Orson Welles has always been a film hero of mine but increasingly in recent years I've come to believe that he was also a an asshole. A genius ? No doubt of that. I've also begun to realise that Orson Welles is as much a creation of Charles Orson Welles as Bob Dylan is a creation of Robert Zimmerman. Maybe it is a case of gods creating men in their own image. In Richard Linklater's film Welles (brilliantly played by english actor Christian McKay) says something like "If you hide yourself deep enough it makes it hard for people to hate you". That Welles was an egomaniac is undoubted and it is good that this film does not skirt that aspect of his character but it also goes a long way towards explaining why people put up with him. He could deliver the goods - not all the time - but enough times that even his failures become fascinating. Also he had enough charm and charisma to sell fridges to eskimos. This film is fiction woven into the true story of Welles' 1937 Mercury Theatre production CAESAR in New York. An aspiring young actor is hired to play a small role in the play and through his eyes we see the rehearsals and the openinging night as well as his affair with a girl who works at the theatre (usurped by Welles) and his final betrayal by the the famous actor. The film brilliantly recreates the New York theatre of the late Thirties (although amazingly most of it was filmed on The Isle of Man!) and the cast is quite exemplary. The film really hinges on the believability of McKay's Welles and, familiar as I am with Orson, from his first appearance it is like watching Welles himself. Plaudits too young Zac Efron who is excellent as the aspiring actor. It's always fun to see real people portrayed on the screen and here there is a veritable feast of goodies to choose from - Ben Chaplin as George Coulouis, James Tupper as Joseph Cotten, Eddie Marsem as John Houseman amongst others.Claire Danes and Zoe Kazan both capture just the right mood as two very different girls of the Forties. I really can't fault it. Based on the novel by Robert Kaplow. Rating *****
Monday, 26 July 2010
Thursday, 22 July 2010
Last night I went back to that hotel in Marienbad. I must have seen Alain Resnais' film LAST YEAR IN MARIENBAD half a dozen times since it was first released. It is a film that defies analysis and interpretation. Maybe it is a piece of pretentious nonsense and maybe it has something important to say. Of course, like anybody who sticks with the film until the end I have my own interpretation (which I do not ntend to tell you) that is much more straight forward than most of the others I have read. I love the film (it stars Delphine Seyrig so how could I not love it?) but beyond saying that I have no intention of reviewing did. Everytime I watch it I see things that I never saw before but last night I saw something I cannot believe that I have missed over the years. Eleven minutes into the film Alfred Hitchcock appears! I kid you not. At first I thought I'd imagined it so I replayed the scene and there he is. This morning I did a Google search and was relieved to find I am not going crazy and other viewers have spotted the great Alfred - or, it seems, a cardboard cutout of him. He's there - here's a picture to prove it (I have brightened the picture for clarity - the scene is much darker in the film).
Sunday, 18 July 2010
A few years ago George Clooney made an interesting film about radio journalist Edward R. Murrow and his on-air campaign against witch-hunting Senator Joe McCarthy. Good as the film was it had one dramatic flaw. Murrow and McCarthy never met. The film never found a way around this. It may have been historically accurate but very unsatisfactory for the viewer who is waiting for some sort of consummation of the plot. Two films that fully understood this problem were MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS and KHARTOUM which took the decision (justified in my mind) to let Mary and Elizabeth I meet and to bring General Gordon and The Mahdi together. A film with actors, however historically accurate, is not a documentary. Orson Welles tells a story of meeting William Randolph Hearst in an elevator before the opening of CITIZEN KANE and offering him tickets to the premier. Personally, I don't believe that meeting ever took place - I think it was invented by Welles who realised it would be dramatically satisfying when telling the story of the making of his great film. This lack of meeting between the two central characters in JULIE AND JULIA is about the only thing wrong with this delightful film but to be fair it is hard to see how the film's makers could have solved the problem. It's easier to rearrange facts when separated by history. What makes things even more difficult for the film is that we, the audience, become very fond of Julie who is working her way through Julia Child's famous cook book and Julia herself whose life (or the bits of it concerning the writing of her book) we see in flashback. When we learn towards the end of the film that Julia hates what Julie is doing we are as devastated as the poor girl. We are carried through the film by Julie's enthusiasm for her self imposed task of cooking every recipe in the Child book in a year and we grow to love the eccentric Julia (superbly played by Meryl Streep) and when the rejection comes it sort of colors our previous perception of the latter. The friend with whom I watched the film was chomping at the bit to go out and buy Julia's book simply commented "What a bitch!" and decided to stick to Nigella Lawson in future. Rating ****
Friday, 16 July 2010
