Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Jorge in Sao Paulo, Martin in Derry & Colin, and Donal.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Stella, 1955

Melina Mercouri's first film (at the age of 35) STELLA, directed by Michael Cacoyannis, is an astonishing drama, a Greek version of CARMEN .... one watches fascinated as this tale of love and revenge builds to a stunning crescendo. 

Stella is a taverna singer who has romances but doesn't want to compromise and settle down. She hates the idea of marriage, particularly to a man who wants her to stay at home with babies and in fact lock her up. She is a restless, rebellious Greek woman who plays with men and enjoys her life as much as she can. But when she meets a young football player Mitso, things get complicated. He forces her to agree to their marriage and he and his mother fix the date, but Stella realises she cannot go through with it, despite knowing how the jealous Mitso will react. The stage is set for a Greek tragedy.

Melina is marvellous in the early scenes, fascinating all the men, whom we see doing those Greek dances and enjoying their masculine culture in the bars and taverns. Women are very much subordinate here - apart from free-living Stella. 
She tires of her current beau - Aleko - despite he having bought a piano for her; he later kills himself.. Once she and the sporty Mitso set eyes on each other, their passions erupt ...... We also get to know Stella's pals at the tavern, the girl who is jealous of her success with men and the older woman who tries to protect her. There is also a pertinent scene with Mitso's mother who makes it clear what her son expects in a wife and how it is best not to thwart him ... but Stella, like CARMEN will face her own destiny. Instead of going to her wedding she goes dancing with that 19 year old admirer dancing into a frenzy, as does Mitso back at the taverna .... 

George Foundas is Mitso - he was also in Cacoyannis's ZORBA THE GREEK where he also stabs the Greek widow (Irene Papas) whom his son killed himself over. 
STELLA was at the Cannes Film Festival in 1955 where Mercouri met Jules Dassin whom she married - their NEVER ON SUNDAY was that sensation in 1960 and all their work was at least interesting. The vivid music score here is by Manos Hadjidakis. Cacoyannis went on to several other fascinating movies like THE TROJAN WOMEN and odd misfires like THE DAY THE FISH CAME OUT in 1967 (Trash label), and of course the huge hit of ZORBA ...
This was the mercurial Mercouri's first cinema role and Melina (1920-1994) mesmerises here, as indeed she did in most of her roles: in NEVER ON SUNDAY, PHAEDRA, Dassin's LA LOI, TOPKAPI, 10.30 PM SUMMER and the rest. Check the Melina label for more reviews. 

As I mentioned in other posts, I had an afternoon with Melina back in 1968 when she led the march and demonstration in Trafalgar Square in London protesting about poverty in Biafra, Africa. I was an idealistic 22 year old and Melina led the march, resplendent in a long red dress and lots of gold chains. She of course became a Greek MP and campaigned for the return of those Elgin Marbles in the British Museum. 

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Mary Renault: the history woman (and Nancy too...)

How nice to come across a full page feature on Mary Renault in the weekend papers .... as the writer of the article, Bettany Hughes, will be discussing Renault at the Hay Literary Festival (here in the UK) later this month. 

Renault (1905-1983), maybe rather forgotten now, was the author of those great historical novels which my generation grew up on: THE CHARIOTEER (an early 'gay interest' title, about two gay servicemen in the 1940s, it could not be published in America until 1959), THE KING MUST DIE, THE BULL FROM THE SEA, THE MASK OF APOLLO, THE PRAISE SINGER and in particular those novels about Alexander The Great, which I loved and read several times: FIRE FROM HEAVEN about the young Alexander and THE PERSIAN BOY ("one of the greatest historical novels ever written" capturing the ancient world completely) about when Alexander was Great and conquering the known world as he ventured into Persia and beyond. There was also a third novel FUNERAL GAMES about the aftermath of Alexander' death in 323 BC. She also wrote a non-fiction account of Alexander: THE NATURE OF ALEXANDER.

