Friday 29 November 2019

Defending Cinephilia 2020 - The Editor kicks off the annual series

Editor's Note: Contributions welcome. Anything from lists and more. Tell what you liked about the cinema in the last year.

1.  Who knew? The extraordinary performance of Olivia Colman (above) in Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite  knocked me over. Where had she been hiding all these years. Later in the year I finally located the superb police procedural Broadchurch  (written and produced by Chris Chibnall and made between 2013 and 2017) and all was revealed. She had been hiding in plain sight for the best part of a decade. Colman as the put upon cop whose husband betrays her was there all the time, a brilliant deliverer of lines and an actor with no fear. She topped it off when she re-appeared as Queen Elizabeth in the third series of Peter Morgan’s brilliant The Crown.

2.  There’s Hope. The Australian Cinema has too often been dismal for too long a time. Then again it’s not alone. A few movies make an impression but nowhere near enough considering we spend a billion dollars a year on government subsidies to allow several dozen films to get made (and some often rather better TV) and then for most of the features to be almost universally, deservedly, ignored by critics and public alike. Then out of the blue came Rodd Rathjen’s Buoyancy a film which gives you some hope we can do something that makes us proud. Buoyancy  had its premiere at, and was produced in part, thanks to the Melbourne International Film Festival. It was later, at least in Sydney, screened to small crowds at a single cinema. Its story of the modern slave trade was heartfelt and superbly told by a first timer. It had no sense of white man’s superiority in tackling a subject with universal resonance. 
3.  SBS is back! After a period when it lost its way and its programmers seemed bereft of adventure or even any idea of fulfilling the charter it was established to meet, SBS has bounced back to resume its position as Australian television’s best thing, at least for cinephiles and lovers of quality television drama. The revival of the World Movies channel is one admirable move but far more importantly SBS On Demand is the best free streaming service going round. Any channel which in a single year offers, in no particular order, The Crimson Rivers, Tin Star, Wisting, Broadchurch, Spiral, The Bureau, Raven, After Mabo, Deep State, Moscow Noir, Green Bush, Trapped, Berlin Station and Berlin Babylon …. To say nothing of the ever-changing feature film collection which ranged from Jerry Lewis’s showbiz masterpiece The Patsy  right through to movies fresh out of the lab and often ignored by the major film festivals… 

4.  David Stratton endures. Still going strong at 80years old, Strat’s first love is his Continuing Education class at Sydney Uni, an annual 24 week trip into film history which utilises the great man’s extraordinary personal collection to chart a course year by year. It has lasted for a quarter of a century. This year it was the years 1968 to 1971 which were the subject of 24 features and hundreds of clips. Unique.

5.  There were good movies, old and new. Just another list, not all seen in theatres but all seen for the first time. Ash is Purest White (Jia Zhangke), Brexit(Andy Haynes), Burning (Lee Chang-dong), Capharnaum (Nadine Labaki), Central Station (Youssef Chahine), Clean Up (Kwon Man-ki), First Case, Second Case  (Abbas Kiarostami), Goodtime (Josh and Benny Safdie), The Great Silence (Sergio Corbucci), Joker (Todd Phillips), Manta Ray (Phuttiphong Aroonpheng), Mon Oncle Antoine (Claude Jutra), Neon Bull (Gabriel Mascaro),  Official Secrets (Gavin Hood),  Pain and Glory (Pedro Almodovar), Parasite(Bong Joon-ho), Street Angel  (Frank Borzage),The Third Murder (Hirokazu Koreeda), Three Bad Men (John Ford), The Transient Life(Akio Jissoji), Woman at War (Benedict Erlingsson), Yella  (Christian Petzold) and Yol: The Full Version  (Yilmaz Guney)

6.  Il Cinema Ritrovato. You have to go a long way and spend a lot of money to get there from here but Bologna’s annual week of classic cinema remains an event that sets the gold standard for cinephilia around the world. Its influence around the world magnifies every discovery. Its supporters donate much time and effort in the knowledge that their work will be appreciated far beyond the confines of a beautiful city. It is an event built on love and devotion.

