Archive for Steven Berkoff

Pardon Me But your Heels Are In My Back

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics, Television, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 20, 2014 by dcairns

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“Eroticism is when you use a feather; perversion is when you use the whole chicken.” Joke told by Roman Polanski to Peter Coyote when offering him BITTER MOON.

I think everyone kind of groans a bit whenever Polanski makes something “sexy.” I was kind of glad to more was heard of his plan to make an animated movie of Milo Manara’s porno comics. Is a sexy film from a convicted sex felon (whatever his level of actual guilt) really an attractive proposition? But I can’t deny the prurient interest, at the same time.

There was an interesting BBC documentary about Polish author Jerzy Kosinski. The author’s sadomasochistic lifestyle was mentioned, and one of the interviewees was Kosinksi’s friend, fellow jetsetting Holocaust survivor Roman Polanski, who casually remarked to his (female) interviewer, “That’s not what I’m into, so I can’t really comment on that. I can very easily tell you what I *am* into, if you like!” There was one of those pauses where time seems to  grind its brakes, and then she quickly moved on to another question. Can’t blame her — Polanski’s kinks would be too off-topic, and besides, he was obviously toying with her, as my cat toys with my hand before killing it. But one couldn’t help but swear a little, because it would be quite interesting to know what RP is into. You can’t take the legal evidence as any guide, other than that he likes ’em rather too young, because the testimony on that matter is fraught with implausibilities.

Polanski affects to dislike comparisons of his films to his private life, which I can understand (Mark Cousins had quite an argumentative interview with the Great Man where he kept harping on this troublesome point, with Polanski at one point resorting to a loud snoring noise as rebuttal), yet his films seem to tease us with deliberate self-portraits. The new one, LE VENUS A LA FOURRURE, has as hero a French theatre director with an Eastern European name, playing opposite Polanski’s own wife, Emmanuelle Seigneur, and it’s a disquisition on themes of sexual dominance.

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Firstly: it’s beautifully shot (by Pawel Edelman, RP’s DoP since THE PIANIST), with the theatre setting affording a more free and spacious feeling than previous chamber piece CARNAGE — it never feels remotely stifling. The dance of camera and actors is unobtrusively elegant. Nice bit where the actors mime the serving of coffee and the soundtrack obliges with faint clinks of spoon on cup, which put me in mind of Adrian Brody’s phantom piano, but also of Polanski’s previous mime experience, playing in Steven Berkoff’s play of Metamorphosis, which requires the star to impersonate a cockroach without the aid of makeup (no great stretch, RP’s haters would argue). And I really liked Alexandre Desplat’s score — filmed plays, like regular plays, seem to require special care in the use of music (I don’t think any of Altman’s theatrical adaptations got this right, though I love some of them).

The piece opens with a glide down a Parisian avenue, veering off to enter a theatre — all those CGI-assisted doors creaking open for our invisible presence recall THE NINTH GATE, Mr & Mrs Polanski’s last collaboration, but this may also be the POV of a goddess coming down to earth like Ava Gardner.

Mathieu Amalric and ES are great together, giving their dialogue a screwball ratatatat — the plot even borrows a popular comedy trope, providing Amalric with an offscreen fiancée who may be usurped by this mysterious newcomer. Seigneur as a fetish-friendly version of Hepburn in BRINGING UP BABY, here to shake things up? Polanski has, it may be admitted, allowed himself theatrical license in his casting: plays often cast actors obviously too old (or too fat, if it’s opera) for their roles, but movies are supposed to be “realistic.” Various lines make it clear that Amalric’s character is meant to be older than Seigneur’s, but the actors are close contemporaries. Ideal casting might have been the Polanskis as a couple twenty years ago, but I don’t see why it should matter too much. Hoist that disbelief on your shoulders and trudge on: Seigneur is certainly quite capable of embodying the icy bitch-goddess of legend, and if the bratty actress aspect of the role stretches plausibility, she’s still fun to watch.