Renault herself was a fascinating character - one of those great novelists of my era, along with Patricia Highsmith, Iris Murdoch, Edna O'Brien and Muriel Spark. Renault was that rare thing: a happy lesbian with a lifelong relationship (with Julie Mullard - they moved to South Africa in 1949 where Renault wrote her novels, in a beach house called Delos)  - unlike Highsmith and her solitary life ending up alone in Europe. Renault died of cancer aged 78 in 1983. 
Mary Renault was a global best-seller with 8 Greek-themed historical novels, and six contemporary ones. Her real name was Eileen Mary Challans, born in 1905, in the London suburb of Forest Gate. How she developed that love and interest in the ancient world is astonishing. Luckily she got to Oxford where she was taught by JRR Tolkien.  She trained as a nurse and treated casualties in the Second World War where the sheltered graduate quickly learned of man's capacity for war and inhumanity.   
Her novels on same sex love are bold and dignified at a time when this kind of stuff was kept under wraps, and the certainly opened our eyes to the wonders of the ancient world, for which we thank her. 

Renault reminds me of that other well-known 1950s lesbian: journalist and writer Nancy Spain (1917-1964), a Roedean girl who became a prominent writer for the Sunday papers, was on TV a lot, and was friends with Marlene Dietrich among others. She was also pals with fellow broadcaster and "What's My Line?" game show veteran, that gruff 'confirmed bachelor' Gilbert Harding. Nancy and her girlfriend were killed when their plane crashed near Aintree racecourse on their way to the races in 1964, pity she didn't get to comment on the rest of the '60s. She was a high-living gal and was a lot of fun and just 46. Her pal Noel Coward wrote in his diary: "It is cruel that all that gaiety, intelligence and vitality should be snuffed out when so many bores and horrors are left living." I've just had to splurge out on Rose Collis's book "A Trouser Wearing Character" on Nancy and her era. Collis also wrote that delicious bography of Coral Brown: "This Effing Lady". One can read more about Nancy here:

Cate's CAROL wows Cannes, Maggie is in the van

... but we have to wait until winter to see them.
Todd Haynes's CAROL finally gets unveiled at Cannes. This is one we are eagerly awaiting, another FAR FROM HEAVEN maybe as Haynes gives his version of Patricia Highsmith's 1952 novel "The Price of Salt" featuring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara and those early '50s fashions. 
First comments are sensational - maybe this has been held back (it was filmed last year) to get over the success of Cate's BLUE JASMINE ?  Cate of course does marvellous red carpet, what a dress she is wearing here ! and she can certainly work that '50s fashion plate look (as she did in THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY).
It looks like (here in UK) we will have to wait till November - 6 months time! - to see CAROL when it goes on release here, presumably held back for next awards season. Just like how AMOUR was held up few years ago ...
Here is the rave review by Tim Robey from our "Daily Telegraph":
 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/film/carol/review/

And we also wait until December for the film of Alan Bennett's play THE LADY IN THE VAN with Maggie Smith reprising her stage role. James Corden gets into this too .... (but of course he was one of Alan's HISTORY BOYS). Some winter goodies to look forward to then. 

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Francois, Francoise, Charlotte, Catherine, David, Tom

A relaxing Sunday with warmer weather, the newspapers and some interesting stories on favourites of ours, before cooking dinner and later unwinding with a drink at hand, for that 1940s wartime saga HOME FIRES ....

