Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Loving The Cid

 El Cid [Anthony Mann]

After revisiting The Cid - after a gap of a couple of decades - I have to confess an about-turn. I have always remembered at as stagy, very silly and, more unforgivable, boring - in the grand ol' epic tradition. Yes, it still is very silly and over the top and utterly in love with it's saintly hero.
But that is its draw.
In the very best sense of the word, El Cid is thoroughly camp. And, apart from a David Lean, what else do you expect from this kind of film? I make no apologies for thinking it magnificent for the very reasons others (myself included) dismiss it.
There is a reason it was such a massive hit when it was released - because it gave the audience of a pot-boiler what they want - a hero to adore, a strong-willed and gorgeous heroine, kings and queens and princes and princesses squabbling and stabbing and throttling each other, an epic bit of jousting, heaving breasts, melodrama, thrilling battles and one heck of a jaw-dropping finale. And, as an added bonus, it's also Miklós Rózsa's finest score.

If you are a fan of Game of Thrones I defy you to not have it in mind while watching.The utterly magnificent (and totally bonkers) finale of our gorgeous hero, dead and nailed to his horse (not surprisingly, Chuck struggled with this), riding off in to eternity, literally trampling the villain underhoof along the way, is something I don't doubt will end up in the show - if it hasn't already

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Marco Berger

Marco Berger is a criminally undervalued film-maker - his two films, Plan B and Absent are masterpieces in emotional restraint that totally defied my expectations. The former, a closed fist of a love story, that I fell utterly in love with. The latter, a kind of unrequited love story filmed as a suspense flic, that managed to punch you in the gut with that same closed fist.
Even if you don't get to see either film  - though you really should - please think about making a pledge, via Kickstarter, towards his new film (which promises to be another love story driven by inner turmoil). It looks like he is struggling to meet his target at the moment - which is a real shame.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

97/30 years ago today...

"Say it again, it keeps me awake"
"I love you"

Today is Ingrid Bergman's birthday - she would have been 97. It's also the 30th anniversary of her death. Reason enough to share a choice moment (I make no apologies for the superlatives).

Notorious is one of Hitchcock's very best and certainly his most obviously romantic film. It's gone on to become a template in how to make a spy/love story that is gorgeously romantic, chock full of quotable dialogue (unusual for Hitch and courtesy of Ben Hecht) and, because this is Hitchcock, is extremely exciting. It's also, for me at least, Bergman's most moving performance.
Alicia is a the original fallen woman - the daughter of a Nazi, a drunk and a whore - and not only is she well aware of it ("Mata Hari, she makes love for the papers") but everyone around her makes sure she is reminded of it at every turn: Devlin, who recruits her and falls in love with her and so has to hide his true feelings behind a steely veneer for fear of exposing her; the government agents they work for who are happy to throw her to the wolves and yet still look down on her; her Nazi mother-in-law.  And, of course, in the best tradition of Hollywood Melodrama, she has to prostitute herself and risk her life to prove that she is both a patriot and good girl after all.
The finale aches with the outpourings of the long-restrained emotions of the lead characters and the stair-case sequence is the very lesson in suspense. It is, most definitely, magnificent.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Born on this day 1874...

J C Leyendecker

Not film related - for a change. But just realised it's Leyendecker's birthday today so, until I get back to posting (I promise to soon!) it's a good enough reason to take pleasure from some of the pre-eminent illustrator's rather splendid [and most often homo-erotic] work.


The French Soldier's Greeting

Thinking of the Girl Back Home

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Merry Christmas? It's enough to send you out on a killing spree...

I'll spare you the rant about why I really despise this time of year (maybe I'll save that for a later post!]
Instead I'll just share the love on one of my favourite horror films.

