Archive for The Seventh Veil

Sing Out

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 22, 2008 by dcairns

THE WARBLING GUMSHOE

THE CROONING SHAMUS

THE DESCANTING FLATFOOT

THE ULULATING DICK

Yes, all synonyms for THE SINGING DETECTIVE, but which one?

Songdick

This one. I had a mixture of high hopes and mild trepidation regarding Keith Gordon’s film of Dennis Potter’s adaptation of his own BBC series. The movie sort of fulfilled both.

Gordon is somebody who should really be in demand. He’s bright, gifted, and his films do things that other people’s don’t. Instead, he’s working in TV. Of his films, MOTHER NIGHT is a terrific piece, I’d say the best film adaptation of a Kurt Vonnegut novel — and a relatively dull Vonnegut novel at that. Personally, I’d like to make THE SIRENS OF TITAN.

Somewhere in the flat is a copy of his highly-rated war movie, A MIDNIGHT CLEAR, which I must watch. Just added his 1999 noir WAKING THE DEAD to my rental list. So I guess I must have been impressed.

Why was I anxious? In part, because Potter’s series didn’t really follow a clear narrative path, not because it mingled fantasy, reality, memory and fiction, but because the reality part didn’t really round itself off in a satisfactory fashion. What made the series special was the quality of the protagonist’s dialogue, the authenticity of his plight, and the performances of everybody but especially Michael Gambon.

Bob Down

The plot — a crime writer crippled by severe psoriasis (a disease attacking the skin and joints) tries to work through his tormented feelings about life, love and sex. Though he is largely confined to his hospital bed, his mind roves freely through his memories, his pulp fiction, and his fantasies, until all these separate worlds cathartically collide.

Apart from the sheer difficulty of the job of adaptation, there was the fact that Dennis Potter is no longer with us. This gives the adapters a relatively free hand to mess about with his creation, safe from attack from the irascible author. It’s a bit like how, after decades in development hell, A HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY was suddenly in production, a relatively short time after Douglas Adams had passed away. While that film isn’t a complete disgrace, there are clearly things in there that Adams wouldn’t have tolerated, and for all everybody’s burbling on about how this was the film Adams had dreamed of, it notably has another writer’s name on it, and some of Adams’ time-honoured gags have been messed about with until they no longer work.

In absolute fairness, I think some of the filmmaking is very good, some of the off-the-wall casting really works, and some of the new gags and story elements are decent enough. But only SOME.

The Dark Corner

Gordon’S THE SINGING DETECTIVE is largely successful. It has Robert Downey Jnr instead of Michael Gambon, which is quite a big change, but obviously Downey is a superb actor so it totally works. One odd thing: since Downey is younger than Gambon, and the movie is being made decades after the TV show, they can no longer flashback to a ’40s world of childhood for the hero (and connect it to a ’40s world of noir fiction and cinema). So the movie is set in the ’80s, with flashbacks to the ’50s, leading to a completely different soundtrack. Some of these new songs are undoubtedly great, but I prefer the original. But I don’t actually mind. It actually took us about 45 minutes to realise this WAS the ’80s, since the music is all ’50s and the film takes place in a hospital environment with few obvious signifiers of period.

Gordon’s direction, along with Tom Richmond’s super-saturated cinematography, is stylish and stimulating, without intruding on the talk, which is the point of the thing. We get cartoony turns from Adrien Brody and Jon Polito as gangster/FBI men, adrift from Downey’s pulp potboiler and wandering through his memories and his reality like Vladimir and Estragon in snap-brim fedoras, with side-arms. The idea is funnier than the writing, maybe, but the “spirited playing” boosts it back up again. We particularly enjoyed the noir characters’ instinctive fear of sunlight and open space:

Bright Light!

Bright Light!

And there’s Robin Wright Penn, whose performance is, in its way, as detailed and compelling as Downey’s.

AND there’s an almost unrecognisable appearance by tiny racist Mel Gibson, who’s shaved his head and donned coke-bottle glasses to play Downey’s shrink. I guess he thinks he’s way too handsome normally to play a humdrum psychiatrist, so he has to disfigure himself. But the result is quite funny, and the performance is genuinely amusing. It might be the best bit of acting Mad Mel’s ever done.

(My friend and fellow director Morag McKinnon served him a burger at the BRAVEHEART launch party. “He’s a wee wrinkly man,” she reported.)