An interesting interview with Francois Ozon (right) in "The Irish Times" where the gay French director talks about his new film THE NEW GIRLFRIEND (which did not make much of a ripple here) and has some interesting comments, particularly on those films of his featuring women like Deneuve or Rampling. As the paper's feature (by Tara Brady) says: "8 WOMEN brought together France’s grandest dames for a 1950s-set musical murder mystery; 5x2 plays five key scenes from a divorced couple’s relationship backwards; SWIMMING POOL exuded Hitchcockian menace as Charlotte Rampling became a young woman’s reluctant caregiver and voyeur; POTICHE saw Catherine Deneuve as a rejected trophy wife, lead her husband’s employees to rebel.
Many of Ozon’s films are smaller, more tightly focused; TIME TO LEAVE sees a young man push everyone away as he enters the final stages of terminal cancer".
"Charlotte Rampling is one of many actors who have returned again and again to the troupe of Ozon players. Others include Ludivine Sagnier and Catherine Deneuve.
“There is a lot of pleasure in working with women,” says Ozon. “Very often actresses are more pleasurable and easier to work with than men. There are some actors I work with and once is enough. But there are others, like Charlotte, who have a depth and maturity.”
What is it, I wonder, about French cinema’s love affair with a certain kind of British woman, such as Rampling, Jane Birkin and Kristin Scott Thomas.
“In France we have a fascination with foreign actresses,” Ozon says. “One of the most popular French actresses of the 1970s was Romy Schneider who was German. And then there are the English actresses who fell in love with French men and come to France. They often tell me the French offer very good parts as a woman gets older. In England or America they get to play the mother or the grandmother.”
Ozon has had Hollywood offers since Swimming Pool became a global sensation, in 2003. But the director is not for turning.
“In America, film is not about art or culture. It’s a business. So they make movies for teenagers, because it’s easier. And they have a different way of working. The producer does not direct the film, but they do make all of the decisions. The director is a technician more than an artist. I don’t want to work that way. I don’t feel the necessity of losing my soul.” 
Charlotte Rampling herself is interviewed too in "The Daily Telegraph" - 'Le Legende' at 69 now feels she has "the face she has earned". Like Catherine Deneuve her career spans 50 years and she still works now, turning down scripts she does not like - "it has to be something that makes me want to leave the house, where I can stay very happily with my books and my cats". Presumably, like playing a barrister in that second series of BROADCHURCH for British television recently (we loved the first series, the second less so... ). She has come a long way from the 'partying Sixties It-girl' with The Look, as exemplified by her breakthrough film GEORGY GIRL in 1966. Interesting to see that this year she is starring with Tom Courtenay (another Sixties actor in it for the long haul) in 45 YEARS, by Andrew Haigh (LOOKING tv series, WEEKEND) which is an unsettling portrait of a marriage. . She credits Ozon and working with him on UNDER THE SAND as revitalising her and re-realising her potential as a cinema actor. She is as busy now as she has ever been: "I'm working because good work is coming"

Catherine Denueve, another Ozon regular, could probably say the same. Her STANDING TALL was the opening film at this year's Cannes Film Festival, and as the Times put it: "Deneuve adds punch to delinquent drama", where she is the steely judge in this gritty downbeat drama. The critics were not sneering, as at last year's opener GRACE OF MONACO. Let's hope London sees this new Deneuve drama before too long .... I found Catherine hilarious in Ozon's POTICHE with her portly housewife out jogging and communicating with nature, before taking over the family factory to avert a strike and then going into politics, and her dancing with the even portlier Depardieu a delicious treat, with that Seventies background, and the increasingly gay son (Jeremie Rennier). See Ozon label for reviews on all these, his serious TIME TO LEAVE is devastating too. 

BBC4 ran a fascinating documentary as well on French popular song - chanson - where a very spry Petula Clark, now 82, took us through the golden years of French popular song from Edith Piaf and Charles Trenet, including Petula's own French career, to that great early Sixties era, with Francoise Hardy and the others. Francoise was the Face of the early sixties, her Vogue 4-track EPs were the first records I bought, even before The Beatles. Utter bliss then. Francoise too is still going and still singing though the hair is short and silver grey now. 

Tom joins the Hockney set
David Hockney is back in the news too with a new exhibition at the Annely Juda Gallery in London, with some fascinating new paintings. The artist, now 77, is selling that house in Bridlington  in East Yorkshire, where his assistant Dominic Elliott died in 2013. His new work includes 'The Potted Palm' - below - which include Olympic diver Tom Daley and his partner scriptwriter Dustin Lance Black, who are now part of the Hockney circle, David said he likes Tom and praised his coming out last year, of course Tom does lots of diving into those blue pools, but not making "a bigger splash"! Hockney - subject of many posts here, see label - recently bemoaned the demise of what he calls Bohemia, the lifestyle once led by gays, who now want to get married, settle down and have children - he finds them boring and conservative, wanting to lead ordinary lives ... He now goes to bed at nine, and don't go to parties or films as he has got increasingly deaf. He continues to work though, as he says "When I'm painting, I feel 30. Of course I have no plans to retire, artists don't retire. So I'll go on until I fall over, dying ideally at the easel". One somehow feels that other blonde painter who smoked endlessly - Joni Mitchell, maybe still in a coma and also in her Seventies, would somehow agree. Hockney also said in another recent interview that "maybe" the love of his life was Gregory Evans, his 62 year old manager, they were lovers for over a decade but have worked together for 40 years - not Peter Schlesinger of A BIGGER SPLASH then ... The new paintings are certainly fascinating and sees Hockney going in a new direction. 

