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.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

All hail Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter...

Good to be back at the movies on a rainy afternoon, with just 5 of us in the auditorium, so almost a private screening of this new version of The Scottish Play - very stripped down and pared back, from Justin Kurzel - its perhaps the first of the new autumn blockbusters heading our way now that the dismal summer (here in the UK) is over and we sink into autumn and the new Awards Season. Coming up will finally be CAROL and BROOKLYN and HIGH RISE and THE LOBSTER, not to mention THE LADY IN THE VAN and my friend Martin says THE MARTIAN is next year's Best Picture Winner - hmm, it may be too soon for another Sci-fi win so soon after GRAVITY - a lot of us turned our noses up at INTERSTELLAR ...

But back to Scotland, land of mists and mountains and as depicted here (a lot of it filmed on the Isle of Skye, one of my favourite places) a cruel, pitiless place; did the Highlands ever look so bleak?.... After Welles and Kurosawa (THRONE OF BLOOD, 1957) and the 1971 Roman Polanski it is interesting to see this latest vision - great visuals and that unsettling discordant score (Jed Kurzel) but sometimes a fatal slowing down of pace so some sequences start to drag and we are not sure who is who among the mostly faceless extras, if you did not know the play you would be all at sea. Highest praise though to Michael Fassbender - again astonishing us after SHAME and 12 YEARS A SLAVE, and Marion Cotillard as his Lady Macbeth. Did I mention it all looks and sounds great?  It starts though with a scene Shakespeare did not give us: the Macbeths at the funeral pyre of their child - perhaps to humanise them more, and did Lady Macduff and her children have to be burned alive at the stake - though it makes for a great panniing shot over that desolate landscape.
Its certainly a blistering, blood-stained adaptation with its ingenious staging of familiar scenes and paring down the text which makes whats left of the 400 year old verse feel fresh. The three witches on the blasted heath are interestingly done here too. I have liked its wild dialogue ever since the Classics Illustrated version I first read as a kid. Unlike all those HAMLETs though I have never seen it staged - though I do have two other versions to watch, but maybe not right away: Ian McKellan and Judi Dench as the Glamis it-couple in 1980, and a BBC version with Nicol Williamson and Jane Lapotaire who should both be ideal too. . 

Ingrid and Tab: 2 new documentaries ....

INGRID BERGMAN IN HER OWN WORDS and TAB HUNTER CONFIDENTIAL - whats not to love, if they don't get much exposure in cinemas, they should be on dvd before too long ... The Tab doc was shown at the BFI earlier this year as part of their gay FLARE festival (Tab label) .... hopefully there will be more screenings.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

RIP, continued

Denis Healey (1917-2015), aged 98. Lord Healey may now seem the forgotten man of British politics, but thats what happens if you live to be almost 100 and have outlived your contemporaries. Healey though may well have been the best Labour leader/Prime Minister England never had. A titan of his time (that Harold Wilson Labour era of the 60s and 70s) Healey had a fascinating life, starting with a double first from Balliol college, and had so many other interests that politics was only the half of it. As "The Guardian" put it: "By 1945, Healey had already packed in a lifetime of experiences denied to future generations. A beach master in charge of logistics (US actor Lee Marvin was another) at the bloody Anglo-American Anzio landings in Italy (1944), Maj Healey would turn down a lieutenant colonelcy as well as an Oxford fellowship to study the philosophy of art in favour of politics. A reforming defence secretary (1964-70) who abandoned over-stretched Britain’s anachronistic role in the retreat-from-empire 1960s, he went on to became Labour’s indestructible chancellor of the exchequer (1974-79) during the worst peacetime crisis since the Great Depression.
He called his memoirs, "The Time of My Life" and used them to parade a range of interests – hinterland, he called it – that few at the top of high-pressure 20th-century politics could match. Despite a gruelling workload, even as chancellor Healey clung to his youthful enthusiasms for music, literature (from poetry to thrillers), painting and theatre. In pre-digital times he always carried a camera, usually managing to slip away from a dull conference abroad to visit a gallery, or sleep beneath the desert stars on a palace roof in Yemen".
Healey was also a bruiser, and a clown (appearing with aplomb with Morecame & Wise on television) with his bushy eyebrows and always gave good interview, both in print or on screen. He had a long happy marriage with his wife Edna, a literary biographer. He may never have achieved the highest offices, but he certainly enjoyed life to the full. In old age he wrote successful books and earned large fees in his long retirement. Perhaps the last of that generation of war heroes who went into politics for a career in public service rather than what they could get out of it. 

