Can’t See The Gay For The Whitewash

TCHAIKOVSKY. Directed by Igor Talankin. Music arranged and conducted by Dimitri Tiomkin. Starring Innokenti Smoktunovsky as ‘Tchaikovsky’. Narrated by Laurence Harvey. Distributed by MGM-EMI. Cert ‘U’ Showing at the Odeon, Haymarket, London.

Unlike Ken Russell’s The Music Lovers, the Russian film Tchaikovsky isn’t going to upset anybody, especially people like Mary Whitehouse, Ross McWhirter and David Holbrook, who like the films they see to be completely innocent and without a trace of the realities that exist in the actual world we live in.

Mosfilm studios is rumoured to have made Tchaikovsky because of the treatment of their greatest composers and national heroes received from Mr Russell. What we see in Britain is a considerably shortened version of what was originally a film that ran for just over four hours. Our version is just under two.

The Russians spared no expense in making this epic, but managed to exclude every reference to Tchaikovsky’s real life from the script. What we are left with is a rather naive and sensitive heterosexual character, who has an unhealthy amount of love and devotion for his mother. So everything that embarrassed the Russians when Mr Russell put a little reality into his character is omitted. Really, it’s so whiter than white, it surprised me that it wasn’t Walt Disney production.

Technically the film is superb. The camera work is copied from successful American and European movies that have been developed in the last five years and is extremely well done, but it doesn’t help one not notice the wooden performances from the actors. The music is really beautiful though, and the stereo sound at the Odeon, Haymarket, is excellent. It’s a pity that the film is drastically cut, because we are only treated to small fragments of some of the composer’s finest music. The ballet scenes are given slightly more time, and subsequently they are some of the most enjoyable moments in the film. Highlights from the soundtrack are available on a two-record set issued by Phillips Records, (Cat No 6641048).

Amazed by their childishness, one wonders who the Russians think they are kidding. Tchaikovsky was a homosexual, undoubtably a fairly unhappy one, but whether this was due to his sexuality is debatable. What is obvious, is that his gayness was very much the basis of his inspiration for many of his greatest works. Personally, I would say it was the major influence on his Fourth and Sixth Symphonies. But that’s debatable too.

It’s a shame to see such a fantastic composer, whose genius in many respects will never be equalled, given such a reactionary whitewashing. As a result, the only people likely to be attracted to this film are the most ardent admirers of Tchaikovsky’s music.

Incidentally, on the night I saw Tchaikovsky, the whole of the audience was highly amused at a line from Laurence Harvey’s narration. It was when the composer had moved to Moscow and was “befriended by Nikolay Rubinstein, a great pianist and a gay companion.” And that truly is the only reference to one of the most important aspects of Tchaikovsky’s personality. Maybe that’s even too much for ‘clean-up’ Mary. Better watch out MGM-EMI.

New Movies

MAN OF LA MANCHA (United Artists) could have been just another boring, routine eight songs, a dance and a love story musical, but it’s nor, for several reasons.

The story for one, again about man’s mistaken illusions, the subject the cinema seems to tackle best, and most often. This time an eccentric, ageing Spanish aristocrat, who believes he’s Don Quixote, a noble knight. Peter O’Toole, who I believe to be the most gifted actor now working in films, is amazing, made up to look about seventy, as he mounts charges against windmills, woos the innkeeper’s daughter, Sophia Loren, and inspires affection in his loyal Spanish (American accented) servant, played by James Coco. There are several other flaws as well, like badly dubbed singing voices, but well, it is a commercially made musical after all.

Particular praise should go to the soft, mellow colour in which the film was made, which heightens the atmosphere of the slowly ailing, illogical insanity of the main character, and, Arthur Hiller’s stagey, basic direction which helps O’Toole to mould yet another brilliant performance.

NEITHER THE SEA NOR THE SAND (Laurie Marsh Group). Scripted by Gordon Honeycombe from his novel, this rather charming little British film about a couple who meet in wintry Jersey, fall in love, and who then are prematurely separated by the man’s death which the girl cannot, and refuses to believe, imagining the man still to be with her, makes for two intriguing contrasts, romantic and macabre. Susan Hampshire and Michael Petrovich act simply and beautifully and Fred Burnley’s direction succeeds admirably in capturing the two widely opposing elements of romanticism and the macabre, through the spectacular use he makes of the sight and sounds of the sea and scenery. I must praise the exquisite colour photography (Eastman Colour) which ensures the film works so well visually.

Another film which I found to be absorbing, sensitive and made with great dedication, which has generally been poorly reviewed, and underpublicised by its distributors.