Binge on boxsets ...
Having a binge with boxsets seems to be the new way to watch television - not just an episode a week any more. and now that Netflix can put whole series on-line, one can certainly binge on them - I am rationing my GRACE & FRANKIE episodes (as per recent post), and got their HOUSE OF CARDS reboot on dvd. Has television ever been better? Despite all the crap stuff, there are some terrific series out there, our Sky Atlantic being particularly good (like HBO with THE NORMAL HEART and other dramas). PENNY DREADFUL is particularly stunning - amazing sets and gothic horror mixing in Frankenstein's monster, Dorian Gray, bloody vampires, werewolves and other assorted Victorian nightmares - Eva Green, Rory Kinnear (a touching monster, left), Timothy Dalton, Billie Piper, Helen McCrory and upcoming Douglas Hodge and Patti Lupone will keep one watching .... not for the faint-hearted! I have not even got around to GAME OF THRONES or BREAKING BAD or ...
THE AFFAIR looks like another must see, after recent stunning series like HAPPY VALLEY and the delicious Sky sitcom by Ruth Jones: STELLA  - now on Series 4 with those inhabitants of Pontyberry in deepest Wales. More please ! Hard to believe Ruth's Stella was also GAVIN & STACEY's Nessa and LITTLE BRITAIN's Myfanwy (with Daffydd, the only gay in the village) and played Hattie Jacques too. Actress and writer Ruth, right, with Patrick Baladi. 

Incidentally, I will have to catch the new MAD MAX: FURY ROAD this week, I need a big screen experience with an action movie everyone seems to love .... I will probably be seeing it in 3D!

Friday, 15 May 2015

BB. King, RIP.

"The thrill is gone" indeed. Glowing notices just now for the late B.B. King (1925-2015) who has died aged 89. The blues legend and ace guitarist is probably the last of that dying breed, those Delta bluesmen (like Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker) who burst into the mainstream in the 1960s, as the young English rhythm'n'blues admirers like Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, The Rolling Stones etc. covered their songs and wanted to play with them. B.B. played to the hippies at the Filimore in San Francisco and toured endlessly - I saw a concert of his in London in 1971 - he was also a regular at The White House. 
That journey from share-cropping to being feted as the best blues musician of his era, with those plaintive songs and soaring guitar, can really never happen again. Like "Howlin' Wolf's London Sessions" album with Clapton and the others, B.B. also recorded with the likes of Clapton and U2. Aretha covered B.B.'s "The Thrill Is Gone" and terrific though it is, it can't match B.B. RIP indeed. 
B.B. shows that playing the blues is a lifelong gig - he was doing over 100 concerts a year well into his 80s. 

Something for the weekend ....

Another chance to use this stunning photograph of Joan Crawford, by ace Magnum photographer Eve Arnold - from a new book on her; EVE ARNOLD: MAGNUM LEGACY

I have done several posts on Arnold (who died in 2012 three months short of her 100th birthday - she was born in 1912) on her work with the Magnum photo-agency and had published several books, including one on Marilyn Monroe - Arnold had covered the shoot of THE MISFITS in Nevada in late 1960 and also did several shoots with Marilyn in the '50s, they seemed to get on well.

