Monday, 11 January 2016

A Cinephile Diary - Pillaging Paul Harris's Facebook Posts for the greater glory

Michael Mann
Alejandro Inarittu

In November last year director Michael Mann got together with Alejandro Inarritu to shoot the breeze on stage in one of two conversations to discuss the making of The Revenant, organised through the auspices of the DGA (Directors' Guild Of America). It was, for me, a much more harrowing experience than anything to be found in Inarritu's elephantine survival saga as I watched the idiosyncratic director of the infinitely superior The Last Of The Mohicans (1992) brown-nosing and grovelling to the wunderkind of the moment. The Argentinian director is a charming conversationalist to the extent that he makes Quentin Tarantino seem like a Trappist monk by comparison. The words poured from his mouth but revealed little about The Revenant's production and the director's creative methods that can't be found in a multitude of puff pieces clogging up the media in the Golden Globes-Oscars lead-up season . Mann is deferential to an embarrassing degree and we learn nothing at all of the lengthy 14 year development process , nor is much curiosity expressed about the film's  themes .Next up was Darren Aronofsky who, like Mann, seems to be primarily interested in the logistical challenges (the bear attack,the avalanche, difficult scenes in long takes in remote locations in available natural light, short shooting days because of extreme weather conditions), blah blah blah)) and the delays not caused by the weather but by the availability of " Leo ". (compare this with the highly detailed and analytical articles by Sandy George on the creative development process and financing of Australian films Last Cab To Darwin and Downriver.) And,of course, neither interviewer brings up any of the many ' man- against- nature' cinematic forebears in passing which might include A Man In The Wilderness (Richard C Sarafian, 1971), (1971),Jeremiah Johnson (Sydney Pollack, 1972), First Blood (Ted Kotcheff,1982) and The New World (Terrence Malick, 2006) to name a few.

First Blood was shot in winter, also in British Columbia and Vancouver, in similarly hazardous conditions without the enhanced help of CGI .The result was an action masterpiece and box office smash in the capable hands of director Ted (Wake In Fright) Kotcheff and star, co-writer Sylvester Stallone At film's end a tearful Sly moans " I only wanted my country to give back some of the love I gave It " . Chilling stuff just 7 years after the end of the Vietnam conflict. And I write this as news comes through that David Bowie has died from cancer and Stallone has won a Gold Globe for, of all things ,Creed .So be it.
January 10 I've been reading Clare Wright's The Forgotten Rebels Of Eureka (Text Publishing). It's written with a passion and scholarship which is just as well. At over 500 pages of densely packed historical detail I found it a slog. Too many popular histories wash right over me and leave no lasting impression. A slog in this case is definitely not a pejorative description for a page-tuner of a book that details not only the participation and key role of women in the Eureka Rebellion but also the stories from the goldfields which provides an authentic overview of what it must have been like just to survive on a day-to-day basis - the hardships endured by gold seekers, both male and female in ' the land of plenty' (i.e.,Victoria). Annabel Crabb is quoted as saying " I want to see the bloody movie " .It comes as no surprise to learn that Ruby Entertainment have optioned the TV rights for a projected miniseries .

Rona Jaffe's Fifties, semi-autobiograhical bestseller ,a glossy Eisenhower-era tale about the one-sided sexual politics in the corporate high rises of a Manhattan publishing company follows a trio of secretaries who would describe themselves as ' modern women ' hoping to advance up the corporate ladder. and rope an appropriate Prince Charming into the bargain.
A precursor to Sex And The City and Mad Men behind the high gloss of the gorgeous looking Cinemascope and Color by De Luxe settings lies an entertaining melodrama that captures a culture in transition.

Hope Lange starts out in the typing pool and eventually graduates to editor where she falls in love with the too-good-to-be-true executive Stephen Boyd who positively stinks of decency.
Meanwhile naive country girl Diane Baker is harassed and exploited by worldly males at every turn, impregnated by the film's most rapacious sleaze bag (Robert " The Kid Stays In The Picture " Evans ,and then unfairly punished by the usual Hollywood double standard which by then was starting to fray around the edges.

Suzy Parker plays a character named Gregg who is yearning to be a serious actress in her spare time, falls badly for stage director Louis Jourdan and ends up being a seriously disturbed stalker, unable to accept that her beau enjoys playing the field. Parker , a former model with great screen presence ,who was under contract to Fox at the time, was being groomed as the next big thing but her career gradually fizzled out.

They don't make films like this anymore. Well,actually they do.The Devil Wears Prada (2006) and The Proposal (1909) with Sandra Bullock as an icy bitch (again in publishing) come to mind but there is a sharp intelligence behind this film , namely that of the Romanian-born Negulesco, a painter who was taught by Brancusi and knew Modigliani. He directed a unique quartet of features at Fox over the space of a decade in which a trio of women searched for love in increasingly exotic settings (How To Marry A Millionaire, 1953,Three Coins In The Fountain 1954 and The Pleasure Seekers 1964).
Negulesco took great pride in persuading diva Joan Crawford into accepting a supporting role as an acid-tongued senior editor. She was promised a more substantial role and shot a drunken tantrum sequence set in a bar, which ,although cut from the finished film , can still be glimpsed in the film's trailer
(Available on import , released by Twilight Time).

January 7 CHICAGO CALLING (1952)
(Warner Archive Collection)
The spectre of Italian neo-realism looms large in this impressive but forgotten urban drama in which the Windy City only features indirectly. Dan Duryea plays an alcoholic outcast, a photographer by trade, who has squandered life's opportunities one too many times.His frustrated wife (Mary Anderson) and daughter walk out on him and soon after he receives word that his daughter has been injured in a car accident just outside of Chicago.
Bereft of the funds to maintain the phone connection and keep in touch with his geographically distant wife he leaves his miserable walk-up tenement flat and heads out into the shabbier neighbourhoods of downtown Los Angeles ,initially with only his dog for company, befriending a young boy in desperate need of a friendly father figure along the way . As his plight gets worse so he becomes increasingly reliant on the chance kindness of others.

