The New Movies… Some Charm, Some Don’t

Luis Bunuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Fox-Rank) is, I suppose, the most interesting of the fortnight’s new releases. With a certain academic pomposity, and over-literal sub-titles, that somehow make it funnier, it satirically shovels at the heap of waste that is the upper strata of French society, through those two themes of upper middle class circus, the dinner party and the walk in the country.

Everyone is corrupt or insane in this intellectualised piece of cynicism, from the drug smuggling ambassador of a small mysterious republic, to the army colonel who smokes pot between manoeuvres, and the Roman Catholic bishop who just wants to work as a gardener. The film is superbly and delicately detailed in its observation of mannerisms and use of background sounds that heighten the satire.

It worked best for me when being more obviously farcical, but then the more subtle images were probably meant for the bourgeoisie in the audience who could afford to pay £1 a seat at London’s most expensive cinema, where the film is showing. Much of their far from discreet, loud laughter sounded like that which emanates from a university debating chamber, after someone has scored a particularly witty point. It seems searing at the time, but leaves no lasting impression, amusing cynicism tending to attack one’s thoughts only superficially.

Fernando Rey and Muni not being discreet.

Having paid my respects, and £1, to the liberal cinema owners of Bloomsbury, I dashed across two miles of West End traffic in search of a little entertainment or something. It wasn’t worth the cab fare. Ulzana’s Raid (Universal/Fox-Rank) directed by Robert Aldrich, who previously made the partially comic, but nevertheless snide and exploitative “The Killing Of Sister George”, had me swaying between extreme boredom and revulsion whenever my snooze interrupted by the scenes of excessive, motiveless, bloody violence. Burt Lancaster is excessively dry as Mackintosh who is despatched with the US cavalry, captained on this occasion by handsome Bruce Davison, to track down a band of marauding Apaches. The film’s single original episode is Lancaster’s death at the end.

Shamus (Columbia-Wamer) is a routinely scripted, downbeat thriller with Burt Reynolds as yet another seedy, boozy, billiard playing private eye, who accompanied by a paste and tinsel Dyan Cannon, car chases and pointless killings, sets about tracking down gun runners in New York. What lifts the film out of the deepest mire is Buzz Kilik’s direction, skilfully snappy, and executed with an eye to character detail and a great feeling for the atmosphere of Brooklyn where the film is set; he even manages to extract a good performance from Burt Reynolds. It’s just a pity he wasn’t given a more worthwhile subject to direct.

Burt Reynolds really acting at last.

In complete contradiction, veteran Hollywood screenwriter, Ernest Lehman’s adaptation of Philip Roth’s horror of the family novel, Portnoy’s Complaint (Columbia-Warner) has a subtle, potentially expansive script, which adheres closely to the dialogue in the book and should have been accompanied on film by very visual, whispy, wanky fantasies. Instead, Lehman, after years of writing such successes as ‘Hello Dolly’, and now making his directorial debut, creates something like a stage play, with small, stark, sparse, theatrically confined sets. It’s very uncinematic and he wastes the resources he’s been given, like Panavision (wide screen) appallingly. Not even Karen Black as Monkey, the girl who finally helps Richard Benjamin express his fantasies physically, creates anything other than a rehash of her characterisation in ‘Five Easy Pieces’.

Another happy family.

Australian Lace is an odd little short now touring with various films, a semi-documentary with a right wing stilt, about a group of young peoples’ lives in Paddington, the ‘Chelsea’ of Sydney, Australia. Fascinating, because it’s so rare we see anything on Australian life, and its odd, almost Victorian Puritanism.

Another short worth catching is the Cobblers of Umbridge (Anglo-EMI) a very, very funny send-up of the Archers with John Wells, John Fortune et al doing their thing.

Two sparkles to brighten pre-feature tedium.

No Offence Meant

THE OFFENCE. Directed by Sidney Lumet. Starring Sean Connery. Released by United Artists. Cert “X”.

Cheaply, hurriedly made in the wake of “Diamonds Are Forever”, the most successful film at the box office in 1972, written by the creator of Z Cars, John Hopkins, this futile little saga set up as a vehicle for Connery’s doubtful acting talents, is rather like an extended version of a TV episode, with the rapidly ageing Sean as a super-violent Barlow type of detective, who’s a child molester on the side.