She also did a wonderful book (FILM JOURNAL) on the various locations she covered in the '50s and '60s when she photographed almost everybody from Mangano to Loren and Anouk to Vitti and Vanessa - she must have been as prolific as Bob Willoughby as she too was on the sets of some of my favourite movies such as BLOW-UPMODESTY BLAISE and JUSTINE. Check the Eve Arnold label for lots more of her wonderful images, from that great era of the photo-journalists for  magazines like LOOK and LIFE.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Design: 1970s 'sunshine pop' (& '90's Innocence)

Colin sent me a link to this intriguing and very tuneful cover of Carole King's "I Feel The Earth Move" by a group, Design - it is so very 1973, this is exactly how we looked then (like me and my first colour television, right). But how come I never heard of Design before? 
There is another video clip too, showcasing their great vocal harmonies:  
Their website looks intriguing , with all the details .... http://www.designvocalgroup.com/
Its like going back to those heady days of TAKE THREE GIRLS on the BBC.

A CD of two of their albums has just arrived - I suspect Colin had something to do with it. The notes include "Tripping the light fantastic of breezy west coast harmony pop mixed with atmospheric melodic folk pop - here are the third and fourth albums by the UK six piece vocal group whose sound was described as "the perfect musical accompaniment to a garden party in the blazing sunshine". Get ready for summer then ..... 
The group were together almost 8 years, they recorded more than 150 radio shows and appeared on more than 50 television shows. They also released five albums and thirteen singles. Sadly, a foundling member, Geoff Ramseyer, died aged 25 after leaving the group in 1976 - he is in the clip above, in the floral shirt. The rest of the group later disbanded and did different things - moving to Australia etc, but got together for their reissued recordings in 2011. Thanks again, Colin. 

In a way it reminds me of this great vocal track from the 1990s, by another harmony group Innocence, and it also mixes in a hint of Pink Floyd ! Chill out then.
Comng soon: TEN SONGS OF  MY LIFE - as based on Martin's Facebook item. I think it will be more than ten though, at least twenty ... 

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

The life and death of a film magazine

Issue 3: December 1954
My early cinema-going years seem to have coincided with the run of that British film magazine "Films and Filming" which I have written about here a lot, and used lots of covers from its glory years. It began in October 1954 – the year I began seeing movies, aged 8 in Ireland (JOHNNY GUITAR being the first film I saw – what a vivid introduction to movie! – followed by A STAR IS BORN and going with my father to see those 1954 westerns like DRUM BEAT, THE COMMAND, SITTING BULL …. ). I did not catch up with "F&F" though until the Sixties ...
The recent job lot of 40  1950s issues
I got  (for a very good price) on eBay. 

I caught up with “Films and Filming” (after growing out of “Picture Show”, “Fans Star Library” and “Photoplay” and Hollywood magazines like “Screen Album” or “Movieland and TV Time”) about 1962, when I was 16 and eagerly devoured each issue - it was a new way of looking at movies and their makers and that expanding European cinema. The look of the magazine had a makeover then – for the new happening decade. It also had a lot of contact advertisements and a certain gay vibe, as per those ads for Vince’s Man Shop (see Fashon label). I put an ad in myself when I was 17 ("Boy 17 seeks penfriends, male/female, under 21" – what is amusing now is that a 17 year old would find over 21’s too old …) and got replies from all over the world: England, Malta, USA and Australia, and am still in touch with one of them, Mike now in San Francisco, a Worthing boy, who became a good friend.  I moved to London in 1964 when 18 so "F&F" became my monthly bible for movies. (Penfriends - writing each other letters - was what people did then, before Facebook, cellphones and the internet). 
200th issue, May 1971
100th issue, Jan 1963
I worked for the magazine for a year, when between careers, in 1975-76, doing subscriptions, writing some reviews etc. and got to know the friendly crowd there then: the reclusive owner, Philip Dosse, and his general manger, Tony, and Olive who did the accounts, and the guys working with me, Brian, Tim, Roy, Baxter, and Pamela whom I went to various shows with. We never saw the editor, Robin Bean, who it seems only emerged at night and did all the work on the magazine from his apartment at Earls Terrace, off Kensington High Street. The magazines were published on a shoe-string, from a basement flat in Artillery Mansions in Victoria Street. These were quality magazines on fine art paper, “Films and Filming” was one of a stable of seven, all published by Dosse’s Hansom Books – there were “Arts and Artists”, “Books and Bookmen”, “Music and Musicians”. “Films and Filming” was their big seller, as was the authorative “Plays and Players” – a great record of London theatre during those years.

