Archive for Yvonne Blake

The Greatest Tory Ever Sold

Posted in Fashion, FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 9, 2021 by dcairns

I also watched JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR at Easter. Doesn’t that title need some punctuation? I mean, if we don’t specify that it should read JESUS CHRIST, SUPERSTAR (which would look good on a business card) then the filmgoer is dangerously free to imagine it as JESUS CHRIST! SUPERSTAR? (an astonished reaction to Todd Haynes’ Barbie-doll biopic).

Whatever. Studios are apparently superstitiously averse to punctuating their titles.

This being early Lloyd-Webber, the tunes are actually there. Billy Wilder, speaking of the Sunset Blvd musical, predicted it might have one or two good songs (I think one of them is a self-plagiarism from ALW’s score for GUMSHOE). Most of these numbers are toe-tappers, though the bad guy songs are the ones that escape bathos and make a virtue of their vulgarity. Tim Rice’s lyrics do resort to rhyming couplets and one-syllable words a hell of a lot of the time, except where he rhymes “messiah” and “fire,” which ought to be a crucifying offence.

I guess director Norman Jewison is considered tragically unhip, but I consider him essentially benign, and he did give us Hal Ashby. And here he’s complemented by cinematographer Douglas Slocombe, in shooting on 65mm, and editor Antony Gibbs, so we have the man who shot THE LADYKILLERS and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and the man who cut TOM JONES and PERFORMANCE. The shooting and cutting are terrific — and we should leave Jewison out of our appreciation of that. I guess the nouvelle vague-isms were maybe old hat by 1973, but this was never a really hip property anyway.

I recall reading about this one in a Medved Bros book — they really hated it, something I now think is more to do with their religious feelings than their film-critical faculties (which are null). They found Ted Neeley too hysterical — true, but Ted is fighting the tendency of Jesus to be boring onscreen — he doesn’t win the battle but his vocal histrionics keep him semi-watchable — ditto Carl Anderson as Judas — who moves well, his gestures midway between pantomime and dance. The Medvedi reserved special ire for Barry Dennen as Pilate, who is certainly very hissy indeed. And hissable. But somehow makes the character a serviceable embodiment of every management-class person craving the quiet life and refusing to take a stand. I’m always pleased when Dennen turns up in anything — as the desperate chemical plant scientist in SUPERMAN III, for instance.

This is one of the more incoherent renditions of the Gospels — I can’t work out why the people of Jerusalem turn against Christ — I suppose it’s as a result of him throwing the moneylenders out of the temple, but it’s not clear, really. It ought to have been possible to write this.

Despite the surname, Norman Jewison isn’t Jewish, something he pointed out, an honest man, when offered FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. The studio head said that this was GOOD, he felt a gentile could make the story universal. At which point maybe Jewison should have objected to being given a Jewish project on the basis of his not being Jewish.

Ted Neely, like most screen Jesuses, is super-Aryan (and from Texas), though the movie has a nice racial mix elsewhere, and avoids making Judas the most Jewish one (see the Eric Idle & John Cleese Michelangelo sketch). It does, however, strike me as quite a right-wing — the Thatcherite Rice and Lloyd-Webber do include Jesus and Judas’ argument about spending money on luxuries instead of charity, which most adaptations leave out. Not having seen this film since I was a kid, it hadn’t struck me before that the adaptors want to side with Jesus’ “There will be poor always, pathetically struggling, look at the good things you’ve got.” It seems absurd that the authors intended the speaker to sound reasonable or virtuous. I always found Judas the more sympathetic character. And not just because I’m Scottish and thirty pieces of silver sounds like quite a lot.

The writers and Jewison also treat the healing of the sick as a zombie movie — the only time I’ve seen this done. Poor Jesus, persecuted by all these dirty poor people who want something from him!

I think Jewison was going for a Ken Russell vibe but can’t quite get there — he was, apparently, very concerned with being tasteful, which is a fool’s errand when dealing with tacky material like this (a Lloyd-Webber musical, the Holy Bible). He can’t quite attain the shade of ultraviolet required.

Yvonne Blake did the costumes for this and Lester’s THREE MUSKETEERS the same year, it seems. The film’s Big Idea, that this is a production put on by a busload of hippies, works well, and the mix of am-dram stylisation and modern props is fun. The s&m pharisees are good value. Not sure how the graphic whipping — mild by Mel Gibson standards, of course — is supposed to work if this is a theatrical performance. Not quite consistent. Plus, where’s the audience?

And the jet fighters which roar off after Judas sells out evidently continued their patrol of the Holy Land — you can hear them, courtesy of sound designer Skip Lievsay, in THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST when Willem Dafoe wills himself back onto the cross at the end.

Nights at the Villa Deodati #3: Byron and Shelley Go Boating

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on February 15, 2016 by dcairns


ROWING WITH THE WIND by Gonzalo Suarez (1988) is the least-known of the three major Mary Shelley biopics released in the second half of the eighties, and in some ways the best. In other ways, unfortunately, it might be the worst. Somehow cutting all three versions together might produce one really good film.

To clarify, I guess I should attempt to compile plus and minus columns for this picture. In the demerits, I list —


  1. Hugh Grant. Quite unable to suggest the kind of bastard Byron unquestionably was, nor yet the kind of genius he was, Grant relies on his light comedy skills to conjure some entertainment, but it’s at the expense of credibility and drama.
  2. Liz Hurley. It’s axiomatic that Hurley’s appearance in any film can only signal one thing: somebody didn’t care enough.
  3. The script, which plays fast and loose with history to a quite unacceptable degree.
  4. The film-making, which has no conception of suspense and allows the nominally scary stuff to just lie there and die there.


But to balance these colossal handicaps, the film has a number of things very much in its favour —

  1. Hugh Grant, who is genuinely funny, and signals the film’s willingness to be lighthearted as well as dour. In this he’s immeasurably aided by first-rate clowning from Ronan Vibert as a comedy manservant who would look at home in a James Whale picture.
  2. Liz Hurley. This may be her only effective performance. One may still think “Liz Hurley: someone has been careless,” but she acquits herself well with the very unnatural dialogue and looks even better naked than usual.
  3. The script, which cracks the problem of all Deodati-weekend movies — nothing actually happens — by having the monster come to flesh-and-blood life and bump off the participants, one by one, enacting a kind of curse of Frankenstein. This of course requires considerable flying in the face of history (Polidori didn’t die THEN, one thinks), but results in some uncanny and surprising scenes.
  4. The film-making. While Ivan Passer seemed to be on lithium and Ken Russell flipped through his scenario with reckless insouciance, throwing in images he’d worn out on previous ventures, Suarez produces genuinely stunning images on a regular basis ~


So, the film’s flaws and virtues are largely interchangeable. It has an eerie monster, Jose Carlos Rivas, who speaks like an answering machine, and outstanding design and cinematography (Yvonne Blake, on costume, also did Lester’s MUSKETEERS). The director’s inability to muster tension, and the cast’s variable ability to navigate the more challenging scenes, make it a rocky ride, but it hits the sublime every ten or twenty minutes, and that ain’t nuthin’.