The Passion of the Dick

AND and AND there’s Jeremy Northam, one of the most versatile and unusual players working today. Here, Jeremy performs some intricate and filthy SEX ACTING, for our delectation.

Fiona: “That’s some of the best sex acting I’ve ever seen!”

Me: “I taught him everything he knows.”

Jeremy cher ami

We cut from the shag-shot to Downey’s face, strained in angst-ridden concentration as he imagines his enthusiastic cuckolding by the thrusting dirty Northam and then, doubtless because they’re playing Downey the tape on-set in order to show him what he’s supposed to be thinking about, Downey laughs uproariously. It’s great.

The Laughing Policeman

The original series featured a prominent supporting role for Patrick Malahide’s heaving buttocks, which are pale, wobbly things like unhappy jellyfish. I felt Northam was an improvement in purely aesthetic terms.

The biggest change from Potter’s original is the bit that was probably essential to get the film made, and which I’m still uncertain about. As I intimated, the TV series doesn’t really wrap up into a neat ball. The character’s contradictions and agonies don’t resolve, he recovers from his physical illness and appears to make peace with his wife and, perhaps, himself, but it’s not absolutely clear how he’s solved his psychological problems.

The movie has everything wrap up neatly — a new detail in Downey’s past dovetails with the plot of his book, and he’s able to achieve a Freudian breakthrough with his shrink which is absent, as I recall, from the series. It makes things neater and clearer, but it also turns the story into an ad for Freudian psychoanalysis, which the original was not. It’s the kind of story turn that would have been at home in a ’40s psychological drama like POSSESSED or THE SEVENTH VEIL. This new development arguably works better than the TV show, but I couldn’t altogether love it — it smacks of propaganda.

But this is a quibble, as is the fact that some of the new dialogue is not QUITE a sharp as some of the old dialogue. As memory serves, Gambon’s internal monologue of boring things, frantically called up to stave off sexual excitement as nurse Joanne Whalley applies cold cream to his aching body, was funnier and more un-PC than the version in the feature: for one thing, Gambon named names: John and Yoko were in there, as I recall. Downey doesn’t, and while his nurse, Katy Holmes, is pulchritudinous enough, she lacks Whalley’s down-to-earth reality: you don’t really believe Holmes should be entrusted with anything as challenging as smearing cream around a patient’s penis.

Asides from these nagging little insect-points, I think the film is actually DAMN GOOD.

Am I right?

“Am I not wrong, or am I not wrong?”

I am Giggling…Why?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 2, 2008 by dcairns

“The secrets of the analyst’s couch are like those of the confessional, only more interesting.” ~ John Collier.

Make sure you watch this clip up to the “dancing,” as it may just be the funniest thing ever perpetrated in the name of “eroticism”.

Two films touching on the theme of psychoanalysis, then: Compton Bennett’s THE SEVENTH VEIL, whose very title suggests a relation between the seductive and the psychotherapeutic, and I AM FRIGID…WHY?, a demented dollop of Euro-sleaze from the febrile “mind” of Max Pecas.

THE SEVENTH VEIL is a woman’s picture from Gainsborough Films, makers of “classy” bodice-ripping romps like THE WICKED LADY and THE MAN IN GREY. All these films helped make a star out of James Mason as Britain’s leading attractive brute, raping and beating his way across the Flowers of Young English Womanhood to the delight of repressed 1940s audiences.

T7V takes James away from the period trappings, where he could safely say things like, “It’ll make a change, taking you by force,” and sets him up as a rich, neurotic cripple who forms a controlling obsession for his young ward, Ann Todd, a brilliant pianist. (This reminds me of Ann’s namesake SWEENEY TODD — you wait ages for a movie about a man lusting after his ward, then two come along at once. The only other one I can even think of is BATMAN AND ROBIN.)

Ann T is the star and female sensibility through which events are filtered, but they get further filtration from smooth-talking head-shrinker Herbert Lom (full name: Herbert Charles Angelo Kuchacevich ze Schluderpacheru — I’ve been known to recite this at parties so be warned) who is treating her for suicidal depression and a fixated belief that her hands are paralysed, which they aren’t.

