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.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Jacques Tati: Playtime et Trafic

Two more enduring comedies:
PLAYTIME, 1967: Regarded by many as Jacques Tati's masterpiece, PLAYTIME is a surreal, comic vision of modern life (and this was the 1960s, 50 years ago) in which the director's much-loved character, Monsieur Hulot - accompanied by a cast of tourists and well-heeled Parisians - turns unintentional anarchist when set loose in an unrecognisable Paris of steel skyscrapers, chrome-plated shopping malls and futuristic night spots, not to mention that nightmare cube office! It all look fabulous on Blu-ray, as though shot yesterday ...

Monsieur Hulot has to contact an American official in Paris, but he gets lost in the maze of modern architecture which is filled with the latest technical gadgets. Caught in the tourist invasion, Hulot roams around Paris with a group of American tourists, causing chaos in his usual manner.
The action is divided into the following: Arrivals at Paris airport / the office maze / Barbara's photos / The trade fair / The travel agency / Rush hour / Apartment windows / The restaurant opening / The Royal Garden / At the Drugstore / Demolition / Last-minute shopping / Carousel and departure.
The centre-piece for me is the long, hilarious restaurant sequence where chic Parisians try to dance on the tiny dance-floor as the lounge music grows more insistent and the harried waiters serve the tables, its just got to be seen to be appreciated. Then there is the nightmare office sequence with workers in their separate cubes, as well as looking it at all those glass windows of apartments, and the all glass travel agency, rush hour on the buses as we follow those bemused tourists around. Hilarous too is the tourist Barbara trying to photograph the precariously-placed old flower-seller on that crowded pavement!

PLAYTIME is not all about Mr Hulot, who is an interloper here, the set though is amazing conjuring up a real yet absurd version of Paris - or indeed any large city. The set was dubbed "Tativille", where 100 construction workers built two buildings using 11,700 square feet of glass, 38,700 square feet of plastic, 31,500 square feet of timber, and 486,000 square feet of concrete, but the film was not a financial success at the time, leaving Tati in debt for years.

TRAFIC, 1971, Tati's final outing as Mr Hulot, is equally enjoyable and has that authentic fuzzy 70s look. Who knew watching people driving could be so much fun. Here, we have the bumbling, amiable Hulot as the designer of an absurd camper van which has to go to a motor show in Amsterdam. He accompanies the the van as the satire on man's obsession with motor transport mixes wonderful observational comedy with some laugh out-loud moments, as every possible disaster happens en route so the show is over by the time they finally arrive. When I saw this originally in the cinema it was so funny when the fluffy dog was mistaken for the sheepskin jacket under the car-wheel ! Tati's typically subtle choreography of people and cars is a rewarding lesson in how to see the world anew, as the blurb ideally puts it. 
Again, the centre-piece is a brilliantly choreographed traffic accident with cars banging into each other as bits fall off, and that delirious scene at the police station as they have to display the camper van in it's his glory to the traffic cops. Amusing too is the PR girl, Maria Kimberley, with the fluffy dog and her snazzy yellow sports car whizzing in and out of traffic, who starts off a pain but becomes more human by the end, as she and Hulot disappear into the wet throng of people with umbrellas. 
One should keep Tati's films near to hand for wet boring afternoons or for when one needs a lift. Like Buster Keaton he is one of cinema's great clowns and innovators. One has to go back now to MON UNCLE and his earlier films. Tati (1907-1982) died of pneumonia aged 75, but his legacy goes on. 

Saturday, 18 October 2014

For the weekend: 6 great comedies

Buster and that house falling on him: STEAMBOAT BILL JR. (1928)

After being blown around by a cyclone in this film, a dazed Buster Keaton stops in the middle of a street to catch his breath. As he stares unblinking at the camera, the front wall of a two-story house crashes down on him. But he escapes unhurt because his body is perfectly framed by an open window. Eighty years on, it still looks impossible. And dangerous. The 4,000-lb. house front was on a hinge, and Keaton drove a nail in the ground to mark his position. The window was just big enough to give him two inches of clearance on either side. Minutes before shooting, Keaton noticed a few crew members praying. He also saw the cameraman turn away as the shot rolled. Buster later called the stunt one of his “greatest thrills,” then added, “I was mad at the time, or I would never have done the thing.”
BRINGING UP BABY, 1938. It gets me every time. Hawks, Cary, Kate, the dog with the bone, the dinosaur ....