It all takes place in one of those perpetually dank, dark, Northern newtowns, where, predictably, Connery pulls in some moustached little middle-aged weed, who he attempts to frame as the molester. There is an endless interrogation scene, in the strangest looking police cell I’ve ever seen. It looks more like an unfinished set at Twickenham Studios to me. Anyway there are torrents and torrents of inaudible dialogue and blood, culminating in the death of the man and Connery returning to a dowdy looking wife, and the audience being treated to a very nineteen-sixties kitchen-sink expose of their non-sex lives. One of the most tedious films for ages. To be avoided.

Scintillating Rhapsodies – David Seligman


A brand new album from America’s grande dame of the musical theatre, Ethel Merman, who is my personal favourite, glittery, chintzy, aged, cult singer. She’s got an immensely powerful voice that bangs and bounds the lyrics straight into the adrenalin, making one want to dance joyfully around the room

Recorded in London last summer, it includes such classics as You’re The Top (Cole Porter), I Got Rhythm (the Gershwins), There’s No Business Like Show Business (Irving Berlin), Everything’s Coming Up Roses and Alexander’s Rag Time Band (Irving Berlin). Accompaniment is by Stanley Black, and the London Festival Orchestra and chorus.

Amazingly, Ethel Merman’s name has been up in lights on Broadway, as the star of almost every show these songs come from, spanning a period of almost fifty years. I was lucky enough to see her on Canadian TV last year, on the occasion of the live broadcast of the Tony Awards from New York. As she energetically sailed through a dozen songs or more, before receiving a special award for her invaluable contribution to the Broadway stage, I saw the emergence of a rather special lady, who believed and had experienced every sentiment in her songs, and that comes across very forcibly on this really enjoyable album.

Who’s Kidding Who Episode 2: The Kids

In these enlightened times of Conservative Parliamentary democracy, and entry into Europe, you’d think peoples’ attitudes were changing. After all, you’ve only got to walk down the High Street on a Saturday morning to see some of those massive changes, like the communal knees up going on outside Boots. The “TV Times”, organ of the IBA reflects the blatant hypocrisy of our times admirably.

Under the title “Not just a pretty face,” it announced recently in large type that “more and more actors are taking parts that present them as pretty.” I pinch myself. No, I’m not reading “Jeffrey” or an early edition of “Films and Filming”. There on the facing page are photographs of David Essex, Murray Head, Brian Deacon and Bjorn Andresen (Death In Venice) looking provocatively sexual.

David Essex – Is he just a pretty face? The one-time Jesus consistently says he is married. [Photograph: R.I. Poff]
Interview one, and did you know, back-stage at “Godspell” you can’t tell the difference between the young men and women prancing around with make up on. “A young man hugged and kissed a woman with the words, “Mind my make up darling.” David Essex, as Jesus, accompanied by his much stressed wife, apparently giggling, thinks, “pretty boys are doing well, because young girls have loud voices and seem to be carrying all the weight at the moment.”

Well let’s face it, they are a big giggle aren’t they, these instant exposé interviews on the permissive society of theatre and films, where everyone pretends to be just that teeny weeny bit perverse, but where they’re really happily married. It’s all one big blue joke really.

A bit further down the page our hack feature writer gets to Murray Head, and the elegant prose gets still more disturbing. Head, we are told, lives chain smoking hand rolled cigarettes, with his wife, in a Chelsea flat that looks like a ‘set for Scheherezade’, just like the flat the character he played in Sunday Bloody Sunday lived in, in fact. Arrogantly, he informs our heroic interviewer that personally he doesn’t care if the public consider him to be bi-sexual. “But it may have prevented him from getting other parts. Directors have said they don’t want someone like that in their films.” Poor Murray, he goes on to say that he had to suppress so much of himself to play the part in Sunday Bloody Sunday, that after the strain he had to find himself again.

If I was John Schlesinger and I read that interview, I would plunge into something rather worse than a sea of despair. Surely the crux of Sunday Bloody Sunday lay in exposing the madness of preserving an outer crust of middle-class respectability, while leading a completely contrary private life. It set out to show as ridiculous the whole concept of attaching importance to appearance and reputation and success, that ultimately, it is our relationships with others, homosexua heterosexual or bisexual that bring real despair, or real happiness. Without questioning Murray Head’s aggressive heterosexuality, it seems very disappointing that working with one of the world’s greatest directors in a film that has done more to put peoples’ minds straight about their sexuality and nonsensical life-style, than almost any other book or film, none of the ideas in it even pierced Mr Head’s seemingly very thick skin. Perhaps that’s why he was chosen “from 2000” to play the character he did play.