HCAKZS puts her under hypnosis, and she sorta drifts into flashback…

…and we realise what a big influence this flick had on Hollywood melodramas like POSSESSED, etc. Even the “technical terms” used, like narcosis and mutism, are the same. Todd’s case history emerges from these induced flashbacks, and we see her as a schoolgirl, entrusted to the “care” of James Mason, a distant relation in every sense:

Masonry

Ann T. espies Mr. Mason’s pussycat. “Would you like to stroke her?” he offers. She demurs tremulously.

Poor Ann has already failed to win a music scholarship after being caned on her hands, but the chilly Mason senses her talents and sets about molding her, Svengali-fashion, into a star. This rampant control-freakery soon extends to breaking up relationships with perfectly nice men. After YEARS of this, Todd finally rebels, tells her Wicked Uncle that she’s leaving…

Hot Toddy 

Mason is kind of affecting here, because he wants to reach out to her, but his neurotic coldness won’t let him, and so –

Whack-O!

In an iconic moment of British ’40s melodrama, a wigged-out J.M. tries to smash his beloved’s fingers with his cane (Mason is Romantically Crippled, like Byron). Fleeing with her podgy German portrait-painter beau, Todd gets into a car-crash and injures her hands, though not seriously.

Now Lom has the facts. Like the best Freudian detectives, he seeks out the “suspects” and gets additional info from them, then calls them all together. Podgy Teuton, Mason, and Todd’s first love, the wise-cracking yank. Lom then effects a MIRACLE CURE simply by PLAYING A RECORD to Todd, who descends the stairs into the roomful of waiting swains, ready, like Lassie, to go to the one she loves the most.

And she chooses… well, it might be unfair to give this away. But if I say “the highest paid actor” and “the one more in need of psychiatric care than herself” you’ll probably get it. It’s a fascinating turn of events because the film gives absolutely no clue as to how this relationship is now supposed to work. A.T. has been cured of her fear, but will her new lover be able to express the tender emotions that have completely defeated him thus far? Is this going to be an s.m.-type relationship? Does Herbert Lom know what the hell he’s playing at? 

The ending feels like a very bold piece of provocation: we are being asked, What do we think of this? Can we make sense of it? The filmmaker, of course, is copping out of his usual responsibility, that of telling us what to think. This means the film is either incomplete, devoid of meaning, or mature, treating its audience as thinking beings. I’d say Compton Bennett has actually hit on a way of EXPLOITING inconclusive narrative for financial gain.

Everybody’s very good in this movie. Mason gets to be brooding and uptight. Ann Todd is a revelation: always a slightly cold actress, here she exhibits an impressive range, even convincing in ponytails as a schoolgirl — she does an even better job that Joan Fontaine in LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN. Neither can convince as teenage, physically, but both do a great job with childlike body language. Certainly better than Sandra Julien in I AM FRIGID…WHY?

frigid hair

Sandra, as the virginal Doris, is rendered frigid by the trauma of rape in a greenhouse, then must Walk the Earth in search of sexual kicks that might break through her psychological block. These include Kubrickian masked orgies, fey spanking sessions, and listless lesbianism, all filmed with oppressively coloured-gel-lighting, soft-focus and starburst filters until you’re aching for somebody to OPEN A BLOODY WINDOW.

Eyes Wide Apart

Orgy and Mess

Spankyman

There’s also the “theatrical troupe” glimpsed in the vid above:

Mr Boomtastic

But Doris only finds true happiness at the movie’s end, where she is able to have pure, loving consensual sex… in the greenhouse she was raped in… with the man who raped her.

Botanic antics

The psychoanalytic narrative seems to have been seen as a great excuse to abandon all narrative logic and have characters behave in a totally incredible way. Since understanding human nature is the speciality of SCIENCE, it’s OK for the behaviour in these films to make no sense to the audience.

I kind of have to hand it to Max Pecas for making a film as ludicrous as IAF…W? and still managing to have it be so outrageously offensive. Despite its campy surface (the men, though nominally straight, all seem like gay stereotypes) the flick seems to seriously propose the idea that revisiting a trauma can cure it — a popular Freudian fantasy (still big in Scientology), but even if Pecas was determined to follow this narrative (while making an erotic film about frigidity, itself a perverse idea)…still. The film can only be acceptable if we see it as 100% sexual fantasy and 0% sexual politics, but can a film entirely rid itself of any relationship to life? And should it?

The Audience

“I want to take you to the dernieres limites d’erotisme.” ~ Alain Cuny, EMMANUELLE.

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