SOME LIKE IT HOT, 1959. Nuff said. We love it here, its always in my Top Ten, ever since I saw it for the first time as a kid. Everyone is perfect, Joan Shawlee as Sweet Sue, even the bellboy with the hots for Josephine, its the best scripted and played comedy, Marilyn, Tony and Jack are all at their zenith ... as was Wilder.
ONE, TWO, THREE - 1961. Maybe Wilder's last great comedy, for me at any rate.

WHAT'S UP DOC?. Bogdanovich's amiable re-thread of BRINGING UP BABY, in 1971. Well, Hawks remade his own films, why shouldn't somebody else?
and of course:
"I am not "A" Eunice Burns, I am "THE" Eunice Burns!" Madeline Kahn ! plus Barbra hanging from the ledge as the hotel room goes up in flames...

WHATS NEW PUSSYCAT? - my 1965 favourite, bring on the girls and the Peters and the young Woody, take them to Paris and have a lot of fun ....(pals Stan and Mike loved it too - we used to quote it). Clive Donner captures that mid-60s groove, and theres Romy, Capucine, Ursula and Paula ....while Burt Bacharach provides the music (I had the soundtrack album).
There are some later comedies like the first PINK PANTHER in '63, Lester's THE RITZ in 1976 (thats being reviewed soon) and of course, AIRPLANE! and Julie's THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE, but these six will keep me going for now. 
Coming up:W.C. Fields shorts, like THE FATAL GLASS OF BEER.
More on all these, including screwball comedy, at Comedy label.
Soon: 6 great musicals / 6 great epics / 6 great westerns / 6 great dramas .....

All those directors !

Following on from the lists of actors and actresses we like, here is the Directors list .... its bigger than I imagined ! 

Michelangelo Antonioni  (right)
Alfred Hitchcock 
Howard Hawks 
Ingmar Bergman
David Lean
Michael Powell
Martin Scorsese
John Huston 
William Wyler 
Billy Wilder 
Joe Mankiewicz 
George Cukor 
Vincente Minnelli 
Josef Von Sternberg 
Orson Welles 

Frank Borzage, Preston Sturges, John Ford, Frank Capra, Michael Curtiz, George Stevens, Fred Zinnemann, Alan J Pakula, Sidney Lumet, Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg, Robert Altman, Michael Mann, Terrence Malick, Charles Walters.

OF THEIR TIME ('50s/'60s): 
Elia Kazan, Stanley Kramer, Douglas Sirk, Frank Tashlin, Otto Preminger, Nicholas Ray, Anthony Mann, Robert Rossen, Martin Ritt, Stanley Donen, John Frankenheimer, Richard Brooks, Jean Negulesco, John Sturges, Blake Edwards, Richard Quine, George Roy Hill, Robert Wise, Robert Mulligan, Richard Fleisher. 

Francois Ozon, Pedro Almodovar, Quentin Tarantino, Todd Haynes, Bill Condon, Ang Lee, Paul Schrader.

John Schlesinger, Joseph Losey*, Richard Lester*, John Boorman, Nicholas Roeg, Ridley Scott, Carol Reed, Clive Donner, Desmond Davis, Tony Richardson, Basil Dearden, J. Lee Thompson, Philip Leacock, Alexander McKendrick, Lewis Gilbert, Ronald Neame [* honorary Brits]  Right: Losey directs MODESTY BLAISE.

EUROPEAN (after Antonioni): 
Federico Fellini, Vittorio de Sica, Roberto Rossellini, Luchino Visconti, Jacques Demy, Agnes Varda, Louis Malle, Jean-Pierre Melville, Mauro Bolognini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bernardo Bertolucci, Max Ophuls, Luis Bunuel, Wim Wenders, Francois Truffaut, Rene Clement, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Claude Lelouch, Roger Vadim, Claude Sautet, Julian Duviver, Robert Hossein, Henri Verneuil.
Left and right: Agnes Varda and Jacques Demy.