Brian Friel (1929-2015), aged 86. Often called "The Irish Chekhov" Friel was one of the finest playwrights of his time, his early plays like "Philadelphia Here I Come" and "Dancing at Lughnasa" were enormous hits, he also translated Chekhov and other plays included "Faith Healer" and "Translations". Friel was a private person who lived in Donegal and grew up in Londonderry. His view of life in rural Ireland (and that fictional village Ballybeg) is as intense as that of William Trevor Edna O'Brien or Colm Toibin. Young actors like Liam Neeson and Stephen Rea had their early successes in his works, while Meryl Streep led the cast of DANCING AT LUGHNASA in 1998 - its on TV again here next week.

John Guillermin (1925-2015), aged 89. One only has to think of THE TOWERING INFERNO or DEATH ON THE NILE to conjure up Guillermin's hits in the 1970s - though there was also that dud KING KONG in 1976! 
He was one of those proficient British directors like Basil Dearden, Lewis Gilbert, Ronald Neame or J Lee Thompson who could tackle most genres. Among his odder movies was that arthouse attempt RAPTURE in 1964 (odd viewing on Blu-ray last year), and war movies like THE BLUE MAX, THE BRIDGE AT REMAGEN. GUNS AT BATASI and the thriller SKYJACKED. I particularly like his 1959 TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE, a sweaty, sadistic take on Tarzan with Anthony Quayle, a young Sean Connery and Eurobabe Scilla Gabel - they all come to sticky ends. TOWN ON TRIAL was a good thriller too in 1957, and Peter Sellers in nasty mode in NEVER LET GO in 1960, and there was young Peter O'Toole in THE DAY THE ROBBED THE BANK OF ENGLAND also 1960. 

Saturday, 26 September 2015

6 lesser-known '60s dramas + a treat ...

Following on from the lesser-known '50s dramas (see below), lets turn to the '60s: 

SONS AND LOVERS. D.H. Lawrence seems back in vogue again, with that new underwhelming BBC version of LADY CHATTERLEY’S LOVER screened recently, and the BFI are screening a restored WOMEN IN LOVE at the forthcoming London Film Festival, but the only version I know of his monumental novel SONS AND LOVERS is this 1960 version directed by Jack Cardiff, with great CinemaScope black and white images of those Nottingham coal pit communities by Freddie Francis, and co-scripted by Gavin Lambert. 
Young American actor Dean Stockwell plays Paul Morel the sensitive lead trying to become a writer, but the film is dominated by two great performances from Wendy Hiller and his fiercely protective if domineering mother and Trevor Howard as her embittered husband, a coal miner. Their battles form the backbone of the film, as Paul tries to establish his independence and his relationships with with pious Miriam (Heather Sears) and the worldly older married woman Clara Dawes (Mary Ure). It may be rather forgotten now, but was a ‘prestige’ picture (one of 20th Century Fox’s literary classics little seen now) and was nominated for seven Academy Awards including best film and best director.