Thursday 21 November 2019

The Current Cinema - Holiday snaps - KNIVES OUT (Rian Johnson, USA), MARIANNE & LEONARD: WORDS OF LOVE (Nick Broomfield, UK) , FORD VS FERRARI (James Mangold, USA)

Knives Out is directed by Rian Johnson who made his debut with Brick. Following that rather clever neo-noir you have to wonder whether Johnson’s career has been on an odd trajectory. His debut was followed by a caper movie, then a techno futurist ‘thriller’, then an episode of Star Wars and now Knives Out,  dubbed in the ads as ‘A Rian Johnson whodunnit’. This time it’s an updated Agatha Christie country house variation with Daniel Craig as the oddly spoken detective (a voice described as a Foghorn Leghorn impersonation by another character.) Christopher Plummer as the family grandee dies in the opening scene and the family and the staff are assembled as three cops, lead by private eye Craig investigate. From there on, for another two hours or so, Johnson rumbles through the conventions, twists, turns, misleads… Right. I think I would prefer the career to head towards Westlake or Highsmith.

Anyone who can write these things must have a very good system to ensure that all the clues are dropped. Unlike in Christie’s time you now have to take into account such things as mobile phones, tracking devices, CCTV, DNA and forensics. The audience knows all those because they have spent the last decades watching CSI variations. Johnson however seems to have an interest in the archaic formulas of detective stories and police procedurals. Hard to say whether the archaism will set pulses throbbing, though the preview crowd was laughing out loud quite a bit…. 

Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love  is Nick Broomfield’s homage to the beautiful couple who met on Hydra at the same time as George Johnston and Charmian Clift, and their three children, were also living on the island in a small community of expat writers and artists. Cohen wrote ‘Beautiful Losers’ during the eight years he lived there mostly with Marianne Ihlen, a Norwegian beauty, and her son Axel. At the end of it Cohen was writing songs and went off and sold them first to Judy Collins before she encouraged him to sing them himself. The most beautiful moment in the film, voice-overed at both the start and finish, is the letter that Cohen wrote to Ihlen when she was dying of leaukemia, not long after there had been one final reunion when she sat in the front row of his Oslo concert when he went back on the road in his seventies because his agent had ripped him off for millions. 

For a lot of the film Cohen doesn’t come off to well. An egotist, a massive philanderer ('its hard to hit on a girl when the camera is watching'), often totally insensitive to Marianne and Axel but stringing them along, he’s the classic case of the self-absorbed famous artist. Then he changes, Buddhism looms and, after the rip-off of his fortune becomes one of the great concert acts, grossing $15 million a year on perpetual tour with an entourage of 59 people to support. The final moments of reconciliation and forgiveness are very touching.

Broomfield lucked into the subject. He met Marianne in his own youth and his home movies taken during their short relationship provide some remarkable footage to kickstart the story. It’s a long story and even veers off into a small side chapter about the return to Australia of George Johnston and Charmian Clift and their children which, in its shorthand, I think may be more than a bit unfair to them.

Ford v Ferrari hardly needs a mention in a blog that maybe a hundred people read except….I was struck by the comparisons I felt with the local variation of it, the box office success Ride Like a Girl, now nearing the end of a run which has seen it gather up $11m or so from punters eager to see a feel good story of the battler who overcomes all the odds. On that one I confess I’m in the school articulated in The Guardian by Luke Buckmaster.  But Ford vs Ferrari is simply a far more thrilling movie, filmed by James Mangold with all the modern skills that Hollywood hundred million dollar movies have at their disposal. The story of course also has the virtue, unlike the Oz movie, of not knowing the ‘true story’ and it has a genuine villain, a creep Ford executive who cant stand seeing others succeed by thinking outside the loop. The scene where Henry Ford II is hustled into a racecar and goes for a short brain snapping burn as Matt Damon’s Carroll Shelby demonstrates just what it’s like to be a race driver is as smart as any this year.

Tuesday 19 November 2019

The Road to Pordenone and return - Barrie Pattison's Roman Holiday

I felt I didn’t do justice to Rome on my fleeting last visit so I settled in for a few days more. Well the Colosseum’s no fun since they took the lions out and tourists are still ten deep round the Trevi Fountain. The Via Veneto is dull stuff in daylight - no wolfhounds, no movie stars, no paparazzi cameras shooting the cafe tables. The guys laying out the red carpet seemed bored. 