Ozu, Mizoguchi, Ray, Kurosawa, Jaime Humberto Hermosillo, Wong Kar-wai, Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

Hitch & Cary

People We Like: Rod Taylor

I got one over on a movie buff friend recently (the kind of rarified movie buff who only sees 'important' films, and who does not bother with the trashy stuff) by asking him to quickly name an actor who has worked with John Ford, Hitchcock, Antonioni and Tarantino. He was stumped, and couldn't believe the answer was that lightweight Rod Taylor.

Rod Taylor is one of those People We Like (the others are at the label...) who always brightens up a movie and has been quietly excellent for a long time. Notice how he anchors Hitch's THE BIRDS with his solid performance, his banter with Tippi being a constant delight (as scripted by Evan Hunter). The movie reference books usually referred to Rod and James Garner and Cliff Robertson as "amiable '60s leading men". 

Australian Rod was in Hollywood by the mid-50s, doing lots of television, popping up in GIANT and RAINTREE COUNTY, he is Debbie's beau in THE CATERED AFFAIR, and is somewhere in THE VIRGIN QUEEN, he is the young husband in SEPARATE TABLES and scored in comedies like ASK ANY GIRL and SUNDAY IN NEW YORK. His first lead was in George Pal's fondly remembered THE TIME MACHINE in 1960, and he did some peplums and costumers like the agreeable SEVEN SEAS TO CALAIS in 1962 (as reviewed at Rod label, it was fun finally catching up with that last year), before Alfred Hitchcock summoned him to Bodega Bay for the lead in his 1963 THE BIRDS. Rod was also one of THE VIPS that year, his scenes with Maggie Smith being the best in the film.

He and Smith were teamed again in the fascinating YOUNG CASSIDY released in 1965 - John Ford had began it but had to withdraw due to illness, it seems he shot the first 20 minutes and veteran Jack Cardiff took over. Its fascinating to see now, with that great cast. Rod with young Julie Christie, plus Maggie, and veterans like Flora Robson as his mother and Dame Edith Evans as Lady Gregory. I will be re-viewing it again shortly, as it is now on official dvd. 
Rod also did parts in FATE IS THE HUNTER, 36 HOURS (reviewed recently), HOTEL, two with Doris Day of course: the silly DO NOT DISTURB and Tashlin's THE GLASS-BOTTOM BOAT, as well as adventures like NOBODY RUNS FOREVER and THE LIQUIDATORS. Antonioni then cast him as Daria's big business boss in ZABRISKIE POINT - above.
Rod continued working, appearing in several episodes of MURDER SHE WROTE, a good one set in Australia THE PICTURE SHOW MAN in 1977, and played Churchill in Quentin's INGLORIOUS BASTERDS.  We trust Rod, now in his 80s, is having a happy retirement back in Australia. THE BIRDS is always on show somewhere, I see it quite a lot.  

Other People We Like here (as per labels) include: Stewart Granger, David Hemmings, Michael York, Michael Craig, Stanley Baker, Alan Bates, David Warner, Peter Finch, James Mason, Jean Sorel, Maurice Ronet, Jeffrey Hunter, Stephen Boyd, Sarah Miles, Anne Baxter, Mary Astor, Lee Remick, Kay Kendall, Joan Greenwood, Gladys Cooper, Claire Bloom, Julie Harris, Ingrid Thulin, Silvana Mangano, Alida Valli, Lilli Palmer, Claudia Cardinale, Eve Arden, Agnes Moorehead, Thelma Ritter, Susan Hayward, Shelley Winters, Belinda Lee, Monica Vitti, and of course Delon and Belmondo, Romy and Anouk and Sophia and Dirk, 

Friday, 17 October 2014

Kitsch classics: For The Boys, 1991

FOR THE BOYS. Bette Midler's dramedy (comedy drama) vanity production from 1991 was not  a success at the time. I remember 4 other people in the cinema when I saw it back then. It was widely panned as being absolutely dreadful but it bears a re-view now. As I remembered, the 1940s and 1960s sequences are brilliantly done by director Mary Rydell - who also handled Bette's debut in THE ROSE.