Robert De Grasse's semi-documentary style lensing , apart from a few studio interiors, splendidly evokes an urban demimonde ,notably the long demolished Bunker Hill area (also prominently featured in Losey's 1951 remake of MThe obvious reference points here are De Sica's Bicycle Thieves and Vidor's The Crowd (1928) Duryea, always impressive on screen and at home in the noir environment ,usually as a villain or layabout pimp (in real life a devoted family man and scoutmaster) , effortlessly engages audience sympathies as an Everyman figure in the ' there-but-for-the-Grace-of-God-go-I ' category John Reinhardt, an Austrian expat, directed a handful of noirs none of which I have yet seen. I intend to rectify that situation ASAP. The low budget independent production clocks in at an economical 74 minutes, its many virtues hidden under its generic title.


Excuse the laboured pun above . Federico Fellini never got to make his own version of Flash Gordon but was even more obsessed by another character from the King Features Syndicate stable, Mandrake The Magician, which dates back to 1934 and was around when I was a kid in , of all places, the Women's Weekly.. Dino De Laurentiis wanted the talented cartoonist (but not comic strip artist he sometimes claimed to be) to direct a movie version ,even setting up a meeting in Rome in 1971 with the strip's creator Lee Falk.It was fated not to happen but not for lack of trying.
The suave,moustachioed Marcello Mastorianni was an obvious casting choice and Fellini , as guest editor used his services for a photo shoot in French Vogue (December,1972). 
In his penultimate feature Intervista (1987) Mastroianni is seen at the Cinecitta studio in a cameo dressed in the distinctive Mandrake cape with magic wand , alas not for a movie but a TV commercial. The sequence takes aim at lowbrow Italian television, a Fellini pet hate.
In a future post I will talk about various attempts to bring Mandrake to the screen.Here's some original comic art from the Italian strip and a short clip from Intervista

" An angel can't love, an angel is love " (Pygar in Barbarella)
John Phillip Law and Jane Fonda formed a friendship on Preminger's Hurry Sundown (1967) in which they appeared together. Law,a kind of blankly inexpressive Adonis figure, was on a roll at this time, starring for Preminger a second time in the much maligned Skidoo (1968), Mario Bava (Danger: Diabolik)(1968) ,John Flynn's gay-themed military drama The Sergeant (1968), produced by Robert Wise, and the greatly missed if erratic Marco Ferreri (L'Harem co-starring Carroll Baker)(1967) .Speaking of the latter ,much of Ferreri's earlier work seems to have vanished from view and is difficult to find. I remember it was a rite of passage for film buffs to attend the Richmond Valhalla to watch the R-rated La Grande Bouffe (1973) or a bit later Tales Of Ordinary Madness (1981), a Bukowski adaptation with Ben Gazzara .And who can veer forget La Derniere Femme (The Last Woman) (1976) in which Depardieu playing his ultimate portrayal of male narcissism, slices his manhood with an electric carving knife.

At the time of its original release I I felt strongly that Rolf De Heer's fable Bad Boy Buddy (1993) , itself an Australian-Italian coproduction, was strongly influenced by Ferreri's work. When the opportunity came up to put this to the filmmaker he claimed to have never heard of Ferreri. I have no reason to doubt him. For more on Ferreri here's a useful tribute page :

Vadim directs Fonda and Phillip Law in Barbarella
The last film I watched in 2015 was yet again Barbarella , the1968 screen adaptation of the erotic French comic strip,which i showed on DVD to a pair of bored teenage lads at a New Year's Eve party. They seemed to enjoy it. The film is equal parts cheesy titillation and camp, and can now be seen as a dry run for producer Dino De Laurentiis's 1980 space opera, Flash Gordon 
(he originally wanted Fellini, settled for Nicolas Roeg , but finally ended up with Mike Hodges as director) . Barbarella is truly a cook's broth with various hands involved in concocting a useable screenplay involving the original comic creator Jean-Claude Forest and fellow French screenwriter Claude Brule . Director Roger Vadim exercised his creative control over an additional team of credited screenwriters including Terry Southern, Clement Biddle Wood, Tudor Gates, Vittorio Bonicelli who would later adapt The Garden Of The Finzi Continis (1970) and Brian Degas. At this time Southern was at his creative peak with Dr. Strangelove and The Loved One on his resume.(Degas and Gates also worked on De Laurentiis's 1968 spy spoof Danger _ Diabolik, also based on a popular comic strip)

Also heavily involved on an uncredited basis was Corman veteran Charles B. Griffith (Little Shop Of Horrors) on the recommendation of pal John Phillip Law who played Pygar, the blind angel of love.Griffith was a last minute addition after the film had gone into production . 
Here's a shot of a pensive Fonda, a disconsolate Law in his bulky wing costume and Vadim whose thoughts seem to be elsewhere on the set in a Rome studio.

December 29 What is the worst single aspect of sitting through a Todd Haynes film ? No, it's not the self-conscious stylisation or thudding formalism . It's the utter lack of humour,ensuring that these characters have no inner life, can barely crack a smile (it's the stultifying angst-ridden 1950's after all) . When Carol and Therese finally consummate their relationship couldn't they share a giggle , a fumble or laugh at their situation,even if only fleetingly so ? In my limited experience sexual congress is inherently funny, all the more so when furtive and ' forbidden ' but you wouldn't suspect that here. It's grim, portentous and sombre. Apart from that, there is much to recommend but I thought I'd get in early before the Oscar season hysteria begins .

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