Cinecitta Movieworld Park is promoted on sides of buses again and Giuseppe Battison was doing his “Orson Welles Roast” at the Ambra Jovinelli  but I didn’t think my Italian was up to that. Porte Portese, once a ribbon of eccentric junk along the lines of London’s Portobello Road or Paris’ Marché Clignancourt, is now one giant discount store where you get cut price underwear and canned groceries. I felt sympathy for the one guy who was doing nice hand crafted olive wood cutlery. They had a few stalls offering DVDs there but these were all unused copies of the same hundred or so, mainly recent, titles.

In Italy you get new disks from book shops rather than electronics stores. La Feltrinelli, the largest source, was running seventy-percent-off sales. I was able to stock up on Elio Germani and Leonardo Pieraccioni. Albert Sordi seems to have a monopoly on old and Italian but there was a supply of vintage American material proudly proclaiming “Doppiaggio originale d’epoca” as if ancient dubbing was an asset. A small amount of the stock now runs to English sub-titles. Gabrele Salvatores (Mediterraneo) seems to insist that his material is issued with them which is handy as SBS looks like it is giving up there and Italian Film Festival retrospectives are short and brutal. The second hand market seems to have receded into porno though I did manage to find Mario Bava’s Roy Colt & Winchester Jack in the street stalls at Stazione Termini - once setting of the same
name Vittorio de Sica movie.

The Italian situation is healthier than some markets. The only DVD store I found in Abu Dhabi has obviously been closed for a year, it’s posters sun faded to dim black and white.

Rome TV still runs to a thousand channels though some are blank and the others seem to be divided between adfomercials and all night variety shows with Bunga Bunga girls in skimpy outfits. We do seem to have lost the station that was all stills of Padre Pio with solemn music. Pieraccione’s 2001 Il Principe e il pirata was being treated as an event and heavily trailered. All this is of course in Italian with the foreign (mainly US) material dubbed. I managed to get the one French language channel on which I was dependent for my knowledge of world events - go Gilets jaunes!

I couldn’t locate a Cinémathèque but Rome still has what we recognise as an IWERKS theatre, The Time Elevator doing forty five-minute tourist oriented movies. I saw their The History of Rome,an ambitious run through Romulus and Remus, Nero, Caligula, Michelangelo and Mussolini. Played in English (multiple choice headphones) it is an actors and digital buildings reconstruction with vibrating seats - and a simulation of rats running across your feet, introduced by a couple of foyer animatronics. I didn’t take down the credits and IMDB is silent on this one.

The city had made it to its 14th Rome Film Festival with a ten-day inventory including Edward Norton’s Motherless Brooklyn, Nicolas Boukhrief’s Trois Jours et Une Vie and Cristina Comencini’s Tonare and a documentary about the Cecchi Goris, along with a set of celebrity tributes, a nine film retrospective on Koreeda Hirokazu and a free fifteen title one on Max Ophuls. 

As far as traditional movies go, Il Messaggero listed 60 plus cinemas, of which nine claim to be Art Houses with a couple of them advertising Original Language versions. Odeon Space have multi-salas there, one of which offered twenty titles. I watched the new Claudio Bisio release Si mi vuoi bene in their Piazza del Republica Cinema Moderno (above) about which I was curious. The company’s Milan multiplex always strikes me as the most beautiful cinema building I’ve seen. This one wasn’t as stylish but obviously came from the same stable - floor to ceiling foyer mirror and panels outside the auditoria listing the format, sound system and image proportions. 

It still seems to be company policy to put a sales break in the middle of the feature, recalling the old days of single projectors and a ticket office sign lighting up Primo tempo - Interval - Secondo Tempo, an unwelcome anachronism in the days of digital projection. They halted in the middle of a song in the Bisio film. I was not impressed, particularly as their nine and half Euros seemed to be top price for a movie in Rome. Other exhibitors don’t seem to feel the need to gouge their customers in this way.

Se mi vuoi bene itself was a slick, sentimental comedy in the line of Bisio’s Benvenuti al sud/Nord.  Dissatisfied with his life, Claudio spots the store front Chiacchitere run by Sergio Rubini, where people are playing chess and nibbling fresh biscuits and Bisio has agame of table football with asociate Dino Abbrescia. After a night’s consideration hecomes back with a wall chart which shows how he plans to put right the lives of his family and friends (vision of characters divided by a gold lightning bolt) with schemeslike the car shunt that means his ex meets Abbrescia, claiming to be a a fan of Marqueswhose name he can’t pronounce, Claudio being the guide on a tourist bus that delivers a load of Japanese to his wife’s “Cera una tempo” book shop to push cameras in her face ortaking his lively blonde daughter on a day scaling tree walkways - nice cut to them surrounded by bubbles on the bench where she sat with him as a child.