Bette Midler gives the brassiest, sassiest performance of her career as Dixie Leonard, a USO singer whose electrifying stage presence, and flair for outrageous comedy, captivates troops and civilians alike. Teamed up with America's beloved song and dance man Eddie Sparks (James Caan) the whole world becomes Dixie's stage through very different wars and 50 years of music and memories, laughter and tears. All of it - For the Boys. 

I like this a lot actually, its another superior soap - Bette runs the gamut, matched by Caan (so good in LADY IN A CAGE, FUNNY GIRL, THE GODFATHER etc) as the devious Bob Hope-like entertainer always going overseas to entertain the troops, with some cheesecake in tow. We go through 1940s wartime England, and then Korea in the Fifties, to the brilliant Vietnam sequence in the Sixties (great music by Cream and others) as Eddie and Dixie entertain while backstage we see how sleazy and petty he is as she grows weary of having to support him, as they do tv sitoms and become a great double act. His treachery in getting rid of her uncle (George Segal - sadly underused) during that witch-hunt era of the early 50s and his getting close to her son, after her husband is killed, also rankle. Now they are wanted together again for a tv celebration - will she bury the hatchet and show up? 
What is hilarious here is their makeup for them as old, under layers of latex and doddering around - which seemed to go on forever when seen in the cinema. She actually looks like one of Matt Lucas's LITTLE BRITAIN creations (thats a reference for UK viewers). Rydell brilliantly stages the 1940s sequence with all those men and lots of lights as Dixie wows them with that delicious number "Stuff like That There" and "P.S. I Love You"; then she also sings a terrific "Come Rain or Come Shine" to her husband, when they surprise her with him when in France.  By the time of the Vietnam era our two leads don't talk to each other, but a reunion with her son before all hell breaks loose is well handled too, after she delivers a poignant version of the Beatles' "In My Life". Its really a nice panorama of American showbiz during the last 50 years or so an ambitious project for Midler, who co-produced. Its certainly worth  re-look now.

Kitsch classics: The Turning Point, 1977

Two great actresses star as friends and rivals in THE TURNING POINT. Emma, portrayed by Anne Bancroft, is an ageing ballet star whose career has reached its peak. Deedee, played by Shirley McLaine, is her friend who abandoned a career many years ago for marriage and motherhood. The two are reunited after a number of years when Deedee's daughter shows real promise of becoming an outstanding ballerina. An explosion of new and old conflicts arise, each woman examining the choices they have made and how they can live with those. Superb dance sequences featuring Mikhail Baryshnikov add to a poignant emotional story.

Well, thats the dvd blurb. So its the Deedee and Emma show. THE TURNING POINT, like JULIA (reviewed recently here, see below) is one of those 1977 films we rushed to then, but have since almost disappeared and have become totally forgettable. Seeing them again now is practically like seeing them for the first time. Herbert Ross as director creates a ballet world here, his wife Nora Kaye was executive producer and they have filled their soap opera film with lots of ballet excerpts and of course catch Baryshnikov in his prime. It was though scripted by gay veteran Arthur Laurents (SUMMERTIME, THE WAY WE WERE, GYPSY etc) who died a year or two ago in his 90s, He did though leave a waspish memoir where he briefly discusses THE TURNING POINT.