In conclusion, did you know that Dirk Bogarde had “early problems because of his good looks,” and Tony Curtis “faced similar difficulties”.

Liberal Bunkum

A YOUNG PERSON’S GUIDE TO LIFE AND LOVE by Dr Benjamin Spock. Published by Mayflower Books, 40p.

Dr Spock is one of those “slightly disgraceful” but respected “liberals” who use the established forms of communication to condemn established forms of thought, in favour of new established forms of thought. He’s the father of the worst form of mind control — the advice manual, the horrific idea of which is that we need some pillar of soporific liberality to instruct and shape our attitudes, that we are too conditioned into apathy to reason out our own behaviour patterns, or act instinctively.

His book for teenagers contains little that I would imagine they don’t know already, or would want to know, or would do anything to allay fears of that burning sensation which is adolescence. Despite the extended sections on sexual matters, there is scarcely even a passing reference to bisexuality, so often a significant part of our lives. Homosexuality is dispensed with in three brief pages, and classified as either of two conditions, that of a person who takes on the character of a person of the opposite sex, or “appears normal” but desires persons of the same sex. “Men and boys who are effeminate feel like women.” How elucidating for a worried fifteen year old, who not only has to contend with television comedians and parents, but with this repressive bible too.

According to Granada Publishing the original Spock book “Child and Baby Care” sold 23 million copies in the USA alone, and they suppose “that all the parents who read it and all of their children, will want to read this one.” One therefore supposes that Dr Spock’s ideas on homosexuality or anything else, will be for the next few years, one of the major influences on the attitudes of the American public.

Myths about homosexuality are really just the starting point for one long faiiy tale of life. The entire book is full of startling misconceptions and a blatant avoidance of fundamental adolescent feelings, such as the complete disbelief and disagreement of a system which prescribes school, university, job, formalised marriage, and sees marijuana as something which changes “aspects of the personality”, possibly for the worse.

Mitchum, Bitch ’em

THE ROBERT MITCHUM STORY, ‘IT SURE BEATS WORKING.’ by Mike Tomkies. Published by W H Allen at £2.50.

The last few years in the publishing world has seen a massive rash of biographies of famous film stars, most of which have been written solely as commercial efforts, and not because the author has any specific feeling or interest for the subject, rather like many of their films have been created, in fact. Sad in this case, because Mitchum is for me one of the genuinely fascinating Hollywood figures, and “It sure beats working” is yet another savage let-down. It’s written in the journalistic style of a local paper, and with its massive quotes from earlier Mitchum interviews and articles, gives the impression that it was written entirely without his personal collaboration.

None of this would matter very much if the author showed any signs of affection or sympathy for his character; but he doesn’t. Everything of interest in Mitchum’s life and everything else is skated over superficially and unfeelingly, from his teens when he lived for a long period as a hobo, we are given no ideas of his motives for living like this, through the early Hollywood bit-part days, through to the big star years.

As the book progresses, instead of becoming a deep character study of a fascinating man, it becomes more and more like a potted history of say a nineteenth century politician, a date and time diary of cardboard figures. The chaper on his arrest for smoking marijuana in 1948 for example, is solely an account of Mitchum’s arrest by one of the policemen responsible, and a rather clipped, non-committal passage on the controversy the event caused in Hollywood, and the difficulties in urging the public not to make pre-judgements on the matter. One has the feeling that Mitchum’s genuine feelings and ideas here have been restrained, for fear of offending his image, or the book’s vast sales potential.

I don’t think I’m being unfair, because even within the very narrow verbal confines of a commercially sponsored American TV chat show, I’ve seen the emergence of a very much more deeply thoughtful man.


THE GETAWAY. Director Sam Peckinpah. Stars: Ali McGraw, Steve McQueen, Slim Pickins. Music: Quincy Jones. Distributor: Cinerama Releasing (UK), for National General Pictures.

Sam Peckinpah, in company with Bob Rafelson and John Schlesinger, is one of the three greatest living film directors. His films have consistently managed to create a highly original style, a style which not only has won him critical acclaim, but constantly brought the movie going public to the cinemas in force. This so called style emerged significantly in the “Wild Bunch” and is contained in what I would call his fascist romanticism, that is an unyielding love for the traditional violent all male Americans, while ceasing to really believe in it. His love of and appreciation of how much part of man’s inner-self bloody violence is, led to his instigation of the now legendary slow motion shots of men bloodily dying

Peckinpah has undoubtedly been far more responsible than Kubrick for shocking us into a realisation of how much we love violence, and how close to the top of our minds it lurks. His characters are usually tough, uncomplicated, but above all, likeable. The exception was in “Straw Dogs”, where Dustin Hoffman played an exceeedingly unlikeable American college professor, delivering what Peckinpah would consider to be the ultimate left wing affront, that of taking over a kind of patronising squire’s role in a small Cornish fishing village, where he rents a cottage and treats the bored locals with an ugly disdain, at which they justifiably, in the Peckinpah moral code book, violently retaliate in a fashion which makes “Straw Dogs” his most controversial film.