These plots go wrong of course. His tennis playing dad is set up on a center court where the one-time champion has been told to make him look good but dad taunts the man who breaks the agreement and wipes him out. Bisio’s ladyfriend is furious and joins him in the Rage Room where she gets so stuck into smashing things that Claudio has to press the red button to have the manager take away the crow bar she is waving. The brother’s exhibition of his painting of National flags is a bust until (this is dumb) he whacks one over Bisio’s head and a visiting New York critic wants him to do it in an exhibition in the States. The wife gets to appreciate the extra business the Asians represent. 

Singer Luca Carboni replaces the Luca Carboni imitator in the night club where the disrupted couples are watching, with him calling them up to the microphone to create harmony. 

Good Turin production and strong cast. A few nice gags like Bisio registering shock by flinging the cat he is stroking across the room. The climax with Rubini is genuinely touching. Si mi vuoi bene is quite endearing and an attempt to break the comedy formulas even if it sometimes doesn’t work and is ultimately soft centred.

I also got to watch Rubini’s own new Il Grande Spirito, disappointing coming from a director whose career began with the accomplished 2000 Stazione and 2003 La Bionda.

Here Sergio plays a scruffy small time provincial hood involved in a gang war. His associates treat him dismissively after a stuff-up bank job where he shot a poodle – cellphone images and disjointed flashbacks. Sergio manages to get the hold-up loot away from them and plans taking off with Bianca Guaccero his beautician ex, who has had his calls barred on her cell ‘phone. However, he finds himself trapped in a roof top washhouse while the heavies & cops mill in the street below. 

He becomes dependent on maybe crazy Rocco Papaleo (Io & Marilyn) who thinks he's Black Deer, a Sioux Indian under the control of the Great Spirit. The local kids pull his pants down for a laugh providing a photo for the nephew to use as evidence that he needs to be institutionalised the way the developer wants.

Things work up to a climax where Rubini bullies Pappeleo into showing him his rat run through the roof tops and fire stairs to street level and drives off reprimanded by idiot savant Papeleo “Fiat haven’t made a decent car since the Ducato. You should have stolen a Volvo.” Sergio does the Big Sleep routine of phoning Guaccero who tells him she’s with his aunt when he can see her in the salon necking with the bandaged ear heavy on his trail.  

So so ‘scope images get some value out of the Taranto industrial sky line with the distant burn off chimney being associated with Indian ceremonial fires. The cast work at making their characters vivid and low wattage corruption is nicely caught but it really is too much to try and run this up into a two-hour movie.

I ended the trip with the same reaction as I had fifty years ago. The Rome film scene is still an anti-climax after Paris. 

Monday 18 November 2019

John Baxter's Adventures in the Movie Trade (7) - Encounters with Cecil Holmes

Such was the sense of privilege and isolation prevailing at the Australian Commonwealth Film Unit’s studios in suburban Sydney during my time there in the nineteen-sixties that revelations of covert surveillance and security investigations shocked us more than they might have, say, the Post Office.

During the days of “full disclosure” towards the end of the century, evidence emerged that the Security Services had monitored the CFU, and that even Producer-in-Chief Stanley Hawes (left), a byword for stodginess, was suspected of Communist sympathies. An anonymous member of the staff had acted as informer.  I must have stood high on his (or her) list of suspicious characters, since, according to an exposé of those hotbeds of sedition, film societies, the covert Red within them was “a battler for discussion groups, purely for the use he can make of them in thought-direction. For the same reason he is in favour of the society running a journal. He’s sold on the idea of a film-society federation, for concentration of power in a few hands has long been the goal towards which he has worked. With such power he can hope to swing the film society movement his way, import more films to be used in the fight against freedom and get more backing for his censorship quarrels.”* 

And there I was, a film society organiser, editor of its journal, and a card-carrying campaigner against censorship. How long before I found myself in some anonymous prison cell, detained at the pleasure of ASIO?

To further damn myself, I’d become friendly with newspaper editor and film-maker Cecil Holmes (right).  