Black Christmas (Bob Clark)

Billy just loved wrapping the gifts 

Oh the heady days when the women smoked, said cunt and didn't have to get their tits out when they got throttled. One of Black Christmas's chief pleasures is it's spunky women. Of course it's a slasher flic and they're all here to be victims but at least they are funny, sassy and likable enough for you to give a damn if they get throttled or not - sensible but vulnerable Olivia Hussey, sparky and sexy Margot Kidder (cussing and feeding booze to minors in a very pre-Superman role) and of course the curmudgeonly and inebriated 'Mrs Mac' looking for that son of a bitch cat (Marian Waldman instead of Bette Davis provides most of the laughs and is marvellous fun and she also gets one of the great horror movie death scenes). Unfortunately Keir Dullea seems thoroughly bored, though he often does to me, but he's only there as a red herring anyway.
A gleeful delight in the macabre keeps things going nicely - Norman Bates had his mummified mother in the cellar, this heavy breathing mentalist sits giggling in the attic, taunting us with a suffocated sorority sister in a rocking chair and a throttled house-keeper, while our unknowing heroines get festive downstairs!

It's certainly not as bloody or graphic as what we have become accustomed to and some may prefer the more horrific and gory remake (which, though far from great, isn't too bad as remakes go but is let down by it's uninspiring script, Barbie-doll victims and the ever depressing need to patronise the audience by explaining everything). But even after nearly 30 years of immitators and copycats [pre-empting Halloween by nearly for years] it still manages to be deeply unsettling - the horribly screechy obscene phone calls ["Filthy Billy, I know what you did nasty Billy!" "Let me lick your pretty piggy cunt!"]; the aural assault from the soundtrack [achieved in part by the composer tying cutlery to the strings of the piano!]; the staring eye through the crack of the door; the asphyxiated corpse in the attic window; and not forgetting the 'rug-pulling' open ending. Clark refused an alternative ending that was less ambiguous; one that the makers of the remake obviously seemed to have picked up on (more fool them).

Merry bleeding Christmas...

Monday, November 28, 2011

RIP Ken Russell

"Reality is a dirty word for me, I know it isn't for most people, but I am not interested. There's too much of it about."

"Art is alive. Enjoy it, laugh at it, love it or hate it but don't worship it!" Savage Messiah

Russell was one of British cinema's creative geniuses. Always pushing the limits, always provocative, much maligned, reviled and misunderstood, often brilliant, often excruciatingly bad and screamingly camp. He could be infuriating, shocking and disgusting but he was never ever boring; very much a saint and a sinner to British film and for that we weary cinephiles thank you.

And I won't dwell too much on what seeing Oliver Reed and Alan Bates wrestling naked in front of an open fire did to me as a sexually burgeoning young teenager. For that I thank you too.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

"She's a high-riding woman with a whip"

Forty Guns (Samuel Fuller)

The idea of Barbara Stanwyck galloping around the prairie in a stetson, cracking a whip, is disappointingly underplayed in Forty Guns. Also the potential Freudian and feminist elements are never explored past the surface (though the two female stars are as spunky as the men are handsome, Jessica Drummond is only waiting for a man to take charge). If you want a western with Freudian subtext and lesbians in spurs & chaps then see the superb Johnny Guitar instead.
It's still good fun and camp enough to make the already short running time whiz by. Stanwyck is always never less than watchable and Barry Sullivan's rugged presence does the job it's intended. The dialogue is sparky if a little ropey "I've never kissed a gunsmith before" "I need a strong man to carry out my orders... And a weak one to take them". And the visual effects are a bit of a treat: a big close-up of Sullivan's eyes, during a shoot-out, diminishs the desired dramatic effect as it causes us to titter but it's still a thrill. As is the scene when the burgeoning lovers spy each other lovingly through the barrel of a gun! (how romantic)
But the absolute highlight here is the two songs - both of which are unexpectedly and quite spectacularly sung in character. The Woman With a Whip number is especially ripe as it's sung by one of the male leads as his mates watch on, smiling nonchalantly, as they soap themselves in their bath-tubs! The other song, sung as a funeral rite, initially startled and surprised me in it's bravado of having a man sing a love song where the object of desire is another man. Of course the 'He' of his affections had to be God [damn!] but a guy can project can't he??
All this (vaguely homoerotic) campery had me thinking... Forty Guns is probably only two songs shy of an all-out musical! Now that would have been a lot more intriguing.