I first saw this back ib the early 1960s as DROPS OF BLOOD in a print that was quite inferior to this DVD version. Was Giorgio Ferroni a good director or was this the one time in his career that all the elements came together at the right time? A good cast, a good story by Flemish writer Pieter van Weigen, great sets and good photography. Ferroni seems to have spebt most of his career churning out Peplum and Spaghetti Westerns but on the strength of MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN I'd like to sample more of his work. An Italian/French co=production (the copy I saw had French dialogue with some scenes inexplicably in English as though it had been put together from two different prints) which has the benefit of some scenes that are seemingly filmed on location in Holland. As a horror film it has less in common with the other Italian shockers being made at the time than it does with the older tradition of Carl Dreyer's classic VAMPYR (although Ferrori's vampirism is of the medical variety), Andre DeToth's HOUSE OF WAX and Franju's EYES WITHOUT A FACE, a film with which it shares certain plot elements. Ferroni conjures an atmosphere that effortlessly evokes the weirdness and beauty of the Dreyer masterpiece - I particularly liked the macabre funeral entorage at the ferry - and I do not exaggerate when I say that there are moments when he approaches the exquisitely cruel poetry of the Franju film. The cast, headed by Winnetou the Warrior himself, Pierre Brice and Scilla Gabel is fine with the villainy in the very capable hands of Wolfgang Preiss and Herbert Bohme. Impressive. Rating ****
Tuesday, 6 July 2010
I've not got around to seeing Guy Ritchie's SHERLOCK HOLMES starring Robert Downey Jr, as the eponymous detective. Despite generally favourable comments by friends who have seen the movie I've still got an aversion to anything with the name Guy Ritchie attached to it. Also, I find the casting a bit odd. I like Downey but can't quite see him as Holmes. However, I will catch up with the film probably sooner than later. Yesterday on IMDb came the news that the sequel will start filming in October. Jude Law (above left with Downey), who plays Dr.Watson, says he is unsure what the story of the film will be but "there are a lot of Sherlock Holmes novels to choose from." This statement by Law will come as a surprise to all Conan Doyle fans who until now thought there were only four! Or is Mr. Law referring to the countless non-canonical pastiche Holmes novels ?
Monday, 5 July 2010
Today I heard that Swedish Television is making a four-part mini-series on the life of director Ingmar Bergman, written by his son-in-law. By sheer coincidence, last night I watched a double bill of early Bergman films. I am writing about them together because there are some remarkable similarities in themes and stories. Both films feature men who enjoy what they do for a living - one is a professional violinist while the other runs a small travelling circus - but have to come to terms with the reality that they are, at best, only competent at what they do and will never become stars. Both men have failing relationships in which one of the partners has an affair, Both films end, as so often in early Bergman films, on a note of hope....despite this the films are wildly different in style and tone. Of the two films I find that I admire the earlier film, TO JOY. The film takes its title from Beethoven's 9th Symphony with its "Ode to Joy" which is surely one of the most uplifting musical pieces of all. It is the story of two young violinist who play in a provincial orchestra - they are played by Maj-Britt Nilsson and Stig Olin (who bears a disconcerting resemblace to a young Kevin Costner) - who marry but find that they simply can't get along. An idyllic period following the birth of their twins is shattered by the revelation of Stig's affair. They part but eventually reunite and all seems well until the wife is killed by the explosion of a paraffin stove - this is not a spoiler as Bergman reveals this in the very opening scene of the film which is then told in flashback. But at the end of the film there is a wonderfully uplifting codicil which, as I said above, is typical early Bergman, and grabs hope from the jaws of tragedy. The depiction of the young couple with their bickering, concerns, jealousies and insecurities is both believable and moving. On a technical level, Bergman obviously enjoys filming the orchestra sequences which, no doubt, appealed to his love of classical music and gave his the opportunity to introduce the film's third significant character - the cantankerous old conductor, wonderfully played by the great Swedish director Victor Sjostrom (of WILD STRAWBERRIES) and the scene where a concert goes horribly wrong is directed in true Hitchcock style. Rating ****
Harriet Anderson and Ake Groberg in SAWDUST AND TINSEL
SAWDUST AND TINSEL is a very different barrel of pickled herring and, perhaps, closer to what we come to expect from Ingmar. It was, for me (despite my regarding Bergman as one of the great film artists) almost a parody of the great Swede at his most dour. The film begins with a tinkling fairground tune which, almost immediately, changes to an ominous chord which would not be out of place as the introduction to a horror film. A dark stormy night as the ragged wagons wind their way across the Swedish countryside. Bankrupt, without costumes and withoutout any star acts, the performers know that the next town will be their last chance. The owner's relationship with a younger woman is racked by jealousy (the film has elements of PAGLIACCI) and the discovery of the affair drives him to near suicide - despite his own attempt to betray her and his colleagues by leaving the circus and returning to his abandoned wife and son. But again Ingmar offers a glimmer of hope for his characters but here, instead of Beethoven's joyous celebratory, life affirming music, it is a mere smile, an acceptance of their fate - anything is better bthan nothing - because they have nowhere to go. The film is dark and sombre in mood and, to be honest, it's not one I'd rush to see again. There is a flasback sequence where the circus clown discovers his wife bathing naked with a group of Artillery officers - its crushing humiliation is even more effectively portrayed by being fimed like a silent German expressionist film. Rating ***