As an unapologetic leftist and friend of many more, Cecil definitely qualified as “bad company”. Watching him wander dolefully around Lindfield, peering into each office until he found the one assigned to him, it was difficult to equate him with the International Communist Conspiracy.  However, this vagueness was calculated. With it, he’d lulled bankers, newspaper publishers, film producers and government departments into giving him the tools necessary to undermine all of them. 

Born in New Zealand, Cecil, then a union official, prudently decamped to Australia when some of his incendiary internal memos came to light. With no other work in sight, he took a factory job making auto tyres. 

Title Card
Applying at the CFU, he was turned down by Stanley Hawes who, according to Cecil, made it clear he “would not have his particular government boat rocked by the presence of some trouble-making Red.” Undeterred, Cecil found private money to make a feature film, the 1951 bush-ranging adventure, Captain Thunderbolt. Though it was at least as proficient as most low-budget American films, the two largest Australian theatre chains, Hoyts and Greater Union, largely British-owned, refused to screen it. The decision most probably reflected a desire to protect their lucrative monopoly, but Cecil and his friends understandably suspected political bias.  

Suspicion became certainty following the fate of Cecil’s next feature. Frank Hardy (right) was the socialist author of the 1950 novel Power Without Glory, roman a clef about a ruthless Victorian politico involved in murders, bombings, thuggery, racketeering and blackmail. When established presses refused to handle the book, Hardy published it himself, with covert help from the Australian Communist Party, and so got to keep all of the considerable income. 

Just back from overseas with pockets full of royalties, Hardy offered some to Cecil to film his short story The Load of Wood, about men on a make-work road-mending job during the Depression who assert themselves by stealing firewood from a landowner and distributing it to the poor. 

So successful was the result that Cecil raised money to shoot two more shorts, and combined them as Three in One.Not really expecting either Hoyts or Greater Union to accept the film, he hoped it might have a better chance if showcased at the 1956 Sydney Film Festival. The then-director, David Donaldson, was ready to screen it, until a contingent from his committee demanded a preview. “Quite a large ad hoc panel arrived, to my surprise,” Donaldson recalled. “I thought the film had substantial, indeed exciting merits, together with the over-statement that one came to recognise as Cecil Holmes’ style. But everyone seemed to be down on the film, even before we discussed it.” Three in One wasn’t shown at the Festival, nor anywhere else, although one episode, the rambling and bucolic Joe Wilson’s Mates, about union members in a country town boozily collaborating to bury a fellow unionist found dead on the road, was extracted and used as a short to cheer up audiences at Alfred Hitchcock’s grim drama of mistaken identity, The Wrong Man.

After a few more films, equally unsuccessful, Cecil drifted into the editorship of a small newspaper in Darwinfrom where he began slipping into aboriginal territories, officially barred to journalists, and filming the complaints of their aggrieved inhabitants. 

Gentle Strangers
This scandal was still rumbling when Cecil turned up at the Film Unit. With covert help from fellow left-wingers such as Richard Mason, the Unit had hired him to make a feature-length film called Gentle Strangers, about newly arrived Asian emigrants

Cecil and I became friends in the few months he was there, but I didn’t see him again for fifteen years, by which time I was producing a books program for ABC Radio and he had just published his memoir, One Man’s Way.

When he wandered into my ABC office in 1986, it was evident, however, that nothing had changed in his career. 
“What happened to Gentle Strangers?,” I asked. “I never saw it.”
“Almost nobody did. Stanley didn’t like it. Neither did the Department. They cut seventeen minutes, and put it out on TV at 58 minutes. Didn’t make a lot of sense.”

He didn’t sound resentful. With Cecil, one always felt that what mattered most was not to win – which he believed impossible in practice, given Australia’s innate repression - but to go down fighting.The blurb on One Man‘s Way got it right"Quixotic, rebellious and drawn to trouble, Cecil Holmes belongs to a rare breed of radical adventurers who never give up."

Our programme about Cecil, scheduled to run thirty minutes, was being overseen by X, a recently appointed producer, who, though known as a playwright and novelist, was new to radio. I gave him the tape of my hour’s conversation with Cecil, together with suggestions for editing, and thought no more about it until a day before the broadcast, when I went into the studio to record the links.