Having made a point, his two most recent movies have seen a mellowing in the images. His last film “Junior Bonner” was an evocative, sensitive observation of traditional values in America, seen through the eyes of an ageing rodeo star, Steve McQueen, whose ability to turn out brilliant performances for Peckinpah is nothing short of miraculous, considering most of his earlier work.

Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw shoot their way out.

In “The Getaway”, again at his brilliant best, accompanied by Ali McGraw as his wife, McQueen plays a crook who is bailed out of jail by a local lawyer, on the condition that he organises and carries out a daring bank robbery. But the film starts out as a slow, very atmospheric character study of yer actual crook, and there is a beautiful scene, as just after being released, he stands outside the prison in front of a long flat skyline, accompanied by those almost eerie sounds one only seems to hear in America, fascinating sounds so familiar to anyone who’s ever been there. The raid is excitingly staged and is followed by a superb non-cliched car chase and by inter-gang arguments, during which McQueen shoots the leader and one of his accomplices. The rest of the film is then grippingly concerned with McQueen and McGraw’s attempts to flee the pursuing gang and escape over the border into Mexico. But this is much more than just an exciting chase movie. It is really a kind of American travelogue of excess. The story is incidental to the images, like McQueen and McGraw dodging their pursuers at one stage on to an interminable city dump, with its mounds of trash stretching into oblivion; the acute observance of Texas as the two flee partly by train, the ultimate USA symbol of decayed splendour.

For the first time in a Peckinpah movie there’s a strong element of sarcastic humour. He has learned to gently mock his own ideas, so that when Slim Pickins, the ultimate delight of the film, is reached, we are being simultaneously amused, excited and being persuaded as to the moral justness of it all. Pickins plays a clapped out garbage truck driver who much to his delight is hijacked with his van to carry our heroes and their money on the last stage of their journey over the border. He doesn’t mind them being gangsters, but are they married? Well, they are, and safely over the border he sells them his van for more money than he normally earns in ten years.

It’s all so much fun. I just can’t wait to see it again.

Austrian Concoction

THE SALTZBURG CONNECTION. Director: Lee Katzin. Screenplay: Oscar Millard. Stars: Barry Newman, Anna Karina. Distributor: Fox Rank.

It’s a great pity this Austrian set concoction, swiftly made and named to cash in on a recent success, has such a lousy script, because it has several assets, which might have helped to create a sequel worthy of the word “connection”.

There’s the direction, attempting to be expansive and imaginative, in its panning, atmospheric shots of the Austrian scenery; attempting to inject some documentary semi-reality in its fast cuts to people inthe streets’ faces. There’s also Barry Newman, perpetuator of the modern car chase, in “Vanishing Point”, and also one of the few modern stars out of the Redford/Reynolds stable, who doesn’t have an expressionless face, and who can actually act.

The contrived, leaden script, having the character of an extended TV episode, has cardboard figures from the KGB, the CIA, Israel and the Neo-Nazi Party chasing after the same crate of German wartime secret papers, suitably placed at the bottom of a very cold, shallow lake. Cliches abound, and after the regulation shootings, car chase and double crossings, there isn’t really anything left of the 92 futile minutes to make us laugh, cry, think or tremble with excitement.

Vampire Postmen

LONDON: A gentle warning. In case you’re thinking of posting a letter or visiting a post office in PADDINGTON, DON’T because someone in the Paddington GPO is after your blood. The other morning I posted off some packets of back numbers to readers, and to make sure no Hets came loose in transit, I stapled the envelopes down. The following morning, no sooner had I left the erotica of the Bakerloo line, and entered that hovel we call an office, when a horrible man from the GPO rang up to tell me that I’d almost caused an actual strike at the local sorting office. Almost, well, you can’t succeeed in fulfilling your greatest desires all the time.