ALL FALL DOWN. Another pair of embattled parents (Karl Malden and Angela Lansbury as Ralph and Annabel) feature in John Frankenheimer’s lyrical 1962 drama scripted by William Inge from a book I loved at the time; James’s Leo Herlihy’s novel about 16 year old Clint (Brandon De Wilde) who idolises his wastrel older brother Berry-Berry (Warren Beatty in one of his early eye-catching roles) . I was 16 myself and identified totally with Clint, as we see him initially in Key West in Florida tracking down his brother, who finally comes home for Christmas. This is an amusing sequence as Ralph brings home three tramps for the festive season, to spite Annabel's plans, but she soon manoeuvres them out of the house, aided by some dollar bills. 
The arrival of Echo O’Brien, the “old maid from Toledo” (Eva Marie Saint in another stunning performance) upsets the balance of the house, Clint becomes infatuated with her but she and Berry-Berry embark on a doomed romance and she gets pregnant, but he cannot handle the responsibility and reverts of his mean nature beating up women, as Clint finally sees how shallow and empty and hate-filled he is. I have written about this here before, as per the labels. It remains a pleasure from that good year for Frankenheimer – he also turned out THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE and BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ that year. De Wilde also had a good role in HUD the following year, but died in a traffic accident when 30 in 1972. Gay writer Herlihy went on to write "Midnight Cowboy" and did some acting too, he appears with Jean Seberg (see below) in the 1963 IN THE FRENCH STYLE, another favourite.

REACH FOR GLORY. Another book I loved back then when 16 in 1962 was “The Custard Boys” by John Rae, which was a highly-regarded novel about British teenagers in wartime. This is what I wrote back in 2011:
Hardly ever seen now, Philip Leacock's 1962 film REACH FOR GLORY is the film version of a highly praised 1960 novel "The Custard Boys" by John Rae, a headteacher at Westminster College. The blurb said: "During World War II, teenage boys in a small English town are consumed with jingoism and brutal war games, hoping dearly that the war won't end before they can fight in it. John, one of the younger members, is increasingly torn between these peer group values and his deepening homoerotic friendship with Mark, a gentle Jewish refugee whom his gang has ostracized as a sissy and a coward." It is rather suggestive of LORD OF THE FLIES, leading as it does to tragedy, and starts with the boys chasing and killing a cat. The main adults are the estimable Harry Andrews and Kay Walsh as hero John Curlew's parents, and Michael Anderson as Lewis Craig, the bullying leader of the gang, as the boys are encouraged in their war games, but love and affection are very suspect - life during wartime! 
The worst thing here is to be a coward, as John realises, coping with his blustering father (Andrews) and his deepening friendship with the Jewish boy Mark Stein. But there is a real bullet among the blanks in their training exercises …
Leacock was a very prolific director, very good with children, who in the '50s directed films like THE SPANISH GARDENER [review at Dirk Bogarde label], and later went on to a successful career in American television with the likes of THE WALTONSDYNASTY and FALCON CREST. This though is a nice small little back and white film, and an early 'gay interest' title, which I managed to catch once as a supporting feature, but have now got a dvd copy. It's been well worth the wait.


Two perfect mid-60s British black and white romantic dramas set in Ireland - both from Edna O'Brien stories, and both directed by Desmond Davis are 1964's THE GIRL WITH GREEN EYES and I WAS HAPPY HERE in 1966, starring Sarah Miles (a world away from her other overblown Irish romance for David Lean). I have written about these here before (Sarah, Rita, Edna O'Brien, Ireland labels). They do though make a perfect double bill. O'Brien's theme in both is the passage of love as her Irish country girls love and lose and set up new lives in London.
This was very relevant for me being Irish and new in London too then, as Miles' Cass goes back to her Irish village [Liscanor and Lahinch in Co Clare, where Cyril Cusack runs the hotel she used to work at, and which is closed for the winter, and Marie Kean presides over the local pub] while Rita and Lynn (wonderful as the feckless Baba) have their adventures in '60s Dublin as Tush is romanced by wordly older man Peter Finch (sterling, as ever); Marie Kean is his housekeeper, handy with a rifle. It ends with the girls on the night ferry from Dun Laoghaire to England - a trip I did myself many times - and shows us Rita's new life in London - she works at the WH Smith shop in Notting Hill Gate just across from the Classic Cinema (above) - an old haunt of mine! whereas Sarah also ends up wiser as her boorish husband comes to reclaim her, and her fisherman lover has found a new love .... both are perfect small films that pays re-viewing. I particularly liked Sarah's london bedsit with its great view of that '60s icon The Post Office Tower. Sarah went on to Antonioni's BLOW-UP (which according to her memoirs was not a happy experience for her) and then back to Ireland - Kerry this time - for the protracted shoot on RYAN'S DAUGHTER, released in 1970. Rita had the smash hit of Lester's THE KNACK among others, and she and Lynn teamed again to great comic effect in Desmond Davis's SMASHING TIME, great fun in 1968,as per reviews at labels. See Sarah and Rita labels for more on these treats. 