X handed the edited tape to the engineer, who looked puzzled. 
“Bit short, isn’t it?”
He was right. At most, the tape would run ten minutes.
We both looked at X. “I thought I got the length right,” he said uncertainly.
“Well, no matter,” I said. “We can go back to the master.”
“Icutthe master,” said X abjectly.
“Then where are the out-takes?”
“In the bin.” White-faced, X bolted from the cutting room, not to be seen again for the rest of the day.

We salvaged a fifteen-minute programme from the debacle. Cecil wasn’t angry when I told him. Not even surprised. 
“It’s OK, mate. I’m used to it.”
“I’m sure it was just inexperience on X’s part,” I protested. “He would never….”
 “You can’t beat ‘em, mate. Believe me.”
“John, it’s OK.” He patted my shoulder. “Listen, I’ll see you around.”

He wandered off down the corridor. I watched him go. 
Surely X didn’t…..Surely the ABC wouldn’t….
Would they?

Then I remembered. Not for nothing was the BBC George Orwell’s inspiration for 1984

* Cited in

Sunday 17 November 2019

Happy 5th Birthday to Film Alert

This blog has now been up on the net for a little over five years. In that time it has posted 2011 times and there were 610,440 page views. Page view numbers have been lower than in previous years. This seems to be largely because viewers from Russia, the Ukraine and the other places that hacked into the Democrat National Committee server have dropped off. 

That also may have occurred because I closed down the comments section.  I got sick of removing the comments proposing links to pornography, Viagra sales outlets and bootleg Hindi movies.

So... let me remember and thank everyone who made a contribution to the blog's over 300 posts in 2018/2019. 

In alphabetical order there were much appreciated and always welcome contributions from the following people: Kevin Anderson, Martha Ansara, John Baxter, Max Berghouse, Ken Berryman, Rod Bishop, Adam Bowen, Michael Campi, Ben Cho, Eddie Cockrell, Bill Conn, Adrian Danks, Jason DiRosso, Debi Enker, Frieda Freiberg, Peter Galvin, Helen Gaynor, Barbara Grummels, David Hanan, Ira Joel Haber, David Hare, Bruce Hodsdon, Peter Hourigan, Cerise Howard, Lawrence Johnston, Tina Kaufman, David King, Peter Krausz, Sylvie Le Clézio, Cristina Alvarez Lopez, Chris Luscri, Fiona Mackie, Adrian Martin, Geoff Mayer, Adrienne McKibbins, Jane Mills, Ken Mogg, Bill Mousoulis, John C Murray, Lee, Kristin & Stephen Murray, Scott Murray, Lana Nadj, Margot Nash, Phillip Noyce, Barrie Pattison, Andrew Pike, Susan Potter, Mike Retter, Tom Ryan, Malcolm Smith, John Snadden, David Stratton, Simon Taaffe, Peter Tammer, Peter Thorneycroft, Georgia Wallace-Crabbe and Ken Wallin.

Thank you all.

Saturday 16 November 2019

On Blu-ray - Scott Murray discovers Sublime Godard in LA PARESSE

I had never seen Les 7 Péchés Capitaux but I watched the Godard episode La Paresse (Sloth) yesterday. 

The first shot (above) of Nicole Mirel (as herself) sitting by the Seine reading a book in a white Chanel dress could have been directed by only one person in cinema history. 

The next shot, of a convertible, is pure Le Mépris, before Godard made Le Mépris. 

When Eddie Constantine (above, as himself) arrives, well we are off to Alphaville, well before …

I haven’t seen anything this much fun in decades. The man is a god, the ending the wittiest (and cheekily subversive) you’ll ever see. 

Godard makes you love cinema all over again, which only a few great directors ever do.

PS: Henri Decae does a superb job of photographing like Raoul Coutard. Had me completely fooled.

Streaming on SBS On Demand - TIN STAR (Series One, Rowan Joffe, Canada/UK, 2017)

Tin Star, title card
Tin Star is (just) another of the crime series on SBS On Demand. The episodes are broken up about every 12 minutes by a minute of advertising. It’s set and made in Canada and the showrunner seems to be Rowan Joffe. The son of Roland Joffe, Rowan has been writing  and directing plays TV scripts and features for close to twenty years. His feature film debut was the 2011 adaptation of Brighton Rock  and Wikipedia tells that he  wrote and directed a movie called Before I go to Sleep in 2014. It starred Nicole Kidman. It might be one of those movies that only David Stratton has seen. I had never even heard of it until I started writing these notes after seeing Tin Star.