The subscriptions were all done by hand, in that pre-computer era, written on cards, and subscriber’ names and addresses were stamped on tin plates for the machine to print them out on envelopes. Of course it would all be computerised now. 
Instead of being out on the London arts scene as a major arts magazines publisher, Dosse - a genuine eccentric - would sit and stuff magazines into envelopes and answer the switchboard, we had several interesting conversations about the history of the magazine. Unfortunately it did not pay very well, so after a year I left for “pastures new”. There were some binders and back issues available too.

I later got to know the F&F editor Robin Bean, by post, as the magazine was in decline by the late Seventies – but it had a good run since 1954, for a private publisher. “Sight and Sound” by contrast was funded by the BFI, practically their house magazine. “Films and Filming” was the only quality British film monthly then, as “S & S" was a quarterly, published four times a year, until it went monthly in the '90s. (I liked the ‘60s and ‘70s “Sight and Sound” – it had a nice style and was a contrast to “F&F”, but I did not care for its monthly rebirth). “Films and Filming” by then had departed the scene. Philip Dosse could not keep it going and in 1980 the magazine folded after his suicide.

I exchanged lots of ideas with Robin Bean, its editor, and still have his letters. He was very bitter about the way the magazine folded leaving them all unpaid. I did some reviews for him, and started a video column for that new sensation: the emergence of VHS and how it revolutionised our film-viewing. Now one could own and collect films, as we spent the ‘80s scouring “Radio Times” for movies to record, as one’s collection of video-cassettes grew, and then pre-recorded movies to buy !

Bean tried to keep the magazine going, but did not succeed (he died in 1992, aged 53, of asthma and bronchitis, according to "Variety", whose obituary said: "After studying at the London School of Economics, Bean joined the magazine in 1961 and edited it from 1968 to 1980, attracting notoriety with his sexually explicit picture spreads. He later launched the monthly clone, “Films,” which ran until 1985, and “Movie Scene” (1985-86). He subsequently worked as a free-lance assistant to director Michael Winner, a neighbour"), The magazine was revived and had a new look, for a few years, under the editorship of well-known film writers and critics Allen Eyles and then John Russell Taylor. I still bought a lot of issues, but it was not the same. Belows right: the revamped 1980s style.
Nice to see the old “Films & Filming” issues command a market on eBay, where I have now purchased all those 1950s issues from before my time, so I have the complete run from Oct 54 to Dec 1959 and into the '60s and '70s. 
All magazines have their great era and "F&F" was great in the '50s and '60s, and up to about the mid-'70s (1974 being particularly good). But looking at a 1960 issue and a 1980 one the decline is sadly evident. It was certainly an achievement to have kept the magazine going during those great decades for movies charting the changing movie scene. They are still very readable and collectable. I trust my posts on it help keep the memory of the magazine alive. 

As I said here back in 2010: it introduced so many of us to the potential of cinema as just more than mere entertainment - it covered the best of world cinema with interviews and features on and by all the leading players and directors. That 1961 Italian cinema issue is priceless now with its features by Antonioni, Visconti, Fellini, Pasolini etc. Interesting too seeing how the magazine changed from the staid '50s through the liberated '60s (when being the zeitgeist that it was, it became THE magazine for gay cineastes) to the mature '70s. I could spend hours going through those bound copies...

There are several histories of "Films and Filming" including at this link: 
www.academia.edu/2023952/_A_sensible_magazine_for_intelligent_film-goers._Notes_for_a_History_of_Films_and_Filming_1954-1990 
and a shorter,witty feature in Number Two of the gay (or queer as they call it) magazine LITTLE JOE in 2011 by Justin Bengry, whom I corresponded with about the magazine and my memories of it, which he incorporated in his feature. 
Below: the magazine's 30th anniversary tribute, an issue from each year from October 1954 to October 1984. (click images to enlarge...)

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

A week of re-viewings ...