WHEN THE LEGENDS DIE (Fox Rank Distributors). Stuart Miller’s debut as a director (he previously worked as William Whyler’s assistant) uses the American rodeo scene — the modern filmic symbol for the death of the traditional American life-style, to illustrate very poignantly how a young Indian from the reserve (Frederic Forest) another debut, is almost destroyed by the conflict between the rodeo life-style and the modern colour fridge syndrome, and finally rejects them both. The conflict is perpetuated by Richard Widmark as an alcoholic ex-rodeo star who cannot believe his way of life is dying, and has dreams of building the young Indian into a big star.

The film has romantic gestures to both the old Indian and white ways of life, loves its characters and I think shows the relationship between the American white man and the Indian, far more realistically than Arthur Penn’s terrible Little Big Man. It’s a pity this new distribution company didn’t publicise When The Legends Die a little more.

because compared to Penn’s film, it’s so sensitive, realistic and worthwhile.

SNOOPY COME HOME (Fox Rank). The second feature length cartoon, based on Charles Schulz’s well-loved comic strip is witty, inventive, thoughtful in places and visually entertaining.

JEREMIAH JOHNSON (Columbia-Warner). Well, you can’t say they don’t make those good clean All-American outdoor adventures any more, because Sydney (they don’t shoot directors) Pollack has come up with one, and what a bore it is too. Robert Redford, over-exposed to the cold, and these days to the film camera too, is set loose in a frozen Northern Carolina of the early eighteen hundreds, where he comes across just about every bearded, cliché ridden bear-trapping character you can imagine. He marries an Indian girl, adopts a wayward little boy/and naturally his happy little family is massacred by a tribe of marauding Indians, who Redford then kills off single handed, of course.

This film should have stopped after the beautiful opening shots of the snow-covered scenery, and had a good think.

Try Again Woody

PLAY IT AGAIN SAM, Directed by Herbert Ross. Starring Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Jerry Lacy. Certificate AA. Released by Paramount Pictures.

It’s not good for any movie star to be likened to another, so it’s invidious to say that Woody Allen is the new Groucho Marx, or even Buster Keaton. But whether it’s fair to call him that or not, that’s exactly what he is.

Just as Peter Sellers showed promise of being a comic talent some years ago, before his ability was squandered in the search for a few dollars more to buy another mini, Woody Allen now looks set firmly on course for being the best comedy actor we’ve had for years. And to cap it all he writes most of his own material.

Until recently (in fact until Bananas) he never put a foot wrong as far as I’m concerned.

So it’s with some regret that I have to admit that I didn’t exactly die laughing at Woody clowning his way through Play It Again, Sam, Herbert Ross’ movie from Woody’s screenplay based on his own stage play.

Perhaps it’s because this movie is based on a stage play that it doesn’t work as well as Bananas or Take The Money and Run. Or perhaps it’s because it’s directed by someone other than Woody Allen himself — he directed the others and has just finished Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex etc.

Whatever the reason, this movie just doesn’t hang together as well as most of Woody Allen’s humour.

Basically, his usual maladroit everyman figure is surrounded by disasters, as usual — but this time they’re romantic disasters mostly.

True, there are moments when the usual brilliant visual humour shows through, but, generally speaking, those good patches stick out. And that’s a bad sign for any movie. If the good bits are conspicuous, then the rest can’t be up to scratch.

I love Woody Allen. He is me. He is a human disaster area. He is the victim of gadgets and 20th Century technological hardware. His hairdryer causes havoc in his medicine cupboard as he hurries to meet a girl.

The story is this: Woody is a movie-critic on a rather esoteric movie-mag. His wife walks out because he’s more hung-up about celluloid than sex. So he has to go out hunting for a new mate. He’s helped in this by Humphrey Bogart (Jerry Lacy) and his best friend’s wife (Diane Keaton).

The Bogart figure is the product of Woody’s movie-mad imagination. Bogie follows him on his dates and tells him what to do, for Woody is, as ever, completely flustered when faced with the realities of a situation.

Every date fixed for him by his best friends (and that wife of his) turns out to be a shambles, because Woody just can’t pull the birds any more. Not even a roaring nymphomaniac — a crazy cameo played by Viva (from the Warhol factory).

Meanwhile as rebuff after rebuff erodes our hero’s self-confidence. Woody discovers the only woman he feels comfortable with is his best friend’s wife. They have sex.

She tells her husband their marriage is on the rocks and he goes off on yet another of his business trips. Realising that she should be with her husband she rushes off to join him at the airport.

Meanwhile Woody turns up at the airport, but he won’t keep her from her husband because that’s not the way it happened in Casablanca — and sure enough, there’s Bogie at his elbow, mighty proud of him, and that’s the way he’s learned to treat dames.

Romantic comedies aren’t exactly my elegant glass of Babycham. But this one’s different. It has to be with Woody Allen involved. Who else could give the woman he loves a plastic skunk for her birthday or say as she walks out of his life that that’s the scene he’s been wanting to play all his life – or, at least, since he first saw Casablanca.