The series is dated 2017 and I presume it was aired on one of the SBS channels before it went up on the streaming service. A second series went out on Sky Atlantic and Amazon Prime in January 2019 and a third series will go to air next year. 

Tin Star stars Tim Roth. Roth’s first role in a feature movie was in Stephen Frears The Hit in which he played a violent psychopathic criminal. In his latest role he plays a violent psychopath who starts the series as the law in a backwater Canadian  town. The back story is that Jim Worth and his family, wife Angela and daughter Anna have fled England and washed up in Canada to enable Jim to get over his drug and alcohol addictions. If you have memorised things sufficiently you will recall that when I wrote about the Norwegian series Wisting. In that one the chief cop had no foibles beyond being a distracted parent – no alcohol issues, no sexuality issues, no drug issues. Dead boring and intended to be so.

Tim Roth, Tin Star
But Tim Roth as Jim Worth makes up for it big time. He slips back into alcoholism with ease. When setbacks occur he takes to the drink, in a local dive, with the gusto of the true man of liquor. Waking up in a strange bed with an otherwise unknown woman happens with regularity. His wife and daughter cant help him but continually forgive him. Family loyalty drives the plot in all directions. 

Slowly you realise it’s the unresolved guilt from his past, the cause of his exile and, in a prodigious episode nine of the ten that constitute the first series, we get a flashback to his past as an undercover cop in Northern Ireland and the double life he led.

By episode ten Jim Worth is now back to being Jack Devlin and is intent on turning the tables on those from his past who have come to take revenge on him. The end, in the snow on top of a mountain, seems to suggest wipeout of all concerned. But there is more to come.

The background is quite meticulous – a small town, an oil company building a new plant, the head of security (a near-Mabuse like evil genius) brooking no opposition while the female head of PR unearths dark secrets and spend the series changing from as a rather well-drawn bad girl into at least a good-bad girl.

But ultimately no one does psychopathy like Tim Roth – no one can do drug and alcohol fuelled violence with such intensity and the final most violent act, with the billiard balls inside a sock, is truly shocking. And when it comes to his turn to take a belting, no one quite copes with such stoicism. One episode is of such intensity it comes with a special censorship warning. That's almost a tribute in itself to Roth’s intense portrayal of a man taking refuge in alcohol to assuage his guilty secrets. Quite impressive. Roll on S2.

Thursday 14 November 2019

John Baxter's Adventures in the Movie Trade (6) - REX LIPTON. FORGOTTEN BUT NOT GONE.

Americans were not so common in Australia during the nineteen-sixties that one was likely to meet them often, but once I joined the Australian Commonwealth Film Unit, they seemed to be everywhere. 
Rex Lipton was another of the lost souls cast up on this alien shore. Married, unhappily, to an Australian torch singer named Kathy Lloyd, he’d followed her from Hollywood, only to find himself stuck in a messy divorce. Given a CFU contract as much out of charity as need, he languished at Lindfield for a few months before being swept away again, smiling resignedly at this latest set-back in a life made up of little else.  