Since I went over to Sky Movies recently, a lot more classics have been on tap, its rather nice to settle down once again and see a favourite .... so, before we head off to some new movies - good, and bad - here's another canter through old favourites.
VERTIGO. Theres a special intensity to this 1958 Hitchcock classic, its mesmerising watching it again, noticing how wonderful Barbara Bel Geddes is as Midge, and drowning in that swooning score by Bernard Herrmann, Kim may have been a replacement but is the perfect actress here. At first met by mixed reviews (I remember seeing it as a kid), this tale of an acrophobic ex-detective following a beautiful woman through a dreamy San Francisco, is now revered a a true classic. More on this and that "Sight & Sound" poll at Hitch label ... more Hitch horror in:

THE BIRDS, 1963. I simply never tire of it - every element works, and Tippi Hedren is just perfect here, whereas I do not care for her in MARNIE much at all. The premise of this classic chiller - a town in terror when thousands of birds unite to attack the residents - gets no less terrifying with age. Hitch's third Daphne du Maurier adaptation (by Evan Hunter) creates an atmosphere of muggy dread as the Brenner family board up their house against the invading birds. Visiting socialite Melanie Daniels (Tippi) plus Mitch's clingy mother (Jessica Tandy) and sister are trapped - then Melanie goes upstairs .... Bodega Bay looks marvellous and Rod Taylor is just right as the guy at the centre of it all, as the teasing interplay between him and Melanie turns serious. Suzanne Pleshette is terrific too.

Watching BELL BOOK & CANDLE yet again I really like the Zodiac Club, tucked away around the corner, where Hermione Gingold presides over that beatniky offbeat scene and Kim Novak lurks in the shadows while a young Jack Lemmon plays those bongo drums ... its a great 'Christmas in New York' movie too, Kim is at her zenith, its Stewart's last romantic lead and director Richard Quine and ace cameraman James Wong Howe make it look great. Apparantly, as per other posts, gay writer John Van Druten meant the witches to be code for the secret life of gays in 1950s New York ...

SABRINA. A favourite Billy Wilder, enough said? Wilder's films are rather problematic for me - some I revere (SOME LIKE IT HOT will always be in my top 10, as per recent post on it, below and we highly rate DOUBLE INDEMNITYSUNSET BOULEVARDONE TWO THREE) - but others of his I have no wish to see ... this 1954 one is a perfect treat as Audrey comes back from Paris with that Givenchy wardrobe, and starts to romance William Holden, upsetting the family's plans (love her "Oh, I've learned a lot" to Mrs Larrabee, eager to put the chauffeur's daughter in her place) - so older brother Humphrey Bogart (maybe too old, but who cares) steps in, and there's that New York skyline. Martha Hyer scores also as the rich girl eager to marry Holden and who has no desire to spend the first 18 hours of her proposed marriage "on a plane, sitting up"). A witty script and a great cast make this a fine romantic comedy, and it looks great too.

THE PASSENGER. Michelangelo Antonioni made his name in the early Sixties with that great quartet of films featuring Monica Vitti, which included L'AVVENTURA, but this intriguing 1975 anti-thriller is one of his greatest works even if it seems a little pretentious now (I wrote a review of it at the time, when I was 29, for a magazine "Films Illustrated"). It was long out of circulation owing to the intractability of its star, Jack Nicholson - who owned the rights (it couldn't even be shown in full at the 2005 BFI Antonioni retrospective, thankfully the dvd came out not too long after). Jack plays a jaded reporter in Africa, who switches identities with the dead man in the next room at the hotel, and finds himself leading a gun-runner's life .... then there is that amazing ending . More on this at Antonioni and Passenger labels.

THE EAGLE. Kevin MacDonald's 2011 film of Rosemary Sutcliff's popular novel "The Eagle of the North" works surprisingly well - a solid action film capturing the period and providing a tangled interplay of pride loyalty and masculinity. It gives Channing Tatum one of his best roles as Marcus Flavius Aquila, the Roman son in Britain trying to save his father's destroyed reputation, as he and slave Esca (Jamie Bell) head north of the border over Hadrian's Wall to the wild country beyond ... Master and slave find their roles reversed and keeps us guessing. It certainly reboots the Peplum genre.