SANDRA or OF A THOUSAND DELIGHTS. Visconti's operatic melodrama from 1965, VAGHE STELLE D'ORSA (its from a poem) or OF A THOUSAND DELIGHTS or simply SANDRA - which I have written about here before [Visconti, Cardinale, Sorel, Craig labels]. 
It is a small film in the Visconti canon, overshadowed by those big operatic productions like ROCCOTHE LEOPARDTHE DAMNEDDEATH IN VENICE or LUDWIG. I first saw it when I was 19 in 1965 and then it became unobtainable for a long time. It was great to catch up with it again last year, and it was as powerful as I remembered. The stunning black and white photography by Armando Nannuzzi show Claudia Cardinale at her zenith, along with Jean Sorel as her brother and English actor Michael Craig as her husband.

Sandra and her husband return to the family home, one of those sprawling Italian mansions, in the Etruscan city of Volterra, where family secrets are slowly uncovered, as Sandra has to confront her brother who wants to resume their once-incestous relationship, her mentally ill mother and the crumbling estate and the secret about their father and the war ... Visconti builds it to a powerful climax,and the images still resonate. Good to see this back in circulation again, it is certainly one to seek out and keep.

And now, after all these moody black and white dramas, a burst of sunshine and colour and romance as we head off to the South of France, for a delicious mid-60s romantic drama/thriller, of the old school.
MOMENT TO MOMENT in 1966 is a glossy romantic thriller by old hand Mervyn Le Roy (his last film) set in the South of France and is a fabulous treat to see now at this remove. It was part of a double-bill on release initially.
The first half is lushly romantic as Jean Seberg drives around Nice in her snazzy red sports car, sporting a Yves St Laurent wardrobe that would still be the height of chic today - she is a bored wife whose (dull) husband Arthur Hill is away on business, and she gets romantically involved [as one does] with a naval officer on the loose - Sean Garrison, a bit wooden but does what is required of him, ie - he fills out his uniform nicely. Jean resists at first but ... add in Honor Blackman [just after her stint as Pussy Galore with James Bond] as the mantrap next door and the stage is set for some fireworks.
Then it turns into a Chabrol-like thriller with a missing body, police on the prowl, the return of the husband and the missing body (very much alive).  It is though all nicely worked out, a lot of it studio bound, but nice locations too. Jean is perfect here and its a perfect mid'60s treat. Great Henry Mancini score too .... it deserves to be much better known and would be a much better chick flick now than some of the current examples. There is a lovely moment at the well-known Colombe D'Or restaurant (still going strong at St-Paul-de-Vence - I read a recommendtion on it last week) with the doves flying into the sun .... perfectly romantic then with a few Hitchcockian twists and Seberg is in her lovely prime here. What's not to like? My pal Jerry loves it as well and thanks to him for sourcing a copy. 