But Rex and I found an instant rapport, He was to me that must interesting of all persons, a Hollywood insider.  He’d started as a sound editor, had even laid sound effects on Stanley Kubrick’s early film The Killing. That his best friend was the cowboy actor Rory Calhoun placed him pretty low in Hollywood’s hierarchy, but to me he trailed fairy dust.. 
Lew Lipton, Rex’s father, had been a minor producer, and a friend in the nineteen-twenties of men like Edgar Wallace when the prolific British novelist was toying with the screenplay he called “The Beast”soon to be King Kong, In an old movie book, I found a picture of Lipton and Wallace at the races;  prosperous men in ice-cream suits and those Panama hats so finely woven that one could scrunch one up and stuff it in your pocket.
Michael Curtiz
Rex studied the picture with his customary sad smile.
“Yeah. That’s the old man. Used to love the track. Went down to Caliente a lot with Mike Curtiz.”
“Michael Curtiz !?” 
“Sure. Mike came up to the house all the time. His son and I were pals since grade school.”
“That was his stepson with the screenwriter Bess Meredyth? Calls himself John Meredyth Lucas?”
Rex looked at me oddly. “Yeah,” he said uncertainly “Johnny Lucas...”
John Meredyth Lucas
At a time when Australian TV survived almost entirely on a diet of American series, the name of John Meredyth Lucas was hard to avoid. I’d seen his credit as director on episodes of Mannix, Maverick, The Fugitive, Ben Casey, even Star Trek. When it came to six degrees of separation from Hollywood, I was suddenly some hundreds of points closer.
“I envy you,” I said. 
To Rex, there was clearly nothing enviable about  knowing a minor Hollywood TV director. He didn’t see the moment as I did – a glimpse behind the veil, a brief lifting of the magic curtain.
 “We used to sneak into the house when his old man was away,” he went on. “We stole his scotch and got into his porn collection. Jesus, that taught me a lot. Guy had some incredible stuff.”
The director of Casablanca collected pornography
Rex didn’t have a car, so we took to driving back into town together. News of his divorce appeared occasionally in the papers, he and his ex-wife slinging mud at one another and bickering over the fate of their son. Kathy always grabbed the headline. Rex was “American TV editor,” which made him seem more eminent than he was. Talking about Hollywood was a relief from the scandal and I was a willing listener.
Our friendship moved up a notch when Barry Bowden, a sound editor at the Unit, invited me to a dinner party, supposedly to celebrate Mexico’s national day. He and another friend, classical music expert and broadcaster Martin Hibble, had just returned from a round the world trip in which visits to gay clubs and steam-rooms figured prominently. Those in Mexico City were particularly memorable, a fact Barry was keen to celebrate. At the foot of the elegantly printed invitation, however, were the ominous words “Dress formal. Decorations Will Be Worn.”
I didn’t own a dinner jacket but, as Rex and I were the same size, he lent me his. It was a while since he’d had cause to wear it, and fashion had moved on. Its midnight blue worsted, padded shoulders and satin lapels, wide enough to land a 747, made me look like the cousin of movie actor Sheldon Leonard, who played Harry the Horse in Guys and Dolls. The other dinner guests were impressed, however, though Martin stole the show by turning up with a florid gilt object pinned to his lapel. Closer examination revealed it to be not the Royal Order of the Elephant, First Class, but a Grand Prix du Disque label peeled from a Deutsche Grammophon LP of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. 
Sheldon Leonard (r) Guys and Dolls
The Film Unit had its methods of dumping people who didn’t measure up. They were handed a project recognised as a poisoned chalice, and, like the disgraced officer left alone in a room with a loaded revolver, invited to destroy themselves. Most accepted their fate with the weary resignation shown by Socrates when offered hemlock. Rex was no exception.
A few years before, true to the stubborn conviction of producer-in-chief Stanley Hawes and his mentor, John Grierson, that a true film-maker should be able to undertake every task in the making of a documentary, from camera operating to screenwriting, he had sent one of the Unit’s best cinematographers to winter over in Antarctica. He’d returned with multiple reels of icebergs, blizzards, scientists, and animals slithering or waddling in and out of the sea. Skilled cinematography, careful documentation, a faithful fulfilment of the requirements set out in the contract with the sponsoring government department didn’t make up for the fact that none of this would cut together. There was no story, and, therefore, no film.
Various editors tried to “lick” the material, always without success. Rex’s solution – a Disney-esque travelogue, including comic voices for the penguins and seals – could not have accorded less with Stanley’s dour philosophy. His contract wasn’t renewed. The project passed to another editor, Josephine Willis, and she and I finally knocked it into releasable shape. Rex was long gone but I wrote him with the news. He never replied. Australia must have been a low point in a not terribly distinguished career on which he was glad to shut the door. 
John Baxter
John Baxter is an Australian-born all-round writer, scholar, critic and film-maker who has lived in Paris since 1989 with his wife Marie-Dominque Montel and daughter Louise. His Wikipedia entry  details the many books he has written which include the first  ever critical volume devoted to the Australian cinema as well as studies of Ken Russell, Josef von Sternberg, Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen, Federico Fellini, George Lucas, Robert De Niro and Luis Bunuel. His most recent book, one of a number of studies of Paris is A Year in Paris, described by the New York Times thus "In “A Year in Paris,” (Baxter) strings together the beautiful beads of the French everyday, all held together by the invisible act of imagination that makes a country cohere and endure."