Arthur says: "I wrote a gay subplot without commenting on it; I wanted to let the audience decide. I felt strongly that it was important .... and could not be removed without weakening the film. Herb Ross, the director and co-producer with me, told me not to worry, he'd handle the studio. When the gay elements began to be sanitized, I assumed it was the studio; when shooting got underway and I was on the set I saw it was Herbie. He was married to Nora who was no longer dancing and was more interested in houses and Beverly Hills status than in ballet and artists. ....
I detailed some of the emasculations in the screenplay, the ones I felt were truly important. Herb took a drag on the cigarette in his holder and held that hand out towards me, palm up, fingers curled. "Nobody in the ballet is gay anymore" he said.
Nora had begged me to write a picture about the ballet, THE TURNING POINT was that picture, I had written it to please her...."
Now they were turning it into a straight ballet film. 
Arthur might have had a look at OLD ACQUAINTANCE before starting his script.
What remains is an amusing high-class soap opera as we follow Deedee and her family living in Oklahoma, getting re-involved with the rarifield world of ballet. The only gay character we see is Michael, an old friend of Deedee, and that pushy new choreographer. Emma (Bancroft) realises she is too old to continue as a star as she is brutally told she can stage the next production of SWAN LAKE, while Deedee's resentments boil over. We wait for the big explostion between the two leads and it does not disappoint. McLaine is her usual self - while Bancroft is every inch the imposing, svelte, sleek diva - as compulsive as she was in films like THE PUMPKIN EATER. (Audrey Hepburn was offered this role but would not work for less than her standard fee - it would have been interesting to see her and McLaine teamed again after their THE CHILDREN'S HOUR in 1962). 

What puzzles is how Deedee's daughter Leslie Brown suddenly becomes the new ballet star so quickly, as she takes up with Baryshnikov, while Martha Scott is an imposing head of the ballet company.  Tom Skerritt is Deedee's  husband. Deedee has to realise she left the ballet for marriage and kids as she was not good enough, and wanted to prove that Tom was not gay by marrying her.

Herbert Ross had a good period when he was doing films like THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT and PLAY IT AGAIN SAM and back in sudser territory with STEEL MAGNOLIAS, and Streisand's numbers in FUNNY GIRL and FUNNY LADY, and CALIFORNIA SUITE (see 1970s label) but others of his were excruciating: I wouldn't want to see THE GOODBYE GIRL again, while NIJINSKY is a polarising work - review at 1980s label

Thursday, 16 October 2014

British classics: A Kind of Loving, 1962

Now for a gold-plated British classic from those heady early Sixties years.
How they lived then: Alan Bates and June Ritchie watch small black and white television with grim mother-in-law Thora Hird, just one moment from John Schlesinger's perfect slice of Northern life in the early '60s: A KIND OF LOVING. We also see factory workers going to work, full cinemas and lovers meeting in crowded cafes ...

1960 gave us SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING, after 1959's ROOM AT THE TOP and LOOK BACK IN ANGER; 1961 came up with A TASTE OF HONEY and VICTIM; 1962 also had THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER, while John Schlesinger scored again in 1963 with BILLY LIAR, another affectionate slice of Northern life and humour; along with Losey's icy THE SERVANT and Dearden's A PLACE TO GO, Winner's WEST 11, and TWO LEFT FEET and THE WORLD TEN TIMES OVER, while 1964 came up trumps with A HARD DAY'S NIGHT and THE LEATHER BOYS and THE SYSTEM, and 1965 caught the moment with THE KNACK and HELP!  and also those two Edna O'Brien adaptations: THE GIRL WITH GREEN EYES and I WAS HAPPY HERE, set in London and Ireland. (See British and London labels for reviews on most of these).
So, A KIND OF LOVING is still marvellous now, screenplay by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall (who scripted BILLY LIAR) from Stan Barslow's timeless novel. 
Vic is an essentially decent guy who falls into lust with Ingrid, a typist at the factory where he works. They have a sort of affair which he does not take seriously, but then she is pregnant. Back then, they had to get married and move in with her disapproving mother, the fearsome Thora Hird. It is a pleasure seeing how this is resolved. A timeless British classic then, with all at their best. There is a lot of gritty humour too.

From a room in Chelsea, 1972

After that Roman balcony, below, how about a view from Chelsea back in that wonderful year 1972, when I was in my mid-twenties and sharing a large apartment with my best friend Stan and two girls (Sally, who later married Stan) and an Australian girl. It was right in the middle of Chelsea, in Draycott Place, just behind Peter Jones, and near Sloane Square, near that restaurant used in BLOW-UP and just off the Kings Road (in London of course), and also near the Chelsea Drugstore and all the boutiques. We would pop over to Biba's in Kensington and other superstores.