One of their nice postmen, while trying to prize open the staples, in order to steal whatever was inside our packets, had cut his lily white hand, and stained what the GPO’s spokesman termed as our “embarrassing packet” with streams of blood, and they weren’t going to sort any more of our post until we came round and removed every single, solitary staple. I collected the packets from the assistant postmaster, who peculiarly, was dressed in a long black cloak, with which he was attempting to consider his two front teeth which protruded terribly, and must have been all of eight inches long. And stranger still, there wasn’t the merest speck of blood to be seen on the packet. Just three large teeth marks and a GLF badge where the staples should have been.

So, Paddington GPO, Fangs for the memory.

Standing In The Shadows

A few days ago the letter reproduced below, arrived at the Gay News Office.

Dear Sirs,

I picked up a copy of your newspaper — not knowing what it was — in a small bookshop the other day.

I was quite shocked at first when I read it, and rather embarrassed that I had bought it. I could never go back to that shop again.

But I must admit, I am a homosexual, and it was nice to find something written about it. I’ve never seen anything written about it before except in a ‘Home Doctor’ book. I didn’t understand most of the stuff in your magazine, though, and neither could a friend whom I showed it to. He suggested that you call it “Gay News” because “gay” is a euphemism for homosexual, if this is so, then it seems unfortunate because even homosexuals who do not have reputations to keep up and who have the knowledge of where the dirty bookshops are, and have the courage to took for homosexual books, would miss “Gay News” because they didn’t know what gay meant.

I am a schoolteacher…

Naive, unbelievable; I suppose it is to us here in London pontificating at a CHE or GLF meeting, writing film reviews for Gay News, or trolling in an Earls Court pub, but I have no reason to believe the letter isn’t genuine.

Let’s think for a moment of Kinsey’s very conservative figures, which would suggest that there are something in the region of two million male and female homosexuals in this country. If you take the total number of persons belonging to GLF, Sappho, CHE, Challenge, etc, or who frequent gay pubs, clubs, cottages or even Hampstead Heath, on a fairly regular basis, I would imagine you would get a figure of about 250,000, and this as loose as defining a practicing homosexual as someone who every few weeks or so has a quick fuck with someone he’s picked up in a cottage, before returning to the wife and kids.

Even in gay organisations like GLF, there are men and women who live two lives, that of a respectable heterosexual and a fairly free gay. The amount of times I’ve hear “I couldn’t buy one of those in case the old woman saw it,” when I’ve been selling the paper in the Boltons in Earls Court, is phenomenal.

Most gays who create for themselves some sort of lifestyle according to their sexual desires make their way to large cities like London, often still furtive, standing in dark corners of pubs or sitting in CHE or GLF meetings, stunned into agonised silence by bureaucratic procedures or academic’s jargon. Unless of course they happen to have those magical good looks, “David Cassidy type”, as one of our personal ads recently dictated, in which case much in demand and therefore full of confidence, our friend will fall into bed with a never ceasing, more and more unsatisfying “tall, slim, longhaired, passive, warm and generous”, always generous.

The majority of homosexuals are alive and well and living with their husbands/wives and children in a semi-detached Ford Cortina in Biggleswade, considering their fantasies and desires as what you watch in a dirty raincoat or receive in a plain sealed envelope, and I suspect “Gay News” quite often fits into that category. Let’s move 30 or 40 miles south to a bedsit in West Hampstead, and a round mirror on the wall above a gas fire, where a young man is looking at himself, bemoaning his unattractiveness, or fighting his conscience. Instant coffee or the Heath.

The politically based gay organisations with little exception, seem to nurture an elitist attitude — “We are gay, we’ve come out, we’re liberated.” In London at any rate CHE and GLF seem to be so concerned with vague terminology, and self congratulating themselves on their campaign for changes in the law relating the the age of consent, that they have completely lost touch with our friend in Leeds who knows or cares about as much about CHE as the likley discovery of gold dust in a sewage farm in Ruislip.

The gay movement is too full of men with university backgrounds preaching revolutionary theory at great length, looking down on people who cottage or condemning Gay News as non-political. We have reached some people at least who had no previous means of expressing their gayness. I am not being self-congratulatory, I know this; they write and phone us often, but we, like every other gay group, paper, befriending service or whatever, are skating along the surface of a very large lake with very thick layers of ice, and while we’re bitching with each other rather like the ‘socialists’ and the ‘conservatives’ do in their little defunct institution, or just working on our own in small groups, or holding meetings to discuss whether GLF publications should go under the counter in the London CHE office. While we’re discussing Marx instead of the heartache and fear of thinking you’re different from absolutely everyone else, there’ll be an unlit gas ring hissing somewhere tonight.