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The most intriguing echo of Polanski’s past work comes when the character trade roles, with Seigneur applying lipstick to Amalric just as Francoise Dorleac does to Donald Pleasence in CUL-DE-SAC, echoing also Polanski’s distressing cross-dressing in THE TENANT. This recurring image could suggest new avenues of intrusive film criticism, which would at least make a change from interpreting each Polanski film as a response to his second wife’s death or as evidence for his interest in little girls. Polanski tends to hide behind his source material, claiming for instance that he chose MACBETH because he thought the violence would be attributed to the famously bloody play, not to him (he couldn’t have anticipated the crazy, awful review that compared him to Charles Manson for having made a movie). The battle of the sexes informs a lot of Polanski movies, notably BITTER MOON, and abused and often raped underdog women have featured a lot (REPULSION, ROSEMARY’S BABY, CHINATOWN, TESS), nearly always as sympathetic characters whose POV the director takes. If one knew nothing of Polanski himself one might easily take these as feminist texts, yet he seems to be an unreconstructed male supremacist.

Mr. Polanski, what  are you into?

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My Theory #2: Kubrick = Hammer

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 25, 2013 by dcairns

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Part Two of my Big Theory. Part One concerns the influence of Universal horror movies on Orson Welles. Part Two is the influence of Hammer Horror on Stanley Kubrick.

(Welles and Kubrick, two fans of the wide-angle lens, belong together because of Welles’ description of the young SK as “a giant” — later, Welles seems to fall silent on the subject of the Bronx genius, and as an arch-humanist it seems possible he went off Kubes’ work sometime after LOLITA…)

I’m not sure how this will hold up, but let’s assess the evidence. Firstly, casting —

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Kubrick’s first British-shot picture, LOLITA, features only one major player with Hammer associations, Marianne Stone (above), reaching a career high with her interpretation of Vivian Darkbloom (anagram of Vladimir Nabokov). Her involvement with Hammer films was off-and-on, and she also played in many British horror movies from other studios.

Hammer films before LOLITA: SPACEWAYS, THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT, QUATERMASS II,

Non-genre Hammer films before LOLITA: HELL IS A CITY

Non-Hammer horror films: CORRIDORS OF BLOOD, HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM, JACK THE RIPPER, THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE.

Hammer films after LOLITA: PARANOIAC, THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB, HYSTERIA, COUNTESS DRACULA, Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense. Non-Hammer horrors: WITCHCRAFT, DEVILS OF DARKNESS, THE NIGHT CALLER, CARRY ON SCREAMING, BERSERK, TWISTED NERVE, INCENSE FOR THE DAMNED, WHOEVER SLEW AUNTIE ROO?, TOWER OF EVIL, THE CREEPING FLESH, VAULT OF HORROR, CRAZE (one of many contenders for Freddie Francis’s worst film).

That’s not going to convince anybody that Stone’s Hammer work or horror movies was what brought her to Kubrick’s attention.

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But the scene where Humbert Humbert takes his wife and step-daughter to the drive-in to see CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN might make an impression on doubters. This is the only Kubrick film to feature Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.

But DR STRANGELOVE doesn’t feature anybody with major Hammer credentials, except Shane Rimmer, whose Hammer work, major though it was, was all in the future. In 2001, we have William Sylvester, who had been in GORGO, DEVIL DOLL and DEVILS OF DARKNESS, but he’s plainly been cast because he’s an American in England. But Leonard Rossiter was in THE WITCHES.