Vanessa Redgrave interview

A fascinating new interview with Vanessa Redgrave in London's "Evening Standard" this week, as at link:

She had a near-fatal heart attack back in April, when alone in her apartment, but managed to get help just in time, she describes all this and her life now in the interview. She blames her heavy smoking. Now78 she may be slowing down a bit, but is still a vital presence. She was luckier than that legendary smoker Joni Mitchell who also collapsed when alone in her house in May and was not found for several hours, suffering a brain aneurism and may be making a slow recovery. 

Its been quite a year all round - I was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus in June after being unwell since April, but luckily it was Stage 0, and the Royal Marsden hospitals in Chelsea and Sutton have been wonderful. After various tests, scans, endoscopies etc and two cycles of chemotherapy I am now eating and drinking properly again, and a further CT scan next week should show how the tumour has shrunk and we can decide on the next stage of treatment, so I expect to make a full recovery and be fine for Christmas and next year for that move back to Ireland ..... 

Friday, 25 September 2015

More weekend grooves

Its the weekend, lets groove a bit, while its still a warm September ...
Here's one I love from that 80s pop era:   We had King ("Love & Pride"), Queen, and Prince - but did you know there was a Princess as well - she was one of the Stock Aitken Waterman stable and had a great hit with "Say I'm Your Number One" anticipating those later club classics. Princess was really Desiree Heslop from North London who had a successful album and some pop hits. Take it away, Princess ...
And we loved this in 1984, its a timeless classic: Chaka Khan! Chaka Khan ....
and this is a later 90s club classic from those great clubs I used to know: Substation South, Queer Nation, Heaven, Crash ....
Then there were tracks by Gwen Guthrie, Rosie Gaines, Jennifer Holiday, Ce Ce Peniston, Joyce Sims, and more .... we will cover them eventually.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

RIP continued

Jackie Collins (1937-2015), aged 77.  The rather sudden death of novelist Jackie has come as rather a surprise - she was on British television only 2 weeks previously cheerfully plugging her latest bonkbuster and, as usual, giving good interview. Jackie was a witty, erudite, popular novelist who tapped into what her readers wanted and gave it to them in spades. It seems her 32 novels sold over 500 million copies. Although she had stage 4 cancer for over 6 years she kept her illness to herself until the end. Right: she and sister Joan back in their 1980s "lucky bitches" personas capturing all that 80s glitz and ersatz glamour. 

Franco Interlenghi (1931-2015), aged 83. Maybe not as well known as the Delons or Sorels, Interlenghi was an essential European actor with a long career, starting as one of the boys in De Sica's SHOESHINE in 1946, and graduating to the lead in Fellini's classic  I VITELLONI which I like a lot, in 1953. He also starred in one of the segments of I VINTI, also '53, and was one of the layabouts in Bolognini's LA NOTTE BRAVA in 1959, another Italian favourite. He also had roles in films as varied as THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA, FABIOLA, A FAREWELL TO ARMS, and lots of Italian films and series like ROMANZO  CRIMINALE and kept working to 2010. 

Brian Sewell (1931-2015) aged 84 - affectionate notices for London's "Evening Standard" art critic Brian Sewell, he of the plummy voice and manner, a latter day Quentin Crisp or Kenneth Williams? He was also, like Gore Vidal, a sexual revolutionary who often spoke of having 1,000 sexual partners a year. His acerbic weekly art reviews were highly regarded, and he also loved dogs (and rescued several) and vintage cars and also did some fascinating television documentaries. He waged witty, unwavering and vitriolic battle against what he what he regarded as the posturing inanities of modern British conceptual art. His readers were at once amazed and gratified to discover that this seemingly effete highbrow, whose outrageously camp voice (“Lady Bracknell on acid”) they knew from radio and television, should reflect all their own prejudices as he delivered his withering putdowns on he likes of Damien Hirst, Gilbert & George, Tracey Emin and even David Hockney.

