Looking and feeling not unlike the Kit Kat Club, the Rehearsal Club in Archer Street was the venue of CHE’s cabaret from February 19th to 22nd, presented in aid of “Friend”, CHE’s befriending and counselling service.
Starring Pepe Samper, Roger Baker, Gavin Clare, Cyril Weston and Howarth Penny, with Alan Leigh (Douglas Byng’s former accompanist) on the piano, the forty five minute show included an excerpt from the musical “Follies”, a sketch entitled “Doris the Goddess of Wind” (Life is just one blow through from morning to night), a song from Sandy Wilson’s Valmouth, and a sketch entitled “I Hate Men”, performed by Roger Baker. The show was directed by Marie Clifton.
Emitting a smokey, nostalgic atmosphere, the show seemed to be enjoyed.by the audience, predominantly made up of CHE members and their friends. It was indeed a very constructive effort to help raise the funds urgently required by “Friend” to carry on its work.
Some things never change. David Seligman lays into 1973’s Oscars ceremony
The New Movies…
TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT. Director: George Cukor. Stars: Maggie Smith, Alec McCowan, Robert Stephens. Screenplay: Jay Presson Allen and Hugh Wheeler. Based on the novel by Graham Greene. Music: Tony Hatch. An MGM Production, distributed by MGM-EMI. Cert “AA”.
PSYCH OUT. Directed by Richard Rush, with Jack Nicholson, Adam Roarke, and other AIP regulars. Released by American International Pictures.
THE OSCARS. Directed by TV stations and their advertisers. Starring: largely outdated, ageing Hollywood stars. Distributed: To most of the telly viewing public in the Western Hemisphere.
Travels With My Aunt is, to borrow 2001‘s well worn advertising slogan, “the ultimate trip”. A blend of comedy, gimmickery, Maggie Smith, campery and luscious sentiment which comes together colourfully and whimsically by courtesy of veteran Hollywood director George Cukor, creator of the film version of My Fair Lady.
After years of working in a bank, tending his dahlias and living with the person he supposes to be his mother (I won’t disclose the twist in the plot), Henry’s life receives an abrupt jolt when she dies. At the funeral he meets his Aunt Augusta, a heavily painted, champagne swilling crook of indeterminate age, who lives in an ornate flat above the ‘Salisbury’ pub in St Martin’s Lane, with her pot smoking manservant from Sierra Leone, called Wordsworth, tending to her every need.
His first act is to secrete ashes from one of his joints in the urn containing the charred remains of Henry’s mother; this is just a start. Henry is swiftly whisked off by his auntie on a magical mystery tour of Europe, in search of one of her former customer/lovers who has been imprisoned by ransom-seeking desperados on an island off the coast of Spain! Ah, yes, you see, Auntie is a floosie, and this is one of those films where it is very proper and accepted, because you see, she’s an upper class English eccentric, with an illegitimate middle-aged Italian son, who meets her on Venice Station amidst tears and champagne, as she arrives on the Orient Express.
Yes, this is an old fashioned movie, with a kind of Ealing Comedy moral code with modem overtones; profound escapism, if you like, and at the risk of sounding cliched, this is what we need, for part of the time at least, to fill the cinemas. I loved it; it was like the most superb, colourfully visual, pleasurable, post-orgasmic dream.
Psych Out, now on patchy release throughout the country with a comic horror pic entitled Blood And Lace, is another magical mystery tour, from AIP, doyens of the low buget movie. Although made in 1968 the film was refused an ‘X’ Certificate until recently becuase of its explicit references to hash and LSD and is a kind of fantasy journey through San Fransisco hippy land. Very colourful and drug orientated, it also is a very thoughtful piece of film making, that like Five Easy Pieces, is very much a vehicle for Nicholson’s rather fascinating ideas. Blood And Lace is one big beautiful send-up, a horror film made ridiculously funny by its awfulness and deliberately chronic acting.
The Hollywood Oscars have come round yet again with the usual accompanying tantrums and traumas. I think it’s marvellous that Maggie Smith has been nominated as best actress, because she is, but saddened that the dull patriotic crap of Young Winston is even thought worthy of general exhibition in America, let alone Oscar nominations, when so many first rate British films are never seen there. Similarly, many American distributors’ best films never reach us, and when they do, even in the West End, it’s about six months after they’ve opened in New York.
That mysterious band of Hollywood establishmentarians who nominate and vote for films, seem to have a paranoid fear of supposedly ‘left’ movies and don’t seem to have heard of Billy Jack, one of North America’s biggest box office hits in 1971/2. Occasionally they make slight gestures towards the better directors, as in 1970 when Midnight Cowboy was named best film, but overall, the whole ceremony smacks of a Hollywood governed by mighty moguls such as Darryl F. Zanuck and Cecil B. De Mille.