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It’s with CLOCKWORK ORANGE that Kubrick embraces the trashier side of British culture. Most significantly, we see Alex (Malcolm McDowell) fantasizing about being Count Dracula, with long plastic fangs and red red kroovy dripping from his lips. This second overt Hammer reference clinches the Kubrick fascination for the Studio That Dripped Blood, and check the cast list —

I contend that Patrick Magee wasn’t cast for his Beckett experience, but for DEMENTIA 13, MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, THE SKULL and DIE, MONSTER, DIE! admittedly not Hammer productions but generically bang-on. Also for his unparalleled ability to form himself into  a series of living Messerschmidt Heads, TALES FROM THE CRYPT, THE FIEND, ASYLUM, DEMONS OF THE MIND and — AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS were still to come — followed by BARRY LYNDON.

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Scottish actress Adrienne Corri had a long genre back catalogue, and her future would feature even more entries. To begin with we have DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS, CORRIDORS OF BLOOD (again), THE HELLFIRE CLUB, THE VIKING QUEEN and MOON ZERO TWO (both Hammer). Right after working for Kubrick, she made VAMPIRE CIRCUS, and later MADHOUSE. Despite Renoir’s THE RIVER, horror movies will probably always be what she’s known for (along with being stripped to her socks for Kubrick’s dubious delectation).

Aubrey “PR Deltoid” Morris made BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB the same year as CLOCKWORK ORANGE so we probably can’t count that. Dave Prowse had already done HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN and would soon shoot VAMPIRE CIRCUS and FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL. And some space thing. Steven Berkoff had done THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS, KONGA and SLAVE GIRLS, and would return in BARRY LYNDON.

The girls: Katya Wyeth, from the film’s final shot, came fresh from TWINS OF EVIL and HANDS OF THE RIPPER (in the important role of 1st Pub Whore). Virginia Wetherell had done CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR and DR JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE. Shirley Jaffe was fresh from TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA. Vivienne Maya chalked up LUST FOR A VAMPIRE and TWINS OF EVIL — her best role is as the flashback girlfriend in A FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE.

Of course, I admit the difficulty of casting a dolly-bird in 1971 who had NOT been in a Hammer horror or two. But now we come to BARRY LYNDON.

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The casting of Andre Morell strikes me as highly significant — Morell isn’t as tightly bound to Hammer in the public consciousness as Cushing and Lee, or Michael Ripper, but he should be. He was Quatermass on TV (an indirect link) and Watson to Cushing’s Holmes; THE SHADOW OF THE CAT, SHE, PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES, THE MUMMY’S SHROUD, VENGEANCE OF SHE, and a number on non-horror Hammers including the terrific CASH ON DEMAND. Plus non-Hammer horrors like BEHEMOTH THE SEA MONSTER.

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Frank Middlemass had come from FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED. Ferdy Mayne will be best remembered as Polanski’s Count Von Krolock, but also chalked up THE VAMPIRE LOVERS.

THE SHINING refers to Hammer only in its genre, but a comparison with THE EXORCIST is revealing, Kubrick having attempted to make a megablockbuster throughout his late career by patterning his films on the biggest box office smashes of history. But each of these films goes through the Kubrick funhouse looking-glass and emerges as something no sane person would expect to rake in the receipts — BARRY LYNDON purloins the child’s death from GONE WITH THE WIND, THE SHINING aims for THE EXORCIST and winds up in MARIENBAD country, and A.I. wants to be E.T. but can’t help its mechanical nature, like little Haley Joel Osment and the late Stankey K. himself.

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FULL METAL JACKET is too American and too young to borrow Hammer actors, and by the time of EYES WIDE SHUT most of them were dead. However, with its quasi-Satanic shagging party, the movie seems to be channeling sixties and seventies horrors, particularly Corman’s MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (and maybe CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR? And if there were a film called STENCH OF THE SCARLET PENCIL I’m sure that would have been an influence too).

Taking My Big Theory to its logical conclusion, we would have to say that Welles follows the path of Whale by telling moral tales in which nevertheless the truest, deepest sympathy is with the monsters; Kubrick follows the Sangster and Fisher route by portraying a world in which the oppressive patriarchy, though corrupt and inhuman, is the nearest thing to a safe side to be on…