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 Starring: largely outdated, ageing Hollywood stars.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.