Its amusing I suppose to look back at one's younger self, 42 years ago, before I went off to have three ten-year long term relationships (the third one is still going): 
There's that poster of THE MISFITS on the wall (its folded away now), and one of those ugly brown box televisions, Andy Warhol's Interview is on the floor, and an unpacked crate of books ... and that long hair! 

It was a perfect time (somehow we managed without internet, videos or dvds or cellphones and just 3 tv channels - but we did have gatefold vinyl albums), that year I met Joni Mitchell in Kings Road and had a pleasant conversation with her as we walked along, also meeting the young Elton John several times, at a record shop he frequented on Saturdays, and also once chatting to him at Harrods, in his pink suit, with his manager/partner John Reid. Also that summer we saw Bette Davis and Olivia De Havilland at the BFI, among other treats. 

The following year our adventures continued as I moved down to Clapham and became a South London boy again. 
I was back in Draycott Place again last year, those big houses have been renovated now and would all cost about £2 million or so each - its a millionaire's street now! 

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

From A Roman Balcony, 1960

LA GIORNATA BALORDA from 1960 is another of those delicious black and white Italian dramas of the early '60s. It follows GIOVANA MARITI and LA NOTTE BRAVA which were discoveries for me a year or two ago, in the sequence of Italian films directed by Mauro Bolognini, and usually scripted by Pier Paolo Pasolini (before he started directing himself). Bolognini then went on to SENILITA in 1962 and CORRUPTION in 1963 - as per my reviews at Bolognini label.

FROM A ROMAN BALCONY (its English title) conjures up a vision of Italian high life, a la THE GREAT BEAUTY or decadence in high places (THE ROMAN SPRING OF MRS STONE) but the Rome we see here is pure Pasolini territory as we take in the details of an enormous tenement housing estate where all the balconies have washing hanging from them and is a very working class environment, where women cope with children and daily life.
Almost too glamorous for this environment is Davide, our young drifter hero, an early key role for Jean Sorel, whom we like a lot here. He is a rather feckless layabout with a baby and a young girlfriend who stay with her mother, as he idly looks for work and sleeps with any available woman .... we follow him around Rome, or the parts of Rome we see here - a scrubland of housing estates on the outskirts. We encounter several others like Paolo Stoppa or Rik Battaglia, whose wife Lea Massari (a very glamorous presence here, she was the girl who vanished in Antonioni's L'AVVENTURA the same year) who takes a shine to Davide. After a fruitless search for work or money, he ends up - as we knew he would - stealing a ring from the corpse we see laid out ..... so he has money when he returns to the apartment to play with his baby and girlfriend. It is just another day for Davide.
Sorel's Davide is a more attractive ACCATONE - Franco Citti in Pasolini's first feature. It seems Pasolini felt Bolognini glamorised his lowlifes by casting attractive players in his dramas - a la LA NOTTE BRAVA and here. LA GIORNATA BALORDA is only available now in an Italian only dvd but is engrossing enough that the language does not matter that much in enjoying the visuals - like those stunning opening and closing panning shots of the balconies and the housing estates. LA GIORNATA BALORDA/FROM A ROMAN BALCONY is a terrific additon to those Italian films of that early Sixties era, along with Bolognini's LA NOTTE BRAVA, Visconti's ROCCO, Fellini's LA DOLCE VITA and of course Antonioni's L'AVVENTURA. Bolognini also went to to do sections of FOUR KINDS OF LOVE and THE QUEENS, as well as METELLO, GRAN BOLLITO and more.
The very prolific Jean Sorel (more on him at label - who said he was the poor man's Alain Delon?) is also 80 this year and still working. I particularly like him with Cardinale in Visconti's SANDRA in 1965, Duvivier's CHAIR DE POULE with Hossein in '63, AMELIE OU LE TEMPS D'AIMER in '62, and with Gina Lollobrigida in FOUR KINDS OF LOVE in 1965,, and of course Bunuel's BELLE DE JOUR in 1967, and those later giallo thrillers like SHORT NIGHT OF THE GLASS DOLLS in '71.