Sunday, 3 May 2015

On DVD (4) - Retracing the steps of Edmond T Greville

It started with Beat Girl, that 1960 artefact which out here in the colonies played in  sleaze houses like the Star Theatrette down at the bottom of Elizabeth Street in Melbourne, a subterranean sinkhole that attracted single males. Beat Girl was, we thought at the moment of its appearance, slashed by the censor. I intend to investigate that matter in the fullness of time for it may be that all we got to see here was a version of the film already trimmed by the Brit censors of all the t&a it originally contained and which is now once again on view if you purchase the recently released  Brit DVD.

But the director of this piece of anti-youth propaganda was Edmond T Greville, a name otherwise unknown to me at the time. Greville and his producer George Willoughby assembled a rather stellar cast – David Farrar, Christopher Lee. Nigel Green, Adam faith, Oliver Reed, Shirley Ann Field (who sings a song). The lead however was taken by the young Gillian Hills, a Bardot lookalike and actalike who was clearly channelling the French star’s insolence from And God Created Woman. Hills later distinguished herself as one of the two teenagers (Jane Birkin was the other) who rolled around in the coloured paper in Antonioni's Blowup. The quality continued behind the camera as well with Walter Lassally as DOP and John Barry doing the music. 

As for Greville, I suspect you would need to have had access to the equivalent of IMDB of the day, or knew Barrie Pattison or John Howard Reid's phone numbers, to be properly filled in about an interesting director reduced to making something as two-facedly sleazy. They would have told you probably far more than Wikipedia tells you now. No doubt they would have been especially dismissive of the censored 77 minute version of Beat Girl though if you asked now they may mention that the film was produced by George Willoughby who a mere decade later also got a production credit for the greatest film ever made in Australia, Ted Kotcheff's Wake in Fright (1971). But that’s not what has caught the attention most recently.

In a DVD that recently passed my way, Ealing Rarities Volume 2, one of the titles would appear to have been gathered up under the Ealing rubric because it was made at Ealing Studios in 1937, that is, before Michael Balcon became head of production. Titled Brief Ecstasy it was directed by the same Greville, though credited here only as Edmond Greville. There is however no mention of "Ealing" on the front or end credits.  The front production credit goes to a company called British Australasian Pictures, (who could that have been?). Somehow or other the copyright must have either always belonged to, or has subsequently been passed to Ealing and now that copyright rests with the French major Studio Canal. Brief Ecstasy is not mentioned in Charles Barr's book "Ealing Studios" published by Movie in 1977. It doesn't matter really except that we should be grateful that the film has been released on DVD. Another small part of the Edmond T Greville jigsaw falls into place. 

It’s not easy to track Greville's work, but it is rewarding even at a slow pace. In recent years there have been theatrical screenings of his Noose (1948) at the Sydney Film Festival as part of the season of Brit Noir organised by Quentin Turnour, and of a French film, Menaces/Threats (1940) at Bologna. Quentin did a great intro on the day and convened a panel which, after his introductory remarks, didn't actually add much more enlightenment to the subject. Menaces was screened as part of the recent restorations stream. It features Erich Von Stroheim in another of his fruity, slowly spoken, heavily-accented performances. 

 These two films and Brief Ecstasy all feature some fairly ordinary plotting but all have an element of the exotic. Brief Ecstasy gets itself all tangled up in British reserve as a wife, who has a solitary night of passion, is reminded of it by the return of the man who caused it to occur. But she's supposedly happily married to a wealthy industrialist who keeps her comfortable in a lavish house but she's utterly bored as well. By a stroke of luck she rekindles the husband's ardour for another solitary moment and its enough for her to not run away with the former lover. All very British. But Greville is, as he frequently was throughout his career, rather interested in illicit passion and he directs the film with considerable enthusiasm. His mise-en-scene features much elaborate camerawork which bespeaks a director engaging with his material no matter how shallow. The person who gave me the set of discs remarked how different Greville's approach was compared to Michael Powell's at the same time when Powell frequently filmed routine material in a very routine way. 

Greville made over thirty films and by my count I have about twenty five to go to clear the list. Probably wont happen. Any opportunities will be grabbed, though I guess I should ask Barrie Pattison or David Stratton what should be given priority. 

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