plot that requires them to complete the film’s social class jigsaw.  What unites them is, predictably, their suffering at the hands of men and, for much of the film, the trio sit around in various stages of undress relentlessly bemoaning male shortcomings until even Andrea Dworkin would shout “Enough!”

The manager, played by Dors, is aware of a plan by the local council to close the baths but script and editing blunders result in her not mentioning it to her customers until about half way through the film.  The emphasis then shifts to their campaign against the closure. Unlike the play, the film gives us a happy ending in which the baths are given a temporary reprieve following an impassioned speech to the council (delivered off screen) by the working class woman who – yes, you’ve guessed it – has finally found her voice.

Apart from these four characters, and a rather baffling widowed mother and her daughter whose problems are never fully explained, there is only one other speaking part and we see little evidence of the hundreds of women who, the manager asserts, use the baths every week.  This means the cast have to adopt the kind of frantic mugging that is called for whenever a few people have to convey the impression of being many. An excruciating party sequence requires them to become over excited by a few balloons and sandwiches, and leap to their feet and start dancing manically and badly to undanceable music, invariably a hallmark of a bad film.

Acting styles are far from consistent. Vanessa Redgrave (abandoned upper class wife) and Sarah Miles (career woman) attempt to inject a note of screen naturalism into a theatrical script. As the working class woman, Pattie Love (who played the Sarah Miles part in the original Theatre Royal Stratford production) engages in that style of stage acting that, to quote Quentin Crisp, “embraces us with semaphore gestures and tells us her secrets in the voice of a town crier.” Only Diana Dors manages to look at ease in front of the camera.

If more effort had been made to address the play’s shortcomings, it might have been a better film but it does nothing to transcend its stage origins and they differ very little.  Pages of dialogue are lifted verbatim and there are no exterior shots, the set being made up entirely of a series of rooms within the baths. Losey did not see this as a problem, or chose not to, and told his cast and crew “In my experience cinema can be used in many ways: one of them is to increase enclosure rather than the Hollywood cliché of ‘opening up’.”

Christopher Challis, who was brought in at the last minute after Douglas Slocombe turned the job down, had previously worked with Losey on Blind Date. In an interview with David Caute (Losey’s biographer), Challis described the set as a disaster. “We repainted it, but nothing would float, you couldn’t move anything.  It was wedged in with backing.  The script described atmospheric weather outside, but it was impossible to get it from inside.” One outcome is that there is no sense of the passing of time and it’s not at all clear if the events take place over days, weeks or months.

Caute’s book also reports Slocombe’s damning verdict. Not wishing to offend Losey, he made the excuse that his asthma couldn’t cope with the damp atmosphere, but in reality he hated both the play and the script. ‘I thought it was a nasty, cheap thing for Joe to do, and I thought doing this will kill him.  It did kill him.  Sad to end on that note.”

The film’s reputation has not improved over time and, like the play, has attracted more attention for its glimpses of the naked body than for its political intentions.  Looking at the keywords allocated to it by IMDB (always a revealing exercise) we find the following; female full frontal nudity, female nudity, independent film, based on play.  No feminism there, then.   Of the three user comments on it on the same website, one is from a woman who had to decide whether to accept one of the nude roles in a local stage production, the second from a man who describes it as a ‘British nudie cutie film’ and the third from someone whose comments on other films such as Basic Instinct 2, Intimacy, Sirens, Full Body Massage, Showgirls and Love Crimes leave us in no doubt as to where his interests lie.

It’s significant that Christopher Challis’s autobiography does not mention the film at all.  In fact, there’s a strange omission in his filmography that forms an appendix to the book.  For every other film his name appears as either camera operator or photographer, but the entry for Steaming gives only the names of the producer, writer, director and stars.  Was this deliberate?  A proof reading error?  A Freudian slip?  Let’s just hope that in 1984, when he was 65, he was already planning to retire and not driven to it by his involvement in Steaming.

To end on a more positive note, Challis’s book, aptly titled Are they really so awful?, is the most level headed and good natured account of the filmmaking process I have ever read. It tells the story of his rise from trainee to DoP and his encounters along the way with temperamental colleagues with disarming modesty and considerable tact.  Yes, he concludes, they were awful, but he liked them.

References

Caute, David.  Joseph Losey: A Revenge on Life. Faber and Faber, 1994

Challis, Christopher. Are They Really So Awful? Janus Publishing Company, 1995