Even more disturbing is the way legitimate British movies, ie those made and financed by British distributors can never win any awards. In the USA they are rarely widely shown outside specialist cinemas in the large cities, except when an American distributor buys them from the British one, as in the case of The Go Between, which EMI sold to Columbia for a reported figure of £6 million. But however widely shown and liked in America, the Go Between is, it never gets the chance of winning an Oscar because it’s not American financed.
Travels With My Aunt and Young Winston were made in Britain with American money. They therefore get classed as Hollywood movies as regards Oscars, but such gems as Dulcima, Family Life and Made don’t get classed as American films because they’re British financed, nor as foreign films because they’re English language; they just get left out altogether.
Another film farce is being perpetrated by United Artists in New York, where a number of very “respected” critics, including the legendary Rex Reed, have been barred from their future press showings. Reason given, their negative reviews of Man of La Mancha, 1972’s most expensive film, led to its fast demise at the box office and heavy financial losses.
I Like Her
YOU’LL LIKE MY MOTHER:Director Lamont Johnson. A Universal Picture distributed by Fox Rank.
I did like her; she’s an absolute bitch of a woman, a murdress and worse, played with a skill akin to the greatest American character actresses, by Rosemary Murphy. This stylistically, slightly old fashioned thriller, filmed atmospherically, entirely on location in wintry, snow covered Minesota, finds a heavily pregnant girl (Patty Duke) trapped by snow drifts in a large isolated ornate and extremely spooky house.
Home of a once great family, it is filled with family bibles, phones that don’t work, dark corners and wings that have been closed off. The girl is trapped there with Mother, retarded daughter (Sian Barbara Allen) and son (Richard Thomas) wanted on a rape charge. With obvious gestures towards Hitchcock and Hammer, this film with its unknown director, and largely unknown cast, all of whom do their jobs brilliantly and create a taut, gripping and genuinely frightening film, works a lot more successfully than much of the product from either of the two H’s.
Masterpiece Of Detail
SOUNDER:Director: Martin Ritt. Starring: Cicely Tyson, Paul Winfield, Kevin Hooks, Screenplay: Lonne Elder, Music: Taj Mahal. Cert ‘U’ Distributor: Fox Rank.
Rural Louisianna in the early 1930s, and a typically poverty stricken black family, labouring at a pittance for white landowners. The wife has to take in laundry and when the kids wake up in the morning to the smell of cooking meat, they know they’re in for a very rare treat. Used and maltreated by the whites, and painfully uneducated, they have a contradictory zeal for Christianity.
Sounder is quite simply a strongly atmospheric, enormously moving, pictorial essay covering a year in their lives. Their life situation during that year being dominated by the father’s sentence in a prison work camp for stealing a few cents worth of meat, and his young son’s premature foray into manhood; left to care for the rest of the family and the farm.
The film is a masterpiece of detail and authenticity in its presentation of their lives, and what I particularly like about it, was that it showed the Black struggle, not that it isn’t a particularly political one, mainly in terms of feeling and emotion, and how these play the major part in governing the motivations which lead to political acts.
The brilliance of Sounder is heightened by outstanding performances, direction and photography (colour by De Luxe). Recommended.
SUPER FLY. Director: Gordon Parks. Music: Curtis Mayfield. Stars: Ron O’Neal, Carl Lee. Distributor: Columbia Warner.
As Sounder was a superb piece of feeling, creative film making on Black oppression, Super Fly is a well polished, ideologically rather destructive, Black chauvinist piece of entertainment, produced primarily for the vicarious American youth market.
Super Fly is the ‘Priest’ (Ron O’Neal), leader of a cocaine trafficking mafiosa, he drives an enormous black Cadillac with a massive front bonnet and crest, which are frequently blown up by the camera, to symbolise his prowess and infallibility; he always wins whether in combat with a fellow black, or whites, who are inevitably corrupt.
The ‘Priest’ decides that he wants to get out of the Drug trade, but in order that he can carry on living in the style of luxury to which he has become accustomed, he will arrange one more massive deal worth a million dollars, and then retire comfortably. This is the start of unending double dealings, most of which are perpetuated by the deputy commissioner of police, who appears to be running the New York drug trade.
Despite all adversities, the Priest triumphs and gets his money. The purist ideology aside, this is quite an entertaining, fast paced thriller, with superb music by Curtis Mayfield (previously reviewed in GN), which greatly adds to the film’s urgency and vitality. The location photography nicely dispels any ideas we still might have, that New York is a rich, clean, glamourous paradise.
One distinguished film critic was heard to remark, after the press show — “Why don’t they make a sequel called Super Jew, about a theatrical agent?”
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.