MARGIN CALL. J C Chandor, assembling a cracking cast for his debut, depicts 36 hours at a fictional Wall Street bank on the eve of the economic meltdown of 2008 (which cost me my job too). Risk assessment manager Stanley Tucci is fired; Zachery Quinto completes his research and makes an alarming discovery. This well-crafted thriller is gripping as panic spreads through the chain of command - Kevin Spacey and Jeremy Irons excel too.

INGLORIOUS BASTERDS. If not quite the masterpiece we were told to expect, Tarantino's pastiche of war films is still rollicking good fun and has all the classic Tarantino ingredients. A celebration of vengance, its an audacious, self-indulgent take on the Second World War. Christopher Waltz deservedly won an Oscar for his incendiary turn as the "Jew Hunter", as Brad Pitt and his men track him down. Love the sequence with the French cinema and Melanie Laurent's plan to do away with the Nazi high command ..... I have been enjoying Quentin's KILL BILL saga too as it re-runs here, and now to tackle DJANGO UNCHAINED  .....  

THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE. Tony Richardson's 1968 re-telling while not successful at the time, looks marvellous now - great cast, great costumes, bitter irony,and that Victorian era nicely caught. David Hemmings is the ill-fated Nolan, Vanessa Regrave and Jill Bennett are contrasting Victorian ladies - Trevor Howard, John Gielgud and Harry Andrews are the military dunderheads who let it happen ...
A chronicle of events that led to the British involvement in the Crimean War against Russia and which led to the siege of Sebastopol and the fierce Battle of Balaclava on October 25, 1854 which climaxed with the heroic, but near-disastrous cavalry charge made by the British Light Brigade against a Russian artillery battery in a small valley which resulted in the near-destruction of the brigade due to error of judgment and rash planning on part by the inept British commanders .... It may have been a commercial flop, but we liked the look of it at the time, particularly Hemmings in that Hussar uniform - very 1968! More on this at British-1 label. 

Monday, 11 May 2015

Lets go to Greenwich Village in the early sixties ...

Our Sky Arts channel finds some interesting documentaries - I just enjoyed GREENWICH VILLAGE, MUSIC THAT DEFINED A GENERATION, a two-hour 2012 feature I had not seen, written produced and directed by Laura Archibald, which is a real trip down memory lane - 
starting as it does with that video clip of the Mamas & Papas and taking us back to that bright dawn of the early Sixties - even more poignant now as one of the singer/songwriters featured - Joni Mitchell - may be in a coma after her recent collapse. That early mid-60s clip of her singing "Night in the City" is heartbreaking now. Great to see John Sebastian too - I loved The Lovin' Spoonful then. 

Fascinating too seeing those survivors now: Arlo Guthrie, Tom Paxton, Carly Simon and her sister, Judy Collins, Melanie, Buffy St Marie (I had a big poster of her on my wall circa 1967/68), Michelle Phillips, Jose Feliciano, Kris Kristofferson and more as Susan Sarandon narrates. That second Bob Dylan album not only had tracks I love, but it re-defined album cover art, with that great photo, getting away from those posed portraits of 50s albums ... again, it conjures up the moment of being young in the city. 

It explores the music scene in Greenwich Village, New York in the 60's and early 70's. The film highlights some of the finest singer/songwriters of the day, as we see vintage footage of Pete Seeger, Peter Paul and Mary, Woody Guthrie, and that young Bob Dylan - no mention of Joan Baez though ...

Greenwich Village was that melting pot where it came together as singer songwriters and troubadours moved there, taking in folk music, and protest against Middle America, and then the Vietnam war of the Johnson adminstration. HUAC got in the act too with some acts finding themselves blacklisted .... of course a lot of these acts gravitated towards California and the West Coast by the end of the Sixties, as some were accused of "selling out" to the music industry ...
It was though that great time to be young - we felt it in London as well and the counterculture got underway. It was of course that time when being young and living in the city mixing with one's peers was cheap and affordable - unlike now. I loved that Byrds album then - it was the way to look - above: me in 1967 and 1969