Trouble is the movie’s produced by Arthur (Planet of the Apes) Jacobs and much of his influence seems to have spread throughout the movie. The intercutting of real Bogart footage is overly heavy and unnecessary. But Woody wins out in the end. There’s a scene where he’s elated and walks

along a bridge patting the backs of the boys fishing. One of course, falls off the parapet. Woody, of course, notices nothing.

It’s fun, but it’s not the best of Woody Allen. All the same it’s better than no Woody Allen. And that’s enough to get me into the cinema – even at 10.30 a.m.

Propaganda Or Truth

PRECINCT 45 (U.S. title — The New Centurions). Director: Richard Fleisher. Stars: George C. Scott, Stacey Keach, Colour, Panavision. Distributor: Columbia Warner. Cert AA.

Precinct 45 is the finest and most objective movie about the Police that I have ever seen. It takes a short period in the lives of several cops in a poor, very tough precinct in Los Angeles, and through closely picturing their actions, experiences and reactions, both on and off duty, begins to build in our minds a composite picture of what kind of a man a cop is. What is it that makes him paranoically root out some innocent boy who’s got a couple of joints in his pocket, or risk his life chasing after some nutcase with a shot gun.

Scott as superb as ever, plays the old cop, the cynical, dedicated respected one who goes around punching Rachman type landlords on the nose. But this is not a sentimental, pro-police film, and there are scenes where we see cops at their fascistic, taunting worst, trapping gays in the park at night or illogically smashing up a car because they’ve got a bit of venom to work off. We are also given ideas, with a vengeance, of what it is like to be the wife of a cop, who’s just been shot, or at any time for that matter.

I liked the film very much, because it was entertaining, disturbing through its truthfulness, and above all it helped me to understand what makes a cop tick. After all it’s too easy isn’t it, to cry out “Pig”, or “He’s just a cop because he’s repressed”.

Our highly erratic censor, Mr Murphy has given the film an AA certificate. It contains some very violent, disturbing scenes, which I think warrant an X. They were really so convincingly done that I could feel my stomach drop, and I’ve seen more movie violence than you’ve seen episodes of ‘Crossroads’.

A really fine movie, topical and valid today in our stretched at the seams urban environment. The goodie Richard Fleisher has never quite managed before. Recommended.

Ooh! You Are Awful

THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE : Director Ronald Neame. Stars : Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons, Carol Lynley, Roddy McDowell, Stella Stevens, Shelley Winters. Distributor : Fox Rank.

Old time lavish adventures are fine on lavish budgets, but when you try and make ’em for under a million pounds, things begin to become unstuck – like Shelley Winters’ dress – I mean !! Seriously, you must be joking, there wasn’t even time to set the atmosphere of decadence, aboard an Atlantic cruise ship, badly most of the time, mocked up inside a studio. The publicity handouts suggest this is one of those movies where all our realistic, familiar Jones and Jonettes from next door, are plunged into a real life situation, like a ship turning over in an earthquake which takes place at exactly midnight on New Year’s Eve. Have you ever been trapped in the middle of the lake in a leaking boat with the Vicar ?

Anyway, its all been done before. George Sanders made a movie like this, I wish I could remember its name, in the early sixties. It had an identical plot except the direction of the suspense was excellent, and the characters weren’t all shallow, fine upstanding citizens.

As those of you who read these columns regularly know, I am a great champion of entertaining, exciting cinema, but you can’t make effective big films on little budgets, nor can you fob off the discerning cinema goer, the only people who haven’t succumbed to the telly, whoever they may be, with cheap novel crap about people crawling upside down through an upturned ship with courage, valour and a stiff upper grip, or however Americans handle a situation like this. Incidentally I was very disappointed not to catch even one glimpsette of the Stars and Stripes or a plastic gold replica of the Statuette of Liberteria.

We don’t live next door to schmaltzy, elderly Jewish couples anymore – we live in the world of THE FRENCH CONNECTION Mr Hackman. Go and see The Poseidon Adventure if you can’t ignore the advertising, and then pause, think and compare it to Sunday Bloody Sunday, and see what makes me loathe and love and sometimes despair about the Cinema, as it alternates between firing ones mind with explosive brilliance and alienating its lovers. Its life really.

Gay Film Unit

LONDON: Gay movies made in Britain may become a reality through the Campaign for Homosexual Equality.

CHE is helping the gay film unit get started, but after that the movie group is meant to become self-sufficient.

A spokesman for CHE said: “Specific projects will await the formation of the group, but they could include educational, informational, documentary and campaign subjects, experimental, abstract and narrative films, and possibly films designed for theatrical release.”

An initial meeting to discuss aims, structure, ideas and finance will be held in November.

Meanwhile anyone with professional or amateur movie-making experience should contact the group at CHE’s London Information Centre at 22 Great Windmill Street, London W1.