Monday, 21 September 2015

A new go-between

THE GO-BETWEEN, 2015: Yes, it begins with that famous first line: "The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there" .... as the older Leo Colston (Jack Broadbent) returns to Norfolk 50 years after that fateful summer he spent there in 1900 as guest of the wealthy Maudsley family as 12-year old Leo is a school friend of their son. This of course is the famous L.P.Hartley novel originally filmed by Joseph Losey in 1971 - it was an award winner at Cannes, with a razor-sharp script by Harold Pinter and a score by Michel Legrand, as Losey and Pinter dissect once again the British class system. 
It is also a ravishing period piece, with Julie Christie as Marian, the wilful daughter of the family having a clandestine relationship with tenant farmer Ted Burgess (Alan Bates). Margaret Leighton is marvellous as her mother who is determined her daughter shall marry Lord Trimingham - Edward Fox. Young Leo, too infatuated with Marian to realise how shallow and manipulative she is,  soon gets caught up in their deceit as he becomes their go-between, carrying message back and forth .... It all comes to grief before too long, it seems everyone knows what is going on but it cannot be mentioned until the cold mother has had enough.  Left: Dominic Guard as Leo and Julie Christie as Marian in 1971.
This new BBC version looks great capturing that lazy hazy summer at the end of the Victorian era with croquet on the lawn, tea parties, the toffs playing cricket on the village green against the locals, and the suspicious mother keeping an eye on her daughter .... The new version (directed by Pete Travis and scripted by Adrian Hodges) plays like a retread of the Losey film but with subtle differences - the wealthy family are now portrayed in a more human light.  Young Leo is delightfully played by Jack Hollington, and Ben Batt (more naked swimming) is not quite the equal of Bates, while  Joanna Vanderham is a younger Marian. Above: Margaret Leighton and Lesley Manville as Mrs Maudsley.
Lesley Manville (so good in Mike Leigh's ANOTHER YEAR) is absolutely marvellous as the mother, certainly the equal of Margaret Leighton, and a shrewd piece of casting has Vanessa Redgrave as the older Marian confronting Broadbent - as her father Michael Redgrave played the older Leo in the Losey film, which brings it to a nice conclusion. That final sequence worked better though in the Losey film. In all much better than the BBC's by all accounts tepid and dismal retelling of LADY CHATTERLEY'S LOVER which I did not bother with, all part of their current new versions of classic British literature, and now for the final series of DOWNTON ABBEY. Right: Vanessa Redgrave and Jim Broadbent.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Happy birthday, Sophia!

She is 81 today !  and has collaborated with Dolce & Gabbana on a new lipstick: Sophia Loren No. 1 Red - a shade of raspberry.  Here's the promo clip:
Below: Sophia at Cannes last year, and below, taking a break on LEGEND OF THE LOST in 1957, and photographed by LIFE photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt in 1969 (right).
She has been in my life ever since I was a kid in 1954, seeing those early movies. I got to see her up close in 1979 when she was signing that first autobio, at Selfridges crowded department store in London - as per other posts at label.. Perhaps she is the most enduring superstar of all ...
Some old style glamour for a rainy afternoon then.
Favourite Lorens? How about 15:

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Joni and Tom ... and Aretha, Dusty and Janis too

I did not realise Joni Mitchell had appeared on our UK "The Tom Jones Show" back in January 1970, but while browsing the revamped Joni website (looking for an update on her health situation) I came across these. She also did some BBC recordings about the same time. I first saw her later that year at the Royal Festival Hall, in November, when she was the reigning hippie princess. Then (as per my other Joni posts) I got to meet her in 1972, and saw her again in 1974 when she was the new jazzy Joni.
Tom of course had them all on his shows - here he is with Janis Joplin, also 1970, her last year - and Dusty Springfield, and also with Aretha Franklin in 1970 Gosh, wouldn't it marvellous to see these again now - and here they are ! Sorry, no Tom and Joni clip.
Sir Tom of course is one of our elder statesmen of musc now, he has been great on the BBC series of "The Voice" adding some necessary gravitas and he is still rocking in his 70s. Way to go,